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.