What a joy it is to have a worthy topic of conversation, to hold
the power to amaze! Mrs. Bennet found herself to be in possession
of a piece of news granting her this very power.
It was for her to impart or withhold information that would provoke
wonder among her neighbours. In the privacy of her
home, at Longbourn, she had shrieked and exclaimed; she had
come well-nigh to fainting with joy. Yet, delicacy forbade her
sharing her knowledge for some days, certainly not before the
marriage articles had been signed.
In the breakfast room, Mrs. Bennets gaze rested upon her
four daughters in turn, looking with unwonted fondness upon
her second daughter, Elizabeth.
Do you know, my dears, the whole district is talking of
nothing but Lizzys engagement.
Mama! I would prefer that you not speak of it yet,
Oh, stuff! What did I say? The merest slip! Do you know,
girls, our neighbours are saying that Mr. Darcy was all but
engaged to his cousin. That he has given up an enormous fortune
to marry Lizzy!
He was not engaged to her!
Oh, I daresay not. Mrs. Bennet dismissed the details
wave of her handkerchief. Yet, Lizzy, can you not see that
such a tale does add to your triumph? My sister reports that
everyone is saying you have enraptured Mr. Darcy with nought
but your charm. Is that not pleasing?
I would rather they did not speak of it at all, until I
of the district.
Mrs. Bennet was all amazement.
Until you are out of the district, child! What else are
people to speak of when they hear you are to marry a man so rich,
so highly-placed in society, so
I am sorry if our neighbours care so little for my happiness
and care only for my material advantages.
You are a silly girl. Of course they care for your happiness.
Even while she chuckled, an unpleasant feeling blew across the
little pool of her joy. Her daughters saw her frown and glanced
at each other. Their father looked up at the sudden quiet and
grimaced. Mrs. Bennets sister, who had called at the unseemly
hour of nine oclock, rarely had undiluted pleasantries to
impart. In fact, that lady had also reported hearing a certain
curates widow express a hope that sweet Elizabeths
advantages might not be bought too dear.
She had suggested that Mr. Darcy was a difficult man
considers himself quite above us all.
Mrs. Bennet felt a rush of irritation. For a moment, she thought
she might need her smelling salts. She became aware
of the silence at the table and brightened, as she recalled
how dowdy were the widows nieces.
I confess I never even liked the shabby creature and I know
not how shell ever find husbands for those girls.
Which girls, Mama? asked the most juvenile of the
ladies. Her mother ploughed on.
Mr. Darcy would scarcely notice an ugly girl whose family
does not even keep their own carriage! Her listeners, not
privy to her chain of thought, merely looked puzzled, until
I thought it was my charm that enraptured Mr. Darcy
discover the bait to be my fathers carriage.
Mrs. Bennet laughed heartily. How many carriages does Mr.
Darcy keep, Lizzy? You shall have your own, my love. Mr.
Darcy will order you a new carriage and you shall choose the
colour I know, for I asked him!
Elizabeth blushed and her sisters responded in their several ways.
Jane looked sympathetic, while one sister turned up her nose and
the other gave vent to an excess of merriment.
Mr. Bennet raised his grizzled eyebrows and cleared his throat.
Elizabeth is to abandon us for the delights of Mr. Darcys
establishment, and her sister Jane for that of Mr. Bingley.
In my diminished household, I shall have the opportunity to
enjoy more the company offered by my two remaining daughters.
Indeed, replied Mrs. Bennet. We shall be very
I, at least, shall be driven to the cosiness of my library
with even greater frequency, as all the sense to be found in my
daughters leaves the house at once.
Mr. Bennet, how can you be so cruel? cried his wife.
If speaking the truth is cruelty, Mrs. Bennet, then I cannot
acquit myself of the charge.
He continued eating. Mrs. Bennet sniffed and looked away,
fiddling with her lace.
A loud knock echoed from the front hall.
Tis a messenger, for sure. cried Mrs. Bennet.
It is my
brother, I know it! He is dead! She put her handkerchief
Are you certain, Mrs. Bennet? asked her husband. I
heard he was so close to death as to cause this apprehension.
He turned to Elizabeth, his mouth turned down in mock grief.
She dearly wanted to laugh.
Her sister, Jane, stretched out a comforting hand to her mother
and said: Do not alarm yourself, Mama. Only last week, our
uncle was reported to be in excellent health.
The footman entered and brought the letter tray to Elizabeth.
She picked up the letter. It was of the finest quality paper.
She studied the direction, in a womans hand, unusually firm
Who has sent it, Lizzy? said Mrs. Bennet.
I know not, said Elizabeth, slipping the letter into
her pocket. Some friend of Mr. Darcys, I imagine,
has written to me with her congratulations.
Before the marriage articles have been signed? That is highly
unlikely. Read it to me!
Mama, pray let me read it first.
Nonsense, girl. I shall see it at once.
Elizabeth turned to her father.
I think our daughter might be trusted to keep respectable
correspondence, Mrs. Bennet, he said.
Oh, very well, then, Miss Have-it-your-way.
walked out across the lawn into the small wood which
skirted Longbourns eastern boundary. The early promise of
beautiful day had proved illusory, as grey clouds had moved in
to cover the sun. She studied the letter for a moment before
she opened it.
de Bourgh to Miss Elizabeth Bennet
I send you no courtesies, for you deserve none. I have
learnt that you are perversely continuing with your plan to
advance yourself, while ruining forever the name of Darcy.
Last April, I condescended to invite you into my home. You
abused my kindness to entice my nephew into a misalliance that
he will rue the moment his infatuation wears off. Then he will
bitterly regret that he has been robbed of his rightful
bride, my daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh.
None of Mr. Darcys relations will ever consent to speak
to you. Due to you, my nephew will be cast off from all his
family. Furthermore, you will be received by no-one of note, for
such is the respect and esteem in which the name of de Bourgh
May God forgive your crime, for I shall not.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
was, for a moment, breathless with shock. She
walked about, hardly aware of her direction.
Arrogant woman! Held in respect and esteem, is she? Not
The themes expressed in the letter came as no surprise, for
Lady Catherine had already made these accusations to her face
some weeks past, but the injustice seemed even more bitter in
The allegation of entrapping Darcy she found highly offensive.
From the beginning of their acquaintance, she had disliked
him intensely until she learned to know him. He had fought
for, and won, first her respect and then her affection.
Nevertheless, she mused. It is inevitable that
believe my motives to be mercenary.
It was the meanest spite for Lady Catherine to take her
revenge by trying to destroy them in society. As if she
could! Lady Catherine relished wielding her power over those
dependent upon her goodwill. However, Darcys friends had
no such need of her influence, so why should they turn their
backs upon them both at the behest of his aunt? No, they
could not be so silly. Surely?
She left the wood through the back gate, and walked over to
the dairy, and fed the letter to the goats.
Mavis and John
from The Victoriana Society of South Australia