Mr. Collins has some surprising news in today’s chapter.
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The clock chimed five o’clock and the table was set for dinner. And then it chimed six.
Mary and Charlotte sat in the back parlor, looking at each other, or rather trying not to look at Mr. Collins. The final rays of daylight streamed through the windows, but they had lost the warmth of afternoon, leaving a faint chill in the air. Usually, this room was Charlotte’s sanctuary, a place Mr. Collins found little appealing. But at half past five, he joined them, pacing along the window, pontificating on Lady Catherine’s opinions of failure of timeliness.
It would have been annoying enough had those been his own opinions. But they were only Lady Catherine’s, and that made him insufferable.
At last he excused himself to his room where he could watch the lane from his windows.
“I am sorry, Charlotte.” Mary studied her hands. Her fingernails had become rather ragged. How unladylike.
“There is nothing for you to apologize for. Truly, I am not offended.”
“But it is the height of rudeness—”
“I am well aware of Lady Catherine’s opinion on the matter. I am also well aware of the situation. Truly, I understand and I do not mind.” Charlotte’s voice dropped to a whisper. “The situation at Rosings Park is so unpredictable now that it is not at all surprising that he might be caught up there.”
“I suppose so. The same things would happen with my father. He would dash from the house the moment Lady Catherine sent for him and might not return for days.”
Those were actually very pleasant days in the house. Best not dwell on that.
“And you did not think Lady Catherine’s steward might experience similar demands? Mary, I am astonished. Usually you are so sensible. I cannot image you did not consider that when you accepted him.” Charlotte raised her eyebrows.
Sometimes it was difficult to tell if she was teasing or not.
Mary shrugged. “It is the way things are. There is no point in dwelling on them or wishing them away. I shall become accustomed to it soon enough and all shall be well.”
Charlotte pushed herself out of her chair and waddled toward Mary. “He is not your father. You must remember that.” She laid her hand on Mary’s shoulder.
“I know. I am being foolish.” She dabbed her eyes with the back of her hand and forced herself to smile up at Charlotte. “I appreciate you allowing me to stay with you.”
“Not as much as I appreciate your assistance. You will be pleased to know, Mrs. Grant was very accommodating. She will be here tomorrow morning to meet with me. I would like you to be there with me to hear what she has to say.”
Technically, that was exceedingly improper. A maiden should not be privy to such conversations. But her delicacy had been lost long ago. At least Mr. Michaels was too practical to take offense at that.
“Surely you are not so uncomfortable around her …”
“It is not that.” Charlotte paced around the room, slow and ponderous. “I cannot explain it, I just have a very uneasy feeling about …everything. I do not know how to explain it. I am sure all women have such feelings about their confinements. I just cannot shake the sense that something is going to go dreadfully wrong.”
She hurried to Charlotte’s side. “My mother often felt that way about her own confinements, especially since Papa was unwilling to pay for a midwife for her. She would have been very happy for a woman’s attentions.” She bit her lip and held her breath. Botheration, she had become far too comfortable talking to Charlotte.
“Unwilling to pay for one?”
“That was the reason he managed all her travails himself. I know there were other more polite reasons offered, but no, that was the truth of the matter. Before we came to Kent, my mother made do on quite a small income.” Probably half of what Charlotte currently enjoyed, but there was no need to offer that detail as well. “Papa spent a great deal of time and money on trying to rub shoulders with the right people and be seen in the right places that he might acquire a valuable patron. The rest of the household had to make scrape by on what was left after that.”
“I am astonished.”
“Apparently his bid was successful. He got what he wanted with Lady Catherine and now with Lord Matlock.” Her voice sounded bitter in her own ears.
“I think things are very different for your father at Matlock. The Earl is very different to his sister.” Charlotte spoke slowly, as if afraid of what she might hear next.
A good warning to guard her tongue more carefully. People, even dear friends, were uncomfortable with unpleasant truths.
“I am sure you are correct. But still, he now serves an earl and his heir. That is better than a mere dowager Lady. Kitty’s letters suggest Papa is hopeful that they will have a lifetime of commitment to that family. He is very good at being committed to a patron.”
A loud rap at the door made Mary jump.
Mary returned to her seat, hands folded in her lap. Charlotte snickered.
Mr. Collins led Mr. Michaels into the room.
“Please forgive my delay. It was difficult to break away from Colonel Fitzwilliam.” He glanced at Mary.
Something about the look in his eye suggested that there was a great deal more that he needed to tell her. At least his excuse of service to the colonel had to be acceptable to Mr. Collins.
“Shall we to the dining room?” Charlotte asked.
They followed her there.
The dining room was a quaint and cozy room, able to accommodate about twice their number. It was decorated in a manner befitting their station, all overseen by Lady Catherine’s hand. Charlotte managed to insert some of her own touches into it, but still, it had the flavor of Rosings all over it. Rather not so much Rosings, but the stripped-down impoverished version that Lady Catherine saw fitting for those beneath her. Any show of ostentation offended her. So the trinkets that Charlotte brought with her to her marriage remained tucked in a cabinet in the back parlor, where Lady Catherine was unlikely to see them.
Mr. Collins carved the joint, a larger cut of meat than they usually enjoyed. But now that Lady Catherine was less likely to countermand her orders at the butcher, Charlotte enjoyed greater freedom at her table.
“Are things well at Rosings?” Mr. Collins asked.
“They remain in the state that they have been for some time, sir.” Mr. Michaels used that special patient tone that belied great impatience with the conversation.
“So then your news from London was favorable?”
Did Mr. Collins think himself so subtle that none could tell he was hoping for more intimate news from the manor?
“It was as expected. I have discussed it at length with Col. Fitzwilliam.” Mr. Michaels set his jaw.
“We have had some news of our own.” Charlotte caught Mary’s eye briefly.
Bless her gentle ability to shift the conversation. She was truly a social asset to her husband, even if he did not realize it.
Mr. Collins sat up a little straighter. “Yes, indeed we have. I received a most interesting letter yesterday.”
“What was your news?” Mary asked. Clearly he enjoyed the opportunity to be the center of attention.
“As you know, I have been blessed as the recipient of the entail to Longbourn estate in Hertfordshire. We have been waiting for news of the birth of the current owners’ new child. A son, of course, would be the heir to the estate.”
Mary bit her lip and held her breath.
“Was the mistress of Longbourn safely delivered of her child?”
“I am afraid not. A son was born, but did not survive the week. Sadly, his mother was succumbed to childbed fever as well.”
No wonder Charlotte was contemplating disaster.
“That is tragic.” Mr. Michaels murmured.
“The story becomes sadder, yet.” But somehow Mr. Collins voice did not match the sentiment. “My cousin, in his grief, overindulged in drink and was found drowned in a pond on the estate several days later.”
“So now the estate goes to you?”
“So it would seem sir, so it would seem.”
“An interesting turn of events to be sure.” Mr. Michaels looked up and a little to the right. He was thinking, perhaps planning.
“I was wondering, if your duties at Rosings do not require all your time and attention, is it possible for you to assist me with some of the papers and official business required in this matter?”
So there was an ulterior motive to today’s invitation after all.
“I shall be pleased to assist, sir. May I offer my condolences and congratulations to you at the same time. How ironic that such a tragedy for part of your family can become such a blessing to another.”
He did not say ‘and for Rosings as well’, but the sentiment was clear in his expression.
“It is interesting how the hand of Providence comes to work.” That was not humility in Mr. Collins eyes.
“What then will become of the living at Rosings?” Mary asked.
“That is a quandary to be sure. I must go to attend the estate. They cannot function, at least for the first few years without a master in attendance. After that if I can, I might hire a bailiff to manage the property and rent the house to a worthy tenant. But, at the very least, I will be unable to fulfill my duties here during that time.”
“So you are in need of a curate?” Mr. Michaels hated indirect conversation.
“That would be the ideal solution, however, I fear that Lady Catherine would be highly opposed to my hiring someone of my own choosing. She is ever so particular, as she well should be in her position, about who will tend the parish flock here at Rosings.”
“Of course.” Mary bit her lip. That was saying it in the most polite fashion.
Under other circumstances, Lady Catherine would be thrown into a temper and insist on hiring the curate herself or hiring a bailiff for the estate and managing that to her satisfaction. As it was now, she would probably just throw a fit.
“In truth I am uncertain what to do. I fear upsetting her ladyship with the news. She is so fragile at the moment. I fear even if I tell her that I will stay at my post, she will take it very badly.”
“Unfortunately that is very likely.” Mr. Michaels rubbed his chin. “Perhaps I should broach the subject with the colonel. At the very least, he should know before Lady Catherine is informed. I am going to meet with him in the afternoon tomorrow. Might I discuss it with him then?”
“Would you like me to go with you, to talk of how Lady Catherine might be comforted during this time?” Mary whispered. Mr. Collins probably would not like the implication that Lady Catherine required management.
“Mary does seem to be the best able to soothe her,” Charlotte murmured.
“I would very much appreciate your assistance. The colonel has little patience for Lady Catherine with all the other concerns weighing upon him. I think your calm input would be of great value to him as well.” Mr. Michaels’ sharp glance silenced Mr. Collins before he could offer his opinions on the matter.
What do you think will come out of Mr. Collins’ news? Tell me in the comments.