Thursday’s 300: Lilacs & Lavender, Chapter 8

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I’m still on a roll, I guess, since I’ve not missed a week this month. LOL

Today I present to you chapter 8.

If you missed chapter 1, you can find it here.

Chapter 2 is here. Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 4 is here.

Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 6 is here. Chapter 7 is here.

Did you know that Patreon patrons who pledge $2 per month or more get to read these posts an entire week early? Also, patrons at all levels get to read my current work-in-progress as I write it.


Chapter 8

Lady Catherine de Bourgh was angry. Her ungrateful, disrespectful, selfish nephew had just left her house after refusing to honor the tacit agreement his mother had made with her. She had never been so insulted in her life. Then to be threatened by him; to be warned off and informed that she would be denied entrance to his homes! She had never realized he could be so discourteous to his elders. It had to be the influence of that upstart little baggage he had tied himself to. However, she had never been one to be cowed and she refused to start now. This engagement of his must be broken; the marriage must not come to pass.

Lady Catherine had reasons for insisting on a union between her daughter and the only son of her sister. Firstly, it was desired by herself and her long-dead sibling. Well, her sister had never actually said the words, but Catherine knew in her heart that her dearest Anne would agree with her. That was enough, really. If one looked further, though, if one pushed enough, there were other reasons she needed it to happen. While she did not recognize them as such, all were based in fear.

Lady Catherine had been a widow for fewer than four and twenty months. Burned into her memory, even more so than the day he died, was the reading of her husband’s will. That was the day dread and anxiety had taken root in her heart.

Catherine had married Sir Lewis de Bourgh following her fourth season. She had just turned two and twenty; he was thirty. It had not been a love match, though it was not arranged, either. The two met at Almack’s in February of that year. He asked her to dance, she accepted. They continued to meet at other balls and dinners that season, and it seemed as though they always ended up paired together. They learned enough of each other by the end of April to know that they would be able to forge a life together without either being overly unhappy. So, they married at the end of May in a large, well-attended ceremony fitting for the daughter of an earl.

Over the many years of their marriage, the two had developed a fondness for each other. There was no strong passion; though neither objected to doing their duty in the marriage bed, and although it was mildly pleasant for both, sparks did not fly between them. Their hearts remained largely untouched, but as neither had ever felt anything different, they were not bothered by it overmuch.

Lady Catherine had found herself with child seven times over the course of her thirty years with Sir Lewis. Four of those times had ended in miscarriage. Two of her living children had died, including the one son she had birthed. Her daughter Anne, the sickliest child she had borne, was the only one who remained. She loved Anne, as she had loved all her children. Indeed, she had been sent into deeper doldrums with every loss. Each one had been harder to draw herself out of, but she had no choice. By the time Sir Lewis was struck with apoplexy, passing away hours later, Lady Catherine had begun to build walls around her heart to protect herself from more pain. The hardness of those walls was cemented with the reading of the will.

Sir Lewis’s attorney, Mr. Hastings, had traveled to Rosings from London after receiving her letter informing him of her husband’s death and the need to execute his last requests. Upon his arrival, and after gathering everyone together who was required, the attorney had begun reading the words that would change her world forever.

Sir Lewis had left Rosings to Anne. The de Bourghs had not felt it necessary to entail property away from the female line, and for that Catherine was grateful. It was what came next that caused the shock. She would lose her home upon Anne’s marriage and be forced into the dower house. That was not the worst of it. Her income would be greatly reduced, to just the interest from what remained of her dowry. Not only would she be forced to move to a much smaller abode, but her funds would be cut in half. Lady Catherine had enjoyed the power that being the wife of the highest-ranking gentleman in the area gave her. Without a decent home and funds, she would become a laughing-stock.

She did not realize it, but she feared being alone and forgotten. She had spent her life being a wife, a mother, and the mistress of a grand estate. She knew no other manner of living. That fear gave way to anger, and then to bitterness. She needed to be in control of something, because she felt that her life was becoming unmanageable. Therefore, she began trumpeting as fact an engagement between Anne and the safest choice she had for a son-in-law: her nephew. Oh, she had been telling him for years that he was formed for her daughter, but never with such tenacity and desperation. Once she realized what her future held, she began insisting more strongly to Darcy that he was engaged to her daughter, and started mentioning it in front of others who were not family. She needed him to marry Anne so that she would not have to move to the dower house. As a Darcy, her daughter would live at Pemberley, allowing Lady Catherine to remain in the home she had inhabited for longer than any other. She would lose neither status nor standing. She could not guarantee that any other arrangement would have the same happy result.

Her need for control manifested itself in other ways, as well. She had always been a woman of strong opinions and a strong personality, but she began ordering the lives of her subordinates with ferocious intensity. Of course, with her standing, none could deny her. She attempted the same with her relatives, arranging their affairs, to the extent they would allow her. Hence her loud argument with Darcy. Then, a few months after Sir Lewis’s death, her rector also passed away, and she chose from among the candidates the most obsequious, easily led clergyman she could find.

All her plans now lay in ruins around her. She did not intend for Darcy to ever marry Miss Bennet. Regardless of his words, she would see that if he did not intend to marry her daughter, he would marry no one.

After much deliberation, Lady Catherine decided the most expeditious method of removing Miss Elizabeth Bennet from her nephew’s life was to approach her father. It would not do for Darcy to break the engagement; that would damage his reputation. No, the Bennet family would have to do it. She knew already that Longbourn was small, and she knew that it was entailed to her rector. What would induce him to force his daughter to give Darcy up? she wondered.

She could offer him money, of course. She considered various amounts, deciding upon a maximum limit to go along with the first bid. She was willing to negotiate, to a certain point.

Money was not the only thing she could use to entice the man into letting her nephew go. She could offer a piece of property or a house that he could set aside for his wife and daughters after he was gone. However, she did not own property in Hertfordshire and she certainly did not want Bennets living in Kent near her. No, money was the thing. No man would turn down such a generous sum as she was prepared to offer.

Once her course was decided upon, Lady Catherine wasted no time in setting out to follow it. Early the very next morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, she ordered her carriage and headed for Longbourn. She instructed her coachman to go through Essex rather than take the post road to London. She would stop there on her way back; until she had made Mr. Bennet see reason, she would avoid town and her relatives there.

The roads were rutted, making for a long journey. She finally arrived at her destination in mid-afternoon, hungry, tired, and dusty, but determined to have her way. She descended from the coach in high dudgeon.

Knocking upon the door, she was greeted by what she assumed was the housekeeper. In her typical imperious manner, she demanded, “I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I need to speak to Mr. Bennet immediately. Take me to him.”

The servant let her in, saying, “Please wait here, madam, while I see if Mr. Bennet is at home.”

“No!” Lady Catherine thundered. “I will not wait. You will take me to him now. I will brook no disobedience!”

Jumping a bit at the lady’s booming exclamation, Hill began sidling toward the master’s book room. When the lady made to follow her and refused once again to wait, the housekeeper shrugged her shoulders and continued across the vestibule, finally knocking on his door. When he bid her enter, she opened the door, curtseyed, and announced his visitor.

“Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”

The infuriated lady stormed into the book room, and Hill quietly shut the door behind her, breathing a huge sigh of relief before heading off to the kitchen to check on the cook. If she were blessed, she would not have to deal with the lady when she left.

Inside the book room, Mr. Bennet had risen to his feet when his guest entered. He was not terribly surprised to see her here; after all, Darcy had warned him she might try something. He knew before she spoke what she was about and what his response would be. He hoped, though, to find some amusement in the lady’s visit. It was not often he tangled with a peer of the realm.

“Lady Catherine, it is an honor,” he stated as he bowed in greeting. “Please, do be seated.” He gestured to the chairs situated in front of his desk.

“I will stand. My business with you will not take so long that I need to sit. You must know why I am here, Mr. Bennet.”

As his visitor stood rigidly just inside his bookroom, Mr. Bennet smiled a little as he replied to her first sally. “You do not mind if I do, I am certain.”

He took his time lowering himself into his chair, then clasped his hands together on top of the desk. “Can I get you some tea before we start?” Not giving her time to answer, he continued. “No? Well, then; yes, Lady Catherine, I am very aware of your reasons for gracing my home with your presence. My future son-in-law warned me when he asked permission to court my daughter that you would likely make such a visit.”

“I am prepared to offer you ten thousand pounds to break off the understanding between your daughter and my nephew.”

“Ten thousand pounds?” He drew the words out as though he were actually considering them. Finally, he shook his head. “No, I will not destroy my own daughter’s happiness for any amount of money.”

His adversary was enraged by this response. “His mother and I formed an engagement for our children when they were infants. I will not have that betrothal thrown away as though it were meaningless. I will give you fifteen thousand pounds. That is my last offer. I know that this insignificant estate of yours is entailed upon my rector. With this money, you could buy a house for your widow to live in upon your death.”

“Madam, I repeat, I will not break Elizabeth’s engagement to Mr. Darcy, nor will I insist she do so. I will not revoke my consent in any manner. My widow, should she actually outlive me, will be well-enough taken care of, not that it is any concern of yours.”

“You defy me, then? You refuse to listen to reason? I see now where your trollop of a daughter learned her arts. You will regret this, Mr. Bennet, and so will all your family! I will see to it!” Lady Catherine was angrier than she had ever been.

Mr. Bennet had begun to fear she might suffer an attack of apoplexy, or something similar. However, when she began insulting his Lizzy, he reacted swiftly and strongly. His amusement was at an end. He surged to his feet.

“Lady Catherine. I have heard enough. You will not insult my daughter further. If you were a man, I would call you out! I say for the final time I will not, under any circumstances or for any reason, destroy my daughter’s happiness by forcing her to break her engagement. You may be assured, madam, that before this day is over, Mr. Darcy will have been made aware of your presence in this house, your offer, and your slander of his betrothed. You will now leave my home with all due haste. You are no longer welcome at Longbourn; do not darken my doorstep again.”

Mr. Bennet pointed to the door, face red and scowling, body held stiffly. In truth, he was fighting the urge to physically throw her out himself. It was only his lifetime of behaving as a gentleman that prevented him.

As if sensing he was needed, Mr. Hill, the housekeeper’s husband and Longbourn’s butler, opened the door and stepped in.

“Mr. Hill, good, good! Escort this … person … out of the house immediately. She is never to be granted entrance again. Am I clear?”

“Yes, sir.” He nodded, then turned to Lady Catherine, who had begun sputtering, and held his arm out towards the hallway. “After you, madam.”

“You have not heard the last of me!” She angrily strode through the door, exclaiming loudly all the way to her coach.

Bennet caught part of it.

“I have never been thus treated in all my life!”

He chuckled. Perhaps not, but once her nephew read his report of this incident, he was sure she would be treated far worse.

The first thing he wanted to do now was write an express to Darcy, describing his aunt’s visit. The man needed to know what his mother’s sister had done, and since he was not expected in Hertfordshire for at least another fortnight, Bennet thought it had best be done right away. Not normally one to be prompt in doing anything, Lizzy’s protection was worth the extra effort. He wrote quickly, giving basic details and promising a more detailed letter to follow. Ringing for Hill, he gave her the letter and instructed her to immediately find an express rider to take it to Darcy House in London. He hoped it would reach its destination before Lady Catherine did.

Finishing that, he walked out in the garden, hoping the exercise would help to dissipate some of the residual anger he was feeling. He needed to think clearly in order to decide what, if anything to tell his family about the visit. Thankfully, Mrs. Bennet had taken Mary, Kitty, and Lydia to visit her sister. She was unaware of what had transpired and would only know what he told her. If he were able to stress to the servants to keep quiet about it, he would not have to share any of it with her.

As Bennet paced, hands clasped behind his back, up and down the paths, past beds of lavender, roses, and all manner of other flowers, he began to calm. He knew that he could not count on the servants to remain quiet. He could, however, stress to them the importance of not upsetting the mistress. Everyone in the household knew how distressed Mrs. Bennet could become, and the uproar such a thing caused. He was fairly certain he could convince them to at least evade her questions should one of them slip up and tell her. He nodded at this decision, heading back into the house to ask Hill to gather the servants into the kitchen.

To be continued …



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