Were her feelings so different than what they were at Hunsford? Yes, they were; but had she changed or was Mr. Darcy truly so different? Perhaps by knowing him better, she understood him more?
His housekeeper’s words echoed in her head. “He is the best landlord, and the best master that ever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men.”
Such a man of wealth and consequence had to be a good man indeed to be thought so well of by his servants. Even the gardener, who showed them the grounds, praised his master. In particular, how Mr. Darcy had paid for the apothecary when the loyal servant’s wife was ill.
Mrs. Reynolds and the gardener were not alone in their praise. Not one person she and the Gardiners had come across since arriving in Lambton had an ill word to say of Mr. Darcy.
How could she have misread him so upon their first acquaintance?
Mr. Darcy’s slight at the assembly had to be the culprit! He had wounded her pride and insulted her vanity, and she had never really forgiven him for it. She was accustomed to her mother disregarding her looks in comparison to Jane and Lydia, but not one of their neighbours had ever agreed or made a similar comment.
That evening at the assembly, the local gentlemen were all familiar, and held no interest. Mr. Bingley, while well-looking and amiable, did not stir her emotions in any manner other than friendship.
Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, had intrigued her, which was sure to be why she reacted as she did. Upon reflection, her first thought of him had been of his good looks and his appearance of intelligence. He did not seem a dullard or behave as one with little or no sense.
He himself had admitted, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.” Could that have played a role in his ill-humour?
Since they had happened upon one another on the grounds of Pemberley, he had been everything amiable and welcoming. The encounter had been awkward, and she had not expected him to make such a gallant attempt to put her at ease. His generous behaviour towards her aunt and uncle, and his enquiries as to the health of her family were a compassion he had never shown during their previous meetings.
After all, his manner and behaviour in Meryton had been so aloof. He often stood, not speaking with anyone, while watching their local society with apparent disdain. His looks had shown particular distaste upon watching the antics of Kitty and Lydia, but his response to her mother’s vulgarity was more pronounced—his entire body would stiffen when she spoke.
While Mr. Darcy’s behaviour had altered since their last meeting, Elizabeth had also grown in understanding of the gentleman’s character. Rather than merely thinking him handsome and learned, she had begun to consider him as one of the best men of her acquaintance.
He could have abused her abominably in the letter after their argument, but he did not. His explanation of the separation of Bingley and Jane rankled upon its first reading, but after further consideration, he had been justified in his concern. Charlotte herself had questioned Jane’s feelings, so why should those emotions be evident to Mr. Darcy.
His explanation of Mr. Wickham illustrated his good character as well. Mr. Darcy paid the man’s debts and honoured his father’s last wishes for his godson to the best of his ability when it was probable that Mr. Wickham did not deserve any sort of recompense for the living at all. Mr. Darcy could have claimed the sum for the debt Mr. Wickham owed him, but he did not.
Now that she recognised Mr. Darcy’s worth, could she dare hope his feelings for her had remained constant? His gaze across the drawing room the night prior had left her heart pounding and her face burning. She now feared her heart might be touched. What if his intentions and wishes had altered since Hunsford?
She could not blame him after her intemperate refusal of his hand. His resentment of her would have been justified as well, yet his invitations to Pemberley and his recent generosity of spirit indicated no such feelings.
“Lizzy?” Her aunt placed a hand to her shoulder with an expression of concern upon her face. “Your uncle and I are to take our walk. Did you still wish to join us?”
“Oh! I apologise. You caught me wool-gathering.”
Her aunt’s smile bore a hint of mischief. “So I noticed, dear. Do go fetch your spencer and gloves, so we can depart.”
With a quick nod, she gathered her outdoor garments, but upon her return, her aunt held two letters. “They were just delivered a moment ago. They are from Jane.”