Charlotte expresses her concerns–and Mary is not happy.
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A fortnight later, Mary saw Parkes out of her ‘office’ and closed the door behind her, pressing her back against the cool wood. A soft breeze whispered through the open windows, wafting in the scent of fresh grass with a hint of sheep.
How delightful it would have been to sneak out and run through it, bonnet in one hand her spencer in the other, sunshine kissing her cheeks and wind rushing against her ears. If only she could.
Who would have thought Rosings’ staff would ever be answering to her? Certainly not her. Not Elizabeth either, no, she had been clear about her alarm and concern over the situation in her recent letter. At least she had included some useful advice as well as a promise to answer any future questions.
It was pleasing to know there was someone in her family who might be concerned about her situation. But in a week, she would be married and managing her own home instead of Rosings. Certainly, she would be available to assist if necessary, but these daily decisions, the balance of consideration and deception required to maintain Lady Catherine’s equanimity that weighed heavily on her conscience, those she would be happy to leave behind.
Why then did a vague sense of guilt keep tugging at her sleeve. She owed Rosings little, if anything at all. No, that was not true. Michaels was employed on the estate. That was not nothing. But did that mean she had to become governess, companion and lady’s maid to Lady Catherine?
The obvious answer was no. But it did nothing to settle the niggling little doubt. ? . She bumped the back of her head against the door. Why was nothing as simple as it ought to be?
At least Charlotte would be arriving soon to join her for the afternoon, and there would be someone to discuss the entire situation with. Not that she always agreed with Charlotte. She had married Collins after all, so her judgement had to be somewhat suspect. Even so, she was Mary’s best friend in Kent, and right now, she needed a friend.
The faint sounds of the front door opening drifted through the sitting room door. That must be her.
Mary straightened her gown and opened the door. Was that Collins’ voice? Her stomach roiled and she gripped the door frame. What was he doing here—oh, the curacy? That must be it.
Michaels had mentioned they had received some letters regarding that. Collins must be here to see Fitzwilliam, not her. She heaved a sigh and released her grip on the doorframe.
Perhaps Fitzwilliam was right, Collins had distressed her far more than she was willing to admit. That might be so, but Fitzwilliam need never know that. The man would be entirely insufferable if he heard her admit that he was right.
Disagreeable though they were, neither unpleasant vicar nor arrogant officer would get the better of her. She smoothed her skirt again and strode down the corridor toward the great staircase. Faint greetings and pleasantries wafted from the direction of Fitzwilliam’s study. Michaels’ voice among them. Perhaps he would linger after meeting with Collins and Fitzwilliam and they might have a few moments to walk in the gardens together.
Small Tom appeared on the stairs, Charlotte a few steps behind.
“Mrs. Collins to see you.”
It seemed a rather obvious thing to say, but Small Tom would not stray from his proper role.
“It is good to see you.” Charlotte grasped the railing, just five steps up, and panted for breath.
Mary rushed to her side. “How thoughtless of me! I had not considered the stairs. Let us go back downstairs. Parkes will not mind if we use her office, I am sure.”
“What a lovely idea.” Charlotte huffed, cheeks bright and sweat beading on her forehead.
“Wait a moment, let me take your arm, no the other one, so you can hold the rail.”
“What a goose I am being today. I am sorry, I do not know what has come over me. I can only blame it on sleeping so poorly. I cannot manage more than a few hours at a time these days.” Charlotte pressed her hand to her lower back.
Though Mary had only been gone from the parsonage for a fortnight, Charlotte’s increase seemed far greater than any could have anticipated. Perhaps the midwife’s concerns were valid. In any case, it would not be very much longer.
They reached the bottom of the staircase, and Charlotte had to pause for breath again.
“Lady Catherine is in the parlor. I fear she will demand our attendance if she realizes we are here. It would be best if we go outside and around to the kitchen to get to Parkes’ office.” Mary pointed to the front door.
Small Tom nodded and escorted them out.
Charlotte paused just beyond the front windows. “I had no idea you had to resort to such subterfuge, these days. Have things become worse?”
“It is difficult to say.” Mary closed her eyes. What joy to have the sun on her face for even a few brief moments. “Lady Catherine does not react well to change and my joining the household has been a change. All in all, I believe she is pleased by it, but it is still change.”
“Does she treat you …”
“Poorly? At times, though I have no marks to show for it, so I suppose that is saying something positive. She can be harsh at times, but then in the next moment, she is frightened and confused and, if it makes any sense, very, very small. Almost like a child.”
“And how are your spirits? I am sure it is difficult to think about taking over and managing your own home with all this going on.”
“I suppose so,” Mary turned aside. If Charlotte did not see her eyes, she just might stop asking questions. “But then again, after living with my father, I am not accustomed to things being easy in any estimation. I shall be fine. In a week everything shall change again in a far more welcome way.”
“I believe you will like the married state. It is not without its vexations, to be sure, but I believe it will suit you very well.” Charlotte smiled a sweet reassuring smile that should have made her feel better.
But somehow it did not.
Cook met them at the kitchen door. “Parkes has tea and some biscuits for you in her office.”
How quickly word passed through the house. But it was very thoughtful of them both.
Neither Parkes nor Cook were shy about demonstrating their appreciation for her efforts over the last fortnight. It was pleasing, but difficult to get accustomed to. Favors usually came attached with some price which was far more disagreeable than the favor was agreeable.
But, then again, perhaps they were operating under the same premise.
Parkes’ office was small, tidy and plain, a welcome respite from the ostentation of Rosings’ main rooms.
Charlotte lowered herself into a chair, one hand balancing on the table. “Do not say it Mary. The midwife has been to see me, just yesterday.”
“Excellent, what has she to say.”
“That I should rest as much as possible and be prepared for the possibility…”
“As I thought? Might there be two?”
“Yes, she fears I might be with twins.” Charlotte bit her lip and closed her eyes, face losing a little color.
“Have you told Mr. Collins?”
“No. There is nothing he can do one way or another. What will be will be, and I must be prepared to endure.”
Mary laid her hand over Charlotte’s. “I hardly know what to say. I know this cannot make this time easier for you.”
“No, but I suppose it is not too much more difficult either. At least, in a strange sort of way I feel rather vindicated for my concerns in the first place. I am not the idle worrier I feared I might be after all.” She forced a small laugh.
“That is one way to look at it I suppose. Have you arranged for a wet nurse or extra help in the house?”
“No, not yet. I had thought to, but Mr. Collins is convinced that we will be off to Meryton soon and the only girls we have heard of would not be willing to move with us. I may have to manage the duty myself until we arrive in Hertfordshire. I have written to my mother though and she is looking for possible candidates. She has even asked the housekeeper at Longbourn for recommendations as well.”
More likely she was trying to get inside the house for a bit of a look-see as to what kind of establishment her daughter would be taking over.
“Mana says the housekeeper there is very capable though and the house is well staffed and maintained. I believe we will be going as soon as I am churched.” Charlotte wrung her hands in her lap.
“I am sure it will be a very great comfort to have your mother so close whilst the babies are small. I assume Mr. Collins has come to discuss the curate with the colonel?”
“I know he could, and perhaps even should, make the decision himself, but he is so accustomed to consulting with Lady Catherine on every matter. He wishes to offer the colonel the same courtesies.”
“I do not think the colonel wants them. He has quite enough to occupy his attentions.” Mary poured two cups of tea.
“That is why you are handling so many matters of the house? I thought you were to be a guest here.”
“I am, but I suppose I cannot help myself. It is difficult not to be useful somehow.”
“Is the household the only way in which he has demanded you make yourself ‘useful’?”
Mary nearly dropped her teacup. “What are you implying? He has demanded nothing of me in regards to the household, nor in any other capacity.”
Charlotte snorted delicately. “You do not need to take offense. I am only concerned for you.”
“You need not be.” Mary’s cheeks heated. How could she possibly think that the colonel would have attentions to pay to her or that she would admit them if he did?
Charlotte rolled her eyes and nibbled several biscuits. “I have received several responses to the inquires we sent out. I thought that you might like to review them with me.” She opened her reticule and removed several letters and pushed them toward Mary.
She scooped them up. “Most definitely. The sooner we can find someone—”
Shrieks pierced the air.
So what do you think of Charlotte’s concerns–and what might be vexing Lady Catherine? Tell me in the comments.