Elizabeth stood before the front door, its faded green paint chipped and tear-streaked with weather. She had yet to set foot inside but felt as if she knew what to expect. She unlocked the door and swung it open.
She stepped into the foyer leaving footprints in the dust. Her eyes adjusted to the dimness as the grimy windows blocked the afternoon sun. Through the layers of dust, the cracked tiles, the dirty windows and faded wallpaper, she could see the understated grandeur that lay beneath. Almost as if she had seen it before, she envisioned the flower arrangements on a side table, the glistening chandeliers and the refined elegance of the furnishings.
She walked slowly through the house with an uncanny sense of déjà vu; she almost knew what was going to be around the next corner but not quite. She entered the parlor. The windows overlooked the sweeping grounds outside, opening on to a small terrace. She pulled a sheet from a sofa and watched the dust cloud filter through the dim light. She opened the window; a cold breeze swept by her, stirring more dust.
She unpacked her sleeping bag, flashlight, lantern, and provisions. She had been unable to wait for the electricity to be turned back on; the house beckoned her to stay now.
Her mind made a list of things to do: remove all the dust covers, begin cleaning, and examine all the furniture to see if any of it was useful. As dusk began to draw near, she arranged her provisions in the parlor, intent on sleeping there. She took the cushions from the sofa onto the terrace and beat them until no more dust billowed out. Then she arranged her sleeping bag on the sofa and lit a small lantern. She pulled out a notebook and began to record her mental list. After a while, she turned off the lantern and lay on the sofa. She closed her eyes and soon drifted to sleep.
Her dreams were crowded with flashes of color, noises that resembled voices but no discernable conversation. She awoke with a start, almost as if she had been dragged from the dream by some external force. Her heart pounding, she laid silently and still, listening for what it was that woke her. She could not identify it but could not go back to sleep. She lay awake for some time listening to the wind outside as it rustled the branches, tap-tap-tapping on the windows.
“I shall have to get those branches trimmed,” she thought. “Yes. They should be taken back about three feet.” The answer to her initial thought did not seem to be her own. It had intruded into her mind like a half-heard whisper. She lay still and wondered from what depths of her subconscious she had decided that the branches needed to be trimmed back precisely three feet?
He could not precisely say what Miss Bingley was going to say but as soon as the words came from her mouth, they were familiar to him. The feeling of familiarity did not bother him in the least; indeed, having a vague notion of what was going to happen allowed him the luxury of attending more closely to Miss Bennett’s actions rather than his own.
His only distraction was the wind outside that brushed the branches against the window, their tapping a minor interruption to her playing. “I shall have to get those branches trimmed,” he thought. “Yes. They should be taken back about three feet.”
Elizabeth toiled in an upstairs bedroom, carefully airing the room and sweeping, scrubbing and dusting. She wanted at least one room that was suitable for living in immediately. She chose one that was situated with a view of the lake and grounds to the east. The sun would wake her, she thought. She had a new mattress delivered and installed in the four-poster bed that was too large to be removed from the room. There was an adjoining dressing room that had been converted into a bathroom by one of the prior owners. Once the water service had been turned on, she was well on her way to having her room.
She stooped and swept out the fireplace, working the flue. As she sat back on her heels and wiped her forearm across her forehead, smearing grime on her face, she heard a dull thunk. She frowned and leaned forward.
A brick had fallen out of the rear wall of the chimney within the fireplace. She had not noticed any loose bricks, nor had she noticed any crumbling mortar. Yet the brick rocked slightly back and forth where it had landed. She reached out and picked it up. Then she put her head into the fireplace to see where it had come from. The hole was at eye-level just before her. She crawled into the fireplace and fitted the brick back into place. It fit in perfectly; it was obviously the right spot. She pushed the brick in and wiggled back out of the fireplace.
She stood and turned, looking for her next project, when she heard the same dull thunk. She whirled back around to the fireplace. The brick was again rocking on the hearth. She had fitted it in snugly; there was no way it had just fallen out. There must be a rat living behind it, she thought with a grimace. It must be a large rat to push a snug brick out of its place!
She crawled back into the fireplace with a flashlight to look for signs of a nest. As she peered into the hole, she saw a flash of white. She took a better look but could not make out what she saw. She withdrew, pulled on a rubber cleaning glove and returned to the hole. She thrust her hand into the hole and fished around until she felt something. She pulled it out.
In her hand was a folded sheet of thick paper, sealed with wax but with no indication of its contents or owner. She tempered her curiosity until she had explored the remainder of the hole, retrieving several similar documents. It was somehow clear to her that they were letters, not mere records. Why else would they be so hidden?
A sense of sadness descended on her as she fingered the thick paper. Who wrote these letters? Why were they never sent? Should she read them? It occurred to her that she was invading someone’s privacy by discovering them and she almost put them back in the hole. After a moment, she arranged them into a stack on the table in her room, resolving to decide later whether to open them.
She continued cleaning for the rest of the day but her mind continually wandered back to the bits of paper on her table. She went to town to get dinner but decided to bring it back. By the time she returned, dusk had passed into darkness. She did not yet have electricity; she would have to light the lantern again. She fumbled with a flashlight from her car, then struck a match to the lantern. She took the lantern upstairs to her bedroom and set it on the table. The letters were still there. Of course they are still there, she thought.
She sat at the little table and fingered a letter. It was no use. She had to open one. She carefully ran her finger beneath the seal and quietly said, “I’m sorry,” to whoever had written the letter for invading their privacy. “2 November 1812 … My Dearest Elizabeth…”
The letter from F.D. had naturally engaged her curiosity. She did not believe it could be a coincidence that the letter had been signed with those very initials, the ones so important to her. She began a tenacious investigation of the property. Fortunately, the importance of the property to the local economy in the 1800s afforded many records for her review. She spent countless hours in the library researching the estate. Her determination paid off when she discovered that there had been a Fitzwilliam Darcy who resided at Pemberley. It appeared he died at a rather young age, leaving the estate to his younger sister Georgiana and her husband. Elizabeth felt sure that this was the right F.D.
Further digging revealed the identity of Colonel Fitzwilliam: he was Richard Fitzwilliam, the younger son of the Earl of Matlock and a cousin to Mr. Darcy. Based upon the letter, there had apparently been a love triangle between Mr. Darcy, the Colonel, and a young lady named Elizabeth.
Her curiosity was tinged with a shiver of apprehension when she found the marriage certificate of Colonel Fitzwilliam: he had married an Elizabeth Bennett. Her curiosity was nearly insatiable.
Nonetheless, she could not yet bring herself to open the remaining letters. This first letter had been such a heartfelt expression of unrequited love that she felt it an unpardonable invasion of his privacy, even if he was long dead. And so, out of respect for three people whom she had never met, she set the letters aside.
Chapters 5 and 6