Not Her Cup of Tea or Cosi fan tutte
Lady Catherine loved to visit the parsonage most unexpectedly and at most inconvenient times. This morning she entered the house even unacknowledged because the door was open and no one was to be seen. She followed the sound of loud voices into the back room, where Mrs. Collins used to spend most of her day. She became witness to Mr. Collins' impatient attack on his wife's chastity. Lizzy fought furiously against his attempts to place a kiss on her face or any other part of her uncovered skin. Lady Catherine entered just the right moment when he had pushed her against the mantelpiece of the chimney and seemed to succeed.
Lady Catherine's voice, which could take on the quality and strength of a fog horn made him jump around with a shriek. He turned so fast that he lost his balance, stumbled and landed on his hands and knees before Lady Catherine's feet.
"Get up, Mr. Collins!" she barked at him.
"What is this? Are you a lewd maniac to attack your wife in such manner already at this early time of day?! This is not to be endured!"
Mr. Collins whimpered. "But my wife denies me her marital duties! How can I hope for an olive branch if she locks up her room every night?!"
Lady de Bourgh fixed him with a long thoughtful glance, a mask of indignation on her face, and then directed her eyes to Lizzy with an inscrutable expression, and turned them back to Mr. Collins, who at least stood on his feet again.
She addressed Lizzy: "Mrs. Collins, I have to talk to you. Be at Rosings this afternoon, alone. But for now, don't you have something to do in the kitchen?" Lizzy was only too happy to escape to be offended by this rude dismissal. She had better things to do than spend her time in the kitchen, and off she ran into the forest where she hoped to run into a person very dear to her. (This did not happen, because he had to accompany his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam to some friends.)
The Lady turned to the unhappy Mr. Collins again. "I tell you what to do, Mr. Collins. You have a nice little wilderness of useful plants and herbs in your garden. Ask your wife to prepare you a tea from these herbs, and drink it whenever you feel this kind of inappropriate desire coming up again. A man in your position cannot behave like that. This very useful tea will help you to control yourself to more suitable occasions, and probably recommend you to your wife more than these foolish attempts I had the misfortune to witness."
In the afternoon:
"Mrs. Collins! Sit here. I have to talk to you!"
Her Ladyship stared at her, but Lizzy was not intimidated.
"It is disgusting to see such an bright woman as you are tied to such a stupid git of a husband like Mr. Collins. But I am pleased to hear you succeeded in avoiding your marital duties so far."
Lizzy chose her words carefully: "I'm pleased to hear that we share the same point of view in this case. But I don't think it is appropriate to discuss with Your Ladyship, if or how I perform my marital duties."
"Don't be so hostile, Mrs. Collins, maybe I can help you out of a situation that must be intolerable for you. - I do not hold husbands as a species in high esteem. And yours is a particularly disgusting example. I want to help you. When he asks you to prepare him a tea after my recipe, just oblige, and he will never bother you again. The benefit is not only that he will refrain from further claiming his marital rights, but with some luck also fade away before long."
Lizzy did not dare to trust her ears. But since she was quick of wit she got the full picture in a minute. "You mean, your Ladyship, you disposed of Lord de Bourgh this way?"
Her Ladyship met her laughing eyes with a stony face. Lizzy was not sure if she really saw a glitter of amusement in the haughty lady's eyes or if it was just the flicker of candle light. "Music is always a great enjoyment for me. Mrs. Collins, I want you now to play Mozart. 'Cosi fan tutte' would be the right thing now."
Lizzy did not insist to get an answer to her question, bent her knee politely, and went over to the piano, where she found a small paper between the notes of the piece of music Lady Catherine had ordered her to play. It was a list of herbs and spices, some of them with long Latin names, but she saw at a glance that she knew them all, or knew at least where she could get them. She folded the paper and put it into her dÈcolletÈ.
The music apparently attracted Mr. Darcy, who had returned without his cousin. He entered the room, greeted his aunt with a polite bow, and then seated himself next to Lizzy on the narrow piano bench, the place he had envied his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam all these days, but now he was out of the way.
Mr. Darcy's eyes seemed to be fixed on her dÈcolletÈ. "I feel particularly flattered for your interest in my - eh - suprasternal notch, Mr. Darcy, but don't you think you should rather look into my eyes now and then, just for the sake of keeping up appearances?"
He uttered, slightly embarrassed: "The recipe!"
She looked down at herself. The piece of paper peeped out between her luxurious forms. "Oooops!" she said, with a charming smile. "What's this? And how do you know it's a recipe?"
"I've seen it before. In fact, my aunt asked me to put it here for you to find it, and I placed it here between the sheets."
"Between the sheets, indeed!" retorted Lizzy. "What a charming idea!"
And with a cocky sidelong glance at him she hid he recipe from his curious eyes and continued to play Mozart, while Mr. Darcy assisted her by turning the music sheets. He never lost that almost invisible smile anymore.
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