It is very human for people to wish bad things will happen to bad people, whether the bad people are real or fictional. Jane Austen was surprisingly kind to her unpleasant characters. I am not as nice as she was, but I am not going to give horrible endings to them. I’m just going to give them the fate that they earned.
Today’s victim, I mean protagonist, is Lady Catherine.
Lady Catherine watched her daughter as she read the report. Lady Catherine knew Mr. Smith was not suited for Anne and now there was proof. Dates. Names. Anne would have to renounce her engagement. Lady Catherine frowned. Anne had reached the second page of the report and she was not upset. Shouldn’t she be horrified by now?
But Anne’s face didn’t show horror. It showed amusement. What on earth did Anne have to be amused about? She claimed she loved Mr. Smith and she was amused?
Anne handed back the report without a word. She stood up and started to leave the room.
“I will tell Mr. Collins not to read the banns tomorrow,” Lady Catherine said.
“You don’t have that authority,” Anne said.
“He will obey me!”
“Yes, he would do that. If he doesn’t read the banns, I will travel to Pemberley. Elizabeth and Darcy will let me stay with them long enough to have the banns read.”
“How will you get there? I will not let you use a carriage.” As soon as she said it, Lady Catherine regretted her words. She was attacking from the wrong direction. Anne must be made to want to renounce the engagement. Better to attack on different terms. “Your grandfather was the second son of an earl and captain of a ship in the royal navy when he married my mother, who was the daughter of a baron. A year later, the earl died, making your grandfather an earl. Your father was a baron from a line dating back more than two hundred years. I have a right to two titles, Lady Catherine and Lady de Bourgh. If you marry Mr. Smith, you will be a mere Mrs. Smith.” She said the last word with disgust.
“You wanted me to marry Darcy. I would have been a mere Mrs. Darcy.”
Lady Catherine couldn’t believe Anne didn’t know the difference between the two names but had a better argument. “Darcy is your cousin and of the same noble line that you belong to. Whereas Mr. Smith’s parents were illegitimate. His father was the son of a scullery maid and a groom. The maid was discharged. His mother didn’t even know who her father was.”
“His father, the master, didn’t want to lose his groom. He had quite a way with horses. He stayed, but arrangements were made for the former scullery maid and her child, including an apprenticeship for the child. As to his mother, she was good enough to raise the man I love.”
“You knew?” Lady Catherine said in shock. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I knew how you would react.”
“No one will accept him. Don’t you understand? Both his parents were illegitimate.”
“Not only is that not Mr. Smith’s fault, it’s not his parents fault.”
“No one will accept his parents. He invites them over regularly. No one will want to visit and accidentally be contaminated by associating with bastards.”
“Perhaps,” Anne replied with a smile. “But I’ve met them. They are delightful people. Hard working, even though they are in their fifties.”
Lady Catherine scoffed. “That’s hardly a virtue for the right people. No one will accept a man with his heritage.”
“I accept him. I hope my cousins do also. I am marrying Mr. Smith, not his parents.”
“Even though he’s in trade?”
“That is hardly news to either of us,” Anne said. “We both met him when we were buying silk from his warehouse and you insisted on being waited on by the owner. It is your doing that I met him.”
Anne tuned on her heels and left.
When the service came to the time to read the banns, Mr. Collins followed Lady Catherine’s instructions. Anne said nothing about it for two weeks. Lady Catherine thought she had won. She even arranged for an announcement to be put in the newspapers, telling of the broken engagement. There. Done. Now Anne was free to find a suitable husband.
Lady Catherine heard a carriage arrive. Shortly afterward, Mr. Smith was announced. Instead of the usual formalities, he said, “Are you ready?” to Anne.
“Yes.” Anne stood up, saying, “My bags are packed. I will wait in the carriage for half an hour. If you have my bags brought to the carriage, I would appreciate it. If you wish to allow Mrs. Jenkinson to come with me, fine. She should have time to pack. Otherwise, I will travel to Pemberley with Mr. Smith and no chaperone.”
Grimly, Lady Catherine ordered Mrs. Jenkinson to join Anne.
Lady Catherine wrote letters. She wrote to Darcy. She stooped to write to his new wife. She wrote everyone she knew about Mr. Smith’s background. Mrs. Darcy wrote a cheerful letter back to her describing how Anne was taking long walks with her betrothed and was in excellent health.
Her agents found nothing more that was useful about Mr. Smith. They estimated his income was around a thousand pounds a year, making him hardly worthy of the heiress to Rosings but not poor. She tried to find a scandal relating to Mr. Smith, some wrong doing which would demean him in Anne’s eyes. All she found was that he was a hard-working apprentice who inherited a small business from his childless master. The business thrived under him.
Lady Catherine discovered through a bribed servant at Pemberley that Mr. Smith received frequent letters from London and spent many hours answering them. They were business letters. Was Anne going to be married to a man who toiled in trade?
The marriage took place. Lady Catherine did not attend. She then received an insulting letter from Mr. Smith asking, no demanding, Anne’s dowry and the house in London. He had the nerve to cite Sir Lewis’ will. She realized she couldn’t withhold the dowry but would not give the house. But her attorney reported that they came with legal documents and collected Anne’s dowry and took over the London house. Lady Catherine didn’t open any future letters from Anne or Mr. Smith, but she wrote scathing letters to all her connections asking that they cut Anne. Miss Anne de Bourgh no longer existed. Anne Smith was someone she would not have anything to do with.
Mrs. Jenkinson returned to collect her belongings. “Anne has given me a small pension,” she said. “I’m going to live with my niece. Mr. Smith told me to tell you he will retaliate unless you write your friends and tell them to accept Mrs. Smith.”
“I would take him seriously,” Mrs. Jenkinson said just before leaving.
What could he do that he hadn’t already done? Rosings was Lady Catherine’s until she died. Mr. Smith already had the house in town and Anne’s dowry. More importantly, he already had Anne.
The first clue came from an absence of return letters. People weren’t writing her anymore. An old friend wrote a brief note saying she would not continue their correspondence. No reason was given. Angry and suspicious, she went to town. As she drove up to the Anne’s, she saw three women leaving. Their clothing announced they were people of fashion. They left in two different carriages, showing they were not all in the same party. Lady Catherine was admitted to the town house, her house, by a servant she didn’t recognize.
“You had company,” she said to Anne.
“Yes. Mrs. Gardiner, Mrs. Brooks and Lady Emily Mowbray.
“What are their connections?”
Anne gave Mrs. Brooks’ connections, which Lady Catherine recognized as being impeccable. “The other two have husbands in trade.” When Lady Catherine protested, Anne explained, “Lady Emily was the ninth child of an earl who spent too much money. Her husband was willing to marry her without a dowry.”
Anne had friends. She was not ostracized. Lady Catherine knew she should be pleased but wasn’t.
“Where is Mr. Smith?” Lady Catherine asked Anne.
“At the warehouse. Working. It’s what he does.”
“What has he done? My friends aren’t associating with me anymore.”
“Using the truth. I can’t blame him for doing it. I didn’t even try to talk him out of it. He investigated you.”
“How dare he!”
“You investigated him,” Anne responded mildly.
“There was nothing to find about me. I’ve always been completely open.”
“You have, but your parents weren’t. Your father was a younger son and a sea captain. He became engaged to our mother. He expected to marry her right away, but he was called back to his ship.”
“Yes, and he and mother took a quick trip to Scotland to get married.”
“Of course, there is no way to prove or disprove that although Brighton is a long way from Scotland. The church registry in Brighton records your birth as a child of Catherine Miller, spinster with the father as being William Fitzwilliam. There is a marriage taking place five weeks after your birth of the same two people. Your mother presumably conceived a child shortly after the engagement. Your father did the right thing and married her, but you are still illegitimate. If you’ve been feeling the effects of this disclosure, you were right. People do care about legitimacy.”
A sound behind her caused her to whirl around, only to see Mr. Smith. “Good evening, Lady de Bourgh, as I believe my investigation finds to be your only remaining title, given you by your husband in a legitimate union. I hope you had a pleasant journey from Rosings. Would you like some tea?”
That’s my revenge. What would be your petty revenge for Lady Catherine?