In which Mary has a very strong opinion.?
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Icy, prickly cold descended in Charlotte’s little parlor. The kind of cold that frequented Longbourn when Papa had a bad day. The kind of cold that sent Lydia and Kitty running for cover and Mama making him tea with a liberal dose of brandy. The kind of cold that Lizzy had no choice but to put on a brave face for and withstand.
She could follow Lizzy’s example.
Collins stared dumbly at the doorway for a long moment. Mary clenched her fists in her lap, the feel of Charlotte’s eyes rasping her skin nearly too much to bear.
The front door squealed and thudded shut. Mary held her breath.
Collins rose slowly, without turning to face them, and stalked away, muttering about the need to write a sermon.
Mary counted silently. At thirty-five the door to Mr. Collins’ study ? closed with a measured snap. Mary closed the parlor door and pressed her back against it.
“What happened? What really happened after you ran from the house.” Charlotte probably did not intend to sound so accusing.
Mary covered her eyes with her hand. “I did not go seeking the colonel if that is what you are concerned about.”
“I hardly thought that you would.”
That was a lie.
Did Charlotte not realize how obvious a liar she was? What did Charlotte really think of her?
“I went to the spring well by the old shack. I thought no one would be there. With good reason, I might add. You know no one goes there. But for some perverse reason, the colonel appeared. He said he was on his way here to ask for help with Lady Catherine’s companion.”
“I do not know why as it is not on the way to the parsonage.” Charlotte pushed up from the couch and pressed her hands to the small of her back.
How much her belly had grown even these last few weeks. Thank heavens she had finally employed a proper midwife.
“What did you tell the colonel?” Her eyes narrowed with a distinctly uncomfortable accusation.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing. Do you really think so little of me to believe I would bother the colonel about a personal matter that is no business of his?” She turned her bruised cheek toward Charlotte. “But Charlotte, he is no fool. He could see this. He knew where this had come from without a word on my part. And yes, I begged him to leave the matter lie.”
Charlotte inched closer and inspected Mary’s face. “I know Collins has a bad temper. I suppose it is a trait with the men of your family.”
Was that inditement or commiseration?
“It is something with which I am not unfamiliar.”
“He has not been apt to behave that way with me. I do not know why—”
Truly, she had no idea that bowing to every whim and agreeing with his every declaration would render him more docile? What a coincidence that she managed to do all those things correctly then.
Mary clutched her temples with one hand. “Does it matter why he should find me so disagreeable? What is done is done.”
Charlotte harrumphed and pulled back. “I do not see why you are so disturbed. I know your father—”
“Charlotte! Are you actually defending them?”
“I am merely being realistic.” Charlotte waddled to the window. “What else is there to be done? The law does not agree with you, and it is ours to endure and to be gentle and mild.”
Mama often espoused the same sentiments. “So I have heard, but I do not know that I believe it any more. I am not certain it has served any of us well. At the very least, it was gallant of the colonel to stand up on my behalf.”
“I would caution you, Mary. You must be careful of him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you not suspicious of his expectations for your company?”
“Do not be ridiculous!”
“He is not the kind of man you are accustomed to.”
“And I am betrothed to his steward as well as sister to his cousin. Not to mention I am hardly a beauty, nor have I any fortune. There is no reason for him to pay any attention to me.” Mary wrapped her arms around her waist.
“A man does not reason beyond lust.”
“Charlotte! I cannot accept what you are suggesting.”
How annoying that the carpet should muffle her foot stomp.
“As you will.” Charlotte shrugged and tossed her head. “I am only concerned for you. You are my friend.”
Why did silence always have to be so awkward?
“Will you still be with me when the baby comes?”
“Of course I will. You need only send word, and I will be here. I have promised you that.”
“Do you want help packing your trunk?”
And be instructed on Lady Catherine’s way of folding gowns? No.
“You should rest. I think your ankles are swelling again. You need to put your feet up.” She led Charlotte back to the couch and arranged the stool for her feet.
“I will miss your company. Who will tell me to rest if you are not here?”
“I will call upon you regularly, I promise. You will hardly know I have gone. And I am sure Mr. Collins will be in a better humor without me. Here is a fresh cup of tea and a few sandwiches to keep up your strength. Close your eyes and rest for a bit after that. I shall not go without taking leave of you.”
“You are a very good friend.” Charlotte patted her hand and sipped her tea.
Mary slipped out and hurried upstairs, tiptoeing past Collins’ study as she went.
Her heart hammered in her throat. What was she to make of all this? Who did Fitzwilliam think he was, highhandedly managing her life that way? It seemed he was more like Darcy than Elizabeth knew. Perhaps that was a family trait shared among the Fitzwilliams. Lady Catherine certainly seemed to demonstrate her share of it.
She dragged her trunk to the middle of the room and flung it open. Botheration, it still smelt musty. Would that scent never come out of it?
Getting out of Collins’ house was a blessing, full stop. The man was obsequious and shared in common all of Papa’s worst traits though filtered through his vicar’s robes. He was only tolerable with the knowledge that she would soon be moving to her own establishment with Mr. Michaels. Maybe she should be glad to be getting away from him.
But the price was far too dear to appreciate.
Now she was stuck with Lady Catherine and the denizens of the manor. The servants would be turning to her as they had to Lizzy, the only practical head in the house. Effectively being mistress of a grand manor might be an amusing mental exercise, but it was in fact a great deal more work than she cared to take on, particularly when she could look forward to being questioned and meddled with at every turn.
And now she would be saddled with it, with no option to turn down the gracious offer.
How kind and generous of the colonel.
Why did these interfering men never bother to ask her opinion? They simply decided for her as if she were some simpleton?
Still, she should be grateful. He had swept in, rather like a knight in armor, to protect her from a very real ogre. That was kind of him. And the way he looked at her at the well … how long had he been there, and what had he seen?
Her cheeks heated, and she pressed her palms to her face. Had he seen her indecorous display, water dripping down her décolletage? She winced. No doubt he had.
Could that explain the look in his eyes, the way he licked his lips as he stared at her?
Heat crept up her jaw and neck. No man had ever looked at her that way. Michaels certainly had not. Should it please her that he did not, or disappoint?
She should not like that Fitzwilliam did, but the memory of his eyes, his voice, sent a chill down her spine and a frisson to her belly. No, no, no! This was not how she should feel and not how she would feel.
She huffed out a jagged breath and then another. There, that was better. She would be in control; her sensibilities would not overwhelm her good sense.
Was it a good thing that Lydia made better sense to her now than she had ever had before? For the first time, her impulsiveness and the liberties she allowed to her person made a modicum of sense. Was that a good thing?
Great heavens—did Charlotte suspect? Was that why she had offered her warning? If she thought she saw something, did Collins suppose something as well? What about the colonel?
She sat on the edge of her bed, face in her hands, gasping for breath.
No, no. She was letting her imagination run away from her. Collins was too self-absorbed to pay attention to anything so subtle, and Charlotte? Surely it was mere coincidence. No doubt she found Mr. Collins very disagreeable and assumed all men were as he.
She shuddered. Those were thoughts she did not need in her mind.
Not at all.
Breathe, just breathe. The knots in her stomach eased.
Enough of this foolish speculation! She threw her clothes into the trunk. Lady Catherine would be appalled, but it would do to travel from the vicarage to the manor. She flung the trunk shut and donned her bonnet and spencer. After taking her leave of Charlotte, she would take the long way to the manor. The very long way.
So what is going to happen when Mary takes residence at Rosings? Tell me in the comments.