HAD ELIZABETH’S OPINION been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on. Instead, he sought to ensure that his daughters would not follow in their mother’s silly, idle footsteps. In this regard, he had tried five times, and succeeded two. Other than the gift of Jane and Elizabeth, to Mrs. Bennet he was very little otherwise indebted. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife.
Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum. This had been especially arduous during their trips to China, which Mr. Bennet had supervised without the company of his wife, and during which he had taken many a beautiful Oriental to his bedchamber. Master Liu had defended this as acquiescence to local custom, and Elizabeth had more than once felt the sting of wet bamboo on her back for daring to question her father’s propriety. But she had never felt so strongly as now the disadvantages that must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage.
When Lydia went away she promised to write very often and very minutely to her mother and Kitty; but her letters were always long expected, and always very short. Those to her mother contained little else than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and that she had a new gown, or a new parasol, which she would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mrs. Forster called her, and they were going off to the camp; and from her correspondence with her sister, there was still less to be learnt-for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.
After the first fortnight or three weeks of her absence, health, good humour, and cheerfulness began to reappear at Longbourn. Everything wore a happier aspect. The families who had fled the infestation came back again, and summer finery and summer engagements arose for the first time in memory. Mrs. Bennet was restored to her usual querulous serenity; and, by the middle of June, Kitty was so much recovered as to be able to enter Meryton without tears; an event of such happy promise as to make Elizabeth hope that by the following Christmas she might be so tolerably reasonable as not to mention an officer above once a day, unless, by some cruel and malicious arrangement at the War Office, another regiment should be quartered in Meryton.
The time fixed for the beginning of Elizabeth’s northern tour was now fast approaching, and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mrs. Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent. Due to the recent troubles in Birmingham, and the army’s want of more flints and powder, Mr. Gardiner would be prevented from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month, and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour, and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northwards than Derbyshire. In that county there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs. Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.
Elizabeth was excessively disappointed; she had set her heart on seeing the Lakes, and still thought there might have been time enough. But she was glad for the chance of being anywhere other than Hertfordshire, and all was soon right again.
Desperate to pass the time, Elizabeth set off to see the burning grounds of Oakham Mount one morning. It had been nearly two years since she had last visited, and it was only a few miles’ walk to the top of the Mount-which was little more than a hill, with an ever-present column of smoke rising from its top. Such columns could be seen from one end of England to the other, no matter the season or weather. There was always burning to be done.
Elizabeth reached the grounds shortly after breakfast, and was somewhat surprised to see it so busy. Several wagons had already lined up outside the Paymaster’s shack; each of them carrying large, box-shaped iron cages on their backs. Each cage held anywhere from one to four zombies (in rare cases, one might see a cage with five, or even six). Most of them belonged to farmers, who trapped unmentionables as a means of earning extra money. But a few belonged to professional zombie hunters, called Reclaimers, who traveled the countryside setting cages. Elizabeth knew that some of these so-called “Reclaimers” were nothing more than scoundrels, who made their living abducting innocents, infecting them with the plague, and selling them to burning grounds. But better to burn a few innocents than let the guilty run free.
Not far from the Paymaster’s shack, the Fire Master stood beside his pit, only feet from flames which rose to twice his height. His bare chest was covered in exercise moisture, for he never stopped working-whether coating logs with tar, raking embers, or throwing bails of hay into the fire.
After haggling with the Paymaster and getting their pieces of silver, the men pulled their wagons to the Hook Master’s station, where the cages were hoisted off with a large mechanical device, and swung over the flames. Elizabeth could not help but feel a sense of joy as she watched cage after cage of zombies burn-heard their terrible shrieks as the fire (which they feared above all else) licked at their feet, then ignited the whole of their putrid flesh and hastened them back to Hell. When the zombies were nothing more than bone and ash, the cages were lowered back onto their wagons, and carried away to be filled anew.
Apart from these sorts of excursions, the next four weeks passed slowly-but they did pass, and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, with their four children, did at length appear at Longbourn. The children, two girls of six and eight years old, and two younger boys, were to be left under the particular care of their cousin Jane, who was the general favourite, and whose steady sense and sweetness of temper exactly adapted her for attending to them in every way-teaching them, playing with them, and loving them.
The Gardiners stayed only one night at Longbourn, and set off the next morning with Elizabeth in pursuit of novelty and amusement. One enjoyment was certain-that of suitableness of companions; a suitableness which comprehended health and temper to bear inconveniences-cheerfulness to enhance every pleasure-and affection and intelligence, which might supply it among themselves if there were disappointments abroad.
It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay; Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenilworth, etc. are sufficiently known. Nor is it the object to describe the handful of zombie encounters which necessitated Elizabeth’s intervention-for not one was sufficient to yield even a drop of sweat from her brow. A small part of Derbyshire is all the present concern. To the little town of Lambton, the scene of Mrs. Gardiner’s former residence, and where she had lately learned some acquaintance still remained, they bent their steps, after having seen all the principal wonders of the country; and within five miles of Lambton, Elizabeth found from her aunt that Pemberley was situated. It was not in their direct road, nor more than a mile or two out of it. In talking over their route the evening before, Mrs. Gardiner expressed an inclination to see the place again. Mr. Gardiner declared his willingness, and Elizabeth was applied to for her approbation.
“My love, should not you like to see a place of which you have heard so much?” said her aunt; “a place, too, with which so many of your acquaintances are connected. Wickham passed all his youth there, you know.”
Elizabeth was distressed. She felt that she had no business at Pemberley, and was obliged to assume a disinclination for seeing it. She must own that she was tired of seeing great houses; after going over so many, she really had no pleasure in fine carpets or satin curtains.
Mrs. Gardiner abused her stupidity. “If it were merely a fine house richly furnished,” said she, “I should not care about it myself; but the grounds are delightful. They have some of the finest woods in the country.”
Elizabeth said no more-but her mind could not acquiesce. The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy, while viewing the place, instantly occurred. It would be dreadful!
Accordingly, when she retired at night, she asked the chambermaid whether Pemberley were not a very fine place? What was the name of its proprietor? And, with no little alarm, whether the family were down for the summer? A most welcome negative followed the last question-Mr. Darcy was reported to be in town for a meeting of the League of Gentlemen for the Encouragement of Continued Hostilities Against Our Most Unwelcome Enemy. Her alarms now being removed, she was at leisure to feel a great deal of curiosity to see the house herself; and when the subject was revived the next morning, and she was again applied to, could readily answer, and with a proper air of indifference, that she had not really any dislike to the scheme. To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.