Every Monday I will post another installment of my upcoming novel, The Ladies of Rosings Park, here at Austen Variations. The book (which should publish around the end of February) primarily tells Anne de Bourgh’s story, beginning with the period covered in Pride and Prejudice (the part I will be sharing here) and then carrying well beyond to her own happy ending. These early chapters, though, will read like P&P “missing scenes” – your favorite book from a different perspective.
The ladies who live in and around Rosings Park (Anne, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Jenkinson, and Charlotte) take turns telling the story. Last week in chapter three, Anne came to the realization that her fantasies about marrying Mr. Darcy would never come true. Today, it’s Lady Catherine’s turn again. She doesn’t know what Anne knows. She’s still pushing for Darcy to “do his duty” by Anne, and she’s not pleased when he takes the first opportunity to run off to the parsonage instead of proposing. Things are definitely not going according to plan!
On Doing One’s Duty
I kept myself and Colonel Fitzwilliam away from the drawing room for a considerable length of time – long enough that I fully expected matters to be favorable settled at last. Therefore, I was seriously displeased to discover no sign of progress upon our return. Anne sat alone and silent where I had left her, and Darcy, also silent, stood across the room gazing out of the window. I wondered if Anne had even listened when I told her what to do. And what of my nephew? Was he so dense that he failed to understand my pointed hints?
The matter should rightly have been completed months before. This hesitation was something I could not fathom. It certainly would not have been tolerated in my day!
My father, without my knowledge or consent, arranged what was thought to be a highly suitable match for me. I was told of my ‘good fortune’ only after all had been decided. When the senior Mr. de Bourgh informed his son of the news, he did what was expected of him. He came to call on me; the question was asked and answered; and we were married within three months.
I had seen him exactly five times before the wedding: first at a dance during the London season, then on his two brief courtship calls, at our engagement party, and once more a week later. And I had never seen his house. Yet I knew enough to do my duty, for better or for worse.
Darcy and my daughter had been dealt with far more generously. They had known whom they were to marry since early childhood. They had been allowed to become well acquainted with one another, and she with her future home. Anne was even to remain within the comfort of her own extended family circle. Nothing could have been more agreeable than these arrangements. And yet the two of them behaved almost as if they were strangers.
Well, if they did not know how to do their duty after all this time, they must be made to know it.
Mr. Collins called early the next morning, so early that he had to wait whilst we finished our breakfast. Then we joined him in the drawing room – Anne, myself, and our two houseguests.
“Mr. Collins,” I said, “what can you mean by coming at this unseemly hour? Most people have better things to do at this time of day than bothering their neighbors.”
“A thousand pardons, your ladyship!” he said, bowing low. “If my early visit is inconvenient to you, I am mortified indeed. But as for myself, I consider that I never have anything better to do than to be of service to others. I could not help but notice yesterday the arrival of your noble guests,” here nodding to Darcy and Fitzwilliam, “and I felt it my highest duty to pay my respects as soon as possible. I am but a humble parson…”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Collins, that will do,” I said, cutting his speech sort. “Now you are here, I suppose we might as well all sit down so you can accomplish what you came for.”
At least Mr. Collins was properly impressed with the quality of the gentlemen before him, one whom he had previously met and the other whom he had not. The rest of his remarks are not worth repeating; they were such as what anybody who knows the man might expect him to say. I must give Mr. Collins his due, however. Though he has his faults, he certainly understands the importance of preserving the distinctions of rank. That is something of value… and something increasingly rare, it seems, in this rebellious age.
Again to his credit, Mr. Collins did not exceed his time. After twenty minutes, he saw his opening in the conversation and announced, “Unless I can be of any use to you by staying, your ladyship, I will take my leave now before I overstay my welcome.”
“You may go, Mr. Collins,” I answered. “I shall send for you and those of your household when you are wanted again. However, I think it most likely we shall be very much occupied amongst ourselves, keeping to a family party for a few days at least. You understand.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, beginning to back his way toward the door. “It is only natural and right that the larger share of your gracious hospitality be reserved for those within the bonds of blood. Family ties strained by long separation must be tended and mended on such occasions as may present themselves. There can be no higher priority than preserving good family relations, as I have often heard you say. Your ladyship always judges exactly what is wisest and best.”
I gave him a nod to acknowledge this piece of civility and waited for him to be gone. But to my surprise and consternation, he was not the only one to go. Darcy stood also.
“Since you are so eager to be of use, Mr. Collins,” he said. “Perhaps you will be so good as to show me the way to the parsonage. I wish to follow your example by paying my calls promptly also.”
“You are most welcome, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Collins said, bowing and looking very pleased with himself. “I should be gratified indeed to have my humble abode honored by your distinguished presence. I daresay the ladies will be equally delighted.”
“Thank you,” said Darcy. “Let us be off, then. Are you coming, Fitzwilliam?”
“I would not miss it for the world,” he said cheerfully and rose to go. “Please excuse us, Aunt.”
And just like that, they were gone, leaving us alone again. Matters were not proceeding at all as I had hoped. First yesterday’s failure, and now this premature desertion in favor of the parsonage! I would need to keep a closer rein on the young men, I decided, lest they began to think they could do exactly as they pleased.
Clearly, they still had much to learn. Fitzwilliam was the more tractable of the two, I perceived. Darcy had been without parental supervision too long. He had grown used to being his own man, with no one to answer to but himself. He would have to answer to his conscience, however; that is the one guardian we, none of us, ever outgrow. With a little prompting from me, it would speak to him loudly enough of duty and honor. That plus the other inducements…
I looked at Anne with an appraising eye, trying to put aside a mother’s prejudice to achieve a more accurate picture. In point of true beauty, she was not deficient – far superior to most, in fact. I thought it a pity that Anne’s features were more delicate than my own, her frame more diminutive – the unfortunate de Bourgh influence – but I understood that many men actually preferred a daintier appearance in a wife. So this presented no barrier. Her want of complexion was nothing; it would naturally mend when her health improved. The unmistakable mark of good breeding was upon her; that was the most important thing, that and a handsome fortune. She could be perfectly amiable, too, when she chose to exert herself.
“You must try more diligently, Anne,” I told her when I had concluded my silent evaluation.
“What do you mean, Mama?” she asked.
I thought it perfectly obvious, but I patiently explained. “What I said before about making yourself agreeable. You must apply a more concerted effort. You saw how the gentlemen could not wait to be gone! Do you suppose there is really anything at the parsonage to tempt them? No, it was but an excuse for a change. They are young. They want constant novelty and entertainment. You must give it to them, or they will go elsewhere.”
“But Mama,” she complained, “you know that I cannot play and barely sing!”
“Lively conversation will do, and yet you keep silent.”
“I cannot help that I am shy, especially with men.”
“Now, Anne, you are perfectly capable of talking and acting as sensibly as any other girl. These are not strangers, after all; these are your cousins, whom you have been in the habit of seeing all of your life. You only want a little more exertion. I will do what I can to assist, but you must play your part. You must give the gentlemen a reason to stay and your cousin Darcy a reason to propose. You do your duty and he will do his.”
I expected this encouragement would have the proper effect on my daughter. I was prepared to take Darcy aside and give him a similar exhortation if it proved necessary. How often I have observed that when a thing wants doing properly, I must take it in hand myself.