Posted on 2011-04-08
Introductions took place in the main parlor of Rosings House.
"I believe you are acquainted with Mr. Collins, are you not, Darcy?"
"Yes, Lady Catherine, I am."
"Colonel," she said to the other gentleman, "this is Mr. Collins. He is the Rector of Hunsford Parish. Collins, this is my nephew Colonel Fitzwilliam, younger son of the Earl of Matlock."
Her ladyship's nephews bowed slightly to the portly parson. Mr. Collins nearly scraped his forehead to the floor in return, and cried, "It is an honor indeed, gentlemen!"
"Mr. Collins," Lady Catherine continued, "was recently married to his cousin. I believe you knew her, Darcy, as Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Darcy, who was in the process of taking a seat, froze for an instant, and could only stare, flushed and dumb with shock, as the colonel offered felicitations. After a moment Darcy recovered himself just enough to sit and offer his own congratulations in a strangled voice.
"Perhaps we will meet your wife while we are here," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, always on the lookout for a new diversion at Rosings.
Before Mr. Collins could respond, Darcy jumped to his feet and said, "Yes, yes--let us meet her. We will go now. Excuse us, Lady Catherine. Come, Fitzwilliam."
He made for the door, as both Lady Catherine and the colonel looked on a little stupidly; but Mr. Collins stopped him by stammering, "Oh! Now? But you see, my dear Mrs. Collins is, uh--that is, I shall have to ask Mrs. Collins."
"Is Mrs. Collins unwell?" cried Darcy.
"Oh, no," said Mr. Collins, who had begun wringing his hands, "it is just that I, uh, do her the courtesy of asking her opinion on all matters related to the household." He looked suddenly uncertain. "The entertaining of guests is related to the household, is it not?"
So it was decided that the two gentlemen would visit the next day, the weather and Mrs. Collins permitting.
Mrs. Collins voicing no objections, they arrived at the Parsonage door at precisely one-thirty. They were admitted to a small parlor where the lady herself sat on a sofa flanked by two other young ladies whom Darcy recognized from Hertfordshire: Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas. Mrs. Collins looked the same as ever to Darcy, except for the lace cap covering her brunette curls and the cynical glint marring her fine eyes.
After the introductions, Darcy stood by the window as Colonel Fitzwilliam fell into easy conversation with the ladies. Mr. Collins attempted a feeble contribution, only to be silenced when Mrs. Collins rolled her eyes and asked,
"Please, Mr. Collins, don't you have a sermon to write?"
Mr. Collins only stared for a moment, then quickly agreed with his wife and went to his book room, seeming absolutely mortified. Miss Lucas scowled in displeasure at her friend's rudeness, and Miss Bennet blushed with embarrassment. Mrs. Collins glanced first at one, then at the other, and colored and sighed.
"Excuse me," she said to Lady Catherine's nephews, "I must go apologize to my husband."
She left the room and did not reappear. After a few more minutes of stilted conversation, the gentlemen left.
"Well," said the colonel with distaste as they walked back to Rosings House, "there's a picture of domestic felicity for you. She sits flanked by her sister and friend as body-guard, and insults her husband in company."
Darcy said nothing.
Darcy saw her again three days later, walking in the park before breakfast.
"Mrs. Collins," he called to her.
Elizabeth turned and watched as he dismounted and walked towards her, casually leading his horse. She acknowledged him with a small curtsy.
"Do you always ride so early, Mr. Darcy?"
"Not always, no. Do you always walk out so early?"
She smirked. "Not always, no."
He smiled slightly, then gestured up the path and said, "May I accompany you?"
"You may both accompany me, sir," she said, indicating his horse, "though I have no particular destination in mind."
"Nor have I. Shall we?" He held out his arm.
She hesitated a second or two, then put her hand in the crook of his elbow, and they--Darcy, Elizabeth and the horse--began to amble together through the park. Darcy asked after her health and the health of the others at the Parsonage, and Elizabeth blushed and said,
"I am very well, except for a rather severe chastisement I received after you and Colonel Fitzwilliam left us the other day."
"I hope Mr. Collins was not too severe." Darcy said this with every appearance of calm, but inwardly he seethed--if Collins so much as disturbed a hair on Elizabeth's head. . .
"Mr. Collins?" said Elizabeth. "Mr. Collins did not chastise me. Mr. Collins and I agreed during our season of courtship that we would treat each other with respect, and while he does not always behave sensibly, he has scrupulously adhered to that. It was I who brazenly violated that agreement by publicly humiliating the man, to my enduring shame." She sighed.
Darcy said, "You did nothing to be ashamed of," but he did not believe it and was immediately ashamed of speaking a falsehood.
"Miss Lucas does not agree with you," said Elizabeth. "She was very angry with me, and even dear Jane asked me if I had no feeling at all for him. You see, he likes to imagine himself in love with me." Elizabeth sighed again and looked down at the path. "Forgive me for burdening you with this, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps we should speak of the weather."
"It has been quite dry."
"It has indeed."
"Bad weather for burning."
"Why in heaven's name did you marry him?"
She smiled sadly. "I should like to scold you for impertinence, but I can't after all I've said, can I? Still, I would prefer that you forget what I said about my marriage."
"I might pretend that I have forgotten, but you can not expect that I would actually forget."
"Pretend, then." She saw his exasperation and said, "Good grief, sir, what difference does it make to you? The world is full of such marriages, of couples making the best of a bad business."
"That is no reason to enter into such a situation. You must have known he was a buffoon. What were you thinking?"
"That is enough by half!" she cried. "It is none of your business, sir. Who do you think you are, to question my decisions?"
"You are right, of course, it is not my place, but . . ."
"But nothing." She dropped his arm and faced him. "My father is ill and Mr. Collins is his heir. I married him so that my mother and sisters would not loose their home if my father should die." She wiped sudden tears from her cheeks. "I want to return to the Parsonage. Alone."
She turned and marched off.
Her father died in the summer, and she and Mr. Collins moved to Longbourn where they lived in wedded strife until his death 32 years, three children and a dozen grandchildren later. Darcy never saw her again.The End