html>

 

 

Nine

Elizabeth in Derbyshire

 

During the week before the regiment’s departure, all the young ladies in the Meryton area became extremely depressed. Only the two elder Miss Bennets were still able to eat, drink, sleep and lead a normal life. They were often scolded by Kitty and Lydia, who could not understand such hard-heartedness. ‘How shall we manage without the officers!’ they cried miserably. ‘How can you smile like that, Lizzy?’

Their affectionate mother shared all their sadness. ‘I remember when Colonel Millar’s regiment went away, twenty-five years ago,’ she said, ‘I thought my heart was broken.’

‘I’m sure mine will be broken,’ said Lydia.

‘If we could only go to Brighton!’ said Mrs Bennet. ‘I’m certain a little sea-bathing would be good for me.’

‘Oh yes! But Papa is so disagreeable about it.’

Elizabeth tried not to listen, but could not help seeing the justice of Darcy’s objections to her family. But soon Lydia’s bitterness changed to absolute delight, when she received an invitation from Colonel Forster’s wife, to accompany her to Brighton with the regiment. Mrs Forster was a very young woman, only recently married, and as cheerful and sociable as Lydia, with whom she had been friendly for two months. Poor Kitty was very upset at not being included in the invitation, but Lydia cared nothing for her sister’s feelings. She ran wildly through the house, calling for everyone’s congratulations, and laughing and talking more loudly than ever.

Elizabeth could not share her sister’s happiness, and felt it was her duty to advise her father secretly to refuse permission for Lydia to go. But she could not convince him that Lydia would be in any real danger, and so all the arrangements were made for her sister’s departure. Elizabeth thought her father was wrong, however, and was still worried about how Lydia would behave in an atmosphere of greater freedom, and among the temptations of a fashionable seaside town like Brighton.

Elizabeth had seen Mr Wickham regularly since her return from Kent, at family parties and visits. She no longer thought him so agreeable. As the rich Miss King had left Meryton to stay with her uncle, Mr Wickham appeared eager to transfer his affections back to Elizabeth. His confidence in his own charm and ability to please annoyed Elizabeth very much, so that when she met him for the last time before the regiment’s departure, she spoke quite coldly to him. In reply to a polite question of his about her Hunsford visit, she could not stop herself mentioning her frequent meetings with Mr Darcy, and her favourable opinion of that gentleman’s character. Wickham looked a little embarrassed, and made no further attempt to charm Elizabeth. They separated at last with mutual politeness, and possibly a mutual desire never to meet again.

When Lydia left for Brighton, Elizabeth had to put up with Mrs Bennet’s and Kitty’s constant complaints that Longbourn had become very dull. Fortunately, she was able to look forward to a trip which she would soon be taking with Mr and Mrs Gardiner. They had planned to visit the Lake District, but Mrs Gardiner had recently written to say that as her husband’s business made it necessary to shorten their holiday to three weeks, they would not have time to visit the whole of the Lake District comfortably. Instead, she suggested visiting Derbyshire, an area with a particularly strong attraction for her, as she had spent a large part of her early life there. Elizabeth was disappointed, but accepted the new plan at once. Although it was impossible to hear of Derbyshire without thinking of Pemberley and its owner, she felt sure she could avoid meeting Mr Darcy there.

Four weeks later, Mr and Mrs Gardiner arrived at Longbourn, where they had arranged to leave their children in Jane’s care. The next day they set out with Elizabeth on their journey. The three of them made excellent travelling companions, sharing an intelligent interest in the people and places they saw on their way, and a strong affection for each other. After visiting Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenilworth and Birmingham, they arrived in Derbyshire, and decided to stay in the small town of Lambton, where Mrs Gardiner had lived before her marriage. Elizabeth discovered that Mr Darcy’s house, Pemberley, was only eight kilometres away from Lambton. ‘I often used to go to Pemberley when I was younger,’ said Mrs Gardiner. ‘Wouldn’t you like to see it, Lizzy? We could go tomorrow. It’s a beautiful place. Wickham spent his youth there, you know.’

‘I – I am rather tired of large country houses, aunt,’ said Elizabeth, forced to pretend. How dreadful it would be to meet Mr Darcy, while viewing his house! But when she asked a servant at the hotel one or two careful questions that evening, she was told that Mr Darcy was not at home at the moment. Greatly relieved, she felt able to agree to her aunt’s suggestion, when it was repeated the next morning, and Mr Gardiner ordered a carriage immediately. In a short time they entered the gates of Pemberley park, and drove through an extensive and beautiful wood. At the top of a hill they had their first view of Pemberley House, situated on the other side of a valley, with a line of high, wooded hills behind. The house was a large, handsome, stone building, which appeared to fit naturally into the scenery. Mr and Mrs Gardiner were warm in their admiration, and Elizabeth was delighted. At that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be worthwhile!

They drove up to the front door, and asked to be allowed to visit the house. The Pemberley housekeeper, a respectable, elderly woman, showed them round. All the rooms were of a good size, and elegantly yet sensibly furnished. From every window there was an attractive view. Elizabeth began to admire the owner’s taste in everything she saw. ‘And I might have been mistress of this place!’ she thought. ‘Instead of viewing these rooms as a stranger, I might be welcoming my uncle and aunt as visitors. But no,’ she suddenly remembered, ‘that could never be. I wouldn’t have been able to invite my uncle and aunt, or any other of my vulgar family connections.’ This was a lucky thought, which saved her from something like regret. She longed to enquire of the housekeeper whether her master were really absent, but luckily her uncle asked the question instead. It was quite alarming to hear that Mr Darcy was expected to arrive the next day, with a large group of friends. How glad Elizabeth was that their own journey had not been delayed a day!

Mr and Mrs Gardiner were enjoying their conversation with the housekeeper, who seemed content to talk about her master. ‘Mr Darcy is a very handsome gentleman, as you will see from the painting upstairs. His sister is most attractive too, and so accomplished! She plays and sings the whole day. My master has just sent a new piano from London for her. He’s such a kind brother, he’ll do anything for Miss Georgiana.’

‘Does Mr Darcy spend much time at Pemberley?’ asked Mr Gardiner.

‘Not as much as I’d like, sir.’

‘If your master married, he might spend more time here!’

‘Yes, sir, but I don’t know when that’ll be. I don’t know who is good enough for him.’

Mr and Mrs Gardiner smiled, and Elizabeth listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper continued.

‘It’s no more than the truth. Everybody who knows him says the same. He’s never spoken a cross word to me, and I’ve known him since he was a baby. Some people call him proud, but I’ve never seen any of that. He’s the best master that ever lived.’

Elizabeth almost stared at her. ‘Can this be Mr Darcy?’ she wondered. This was the most extraordinary praise for the man she had always thought so disagreeable and proud, especially with people he considered inferior to himself. She longed to hear more, but now the housekeeper was leading them upstairs. Soon Elizabeth found herself in front of the painting of Mr Darcy. He was smiling at her, just as she remembered him smiling sometimes when he looked at her. She looked at the picture silently for several minutes before going downstairs with the others. At that moment, Elizabeth certainly felt more warmly towards Mr Darcy than at any time since their first meeting. She was beginning to realize that she had underestimated his character. His housekeeper’s opinion of him was totally favourable, and what praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As she stood in front of his picture, she gratefully remembered the warmth of his feelings for her, and began to forget the way in which he had expressed them.

As they had now seen all the rooms which were open to the public, the housekeeper called the gardener, who was going to show them the park and gardens. They were just walking away from the house, when Elizabeth turned to have one last look, and saw the owner of Pemberley come suddenly forward from behind the house. They were within twenty metres of each other, and Elizabeth could not avoid his seeing her. Their eyes instantly met, and they both blushed. He appeared very surprised, but, recovering quickly, approached and spoke to Elizabeth, if not calmly, at least with perfect politeness. Astonished and confused, she received his greetings with embarrassment. Soon he could find no more to say, and left her to return to the house.

Mr and Mrs Gardiner, who had been watching from a distance, expressed their admiration of his appearance, but Elizabeth could only think of her feelings. How unfortunate that she had come! She blushed again. It might seem as if she had planned this meeting with him. And his behaviour was so different! Never before had she heard him speak so politely and so gently. What could it mean? Her head full of these thoughts, she joined her uncle and aunt in their walk through the gardens.

They were walking slowly beside an attractive stream, when they noticed Mr Darcy coming towards them. This time Elizabeth was able to control herself better, and she returned his greetings politely. She hid a smile when he asked her to do him the honour of introducing him to her friends, as she felt sure he was not expecting the well-mannered Gardiners to be some of her low-born relations. He certainly seemed surprised when she introduced her uncle and aunt, but took care to talk for some time to Mr Gardiner, with every appearance of interest. Elizabeth was delighted that these relations, at least, could not be criticized for their poor behaviour or lack of intelligence.

On their way back to the house, Mr Darcy walked beside Elizabeth. There was a short silence before she spoke. ‘Your housekeeper informed us you would not arrive until tomorrow, so I had not expected to find you here.’

‘It is true. I came early on business. The rest of the party will be here tomorrow. Among them are Mr Bingley and his sisters, whom you know.’ He continued after a pause, ‘And there is one other person who particularly wishes to meet you. Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to you?’

Surprised but flattered by this great compliment, Elizabeth gave her permission. When they arrived at the house, Mr Darcy offered them some refreshment, but they politely refused. Mr Darcy helped the ladies into the carriage, and as it drove away from Pemberley, Elizabeth watched him walking slowly back towards the house. Mr and Mrs Gardiner were loud in their praise of him, but Elizabeth said very little.

The very next morning Mr Darcy brought his sister to visit Elizabeth and the Gardiners at the hotel in Lambton. Mr and Mrs Gardiner were astonished by the honour they were receiving, but Elizabeth’s obvious embarrassment, and Darcy’s haste in making the visit so immediately, soon provided them with an explanation. They observed their niece and Darcy carefully during the visit, and could not doubt that the gentleman was in love, although they were not certain of the lady’s feelings.

Elizabeth was delighted to discover that Georgiana Darcy, far from being proud, as Wickham had said, was just very shy, with quiet, gentle manners. It was clear that she greatly admired her brother, and had every intention of liking Miss Bennet, as Darcy had spoken of her so favourably. Elizabeth was also satisfied to see that Bingley, who was with the Darcys, did not seem particularly interested in Georgiana, in spite of Caroline Bingley’s wishes. And she had to admit that she had never seen Mr Darcy behaving so sociably and pleasantly, not only to herself, but also to the relations to whom he had referred with such disdain during that last conversation in Hunsford Rectory.

Elizabeth herself was more than usually anxious to make herself agreeable to everybody, and she succeeded, because Bingley was ready, Georgiana was eager, and Darcy determined, to be pleased.

Miss Darcy, encouraged by her brother, invited Elizabeth and the Gardiners to dinner at Pemberley in two days’ time, and when this invitation had been accepted, the Darcys and Mr Bingley left, with many warm expressions of politeness on both sides. Mr and Mrs Gardiner were very curious about their niece’s feelings for Mr Darcy, but were careful not to question her.

That evening Elizabeth lay awake for two whole hours, trying to understand how she felt about him. She now thought of him with respect and a certain admiration, and was deeply grateful to him, not only for having once loved her, but for still loving her enough to forgive her bitter rejection of him, as well as all her unjust accusations. The change she had noticed, in a man who was once so proud, must be caused by his love for her. Now, since she was almost sure that if she wanted, she could encourage him to propose to her again, she only had to decide how far she wished to be involved in his future happiness, in which she already felt a real interest.