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, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, 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 was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
They descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and drove to the door; and, while examining the nearer aspect of the house, all her apprehensions of meeting its owner returned. She dreaded lest the chambermaid had been mistaken. On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; and Elizabeth, as they waited for the housekeeper, had leisure to wonder at her being where she was.
The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking, elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy 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 she looked on the whole scene — the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it — with delight. As they passed into other rooms, these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
“And of this place,” thought she, “I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. — But no,” — recollecting herself, — “that could never be: my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me: I should not have been allowed to invite them.” This was a lucky recollection — it saved her from something like regret.
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.” How rejoiced was Elizabeth that their own journey had not by any circumstance been delayed a day!
Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached, and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham 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.”
“I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the gallery up stairs you will see a finer, larger picture of him than this. This room was my late master’s favourite room, and these miniatures are just as they used to be then. He was very fond of them.”
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham’s being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when she was only eight years old.
“And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?” said 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.”
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 the windows.
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy’s delight when she should enter the room. “And this is always the way with him,” she added. — “Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her.”
The 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.
Jane Austen, 1775-1817.
Pride and Prejudice, 1813. Chapter I of Volume III (Chapter 43)
Image: George Engleheart, 1750-1829. Portrait of Thomas Langlois Lefroy, 1798. Watercolour on ivory, 3 x 1 ¼ inches. (Suggested as the model for Mr Darcy)