Mr. Collins led his cousin Elizabeth over to her friend Miss Charlotte Lucas at the conclusion of their dance at Netherfield. Bowing to her, he professed his apologies for any missteps he may have inadvertently made, then thanked her profusely for one of the most delightful dances in which he had ever had the honor to be a participant. Miss Elizabeth, blushing prettily for the compliment by such an esteemed partner and, no doubt, the exertion of the dance, was too moved to tender any response; she merely nodded her thanks then turned to speak privately with her friend.
Remembering his promise to dance with his other four cousins, Mr. Collins set out to find the next lucky Bennet sister. The eldest Miss Bennet was lining up for the next dance with their venerable host, Mr. Bingley; that limited Mr. Collin's choice to one of the younger three sisters. Scanning the room, he was fortunate enough to catch the eye of the youngest but one, Miss Catherine, and hurried over to collect her before the set began. However, by the time he made his way over to where she had been, she was no where to be seen. He thought this strange, for he was sure that she had understood his intention.
No matter, for he saw his youngest cousin Miss Lydia nearby chatting with two gallant officers. He bowed a greeting to each of the gentlemen, then requested the honor of dancing the next from his cousin Lydia. Oddly, for some reason he failed to understand, she stared at him a moment then laughed out loud, causing the two officers to snicker as well. For his part, Mr. Collins would have been greatly offended had not the taller of the gentlemen, a Mr. Denny, explained that he had just been given the promise of the next dance from Miss Lydia Bennet, bowed apologetically, then fairly dragged the giggling girl away.
Still slightly miffed, Mr. Collins spotted his last prospective dance partner, Miss Mary, sitting close by, looking over some sheet music she had brought. After bowing lowly and bestowing on her one of the little delicate compliments which he found were always acceptable to ladies, Mr. Collins asked her to dance. His flattery was met with success as his cousin agreed to stand up with him, although she would find she would not be able to stand quite so well by the end of the set as Mr. Collins stepped repeatedly and rather heavily on her feet throughout the dance.
In his defense, Mr. Collins' attention was continuously drawn away from the proper steps by a young lady he noticed glaring at himself and his partner. Normally he would be quite pleased to be the object of such a lovely and fashionable maiden, however at the moment it was quite disconcerting. He could not fathom why she looked so accusingly at him as he had never set eyes on the lady in all his life; yet there she stood, slightly away from the dancers, staring intently and not at all pleasantly in his direction. When he managed to take Miss Mary's attention away from her feet, he inquired who the mystery lady was.
"That is... ouch! .. Miss Marian Watson, the daughter of... ahhh! ...our town magistrate," said Mary just as the dance ended (and not a moment too soon.) "Come, I will introduce you." She limped over to the lady in question.
"Miss Marian Watson, I am pleased to present my cousin, ou...ah...the reverend Mr. William Collins." Bows and curtsies were exchanged as Mary hurriedly made her excuses and limped over to the nearest chair to attend her aching feet.
"Forgive my impertinence in speaking, Miss Watson," stated Mr. Collins, "Although perhaps impertinence is rather too harsh a word to impart to one in my esteemed profession; I fear I must have unknowingly offended you in some way for I saw your look of disapprobation." The parson bowed again toward the lady, as low as his frame would allow. "Please accept my most humble and heartfelt apology."
Miss Watson appeared distressed and blushed profusely, which only enhanced her pretty face under her light brown curls. "Oh dear, I am so sorry, Mr. Collins. You have done nothing wrong at all; my most sincere apologies to you and Miss Mary. I admit I was looking rather peevish, but my glares were not directed at you, but at the couple who danced beside you - Colonel Forster and that wily fiancée of his, Harriet Clarke. Do you see them?" She pointed to the couple standing across the room: the Colonel and a lively young lady who Mr. Collins indeed recalled as his neighbors in the set.
"Ah, yes. And may I say what a fine couple they make. One can not say enough about our brave protectors in uniform, and the young lady certainly looks the image of good health and humor."
"She's a selfish chit who stole him away from me the first chance she got; and he is a fool to be taken in by her fluttering eyes and flirtatious remarks."
"The Good Book is filled with tales of righteous men falling victim to feminine intrigue. I am reminded of how Delilah brought down Goliath. Or was it Samuel?"
"Yes, of course. Samson. Samson and the Philosees. Perhaps I should speak to the Colonel. As one who has taken holy orders, it is my duty to warn the ignorant of any imminent dangers to their..."
"Please, do not bother. They deserve each other," Miss Watson sniffed.
"Our 'Men in Red' are certainly deserving, for their dedicated protection of our realm; but no less so, I am sure, than those of us that labor to feed and guide the many lost souls..."
"I don't give two straws for any of them anymore. When the militia first came to Meryton, Colonel Forster frequently visited my home; initially to call on my father on business - he is Meryton's magistrate, you know." Mr. Collins nodded and would have spoken of his great respect for that illustrious occupation had the lady not immediately continued her story. "Later he and Captain Carter would often stop by to visit with me. I was quite flattered. One day when the officers called, my particular friend Miss Harriet Clarke was also visiting with me. She flirted with both gentlemen shamelessly and made me look quite the fool in front of them. Since then the Colonel has only called when he had business with Father, and never takes the time to so much as stay for tea afterwards. He is always in a hurry to call in at the Clarkes."
"The man must be truly a fool to desert a jewel such as yourself. I was telling my esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh not three weeks ago..."
"And now he and Harriet are to be married, not that I care, for I am sure they spare no thought for me. Who am I, after all? I only introduced them!"
As Mr. Collins was forming a sympathetic yet instructional speech to uplift the young lady from her distress, Marian met eyes with Harriet from across the room and received a smug look from her former friend. She decided to send a message of her own. Taking Mr. Collins' arm and looking up at him sweetly said, "Enough about me. Tell me about yourself and your parish. You do have a parish?"
Mr. Collins assured her that he did, and leading her over to a pair of empty seats, began to extol on his favorite subject, his fortune in coming to the notice of his patroness and of all the benevolence that that great lady had deigned to bestow upon him since coming to Hunsford.
So engrossed in his discussion, for surprisingly it was a discussion, Miss Watson frequently asking pertinent questions or commenting on her delight with his descriptions of the wonders of Rosings, the name of Lady Catherine's estate, that Mr. Collins totally forgot about his promise to dance with his remaining three cousins, or his intentions to spend the majority of the evening with their sister Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was greatly relieved that Mr. Collins had seemed to have forgotten about her, she had feared that she would be saddled with him all evening. And as her feet suffered less abuse from Mr. Collins' partnership than her sister Mary's, she was able to dance with a number of more agreeable partners: Mr. Denny, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Goulding, Captain Carter, and one disagreeable one, Mr. Darcy.
While Elizabeth was dancing with Captain Carter, Charlotte sat out and chatted with Mary, who was still nursing her battered feet. At the conclusion of the dance, Captain Carter requested a dance from Mary. When she politely declined, due to her injuries, he moved on to Charlotte, who was not too proud to accept. Despite her being the gentleman's second choice; he was so well pleased with Charlotte as a partner that he also asked her for the supper dance.
Mr. Collins was granted the pleasure of the supper dance with Miss Watson and took great care to mind his feet during the dance, for he did not want to tread on the slippers of a lady who proved herself such an amiable companion that evening. She proved just as amiable a supper companion, too.
After supper, when young ladies in attendance were asked to play, Miss Mary was the first to respond, she had looked forward to performing all week. She decided to play a shorter piece, however, instead of a longer, more complicated piece that she had been practicing as her feet pained her greatly and she feared she could not do the original selection justice. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the applause she received on the completion of her performance were the most sincere and enthusiastic she had ever received. It was the most wonderful evening she could remember.
The next day Mr. Collins left Longbourn, the Bennet estate, soon after breakfast. He called on Miss Watson to thank her for the dance the previous evening and invite her to accompany him on a walk in the countryside. Mr. Collins paused during their walk to propose marriage to Miss Watson, who readily accepted, as did her father later that day. The wedding was planned for the weekend before the New Year. Marian couldn't be happier, she would be married and well settled with the heir to Longbourn weeks before Miss Harriet Clarke's marriage to Colonel Forster.
There were some other noteworthy events after the Netherfield ball:
Mrs. Bennet was quite distraught over Mr. Collins' perceived desertion. Although she wanted to blame Elizabeth for not securing him, wailing that they were doomed to be thrown in the hedgerows when he inherited Longbourn, Mr. Bennet pointed out that it was no fault of Elizabeth's or any of their daughters that the gentleman had proved so fickle, and that that flaw in his character was better found out sooner than later when it could have been too late. Mrs. Bennet reluctantly agreed but refused to be in the same room with Mr. Collins for the remainder of his visit. She kept to her chambers whenever he was in the house, giving her husband and daughters some much needed peace and quiet.
Seeing Miss Elizabeth Bennet dancing so well with so many partners had distracted Mr. Darcy to such an extent that he failed to carefully observe the interactions of Miss Jane Bennet and his friend Mr. Bingley that evening, thus he was unable to form an objective opinion of her regard, or lack there of, for his friend. Later that evening after the guests had departed, Mr. Darcy had to admit when Mr. Bingley asked that he could not give an impartial opinion on that subject and his friend would have to rely on his own judgment as to the young lady's regard. After a brief trip to London, where his sisters unsuccessfully attempted to change his mind, Mr. Bingley returned to Hertfordshire and asked Miss Jane for her hand in marriage; Miss Jane joyfully complied. Mrs. Bennet immediately forgot her disappointment in Mr. Collins as her mind turned to preparing for her favorite daughter's wedding, which took place shortly after Easter.
The day after the ball, on hearing that Lieutenant Chamberlayne was to visit Longbourn with Lieutenant Denny, Captain Carter gave him a jar of his mother's special liniment to relieve Miss Mary's feet. It worked quite well to sooth her pain. Mary gratefully thanked both gentlemen. From that point on Mary and Lieutenant Chamberlayne struck up a friendship which soon grew into mutual affection. They became engaged the day after Jane's wedding.
While Lieutenants Denny and Chamberlayne visited Longbourn the day after the ball, Captain Carter stopped in at Lucas Lodge to call on Charlotte. He continued to be a frequent visitor there throughout the fall and winter. After a short engagement, they married in the spring before the regiment removed to Brighton.
Mr. Darcy stayed on at Netherfield with Mr. Bingley until shortly before Christmas, when he returned to London to spend Christmas with his sister. As soon as he departed, rumors of Darcy's ill-use of Mr. Wickham came to Mr. Bingley's attention. Mr. Bingley wrote to his friend informing him of the reports and asking his advice in refuting the charges. Mr. Darcy replied that he felt no inclination to acknowledge Wickham's lies, but suggested Mr. Bingley might wish to warn his future father-in-law that Mr. Wickham was not a gentleman, as he had a licentious nature and to Mr. Darcy's knowledge had attempted to take advantage of at least one young heiress for her fortune, amongst numerous other indiscretions. Before relaying this information to Mr. Bennet, Mr. Bingley made a few discreet inquires of his own within Meryton, where Wickham's mounting debts and scandalous liberties taken with tradesmen's daughters came to light. Mr. Bennet barred Wickham from Longbourn. He was disgraced in the eyes of the Meryton populous, who no longer gave credence to his stories of ill-use as so many now believed themselves ill-used by Wickham himself. When Mr. Darcy returned to Netherfield in January, he found his reputation has greatly improved in Hertfordshire as Wickham's reputation declined.
The more time Mr. Darcy spent in Hertfordshire, the more he found himself drawn to it when he was away. It seemed to grow on him, just as his company seemed to grow on Elizabeth Bennet. She and Darcy found themselves as the de facto chaperones to her sister Jane and Mr. Bingley more often than not; it was not long before they would require a chaperone themselves.
Mrs. Bennet had once remarked that when her Jane married Mr. Bingley that it would throw her other daughters in the path of other rich men. She was right. Many years later when William and Marian Collins took possession of Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet had long forgotten that she had once dreaded the hedgerows.