Note: This vignette is based on an idea I had years ago for a longer story in which our dear couple cannot fulfill their destiny and meet again several generations later. Warning: zero romance and one graphic scene. Enjoy!
“Welcome to Pemberley Manor. My name is Mrs. Reynolds, and I’ll be your guide during this visit to England’s most famous haunted house. This probably will be the last chance to see the mansion in its most interesting and original form, as work is being done to renovate the house and gardens and turn them into an exclusive spa and five-star hotel.” She paused for drama and then added, with a weird smile that spread over her gaunt face, “Although I doubt this will stop our ghosts from haunting the rooms. There are still too many secrets to be uncovered at Pemberley for them to rest in peace.”
Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes as the rest of the group smiled excitedly. Granted, Mrs. Reynolds was creepy in her own right. They could not have chosen a better person to guide them through a decaying building inhabited by ghosts, but Elizabeth was too rational a creature to believe this tale of unresolved issues and grieving specters to immerse herself completely into the “experience.”
It was not her idea to come to this place. Her cousin Jane, a lover of all things mythical and magical, insisted on travelling to Derbyshire and spending the night in a “certified haunted mansion”—the spookiest in England according to the brochure. Elizabeth would have preferred to enjoy a rock concert or visit another classic house where there was less danger of the roof falling onto their heads or being crushed to death by an old statue, but there was something about this place that kept calling to her. Images of Pemberley were constantly popping up wherever she went, so much so that the place almost looked familiar.
Elizabeth had always been a rational, skeptical kind of girl—the opposite of Jane. She didn’t believe in zodiacs or any other supernatural stuff she thought was created to manipulate the gullible and the ignorant. She always refrained from making sarcastic comments whenever her friends compared horoscopes, and she respected other people’s religious beliefs, despite having her own agnostic perspective on those subjects. Moreover, she understood these things were also part of the fun and came to Pemberley with an open mind, ready to go with the flow and enjoy the English countryside and its folklore while listening to some unbelievably eerie tales.
Before this trip, the name Pemberley meant nothing to Elizabeth. Everything changed when the plane landed at Heathrow. The first thing she saw when they got off the plane was a poster about Pemberley Manor that, despite its smaller size, stood out amongst the dozens of more relevant tourist attractions in England. That same night, she dreamt of visiting Pemberley and coming across a tall, dark-haired man —a very hot, tall, dark-haired man— and playing the piano for him. The man showed up in her dreams quite often that night, at times proposing marriage in an insulting manner, at others, being super attentive as they walked together through the beautiful park of Pemberley, both dressed in period clothing.
The group followed Mrs. Reynolds through the various rooms of the ground floor. Some of them still showed vestiges of a more splendorous past; others, like the kitchen, were ready for demolition.
“We are now entering the main gallery of portraits where you will see more than ten generations of Darcys hanging from the walls.” Mrs. Reynolds said as they reached the top of the grand marble staircase that led to the first floor.
Elizabeth repressed a snort at the woman’s poor choice of words, yet she listened in silence to the tale of one of the most prominent families in the region—until the early 1800s when Pemberley’s downfall began.
She felt a cold breeze pass behind her and bolted around. There was no one there.
“Did you hear that?” she asked Jane.
“Someone just called me.”
Jane waved her off. “Pay attention. We’re getting to the best part.”
“… and this is Fitzwilliam Darcy.” Mrs. Reynolds pointed at the large painting of a young man with handsome features and a noble expression. “The master of Pemberley two centuries ago. His restless spirit still roams these halls, pining for the loss of his beloved and making claims for justice. I like to think that he’s just waiting for the love of his life to come home so their souls finally can be reunited.”
Elizabeth found his face oddly familiar, and it took her a moment more to realize that the man in the portrait looked very much like the man of her dreams—her actual dreams—the ones she had been having since she arrived in England, not her ideal type of man. She didn’t believe in such things as ideal men or unresolved issues that kept ghosts on the earthly plane, or miserable souls destined to be together who are accidentally separated and meet in successive reincarnations.
“Really? Why?” A woman in the group asked.
“During his travels to Hertfordshire, Fitzwilliam fell in love with a young lady of inferior status, a certain Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who—”
Jane squealed, bursting with excitement as she looked at her cousin. “Just like you, Lizzy! Oh, this is so cool!”
Mrs. Reynolds sunken eyes fixed on Elizabeth. Actually, the entire group was staring at her.
“So this lady’s name is also Elizabeth Bennet? What a remarkable coincidence.”
“You can call me ‘Lizzy.’” Elizabeth swallowed the sudden uneasiness that overcome her. Then she leaned closer to Jane and whispered quietly. “Did you know about this? Because I swear I’ll…”
Jane just shrugged and they listened to the rest of the tale.
Long story short, Fitzwilliam had proposed, Miss Bennet had refused him—apparently he was very arrogant and rude like the man in Elizabeth’s dreams—and they parted ways. They met several months later at Pemberley, and miraculously, they clicked. Also guests at the mansion at the time were Darcy’s good friend, Mr. Bingley, his sister Caroline Bingley, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, and Darcy’s young sister, Georgiana. Darcy, according to an entry in his diary, had invited her to stay at the manor and, finding her receptive to his addresses, had thought of proposing again. But Miss Bennet had disappeared mysteriously while walking the grounds of Pemberley. A search was started and her dead body was found two days later, stabbed several times with a cruelty that had shocked the entire village. The crime remained unsolved, and Darcy, heartbroken and obliged to preserve his lineage, finally marries his cousin Anne de Bourgh. But the woeful tale doesn’t end there. Caroline Bingley, jealous that Darcy had married someone else, took her own life, jumping from the tallest window after the wedding ceremony. Anne got pregnant and died during labor. Georgiana eloped with Darcy’s greatest enemy, a certain Lt. W, and Darcy, depressed and unable to overcome the grief after so much tragedy, left his only son under the guardianship of a cousin and spent the rest of his life trying to find out who murdered his beloved Miss Bennet. Needless to say, Pemberley was not the same after that.
“This is a faithful narrative of all that happened to the Darcys for the past four centuries.” Mrs. Reynolds ended her story, spiked with so many horrors that Elizabeth found it hard to believe. “It’s all written in the family records, penned by each master of Pemberley with the intention of preserving their history for future generations. Now”—just like that, Mrs. Reynolds switched into cheery-guide mode—“let’s go to the old ballroom, shall we? There you will enjoy a typical English country meal cooked with products from local farms. Restrooms are downstairs at the end of the corridor to your right. Don’t forget to visit our gift shop.”
Everyone was in high spirits during dinner. The food was good, and the wine even better. When they were done, the tourists were lead to the third floor where they were pointed to their bedrooms. Jane was assigned to one of the guests’ rooms, and Elizabeth was left for last.
“This is yours, Miss Bennet.” Mrs. Reynolds emphasized her name as she gave her the key. “You are so lucky: this was the original mistress’s chamber. Anne never slept in this room. It was Fitzwilliam’s wish that none other than his beloved Elizabeth would sleep here and locked it up. The room remains almost unaltered since his passing. He died of sadness, you know, at the age of forty-nine.” She finished with a sigh. “Bless his restless soul.”
“I hope they’ve changed the sheets,” Elizabeth said in jest although she was a bit unsettled by the whole story, especially by the fact that she would be the first Elizabeth Bennet to sleep in a bed that was laid two centuries ago for another Elizabeth Bennet, who happened to be viciously stabbed to death and whose tragic story had provided Derbyshire with one of its spookiest attractions.
“Of course! The manor was renovated in the 1920s with electricity and plumbing and updated a couple of times since. If the power doesn’t go off, you can enjoy all the comforts of modern life. We even have Wi-Fi; the password is in the nightstand next to the bed.”
“You know,” Mrs. R said before leaving. “Mr. Darcy will arrive tomorrow to oversee the construction. He usually stays at a hotel in Lambton, but maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see him walking around the house. He’s an architect, most talented, and a very handsome young man.”
“Yes, maybe.” Elizabeth shrugged, tired of these tales about the creepiest family in England. She stepped inside the room and closed the door behind her.
The bedroom was surprisingly clean and pretty, not what Elizabeth would expect from a haunted mansion that had been uninhabited for nearly a hundred years. The bed was large and looked comfortable, and the bathroom had a vintage charm that Elizabeth found quite appealing.
After logging onto the manor’s Wi-Fi, she sat on the bed and checked her phone for messages. There were a few from her mom, one from her dad asking if she was enjoying her tour, and others from Charlotte, her closest friend back home. The last was from Jane, asking her if she wanted to join her and the others guests for drinks and a game of “Clue” in the library. Nothing from Colin, her boyfriend for two years, who broke up with her three days before her first trip to Europe. Bastard.
Sighing, she replied to Jane’s text. “Sounds fun! A bit tired. Gonna lie down. Enjoy!”
She plugged the phone into the charger and lay on the bed, hands over her stomach, her eyes fixed on the ornamented ceiling. Oddly, instead of dwelling on all the horrible stories of murder and suicide she heard earlier in the day, what first came to her mind was how beautiful this ceiling was—the entire room, actually—and hoped it would be preserved in its original state after the restoration. Above her, faded but still discernible, was a handsome scene of ladies dressed in pastoral clothes collecting flowers in the gardens. To the right, a group of gentlemen fished by the pond. On the other end, a pack of foxhounds led a hunting party across the field. It was truly remarkable how people decorated these old houses, especially bedrooms, where so few people would appreciate the efforts of the artist. She then thought of poor Fitzwilliam, who would surely be devastated if the room he preserved untouched for the spirit of his beloved Miss Bennet became just a random bedroom in some random Holiday Inn with generic beds and melamine furniture.
Her eyes closed, and Elizabeth was swept away by the enchantment of the painting. She dreamed of older times, where gentlemen proposed on their knees and ladies had the power of refusal but not of choice.
It was settled between aunt and niece that they would part on the meadow. Mrs. Gardiner would walk back to the manor while Elizabeth ventured further into the woods to admire the ancient oaks and chestnuts that were known to be the tallest of Derbyshire.
“Be careful, my dear, and make haste,” Mrs. Gardiner pleaded. “The sun will soon set, and we are expected for tea.”
Elizabeth nodded and walked into the grove, her heart full of joy for having been invited to stay at Pemberley with her aunt and uncle. It had been a most unexpected occurrence, and she marveled at Mr. Darcy’s changed demeanor and solicitousness towards her and her relatives. She had never imagined the proud Mr. Darcy would be so attentive and amiable, especially after she had refused him so unkindly when he proposed in Hunsford.
Gladdened by the prospect of seeing Mr. Darcy again so soon, she followed the path with merry steps, pausing occasionally to admire a particularly handsome scene or to collect wildflowers. Thus she proceeded for a few more moments until, recalling her aunt’s warnings, Elizabeth decided it was time to return to the house and join the others for tea.
The first blow came unannounced, a deep, stinging pain that cut through her back, ripping muscles and veins, freeing the blood that now ran unstoppable. A second strike pierced her lung and sent her to her knees. Blood sputtered from her mouth, drowning her cries for help. The rest of the stabs she did not feel, such was the state of her numbness. Consciousness slowly drifted away and the world around her darkened…
Elizabeth woke with a start—heart drumming wildly against her ribcage—covered in perspiration. The dream had been so vivid that it took her a moment to steady her breathing and notice that her phone was ringing.
“Jane, what’s going on?” Elizabeth asked groggily after unlocking her phone.
“Lizzy! I’ve been calling for hours! The wine really hit you hard last night, huh?”
She didn’t recall drinking that much wine. “What time is it?”
“Nearly ten o’clock. Get up or you’ll miss the tour across the park. Make haste!” Jane chanted before hanging up.
Elizabeth left the bed reluctantly, and prepared for another day of horrors and unresolved crimes.
The tour around the park included, amongst other things, the former rose garden, the ruins of an old orangery, and a round pergola with tall Tuscan columns and domed roof situated in a secluded section of the gardens.
“It was in this pergola that George Darcy, the master of Pemberley, the father of the great Fitzwilliam, proposed to Lady Annabelle Fitzwilliam, the daughter of the Earl of Matlock,” Mrs. Reynolds explained.
The party moved along to observe other interesting sights, and Elizabeth stayed behind, admiring the old round construction.
A chilly breeze passed behind her, and she bolted around to see who was calling her. The group had walked away, and she was alone.
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
“Okay, this is way too creepy for my taste,” she told herself and walked away from the pergola. It was time to get the hell out of Pemberley and its haunted horrors.
“Elizabeth, come to me.”
Elizabeth was not one to be easily scared, especially not by whispered words carried on the wind, but there were too many weird things going on for her to remain a rational skeptic. Her pace hastened, and she reached a place where the forest grew thicker and the shrubbery, taller, and she lost any reference of where she was or how to return to the house. Feeling her panic rising, she ran as if a ghost were chasing her, not knowing and not caring where she was heading. She just wanted to get out of there.
“Whoa!” said the man she almost bumped into.
“Sorry!” she cried, trying to catch her breath. “I was just—I was on my way to—did you happen to see a group of…”
Her eyes widened. The stranger was tall and very handsome with dark hair and eyes, dressed casually in jeans, shirt, and a jacket. Elizabeth was sure she had seen him before, but she couldn’t recall when or where.
“Of…?” He rose an eyebrow.
“…tourists. I’m taking a tour through Pemberley house. I lost my group.”
“Ah, the infamous Haunted Mansion tour,” he said smilingly. “Did you see any ghosts? Hear the rattling of the chains? Find sliding panels that lead to secret chambers? I heard there are a many of those at Pemberley.”
“No”—she smiled at his teasing—“but my cousin swears she heard a lady weeping during the night. I say she had too much wine.”
“You are American, aren’t you?”
Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat. His English accent made him even more charming. “From Texas, born and raised. You?”
“I am actually from around here, but I moved to London a few years back. The construction company I work for is about to renovate Pemberley house, and I’m checking the blueprints and confirming measurements.”
“That sounds cool.”
“Come. I’ll show you the way back to the house.” He pointed with a slight inclination of his head.
They walked together in silence. At some point, he placed his hand on the small of her back as he guided her, and Elizabeth was possessed by a feeling of déjà vu that sent chills up her spine, but not in the fluffy, romantic kind of way.
“Here you are,” the handsome stranger said when the path cleared out, and the mansion appeared before her eyes. “Safe and sound.”
“Thank you.” She smiled as she extended her hand to him. “I’m Lizzy Bennet, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“George Wickham.” He shook her hand. “Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Bennet.”
Wow! What did you feel and think when reading this really spooky vignette by Belén? Did it give you “gooseflesh?” It did me! Do you want to read more about this? How about finding out how Darcy and Lizzy meet in this generation? Thank you for being daring and sharing this with us for this month of mystery and haunting tales.
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