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The Writer's Block
Teatime with Austen
Prequel: Lady Catherine de Bourgh sets the stage
Topic: Prequel: Lady Catherine de Bourgh sets the stage (Read 1052 times)
Happily ever after comes true
Prequel: Lady Catherine de Bourgh sets the stage
November 23, 2011, 03:36:23 PM »
When I raised the idea of the P&P200 project to my fellow Austen Authors, Diana Birchall told me her plan: she was going to channel her inner Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and she was going to do it thoroughly. Diana will be representing Lady Catherine’s unique voice throughout the P&P200 project, and I can tell already it’s going to be a real treat for the rest of us. In Pride & Prejudice, Lady Catherine is still off-stage in September 0f 1811, but that doesn’t stop the P&P200 crowd, since other events are taking place at Rosings even as we speak. Diana has a killer scene coming up for us next month with Lady Catherine instructing Mr. Collins to take a wife, and today she sets the stage for her 16 month stint as Lady Catherine by giving us the history of her ladyship’s private life, complete with the scene of Lady Catherine’s first attempt to make a match between the infant Fitzwilliam Darcy and his cousin Anne de Bourgh. Please enjoy the Lady Catherine prequel to P&P200! - Abigail Reynolds
The Pride of the Fitzwilliams
by Diana Birchall
“On the following morning [Mr. Collins] hastened to Rosings to pay his respects. There were two nephews of Lady Catherine to require them, for Mr. Darcy had brought with him a Colonel Fitzwilliam, the younger son of his uncle, Lord —– ” Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice
Lord who? Given that Fitzwilliam is the family name, and also Darcy’s first name, it may be that Jane Austen meant their uncle, Lady Catherine’s brother the Earl, to suggest the actual Lord Fitzwilliam, a contemporary grandee with a lot of Austenian names up his tree. Let’s suppose it happened this way…
Lady Catherine de Bourgh came by her pride naturally. To give it a name, it was the pride of the Fitzwilliams. Her father, Lord Fitzwilliam, was of a family that sprang from William the Conquerer, a circumstance which he never allowed any one to forget; and he married grandly into the bargain, to Lady Anne Watson-Wentworth, daughter of the Earl of Malton. Lord Malton, later created Marquess of Rockingham, was master of the largest mansion in the country, Wentworth-Woodhouse, and he had the further honour of a son who became Prime Minister. These connections tended to make the Fitzwilliam children all the more impressed with their own importance.
Although a gentleman of liberal mind in the public service, where he served in the House of Lords as well as holding an Irish peerage, Lord Fitzwilliam never had opportunity to learn that there was anything offensive about the sin of pride. He diligently taught his children to think well of themselves too, and meanly of others. His son and heir William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, styled Viscount Milton, learned the lesson best of all, Lady Catherine next best, but the youngest daughter, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, proved but a poor scholar, and the least proud of the three, perhaps because of her lower status compared with her brother and sister.
The children were all born at Milton Hall near Peterborough, the family seat, a suitably ancient estate that had begun building as long ago as 1594. They were all very proud of it. An extensive park, with oak trees dating from Tudor times, stables, and walled gardens, was not thought grand enough to suit the pride of Lord Fitzwilliam after he married Lady Anne, and very extensive renovations were made, comprising a new Palladian south front. In the country, therefore, the Fitzwilliam children played and studied; but this country idyll came to an abrupt end with the death of Lord Fitzwilliam at the early age of seven and thirty, after a fall from his horse, which vouchsafed him no time to reflect on the sin of pride. William, the new lord, thus succeeded to two earldoms as a boy of only eight years old, the importance of which his masters took care to impress upon him. He was sent to Eton, which is not known for teaching humility to double earls, while Catherine and Anne rusticated as they grew tall and handsome. They were taught by their capable mother, who had the merit of being at least as proud as her late husband, and as chatelaine of Milton Hall, laid down the law to all the surrounding countryside and sedulously instructed her daughters to do the same.
Young Lord Fitzwilliam had the advantage of making a grand tour at sixteen, though he was not impressed with the French, whom he called “a set of low, mean, impertinent people” with whom it was absolutely impossible for him to associate. He quit the loathed country at once, but liked Italy better, and brought home some Canalettos. His mother died soon after his return, in 1769, when young Lord Fitzwilliam had just attained his majority. He then embarked on his long and glittering political career as a Whig grandee, opposing all change, deprecating peace with the French, and supporting the American colonies. He divided his time between Milton Hall and London, and saw to it that his sisters had their London seasons – many London seasons – but these passed away without result, and neither young woman found a husband who captured her heart or conquered her pride.
In 1782, on his uncle Lord Rockingham’s death, Lord Fitzwilliam inherited the grand palace of Wentworth-Woodhouse, near Rothingham in South Yorkshire. Milton had produced an income of some £3000 a year, and his other properties around Peterborough about the same, so the earl had not heretofore been excessively wealthy; but the acquisition of the largest mansion in the country, with its immense estates, made him one of England’s greatest landowners. The Wentworth estate comprised 14,000 acres of farm land, woods and mines yielding nearly £20,000 annually in rents. Its master, Lord Fitzwilliam, now four and thirty and in his prime, took up his uncle’s role and became one of the Whig leaders in the House of Lords, debating on all the important issues of the day, from Parliamentary reform to the Regency bill. As well as holding sway in Parliament, he presided over his two great political palaces, in Yorkshire and in Northamptonshire, where his wife Lady Charlotte, daughter of William Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough, a niece of the Duke of Devonshire, made a fitting adjunct.
Lord Fitzwilliam’s acquisition of wealth (and an equal rise in pride) had its effect upon his younger sisters. In the same year as the inheritance, Lady Catherine, at thirty, having nearly resigned herself to remaining a proud and rich spinster all her life, was flattered at being sought by Sir Lewis de Bourgh who, though not the richest catch in the country, was of a very old family and very handsome. His fortune was respectable, though not worthy to be named in comparison with her brother’s; and he took his rich prize proudly home to his pretty estate in Kent, Rosings. Sir Lewis proved not to have made much of a bargain, for Lady Catherine brought with her a respectable dower from her late mother Lady Anne, but hardly the extent of wealth associated with Wentworth-Woodhouse. Lord Fitzwilliam was of an easy temper, but he was so disgusted by the de Bourghs’ importuning him for large sums to improve their estate, that a quarrel broke out, soon culminating in an open breach. Although her brother was a byword for generosity on his vast estates, Lady Catherine gained nothing from him but a fund of reminiscences of the noble names she had known in London, which went far to impress the local gentry in Kent with her pride and importance.
In appearance, Lady Catherine was a tall, dark, largely made, not unhandsome woman with strongly marked features, who overawed her slight and slender husband by her forcefulness of both demeanor and speech. Used to directing affairs at Milton Hall, where her brother had in recent years been an absentee, there was no change in her manners when she was transplanted to Rosings. Being mistress of the estate, and headship of the village, came perfectly naturally to her. Motherhood was less natural, but she did give birth, to a weakly daughter, a year after her marriage.
Always second in importance to Lady Catherine, her younger sister Lady Anne by one of those unexpected operations of fate, outstripped her materially in life. In the same year as Sir Lewis de Bourgh sought Lady Catherine’s hand, Lady Anne attracted the notice of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, in the neighboring county of Derbyshire, with ten thousand pounds a year, and was honorably and comfortably carried away to his estate. She had the advantage of a husband who was a sensible man, notable for his understanding, and for his cheerful, good temper, but she did not fully appreciate her benefit. Ten thousand pounds a year, she could not fail to remember, was more than her sister had, but not nearly as much as her brother, who by then had ten times that amount at least. Mr. Darcy, who had made such a great alliance, found to his sorrow that Lady Anne, though of a more delicate make and gentler temper than her sister, was yet fretful and complaining. She was prudent enough not to alienate the affections of her brother, however, and more than one Christmas was spent by the Darcys at the Northamptonshire palace of Lord Fitzwilliam.
Lady Anne was more fortunate in motherhood than either her brother or sister. Lord Fitzwilliam’s younger son was a bright and healthy boy, but his heir was worryingly delicate, and lacking in mental quickness, while Lady Catherine’s sickly daughter required ceaseless attention by nurses to keep her in any sort of health at all. Lady Anne, however, gave birth to a remarkable stout, forward son before she had been married a year, and this promising heir was the joy – and the pride – of the Darcys.
In the summer of 1784, Lady Catherine and Lewis de Bourgh, with their baby and attendant nurses, paid a visit to Pemberley. With their well-sprung, comfortable chaise-and-four, they were three days on the road, and the Darcys provided them with every attention, not to say luxury, on their arrival. Although Rosings was by no means a contemptible estate, Lady Catherine could not help seeing the difference between it and Pemberley, which was at least the equal to Malton Hall, and though not as large, had more real elegance than Wentworth-Woodhouse. The many servants, the fine fires, the well served epicurean meals, all impressed the visitors. So did the infant Darcy, presented in his cradle, where he lay before the fire beside the cradle of his cousin. They formed a contrast, little Darcy’s dark, bright eyes well open, as he looked about him inquiringly and waved his little fists, while the pale girl babe lay listless, thin and white, as all her nurses vied with each other to skreen her from the fire, and ply her with a special milk-pudding.
“What a fine pair they are,” said Lady Catherine, tilting her dark, lace-capped head sentimentally to the side, for effect. “Surely no finer children were ever seen in England.”
“You are right, I believe,” Lady Anne answered placidly. “My little Darcy is remarkably strong and intelligent, and twice little Anne’s size.”
“Quite fitting, as he is a boy,” said Lady Catherine, her eyes darting from one to the other. “Have you thought of their futures, Anne?”
“Their futures? Why, Darcy is not a year old yet, and Anne not eight months. Besides, Darcy’s future is settled; he will be master of Pemberley one day, which is surely all one could ask, don’t you agree?”
“Oh, indeed,” said her sister, “but it is never too soon to look forward to the important question of marriage, you know. Look! I do believe the little fellow is regarding his cousin with real affection. See that? What a little love! It would almost seem as though they are meant for each other.”
“To marry, you mean? But it could not be for another twenty years, at soonest, my dear Catherine. And then, you know, they might fall in love with entirely different people.”
“Nonsense! Our children will always do as their mothers desire, I am sure. Only see – Darcy is reaching out. Why, he might be her little husband!”
“I think it is the kitten’s tail he wants.”
“Upon my word, it is her hand, I am positive. Anne, I have a thought. Why should we not promise them to each other? Then one day, little Anne – are you not happy that I named my daughter for you, dearest? – will be always at Pemberley.”
“Well,” considered Lady Anne, “I don’t see what little Darcy will gain by it. He is always at Pemberley already.”
“He would be master of Rosings as well, and of Lewis’s fortune, and mine, which is not inconsiderable. And he would be gaining the sweetest girl in all England – you can see she is that.”
“She is well enough, I suppose,” Lady Anne said observing the child critically.
“So you will do it? We will plight their troth? Come, you take Darcy’s hand, and I will take Anne’s, and we will hold them together – see – like that.”
Bending down between the cradles, Lady Catherine put one baby’s hand in the other’s. Immediately they both started loudly crying.
“They do not like it,” said Lady Anne indifferently.
“Oh! They do, they do. And only think, years from now, and forever after – we will be able to say that this match, the match between the cousins Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Anne de Bourgh, was intended from their infancy. That we planned the union while in their cradles.”
The Scariest Story of All: Lady Catherine Interviews Mr. Collins
by Diana Birchall
"A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant."
Mr. Whitaker, the clergyman of Hunsford, was dead. Lady Catherine, however, could not bring herself to regret it. “Certainly,” she said, “I will mourn as much as is proper; that is, I shall wish him every mercy at the seat of Judgement, but that, of course, is no more than what is due to us all. In my own judgement however, his life on earth was peculiarly dissatisfying.”
"He was a good clergyman, was he not, ma'am?" Mrs. Jenkinson ventured timidly.
Lady Catherine made a contemptuous tut-tutting sound. "Speak only of what you are qualified to assess, Mrs. Jenkinson," she said. "You know I have often told you that your opinions are all too weak-minded. I would not wish the person who is companion to my daughter to be otherwise; to hold strong, decided opinions would be a drawback in your position. Biddibility, and gentility, are what I ask, and I make no complaint of you. But you are unable to discern a good sermon from a bad, and therefore I must inform you that Mr. Whitaker was very wanting in his abilities in that capacity."
Her visitor, Lady Metcalfe, a lady of a similar time of life and equal dignity as Lady Catherine, put down her teacup. "Is that so, Lady Catherine? I never heard Mr. Whitaker, but if he was such an inferior practitioner of his duties, it is most fortunate that you now have the opportunity to replace him."
Lady Catherine nodded vigorously, and the lace on her headdress shook. "To be sure. I confess, however, Lady Metcalfe, that in this instance I am quite at a loss. Mr. Whitaker died suddenly, having been so foolish as to catch a cold, and most unjustifiably leaving me unprepared with a suitable successor."
"A cold? did he?" commented Lady Metcalfe. "He cannot have been of very stout constitution. We have had dry weather this summer, and it is only the first of September."
"Mr. Whitaker was so kind as to visit me every day," spoke up Miss de Bourgh, "in my most recent illness."
"But I question if his fatal cold was caught by visiting you, Anne. Hers was only a very slight catarrh," she turned to Lady Metcalfe, "always a matter for the very greatest care, with delicacy like Anne's, and she was confined in bed for some weeks, but it ought not to have been anything a man like Mr. Whitaker could not counter."
"Do you not think it may have been our summoning him four and five times each day?" asked Mrs. Jenkinson hesitatingly. "He could not have had a full night's sleep for at least a month, because of his extreme exertions."
"Bah! That was no more than his duty, and it was the dirty Hambly family in the village, all down with scarlet fever, that did the mischief, I am sure. I told them to keep their farm animals out of the cottage and to wash themselves with lye soap, but did they? They did not. I have no patience with such people."
"And so now you are in the position of finding a new clergyman," said Lady Metcalfe meditatively. "I should think you the very last person to be without resources. You have always supplied your circle with suitable governesses, and servants."
"And my own four nieces," said Mrs. Jenkinson, "are so happily settled, and all because of Lady Catherine's wonderful cleverness and benevolence."
Lady Catherine looked graciously. "Those are the qualities for what I am famed," she admitted simply.
"Mama, is it not the usual thing, in such cases, to inquire at the universities?" asked Anne languidly.
"You are right, my dear, and I have written to the Master of Balliol. He is my cousin," she told Lady Metcalfe, "but I do not like the tone of the letters I have received in return. Young men of the present day show no suitable deference. Do you know, one young man has written to demand a curate, not paid for out of the living, but presumably from my own pocket! As if the stipend were not of almost unheard-of liberality! And another candidate, a Mr. Blaylock, who seemed a more modest kind of young man, refused to submit his sermons to me for approval, or confine himself to less than half-an-hour."
"Shocking!" said Lady Metcalfe.
"Is not it? And a third, a very respectable young man or so I thought, wishes the family's cottage-visiting, and other charitable works, to be entirely under his own direction. Heaven and earth! I do not know what will become of the Church at this rate, if its servitors are all to be of this stamp."
"There is a young man I have heard of," Lady Metcalfe said thoughtfully, "our new governess, Miss Pope, was telling us of a friend of her brother's, who was lately ordained with him. I believe he was at Oxford with Mr. Pope. I will make inquiries if you like."
"I would be most obliged, Lady Metcalfe. Do write. Find out how old the gentleman is - he must be under thirty, so that he is ductile enough to get used to my ways. He need not be a remarkable genius; I should prefer obedience, and a young man who would be sensible that to hold the living of Hunsford is a great privilege. Only think! he will be able to see Rosings from his very doorway."
"To be sure," replied Lady Metcalfe, "not many young clergymen in the kingdom could expect to be as fortunate as your new rector."
"And he must not be bred too high. I do not require a high-and-mighty gentleman, but naturally he must be a gentleman. Find out what his family are, and be sure that he is of a docile, agreeable temper, but without inconvenient prejudices, or set in his ways. We will want him to make up a card table, and not be overly censorious about such practices as Sunday visiting."
"I will inquire of Miss Pope at once, and have her write to her brother. I believe the young man's name is Mr. Collins."
"...Having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish."
Since his ordination, Mr. Collins had kept his lodgings at Oxford, in hopes of maintaining himself by tutoring while waiting for more remunerative preferment; but there had been no pupils so desperate as to seek out the ministrations of a man who had little reputation for cleverness or learning, and no valuable appointments had offered. On receiving Lady Catherine's letter, which followed Miss Pope's inquiry, Mr. Collins did not hesitate. With such speed and dispatch as his slowness to form long sentences required, he wrote a return letter full of obsequious professions of gratitude and eagerness to demean himself. Lady Catherine thought his alacrity to perform any duty she might wish, most promising, and wrote a condescending answer; and so it was fixed that he would wait upon her at Rosings, only a sennight after his receiving the first communication.
Mr. Collins arrived promptly as expected, and Lady Catherine was disposed from the first to be pleased with him.
"So you are Mr. Collins. What is your age?"
"Five and twenty, your ladyship."
"And what was your father?"
"He was a farmer, your ladyship."
"A farrrmer!" Lady Catherine trilled, and lifted her heavily marked eyebrows. "Then you are not the son of a gentleman. How did you come to be a clergyman? There is some mystery here. I do not like mysteries."
"Madam, my father was certainly not a very great gentleman by your standards; he was not rich, and did not frequent the court or move in genteel society, as you and your noble daughter are entitled to do." Mr. Collins made a clumsy bow and a scrape, simultaneously. "Yet he was of good blood, of the Hertfordshire Collinses; and my mother was own sister to the late Mr. Bennet of Longbourn of whom you may, perhaps, have heard. Mr. Bennet disapproved of her marriage, and after my mother's death, quarreled with my father, so that there was a breach; but I have reason to believe that Mr. Bennet's son is of a more amiable disposition. And by a fortunate circumstance, whenever the present Mr. Bennet, my cousin, dies, I am the heir by entail to the valuable property of Longbourn."
"Are you indeed? Well! And is it a large property, Mr. Collins? What do you suppose Mr. Bennet's income to be?"
"Longbourn is nothing compared to the unrivaled magnificence and beauty of Rosings, of course, your Ladyship. You would think nothing of it. It is, however, a good sized, modern-built house, in the village of Meryton, and Mr. Bennet is said to have a thousand pounds a year. He is not an economical man, I have heard, but has so far managed to keep the property together, so that I can expect to inherit a respectable estate."
"You do not take possession until his death," pursued Lady Catherine, "and how old a man do you suppose him to be?"
"Mr. Bennet is between forty and fifty, and has five daughters."
"Indeed! And no son. That is well for you, but I must be assured that if you come to Hunsford, we will not be in danger of your abandoning us in the space of a twelvemonth for Meryton."
"I do not think there is the remotest danger of that. Mr. Bennet is in good health, and I would rank my duties at Hunsford as far above any other earthly ones, should I be so unspeakably fortunate as to be granted your Ladyship's patronage."
"That is well. And you are versed in all the duties that will attach to your station?"
"Indeed, I have made good use of my time at Oxford, and have learnt about tythes, and sermon-writing, and visiting the poor."
"About writing sermons," Lady Catherine fixed him with a suspicious eye, "how long do you consider the proper Sunday sermon to be?"
"Not more than five and twenty minutes, my lady, and I assure you I would always submit to direction from my benefactress with the most extreme obligingness."
Lady Catherine seemed pleased. "Hm. Very good. And you will not object to being at Rosings often, to fill in at the dinner table, and make a fourth at cards, whenever it is desired? You will be available day and night at a moment's notice?"
Mr. Collins took a deep breath. "Lady Catherine," he said feelingly, "I should consider my being admitted to visit Rosings as the very greatest honour I have ever had in my life."
She nodded. "A most appropriate sentiment. And you will not interfere with my decisions as magistrate of the village?"
"I should never presume to do such a thing, madam!"
"The living is five hundred a year, but it is capable of improvement, and has a very good house attached to it. I will take you to see it - it is time for Anne's walk, and we will take it together. The house is in need of some repairs, and I will undertake these for you before you take possession, on one condition."
"Anything you desire, Lady Catherine!"
"You must marry, and bring a wife hither." She made an emphatic rap on the floor with her silver walking-stick.
Mr. Collins looked all acquiescence. "I would be only too happy to gratify you in such a way," he bleated. "I think it right that a clergyman like myself should have a wife, to serve as a very praiseworthy example to the parish; and I assure you that to marry is my object."
"That is well. We are too retired a society here, and require a neighbor. Someone who is not too proud, and will be very attentive to Miss de Bourgh and me, yet always know her station."
"That is exactly what I should look for in a wife. I confess I had thought - " He stopped.
"Well? What is it?"
"The five Miss Bennets have all a reputation for great gentility, economy, amiability, and - and beauty, ma'am."
"Have they now? But you are not on terms with your cousin, their father."
"No, but if I should be so unspeakably fortunate, beyond all men, as to accede to Hunsford living, I would, by your Ladyship's leave, take a journey into Hertfordshire, to offer an olive branch to the family, and to see for myself if the Miss Bennets are as respectable and fair as reputed."
"That's well thought of." She looked at Mr. Collins with condescension and approval. "Only be sure that the Miss Bennet you choose is the right sort of girl, mind."
"I would by no means wish to marry any one who would be in any degree offensive to my patroness."
"You show a most suitable spirit. Yes, Mr. Collins, I believe, on mature consideration, that we are of like mind, and that you are the very man to whom I wish to give my patronage, and raise to all the privileges of the Rector of Hunsford."
"Oh, Lady Catherine, I cannot speak my infinite gratitude," he said, with the very lowest bow of which he was capable, and a tremble in his voice. "I can only promise you that I will fulfill every one of the duties I owe to your gracious Ladyship, and of course to the Church of England."
"Then it is settled," said Lady Catherine, satisfied. "You will preach your first sermon the last week in September, or the first of October - whichever you prefer."
"The sooner the better, dear Madam. You may expect me on the earliest date."
"Chuse properly, chuse a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her."
Lady Catherine's Christmas
by Diana Birchall
Christmas makes the strongest demands of any sacred day upon a clergyman, but one might particularly feel for Mr. Collins, whose maiden Christmas sermon he must preach before his formidable patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. All went off well, however, and he was gratified to be invited, after his efforts, to take his Christmas dinner at Rosings. To him this was the crown of his ambitions, and he took his seat at the foot of the table, and followed Lady Catherine’s minute directions for carving the roast of beef, with such alacrity and compliance that her ladyship actually smiled upon him.
“I must say, Mr. Collins, you make a better job of carving than our previous clergyman, Mr. Horner, ever did. I never could persuade him attend to my instructions properly. He would always carve the meat against the grain, and it ended, as it must, in strings. Strings, Mr. Collins!” Her Ladyship told him.
“Strings! Very sad, upon my word,” he answered, looking complacently at the platefuls he was filling rapidly with nice thick rosy slabs.
“Yes; and he never would listen to my directions about his sermons, either. Quite indecent, they were. Why, once he preached a sermon about how the sin of pride would keep one out of Heaven, and he looked most meaningly at me for its entire length. Insufferable man!”
“And I do believe,” put in Mrs. Jenkinson, Miss de Bourgh’s companion, “that he had designs in matrimony – above his station.” She nodded and winked vigorously, so the lace on her specially fashioned Christmas headdress swung, as she cast her eyes on Miss de Bourgh, who blushed and simpered.
“That is never to be spoken of, Miss Jenkinson,” said Lady Catherine severely. “Never. What the man’s presumptions might be, is no concern of ours.”
“Shocking, shocking,” chimed in Mr. Collins, starting to attack his beef and parsnips with a good will. “A clergyman, of all people, ought to know the meaning of the hymn, ‘The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.’”
“That might be the subject of your next sermon,” ventured Miss de Bourgh with the air of saying something very daring.
“Indeed it might,” nodded Lady Catherine, “those fine sentiments cannot be too widely promulgated.”
“I hope,” asserted Mr. Collins, “that I know my place. A clergyman such as myself, should be very certain to know it. A man of the cloth, educated at Oxford as I was, is of course a gentleman, equal in some ways to any in the land; yet in his calling, he must ever show a proper humility. That is exactly what I did when I cogitated upon the important matter of selecting a companion for my future life.”
“And you seem to have done it very well,” said Lady Catherine approvingly. “Mrs. Collins, that is to be, has no ideas or airs above her station, I collect, but is a modest country woman, who knows how to mend and make do.”
“Indeed, that she is; my Charlotte is a very model for prudence and economy. I will warrant, Lady Catherine, that you will find nothing at all in her to disapprove.”
“I am sure of that. I know, in fact, that you have chosen where you should, and as you should. It will be well to have a clergyman who is wisely married, and not subject to any preposterous ideas.”
“Oh, I hope I never have any ideas at all, Lady Catherine,” he assured her earnestly. “That would be most inappropriate – most unfit. To think of your daughter, who might marry anyone!”
Lady Catherine drank a glass of French wine reflectively, and swirled it in its crystal. “Yes – that is the question. Now that you are so soon to be married yourself, Mr. Collins, and as you are a man of the cloth, after all, I believe I may confide in you.”
“Confide – in me?” he almost stammered, and lay down his knife lest he drop it in his excitement. “It would be the greatest honour of my life, and be very sure that you may count upon me, in my sacred office, to keep anything you say, perfectly confidential.”
“I am sure you would,” she nodded, and fixing him with her penetrating dark eye, she proceeded. “You are an uncommonly intelligent young man, Mr. Collens, with more than ordinary perception, and I suppose it has occurred to you to wonder about my daughter’s marriage, has not it?”
“It is not my place, madam,” he began, but she continued.
“What you may not be aware is that my late sister, Lady Anne Darcy, and myself, destined her to be the bride of her son and my nephew, Mr. Darcy. You have met that gentleman, I believe?”
“Why yes, I have indeed – I told you he was at Netherfield, the home of some neighbors of my cousins at Longbourn. They – the Bingleys, I mean – perhaps had hopes that he would become attached to Mr. Bingley’s sister, but I never saw any sign of it.”
“Naturally not. His hand and heart are both intentioned to be the property of my daughter.”
“Oh!” Mr. Collins clasped his hands together with an ecstatic smack. “That will be a marriage such as has never been seen before between Kent and Derbyshire. What an alliance of family and fortune, to say nothing of the abundant personal qualities of gentleman and lady!”
“They will be a most handsome couple,” added Mrs. Jenkinson, tipping her head affectedly.
“When is the wedding to be?” asked Mr. Collins. “You know I am engaged to bring my Charlotte into Kent only a scant few days after these Christmas festivities. I hope we will be in our little nest at Hunsford before the middle of January. As I will be traveling to bring her to her new home, I probably ought not to offer to be available for the ceremony before the fifteenth, or perhaps the twentieth, of that month. But I need hardly tell you how honoured, how gratified, I would be, to perform these distinguished nuptials. Unless,” a thought distracted him, “you mean her to be married in Derbyshire?”
“No, no, Mr. Collins, you mistake me.” Lady Catherine’s dark brows beetled together and she looked thunderous, so that Mr. Collins quailed.
“Have I said anything – “ he said with compunction, trembling a little.
“Certainly not. It is only that I have not made myself clear. There is no engagement as yet.”
“No engagement? But I thought the match was planned, between you and Mrs. Anne Darcy.
“So it was, and Anne is docile and obedient in this matter, just as she ought to be. The difficulty is the gentleman himself. He is more than of age, and yet he has never come forward to fulfill the pledge made by his mother.”
“That is bad – very bad,” commented Mr. Collins. “What do you suppose is the reason for this hesitation?”
“I am afraid,” said Lady Catherine grimly. “that he has a spark of self-will, my nephew. It is difficult for us to conceive, but he may consider that a promise made by his mother, and not by himself, is not a necessary one to keep.”
“Oh, surely that could never be!” Mr. Collins drew back in horror. “That would hardly be possible. Mr. Darcy is a byword for proper thinking and behavior, he is a very fine gentleman, from all I have ever heard, and seen with my own eyes. I have had quite a bit of conversation with him, too. You know I consider myself a judge of gentlemanly behavior, as is only proper and becoming to my position.”
“Have you conversed with him, indeed? Then you may have seen something of his pride and self-will.”
“He was all graciousness and condescension to me, I assure you, Lady Catherine. My cousin Elizabeth – “ he pronounced her name with a little embarrassment that his patroness did not miss, “she wanted to check me from speaking to him; but I told her I must know better than a young lady like herself, and I was right.”
“Miss Elizabeth,” said Lady Catherine suspiciously. “Is she one of your cousin’s daughters?”
“Yes, she is. The second,” he said shortly.
“Is she a pretty girl?”
“Some might say so. I prefer, I confess, the looks of my own dear Charlotte.”
“As is very proper. But this Miss Elizabeth – she is acquainted with Mr. Darcy?”
“She is indeed. They danced together at Netherfield, and it was the talk of the neighborhood.”
Lady Catherine was silent for a moment. “So!” she exclaimed, in a tone of extreme anger. “This is where the mischief lies!” She pondered a little longer. “Wait – that letter you wrote to me, announcing your engagement to one of your cousin’s daughters. This girl is the one?”
Mr. Collins was beet red in his confusion. “Yes – no – it was all a mistake. I never had any serious thought but for anyone but my Charlotte,” he stammered.
“So, this girl is a minx and a vixen, and she is causing trouble.” Lady Catherine nodded emphatically to herself. “I knew there was something amiss somewhere. It is well. I thought things were awry when we were not invited to Pemberley this Christmas.”
She drummed her thick fingers on the lace-covered mahogany table. Everyone was silent as she considered. “I know what I must do,” she said at last.
“Wh – what?” asked Mr. Collins, awed.
“I will go to Pemberley this minute. Yes, and take Anne, and you may accompany us, Mrs. Jenkinson. Summon the maids to pack, and tell Harris to inform the coachman to make ready for a long trip with the best horses. If we leave immediately after breakfast tomorrow, we will be only one night on the road, and be at Pemberley by this time tomorrow night.”
“What will you do there, madam, if I may ask? Am I to remain here?” asked Mr. Collins nervously.
“Certainly you are to remain here,” she said impatiently. “You are not going into Hertfordshire yet, and we will return well before it is time for your own wedding-journey. No, am going to see Mr. Darcy,” she stood and rapped her mahogany stick sharply on the shining floor, “and make him see what is his duty.”
Last Edit: October 29, 2012, 11:55:25 AM by Sharon Lathan
The Writer's Block
Teatime with Austen
Prequel: Lady Catherine de Bourgh sets the stage
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