Lady Catherine de Bourgh's attention to his wishes and consideration for his comfort appeared very remarkable.-Chapter 14
[N]othing was beneath this great lady's attention which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others.-Chapter 29
"[S]he could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.''-Chapter 32
Lady Catherine's Condescension
Chapter One: Mr. Collins: Obeying Her Summons
When I was leaving Kent for Hertfordshire for the last time as a single man, a few days before my marriage to Miss Lucas was to take place, naturally I took my leave of Lady Catherine. On this occasion she instructed me, "Mr. Collins, as soon as you marry Miss Lucas you must return straight away to Kent. After giving the new Mrs. Collins a quick tour of the parsonage, you will bring her to call upon me at Rosings to receive my most pertinent advice on marriage."
"It would be my pleasure and honor," I told her, feeling quite pleased that Lady Catherine took such a personal interest in me and my concerns. She is a most kind and generous patroness.
"Now Mr. Collins, I know how men can be about things, lustful and without self-control. A clergyman must hold himself to the highest standards, especially one who works for me." She narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger at me. Like a naughty puppy who has piddled on the rug, I felt myself shrinking down, though unlike the puppy, I knew I had done nothing wrong.
She seemed to grow larger as she leaned forward and asked me in a strident tone, "Have you obeyed me and refrained from all fornication with Miss Lucas?"
"Of course, Lady Catherine!" I was horrified that she would question my integrity. "I would never gainsay your instructions and furthermore such would set the most grievous standard for my parishioners."
"Very well, but now I will add to your instructions. In addition to refraining from engaging in any fornication with Miss Lucas, neither will you engage in any marital intimacies with Mrs. Collins on your wedding day. You will show her all respect before coming to see me."
Naturally I agreed.
Given my patroness's affability and condescension in allowing me to be gone so often in visiting my bride to be, I was determined to do nothing to cause Lady Catherine the least amount of displeasure. Therefore, on Thursday, rather than partaking of a wedding breakfast at Lucas Lodge after we said our vows (as the Lucases had offered), we married as early in the day as we could and then Charlotte and I set off for Kent from the church doors.
I did not know what Charlotte thought of this decision as she kept her own counsel. I knew then that I was the most fortunate of men in my choice of bride, because I thought that, had I married my cousin Miss Elizabeth, she would have offered a most vociferous opposition if I had insisted on whisking her off from Hertfordshire without even so much as a wedding breakfast at Longbourn.
Charlotte and I traveled by rented carriage which was an indulgence to be sure, but I could hardly wish to convey my new bride and all her worldly possessions by post. A number of items were stowed both above and below the carriage, but additional more delicate items were laying across the bench opposite of us, consisting of a long looking glass which was tied to the seat and cushioned with a blanket, and some other items in hat boxes.
This necessitated my new wife sitting beside me, an arrangement that felt most awkward indeed. She was well dressed for the cold, wearing a thick coat over her dress and having a large blanket covering her legs and lap, tucked around her, excluding me.
I thought how different it might have been if we were a love match. Perhaps even now we might be sharing the blanket, pressed close together, my arm around her shoulders, perhaps even pressing a few kisses against her face and neck. I could not think such actions would be the banned fornication.
Despite my pretty words to Charlotte and declarations of violent love, I knew that nothing could be further from the truth. However, a husband owes his wife at least the outer trappings of love. But because there was no love between us, nothing about how she was situated was welcoming toward me.
I knew I had the right to be alone with my wife, to be next to her and partake from her anything I wished (though I would obey Lady Catherine's dictates I could not help but believe I would be released from her strictures following our meeting). I desired Charlotte, as a husband should desire a wife, but doubted she desired me. I felt simultaneously that our wedding night was both too far away and too soon.
I know that I am not handsome. The best that can be said of me is that I am tall (not Mr. Darcy tall of course, but taller than Mr. Bennet or Mr. Lucas). The polite will call me thick-set, the less polite portly or rotund. I had much discomfort in knowing that given our close proximity, Charlotte must be seeing that my belly bulged even through my waistcoat and coat. Given the relative deprivation of my youth, it is far too easy for me to consume too much as I still contain that hungry boy.
Additionally, in my nervousness (though it was cold), I felt sweat in my armpits and on the palms of my hands. Worse yet, I could smell the unmistakably stench of my nervousness and distress, yet had no hope that it was masked from my bride by virtue of the light fragrance she wore. This had the unfortunate consequence of causing me to sweat further.
When I feel awkward, which is almost always (who would not feel awkward having grown up with an illiterate and miserly father and always being fearful of being found out as unworthy of the position in life in which I now find myself, I know I was recommended to Lady Catherine mostly as a joke), I speak far too much. Thus I found myself talking on and on about Lady Catherine's condescension as Charlotte politely nodded.
As I spoke, I took up her hand in mine. I consoled myself with the thought that she could not feel the dampness of my palm through my leather glove and her own glove.
In preparation for the night that was to follow, I wished to remove her glove and kiss her hand. But perhaps that would be too forward. Charlotte had given me no encouragement during our engagement to partake in any of the usual physical intimacies that I understand others may enjoy during such a time. So instead I awkwardly held her hand for a while, and then feeling my sweat increase in amount from this action, then set it down. She gave a little relieved sigh as I set her hand down, which did not bode well for me.
After the newly minted Mrs. Collins and I arrived in Hunsford, I helped her down from the carriage and then led her through the gate and along the little gravel walk to our front door. The coachman followed after us as I had paid him extra to convey Mrs. Collins's possessions inside the house. However, I did my best to ignore him and focus on my bride.
Before we entered, I remarked, "My dear Mrs. Collins it is my pleasure to welcome you to your new home. Soon you will soon see that the parsonage, though a humble abode, is all that I promised it would be."
As we stepped through the doorway I commented, "Is not the front entrance charming?" I then proceeded to describe its charms in such detail that I even bored myself as the coachman impatiently waited for me to clear the path to the parlor when he was to unload Mrs. Collins's possessions.
Then I guided her into the parlor and commented, "As you can see, the parlor is befitting for someone in my position. Lady Catherine had it freshly papered just before I took up this post and had new upholstery placed upon our sofa and chairs which were left by the previous occupant as all the furniture, but that which is borrowed from the attics at Rosing, belongs to the parsonage. Lady Catherine herself recalled that she changed her mind about the papers to be used to freshen Miss de Bourgh's chambers (the design Miss de Bourgh had chosen was far too plain), but believed this small flower design on this wallpaper might create the right ambiance when I should meet with parishioners, sufficiently humble. You see, of course, that the stripes in the fabric of the sofa (which was left over from Mrs. Jenkinson's room) complement the colors on the walls."
Charlotte nodded. Her face was pleasant but not especially encouraging of my discourse. I proceeded with the tour, showing her every piece of furniture and not neglecting even the sideboard or the fender. I then took her outside to see the garden. I had only begun to plan the use I might make of it in the next growing season, January being far too early and the ground too hard, to do anything yet.
She told me, "Gardening is such a healthful occupation, the work and the fresh air, and the chance to dine upon the work of your hands makes it meaningful indeed. I shall delight in seeing what you grow." With such encouragement, I was determined to make it a success, for her sake.
I also showed her the chicken coops (there were no chickens yet), the pasture which would nourish our cows (we had only one so far), and the barn which housed our one cow and also held my horse and curricle (I had no money for a carriage). She smiled and told me. "I am pleased with the plans you have made. As you will tend the garden, I shall tend the chickens and the cows."
When we went back into the parsonage, I showed her another parlor (as this one faced the back of the property and would not be used for entertaining, Lady Catherine had not deemed it necessary to make or suggest any alterations to it, save for the addition of a thick rug which was only thirty years out-of-date), the dining room and the kitchen. "As you can see it is a plain manner of living as I told you it would be, not nearly as spacious as Longbourn or Lucas Lodge, but I hope you can be happy here. Fortunately, though, I am certain you shall appreciate the superior society afforded through our connection with Rosings, and the great attention I believe my wife will have from Lady Catherine."
I then helped her mount the stairs to view the three bedrooms. I showed her the guest rooms first, each neatly fitted up, before showing her to our chambers. I explained, "Originally I had thought to give you the bedroom immediately adjoining my own, but chanced to mention to Lady Catherine that I was not sure if it was appropriate for the mistress's chambers to be more humble than my own, which though plain have the advantage of additional space and two windows. She immediately insisted on coming back with me to review the arrangements of the parsonage. This was not the first occasion on which she deigned to visit, no indeed. Lady Catherine first visited the parsonage before I took up the post, to make sure it was suitable for a new occupant. Then she visited once again a week after I took up residence, very kindly observing and approving of the additional alterations I had made to it, but most properly advising me that I should add shelving to the upstairs closets as you can see I did. So when she visited last it was her third visit; she said she wished to view it afresh from the perspective that I would soon be bringing back a bride."
"How very gratifying you must find her attention," Charlotte remarked.
I smiled at her, before continuing, "Lady Catherine advised most strenuously that it would not do to have a separate chamber for my wife." At this point I felt myself blush and focused my eyes on the fresh wallpaper in what was from now on to be our joint chamber as I was scared of what Charlotte's reaction might be to this particular news.
I provided Lady Catherine's justification, while staring at a slight imperfection in a seam of the wallpaper. "She instructed, 'For marital felicity and to encourage the begetting of children, it is best if a husband and wife share the same room and bed each night.' She told me, 'If Sir Lewis had listened to me on this matter, I am sure I could have given him additional children to Anne and the ones who perished. I expect you to be steady to the purpose of filling that parsonage and you will need every extra chamber for those children. I shall have additional instructions for you both about how best to do this when you return with your bride.' She then gifted me with this large bed that you see before us. It survived the fire that resulted in the current Rosings, though the featherbed itself is new."
I had no fear that Charlotte would attempt to gainsay my decision to share a chamber (unlike how a certain cousin might have done), but I hoped she did not find it too distressing. Charlotte said nothing and I did not dare to look at her for a few moments.
Feeling embarrassed, I finally told her, "You may have a few minutes to refresh yourself." I pointed to one of two matching pieces of furniture that contained the necessaries, a his and her if you will, another one of Lady Catherine's improvements to the room but one that I was unwilling to discuss.
"I will do likewise down the hall." I was certainly not willing to do so beside her in this room at this juncture and perhaps not ever.
"Then I will send for our maid to receive your instructions for unpacking and settling your things into their proper places. As we discussed earlier, soon we must depart to walk to Rosings to advise Lady Catherine of our return and receive her kind advice. I would not be surprised if she should condescend to invite us to dine at Rosings this very night."
"Very well, Mr. Collins," she told me.
A few minutes later as we were walking to Rosings, I wished to dispel the awkward air between us. I decided now was the time for bestowing one of the elegant complements to my wife which I had occupied part of the time during our carriage ride in arranging. I considered my choices before stating the one I thought most apt for this time and place, attempting to give it with as unstudied an air as possible, though I will admit I could have edited it down.
I took up her gloved hand in my own, looked into her blue eyes and said, "Mrs. Collins, for these several weeks I have been counting the days, hours and even seconds until we would be bound before God in holy matrimony. I can hardly believe that it has now come to pass and am so gratified that you have made me the happiest of men. My dear wife, I am sure that now that you are here, what has merely been a house will now become a home. I shall be eternally grateful to have your beauty light up the space better than the brightest oil lamp ever could." I then flourished a kiss upon her gloved hand, half bowing in the process.
"I am glad to be here, too, my husband." She told me. "I have long wished to be the mistress of my own home and am pleased with all I have seen of it. I am delighted to know that the parsonage will now be my home."
While her words were pleasant, I could not help but notice that Charlotte had given no real complement to me, but tried to pay it no mind. After all, in complementing the parsonage, should I not conclude that she was also complementing me, who was the means of supplying it to her?
I had hope that Mrs. Collins might care for me a little. She was the one who sought me out at the Netherfield Ball, who accepted my attentions after my cousin Elizabeth so cruelly rejected me, and who seemed to deliberately come upon me in the lane as I approached her home. Such actions on her part had encouraged me to propose.
I recalled delivering my well rehearsed speech to Charlotte about why I should marry. It was not dissimilar to the one I gave my cousin Miss Elizabeth but for omitting all reference to choosing a wife from among Mr. Bennet's daughters.
I substituted in, "Given that I am the heir under the Longbourn entail, it seems only right to me that I should marry soon, to a lady who should be pleased to be settled quite near her parents, when my cousin Mr. Bennet receives his external reward, and who will most willingly seek to secure the succession of such an interest beyond my lifetime by bearing me male heirs. Seeing as how Mrs. Lucas has produced both sons and daughters, I am confident that you can do likewise. I am not adverse to some daughters, so long as there are sons, also."
When I finally paused for her reaction, she told me, "I am most gratified and pleased to accept your proposal." She was not as lovely as Miss Bennet or Miss Elizabeth, having a plainer face and less nubile body, but she was much kinder as she had chosen me and always most properly deferred to me.
And now, tonight, we could begin to engage in those activities which would result in children. Other than her companionship, it was the primary duty she owed me.
Such thoughts kept me occupied during our walk to Rosings, which was likely a great improvement to my chatter. Upon reaching the front I knocked and the front door was immediately opened. Of course I did not presume to enter her abode, but merely told the servant who answered my knock, "Please advise the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh that her rector Mr. Collins has returned to Hunsford with his bride this day and we have come as requested."
The servant advised, "Lady Catherine has been waiting for you, please come in."
Lady Catherine was indeed waiting for us in her salon. I made the appropriate introductions and Charlotte gave a deep and most respectful curtsy, which told me that she had indeed been listening when I told her that Lady Catherine prefers for the distinctions of rank to be preserved. Lady Catherine merely regally nodded in acknowledgment and gestured for us to sit down.
I was a little annoyed when Charlotte selected a chair rather than choosing to sit beside me on the sofa by which I was standing. But I was gratified in her manner of address towards Lady Catherine as it was most respectful.
Charlotte said, "I am very pleased to finally meet my husband's most generous benefactress. Lady Catherine, I understand that it was you who so carefully arranged the parsonage for our comfort and benefit."
Lady Catherine nodded. "It is only right that I see my rector receives what is due his station in life and that it is suitable for his wife. I should not have done half so much had he chosen someone beneath him."
She dismissed the servant who conveyed us to her and ordered, "Tell cook the Collinses will be dining with us. We must be undisturbed until dinner."
Lady Catherine then spent the next half hour questioning my wife about herself and her family. Lady Catherine must have been pleased as she told me, while looking between the two of us, "Mr. Collins you have done well. I advised you that as clergyman you should not long remain single and should soon marry as long as you acted with discretion in finding a wife. You appear to have chosen most properly in finding a gentlewoman who is an active, useful sort of person, not brought up too high and able to make a small income go a good way. She seems most modest and amiable, and properly deferential to her betters. Yes, she will do. Mr. Collins you are a fortunate man."
She turned decidedly towards me and said, "Knowing you as I do, Mr. Collins, I trust you followed my instructions to the letter and have not indulged in any fornication with your wife and she has remained in a chaste state."
I felt myself pink, but acknowledged, "I have obeyed all your commands, Lady Catherine."
She then turned toward Charlotte and asked, "Would not you agree with me Mrs. Collins, that men deserve as diligent instruction about their wedding night as women do, perhaps even more as they are to be in charge of the consummation?"
"Yes, certainly." The pitch of my wife's voice sounded off.
"Very good. As Mr. Collins's father is dead, and while he lived I understand he was hardly a good example of how a man should behave with his wife, I believe it falls to me to give him good instruction. Undoubtedly he can benefit from my wisdom which will include how he can best please you. My only question is whether you prefer to remain in the room, or would rather have me talk to first to Mr. Collins and then to you. I mean no disrespect to your dear mother, but from having discussed such matters with many of my tenants, it is most clear to me that many mothers give their daughters poor instruction as they themselves received."
I expected Charlotte to choose to remove herself, so she surprised me when she said, "I think we may benefit most from hearing jointly the wisdom you have for each of us."
A/N: I couldn't resist writing this short piece as a stand-alone. This story was inspired by the following paragraph that I added to and then edited out of a letter Mr. Collins wrote Darcy in my revision of Vindicating a Man of Consequence:
After we returned to Hunsford on the occasion of our wedding, I was most gratified to immediately be invited for a dinner before we had yet spent even one night in our abode. We have both benefited greatly from Lady Catherine's diligent instruction and interest in our affairs. She instructed us on the best way for us to beget our children and on the proper way to care of our cows and poultry. We are most grateful and gratified by her interest in her lowly rector and his wife.
It got cut as, although it was humorous, the picture it painted of Lady Catherine just did not fit my interpretation of her for the VMC story. However, it seemed to me that in the infinite variations of Lady Catherine that must exist, surely this fit one of them.