Note: I do not own any characters in Pride and Prejudice and all character references belong to Jane Austen.
Elizabeth shuffled in her seat on the carriage, looking extremely uncomfortable. She clasped her gloved hands tighter with every passing minute as they travelled through Pemberley Woods. A chill raced up her spine and her heart pounded in her chest. She looked out of the window and took a deep breath. Her thoughts were in a mess, even more so after reading Mr Darcy's letter. Elizabeth began to regret accompanying the Gardiners on a tour of the famed Pemberley house and its grounds and sighed in resignation.
"Lizzy, you look rather pale and haven't spoken much today", her aunt pointed out, "Are you well?" she enquired. Her niece was usually rather enthusiastic and loved to engage in conversation, but Elizabeth displayed none of her usual liveliness. In fact, she appeared to be lost in her thoughts, almost as if she was brooding.
Elizabeth startled; it would not do to show any sign of weakness. Her decision to join the Gardiners was purely of her own accord.
"I was simply contemplating the beautiful grounds that we would encounter and cannot wait to breathe in the fresh air." She paused before continuing, "From my acquaintance with the Bingley's, I have heard much of praise of Pemberley's beauty, and had to see it for myself."
Mrs Gardiner knew something was amiss but decided not to push the matter any further. Without a doubt, it must have been connected to Mr Darcy, for Elizabeth had tried multiple times to weasel out of this particular outing. It was no secret that she despised Mr Darcy, and had even told her so. Mrs Gardiner knew her niece rather well and could not help but think that deep down, there was something else, something she couldn't quite put her finger on just yet. She could only assume that her niece's curiosity won out in the end.
Eventually, they emerged from the woods and found themselves drawn to a magnificent spectacle overlooking the valley. There in all its glory stood Pemberley house. Elizabeth froze at the sight in front of her. With its imposing pillars at the forefront, and the house itself being shrouded in natural beauty, it was truly a sight to behold. To see the house surrounded by its lovely gardens left her rather breathless. It was stunning seeing it in person; the vivid descriptions she had been given prior did not do it justice. Towering windows overlooked the gardens, and Elizabeth swore the entire property could be seen from just one of the large windows. She was in awe and could not help but feel a burst of sadness, that if she had accepted Mr Darcy's proposal, she could have been mistress of this fine estate. However, it was not to be.
Their vehicle slowly ground to a halt. Here they had a closer view of the house, and Elizabeth could not tear her eyes from the intricate designs that were etched in stone. Those alone was a work of art. How awkward it would be if she ran across Mr Darcy in his own home. She shuddered at that thought and dreaded the uncomfortable silence that would most likely follow.
They were greeted by Mrs Reynolds, who was one of the most highly respected servants of the Darcy household. Elizabeth could not help but warm up towards the bubbly, but somehow stern woman, who was absolutely delighted to show her guests the very best of Pemberley. Mrs Reynolds started with a lengthy account of Mr Darcy's wonderful character, or so she said, but Elizabeth found her attention drawn to a patch of particularly nice decorative flowers in a pot on her left. If she was not wearing gloves, she would have longed to feel their velvety petals beneath her fingertips. With every minute of Mrs Reynolds' description, her gaze wandered over the rest of Pemberley's decorations.
When Mrs Reynolds touched briefly on Mr Wickham's wild character, curiosity got the better of Elizabeth, who tried to wheedle more information about the supposed relationship between him and the master of the house. She accidentally pushed a touch too far when she commented on the likeness of Mr Darcy in his miniature form. That was a mistake on her part because now Elizabeth not only had the attention of Mrs Reynolds but also the Gardiners. She had to draw attention away from her and Mr Darcy at once.
This information was of great interest to Mrs Reynolds. It was her duty to know of even the most minute details and happenings within Pemberley, especially when it has some connection to her master. "Does the young lady know Mr Darcy?"
Elizabeth froze. A sharp pinch on her arm from her aunt jolted Elizabeth from her train of thought.
"Yes, I know of Mr Darcy, but only just a little." Elizabeth recovered slightly before continuing, "I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance at the Meryton Assembly ball through Mr Bingley, and also when my sister and I were guests at Netherfield." Elizabeth hoped that by referring to both her sister and Mr Bingley, she had successfully distanced herself from Mr Darcy.
Her master rarely let anyone, let alone herself see exactly what he felt, so Mrs Reynolds had developed quite the affinity for reading people. There was something about the young lady that puzzled her; she did not behave like the usual ladies who were acquainted with Mr Darcy, but intuition told a different story. Perhaps Miss Bennet knew her master more than 'just a little'.
She began to share more anecdotes about Mr Darcy and mentioned how he had to grow up rather quickly, especially after the death of his late father. The responsibility of looking after the estate and its affairs fell to Mr Darcy by default. She also touched on his fondness for his younger sister, Georgiana Darcy, and how he was like a father to her.
Here they passed a portrait of Miss Georgiana Darcy and went a little further along to stop in front of a much larger portrait of Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Tall and opposing, the painting dredged up memories that Elizabeth would very much like to forget.
"Do you not think him handsome?" Mrs Reynolds asked Elizabeth. She looked at the younger woman intently, trying to gauge a reaction. An expression of longing and some sadness flitted across her face.
"Yes, very handsome," Elizabeth intoned, as if in a trance.
If the Gardiners were shocked by Lizzy's response, they did not show it. However, it would certainly explain their niece's eeriness that morning. In actual fact, the account of Mr Darcy's character from Mrs Reynolds was very different from what they knew from Lizzy's retelling. They were under the impression that their niece despised Mr Darcy. Yes, there was definitely more to the story.
The small party continued to make their way across the room, while Elizabeth remained in front of Mr Darcy's portrait. The painting felt so lifelike as if he was standing right in front of her. No matter how hard Elizabeth tried to forget, memories of Mr Darcy were at the forefront of her mind, spinning around her head like a convoluted dream.
"Lizzy! Do keep up! We're going to move on for a tour of the library," her uncle called out to her from the other side of the room.
Little did he know, visitors were seldom shown the library. When Elizabeth let slip of her love of books, the loyal housekeeper naturally had to include it in the morning tour. It would be remiss of her not to.
Elizabeth took one last glance at Mr Darcy's portrait, silently mournful. This would be her first and last time in Pemberley, and she knew that Mr Darcy would be lost to her forever.