-The entail on Longbourn had been broken?
-The Bennets owned Netherfield Park?
-Jane Bennet had firm opinions?
-Lizzy overheard the second derogatory comment Darcy made about her beauty? After the Bennets had dined at Netherfield Park, he said, “Her a beauty? I should as soon call her mother a wit.”
The above was the impetus that began my thought process for Pride & Perception. More specifically, the second insult to Elizabeth, which, in canon, is not referred to until Miss Bingley brings it up while at Pemberley after Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle had returned to Lambton for the night. I slip that little insult near the beginning of MY story.
Today, I share with you a different scene I had such fun writing. You will find the Bennet’s wealth AND connections rattle Lady Catherine’s cage.
Sunday was soon upon them, and to Rosings Park they all went after church. They had a lovely dinner and the men went off to the library to enjoy some port. When the ladies returned to the drawing-room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did without any intermission till coffee came in, delivering her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner as proved she was not used to having her judgment controverted. Elizabeth found nothing was beneath this great lady’s attention, even her own family and personal life.
“How many sisters do you have, Miss Bennet?”
“Five! Your mother would have been best to stop after two, or three.”
“Then I wouldn’t have the joy of my two youngest sisters, Ma’am.”
“I can see why your parents kept on trying. I am excessively attentive to all things and am quite aware your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins. For your sake,” turning to Charlotte, “I am glad of it; but otherwise, I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line.”
“Oh no, Ma’am,” Elizabeth interrupted. “My father’s estate is no longer entailed. My eldest sister Jane will inherit Longbourn.”
“And Mr. Collins is aware of this?” Lady Catherine sounded more perturbed than surprised.
“Yes, Ma’am. He was informed during his first visit with us this past fall.”
“And he never sought to inform me of his changed status. I am quite displeased.” She looked at Charlotte. “Oh, not with you Mrs. Collins. It’s a good thing then that he has my patronage and is not destitute. I have always been grateful Rosings Park was not entailed away from the female line. My Anne will inherit and if her health permitted, she would be a wonderful caretaker of the estate.” She speared Elizabeth with a shrewd look. “Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”
“Yes, I have had the privilege of studying under Monsieur LeBlanc for pianoforte and Senor Marconi for voice.”
Both Lady Catherine and Charlotte’s eyebrows rose at the names of two preeminent Masters with a very long waiting list of students. For a brief moment, Lizzy regretted not telling her closest friend all the good things which had come to the Bennet family more than a decade ago.
“Oh! Then, some time or other we shall be happy to hear you. Our instrument is a capital one. Do your sisters play and sing?”
“Not all of them, although my middle sister is almost a virtuoso.”
“Why did not you all learn? You ought all to have learned. The Miss Webb’s all play, and their father has not so good an income as yours. Do you draw?”
“No, not at all.”
“What, none of you?”
“My second youngest sister shows great promise.”
“That is very strange. But I suppose you had no opportunity. Your mother should have taken all of you to town every spring for the benefit of masters.”
“My mother has no objection, but my father hates town. Mama has had to rely on her brother to host us when we attended town for that very purpose. Now that my two youngest sisters are older and ready to receive more extensive training, Papa has purchased a house. Mama is well pleased that all of us can attend and also partake of the Season, rather than one or two of us trickling into town at my aunt’s convenience.”
“Your family has a house in town now?”
“Yes, Ma’am. It is on Grosvenor Street.”
Lady Catherine assessed her with narrowed eyes. The address of her father’s townhouse had obviously surprised her. She dared not look at Charlotte.
“Do you still retain a governess?”
“For our younger sisters, yes. Jane and I have not needed the services of a governess since our presentation.”
“You! You were presented at court?” Lady Catherine drew back and touched her throat with her fingers. “Who sponsored you?”
“My cousin, the Marchioness of Dorchester, Ma’am.”
“Your family has nobility? It cannot be from your mother’s side; she is from trade. It must be from your father’s side and why does Mr. Collins not have an acquaintance with them?”
“Our connection comes down the maternal side of my father’s family. My grandmother was the Marquis of Dorchester’s daughter. Her mother was cousin to the Queen.”
“Oh….” Lady Catherine sat in silence, digesting Elizabeth’s bombshell.
Lizzy chewed the inside of her lip, trying not to smile outright. It was obvious Lady Catherine had intended to put her in her place with all her impertinent questions, only to find that Elizabeth had a strong family heritage.
“Have any of your other sisters been presented to the Queen, Miss Bennet?” she finally asked.
“My next youngest sister Mary was presented last year, Ma’am.”
“And then two more after that, but three of you out, all at once. Very odd! And you only the second. The younger ones out before the elder are married! Your younger sisters must be very young?”
“Yes, Lydia is not yet sixteen. I know three of us are out at once, but really, Ma’am, it would be very hard to not have our share of society and amusement just because my eldest sister does not have the inclination to marry early. I know, for Mary and I, it would not promote sisterly affection, even though Jane is so very easy to love.”
“Upon my word,” said her ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?”
“With three younger sisters following close on my heels,” replied Elizabeth smiling, “your Ladyship can hardly expect me to own it.”
“You are among friends here, Miss Bennet, and should not hide behind such impertinence. You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, therefore you need not conceal your age.”
“I am not one and twenty.”
When the gentlemen had joined them, and tea was over, the card-tables were placed. Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins sat down to quadrille. Miss De Bourgh remained bundled up by the fireplace with Mrs. Jenkinson forever fussing over how the blankets were draped about her legs.
It wasn’t until the next day, after Sir William, Maria, and Mr. Collins were out in the garden that she and Charlotte were then able to enjoy a quiet tête-à-tête.
“I must say, Eliza, my head is almost exploding with all the information you revealed yesterday, and I can’t help but feel hurt that you would not have shared this with me before.”
Lizzy laid her hand on Charlotte’s forearm and squeezed.
“You are my closest friend next to Jane, and there have been so many times I wanted to tell all, but we had decided, as a family, to keep this information quiet to help Jane find a gentleman who would love her for herself and not for Longbourn and our esteemed relations.”
“I do understand, but I also can’t quite wrap my head around the fact you’ve had the benefit of Masters – although if I think back, I should have known. Your skill on the pianoforte is extraordinary – but there is no way Longbourn can support the expense of a house on Grosvenor Street. You are not just skipping the edges of the upper ten thousand, you are smack dab in the middle.”
“I trust you Charlotte and know you will share most of what was spoken tonight with your husband, but I beg you to keep these next two pieces of information to yourself.”
“Unless it pertains directly to my husband or could somehow affect my future family in a diverse manner, your secret is safe with me.”
“Nothing I reveal today will hurt you.” Lizzy leaned forward, held her friend’s gaze, and said with a grin. “Mary is heir to an estate in Dorset, and I am heir to Netherfield Park.”
She then sat back and waited for her friend to digest her news.
“Then… then Mr. Bingley is your tenant!”
“And Miss Bingley is…” Charlotte snorted as she stifled a giggle. “If Miss Bingley knew they were paying rent to you – oh this is just too good.”
“I know. All her superior airs and treating Jane and I like dirt. I must admit, there were times when I wanted to throw it all back in her face, but Papa told us to take the high road. We had to know if Mr. Bingley was worthy of our secret.”
“Poor Jane. His character was revealed all too soon, wasn’t it?”
“I think his sister and Mr. Darcy played a large part in his not returning.”
“Eliza – Mr. Bingley is a grown man. No one can make him do what he does not want to do. They may give opinions, but he is ultimately in control of his own future.”
“I dislike when you are right. I want to remain mad at Mr. Darcy.”
“Whatever for? I know he behaves in a haughty manner, but that’s never bothered you before.”
Lizzy then shared with Charlotte what Mr. Darcy had said at the Meryton Assembly. She didn’t tell her about the other insult as it still remained a raw wound not only because he’d belittled her looks, but had denigrated her mother as well.
“That was poorly done on his part, but it’s been months since then and you must have had some conversation with him since.”
“Not much. He’s quiet by nature and even more so if he thinks you’re beneath his social circle. We barely traded words at any venue we shared.”
“I wonder what his reaction would be if her knew how well-situated you are in life.”
“I believe that shall remain a mystery as I don’t think I’ll ever lay eyes on Mr. Darcy ever again.”