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,
"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?
A clock chimed an early but daylight hour, and woke its present owner, Mr Darcy, who at once rose from his bed. He noted both the latter and the former, but paid little attention to either of them. Instead he availed his face of some water via his hands from the china basin and jug in the washstand in his bedchamber, then walked into the room next door to dress.
It was a task he completed alone, having seen no need for his valet to accompany him on this visit to London. Indeed, the fewer of his household that knew about this, the better, not just for his or his sister's sake, but for someone else's, one whom mattered deeply to him.
As he stared into the mirror to tie his cravat, his mind noticed not the slight evidence about his eyes or the paleness of his complexion which indicated the lack of sleep his body had endured ever since that fateful morning at the Lambton Inn. Sleep had become something of a necessity, a battle to regain energy reserves, nothing more. He retired only when he was too tired to think, to dwell on the matter which had brought him to town.
Just like every other morning his mind was focused upon it once more, as he realised today would be the hardest of the them all. He had thought his negotiations with Wickham would be that, but they had turned out to be only a matter for hard persuasion concerning how much he wanted and how much Darcy was willing to pay.
No, today would difficult, for it included one person he had failed to prepare himself to encounter, yet in hindsight whose presence now seemed obvious. For of course he should deal with the father as well as the uncle. Mr Bennet had a right to know, if not a right to pay, a right which Darcy taking from him.
Their acceptance of that was his sole cause today, along with the belief that his motive was nothing more than the guilt of his concealment of Wickham's character. In truth that could not be further from his mind. His motive was Elizabeth. For her peace of mind he had to resolve this and because of her he had also a need to persuade the father and the uncle to secrecy. He had no desire for her to hear of this. He did not want her gratitude.
He left his rooms and descended to the breakfast parlour with the matter still in his thoughts, as his mind prepared for every question and answer he might encounter.
A great deal of the design on the Darcy china still showed upon his plate as he placed it on the table before his chair. Doubtless the household would notice the little he chose from the generous menu they laid out before him every morning and evening, but so far any concerns they might have they had kept to themselves.
Like sleep, food had become only a means for replenishing energy reserves. The day's broadsheet lay beside it, placed their by his thoughtful staff. The date upon it revealed the day to be Saturday the fifteenth of August, but like with the hour or the light, Darcy paid no attention to either the date or the news, leaving it untouched, as with most of the breakfast selection.
When he left his house it was by the servant's entrance, the front of his townhouse being shut up still, so as to not announce to those near him that he was no longer in the country. His walk to Gracechurch Street- for the use of his carriage would produce the same effect as opening the front door -included a diversion into __________ Street, where he consulted with two of his trusted men as to how Wickham was.
Despite a deal being struck, Darcy still did not trust him not leave Miss Bennet, if he was able. So far however, the man was keeping his word. Darcy refrained from wondering why, and with a murmured thanks to his watchers, continued the walk to Gracechurch Street.
This time there was no excuse or hesitation, he was shown straight into the Study, where Mr Gardiner and Mr Bennet awaited him. After giving him time to take a seat, Mr Bennet left no room for formalities, asking directly, "how much have you managed to persuade Mr Wickham to accept, in order to marry my daughter?"
"Enough to discharge his commission, purchase another, settle his debts in Brighton and Meryton, and an additional thousand to whatever amount you choose to settle on your daughter, sir. I also believe that a reasonable yearly income should be provided for your daughter as well, which lawfully, Wickham cannot touch."
Darcy paused, then added the exact sums. "His debts amount to more than a thousand, and his commission and discharge will also cost a thousand." He settled into silence after that, knowing they would be adding up the amounts. As for himself, he already knew the final sum.
Three thousand, six hundred and forty-two pounds.* It was a vast deal of money, but it was nothing compare to the sum Wickham had opened the negotiations with. Round up the figure, then double it, and you would have a rough idea of how much he had asked for first.
However he had entirely different opinions about what his future career would entail. It had ranged from the living he had been promised in Kympton - Darcy could not believe the nerve he had to ask for that again - to becoming a lawyer, and failing both those things, a small parcel of land from the Darcy estates.
Only after many meetings had Darcy managed to make him agree to the final sum. Not that he could not easily afford the original. His estates brought in well over the rumoured ten thousand per annum, and most of this he set aside, having no one but himself and his sister to spend it upon. This residue was intended for whoever next inherited the estate; his son hopefully. His and Elizabeth's, if his wish would come true.
Darcy wondered what she was occupied with now. Her haunted face, the look which he had last seen that fateful morning in the parlour of the Lambton Inn; as he glanced up from collecting his hat and gloves, and tried but failed to hold back completely the grief within him that there was another obstacle in their paths, was ever present within his mind. From the moment he had walked in, and seen that sudden despair of hers, he had wanted nothing more but to take her in his arms and comfort her.
His nights, before he had changed them to dreamless, had involved that moment, changing the reality, to make her his wife when she told him the news, so he could comfort her, and assure her that he would go to the ends of the earth if need be for her happiness. Even before he had known the details of her despair, his heart had silently sworn to be of service to her, to resolve the matter, if he could.
And that was what he was doing now, though in secret from her. He wondered if she would ever know. He did not need her gratitude, and therefore she could not, not until he had offered his heart again, and learned if he would receive hers in return. Sometimes he hoped he had seen a change in her regard of him, during that brief time at Pemberley, but that hope was always slight, so wary was he of assuming too much.
Abruptly, his ears descried a quiet chiming of a clock, and he realised that he had spent an hour here already. He came out of his reflections and glanced at the gentlemen across from him. It was with surprise that he met Mr Bennet's eyes. It occurred to his mind that at least one good thing would come of this circumstance; a better understanding with the father of the woman he loved, a chance to improve their opinion of him further.
If Mr Bennet was just as much surprised to meet Mr Darcy's eyes as he was, he made no confession of it in his expression. Indeed, nor did Mr Darcy, a reaction, which did not astonish Mr Bennet as the former might have thought it would do so. If he had concluded one thing last night, it was that Mr Darcy was a very reserved man not just by nature but in practice also. Such a concealment of one's true thoughts was necessary, especially if one had as much wealth as Mr Darcy.
Having lived with his wife's expectations for many years, Mr Bennet could well understand the pressure that those eligible bachelors might feel when entering society. For as many of those seeking love, there were at least double those seeking nothing but fortune and position.
He understood why the man's lack of participation in the Meryton assembly caused such a stir, as Meryton had never encountered someone of as much wealth as Mr Darcy, and were unlikely to do so again. He also understood the man's reasons; a desire to protect himself, if not those around him from having any hopes which would inevitably be dashed.
Yet here he was, involving himself with their affairs. True, Mr Wickham was connected to him, but only through being the son a of a good steward and a wish of a late father. At least, that was all which Mr Bennet had managed to extract from Mr Darcy the evening before. And, personally, he was convinced there was more. There had been something in the man's manner as he explained Wickham's connection to his family, in a more controlled tone than usual, as though he needed to be careful in his words when talking about the man.
Added to this, was the warning he had received from Elizabeth before this dreadful mess had began. Normally, such a warning he would not give much significance, he and Elizabeth often disagreed on the antics of her two youngest sisters, but when he learned of Elizabeth telling Mr Darcy about what had happened in Brighton, the words rose in their value. At the time, he had been puzzled by such a warning, especially when it not been long since Elizabeth had joined her sisters in a liking for the Militia.
Now, however, Mr Bennet found himself connecting the threads. It was after she had returned from Hunsford. Mr Collins was under the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park, who was also Mr Darcy's Aunt. Finally, Mr Bennet had learned from on of Mr Collins long - too long - letters, that Mr Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, had both been visiting Rosings at the same that Elizabeth had been staying at Hunsford.
Which left him only one question to be answered. What had happened between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy to make her cease her dislike of him and learn of the something that Mr Darcy was obviously holding back concerning Mr Wickham? Elizabeth had been silent, absolutely silent on the events of her stay in Hunsford. Mr Bennet remembered having his usual, teasing girl leave, only to return silent and uncommunicative, with the shadows of a restless night under her eyes. He asked her once about her stay, only to receive a traditional reply, making him reluctant to push further until she was ready.
Since then, events had rolled out of their control. Mr Bennet took a deep breath and pushed his mind away from what had happened after that. Instead he turned to Mr Darcy, who was still, though very reservedly, observing him." Mr Darcy, I was wondering much of last evening, about Mr Wickham's background and connections with yourself." He paused. "Since it seems he is to become my son in law, I suppose I should know something other than his most recent history."
"Of course, sir. What do you wish to know?"
"Whatever you can tell me."
"He was the son of my late father's steward," Darcy began, carefully launching into an edited version of the letter he had written to Elizabeth. "My father oversaw his education, passage into university, with the intention that a living on the estate would be his as soon he was ordained." He paused, taking a breath to keep his tone measured and normal. "However, I learned at Cambridge that Wickham would never enter the priesthood out of his own inclination."
Mr Bennet nodded, then remarked, "I heard something of this matter being bandied about Meryton. It involved a promise which Mr Wickham alleged you broke?"
"My father died five years ago, sir. In his will, there was a living granted to Wickham, to become available as soon as he had finished taking orders, as well as a legacy of a thousand pounds. But Mr Wickham declined any interested in being ordained, and instead requested and was granted the sum of three thousand pounds instead of the living."
He paused here, resisting the temptation to go into his memories, as he had so very recently. "Two years ago, when the incumbent of the living he was to received died, he wrote to me and requested the presentation. But neither I nor my lawyers could find any evidence of Wickham training to be priest during his absence from Derbyshire, and with his previous promise severing all claims to the living, even in the future, I felt myself well within my rights to refuse him."
Mr Bennet nodded once more. None of this had his brother in law's guest revealed the night before, yet he could not see any reason for doubting the veracity of what he had just heard. Being an observer of human folly, he long since learned how to distinguish between truth and lies in a person's expression and in the man before him, he could discern nothing of the latter, and everything of the former.
"One last question, Mr Darcy, before we move on to the monetary arrangements. Your manner and sums seems to me to be something which you have already experienced with Mr Wickham. Has he done this before?"
Darcy hesitated, a vision of those fateful days in Ramsgate flashing before his mind's eye. He took a deep breath and rose from his seat, to place a hand on the mantle of the fireplace within the room, as he contemplated his reply. "There have been allegations from certain tenant families upon my estates which have involved Mr Wickham, yes sir.
"On more than one occasion I have sought on their behalf restitution from him, and, receiving no reply, compensated them myself. My father's decision to raise Wickham virtually with my family has caused grief to many a person, least of all myself." Master of himself once more, he turned to Mr Bennet. "You understand, sir, that I cannot reveal any names of the families involved, not only out obligation, but also to protect their reputation."
"I understand, Mr Darcy," Mr Bennet replied. From the moment the man had hesitated, he could tell that they would not receive the full truth in his reply, but from expression of hidden torment about his face, Mr Bennet decided not to press him further. He learned all he wanted to about Mr Wickham. He turned to his brother in law, who took his silent cue.
"Mr Darcy, my brother and I have discussed your wish to handle the financial arrangements involving my niece and Mr Wickham alone. Do not imagine that we not without some funds. Are you quite resolved in dealing with this by yourself?"
Darcy resumed his seat. "Mr Gardiner, I do not wish to offend you or Mr Bennet by taking over the monetary reparations in this matter. But as I have said before, I feel that not only is my duty because of his connection with my family, but it should also be my responsibility. I could have laid open at least some part of his real nature to the world, or some of my actions concerning him, but I chose not to, out of a notion that boils down to nothing more than wrongful pride.
"I have also negotiated these figures with Wickham himself. I know that if another person took them over, he would very likely raise the amounts to considerably more than what they are presently worth."
He paused, then added, "I must be allowed to insist on this. The fault is mine and so must the remedy be. It was through my mistaken pride that Mr Wickham's character has not been made known to the world. Had I not thought it beneath me to lay my private actions opened to the world, his character would have been exposed and this elopement would never have taken place."
"Mr Darcy, we fear that you take too much upon yourself," Mr Gardiner remarked. "There was no way you could have known such an event could occur."
Darcy shook his head. On the contrary, sir, I knew it was possible. He had tried once, he would try again. "I must insist on this, sir. I assure you that in this matter argument is fruitless. The responsibility is mine, I must have it, sir. I shall not give way."
Silence followed as the two brothers exchanged looks, wondering if they could persist any further. But both of them had detected the firmness in their guest's tone; the stubborn insistence. Mr Gardiner turned back to him and nodded. "Very well. How shall we proceed?"
One struggle was now out of the way. "Respectfully sir," Darcy began, "I shall call my solicitors and if you could call yours, we could draw up the necessary documents within a few days."
"Yes, that seems a sensible plan," Mr Bennet agreed. "I must say, I am relieved this matter will finally be brought to a conclusion. I shall receive some small pleasure in alleviating my family's worries, notably Jane and Lizzy, when I inform of this."
"I beg you sir, that you keep my name from the matter," Mr Darcy said suddenly, catching both Mr Gardiner and Mr Bennet by surprise.
"May I ask why, Mr Darcy?" Inquired the latter after the initial astonishment.
"You may inquire sir, but you must excuse my being unable to answer. There are certain matters - certain family matters which would present the knowledge of my involvement in this subject to allegations of the worst sort of interest. It could also ensure a repetition of these events conducted by any person with a similar nature to Wickham." He paused here, to add in a less controlled tone than before, "it could also cause a lot of pain to other persons connected to me."
Understandably, there was silence after this. Mr Gardiner and Mr Bennet both looked at their 'saviour' with somewhat of an interested expression; curious as to what he could possibly mean, and a slight wish to press him further. Mr Gardiner however, having been a party to encounters which his brother had not;- particularly time spent in the company of Mr Darcy's sister, was able to put together pieces which he had not revealed, and thus understand his guest's desire for concealment of his actions.
It also spoke clearly of his having another motive, one which Edward had a feeling he knew. "Of course, sir, we understand," he said. "We shall give you the secrecy which you desire. But if I may be allowed to at least tell my wife some of the matters involved here? She will return to London tomorrow, and doubtless will witness the rest of our meetings. She is an trustworthy woman, you may be assured of her confidence."
"I have seen enough of Mrs Gardiner not to doubt you upon that score, sir," Darcy answered, a slight feeling of foreboding entering his mind all the same. He knew Mrs Gardiner to be a perceptive woman, from the glances he had seen her directing at him during his time with Elizabeth. When she learned of his desire for secrecy, she would doubtless guess something of what he was feeling. His only hope was that she would not inquire about them.
"Well then," Mr Gardiner began, rising from his chair, "I shall contact my solicitors and arrange an appointment here on the morrow."
Darcy rose from his chair also. "And I mine, sir. I shall send a courier from my house to confirm the hour."
They shook hands, and Mr Gardiner saw his guest to the door. When he returned to the Study, he found his brother in law in a contemplative pose.
"Well, what did you make of that then, Andrew?" He asked him as he sat down.
Mr Bennet looked up from his clasped hands, resting them under his chin. "He has another motive than a simple wish for secrecy, of that much I am certain." He paused, then added, "there is also I believe more to his history with Mr Wickham than what he has told us today and before. But there seems to be little point in asking him further. The matter is out of our hands."
Mr Gardiner nodded, keeping his ruminations to himself.
Later, when evening had arrived, the family carriage had long since entered the drive, and the children had gone to bed, only then did he speak of his own opinion on Mr Darcy's motives. But not to his brother in law.
Andrew had retired to bed, the worry over his daughter's disappearance combined with the relief of her being found, producing exhaustion within, leaving Edward to welcome his Madeline in the privacy of his travel-weary children.
Once they had both seen the latter up to bed, to tell her
of the events which had occupied these two evenings, with a full description that
could bear in mind all of their encounters with Mr Darcy, and the honesty that
exists in such happy marriages as theirs.
"He does have another
motive, Edward," Madeline began, after the necessary words of astonishment,
understanding and gratitude had been dealt with. "And I believe we both know
what;- or more importantly, who it is."
Her husband nodded, before
saying, "whether Mr Bennet knows, or Elizabeth herself, is another matter.
And because of her, I know we must adhere to his wishes."
Madeline uttered, "he would not want her gratitude. It would meaning keeping
this between ourselves though."
"I know," Edward answered,
"and I have misgivings about presenting myself as the saviour of Lydia's
reputation, when in reality I had nothing to do with it. But we would have kept
it from my sister as it is. Fanny would never understand to keep such sums involved
private, and Mary and Kitty I do not believe are of an age to understand either."
Madeline nodded, knowing all of this to be true, however much it went against the grain. "And we can only hope that one day, matters will be resolved so Elizabeth can know the truth."
1) Price of a Lieutenant's commission in the army, circa 1770s-1815: £500. Cost of selling a Lieutenant's commission; £450. Source is Sharpe's Prey by Bernard Cornwell. Amounts might differ slightly due to Wickham being in the militia before, so this a rough guide.
Andrew Bennet rose at his usual hour, and arrived in the parlour in time for the morning's repast to still be fresh from the oven, as well as for a moment to greet his sister in law and inquire after her journey.
The quartet of children were upstairs, breakfast long since over for them, enabling the adults to talk about the matter which fully concerned them.
"I have spoken to Mr Haggerston," Edward replied, talking of his solicitor, "and he is free this afternoon. Mr Darcy's courier arrived promptly and the hour of two has been agreed upon."
Mr Bennet nodded, and moved from the sideboard which held the food selection to take a seat at the table. "I hope with this meeting everything will be arranged and we can put an end to this sorry business," he said as he sat down. "My only fear is that our guest has held back the precise sum of how much this is costing him."
Mrs Gardiner, understanding both her husband's and her brother in law's feelings of being useless in this matter with their own niece and daughter, spoke. "Judging from what we know of his character, I do not believe so. It would prove useless to do so in any case, as the full monetary reparations will all be put down in the papers we discuss this morning. My fears are more for Lydia."
"She, by all accounts, is as unchanged as ever," Mr Bennet remarked, his offhand comment causing little surprise to his relations. They had long known the opinion he held of his younger offspring and that nothing would change it.
"Well, I shall want to obtain from Mr Darcy a description of their lodgings, and for an arrangement to convince Lydia to stay with us," Madeline continued.
"I wonder how many meetings it took for Wickham to come to the present sums?" Mr Bennet commented aloud. "By the date alone, it must have been a substantial amount with which he started."
"It is useless to wonder such a thing now," Mrs Gardiner reminded him, "what's done is done. Perhaps you should concern yourself with why he is determined to keep his actions from becoming public."
"Why?" Mr Bennet asked, looking at her, "should I be concerned? It is easier to keep this to ourselves after all. My wife would not understand the need to conceal that the man had to be bribed to marry her favourite."
"Because if you can discover his motive," Mrs Gardiner revealed, "you may come to understand him better. And why there is nothing to be done, that he will not do himself."
It was with no small amount of trepidation that Mr Darcy prepared himself for the upcoming meeting in Gracechurch Street. He knew that the necessary business and company of the solicitors would provide a buffer between himself and the Gardiners and Mr Bennet from asking him why he was determined to keep this private, but he also knew that any sign, however slight, however unconsciously done, would reveal himself, to the new addition in the negotiations.
He had not spent a long time in the company of Mrs Gardiner, but what time he had spent with her, taught him to realise that she was a very perceptive woman, who could easily discern his true motive for finding Lydia and Wickham. Being a reserved man, he was unaccustomed to the scrutiny which would follow such a discovery, which made him retreat even more into himself. A habit lasting a lifetime, causing him to present himself as arrogant and proud, traits which Elizabeth had made him to drop, before they caused permanent damage to his character. He could see her wisdom, but they were tempting lures all the same.
"A bad business this, William," spoke the other occupant of the carriage at that moment, bringing Darcy back the present; the journey from his house to the Gardiners, with his lawyer, who being a close friend of his uncle the Judge, had the honour to serve as Darcy's godfather. "After Ramsgate, I had hoped we would not encounter Wickham again."
"I had hoped so too, sir," Darcy replied, as he remembered the frantic reshuffling of contracts concerning Georgiana's inheritance, caused by Wickham's plot on her and her thirty thousand pounds. For all the damage he had done then, it had resulted in one good thing; the creation of a clause to ensure that his sister alone had access to her money, whoever she chose to marry. But the effects upon her character Darcy felt had been too high a price to pay.
And now, if he dared to try his luck again, Wickham would be something of a constant, if hopefully unseen and ignored, presence in his life. He would be a brother in law, something which Darcy had only contemplated in his worst nightmares, and to an entirely different relation. This revelation had come to him the moment he had realised that Miss Lydia was determined to marry Wickham however reluctant he might be to do the same. Yet, as far as he himself was concerned, it did not bother him that Wickham would become the brother of the woman he loved. What did bother him, was Georgiana's, and Elizabeth's thoughts on the event.
While the latter's he would not learn unless he had the courage to try for her hand again, Darcy knew that this forthcoming nuptial and his hand in arranging it would have to be confided to his sister when he returned to Pemberley. A notice would be in the papers, and she would undoubtedly hear of it, if she did not come to read the article herself. Since that almost fateful affair last summer he had maintained a strict policy of honesty with his sister, despite his overwhelming need to protect her from the world of men like Wickham. He who had caused her sadness last year would now bestow it upon her again.
At this somewhat chilling thought the carriage came to a halt, causing Darcy to come out of his reflections and prepare himself for the meeting in hand.
He opened the carriage door and stepped down, followed by his solicitor. At his knock, the butler led them through the entrance hall to Mr Gardiner's study, where they met the other four members of the meeting.
Being in the same all encompassing legal circle, Mr Haggerston and Mr Avery had themselves assured of each other's reputations within minutes and they were soon all at the table, documents spread out, ready to open proceedings.
"How is Lydia, Mr Darcy?" Mrs Gardiner asked first. "What are the conditions of their lodgings?"
"Their boarding house is located in St Clement's parish," Mr Darcy replied, "which as you know is an impoverish area, I am afraid. However, I can inform you that neither seem to suffer any ill effects from lodging there, from what I could discern during my encounter with your niece and Mr Wickham." Darcy paused, then added, "I hoped to propose, that when this business is concluded, your niece resides with you, while Mr Wickham stayed with myself until the wedding, if that is agreeable to you?"
"I confess that is my wish also," Mrs Gardiner replied. "Will St Clements be able to accommodate the ceremony?"
"That is what I intend to arrange this afternoon," Darcy revealed, before the solicitors intervened, causing all other matters to be put aside, until later.
It well after the hour of four by the time all papers had been composed, negotiated, witnessed, and signed. Mr Haggerston and Mr Avery took their leave, taking up Mr Darcy's offer of the use of his carriage to take them back to their offices, leaving one guest in the study, who had been invited to take tea.
They removed from the Study to the drawing room, which Darcy found, like everywhere else in the Gardiner's house, well-appointed and furnished, to the bests of tastes and the modest of income. In his experience he had often witnessed a desire to dress a house to appear as though one could afford more than they earned, to the damage of finances and situation, neither of which, he was pleased to see, existed here.
The children came down to take tea, and Darcy found himself a natural object of curiosity to them, which unlike adults, did not unsettle him. Being the owner of a country estate and an older brother, he had dealt with children most of his life, and was a proud godfather of his cousin the viscount's eldest son and heir. The quartet of young Gardiners were all well behaved and once their curiosity was satisfied, retired to their own corner of the room, leaving the adults to talk amongst themselves.
"How are all your guests at Pemberley?" Mrs Gardiner asked.
"They are well, I believe, thank you," Darcy replied. "I hope to return to them shortly, while we wait for the ceremony, to relieve my sister from being hostess."
"Your sister must have been concerned at your sudden departure so soon after our own."
"She was," Darcy admitted, "and I hope to reassure her before long." He paused, before asking, "and may I enquire as to everyone at Longbourn?"
"They are as well as can be expected," Mrs Gardiner replied. "Mrs Bennet is indisposed, so Jane and Elizabeth run the house. They shall be much relieved when the express arrives tomorrow, telling them that Lydia is found."
Darcy nodded in agreement. "Georgiana was very pleased to make yours and Miss Bennet's acquaintance," he remarked.
"As we were her," Mrs Gardiner replied. "She's a lovely girl. You raised her well."
"I cannot take all the credit," Darcy answered modestly. "My father and my relations helped, as did my household staff. It has only been for five years that she has come under the guardianship of my cousin and myself."
"All the same, it must have been difficult to manage a estate as well," Mr Gardiner commented, causing Mr Bennet to raise his eyebrows as he discovered another part of the background of the man whom he must be grateful to for finding Lydia.
"It was what I raised to do," Darcy said simply. "And I am thankful that I have the best household staff to help me."
There was a settled silence after this as people raised their cups to their mouths for a sip or took a bite of cake from the offering upon their plate. It gave Mr Bennet a moment to meditate on all he had just discovered about their guest. There was obviously more to Mr Darcy than he had ever realised. He had assumed that the man was nothing more than your average rich gentleman, used to having his own way. The reality was very different. Judging from what he had learned from the conversation, he had inherited the management of a large country estate from the age of three and twenty. He had lost both his parents, and raised his younger sister. It seemed such a heavy set of responsibilities for such a young man, yet Mr Bennet could see nothing but confidence and self-assurance, balanced with an awareness of the ways of the world.
"Elizabeth was pleased to make the acquaintance of your sister," Mrs Gardiner now remarked. "She was very sorry to cut it short."
"As was Georgiana," Darcy acknowledged, "I hope they may have the opportunity to continue their acquaintance sometime."
The two relatively short speeches took Mr Bennet by surprise. He detected the subtle emphasis Mrs Gardiner had laid on Elizabeth, and the slight inflection of wistfulness in Mr Darcy's tone as he replied. From there it was quite easy to connect the dots. The conclusion made sense of a lot of things, as much as it astounded him. It explained why he had heard very little from his daughter about Kent, her sudden distrust of Wickham, and her warning to him concerning granting Lydia permission to go to Brighton; the start of this sorry affair. What it did not answer however, was the state of Elizabeth's feelings.
Something Mr Bennet was now determined to discover himself.
Monday August 17th
My Dear Jane and Elizabeth
At last I am able to send you some tidings of Lydia, and such as, upon the whole, I hope will give you both satisfaction.
On Saturday evening, I was fortunate enough to find out in what part of London they were. The particulars I reserve, and leave for your father to describe, once he returns. It is enough to know they are discovered, I have seen them both. They are not married, nor can I find there was any intention of being so; but I hope it will not be long before they are. The settlements and such forth were concluded yesterday, granting Lydia her equal share of the five thousand pounds left to you all, plus an income of one hundred pounds per annum.
You will easily comprehend, from these particulars, that Mr Wickham's circumstances are not so hopeless as they are generally believed to be. The world has been deceived in that respect; and I am happy to say that there will be some little money, even when all his debts are discharged, to settle upon my niece, in addition to her own fortune. He has resolved on quitting the Militia and it is his intention to go into the regulars; and among his former friends, there are still some who are able and willing to assist him in the army. He has the promise of an ensigncy in General ______'s regiment, now quartered in the North. It is an advantage to have it so far from this part of the kingdom.
We have judged it best that she shall be married from this house, and in the parish where Mr Wickham resides. A notice shall be published in the papers, the details of which I doubt will satisfy your mother, as it shall be succinct and to the point, but that is all which is required, and will attract the least attention. After the wedding, the date of which will be arranged today, they will join his regiment, unless they are first invited to Longbourn. I understand from your father however, that he does not at present wish to admit them into his house.
Lydia arrives to stay with us today, while Wickham will remain in his parish with permission to call daily.
I hope this has given you some relief,
The writer of this letter, having signed his name, laid down his pen, and leant back into the confines of his desk chair with a sigh. He hated lying to his nieces, particularly Jane and Elizabeth, but it had to be done. He was under an obligation not to reveal the actions of Mr Darcy, and he would obey, though he hated the borrowed feathers of thanks which he knew he would inevitably receive.
A clock in the room chimed the hour, causing Mr Gardiner to glance and take note, as it signalled coming of his niece to stay with them. In truth, his first meeting, since the elopement, with Lydia would be today. Mr Darcy had informed them of her determination to marry Wickham, but other than that had not revealed her general character during these extraordinary circumstances. Judging by her stubbornness however, Mr Gardiner did not hold much hope that these events had altered her for the better. And her father was equally of the same opinion.
Casting his eye one final time over what he had just written, Mr Gardiner realised that, if his nieces cared to read between the lines, there were some clues which he had unconsciously left, that would reveal the truth. He also realised though, that it was unlikely. Both of them would be too relieved to learn that there sister was safe to look for clues that their uncle had been forced to take the credit for the actions of someone else.
Determinedly he folded the paper, applied some melting wax, and pressed his seal down upon it. Then he rose from his chair to put it on the tray in the hall for delivery.
He entered the drawing room afterwards, to find his wife amusing their children, while his brother in law tried to distract himself with a book. Mr Gardiner joined the former, his mind hoping silently that one day he would not be presented with the same fait accompli for one of his own daughters.
A touch upon his hand caused him to look up at his wife then, and to be confronted with the happy assurance which exists within a contented marriage; that whatever happened in the future, they would face it together.
"Ah Darcy, back here again. One might almost think that you planned to marry Lydia yourself, the amount of visits you have paid."
Darcy ignored Wickham's comments, and kept his face neutral as he turned to Miss Lydia, who snorted in disgust at the thought of what her intended had just expressed. "Miss Bennet, if you will come with me, there is a carriage outside waiting to take you to your Aunt and Uncle's."
Lydia nodded and turned to Wickham, who reluctantly assented to a parting kiss, before she proceeded to gather her belongs. Her intended returned to taunting their visitor. "And what is to be done with me, Darcy?"
The Gallows, if I had my way, Darcy silently replied, before saying, "you will reside at my townhouse until the wedding. You have permission to call on Miss Bennet daily, for which visits you are allowed to use one of my carriages."
"Oh goody," muttered Wickham, before turning a beaming but fake smile upon Lydia, who, baggage now in hand, presented herself to Mr Darcy.
"My carriage and my butler shall collect you shortly," Darcy informed Wickham before offering his arm to Lydia and escorting her downstairs.
The journey to Gracechurch Street was thankfully not of long duration, for by the time they arrived, Darcy was most glad to step out of the carriage and escort his companion inside. Throughout the journey Miss Lydia had talked incessantly of her plans for her wedding dress, wishes of bridesmaids, whether Wickham would wear his blue coat or his new uniform, if there would be a contingent of officers to provide a walk from the church under crossed swords, how jealous her sisters would be, how much she would gloat, how delighted her mother would be to see her married, and so on, without any pause or rest to allow him to make a comment or judgement, even if he had wished to.
They were shown into the drawing room, where Lydia was instantly embraced by her Aunt, after which she hugged her uncle and then her reluctant father, before seating her upon the sofa. The Gardiners turned to him.
"I have spoken to the priest of St Clement's," Darcy began, "and he has a time free on the 31st of August. It is that agreeable to you?"
"It is, thank you Mr Darcy," Mr Gardiner replied. "Would you care to stay for tea?"
"I am afraid I must decline sir, I have made arrangements to see Mr Wickham installed in quarters in my house, then I must depart for Pemberley and relieve Georgiana of the task of hostess. I shall return to town in time for the wedding."
"We shall see you then," Mr Gardiner acknowledged, before showing him out. When he returned, it was to find Lydia under the scrutiny of her father and Aunt.
"He is gone?" She asked of Mr Darcy. "Thank God! He was such a frightful bore. Not a syllable of conversation with me in the carriage. Mind you I wouldn't want to talk to him anyway, not after what I heard he had done to Wickham. I suppose its only right he should be paying off the debts and everything-"
"Lydia!" Mrs Gardiner began. "Do you have any idea of the wickedness of what you have done? Or the unhappiness, concern and worry you have caused the Forsters, and your family by leaving Brighton without a word to anyone?"
"Oh la, Aunt, do not talk so! I left Harriet a note! I'll wager she felt it was a very good laugh."
"No she did not," Mrs Gardiner replied. "She, unlike yourself, had the sense to inform her husband, who informed your father, who then informed us, cutting our vacation short in Derbyshire, which, if we had not been there, we might never have enlisted the valuable help of Mr Darcy, and thus never have found you both. Do you have any idea what could have happened to you had he not found you?"
"Wickham would have married me I'm sure!"
"Are you? According to Mr Darcy, marriage was the furthest thing from Wickham's mind when he first found you, and it was only after several meetings and negotiations of a financial nature, that he was able to persuade him otherwise. For once Lydia, think seriously what you were about! He might have left you abandoned in a neighbourhood you did not know, to people whom you could trust even less than him. We might never have been able to find you."
Lydia looked at them and sighed. "La, Aunt, don't talk so. I'm so tired. Wickham and I barely had any sleep last night, there was such a racket going on downstairs. Of course, that was not the only thing which kept us awake, we-"
"Lydia!" Mrs Gardiner cut her off, horrified at her manner so far. Seeing that it was useless to continue the conversation further, she relented. "Go out into the hall. There you will find the children's nurse who will show you to your room."
After she had left, Mrs Gardiner sat down and expressed a sigh of her own. "I had hoped there would be an alteration to her character caused by these events, but I see now that such a hope was in vain."
"Yes, she is still the silliest girl that ever lived!" Uttered Mr Bennet, as he poured himself and them all a fortifying drink of brandy.
"Perhaps she will be better after some rest," Mr Gardiner commented, though not with much conviction.
"Well, I shall try and impress upon her the seriousness and realities of married life as much as I can until the wedding," Mrs Gardiner vowed. "Perhaps the more I repeat, the likelier it will be that some of it shall be taken in."
Mr Bennet acknowledged this with silence, though privately he did not believe that his daughter would listen to anyone. He took a sip of brandy and meditated that the countdown had begun. It was fourteen days until he was rid of one of his daughters.
His brother in law turned to him. "What are your plans now? Shall you return to Longbourn?"
"And deal with my wife's constant persuasions to let Lydia and Wickham visit? No, I shall remain here, if you will have me. Jane and Elizabeth are quite capable of managing the house by themselves."
"You can stay as long as you wish, brother," Mr Gardiner replied, though privately he thought his brother should return to Longbourn for awhile. Equally, though he had many concerns, he also believed that Lydia and Mr Wickham should be allowed to visit Longbourn after the wedding, if only for a few days. It would assure everyone concerned that Lydia was fine, while giving some welcome peace to quietening his sister.
It was not for him to decide however, for, as events had shown him these past few days, circumstances had a propensity for going beyond their control.
Stop. Stop the coach.
As he tapped the hilt of his walking stick on the roof of the carriage, the above phrase went through his mind, silent rather than audible, for it would be impossible for the driver to hear such a command over the pounding of the horses' hooves upon the road.
The carriage and its four steeds came to a halt, and their owner disembarked, walking the short distance to the edge of the bridge, before coming to rest his arms upon the stone ledge and gaze at the prospect of the country estate ahead.
Darcy always stopped here. Whether he was riding or within a carriage, he always stopped at this viewpoint. It was from here that the estate appeared in all its glory and splendour. From here that the grand house appeared as natural as the land which surrounded it, as though it had existed just as long, and would remain forever ageless.
Around him lay all activity; the horses stamping their feet, the chorus of seasonal birds and rustlings of other animals. But none of this became audible to him. Instead a silence settled over him, the comforting hush one receives when they know they are truly home. There was a rumour around the county of Derbyshire that Pemberley held a siren's call to all who worked or lived within its environs, which was certainly true in the case of its master. Whenever he was away, Darcy always felt the call of the estate, a silent but powerful, never-ending plea for him to return.
Sunlight glistened upon the stone, bathing the building in a golden glow. Pemberley was beautiful in all seasons, but the house shone the most in the summer, basking in the reflected glory of the celestial object in the sky. As he continued to gaze upon it, Darcy felt all the cares and concerns which had been troubling him ever since he had left for London fade away, replaced by a calming sense of peace which Pemberley never failed to bestow upon him. He felt like he had been away for years, when in reality it had only been ten days. Unconsciously, he found himself thinking a silent apology to the estate for not returning sooner, and the estate replying that it understood why he had left in the first place and assuring him that it had not slipped into ruin during his absence.
He had left London world-weary and despaired, yet as he stood here Darcy felt youth returning to him once more, the mysterious ageless power of the estate settling over him just as it had settled over the building itself. Taking over management of a ten mile round estate with an income of just as much thousand per annum, at an age when most other men were only beginning to learn the responsibilities they would inherit from their fathers, had aged his mind far above the wisdom of his peers, changing his character forever. Yet, whenever he came upon this view, and saw clearly how nothing had altered from the management of his father and the generations before, Darcy knew it had been worth it.
As suddenly as it had begun, the wealth of silence around him faded, and he turned and climbed back into the carriage, settling himself into the rich damask upholstery before tapping the roof once more to let his driver know he was ready to continue.
There was only a few minutes of pounding on the road before the horses slowed and the sound of their hooves pounding on the ground changed into a crunch, signifying the pebbled enclosed path to the inner courtyard of the house, a precaution against trespassers.
The carriage performed a circle, coming to a halt outside the stairs which led to the Entrance Hall. Darcy opened the door and made his way to the ground, then closed it to let the driver take it and the horses to the stable.
Barely had he turned round from watching the equipage go, before he was pulled into an embrace by his sister, who hugged him with all the eagerness a close knit relationship such as theirs produced, combined with the length of his absence.
For a moment Darcy allowed himself to indulge in the delight of their embrace, and forget that he had asked her to take over the role of host for the Bingleys and Hursts during his absence. Then he drew back and brought his hands up to her face, cupping it as he observed her, marvelling how much she looked like their mother, and how fast she had grown up.
Brother and sister exchanged a quiet, evaluating gaze. While Darcy saw in her only wonders, Georgiana observed the opposite in him. She descried the tiredness in his features, the way his immaculately tailored clothes hung a little upon him, indicating that he not eaten enough in the ten days away from her and the watchful eyes of their housekeeper. "You have been neglecting yourself, William," she reproached him in the way that only a sister could.
It was with difficulty that Darcy did not flinch at the tone. He knew that whenever Georgiana called him 'William' it was because she was upset with him. Nor did he blame her. He knew full well that he had only existed these past ten days, care of himself put aside over taking care of Elizabeth's peace of mind. "I know," he answered her softly.
They began to ascend the stairs to the entrance. "It is the fact that you know this which concerns me," Georgiana continued, looking at him in concern. "Along with your refusal to tell me what sent you to town in the first place."
Darcy could not help but flinch at that. She had asked the question the morning he left, in a hurriedly arranged meeting in his rooms, as he dressed himself, while at the same time issuing instructions to Mrs Reynolds, his Steward and her concerning their duties during his absence. At the time he had put his refusal to tell her what was wrong down to a conscious and well-founded desire to protect her from knowing the mischief of a man who had once almost been the ruin of her, had caused another family, but now, as he gazed at her face, and noted the graceful youthfulness fading away to womanhood, he wondered at the veracity of his decision. Since that fateful summer spent in Ramsgate they had promised a vow of honesty to each other, and now it seemed, he was going back on his word. In addition, if he ever worked up the courage to return to Hertfordshire, if he ever dared to ask her again for the honour of her hand, the man would be irrevocably tied to their family. It was better that she heard the matter from him now, rather than in the future.
"I am sorry that I could not tell you, Georgie," he remarked, falling into the habit of using her childhood nickname, a nostalgia he would never give up, despite how old she was, "but I was in such a hurry then, and the telling of it would take too long. However, now that I am back, there is time."
Georgiana looked at him, saw the truth of his words, and prepared to ask him to begin the tale now. But then a door opened ahead of them, and the click of heels could be heard resounding upon the marble floor, causing the intimate family reunion to end immediately.
"Mr Darcy," the syrup charmed layered tones of Caroline Bingley announced. "How good it is to see you returned to your home. We have missed you."
The master of Pemberley had looked up at her entrance, and realised that his solitude with his sister was over. It was time for him to put on the attire of a host once more, and he could not deny that it was with a heavy heart that he did so.
"Hello Miss Bingley," he remarked, letting go of his sister's hand and putting himself between them, subconsciously protecting her from his best friend's sister, "I hope Georgiana was an able hostess in my place."
"Oh, she has been invaluable to all, sir," Miss Bingley remarked eliminating the distance between them and foisting her hand upon his now empty arm. "But, knowing as I do, the often tiring duties of a hostess, you must be glad to relieve her of such a burden after only ten days."
"I am," Darcy replied, ignoring the emphasis which had placed on his absence, and with it the subtle hint that the length of his guest's stay should be altered because of it. Offering his other arm to his sister, feeling the need for comforting presence, he added, "but not through an lack of faith in her ability to perform the task admirably." And for her sake more than my own, he added silently. Of all his responsibilities as the owner of one of the largest estates in Derbyshire, host was the one he hated the most. Even amongst the relations of his best friend.
Would Bingley be averse to a hunting trip before Michaelmas, he wondered, somewhat absently as he let himself be led into the music room to join his other guests.
Already he had the choice of county in mind.
It was not until well into the night that Darcy achieved a moment to himself again, the price of neglecting such guests as the Bingleys and Hursts for ten days. Sequestering himself in an arm chair in an alcove of the Long Gallery, so the hounds were free to exercise, he took a welcome sip of brandy and reflected upon the evening, in comparison to the apparent chaos that had been London.
After entering the room, he had a chance to greet Bingley, before Caroline took centre stage once more, seconded by her sister. For the rest of the evening Miss Bingley had controlled the conversation, with constant questions about the nature of his business in town, hints ranging from the subtle to the downright artless that he could have told them where he was going so they could accompany him and enjoy the delights of the Season, not knowing that the Season was precisely why he chose to spend the summer months at Pemberley.
When the inquisition over what he had been doing in London failed, Caroline had turned on praising his sister's excellence as hostess in his absence. The continuous compliment upon compliment not only had the effect of frightening Georgiana into silence, but the added bonus of making Darcy so angry with his guest that he had great difficulty from replying that if Miss Bingley enjoyed the Season so much maybe she and the rest of her party should leave, and bring a welcome early end to what was turning out to be a very long visit.
Dinner came and went during this test of his endurance, after which his sister claimed to be suffering from fatigue and requested that they all retired early, as her brother must be under the same affliction, having just completed a long journey home. Darcy had never felt so grateful as when his friend chose to intervene just then, agreeing with Georgiana completely, before taking his sister upstairs.
There was another matter which needed to be rectified, Darcy mused, as he sipped his drink in the darkness of the gallery. Ever since he had learned that he was mistaken regarding the feelings of Miss Bennet for his friend, the task of telling Charles had been continually put off on the most flimsiest of excuses. Charles would be angry once the full truth was known regarding their time in London, and Darcy was of the opinion that he had every right to be. Despite his fear that once he confessed he would lose a great friendship, there was the counterpoint that he had been no good as a friend to treat Charles in the manner which he did. At the age of three and twenty he had been given the responsibility of being his own master, younger than Bingley. If he could succeed on his own, why should he doubt that his friend was not capable of doing the same?
All the same, he held back from confession. Four months had now passed since he had learned he was wrong, and he had yet to enlighten Charles. In Hunsford he had vowed to himself that he would repair the faults Elizabeth had seen in him, and while he hoped he was making some progress in his sociability, he had done absolutely nothing in the other matter.
Brandy finished, Darcy put the glass back on the table, and glanced at his hounds once more, remembering the last night he had exercised them, and the all too brief delights of that evening entertaining. There had been moments when he allowed himself to succumb to the temptation of believing that Elizabeth was not a honoured guest, that she was instead mistress of Pemberley, a fantasy cruelly doused by her departure, and the events which followed.
With the memory of that night followed another recollection; that of his plans which had made him ride out in the early hours of the morning to Lambton, with the hope of inviting her back to Pemberley once more. Until now he never had the time to wonder what would have occurred had his wish been accomplished. But he withheld himself from the indulgence. So much had happened since then which made any alternative seem both impossible and selfish to imagine.
Instead, he poured himself another glass, and focused on the time he would have here, until he had to return to London for Miss Lydia's wedding. A fortnight to go over his household accounts, review various estate matters and begin the harvest before temporarily handing over the reins to his more than capable Steward. A fortnight to tell Georgiana all that occurred during his absence, and prepare her in regards to his plans for the immediate future.
And a seven-night to confess to Bingley, and perhaps receive absolution.
The first seven days of his time at Pemberley soon passed, and all too quickly for Darcy's liking, for the demands of Miss Bingley and his duties as host granted him no time to talk with his friend.
Such a rapid passage of time did contain one silver lining however. A week signalled the end of his guests' stay, calling the Bingleys and Hursts to relatives in the South, leaving Darcy and Georgiana to the delightful solitude of just brother and sister company.
Despite his wish to amend matters regarding Miss Bennet, it was with relief that Darcy saw his guests to their carriages, politely but firmly ignoring all of Caroline's less than subtle wishes to extend the stay beyond what was previously arranged, because of his absence during it. Holding back a smile, he watched their departure until the carriages faded out of sight, leaving him and his sister alone on the driveway.
That was some hours ago. Now he was delaying another confidence, as he sat in his study, estate papers spread out upon his desk, awaiting his attention. Due to his duties as host he had pushed them aside until the departure of his guests, and now here they lay, waiting for him, just like his sister had done.
A knock on the door broke his concentration and he leaned back in his seat to observe the entrance of his housekeeper with a tray of food and drink.
Darcy saw the look upon Mrs Reynolds' face, and knew instantly the message which was being left unsaid. His housekeeper had noticed the recent neglect of himself too, and was just as concerned as his sister.
"Miss Georgie wonders if you have a moment for her," Mrs Reynolds remarked as she laid out the plates, deliberately placing food upon one of them and putting it before him, in the unspoken demand that he ate it.
"Let her come in," Darcy replied, before taking a bit of the food and sending a silent look of apology to her.
Mrs Reynolds placed a comforting hand upon his shoulder, then moved to the door and opened it for Georgiana to enter.
Darcy waited until his housekeeper had gone and his sister had sat down before he began the task at hand.
"The reasons which caused me to travel to London so suddenly," he started, "go right back to Michaelmas of last year. I told you, in a letter that I had met Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her family then?"
"Yes, you did," Georgiana replied.
"Well, what I did not tell you was that I also encountered someone else in Meryton." Darcy paused, and looked into her eyes. "Georgie, I saw Mr Wickham."
It was only for a moment, but it was enough. His sister blinked, and the expression in her eyes made him lean forward to take her hand. "Do you wish for me to continue?"
"Yes," she answered, her voice surprisingly strong.
"I attempted to ignore him, which I realise now was a mistake. Before long he had the entire village upon his side, turning me into the worst villain imaginable. He deceived everybody, including Miss Bennet."
Georgiana gasped at that. "But.... she covered for me so that evening! How was she deceived?"
"Because he was as he always has been, and I, too reserved, too angry at letting myself fall for a match which, at the time, I believed, was beneath me."
There was a moment of silence, before Georgiana raised her eyes to his in amazement and delight. "You are in love with Miss Bennet?"
"Yes," Darcy confessed, causing her to smile. He withdrew his hand from hers and leaned back in his chair. "My determination to deny myself the power of her attractions caused me to leave for town, and prevent Bingley from returning to Netherfield, causing damage to his own romance, to which I will come to later," he added, seeing her instant curiosity. "When we next met, Miss Bennet and I, it was at Rosings, while Richard and I were visiting Aunt Catherine, and she was visiting her newly married friend Mrs Collins." Darcy paused, then continued. "During those weeks in Kent, and the frequency with which I saw her, I found it impossible to deny the attraction I felt any longer. I convinced myself that she had noticed, and welcomed my attentions. If only I knew how wrong I was. One night, when she chanced to remain at the Parsonage instead of attending Rosings, I called on her. And made the worst proposal of marriage."
This revelation caused Georgiana to utter another gasp. "She refused you?" she guessed.
Darcy nodded. "And rightly so. My words were insulting and completely uncalled for. I was arrogant and presumptuous. During the argument which ensued, she defended Wickham to me, causing me to confide in her fully my actions concerning him." He paused here to take another glance at her. "I hope you do not mind that I confided in her?"
"No," Georgiana replied. "I know you would never disclose that information unless you believe it was necessary. Did she believe you?"
"I never learned that," Darcy said. "Not until our unexpected encounter in these grounds." He paused as he briefly recalled that moment she appeared before him, blushing at his appearance, fresh from a dive in one of the ponds. "The moment I learned of her presence, I set about letting her know that I had changed, that I had taken in her words and was trying to adhere to them. That morning after the dinner I rode to the Inn in hopes of inviting her and the Gardiners to spend another day here." He paused to take a breath and prepare himself. "I found her in grief over some letters, which she had just received from Longbourn. Her sister Lydia, who is but fifteen, had been invited to Brighton as a companion of the wife of the Colonel of the regiment in which Wickham served."
"Oh no," Georgiana suddenly said, causing her brother to cease the tale, "he eloped with her, didn't he?"
Darcy nodded, his eyes never leaving hers as he watched her reaction. She rose from her chair and paced the room, before seeking the refuge of the window. He had no time to muse over this moment of similarity between them before he joined her.
"Georgiana?" He queried carefully, his hand coming to rest upon her shoulder, his eyes fixed upon her face and its expression. "Georgie?"
She took a deep breath, stared at the window panes for another moment, then turned to face him once more. "Tell me the rest."
"There is not much more. Miss Bennet's father and Colonel Forster had traced them as far as Clapham, but not beyond. I left here with the intention to find them, using whatever resources I had at my disposal. I found them, staying at a Boarding House recommended by Mrs Younge. They were not married, nor had Wickham any intention of them ever being so, until I was able to persuade, or rather bribe him into a match which Miss Lydia was absolutely determined for. I then met up with Mr Gardiner and Mr Bennet, and spent the rest of my time drawing up the necessary documents. The wedding will take place on the last day of this month."
Georgiana nodded at the conclusion of his tale, leaving Darcy to continue to glance at face, as he silently waited for her reaction.
Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed. The silence within the room became a tense hush, as Darcy's concern for her increased. He had expected some kind of reaction to his tale, mentally preparing himself for whatever form it would take, be it grief or rejoicing. Anything but this calm, eerily calm, silence, which, somehow, was all the more worrying.
Then, to his profound relief, she turned to him and smiled. He looked at her face, hardly daring to believe the wisdom he found within her expression. "Georgie?"
"I thought it would bother me," she answered. "That when I heard he was married, such knowledge would cause me to cry, or resent the woman he chose. But it hasn't. All I can do instead, is pity her. At fifteen, to be married to such a man, and such a situation."
Darcy looked at her silently, taking note of her words, and, for the first time, pitying Miss Lydia Bennet as well. All the time he had spent in London, he had been grateful that she was nothing like his sister, and no doubt Wickham would regret his decision in taking her with him from Brighton. Now however, he realised that his reaction had been selfish, and that he had entirely forgotten what it was like for a fifteen year old girl to be in love. He had seen so much of it in his sister at Ramsgate, but all memory of it had been washed away by the events after that summer, as he watched Georgiana gradually recover, albeit to a shadow of her former self.
Now, he saw her recovery in a different light. Her true self had returned, he had just been too concerned with other matters to notice its arrival.
Georgiana touched his hand, bringing him out of his thoughts. "Thank you, brother, for doing all you could to help her. I am sure when Miss Bennet learns of your involvement, she will be just as grateful. I know," she began, guessing his reaction, "that you do not want her gratitude, and so will not tell her, but I hope that one day your dreams are answered so that her knowledge of your involvement will make both of you pleased that she confided such a delicate affair in you."
Darcy smiled at her, and took her other hand. "Georgie, whenever did you get to be so wise in counsel?"
"That time spent with our Uncle of course," she replied, making him laugh in relief and delight at her, before wrapping his arms around her, as he welcomed his sister home.
The other seven days passed more comfortably, as brother and sister spent every one of them together, building a bond which, when it came time for Darcy to return London, he did so in a much more comforted and peaceful frame of mind than when he had first left for town, some four and twenty days ago.
The morning of the thirty-first was met, it has to be said, with considerable relief by all concerned. Relief that the event which had taken so little time to arrange, would take place within a matter of hours, and once over, safely never referred to again. Relief that one daughter was settled for life, though the man in question was not the sort one had previously contemplated as a suitable candidate. Relief that after the event life could return to some sense and form of normality, with little expectation of an early repetition of such circumstances, if indeed ever.
For the Gardiners, as they rose early to dress and then separate to their respective companions for the morning, relief was tempered with other conflicting emotions; such as concern, frustration, and hope that another night had made all the difference. For them the day held the prospect of many trials, and each was doubtful of being achieved by the day's end.
Madeline Gardiner walked into the bedroom where the bride resided in a restrained and composed mind. The task she had set herself to accomplish today, was a familiar one, and had been tried many times before. To acquaint Lydia with all that she would or might need for married life. She had tried to impart her knowledge on the subject from the moment it had become apparent to her that Lydia still had no idea of the grave faults which she had committed by eloping, and the permanent ruin to her reputation, which even marriage could not entirely repair. But she had soon discovered that Lydia heard this advice just as much as she had heard the truths of her actions, and paid them just as little heed. Many times had Mrs Gardiner felt herself provoked by the replies and comments of her youngest niece, but then recollected Jane and Elizabeth, and for their sakes had more patience with her.
She knocked upon the door, then opened it and walked in. She found Lydia by the dresser, already in her gown, and a maid attending to her hair. Reserve never being one of her youngest niece's favourite manners, she was happily chatting to the maid about her hopes for the ceremony and her intended.
"I'll take over, Susan," Mrs Gardiner remarked, to which the maid gratefully handed over the hairbrush and flower pins, then rapidly exited the room. "Good morning, Lydia. How are you this morning?"
"Oh very well, Aunt," Lydia answered as she looked into the mirror, her hands fiddling with the as yet unused flower pins. "I cannot wait for eleven."
"No, I imagine you can not," Mrs Gardiner replied, deciding to try a different approach to her previous attempts. "I remember being excited on my wedding day too. Though I was a few years older than you. I was also nervous as well, about the night that was to come."
"Oh la, I could never be nervous about that," Lydia remarked, "Wickham showed me..-"
"Lydia, that is really something with which one does not discuss at such liberty," Madeline admonished. She watched Lydia's reaction in the mirror, and seeing her sighing, realised that today's try would likely have the same effect as the rest of them. "Now, I thought I ought to give you some advice which you might need in your married life."
Lydia fiddled with the flower pins in her hand, her mind full of relief that this day had finally arrived, for it signalled an end of her Aunt's almost constant sermons and preaching about her behaviour and the future. She also wondered if Wickham would wear his blue coat today, the one which she thought he looked the most handsome in.
Madeline observed her niece's expression, realised the futility of her conversation, but continued all the same.
Hoping silently that her husband was having better luck.
Mr Gardiner's task for the day was one which had not been attempted till now. Not because either of them doubted its outcome, but because both had been uncertain as to when was the best time to attempt it.
His mission, was to persuade his brother in law to relent and let Lydia and her new husband visit Longbourn for a few days. Mr Bennet, when the matter was first brought up, had absolutely refused any reasoning to allow them to visit, and Edward had been forced to acquainting Elizabeth and Jane with this in his letter to them, in the hope that they might send a reply, and persuade their father otherwise. He had decided to wait for such a letter to arrive before trying himself, and he had been relieved to see said letter arrive yesterday morning.
"Andrew," he began, as he entered the Study, discovering after a search of a couple of other rooms that his brother in law had bolted into it, "I am glad to have found you. I wonder if you have given any more thought to letting Lydia visit her mother after the wedding?"
"Now, that's a coincidence, Edward, for I received a letter from Lizzy yesterday regarding the very same thing," Mr Bennet remarked pointedly.
Edward ignored the sarcasm. "Seriously Andrew, it would be wise to let them visit. Not only will it satisfy my sister, but it will also go a long way to ensuring the neighbourhood of the belief that the marriage has your blessing, however hurriedly it was arranged. Your refusal will cause greater gossip in the long run."
Mr Bennet grimaced. "You know, Lizzy said the same thing." He paused to finish his glass of brandy, a fortification which most concerned had partaken of this morning, though in differing amounts. "And you're both right. So against my wishes, I will let them visit after the wedding."
"Thank you Andrew," Edward remarked, just as the door opened to admit his butler. "What is it?" He asked him.
"I regret, sir, that Mr Stone has arrived, and is asking to see you, and he will not be denied," the butler replied, knowing was a great inconvenience such a caller was, and wishing he was not so helpless in the matter.
"I shall see him outside," Edward replied. He turned to his brother in law. "Do not worry, this will take no more than ten minutes."
At least, that is what I hope, he added silently to himself.
Darcy greeted the day with a considerable amount of relief, and a glass of brandy as well, a fortification which he also offered to his reluctant houseguest.
Like his bride, Mr Wickham had not been allowed out of the house the entire fortnight he had spent residing in it. Darcy had taken the care of putting several footmen on an around the clock guard of his old childhood friend, just to make sure that he did not skip the country now that he had legal access to the money which had been granted him for the ensigncy in the northern regiment.
The master of Pemberley had returned to London late the night before, and, after catching some hours of sleep, taken over guard of Wickham and helped him prepare for his wedding.
It was not since their university days that either man had been in such close quarters with the other, and this knowledge had proved the experience to be unsettling. Especially as Wickham had since acquired new methods of taunting his former friend.
"I do hope Mr Bennet relents and lets my wife and I visit Longbourn after the wedding," Wickham was saying. "For I confess I have missed Meryton, and many of its populous."
I bet they have not missed you at all, Darcy thought.
"The residents of Longbourn I have especially missed," Wickham continued. "One Miss Bennet in particular I shall dearly like to see again. I understand from the Gardiners that you have had the honour to see Miss Elizabeth recently too."
"I have," Darcy forced himself to reply in a composed tone.
"She and I parted on unusual terms ourselves," Wickham added. "We also talked about you in our last conversation. She told me that her acquaintance with you in Kent had taught her a better understanding of your disposition, mind and manners."
Despite his best efforts, Darcy found difficulty in remaining unaffected by Wickham's words. Even though he doubted the truth of them, his mind dared to hope all the same. Briefly he paused in the act of straightening his cravat.
Wickham noticed the pause, and inwardly smiled. The truth really does always work the best, he thought to himself. "She did not say that your manners had improved however."
Darcy stopped himself from pausing this time, finishing tying his cravat, then moving away from his companion to put on his jacket.
"Lydia was most surprised to see you when you discovered us," Wickham said, seeing that the previous sentence had had no effect, causing him to move to another. "She had no idea that you and I knew each other. Of course, I informed her of our history." Wickham paused to put on his coat. "I was not surprised by your visit however."
That comment brought Darcy out of his silence. "What do you mean?" He asked Wickham carefully.
"Simply that your spies in Meryton no doubt informed you of my activities in Brighton," Wickham replied, as he looked at Darcy. He waited until the man had met his gaze, then emitted a brief chuckle. "Come on, Darcy. I know you too well. The two of us have grown up together, were educated together. I know the real motive for your coming to the rescue of Lydia."
With that he exited the room, leaving Darcy in deep and sudden thought. Knowing his footmen were still outside, the master of Pemberley took no concern that Wickham had left his sight, only concern over whether there was any truth in his last words. Not until now had it occurred to him that Wickham's whole motive for eloping with Lydia was because he knew of Darcy's interest in Elizabeth, and wanted to see how far he could exploit that interest. The idea was not implausible. Darcy knew Wickham well, so much so that he could guess his every motive, though admittedly when the man only thought about money, motives were not that hard to determine. But it could not be denied that this depth of knowledge could be mutual on both sides.
Had Wickham learned of his love for Elizabeth? Darcy tried to recall the few occasions that he had ever been in company with Wickham during his time in Meryton, and did not think there had been one moment where he had let his guard down and revealed his interest. The only one event, was the night of the Netherfield ball, which Wickham never attended.
But he could have obtained the information from his militia companions who did attend. The knowledge that he had danced with Elizabeth, could certainly cause Wickham some thought, for he knew that Darcy rarely danced.
So, it was plausible. And the realisation of this both terrified and angered him. However, there was little that he could do about it now. Darcy gathered himself once more, then exited the room.
Again to the relief of the parties concerned, the ceremony passed quickly and without any incident. To Lydia's disappointment the guests were only the Gardiners, her father, and Mr Darcy, while to everyone else the lack of attendance was a blessing.
Everyone travelled to Gracechurch Street after the ceremony to partake of a meal, and an uncomfortable series of short conversations were conducted during it.
Wickham, in his quest to unsettle Darcy, inquired charmingly after Pemberley and his sister, causing Darcy the trouble of having to answer him in such as way that seemed casual and polite.
"She is very well, thank you," he answered of Georgiana. "She is currently enjoying a brief holiday before returning to her studies."
"What a delight it must be to see her so well educated," Wickham remarked, in such a tone which made Darcy grip his wine glass so tightly that he had to set it down before he broke it.
Fortunately for him, Mr Bennet took the moment of silence to announce that he had changed his mind, and Lydia and Wickham could visit Longbourn, though he would not accompany them, as he had some business in town.
Wickham thanked him heartily. "I shall be glad to see Longbourn again." He glanced at the man opposite him. "Shall I convey your regards to my sister Elizabeth?"
Darcy looked at him, and for one moment the mask dropped, allowing Wickham to see that any further comments and he would risk being called out by his once friend. Wisely he chose to remain silent for the rest of the meal.
Mr Bennet observed the look of death from Mr Darcy, and found himself wondering not for the first time the truth behind the background of these two childhood friends, now enemies. A truth which he knew now for certain that Mr Darcy had withheld when he described to him his previous dealings with Mr Wickham. He also wondered at the choice of words phrased by Wickham and whether the man knew that they would provoke this type of response. Clearly he had, though not to the degree which it did.
What was also obvious now, and more evident than it had ever been, was that Darcy cared about Elizabeth, Mr Bennet's favourite daughter. While he had been warned of the possibility, Mr Bennet could not help but feel some surprise still at the confirmation of all his wondering.
All that was left to him now, was to arrive at a conclusion as to what his opinion of Mr Darcy was, of those feelings that he had for Elizabeth.
And what feelings she had for him.