Lady Catherine gives Darcy hope when she calls on him in London after her visit to Longbourn.
October 10, 1812
Darcy was not accustomed to having to make excuses. He had manufactured enough business to keep him in London for over a sennight, but now he had to make a decision: either return to Netherfield as he had told Bingley he would, or come up with another excuse for the delay. The logical option would be to return to Pemberley, but that would be intolerable. Georgiana was waiting there for him to return with news of his engagement to Elizabeth, news that would never come. Bad enough to be forced to live without the woman he loved; facing Georgiana’s disappointment was more than he could bear.
His butler knocked on the study door. “Sir, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is here to see you. I told her you were not at home, but she insisted on coming in, so I asked her to wait in the sitting room.”
Lady Catherine? She was the last woman in the world he wished to see at present. If she had come to press him about marrying his cousin Anne – and why else would she travel all this way? – he did not know if he could keep his countenance. Not now, when the memory of Elizabeth’s quiet avoidance of him at Longbourn was still fresh in his mind.
Unfortunately, there was no choice but to see her. If he refused, she would force her way in, and he could not ask his servants to stop her. He capped the inkbottle and stood. “Very well, I will see her there. I assume she will expect refreshments.”
“I have already ordered them, sir, and taken the liberty of telling her ladyship I believed you have an important dinner engagement.”
“My thanks.” Yet another excuse, and this one he was glad of.
In the sitting room, Lady Catherine had enthroned herself upon the chair Darcy’s mother had always favored. The dust of the road still covered her skirts. “There you are, Darcy. You need to speak to your butler. He had the effrontery to tell me you were not at home.”
Darcy bowed, although his aunt had not done him the courtesy of rising. “He was following my instructions.”
“No doubt, but he should have known better than to think those instructions applied to me! As if I were not already vexed enough!”
He did not care if her vexation gave her an apoplexy, but the sooner she came to the point, the sooner she would be gone. “What has vexed you so?”
“That girl! That obstinate, headstrong girl! Completely unreasonable!”
So Anne must have finally told her mother she had no intention of marrying Darcy. It had taken her long enough. What precisely did Lady Catherine think he could do about it, even if he wished to? “No wonder you are vexed.”
“She refuses to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude, and is determined to ruin you in the opinion of all your friends, and make you the contempt of the world. I should not have believed it possible! Such a rude, impertinent, presumptuous girl!”
Something was wrong. Anne had many faults, but impertinence was not among them. “Are you speaking of my cousin, madam?”
“Of course not! Anne would never behave in such a despicable manner. That girl is perfectly ready to ruin all our plans for you and Anne!”
“Of what girl are you speaking?”
“Do not toy with me, Darcy! I speak of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of course. Now what have you to say to that? She told me to my face that she was willing to drag you into disgrace!”
Darcy’s hands clenched on the arms of the chair. “You have seen Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
“Did I not just say as much? Of course I have. I called on her to demand that she have the report universally contradicted, and she dared to refuse! She refused me! And this was her gratitude for my attentions to her last spring!”
Leaning forward, Darcy said, “What report is this?”
“The report that not only was her sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that she would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to you. My own nephew! Though I knew it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure you so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off to make my sentiments known to her. But I had misjudged her; she is determined to snare you, Darcy. You must make it clear to her that you would never degrade yourself so far as to offer for her, and the best way to do it is to announce your engagement to Anne. You must send the notice to the newspapers tomorrow.” She sat back with a triumphant expression.
Automatically he said, “I am not marrying Anne.” But then her words sank in. Elizabeth had said she was determined to have him? Could it possibly be? “I pray you, what did Miss Elizabeth say?”
Lady Catherine tossed her head. “She said nonsense of every sort, even that she thought herself your equal because her father is a gentleman. As if he is your equal! And I do not begin to speak of the atrocity which is her mother’s family, nor of her ruined sister. How could she believe you would ally yourself with Wickham’s sister-in-law? She is quite mad!”
Darcy gritted his teeth and spoke very slowly. “What precisely did she say about me?”
“Well, there is no need for you to use that tone, nephew! Your mother taught you better manners than that.”
Crossing his arms, Darcy silently glared at her. He could outwait her if needed, but he must know what Elizabeth had said!
Lady Catherine sniffed. “Not only would she not contradict the report that you were to be married, but she refused outright to promise me she would not enter into an engagement with you! Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Had he heard correctly? Elizabeth would not agree to refuse to marry him? Why in heaven’s name, if she truly did not want him, would she say such a thing? If she were firmly set against him, she would have said so, frankly and firmly. But that meant… An incredulous smile began to grow on his face.
“I can see, nephew, that you find it as difficult to believe as I do! But I assure you it is true. Her presumption knows no limits! You must take action at once before these rumors spread any further.”
“Take action?” Darcy drummed his fingers lightly on his chair arm, more because he could not remain still rather than out of impatience. “I assure you, Lady Catherine, I will indeed take action, and immediately. Oh, yes, I will take action.” Could he ride for Hertfordshire yet today? He glanced out the window. Blast it, it was almost dusk. He would have to wait for tomorrow. It was going to be a very long night.
“I knew you would do the proper thing, Darcy. You have never failed in your duty to your family.”
Duty? He had a duty, true enough, but it was to make Elizabeth and Georgiana as happy as he could. He jumped to his feet. “I am most grateful to you for your timely intervention. I will make it my first priority. But now I must ask you to forgive me, as I have an urgent engagement tonight.”
“Urgent? Hmmph. I am glad you at least understand you need to put an end to this nonsense with Miss Bennet.”
“Indeed I do.” Oh, yes, he would put an end to this nonsense. An end which would lead to the altar and his ring on Elizabeth’s finger. It could not happen soon enough!