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Lady Catherine Disposes - Part II

November 01, 2016 05:37PM
Part II

Lady Catherine departed early the next morning to complete her journey to Derbyshire. Mrs. Bennet was quite recovered enough to venture down to see her leave and her efforts were suitably rewarded, as her ladyship was loath to surrender the opportunity to provide advice on the proper management of Longbourn House, a disquisition which required nigh onto an hour to complete. Lady Catherine did not hesitate to inspect and comment on the minutest details, even going so far as to advise that the kitchen was in need of modernization and recommending the installation of a new stove. Mrs. Bennet hardly knew whether to be offended or pleased at the instructions received, but before she could arrange the matter to her satisfaction, Lady Catherine had settled in her carriage and left.

Mrs. Bennet also wasted no time, after breaking her fast, in requesting the carriage to call upon her sister and such other of her acquaintances in Meryton who might wish to learn of the great distinction of Lady Catherine’s visit. These plans, however, were suspended when Mr. Bennet refused her request. The matter of Lydia’s departure from Brighton could hardly be hidden; however, Mr. Bennet gave his wife to understand that the story to be told was simply that Mr. Wickham had transported Lydia to Bromley for the purpose of placing her in Lady Catherine’s care. That trip had all been prearranged as Lydia wished to return home and Mr. Wickham was conveniently travelling to London. Lydia’s letter to Mrs. Forster stating she was eloping was simply a jest on her part and Colonel Forster would be advised of that fact upon his arrival – after suitable apologies had been tendered by Lydia herself. It was a threadbare story and not one that would withstand much scrutiny but Mr. Bennet hoped it would do. It required some time and considerable effort to convince both Lydia and Mrs. Bennet of the wisdom of adhering to the preferred version of events. However, as a portion of the persuasion involved possible restrictions on the allowances of both ladies as well as confinement to Longbourn, they were eventually brought to a proper view of the matter.

Having departed Longbourn, Lady Catherine was oblivious to Mr. Bennet’s concerns. All thoughts of Lydia Bennet were banished as she concentrated on the purpose for her trip. She had business with her nephew and planned to call on him at his home in London; however, a response to her express sent two days before confirmed his departure for his estate in Derbyshire. Much as she might wish to defer her own visit and await his return to town, her duty to his mother demanded that she act. She had allowed the matter to be deferred for too many years, unwilling to press the point, convinced he would eventually recognize his duty and act as one of his station and breeding should. All had changed and yet nothing had changed. She had her own responsibility as almost his nearest relation and she was not one to shirk a duty.

Three days later her carriage pulled to a stop before the front entrance of Pemberley, her nephew’s estate. To her great annoyance he was not there to greet her. Why he should have gone into Lambton so early in the day was beyond her comprehension and most inconsiderate of him. That she had seen no reason to advise him of her visit did not disturb her conclusions and Mr. Darcy’s butler, Mr. Reynolds, no stranger to Lady Catherine’s behaviour, suffered her expressions of displeasure with admirable equanimity.

Mr. Darcy’s purpose in travelling to Lambton was known to him alone and it was a purpose that he pursued with anticipation and trepidation. He had unexpectedly encountered Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her relatives, the Gardiners, upon his return to Pemberley, had called upon them and introduced his sister to their acquaintance, and been in their company when they returned the call to his home. There was in Miss Elizabeth’s manner in their recent encounters sufficient encouragement to allow him to hope that a material improvement had occurred regarding her opinion of him. Thus when she greeted him with a warm smile as he was shown into the small parlour she and the Gardiners occupied in the Lambton Inn, his hopes rose and he could do nothing else but gaze at her in admiration. She had smiled at him in the past but this smile made all the others seem as pale and weak as those only required by civility.

His silent admiration lasted several seconds until Elizabeth finally recalled him to his duty by saying, “I am pleased to see you this morning, Mr. Darcy.”

Polite civilities were exchanged; his inquiry into the absence of the Gardiners produced the reply that they had gone to look at the nearby church to allow Elizabeth time to read a letter she had just received from her sister Jane that morning. Elizabeth was roused to playfulness by its content.

“My sister has told an interesting tale, Mr. Darcy, and we apparently owe much to a relative of yours.”

Darcy looked at her in surprise and she added, “I must ask when next you correspond with your aunt, Lady Catherine, that you convey my sincere appreciation for the service she has done us.”

“My aunt has done you a service? I would hope you are prepared to relieve my confusion.”

Elizabeth’s mirth overflowed, “We know that your Aunt likes to be of use and, on this occasion, I cannot but acknowledge that she has surpassed herself.”

“I believe, Miss Bennet, that you delight in teasing me by increasing my incomprehension.”

“Indeed, but I will torment you no further.” She laughed, although Darcy could detect that it was slightly rueful. “It appears that my sister, Lydia, decided to elope from Brighton where she was staying. Her companion was a gentleman with whom we are both acquainted who has attempted something similar in the past.”

Darcy’s exclamation interrupted, “Dear G_d, has she been recovered?”

Elizabeth nodded and waved the letter she was holding, “According to Jane, your aunt and Mrs. Collins were travelling to London and encountered Lydia and Mr. Wickham at Bromley. They removed Lydia from Mr. Wickham’s care and he appears to have decamped as quickly as possible. They returned her to Longbourn that same day.”

Darcy stalked to a window and gazed out, his thoughts in turmoil. How close Wickham had come to ruining another young girl and possibly his own hopes in regard to Elizabeth. Had he done what he ought as a gentleman, Wickham would never have been allowed into the company of any respectable young woman. His thoughts were interrupted by Elizabeth’s soft, “Mr. Darcy?”

He turned to see her gazing at him with a worried look, all traces of humour gone. He immediately stepped towards her and summoned his courage.

“The blame must fall on me, Miss Bennet. Had I made his character known to the people of Meryton, he could not have imposed himself on your sister.”

“I believe you take too much upon yourself, Mr. Darcy. I feared my sister’s reckless behaviour would lead her into trouble. She could have as well found another instead of Mr. Wickham. However, as there has been little harm done, I suggest we lay the matter to rest.”

Darcy was silent. Clearly she did not condemn him in the matter. But why did she appear so worried? When he inquired, her answer was halting.

“I feared from your reaction that such evidence of the lack of propriety of my family would cause a loss of your esteem, Mr. Darcy. You would have. . .”

“Elizabeth. . .Miss Bennet, you need never fear a loss of my respect and esteem. I will not hold you accountable for the behaviour of another.”


He looked at her closely. His approbation had pleased her and he gathered his courage once more.

“You are too kind to trifle with me. If your feelings are as they were last April, please tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; in fact, I have come to love and admire you more than ever and wish for nothing more than that you would do me the honour of becoming my wife, but one word from you on this subject will silence me forever.”

Elizabeth could hardly meet his eyes but forced herself to speak, and immediately, although far from fluently, gave him to understand that her feelings had changed so completely from the period to which he alluded as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.

The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had she been able to meet his eyes, Elizabeth might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him. While she could not look, she could listen; he told her of his feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection all the more valuable.

They were not allowed to enjoy the private pleasure of their attachment for long as the Gardiners returned from their walk. Mrs. Gardiner, who had begun to suspect the partiality of Mr. Darcy for her niece, required but a single look at the couple to ascertain that something of significance had occurred. Confirmation was provided when Darcy asked to speak with Mr. Gardiner in private and Elizabeth soon removed the last vestige of uncertainty from her aunt.

When the gentlemen rejoined the ladies, Mr. Gardiner stated, “I cannot adequately express my happiness at this development. I have given Mr. Darcy my approval of the engagement; however, it remains my brother’s right to give the final approval and, as we know his partiality for Lizzy, I doubt he would wish to delegate that office. It was suggested,” and he nodded at Darcy, “that his approval be sought immediately; however, as I suspect he would wish to speak with Elizabeth on the matter, I have recommended to Mr. Darcy that he return with us to Hertfordshire and plead his case then.”

The last was offered with a slight smile at Darcy.

“Your uncle, Miss Bennet, has asked that our engagement be kept a secret until we have your father’s approval.”

Elizabeth nodded, “That will not be trial for me, Mr. Darcy, although I do believe you should inform your sister. I shall certainly be writing to Jane for she would never forgive me for withholding such information.”

Mrs. Gardiner laughed, “And we all know how unforgiving Jane can be.”

The Gardiners then removed to their room, allowing the young couple a few minutes of privacy. A few minutes only were indeed all that could be spared as Elizabeth and her relations were to call on an acquaintance of Mrs. Gardiner and Darcy knew he had guests at Pemberley who required his attention. Before he departed, he impressed Elizabeth once more with the ardency of his affections, and her face was thoroughly flushed and her breathing unsteady when he finally left her.

For his part, Darcy was hardly aware of traversing the five miles between Lambton and Pemberley. The blitheness of his spirits took a tumble, however, when he dismounted at the stables and saw a familiar and unwelcome carriage being moved into the coach house. His aunt, Lady Catherine, had made a most unexpected visit. He wondered at her purpose and whether, in light of her past object of his marrying his Cousin Anne, the latter had accompanied her. It was not, he thought with resignation, how he might have wished to pass the remainder of the day. Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley were well matched in their ability to strain his civility and only the prospect of Elizabeth and the Gardiners joining them to dine that evening offered pleasure.

He managed to reach his chambers without being accosted by any of his guests and then, once refreshed, made his way to the drawing room where he found his aunt holding court with his sister, Mrs. Annesley, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. He waved off the footman who was about to open the door and paused briefly to listen to the conversation within. His aunt appeared to be conducting an interrogation of Miss Bingley and one that was replete with his aunt’s usual presumptuousness and condescension.

“Your brother is Mr. Darcy’s particular friend, is that not so, Miss Bingley?”

Miss Bingley’s reply was indistinct.

“I have been given to understand that you have a handsome dowry. You do? Excellent. But how is it that you are not yet married?”

He could not hear Miss Bingley’s response.

“How old are you? Five and twenty?”

“I am not yet five and twenty, your ladyship!” Miss Bingley’s reply was now quite clear.

“Five and twenty and not married! How is this possible? Your sister has managed a most appropriate match for one of her station. Surely you could, by now, have found a similar suitor? Or have you been hoping to find one even better? Do not set your sights too high, Miss Bingley. As the daughter of a tradesman, a gentleman such as Mr. Hurst would do much to improve your station in society. I would be quite prepared to find such a husband for you. There are several gentlemen living near Rosings Park with estates of two or three thousand that would suit you well. You are not unattractive, I suppose, and your dowry would be welcomed by most of them.”

Darcy smiled to himself. Miss Bingley’s aspirations would suffer a serious setback when his engagement to Elizabeth was announced and he would hardly repine the absence of those attentions she directed at him. His aunt was another matter altogether, and he wondered if he would be able to deflect her demands without revealing his attachment to Elizabeth. He pushed open the door and entered the room. It took only a single glance to determine that Miss Bingley was unhappy at being the focus of his aunt’s interrogation; similarly, from her countenance, his aunt was not particularly impressed by Miss Bingley. If what he had overheard was any indication, his aunt had been as overbearing, opinionated and condescending as usual. With is entrance, however,Miss Bingley was no longer his aunt’s principal object.

“Ah, nephew, I had wondered when you would attend me. What do you mean by travelling to Lambton?”

“Lady Catherine, I am pleased to welcome you to Pemberley, although I confess to some surprise for I do not recollect you informing me of any plans to visit.” Darcy had no intention of answering his aunt’s question.

“A matter of some urgency arose and I decided that it should be dealt with as soon as possible.”

Darcy’s interest was piqued. This was not his aunt’s usual approach to forwarding a match between him and her daughter. Moreover, his aunt apparently was not disposed to defer a discussion for which she had travelled near two hundred miles, for she stated abruptly, “We shall discuss the matter. . .at once.”

Darcy’s eyebrows rose at his aunt’s peremptory tone; however, his curiosity was aroused and his mood too buoyant to take offence. “Let us remove to my study then, Lady Catherine.” He turned to his sister, “Georgiana, will you request Mrs. Reynolds to provide us refreshments?”

Once her assent was provided, he followed his aunt to his study and seated her in one of the two armchairs placed in front of the fireplace and took the other himself. Commonplace civilities were exchanged and, as Elizabeth would be dining with them that evening, he thought it best to prepare his aunt for her presence.

“I believe you will be interested to learn that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom you met last April, is touring Derbyshire with her relatives. I have invited them to dine with us this evening. I encountered Miss Bennet today and it seems that she has been informed of a particular service you provided her family a few days past.”

Lady Catherine humphed.

“I have no interest in discussing such a family.”

“Nonetheless, I believe Miss Elizabeth will wish to express her appreciation.”

Lady Catherine waved her hand dismissively and Darcy could see the subject was truly of little interest. That surprised him as his aunt was all too prone to delight in belabouring the misadventures of families other than her own. He wondered when she would broach the object of her visit and he fully intended to allow her to take the initiative.

They sat in a silence that lasted a minute. . .then two. . .and finally Lady Catherine huffed in exasperation.

“You are just like your father.”

“Thank you, Aunt Catherine.”

He knew she hated to be called ‘Aunt Catherine’, just as he knew that the comparison to his father was not intended as a compliment. His aunt had always resented the greater worth and beauty of Pemberley as compared to Rosings and even more had she resented the fact that she could never bend his father to her will. He waited. She would not bend him to her will either. He had resisted her demands in regards to marrying his cousin Anne for five years, he would resist for five, or even fifty, more. This prolonged silence on the part of his aunt was most uncharacteristic for she had rarely, if ever to his knowledge, found a silence she was unwilling to fill. He could only suppose the matter of which she wished to speak had either left her bereft of words or uncertain as to those she should use. He could only wait patiently to determine which. Finally, she spoke.

“It is beyond time for you to marry.”

Darcy was silent and he could not help but think of Elizabeth and how she had refused to meet his eyes, her delicate blush colouring her face as the words he so wished to hear fell from her lips. He suddenly realized that his aunt had filled his silence with words of her own and he had not the least idea of what they were.

“. . .find someone suitable.”

“I beg your pardon, Lady Catherine, but I was not attending. Of what are you speaking?”

Lady Catherine huffed in exasperation before speaking sharply, “I simply stated that you need to marry. Pemberley needs an heir and you need a wife. I have in mind several eligible and suitable young women.”

Darcy’s surprise was complete. His aunt spoke of his marrying and, in the process, appeared to have excluded her daughter. What could she mean by it?

"I confess to some surprise that you would raise this subject without reference to my cousin.”

Lady Catherine was clearly uncomfortable at his mention of her daughter, and his instinctive desire to deflect his aunt from attempting to further her matchmaking warred with his sudden concern for his cousin. He and Anne had become more distant as her mother’s wishes for their marriage became more overbearing. Neither of them wished for such a union. He had never spoken to Anne on the subject but such subtle indications as she could manufacture allowed him to discern that her distaste for the concept equaled his own. As they had no feelings for each other except familial, it had suited them both to avoid any indication of pleasure in the other’s company. That his aunt, who only last April had spoken with certainty of his marriage to Anne, would now suggest he marry another was alarming. Very alarming! He could not help but wonder at the cause of such a change.

“Lady Catherine?” he prompted. It was several moments before she responded.

“Your uncle insisted that his doctor - that physician you recommended to him – attend Anne. I could hardly refuse given his reputation. Although I had no reason to find fault with Mr. Lester who has served me well these past twenty years.”

Darcy nodded slowly. He had never been overly impressed with Mr. Lester who, it seemed to him, was prone to tailor his diagnosis to that which his aunt wished to hear. He had decried any concerns about Anne’s ill-health when Darcy had mentioned his views on the matter. His aunt would never agree to Darcy’s recommendations and, after his most recent visit to Rosings Park, he had become even more concerned as to his cousin’s health. He had finally spoken to his uncle, the Earl of Matlock, about his cousin’s health and his reservations about the care she was receiving. Apparently the Earl had wasted little time before acting on his nephew’s observations and Lady Catherine would rarely stand against her brother. That the physician recommended had impeccable credentials and a prestigious list of clients which included the Earl himself, would silence any objections she might harbour.

“What did Mr. Harrington conclude?”

His aunt was reluctant to speak on the matter and it took some persistent albeit careful questioning to elicit the story. In essentials, Mr. Harrington examination of Anne had lasted for over an hour and he had then interviewed both the local apothecary and Anne’s maid. His conclusion was simple and given in terms that might appear harsh if one was unacquainted with Lady Catherine and her belief that she could order events to her purposes. Marriage and childbirth would almost assuredly cause the death of Anne de Bourgh. As much as Lady Catherine wished for her daughter to marry, she did not wish for that decision to cause her death. Nonetheless, it apparently took every particle of her brother’s persuasion and insistence for Lady Catherine to surrender her dream and she mourned its passing.

“You were intended for each other,” she lamented. “It was the favourite wish of myself and your mother. While in your cradles, we planned the union. You are both descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the fathers', from respectable, honourable, and ancient — though untitled - families. The fortune on both sides is splendid. You were destined for each other by the voice of every member of your respective houses, and now it shall not be.”

Darcy remained silent. There was no point to discomfiting his aunt with the revelation that he had never intended to marry his cousin. Of more concern were Anne’s health and his aunt’s intentions.

“And Anne. How does she take such news?”

“She was. . .pleased,” declared Lady Catherine unhappily. “She confessed she had long dreaded the very thought of marriage.”

Darcy nodded. “I thank you for advising me of my cousin’s condition, but I wonder at your coming such a distance when it could well have been imparted in a letter. What can you mean by it?”

Lady Catherine sniffed impatiently. “As almost your nearest relation and the mother of the woman who can no longer be your wife, I felt it incumbent upon me to take the matter of your marriage in hand. You know it is past time that you wed. You must attend the season this autumn and find a wife. I shall accompany you.”

Darcy’s eyebrows rose in amazement. This was a development he could hardly have expected. And an unwelcome one.

“My dear aunt, I have been participating in the season for the past five years at least. I can assure you that consideration of a prospective wife was never far from my thoughts during that time.” He held up a hand as his aunt was about to expostulate, “I realize that you had expectations of a marriage between myself and Anne but neither your daughter nor I harboured similar intentions. Her health was always an obstacle to the realization of your dream and I have long been aware that marriage could not be in her future. However, as I had not found a woman I wished to marry, neither of us saw a purpose in correcting your opinion on the matter.”

“In my. . .investigation of the various ladies presented to me in London society, I could find none who would suit my character and needs. Beauty and fortune are not in want but there is a shallowness of character, an insipidness and want of understanding and, all too frequently, an indelicacy of manners that is seriously displeasing. I am not prepared to enter a marriage where Pemberley and my fortune are my primary attractions. I will not accept a woman possessed only of wealth and connections, for what need have I of either?”

Lady Catherine snorted inelegantly in derision. “Your position in society, nay your family’s name and that of your mother, demand of you that you marry appropriately. It would be a degradation to marry one who will not enhance our standing.”

Darcy gazed at his aunt with some perplexity. How was he to work on her so as to allow Elizabeth to join his family without causing a breach with his mother’s sister? Lady Catherine placed such importance on rank and position that he could not see her easily accepting Elizabeth as his wife. While he had no wish to create such a breach, he would not be dissuaded from marrying Elizabeth for fear of it. Lady Catherine must be made to be reasonable. She was not an unintelligent woman. Buried amongst all her pretensions was a core of sensible knowledge . Rosings was well managed under her direction and her understanding of society was excellent. For all her faults she could be reasoned with on those matters which did not touch her most closely.

“What are you about, nephew? What causes you to scowl so disagreeably?” she demanded.

Darcy did not answer directly. He wondered how best to raise the matter with this most difficult relation. He could not, for a surety, explain the revolution in attitudes that he had undergone. She would simply not comprehend and indeed would most likely consider him a fool and discount everything that he subsequently did or said. To present that truth would be foolhardy. She would, however, recognize that as head of his family, his right to make the decision of whom to wed was his alone. He needed approval from no one. The question he faced was how to present this reality in such a way as to not offend and indeed possibly earn her acceptance, if not approval, beforehand.

Darcy made his tone as non-confrontational as possible. “My dear aunt, allow me to pose a matter for your consideration.”

Lady Catherine reluctantly gave her assent, not at all pleased at her nephew’s refusal to answer her question. He seemed, in her opinion, to be dissembling and she had always prided herself on her frankness, and, while she rarely valued that quality in others, in this instance she wished him to be forthright. It was a shock to learn that her nephew had never intended to offer for her daughter, that his plans for marriage had never entailed joining Rosings Park and Pemberley and that he had successfully hidden his intentions from her for years. She wondered if she knew him at all. Ultimately, it mattered not, for she knew what his duty was and it was her responsibility to see that he fulfilled it.

“Lady Catherine . . . Aunt, what I am about to say is not easy and I do not wish to cause you pain, but some truths must be faced.”

“I do not have the pleasure of understanding you, nephew.”

“First, I will gladly acknowledge that my family has a long history, that we have built and held Pemberley for generations. I am proud of my Darcy ancestors’ accomplishments and I am resolved to ensure that Pemberley and the Darcy family prosper.”

Lady Catherine was concerned by her nephew’s continued reference to the Darcy family. Did he give no consideration to the Fitzwilliams, his mother’s family? She said as much and at some length, leaving him in no doubt that in her opinion the Fitzwilliam connection was the more important. He listened calmly until she had finally finished speaking and before she could organize her thoughts sufficiently to begin anew, he interjected.

"This is all well and good, Lady Catherine, but you must accept that I am to be guided by my father’s wishes on this subject. He told me on more than one occasion that while he respected his wife’s family, he was a Darcy first and foremost, and that I should be guided by what is best for the Darcy family without concern for the Fitzwilliams. He rather pointedly mentioned several decisions made by your father and brother that forwarded the Fitzwilliam interests at the expense of the Darcys.”

Darcy waited several moments, allowing his aunt to digest this unpalatable truth, before continuing. That she was displeased at his frankness was clear.

"Do you mean to suggest that you would entertain entering a match of which your relations would disapprove? I cannot credit that you would be so disrespectful. Your mother would be heartily ashamed and my brother, your uncle, excessively displeased. You cannot deny the Fitzwilliam connection and the obligations that are attached to it. It is not to be endured! It shall not be tolerated!”

Her rising voice was accompanied and emphasized by the staccato beat of her walking cane on the floor.

“My dear aunt, please calm yourself. It does no good to react so strongly. I believe you misunderstand my intentions.” Darcy paused briefly, hoping that by speaking more quietly, his aunt’s ire would be lessened. He donned his most severe, haughty demeanour to lend weight to what he said next. His aunt would, he knew well, interpret any attempt to placate as a sign of weakness and would attempt to impose her will. He rose and stood before her. He smiled to himself, for his father had told him that a man commanded – nay, demanded – respect and obedience when on his feet. “Sit” he had said, “to consult, stand to command.”

That his action discomfited his aunt was evidenced only in the widening of her eyes. She was a tall, large woman but was dwarfed in this instance by her nephew. He could admire her courage, for it was comparable to that of Elizabeth who had stood against him in her anger at Hunsford. He rather thought his aunt would, if she could overcome her prejudices, come to admire and respect Elizabeth.

“I wish” he said coldly, “only to make several things clear. To me they are obvious but I can see that you may suffer some misapprehension. First, you must recognize that I am the head of the Darcy family. I am, in fact, my own man and not required to seek the approval of anyone for my decisions. In this I simply act in the same manner as does my uncle for the Fitzwilliam family.”

He paused, waiting for his aunt to acknowledge the verity of this assertion. His aunt’s features made her disagreement evident. He stepped closer and leaned towards her bringing his own face even closer to hers.

“Do. I. Make. Myself. Understood?”

He spoke clearly, firmly and slowly. Her acceptance was late in coming, given only reluctantly and he could hardly be sure that she would not declaim her agreement at a later date. But for now, he was content to have her agree. He stepped back and away from her and he could hear her soft exhalation of relief. He regretted having to intimidate her but knew gaining her her acceptance required nothing less. His tone and manner moderated.

“I am glad that you have agreed, Lady Catherine. I have a great deal of respect for your appreciation of such matters.” He paused very briefly before continuing, “Second, while I will not expect your approval of my choice, I will insist on civility. I have always been civil to the Viscount’s bride although she is the most insipid, silly creature, chosen only because she is the daughter of a Duke and has a fortune of fifty thousand. My approval was not sought.” He snorted. “I can only hope that my uncle lives for quite a few more years because such a creature will hardly enhance the Fitzwilliam name.”

His aunt gaped at him in bemusement, obviously ignoring his last comment. “Why should your approval have been sought?”

“Why indeed?”

An uncomfortable silence lasted for almost a minute before Darcy resumed speaking.

“Finally, I would like to address those family concerns which are sure to arise in regards to any wife I choose. You know me too well, I hope, to believe that I have not given full consideration to my choice of a wife. I do nothing casually.” Darcy was relieved that his aunt would never learn of his impulsive and ill-considered proposal to Elizabeth at Hunsford, although even then he had weighed and discounted any potential family objections to the match.

“As to fortune I am quite indifferent. I can provide well for my future sons and daughters without a dowry from their mother. My character is also well known. I am not a creature that craves society other than that of my closest friends. They will not be dissuaded by my choice of a wife and will, I have no doubt, be most welcoming. The opinions of society at large matter very little to me and the wealth and consequence of the Darcy name will ensure general civility and that is all I will demand and insist upon – but I will have that, and any that show disrespect will be cut from my acquaintance. Do not doubt me on this, Madam. Do not!”

"Finally, I will undoubtedly be importuned as to the damage to Georgiana’s prospects arising should I contract what some will consider to be an imprudent marriage. I will not attempt to deny that some gentlemen might be dissuaded but, if they are, then they are not worth my consideration. Or Georgiana’s. My sister’s character, her fortune and our family name will ensure a suitable match regardless of who I choose to be her sister.”

Lady Catherine’s gaze had changed from outrage to confusion. “You speak, nephew, as though you have already settled on a choice.”

Darcy cursed to himself. His manner had clearly been too revealing. He began to dissemble. “Be assured, Madam, that when I am ready to announce my choice of a wife, I shall inform my relations. At this point I will only acknowledge that my deliberations will encompass those that you and my uncle would consider unsuitable.”

Lady Catherine wondered why this disclosure did not anger her as much as it might have in the past. She could only assume that, having relinquished any expectation of a marriage with her daughter, her concern over whom her nephew chose had lessened. That did not mean, however, she would be persuaded to accept someone totally unsuitable. Her tone was sharp as she finally replied.

“While I will not gainsay your right to choose a bride, nephew, I do hope that you do not intend to offer for that. . .cit - that Miss Bingley - who is visiting here at the moment. She is not even of the gentry, little though she likes to admit it.”

Darcy laughed. “You need harbour no fears on that account, my dear aunt. I am quite familiar with Miss Bingley’s aspirations and have no intention of offering for her.”

He was not to learn what his aunt’s response would have been for at that moment a knock on the door signalled the end of their discussion. Luncheon was to be served. As Darcy’s other guests had a claim on his attention, an opportunity to continue their talk was not to be had.

Lady Catherine Disposes - Part II

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