Crossed in Love Ch 3

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.


Chapter 3

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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Yorkshire Chrismtas Pie

I have often said the more things change the more they stay the same. Perusing period cookbooks brings this to mind all the time. Between just finishing up to Christmas novella, where the Christmas feast features prominently and getting ready for Thanksgiving ourselves, I’ve had my nose in a number of cookbooks, both historical and modern, and came across this gem recently.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the modern Tur-duck-en, a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken—yeah that’s a thing, really—but it is not nearly as modern as it might first seem. Apparently the wealthy could have enjoyed a similar dish during Regency times, called a Yorkshire pie.
Hannah Glasse, in her best-selling The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy (1774), offers this recipe.

To make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie.

FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon, Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black-pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge; cover them; then the fowls then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it, will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Cut it to pieces, that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild-fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will bake at least four hours. This crust will take a bushel of flour. In this chapter you will see how to make it. These pies are often sent to London in a box, as presents; therefore, the walls must be well built.

(I always feel a little out of breath reading her recipes, since it seemed periods were in short supply during her day and commas had to suffice for most uses, but I digress.) Four pounds of butter and a bushel of flour for the crust. Mind boggling isn’t it?

Sometimes, after the pie cooled, a hot aspic sauce, calves’ foot jelly or similar jellied sauce was poured into the pie using a funnel. The pie would be allowed to cool again and ultimately be served cold. The actual meats used could variety depending on what was available to the cook, including game, veal, bacon, even truffles might find their way into a pie.

Special game pie dishes were mass produced by pottery houses, including Wedgwood. The dishes had an inner liner to hold the pie and an ornamental cover for presenting it at table. These were especially popular during the Regency years when the Napoleonic wars caused shortages of wheat for the pie crusts. Pies cooked in these dishes needed much less crust. I’m not sure if the engraving above represents a pie in a dish or in a very elaborate crush, though. 

History A’la Carte November 2017

It can’t possibly be a surprise that I read tons of history articles each week. I just can’t help myself–I’ve got to share some of the fascinating things I’ve come across. Here are a few of my recent favorites: 

 


 

Student Life in the Medieval University: The Swedish Experience

What was it like to attend a university in the Middle Ages? A recent book tracked students from Sweden who attended the University of Leipzig – who enrolled, what did they study, and what happened to them. It also reveals the challenges to earning a degree in medieval times. … Among the things that students were forbidden from doing included fighting, spending time with prostitutes, gambling in taverns, or walking around the city during night. If you got caught, you could be fined or spend a couple of days in prison. Theft and murder would result in expulsion.

~Read the whole article–it seems college students haven’t changed much since the middle ages!

Before Almack’s

Social activities, fashions, entertainment and more are all driven by “the next big thing.” This is nothing new. Throughout history, we can find examples of this. During the Regency era, Almack’s Assembly Rooms were THE place to be during the Regency era. A voucher for Almack’s conveyed more social impact than invitations to multiple private balls and parties. When Almack’s Assembly Rooms opened in February of 1765, Mr. Macall was in direct competition with Mrs. Cornelys’ assemblies at Carlisle House, and it was by no means certain that Almack’s would be “the next big thing”. A veritable Studio 54 of its time, the assemblies at Carlisle House were geared for the highest society and were quite something….

Cape Fear’s first flushing toilet goes on display

A stone toilet bowl from the 18th century that is believed to be the first flushing toilet in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina has finally been given the pride of place it deserves at the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Historic Site after years of sad neglect in archaeological storage.

The Hand of History: Hands, fingers and nails in the eighteenth century

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the body became more ‘polite’. It was important for people to look a certain way; to dress in particular clothes certainly, but also to try and achieve an ideal body shape. Any sort of bodily deformity or deficiency was socially undesirable and carried connotations of immorality or low status. An increasing range of corrective products was being manufactured and marketed for people desirous of a socially pleasing form. An important component of the ‘polite body’ was the hand. 

~Does any of this sound frighteningly modern?

‘Bling’ in Georgian Interior Decoration

Many of those who went abroad sent home vast numbers of pictures, statues and other objects, all chosen to display their refined taste and fastidious appreciation of Classical art. Some, unfortunately, lacked both qualities and so wasted their money on purchases of items produced by locals eager to cash-in on their naivety. Others had the taste, but not the deep pockets necessary to support it. Nevertheless, many Georgian houses open to the public today benefit greatly from the period of frantic collecting that characterised much of the century — until Napoleon put a stop to continental travel.

Smallpox Inoculation in 18th Century France

In France in the 1700s, there was great opposition to a person getting a smallpox inoculation. Part of the problem was doctors could not ensure the inoculations worked because of too many variables. For instance, to create an inoculation, doctors collected pus or scabs from someone infected with smallpox and then introduced this infected matter into a person by scratching the surface of the skin (usually on the person’s arm). If the person was lucky, the inoculation worked, and, if unlucky, the person developed a full-fledged case of smallpox.

~Talk about a truly terrifying roll of the dice!

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Crossed in Love Ch 2

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


Chapter 2

November 27, 1811  

Monday passed quickly with last minute repairs to Kitty’s gown requiring a pleasing amount of time and energy spent in the company of her sisters and away from Mr. Collins. Pity such good fortune could not have extended the rest of the week and into the Netherfield Ball. No he dogged her every step like a hound—no, like a gosling trailing after a mother goose.

Following such a performance, the previous evening, she could hardly hope to be left in peace today. She must find it now whilst everyone else slept for there would be none once the family awoke. What other reason to be out and about at such an early hour the morning after a ball?

The morning was cold and wet, and rather disagreeable, all told—just cold enough to leave her nose red and tingly. Clouds hung low in the sky, grey and somber, as though the sun could not be bothered to try to peek through. A few birds called, not the pretty songbirds, but the cawing crows whose call was more ominous than appealing. The brown and crunchy landscape seemed uniformly dreary, with none of the footpaths near the house calling to her. Even the little wilderness near the house seemed dull and lifeless. Even the traces of wood smoke on the breeze failed to smell friendly and inviting. But still, it all had the very great advantage of being entirely without Mr. Collins and that was enough to make up for nearly every other fault.

Dew collected along the hem of her skirts and she briskly trod the path up Oakham Mount. She lifted her petticoats slightly to avoid another patch of mud. At least the rain itself had obliged and went its way the day before. If only the footpaths could have dried out a little more quickly.

A slender branch slapped at her face. She snapped it off and slashed at the tall grasses tangling with her skirts tenacious in their attentions as Mr. Collins.

“I cannot believe the obstinacy of the man,” she muttered. “He has all the social grace of a leech. If he should ever even think…”

Think? Was there any doubt as to his intentions were? Only a blind man might mistake them—or one as bent on ignoring the uncomfortable as Papa.

“Why must Mama push so hard and insist upon what she does not truly understand. I know why she thinks it a good thing—but so soon? How can she think she knows his character? It is certainly not the same thing as knowing his position. How am I ever to convince her only a fool dares rush into an alliance no matter how ideal it seems.”

He was to leave soon. If she could just continue avoiding him a while longer. Perhaps, Mama might be worked on in his absence. Even better she might be able to promote Mary’s cause as a most willing substitute.

She cast the branch aside. Yes, that was the best plan, but how was she to avoid him?

Surely the tenants needed to be called upon today—that should keep her out all morning. Then she might pay an afternoon call to Miss Goulding. Mr. Collins had, after all, stepped on her dress. That should take up most of the day. Only two more days to fill.

Oh, yes! There would be dinner at Lucas Lodge as well. Charlotte could be counted on to distract him then. That would do very well for everyone.

She paused and leaned back against a large elm. Even if she were successful in avoiding Mr. Collin’s attentions now and turning him towards Mary in the future, how could she persuade Mama to leave off her quest to see Elizabeth married to the first available gentleman?

A fly buzzed past her face. She slapped it away.

Was she expecting too much? Did she owe it to her family to accept an obsequious man whose conversation she could hardly tolerate just because the estate was entailed upon him? Some would certainly argue it was her duty.

Jane was so good and obliging, she might be willing to martyr herself so, but she had hopes of Mr. Bingley.

Mr. Bingley!

Jane had a very good chance of marrying well and saving them all just as certainly as if Elizabeth married Mr. Collins.

She gulped in a deep breath. The weight of their future was not wholly on her shoulders after all. She sucked in another breath.

Best return to the house now lest Mama have too much opportunity to make plans for her. She turned back down the path for Longbourn.

 

Mama met her just outside the small wilderness near the house. “Where have you been? I have been looking for you for nearly an hour.”

More likely it was a quarter hour. Mama’s sense of time was notoriously linked to her level of vexation.

“Hill knew I had gone walking.”

“Walking? Walking? Who goes walking the morning after a ball?”

“I walk every morning, why should this one be different?”

“Because you are wanted in the house immediately.”

“Wanted? What for?”

“Never you mind that. Just come along.” Mama grabbed her wrist and dragged her back to the house.

She nearly stumbled and fell. A suffocating pressure gripped her chest.

“I … I must call upon the tenants.” She pulled her hand back, but Mama did not release her.

“You have far more important business to attend. The tenants can wait.” Mama flung open the front door and marched in, Elizabeth still trailing behind her. “Now come to the morning room for breakfast.”

“When has breakfast become such an urgent endeavor?”

“No more of your cheek girl, go in and sit. Eat with your sisters.”

Elizabeth sat beside Kitty and pretended interest in a slice of toast.

Mr. Collins entered the room with great solemnity. “May I hope, Madam, for your interest with your fair daughter Elizabeth when I solicit for the honor of a private audience with her in the course of this morning?”

Elizabeth jumped to her feet.

So did Mama, clasping her hands in front of her chest. “Oh dear! Yes, certainly. I am sure Lizzy will be very happy. I am sure she can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs.”

“Dear Mama do not go. I beg you will not go. Mr. Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself.”

Mama rapped her knuckles on the table. “No, no nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you will stay where you are. I insist upon you staying and hearing Mr. Collins.”

Elizabeth dare not disobey so direct an injunction. Perhaps getting this over quickly was the best alternative.

Mama and Kitty walked off, leaving Mr. Collins to begin.

Could a man use more words to say less? His horrifying proposal waxed on until she nearly bit through her tongue. When at last she could loose it, her efforts were of little avail. He denied her at every turn. To such perseverance in willful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply. Immediately and in silence she withdrew, determined, if he persisted in his ridiculous endeavor, to apply to her father whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as must be decisive.

Not a quarter of an hour later, a servant fetched her to her father’s study and shut the door behind her. Mama stood primly near the fireplace whilst Papa rested pensively in his favorite chair.

“Come here child.” He beckoned her to him. “I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you and offer of marriage. Is it true?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Very well, and this offer of marriage you have refused?”

“I have, sir.” She bit her lip and clutched her hands tightly before her.

“Very well. We have now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?” He nodded somberly.

“Yes, or I will never see her again.” Mama stepped forward and punctuated her words with her hands.

Papa chewed his cheek and adjusted his glasses. “An unhappy alternative is before you Elizabeth.”

She held her breath.

“From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

She exhaled heavily and mouthed ‘thank you’ as Mama sputtered and stammered and stamped.

Of course, Papa would support her—she hardly imagined anything else. But their immediate dismissal from his library stung. Could he have not exerted himself just a little more on her behalf, rather than leaving Mama stalking her from room to room, pleading cajoling and even at length, threatening for her cause.

Only Charlotte’s visit took Mama from her side. By the end of the day, Mr. Collins pleaded Mama cease her lamentations and insistence upon remedying the situation, his favors were officially withdrawn.

A man who could change his mind with so little effort surely could not have been much affected by sentimentality. Any affection he might have had for her must have been a work of his imagination. Surely this justified her decision, proved beyond doubt his unsuitability for her.

Did it not?

Something in the disappointment in Mama’s eyes made her wonder.

November 28, 1811 

A night’s sleep—helped along with a touch of laudanum— produced no improvement in Mama’s humor—or health. Her nerves overcame her and sent her to the refuge of her chambers. No doubt, it was her way of avoiding Mr. Collins who could not be moved to depart any sooner than his planned Saturday.

At breakfast, Lydia suggested a walk into Meryton to inquire after Mr. Wickham’s return. Even if the question had not piqued her curiosity, Elizabeth would have been ready to agree simply for the pleasure of avoiding Mr. Collins.

His company was motivated all her sisters to join in the errand. Jane herself suggested adding a visit to Aunt Philips to their journey. Poor dear must be deeply troubled by the level of tension in the house, she was hardly one to invent reasons to be away lest she miss a call by Mr. Bingley. Not surprisingly, Jane’s suggestion met with rousing approval.

Chill November air bust against her face as they poured out the front door. Cold sunshine greeted her, far more inviting than the weather when she last walked without Mr. Collins’s company.

Lydia and Kitty surged ahead, tittering among themselves, the excitement in anticipation of meeting officers clearly too much to contain. They dashed ahead, kicking up little clods of dirt and splashing the occasional puddle as they ran. Elizabeth walked more carefully, avoiding puddles that would spoil her newly cleaned nankeen half-boots and her petticoats. Such things disturbed Mama and she was disturbed enough right now.

Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, but the door remained closed. Mr. Collins did not appear, running to catch up with them. Was it wrong to be so relieved?

It could not be easy to be one whose absence brought greater pleasure than his presence. She should be sympathetic, but only Jane could be quite that good.

 

“Look! Look!” Lydia pointed at two figures stepping out of the boarding house at the edge of town.

“I think it is …” Kitty grabbed Lydia’s hands.

“Mr. Wickham!” Lydia screamed and giggled.

The taller of the two figures waved energetically. That must be Denny.

Kitty and Lydia waved back and giggled. Still holding hands, they ran toward the officers.

“They should not run. It is unladylike and Mama would not approve,” Mary muttered, pointedly avoiding Elizabeth’s gaze.

Though she said nothing directly, there was no doubt Mary harbored many mixed and strained sentiments toward Elizabeth since Mr. Collins’s proposal. Eventually they would have to talk that over, but that time was not now.

“We probably should hurry on—best not leave Kitty and Lydia unattended for too long.” Jane bit her lip, staring at Kitty and Lydia.

Jane was right. They were standing too close to the officers and giggling much too freely. So close to the boarding house, they were sure to be seen by someone happy to spread gossip about them.

Mary pulled her cloak a little tighter around her shoulders and marched ahead. Jane and Elizabeth hurried to catch up.

“We were just telling Wickham how much he was missed at the Netherfield ball.” Lydia looked over her shoulder and batted her eyes.

“I am humbled that my absence should have even been noticed at such a distinguished event.” Wickham bowed from his shoulders.

Beside him, Denny mirrored his actions. Both men wore their regimentals. That alone was enough to send Kitty and Lydia swooning.

“Unfortunately, business in town could not be postponed.” He raised his brow slightly.

Perhaps he would share the rest of that thought later.

“Business always ruins the best of our fun.” Lydia pouted and sidled between the two officers. She slipped her hands into each of their arms.

Jane blushed almost the color of Lydia’s scarlet cloak.

“We are on our way to call upon our Aunt Philips. Perhaps you would care to join us on our call,” Elizabeth said.

Hopefully they would agree. At least that way Lydia could be ill-behaved behind closed doors instead of in the middle of the street.

Wickham and Denny exchanged a quick glance and nodded at one another.

“Mrs. Philips has extended us such warm, open hospitality already. It would be our pleasure to call upon her.” Wickham’s smile suggested the invitation was the highest honor he ever had been offered.

What a dramatic contrast to Mr. Collins, whose smile that left her squirming, or Mr. Darcy who seemed never to smile at all.

The suggestion must have mollified Lydia. Her deportment improved to almost proper on the walk to the Philips’s.

Jane’s creased forehead suggested she still did not approve, but the blush had faded from her cheeks. That was something.

Aunt Philips was only too happy to invite them all in. A party of young people, particularly one that included eligible young men in the company of her very marriageable nieces, could not be but a delight.

They sat in her cozy parlor and tea was soon brought in. Lydia and Kitty crowed upon the long sofa to sit between Wickham and Denny. Truly, Aunt Phillips should suggest that there were enough seats for everyone, but both looked so satisfied, she would have been hard pressed to move either of them. Mary sat, somewhat aloof nearest the windows, more often looking out of them than joining in the conversation. She really was taking the turn of events with Mr. Collins very poorly. Aunt Philips hardly seemed to notice though, happily presiding over the little party from her seat near the fireplace.

“You gave us no small concern at your absence from the Netherfield Ball, sir.” Aunt Phillips handed Wickham a cup of tea. “We were quite relieved not to find ourselves deprived of your company, Lt. Denny.”

“Denny is such a good dancer, is he not?” Lydia leaned close to Kitty, her tea sloshing nearly out of its cup.

Kitty launched into a painfully detailed description of the set they danced together, the one during which Mary King had stumbled.

Mr. Wickham leaned toward Elizabeth, glancing back at Lydia and Aunt Philips as though in hopes of a bit of privacy.

She cocked her head and inclined his way.

“I found as the time drew near that I had better not meet Mr. Darcy. That to be in the same room, the same party with him for so many hours together, might be more that I could bear and that scenes might arise unpleasant to more than myself.”

“I admire your forbearance, sir, to deny yourself the very great pleasure of such an event out of consideration for the rest of the company.

His cheek dimpled with a half-smile. “I felt sure you were capable of seeing it in such light. I only hope you will not resent—”

“Mr. Darcy? Surely you cannot expect I will not harbor ill-will toward him when his very presence deprived us of your company.”

“Are you speaking of the business that kept you away?’ Lydia huffed. “What droll preoccupation could demand your attentions away from us?”

Wickham’s eyebrow twitched, and he tipped his head toward Elizabeth. “They were very droll indeed. You could hardly take interest in my succession of busy nothings in town.”

How neatly he avoided giving Lydia a direct answer. He never told an outright falsehood, distracting and side-stepping instead. Much practice must have going into the perfecting of that skill.

At the end of half an hour, they bid their aunt good day.

“Pray allow us to attend you home. It is much too soon to depart from such agreeable company.”

“Indeed it is.” Denny offered an arm to Kitty and the other to Lydia. With another peal of giggles they set off with him.

Mary snorted and stalked on, quickly over taking them on the quite roadway.

“Pray excuse me.” Jane curtsied and hurried after Mary, little clouds of dust forming at her heels.

If anyone could pacify Mary’s hurt feelings it was Jane.

Wickham glanced at her and slowed his pace a fraction, extending their distance from the others. “I cannot pretend to be sorry for a few moments to express my thanks for your gracious understanding, Miss Elizabeth.”

“You are too kind, sir. It is you who are all gentlemanly forbearance and—”

“You think far too well of me. I am hardly a gentleman.”

“Perhaps not by birth, but certainly by deportment, which is more that I can say for many who are born to the office.”

“You honor me. Would that society could be so liberal minded as well. You are most certainly an example of a true gentlewoman.” How was it that his compliments always left her feeling so warm and fuzzy inside?

“Such flattery will certainly ruin me sir. You must be careful lest you spoil me for other company.”

“Do not tell me, other company fails to flatter you appropriately?”

She cocked her head and lifted her brow. “It is not seemly to flatter young women, sir, or have you not been so told?”

“Had I been told, I would have ignored such foolishness. No accessory looks better on a young woman than a properly crafted compliment.”

“My mother would agree with you, no doubt. She always approves of whomever would complement her daughters.”

“A sensible woman to be sure.”

No one had ever said that of Mama. She pressed her lips hard not to laugh.

“May I introduce you to my parents? Mama has heard my sisters speak of you and your fellow officers so often. She has been anxious to make your acquaintance.”

“I would not suppose to force a connection upon them.”

“Not at all. I assure you. You are too modest. They will be most pleased of it. I would be delighted to introduce you.”

“I dare not suspend any pleasure of yours. I shall be pleased for the introduction.”

 

Hill met them at the front door. Elizabeth bid her announce their guests to her parents. Hopefully Mama would find their visit sufficient reason to leave her chambers. She had scarcely time to call for lemonade and biscuits before Mama appeared on Papa’s arm at the parlor door.

Elizabeth sprang to her feet, but Lydia cut her off.

“Look who we have brought to call. Lt. Wickham and Lt. Denny. We called upon Aunt Philips with them, and they walked us home.”

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” Mama curtsied.

“Indeed, sirs. The introduction is long overdue considering how your names have been attendant upon our meals these weeks now.” Papa sat in his favorite wingback near the fire.

Wickham rose and bowed. “You must forgive us for intruding upon your mealtimes uninvited.”

“Do not be silly, no one has been bothered by any such thing.” Lydia pulled his arm. “But what does bother me is the way Elizabeth monopolizes your company. It is a bad habit on her part. Mama you really must speak to her about it.”

Mama’s eyes grew wide and her brows disappeared under the lace of her cap.

Papa’s eyes twinkled and he pressed his lips together. What was he thinking?

Mama stepped back and leaned out the doorway. “Hill, see refreshments are brought.”

Surely Mama must know she and Jane would not neglect such basic hospitality. Elizabeth bit her lip. At least Mama was out of her rooms.

The next quarter hour passed quickly with fresh biscuits and good humor for all. They left in their wake Mama’s improved humor, which Papa clearly approved.

“I think, Elizabeth you might have found a most singular cure to your Mother’s ill health. Pray it continues when Mr. Collins returns from his constitutional.”


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Christmas 1811: Cover Reveal and a Vote!

It probably comes as no surprise, I love the holiday season.  This year has been a doozy and just managed to throw one more unexpected wrench at us–a huge as in ‘what in the world do you do with THAT’ sized wrench–which is all the more reason to find some way to really celebrate the season. And what better way than to celebrate with a new Christmas book? Well, how about two?

Yep, this year absolutely calls for not just one Christmas book, but two! And here’s a peek at the first: Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811. Have you ever wondered what happened after Darcy disappeared with Bingley to London, leaving the Bennets with the militia in Meryton? Take a peek behind the scenes on what might have happened to our beloved characters during the last Christmastide before Darcy and Elizabeth married.

The cover is ALMOST ready, but I need some input from you guys.  What do you think? The cover with Darcy on the left or on the right?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like a peek inside, take a look at  Crossed in Love which  started posting last week. It is Elizabeth’s half of the story–my (early) Christmas gift to you.

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