Mr. Darcy's Bride

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Chapter 24

Rosings Park was very grand, but Elizabeth thought it could not possibly compete with the beauty of Pemberley. Nonetheless, it was quite an estate. Georgiana pointed out the parsonage as they passed by and Elizabeth was saddened that Charlotte Collins was no longer there to greet her. She would have much preferred gossiping with Charlotte over meeting Lady Catherine, but she supposed that she would have to wait until they returned to Meryton for that reunion.

The house loomed in the distance, the clean white stone declaring that it was fairly recently built. It was at least as large as Pemberley, but to Elizabeth it lacked much of its charm. Elizabeth viewed the park and determined it to be perfectly serviceable, but lacking any particular spark. Rosings seemed to stand in opposition to the natural world around it, rather than in concert with it as Pemberley did. From the outside, the house seemed altogether impressive, but not especially extraordinary.

Elizabeth’s opinion did not change as they entered the great house. It was clear that quite a lot of money had gone into the estate; everything she could see was of the best quality. However, it lacked warmth, as if it was a museum rather than a home. She could not see any sign of what was important to the home’s inhabitants, aside from wealth.

The butler delivered Darcy, Georgiana, and Elizabeth to a large drawing room. Floor to ceiling windows let in natural light, filtered through translucent window coverings. Elizabeth enjoyed the feel of the sun on her face as they walked to the far end of the room.

A woman who could be none other than Lady Catherine sat there, watching them approach. She was tall and solidly built, with striking features; she was certainly an intimidating picture. To her right, there was a slight young woman who could only be Miss Anne de Bourgh. She did indeed look as unwell as Georgiana had described: she was pale and slightly hunched, as if even sitting still was a trial for her. There was another woman, much less finely dressed, with them, and Elizabeth guessed her to be Anne’s companion.

Lady Catherine stared, waiting for her guests to begin the social niceties. Darcy bowed and Georgiana curtsied as they murmured hello to their aunt, and then Darcy introduced Elizabeth.

Suddenly Elizabeth was unsure of her footing. She hoped to make a good impression, for Darcy’s sake if not for her own, but her curtsy did not seem willing to cooperate. She stumbled a bit, recovered, and managed to finish off fairly well.

“So, you are Darcy’s mystery bride?” Lady Catherine said, tilting her head up a bit and looking down her nose at Elizabeth.

“I am, ma’am,” Elizabeth said. To her chagrin her voice caught just a bit at her answer.

“I am nothing if not direct, and I must tell you that we expected Darcy to go in quite a different direction when choosing a wife. Indeed,” Lady Catherine said, her mouth twisting into a frown, “my sister and I had intended for him to wed Anne.”

Elizabeth was shocked to hear this particular piece of news, but managed to keep her face calm. She glanced at Darcy for support, and he gave her an almost imperceptible shake of his head, indicating that there was more to the story.

“I was unaware,” she said quietly.

“It had been quite our greatest wish, and I was shocked to hear that Darcy did something so rash,” Lady Catherine said, directing a disapproving look towards her nephew. “But, I suppose what is done, is done, and we shall just have to make the best of it. So welcome to Rosings, and welcome to the family, Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth had the sudden urge to laugh at this woman who took herself so seriously, who believed that her opinion was so very important that she would shame a guest in her home about something over which they had no control. Lady Catherine may think that she was well-bred, but Elizabeth had seen better manners from Pemberley’s tenant farmers. However, she knew that a laugh would only make the situation worse. She pursed her lips in an attempt to contain her mirth, and looked down, nodding her head at Lady Catherine, to hide her expression.

“Aunt, we are quite fatigued after our journey,” Darcy said, coming to her rescue. “Might we retire to our rooms until dinner?”

“You may,” said Lady Catherine, waving her hand and behaving as if Darcy was earnestly asking her permission to leave. “I shall see all of you at dinner. Georgiana, perhaps you can inform Mrs. Darcy on the correct way to dress for a Rosings dinner?”

“Certainly, Aunt,” Georgiana said, and the three of took their leave quickly, before Lady Catherine could change her mind and revoke their permission.

On their way up the stairs, Elizabeth took Georgiana’s arm and quietly asked, “What is the appropriate dress for a Rosings dinner?”

“Oh, it does not matter,” Georgiana said lightly, “as long as one comes from the right family.”

Elizabeth saw it for the joke it was, and finally let out the laugh she had been restraining since they left the sitting room. Georgiana laughed along with her, and Elizabeth felt a bit better.

“Just because Lady Catherine is more formal than you are used to is no reason to mock her, ladies,” Darcy said with a small frown.

“Dear brother, that was not formality so much as it was using etiquette to hide rudeness,” said Georgiana succinctly.

“I am not in charge of her behavior, but I am certainly in charge of yours,” Darcy said, “and I shall not have you insulting our aunt under her own roof.”

Georgiana looked at Elizabeth and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing further. Elizabeth had never heard Darcy speak so sharply to Georgiana before, nor had she ever heard Georgiana say a disparaging word about anyone. It seemed that the rules were different at Rosings, and she would have to be very much on her guard until she figured them out.

***

Darcy and Elizabeth’s rooms were further down the hall than Georgiana’s. Once her sister-in-law was settled and they were on their way to their own suites, Elizabeth asked the question that had been on her mind since speaking with Lady Catherine.

“What did she mean that you were to marry Anne?” she asked, curiously.

Darcy looked displeased at having to speak of the issue. “To hear my aunt tell it, she and my mother had Anne and I affianced nearly from birth. However, I asked my father about it on more than one occasion, and it seems my mother never mentioned such an arrangement to him; I find it difficult to believe that my mother would make such a plan for me without informing my father. All this leads me to believe that while my aunt and mother may have discussed it, nothing was formalized. Lady Catherine may have had the expectation that Anne and I would wed, but I think that she was quite alone in that belief.”

Elizabeth nodded, thinking it through. While Darcy might be convinced that it was a fantasy of Lady Catherine’s, it certainly must have been awkward for him to be around his cousin when he was growing up. She wondered if things would be different if Anne were not so ill.

“Do you know what ails her?” she asked.

“I do not,” replied Darcy. “She has not been well for as long as I can recall, but I am unaware what makes her so.”

Elizabeth was struck with sympathy for Anne. No sisters or brothers, no chance to spend time in London to meet anyone new, just shut up in Rosings with her overbearing mother. Elizabeth thought that it was rather enough to make anyone sick. She resolved to be kind to Anne if the opportunity arose.

They arrived at their side-by-side suites and took leave of one another to prepare for dinner. Elizabeth was relieved to learn that Stewart had already spoken to Georgiana’s lady’s maid and understood the protocol for dressing for dinner at Rosings. She was going to have a difficult enough time holding her tongue during dinner. At least she would not have to worry about being incorrectly dressed, as well.

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