P&P200 The Darcys Visit Lady Catherine at Rosings. Part 2.
Fleets of maids at Pemberley were kept busy round the clock, freshening and furbishing the wardrobes and grand toilettes of the ladies going to London, and only a week sennight after the family had made the decision to go, they set out, on a journey broken by only one night on the road. Darcy’s handsome barouche and four high stepping horses conveyed the party in speed and comfort, so that it was before noon on the second day when they rolled up at the gravel sweep of Rosings. Colonel Fitzwilliam was waiting look-out at the door, and was immediately by the side of the carriage, as ready as Darcy himself to help the ladies down.
He greeted Elizabeth with particular warmth, complimenting her on her marriage, and on her blooming appearance.
“I need not ask how you are. Marriage has made you look, at least, lovelier than ever; and let me see Darcy – upon my word, cousin, the state appears to agree with you as well!”
“Indeed it does, Fitzwilliam,” said Darcy heartily. “I only wish you could arrive at so happy a state yourself. I wish all our welcomes here would be as kindly disposed as yours.”
Fitzwilliam shook his head but his eyes were laughing. “She is in a powerful taking, I must warn you,” he said. “Between her disapproval of the whole visit, and her desire to turn out the most elegant dinner to outdo your Pemberley chef, she is in fine fettle.”
Darcy looked briefly to Heaven, but only said, “There’s nothing for it, is there? Come, Georgiana, come, Kitty, you follow me and Mrs. Darcy. We can only meet our doom once.”
“That will suffice, my love,” Elizabeth chided him tenderly. “You know Lady Catherine means well.”
Darcy made a sound suspiciously like a “humph,” but held her elbow decorously as they moved toward the lovely mellowed pile of rose-colored brick, with the fragrant, climbing wistaria in bloom.
Her Ladyship was now seen in the doorway, actually condescending to emerge from the house to greet her guests. She began at once to talk without cease, from the moment she saw them, until they were all seated in the ground floor drawing-room, looking out at the gardens.
“Well! So here you are at last, Darcy. You are late. I usually expect you at Easter. Fitzwilliam was here on the eighteenth of April; why were not you? Fortunately he at least has consented to pay an extra long visit, or I should have been quite neglected. I am sorry to see marriage has made you dilatory and neglectful. Suppose I really needed advice and help on improvements, on maintenance, on expenditures, here at Rosings? I would have been in a pretty pickle with none here but that fool of a Collins.”
“I feel sure you are fully equal to the management, Aunt,” said Darcy. “But what has Mr. Collins done now?”
“You would not believe it. He has started preaching from my pulpit – my pulpit, here at Hunsford, in my very own parish, of which I have been squiress, from time out of mind! – against slavery, of all outrageous things.”
Darcy was all astonishment. “Mr. Collins? Is that so? I never thought he was an abolitionist. Did you know that, my dear?”
“No, I had not an idea of it,” replied Elizabeth. “But I have had conversations with Charlotte…” She stopped.
“Ah!” Lady Catherine turned toward her, nose held high with disdain. “So there is the source. I suspected it. His wife is a termagent. She has taken complete control of that man, even though he is a Man of God and ought not to be answerable to any one here on earth, except, of course, myself, his superior. So she has swayed him. I see.”
“But, Aunt,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said reasonably, “surely you know, the slave trade was abolished some years ago. Mr. Collins is only preaching about what already is in being.”
“No he is not,” her Ladyship practically spat. “Speak of what you know, Fitzwilliam. The trade may have been abolished in 1807, though who only knows how the plantation owners of Barbados and Jamaica are to keep in business – but for all the nonsense of that insidious Wilberforce and his ilk, a slave is still a slave, and always shall be. And so you, Mrs. Darcy,” she darted a glare at Elizabeth, “have encouraged Mrs. Collins in her wicked revolutionary thinking, and she has actually gained sufficient control of his ideas to make him spout nonsense of the worst sort. A pretty piece of work, I must say.”
“Well,” said Elizabeth, “I am glad Charlotte is persuading her husband to do as she – as they think right; I should not like, myself, to have to live in a subservient position to such a man.”
“We know all about that,” Lady Catherine positively hissed. “Do not boast of your conquests.”
“Please to remember, Aunt,” Darcy said slowly, “that Elizabeth is my wife.” He said no more, but his manner was grave, and Lady Catherine subsided, and checked herself.
“Oh very well. Anne, will you tell Mrs. Jenkinson to call for some tea. Dinner will not be until six o’ clock, and I trust that it will be fine enough for those whose palates have been accustomed to the elegancies of Pemberley – even for ever so short a time.”
“I am sure it will be very good, auntie,” Georgiana spoke up, “but we have not half greeted you, yet – nor Cousin Anne.” And she graciously went over to her cousin and gave her a tentative kiss. Anne, sitting in a corner of the sofa, pale and washed out in her white gown, smiled weakly.
The little tea-cakes with cream and Rosings brambleberry jam, were a specialty of the cook, and were so delicious and so much complimented, that Lady Catherine gave a superior smile, which did nothing to softening the look of her red face under its steel-grey satin turban.
“Yes. No one in England, I think, makes tea-cake like Stanners; and our cream is the very best in Kent. Bishop Sanford said so himself, when he came for tea, all the way from Canterbury. ‘Lady Catherine,’ he said, ‘I am Devonshire born, but I must say that there is nothing like your cream.’”
Here, Mr. and Mrs. Collins were announced, and Elizabeth ran to embrace her friend, though Lady Catherine did not so much as rise to her feet, and only gave Charlotte her two littlest fingers to pull. Neither Charlotte nor her husband seemed out of countenance in the least. Mr. Collins divided his tail-coat and sat as close to Mr. Darcy as he dared, cutting off his conversation with Fitzwilliam, and proceeding to ask him about tithes.
Charlotte sat by Elizabeth. “Oh, it is fun to see you,” she exclaimed, her eyes dancing. “You must come back with us and see my little William-Lucas. And I am so glad to hear that you, too, will have the happiness – ”
“Yes, indeed, our own olive-branch,” smiled Elizabeth. “And you see we are here to make as much peace as possible, before its arrival.”
“Very timely too,” Charlotte told her. “We need some soothing of troubled waters. Has Lady Catherine told you – ”
“Yes, and I was rejoiced to hear that you are becoming a person of influence, as you ought to be.”
“What are you saying, Mrs. Collins? Mrs. Darcy?” demanded Lady Catherine irritably.
“About Elizabeth’s prospects, your Ladyship,” answered Charlotte smoothly. “Are they not delightful?”
“Delightful if it all prospers, which I misdoubt. A mismatched marriage never does. And to speak of such coarse subjects in mixed company – ” she held up her hands – “As I live and breath, who ever heard of such a thing! But I cannot say I am surprised. No, no.”
Darcy wrinkled his brow. “I thought, Aunt, that you would speak of our prospects more kindly than that,” he said.
“Oh, to be sure. I am quite reconciled to the thing. I am famed for my kind advice in the case of young menages, and shall not hesitate in the least to give the benefit to yours, who are almost my nearest relations. So, matters are going on well at Pemberley, I trust, if you can leave it so often, Darcy. Now here you are in Kent, but not going to favour me with very much time, I am sure. You are in a hurry to be off to the London gaieties, I collect.”
“Business calls me to London while Parliament is in session,” he told her, “and Elizabeth may as well enjoy the trip. And then there are the girls…” he nodded towards Georgiana and Kitty.
Lady Catherine readjusted the old lace on her satin turban. “Yes. To be sure. Two girls to marry off! Georgiana, to be sure, it is a sad case, she is how old now? Seventeen, eighteen? You are acting creditably. Introduce her to gentlemen of proper blood, and make sure she talks. Nothing is worse than a girl who does not talk.”
She peered at Kitty. “And this? another of your numerous sisters, Mrs. Darcy? Prettier than the one you introduced me to at Pemberley. What is your name? how old?”
Kitty now was put through a catechism, to which she answered “Yes” and “No” with a little air of sullenness that did not impress her questioner.
“I see. A bread-and-butter Miss, with nothing to say for herself, yet I discern a temper there – ah, yes. Not a sign of her sister’s wits, however,” concluded Lady Catherine grimly. She turned to Elizabeth. “You will have your work cut out for you as chaperone, Mrs. Darcy, and you quite uninstructed yourself in the ways of society. Well I wash my hands of it. I could have sent you with a very good entree – but you have that self-sufficiency about you, that I daresay would decline to take any favours.”
“I should be glad of any introductions you cared to provide,” said Elizabeth blandly, “and would always be pleased to see any friends of yours, Lady Catherine. But we are assured of a goodly enough circle in London, and I believe will do very well.”
“That’s right, highty-tighty. Well, I believe you are right. You may have been badly taught, but you are not inexperienced, used to scheming as you – ”
“Aunt,” said Darcy in a tone so sharply warning that Lady Catherine actually fell silent for a moment.
“And besides,” she resumed, changing the subject with the next sentence, “I want you to do something for me.”
“What is that?” inquired Elizabeth, wondering what was coming next.
“I want you to take Anne with you. Make her one of your party.”
“Yes, yes. My daughter,” she said impatiently, shaking her ivory fan energetically in the direction of Miss de Bourgh, sitting slumped beside her on the sofa. “Take her with you in your party. Put her together with Georgiana and what is her name – ”
“Kitty,” Kitty supplied.
“That is not a name. That is an animal. I presume you are a Catherine?”
“Good heavens! that is not a method of reply. Mrs. Darcy, you have given her no polish at all I see. How will such a rude country girl appear at Court? Heavens above, she cannot even answer with common politeness, let alone the aplomb, grace, elegance of a lady.”
Kitty flushed. “Never mind,” Elizabeth told her kindly in an undertone, “only you ought to have said, ‘Yes, Lady Catherine.’”
“Your first essay as chaperone, I see,” said Lady Catherine ironically. “Well, it is no matter. Anne has sense of her own, and will know how to behave; she will raise the tone of your party, that you do not disgrace yourselves in the eyes of the world. Darcy, do you hear me?” she leaned forward. “I am sending Anne with you to London.”
“You are, Aunt? I am all astonishment. I thought you always considered she was too delicate to do the Season properly.”
“You must know I am paying you a great compliment – and your wife too though you may not be sensible of it – in entrusting her to you. Her health has made some improvement of late; and I am persuaded that she has attained an age where she will be able to manage herself in London, without danger from the untutored manners of – others. And there is another benefit. She may come out with Georgiana.”
“Her debut? How old is she?” Kitty whispered to Elizabeth.
“She is Darcy’s age.”
“But – he is eight and twenty, is not he?”
“But stay,” said Lady Catherine, “you do not mean to bring out the other girl, that chit, at the same time, do you Darcy? That would be altogether too much, and very unseemly.”
“Kitty is the same age as Georgiana,” said Elizabeth mildly, “and we are all one family now, so there would be nothing improper, if that was the plan.”
“I will have nothing to do with it. However, it will not pass before my eyes, for I shall not see it. I shall remain at home.”
“Certainly, Aunt, it is as you wish. We will gladly take our cousin to London, as one of our party, but you must not be disappointed; we do not intend to introduce any of the young ladies at Court.”
“What? The daughter of Lady Anne Darcy and Mr. Darcy – not to be presented at court? Of what are you thinking, Darcy? Are you so ashamed of your wife’s breeding, that you do not wish to expose her in Court, in the position of chaperone? I suspected as much.”
St. James’s Palace
“Nothing of the sort, madam,” said Darcy angrily, “my wife would grace the position. However, we mean to have a quiet, unpretending visit, not attending at St. James, but only doing a little visiting to old friends, and seeing some pictures, and some plays. And then we will go home again – to Pemberley.”
“Good Heaven,” said Lady Catherine, lifting up her plump hands with their diamond rings and sapphire hoops sparklingly stacked, and letting them drop into her satin lap again. “No presentation at Court – anti-slavery – the blood of the nobility being leached from Pemberley. Ah! What terrible new modern world is this, that holds such horrors as these. I thank my Maker that I am not like to live in it much longer.”
“I hope you are not unwell, Lady Catherine,” said Elizabeth demurely.
“The world does hold horrors,” interposed Mr. Collins, rising to his feet. “that, no one could deny. This is why the office of clergyman is so important. We have the great trust in our hands, of teaching our parishioners their duty. I hope I am not remiss in that. Only last week, Mr. Darcy, you must know I preached against slavery. I knew this would be controversial; I knew I should be criticized; I believe even my honored patroness had some qualms about my speaking such radical beliefs, as to say straight out that slavery is an evil. But I hope I never let worldly concerns draw me back from preaching what I know to be right.”
“You hold your tongue,” snapped Lady Catherine.
“But, Your Ladyship, I am only concerned with your immortal soul – ” he began, but his wife pulled him back.
“Better not, dear, she is not in the mood for more – for any opposition,” Charlotte whispered.
He seated himself, red-faced, and avoided the eye of his patroness, who looked about to explode into an attack of apoplexy.
“Do come with us to London, Anne,” said Georgiana in her sweet voice, “it is true I am not to be presented, but I am out, just the same, and we may take in all manner of pleasant entertainments.”
“I would like very much to go,” Miss de Bourgh answered, “if Mamma is willing I should.”
“Go where you like. I am sure I do not care.”
“Then, if you can be ready in the morning, there will be room for you in the barouche; it holds six, and Bingley and I will ride horseback.”
“I will be ready, cousin,” she said with a smile that made her peaky, pointed face look almost pleasant.
Watteau, “Two Cousins”
18 Responses to P&P200 The Darcys Visit Lady Catherine at Rosings. Part 2.