Echoes of Narcissus.doc
Echoes of Narcissus
Posted on Friday, 25 May 2001
Echo was a beautiful nymph, fond of the woods and hills and a favorite of Artemis. She
was known for being a great talker-a spinner of tales who could enchant listeners with her
words. She also liked to have the last word, and would argue and banter all the live-long
day. As is common knowledge, Zeus liked to while away the time and amuse himself
with Echo's sister nymphs. One day while Zeus's jealous wife, Hera, was trying to spy on
the nymphs and catch her husband in a compromising position, she stumbled upon Echo
who was acting as lookout for the nymphs and their immortal visitor.
Echo knew that Hera would punish the nymphs for her husband's transgressions if they
were discovered and so she talked to Hera and distracted her with stories until Zeus and
the nymphs escaped to another part of Elysia. When Hera discovered that Echo had
helped Zeus elude her, she made it so the lovely nymph would never again speak except
to repeat what was said to her. Said Hera, "Foolish Echo, you shall forfeit the use of that
tongue with which you have cheated me, except for that one purpose you are so fond of--
reply. You shall still have the last word, but no power to speak first."
Though Echo's original voice was gone, her eyes and heart were still her own. Like the
other nymphs, Echo fell in love with Narcissus, the beautiful son of the river god
Cephissus. Narcissus had been granted eternal youth and beauty as long as he never
gazed upon himself. Being a fairly typical teenage boy, this was not a problem because
he preferred Elysian sports to grooming anyway. However, one day as Narcissus was
walking in the woods with a group of friends, he became separated from his companions.
When he shouted, "Is anyone here?" the woodland nymph Echo joyfully answered,
Unable to see her hidden among the trees, Narcissus cried "Come!" Back came the
answer, "Come, come."
As no one came, Narcissus called again, "Why do you shun me?" Echo echoed his
"Let us join one another," said the youth. The maid answered with all her heart in the
same words and then stepped forth from the woods with arms outstretched and love in
her eyes. Narcissus was embarrassed and thought Echo was mocking him-he was a
typical teenage boy and didn't really know how to deal with nymphs. He refused to see
that her love was real.
He started back, exclaiming, "Hands off! I would rather die than you should have me!"
"Have me," said she, but in vain.
He left her, and she went to hide her blushes in the recesses of the woods. Poor Echo was
so humiliated by this rejection that she lived in caves till at last all her flesh shrank away.
Her bones were changed into rocks and there was nothing left of her but her voice. With
that, she still replies to anyone who calls her, and she always has the last word.
Artemis grieved that her favorite nymph was reduced by unrequited love to a mere voice,
and she asked her goddess friend Nemesis to punish Narcissus for shaming Echo and
refusing to accept the love she offered. One day when Narcissus was relaxing beside a
clear pool cooling off from a rigorous game of thunderbolt toss, Nemesis tricked him into
looking at his reflected image in the water. Narcissus had never seen himself before and
became transfixed. Caught in the spell of his own beauty, Narcissus fell hopelessly in
love with his own beautiful face as he saw it reflected in the pool. As he gazed in
fascination, unable to remove himself from his image, he gradually pined away. Where
his body had lain grew a beautiful flower, the Narcissus.
Lady Catherine De Bourgh was a monarch in her mind. The tiny realm of Hunsford
offered her ample opportunity to rule and until the past winter she had been relatively
happy doing so. But now the ancient shades of Rosings seemed oppressive, the park
seemed cramped, and the air seemed still and stale. Though Catherine's queenly mien
gave countenance to all the little doings of her kingdom, the lady herself felt oddly out of
sorts. Village squabbles ceased to spark her interest, poachers ceased to raise her ire,
servants ceased to aggravate and irritate. Must be spring fever, she thought. Been cooped
up inside too long. A vigorous person like me requires fresh air and exercise-always
have, always will.
The gray Kent January dissolved into a grayer, more Kentish February. Not even her
ridiculous clergyman, Mr. Collins, with his odd mixture of pride and obsequiousness, and
his serious, sensible bride could wile her ladyship out of her ill humor. Catherine had
fostered high hopes when Mr. Collins had sallied forth in search of a helpmate and life's
companion. She had eagerly looked forward to seeing what manner of creature would
accept so loathsome a husband as her newly-ordained clergyman. Catherine had been
delighted with Mr. Collins thus far. He took his position seriously and tended to the
christenings and burials and the general welfare of the souls under his care. On that score,
Catherine need not chide herself. In addition, he provided endless amusement with his
practiced compliments and fawning manners. Every court needs its fool and Catherine
found that Mr. Collins was hers to perfection. And yet he returned with a serious, sensible
At first, Catherine was very disappointed but slowly she came round as she watched Mrs.
Collins maneuver and manage her husband. It was a thing of beauty, and Catherine
admired the woman more each day. Too bad sensible women must marry idiots in order
to remain gentlewomen, she thought. Nevertheless, Catherine put Mrs. Collins to the test-
prying into her affairs, dictating how she must instruct her servants to perform their tasks,
ordering their meat from the butcher and their wine from the merchant. Mrs. Collins
quietly and modestly took her medicine and turned the other cheek. A home in a manse
with a husband she can control must seem like a good bargain in the end, Catherine
concluded. What did I trade when I tacked De Bourgh to the end of my name? she mused.
Nothing. I did right in the end, she insisted to herself. Except I do wish it would stop
raining and the sun would come out. It's almost March and life has become unbearably
dull. Anne pines. Mrs. Jenkinson mithers. Mr. Collins fawns and Mrs. Collins manages.
Been there, done that.
As the weather warmed, Catherine sought comfort in touring the grounds in her phaeton.
Often she would order the driver to stop and she would walk to the top of a nearby hill,
scanning the horizon, in search of she knew not what. She returned home after each ride
more despondent than when she had left. Flowers bloomed, trees blossomed, the earth
awoke, and still Catherine grieved. She couldn't name it, but she felt as if some light that
had burned inside her since girlhood had died and she had only just discovered its
absence. She tried to shake off the feeling. Perhaps I shall go up to London after the
dreaded Nephew visit. Sister and I need to start looking for a mate for young Georgiana.
Darcy won't be any help on that score. The man's hopeless, and that's a fact. He won't
just marry Anne and be done with it. Once he's married, he can have all the actresses in
London that he fancies them, but he must marry first. He knows he must.
March brought visitors to the parsonage at Hunsford. Catherine had known that Mrs.
Collins's father and sister would be visiting, and she was pleased to hear that one of Mr.
Collins's cousins would also be one of the party. Mr. Collins had barely mentioned the
Bennet family after his return home, and so Catherine instinctively knew that there was
probably an interesting story behind his visit to Longbourn. That he did not marry a
Bennet girl was highly suspicious and she meant to find out why. At any rate, the
Collinses and their guests would provide quiet amusement until Catherine's nephews
arrived, and then after that duty was done she would take Anne to Bath to try the waters
again. Bath was always amusing, and there were doctors by the score there to tend to
Catherine sighed. The trip to Bath was still more than a month away, and quiet
amusement was all Rosings could manage with Anne in such a sorry state. Although the
neighborhood was filled with many families that Catherine had dined with and called
upon since she had come to Rosings as a bride, she had been forced to shun virtually all
society except the Collinses over the winter. Anne was failing rapidly, and Catherine
could no more bear to see her suffer quietly in the homes of her neighbors than she could
leave her behind while she herself went out in search of amusement. It seemed that each
day Anne grew weaker and less interested in getting well-and with each day, Catherine
worked harder to mask her own despair over her daughter's health.
The more the daughter declined, the more the mother sought to make her shine, as if
sheer effort would bring Anne out of illness and into herself. Only in the privacy of her
bedchamber, long after she had kissed Anne's pale brow as the young woman tossed in
fitful sleep, did Catherine acknowledge the certainty that Anne was not getting better.
She's so like her namesake. I blame myself for insisting that we name her Anne, but Annie
didn't go into a serious decline until after Georgiana was born. And then she had
George-twelve glorious years of love she had. My poor dear girl will never have a love
like that. I blame myself for that too. I barely let her have a season, but she was so frail
and those horrid men were like vultures, preying on a dying heiress. It turned my
stomach to see them fawn about her as if she were a flirt. Darcy is the only one I'd trust
her to-he may not love her, but he will be kind to her. Giving me her son was the least
Annie could do after all I did for her. Darcy doesn't love Anne, but he will be kind. I ask
nothing more. It's more than what I got.
Catherine, Bertram, Anne, and Edward-young lords and ladies all-were the liveliest set of
children to grace the ancient walls of Matlock Manor. Cate and Bertie, Annie and Neddie
amused themselves and their neighbors with their balls and hunts, plays and escapades.
Perhaps it was the age-the king was robust, the empire expanding, and the people, that is
the people who counted, were alive with fun and frolic, good humor and delightful
intrigue. Catherine, the oldest, led the most balls; Annie, the prettiest, broke the most
And then one day while the madcap Matlock set were entertaining themselves in London,
a young man crossed their path and changed their lives forever. Young George Darcy,
heir to a great estate that bordered their own, returned from France and spied Annie
across a crowded room. He hadn't seen her in years. She had grown up. And as he looked
at her, sweet as a primrose and perfect as a daffodil, he promised himself he'd marry her
before a twelvemonth had passed. Much to her family's surprise, Annie Fitzwilliam-Lady
Anne that is-discovered that she was almost as mad for him as he for her and she
encouraged his attentions and accepted his proposals. But alas, the old Earl, usually so
indulgent of his children and their whims, declared that Lady Anne could not marry until
Lady Catherine led the way. "We shall do this right," he declared. The problem was,
Catherine had no interest in marriage. No desire for babies. No inclination to play second
fiddle in some man's concerto. Annie cried herself to sleep. Catherine agreed to marry Sir
Lewis De Bourgh.
"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance," Catherine had blithely declared
when her sister questioned her choice. "Besides," she went on reassuringly, "I like to ride;
he keeps a good stable. I like to hunt; he has some of the best hunting grounds in
England. I like to manage, and he dearly needs to be managed," she ended with a laugh.
"Don't worry, Annie, it's as fine as match as I could want." But it wasn't. Sir Lewis took a
page from Petruchio's book and set out to tame his wild Cate.
He chided her for the quality of the soup and the paucity of the table, but gave the
servants orders behind her back that undermined her efforts to please him. He put down
Cate's favorite mare and fed her to the hounds when she became lame after he had ridden
her into the ground. He contradicted her publicly and dared her to defy him. Catherine
learned to hold her head very straight and bite her tongue and refused to let a single tear
well up. She learned to take his blows and powder her nose, and she never let her sister
and brothers see her humiliated. They must not see that she was caught in a trap of her
own making and was unable to extricate herself. She wanted them to remember her as the
girl she had been-sure-footed and confident with glossy black hair blowing freely in the
wind not the caged creature she had become.
And so Catherine rarely stirred from Rosings the year she was a bride. While Sir Lewis
visited London and Brighton when he grew weary of the docile wife he had created,
Catherine sought refuge in the beauty of the grounds. The woods and grassy hollows,
brimming with wild flowers, the brooks and meadows of Rosings filled her world and
gave her the strength to face Sir Lewis whenever he remembered to return home. And
then one day she discovered she was pregnant. She thought that surely her condition
would soften her husband's treatment and deepen his regard, after all she was now no
longer 'a waspish shrew,' as he often called her, she was to be a mother. He did soften, to
a degree, until the girl-child was born. Sickly, small, and peaked, Anne was ill from birth.
Catherine looked into her baby's face and fell in love. Sir Lewis looked into the same face
and never forgave Catherine for what he saw. She had not given him a son - the Darcys
had a strapping little boy, well-favored and eager; the Fitzwilliams had a mess of fine
boys; but Sir Lewis was the end of his line, and Catherine was to blame.
On the day Sir Lewis fell from his horse and broke his neck, requiring his Lady to dress
in black, the elation Catherine felt was tempered only by the guilt that accompanied it.
And so, Lady Catherine with her little daughter in tow tentatively stepped from her cage
and saw the world anew. During the long years in which she had been trapped in a brutal
marriage, Catherine had fought to preserve her sense of who she was. In her mind she
always remained a high-spirited girl with raven hair who loved to run and ramble in the
woods-she just had to be very, very careful that no one ever got the upper hand of her
again and tricked her back into the cage.
Horace reined the horses and held them still while Jimmy helped her ladyship out of the
phaeton. It was her favorite place in all of Rosings. A gravel path led from the main road
through the woods and then opened onto a broad meadow that stretched down and away
from the forest. From the top of the meadow, Catherine could see for miles if she looked
straight out, and she could see masses of flowers in a glacial hollow if she looked straight
Catherine strode along the path eagerly. The March breeze was cool against her cheek,
but the sun was warm as it filtered through the trees, bringing life and color to her pale
skin and a spring to her step. She clutched at the ties on her bonnet and deftly untied them
and then pulled off the bonnet itself. She was of half a mind to loosen her hair and run
down the path when she heard someone singing. She stopped short. She suddenly felt
vulnerable and self-conscious. She felt her face flush with anxiety. Hardly behaving like
mistress of the manor, are we? The singing continued, drifting out of the forest, swirling
on the light wind. Catherine ducked behind a tree, panting heavily. Like a fugitive, she
crept to the edge of the forest, tree by tree. And there sitting in a hollow of flowers was a
young woman, barely more than a girl. Her book was lying open on a rock, abandoned as
the girl picked flowers and wove them into a chain. Catherine watched transfixed as the
girl then loosened her hair and set the flower wreath on top and then jumped up and
whirled and danced and sang as if she were a daughter of Pan.
"Lizzy! Lizzy, where are you?" The girl stopped dancing as she heard the calls coming
from the lower meadow. Catherine watched as the girl tossed her wreath aside, quickly
gathered her long curls and wound them up and under and pinned them tight-she's had
plenty of practice at that!-grabbed her book and skipped down the hill to join the voices
that had beckoned to her. Catherine watched until the girl and her two companions, one
of which she now recognized as Mrs. Collins, were out of sight, and then she slowly
made her way back to her carriage.
Later that day, after Catherine had sat with Anne and quietly read to her from a new
volume of poetry that had just arrived from London, she sent word to the parsonage that
she wished the Collinses and their guests to dine with her on the morrow.
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