Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I am Lady Catherine: Part Eight

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven

Part Eight

“I am almost the nearest relation Darcy has in the world and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns," Lady Catherine demanded of Miss Bennet.

"But you are not entitled to know mine, nor will such behavior as this ever induce me to be explicit."

"Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?"

"Only this: that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me."

Lady Catherine hesitated for a moment and then replied, "The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favorite wish of his mother, as well as hers. While in their cradles, we planned the union, and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends? To his tacit engagement with Miss De Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours, he was destined for his cousin?"

"Yes, and I have heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other objection to my marrying your nephew, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing that his mother and aunt wished him to marry Miss De Bourgh. You both did as much as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion depended on others. If Mr. Darcy is neither by honor nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he to make another choice? And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?"

"Because honor, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it,” she shrieked. “Yes, Miss Bennet, interest, for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends if you willfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised by everyone connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace! Your name will never even be mentioned by any of us."

"These are heavy misfortunes, but the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine."

"Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score?” She felt faint in her distress, a most unaccustomed weakness. “Let us sit down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose, nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person's whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment."

"That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable, but it will have no effect on me."

"I will not be interrupted! Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended on the maternal side from the same noble line, and on the father's from respectable, honorable, and ancient though untitled families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses, and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be! If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."

"In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman. I am a gentleman's daughter. So far we are equal."

"True. You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."

"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

"Tell me once and for all, are you engaged to him?"

The lady hesitated, and Lady Catherine held her breath in anticipation for the long awaited, direct answer.

"I am not."

Her breath released with a grateful sigh.

"And will you promise me never to enter into such an engagement?"

"I will make no promise of the kind."

"Miss Bennet! I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require."

"And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter, but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell, but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no further on the subject."

"Not so hasty, if you please. I have by no means done. To all the objections I have already urged, I have still another to add. I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest sister's infamous elopement. I know it all: that the young man's marrying her was a patched-up business at the expense of your father and uncle. And is such a girl to be my nephew's sister? Is her husband, is the son of his late father's steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth! Of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"

"You can now have nothing further to say," Miss Bennet declared, displaying an odious degree of pride. "You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house." She rose, turned her back, and began walking away. Lady Catherine, to her dismay, was forced to follow behind, highly incensed.

"You have no regard then for the honor and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody?"

"Lady Catherine, I have nothing further to say. You know my sentiments."

"You are then resolved to have him?"

"I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness without reference to you or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."

"It is well. You refuse then to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honor, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends and make him the contempt of the world," she cried in despair.

"Neither duty, nor honor, nor gratitude have any possible claim on me in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it would not give me one moment's concern, and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn."

"And this is your real opinion!” she cried, struggling to mask the intense sensations of betrayal such words inflicted. “This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable, but depend upon it, I will carry my point."

She continued in desperation to talk on, hoping in vain to make some impression on the implacable Miss Bennet, until they were at the door of the carriage. Having no recourse left but to return the injury inflicted, Lady Catherine turned hastily round and added, "I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased."

Miss Bennet made no answer, seeming entirely unfazed. Without attempting to persuade her ladyship to return to the house, she abandoned her then and there, walking composedly into it alone.

**********

Lady Catherine went directly from Longbourn to Darcy’s London townhouse, still determined to have her way. She was angrier than ever at Miss Bennet’s recalcitrant stance, a sensation amplified by the deep sense of hurt she felt in perceiving that not only was her former affection for the girl unreturned, but rather she seemed to resent, even despise her. Pained tears threatened to erupt from her eyes as she contemplated Miss Bennet’s dreadful disregard of her attempted benevolence, and it was only her imminent meeting with Darcy and the need to maintain her equilibrium that kept them at bay.

She was fortunate to find Darcy at home and unattended. Entering his study and shutting the door behind her, she wasted no time in disclosing where she had been and to what purpose.

“Can you believe her equal to such ingratitude? I was dreadfully mistaken in her character. It is just as well we learned her capable of such behavior before it was too late. Darcy, I know not what intentions you might have entertained towards Miss Bennet, but surely you do not wish to be married to such a harridan! Who could have known she has the temper of a fishwife, all concealed behind a fa├žade of gentility?”

“I knew of her temper. I have been subjected to it before,” he solemnly confessed.

She stared at her nephew in shock. “Yet you still sought to court the lady? I could not be more surprised!”

“When I was the recipient of her wrath, it was well-deserved. I can now admit that. I hope someday you will be able to similarly acknowledge your wrong.”

“My wrong? I have never been more insulted than I was this morning! I asked her, repeatedly, to assure me there was no foundation to the rumors of your engagement, and she toyed with me, Darcy! She dodged all direct response, rejecting all arguments of reason and honor until I finally cornered her into admitting the falsity of the report, only to then refuse my request never to agree to such an engagement, turning her back on me and refusing me her attention!”

“She would not agree to your request?”

“On that point, she was most obstinate. I believe her precise words were, ‘I am resolved to act in that manner which will constitute my happiness.’ With no regard for what the world would say! Can you believe it?”

“I cannot, but I thank you, Aunt Catherine. You have given me hope where I thought all was lost,” he said, kissing her hand before proceeding to open the door and hollering for his carriage and a valise.

“What do you mean by all this, Darcy? Where are you going?”

“Why, to Longbourn, of course, to ask for Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s hand in marriage.”

“You cannot be serious? After all I have related?”

“I have never been more serious, my dear aunt, nor more determined in my purpose.”

She sank into a chair, her legs no longer able to support her. “You must not know of her youngest sister’s infamous elopement! She is married, after weeks of living in sin, to none other than George Wickham! Surely you cannot align yourself with such a family?”

“Indeed, I am privy to it all, as it was I who arranged the marriage. You must excuse me. There is no time to lose. If I leave within the hour, I can be at Netherfield in time for dinner. Thank you again, Aunt Catherine. Wish me good fortune!” And with that he was off, leaving his aunt in a state of shock, dismayed by the unintended consequences of her ill-advised interference, and with a long-familiar refrain about mice and men echoing hauntingly through her tortured mind.

THE END






And that concludes Twisted Austen 2017! Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to hear what you thought of my Lady Catherine, so please do leave a comment. The complete story is now available for Kindle on Amazon.com. I really appreciate your support. Have a very happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2017

I am Lady Catherine: Part Seven


Part Seven

A few weeks passed before word came of as favorable a resolution to the Bennets’ sad situation as one could hope. The illicit couple had been found and married in London. A small, discrete notice in the newspaper testified to the fact. Mr. Wickham’s debts had somehow been settled and a commission purchased for him in a unit of regulars currently stationed far north, well away from anyone who might be privy to the scandal. Lady Catherine surmised that the London uncle had indeed come through most handsomely to so satisfactorily settle the matter. She still pitied Miss Bennet such a brother-in-law, but it was extremely unlikely they should have any contact in the future. Nevertheless, no belated action could suffice to erase the new Mrs. Wickham’s misconduct, and her ladyship’s intentions to see the Miss Bennet wed to Colonel Fitzwilliam were forever abandoned. However, she was once again worthy of better than a life as a mere companion, and Lady Catherine looked forward to her future visits to Hunsford as opportunities to introduce her to potential husbands.

A mere month and a half later such sanguine hopes were again dashed to the wind, and this time in a manner far more disruptive to Lady Catherine’s equilibrium than the dramatic episode that had preceded. Lady Lucas had again written to her daughter, and Mr. Collins once more came scurrying to Rosings Park one evening, his wife in tow, the unfortunate bearers of the bad tidings. He was even more shaken upon this interview than previously, and until he was able to summon his courage and share all there was to know, Lady Catherine and her daughter were left in some state of suspense at to what could disconcert him so. Mrs. Collins, usually quick to assist her husband, remained stoically silent.

“My deepest regrets that it should be my misfortune to be the conveyor of such inconceivable intelligence. You must know, dear Lady Catherine, that it is ever my intention to do what I can, in my humble way, to promote the peace and prosperity of all in my parish, particularly those whose magnanimous patronage I have been so fortunate as to receive. To have to carry word of such a nature into your noble abode, knowing that it must bring disquietude of the gravest nature to those who reside within its walls, is a sorrow I only shoulder with the bitterest sense of remorse, compelled by my sense of duty as a man of the cloth and the knowledge of what I, most particularly, owe to you, Lady Catherine.”

“Do stop babbling, Mr. Collins, and speak your piece at once! Whatever is the matter?” demanded her ladyship.

“My dear wife has received word from Lady Lucas that the Bennet family, despite their recent misfortune, are to be conspicuously honored. In defiance of our well-founded concerns that the actions of my unfortunate cousin Lydia would materially disadvantage her sisters’ prospects, the eldest has entered into a most notable and elevating engagement with Mr. Bingley, the master of Netherfield Park and possessor of a handsome fortune.”

“Why, there is nothing dire in what you say at all, Mr. Collins. Indeed, it is cause for celebration! With such a connection, the prospects of the remaining daughters are greatly improved. I am glad to hear it, as I have always wished Miss Elizabeth Bennet the very best. She is a fine young woman and deserving, I am sure, of as advantageous a union as her sister has managed.”

Mr. Collins grew notably pale at these words and dabbed at his moist brow with an already well-used handkerchief. “Oh yes! Miss Elizabeth is said to be well on her way to contracting just such a match as you predict, Lady Catherine, but I cannot imagine it will be such a source of gratification as you foresee.”

“What do you mean? Explain yourself at once!”

“I cannot do it!” he cried. “Charlotte, my dear, show some pity and inform Lady Catherine of what you have confided in me.”

“Mrs. Collins?” her ladyship prompted.

“I am sorry, Lady Catherine, but as the information which has so disordered my husband entirely belongs to the realm of conjecture, I am far from certain that sharing it is appropriate, as I have already counseled him.”

Mr. Collins groaned, draping his damp handkerchief across his face.

“Well! If what you say is true, then Mr. Collins surely should have heeded your advice, but as he did not, instead intruding upon our evening with this most distressing display, you had best share its cause at once.”

Mrs. Collins cleared her throat. “Perhaps your ladyship is unaware that Mr. Darcy has often been at Netherfield Park while Mr. Bingley courted the eldest Miss Bennet?”

It was Lady Catherine’s turn to display a notable pallor. “I did not. Does he remain in the neighborhood?”

“He has removed to London on business but is expected back within the week.”

“I see.” She spoke tersely and, with a view towards negating her worst fears, asked, “And what has any of this to do with Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”

“It is the general opinion of those who have observed your nephew’s attentions to Miss Elizabeth that he, too, will soon align himself with the family.”

Lady Catherine sat in silence for several moments, studying the tightly clenched hands in her lap, while Mr. Collins continued to swoon and Mrs. Collins stood rigidly, without emotion, by his side. Finally, her ladyship looked up and met her daughter’s eye, there seeing not horror or dismay but rather a knowing penetration, accompanied by an amused smile, not unlike that belonging to the ungrateful creature who had usurped her destined mate.

“And this is the thanks I am to expect,” she began in ominously quiet tones, “after all I have done for Miss Bennet? I invited her into my home, took an interest in her prospects, and bestowed upon her my much-sought advice. Ungrateful, conniving,” her voice began to raise to something like a shriek, “avaricious girl! Would that I had never laid sight on her!”

“Please accept my humblest apologies for ever having introduced her to you, Lady Catherine,” Mr. Collins cried out, falling to his knees in supplication.

“Oh, leave us, Mr. Collins! I have no patience for your groveling at such a juncture. I must consider what is to be done.”

“If there is anything I might do to make amends for having brought the lady to your notice, however little I could have predicted the outcome, you only need ask, and it shall instantly be accomplished!”

“I said leave, Mr. Collins! Mrs. Collins, do take your husband away,” she barked, and the rector, assisted by his wife’s urgings, fled for his parsonage, there to ring invectives down upon her head for failing to broach the matter more delicately.

“I always thought my cousin showed a particular interest in Miss Bennet,” Anne commented calmly after his departure.

“How you can take it so lightly, I fail to comprehend. Do you not understand that Darcy is your best hope for an equal marriage? There are no other gentlemen of your acquaintance so suitable.”

“I never wished to marry cousin Darcy. That was always your desire, Mama. Miss Bennet will make a much more suitable mistress of Pemberley. She has the energy for such an undertaking. I do not.”

“Oh, do be quiet, Anne! You do not recognize your own best interests! Fortunately, you have me to see to them. I think I must go to Longbourn and speak to Miss Bennet. No! Perhaps it is better to go straight to London and talk to Darcy. Surely I can make him see reason!”

“Mrs. Jenkinson, order a soothing draught for my mother. She is not herself,” commanded Anne. “You should go to bed, Mama. A good night’s sleep will soothe your nerves and help you to reason more clearly.”

“You are right, dear Anne. I shall sleep on this dreadful matter. My course of action will be clear to me on the morrow.”

The light of day brought Lady Catherine the realization that Longbourn ought to be her destination. If Darcy was so infatuated that he had forsaken all notion of familial pride and obligation, there was little she might say to dissuade him, but Miss Bennet might be swayed by a sense of duty to herself, and even more so by the knowledge that such a union would never be condoned by the broader family. Unfortunately, having slept rather late under the influence of the administered draught and then having spent no small amount of time in contemplation, the day was already too far gone to set forth at once. She ordered the traveling coach to be harnessed with four horses and ready to depart at first light, then spent a fitful evening, her mind alive with unanswered questions, feelings of betrayal, hopes dashed, and the haunting specter of a disappointed Lady Cat.

Lady Catherine departed promptly the next morning, and traversing the roads at top speed, it took but a few hours to reach her destination. That time she spent in working herself up into an even stronger rage than she had been in before, as she systematically reviewed each and every kindness she had ever bestowed upon Elizabeth Bennet. The lady herself may not have been privy to even half of Lady Catherine’s good intentions towards her, but that rendered her offense no smaller in her ladyship’s eyes.

As the carriage entered the grounds of Longbourn, her eyes swept the scenery in search of something of which to disapprove. She found much to meet that qualification. The estate, though respectable enough, showed signs of neglect. The farm attached to it was only of middling prosperity, and the few tenant cottages that dotted her route were wanting refurbishment. The small pleasure grounds and house she begrudgingly acknowledged to be handsome enough, and that concession only fueled her ire.

One of her footmen handed her down and knocked on the door, announcing his mistress with formal dignity. The portly housekeeper who answered looked thoroughly overwhelmed by such magnificence, an effect Lady Catherine hoped she would have on the rest of the household. She was ushered up the stairs and into a small drawing room, fitted up with more fashion than she had expected. There she beheld her prey.

The astonishment of her entrance was writ loudly upon the faces of the other two occupants of the room, presumably Mrs. Bennet and one of the superfluous sisters, but Lady Catherine took little notice of them. In Elizabeth Bennet, she thought she detected a hint of anticipation, as if she had been expecting such a visitation. “As well she might,” thought Lady Catherine. The girl must have read her character well enough to know she would not brook being the subject of sport.

Miss Bennet performed some sort of greeting and introduction, which Lady Catherine only deigned to acknowledge with a tilt of her head. The mother then spouted some commonplace pleasantries, which were disregarded as her ladyship seated herself for a moment in silence, formulating her approach. Finally, seeing no way around greeting the vixen, she managed to do so with the utmost disdain. "I hope you are well, Miss Bennet,” she said stiffly. “That lady, I suppose, is your mother."

“Yes, your ladyship.”

"And that, I suppose, is one of your sisters."

"Yes, madam," the mother replied. “She is my youngest girl but one. My youngest of all is lately married, and my eldest is somewhere about the grounds, walking with a young man who, I believe, will soon become a part of the family."

Such reminders did nothing to ease Lady Catherine’s temper, and after a short silence she noted curtly, "You have a very small park here.”

"It is nothing in comparison to Rosings, my lady, I dare say, but I assure you it is much larger than Sir William Lucas's."

As if such comparisons mattered to her! "This must be a most inconvenient sitting room for the evening in summer. The windows are full west."

Mrs. Bennet assured her that they never sat there after dinner before adding, "May I take the liberty of asking your ladyship whether you left Mr. and Mrs. Collins well?"

"Yes, very well. I saw them the night before last." It seemed weeks ago, back when she still maintained some semblance of peace of mind.

“May I offer you some refreshment, your ladyship?”

“No. I am in need of no such succor,” she brusquely dismissed the suggestion. It was time to come to her point. "Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favor me with your company."

"Go, my dear," cried her mother, "and show her ladyship about the different walks. I think she will be pleased with the hermitage."

She hastily obeyed, excusing herself to retrieve her parasol, and attended her ladyship downstairs. As they passed through the hall, Lady Catherine paused to open the doors that lined the walls, discovering a dining parlor and drawing room. Reluctantly, she pronounced them decent-looking rooms, and walked on.

Miss Bennet said nothing at all as they made their way across the grounds, confirming Lady Catherine’s supposition that she knew precisely the purpose of this visit. She could not long stand for such impertinent silence, and as soon as they reached the relative privacy of the copse, Lady Catherine brought it to a swift end.

"You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason of my journey hither. Your own heart, your own conscience, must tell you why I come."

The girl affected astonishment. "Indeed, you are mistaken, madam. I have not been at all able to account for the honor of seeing you here."

"Miss Bennet," replied her ladyship in an angry tone, "you ought to know that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it. A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would in all likelihood be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you."

"If you believed it impossible to be true," came the insolent reply, "I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?"

"At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted."

"Your coming to Longbourn to see me and my family will be rather a confirmation of it, if, indeed such a report is in existence."

"If! Do you then pretend to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?"

"I never heard that it was."

"And can you likewise declare that there is no foundation for it?"

"I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer."

"This is not to be borne! Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?"

"Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible."

"It ought to be so! It must be so while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in."

"If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it."


"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and I have not been accustomed to such language as this.”




I am accustomed to much worse language, so please don't hesitate to tell me exactly what you think. Come back tomorrow for Part Eight, which concludes our tale.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.