Lady Catherine meets Darcy in London
Darcy had concluded his business in London and was spending some time at his house in town. He was committed to return to Netherfield and his friend Bingley and he fully intended to do so but wished to give Bingley some time alone. Bingley had written to him of his proposal to Jane and her acceptance and Darcy was sincerely happy for him. Darcy hoped that in future he could return the pleasure with similar news but there was still doubt that this would or could ever occur.
After meeting Elizabeth in Pemberley and recognizing how his feelings had not at all diminished for her, he came to understand how Bingley must have felt in being persuaded that Jane did not care for him. Feeling his error he convinced Bingley to return to Netherfield, without his sisters, to take one last attempt to measure Jane's feelings for him before he gave up any hope. This was Darcy's primary reason for accompanying Bingley but inwardly, he knew that he wanted to see Elizabeth again and determine whether there was any chance of renewing his intentions with her and being accepted.
He came away to London satisfied that Jane and Bingley still cared for one another and that something would result in that quarter. As for Elizabeth, however, when it came time to be with her again after all that had passed and in the company of her family, he was unequal to the task. For the first time in his life, his feelings prevented him from acting and he left for London ashamed of himself for behaving like such a fool.
He was in his home in London and, as he worked in his study his aunt, Lady Catherine, was announced and shown into the library. He did not expect her to be in town and was genuinely surprised by her visit. He expressed his pleasure in meeting her and inquired politely as to what brought her to London.
"Darcy, my dear nephew, I do not come today on a social visit", she replied in an agitated voice.
"What can be the matter?", said Darcy, "Is everything alright aunt? I hope that Anne hasn't fallen ill? Can I get you some tea?"
"No, Anne is perfectly fine, under the circumstances. And, I don't need any refreshment at this time Darcy, thank you. Let me get right to the point. I have been travelling from Rosings for two days now because I had some very disturbing news and after visiting Miss Elizabeth Bennett in Longbourn this morning, I am no less upset."
"Miss Bennett? At Longbourn?", Darcy could not contain his surprise and forgot his manners as he asked, "Whatever for aunt? What could have compelled you to visit Miss Bennett?"
"A very alarming report, nephew, that you were to marry that girl."
Darcy could not maintain his usual composure. How could such a report have reached his aunt? No one knew of his proposal to Elizabeth in Kent. He doubted that Elizabeth had spoken to anyone about it. But that was months ago. How could such a report exist now, at this time?
"I don't understand, aunt. Where did you get such a report?"
"That does not signify, nephew. In any event, Miss Bennett has confirmed that you are not engaged at this time. Of which you must comprehend that I was very much relieved to hear, Fitzwilliam. Since your parents are not alive any longer, I feel it is my duty to guide you in these matters and I set out from Rosings as soon as I heard the news."
Darcy was mortified. His aunt had gone from Rosings to Longbourn and spoken to Elizabeth about a rumoured engagement. He was too embarrassed to feel any anger as yet but he felt the impropriety of his aunt's interference.
"Aunt, I appreciate that you were concerned about such a report especially since you heard it indirectly and not from myself. It is untrue, as you have determined. However, why did you not come to me first? Why did you feel it necessary to discuss this with Miss Bennett?"
"I felt, Fitzwilliam, that if it were true and you had engaged yourself to this girl without any discussion with myself as your closest relation in this world, it could only be a case of some type of deception by this girl. I could not believe that you would so willingly connect yourself with such a family. I felt that the best thing would be to appeal to Miss Bennett and have her recognize how disgraceful such a marriage would be with the hopes that she would break off any engagement."
Darcy was very upset. He could not bare to imagine what Elizabeth must be thinking after such a meeting.
"So you decided to go to Longbourn to convince Miss Bennett not to marry me assuming that she had somehow schemed or trapped me into an engagement. And do you believe that I am so weak of character that I could be trapped in such a way? And under what privilege did you feel you could act in approaching someone you scarcely know at her home in order to convince her to refuse an engagement? I understand how you might feel some duty in approaching me as your nephew. What right had you to influence Miss Bennett in such a way?"
"Now nephew you begin to sound like her! If she hadn't said that there were no engagement I would have been sure of her influence now. She too would refuse to oblige me in this matter. She is an upstart, pretentious girl, Darcy and I left very angry with her."
Now Darcy's attention was caught. This meeting may have been of some use after all. If his aunt had spoken to her of a supposed engagement, he must try to get a sense of her response. If she was completely opposed to the idea, his aunt would not have been this displeased. His aunt's anger suggested that she was not pleased with Elizabeth's reply in this matter. He longed to know more. "Aunt, tell me what happened.".
"Well, I first asked her to contradict the rumour. She refused to do saying that she was not obliged to discuss her affairs with me. I tried to explain to her that such a connection would expose you to the censure of all your family. But she would not be reasonable."
"Please explain aunt. If she confirmed that we were not engaged, how could she then proceed to not be reasonable?"
"Ah but she would not confirm. She would not answer me directly. And when she did I was relieved, of course, but I was also concerned for the future and I demanded her assurance that she would never enter into an engagement with you. But she refused to give me this assurance. She is a selfish girl without any sense of honour or duty and I am glad that you are indeed not engaged to her Darcy for she would bring about your ruin surely."
Darcy turned away. He could not contain his emotions and he could not let his aunt see the look of hope and delight that flickered across his face. He could scarcely believe this was true -- Elizabeth would not promise to refuse him in the future. He knew her honesty and he knew that she would gladly had obliged his aunt if she never meant to have him. He had worked hard to be worthy of her and thought he saw a change in her behaviour towards him at Pemberley but he could not be sure. His aunt's misguided encounter may have provided him with the proof he needed.
"I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennett had a very impudent manner when she visited the Collinses last spring but I did not believe her to be as bad as this. She has no understanding of her place in this world. Imagine her considering herself at your level -- saying that she as a gentleman's daughter would not be quitting her sphere by marrying you. She conveniently forgets her mother's family. How could you align yourself with such people?"
Darcy must put an end to this.
"Aunt, this conversation can go no further. As Miss Bennett confirmed, I am not engaged to her. However, let me be very clearly understood when I say that I would be proud to be worthy of securing a woman such as Miss Elizabeth Bennett to be my wife. She is one of the most superior women of my acquaintance."
Lady Catherine was speechless. "Do you mean to say, Fitzwilliam Darcy, my nephew, son of my dear sister Lady Anne, that you would actually consider marrying this girl?"
"I am saying, aunt, that I would be glad to be worthy of her."
"And you take no exception to her family, her behaviour and her refusal to treat me, as your closest living relative, with any respect for my position? Thank goodness your mother, my sister, is not alive to hear this. How this would break her heart. It is against every plan and intention she had for you."
Darcy was fully aware of what was meant by this allusion to his mother. For years he had heard but ignored the speculation that he would marry his cousin Anne. But he refused to take the hint from his aunt. He would not be lured into a discussion about this. He would marry whom he pleased and it did not please him to marry his cousin. He had affection for her as part of his family but he could not feel what he ought for her as a wife. He had the example of a marriage with much love and affection between his parents and this is what he wanted for himself and nothing less.
"Aunt, I appreciate your concern in coming here today. I know you travelled a long way feeling it your duty to counsel me given the news you heard. But as Miss Bennett and now I have said, there is no engagement between us. So you need not be anxious on that matter."
"But Fitzwilliam, you have admitted to me that though there is no engagement, you would not have any reservation to entering into one. How can I not be anxious for the future?"
"Well, my dear aunt, I imagine your anxiety will continue then. Now, I must leave as I have business to attend to. You are welcome to rest here and take some refreshment before you return to Rosings but I really cannot continue this conversation at this time."
"Then you too refuse to oblige me. I am seriously displeased with you nephew. I thought that you had more sense than this. I blame myself of course, I neglected to guide you more directly after your father died. If you marry this girl I will refuse all contact with you. I will not ally myself with such a family."
"You must do as you see fit, aunt," Darcy said as he gathered his hat and headed out the door, "have a good journey back to Rosings and god bless."
Darcy quickly went to his carriage and off to his appointment. He was glad of this time alone in the carriage to think. There was hope after all. She would not promise to refuse him; she would not be intimidated by his aunt's demands. He would return to Netherfield after all. He must try once more.
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