Mr. Collins Gets Distracted ~ by Alicia
The day before the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Collins walked to Meryton alone to purchase some personal items he had need of to insure he would be in his best looks the following evening. As he exited one of the shops on the main street of the town he perceived three young ladies walking towards him. After looking in his direction, they immediately moved to cross to the other side of the street. Upon perceiving that two of them were his cousins, he intercepted them quickly, expressing his surprise at finding them there.
"I had thought," he said, "that you ladies had found it too wet to venture outdoors today. Mrs. Bennet, I believe, said as much this morning."
"Oh what does a little rain signify, Mr. Collins?" asked Lydia.
Kitty provided a bit more explanation, "We contrived (cough) to get out of the house without Mama noticing. I dare say (cough) she thinks we are both still up in our rooms trimming bonnets. But how could we stay indoors (cough) when there is much fun to be had?"
"But you must not tell Mama or Papa, Mr. Collins," added Lydia, batting her eyelids at him.
"Ah," replied the gentleman, "I shall keep your confidence if you would be so kind as to do me the great honor of introducing me to your lovely friend."
For by this time, Mr. Collins had taken notice of the third young lady -- one he had not seen heretofore during his stay in the neighborhood -- and soon discovered that she was the loveliest personage he had ever laid eyes on. He was instantly besotted.
"Oh," laughed Lydia, giving Kitty a significant look, "this is our friend . . . Miss . . . uh, . . . Miss Elaine Chambers."
"Miss Chambers," said Mr. Collins, savoring the words, "it is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance." He made a sweeping bow as he uttered the words, then looked into the young lady's sparkling eyes dancing behind the fan she held demurely before her. "Will you be attending Mr. Bingley's ball tomorrow evening as well?"
"Indeed, sir," was the brief reply.
"Would you do me the great honor of dancing a set with me, Miss Chambers? I regret that I am unable to engage you for the first two dances but I am at your disposal the entire rest of the evening. Perhaps the two second would suit you?"
Miss Chambers hesitated, but with a flirtatious giggle, she accepted graciously.
Tearing his eyes away from the newest object of his affections, Mr. Collins asked Kitty if he could escort her and her sister home. Lydia, however, replied that they intended to stop in at their Aunt Phillips' house and would be home shortly thereafter. Mr. Collins smiled his agreement, bowed divinely, then set off for Longbourn with a spring in his step, a gleam in his eye, and visions of Miss Chambers occupying his thoughts. She was absolutely lovely, the very image of modesty and purity and femininity.
He was oblivious to the peals of loud laughter escaping the three ladies as he walked away from them. As they raced down the street, back to Colonel Forster's home where they had spent the morning, they could not stop giggling, nor talking of the encounter. "Poor Mr. Collins," said Kitty, laughter belying her expression of sympathy, "He will be so disappointed."
"Oh no," said Lydia, "we cannot disappoint him!" Then turning to her friend, she said, "You must dance with him tomorrow evening!"
When Kitty and Lydia returned home that evening, they found that Mr. Collins had told the entire family about the young lady he'd met in town. Mrs. Bennet was quite put out. She had never heard of Miss Chambers and was extremely vexed by the prospect of a new and strange young woman in the neighborhood who might take the attention of the gentlemen away from her daughters. This was not to be borne and she carefully enquired of Mr. Collins as to every particular with regard to his meeting. As there was so little to tell, he could only repeat the few facts at his disposal over and over again. He was not so lucky to know what family she was staying with, how long she would be in the neighborhood or what her fortune was. Mrs. Bennet had to be satisfied. When her two youngest daughters returned home she chastised them severely about having gone into Meryton and was even more put out when they could not give her any more information about their friend that Mr. Collins had. It seemed they had only just met the young lady themselves. Kitty and Lydia, in turn, were extremely angry at Mr. Collins for breaking his promise not to tell about their excursion.
The next evening at the ball, Mr. Collins was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Miss Chambers and was in fear of not seeing her at all before the dancing was to commence. After he had walked around the entire room and looked into the crowds of guests for her, he returned to Lydia and Kitty, who were talking with some officers, to ask if they have seen her.
"My dear cousins," he said frantically, "have you seen Miss Chambers yet? I have looked everywhere and cannot find her. Pray tell me if you know whether her party has arrived."
"I have not seen her yet," said Kitty, looking sidewise at one of the officers and attempting to conceal a smile.
"Nor have I," said Lydia with a giggle, "but I do believe her party is here."
"Oh do direct me to some member of it, that I might enquire after her. I am most anxious to make the acquaintance of her family."
"I cannot say where they have got off to, Mr. Collins," said Lydia.
Now, the music for the dancing commenced and Mr. Collins knew he must join Miss Elizabeth. Oh how he now regretted having engaged her for the first two dances! As he walked away, he failed to notice that -- rather than joining in the dancing -- Kitty and Lydia left the ballroom with one of the officers.
Mr. Collins barely made it through the first set of dances with his sanity intact. He was looking all over the room for Miss Chambers and trampling on his partner's feet as they went down the dance. Miss Elizabeth attempted no conversation and he was perfectly satisfied to be silent. He cared for no one but Miss Chambers. The half hour seemed to last an eternity and certainly made up the longest set of dances he had ever danced in his life. At last it was over. He was free. He set out looking for his next partner immediately. At last he spied her, standing against a wall in the back of the room, with her fan demurely in front of her face. He virtually skipped across the room to her and offered his hand. Mr. Collins felt perfect happiness as they lined up for the dance. If only this half hour would pass as slowly as the last one had he would be satisfied. He was determined, now, to learn more about his partner, but she was scarcely inclined to speak and would not give any meaningful answers to his direct questions. At last he gave over the effort altogether and satisfied himself with gazing upon her beauty and admiring her movement. For, thought Miss Chambers often moved wrong in the dance, her skill was no worse than his, and to his view she danced perfectly. When the set was finished, Mr. Collins immediately asked Miss Chambers for the supper dances. At first, she declined, but upon his pressing her most eagerly, she acquiesced. Then she dashed off suddenly and Mr. Collins lost sight of her in the throng.
The next few dances were a whirl of one Bennet cousin after another -- for he felt obliged to honor his promise to dance with them all. The dances with Kitty and Lydia were barely tolerable as neither of them seemed able to stop giggling during the entire set. He was happier with Mary and Jane. By the time of the supper dances he was in a fair way to being exhausted. During the entire course of the evening, his first object had been to observe Miss Chambers and learn more of her. He was interested in seeing who she danced with and discovering who her family could be. But he saw nothing at all of her after the second set until the supper dances. When, at last, he perceived her again, he claimed her hand and asked where she had been. Miss Chambers replied that she had been dancing most of the evening.
By the time the supper dances were over, Mr. Collins felt confident that he was very much in love with Miss Chambers with a violence of affection so powerful it eclipsed any claim of duty to establish one of the Bennet girls as mistress of Hunsford Parsonage. Indeed, there was now only one course of action for Mr. Collins. He took Miss Chambers’ hand, at the end of the last dance, to lead her into the supper room, but she shrank away, declaring that she was not hungry and did not wish to partake. She needed some air and would go into the garden for a moment.
"But you cannot walk out alone at this hour," cried Mr. Collins, "you must allow me to be of service to you."
Miss Chambers, judging that the privacy of the gardens was preferable to the crowded dining room if Mr. Collins was determined to stay with her, agreed. They walked outdoors and Mr. Collins entreated her to look at the stars. Perhaps it was the enchantment of those very stars, or the chilly night air, or the excitement of the ball, but Mr. Collins was moved to declare his feelings.
"Miss Chambers," he began, "I must confess, I have never met any woman like you. None so pleasant, so lovely, so perfectly suited to myself."
Miss Chambers was properly flattered and returned a look of modest disbelief, but said not a word.
"I have never felt this way before. I must tell you, I came into Hertfordshire with no other view than to find a wife." Here, his companion, genuinely shocked by the direction of the conversation, urged him to stop, but he would not hear it. He silenced her, and continued, "Though I had thought to select a wife from among my Longbourn relations, I can no longer think of them. You must know, I have a very good establishment at Hunsford Parsonage under the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and I will inherit Longbourn upon the death of Mr. Bennet. There can be no objection, I am sure, though your family have not yet met me. . . ."
But Mr. Collins was unable to complete his speech before Miss Chambers turned away from him and walked quickly back into the house. Being a man so violently in love, he, of course, chased after her. As she walked through the ballroom, her apparent object a door on the other side of it, with him after her, they gained the attention of several of the guests who after eating their fill had begun to return to the ballroom looking forward to the continuation of the dancing.
Miss Chambers however, was stopped in her tracks by one of the officers. It was Colonel Forster who, placing a hand on Miss Chambers' arm, exclaimed, "Good God, what are you doing?"
"Unhand her immediately," cried Mr. Collins, catching up to his fair lady puffing and out of breath.
"Her?" asked Forster. Then looking back at Miss Chambers said, "Chamberlayne? What in the world are you doing?" As he said the last, he reached up and removed the young lady's . . . er . . . gentleman's turban, and it was obvious that a great trick had been played on Mr. Collins. That gentleman turned bright red from mortification and shame and embarrassment . Mr. Chamberlayne looked sheepishly at him and shrugged an apology. Mr. Collins flew out of the room and out of the house. He mounted the first horse he could pull himself astride in Bingley's stable and raced towards Longbourn.
By the time the Bennet family had arrived home – having left the ball immediately after Lydia and Kitty could be tolerably made to control their fits of laughter -- every trace of Mr. Collins' existence was gone. He never set foot into Hertfordshire again, and even when he inherited Longbourn, he preferred to let the house than reside in it.
As for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, I leave it to each reader to decide for herself whether Fate contrived to bring them together in spite of not having met in Kent which they most certainly would have done but for the events related herein.