THE TWO GENTLEMEN left Rosings the next morning, and Mr. Collins having been in waiting near the lodges, to make them his parting bow, was able to bring home the pleasing intelligence, of their appearing in very good health, and in as tolerable spirits as could be expected, after the melancholy scene so lately gone through at Rosings, due to the approaching departure of the gentlemen, and Elizabeth’s killing of several of her ladyship’s favourite ninjas. To Rosings he then hastened, to console Lady Catherine and her daughter for their loss of company; and on his return brought back, with great satisfaction, a message from her ladyship, importing that she felt herself so dull as to make her very desirous of having them all to dine with her.
Elizabeth could not see Lady Catherine without recollecting that, had she chosen it, she might by this time have been presented to her as her future niece; nor could she think, without a smile, of what her ladyship’s indignation would have been. “What would she have said? How would she have behaved?” were questions with which she amused herself.
Their first subject was the shrinking of the Rosings party. “I assure you, I feel it exceedingly,” said Lady Catherine; “I believe no one feels the loss of friends so much as I do. But I am particularly attached to these young men, and know them to be so much attached to me! They were excessively sorry to go! But so they always are. The dear Colonel rallied his spirits tolerably till just at last; but Darcy seemed to feel it most acutely, more, I think, than last year. His attachment to Rosings certainly increases.”
Mrs. Collins had a compliment to throw in here, which was kindly smiled on by the mother and daughter, despite the fact that no one could discern what she was growling.
Lady Catherine observed, after dinner, that Miss Bennet seemed out of spirits, and immediately accounting for it by herself, by supposing that she did not like to go home again so soon, she added:
“But if that is the case, you must write to your mother and beg that you may stay a little longer. Mrs. Collins will be very glad of your company, I am sure.”
“I am much obliged to your ladyship for your kind invitation,” replied Elizabeth, “but it is not in my power to accept it. I must be in town next Saturday.”
“Why, at that rate, you will have been here only six weeks. I expected you to stay two months. I told Mrs. Collins so before you came. There can be no occasion for your going so soon. Mrs. Bennet could certainly spare you for another fortnight.”
“But my father cannot. He wrote last week to hurry my return, for the ground again softens, and Hertfordshire will soon be overrun with unmentionables.”
“Oh! Your father of course may spare you. I have observed your skills in the deadly arts, my dear; and they are not of the level which would make any difference in the fate of Hertfordshire or anywhere else.” Elizabeth could scarcely believe the insult. Had her affection for Mr. Darcy not been freshly restored, she might have challenged her lady-ship to a duel for such an affront to her honor.
Lady Catherine continued, “And if you will stay another month complete, it will be in my power to take one of you as far as London, for I am going there early in June, to discuss strategy with His Majesty; and as my guard insists I travel in a barouche-box, there will be very good room for one of you-and indeed, if the weather should happen to be cool, I should not object to taking you both, as neither of you are fat like Mr. Collins.”
“You are all kindness, madam; but I believe we must abide by our original plan.”
Lady Catherine seemed resigned. “Mrs. Collins, you must send one of my ninjas with them. You know I always speak my mind, and I cannot bear the idea of two young women travelling by themselves. It is highly improper in times such as these. You must contrive to send somebody. Young women should always be properly guarded and attended, unless they are that rare sort of lady, like myself, who has been trained by the most respected masters in Japan-and not by those appalling Chinese peasants.”
“My uncle is to send a servant for us, but I assure your ladyship that I am quite capable of-”
“Oh! Your uncle! He keeps a man-servant, does he? I am very glad you have somebody who thinks of these things. Where shall you change horses? Oh! Bromley, of course. If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to.”
Lady Catherine had many other questions to ask respecting their journey, and as she did not answer them all herself, attention was necessary, which Elizabeth believed to be lucky for her; or, with a mind so occupied, she might have forgotten where she was. Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections.
Mr. Darcy’s letter she was in a fair way of soon knowing by heart. She studied every sentence; and her feelings towards its writer were at times widely different. When she remembered the haughty style of his address, she dreamt of watching his eyes glaze over as she choked the life from his body; but when she considered how unjustly she had condemned and upbraided him, her anger was turned against herself; and she hastily applied her dagger to the seven cuts of shame, which had scarcely time to scab over. His attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect; but she could not approve him; nor could she for a moment repent her refusal, or feel the slightest inclination ever to see him again. In her own past behaviour, there was a constant source of vexation and regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family, a subject of yet heavier chagrin. They were hopeless of remedy. Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters; and her mother, with manners so far from right herself, was entirely insensible of the evil. Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in punishing the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia with wet bamboo; but while they were supported by their mother’s indulgence, what chance could there be of improvement? Catherine, undisciplined, irritable, and completely under Lydia’s guidance, had been always affronted by their attempts at correcting her; and Lydia, self-willed and dimwitted, would scarcely give them a hearing. They were ignorant, idle, and vain. While Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, they would be going there forever, killing zombies only when it interfered with their chances of flirting with an officer.
Anxiety on Jane’s behalf was another prevailing concern; and Mr. Darcy’s explanation, by restoring Bingley to all her former good opinion, heightened the sense of what Jane had lost. His affection was proved to have been sincere, and his conduct cleared of all blame, unless any could attach to the implicitness of his confidence in his friend. How grievous then was the thought that, of a situation so desirable in every respect, so replete with advantage, so promising for happiness, Jane had been deprived, by the folly and indecorum of her own family! Oh! Could she only bring herself to dispense with the lot of them!
When to these recollections was added the development of Wickham’s character, it may be easily believed that the happy spirits which had seldom been depressed before, were now so much affected as to make it almost impossible for her to appear tolerably cheerful.
Their engagements at Rosings were as frequent during the last week of her stay as they had been at first. The very last evening was spent there; and her ladyship again demeaned the quality of Chinese combat training, gave them directions as to the best method of packing, and was so urgent on the necessity of placing gowns in the only right way, that Maria thought herself obliged, on her return, to undo all the work of the morning, and pack her trunk afresh.
When they parted, Lady Catherine, with great condescension, wished them a good journey, and invited them to come to Hunsford again next year; and Miss de Bourgh exerted herself so far as to curtsey and hold out her frail hand to both.