ExceedinglyJane.com by Ed S.
Home Dialogues PenPals AnneDeG Helen MissGreerGarson
The "After Pride and Prejudice" Series
Part 1 -- Lady Catherine comes to Pemberley
"A letter from Mrs. Darcy, m'lady."
Dear me, another letter from that woman. Well, after all, it is Wednesday, isn't it. She is relentless to be sure. What else can you expect from someone of her background?
Well, what does Mrs. Darcy want this week? For such an unlearned young woman she certainly does have a lot to say. Well, why wouldn't she, having just married into one of the most illustrious families in all of England? It'll take her months -- no, years -- to completely take in all the wonders of her new life. The grounds at Pemberley, for instance, contain treasures that she'll never discover on her own. My word, how did she ever learn to write so many letters without a governess?
And why do her letters always arrive at the very moment that I'm about to add the final stitch to my needlepoint? How am I to gain any mastery of this art if I'm constantly being interrupted by drivel from Pemberley? I should've taken up this pastime years ago, when I was a girl. It's really quite straightforward. I could easily have outdone my sister Anne and taken some of Father's compliments for myself.
And fewer complaints from Mother. "Barbara Catherine Fitzwilliam! Why don't you follow your sister's example and take up a more ladylike pursuit?" She was always expecting me to act like an adult, even when I was only thirteen years old and there was a whole world outside to investigate, a world full of trees and flowers and ferns and mushrooms.
My friend Catherine Hughes tried to get me to take up needlepoint when we were girls, but I found the plant kingdom so much more interesting. She herself was quite good with the needle, better than my sister I dare say, but her designs always had such a morbid feel to them, with dark colours and straggly lines and witch-like blisters. Somehow it didn't seem a surprise when she died of the pox at age fifteen.
Oh, what a dreadful thing to say about the best friend I ever had. She should've taken better care of herself, I always told her. Always catching a cold or the flu. I was so lonely after she died. I even started calling myself "Catherine" just to spite her for leaving me behind.

I dare say I could teach Mrs. Darcy a thing or two about Pemberley. Lewis and I toured those grounds endlessly before our marriage, beginning with that long summer when my sister married William Darcy. Oh, the flocks of birds near Sparrow lake. The Jacob's Ladders in the western grove. Marigolds everywhere. And the chance meeting with Lewis in that glade near the three tall oak trees, the same glade where he asked for my hand exactly one year later, one year to the very day. I wonder if any of those words he carved into that tree are still legible. Heavens, I hope not.
Mrs. Darcy probably thinks she can wear me down by writing to me every single week, but I've been on this earth long enough to see through those wiles of hers, the same wiles she used on my nephew last year. Now she's trying to turn around my opinion. She has no idea what she's up against. She'll have to get up quite early in the morning to outmanouevre a Fitzwilliam.

My word. So Mrs. Darcy is with child already. It certainly didn't take her long to pollute the Darcy line with that Hertfordshire blood of hers. I'll wager that the people in that town of hers -- Meryton I believe it is -- are already celebrating in the streets.
What a dreadful time I had in that place last year when I had to visit Mrs. Darcy's home. Such a small estate. A needle in a haystack. A pimple on a horse's rump. It's an embarrassment for my nephew to be associated with such squalor. I suppose I'll have to visit that area again some day to pay respects to Mrs. Collins' parents. My daughter insists.
And speaking of Mrs. Collins, how has she managed to captivate my daughter so thoroughly? I've worked quite diligently to raise my daughter Anne to associate only with people of the appropriate calibre. It's that Hertfordshire guile at work again. And having Mrs. Collins here for dinner three times a week is probably too much personal contact, but I don't want it said that I'm ungenerous to my tenants. And I rather like the way Mr. Collins attends to my every word. Why shouldn't I enjoy having an appreciative audience from time to time? And if Mrs. Collins thinks I'm going to pay respects to Mrs. Darcy's family when I visit her own family in Meryton, then she can just forgo dinner with me for an entire week.
Anne has been getting quite unruly these days, probably because of her unauthorized correspondence with Mrs. Darcy. When I find out who's been smuggling those letters to my daughter, I'll have them drawn and quartered. Or horse-whipped at least. Does Mrs. Darcy have nothing better to do than to write letters to everyone she knows? Does she think quills grow on trees? How does her writing leave her any time to actually manage her new home? Mrs. Reynolds is probably doing everything herself, the poor dear.
Mrs. Reynolds won't admit that to me, though. I've known that dear woman for ages. I've even shared a few secrets with her, a long, long time ago. But she is keeping Pemberley's dirty linen all to herself. She won't tell me a thing.
And that's just as it should be, because Mrs. Reynolds is a woman who can be trusted. If Mrs. Reynolds ever tires of Mrs. Darcy's machinations then I hope she'll apply for a position with me. To be the housekeeper here at Rosings would add years to her life I'm sure.

Now why on earth does Mrs. Darcy need my permission to name her baby "Anne"? It's been common practice for centuries to name one's firstborn after its grandparents. Just because her husband's mother was my sister doesn't give me any special right to confer that name. She can do as she pleases. She's just trying to curry favour with me.
"Anne Barbara Darcy." Well, I do like the sound of it, actually. I'm sure she has no idea that my own Christian name is actually Barbara, as is her own mother's middle name. Another unpleasant connection with the Bennet family.
It's unusual, though. I haven't seen such a coincidence since my friend Catherine Hughes and I discovered that we had been born on the very same day. She was older by a few hours, though, as she liked to remind me on a daily basis. I wonder when Mrs. Bennet's birthday is.
I'd like to see the look on Mrs. Darcy's face when she realizes that she's named her baby not only after her mother but also after me.
Perhaps this is my opportunity to finally respond to Mrs. Darcy without appearing as if I've succumbed to her pressure. I can write a letter bestowing the name "Anne" on her baby and then relating the strange similarity in Christian names. Perhaps the shock of receiving a response from me will stun her into silence. Then I'll have some peace and quiet on my Wednesday afternoons. And I'll finally complete a needlepoint without interruption.
Why do I even bother to read her letters anyway? My chiffonier is already bursting with her unwanted correspondence. But I don't ever want it said that I ignore a letter -- any letter, no matter how low its origin or how trivial its contents. I learned that lesson years ago when I failed to open that letter from my brother Stuart and thereby missed the christening of his son John. Perhaps that's why the boy turned into such a hellion.

When Mrs. Darcy finally stops writing me then I won't have to listen to any more nonsense about the renovations she's planning for the house or the Christmas activities that she wants to re-introduce. My own sister Anne initiated those very activities a full generation ago. As if Mrs. Darcy could do a creditable job without my help. She has no idea how integral a part I played in helping my sister administer those events.
As I did during the Christmas season in '87, when there were three little children running around Pemberley: Anne's little Willy, Stuart's little Dickie, and my own sweet Annie. I was in charge of decorating the east parlour and preparing the games for Christmas afternoon and making the gift baskets for our guests. I even drew a large flower -- with no one's help -- for our game of "Pin a Nose on the Rose."
Heavens, that was a lot for one person to take on, but did anyone ever hear me complain? Stuart's wife Claudia was a marvel at cutting silhouettes. Still is, I dare say. Her son John was such a devil, though, bursting the balloons with a pin and tormenting the little ones. I must say he hasn't changed one bit.
Anne's husband William would always tease Lewis about his knighthood, saying that the King had gone baffy the very day after the ceremony. And then Lewis would say that William himself would have been knighted if he hadn't stepped on the Prince's foot that day at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. And then Stuart would drag the two of them off for a few glasses of port and all three of them would be absolutely useless to us for the rest of the day, just singing and gamboling throughout the upper part of the house for hours. Anne, Claudia and I would get the little ones to help hunt down their fathers and then we'd scold them and soothe their hurt feelings with a kiss.
Mrs. Darcy is deluding herself if she thinks she can duplicate the festive mood of those times -- unless she seeks my advice, that is. It would be just like her to ignore everything I have to say. Perhaps I should write to her to explain how important I was to the planning and execution of those festivities.

What a slow week it's been.
Mr. and Mrs. Collins have been visiting her parents for a fortnight, Anne has been visiting her friend Martha Langley -- against my wishes -- and Mrs. Jenkinson has been with her sick sister in Essex. And I'm left alone with the lugubrious Mrs. Webster. I haven't received a letter all week, not even from Lady Weltmore, who was to pass through Kent soon.
But today's the day that Mrs. Darcy's letter should arrive. Rain or shine. Nothing can stop that woman. I hope I can muster enough vigour to read it. What will she ask for today? Most likely she'll invite me to Pemberley again.
I should call her bluff. Oh, to see the look on her face when my town coach pulls up unexpectedly and she realizes what her letters have wrought. Then we'll see what she's made of. I'll show her so many avenues and pathways around that park that she'll be overcome with the vapours.
But considering her condition, perhaps she needs to rest more. From the sound of her letters, she hasn't slowed down one jot. I hope her husband doesn't allow her to endanger the health of his very first child, the potential heir to his estate. And if it's a girl then he'd better not entail Pemberley away from the female line, as happened in Mrs. Darcy's own family. Having too many daughters seems to run in that family.
And her family's home is entailed to Mr. Collins of all people. Well, good for him I say, but once he's left Hunsford to live at Longbourn then who in Heaven's name will entertain me on a weekday evening? Oh well, it serves the Bennets right for not having any sons.
Mrs. Darcy should be confined to bed, for the baby's sake. Restrained forcibly if necessary.
The generous thing to do would be to warn Mrs. Darcy of my impending arrival and give her a chance to prepare our rooms. She's probably gutted my old room already. Filled it with her Hertfordshire relics and refuse. I'll probably have to sleep in the drafty north wing and catch my death.
But I wouldn't want ugly rumours to spread all across Derbyshire, rumours that Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives at one's home without a formal invitation. I am a model of propriety if I'm anything at all. Everyone who knows me knows that.
But why has fate left me alone this afternoon with that stubborn Mrs. Webster? She's after me again. "Lady Catherine, it's time for your morning walk."
"Not now, Webster."
"It's eleven thirty, Lady Catherine."
She is the most cantankerous woman I've ever known. I'm getting rid of her as soon as my legs strengthen, as soon as I'm able to circumnavigate the house in less than twenty minutes. Her demeanour depresses me. It dampens my enthusiasm even for inhaling and exhaling.
"I said not now, Webster. I have a letter to read. From my nephew's wife."
"The letter can wait, Lady Catherine, but your walk can't. I have your boots and shawl ready by the main door."
"Might I remind you, Webster, that people like you can be replaced more easily than a carriage wheel."
"Boiled chicken for lunch today, Lady Catherine. Right after your walk." Obstinacy, thy name is Webster. I'll put that in my next letter to Mrs. Darcy. She knows I have a way with words.
When my legs have regained their strength I'm going to kick Mrs. Webster off the grounds with my own right foot.

It's time again for my biannual visit to Sussex to see Lady Weltmore. As it turns out she's not going to be passing through Kent after all. She and I were very close before Lewis died, and I was a great comfort to her when her own husband passed away several years later. She has a very uncritical eye, but her influence with Duchess Howarth is not to be underestimated.
These Sussex roads have somehow gotten more passable in the last year or so. Maybe I won't break a carriage wheel this time.
But why is Countess Lambury always here whenever I'm visiting? That woman's skull is three inches thick. She's never satisfied.
"Catherine, my dear, I met your nephew's new wife several months ago at the Governor's Ball. Quite an ostentatious dresser, I must say. Her pearl necklace was full twice the size of my own. I had rather hoped to see you there, my dear."
Oh, dear. My nephew is married less than a year and already his good name is being drawn through the mud by his wife's behaviour. "I'm so sorry, Cynthia, but my lumbago again, you understand," I tell her.
"Oh, Cynthia, I thought she was lovely." Lady Weltmore forgives anything.
"I don't know what she said to my husband," the Countess continues. "He and Mr. Cunningham were laughing so hard that they almost spat out their sherry. I understand she's from Hertfordshire. What an impression to make at one's first appearance in town."
The Countess sips a single drop of tea. "Alfred wouldn't tell me what she said. He just loves bawdy stories, though. People from Hertfordshire are known for their vulgarity, did you know that, Catherine? I suppose it's hard to rid oneself of one's provincial sense of humour so soon after such an advantageous marriage."
Yes, Mrs. Darcy does tend to make humourous remarks at inappropriate moments. I almost choked on a chicken bone at Rosings last year. There are times to be amusing and there are times to wait until your hostess has finished chewing her food.
But it's always a pleasure to contradict the Countess. "Actually, Cynthia, I found her to be quite engaging at Rosings last year. She was my guest for several weeks before my nephew became betrothed to her, you know."
The Countess drones on. "Well, it's not the first time that someone with her looks has managed to raise her fortune to such an extent. Won't be the last time, I dare say." Another drop of tea. "I believe she danced with almost every gentleman at the ball that night. Mr. Cunningham had three dances with her in fact. I counted."
Lady Weltmore tries to reassure me. "Oh Catherine, pay no mind to Cynthia. Darcy was beaming all night long."
"Yes, Cynthia, my nephew considers himself very fortunate to have found such a treasure." I hope Mrs. Darcy never finds out that I said such a thing. Her head might burst.

My family history is really no business of Mrs. Darcy's. Why would it be of any concern to someone of her modern generation?
But Georgiana is a blood relation, and perhaps her mind will take a genealogical turn some day. It's not unusual for such a thing to happen in middle age. Georgiana may wish to construct an annotated family tree some day, or mount some plaques near our family portraits in the West Hall. I would write directly to Georgiana but Mrs. Darcy may interpret that as disrespect and I'd never hear the end of it. For Georgiana's sake I suppose I could outline a few details in my next letter to Pemberley.
I do enjoy thinking back to those times, but I usually end up in tears. Why did Lewis have to die so young? I can still smell the marigolds on the day we met, the day after my sister had been married to William Darcy. I had always hated the smell of marigolds until then.
What a heavenly afternoon that was: wading in Sparrow Lake -- sitting under that oak tree, the middle one -- thinking about the wedding and how Anne had sparkled -- trying to put my shoes back on -- leaning against that stupid tree -- spraining my ankle -- cursing the foul-smelling marigolds -- seeing someone walking up near by -- cursing my ill temper -- cursing the intrusion upon my misery.
But it was Sir Lewis de Bourgh who was approaching me and my sore ankle. I had seen him at the wedding but we hadn't been introduced. His offer to help, his voice, his eyes, they're all as clear as if it were yesterday. We talked for what seemed like hours and then I hobbled back to the house while clutching his arm. The path was suddenly downhill all the way. I've always loved the smell of marigolds since that day.
One year later, to the very day, under the same tree and with the same marigolds, Lewis asked for my hand in marriage. He carved our names in the trunk of that middle tree. Almost cut his finger off. And one year later, at the same tree, with the same marigolds, I told him that I was to give him a child, Anne. We could still read our nicknames in the tree. He was only thirty-eight years old when he died.

Perhaps Anne and I should take a little trip up to Pemberley before the baby is born, while Mrs. Darcy is still able to walk the grounds. There is much I need to show her.
But why is she asking for my advice on the upbringing of children? After all, I've had only one child and her own mother has had five. Mrs. Bennet will probably think that she has five times the experience. I'm sure that one child provides all the knowledge a mother ever needs. I can just picture Mrs. Bennet standing at Pemberley by Mrs. Darcy's bedside, sneering at every bit of guidance that I have to offer.
There seems to be a conspiracy against my counsel these days. I caught Mrs. Collins the other day going against my wishes, explaining that she had gotten contradictory advice from Mrs. Weller, one of my more vocal tenants. Rather than just doing what I had recommended, which is generally the safer course of action, she felt she had to weigh Mrs. Weller's advice against my own.
Mrs. Collins is too much the independent thinker for my taste. I always did suspect that I should've accompanied Mr. Collins to Hertfordshire to help him select the most suitable wife available.

I've told Mrs. Darcy to expect Anne and me on July 9.
The driver insists that we can reach Derbyshire in a single day from London. I don't know what experience this man has had beyond Northhamptonshire, for the roads through Leicestershire are dreadful.
My Stanley knows these roads like the taste of his tongue, but then he decided to break his leg last week. This new driver had better be sober when he takes the reins or I'll drive the coach myself.
Modern technological progress in carriage construction has been remarkable these last several decades. I dare say I myself could get us to Derbyshire in a single day if I were only able to hold myself in the driver's perch for more than five minutes. My father was furious with me that day when I took his curricle out by myself. But I only ended up bruising my shin, nothing more. No bones were broken. But the way he doted on me for a full week afterwards was worth the pain.
The county of Bedfordshire consists primarily of pebbles. Lewis and I would always interrupt our trips through that region by stopping at a small town called Kettering, north of Bedford. The Melbourne Inn was very small and rustic, but very cozy.
In fact, I always thought that Anne herself began her existence at that very inn, but how can one know such a thing for sure? My mother had told my sister Anne, just before her marriage, that children should always be sparked on a Sunday evening. I have no idea how such idiotic superstitions get started, but it turns out that Lewis and I had stopped at Kettering on a Sunday evening on the way to William Darcy's birthday celebration in '84, exactly nine months to the day before Anne was born.
Lewis was always so attentive to me after a good bottle of claret. That night we had shared two bottles, and I myself had had two full glasses. I drank so much only to ease my slumber in those lumpy beds. Even the beds in Bedfordshire are full of pebbles.
And as I was falling asleep that night, I thought I could smell marigolds.

Meryton? What do you mean we're in Meryton? How on earth did that happen?
This is the same idiotic driver who thought he could get us all the way to Derbyshire in a single day, and now the sun has gone down and we're lost in the middle of Hertfordshire. Since when is Meryton on the route to Derbyshire? The only time I've been here is that day when I tried to persuade Mrs. Darcy to come to her senses. And it took me a good three hours to find it. It was hardly worth the trouble.
I think I understand now why Anne was talking so closely with this stupid driver back in London. She seemed embarrassed when I caught them whispering together. If Anne and Mrs. Darcy have engaged in some sort of skulduggery to strand me in Meryton then I'll get out and walk the remainder of the distance to Derbyshire. Or back to Kent.
And perhaps this explains the clandestine correspondence between the two of them all these months.
And to top it all off, the Towne Inn in Meryton is full up. I wonder how Anne and Mrs. Darcy arranged that. Well, it won't be the first time I've had to spend the night sleeping in a carriage, but that stupid driver can go sleep in the stables with the horses.
I've only slept in a carriage once, about fifteen miles past Kettering when a wheel broke. Just Lewis and me: the servants had gone on ahead. Carriages can be quite roomy if you let your imagination roam a bit. Thank goodness that Lewis had brought that bottle of claret. And a corkscrew. But I do wish he had taken more notice of the incessant squeaking of that old carriage. Anne could never understand why her father and I would laugh every time someone mentioned having broken a carriage wheel.
Anne is now suggesting that we search out Longbourn for the evening. And in the dark no less. With all those daughters in the house how could they possibly have room for us, except perhaps in the barn. Oh, but most of those daughters are married now, aren't they? Speaking of which, doesn't one of them live in a large house close to Longbourn? What was its name? Mrs. Darcy mentioned it several times in her letters. That daughter is also with child I believe. She's probably in no mood to be awoken by a total stranger in the middle of the night, unless she's in on this conspiracy as well.
If we ever get to Longbourn in one piece then I'll go the door myself. I wouldn't trust that empty-headed driver to even knock on a door by himself.

When I was at Longbourn last year the Bennets seemed properly intimidated by me, but if I rap on their door in the middle of the night they may be a bit too groggy to realize who I am. I could find myself accosted by a pitchfork before they realize that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is calling. I presume that Mrs. Darcy has made them all aware of the substance of my visit last year, so they'll know exactly how I feel about being indirectly related to them all.

I must say that the Bennets took the shock of seeing us rather well. The remnants of their dinner was all that was available to us, but it went down quite well, especially that sauce on the chicken. I must get their cook to demonstrate the technique to Waters at Rosings. I've eaten his food for over thirty years now and I can say with certainty that the man could stand a few new spices in his rack.
How ironic to be sleeping in Mrs. Darcy's old bed. Not lumpy at all. And are those marigolds I can smell?

Now where is Anne? If I don't find her quickly then I'll be forced to spend the entire morning talking to Mrs. Bennet.
That girl Catherine Bennet is not the sort that I want Anne to be associating with, but what can I do when I'm stranded in the middle of Hertfordshire with no parlour of my own to preside over? The girl is only half Anne's age and so much less mature than Anne is. And her interest in red coats is alarming. It took me a full year to purge that fascination from Anne's mind, well over a decade ago. Of course it didn't help when her cousin Richard joined the army two months later.

I can't seem to hide from Mrs. Bennet. "Lady Catherine, I was so disappointed that you were unable to attend my daughters' wedding last year."
"Yes, it was most regrettable that my lumbago had returned just a week earlier."
Why do I feel the need to lie to this woman? Why don't I just tell her that her daughter is a shameless hussy who seduced my nephew and doomed my daughter to spinsterhood? Well, I certainly would say as much if the two of us were alone at Rosings. But I suppose one can't be too ungrateful after being rescued from a frigid night in a coach.
Mrs. Bennet won't stop. "Just several months ago I was still saddled with five unmarried daughters. And all of a sudden three of them were well married."
Well, two of them certainly were.
"I presume, Lady Catherine, you've had similar difficulties finding a husband for your own daughter. Lizzy tells me Anne is almost thirty years of age."
"Well, my daughter Anne travels in very select circles, Mrs. Bennet, primarily in London. Deciding upon the most advantageous match from amongst all the available suitors is problematic to be sure." I find this subject uncomfortable. "You have such a small park here, Mrs. Bennet."
"You know, Lady Catherine, I've always told my girls that the best way to attract a man is to be a good dancer. I've always told them, 'Be light on your feet and your wedding's a treat'."
Country wisdom at its finest.
"My girls were always the favourites at parties, especially when there's dancing. Oh, how they love to dance. Does Anne dance?"
"Anne's health has prevented her from pursuing such strenuous activity, Mrs. Bennet. The doctors insist that she avoid any physical exertion."
"But Lady Catherine, a few minutes ago she and Kitty were climbing a tree."

Mr. Bennet has finally made an appearance after spending the entire morning buried in his library.
Lewis was certainly more attentive to his daughter than Mr. Bennet seems to be to his offspring. I always insisted that Lewis play an active role in Anne's upbringing, for I think that a young girl needs masculine as well as feminine guidance to become a truly rounded person. I well remember the things that I learnt from my own father, such as how to skip a rock on a pond, how to tie a bowline, and how to catch a fly with one's bare hands.
Which is not to say that a genteel young lady needs to be aware of such things, but in this day and age a woman shouldn't have to depend upon her husband for absolutely everything. When a lady reaches middle age she may find it necessary to fend for herself.
I think the Bennet girls, that young Catherine especially, could benefit from some male supervision. Her fascination with the military may be her undoing, as it was her younger sister's. Mrs. Bennet doesn't seem to be providing any guidance in this area at all. Of course, she seems to think that her youngest daughter's fate is something to aspire to.

What's my driver doing with that maid? Why isn't he busy loading our carriage?
I wouldn't be surprised if Mrs. Bennet recruited that maid to distract my driver and thereby keep me here longer. After all, it would be quite a feather in her cap to have it known that Lady Catherine de Bourgh was a guest at Longbourn for several days.

As it is, Mrs. Bennet is trying to persuade me to visit her eldest daughter at Netherfield, another daughter of hers who has been favourably re-situated. She speaks of Netherfield as if it were a palace. It's probably no larger than my alternate guest house at Rosings. And this Mr. Bingley sounds as dreary as Sir William Lucas was last year at Rosings.
Speaking of whom, Anne insists that common courtesy demands a visit to Mrs. Collins' parents at Lucas Lodge. It was hard enough putting up with Sir William last year at Rosings, what with his unique combination of condescension and bootlicking. It's appalling what a misplaced knighthood can do to a simple town merchant. The King must have conferred that honour on a frosty Friday in February.
Unfortunately, either of these excursions would require us to spend another night here in Hertfordshire. But it's getting late in the day as it is, what with Anne disappearing for hours with Catherine Bennet and Mrs. Bennet's insistence on showing me her elm grove.
The elm grove did remind me of some very happy times with Lewis in one of our own groves at Rosings. Wading in the lake, picnicking with three-year-old Anne, and that time when Lewis and I... oh, dear. I almost blurted out that episode to Mrs. Bennet. That woman has a knack for drawing me out. But then she is of a similar age to myself, and she remembers as well as I do the customs and conventions of those wonderful bygone days, and she enjoys reminiscing. Countess Lambury and Lady Weltmore are hardly the sort with whom I can discuss such personal matters.
I wonder of Mrs. Bennet ever visited the looking-glass rooms at the Vauxhall Gardens back in '86.

I have always been an early riser, but there is something perfidious about Mrs. Darcy's old bed that has kept me from consciousness until the stroke of eight. Perhaps I should have tried to take a room at the Towne Inn in Meryton, but then I'd have to rely upon an unknown cook for my morning meal.
I am really not looking forward to getting up this morning. I believe I was uncommonly generous in agreeing to visit both Lucas Lodge and Netherfield Hall in a single day. Thank goodness that Mrs. Bennet will be with me to provide some insulation from Sir William's turgid conversation.
However, it means a third night at Longbourn. I'll have to write another express to Mrs. Darcy to explain our continuing tardiness. She is not off the hook yet. Mrs. Darcy will have to deal with me sooner or later.

Thank goodness Mrs. Bennet brought her smelling salts to Lucas Lodge so that I could resuscitate myself after that tedious ordeal with Sir William.
There is clearly no love lost between Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas. They spent the entire morning engaged in a childish rivalry over their respective daughters' fates. This had the unfortunate effect of leaving Sir William free to regale me with endless stories of his great-great-uncle's adventures in the Upper House in the years of George the Second and his own long battle with rheumatic fever.
Mrs. Bennet still harbours a grudge against Lady Lucas' daughter for her ensnarement of Mr. Collins. I must say that I agree. My parish at Hunsford and Mr. Collins himself would both have been much better off had he selected Miss Mary Bennet as his wife, a fine girl whom I find to be extremely attentive and polite and a great proficient on the pianoforte. Mrs. Bennet's first comment to me upon exiting Lucas Lodge was "Charlotte Lucas was certainly quick on her feet," to which I replied "and her wedding was a treat." We were both convulsed with laughter until we reached Netherfield. I'll have to mention this in my next express to Mrs. Darcy, who by now is no stranger to my witty way with words.

What an unexpected pleasure Netherfield proved to be.
Seldom have I met such a lovely and gracious hostess as Mrs. Darcy's sister. Her taste in furnishings and draperies is quite in line with my own. The east parlour in particular reminded me of my own at Rosings, where I was first introduced to her sister so many months ago.
My word, what if Mr. Collins had been able to attach himself to Mrs. Bingley last year instead of Miss Lucas? The elder Bennet daughter would have made a fine addition to Hunsford, even though I dare say she would've been wasted upon Mr. Collins.
There were a few moments of discomfort when Mrs. Bingley noticed me staring a bit too intently at her husband, but how can I be expected to help myself when Mr. Bingley has the exact same pair of eyes as did my beloved Lewis? What sorcery has given him even Lewis's voice and general manner? I was held breathless while Mr. Bingley told me of the renovations he was planning for Netherfield and his progress in improving the grounds.
Mr. Bingley refused to let us leave the premises until I agreed to join them for dinner at Netherfield. I found it hard to withstand his request for very long, especially when he began to use the very same inflections and teasings that Lewis used whenever he wanted me to help finish a bottle of claret. I finally agreed to dinner, but only upon the condition that I be able to sit near Mr. Bingley himself and hear more of his plans for Netherfield. Mrs. Bingley herself then suggested -- bless her soul -- that I be seated at the head of the table and that her husband take the position to my immediate left.
But as it turns out, the Bingleys had given this particular day off to the bulk of their kitchen staff -- unwarranted generosity I believe. I therefore had to agree to dinner on the morrow and therefore a fourth night in Mrs. Darcy's old bed. I'll have to ask that imbecilic driver of mine if that bed can be fastened somehow to the back of the carriage and brought with us to Pemberley. I'm sure Mrs. Darcy will appreciate having it there, but I'll have to insist that it be installed in my own bedchamber.

Dinner at Netherfield the next evening was a pleasant affair for the most part, but it was marred by family squabbling over who should accompany Anne and me to Pemberley.
After three days in the close company of young Kitty Bennet, my daughter Anne was still conjoined to her at the hip. You would hardly know to look at the two of them that Anne was ten years older. I was even beginning to find it difficult to distinguish their voices when they entered a room at my back. As expected, Anne insisted that Kitty join us at Pemberley.
I myself could see no reason whatsoever for bringing Kitty Bennet with us to Pemberley while leaving her sister Mary behind, a young lady of great moral scholarship and deep proficiency at music.
And then the lugubrious Mr. Bennet, who had spent most of the day complaining of his nerves, made the grandiloquent pronouncement that he didn't relish the idea of being left behind at Longbourn with only his wife to amuse him. I dare say that this man has been surrounded by silly females for too long a time and could use a little male companionship.
I'm not sure how to explain to Mrs. Darcy that almost everyone she knows will be descending upon Pemberley in barely three days time, assuming that all the preparations can be completed by tomorrow evening. Unfortunately, the Bingleys will have to stay behind as Mrs. Bingley is quite heavy with child.
I dare say that Lizzy -- as I have heard her referred to countless times by now -- will have her hands full this summer.

Next: Mr. Bennet on the journey