Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters
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.
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.
"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|
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?"