Lady Catherine's Christmas Carol
I. Sir Lewis deBourgh's Ghost
Sir Lewis was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Lady Catherine signed it. And her name was good upon anything she chose to put her hand to.
Sir Lewis was dead as a doornail.
Did Lady Catherine know he was dead? Of course she did. How could it be otherwise? She and Sir Lewis were married for I don't know how many years. Lady Catherine was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole friend, and almost his sole mourner. And even she was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event.
The mention of Sir Lewis's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that he is dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
The deBourgh's were known for being pompous, stuffy, and unfeeling. Lady Catherine was called 'Old Biddy deBourgh' behind her back, but she did not care. It was all the same to her.
Oh! But she was tight-fisted, opinionated, and stubborn! Hard and sharp as diamonds when she chose to be. Self-contained and solitary as an oyster. The cold within her froze her old features, nipped her pointed nose, shriveled her cheeks, and stiffened her gait. Made her eyes red, her thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in her grating voice. She did not even thaw during the Christmas season.
Nothing bothered her, or made her veer from her course of action, not even the most inclement weather, which would not dare to blow without her permission.
Nobody ever stopped along the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Lady Catherine, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggar held up his hand to her, no child asked her the time, no man or woman ever asked her the way to anywhere. She only saw the tops of their heads as they kowtowed to her, except for that tedious Mr. Collins. The silly man could not discern that she perceived him as less than an insect! His only saving graces were that he knew his place and that he was very useful to her.
But what did Lady Catherine care! It was the very thing she liked. To edge her way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.
Once upon a time---of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve---Lady Catherine sat in her library, reading. It was cold, bleak, biting weather withall. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole.
Her chair was turned toward the room so that she might keep an eye on her daughter, Anne. "Straighten your shoulders! Sit up! Smooth down your skirt! What silliness are you reading now?" Lady Catherine's commands hardly gave Anne a moments peace. Her daughter pulled the shawl more closely about herself. She had been prone to colds and sore throats since birth. She pretended to be deeply engrossed in her book.
"A merry Christmas, Aunt Catherine!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Lady Catherine's nephew, Darcy, whom had entered the room so quickly and quietly that she did not realize he was there until he spoke.
"Pishtosh!" said Lady Catherine.
"Christmas, 'pishtosh', Aunt Catherine?" said her nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure!"
"I do," said Lady Catherine. "Merry Christmas! What reason have you to be merry? You are a fool for love."
"Come then," returned Darcy gaily. "What right have you to be dismal? You're rich enough."
Lady Catherine having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, "Pishtosh!" again.
"Don't be cross, Aunt Catherine," said the nephew.
"What else can I be," she returned, "when I live in a world of fools such as this? Merry Christmas indeed! Keep Christmas in your own way, Darcy, and let me keep mine."
"But you don't keep Christmas! Whereas I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely." Darcy addressed his aunt in earnest, "Aunt Catherine, can we not end this ill-will between us? Elizabeth is eager to further her acquaintance with you."
Anne involuntarily spoke up in her cousin's behalf, "Please, Mother, it is Christmas! Let us be a family!"
"If I hear another sound from you, young lady, I will summon Jenkinson to bring the castor oil."
"Don't be angry, aunt. Come! Dine with us tomorrow," urged Darcy.
"You will see St. Peter before I come to Pemberley!" She gave vent to her exasperation at her nephew's recent ill-judged behavior, "But why? Why did you get engaged to that...person? Why?"
"Because I fell in love."
"Because you fell in love!" growled Lady Catherine, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. "Good afternoon!"
"I want nothing from you. I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?"
"Good afternoon," said Lady Catherine.
"I am sorry with all my heart to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel to which I have been a party. But I cannot give in to your wishes, Lady Catherine. I love Elizabeth Bennet. Your ill-humor does not change that. Despite your stubbornness, I love you, too, and wish you merry Christmas."
"Good afternoon!" said Lady Catherine.
"And a Happy New Year!"
"Good afternoon!" said Lady Catherine.
Her nephew quit the room without an angry word, notwithstanding, but first he stopped by Anne's chair, to bestow the greetings of the season on her. Anne, who, though her life with Lady Catherine was often isolated and bleak, was warmer than her mother, for she returned Darcy's wishes cordially.
"There's another traitor," muttered Lady Catherine, who overheard her. "My own daughter. I'll retire to Bedlam. Whatever happened to 'seen and not heard'?"
No sooner was Darcy gone, than two other visitors were announced, Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Mr. Collins stood with his hat off, and bowed to Lady Catherine. His wife was there as a representative of the Ladies Aid Society.
Charlotte approached the venerable old woman. "At this festive season of the year," she said, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at this present time. Many people in our own small corner of the world are in want of common necessities."
"Are there not still alms boxes?" asked Lady Catherine.
"Yes, of course," Charlotte replied.
"Does not the baker in the village still give away his day old bread?" asked Lady Catherine, who kept track of the doings of everyone in her vicinity.
"Why, yes, but..."
"And does not the Ladies Aid Society still box up old clothes and give them to the poor?"
"Yes, we do..."
"Oh, I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Lady Catherine. "I'm very glad to hear that they are still ensuring their place in Heaven by their good deeds."
"They can scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to so many," returned Charlotte. "A few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. What may I put you down for?"
"Nothing!" Lady Catherine replied.
"You wish to remain anonymous?"
"I wish to be left alone," said Lady Catherine. "Since you ask me what I wish, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I support many establishments already --- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Lady Catherine, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
"A very good point, Lady Catherine," interceded Mr. Collins. "I was making the same arguments to Mrs. Collins on the way here. You have already shown your beneficence in many ways. They cannot expect more."
"Then why are you here?" Lady Catherine glared at him, "Can you not control your wife?"
Mr. Collins mumbled his usual profusive apology and repeated it endlessly as he backed out of the room, urging his wife to do the same.
"Mother," said Anne plaintively from her corner of the room. "I would so like to go to Pemberley, to see Georgiana."
"You ask too much. You know my feelings. Darcy's actions are unconscionable."
"Then, may we invite the Collins to a Christmas dinner here? Else it shall be just the three of us."
"Quality, not quantity," Lady Catherine said stiffly. "We do not need other people to make our day a success. We have everything and everyone we need here at Rosings. It is time for bed. I shall ring for Mrs. Jenkinson to assist you, Anne. And tomorrow, I do not expect to hear this subject broached again."
Lady Catherine retired to her own room. She barely glanced at the deep velvety softness of her surroundings. Her rooms were sumptuous, adorned with priceless antiques, "regal" and "queenly" to those unaccustomed to such splendor, but taken for granted by her.
She remained seated at the mirror after her personal maid had brushed out her hair. Her reflection in the mirror seemed out of focus. She moved a nearby candle and peered more closely into the glass. "I must need spectacles," she muttered. "My face still looks odd...not like my own..." She rubbed her eyes. "Sir Lewis!"
Sir Lewis' face. It had a dismal light about it. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked just as Sir Lewis had always looked. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid color, made it horrible.
As Lady Catherine looked on the face, it changed back into her own.
To say that she was not startled, would be untrue. She touched the glass. It felt normal. So, she finished combing out her hair. When ready for bed, she went to the door and looked down the hall in both directions. She could hear and see nothing. She firmly closed the door and climbed into bed. She arranged the bedclothes in her customary fashion, and pulled the drapes 'round, preparing to sleep the sleep of the righteous.
Sleep evaded her ladyship, until finally she sat up. "Pishtosh!" she complained. She opened the drapes a bit, and lit the candle on her nightstand. It's flickering light rested on a bellpull, a disused bell that hung in the room and at one time communicated its mistress's needs to the servants' quarters. It was with great astonishment, and a growing feeling of dread, that as she looked, she saw the bellpull begin to swing. It swung so softly at first that it barely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, as did every bell in the house.
She fleetingly thought of Anne, being awakened by the bells, and scared half out of her wits. But surely Mrs. Jenkinson would look to Anne.
This might have lasted half a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells suddenly ceased. The silence was deafening. Then there began a clanking noise, below stairs; as if someone were dragging chains over a bare floor. Lady Catherine then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.
She heard the noise, much louder now, as it ascended the stairs; then coming straight to her door. "Pishtosh still!" said Lady Catherine. "I won't believe it."
Her color changed though, when, without a pause it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before her very eyes. The candle flame leaped up as if to say, "I know him; Sir Lewis deBourgh's Ghost!" and then almost sputtered out.
The same face; the very same. Sir Lewis, impeccable in his foreign-cut suit, silk cravat, snuffbox in hand. The chain he drew was clasped around his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail. It looked to be nearly pure gold, and exceedingly heavy. It was adorned with silver and gold trinkets, goblets laden with precious jewels, and heavy purses bulging with the coin of the realm. His body was transparent; so that Lady Catherine, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
Lady Catherine had often thought her husband spineless, and now believed it.
She yet tried to deny the existence of the phantom, though she felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes. She was still incredulous, and fought against her senses.
"How now!" said Lady Catherine, caustic and cold as ever. "What do you want with me?"
"Much!" ---Sir Lewis' voice, no doubt about it.
"Who are you?"
"You know who I was."
"Who were you then?" said Lady Catherine, raising her voice.
"In life, I was your husband, Sir Lewis deBourgh."
"Can you---can you sit down?" asked Lady Catherine, looking doubtfully at him.
"Do it, then." She did not intend to have even a ghost stand over her in such a manner.
"You don't believe in me," observed the apparition.
"I don't," said Lady Catherine.
"What evidence would you have of me beyond that of your own senses?"
"I don't know," said Lady Catherine.
"Why do you doubt that I am before you?"
"Because," said Lady Catherine. "at my age, you could just as easily be the bit of beef or crumb of cheese I had at dinner." She tried to be flippant, to keep down the terror that was rising from her middle. The eerie voice of her dead husband disturbed her to the very marrow of her bones.
At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Lady Catherine held on tight to a bedpost, to save herself from falling forward in a swoon.
"Mercy!" she cried. "Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?"
"Lady Catherine deBourgh, do you believe in me or not?"
"I do," said Lady Catherine. "I must. "But why do you walk the earth, and why do you come to me?"
"It is required of every man and woman," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within should walk abroad among his or her fellow man, and travel far and wide. If that spirit does not go forth in life, it is condemned to do so in death. It is doomed to wander through the world---oh woe is me!---and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.
"You are fettered," said Lady Catherine, trembling. "Tell me why."
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link and yard by yard; I girded it of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"
Lady Catherine trembled more and more.
"Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the chain you have woven? It was full as heavy and long as this when I died. You have labored prodigiously on it since. Yours is a ponderous chain!"
Lady Catherine glanced at the floor, almost expecting to see herself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of gold chain; but she could see nothing.
"Lewis," she said, imploringly, "Please Lewis, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, my husband."
"I have none to give," the Ghost replied. "Nor can I tell you all I would. A very little time is permitted me. I cannot rest; I cannot stay; I cannot linger anywhere. When I lived, my spirit never reached beyond the castle in the air that I created, thinking myself far above all else. Now weary journeys lie before me!"
"You must have been very slow about it, Lewis." Lady Catherine criticized. "Dead these long years and still traveling."
"The whole time," said the Ghost. "No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse." It clanked its chain and cried, "Oh! captive, bound, and double-chained, until this earth passes into eternity, because I did not accomplish the deeds that gave reason to my life. Life's opportunity misused! Such was I!"
"But you were always a good man, Lewis," faltered Lady Catherine, who now began to apply this to herself. "You multiplied your holdings two-fold; you knew every person in every house within your domain, and could account for everything they owned or owed. You were meticulous in keeping yourself informed. No detail was too small."
"Aargh!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my estate were but a drop of water in the ocean of life!"
It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
"At this time of the year," the spectre said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes averted. Why did I not follow the example of the Wise Men, and follow the blessed Star to eternal light?"
Lady Catherine was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly.
"Hear me!" cried the Ghost. "My time is nearly gone!"
"I will," said Lady Catherine. "But don't be hard upon me, Lewis! Please!"
"How is it that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day."
It was not an agreeable idea. Lady Catherine shivered, and wiped the perspiration from her brow. This in itself proved her extreme agitation, because a lady never perspired.
"I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my doing, Catherine."
"You were always good to me, Lewis," said Lady Catherine. "I am indebted to you."
"You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost, "by Three Spirits."
Lady Catherine's countenance fell. "Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Lewis?" she demanded, in a faltering voice.
"I---I think I'd rather not," said Lady Catherine.
"Without their visits," said the Ghost, "you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow when the bell tolls One."
"Couldn't I take them all at once and have it over, Lewis?" hinted Lady Catherine.
"Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us."
When it had said these words, it stood up, bowed to Lady Catherine, and moved toward the window. The window inched open as it approached, and Lady Catherine became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre listened a moment, then joined in the mournful dirge. Lady Catherine watched as it floated out into the bleak, dark night.
Lady Catherine followed to the window: desperate in her curiosity, she looked out.
The air filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Sir Lewis deBourgh's Ghost. None were free. Many had been personally known to Lady Catherine in their lives. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Whether they floated away, or the mist enshrouded them, she could not tell, but soon the night was still and dark again.
Lady Catherine tried to close the window but it was stuck. "Pishtosh!" she mumbled, feeling faint from the exertion.
The next morning Mrs. Jenkinson found her, unconscious, on the floor by the window. She was put to bed, and the doctor was called, but he could not make a diagnosis. There did not seem to be anything the matter with Lady Catherine except that they could not awaken her. All they could do was wait and see.
II. The First of the Three Spirits
Anne was beside herself with fear. Lady Catherine had not stirred through-out the morning. Letters were dispatched to Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam, and a messenger apprised the Collinses of the situation.
Anne wrung her hands. What would she do without Mother? It was unthinkable. She could not possibly manage the estate. And even though Rosings was her home, she would be terrified to live there alone.. . Mrs. Jenkinson interrupted her thoughts, "Miss deBourgh, Mr. Terry is downstairs awaiting an audience with you. He is concerned about this evening's events. What shall I tell him?" Mr. Terry was the manager of the estate. It was customary during the Christmas season to gather the help together and hand out their Christmas envelopes. This was scheduled for tonight.
Anne shook her head helplessly. "I cannot..." she whispered. But she thought of Arthur, the groom, and Gerald the butler, Katie, Anna, and the others. They all had families. They probably counted on the money in their Christmas envelopes. She could not let them down. Though her whole body trembled with agitation and fear, and her jaw was shaking so badly that she could hardly control it, she finally was able to say, "I....I w-w-will b-be r-r-right d-d-down." She took a ragged breath and prayed fervently that some kindly angel looking down from above would help her through this.
When Lady Catherine awoke, it was so dark that, looking out of bed, she was disoriented. What time was it? The chimes of a neighboring church could be faintly heard. To her great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven...to eight...and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was past two when she went to bed. The clock was wrong - it had to be.
"I can't have slept through the entire day," she muttered, "and far into another night. Did something happen to the sun and it's really twelve noon?"
The idea being an alarming one, she scrambled out of bed, and groped her way to the window. She was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of her nightgown before she could see anything; and could see very little then. All she could make out was that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that no one seemed to be about, as there would have been during the day.
Lady Catherine went to bed again, and thought and thought. She could make heads nor tails of it. The more she thought, the more perplexed she was; and the more she endeavored not to think, the more she thought.
Her husband's ghost bothered her exceedingly. Every time she resolved within herself that it was just a dream, her mind flew back again, "Was it a dream or not?"
Lady Catherine lay in this state until the chimes reminded her that it was almost one o'clock, and time for the next visitation. "A quarter to it," said Lady Catherine.
"The hour itself," said Lady Catherine, triumphantly, "and nothing else!"
She spoke too soon. Before the hour bell had faded away, lights flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of her bed were drawn.
The curtains of her bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at her feet. Nor the curtains at her back, but those to which her face was addressed. The curtains of her bed were drawn aside; and Lady Catherine, starting up from a half-recumbent attitude, found herself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them; as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.
She was shocked beyond belief --- George Darcy! George Darcy as he had looked in his prime. Handsome, stalwart, yet regarding her with such tenderness, such love for a fellow human being.
Lady Catherine drew herself up stiffly and wrapped the covers around herself. "You will remove yourself from my bedroom, George Darcy!" she said haughtily. His beautiful features were almost too much for her to bear. She felt a sharp pang of longing as she looked at him, but she would not let him see how he affected her. She thought those feelings had been frozen in ice long ago. It was only because he had come upon her, unawares. Damn him! And damn his son who should have been hers! "Dear Catherine, you know why I am here," he said gently, sadly. "We are in a place where man-made rules do not matter. I think you realize that..."
"Are you telling me, sir, that you are the Spirit whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Lady Catherine.
"So what is your business? Who are you supposed to be?"
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past." He paused. "Let me correct that: I am the Ghost of your Christmas Past."
Now that she was over the initial shock of seeing George Darcy in her bedroom, she noticed other details about him. She was disconcerted by the bright light emanating from the top of his head. It was hard to keep her eyes from it, yet it was blinding.
"Please, I can barely see you, for the light!" she complained.
"What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "would you so soon put out the light I give? Is it not enough that you stifled the light while yet I lived?"
"I do not know what you are talking about. I did not 'stifle' you in any way." Lady Catherine countered. She then made bold to inquire, "Why are you here?"
"I am concerned for your welfare."
"Indeed! I think I'd rather get a good night's rest," Lady Catherine said frostily. She was still unsettled by feelings that she had thought long repressed.
"Your reclamation then. Take heed!"
It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped her gently by the arm. It was George and yet it was larger than George; wiser, all knowing, more compelling. "Rise, and walk with me!"
It was to no purpose to argue. The grasp, though gentle, was not to be resisted. She rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped her robe in supplication.
"I am a mortal," Lady Catherine remonstrated, "and liable to fall."
"Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon her heart, " and you shall be upheld in more than this!"
As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. Rosings had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold winter day, with snow upon the ground.
"Good Heaven!" said Lady Catherine, clasping her hands together, as she looked about. "I grew up in this place!"
The Spirit gazed upon her mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old woman's sense of feeling. She was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long forgotten!
"Your lip is trembling," said the Ghost. "And what is that upon your cheek?"
Lady Catherine muttered, with an unusual catch in her voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead her where he would.
"Do you recollect the way home from here?" inquired the Spirit.
"Remember it!" cried Lady Catherine with fervor; "I could walk it blindfolded."
"Strange to have forgotten it for so many years," observed the Ghost. "Let us go on."
They walked along the road, Lady Catherine recognising every gate, and post, and tree. They came upon a small group of boys, haphazardly dragging sleds behind them. As they approached a crossroads, two boys veered west onto the lane which led to the Fitzwilliam mansion. The other boy continued north to Pemberley.
"Merry Christmas, Darcy!" the Fitzwilliam boys shouted in unison to George, who had accompanied them to "Dead Man's Hill" for some superb sledding.
Darcy nodded back and waved a hand, "So long, Charles. See you, John. Merry Christmas!"
Lady Catherine had a hand over her heart. "I have not seen Charles and John for so long," she whispered. "I wish we could have stayed small. They did not choose well when they married, and we drifted apart. Now they have been dead these long years, and are beyond my knowing." She sighed wistfully, "When will I follow them into that long night?" She missed them fiercely.
She and the Spirit flitted over the snow, gaining speed, the light changing eerily, as they approached Lady Catherine's childhood home. The mansion stood in the shadows, a silent testament to the Fitzwilliam pride, as the sun set. The darkness gathered quickly. Carriages began to arrive, people descended in all their Christmas finery, and were welcomed inside. The Spirit lifted her up, up, up to a window on the top floor. Lady Catherine knew that window, had looked out of that window a thousand times. She tried to pull back. She did not want to go into that room. Never again.
The Spirit was gently insistent. "I will be with you," he said, reassuringly. "You are not alone."
They slid effortlessly through the panes of glass and into the school room. Crouched down in a dark corner was a child, legs drawn up to her chin, shaking with emotion. Her eyes were wild with unshed tears. A door opened; and a little girl, two years Catherine's junior, peeked in, "Catherine?" she asked in a dear little voice. She found her sister quickly and put her slender arms around Catherine's neck. She kissed her again and again, and tried to console her.
Catherine, the girl, tried not to wince as her sister Anne accidentally touched very tender areas of her back. Anne felt her flinch. "Oh Catherine! I am sorry! It is worse than usual?"
"It is nothing, Anne. I am okay. You better go before you are caught out." warned Catherine.
Clara, the maid, came to the door. "Miss Catherine, you are wanted downstairs. It is time for your piano solo."
'God, no!' Catherine silently protested. She unfolded her legs and tried to stand. Anne supported her just in time.
"Catherine, you can barely walk!" Anne exclaimed, deeply touched by her sister's plight.
Catherine's upper legs were black and blue where the wooden spoon had done its work.
Lady Catherine's memories were coming back in a rush. They had been too long repressed. She now recalled how stiff her legs had felt. How hard it was to get them to work properly. But she would not let her mother know how much she had hurt her. She would not give her the satisfaction.
She watched as Anne and she left the school room and slowly made their way down the hall. The view expanded, and she could see, standing silently in a dark alcove, her brother John and George Darcy. They watched, unseen, as she passed by.
Lady Catherine turned to the Spirit. "You knew!" she accused. "What were you doing there?"
The Spirit looked at her with infinite love and sadness. "Sometimes John and I would make a game of following people around. We hadn't seen you for some time and wondered where you were hiding. We thought, correctly, that Anne would lead us to you." He paused. "I never understood why you were beaten."
Lady Catherine's face was a mask of hatred. "Because I was the strongest," she declared. "They couldn't break me. Or so they thought." She continued, "I was not smart enough, nor neat enough; I talked too much, or too little. I did not know my station. Once they beat me for playing with the gardener's daughter. 'Fitzwilliams do not associate with people below them in rank.' That night my mother had punished me because I was already dressed for the evening festivities, went outside, and inadvertently slipped on some ice. There was a small tear in my Christmas dress. Hardly noticeable. But, of course, not acceptable for a Fitzwilliam to wear. She was livid!"
"Do you remember what happened next?" the Spirit prodded gently.
Lady Catherine shook her head in denial, "No! No! I can't..."
The Spirit reminded her. "Anne helped you wash your face and comb your hair. Then you went downstairs to where your parents and their guests were assembled. They requested that you play the piano, as entertainment."
"...and I failed them," Lady Catherine whispered. "I lost all thought halfway through the piece. I could not remember what came next, I could not find my place. I had humiliated the Fitzwilliams."
"The next day, your piano instructor, Mrs. Hadley, was summarily dismissed, was she not?"
Lady Catherine nodded. "Yes. My parents were furious with her as well as myself. My mother took her place in the music room, and whenever I would strike a wrong key, she would rap me sharply across the knuckles with a baton. That day she drew blood. And I vowed that I would never make a child of mine play the piano."
"And who cared for you?"
Lady Catherine closed her eyes, "Anne," she said. She looked at the Spirit, "Anne always came to comfort me."
"She was indebted to you," said the Spirit solemnly.
"She told you?"
"Of course. Every day of her life she remembered that you had taken the blame, and the punishment, when she upset a priceless vase and sent it crashing to the floor, while chasing the cat. That was only one incident out of many."
"She was so small," Lady Catherine explained. "I would not let her take the beating. She could not have borne it."
"Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered," said the Ghost. "But she had a large heart!"
"So she had," cried Lady Catherine. "You're right. I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!"
"She died young, after delivering her second child," said the Ghost, "your niece, Georgiana. And the first child was a boy,"
"My nephew, Fitzwilliam," Lady Catherine finished. She seemed uneasy in her mind at the mention of Darcy. "Your son..." she said with some bitterness.
"Anne loved you always," said the Spirit. "What came between you?"
"You!" she cried. "She took you away from me! Everyone always loved Anne best, even our parents. I was handsome, she was beautiful; I was a failure, she was accomplished; I was difficult, she was good-natured and amiable. I HATED HER!" She almost choked on unaccustomed emotions. "I hated her even more because I could not help but love her, too," she finished sadly.
The Spirit gave her a moment to compose herself. There was still a lot of work to do before his time ran out. "Catherine," he said gently, "Anne did not take me away from you."
"She did!" Lady Catherine persisted.
"We shall see," said the Spirit.
The scene changed. It was Christmas Day, many years later. The sun was bright, and made a walk in the snow pleasant. Two people were stopped on the path, talking earnestly: George Darcy and Catherine Fitzwilliam.
Catherine looked restless, and was impatient for young George to continue what he was saying. He sounded very sad as he said, softly, "It matters little to you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve."
"What idol has replaced you?" Catherine rejoined.
"A golden one."
"I am only aware, as any sensible person would be, that there is nothing so hard as not having enough money to buy what you need."
"You fear the world too much," George answered gently. "All of your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one-by-one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?"
The Spirit interjected, "I was not particularly poor," he said.
"And not particularly rich enough," said Lady Catherine. "Nor did you seem to care."
The young Catherine was saying, "What of it? I have not changed towards you." He shook his head.
"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were just leaving childhood. You are changed. When the promise was made, you were another young lady."
"I was just a girl," Catherine said impatiently.
"Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are," he returned. "I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly have I thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and release you."
"Have I ever sought release?"
"In words, No. Never."
"In what then?"
"In a changed nature, in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us," said young George, looking mildly but with steadiness upon her, "would you still seek my attentions, and try to win me? Ah, no!"
She seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of herself. But she said with a struggle, "You think not."
"I would gladly think otherwise if I could," he answered. "Heaven knows! But if you were to choose me today, against your guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; I release you. With a full heart, for the love of her you once were." As he walked away, he whispered, "May you be happy in the life you have chosen! Merry Christmas, Catherine."
"Have you been happy?" asked the Spirit of George Darcy.
"Money is power," Lady Catherine said grimly, "and I was done with being a pawn. We could have scaled the heights together, but you had little ambition. I always hoped you would come around. But then you married Anne."
"I would not sell my soul, even for you," the Spirit replied just as grimly. "But I have always loved you."
"There are some things more important than love," Lady Catherine asserted.
"When you turn your back on love," the Spirit replied, "you turn your back on life." He started them on their way again. "One shadow more!" exclaimed the Ghost.
"No more!" cried Lady Catherine. No more. I don't wish to see it. Show me no more!" But the relentless Ghost forced her to face the next scene.
They were in another place; a room, nothing so sumptuous as any at Rosings, but full of comfort. Next to the winter fire sat a handsome young boy, reminiscent of George as a youth, yet not --- Fitzwilliam Darcy. He and his father were pouring over maps that were on a table. Their heads together, laughing, chatting, enjoying each other's company. Young Darcy asking astute questions about that area of the world. Knowledgeable, polite, a boy anyone could be proud to claim, as indeed George was. His fatherly pride shown in his eyes. The door opened and Anne entered the room with tea and biscuits. She set them on the table, hugged her husband, and ruffled the hair of her son, fondly. Soon she was just as engrossed in the conversation as the men in her life.
Lady Catherine swallowed with difficulty as she compared this scene to one in her own memory. In the dining room at Rosings, Sir Lewis at one end of the table, Lady Catherine at the other, Anne deBourgh somewhere in the middle. No one speaking, except for an occasional comment from husband to wife. Sir Lewis was several years her senior, and had little patience for the prattling of children. The more she wanted to suppress that memory, the more it came to the fore. Was the status worth the discomfort? This was the first time she had ever dared ask herself that question.
Lady Catherine was jolted out of her reverie by suddenly being returned to her bed in her own bedroom at Rosings. The Ghost of 'Her' Christmas Past was gone. Lady Catherine rolled over and buried her face in her hands. She cried some of the tears she refused to cry as a child; she cried for loved ones lost. Lady Catherine deBourgh had not cried over anything or anyone since she was five-years-old. She fell asleep, exhausted.
III. The Second of the Three Spirits
Anne was curled up in a chair in her mother's room. She was exhausted from the events of the day. With the support of Mrs. Jenkinson she had faced Mr. Terry. It wasn't so bad, really. He was very kind, and her nervousness seemed to make him a little on edge. By the end of the conversation, her voice had only shook a little.
They had decided to postpone the giving of the Christmas bonuses until the following day. Perhaps there would be some change in her mother's condition by then. Hopefully, Mr. and Mrs. Collins would be able to help her pass out the envelopes and say a few kind words to the employees.
During the meeting with Mr. Terry, Anne had felt exhilarated, mentally. She could not remember when she had last had a conversation with anyone without her mother present, except with Mrs. Jenkinson, of course. And to play the "lady of the house" felt kind of...daring. She didn't think she had ever been "daring" before. But emotionally and physically it was almost more than she could endure. She wasn't very strong even on her "good" days. Sometimes, Anne felt like the life was just seeping out of her, and that she was fading away. She felt certain that it might happen to her just like that one day, and she wasn't sure that she would mind. She did not seem to have any reason for being here, and who would miss her? To most people she was just a shadow.
Lady Catherine pulled herself together and sat up in bed. Had she been asleep? Something told her that the bell was again upon the stroke of one. She did not want to be startled this time, so she pulled back all of her bed curtains and kept vigil, just waiting for the Spirit to appear.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, she was not by any means, prepared for nothing; and consequently, when the bell struck One, and no shape appeared, she was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, yet nothing came. But all this time she had been vaguely aware of an insistent yellow glow. This was more alarming than a dozen ghosts as she was powerless to make out what it meant. At last, however, she began to think, and realized that the glow had its source from under the door to the hallway. She got out of bed and tiptoed across the room. She put her ear against the door, but heard nothing. She opened it a crack, and the light streamed in, turning to vibrant sunlight.
"I wondered whether you would come, Catherine," said a dear, familiar voice. There she was --- Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy -- radiant, with the sunlight streaming all around and through her. She was standing in the park at Fitzwilliam manor. She put one slender arm out in a gesture of welcome.
Lady Catherine felt suddenly light-headed. She tried to turn and go back through the door to her bedroom, but could not find it. She spotted a garden bench a few feet away, and sat down, breathing heavily, and with some difficulty.
"Dear Catherine," Anne said softly, coming near, but not touching her. "I have wanted to talk to you, to see you..."
"I do not want to see you!" Lady Catherine spoke through clenched teeth. "You left us! You left those two poor children! What kind of a mother are you? You are weak, WEAK!"
The Spirit of Anne knew that her sister was speaking through a wall of pain, and did not take offense. She, herself, had been allowed many years of tears and regrets after she left her children motherless, and now she had found a kind of peace, within herself, and some understanding of the grand scheme of things.
"Yes, I have been weak, Catherine," Anne admitted. "You have always been the strong one. I was often sorry that I could not be more like you."
"George Darcy did not seem to mind," she said bitterly. "He chose you. And look where it got him, a widower with two children." She had not had enough of revenge, and added, "Did you never regret bearing Georgiana? Did you not hate George Darcy for bringing this upon you? After all, you had already given him an heir. He was being selfish. He knew you were not strong."
"Catherine, this conversation is long overdue. If we had remained close in life, it would not be necessary. You would have been privy to my dearest thoughts, just as you had been when we were girls."
She continued, "George Darcy did not cease in his regard for you. A man of his sensibilities does not fall in and out of love like the swinging of a door. He remembered you as his 'first love.' He loved me as his wife and the mother of his children. He would have wished to meet you as a dear friend, but was not permitted, by you, to do so. It was not good enough for you."
Lady Catherine felt the truth of her words. She remembered the times George had tried to approach her, after he and Anne had married, and she had treated him coldly, as a stranger, not as someone she had known most of her life. "I...I am used to being in control," Lady Catherine revealed hesitantly, "especially in matters of the heart. You cannot blame me."
Anne gave her a warm, wistful smile, "No, I cannot blame you, Catherine. You did what you had to do to survive."
"And as for regretting Georgiana..." Anne said tenderly, "I cannot..."
Lady Catherine was not aware that they had been moving. Now she looked down and saw the drawing room at Pemberley. There was Darcy, just as he had looked the other day, with that common Elizabeth Bennet seated at his feet. She was stretching her hands toward the fire in the fireplace, and talking gaily with a young woman to her right, her sister, Jane. Bingley was standing near a table, pouring himself a brandy. Georgiana was leaning over her brother's chair. She gave him an impulsive kiss on the top of the head, and they all laughed at something she said. Darcy looked back at her fondly.
"No, I do not regret Georgiana Darcy in the least. My only regret is that I cannot tell her so. At weak moments in her life she has blamed herself for my death; it has been such a weight upon her tender heart. ." She looked at both of her children with such longing in her eyes that Catherine had to look away. "Where would my Fitzwilliam be without dear Georgiana to look after him?"
Lady Catherine snorted, "Don't you mean the reverse? Georgiana is almost as retiring as my Anne."
Anne shook her head. "Georgiana is there as much for Fitzwilliam's sake as he is for hers. He has been very lonely and has had such a burden to bear, since he has no parents to offer support and guidance. She has offered him companionship, been a willing "ear", and often was his sole reason for getting out of bed, and getting on with it, especially when he was younger." She looked in the direction of Elizabeth Bennet. "And now he has his Lizzy...I am so glad!"
Lady Catherine looked incredulous. "Elizabeth Bennet is a commoner. She has nothing to offer him! How can she compare with my Anne and an estate such as Rosings? This is insulting! I demand to be returned to my home."
"Catherine," her sister answered, "your Anne does not wish to marry Fitzwilliam. In your heart of hearts, you know that." She saw Lady Catherine's mouth press into a firm line.
"Let's be honest, you wanted a way to tie Fitzwilliam to you. Catherine, it is not necessary. Fitzwilliam is already yours. If you would give him half a chance, he would show you."
"Pishtosh!" Lady Catherine scoffed. "You speak in riddles."
Anne spoke to her in a more assertive tone, "You are his closest relative, the only mother-figure he has had in a long time. He could be the son of your old age, Catherine; if you want him to be. More importantly, he is the brother who will care for Anne when you are gone. He will not let you down."
"He has already let me down!" Lady Catherine said with some feeling. She was looking at Elizabeth Bennet who had turned around to address her fiancÚ. Darcy put his head back and laughed, a boyish, unselfconscious laugh. He seemed relaxed and happy. Lady Catherine had to admit that he looked better than she had ever seen him.
"She is good for him, Catherine. She makes him smile....at her, at the world, at himself. If laughter is the best medicine, then she will prolong his life for many, many years. I am happy for them both!" Anne was smiling down at them. The rays of sun that permeated her being reached out and around Darcy and Elizabeth like a caress. They felt the warmth of her love, but mistook it for their own feelings for each other. She did not care. All love came from the same source anyway. She was just grateful that she could touch them in this way, since all earthly ways were denied her.
She drew Lady Catherine down closer to the scene, so they could hear what the young people were saying.
Darcy was grinning as he said, "Lady Catherine told me Christmas was 'pishtosh'! And she believed it, too!"
His aunt's ears burned as she heard herself discussed. Now she would know what they think of her!
"More shame to her then!" Elizabeth exclaimed, indignantly. "You go to offer the olive branch and get a 'pishtosh.' How like Lady Catherine to try to have the last word!" Elizabeth was exceedingly pretty, with the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw.
"She's a comical old bird," said Darcy, "that's the truth; and not so pleasant as she might be. However her offenses carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against her."
'Nothing to say against her!' Lady Catherine thought angrily. 'Old bird, indeed! He will pay for that!'
Darcy's friends raised their eyebrows at his expression. He did not usually indulge in slang. He must be feeling a little Christmas cheer.
"If Darcy says she is an 'old bird', then she must be!" laughed Bingley. "But, I say, Darcy, haven't you always told me how very rich she is?"
"What of it?" asked Darcy. "Her wealth is of no use to her. She doesn't do any good with it. It doesn't comfort her. And she hasn't the satisfaction of thinking that she's ever going to benefit us with it."
"I have little patience with her," Elizabeth admitted. "She is rude, and does not care whom she hurts, when she is in a position to do so much good."
"Oh I have!" said Darcy. "I am sorry for her. I couldn't be angry with her if I tried. Who suffers by her ill whims? Herself, always. Here, she takes it into her head to dislike us and won't dine with us. What's the consequence? It is her loss, not ours." He stopped and leaned forward to nurse the fire, then continued, "I was going to say, that the consequences of her taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that she loses some pleasant moments, which could do her no harm. I am sure she loses pleasanter companions than she can find in her own thoughts. I mean to give her the same chance every year, whether she likes it or not, for I pity her. She may rail at Christmas until she dies, but she can't help thinking better of it---I defy her---if she finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying, Aunt Catherine, how are you? If it only puts her in the vein to be kinder to Anne, that's something; and I think I shook her up a bit the other day."
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking Lady Catherine. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring what they laughed at, he encouraged them in their merriment.
After tea, they had some music. For they were a musical group of friends, and knew what they were about when they sang their favorite carols. Georgiana played well upon the piano, and happened to play a simple little tune that had been a favorite of Lady Catherine's since childhood. Anne used to sing it to her when she would comfort her. When this strain of music sounded, all the things that the Ghost of George Darcy had shown her, came upon her mind; she softened more and more; and thought that if she could have listened to it often, years ago, she might have cultivated the kindnesses of life for her own happiness with her own hands, instead of waiting for the Ghosts of her past to lead her out of the abyss.
Lady Catherine looked, with some emotion, at her Ghost of Christmas Present. "I am so sorry, Anne," she said humbly. "I have always loved you. I suffered much by being separated from you. Ahhhh, it is too late!" she lamented. "We will never have that chance again, to be close as we should have been. I will carry this pain with me forever."
Anne reached out to her with her rays of sunlight, and wrapped them around Lady Catherine's heart. The warmth was so sweet as to bring tears to her eyes. "It is not too late, Catherine. There are people around you, now, who need you very much. You may not realize it, but you need them, too."
"Pishtosh," said Lady Catherine. "Who could care about me? I have made certain that no one can love me. I would be afraid to reach out to them. What if they reject me?"
Anne gestured to the scene below. Darcy had decided to go for a short walk in the quiet of the evening. He needed just a few minutes to himself. The holidays were often difficult for him, because they brought back memories. Elizabeth sensed his mood, and accompanied him, so that he would not need to bear the pain alone.
"I remember the joyous Christmas's of my childhood," Darcy explained. "Father, and Mother, and I. We took such delight in each other's company. We were always planning little surprises for each other." His eyes glassed over, as he admitted, "I miss them so much. I have been so alone...until now." He turned to Elizabeth, and they kissed, tenderly.
Anne's heart went out to Darcy. "I wish that I could tell him how proud I am of the man he has become," she sighed wistfully. She turned to Lady Catherine, "You could give him the message for me!" she exclaimed.
Lady Catherine sniffed. "Darcy would have me committed if I told him his mother is proud of him. He would think I am having hallucinations." 'And rightly so,' she added to herself.
They listened as Darcy continued his train of thought, "I dearly wish that we could be closer to Aunt Catherine and Anne, but that is not to be." He sighed and said grimly, "My father was not good enough for her; why should I think she would care about me?"
Elizabeth was puzzled. Darcy explained that Lady Catherine had been informally engaged to his father while still very young. She had broken it off when she decided she needed a husband with title, as well as fortune. Elizabeth could not believe that anyone would consider the Darcys 'not good enough.'
"Poor Lady Catherine," she finally remarked. "She must be grievously disappointed every day of her life if her expectations are always so high. She must be the only person who can possibly meet her own standards!"
"It's not true!" Lady Catherine protested. "Darcy is everything I could ever desire in a son!"
"Then tell him so," Anne suggested. "You are his mother now, in my place. Tell him that you are proud of the man he has become. It does not matter whether the words come from me or you; he needs to know."
Lady Catherine looked at her sister in utter amazement. It was starting to sink in, that perhaps Darcy would be approachable, that perhaps they could... She dared not speak her hopes, in case they would be jinxed, but she felt a thrill of anticipation that she had rarely felt in her long, long life.
The scene faded to blackness. Lady Catherine spoke her disappointment. "Wait! I wanted to see more..."
The Spirit of Christmas Present shook her head. "You will have many happy memories of your own making, Catherine, but now we must visit other people and places. My time is passing quickly."
In the blink of an eye, they were at the Collins' home. "What business could we have here?" Lady Catherine demanded to know. "I see Mr. Collins daily. Is that not enough punishment, that he must also be in my dreams?"
Anne smiled at her, "But you do not see other facets of the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Collins. You think that you chose well in selecting Mr. Collins to fill the vacancy, but you do not know how well you really did. Mr. Collins, guided by his sincere and sympathetic wife, Charlotte, does much good in the community."
"I know...I know...that annoying Ladies Aid Society," Lady Catherine said impatiently.
They looked down at the Collins' dining table. It was decked in Christmas finery, a special tablecloth, plates, and goblets. The food was simple but good, and there was enough of it. "That's rather a lot for just two people!" Lady Catherine complained. "I have tried to guide them in their economy. Obviously, my remarks went in one ear and out the other!"
Mr. Collins entered the room, leading two small children by the hand. Behind them came the children's mother, and Charlotte, carrying more platters of food. "Who are they, with the Collinses?" Lady Catherine demanded to know.
"Mrs. Weathers and her children, Alice and Billy. Mr. Weathers was lost in a farm accident last October. The Collinses have been helping his wife and children through the past few months, until they can make arrangements to go to her family in the north."
Lady Catherine humphed at the idea. "They can not afford to take in every stray!" she muttered. "They are setting a precedent." She looked sideways at her sister, "I suppose you expect me to take in several, myself!"
"I hope they do set a precedent," Anne replied. "But, you must answer for yourself. If each person would help even one fellow human being, all would be taken care of. No one person needs to go out and save the entire human race. Our salvation will come one-on-one, face-to-face, if it is to be."
"God helps those who help themselves!" Lady Catherine persisted.
"You would be surprised at how much you would be helping yourself by reaching out to others in their need. Catherine, they do not just need your money; they desperately need to know that another person cares about them, someone who will encourage them to believe in themselves again."
They swept over the countryside to hover over the nearest village. It looked as though the entire population had decided to go Christmas shopping. There were many cheery "Hello!"s and "Merry Christmas!"s flung about as friends passed each other on the street.
"They look fine to me," muttered Lady Catherine. "Why are we here?"
Anne directed beams of light to specific people, to point them out to Catherine. "Watch Mr. Childers," she instructed. Lady Catherine saw him pick the pocket of an elderly gentleman, then dash away.
"We must inform the authorities!" Lady Catherine exclaimed righteously.
Anne led her sister along the streets and lanes to the home of Mr. Childers. Their rooms were dingy, and damp with cold. Three children, dressed in rags, and a woman holding an infant greeted him as he came in the door, and watched with large eyes as he threw the money on the table. "I helped a gentleman change the wheel on his carriage. He was so grateful; look what he gave me!" He beamed around at his little children. "We shall eat well tonight!" he exclaimed. His wife studied him doubtfully, but he would not notice. She sidled up to him and whispered, "And where will we be, Matthew Childers, if something happens to you?"
The heavenly eavesdroppers returned to the town square. "There is Mrs. McCarter. She will be dead within the month, and will leave a young daughter behind. They do not have enough money for her medicine, which costs about as much as one of your handkerchiefs." She pointed to a young boy of about thirteen, hawking newspapers. "Johnny Fellows was the brightest student in his class, but had to drop out to help bring money into the family. He could have been a doctor, with his intelligence, but it will never happen. Almost every person here has a problem, or knows someone who does, either financially, physically, or spiritually. Yet they make the effort to wish each other 'Merry Christmas.' Life may seem pretty grim to them at times, but as long as they have the story of Christmas, they have hope."
"I will have to think about it," Lady Catherine murmured. She had turned deaf ears to the stories Mr. and Mrs. Collins would tell of the people in the village and on the farms around Rosings. But now some of them had names and faces, and it was a little harder to ignore their plight.
The Ghost of Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy led Lady Catherine straight up through the clouds, into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. "This is our last visit," she warned, "and you must be very brave."
Before Lady Catherine could respond, they were careening down a long, dark tunnel. At the end was a person ...Anne, Anne deBourgh was curled up and sleeping in a chair. 'Why would she do that?' Lady Catherine wondered. 'Why is she not in her bed? She looks unwell...'
The Ghost of Christmas Present stopped her from touching Anne. "You must not!" she admonished. "Anne is sensitive to what is beyond the earthly plane. Look and listen..."
Lady Catherine studied her daughter's wan face, the dark circles under her eyes, her limp hair. Slender limbs emerged from loose sleeves. She could sense, rather than see, an aura encircling Anne. It was stretching out and upward, but being pulled back to the body. "What is happening?" Lady Catherine asked, with no little concern.
"Catherine, Anne is not well, physically and in spirit. She is giving up, allowing herself to gradually fade away. She may not live to see another Christmas."
Lady Catherine was horrified. "No!! It cannot be! I have taken care of her every moment of every day. I will not allow her to go!" Tears began to stream down her face. Intense feelings began to tear at her heart.
Anne felt deeply sorry for her sister. Catherine hung on to the people she loved so tightly that she stifled them. "You have been a good mother," she tried to comfort her. "You have tried to be strong for her. Just as you were strong for me. But, I died anyway. It was not your fault, nor George's, nor Georgiana's. People die, Catherine. We do not know when; we cannot always know why. There is no guarantee that people will live long lives. Our only power lies in how we live."
"I have given Anne everything I have," Lady Catherine said despondently.
"Except the freedom that she was born with, to be herself," she retorted. It sounded harsh to Anne's own ears, but it needed to be said.
"What are you talking about?" Lady Catherine demanded, outraged than Anne, Spirit or no, could say such a thing.
"My life was short, but I had a full life. I was loved. I sang, I danced, I had a husband and family who loved me; I held my newborn son in my arms. I lived my life to the full all the way up to the day I died. I would much rather have those few short years of joy, than a lifetime of repression, and dullness, and not realizing any of my dreams."
"Anne is not strong enough to have a child!" Lady Catherine reminded her, bitterly. "She will never know that joy."
"Dear Catherine, Anne's dreams are probably very different from mine, and from yours. Have you ever asked her?"
Lady Catherine was stunned. Anne had dreams? That her mother may not know about? "She would confide in me, if she did!" she said angrily.
"Would she?" Anne questioned.
Lady Catherine felt very uncomfortable, and as though everything she had tried to do for her daughter was naught. "What can I do?" she begged. "Please say it isn't too late!"
"We do not truly know how long Anne has to live. She has free will, which we all are born with. Right now, she feels useless, insignificant." Lady Catherine began to protest, but Anne continued, "I know! I know! You have not tried to make her feel that way, but this is how she views herself. Much of human suffering and failure has to do with how one feels inside. She could possibly live much longer, if she felt needed. If she could make use of the gifts she has been given. Anne has a compassionate heart, and a giving spirit. If she were allowed to think about something other than her own ailments, she could do much good, even just around your own estate. Encourage her to help you when problems arise. You will be surprised at how thoughtful she is."
Lady Catherine swore that she would follow the Spirit's advice. She would do anything for Anne.
The Ghost of Christmas Present began to fade away. Lady Catherine reached out to her, but it was of no use. "Dear Catherine, no matter what happens to my namesake, I will be there at her side; I have visited her often. I will be there at the end, whenever that may be. In return, I ask you to look to Fitzwilliam...and Georgiana." Her voice was fading fast, "I love you..."
Lady Catherine cried out, "Anne! Anne! I love you, too..." She heard the bell strike twelve. She could not see the Spirit of her sister anymore. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, she remembered the prediction of her late husband, and lifting up her eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground, towards her. There was something chillingly familiar about it.
IV. The Last of the Spirits
Anne felt overwhelming relief. Darcy was at Rosings, and he would know what to do. He was accompanied by Georgiana and Miss Bennet; and Anne, who had thrown herself into her cousin's arms on sight, felt some of her strength returning, just by their presence. Darcy conferred with the doctor, but learned no further details of Lady Catherine's condition.
They went upstairs as a group, to check on Lady Catherine's progress. Her skin color had become ashen, which was some cause for alarm, and her heartbeat was somewhat irregular.
"Sometimes," explained Anne, "she breathes with so much difficulty, that I am sure it is her last." She was trying not to cry, but Elizabeth gave her a hug, and she fell apart.
"We are here for you, dear Anne," she whispered. She had never thought that one day she would be consoling Anne deBourgh in this fashion, but Anne looked so lost and pathetic that Elizabeth could not help herself.
Mrs. Jenkinson brought in some tea, and they settled down to wait...
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near her, Lady Catherine fell to her knees; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
She felt that it was, when it came beside her, about her own height and build, and that its mysterious presence filled her with a solemn dread. She knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?" said Lady Catherine.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand. Lady Catherine had experienced many smells during her visits by the Ghosts, but this time there was a slight scent which seemed to be attached to the Spirit itself. She could not quite place it...but it made her very uncomfortable.
"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Lady Catherine pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?"
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer she received, but then she realized that the scent returned whenever the Spirit moved or made a gesture. The smell caused her to breathe more quickly and laboriously, which gave her much concern.
Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Lady Catherine feared the silent shape so much that her legs trembled beneath her, and she found that she could hardly stand when she prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing her condition, and giving her time to recover.
But Lady Catherine was all the worse for this. It thrilled her with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon her, while she could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.
"Ghost of the Future!" she exclaimed. "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another woman from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"
It gave her no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
"Lead on!" said Lady Catherine. "Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!" Lady Catherine followed in the shadow of its dress, which bore her up, she thought, and carried her along. The scent seemed to cling to the folds of fabric, and it stirred up very old, very terrible memories, from her childhood. She swallowed her fear and continued in the wake of the Phantom.
Suddenly they were in the same village that she had visited with the Ghost of Anne Darcy. The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of gentlemen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Lady Catherine advanced to listen to their talk.
"No," said a great, fat man, "I don't know much about it either way. I only know she's dead."
"When did she die?" inquired another.
"Last night, I believe."
"Why, what was the matter with her?" asked a third, taking snuff. "I thought she'd never die!"
"God knows," said the first with a yawn.
"What has she done with her money?" asked a red-faced gentleman.
"I have heard that some cousin, twice-removed, will get it all, the estate, everything. She hasn't left it to me, that's for sure."
This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.
"It's likely to be a very cheap funeral," said the same speaker. "for upon my life I don't know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?"
"I don't mind going if a lunch is provided," observed the red-faced gentleman. "But I must be fed, if I make one."
Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with other groups. 'What is the point of listening to this?' Lady Catherine puzzled. 'It must have some hidden purpose, but, for the life of me, I can't think of anyone to which it would apply. I will try to remember this exchange, though, and look for future clues.'
Quiet and dark, beside her stood the Phantom with its outstretched hand. The tilt of the head seemed to imply that the Spirit had been watching her. Lady Catherine shuddered at the thought, and felt very cold.
They began to travel through the air, away from the town, until they came upon a mansion that looked similar to Rosings, but not so well kept. Inside, they found a gentleman with a heavy paunch, seated in a chair, reading the newspaper. The woman of the house was sorting through wallpapers. The room they were in was done in a heavily patterned paper of brown and orange, that assaulted Lady Catherine's sensibilities. The room seemed very familiar, like her own drawing room, but there were no familiar possessions. And she would die before she would see the beautifully wood-paneled walls of Rosings covered in such a fashion.
The woman was addressing her husband, "Ha! She frightened everyone away from her when she was alive, to profit us when she was dead! Ha, ha, ha! Who would have thought it?"
"True, dear," he replied. "I never thought I had a remote chance, being only a distant cousin. It's situated rather far from London, though, to suit me. It is so old that the repairs will soon be incomprehensible. Perhaps we can unload it next year, and find something more suitable closer to the city."
"It is terribly old and dark," his wife agreed. "But the wallpaper helps to liven it up a bit. The old biddy is probably rolling over in her grave to see us here! Ha, ha!"
"Spirit!" said Lady Catherine, shuddering from head to foot. "I see. I see. The case of this unhappy woman might be my own. My life tends that way now. Merciful Heaven, what is this?"
She recoiled in terror, for the scene had abruptly changed, and now she almost touched some kind of cot or bed, on which beneath a single sheet, there lay something covered up, which, though it did not move nor speak, announced itself in awful language.
The room was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy. A pale light fell straight upon the bed; and on it, was the poor, neglected body of the woman.
Lady Catherine glanced toward the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointing to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it, the motion of a finger upon Lady Catherine's part, would have disclosed the face. She thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it; but had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at her side.
She thought, 'If this woman could be raised up now, what would be her foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard-dealing, griping cares? They have brought her to a rich end, truly!' She lay in the dark empty house, with not a man, woman, or child, to say that she was kind.
"Spirit!" she said, "this is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go!"
Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoving finger to the head.
"I understand you," Lady Catherine returned, "and I would do it if I could. But I have not the power, Spirit. I have not the power."
Again it seemed to look upon her.
"If there is any person who feels emotion caused by this woman's death," said Lady Catherine, quite agonized, "show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you!"
The Phantom spread its dark robe before her for a moment, like a wing, and withdrawing it, revealed a room, the library at Pemberley. Darcy was seated in a chair, deep in thought. Lady Catherine was confused. "What has Darcy to do with it? The woman was an acquaintance of his?" she asked. She noticed that he was somewhat older than the present, and the same could be said of Elizabeth when she entered the room a moment later. They both had wedding bands on their fingers.
"William, I am so sorry for your loss. I know you loved her, regardless of the past few years. I am only comforted by the fact that her daughter did not live to see this."
Darcy rubbed his temples. "I had always hoped that she would come around...now it will never happen. Dear Lizzy, please shoot me if I start to act like my relatives."
"Darcy was related to her? And she had a daughter who proceeded her in death?" Lady Catherine was having a difficult time understanding anything she had seen this night. "Help me to understand," she begged the Spirit.
Immediately they were in a churchyard. Here then, the wretched woman, whose name she would now learn, lay underneath the ground.
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. She advanced toward it, trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but she dreaded that she saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
"Before I draw nearer," begged Lady Catherine, "tell me, are these the shadows of things that will be, or that only may be?"
The Spirit was as silent as ever.
Lady Catherine crept towards it, trembling as she went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave, her own name: Catherine deBourgh.
"Am I that woman who lay upon the bed?" she cried, upon her knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to her, and back again.
"No, Spirit, Oh, no! no!" She rose quickly and protested, "No, it cannot be I -- that woman's daughter was already dead!" She glanced around on either side of the tombstone. "Oh, no! My God! My Anne! No!" The tombstone next to hers was much older, and was carved with the name: Anne deBourgh. She flung herself on her daughter's grave, heedless of the damp and cold. "No! No!" she wailed for some minutes. She stopped suddenly and sat up. "Wait! This does not have to happen!" She rose and approached the Spirit. "Tell me this does not have to happen!" she demanded hoarsely. She grabbed at the cloak on the Phantom and was surprised to feel substance. In her distress, she pulled it open. The smell was overpowering now...violets...violets? "NO!" she shoved the hood away from the face. "Mother?"
The Spirit of Ellen Fitzwilliam looked on her daughter with hollowed eyes. Her body was shrunken and aged, the skin drawn tight against the bone. She reminded Lady Catherine of a skeleton, a walking skeleton.
"Aughhhh!" Lady Catherine screamed in agony. "You mocked me in life, now you mock me in death! Why? Why are you here?"
Lady Fitzwilliam's voice was dry, and sounded like rustling leaves. Her daughter had to listen carefully to catch her words.
"I have roamed this earth for forty years, with no rest, no respite, no hope. This chance was given to me to lay down my staff and seek eternal rest."
"Why did you not reveal yourself to me sooner?"
"Would you have followed me, if you knew my identity? I think not," Lady Fitzwilliam replied.
"I do not see how I can be the instrument of your salvation, since you have ever been the instrument of my living hell," Lady Catherine said, with venom in her voice.
Lady Fitzwilliam said sadly, "You cannot punish me more than I have punished myself for all these long years, Catherine. Let me say in my defense, that the sins of the father, or in our cases, mother, are visited upon the child. I was abused as you were. I treated you as I was treated. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. I know it does not atone for everything I have done to you, but I am sorry."
Lady Catherine glared at her in stony silence for a moment, and then remarked, "People say they are sorry for bumping into someone, or when they hurt their feelings. 'Sorry' is a highly inept platitude to use when you have ruined someone's life!"
"Catherine, the only thing I can do now is help you rectify many of the mistakes you and I have both made. This is why I am here."
"Mother, I know not what to say to you. We are beyond speech. But I believe, I must believe, that you came to me with the same intentions as George and Anne. I am not the woman I was. Assure me, O Spirit, assure me that I may yet change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!" Lady Catherine begged.
Her mother's hand trembled. "It is not too late!" she swore. "It is not too late!"
Lady Catherine stammered, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach." In her agitation, she tried to clasp the outstretched hand of her mother. It crumbled to dust, and she was left holding the bedpost in her room at Rosings.
V. The End of It
Yes! and the bedpost was her own. The bed was her own, the room was her own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before her was her own, to make amends in!
"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" Lady Catherine repeated, as she scrambled out of bed. "The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh, Lewis! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, Lewis, on my knees!"
She was flustered and glowing with her good intentions; she had been sobbing in her conflict with the Spirit, and her face was wet with tears.
"I don't know what to do!" cried Lady Catherine, laughing and crying in the same breath. I am as light as a feather, as happy as an angel, as merry as a schoolgirl. I must wish everyone a merry Christmas!"
She was checked in her intentions by the sound of church bells, the most beautiful sound she had ever heard. Oh, glorious! Running to the window, she opened it, and put out her head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; golden sunlight! "Merry Christmas, Anne!" she saluted the Ghost of Christmas Present. Anne was not to be seen, but Lady Catherine knew she was there. Heavenly sky; sweet, fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!
"Mr. Terry!" cried Lady Catherine, as she espied her manager crossing below. "What is today?" It was late in the afternoon and she was afraid that she had been too long asleep.
"Eh?" returned the man, greatly surprised by the greeting.
"What's today, my fine fellow!" said Lady Catherine.
"Today! Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Lady Catherine to herself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in time." She shouted to Mr. Terry once again, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Terry! Say, do you know Mr. Childers, in the village?"
"Merry Christmas, Lady deBourgh," he returned. "Yes, I do."
"Then send along one of our gooses to his house today, quickly, and see what we have in the cellar to go with it. And ask if he knows anything about horses. Would he be interested in starting as one of our grooms?"
Mr. Terry was dumbfounded. "As you wish, Ma'am," he stammered. He hoped that she would remember this conversation later.
"And the Collinses," she continued. "I'm sure we have a pie or something we could send down to them. And be sure to tell them 'Merry Christmas'...from me! From Anne and me!"
Mr. Terry could not believe his ears, but he said he would complete each of her requests immediately. He fairly ran out of her sight before she could think of anything else. If he did as she bid, and then she retracted it later, he would be subject to much ire. He did not want to be responsible for any more errands.
Lady Catherine turned from the window, and for the first time, noticed her daughter, Anne, reclined in one of the chairs. Anne's face was white, as though she were seeing a ghost, and she was trembling uncontrollably. She was overwhelmed by what she had just witnessed.
"Anne! Anne! My darling Anne!" Lady Catherine swept over to her and bundled her into her bony old arms. "Merry Christmas, my darling child!"
The door suddenly swept open. "Anne, are you okay? We heard strange noises coming from in here..." Darcy!
Lady Catherine jumped up and, to Darcy's very great astonishment, held his face in both hands, "Dear, dear Darcy! My Son! Merry Christmas!"
She saw Elizabeth just behind Darcy, and turned to grasp both her hands. "Oh Elizabeth! I am so glad you are finally here! Merry Christmas, dear Elizabeth!"
Lady Catherine's audience could not have been more shocked, especially when she began to babble as she flitted from one corner of the room to another. "Lewis entered this door...you cannot imagine my disbelief! And this window...we flew out of this window! And, oh, George was so kind, after all these years...And then Anne...my heart is so full..."
Darcy whispered to Elizabeth to fetch the doctor. Lady Catherine was so attune to every sense that she heard the comment, and stopped moving. She looked from face to face, seeing much concern and bewilderment. 'Oh my!' she thought. 'If I had only had time to regain my equilibrium before encountering anyone. Now they think I am mad, totally mad!'
"Do not fear," she reassured, putting a hand out as a sign for Elizabeth to stop in her tracks. "I am okay...I am fine, gloriously fine. I...I had a dream to end all dreams. It made me see very clearly how dear you all are to me. How very dear life is. I do not mean to frighten you, but from now on you will see a different Catherine deBourgh."
'She sounds sane,' Darcy thought to himself. Her color was good, her breathing was normal; in fact, she had seemed to be filled with energy as she pranced around the room. He could feel a charge in the air, almost otherworldly; a strong electrical charge coming from Aunt Catherine. It was as though she could hardly contain herself. He was concerned that, though she sounded like she was in her right mind, this behavior may preclude a stroke, or some other malady.
It suddenly dawned upon Lady Catherine that this was an odd time for Darcy to be visiting her. "Why are you here?" she asked.
Darcy led her over to the bed and sat her down. "Aunt Catherine, you have been very ill. The doctor has not been able to awaken you since early this morning, and we have all been very concerned for you."
"Well, I am fine now!" she popped back up, "But I can see that you are concerned for my welfare. I will allow the doctor to prove that I am as I say."
The doctor came and went, proclaiming Lady Catherine's excellent health, though with much disbelief. 'It is as though she is raised from the dead!' he murmured to himself.
The household had settled down somewhat after Lady Catherine's remarkable recovery and all were gathered in the drawing room around her. She was still the lady of the house, and would probably not be able to outgrow her habit of giving orders to everyone in sight, but these orders were given with great thought to the welfare and happiness of all.
"Darcy, I am giving you the power of attorney over a new bank account that I will be opening. I would like to set up a fund for local people who are in need. We cannot help everyone, of course, but if we help just one or two, upon occasion, that will be a very good start. In fact, I have the first two people in mind. Make sure that Mrs. McCarter gets money for her medicine, and that the boy...the Fellows boy, create a scholarship for him, so that he may finish school and attend university."
Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson were amazed that Lady Catherine knew the names of some of the villagers, and their most intimate needs. Darcy was silenced by the trust his aunt was putting in his abilities.
"And Darcy," Lady Catherine seemed able to read his thoughts. "I would not entrust you with this if I were not sure of you. I am proud of the fine young man that you have become, and I have every faith in you!"
Tears sprang, unbidden, to Darcy's eyes. This was more than he had ever hoped for. He had never thought to hear Lady Catherine address him in such a fashion. He blinked his eyes, and coughed, to hide the fact that he was deeply moved.
"Anne," she said, turning to her daughter, "I would like for you to familiarize yourself with every person who works for us. Get to know them and their families; see to their needs. They are under our protection as long as they are in our service."
Anne did not know how she could possibly follow her mother's wishes. Lady Catherine sensed her thoughts. "Daughter, I believe in you. I believe that you have something to offer these people. You will soon realize that almost every person on earth has known despair, and has needs, some even greater than yours, though you have suffered lifelong physical ailments. Their burdens are often heavy, their spirits low. It is our solemn duty to assist them where we can."
Could she really do this? Anne looked lovingly upon her mother. 'I am her daughter!' she reminded herself. 'I surely have inherited some of her strength.'
"Elizabeth Bennet!" Lady Catherine said abruptly. Elizabeth was startled out her reverie. She had been thinking of all the implications of Lady Catherine's address to Darcy.
"Yes, Lady Catherine," she responded.
Lady Catherine suddenly smiled at her, which took Elizabeth off guard. "It is your job, Elizabeth, to make sure that we, none of us, take ourselves too seriously! But that we seriously attend to the needs and wishes of each other."
Elizabeth's regard for Lady Catherine bloomed enormously. This Lady Catherine was going to be delightful. 'It will be an honor to know her, and much easier to love her, than I had expected,' Elizabeth said to herself. 'Who could have imagined that Lady Catherine would want to laugh at herself!'
"Mrs. Jenkinson! I am prodigiously hungry!" Lady Catherine exclaimed, "Where is our Christmas dinner?"
Mrs. Jenkinson looked nonplused, and Anne explained, "We did not know what to do, when you were ill...There are a few pies and cakes already made, but many of the dishes were not attended to."
"Are you telling me that we are to eat as poorly as anyone in the village?" Lady Catherine admonished them. She stood up and commanded, "To the kitchen, Everyone!"
To the everlasting amazement of the kitchen staff, the family descended upon their domain, and assisted in mixing up a passable Christmas feast. Lady Catherine's observation that none of them were so stupid nor so unimaginative, as to not be able to feed themselves, had everyone laughing and joining in.
This was the scene when Colonel Fitzwilliam walked in. He had received Anne's urgent summons, and fully expected to find a house in mourning. He was not prepared for what he was witnessing.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, Fitz, dear! You are here at last!" Lady Catherine called to him. She wiped her hands off on an apron and ran to hug him. "Merry Christmas!" she exclaimed.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was frozen to the spot. He looked over his aunt's head to where Darcy was chopping up vegetables. "Come on, Fitz!" his cousin called. "There is plenty more to do, if we are to eat this on Christmas Day!"
They were gathered around the table: Lady Catherine, Anne, Mrs. Jenkinson, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, Elizabeth, and, of course, Darcy. The platters of food did not really look up to their standards, but they more than exceeded their expectations.
Lady Catherine was inspired to say, "Let us clasp hands as we say grace." She firmly held Anne's slim fingers in one hand, and Darcy's capable, strong ones in the other, as they gave thanks. "Let us remember this day, and keep Christmas in our hearts year 'round!" she added at the end.
Anne looked around at the smiling, loving faces, and whispered her own prayer, "God Bless Us, Every One!"
A month had passed, and Lady Catherine was true to her word. She and Darcy had set up the account, and were already seeing the effects of their efforts. Mrs. McCarter was not dead, and Johnny Fellows visited Lady Catherine weekly to give a progress report, during which time they usually emptied the candy jar between them. Lady Catherine had even bestirred herself and Anne to visit Pemberley, though she would prefer that Darcy and Elizabeth visit her at Rosings. The carriage ride was getting to be too much for her poor old body.
Mr. and Mrs. Collins were only two of the neighbors surprised by Lady Catherine's rebirth, though Mr. Collins, of course, had always felt that Lady Catherine was the model of beneficence. He was dimly aware, though, that she seemed to have a little more patience with him.
Lady Catherine was at her dressing table, where it had all begun. There were miniatures of her father, sister, and brothers grouped nearby, and she usually greeted them every morning, as she consciously and thankfully remembered her ghosts of the past. Some of the ghosts were not represented, and she decided to remedy the situation. Way back in the bottom drawer of her dresser were some small paintings and sketches, carefully wrapped in soft, clean cloths. She took out the one of George and Anne Darcy on their wedding day, and set it with the rest. Her fingers lingered on the miniature of her mother, but she was not yet able to face it. She closed the drawer, and got ready for the day.
At Eastertime though, there were flowers on the graves of all her loved ones, even that of Ellen Fitzwilliam.
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