The first day passed much the same as the second day of her arrival. On the third day, the Collinses received a much-anticipated invitation to dine at Rosings. Taking advantage of the pleasant weather, they walked the half mile or so across the park in companionable silence. That was until the manor house appeared on the horizon, at which point her party members’ enthusiasm was scarcely contained.
With each step that Elizabeth took as she ascended the stairs of the palatial home she thanked heavens that she was her friend Charlotte’s guest and not the other way around. Best described as a sensible woman, at the age of seven and twenty, Charlotte had recently married Elizabeth’s cousin, Mr. William Collins. He was the complete opposite of Lieutenant Wickham. Indeed, a pompous man, he was not only a strain on one’s eyes, but his voice also set Elizabeth’s nerves on edge. More than once since the start of her visit she had congratulated herself on escaping the sentence her friend ardently embraced, by rejecting his hand in marriage. The thought of finding herself married to the toady man who towered over them was enough to turn her stomach.
Her mother had protested fiercely against the injustice of having such a child—one who spurned the hand of the man who would one day inherit every material possession the Bennets of Longbourn now called their own. “He may throw us all into the hedgerows as soon as he pleases once my dear Mr. Bennet passes away,” was her mother’s most ardent complaint.
The second of five daughters, Elizabeth knew she had an obligation to marry, the more favorable the match the better for all her family. But she did not mean to be a martyr. Her strongly held conviction did not lessen the guilt that would make its presence known from time to time, and thus she made an unspoken pact with herself that the next time she would think long and hard before spurning an offer of marriage should one be presented to her again. Charlotte had mentioned that there was to be more than one single gentleman in attendance at that evening’s gathering. May at least one of them be amiable, Elizabeth silently prayed.
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