The dinner, to the relief of many, was at an end. But as the ladies prepared to withdraw, Lady Catherine remained seated. “I wish,” she announced, “to have a private word with my nephew.”
Mr. Gardiner was plainly relieved to follow his wife and the other ladies, and aunt and nephew were left to themselves.
“It is time,” she told Darcy, “that you explain what made you so forget yourself as to contract this marriage. Oh, do not agitate yourself; I say nothing more against the lady. What’s done is done. She is pretty, and she is clever, and does not seem entirely without some acceptable connections. I confess I am relieved to see Pemberley still being run as it ought. More or less,” she amended.
“Then I hope you are beginning to discover what my Elizabeth really is,” Darcy replied.
She shrugged. “You must know that my astonishment and dismay were not roused by the lady individually, Darcy. No, it is that you, descended from noblemen on your mother’s side, and from an ancient, respectable family on your father’s, should so forget what you owe to your family, and to their shades. To think that you should so forget your pride!”
“Ah, my pride,” said Darcy, leaning back in his throne-like dinner chair. “Yes. You have judged rightly, Aunt Catherine. It is to my great benefit, that I have loosened the bonds of my pride. This, I acknowledge, I owe entirely to Elizabeth.”
A smile overspread his face, making it really handsome. “I fail to see,” said Lady Catherine indignantly, “what there is to smile about in such a situation. Your dear, late mother, I know, would be grieved to the heart.”
“Not so, aunt,” he said earnestly. “I loved my dear mother, and she and my father were all that was good; but you know, they lived in another age, and ideas have changed with the times.”
“Heaven and earth! I hope not so,” exclaimed Lady Catherine, falling back in her seat, and indicating with gestures that she wanted more brandy.
Darcy duly poured, and then leaned forward to explain. “Yes. In their day, and earlier, it was considered as truth that some sets of people were better than others; that noblefolk, in particular, were intrinsically superior to others.”
“What kind of Revolutionary talk is this?” demanded Lady Catherine. “Have you been corrupted by emissaries from France? Have you become a Leveler? Good God, Darcy, whatever would become of England, if every body thought like you!”
“But England is what I am thinking of, aunt,” he said seriously. “God knows I love and will defend my house, my village, my country, with all my heart and strength and might. But England is not perfect. You must know this to be true – only look, yourself, at all you try to do to improve her.”
Lady Catherine was silent, not wanting to contradict that she did a great deal.
“Yes. Even in your parish, there are many poor, who would work if they could; and some people live in great palaces while others are out in the cold.”
“True. But that is the way of the world. ‘The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate,’ you know, Darcy. That is how things are ordered. If not so, there would be chaos.”
“But we who have feeling hearts, and comfortable lives, have a duty to try to make the world better, Aunt Catherine.”
“This is not telling me why you married that girl,” she said ironically.
“It does. By Elizabeth I was taught that there are not such differences between people; and it is wicked to perceive yourself as something superior, when we are all God’s children.”
“Not superior? But, naturally we are superior, Darcy. What can you mean? We are the masters, made to rule, and lead, and others are made to follow and serve.”
“Well, I do not wish to debate philosophy with you,” he said, with a tone of finality in his voice, “only to make you see that, being brought up to think as you do, had the tendency to make me highly arrogant and indeed obnoxious; and it took a very superior woman to teach me my real place in the world – and hers.”
“I see,” Lady Catherine sneered, “you will be wound round your wife’s apron-strings. She has you right where she intended you to be, from the start.”
“Oh, Aunt Catherine – if you only knew! Elizabeth did not even wish to marry me, I assure you, she refused me at first, so strenuously. I can hardly be glad enough that I was able to win her in the end.”
His aunt looked skeptical, and sipped at her brandy. “Really, there are no limits to what a scheming woman can make a man believe,” she observed, “and she is one of the cleverest women in the world, to make you think what you do. If you could only have seen her, when I had my interview with her; she was positively obstinate in her insistence on having you. Clever, indeed.”
“If you wish to think so, aunt, there is no use trying to convince you otherwise. But I believe that if you were able to watch us for the long lifetime we hope will be ours, you would see a couple who bid fair to be the happiest pair in the world.”
He rose, and she followed. “Stay,” she said, laying her hand on his arm. “You must know, Darcy, that I love you tenderly, and indeed I do wish you every happiness.”
He smiled down at her, and his eyes sparkled. “I hoped you could feel so, dear aunt.”
They joined the others in the sitting-room again, and Lady Catherine went over to Elizabeth, who looked alarmed.
“Mrs. Darcy,” said Lady Catherine, addressing her so for the first time, “I am not a fool, and can accept facts as I see them. My natural discernment was always remarkable; and while many people of my age refuse to acknowledge change, my mind has a singular penetration. I am ready to believe that you may become a good wife to my nephew, and fit chatelaine of Pemberley, on one condition.”
“And what is that?” asked Elizabeth, with more curiosity than trepidation.
“Have the patience to let me explain myself. You know that I was own sister to Darcy’s mother, and I suffered bitterly when she died. I loved the lad as my own; and all that I have said and done since he was drawn in by your allurements, was only for his own good.”
“Yes, I can understand that,” said Elizabeth quietly.
“I must and shall continue to have an interest in all his concerns, and I will grant you that he at least looks well and happy – at present.”
“That is very good of you.”
“Silence, if you please! Impertinence is uncalled-for, when I am conceding so much as this. You know that my brother, the Earl, is provided for in his line. The de Bourgh line continues in another branch, and I still have hopes that my Anne may marry, though if she does her husband must take her name.” She fell into reverie.
Elizabeth, and the rest of the company, waited patiently for her to resume.
“The Darcy line is not my own by blood, yet I have respect for it, honouring my beloved sister’s marriage as I do. So I would give a great deal to see the succession of Darcy’s house ensured.” She paused, with a meaningful look.
“Aunt Catherine, that is none of your business,” Darcy exploded, really annoyed at last. “You are not entitled to know such personal concerns of ours! We have not been married a sixmonth.”
Elizabeth looked at him fondly. “My dear – may I speak?”
He looked surprised. “Why – if you will. It is your own choice.”
Immediately, though with some natural shyness, and hesitancy of manner, she gave his aunt, and all the party, to understand that there was reason to expect that the coming autumn would bring a new small shade to Pemberley.
To say that Lady Catherine was pleased, is only to speak the truth, for she was very eager that all connected with her should prosper grandly, and for Darcy to have a son and heir would tend to the well being of his house. If she nursed a hope that the young mother might not survive the process, and a second wife of a better class of society be required, she at least brought herself to a tolerable enough state of politeness enough not to say so.
Georgiana, and the Gardiners, were truly and unfeignedly delighted, and the rest of the evening was not enough for all their expressions of happiness.
As they mounted the stairs at night, after seeing their guests off to their respective bedrooms, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were much relieved, and well content.
“The old Gorgon, she was positively civil at last,” Darcy said with relief.
“I thought she might be, when she heard all.”
“Did you? I confess, I feared she might go into one of her rages, and I could not tolerate your being exposed to such unpleasantness.”
Elizabeth smiled a secret smile. “You need not have worried. I have been matched with Lady Catherine before, and you see I did not lose the battle.”
Darcy looked amused. “Very true. Though I don’t like thinking of myself as the prize in spoils of war. You are the prize, my Elizabeth, and our little one to be.”
“And you are mine. Ours,” she declared, placing her candle by the bedside, and loosening her dark tresses so they fell down along her white nightgown and the satin counterpane. “Though some might say that the prize is Pemberley.”
The approach to Pemberley was on a giant scale – the wide valley, the great house, the vast garden before and forested land rising behind. The inmates of the house, the owner and his family and servants alike, could see from very far off, across the valley, when carriages approached; and they had their choice of windows to watch from, as Pemberley numbered them in the hundreds.
Darcy and Elizabeth both paused for a moment in their busy lives to gaze out the long windows of the library at the bridge that crossed the river. A carriage and six were crossing at a rapid clip, and Darcy was able to identify the arms even from that distance.
“Yes, it’s Aunt Catherine.” He did not sigh, and his small philosophical shrug was barely noticeable.
Elizabeth peered out apprehensively. “You can’t possibly see the de Bourgh arms from this distance, without the eyes of an eagle,” she argued. “I do see that the coach is painted purple. I thought only royalty could have carriages that colour.”
Mary, who was on a visit and always spent all her time at Pemberley in the library, shut her book. “That is true,” she said, “Lady Catherine is breaking with protocol if she has painted her carriage purple. A magistrate for her county, ought to know better.”
Darcy did not appear to hear her, and took out his watch. “From where she is, it will take just under ten minutes until she is handed out of her carriage. If we know what is good for us, we had better not fail to be standing in the portico to welcome her.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Elizabeth, following him swiftly out of the room. “And we had better give the signal to Mrs. Reynolds.”
“She already knows,” Mr. Darcy said with a slight smile, “don’t you suppose the intelligence has traveled to her offices as swiftly as to us?”
“Oh, yes. And the whole kitchen staff has been working so hard these two days. The pies are like nothing ever seen outside of France before, I am told. Is it not a pity that the menu is likely to be judged a failure, and myself to blame?”
“My dear,” he protested, “you would invite her! It was you who over-persuaded me. I should not, on my own judgment, have ever invited Aunt Catherine here again, after the things she said about you.”
“Never mind,” she said hastily, putting her hand gently on his lips. “I mean to make a fresh start with her, and forgive the past – if she will allow me.”
“Always generous Elizabeth,” he murmured, taking her hand and kissing it.
The carriage was drawn up, the appropriate servants opened and shut the doors, and Lady Catherine herself was standing in the hall. She looked from Darcy to his wife with sharp, disapproving eyes, and gave her head a small sententious shake, which made her high feathers quiver, bird like. Darcy bowed, and Elizabeth made a respectful curtsey.
“Welcome, Aunt,” he said politely. “My wife and I are glad to see you at Pemberley again.”
“Your wife! She at least has never seen me at Pemberley before,” said Lady Catherine scornfully, turning a cold face toward Elizabeth. “But sometimes we live to see things that we never expected to countenance.”
“You must be tired, Lady Catherine,” said Elizabeth civilly. “Your room has been made ready, perhaps you may like to rest.”
“Rest!” Lady Catherine thumped her silver-topped stick. “I have only driven from Bakewell this morning, and I am not so old for such a drive to completely overset me. I will take some tea. In Lady Anne’s green Empress Catherine service, if you please. Our father – the Earl you know,” she enunciated for Elizabeth’s benefit, “brought it home from his Russian trip.”
She turned back to Darcy. “I am glad to see at least, that the drive has not been altered, nor the beeches cut down.”
Darcy’s eyebrows lifted. “Cut down? Who would cut down such a noble line of trees? What could give you such an idea, Aunt?”
“I have heard of a great many shocking alterations,” she said sourly. “It is common talk all over the countryside.”
Darcy and Elizabeth wisely ignored this, as they walked through the grand saloon at a pace that accommodated Lady Catherine, who stopped every few steps to peer sharply at some object or inspect some vista.
“There! This is not the original Turkey carpet, I know. And the crystals on your mother’s fine French chandeliers – they look peculiarly dark and muddy. It breaks my heart to see them so.” She cast an accusing eye at Elizabeth. “I knew the new – wife would not be able to manage a large staff properly,” she declared contemptuously. “How could it be expected, coming from such a family? She has not been brought up to it.”
“I had the Turkish carpet moved into my room, when making some improvements before our wedding,” Darcy informed her coolly. “I feared too many pairs of feet trod over it here. A good many visitors come to tour round Pemberley during the year, you know, Aunt.”
She was only partly mollified. “Certainly, you have the right, as Master of Pemberley. But I am not sure the dear old house is properly cleaned.” She ran a finger over the pink Italian marble fireplace at the head of the saloon. “I suppose your wife has sacked half the staff, and brought in her own favorites. Flibbertigibbets not trained properly in the art of dusting, no doubt. For it is an art, you know,” she nodded significantly.
“And I know Reynolds has the chandelier crystals dipped in lemon water quite regularly,” Elizabeth spoke up, “she told me so.”
“Silence! No true lady speaks of her housekeeping. And if you have hired only one new lady’s maid, then who, may I ask, will be attending me?”
“Did you not bring your maid?” asked Darcy, surprised. “I was sure I saw some one with you in the carriage.”
“And we were hoping to see Miss de Bourgh,” added Elizabeth, “and Mrs. Jenkinson.”
“You speak of my daughter? You, who have taken her appointed, nay sacred, place – I do not know how you can dare – “
“Aunt Catherine,” said Darcy firmly, with a look in his eye that succeeded in quelling her, “this is not the way to speak to Mrs. Darcy. Is Anne unwell, that she could not come?”
“Yes,” answered Lady Catherine ungraciously, “she did not want – that is, she has a weak throat, and I fear quinsy, so I left her at home with her companion. I am here with Akers only. Where is she? Where is that fool woman? I want her to take my tippet. You keep it stiflingly hot in here. What is the use of a great fire in this hall, in April too, if we are not to sit here? I hope this does not mean there is a new regime of extravagance abroad at Pemberley.”
“Mrs. Akers has been brought to the servant’s hall for a hot drink and some victuals,” explained Elizabeth. “I will pull the draw, and one of our maids will attend to you. And I thought we might take our tea upstairs in Georgiana’s sitting-room, it is more comfortable than these great state-rooms.”
“Humph! I can see the whole ordering of the place is in complete disarray,” said Lady Catherine with disgust. Before she had finished speaking, a maid had entered, and was quietly helping her off with her ermine-tipped outer coat.
They mounted the stairs, about which Lady Catherine had much to say about proper care of hardwoods, the need to air marble, and the ill advisement of ever permitting a cat to enter a house. The lobby above merited only a brief catalogue of complaints about the placing of its portraits, which had not been changed, though Lady Catherine was sure that they had; but at last they reached Georgiana’s pretty sitting-room. The young lady rose to greet her aunt and be kissed by her.
All were soon seated by the fire, and tea was bringing in, as Lady Catherine surveyed Georgiana’s appearance. “You look well enough,” she said grudgingly, “I hope that the sad demotion from your proper place as mistress of Pemberley has not made you ill.”
Georgiana was shy, unwilling to speak at the best of times, and more frightened of her aunt than of most people, but she could not let this pass. “Oh, no, Aunt! I am so happy with my new sister – I do love Elizabeth dearly, and there could be no better mistress of Pemberley.”
“You put a good face on it,” said Lady Catherine dryly, “but I suppose you must, or risk her temper. There may be no end to the petty ways in which such a termagent will torment you when I am gone.”
Georgiana continued to earnestly protest her love for her sister, and Elizabeth did not lift up her eyes, as she wanted to do, but only went on composedly pouring tea.
Mr. Darcy instructed the butler to invite their other guests to join them, if they desired, and in a few minutes Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner entered. With a true ladylike air, Mrs. Gardiner seated herself by Lady Catherine and helped Elizabeth and Georgiana to play hostess, as Elizabeth was uncharacteristically quiet and Georgiana made no more attempt to speak at all.
Lady Catherine seemed not displeased to meet the new lady, who was fashionably dressed and well spoken, and she unbent enough to give her, unasked, all the details of her journey, the dirtiness of the roads between Kent and Derbyshire, the discomforts of the inns, and her apprehension that the fabled luxuries of Pemberley might have diminished, through having a mistress who did not know its ways. “I was quite prepared for it having fallen to the condition of a veritable forlorn old ruin,” she lamented.
“Oh, no,” Mrs. Gardiner assured her with a smile. “We have been staying here some weeks, and I can tell you we have never been more comfortable in our lives. The beds you know are excellent – such fine old linen, all laid up in lavender – and the dinners deserve their wide fame. Why, John, tell Lady Catherine about the fine haunch of venison that was presented last night. I never saw such an one.”
“The finest I have ever seen,” her husband beamed, “shot by Darcy and Fitzwilliam, and cooked to such a turn! No French chef, I think, could.”
“It will be on the sideboard tonight,” said Elizabeth, “and there is a fresh turkey, as well as some astonishing pies.”
Lady Catherine drew her heavy eyebrows together and tapped her cane. “Talking of your bill of fare! No lady does that. You will disgrace yourself before these elegant people. I knew how it would be,” she sighed. “A constant series of shame.”
Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled. “I am endeavoring to learn the ways of the great,” she said solemnly.
Darcy turned to his aunt and said earnestly, “Aunt Catherine, I believe your prejudices will be gradually removed, as you observe that not only is Pemberley quite unharmed, but the heart of its owner has been made completely happy by marriage – much in the way of my friends the Gardiners, I believe.” He bowed to them in his friendliest manner.
“Hey? What is the name? I did not catch it.”
“These are Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner – my wife’s aunt and uncle.”
Lady Catherine flushed a deep red. “Oh, indeed! Not the Cheapside people! Impossible!”
“Yes, our home is there, near my husband’s business you know,” said Mrs. Gardiner briskly, “we are most comfortably settled.”
“Bless me! I had no idea any gentlefolk lived in such a place,” exclaimed Lady Catherine, lifting her lace-mitted hands in alarm, “no wonder that – You must be very pleased with Pemberley, as I do not know who is not.”
Darcy looked ashamed of his aunt’s rudeness, but Mrs. Gardiner responded cheerfully. “The country is always a great refreshment to those who live in the city, indeed Lady Catherine,” she said, “the contrast is what is delightful.”
“Well, you do seem to have lived among your betters,” Lady Catherine observed. “How large a house have you? How many children?”
Mrs. Gardiner submitted to answering a series of impertinent questions quietly, and Darcy looked impatient. But Lady Catherine’s conclusions were, on the whole, of a positive nature.
“I see, Mr. Gardiner, that despite your connections in trade, you have married a lady. Your wife is a treasure. I was in fear that my nephew might have involved himself in a complete mesalliance, and those, you know, always turn out badly. Still, it may be that your wife’s teachings will make up for the deficiencies of the bride’s own mother. I hope so.”
“We may hope for a good dinner at least,” said Mr. Gardiner jovially, trying to turn the subject.
“Yes; and it is time to go in.” Darcy rose and gave his arm to his aunt rather unwillingly, while Elizabeth walked behind with Georgiana, into the dining-salon, lit by hundreds of wax tapers that made the glass glitter. The finest victuals were laid out, in all their appointments, from the pigeon pies to the turkey, and all the removes were accompanied by such very fine wines, that Lady Catherine gradually unbent.
“I must say, this turkey is cooked to a turn,” she conceded, “I never had a better dinner at Pemberley, even in the old days. And we have nothing like this wine at Rosings. Darcy’s cellar was always famous.”
Elizabeth exchanged relieved glances with Darcy.
“Speaking of Kent, we have not asked after Mr. and Mrs. Collins,” Elizabeth ventured.
“I hardly ever see them, I assure you. Mrs. Collins is far too busy with her new baby to wait upon me and consider my needs,” was the displeased reply. “Her selfishness is now thoroughly manifest. And that odious Mr. Collins – “
“Why, I thought you approved of him,” exclaimed Elizabeth.
“Approve of a gossiping clergyman, and his endorsement of infamy!“
“Surely you don’t mean our marriage?” asked Mr. Darcy. “Aunt Catherine, that is really the last time you can be allowed to speak disparagingly of our union. That is, if you wish – “
He said no more, but Lady Catherine knew he was referring to visiting rights, and she capitulated. “Very well. I can say that you seem to be happy. And Pemberley has not materially suffered.”
“Damned good of her,” Mr. Gardiner could not resist murmuring softly to his wife.
“But now tell me, truthfully now, Darcy, for I shall know if you dissemble. How has the county received you? Is Mrs. Darcy welcome in all the great houses? Surely you have had no invitation from Rowlands – or from Tilden Court. Only the very highest quality are admitted as visitors there.”
“We made wedding-visits to all the houses round,” he answered quietly, “including those you mention; and were kindly received every where. Now that I am not a single man, I daresay I am less sought after, but these days I am happiest at home, you see.”
“And it is so much pleasanter for me, Aunt Catherine, to have my sister here,” spoke up Georgiana diffidently. “We have such good times walking and reading together.”
“Oh, indeed? And what do you to read?” asked Lady Catherine incredulously. “A book of manners would be useful,” she said pointedly, with a look at Elizabeth.
“We have been reading The Wanderer, and some of the modern poets.”
“Not that dreadful Byron,” she said with a sniff. “Stuff and nonsense!”
“No; Scott’s Marmion, aunt,” said Georgiana.
“I do wish they would read Dr. Johnson,” put in Mary fretfully.
“Hm! And who is this young lady to give her opinion? Is she one of her sisters?”
“She is. My next sister, Mary,” Elizabeth answered concisely.
“And better educated than most of you, I collect.”
Mr. Darcy looked askance but Elizabeth hastened to answer, “Mary has always been a very great reader, ma’am.”
“But not as good-looking as you and your eldest sister. Well, she looks sensible, at any rate, and if you like her to return to Rosings with me, she may pay us a visit, and make herself useful. Perhaps we will find somebody – Mr. Collins may have an acceptable friend, I suppose.”
Elizabeth could barely restrain a shudder, but Mary looked interested, and so Elizabeth civilly accepted of the invitation for her, as she saw she wanted her to do.
It was settled, with Lady Catherine stating her purpose to make her usual tour of the house and grounds, and then in two or three days to return to Rosings, bringing Mary with her. If Darcy said “two birds with one stone,” it was not in any one’s direct hearing, and Elizabeth ignored what she guessed of it.
The dinner, to the relief of many, was at an end. But as the ladies prepared to withdraw, Lady Catherine remained seated. “I wish,” she announced, “to have a private word with my nephew.”