Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pride and Prejudice Janeicillin: Part Two

Read Part One.

All engagements must be accompanied by a good deal of letter writing. News must be spread, announcements placed, lawyers consulted. Certain of these missives, according to etiquette, best come from the engaged couple themselves. Some will be a pleasure to write and quite readily attended to, while others are too much of a burden to intrude upon the happiness of newly solidified love. After a few blissful days spent basking in each other’s company, Elizabeth felt that the most onerous of these tasks best not be delayed any longer.

"Shall you ever have courage to announce to Lady Catherine what is to befall her?" questioned Elizabeth with her pert smile.

"I am more likely to want more time than courage, Elizabeth. But it ought to done, and if you will give me a sheet of paper, it shall be done directly."

"And if I had not a letter to write myself, I might sit by you and admire the evenness of your writing, as another young lady once did. But I have an aunt, too, who must not be longer neglected."

From an unwillingness to confess how much her intimacy with Mr. Darcy had been over-rated, Elizabeth had never yet answered Mrs. Gardiner's long letter; but now, having that to communicate which she knew would be most welcome, she was almost ashamed to find that her uncle and aunt had already lost three days of happiness, and immediately wrote as follows:

I would have thanked you before, my dear aunt, as I ought to have done, for your long, kind, satisfactory, detail of particulars; but to say the truth, I was too cross to write. You supposed more than really existed. But now suppose as much as you choose; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford, and unless you believe me actually married, you cannot greatly err. You must write again very soon, and praise him a great deal more than you did in your last. I thank you, again and again, for not going to the Lakes. How could I be so silly as to wish it! Your idea of the ponies is delightful. We will go round the Park every day. I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.

 Mr. Darcy's letter to Lady Catherine was in a different style:

Though you have already made you feelings about this engagement perfectly well-known, I hope we can now put such hastily spoken words behind us. Do not think I haven’t berated myself with the same concerns you expressed last week. This is not a hasty decision I have made, but one long contemplated. Be assured that it is not the lady’s arts and allurements that I admire, but her strength of character, which has had ample opportunity to impress me. Miss Bennet has honored me with her acceptance of my offer. It is now my task to prove myself worthy of her affections.  

Though Lady Catherine fumed upon reading these lines, she was not surprised by them, Mr. Collins having scuttled to her side the day before with tidings of the engagement. Then she had denied the report, insisting that she would hear such news from her nephew herself, hoping against hope that this letter would not come. His behavior upon being told that Elizabeth refused to comply with her demand never to enter into such an engagement had determined the matter for Lady Catherine. Angrily she had returned to Rosings, and angry she remained, never more so than now when there was no possible excuse to continue avoiding telling Anne.

“Get me Mr. Collins!” she bellowed, sending several servants into motion. Someone must feel the brunt of her rage and the Rector was her man. After all, if he had just married the impertinent lady in question, none of this would be happening.

The joy of communicating to Miss Bingley the news of Mr. Darcy’s engagement fell to Miss Bennet, the person least likely to appreciate the delight of such a task. Carefully penning what she hoped was a kind response to her soon-to-be sister’s insincere congratulations, Jane unknowingly wrote the most distressing letter Caroline Bingley had ever received. Rather than congratulating herself on never having suffered any greater tragedy than this, the marriage of a man she had presumptuously set her sights on, Miss Bingley gave in to the full force of her tragedy. It fell to Mrs. Hurst to comfort her and scold her into decorum while her husband, upon witnessing the onslaught of the hysterics, hid from the uproar at his club, very keen to be the first to share news of Darcy’s betrothal.

“I will NOT attend that wedding!” was Caroline’s muffled cry as she wept into her pillow.

“But you must! It would look so very particular if you do not! Mr. Darcy will think that you cannot bear to face him. I’m surprised you would even consider giving the Bennets the satisfaction.”
This thought brought a halt to the rhythmic sobs. “I care not. I’ll plead the headache.”

“A likely story indeed. Besides, think of the Pemberley connection! You and Miss Eliza are already on poor terms. If you wish to maintain the relationship, I suggest you start making amends!”

As Louisa continued to recite the many good reasons not to slight the future Mistress of Pemberley, Caroline reflected on her entire acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She remembered the first time he accompanied her brother home on holiday and the delight of being invited to Pemberley, then Pemberley itself. Sweet Pemberley! The tears again began to overwhelm her when her sister’s words intruded upon her musings.

 “ …and Georgiana will have her season soon. You are in a position to establish yourself as a member of their family party – think of the doors which will open to you! You had best forget every thought you ever had of Mr. Darcy and set your mind to finding a husband. You are not getting any younger, as I need not remind you, …”

“No, she really needn’t,” thought Caroline. “Of course, Louisa is correct. Elizabeth and Darcy will not enjoy constantly escorting Georgiana, especially as it is unlikely the new Mrs. Darcy will be welcomed into society with open arms.” Miss Bingley knew very well those protective, invisible walls that the Ton enveloped itself in, penetrable only by bloodline, having felt first hand the sting of being regarded only a visitor within their sanctum. The notion of Elizabeth Bennet impacted with the full force of society’s scrutiny brought some solace. Nonetheless, only the most eligible men would be presented to Miss Darcy. There certainly was much to be gained in maintaining the acquaintance and little profit, but in self-regard, in breaking it.

Louisa paused in her lecture, either to catch her breath or due to the look of resignation that had spread over Caroline’s now calm mien, “Have I gotten through to you, sister?”

There was a pause before Miss Bingley responded collectedly, “Thoroughly. I will write to Georgiana with my congratulations and to invite her to stay at Netherfield whenever this monstrosity of a wedding takes place.”

“You forget it will not fall to you to invite Miss Darcy, as it is likely Charles will be married before her brother.”

Caroline scowled, but no more tears threatened. Louisa smiled and departed from her sister’s chambers.

This news which sent Miss Bingley into such disorder had much the opposite effect upon Georgiana. Indeed, the joy which Miss Darcy expressed on receiving similar information was as sincere as her brother's in sending it. Writing to his dear sister was no onerous task for Mr. Darcy; only one of those rare errors of the postal service could be blamed for the sister of the groom not being one of the very first notified of the impending marriage.  Four sides of paper were insufficient to contain Georgiana’s delight, and all her earnest desire of being loved by her sister. Sadly, her happiness was soon tampered, as she received less pleasant communications from first her aunt, Lady Catherine, who made no secret of her disapprobation for Elizabeth Bennet, and then this from Caroline Bingley:

Words cannot do justice to my feelings upon learning of the impending marriage between your brother and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Please express to Mr. Darcy my sincerest congratulations on his engagement in your next letter. My particular delight in his choice stems from the closer relationship which we shall share, my dear friend, when my brother is married to Jane Bennet. Two best friends marrying two sisters – what could be more charming?

Once a wedding date has been set, please consider joining the Hursts and myself when we travel to Hertfordshire. Your companionship will enliven the journey and you are, of course, most welcome to stay at Netherfield as long as the celebrations keep you in the area. I fancy the accommodations at Longbourn would be a bit trying for one of your refined sensibilities, and as your brother will, of course, be in residence at Netherfield, I quite feel as if you belong to our family party. The future Mrs. Bingley will not mind my taking the liberty of extending this invitation, as she is kindest sister for whom one could wish and quite devoted to my happiness, which will most certainly be secured by your companionship.

Georgiana knew Miss Bingley well enough to perceive her standard insincerity in these words (except for the first line, which she could readily believe). Long had Caroline tried in vain to attract Fitzwilliam, and Georgiana had born witness to some of her most humiliating attempts. She had hoped that with the end of Darcy’s eligibility, so too would end Miss Bingley’s attentions, but it seemed that was not to be. Clearly, Caroline was determined to continue inflicting her presence on the Darcys. Not amused, Georgiana responded thusly:

Please accept my congratulation upon your brother’s approaching nuptials. It is natural that you feel your good fortune in securing Jane Bennet as a member of your family, for I hear she is the sweetest and loveliest of ladies. It is very gratifying that Mr. Bingley, one of the kindest brother’s I know (indeed, I often feel as if he is my own), should find his equal in his wife.

Your felicitations are most welcome, and I will happily avail myself of your offer to journey together. It will provide Mrs. Annesley with the ability to use my brother’s marriage as an opportunity to visit her sister, without my having to ask Fitzwilliam to part from Miss Bennet. I would hate to intrude upon their time together, and your kind invitation provides a most welcome solution to the problem. As for where I shall reside while in Hertfordshire, I appreciate your kind offer upon the future Mrs. Bingley’s behalf, but I have already accepted Miss Elizabeth’s invitation to stay at Longbourn. I trust my sensibilities shall somehow bear the affront.

As for Lady Catherine’s letter, she fed it to the fire.

“Mrs. Collins! Mrs. Collins!” cried her husband as he ran into the parsonage, flushed and breathless, and stumbled into the parlor.

“Yes, Mr. Collins?” Charlotte inquired, setting aside her work and rising.

“Lady Catherine,” he panted, “Lady Catherine has received tidings from Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Collins collapsed in a chair, pulled out his handkerchief, and dabbed at his brow.

Charlotte remained calm, “Has she finally accepted his engagement?”

“Accepted perhaps, but she holds me entirely to blame! I know not what to do. She is my patroness, to her graciousness we owe our good fortune, but I do not know how to make amends for not marrying one of the Bennets as she instructed me! One cannot undo a marriage! It is a delicate situation,” he said, suddenly aware of the indelicacy of his statement, “but the truth cannot be altered, my dear. By not sacrificing your most felicitous company in favor of Cousin Elizabeth’s, I have irreparably harmed the jewel that is Miss De Bourgh!”

Charlotte did not remind her husband that Elizabeth had rejected him, nor did she comment on the probability of Mr. Darcy ever having had any intention of marrying his sickly cousin. She also did not reveal her glee in her friend’s victory over the lady whose indomitable spirit ruled her life, a sense of triumph she was only ever to experience vicariously. Instead she moved to Mr. Collins’ side, took his hand, and began to sooth him thusly: “But you cannot be held in any way to blame, Mr. Collins! You and I have often discussed the attentions Mr. Darcy paid to Eliza from the earliest moments of their acquaintance. Why, you noted their dance at the Netherfield ball yourself! Mr. Darcy is his own man. The Master of Pemberley will do as he wishes; you are not responsible for any part of the matter.”

He patted her hand thankfully, “Yes, indeed, my dear. I knew you could be relied upon to see my perspective, yet such sound reasoning will not, I fear, induce Lady Catherine to forgive me for this unhappy state of affairs. It seems I must bear the responsibility.”

“Lady Catherine is unjust. She abuses you in her nephews place.”

“Oh no, my dear, you must not say so! She certainly did suggest that I marry the lady, and indeed I did not comply.”

“But you could not, Mr. Collins.”

“True, Mrs. Collins. It was not long after my arrival at Longbourn that I knew my partner in life was not to be found within its walls.”

“Which renders Lady Catherine’s criticism of you nothing but spleen.”

“Perhaps the honorable Lady is a bit chagrined at the moment. After all, when one is so often infallible, to have misconceived anything, let alone one’s daughter’s marriage, must be deeply disturbing. We will make her excuses for her and hope her anger soon abates.” Mr. Collins felt much recovered from his fright at Lady Catherine’s diatribe and subsequent flight home. Busy as he was relishing the comforts of his house and wife, who was now serving tea, he did not hear the lady’s next question.  

“Perhaps it would be best to let the fires cool at Lucas Lodge?”

“Yes, my dear?” he responded, his thoughts consumed by a tart.

“There now! I knew you would see the benefit of such a course. Indeed, is not a removal from Hunsford, at least for a few weeks, ideal at such a moment?”

To that Mr. Collins attended. “Remove from Hunsford? Oh no, that would not do at all. Indeed, Lady Catherine would perceive it as the greatest insult: as cowardice, on my part. If we left, who is to say she would not ask the bishop to relocate me, when I am not here to plead my cause?”  As the subject threw Mr. Collins back into a state of distress, it was promptly dropped and not resumed, even when Charlotte’s desire to be in Hertfordshire increased upon receiving a letter announcing Elizabeth’s happiness. Fortunately, Mr. Collins received Mr. Bennet’s note on the same day.

“You know, my dear, perhaps it would be best to relieve Lady Catherine of my presence, at least while it continues to vex her. We could visit your parents and wish both happy couples our congratulations in person.”

“I think it a splendid idea, Mr. Collins.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Collins. I have been known to have one or two, if I may say so myself. I will make the arrangements directly.”


Come back next Thursday for another weekly dose!

1 comment:

  1. What a charming installment! I loved all the letters. It was interesting to see everyone's reaction to their engagment.