Lady Catherine de Bourgh sat very straight in her seat in the chaise. Her always formidable mouth was compressed into an angry, thin line, and there were patchy spots of red on her cheeks. The waiting-woman, Mrs. Dawson, a widow forced into service owing to her poverty, shrank back onto the other side of the seat. Since tersely directing the coachman to drive at all speed to Mr. Darcy’s London residence, Lady Catherine had not opened her lips; and the speed and energy of the four post-horses she had hired, seemed to promise that they would reach their destination in a very few hours.
It was not until they were quite out of sight of Longbourn, Meryton, and any thing connected with the vile Bennet family, and indeed fast approaching the Hertfordshire border as they pounded down the good, smooth turnpike road, that she spoke.
“I am excessively displeased,” she said. “My journey has been for nothing.”
Mrs. Dawson might have said that her employer’s displeasure was evident, but she knew much better, and only murmured a sympathetic sound, inviting her Ladyship to say more.
“That girl. That pert, uncouth creature. I tell you, she intends to marry my nephew!”
“The Colonel, do you mean, my Lady? That will be too bad, won’t it?”
“No!” Lady Catherine exploded. “Don’t pretend ignorance, Dawson. That is as good as insolence and I shall not brook any such thing. You know very well I mean Darcy, and that Pemberley will be – rooo-hooo-ined!” At this point she gave a great glottal gulp and reached for her lace handkerchief.
If she knew nothing else, Mrs. Dawson knew how to deal with hysterical fits, in employers and their daughters alike; and she brought out a practiced technique in soothing. The smelling salts, the lavender-water bottle, the powder-puffs and the linen were all brought out of her handy well-stocked reticule, and applied over Lady Catherine’s broad, red face, to the accompaniment of little mewing sounds and caresses. She straightened her Ladyship’s lace head-piece, which resembled the figurehead on a ship’s prow, and had slipped sideways with the bounce of the carriage, in a most undignified manner.
“I am very sorry to hear this, my dear Lady Catherine,” she said apologetically. “No wonder you are distressed. I thought how it might be, when you did not direct coachman to take us to Lucas Lodge.”
“What business had you to think at all, Dawson?” Lady Catherine expostulated. “Naturally I would not remain in the same county with that impertinent young woman for ten minutes longer than necessary. The Lucases do not deserve the honour of a visit from me. I am certain they have promoted this disgraceful match.”
“Oh – but surely – they would not dare – “
“Speak only of what you know, Dawson. News of this wretched attachment came to me through their means, as they wrote to rejoice over the connection with their daughter, Mrs. Collins. Her stupid fool of a husband brought the tidings to me at once. They want the privilege of visiting at Pemberley, mark my words, and they completely forgot what they owe me.”
“What – what do they owe you?” Mrs. Dawson ventured timidly.
“Loyalty!” Lady Catherine spat out. “And respect! After all the attentions I have bestowed upon them, and the great notice I have paid to their daughter. To promote my nephew’s marriage with that girl, from a low, disgraced family, her sister no better than a – “ She stopt, and wiped her face.
“Perhaps it is not so bad as you fear,” Mrs. Dawson consoled. “They are not actually engaged, are they?” “No,” Lady Catherine conceded, “and I will take care of Darcy.” She nodded. “Yes, I will remind him of what he owes the family, of the duty he owes to me, who have always loved him so tenderly and been a second mother to him.”
“Indeed you have,” breathed Mrs.Dawson, over the rattle of the carriage.
“I will represent to him,” she continued, “every mutinous, insubordinate phrase that girl used. I remember them all. She pretended not to know what I came for – she dared to deny that she and her family and the Lucases have spread the report of the attachment themselves – and she refused to confess that she has used her arts and allurements to infatuate him!”
“Did she indeed,” said Mrs. Dawson, not without a sympathetic pang for Elizabeth, “that was very bad.”
“Bad! You may well say that. Even when I explained the nature of the engagement subsisting between Darcy and Anne, she utterly refused to promise not to marry him!”
“Poor Miss de Bourgh will be very sorry,” agreed Mrs. Dawson, a little tactlessly. “It will be a great disappointment to her. I know she has always looked forward to being mistress of Pemberley.”
Lady Catherine could sit it no longer. She reached out with her heavy, ham-like hand, made no lovelier by the delicate lace half-glove that draped it, and slapped Mrs. Dawson in the face. “Be silent!” she fumed. “It is not your place to say what your superiors think and feel.”
“No, ma’am,” muttered the poor woman, casting down her eyes to hide tears and rubbing her reddened cheek, where a handprint mark was swiftly forming.
“You are lucky I do not turn you out of this carriage, and dismiss you without a character. But I am ever celebrated for my extreme charity and tenderness of heart.”
“To be sure, my Lady,” replied Mrs. Dawson, as she knew she must.
“Where are we now. Coachman!” called Lady Catherine. “Can you tell us how many miles from London?”
“Tisn’t that far now, your Ladyship,” he bawled back, “we just passed the turnpike post sign, and it ain’t more than a matter of another twenty mile or so.”
Lady Catherine sat back with some satisfaction. “There. We should be with Darcy by dinner time. You may close your eyes if you like, Dawson; I am going to revolve in my mind what it is I will say to my nephew.”
“Very good, your Ladyship,” said the other woman obediently, and shut her eyes, exhausted. Before she could fall into a fitful doze, however, Lady Catherine spoke again. “I will tell him,” she said, “that Miss Bennet is stubbornness itself; she has a nasty little spirit of independence, and obduracy, and contrary-ness, and she has told me herself that she is determined to have him.”
“Did she?” asked Mrs. Dawson, opening her eyes.
“She as much as said so. I threatened her with all that would befall her, were she so foolish as to go through with her scheme; she should be shunned, and censured, and disgraced. You may well conceive, however, that she was only thinking of the advantages of being Darcy’s wife. She cares for the man not at all, only the place. I pressed her hard, Dawson, very hard; but to all my representations, and importunings, she held to her position with a firmness that is positively uncanny in so young a woman. Mark my words, if Darcy does marry her, he will find himself tied to a termagent.”
“I have no doubt,” said Mrs. Dawson faintly.
“Yes. And that is what I am going to London to tell Darcy. Of the ambition, the calculation, the headstrong determination of this girl, who is bound to ruin him entirely.”
“I daresay he will be very much concerned,” said Mrs. Dawson.
“I mean he shall be,” said Lady Catherine with some satisfaction. “You wait and see, I will open his eyes and show him what this young woman really is, a scheming creature; and we will have Anne at Pemberley at last, I am perfectly sure of that.”
“I hope we will,” echoed the waiting woman obediently.