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.

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