P&P200: Lady Catherine, Alone at Rosings
Rosings! Poor, poor Rosings. No longer allied with Pemberley, no longer a shining crown in the Darcy panoply of great houses, Rosings now stood alone and forlorn. There would be no more visits from the young men with whom Lady Catherine had been so proud to be connected. Mr. Darcy would never come to Rosings now, and Colonel Fitzwilliam, shamefully loyal to his cousin rather than to his aunt, would not pay his respects to her there either. The new Mrs. Darcy, and the deluded Miss Darcy alike, would be henceforth dead to the mistress of Rosings. For Lady Catherine de Bourgh had cut them all off at one stroke: her abusive letter regarding Darcy’s disgraceful marriage had been decisive.
Belton House, model for Rosings
Not that Lady Catherine would admit to administering anything more than a mere corrective, though admittedly it was rather like whipping a horse’s empty stall, after the beast itself had jumped its traces and escaped. Never mind; she had given her opinion, and stated what she felt to be right, no matter how unpleasant the consequences might be to her personally. But that was her character, for which she was so justly famed. She would brook no compromise. It would be the young men who were the losers, no longer having the entree to the superior society of Rosings.
At Rosings, then, Lady Catherine sat alone in splendid solitude, with nothing but the satisfaction that she had been right: as she always was. No, not quite alone; for there was Anne, to be sure, and her companion Mrs. Jenkinson. Even to a mother’s eye, disposed to be prejudiced until inevitable disappointment set in, it was plain that Anne was not the sort of company to satisfy a woman of the world, with education, fortune, and wisdom such as Lady Catherine’s. A lifetime of maternal homilies had been directed toward making Anne such another as herself, and by extension, the perfect wife for Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. What was her chagrin, then, to have a daughter who would hardly ever speak, and silently put sickliness up as a wall between herself and every thing her mother required her to do.
Lady Catherine occasionally had an uncomfortable inkling that it was her own incessant decrees that had rendered Anne silent; but no, that was impossible. It had all had been done with the best intentions; who could have been a better mother than herself? No one could say where she had failed. Lady Catherine could hardly suppose such a thing. Had not her instructions always been calculated to bring Anne out, to develop her powers of attention, of conversation? No, it was Anne’s ill health, unquestionably, that prevented her from attaining the character, the reputation, of the great lady she should not have failed to be. And now she would be an old maid, unless another man like her father, Sir Lewis de Bourgh, could be found for her. Lady Catherine shuddered. She knew that there was not another Mr. Darcy.
A bride of 1810, named Eliza
At Rosings, apart from Anne, who was there? Jenkinson was an inferior, a distant connection, a widow fallen on destitute times; and most praiseworthy it had been of Lady Catherine to take her in and give her occupation. However, in accepting her condescending charity, the woman had become no more than a servant, and a lady of Lady Catherine’s degree could not treat such a one as an equal.
There were other families of fortune in the neighborhood, but none of a lineage to compare with Lady Catherine’s own, and what with long standing feuds, and insulting instances of patronage, and intolerable neglect, and bitter enmities that never could be wiped away, there were few families of quality who had anything to do with her any more. All the blame was on the side of these upstart families, of course, for Lady Catherine chose to connect herself only with the best, and there was precious little of that in this sad part of Kent.
It was not surprising, then, that she had placed such great importance on the sort of clergyman who should come to Hunsford. As he would necessarily become an important intimate of her household, he must be someone she could at least endure, if not respect. Mr. Collins had been recommended to her by chance; and when summoned for the all-important interview, he had shewn himself most properly respectful of all her benefits. So, she smiled graciously upon this gentleman, and in due course, accepted his wife. Mrs. Collins was a very proper, sensible, submissive sort of body, and not unladylike; good enough for him, and already well instructed in what her position in the parish must be.
A wedding dress of 1810
But where were these tame Collinses now? Gone; and most humiliatingly, they had followed her own aristocratic relations. That is human nature, she thought vengefully. The Collinses – how had she ever thought them biddable? They had seemed to know their station so well! Yet it was they who had promoted the marriage between Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend and her own nephew, and baser betrayal had never been seen and could not be borne. A pity one could not sack a clergyman, thought Lady Catherine, grinding her teeth; just as one might a thieving bailiff.
Anne had retired to bed, and Mrs. Jenkinson had scuttled off somewhere to hide. Lady Catherine was left alone, in the principal parlour at Rosings, as the sparkling December day outside, pale sun shining on crisp snow, began early to darken into twilight. She irritably removed to the long dining-table to eat her roasted beef and vegetable ragout in silence, before calling for a fire. No venison, no plump little birds shot and killed by the young men, and kept for a winter’s evening to be enjoyed, she thought bitterly; her meat now was bought at the butcher’s.
The evening sky outside was a velvety indigo, with a sweeping of little twinkling white stars in such profusion as had never been seen in the heavens before; but Lady Catherine would not look out a window to see such vulgar omens. She knew very well, with astronomical exactitude, what tonight was. It was the wedding night of Darcy and Elizabeth. And she was spending it alone.
Lady Catherine’s Bed
Resolutely, she picked up the nearest book, but it was Fordyce’s Sermons, and she felt she required something more entertaining. No comfortable game of cassino for her, however, no light diverting novel left by an animated young visitor. It came to her, of a sudden, that she was unhappy, and a strange sound emerged from her corsetted, iron midsection, that a listener might have thought was almost a wrenching sob. But there were no listeners.
Then, from some remote place long dead within her, arose a memory, of what she had endured from Sir Lewis de Bourgh, so many years ago now. She had not thought of it – oh, almost since it happened. She had firmly suppressed the memory, as one must press down such unsuitable things.
It had been a very proper, approved match, for the de Bourghs were both a rich and ancient family, and Lady Catherine had retained all the rights to be her own mistress, as a strong minded heiress, rising thirty. She intended from the beginning to rule the roost; and Sir Lewis, timid in temperament and frail in health as his only surviving daughter would be, was not the man to gainsay her. Still, there had once been a wedding night, and for what reasons she could not say, with her back to the dark window, gazing at a low glowing fire, Lady Catherine thought of it now. Images rose up in her mind, unbidden.
A Regency firescreen
Sir Lewis had emerged from the closet, his knees knobbly in his nightshirt, and he clambered onto the cold satin sheets. Lady Catherine lay stolidly in the center of the bed and did not move. “My dear, will you make room for me?” he bleated timorously. “Certainly not,” she answered. “That is not the proper method of proceeding, at all. Do not you know that a gentleman never approaches his lady on the wedding night, or indeed, ever, until and unless he is invited? And I do not recollect giving you the invitation.”
Sir Lewis had meekly gone into another bedchamber, his white shirt pale in the darkness like a ghost. And that was that, until, several years later, her own brother, then Viscount Fitzwilliam, came to visit at Rosings, bringing his lady and their little boys. He had expressed himself surprised at his sister’s childlessness, and a few shrewd questions to his brother-in-law had ascertained the state of affairs. A walk in the shrubbery; a hint to Lady Catherine that if Sir Lewis died with the marriage incomplete, unknown heirs might appear to challenge her widow’s possession of Rosings.
So she had reluctantly, and with infinite distaste, allowed Sir Lewis to have his fumbling way; the puling sickly Anne had been the result; and the father had faded away soon after, like a gentleman spider eaten by his lady, and not regretted by her in the slightest.
As a full, majestic, bright jubilant winter moon rose at midnight over Pemberley, it rose over Rosings too; but it only gleamed in on a widow in her own majestically caparisoned bed, which reflected white in the moonshine, like a galleon. Lying awake, Lady Catherine allowed her thoughts to drift to her benighted nephew and his bride. Would the new Mrs. Darcy be likely to know how a lady managed her husband on the wedding night? Humph! she thought. That coarse girl, how could a knowledge of proper behavior be expected from her? Why, they were probably behaving like barnyard animals at this very moment…
No. She would not think about such things. Resolutely she turned over, away from the window, and closed her eyes, to sleep the dreamless and undisturbed sleep of the just.Starry night
This was the tenth “Lady Catherine” story that I’ve written for the P&P200 series! In a previous incarnation I was Mrs. Elton for the longest time. What is this morbid fascination that attracts me to Austen villains? Am I going to wake up one morning to find myself channeling General Tilney? Is this normal? Is this healthy? (Don’t answer that.) Perhaps it’s because Jane Austen’s villains are so brilliantly, richly conceived and drawn, that the study of what makes them tick is so endlessly instructive. Well, let’s see, who’s up next? Anyone but Mrs. Norris…please, not her…