Chapters of Rush to the Altar

Chapter 3 – Rush to the Altar – Funny Pride and Prejudice Variation

Unedited, beta version.

The dawn arrived, washing away the embers of the mortifying previous night with its fresh brightness. Elizabeth was enfolded in her favorite armchair, in the drawing room, engrossed in the world described by the volume in her hand while her sisters engaged in various pursuits.
Yet the awkward memories from the night before still stung. At random moments when she spotted her mother, her cheeks would flush unbearably with embarrassment. She tried to focus on the words on the page, but her mind kept wandering to the mortifying events of the gathering at Lucas Lodge the previous evening.
Mrs. Bennet burst into the room, ”Everything is going perfectly to plan!” she gushed, oblivious to the startled looks from her daughters around the room. “Jane, my dear, you performed so admirably last night. Our Mr. Bingley couldn’t keep his eyes off you, monopolizing him all evening!”
Elizabeth shot a teasing smile and a raised eyebrow in Jane’s direction, eliciting a sweet blush from her elder sister.
Unabated by their amused exchange, Mrs. Bennet continued, directing her focus towards Elizabeth. “If only you, Lizzy, would captivate that Mr. Darcy just as Jane has with Mr. Bingley…”
Elizabeth’s smile fell at this, her gaze turning incredulous at her mother’s audacious suggestion.
“We’re on the right path, girls; you both shall marry these wealthy bachelors! I have no doubt of it!” Mrs. Bennet’s words echoed around the room.
“My dear,” Mr. Bennet interjected with deceptive casualness, his eyes panning over his open book towards his bustling wife, “I believe you will need to set an extra place for supper tonight. We are expecting a visitor.”
This unexpected announcement brought immediate delight and frenzied excitement to Mrs. Bennet. Her hands clapping together in anticipation, she whirled around to face her eldest daughter in particular, “Oh, Jane darling!” she beamed, “Mr. Bingley must surely be calling upon us for supper, how sly “you did not —“
“No, my dear,” Mr. Bennet corrected his wife patiently, a faint edge of amusement tugging at his lips. “Our visitor is not Mr. Bingley. Rather it’s someone none of us have yet made acquaintance with – a Mr. Collins.”
The air of contentment within the room was abruptly severed by Mr. Bennet’s announcement, leaving everyone frozen in their places as shock rippled through them. All activity ceased amplifying the ticking of a clock nearby.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet reveled in the shock he’d so expertly dispersed among his family. “Mr. Collins,” he started, watching the surprise bloom further in their faces, “wrote me a letter extending an olive branch, so to speak. He desired to visit us and mend any family rifts ahead of,” Mr. Bennet briefly paused for effect, “his anticipated inheritance of Longbourn. Seeing no harm in it, I agreed to host him.”
A look of pure shock overcame Mrs. Bennet’s face. She sat frozen in her chair for a moment, her mouth hanging open slightly as she struggled to process this unforeseen turn of events. Slowly, as the implications became clearer, that shock transformed into a burning ember of anger and her eyes flashed indignantly at her husband.
“Mr. Bennet!” she accused. “How could you invite HIM to our home? Why would you want to jeopardize everything I have laboriously planned for our daughters’ futures?”
Mr. Bennet, unfazed by his wife’s outburst, leaned back comfortably in his chair. “My dear,” he began leisurely, “all this occurred before you unearthed the inheritance document and discovered that clause. In fact,” a mischievous twinkle lit up his eyes, “Mr. Collins’ visit might be quite entertaining.”
Elizabeth flicked a glance at her father. Mr. Bennet, whose insouciant demeanor and enjoyment of instigating her mother’s passionate outbursts, has made quite the sport of any situation. She usually was amused by her father, but in this case, she wished her father would consider the gravity of how Mr. Collins’ appearance could potentially unsettle their domestic peace.
It was not long before coach wheels crunched gravel before coming to a halt before the manor.
Mr. Bennet descended the stairs to stand on the drive to greet their visitor. “Welcome to Longbourn, Mr. Collins. I trust your journey was a pleasant one,” he remarked, extending a hand.
“My journey was favorable,” Collins began, stepping down from the carriage.
He looked every inch a clergyman in his sombre black ensemble and overly starched white collar. A thin sheen of sweat already covered his brow, which wasn’t surprising considering his weighty outfit. A reverence towards fashion was clearly sacrificed at the altar of profession.
The whispering giggles of Lydia and Kitty echoed through the corridor as the sisters watched the scene unfold from an upper passage. Balancing themselves on the wooden banisters, they found the whole scenario amusing and both struggled to stifle their snickering laughter, his zealous attire adding fuel to their mischief.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet greeted their guest with a frosty smile on her lips. “We welcome you, Mr. Collins,” but her cold detachment did nothing to mar Collins’ good spirits.
Mr. Collins flashed a toothy grin, entirely unaware of the icy reception. His beady eyes darted around the house upon entering, eager to impress himself upon his future. Behind him, Elizabeth appeared at the top of the stairs with Jane, trying to gauge this fleshy, middle-aged clergyman.
Mr. Bennet surveyed their obsequious visitor with a sardonic eye. “My dear Mr. Collins,” he began, “no doubt your parishes sorely lament your absence. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
“I, being a sensible man, and aware of my conducive position with regards to Longbourn, consider it only fitting that I should choose one of your wonderful daughters for my wife.”
There was an abrupt halt to this declaration. A shocked silence piped through the Bennet girls, followed by an eruption of scandalized gasps and hastily concealed giggles from Lydia and Kitty.
Mr. Bennet’s eyebrow quirked upwards at this pompous declaration. “Do you indeed, sir?” he remarked drily. “And have my wonderful daughters any say in this choice, or is their opinion of no consequence?”
Mr. Collins blinked, nonplussed, unsure if Mr. Bennet was jesting or not. “Why, I…naturally I would wish for your daughter’s willing acceptance and happy consent,” he stammered.
Jane caught Elizabeth’s eye, both suppressing giggles at their father’s sly needling of their ridiculous cousin. While Mr. Collins floundered, Mrs. Bennet rushed to smooth his ruffled feathers, shooting her husband an angry glare for his impertinent questioning of their guest who had now risen in esteem in her eyes.
“Why, Mr. Collins,” she exclaimed, clearly thawed by the tickling notion of resolving the entailed issue within her family cadre. “Such gallantry on your part! Your substantial thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated, indeed!”
The room buzzed with the raw shock at Mr. Collins’ proposal. Lydia and Kitty, teetering on hysteria, released their giggles in a hiccuped cacophony.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth exchanged shocked and exasperated looks with Jane. She could see her younger sisters were fit to burst into hysterical laughter at any moment, which would only add to the absurd chaos.
Elizabeth maintained her courteous composure but inwardly cringed at her cousin’s presumption – did the silly man truly think any of them would accept such a proposal from a veritable stranger, no matter how substantial the estate?
Mrs. Bennet gestured grandly towards her daughters. “Any one of them, doubtlessly, will make you a worthy partner!”
An eager glint sparked in her eyes as Mr. Collins flitted towards Jane momentarily.
Mrs. Bennet, leaned close, preventing him from walking in Jane’s direction. “Sir,” she began in hushed tones that managed to carry across the room, “my Jane is a treasured gem, but I suspect she will shortly be claimed by… another party.”
At the gentle deprival of Jane as an option, Mr. Collins’ chubby face deflated. A moment’s pity snuck its way into Elizabeth’s conscience. She quickly snuffed it out.
Mrs. Bennet, raised her chin to point subtly at Elizabeth. “But behold,” she cooed silkily, waving one delicate hand, “my second eldest is not preoccupied with any trifling prospects of love whatsoever. And I am sure will suit you just as well.”
Mr. Collins’ gaze met Elizabeth’s look square in the face. Misinterpreting it as coquettish allure rather than masked horror, he allowed an amateurish blush to overspread his plump cheeks.
Ambling toward Elizabeth with a kind of serpentine saunter, Mr. Collins wore a grin that almost displayed his molars. “Ah Miss Elizabeth,” he began ingratiatingly, trying to summon tones that were dulcet but only managing to achieve a resonance that was more agricultural in its meandering pitch, “I couldn’t help but observe the delicate grace with which you hold conversations.”
A pause for dramatic effect followed much before it was required. Mr. Collins pressed onward, his beady eyes spotted her slightly tarnished hairpin, glinting beneath the candlelight.
“That…” He stretched out his hand in an exaggerated flourish, pointing at her pin, “…ornament, my dear cousin, is quite fetching indeed, but might I propose that something-sober and less obtrusive adorning your hair would suit better.”
Before Elizabeth could comprehend the supposed compliment lodged inside the criticism, he launched into another one-sided conversation. “For Prov. 31:30, does state, ‘Charm is deceptive, and beauty fleeting…’ An essence that, no doubt, a clergyman’s wife should embody. An undeniable truth, the interpretive pathway towards genuine humility and modesty.”
Thankfully at that moment Hill appeared calling them to supper. But Elizabeth’s relief was short lived as Mrs. Bennet positioned her seating next to her supposed suitor.
Mr. Collins, with a smug and self important yet humble smile, pulled out Elizabeth’s chair to her weakly voiced gratitude which went unnoticed by him.
No sooner had Mr. Collins settled into his seat than he launched into a grand soliloquy of tales from his parish, each story generously sprinkled with accounts of the esteemed Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
“My dear cousin,” he stated in his characteristic style, spreading his arms grandly as if presenting invaluable wisdom. “It was none other than my gracious patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who suggested that I might consider securing the most felicitous match. Naturally, it is a duty I must dutifully perform.”
A slight shiver trailed down her back. Elizabeth shared glances with Jane sitting nearly across the table from her that were politely horrified.
Mr. Bennet though seemed amused by the spectacle. Lydia, barely clung on to propriety, her attempt to stifle her laughter resulted in snorts and chortles even after a stern whisper from Mrs. Bennet.
“Pray, Mr. Collins,” Mr. Bennet drawled, eyes twinkling with mirth. “Share more about your patroness.”
Elizabeth held back a groan at her father’s remark. Mr. Collins, relishing the spotlight once again, began an elaborate narration of Lady Catherine’s Christmas gathering last year. He detailed the intricate embroidery on the footmen’s uniforms to the luscious grandeur of Her Ladyship’s mantlepiece with dizzying verbosity.
Jane’s pale blue eyes soared between their visitor and Elizabeth in shocked bewilderment. Their father, however, seemed to relish this dinner theatre like providing fodder for his chronic ennui.
Elizabeth sighed internally, resigning herself to an interminable dinner as her cousin prattled on.
As the first course was cleared and the second brought out, Mr. Collins turned his attentions more decidedly to Elizabeth. “Cousin Elizabeth,” he began pompously, as if about to impart great wisdom. Elizabeth braced herself for whatever nonsense he was about to spout. “As the second eldest of the fine Bennet daughters, you must hold a most cherished position as a guiding light to your fair sisters. My patroness, Lady Catherine, always says that eldest sisters exert the most influence over younger females, and as such bear great responsibility in upholding proper decorum and modesty.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened at this impertinent censure, especially coming from such a foolish source. “I thank you for the reminder of my duty, Mr. Collins,” she replied coolly. “Though in truth, I have never found any deficiency of propriety or modesty in my beloved sisters’ characters that would require my ‘guidance’ to correct.” Her pointed words were lost on Mr. Collins, who nodded sagely at her response.
“Well said, Cousin Elizabeth. You show admirable wisdom and devotion as an elder sister figure. My patroness will be most delighted to hear of the sober influence you exert over your household.”
Elizabeth abandoned all attempts at civility at this, opening her mouth to give a scathing retort to her officious cousin. But her father spoke first, a glint in his eye. “Indeed, Mr. Collins, my Lizzy is renowned far and wide for her sage counsel and guidance of others. Why, on her word alone, men have mended their ways, fortunes have been made, and wars averted!”
The table erupted in laughter at Mr. Bennet’s outrageous claims. Even Mr. Collins looked nonplussed for a moment before comprehending that he was being teased.
Elizabeth shot her father a grateful smile, glad of his timely humor in cutting her foolish cousin’s moralizing down to size. What an insufferable dinner this was turning out to be.
Elizabeth shut the door to the room she shared with Jane, with a sigh of relief. The evening had seemed interminable with Mr. Collins holding court and Mrs. Bennet’s efforts at pushing her towards him. Jane gave her a sympathetic smile from where she sat brushing her hair.
“Lizzy, whatever will you do?” Jane asked. “Mama seems determined to have you marry our cousin.”
Elizabeth flopped onto the bed. “I know not which is worse – the pompous fool Mr. Collins or the disagreeable Mr. Darcy.”
“At least with Mr. Darcy, you shall not want for comforts,” Jane said gently. “Pemberley is said to be magnificent.”
“I care not for Pemberley if it comes attached to such an odious man.” Elizabeth huffed. “And to think Mr. Collins stated his intention to marry one of us, me, tonight. The ridiculous man has known me not one day! I shudder to think of being tied to him for life.”
“It was rather sudden,” Jane agreed. “Though I daresay Mama was overjoyed at the prospect.”
Elizabeth groaned, throwing an arm over her eyes. “If only there was a way to dissuade her of these notions. I have no intention of marrying either man.”
“We do need to secure our futures, Lizzy.”
“Our future will be secure enough when you marry Mr. Bingley,” Elizabeth said.
Jane blushed. “It is too soon to tell if that shall happen, Lizzy. We also do not know if Mr. Bingley’s means will be considered substantial enough for the inheritance.”
“With the way he dotes on you, it is as good as done,” Elizabeth said with a wave of her hand. “And even if not, must we rush into unhappy matches for the sake of security?”
Jane, ever the peacekeeper, considered her words carefully. “Elizabeth, perhaps this is all a tempest in a teapot. Mr. Collins may yet find his affections lie elsewhere, and as for Mr. Darcy…”
“As for Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth repeated with emphasis, lifting her arm from her eyes to glare at Jane, “he made it abundantly clear how lowly he thinks of our family while we were at the Assembly. Never have I heard such an ill-conceived statement. How Mama can wish me to be matched with such a man, I cannot fathom.”
“Think not too harshly of him, Lizzy,” Jane advised, her voice calm and soothing. “Perhaps he did not mean to cause offense.”
“Harmless or no,” Elizabeth said with conviction, “I would rather endure a life of solitude than wed either Mr. Darcy or our insufferable cousin. Given Mama’s machinations, I hope they both drop their courtships just as quickly as they began.”
“Let us pray it so,” Jane agreed with a faint smile, choosing wisely not to further dispute Elizabeth’s seething emotions about these unexpected predicaments.

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