Rumor is a Pipe
Chapter 1: Wednesday, 30 September 1812
Charlotte looked through the day's mail and was pleased to see a letter from Lucas Hall. Soon, Charlotted believed, she would have wonderful news to send in return, though it was still too early to be absolutely certain.
"I see, my dear, that your mother has written. I shall be glad to hear what she has to say," Mr. Collins said as ate his dinner.
After reading through the usual greetings and wishes for well being, she got to the best part of the letter, the neighborhood gossip.
"I have such news to relate that I a sure you will enjoy hearing. On Tuesday there was a large party assembled at Longbourn; including Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. When we repaired to the dining-room, everyone eagerly watched to see whether Bingley would take the place by Jane Bennet. On entering the room, he seemed to hesitate; but Jane happened to look round, and happened to smile, and it was decided. He placed himself by her. His behaviour to her was such, during dinner time, as to show such an admiration for Jane, that I was persuaded that Jane's happiness, and Mr. Bingley's, would be speedily secured. I was convinced that she would get him at last. Mrs. Long said so too, for I asked her. "Ah! Lady Lucas, we shall have her at Netherfield at last."
Mrs. Bennet, as you might imagine, was in very great spirits. Her spirits grew even higher yesterday, when Mr. Bingley proposed to Jane. It is the outcome that everyone had predicted."
"Though it has taken over a year to accomplish, I am most happy for my cousin. I shall write my congratulations at once. Do you think I should offer my services? After all, I am family and would be willing to officiate the nuptials of a cousin and a man of such upstanding character."
"I am sure your willingness to do the service would be received with all the proper appreciations. However, the vicar at Longbourn has know Jane since childhood, and would be deeply hurt if someone else took over the ceremony."
Mr. Collins harumphed, then went back to his dinner.
"Elizabeth, of course, is happy for her sister (you will no doubt be hearing from her soon). On Tuesday, she was not in such a cheerful humour. From my seat at the table I observed that she often looked worriedly to the end of table, where Mr. DarcyŠ "
"Mr. Darcy," Charlotte muttered, remembering his behavior to her friend, during her stay last spring. She became even more interested in the contents of the letter.
"Šwas on one side of Mrs. Bennet. No doubt, she knew how little such a situation would give pleasure to Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth was not near enough to hear any of their discourse (though I believe her ears strained to do so), but as they seldom spoke to each other, she could not have missed much. She appeared to be anxious and uneasy while we waited for the gentlemen to come into the drawing-room. When gentlemen came in Jane was making tea, and Elizabeth pouring out the coffee, Mr. Darcy had walked away to another part of the room (he retains that habit, I fear). I swear that Elizabeth followed him with her eyes. It appeared they enjoyed a little conversation before he fell a victim to Mrs. Bennet's rapacity for whist players. They were confined for the evening to different tables. But, my dear Charlotte, I was shocked to note that his eyes were so often turned towards her, as to make him play most unsuccessfully.
Mrs. Long joined us on the ride home, and I asked if she noted the behavior of Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. "Ah! Lady Lucas, I admit to thoughts of romance between them. How excellent it would be to have two weddings in the villageŠ
Mr. Collins began to choke on a piece of lamb. Charlotte ran to the end of the table and pounded on his back until the meat was dislodged.
"It will not do!" Mr. Collins exclaimed. "Mr. Darcy is engaged to Miss deBourgh. There can be no romance. Lady Catherine would never permit it. Besides my cousin is quite beneath the notice of such a man."
"Calm yourself, Mr. Collins, it is just the speculation of my mother."
"And probably all of Meryton. No, Charlotte, it will not do. I must inform Lady Catherine at once." He began to rise.
"My dear, it is dark outside," Charlotte glanced at the clock, "and Lady Catherine will be at her dinner. You know she disapproves of people calling while she is eating. And you need to recover from your ordeal."
"Yes, you are right. Tomorrow will early enough to inform her ladyship. I must think how to break this news to her. It will upset her greatly, for she has such fine sensibilities. She will feel this betrayal greatly I fear. I must be gentle as possibleŠ:" mumbling to himself, he quit the room.
Charlotte picked up the letter and continued to read
Mrs. Long joined us on the ride home, and I asked if she noted the behavior of Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. "Ah! Lady Lucas, I admit to thoughts of romance between them. How excellent it would be to have two weddings in the village." However, Mr. Darcy left the next day for London. So all our conjectures were for naught.
Charlotte decied to keep that last piece of information to herself.
Chapter 2 Thursday 1 October 1812
Mr. Collins arrived at Rosing at the very moment morning visits commenced. He was escorted into the parlor, ready to give the speech he had rehearsed all the yestereve on what he would say, but Lady Catherine forstalled him.
"Mr. Collins, I was thinking that your service on Sunday should be taken from Matthew 10:24, 'The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.'" I think that should do very well. Mr. Johnson has failed to install the new fence as I encouraged him to do. And the butcher seems determine to offer larger cuts of meats than are absolutely necessary. Why his lamb legs are twice the size they should be."
"Indeed, Your Ladyship, for I almost choked on piece last evening."
"Precisely my point. I trust you suffer no ill effects," she gave him a long look. "I suggest that you have gruel or a light, clear soup for the next couple of meals. That should clear any problems to your digestions."
"Your ladyship is most kind. I shall be delighted to have gruel."
Lady Catherine smiled at him. Mr. Collins took a deep breath and rushed head long into his speech, "Lady Catherine, I fear that I have some news that will disturb you, though it is only a rumor and therefore should not be taken with such credence as a known fact. Indeed, mayhap I should not mention it, but I felt it my duty inform you, even though I know what I have to say may cause you distress, which is the last thing in the world that I wish to do. For, Your Ladyship, has been so kind as to honor me with your patronageŠ"
"Mr. Collins," Lady Catherine tapped her cane most forcefully on the floor. "Get to the point of the matter. What is it that you fear will upset me?"
"Mrs. Collins received a letter from her mother." He stopped speaking.
"I fail to see how that should upset me," Lady Catherine snapped.
"Lady Lucas writes that my cousin, Miss Bennet -- Miss Jane Bennet is engaged to marry a Mr. Charles Bingley, a very proper young gentleman."
"Nothing you have said has overset me so far, Mr. Collins." Lady Catherine cast him a steely glance.
"Mr. Bingley is a friend of your nephew, Mr. Darcy."
"Darcy has many friends and acquaintances of excellent standing. He knows the duty he owes to the family."
"My mother-in-law writes that Mr. Darcy appears to be taken with cousin, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I, myself, fail to believeŠ"
"Mr. Collins, did I hear you correctly? Miss Elizabeth Bennet has designs on my nephew, Mr. Darcy."
Mr. Collins nodded, "I believe that there is even talk of an engagement."
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet. How dare she! I will not countenance such talk. These rumors must be stopped at once. I will write to Miss Elizabeth," she spat out the name, "at once. Ring for Peterson to send for my paper and some pens."
Mr. Collins was always happy to oblige to Lady Catherine and quickly went to do her bidding.
"A moment, Mr. Collins. Did not your youngest cousin run off with a soldier earlier this summer?"
"Yes, ma'am. She eloped with a Mr. George Wickham."
"A young man who was always no better than he should be."
"The marriage has been recognized by Mr. and Mrs Bennet. Not that I approve and I am sure you do not."
"You are correct. I do not approve. I see that a letter will not do at all. Such brazen people must be confronted in person. I will have to venture forth to Š. What is the name of that place again?"
"Longbourn, in Herefordshire."
"Then I must be off the Herefordshire. I must stop Pemberley from being polluted by the likes of Miss Elizabeth Bennet." She swept grandly out the room, issuing orders to her footman right and left.
Mr. Collins was left alone in the drawing room. Perhaps he should send a note to Mr. Bennet, explaining her Ladyship's position. He began composing the letter as he left the room.
"Mr. Collins," Lady Catherine called to him from ontop of the stairs, "on Sunday your sermon will be taken from Zephaniah 3:1, 'Woe to her that is filthy and polluted.'"
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