Crossed in Love Ch 1

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen leaves us to wonder if Elizabeth was indeed crossed in love over Christmastide whilst the militia was stationed in Meryton. Take a behind-the-scenes peek with me at what might have happened.


Chapter 1

November 24, 1811  

Elizabeth followed Papa with her eyes as he paced along his favorite track in the parlor, back and forth in front of the fireplace whilst the rest of the family assembled there before church. She pressed her lips hard and turned her face aside. He would know she was trying not to laugh if he saw her.

Jane sat near the window with her needlework, where she always sat unless Mama was in the room, then she would sit on the settee on the opposite wall, beside Mama. A low fire warmed the room as much as the sunbeams through the window that danced along the carpet and cast shadows on the yellow wall near the chair where Elizabeth sat. The sun had faded the upholstery to be sure, but it was also very warm and friendly, a necessary quality in a room where the family gathered.

Papa passed by her again, the scent of his shaving soap reached out and tickled her nose—a funny, sneezy herbal scent. “Mrs. Bennet, we await your presence.” He stared at the doorway as though that might bring her in faster.

“You know she always takes particular care with her Christmas pudding preparations.” Elizabeth rose and went to him.

He huffed and wrinkled his lips into a special frown reserved for Mama alone. “How long does it take to pour brandy over fruit and spices?”

She patted his arm and followed him as he tramped back along his path. “You know as well as I, it is more complex than that.”

Jane joined them near the fireplace. “Stoning and chopping the fruit is time consuming.”

“Is that not why we employ Hill and Cook? As I recall, she took great pride in telling Mr. Collins that you girls did not sully yourselves with toiling in the kitchen.”

Elizabeth cringed. Why did Papa have to mention him? “Indeed she did, but Christmas pudding is no regular food stuff.”

“You know how special Christmas pudding is to her,” Jane said.

“Would that it be special on a day of the week with nowhere else demanding our presence?” He shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling where the maid had missed a spot dusting.

Mr. Collins, Mary in his shadow, trundled in. “Good day to you, Mr. Bennet and to you my fair cousins.”

Necessary pleasantries were exchanged and Elizabeth sidled away. With a little good fortune, his attentions might continue toward Mary and she could escape notice.

“I was just telling Mr. Collins about Mama’s great love of Christmas pudding and how she loves this Sunday above all others,” Mary said with a hopeful look toward Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins thumbed his lapels, expression sober, almost severe. Why did he always have to take the role of the authority on nearly everything—especially when he seemed to know so little. “As a clergyman I am not certain—”

“Excuse me, I need to speak to Mrs. Bennet.” Papa edged past them and out of the parlor.

Elizabeth peeked into the corridor. He turned toward his study not the kitchen. She squeezed her eyes shut and sighed.

Mr. Collins looked after him. His brows drawn tight together, as though unable to work out why Papa might have left. His shoulders twitched in a tiny shrug, and he turned back to his remaining, captive audience.

“I am not certain how this particular Sunday holds any significance above others. Surely the Sundays of Advent—”

“Mama finds the day has personal significance, not doctrinal importance,” Jane said softly.

Mr. Collins formed a silent ‘o’ as if the idea of personal significance were an entirely new concept.

Elizabeth and Jane took to the settee. Elizabeth picked up her sewing from the basket and ducked her head. Perhaps he would not take notice of her.

Lydia and Kitty skipped in, giggling and tittering about the bonnet that Lydia had newly trimmed.

“Why should this Sunday have such personal import that she might be at liberty to make the entire family late to holy services?” Mr. Collins clasped his hands behind his back and resumed Papa’s path, pacing before the fireplace.

 “Are you going to tell the story of Mama and Papa’s betrothal?” Lydia snickered.

“What has that to do with this particular Sunday?”

“The Christmas pudding that foretold their betrothal—” Kitty glanced at Lydia.

“Was stirred up on this day—” Lydia grabbed Kitty’s hand.

“And Mama was the one who put the ring charm in the pudding,” They finished together.

“She looks fondly upon Christmas puddings as a result.” Mary mimicked one of Mama’s warning glances toward Kitty and Lydia, but failed to achieve the desired effect.

“Fondly? Only fondly?” Lydia chortled. “She considers them essential and auspicious, slaving over them each year as though—”

“Your mother declares herself ready—let us be off.” Papa called from the vestibule.

Lydia and Kitty led the procession out. Mr. Collins lingered behind near the settee.

The back of Elizabeth’s neck prickled. Why was he looking at her like that?

 

Thankfully, the carriage was not required for the trip to church. A fine brisk walk in the morning sun and crisp breeze was exactly what Elizabeth most needed right now. More properly, it would have been what she most needed had Mr. Collins not taken the opportunity to appoint himself as her devoted escort. He immediately took to her side, rescuing her from any danger of reflection or contemplation.

Instead, she became well acquainted with Lady Catherine’s beneficence; her prescriptions by which sermon writers offered the most appropriate sermons for parishioners; her magnanimous assistance in reviewing the sermons he himself wrote; her generous refinements added to his preparations.

Heavens, could the man not think nor act for himself?

“Is it truly necessary to have her review your work, sir? Forgive me if I am incorrect in my understanding, but is not a vicar secure in his position? Does not securing her favor have little to do with the security of your position?”

Such a glance he cast upon her! So condescending! No one had looked at her that way since she was an overly inquisitive little girl. “It does you credit, dear cousin, that you would give so much consideration to my situation and welfare. You are quite correct in your understanding of the nature of my preferment. Nothing short of complete moral failure on my part can separate me from it. I flatter myself to believe it entirely avoidable on my part.”

“I am sure you are correct, sir. Still, I do not apprehend your most profound devotion to her opinion.” She kicked a dry clod of dirt out of the path.

“Is it not a right and pleasing thing to be concerned for the opinion of those Providence has placed in superior positions? One can profit both spiritually and in more temporal ways from their beneficence.”

“Oh, now I see.”

He was a puppy, begging for crumbs at her table. To be fair, his income could not be much above a tenth of Papa’s, but still. Had he no dignity?

She shifted her wrap to sooth the prickles across the back of her neck. What he implied was too much like a servant holding out a hand for vails from houseguests. Would he expect the same obsequiousness from a wife? No doubt he would. She swallowed hard.

The church bells rang a final call to worship as they arrived and went directly to their pew. The little stone and wood church brimmed with congregants. How utterly unsurprising that Mr. Collins should contrive to sit between her and Jane.

The vicar read the day’s prayer.  “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Lydia elbowed Kitty and whispered “Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot. And when we do get home tonight, we’ll eat it up hot.”

Elizabeth stifled a laugh.

“I suppose it is the fashion of young people today to freely parody those things considered sacred. I am pleased to see that you do not indulge in such unseemly fancies,” Mr. Collins muttered under his breath, eyes fixed on the vicar.

Elizabeth bit her lip hard. Bother, she should have laughed heartily. Perhaps that might have given him pause instead of one more thing to fuel his unseemly praise of her. What beastly luck to have herself in proper check this morning.

Mr. Collins offered his reflections and commentary on the sermon throughout the service. In short, the vicar executed his task admirably enough, but his sermon was too modern. He would have clearly benefited from the guidance a patron like Lady Catherine could offer.

Her skin itched and every limb twitched. She would have gasped for breath had it not been likely to gain even more attention from him. His presence had all the appeal of a coarse wool blanket on bare skin.

Mama glanced at them from the far end the pew. Prim and entirely satisfied, she folded her hands in her lap and peeked first at the Bingleys across the aisle, then the Lucases to whom she offered a well-pleased smile.

How shocking to be so self-congratulatory in church. Elizabeth’s stomach churned. It had not been a mistake as Jane insisted. Mama clearly expected, even anticipated Mr. Collins making and offer to one of her girls. Not just one of her girls, but to Elizabeth in particular.

Surely, even Mama could certainly see how unsuitable they were to one another. Surely he could see it, too. No man could be that insensible, could he?

 

On the way home, Mary contrived to walk with Mr. Collins. How she managed—and why—were a mystery, but Elizabeth enjoyed the fruits nonetheless. She strolled beside Jane, savoring the quiet company and gentle sunshine. With Mr. Collins behind her, she could nearly block out the sound of his voice in favor of the sounds of the countryside—birds, sheep, cows and a few horses.

 Mama faded back from her place beside Papa and interposed herself between Elizabeth and Jane. “It is not becoming for you to roll your eyes so much, Lizzy. I have seen you do it far too often recently.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“And another thing. I do not much like your way of constantly escaping Mr. Collins’s most agreeable company. See there, Mary is walking with him. It should be you.” Mama glanced over her shoulder, none too discretely.

“Mama, I do believe Mary is partial to Mr. Collins’s society,” Jane said.

“I do not care what Mary’s preferences are. Mr. Collins deserves more than a plain middle child. Since he cannot have the eldest, his preference falls to you.” She elbowed Elizabeth sharply.

“Mary would much rather have it.” Elizabeth peeked over her shoulder. “And he does not seem much displeased for it.” In all likelihood, any of them would do for him; he hardly seemed to care very much which.

“That is because he is a gentleman and does not wear his heart upon his sleeve. Do not be insensible of the great boon he seeks to be to all of us.”

“Are you telling me—”

“It seems I can tell you nothing, obstinate girl. I am simply reminding you of the reality of our situation, something you would be wise not to forget.” Mama huffed and marched back to her place beside Papa.

Elizabeth hesitated a few steps, increasing the distance between her and Mama. “Oh, Jane. What am I to do?”

“Do not be too hard on Mama. You know her nerves.”

“Papa’s great friend all these years? Yes, I well know her nerves.” She rolled her eyes. Perhaps Mama did have a fair point on that account.

“Do be fair or at least try.”

“I try. Indeed, I do. But what sense does it make to deny Mary her preference and me mine? You and I have always agreed we should marry for love alone.”

Jane sighed and glanced in the direction of Netherfield Park. “Yes, it is a very desirable thing. But not everyone is the same. Mr. Collins’s motivations seem very different. Not wrong, but different.”

“So different, I do not see how I may bridge the gap—nor do I see why I should when things might very well be agreeably settled with Mary.”

“She does seem to take great pains to seek out his company. Perhaps he and Mama may be made to see reason.”

Hopefully Jane was correct. But what if she were not?

Even if it were not possible to marry for love, it should not be too much to ask to be able to enjoy a friendship with the man she married, should it? How could she possibly settle for less than that?

 

After a light nuncheon in the dining room, Mama called them all to the kitchen. She did the same thing every Stir it Up Sunday since Elizabeth could remember. The large worktable in the center of the kitchen bore the fragrant makings of the pudding. The air swirled with the fragrances of brandy and spices hanging in the steam of the great roiling cauldron waiting to accept the finished pudding.

“You too, Mr. Collins, for you are part of the family, to be sure.” Mama waved him toward the table.

He edged in between Jane and Elizabeth.

 Of course, where else might he stand?

Elizabeth sidled over to make room for him, nearly treading on Mary’s toes in the process. Poor Mary looked so dejected. If only they might switch places, but Mama would no doubt cause such a scene if they did.

“Now, Mr. Collins has it been the habit of your family to make a Christmas pudding?” Mama asked.

“This is the first time I have experienced this most charming and agreeable custom, madam. To be sure, the Christmas Puddings at Rosings Park—”

“Well then, I shall tell you how we do it. There is a great bowl there, and you each have the ingredients beside you. You, sir, have the flour. Add it to the bowl and then pass it east to west.”

“Clockwise—” Papa whispered loudly.

Apparently he thought little of Mr. Collins’s sense of direction. Probably for good reason.

“Yes, yes like that. Give the bowl to Jane now.”

She added a pile of minced suet and passed it to Kitty. Kitty and Lydia added dried fruits and nuts and passed it into Papa’s hands for the bread crumbs and milk.

Mama poured in the brandy soaked citron and spices. “And that makes eleven ingredients. We have two more now, thirteen for Christ and the apostles.”

Mary added the eggs and slid the heavy vessel to Elizabeth.

“How fitting for you to add the final sweetness, Cousin Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth cringed and nearly spilled the sugar.

Mama glowered at her, but quickly recovered her composure and handed Mr. Collins the wooden spoon. “To remind us of the Christ child’s crib. Now stir it east to—clockwise—with your eyes closed sir. And make a wish.”

Mr. Collins steadied the bowl and grasped the spoon. “I shall wish for—”

“No, sir,” Elizabeth said, “Your wish must be made in silence.”

Mama glowered again. Little matter though. Elizabeth had no desire to hear Mr. Collins’s wish. His expression said too much as it was.

The bowl passed around the table. Some wishes were easy to guess.

Mary wished to be noticed by Mr. Collins. Kitty and Lydia wished to be noticed by anyone but Mr. Collins. Mama doubtless wished Mr. Collins to marry one of her girls, preferably Elizabeth. Jane, of course, wished for Mr. Bingley. But Papa’s wish remained a mystery. What would he want?

The cold, heavy bowl passed to her. The rough wooden spoon scraped at her fingers. What to wish for? She closed her eyes and forced the spoon through the heavy batter. To marry for love. I wish to marry for love.

“Do not dawdle so, Lizzy. We must add the charms now. Here one for each of you.” Mamma passed a charm to each sister and Mr. Collins. “Add your charm to the pudding and stir it again.”

Mama shoved the bowl toward Mary. “You start.”

Mary gulped. “I have the thimble—”

Lydia snickered. “How fitting.  Spinsterhood!”

“It is for thrift.” Jane’s tone was as firm as it ever got, a veritable rebuke.

“For thrift, then.” Mary tossed it in and quickly stirred it into the batter.

“I wonder which of us shall travel.” Lydia tossed a tiny shoe charm into the pudding.

“And which shall find safe harbor?” Kitty followed with an anchor and held the bowl while Lydia stirred them in.

Jane added the coin and Elizabeth the horse shoe. Jane held whilst Elizabeth stirred.

“And you Mr. Collins?” Mama blinked, but her expression was far from innocent.

“It seems I have the ring to add to the pudding.” He dropped it, eyes on Elizabeth.

“How very auspicious. Did you know, I added that same charm to a Christmas pudding the year of my betrothal to Mr. Bennet?”

“Traditions says—and I would hardly count it accurate—that the finder of the ring will wed, not the one who dropped it in the pudding,” Papa muttered.

“Well that may be, Mr. Bennet, it might be. But, I can speak to what happened for me. And I believe it may well have significance for others among us.” Mama fluttered her eyes at Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins smiled his cloying smile and edged a little closer to Elizabeth.

Papa huffed softly. “Let us hope that something with greater sense than a pudding prevails over such decisions, shall we now? So then, give me the buttered cloth and the pudding that it may be tied up and done with.”

Elizabeth stood back to give him room to dump the pudding out and wrap it in the pudding cloth.

Thankfully she had an ally in Papa or at least she seemed to. The way Mama carried on and encouraged Mr. Collins, she would need one.


 

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15 comments

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    • Glynis on November 9, 2017 at 3:05 am
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    How can Mr Collins be so obtuse? And surely Mrs Bennet should know Elizabeth would deny him and promote Mary instead?
    No mention of Mr Darcy, I hope he’s gone for his white horse to come riding to Elizabeth’s rescue.
    No doubt I will find out.

    1. Mrs. Bennet has never been an astute character, has she?

    • Vesper on November 9, 2017 at 6:19 am
    • Reply

    Please, not Mary and Collins, the worst pairing in the history of literature. Let him have Elizabeth

    1. No Mary and Collins, I promise.

    • J. W. Garrett on November 9, 2017 at 7:22 am
    • Reply

    Oh dear, poor Elizabeth, poor Mary… goodness. What to do? I assume, since we are nearing Christmas, the Bingley party has left Netherfield. Also, there is the clue of Jane longingly looking toward Netherfield. I also assume our timeline has shifted events a bit. Collins [either hadn’t arrived, or for what ever reason] didn’t propose after the Netherfield Ball. That scene is sure to come. Goodness, you have me longing for the next installment.

    1. This is right before the Netherfield Ball and will follow JA’s canon, just fill in what happened behind the scenes.

    • Adam Q on November 9, 2017 at 7:29 am
    • Reply

    The First Sunday in Advent would always have been after the Canon date for the Netherfield Ball, does this mean that Mr Bingley, at least, has not abandoned Jane despite his friend and sisters?

    1. Stir it up Sunday is the Sunday before advent begins, so this takes place the Sunday prior to the Netherfield Ball.

        • Adam Q on November 9, 2017 at 8:34 am
        • Reply

        Sorry, you are quite correct. Apologies for doubting your research!

    • Linda A. on November 9, 2017 at 10:05 am
    • Reply

    Nice. I could really see that happening in canon. I think I would have had a headache from rolling my eyes at the idiots around me. Thank you for sharing!

      • Adam Q on November 10, 2017 at 10:33 am
      • Reply

      My grandmother used to put small silver charms in her Christmas pudding, but my mother used old silver threepenny coins (pre-1937 UK currency) and redeemed them for modern coins. My uncle snaffled the charms for his puddings!

        • Adam Q on November 10, 2017 at 10:36 am
        • Reply

        My grandmother used to put small silver charms in her Christmas pudding, but my mother used old silver threepenny coins (pre-1937 UK currency) and redeemed them for modern coins. My uncle snaffled the charms for his puddings!

        OOOPS I meant to reply to Sheila below.

    • Sheila L. Majczan on November 9, 2017 at 10:16 am
    • Reply

    I would be afraid of cracking a tooth on a piece of cake. Thus it would be crumbs before I put a bit in my mouth. I can’t imagine that even if Elizabeth marries for reasons other than love that love would not come along. And I am very happy with canon in that Collins marries Charlotte…thank you very much.

  1. Oh, poor, poor Elizabeth!! Especially with Mary’s obvious preference for Mr. Collins!!

    I am curious about what will happen next!! 😀

    BTW. we love Advent in our home! We always have Advent devotionals and sixteen years ago, my sister-in-law created a gorgeous Advent calendar with pockets for each of the days with a Bible verse attached. We’ve put little toys or candy in each pocket, and then the four kids have taken turns in lighting the candles of the Advent wreath and reading the verse from the calendar and then enjoying the contents of the pocket. Lately we’ve placed a piece of candy for each family member in the pocket, so we all enjoy a peppermint Kiss or a mini-Reese’s each evening. I just got a new Advent devotional from AmericanCatholic.org (although I’m Anglican) called Advent with the Saints that looks lovely.

    I love the Collect for the first Sunday in Advent and wish we had the tradition of the Christmas pudding to “stir up.” But “Stir-It-Up” Sunday is always a wonderful time at home and in church. 🙂

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

    • LizIris on November 11, 2017 at 9:10 am
    • Reply

    Very nice beginning of the story. Of cause it would be to easy that Mary finds the ring on Christmas day in het piece of the pudding, even if Mary prefers Mr. Collins. Besides that would leave Charlotte a spinster, and that doesn’t seem right.
    I hope you have some unexpected twist up your sleeve, that we readers will enjoy!

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