Thursday, October 23, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Twenty-one



Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with more than some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter. How did Alison convince me she was sane again? she wondered in perplexity, suddenly convinced that nothing could be less probable than meeting her fate on this enormous estate.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation. If she did know which words to say, her tongue would not cooperate. Several of her organs seemed reluctant to behave as God intended, but her eyes were in tact: they could still see and admire everything. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, 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 greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. Her aunt and uncle were warm in their admiration of the estate, as Elizabeth should be, too, were she an impartial observer, or even just a young lady who had rejected a proposal from its master, and not the daughter of a lady whose body has been taken over by a woman from another time and place, who furthermore insisted that this place and time was nothing more than a novel and hinted furiously that here was the heroine's climatic moment. Elizabeth's heart thumped erratically while her stomach churned, but at this moment she felt to be that heroine - to be the future mistress of Pemberley - might be something.

On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; The housekeeper, a respectable-looking, elderly woman, led them first into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to compose herself on pretext of enjoying its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and yet looked on the whole scene but saw little - the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley. She was summoned away and led into other rooms, all lofty and handsome, and as they progressed those objects now familiar from the landscape took up different positions, greeting her from every window like supportive friends.

She longed to enquire of the housekeeper whether her master were really absent, but had not courage for it. At length, however, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turned away with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was, adding, "but we expect him tomorrow, with a large party of friends." A wave of relief followed by remorse overwhelmed Elizabeth. Alison must have been mistaken in her calculations. They ought to have come tomorrow. What would happen to the novel, and how was she to ever learn what was to be her fate?

Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached, and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham suspended, amongst several other miniatures, over the mantlepiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was the picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master's steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expence. -- "He is now gone into the army," she added, "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."

Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.

"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the miniatures, "is my master -- and very like him. It was drawn at the same time as the other -- about eight years ago."

"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the picture; "it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."

Mrs. Reynolds's respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.

"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"

Elizabeth coloured, and said -- "A little."

"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, Ma'am?"

"Yes, very handsome."

The housekeeper chatted on, encouraged by Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and loud in her praise of the Darcys. Soon the picture gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown.
In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked on in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her -- and she beheld a striking resemblance of Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she remembered to have sometimes seen, when he looked at her.

When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned down stairs and taking leave of the housekeeper, they were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall door.
As they walked across the lawn towards the river, Elizabeth turned back to look again. Her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables.

It's true! was her first thought. All Alison said is coming true!

They were within twenty yards of each other. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself, advanced towards the party, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not in terms of perfect composure, at least of perfect civility.

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