A Tale of Two Letters
The Earl of Matlock's house in Bath.
The Earl of Matlock was going over his correspondence for the day. Along with the usual bills and letters from friends, political allies, and business associates were two letters--one from his sister and one from his nephew.
After making a quick perusal of these letters, he chuckled to himself. Then went to seek his wife. The Countess, who was unfortunately stricken with rheumatism, was in the breakfast parlor, going over her personal correspondence.
"My dear, I have just received two letters, which I think will interest you greatly. One is from my sister," the Countess frowned, for she did not get on with Lady Catherine, "and one from our nephew, Darcy."
"By all means, read the letter from Darcy, but I am sure you can keep Catherine's correspondence to yourself," the Countess replied.
"I am afraid not, my dear, as much as would like to," stated the Earl, "in fact, I shall begin with her letter."
I am writing to inform you that our nephew, Darcy, is contemplating marriage ....
"Darcy's getting married," interrupted the Countess. The Earl gave her a look over his reading glasses. "All right, my dear, I will keep quiet, I promise," the Countess smiled, before taking a sip of tea.
.....to a most unsuitable party. The young woman has neither fortune nor connections to recommend her to the family. She has, I know, relatives who engage in trade. Darcy has been so caught in her wiles and allurements that he has forgotten what his duty to the family is. It is my belief that she is an adventuress, who will bring disgrace and ruin upon all the family. It is your duty as head of the family to remind Darcy of those obligations and hopes long held within the family. My own entreaties......
"More like lectures, if the truth be known," the earl commented, which earned him a reciprocal look from the Countess, he coughed to clear his voice before continuing,
My own entreaties have fallen on deaf ears. Your son, Edward, has met this woman and I am sure he will verify that she is not suitable to be mistress of Pemberley.
Therefore, if my nephew persists in marrying this nonity despite all our objections, you must make it that the entire family will disown him--as I have already informed him we would.
I know that you will follow my wishes in this matter.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
"Spiteful old witch," the Countess said. "As if she would approve any bride for Darcy other than Anne. To ask us to participate in her own maliciousness....."
"My dear, calm yourself," the Earl interrupted, "I still have Darcy's letter to read."
"Catherine always vexes me," the Countess replied, before taking another soothing sip of tea, and choosing a biscuit to nibble on, instructed her husband to read Darcy's letter.
My dear Aunt and Uncle,
I hope this letter finds you well, especially you, my dear aunt. I sincerely hope that taking the waters will prove beneficial to your health.
I am writing to you with two purposes in mind. The first, and most important, is to inform you that you may wish me happy. I recently sought and received the hand of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Miss Bennet is a lovely young woman, in both character and countenance. I am, I believe, the most fortunate of men. While I shall not bore you with the details of our courtship.....
"Bore us with detail, no my dear boy, I want details, " mumbled the countess, as she selected another biscuit.
Please be assured that I have no doubts as regards Miss Bennet's sentiments, as Lady Catherine might have led you believe. As you will undoubtedly guess, Lady Catherine is not pleased with the match. She may have already informed you of her displeasure--I know not--but I beg you will disregard any remarks made by my aunt until you have the pleasure of meeting Miss Bennet for yourselves. My cousin, Edward, who has met Miss Bennet, can tell you what an estimable young woman she is.
The second purpose of this letter is to invite you both to Netherfield (the home of my good friend, Mr. Bingley, who is to wed Miss Bennet's eldest sister) until the time of the wedding.
I perfectly understand if your health, my dear aunt, prevents you from making the journey. I would not wish to cause you any injury, as you are well aware. If you are unable to make the journey, I beg you will allow me to bring Miss Bennet to visit with you after we are man and wife.
The Earl finished reading the letter. He looked at his wife, "Well, my dear, what to you think?" he asked.
"I think that it is a very good thing that Edward is on his way to visit us, "perhaps he can fill us in on the details that Darcy thought would bore us. I cannot say whom I am more vexed with at the moment--Catherine or Darcy."
"But, my dear, do you not think that Catherine might be right. Darcy would not be the first man to have his head turned by a pretty woman, whose only real interest is fortune and position."
"Darcy has been avoiding those women for the past ten years. It is my belief he can spot a fortune hunter at a hundred yards. No, I do not think Catherine could be right--but I will wait to pass judgment until we have questioned Edward."
Col. Fitzwilliam arrived later that afternoon, just in time for tea. After the usual pleasantries and inquiries into the health and well being of all, the Countess launched her objective.
"So, Edward, do tell us about this young woman Darcy is marrying. Tell us about Miss Bennet."
Col. Fitzwilliam, who had just taken a sip of tea, had a most unfortunate response. The Countess handed him a napkin so that he could clean up the tea that now soaked his lap. An interesting response, thought the Countess.
His parents were staring at him, expectantly. "Mother, Father, I hate to be disobliging, but I must beg you will leave off questioning me until I have time to change," he quickly exited the room before his parents could forestall him.
Finally, the Countess thought as her son re-entered the drawing room (though Fitzwilliam had only taken a quarter of an hour to change).
"So Darcy is to marry Miss Bennet?" the Colonel asked.
"Yes, we received a letter from him today," here the Countess paused, "and also one from Lady Catherine. Both of these letters tell us to apply to you for collaboration of their contents. My dear," the Countess said to her husband, "perhaps you should read the letters to Edward."
Edward Fitzwilliam listened to his father reading the letters. When his father finished reading both letters, he got up and looked out the window (in a manner quite reminiscent of his cousin). He was not sure how much Darcy would like him to relate to parents, and he needed to choose he words carefully.
"Lady Catherine is justified in saying that Miss Bennet has neither fortune or connections in her favor, but as my cousin needs neither, I cannot see how this can be of great importance. Miss Bennet is indeed an estimable young woman, and will suit my cousin very well." If he thought that this answer would suit the Countess, he was wrong.
"Edward, come away from the window," the Countess ordered. She indicated the chair next to hers, and Fitzwilliam reluctantly sat down. "Since your cousin has been so disobliging as to not bore us with details you must do so."
"Mother, I am not sure I will have the answers to your questions," the Colonel confessed.
"I am sure you will do your best, that is all I ask. Now, tell me where and when did he meet this Miss Bennet?"
"I believe it was last fall, when he visited his friend Bingley's house in Hertfordshire."
"So the attachment is of long standing then?" the Earl asked. He felt some relief at this information. Darcy, he knew, would not be fooled for a long period of time if the young woman was merely after his fortune.
"Yes, I believe so. I met Miss Bennet when Darcy and I visited Lady Catherine last Easter. She was visiting her cousin and his wife," thus the Colonel began to relate the whole of cousin's attachment as he knew it, being careful to omit the private conversations between Darcy and himself.
"I found her to be lively, witty and intelligent young woman. Darcy is truly taken with her. He loves her and she would , I believe, only accept his offer of marriage if she returned his feelings. Miss Bennet is truly a fine a young woman, whom I do not doubt will make Darcy very happy."
The Countess looked at him as if expecting more. Fitzwilliam struggled for something to say that would persuade her to leave off questioning him. Not quite knowing what to say, he found himself saying, "She makes him smile."
The Countess leaned back against her chair with a small smile on her face. Fitzwilliam was at a lost why the last should have satisfied her curiosity when everything else had not, but he was not about question this bit of good fortune. Instead, he decided to take advantage of the situation.
"I cannot abide by Lady Catherine's dictates. I will be there when Darcy marries Miss Bennet, and I hope you will be, too."
A servant came into the room to announce that dinner was ready.
"Oh, I would not miss it for the world," said the Countess, as she began to rise from her chair. Fitzwilliam quickly offered his assistance. The Countess, walking toward the door with her son by her side. "You have made me extremely curious to meet Miss Bennet," she said as they entered the hallway, "more so, by what you so artfully sought to avoid telling me." The Colonel stopped. The Countess patted his arm, "Do not worry, I shall not press you on the matter. It is obviously a confidence between you and Darcy, and I would not wish you to break a confidence."
The Countess left Fitzwilliam standing in the hallway. His father stopped beside him. "Your mother is a very special and insightful woman," he remarked.
"Yes, she is. Sir," the Colonel began, only to be interrupted by his father. "I also do not wish you to break a confidence between yourself and Darcy. I shall write to him accepting his invitation. But come let us go to dinner, for cook has made all your favorite dishes and I am anxious to get to the apple tarts for dessert." The Earl escorted his still bemused son into the dining room.
The next morning the Earl sat down and wrote two letters in reply to those he had received the day before.
His nephew received his with great joy.
My dear nephew,
I am most delighted to hear of your engagement. I am sure Miss Bennet is a lovely young woman whom I will pleased to welcome into the family. Edward is visiting with us and echoed your praises of the young woman.
My wife is extremely eager to meet Miss Bennet, and insists that we visit you at Netherfield as quickly as can possibly be arranged. Your letter has greatly improved her spirits and she says nothing will refrain her from being at your wedding.
I will send an express so that you will know exactly when to expect us.
Gerald Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock.
His sister received hers with a great deal of anger.
I will not bother Darcy with your foolish rantings. No one but you ever had any expectation of Darcy marrying Anne. I feel that it is my duty as head of the family to make Miss Bennet welcome. Edward speaks nothing but praise for the young lady.
Catherine, you are only doing yourself a disservice if you persist in your resentment. I will not be party to it, and neither will my family. In this matter you will have to stand alone.
I am sorry if my sentiments cause you pain, but I will not follow your wishes in this matter.
Gerald Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.