Fireworks and a few home truths from Mr Darcy this week! What will Lady Catherine have to say in her defence?!! I hope you enjoy this week’s episode – any feedback gratefully received. If you’d like to catch up, here are parts One, Two and Three.
Despite his earlier considerations on the subject of his aunt’s behaviour, Fitzwilliam Darcy could hardly contain his anger by the time they reached Pemberley. Watching his mood and the atmosphere in the coach change as they drove home, Elizabeth pleaded with him not to lose his temper with Lady Catherine, but she saw how far he’d been provoked. Grim-faced and silent, she was reminded of the dour man she’d first met at Meryton, his fierce expression transforming his handsome features. She acknowledged his determined mien and knew it was useless to argue. Lizzy could only hope that the inevitable debacle would not wreak havoc, ultimately destroying all chances of happiness for their visitors over the coming days. For she was certain that if Lady Catherine was infuriated, she would vent her displeasure in a way that would make them all suffer.
Darcy strode into the hall without waiting for his wife, and took the steps, two at a time, his boots clipping on the stone staircase. He needed to have it out with her now, nip it in the bud. Wait any longer and his aunt would start ordering them all about and the next few weeks would be miserable. Approaching the saloon, he unclenched his fists and pulled at his cuffs, taking a few deep breaths before entering.
‘Ah, Fitzwilliam, you are here at last,’ said Lady Catherine, extending a bejewelled hand. ‘We have all been waiting for you, sadly neglected, as we are, by the rest of your household. Anne is here, as you see. Does she not look well? The Scottish air is so good for one’s health, I always think, and there is such a bloom to her cheeks.’
Immediately diverted from his purpose, Mr Darcy saw that his plan to speak to his aunt alone would have to be postponed. His cousin Anne sat next to his aunt on the sofa, looking much as she ever did, he thought. Sickly and pale, nevertheless, he felt rather sorry for her – he’d always felt if someone else, other than his aunt, had brought her up, she might have stood a chance. Anne looked up, shyly, to manage a smile, but didn’t utter a word. Mrs Jenkinson, her companion, who was never introduced, glanced up at Mr Darcy from her seat on the other side of the room, as he simultaneously acknowledged them.
‘Forgive me, Aunt Catherine, for not being here to greet you. Estate business took me away for more time than I would have wished this morning. I hope you have been made comfortable. I believe you were received by my wife, and that you spent some time together.’
‘Yes, I am comfortable … now … though it was absolutely necessary to be removed from the rooms I had been assigned. Some thoughtless housekeeping had led me to be installed in the west wing … no doubt, as a consequence of some new advice to Mrs Reynolds.’
‘I can assure you that Mrs Darcy and Mrs Reynolds have worked tirelessly to accommodate the individual needs of all our guests, including the ones you saw fit to invite without informing anyone.’
‘They are your cousins, Darcy, and need no invitation, as far as I am concerned.’
‘And Elizabeth is most eager to make your stay and theirs as delightful and congenial as can be. She was trying her best to please you. As long as I can remember, you have preferred that side of the house.’
Lady Catherine fiddled with the lace about her shoulders and refused to meet his defiant expression. ‘In the summer months, it has been my occasional custom to prefer that side of the house, but what I find so irksome, indeed, deeply upsetting, is that I was not consulted in matters pertaining to such arrangements, nor have I been consulted on any domestic engagements or even with reference to the ball itself. I am, after all, the matriarch of this family; the only sister of your dear departed mother, and my opinions, which others tell me are always valuable, should be sought.’
‘Were we in need of your advice, it would have been requested.’
‘In need of advice, I should say you were, indeed! And not only on household affairs are you in dire need of assistance. There is a further grave subject we have yet to discuss.’
‘And, what might that be, Aunt Catherine?’ Darcy could barely be civil and felt so angry, he hardly trusted himself to speak.
‘There is the matter of some jewellery to discuss, Darcy … a ring that your wife is wearing.’
‘A ring that I bestowed upon her – a diamond ring that is mine to give. What of it?’
‘You have no right to give away such a gift. That ring belongs to a suite of your mother’s, which you are well aware was bequeathed under special circumstances. It was her wish, as well as mine, that the ring be presented to my daughter Anne on the occasion of her marriage.’
At the sound of her name Anne seemed to shrink into the very fabric of the sofa. Fitzwilliam could see how uncomfortable she felt, and knew that he could not go on whilst she was in the room.
‘Aunt Catherine, this is a matter we should discuss privately,’ he said quietly, not daring to look at Anne again whose complexion matched the draped crimson curtains at the windows.
‘There is nothing in this discourse that need be shielded from anyone’s ears. If you’d done your duty in the first place, as a loyal and devoted son and nephew, the guilt and discomfiture you are clearly experiencing would never have gripped your conscience. If you’d followed the expectations of your family, you would not be in breach of promise, and my daughter would not only be wearing your wedding ring but the diamond one too.
From the sofa came a muffled cry, like the wimping of an injured animal. In the next second Fitzwilliam saw a tear-stained countenance and a flurry of muslin flash past him in a blur, as his cousin Anne fled from the room, quickly followed by her companion.
‘Really, Aunt Catherine, that is unforgivable! You have no right to state such despicable lies – as you well know, I am in no breach of promise to anyone. This understanding you have always claimed between Anne and myself is a figment of your imagination, a mere conversation you may or may not have had with my mother over our cradles in infancy. There is absolutely no substance to it – there were no former alliances, betrothals or pledges to marry.’
‘If your mother could hear you now … well, thank God she cannot,’ said Lady Catherine reaching for her handkerchief and sniffing loudly. ‘Your engagement with Anne was decided upon long ago – you cannot pretend that you had no idea of your beloved mother’s wishes.’
‘My mother wished only for my happiness, and knew there was no possibility of the outcome you desired.’ Darcy leaned on the mantelpiece, his patience almost worn out. ‘And, besides all this, I must ask why you find it absolutely necessary to humiliate Anne. Have you no compassion for your daughter’s feelings? Have you never once asked yourself why it has been impossible for her to gain the attention of some suitable courtier or why she is such a victim of ill-health?’
Lady Catherine gasped, and for a moment Fitzwilliam wondered if he’d gone too far. He watched his aunt’s complexion turn from pink to puce in a matter of seconds. She spluttered and shook, rising to her feet and wagging her finger. ‘How dare you address me in that manner – have you forgotten to whom you speak, nephew? I have never been so insulted and shall not remain in order to be treated so abominably.’
Darcy remained calm though the desire to knock his head against the marble shelf was overwhelming. ‘Whether you stay or go, is entirely your decision, Aunt Catherine. There is nothing I have said to you that is beyond the bounds of propriety. Indeed, everything I’ve said has needed to be aired for a considerable time.’
‘I shall not hear another word!’
‘Sit down, Aunt, I will have my say before you leave … there are other subjects which require your full attention and total compliance.’
Taking her seat once more, Mr Darcy had the satisfaction of seeing the shock on her face. He spoke firmly.
‘Firstly, my wife is to be treated with the respect that is her due; secondly, the jewellery to which you refer is to be acknowledged as mine alone, as my inheritance to give away as I see fit, and thirdly, your recognition that this bogus alliance between Anne and myself never existed or is to be mentioned again. Do you understand?’
Lady Catherine, now purple about the gills, opened and closed her mouth like the trout he fished in the Pemberley streams, but before she could utter another word, Fitzwilliam Darcy spoke. ‘There is no more to discuss, except to say that I am willing to forgive and forget, there will be no further reference to the interview that has taken place or to your past misdemeanours if you abide by my rules.’
Without waiting for a further reaction, Mr Darcy turned on his heel and marched out of the room, aware that his aunt was left flabbergasted, stunned, and for once, quite speechless.
When Elizabeth had watched her husband rushing off to confront Lady Catherine, in such a temper, she’d felt nervous and concerned. All she could hope was that Fitzwilliam would have the sense to talk in a calm and sensible manner. Nothing would be gained by upsetting his aunt, she was sure. By the end of the day all her guests would be arrived, and she hoped that the dinner she’d planned would be successful. Mrs Reynolds informed her that Mr Darcy’s French cousins had arrived followed shortly after by her parents and sister Kitty, and were already making themselves at home in their rooms, but that she was still in expectation of the Netherfield party.
Although Lizzy was longing to see her father, she thought she should change and make herself more presentable for the afternoon. After all, it would never do to have Caroline Bingley, who was travelling with her sister Jane and Mr Bingley, see her looking less than perfect. Caroline was never one to spare her true thoughts; her critical eye and ready tongue took great pleasure in condemning those who suffered a hair out of place or a speck of dirt on their petticoats.
Elizabeth chose a yellow muslin she knew Fitzwilliam admired and sat patiently as her maid coiled and twisted her hair into place. It was silly to feel so afraid of Miss Bingley, she scolded herself, but she’d never forgotten how that young woman had plotted against her in an attempt to keep Mr Darcy for herself. She’d also been the reason that Jane and Bingley were kept apart for so long, but none of that mattered now. The Bennet sisters had triumphed and true love had won the day. Lizzy couldn’t wait to see Jane. They’d hardly been separated in their lives before and she missed her more than she would admit to anyone.
Just as the final pin was placed in her hair, a knock at the door brought a note announcing Jane’s arrival. Lizzy knew she should delay until the Netherfield party were escorted to see her, but she couldn’t wait. Rushing along the corridor and running down the steps to the ground floor, she was rewarded by the sight of Jane, Mr Bingley and his sister entering the hallway. No longer was she the formal Mrs Darcy she’d become over the last few weeks. All reserve and ceremony flew out of the window as she ran, throwing her arms around her sister’s neck, kissing her on both cheeks and hugging her until she had no breath left.
‘Oh, Lizzy, how I’ve missed you.’ Jane stepped back to regard her, unable to take her eyes from her sister’s. ‘How beautiful you are, and yet I am so relieved to see you are just the same.’
‘Of course I am!’ Elizabeth laughed. ‘’Tis been just six weeks, but I hardly like to ask how you thought I might look or behave.’
‘I was so afraid you’d be changed, that you’d be grand, that you would not have missed me as I have you.’
Lizzy shook her head in disbelief. ‘You have been missed so much, dearest one, that it hurt my heart. And though I have never felt better in my whole life, I should not be telling the truth if I did not say the only thing that will make me happier is when I have you for a neighbour. Tell me, it won’t be long!’
Just in time, she remembered her manners, turning to her guests. ‘Miss Bingley, Mr Bingley, how delightful – welcome to Pemberley!’
Miss Bingley stared coldly, an expression of hauteur that Elizabeth remembered too well. She did not take the hand Lizzy proffered and covering the snub with an affected curtsey, Caroline lowered her eyes to the ground. Mr Bingley, as affable as ever, stepped forward taking both of Lizzy’s hands.
‘It is too long since we met last, and my wife and I have looked forward to this moment with more anticipation than I can possibly describe. Mrs Darcy … how wonderfully the name and welcome suits you,’ he declared. ‘You look as if you’ve lived your whole life at Pemberley.’
‘Indeed she does,’ came a voice emerging from the top of the stairwell. ‘Pemberley never felt such a home as it does now, and it is all due to my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. Welcome, my friends, how wonderful it is to see you.’
Lizzy turned to see her husband, all anger and tension gone. Pride was etched over his handsome countenance, as he stared into her eyes. No improper pride, she thought, as she recognised his looks were for her alone. Elizabeth decided she must be the happiest woman in all England.
Next time, I plan to write about the dinner on the eve of the ball-to be published Friday, April 4th. I’d love to know what you’d like to see included!