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Lady Catherine Disposes - Part IV

November 17, 2016 02:52PM
Part IV


Shortly after breaking his fast the next morning Darcy encountered his butler whose normally stoic and composed mien portrayed a confusion that Darcy had never before seen him display. Darcy’s inquiries elicited a response that left him equally perplexed, for his aunt had commandeered her carriage and departed with unusual haste almost a half hour past.

“Has she not had her breakfast?”

“I understand she had a tray sent to her chambers, sir.”

Darcy pondered this peculiarity. His aunt had ever been a late riser and rarely took her meals in her rooms.

“Did she disclose her destination, Reynolds?”

“No, sir.”

“And she took no baggage?”

“No, sir.” Reynolds paused, “Dawson did not accompany her either.” Both men understood that Lady Catherine obviously intended to return, else her maid would have accompanied her.

“And she did not say where she was bound?” Darcy repeated. Reynolds shook his head and prepared to return to his study as his master slowly wandered off clearly puzzling over his aunt’s actions. Reynolds was surprised, therefore, to see Darcy suddenly stop, turn to him and, with evident discomposure, order his horse to be brought to the door immediately. Darcy himself ran up the stairs obviously heading for his chambers. He left the house a scant ten minutes later dressed for riding, leaving his butler in a state of ignorance as to his master’s destination quite as complete as that produced by Lady Catherine’s departure.

A few minutes saw Darcy urging his horse to the quickest pace which it could sustain for the five miles to Lambton. He could think of only one place and one person that Lady Catherine would wish to call on at such an hour and he was not prepared to allow any relative of his to impose on Elizabeth if it was within his power to prevent it. That Lady Catherine meant to impose was a certainty.

~~~~~~

No one - not even Mr. Collins when expressing his most fulsome praise – had ever had cause to assert that Lady Catherine de Bourgh was of a contemplative nature. It is doubtful that she would even have considered such a suggestion as praise, for she had ever prided herself on her frankness and decisiveness and rarely overlooked an opportunity to proclaim the virtues of such traits and her possession of them. The precepts and opinions which guided her behaviour had been inculcated at her wet-nurse’s breast and buttressed thereafter by her parents, governesses and those few acquaintances (all titled and of equal or superior rank) whose opinions she held to be of consequence.

Thus, when she had inadvertently observed her nephew’s amorous embrace of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, her shock had been immediate, her outrage followed immediately thereupon, and she had been about to remonstrate Miss Bennet when she recalled her nephew’s words and manner during their earlier meeting. He had clearly rejected her direction on the matter of marriage and she had been unable to turn his father from a path he was resolved upon. Her nephew, to her dissatisfaction, had proven to be cast in his father’s mould and she entertained no expectations that she might be more successful with him.

She had thus removed quietly to her room to consider the matter. Her ruminations would have astonished her nephew. Indeed, she would have been astounded and outraged by them herself only a few weeks ago. If her nephew could not be bent to her will, she doubted that Miss Bennet would be as resolute. Lady Catherine pondered how Miss Bennet could be made to understand the inappropriateness of a marriage between herself and one who was the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She considered those arguments she felt were most important: Miss Bennet’s lack of fortune, the disparity in the respective stations of the Bennet and Darcy families, the want of propriety exhibited by members of the Bennet family – particularly her mother and youngest sister. True, Lady Catherine had observed no deficiency in the behaviour of the eldest Miss Bennet who seemed everything that was proper and certainly one could not fault her beauty. Even Mr. Bennet appeared to be a decent man, he was perhaps a trifle complacent and lax with regard to the behaviour of his daughters, but he was civil, intelligent and an interesting conversationalist nonetheless. However, it was Miss Elizabeth Bennet that was of direct concern. Lady Catherine could find nothing to criticize in regard to her behaviour during and after the dinner. It had been exemplary and everything that was proper and ladylike. She was a welcome contrast to Mr. Bingley’s sister who exhibited all the obsequious deference displayed by Mr. Collins albeit with a touch more elegance. Lady Catherine enjoyed such behaviour from her minions but could not tolerate it amongst her family. In this regard, she suspected Miss Elizabeth Bennet would please her, for while the young woman had been civil, she had not been overly deferential.

She recalled that young lady’s behaviour when she visited Rosings Park. Miss Bennet had never, in her many visits, been loath to express her opinions and had easily withstood her hostess’ demands. Although they were matters of little moment, she had refused to extend her visit despite being pressed to do so by Lady Catherine and had had no qualms in expressing and defending opinions contrary to those held by her ladyship. If she would not bend on matters of little significance, how willingly would she bend on a matter of great import to her future? Lady Catherine wished to believe that she could change Miss Bennet’s mind and, if it were a matter of defending her own daughter’s interest in the matter – if it were possible for Anne to marry her nephew – she would have seen Miss Bennet as an interloper, as one whose claim to Darcy was inferior to that of Anne’s in terms of fortune, consequence and birth. She did not doubt that her objections would then have been expressed loudly and forcefully. Since Anne could no longer be considered a possible bride for her nephew, Lady Catherine did not find that the issue of Miss Bennet’s admitted inferiority to other possible claimants to the title of Mrs. Darcy elicited overwhelming anger or distress. Miss Bennet was Darcy’s choice; on that there seemed to be little doubt, given the ardency of the couple's embrace that she had observed. Therefore, she and the remainder of the Fitzwilliam family must either accept Miss Elizabeth Bennet as Darcy’s wife or face a cleavage with the Darcy family. Her duty, therefore, was clear and she would not be gainsaid by Miss Bennet.

~~~~~~~

Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrived at the Lambton Inn only minutes after her absence from Pemberley was made known to Darcy. As she prepared to enter the inn she wondered, not for the first time, whether her course of action was desirable or even necessary but, recalling once more her impression of the Bennet family, she firmly put those reservations behind her.

While Lady Catherine’s object – if it had been known to the company that greeted her - was perhaps laudatory, her manners were as imperious as ever. Upon admittance to the Gardiners’ chambers, she sat for almost a minute gazing about with her usual condescending air and then, ignoring the Gardiners altogether apart from a curt nod of her head in their direction, demanded to speak in private with Elizabeth. Mr. Gardiner, offended at her presumptuous manner – although far from surprised at it, for she had barely deigned to acknowledge his presence the previous evening - refused.

“My niece is under my protection and I am reluctant to consent to any interview where I am not present.”

"I am not to be dissuaded from my objective, sir. You would do well to remember your station and not obstruct me in this matter."

“And you, madam, would do well to remember that these are my chambers and that Elizabeth is my niece. While I am not insensible of the obligation that exists in regards to the service you have rendered our family, I will insist on civility. Again I must remind you that Elizabeth is under my protection and I do not take such duties lightly.”

Lady Catherine was seriously displeased that a tradesman would contend with her on the matter and was about to remonstrate him; however, a glance at Elizabeth, who was watching her carefully, made her first hesitate and then decide to placate Mr. Gardiner’s concerns. The change did not, however, encompass an apology, for Lady Catherine did not perceive anything wanting in her manner. If truth were told, she thought herself due an apology from Mr. Gardiner, congratulated herself on her forbearance in not insisting on one, and addressed him as placatingly as was possible for her.

“I do not,” she declared stiffly, “intend any harm to Miss Bennet. I wish only to speak with her in private.”

Mr. Gardiner looked at Elizabeth who, after several moments of consideration, nodded briefly. He turned back to Lady Catherine.

“My wife and I shall allow this conference and remove ourselves to our chamber; however, should I have cause to be concerned as to the direction of your conversation, do not doubt that I will return.”

Lady Catherine sniffed and Elizabeth hid a small smile. Lady Catherine’s behaviour was much as it had been in Kent. She was overbearing and officious, ofttimes rude and discourteous, and rarely given to consideration for the feelings of anyone else. Lady Catherine could never see that she gave offence. In many respects, Elizabeth realized, Lady Catherine was as blind to propriety as her own mother. Nonetheless, her understanding was significantly greater than Mrs. Bennet’s and her advice, despite being frequently unwanted and occasionally nonsensical, was often useful and her criticisms, valid. She was a curious mixture. On the one hand she would make the pretentious claim that she would have performed excellently on the pianoforte had she made the effort to learn (which she had not), while on the other hand her claim of a superior understanding of music had proven itself when discussions turned in that direction. Elizabeth could also remember clearly her Ladyship's opinions regarding to the Bennet sisters being raised without a governess and all being allowed out into society at the same time. Elizabeth had defended her family’s actions; however, she had not been blind to the merits of those criticisms. If Lady Catherine wished to converse with her in a civil manner, Elizabeth had no reason to deny her the opportunity to do so. It may have been her imagination - a wish perhaps being mother to the thought - but she had observed Lady Catherine closely during the prior evening and could not rid herself of the impression that her ladyship was not her usual self - that some matter had disturbed her composure. She seemed diminished somehow and Elizabeth could not account for it.

The Gardiners removed themselves, shutting the door to their chamber firmly. The conversation between their niece and her visitor would be private, although should the volume of their voices rise unduly, Mr. Gardiner was determined that he would intervene on Elizabeth’s behalf.

The two ladies looked at each other, both apparently expecting the other to initiate the conversation. Elizabeth was certain that Lady Catherine’s visit involved her engagement to Darcy but, as her ladyship had requested the interview, Elizabeth felt no obligation to begin the discussion. The silence continued until a barely perceptible rise in Elizabeth’s eyebrows seemed to prompt Lady Catherine to speak.

“I am sure, Miss Bennet, that you must know the reason for my desire to speak with you.”

“I believe I understand the subject which you wish to discuss; however, I confess I am quite at a loss at what you expect to achieve.”

“Miss Bennet, you should know that my character is celebrated for its frankness and I shall not depart from it now!”

Elizabeth bowed her head ever so slightly in acknowledgement.

“I must believe, after the disgraceful exhibition I observed between you and my nephew last evening, that he has made you an offer of marriage. He has, has he not?”

Elizabeth flushed. She had believed them to be unobserved and instead, to have had such a witness! She forced herself to respond.

“He has.”

“And you have accepted him! Of course you have. You could hardly aspire to a better match. My nephew’s fortune and consequence would make a refusal impossible.”

Elizabeth wondered what her ladyship’s reaction would be if informed that a refusal was far from impossible and had been tendered some months in the past at Hunsford. However, such a confession could not be made and she doubted that Lady Catherine would even believe it unless it fell from the lips of Darcy himself. She knew she should not feel affronted that Lady Catherine would ascribe mercenary motives to her acceptance. Society, in general, would be unable to see otherwise. She chose not to respond.

Elizabeth’s silence did not discourage Lady Catherine, whose glare made clear her displeasure with the matter. “My nephew,” said Lady Catherine, “could certainly have done much better in selecting a wife. I cannot understand why he would choose someone whose consequence is so much lower than his.”

Elizabeth made no effort to repress the touch of asperity in her voice when she finally replied.

“That question should, I believe, be addressed to Mr. Darcy, your Ladyship. But he has made his choice and if I am that choice, why should I not accept him? I have done so. While I do not expect you to believe or understand my reasons for doing so, I can assure you that Mr. Darcy’s fortune and station were of importance to me only insofar as he could provide me and our family with a comfortable subsistence. His character is everything that is admirable and I could not have chosen a finer man to be my husband.”

Lady Catherine huffed. “Your reasons are your own. I suggest that they remain so, for many will consider you a simpleton if they learn of them.”

“I care not for the opinion of society as long as Mr. Darcy is satisfied with his choice.”

“Well I do care! You will, by this marriage, be connected to the de Bourgh and Fitzwilliam families. More importantly, your family will be connected to ours. It will not do!”

“Whatever my connections may be, Lady Catherine, if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you.”

“Do not be foolish, Miss Bennet. Your position in society as Mrs. Darcy will suffer from having such low connections. My niece’s reputation will suffer despite what my nephew claims. She. . .”

“Mr. Darcy has spoken of this to you? No, that cannot be so for you sought confirmation from me of our engagement. I wonder at your seeking it from me and not your nephew? What can you mean by it?”

The oddity of Lady Catherine approaching her about the engagement and making no attempt to dissuade her from it suddenly struck Elizabeth. In fact, her ladyship, while decrying the attachment, appeared to have accepted it. The silence arising from Elizabeth’s contemplations afforded Lady Catherine the opportunity to press her case.

“You are a pretty, genteel sort of girl. Too impertinent for the general approval of society but I suspect that is part of your charm to my nephew. He has ever been a mystery to me in that regard. My sister has for years paraded society’s finest young women before him without his deigning to give any a second glance; he has chosen you instead. I will not profess to understand his choice but neither will I attempt to gainsay him on it. If you had a respectable fortune and adequate connections, I could remove to Rosings content, if not fully satisfied. No, this situation will not do! I am most seriously displeased and. . .”

Elizabeth had listened to this diatribe with no little irritation and suddenly felt compelled to interject.

“With all due respect, Lady Catherine, allow me to repeat myself. If my fortune and connections are acceptable to Mr. Darcy, they can be nothing to you!”

“Foolish girl! Do not interrupt! Have I not said I will not gainsay my nephew? That does not mean we should be satisfied with your circumstances. It would be best if you cut all ties with your family, for their circumstances will do naught but lower yours in society. You certainly could not bring your youngest sisters into society – consider the behaviour of Miss Lydia, attempting to elope with the penniless son of a steward - and your mother would be an embarrassment to us all. She has no more sense than my goose of a parson!”

Elizabeth could barely constrain a burst of surprised laughter. She had never thought Lady Catherine was aware of Mr. Collins’ blatant stupidity, for she had always given the appearance of enjoying his flatteries; perhaps her pleasure had been of a different sort altogether. Elizabeth wondered if she had misjudged her ladyship completely. Regardless, she must respond to such a demand and only one response was possible for her.

“Notwithstanding my family’s behaviour, I shall never accept an estrangement from them. I assure you it is fruitless to importune me further on the matter.”

Lady Catherine briefly considered the possibility that Miss Bennet would end her engagement should her nephew be convinced of the merits of demanding she sever her relationship with her family; however, Lady Catherine remembered that he had felt no compunction about inviting the Gardiners into his home and appeared to be on excellent terms with them. As well, he had met the Bennets, knew them well – almost certainly better than she did - and their behaviour had not dissuaded him from offering for Miss Bennet.

She huffed in exasperation. “You cannot intend to introduce your mother into society?”

“Mr. Darcy and I have not had an opportunity to discuss our future but I would hope to spend much of our lives here at Pemberley. My mother, my family, will be welcomed here, although my mother hates to travel and Pemberley is such a distance from Longbourn as to make travel difficult.”

“You cannot be always in the country. Mrs. Darcy must take her place in society. Georgiana will be out in a year or two and must be supported and make her presentation.” Lady Catherine looked down her nose at Elizabeth. “I dare say you will require assistance to carry out such a task. You have not been presented at court? No, I thought not. I would have heard. A voucher for Almack’s is quite out of the question in that case. I suppose we must see to remedying that deficiency as well. I expect we shall require the assistance of my sister, Countess Matlock. Insufferable woman! How she can be on such good terms with Lady Castlereigh is beyond my understanding. It is well, I suppose, that it is so, although I do not understand how my sister can tolerate such incivility. Lady Castlereigh was unconscionably rude when I last spoke with her. I had not been treated with the respect my rank demands but she would hear none of it; and when I suggested improvements, she laughed! How she could have been placed in her position is beyond my understanding.”

Elizabeth listened to this exposition with equal parts dismay and delight in the ridiculous. She had no particular desire to spend time amongst the ranks of the haute ton. Her exposure to the manners of Miss Bingley, and even those of Lady Catherine, did not promise more than brief amusement at such follies. She had endured Miss Bingley’s discourtesy and that of Lady Catherine with tolerable ease, although the amusement had palled after several exposures. To endure months of such company was more than she could wish for and she could only hope that Darcy’s acquaintances were more intelligent and courteous.

One thing puzzled Elizabeth greatly. It was a subject she had not canvassed with Darcy and perhaps should not raise it now with Lady Catherine; however, the latter appeared willing to support their engagement and her willingness to do so was a surprise given what Elizabeth had been told about her Ladyship’s marital expectations for her daughter.

“Lady Catherine,” she said cautiously, “I admit to confusion as to your intention of supporting my engagement to Mr. Darcy. I had expected you to strongly oppose it on your daughter’s behalf.”

Lady Catherine’s posture stiffened even more and her countenance became forbidding. It was some moments before she replied and her tone made it clear that further discussion of the matter was unwelcome.

“My daughter’s health does not allow her to marry.”

Elizabeth nodded slowly. This answer would account for much of the change in Lady Catherine. To have been denied not only a long-held wish – the marriage of her daughter to Darcy – but also to know that her daughter’s life might well be in jeopardy would dishearten the most resolute mother. And Lady Catherine was a mother and obviously possessed of a abiding concern for her daughter’s welfare. Equally obvious was her desire to repel any consolation from others. Elizabeth could only suppose it evidence of her Ladyship’s pride - her vanity - that such solace should be neither needed or wanted.

The privacy of their conversation was ended by the arrival of one who was greeted by Elizabeth and Lady Catherine with pleasure and annoyance, respectively.

~~~~~

Darcy knew his surmise was correct as soon as he arrived at the Inn, for his aunt’s carriage was drawn up in the courtyard. In a matter of a minute or two he was mounting the stairs to the Gardiners’ quarters. His aunt he could hear as soon as he arrived at the door although her words were impossible to understand. A sharp rap on the door brought a silence within and he could hear someone walking briskly towards the door. It was opened by Elizabeth and, if she was surprised by her visitor, she hid it very well. Darcy rather thought that his aunt’s visit may well have inured her to further surprise. His welcome by Elizabeth would appear to suggest as much.

“Mr. Darcy! I am pleased to see you.”

Oddly enough, Darcy thought, he could detect no sign of particular relief and he wondered if his aunt had been less disagreeable than was her usual wont. He took Elizabeth’s hand and brushed his lips across the back of it.

“You are well?” He murmured.

“Of course she is well! I am not some hoyden come to harm her.” declared his aunt.

Elizabeth’s slight smile mirrored Darcy’s.

“May I inquire as to where your aunt and uncle are, Elizabeth?”

“They have allowed Lady Catherine and me to converse in private.”

“Ah, I see, and has this. . .conversation been interesting?”

“You do not need to ignore my presence, Nephew! Come sit here and we shall continue this discussion.”

“Might I inquire as to what exactly is being discussed?”

His gaze was directed at Elizabeth, whose shrug was supplanted by the response of Lady Catherine.

“We had not gotten to the particulars of the matter but I intend to assist Miss Bennet’s acceptance into society. I will not allow Mrs. Darcy to reflect poorly on our families. It shall not be endured. I. . .”

“Excuse me, Aunt, but I do not believe Miss Bennet could possibly reflect poorly on our families. There. . .”

The touch of Elizabeth’s hand on his arm forestalled his next comment. His displeasure with his aunt’s presumptuousness warred with his surprise at her willingness to support Elizabeth and their marriage.

“I would be pleased to consider any advice that your aunt might wish to offer.” asserted Elizabeth.

Darcy gazed at Elizabeth thoughtfully. If his aunt was oblivious to the careful phrasing of Elizabeth’s statement, he was not.

“Indeed,” said he, “advice is always welcome.” He turned to his aunt, “However, all this is rather precipitous as I have yet to gain Mr. Bennet’s consent.”

Lady Catherine sniffed – Elizabeth rather thought her ladyship’s sniffs conveyed a wealth of meaning and this one was dismissive – and replied, “Nonsense! Miss Bennet is one and twenty, is she not? I thought so. Her father’s consent is irrelevant. Should he deny it – he is not so insensible – the wedding could be held here at Pemberley. In fact, I think it should be held here regardless. I believe. . .”

Elizabeth was not to learn Lady Catherine’s further thoughts on the matter for at that moment the Gardiners, having heard Darcy’s voice, chose to leave their chamber and join their company. After the usual civilities were exchanged, Darcy spoke to his aunt, “The matter of where the wedding is to be held will be discussed after I secure Mr. Bennet’s consent. For now, I believe we should return to Pemberley. The Gardiners and Miss Bennet are to join us after midday and I have some business that I must complete before their arrival.” He turned to Mrs. Gardiner, “I trust that we have not interfered with your plans for the morning?”

Mrs. Gardiner assured him that they had not been inconvenienced; however, Lady Catherine was not as yet ready to quit the matter.

“You are to stay to dinner, Miss Bennet? I thought so. We shall announce the engagement tonight! We. . .”

“I would prefer to have Mr. Bennet’s consent and blessing, Aunt, before any such announcement is made.”

Mr. Gardiner nodded in approval but his effort to voice his support was overridden by her ladyship.

“Nonsense!” Said she, “You, Mr. Gardiner, as Miss Bennet’s nearest relation, will announce it tonight. Or perhaps it would be best, as a matter of rank, that I undertake the office. Yes! That will do very well! And we,” looking at Mrs. Gardiner, “shall accompany Miss Bennet to review the Mistress’s chambers to see what changes are required. I shall not be dissuaded on this, Nephew.”

Darcy looked at his aunt askance and wondered how he could oppose her. He was quite sure that she would not hesitate to make such an announcement even without his consent. He saw Elizabeth’s rueful smile and surmised that she had come to the same conclusion. A slight shrug of her shoulders signalled her unwillingness to contest the matter. He remained silent and Mr. Gardiner, observing the silence of his niece and Darcy, concluded correctly that neither would oppose Lady Catherine. He too remained silent.

After a few more polite exchanges, Lady Catherine and Darcy made their departures. Once assured of privacy, Mr. Gardiner turned to his niece.

“And what was Lady Catherine’s purpose?”

Elizabeth explained, as best she could, the substance of their conversation and her aunt and uncle were confounded by the revelations.

“She means to assist you in society?” exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner when she had finally marshalled her thoughts. “That is most unexpected and I can only wonder at it, given her manner toward us.”

Elizabeth shrugged in bewilderment. “I confess to being amazed myself. I had not thought her to be so. . .obliging.”

“It will ease your introduction for a certainty. For her to be so - agreeable is hardly the appropriate word – so tractable is almost beyond belief.”

“Lady Catherine does like to be of use.” replied Elizabeth.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Lady Catherine Disposes - Part IV

PeterNovember 17, 2016 02:52PM

Re: Lady Catherine Disposes - Part IV

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Re: Lady Catherine Disposes - Part IV

NicoletteNovember 20, 2016 03:42PM

Re: Lady Catherine Disposes - Part IV

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Re: Lady Catherine Disposes - Part IV

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