At Austen Authors, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the events in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This is a scene from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. It is when he discovers that Lady Catherine has confronted Elizabeth Bennet for reportedly starting the rumor of their upcoming marriage. This excerpt comes from Chapter 15 of my Austen-inspired novel, Darcy’s Passions.
On Saturday he returned from an afternoon outing to discover his aunt’s chaise and four before his townhouse. “Mr. Darcy,” on cue, his butler approached privately, “although I told her you were not at home, your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, insisted on being admitted. She demanded, Sir, to await your return.”
He looked beyond Thacker’s shoulder to where Lady Catherine likely held court. It was a favorite maneuver of Her Ladyship–one of which Darcy was well aware. “You were correct to admit her, Mr. Thacker. Would you have tea brought to the drawing room?” he said authoritatively.
“Yes, Mr. Darcy.”
Darcy did not like uninvited visitors; his aunt knew his distaste for such intrusions upon his privacy. He supposed something could be amiss. Could something have happened to Anne? He certainly hoped not. He strode into the drawing room expecting to find his aunt in tears. Instead, she was agitated; she was angry; she was demanding. “Lady Catherine, what brings you to London? I was unaware of your plans to travel. Please tell me my Cousin Anne has not taken ill again.”
His aunt ceased her pacing. “Darcy, you came at last; I am so distressed–such an inconvenient situation!”
No Anne. What supposed crisis could Lady Catherine have conjured for his attention this time? Irritated, Darcy said, “Aunt, I could possibly empathize with you if I knew of what you speak.”
“Then you have no knowledge of it? I suspected as not.” Her voice rose in volume with each subsequent phrase.
The tea arrived at that precise moment. After the servant placed the tray on the table, Darcy waited until Thacker poured the distraught Lady Catherine a cup and then prepared one for Darcy. He motioned Thacker away and waited for the servants’ to close the door before he began again, “Let us enjoy our tea, and then allow me the opportunity to ascertain what most disturbs you.”
Darcy expected another of his aunt’s diatribes on Anne’s lack of social graces. It had been a constant disappointment to the vibrant Lady Catherine to have borne such a mouse of a girl, as was Anne de Bourgh. “What girl, Madam?”
She declared, “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of course!”
Darcy froze. Had he heard his aunt correctly? “Miss Elizabeth Bennet?” he attempted nonchalance. “What could Miss Elizabeth have to do with our family?” Just the mention of the lady’s name sent his heart pounding out a staccato.
With disdain, Lady Catherine insisted, “She is an insincere young lady, one not to be given proper address!”
Darcy’s mind raced; about what could his aunt be speaking? “I thought Miss Elizabeth had earned your approval, Aunt.”
Darcy stood before forcing himself to walk casually to the mantel. “What falsehood has Miss Elizabeth spread which caused you such torment?”
Lady Catherine squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered with revulsion. “That girl,” she began again, “let it be known she intends to be united in marriage with you, Nephew.”
Darcy’s heart leapt at the words. He knew Elizabeth would never spread such a rumor; it was beyond her. “Are you certain, Aunt? This seems uncharacteristic of what I know of Miss Elizabeth. From whom did you hear this rumor?” He attempted to disguise his own turmoil.
“From Mr. Collins, of course,” she exclaimed. “He is Miss Bennet’s cousin! I have it on his good authority, and I expect you to publicly contradict this braggart.”
“No one,” he started deliberately, “of any consequence will repeat such stories. The Lucases are a gossipy lot. These are only Collins’s assumptions; falsely based, I might add, on Charles Bingley’s plans to marry Miss Elizabeth’s eldest sister. Mr. Collins exaggerates the situation. There is nothing for me to contradict.”
“First the girl will not retract the rumors, and now you refuse to contradict them!” she lamented.
“Lady Catherine, have you spoken to Miss Elizabeth?” He could not believe his aunt confronted Elizabeth with these accusations; Elizabeth must hate him for bringing such censure into her life!
Darcy gripped the mantel for support; he must keep his aunt talking to know what happened, but at the moment all he wanted was to drive the woman from his house for attacking Elizabeth. “May I ask what you so kindly told Miss Elizabeth?”
Pulling herself up in a prideful stance, Her Ladyship declared, “I confronted her, demanding she contradict the rumor she started. Of course, Miss Bennet feigned innocence, claiming my coming to Longbourn would only give merit to a rumor if it existed.”
Darcy smiled wryly. Miss Elizabeth was not the type to take Lady Catherine’s attack as an absolute. “The lady makes a reasonable point, Lady Catherine.”
“Nonsense! I asked Miss Elizabeth if she could declare there was no foundation for the rumor, and that impertinent young lady told me I may ask questions which she may choose not to answer! Can you imagine such insolence?”
Imagining Elizabeth Bennet was his existence. Word of her brazen confrontation of his aunt caused Darcy to stifle an ironic laugh. “Go on, Your Ladyship,” he encouraged for he had to know whether Elizabeth spoke positively of him or not.
Her expression settled in stubborn lines. “When I told her that as your aunt I had a right to know all your dearest concerns, Miss Bennet claimed I had no right to know hers.” She warned, “Her arts and allurements are many; I fear you have succumbed to them, Nephew.”
Darcy could not respond; all he could consider was that although Elizabeth did not say she affected him, she refused to say she did not hold him in her regard. “What else happened, Lady Catherine?” He attempted to control the chaos of his mind by steadying his voice and by encouraging his aunt’s retelling of the events.
Her countenance flushed as the words tumbled easily from his aunt’s lips. “I reminded the lady of your engagement to my daughter and how it was your mother’s wish for it to be so; and I told her as a young woman of inferior birth, she had no claim on a man of your standing. I reminded her of propriety and delicacy.”
The gentleman gritted his teeth and bit the words as he said them, but miraculously, Darcy controlled his ever-building anger. “What was Miss Elizabeth’s answer?”
“The response reeked of more insolence! Miss Elizabeth said that although she heard of your engagement to Anne, that fact would not keep her from marrying you if neither your honor nor inclination confined you to your cousin.” His aunt’s eyes narrowed in disapproval. “Miss Elizabeth insisted that if you were to make another choice, and she should be that choice, she had the right to accept the proposal.”
Darcy’s breath came in short bursts. Elizabeth did not say she would accept his proposal; only she had the right to accept it. Was there still hope for his suit? He had to know more; he schooled his mind and his stance to appear in tune with Lady Catherine’s sentiments, but Her Ladyship waited not for his response. “I told Miss Bennet such an alliance would bring her only disgrace; she would never be recognized or accepted by your family and acquaintances. Obstinate headstrong girl! Miss Bennet claimed being your wife would have its own attached happiness, and that happiness would be great enough to keep your wife from feeling any regret in her choice.”
Again, Darcy heard Elizabeth thought being married to him could bring a woman happiness. Yet, would she think it possible to bring her happiness? Hope took root. “I assume that was the end of this confrontation,” he added as a manipulation of his aunt’s ire. Thankfully, she ignored his poorly disguised response.
“It most certainly was not! I reminded her of your noble lineage on your mother’s side and that your father was from a respectable, honorable, and ancient, though untitled, family. I told Miss Bennet if she were sensible of her own good, she would not wish to quit the sphere in which she had been brought up.”
Darcy cringed from Lady Catherine’s lack of prudence and decorum. “Miss Elizabeth probably did not appreciate your bringing this to her attention.”
“The lady was livid! She insisted that by marrying you, she would not be quitting her sphere because she is a gentleman’s daughter.” Lady Catherine’s excitement grew. “I had her there, Nephew! I had her there! I explained how I knew of her mother’s low connections, but she insisted if you did not object to her connections, it was nothing to me.”
Much to his regret, Darcy remembered saying something very similar to his aunt’s words at one time to Elizabeth. Now, however, he came to a new realization: Lady Catherine repeatedly abused Elizabeth, and Elizabeth had a right to deny any connection to him. If she had, his aunt would have stopped her tirade, but even with all Lady Catherine had said to her, Elizabeth never said she would not marry him. He walked toward the window; he feared if his aunt could see his countenance at the moment, it would betray how happy this conversation made him.
“I demanded to know if you were engaged.” Darcy’s back stiffen with anger directed toward Her Ladyship’s intimidation of someone lower in standing. “Thankfully, she confirmed you were not engaged, but Miss Bennet refused to promise she would never enter into such an engagement.” Elizabeth would not promise to refuse him. “I told her I would never abandon this mission. Being wholly unreasonable, Miss Bennet claimed my application to be ill-judged and my arguments to be frivolous, saying even if she refused your hand, it would not make you turn to Anne.”
With conflicted emotions, Darcy frowned. “Madam, do you not think you overstepped your status? This is my life of which you speak.”
She declared, “I have not, Sir. Family resentment will follow such a union.”
“I doubt our family would dare resent any woman I chose.”
“Miss Bennet said something similar. She insisted that she would not allow her decision to marry you to be affected by duty, honor, or gratitude. Resentment from your family or indignation from the world would mean nothing to her if you were excited by being married to her; the world, according to Miss Bennet, would have too much sense to join in the scorn!”
“Miss Elizabeth is correct, Madam. If I chose her, your disapproval would mean nothing; I would regret the loss of your affection as my aunt, but it would not alter my decision.” He did not turn to face her.
“Darcy, you cannot mean as such. Have you forgotten your mother’s wish for you to marry Anne?” she protested.
“My mother never expressed such a desire to me, and I will not allow it to control my heart nor my choice. As much as I respect Anne, she is not the woman for me. I require a mistress for Pemberley and a mother for my children, Pemberley’s heirs. Anne and I have spoken; she and I are of a like mind in this matter.”
Lady Catherine stood abruptly. “So, you intend to make this girl your wife despite my objections?”
Darcy turned to confront her. “If Elizabeth Bennet will have me, my life would be complete.”
“It is her arts and allurements,” she said as she headed towards the door, “which make you speak so foolishly. I will give you one week to come to your senses; if not, you will never be welcomed at Rosings again.” With that, she walked brusquely away. Darcy watched as she shooed servants from her way.
When the front door closed behind her, Darcy collapsed into the chair she had vacated. Lady Catherine had given him hope; where days before he resolved to put distance between him and Elizabeth, now he thought only of returning to Netherfield and to her.
Darcy most welcomed Edward’s arrival at Kensington Place that evening. He required his cousin’s advice because his own emotions were far too out of control for him to think sensibly. The gentlemen took dinner leisurely, stopping several times for intense conversation and then returning to the meal to “chew” over the ideas as much as to consume the food. Darcy updated Edward on the pleasure of finding Elizabeth at Pemberley, sharing many of the intimate details and asking for Edward’s astute interpretation of what Elizabeth said and did. When Darcy spoke of how Elizabeth thwarted Miss Bingley’s attempt at a cut and maintained Georgiana’s secret, the news astounded Edward. “I always found Miss Bennet to be most engaging,” he said with a smile
Next came the story of George Wickham and Lydia Bennet’s “arranged” marriage. “Now you understand why I purchased the commission,” Darcy related.
“In some ways I wish Miss Elizabeth realized the depth of your affection, Darcy. Only a man as honorable as you would assist his worst enemy to secretly save the woman he loves. My estimation of you has increased substantially, and it was always of the highest regard.”
This brought Edward to the news of Darcy’s return to Netherfield. “I went with Bingley when he called on the Bennets the first time. I hoped to be able to speak to Miss Elizabeth, but she barely looked at me. Her needlework was never as beloved as it was that day.”
“Darcy, she had not seen you since sharing her sister’s shame with you. She must be confused. Why would you come to her home? Miss Elizabeth has to know how you feel by now, but she must wonder how you could renew your affections to her with George Wickham as her brother.”
“What you say is so reasonable when you say it but not when I am living it,” Darcy chuckled ironically. “But things did not change at the dinner two days later. I spent the meal seated beside Mrs. Bennet; she spent the evening surrounded by other ladies, and we were unable to speak.”
“Again, Darcy, was that Miss Elizabeth’s doing or Mrs. Bennet’s?”
“Why would Mrs. Bennet want to keep me from Miss Elizabeth? If she threw Elizabeth at Mr. Collins, my wealth should earn me a right to court her daughter. The woman may dislike me, but her only goal is to marry off her daughters to well-suited matches. She would not keep me from Elizabeth!”
“Mrs. Bennet, I doubt realizes your interest in her second daughter. If what you say about the woman is true, and she knew how you felt, Elizabeth would be sitting on your lap. Instead, I think Mrs. Bennet was attempting to keep you from Mr. Bingley. By now, the Bennets must know of Miss Bingley’s cut in London of Miss Bennet. You and Caroline Bingley are intimates in the Bennets’ opinions. Keeping you from interfering with her plans to marry off Miss Bennet to Mr. Bingley seems a more likely explanation of what happened. Did Miss Elizabeth not say anything?”
“She only asked about whether Georgiana was at Pemberley.”
“Cousin, Miss Elizabeth asked about Pemberley because it was the place where you shared something special. If you do not stop second guessing everything, you will lose this woman.” Ashamed at how easily Edward saw what he did not, Darcy moaned in frustration. “Now what of this dark conversation between Miss Elizabeth and our indomitable aunt?”
“Her Ladyship heard from her favorite gossipmonger Mr. Collins that Elizabeth started a rumor of our impending marriage, and Lady Catherine demanded it be universally denied. Lady Catherine went to Longbourn to confront Miss Elizabeth.”
“That must have been an impressive altercation! I cannot imagine Lady Catherine displaying much civility.”
“Our aunt was quite frank about what she said to Elizabeth. I kept myself in check to ascertain the extent of the accusations and the exact discourse, but it was difficult. She reminded Miss Elizabeth of her connections, berated her for her insolence, and demanded that Elizabeth honor my pledge to Anne.”
Edward pleaded, “Please tell me Miss Elizabeth withstood Lady Catherine’s demands. She is the only person who could be so defined.”
“Miss Elizabeth refused to say she would not marry me if I asked, but she also never said she would accept my proposal. How do I know she desires my affections? She could have been obstinate and disagreeable because of our aunt’s interference in her private affairs. I know the words Miss Elizabeth said, but I still do not know the tone of those words.”
“Darcy, she could have simply promised Lady Catherine to never marry you, and her ordeal would have been over. Instead, Miss Elizabeth withstood our formidable aunt’s accusations rather than to promise she would not marry you. Darcy, do you not see Miss Elizabeth will accept you this time?”
“I am afraid to think as such; my heart cannot take such disappointment again.”
“Then do nothing, but are you not the one who told Bingley his fate would be the same whether he chose to wait or not? You should heed your own advice, Cousin. Miss Elizabeth will be yours if your cautious temperament will allow it.”
Between them, they settled how to proceed; Darcy would return to Netherfield on Monday. His fate was in his own hands. As he departed, Edward embraced his cousin and reminded Darcy, “Take the package of lace with you, Cousin. Miss Elizabeth will want it for her wedding attire.”