“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 façade 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.
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!