Mrs. Reynolds Remembers
To Mrs. Sarah Cuthbert, housekeeper
Chesney House, Lincolnshire
December 14, 18--
My dear sister--
Thank you for yours of the 6th; I trust you had a pleasant visit with Miss Lloyd. I am glad to say I have recovered from my cold, and just in time too, as my master and his new lady are due to arrive at any moment. Pemberley has been in such a bustle as I've never seen what with preparations for the new mistress; but as everything seems to be at the ready, I will take a rest and reply to your letter.
You ask what she is like, and I am quite ashamed to have never before told you the whole story -- and of course I do not know the whole story, only what I have observed of my master in the past year, and her too naturally when she toured here in July. You were then occupied with the Benningtons' new little one, so I did not trouble you with my tale, though I dare say it may have proved a happy distraction from the fussy Robert.
But you are now saying 'Come to the story, Anna,' and so I shall at last.
Her name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet -- was Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I should say, for she is Mrs. Darcy by now, and I wish her joy of it. She is from Hertfordshire (an estate called Longbourn, according to my master's letters), a gentleman's daughter by her clothes and manners. When she visited last summer, she was accompanied by her aunt and uncle -- a tradesman, I gathered, though nothing is wrong with that; one must make a living somehow, and not all persons are as fortunate as Mr. Darcy -- or you or I, for that matter, having the nice positions and families we do. But my story.
I suppose it started last autumn, when Mr. Darcy went to Hertfordshire with dear Mr. Bingley. He never mentioned anything of Miss Bennet in his letters here, of course, but that would be the natural beginning. I noticed he was very melancholy in January -- hardly spoke (not that that is so unusual), spent a great deal of time staring out of windows and in mirrors and such -- when he was in the house, which was not often. I thought his behavior a nervous complaint and served him soothing gruel with every meal until he asked me (in the nicest possible manner) if I would conserve the mortar for the new smokehouse. (Remind me to send you my latest recipe for cooked pork with apples; John declared it quite the best pig he'd had in years -- the master's birthday present to him.)
He and Miss Georgiana were here for most of January and February; Mr. Bingley at times too, and Miss Bingley, who counted the silver at every opportunity and actually planned redecorations to Pemberley in my presence. I suppose she is the reason I never thought of love as Mr. Darcy's complaint: I knew he had spent much of the winter in her company, and my mind refused to consider that possibility. In March he went to town, and April to Rosings Park to see his aunt. There was certainly no cure for melancholy with her, and he came back worse than ever. At times he seemed almost wild, riding his horse till all hours, barely sleeping -- once I caught him practicing swordplay in the entrance hall at three in the morning. Through all this he attended to estate business as usual, but he seemed in a trance, never really seeing anyone, except perhaps Miss Georgiana, who left for Ramsgate in early June. He even ate his daily gruel without a word.
At last I sat him down, just as I did when he was a little pup tracking mud into the house, and gave him a talking-to. You will be shocked at my presumption -- I was myself -- but I was just as worried as if he were my own son -- and I felt he was my own son, if you (and my Lady Anne) can forgive that impertinence. John and I never had our own, of course, and bless the master if I haven't watched over him these last twenty-three years with just as much love as if he were mine, impertinence though it may be. So when I could take his broodiness no longer, I stopped him over his breakfast one morning and asked him straight out if anything was the matter. He said nothing was. I said he hadn't been himself lately (and pointed out the empty bowl of gruel as proof). He looked at it as if he had never seen it before.
"Mrs. Reynolds," he said, "have I ever behaved as less than a gentleman?"
"Why, never, sir!" I exclaimed. He stood up and went to the window, turning his back to me.
"Have you known me to act arrogantly, conceitedly and selfishly?"
"Why, no sir," I said. "You have seemed a little absentminded of late, but never arrogant, conceited and selfish -- far from it!" He stopped me with his hand.
"And proud?" he asked in the same empty tone.
"You have every right to be," I answered. I was by this time very concerned for his mind. "You are the best and wisest and most generous master I've had, for all you're so young, and there's not a servant or tenant on the place but what will say the same." He still stared out the window. I hesitated. "Is there any way I may help you, sir?"
He sighed. "I have damaged myself in the eyes of a -- person I care about deeply. I tried to correct the damage; I hope I have succeeded. But I have no way of knowing..." His voice trailed off, but I -- or my curiosity -- could hardly let the conversation conclude so.
"This person disapproved of your manners?" I inquired.
"Yes." Another silence.
"And the opinion is important to you?" He nodded, and I considered a moment. "Then there is nothing you can do but change and show it, sir."
"I shall not have the opportunity," he said very low, and then -- I do not think I was meant to hear it -- "I shall never see her again."
A lady! I thought -- not that I hadn't suspected it from the 'person' onwards, but in any case it explained his uncommon disposition quite nicely -- well, not nicely, but you understand. It was such a delicate situation, I hardly knew what to say. Then I remembered Mother's dear proverb about the brass and the gold, that they may look the same, but what's inside determines their true worth; and I repeated it for him, rather timidly I daresay. "Even if you never see this person again, sir, you might take some comfort in knowing you have answered the critique -- although I don't see the need," I finished truthfully.
He did not turn around for some time, and I was afraid I had presumed too much. But then when he did turn, he was smiling -- a painful one, but a real smile; I've seen enough of his forced expressions to know the difference. He said "Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds" -- and I think he meant that too.
Pardon me, Sarah -- one of the maids had a question about the hangings in Mrs. Darcy's rooms (a Mrs. Darcy again, how strange...) and it took my attention for some moments. I wonder that they aren't here yet -- newlywed distraction, I suppose -- but as I have yet to reach the crucial part of my narrative, it will be just as well.
I considered my conversation with Mr. Darcy for some time. Apparently he had displeased a young lady. I could not imagine it, not only because of his goodness and generosity, but because I have never known any young lady to be displeased with the master of Pemberley; and when I realized that, I realized how many of them must be pleased with him only because he is the master of Pemberley. Having a woman dislike him for himself (or dislike him at all) must be quite a new experience, though no doubt an unpleasant one; and at the same time not wholly unpleasant, for it showed an admirable strength of character in her, if you can understand me aright. She would be a woman to love him for himself and not for his money, which of course is precisely what he needs, but he had somehow offended her, which brought him back to the unpleasantness. His broodiness seemed completely justified. I added a spoonful of sugar to his gruel.
And I naturally did a little more prying for information about the lady. Stevens, the valet, proved both most helpful and most irritating. He could tell me that the master took especial care with his dress and toilet during his stay with Mr. Bingley in Hertfordshire, that she was not Miss Bingley, and that she could be one of two other young women who visited Netherfield (Mr. Bingley's estate) for a week's time, one of whom was fair and the other dark; but then he (Stevens) had been too busy playing the dandy with the Netherfield maids to discover the crucial facts of which one of these ladies it indeed was (if it was), and her name, age, and gentility. I have always thought that a good valet should act twice the age of his master, and Stevens seems to have inverted the proportion.
Mr. Darcy's mood improved a little after my talk with him. Now that is presumption: it sounds very much as if I were responsible for the improvement, and though I venture our discussion may have eased his mind, I can hardly lay claim to all the credit. He departed for Ramsgate on the 21st June, where he no doubt confided in Miss Georgiana, and he arranged a party of friends to come to Pemberley in late July -- they would spend the interim at the shore and in town. Still, before he left Derbyshire, I noticed that he made an effort to speak to all the people at church, down to the lowliest crofter, and to appear genuinely interested in their concerns; and I surmised this might be some effect of his mysterious lady's influence, and perhaps (a very small part) my own counsel.
Well! We move ahead in time here to late July, when Pemberley received as visitors one Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner of Gracechurch Street and their niece Elizabeth Bennet. A very well-looking girl, with a healthy prettiness and fine dark eyes and hair -- she looks just right on my master's arm, though of course I didn't think that at the time. At the time I thought her simply another visitor, strangely quiet for a girl of her age... a pleasant change compared to the usual rattlers-on. The aunt and uncle compensated for her silence with good comments on the house and furnishings, though of course how anyone could make other than a good comment upon Pemberley I do not know. When we reached the late Mr. Darcy's sitting room, I began my usual speech on Francis Darcy's role in the Glorious Revolution; but I soon saw that Miss Bennet and her aunt were much more occupied by the miniatures over the fireplace (and rightly, I'm afraid), which include pictures of the current Mr. Darcy and of the late steward's boy, Mr. Wickham. You will remember the latter as a charming lad with brown hair and a sweet tooth, who was not above stealing fudge from your trunk when you came to visit. (His behavior has not much changed, as will be seen later.)
In any case, Miss Bennet confirmed that she knew both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham; and she blushed a little when I asked after her acquaintance with the master. That gave me pause, and when I recalled that she had said she was from Hertfordshire and Stevens' unknown dark woman of Netherfield, I tell you I wondered from that moment if this might not be Mr. Darcy's lady. There were objections, of course -- heaven knows how many misses he might have met in Hertfordshire, and Mr. Gardiner was later established as in trade -- but once she called him handsome (with a little prompting, I do admit), I was certain, or certain at least that it could do no harm to cultivate a favorable impression of him. Thankfully I had no need to tell falsehoods or conceal the truth; rather I told more of it than usual, and added a few remarks on his choice of a lady besides. When Miss Bennet appeared interested, I calmly reverted to observations on the furniture and rooms -- and oh, she looked disquieted by the change! I felt very pleased with myself.
At last we reached the gallery, where the excellent portrait of my master hangs alongside Uncle Joshua's picture of his mother. I could not say which is the finer, but she was very taken with the former, much to my delight. Most young ladies who visit Pemberley exclaim over the portrait a great deal (particularly as they are newly impressed with its subject's wealth), but Miss Bennet only looked and grew quiet again. Much more appropriate, it seemed to me.
I delivered the visitors to Mr. Padgett with great satisfaction, regretting only that Mr. Darcy would not return until the morrow.
Then, not fifteen minutes after I had let them go, the master himself burst into the front hallway! He had just come back, a day early, and met Miss Bennet and the Gardiners upon the lawn -- and he was dripping wet! I never saw such a boy for taking swims in the lake when he was young, and old habits die hard; it was a very hot day... Heaven only knows what she thought.
He did not stop to speak, but rather flew up the stairs to his chamber, emerged in more suitable (or at least dry) attire, and was out the door again not five minutes later to speak with Miss Bennet and her relatives. I spied shamelessly from the window. She was very red -- they both were; and neither looked very comfortable, but they parted with long looks and smiles (strained but real) on each side.
Mr. Darcy watched their carriage go, then he came in. I contrived to be polishing the silver urn by the front door at that moment. He walked into the front hall and looked around as if for the first time, staring especially long at the main staircase -- envisioning her coming down it, I daresay. I cleared my throat; he startled.
"Oh, Mrs. Reynolds," he said, the dreamy look gone but his good humor intact.
"Mr. Darcy, sir, we did not expect you for another day."
"Business with Parker [his steward]. Everything has been well, I trust?"
"Good. I'm glad to hear it." But still he lingered in the hall. I decided to assist him.
"A visitor this afternoon claimed an acquaintance with you, sir," I said. "A Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"Yes, I met Miss Bennet on the grounds," he answered.
"You knew her in Hertfordshire?"
"Her family lives near Mr. Bingley's estate there."
"Ah," I said. "Yes." The urn was well-nigh spotless by now, but I fully planned to stand there and observe until either he went about his business or I wore a hole in the silver.
"Miss Bennet enjoyed her tour?" he said.
"I think so, sir. She thought it quite a beautiful place."
"And her aunt and uncle did as well?" "Of course. They seem like most pleasant people."
"Indeed." The dreamy look had come back altogether: I half expected to see Miss Bennet in the doorway myself. I surrendered with a "Welcome home, sir," and left him to it.
Hi everyone! I posted the first parts of this at the beginning of September; sorry to take so long with the end. And happy Thanksgiving!
The next morning, no sooner had Miss Georgiana alighted and rested a bit from her journey than Mr. Darcy insisted they wait upon Miss Bennet and her family in Lambton. Mr. Bingley volunteered to go as well. They returned an hour later, all most satisfied, and Mr. Darcy informed me that the Hertfordshire visitors would join them for dinner two days after. (Miss Bingley had claimed to be fatigued from the trip and slept -- or rather snored -- through the entire interlude, and she was not pleased to hear of the coming visitors, which very much pleased me.)
Well, you never saw such a one as Mr. Darcy for worrying about a dinner. He came to me three times that afternoon alone to be assured that we had new veal and only the best wine would be served and indeed, strawberry ice-cream would be a most appropriate conclusion to the meal. (Strawberry ice-cream!) There would be a fishing party the next day, of which Mr. Gardiner would be a member; I was instructed to send a man out with refreshments around noon. As it turned out, the master returned to the house for his refreshment, for Miss Bennet and her aunt had come to wait on Miss Georgiana, and he could no more stay away from his lady than he could become a fish himself, all swimming aside. They had a most pleasant afternoon, I believe, with the exception of some typically ill-natured comments from Miss Bingley; but these only emphasised Miss Bennet's true amiability and gentility, as she never in my hearing descended to make like remarks. Mr. Darcy could barely keep his eyes from her, and when he saw her to the carriage at the end of the visit, she took his proffered arm with more than mere politeness. Mrs. Gardiner and I smiled at one another behind their backs.
That evening Mr. Darcy was rather silent -- for the most part happily, I think, though at one point he went by me through the dining room in a manner that can only be described as stalking -- and he rode out for Lambton early the next morning. An upstairs maid had the toothache, so I went in to make up his bedclothes myself; but my task was given pause when I saw a large cherry chest laid out upon the covers. It was Lady Anne's jewelry chest, which was only rarely removed from the safe. "The master must mean some pieces for Miss Georgiana," I thought. I hesitated for a moment, not wishing to disturb such personal treasures, but duty (and admittedly curiosity) compelled me to keep with my work. I recognized almost all the jewels in the open box: the fine ruby necklace the late master gave my lady on their fifth anniversary, when the present Mr. Darcy was just three years of age; her enamel peacock brooch with diamonds for eyes; the beautiful golden cross she wore for every day. But her wedding ring, the Darcy family ring, was missing from its rightful place at the chest's center.
Mr. Darcy had taken it, and gone to propose to Miss Bennet.
I knew it by the same instinct that told me first she was his lady, and his haste this morning confirmed it only further. I felt quite delighted! She was such a sweet and sensible young woman; she appeared to have repented of her earlier cruelty, and to honestly love the master; their marriage should bring happiness to each, and hence to the household; and -- not least of my joys -- we need never have Caroline Bingley at Pemberley again. I moved the box carefully aside and completed my work, resolving to be near the door when the master returned: it had been so long since I had seen an untroubled smile upon his face.
Hooves clattered up the drive not very long afterwards, and I had barely reached the first landing before the door slammed shut behind him. But rather than a smile, his countenance bore an expression of intensest anger and distress -- like thunder-clouds over the Derbyshire hills, I should say poetically -- and he strode up the steps as if crushing something beneath his feet. 'She has refused him,' I thought bleakly, 'and now he shall never be happy.'
But he said "Mrs. Reynolds, where is Georgiana?"
"What?" I answered, so intent upon his misery that I could not spare a thought for the young lady.
"Miss Georgiana," he repeated, almost impatiently.
I collected my wits. "The music room, sir." "Thank you," he said, then "Tell Stevens to prepare for a journey to town. We leave tomorrow at daybreak."
"Town, sir?" I echoed.
"Town," he said determinedly, then in a half-breath as he was up the stair: "He must be stopped."
I stood dazed on the landing, just where I'd met him. "He"? Some threat to Miss Bennet? A rival for her affections? It grieved me to think that Mr. Darcy would not stay at Pemberley now that he could remember her here and she'd refused him. But perhaps it had nothing to do with his lady...a friend in need of his assistance? A solicitor or servant? The forceful close of the music room door wakened me from my speculations. I sought out Stevens and delivered the message, then returned wonderingly to work. The master was closeted with Miss Georgiana for some time, and when she came down to see him off the next morning, her eyes appeared quite red and swollen with crying.
But he said "You will remember?" and her chin rose a little as she nodded; and ever since she has been so composed and grown up that I've been almost sentimental for the merry small girl she was.
But I move ahead of my story here. What had happened did indeed relate to our recent visitors to Pemberley: George Wickham, the late steward's son, had run off to town with Miss Bennet's youngest sister! He had left his commission, she her friends, and no good could be hoped of either. I learned the news on my thrice-weekly trip to the village, as Mrs. Gardiner had let it slip to Olivia Kittredge, who, dear as she may be, cannot keep a secret for her life's worth: by the end of two days all Lambton knew it. And so, I was convinced, did Mr. Darcy, who had surely called upon Miss Bennet that morning and thus heard the news from the lady herself. That he had so obviously gone to London on her business raised hopes that something of a tenderer nature might have passed between them, but those died when I saw the ring returned to Lady Anne's chest. Oh, I could have shaken George Wickham! I had no doubt the master would save the young Miss Bennet, or at the least, her reputation; but the action and especially its timing -- or the timing of the news -- it was more than enough to make one angry.
After all the excitement over the master's return, the house seemed very empty without him. His friends remained at Pemberley -- Mr. Bingley of course was never a trial, but Miss would hang about the drawing room and wonder loudly and repeatedly at Mr. Darcy's absence, when she wasn't outdoors attempting to acquire Miss Bennet's complexion. The post could not come soon enough for Miss Georgiana, who would withdraw with each day's letter into her rooms: her music was very quiet all that week. But nearly a fortnight after her brother's departure, she told me he hoped to be back within three days; and indeed he came home the day after that, looking ever so very tired, the poor man. He mentioned only that Mr. Wickham would soon be married "to a young lady from Hertfordshire" and posted to the north. "Good riddance," I added mentally, and served him additional gruel.
He was home for almost another fortnight, then several days in town, then Pemberley again. No word passed of the wedding or Mr. Wickham. Miss Bingley stayed only long enough after his latter return to see that he would pay absolutely no attention to her, then -- at last -- flounced off to Scarsborough. The house settled down to its usual tranquillity, but the contentment formerly present in the situation was missing: I would occasionally find the master staring at nothing (or rather at a place where Miss Bennet had been), and his restlessness of the spring returned in double measure. Then over breakfast, about two weeks after the above-related business was concluded, Mr. Bingley spoke longingly of hunting, with the words "Hertfordshire" and "Netherfield" seeming to follow rather accidentally; he looked at Mr. Darcy as if he half-expected to be punished for them. But though the master's colour rose to match his friend's, he said only that he had never had shooting like that previous year. Mr. Bingley said "Really?" quite eagerly; Mr. Darcy confirmed the opinion with a nod and a smile; a letter went down to Netherfield that afternoon, and the gentlemen followed it two days later.
After that -- well, you and I may imagine what followed. Mr. Darcy having done as much for Miss Bennet as he had (for you know that scoundrel Wickham did not marry on his own), and she having done as much for him as she had (I mean making him happy) -- they could not have done anything else besides become engaged, though I dare say it took him a time longer than I expected. We received news of Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet's elder sister first, with the more important tidings arriving only after the master had been in London for some days -- or so we thought. It appears his decision to return to Hertfordshire had been made so abruptly he hadn't even time to inform Miss Georgiana of his removal. (Miss G. bubbled something about Lady Catherine de Bourgh having to do with it which I did not quite follow.) But the geography was unimportant compared with the most wonderful information: Miss Georgiana was so pleased she played the "Hallelujah" chorus on the pianoforte, and I very nearly sang along.
That was over two months ago, and they were married on the twelfth. He was home twice in the interim, both times more absolutely cheerful than I've seen him; and in his last letter, not only did he thank me for what he called "my good offices and advice" (which I call merely duty and affection), but he asked me to promise that I would never give any future heir to Pemberley "that gruel concoction you fed me the last five months" -- signing it "with love, Fitzwilliam"! I should never presume such familiarity, of course, but if the new Mrs. Darcy can work such happy changes in him, I bless her for it and will welcome her with my whole heart. And now -- oh, Sarah! I just heard the carriage in the drive; you must excuse me to greet my master and lady.
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