Title: Solace and Solitude
Fandom: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Characters: Lydia Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Anne de Bourgh
Word Count: 3500
Summary: Mr and Mrs Darcy host a house party at Pemberley for Christmas. The invited guests have an interesting variety of responses.
Prompt: There are days when solitude, for someone my age, is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall. -- Colette (1873-1954), French novelist.
Author's Notes: My everlasting thanks to those best of betas, therealsnape and my beloved partner. La! Writing this story was such fun.
Heady Wine -- Mrs. Lydia Bennet Wickham
"La! Lucy! Have you ever seen such a bedchamber as this? Twice the size of our room at Mrs Gifford's lodging-house. And our own sitting room besides, just through that door. We'll have it all to ourselves the whole time we're here. And proper servants to wait on us, not just that slattern Maddy.
"Now, Lucy, aren't you sorry you kicked and cried when I told you we were going to visit your auntie Elizabeth at Pemberley? I promised you it would be such fun, and you should know your mamma is never wrong about fun. I told you everything would be rich and pretty, too, didn't I? And look.
"Your bed in the nursery will be just as nice as mine, I'm sure. What do you mean, what is the nursery? It's where you will sleep. Yes, of course you must, I can't have you sleep here with me. Because I shall be coming to bed very late every night, that's why, and I won't want to be woken in the morning by a little girl hopping about.
"I'll be late because we are here for a house party, you little ninny. At house parties, there are suppers and dances and card parties and la! I don't know what all. There are assembly rooms in town, too, and your mamma means to attend them often. Your uncle Bingley can escort me. Auntie Jane won't want to be going out much, not in her condition.
"Oh! I plan to have quite good time, here on my own. Don't expect to see much of your mamma these few days, Lucy. I intend to behave like a girl again! I feel that giddy just thinking about it -- I haven't been this light-headed since last year's Christmas punch at Colonel Warren's. Ha! This year, since we are at Pemberley, I could have an entire bowl of punch to myself, if I pleased. La, it is lovely to be rich."
"Now why are you snivelling? Aren't you ashamed, a big girl like you, crying like a baby? Whatever is the matter? You don't want to sleep in the nursery? But it will be fun as anything! To be with your cousins. . .they'll have a good many toys, you'll see. You'll be much happier in a room with other children. Why would you want to be by yourself when you can be with others? Why, I remember one time when your aunties and me and that funny-looking Maria Lucas was all crowded together into a coach, and we had our bandboxes and bonnets -- oh! it was good fun! My hatbox kept hitting your Aunt Kitty's head. I laughed all the way home.
"Well, I'm sure I wish you could have as many toys as your cousins. Lord, you'd think with sisters rich as I have, we could live better than we do. It's such a pity your aunt Lizzy is so mean. She won't ask uncle Darcy to get Papa a place at court or anything. I believe she's always been just that little bit jealous of me. Well, she did like your papa prodigiously, of course, and then he chose me. I do confess, I laughed like anything when I thought what her face would look like when she learnt there was to be a Mrs. Wickham, and it wasn't to be her!
"But there, I don't think she's sorry she got Mr. Darcy instead. Lord, who could be sorry, with ten thousand a year! And it's been a long time since she wanted your papa -- these eight years at least. You weren't even dreamed of then, just imagine. I no more thought I should ever have a great girl six years old than I thought your aunt Mary would take it into her head to become a companion to that spindly little Miss de Bourgh. I can't think how she can bear it. But then, Mary never did care a fig about having fun. La! but she is strange.
"Now, missy, you can just stop that crying this instant. I won't be made to listen to any more fuss about the nursery or how you wanted your papa to come to Pemberley with us. You remember I told you: he can't come here. Because he can't, that's why. I don't know, something between him and uncle Darcy, it's boring, and I don't bother my head about it. So don't ask me again. Anyway, Papa has become such an old sourpuss that we shan't miss him. Let him go on his old maneuvers -- Lord, how silly your papa is, that he thinks I believe the regulars are likely to muster over the Christmastide! I know exactly the sort of 'maneuvers' he'll be making.
"What? Oh, never you mind, Miss Nosy, you don't have to understand. Will you stop asking questions? But I will tell you this: men and officers may be good fun, Lucy, but don't ever expect just one of them to be enough make you happy. When I was only a silly little girl, I thought dashing Mr. Wickham would delight me forever. La! I laugh at myself now. Well, live and learn. And there is still a deal of fun to be had, papa or no papa.
"Now I know your auntie asked us to stay for only this Christmas fortnight, but mamma will contrive to make it an entire month, you just wait and see if I don't. I shall persuade your auntie to give us a proper ball, too, for what is a Yule holiday without a ball?
"And since there aren't nearly enough gentlemen in our party, we'll have to invite some outsiders. I do believe I saw some officers when we rode through the village; I wonder if the --------shire regiment could be stationed here. If we do have the ball, my sweet, I'll tell Nurse to fetch you down to see it, would you like that? And if you're a good girl this visit, I'll bring you smoked oysters from the supper. Auntie Lizzy does set a fine table, I'll give her that. Your uncle Darcy is welcome to be proud as anything, if it means he won't be stingy with his suppers!
"Yes, all right, you may take that miniature if you fancy it, and if it will make you stop crying. Lord knows your aunt and uncle will never miss it. See? You're starting to have a good time already, and it's going to get better and better. You may have sweets every day, and your mamma will dance till dawn every night, and we'll both of us see some lovely young red-coats, not just Papa's boring old regulars, and oh! La, Miss Lucy!
"Only think what fun!"
Poison -- The Hon. Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam de Bourgh
"It is not to be borne!
"Mr Collins, your unspeakable cousin Elizabeth has overreached herself yet again. Just a few weeks after her despicable sister enticed Miss de Bourgh to move out of her own mother's home, they are now being recognised by the rest of the family!
"Well, I hope Miss de Bourgh is satisfied with the notice of her cousins at Pemberley, for it is all the family she is to have. She certainly has none here at Rosings. As of four of the clock on the fifteenth of November, I have no daughter, and Miss Anne de Bourgh has no mother. I am set upon it, Mr Collins, and I am glad you have not attempted to dissuade me, for as you know, I am a rock when my mind is made up. A veritable rock.
"No real mother could do otherwise, of course. I devoted my life to that child, and this is how she repays me? By setting up an establishment of her own? An establishment! Of women on their own! Can you credit it, Mr Collins? It is absolutely unheard of for any females, let alone a de Bourgh!
"And now that hussy, that so-called 'Mrs Darcy,' has proved yet again the depths of her wicked nature. Colonel Fitzwilliam writes that she has invited that sister of hers, that Mary! along with Miss de Bourgh, to join them all at the Pemberley Yule celebration.
"It is not to be borne!
"I hold you personally responsible, Mr Collins. You allowed your wife to invite her sister and that Bennet chit to visit, and you didn't attend them when they came to spend entire afternoons at Rosings in Miss de Bourgh's company. Yes, of course you should have come with them! You could write a sermon as easily in the comfort of Miss de Bourgh's sitting room as in the Parsonage. More easily, for you have no room so luxurious at home.
"Or you could simply have set aside sermon-writing for a week or two. Whatever are curates for, if not to take over your duties when larger ones call?
"Yes, well may you apologise. I think if you were to prostrate yourself on the floor before me, it would hardly be enough to atone for the wrongs you and that Bennet family -- your flesh and blood! -- have done me. Oh, do get up, man! Do you not recognise a figure of speech when you hear one? You have never been a person of quick understanding, Mr Collins, but there is stupidity, and then there is stupidity. Take care that you stay within the acceptable range of it. I am already considering speaking to the bishop about your fitness as a clergyman.
"Yes, indeed I am. There must be some deep vein of degeneracy in your family, that your own cousin should even dream of encouraging a lady of excellent family to set up her own 'establishment'. And a mere two weeks after she attained her majority! It speaks of slyness and cunning, Mr Collins, which are obviously traits shared by all the Bennets. Did not your cousin Elizabeth use them shamelessly to ensnare my nephew even after I told her that I intended him to marry another woman?
"And now here is that sad history repeating itself. Here we have Mistress Mary, of bad family and quite too plain ever to find a husband of her own, attaching herself to the sheltered daughter of wealth and position and good blood. Now Miss de Bourgh is of exceptionally able mind, but she was most carefully brought up, and so was unprepared to withstand the wiles of such a desperate character as Mary Bennet.
"And that Jenkinson woman is no less depraved! The viper in my bosom, pretending to be such a careful companion to Anne, and all the while merely awaiting her chance to repay my many kindnesses with betrayal. I placed four -- four! -- of that woman's nieces in desirable situations, and this is the return I am made! To think that Mrs Jenkinson is living now with those two girls as a chaperone. A chaperone! As if her presence could make such an 'establishment' respectable!
"I believe I once told you and your wife, Mr Collins, that I disapproved of entailing estates away from the female line, but I may be put in the unprecedented position of revising my opinion. I should have been the one to retain control of Miss de Bourgh's fortune. There should have been none of this nonsense of a mere child of twenty-one directly inheriting money that her father left for the benefit of her children.
"Oh, you may close your mouth, for I know exactly what you are about to say. You will say that there is no reason that Miss de Bourgh may still not marry well; this ridiculous business of a 'female establishment' will not last long.
"But how will she be put in the way of meeting eligible young men when she has been locked away in the countryside, supposedly to spend her days reading books! Of course I have nothing against books, I myself am a great reader, or would be if I had the leisure for such things, but too much study is dangerous for a young female. And no girl -- well, no good girl, I exempt such women as your scheming Bennet cousins -- is capable of selecting a proper husband on her own.
"Well, Miss de Bourgh shall have no guidance from her mother, for mark me, she has no mother. You will never again refer to her in my presence, do you understand? Unless it is to tell me that her 'establishment' has led her to exactly the sort of misery I have predicted. Whatever bad end she comes to, she may have the satisfaction of knowing it is her own doing. It will be my satisfaction, you may depend upon it.
"Sit down at the writing desk, Mr Collins. Yes, there! Unless you see some other writing desk in the room. Prepare your pen, quickly, now! I need you to write a letter at my dictation, for I cannot write it myself. I shall not pollute my own fingers in forming that hateful child's name. Are you ready?
"'To Colonel George Fitzwilliam, Esq.' (I do not give him the honour of a salutation, you see) --
"'The Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh requires that you will cease sending her missives regarding the activities of Miss Anne de Bourgh, formerly (though never again -- add that in parentheses, Mr Collins) of Rosings, Westerham, Kent. The Lady Catherine is perfectly satisfied with her current life at Rosings, and will not have that life poisoned by unwanted references to ungrateful former daughters. Where Miss de Bourgh now resides, the Lady Catherine has no interest in knowing. Nor does she require your assurances of Miss de Bourgh's safety, having no more concern for it than she would for the safety of any other stranger. Finally, the Lady Catherine refuses to insulted by any further references to Miss de Bourgh's happiness. If the girl had any vestige of decency remaining, she would take care not to feel another moment's happiness from now until the day she dies.'
"Now, you will sign and direct it, Mr Collins, and you will tell Carter on your way out to see that it is posted.
"Happy! Can you believe it? Fitzwilliam has the audacity to tell me that Miss de Bourgh is happy!
"It is simply not to be borne."
Bitter Tonic -- Miss Anne Fitzwilliam de Bourgh
"And you are certain that your sister Elizabeth does not mind our visiting, Mary? I shouldn't want to impose upon her or make her feel any discomfort. For you know that my mother has not been kind to her, and so she might find that my presence --
"Well. All right. If you are certain. Then we are really to enjoy ourselves here for two whole weeks? Following our own inclinations? Sitting in the library as long as we will? Eating two portions of Christmas pudding if we wish to? I can scarcely imagine it. I would be almost afraid to try, except that I drank two glasses of Madeira last night, and ate poached pears and hazle nuts at supper, and felt no ill effects at all!
"And to think that I am to begin my music lessons next week. It is what I have wanted to do above all things, these last few years. It is uncommonly good of cousin Darcy to engage a music master, for he must know that Mamma will not be pleased; she always fears that musical exertion will endanger my health, and. . .oh!
"Oh, dear, there I go again. Yes, I know, my dear Mary: I promised to pass an entire hour without mentioning Mamma, and here I have lasted but barely five minutes. Still, you must be patient with me, my friend. Mamma has a way of being present even when she is many leagues away. I cannot quite believe even yet that she will not soon be striding into the room to tell me that I am speaking too much and must watch out for draught.
"I shall simply have to begin the hour anew, then. You will mark the clock, Mrs Jenkinson? Sixty full minutes.
"Very well. One hour without Mamma. What shall we talk about, then? Books? You know that Cousin Elizabeth has got in Miss Burney's latest work. I read of it in the Edinburgh Review that Mr Darcy was kind enough to bring to Rosings, and had thought the novel's title intriguing, but Ma -- ahaha! You see, dear Mary, I have caught myself in time, so do not wag your finger at me. I did not say her name. I am safe! At least I know you do not plan to lock me up if I transgress.
"No, it's quite all right, Mrs Jenkinson, I can talk of it now -- even laugh about it, for you know the imprisonment did not last long, only a few days, and all has ended happily. But truly, I never would have believed that even Ma. . .that even She-who-is-not-to-be-named would go to such lengths simply because I wanted to journey to Longbourn with Mary instead of staying home to meet a most eligible third cousin from Somerset.
"But you know, I am quite glad to have had that week of bread-and-water solitude. It seemed a hard dose at the time, but like so many foul-tasting medicines -- and you know I have been given them all! -- it brought about good in the end. For had I not had so many hours completely to myself, so much time for reflection, I might not have come to understand that I needed to leave Rosings. I might have stayed there forever, seeing only the nearby lanes, and even those only from the seat of a phaeton.
"But there, let us put aside unpleasant memories. We were speaking of Miss Burney's new novel, were we not? The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties. It is the perfect title to describe us, I think. Or it was. I think it will not be for much longer, though. We will be wanderers no more, since we are so soon to have a home of our own, right here in Derbyshire. So close to cousin Darcy, and of course, his library. It will take time to build our own, and meanwhile, it will be glorious to have his. I begin to think I might like to study Latin. . .
"But first we must read The Wanderer aloud, would you like that? That Mr Hazlitt in the Review was quite scathing about it, which only made me want to read it all the more. Do you know, I begin to believe that I am just as contrary as Ma -- as some people have called me. Yet it is very commonplace, I have noticed, for men to disdain novels about females, and I think that if we do not read them ourselves, we will not know our own stories.
"Now, Mary dear, I know you believe that novels are not sufficiently serious, but think how instructional they can be! I daresay we have all learnt a great deal of useful history from Mr Scott, and Miss Burney's work will give us insight into current events. Just think! The story of a friendless young woman who must make her own way through the Terror. It will be quite as thrilling as anything by Mrs Radcliffe, yet without any of those ghosties you so object to, Mary. I am sure we will find it highly educational.
"Ah. . .look, it is nearly two o'clock. Do you know what I did at this hour for nearly every day of my life until now? Yes, you smile, Mrs Jenkinson; I know that you know what this time always meant in the life of that sad, pale, sickly Miss Anne de Bourgh -- it was the time of her nap. Poor, pathetic child…I wonder whatever became of her? I do believe she is gone for good.
"She certainly isn't this Miss Anne. For this Miss Anne is going to improve the two o'clock hour with a tour round the park. Yes, you, too, Mistress Mary! It will do us both good to get out into the air. What an appetite for reading we shall have when we return. I will ask Cousin Eliza if perhaps we can take some of the children with us. That little Lucy Wickham is such a peaked wee thing, and I don't believe she seems happy. We will see if we can help jolly her out of her petulance.
"Will you ring for our cloaks, Mrs Jenkinson? Mamma always said that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband. But I believe my good fortune wants only your company, Miss Mary. And a brisk walk."