Monday, October 21, 2013

Chapter XII

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter XII

As Kitty might have anticipated had her powers of discernment been more powerful, the heavy repast fortified by free-flowing spirits took its toll on the elder passengers. Soon all but Maria and herself were wrapped peacefully in the arms of Morpheus. However, where her mental prowess failed, Kitty's resourcefulness soon awoke. Her friend, unfortunately squeezed by the slumbering bulk of Mr. Collins, had sunk into the corner and could not immediately see what Kitty was about.

"Maria," Kitty whispered, passing a bottle over the top of the clergyman's head, "take a sip."

"What is it?" Maria squeaked.

"Just a taste of the claret," Kitty responded. "I find myself quite parched, as I am certain you must be as well. A small sip can surely have no adverse effect."

Maria, in apparent agreement, betook herself of the draught, making a sound like a surprised puppy. "Mama must have been mistaken! She always told us that spirits tasted like poison, but this is not so very terrible."

Kitty took her turn, and passed the bottle again.

"It is like over-ripe currants. Very nice indeed," Maria sighed. "I think they were cruel not to share a taste with us."

"It is always so with our elders," Kitty agreed pettishly. "If there is something we will love, they soon enough discover a reason to prohibit it! Besides, it is not as if we were children. Why you may end this journey by being a married lady. Have you learned any more of your suitor?"

"Not a word," Maria admitted, "but Mama bade me pack two pairs of gloves and told me I might put my hair up at dinner if there was company. That is a very odd thing, now I think of it, for in general she does not like me to be at all fashionable."

Kitty took another sip and Maria had her turn once again. "In this matter, I can be of service. I have watched both Jane and Elizabeth prepared by their lady's maids, so I know what's what! And..." she took a moment to ensure that the sleepers continued in their dreaming, "when we get to town we must contrive to visit a linen drapers. I have brought all my pin money with me and am determined to make some additions to my wardrobe."

"But how is this to be accomplished, Kitty? Mr. Collins will not like it."

"To be sure, I had thought to enlist my mother's aid, but I do not believe I can rouse her without waking the others. She is a very heavy sleeper."

Maria looked thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps we can prevail on Mr. Collins to bring Charlotte a gift from town."

"Would he do so without the permission of the esteemed Lady Catherine?" Kitty asked archly. "I have a better plan. You shall tell him that, in her letter, Charlotte requested that you select a length of muslin for her."

Giddy insobriety
"What a capital plan!" said Maria, handing the bottle back to Kitty. "And I know Charlotte will like it above all things, for I daresay she does not often have to opportunity to avail herself of shops outside the village. And I should like to purchase some ribbon, for even my best hat is sadly in need of re-trimming."

Passing the remainder of the journey in making their plans and quenching their thirst, the young ladies soon attained a giddy state of insobriety and from thence passed into a state of sweet repose.

The day being fair and the road excellent, both London and Gracechurch Street were attained before any of the travelers awakened. Such events oft combine to create interesting occasions, and the Gardiners, only moments returned from their holiday, were still at the entry to their home when the grand equipage jolted to a stop.

"Is that not the de Bourgh crest?" Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed.

"I believe it is, my love," her husband returned, "although what it is doing here I cannot begin to fathom."

Their curiosity heightened when a liveried footman descended to open the carriage. On his doing so, a stray bottle rolled out the door and shattered on the cobblestones, introducing a scene of such dissolution that Mrs. Gardiner gasped.

 "What's this, Mama?" one of the younger Gardiners exclaimed. "Are my aunts dead? They look so very happy."

Indeed they did, but despite his internal observation -- not dead, dead drunk -- his father remarked instead, "No child, merely resting." Casting a speaking look at his wife, she reluctantly retreated into the house, shooing the children before her.

Within the carriage, the Mr. Gardiner had recognized at once his sisters' recumbent forms, leaned against each other, snoring in turn. Across from them his niece Kitty's face was pressed flat to the window, and next to her sprawled Mr. Collins, momentarily at ease with himself and the world. Just beyond the clergyman's bulk peeped a pair of slippers which could, he judged, only belong to Mary. What strange occasion could have prompted the arrival of such oddly-sorted company?

"A moment, sir?" At his elbow stood his housekeeper with a young maid in tow. "Alice here tells me that Mr. Bennet called yesterday and was forced to go to an inn."

Mr. Gardiner frowned deeply. His brother Bennet yesterday?  His sisters here today? Something was clearly amiss, but what had prompted them to call on Mr. Collins' support, he had not the faintest clue. Some disaster at Longbourn?

Kitty, who had by this time ascended from the depths of repose, kept her eyes firmly shut. She recalled with trepidation Lydia's tales of their uncle's ogreish behavior during the days before her marriage to Mr. Wickham. If anything fell beyond the boundaries of what he deemed proper, it was bellows to mend! Worse, he was altogether likely to impress on her mother the unwisdom of her accompanying Maria to Hunsford uninvited. This sort of interference was not to be borne.

Despite her uncle's giving her shoulder a firm shake, Kitty maintained her shammed slumber steadfastly until her mother and Aunt Philips were safely dislodged from the equipage by two footmen and steered toward the house under the direction of her uncle.

This moment was all she needed to jump from the carriage and address herself to the driver, who helpfully informed her that there were several establishments not far which enjoyed Lady Catherine's patronage. Indeed, Lady Catherine had several commissions which must be addressed before their quitting London and he hoped the party would not mind the delay. When he expressed some concern over the horses becoming restless standing thus in the street, she declared that they need await neither her uncle's return nor Mr. Collins' awakening. Instead, she suggested they make their way directly toward the aforementioned emporia. Thus were all of Kitty's dearest plans brought neatly to fruition, the family Gardiner 's eventual dismay notwithstanding.

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