Nettie Thorpe walked hastily but quietly. After completing her afternoon chores at the Hunsford parsonage, she had requested permission from Cook to go for a walk. Cook had smiled slyly and consented, as it was known that one of the young groundskeepers was Nettie's beau. But Tom Ridley was not her object today. Instead she turned her feet toward Rosings Manor.
Nettie had long coveted a position at Rosings. She was a girl who easily fell prey to jealousy, and the air of superiority which the Rosings servants displayed toward the Hunsford servants stirred her resentment. She had discerned that the best means for improving one's prospects was being useful to Lady Catherine DeBourgh, and today when she saw an opportunity to do so, she hurried to take it.
She reached the servants' entrance to the great house and conveyed that she had a message of great importance for Lady Catherine, one which she had been instructed not to send through anyone else but to speak it only to her ladyship in person.
"Y' think a housemaid from Hunsford is goin' ta speak with Lady Catherine? Who sent ya?"
"I can't say. I was told not ta say anything ta anyone else. If y' won't let me see 'er ladysh'p, tell me yer name, please, so I can tell 'em who stopped me from deliverin' the message, an' I'll be on m' way."
The woman uncomfortably asked Nettie to wait at the door a little longer. Within ten minutes, Nettie was ushered into Lady Catherine's sitting room and stood before her.
Lady Catherine examined her. "You have something to tell me?"
Nettie estimated that she knew what tone to strike in speaking to the lady. "Forgive me please, m'lady, fer not bein' entirely truthful about bein' sent ta see ya. I came on m' own as Phoebe wouldn't stir herself ta inform anyone."
"And who is Phoebe?"
"She's the other housemaid, m'lady. She's the one heard what 'appened at the parsonage while Master and Mistress were here with y' at tea. She told us servants all about it, but didn' tell Master or Mistress. I thought 'twas only right for y' ta know, so here I came."
"What is this that happened, girl?"
"Yer ladysh'p, it was yer nephew, the one that's meant ta wed Miss DeBourgh."
"Yes'm. When y' were havin' tea, he came ta Hunsford. Mistress's friend, Miss Bennet, was there. Phoebe heard 'em in the room talkin', an' he proposed marriage to her!"
"Yes'm. 'Parently, he said that even though she was b'neath him an' her family wasn't up ta scratch he was so in love with 'er that he couldn' help himself."
"I will not allow it! I will make him see reason!"
"M'lady, it seems nothin'll happen. Miss Bennet refused him."
"I am surprised, but at least she has sense enough to know that she ought not aspire for a man so high above her own sphere. She did seem to be a very genteel kind of girl."
"Well, that ain't quite the manner that she refused. She insulted Mr. Darcy."
"She insulted him?!"
"Phoebe told me everything they both said, m'lady. Miss Bennet called Mr. Darcy arrogant 'n unfeelin'. She said th't he had told 'is friend ta stop courtin' Miss Bennet's sister, an' she said he mistreated some other gent named Mr. Wickham an' ruined 'is life. She said Mr. Darcy was the last man in the world she'd ever marry. So she won't be marryin' 'im, Ladysh'p, but I thought y' ought to know what's 'appenin' in yer own 'ouse. I don' think Master and Mistress yet know anything about it. An' no other servants cared to tell ya, it seemed."
Nettie was struck with fear that she had miscalculated in her strategy. She began trembling and bowed her head. "I'm so, sorry, Ladysh'p! I truly thought it was the right thing ta do ta tell ya! Please f'rgive me fer botherin' ya, m'lady! I'll go now! So sorry! Please!"
Lady Catherine shook herself and reached out to Nettie, putting a hand on her shoulder. "No, not you! You did no wrong. Miss Bennet is the impudent wretch! I appreciate being informed. I am to Hunsford immediately. This will be dealt with."
Nettie sighed with relief in the knowledge that she had not gotten on the wrong side of Lady Catherine. But it was not time to truly relax. She had thought that Lady Catherine would want to speak to her nephew rather than anyone else. She continued to think quickly. "Ladysh'p, y' do recall that I told y' that my master and mistress know nothin' of what 'appened?"
"Yes . . . I should not take the carriage. What path do the servants walk to go between Hunsford and Rosings without being viewed by their betters?"
Inwardly, Nettie smiled. "I can show y' the way, Ladysh'p, as I need ta return ta Hunsford as well."
They managed to leave the manor house without attracting notice and were soon walking together toward the parsonage.
"What is your name, girl?"
Nettie smiled, both inwardly and outwardly. "Jeanette Thorpe, m'lady. Most folks call me Nettie."
"Jeanette, when we arrive, you will ascertain where Miss Bennet is and we will determine how I will speak to her without being seen."
When they arrived, Nettie steered the great lady to an infrequently used servant area. Upon discovering that Miss Bennet was in her room alone, she led Lady Catherine up the servant stairs to their destination.
"Right through this door, m'lady," Nettie whispered.
As Lady Catherine went through the servant door, Nettie waited behind, listening to every word . . .
"You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason of my coming hither."
"Indeed, you are mistaken, Madam. I have not been at all able to account for the honour of seeing you here."
"A report of a most alarming nature reached me. I was told that my nephew offered for your hand this afternoon. It was reported that you declined the offer, as you should, but that you were unseemly in the harshness of your refusal, presenting that it was he who was unworthy of you. Is it so, Miss Bennet?"
"In the fundamentals, I suppose it is."
"This is not to be borne! My daughter's marriage will not be tainted by the notion that she is getting another woman's castoffs! You will recant!"
"I do not understand. Are you saying that you wish for me to accept his offer?"
"You will go to Darcy tomorrow. In front of witnesses, you will beg for his forgiveness for your foolish words. You will say that he is the best of men and that it is you who is undeserving. You will plead to be given another chance. He, then, will reject you and you will leave his presence grieving for what you have lost."
"I shall do nothing of the kind, Madam!"
"You will not so disgrace a noble family!"
"I see that the unfeelingness shown by Mr. Darcy is not confined to him alone, if said 'noble family' would ask me to disgrace myself by groveling at the feet of the man who insulted me."
"Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you these past weeks? I hoped to find you reasonable; I am most seriously displeased."
"I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. I must beg to be importuned no farther on the subject."
"Obstinate, headstrong girl! I take no leave of you."
Lady Catherine returned through the servant door and faced Nettie once again.
Nettie whispered, "Ladysh'p, I couldn' help but hear. I'm so very sorry that Miss Bennet wouldn' listen ta reason."
They began down the stairs, Lady Catherine muttering to herself, Nettie thinking. By the time they reached their exit, Nettie had her next idea and stepped outside the house again with Lady Catherine.
"M'lady, I was thinkin' . . . Per'aps I know what really happened with Mr. Darcy 'nd Miss Bennet. Listen please, m'lady, an' tell me if I might be correck. Is it true, m'lady, that even the finest gen'lman might now and then have little too much ta drink?"
Lady Catherine look at her in silence. This she considered sufficient encouragement.
"An' if a gent had been overindulgin', an' per'aps the reason he was drinkin' was because he was wantin' to propose marriage ta the finest maiden in all of Kent, an' he was workin' up 'is courage, see. An' then he might go walkin' in the gardens ta practice what he would say. An' then he decides he's ready, but he's a bit tipsy an' so he goes ta the wrong 'ouse. An' he thinks he's proposin' ta his beloved, but he's really talkin' ta a woman who's no good fer him. An' he was meanin' ta say that he knew he didn' deserve such a fine lady as the one he thought he was proposin' to, but he got his words mixed up because of the drink, see. An' he ended up sayin' by mistake that it was her that wasn' worthy when he was tryin' ta say it was himself. An' the lady he was actually in the room with thought he was sayin' he wanted her when nothin' would be further from the truth. Is that per'aps what 'appened, yer ladysh'p?"
Lady Catherine's eyes had grown wide as Nettie spun her tale. Now they narrowed again. "Yes, that is exactly what happened. I am certain of it. I will tell Darcy straightway. I will have Miss Bennet and Mr. and Mrs. Collins attend me in the morning. Darcy will tell everyone the truth and then he will announce his engagement to Anne." She turned to walk away.
She turned back. "You are . . . Jeanette, you said?"
"Yes'm. It's jus' that when Phoebe told the other servants what 'appened, I don' know but she might've said that she thought Mr. Darcy asked fer Miss Bennet by name when he arrived at the parsonage. Y' might want to have someone there who can tell it true, that Mr. Darcy didn' ask fer anyone when he came, he jus' walked inta the sittin' room an' he looked a bit tipsy."
Nettie observed the briefest smile that came to her Ladyship's lips before she resumed her serious visage and nodded. "I will request that you also be in attendance, Jeanette. I will see you in the morning."
"G'night, m'lady." She attempted a curtsy and reentered the house hurrying to get to her evening chores. She saw no need to hide the satisfied smile on her face, as anyone who saw her would assume that she had spent the past hours in the company of Tom Ridley.
She went to bed that night with dreams of herself working in that grand house, wearing the Rosings uniform.