Charlotte Weaves Her Web
Never before had the dreadful words been spoken. Never again would they be. Up till now, it had been unthinkable to vocalize the fear. So emotional was the session that it jolted Charlotte and she thought to herself, What will become of me? After the outburst, Julian ran from the room in tears. He was a thoughtless boy, quick tempered and ever ready with barbs and burrs. But for him to say this, to voice her own dread was almost unbearable.
The incident had occurred a few days before the christening. Charlotte had so much looked forward to it. To be a godmother was indeed a privilege, an honor, even a bit overwhelming. She thought back to many such celebrations she'd attended. Since she was, in fact, the oldest, she had been present at all her sibling's baptisms, but this time she would be a participant. Perhaps Julian's statement about a godmother being 'the closest you will get to motherhood' might in fact be prophetic, she might after all be 'doomed to be an old maid'. An old-maid-cousin-godmother, Charlotte thought with a sigh. After all, she was approaching thirty years, not a beauty, and had but a small fortune. She was unlikely to capture any man's heart, not even the attentions of an inexperienced fortune hunter.
Charlotte withdrew into the kitchen. It was her place of comfort. In this room she was creative, adventuresome, even daring. Women in her station often boasted of their needlework, screen making, piano playing, and the few other skills available for the genteel woman. But never, never would the true lady boast of her culinary skills. Why is that? Charlotte wondered to herself. She concluded, correctly, that ladies in her station felt their place was not in the kitchen. Most families with property hired a full-time cook.
She thought of her dearest friend, Elizabeth Bennet, whose mother would think it a fate worse than death for any of her five daughters to pick up a cooking utensil. She felt for a certainty that Mrs. Bennet looked down on her, and that this perhaps was the reason. Charlotte remembered well the look she'd received the first time she presented this lady with several jars of her mincemeat. Her exact words were, "You? You prepared these yourself? You know your way around a kitchen? Surely you know that a true lady learns how to supervise a kitchen, not work in it. You should spend more time in the still room with the flowers." With that Mrs. Bennet quit the room, taking the basket containing the jars of mincemeat with her. Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders, arched her brow and slowly shook her head. With those gestures she communicated embarrassment for her mother's ungracious comments and actions.
The Bennet's still room was put to good use for the creation of the many large, attractive floral arrangements on display throughout their home. The only reason for Charlotte's visits to her still room was for the sorting and drying of culinary herbs. In Charlotte's eye, both arts had their merit. The floral arranger's creativity could blossom with each and every stem , but it was a seasonal pleasure. On the other hand, daily, perhaps as many as three times a day, in every season, she could give vent to her creative drive through food. Charlotte's culinary gifts brought delight to the palate and the eye.
Charlotte was grateful that her father's prior business afforded her the opportunity to come into possession of some very fine French cookbooks. It was from these that Charlotte culled subtle touches that allowed her to embellish the simple country dishes that her family enjoyed. So, instead of eggs, cheese and meat, Charlotte made quiche; instead of roasted duck or goose, it was wild fowl with orange or a special white sauce. These fanciful dishes she proudly presented at the table, to the delight of her family. In these simple things she found great joy. How surprised Mrs. Bennet would be if she only knew that frequent visits to her table afforded Charlotte with just as many opportunities to consider ways of improving the dishes being served there!
harlotte went to her room to dress for a visit to the Bennet home. They had company staying with them, a Mr. Collins, whom she felt might enrich the neighborhood's society. This visitor was Mr. Bennet's cousin. He seemed a good sort of man. By profession, he was a clergyman, by obsession, he was smitten by his cousin Elizabeth. From their frequent conversations, Charlotte was well aware of her friend's feelings on the matter. Charlotte knew that his affection was not returned, and she felt sorry for him. She was acutely aware of the emotions that rejection gave rise to. She had felt them at many assemblies and balls.
As Charlotte was tying on her bonnet, her mother entered the room to make inquiries as to where she was bound. After her answer, Lady Lucas stated, "If you are able, see if Mr. Collins would like to join us for a meal, or even tea. In these desperate times, an eligible bachelor should not be the property of just one family." That thought had not occurred to Charlotte, but it did seem to be a good idea.
During her leisurely walk to Longbourn, Charlotte was able to review her contact with Mr. Collins up to this point. Her first introduction was at the Netherfield Ball. She wondered aloud, What was my first impression of him? While in no way handsome, 'ordinary' was not quite the description that fit. Perhaps, she thought, the word 'comedic' might apply, for Mr. Collins was, in address and appearance, a caricature.
A smile played around Charlotte's lips as she remembered several episodes at the ball. Based on her observation at that time, she had determined that Mr. Collins thought more of himself than his position should allow; and that it was quite likely that the breaches in conduct and good judgment displayed by him would have been unpardonable in someone less laughable than himself. She had also determined that the gentleman in question had not a clue as to how ridiculous he was. In short, he was an egotistical bore. It was to his benefit that his ignorance rendered him blissful, for towards everyone he was as pleasant and obliging as her father, Sir William Lucas.
Charlotte wondered at his background, whether perhaps his elevation to the clergy served as a balm for a wounded spirit. She also thought to herself, Such a man could be easily manipulated, and in time possibly reformed, with the help of a sensible, practical woman. A woman with a mind unclouded by romantic notions. As Charlotte entered the lane leading to Longbourn she was met by Kitty and Lydia, the two youngest Bennet girls. They were all flushed and chattering. Lydia's outburst startled her.
"What do you think, Mr. Collins has made Lizzy an offer of marriage, and she had refused him!" Her response was unplanned as she stated, "I am sorry for him, but surely not surprised," she paused for a bit, wondering if she might appear transparent in her motives, then inquired, "I wonder, should I invite him to dine with us at Lucas Lodge?" The girls answered in unison, "Yes, yes, do! Take him away and feed him, for he has been in high dudgeon all morning!"
As Charlotte continued down the lane she thought to herself, There is no doubt of Mr. Collins marked interest in Lizzy, and just as equally no doubt of Lizzy's marked disinterest in Mr. Collins. In that moment she reached her decision. In the very next one she began to wonder if, perhaps, there might be some truth to the old saying, 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach'.