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The Evening Before

Chapter Text

The Evening Before.

"Every thing being settled between them,
Mr Darcy's next step was to make your uncle
acquainted with it, and he first called in Gracechurch
Street the evening before I came home."

Mrs Gardiner's Letter,
Chapter 52.

Part I.

"I regret sir, that Mr Gardiner is unable to receive visitors this evening," the man informed him.

The visitor was disappointed. He had hoped to have everything set in motion this evening, for the characters of certain people concerned in the matter could not be trusted to wait out any delay. "My business with Mr Gardiner is of a very urgent nature," he persisted. "Could not you ask your master if he is able to spare me five minutes of his time?"

"I regret sir," the man started to say, pausing only enough for the sound of a click, signifying the opening of a door into the hallway, "that I have been instructed to inform all callers that Mr Gardiner will be unable to receive visitors until Mr Bennet leaves tomorrow. If you would desire to leave your name or your card....."

At this the man was forced to pause again, as a voice came to interrupt him.

"Mr Darcy?" Queried this voice with evident surprise. "What manner of business can you have with my brother in law?"

"Forgive me, Mr Bennet," Darcy began, all need for urgency gone out of him, for he did not think that their slight acquaintance would warrant him authority in the matter in hand, "if I had known you were still with Mr Gardiner, I would not have disturbed you."

A man of quick parts by nature, Mr Bennet noted the inclusion of the words 'still with' and made up his mind. "Come in, Mr Darcy. I am sure my brother would welcome a distraction, however temporary."

Darcy stepped inside and gave his hat and coat to the servant who was now holding open the door to let him in. As he looked up, and saw Mr Bennet's face for the first time in proper light, he realised something he had forgot. That Mr Bennet was a father, and, indeed, had certain circumstances been different last summer, he would doubtless have looked and felt exactly like him; tired, with a face aged by grief, guilt and concern.

"Sir, my business concerns you as well," he revealed, stepping forward and to stand just in front of him.

"Indeed?" Mr Bennet said, with a raised eyebrow. "Well now, I am intrigued," he added, before leading his brother in law's guest to the door of the room he had exited only moments ago.

"Mr Darcy," Mr Gardiner began, rising from his chair as they entered the room, "I had no idea you would be in town so soon."

"Nor had I, sir, until some moments before your own departure," Mr Darcy replied, seeming much less reserved, much to Mr Bennet's surprise.

Mr Gardiner gestured him to a chair, then returned to his own seat. "Well, what brings you here?"

"I have found your niece and Mr Wickham, sir," Darcy answered.

A full minute of astonished silence followed as the two listeners digested this piece of information.

Mr Bennet sat back fully into the confines of his leather armchair and stared at Mr Darcy. "I had no idea that you knew they were missing, sir."

Now Darcy seemed uncertain how to reply. "I am sure you are aware, sir, that your daughter, Miss Elizabeth, accompanied Mr and Mrs Gardiner to Derbyshire some days ago. I had occasion to make their acquaintance while they were in Lambton, which is five miles from my home." He paused. "I happened upon your daughter just after she had received the news. I was so concerned as to her well-being that she could not avoid confiding in me."

"And you felt this confidence granted you the right to help?" Mr Bennet inquired.

"I felt, sir, that the situation was partly my own fault," Darcy replied, not affronted by Mr Bennet's choice of phrase. "That if I had laid Wickham's worthlessness open to the world, it would have been impossible for such a situation to arise. I felt it was my duty to step forward and remedy an evil, which has been brought on by myself."

"How did you expect to find them?" Mr Bennet asked.

"Before Mr Wickham and I lost contact," Darcy answered, choosing his words carefully, "he had formed a friendship with a member of my household; Mrs Younge, who was companion to my sister until I was forced to dismiss her from my employ. I had heard since that she had established herself as mistress of a boarding house here in town, and I thought it likely that Mr Wickham would seek rooms there."

"And that is where you found them?" Mr Gardiner asked.

"No; at first Mrs Younge did not claim any knowledge of their whereabouts," Darcy replied. "And it was some three days before I could obtain their location from her. They are in _________ Street."

"And have you seen or spoken with them?" Mr Gardiner asked.

"I have indeed, sir; Wickham repeatedly and your niece once."


"I regret to inform you, sir, that Wickham never had any idea of marrying your niece when he came to London. Though he scrupled not to lay all the ill-consequences of Miss Lydia's flight, on her own folly alone."

"And Lydia? Tell me, Mr Darcy, what are my daughter's thoughts on her elopement?"

"She is absolutely resolved on remaining where she is, sir. I confess my first object with her, was to try and persuade her to quit her present situation and return to her friends as soon as they could be prevailed upon to receive her. I offered my assistance as far it would go. But your daughter would not hear of leaving Mr Wickham. She cared for none of her friends and wanted no help of mine. She is sure they will marry sometime or other and it does not much signify when."

Mr Bennet nodded silently, not surprised by this news. Indeed nothing concerning Lydia could surprise him anymore. "And what did Mr Wickham say to this?"

"I am afraid, sir, as I said before, that Mr Wickham never had any serious design on your daughter. He felt himself obliged to leave the militia, on account of some debts of honour, which were very pressing, and of such amounts that he could not afford to pay. He meant to resign his commission immediately, but as to his future he knew not what he could do or where he could go with nothing to live on.

"I asked him why he did not marry Miss Lydia at once, as his situation might have benefited by it. But I found from this inquiry that he still holds hope of making his fortune by marriage, in another country." Darcy paused here, then added, "it took several meetings to reconcile him to the match, but we came to a deal earlier today, hence my call here."

"How much," Mr Bennet began, preparing himself, "how much, does he want?"

"With respect, sir, the final amount need not concern you. The fault is mine and so must the remedy be."

"He takes too much upon himself."

Edward Gardiner rose up from his armchair to poke a booted foot at the dying fire in the grate and shook his head at his brother in law. "He did state his reasons, which were sound."

Mr Bennet looked at him in surprise. "You seem content to support his decision."

It was late at night. Mr Darcy had left long ago, after accepting Mr Gardiner's request that they continue talks on the morrow. The moment he had left, Mr Bennet had expressed suspicions on the deal, if not the gentleman himself.

"Content is a relative word," Mr Gardiner replied. "I still think it should have been us who found them and made the deal, but considering what we have learned about Mr Wickham, I am inclined to believe that Mr Darcy paid a great deal of money to bring this about. Possibly more than we could ever repay."

"Are you suggesting that we accept this from him?" Mr Bennet said incredulously.

"His intentions seem honourable," Mr Gardiner returned. "What do you have against his proposal?"

"Nothing," Mr Bennet admitted, "but his insistence at paying the entirety because he feels responsible, does not look to me to be his only motive in doing this."

Mr Gardiner did not reply to this suspicion in support or disbelief, or indeed, with any words, immediately after it was expressed. But his silence spoke volumes, leaving his brother in law equally silent and thoughtful long after he retired for the night.

Andrew Bennet had not enjoyed the opportunity to make a proper acquaintance of Mr Darcy while he was quartered with Mr Bingley at Netherfield. In fact, they had barely exchanged introductions, leaving forced to form an impression of the man's character based on other people's views.

But those views were hardly complimentary. His wife declared Mr Darcy to be a 'most disagreeable, horrid man' from the first night she encountered him. And the rest of Meryton had rapidly followed suit. However, he was not inclined to trust that opinion, as it had been influenced by Mr Wickham's tales.

There was only one opinion he trusted; that of his daughter Elizabeth. Though Jane could also be relied on to produce a different opinion to the majority, hers was also influenced out of a natural desire to believe there was good in everyone, and while Mr Bennet applauded that trait, he did not possess it himself, and therefore was reluctant to put complete faith in any who did.

Yet, when it came to consider Elizabeth's impression of Mr Darcy, Mr Bennet found the task more difficult than usual. The first view he had heard from her was laughter, as she dealt with the snub from the night of the assembly, which turned into a severe dislike after she had met Mr Wickham. But Mr Bennet had seen her dance with Mr Darcy at the Netherfield ball. And he had heard her counsel against sending Lydia to Brighton. And now, she had told Mr Darcy about the elopement.

Which left Mr Bennet with a question on his mind as he retired. What had happened to cause Elizabeth to trust Mr Darcy?