Mr. and Mrs. Collins returned to Longbourn at the end of May, and Elizabeth tried to look upon her sister’s arrival with indifference. Though Jane mentioned nothing of what had passed between them in Kent, her manner towards Elizabeth, haughty indifference, made it clear all was neither forgotten nor forgiven. It seemed to please Jane more to leave Elizabeth in suspense, as she was every day expecting Jane to make good on her threat and turn her out of the house, but Jane chose not to play her trump card at once, and forfeit all further leverage over her sister.
The first few weeks passed quickly, and though there was much awkwardness, especially between Mr. Collins and his new family, there was little enough of open conflict. The new steward attempted to familiarize Mr. Collins with all that Elizabeth had accomplished in the last two months, but Mr. Johnson and all his advice were quickly dismissed. Mr. Collins declared he had little faith in a man who would accept employment from an ignorant child. Elizabeth, though happy to relinquish the burden of the estate, was dismayed on Mr. Johnson’s behalf, for the man had been there but a month. Yet, there was nothing she could do for the poor steward, who seemed happy enough to take his leave, upon realizing what sort of employer he would have to endure if he remained.
With Mr. Johnson gone, Mr. Collins had no intention of seeking any assistance from his younger sister on matters that were quite out of her depth. He was happier instead to turn to his neighbors, who attempted to educate the fatuous man as best they could. Civil as they were with him, they both made every attempt to give all due credit to Elizabeth’s contributions to the estate, despite Mr. Collins’s eager desire to assure them that his thanks were all for them.
Regardless of the family being in full mourning, Mr. Collins saw fit to mingle amongst his neighbors as often as possible, claiming his need to acquaint himself with the other pillars of the community, which necessity outweighed his obligation to his cousin Mr. Bennet, and in this decision Jane happily supported her husband. Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters were delighted at the apparent reversal of Elizabeth’s edict, and were vastly pleased to be out more. Though this degree of social intercourse did not feel right to Elizabeth, she was resolved not to vex herself over what she could not control; she was happy enough when it provided her the company of her friends at Netherfield.
Mr. Collins was vastly pleased by the inhabitants of the neighborhood, and took a great deal of pleasure in surrounding himself with the best their corner of Hertfordshire had to offer in the way of society. Sir William Lucas, being titled, as well as their nearest neighbor and a friendly open fellow, was a great favorite of Mr. Collins, who had a very high tolerance for Sir William’s numerous recollections of St. James’s. Edward Ferrars also quickly became a great favorite, once discovered to be another parson-turned-landowner. The two gracious gentlemen offered Mr. Collins the same assistance they had extended to Elizabeth, and seemed to bear his company tolerably well, most of the time.
Jane seemed to think she was delivering a great set down, though Elizabeth was not in the least dismayed by relinquishing the responsibilities she had shouldered for the past two months. Though she had done what the circumstances required, for the good of her family, she was happy enough to be relieved of this burden, and did not begrudge Mr. Collins the difficult task that lay ahead.
She was instead quite content to fill her days with the company of her friends at Netherfield, a vast improvement from laboring so many long afternoons in the warm weather, dealing with tenants, and reviewing accounts in her father’s book room. On days that Elizabeth did not walk to Netherfield to visit her friends, they called at Longbourn instead. Jane declared herself very well pleased at the friend her mother had found in Mrs. Dashwood, whose manners were discovered to be friendly and genteel. She thought Mrs. Ferrars quite pleasant, as well, and was quite happy to learn that Kitty and Lydia had found a friend in Miss Dashwood. Toward Marianne, Jane was more guarded, and Elizabeth was quite aware of the reason behind it.
Elizabeth considered that it was perhaps her own fault that Marianne was disposed to instantly dislike Jane, as Elizabeth had confided in her fully. Though Elizabeth was obliged on more than one occasion to remind her friend to remain courteous, Marianne’s emotional nature could countenance displaying anything beyond the barest civility toward one who had wronged her friend.
Jane certainly felt the disapproval that radiated from the young widow, when they were in company together, and could be in no doubt as to the reason behind. Elizabeth often saw Jane watching herself and Marianne speak together with evident resentment. Elizabeth considered that after her dealings with Lady Rebecca, Jane would likely have been suspicious of any new friend of Elizabeth’s; that Jane should apparently resent her having any of her own friends only strengthened Elizabeth’s resolve to be gone from home as quickly as she could arrange it. Lady Rebecca was frequently reminding Elizabeth of her standing invitation, though Elizabeth still desired to wait to accept it until she was in half-mourning. The Fitzwilliams had rescued her quite enough in recent months, and she disliked the idea of relying on that family too heavily. Instead she wrote to her aunt and uncle, attempting to discreetly discern if they might be amenable to her visiting soon, and she thought it unlikely she would see them until her trip to the lakes – until then, she would have to do her best to get through each day.
It was her mother who first felt the adverse effects of the Collins’ presence as master and mistress of Longbourn. Though they moved first into Mr. Bennet’s old chamber, seemingly content to share so that Mrs. Bennet might not be displaced, after a fortnight Jane decided she should like to install herself in the mistress’s chambers after all, and Elizabeth was obliged to move into Mary’s room to make way for her mother, as Jane insinuated that certainly Elizabeth would not wish to occupy the guest room.
How quickly Mrs. Bennet began to change her mind about having Jane back at Longbourn. Though the idea had held a certain amount of appeal at the time of her daughter’s marriage, she had certainly expected her daughter to be happily ensconced in Kent for a great deal longer, and soon found herself quite dissatisfied, and vocally so, at having to make away for her daughter in her own home. Mr. Collins commiserated with her as best he could, lamenting what a great pity it was that Mrs. Bennet had not brought enough money into her marriage to afford them the luxury of building a dower house for her on the property, for then she should certainly be quite as comfortable as his esteemed friend Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose estate was, of course, a great deal grander than his own, and afforded every comfort one could imagine, including a dower house that satisfied all of her needs.
Any mention of Lady Catherine, a daily occurrence, seemed to set Mrs. Bennet’s nerves off, and she had no qualms in reminding them all of her extreme displeasure with that lady, who had kept her daughter in Kent so long, and whose opinion she was quite sick of hearing, as she did not see any sense at all in shelves in the closet or advice from perfect strangers!
Lydia was next to endure the unpleasant change in this domineering new Jane. Having befriended the young wife of Colonel Forster over the winter, Lydia had received an invitation to Brighton with them, as the regiment would be summering there. Lydia’s delight in the prospect of a camp full of soldiers did not sway Jane in her decision that Lydia had better not go. Though Mr. Collins and she were in agreement in this matter, they also shared in Mrs. Bennet’s loud and frequently repeated concerns that her daughters be given every opportunity to find husbands. Mr. Collins’s manner of disapproval with the plan was not due to their being in mourning, nor was it Lydia‘s tender age, wild behavior, and low level of trust worthiness that gave him pause. It was rather his dislike of all men in uniform on the whole, as his own unfortunate brother, Captain Collins, had turned out very dissolute indeed, and had thus caused Mr. Collins to be most distrustful of the regiment on whole. They did not find ready welcome at Longbourn, and Lydia was further denied the trip to Brighton, and was even advised to avoid the soldiers’ company in Meryton until their departure.
Lydia did not take the news well, and Elizabeth almost pitied the foolish man in his struggle to maintain control of the outburst that ensued when his permission was denied. Though he attempted to assuage Lydia’s distemper by assuring her that he intended all his sisters to begin attending the monthly assemblies In the middle of June, when they would go to half mourning, Lydia and her mother felt there was little merit in the plan if there were to be no soldiers to dance with.
Elizabeth was driven from the house during the height of her sister’s tantrum, and instinctively walked in the direction of Netherfield. It was not long before she encountered Marianne, walking toward Longbourn. She appeared beleaguered by a great deal of complaining from her younger sister, who was quite put out that they had not taken the carriage; she was very certain it was soon to begin raining. Marianne waved at Elizabeth as they approached, scolding her sister that it would certainly not rain before they reached Longbourn.
“You always say that, and it always rains,” Miss Dashwood wailed, determined to get in the last word before greeting Elizabeth.
Miss Dashwood offered Elizabeth a stubborn smile before it looking pleadingly at her sister. “If you’re determined to walk, here is Elizabeth, she loves walking, and I do not! What if I go on to the house, and see Lydia? Mr. Collins will give me his carriage for the ride home.”
Marianne made a face at her sister and waved her away. “Off you go, then. I daresay I have found a companion who is far less tiresome. Tell the other Bennets good day for me.”
Miss Dashwood hurried away to seek out her particular friend; Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. “It seems it is a day for obstinate younger sisters. I daresay she shall certainly be diverted when she arrives to find the house all in uproar this morning.”
“Indeed? What has happened?”
Elizabeth gave her friend a dramatic look. “Colonel Forster’s wife has invited Lydia to Brighton for the summer.”
“What is she thinking? You are but two months into your mourning.”
“To own the truth, I was nearly certain she would get her way, if only because Mr. Collins is so inexperienced with her ways. She is certainly not afraid to make every attempt to get what she wants, and as he has never grown up with sisters, it is a new experience for him to see how young ladies behave when they are not in public.”
“I can only imagine the dismay a man like Mr. Collins must feel, being in a house full of women!”
“I do pity him, perhaps a little. It can be overwhelming for me, at times, and I have lived at Longbourn all my life. I suppose it is not Mr. Collins’s fault that he is not a particularly intelligent man. Alas, there is no Lady Catherine here to tell him what to do, and with so many opposing views was being shouted at him all at once, he does not know what to think.”
Marianne laughed indecorously. “Poor Mr. Collins! I daresay he must do as his wife commands. I believe she holds a great deal of sway over him, does she not?”
“As she is approved by Lady Catherine, she can certainly do no wrong in his eyes, and without the great lady’s infallible wisdom so readily at hand, he must listen to my sister, for in his estimation she is the next best thing. Perhaps that is another reason to pity him.”
“And so, if she turns you out of the house, he will not protest her choice?”
The question caught Elizabeth off guard, though she had grown used to Marianne’s tendency to ask very personal questions. “I do not think I would wish him to defend me; I am certain it would only increase her displeasure with me. In truth, I do not wish to cause discord in their marriage, much as I had protested it taking place. I no longer regret that Jane did not find someone better, as I no longer believe she deserves it. She has made her choice, she certainly appears content with it. She does perhaps hold some power over me, though only as long as I live under their roof. If I am made to go elsewhere, I shall, and that will be that. If I reside with the Gardiners, or take a position as a companion, perhaps, they can do me no further harm. I am determined not to make myself uneasy about it any longer. Jane may wish to hurt me, but she can only accomplish it as much as I allow her to. Thus far she has only ignored me, as she is primarily obsessed with maintaining tranquility and calming her nerves, for the sake of the baby she carries, and I find I am content with that.”
Marianne’s outrage was apparent. “I hate her, Lizzy! I know it is wrong, and I should not hate her, or perhaps I should at least not let it show, and for your sake I really do try, but every time she speaks, I am so instantly annoyed at everyone who can look upon her false modesty and artful attempt at docile charm without immediately seeing how false she is. She deserves to be exposed for her cruelty to you, Lizzy. Why do you not tell anyone?”
Elizabeth recalled how she had tried, with little success, to confide in her aunt in London about the hurt that Jane had done her. She had no wish to burden anyone in her family with the knowledge of what had passed between them in Kent, largely for fear that her mother and sisters simply would not believe her. Even though her mother still bore Jane a grudge for displacing her, Elizabeth could not depend upon her mother willingly accepting the painful truth of how cruel Jane had truly been. There was also her fear of retaliation. Elizabeth regretted having told her sister anything of her dealings with Mr. Bingley, as surely Jane was aware that sharing this information with their mother would only make life more difficult for Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth did not answer, Marianne looked at her in contemplation. “I imagine it must all be very complicated for you, and I fear you have no choice but to tread lightly with your sister. If she has not yet turned you from the house, perhaps there is yet hope that she wishes to reconcile with you. I should not have said I hate her, for I believe it does you no good for me to bear her such ill will. Do you think you wish to try getting on better terms with her?”
Elizabeth let out a heavy sigh. “I hardly know, Marianne. I hardly know Jane. After I attempted to dissuade her from marrying Mr. Collins in October, we had a terrible quarrel. After two months in London, I went to see her in Kent, hoping rather than believing her overtures of reconciliation to be sincere. What I discovered was Jane’s intention to bend me to her authority as an elder and married sister, as Lady Catherine had instructed her was proper and right. I was just a pawn in her game to garner approval from Lady Catherine, and marry me off such a way that I would neither achieve better success in marriage than herself, nor sink so low as to disgrace her.”
Marianne looked pained by Elizabeth’s bleak outlook on her relationship with Jane. “Elizabeth, I am so sorry for you. In the brief months of our acquaintance, I have come to care for you quite as another sister, and it breaks my heart that Mrs. Collins would treat you so unjustly. Promise me it will not be forever. You must remember our plan to go to London when our mourning is up. Lady Rebecca will find you an excellent husband, and you will marry so tremendously well that your sister will lose sleep for a month!”
Elizabeth laughed. “Good heavens! But of course I agree, I should like nothing better, and I believe before many more months I shall be more than ready to make my escape, you have my word.”
Marianne appeared satisfied. “Speaking of London and traveling, I have some news, of visitors traveling from London.”
“Who? I have had a letter from Rebecca yesterday, and she said nothing of coming to visit.”
“Lady Rebecca has not been invited just yet, but I daresay that may be a distinct possibility in the near future. Let me not keep you in any further suspense, for the first revelation is not precisely a pleasing one – we expect a visit next week from my brother John Dashwood and his wife.”
“She is the one you quite despise, is she not?”
“Oh good heavens, you make it sound as though I loathe everybody. It is not so!”
“I believe you have expressed an abundance of disgust towards your sister by marriage, but also the late Lucy Steele, and her sister, for good measure, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Collins, and I seem to recall your taking rather long to warm to Sir William Lucas, who I shall maintain is indeed the very best of men. Did you not even admit to an initial dislike of your now dear friend, the fabled Mrs. Jennings?”
Marianne ignored Elizabeth’s sound logic, dismissing the argument with a wave of her hand. “That is the best part,” she cried. “Mrs. Jennings will come to us a fortnight after John and Fanny arrive. That shall make the visit a vast deal more bearable, I daresay. She gets on well enough with them, as Mrs. Jennings generally likes everyone, and Fanny is always polite towards those with a satisfactory income, though I suppose that now includes my brother and sister. She paid a similar visit upon Andrew and me, after I first settled at Delaford, and now she means to come here to see how Elinor and Edward get on.”
“I will hazard a guess she shall arrive with a desire to find fault with everything she sees.”
“Undoubtedly, but I have a plan, though I have yet to propose it to Elinor, as I wish you to advise me first. I wish my argument to be quite perfect.”
“What is your plan?”
“I wish to ensure that John and Fanny can have nothing to turn their noses up at, while they are at Netherfield. I know it is a very fine house, but she is never pleased with any of us, and thinks herself so very far above us all. I intend to emerge victorious from this visit, Elizabeth.”
“I think you must have something particular in mind that you really wish to rub your sister’s face. What is it?”
Marianne hesitated and gave Elizabeth an appraising look. “I do not know if you are going to like this, but I beg you would hear me out, and bear in mind that I really wish you to agree with me!”
Elizabeth laughed. “My goodness, what ghastly thing are you trying to prepare me for?”
“I am going to give a ball. Rather, Elinor and Edward are going to give a ball.”
“Yes, I know you are not best pleased by how much your family has been out in society, despite the mourning period for your father, but if we hold the ball toward the end of June you shall be in half-morning, at least, and it would mean so much to me.”
Elizabeth considered the idea. She did not like being out at all, so soon after her father’s death, and had argued that very morning against Mr. Collins’s decree that his sisters should resume attending monthly assemblies. After everything she had been through, dancing was the furthest thing from her mind. She had not danced since Kent. I have not danced with Mr. Darcy since London, and I likely never shall again. Momentarily appalled at the sudden emergence of that line of thinking, Elizabeth shook her head in frustration. “I do not know, Marianne.”
“Only think on it, Elizabeth, for there is more. I do not mean simply to give a ball for the neighborhood. Fanny and John will not be so easily impressed by the neighborhood, as much as all of us at Netherfield adore this community. At any rate, I will not allow Fanny the privilege of returning to London and speaking ill of us. I meant to bring London here to her. Mrs. Jennings is coming to us, as well, and I had thought to invite Lady Rebecca and her brother, and your aunt and uncle, as well as your cousin Emily. I understand she is to be married very soon, but I hope she will bring her new husband, and I hear he has two very agreeable sisters.”
“One,” Elizabeth corrected her. “The other one, you must remind me to tell you about later, but pray, continue.” Elizabeth arched her eyebrow at Marianne, but resumed her attentive listening.
“Well, that is really all there is to it. I shall invite all of our friends from London, and Fanny will have to admit defeat. With two children of an Earl in our midst, and so many fine friends, we are hardly country barbarians.”
“Pray excuse, me but you have met my youngest sister?”
“Lizzy, stop! I think it a fine plan, what say you?”
“You know I could scarcely disapprove of any plan that reunites me with so many people I am dearly fond of. If you host the ball first week of July, my aunt and uncle might be spared a trip, for they mean to collect me for our tour of the lakes. So, you see, I am not so very opposed to the idea, for I have already been persuaded by the Gardiners that in half-mourning I must certainly not forswear our plans, though after this morning’s incident, I am glad I have delayed in bringing the matter to my family’s attention. I suppose that having them come down for the ball will only help my chances, for, if necessary, I can always stow myself away in their carriage and make my escape with or without permission.”
“I suppose I am grateful I have your support, though it seems you mean to use it to affect your own escape. You did not tell me you had thought to travel away.”
“Marianne, you have sisters who are pleasant. I daresay you shall hardly miss me in my absence. I shall be gone but a month. Then, I shall return, and you shall once again be my primary source of entertainment and amusement, until we go to London.”
“Unless you meet a handsome, mysterious stranger in the north country, and make a quick escape to Gretna.”
“Indeed, I may have to, you know, for I daresay that the ball will certainly create some expectations from my mother as regards my marital prospects, if Jane does not decide to plant the idea herself.”
“Lord Hartley will be there.”
“As I have told you, he is truly just a friend. In London he saw me only as the object of his friend’s affection, and then Kent as a friend of his sister – I promise you that is all. I do not think I should like to be a viscountess, at any rate.”
Elizabeth detected the trace of both a blush and smile upon her friend’s face. “Marianne, will you not simply admit that you liked Lord Hartley?”
“Indeed you are mistaken. He and his sister were very pleasant company when they stayed with us at Netherfield in the spring, but that is all. I am merely observing that a very eligible gentleman is coming into the neighborhood, in a casual conversation with one of four single sisters of my acquaintance.”
“I daresay there shall be vastly too many ladies in attendance, you know. Lord Hartley and your brothers will not be enough to entertain us all, and with the militia gone for Brighton, gentlemen will be outnumbered by ladies. God help us, we may indeed all be obliged to dance with my brother Mr. Collins, for lack of other offers.”
Marianne snorted. “I should sooner sit out the entire night.”
“I shall wager you a length of ribbon from Mr. Spencer‘s shop that you dance the first set with Lord Hartley.”
“I could easily win by declining if I am asked.”
“If you desire a ribbon enough to sit out all evening, I daresay you could.”
Marianne merely rolled her eyes at Elizabeth, and the subject of Lord Hartley was dropped, as there was much else to be discussed.