After much thought during a fairly sleepless night, Mrs. Gardiner had come to no conclusions about her niece’s relationship to Mr. Darcy. It was clear that the handsome landowner had a soft spot in his heart for Lizzie, but his dignified reserve made it difficult to interpret his thoughts. Still, he could not take his eyes off Lizzie and the extreme embarrassment evident between them was highly suspicious.
And then there was Mr. Darcy’s visit with his sister, to introduce her to Lizzie, and coming when she had barely stepped out of her coach at Pemberley! Yes, Mr. Darcy loved Lizzie, but how did Lizzie feel? Her blushing and stammering when Mr. Darcy came upon them suddenly certainly suggested that she cared about his opinion, but Mrs. Gardiner could not be sure if she liked him, or if she was merely embarrassed to be in a position where she must be polite to someone she disliked.
Elizabeth said virtually nothing the next morning while they breakfasted, so finally Mrs. Gardiner spoke, “Lizzie? Do you not think that we should visit Pemberley this morning? I feel we should do something to return Mr. and Miss Darcy’s exceeding politeness in waiting on us yesterday…and so soon after her arrival! Does that meet with your approbation?”
Elizabeth blushed, but answered in a calm voice, “Indeed, yes! I believe you are right. I would hate to seem rude to Miss Darcy. The poor girl is very shy and I wouldn’t want her to feel that we did not appreciate her courtesy.”
So it came about that they took their carriage to Pemberley to visit Miss Darcy. When they arrived they found that Miss Darcy was in the saloon with her companion, Mrs. Annesley while Miss Bingley and her sister sat down the room examining a bracelet that Mrs. Hurst was wearing.
When Mrs. Gardiner and Lizzie were announced, Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana stood up to greet them and Georgiana introduced them to her companion, briefly, then flushed with embarrassment. Mrs. Annesley smoothly took up the dangling conversation and invited the two visitors to sit. Mrs. Gardiner ended up nearest Miss Darcy with Lizzie across from Mrs. Annesley, and they carried on a conversation of little content, but great goodwill. Occasionally, Miss Darcy would whisper a contribution to the topic of conversation, but they were so quiet that her guests could not hear her.
Eventually, Mrs. Annesley, after several significant looks at Miss Darcy, induced her charge to ring for refreshments and the awkward behavior of everyone relaxed while they all selected some fruit and cake. While they were involved with the lovely trays of fruit the door of the saloon opened and Mr. Darcy entered, his eyes immediately going to his sister. It was clear to Mrs. Gardiner that he cared very much for his sister and for her comfort while entertaining the guests, and it seemed to her that he was very much aware of her niece and trying not to focus all his attention on her.
Mr. Darcy began several topics of conversation with his sister and Elizabeth immediately came to his aid and talked to Georgiana about some concerts she had attended while in Town. Things were going well until Miss Bingley suddenly piped up with a sarcastic comment to Elizabeth about the militia leaving Meryton, and how distressing that must be to the Bennets…especially having Mr. Wickham leave.
Elizabeth deflected the ill-natured comment, but Mrs. Gardiner was quite astonished at the reaction of Miss Darcy to it. She flushed to the roots of her hair and then went ghastly white, her lips compressed tightly. Mrs. Gardiner was afraid for a moment that the poor girl was going to swoon! Good heavens! What has come over the girl? Is she ill?
Her brother seems to not feel that she is ill…he is continuing to talk to Lizzie as if nothing is going on, although he gives Miss Bingley a withering look at the end of her little comment.
After a few minutes further conversation, Mrs. Gardiner felt that it was time to go as they had already been there for a half hour. On the drive back to Lambton she chatted with her niece about all the non-essentials of Pemberley: the grounds, the fruit, the cake, the décor. What they did not discuss was what Mrs. Gardiner was most interested in: her niece’s feelings toward Mr. Darcy, whom she clearly knew much better than her aunt and uncle had realized. She was disappointed, but did not feel that she had the right to interrogate her niece over this matter…but still her curiosity was most frustrating!