Elizabeth's Thoughts Were Much at Pemberley
As the carriage drove away from the torchlit grounds of Pemberley, Elizabeth took one last look back toward the house. Mr. Darcy was standing there still, watching their departure. "To the evening's end he is so attentive!" thought Elizabeth to herself with amazement. She looked back until she could no longer see him through the darkness. Finally, she glanced at her aunt and uncle, caught sight of their bemused expressions, and blushed. Quickly Elizabeth settled back into her seat and began searching for a safe topic of conversation to divert her companions' attention from her private thoughts.
"Did you have a pleasant evening, Aunt?" she began in a wavery voice. Her aunt's smile grew. "Yes, indeed. Such an elegant meal, such exotic foods, oh, the fruit! Such pleasant company! I was most pleased to become better acquainted with the Darcys and to meet all of the Bingley family. You and Miss Darcy seemed to become fast friends, Lizzy."
"Oh, yes," Elizabeth smiled. "She is a delightful girl. I like her very well, indeed. She seems such an accomplished young lady."
Mrs. Gardiner reflected, "She is not at all as we had been led to expect by Mr. Wickham's account."
Elizabeth looked seriously at her aunt and replied tightly, "I give little credit to his opinions upon further examination."
Mrs. Gardiner nodded. "I am glad to hear you say that, Lizzy. From all we have learnt while here in Derbyshire, he is not held in much esteem. I believe we were deceived by his charming and easy manner. I would not give you embarrassment, but I know, as Miss Bingley tactlessly drew near to mentioning tonight, that he was once a favorite of yours."
Elizabeth frowned and replied carefully. "I am ashamed to confess I did like him all too well at one time. Since then I have come to understand that he did deceive us. I have learnt that Mr. Darcy offered him the living his father had promised and that Mr. Wickham resolved not to take orders, but requested a sum of money in place of the living. His account of the situation was quite different if you remember."
"Indeed it was! I am dismayed. I suppose the housekeeper was correct in her assessment that he had turned out wild. It is sad that he should speak so ill of his sponsor's son. And Mr. Darcy seems such a good man. He is all ease and politeness. As we learn more of him I am almost inclined to accept his housekeeper's outrageous account ," she laughed.
Mr. Gardiner joined in the laughter and offered, "Now there is a fine thing. The housekeeper's partiality was a delight, indeed. In all seriousness, though, I think Mr. Darcy to be quite a good sort of man." As Elizabeth seemed uncomfortable approaching nearer to the topic of Mr. Darcy, her uncle moved on to another topic. "I also found Mr. Bingley quite to my liking. He seems a pleasant fellow."
Elizabeth nodded her agreement and smiled. "Yes, I too like Mr. Bingley. He possesses great ease and a gentlemanly disposition."
"He must possess a great deal of patience to put up with such sisters. I hate to speak ill of any of our sex, Lizzy, but they are nothing like their brother at all! They seem quite pleased with themselves... but with little else." said Mrs. Gardiner.
Elizabeth smiled and laughed lightly. "I do not pay much mind to Mrs. Hurst, but I confess that I find Miss Bingley somewhat trying on my patience. I fear she and I will never be the best of friends."
"I should be surprised if you were. She seems quite taken with Mr. Darcy." Mrs. Gardiner smiled knowingly.
Elizabeth found herself blushing once more. She passed over her aunt's first remark and concentrated on the second. "Yes, Miss Bingley does to admire Mr. Darcy a great deal. I do not think that he returns her affections, however." She looked out the window, away from her aunt's penetrating gaze, hoping that the night hid her own expression and confused emotions adequately.
Mrs. Gardiner's politeness and affection for her niece prevented her from pressing closer to the topic most of interest to her regarding Mr. Darcy's affections and said, "I would agree that Mr. Darcy is unaffected by Miss Bingley."
The party fell silent as they arrived at the Inn at Lambton. The men servants helped the ladies from the carriage. As they entered the Inn the maids greeted them with great deference. Word of their evening as guests at Pemberley had spread quickly among the Inn staff, making them most eager to please.
The young serving maid, Hannah, greeted Elizabeth. "Evening, ma'am. I trust you had a nice visit to Pemberley this night?" She took Elizabeth's hat and cape.
"Oh, yes, Hannah. Thank you for asking. It was a lovely night," Elizabeth smiled radiantly. She turned to her aunt and uncle and kissed them both on the cheek. "Good night, Aunt, Uncle." They replied in kind and retired to their room.
Elizabeth went to her own bedchamber, but found that her thoughts kept her quite awake. She paced back and forth in front of the fire, too full of energy and emotion to rest. Her mind was full of thoughts that she could not articulate even to herself.
Hannah politely knocked on the door and asked, "Will you be wanting to have a bath tomorrow morning, Miss, or shall I draw one up for you tonight?"
Elizabeth looked at Hannah thoughtfully. She felt quite incapable of sleep at present. Perhaps a bath might help her to relax and soothe her from this excited state. "If it would not be too much trouble I should like to bathe tonight. Are you certain it is not too late an hour?"
"Oh, no, Miss. It would be no trouble. I should be glad to draw your bath now," replied Hannah.
Some moments later Elizabeth slipped down into the hot water and sighed contentedly. "Thank you, Hannah. This is wonderful." Elizabeth lathered the soap through her hair and enjoyed the peace and relaxation. She found the light of the nearby fire quite soothing. The crackling of the flames seemed to mesmerize her this night.
Hannah brought more hot water. "You are very lucky to be on such good terms with the Darcys, Miss. They are a very good family."
"Indeed they are," answered Elizabeth thoughtfully. "I have only just made Miss Darcy's acquaintance, but I find her a delightful girl."
"Miss Darcy is not often in town," commented Hannah. "I believe she has not come out yet. I have only seen her once or twice. Mr. Darcy is more often seen. He is quite a handsome man."
Elizabeth looked up at Hannah as she tucked her head in embarrassment and left the room. Sinking further down into the water, Elizabeth thought about Hannah's comments. She closed her eyes and thought about Mr. Darcy... a handsome man indeed. She remembered him standing in the torch light, looking after the carriage. She thought of him the day before, waiting on her at the Inn, all intensity and eager politeness. She thought of meeting him on the grounds of Pemberley, dripping wet after an apparent swim. She thought of the way he had looked at her across the music room. She was confused at the warmth of her feelings toward him.
She tried to remember how much she had formerly disliked him ... thinking of their exchange in the parsonage at Hunsford. She found it hard. The Fitzwilliam Darcy that she had known then scarcely seemed to exist any longer. Certainly she had not felt this confusing admiration for him then! Or, had she? She had always been aware of his power, his intellect, his person. Should she not be honest with herself?
Yes, he was a handsome and powerful man. Once his power had offered her only challenge and anger. Now his power intrigued her. Perhaps a large part of the fascination was her awareness of her own power over him. Never had she imagined that she could have made such an impact on another human being. Before she had been offended by his apparent censure and dislike of her. But now, he had altered his behavior to please her. This, though he held so many objections to her station, fortune, and family.
He was a man who had power over so many, yet apparently she alone had power over him. She felt warmth and gratitude towards him for forgiving her behavior at Hunsford, for forgiving her prejudices and her mistaken trust in Wickham. That he should wish for her to be known to his sister, that he would be so kind to her aunt and uncle, that he would seek out their society and invite them all to his home, these things amazed her. She knew it must mean that he admired her still.
To have a chance to begin again- for this she was grateful. How great his generosity of spirit was! The question she must ponder was how much did she wish his happiness to depend on her?
She suddenly realized that the maid was speaking to her. "Miss? Are you done bathing? Miss Bennet? Miss Bennet? Are you well?" Embarrassed, Elizabeth shook herself from her reverie and replied that she was done. She rose from the bath and accepted the robe Hannah offered her. She accepted an additional towel and sat by the fire to dry her hair. Hannah could see that the Elizabeth was in no mood for conversation, so she curtsied quickly and made her exit.
The heat of the fire felt good against her skin. She found herself drifting into deep thought once more. Looking into the flames she saw his face before her. The light in his eye was so often like a flame when he looked at her. She saw the look of gratitude he had bestowed on her when she had moved to Georgiana's side and distracted her from embarrassment. The she saw the look deepen and saw that glimpse he had given her of his soul.
She felt her breath quicken. In her mind's eye she saw the others disappear from the music room and saw him move towards her, all grace and power. She saw him reach out and take her hand and felt the electricity in his touch- the electricity she had felt when he took her hand at Netherfield, the electricity she had felt when he handed her into the carriage two days before, the electricity she had felt at his touch this evening. But more, she imagined him leaning in to claim a first kiss from her. She tried to imagine the touch of his lips on hers. She found that she was trembling.
What was this? Had she really been thinking that she had power over him? How would he react if he knew of her imaginings now? A voice in her mind gave the tantalizing answer, that he wanted her still and would delight in her imaginings and respond in ways she could only begin to imagine.
She set the towel down and moved away from the fire, finding that the heat was suddenly too much. By the window she noted a water pitcher and poured herself a glass of water to relieve the sudden dryness of her mouth and throat.
She recalled something she had said to her aunt a few days before, "I could be happy to spend all my days in Derbyshire!" Indeed, it seemed that might be true.