ONE MORNING, about a week after Bingley’s engagement with Jane had been formed, as he and the females of the family were sitting together in the dining-room, their attention was suddenly drawn to the window, by the sound of a carriage; and they perceived a chaise and four driving up the lawn. The horses were post; and neither the carriage, nor the livery of the servant who preceded it, were familiar to them. As it was certain, however, that somebody was coming, Bingley instantly prevailed on Jane to avoid the confinement of such an intrusion, and walk away with him into the shrubbery, where she had promised to instruct him in buck wrestling. They both set off, and the conjectures of the remaining three continued, though with little satisfaction, till the door was thrown open and their visitor entered, accompanied by a pair of ninjas.
It was Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
They were of course all intending to be surprised; but their astonishment was beyond their expectation.
She entered the room with an air more than usually ungracious, made no other reply to Elizabeth’s salutation than a slight inclination of the head, dismissed her guard, and sat down without saying a word. Elizabeth had mentioned her name to her mother on her ladyship’s entrance, though no request of introduction had been made.
Mrs. Bennet, all amazement, though flattered by having a guest of such high importance, received her with the utmost politeness. After sitting for a moment in silence, she said very stiffly to Elizabeth:
“I hope you are well, Miss Bennet. That lady, I suppose, is your mother.”
Elizabeth replied very concisely that she was.
“And that I suppose is one of your sisters.”
“Yes, madam,” said Mrs. Bennet, delighted to speak to a Lady Catherine. “She is my youngest girl but one. My youngest of all is lately married, and my eldest is somewhere about the grounds, walking with a young man who, I believe, will soon become a part of the family.”
“You have a very small park here,” returned Lady Catherine after a short silence.
“It is nothing in comparison of Rosings, my lady, I dare say.”
Elizabeth now expected that she would bestow her condolences on the passing of Charlotte and Mr. Collins, as it seemed the only probable motive for her calling. But none were offered, and she was completely puzzled.
Mrs. Bennet, with great civility, begged her ladyship to take some refreshment; but Lady Catherine very resolutely, and not very politely, declined eating anything; and then, rising up, said to Elizabeth:
“Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish little dojo on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to examine it, if you will favour me with your company.”
“Go, my dear,” cried her mother, “and show her ladyship about. I think she will be pleased with the artifacts.”
Elizabeth obeyed, and running into her own room for her parasol, attended her noble guest downstairs. As they passed through the hall, Lady Catherine opened the doors into the dining-parlour and drawing-room, and pronouncing them, after a short survey, to be decent looking rooms, walked on.
Her carriage remained at the door, and Elizabeth saw that her waiting-geisha was in it. They proceeded in silence to the dojo; Elizabeth was determined to make no effort for conversation with a woman who was now more than usually insolent and disagreeable.
“How could I ever think her like her nephew?” said she, as she looked in her face.
As soon as they entered, Lady Catherine began in the following manner:
“You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason of my journey hither. Your own heart, your own conscience, must tell you why I come.”
Elizabeth looked with unaffected astonishment.
“Indeed, you are mistaken, Madam. I have not been able to account for the honour of seeing you here.”
“Miss Bennet,” replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, “you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, just as my killing powers have been celebrated as having no equal. A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only was your sister on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose him to take any interest in a girl of your low birth, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you.”
“If you believed it impossible to be true,” said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, “I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?”
“To insist upon having such a report universally contradicted.”
“Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family,” said Elizabeth coolly, “will be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence.”
“If! Do you then pretend to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?”
“I never heard that it was.”
“And can you likewise declare, that there is no foundation for it?”
“I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.”
“This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?”
“Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible.”
“It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in with your cheap Chinese parlour tricks.”
“If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it.”
“Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? Have you not heard the songs of my victories over legions of Satan’s slaves? Have you not read of my unmatched skill? I am almost Mr. Darcy’s nearest relation in the world, and entitled to know all his dearest concerns.”
“Such great skills! Such a slayer of zombies! And yet, when one was in your home, you had not perception enough to see her.”
“Are you so daft as to suppose that I did not know Charlotte for what she was? Are you incapable of understanding my generous motives? That my new priest might know some measure of happiness? Tell me, why do you suppose she changed so slowly? Why did I invite her to tea so often-for the pleasure of her company? No! It was my serum which kept her alive those few happy months. A few drops at a time, unnoticed, into her cup.”
“Such an experiment can hardly be called ‘generous.’ You did nothing but prolong her suffering!”
“Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. Never! Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?”
“Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me.”
Lady Catherine hesitated for a moment, and then replied:
“The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of hers. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and trained in China of all places! Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?”
“Yes, and I had heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other objection to my marrying your nephew, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing that his mother and aunt wished him to marry Miss de Bourgh. If Mr. Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he to make another choice? And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?”
“Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends, if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us.”
“These are heavy misfortunes,” replied Elizabeth. “But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.”
“Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? I am not in the habit of being refused!”
“Nor am I in the habit of being intimidated.”
“I will not be interrupted! Hear me in silence! My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman whose sister was lately concerned in a scandalous elopement with the son of the elder Darcy’s musket-polisher? A woman without family, connections, or fortune?”
“Your daughter’s fortune is indeed splendid. But pray tell, what other qualities does she possess? Is she fetching? Is she trained in the deadly arts? Has she even strength enough to lift a Katana?”
“How dare you! Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?”
Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine, have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment’s deliberation:
“I am not.”
Lady Catherine seemed pleased.
“And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?”
“I would sooner die than see my honour so defiled.”
“Then Miss Bennet,” said Lady Catherine, setting down her parasol and removing her coat, “die you shall.” Upon this, she set her feet for combat.
“Do you mean to challenge me to a duel, your ladyship? Here, in my family dojo?”
“I mean only to rid the world of an insolent little girl, and preserve the dignity of a superior man, lest Pemberley be forever polluted by your stench.”
“If that be the case,” said Elizabeth, dropping her parasol, “then let this be our first and final battle.” Elizabeth set her feet in return.
The two ladies-separated by more than fifty years, yet hardly at all in abilities-remained thus for a moment, until Lady Catherine, her plan of attack fully formed, leapt skyward with a strength quite striking for a woman of her advanced age. She flipped through the air, over Elizabeth’s head, and landed a blow on the top of her skull, the force of which brought the younger to her knees. Had Elizabeth been anything less than perfectly fit, the blow would have most assuredly splintered her spine.
Lady Catherine landed gently on her feet, and seeing her opponent attempt to rise, sent her flying the length of the dojo with a ruinous kick to the back. Unable to gain her wind, Elizabeth struggled to stand as the aged warrior again approached.
“You have no regard for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody?”
Her ladyship grabbed Elizabeth’s gown and lifted her to her feet. “Well? Have you anything to say before I remit you to Satan?”
“Just… one thing, your ladyship…”
Lady Catherine’s eyes widened as she felt a sharp pain in her belly. She let go and stumbled backward, the handle of Elizabeth’s dagger protruding from her gown. The younger took full advantage of this confusion, striking her ladyship about the head, neck, and bosom with a severe combination of blows, and a final kick which drove her so high as to shatter two of the wooden rafters overhead.
Outside, Lady Catherine’s ninjas turned towards the dojo, alarmed by this tumult.
Inside, her ladyship lay motionless on the floor. Elizabeth stood over her, waiting for any sign of life-but none appeared. “Dear Lord,” she thought. “What have I done? How shall Darcy ever forgive me for killing his beloved aunt?”
The thought was no sooner in her head than Elizabeth felt herself fall to the ground, brought down by Lady Catherine’s legs. The latter leapt to her feet, and with a hearty laugh, pulled the dagger from her belly, and flung it into Elizabeth’s hand-pinning her to the floor.
“It would take skills far exceeding your own to draw but a single bead of exercise moisture from my skin. Weak, silly girl! So long as there is life in this old body, you shall never again be in the company of my nephew!”
Lady Catherine’s ninjas entered, throwing stars at the ready, but were quickly put at ease by their master, who had the duel well in hand. “Remain thus, dear ninjas. When I have removed her head, you may do with the body as you please.”
As Elizabeth struggled to free herself, her ladyship removed one of the swords from the wall. She unsheathed it and examined its glistening blade. “Remarkable. As fine a Katana as ever I saw in Kyoto. Pity it should have spent these many years in the charge of so unworthy a family.” Lady Catherine looked up from the blade, expecting to see her opponent. Instead, she saw nothing-nothing but an empty dojo, and a pair of broken, lifeless ninjas. She met this, too, with a hearty laugh.
“What good fun! I must admit, had you been vanquished with so little effort, I should have been rather disappointed.”
“‘WEAK, SILLY GIRL! SO LONG AS THERE IS LIFE IN THIS OLD BODY, YOU SHALL NEVER AGAIN BE IN THE COMPANY OF MY NEPHEW!’”
Lady Catherine walked to the center of the dojo, sword in hand. She turned herself round, expecting an attack-but none came. “Such cowardice!” she cried. “Have you not courage enough to face me? Did your master teach you nothing more than retreat?”
“My master,” said Elizabeth, “taught me that the shortest path to ruin was underestimating one’s opponent.” Her ladyship looked skyward and saw Elizabeth atop a rafter-sword in hand. The younger dove toward the floor as the elder leapt toward the ceiling; and their swords met in the air that separated the two. A ferocious contest of blades filled the dojo with the clanging of steel upon steel. The two women were evenly matched, but Elizabeth’s youth bestowed to her the advantage of vigor, and she tired more slowly than her ladyship.
After several minutes of flying about, attacking one another with force that would have sent legions of lesser warriors to their graves, Lady Catherine’s sword was dispatched with a well-aimed butterfly kick. Defenseless, her ladyship retreated to the wall of weaponry, where she hastily procured a pair of nunchucks; but these were promptly cut in two by Elizabeth’s Katana.
Elizabeth backed Lady Catherine against a wall, and held the tip of her sword to her wrinkled throat. “Well?” said Catherine, “Take my head then, but be quick about it.”
Elizabeth lowered her blade, and with a voice much affected by exercise, said, “To what end, your ladyship? That I might procure the condemnation of a man for whom I care so much? No. No, your lady-ship-whether you shall live to see him married to your daughter, or married to me, I know not. But you shall live. And for the rest of your days, you shall know that you have been bested by a girl for whom you have no regard, and whose family and master you have insulted in the harshest possible manner. Now, I beg you take your leave.”
Upon being walked to her carriage, Lady Catherine turned hastily round, and added, “My position remains unchanged. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”
“Her ladyship would be wise to climb into her carriage, lest I change my mind about taking her head.”
With the deepest disgust, the elder did as she was told. Offering not so much as a slight bow, Elizabeth turned and walked toward the house.
She heard the carriage drive away as she proceeded up stairs, taking care to conceal her injuries. Her mother impatiently followed her, to ask why Lady Catherine would not come in again and rest herself.
“She did not choose it,” said her daughter.
“She is a very fine-looking woman! And her calling here was prodigiously civil! For she only came, I suppose, to offer her condolences for the passing of Mr. Collins and his wife. She is on her road somewhere, I dare say, and so, passing through Meryton, thought she might as well call on you. I suppose she had nothing particular to say to you, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth was forced to give into a little falsehood here; for to acknowledge the truth of what has passed between them was impossible.