“I CONFESS,” said Mr. Collins, “that I should not have been at all surprised by her ladyship’s asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend the evening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge of her affability, that it would happen. But who could have foreseen such an attention as this? Who could have imagined that we should receive an invitation to dine there so immediately after your arrival!”
“I am the less surprised at what has happened,” replied Sir William, “for her superior mastery of the deadly arts and high breeding are known throughout the courts of Europe.”
Scarcely anything was talked of the whole day or next morning but their visit to Rosings. Mr. Collins was carefully instructing them in what they were to expect, that the sight of such rooms, so many servants, a personal guard of five-and-twenty ninjas, and so splendid a dinner, might not wholly overpower them.
When the ladies were separating for the toilette, he said to Elizabeth:
“Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I would advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest-there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed, just as she will not think less of you for possessing combat skills so very beneath her own.” Elizabeth’s fists clenched at the insult, but out of affection for her three-quarters dead friend, she held her tongue and sword.
While they were dressing, he came two or three times to their different doors, to recommend their being quick, as Lady Catherine very much objected to be kept waiting for her dinner.
As the weather was fine, they had a pleasant walk of about half a mile across the park.
When they ascended the steps to the hall, Maria’s alarm was every moment increasing, and even Sir William did not look perfectly calm. Elizabeth’s courage did not fail her, even though she had been regaled with stories of Lady Catherine’s accomplishments from the time she had been old enough to hold her first dagger. The mere stateliness of money or rank she could witness without trepidation, but the presence of a woman who had slain ninety dreadfuls with nothing more than a rain-soaked envelope was an intimidating prospect indeed.
They followed the servants through an ante-chamber to the room where Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson were sitting. Her ladyship, with great condescension, arose to receive them; and as Mrs. Collins had settled it with her husband that the office of introduction should be hers, it was performed with no shortage of difficulty as she struggled to speak in a manner comprehensible to others.
In spite of having been at St. James’s, Sir William was so completely awed by the grandeur surrounding him, that he had but just courage enough to make a very low bow, and take his seat without saying a word; and his daughter, frightened almost out of her senses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowing which way to look. Elizabeth found herself quite equal to the scene, and could observe the three ladies before her composedly. Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her once-flawless figure had been softened by age, but her eyes no were less striking than Elizabeth had oft heard them described. They were they eyes of a woman who once held the wrath of God in her hands. Elizabeth wondered how much quickness those famed hands still possessed.
When, after examining the mother, in whose countenance and deportment she soon found some resemblance of Mr. Darcy, she turned her eyes on the daughter; she could almost have joined in Maria’s astonishment at her being so thin and so small. There was neither in figure nor face any likeness between the ladies. Miss de Bourgh was pale and sickly; her features, though not plain, were insignificant; and she spoke very little, except in a low voice, to Mrs. Jenkinson, in whose appearance there was nothing remarkable, and who was entirely engaged in listening to what she said.
After sitting a few minutes, they were all sent to one of the windows to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them to point out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informing them that it was much better worth looking at in the summer.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. The party did not supply much conversation. Elizabeth was ready to speak whenever there was an opening, but she was seated between Charlotte and Miss de Bourgh-the former of whom had to be frequently reminded to use her silver, and the latter said not a word to her all dinner-time.
When the ladies returned to the drawing-room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk of her attempts to create a serum, which would slow-or even reverse-the effects of the strange plague. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that her ladyship was thus engaged, for trifling in plague cures was considered the last refuge of the na"ive. The greatest minds in England had been vexed by the same pursuit for five-and-fifty years. She inquired into Charlotte’s domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, and gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all; and told her how everything ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers. Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath this great lady’s attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others. In the intervals of her discourse with Mrs. Collins, she addressed a variety of questions to Maria and Elizabeth, but especially to the latter, of whose connections she knew the least.
“Mr. Collins tells me that you are schooled in the deadly arts, Miss Bennet.”
“I am, though not to half the level of proficiency your Ladyship has attained.”
“Oh! Then-some time or other I shall be happy to see you spar with one of my ninjas. Are your sisters likewise trained?”
“I assume you were schooled in Japan?”
“No, your ladyship. In China.”
“China? Are those monks still selling their clumsy kung fu to the English? I take it you mean Shaolin?”
“Yes, your ladyship; under Master Liu.”
“Well, I suppose you had no opportunity. Had your father more means, he should have taken you to Kyoto.”
“My mother would have had no objection, but my father hates Japan.”
“Have your ninjas left you?”
“We never had any ninjas.”
“No ninjas! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without any ninjas! I never heard of such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your safety.”
Elizabeth could hardly help smiling as she assured her that had not been the case.
“Then, who protected you when you saw your first combat? Without ninjas, you must have been quite a sorry spectacle indeed.”
“Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such was our desire to prevail, and our affection for each other, that we had no trouble vanquishing even our earliest opponents.”
“If I had known your mother, I should have advised her most strenuously to engage a team of ninjas. I always say that nothing is to be done in education without steady and regular instruction. Had my own daughter been blessed with a more suitable constitution, I should have sent her away the best dojos in Japan at the age of four. Are any of your younger sisters out, Miss Bennet?”
“Yes, ma’am, all.”
“All! What, all five out at once? Very odd! And you only the second. The younger ones out before the elder ones are married! Your younger sisters must be very young?”
“Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps she is full young to be much in company. But really, ma’am, I think it would be very hard upon younger sisters, that they should not have their share of society and amusement, because the elder may not have the means or inclination to marry early. The last-born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth at the first. And to be kept back on such a motive! I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.”
“Upon my word,” said her ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?”
“With three younger sisters grown up,” replied Elizabeth, smiling, “your ladyship can hardly expect me to own it.”
Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a direct answer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence.
“You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, therefore you need not conceal your age.”
“I am not one-and-twenty.”
When the gentlemen had joined them, and tea was over, the card-tables were placed. Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins sat down to Crypt and Coffin; and as Miss de Bourgh chose to play Whip the Vicar, Elizabeth and Maria had the honour of assisting Mrs. Jenkinson to make up her party. Their table was superlatively stupid. Scarcely a syllable was uttered that did not relate to the game, except when Mrs. Jenkinson expressed her fears of Miss de Bourgh’s being too hot or too cold, or having too much or too little light. A great deal more passed at the other table. Lady Catherine was generally speaking-stating the mistakes of the three others, or relating some anecdote of herself. Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing to everything her ladyship said, thanking her for every empty crypt he won, and apologising if he thought he won too many.
After drooling a third cup of tea onto her lap, Charlotte stood to excuse herself from the other table, clutching her stomach and wearing a rather pained expression. “I beg ya-oar pahdun, ya-oar wadyship.” Lady Catherine gave no acknowledgment, and Mr. Collins and Sir William were too engrossed in their game to notice what happened next.
Elizabeth watched Charlotte bow slightly, and then limp to the furthest corner of the room, where she lifted the bottom of her gown and bent her knees into a squat. Elizabeth immediately excused herself, rose, and (taking care not to draw attention) grabbed Charlotte by the arm and escorted her to the toilette, where she watched her stricken friend suffer through a quarter-hour of a sickness so severe that decorum prevents its description in these pages.
The tables were shortly after broken up, the carriage was offered to Mrs. Collins, gratefully accepted, and immediately ordered. The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow. From these instructions they were summoned by the arrival of the coach; and with many speeches of thankfulness on Mr. Collins’s side and as many bows on Sir William’s they departed. As soon as they had driven from the door, Elizabeth was called on by her cousin to give her opinion of all that she had seen at Rosings, which, for Charlotte’s sake, she made more favourable than it really was. “Lady Catherine the Great” had been a disappointment in every sense, and Elizabeth could not forgive the slight against her temple and master.