Posted on Sunday, 8 July 2001
Author's Notes: A rather surreal scene, one that would never take place as far as Jane Austen purists are concerned, but as I am not a purist, I have taken the pains to jot this short epistle down. As the title indicates, this is a short scene involving some of the more memorable "villains" that Jane Austen created. Hope you enjoy it, despite its literary irrelevance! :)
SCENE: A lavishly decorated dining room, lit in the soft orange glow of chandeliers and candles. The dessert course is evidently just finishing. Seated at the table are ten respectably, and in some cases, handsomely, dressed individuals: Mr. Elton, the host; his wife, lately Miss Augusta Hawkins; John Willoughby of Allenham; Sir William (the name Walter having been dropped immediately upon the inheritance of the baronetcy) Elliot of Kellynch; his wife, Lady Elliot, formerly Mrs. Clay; John Thorpe; George Wickham; Henry Crawford; Mr. Collins; and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, of Rosings Park. It becomes evidently clear that this is the new home of the Eltons, who, for the purposes of this author, have moved out of Highbury, and into their own home, which resembles Maplewood.MRS. ELTON: Why, now I dare say this has been a most spectacular evening. I have never enjoyed one so fine since moving out of Highbury--well, not even since Maplewood, you know--and for one who has so fortunately been raised in a setting such as Maplewood, it is difficult to get use to such a place as this.
WILLOUGHBY: Yes, Mrs. Elton, which is why is surprises me that you and Mr. Elton resolved on taking up this place. I mean, that Mr. Elton should give up his living in so wealthy a parish as that which can be afforded by Highbury must be a heavy change indeed.
MRS. ELTON: Ah, Willoughby, there you have it wrong--I am afraid I must heartily correct you, that as a lady with as infinite resources as myself, I may be quite happy anywhere. When Mr. E said to me that day, "Augusta, it is time we left Highbury"--why, that very day Mr. E broke the news to me--I said to him, "Mr. E, there is nothing you must worry for me. I shall be happy anywhere so long as there is music." I cannot live in a society which does not promote music highly, you know, for even with a lively mind like mines, the presence of music can never be too excessive. You know, although I have never called myself a proficient, when I was still at Maplewood, all my friends commended me on my tastes. Selina always said quite distinctly that my tastes in music was so superior to her own, despite her having played longer and better than myself.
MR. COLLINS: [Looking somewhat sweaty.] Yes, that is quite the very same thing which I told my dear Charlotte--it is unfortunate that she could not attend this evening--taking good care of our dear olive branch, you know--for I assured my dearest Charlotte that Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my patroness, should not want any wife of mine to be--
LADY CATHERINE: That is enough, Mr. Collins, what you say can be of little consequence to any of them. Tell me, Mrs. Elton, have you made up all your rooms in the house yet? I was very shocked and grieved, in coming in, to see that your closets have not yet shelves installed within. Do not mean to tell me that you have not the least intentions of doing so?
MRS. ELTON: Shelves within closets! Why, that was the very idea I had in my mind, when Mr. E and I took up this house. You know, that is the very thing we had in Maplewoods, and it was not too good for us then, so it cannot be too good for us now. I shall ask Mr. E to attend to it immediately tomorrow.
MR. ELTON: Of course, my darling Augusta, I shall see to it directly as I can, anything to oblige you, my dearest.
MRS. ELTON: Ah, speaking of obliging, none of you shall guess who I came cross the other day while I was in London. Why, can't you guess? No? Why, I came across Knightley. Yes, the very man! And with him, of course, was Mrs. Knightley, but I never thought much of her anyhow, when she was Miss Woodhouse, except that she does go about with all her notions of her greatness. But there, I must be charitable, for I am a Christian woman, so I will say that she looked well enough. I suppose, though, that she quite wears Knightley out with her incessant ideas. Oh, Mr. E, what was that which she endeavoured to do once?
MR. ELTON: I believe, she thought to fix me up with some foundling girl of obscure background and little tastes, so--but there, I shall not go further on that point, for it is indelicate.
MRS. ELTON: [Smiling and standing up.] Now, I suppose it is cue for us ladies to leave, if Mr. E will talk of delicacy. I always say to Mr. E that a lady's delicacy, however lively her mind, must always be put into consideration, and therefore, I think we must allow the gentlemen to have their own discourse without our presence. Come, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Clay--oh dear, I mean Lady Elliot. I am terribly sorry, but you see, at Maplewood, we were always so free to address one another by more familiar names, which is why I sometimes call you Mrs. Clay. I am very sorry-- We ladies must make way to the men and their conversations. Let us not disturb any of you, oh especially not you, Sir William, and Wickham. Now, Mr. E, do promise me you will take good care of Willoughby for me--he is an impressionable young man you know, and terribly fond of reciting poetry. Be kind to his romantic notions, will you?
MR. ELTON: Of course I shall. I am an old, married man, you know, and what are old married men good for anymore, but to look after the young ones, heh?
WILLOUGHBY: [Under his breath.] God, I never thought Mrs. Elton would shut up.
MR. ELTON: Pardon me? What was that?
WILLOUGHBY: Oh, I was just remarking on what a generous lady Mrs. Elton is.
MR. ELTON: Yes, I have never met with a better woman all my life.
JOHN THORPE: I think you mentioned that you met her in Bath?
MR. ELTON: Indeed I did.
JOHN THORPE: You are a lucky man, then, for I have never met with such luck in going to Bath myself.
MR. ELTON: Why is that, my boy?
JOHN THORPE: Well, you know about Catherine Morland, do you not? The eldest daughter of some clergyman out in who-knows-what county? She thought herself too good for me, and she hadn't even fifty pounds a year from her father for dowry.
MR. ELTON: Ah, that is a complication indeed. Why, she is too proud, that little lady. It is insufferable of poor girls to put on airs when they clearly have no claims to it. They seem to think poverty will bring them husbands. My dearest Augusta, luckily never put on such airs, and she was an heiress, you know.
HENRY CRAWFORD: [Somewhat defensively.] I was in love once, with a lady of little fortune, though she had good connections, and I never once thought ill of her for her lack of wealth. Her goodness more than equaled all worldly riches which her cousins possessed.
WICKHAM: [Drinks a glass of wine in one shot, then puts glass down.] Then I admire you greatly, Crawford, for your enthusiasm. For my part, I wouldn't settle for less than five hundred a year, plus a fully paid commission, and regular allowance for holidays and such.
HENRY CRAWFORD: That is because you are such an extravagant fellow. Me, I have learned to curb my ways. Believe me, a girl of good virtues is worth hundred times more a girl of good fortune.
WICKHAM: Well, I see we shall never agree on that score. What say you, Willoughby? You have had the better experience of the two of us, I dare say. What is your thought on the matter?
WILLOUGHBY: [Lighting up a cigar.] What is there to say? I've married money, haven't I?
HENRY CRAWFORD: Yes, and the temper to rue your day.
WICKHAM: I say that you have chosen well. What can't money get you? Only have enough to live on, and you can't very well spend it elsewhere, and make yourself miserable the rest of your life--But have some kind of sponsor, or fixed income from your wife's side of the family, and you've got your life made.
WILLOUGHBY: If you say so. There are charms in money.
HENRY CRAWFORD: [Sarcastic.] And you see charms in your "dear Mrs. Willoughby" I suppose, apart from her all consuming jealousy and constant ill temper.
WILLOUGHBY: Sophia is attractive enough, and she may be sweet if I humour her. All in all, so long as she doesn't find out my dealings outside, she is enchanting. Besides, I must do her brains some credit, for she is very intelligent. She's always by my side, ready to dish me out of another mess.
HENRY CRAWFORD: In matters concerning gaming and debts, or in affairs of another kind?[Smirks.] Oh, and I suppose, she gives that extra elegant feminine touch to things. I can't say I agree with you, Willoughby. I've made my own bed, and I've got to lie in it, but if I were in your shoes, I think I'd be in a worse shape than you.
MR. COLLINS: Well, if I may interrupt this very interesting conversation, as a clergyman, I find myself bound to add my own remarks on the subject of matrimony, both in how my profession views it, and also how I view it as a man under the patronage of the illustrious Lady Catherine de Bourgh. You must know, how exceedingly condescending she is, in the view of marriage, and I must say that I find myself agreeing whole-heartedly with her views, for they are so much more informed, and of a grander frame of mind than mines ought to be; therefore, I would just endeavour to say that--
MR. ELTON: Oh, yes, Mr. Collins, as a clergyman, I too feel that one must value the fruits of marital bliss. You know, I view myself as rather a fortunate fellow, albeit an old married fellow, in that I have been so lucky as to procure so gentle and active lady for wife. Can you gentleman think of any woman who possesses a livelier mind than my wife? No--I did not think any of you could.
SIR WILLIAM ELLIOT: You know, it is not often that one is able to meet with an acquaint oneself to a lady in a public place under the time of several weeks. I find it very lucky that you should have found yourself married to Mrs. Elton after so sort an acquaintance, and in public only.
MR. ELTON: [Defensively.] And you do not say the same for yourself? Am I not right in saying that, that is how you came to meet and marry Lady Elliot?
SIR WILLIAM ELLIOT: [Equally defensively.] That was rather under different circumstances, Elton. You know Mrs. Clay and I had been acquainted for a while before? We--[Coughs in embarrassment]--Let's just say, we were intimately acquainted.
HENRY CRAWFORD: [Under his breath, so know one hears him.] After the lady was intimate with the uncle!
MR. ELTON: I don't know if I was aware of that. You never told me so.
SIR WILLIAM ELLIOT: And, Lady Elliot and I had quite a long acquaintance afterwards. She was once the companion to a cousin of mine, Miss Elliot, you know. Her father was my benefactor.
HENRY CRAWFORD: [Somewhat bitter, as he thinks ill of cousins in love.] Yes, the lovely cousin of yours, whom you wished to fall in love with.
SIR WILLIAM ELLIOT: No, that was not Elizabeth Elliot, by God. No, I must admit to having admired Miss Anne Elliot for some time.
JOHN THORPE: But you couldn't get her to marry you, could you?
SIR WILLIAM ELLIOT: No--her affections were engaged elsewhere. To some captain of the navy of other. Very unworthy of her, I think, for he did leave her once before, eight years earlier.
JOHN THORPE: [Sighing.] These girls will always go to those less worthy. That was how is was with Catherine Morland, too, you know. She settled her heart on some fool of a clergyman.
MR. COLLINS: Excuse me, Mr. Thorpe, but here, I must interfere with your expression. Do not speak so contemptuously of our profession, for the profession of a clergyman is one of the most highly regarded careers of those appointed by God, and you may consult my patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh on that subject, for she shall set you right on your course of thinking--
JOHN THORPE: Aw, jeez, you don't have to put it so harshly. You know I only put it in, you know, like a tongue-in-cheek--
MR. COLLINS: And I hope--I hope that you will not use, "jeez" again. It is a bastardization of the good Lord's son's name, and that cannot be--
WICKHAM: [Sighing loudly.] I do, for my part, admire the job of a clergyman. So fixed an income, and so comfortable a living. I should be quite happy if I were promised such a living.
HENRY CRAWFORD: If I am not wrong, Wickham, you once were promised such.
WICKHAM: Oh, right, I guess I was. Lambton was it? No, no, it was Kympton. Right, Kympton, out in Derbyshire. You know that living was promised to me, as soon as I had finished my studies at Cambridge, and taken orders, but then, other things arose.
WILLOUGHBY: Like women.
WICKHAM: Yes, if you put it that way.
MR. ELTON: [Clearing his throat.] Excuse me. I can see why we do not allow for ladies in our presence at such a table. I am afraid that my profession, and my loyalty to my dearest Augusta obliges me to make my excusal from this table. I will not discuss women in this heathen fashion.
MR. COLLINS: No, nor I, either.
WILLOUGHBY: Oh come, Elton, don't put on that look as if you were really disgusted with us. Don't think as if we'd really say anything to offend the ladies. And Collins--Collins, stop with that stupid little gesture--you've wiped your upper lip scores of times already, and you'll wipe your mouth right off your face if you do it again. Now, do behave like men, and sit down again. What would the ladies think of you two, making your departure from the gentlemen's table so early? I never met with such a group of sissies before.
MR. ELTON: You will not call us sissies.
JOHN THORPE: Now, as I have been trying to say so many times, it is such a shame one cannot get a handle on a lady that one meets in Bath. What can possibly be wrong with making marriage plans there?
HENRY CRAWFORD: One can hardly trust oneself to truly understand a lady until one has observed her in her own family, amongst her own circles. So public a place as Bath is barely a place to judge. Trust me, Thorpe, as you are still young and relatively inexperienced, don't ever make the mistake of vowing love to a lady that you have only known in a public place, where flattery is bound to fly far, and virtue, very little.
SIR WILLIAM ELLIOT: I hope you do not mean that as an affront to me.
HENRY CRAWFORD: No, I did not mean you. At least, you have been somewhat of an exception--you and Lady Elliot seem "honestly" to be devoted to one another.
MR. ELTON: Augusta and I are--
HENRY CRAWFORD: Well, I will allow for that too, though I cannot say that there is very much love in your union. Yours was rather one of convenience was it not? Never mind, don't speak just yet, I know I've made an ill job of it, but you and Mrs. Elton are commonly compatible with one another, and I congratulate you on that.
MR. ELTON: Thank you.
WILLOUGHBY: Crawford, it seems then, that your little theory of marriages struck up by short acquaintances made in a public place does not quite work.
HENRY CRAWFORD: I can't say the same for you, certainly. Have you made yourself very happy? Look at Mrs. Willoughby--you married her after you discovered her fortune.
WILLOUGHBY: [Suddenly tired.] Look, Crawford, we've already discussed that. Can you just lay off Sophia for one night?
HENRY CRAWFORD: Okay, alright, I won't mention her name again. But, haven't you ever regretted the other young lady? An intimacy like that--surely, you cannot have forgotten it? I have never forgotten my Fanny, but she is not mine, and now belongs to her cousin.
WILLOUGHBY: You know, you have no right to bring Marianne's name up.
HENRY CRAWFORD: I haven't. You have.
WILLOUGHBY: You have no right to make me bring up her name, but I will indulge you just this time. Yes, I regret losing Marianne. I wish, sometimes, honest to goodness, that I had never given her up. But, I didn't give her up because I married Sophia Grey. No, I had to give her up either way. You've heard me mention of Eliza Williams, have you not?
HENRY CRAWFORD: How can anyone forget?
WILLOUGHBY: Eliza was my nemesis. My aunt made me promise to marry Eliza, or risk being disinherited, cut off from her will. I couldn't let her do that, could I? But either way, marrying Marianne, or marrying Eliza, I would have been miserable. Sophia was not a choice--she was a necessity, if I wanted to continue leading a respectable life. She knows it.
HENRY CRAWFORD: [Smirking again.] Respectable life? I can't say that I'm not sorry for you, Willoughby, but I can't see how much more respectable your life has become. Every time I come across the Bertrams, the Wards or the Rushworths, oh God, I know I'm not respectable. And you have no idea--they don't ever want to associate with me, you know? And Fanny, I lost her for good, and no lady, no matter how rich or in love she is with me, can ever make up for it.
WICKHAM: [Clearing his throat uncomfortably.] I say, we just try to live our life being happy with the way we can still afford to live. You know, Lydia and I--
MR. COLLINS: Oh, I have still to lecture you on that bit of business, Mr. Wickham. As a clergyman, and a cousin to your wife, I ought to--
WICKHAM: Hey, Collins, forget it. It's okay. Lydia and I are pretty comfortable with each other. I mean, sometimes I do grow tired from her, but I haven't yet strayed. Staying together is pretty much the best solution we've got right now, and it would do neither of us any benefit to separate our ways. So long as she doesn't bother me about going out, then I don't bother her about her bonnets and dresses.
HENRY CRAWFORD: You could have been pretty happy with her sister. Didn't you meet with her favour once?
WICKHAM: Which sister? You mean the one who's Mrs. Darcy now? No, I don't think she ever believed me on that score. She's a pretty intelligent woman--It's hard to fool her. It's a good thing Darcy is her husband, or she would never meet her match.
JOHN THORPE: How come you eloped with Lydia anyway, and not Georgiana Darcy? Didn't the latter have money? She trusted you too, right? You should have taken her out on open carriage rides and held her hand, and make her feel committed to you, then she'd never have left.
MR. COLLINS: [Horrified.] Mr. Thorpe!
WICKHAM: [Under his breath.] What a prude. [With a laugh, not offended.] You're right, and Georgiana would have been much easier to fool, you know, she was so na´ve. But then, Darcy was her brother, and like any good, virtuous, little girl, she had to go and tell her big brother everything.
HENRY CRAWFORD: What is wrong with being a good, virtuous girl?
WICKHAM: I didn't say there was anything wrong with it. Get off your high horse.
MR. ELTON: [Clearing his throat and standing up once more.] I think I've had enough of a drink and a smoke. Let us return to the drawing rooms now and see how the ladies are getting on, shall we?
WILLOUGHBY: What, Elton, are you afraid of making Mrs. Elton wait, and wonder where her "Mr. E" is?
MR. ELTON: Excuse me, Willoughby, I think you've had one too many drinks this evening. Mr. Collins, will you follow my example and return to the drawing room?
MR. COLLINS: Most certainly, as a gentleman, a clergyman, and a brother in the sight of God--
[The other gentlemen slowly get up on their feet also, but a few groan and mumble. Suddenly the doors to the dining room are thrown open, and there stands Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her small size dramatically emphasized by the straight, solid, doorframes. She is giving them each a scrutinizing look.]LADY CATHERINE: I wondered what all of you were doing and discussing for so long. What were you talking about so secretively in here? I demand to have a fair share in your conversation. Don't you snicker at me. Do you know who I am? I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh, eldest daughter of an earl, and the wife of a knight belonging to the prestigious order of the ______. I will not be trifled with.
HENRY CRAWFORD, WILLOUGHBY: [Together] We were just returning to the drawing room.
LADY CATHERINE: Mr. Collins, why do you keep wiping your face with that handkerchief? It is positively soiled and inappropriate for usage. Consult Mrs. Collins on the matter of your hygiene.
MR. COLLINS: Yes, your ladyship--[His voice trails on and on as he makes his excuses.]