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Excerpt from Chapter 1
MRS. DARCY WAS ONE OF THE HAPPIEST women in the world. She had, before reaching the age of two and twenty, married a respectable and benevolent gentleman, of the county of Derbyshire, who was possessed not only of a noble estate but a proportionately fine fortune, of ten thousand pounds a year. Miss Elizabeth Bennet (as she then was) had only a small portion herself, and even that was threatened by an unhappy event: the elopement of her youngest sister, at the age of sixteen, with a young man of exceptional worthless¬ness, whose debts might nearly have swallowed the whole of her family's resources. But by Mr. Darcy's kind interference, they were saved from disgrace. By making up the match, settling money on the undeserving youngest sister, and then making proposals for Elizabeth, he had happily brought prosperity instead of ruin upon the anxious Bennets. Elizabeth was grateful, and being assured of his own strong attachment to her, and as deeply in love as a girl of sense and spirit could well be, she most thankfully accepted his hand.
Nearly five and twenty years had passed since that halcyon year, 1812, which saw three of the five Bennet girls given in marriage: for Elizabeth's eldest and handsomest sister, Jane, married Mr. Darcy's amiable friend, Mr. Bingley, on the same day and in the same church as the young Darcys were themselves united.
At Pemberley, then, Elizabeth found her true happiness and calling in life: as chatelaine of one of the finest houses in the country, wife to a clever, well-informed man who loved her devot¬edly, admirable patroness and lady of society, who opened a most desirable house in town, in the season. In time, too, she was a mother; but years and maternity had done less to dull her beauty and vivacity than usually happens. Although she was now between forty and fifty years old, Mrs. Darcy was still a handsome woman, known for her wit and good humour; still slender, light of foot, with sparkling eyes and hair that, under her matron's lace caps, was still smooth and abundant. She was as much as ever the delight of Mr. Darcy's mind and the beloved of his heart, and if she had acquired something of an air of authority with her years at Pemberley, it was no more than was becoming and proper to her position.
Mr. Darcy was, at fifty, very much as might have been expected from a knowledge of him at eight and twenty: a noble man indeed, his tall person, magisterial bearing, and dignified manner were more impressive than ever, as befit a man of great influence in Derbyshire, sometime Member of Parliament and Justice of the Peace. Yet his lips would relax in an indulgent smile that was good to see, his eyes would gleam with enjoyment, and his face would look really handsome still, when he looked upon his wife, or upon his only daughter, who greatly resembled her.
This only daughter, Jane, was now seventeen, a girl of quick comprehension and movement: light, and airily formed, like her mother, and given to a style of impulsive wit that sometimes, it must be admitted, went too far, as she was well aware that she could beguile smiles from her stern father that he never would bestow on either of his sons.
Elizabeth was too wise to take either her husband's love or his wealth for granted, and she never forgot to exult in all her mani¬fold sources of happiness. It is impossible for human nature to be altogether without worry or pain, however, and Elizabeth's anxi¬eties were all reserved for her children.
The eldest of her sons, Fitzwilliam, the heir to Pemberley, provided sufficient concern to make any anxious mother happy. A tall, heavy young man, not uncomely, with well-cut features and dark hair, he had little of his mother's liveliness or his father's cleverness and would sit of an evening, not saying much, but turning over sporting papers. Horses were his great love and, some thought, his only interest in the world. He admired his father greatly and thought he desired to be what Mr. Darcy himself was, but he had spent two years at Oxford, with very little learning adhering to him, and he was in no danger of equalling his father's wisdom at a similar time of life. He had not yet, however, lost more money at racing than was reasonable, and his awe of his father and his own future position kept his behaviour and deportment in check and prevented him from partaking too objectionably of the racecourse.
The Darcys' second son, Henry, was more promising and quick-minded than Fitzwilliam; Elizabeth often thought it a pity that Henry were not the elder, for what would he not have done with Pemberley? She fully expected Fitzwilliam to turn it into a mere breeding-farm. With his cleverness, his balanced mind, and generous nature, Henry would have made a fine squire indeed ... but as was the way with second sons, the bulk of the estate must go to the elder, and Henry was intended for the Church. He did not repine but looked forward to ordination eagerly as a situation that would open a field of useful endeavour to him.
With her two youngest children, Elizabeth felt much more comfortable than with the unsatisfactory eldest. Their tempers were more sympathetic, their minds more developed and like her own. Her fears for them derived not from their characters, as was the way with Fitzwilliam, but from their situations: where they would settle, and with what partners, was all her anxiety. A husband for Jane, a parish for Henry, were subjects that occupied many of her thoughts.
On a fine autumn morning, the Darcy family dispersed, as usual, after breakfast. Henry had something to tell Jane and hurried her out for a walk. Mrs. Darcy lingered at the table to hear what would be the arrangements of her husband and eldest son for the day.
"There is no press of business this morning, my dear, only some farm matters, and I may ride over to Lambton on the new mare- unless you would like to try her, Fitzwilliam? It is a commission you understand."
"I should like nothing better, sir, only I am at this moment going out hunting-'tis Friday, you know."
"And if it were Tuesday itself, what then? You have been hunting every day this week."
"But you will acknowledge yourself, sir, that there is nothing else for a fellow to do in this country. Derbyshire is for hunting. And at this time of year, one must do one's best. I did not think you could object."
"To be sure not. Only there is such a thing as moderation, and your time might be better spent giving some attention to the farm and plantations; you never yet have learnt much of their manage¬ment, and it is time you did."
"Very true, sir, upon my word, very true, and I shall stay at home and take a lesson the next day you name; only this morning, don't you see, Hartley and Davis are waiting, and you would not have me disappoint them?"
Mr. Darcy gave only a slight shake of his head in response, and Fitzwilliam lumbered to his feet and, with an awkward bow to his mother, was out of the room in a surprisingly short space of time.