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Lady Catherine Disposes - Part V

December 04, 2016 06:30PM
Part V


If Elizabeth supposed that the confrontation with Lady Catherine would allow the remainder of the day to unfold in relative peace and quiet, she was to be disabused of that notion. Her visit to Pemberley began innocuously enough. Upon their arrival, she and Mrs. Gardiner were greeted unexpectedly by Mrs. Reynolds, and Mrs. Reynolds only. Elizabeth’s hopes of being allowed to enjoy a walk with Darcy amongst the gardens of Pemberley lasted no longer that the time it took for Lady Catherine to be notified of her presence. As Darcy had been called away to the far reaches of the estate on urgent business, Lady Catherine suffered no qualms in commanding Elizabeth’s time and attention, for there was a matter of significant importance that required immediate attention.

“You cannot allow,” declared her Ladyship, “the Mistress’ chambers to remain in their current state. It has been thirty years since my sister decorated those rooms and they are in a shocking state. Is that not so, Mrs. Reynolds?”

Mrs. Reynolds maintained an air of careful neutrality. “The late Mrs. Darcy redecorated extensively at the time of her marriage but the rooms were updated several times before her passing.”

Lady Catherine humphed.

“Perhaps we might see the rooms?” urged Mrs. Gardiner quietly.

Mrs. Reynolds led the way up the stairs and informed them that Mr. Darcy had requested that the Mistress’ rooms be prepared for their inspection. As they were ascending the stairs they could hear a male voice, clearly angry but muffled by distance and the closed door of the room in which the argument was taking place. Elizabeth thought she could also discern a female voice also expressing itself vehemently. The room at issue was in the guest quarters and as the Bingleys were the only resident visitors, she supposed that Bingley and his sisters were the ones engaged in the dispute. Mrs. Reynolds ignored the disturbance, although Elizabeth thought she detected the woman rolling her eyes. Lady Catherine bestowed nothing more than a slight sniff and muttered something under her breath. Elizabeth did not believe her comment to be charitable.

Elizabeth was musing about the cause of the Bingleys’ argument and rather suspected that it had to do with his sisters’ treatment of her elder sister; however, she was not allowed to explore that train of thought for they had arrived at their destination.

“These are the Mistress’ chambers, and while they have been unused these fifteen years, we have ensured that they remained ready for use.” said Mrs. Reynolds.

The rooms were most elegantly furnished with light wallpapers which, if slightly too ornate for Elizabeth’s preference, were not unpleasant and lent an air of brightness to the rooms. She determined that, although some of the furniture did not match her tastes and could be replaced and others were in need of being reupholstered, she was satisfied with such modest improvements at this time.

Lady Catherine, however, was far from equally pleased and gave her opinion that the rooms were in need of extensive renovation. As Elizabeth, from her remembrances of Rosings Park, had no doubt as to what such an initiative might entail and, since she had no desire to live surrounded by such ostentation, she was only prevented from a firm rejection of such advice by a wish to avoid offending Lady Catherine.

“I believe,” said Elizabeth cautiously, “that for now I will be satisfied to make only such modest changes as will render the rooms comfortable for my immediate use. I will certainly consider the need for a major renovation and your counsel,” she nodded in Lady Catherine’s direction, “will be then appreciated. At present, however, I see no reason to expend monies unnecessarily before I have determined exactly how I wish these rooms to look.” She turned to Mrs. Reynolds and began identifying those changes she currently wished to be made.

Surprisingly, it was Mrs. Gardiner who raised a concern. “Lizzy, it is not unexpected that a new bride would change her private rooms to suit her preferences and most new husbands would wish her to do so.”

Elizabeth gave a slight smile, “I am not displeased with these rooms at all. I rather think Lady Anne’s tastes and my own are not too dissimilar.”

Lady Catherine humphed again, and Elizabeth looked at her inquiringly.

“My sister and I could never agree on this matter and I dare say you will be as obstinate as she in defending her preferences. Yes, I can see you will! Well, so be it, I shall not further contest the matter. But you must rid yourself of the carpet in the dressing room. It has faded horribly.”

Elizabeth walked back into the room and inspected the carpet again. It clearly had faded though not from use but, as she had just rejected her soon-to-be aunt’s advice on the need to make wholesale changes, she saw no reason to be stubborn on a matter of trifling importance.

“I agree” said she.

A thorough discussion followed and the opinions of Mrs. Gardiner and Lady Catherine sought as to a design appropriate to the room. When it concluded, Mrs. Reynolds was left with an appreciation for the sense and sensibility of the young lady who was to become the next Mistress of Pemberley.

Having dealt with the matter of the Mistress’ chambers, Lady Catherine was disposed to remove to her rooms to rest, for she had risen earlier than was her usual custom. Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner were directed to the drawing room which, upon entering, they found to be inhabited by Miss Bingley only. As that lady was not inclined to lay aside the journal she was reading and, in fact, pointedly ignored the two intruders, Elizabeth and her aunt were more than content to sit and converse quietly as far removed from Miss Bingley as possible. After passing only a few minutes so engaged, a maid entered with a note for Mrs. Gardiner from her husband asking for her company as soon as possible, a request honoured at once by that lady.

Mrs. Gardiner’s departure appeared to spur Miss Bingley into activity, for the former had not been gone more than a few minutes when she rose from her seat and approached Elizabeth. Miss Bingley was angry, frightened, and increasingly desperate; all three conditions could be traced back, directly or indirectly, to the Bennets of Longbourn. She would have had no regrets had she never heard the name or made that family’s acquaintance.

Her brother had clearly been out of sorts the day before. He had scowled whenever he was in her company or Louisa’s and had avoided them as much as possible, frequently removing himself from a room as soon as they entered as though he could not bear to be in their presence. Why he should behave so only became clear the next day when he commanded their presence in the sitting room assigned for their use. He had the audacity to call her behaviour into question when her only concern had been to assure that her brother married appropriately. Was it not the responsibility of any family member to act to ensure that the family station in society was enhanced? Why he could not see that marriage to Jane Bennet would not accomplish such a goal and would indeed tarnish the Bingley name and indisputably damage his sister’s own marriage prospects, was beyond Caroline’s comprehension.

He had placed his own happiness above hers, called her selfish and insincere and then informed her that he intended to return to Netherfield to court Jane Bennet. It could not be tolerated and her anger and words had risen to equal his, until he made a final declaration that had left her speechless. He would not allow his sisters to accompany him to Netherfield, would not welcome them into his home and intended to place Caroline into her own establishment if the Hursts did not take her into theirs. It was the latter that frightened her the most, for Caroline’s entry into the upper levels of society depended upon her brother, or rather upon her brother’s close acquaintance with Darcy. If Charles did not escort her thither, she could not go. Not only would she lose access to that portion of society of greatest importance, she would also not be in Darcy’s company. How was she to secure him if such happened?

Caroline was not sure how her brother had come to be informed of her actions towards Jane Bennet; she could not suppose that Darcy would do so. It was, therefore, to be assumed that he had spoken to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It was this supposition that fuelled her ire as she approached Elizabeth who only became aware of Miss Bingley’s proximity by the peremptory and harsh question addressed to her.

“What is your purpose in coming here today?”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose in amazement at Miss Bingley’s presumption. Her tone indicated a degree of entitlement quite at odds with her status as a guest of the Darcys. Nonetheless, Elizabeth was not inclined to match such incivility.

“I was invited to tour some of the rooms.” It would not, she thought, be in her interest to disclose which rooms and Miss Bingley was hardly one with whom she would share any confidences.

Miss Bingley sniffed and Elizabeth barely managed to suppress a bubble of laughter at the thought that Miss Bingley ought to request instruction from Lady Catherine as to the proper method of expressing disdain by a sniff. Elizabeth returned her attention to the book she had taken up upon her aunt’s removal. Miss Bingley, however, was far from inclined to cease the expression of her displeasure at Elizabeth’s presence. She had had every hope that during this visit Darcy might be convinced to offer for her. Her attentions to him had been assiduous, but he seemed unaware of them and had given no sign that her company was preferred above all others. Caroline was not so blind as to be oblivious to the fact that another had claimed those attentions which properly belonged to herself. It had been the greatest of shocks to learn that he had encountered Elizabeth Bennet while she was touring his estate and an even greater shock to observe his pointed interest in her. She had thought his attraction to that lady had expired, and to see it reignited so thoroughly was disturbing in the extreme. She could see her hopes and aspirations crashing around her and desperation made her unwise. Hoping to quell any expectations that Elizabeth might harbour, she chose to adopt a proprietary air.

“I am sure,” Caroline finally replied, “that you cannot have seen a finer house during your travels. I quite believe Pemberley to be the finest estate in the country although,” as she cast her eyes around the room, “it suffers from the lack of a woman’s hand.”

“Oh?”

“Indeed. It is quite outdated in its furnishings. The next Mrs. Darcy. . .” and here she straightened her shoulders slightly as if to settle the burden of such a responsibility, “the next Mrs. Darcy will undoubtedly wish to remodel the rooms extensively.”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose once more and she surveyed the room. Her initial impression was, she knew, unaltered. The room was in need of no change. She smiled slightly.

“Indeed?” She replied.

Miss Bingley required no further encouragement and spent the next few minutes explaining eloquently and in detail the changes she deemed desirable, as though by the expression of such she could render the probability of it occurring more likely. When she finally paused for breath, Elizabeth contented herself with saying, “I am sure that Lady Catherine would agree with you.”

Miss Bingley looked at her disdainfully. “And how, might I ask, would you comprehend her Ladyship’s preferences on the matter?”

“Lady Catherine’s house, Rosings Park, is furnished much as you have described.”

Miss Bingley gaped at Elizabeth. “You have visited her ladyship?”

Elizabeth bent her head slightly in acknowledgement.

“And how could that be? You do not move in her circles.”

Elizabeth bristled at such blatant rudeness. “I do not claim to do so; however, last Easter I visited my cousin, Mr. Collins, who married my good friend Charlotte Lucas. Mr. Collins, though you are probably unaware of the fact, holds the living of the Hunsford parish from Lady Catherine. We were, on numerous occasions, invited to Rosings Park.”

“Mr. Collins?” murmured Miss Bingley, attempting to recollect the gentleman. “Was he not the rather. . .interesting dancer?”

Elizabeth smirked, “An exhibition better to observe than endure.”

“I thought you were to marry him. It would have been a most suitable arrangement for you and certainly appropriate in terms of your relative stations in life.” Elizabeth could not miss the buried sneer in Miss Bingley’s voice.

“Perhaps, but as I was of a different opinion, Mr. Collins directed his attentions to my friend.”

“And your mother accepted this? She was most outspoken on the matter at the ball. I can easily remember her praises of Mr. Collins. Such a sensible man, I recollect her saying.” Miss Bingley made no pretence of masking her sneer as she spoke. “I understood that she had great expectations of your marriage to him.”

“It is the fortunate circumstance then that it is my father’s prerogative to have the final word in such instances.”

Elizabeth, tiring of this pointless conversation, returned her attention once more to her reading and pointedly attempted to ignore Miss Bingley. If she hoped that Miss Bingley had exhausted her ire, she was disappointed. The latter could not allow Elizabeth to have the last word.

“You shall not succeed! He will not offer for you and you would be well advised to give up this fruitless pursuit of Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth just smiled and continued to read. Shortly thereafter Miss Bingley, having failed in her attempt to discourage Elizabeth and seeing the object of her ire resolute in her attention to her reading, left the room to seek her sister’s company. Elizabeth could only sigh in relief and was about to go in search of the Gardiners when Georgiana entered the room.

“Ah, I am glad to have found you. I am surprised that you have not ventured out to walk the pathways on such a day as this.”

Elizabeth smiled, “I had hoped to do so with your brother but am to be disappointed as he has been called away.”

Georgiana, who had been taken into their confidence regarding his engagement, was quick to offer first her apologies for her brother’s absence – a tenant’s home had suffered some damage from a small fire – and then her services as a replacement.

“I would,” she added quietly, “much appreciate the opportunity to know my new sister better.”

Such an earnest request could hardly have been denied, and since Elizabeth was equally of a mind to become better acquainted with Georgiana, they soon found themselves walking comfortably down one of the paths which entered a beautiful walk by the side of the water. Every step brought forward a nobler fall of ground, or a finer reach of the woods to which they were approaching; but it was some time before Elizabeth was sensible of any of it for Miss Darcy could not, with the benefit of privacy, restrain herself in expressing her pleasure at gaining a sister. It was some time before Elizabeth realized that they were following the path where she had first encountered Darcy at Pemberley. Though she still managed to respond appropriately to her companion, her thoughts were fixed on wishing that Mr. Darcy was was there with them.

At length, however, the remarks of Miss Darcy roused her, and she felt the necessity of appearing more like herself and directed her thoughts to her present companion and not the missing one. They entered the woods, and bidding adieu to the river for a while, ascended some of the higher ground; where, in spots where the opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, were many charming views of the valley, the opposite hills, and occasionally part of the stream. After some time, while descending among hanging woods, they came to the edge of the water at one of its narrowest parts. They crossed it by a simple bridge which suited the general character of the scene. It was a spot less adorned than any they had yet visited; and the valley contracted here into a glen that allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walkway amidst rough coppice-wood which bordered it. Elizabeth remembered wishing to explore its windings; but knowing that Pemberley would soon be her home, resolved to defer that pleasure until it could be undertaken with her husband. The thought of Mr. Darcy as her husband again made her eager for his company and so, when they had crossed the bridge and Miss Darcy perceived their distance from the house and indicated a desire to return, Elizabeth readily agreed. They bent their steps in that direction, making their way towards the house on the opposite side of the river.

The two young ladies returned through the formal gardens that backed onto the house and there encountered Mrs. Gardiner enjoying a leisurely tour under the direction of an under-gardener. As this activity captured the interest of the younger ladies, Mrs. Gardiner was quick to welcome their company, and for the following half hour they strolled slowly, allowing their guide the enjoyment of the full exercise of his knowledge. Eventually the warmth of the day persuaded Mrs. Gardiner to retreat to a shaded area, and her companions required little encouragement to join her.

Miss Darcy arranged for refreshments and they were enjoying their cool drinks when their company was expanded by the arrival of the gentlemen returning from fishing. Elizabeth was unhappy but not surprised that Mr. Darcy was not of their number, although she had hoped that his task might have been completed by now. Miss Darcy, sensitive perhaps to her mood, murmured. “My brother is not likely to return much before dinner. The farm he had to visit is some seven miles from Pemberley.”

Elizabeth smiled, a trifle wanly, and spoke equally softly. “I understand completely. The estate’s demands must have first importance.”

Elizabeth resolved, not for the first time that day, to put aside her thoughts of Darcy and concentrate her attentions on her companions. Mr. Hurst did not remain with them long, leaving after only a few minutes to refresh himself. Elizabeth, from her previous experience with the gentleman, rather suspected him to retire to the most comfortable sopha available. Mr. Bingley remained with them for slightly longer but appeared to be labouring under some heavy concern for his conversation lacked its usual cheerfulness and he lapsed into contemplative silence on more than one occasion. After one such period of abstraction he made his excuses and wandered into the house leaving Elizabeth to wonder as to the cause of such behaviour from a gentleman whose disposition tended more toward garrulousness than otherwise. Yet, to inquire was impossible. She could only suppose that he remained discomposed as a result of the fierce argument she had inadvertently overheard earlier that day; certainly, Miss Bingley had been unusually rude and condescending in their brief encounter. It was all too much to make sense of at present, she decided, and returned her attention to her current companions. The concerns of the Bingley family would undoubtedly make themselves known soon enough.

~~~~~~

Elizabeth now viewed that evening’s dinner with mixed emotions. As she had not had the pleasure of Darcy’s company all afternoon, to be able to sit at his right hand and converse for the duration of the meal she anticipated with pleasure; however, the announcement of her engagement to that gentleman might, given the presence of Mr. Bingley’s sisters, prove uncomfortable. That Miss Bingley would be disappointed she understood; how that disappointment would be expressed was uncertain. Although Elizabeth knew the lady to be quite aware of proper behaviour, she had experienced enough of her disrespect to wonder at what might ensue. She could remember very clearly Miss Bingley’s conduct in her mother’s company; her disdain for Mrs. Bennet had been poorly concealed. Among such a party as surrounded the table tonight, similar behaviour would not pass unnoticed or ignored. Unfortunately, the situation was beyond her control and in the hands of Lady Catherine, who was determined to announce the engagement – despite the protests of her nephew and Mr. Gardiner – and make the announcement, she certainly would.

Elizabeth rather doubted that Lady Catherine, who had decided that the formality of rank should be observed when people were led into the dining room, was aware of the impact it would have on one person in particular. Mr. Hurst’s arms were thus encumbered with Lady Catherine and his wife as he led the procession, while Mr. Darcy followed with Elizabeth and his sister. Mr. Bingley had the honour of escorting Mrs. Gardiner while Mr. Gardiner did the honours for Miss Bingley and Mrs. Annesley. As Elizabeth was being seated to Darcy’s right, she happened to observe Miss Bingley’s countenance and wondered if anyone could look more affronted. To be so slighted – even unintentionally – was clearly hard for that lady to bear. Miss Bingley was herself so impressed by her fortune and education at a distinguished seminary as to quite forget her roots in trade, but to be required to allow the wife of a man engaged in trade to take precedence over her, was beyond her comprehension. If she had questioned her Ladyship on the matter, she would have been given to understand that while Mrs. Gardiner was indeed the wife of a tradesman, she was also the daughter of a gentleman which, in Lady Catherine’s opinion, gave her precedence over Miss Bingley. It was, perhaps, not the more common understanding, and Elizabeth could only suppose that her Ladyship’s age and dislike of Miss Bingley’s presumptuousness formed the basis of it.

Fortunately, Elizabeth could see that her uncle was more amused than otherwise by Miss Bingley’s manner; he took no offence at the barely perceptible pressure of her hand on his arm (as though she might be contaminated by such proximity) and seated her with perfect equanimity. Elizabeth could only hope that his genial nature would not be overly taxed during the meal for she doubted that Miss Bingley would deign to converse with him any more than was absolutely necessary and then only with condescending civility. It was, she thought, fortuitous that he had more amiable company near enough to support discourse. She rather suspected that Miss Bingley would be largely silent for the course of the meal, as her other dinner partner was Mr. Hurst, whose conversational skills had ever proved wanting.

Of Lady Catherine’s ability to sustain a conversation there had never been any question and she was as ready as ever to assume the burden of discourse. It was difficult for Elizabeth to speak with Darcy or Georgiana without attracting an intervention by either Lady Catherine or Miss Bingley. While the former’s interruptions were annoying, they did not occur with the purpose of disruption and prevention. However, Miss Bingley, ill-placed as she was at the table, nevertheless desired to inhibit any meaningful intercourse between the Darcys and Elizabeth. As frustrating as it was, they did listen politely to Miss Bingley’s frequent interjections and provided brief, courteous responses before returning to their own discussion.

Elizabeth paid only cursory attention to the other conversations around the table, although she could not help but smile at the increasingly glazed expressions on the countenances of Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley as they endured Lady Catherine’s harangues. By the time the last course of the meal was being cleared from the table, she was sure both wished to be anywhere else.

As for herself, she had sat in anticipation of Lady Catherine announcing her engagement, but had not been apprised of when that would take place. The pleasure she felt at the public acknowledgement was accompanied by a fear that it would be met with an expression of such disapprobation and anger by Mr. Bingley’s sisters as to detract from that pleasure. As the meal progressed and Miss Bingley’s incivility increased, her concerns multiplied until she reached the point of finally dreading the announcement’s taking place. Lady Catherine, however, had no intention of being swayed from her course and, as the last plate was being carried out of the room, rose from her seat. Mrs. Hurst, expecting that the ladies were to withdraw, also began to rise; however, Lady Catherine’s words made her plop most inelegantly back into her chair.

“I have an announcement!” declared her Ladyship, “But first, recharge your glasses.”

Once this was done to her satisfaction – accompanied by the brief (for Lady Catherine) instruction on the proper method of doing so – she continued.

“I have the singular honour, as his next closest relative, of announcing the engagement of my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

She raised her glass, swept it in the direction of the happy couple and took a sip. Everyone but Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst did likewise. It was, as Elizabeth feared, too much to expect that Miss Bingley could control her reaction to such unsettling news which overset all of her aspirations.

“NO!” She cried, “It cannot be!” She glared at Elizabeth and turned what could only be termed an imploring gaze at Darcy. “Surely. . .”

An interruption came from a most unforeseen source.

“ENOUGH!”

Elizabeth had never thought to hear Mr. Bingley speak so authoritatively.

“You will cease these. . .these objections, Caroline, and you will cease them immediately. Be silent!” Mr. Bingley had risen as he spoke and leaned towards his sister, impaling her with his glare. Miss Bingley returned his glare but subsided into her chair and clamped her lips so tightly as to make them the thinnest of white slashes across her face.

Bingley turned to Darcy and Elizabeth. “Allow me to offer my sincere congratulations to you both and an apology for my sister’s unseemly behaviour. I shall be returning to Netherfield to take up residence shortly. I would hope, Darcy, to have you accompany me.”

“I have decided to travel with Elizabeth and the Gardiners to Longbourn. Georgiana will follow when your visit is complete.”

Lady Catherine, who viewed Miss Bingley’s display with considerable displeasure, finally chose to have her share of the discussion.

“I am most seriously displeased at such a blatant display of ill-breeding.” she stated, glaring at Miss Bingley so forcefully as to leave no doubt as to whom she referred although, after a few moments, she turned her glare upon Mrs. Hurst. “I cannot suppose, Mr. Bingley, that you would wish to inconvenience my niece by the continued presence of those who have so clearly insulted the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families. Mr. Hurst, I suggest you take your wife in hand; this is not fitting behaviour for one who presumes to the rank of a gentlewoman.”

Mr. Hurst nodded numbly, clearly adrift and becalmed in foreign waters.

Mr. Bingley nodded in compliance. “You may be assured that we will not hinder the plans of our hosts. My sisters and Mr. Hurst will depart on the same day as the Gardiners. They may go to London or to the north. Which is it to be, Hurst?”

Hurst grunted, “North.”

“So be it. Darcy and I shall remove then to Netherfield. Miss Darcy may thus accompany us.”

Lady Catherine was, however, not finished. “My niece and Miss Bennet will travel with me and I shall come to Netherfield. You will require a hostess, shall you not, Mr. Bingley?”

Bingley was obviously nonplussed at Lady Catherine’s declaration but could see no way to refuse. He nodded and voiced his acquiescence weakly.

Darcy and Elizabeth sat bemused by the speed with which matters had been settled, and Darcy finally recovered his composure sufficiently to inquire of his aunt, “You do not plan to return to Rosings Park then, Aunt?”

“Of course not! I have much to do in Hertfordshire. And. . .well, more of that later.”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose. She wondered at what was comprised of “more” in Lady Catherine’s mind. If she travelled with her Ladyship, she rather thought the information would be vouchsafed to her and suspected that she might not be altogether pleased with what she learned. Another matter was a more pressing concern, however, and she was not about to be gainsaid on it.

“I travel at the invitation of my aunt and uncle. It would, I am convinced, be not only rude but improper to not return in their company.”

Lady Catherine was not well pleased at being so disobliged but not all her remonstrance - not even the disclaimers weakly tendered by the Gardiners - could dissuade Elizabeth from her resolve. Darcy refused to join in support of his aunt, allowing that the matter was one that properly lay in Elizabeth’s province to decide. After no small amount of argument, Lady Catherine was required to accept Elizabeth’s decision and was later heard to grumble, “That girl is as stubborn as any Darcy.” Which, when relayed to Darcy, accorded him no small degree of satisfaction.
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Lady Catherine Disposes - Part V

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Re: Lady Catherine Disposes - Part V

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