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Lady Catherine Disposes - Part VI (Final)

December 20, 2016 09:10PM
Part VI


Elizabeth felt rather sorry for Georgiana Darcy. To travel for three days in company with Lady Catherine would tax the most serene of individuals – she was not sure that even her sister Jane’s placid disposition would survive the experience. Elizabeth had tentatively mentioned inviting Georgiana to ride with her and the Gardiners; however, although she clearly desired to accept, the girl had bowed to what she believed to be the dictates of propriety and declined the offer. Darcy and Bingley were apparently to travel in Lady Catherine’s coach although Elizabeth had noted that both had attached their horses to the rear of the carriage. She suspected that though they would not leave Georgiana to .suffer Lady Catherine’s company alone for any extended period, the temptation to escape the carriage would likely prove too strong to resist if only to provide a temporary surcease from the elder lady’s inexhaustible conversation. Georgiana would have no such relief.

It was a rather prestigious convoy, although the Gardiner carriage was clearly older and less commodious than Lady Catherine’s. Even the Darcy carriage, transporting the servants, was of superior quality. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the trip itself: the inns at which they spent the nights were generally satisfactory (or were for everyone except Lady Catherine who could find little to please in any of them), the roads passably so and the company – in the Gardiner carriage, at least – pleasant with one subject predominating the conversation – Elizabeth’s betrothal to Darcy. It was a topic on which too much could not be said, and no one attempted to moderate their speculations. On several points, there was no contention: Mr. Darcy was clearly enamoured of Miss Elizabeth Bennet; his affections were returned in full by that lady; and Mrs. Bennet would be beyond overjoyed at her daughter’s most advantageous marriage. The only question, in Elizabeth’s mind although it remained unexpressed, was the degree to which she would be mortified by her mother’s effusions of delight. Mrs. Bennet had never been known for restraint and she could hardly be expected to exercise that which she had rarely ever moderated - particularly when it entailed ridding herself of a daughter she had long despaired of seeing married.

It had been decided between Elizabeth and Darcy that he would make his appearance at Longbourn the day following her arrival.

“You must allow me to prepare my parents for your visit.” said she.

“I recollect that your mother thinks poorly of me. Your father also?”

Elizabeth smiled ruefully, “I fear that they remain in ignorance about the improvement in my opinion of you. To their knowledge, I have always . . .disliked you. My father, in particular, will be quite distressed about the business.”

“And your mother will not? I remember she had no qualms about expressing her dislike of me at the ball.”

Elizabeth laughed, “You insulted one of her daughters and while I cannot claim to be her favourite, she took offence. But you need not worry about my mother. The prospect of a daughter wedded to a man of ten thousand a year will quite banish any dislike she might harbour. And very quickly, I might add. You will be quite her favourite gentleman. She might even prefer you to Mr. Bingley.”

Darcy smiled slightly, “Truly?”

“Well, at least until he proposes to Jane and then I fear you will be totally supplanted in her affections.”

“I shall not despair while I remain fixed in the affections of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

As they enjoyed a degree of solitude at that moment, the brush of his lips against hers gave emphasis to his words and quite prevented a response by the recipient.

~~~~~

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

If Elizabeth had anticipated that her whole family would be present to greet her upon her return home, she was disappointed for only three were there – her father and two sisters, Jane and Mary. Their pleasure was expressed fulsomely as if to compensate for the absence of the remainder of her family. The four Gardiner children greeted their parents with all the exuberance that one could wish for and they had little attention for even a beloved cousin in their desire to see their parents after a separation of more than a month.

The absence of her mother and two youngest sisters was quickly accounted for. Mrs. Philips had called that morning to convey news of momentous Importance. Mr. Bingley was to return to Netherfield! It was more than Mrs. Bennet could hope for, and to wait upon further developments, more than she could bear. So, to Meryton she had ventured, accompanied most eagerly by her two youngest daughters, to glean whatever particles of information might be found in the parlours of that town. Certainly, the return of Elizabeth could not be more important than such news and her only disappointment had been the determination of her eldest daughter to not be one of the party. Mrs. Bennet’s wishes were forcefully expressed and rejected in an equally forceful manner, albeit more quietly, by Miss Bennet who made her preference to await the return of her sister. As Mr. Bennet only laughed and shook his head when pressed to order his daughter to comply with her mother’s demands, the latter was required to be satisfied with only Kitty and Lydia.

Elizabeth had no reason to bemoan the greeting accorded by her father. He had missed Elizabeth greatly and even went so far as to award her a brief hug when she alighted from the carriage. Mary’s greeting was much as was expected. A homily of some sort was presented, what passed for a smile bestowed and then she scurried back into the house. Elizabeth did not doubt that her sister welcomed her return but it was unclear whether that was due to a desire to be freed from the care of the Gardiner children as for any other reason. It was Jane who provided the warmest welcome and it was some minutes before the expressions of her pleasure gave way to other matters. Elizabeth knew her letter had given rise to many questions; but as these could be addressed only in the privacy of their bedroom, they must be put aside. Her letter, however, had not spoken of Mr. Bingley at all and she was therefore not surprised at the question Jane soon raised.

“Are you aware” she asked, “that Mr. Bingley is expected to return to Netherfield?”

Elizabeth nodded and scrutinized Jane’s countenance closely. Her sister reacted in a predictable manner. “We were in company at Pemberley and he decided to return to Netherfield with us. I apologize for not letting you know but his plans were fixed only shortly before our own departure.”

"I see you looking at me, Lizzy, I assure you that the news does not affect me either with pleasure or pain. I am not afraid of myself, but I dread other people’s remarks.”

Elizabeth did not know what to say to her sister. Bingley had not spoken to her of his intentions although she had every reason to suppose he intended to approach her sister. Why else would he have come? Of his treatment of his own sisters, she could speak from her own knowledge and, when alone with Jane, would do so. However, she could not deny that his coming to Netherfield would stir all the old gossip.

"Yet it is hard,” Elizabeth thought, “that this poor man cannot come to a house which he has legally hired, without raising all manner of speculation! I will leave Jane and him to themselves.” Despite what her sister declared, and perhaps really believed to be her feelings about his arrival, Elizabeth could easily perceive that Jane’s spirits were affected by it. They were more disturbed, more unequal, than she had often seen them. The subject which had been so warmly canvassed between their parents, about a twelvemonth ago, was now soon to be brought forward again And Jane would have to bear, for a short while at least, all her mother’s anxieties on the matter.

Mrs. Bennet returned shortly thereafter to Longbourn accompanied by Kitty and Lydia. Elizabeth scrutinized the latter closely, hoping to discern some small sign of improved behaviour, some indication that the events of less than a fortnight past had weighed upon her spirits, and rendered her more sensible. She was to be bitterly disappointed, for her youngest sister was as she ever had been and neither she nor her mother perceived there to be anything wanting in her behaviour. Mrs. Bennet wasted no time in making her opinions known to her husband.

"As soon as ever Mr. Bingley comes, my dear,” said she, “you will wait on him, of course.”

"No, no. You forced me into visiting him last year, and promised, if I went to see him, he should marry one of my daughters. But it ended in nothing, and I will not be sent on a fool’s errand again.” His wife represented to him how necessary such an attention would be from all the neighbouring gentlemen, on his returning to Netherfield.

"’Tis an etiquette I despise,” said he. “If he wants our society, let him seek it. He knows where we live. I will not spend my hours in running after my neighbours every time they go away and come back again.”

"Well, all I know is, that it will be abominably rude if you do not wait on him. But, however, that shan’t prevent my asking him to dine here, I am determined although I confess that the reports I have received have me greatly confused for Mrs. Long was sure that she was told by her cook who had it from Mrs. Nicholls that Mr. Bingley is bringing a party with him – but not his sisters! She has no idea of who but I am sure that there will be several gentlemen come down for the shooting and you must call on them. It will not do to slight them. Mr. Bingley is a dinner in our debt for you cannot but remember he promised to dine with us before he left. We must have Mrs. Long which will make thirteen with ourselves, so there will be just room at table for his party.”

Consoled by this resolution, she was better able to bear her husband’s incivility; though it was very mortifying to know that her neighbours might all see Mr. Bingley, in consequence of it, before they did. Consideration of Mr. Bingley’s return would not allow Mrs. Bennet to converse on anything else that evening and even Elizabeth’s return and the presence of the Gardiners proved insufficient to deflect her effusions on the matter for any length of time.

For her part, Elizabeth did not regret her mother’s inattention for she had no desire to speak of her trip. Elizabeth had two tasks to perform before she could seek her repose. The first she discharged when all but her father had removed to their rooms for the night.

He greeted her with some surprise when she sought him out in his book room.

“We have had little chance to speak, Lizzy. Your mother’s enthusiasm for Mr. Bingley has quite overset any other subject of conversation. I am sure you have a great deal to share although I allow I am rather surprised at the paucity of letters from you. You are usually a more faithful correspondent.” He looked at her quizzically, “I trust you do not intend to remedy the deficiency now? It is much too late for any such purpose.”

“No, Papa. I wish to speak to you on another subject altogether.” Elizabeth’s manner was hesitant. She hardly knew how to begin to explain to her father all that happened between her and Darcy and how her own feelings towards that man had changed so dramatically. Her father, she knew, would still believe her to dislike him quite intensely for she had never made her past disdain a secret within the family. How earnestly did she now wish that her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate! There was, however, no choice but to lay it all before him. Mr. Bennet was becoming increasingly concerned as his daughter’s discomposure became more obvious.

“My dear Lizzy!” he cried, “Whatever is the matter?”

“Mr. Darcy has made me an offer of marriage and I have accepted!” she blurted. “He is to come tomorrow to speak with you.”

Mr. Bennet gaped at his daughter for several moments, his jaw slack and eyebrows risen into his hairline, and then he began to chuckle and then laugh.

“Excellent, my dearest Lizzy! Excellent! A truly epic jest. Mr. Darcy - to be sure! Engaged!” Mr. Bennet could not constrain his mirth and was entirely oblivious to his daughter’s dismay. “You could not have pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to such a circumstance. Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life! It is admirable!”

Elizabeth could not join in her father’s amusement and could only force, at most, a reluctant smile which bore greater resemblance to a grimace. Never had his wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to her.

He suddenly appeared to comprehend that his daughter was not sharing his amusement. “Are you not diverted? You look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be Missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted by my seeing the humour at such a report? For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Even the faint smile that she had now forced on her countenance disappeared and her father looked at her with increasing concern. Before he could speak, she required herself to reply, “It is no jest, Papa. Mr. Darcy has offered for me and I have accepted.”

Mr. Bennet finally appeared to grasp that his daughter was not sporting with him; that she was perfectly serious in her claim to have betrothed herself to Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzy,” cried he, “what are you doing? Are you out of your senses, to be accepting this man? Have not you always hated him?”

She wished once more that her former opinion had been more moderate for it would have spared her from explanations and professions which it was exceedingly awkward to give; but they were now necessary, and she assured him, with perfect sincerity if not perfect coherence, of her attachment to Mr. Darcy. It took no little time to explain all that happened, although her refusal of his first proposal she declined to share. Her father had remained largely silent throughout and when she was finally done, the first words he uttered were not designed to afford her comfort. His tone was angry, almost bitter.

“Or, in other words, you are determined to have him. He is rich, to be sure, and you may have fine clothes and fine carriages. But will they make you happy?”

“Have you any other objection,” said Elizabeth sharply, offended at his tone and words, “than your belief of my indifference and mercenary motives?”

“None at all. We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man. I can see no reason why you would otherwise accept such an offer.”

“And will you not credit that, as I did not accept Mr. Collins because I did not admire or respect him, I would not have accepted Mr. Darcy unless I did. He is the finest man I know.”

Mr. Bennet was not insensible to Elizabeth’s declaration. It was simply beyond his current understanding but it seemed that she had come to esteem a man he could hardly claim to know, although what little he had observed did not recommend the gentleman to him. After a pause of some moments he responded, the words seemingly forced from his mouth.

“My objections would be nothing if you really liked him.”

“I do, I do like him,” she replied, with tears in her eyes, “I love him. Indeed, he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is; pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms.”

“Lizzy,” said her father gathering his composure, “I will most assuredly give him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything, which he condescends to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about.”

Elizabeth, still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice, by explaining once again, to an audience more prepared to listen, the gradual change which her estimation of him had undergone, relating her absolute certainty that his affection was not the work of a day, but had stood the test of many months suspense, and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity, and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he, when she ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy. You may be assured that when he calls on me tomorrow, he shall have my consent” he paused briefly, “I do suggest that you delay imparting this news to your mother. I daresay her nerves are not likely to survive such tidings when placed along side the return of Mr. Bingley.”

Elizabeth smiled tiredly and placed a kiss on her father’s cheek and then made her way to the door. As she opened it, a thought occurred to her and she turned back to look at him.

“May I inquire into the state of your nerves, Papa?”

He wondered at the wry cast to her lips. "Excellent, to my knowledge. I do not have the pleasure of understanding your question.”

“You are acquainted with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, are you not?”

Mr. Bennet agreed that he was.

“Then you will be pleased to be re-acquainted with her, for she will accompany Mr. Darcy tomorrow. I believe she will wish to be useful.” At this Elizabeth slipped out the door, closed it behind before her father could respond, and beat a hasty retreat up the stairs to her room.

Elizabeth wondered if Jane would still be awake for her talk with Mr. Bennet had lasted much longer than she had anticipated. The day’s travel had been tiring, her mother’s effusions taxing, and the discussion with her father fraught with tension. She was nearing exhaustion and the prospect of another prolonged conversation – even one with her dearest Jane – was not to be thought of with pleasure. If she was fortunate, Jane would have already fallen asleep.

She was not to be lucky. Jane was apparently waiting for her sister’s footsteps as she climbed the stairs, for Elizabeth had scarce reached the top when the door to Jane’s room open and she was being vigorously waved into her sister’s room.

She sighed and wondered if she would be allowed any sleep before Darcy arrived in the morning. That night she opened her heart to Jane. Her letter had given the barest of information and though Jane knew of Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth had not spoken to her of the evolution in her feelings towards him.

“If I had not received your letter, I would be convinced that you were joking, Lizzy. But it must be so! Engaged to
Mr. Darcy!”

“This is a wretched beginning, indeed! Papa considered it a jest and it took no small amount of talking to convince him of my seriousness. My sole dependence was on you; and here you are claiming it to be a jest as well. I am sure nobody else will believe me, if you do not. Yet, indeed, I am in earnest. I speak nothing but the truth. He still loves me, and we are engaged.”

Jane looked at her doubtingly. “Oh, Lizzy! I do not understand. When last, the subject was raised between us, I thought you disliked him. Has your opinion changed so much?”

“I confess to hiding my feelings from you, Jane. I did not wish to pain you for I knew you suffered still from Mr. Bingley’s absence. Do not suppose that I always loved him so well as I do now. But feelings of respect had developed after I read his letter, and when we met at Pemberley and I saw how much he had changed, I could not do otherwise than love him. In such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable. This is the last time I shall ever remember my former feelings.”

Miss Bennet still looked all amazement. Elizabeth again, and more seriously, assured her of its truth.

“Good Heaven! Yet it must be so and now I must believe you,” cried Jane. “My dear, dear Lizzy, I would - I do congratulate you - but are you certain? Forgive the question - are you quite certain that you can be happy with him?”

“There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world. But are you pleased, Jane? Shall you like to have such a brother?”

“Very, very much. Nothing could give me more delight. And do you really love him quite well enough? Oh, Lizzy! Do any thing rather than marry without affection. Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do? Forgive me for doubting you but this has quite overset me and I find it almost too incredible to believe.” Miss Bennet looked at her sister for a moment, shook her head, and said, “My dearest sister, I want to talk very seriously. Let me know everything that I am to know, without delay. Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”

“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing
his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

Another entreaty that she would be serious, however, produced the desired effect; and she soon satisfied Jane by her solemn assurances of attachment. When convinced on that article, Miss Bennet had nothing farther to wish.

“Now I am quite happy,” said she, “for you will be happy. I always had a value for him. Were it for nothing but his love of you, I must always have esteemed him; but Lizzy, you have been very sly, very reserved with me. How little did you tell me of what passed at Pemberley and Lambton!”

Elizabeth satisfied her sister, laying before her those events which occurred during their visit to Lambton, including her meeting with Lady Catherine and Mr. Bingley’s actions in regards of his sister.

“And he has sent his sister away!” exclaimed Miss Bennet.

“I do not know exactly what he plans for her but she was not invited to accompany him to Netherfield.”

Neither was particularly unhappy at this state of affairs, although Miss Bennet’s tender heart could not but express the hope that matters between Mr. Bingley and his sister would be resolved and a reconciliation occur. As Elizabeth was, by this time, excessively tired, she begged off further discussion, removed to her own bed and, within moments of laying her head down, was fast asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Mrs. Bennet, though wishing to canvass the matter of Mr. Bingley once more, was required to attend to the departure of the Gardiners who were eager to return to the quiet of their own home. Once all the usual expressions of delight and gratitude had been made, the carriages were loaded and sent on their way, Mrs. Bennet allowed herself to attend to the matter of greatest importance. She had, through the assistance of servants, contrived to have the earliest tidings of Mr. Bingley’s arrival, that the period of anxiety and fretfulness on her side might be as long as it could. She was thus to shortly receive certain news that he had arrived and now counted the days that must intervene before an invitation to dine could be sent. That he would visit sooner was beyond her comprehension, although she did not hesitate to canvass the possibility with all the thoroughness with which she was endowed. It was a sore trial for her eldest daughter.

"I begin to be sorry that he comes at all,” said Jane to her sister. “It would be nothing; I could see him with perfect indifference, but I can hardly bear to hear it thus perpetually talked of. My mother means well; but she does not know, no one can know, how much I suffer from what she says. Happy shall I be, when his stay at Netherfield is over!”

"While I could wish to enjoy the usual satisfaction of preaching patience to a sufferer, it is denied me in this instance.” replied Elizabeth; “You – and our mother - shall not be required to wait overlong. Mr. Darcy is to call on my father this morning and Mr. Bingley is to visit shortly thereafter.”

Mrs. Bennet was not required to wait three days after all, although the manner of realizing her expectations differed greatly from her anticipations. She saw a rider, from her dressing-room window, enter the paddock and ride towards the house. Her daughters were eagerly called to partake of her joy. Jane resolutely kept her place at the table; but Elizabeth, to satisfy her mother, went to the window - she looked, saw Mr. Darcy, and sat down again by her sister.

"There is a gentleman, Mama,” said Kitty, “but I cannot make him out.”

"It must be Mr. Bingley! Who else can it be?”

"It is not Mr. Bingley, I am sure I do not know.”

"La!” replied Lydia, “it looks just like that man that used to be with him before. Mr. what’s-his-name. That tall, proud man.”

"Good gracious! Mr. Darcy! And so, it does, I vow. Well, any friend of Mr. Bingley’s will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of him.” Jane looked at Elizabeth with concern but relaxed at her sister’s easy composure. The ladies waited patiently for their guest to be shown into the room. Footsteps were heard approaching the door and then continuing past it. Mrs. Bennet was taken aback.

“What is he about? Is he not to speak with us?”

“I believe he has gone to speak with Papa.” replied Elizabeth.

“Why should he speak with your father, pray tell?” said Mrs. Bennet, her dislike of Darcy compounding upon a perceived insult of being overlooked, was quickly becoming seriously agitated. Elizabeth knew that she was unlikely to be able to persuade her mother to remove to another room for a private conversation. Her engagement would have to be announced in front of all her sisters. She wished she had spoken of it to her mother the evening past but she had been too tired to do so and now she dreaded the uproar that would result. She took a deep breath and glanced at Jane. Her sister’s smile gave her additional courage.

“Mr. Darcy is to speak to Papa to gain his consent to our engagement.”

The effect of this statement was most extraordinary; for on first hearing it, Mrs. Bennet sat quite still, and unable to utter a syllable. Nor was it under many, many minutes that she could comprehend what she heard. This news overset her altogether. Mrs. Bennet’s silence did not prevent a more boisterous response from her youngest daughters. Their silence lasted no longer than a minute and it was the sound of giggling emanating from Lydia and Kitty that drew Elizabeth’s attention away from her mother.

“Do not scowl at me so, Lizzy! ’Tis a monstrously good joke. Engaged to Mr. Darcy! La! I have not had such a good laugh in weeks.” cried Lydia.

“’Tis no joke. I am to wed Mr. Darcy.”

The giggling stopped and the two girls looked at her in surprise. Mary, who had hitherto been silent, rose and came over to hug her sister. “I am very happy for you. Marriage is the most respectable state for a woman and Mr. Darcy is a serious, respectable gentleman. I will like him well.”

Mrs. Bennet began at length to recover, to look at her daughter in wonderment, and bless herself. Her antics prompted another bout of giggles from Kitty and Lydia, hastily suppressed after a sharp glance from Jane.

Mrs. Bennet found her voice at last. Her expressions of delight were everything excessive. The thought of the jewels, money, carriages, homes so overwrought her that she at length began apologizing for her previous dislike of Darcy. This was enough to prove that her approbation need not be doubted: and Elizabeth rejoiced that such an effusion was heard only by herself and her sisters. Her mother’s effusions were not, however, complete.

“My dearest child,” she cried, “I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! ‘Tis as good as a Lord! And a special licence. You must and shall be married by a special licence. But my dearest love, tell me what dish Mr. Darcy is particularly fond of, that I may have it tonight.”

She could wish that Darcy might not encounter her mother with her feelings so excited, for she was sure to say something to offend. It was fortunate that he had yet to return with her father to make the announcement but that event could not be long deferred. However, it all passed off much better than she expected.

For, after Darcy and her father had joined them and the announcement made, her mother gave her no cause for concern. Mrs. Bennet luckily stood in such awe of her intended son-in-law that she ventured not to speak to him, unless it was in her power to offer him any attention, or mark her deference for his opinion. Elizabeth was convinced that it was only due to this happy state that her mother did not express her dismay vociferously when apprised of the wedding date. Her objections to the short engagement period were made but muted by an obvious fear of offending Darcy, although Elizabeth did not doubt but that those complaints would be heard loudly once he had returned to Netherfield. At least he would not have to endure them.

By a stroke of fortuitous timing, other callers arrived soon after the momentous announcement had been made. Mr. Bingley and Lady Catherine were ushered into the room, welcomed and made aware of the family’s tidings – which were not a secret to them. Mrs. Bennet, her thoughts now bent in another direction, greeted Mr. Bingley warmly, and Lady Catherine less so for she recollected the latter’s admonishments and was far from easy with the reacquaintance. To Mr. Bingley was directed her most enthusiastic greeting.

"It is a long time, Mr. Bingley, since you went away,” said Mrs. Bennet. He readily agreed to it.

"I began to be afraid you would never come back again. People did say you meant to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas; but, however, I hope it is not true. A great many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since you went away. Miss Lucas is married and settled. And now one of my own daughters is to be married. But I suppose you must already have known of it as close to Mr. Darcy as you are.”

Bingley replied that he did, and made his congratulations once again.

"It is a delightful thing, to be sure, to have a daughter well married,” continued her mother, “but at the same time, Mr. Bingley, it will be very hard to have her settled such a way from me. Derbyshire is quite northward it seems, but I have no doubt that they will spend many months in town and we shall see them then.”

There was such a note of satisfaction in her countenance with the last phrase that Elizabeth had no doubt of her mother entertaining visions of settling in a home grand beyond her imaginings, meeting titled personages, and shopping daily on Bond Street. She had a vivid recollection of one of the barn cats eyeing a juicy, fat mouse. It was far from a pleasing prospect.

Mrs. Bennet issued the invitation to dine with them that evening, was pleased at its eager acceptance, and had then barely begun to invite Bingley to hunt on the Bennet lands when she was overridden by Lady Catherine who, hitherto, had been largely silent.

“Yes! Yes! Mrs. Bennet. I am sure Mr. Bingley will wish to kill all the birds on your estate although that will hardly serve you well next year when there are none to be found.” She sniffed loudly and continued, “We must see to my nephew’s wedding. I am here to assist in the matter. I have ever been praised for the efficacy of the advice and guidance I have provided and on a matter as important as this I shall not be found wanting. Your circumstances will obviously make my assistance welcome for you could not have ever expected to have a daughter so advantageously married.”

Elizabeth had sudden vision of her wedding taking place amongst excessive amounts of lace and extravagant displays of flowers, ribbons and other like frippery. Her mother was not inclined to stint in such matters and Lady Catherine’s preference for the gaudy and ostentatious was everywhere in evidence at Rosings Park. Such were her musings that she was deaf to the conversations around her until recalled by her mother inquiring of Darcy who of his family he might expect to attend the wedding.

“I have not given the matter much thought, Madam.” he replied, “Certainly my sister, and I shall ask my cousin to stand with me.” He turned slightly towards Elizabeth with his slight smile, “Colonel Fitzwilliam will be pleased to renew the acquaintance.”

His aunt was not inclined to let the matter rest in that position.

“That will not do, Fitzwilliam.” declared Lady Catherine firmly, “I shall insist that my brother, the Earl of Matlock, and his wife attend, along with the Viscount and his wife. We must stand behind this marriage and leave no one in doubt of our support.”

Darcy assumed his blandest countenance. “As you wish, Aunt. Will you be agreeable to hosting them, Bingley?”

“Indeed! Delighted! And. . .”

“We shall require several more rooms, Mr. Bingley, for I intend to invite several young gentlemen to attend. Miss Elizabeth has a very marriageable sister,” here Lady Catherine looked at Jane Bennet more closely, “and a most attractive one too. I intend to see her well established. I know several gentlemen with prosperous estates who would do very well for her and. . .”

Bingley listened with increasing discomposure and then horror as Lady Catherine expounded on the merits of several gentlemen she knew who were, in her opinion, in want of a wife. Finally, he could take no more and jumped to his feet.

“NO!”

Lady Catherine gave every evidence of being very much affronted at such a peremptory interruption.

“You forget yourself, Sir!”

Bingley suddenly realized that he had catapulted himself into the centre of the room and the forefront of everyone’s attention.

“I. . .umm. . .well. . .that is to say. . .”

A most unladylike sound emanated from the direction of Lady Catherine. More than one pair of eyes looked at her unbelievingly. Bingley however seemed to gather composure from it.

“I forget nothing, Madam. You may. . .pray excuse me for the interruption but your plans are. . .” He waved his hand in dismissal and turned to Jane Bennet. “Miss Bennet, Jane, I have loved you for months now, I loved you when last we danced, and I love you now! Will you marry me?”

Jane’s countenance became as flushed as ever Elizabeth had seen it. She could look every where except at Bingley: her hands; Elizabeth; Lady Catherine - who sat in silence; her mother - who was equally struck dumb; and her father – who simply smiled at her in amusement. She murmured something so softly none could discern what was said.

“Jane?” prompted Elizabeth, “We could not hear your answer.”

“Of course, she has accepted him.” declared Mrs. Bennet. “How could. . .”

“Jane?” asked Bingley once more. Finally, she forced herself to meet his eyes and her smile told all her answer.

“Yes! Yes, I will marry you.”

Lady Catherine hid a smile behind her teacup.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It might be supposed that two ladies such as Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, if intending to work together in organizing a wedding suitable to the consequence of the main characters, would prove unable to do so in harmony. And, if that task were to be compounded by the inclusion of a second betrothed couple, for Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley had been convinced, after no little argument by Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, to share their ceremony, one might well believe Hertfordshire too small to contain the resulting conflagration.

The truth was very much the reverse. Unconstrained by expense and finding a great similarity in tastes, the two ladies were, in their estimation at least, eminently successful in hosting not only a most ostentatious wedding and wedding breakfast – which Mrs. Bennet was persuaded to be held at Netherfield Park as being the only place suitable for such an event - but they also arranged for an engagement ball held two days before the wedding. Lady Catherine could take satisfaction in her nephew’s wedding being everything that society could demand and, if one or two were inclined to turn up their nose at Darcy’s bride, the presence of the Earl and Countess of Matlock ensured it was done where no one of consequence could observe. Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, had the satisfaction of being able to impart, inexhaustibly and frequently, all the glories and expenses of the various events and the noble personages who attended them. If her neighbours grew rapidly bored with the telling, it affected her not one whit.

For the two betrothed couples, however, the only consolation was the shortness of the engagement period for neither Lady Catherine nor Mrs. Bennet were allowed the fullest scope of their imaginations, and their revenge usually required the betrothed couples to attend them closely. But the eventful day finally arrived, the ceremony was concluded with all dispatch and the two couples most satisfactorily married. Lady Catherine had done her duty, seen her nephew wed to a woman that she had, over the course of the past weeks, come to recognize as fully capable – under her guidance, of course – of taking her rightful place in society. Her brother, the Earl, and his wife were ultimately persuaded to lend their countenance to their nephew’s marriage and she had no doubt other members of society would be equally welcoming – eventually.

Her final duty to the Bennet family took place the day after the wedding. Having discussed the matter with Mr. Bennet beforehand, she arrived at Longbourn, extracted Lydia Bennet from the bosom of her family – and Mrs. Bennet’s laments – and carried her off into the wilds of Kent, or more specifically Rosings Park, there to reside for the better part of two years until she was deemed suitable to enter society – country and town. Lydia did have a season under the direction of Lady Catherine and the Darcys, was courted and married to a respectable gentleman with a modest estate. He did not wear a red coat, nor was he particularly handsome but as she gave every evidence of holding him in affection, we can only assume her to be reasonably content.

Miss Bingley, sensitive as ever to her position in society, recognized that she could ill-afford to remain in the poor graces of Mrs. Darcy and repaid her every arrear of (insincere) civility so that she might retain the right to visit Pemberley. If her presence there was less frequent than she wished, it was still more than either Mr. or Mrs. Darcy desired, but neither wished to discourage Mr. and Mrs. Bingley from visiting and Miss Bingley was not loath to enjoy the latter’s company when it was at Pemberley.

The other character whose role in this story was fleeting, Mr. Wickham, was heard from only once in subsequent years. Some four years after the Darcy marriage, he applied for assistance to that gentleman. As his circumstances were extremely poor and his request modest, it was granted and shortly thereafter he boarded a ship bound for the United States with a small purse to begin a new life. What he did with it is another story altogether.

For the unfortunate Anne de Bourgh, the winter of 1812 was particularly harsh and, despite her mother’s best endeavours, she was exposed to a cold which developed rapidly into pneumonia to which she succumbed some days later. Lady Catherine grieved but strangely enough she found comfort in the presence of Lydia Bennet and those activities which necessitated her to engaging in society allowed her to endure and overcome her grief.

“It is not,” she told Elizabeth later, “good for a mother to survive her child. I hope that you never experience such grief. But I cannot deny that your sister has afforded me a great deal of comfort.”

The End
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Lady Catherine Disposes - Part VI (Final)

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