ELIZABETH, AS THEY DROVE ALONG, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.
The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent-taking care to listen closely for moans or the snapping of twigs, for there was rumoured to be a large herd of freshly de-graved dreadfuls about.
Elizabeth’s mind was too full to be of much use in this regard, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, made to resemble the grandest palaces of Kyoto, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into a natural defense against frontal assault, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where the natural beauty of the Orient had been so little counteracted by English taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
They descended the hill, crossed between the stone dragons on either side of the bridge, and drove to the solid jade door; and, while examining the nearer aspect of the house, all her apprehension of meeting its owner returned. She dreaded lest the chambermaid had been mistaken. On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; and Elizabeth, as they waited for the housekeeper, had leisure to wonder at her being where she was.
The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking English woman, dressed in a kimono and shuffling about on bound feet. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well proportioned room, handsomely fitted up with art and furniture from Darcy’s beloved Japan. Elizabeth, after surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it, with delight. As they passed into other rooms these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the proprietor’s taste for the East; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
“And of this place,” thought she, “I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. But no,” recollecting herself, “that could never be; my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me; I should not have been allowed to invite them.”
This was a lucky recollection-it saved her from something very like regret.
She longed to inquire of the housekeeper whether her master was really absent, but had not the courage for it. At length however, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turned away with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was, adding, “But we expect him to-morrow, with a large party of friends.” How rejoiced was Elizabeth that their own journey had not by any circumstance been delayed a day!
Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham, a crutch under each arm, amongst several other miniatures over the mantelpiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was a picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master’s musket polisher, who had been brought up by him at his own expense. “He is now gone into the army,” she added; “but I am afraid he has turned out very wild.”
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.
“And that,” said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the miniatures, “is my master-and very like him. It was drawn at the same time as the other-about eight years ago.”
“I have heard much of your master’s fine person,” said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the picture; “it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not.”
Mrs. Reynolds respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.
“Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?”
Elizabeth coloured, and said-“A little.”
“And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, ma’am?”
“Yes, very handsome.”
“I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the gallery upstairs you will see a finer, larger picture of him than this. This room was my late master’s favourite room, and these miniatures are just as they used to be then. He was very fond of them.”
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham’s being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when she was only eight years old.
“And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“Oh! Yes-the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished! She beheaded her first unmentionable not one month after her eleventh birthday! I grant you Mr. Darcy had chained the vile creature to a tree, but it was an impressive kill nonetheless. In the next room is a new Katana just come for her-a present from my master; she comes here to-morrow with him.”
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were very easy and pleasant, encouraged her communicativeness by his questions and remarks; Mrs. Reynolds, either by pride or attachment, had evidently great pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.
“Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?”
“Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here; and Miss Darcy is always down for the summer months.”
“Except,” thought Elizabeth, “when she goes to Ramsgate.”
“If your master would marry, you might see more of him.”
“Yes, sir; but I do not know when that will be. I do not know who is good enough for him.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying, “It is very much to his credit, I am sure, that you should think so.”
“I say no more than the truth, and everybody will say that knows him, “replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, “I have never known a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old. In that time, I have seen him savagely beat but one servant, and a most deserved beating it was. I dare say he is the gentlest man in all of Britain.”
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying:
“There are very few people of whom so much can be said. You are lucky in having such a master.”
“Yes, sir, I know I am. If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better. But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world.”
Elizabeth almost stared at her. “Can this be Mr. Darcy?” thought she.
“His father was an excellent man,” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“Yes, ma’am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him-just as affable to the poor. Kind even to the wretched accidents of God-the lame and the deaf alike.”
“In what an amiable light does this place him!” thought Elizabeth.
“This fine account of him,” whispered her aunt as they walked, “is not quite consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend.”
“Perhaps we might be deceived.”
“That is not very likely; our authority was too good.”
On reaching the spacious lobby above they were shown into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
“He is certainly a good brother,” said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of the windows. Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy’s delight, when she should enter the room. “And this is always the way with him,” she added. “Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her.”
The battle-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good zombie heads and suits of Samurai armor; but Elizabeth cared little for such trophies, and turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s, in crayons, whose subjects were almost exclusively the nude male form.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned downstairs, and, taking leave of the housekeeper, were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall-door.
As the gardener led them along the river, stopping to point out the occasional coy pond or stone garden, Elizabeth turned back to appreciate the house from a greater distance, and was met with such a shock as to make her reach for the sword that she had neglected to bring-for behind them was a fast-approaching herd of unmentionables, no fewer than five-and-twenty in number. Elizabeth, her composure regained, alerted her party to this unhappy development, and ordered them to run and hide, which they did with no shortage of alacrity.
With the herd nearly upon her, she prepared for battle-ripping a branch from a nearby tree and placing her feet in the first position for the Windswept Peasant method. Pole fighting had never been her strongest discipline, but as she was otherwise unarmed, it seemed the most practical approach, given the large number of opponents. The zombies let forth a most unpleasant roar as they came within biting distance, and Elizabeth returned it in kind as she began her counterattack. But no sooner had she struck down the first five or six, than the cracking of gunpowder scattered the score that remained. Elizabeth held a defensive pose as the zombies limped hurriedly for the safety of the woods, and then, upon being assured of their retreat, turned her gaze in the direction of the musket fire. On this she was again met with shock, though of a decidedly different nature-for upon a steed, holding a still-smoking Brown Bess, was none other than the owner of the grounds on which she stood. The smoke from Darcy’s musket hung in the air around him, wafting Heavenward through his thick mane of chestnut hair. His steed let forth a mighty neigh and reared upon its hind legs-high enough to throw a lesser horseman clear. But Darcy’s free hand held
“THE SMOKE FROM DARCY’S MUSKET HUNG IN THE AIR AROUND HIM, WAFTING HEAVENWARD THROUGH HIS THICK MANE OF CHESTNUT HAIR.”
true, and he coaxed the spooked beast back to earth.
It was impossible to avoid his sight. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of both were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immovable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself, advanced towards her, dismounted, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not in terms of perfect composure, at least of perfect civility, as the rest of her party came out of hiding and joined them.
Amazed at the alteration of his manner since they last parted, every sentence that he uttered was increasing her embarrassment; and every idea of the impropriety of her being found there recurring to her mind, the few minutes in which they continued were some of the most uncomfortable in her life. Nor did he seem much more at ease; when he spoke, his accent had none of its usual sedateness; and he repeated his inquiries as to the well being of her aunt and uncle, so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spoke the distraction of his thoughts.
At length every idea seemed to fail him; and, after standing a few moments without saying a word, he suddenly handed Elizabeth his Brown Bess, mounted his steed, and took leave.
The others then joined her, and expressed admiration of his figure; but Elizabeth heard not a word, and wholly engrossed by her own feelings, followed them in silence. She was overpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there was the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world! How strange it must appear to him! In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man! It might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again! Oh! Why did she come? Or, why did he thus come a day before he was expected? Had they been only ten minutes sooner, they should have been beyond the reach of his discrimination; for it was plain that he was that moment arrived. She blushed again and again over the perverseness of the meeting. And his behaviour, so strikingly altered-what could it mean? That he should even come to her aid was amazing! But to speak to her, and with such civility, to inquire after her well being! Never in her life had she seen his manners so little dignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as on this unexpected meeting. What a contrast did it offer to his last address in Rosings Park, when he put his letter into her hand! She knew not what to think, or how to account for it.
They entered the woods and ascended some of the higher grounds, where the zombies, with their dry muscles and brittle bones, were less likely to bother them. Mr. Gardiner expressed a wish of going round the whole park, but feared it might be too dangerous given the propinquity of the herd. A nearby roar from one of Satan’s soldiers settled the matter; and they pursued the accustomed circuit; which brought them again, after some time, in a descent among hanging woods, to the edge of the water, and one of its narrowest parts. They crossed it by a simple bridge, which they were informed was assembled from the violated headstones of Pemberley. It was a spot less adorned than any they had yet visited; and the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walk amidst the rough coppice-wood which bordered it. Elizabeth longed to explore its windings, but when they had crossed the bridge and perceived their distance from the house, Mrs. Gardiner, who was still frightened by what had transpired, begged they go no farther, and thought only of returning to the carriage as quickly as possible. Her niece was, therefore, obliged to submit, and they took their way towards the house on the opposite side of the river, in the nearest direction. Their progress was slow, for Mr. Gardiner, though seldom able to indulge the taste, was very fond of fishing, and was so much engaged in watching the occasional appearance of some trout in the water, and talking to the man about them, that he advanced but little.
Whilst wandering on in this slow manner, they were again surprised by the sight of Mr. Darcy approaching them, and at no great distance. The walk here being less sheltered than on the other side, allowed them to see him before they met. Elizabeth, however astonished, was at least more prepared for an interview than before, and resolved to appear and to speak with calmness, if he really intended to meet them. For a few moments, indeed, she felt that he would probably strike into some other path. Perhaps he had merely returned to hunt the scattered unmentionables. The idea lasted while a turning in the walk concealed him from their view; the turning past, he was immediately before them. With a glance, she saw that he had lost none of his recent civility; and, to imitate his politeness, she began, as they met, to admire the beauty of the place; but she had not got beyond the words “delightful,” and “charming,” when some unlucky recollections obtruded, and she fancied that praise of Pemberley from her might be mischievously construed. Her colour changed, and she said no more.
Mrs. Gardiner was standing a little behind; and on her pausing, he asked her if she would do him the honour of introducing him to her friends. This was a stroke of civility for which she was quite unprepared; and she could hardly suppress a smile at his being now seeking the acquaintance of some of those very people against whom his pride had revolted in his offer to herself. “What will be his surprise,” thought she, “when he knows who they are? He takes them now for people of fashion.”
The introduction, however, was immediately made; and as she named their relationship to herself, she stole a sly look at him, to see how he bore it, and was not without the expectation of his decamping as fast as he could from such disgraceful companions. That he was surprised by the connection was evident; he sustained it, however, with fortitude, and so far from going away, turned back with them, and entered into conversation with Mr. Gardiner. Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph. It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush. She listened most attentively to all that passed between them, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of her uncle, which marked his intelligence, his taste, or his good manners.
The conversation soon turned upon musket fishing; and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to shoot fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with a fishing musket, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport. Mrs. Gardiner, who was walking arm-in-arm with Elizabeth, gave her a look expressive of wonder. Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme, and continually was she repeating, “Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me-it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened. It is impossible that he should still love me, unless, by kicking him into the mantelpiece during our battle at Hunsford, I affected some severe change in his countenance.”
After walking some time in this way, the two ladies in front, the two gentlemen behind, on resuming their places, after descending to the brink of the river for the better inspection of some zombie droppings, there chanced to be a little alteration. It originated in Mrs. Gardiner, who, fatigued by the exercise of the morning, found Elizabeth’s arm inadequate to her support, and consequently preferred her husband’s. Mr. Darcy took her place by her niece, and they walked on together. After a short silence, the lady first spoke. She wished him to know that she had been assured of his absence before she came to the place, and accordingly began by observing, that his arrival had been very unexpected-“for your housekeeper,” she added, “informed us that you would certainly not be here till to-morrow; and indeed, before we left Bakewell, we understood that you were not immediately expected in the country.” He acknowledged the truth of it all, and said that business with his steward had occasioned his coming forward a few hours before the rest of the party with whom he had been travelling. “They will join me early to-morrow,” he continued, “and among them are some who will claim an acquaintance with you-Mr. Bingley and his sisters.”
Elizabeth answered only by a slight bow. Her thoughts were instantly driven back to the time when Mr. Bingley’s name had been the last mentioned between them; and, if she might judge by his complexion, his mind was not very differently engaged.
“There is also one other person in the party,” he continued after a pause, “who more particularly wishes to be known to you. Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?”
The surprise of such an application was great indeed; it was too great for her to know in what manner she acceded to it. She immediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy might have of being acquainted with her must be the work of her brother, and, without looking farther, it was satisfactory; it was gratifying to know that his resentment had not made him think really ill of her.
They now walked on in silence, each of them deep in thought. Elizabeth was not comfortable; that was impossible; but she was flattered and pleased. His wish of introducing his sister to her was a compliment of the highest kind. They soon outstripped the others, and when they had reached the carriage, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were half a quarter of a mile behind.
He then asked her to walk into the house-but she declared herself not tired, and they stood together on the lawn. At such a time much might have been said, but nothing was. Elizabeth and Darcy merely looked at one another in awkward silence, until the latter reached both arms around her. She was frozen-“What does he mean to do?” she thought. But his intentions were respectable, for Darcy merely meant to retrieve his Brown Bess, which Elizabeth had affixed to her back during her walk. She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him. “Your balls, Mr. Darcy?” He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, “They belong to you, Miss Bennet.” Upon this, their colour changed, and they were forced to look away from one another, lest they laugh. On Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s coming up they were all pressed to go into the house and take some refreshment; but this was declined, and they parted on each side with utmost politeness. Mr. Darcy handed the ladies into the carriage; and when it drove off, Elizabeth saw him walking slowly towards the house.
The observations of her uncle and aunt now began; and each of them pronounced him to be infinitely superior to anything they had expected. “He is perfectly well behaved, polite, and unassuming,” said her uncle.
“There is something a little stately in him, to be sure,” replied her aunt, “but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming. I can now say with the housekeeper, that though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it. Such horsemanship! Such musketry!”
“I was never more surprised than by his behaviour to us. It was more than civil; it was really attentive; and there was no necessity for such attention. His acquaintance with Elizabeth was very trifling.”
“To be sure, Lizzy,” said her aunt, “he is not so handsome as Wickham; or, rather, he has not Wickham’s countenance, for his features are perfectly good. But how came you to tell me that he was so disagreeable?”
Elizabeth excused herself as well as she could; said that she had liked him better when they had met in Kent than before, and that she had never seen him so pleasant as this morning.
“But perhaps he may be a little whimsical in his civilities,” replied her uncle. “Your great men often are; and therefore I shall not take him at his word, as he might change his mind another day, and bludgeon me with his musket for taking trout from his stock.”
Elizabeth felt that they had entirely misunderstood his character, but said nothing.
“From what we have seen of him,” continued Mrs. Gardiner, “I really should not have thought that he could have behaved in so cruel a way by anybody as he has done by poor Wickham. He has not an ill-natured look. On the contrary, there is something pleasing about his mouth when he speaks. And there is something of dignity in the way his trousers cling to those most English parts of him. But, to be sure, the good lady who showed us his house did give him a most congratulatory appraisal! I could hardly help laughing aloud sometimes. But he is a liberal master, I suppose, and servants are often too complimentary out of a desire to keep their heads.”
Elizabeth here felt herself called on to say something in vindication of his behaviour to Wickham; and therefore gave them to understand, in as guarded a manner as she could, that by what she had heard from his relations in Kent, his actions were capable of a very different construction; and that his character was by no means so faulty, nor Wickham’s so amiable, as they had been considered in Hertfordshire. In confirmation of this, she related the particulars of the stable boy business, without actually naming her authority, but stating it to be such as might be relied on.
Mrs. Gardiner was surprised and concerned; but as they were now approaching the scene of her former pleasures, every idea gave way to the charm of recollection; and she was too much engaged in pointing out to her husband all the interesting spots where she and her former lover had frittered away many a summer afternoon, before circumstances required the affair to be broken off. Fatigued as she had been by the morning’s attack, they had no sooner dined than she set off in quest of her former acquaintance, and (unbeknownst to the sleeping Mr. Gardiner) her evening was spent in the satisfactions of intercourse renewed after many years’ discontinuance.
The occurrences of the day were too full of interest to leave Elizabeth much attention for her aunt’s dalliances; and she could do nothing but think, and think with wonder, of Mr. Darcy’s civility, and, above all, of his wishing her to be acquainted with his sister.