As many of you might have noticed, yesterday was the first joint release I have had including an audiobook. While I have great hopes for A Most Attentive Mother, I have published more than fifty books and would think I am beyond any trepidation with so much experience in new releases. But I will own to some jitters yesterday as I looked everything over to ensure all was as it should be. It is amazing what a little addition can do to your state of mind. As Mrs. Bennet might say, oh my poor nerves!
All jesting aside, to have another book narrated by Mary Sarah, who is wonderful, is quite a privilege. I hope all of you who choose to give it an opportunity to charm you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
The other thing that has been on my mind much of late is the return of my wife and daughter from visiting her family this coming Saturday. While I understand by marrying me she has moved half a world away from her family, it can still be a trial to be separated for so long. But as she says, if she’s going to go so far, there is no point in only going for a short time! I do not begrudge their going, much though I miss them, but I will be happy to have them back again. There are certain aspects of the house and our lives that never operate as smoothly when they are away.
In thinking about this post, I had difficulty coming up with a subject, no doubt largely due to the aforementioned concerns and a couple of other matters weighing on my mind at present. Thus, I decided, why do extra work when I have already done it? Therefore, you get an excerpt. 🙂 Yes, I know I often fall back on such posts. But it’s also a great deal of fun offering you future glimpses into my work and reading the speculations and comments.
Thus, I give you Mr. Collins’s Inheritance. This is a working title only, but I have no other to give you at present. It is, of course, an Elizabeth and Darcy story, though it does not feature either in the excerpt. Think of all the fun we could have with a story beginning with this premise! This is the entire prologue. Reading over it again this morning, I laughed at some of the things I had written. I hope you enjoy it!
* * *
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The adage was as true as the day the poet penned it, but in defense of Mr. William Collins, parson of Hunsford Parish in Kent, he could not imagine that anyone would be anything other than pleased if they had experienced even a fraction of his good fortune.
Tempered with the inevitable respect for the dead, Collins hastily thought to himself, his glance skyward intended to show the Lord on High he was not pleased at the developments that led to his elevation. Nothing could lessen the effect of that tragedy, for his cousins must now be suffering under the effects of sorrow most grievous, and he was not insensitive to their plight. At the same time, who would not be pleased by the sudden and unexpected prosperity?
A fool was not how Collins would have referred to himself; indeed, there are few who would own to such even if they were aware of it. Collins’s case was more complex than most, his failings a lack of tutelage when he had been a boy, and not for the lack of desire to learn all that he could.
Born to a hamfisted man of little education, one who had little interest in it for himself or his son, he had learned early in life to avoid questioning his sire, for his answer would be, as often as not, delivered with his fists. Collins did not know if his mother had been better able to control his father’s temper, for she had sadly perished bringing him into the world, leaving him with an ignorant and indifferent father who considered him a burden.
Such a childhood was not conducive to producing a confident and well-informed man, but several chance occurrences in his life served to improve his opinion of himself. The first was his father’s death, the man passing at almost the perfect time in his son’s life, if such a thing could be asserted. Freed from the constraint of an overbearing father, Collins had used the little learning he had managed to obtain to enroll himself in university and, more specifically, the seminary where he might study to become a parson.
Collins had not thought himself more pious or spiritual than the next man, but belief he had in abundance, and a certain yearning to prove himself worthy. A parson was a man respected, a man who would make a good living, one that would provide for a wife, should he be so fortunate as to secure one. Collins was determined to earn that respect of his fellows, to provide any children he sired with a better example of what a man should be than his father had been to him. If only he had any notion of just what being a man entailed.
The second event was his good fortune to secure an excellent position so soon after his ordination. In Collins’s mind, Lady Catherine must have seen something of greatness in him to offer him the position, and so soon after leaving the college! The lady was possessed of boundless wisdom and nobility, that surely like must have called to like!
In this, Collins did not consider how he had been one of three new graduates sent to meet the lady’s request, nor did he know the lady was something of a joke in the college. Had he understood that Lady Catherine tended to find it necessary to replace her parson often, when they inevitably tired of her authoritative ways and meddling in the business of the parish, he might have thought differently. Then again, venerating her ladyship as he did, it might not have made any difference. In him, Lady Catherine had found the perfect underling, a man who considered her every word the same as if it had descended from on high, one who would never question or disagree with her, whatever the circumstance.
But Collins remained blissfully unaware of the real reason he had been chosen for his post. The astute reader might conclude he would be happier to remain in ignorance, and in this, the author is unable to demur. It is said ignorance is bliss, and William Collins personified the aphorism if any man alive did.
The third and final nail in the coffin of Mr. Collins’s unwarranted pride had come only the previous night. Long had Collins known of his position as heir to an estate, information he could not have failed to possess, given the number of times his father had spoken on the subject. Mr. Henry Bennet was a thief, a bounder, a man to whom no trust could ever be given. Such had been the epithets his father had flung at the absent man, a man to whom he had not so much as spoken in decades.
It may be surprising, but the promised future prosperity was not at all part of Collins’s rise in self-esteem and pride. The possibility was welcome, but it was in the distant future for all he knew, for Mr. Bennet might live until a ripe old age, and no man would wish for the misfortune of another for his own benefit. At least, a good man would not. This Collins had told himself, when he considered the matter, and pushed it to the back of his mind to be considered another time.
All this served to produce in Collins a sort of arrogance which led him to believe that all these blessings were nothing but his due. In many ways, however, that superciliousness was tempered by a tendency toward servility, learned at the foot—or fists—of his father, and an overestimation of his own capabilities. He would discover in the course of time that he was not so special as he had begun to feel. But those lessons would not arrive until life taught him humility in a most painful way.
On the morning in question, William Collins was feeling pleased with himself, for though his prosperity had come in tragedy, still it seemed like he was favored. There were great things in his future, he felt; he needed only to behave in the manner of a good man and press forward, and surely more blessings would come his way. Thus, when he entered Lady Catherine’s sitting-room that morning bursting with his news, he took no thought for how the lady might receive it.
As was his wont, he did not notice the lady’s gaze on him, which spoke of his position in her employ as a useful tool and little more than that. There were not many men whose hackles would not be standing on end when confronted with that look, but William Collins was unfortunately one of them.
“I am always well, Mr. Collins,” said the lady. “We Fitzwilliams are sprung from the sturdiest stock, and I am never ill as a result.”
“Of course, your ladyship,” said Collins, bowing low again—and quite unnecessarily. “I thank you for seeing me today, for I have the most excellent news to share with you.”
“Then the Chadwicks are at peace with the Deans?” asked Lady Catherine. She made a vexed tsking sound with her voice. “I hope they are, for I shall be most displeased if they have continued their feud in express defiance of my wishes.”
Collins had little thought to give to the pair of tenants on a neighboring estate who were always quarreling. There were many who said that Lady Catherine’s interest in tenants not her own was unseemly, but the lady could not abide disharmony, regardless of where it existed. As Mr. Baker’s estate was within Hunsford’s parish, the lady felt it her right to intrude. Not that Collins espoused such opinions—that the lady involved herself was simply another of her perfections in his sight.
“The last I heard, there has not been a cross word spoken between them all week.”
It may have been so. To the best of Collins’s knowledge, the two families had maintained a substantial distance from the other since the last time Lady Catherine had made her sentiments known. As the matter was now of little concern to Collins, he pushed it aside with little consideration.
“The news I bring is much more auspicious than that, Lady Catherine.”
The lady eyed him, provoking a bead of sweat on Collins’s forehead. While he knew he was perspiring, however, he did not dare mop at it, for the lady considered it the height of rudeness to do so.
“Then out with it!” snapped she after a moment, making him jump. “The sooner you inform me, the better I can act to resolve this problem, whatever it is.”
“I fear your ladyship misunderstands me,” said Collins.
He was about to explain his meaning when he felt her eye boring holes into him. It was an unfortunate fact that Lady Catherine’s harsh glares were enough to drive away any sense he possessed. On this occasion, it was that much more ruinous, for it provoked him to blurt his news rather than calmly stating it as he wished.
“My cousin is dead!”
Had he thought Lady Catherine’s stare to be harder than a hammer blow before, it was now as heavy as an anvil. “Your cousin has died, and you call it auspicious?”
“No!” exclaimed Collins, aghast she would think that of him.
“Then what is it, Collins? Those were your words. Are you happy your cousin is dead, or have you some other explanation for your behavior?”
It was at this point that Collins recalled that nothing good ever came of speaking to Lady Catherine without due thought. As such, he calmed himself by taking several deep breaths, noting her ladyship watching him impatiently. When he felt himself ready to speak without making—more of—a fool of himself, he continued.
“The death of a relation is certainly not an event to be celebrated, Lady Catherine. Indeed, for his widow and daughters, the event must be a bitter pill, for I cannot think they will have much to support them now that he is gone.
“But if you will recall, I have spoken of a gentleman cousin, a man to whom I am the heir to all he owns. This is the man who has died.”
Lady Catherine regarded him, a scowl leaving no mystery as to what she was feeling. For a long moment her glare did not waver, leaving Collins to wonder what he had done to offend her this time. Then she motioned him to the sofa situated perpendicular to the chair in which she was seated.
“Sit, Mr. Collins.”
Collins’s posterior hit the seat with alacrity.
“Now, let me be clear. Your cousin . . . If I recall, his name is . . . Bonnet?”
“Bennet, your ladyship,” corrected Collins.
“Mr. Bennet, of course. This Mr. Bennet is the owner of an estate.”
“He was the owner of Longbourn, Lady Catherine. With his passing the ownership of the estate devolves to me.”
Lady Catherine’s countenance became more forbidding than before. “Then you must understand the salient point, Mr. Collins. As you have inherited your own property, you will necessarily leave Hunsford. This means that I must search for a new parson again, and this only weeks after I installed you in your present position.”
“Yes, that is true—” began Collins, but Lady Catherine cut him off.
“How could you be so foolish?” demanded Lady Catherine. “Do you not know what a bother it is to replace a parson with a man I can trust to manage the parish in a way it should be managed?”
In the back of his mind, a little voice told Collins that it was not how it “should be” managed, but how Lady Catherine “wanted” it managed. But even if such treasonous thoughts sometimes marred his thoughts, Collins would not give them any heed. Thus, he pushed it to the dark recesses of his mind.
“I can see where that might frustrate your ladyship,” said Collins, his thoughts fixed on his own good fortune. “At the same time, while I must grieve for my cousin’s untimely passing, this unexpected event has led to my ascending to the position of a gentleman far sooner than I might have expected. As such, I am certain you must wish to congratulate me for the change in my fortunes.”
“Why should I . . .”
The lady trailed off and for a moment Collins wondered if she had been about to ask why such things should concern her. Surely Lady Catherine could not say such things, and Collins again pushed the thought away.
“That is to say,” said Lady Catherine a keen light coming into her eye, “it is an inconvenience to me, but I understand your position. It is fortunate that I possess the necessary combination of good sense and discernment necessary to choose another parson effectively. Now, if I am to be of assistance, you must inform me of the particulars of your changing situation.”
Collins gave her a pleased smile having known she would take an interest in his future life on his own estate. There was no one better positioned to understand the challenges he would face and offer advice. Leaning forward, Collins regarded her eagerly, a fleeting wish that he had brought a pen and paper so that he might record her advice for future reference filling him with chagrin. No matter, thought he, dashing the notion away, for he would simply remember what she would tell him.
The advice he had been so eager to hear had not been forthcoming; she instead interrogated him until he felt as if she had wrung him like a towel until he was dry. Then again, he supposed she needed this information before she would know what to tell him.
“Who ever heard of such a notion as to have five daughters in succession? This Mrs. Bennet would have done better to present her husband with a son to continue his line.”
Collins wondered at Lady Catherine’s words. If Mrs. Bennet had given her husband a son, they would not be speaking about the family at present, for Collins would have had little interest in his cousin’s passing.
“Still,” said she, in a musing tone, “I suppose the woman has done the best she can.” Lady Catherine paused and eyed him for a long moment. “And how prosperous is the estate?”
“As I have never visited,” said Collins, “I cannot state with any surety. Nothing to Rosings, I am sure.”
“Few properties are,” said Lady Catherine, waving his statement away as if it was of no importance. Her glare suggested he give her what he knew.
“From all accounts,” said Collins, feeling the tightness of his collar around his neck but refraining from adjusting it, “it is not large. I believe I have heard estimates of perhaps two thousand pounds or a little more, but I will not know until I take control of my inheritance.”
“And these daughters of your cousin. What of them?”
“Again, I have never—”
“Yes, yes, you have never made their acquaintance. Surely you must have some intelligence of them.”
“Your ladyship is entirely correct,” stammered Mr. Collins. When he felt the heat of her gaze, he was quick to add: “By all accounts they are pretty and genteel girls, Lady Catherine. The eldest I believe is a woman of twenty or a little older, while the youngest is perhaps thirteen or fourteen.”
Lady Catherine sniffed. “It is imperative that you learn more of them, Mr. Collins. They are your family, and you must succor them.”
Collins did not know what the lady meant, but he nodded eagerly. “Of course, they shall receive charity from my hand, Lady Catherine.”
“Good. There is no greater virtue than charity.”
“I shall speak of it when I join them, perhaps next week.”
“Next week?” demanded Lady Catherine, regarding him through narrowed eyes. Then she nodded. “Yes, I suppose you will wish to inspect your new property and ensure all is well. You should also speak to the steward and ensure the man knows of your wishes regarding the management.”
“And move my effects to my new home,” added Collins. “I know not if my cousin has made provision for his wife and daughters, but I understand they will not have much.”
“Oh, no, no, Mr. Collins!” snapped Lady Catherine. “It is simply not done to deprive a woman of her home so soon after the passing of her husband. The convention is six months.”
“Six months!” Collins was aghast. Must he wait that long to take control of his new home?
“That is the convention. It allows time for the lady to grieve her late husband and make other arrangements.”
“If her husband is a prudent man, he will already have made these arrangements.” Collins did not feel sulky, no matter how Lady Catherine’s eyes upbraided and accused him of that very failing.
“Perhaps he has, perhaps not. You spoke a moment ago of how little the ladies will have. If there is little money, it is equally possible they will not have much support. Regardless, it is expected in gentle circles; if you were to throw her from the premises too soon it would make your acceptance by the other gentleman more difficult.”
“I see,” said Collins, trying to think of a way he could claim his property at once.
“Furthermore,” said Lady Catherine, “I cannot simply replace you in less than a week. The six months will allow your cousin’s wife to grieve, to find a new home, and give me time to interview candidates to replace you. And remember your duty to provide charity to the unfortunates, Mr. Collins. It is doubly important for a parson to show this example to all the world, and it will do no harm in securing the goodwill of your future neighbors.”
Lady Catherine continued to speak in this vein, but for perhaps the first time in his acquaintance with her, Collins was not paying attention to what she was saying. Lady Catherine’s insistence on showing charity had entered his heart and mind, igniting ideas of what he might do to meet his obligation. The thought of removing the widow and her daughters was now unpalatable; Collins was focused now on other possibilities.
“Do you understand Mr. Collins?”
The demand caught Collins by surprise, realizing he had paid her no heed. His habit of immediately agreeing to everything at once served him in good stead in this instance, for he responded by rote, never giving a hint he had been thinking of other matters.
“As always,” said he in the tone he thought to be most ingratiating, “your advice is excellent, Lady Catherine. I shall put it into practice without fail.”
Lady Catherine appeared pleased with his response. “Very well, then. You must write to me to inform me of your progress. I am eager to hear of how you deal with them.”
An invitation to write to her had been the last thing Collins expected to hear from her. “Thank you again, your gracious ladyship, for your kind condescension and interest in my poor affairs. As always, you speak with sense and understanding. I could not be more fortunate to receive your advice.”
“Well, that is good, then,” said Lady Catherine, her pleased tone informing him he had answered correctly. “Then you will go to this Longbourn next week?”
“With your ladyship’s permission,” said Collins, giving her a low nod. “I should inspect the estate and introduce myself to the ladies as soon as may be.”
“If you ensure another parson is engaged to offer the Sunday sermon,” said Lady Catherine, “you may go. But I will expect you to return before another week has passed.”
“I shall, Lady Catherine.”
“Well, then, you may go. It appears you have matters you must consider.”
Collins rose and farewelled the lady, directing all the earnest compliments he felt were her due. As was her wont, Lady Catherine was less eager to receive them after their meeting had come to an end, but Collins had always attributed that to her desire to busy herself with other matters when his business with her was complete. Thus, he contented himself with a short goodbye and left her presence.
“Mrs. Canfield,” said Collins to his housekeeper when he arrived back at the parsonage a few moments later, “please send tea to my study.”
The woman curtseyed and turned her steps toward the kitchen. The woman he employed to cook his meals would not be there at present, but Mrs. Canfield handled the brewing of his tea. The woman knew exactly how he liked it.
Sitting at his desk, Collins toyed absentmindedly with the chain that attached his watch to his vest, not seeing the one heirloom passed from his father upon his passing. The watch, it was said, had belonged to the Collins family for generations, a piece that harkened back to the days when they had been a more prominent family. And now the Collins family would become landed again. Collins wondered if his ancestors were looking down on him, pleased to see the rising of the family’s fortunes.
Such matters meant little to Collins, and he pushed the idle thought to the side so he could focus on what was important. Lady Catherine’s words had ignited so many plans in him that he could hardly think of one without another crowding its way in, pushing the previous one aside.
Surely it could not take long, could it? Oh, the youngest would need to wait for several years, he supposed, for she was yet too young. But the eldest, why she was of marriageable age already. They would need to attend to their mourning, but once that was complete, Collins could begin the search for appropriate gentlemen for them. Surely there must be men in their neighborhood who were in need of wives. In perhaps five years’ time he might be rid of them all.
Wincing at the thought, Collins pushed it away. The daughters of his late cousin could not be objectionable—in fact, he had heard they were comely lasses all. It was not proper to think of being rid of them; rather, he should think of it in terms akin to a that of a long-term project. Collins was in no hurry to marry. He did not think it much of a sacrifice to refrain from searching for a wife while he found husbands for his cousins. It would also allow him the time to become accustomed to managing his new property.
Interrupted by a knock on his door, Collins called out permission for the housekeeper to enter, smiling when he noted she carried his requested tea service. The woman put it on his desk and curtseyed, intending to leave, when he addressed her.
“Thank you, Mrs. Canfield. Please be aware that I shall travel to Hertfordshire next week, perhaps on Monday or Tuesday, and shall stay for at least a se’enight.”
“Very good, Mr. Collins. I shall inform Mrs. Grantham her assistance will not be required those days.”
Collins nodded and Mrs. Canfield departed, leaving him to his thoughts. It was long before Collins left his study, but he thought he had the makings of a fine plan. He would do right by his cousin’s family—the more he considered it, the more determined he became.