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CHAPTER 56

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 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;
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 any thing; 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 shew 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 down stairs. 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 her's. 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 every one 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 farther 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 farther 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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