It was too early in the morning for visitors, and besides, the equipage did not answer to that of any of their neighbours. It was Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
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 ground, walking with a young man, who, I believe, will soon become a part of the family.’
‘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.’
Elizabeth was determined to make no effort for conversation with a woman who was now more than usually insolent and disagreeable.
‘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.
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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 a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.’
‘True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But what was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.’
‘Whatever my connection 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.’
To be continued next Tuesday!