The Sunday before the Netherfield Ball was Stir it up Sunday, the day Christmas puddings were traditionally made. Mr. Collins makes it a bit interesting this year.
November 24, 1811
Papa paced along his favorite track in the parlor, back and forth in front of the fireplace whilst the rest of the family assembled there before church.
“Mrs. Bennet, we await your presence.” He stared at the doorway as though that might bring her in faster.
“You know she always takes particular care with her Christmas pudding preparations.” Elizabeth rose and went to him.
He huffed and wrinkled his lips into a special frown reserved for Mama alone. “How long does it take to pour brandy over fruit and spices?”
She patted his arm. “You know as well as I, the task is more complex than that.”
Jane joined them near the fireplace. “Stoning and chopping the fruit is time consuming.”
“Is that not why we employ Hill and Cook? As I recall, she took great pride in telling Mr. Collins you girls did not sully yourselves with toiling in the kitchen.”
Elizabeth cringed. Why did Papa have to mention him? “Indeed she did, but Christmas pudding is no regular food stuff.”
“You know how special Christmas pudding is to her,” Jane said.
“Would that it be special on a day of the week with nowhere else demanding our presence.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.
Mr. Collins, Mary in his shadow, trundled in.
“Good day to you, Mr. Bennet and to you my fair cousins.”
Necessary pleasantries were exchanged and Elizabeth sidled away. With a little good fortune, his attentions might continue toward Mary and she could escape notice.
“I was just telling Mr. Collins about Mama’s great love of Christmas pudding and how she loves this Sunday above all others,” Mary said.
Mr. Collins thumbed his lapels. “As a clergyman I am not certain—”
“Excuse me, I need to speak to Mrs. Bennet.” Papa edged past them and out of the parlor.
Elizabeth peeked into the corridor. He turned toward his study not the kitchen. She squeezed her eyes shut and sighed.
Mr. Collins looked after him. His brows drawn tight together, as though unable to work out why Papa might have left. His shoulders twitched in a tiny shrug, and he turned back to his remaining, if unwilling, audience.
“I am not certain how this particular Sunday holds any significance above others. Surely the Sundays of Advent—”
“Mama finds the day has personal significance, not doctrinal importance,” Jane said softly.
Mr. Collins mouth formed a silent ‘o’ as if the idea of personal significance were an entirely new concept.
Elizabeth and Jane returned to the settee. Elizabeth picked up her sewing and ducked her head. Perhaps he would not take notice of her.
Lydia and Kitty skipped in.
“Why should this Sunday have such personal import that she might be at liberty to make the entire family late to holy services?” Mr. Collins clasped his hands behind his back and assumed Papa’s path, pacing before the fireplace. “I think it a very bad thing to be late to services. Lady Catherine—”
“Are you going to tell the story of Mama and Papa’s betrothal?” Lydia giggled.
“What has that to do with this particular Sunday?”
“The Christmas pudding that foretold their betrothal—” Kitty glanced at Lydia.
“Was stirred up on this day—” Lydia giggled at Kitty.
“And Mama put the ring charm in the pudding,” They finished together.
“She looks fondly upon Christmas puddings as a result.” Mary mimicked one of Mama’s warning glances, but failed to achieve the desired effect.
“Fondly? Only fondly?” Lydia chortled. “She considers them essential and auspicious, slaving over them each year as though—”
“Your mother declares herself ready—let us be off.” Papa called from the vestibule.
Lydia and Kitty led the procession out. Mr. Collins lingered behind.
The back of Elizabeth’s neck prickled. Why was he looking at her like that?
Thankfully, the carriage was not required for the trip to church. A fine brisk walk was exactly what Elizabeth most needed right now. More properly, it would have been what she most needed had Mr. Collins not taken the opportunity to appoint himself as her devoted escort. He immediately took to her side, rescuing her from any danger of reflection or contemplation.
Instead, she became well acquainted with Lady Catherine’s beneficence; her prescriptions for which sermon writers offered the most appropriate sermons for his parishioners; her magnanimous assistance in reviewing the sermons he himself wrote; her generous refinements added to his preparations.
Heavens, could the man not think nor act for himself?
“Is it truly necessary to have her review your work, sir? Forgive me if I am incorrect in my understanding, but is not a vicar secure in his position? Does not securing her favor have little to do with the security of your position?”
“It does you credit, dear cousin, that you would give so much consideration to my situation and welfare. You are quite correct in your understanding of the nature of my preferment. Nothing short of complete moral failure on my part can separate me from it. I flatter myself to believe it entirely avoidable on my part.”
“I am sure you are correct, sir. Still, I do not apprehend your most profound devotion to her opinion.”
“Is it not a right and pleasing thing to be concerned for the opinion of those Providence has placed in superior positions? One can profit both spiritually and in more temporal ways from their beneficence.”
“Oh, now I see.”
He was a puppy, begging crumbs at her table. To be fair, his income could not be much above a tenth of Papa’s, but still. Had he no dignity?
She shifted her wrap to soothe the prickles across the back of her neck. What he implied was too much like a servant holding out a hand for vails from houseguests. Would he expect the same obsequiousness from a wife? No doubt he would. She swallowed hard.
The church bells rang a final call to worship as they arrived and went directly to their pew. How utterly unsurprising that Mr. Collins contrived to sit between her and Jane.
The vicar read the day’s prayer. “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of Thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Lydia elbowed Kitty and whispered “Stir up, we beseech Thee, the pudding in the pot. And when we do get home tonight, we’ll eat it up hot.”
Elizabeth stifled a laugh.
“I suppose it is the fashion of young people today to freely parody those things considered sacred. I am pleased to see that you do not indulge in such unseemly fancies,” Mr. Collins muttered under his breath.
Elizabeth bit her lip hard.
Bother, she should have laughed heartily. Perhaps that might have given him pause instead of one more thing to fuel his unseemly praise of her.
What beastly luck to keep herself in proper check this morning.
Mr. Collins continued to offer his reflections and commentary on the sermon, throughout the service. The vicar executed his task admirably enough, but his sermon was too modern. He would have clearly benefited from the guidance a patron like Lady Catherine could offer.
Her skin itched and every limb twitched. She would have gasped for breath had it not been likely to gain even more attention from him. His presence held all the appeal of a coarse wool blanket on bare skin.
Mama glanced at them from the far end of the pew. Prim and entirely satisfied, she folded her hands in her lap and peeked first at the Bingleys then the Lucases.
How shocking to be so self-congratulatory in church.
Elizabeth’s stomach churned.
Her fears were much better grounded than had Jane insisted. Mama clearly expected, even anticipated Mr. Collins making an offer to one of her girls. Not just one of her girls, but to Elizabeth.
Surely, even Mama could certainly see how unsuitable they were to one another. Surely he could see it, too. No man could be that insensible, could he?
On the way home, Mary contrived to walk with Mr. Collins. How she managed—and why—were a mystery, but Elizabeth enjoyed the fruits nonetheless. She strolled beside Jane, savoring the quiet company and gentle sunshine.
Mama faded back from her place beside Papa and interposed herself between Elizabeth and Jane.
“It is not becoming for you to roll your eyes so much. I have seen you do it far too often recently.”
“And another thing. I do not much like your way of constantly escaping Mr. Collins’s most agreeable company. See there, Mary is walking with him. It should be you.”
“Mama, I do believe Mary is partial to Mr. Collins’s society,” Jane said.
“I do not care what Mary’s preferences are. Mr. Collins deserves more than a plain middle child. Since he cannot have the eldest, his preference falls to you, Lizzy.”
“Mary would much rather have it.” Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder. “And he does not seem much displeased for it.
“That is because he is a gentleman and does not wear his heart upon his sleeve. Do not be insensible of the great boon he seeks to be to all of us.”
“Are you telling me—”
“It seems I can tell you nothing, obstinate girl. I am simply reminding you of the reality of our situation, something you would be wise not to forget.” Mama huffed and marched back to her place beside Papa.
“Oh, Jane. What am I to do?”
“Do not be too hard on Mama. You know her nerves.”
“Papa’s great friend all these years? Yes, I well know her nerves.”
“Do be fair, Lizzy.”
“I try. Indeed, I do. But what sense does it make to deny Mary her preference and me mine?”
“Who is your preference?”
“I have none right now, but you and I have always agreed we should marry for love alone.”
Jane sighed and glanced in the direction of Netherfield Park. “Yes, it is a very desirable thing. But not everyone is the same. Mr. Collins’s motivations seem very different. Not wrong, but different.”
“So different, I do not see how I may bridge the gap—nor do I see why I should when things might very well be agreeably settled with Mary.”
“She does seem to take great pains to seek out his company. Perhaps he and Mama may be made to see reason.”
Hopefully Jane was correct. But what if she were not?
Even if it were not possible to marry for love, it should not be too much to ask to be able to enjoy a friendship with the man she married, should it? How could she possibly settle for less than that?
After a light nuncheon, Mama called them all to the kitchen. She did the same thing every Stir it Up Sunday since Elizabeth could remember. The large worktable in the center of the kitchen bore the fragrant makings of the pudding. The air swirled with the fragrances of brandy and spices hanging in the humid heat of the great boiling cauldron ready to accept the finished pudding.
“You too, Mr. Collins, for you are part of the family, to be sure.” Mama waved him toward the table.
He edged in between Jane and Elizabeth.
Of course, where else might he stand?
Elizabeth sidled over to make room for him, nearly treading on Mary’s toes in the process. Poor Mary looked so dejected. If only they might switch places, but Mama would no doubt cause such a scene if they did.
“Now, Mr. Collins has it been the habit of your family to make a Christmas pudding?”
“This is the first time I have experienced this most charming and agreeable custom, madam. To be sure, the Christmas Puddings at Rosings Park—”
“Well then, I shall tell you how we do it. There is a great bowl, and you each have the ingredients beside you. You, sir, have the flour. Add it to the bowl and then pass it east to west.”
“Clockwise—” Papa whispered loudly.
Apparently he thought little of Mr. Collins’s sense of direction. Probably for good reason.
“Yes, yes, that. Give the bowl to Jane now.”
She added a pile of minced suet and passed it to Kitty. Kitty and Lydia added dried fruits and nuts and passed it into Papa’s hands for the bread crumbs and milk.
Mama poured in the brandy-soaked citron and spices. “And that makes eleven ingredients. We have two more now, thirteen for Christ and the apostles.”
Mary added the eggs and slid the heavy vessel to Elizabeth.
“How fitting for you to add the final sweetness, Cousin Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth cringed and nearly spilled the sugar.
Mama glowered at her, but quickly recovered her composure. She handed Mr. Collins the wooden spoon. “To remind us of the Christ child’s crib. Now stir it east to—clockwise—with your eyes closed sir. And make a wish.”
Mr. Collins steadied the bowl and grasped the spoon. “I shall wish for—”
“No, sir,” Elizabeth said, “Your wish must be made in silence.”
Mama glowered again for Elizabeth had tradition on her side. Little matter that she had no desire to hear Mr. Collins’s wish. His expression said too much as it was.
The bowl passed around the table. Some wishes were easy to guess.
Mary wished to be noticed by Mr. Collins. Kitty and Lydia wished to be noticed by anyone but Mr. Collins. Mama doubtless wished Mr. Collins to marry one of her girls, preferably Elizabeth. Jane of course wished for Mr. Bingley. But Papa’s wish remained a mystery. What would he want?
The cold, heavy bowl passed to her. The rough wooden spoon scraped at her fingers. What to wish for? She closed her eyes and forced the spoon through the heavy mixture. To marry for love. I wish to marry for love.
“Do not dawdle so, Lizzy. We must add the charms now. Here one for each of you.” Mamma passed a charm to each sister and Mr. Collins. “Add your charm to the pudding and stir it again.”
Mama shoved the bowl toward Mary. “You start.”
Mary gulped. “I have the thimble—”
Lydia snickered. “How fitting, spinsterhood.”
“It is for thrift.” Jane’s tone was as firm as it ever got, a veritable rebuke.
“For thrift, then.” Mary tossed it in and quickly stirred it into the mixture.
“I wonder which of us shall travel.” Lydia tossed a tiny shoe charm into the pudding.
“And which shall find safe harbor?” Kitty followed with an anchor and held the bowl while Lydia stirred them in.
Jane added the coin and Elizabeth the horse shoe and prayed for luck enough to avoid Mr. Collins’s attentions. Jane held whilst Elizabeth stirred.
“And you Mr. Collins?” Mama blinked, but her expression was far from innocent.
“It seems I have the ring to add to the pudding.” He dropped in, eyes on Elizabeth.
“How very auspicious. Did you know, I added that same charm to a Christmas pudding the year of my betrothal to Mr. Bennet.”
“Traditions says—and I would hardly count it accurate—that the finder of the ring will wed, not the one who dropped it in the pudding,” Papa muttered.
“Well that may be, Mr. Bennet, it might be. But, I can speak to what happened for me. And I believe it may well have significance for others among us.”
Mr. Collins smiled his cloying smile and edged a little closer to Elizabeth.
“Let us hope that something with greater sense than a pudding prevails over such decisions, shall we now? So then, give me the buttered cloth and the pudding that it may be tied up and done with.” Mr. Bennet spread out the buttered cloth.
Elizabeth stood back to give him room to dump the pudding out and wrap it in the pudding cloth.
Thankfully she had an ally in Papa or at least she seemed to. The way Mama carried on and encouraged Mr. Collins, she would need one.