This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham's being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when
she was only eight years old.
"And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?" said Mr. Gardiner.
"Oh! yes -- the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished!
-- She plays and sings all day long.
In the next room is a new instrument just come down for her -- a present from
my master; she comes here to-morrow with him."
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were easy and pleasant, encouraged her communicativeness
by his questions and remarks; Mrs. Reynolds, either from pride or attachment, had
evidently great pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.
"Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?"
"Not so much as I could wish, Sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time
here; and Miss Darcy is always down for the summer months."
"Except," thought Elizabeth, "when she goes to Ramsgate."
"If your master would marry, you might see more of him."
"Yes, Sir; but I do not know when that will be. I do not know who is good enough
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying, "It is very much
to his credit, I am sure, that you should think so."
"I say no more than the truth, and what every body will say that knows him,"
replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened
with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, "I have never had a cross
word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old."
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas.
That he was not a good tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention
was awakened; she longed to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying,
"There are very few people of whom so much can be said.
You are lucky in having such a master."
"Yes, Sir, I know I am. If I was to go through the world, I could not meet with
a better. But I have always observed that they who are good-natured when children
are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most
generous-hearted, boy in the world."
Elizabeth almost stared at her. -- "Can this be Mr. Darcy!"
"His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Yes, Ma'am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him -- just as
affable to the poor."
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds
could interest her on no other point. She related the subject of the pictures, the
dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain. Mr. Gardiner,
highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive
commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy
on his many merits, as they proceeded together up the great staircase.
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "that ever lived. Not
like the wild young men now-a-days, who think of nothing but themselves. There is
not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. Some people
call him proud; but I am sure I never saw any thing of it. To my fancy, it is only
because he does not rattle away like other young men."
"In what an amiable light does this place him!" thought Elizabeth.
"This fine account of him," whispered her aunt, as they walked, "is not quite
consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend."
"Perhaps we might be deceived."
"That is not very likely; our authority was too good."
On reaching the spacious lobby above, they were shewn into a very pretty sitting-room,
lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below;
and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who
had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
"He is certainly a good brother," said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy's delight when she should enter the room.
"And this is always the way with him," she added. -- "Whatever can give his sister
any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for
The picture gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that
remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew
nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly
turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whose subjects were
usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
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. She stood several minutes before the picture
in earnest contemplation, and returned to it again before they quitted the gallery.
Mrs. Reynolds informed them that it had been taken in his father's life time.
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation
towards the original than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance.
The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What
praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother,
a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!
-- How much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow! -- How much of good
or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper
was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas, on which he
was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with
a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its
warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they
returned down stairs, and, taking leave of the housekeeper, 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.
They were within twenty yards of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance,
that it was impossible to avoid his sight.
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.
She had instinctively turned away; but, stopping on his approach, received his
compliments with an embarrassment impossible to be overcome. Had his first appearance,
or his resemblance to the picture they had just been examining, been insufficient
to assure the other two that they now saw Mr.
Darcy, the gardener's expression of surprise on beholding his master must immediately
have told it. They stood a little aloof while he was talking to their niece, who,
astonished and confused, scarcely dared lift her eyes to his face, and knew not
what answer she returned to his civil enquiries after her family. Amazed at the
alteration in his manner since they last parted, every sentence that he uttered
was increasing her embarrassment; and every idea of the impropriety of her being
found there recurring to her mind, the few minutes in which they continued together
were some of the most uncomfortable of her life. Nor did he seem much more at ease;
when he spoke, his accent had none of its usual sedateness; and he repeated his
enquiries as to the time of her having left Longbourn, and of her stay in Derbyshire,
so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spoke the distraction of his thoughts.
At length, every idea seemed to fail him; and, after standing a few moments without
saying a word, he suddenly recollected himself, and took leave.
The others then joined her, and expressed their admiration of his figure; but
Elizabeth heard not a word, and, wholly engrossed by her own feelings, followed
them in silence. She was overpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there was
the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world! How strange must it
appear to him! In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man! It
might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again! Oh! why did
she come? or, why did he thus come a day before he was expected?
Had they been only ten minutes sooner, they should have been beyond the reach
of his discrimination, for it was plain that he was that moment arrived, that moment
alighted from his horse or his carriage. She blushed again and again over the perverseness
of the meeting. And his behaviour, so strikingly altered, -- what could it mean?
That he should even speak to her was amazing! -- but to speak with such civility,
to enquire after her family! Never in her life had she seen his manners so little
dignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as on this unexpected meeting.
What a contrast did it offer to his last address in Rosings Park, when he put his
letter into her hand! She knew not what to think, nor how to account for it.