The small group made their way into the Pemberley's grand library, the space spanning several rooms. Countless shelves rose from the ground to meet the ceiling and blended perfectly with the décor. It was a sanctuary, filled with books of all kinds: exotic old texts, poetry, famous authors, modern stories, warfare, economics and so forth. Every book had its own resting place, each carefully catalogued. Not a single volume was out of place. Within the library itself, there was a simple reading parlour equipped with a large fireplace. Comfortable armchairs stood within, placed not too far from two small writing desks. Even things as simple as the desks were made out of expensive wood, where you could trace every grain into ornate curls.
This was the grandest library Elizabeth had ever seen, quite possibly the best in Derbyshire, if not the whole of England. Sunlight flooded the room with a bright glow through the numerous windows, naturally illuminating the entire space. If one looked out from the many windows, that person would be treated with a picture-perfect view of Pemberley's gardens, which overlooked the valley and its hills. Elizabeth was in heaven; how nice it would be to settle into one of those chairs with a good book without having to worry about anything. How she had longed many a time to escape into one of her favourite novels, away from all the noise; to have some peace and quiet. Being born into a family with five daughters and a fretting mother meant turmoil in their household was inevitable. One could only dream.
Mrs Reynolds continued to guide their party of three around Pemberley. As it was Elizabeth's first-time visiting, she did not realise their tour was anything but standard. The Gardiners assumed that their guide was showing them additional rooms and other parts of Pemberley, based on the knowledge that they had visited Pemberley once before. This was a welcomed addition on their part. They were just about to conclude their tour of the main house and head to the renowned gardens when they saw a stagecoach enter the Pemberley grounds. Four well-groomed horses strutted along gracefully and drew the grand coach silently down the cobbled pathway. Each horse's coat shone a flawless black in the sunlight. An elegantly polished doorknob of the carriage gave way to an ornately embellished door, whose metallic sides glinted under the glare of the sun. Mrs Reynolds broke the news to their party of three that it was the Darcy carriage. Apparently, they were expected, but the staff appeared to be unsure as to the time of their arrival. It was almost as if the older woman was stalling for time; for their tour to miraculously coincide with the very arrival of the Darcys was too much of a coincidence.
From the corner of Elizabeth's eye, a tall, dark-haired gentleman exited the carriage gracefully, followed by a younger lady in simple elegant clothes. It was indeed them – the master of Pemberley and his sister. Mrs Reynolds could not conceal her excitement in having both Darcys home for the summer. Elizabeth stopped breathing, whether from fear or from awe, she herself did not know. Mr Darcy was here. This was the very situation she was trying to avoid. Elizabeth exhaled slowly. Although she was too far away to see for certain what was happening, she could tell from their stance, however graceful they might be, that there was something preoccupying their thoughts – perhaps they had some urgent business matters that had to be dealt with, but Elizabeth did not want to linger in their home any longer. She was certain that they had outstayed their welcome. Would she be welcome in their home, considering her history with the master of Pemberley himself? Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Mr Darcy immediately board a smaller carriage, but just as elegant as the first, and watched as it made its way post-haste out of Pemberley. This was her chance to leave before his return. All she had to do next was convince the Gardiners.
Her reprieve was short-lived when they were spotted by Miss Georgiana Darcy. The younger lady seemed hesitant as she approached their group. It was clear that she was not used to greeting outsiders. Miss Darcy looked exactly like she did in her portrait, except she was now womanly grown. She looked even more beautiful in person. Strands of light brown hair fell out of her bun in loose curls, where they reached the white flowers on the waist of her cream coloured dress. She looked strikingly similar to her brother.
"May I present to you Miss Darcy." Mrs Reynolds announced to their party.
The Gardiners and Miss Elizabeth dipped into a deep curtsy.
"Here we have Mr and Mrs Gardiner, and their niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
The older woman continued with the introductions and smiled encouragingly at Miss Darcy to greet the visitors. After all, it was expected of her to do so, especially since she was in residence. It took Georgiana a moment to register the familiarity of the last name, but when she did, she could not conceal her absolute delight. Mrs Reynolds, who had expected a cordial greeting at most, was surprised to see what followed.
"Welcome to Pemberley. I do hope you are enjoying Pemberley as much as I do." Miss Darcy greeted them most warmly and smiled so hard that her dimples became more pronounced.
"Thank you, Miss Darcy. We enjoyed Pemberley very much. Mrs Reynold's tour of your magnificent home was most kind. I particularly loved the portrait gallery and the library. We have not seen the gardens, but we have heard many tales of its beauty." Elizabeth had longed to head home, but Miss Darcy's apparent enthusiasm made her want to linger just a little bit longer, perhaps a quick stroll through the gardens.
Georgiana smiled brightly. A home it surely was. It was also no surprise that she was fond of the library. Her brother had mentioned words of that effect in his letters to her about Elizabeth. She did not know it, but her smile was quite infectious and everyone in her close vicinity felt her joy and happiness. Mrs Reynolds was rather baffled. Perhaps Miss Darcy going away to London for a time did her some good. After the Wickham incident, her charge became afraid of even the littlest of things and hid in her shell. Right now, she witnessed the new Georgiana, or in more accurate terms, the old Georgiana, the one everyone had missed.
In the past, Georgiana was quite lively, so much so that visiting ladies would occasionally raise an eyebrow as they looked on. Nobody dared say anything to the Darcys, whether out of respect or in fear of being cast out from the ton. Miss Darcy used to run around the house and grounds, and play like a normal child. Sometimes she would even get lost, giving her brother, Mrs Reynolds and other servants a good scare. Unlike the other families, the late masters of Pemberley, and now the former Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, took great care in looking after their servants and tenants for generations. The Darcys saw them as close friends, if not part of the family. When their master and his sister seemed to withdraw from life itself, they made it their business to help them in any way necessary to bring back their old Fitzwilliam and Georgiana.
In reality, Miss Darcy had not yet fully recovered from the Wickham incident. Her shy nature was still present, but as she was meeting with the "Miss Elizabeth Bennet", she had to make an impression to both her and her relatives. This was the only woman her brother had ever talked about, besides herself and their mother.
"I would love to personally show you around our gardens, but my brother and I have just returned from a lengthy journey. Perhaps you would like to join me for afternoon tea tomorrow?" Georgiana said this with the grace of a Darcy as if she had been showing visitors around Pemberley for years. She did not realise that for a few split seconds, she was her old self. The old Georgiana had resurfaced.
"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt for us to extend our trip by another day," her aunt pondered, looking at her husband, who agreed with a nod of his head.
Miss Darcy looked so hopeful, that Elizabeth could not bear to decline her invitation. "We would love to have tea with you."
Georgiana gave Elizabeth a true smile and expressed the first thing in her mind. "That would be wonderful! You see, I've heard a lot about you from my brother…. I mean…" she trailed off abruptly as if afraid to continue with her train of thought. An encouraging smile from Mrs Reynolds gave her the strength to continue. "My brother has mentioned you in his many letters, and I feel that, though I have heard much of you, I would like a chance to truly get to know you," Georgiana said that last part extremely fast as if she was trying to get everything off her chest.
Elizabeth was left dumbfounded for a moment. She had not known that Mr Darcy had written of her. Heat rose to her cheeks. What could she possibly say?
"And I too have heard a lot of you from Mr Darcy. He must love you very much. I hear he has gifted you a pianoforte? Perchance you would like to play some music for us when we visit tomorrow?"
It seemed that she had said the right words, for Georgiana was slowly coming out of her shell, becoming the lady she used to be. "I would love to play for you and your relatives Miss Elizabeth…I mean Miss Bennet."
"Oh, call me Elizabeth, or Lizzy," Elizabeth said immediately before continuing, "I am the second of five sisters, and one always gets confused when we are all in the same room. Besides, Miss Bennet would be more suited for my charming older sister Jane."
Georgiana let out a chuckle at that last part. Before she knew it, she found herself saying "Please, call me Georgiana, or Georgie."
Georgiana rarely let other strangers address her by her first name. Not even acquaintances like Miss Bingley had that right, although Caroline often loved to pretend that they were the best of friends. Although she had only met Miss Elizabeth that morning, even for just a brief moment, she felt as if they had been friends for years. The world swam before Georgiana's eyes for a moment, before a light throbbing begun behind her temples. She took a moment to breathe, and then gracefully excused herself from their party to her rooms. She must have not had enough sleep, with all the travelling that they had done. Mrs Reynolds watched on with a smile, as Miss Darcy stood just a bit straighter and walked inside Pemberley house.
Excitement bubbled within Mrs Reynolds' chest. Not only was Miss Darcy back, but their master had also written of Miss Elizabeth. She had an inkling there was something more going on between the young miss and her master, and was glad to be right. Perhaps this was she, the one who would take on the title of being the future mistress of Pemberley.