Mr. Bennet settled back in his chair and studied the lady who sat in front of his desk. It was not their first meeting. They had spent several hours in various conversations during his latest stay at Pemberley.
“You are still of the belief that Colonel Fitzwilliam holds a tendre for my Mary?”
Lady Catherine de Bourgh liked Mr. Bennet. He did not dance around a subject — one could be direct with the man. He was also not the sort of gentleman to dismiss a lady simply because she wore a dress and was capable of bearing children. “I am certain. My brother, Lord Matlock, informs me that his son Richard has spent the best part of the season attempting to find a wife.”
“That does not signify that he holds my Mary in regard.”
Lady Catherine smiled. “Perhaps, but I find it curious that each lady has been found lacking despite her beauty and fortune.”
Mr. Bennet shrugged. “He has simply not found that for which he is looking. It is not so unusual.”
“Mr. Bennet, I must disagree. He has found the one he needs to marry. He is just unwilling to accept her because she does not yet have a fortune.” She saw Mr. Bennet’s head begin to shake, but she was not about to allow him to contradict her. She had adequate proof that her supposition was correct, so she shared a sampling. “His father heard him asking one very well dowered young lady whether she read Fordyce, and when she replied in the negative, he thanked her for the dance and departed. He never approached her again.”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes had grown wide, and he had leaned forward eagerly interested.
“My nephew has also grumbled loudly that most of the ladies he has taken for a picnic or a drive do not consider it their place to care for the children. They would prefer a nurse or governess see to the task of raising the next generation of offspring, which you know is not unusual, but it is the opposite of how your daughter views the responsibilities of a mother.”
Mr. Bennet nodded. Mary had always spoken firmly in defense of a mother’s role in caring for her children. And that defense often contained a quote from the scriptures such as that bit about Timothy’s mother. Mr. Bennet scratched just below his ear. He should be able to remember it as oft as he had heard it.
“Those ladies also were never approached again.” Lady Catherine straightened the hem of her sleeve. “Mark my words, Mr. Bennet, my nephew was comparing them to Miss Mary and has found them wanting.”
It was logic that Mr. Bennet could not deny. “So, you have devised a way to make my Mary acceptable to him?”
Lady Catherine inclined her head and gave a half shrug. “I should like him to accept her regardless of what those documents say.” She pointed to the packet of papers lying before Mr. Bennet. Then with a last fidget of straightening her sleeve, she held his gaze. “However, I intend to force the issue much as I did with Darcy.”
A sparkle of amusement shone in Mr. Bennet’s eyes. She had hoped his wish to be amused by the folly of others might assist her in her scheme, and it appeared it would.
“I am not opposed to a compromise,” he said, “as long as it is evident that both will be happy with the results.”
“I could not agree more. I should not wish either unhappy, for I shall, after all, be forced to live with that happiness or lack thereof.”
Mr. Bennet nodded slowly. “Then I give my permission to arrange the match however you see fit.” He touched the place where he had signed the documents to ensure the ink had dried before he folded them and pushed them across the desk toward Lady Catherine. “The second son of an earl is not a bad catch for my Mary.”
Lady Catherine allowed it to be so as she picked up the papers from the desk and placed them in the bag she had brought with her. “I should very much like to have you and your family visit Rosings in one month from today.”
Mr. Bennet’s brows furrowed.
Lady Catherine rose. “Your wife will not be opposed to a wedding breakfast in Kent, will she?” It was such fun to see a man’s eyes pop open wide and his mouth drop open. She had enjoyed creating that expression when just a girl, and it seemed the pleasure did not fade as one aged. She waited while Mary’s father mentally gathered himself.
“I should think she will be delighted,” Mr. Bennet finally managed to reply.
“The earl and countess will also be in attendance.” Her lips pursed as she struggled to keep a grin in check. “I would advise you to bring whatever documents are needed for all to be settled quickly. I shall see that a license is secured.” She extended her hand to Mr. Bennet. “I do so like doing business with a man who knows how to come to the point quickly.”
Mr. Bennet gave her hand a firm shake to seal their deal. “You will ensure she is happy?” he asked, still holding Lady Catherine’s hand.
She nodded. Lady Catherine could understand his hesitance. Parents of any true worth always worried for the happiness of their children. “I would not accept any less than pure delight.” She smiled as he lifted her hand and kissed it. “I shall see you in one month?”
“One month,” he assured her.
She moved to exit the room but then stopped just short of the door. “You will not mention the need for the visit, will you? I should hate for the surprise to be ruined for Miss Mary.” Indeed, her plans would likely come to naught if word reached Mary before they could be put into action.
“Not a word until three weeks hence.” He chuckled. “I can only endure the raptures of my wife in minuscule amounts, and the mere thought of being invited to an estate such as Rosings and being in the presence of a real lady will send her soaring.”
Lady Catherine chuckled as she reached for the door handle. She had witnessed some of Mrs. Bennet’s raptures over the past three years, and she did not envy Mr. Bennet’s place in having to endure them as often as she suspected he did. “You are a wise man, Mr. Bennet.” She pulled the door open. “One month,” she repeated and waited to get a nod of acceptance before exiting his study.