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.