HELEN HALSTEAD ~ AUTHOR

 
       
 

A Private Performance or Mr Darcy Presents His Bride
A Sequel to Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’
~ an excerpt ~

 

Chapter 1
Autumn, 1813
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. Bennet’s 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 Lizzy’s engagement.”
“Mama! I would prefer that you not speak of it yet,” said Elizabeth.
“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 with a
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 am out
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…rich?”
“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. Bennet’s sister, who had called at the unseemly hour of nine o’clock, rarely had undiluted pleasantries to impart. In fact, that lady had also reported hearing a certain curate’s widow express a hope that ‘sweet Elizabeth’s advantages might not be bought too dear’.
She had suggested that Mr. Darcy was a ‘difficult man’ who
‘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 widow’s nieces.
“I confess I never even liked the shabby creature and I know
not how she’ll ever find husbands for those girls.”
“Which girls, Mama?” asked the most juvenile of the young
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
Elizabeth said:
“I thought it was my charm that enraptured Mr. Darcy – now I
discover the bait to be my father’s 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. Darcy’s
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 cosy.”
“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 to
her eyes.
“Are you certain, Mrs. Bennet?” asked her husband. “I had not
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 woman’s hand, unusually firm
and plain.
“Who has sent it, Lizzy?” said Mrs. Bennet.
“I know not,” said Elizabeth, slipping the letter into her pocket. “Some friend of Mr. Darcy’s, 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.”

Elizabeth walked out across the lawn into the small wood which
skirted Longbourn’s eastern boundary. The early promise of a
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.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh to Miss Elizabeth Bennet
Miss 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. Darcy’s 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 is held.
May God forgive your crime, for I shall not.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Elizabeth 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 by
me!”
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
writing.
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 many will
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, Darcy’s 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.

Kay's parents from The Victoriana Society of South Australia
Mavis and John from The Victoriana Society of South Australia

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