The next morning Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and Miss Jeanette Thorpe were summoned to Rosings. Nettie took that to mean that Lady Catherine had been successful in her conversation with Mr. Darcy. The gentry presented themselves as models of virtue but were generally not above inventing lies and believing lies to save themselves from embarrassment.
Nettie was somewhat uneasy as they walked the half mile to the great house. She was not ready to feel completely confident that the outcome would be to her favor. Much would depend on how accurately her ladyship had communicated the decided-upon "truth" to her nephew. From her past observations of Mr. Darcy, she was fully confident that he would be able to recall whatever he was told to say. If Mr. Darcy became nervous and bungled the speech, that would be a problem for himself and Lady Catherine only; it would not reflect badly on Nettie. But if Lady Catherine had communicated it poorly from the start, she would never admit her own failure and Nettie might well be blamed.
When they arrived, they were shown into the sitting room, where Lady Catherine DeBourgh, Miss Anne DeBourgh, Mrs. Jenkinson, Mr. Darcy, and Col. Fitzwilliam were awaiting them.
Nettie maneuvered to obtain a seat near to Lady Catherine's huge, thronelike chair. She then observed the individuals in the room. Lady Catherine looked quite satisfied with the scene and even offered her a brief smile. Nettie smiled, but only outwardly.
Miss DeBourgh, on a far side of the room, looked tired and uninterested. Nettie wondered whether she had yet been informed that Mr. Darcy had attempted to propose to her last night but lost his way. She had not yet learned to read Miss DeBourgh. Would it even matter to try to understand her? Nettie remembered that Miss DeBourgh was the actual owner of Rosings. She probably should make the effort to figure her out. If she managed to achieve employment there, she would make it a priority.
Col. Fitzwilliam was not likely to be of much importance. His sphere of influence was too far removed from Kent to affect Nettie's life. She thought that she need not pay him much attention beyond showing the reverence due to him as the son of an earl.
She paid no mind at all to Mr. and Mrs. Collins. She knew that her master was just as determined as she to please Lady Catherine. Anything that her ladyship believed, he would believe, and his wife would not contradict him. The difference between Mr. Collins and herself was that the gentleman truly believed that his patroness was as noble a person as he claimed.
Miss Bennet was looking at her intently. Nettie thought that Miss Bennet had noticed the smile that had passed between Lady Catherine and herself. She had seen enough of Mrs. Collins's friend to know that she was a smart woman. She supposed that Miss Bennet suspected that Nettie had played a part in Lady Catherine's discovery of the events of the day before and in the lady's unpleasant visit to her chambers. Nettie's greatest asset was her catalog of knowledge about people, and to this catalog she now added the fact that she should not expect to gain much influence with Elizabeth Bennet. But that was of little concern as Miss Bennet was unlikely to ever return to Rosings or Hunsford after this morning's interview.
Mr. Darcy bore an expression that Nettie had never before seen on him. In the past, he had always looked either composed and proud, or nervous. But he now looked humbled and sad. Did he actually feel guilty about lying? That would be singular. But perhaps his demeanor would be construed by everyone else as contrition over his drunken mistake and his unintentional misleading of poor Miss Bennet.
Nettie was not certain whether Lady Catherine's wish to have Mr. Darcy as a son-in-law would actually be realized, as he was probably intelligent enough to cover up his embarrassment from Miss Bennet's refusal and still manage to evade the marriage with Miss DeBourgh if he chose. But if he did eventually become the master of Rosings there would likely be resentment between himself and his mother-in-law. Since Nettie was casting her lot with Lady Catherine, she would need to reap as much benefit as she could before such time that Mr. Darcy might take the reigns of the estate. She reckoned that competency in work performance and generosity in flattery would be enough to gain her an excellent reference from the lady if she needed to seek work in another great house in the future.
Once everyone was settled, Mr. Collins took the first opportunity to inquire after Lady Catherine's health (though only sixteen hours had passed since he last saw her) and to thank her for her gracious invitation to them to visit her again this morning. His patroness informed him that the reason for the visit was that her nephew needed to make a statement of some importance.
Lady Catherine looked at Mr. Darcy with satisfaction. "I want all present to know that there was an event that took place yesterday that was misunderstood. Mr. and Mrs. Collins, you are not yet aware of what transpired with Miss Bennet, but you soon will be."
Mr. Collins gasped. "Your Ladyship, if my cousin has done anything untoward, I assure you that it was without our knowledge and we will take all necessary steps to . . ."
"Mr. Collins," Lady Catherine interrupted, "no action will be necessary on your part. Miss Bennet simply did not comprehend the intentions of other parties. While the truth may bring embarrassment, she has no one to blame and should realize that it could have been avoided. Darcy will be able to clarify the situation to her, to the satisfaction of all. Darcy, tell Miss Bennet what she needs to know."
Though anxious concerning Mr. Darcy's performance, Nettie displayed a calm look as he began to speak.
Mr. Darcy maintained his dejected countenance as he turned toward his aunt. "You may have led yourself to a false conclusion, Madam, if you assumed that my silence last night indicated my agreement with your instructions to me. The reason that I did not withstand you was that your stated intentions would result in my having an opportunity to speak to Miss Elizabeth, which I greatly desired. I continue, however, to be my own man and will speak from my own mind, though the words that I choose to say may be equally as painful to Miss Bennet as the words that you tried to induce me to speak."
Lady Catherine sniffed, "Any pain brought to Miss Bennet is through her own fault alone, I have no doubt. Proceed, Darcy."
Mr. Darcy turned to Miss Bennet and looked her in the eye. "When my aunt came to me and related her conversation with you, and the manner in which she had at first wished you to approach me, I was forced to examine my own actions. There is much that I could say about the tenor of my words to you last night, but I will not force you to hear it if you are unwilling. However, on the more material matters that we discussed, I would speak to you now. Be not alarmed, madam, on hearing me address you, by the apprehension of my words containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you. I speak without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the speaking and the hearing of these words must occasion, should have been spared, had not my character required them to be said and heard. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice. Two offenses of a very different nature, and by no means of equal magnitude, you last night laid to my charge . . ."
Nettie was taken aback. She had observed, even during his earlier visits to the parsonage, that Mr. Darcy had been sweet on Miss Bennet, but she had not expected that such a proud man, so high in society, would still make the effort to clear up his misunderstandings with a woman after she had so thoroughly rejected and humbled him, especially a woman who was not of his circle. She reckoned, however, that at this point he was unlikely to make any mention of their invented story, which would mean that she need not worry about its success or failure.
Mr. Darcy proceeded to give a long explanation regarding his interference in the courtship of two people who were unknown and of no interest to Nettie, one of them being Miss Bennet's sister. She carefully observed the emotions that registered on Miss Bennet's face, which progressed from interest, to anger, to embarrassment, to resignation.
Nettie turned her attention now to Lady Catherine, who appeared to be both shocked and confused at the events that were unfolding in her sitting room. She silently rose from her seat and eased over to the lady's chair. She whispered, "M'lady, if he's so determined ta defend 'is honor to 'er, tryin' ta stop 'im now might make it worse. He might try ta tell 'er his story in another way, like writin' to 'er on the sly." Lady Catherine nodded slightly.
Mr. Darcy then related a history of his relationship with the Wickham fellow, who seemed to be quite the scoundrel. As Mr. Darcy described Mr. Wickham's overall poor behavior and a broken promise regarding an inheritance, Miss Bennet looked at him in shock, but appeared to believe him.
Mr. Darcy stated that there was a further incident involving Mr. Wickham that he wished to tell Miss Bennet in private. When Lady Catherine refused to clear the room for such a conversation, Col. Fitzwilliam invited Miss Bennet to join him in a corner of the room where, though in full sight of the assembled company, he could whisper to her without his words being comprehended by the rest of the party. Miss Bennet gasped several times as he related his tale and then slowly walked back to her previous place in the room with a dazed expression.
Miss Bennet did not sit down again but paced the room for some minutes in consternation. Finally, she cried out, "How despicably I have acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! I could not have been more wretchedly blind! Vanity has been my folly. I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself."
She then sat down and began to sob. "Mr. Darcy," she said through her tears, "I beg for your forgiveness for my foolish and cruel words. You did not deserve to be treated so."
Lady Catherine appeared to take great pleasure in Miss Bennet's statements of penitence, but Nettie discerned that the great lady's victory was not assured, for once again, Nettie saw an expression on Mr. Darcy's face that was a new one. He was looking at Miss Bennet with gentleness and concern.
"I cannot agree with you, Miss Elizabeth," he said. "The recollection of what I said last night, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now inexpressibly painful to me. What did you say of me, that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill-founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it now without abhorrence."
"Darcy!" Lady Catherine thundered, "Desist! It is well that you informed her of the errors of her thinking, but you will not apologize to this woman of no importance in the world!"
"Aunt, you will govern your own conversations and I will govern mine."
Miss Bennet gave him a little smile. "We should not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to last night. The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but perhaps now we can both hope to improve in civility."
"Miss Elizabeth, is it possible that we can begin our acquaintance anew, with the aim of becoming friends? I will respect your feelings and not ask for more than friendship."
"Sir, I realize now that I knew nothing about the person you truly are, and there is also much for me to learn about myself and who I truly am. I would need to know both of us better before deciding whether I would forbid you to ask for more than friendship in the future."
"Perhaps we can be helpers to one another in self-discovery."
"I would welcome that."
At this, Nettie saw a third novel expression on Mr. Darcy's face – a warm smile that rendered him uncommonly handsome.
"Miss Bennet!" Lady Catherine shrieked, "will you lure Mr. Darcy away from his duties and family loyalty before my eyes? You will leave Hunsford immediately and will never be seen here again! Be gone within the hour!"
"As you wish, your Ladyship."
"In that case," Mr. Darcy said, "I shall leave as well. I will then be able to visit Mr. Bingley in person rather than writing to him as I had been minded to do. I need to provide some new information to him concerning a woman of his acquaintance. Miss Elizabeth, the Colonel and I will meet you at the parsonage in one hour. I suppose, Lady Catherine, that I will need to hire a maid on my own to accompany us?"
"I certainly will not offer any Rosings servants for her protection."
"We will hire someone in the village." Mr. Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam took their leave of the room.
Miss Bennet curtsied. "Goodbye and God bless you, Lady Catherine and Miss DeBourgh. Mr. and Mrs. Collins, I will return now to the parsonage to pack."
Miss DeBourgh proclaimed her weariness and left the room with her companion. Mr. Collins made his apologetic adieu, assuring his patroness that he would do everything in his power to hasten his cousin's departure, and not noticing that his housemaid did not follow him as he left Rosings with his wife.
When everyone had left save herself and Lady Catherine, Nettie spoke, daring to lightly rest her fingertips on the great lady's arm as she did so: "Don' worry, yer ladysh'p. It'll turn 'round."
"I thought he would cooperate! We could have saved him if he had listened!"
On hearing the word "we", Nettie smiled, inwardly.
"He won't tolerate 'er fer long, m'lady. Self-promotin' is what she's all about. She's got no respeck fer people o' quality. He'll soon see. He'll see what he's thrown away an' he'll be back."
She knew it would gratify Lady Catherine to be told that her nephew would soon repent, but Nettie did not actually believe anything that she had just said. What she had read in the faces of the couple told her that it was almost certain that Miss Bennet would someday be Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Of the great houses in England that she dreamt she might work in someday, she knew that Pemberley should not be one of them. But at Rosings, Lady Catherine would continue to rule.
Lady Catherine covered Nettie's hand with her own. "I'm sure you're right, Jeanette. Thank you for your assistance."
"M'lady, everyone knows what yer made of. You'll rise above this."
For a moment, they were silent. When Nettie calculated that she had comforted Lady Catherine for not quite long enough, she said, "M'lady, I fear I mus' be goin'. They'll be expectin' me at the parsonage."
"Stay for now, Jeanette. I will inform them that you are needed here for the rest of the morning."
"Yes'm. Can I ask someone ta bring y' some tea, m'lady?"
"Yes, that would be good."
Nettie smiled, inwardly.
Scarcely a month passed before Nettie was given a position as a downstairs maid in Rosings Manor. Another of her most valuable assets was her ability to get menial chores done very quickly and very well, which left her with ample time to observe her fellow servants, hear every bit of gossip that passed through the manor, and have the occasional surreptitious conversation with Lady Catherine, whom she continued to flatter with enthusiasm that matched Mr. Collins's, but perception that exceeded his.
Miss DeBourgh was still a challenge, but she had found that a useful way to get information about her was through being a sympathetic ear to Mrs. Jenkinson whenever she'd had a trying day.
A favorite activity was making trips into the village on any errand for which she could volunteer. Dressed in her Rosings uniform, she would carry out her mistress's instructions with scrupulous accuracy, hear the latest goings-on in the town, and engage in conversations with merchants and their sons, several of whom showed potential as much better matrimonial prospects than Tom Ridley.
It was on her third such trip that she encountered Phoebe on the street. "Nettie!", Phoebe cried out, waving and smiling.
Even though they were both the same height, Nettie managed to look at her in a way that made it appear that she was looking down. "It's 'Jeanette', if ya please," she said, and walked on, smiling, inwardly and outwardly.
A/N: Well, ODC didn't get as much attention as I had expected in this story, but things turned out alright for them. That's how it is with a narcissist - there's no sharing of the spotlight; everybody else is a supporting character.
Nettie was an interesting character to write, but I don't think I'm going to give her any more stories (even though it would be cool to give her a really spectacular downfall). Spending a lot of time with her might be a bad influence on me.
Thanks for the follows, faves, and reviews, and thank you to leavesfallingup for coming up with this challenge!