Charlotte Collins scanned the walls of the reception room of Rosings Park looking for something on which to fix her attention, her finally eyes settling on a magnificent Gobelin’s tapestry of very large dogs bringing down a stag. Following hard on the heels of the mastiffs were riders with spears poised in preparation of finishing off the wounded beast. While Charlotte made a study of the grisly scene, her husband, the Reverend William Collins, studied the face of the tapestry’s owner for some clue that she wished for him to begin a conversation. When she raised her teacup to her lips and pointed her extended small finger in his direction, he saw it as a sign that he might begin. Instead, the great lady spoke:
“I noted in your garden, Mr. Collins, that your vegetables are of a middling size. If the soil is not properly prepared in the spring, you will never achieve the size or volume of the vegetables produced here at Rosings Park.”
“Yes, of course, Milady. But you may recall that my early efforts yielded exceptionally large cucumbers and radishes. If the vegetables had not gone missing, I could have shown you a cucumber as long as…”
“Mr. Collins, you need not mention the cucumber every time you visit. Because you are the only one who saw this mythical gourd, I am quite convinced it existed only in your mind.”
Anne de Bourgh, who had been sitting quietly next to her dear Mama, gave her mother a sideways glance. Mama knew very well that the cucumber was no fixation of the part of the parson. Not only had she seen it with her own eyes, but she had tasted it the very next day when, at dinner, cucumber sandwiches, garnished with sliced radishes, were served at table at Rosings Park.
“Your Ladyship, I can assure you…”
“Mrs. Collins, have you any news from Hertfordshire,” Lady Catherine asked, turning the conversation away from the missing gourd. “Are your parents in good health?”
Charlotte informed Lady Catherine that all was well at Lucas Lodge and that there was no news to report. Because Her Ladyship loved “news,” Mrs. Collins statement earned a look of displeasure.
“Although there is no news from Lucas Lodge, there is news from the neighborhood,” Mr. Collins quickly chimed in.
“Mr. Collins, why on earth would I care to hear stories about people who are not of my acquaintance?”
“Well, this particular bit of news concerns Mr. Charles Bingley, a friend of your nephew, Mr. Darcy.”
Lady Catherine chewed on this information for a few minutes before declaring that Mr. Collins could share the report concerning her nephew’s friend.
“We have had a letter from Charlotte’s sister, Maria, who, you will recall, visited us at the parsonage last…”
“The news, Mr. Collins, the news!”
“Mr. Bingley is to be married to my cousin, Miss Jane Bennet of Longbourn Manor,” the parson quickly blurted out. “She is the sister of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom you met last April when she…”
“If this report is true, then Miss Bennet has made a most advantageous marriage. Although Mr. Bingley is a man of inferior rank to my nephew, I understand he is very rich and a gentleman.”
Again, Anne looked at her mother sideways. Is Mama admitting that a man, not to the manor born, could be a gentleman? Is she actually shedding some of her prejudices?
“Of course, Mr. Bingley must never come to Rosings Park. I do have standards,” Lady Catherine added, and Anne sighed.
Encouraged by her responses about Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennet, Mr. Collins added that Maria’s letter contained a bit of neighborhood gossip that might be of interest to Her Ladyship. Upon hearing her husband’s statement, a look of alarm appeared on Charlotte’s face. To warn her husband, she coughed, twitched, and affected a fake sneeze before finally clinking her teacup with a tiny spoon, but all was for naught. Mr. Collins blurted out Maria’s news.
“Apparently, during his time here in Kent, your nephew, Mr. Darcy, formed an attachment for my cousin, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. With Mr. Darcy’s return to Netherfield Park, Mr. Bingley’s home in Hertfordshire, there is speculation that an announcement of an engagement will be forthcoming. It is said…”
In the next minute, Lady Catherine rose up from her chair, and after growing to a prodigious height, she aimed a lightning bolt at Mr. Collins’s heart before sentencing the parson to the netherworld where the heat of Hades would purge him of his sin of telling malevolent falsehoods—or at least that is how Anne imagined it. Lady Catherine’s actual response was only slightly less dramatic. In a screech that could be heard in the village, Her Ladyship called for her butler so that her carriage might be ordered.
“Your destination, Milady,” the butler asked.
“Longbourn Manor, Hertfordshire!”