Darcy returned with the Earl’s messenger. Mr Bennet had consented, Mary was thrilled, but they both agreed that Lizzy would want to tell her mother in person and undertook to keep her secret until she returned. Mary’s letter was so full of effusions of joy for her sister that Lizzy quite blushed. Mrs Dashwood was more than happy to consent to Elinor and Richard’s courtship, though her letter to Elinor contained a paragraph expressing her inability to understand the need for such an interim step, and offering her consent to the marriage, should they desire to become engaged while so far from her.
The Earl’s letters were rather more somber, but all arrangements had been made to admit Lady Catherine to the Bethlehem Hospital in return for a substantial donation. The Earl decided it was best to take her at once, and after some discussion with the family it was decided that the Earl, the Countess, and the Viscount would all accompany her on the trip south. The Earl had not wanted his wife to join them, but she insisted upon it and, as her arguments were all reasonable, he finally capitulated.
They elected to leave at daybreak, taking along provisions for their meals. The Darcys and Anne saw them off and it was a very distressing parting. Miss de Bourgh was left in tears upon seeing her mother still raving on about her and Darcy’s supposed engagement. Later that morning she sought out Mr Bingley to talk about it. He comforted her, trying to find soothing words. Bingley was not very good at that sort of thing, but she much preferred blunt honesty and told him so.
“You love your mother,” he said. “This wouldn’t hurt so if you didn’t. It’s hard, probably harder than my banishing Caroline was for me. At least there’s a chance that Caroline will reform herself.”
“Do you think there’s no hope for my mother?”
“Perhaps if something had been done sooner, but an institution seems rather irrevocable.”
“It does, but what else could have been done?”
“Nothing. She is a forceful woman. As far as I can see the only person she obeys is her brother. He has other duties, other responsibilities. He could not care for her as well as those at the hospital will.”
“And, of course, the hospital staff have experience, so they may have some success in treating her.”
“Do you think so? You hear such awful stories about these places.”
“You do. But your family can afford to pay them to care for her properly. And you will be able to visit her and see for yourself how she is treated. If she is mistreated I am sure your uncle will remove her and make other arrangements.”
“You are right, of course. I cannot help but worry though.”
“You would be a most unfeeling daughter if you didn’t! Once she’s had some time to settle in ask your family to escort you on a visit. Seeing her there may help.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea! I hadn’t thought of that!”
“Just don’t go with Darcy -- it might give her the wrong idea.”
She giggled slightly at that and Bingley felt quite proud of himself for eliciting such a reaction.
“I hope that I will see you in town for the season?” he asked.
“I’ve never been to town. It feels so strange to be able to decide for myself what to do. I think I may have a house in town.”
Deciding that it was ridiculous that she knew nothing of what she owned, she determined to speak with Darcy about it. He thought that a fantastic idea and asked to tag along.
“I would not make you uncomfortable in any way, but I’m still learning to manage an estate myself, and would benefit from any discussion on such matters.”
She had no objection and the two went to find Darcy. He was not pleased at the thought of being dragged away from his fiancee for such a matter, but Lizzy had no intention of leaving.
“I’ve no doubt that they will benefit from hearing what I have to say about the mistress’s duties. Besides, I should like to listen to you anyway.”
As long as she would not be leaving, he was quite happy to spend the day talking about estate management. It was not just a duty to him, he was truly passionate about it. While his listeners may not have shared his enthusiasm, they appreciated his expertise. He fully supported everything Lizzy had to say about the duties that fell to a mistress, and suggested that Anne ask for advice from her Aunt Helena, or other trusted, experienced ladies.
“I had thought of enlisting Mrs Collins’ help,” she said timidly.
“She will certainly be able to help you,” Lizzy answered. “She’s very active in the parish and knows the people there, so she will certainly be able to guide you.”
“Indeed,” Darcy agreed. “It is important to know what the tenants are like in order to appropriately mediate their disputes and ensure they receive the correct assistance when needed.”
As August was drawing to a close, they began making plans for meeting again in the winter. It was Anne who started the argument.
“As Elizabeth and Darcy will be married by then, they will have each other and not need all the other ladies to stay with them. I know Georgiana and Marianne will not wish to be parted, but I should like for Elinor and Jane to stay with me.”
“Oh no,” Lizzy said. “I cannot give up Jane!”
“But you will not be giving me up, Lizzy. I shall see you regularly, and Anne will have greater need of me.”
“Indeed I will.”
“But if you have Elinor, she will be able to guide you and Jane would be superfluous.”
“Her companionship will still be necessary to me.”
“Do not forget that Mary will be coming to town then as well. We would be more than happy to have her with us, but she would be pleased to be your guest, Lizzy,” Mr Gardiner said.
“Unless Anne tries to steal her away as well!” Lizzy laughed. The others quickly joined in.
“I have an idea!” Bingley said suddenly. “Why do we not all spend a few days at Netherfield on our way back to town?”
This sufficiently distracted them from the argument and they all agreed it was a good idea. Some of the party had reservations, but they did not share them with the group.
Lizzy expressed her fears of her family’s behaviour when she and Darcy had a moment to talk together quietly in the drawing room.
“My darling Lizzy, what on earth are you worrying for? Bingley has had to banish Miss Bingley to the north and Lady Catherine has been institutionalised. Your family does not compare!”
“But Colonel Brandon has not yet met them!”
“Do you think he will think less of your sister?”
“I don’t know. I just know that my mother will push her on Mr Bingley more than ever!”
“That will not scare him off. Have you not heard what happened to the first woman he ever loved?”
“His father was her guardian. He pushed for a marriage with the older brother as she was wealthy and the estate badly mismanaged. They were fully prepared to elope and he stayed true to her until she actually gave in to the pressure and married his brother.”
“Yes. But the point is that he will not be chased away by relatives who plan other matches.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“And I think Jane has made herself quite clear.”
“Yes, but still,”
“No. You have no cause for concern. As soon as you tell her that a Countess wishes to help plan your wedding, she will forget all about Jane.”
Lizzy laughed, as he had intended her to, though they both knew it was true.
Jane and Elinor waited until they had retired to have their talk. It was somewhat similar in nature.
“I just don’t know how to make her understand! If I tell her I’m no longer interested in Mr Bingley, she will tell me I’m being silly. If I tell her I’ve refused him, she will do everything she can to undermine my choice.”
“So don’t tell her that. You cannot make her understand and you cannot change her behaviour. The only thing you have any control over is you. Your behaviour, your words, your decisions.”
“So what do I do?”
“Ignore her as far as you can. I know that makes you uncomfortable, but you must remind yourself that trying to convince her of the truth will only upset her further and make things more difficult.”
“You are right of course.”
“And if you can bring yourself to do it, it will be very easy to distract her from your situation.”
“Your sister is engaged. Simply redirect the conversation to that topic and she will forget all about you.”
When Mrs Bennet heard that Netherfield was being opened for the master and a large party of friends, she lamented long and loud that Jane had ever been allowed to go so far as Devon. Knowing exactly where both Jane and Lizzy were, and having a clearer understanding of how the former felt, both Mr Bennet and Mary found her antics amusing and ignored her as much as possible.
Kitty and Lydia were pleased simply because they were bored. With the regiment in Brighton there was nothing of interest at home, with Mrs Forster in disgrace there was no news of officers at all. They were most put out that he was only staying a few days before going on to town. The least he could do is stay long enough to host another ball. Lydia declared that she would tell him so.
“And you think a man will listen to a little girl like you?” Kitty asked spitefully.
“Of course he will,” was the easy reply. “Just because you can’t say boo to a goose doesn’t mean no-one else has any gumption. Besides, he did last time.”
Kitty walked off wondering why she could not have a real friend. Maria Lucas didn’t really count for she was as interested in men, flirtation, and dancing as Lydia herself. Well, Mary had been able to get Lizzy to take notice of her, surely Kitty could convince one of her older sisters to be her friend.
The entire household was in an uproar a few days later when two carriages and a large number of horsemen appeared. The family was ordered outside by Mr Bennet, to some surprise. Mrs Bennet knew not where to turn, seeing so many men (including Mr Bingley!) at her door. When they began handing young ladies out of the one coach, and her own brother descended from the other, she was as flustered as she’d ever been.
Mr Bennet and Mary were the only ones prepared for Jane and Lizzy to disembark and were ready to step forward to welcome them home. Mrs Bennet was, thankfully, trying to split her attention in too many directions to have any impact on the group, though she managed to invite them all to Longbourn for dinner the following day.
After greetings and introductions, the Netherfield party departed to get some rest, though Lizzy and Marianne had planned an expedition to Oakham Mount the next morning, and Georgiana, having gained an introduction to ‘the musical Bennet’, had come as close to demanding as she could and insisted on a visit the following day to play duets together.
“And there’s a piece Marianne and I would like to play that’s two pianists and a harp. We tried to convince Lizzy to play with us, but she was not able to give her full attention. I know you’ll be in town in the winter and we’d very much like it if you’d play with us.”
“Oh yes,” Marianne said, overhearing the last part. Mary then discovered what single-mindedness really meant and it was all Elinor could do to separate them.
Alone again, the Bennets and Gardiners gathered in the drawing room to hear the latest news of the travellers and greet the children who had remained inside. Mrs Bennet had many sly remarks to make to them, Jane in particular, and they were all relieved when they were finally released to rest. Lizzy debated waiting till the evening, but decided it was best to do it at once. She asked to speak to her mother privately, an audience Mrs Bennet was not inclined to grant, as she wished to interrogate Jane further. She finally decided that Lizzy probably wanted to talk about that as well and the two went off together.
“I hope, Mama, that you will understand that I wished to tell you this in person, and won’t be angry with Mary and Papa for not telling you sooner.”
“Telling me what? There’s no need for secrets!”
“It is not a secret, I just wanted to share it with my mother in person. You know how important mothers are to their daughters, so I’m sure you comprehend my feelings.”
“Yes, of course you would want to tell me yourself.”
“I hope you will be happy for me.”
“For you?” she asked sharply. Jane was supposed to be the one marrying Mr Bingley.
“Yes. I am engaged to Mr Darcy.”
It was as if her mother’s brain had frozen. She sat there, silently, staring at Lizzy while opening and closing her mouth in shock. She knew not what to say.
“Mr Darcy?” she finally asked.
“The proud one with £10 000 a year and a house in town?”
“The very same.”
“Yes Mama. Very happily engaged. We wish to be married in early December.”
“Yes. His aunt, the Countess of Matlock, has no daughters of her own and would like to help with the planning. We know you won’t really need it, but she wants to be involved. She gave me this letter for you and hopes that you will correspond with her.”
“Yes Mama. May I leave you to your letter? I would like to rest some.”
“Of course you must rest! I need to see to tomorrow’s dinner and … Oh Lizzy!” Her mother embraced her strongly and left in a tizzy.
Jane would not condone her sister’s blatant manipulation of her mother, so Lizzy chose to share that only with her father and Mary. Mary also wanted to hear all about the proposal and whatever had been left out of her letters.
It was lucky that she chose her younger over her older sister on this occasion. Kitty was screwing up what little courage she could to knock on Jane’s door. It took her a few attempts and she almost ran away immediately after her hand left the door. Jane opened it too swiftly for that.
“Kitty! Come in. How thoughtful of you to come keep me company.”
Kitty blushed, but said nothing to dissuade her sister from that opinion. She waited quietly while Jane changed out of her travelling clothes, and may have sat there without saying anything all afternoon. Jane was watching her, however, and could see her sister wished to talk.
“Now, Kitty, come lie on the bed with me and tell me everything I’ve missed.”
“Oh, but my dress…”
“I shall not let you escape me until it is time to change for dinner, so there need be no concerns for your dress.”
“Alright then,” Kitty said, joining her sister.
Jane asked questions designed to get her sister to talk and she succeeded.
“You don’t sound to have enjoyed your summer at all.”
“Oh, that’s not true. I have had fun, and we’ve had the children to look after and play with, but it just seems so hollow in retrospect.”
“So your enjoyment was fleeting?”
“Yes! And I don’t understand why. I never used to feel this way!”
“No, but you were a child then. You are growing into a woman now and you feel the need for more substantial endeavours.”
“But what do I do? I’m not clever like Lizzy and Mary, and I have no friends of my own.”
“You will find your friends. And home will soon be irrevocably changed and we will all need to make adjustments.”
“Changed? What do you mean?”
“I do not think Lizzy will mind my telling you. She is speaking to Mama now, and then it will only be Lydia who doesn’t know.”
“Lizzy is engaged to Mr Darcy!”
Kitty gasped. “Really? Mr Darcy?”
“Yes. They hope to be married before Christmas.”
“A winter wedding! I hope there’s snow. And she must have some of those white roses in the hothouse for her hair. They will look beautiful amongst her dark curls.”
“Yes, they will. And we shall no doubt be very busy with wedding planning for the next few months. But we are talking about you now. With Lizzy gone and Mary and I in town this winter, what can we do for you to have more lasting enjoyment over the winter than you did over the summer?”
“In town? But then I shall be stuck with Lydia!” she wailed.
Jane laughed. “We’re trying to make that less burdensome for you, my Kitty. I shall suggest some books I have found very interesting and we can discuss them once you’ve read them.”
“That won’t help. Lydia will just pull them out of my hands so that she can read them and then she will spoil them for me.”
“She will not. The books I have in mind are not novels. I do not read as extensively or widely as either Lizzy or Mary, but I have read some interesting histories and accounts of life in other lands that I would like to share with you. I’m sure you will have plenty of questions as you read, I certainly did. Colonel Brandon answered them for me, as I shall try to do for you.”
“Colonel Brandon? Was he the one with a blue coat and the chestnut horse?”
“He was. How did you remember?”
“I simply extrapolated from your blush now to his looks earlier.”
Jane blushed even brighter. “You must not say anything, Kitty.”
“I won’t. I saw how uncomfortable you were in the parlour with Mama. I wonder I never noticed before.”
“It is as I said, you are beginning to become a woman. Now, I have a second suggestion for you.”
“I could not help noticing how decorative your letters were.”
Kitty blushed and looked away. “I was just bored.”
“They were beautiful.”
“Oh yes. I showed them to Elinor. She’s been teaching me the basics of drawing and she said that you would do well at it.”
“Oh, do you think so?”
“I can only say that I thought your letters beautiful. I know nothing of what it takes to draw well, to Elinor’s chagrin. She , however, said it was outrageous that you have never been instructed. Now, it’s not the present I intended to give you, but I bought some drawing materials when we were in town. I think you would do far more with them than I ever will and I would like for you to have them.”
She could not help herself, she began to sob quietly. Jane, of course, was distressed by this. She did not know what to do when Kitty told her that no-one had ever said such kind things to her, or thought that something of theirs would be better as hers.
“I suppose I must learn to see our family as they really are, instead of what I wish them to be, as well. I would not know where to begin to curb Lydia’s head-strong selfishness, but I will speak to Lizzy. I may not agree with her methods, but she gets the desired result.”
Jane eventually dropped off to sleep, but Kitty did not mind in the slightest. She was overjoyed by the things Jane had said, the way she had treated her and spoken to her. She could’ve stayed there all night, basking in her happiness.