In Pride and Prejudice, so much of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s vitriol is driven by her insistence that her nephew Darcy is engaged to her daughter, Anne. While Miss de Bourgh is frequently mentioned in Jane Austen’s timeless classic, the young lady has little if anything to say about the events unfolding around her. Part of the beauty of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) is the writer’s ability to change such things as that. In Impertinent Strangers, Miss Anne de Bourgh has quite a lot to say.
“There you have it, Nephew! It is precisely as I told you. Now, if you will pardon me, I will take my leave of the two of you so that you can discuss this matter—a discussion that is long overdue if you ask me.” She turned and faced Anne’s companion. “Come along, Mrs. Jenkinson. I believe this assignation warrants a measure of privacy.”
By the time Darcy and Anne were alone, he was pacing the floor. His complexion was pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure and would not open his lips until he believed himself to have attained it. When he had finally collected himself to discuss the matter with a measure of civility, he approached his cousin in quick steps. “Anne, what is the meaning of this? What on Earth were you thinking in saying all those things to Lady Catherine?”
She shrugged. In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, “Cousin, I am dreadfully sorry if what I said has caused you pain. It was not my intention to do so.”
“What you said to your mother cannot be true. Did Lady Catherine force you to say that you desire a union between us? Is that why you spoke as you did, out of fear of your mother’s disapprobation?”
“Again, I am sorry if what I said caused you any pain.”
Growing impatient with his cousin’s parroted response, he said, “Pray answer the question.”
Folding her hands in her lap, Anne said, “I believe I already responded to the question—more than once if you will recall when my mother asked me. However, as you seem to have a difficult time comprehending my reply, I shall state it again.” She looked at Darcy squarely in his eyes. “Yes, I desire this union.”
“I do not believe a word of this. It is impossible that you feel this way. Lady Catherine put you up to this! Admit it to me, and allow me to deal with the consequences of your mother’s disappointed hopes. You need not face her at all.”
Anne glared at Darcy. “Why is it impossible, Cousin? Do you suppose that because you are oblivious to my feelings for you they simply do not exist?”
His mouth fell open. “You have feelings for me? You have never spoken of any such sentiments previously. You have given me no hint—shown no symptoms of affection. Why did you not tell me any of this before?”
“You never asked. You never once looked at me except perhaps to show pity. You never really cared how I felt.”
“Anne, I am sorry that you feel this way. I am sorry for whatever part I may have played in contributing to these sentiments. However, if you actually feel this way then why on Earth would you possibly wish for an alliance between us?”
“My mother wants it!” Anne cried with more energy than she was wont to demonstrate. “What is more, our family expects it of us. I expect it of you, even though you have persisted in your stealthy courtship of Miss Elizabeth Bennet almost from the moment you first laid eyes on her.”
Here Anne stood. Showing strength of resolve that Darcy theretofore did not know she possessed, she practically yelled, “I know it all! I know that you have spent nearly every day admiring—nay lusting after—that impertinent young chit under this very roof. In my own home!
“I know that you make a habit of walking with her to the parsonage every chance you get—just the two of you, doing Heaven knows what along the way. I see the way you look at her whenever you two are in company; hear the things you say to her and the things she says to you. All of this right in front of me, leaving me to suffer inside myself—wishing, praying it was the two of us.”
Anne drew closer to her cousin—too close, forcing him to take a step back.