Chapter 1 of Pride and Prejudice and Poison
The sound of horses and carriage carried through the windows to the occupants of the drawing room. They looked up at each other in wonder. “Who could that be?”
Kitty, who had been wandering the grounds, saw the carriage plus four thunder down the lane towards their house. She ran into the drawing room. “There’s a coach with four horses coming down the lane! There is a coat of arms on the coach! I do not recognize it.”
The occupants of the room arose as if one. Shock at having a coach plus four pull up to their house was nothing compared to the shock of Hill introducing their visitor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She stepped into the drawing room roving her critical eye over everything. Then she strolled into the room and sat in the lone unoccupied chair, which was normally reserved for the head of the house, Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth was at a loss as to why the much esteemed and proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh would travel this far, let alone stop in to call upon Elizabeth. Especially since she had not seemed fond of her when she visited the Collins. “Your ladyship, might I enquire upon your health?”
“You may.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened at the pause before Lady Catherine responded. “I am not unwell.”
Her confusion grew as to the purpose of Lady Catherine’s visit. If she was being polite, making a social call, Lady Catherine would behave in a much more civil manner than she currently was. Why was she here then?
“And how were Mr. and Mrs. Collins when you left?” Elizabeth was hoping to find out when lady Catherine left, as perhaps that would give an insight as to the purpose of her highly unexpected visit.
“I saw them the night before last and they were well.” Elizabeth glanced at Jane sitting next to her, both sharing a wondrous look. Why had an esteemed member of the nobility, let alone someone that did not seem to cherish the social call, stop for a visit?
“Miss Bennet, you seem to have a nice lawn upon the side. Maybe you could take me on a tour of your grounds?” Elizabeth eyebrows rose at this declaration. It was to be a tête-à-tête! She could not fathom the cause for this. Lady Catherine said the Collins were well, and that had exhausted the list of reasons Elizabeth had considered for Lady Catherine’s visit.
“Oh yes, your Ladyship, the grounds are very nicely kept and vast. You will find-“
Lady Catherine stood, interrupting Mrs. Bennet. “I will await you on the lawn to the side of the house. I expect light refreshments and hot cocoa to be prepared directly. My maid has a health restorative to be added to the hot cocoa.” Lady Catherine then strolled back out the room whence she came, leaving behind a room full of silent and shocked countenances.
Mrs. Bennet rushed towards Elizabeth, grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the room nearly at a run. “Make haste, make haste! It will not do to keep one of such importance waiting! Put on your best bonnet and take this parasol to keep the sun off her ladyship. Quickly now!”
Elizabeth was so rattled she was nearly unable to tie her bonnet. Thankfully her mother left to oversee the preparations of the light refreshments that her Ladyship had ordered.
“What an honor this is for her to stop in on us.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at Jane.
“Is it? For a social call I would have expected to see happy feelings in the visit.” Jane gave her a small smile and handed over the parasol. Elizabeth rushed out of the house to the side gardens and the iron wrought table and chairs in the midst of the copse of trees.
Lady Catherine was already seated at the head of the table overseeing the placement of the light refreshments and hot cocoa upon the table. Elizabeth sat across from her waiting for the servants to leave. It would not do for them to hear the nature, the real reason for Lady Catherine’s call. Servants were the worst gossips. Aside from her mother and aunt, of course.
Lady Catherine took a sip of her hot cocoa and set the cup back down on the saucer. “You must not be surprised by my visit. You could have no confusion at the nature of my call. I am most displeased.” Elizabeth blinked, folding her hands together in her lap.
“On the contrary, I am at a loss as to the nature of your visit.” Elizabeth shivered more to the icy countenance of Lady Catherine than to the chill air of fall. She took a healthy drink of her hot cocoa to fortify herself during this visit.
“Do not mock me Miss Bennet, I am not the sort to be trifled with. You cannot deny that is it is you who started the rumors I have heard. That not only was your elder sister engaged, soon to be married to a man of considerable means,” at this Elizabeth bristled but held her tongue, “but that you too were soon to be engaged to someone most definitely above your station. My own nephew Fitzwilliam Darcy!”
At this Elizabeth’s surprise was complete. Nothing less then pigs raining down from the sky could have surprised her more. “You are mistaken Lady Catherine. I have not-“
“I will not be interrupted! Fitzwilliam Darcy has been engaged to my daughter, yes my daughter since they were both in their cribs. It was the wish of his mother and I that our families were to be united as such. Are the wishes of his late mother, my dear friend, to be slighted and ignored by someone of no standing?” At this Elizabeth could not keep her silence any longer.
“Pardon me Lady Catherine, but my father is a gentleman and I am a gentleman’s daughter. Is not Mr. Darcy the same?” Lady Catherine’s face blanched, her lips pursued so severely that Elizabeth wondered if the woman was even breathing. She composed herself by taking another long drink of hot cocoa.
“I will not be treated as such! You are making a mockery of everything that is held dear in our society! I am sure you have used your feminine wiles upon my nephew, but mark my word it will not be borne. Are you engaged to my nephew Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth took another drink of her cocoa, giving her time to compose herself yet again.
“Your ladyship says that it cannot be so.” Lady Catherine narrowed her eyes furthering the image in Elizabeth’s mind of Lady Catherine as one of the mythical creatures, a dragon. She took another drink of her cocoa to hide her smile.
“I am most displeased. I had not expected to find such insolence. Are you or are you not engaged to my nephew, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth pondered her answer, but then realized Lady Catherine would never leave until she got a straight answer.
“I am not.” The relief seen in the relaxing of Lady Catherine’s body would have been a cause for merrymaking and mockery for Elizabeth had this been any other occasion.
“And you vow to never enter such an agreement with Mr. Darcy?” The hope that rose in Elizabeth’s chest was overcoming. She knew not what caused these rumors that came to Lady Catherine, but if there was any truth in them, any at all, she wished fervently that they would come true.
“I will not.” The rapid turnabout of Lady Catherine’s countenance was comical but Elizabeth did not feel at all like laughing.
“Inosolent girl! Unreasonable! Is this how I am to be treated? Is this how my family’s legacy and the hallowed grounds of Pemberley are thus to be polluted?” Elizabeth flared her nostrils and pursed her lips, keeping herself from uttering what she was feeling. At least she, just a gentleman’s daughter, understood the polite and civil dictates of society.
Lady Catherine stood. “I am leaving. I do not wish good tidings upon your mother, your father, or your sisters.” Lady Catherine stepped around the table and out of the of the flower garden situated in the little copse of trees.
Elizabeth looked down at the table, at her empty cup of cocoa, the uneaten finger sandwiches that Cook had so quickly prepared. She tilted her head to the side and looked up at the sky. She dared hope with all her being that there was truth in the rumor.