Authors: Elizabeth Aston
Deep in discussion of what they had liked and disliked at the many balls they had been to, and what themes and schemes had been most successful, they walked back to the house, entering up the steps and through the main door. From there they went up the stairs, and were on the first landing when Betsy came running to find them, agog with news. “Mr. Lydgate says that he has seen a carriage turn into the gates. It will either be visitors wishing to view the house, in which case they must be turned away, or, as is more likely, they are some of your neighbours calling upon you. In which case, are you at home?”
Louisa went over to the window and looked out at the carriage that was bowling in great style up towards the house. “It is Sir Henry and Lady Martindale,” she exclaimed. “Yes, we must be at home to them.”
She turned from the window, hoping that Phoebe would not go to look, but Phoebe brushed her aside and, as she saw who was on the driving seat of the carriage, gave Louisa a speaking look and ran from the room, calling out as she went that she herself was not at home, had the headache, was feeling too unwell to come down and talk to any visitors.
Questions jostled each other in Louisa's head. Did Mr. Stanhope know that Phoebe was staying at Pemberley? It would be foolish to suppose otherwise, since the comings and goings of the family at Pemberley were, she knew, matters of great interest to all the surrounding families. Word of her and Phoebe's arrival would have passed by means of the servants and people in the nearby village of Pemberley, or in Lambton, to everyone in the neighbourhood.
So it was left to Louisa to greet the visitors. Pausing only a moment to tidy her hair, she hurried out of the room and down the staircase, reaching the hall just as the visitors were coming through the front door. Louisa had a moment to notice that Lady Martindale looked pale and worried when she came forward to take her hands and greet her with great warmth and affection. Sir Henry made his bow and Louisa, holding out her hand to Mr. Stanhope, dropped him a neat curtsy.
Louisa called for refreshments, and soon they were gathered round a table in the small dining room, where cold meats and a delicious array of fruits were laid out.
“Is not Miss Hawkins here?” asked Kitty. “We heard that she was coming to stay, and I thought she had already arrived. I was looking forward to making her acquaintance once more.
We were introduced in London, but had no chance to get to know one another.”
Louisa, angry at the necessity for the civil lie, said that Phoebe was indeed at Pemberley, but begged to be excused, as she was lain down with the headache. Knowing herself to be a poor liar, she was keen to change the subject, and asked Lady Martindale whether she and Sir Henry were staying in Derbyshire, or were intending to go to London.
Despite Louisa's best efforts, conversation flagged, with neither of the gentlemen appearing to have much to say. So she was extremely relieved when Kitty asked whether it might be possible for Louisa to show them the house. “My brother has not been here before,” she explained.
“If I can be forgiven what you took to be my trespass last time I came here,” said Stanhope. “Miss Bingley took me for a sightseer, and wanted me turned out of the grounds.”
Louisa protested, before she realised that he was teasing her.
“I have heard much of the beauties of Pemberley,” Mr. Stanhope went on. “Should Miss Bingley have other matters to attend to, perhaps the housekeeper would be good enough to show me over the principal rooms.”
Louisa looked at him suspiciously. It did not seem to her that Mr. Stanhope was at all the kind of man who wanted to look over someone else's house. The people who came to admire the beauties of Pemberley were, for the most part, people of the more middling sort. People who came from large houses and estates of their own only visited similar houses for social purposes, or sport.
It would be impolite, however, not to accede to his request, and so she prepared to lead the little party out of the room. Sir Henry hung back. “I am familiar enough with the delights of
Pemberley,” he said. “While you are going round the house, I shall, if Miss Bingley will spare me, go and have a word with Mr. Grayling. He has promised my gardeners some seedlings, and I want to make sure that he knows what he is about.”
Louisa didn't miss the look that Kitty Martindale gave her husband as he went out of the room with a light step. Seedlings? She supposed that Sir Henry might take a keen interest in his land and be a follower of the modern fashion for horticulturalism, but even so, a desire to talk to the head gardener seemed a weak excuse for not going round the house.
Kitty laid her hand on her brother's arm and together the three of them left the dining room and went through into the state dining room. This was a magnificent room, one of the ones that had been remodelled by Adam, with crimson furnishings and a ceiling painted by the artist Angelica Kauffman for an earlier Darcy.
From there, Louisa led the way upstairs, and into the State Apartments. This was a suite of rooms, used once in Mr. Darcy's great-grandfather's day to entertain visiting Royals, and now seldom occupied except when the house was full of guests. The rooms led into one another without any landings or corridors, in the old style, and Kitty wondered aloud about how differently people had lived in the past century. “From the paintings one sees of the period,” she said, “it always seems to me that people were very stiff, in their clothes, in the arrangements of their rooms, and certainly in the formality of their dances.”
Louisa had the feeling she was saying these things simply to make conversation; her brother remained strangely silent. She gave him a sharp look. “Are we not to hear your observations on the customs and manners of a past age, Mr. Stanhope?”
Arthur Stanhope did not answer her directly, merely smiling
as he strolled over towards a very dull picture of a sea scene, and began to point out some features of the naval battle to his uninterested sister.
“The private family chambers are on the other side of the landing here,” said Louisa. “But if we go the other way, there is the library, generally held to be a fine example of Mr. Adam's style, and the picture gallery, which I'm sure Mr. Stanhope would like to see.”
The long gallery, with arched beams and tracery from an earlier age, was notable chiefly for the portraits of the Darcy family. Mr. Stanhope stopped in front of a picture of Mr. Darcy's sister, Phoebe's mother, when she was still Miss Darcy, a girl of about sixteen. He stood for a long while at the painting, and then, at Louisa's prompting, moved on to another portrait, this time of Lady Hawkins with Phoebe, a girl of about ten, dressed all in white, with a scarlet sash, standing at her mother's knee.
“What a charming picture,” said Kitty.
Mr. Stanhope did not appear to be listening. He had strolled over to the window, looking out with no great interest over the hills and woods, when something closer at hand seemed to catch his eye. He threw up the sash and leaned out.
Louisa stared at this odd behaviour, but he simply said, in the suavest tones, “Perhaps now Miss Bingley would be kind enough to show us the gardens.”
Phoebe heard the voices recede into the distance. She guessed that Louisa was taking the visitors on a tour of the house; why, she couldn't imagine. Perhaps they had gone upstairs to the picture gallery to look at a particular portrait or painting. Oh, why had they not simply stayed their half hour and then left? During the time they had been in the house she had been pacing up and down in her bedroom, telling herself she should sit down and read a book or take up her embroidery, but finding it impossible to sit still or not to wonder why Mr. Stanhope had chosen to call knowing that she was at Pemberley.
Did he still care for her? In her mind, there could be no doubt that what she had written in her note to him was final. After such a rebuff, what possessed him to apparently seek out her company again, and against the express wishes of her father?
She could stand the inaction no longer. Taking up a cloak, she cautiously opened the door and, seeing that the landing was clear, went swiftly down the stairs and passed through some of the smaller rooms to the rear of the house, judging that even if Louisa were to take the visitors out into the garden, they would not come this way. She smiled at a surprised boot
boy whom she encountered in the stone-flagged passage, and escaped into the open air.
The day was still bright, and there was even a touch of warmth in the sunshine. Phoebe hesitated, looking around her, wondering where she should go, where she could be sure of not being disturbed. To one side of the house she could see that some work was going on; that would not be the place to go. Closer at hand were the more formal gardens, including the famous yew garden with its tall yew hedges cut into a wavy pattern. But that was too exposed, and very likely chilly as well. No, she knew what she would do. She would go into the kitchen garden. It was hardly likely that visitors would choose to go into this domestic part of the garden, after all.
She walked quickly along the gravel path and pushed open the door that led into the walled kitchen garden. After looking around to make sure that there was no one else in the garden, she closed the door behind her with a sense of relief.
Spring had come early to the sheltered kitchen garden at Pemberley, despite the bad weather. It covered nearly two acres, and provided the house with vegetables and fruit, and herbs for the table and for the medicinal needs of the household and for all those dependent on the estate. The walls were built of warm red brick and the one which ran along the north side towered above Phoebe, reaching some sixteen feet at its highest point. It was against this wall that the fruit trees were espaliered: peach and fig and apricots.
This was a working garden, and not a place where the family ever sat out, so there were no convenient benches or seats for Phoebe to sit upon. She could have sat on an upturned pot, but she preferred to walk, still feeling restless and wanting to calm herself. She found herself among the herbs, fragrant in the sunshine, with some early bees buzzing at the yellow
and purple flowers. The tranquillity of the place began to work its magic upon her, her heart beat more slowly, and her senses began to take in more of her surroundings, the scent of the herbs and flowers, the rich variety of colours with all the greenery of new life, and the mellow colours of the walls, the sound of insects, and birds chirruping in the trees. She bent to pluck a leaf of thyme, and rolled the soft leaf between her fingers, releasing the sharp smell of the herb. A tabby cat was stretched out in a patch of sunshine, and it flicked the tip of its tail as Phoebe bent down to stroke its striped coat.
This garden was full of wonders, a little world of its own, peaceful and fruitful and very soothing to Phoebe's troubled spirits.
That was, at least, until she heard loud male voices approaching. The door at the far end of the garden swung open, and two gardeners came in, one carrying a basket and the other wheeling a barrow. With them was one of the maids, in a print dress and apron, who was obviously enjoying being out in the garden in the company of the young men.
Phoebe panicked. There was absolutely no reason why she shouldn't be in the garden, in fact she could ask them to leave. But she wanted no human contact at the moment, and knew that she would end up trying to explain herself and justify why she was there. Besides, they were so merry, and the minute they caught sight of her they would have to behave in a more subdued way. Why should she be a spoilsport?
So very quickly, and keeping herself behind a long line of potted flowering currants, she reached the door through which she had come without being seen and was out in the main part of the gardens again.
That turned out to be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, as now she heard other voices, which she recognised
all too well: Louisa and Mr. Stanhope. The sound of his voice made her heart thump; good God, she must get away from here!
She dived through a gap in the hedge, and came out in another part of the garden all together. To her left was one of the glasshouses, a rather ramshackle building, she noticed, even in her present apprehensive state. Surely she could hide in there, surely Louisa wouldn't dream of taking visitors into such a shabby place. She was through the door in a flash, and made her way to the further end, not without difficulty, as the path between the large, palm-like plants was very narrow. There she found a low bench, probably used for potted plants, and after giving it a brushing with her handkerchief, she sat down.
This was ridiculous. All this simply to avoid Mr. Stanhope. Reason told her that if Mr. Stanhope was staying in the neighbourhood, then she would surely have to meet him again sooner or later. Still the questions rattled round in her head. Why had he come? Did he not understand how distressing she would find it to be in his company?
Would Louisa have had the sense to find out how long he planned to be in the neighborhood? Should she simply leave Pemberley and go back to Hawkins Hallâbut the workmen would be in, everything would be at sixes and sevens, and no proper staff; it was impossible. And what would her aunt and uncle say if she decamped, how could she explain such an action?
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts and worries and fears and plans that she didn't hear the sound of footsteps approaching. Too late she realised that she wasn't alone in the glasshouse. She jumped up, a defiant look on her face, to find that the man in front of her was not, as she had feared, Mr. Stanhope, but Mr. Drummond.
He bowed, and said in a pleasant voice, “I am so sorry, I fear I have startled you.”
Phoebe was for a moment quite tongue-tied. She knew that she was flushing scarlet, and then the humour of the situation overcame her and she began to laugh. The man looked at her enquiringly, and she felt obliged to say, “I am sorry, it is not that I find you funny, or even that I am laughing at a private joke. It is just that wherever I go in all these grounds, there always seems to be someone there.”
“I am very sorry,” the man said. “Shall I remove myself at once, if you are eager for solitude? However, perhaps I should warn you that there are visitors going round the gardens, and I believe they wish to come in here and look at the pineapples.”
The colour had faded from Phoebe's cheeks at these words, and she put her hand to her mouth. Mr. Drummond came to her rescue. “There is another door,” he said, “over there in a far corner. I have the key, and if we are quick, we can be out of here before they arrive.”
He led the way between a forest of spiky leaves to a small door, produced a key, opened the door, and held it back for her to go through. Then he swiftly shut it behind her and turned the key again. This was a smaller glasshouse, full of ferns with fronds and waving leaves, most of them in pots. He promptly pulled one of those plants across in front of the door.
“There,” he said. “Even if they should come into this corner of the glasshouse, they will not suppose there is any way through, nor that there is anything in particular to see here. Now all we need to do is lurk here a few moments, until they have had their fill of the growing pineapple plants, and then you may leave at your leisure, unobserved.”
Phoebe felt all the awkwardness of the situation, but was
also full of gratitude at his prompt action and his kind and easy manners. She held out her hand. “I am Miss Hawkins,” she said. “Mr. Darcy is my uncle, and I am staying here.”
“I heard you were expected, Miss Hawkins. I am Mr. Drummond, employed by Mr. Darcy to look after his estates.”
“I know, and you are here to superintend the works he is having done.” She looked around her. “What is this place?” she asked. “I do not remember ever having been in here; as children, we were most strictly forbidden to go into the glasshouses.”
“It is where we bring along the seedlings and the young plants that need extra warmth. It is very full at the moment, because I have already put in hand the demolition of one of the larger old glasshouses, which means that the gardeners have less room than usual.”
“Mr. Darcy is planning to build a new glasshouse, I think?”
“Indeed he is, a large and ambitious one, as big, I think, as on any gentleman's estate in the country, and a smaller one as well, for plants from hot countries that Mrs. Darcy in particular is very keen to see grow here. She has made quite a collection while she has been abroad. Some of them are in here. They are very tender, and so need a warm atmosphere all the year round.”
Mr. Drummond talked about the plants, pointing out some particularly fine specimens. He was knowledgeable and informative, without being in the least bit dull, and she was amazed at how much he knew. “Are you by profession a horticulturalist?” she asked, puzzled, for that was not an occupation pursued by many gentlemen.
He laughed. “No, my profession is the law, I am a solicitor by training. However, my father, who is a vicar in Norfolk,
has always had a great love of plants and brought up all his children to know about gardens and how things grow. That is one of the reasons why Mr. Darcy has employed me, for these days the care and maintenance of grounds and gardens, and applying the newest horticultural techniques, is as important to most landowners as is the management of their houses and estates and farms.” He paused and gave a rueful smile. “It's very remiss of me to go on like this, it is rather a hobbyhorse of mine, and I know that others do not find it as interesting as I do.”
Phoebe smiled back at him. “Indeed it makes a change to hear a gentleman talking about such things, instead of the usual round of conversation: guns, horses, and dogs in sport.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Drummond, “I'm afraid I'm also a very keen sportsman, so I'm as guilty as the next man of describing an amazing run across country after a fox, or how a particular stretch of river is teeming with fish.”
“We women are just as guilty. We gossip, and talk about clothes and fashions and books, and perhaps, if we are so inclined, about music and paintings. Our world is a smaller one than that of you men,” she added.
While they had been talking and walking and looking at plants, Mr. Drummond had kept an ear open as to what was happening in the adjoining glasshouse. He said, “I think you are safe now. I'll let you out of the other door here, and you may make your way further out into the gardens, or back into the house.”
Mr. Stanhope had had quite enough of pineapples. Horticulture was not a subject that interested him in the slightest, and he was annoyed at being taken in hand so firmly by Louisa. He
was certain that he had seen Phoebe from the upstairs window, which was the only reason he had expressed an eagerness to visit the gardens. He more than once gave his sister an urgent look, but she seemed to be enjoying the plants and flowers, and showed no inclination to leave the pleasant warmth of the glasshouse and go back out into the grounds.
When they did, at last, leave the glasshouse, he looked back and caught sight of Mr. Drummond's figure in another, smaller glasshouse at the other end. He went out with the two ladies, and then with the briefest of apologies set off round the glasshouse to where he judged there must be an entrance to the smaller glasshouse. He was right, and there, standing beside the entrance, was Hugh Drummond. His friend greeted him with a friendly smile and a clap on the shoulder. “Arthur, I thought I heard your voice, but I didn't like to interrupt. What are you doing here? I did not know you were visiting today.”
“Paying a formal visit with my sister and Sir Henry, and damned tedious it is too. I have no idea where Sir Henry has gone. He announced that he wanted to talk to Mr. Darcy's head gardener, and I suppose he is still deep in conversation with him.”
“I doubt it,” said Mr. Drummond wryly. “Mr. Grayling, who is the gardener in question, isn't here today.”
Mr. Stanhope was not greatly interested in what might have happened to Sir Henry, but he did want to know where Phoebe might be. He asked his friend if he had happened to see a young lady. “Miss Hawkins, the Darcys' niece, is staying here. Miss Bingley said that she was indisposed, but I'm sure that I just saw her in the garden, and I should not like to leave without paying my respects.”
Drummond shot his friend a keen glance. “I have not been introduced to Miss Hawkins,” he said, truthfully enough.
“Perhaps she is in the yew walk; in my experience young ladies like to walk among the yew hedges.”
“Well, if you have not seen her, I shall have to wait for another day to renew our acquaintance,” said Stanhope, frowning. “I think we have probably already outstayed our welcome, so it leaves me little to do except find Sir Henry and wait for the carriage to be brought round.”
He was somewhat surprised on walking back to the house with Mr. Drummond to see Sir Henry come around the corner, deep in conversation with a strange young woman. He turned to Drummond with a questioning look in his eye, and Mr. Drummond immediately responded, “That is the governess, Miss Verney.”
Stanhope said with a laugh, “The one you don't care for. I have to say she seems to be on extremely good terms with Sir Henry.”