FictionForest

Chapter 56

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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.  It was
too early in the morning for visitors, and besides,
the equipage did not answer to that of any of their
neighbours.  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 Miss Bennet to avoid the confinement
of such an intrusion, and walk away with him into the
shrubbery.  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.  It was Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

They were of course all intending
to be surprised; but their astonishment was beyond
their expectation; and on the part of Mrs. Bennet
and Kitty, though she was perfectly unknown to them,
even inferior to what Elizabeth felt.

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,
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 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; but I assure you
it is much larger than Sir William Lucas’s.”

“This must be a most inconvenient
sitting room for the evening, in summer; the windows
are full west.”

Mrs. Bennet assured her that they
never sat there after dinner, and then added: 

“May I take the liberty of asking
your ladyship whether you left Mr. and Mrs. Collins
well.”

“Yes, very well.  I saw them the night before
last.”

Elizabeth now expected that she would
produce a letter for her from Charlotte, as it seemed
the only probable motive for her calling.  But
no letter appeared, 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 kind of a little wilderness on one
side of your lawn.  I should be glad to take a
turn in it, if you will favour me with your company.”

“Go, my dear,” cried her
mother, “and show her ladyship about the different
walks.  I think she will be pleased with the hermitage.”

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-woman was in it. 
They proceeded in silence along the gravel walk that
led to the copse; 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 the copse,
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 at all 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, and in
a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly
not depart from it.  A report of a most alarming
nature reached me two days ago.  I was told that
not only your sister was 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
the truth of it possible, 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?”

“At once 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.”

“If I have, I shall be the last person to confess
it.”

“Miss Bennet, do you know who
I am?  I have not been accustomed to such language
as this.  I am almost the nearest relation he has
in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest
concerns.”

“But you are not entitled to
know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce
me to be explicit.”

“Let me be rightly understood. 
This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire,
can never take place.  No, 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 wholly unallied
to the family!  Do you pay no regard to the wishes
of his friends?  To his tacit engagement with
Miss de Bourgh?  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.  You
both did as much as you could in planning the marriage. 
Its completion depended on others.  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?  Let us sit down.  You
are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with
the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor
will I be dissuaded from it.  I have not been
used to submit to any person’s whims.  I
have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.”

That will make your
ladyship’s situation at present more pitiable;
but it will have no effect on me.”

“I will not be interrupted. 
Hear me in silence.  My daughter and my nephew
are formed for each other.  They are descended,
on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and,
on the father’s, from respectable, honourable,
and ancient ­though untitled ­families. 
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
without family, connections, or fortune.  Is this
to be endured!  But it must not, shall not be. 
If you were sensible of your own good, you would not
wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought
up.”

“In marrying your nephew, I
should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. 
He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter;
so far we are equal.”

“True.  You are a
gentleman’s daughter.  But who was your mother? 
Who are your uncles and aunts?  Do not imagine
me ignorant of their condition.”

“Whatever my connections may
be,” said Elizabeth, “if your nephew does
not object to them, they can be nothing to 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 will make no promise of the kind.”

“Miss Bennet I am shocked and
astonished.  I expected to find a more reasonable
young woman.  But do not deceive yourself into
a belief that I will ever recede.  I shall not
go away till you have given me the assurance I require.”

“And I certainly never
shall give it.  I am not to be intimidated into
anything so wholly unreasonable.  Your ladyship
wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would
my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage
at all more probable?  Supposing him to be attached
to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him
wish to bestow it on his cousin?  Allow me to
say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which
you have supported this extraordinary application
have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. 
You have widely mistaken my character, if you think
I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. 
How far your nephew might approve of your interference
in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly
no right to concern yourself in mine.  I must beg,
therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.”

“Not so hasty, if you please. 
I have by no means done.  To all the objections
I have already urged, I have still another to add. 
I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest
sister’s infamous elopement.  I know it
all; that the young man’s marrying her was a
patched-up business, at the expence of your father
and uncles.  And is such a girl to be my nephew’s
sister?  Is her husband, is the son of his late
father’s steward, to be his brother?  Heaven
and earth! ­of what are you thinking? 
Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”

“You can now have nothing further
to say,” she resentfully answered.  “You
have insulted me in every possible method.  I must
beg to return to the house.”

And she rose as she spoke.  Lady
Catherine rose also, and they turned back.  Her
ladyship was highly incensed.

“You have no regard, then, 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?”

“Lady Catherine, I have nothing
further to say.  You know my sentiments.”

“You are then resolved to have him?”

“I have said no such thing. 
I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will,
in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without
reference to you, or to any person so wholly
unconnected with me.”

“It is well.  You refuse,
then, to oblige me.  You refuse to obey the claims
of duty, honour, and gratitude.  You are determined
to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and
make him the contempt of the world.”

“Neither duty, nor honour, nor
gratitude,” replied Elizabeth, “have any
possible claim on me, in the present instance. 
No principle of either would be violated by my marriage
with Mr. Darcy.  And with regard to the resentment
of his family, or the indignation of the world, if
the former were excited by his marrying me,
it would not give me one moment’s concern ­and
the world in general would have too much sense to join
in the scorn.”

“And this is your real opinion! 
This is your final resolve!  Very well.  I
shall now know how to act.  Do not imagine, Miss
Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. 
I came to try you.  I hoped to find you reasonable;
but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.”

In this manner Lady Catherine talked
on, till they were at the door of the carriage, when,
turning hastily round, she added, “I take no
leave of you, Miss Bennet.  I send no compliments
to your mother.  You deserve no such attention. 
I am most seriously displeased.”

Elizabeth made no answer; and without
attempting to persuade her ladyship to return into
the house, walked quietly into it herself.  She
heard the carriage drive away as she proceeded up stairs. 
Her mother impatiently met her at the door of the
dressing-room, to ask why Lady Catherine would not
come in again and rest herself.

“She did not choose it,”
said her daughter, “she would go.”

“She is a very fine-looking
woman! and her calling here was prodigiously civil!
for she only came, I suppose, to tell us the Collinses
were well.  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 substance
of their conversation was impossible.

 

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