Posted on 2014-05-08
As Elizabeth's attempt at escape had been thwarted, she had nothing to do but to go along to Pemberley. Had she possessed a morose temper she might have made herself and her companions very unhappy about it, but she was too naturally good-humored to fret very much until a day or two before, and then she was too well-mannered to allow the others in her party to feel it very much. The day that they left Ellingham Park she was quite as good-tempered as ever, and talked and laughed cheerfully all the way. They slept on the road two nights and drove slowly, for the scenery was as beautiful as the steep roads were difficult, and the party wished as much to enjoy the beauties they had come out to see, as to progress safely and easily on their way.
For two days they travelled along cheerfully, but on the third day Elizabeth could no longer hide her agitation, and by noon even Mr. Bingley, as distracted as he was by his new wife's smiles, had observed his sister-in-law's distress. He looked inquiringly at Mrs. Bingley, but she only smiled and clasped his hand. Mr. Bingley was not so unwilling to be happy as to find this an inadequate answer for the present, and set aside his concern with no more than a determination to attend carefully to Elizabeth's comfort, which he prosecuted faithfully all day.
Elizabeth grew more agitated as the carriage went on, and when they came to Pemberley Woods she could scarcely admire the fine timber, nor the apparent skill with which the wood had been kept for many centuries. When they turned in at the lodge, however, she found herself forced to admiration. The beautiful wood, the many exquisite prospects, compelled attention, and almost demanded praise. At last they reached 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, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into grater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted and felt, in that moment, that the master of Pemberley might have some reason for a pride of place.
They descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and approached the house, where they were greeted very civilly by Mr. Darcy and his sister. Elizabeth was in such a flutter of spirits that she could scarcely meet his eye, but the one glance she stole at his face showed an expression somewhat grave, but not unkind. He was truly and artlessly pleased to see his old friend, and to welcome him and his new wife to his home. He had long ago forgiven Jane Bennet any inferiority of station. Her sister's rebuke, and his own more thorough understanding of Jane's character, and of her affection for his friend, had long since convinced him that Bingley had been the beneficiary of an extraordinary stroke of luck in falling in love with the oldest Miss Bennet. Now he wanted only to know how far he might press his luck with the lady currently in possession of that title.
They were shown into a very fine drawing room which faced out over the valley, elegantly furnished but without any hint of gaudiness, and here tea was served.
"How did you find your journey, Miss Bennet?" asked Mr. Darcy, summoning his courage to address her directly after the usual pleasantries had been passed with his other guests.
"Very pleasant, sir," she managed, with a faint smile.
"And did you find the countryside pleasing?"
"Yes, indeed," she replied, with a little more animation. "It is very fine country--very beautiful."
"I have always been fond of it," he said, looking a little relieved, "but I believe everybody has a little prejudice towards his own home country."
"I have not," said Mr. Bingley, laughing. "Leeds is a little too crowded for my tastes."
"You have no difficulties in London," remarked Mr. Darcy drily.
"Very true, Mr. Darcy; I am a most inconsistent fellow," Bingley admitted cheerfully. "But I suppose it has more to do with the company than the situation. I knew almost nobody in Leeds, and therefore they all appeared to me a crowd, on those occasions when I went there to visit family. In London, however, I see the familiar faces, rather than the crowd."
"I suppose that is how some men bear a crowd," remarked Mr. Darcy, shaking his head a little, and throwing a quick glance towards Elizabeth. "I myself have often made a very poor showing in one."
Elizabeth understood him at once, and determined to make her apology immediately. She accordingly fixed her eyes upon the window, but when she spoke her voice was calm. "It is difficult to do so, when one is preoccupied. A preoccupied man is so often misunderstood."
Mr. Darcy gave Elizabeth a very speaking look, and she just catching it, colored brightly, and removed her gaze to the floor.
"I suppose it is all down to vanity," she continued, her voice faltering slightly. "We all of us expect the attention of those before us, and forget they may have other cares of their own."
Mr. Darcy shook his head at this. "That is only human nature. Where one cannot enter into the cares of another--of a friend--it is difficult to know how to act, or what conduct will be most agreeable. A man who is really preoccupied ought certainly to remain in your country lane, Miss Bennet, for if he goes into a ballroom, he puts his friends in a very difficult position."
She threw him a grateful look. "Perhaps he does--though he may have, sometimes, very little choice in the matter. But it cannot excuse his friends, should they attribute something evil to his silence."
"It cannot," he agreed gravely, "but his silence may seem to confirm some evil of him, should there be other and stronger reasons to believe it. If a man will not repose some confidence in his friends, he cannot expect them to have very much more in himself."
"He can expect them to rely upon what they know to be true of his character, and not to be swayed by some slight or fancied neglect." She lifted her eyes at last from the floor and directed one remorseful glance towards him. He looked grave, but kindly, and she felt that he was, at least, ready to forgive.
"Upon my word, I must side with the gentleman, even if it be unchivalrous," said Mr. Bingley, who had listened to this debate in amused perplexity. "It is always best to be straightforward and open with one's friends."
Mr. Darcy smiled kindly. "Indeed, Bingley, you are an honest fellow, and all your friends know you can be trusted to speak the truth."
Mr. Bingley flushed with pleasure at the modest compliment. "I've never had much to fib about, if the truth be known. It doesn't take much invention to call my wife an angel, does it?"
Jane flushed and shook her head, but Mr. Bingley's good spirits were very evident. He was only too pleased to have their little party thus assembled. Even his easy temper had been a little tried by Mrs. Bennet, and his sister had been in a very uncertain humor during their stay at Ellingham. Here, at his friend's home, where he had spent half his holidays from Cambridge, in the company only of those best known and best understood, Mr. Bingley could be entirely himself, and he only improved in his unreserve. It was sadly wanted, however, for though Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were more comfortable after her little apology, there was still a great deal of unease in their demeanor towards each other, and Jane, in her concern for her sister's future happiness, could not be entirely happy.
They parted to dress for dinner and were shown to very comfortable rooms, tastefully and elegantly fitted up, and with fine prospects over the valley below. Elizabeth could not but be pleased with the exquisite scenery, and had half fallen in love with the country and the house by the time they descended for dinner. That was another slightly awkward affair, though they seemed to get on a little better than they had over tea; everybody had some business to prosecute upon his plate when nothing could be said, and the duties of a host and hostess gave Mr. Darcy and Georgiana more of conviviality than they had earlier possessed. When the ladies moved, Elizabeth's spirits were further restored, for there was nothing to fear in so pleasant a company. Had she believed that Miss Darcy could have suspected her! but she was certain that Georgiana had been kept in entire ignorance of the whole affair; Mr. Darcy's delicacy, too great to boast of his own accomplishments in rescuing Miss Reynolds, was certainly sufficient to protect Elizabeth there.
Georgiana was indeed a very shy girl, with a few companions but no confidantes. She was only too accustomed to fine ladies such as Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, who paid her a great deal of artful attention but showed her no real kindness. Elizabeth's manner to her in London, however, she remembered, and Jane treating her with an equal gentleness and artless delicacy, under their kind treatment she blossomed. As Mr. Darcy approached the drawing room he was surprised to hear Georgiana speaking, not only quickly but even eagerly. As he entered she checked herself, and finished her anecdote briefly and sedately. He looked away, pained, and wondered that he had grown so severe that his own sister was afraid of him. He mastered himself, however, and sat down near them.
"And how did you like the mountains, Miss Bennet?" he inquired, as calmly as he could.
"We have not seen them," she confessed.
"What! I thought you meant to take Matlock in your way?" he asked, turning to Mr. Bingley.
"I believe that was an early version of the plan. We have altered it, however; we mean to kidnap a native, and insist that he serve as our guide."
Mr. Darcy lifted an eyebrow.
"Come, Darcy, don't be so severe; you know you are fond of Matlock, and glad of any excuse to go and see it."
"I have no objection to going, Bingley, though I must protest against any kidnapping, and I will be a willing, if not a very knowledgeable, guide. I am only a little surprised."
"Oh? I thought you and Mrs. Ellison had settled it between you."
"Mrs. Ellison? Pray talk sense, Bingley," said he good-humoredly.
Mr. Bingley looked from Mr. Darcy to his wife, and shrugged. "Well, I am certainly at sixes and sevens today. I was quite certain Mrs. Ellison had told me particularly that you meant to accompany us on our trip to Matlock."
"Did she indeed," mused Mr. Darcy, his brow furrowing, and his eyes straying briefly to Elizabeth's face. "I cannot recollect any such conversation. Well, there must have been some misunderstanding, but I am certainly very happy to attend you. Will you join us, Georgiana?" he asked his sister kindly.
She was flustered by the direct and unexpected query, but managed a reply in the affirmative. It was not many minutes later that someone suggested a little music, and Jane and Elizabeth were soon performing duets.
"I did not know that you had a harp, Darcy," said Mr. Bingley quietly.
"I had not," he replied.
"It is a recent acquisition, then?"
"Yes. I wish Georgiana to learn. It is a lovely instrument, and it is becoming rather popular. I wish her to be versed in all those accomplishments which are expected of young ladies. She is shy, and a feeling of general competence can only assist her."
"Very sensible," said Mr. Bingley, looking entirely unconvinced.
In a quarter of an hour a little alteration took place, and Georgiana was seated at the pianoforte, with Mr. Bingley kindly offering to turn her pages. Mr. Darcy soon came to sit by Elizabeth.
"May I inquire, Miss Bennet, what you were discussing with my sister?"
Elizabeth, suddenly apprehensive of some wrong, frowned. "A horse."
The gentleman appeared surprised. "A horse, Miss Bennet?"
"Her new chestnut mare. I take it she was a present from you?"
Mr. Darcy smiled and looked relieved. "Yes. She has learnt well enough to have her own horse now, or so I thought. She was very animated...I hope she was not upset about anything?"
"No. She was in raptures with it," said Elizabeth, wonderingly.
Mr. Darcy sighed. "She has not been so open with me. Miss Bennet, I have been left in place of a father to my sister--I hold her guardianship in common with my cousin Col. Fitzwilliam, whom you met at Darcy House--and I fear that my position has caused me to be more severe with her than I would have liked--or even," he added after a little struggle with himself, "than I was aware. I have never seen her so animated--so pleased with a companion. Not even with Mrs. Gardiner, and of her she is extremely fond."
Elizabeth's mind whirled. He was not angry--he was even confiding in her, and paying her a remarkable compliment. Here, at last, was that openness and confidence which she had expected of him. A sudden suspicion dawned in her mind, and she wondered if it were possible that he could love her yet. Her thoughts turned again to Miss Darcy, and in her fancy she saw her aunt and uncle Gardiner seated by the fire, their little ones playing with Jane's, and Georgiana, blossomed into young womanhood and confidence, tending to them all with the motherly instinct of sixteen.
"Poor child," she murmured.
Mr. Darcy looked at her inquiringly, and the warm domestic vision faded instantly. "It must have been very difficult for Georgiana--a very solitary life," she amended.
"I believe it has been. She has been placed in a good school, but that cannot compare to the circle of domestic affection which must be desired by a young lady of her age and temperament."
Elizabeth thought of the very lacking domestic circle at Longbourn, and smiled. "She is an exquisite young woman, whatever her hardships may have been, and I am delighted with her."
Mr. Darcy's smiled was as sudden as sincere, and Elizabeth felt certain that she was forgiven.
Elizabeth rose early the next morning, and went out for an exploratory walk. She could not help smiling as she thought of Miss Bingley's well-tended paths. She had certainly seen very few parks so large or so well kept; Ellingham, though pleasant, could not be compared with it. She soon lost herself in less immaculate paths in the woods, and wandered along beside the stream that wound its way through the valley. She had been walking about an hour when she saw, around a turn in the bend, the figure of Mr. Darcy. She stopped instantly, and was debating with herself whether she ought at once to turn back, when he descrying her, called her name, and she was obliged to go forward.
"Miss Bennet," he said, with unconcealed pleasure, "I see you have indulged your usual habit."
She suspected him at once of meeting her by design, but answered with tolerable calmness, that the beauty of her surroundings had drawn her irresistibly forth. "I cannot wonder, Mr. Darcy, that you are proud of your familial home. I have never seen a place so lovely."
"I must own that I have been proud of a great many things that did not deserve it, Miss Bennet--but I cannot think Pemberley to be one of them."
Elizabeth colored and looked away. "The design of the grounds is exquisite. Who had the planning of them?"
"Oh, that has all been kept in the family; each generation has made some few alterations and improvements."
"And who is responsible for that beautiful stream before the house?" she inquired.
Mr. Darcy answered her readily, and she soon found that she was to be given a private tour of the spots of especial beauty about the park, or at least those that were accessible by a walk brief enough to return them to the house by breakfast time. A ride to see those further locations was proposed as the business of the morning.
"Unless, of course," Mr. Darcy said a little consciously, "Georgiana wishes to show you over the house."
Elizabeth could not help but feel that very particular attention was paid to her, but she would not complain. They proceeded on their tour very cheerfully, avoiding any past, painful subject, and she found herself in increasingly better humor with herself and her companion.
When they returned to the house for breakfast, they found that the project of visiting Matlock had been taken up with interest. Everybody being in agreement, and the weather being very fine, they settled on the morrow for the excursion.
"Darcy," said Mr. Bingley, "Is not that new mill directly upon our route?"
"It is," said Mr. Darcy, "and if you all would not object to sparing me a quarter of an hour, it would be a great convenience to me to step in and speak with my foreman."
"I was hoping we might go over it," said Mr. Bingley. "It is a matter of interest to me, these new fabric mills."
"Certainly, if you wish it. Indeed, if the ladies have no objection, I will commission Miss Bennet as my representative," he added, with a smile towards Elizabeth.
She was bewildered. "Your representative, sir?"
"Your uncle's, rather. I am sure that he trusts entirely to my foreman's reports, and yet I do not doubt that he would be pleased to have them confirmed by your observation."
"Can we all fit in the barouche, Darcy, do you think?" asked Mr. Bingley, eyeing his wife complacently.
"Certainly, for I intend to drive it myself," replied Mr. Darcy, smiling patiently. "The roads are good for the most part, Bingley, but I would not take horses unused to our terrain. You had better leave the chaise here."
Elizabeth was eager to return to the topic of the mill, and still puzzled as to its connection with her uncle, but the subject of conversation having moved on, she was obliged to stifle her curiosity lest she appear to take too particular an interest in Mr. Darcy's business dealings. She had all a country lady's horror of the industrial menaces which removed the poorest and most helpless of country workers from their homes and even the nominal protection of a landlord, and so frequently left them maimed or even fatally ill. She could hardly believe that Mr. Darcy would be involved in a venture which must bring profit at the expense of so much misery.
"And yet they are built everywhere, and by men of good character in other respects. I shall not repeat my previous error, however," she said firmly to herself. "Perhaps there is some matter of which I am ignorant, which will acquit him of any charge of cruelty towards his workers. I shall not put it down as a stain on his character until I have spoken to him about it--but that I shall do at the first opportunity."
While she reasoned thus with herself, the others had settled their schedule for the morrow: they were to drive to the mill and go over it while the servants went on ahead to the mountain; they would then explore at Matlock, and eat a simple picnic nuncheon before returning to a late dinner.
"Without," Mr. Darcy added with a positive glint of humor in his eye, "any umbrellas, or footmen."
That settled, Mr. Darcy's offer of taking them over the grounds on horseback was repeated, and readily closed with. They set out, therefore, after breakfast, and made a tolerably thorough tour of the park. There were many beauties to be seen, and many views to be appreciated. Mr. Darcy was an excellent guide, but he did not spoil the beauty of the place with excessive praise. Once or twice he described a view as a particular favorite of his mother's, and when they came across a seat in some particularly beautiful but remote spot, the explanation was certain to be that it had been a favorite resort of that lady.
"The master and mistress of Pemberley must lead a somewhat public life," he said gravely, "but my parents were very private people. These were their retreats from all eyes--even from those faithful servants who have attended our family generation after generation. My father, Miss Bennet, sought his solitude in motion, like yourself, but these prospects were my mother's delight, and I often come here for my own peace of mind, and to think of her."
When they returned to the house and dressed for dinner, Elizabeth was treated to a running dialogue from Nan, who had formed a very favorable opinion of the master of the house.
"I've never seen anything to equal the offices, ma'am, for comfort or serviceability. There's things can be done here that couldn't be done at Longbourne, anyways. Meaning no disrespect to the master, mum, but it's remarkable, very remarkable. Those who have the brass don't always use it, begging your pardon. I've been in grand houses where the water for the tea got cold before it reached the drawing room, and the cook was trying to roast the mutton in a great open fireplace! All the food half-cooked and half-burnt, and the ladies' clothes in such a state, through the servants hardly having light to see by! No mum, the servants are taken care of right proper here; I've never seen so many so happy at their work, or so well provided with the means of doing it. It's remarkable, mum, that's what it is--and the pay very good, they tell me, and the pensions better. It makes a difference, mum, to be able to look forward to a comfortable old age. It keeps the servants on."
To such a flow of volubility, Elizabeth would say very little, though she did inquire whence this liberality originated. "Oh! All the Darcys have been like that, is what they say, but the present Mr. Darcy is certainly no exception, and perhaps a bit more generous than his father. And then, the mill was his idea."
"The mill?" asked Elizabeth, suddenly attentive.
"Yes, mum. Oh! There's the hour. There, don't you look lovely."
Elizabeth, looking in the glass, acknowledged that Nan had dressed her hair beautifully. She would have been happy to have the mill explained, but the clock upon the mantel confirmed that it was time to depart, and she would not appear particular, so she praised the girl and went down.
Dinner was a more comfortable affair that night than it had been on the previous one. Time and use will accustom the most delicate to situations in which they would never have believed they could overcome their confusion, and so it was with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. There was still some hesitancy, some awkwardness, but they could not be thrown together all morning without a little of the strangeness wearing away. Jane and her husband had exercised the newlyweds' privilege of speaking principally to each other, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, each unwilling to allow a silence to be misinterpreted, or to place on Georgiana the burden of speech, could not labor to converse all morning, without being improved in their skill and ease.
Nan's glowing praise of Mr. Darcy's liberality had certainly put Elizabeth a little more at her ease. She had discovered that she liked Mr. Darcy before that dreadful rumor had made everything so difficult between them. As to his character, however, she had still been a little uncertain. His taking so much trouble to rescue a lady almost entirely unconnected with himself certainly proved that he was a man of outstanding virtue, but it was so strange, and its reasons so little understood by herself, as to give her very little assurance of domestic comfort.
He was undoubtedly striving to conquer his pride, and that was something in the merit column; liberality, and that dating from long before her own reproaches, was something more. There was an excellence of taste, though it did not perhaps quite amount to virtue, in his love of Pemberley; the refinement and yet simplicity of its fitting up, and the excellent and unpretentious care given to the woods and park spoke self-discipline and an absence of any spendthrift nature on the part of its master. And then in his behavior to Georgiana--his brotherly concern, even when, as he himself confessed, ill applied--there was something very amiable. There was affection and sweetness, which assured her that those qualities might not only appear in his character when he was wooing. A little reflection convinced her that she was very pleased to find further evidence of his good character, and she laughed a little at herself.
"Jane, I really do believe I am falling in love with him," she murmured to her sister later, when Georgiana had left them for a moment to speak to the servants. "It is almost too rational for love--and yet I find that I like him, that I am eager to admire his character, and that I miss him when he is absent--I fear I am entirely overset!"
"You do not seem very distressed," said Jane, smiling.
"That you may attribute to my vanity, my dear sister, for I am tolerably well convinced that I have yet the power to bring on a renewal of his proposals--oh! you will scold me for my presumption there I am sure, but I cannot help it."
"I cannot scold you, Lizzy, for I think quite as you do. He is as in love with you as ever."
"He is unreasonably kind, at any rate. I shall see if I cannot take advantage of his good nature," said she, with an arch smile.
"Lizzy, you are irrepressible!" Jane glanced at their returning hostess. "But I am glad to see you happy."
Still, Elizabeth found that the mill troubled her a little, and though she would not introduce business into the drawing room that evening, she determined that their trip on the morrow would not pass without her putting some questions to Mr. Darcy on the subject. She smiled to herself to see how circumspect she had become, and was rather proud of her forbearance in endeavoring to ascertain before she condemned. She laughed a little grimly at herself. Irrepressible indeed.
The evening passed very pleasantly. There was a little music, and both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley were prevailed upon to read to the company. The party's employments, however, were inconsequential, for when a group of persons of good intelligence, character, and information, have determined that they are pleased with each other and themselves, they will generally have a pleasant evening. Georgiana in particular was animated by the domestic atmosphere, and was livelier than her brother had ever seen her. She was young yet, and was sent to bed long before the rest of the party retired, but Mr. Darcy felt he had done rightly in allowing her to dine with their guests, and that the frequent company of Miss Bennet might be almost as much of a blessing to Georgiana as it would be to himself.
The next morning they all rose and breakfasted early, and were on their way by ten o'clock. Mr. Darcy fulfilled his promise of driving them all himself, and as they were mounting into the carriage, turned to Elizabeth.
"I wonder, Miss Bennet, if you might like a better view of the scenery? The country through which we are going to drive is very handsome indeed."
"Certainly," she agreed, coloring prettily, and he situated her on the box before climbing up beside her himself.
When they were in motion, she determined to take her opportunity of speaking to him regarding the mill, and began playfully.
"I must confess, Mr. Darcy, that I am still in terrible ignorance as to your meaning last night. If I am to be my uncle's representative I am afraid I must know in what my duties consist."
Mr. Darcy directed a surprised look towards her. "I beg your pardon, Miss Bennet; I had assumed you were already informed regarding the matter. It is no secret, however. I am sure you recollect the day you introduced me to Mr. Gardiner. As you are aware, he is in the fabric trade, and I am afraid we sadly neglected you ladies to discuss some affairs of business. Sheep, and the production of wool, has long been one of Pemberley's chief assets; I may even say that our wool is well known in the region, and the manufacture of wool cloth is therefore a matter of common interest to myself and your uncle."
"And he is interested in some improvements you have made at your mill?" suggested Elizabeth.
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
Elizabeth frowned, and spoke slowly. "I must say that I cannot entirely like these new mills."
"I am glad to hear it," he replied serenely. "And do you object to them on moral or aesthetic grounds?"
"I hope I have not given you cause to believe me such a romantic as to forbid improvements merely because they spoil my view," she replied with mock severity, and then growing serious, continued, "The stories one hears of these cloth mills, the accidents and diseases to which the workers are subject, must be an occasion of concern to any lady who is not absolutely heartless."
"Or any gentleman," he replied warmly. "I agree with you wholeheartedly. Moreover, as a landlord and a brother, I feel strongly the additional evil which is visited upon these young women--for it is nearly always women, Miss Bennet, as you must be aware--of being removed so far from any protection which might otherwise be offered them by their families or connections."
Elizabeth was silent for a moment. "You feel, then, that the mills are a necessary evil? Or have you contrived some way to avoid those calamities which befall the workers?"
"Not I so much as Mr. Gardiner," he replied. "Your uncle and I are both of the opinion that the cloth mills are necessary to domestic manufacture, just as we are of the opinion that they represent a dangerous threat to the health and happiness of the cloth industry, as much as the individual workers they employ. But we are also of the opinion that many of the evils visited upon the workers are unnecessary. The heat and damp of the manufacturing process, for example, are unavoidable. The long and exhausting hours during which the workers are subjected to them, however, are not, and the dangers which the heat and damp must necessarily pose to the health of the workers might be greatly lessened by providing them with a comfortable room, kept warm but not hot and quite dry, where their lungs may be cleared of the injurious atmosphere before exiting into the cold night air. There are many improvements of that nature which may be made with a little additional expense and trouble on the part of the owner, and which may relieve many of the workers' chief complaints."
"And you have implemented these improvements?" she asked with eager delight. "How clever of you!"
"They were mostly your uncle's suggestions, Miss Bennet," he replied modestly. "He has had years in the fabric trade to think them over, but has never before now met with anybody in my position."
"And what position is that, Mr. Darcy?"
"A factory must pay, Miss Bennet. Some of the improvements that your uncle has outlined are within the reach of many of the owners, and ought to be universally implemented. Others, however, would cut too deeply into their profits to be practiced by most. They are, however, possible for me because I am not an industrialist. I supply the wool myself, and when the cost of building the mill and of the young women's wages is deducted from the price of the cloth, I shall still get more for Pemberley's wool than I would if I sold it unprocessed. And there are other benefits most owners cannot arrange. The location of the mill, in a healthy country air and close to the workers' families, is one example. In short, I find myself in a unique position to implement Mr. Gardiner's suggestions."
"And my uncle perceived that?"
"I will confess that I perceived it myself. He was speaking of his wish that such improvements could be implemented, and I caught at the idea. He is somewhat interested in the venture, and is to purchase all the cloth. I am surprised, in truth, that he had not mentioned it to you. It was to consult him on some points in connection with the project that I left you and my sister in Gracechurch Street. That is why I said that you might represent your uncle in the affair. He is very pleased by the project, and would doubtless be glad to hear anything you had to tell him of it."
"I am not surprised that he should be. It is a delightful scheme in every respect, and I commend you both for it."
Mr. Darcy merely bowed, and attempted again to lay all the merit of the scheme at Mr. Gardiner's door, but Elizabeth was too pleased by this fresh evidence of his generosity and kindness to allow him to demur entirely. Perhaps the warmth of the lady's smile and the evident admiration in her eyes repaid Mr. Darcy in some small degree for the necessity of having some virtue ascribed to him.
The subject of the mill was prosecuted thoroughly on the drive by the two upon the barouche-box. Elizabeth found herself interested in the particulars of improvements, and Mr. Darcy was very ready to give information on what had become quite as pet a project with himself as with Mr. Gardiner, so that the conversation was interrupted only when some truly magnificent prospect appeared to ingraciously demand comment. The three within the carriage admired the scenery more, and had less conversation, but seemed well pleased to observe the animated discussion taking place upon the box.
The promised tour of the wool mill, when they arrived, was quite as interesting as anybody had a right to expect. To those not much accustomed to machinery there could be little to fascinate in the workings of it, and though Elizabeth took a lively interest in tracing those improvements which were in evidence, that task was soon completed, as the most important benefits must be intangible, or invisible to the inexperienced eye. The evident contentment of the workers, however, was a subject of complacence to all, and such arrangements as were comprehensible to the viewers were readily, if briefly, admired, before their tour was completed, and respite from the noise and heat sought in the fresh outside air.
Mr. Bingley accompanied the ladies while Mr. Darcy spoke with his foreman, and the little party strolled about on a grassy lawn, which was kept and maintained for the convenience of the laborers. Georgiana begged their leave to take out her sketchpad, and was soon busily engaged with her pencil, while the other three walked.
"Mr. Darcy is a very good master, it seems," Elizabeth observed to Mr. Bingley.
"Oh! Yes. I always have known him to be. Noblesse oblige seems to be very nearly the family motto. You should hear the housekeeper, old Mrs. Reynolds, on the subject."
"Effusive?" inquired she, smiling.
"Quite. Not to say that Darcy is incapable of kindness to anybody not related to himself by some tie--but he takes very good care indeed of those."
Elizabeth stopped to examine Miss Darcy's sketch. "How beautifully you draw! I could never reproduce a landscape to save my life. Our governess said my trees wanted spirit. My deficiency was evidently very serious, for I could not even understand her meaning."
Georgiana, who was growing accustomed to Elizabeth's gentle teasing, smiled. "I must confess myself surprised--my brother described several of your productions as very charming."
"High praise indeed!" Elizabeth laughed. "But I will own I have a little more skill in the drawing of portraits."
"Oh! How I should like to have one of him, done by yourself!" cried Georgiana artlessly, and then colored at her own impudence.
"I think I should hardly have time," Elizabeth demurred, seeking an easy escape, but Georgiana, emboldened at her own speech, was not to be denied.
"I am sure you might sketch his profile. That might easily be done in an evening."
Elizabeth glanced quickly at the young lady, but she had bent her head over her work so as to make her countenance invisible.
"It might," she answered. "But I cannot think it would be an easy task to convince your brother."
"I am sure he would sit for you--if you were to ask."
Elizabeth nearly laughed aloud. The innocent miss was grown quite bold!
"Perhaps. We shall see."
Mr. Darcy emerged from the mill and joined their party on the lawn. "I must thank you all for your patience. Shall we be going?"
"If Georgiana has finished her sketch," agreed Elizabeth.
"Oh! I have quite enough of the outline. I can finish the details at another time. I did it mostly for amusement, you know, though I have always thought that view of Birken Hill a handsome one. I am glad you built the mill here, brother; now somebody else can admire it."
Mr. Darcy laughed as he handed Georgiana into the carriage. "I assure you, I chose the spot more for the confluence of roads and water and the proximity of the nearby town than for scenery--but I am glad it meets with your approval."
"Why should not a factory girl have a pretty view outside her window, as well as a duchess?" said Elizabeth, accepting Mr. Darcy's assistance onto the box.
"Why not indeed?" laughed Mr. Bingley, seating himself next to his wife.
As they progressed, Mr. Darcy pointed out places of general or particular interest, the latter becoming less frequent as they left the Pemberley estate behind and came to the country surrounding Matlock. Being a native of the country, he was perfectly able to direct their attention to the best views, to tell them the names of the various peaks or of unusual flora or fauna, and to select the best route for comfort and scenery, and so they were in very safe hands. When the travelers reached their destination, they had no trouble in finding the servants, who had arrived half an hour before themselves, and were busily preparing a comfortable spot where a light meal could be eaten in a few hours' time.
The view of Matlock was exquisite. They would naturally make no attempt at ascending it, but upon some of the footpaths thereabouts they had every intention of amusing themselves, and set out directly. Those paths could, however, be a little treacherous in places, so that the little party was naturally divided into pairs. Jane had Mr. Bingley's arm; one of the footmen had come from Pemberley on purpose to provide his to Georgiana; and Mr. Darcy assisted Elizabeth over any rough places in the trail. The majestic beauty of the place was well worth all that it might require in the way of exertion. The trail they had selected wound through the valley for some little way and then ascended the hill behind it for a brief space, culminating in a view of the valley and of Matlock. Thither they bent their steps, and every moment provided fresh beauties and fresh exclamations.
"You must grow very weary of all this, Mr. Darcy," said Elizabeth. "It must be very tiresome to hear every group of visitors use the same dull expressions--and yet it is so very beautiful!"
Mr. Darcy smiled as she leaned upon his arm to climb over a root in the path. "The same expressions are often used--but they sound less repetitious, when uttered with a fresh sentiment."
"You bear your duties well, Mr. Darcy," she replied with mock seriousness, but the gentleman only smiled and shook his head.
"I assure you, Miss Bennet, that taking lively and interested guests over the paths at Matlock comes under the heading of a pleasure."
"And dull guests?"
"That might come more nearly under the heading of duties," he conceded.
"Then I shall take the compliment, and praise your excellence as a guide in return. I am sure that of all the paths, this must be the best. There is just enough shelter, and every time there is a break in the trees--ah! as there. It is exquisite."
"You are very kind."
"You have called me lively and interested; I must do something in return, and if I praise your benevolence I am sure you will scold me," said she, with a coquettish tilt of her head. She looked up with a smile on her lips, and suddenly found that he was regarding her with a very serious expression indeed. Her heart bounded, but she summoned her courage.
"Mr. Darcy, I cannot be satisfied with my previous hints. I fear I owe you an apology for my manner to you at Longbourn. There was a--a misapprehension."
"It might have happened to anybody," he cut in brusquely, turning to examine the view they had come so far to reach, though he saw nothing. "I took no pains to prevent its happening--I, who am usually so careful of my reputation--what a fool I was!"
"However that may be," she said firmly, "I blame myself very much for my behavior."
"You did not know my character well enough, then, to be certain of me." It was true, and yet there was pain in his voice.
"Perhaps not. But I really cannot forgive myself for assuming your guilt--for failing even to give you an opportunity to defend yourself, before flinging your supposed crime in your face, and before so many onlookers!"
"You had no obligation to me."
"Have I no obligation to do justice to the character of my fellow man?"
"I can hardly blame you for not wishing to see me or speak to me. What you thought of me!"
"I am ashamed of it now," she said quietly. "Can you forgive me?"
"Forgive you?" he turned quickly and examined her face. What he saw there must have given him some hope, for he continued, "I was unreasonably angry that night, Miss Bennet, but a quarter of an hour's reflection showed me that I had almost forced that misapprehension upon you. It has been long, very long, since I blamed anybody but myself."
The brilliancy of her smile invited his next question.
"Miss Bennet, we have been through a great deal, but my wishes are unchanged. You are too generous to trifle with me. Tell me--have I still some hope?"
Emotion made her a little incoherent, but her answer convinced him that he might have a great deal more than hope, for the asking. Mr. Darcy had not every virtue in existence, but he was not lacking in courage, and a more cowardly man might have brought himself to the point under such provocation. When the others joined them at the lookout point, Elizabeth had promised to be his wife.
Their understanding was conveyed by a look from Elizabeth to Jane, who informed her husband of it in a whisper, and without very much being said on any side, it was generally understood by the time they returned to their nuncheon. Georgiana received the intelligence in a little aside on her brother's part, and they were soon all in good humor and good information.
There was a great deal of consciousness and agitation in Elizabeth's demeanor, as well as of happiness, and it was fortunate that there was a pleasant walk of some duration to assist her in composing herself. Mr. Darcy contented himself with watching his bride-to-be and wondering at his good fortune, and seemed incapable of taking his eyes from her. Neither of the couple ate very much. They were, however, glad to take the box again, though Elizabeth colored even more prettily than the last time, and if Mr. Darcy's arm stole round Miss Bennet's waist as they went over a rough patch of road, and remained there for the duration of the journey, Mrs. Bingley was a sufficiently lenient guardian to say nothing about it.
Elizabeth found the period when the sexes were separated after dinner that night absurdly long, though it was in reality but a quarter of an hour, both gentlemen being eager to rejoin the ladies. They would undoubtedly have curtailed it even further had not Mr. Darcy felt that it was now time to acquaint Mr. Bingley with more of the history of their courtship than he had previously done. What elements he considered too delicate to be exposed even to an intimate friend and one who was to be his brother, we shall leave to the reader to decide.
The discretion of Mr. Darcy, however, was almost certainly in vain, for Elizabeth's conversation with Jane was perfectly frank. The sisters had never been accustomed to conceal things from each other, and Jane was already too much in Elizabeth's confidence to be kept out of what remained.
"And are you very happy?" said Mrs. Bingley, when Elizabeth had finished her recital of that morning's events, together with the necessary description of its accompanying emotions.
"Very." Elizabeth looked down the valley, with its many winding turns. "Oh, Jane, we shall be so happy here. To think of it! Pemberley as my home! In this room I shall receive guests--you must all come to us at Christmas, you and the Gardiners. What a happy party we shall make!"
"You sound positively mercenary." Jane did not sound as if she believed a word of it.
Elizabeth laughed, and indeed she seemed scarcely able to stop laughing this evening. "I am very mercenary indeed, for when I think of gazing out these windows every day, and having such beautiful objects visible from my morning room, my drawing room and my dressing room--in truth, I am very desirous of being mistress of Pemberley. I am half in love with the house already, though I think that will be no defect in his eyes, for I am sure he is as well. But when I think of the future, Jane, I always see myself and--and Fitzwilliam--" she colored prettily--"drawn up before the fire on a cold winter's night. Jane, you will think me terribly vain when I say I have never met a man who was quite my equal before--other than our father--but so it is. I have met my match at last."
The evening passed quite as pleasantly as it might be expected to do, with an excess of pleasantly agitated feelings and very little of settled pleasure. Georgiana, however, had her way, for though she had given the two sisters leisure to speak uninterrupted, upon the advent of the gentlemen she appeared with her demand, and Mr. Darcy was made to sit behind the screen while Elizabeth sketched his profile for the benefit of Miss Darcy, and again, with a little more of agitation, for herself.
"Poor Darcy," mused Mr. Bingley, "I hate to see him under the thumb of two such very exacting ladies."
"I shall get my own back, Bingley," said Mr. Darcy with unwonted playfulness. "There, Miss Bennet, if you are finished, you must now trade places, and Georgiana shall exercise her talent. You see--I shall be as indulged as indulging, Bingley."
"That is undoubtedly the best method, Darcy," replied his friend, laughing. "Perhaps I shall make it into a motto. That would look well over a family crest, Mrs. Bingley, do you not think?"
The next morning Elizabeth went walking early, but she kept near the house. She was almost certain that Mr. Darcy would join her, but equally sure that his sense of delicacy would forbid them many distant and solitary walks until her father had officially approved the engagement. She wondered for a moment how they ought to inform that gentleman, but her thoughts were interrupted by the figure of Mr. Darcy coming across the lawn.
"Good morning, Elizabeth." He, too, was smiling more often than was usual. He had, Elizabeth considered, a very handsome smile. "I must apologize for keeping you waiting. I have been writing to your father."
She drew in a long breath. "I see."
"I hope you do not disapprove?"
"Not at all--though I will own, Mr. Darcy, that I wish I could be there in person when he receives it."
"That would be somewhat difficult," said Mr. Darcy, frowning seriously. "I suppose you could be conveyed to Longbourn in the barouche, but it would require several days; I cannot like to see you so long upon the road with only the servants, nor can I think you would like to interrupt the Bingleys' wedding tour, by a sudden return to the south."
Elizabeth laughed. "Mr. Darcy, you forget that I am accustomed to think of such travel as an impossibility, and therefore eligible to be wished for lightly and without any expectation. You must not take me too seriously, you know. I talk a great deal of nonsense."
"I have not noticed it," said Mr. Darcy simply. Suddenly he frowned again. "Elizabeth--you do not fear your father's reaction? That is to say, I hope he is not under any misapprehension as regards my character."
Elizabeth colored instantly. "No, sir, that I can promise you. Mr. Gardiner made some of his concerns known to my father, but he has long been undeceived. He had a letter from Mr. Reynolds, explaining the whole."
"It was indeed Mrs. Gardiner that first alarmed you, then."
"It was." Elizabeth's chin lifted.
He smiled. "I am not going to quarrel with her, Elizabeth. She did very right. I should have done the same had I believed any young lady related to me to be in so dangerous a position."
"I am glad I was not," said Elizabeth quietly, and for a moment they walked in silence. "I suppose you had something to do with that letter, then?"
"I did call on him when I returned to London, and pointed out to him the impropriety of his situation. I was, in truth, very shocked at his unmanly silence, but I told him that though I could comprehend his course of action until fashionable London had retired to the country and the young lady's permanent situation could be settled upon, past that point there could be no reason to keep it from your father. I made no allusion to my own situation, however. I did not wish to involve your reputation."
"And then he wrote his letter."
"I had his assurance that he would--but not more than that. I was not sure until you arrived here that you had been informed, or what you might think of me. It was torment."
She gave him such a smile as might ease the pain a little, and when he took her hand in his she did not refuse it. "I am afraid I have been a great deal of trouble to you."
Darcy shook his head. "I would gladly have gone to any trouble to win you, Elizabeth."
"Then it is fortunate for us both that Mr. Reynolds explained, and I did not try you too far! But come, let us be serious. You have written to my father?"
"I have written a letter, but I have not sent it yet. I thought you might wish to include a missive of your own."
She looked up at him gratefully. "That was kindly thought. Shall I go and write it now?"
"I think you had better."
"You are not very gallant, Mr. Darcy." Her smile teased him. "Ought you not to protest my going?"
"I am sure I ought. I am a very backward lover, you see."
"If you will not regret my going, then I shall go at once," said she in mock anger, but she did not turn towards the house.
"What shall I say? I know you ought to go at once, but I do not wish you to leave me," replied he with a fond smile.
"That is better," said she imperiously. "You have spent too much time, you know, evading the attentions of young ladies, and too little paying them your own. What a spoiled creature you are! But I have no doubt I can make something of you."
Mr. Darcy laughed then. "I have every hope of my amendment. But must we not go into the house?"
"Alas! your principles are stronger than my beauty. But a certain gentleman once told me, that firm principles were the surest foundation of a happy marriage, and so I shall hope to be repaid amply in the future. It is fortunate for you, Mr. Darcy, that I am more attached to happiness than flirtation."
"I am very fortunate indeed," he agreed, pressing her hand to his lips.
She smiled sweetly, and they turned into the house.
Posted on 2014-05-12
However disjointed the courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, the succeeding days brought no doubts to either of the principals as to the wisdom of their betrothal. Mr. Darcy had been as constant as certain in his affections throughout, and Elizabeth's attachment to him was both deep and sincere. In the company of their closest and calmest friends, the flutter of her spirits soon settled into equanimity, and thence to her usual playfulness.
"I find that I am even more in love with him than I suspected," she confided to her sister, "for not only do I rise early to walk with him, but I am unreasonably angry if he has letters of business to occupy himself with in the morning, and always find the period of separation after dinner unaccountably long. Can there be any more certain proof of love than such irritability?"
On the Monday, Mr. Darcy and his betrothed were walking in the grounds.
"Now," said she, "you may believe I have puzzled over our misunderstandings infinitely, and I believe I have guessed a great deal--but I am grown too wise to be certain, until I have heard it from your lips. You must explain it all to me quite thoroughly, and then we need never speak of it again."
Mr. Darcy smiled. "I am entirely at your disposal. What information do you desire?"
"Must I cross-question you?" she asked in mock alarm.
"Very well. I shall begin after our return to London. A report began to circulate, as I believe you know, that there was an understanding between Miss Bingley and myself. As I had no intention of asking her to be my wife, it was incumbent upon me to quash the rumor by absenting myself from her company, including my morning ride. As I was equally determined not to raise speculation in another quarter by calling regularly in Sloane Street, however, that meant that I saw nothing of you for several days. I hoped that my reasons for doing so would be apparent to you--but I think now I must have been in error. I might have called once, at least, without arousing suspicion."
"I believe you might have, but I honored your circumspection, for I did guess your reasons."
Mr. Darcy sighed. "I comforted myself with the notion that I would soon be at liberty to pay you more attentions in Hertfordshire, away from the London gossips."
She tilted her head. "To be sure! All the gossips are in London, after all."
"I had reason to believe that my friend's wooing would provide adequate explanation for frequent calls at Longbourn," he said gravely.
"Reason enough!" she laughed. "Nothing but a wedding could have made the local gossips forgive the general incivility he exhibited."
"Is not general incivility the hallmark of love?" he inquired drily.
"To be sure! only do not presume too much upon it in your own case, for I think the neighborhood has had as much ill treatment as it can stand. Well. I believe that dreadful item in the paper came next."
"Yes--though it was not uppermost in my mind for more than a few hours. I will not attempt to deny that I was uncomfortable. The prospect of the dance that evening was very disconcerting. But I knew that Miss Bingley would be with her sister on their wedding tour, and hoped that my going down to Hertfordshire when she was generally known to be in another part of the country must assist in putting an end to the rumor. I wondered very much what you thought about it, of course."
"Oh, I? I felt very much for your delicate sensibilities, I am afraid," she said frankly.
Mr. Darcy shook his head, though he smiled. "You must have thought me very vain--to think a bit of gossip in a paper could so trouble me."
She bit her lip. "I fear I hardly knew what to think. That was my own doing, for if I had been less prejudiced against you there would have been a more substantial intimacy between us by then."
"I did not mean to reproach you," he said gently. After a brief pause he continued, "Then the letter arrived, on the very Saturday of the dance. I was forced to a small deception in allowing you to think that it was an old friend in distress, but the difficulty did involve an old acquaintance, though not a friend, and the terrible news did arrive in the form of a letter. A friend at Cambridge informed me that Mr. Wickham had eloped with Miss Reynolds."
"Ah! Now we have come to the point of novel information. Mr. Reynolds just hinted at a long acquaintance between you and Mr. Wickham, but I am all curiosity."
"He was the son of my late father's steward, and my father's godson. He was a likely lad, and my father interested himself in him--but he was vicious, though he took pains to hide it from my father. Mr. Wickham has been studying the law in London these last few years, or so he assured me he intended to do when he demanded a sum of capital instead of the living my father had intended for him. I can only imagine that Miss Reynolds must have met Mr. Wickham at the house of one of the barristers."
"I will confess I have heard her gossiping to my sister about the young men reading law."
Mr. Darcy nodded gravely. "It is as I suspected, then. The pair went, at any rate, to Cambridge, where Mr. Wickham had acquaintance from his college days. Fortunately, a gentleman of my acquaintance was making use of the library there; he recognized Mr. Wickham and Miss Reynolds, though they were staying there under false names, and knowing my connection with Mr. Wickham, wrote to me at once. I knew Wickham's character too well to suppose that there could be any innocent explanation, and determined to journey at once to Cambridge and discover what I could, before alarming the lady's brother. As it happened I fell in with Mr. Reynolds there, but as he was required in Town he returned, and I remained to clear up the matter."
"Surely that is a little peculiar?" inquired she, with a puzzled stare.
He shrugged. "Mr. Reynolds is, it seems, a man of business first and foremost, and I am sorry to say I cannot think him very attached to his sister. He was determined to return to his workshop, and I was equally decided upon righting whatever wrongs Mr. Wickham had committed. He therefore returned to London, while I stayed on."
"But surely you are not responsible for his actions, merely because he was your father's godson!"
Mr. Darcy sighed. "I might have done more to ensure that his reputation was accurate, but I was reluctant to attack anyone connected with the Darcy name. My father had spoken well of Wickham during his lifetime, and I was loathe to contradict my father."
"And do you really believe that by doing so, you could have prevented this tragedy?"
"Perhaps not. Mr. Wickham's own vices could not be concealed in such a place as London, and must have done as much to his reputation as I could have. But I cannot forgive myself for withholding an action which might have saved her, merely for the sake of family pride."
Elizabeth honored the delicacy of his feelings, and would not attempt to reason him out of them any further. She contented herself with a compassionate look.
"I will not attempt to conceal, however, that I had another motive," continued Mr. Darcy, regarding her warmly. "I knew that the scandal must be very unpleasant, and possibly injurious, to your family, due to your connection with Mr. Reynolds. I fear it is rather Romantic of me, but I was pleased to have the opportunity of doing you some service."
She laughed, though she smiled warmly at him. "I fear you have been made a poor return for your generosity."
"That was my own fault--but you shall hear all. I naturally supposed that when Mr. Reynolds had returned to London, he would write to your father and inform him of the situation. Even if he were actuated by no sense of duty, it must have occurred to his reason that it would naturally be more injurious to his position with your family should the rumor reach your father from a third party. I still intended to write to your father myself, but though I heard something of the couple from day to day, I had no definite news, and postponed my writing. Could I have written to yourself, you may believe I would have done so!--but it seemed unnecessary to write to your father, as I believed myself to have nothing to say to him, which he did not already know."
"I cannot imagine what induced Mr. Reynolds to withhold that information."
"I believe he was afraid that your father would forbid his marriage, and that he thought it less likely if he were able to present him with a situation resolved."
"But surely it must have occurred to him that your reputation was endangered by his silence!"
"I think not. I am convinced that Mr. Reynolds endeavored to think as little as possible of the whole affair."
Elizabeth sighed. "Very likely. And my sister is in love with such a man! But I detain your from your narrative."
Mr. Darcy nodded and carried on.
"Wickham had many friends as vicious as himself in Cambridge, and the pair were well hidden by them. In the end, however, either pressed by his creditors or by myself, he abandoned the young lady and took to flight, and then there was very little difficulty in locating her. I established Miss Reynolds at once under the protection of a respectable woman who lets lodgings near the university, and set about attempting to reconcile her with her brother."
Mr. Darcy frowned as he continued. "In truth, he was very loathe to see her again, and I had something to do to convince him that it would be best to settle the money which had been intended for her marriage portion upon her. I believe he was angry enough to have sent her penniless into the streets, for I am sorry to say that he thinks a great deal more of his reputation than he does of her. But by representing the impropriety of the situation to him, and what might yet be concealed if she were settled respectably in the country, I won him over to my way of thinking."
"Heartless man! and yet I had supposed nearly so much." Elizabeth shook her head. "I imagine that must have been when you were seen with Miss Reynolds?"
"I should suppose so. She was naturally desirous of knowing her own fate, and as her brother refused to write to her, or to read her letters, the task of an intermediary fell to myself, so that I called upon her often, and wrote to her brother almost daily. When all had been agreed upon, I left Miss Reynolds in Cambridge and went up to London to assist Mr. Reynolds with the documents which must be drawn up. I determined the location of an establishment where she could be settled respectably, and so when the papers had been signed I returned to Cambridge to see her safely to her destination."
"Indeed, just in time for my uncle Gardiner to witness you putting Miss Reynolds into your carriage."
Mr. Darcy sighed. "It has long been evident to me what construction Mr. Gardiner must have placed upon that encounter. Had the lady not been waiting, I believe I should have explained myself upon the spot. I was still, at that time, in ignorance that my activities were fodder for gossip. I flattered myself that all my acquaintance were occupied elsewhere, and that I might escape undetected. I had no expectation of being so long in Cambridge, or of calling upon Miss Reynolds so frequently; I had every expectation of joining you in Hertfordshire much sooner than I did, but each day brought some fresh difficulty."
"And were you really in complete ignorance of those rumors?"
"It was foolish of me, extremely foolish, to expect that I would be unnoticed, but I saw no acquaintance there save your Uncle Gardiner. I am certain that he was not the source of those rumors."
"No indeed; he had heard the rumor long before."
"It is possible, I suppose, that Mr. Wickham put them about, as a petty vengeance. I have bought up his debts and made it plain to his friends that, should he show himself in respectable society again, I will have him imprisoned. I will not allow him to prey upon the helpless again."
They walked on in silence for some moments.
"And what will be the fate of Miss Reynolds?" Elizabeth inquired at last.
"She is well settled," replied Darcy with conviction. "I believe she will be comfortable there, and perhaps even happy. She will have suitable companions, respectable oversight, and ample employment, for the ladies occupy themselves greatly with the poor of the parish. She had been very ill-used by Mr. Wickham, who it seems neglected her greatly, and I believe she was glad enough at the prospect of a safe and settled home."
"I imagine she was. Poor Miss Reynolds! The alteration between the schoolroom and her ordinary life was too much for her, though I cannot help but wonder at her behavior."
"She was in very uncertain hands--and I can pity any young lady who must rely upon the guidance of a companion for hire. It is all too easy for the most respectable families to be deceived."
"Whatever the faults of a mother may be, her character is at least known to the rest of the family," agreed Elizabeth, with a sigh. "But why should Mr. Wickham want to run away with Miss Reynolds at all? Her agreeing to go with him is sufficiently comprehensible to me. She was almost desperate for some notice, and a young man of ordinary attractions--I may presume he is not ugly?--would not have had much to do to convince her she was in love with him. But what did he desire? Did he think her brother would do so much for him?"
"He may have hoped so--but I believe his real motive was flight from his creditors in London. Miss Reynolds was probably to him no more than an agreeable companion, with the possibility of a brother whom they might live upon. He cannot have been under the impression that Mr. Reynolds was possessed of very much in the way of capital, and he certainly did not intend to marry her without some substantial material gain. He is a vile man, Elizabeth, though pleasing enough in manners and appearance to attract many a young girl, invariably to her detriment."
"Then I can only say that I am very glad never to have met him," she replied, repressing a little shudder, though unable to believe entirely that she would not have detected such a villain. "But let us return to the more pleasant subject of our quarrel. You received the letter, and were very distressed on the night of your dance."
"I was. I must go to her rescue, but did not wish to leave you; I desired to tell you of the matter, and yet I felt I had no right, as the story was not my own to relate. And then your manner to me seemed unaccountably strange."
"I was angry."
"Angry?" Mr. Darcy asked, astonished.
Elizabeth sighed. "When you spoke of the letter, and of your old acquaintance, you were so agitated and conscious that there was falsehood in all your looks. I believed you to be making an excuse not to talk about the item in the paper. I was angry that you had reposed so little confidence in me."
Mr. Darcy was silent for a few moments, and she wondered if she had made him angry, now.
"It was not treating you like a friend," he said at last. "I can only plead that I was very agitated at the time. I did not wish to leave you, and yet I feared that some further evil might come from delaying my journey. I was eager to be with you and anxious to be away. I must have been terribly distracted, and I can see now that your peculiar manner was undoubtedly the result of my own. I must beg your pardon yet again."
Elizabeth laughed. "Come, Mr. Darcy, is it not a little early in our life together to begin keeping score? My conduct is no more irreproachable than yours. A little appeal to openness on my part--a little more forthrightness on yours--and we would have been in perfect confidence, and I should never have believed that dreadful rumor. I shall propose a treaty: I will forgive you if you will forgive me, and we will remember the past only as it gives us pleasure."
"Nothing can be easier to yourself, I am sure. You have behaved so well throughout as to have nothing to vex you in examining your own conduct."
"Now you are not serious. Suspicion and prejudice are not virtues, Mr. Darcy. I believed you capable of establishing a scandalous liaison! You will not tell me that was not very wrong."
"It happened to be inaccurate. The facts all pointed in the other direction."
"I had no confidence in you."
"Because I had reposed none in you."
"A truce, a truce!" cried she, laughing. "I shall pardon you, if you will pardon me. And I mean henceforward always to accuse you to your face, before I believe in your guilt. There, is not that generous of me?"
"And I shall be more open with you, so that you shall have no cause for suspicion--and I believe we may reasonably hope to do very well together."
She laughed and would have turned the subject, but he frowned thoughtfully.
"There is one more thing, Elizabeth, which must be told. You will not like it, but I am determined to conceal nothing from you."
She took his arm and smiled comfortingly up at him. "There, that is the right spirit, and in return I shall promise to be as lenient as possible."
That drew a little smile from him, but he would not look at her as he continued. "I am sure you recall that there was a period in London of about a week, when Mr. Bingley seemed to have abandoned your sister."
She gazed at him in astonishment, and could only nod mutely.
"That was my doing."
"Yours!" she cried, drawing back from him in surprise.
"Mine and--in truth, I will conceal nothing--Miss Bingley's. We believed ourselves to be acting in the best interest of Mr. Bingley, but it was only through a happy accident that we were prevented from making my poor friend very unhappy."
"But what can you have done? He is a grown man, and of age; you cannot have prevented him calling, if he wished it." She hardly knew whether to be angry or amused.
Mr. Darcy sighed. "No. But to alter the wish was a simpler matter. I was mistaken, Elizabeth, sadly mistaken, in my assessment of your sister's temperament. I did not believe her to be in love with Bingley. He is an old friend, and I wished better for him in life than a partner of convenience. A man married to a woman who has no affection for him, Miss Bennet, is in very great danger of losing all opportunity of respectable happiness. He has left only his books or some similar occupation."
He spoke feelingly, and Elizabeth could only acknowledge the justice of the remark. "Though some domestic felicity may still, I think, be found in his children. But leaving that aside, why did you believe that such a fate threatened your friend? What reason had you to believe she did not love him, or that being indifferent to him she would accept his proposals?"
"For my mistake, I can only refer you to Mrs. Bingley's calmness of manner and evenness of temper. As I see her now, it is very plain to me that she and Bingley are considerably attached to teach other, but I did not know her then, nor see her through your eyes. At that time I could not perceive that she distinguished Bingley from her other suitors."
"Jane is, indeed, universally kind, but I never thought till now it might make her more unhappy, than in receiving ingratitude as a return," mused Elizabeth.
"As for the other, I can only refer you to the society marriages which I see formed every year, in which neither partner feels much of affection for the other. I had not then," he added, permitting himself a small smile, "sufficient reason to be sure that the ladies of your family had higher requirements."
"And now?" she inquired, unable to prevent a saucy smile.
He kissed her then, and sighed with satisfaction. "I believe I have been sufficiently educated upon that point."
She laughed, her cheeks coloring hotly, and they walked on. "Well. You must finish your story, then. I have not decided, yet, whether I am to be angry with you."
He looked at her so sorrowfully that she doubted her capacity to enforce her threat, but he continued.
"Miss Bingley was also alarmed at the potential union. I believe that her fears were other than mine, yet--I shall be frank, Elizabeth: we were both somewhat alarmed at certain improprieties we had noted in members of your family."
Elizabeth colored again, less happily this time. "They were forced upon your notice," she acknowledged.
"Miss Bingley's motives I shall not endeavor to determine. My own consisted principally of a fear that my friend would consign himself to an unhappy marriage, and with--forgive me, but I must not conceal anything--a family who might cause him some difficulties in society."
"We would make him poor amends, if Jane did not love him," she conceded, blushing again with shame.
"You must not believe that you were comprehended in any of my fears, Elizabeth," he added seriously. "You, indeed, were uniformly charming."
"Uniformly!" she cried, laughing. "Certainly. There is nothing so charming as an impertinent tease. Well. However troubled you may have been, I feel certain that a sensibility of your distress alone did not cause Mr. Bingley to sit at home for a week."
"It did not." Mr. Darcy squared his shoulders and continued. "Miss Bingley spoke to me of her fears, and I agreed to speak to Charles. It was there that I made my mistake. You must understand, Elizabeth, that I have often played the part of an elder brother to him. To speak to him of my concerns would, I still must believe, have been within the part of reason. But I did more. I represented to him the dangers of such an union, and persuaded him of Mrs. Bingley's indifference. I was wrong, very wrong. Even had I been his father I ought not have interfered so pertinaciously in an affair of the heart. I give you my word, Miss Bennet, that I had underestimated his attachment to your sister almost as much as hers to him. Indeed, almost by the time we had concluded our conversation, I could not choose but wonder if I were in error."
A heavy silence fell. Elizabeth was wondering whether she ought to be angry with him. He looked so contrite, however, and the look he directed towards her was so full of open and humble apology, that she found she could not be.
"It was a very officious interference," she said gravely. "And why did Mr. Bingley allow himself thus to be persuaded?"
"Bingley is a very modest fellow, more accustomed to relying upon the judgment of others than upon his own. No argument would prevail with him but an assurance of her indifference. That, however, made him very miserable, and convinced him to stay away from Sloane Street."
"And what altered his conviction?"
Mr. Darcy allowed himself a small smile. "A very happy accident. I believe I will not surprise you when I tell you that Mr. Harrington offered for your sister the very morning of the day that Mr. Bingley returned to your house."
Elizabeth nodded silently.
"When your sister had rejected him, he went at once to his club. Bingley found him there by chance that afternoon, and from their conversation he gathered that Miss Bennet had already given her heart to another, whom Mr. Harrington believed to be himself. His ardent pursuit, and Mr. Harrington's, had frightened off most of her other suitors, so that he found he could not help but hope, and hoping again he went directly to put his fortune to the test."
"One can hardly choose but laugh at the absurdity of it all!"
"Indeed. It is a very happy accident."
"And you?" she inquired, regarding him curiously. "How did you regard Mr. Bingley's defection?"
"In truth," he owned shamefacedly, "my anxieties were greatly relieved. I had been sorry, exceedingly sorry, to see the extent to which he grieved for her loss, and the discovery that they might both yet be happy was a welcome one to me. I congratulated Mr. Bingley most sincerely when I heard of it, and I have since given him my apologies for my unwarrantable interference. So that now, if you will only tell me that I may yet be forgiven, all will be well again."
"And what of Jane?"
"I shall give her my apologies as well, if you wish it," he replied, with a mischievous expression, "but I have some difficulty in believing that she has held a grudge."
Elizabeth laughed at that. "No. If Jane could have borne any ill-will, it would have been forgiven as soon as Mr. Bingley returned. And as the principals are on such good terms with you, I suppose I shall have to be."
"Truly, Elizabeth?" he caught her arm and turned her gently to face him. "Can you forgive me?"
"You interfered where you ought not have," she replied seriously, "but your interference was born of love for your friend, who had no one else to warn him. As all has come right, I shall not be angry with you."
Mr. Darcy smiled in relief. "I am very happy for Mr. Bingley, truly. Never more so than now. My hope was always that he might marry someone known to me; I had thought once of Georgiana, but your sister is an infinitely better match for his temper."
"You mean to say," she teased him, "that you had wished once that he would marry into your lofty social circles. And now you find that you must marry into his. I hope you have gained his permission as well as my father's."
"I am tolerably certain of Bingley's approval," he replied, regarding her with pleasure, "but if you wish to be sure we can ask him."
"Perhaps he will tell you that Miss Bennet is not particularly fond of you," she retorted, eyes sparkling.
"It would be no more than I deserve," he owned with mock ruefulness.
She laughed. "Come, if we all have what we deserve we shall all be miserable. Let us all be unfairly happy together."
To that her bridegroom was happy to assent, and they returned to the house together.
My darling Reginald,
How long this cruel separation seems! I really must think Papa very unreasonable to refuse to allow us to be married until you have lived some time in Hertfordshire, particularly when your business confines you so to London. I live for the day when you will come to me at last. You must not think, my darling, that I reproach you for your devotion to your Art. Art will always be a golden motto for me. I could not love a man who had no higher ideal or ambition than myself, and I would sacrifice anything, even your presence, to it. Still I cannot think it was necessary for Papa to be so insistent. But everything will come right in the autumn, and in the interval your letters are such a source of comfort to me!
We have had a great deal of excitement at Longbourn lately. An express came on Monday for Papa, and absolutely would not go away again until he had written a reply. You cannot think how cross Papa was! He is such a dilatory correspondent always. But he had to give in at last, and write. The express rider was just a boy, and I believe Papa felt sorry for him. Lydia made quite a fool of herself, swearing he was the handsomest thing she had ever seen. I did not see anything so very handsome about him. He has not your turn of countenance, and I never could love a fair head.
You will never guess who sent the express, however. It was from Mr. Darcy! And the purport of it was, that he had asked Lizzy to be his wife, and she had agreed! Could you have guessed? I never thought him particularly fond of her, and I am quite sure she used to dislike him. Still, I suppose he is a very great man, and some people will do anything for consequence. I cannot admire the action, however. I cannot consider any man in the country, however wealthy or titled, the equal of him to whom the Muse has granted her blessing. And Mr. Darcy has not even a title.
I almost wondered, at first, why Mr. Darcy should send an express, only to say he was to be married, but I think now that he did it on purpose, knowing Papa's strange ways; in fact I half think Lizzy must have put him up to it. Lizzy and Jane are going on to Leeds, of course, and doubtless he wishes to follow them, but perhaps he would not feel it quite proper without Papa's blessing. He would certainly not have got an answer before now without such an expedient as making the express rider wait about. It was rather clever of him if that was his reason. Papa wrote to him, anyway, though he looked very displeased about it, and was peevish all day. I hope he is in a better temper tomorrow.
Mama was so excited when she first heard of it that we thought we might have to call Mr. Jones for a draught, but she is calmer now. She is quite delighted with the whole affair, and though I am sure she wishes Mr. Darcy were a lord, she is well pleased to have three daughters so well connected. She is in raptures about the estate at Pemberley, and goes on at great length about the material considerations Lizzy can expect, the carriages and jewels and pin money. I care nothing for all of that of course, but then Lizzy and Mr. Darcy may wish to commission some new paintings. Doubtless Mr. Darcy will want a likeness of her taken on the occasion of their marriage, and then he has such grand connections that I am sure he will be able to send a great deal of valuable work your way, and share the blessings of your Muse.
Do write soon, my love, and tell me all about Lady Harrow's sitting, and how the landscape goes on. I hope your work will soon be finished, so that you may come to Hertfordshire for fresh inspiration for the fall landscapes. Believe that I await that day eagerly, and that I am ever your own,
You have my consent to marry Elizabeth, provided that you keep to those terms which I have imposed upon Mr. Bingley. You may choose whether you prefer to reside at Longbourn or at Netherfield; either will satisfy my conditions. Personally I should recommend Netherfield, as you are less likely to be assaulted by inanities at breakfast there.
My Dear Elizabeth,
I must confess, I did a little expect, when I had sent you that ghastly missive from Mr. Reynolds, that I might soon hear something more about the gentleman whose name he evidently wrote to clear. It seems Mr. Darcy is a much better man than either of us suspected. Your words comfort me immensely--"I have found my match at last." I could not have parted with you to anyone less worthy, my dear. I wish you great joy.
Your loving father,
Gracechurch Street, Thursday
My Dear Eliza,
I received your note this morning. I am delighted to hear that you and Mr. Darcy have settled everything between you. I quite feel that you are the best amends I can make him for my own misapprehension! In all seriousness, however, I have never seen you so well suited by any person, let alone any man. You must both come and call on us whenever you are next in London. I will pay him the compliment of not pretending to believe that he intends to drop our acquaintance just because he has got out of it what he wanted.
I am quite wild to see all the beauties of Pemberley. I do not believe I have ever heard you so pleased with any place, and I half think you are as much in love with the park as with its master, though by the sound of it he will find that more a recommendation than otherwise. I have spoken to Mr. Gardiner, and we will be very pleased to join you there at Christmas, if you are settled by then.
Pray write again soon, and give me all the details.
Ever your loving aunt,
Posted on 2014-05-15
Mr. Darcy's express had done its work. Mr. Bennet's answer arrived within the week, and Darcy and Elizabeth might consider themselves officially engaged to be married. They might now wander a little further from the house in their long walks, and in the evenings, or when the weather was inclement, they often amused themselves with planning the new fitting up of the mistress's rooms, and a smaller sitting room to which Elizabeth had taken a fancy. Darcy would have been happy to alter more than that, but his betrothed pronounced herself so very satisfied with the general state of the house, its furniture and its equipment, that he had very little to do except to begin teaching her to drive a very quiet mare, so that she might drive herself in the low phaeton he considered as a safe and suitable equipage for the mistress of Pemberley. The shortness of the visit rendering it unsuitable for a general introduction to the neighborhood, the little party indulged themselves in quiet family evenings, and in the comfort and elegance of domestic felicity.
Their comfort, however, could not be eternal, and when they went on to Leeds, Mr. Darcy was obliged to return to London, in order to return Georgiana to her school, and order those items which his taste and his future wife's dictated as advantageous to a new bride. That done, however, he found that some long-postponed business made it advisable for him to journey to Leeds, where he very naturally joined his friends. Their stay in that city was quite uneventful, for Jane had come to be acquainted with Mr. Bingley's relations, and she very soon was. Mr. Bingley's branch of the family had always been rather small, and most of the charm of the visit must consist in excursions to the countryside a little way beyond the city, where Mr. Bingley had actually spent his early years, and in viewing those spots which had been dear to him as a child. Their planned three weeks was entirely sufficient to the task.
To nobody's surprise, Mr. Darcy determined upon accompanying the Bingleys back to Netherfield. Mr. Bingley had no sooner heard of the engagement than he had invited Mr. Darcy to be his guest, and Mr. Darcy had been happy to accept. "We might safely have invited worse company in his circumstances, you know," said Mr. Bingley genially to his wife. "He will be at Longbourn at all hours."
"Can you blame him?" asked she, smiling sweetly.
"Not at all. Besides, we can get his company easily enough when we want it, by the simple expedient of inviting your sister to dine."
In the middle of August, on a fine summer's day, Mr. Darcy's barouche swept into Meryton, followed at no very great distance by Mr. Bingley's new chaise. Elizabeth felt every eye in the small town upon her as she sat in borrowed splendor in the elegant vehicle, and laughed aloud.
Mr. Darcy turned to look at her. "What is so amusing, Miss Bennet?"
"I feel rather like Cinderella come home again, being driven through Meryton in a borrowed barouche and four."
"I should scarcely call it borrowed. It will be your own barouche soon enough, unless you prefer to have a new one."
"I would not have so handsome a vehicle retired! It is quite grand enough for me."
"Very well. I mean you to have your own phaeton, however, and a pair of ponies."
"I do not think I drive well enough for it yet," said she doubtfully. "And you must not spoil me, Fitzwilliam, or I shall grow intolerable."
"That I cannot believe," he returned with a smile. "You must certainly have your own conveyance in addition to the family carriage, and I think it would suit your temper to be able to drive about the park on your own, particularly as you are not overly fond of riding, and the weather will not always be suitable for walking. A low phaeton is a very safe and suitable vehicle for a lady, whether she choose to drive or be driven. As to your further tuition in driving, I shall see to that myself."
"You have thought it all out, plainly. Very well, I shall not quarrel with you. But you must promise to walk with me sometimes. You shall not have it all your own way."
Darcy smiled fondly. "I have no difficulty in believing it."
When they drove up the sweep and stopped before Longbourn, Elizabeth was not entirely pleased to see the whole family assembled, for she had hoped to shield Mr. Darcy from a little of her mother's exuberance. Mrs. Bennet, however, either in awe of his consequence or his forbidding countenance, only bid him a civil welcome, and repressed her raptures on the subjects of carriages and jewels for the moment. Mr. Bennet greeted the whole party warmly, with sincere affection for his girls, pleasure for Mr. Bingley, and an openness of manner Elizabeth had rarely seen him display before, towards Mr. Darcy.
The party had arrived in time for dinner, but Elizabeth had very little leisure for reflection while she changed her dress, for Kitty soon came into her room wanting to know everything about Hartwick and Ellingham; and she was followed not long after by Lydia, who wanted to know all about fashionable society in the North. Elizabeth could not give entirely satisfactory information on either head, but when she produced the emerald cross, which had been an engagement present from Mr. Darcy, their dissatisfaction soon was forgotten in exclamations on its beauty. When she entered the drawing room that night, she looked all elegance and bloom, and Mr. Darcy was quite as proud as pleased to come to her side and claim her hand.
Elizabeth was glad of his arm, for the evening was something of a trial. Mrs. Bennet's dining room was crowded as full as it would hold, and everybody squashed in against his next neighbor; but in spite of that, half of Meryton was to come and join them after the dinner. Elizabeth was kept busy during most of the meal by Sir William Lucas, who congratulated her on the elegance, the position in society, the ancient family of her bridegroom, and would have been very happy to have congratulated her on a great deal more if he had known the gentleman to speak to. Mr. Darcy was seated next to Lady Lucas, who was more pleasant because more quiet, but not clever enough to make an adequate conversational partner for Mr. Darcy. At least she did not try his patience as Mrs. Bennet must. It was something of a relief to Elizabeth when the ladies moved.
It did not take the married women long to begin sighing over Elizabeth's beauty and Elizabeth's beau, and they had not been together five minutes before it was an acknowledged fact, that she appeared quite regal, and certainly a fit bride for Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. By the end of half an hour, they had nearly settled it that he was not quite good enough for her. Elizabeth, meanwhile, was left in possession of a quiet moment with Charlotte. Though she had maintained a busy correspondence with her friend, there were things she had been unwilling to commit to paper. In the noise of the crowded room there was sufficient privacy for confidences, though the affair regarding Miss Reynolds Elizabeth did not consider her own secret to tell.
"And so you were in love with him all that time, when you were down here in May? I wondered who it was."
"Charlotte! Pray be serious."
"I am quite serious, my dear; only a love affair could have discomposed you so. It was plain to see that you were seriously upset."
"And I thought myself very wise, and keeping my own counsel beautifully! But I am too happy to be cross with you for seeing through me."
"That is very fortunate for me," said Charlotte, smiling. "And, I think, for Mr. Darcy. He is very much in love with you."
"You have scarcely met him!"
"I need not have, the way he looks at you! I have eyes, my dear. I am very happy for you, Lizzy," she said warmly.
When the gentlemen joined the ladies, Elizabeth did her best to shield Mr. Darcy from the more impertinent or vulgar among the group. Though she had noted them individually, she had scarcely accounted until now how many there were. Mr. Darcy, however, bore it all very patiently, and she kept him near herself at the pianoforte as long as possible.
The worst was now over. The period of their courtship could not be a very pleasant one, for Mr. Darcy must be sometimes offended, and Mrs. Bennet often vulgar. And yet much good came of it, and the wisdom of Mr. Bennet was vindicated in the end. A few weeks were sufficient to make Mr. Darcy's character perfectly clear to Elizabeth's father, and to do away with any anxiety he may have had on that head. Mr. Darcy and Charlotte Lucas were thrown a great deal together, and he developed a substantial respect for that lady's character and good sense, while she had the pleasure of a brotherly acquaintance with a man of more information and reason than had previously come in her way. It must always be most convenient to a lady to have her friend, her sister, and her husband on amiable terms, and Elizabeth was accordingly gratified.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were, however, perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the period of courtship. As fraught with little unpleasantnesses as it must be, it allowed to them each a greater knowledge of each other's character, which must assist to prevent further misunderstandings. They spent a great deal of their time walking and conversing, sometimes with the Bingleys, sometimes with Mr. Reynolds and Mary, and not infrequently with Miss Lucas.
It was inevitable, however, that some arrangements for the wedding must be made, and superintended by Mrs. Bennet, and Elizabeth had to suffer a great deal in the selection of wedding clothes, for Mrs. Bennet was fond of useless finery, which could serve no purpose but to employ Elizabeth or her maids after the wedding, in removing it. Lizzy struggled gamely on, however, and had always the comfort of long walks to look forward to.
At the beginning of September she had two new comforts. The first was the arrival of a beautiful new phaeton, and two very handsome ponies, with which Mr. Darcy occupied them both, by continuing her tuition in driving. This was a pleasant and instructive diversion, and as it kept her out of the house and with her betrothed, it must do a great deal of good. The second benefit was the arrival of Mr. Reynolds in person. Mrs. Bennet, always distractible, was perfectly willing to fuss and fidget over her third daughter instead of her second, and as Mr. Reynolds was never inimical to anybody's attention, everybody was better pleased by the arrangement.
About the end of September, Mr. Bennet at last conceded that the banns might be read for Elizabeth. In consequence of this decision, their necessary business in the country being concluded, a short trip was made to London by the whole family to order wedding clothes for Mary, whose husband's fashion demanded that her clothes should be ordered in Town.
The trip was an occasion of great pleasure to everybody except, perhaps, Mr. Bennet, though he was greatly consoled by the ability to visit the library at Darcy House, which its owner had opened principally for that purpose. Mrs. Bennet spent every morning in shopping with Mary, and when Mr. Reynolds succeeded in obtaining an invitation for them all to a crush at the Duke of --'s house, was so overjoyed that she was willing to content herself with quiet dinner parties for the rest of the week's visit. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, only too happy to oblige their friends, had taken a furnished house for a week, and brought Charlotte Lucas up from the country with them, so that the three ladies might consult on the furnishing of the rooms at Pemberley.
Mr. Darcy had just left them at the shop and was stepping into Gray's to arrange for the re-setting of some of his mother's jewels when he encountered Mr. Ellison.
"Ah, Mr. Ellison," he greeted him. "I wonder if you would give your wife a message from me?"
"Certainly," replied the other, looking surprised.
"Will you give her my thanks, and tell her that our trip to Matlock was arranged just as she recommended, and with the result she anticipated?"
Mr. Ellison gave an embarrassed smile. "I will tell her." He paused on the doorstep and added apologetically, "She rarely interferes, you know."
"That is doubtless the source of her success when she does so," replied Mr. Darcy benevolently. "Good morning."
While in Town, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet saw to the settlement papers for Elizabeth's wedding, and Mr. Bennet was pleased, though not surprised, to find that Mr. Darcy made no objection whatever to Elizabeth's fortune being settled upon herself and her children, and even insisted on a generous dower.
For Elizabeth the principal delight of the trip was an invitation to dine with the Gardiners. There she had the pleasure of seeing for herself that Mr. Darcy bore her favorite aunt and uncle no ill will, particularly as he brought Georgiana from school for the occasion.
"I see that Mr. Darcy has forgiven me," said Mrs. Gardiner with a smile.
"Entirely, I am sure," replied Elizabeth.
"I maintain that there is nothing to forgive," said Mr. Darcy, overhearing this and joining them, "but if there had been, I do not think I should be allowed to carry a grudge."
"I am glad of it, for I want a favor from you," said Mrs. Gardiner conspiratorially. "I imagine that you intend to have Georgiana to live with you after your marriage?"
"Certainly," replied the couple together.
"Then you will want a companion for her, I imagine. She is still young, and having no sister, might be too much alone otherwise when you are at Pemberley. Do you have anyone in mind for the post?"
"No indeed, but I should be most grateful for a recommendation," replied Mr. Darcy seriously. "Recent events have proved how easy it may be to go astray there."
"Mr. Gardiner has a cousin, a widow of about thirty-five years of age, and with no children. She was fulfilling a similar task for another cousin until quite recently, when the young lady married, and is now looking for a position. She is very respectable, and very pleasant, and I am sure would give satisfaction."
Mr. Darcy was only too happy to agree to meet the lady in question. Miss Smith called round the very next day, and as she proved to be genteel, and Georgiana and Elizabeth both took an immediate liking to her, she was added to the family party projected for the winter.
The week ended, the Bennets and their various companions returned to Longbourn and Netherfield. There was now a grim task before them, for Mr. Bennet insisted that Mary be appraised of Miss Reynolds' situation before Mr. Darcy, who could supply her with much information if she desired it, departed on his wedding tour. There was a very anxious half hour for those in possession of the secret as they waited in the drawing room for Mr. Reynolds and Mary, but when the young lovers returned from their walk, Mary seemed very little discomposed, and Mr. Reynolds looked positively relieved. Elizabeth proposed to Mary that they should take a turn about the shrubbery, and there, before hearing her sister's opinion on the matter, presented her with Mr. Reynolds's letter, which the younger lady perused with perfect equanimity.
"I cannot say that I ever had much opinion of Miss Reynolds," she remarked, returning the missive to Elizabeth when she had done. "She had very little strength of character, and a mania for adoration. I suppose she must have come to some trouble sooner or later."
"That is not a very charitable attitude, Mary," replied Elizabeth, provoked.
"I cannot think they either of them deserve much charity. It was very kind of Mr. Reynolds to settle that four thousand on her. I am sure it was wanted for the expansion of his workshop."
Elizabeth could bear no more, and returned to the house only long enough to signify to Mr. Darcy the necessity of a longer period of exercise, in which he bore with patience the exclamations of her indignation.
"Take comfort, Elizabeth," he said, when she had ranted herself into a calm. "He is not vicious, at least, and Mary is unlikely ever to make such a misstep. I believe they will be happy together."
"Happy! I wonder that you can say so."
"And I wonder that anybody in the world can call himself happy in his marriage, who is not married to you," replied he, smiling. "Leave them to be happy in their own way, and if it is a little inferior to ours, we shall rejoice in our blessings."
"You are very sensible, Fitzwilliam," she replied, with a little laugh, and a little blush. "I believe by the time we have returned home you will have quite convinced me."
The day that Elizabeth changed her name was one of great satisfaction to the maternal feelings of Mrs. Bennet. Her oldest two daughters were now married to rich men, and the third was soon to be married--and at the delightful age of sixteen!--to a young man who was rising rapidly in her estimation as he gave increasing proofs of his fashion and amiability, and the two youngest were still in the school room. She had, she felt, earned some little rest, and gave it to herself by a long round of visiting, in which she talked incessantly of her daughter Mrs. Darcy, and her daughter Mrs. Bingley, and the famous Mr. Reynolds, until she caught a chill which was fortunately timed for the peace of the neighborhood, and resorted to her dressing room, where she might gossip as much as she liked to Mrs. Wilks.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy forewent the usual wedding tour in favor of returning directly to Pemberley. Georgiana joined them there in a few weeks with Miss Smith, and did not return to her school. In such a circle of domestic happiness, long unknown to her, she blossomed into an elegant young lady, and though always a little shy with strangers, grew easy enough in her own set.
Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds were married from Longbourn, with all the pomp and finery that Mrs. Bennet could manage in concert with the great tradesmen of London. The new couple drove away from Meryton Church in a very dashing new equipage and settled happily in a fashionable residence in Church Street. His reputation was not materially damaged by his sister's elopement, but Mr. Reynolds soon found that he had better not expand his workshop, and that the addition of a thousand a year to his income was more comfortable than an artistic acclaim which did not seem to be forthcoming. He was never counted among the great artists, but he continued to garner from his work a comfortable living well into his old age.
Jane and Mr. Bingley resided at Netherfield long enough to be a comfort to their friends in the period of courtship, but when the lease was up at Easter, and a suitable estate offered for purchase in an adjoining county to Pemberley, they found that they had rather be near Mr. and Mrs. Darcy than Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and were happy to settle there, and so the happiness of the sisters in their marriages was compounded by their nearness to each other.
At Pemberley Mr. and Mrs. Darcy had only those nearest and dearest to them. Georgiana became as another sister to Elizabeth, and, directed by her in her conduct, avoided those missteps to which unguided youth is often prone. Mr. Bennet frequently surprised his favorite daughter by coming, as he professed, to look into her library. To the Gardiners the young couple looked for a model of a happy and equal marriage, and had them to visit as often as Mr. Gardiner could arrange to leave London, in which cause the excuse of the mill was regarded as invaluable.
Elizabeth soon found that her anticipation was even outstripped by reality, and that the circle of domestic affection which she had so fondly imagined for Georgiana, became a reality not only for the girl but for herself, and she and Mr. Darcy counted the blessings of their little family so great that they could be increased only by their number.The End