Conversation With Lady Catherine

Jaina Kenobi

Summary: The conversation which taught Mr. Darcy to hope, as he'd scarcely ever allowed himself to hope before.

Disclaimer: None of it is mine, not even the situation or the idea or anything. And I'm not making any money off of it. In fact, I'm not even claiming that this is any good, because it isn't. Gah. These two have to be the most difficult to keep in character of the whole novel, so what do I do but go and write a fic starring the two of them together. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

As Miss Elizabeth Bennet endured the torturous thoughts which commenced after her meeting with his aunt, Fitzwilliam Darcy sat disconsolately at the desk in his London study. He was to return to Netherfield the next day, and he could not decide whether the prospect delighted or disturbed him. The fact that he was thus indecided disturbed him, as well, for he was not accustomed to such ignorance regarding his own wishes. But then, he was not accustomed to being in love, and he was most certainly still in that state, so he attempted to resign himself to the fact that he would not know his heart until he could ascertain the state of hers. How he was to do that escaped him entirely, and he was beginning to despair of ever being truly happy again.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at his study door. At his bidding, a maid entered and announced that his Aunt Catherine was waiting for him in the parlor.

"Tell her I shall be with her in a moment," he said after an instant's hesitation. The maid curtseyed and left, leaving him to wonder why Lady Catherine had left Rosings Park to call on him. He stood and brushed out his coat, hoping to avoid any of those suggestions pertaining to the improvment of his personal appearance which Lady Catherine was fond of giving. Satisfied with his appearance, he took a deep breath and strode to the parlor, steeling himself for a conversation which, he was certain, would prove tedious.

Lady Catherine looked up at his entering the room, her sharp eyes boring into him in an instant. Fitzwilliam restrained himself from rolling his eyes or fidgeting under her gaze, instead offering a tight bow. "Aunt de Bourgh. Might I inquire as to the reason for the pleasure of seeing you here?"

"I have come to extract from you a promise which was most cruelly denied me by Miss Elizabeth Bennet," she said sharply, tilting her chin in the air that she might look down her nose at him despite the fact that he was standing and she seated.

Fitzwilliam could not keep an expression of astonishment from his face, and it took him a moment to respond, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Aunt? What could I possibly promise that she could not?"

"Would not, you mean," Lady Catherine sniffed. "She could well promise it if she chose, but I found her to be most disagreeably stubborn on the matter. I am resolved, however, that you should satisfy me where she would not."

"What matter? I cannot think what you mean," he answered shortly. He was not in any humor to play mind games with his aunt and he found it difficult to refrain from excusing himself and leaving her deprived of whatever promise it was that she expected of him.

"The matter of your marriage to her! You must set my mind at ease, for she is determined to have you regardless of any considerations I have to offer, and I am quite distressed."

This was so shocking as to have the unprecedented effect of rendering Fitzwilliam absolutely speechless. He merely stared at her, wondering if he had at last gone quite mad.

She settled back in her chair with a satisfied expression. "I see the news has distressed you as much as it does me. I have your word, then, that you shall never marry her?"

"I am afraid I have not the pleasure of understanding your meaning. Do you believe us to be engaged?" he asked faintly.

Lady Catherine frowned. "No, certainly not. She was, at least, willing to admit that much. But I cannot obtain from her a promise of your never being so, and I must have it from you if I cannot have it from her."

Fitzwilliam frowned and pretended further confusion, hoping to obtain the substance of his aunt's report before he allowed himself to think upon its implications. "What leads you to believe that an engagement between myself and Miss Bennet is imminent?"

"A rumor reached me at Rosings, through Miss Bennet's cousin Mr. Collins and his wife, that there was either an understanding between the two of you or would be one soon. I, of course, knew it to be a most scandalous falsehood, but I could not be fully at rest concerning the matter until I called upon Miss Bennet myself to ascertain the truth from her lips directly. You may imagine my shock when she informed me that she would not promise to avoid any engagement which you might be tempted to propose to her. She went so far as to imply that she would welcome such a proposal! But surely, nephew, you would not be so utterly foolish as to connect yourself with such a family. As to the reason for my visit, I seek now to warn you that she has her sights set on you, and to put you on your guard. I would not see my nephew connect himself so poorly. Do I have your word that you will not marry her?"

At every sentence, Fitzwilliam found it more difficult to maintain his composure. His indignance rose with every word and it was all he could do to answer shortly, "You may rest assured that I will not marry anyone with whom I should be ashamed to connect myself, Aunt." But as he spoke, he remembered her earlier words and could not keep himself from adding, "What led you to believe that she would welcome a proposal from me? What did she say to give you such an impression?" He held his breath, feeling somehow that his very life hinged on Lady Catherine's reply.

"I do not recall her exact words, but it was something to the effect that estrangement from your family would be nothing to her, for as your wife she would have pleasures enough to render those denied insignificant. Insolent girl!"

Could she--surely he had not heard aright! "Pleasures enough... can this be Elizabeth?" he murmured to himself. "She cannot possibly mean that she would wish those pleasures bestowed upon her. 'Tis generous enough that she acknowledge their existence at all!" This would never do. He returned his gaze to his aunt, though his attention was already miles away at Longbourn. "Forgive me, Aunt, but I fear I must take my leave. I have much to finish before I take my leave of London, and I had hoped to do so today. You may have my word that I will never marry a woman who will shame the Darcy name, and you must take it and be satsified, for I have a great deal of work to do." Amazed at his own boldness, for he had never been so rude to his aunt before, he left the room without waiting for a reply and flew up the stairs. He would begin preparing for his return to Netherfield immediately. Surely Elizabeth would have refused him to his aunt as she had refused him to his face, if she intended never to marry him! Perhaps she loved him after all, or perhaps he at least stood a chance of earning her love. He had to return to her, right away, to ascertain her feelings. Why had he ever left Netherfield to begin with? He could be with her now!

He was on the road in no time, his thoughts filled with nothing but Elizabeth. And for the first time in months, Fitzwilliam Darcy allowed himself to hope.