I will admit. I am not writing this as fast as the last two. At first, I was worried to offend my readers again because there is a compromise at the beginning of this story - but not the same kind. It is your typical "Oh my goodness, you were found with Mr. Darcy's arms around you!" kind of compromise. And, given Mr. Darcy's temperament, you know he will not be happy with how it all came about. His pride will be extremely stiff and it's my job to soften him up so Elizabeth can fall in love with him.
Pfffttt.... how hard could that be????
I took my time with the beginning of the story and thought I'd share the first chapter with you.
Compromise & Consequence
Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!
Four of the Bennet sisters from Longbourn walked a familiar laneway to the closest village of Meryton. In their midst, desperately attempting to keep up, was their out of shape cousin whom they had met for the first time yesterday. Between trying to take hold of Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s arm, which she conveniently kept out of his reach by various means, and doing a funny hop skip step as he was not used to walking so far, he kept up a steady, if labored one-sided conversation.
“My esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, would be well pleased to know how you keep fit by walking, Cousin Elizabeth.” He paused to suck in a breath and then hurried to catch up with her and the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane. “Do you always walk so quickly?”
Elizabeth glanced at Mr. Collins over her shoulder and then looked straight ahead so he wouldn’t notice the wide smile she could not hold back any longer.
“Oh no, Mr. Collins. We have slowed down our pace in deference to you. Normally, we walk much faster.”
“Faster?” he panted out, finally coming to a halt and bent low over his knees. “I must catch my breath.”
“Lizzy,” Jane said beneath her breath. “We are now bordering on cruel behavior.”
“I know,” she whispered back. “I shall stay with Mr. Collins. I see Charlotte down the lane, we will accompany her. You go ahead and keep an eye on Lydia and Kitty. I do not trust what they are up to. They were too insistent on walking to Meryton today.”
Jane would have hesitated, but she saw Charlotte Lucas coming toward them, so with a friendly wave, she hurried to catch up to their two youngest sisters.
“Charlotte, good timing on your part. Mr. Collins and I are walking into Meryton. Are you by chance also going into the village?”
By this time, Miss Lucas had come alongside. “I am. Mama has asked me to post a letter to our uncle.”
“Mr. Collins, may I present to you Miss Charlotte Lucas of Lucas Lodge?”
Her cousin had finally caught his breath and offered Charlotte an awkward bow.
“Miss Lucas, this is my cousin, Mr. Collins of Hunsford, Kent.”
“You should introduce me properly cousin. I am the Reverend Mr. William Collins of Hunsford parsonage, of Rosings Park, Kent.”
“I stand corrected.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Collins. Are you here for an extended stay?”
Lizzy almost rolled her eyes, knowing what was coming next. Mr. Collins did not disappoint.
“I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of the Hunsford parish. With her blessing, I intend to trespass upon the hospitality of my esteemed cousin Bennet till Saturday next, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day.”
“Your patroness sounds like a fine woman,” Charlotte said, a twinkle in her eye. “It is well that she can spare you for so long.”
“Oh yes, she is the one who urged me to heal the breach in our families. My father did not like Mr. Bennet and refused to even speak his name, but now that he has passed, God rest his soul, I felt the time had come for me to extend the olive branch and make amends.”
“Yes, Charlotte. Lady Catherine de Bourgh takes prodigious care of our cousin. There is nothing that escapes her notice.” Lizzy faced Mr. Collins. “You must tell her about the shelves in the closet.”
Mr. Collins, as expected, launched into a rapturous soliloquy about his patroness and her various recommendations to the parsonage and adjacent garden.
“I dare say she is a very knowledgeable woman,” Charlotte murmured when he finally finished speaking. “It is a pity that great ladies, in general, are not more like her. Does she live near you, sir?”
“The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship’s residence.” Mr. Collins practically beamed from the attention Charlotte paid him, which set Lizzy to think and plot a new direction for her verbose cousin.
“Mr. Collins, when we reach Meryton, would you be so kind as to escort Miss Lucas to the post office. I fear the gentleman there might charge her too much for her letter and having you there will keep him honest.”
“But I had intended to stay by your side, cousin Elizabeth.”
“Dear Mr. Collins, I have three sisters with me, I am not without company. Plus, I have need to visit a lady’s shop, and you cannot enter the establishment.” He looked as though he would argue. “No, my mind is made up. You must be the dashing gentleman and provide protection for Miss Lucas.”
Charlotte raised an eyebrow at her obvious meddling but said nothing – just as Lizzy expected. Her best friend always said she was not looking for romance in marriage, seeking instead security and a good man. Lizzy may not look to her cousin in that way, but Charlotte would make a wonderful mistress of Hunsford parsonage and in the future, Longbourn. She just had to make sure the officious donkey followed the carrot of Miss Lucas. Also, she had plans for when she reached her majority in May, and they did not include marriage.
By the time Elizabeth had finished the little bit of shopping required for her needs, Jane waited outside sporting a bright smile, while Kitty and Lydia appeared quite disgruntled.
“Are we ready to walk home?” she asked them.
“We may as well, Denny and Wickham have gone back to the encampment. There is nothing to do now.”
“Denny and Wickham?” Lizzy queried.
“Kitty and Lydia introduced us to some officers from the ____shire Militia. A Captain Denny and a Lieutenant Wickham. I did not speak with them for very long as Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy were on their way to Longbourn and when they saw us, stopped to query about my health.”
Jane had fallen ill while visiting Mr. Bingley’s sisters and ended up staying six days at Netherfield Park, along with Elizabeth while she recovered. It seemed promising that Mr. Bingley made the attempt to visit Jane before two full days passed since they last saw him.
“Mr. Bingley stopped, but Mr. Darcy took off as though his horse had a burr in its saddle,” Lydia laughed out. “Wickham was well pleased by that.”
“Why is that, Lydia?”
“I do not know all the details, but he did say in passing he and Mr. Darcy do not get along.”
“I am not sure there are many people who do,” Lizzy mused out loud, thinking of Mr. Darcy’s behavior and manner whenever he was out among the citizens of Meryton. “Well, I am glad Jane saw Mr. Bingley. At least one of us had a bright moment.”
“Where is Mr. Collins, Lizzy?” Jane’s head had come out of the clouds long enough for her to see her sister was quite alone.
“I asked him to escort Charlotte to the postmaster. Should we check and see if they are still there?”
The Bennet ladies had not gone far when Charlotte and Mr. Collins exited the building and joined them for the walk home. The younger sisters spoke of nothing but officers, Jane daydreamed about Mr. Bingley and Lizzy walked with Mr. Collins between her and Charlotte. If she lagged behind them every now and then, he did not seem to notice as Charlotte gave him much attention. For which both he and Lizzy were grateful.
That evening, after dinner, Mr. Collins solicited a request to sit next to her in the parlor. About to excuse herself from the room, she was stopped by Mama.
“Of course, you may sit with Lizzy, Mr. Collins. I am sure she will not object to your company.”
Although Mrs. Bennet could not technically decide whom she would marry, it was better to not tip the cart at this juncture. Therefore, Lizzy determined to use this time for a better, far-reaching purpose.
“How did you like my friend, Mr. Collins?”
“She is a very pleasant lady. Well refined, soft-spoken. I know Lady Catherine would find her an acceptable friend.”
“I am glad you think Lady Catherine would like my friend, Miss Lucas. I do worry about what she would think of me.”
“Why is that?”
“Mama has always told me I am too opinionated and is forever lamenting the fact that my skirts are always six inches deep in mud. I do so like to walk no matter what the weather.”
“She says you are opinionated?”
“Most definitely. Ask any of my sisters. I think that is why I walk so much; Mama and I tend to have small arguments over my perceived behavior. She thinks I am too headstrong for my own good and blames it on all the books Papa allows me to read.”
“Your father allows you to read his books?”
“Oh, yes. He has not curtailed what I have read at all. Why the other week I started reading Mrs. Wollstonecraft’s book. Miss Lucas warned me I should not. She would never dare, but I found I agreed with a lot of what Mrs. Wollstonecraft had to say.”
Mr. Collins partially leaned away from her; his mouth dropped open.
“Oh, this will never do. Lady Catherine would never approve.”
“Mr. Collins, I tell you these things because you are such an honorable gentleman and you have made your intentions quite clear. I cannot in good conscience allow you to engage your heart when you deserve a lady who will match you in equal temperament and manners. Someone like my friend, Miss Lucas.”
“Thank you for your consideration, cousin Elizabeth. I had been thinking of you as my future companion but Lady Catherine would never approve of a woman who read such radical books. I think I will speak with your father about this. It is quite distressing.”
“Please do, Mr. Collins. Papa will tell you I returned the book and told him to hide it as I do not think my younger sisters are ready for such far-reaching ideas. The only thing I would ask is that you do not speak to Mama about this. It distresses her that we sometimes rub the wrong way, and I do not want to add to her burden. We may have our moments, but I love her dearly and would like to think she would be happy about you and I having an amicable relationship as cousins and friends.”
“Consider it done, cousin Elizabeth and I look forward to a long friendship.”
“Will you be calling on my good friend, Miss Lucas? As you know, we had a few moments of sharing confidences when you stopped to fix your shoe during our walk from Meryton, and she expressed an interest in your situation and made mention of how lucky you were to have such an attentive patroness. I do not think I would be remiss in directing your attention toward her.”
“I will think about this very carefully.”
“Yes, you must do that. Fortunately, we are all going to my aunt Phillips for cards tomorrow evening and I know Miss Lucas has been invited as well. This would be an excellent time for you to see how well she behaves in a social situation. You will not be disappointed. Sir William and Lady Lucas have raised a very well-mannered lady.”
“Oh, her father was knighted?”
“Yes, Mr. Collins.” Lizzy peeked through her lashes to see if Mama still watched them. Given that Mr. Collins was quite engaged in their conversation and she was smiling, the scene was set for what Mrs. Bennet would perceive as a courtship. Never had she acted so foolish in her entire life. Pray that he does not ask Uncle about Mrs. Wollstonecraft. He had no such book in his library. “Sir William delights in telling new acquaintances of how he was presented at St. James’s court. No other person in Meryton can claim that honor.”
“I will indeed make myself known the gentleman.”
Satisfied her prodding had planted the seed, she left it at that, confident that tomorrow the watering could be taken over by Charlotte.
The next evening was the card party at their Aunt Phillips. As no objection was made to the young people’s engagement with their aunt, and all Mr. Collins’s scruples of leaving Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for a single evening during his visit were most steadily resisted, the coach conveyed him and his five cousins at a suitable hour to Meryton. Lydia and Kitty were well pleased to hear, upon entering the drawing-room, that Mr. Wickham had accepted their uncle’s invitation and was also in attendance. Lizzy herself had not been introduced to the gentleman, but she could see why her sisters were in such a tither. He indeed was a handsome man and from what she could tell, his manners were quite engaging.
At one time in the evening, he sought her introduction, but Charlotte and her brother Jonathan had just entered the room and Lizzy was anxious to affix her to Mr. Collins’s side.
“Pray excuse me, Mr. Wickham. My friend has arrived and I have some important news to impart. Please do not think me rude, I have enjoyed our conversation.”
“I would never think you rude, Miss Elizabeth but I will request, in order to make up for our shortened visit, that next we meet if there is dancing, you would grant me a set.”
“I would be more than pleased to dance with you, Mr. Wickham.” She caught Charlotte’s eye and acknowledged her. “It has been a pleasure, sir.”
She then took her leave and crossed the room to where Charlotte stood.
“I am so glad you came tonight, Charlotte. I have much to relay and not much time.”
“You sound almost frantic. Whatever is the matter?”
“Nothing is the matter, but I have laid the cornerstone for the foundation of your marriage.”
“Yes. Mr. Collins was making much noise about choosing me as a future wife, but I cannot abide the man – at least not as a husband. With subtle nudges, I have set him on a path that hopefully leads to you.”
“But, if you married him, your family could remain at Longbourn when your father passes.”
“True, but as you well know, I am already well situated and my cousins need not worry about where they will lay their heads when Uncle Thomas passes.” She had at one time, confided in Charlotte a little of her family history. “Also, marriage is for life and I cannot see myself making him happy. I know he would not make me happy. If I could have pushed him in Mary’s direction, I would have, but he is very much under the thumb of his patroness and Mary would only sermonize, making it worse. Oh! Here he comes.” Lizzy and Charlotte both turned to greet him with pleasant smiles. “Mr. Collins. I was just complimenting Miss Lucas on the minced pies she brought over the other day.”
“You cook, Miss Lucas?”
“Cook? Miss Lucas not only makes mince pies but Sir William has been heard to proclaim her dinner rolls are the best he has ever tasted.” Charlotte reached between them and pinched her arm. Lizzy smiled and took a small step away. “I know she will deny all this because she is a modest Christian woman, but it is true.”
By this time, Mr. Collins had turned his undivided attention to Charlotte and when Aunt Phillips called her guests to the card tables, he asked if she would partner him for a round of whist. With a small skip in her step, Lizzy found Jane and filled her in on her successful evening.
“You are lucky Mama is not here.”
“Truer words were never spoken. It is a good thing they let us come alone. At this rate, he will probably make an offer to Charlotte by the end of this week.”
“You are that confident?”
“Jane, the poor man wants to marry so badly. He thinks it is his duty and dares not fail in the one task his patroness set for him before coming to Longbourn. And we are all aware that Charlotte also longs for marriage. Mr. Collins is not a horrible man, but he is someone I could never marry. I want to marry only for the deepest of love, as do you.”