It’s our anniversary, and we’re in the mood to celebrate! Throughout February, we’re commemorating the success of Austen Variations‘ first year by dropping in on some of our favorite Austen couples on their anniversaries. We started with the Darcys and the Bingleys on the 2nd. Today, we’re visiting the Collinses from Pride and Prejudice. I wonder how they’re doing after twelve months together. Have they found connubial bliss, or is the honeymoon definitely over?
Startled from her occupation by the commotion, Charlotte Collins’ eyes widened as she peered at the clock on the mantle. One o’clock! He had only left to call on Lady Catherine at half twelve. Why was he home so soon?
“Charlotte!” He hastened into the room and stopped a few paces from where she sat at her escritoire. “There you are!”
She tucked Lizzy’s letter within a Radcliffe novel, and placed a hand to her lower back as she made to awkwardly lift her body, heavy with child, from her chair. “I just finished my note to Maria.” She set her fingers on a letter that rested upon the dark oak. “I intend to walk into Hunsford to post it before I call upon Mrs. Hervey.”
A pleased expression overtook his countenance as he nodded. “You have indeed proven yourself the active, useful sort of gentlewoman Lady Catherine requested I take as my bride. As I told my dear Cousin Elizabeth when she visited last spring, ‘You and I have but one mind and one way of thinking. We seem to have been designed for each other.’”
Charlotte opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter a word, he began again.
“Of course, my cousin’s aspirations should not have been as high as she wed. Lady Catherine…”
“Speaking of Lady Catherine,” interrupted Charlotte, before he prattled on. “You have returned early from Rosings today. Was Lady Catherine displeased with something?”
He started and began to shake his head with fervour. “Oh no! Her ladyship has been most gracious and bestowed great condescension by instructing me to spend the day with you.” He grasped her hands and held them in his sweaty palms. “She was only displeased that we were apart on our first wedding anniversary.”
Oh no! No! No! No! Charlotte cocked her head a bit and stared. “She what?” she asked faintly. ”But what about Mrs. Hervey?”
He took on a solemn mien and nodded. “I had heard she was grave—very grave indeed, but I am certain she will be fine until the morrow.”
“But, that will not do. Her daughter sent a servant this morning to ensure you would come by today.”
Mr. Collins bobbed his head. “Do not fret so. I will call and condole with the poor woman’s family.”
As she disguised a sigh, she waddled towards the door, picked up his walking stick, and held it out for him. “Perhaps you should go now, and then I will call upon her on the morrow.” Just maybe she could finish Lizzy’s letter before she walked into town!
Mr. Collins took the proffered walking stick and returned it to the corner beside the front door. “You do me credit, my dear, but I intend to visit Mrs. Hervey in the morning.”
He could not truly mean to follow her around, could he? With a smile to herself, she gestured toward the window. “I suppose you have some work in your garden? Or you could check on your bees.”
Her husband tugged her back to the parlour, retrieved her spencer and bonnet, and helped her to don them. “You mentioned posting a letter to your sister, so I will be happy to escort you into town.” His voice lowered as he muttered to himself, “Yes, Lady Catherine will be very pleased.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes, and then batted his hands away when he began to fasten the buttons for her.
“Forgive me. I only meant to be of aid.”
If only his eyes would look up to hers as she spoke, but they remained on her décolletage until it was covered. He offered her his arm, and once he fetched his hat and walking stick, led her down the road towards town, prattling on about Lady Catherine, Anne deBourgh, and Rosings with barely a pause for breath.
After they posted the missive to Maria, Mr. Collins took her to the booksellers where he selected and purchased a copy of Fordyce’s sermons.
“Mr. Collins, you own that volume, do you not?” she asked.
“Indeed, I do. Your memory is as astute as always, my dear.”
When the proprietor handed him the wrapped parcel, he held it out to her. “I thought you would like a copy of your very own. That way, you might consult his great work without the worry of borrowing mine.”
“Thank you.” Charlotte attempted not to display her distaste for the gift. After all, she might not be romantic, but Fordyce?
He led her from the store, and she pointed in the direction of Briarworth. “I should still like to call on Mrs. Hervey.”
“But my dear Charlotte, as much as it grieves me to consider the plight of poor Mrs. Hervey, I was specifically told by Lady Catherine to attend no one but you for the entire day! She will be seriously displeased! Charlotte!”
She set off walking and did not stop at his calls, so her husband followed, his protests not ending until they reached the front gardens of the Hervey estate where she admonished him to be quiet lest the Hervey’s hear him; however, once the housekeeper answered the door, he was all simpering flattery and proclaimed how the great Lady Catherine insisted he condole with them upon that very day.
Charlotte had a reprieve from his attentions while he spoke with Mr. Hervey, Mrs. Hervey’s children, and finally Mrs. Hervey. Their call keptthem at Briarworth for close to an hour before they took their leave.
Mr. Collins did not reprimand his wife for her insistence upon the call as they walked home, but expounded on about how pleased his noble patroness would be. “We were together, which was part of her benevolent instruction. She can find no fault in our call! Indeed, our attentiveness to one of our flock should be most appreciated.
Under the guise of following a bird in flight, Charlotte turned her head so she could roll her eyes. They were not far from the parsonage. She ached to sit and rest; her ankles could not take much more.
No peace could be found, even upon their return home. Once she refreshed herself, she took a seat on the sofa her Radcliffe novel in hand with every intention of finishing Lizzy’s letter, but Mr. Collins entered soon after desirous to read to her from her anniversary gift.
With a start, she awoke as the light from the windows was beginning to dim. A glance to her husband revealed he was still seated beside her, a shocked expression upon his face.
“Please forgive me,” she blurted, wiping the drool from her chin. “I had not intended to fall asleep. The walk into town must have been more tiring than I expected.”
A simpering smile overtook his features as he gave a nod. “I am certain the exertion of carrying our child is to blame. Do not fear, my dear Charlotte. I am by no means upset by your ill-timed nap. I will have to ensure you retire early.”
He placed the book on the side table, stood, and offered her his hand. “Cook has sent word that our dinner is served. We should partake of it before it becomes cold.”
Dinner was a quiet affair—on her part anyway. Mr. Collins prattled on as was his wont for the entirety of the meal, only stopping when there was too much food in his mouth to continue. Then he would swallow and begin again.
After the meal, she anticipated he would wish to adjourn to his study to further prepare his sermon, but he insisted upon playing backgammon until it was time to retire.
Alone at last, Mrs. Collins revelled in the peace and quiet of her chamber as she sat upon her bed, lifted her feet, and sighed at the sight of her painfully swollen ankles. She pulled her legs under the bedclothes and reclined back into the pillows. What a relief a good night’s sleep would bring! Everything would be set to rights on the morrow; it would no longer be her anniversary.
Her eyes closed, and she was just drifting to sleep when a knock sounded from the door to Mr. Collins room.
Oh no! No! No! No!