Elizabeth had known, when she became mistress of Pemberley, pretty much what that was, and meant; she had been a visitor to the house before her marriage, and what part its beauties and worth played in her volte face decision in marrying its master, was a subject only she, with a conscious, saucy smile, was qualified to make. In her heart, however, after a year of marriage, she was satisfied that she would have been the happy wife of Mr. Darcy even were his fortune a hundredth part of what it was, and if Pemberley were not much more than, in the words of Burns, “the lowest cot that ever rose on Scotia’s plain.”
Despite this conviction, certain it was that she enjoyed both her husband’s wealth and his domains to their fullest. The beautiful country life, in a house at once large, elegant, opulent yet unpretending; the happy agreement of its inmates; and the patronage of a very well-conducted and pretty village, testified to the truth of what she had once told Lady Catherine, that “the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.”
Portman Square, 1813
In her imaginings of what her married life was to be, down to the low phaeton with the nice little pair of ponies to take them round the park that Mrs. Gardiner had proposed, Elizabeth had not, somehow, ventured to think much beyond the beautiful wrought-iron palings of that park. She had vaguely known that there would be a house in London, of course, and her mother had infallibly lighted on that knowledge in her very first raptures on hearing the news of her daughter’s engagement.
“Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year!” she had cried.
In spite of her mother’s exclamations, and all her husband had told her in days of courtship, Elizabeth had not quite taken in what Pemberley House was; and even though they had already been resident there on several occasions since their marriage, and now opened the house for the season, she was still not entirely used to the grandeur of being a London hostess in such an important mansion. It was, in fact, a trifle overpowering, and she could only be glad that Mr. Darcy did not much esteem the social life of town, or frequent fashionable circles, only visiting such old family connections as was proper, and retreating back to Derbyshire with decent speed.
Perhaps he himself enjoyed the visiting and being visited rather more than he used, now that he had a charming and witty wife to soften his stern demeanor and make the young couple welcome any where; but a little went a long way. And, while Elizabeth was pleased to have a wider scope for one of her most enjoyable pastimes, human observation, that a sojourn in London provided, her taste was decidedly like her husband’s in preferring a quieter country life most of the year round.
Elizabeth’s happy nature, however, made her at ease wherever she was; when she was at Pemberley she could imagine nothing but heaven so fair; but the London house and the social life it obtained had their bewitchments too.
For Pemberley House commanded a situation in town to make any woman happy. Situated in Portman Square, it had been built in the time of Mr. Darcy’s father, who had commissioned Robert Adam to build a house as beautiful as it was comfortable. It was two doors away from the house of Sir Brook Bridges, Jane Austen’s relation whose country house was Goodnestone in Kent; and across the square from the house built by Elizabeth, Countess of Home, the Jamaican heiress, known as “the Queen of Hell.” This was also Adam-designed, but more palatial, as suited the lady’s aspirational tastes; and Elizabeth hardly knew whether to be glad or sorry that such a personage was no longer there. About Elizabeth Montagu, the social reformer and Blue-stocking, who had also lived in the Square, she had more curiosity; but those were days gone by. The present neighbours, Elizabeth believed, were altogether more unremarkable and staid, though they numbered several viscounts, Earl Grey, and a Prime Minister; and she had not given up hope of catching a glimpse of Mrs. Siddons, who lived close by, in Baker Street.
Above all things, Pemberley House was comfortable, and Elizabeth had the most charming of double sitting-rooms, looking out into the Square, and papered in apple-green silk, with delightful little Chinese figures dancing on the walls. The bedrooms, upstairs on the first floor, were enchanting, especially the one she shared with her husband, with its elegant French fittings and park view; it opened into their private dressing-rooms and was every thing the most elegant taste could desire. With forethought, Elizabeth had given Lady Catherine a bedroom that was the house’s stateliest and most sumptuous, suited to a visiting Queen. It combined the advantages of being the suite she had always had in her visits, and was farthest from their own chambers.
Being tired from the round of court functions and balls she had been required to attend, and also a little languid from being enceinte, with several months more until her expectations, Elizabeth permitted herself to sleep rather late in the morning. The sun was halfway up over the Portman Square trees, and Mr. Darcy had already left their bed for a ride in the Park with some important gentlemen, before Elizabeth sat up and pulled the sash for the maid, to bring in her chocolate.
After being attired in a simple summer muslin gown, whose floating panels and delicate embroidery modestly concealed her growing shape, Elizabeth made her way down the grand staircase and paused outside her sitting-room. She was surprised to hear voices – Lady Catherine’s above them all, did not startle her with her trumpet tones, but surely there was a gentleman of the party, and who could be there, at this hour, with Mr. Darcy not present?
Curious, Elizabeth pushed open the door and stood, to take in the scene. Lady Catherine was seated in the grandest and most comfortable chair, facing her daughter who was on the sofa with the very handsome young man Elizabeth remembered from the night of their presentation at Court. The one Darcy had been sure was an adventurer.
She concealed her shudder at seeing him so dangerously at ease, actually inside her home, and wondered what to say; but she need not have been at a loss. Maurice Townley rose to his feet at once in the politest manner, made his bow with endearing grace, and came toward her, greeting her like an old friend.
“Mrs. Darcy! It is so good to see you again. Won’t you join our little tete-a-tete? Dear Lady Catherine and charming Miss de Bourgh have been so gracious as to invite me to sit with them this morning, and we have been waiting for you particularly.”
As it was her house and not Lady Catherine’s, nor yet Mr. Townley’s, Elizabeth was taken aback by the general effrontery. She barely moved her lips as she murmured “Good morning.”
“I know,” he said with sympathy that would have been almost too bewitching if she had known him to be a gentleman of character, “it must seem very odd and presumptuous to you, so lately have I been introduced to your acquaintance.”
He looked deeply into her eyes, and held out his hand, which she barely touched, distrustfully. Nevertheless he held onto it, with a smile that was almost a simper.
“There! Now we are friends; and if you think the course of friendship has moved with too great rapidity, I may only offer my very great admiration and respect for Lady Catherine and – “ he paused for emphasis, “and Miss de Bourgh, as an excuse.” His look included both of them in its sweep, with such eloquence that each of them sighed, thinking it meant for her.
“Of Lady Catherine,” he continued, “I can barely dare venture to speak, much less to praise. Who has not heard of my lady’s fine and judicious judgment? She is famed throughout the kingdom for such powers of mind as perhaps no woman has ever before shown. Wisdom – strength of character – perfect decision – it is altogether admirable!”
Lady Catherine condescended to nod her approval. “It is true,” she said, “that I am famed for my powers of observation, of judgement, of a sort of sense that is quite out of the common way, I concede. But I am not known throughout the kingdom. Far from that. There are many counties into which I have never ventured – perhaps most of them – and I cannot suppose that my reputation can have spread so far as, say, the far North, though it is true that I am known throughout Derbyshire, thanks to my residence with my nephew.”
“Oh Lady Catherine!” Townley sighed, holding up his handsome hands, as if there were so much more he could say, if she would only believe it. “Not known all over the country! Only one of your modesty could think it. Your qualities of mind, so peculiarly the aristocrat, are as well known as your daughter’s delicacy, beauty, and peerless high breeding.”
“Oh, Mr. Townley!” cried Miss de Bourgh, turning very pink.
“I am glad to find you all in such a state of general admiration,” said Elizabeth acerbically, “only it takes me by surprise, as I was not aware that Mr. Darcy had given you an invitation this morning.”
“I should be delighted to meet Mr. Darcy,” replied Mr. Townley, “it was a matter of great regret to me, not to find him within when I came to call.”
“But I am sure no gentleman such as yourself would venture to call without an invitation,” Elizabeth probed.
“Heaven on earth, Mrs. Darcy!” exclaimed Lady Catherine impatiently. “Surely you must know that it was I who issued the invitation, and sent round a message to Maurice’s rooms this morning.”
“Maurice!” exclaimed Elizabeth, taken aback. “You are on such terms as that?”
“Really, Mrs. Darcy, you may be my nephew’s wife, but if you will pardon me for saying so, that speech borders on being impertinent, just the same. Is not my nephew’s house the same as my own? Darcy is the closest relation I have on earth. He has always been entirely welcome to do as he likes at Rosings, and considers it another home; and so it is only natural that the courtesy should be entirely reciprocated.”
“This is the first I have heard of it,” Elizabeth observed, “and I must say I do not think my husband would be at all pleased at this visit by Mr. Townley.”
“Oh, my dear Mrs. Darcy, do not look so severe upon me,” said Mr. Townley, with his most engaging smile. “You must be aware that I am making my visit with an interest – with a view of creating a nearer interest…”
“Can you mean – ?” she exclaimed. “But you only met Miss de Bourgh last Saturday!”
His winsome smile did not waver. “Ah, but there have been other meetings of which you may not have been aware, and, if I do not mistake my dear Anne’s wishes…” He moved toward Miss de Bourgh sitting on the couch, lifted her hand to his lips, and kissed it. She turned peony pink.
“Anne! Is this true, then? Are you engaged?” Elizabeth asked her, shocked.
“To be sure it is an engagement,” Anne’s mother answered indignantly. “It has not all been fully settled yet, but the matter was on the point of being decided, when you interrupted. Maurice would never do what is improper, and of course he asked my permission first, which I have given him with perfect approbation.”
“You have agreed this match? Upon my word, I find that a most remarkable proceeding, Lady Catherine. To engage your daughter to a man unknown, of whose family, whose property, you know nothing – I could not have believed it of you.”
“You dare to question my judgment?” demanded Lady Catherine majestically.
“On this matter, I do.”
“You have nothing to say about it. Anne is my daughter, and I will arrange matters for her good, as I think best, as is my right.”
“I daresay, madam. Am I to believe, then, that you have already sufficiently acquainted yourself with his situation, his antecedents?”
“Certainly. Maurice has assured me himself that he has a very fine fortune. Not so fine as the de Bourghs, of course, nor is the family of the same degree of nobility; but gracious goodness, a young couple has no need of two fortunes to make their happiness, and I collect that Anne will be in very safe hands with Maurice. His features alone announce his nobility of character and mind. But I could not expect you to see that.”
“And you, Anne – are you satisfied? What is your opinion of Mr. Townley?” asked Elizabeth incredulously.
“Oh!” exclaimed Anne, her face suffusing with the effort to say eloquently all she felt, “I think – I think he is beautiful!”
“My darling,” he exclaimed, sat by her side, and drew her arm strongly under his, while gazing intensely into her eyes. Her breathing came faster and her eyelashes fluttered. He looked up at Elizabeth with a humorous smile.
“To say the truth, Mrs. Darcy, I hardly know which I am more in love with – the mother or the daughter!”
“This surpasses credence,” murmured Elizabeth, raising her eyes to heaven. “However, Mr. Darcy will be at home shortly, and he will have something to say to all this.”
“Nothing to the purpose,” insisted Lady Catherine. “He is not Anne’s guardian, and has no control over her fortune, or mine. I had intended that the courtship could be carried out decorously under his most respectable roof, and they be married from this parish; but if Darcy means to be disagreeable, Rosings will do as well. Mr. Collins will do as he is told, make all the arrangements, and post the banns.”
At this moment horses were heard, and Mr. Darcy, riding side by side with his cousin, came clattering along the mews and into the stable.
Townley rose to his feet with alarm. “It is growing late,” he said hastily, “and I must not impose on your hospitality longer. I would by no means wish to be in the way to give Mr. Darcy any displeasure.”
“Oh, now you see that,” said Elizabeth ironically. “Well, we shall soon see what he has to say, just as soon as he and Colonel Fitzwilliam put up their horses. We shall have a regular family council. Won’t you like that, Mr. Townley?”
He did not look very much as though he would.
Detail of Chinese embroidery, 18th century