In Pride and Prejudice, was Elizabeth crossed in love while the militia was stationed over Christmas in Meryton?. Take a behind-the-scenes peek with me at what might have happened.
November 30, 1811
Mr. Collins’s return brought back Mama’s melancholy in even greater measure than before. Who would have imagined a quiet and contemplative Mr. Collins could be a trial to anyone, but it was to Mama.
The letter that arrived shortly thereafter did nothing to improve her spirits. Worse still, the news of the departure of Netherfield’s tenants in favor of London unsettled Jane even more than Mama. Jane felt certain it meant Mr. Bingley would never return to Meryton. But, he was so clearly in love with her that was hardly possible. Lizzy’s firm persuasion helped her put on a brave face for their dinner at Lucas Lodge.
Though neither Mama nor Mr. Collins deigned look at or speak to Lizzy through the whole of the evening, they both seemed in better spirits for it. Even better, Mr. Collins spent the better part of the next day out of the house, returning only in time for dinner.
Something had happened that day—surely it must have. He was so different during that meal, so restive, yet almost smug. At least he would be gone soon, if not for very long, for he hinted, nay threatened, to visit them ere long.
What possible purpose could he have in such designs? Perhaps—Elizabeth bit her knuckle and watched Mr. Collins trudge upstairs for the last time on this visit. Perhaps he might return to court Mary. That would please both Mary and Mama and resolve everything very nicely.
On that happy thought, Elizabeth retired.
November 30, 1811
Mr. Collins took leave of them early that morning with many bows and stiffly proper words of thanks for the hospitality shown him by Longbourn. Mama’s eyes brimmed and her hands fluttered as she stammered encouragement for him to return soon, even going so far as to imply he should have hopes for a material change to have taken place in the hearts and minds of Longbourn when he returned. Odd, how he simply seemed to ignore that remark. It should have been pleasing that he did so, but instead it was rather ominous.
How pleasant was breakfast without threat of Mr. Collins making an appearance and interrupting their conversations with remarks on Lady Catherine’s opinions; the grandeur of Rosings Park; or the comments of sermon writers on the proper behavior of young ladies.
Even better, Charlotte arrived shortly thereafter, ready for conversation. How strange, though, that she did not bring a work basket with her, and something about the crease in her brow, the way she carried her shoulders. Something was definitely wrong.
“Would it be possible for us to speak alone for a few moments, in privacy?” Charlotte asked.
“Of course, perhaps a turn about the garden?” Elizabeth ushered her outside.
Elizabeth blinked in the bring morning sun. The mild warmth of the day was just beginning to break the early chill left over from the previous evening. They headed toward the little wilderness. Charlotte was not much of a walker, and the trees, even though they were mostly brown and bare, would offer a degree of privacy without taxing her too much. They walked many steps in silence.
“I can see something troubles you. Is everything well with your family?” Elizabeth bit her lip and steeled herself for bad news.
Their skirts rustled against drying leaves and small twigs crunched underfoot.
“Yes, yes, very well—quite well in fact. I fear though, I have some news that you may find disagreeable.” Charlotte wrung her hands, twisting her tan kid gloves as she did. If she continued, she might well ruin them.
“Best tell me quickly then and preserve me from fretting over the nature of it.” Pray not let her say the thing Elizabeth had snickered about to herself before drifting to sleep last night.
“I know you will find this difficult to conceive.” Charlotte stopped and looked Elizabeth full in the face. “I am engaged to your cousin.”
“That is not possible!” Elizabeth winced. That was probably not the correct thing to say.
“It is quite possible and entirely true. He came to me yesterday with an offer of marriage, which I have accepted.”
“But it was just Wednesday—” Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hand.
“That he made an offer to you. I am well aware.” Charlotte smiled a tight smile.
“You do not find it alarming he made a similar offer to you but two days later?”
“I have dwelt upon that truth, but I am satisfied in his explanation of being able to seemingly switch his allegiances so easily.”
“There is nothing seeming about it, it is exactly what he has done. Forgive me, my friend, but I am astonished at your having accepted him.”
Charlotte turned her head—probably so Elizabeth could not see her roll her eyes—and began walking again. “Why should you be surprised my dear Eliza? Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman’s good opinion, because he was not so happy to succeed with you?”
In truth, the answer was a thousand times yes. No woman with any sense or dignity could accept such a man as he.
“I can see what you are feeling. But when you have had time to think, it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done.” Charlotte wrapped her arms around her waist. “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home, and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections and situation, in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” Charlotte turned back toward Longbourn house.
“Undoubtedly,” Elizabeth whispered, not that she meant it, but it was a polite thing to say.
What a dreadful opinion Charlotte must have of marriage altogether. All this time, Elizabeth thought they shared the idea it should be a bond built on mutual affection. To see her accept a man for no reason but worldly gain—did she even know her friend at all?
She squeezed her eyes shut, but the image of Charlotte in a matron’s cap beside Mr. Collins, with a line of children all looking like him impinged upon her. Could a comfortable home truly balance the daily humiliations of being attached to such a man? Did Charlotte truly have any idea of what she had done?
Their walk back to the house was quiet save the crisp leaves under their half-boots and a distant bird calling out its loneliness to any who would listen. Charlotte quickly took her leave, probably sensing rightly Elizabeth required time to ponder the unexpected turn of events.
How much time would it require to reconcile such an unfathomable decision? Would she ever be able to see Charlotte in a favorable light again?
Elizabeth took a slow turn about the garden, but no answers lurked among the autumn hollyhocks and gillyflowers. So, she brought her work basket into the parlor and joined Mama, and her sisters. Mama sat in her favorite chair near the fireplace, pretending to sew whilst she regularly glanced at Elizabeth and sighed. Jane sat at the writing desk at the far side of the room pretending to write a letter whilst Mary stared at the same page of her book for no less than ten minutes. Kitty and Lydia, though, were in better spirits, playing a board game at the table near the window.
Lydia talked more than played though—enough words for two, maybe three young ladies. Hopefully that meant Elizabeth would not be called upon for some meaningful contribution to the conversation. Pray let them not ask after Charlotte!
What would she tell Mama? Should she say anything at all? Charlotte had not given her leave to share the news.
Hill appeared in the doorway. “Sir William Lucas, madam.” She curtsied.
Mama muttered and groaned and heaved herself to her feet. “Show him in.”
“Greetings and felicitations to you Mrs. Bennet.” Sir William bowed and trundled in. “And Miss Elizabeth, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia. I come at the behest of my daughter, bearing great good news.”
Elizabeth grimaced, her stomach clenched. No! Not Sir William! Who was more perfectly crafted to agitate Mama with such news as he had to express? She cast about the room; there must be some way to stop him.
“Any good news for your family will be most welcome intelligence.” Mama’s voice turned brittle as the color left her face. “Do come in and allow us to share in your celebration.”
He opened his hands as if to display a treasure. “My dear Charlotte has charged me to bring you the news of her betrothal.”
“Betrothal?” Mama choked on the word and grabbed for the back of her chair.
Lydia look at him over her shoulder and laughed. “Charlotte is engaged? To whom?”
“Please forgive my sister. We had no idea anyone was calling upon Charlotte.” Jane shot a bug-eyed glare at Lydia.
“I take no offense, none at all. It all came together most suddenly—entirely unexpectedly.” Sir William’s smile was decidedly … polite.
“To whom?” Mama forced the words through gritted teeth.
“Why to your cousin, Mr. Collins, good madam.”
Mary snapped her book shut, pallor creeping over the face.
“Mr. Collins?” Mama’s voice tightened to a shriek and she threw her head back, laughing. “I never took you as one for a humbug, Sir William, but you certainly have crafted a fine one.”
His eyes widened and he took half a step back. Whatever reaction he had expected, this certainly was not among the possibilities. A full minute passed before he regained his power of speech.
“Pray, no madam, there is no humbug at all. My news is entirely factual. Charlotte is betrothed to Mr. Collins.”
“That is simply not possible. He made an offer to my Elizabeth not three days ago. He could not possibly have made an offer to anyone else, much less your daughter, in so short a time.” Mama held her left hand behind her back and balled it into a fist.
How he contained his reaction, Elizabeth would never understand. He continued to smile and insist, but Mama would hear nothing of it.
Elizabeth wrung her hands. “Mama, please, Sir William speaks the truth.”
Mama whirled on her. “What do you know of this?”
“Charlotte came to see me this morning. She … she told me Mr. Collins made her an offer, and she accepted. Sir William is not at all mistaken.”
“That cannot be. You … you are to be married to him … not … not …” she waved a pointing finger toward Sir William.
Jane jumped to her feet and steadied Mama. “Please convey our best wishes and happiness to Charlotte and Lady Lucas. We … all of us … wish her joy.”
He dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief and bowed deeply. “Thank you, Miss Bennet.”
“Indeed,” Elizabeth stood, “we are very pleased for her and for Mr. Collins.”
“How can you say such a thing, Lizzy? Do not presume to speak for me. This is surely a mistake, and I cannot rejoice in it at all.” Mama shuffled from one foot to the other like an uneasy hen.
Sir William mopped his forehead again and edged half a step back. “Forgive me, madam, but I am very sure of the discussion I had with the gentleman in question. He goes to Kent to prepare settlement papers directly.”
“Pray, Mama—” Lizzy sent her a pleading look.
“Mind yourself, Miss Lizzy. I told you I would never see you again, and I have little desire to see you or anyone now. Excuse me, Sir William, I am most unwell.” She flounced from the room, leaving a wake of gaping jaws behind her.
“Pray excuse our mother,” Jane stammered.
Clearly she was searching for some way to cover Mama’s rudeness, but even a saint would find it difficult to create a plausible excuse.
“Do not worry, Miss Bennet. I know her delicate constitution makes it difficult for her to bear with unexpected news. Fear not, I am quite certain no offense is meant, and none is taken. If you will excuse me though, I have several other calls to make this morning on my daughter’s behalf.” He bowed and showed himself out.
Jane shut the door and stared at Elizabeth.
“Charlotte Lucas, engaged to Mr. Collin?” Lydia bounced up from her seat and bobbed in front of Elizabeth. “How could you keep such delicious news to yourself? You are quite horrible keeping it to yourself.”
“Delicious news?” Mary’s voice broke. “I think it as terrible as Mama.” She threw her book on her chair and fled the room.
No doubt she would consider herself quite jilted and lovelorn now, though Mr. Collins had paid her no special regard.
“Perhaps we should go to Mama.” Jane bit lip.
Hill appeared. “The missus calls for Miss Elizabeth.”
“See to Mary, I am sure she will need your comfort.” Elizabeth whispered as she passed Jane.
“She is in her chambers.” Hill tried to smile, but the effect was more of a grimace.
Just the place for another delightful round of ‘How could you refuse Mr. Collins.’ What a delightful way to spend the afternoon.
She dragged her feet as long as she could, but eventually she arrived at her mother’s door, conveniently left open for her.
“Come in, and close the door.” Mama’s voice was thin and sharp as a winter wind. “Come to me, do not hover near the door, I have no intention of shouting.” Whatever her intentions, there was little doubt this conversation would involve shouting at some point.
All the curtains were drawn, throwing the cluttered room into deep shadows. The bed and chairs were piled high with pillows; the press and small tables held bric-a-brac enough to keep the maids dusting for a lifetime. A bowl of dried roses fragranced the room with a dry and dusty sort of perfume that somehow felt very old.
“So it is true, Charlotte is to be married to Mr. Collins?” Mama beckoned in short, angry motions.
Elizabeth inched closer into the deep shadows of the room. “That is what Charlotte told me. I have no reason to disbelieve her.”
“Then he is entirely lost to you girls.”
“It would seem the case.”
“I hope you understand what you have done, Elizabeth.” Mama’s cold flat voice, chilled her more deeply than a snowstorm.
She pulled her shoulders back and clasped her hands behind her back “I refused a hopelessly unsuitable match.”
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child! We will all be in the hedgerows because of you.” Mama point at her, hand shaking.
“I hardly think—”
“Indeed, indeed, you do not consider anyone but yourself. You seek only your pleasure for today without regard for the situations of others and for the reality of their future. I am heartily ashamed of you Elizabeth. Ashamed.”
She said the word so easily. Had she any notion of how deeply it cut?
“You shirk your duty to all of us and for what? For what? I do not understand.”
Elizabeth swallowed hard, blinking rapidly to ease her burning eyes. “If you do not understand, then I cannot possibly explain it to you.”
“Do not be snippy with me, Miss Lizzy. When I was your age, I knew my duty, and I did it by becoming Mrs. Bennet as soon as I possibly could. I have never regretted it, at least not until today, as I am forced to look upon the cake you have made of everything. How are we to live when your father is dead? Answer me that?”
“Does Jane not have hopes yet for Mr. Bingley?”
“She does, she does indeed, but hopes are only that until the settlements are signed and the marriage is done. I hope she will marry him. I expect she will marry him,” Mama covered the distance between them in two brisk steps and poked Elizabeth’s chest. “But it was you who were made an offer and refused it. What is to become of us! What I ask you!”
There was little point in trying to answer such a question.
“I will tell you this. If it were not for the officers you brought home and introduced yesterday, I would indeed never see you again.”
At this moment that possibility sounded rather pleasing.
“I hope that effort was you repenting of your error and trying to make amends for it. I still do not know if I will accept your energies, though. Perhaps now, you can see how very great your foolishness is.”
Elizabeth held her breath. She dare not risk speaking her mind now.
“That Wickham fellow seems quite charming enough for all your foolish romantical notions. And he is an officer. I fully expect to see you behave in a more fitting way with him than you did with Mr. Collins. Go now and fetch Hill for me. My nerves! Oh, my poor nerves!”
Elizabeth scurried out, instructed Hill and bolted outside.
Fresh air, she needed fresh air, although even that was tainted with the memory of her recent assignation with Charlotte. The garden would not do. The footpath toward Oakum Mount, that was a far better plan.
Soon the shade of the path closed in over her and the cool spread over her heated spirits.
Had Mama just ordered her to flirt with Mr. Wickham? How else was she to interpret Mama’s command?
There was no way around it, Mama had suggested she secure Mr. Wickham as soon as may be possible just as Charlotte had suggested Jane should secure Mr. Bingley.
Elizabeth caught herself against a large oak and clutched it for support. It did not seem it mattered to Mama whom she married, so long as she did it quickly.
At least Mr. Wickham was a much more agreeable conquest that Mr. Collins could ever be. He was warm and open and easy company. He had an excellent sense of humor, was well-spoken and a very good dancer. Though he had a sad history with Mr. Darcy, he did have a great many friends around him. By all accounts, he was a very eligible man.
Eligible and agreeable—that seemed a rare combination.
Perhaps it would not be a bad thing to become further acquainted. At least it would please Mama. Certainly she would not throw herself at him, that would be unseemly at best and entirely beyond her nature. But she would not mind getting to know him better.
In fact, that might be a very pleasing thing indeed.
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