The Rumor Revealed
Darcy was in his study with Mr. Prescott, his man of affairs, going over several business propositions. It was around eight o'clock in the evening and the two men had just about finished their business. Suddenly, there was a disturbance outside the door.
"I will see my nephew. Now, Graves." Lady Catherine burst into the room as the butler opened the door. The two men rose. Lady Catherine looked over Mr. Prescott with disdain. She stared pointedly at Darcy.
"I will speak with you, Darcy. Alone," she added with emphasis.
"I was just leaving, madam," Mr. Prescott bowed to Lady Catherine and Darcy, before heading towards the door that Graves was still holding open.
"Would you care for some refreshment, Aunt?" Darcy asked.
"No, I do not. I wish to speak to you on a very important matter. Procuring refreshments will only delay the matter."
Darcy dismissed the butler. Graves bowed himself out, shutting the door quietly behind him. Darcy and Lady Catherine were alone in the room.
"Lady Catherine, please be seated," Darcy indicated a chair beside the fireplace and took the seat opposite.
"I have come to see you about a most unsavory rumor that has reached my ears," Lady Catherine began, looking at him expectantly.
"I am afraid that I know not of what you are referring," Darcy was mystified and somewhat unnerved. He sincerely hoped his role in the Wickham Affair had not become known to his aunt.
Lady Catherine smiled triumphantly. "I was sure that you would not countenance any pretensions put about by Miss Bennet. However much she might entertain the thought of being the next mistress of Pemberley, I knew that you would not......"
"Am I to understand that you have heard a rumor to the effect that Miss Bennet and I are to marry?" Darcy interrupted, very surprised by her statement.
"A rumor most likely started by Miss Bennet herself."
Darcy got up from his chair and went over to a crystal decanter that was sitting upon a small table against the wall. With his backed turned to his aunt, a derisive smile appeared upon his face. He could still remember Elizabeth's words of rejection at his first proposal. He poured himself a glass of wine. He turned to face his aunt. "I believe it is highly unlikely that Miss Bennet would start such a rumor, madam."
"It is highly likely," stated Lady Catherine emphatically. "Why, when I specifically asked Miss Bennet if she was engaged to you...."
"You have been to see Miss Bennet?" Darcy interrupted for the second time. Lady Catherine was not pleased.
"Darcy, stop interrupting. It is most rude. Yes, I have just come from Longbourn, I believe it is called. It is an estate of little consequence. I also had the misfortune to meet her mother and one of the sisters. They are not important, however."
Darcy was trying to hide any signs of impatience from his expression. He badly wanted to interrupt his aunt yet again. He wanted, no needed, to know exactly what had passed between Miss Bennet and Lady Catherine.
"Miss Bennet is an impudent girl, she was certainly vexing. I am most seriously displeased to have made her acquaintance. If I had known she was so uncivil, I would never have invited her to Rosings Park. To have my solicitude so little returned, to have my hospitality so poorly felt....She is a most ungrateful girl.
Lady Catherine looked at her nephew. She could not tell by his expression what his thoughts were, so she assumed that he was as indignant as herself. Satisfied that her words were having the desired affect, she leaned back in her chair and continued. "Would you believe that she refused to acknowledge that she is unworthy to be your wife? As if such a match could ever be thought of. I was exceedingly angry with her when she denied any intention of declining your favor..."
A smile came involuntarily to Darcy's face at her last words. The smile was quickly hidden before his aunt could see it, though her continued diatribe against Miss Bennet was beginning to wear.
"...Though I do not believe even for a moment that you would consider making an offer to one such as her. And, as I am sure that you will make it clear that no importunities from one with such a family will be tolerated."
Darcy had again composed his features so that none of his thoughts were readable upon his face. Lady Catherine rose from her chair. "You must attend to this matter with all possible haste. You must obliterate this insupportable rumor." Lady Catherine's walking stick tapped the floor for added emphasis.
"I will attend to the matter with all possible haste," Darcy promised.
Lady Catherine open her reticule and removed a piece of paper which she handed to Darcy. "I feel that the best possible way to deflate all of that girl's pretensions would be for you to announce your engagement to Anne." Darcy was startled by this statement. "That is the announcement for the newspapers. Please see that is placed immediately." She had no conception of the horror Darcy felt at this command nor would she have believed that Darcy had no intention of obeying such a command.
Now that Lady Catherine had said her piece, she was ready to leave. Darcy escorted his aunt to her carriage. After her ladyship settled into the carriage, she spoke to her nephew one last time, "I know you will dispel these rumors." She tapped the paper she had given Darcy. "This is the best way to go about it, as I am sure you will agree."
Darcy stared down at the piece of paper. "Lady Catherine, please believe me, I mean to dispel these rumors." Lady Catherine took this as affirmation of her plans and ordered her coachman to Grillon's Hotel.
The sound of wheels from Lady Catherine's coach on the cobblestones bespoke of her departure. Darcy watched until the coach turned the corner--Lady Catherine was gone and now he had to prepare to make his own departure.
He strode back into his study. Darcy tossed the announcement Lady Catherine had given him into the fire. He watched it burn and gave a sigh of relief when it disintegrated into ashes. Darcy had told his aunt the truth--he did mean to dispel the rumors of an engagement between himself and Miss Bennet--only he meant to dispel the rumors by making them the truth.
"Graves," he summoned his butler, "tell the stables to have the coach brought around at seven tomorrow morning, with the grays in the traces." The butler was leaving the study when he asked "Is Miss Georgiana in the music room?"
"Yes, sir, Mrs. Annesley is there also I believe." Darcy hurried towards the music room. He could hear Georgiana playing as he approached. It was piece by Bach.
He entered the room and listened until she had finished the piece. Georgiana looked up from her music and smiled at her brother. She looked to see if Lady Catherine was with him for one of the servants had relayed the message that she had arrived.
"Is Lady Catherine still here?" she asked.
"No, she has already left. Georgiana, I must be leaving at daybreak--I shall be gone for a week or, perhaps, longer."
"Is Cousin Anne unwell?" Georgiana inquired, thinking this was the reason for Lady Catherine's visit and Darcy's departure.
"Not that I am aware of" he replied, "My departure has nothing to with our Aunt or Cousin. I am off to visit Hertfordshire, for a short stay with Mr. Bingley."
"Will you see Miss Bennet?" Georgiana tried to sound casual, as if her question was of little consequence.
"I hope to do so, yes." Darcy debated for a moment whether he should tell her more. However, he did not want to give rise to expectations that might not be fulfilled.
"Please let her know that I enjoyed her visit at Pemberley and that I should like to get to know her better."
Hopefully, you shall, he thought. "I will make it point to relay your message to her." He left her to resume her practice. Georgiana stared at the closed door after he left the room. Darcy's departure was rather sudden, but if she correctly understood the reason for it (and she hoped she did) then it made perfect sense. Remembering an old childhood practice, she crossed the fingers of both her hands, closed her eyes and wished her brother good luck.
"Georgiana, my dear, whatever are you doing?" Mrs. Annesley asked, looking up from her stitchery. Georgiana blushed, and resumed playing the piano. After a moment or so she stopped playing and folded her hands in her lap. She wondered why Lady Catherine had come for so short a visit. Georgiana sincerely hoped it was not an invitation to stay at Rosings Park. If Mrs. Annesley could see her hands, she would have noticed that the fingers were crossed again.
Upstairs Darcy had his valet pack for a week's sojourn into the country. Darcy would send for him if the need arose for a longer stay. He chose his green jacket for the journey on the morrow. These preparations seen to, Darcy returned to his study. The clock on the mantel chimed 10 o'clock. Nine hours hampered his departure.
Two hours later Darcy was still awake. Anticipation and excitement would not let him sleep. He had tried to read, but after reading the same paragraph for the fourth time he gave up. He tried cards for a while. Mostly he paced about his room like a caged tiger. Every so often he would look at the clock against the wall. It moved with agonizing slowness.
"Tempus fugit, indeed. A snail probably moves faster than that clock," he thought.
Darcy tried to plan how he would now approach Elizabeth. His last proposal had been an unmitigated disaster (he shuddered as he recalled his own words) and he did not wish to make the same mistake again. Would a simple "Miss Bennet, I love you. Will you marry me?" be sufficient? Or perhaps "Miss Bennet, as you are aware, I have long held an admiration for you. I find that my regard has grown stronger over time. I have endeavored to correct those faults......I have endeavored to improve myself..." should he even mention the previous proposal? Maybe he should keep quiet on that subject unless she made mention of it.
Had Elizabeth seen the change in his behavior at Pemberley? Darcy thought he had seen some change in her regard of him. Surely that smile she had given him held promise. Was she aware of his efforts to reunite her sister and Bingley? Had she been aware of his regard at her mother's dinner party? He had found it impossible to speak to her then, surrounded by strangers (to himself), but his eyes had never really left her face for more than a few moments.
On one point he was clear in his thinking though. He would not tell Elizabeth about his involvement in the Wickham Affair (as he now thought of that event). That would only lead her to feel grateful and gratitude was the last emotion Darcy wanted from Elizabeth--it was such pale substitute to the emotion he craved.
At one o'clock in the morning Darcy could hear a light, steady rain began to fall. Darcy become most anxious, a fierce storm would delay his departure. By three o'clock it had subsided, for which Darcy was most thankful. At four o'clock Darcy finally fell into a restless sleep that lasted little over an hour.
Morning had come slowly. Darcy was ready and waiting for the coach a full hour before he had asked for it to be ready. He tried to be patient and was able to withstand his own impatience for a quarter of an hour. Then he ordered his carriage to be brought around immediately.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.