P&P200: Charlotte Collins on Bonfire Night
Last autumn I started a multi-post story about Charlotte Lucas and how she came to marry Mr. Collins. It ended up containing some surprising twists. This post continues the Charlotte’s tale. If you haven’t read the earlier sections, some bits of it might seem mysterious. You can find the earlier sections at Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9.
Across the clearing, sparks flew as the stuffed guy was engulfed in flames. Flickering yellow and orange tendrils shot up from the bonfire toward the sky. Charlotte remembered how huge and out of control the bonfires on Guy Fawkes Day had seemed to her as a child. She had always feared that the sparks would set a building alight, perhaps the result of all those years of stern cautions from her mother about taking care with candles, and her graphic descriptions of the possible consequences of carelessness. Now, of course, Charlotte did not give a second thought to the risk of the fire spreading. She could see the precautions the men were taking – the circle of stones to contain the fire, the buckets of water standing at regular intervals around the clearing.
It was a different kind of fire that Charlotte associated with Bonfire Night now. Had it only been a year ago that she had allowed Mr. Robinson to lead her off into the dark woods? That night had changed her life so completely, and none of it in the manner which she had expected. She was no longer an aging spinster, her future uncertain and dependent completely on her family, an easy target for a flattering seducer. Now she was Mrs. Collins, with a home of her own and security beyond any she could have expected.
Of course, that home of her own was precious little good at the moment, since she and Mr. Collins had fled the vicinity of Rosings Park. Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s wrath over Mr. Darcy’s engagement to Elizabeth Bennet, showing no sign of abating a fortnight after receiving the news, had been enough to convince Mr. Collins that absence was his best defense. And so Charlotte, now a married woman, was back at Lucas Lodge on Bonfire Night, which had been when it all began.
Now there was to be another new beginning. Elizabeth would be marrying Mr. Darcy in less than a fortnight. Who would have thought it? Even she, who had seen Mr. Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth before anyone else, had not believed it would lead to marriage. It made her wonder now whether Lizzy had been hoping for this all along, despite her early air of dislike for him.
Had that hope been what lay behind her friend’s refusal to consider Mr. Collins’ offer? Perhaps Charlotte was being too cynical, though. Lizzy had never had a practical thought in her head, so the benefits of marrying Mr. Collins would not have occurred to her – neither the financial benefits, nor the advantages of a husband who could be easily managed. Charlotte could not help smiling at the idea of any woman trying to manage Mr. Darcy! She hoped his attitude would not have too much of a detrimental effect on Lizzy’s high spirits. Her friend was accustomed to making her own decisions, since her parents exercised so little authority. Marriage would be quite a change for Lizzy!
There seemed no question, though, that Lizzy loved him, and that he was overflowing with admiration for her. Charlotte did not envy Lizzy the riches and fine clothes she would have as Mrs. Darcy, but she could not help feeling a qualm when she considered that her husband would never look at her with that glow in his eyes. Not that she particularly wanted Mr. Collins to do so, but the idea of a husband who would love her so very much still drew something from her heart – a husband with whom she could share a marital bed without having to pretend he was someone else. Lizzy was fortunate in that regard.
Her husband came over to her then with a banal compliment for the festivities. As usual, she barely listened except to insert the occasional murmur of agreement which was all he expected of her. But she had no cause to complain. For all that he was not clever, witty, or well-mannered, her husband was a decent man who provided well for her and never beat her. And if he was not clever enough to notice that sometimes she would disappear for hours at a time with no particular excuse… well, all the better for her. Her lips curved as she thought about those secret hours and the man who shared them with her. Indeed, she was very fortunate, even if she would never have thought it a year ago.
Mr. Collins looked at Charlotte with great satisfaction, and congratulated himself on how much his wife had blossomed since he had chosen to marry her. She was indeed a fortunate woman to have attracted his interest last November!