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Pemberley Shades - Excerpt

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WHEN old Dr. Robinson, who had been Rector of Pemberley in Derbyshire for over fifty years, died one night in his sleep at the age of eighty-seven, a long life of little eventfulness and placid prosperity came to a not untimely end.

He had been presented to the living by the grandfather of the present patron, Fitzwilliam Darcy Esquire, of Pemberley House, whom he had christened as an infant, receiving on the occasion a present of ten pounds. Without prejudice to more congenial occupations in his house and garden he had generally done what was expected of him in church and parish, and was on the whole well liked by his parishioners, who spoke of him as a good, kind old gentleman. But in sober truth this was the most that could be said of him, particularly in his latter years when he had become sluggish both in body and mind. His reading of the services was a mumble, his sermons were so extremely dull that as soon as he ascended the pulpit Mr. Darcy stifled a yawn behind his hand, while Mrs. Darcy, though fixing her bright eyes on the preacher, as often as not slipped into meditations wholly unconnected with her surroundings. Who could have foretold that Dr. Robinson, who had done nothing of note in all his lifetime should, by the common and natural act of dying, set in motion a train of events so strange, so startling, so far removed from probability, as to emulate the riotous fancies of a disordered mind?

The funeral over, Mr. Darcy began to cast about for a successor to the benefice. In the meanwhile his friend, Robert Mortimer of Clopwell Priory, having taken orders before inheriting the family estate on the death of an elder brother, undertook to ride over to Pemberley on Sundays and at other times when a clergyman’s ministrations were required. The arrangement suited Darcy very well as a temporary measure, for Mortimer, though an indifferent parish priest, having been ever more addicted to field sports, especially fox-hunting, than to the more sedentary pursuits associated with his cloth, was a most amiable, obliging young man and made an excellent stop-gap, Darcy was thus able to set about filling the vacancy at his leisure, partly out of consideration for the two elderly daughters of the late rector whose departure from the Parsonage he did not wish to hasten unduly, but chiefly that he might have time to find a clergyman who would answer all his requirements in being everything in which Dr. Robinson had been deficient.

He had settled in his own mind that the new rector should be under forty, of superior birth, breeding and education, a scholar without pedantry, or irreproachable life, but not too exigent in matters affecting the usages of the polite world, and preferably married to a gentlewoman who would be acceptable to the ladies of Pemberley, his wife Elizabeth and his sister Georgiana. These demands appeared to him to be so moderate that he was hopeful of their attainment without difficulty or much delay. But that he should have exactly the sort of man he wanted he was thoroughly determined.

“As nearly every family of standing in the country has a younger son in the church it should not be impossible,” said Mrs. Darcy. “But would not it be easier, and perhaps more expeditious, to prevail upon an angel to fly down to Pemberley? Seriously, Fitz, there must be plenty of charming young men in orders.”

“I distrust charming young men,” said Darcy.

“I comprehend perfectly. He must be agreeable and gentleman-like but not at all charming, of pleasing appearance but by no means handsome, endowed with sufficient understanding to converse with his patron on serious subjects, but not so clever as to outshine him. That he should be a model of virtue and industry needs no saying. And if I am to be consulted, he must in no way resemble Mr. Collins, except in being a clergyman.

“Have you done?” enquired Mr. Darcy.

“No, for there is his wife, unless you can think of any young woman in the family for whom he would do as a husband.”

“There may be in your family, but not in mine.”

“If I did not so hate the trouble of matchmaking I might marry him off to poor Kitty who is still single, though twenty. However, he had better come with a ready-made wife, good, plain and serviceable, attractive to no one but himself. If they have children who are girls, they must be so much older than Richard that there can never be any question of his marrying one of them. Lastly – -but I think that is all.”

“While you are about it, let there be no reservations of any kind.”

“I assure you I have not the least idea of anything further.” “As I see by your expression that you have a fit of modesty, shall I say it for you? She must regard you as perfection in everything – mind, manners and person.”

Elizabeth burst out laughing. “Then you must banish the Miss Robinsons from Derbyshire, otherwise they would most certainly infect others with their strong disapprobation of . the present mistress of Pemberley.”

“I have never met your like for exaggeration, Elizabeth,” said her husband.

“Whoever heeds the truth when it goes unembellished? On second thoughts, my love, I would prefer the new rector to be a confirmed bachelor. Such is my experience of Parsonage ladies, that I would rather have no more of them.”

This conversation, though it may have afforded the Darcys some amusement, did not materially hasten the course of events. Owing to the perversity so often observable in human affairs, there was not at the death of Dr. Robinson any clergyman among Darcy’s acquaintance to whom he cared to offer the living. Applications and recommendations there were in plenty, but none that he would entertain. And as the weeks hastened from March into April and towards May, the two Miss Robinsons, however irrationally, began to feel once more secure of the continued enjoyment of the home of their youth, and resumed that spring-cleaning of its apartments which the death of a parent had interrupted.

Darcy was first made aware of what was passing in their minds when one day the elder Miss Robinson, speaking with customary abruptness, asked him whether he had not noticed that the dining-parlour needed fresh papering. The spring sunshine and the clean curtains made the walls look absolutely faded, she complained. She had asked Mr. Groves, the Pemberley steward, to call and take her instructions, but he had never come.

“I am sorry to be obliged to speak ill of Mr. Groves, but he is not at all so attentive as he should be. I hope he is not so neglectful of your business, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy was so amazed that he hardly knew what to reply.

After a moment’s thought he observed that Mr. Groves probably thought it advisable to wait until the new rector had arrived in order that he might ascertain his wishes in the matter.

“He has no right to think anything of the sort,” declared Miss Robinson, growing red with anger. “It is, besides, no excuse for his incivility. He never so much as answered my note.”

“That indeed was wrong,” said Darcy calmly. “He should have sent an acknowledgment. But he has much .business to attend to, and he may have been waiting for an opportunity of consulting me.”

“And, pray, why should he consult you? Has not he always taken my instructions in the past?’

“I am sorry to cause you any distress,” Darcy replied, concealing some pardonable heat, “but if you reflect, you will see that he might justly consider he could do so no longer.”

But Miss Robinson showed not the least disposition to reflect, or to do anything but grow more irritated, and Darcy could only hope that a seed of reason had been sown in the lady’s mind, and would survive and grow. He had assumed that after their father’s death she and her sister would shortly begin house-hunting; but enquiries now made of Mr. Groves disclosed that on his bringing a very eligible vacant residence to her notice, Miss Robinson had declined resolutely to view it. A second and even a third instance of this behaviour put it beyond doubt that the Miss Robinsons hid been able to persuade themselves that they could continue to reside at the Parsonage as long as either of them should live.

Unhappily for the success of their design, Mr. Darcy was a match for the Miss Robinsons in obstinacy. That he had right and law on his side was something, but not everything; for it was unthinkable that he should have them forcibly ejected. Short of that, he resolved never to rest until the vexatious females were safely deposited under another roof. As soon as the next house within the Pemberley estates suitable to their degree and means became vacant, he resolved to offer it to them rent-free, on condition that they removed to it at once.

“What do you mean by a suitable house?” asked Elizabeth to whom he communicated his intention. “I am sure they would never consider anything less grand than the Parsonage.”

“That is absurd,” he replied. “It is almost a mansion.” “But they are absurd.”

“They must be made to see reason.”

“I should congratulate you or anyone else on so conspicuous an achievement. Did you know,” she asked after a short pause, “that Mrs. Chichester is shortly to leave Yew Tree Cottage? I met her today in the village. She has received intelligence of her husband’s return from abroad, and as he is now stationed at Portsmouth, he is urgent that she should join him without delay. He had advised Mr. Groves by the same post, she said.”

“I have not seen Groves these three days,” he answered, “and it is news so far as I am concerned. Yew Tree Cottage is very well, but I should have preferred a situation farther removed,” he added seriously. “There cannot be any necessity for them to remain in the village. At Stowell or Kympton, or even at Lambton, they would be within driving distance of their acquaintance.”

“But not within bullying distance,” said Elizabeth. “Have you no concern for the morals of the villagers? What would become of them if Miss Robinson ceased to supervise them?”

Within a week Mrs. Chichester had quitted Pemberley and Yew Tree Cottage stood empty. Riding home from Kympton a day or two later, Darcy checked his horse beside the gate and surveyed it for some minutes. It lay charmingly secluded among trees without being solitary, for it was not far from the village street, and the garden, neither very trim nor too much neglected, was at this time full of spring flowers. Anyone with a taste for the picturesque would admire it exceedingly; but that was not the question to be debated. What would Miss Robinson say to it? He resolved to obtain a direct answer without delay, and rode on through the village to the Parsonage.

The church and Parsonage stood apart from the village and almost opposite to the entrance to the Park. The Parsonage was a substantial house built of stone, and set well back in grounds planted with a variety of trees and shrubs; it had an air of importance and was plainly a gentleman’s residence. An elderly manservant admitted Darcy, and on his enquiring for the mistresses, led him at once to the dining-parlour where the two Miss Robinsons, dressed in deepest black, sat on either side of a great fire.

Darcy sat down between them, declined offers of refreshment and enquired with his usual grave civility after their health. These formalities over, while he sought a suitable opening for his proposal, Miss Robinson asked abruptly, “And when are we to have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Darcy again?”

“But, sister,” interposed Miss Sophia, “do not you remember tat Mrs. Darcy called here last Monday?”

“True, she did call here last Monday. But I am sure she did not stay above five minutes, for no sooner was she in than she was out again. I do not consider that a visit.”

Miss Robinson’s habit of censoriousness had so grown upon her as the result of long indulgence that it was frequently unintentional One could never be certain whether she intended offence or was conscious of giving it. Darcy knew this, but was nevertheless so angered by her manner of speaking of Elizabeth that he would not disguise his displeasure. He replied stiffly that Mrs. Darcy had been occupied with a hundred and one concerns. The little boy had been ill, and for some days they had feared the onset of an infectious fever. Then before the ladies could make any observations he commenced at once upon the business he had come about.

“You have doubtless heard that Mrs. Chichester has gone from Yew Tree Cottage.”

“Dear me, yes,” replied Miss Robinson. “That is no news to us. There are some who quite bemoan Mrs. Chichester , quitting the neighbourhood, but I do not at all agree. She ruined all her maids, giving them her castoff finery; and after .,all Alice Brewer would not go with her to Portsmouth.”

“But that was because she did not like to go so far from her family,” said Miss Sophia.

“Pray do not contradict me, Sophia. Indeed she would have gone if I had not warned her mother that it was no proper place for her. How can you think of it, I said. A Pemberley girl at Portsmouth. The very ideal Do you suppose you would ever see her again? You should have more care than to let her run into such danger.”

Darcy waited until she had finished her speech and then continued: “I was speaking of Yew Tree Cottage which is now empty. As you are under the painful necessity of removing from the Parsonage very shortly, I beg that you will seriously consider its suitability for your future abode. The house is not so large as this, but it is in fact more spacious than would appear from the first view. As soon as you can conveniently see him, Mr. Groves will wait upon you to give you all particulars.”

The sisters looked at each other as if unable to credit their ears. Miss Robinson went purple with indignation and Miss Sophia pink with discomfiture; but the latter, not having lost all the effects of good breeding, commanded herself sufficiently to thank him.

“You are always kindness and consideration itself, Mr. Darcy. I am sure Yew Tree Cottage is a very pretty little house, but it would not take the half of our furniture-would it, Sister? And we do not think we need to leave the Parsonage after all, for with a little proper management it could be arranged for us to continue here, which would be so much better for us. Of course we know that we can no longer count upon the income from the living, but our dear Papa has most thoughtfully provided for us, and with care and economy we can still maintain ourselves in the same way as before. I am sure you would not want us to quit our dear home, for Sister could not be happy anywhere else.”

“I am afraid,” said Darcy speaking more gently, “that you do not altogether comprehend the matter. You have lived. here so long that it is but natural for you to regard the house as your own. But the fact is that the Parsonage forms part of the benefice, and the new rector, whoever he may be, will expect to take possession of it as soon as he enters the parish, and most certainly to find it ready for the reception of himself, his family-should he have any-and his furniture.”

“That would not be the case if you asked Mr. Mortimer to accept the living,” said Miss Robinson. “I hear you have not got a new rector yet, so you can still do so. I wonder you have not thought of it, for I do not think he would take much pressing. Nothing could be more advantageous for everybody. He would continue in his own house at Clopwell, and we should not be turned out of our home to make way for a stranger. I am certain he would never desire it.”

“I have no intention of offering the living to Mr. Mortimer.” Miss Robinson looked at him, but seemed not to have heard.

“Mr. Mortimer says that all could be done very well by a curate, and that it is quite the thing nowadays for a rector to reside away from the parish.”

“I do not remember Mr. Mortimer saying that, Sister,” Miss Sophia said in some surprise.

“I beg you will not interrupt, Sophia. It was the day you stayed in bed with a cold caught by going through the rain to see Mrs. Finch. You would go in spite of all I could say, and she was not at home, so back you had to come through the rain, and got your feet wet.”

“Whatever Mr. Mortimer may have said on the subject is hardly to the point,” said Darcy slightly raising his voice. “I am exceedingly sorry to add to your distresses, but you must allow me to be the best judge of what is for the good of the parish. The personal convenience of individuals-though friends-cannot weigh with me in comparison with that. Mr. Mortimer is all that is amiable, but he has no serious interest in a clergyman’s duties, as he would be the first to avow.”

“But surely, Mr. Darcy, there would be no objection to . engaging a curate. A young man of no particular family and used to poverty would not want to be paid very much. He could lodge with some respectable, clean village woman.”

“A curate,” said Darcy firmly, “whether under Mr. Mortimer or anyone else, will not do for Pemberley. I must ask you to accept that as final and unconditional. As regards another residence for yourselves, I do not wish to make any stipulation except as to removal within the usual period-I believe three months-observed in such cases. Any facilities that I can give are entirely at your service.” He rose as he spoke for he was afraid that unless he ate his words nothing further could be said that would not call for repentance in a calmer mood.

“Indeed, yes,” faltered Miss Sophia, looking thoroughly frightened. “I do not think that poor Papa had any opinion of curates either. If they are so poor, as they always are, they cannot be gentlemen, and that is a pity. It is very unfortunate that Mr. Mortimer has so little liking for making sermons. But there are so many beautiful ones written already that there is no need for him to put himself to any trouble. I am sure there are more than twenty volumes alone in Papa’s study, for he would often take a paragraph from one of them to fill up what he had written himself. But of course whatever Mr. Darcy thinks is right should be done. Only as to Yew Tree Cottage, it would not take the half of our furniture unless by building on-”

“Do not talk such nonsense, Sophia,” cried her sister. “By the time Yew Tree Cottage was large enough we should be in our graves.”

Darcy, studiously polite, but also inflexibly determined to retract nothing of what he had said, now took his leave. Miss Robinson curtseyed with indignant ceremony. As the butler was ushering him to the front door he could hear her voice uplifted in castigation of poor Miss Sophia who had not yet learnt the wisdom of being silent, and never would.


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