Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who reviewed my last two one shots. It's always inspiring to hear feedback, positive and negative.
-Winning Over Lady Catherine-
It was ironic that the long campaign championed by Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy should come to a head at Rosings Park. After a year of silence, Mrs. Darcy had finally convinced her husband to reopen the lines of communication with his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Then, after six months and three unanswered invitations to Pemberley, the Darcys had ended their efforts to placate the livid Lady Catherine and had accepted that she did not intend to forgive. They were quite surprised, three months later, to receive a communiqué from the great lady. It stated that Anne's health would not tolerate a trip to Pemberley (the slightly admonishing tone implied that they certainly should have known that,) but they were welcome to come and stay at Rosings if they wished. The Darcys did not wish. Staying at Rosings under the constant scrutiny of Lady Catherine would be insufferable. Still, they wished to make amends, so the young couple made other arrangements to stay in Kent. They wrote to Lady Catherine accepting her kind invitation to visit Kent and informing her that they did not wish to upset Anne's delicate constitution by staying at Rosings but that they would stay with the Collinses for the duration of their stay.
All of which had led to this, the Darcys standing on the steps of Rosings, listening to Mr. Collins' prattle, awaiting a response to their knock at the front door; for they had been invited to dine at Rosings that evening with the Collinses. "Mr. Collins," Elizabeth reflected wryly, "has no doubt been invited to serve as her ladyship's ally. A job he will indubitably perform admirably. Still, I will be glad to have Charlotte here, even if it does mean listening to Mr. Collins extolling the virtues of this house AGAIN."
Her musings were cut short as the great doors swung open, revealing Lady Catherine, bedecked in more jewels than could be conceived, and Anne, also buried under a mound of gems. It seemed that her ladyship had brought out every piece of jewelry she owned.
"Probably trying to intimidate me. I rather think she hopes I'll gape like a small girl." Elizabeth was amused by the spectacle and could barely contain her smile.
"Mr. Collins!" Lady Catherine exclaimed with more enthusiasm than was her wont, "Charlotte! How wonderful to see you! I haven't seen you since…yesterday!" Mr. Collins swelled importantly and began "My dear lady. . . " but his speech was cut short as Lady Catherine turned to her nephew, the effusiveness of her manner disappearing instantly. "Darcy." She inclined her head in a cool nod "Welcome." "Thank you, aunt." Lady Catherine turned to lead the way into the dining room, snubbing Elizabeth, whose presence had not even been acknowledged. Mr. Darcy stopped his aunt. "Aunt, I believe you have met my wife, though under a different name. May I present Mrs. Darcy, whom you knew as Elizabeth Bennet.
Lady Catherine stopped and turned. "You may not. Come, Mr. Collins I have much to discuss with you." Mr. Collins scampered after his patroness, tripping over his feet and upsetting a potted plant in his eagerness. The servants, accustomed to Collins, had removed the rather expensive vase that had previously stood in that spot. Charlotte shot Elizabeth a rather apologetic glance before following her husband, leaving the Darcys alone in the hall. Mr. Darcy stared at his aunt's retreating back, rigid with anger. Suddenly he turned on his heel and stormed towards the doors. "Come Elizabeth. We're leaving."
"No," she replied calmly.
"No?! I will not have you subjected to such treatment. We're leaving."
"No," Elizabeth repeated, moving towards him. "I will not give her the satisfaction of knowing she insulted me. I suspect that was why she invited us. Nothing would please her more than to have her suspicions that I do not have the presence of mind to be mistress of Pemberley confirmed. I will not run from her."
Mr. Darcy searched his wife's face and noted the gleam in her eyes and the grim, determined set of her jaw. Having already lost several arguments when she looked like this, he sighed and gave in, "As you wish."
Elizabeth grinned rather mercilessly and said "I shall enjoy this."
At her husband's startled glance, she hastened to reassure him. "Don't worry, darling, I shall behave myself. . . .Mostly."
"It's the mostly that worries me, Madam," he answered dryly. She flashed him another grin, took his arm and they proceeded to the dining room. Mr. Darcy sighed inwardly. In a way, he almost pitied his aunt.
As they entered the dining room, Mr. Darcy pretended not to notice that Collins was sitting in his customary seat at Lady Catherine's right. He proceeded down the table and sat, just as dinner was served.
As the dinner progressed, Elizabeth realized that any attempt to enter into the general conversation was futile. Her remarks were either ignored or followed by scathing set downs from Lady Catherine. After one particularly insulting comment, Mr. Darcy murmured to his wife, "Are you sure you wish to continue this? We can still leave." Elizabeth shot her husband a mock-horrified look, "And miss all this? I can't remember the last time I participated in a conversation of this intellectual caliber." She gestured to Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins who were discussing the best methods of keeping slugs off tomato plants. Her husband just arched an eyebrow and turned back to his plate.
Elizabeth turned to Mrs. Collins and began to fill her in on all the doings of their friends in Hertfordshire. After a few minutes, Lady Catherine, with all her magnificent condescension, deigned to notice that a conversation that did not include her was taking place. Her shrill voice reached down the table, "Miss Bennet, what are you talking about? I insist upon knowing." As Elizabeth blithely continued telling Charlotte of the new flowerbeds that Jane had planted at Netherfield, Lady Catherine increased her volume. "Miss Bennet, Answer me at ONCE!" When Elizabeth showed no signs of complying, Mrs. Collins hissed "Lizzy!" and motioned towards the indignant Lady Catherine. Elizabeth turned, exuding innocence "Lady Catherine, did you wish to speak to me? I'm sorry. I didn't hear you call my name." Her emphasis left no one any doubt of her meaning.
"My excuses," Lady Catherine replied sarcastically, "But was not Bennet your name for over twenty years? I would think you would still answer to it. Unless you are ashamed?" Elizabeth ignored the jibe. "No" she replied simply. Darcy was impressed. He wouldn't have been able to remain calm in such circumstances. In fact, it was only Elizabeth's hand on his arm that had restrained him this time. Elizabeth continued "Now, did you wish to speak to me?" her tune was so pointedly polite that it bordered on rude.
"Yes," Lady Catherine sniffed." I insist on knowing what you are discussing."
"We were talking about some changes to the gardens at Netherfield," Elizabeth said. "I don't believe you've seen them," she added sweetly.
"I believe it is in the worst possible taste to hold a conversation in which everyone present cannot participate. Do you not agree Mr. Collins?" Before Mr. Collins could assure her that he did, Elizabeth replied "If I am not mistaken, before you turned your attention to us, Lady Catherine, you and Mr. Collins were discussing the best method for the delivery of his sermons. As neither Mrs. Collins nor I ever intend on delivering as sermon, I doubt we could have participated in that conversation."
Mr. Darcy could barely keep his countenance as he watched his aunt splutter furiously, completely taken aback. Fortunately, dessert arrived before she could deliver her angry tirade. As they were being served, Elizabeth, her eyes twinkling merrily, winked at him and turned to continue her conversation with the scandalized Mrs. Collins.
After dessert, they moved to the parlor. As Mr. Darcy had no desire to be trapped alone in a room with Collins, the gentlemen accompanied the ladies. When they were seated, Lady Catherine immediately began a conversation with the Collinses about a few of the parishioners, leaving the Darcys to amuse themselves.
"Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth remarked conversationally, "I have decided to move the beautiful rug in your study to the front hall to match the new purple walls."
"I beg your pardon?" Mr. Darcy was completely confused. Elizabeth's last sentence hadn't made even a little bit of sense. "What are you talking about?" he demanded incredulously. She smiled. "Now, when Lady Catherine asks what we are discussing, I can tell her that we were discussing the carpets at Pemberley with a clear conscience."
Mr. Darcy laughed. "Is this what you did with Mrs. Collins?"
"Certainly not," came the reply. "She's not a good enough actress."
"I thank you for your confidence, madam."
Elizabeth grinned. "You're very welcome." She raised an inquiring eyebrow, "So, what do you think of my performance?"
"I think Lady Catherine is about to throw you out of her house," Mr. Darcy stated bluntly. "Why are you provoking her?"
"It's simple. By the time this evening is over, one of two things will have happened. Either Lady Catherine will think I am the least civil girl of her entire acquaintance and she will hate me forever, or she will think I am the least civil girl of her entire acquaintance but she will respect me for showing some spirit and not letting her walk all over me."
"I see. And would in not be easier to try and have her like you?"
"The only way you aunt will like me is if I grovel and crawl and act like Mr. Collins. I will not do that" Elizabeth said forcefully.
"And I would never ask you to," he replied loyally.
Just then Lady Catherine brought her attention back to her nephew. "Fitzwilliam, what are you discussing? I must know." Elizabeth answered for him. "I was just telling my husband about my plans to move the rug from his study into the front hall to match the walls which I have just had painted purple." Mr. Darcy added "And I was telling my wife that I am fond of the rug in my study and I wish to keep it, but that she may move the rug from the library if she desires."
It was Mrs. Darcy's turn to struggle with her countenance as she watched Lady Catherine react to the idea of purple walls in Pemberley. Mr. Collins' estimable patroness had brought her hand to her chest, and she looked remarkably similar to Mrs. Bennet suffering an attack of nerves. Without answering, she turned back to the Collinses. The Darcys shared a look of victory and proceeded to have a perfectly normal conversation, completely free of shocking paint jobs.
A few minutes later, Lady Catherine initiated a conversation with Elizabeth for the first time that evening. "Miss Bennet, do you play the piano?" Elizabeth looked her square in the face but did not answer. Lady Catherine repeated the question without the offending name.
"Do you play the piano?"
"A little. I believe I played for you the last time I visited Rosings Park."
"Ah, yes a tolerable performance. Did you not think so, Anne?"
Anne looked up, startled at being included in the conversation. "Yes, mother"
"You must play for us now, Elizabeth"
Elizabeth was surprised at the familiar use of her Christian name, but she recognized it as Lady Catherine's compromise. She would not call Elizabeth "Mrs. Darcy" but she had dropped the provocative "Miss Bennet." Elizabeth went to the piano, and to everyone's surprise, did not pull out a piece of music, but began to play one that she had memorized. It was a charming piece about a shepherd wandering the hills of all of England and the trials he must endure to find true love. It was a happy piece, and it suited Elizabeth well. Mr. Darcy, who had been visible startled by the choice of songs, stared at Elizabeth as if transfixed. It appeared the song had a special meaning for him. When she had finished, Lady Catherine spoke up, "An interesting choice. I don't believe I've heard that song before."
"I doubt it, as. . ." Her explanation was cut short, as Mr. Collins leapt into the conversation, protesting quite emphatically. "Elizabeth! Are you implying that Lady Catherine is not kept abreast of the current styles in music and other areas such as fashion? You are mistaken. Let me inform you that this is not the case. In fact…"
Elizabeth broke in "I assure you, Mr. Collins, I meant no insult to our hostess. It is merely that most people are not familiar with the song as it was written in Derbyshire and presented to Mr. Darcy and me as an anniversary gift. It is a charming piece, it is not?"
Mr. Collins, only grasping that his cousin had not insulted his patroness' knowledge of music, was greatly relieved. "Good, because her ladyship is knowledgeable about all things, but especially about music. Her taste has no equal. Why, one time…"
The mistress of Pemberley and the mistress of Rosings rolled their eyes in unison at his prattle. Elizabeth glanced at Lady Catherine to see if she had noticed. She had, and was eyeing Elizabeth speculatively. Just then, Mrs. Collins decided her husband had embarrassed himself enough for one night, and broke into his monologue to announce that it was time for them to leave. As they were walking towards the door, Lady Catherine called out "Mrs. Darcy!" Elizabeth turned surprised, "Yes?"
"The walls in your front hall aren't really purple, are they?"
Elizabeth grinned, "No."
"Good, because I thought you had better taste than that, and I hate to be wrong."
Calling on all her reserves of self control, Elizabeth waited until they were in the garden to perform her celebratory jig.