Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chapter XI

Chapter XI

That the party setting forth from Longbourne should experience any degree of discomfiture, Mrs. Bennet and her daughter were determined to ignore. To Aunt Philips such an idea did not occur, for her character was comprised of such equal parts of ignorance and good humor that she was never in the least conscious of what might, in others, produce mortification. This lady carried on a rambling conversation with no one in particular as, within the first miles, she began to unpack and disgorge the contents of her hamper. 

Such a sumptuous array of roasted chicken, rabbit pies, cheeses and tarts did much to assuage whatever insults to his dignity Mr. Collins had suffered at the outset. He was by nature a solid trencherman whose appetite was rarely satisfied. However much he must esteem Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her table and consequently his own (by means of her constant intervention) tended toward the abstemious. Therefore, by the time Mrs. Philips produced the first of several bottles of claret as a means of aiding digestion, he betook himself of her generosity with growing amiability.

Kitty and Maria, seated on either side of Mr. Collins had no opportunity to share their impressions but could only, when the gentleman happened to lean forward to betake himself of  "just one more morsel," exchange a glance or two. At last, Mrs. Philips addressed them with an apology, for she had quite forgot to bring either a jug of tea or bottle of ratafia for the younger members of the party, and, she went on, "I am sure your mama and Mr. Collins will agree that you are far too young to be drinking claret."

With this pronouncement, Mr. Collins agreed at length. "Does not the Bible in numerous places adjure us to beware the fruits of the vine?" Refilling his cup, he went on, "Indeed, Proverbs is most clear:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
 Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
 Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things."

Until these words had been spoken, neither of the girls had given any thought to thirst, but now they were forbid to share in the libation, it seemed very sad thing and the road became exceptionally long. Further, Kitty found her aunt's conversation trivial without being entertaining. Still more tedious were Mr. Collins lengthy comments on every imaginable subject. How odd her mother could eat and drink with such company, especially with the man whose very name was to be unspoken in her home. This circumstance prompted in Kitty such an unaccustomed period of reflection on human nature that she felt quite in harmony with her sister Mary.

By this time, the elder threesome had embarked on a round robin of increasingly shocking tales of inebriation which bordered on competitive. All the while, the claret bottle (and its successors) circulated among them.

"I knew a man once," Aunt Philips was saying, "who was so often in his cups his fellows called  Belchy for fun. Pleasant enough to begin, but after a bottle or two one wouldn't know him. Not but what he was only at my card parties several times before Mr. Philips forbade him entry, but it goes to show you, doesn't it?"

Mr. Collins nodded. "So the book of Neuterdominty, that is, Deuteronomy  tells us: ... 'wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of the ass...er, asp'."

Kitty, scheming.
Kitty, recognizing the signs of a fit of giggling about to overtake her, was force to bite her handkerchief and stare out the window. Nothing she could see looked familiar, which at least meant that they had left the environs of Longbourne well behind, but she was not at all certain how far they were from London. Her previous visits, accompanied by her sisters, had flown by, but she suspected today's journey would be endless. As the dull countryside passed, she reflected that, if only she might have a bit of claret, time might pass more pleasantly. She and Lydia had more than once tasted their father's bottle and found it quite conducive to jollity. It was with a good deal of pleasure, therefore, when she saw the elder members of the party begin to smile and nod. It would not be long, she thought with a smile, before she would be able to introduce Maria to a taste of the wicked vine.

***

It was no surprise to Mary that her father slept late and that, when he did join her in the dining room, he forbore to break his fast with more than a dry piece of toast and cup of tea. That he would hardly be discussing his own evening, she thought it unlikely that he would ask after her own. Oddly, this came as something of a disappointment. Not that she had ever before considered confiding in her father, but she thought that she had survived her adventures rather well and wished there were someone who might congratulate -- or at least envy-- her.

Her thoughts were thus occupied when Sara entered with a fresh pot of tea and a small bouquet. This latter she handed to Mary, whispering, "There is someone to see you!" Mary felt her color heighten as she read the attached note:


A. Wittington indeed! Of all the effrontery! That he should address her, let alone  in the language of flowers, was beyond anything. Still, an understandable curiosity compelled her to consider what the message might be. Though Mary was well acquainted with the subtleties of the symbolic language, she was sadly incapable of identifying any blooms beyond a daisy or common rose. There were two roses in the bouquet, of that she was sure, but each shade meant something different-- and none of those was anything she could wish, for considering her petitioner's behavior on the previous evening.

"Miss?" Mary found herself addressed by the maid who looked at her speakingly and glanced at the door.

"Er, no. Thank you. Nothing else," she stammered. Should she go to see who had called? If it were Mr. Wittington, she felt sure he would have been denied her presence by one who had been a witness to his impudence. And, if she did not go, surely she would wonder all the way to Eastbourne who it had been. Rising, she excused herself to her father and made her way to the front of the building. There she found herself greeted by Frank Little.

"How kind you are to call, Mr. Little," she exclaimed. "I do not know if I thanked you last night."

Mr. Little bowed over her hand briefly before addressing her. "No need, no need, Miss Bennet! I merely wanted to assure myself that you suffered no lasting anxiety after last night's encounter."

"I am quite well as you can see, and I do thank you most gratefully for your protection."

Mary watched in amazement as he puffed out his chest and bowed again. "Had I not had the pleasure of escorting you back here last night, I would have boxed that coxcomb's ears. I do not come in the way of such high company as yourself so often, as you might guess, but I am prepared to fight for a lady's honor like a veritable Ajax, whoever the rascal may be."

Mary smiled at the warmth of his expression, and at the notion of what Mr.Wittington's response might be to hearing himself referred to in such terms by a mere clerk. "I am thankful it did not come to that, for it would be an insult to your dignity, to be sure, to linger a moment longer in his company."

Mr. Little stood beaming at her now, both wordless and, she suspected, mindless of the time. Unsure of how to extricate herself, she was almost glad to hear her father's step in the hall, despite how much he must be sure to wonder at her speaking with a strange gentleman. When he did encounter them, however, he merely bowed and said, "Come now, Mary. We must be on the road if we are to make Eastbourne by nightfall."

"Of course, Father," she agreed. "Thank you again, Mr. Little."

She followed her father up the stairs, her heart somewhat a-tremble. What she must surely reveal to him during the length of the day's travel would change his opinion of her forever. Perhaps as much as the adventure had changed her own notion of who she was and the possibilities her future might embrace.



Friday, June 8, 2012

Chapter X

Chapter X

In finding the contents of Mary's wardrobe altogether too Gothic, and rejecting after all the bonnet for which she had so impertinently exchanged her own, Kitty now took to an examination the remains of her sisters Jane and Elizabeth's gowns and gloves. These had been "donated to the cause" when those fortunates left the family circle to begin their own households in more exalted realms. Among Jane's largesse, Kitty found a gown and several pairs of silk stockings which were not to be despised; however, as much of Elizabeth's wardrobe had already made an appearance at Rosings, she could not considered any part of it suitable for a new entree at that august estate except for a pair of gloves.

Shopping at a linen draper's.
On noting that one or two additional items might easily fit into her portmanteau, Kitty formed an admirable plan. It seemed a waste to pass through London without visiting its fashionable shopping districts and, while the addition of her mother and aunt to the traveling party had at first prompted a great grinding sensation in the pit of her stomach, she recognized that this pair might assist her in persuading Mr. Collins to grant them an hour or two for such an adventure before arriving at Gracechurch Street.

That the matrons would be accompanying the party as far as London, Kitty had kept to herself, wisely determining to let them bear any recriminations that might arise. Such a revelation was certain to put Maria into a tizzy, and no doubt set Lady Lucas's hackles a-tremble. Mr. Collins' response she did contemplate, for she considered him to be one who could certainly be managed easily enough.

In a rare harmony with his fellows, however, Mr. Collins held an inveterate dislike of females who insisted on carrying what he judged to be the entirety of their households with them on every journey. For Lady Catherine, naturally, he made an exception. On the following morning, therefore, after farewells at Lucas Lodge had been made and the carriage turned into the drive at Longbourne, he was both astonished and disgusted to see a startling number of bags, boxes, baskets, valises and one roped trunk.  Having been determined to alight for a mere moment and say only what was civil, he was now in such a state of high dudgeon that offering an abbreviated greeting to Mrs. Bennet was impossible.

"My dear Mrs. Bennet," he exclaimed when that lady appeared in the doorway. "Whatever can you mean by allowing Kitty to bring such a collection to Rosings? Why Maria has only brought one valise and a small one at that. I do not like to think--"

"You are mistaken, Mr. Collins," she cried, interrupting him with asperity. "Kitty brings only her portmanteau. The rest are my own and I do not see that you have anything to say about that for I am not going to Rosings!"

Abashed at this set-down, Mr. Collins apologies were profuse and prolonged. Not seeing the Bennet carriage, he had made an unforgivable assumption, prayed to be forgiven, but what after all was he to think? Indeed, achieving a proper balance of abasement and self-justification might have taken him several moments longer had not Mrs. Philips arrived just then in a cart with her own bags and a largish hamper. Directing the driver to strap these to the top of the carriage, she made for Mr. Collins with open arms telling him what a joy it was to see him. "Many's the time I have thought of you and the card parties we enjoyed when you were first in the neighborhood," she went on, embracing him warmly. "And your goodness in bring my sister and me to the Gardiners in London cannot be too highly praised, not but what I said I expected no less of you."

Mr. Collins' being momentarily bereft of speech, Kitty made haste to direct the stowing of the remaining baggage and joined Maria in the carriage.

"Whatever is going on?" asked Maria.

Ignoring the rising tones of her elders' conversation outside, Kitty merely explained, "Mama and her sister will be paying a visit to the Gardiners in London since it is on our way. It is a very happy circumstance for them, and I am sure Mr. Collins will be all kindness."

"He looks very red in the face," Maria said doubtfully, peering through the window. "I hope he is not getting too much sun."


"Indeed! That would never do. Mama!" Kitty called from the door. "Maria worries that Mr. Collins is too warm. Had we not best be on the road?"

A moment later, Mr. Collins burst into the compartment urged forward relentlessly by Aunt Philips. "Do sit between the girls," she insisted. "You will not wish to be crushed between my sister and I, and there must be room for the hamper as well, for I have had a nuncheon prepared for us."

As Mr. Collins recalled Mrs. Philips table fondly -- and indeed could think of nothing more to say -- he fell between Kitty and Maria and sunk resignedly back onto the squabs. Although Kitty could not like the seating arrangement, she was happy to see that the ladies had combined their talents to speed them on their way.

"Well, now we are cozy indeed!" Mrs. Philips declared. "And we shall be more so, for I have brought a deck of cards and some several bottles of claret to pass the time."


***
Mary Bennet did not spend a quiet night, for she had much to think about and indeed, the nighttime streets of London were little more quiet than during the day, despite the muffling effects of the rain. In Mr. Wittington she was grievously disappointed, and in herself as well for assuming that his scholarly prowess bespoke virtue. She has always believed in a strong relationship between learning and uprightness in character, and to find that it was not so was extremely disquieting. Strangely, the characteristics she had assumed in one of superior upbringing were clearly more discernible in the more lowly Mr. Little, whom she had learned was no more than a clerk. This position might have raised him in the standing of his circle, but his station was considerably lower than her own. How odd that his actions were so clearly those of a gentleman when another who could more rightly claim that title failed grievously to fulfill expectation.

Her own behavior last night puzzled her as well. That she should have left the inn without her father's permission in the company of strangers to visit a public pleasure garden was above anything. However she might justify herself on the basis of having learned a great deal, there was no real excuse for clandestine behavior. Further, the visit might well have ended disastrously, but for Mr. Little's quick action and laudable instincts.

Mary's ruminations, timed by the calling of the watchman, brought her to two o'clock at which time she heard her father return and make his way to the room beside her somewhat unsteadily. Peeping out into the hallway, she spied him leaning against the door frame trying to hold a candle in one hand while extricating the key to his chamber.

"Are you quite well, Papa?" she called.

A slow smile spread over his features. "Well, well," he whispered loudly. "Yes, am well."

Mary, who was acquainted with her father's range of comportment, recognized in him the symptoms of a night happily spent in good company and libation. While she might condemn Mr. Wittington the younger, she was pleased to see that her father had enjoyed in evening in the city. She took charge of his keys and conducted him into his chamber, saw that his night gear was laid out and bade him find his way to bed quickly for morning would be upon them before they knew it.

In this, Mary was not mistaken. Awakening to the calls of knife grinders, sweeps, egg sellers and sundry rather than the rooster's crow, she arose betimes and prepared her portmanteau for the trip to Eastbourne. A heavy rain had continued to fall throughout the night, and how well maintained the road would be, she could not guess. Sitting across from her father -- who seemed in somewhat lowered spirits -- at breakfast, she learned that they would take the Brighton Road as far as Lewes, and then change to another conveyance which would take them to Eastbourne.

"I am sorry we shall not travel through Brighton, after all, Mary," he said. "I am afraid you are finding this trip a dead bore."

Mary demurred, thinking it a very good thing that her papa was unlikely to learn that thus far her travels had been a good deal more exciting than anyone would ever know.




Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chapter IX


Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter IX

An inferior bonnet
Mary had been on point of abandoning her plans to visit Vauxhall any number of times between their formation and the proposed departure. Torn between duty to  propriety and the urge to make the most of  her time in the capital, she spent some considerable time justifying and then condemning the outing. In the end, it was her sister's effrontery (the discovery that Kitty had iniquitously absconded with Mary's best bonnet and replaced it with an inferior one of own) that decided the thing. Weary of being imposed upon at every turn, the notion that she might for once have her own way without considering the desires of any other person was enormously appealing. When the knock came at her chamber door, she donned her shawl, rejected the offensive bonnet and joined the maid in the hallway.

Following the girl down the stairs to the back of the inn, Mary became conscious of  a nervous sensation midway between pleasure and dyspepsia. Tedious though it might be, the tranquility to which she was accustomed had not been so much disturbed since she had for several brief hours suspected that Mr. Collins might turn his marital interest from Lizzy to herself. That had been more than a year ago, but she remembered the incident keenly--as well as its odd aftermath of relief mixed with disappointment when she learned that he had offered for Charlotte Lucas instead.

It was a merry group assembled within the inn's family quarters, all of an age equal to her own and so obliging, welcoming and, best of all, deferential, very little time passed before she  began to think of the night's adventure with true anticipation rather than an as a mere act of rebellion. The party consisted of the innkeeper's daughter, Sara, who had issued the invitation, her sister Nell along with her promised beau Tom Waters, and Mr. Waters cousin, Frank Little.

Mary wished vainly that Mr. Wittington might have been the one to escort her to the gardens, for she knew he would be able to enlighten the evening with all manner of tidbits, as well as insights to the nature of her fellow creatures. How vexing that he should be engaged! This one, unexpected night must be her only opportunity to broaden her acquaintance without the interference of her importunate younger sisters.  She wished, too, that she might meet the gentleman in a setting less solemn than the Abbey. It was not to be, however. Practical as ever, Mary set aside disappointment for anticipation and set forth into the lamplit streets with something like happiness.

As a matter of course, Mr. Waters took them into the gardens via the servants entrance, which none besides herself seemed to think out of keeping. Assisted by his cousin, he provided the ladies with glasses of lemonade directly from the kitchen and led them out to a remote table and chairs provided specifically for their comfort. Securing a table in one of the pavilions well beyond his touch, but from here, he informed them, they might have as good a view of the stage as any as well as an even better prospect for the illuminations when that time came.

Of this, Mary heard little. Already, Vauxhall had enchanted her. Colored lights hung in the trees and glittered in the fountains, music floated in the air, and a diverse company of patrons strutted about in their finery. Among these she saw not a single familiar face, and that, perhaps, was the greatest treat at all. There was not a soul who cared who she was, what she thought or how she comported herself. Until this moment, she had not been sensible of the degree to which the opinion of others had been the most compelling force in her life.

Free of constraint, unshackled by convention, she might be anyone or do anything. For the first time in her life, she understood temptation. It was simple enough to have lived a blameless life at Longbourne, but in a place such as this? She did not know.

"May I take you for a stroll, Miss Bennet?"

Mr. Little stood before her with a look of inquiry in his sparkling brown eyes. "Sara will come with us, so you may be easy."

Sara, who joined them now, giggled and took Mary by the arm. "Nell and Tom have tremendous little time to be private, you understand. And besides, there is so much you will want to see."

Led forth by this pair, Mary could not help but reflect on how different their views were from her own. Courting couples surely ought not to be allowed to be alone. Where there was an inclination, there might also be a slide!

Soon, however, the surrounding delights transported her thoughts once again to less censorious spheres. She listened to the strolling musicians with great pleasure, regarded with famous statue of Handel with appropriate awe, and gasped at the overhead performances of acrobats and trapeze artists. All the while, citizens high and low (for the cost of admission was a mere four and sixpence) paraded by. Merchants and marquesses, clerks and countesses -- none was precluded from entering. Among those gathered, Mary was soon able to discern a less obvious distinction which she could only characterize as levels of corruption. These were evidenced by degrees of drunkenness, volume of conversation and the sheerness of the ladies' gauze gowns.

She was fascinated not only by the spectacle but by her own lack of disgust. She had always thought herself to be fastidious to a fault, and to be sure, she was when among those who knew her. But the anonymous character she had become this night was merely curious.

"Here is Druid Walk! Shall we try it?" Sara asked.

"I do not think it would be quite the thing for Miss Bennet," her cousin returned sternly.

Mary was intrigued. She had seen more of the world in the previous half hour than in her entire life. She had a thirst to see more. "Pray," she said, "what is Druid Walk? An historical spectacle? I may be country bred, but surely I am equal to that."

"I beg your pardon," Mr. Little said. "Sara ought not to have proposed such a thing. Druid Walk is a place for romantic assignations, and not at all the thing for a young lady."

"Frank! Do not be such a dull pigeon," Sara chastised him. "At least let us sit here by the walk's edge for a moment. I am sure Miss Bennet will enjoy watching the promenade."

To this suggestion, Mr. Little could make no objection and so they settled themselves on a convenient bench from which a pleasant prospect might be viewed. In a whisper, Sara recommended that Mary make good note of those entering and exiting the walk. This she did with her customary attention. Soon she was aware that those who disappeared into the lane precise as a pin re-emerged adjusting their costumes and repairing their disarranged coiffures.

Mary, unused to such an unremitting assault on her sensibilities, did not immediately know whether to be offended or not. As she recalled her earlier reflections, it seemed indeed that immediate indignation did not arise when the persons involved were strangers to her. She recognized that she was glad not to have entered the walk herself, but was quite content to have gained a new understanding of human nature.

When the next party strode uncertainly out of the darkness and into her view, however, she was shocked to see a familiar face and simultaneously felt a sensation of revulsion arise. Augustus Wittington! The gentleman who had seemed such a paragon at the Abbey, a master of propriety and learning, staggered into the clearing where she sat, a disheveled damsel on either arm. As his eyes met hers, the slow dawn of recognition rose in his bleary eyes.

"Miss Bonnet!" he slurred. "Your servant!"

"Bennet! Miss Bennet!" she cried, her indignation rising. "I collect you did not, after all, attend a lecture with friends!"

He glanced at the ladies who were tittering into their fans. "My friends, Rose and Fern. Learned a tremendous lot from their lecture just now."

Then, a silly smile spread over his features, slow as the flow of spilled treacle. Whether from forwardness or insobriety, Mr. Wittington listed forward several steps and reached out a hand, "Care for your own lecture?"

"I think not!" cried Mr. Little, placing himself between Mary and her offensive acquaintance. Forthwith, he hoisted the the offender by his collar and tossed him into a patch of ferns. "Come, Miss Bennet! Sara, now! I think we have seen quite enough!"

At that, Mary allowed herself to be steered towards the main pavilion, beyond the reach of insult and insinuation, the groans of Mr. Wittington fading into the general noise. Well, thought Mary, as a soaking rain began to fall, I believe I have just been rescued--and enlightened!











Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chapter VIII

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter VIII

Mary and her father now continued their tour accompanied by the Wittington gentlemen, the younger maintaining a monologue on the Abbey's history-- ecclesiastical, architectural and political-- as well as such anecdotes as might enlighten the understanding of provincial visitors to the Great City. While Mary began to wish she might have continued the quiet exploration on which she had embarked prior to this encounter, she was at least gratified by the young man's attention.

"My Arthurus," said his father, "is a regular encyclopedia. Set his tutors on their ears when he was a lad, skipped his way through Cambridge and now considers the church as a vocation. His parishioners would have no need to complain of his learning."

"Indeed," replied Mr. Bennet, "nor of being disappointed by too brief a sermon."

Mary, while she might agree with this assessment, was happy to see that neither gentleman seemed aware of her father's irony. However much he might esteem his old school friend, for such Mr. Wittington the elder proved to be, Mary knew that from veiled insults to out and out disdain was but a short step for her parent.
She was much relieved, therefore, when the intervention of the sexton, announcing that services would begin shortly, rescued them from further disquisition on the use of ceremonial incense over the past three centuries.

When the party had made its way out of doors once more, Mary cast a fond glance over her shoulder at the Abbey and prepared to part with these friends. This was not to be. While Mr. Arthurus was committed to attend a lecture with friends, his father evinced a wish to continue his reminiscences with Mr. Bennet.

"Shall you mind very much dining alone, Mary?" her father asked. "I shall ask the innkeeper to send a tray up to you so you need not endure the common room."

Mary did mind very much indeed, for she was not at all content to end her London adventure with a solitary plate of meat. Still, she knew her father's limited circle at home offered few opportunities for conversation, and agreed to this plan without revealing the disappointment she felt. Mary was, after all, a very good girl.

Sitting alone with her tray later on, she began to wonder what Kitty might have done in a similar situation. Certainly she would not have resigned herself to a solitary evening in the capital -- nor would their father have trusted her to do so. Mary was given the opportunity for mischief without fear she would grasp it, while Kitty would never have been allowed the chance to execute the plans her fertile imagination might have engendered. This must indeed have been the true reason her father preferred her company on his journey. She was no trouble. It was as if she were not here at all.

The delights of Vauxhall
The sky was only beginning darken. Mary opened the casement and leaned out to watch the lamplighter embark on his evening's work. In one direction, she could see the windows of Westminster Abbey begin to glow; in another, a cluster of fairy lights flickered among the trees of a vast park. For a moment, she wished she were Kitty. Her sister would discover everything about the diversion to be found in the neighboring environs in short order. Although she had never been on to put herself forward except in the service of displaying her talent at the pianoforte, she gathered her courage when the maid came in to take the tray and said, "Excuse me -- the lights I see from my window. There in the park. What are they?"

The girl came up beside her and peered out. "Why that's Vauxhall Gardens--the most wondrous place in the City if you ask me."

Vauxhall Gardens--she knew a little of them. Her mother had visited the gardens prior to her marriage and remembered the occasion fondly. She also recalled that Dr. Johnson had written favorably of them.

"I don't like to speak out of turn," the girl continued, "but my dad that owns the inn has given me and my sister leave to visit there with friends tonight, if you should care to come along?"

The notion of becoming familiar with young persons far below her own station was hardly to be thought of, but still, Mary's heart fluttered. Who, after all, was to know?

"What does one do there?" she asked with only a little hesitation.

"Oh! There's no end to it! There's music and masques and other jugglers by the score, but best of all I like the illuminations. I daresay you might see some of the show from your window, but there's nothing like it when those fiery stars burst above your very head! And what is more, Tom Waters --who my sister is promised to-- is apprenticed there and has passes for who-ever's to come with us tonight, so there's no expense since you've had your dinner after all."

Whatever inner debates and conflicts of the soul Mary endured need not be described here; these were argued away with little trouble. She knew herself to be responsible, her father had in no way commanded her to stay where she was, and, after all, what mischief could come to her in a garden?

***

While neither Lady Lucas nor Mrs. Bennet could quite approve the plan for Kitty to accompany Maria to Rosings, each recognized benefits which could only be described as both maternal and vengeful. Indeed, the score that had yet to be settled between the pair had at last found its arena, as each lady imagined how her own daughter might best the other.

That Mr. Collins was in favor of the plan began the smoothing of the way for Lady Lucas. Shy Maria was not at all likely to show her best face in company, but Kitty's presence might lend her some courage to speak up and make herself pleasant. At the same time, Kitty's forwardness would very likely reveal her as the hoyden she was and provide a very happy contrast to Maria's general submissiveness. Her only real worry was that Maria's wardrobe might not be equal to Kitty's. This she deficiency began to address at once, and was soon trimming up Maria's bonnets with fresh ribbon.

Mrs. Bennet was more difficult to win over for she could not immediately perceive how sending Kitty to Lady Catherine might benefit her situation. Further, she did not like to be alone and the very thought of spending an evening unattended threatened to erupt in a flurry of spasms.

"But Mama," Kitty exclaimed, "why do you not ask my aunt Phillips to come to you. It would be a great treat for her and the two of you may be cozy until father returns with Lydia."

"Aunt Phillips," she said repressively, "does not stir from her front window -- else she might miss out on the doings in the street. But indeed, I do not understand you, Kitty! Why should you wish to oblige the Lucases? They are no friends of ours, let me tell you, no matter how much you may dote on Maria!"

"I do not dote on Maria!" was Kitty's pettish response. "It is rather the reverse. Besides, one must have a companion of one sort or another to go about with. Who else is there to bear me company in the neighborhood? And further, I am anything but obliging. Lady Lucas would describe me as conniving rather than obliging!"

"Of all the stomach! Well, then, I shall certainly not give you leave. I will not have it said  that my daughter is pushing her way where she is not wanted. What is it she believes you are about?"

Kitty smiled. This would be her coup de grace. "Why I am sure she believes I will try to cut Maria out with her suitor..."

At this, Mrs. Bennet sat up very straight and cast aside her salts and handkerchief. "Maria Lucas has a suitor? Why do I not know of this?"

Kitty then described the morning's events with a great deal of ornamentation, leaving out only her own contributions to Maria's perfidy, and ending with Mr. Collins announcement that Maria should be housed at the great estate of Rosings. As these great revelations unfolded, Mrs. Bennet exclamations and changes in countenance revealed quite clearly the workings of her unremarkable brain. When she began to look thoughtful, then to abandon her salts and walk about the room, Kitty knew that her mother to be more than half-way convinced.

"What an opportunity for you, Kitty," she said at last. "A stay at Rosings would give you just the sort of polish and dash you have been lacking, as well as widening your circle. And if Charlotte thinks this tenant marriageable for her sister, there is no doubt he will do for you if you can catch him."

Kitty was by no means anxious to attach herself to one of Lady Catherine's tenants and spend the rest of her life in the country. Indeed, her secret hope was for Jane or Elizabeth to sponsor her for a season in London to see the great sights, dance until dawn and suffer the delights of dozen impossible loves before she was finally settled.  Her aim in accompanying Maria was merely to put a period to the boredom she suffered in Hertfordshire. She knew her mother well enough,  however, to understand that she must appear to be similarly devoted to ending her own maiden state as soon as could be. With this end in mind, she encouraged her mother's various plots and stratagems until she was convinced her adventure was securely settled. In this she was mistaken.

 "What a good thing it would be were it only possible," Mrs. Bennet sighed, "for I should dearly love to see you cut Maria out. Lady Lucas would be well-served for playing off her tricks in encouraging Charlotte to take Mr. Collins!"

"But why-ever should it not be possible, Mama?"

Mrs. Bennet turned on her with surprise. "Your father is not here to give his permission, of course! He would in no way approve your jauntering off across the country with Maria Lucas. 'Tis diverting to think of, but it will not do."

Deprived of the ability to produce coherent speech in response to her mother's conclusion, Kitty released a sigh which sounded very much like a tea kettle about to boil. To what ends her frustration may have led her remained unknown, for at that moment the arrival of her aunt Phillips was announced, and in that lady, Kitty recognized an ally.

"Well, Sister," said Mrs. Phillips, when all had been disclosed to her, "I see no problem here. Your husband has clearly left all to your charge. If he'd no confidence in your judgment he surely would not have gone away."

Mrs. Bennet allowed that this was so. 

"Do you know," said the other lady, "I believe I might have a good idea. Why do not you and I accompany Kitty and her party as far as the Gardiner's in London? Surely Lady Catherine's carriage is commodious enough for us all. Then Mr. Bennet may find us there easily when he passes through London again and we may travel back with him."

Mrs. Bennet, who had been longing for to visit several of her favorite shops in the City, was not long in approving her sister-in-law's plan and congratulated her on seeing how all might be accomplished with so little trouble. With that, Mrs. Phillips made her farewells and left to pack a bandbox, and Kitty took herself upstairs to ravage her sister's wardrobe.





Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chapter VII


Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter VII

If the exterior of Westminster Abbey had raised in Mary an awareness of the insignificance of one mortal being, stepping inside that great structure demonstrated that the hand of man might create a semblance of the divine. Had she been able to compose these thoughts into a suitable epigram, she would have thought herself a very happy young lady indeed. In the event, however, she was capable only of emitting a great sigh.

On entering, Mr. Bennet purchased a map of the Abbey and under its guidance they made their way through the dark structure. Taking in the monuments and memorials to past sovereigns, saints and sundry, Mary could not help but feel she was treading on the realm's history, as many grave stones were set in the floor itself. She bit back the urge to excuse herself as she stepped upon the memorials, but she was very much alive to the notion that the dead could hardly approve the daily footfalls of the living over their final resting places.

When her father stopped to ask several questions of an architectural nature, Mary continued to Lady Chapel on her own where the memorial to Elizabeth I stood in imposing splendor. Leaning in to examine the face of the monarch's effigy, she could not but feel that Good Queen Bess looked just the least bit menacing. And to think, her memorial had been erected over the grave of her sister, Mary I. That was just the sort of thing a younger sister might be expected to do. Not but what Elizabeth had been in any position to make such a decision herself, being dead after all, but it seemed like such a Lydia-ish thing to do she felt quite put out on Mary Tudor's behalf.

Inscribed with Latin epitaphs, the base of the monument prompted some consternation. Although Mary had studied Italian, she could not decipher their meanings with any surety. As she reached into her reticule to find her notebook, a voice from behind her intoned:

    Regno consortes & urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis

"A poignant sentiment, do you not think?" a gentleman's voice inquired.

 Mary turned to find herself joined by a young man of scholarly appearance, perusing the epitaph through a very elegant pince nez. He was tall, sufficiently pale to suggest an existence dedicated to study, and thin-lipped, which feature was now curved into a slight smile.

"I am afraid I do not read Latin," Mary confessed a little self-consciously. "I was searching for Italian cognates."

"I am afraid that only regno traverses the bridge of language exactly. The rest are oblique. May I translate for you?"

Mary, already half in love, suddenly could not find the voice to articulate a simple Yes, if you please but rather nodded her approval.

Needing no further encouragement, the gentleman did not hesitate:

    Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.

"I translate the meaning of  regno consortes roughly," he continued apologetically. "The original plays on the various nuances of consortes, which might mean  sibling, partner or sharer in common."

"Poignant indeed," Mary managed after a moment. "I find it quite moving." While neither monarch could in truth be described as entirely amiable--there were all those executions, after all--here they rested peacefully despite their rivalry. Thus confronted with this historical exemplar, she was force to admit to herself a slight sense of guilt for the unloving thoughts held toward Lydia a moment earlier. How extraordinary that a shift in heart might arise out of classical explication!

"Shall I continue?"

"Oh! Please do, sir, if you do not mind." The unknown, quite prepared to illuminate further, led Mary around the monument, revealing the many memorable accomplishments of Elizabeth's reign and the honor done by James VI in erecting such a testament to his predecessor. With these--the rout of the Spanish Armada, difficulties with France, sponsorship of universities--Mary was well acquainted. Nevertheless, she nodded and exclaimed suitably as she took an inventory of his person, from his elevated forehead to his well-polished boots.

Thus occupied, she did not mark the approach of Mr. Bennet, accompanied by another gentleman of similar age. As she and her acquaintance exclaimed on the simultaneous appearance of their fathers, all relationships were revealed, introductions made and Mary was able to drop a curtsey and discover at last the name of her preceptor: Mr. Arthurus Wittington. She liked the sound of it very well indeed.

***

"They have come for me!" Maria gasped as the De Bourgh carriage pulled up the front of Lucas Lodge. "I am done for!"

"Dramatics will serve no purpose," Kitty declared severely. "Come, let us meet them at the door that we may know all at first hand."  Having made this pronouncement, she summarily took Maria by the elbow and attempted to steer her towards the front door. Maria, however, resisted this effort stoutly, averring she had much rather seek the security of Longbourne than face the dragon in its lair.

To this heartfelt entreaty, Kitty merely responded, "Pooh!" Her only fear in confronting her ladyship, if that indeed were the occupant of the carriage, was extreme tedium, for she had long since christened that personage "Lady Catherine de Bore" and thought it a very good joke indeed. "Knowing what is in store is certainly better than creating bogeymen out of mere fantasy! Do find some pluck, Maria. I shall be at your side, after all."

Maria, by nature unfitted to resist, allowed Kitty to pull her forward and a few moments later was greeted not by the sight of Lady Catherine, but rather her brother Collins exiting the carriage. While no more welcome than his patroness, at least Maria did not  fear the clergyman, and stepped forward to greet him with enthusiasm borne of relief.

Mr. Collins, looking somewhat travel worn and pale, tottered forward as if still feeling the sway of the carriage and did not immediately speak. When at last he vouchsafed a reply, he begged their pardon, planted a salute on Maria's cheek and shook hands with his cousin, then asked to be shown to the presence of Sir William and Lady Lucas. These personages, alerted by a watchful footman, attained the door at the same moment and welcomed him to the Lodge.

Hats from Ackermann's
Despite her eagerness to hear learn whatever messages her son-in-law might bear, Lady Lucas allowed Mr. Collins to be shown to a chamber to refresh himself after a journey which by all rights must have commenced at dawn, and informed him that a nuncheon would be served in half an hour's time. While Maria twisted the ends of her kerchief, Kitty was happy to peruse the pages of Ackermann's, the young ladies adequately filled their time until the company regathered.

When at last the meal had been eaten and the servants dismissed, Lady Lucas was at last free to interrogate Mr. Collins. Before she did so, however, she addressed Kitty. "Surely, my dear," said she, "had you not better return to Longbourne? I am certain your mother will have been wanting you this past hour."

"I am sure she has not," Kitty said. "Mama always rests in the afternoon."

"Do let her stay, Mama," Maria begged. "Mr. Collins is Kitty's cousin, after all."

Lady Lucas frowned and tried to catch her husband's eye, but was forced to relent, hoping Kitty would be well served for her imposition when she heard of Maria's upcoming nuptials.

"Well, Collins," Sir William began. "We have just received interesting news from Charlotte. Is that the purpose of your visit?"

"To be sure," replied he, "but my wife's missive was posted before we learned of what I shall call our great news:

And GOD said, let the waters bring forth abundantly,.... The waters gathered together in one place, the waters of the ocean, and those in rivers, pools and lakes, and which, before their collection into those places, had been sat on, moved, and impregnated by the Spirit of GOD!

"And so," he concluded with eyes solemnly raised upwards, "we have been most truly blessed."

With the exception of the visitor, there was not one at the table who did not feel a blush at this vivid quotation from Genesis, although their other reactions were somewhat varied. At last, Lady Lucas managed to inquire, "Are you telling us, Mr. Collins, that Charlotte is with child?"

 When that gentleman exclaimed in tones of revulsion, "Good God, no!" Sir William and his lady could not but exchange a glance of confusion. "Whatever can you be thinking? I mean only to tell you that my esteemed patroness has given permission to install a duck pond on the property."

"A duck pond?" Lady Lucas echoed in hollow tones. "Yes, of course. Why did I not think of that immediately? Clearly I must not be over-anxious in looking forward to grandchildren."

"Indeed,"  Mr. Collins went on, "Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose condescension in advising me in such matters cannot be sufficiently praised, has seen fit to pronounce severe warnings on the pitfalls which so often attend a too-early pursuit of fecundity."

Sir William knit his brows for a moment before asking. "D'ye mean she tells when you are to set up your nursery?"

"In that, as in all other matters, Lady Catherine is my most dedicated instructress."

Although clearly as devoted to the great lady as his son-in-law, Sir William was held speechless for some moments until at least he found his tongue and murmured that such attention was no doubt to Mr. Collin's very good fortune. Kitty rather thought her own father would condemn such an interference as "damned impudent," especially since his habitual epithet for Lady Catherine was "that grand old trout." She relished the notion of sharing this tidbit with him when the occasion arose, but knew it was probably not at all the sort of thing that was likely to come up in conversation.

When a thorough description of the proposed duck pond and its myriad benefits had been delivered and commented upon, the conversation at last turned to the subject most dear to all present. Kitty whispered to Maria, whose powers of dissembling she did not in the least esteem, "Try to look surprised!"

 "As you know by now," Mr. Collins began, "Lady Catherine has once more deigned to turn her attention and great good will to the benefit of my wife's family by instigating the pursuit of an eligible parti for our dear sister, Maria."

Maria responded with an appropriate gasp, although Kitty was obliged to pinch her first. Mr. Collins, much gratified by this response, congratulated Maria's parents for their foresight in keeping Maria in ignorance. "For," said he, "we should not wish to see her head turned by imaginings of what may be in store, for Lady Catherine wishes to learn more of Maria before she risks promoting her chances. It is of the utmost importance that Maria act with decorum and demonstrates a willing manner. Lady Catherine is adamant on this point, for with the exception of our dear Charlotte, her experience with the natives of Hertfordshire--" and here he glanced speakingly at Kitty --"has not left her with any great opinion of the county. Oft has she lamented the tendency of certain ladies to set their sights too high and marry above their station."

There could be no doubt that he was speaking of Elizabeth, and Kitty felt herself bristle at this untoward attack. She only wished she might be able to marry a duke and set her toady cousin and Lady Catherine on their ears. There was little scope for such an ambition in her home county or at any of the diversions within her small circle, but -- oh!-- would that things were different! How she would love to wear a coronet!

As Mr. Collins continued, he remained vague about the details of Maria's would-be suitor, which could only mean he was unacquainted with them, his tendency to reveal all that he knew being a major contribution to his role as universal bore. All that he revealed of a substantive nature was the Maria was to travel with him to Rosings on the morrow to spend some weeks to allow for a re-acquaintance with Lady Catherine.

"And there is a special treat in store for you as well," he continued, "for you will be staying at Rosings itself, rather than with Charlotte and I at Hunsford."

At this, Maria did indeed cry out, for the very notion of being on her own in that grand place quite undid her.

"But what of her clothes," Lady Lucas cried. "I can in no way send her to Rosings with the wardrobe that serves her here in Hertfordshire. We must be allowed time to make preparations."

"Do not trouble yourself, Lady Lucas. I assure you that  Lady Catherine will better esteem Maria if she shows herself to be humble. What is more, Mrs. Jenkinson, companion to Miss DeBourgh, has been called away to her family. I am certain Maria will be able to make herself useful in that lady's absence, and that will call for no particular elegance. What do you say?"

Maria, who now looked as if she might become quite ill,  could only open and close her mouth several time before whispering in a strained voice, "Pray, do you think Kitty might come with me?"

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chapter VI

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter VI

That Lady Lucas' powers of perception did not penetrate her daughter's ruse was unsurprising. Casting some few aspersions on her husband and his marauding hounds, she merely went about reading Charlotte's missive, her countenance revealing no response to its contents.

"What news from Hunsford?"  Kitty asked when she could bear the silence no more.

Lady Lucas glanced up with a slight smile. "Well, Kitty. Very well indeed! Maria, pray find your father for me. I have something particular to speak with him about."

"But, Mama," Maria began in a tremulous manner, "are you not going to tell us what Charlotte writes?"

"In time, my dear. Now go and fetch your father like a good girl."

Having no other recourse than to follow her mother's command, Maria grasped Kitty's hand and pulled her from the room along with her. 

"Oh, Kitty! What am I to do?" cried she. "Mama seemed pleased as she read! Will she send me off to be a farmer's wife? Shall I have chickens in my drawing room?"

Kitty, finding momentary wisdom, did not share her opinion that a farmer's wife was unlikely to have a drawing room at all. Indeed, chickens would be the least of Maria's difficulties if such a fate was in store for her. "To be sure, I cannot guess, Maria. But only think a moment -- do you think Mr. Collins' dignity would bear a farmer for a brother when Mr. Darcy is now wed to his cousin?"

"I had not thought of that," Maria admitted. "But no, you do not know what a toady he is to Lady Catherine! If she suggested he wear his pantaloons upon his head he would do so with a will and force Charlotte to do the same! If his patron wished me to wed a swineherd, he would pronounce it a capital idea and find a verse from Psalms to support it."

This opinion conformed exactly with Kitty's memory of Mr. Collins on his visit two years ago, so there was little more she could think of to assuage her friend's anguish. Indeed, she had taken her cousin Collins in such disgust she could think of no greater trial than to have him a permanent part of the family circle, and had been much relieved when Lizzy refused his suit. It was a very good thing he had so readily transferred his interest to Charlotte, else he might have offered for Mary, and she might well have looked upon his addresses with favor. Had events followed such a course, the roles might well have reversed themselves, placing  herself in Maria's sorry position.

They found Sir William at the kennels attempting to instill the art of hunting into one of his less apt hounds, Maria dispatched her message and she and Kitty followed him back to the house in hopes of being privy to the conversation with his lady. In this endeavor they were to be disappointed, but since the parlor windows were open, they positioned themselves comfortably on a convenient bench in the garden and listened without difficulty. To their momentary disappointment, Lady Lucas immediately directed several pointed animadversions on the behavior of the hounds, which Sir William staunchly defended. It was, he declared, more than likely one of his own children who had almost destroyed Charlotte's letter, as there were no teeth marks to be found thereon. This caused Maria some sharp pangs until her mother replied archly that, as her husband had so often claimed his hounds had the softest mouths in four counties, the only wonder was that the letter did not smell of rosebuds!

"And this you have summoned me for?" Sir William asked with some impatience. "A letter from Charlotte? When young Gambol is on point of understanding he must chase the hare, and not the geese?"

Whatever retort might have sprung to her lips, Lady Lucas held her peace and begged merely that he afford the letter's contents a moment's attention before he returned once more to his diversions. As her mother proceeded to read, Maria listened wretchedly, holding tightly to her friend's hand. Coming from her parent's lips, the words seemed even more laden with portent.

"Well," said Lady Lucas when she had finished, "what think you, Sir William?"

"What is there to think?" returned her husband. "If Lady Catherine contrived the plan and Charlotte sees no objection, I do not see why Maria should not be happily settled, as long as she does not absolutely dislike the man. Is that all?"

"All!" exclaimed Lady Lucas. "My dear husband, have you no other thoughts on the matter?"

 What other remonstrances might have followed were not to be revealed, as Sir Williams retreating footsteps and the falling tones of his lady's complaints took the conversation beyond hearing.

 "Oh, Papa!" Maria whispered tearfully. "How can he be so unfeeling? He will not even give away one of his pups unless he knows the person intimately. That he should countenance his own child being given to a stranger, a mere tenant! Oh! it is not to be borne. I am only just out, since Charlotte's marriage. It is a very lowering thought to be settled so soon before I have even been to any assemblies!"

"Hush, now," Kitty said. "You do not yet know anything for certain and nothing can happen immediately. Surely, your mother must return her response and receive yet another. And besides," she went on, suddenly inspired, "who knows but what this tenant might not be a farmer after all."

"Whatever do you mean, Kitty? What else could he be?"

"Well, I do not know for sure, only that I have heard Jane and Elizabeth speak of tenants on their estates who are old retainers, or widows and such. Surely such an estate as Rosings will boast a very good variety among its families."

At this, Maria became thoughtful, although the corners of her mouth still turned down.

"I daresay, it might even be autumn before you must go to Rosings," Kitty continued, enjoying the role of comforter, "so we will go to the assemblies together, and perhaps even have a party of our own. I am sure my mama will think it an excellent plan."

"Do you truly think so?"

"I do indeed," Kitty assured her, just as a carriage bearing the de Bourgh crest turned into the drive.






Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chapter V

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters


Chapter V


"The door knocker is off its nail," the driver informed Mr. Bennet as he opened the coach door for him.

"Oh, no!" Mary exclaimed. "How can the Gardiners be gone from Town? Did you not apprise them of our coming to London?"
  
Mr. Bennet did not at once answer her, instead asking the servant to knock at the kitchen door to see if any of the staff could be raised. He had not written the Gardiners, there being no time for a letter to reach them, and the degree of familiarity between the families such that it was hardly necessary-- but for occasions such as this.

On the driver's return from his errand, he brought with him a servant who stood on the walk now, peering into the carriage.

"Well, my girl," said Mr. Bennet, "where are your master and mistress?"

"Gone t' the sea shore. Won't be back till tomorrow sometime."

"And you are the only one here?"

"Aye," she returned, her lower lip trembling. "The rest went off for the holiday. Or else had leave."

"Well," what's to be done?" Mr. Bennet said, half to himself.

"Oh, do come in," the maid cried. "It's dreadful lonesome here by myself and I do hear sounds in the night. And I could cook you some supper for I have watched how it's done. There's a pig's cheek--"

"I think not," Mr. Bennet interrupted. That must go on was a certainty. They might, he thought, make Eastbourne by nightfall if they drove straight through. Still, he did not like to arrive at the Wickham lodgings unannounced. What unseemly gathering they might interrupt, however, was not to be imagined. He might be equal to confronting almost any scene; he guessed, however, that this most unworldly of his daughters would not.

 "Mary," said he, "this turn of events need not be a disaster. Let us find an inn and then we shall pass the afternoon in seeing some sights of the city."

Mary could but nod. The realization that her aunt and uncle were away, combined with the dreaded notion of staying at an inn whose bedding might be suspect had momentarily undone her.

"There is a place I know near the Westminster Bridge, so we may set off on the Brighton Road tomorrow morning. What do you say to a tour of Westminster Abbey, Mary?"

Westminster Abbey! Before when she had visited London with her mother their days had been full of shopping and bearing with her younger sisters' silliness. She had never yet had the opportunity to see any of the sights of which she had read in the histories.

"Oh, Papa! I should like it of all things!"

This decided, Mr. Bennet conversed a moment with his driver, nodded his farewell to the much aggrieved scullery maid, and they were soon heading in the direction of the Thames.

The inn, when they at last arrived, seemed perfectly respectable, although Mary felt a slight disappointment that only one stable boy ran forward to catch the reins on their entry to the yard and the landlord called a greeting from a distant room rather than immediately coming forward. Still, the maid who led her to a small room showed  gratifying alacrity in filling her basin,  brushing the wrinkles from her gown and confiding that a fat goose had been run down by a curricle earlier in the day so their dinner would be as  good as a feast. Thus heartened and refreshed, she rejoined her father who took her arm in a very kind way and escorted her in the direction of the famous abbey.

***

"Come, Maria!" Kitty said with some exasperation.

Maria Lucas drew the letter from her pocket reluctantly. It did indeed look as if a hound might have got it. "I cannot bear to read it again, Kitty," she said. "You must read it for yourself."

Kitty had no inconvenient qualms about reading a private missive and immediately unfolded the paper and read:

My dear Mama, 

You will be very surprised to receive from me a second letter in the space of a week, and more so when you learn its happy purpose. I have just spoken with Mr. Collins who (quite out of breath) informed me that Lady Catherine de Bourgh has condescended to favor our family with her attention. My husband was momentarily beside himself as he strove to find words equal to describing the honor that is to be conferred (providing an opportunity for me to finish the sock I was darning, the progress of which he had interrupted).
"Mrs. Collins," cried he at last, "Lady Catherine, whose bounty and
interest in the affairs of one and all far exceeds my humble expectations, has made it known to me that she intends to raise your family by yet one more degree from the obscurity from which your marriage to myself rescued your dear self."
That I did not immediately perceive the intent of this strange speech will not astonish you. Mr. Collins, as you will recall, is much given to the exercise of using all the words known to him within the space of one sentence, providing me with some diversion during these long days of summer. (Do not think I mock my husband, Mama -- I have merely come to appreciate his rare talents more than I had formerly done.)
Mr. Collins looked at me with a good deal of anticipation for some minutes when I at last informed him that I could not guess what his news might be and could bear the suspense no longer. Recalled, therefore, to the imparting of his intelligence, he went on to reveal that Lady Catherine has discovered from among her tenants a man in need of a steady wife, and that she believes that lady will be found in our Maria!
I do not know the person in question, except to the degree that all of her ladyship's tenants are superior and represent a degree of gentility one might not otherwise expect to find in such a position. Although it is clear some further details must be known before it is settled, my heart rejoices at the notion of my sister being settled so near to me. 
Lady Catherine, being all that is beneficent, has offered to send her second-best carriage to bring Maria to us, but I have been able to put her off until you have spoken to my father.  Please, I beg you, have some consideration for my impatient nature and do not delay in sending your response.
Your humble and most loving daughter,
Charlotte Collins
"Maria!" Kitty exclaimed. "This is infamous! Charlotte does not tell near as much as she ought--besides, of course, not considering what your feelings might be. I can see now why you are so reluctant to allow your parents to learn of this."

"Still," said Maria resolutely, "it must be done. But will you not come with me now when I bring the letter to Mama?"

Kitty clasped her friend's hands and said, "I will be at your side."






Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chapter IV

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter IV



"My dear friend," Maria whispered urgently when they were alone in Kitty's chamber. "You will not believe me when I tell you what a bad thing I have done!" Since Maria Lucas was not only tiresomely good but boasted the imagination of a yard hen, Kitty did not anticipate her revelation would produce any significant degree of amazement.

"What it is, Maria? Surely you've not been dampening your muslin?" This fashion, which one heard was rife among hoydenish London ladies, was surely the pinnacle of wickedness, and Kitty was gratified to see a deep blush bloom in Maria's cheeks. The fact that she knew this titbit at all was the result, of course, of Lydia's tutelage. Her elder sisters would never have dreamed of imparting such knowledge to their sisters.

"Of course not, Kitty! What do you think me?"

"I am only funning," she exclaimed. "You know I think you a very good sort.  I simply cannot imagine you have done anything to raise the parson's eyebrow."

Maria bowed her head. "If only that were so! I have been very wicked, to be sure."

"Well! What is it? I am sure when it is out I will find it is something Lydia and I have done a hundred times. Now tell me quickly."

Maria sighed deeply. "I do not know shat can have possessed me, but I ... I stole a letter from Charlotte my mother should have got and read it before her."

Kitty was indeed a little shocked; not but what she might have dome the same herself had she got hold of Lydia's missive before her parents.  But for Maria to have done so was another thing entirely. "Well that is not such a great thing, Maria! Seal it again and place it on her tray. No one will be the wiser."

"It is not so easy as that! I have ruined it with reading and reading yet again. I am so beside myself you cannot know!"

"Whatever did it say that is so alarming, Maria? Surely Mr. Collins is not dead or gone off his head?"

"Nothing of the sort," she returned with some asperity. "It is simply that Lady Catherine...Lady Catherine has contrived--" Maria broke off and resorted to her handkerchief while Kitty awaited her recovery with all the wretchedness of unrequited curiosity.

"You must know, Kitty," she said at last with a final sniff, "that I am to be married."

Kitty could not have been more shocked if Maria had said she was to be entered in a livestock competition. "Married! How is this? And what has it to do with Lady Catherine?"

"What a coil! Charlotte writes that Lady Catherine has contrived to find a match for me from among ... from among her tenants!"

"A tenant," she responded blankly. "Do you mean a farmer?"

"Oh, I do not know. And now the letter is all but ruined and I cannot give it to Mama in such a state. And indeed I do not know if I should want to. But still it has been three days and soon Charlotte will wonder why she has had no response and then she will--"

"Enough, Maria," Kitty interrupted. "That is the least of your worries. Does not your papa allow the hounds into the house?"

"That is our chief torment for they will be in and out of one's chamber with their great noses and paws, and they will try to eat from one's plate at tea and Papa will laugh as though it is some great jest, and Mama says she is blessed if she will bear such--"

Again, Kitty cut her off. "All you must do is bring it to your mama and tell her it was in the dirt near the kennel and she will have it that one of the beasts took it there. See if you cannot compel one of them to eat a corner of it."

Maria was much struck at this wise suggestion and determined to put it into practice at once. "Now," said Kitty, "do you have the letter on your person? For I cannot advise you unless I am made privy to all."

***


Because the social intercourse between the Bennet Family and the Gardiners of London was longstanding, frequent and affectionate, the way from Longbourne to London was familiar to Mary. Indeed, other than a glimpse of Mrs. Alcott's brown and white pig, made much of in their small community for its resemblance to the former Prime Minister, the first miles of the journey introduced no novelty. Their travels had begun early enough in the day to allow a call on the Gardiners with the motive, Mary both suspected and approved, of being entreated to stay the night and thus avoid the expense of a night at an inn.


Inns held no charm for Mary Bennet, indeed quite the reverse. Mary had stayed at an inn but once, and alive to her mother's fears that the sheets might not be well aired, had been unable to pass the night without interruption, prompted by a niggling sense that guests of a more minute and multi-legged variety shared the bed with her. This fancy she was not able to dismiss and passed the night in a state of elevated awareness.

Too, Mary was truly fond of her aunt and uncle, if somewhat jealous of their attentions to her sisters. Jane and Elizabeth were clear favorites, and even Lydia enjoyed a somewhat tarnished vestige of their good will. Still, there was every chance they might turn their fancy toward her, now that their elder nieces were occupied with their marriages and the duties of managing far larger houses and staffs than had been their wont to anticipate.

As they entered the City, Mr. Bennet pulled himself from his dozing ruminations to the extent that he pointed out such interesting sights as they encountered on their way to Gracechurch Street: the Dome of St. Paul's,  Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London, and the Leadenhall Market. Mary was suitably amazed, and searched for some appropriate comment to make but could think of none, other than that the dome was very fine, the monument impressive and the market full of amazingly shrill sounds. These utterances, however, seemed to satisfy her father's expectations and no more was said until they reached their destination.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chapter III

                                         Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

                                                                 Chapter III

    Miss Catherine Bennet was not entirely bereft of sense. However little she applied this intellectual modicum to her actions, she was fully sensitive to the fact that her mother’s notion of amusement and her own must vary widely.  Passing an afternoon with her Aunt Phillips playing at cards and exchanging gossip might do for married ladies in their caps, but hardly for a young lady on the Threshold of Life.

    Not that there had been so many opportunities to explore that interesting path since Colonel Forster’s regiment had quitted Meryton.  Since this sad event had corresponded with Lydia’s accompaniment of Mrs. Forster to the new garrison, Kitty had indeed been left much to herself except for Maria Lucas whose company was recommended only by its convenient proximity.  Her sister, Mary, she did not consider company.

    In the relatively solitary days that followed the marriages of her sisters, elder and younger, Kitty was afforded a good deal of time in which to ponder her own future.  That is should be spent outside the environs of Longbourne must be a certainty.  For a husband, she would certainly be content with a gentleman as good-humored as Mr. Bingley, handsome as Mr. Wickham and rich as Mr. Darcy.  Should this combination of good fortune bypass her, she wished above all things to avoid Mary’s evident fate, that of bearing her parents company as they entered their twilight years.  No, that was not to be thought of.

    Reflecting on the nuptial triumphs of her siblings, it occurred to Kitty in that the romantic encounters necessary to success had taken place while her sisters were away from home: Lydia, obviously, when she went to stay with Mrs. Forster, Jane when she had contracted a severe influenza and was forced to remain at Netherfield Park for some days, and Elizabeth, both when she had visited Charlotte Collins and when she had accompanied Aunt Gardiner on a holiday in Derbyshire.

    The evidence was clear. Whether freedom from such mortification as their parents so regularly subjected the girls or that other environs offered more opportunities, Kitty did not know, but she began to feel an urgency to discover a means to enter society elsewhere than her home county.

    This she was unsure how to accomplish.  She might, of course, write to Jane or Elizabeth and hope for an invitation. However, she could not be certain that either one or both of her parents would not accompany her.  Now that it was clear her father meant to bring Lydia home, the promise of Eastbourne was denied her as well.   There must be some other means of entering a new society, but what could it be?
                                                                      ***
    When it was learned at Lucas Lodge that the Bennet family had been in receipt of, not one, but two letters from the south, Lady Lucas made no delay in enquiring of her nearer neighbors whether there had been some sort of catastrophe at Longbourne. Hearing nothing to the contrary, she determined that she and Maria would call as early as was proper the following day on the pretext of delivering a receipt for a restorative tincture promised some months earlier.

    The intimacy which had blossomed between these families was no longer so profuse as it had been in former times, and had for some while threatened to break down altogether. This chilliness owed chiefly to what Mrs. Bennet referred to as the Treachery of Charlotte Lucas. Miss Lucas’ crime, returning a positive response to the addresses of Mr. Bennet’s despised heir, put her beyond the pale, despite Elizabeth’s adamant refusal of the same suitor on the day before. Should Mr. Bennet take leave of all good sense and allow himself to be carried off by some ailment or other, the inevitable handing over of Longbourne to Charlotte and Mr. Collins cemented an insurmountable gulf between the former friends. For the present, however, Elizabeth’s far more elevated marriage to Mr. Darcy had mitigated the estrangement to the extent that the ladies now deigned to bow to one another when they happened to meet during the inevitable mischances of social intercourse.

As little of note had taken place in the neighborhood in several months, Lady Lucas can be forgiven for succumbing to curiosity and being the first to cross the breach. When, on entering the drive at Longbourne on the following day, she spied the Bennet carriage being loaded as for a journey, she quickened her step and arrived at the front door in time to see Mr. Bennet bid adieu to his wife and Kitty.

“Pray tell me, dear friends,” Lady Lucas said by way of greeting, “what has befallen you, for the village is full of talk.”

Mr. Bennet summoned his civility with an effort. “Nothing of the kind, Lady Lucas,” he responded. “Mary and I are merely on point of paying a short visit to Lydia.   We shall see you before the next assembly. Good day to you.”

    With that, he signaled the driver to depart and left his neighbor staring after him in some confusion. For Mrs. Bennet to seek out her daughter’s company would be unremarkable, but for Mr. Bennet – and indeed Mary—who were both known to be homebodies, to make such a journey was a mystery. Its solution she was determined to discover.

    She turned to Mrs. Bennet who, unused to early callers, was in some state of dishabillé, her hair still in papers and her demeanor ill-composed. “My dear Mrs. Bennet,” she began, taking that lady’s arm and leading her toward the house, “I had not known that Mr. Bennet was so fond of Lydia. I was sure it was Eliza who was his favorite.”

   “To be sure,” Mrs. Bennet replied, “but Lydia is so lively I do believe we miss her more. What a delight it will be to have her among us again.”

    “So she is returning to Longbourne!” Lady Lucas’ mind was alive to a variety of possibilities, not of them happy.

    “Well,” said Mrs. Bennet, recovering herself. Mr. Bennet had bid her most strongly to keep word of Lydia’s predicament to herself, and she was determined to do so. “I do not know to a surety if she will come or no, but one never knows. Mr. Bennet likes to keep his notions to himself, but I should not be in the least surprised if he did not bring her home for a visit."

    Lady Lucas viewed her neighbor’s confusion with a suspicious eye. If Lydia Wickham were involved in some scrape or other she would not be much surprised. “And Mr. Wickham? Do you suppose he means to come as well? That is, if such a journey comes to pass?”

    “Well, how could that be?” Mrs. Bennet asked with some asperity. “After all he is not—"

    “He is not at his leisure,” Kitty broke in quickly. She would like to have pinched her mother for such lack of reserve. “Mr. Wickham has duties after all.”

    “Quite right, my dear,” Mrs. Bennet greed with some haste.  Turning to Lady Lucas, whose expression she could not quite like, she continued, “Pray do not be offended if I do not invite you in, but as you can see we are at sixes and sevens today.  Come along, Kitty.”

    Lady Lucas was left without ceremony standing in the drive, her receipt undelivered and her mind full of speculation.  “Maria,” said she, “you may stay to visit with Kitty—surely there can be no objection to that—and learn if you can what is afoot.  Perhaps there is a way to assist our old friends if trouble should be brewing.”

    Maria, who knew her mother’s concern to be as pure and deep as a gutter pool, merely nodded. She had her own reasons for speaking with Kitty today and hoped her scheme would meet with approval.

Image courtesy of ekduncan.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chapter II

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters


Chapter II


Mr. Bennet’s affection for his younger daughters was not notable; still less was the esteem in which he held his wife. Although their foibles afforded him some small amusement, this was offset trebly by the difficulties that too often arose from their lack of sense. Today’s correspondence from Lydia was a bitter example. 
Far from being surprised by the letter his lady had lately shared, however, he was not ignorant of Lydia’s predicament in _____shire. Indeed, a missive from his son-in-law’s captain had arrived the afternoon before apprising him of the situation. Mr. Bennet had spent the intervening time composing a letter to his brother Gardiner soliciting his assistance; this he had not yet dispatched, for none more than he aware that gentleman’s signal role in rescuing Lydia from her first entanglement. Now as he sat wearily in his study he realized he did not like to call upon those resources again. Appealing to Elizabeth or Jane did not answer either, for such an entreaty would necessarily embroil their husbands in yet another family scandal. It was unthinkable. Their patience and kindnesses had already been legion, and he could not bring himself to intrude further on their good graces. No, he would be forced to take action himself, a pursuit to which he was singularly unused.

Far from considering Lydia’s request for sisterly companionship, however, Mr. Bennet had been determined to instead to fetch her summarily home and lock her in the attic. His sudden pronouncement that Mary become emissary of solace had surprised him quite as much as it had her.  His sole reason for this singularity was the prospect it offered to vex his wife and annoy Kitty. It might do, however, he thought. Though Mary was by no means the apple of his eye, he knew her to be constant in her pursuits and suspected there might even be some steel in her backbone. If she were to accompany him on his journey, her presence would offer a comfortable buffer between himself and the inevitable protests of his youngest daughter. He had resolved himself on this action when his wife invaded the solitude of his library.

“Mr. Bennet!” cried his lady. “Whatever can you mean by denying Kitty this treat? You know very well that Mary will not like to venture out into the world for she has never done so before.”

“And Kitty has? I was not aware that she had become so well-traveled,” he replied. “Pray tell me of her adventures.”

“How can you tease me so? You know very well that Kitty has gone nowhere but Meryton this twelve-month. What I mean to say is that Kitty longs to go where Mary does not.”

“You are certain of this?”

“Do you not know that a mother can read her children’s hearts?” she asked with asperity.

Mr. Bennet did not know this. Rather, he suspected that his wife’s understanding of their daughters was framed by the distant memory of herself at a similar age. He did not take her up on this point, however. Instead, he said, “Pray have a seat and listen to me, I have some news to which you have not been privy,”
***
            Beyond the study door, Kitty bent her ears to hear what went on between her parents, while Mary, still somewhat stunned, stood twisting the ends of her sash.  That she should be singled out and favored above her sister was unprecedented.  Torn between anxiety and pleasure, it was difficult for her to form any exact thoughts. Visions of herself as a righteous emissary warred with a distinct dread of leaving the comfort of her home and the familiar circle of her connections.  She had traveled unaccompanied from her home but once, and in that instance, Lizzie had met her halfway to Pemberly so she was not obliged to spend a night at an inn. Once there, she made herself miserable by comparing her own meager accomplishments to the superior arts of Miss Darcy. Although she had imagined herself happily ensconced in the fabled library, she so often found Mr. Darcy there she could not be comfortable. True, every one had been very civil to her and Lizzie, in particular, had tried to discover amusements suited to her sister’s quiet ways; their efforts, however, made her less at ease than had she been ignored.

Now, the prospect of traveling a good ways to visit a sister who would not in the least welcome her and whose circle she would likely find alarmingly loose darkened the very air around her. She comforted herself that her father could not have been serious. It was very often his way to say precisely the opposite of what he meant. Moreover, she knew that her mother would now be arguing quite forcibly that Kitty go in her stead. Mary did not take umbrage at that favoritism, for it often excused her from being a party to the frivolity in which her sister and mother reveled.

            “Why cannot they speak more loudly,” Kitty whispered.

            “Perhaps,” Mary returned blandly, “you should interrupt and request they do so.”

            “That would never do! Do you not see--?” Kitty broke off.  “You are being satirical! I pray you will not do so, for it is not in the least becoming and people will call you eccentric on top of everything else!”

            “Kitty! What do they say?” She knew that on one occasion she had been referred to as the most accomplished girl in the neighborhood, but this compliment had arisen from the lips of Sir William Lucas and, after the glow had faded some several months later, even she realized such a authority  must not be given too much credence.

Whatever animadversions of character might have been laid at her door, Mary had no opportunity to hear, for a singularly unhappy Mrs. Bennet emerged from the library at that moment.

“Your father,” she said fretfully, “wishes you to go into him now, Mary—and pray do not try him further for he is in one of his moods and already a veritable Bonaparte.”
"Mama!" Kitty interrupted. "Do you mean he will still send Mary? That is infamous!"

"Hush, Kitty! It is of no matter. Now come you with me for I must have someone by me if I should fall into fits." With this pronouncement, she headed toward her chamber. In her wake, Kitty cast an unkind glance at her sister before following her mother up the stairs.

Mary had no desire to enter her father's study, particularly if he was angry. She was never one to seek his company as had Lizzie in former times, nor had he before ever summoned her to his presence. Still, she had no choice, so enter she did, albeit somewhat hesitantly.

“Be seated, Mary,” her father said when she had entered. “I have something particular to say to you.”

“Please, Papa,” she said urgently, “do send Kitty instead. Lydia would not like to have me, for she says I send her straight to sleep the moment I venture to speak, and I daresay I should find her company uncomfortable as well, for she will never heed my advice and scorns me instead.”

“I am not in a humor to care what your sister likes, Mary, and indeed this will not be a journey for either solace or entertainment. No, it will be quite otherwise.”
What her father meant by this speech, she had no way of knowing nor could she summon a clear response. She waited therefore while he frowned a moment and polished his spectacles before proceeding.

“Lydia, I must tell you, has once more placed herself beyond the pale. She has refused to accept the protection of Captain Williams and his wife and instead keeps company with low sorts, entertaining them freely while her husband – that creature! – is who knows where.”

To be sure, Lydia was beyond anything. Mary herself had never in her life refused to do anything asked of her by one who represented authority. If the pastor had asked her to dance on the tip of the church spire, she would almost certainly have attempted to oblige him. As ever, Lydia’s behavior was beyond her comprehension. “But papa,” she protested. “Lydia would pay me no mind. Surely you must see there is nothing I can do!”

“Do not fret yourself into a tizzy, Mary. I do not ask the impossible. Merely that you bear me company on the way, for go I must and bring the silly girl home. I do not relish the idea of facing her hysterics on my own. Besides, as we must spend at least one night at an inn, I cannot trust that she would not find a way to further disgrace herself after I retired to bed – no, she requires your steadying influence.”

This was another matter altogether. It seemed for once her good sense had been recognized, and she thrilled to it as another young lady might to a compliment on her new bonnet. This must be how Lizzy and Jane had felt all their lives, and she liked it a great deal. Whatever trials might await her on the journey, she now felt inclined to embrace her mission.

“It is a good thing,” her father went on, “that they removed from Newcastle else I should have left her there. But Eastbourne is not so very far, and if all goes well we shall escape without Lydia’s ever knowing we have arranged our route so as to avoid Brighton. Now be a good child and make yourself ready.”

As Kitty followed her mother up the staircase, her mind was full of arguments to support her going to Lydia’s.

“Mama,” she began, “Surely there must be something we can do to change Papa’s mind, for though he is so often annoyingly steadfast, your entreaties must surely move him.”

“So one would think,” Mrs. Bennet replied, “but he will hear reason.”

“Poor Mama! To be sure, one would think it your fault, Lydia made some small mis-step. Has he no compassion on your nerves?”

“Not he!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed as she entered her chamber and sank into the comfortable embrace of her chaise longue.

“But it was he, after all, who allowed Lydia to visit Mrs. Forester when the militia had first left Meryton—despite the entreaties of Lizzy and Jane.”

“Why you are right, Kitty! Why have I never thought of that? It is his fault after all. Not that it didn’t turn out very well in the long run.”

Kitty bit her tongue. Even she knew that the outcome of Lydia’s escapade was not all that could be wished for. Still, her mother’s suggestible reasoning was often a boon. Kneeling at her mother’s side she asked, “Do you not think Papa would agree that I should be given an opportunity to prove my good sense? After all, I do not think I am likely to be forced into marriage the first time I leave home!”

“I daresay you should not,” her mother agreed. “All the same, I begin to think this journey will suit Mary better after all.”

“What Mama! Whatever do you mean?”

“Only that, as Papa is journeying to Eastbourne as well. So while Mary will not know whether she is coming of going as long as she has her book, I do not think you would enjoy yourself half so much as you will at home with me.”

“Papa is going too?” she cried, quite struck at the notion. What an escape she had had after all. “Well! That is another thing entirely.”

“Indeed it is,” her mother agreed. “Let them go. I daresay we shall have our own adventures while they are away.”