“I hope,” sniffed Lady Catherine, “that those young ladies were sensible of the favour we bestowed upon them in the warmth of our farewells.”
“Why, Lady Catherine, only you in your modesty could have any doubt in the matter!” enthused Mr. Collins. “How could they be any thing but all gratitude? Your graciousness! I am sure my esteemed father-in-law would agree that there were few instances of anything like it, even at the Court.”
Lady Catherine smiled benevolently. “But there was one thing – I did wonder, Anne, if you were not a little too warm, too over cordial, at the parting. Actually giving your hand to them both!”
Mr. Collins sighed with admiration. “Miss Anne’s condescension was particularly well judging,” he said. “As is everything she does. A Miss Anne of Rosings can do no wrong when it comes to manners. She is a perfect lesson-book of them. All young ladies can learn from the manners of the great. Do you not think so, my dear?”
Charlotte looked up from her stitching. She often brought a little piece of embroidery with her on their visits to Rosings. Nothing vulgar, like socks; but Lady Catherine did not object if it was something genteel. She sometimes went so far as to praise Charlotte’s industry, though seldom without thinking of something else for her to do. A lace baby’s-cap was the appropriate thing to embroider at Rosings; not too high, not too humble.
“I am sure Miss Anne did and said all that was polite,” she agreed sedately, “and I know my sister and my friend were very grateful for the kind treatment they received here.”
“Grateful!” exclaimed her husband. “I should say so! Nothing can be compared to it. The young ladies to be invited, again and again! Treated to the splendours of Rosings. Such dinners! And not least of all, admitted into the company of such fine gentlemen as Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. It was a veritable coming-out for Maria; as good as being presented to the Queen.”
“And Lizzy enjoyed herself,” added Charlotte, more moderately, “she told me she had a very good time.”
“Enjoyed herself! As who would not, on being admitted to the privilege of visiting at Rosings.”
“I confess,” admitted Lady Catherine, “that I feel myself a little dull tonight, without the young ladies, and my nephews. They all seemed to get on very well, I thought. I almost suspected, on one evening, that the dear Colonel admired Miss Bennet a little – but of course, I deceived myself. He is far too sensible.”
“Oh surely not,” bleated Mr. Collins. “Pray, do not let such a thought enter your head, Lady Catherine. “Our young guests know their place. Miss Elizabeth could never aspire to – that is, the Colonel was only treating her with the extreme graciousness that he shows all the world. A truly knightly spirit. Never was a man with such peculiarly warm, open manners!”
“He does form rather a contrast to Darcy, I admit,” said Lady Catherine thoughtfully. “Darcy will sometimes sit for half-an-hour, staring at nothing. When Miss Bennet was playing those rather ill chosen Burns songs, he had his eye very firmly fixed upon the pianoforte, I saw.”
“Oh no – oh no,” Mr. Collins assured her, “do you not recollect, Lady Catherine, that Miss Anne was on the same side of the room as the piano – I am sure that his looking at the instrument was merely a pretext, so that we would not observe how intent he was in fixing his eyes upon her.”
At the pianoforte
“I wish I could think so,” said her ladyship, “but I was a trifle disappointed in Darcy, to say the truth. It is time he thought of settling down, you know, and Anne is ready, more than ready. I really thought that this time would be the charm.”
“Of course he was charmed with her, never anybody more so, Lady Catherine – he could hardly tear his eyes away from her,” assured Mrs. Jenkinson, leaning forward and adjusting Miss de Bourgh’s pink headpiece with its silk rose. “I distinctly heard him say that pink was his favorite colour, you know, and he had a great air of meaning as he said it, I do assure you.”
Charlotte remembered that Elizabeth had worn pink, but she knew much better than to say so.
“Well. I hope you are right,” said Lady Catherine. “The colour did not affix him, but best not to speak of that. I do wish you had talked a bit more, Anne.”
“I said every thing that I could Mama,” she protested, brushing aside Mrs. Jenkinson’s tender consoling pats impatiently. “Did not you hear me ask Darcy how he liked going down to Ramsgate last summer, and if it was his favorite watering-place?”
“Yes, you did,” Lady Catherine conceded, “and I was rejoiced, for that is a very promising topic, and well thought of. Darcy can be difficult to speak to, you know, with his singular reticence, the reticence of a gentleman; and he seems to require a lively – I thought you did very well, my dear. I was in hopes that he would talk of his knowledge of Weymouth and Worthing, but the subject of Ramsgate did not seem to interest him after all. And yet Georgiana was down there all last summer.”
“I think he does not care for watering-places,” Charlotte ventured to say. “He said as much, did he not? I thought I heard him.”
“He did. He said he could not understand why the English people went to so much trouble to be at noisy sand-infested places where they forgot their morals and were parted from a good deal of money,” Anne told her.
“No, that does not sound as if he liked watering-place holidays, Anne, does it. I wonder you could venture upon the topic, if you knew it. Perhaps you had better not, another time,” said her mother.
“No, Mama, I won’t.”
Lady Catherine brightened. “And do not forget, we will have another chance to see Darcy, next month, when we go to London.”
“I remember you said you have business in London,” Mr. Collins observed. “I hope not of any unpleasant sort.”
“Oh no, nothing particular. We will be there only a week, so I can see my man of business, and settle my quarterly accounts. And we shall visit the best mantua-makers while we are in town, to see about Anne’s fall wardrobe. Oh, we have a great deal to do!”
“Will Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam also be in London?” asked Charlotte. “I do not know if Elizabeth and her sister Jane will be in town then. They sometimes stay with my uncle’s family.”
“Oh! But of course we are not likely to meet – This is your uncle who lives in Cheap Street, is not he?”
“Cheapside. He is a very gentleman-like man however.”
“But in trade, of course. And the Bennet girls visit him often, do they? I do not know if that is wise, as it will assuredly lessen their chances of meeting a better sort of company. Though, to be sure, they cannot aspire to moving in circles such as Darcy’s, in London. Here in the country it is quite a different thing. People do not make those same sorts of distinctions in the country.”
“True, true. Ten to one Miss Elizabeth and Maria may never have the honour and distinction of being noticed by your nephews again, Lady Catherine,” Mr. Collins bowed toward her, “unless, indeed, that event takes place which we all expect, and the future Mrs. Darcy should be so kind as to invite the girls to Pemberley. But that is far too much to presume. I would think it the greatest privilege of my life, to be invited to see such a place myself; and the young ladies have not the advantage of our intimate acquaintance in your family.”
“Indeed you may depend upon it, Mr. Collins,” said Lady Catherine condescendingly, “that when my daughter is mistress of Pemberley, you and Mrs. Collins will be very welcome to pay a visit there.”
“Thank her ladyship for the compliment, Charlotte! Thank her!” he urged in ecstacy, and Charlotte complied, but in a much more quiet and proper fashion.
“I think ,even when at Pemberley, we should rejoice in having company,” sighed Lady Catherine. “We certainly do feel its loss at present.”