Catherine’s first meeting with the BGs
(or, at least, several of them)
~ By Joanna ~
Catherine’s first meeting with the BGs (or, at least, several of them)
Well, I wrote this story, because it seemed plausible that it might have happened this way, until I read in NA that “stopping only to change horses, she traveled on for about eleven hours without accident or alarm, and between six and seven o’clock in the evening found herself entering Fullerton.” But just pretend a few of those words weren’t in the text for this story:
Catherine sat in the carriage, handkerchief in hand, ready to catch the tears that surely must come. After all, she had just been turned out of the house of her friend and sent away with a flea in her ear! She felt like a heroine in one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. General Tilney had been so very kind to her and had perhaps even been indicating these last few days that he would like Henry to propose. But that was all so suddenly changed this morning! And Eleanor’s behavior had also been rather constrained, and, well, odd. As Catherine reflected on her last conversations with Eleanor, she realized that her own behavior had been less than cordial and felt remorse. How could she have been so discourteous to her one good friend since she had come out and of course Eleanor also had the claim of being the sister of Henry? What perhaps was the worst was being unable to say farewell to one who had always been so kind and good to her and possibly cared for her above average. But Catherine firmly put away those thoughts from her, for she would never see the Tilneys again, and it was vain to hope for what could not be.
As Catherine thought of thinking up a different topic besides Henry Tilney, the carriage suddenly stopped. She waited for the coachmen to slowly get off his seat, and she heard him walk over to her right side. She raised the window and asked, the words tumbling over each other in her anxiety to speak them, “What has happened? Is everything alright?”
“Yes, ma’am. The cawridge wheel had a spot of trouble, but nothing that cannot be wepaiwed within an hour or two. Perhaps miss might care fer a bit of refreshment while she’s waitin’? The town of Mewyton is nobbut but a mile from here and quite a prettyish place with plenty of wed-coated officers as well as young ladies.”
Catherine nodded, her tears and worries temporarily forgotten in the excitement of visiting a new town—what would it be like? Was it large or small? Were the people friendly? As she walked along the side of the road, Catherine breathed deeply—the air reminded her of home, and she was struck anew with a wave of homesickness: Mamma was always so very good to her, and her sisters and brothers would certainly be regaled with all the stories they wanted to hear from now on. And, of course, Papa would have much to show her about his fields and new books to read. Catherine was deep in her thoughts and jumped when a young lady walked up beside her.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I did say, “halloo!” but I don’t believe you heard me. I certainly did not mean to scare you,” said a girl with laughing, sparkling eyes, a light figure, and a very pleasant smile. Striking a pompous air, she continued,“I do not believe I have had the pleasure of meeting you before. Since there is no one else to introduce us, allow me to introduce myself: miss, this is the absolutely delightful Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who lives at Longbourn with five other sisters, and she is currently on her way into town to buy some more hair ribbons and lace for her younger sisters. And, pray, who may I have the pleasure of introducing to the lovely Miss Eliza?”
Catherine laughed aloud as she responded, “Miss Catherine Morland, ma’am. She has nine brothers and sisters and lives near Fullerton. She has just been visiting some friends” (this with a catch in her voice but then quickly rallying) “and is now returning home, but a slight trouble with the carriage wheel is delaying her.”
Elizabeth smiled, “Oh this is good—you and I must go and have some tea in Meryton. I know the perfect shop, where, though the biscuits are perfectly terrible (I do hope you do not particularly care for them?), the marzipan and teas are delightful, though,’ with a slight twinkle and a thoughtful look, “I have heard that perhaps there are not quite as delectable as that with can be found in Bath!”
Catherine replied: “Oh, you must mean Molland’s! Indeed, I have been in Bath recently and have been to that shop several times—I enjoyed the marzipan there but I do not think I have very discriminating taste.”
They chatted on in this fashion until seated in the “perfect tea shop,” where Catherine looked around the room and pronounced it wonderful. Miss Elizabeth had insisted that she be called Eliza and Catherine quickly replied that she would also prefer Catherine. Eliza had been telling her more about her sisters and mentioned the youngest was shortly to leave for Brighton with the regiment. “Oh, is she a lover of the sea?” asked Catherine innocently.
Eliza sighed. “No, unfortunately, it is more a lover of the red-coat.” She looked to continue on, but then stopped as she looked out the window. Catherine followed her gaze and saw a handsome young man dressed in splendid regimentals and moving towards their direction. Eliza made a small sound of impatience and then said in a lowered voice to Catherine, “That man is a certain Mr. Wickham, whom I used to be quite friendly with. I shall try to hurry him away as soon as possible.”
Mr. Wickham, as he was called, indeed walked directly up to them, and with a good-humored smile that showed some even white teeth, said, “Miss Eliza! I have not seen you in an age! I was hoping to have one more conversation with you before we leave tomorrow for Brighton. But perhaps I am interrupting something?” as he realized Catherine’s presence.
“Yes, sir, I have just been having tea with a friend and now we must return her to her carriage, as it will be ready to return her home.” This was all said in quite a cold, evenly modulated voice, which surprised Catherine as being a dramatic change from the animated and vivacious Eliza. Catherine looked back at Mr. Wickham and, when he smiled, she suddenly thought of her own Henry (if he might be called that) as he was quite charming but not quite as...perhaps it was well-bred? as Henry. Furthermore, Eliza apparently found something to dislike in the man; therefore Catherine permitted herself only the smallest of smiles as Eliza reluctantly introduced them.
“I would be honored to escort you myself to your carriage, Miss Morland, if that is allowed?”
But, at this, Eliza seemed to take serious objection, for she said, in a determined voice, “No, Mr. Wickham. Thank you for your kind offer but I do believe I saw Colonel Foster looking for you, and I am certain that you must still have many other farewells to make before you take leave of us all.” She rose and held out her hand to him as she added, “Thank you, Mr. Wickham for your company this winter. It was enjoyed by so many. Best wishes.”
It was plain this was a dismissal, and so Catherine also stood and curtseyed when Mr. Wickham bowed. He left with an ironic smile tossed at Eliza, and they saw him walking towards the regiment’s housing.
Eliza seemed to recollect herself as she said to Catherine, “I do believe we really should return to your carriage so you may reach your home as quickly as possible. Pardon the gentleman and his impudent offer. I would not have trusted you to him as you are so similar to—“ she broke off and said with some constraint, “Pardon me, some characteristic of reminded me of someone I have heard of. But please, tell me more about the friends you were visiting.”
Catherine was pleased to find someone who would understand her past experience with the Tilneys and dived into a rather lengthy story (though she tried to only mention the main points, including Henry’s kindness to her, the General’s odd behavior, and dear Eleanor’s friendship) as they walked back to the carriage. She could not help from elaborating on Henry, and Eliza laughed and said, “This Mr. Tilney sounds like quite a paragon, and I believe he loves you very much.”
Catherine blushed fierily, “Oh, I did believe so, and so I do wish I might have bade him farewell, but,” with a heavy sigh, “I will never see him again.”
Eliza patted her arm and changed the subject. “Oh, I do wish Jane were home that you might see her before you had to leave. I’m sure she and you would instantly like each other. She has the same sweet nature and innocence that I see in you. But perhaps we might correspond? And when my aunt and uncle go visiting the lakes next month, I will try to convince them to stop by Fullerton that we might meet again.”
“Yes, that would be wonderful! But I must warn you, Eliza,” with a downward glance at her now rather dusty shoes, “I am not accounted in my family to be the best letter writer, but I will certainly try to write interesting and witty letters.”
“Yes, do! And I now see your carriage in sight. Are you going to be passing by Highbury on your way back? If so and you stop to take refreshment there, you might encounter my friend Emma Woodhouse whose latest hobby is to arrange marriages for her friends, so you are now forewarned! Oh, there are my younger sisters. I shall introduce you, and then most probably we shall have to return straightway home to help Lydia finish her packing.”
After introductions and friendly farewells, the Bennet sisters continued on the road towards their home, and Catherine watched them as the two younger ones were arguing about a bonnet and Eliza playing peacemaker until they were out of sight. Just then, the coachman peeped his head in the window and said, “Ma’am, the cawridge is again weady for travel. Is there anythin’ you might be needin’ before we continue on the journey?” Seeing Catherine shake her head, he climbed onto the chair, and they resumed traveling.
A few weeks later, Elizabeth Bennet received a letter from Catherine Morland.
I cannot believe my good fortune! He did and does indeed love me! My own Henry came only a few days after I had arrived home to declare his love to me and offer his hand in marriage! Needless to say, I have accepted, and I truly am the happiest creature in the world! “Tis too much, by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! Truly everyone deserves to be so happy! He found out the truth and rode here straightway.
Unfortunately, this is not yet a wedding invitation, for his father refuses to give us his consent. But both Eleanor and Henry write me that she has recently become engaged herself to a young man of some rank and fortune, and with her assistance, the date might soon be set. If so, you shall be one of first people I send an invitation to.
Best wishes from your friend,
Time passed, more letters traveled between the two friends and another month later, Elizabeth Darcy received another message from Fullerton. This one read:
My dear friend,
How glad I was to see you at your wedding last week! It was truly wonderful, and I believe Mr. Darcy to be everything amiable and perfect for you! And I was so delighted to meet your other sisters (I do think Jane and I see some things alike) and your other good friend Miss Woodhouse.
Now for an invitation of my own: Yes! We have set the date of our wedding. It is going to be May 1st in Fullerton and I would dearly love it if your entire family and husbands could attend our wedding! We do not have the finest accommodations here (especially compared to what I have heard of Pemberley!) but I do think it could be sufficient? In any case, please do say you’ll come and share this happiest day with me?
Please also pass on wishes for good health to Mr. Darcy from,
If you want to see how Catherine met the other neighbors (Georgiana, Anne, Marianne) as well as the other BGs, you can refer to Sofie's "Novel Hopping in Hertfordshire" and use your imagination, or if I have time and finish my story for the March (!) challenge, I will write a sequel...