“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 either Bingley or myself more delight. But we considered it, we talked of it as impossible.”
A carriage and four was heard turning onto the lawn at Longbourn, much to the surprise of the breakfasting party at Longbourn. It was not the time for visitors, and Mr. Bingley had only just walked over to see Jane, who had been his affianced for precisely one week. Mrs. Bennet, craning her head around the window-curtain, to see without being seen, relayed what she saw to her daughters and son-in-law elect.
“Well, I declare, it is not a carriage that is familiar to me. It is not the Longs – or the Gouldings – do you recognize it, Kitty?”
“No, Mama, it is a very fine one though.”
“The livery of the servant, I think, appears to be that of a nobleman. I might find it in the Peerage,” Mary observed.
“There is not time for that,” said Elizabeth impatiently, as the carriage approached the driveway of the house. “You are right, Kitty, the carriage is a handsome one, but the horses are not its equal.”
Mr. Bingley got up and had a look. “Those are post horses,” he observed. “They have been running a long way and appear tired. I wonder at the coachman.”
“It’s a woman in the carriage,” said Jane. “Who can she be?”
“You would best sit down, Kitty,” advised Elizabeth, not wishing to criticize her mother directly. “It is enough to disconcert any visitor, to see a circle of faces peering at her through the window, whoever she is.”
“She must be a rich woman. Only look at the hangings on that carriage! None of our neighbors has any thing so fine,” said Mrs. Bennet excitedly, still keeping her seat by the window.
A look of internal recognition crossed Bingley’s face, and he took Jane’s hand. “I don’t want to be confined to a formal visit, do you?” he whispered urgently. “Let us go outside in the shrubbery, shall we? Come.”
Jane agreed and they swiftly passed through the kitchen, which connected to a back door, and stepped outside. It was a beautiful golden October morning, and Jane smiled at her intended, as she breathed the fresh-feeling air and looked at the Michaelmas daisies lifting their heads. “What a good thought of yours, Charles,” she said in delight. “You were right. It is so lovely out here, much better than being pent up in the sitting-room, talking to a strange lady, when we can be by ourselves.”
“She is not exactly strange to me – I thought I recognized her,” said Bingley, with a concerned look.
“Really? Then why did you leave? Who is she?”
“I believe it to be Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I had the honour of meeting her once when I was staying at Pemberley. I am sorry to say it, but I would rather not meet her again.”
Jane looked at him, all astonishment. “Charles! I have never heard you speak so ill of any one before.”
He looked uneasy. “Her manners are not of the sort – She has quite a condescending dictatorial way about her, and spoke to me as to a tradesman. I did not like her.”
“That is all of a piece with how Lizzy described her, after she saw her at Rosings. But I never thought she was serious. Dear me, Charles, why can Lady Catherine de Bourgh be coming here?”
“That’s the question. What, indeed? And driving in such hot haste of a morning – it is very singular.”
“It is so strange! I do not have the least idea of what could bring her. Are you sure it was she?”
He nodded. “Yes, and I can conjecture what it is about, too.”
“I cannot guess at all. Please tell me, if it is honourable to do so.”
“I will. Now that we are engaged, there can be no secrets between us. Jane, you know that Darcy is in love with Lizzy…”
“Why, yes, we spoke of it. At least, I know he was in love, at one time. She told me of his proposal, last April, and that she had all the pain of having to turn him down. You don’t think – is it possible that he continues to love her?”
“I know he does.”
“Has he – said something to you?”
“Well, it has always been obvious to me that he still cares, but last week, when he confessed to me that he and my sisters knew you were in town last winter, and made his apology for concealing the information, he also hinted at his own feelings and his hopes.”
Jane sat down on a little bench and passed her hands over her eyes. “This is wonderful – this is too much to be believed,” she said. “Mr. Darcy, and my Lizzy!”
“He has no idea whether Lizzy has changed her mind about him, but it is perfectly obvious that he has never lost his feelings for her. I believe he means to try to ascertain her heart. Jane, do you think he has any chance, this time, of succeeding?”
Jane thought for a little while, and shook her head sadly. “Oh, I wish things could be different,” she said, with anguish. “How I would rejoice, if my dear sister could find such happiness as I have done! But you know, I am afraid that she has always disliked poor Mr. Darcy.”
“Any thing but poor,” said Bingley. “But that is what I feared. It is such a pity she has never come to know him as he really is, Jane. Darcy is one of the finest men I have ever met in my life. Clever, upright, kind, charitable – he is everything that is good.”
“She only sees him as proud, I think,” said Jane thoughtfully. “I always felt that she did not give him enough credit. His friendship for you, and his love of her, would tell me all I need to know about his having a good heart. Your testimony to his character is sufficient; he cannot be as proud and rude a man as she thought him initially. It is all through a series of misunderstandings.”
“If only they could solve their misunderstandings, and come together, as we have done,” said Bingley earnestly. “I believe their minds, and tempers, would complement one another, and be of mutual benefit. I am persuaded that it could be a very happy marriage.”
“I think you may be right,” Jane agreed, “and how happy it would make us, for your dear friend and my dear sister to love one another. But I cannot think it in the least possible.”
“If you, who know your sister’s heart, are so convinced, I am really afraid Darcy has not a chance.”
“But what,” asked Jane, “what can this visit of Lady Catherine be about? Can Darcy’s aunt suspect his partiality for Lizzy?”
“That is my surmise. And if she does, it would be entirely within her character to come and have a stern talk with Elizabeth. I don’t envy your sister the ordeal, if that is what this is all about!”
“If it is Lady Catherine, after all. Remember we are not entirely certain of that yet.”
“Oh, good Lord, Jane – they are walking in the shrubbery – coming directly this way!”
“It is Lady Catherine! Dear me. What is she saying? No, no, we must not listen. Let us go this way, and take care she does not see us.”
Jane drew Bingley into another passage through the winding hedgerows, but they were not fast enough to avoid hearing Lady Catherine’s brazen voice ringing through the shrubbery.
“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?”
Jane shivered with fright. “Oh! How dreadful! How can Lizzy bear it? I am so sorry!”
At a safe distance from the intimidating lady, Bingley reassured Jane with a gentle embrace, but was unable to keep from adding, “What a horrible old Tartar she is!”
Jane looked at him sorrowfully. “This must put an end to any possible hopes we had for Mr. Darcy and Lizzy, however slim they might have been. They can never marry, if Lady Catherine is so angry as she sounds.”
“I fear you are right. Darcy is very careful to obey his aunt. This is too bad, indeed.”
“Yes. I am so sorry. He is the only man I have seen who might make Lizzy happy, and now she has lost that chance,” she said sadly, sinking to a bench seat well hidden by large willows.”
“Perhaps not,” Bingley consoled her. “Remember how much time passed for us, and how many obstacles were in our path, before it all came right, my dearest Jane. Perhaps Darcy and Elizabeth may overcome their difficulties too.”
“But – Lady Catherine?” asked Jane faintly.
“You are right. There can be no hope, after all. Lady Catherine is a woman who always gets her way,” he answered, regretfully.