Elizabeth Newark

The Darcys Give a Ball


This book is dedicated to

my daughter, Penelope,

and my son, Hugh,

with much love.


Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of

Nature had been but little assisted by education or society;

the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance

of an illiterate and miserly father.

Jane Austen

“Hark’ee, Willem,” said old Isaac Collins to his son. “Jest you wait. It’ll come to ’ee.”

He hawked, scraping his throat with an unpleasant retching sound, and spat into the sputum jar resting on the arm of his chair.

“Yerss, everythin’ comes to ’im that waits.You’ll get ’un in the end, Bennetses or no Bennetses. Top lofty, that’s them, aspendin’ money that rightly should be mine. But you’ll see. Their blood’s arunnin’ thin.”

Young William Collins, standing to one side of his father (out of reach, he hoped, of any sudden blows from the stout walking stick that leaned against the wall), indicated his agreement. “Yes, father,” he said meekly.

“An’ you keep your nose outa them books. Book-learnin’ never did no-one no good.”

“Yes, father.”

“The mills o’ God grind slow, but they grind exceedin’ small,” croaked his father. “’Appen I won’t live to see the day. Arrr, I’m not long for this world. But you’ll get ’un.” He sniffed long and hard, then blew his nobby and reddened nose with a discoloured kerchief and gazed at the result. “Now, you get me a posset and don’t ’ee be asparin’ o’ the wine. Off with ’ee, boy!” he yelled, suddenly raising his voice and snatching at the stick. “Rouse that lazy ragbag in the kitchen. Time she earned ’er keep.”

“Y-y-Yes, Father,” said William Collins.

Chapter One

Hunsford Parsonage

“...and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and

situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness

with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the

marriage state.”

Poor Charlotte—it was melancholy to leave her to such

society—But she had chosen it with her eyes open.

Jane Austen

“Mrs. Collins?”

“Mrs. Collins? Mrs. Collins!”

As his voice rose, Mr. Collins struggled to his feet. The letter he was reading slid through his hands and he snatched at it as it fell to the floor. His chair tipped over behind him unnoticed.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to be heir to an estate is eminently less satisfying than to be in possession of that estate. Mr.William Collins, the Rector of Hunsford, had lived with his expectations throughout a good part of his lifetime. At first, the expectations had been those of his father, and had arisen once it became apparent that Mr. Bennet, the owner of Longbourn (the estate which was entailed on the older Mr. Collins), and the father of five daughters, was unlikely to be presented with a son by his wife. The senior Mr. Collins, an illiterate and miserly man, had inherited a quarrel with the Bennet branch of the family, which he continued to enjoy, gloating on occasion to his son over the fact that the quarrel would be finally resolved on the day the Longbourn estate became his. “An eye for an eye!” snarled the father. “So perish the ungodly!” (Young Mr. Collins had no idea of the cause of the rift or what, if anything, made these quotations appropriate.)

The son, raised in subjection and humility, had as a means of escape chosen the Church as his career, spurred on perhaps by his father’s quotations from the Scriptures. Shortly after his ordination, he had by a most fortunate chance been recommended to Lady Catherine de Bourgh at a time when the living of Hunsford, which was in her gift, was vacant. The respect he felt for her high rank, and his veneration (nay, near adoration) of her as his patroness, had filled the shell of his personality left empty by his father’s constant belittlement and, as a result of her approbation, he had arrived at a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and of his right as a rector. He became a curious (to some people insufferable) mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

Lady Catherine, for her part, found him exactly to suit her requirements.Veneration (nay, near adoration) she felt to be her due.

On his father’s death, when Mr. Collins in his turn became heir to Longbourn, he began to feel a certain curiosity regarding those five cousins he had never seen, the daughters of Mr. Bennet. The father’s contempt for the son had taught him in his youth to feel unworthy; the sudden boosting of his self-esteem by his early success in obtaining an excellent living drove those feelings underground; they emerged afresh as a feeling of guilt towards his cousins, mixed with a strong and somewhat prurient interest in them as females (his mother had died shortly after his birth and there had been little exposure to the gentle sex in his life). To assuage this guilt, he sought a reconciliation by letter with Mr. Bennet, telling himself it was his duty as a clergyman, but he had another aim: he had a wife in view. His father’s effect on Mr. Collins was such that, even after the father’s death, the son felt uncomfortable about seeking a reconciliation. He bent over backwards to conciliate both Mr. Bennet and his dead father’s shade. He wrote as follows:

“The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father, always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one, with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.”

Thus advancing and retreating as if taking part in a country dance, Mr. Collins moved towards his goal. It was Mr. Collins’s misfortune that when he visited Longbourn for a reconciliatory visit, of the two cousins he settled on in turn as a likely wife, first Jane, then Elizabeth, Jane was being courted by another man, and Elizabeth was of a degree of intelligence and a turn of humor that prevented her taking his offer seriously. Mary Bennet might well have been receptive to his suit but was not given the chance. As it was, Charlotte Lucas, daughter of Sir William Lucas, and close friend of Elizabeth Bennet, knowing herself to have little chance of marriage otherwise, threw herself in his way. Affronted and humiliated by Elizabeth’s refusal, Mr. Collins had not questioned his own good fortune in finding Charlotte Lucas conveniently on his doorstep, so to speak. Like the Hunsford living, she had dropped into his hands; he accepted this gift from the gods and they were married as soon as conveniently possible.

Mr. Collins might well have allowed his resentment toward Elizabeth Bennet to congeal into a new breach with the Bennet family, but this his wife would not permit. And Elizabeth’s marriage to Mr. Darcy, wealthy nephew of Lady Catherine, had confirmed to him that it would be best to be on good terms with the Bennets. At the time of the marriage, Mr. Bennet wrote to Mr. Collins as follows:

“Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.”

Mr. Collins deplored what he had often felt was a certain flippancy in Mr. Bennet’s tone but, on due consideration, he felt the advice to be sound. He therefore, over the years, continued to bow down to Lady Catherine, while taking comfort in the knowledge that his wife was in regular correspondence with her dear friend, Mrs. Darcy.

When finally, twelve years later, the news reached him that the estate was his, he reacted with what can only be termed high glee. “Mrs. Collins? Mrs. Collins? Longbourn is mine at last! Mrs. Collins!”

Mr. Collins was in fact so excited by the letter still clutched in his hands that he called out at the top of his voice (a voice trained by regular pontificating in the pulpit), forgetting that he was alone. Realizing this, and feeling somewhat foolish, he made haste to emerge from his study at the front of the house and go in search of his wife. The time was mid-morning, and Mrs. Collins, the former Charlotte Lucas, was hard to find. There were so many places that she might be in the execution of her housewifely duties: in the schoolroom with her older children, in the nursery with the youngest, in the kitchen instructing her cook, or with the poultry maid, inquiring why the hens were not laying, to name only a few.

“Mrs. Collins! Mrs. Collins?”

Mr. Collins continued to call in a loud and nasal voice (he suffered from chronic catarrh). His cheeks were blotched and the tip of his nose was red with excitement; his neck-bands were quite out of control.When he moved, he pranced; when he stood still, he rocked from toe to heel. Dorcas, the parlor maid, came running out of the parlor, her feather duster in hand, and stared at him open-mouthed; Ezekiel, the gardener, poked his shock of white hair through the open front door, bringing with him a pungent smell of manure; and Ellen, the cook, emerged from the kitchen armed with a sticky wooden spoon, ready to repel an invasion of gypsies.

Down the staircase, quiet and composed, came Charlotte Collins, holding her youngest daughter, Eliza, by the hand. “My dear Mr. Collins,” she said. “Whatever can be the matter? Are the pigs in the garden yet again?”

Under her calm gaze, Mr. Collins stopped his fidgeting and tried to straighten his cravat. But he could not hold back his news without exploding.

“Mrs. Collins, the most delightful news. Longbourn is ours at last!”

There could be only one explanation.

“Oh, Mr. Collins,” said Charlotte. “Has Mr. Bennet died? Dear me, so very sad for Mrs. Bennet and the family. And my poor Elizabeth, how she will be grieved.”

Feeling her quiet reproof, Mr. Collins flushed. He endeavored to control his elation and put on a more respectful expression. It was his duty, after all, to mourn for his cousin, however much his instincts urged him to wave his arms and caper.

Fifteen years of marriage had changed them both. Mr. Collins was a pear-shaped man, with a tonsure of pink scalp surrounded by thinning hair. His figure, like his brain, was layered with suet, and his self-esteem had grown with his waistline. Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s continued patronage (until her death two years previously) had made him sufficiently prosperous; despite the arrival over the years of five children, the Collinses lived comfortably. But always at the back of his mind and the forefront of his dreams had been his prospects: he was heir to the estate of Longbourn. He would inherit on the death of Mr. Bennet, father of Charlotte’s dear friend Elizabeth, married some twelve years to Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, nephew to Lady Catherine. As each year was added to Mr. Bennet’s age, so did Mr. Collins’s longing increase.

And now Mr. Bennet was dead.

Charlotte Collins, forty-two, and the mother of five living children, was also fuller in the figure than when she and Elizabeth Bennet sat out together at assemblies. The tight lacing that accompanied the present fashion for full-skirted gowns constricted her waist and emphasized her matronly bust and hips. Under the muslin cap, the wings of sleek brown hair worn over her ears were lightly touched with silver.The hair was twisted into a large braided knot at the back of her head in a variation of a style becoming fashionable in imitation of the young Queen Victoria, newly come to the throne; Charlotte did not aspire to ringlets. The lines on her face showed that pain and worry had not been strangers; but it was a calm face, and a decided one. Her eyes showed patience, and her lips closed firmly together (as if there were much she did not say); her chin was tucked back with resolution. She had, in the words of the old saying, “made her bed” when she chose to marry Mr. Collins, and she had slept in it for fifteen uphill years. It had not been a bed of roses, but Charlotte was not one to repine. She endured her thorns as best she could, and cultivated her flowers. She governed her small kingdom efficiently and well, and found enjoyment still in many things. Her smile, as she tended her children and went about her housewifely duties, was infrequent but sweet. And her laugh, when she played with her smallest daughter, Eliza, was still young.