If you have read Longbourn's Angels, you are aware Mrs. Bennet knew of Elizabeth and Jane's friendship with the Duke of Belmont's family. However... the first draft had everyone keeping this tidbit from her and at the end of the book, at Jane's wedding to the Earl of Holcomb, everything comes to a head.
We start with Mrs. Frances Bennet's introduction to the duke at Jane's wedding breakfast.
"I am pleased to meet you. I am certain Lord Holcomb is glad you attended his wedding."
"We did not come as the earl's guest, Mrs. Bennet. We came in honor of Jane," the duke said.
"Not the earl?" Fanny looked to Elizabeth. "How can that be? We are not friends with any peers."
She saw Elizabeth glance at the duke's family and after a slight nod from his grace, Elizabeth led her mother away a few steps.
"Jane and I have known the duke's family for over eleven years."
"You and Jane? Eleven years!" Fanny could not help herself, her voice rose with each staccato sentence. "How? Why was I not told?"
During all this, Elizabeth had been steadily removing her from the room and down the hall toward her husband's study.
"Mamma, I will explain all. We will have some privacy in Papa's study."
They entered the room and Fanny marched to her husband's desk and turned to face her daughter, her hands fisted against her hips.
"Please explain to me how it is that a duke's family has honored my eldest daughter in such a manner, and I do not even know their names."
She listened as Elizabeth explained how she had saved the duke's daughter and how the friendship with Lady Susannah grew from there. When she went on to explain she and Jane had visited the duke's estate every summer, Fanny thought her heart would break. That her family thought her so capricious and fickle, they could not even tell her of this, was a blow to her self-esteem. What else had they kept from her? Was she even a part of this family? Would they even notice her gone if she ran away as Lydia had?
When her middle daughter had finished relaying all the pertinent information, Fanny was silent for a moment, absorbing it all and not liking how it made her feel. She finally sighed deeply and stepped past her daughter to exit the room.
"Thank you, Elizabeth. Please excuse me, I have guests to attend."
For the rest of the day, she behaved as an exquisite hostess, shattering any preconceived notion others may have held for her. Through it all, she conversed, listened, and advised – and spoke not one word to her family, other than to Jane when she and Henry made to depart on their wedding trip. Fanny kissed her eldest daughter on the cheek and said, her tone earnest, "I wish you every happiness and will pray your husband treats you with the respect you so richly deserve."
Later in the day, given the studied looks her husband kept shooting in her direction, she knew a conversation was to take place. She managed to avoid him until all the guests were gone, save Mr. Darcy who lingered in the drawing room with Elizabeth and her brothers.
"Fanny, might I have a word with you – in my study?"
They traversed the hall side by side and after he had opened the door and allowed her to precede him, Thomas moved to take one of the chairs near the fireplace. With a wave of his hand, he invited her to also take a seat, which she did. Silence stretched between them, becoming more awkward the longer they sat. She gave a start when the clock struck the half hour.
"Elizabeth told me she explained her relationship with the Duke of Belmont," he finally said, breaking the strained silence. "Have you nothing to say? Any questions?"
"Because the duke was so very grateful to Lizzy for saving his daughter's life."
"No. Why was I not told?"
Thomas pinched the bridge of his nose. A habit he had formed from childhood, indicating acute frustration, or an unwillingness to speak the unvarnished truth, no matter how much it hurt.
"It was done in an attempt to keep gossip at bay."
"Gossip. What gossip?"
"You and I both know that whatever you know, your sister Margaret knows as well." Thomas fell back in his chair and waved his hand in the direction of Mrs. Phillips' house, over a mile away. “She would never have kept this secret, and both Jane and Lizzy did not want our neighbors to treat them differently. They are good girls, Fanny. You did a marvelous job raising them. No one can take that from you, and because of your kindness and love, our girls will have a wonderful life. Do not let this overshadow the joy of this day.”
“Mr. Bennet, I am well aware our girls are everything that is lovely. You still should have told me. If you had asked, I would never have spoken a word of it.” She blinked rapidly, a feeble attempt to delay her tears. “I did not realize how low I had fallen in your esteem.”
“Fanny, that is not true.”
“No?” She straightened and drew back her shoulders. Her chin lifted in defiance, reminding him where their daughters had learned dignity. “I shall not trouble you further, Husband, with my flights of fancy. Let no one ever say Frances Bennet does not learn from her mistakes.”
She stood and gave her husband a full curtsy and after a quick pivot on her heel, quit the room. Bennet let out a heartfelt sigh. That had been badly done. Trite apologies would not soothe his wife’s hurt feelings. They had kept this secret from her for no other reason than they thought her silly, and it also fed his capricious sense of humor. The advice his own respected father had shared with him the night before he wed Fanny came to mind. He had come to Thomas’ room, Holy Bible in hand, and read from Proverbs.
Bennet reached for that same Bible, laying safely on the bookshelf behind him, and turned to the familiar passage. Tears filled his eyes as he read through the chapter, halting on the verses which he chastised himself for forgetting.The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
Fanny was a good and virtuous wife and she had trusted him, but that trust had not been returned. Not in things that mattered other than faithfulness. He had made her look the fool. He closed the book and clasped his hands on the cover, bowing his head. He asked forgiveness from his Lord, then asked for guidance on how to approach his wife. After a good half hour, he blew out the candles and ascended the stairs. He knocked lightly on his wife’s bedchamber door and his heart melted when she cracked it open, revealing big blue eyes, red-rimmed from crying.
“Ahhh, Fanny. I am so sorry. Can you find it in your heart to forgive a foolish man?”
She said not a word but left the door open before returning to a chair near the fireplace. He closed the door behind him and did not leave the room until late the next morning.
"Your father and mother have not yet come down to break their fast?"
Darcy paced the family parlor, shooting glances at the door in hopes Elizabeth's father would miraculously appear. He finally had gotten her to say she would marry him and now he was being stonewalled in trying to approach her father for his consent and blessing. Granted, the family had been very busy with the wedding, but… surely things would revert to normal now that all the bustle had died down.
"We have not seen Mamma or Papa since late yesterday when Jane and Henry departed." Elizabeth began to wring her hands and joined him in pacing. "I told Mamma how and why we knew the Duke of Belmont and I do not think she took the news well."
"Your mother did not know the duke's family? How many years have you been friends with his daughter?"
"Over eleven years."
"Eleven…" he paused in thought. "Your mother must have been very hurt over this."
"She did not give the appearance of being hurt."
Darcy cut Elizabeth a hard glance.
"I watched your mother most carefully and what I thought was nervous energy I now realize was a woman holding everything together to keep others from seeing her anger."
Darcy snagged Elizabeth's hand and tugged her toward the couch. After they sat, he faced her.
"Think about it this way. Let us assume Jane never once told you about Lord Holcomb and continued to see him, be courted by him, and accept his proposal without once taking you into her confidence. Then, by telling half-truths, she convinced you to attend church on a Tuesday morning, whereupon you find all your family and friends gathered to celebrate her marriage. How would you feel about that?"
"First of all—"
"No, my love. Accept the premise exactly as I presented it."
"Very well, I would be very hurt she had not trusted me enough to share her good news."
"Multiply that deception by eleven and a half years. Can you now understand why your mother is hurt?"
Tears filled his love's eyes.
"We did a very bad thing to Mamma."
"Yes, so what are we going to do about this?"
"Beg forgiveness, over and over until she accepts."
"Good starting point, but I do not think that is enough."