Every story needs a Know-It-All–who entertainingly gets taken down a few pegs. Just, you know, because. Then too, the genre in which I write begs for secondary characters. Readers enjoy seeing old friends in new adventures, so I oblige. Included in this group are characters people love to hate.
A venerable element from the early Austen forum is the Death Match. Two of Jane’s hoity-toity people are pitted against one anther in a war of words, with hilarious results.
I do a bit of that in Darcy By Any Other Name. Readers dislike the manipulative Caroline Bingley, who has a matrimonial eye on Mr. Darcy. They also dislike Lady Catherine, who is an unabashed elitist. What if? I wondered. What if I bring them together in the same house?
So here they are in Chapter 9. Because her nephew is injured, Lady Catherine has come to stay at Netherfield. It’s a feather in Miss Bingley’s cap, as Lady C is well-placed socially, but also a major irritant. Two women, one young and one old, who pride themselves on speaking their mind–and they do, with Darcy-as-Collins as witness. If Caroline Bingley were not so awful, we would almost feel sorry for her.
Ever the host, Bingley came to the rescue. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than a night at the theater,” he said, and he forced a laugh. “Pantomimes are my favorite. You know, Harlequin, Colombine, Pantaloon…”
“Afterpieces,” said Lady Catherine, “are contemptible. And the theatres themselves? Death traps.”
“Oh, surely not, milady.” This was from Caroline.
Lady Catherine rounded on Miss Bingley. “The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane? And your precious Covent Garden? I remember those fires, if you do not, Miss Bingley. Burnt. Such tragic loss of life.”
Poor Bingley was now pink in the face. “Eh, Mr. Collins,” he chirped. “How is the family at Longbourn? They are all well?”
“We are all rather cold, what with the weather,” Darcy replied.
“As are we.”
“Charles!” Caroline objected.
“Well, we are. We might burn a forest of logs, and still we freeze.”
“It’s this house,” said Caroline. “Which is why we must go to London. If not for poor Mr. Darcy, we would be there now.” Her voice caught. “Poor Mr. Darcy. Poor, dear Mr. Darcy.” She dabbed at her eyes with the napkin.
There was a pause, during which Lady Catherine gazed at her. “Mr. Darcy is dear,” she said slowly, “to me, but not at all to you. I wonder, Miss Bingley, that you would use so personal an appellation.”
“Oh, but milady,” Caroline protested, blushing furiously. Darcy had never seen her so out of countenance.
Lady Catherine studied her. At last she said, “If you have designs on becoming mistress of Pemberley, I advise you to banish them.”
During this awkward pause the soup plates were taken away. Darcy had the misfortune to break out coughing.
“And it is not necessary,” Lady Catherine went on, “to invite Mr. Collins to every meal. I certainly do not.”
Charles Bingley looked pained.
“I am not about to do so,” Caroline retorted. She transferred her gaze to Mr. Collins. “He is, after all, a man of no relations, other than the Bennets. And who are they?”
“You are a fine one to talk,” said Lady Catherine. “Mr. Bennet, who is Mr. Collins’ cousin, is a gentleman, in both birth and behavior. You will recall that was he, and not your brother, who informed me about my nephew.”
Caroline Bingley was struck speechless. Darcy sat silent, as Collins would no doubt do, taking in every morsel of the exchange. The butler and footman moved with noiseless precision. They were obviously drinking in every word.
“You,” continued Lady Catherine, “are a new creation from the North, according to my nephew. In other words, you are no one.”
Caroline found her voice. “I beg to differ!”
“Whom do you know, apart from my nephew?” said Lady Catherine. “No one.”
Miss Bingley put up her chin. “Our circle of acquaintance is most extensive, ma’am!”
“I see. That explains why you have taken this desolate house in humbug country. And have invited no one besides my nephew (and your drunken relations) to stay.”
Caroline’s eyes were bright with anger. “Upon my word!”
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