Well, here is the next instalment of A Love Most Ardent.
I bet there is at least one twist in this chapter that you won’t see coming.
Leave a comment and let me know if I’m right. Enjoy 🙂
Pandemonium broke out in the usually tranquil parish church of Meryton that morning.
Mr Bennet, who had managed to catch Mrs Bennet as she swooned away when she heard Mr Collins voice, now frantically waved his Bible in her face; a desperate but futile attempt to revive her.
The bridesmaids, who were unanimously mortified with embarrassment, bowed their heads and hoped no-one would remember that Mr Collins was related to them.
Mr Bingley remained with the ladies, but he did stand up and attempt to peer around the other guests that were also standing as he tried to see what was going on.
Angus had instantly put a consoling arm around Anne’s shoulder, and in his soft Scottish brogue, tried to reassure her that it must be a dreadful mistake.
Poor Mr Muir had not moved from the spot. In all the marriages he had performed, he had never had a single objection raised. Indeed, he wondered, do people actually wait until this late stage to raise an objection? He thought not.
Finally, Mr Darcy rose. Straightening his back and tugged down his waistcoat. He exited the pew and made his way to the rear of the church, stopping in the aisle next to Mr Collins position. He looked down at the little man, who was literally shaking in his boots.
In an unmistakably hostile tone, Darcy hissed, “What is the meaning of this, Collins? On what authority do you come here and disrupt the marriage of a woman who is ten times your superior?”
Mr Collins pointed a shaking finger at the person sitting next to him.
“On her authority, sir,” he said his voice quivering with fear.
Mr Collins then slumped down in the pew, relieved that his part in this matter seemed over.
Darcy looked at the figure Mr Collins had pointed at. It was indeed a lady, also dressed completely in black. Her hands were folded atop a stout walking stick which rested on the floor in front of her, and a thick veil of black lace cascaded down from the brim of her hat and covered her face entirely.
“Then I direct my question to you, madam. On what authority do you disrupt this couple’s wedding?”
The booming voice from beneath the veil made everything clear.
“On my own authority, sir. Now,” she said as she lifted the veil. “If you will kindly stand aside, I wish to speak to my daughter.”
Lady Catherine De Bough. He should have known. Without a doubt, she was the only person he knew spiteful enough to disrupt her own daughter’s wedding day.
Darcy did indeed step aside, but he then followed his aunt as she clomped up the aisle, until she stood at the front of the church.
Seeing a formidable looking woman striding directly towards him, Reverend Muir took several steps backwards, leaving plenty of room for a small group to form around the bride and groom.
“Now look here, Aunt Catherine,” started Colonel Fitzwilliam, but she brushed him aside with a wave of her stick.
“You, sir,” Lady Catherine boomed at Angus, “Take your hands off my daughter this instant.”
Angus loosened his grip slightly, but he had no intention of releasing Anne completely.
Anne clung to Angus’ jacket, tears rolling down her face.
She turned to her mother, and in a voice full of reproach, said, “You have no right mother. I am of age, and there is nothing you can do to stop me from marrying Angus.”
“Angus is it? Well, we will soon see about that. I can disinherit you. See how much that foreigner wants to marry you when there is no money to be had.”
“He is Scottish, mother, not a foreigner, and Angus does not care if I have any money or not. We are in love.”
“Love, what do you know about love, child? You’ve not met above half a dozen men in your entire life.”
Angus, who had known and worked for Lady Catherine for a few years, was not afraid of defending his bride. Had she forgotten that debating and disputing was the bread and butter of his profession?
“Lady Catherine, I love Anne, and I would take her with only the clothes on her back. I am not asking for a dowry, it is Anne I want, not your money or your property or any of your material trappings. I just want to marry Anne and make her happy.”
“You say that now, but before the year’s end, you would be at my door with your begging bowl.” Scoffed her ladyship.
Darcy listened to their exchange and realised that he had at his disposal the means to quieten his aunt’s concerns.
“I think you are mistaken regarding Mr Galbraith’s financial position, Lady Catherine. Not only have I recently invested in his new business, but I have also presented Anne with a wedding gift of five thousand pounds. So, you see, they are not as penniless as you would suppose.”
Unable to contain her rage at being bested by Darcy, Lady Catherine turned to vent her ire on him face to face.
“You, sir, are a disgrace to our family. Not only have you aided Anne in this reckless and ill-fated elopement, which has caused me untold distress, but I had to find out from someone whom I have no acquaintance with. It is unforgivable!”
“Are you telling me that it was not Mr Collins we have to thank for your timely arrival,” Darcy asked as he gave the cowering Parson a glare of contempt.
“Mr Collins had nothing to do with it. In fact, I had to threaten to dismiss the impertinent fool before he would agree to come with me today. No, my informant was Miss Mary Bennet.”
The entire congregation first gasped, and then turned to stare at Mary. The silence that followed was total.
Mrs Bennet, who had just begun to come around, immediately fainted away again.
Mr Bennet, who disliked being in the public eye at the best of times, leant over his prostrate wife and remonstrated with his middle child.
“What have you been about now child? Meddling in affairs that do not concern you!”
Mary, as the third of five children, had spent her entire life being invisible and overlooked. No-one sought her out to ask for her advice or her opinion. No-one took any interest in her hobbies or requested her company. No-one showed any concern for her feelings or cared if she was sad or lonely. Often, she would go for days without speaking to a single member of her family. She felt unloved. She was not as pretty as her sisters, nor did she dance as well, but she sewed and played the pianoforte to an acceptable level. Possessing some accomplishments should have gone in her favour, yet it did not. She was just Mary Bennet, sister to Jane, Lizzy, Kitty, and Lydia.
Rising to her feet, Mary tilted her chin up and stared back at the party gathered around the alter steps.
“Yes, it was me. Miss De Bourgh and Mr Galbraith were concerned only with their own happiness, and what would give them pleasure. But what about Anne’s mother, who had fed and clothed her, provided a home for her and,” then her voice faltered “…and who loved her unconditionally just because she was her child?”
“Good grief, Mary! Sit down, girl! No-one wants to listen to your sermon. Have you not done enough damage already today?” Mr Bennet growled.
Mary knew she had revealed the real reason behind her letter to Lady Catherine, but it was too late to try and hide the part she played in it. In hindsight, she realised she should have left the letter unsigned.
“Is Lady Catherine not also entitled to some respect? The good Lord commands that we respect our father and our mother.”
As a tear threatened to breach her lower eyelid, she sat back down. She would not give the hungry gossip mongers the satisfaction of seeing her cry. In her heart of hearts, she knew she had done the right thing.
Lady Catherine had not yet finished with her nephew, Darcy. She rounded on him again, as though Mary had never spoken.
“Darcy, you should be standing at the altar with Anne. It is you who is betrothed to her, not this young upstart.”
God’s teeth, not this ridiculous story again!
“I am not now, nor have I ever been engaged to my cousin!” Darcy forced through his gritted teeth.
“Nonsense, it was your late mother’s sincerest wish as much as it is mine, to see our two families united. When Mrs Jenkins discovered Anne was gone and reported it to me, I was pleased – at first. I thought you two had eloped to avoid any fuss. Only when I received Miss Bennet’s express did I realise the ugly truth. That you had both turned your back on your family, honour, duty, and expectations. This is something neither of you would have dared to do if you had not been led astray by that young woman!” Lady Catherine spun around with surprising agility and raised her stick to single out the culprit.
Darcy followed the direction of her cane and was shocked when he realised Lady Catherine was pointing at…Elizabeth.
Elizabeth would not cower; she had done no wrong. Raising her chin defiantly, she stared back at Lady Catherine.
“You see, she does not deny my accusation. To think I welcomed that viper into my own nest.”
A ripple of noise rose as the guests began to either agree or defend the Bennet family.
Mr Bennet handed Mrs Bennet’s care over to Jane, who held the slumped form of her mother in her arms and tried to gently apply the smelling salts under her nose. The acrid smell soon saw Mrs Bennet open her eyes and push the foul-smelling vial away from her face.
After clearing his throat several times, Mr Bennet finally managed to get everyone’s attention.
“I think we can safely say that there will be no marriage today. So,” he paused to let the rabble of noise subside again, “I would kindly thank you to all make your way to your own homes.” Then, unable to restrain himself, he added, “I have no doubt that the gossips among you will keep the rest of the town informed if any developments should arise.”
As the north transit door was inaccessible due to the crowd that was gathered there, the general members of the congregation filed out of the west door, mumbling as they went. Some said there was no smoke without fire and looked towards Elizabeth, while others blamed Lady Catherine for trying to stop her daughter from marrying when she was of an age to decide for herself. Though, these people were quickly condemned by their friends for their forward-thinking, saying the status quo must be preserved, less England be thrown into a revolution like France.
Eventually, the only people remaining in the church were the ones involved, who then made their way back to Longbourn.
Mr Bennet took charge for once, sending Mary, Kitty, and Lydia upstairs, ordering them to remain with their mother who had already retired to her bed with a fit of the vapours.
Mr Bennet herded the remaining guests and family into the morning room, pausing to take stock before he followed them in. Bingley and Jane stood side by side, while Anne and Galbraith remained together. Angus had his arm firmly wrapped around Anne’s waist. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine had seated herself in the centre most chair, with Mr Collins standing by her side like a dutiful lap dog. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Reverend Muir had positioned themselves by the French doors, which only left Darcy and Elizabeth. They had made their way to stand at Mr Bennet’s side. Everyone who needed to be present was present, and with no audience to entertain, perhaps things could be sorted out in a mature and civilised fashion.
Mr Bennet called everyone to order.
“May I have your attention, please? Thank you. Now, I am sure that we can sort this matter out to everyone’s satisfaction.”
The derisory huff expelled by Lady Catherine was ignored by all.
“As I was saying, I am sure that between ourselves we can clear this misunderstanding up.” Mr Bennet then looked at Anne. “My dear, without being indelicate, can we assume you are more than one and twenty?”
Anne lifted her chin, stared at her mother and replied, “I am six and twenty, sir.”
“And Mr Galbraith, you are more than one and twenty?”
“That I am, sir. I will be thirty years old next birthday.” Angus replied.
Mr Bennet turned to Lady Catherine and with as much forbearance as he could muster, said, “It appears that this young couple has reached the age where the law states that they may marry, rightly or wrongly, whoever they please. Your consent is not needed, Lady Catherine.”
Lady Catherine resented Mr Bennet’s tone and reminded him that he should address her by her correct title.
“My apologies, your ladyship,” he said, very much tongue in cheek.
“Yes, yes, that is all very well, but you have only taken into consideration Anne’s anatomical age. I assure you, she is much younger in the mind that her six and twenty years. It is on these ground that I make my objection. Anne is too mentally immature to enter into a marriage. This, together with her constant ill health is the reason her father left me in charge of the estate. Not until Anne marries does she come into her inheritance.”
The implication that Anne was of unsound mind and mentally feeble saw several gentlemen rise to their feet and jump to her defence.
“That is utter rubbish, and you know it, Aunt Catherine,” said Richard.
“What piffle, Anne is as cognizant as you or me. And I resent your implication that I would take advantage of a deranged woman,” Angus said sternly.
But it was the quietly spoken observation of Mr Darcy that rendered the room silent once more.
“And yet, Lady Catherine, you were more than happy to have Anne married to me. Indeed, you even said as much this very morning.”
Lady Catherine looked at Darcy, her eyes open as wide as her mouth. There was not a single rebuff she could counter his observation with. She had made that comment only half an hour ago, and there was an entire congregation who would no doubt be willing to testify to it.
Lady Catherine blustered through her reply.
“I…well…you twist my meaning, Darcy. Anne has known you all her life. She is comfortable in your presence, you played together as children…”
“Exactly! Anne is like a sister to me, and yet you would have us joined together in some kind of incestuous marriage.”
“No…for you are not brother and sister but cousins, and cousins often marry to unite estates and fortunes.”
“Not Anne, and definitely not me. Anne is to marry Mr Galbraith and me,” Darcy looked searchingly at Elizabeth and was rewarded when she linked her arm through his and smiled at him acceptingly. “And I am to marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Mr Bennet smiled and held his hand out. Darcy clasped his future father-in-law’s hand and accepted his unspoken congratulations. Straight after, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Bingley walked over and offered their felicitations.
Mr Galbraith waited to catch Darcy’s attention, and then merely smiled and nodded. He could not risk letting go of his bride lest her mother steal her away from him.
“I forbid it!” boomed Lady Catherine, simultaneously rapping her stick on the floor.
Everyone, as Lady Catherine had expected, stopped with their congratulations and felicitations and turned their focus once more on her.
“I forbid you to marry that woman, Darcy,” she said.
“You hold no power over me, Aunt Catherine. I will marry who I want when I want.”
“I am your nearest relation, Darcy and in the absence of your mother must speak as she would have. Elizabeth Bennet is not your equal, Darcy. What possible advantages could she bring to your name? She has no connections, no fortune, and from my own observations, very little in the way of accomplishments. The only things that matter in life are land, blood, wealth, and connections, all of which we possess. The needs of the body can be accommodated, but the needs of the heart are expendable. It would be a degradation for the Darcy name to be inter-bred with a woman such as her. Quit this house Darcy, marry Anne, and all will be forgiven.”
Affronted by this verbal attack on his favourite child, Mr Bennet made to step forward and reply, but Darcy pre-empted him.
“Your observations are quite right Lady Catherine, Miss Elizabeth is not well connected, and can expect only a small dowry.” Darcy turned to give Elizabeth a warm smile, then he bowed his head and pressed a meaningful kiss on her hand. “But the facts that you choose to ignore are these. I have no need for more friends or acquaintances, I can scarcely keep up with the ones that I already have. I am, fortunately, in the position to take a wife with no dowry whatsoever. Her accomplishments are underdeveloped compared to some, but for myself, I find them perfectly charming. And as for our union being a degradation to the Darcy name, nothing could be further from the truth. Elizabeth is a gentleman’s daughter, ergo, we are equals. And before you say what I know you are thinking, Elizabeth is not a gold digger. In fact, she has refused me at least five times in the last six months. Only now has she accepted me, and I have you to thank for that.”
Of the eleven people present, only one was not smiling. When Lady Catherine noticed the broad grin on Mr Collins’ face, she prodded him in the ribs with her cane.
“Take that ridiculous grin off your face at once, Mr Collins, or I will dispense with your services forthwith.”
With a wife waiting for him back in Hunsford, and a child on the way, Mr Collins knew he could not afford to lose such a lucrative position.
Many of the group caught sight of his rueful pout as he made his apologies to his patroness, but only one man was in the position to aid him.
“Mr Collins, there is a parish soon vacant on my father’s estate. Do you think Mrs Collins would prefer Matlock to Kent?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.
“You will rescind that offer immediately Richard. My brother would not dare employ a person I have discharged!”
“I will do nothing of the sort, Aunt Catherine.” He looked back at Mr Collins. “Come, man, what do you say?”
Mr Collins, a man who had often been called indecisive, found that for once in his life, the answer seemed remarkably simple.
“Thank you, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I do believe Mrs Collins would benefit from taking the waters at this delicate time.”
Lady Catherine fumed at her nephew but knew she held no sway over the Colonel. Too long he had been his own man, a leader of men and a decorated hero. But her most profound disappointment of the day was that Darcy was lost to her as a son-in-law. Bitterly, she realised she had not just lost a battle, but the entire war. Now, her only option was to retreat with as much dignity as possible.
“Very well. As you do not feel the bonds of family are worth fighting for, I wash my hands of you, all of you! I no longer have any family, no daughter, no nephews…and thanks to you, sir,” she glared at Richard, “I now no longer have a spiritual advisor.” Turning to look at Mr Bennet, she demanded, “You, sir, will have my carriage brought round immediately. I intend to leave this place at once.”
Mr Bingley, who had felt most uncomfortable during such inharmonious goings on, hurried out to ask for her ladyship’s carriage to be brought round.
Anne felt both relief and regret. She had never wanted to break with her mother, she had hoped that once married to Angus, her mother would come around. Oh, not that she expected her to dote on Angus as she did Darcy, but to at least accept him as her son-in-law. Any such resolution now seemed impossible. But, at least with her cousin’s generous gift, they would be able to manage until Angus’ new business became established.
It pained Mr Galbraith to see her so distressed. Though he thought the breach between them insurmountable, he decided to try one last time, if only for Anne’s sake.
“Lady Catherine, will you not reconsider?” he coaxed in his soft Scottish lilt. “Can you not see the pain your harsh words have caused your daughter? I can bear your displeasure, but Anne is your only child, your flesh and blood. For her sake, will you not at least wish us well?”
His words fell on deaf ears. Anne had made her choice, and now she must stand by it. There was no room for forgiveness in Lady Catherine’s heart. Too long she had deluded herself that the Darcy fortune and estates would be joined with those of the De Bourgh’s. Joining together their lands and wealth in a new dynasty. In her mind, it was to be the beginning of an empire to rival even the Dukes of Devonshire.
“I shall do no such thing!”
There was a nervous tap at the door, and then Mrs Hill entered and informed Mr Bennet that her ladyship’s carriage was waiting.
Drawing herself up, Lady Catherine stood with her back ramrod straight.
“Fitzwilliam, your arm if you please.”
Stepping forward, Colonel Fitzwilliam held out his arm as requested, then waited until his aunt had placed her wrinkled hand on it. With her head held uncommonly high, she let her nephew escort her to her carriage.
Aside from Lady Catherine’s servants, they were alone. Richard decided to try one last time to soften his aunt’s opinion on the events of the day.
“Aunt Catherine, whether you want to hear it or not, I must have my say. You have, indeed, treated Darcy and me as your own, and it is exactly for this reason he cannot marry Anne.”
“Nonsense!” she interjected.
“No, it is not nonsense, Aunt, it is the truth. We both look on Anne as our sister. It is a testament to how kind you were to Darcy when he was left motherless all those years ago.”
“I think you just took pity on me as the younger son. Now, be honest, could you bear to never see either of us again? To live out your life at Rosings with no-one by your side?”
“You do not speak of Anne?”
“If you cannot see the changes in your own daughter since she met Angus Galbraith, then you are blind.”
Richard could almost see her opinion softening. To further aid his cause, he delivered what he hoped would be the piece de resistance.
“And what if Anne has a child, a son? Would you disown your own grandchild? Disinherit Anne, and you deny them of their birthright. You may be stubborn, Aunt Catherine, but no-one would call you stupid.”
Taking his hand, she climbed into her carriage and pulled the door shut.
Staring straight ahead, her final reply was, “I will give your comments further consideration, Fitzwilliam.” With that, she rapped her cane on the inside of the coach roof and moved with the carriage as it lurched into motion.
Richard was quietly hopeful that she would heed his advice.
Back in the morning room, a decision had been made. Though an hour late, the marriage of Anne De Bourgh and Angus Galbraith would go ahead as planned. There would be fewer guests, but after the events of the morning, the bride and groom just wanted to be married.
Everyone gathered back in the church – the Bennet family, Mr Bingley Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy, and of course, the happy couple.
Reverend Muir, with the grateful agreement of the bride and groom, decided to pick up the wedding ceremony where they left off, with the assumption that no-one else was going to object.
Mr Collins, who had not known whether to wait at Longbourn or go to the church, decided on neither. Instead, he walked to Lucas Lodge, and with very little prompting, revealed all that had occurred back at Longbourn.
The Lucas’, his extended family by marriage, listened spellbound, while secretly relishing every detail.
Well, did I surprise you, lol?
Till next time,