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.
For what was the second evening in a row, Darcy found himself once more preparing for a dinner engagement in Gracechurch Street. It was a location which, but a year ago, he would have thought it beneath him to even walk through, let alone make a frequent acquaintance of.
But recent months had caused many changes to both himself and those around him, and to such a degree that he now felt to have acquaintances in Cheapside an honour rather than a mark of shame.
Often now, he had found reason to disregard one of the lessons he had applied to himself after the almost disastrous affair at Ramsgate; the limiting oneself to choose friends in one's circles or positions in Society. The influence of Wickham upon his family had taught him to be distrustful of any below his station in life, now the influence of Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner was teaching him that sometimes it was useful and worthwhile to have a wide circle of friends from any situation in life.
He remembered when he had first encountered them; after apologising to Miss Bennet for not receiving her properly, when he had met her upon his estate. He had been so determined to make a good impression for her sake; to show her that he was capable of change, that he had not even hesitated when she mentioned where her Aunt and Uncle lived in London, save for a slight wince as he detected the challenge in her tone during their introduction. Surprising her, and himself, he had not only met them, he had entered into conversation with them, thereby discovering further cause to mend his ways, as he learned the nature of their characters.
This acquaintance was now further deepened by the events in London. Though the elopement was what neither party would wish for, it had enabled Darcy to discover in his new acquaintances a keen business sense, as well as a level of trust, which their level of acquaintance did not warrant, nor did he at times feel worthy of. Both had accepted to keep his part in bringing about the marriage of their niece a secret, even though Darcy suspected they were both curious as to why such a concealment was necessary. They had even helped him persuade Lydia to conceal his presence at her wedding, despite the girl's insistence that even if she did say a word, it would not be taken seriously.
Darcy finished the final touches to his cravat- he had still not seen the need for his valet to join him in town, when he would be returning to Derbyshire so soon -as he recalled that last conversation before the conclusion of the evening. The couple were now on the their way to Longbourn, where they would reside until Wickham's regiment called him to the North country, the same time when Mr Bennet would depart from his brother in law's. His degree of acquaintance with that gentleman had also been a surprise to him. He could well see why Miss Elizabeth was her father's favourite, for their wit was almost the same, save a more cynical air in the father's, while the daughter, as he had learned, had yet to add that trait to herself.
These three new acquaintances he would now dine tonight with, and Darcy could not deny that he had rarely looked with such a degree of expectation toward a dinner engagement before. Usually such invitations he would refuse, or attend only out of a familial sense of obligation, knowing them to nothing more than something to endure rather than enjoy. At Gracechurch Street, he had every hope it would be the latter emotion tonight.
With this thought in his mind, Darcy turned at the knock upon the door of his rooms, followed by the announcement from one of his footmen that the carriage was waiting outside. He thanked the footman, and put on his jacket as he followed him out the room and down to the Entrance Hall of his townhouse.
The evening was indeed a contrast to the one which had passed before it. Gone were the awkward silences which had resulted from many deceptively charmingly phrased comments and inquiries by one of the guests before. Gone were the tense, rapidly altered feelings of shock, and anger, another result of said inquiries. Gone was the embarrassment produced by the new wife at the table, whenever she remarked something normally deemed inappropriate by Society and civilised circles of acquaintance.
With the departure of two guests who had caused all of the above sensations, the dinner passed much more smoothly, to the relief of all concerned. It was also, much more informal. Due to the absence of their youngest niece, Mr and Mrs Gardiner felt they could safely include their children at the dinner table, an addition which their guest found himself greeting as a welcome one.
Being the much elder brother of a younger sister, Darcy held fond though sad memories of his previous interaction with children. In recent years, these memories, influenced as they were by the sudden and unexpected passing of his mother, were tempered by his frequent encounters with the children of his tenants and married servants within his household, as well as his entrance into the obligations of a godparent when his eldest cousin's heir was born. It was with all of these experiences in mind that he greeted the Gardiner children the first time and now, in whom he found manners resembling those of the two eldest Miss Bennet, leaving in him the answer at last as to why there lay such a contrast of behaviour in the five daughters. Obviously the elders had been influenced by more time spent in the company of their Aunt and Uncle.
With such impressions, it was no wonder that the time before all parties entered the dining parlour passed without incident. The quartet of Gardiner children found much to delight of in their parent's new friend, and there were two beaming smiles upon the girls as they were given the honour of his escort to dinner.
Darcy felt Mr Bennet's eyes upon him once more as he saw the children to their seats before taking a seat himself, opposite the man who was the father of the woman he loved. He knew that the gentleman doubtless held many questions still as to the nature of his motives in his assistance in the affairs which had called them all to London, and it could not be denied that Darcy felt a certain sense of obligation to answer, were any such inquiries made. If any of his hopes about his future with Miss Elizabeth were to be achieved, a deeper understanding and the respect of her father must also be obtained.
Conversation was opened by Mrs Gardiner, who expressed the hope that their guest had not been too much disturbed by the comments of some of their guests the night before.
"No, I was not," Darcy replied, "I have known Mr Wickham a long time, and his comments of last night were of little surprise to me. As to those of your niece, if you will forgive me, I was only surprised at the marked contrast between her and my sister who is the same age."
"If I may say," Mr Bennet began, "I think the difference is probably based entirely on influences. My youngest has had little to vex her in her life, which has perhaps led to her present character. She is her mother's favourite, much to her cost."
Darcy inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I often wish my own mother were still alive to influence. Georgiana has not enough female acquaintances in her life."
"It is a credit to you that she has done so well without them," Mrs Gardiner remarked. "Elizabeth and I were most pleased to make her acquaintance while we were in Derbyshire."
"She was pleased to make your acquaintances as well, ma'am," Darcy returned. "And most sorry to see it cut short."
"As were we," Mrs Gardiner added. "Your return to her before now must have be a relief for her."
"It was. She is not used to playing hostess, even to the family of my closest friend, and I was glad to relieve her of the task of saying farewell to them. They departed at the end of first week of my return."
"And how is Mr Bingley?" Mr Bennet asked, deducing the identity of the closest friend. "Does he have any plans to revisit his the property of his tenancy?"
Darcy inwardly winced at these words, as he recalled that it was partly due to his own shameful actions that Mr Bingley had not returned to Hertfordshire. "He mentioned no plans to me sir, but I do plan to call on him after he returns to town from visiting his relatives in the South, with the suggestion of paying a visit to Netherfield. It does not do to neglect an estate, even if one is only its tenant. Indeed I believe we are all tenants of the land we live on, it still continuing to survive long after we have departed from it."
"Very true, sir, very true," Mr Bennet replied, his face inwardly smiling at yet another appearance of a good character trait. Despite his youth Mr Darcy seemed to be a very mature gentleman, far superior to those of his peers which Mr Bennet had at times become acquainted with, through the various lettings of Netherfield. "If you are successful in your persuasion, I can assure of at least one family's welcome to your friend's return to the neighbourhood." He paused to take a sip of wine, before inquiring, "will you be joining him?"
"I cannot say, sir," Darcy answered. "That all depends on whether Bingley feels he needs my company." And if he can forgive my actions that caused this long neglect in the first place, he added silently. He had never done anything to incur his friend's anger before, but he had no doubt of encountering such an emotion after he confessed all his actions concerning Miss Bennet, as he intended to do so.
"I see," Mr Bennet was saying, as Darcy came out of his thoughts, "I shall only add then, that if you do return to the neighbourhood with your friend, I would be interested in renewing acquaintance with you."
"That I can safely say, sir, I would be both honoured and intending to do," Darcy replied, whereupon the conversation turned to other matters.
The rest of the evening passed agreeably for all parties concerned, leaving many a source of welcome recollection for Darcy when he rose the next day. It was to be his last day in town for a while, and he put what hours he had before he left for Derbyshire to good use, by seating himself in his study and composing the following to his friend;
I hope you have arrived safe and well at your relatives. I understood from our last conversation that you do not intend to spend long in the South. Therefore, I take the liberty of suggesting to you a return to Netherfield. You could limit it to a shooting party, thereby not interrupting your sister's plans. I feel a return to the estate is necessary on your part, as it has been too long neglected, even if only to see one last time before giving up tenancy of the property.
It would also present an opportunity to renew many of the acquaintances you have made in the county, and perhaps reconsider the decision to give up some of them forever.
He knew the letter would likely present his friend with many questions, but its lack of length and confessions was necessary. Darcy felt it would not be right to present a confession and repentance of his actions earlier this years in a letter. He owed it to his friend to tell him face to face, and receive whatever penance or judgement he demanded.
Whether it forever severed their friendship or not.
The end of the week procured Mr Bennet's own departure from town, he having timed it so that he was not forced to encounter his newest son in law's presence at Longbourn. By the time he returned to his home, the Wickhams would have departed for the North country.
During his welcome peace in his brother in law's house, Andrew Bennet had, at times, doubted his previous decision not to return to Hertfordshire until his youngest had left the county. Then his sister had received a letter from his eldest, describing the lack of difference in the new Mrs Wickham's character, and any such doubts were completely done away with, save for a lingering guilt that Jane and Elizabeth were having to cope not only with their sister, but their mother and the management of their home as well.
Elizabeth. Mr Bennet ceased gathering together what little home comforts he had packed a month ago as the thought of his favourite crossed his mind. He had not seen her since this terrible affair began. Often he had considered writing to her, going so far as even to put a pen in hand and scratch her name out on some paper, but to no avail. Whenever he attempted he found he had not the words nor the will to bestow on her the burdens which by rights were his alone. She had, after all, warned him about the perils of letting her sister go to Brighton. Andrew grimaced as he recalled what he had said in reply. We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go then. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of prey to anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance even as a common flirt than she has been here. The officers will find women better worth their notice. Let us hope, that her being there may teach her her own insignificance. At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorising us to lock her up for the rest of her life.
Never had he more cause to eat his own words than at this moment. Elizabeth's warning had not only been wise, it had also been rightly timed. Often, before all of this had evolved, Mr Bennet had wondered as to his daughter's motives behind the warning which she had given him that morning, a warning to which he now wished he had paid heed. He could deduce that something or someone had warned her about one of the officers in the militia, and the warning was serious enough for her to be concerned despite their lack of dowries. Now, thanks to these events, he knew that it had been the latter. At some point during her time in Kent, Mr Darcy had informed his daughter of Mr Wickham's character, causing her words to him after her return from Hunsford.
And the same man who had warned her, had stepped forward and helped them when events turned out to be what his favourite had feared. His motives too, had appeared elusive to Mr Bennet, at least at first. Now however, he was fairly certain that he knew what, or, more importantly, who they involved. Though whether or not Mr Darcy had his blessings in such a matter, Mr Bennet had yet to determine.
Having finished packing his personal effects, Andrew prepared to leave his room and join his brother and sister in law downstairs. As he did so, he continued with his present train of thoughts.
Andrew had nothing against Mr Darcy in general. The true character of people was often learned in extraordinary situations, and certainly, there had been a surplus of such in town, leaving him of nothing but the highest opinion of the man who had saved his youngest from the possibility of permanent ruin. Indeed, he would be proud to welcome the man as a son in law. But he had yet to learn the nature of feelings the daughter in question felt for him, and they would decide the outcome entirely.
Such feelings he would endeavour to discover upon his return to Longbourn, and it was with this notion in mind that Mr Bennet entered the dining parlour of Gracechurch Street, to find his sister and brother in law, from their similar facial expressions, in evident expectation of his appearance for breakfast.
"What ever is the matter, Madeline?" He asked, noting the letter which lay before Mrs Gardiner, as he availed himself of some food before taking a seat at the table.
"It seems Mr Darcy's wish of Longbourn remaining ignorant of his actions regarding Lydia are all for naught," Mrs Gardiner replied. She then handed her brother in law the letter she had been holding. "This arrived from Elizabeth this morning."
Mr Bennet took little time in reading the short letter. When he had finished, he returned it to his sister, before remarking, "I see Lydia let slip his presence at her wedding." He looked across at her. "What shall we do?"
"I can see no alternative but to inform Lizzy of the truth," Mrs Gardiner answered. "She will accept nothing less than a full account of events."
Andrew nodded. "I know it will mean breaking our promise of concealment, but I agree, Elizabeth will not be satisfied unless we tell her the whole. If you wish, I will wait until you have finished writing your reply, and take it to Longbourn myself."
"That would be best," Mrs Gardiner agreed, before rising from the table to commence such a task.
Sometime later Mr Bennet carried this letter to Longbourn, intending to hand it to Elizabeth the moment he had the chance.
It was awhile before he had the opportunity. Arriving at his home, he was greeted eagerly by his wife, in a mixture of exclamation and agitation, at his long absence, the union of her favourite, the delay in his departure from London, his failure to welcome his new son in law to Longbourn, and to return from Gracechurch Street to assure her of not calling Wickham out for a duel.
Andrew bore all of these protestations from his wife with equanimity, managing to greet his two eldest and then the rest of his daughters, wisely waiting for Mrs Bennet to exhaust herself before retiring to the sanctuary of his Library. There he seated himself in his favourite armchair and treated himself to a glass of his favourite port, before ringing the bell for Hill, and asking that she send Elizabeth into him.
His favourite daughter entered the room with no small degree of concern, and was most surprised when he handed her the reply from her Aunt. Andrew returned to his armchair, silently observing her as she learned of all that had occurred in London.
Elizabeth opened the letter from her Aunt with a great amount of expectation as to what it would contain. Discovering that it not only answered her curiosity as to why Mr Darcy attended Lydia's wedding, but it also revealed that he had brought the entire thing about in the first place. He had followed them purposely to town, he had taken on himself all the trouble and mortification attendant on such a research; in which supplication had been necessary to a woman whom he must abominate and despise, and where he was reduced to meet, frequently meet, reason with, persuade, and finally bribe, the man whom he always most wished to avoid, and whose very name it was punishment for him to pronounce. He had done this all for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper that he had done it for her. But it was a hope shortly checked by other considerations, despite all the hints which her Aunt had wrote.
Mr Bennet watched his daughter carefully through all of this; noting her gasp as her suspicions were confirmed, followed by the realisation of the enormity of what Mr Darcy had done for their family. Therefore he did not miss the subtle expression upon her face as she considered that he had might have done all this for her, followed by a rapid disappointment as she took in other considerations.
When she finally looked up, it was to meet his eyes. "My dear," he began, "I know what you must be thinking. I had the pleasure of reaching a deeper acquaintance with your Mr Darcy through all of this. Yes, he is still your Mr Darcy. He did not say as much, but I have lived long enough in the world to discern when a man is crossed in love. I do not think that he gave any thought to what relation Wickham would become to you. And, though I do not have it as certain, I do have reason to believe that you and he will encounter each other soon." He paused to lean forward and take one of her hands in his own before he continued. "Now, I learned enough of the man to approve of him if he indeed came to claim you, but I want to know your feelings. You have been very reserved of late, Elizabeth. You have told me nothing of your acquaintance with Darcy in Kent, or Derbyshire, though as for the latter county we have hardly the time for such a talk."
Elizabeth heard the words of her father with surprise, and some minutes passed before she had composed herself enough to answer him with a review of what had happened both in Kent and Derbyshire. To his astonishment did she inform him that Darcy had proposed to her in Hunsford and that she had refused him, followed by a change of heart as she came to see his estate, to see him altered in manners, then to learn of all he had done for her in London. Her mind now recalled that morning in Lambton, when he had happened upon after she had just read Jane's letters informing her of the dreadful news. She could still feel the touch of Darcy's hand upon her own, after he had helped her back to her chair, concerned deeply for well-being. She saw now what she had been too distraught to see before; the looks of concern and care which had given her as she relayed the news, followed by an expression and a tone of restraint on grief, which had existed within him as he paid her farewell. She realised now that his hastened departure was not from a want to distance himself from her and her family, but to follow them to London, and find her sister.
"I love him, Papa," She finished, so softly that Mr Bennet had to lean forward to hear the words. "I only realised after he had left me in the room at Lambton Inn, how exactly suited we were, in both disposition and character. I had no hope of ever seeing him again. I still don't. How can a man not hesitate when he knows that his enemy would be his brother?"
"Lizzy, I do believe the man would do anything for you," Mr Bennet remarked, looking at his daughter with a mixture of happiness and regret, at seeing her in love with a man he deemed worthy of her, and the realisation that soon he would lose her. "He asked us to keep this matter a secret, you know."
"I know," she replied, "and his professed reason for it is not without merit."
"Nor is it, I believe his only one," Mr Bennet added, watching her. "If he did not care so much for you, I do not believe he would have done all this." He squeezed her hand. "Do not despair. He spoke of asking Bingley to return to Netherfield soon, and said he would join him, if he was invited. You will know then."
Elizabeth nodded, then rose from her, and still clutching her letter from her Aunt, left her father to his reflections, while she sought her room, to reflect herself.
Memories overwhelmed Darcy as he and Bingley arrived at Netherfield once more. His mind flicked from one to another; from the day when he had rode on horseback around the estate, to the ball, where he had danced with Elizabeth. He could still picture the moment he had seen her arrive, from the window where he had sworn moments before not to watch for her arrival. He recalled how he had seen her gazing up at him, how beautiful she looked, with white ribbons and flowers in her hair, and a clinging silk dress.
He knew now how she had not wanted to dance with him, how annoyed she had been that his presence prevented Wickham's. But the evening was still one of favourite memories from his short time in Hertfordshire, because it had enabled him to partake in a debate with her, to hear her views. He had almost smiled at her as he asked if she walked often into Meryton.
Darcy came out of his recollections, and glanced at his friend. Bingley was uncharacteristically silent as he dismounted and walked up to the open door where the housekeeper stood waiting for them. They had sent word a week before from London for the house to be opened up, unintentionally announcing to the neighbourhood that they would soon return. He suspected that his friend was also under the same influence which he had recently been, recalling memories of the last visit to his newly acquired tenancy. Guilt flashed into his mind as he realised how much those memories could have been altered if he had told his friend about Miss Bennet's presence in town. He had persuaded his friend to return to Netherfield to change all that, though Darcy doubted how successful he would be in such an undertaking.
They entered the house, walking into the large entrance hall, discarding themselves of their long coats now they were in more warmer surroundings. Bingley talked to his housekeeper for a few moments, while Darcy made his way into the drawing room, memories flooding him as he recalled the time he had spent here after the assembly. When he had made reference to sooner calling Mrs Bennet a wit rather than her second daughter pretty. How wrong he had been. About everything.
Bingley entered the room, and Darcy turned to look at him. Observing the same expression of conflicted thoughts upon his friend, he wished suddenly that he had brought Georgiana with him. His sister had been sorry to lose his company once more after he had returned from town and informed her of his plans. Her influence might have proved a much needed distraction from too many guilt inflicted memories. With her Darcy had felt far more faith in his quest to confess to Bingley and to try for Elizabeth's hand again. Now he was here and essentially alone, no one else being aware of his thoughts, hopes and dreams, he began to doubt himself.
"The guns and game are ready for us," Bingley remarked, abruptly, bringing Darcy out of his introspection. "Shall we go and try them now?"
Darcy turned to his friend, and saw within his expression the unspoken need for distraction from the memories which inhabited this house. He nodded, recognising the need within himself, and hoping that afternoon spent shooting added to a morning spent riding would exhaust him into a dreamless sleep for their first night back at Netherfield.
For three days this need for distraction seemed to be conquered by the plentiful amount of game among the acres of the Netherfield estate. The two gentleman bedded late, rose early, partaking of nourishment only when necessary, the kind of existing which Darcy had had become used to during his search for Wickham. By contrast, the grouse and pheasant were much easier prey, especially with dogs to pick up their scent and hound them out, and gamekeepers keeping track of their nests and current settlement areas. But something was missing from the hunt, which both friends tried to ignore in vain, until the subject became unavoidable.
Since their arrival in the neighbourhood, they had yet to be called upon by any of the families, a fact which both were grateful for, and at the same time, saddened by, as they realised the consequences of their sudden departure last year. For a time they welcomed the unaccustomed privacy, as they tried to forget the world surrounding them in hour after hour of gentlemanly pursuits. But as the days drifted on, the need for other company grew, to such an extent that Darcy welcomed the following suggestion from his friend.
"I was thinking we should call on Longbourn today," Bingley announced during breakfast, in a slightly nervous tone.
Darcy flinched inwardly at the underlying quest for approval which came from his friend. Not for the first time did he regret in resorting to lay such control over his friend's actions. "I am your guest, Bingley," he gently reminded him, "you do not need to ask for my approval in whom you choose to visit in your own estate."
"I do need to ask for your company, however," Bingley said.
"You have it," Darcy replied without thinking.
Only later, as he followed his friend up the driveway, did Darcy realise the overwhelming sense of nervousness which came suddenly upon him as he entered the Longbourn estate. His last encounter with Elizabeth had been barely two months ago, but that now felt like an age of time far greater than eight weeks. He felt tongue-tied, unsure of himself in every way, and an almost ruling need to turn round and head back to Netherfield. But he resisted the latter impulse. This first meeting, after all that had passed between them in Derbyshire and while they were apart would be hard he knew, on both of them. But it was also a necessary requirement, if he ever hoped to try again for her hand.
The housekeeper greeted them at the door, and they were shown into the drawing room, where the entire family were assembled. Darcy felt his gaze go immediately to Elizabeth, noticing where she had sat, her sister and father close by. Her eyes met his for a moment, then dropped to the floor, and a sense of sadness instantly filled his mind.
It was with regret that he turned his gaze away from her to her sister instead, as he measured her expression upon meeting with Bingley again. Miss Bennet seemed outwardly calm and at ease, but Darcy saw now what he did not see all those months ago, as he realised how similar her character was to his own, in their habit of hiding their feelings from the rest of the world. He saw Miss Bennet's nervousness at encountering his friend, coupled at the same time with a small flicker of hope that he had returned for her. Again he rebuked himself for the costly mistake his interference had caused.
Mrs Bennet gestured them to chairs, involving Bingley in conversation and quite ignoring him. Darcy was grateful for the motion, as it enabled him to turn to those he knew better, and could converse with more ease. He aware of how much he had to show Elizabeth that he was unchanged from their encounter in Derbyshire, that it was not just his home which made him more sociable in company. He glanced at the table between her and her father, noting the black and white figures, and choose that as his opener.
"I did not know that you played," he remarked, careful to keep his voice audible to her and her father, rather than the room at large.
Elizabeth seemed to glance at the chess pieces in surprise, then turned and slowly answered him. "My father thought me."
"As did mine," Darcy revealed, looking at her, wishing she would raise her eyes to his, but they seemed to be permanently fixed upon her hands which were clasped together on her lap. He saw the tension within that clasp, and wished he could abandon propriety and reach out and take them in his own. "I taught Georgiana, much to my Aunt Catherine's disapproval," he added, hoping further conversation would ease them both. "She believed that it was not a ladies' game."
"How is your sister?" Elizabeth asked.
"She is well," Darcy answered, glad to hear her voice again. "Mrs Annesley is with her in Derbyshire. My friend's sisters have been in Scarborough these three weeks." He paused, then forwarded an inquiry of his own. "How are Mr and Mrs Gardiner?"
"I think I can answer that with better authority than my daughter," Mr Bennet remarked, entering the conversation, a motion which Darcy saw that Elizabeth was grateful for. "They were well when I left them last."
Darcy nodded, his gaze still upon Elizabeth, wishing she would either speak or raise her eyes. He felt suddenly as if his presence was a burden to her, as though she was only being civil as far as civility would allow, and his heart almost broke at thought. He wondered if his hurried departure in Lambton had severed all connection between them forever. He turned his observation on Bingley, noticing that Miss Bennet, though seemingly focused on the needlework between her hands, was quietly listening to the conversation between his friend and her mother.
Mrs Bennet was currently telling the news of her daughter's marriage. "I suppose you have heard of it, indeed you must have seen it in the papers. It was in the Times and the Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said 'Lately George Wickham Esq. to Miss Lydia Bennet' without there being a syllable said of her father or the place where she lived, or any thing."
Darcy shut his hearing from the conversation at that point, remembering how they had all decided that such a short notice was only right due to the situation and circumstances of the marriage in the first place. As he turned back to Elizabeth he noticed her sudden glance at him, as though she was wondering how he would react to such news. Anxiously he returned her gaze, trying to assure her that his feelings had not changed, just because his enemy was now her brother in law.
A moment later, and she was looking at her hands again, leaving him no more hopeful than he had been before. "How long do you intend to stay in the neighbourhood?" Mr Bennet asked him.
"I do not know," Darcy replied, "I am entirely at Bingley's disposal. A few weeks at least."
With that, it seemed all attempt at conversation was at an end. His friend called him briefly into a conversation with Mrs Bennet, seeking his agreement in them dining at Longbourn the next day. Darcy agreed, but his mind was on other things, as they said farewell and took their leave.
He followed his friend's steed back to Netherfield, a heavy sadness creeping over his heart. She had been grave and silent. Whatever hope he had of them finding an understanding must be now at an end.
With such emotions in his mind, the dinner at Longbourn did not pass with any greater success. Darcy found himself in different company from Elizabeth throughout, as he was left to Mrs Bennet or Mrs Long, or Mr Goulding, or some other minor acquaintance from Meryton and its environs. When he did try to talk to her, there seemed to be only time for a small conversation before others surrounded her or him, or she was required to go and serve guests their coffee or tea.
This separation between them, however painful, also gave Darcy a chance to observe relations between his friend and Miss Bennet. Despite their parting so many months ago, despite everything seeming almost against them, they appeared as much the same as they had been a year ago. Darcy watched them quietly, with a mixture of happiness and envy, as he came to several decisions about his future in Meryton.
"I shall be returning to London tomorrow Charles," he announced to his friend after the dinner was over and they were back at Netherfield.
"Whatever for, Darcy?" Bingley asked him in surprise.
"I have some business which me requires me there," Darcy replied, lying, before he added a part of the real truth for his departure. "I also feel that my presence will soon become an impediment to you, and Miss Bennet."
His friend reddened, showing him that he had guessed correctly relations between him and Miss Bennet. "Charles, I feel I must confess something to you, an event which I should have prevented from occurring in the first place." Darcy paused, to look his friend straight in the eye.
"I realised some time ago I was wrong about Miss Bennet's feelings for you. Our engagements at Longbourn since have only confirmed matters for me. I realise now that, had I told you this earlier, you would have been happier than you have all these months. I knew Miss Bennet was London in earlier this year, the same time we were, and I withheld that information from you."
"How... how did you know?" Bingley asked, astonished.
"She paid call on your sister, while you were with your lawyers. I watched her leave. Your sister returned the call, but not for many weeks."
"You tell me now," Bingley began, "that she was in London, all those months, and you concealed it from me?"
"Yes. I can offer no justification. It was an arrogant presumption based on a failure to recognise your true feelings... and Miss Bennet's." Darcy paused, looking at his friend solemnly. "I should never have interfered. It was very wrong of me, Bingley, and I apologise."
Bingley seemed completely astonished. "You admit that you were in the wrong?"
"Utterly and completely."
"Then I have your blessing?"
Darcy looked at him steadily, surprised, saddened and pleased that his friend would still ask after all that he had done. "Do you need my blessing?"
"No. But I should like to know I have it all the same."
"Then go to it," Darcy answered, and witnessed his friend acquire a grin which had been missing ever since they last left Hertfordshire. I wish you all the luck in the world my friend, he thought silently. I have no hope left for mine.
[blot] hope your time in London [blot] been put to [blot] use, and that your business has [blot] concluded to your satisfaction. I also [blot] that you will return soon to [blot]erfield, and [blot]oy the delights of Meryton once more.
The [blot] you departed I went to L[blot]ourn, where I manage to secure a moment alone with Miss [blot] Bennet. Sooner than I had i[blot]ned, I offered her my [blot] in marriage, and to my greatest joy she has [blot]pted me. I instantly applied for her father's [blot]ent, which he was pleas[blot] to give, indeed the whole household is in raptures.
I have [blot]rmed Caroline and Louisa, though I have [blot] receive a reply. It seems they are not as [blot]py as I am about Jane becoming my wife. [blot] must attempt to reconcile themselves, as I will not let their disapproval stand in my [blot].
I urge your return to Netherfield, as I have many things to discuss with you, most of the [blot]ing date, for which I hope you will stand up with me.
It was with an experienced dexterity that Darcy managed to decipher the following express, when his butler presented it to him in the morning. Reading Bingley's letters had become as required a course at Cambridge as the rest of his studies, when he first met his friend. And he had held an inkling as to what news this particular missive would contain.
Smiling he laid down the letter, as he pictured how happy Elizabeth must be at her sister's engagement. It was an imagining muddied in sadness, for he still held little hope over ever having the luck to place himself in the same happy circumstances which his friend had just entered. She had been grave and silent both times he had encountered her. What other answer could he derive from this evidence than that she no longer desired his intentions?
Still, he wondered at the contrast. In Derbyshire she had seemed willing, receptive to his attentions. Was she ashamed at her family's connection to Wickham? Or was she just as unsure as himself about his feelings for her as he was of hers? Darcy sighed. He had spent several days in London with the same questions repeating themselves over and over in his mind. And he was no closer to answering any of them than he was before.
What a contrast to the months before! In Derbyshire, he had hopeful, so hopeful, almost ready to believe that a few days in company together would accomplish all his hopes and dreams. This hope had not faded when he travelled to town and spent all those hours searching for sister and bringing about the marriage.
Not until he had arrived at Longbourn, had been doubtful about her feelings. He had seen enough in that long gaze exchanged between them at Pemberley to know that his hope was not even in vain. But now, faced with what he had experienced a few days ago, he was beginning to doubt what he had seen, both in that look, and during the their conversation in the Inn at Lambton, when he had wanted nothing more but to take her into his arms, and kiss away her tears.
A part of him wondered what would have happened, if he had had the same luck as he friend had, and encountered her alone during his brief time at Netherfield. Would everything be immediately understood between them? Would he be now in the same state as his friend? He had been wondering as long as he had been in town if there was anything which he could have done differently which might change everything. Now he was no longer so sure.
Just as he was unsure of everything now. He was so used to questioning his motives, his manners, his entire nature after Hunsford, that it had become an ingrained habit. The only thing he did not doubt was his decision to question everything, to view himself from another view, one different than himself, to become a better person than the one he had been until that fateful day in the Parsonage. He had become so used to improving himself, for her and for his own character that the possibility that he might never have a chance of succeeding with the woman who had made this change occur was saddening.
With his mind still ruminating upon this subject, Darcy moved from the breakfast parlour to the music room, where evidence that he was not alone in the world lay. His sister was still at Pemberley, but her instruments were here as in Derbyshire, and he hoped their presence would soothe him as they had done before.
With knowledgeable hands he fingered a few of the ivory keys, his mind too preoccupied to form a tune or movement. He had learned the instrument as his sister had, a well kept secret between the two of them, and occasionally still played, but his mind was too conflicted to focus on such a distraction now.
Or was it? Before he knew it, he was sitting down, and fingers well playing the first few notes of a piece which had become his favourite, ever since he had heard it sung by her at Pemberley. For a moment during her performance, he had imagined that she was not a guest, that her performance was at his request, not his sister's. That afterwards, if she had not been forestalled by Caroline that she would have sought a seat beside him. There had been so much to hope for after that evening. Hopes which had disappeared the moment he learned of Wickham's affairs.
He recalled now, the implication of his enemy that his elopement with Lydia had been part of a deliberate design, in order to gain his help. Though he had denied it, Darcy knew that their childhood together had taught them both an insight into the other. And it did make more sense as to why he had chosen a penniless girl as oppose to one with a fortune. If these suspicions were true, it followed that if he ignored the chance to try for Elizabeth again, Wickham would have had his revenge, and more powerfully than he ever would have that almost fateful summer in Ramsgate.
As compelling as this argument was, Darcy still felt reluctant to return to Netherfield and follow it through to its possible conclusion. Perhaps it was cowardly of him to hide away in London rather than face her, but if she did indeed care nothing for him, this absence of his would be easier on her, as the engagement of his friend and her sister would throw them into each other's company many times in the future.
Perhaps one of those occasions was all he had left to hope for. All he had left to enjoy of her company. A shiver went down his spine at such a thought. Yet he knew the necessity of thinking about such an eventuality. He needed to prepare himself.
While his heart slowly broke inside.
Darcy found himself airborne from the sofa the second he heard her voice. Her arrival, nay, even the notion, of her visiting him in his townhouse, took him completely by surprise.
It was several days after he had received news from Bingley, coming to a time when he was soon resolved to return to Netherfield and support his friend, even while he envied him, and mourned the loss of ever having the opportunity to experience the same happiness. During this interval he had settled his accounts, corresponded with his steward, though not with his sister, as he did not feel ready to tell her of his current state of mind, and finally, sought to prepare himself for a return to his friend's house, and to his friend's current contentment, while suffering under the opposite emotion himself.
Now however, all thoughts were scattered to the wings as he and his townhouse received a most unexpected visitor. One who never paid a call anywhere unless they were informed that the person they wished to see was unable to travel to their estate. One who was used to other people paying calls on them, attending to their views and needs, and, more importantly, agreeing with every opinion, and obeying their every whim.
Having heard and recognised her voice, he was already on his feet and still trying to recover from his astonishment when the doors to the Drawing Room opened and his butler announced her entrance.
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh."
Even his butler, one who was, on a daily basis, used to forcibly forbidding admittance to the many callers who believed themselves allowed to call on Derbyshire's most eligible bachelor whenever he happened to be in town, looked uncomfortable in the formidable presence of his master's maternal Aunt. Behind her he raised his eyes to Darcy, an apologetic glance overcoming his face, as he silently reported that he had failed to keep this visitor out of the many which had tried to see him during this sojourn in town, from entering the house.
Darcy sent an equally silent glance back, trying to convey to his faithful servant that he was not to blame himself for this unexpected occurrence. He then inclined his head, motioning him to return to the sanctuary of his rooms downstairs. Only then did he turned to his Aunt. "Lady Catherine, I must confess myself surprised at the ..... honour of your visit," he remarked in greeting, hoping his hesitation over the word 'honour' had passed unnoticed.
"Nephew, I have no time for civilities. My only reason for visiting is because my first meeting failed to result in the outcome I desired." With this she paused and sat down, inclining her head in a silent gesture for him to do the same, despite that she was a guest in his house. "I came here directly from Hertfordshire in the quest for answers which the person who was the object of my first visit failed to provide me."
Here she paused, giving Darcy time to wonder at the identity of said person. As far as he knew, his Aunt had no acquaintances in Hertfordshire. However, he could think of a few which were connected to him. A horrible feeling arose within him as he suddenly realised that notice of his friend's engagement to Miss Bennet would have inevitably travelled to Mr Collins, who in turn would have relayed such news to his Aunt. Though what connection this now had to him, he could not think.
"Before I relay to you, nephew, the account of said visit, I must ask you this. Have you made Elizabeth Bennet an offer of marriage?"
The question caught him completely by surprise. Darcy had never imagined that anyone could have had the slightest suspicions of his actions in Hunsford during April, save perhaps Colonel Fitzwilliam, whom he trusted to keep his own counsel. Though disguise of any sort was his abhorrence, he felt it best to reply with the following. "No, Aunt."
Lady Catherine seemed to breathe a visible sigh of relief at this answer. "A report containing this most alarming nature of news reached me three days ago. I was told that your friend Mr Bingley had become engaged to Miss Bennet, and that you would soon ally yourself to her sister. Though I knew it must be a scandalous falsehood, I instantly resolved on setting off for her father's house, in order to make my sentiments known to Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Oh no. Darcy inwardly groaned, careful to keep his emotions from becoming apparent to his Aunt. He could just imagine how such an encounter had played out. Then again, he could not. He caught the disgust in his Aunt's tone as she spoke her name, and, for the first time in days, the tiny flame of hope within him, the one which had refused, despite the certainty in his grieving heart, to die, began to flicker alive.
"I found her at home with her remaining sisters and her mother. I was surprised to see that Longbourn was such a small park, I had understood from Mr Collins that his inheritance was to be greater than that. I was received into what must be a most inconvenient sitting room in the summer. The windows were full west!"
Lady Catherine paused here, seemingly insensible of the shock she was giving her nephew, before adding, "but to resume. I managed to gain an interview alone with the girl. I shall repeat an exact account of this meeting to you now, nephew, so you may understand the anger and other emotions which I am presently suffering under. Be assured that my memory of such things, is as always, precise.
"I began by informing her that I am not to be trifled with. That however insincere she may chose to be, she would not find me so. That I am celebrated in my neighbourhood for my frankness and sincerity, and such an occasion as this shall not make me depart from such a character. I then informed her of the scandalous falsehood which had been relayed to me then three days ago. She replied that why, if I had believed it to be untrue, I had taken the trouble of coming so far. What did I propose by it?"
There again, came a short pause, allowing Darcy to picture the meeting in his mind, and Elizabeth's voice as she said those words. Even though he rarely took the wisdom of his Aunt without also taking the proverbial pinch of salt, he could imagine Elizabeth replying with such a form of address.
"I replied that I had come in order to have such a report universally contradicted. She then argued that my coming to see her would be seen as a confirmation of it, if such a report ever existed! I asked her if she was ignorant of it, that if her family had not industriously circulated the report about themselves. That she had not heard of such a report being spread abroad. She replied that she had not. I then asked her if there was any foundation for it. She answered that she did not pretend to possess such equal frankness with myself. That I may ask questions which she would not choose to answer."
Darcy inwardly hid a smile at this, proud at her ability to rise to every occasion that sought to intimidate her.
"I insisted on being satisfied. I asked her then, if you had made her an offer of marriage. She answered that I had declared it to be impossible. Indeed, as I said to her, it ought to be so, while you retain the use of your reason. But that her arts and her allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, caused you to forget what you owe to yourself and your family. That she may have drawn you in. She replied that if she had, she would be the last person to confess it."
Lady Catherine paused once more, while her nephew inwardly held another smile. "I then told her, that I was not accustomed to such language as this. That I am almost your nearest relation in the world, and as such I am entitled to know all your dearest concerns. She replied that I was not entitled to know hers, nor would such behaviour of mine induce her to be explicit."
Darcy had difficulty keeping himself in check here, as he considered the effrontery which his Aunt had risen to. She had always been one of the last to know anything of him, as he realised long ago the control she was trying to subject him and the rest of their family to. Inwardly he applauded Elizabeth for her response, knowing that he could not now express the same, without risking the chance to hear what else she had said to put his Aunt in this state of mind.
"I then said to her that this match to which she had the presumption to aspire, could never take place. That you are engaged to my daughter. She said that if that were so, I could have no reason to suppose of you making an offer to her. I then outlined the full details of mine and your late mother's plans for the eventual union of you and Anne.
"I commented on the impropriety of such a prevention as the upstart pretensions of a young girl of inferior birth, of no importance to the world and wholly unallied to the family! I asked her if she paid no regard to the wishes of your friends. To the tacit engagement with Anne. If she had lost every feeling of propriety and delicacy. That had she not heard me say, that you are destined for my daughter.
"She countered what was it to her. That if there no other objection to her marrying you, she would certainly not be kept from it. That we did as much as we could in planning the marriage. That its completion depended on others. She further countered that if you were not bound either by honour or inclination to your cousin, why should you not make another choice? And that if she was such a choice, why should she not accept you?"
I could not agree more, Darcy silently answered, as that previously referred to flame within him continued to grow in strength and luminosity. Not trusting himself to speak, he remained quiet, desperately hoping that his Aunt had more to reveal.
"I responded that honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. I told her that she must not expect to be noticed by your family or friends if she wilfully acted against their inclinations. That she would be censored, slighted and despised by everyone connected with you. That such an alliance would be a disgrace, and that her name would never mentioned by any of us."
Darcy found himself inwardly wincing as his mind recalled how similar his own words were to his Aunt, from that fateful day at Hunsford Parsonage in April. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own? It frightened him to realise how much alike his and his Aunt's opinions had been, only a few months ago.
Again, he found himself grateful for the response he had received from Elizabeth, the words which had taught him to take a hard look at himself, and seek to change all she had found wrong. Not for the first time did he see how unjustified such opinions were, and how inferior he had been, and his Aunt still was, compared to Elizabeth.
"Her reply, nephew," his Aunt continued, causing him to come out of his thoughts, "was such as I have never expected, nor wish to hear from any young woman who had the nerve to harbour such an expectation of you. She commented that these were heavy misfortunes, but that the wife of Mr Darcy would have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, on the whole, have no cause to repine."
If the previous comments of his Aunt had caused him surprise, this outweighed them all. Darcy found himself shocked, deeply shocked. He could almost believe that he had not heard these words. 'Such extraordinary sources of happiness.' Up until this moment he had been able to picture Elizabeth saying all Lady Catherine had testified her to have said. But this? Such a response he had never even dreamed of.
"Of course, after I had overcome such a response, I naturally concluded her and her family's monetary expectations from such a match."
Darcy outwardly nodded at this, but inwardly his mind was reeling. Unlike his Aunt, he could reasonably attest Elizabeth's response to not originating from any monetary reference, because she had refused him before, and in such a manner as to conclude that it was his character at fault, not his finances. Therefore she meant other sources of happiness. But what? Dare he hope they were the same ones as he would find if he were married to her? That her feelings had really altered that much?
Lady Catherine meanwhile, had more to say. "I called her an obstinate, headstrong girl. I was, indeed I am still, ashamed of her. I asked her if this was her gratitude for all my attentions to her last spring. I told her that I have not been used to submitting to any person's whims. That I was not in the habit of brooking disappointment.
"She remarked that this would make my situation more pitiable, but that it would have no effect on her. I then reminded her of the situations of my daughter and yourself. That you both originated from the same noble lines through the maternal side, and from respectable, ancient, though untitled families through the paternal side. That your fortunes are splendid. That you are destined for each other by the voice of every member of your respective houses.
"And what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections or fortune. That this would not be endured. That if she was sensible of her own good, she would not wish to quit this sphere in which she had been brought up.
"She replied that in marrying you, she would not be quitting any sphere. That you are a gentleman, and she a gentleman's daughter, in which, so far, you are equal. I asked her who was her mother? Who were her Aunts and Uncles? That she should not imagine me ignorant of their condition. She replied that whatever her connections may be, if you did not object to them, then they can be nothing to me."
Darcy inwardly flinched again at this, but the meaning of the reply was understood by him. That flame of hope within him was now quite large, and bright enough to cause him to blink if it had appeared within his vision. It was just within his control to remain seated, and silent before his Aunt, to wait for her to finish her account of this meeting.
"I asked her then, to tell me once and for all, if she was engaged to you. To my profoundest relief she replied in the negative. However, I then asked her if she would promise me never to enter into such an engagement."
Suddenly Darcy found himself aware of nothing more but the beating of his heart. It was pounding heavily within his chest. All thoughts, all emotions, all senses, every part of his body was abruptly called into a state of suspense as he waited for Lady Catherine to reveal Elizabeth's response to what was the most important, vital question she had asked of that meeting.
He did not have to wait long.
"She replied that she would give me no promise of the kind."
This time, Darcy could not hold back the smile. Hurriedly he put his hand up to his mouth, while he took deep breaths to calm himself. The last thing he should do now was express exactly how much that answer meant to him, in front of his Aunt. Such expressions of joy could wait until she was gone.
"She further added that she would never give me the assurances I require. That she would not be intimidated by anything so wholly unreasonable. She argued that, supposing she did indeed give me such an assurance, would that make your marriage to my daughter at all more probable? Supposing you to be attached to her, would her refusal make you wish to bestow your hand on Anne?
"She said that the arguments with which I had supported this extraordinary application were as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. That I had wildly mistaken her character if I thought she could be worked on by such persuasions as these. She said how far you might approve of my 'interference' in your affairs, she could not tell. But that I had no right to interfere in hers."
Darcy could do naught but approve of Elizabeth's response. Indeed, he resented his Aunt's interference in his affairs, but had held off confronting her about it for so long purely out of respect to his dearly beloved late mother. Lady Catherine had always maintained that she and Lady Anne had been close, and, until recently, he had never doubted such belief.
Since April however, when he had been forced to call into question so many of his convictions, he had come to realise that the entire character of his mother, as he remembered it, would be in contradiction if she was indeed as close to his Aunt as she subscribed.
"She begged not to be importuned any further on this subject. But I had not done. I pointed out to her that I knew everything about her youngest sister's infamous elopement with the son of your former steward. That I knew the affair was patched up into a marriage by her father and Uncle.
"Were the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? She replied that I could have nothing further to say. That I had insulted her by all possible methods. She then walked off to the house. I followed her. I asked her if she was quite resolved on having you.
"She replied, that she was only resolved to act in manner which constituted her own happiness, without reference to me, or anyone so wholly unconnected with her. I asked then if she was determined to refuse the claims of duty, honour, gratitude, to ruin you in the opinions of your friends, to make you the contempt of the world.
"She replied that no principle of duty, honour, or gratitude would be violated by her marriage to you. That if resentment of our family were excited, it would not give her one moment's concern, and that the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn."
With this Lady Catherine now rose from her chair, to stand before her nephew's seat, giving him the full power of her imposing being. "I now ask, nephew, for you to provide those assurances which Miss Bennet failed to give me."
Darcy looked up at his Aunt. His thoughts had suddenly all resolved themselves while he had listened to the last part of her monologue. He knew now, what he had spent all his time in London attempting to figure out. What he was going to do next. Slowly he stood up, making his Aunt back away a little.
Then he showed her how imposing he could be. "Aunt, I thank you for visiting me today. Indeed, your visit has caused me to be more grateful to you than you could possibly imagine. But I am afraid that I will also have to disappoint you. You asked if I could give you the assurances which Miss Bennet could not. Let me answer these one by one. In the first, no, I am not engaged to her.
"But nor can I promise not to enter into any such engagement. While you have testified repeatedly to the belief that yourself and my late mother formed a match between myself and my cousin, I cannot remember her telling me anything of the sort, from her Will or any other legal documents incumbent upon me to obey, or through any of the many conversations I shared with her over the years.
"All I can remember, is of her asking me to promise that in choosing a wife, I will act in a manner which, as Miss Bennet said, constitutes my own happiness, without reference to you, or to anyone else so wholly connected to me.
"As for Anne and I, ever since we became aware of this wish of yours, we have contemplated what such a match would mean. However, we have also agreed, indeed only last spring did we agree, that such an union would go against our own wishes to find love, happiness, respect, and contentment in marriage. We care for each other as cousins, but that is all. And so shall it remain."
It was the first time in his life that Darcy had ever witnessed his Aunt at such a loss for words. Long after he had finished speaking did she remain silent, a stunned expression upon her face, the tight fists her hands were making the only sign of how such an answer had touched her.
Silently, he moved from his position before her. Walking to the doors, he rang the bell beside them, summoning his butler. He then turned back to her. "Lady Catherine, I think it wise that I should warn you of something. That if you continue to persist in your interference in my affairs, and if you choose to insult any future wife of mine, that all connections between us shall be severed.
" I will correspond with my cousin Anne, I will allow her to visit whenever she wishes, but I will never again allow the same liberty from you. I hope you will pay heed to this warning. I have no desire to lose contact with any of my relations. However, if they choose to continue to conduct themselves in a manner similar as you have done this evening, I shall be forced to into this action."
Timing his interruption astutely, it was at this moment that his butler chose to enter the Drawing Room. Darcy turned to him. "Sherringford, Lady Catherine was just leaving."
Lady Catherine had, by this time, only just turned round.
Sherringford, like the rest of Darcy's household, implacably steadfast and loyal to both members of the Darcy family, turned the full imposing power of himself on Lady Catherine. "This way, please, your ladyship."
Later, Darcy would reflect that he was fortunate his Aunt was still in such a state of shock as to not refuse the less than subtle demand to leave his house. All he was capable of now, though, was to run to his rooms, where he found his valet in the midst of packing up his things, tell him to finish with whatever case he had filled and take it down to the carriage, as he would send for more if he needed it, then rush back downstairs and inform his household that he was departing for Hertfordshire immediately.
Bingley was not surprised by his friend's arrival in Netherfield, as Darcy had promised him that he would arrive in the evening, and the matter of his being a few hours earlier than expected made no difference at all. Indeed, he was not even there to welcome his friend, having left to spend another day at Longbourn as soon as was decent the hour.
Darcy held back the smile that would have formed upon his face as he heard this piece of news from his friend's butler, who greeted him when he arrived several hours earlier than expected at said estate. Knowing that as deeply as he would like to join his friend at Longbourn, he had not been invited, so he instead tried to console himself with the knowledge that he would be able to visit on the morrow.
His valet installed his belongings upstairs, leaving Darcy free to explore the house, which he did, walking, not to the Library; his usual retreat in any house, having always had the knack to find such a room, however it might be avoided by the family in general, as he knew his friend's would be stacked of virtually anything but books; but to the Billiard Room, where he could be reasonably assured of finding the table which gave said room its' name.
He needed something with which to occupy his mind during the hours until his friend's return, some other occupation apart from riding his horse around the estate, which inevitably would see him arriving upon the drive of Longbourn. A game of Billiards,* though by no means an adequate substitute, would have to suffice.
Carefully he divested himself of his jacket, laying it upon a nearby chair. He fished the three balls out of the pockets, and placed them on the markings on the green surface. Then he fetched a cue from the rest in one of the corners of the room, and rubbed the narrow end with a piece of chalk.
Then he bent over the table, the cue beneath him, and slid the wooden device between his fingers until the end touched the cue ball. He slid it back for a second, then forward once more, with speed, sending the ball down the surface of the table, until it ricochet off the other end, and hit the red ball. He stood upright, the cue in his hands, the end almost touching the floor, waiting for the cue ball and red ball to come to a halt.
The white stopped soon after it had hit it's intended target. The red shot off into one of the six pockets.
A stray memory flickered in Darcy's mind as he moved to place his cue on the white ball again, aiming to hit the other, white spotted ball, which remained on the table. Of an unexpected visitor to his last game of Billiards at Netherfield, at about this time last year. Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
He smiled as he lined up the cue, his mind recalling how pretty she had looked in her gown for dinner, having come down from her sister's sickbed. He also remembered the vigorous denial he had placed upon himself to acknowledge that she looked beautiful. And how stupid he had felt later for doing nothing more than just bowing in her presence.
The cue hit the white ball, which struck it's intended second target, sending it close, but not in, the right corner pocket. Darcy let the white ball come to a stop, then moved to take his next shot. This achieved the desired result, clearing the table of all but the white ball. He picked that up and placed it back on it's mark, before retrieving the rest.
Thus he managed to occupy himself until his friend returned home.
To his utmost surprise, Darcy found himself to be quite calm and resolved, both in mind and body, when he and his friend arrived at Longbourn the next day.
Bingley had returned from his fiancee late in the evening before, and his contentment was such that any deviation in topics of conversation from Miss Bennet and all that their engagement entailed, was impossible. Such a circumstance Darcy had been grateful for, as he had no wish to inform any one of his plans until he knew for certain whether they had any hope of succeeding. After dinner they had retired early to their rooms, whereupon Darcy had occupied himself in a book which had travelled with him from London, until his mind was exhausted enough to let him sleep.
Now, he was walking behind his friend, who was following the housekeeper, as she showed them into the sitting room whose windows faced full west. That fact of information was not upon his mind however, as he sought, found, and fixed his gaze upon Elizabeth, who had risen, like the other occupants of the room, in greeting at the moment of their entrance.
To his immense relief, before they even were offered a chance to sit down, Bingley proposed a walk to the room at large, obeying the undeclared wish of his best friend. Mrs Bennet was not in the habit of walking, and Miss Mary could never spare the time, so the remaining five of them set out of the house together.
Bingley secured himself a place beside his angel, and allowed Darcy with the two remaining Bennet daughters to soon outstrip them. Darcy cast one glance at Elizabeth, but found her gaze to be on the horizon, so silently made himself wait and hope for an opportunity to arise which would find them alone.
They walked towards the Lucases, as Kitty informed them of a wish to call upon Maria. When that was accomplished, and they were left to themselves, Elizabeth, to Darcy's surprise, opened their conversation.
"Mr Darcy I am a very selfish creature; and, for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, care not how much I may be wounding yours. I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, save my father, whom I understand you met with during this affair, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express."
Darcy was astounded by these words. He not intended for her to speak first, and when she did, her first sentence had been enough to almost dash his hopes. But as she continued, and he realised that she knew of what he had done for her, he felt them return to life, if not as strongly as before.
He wondered now, horribly, if this had had an impact on her response to his Aunt, then resolutely brushed all doubts away as he sought to form a reply. "I am sorry, exceedingly sorry," he said, "that you have ever been informed of what may, in a mistaken light, have given you uneasiness." He paused, silently rebuking himself for such a formal manner of reply, before adding softly, "I did not think Mrs Gardiner, or your father, so little to be trusted."
"You must not blame my Aunt or my father. Lydia's thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been concerned in the matter; and, of course, I could not rest until I knew the particulars. My father carried a letter from my Aunt back with him, which informed me of everything, and then he added some of his own views concerning your motives. Let me thank you again, in the name of all my family, for generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering them."
Her face was turned towards him, and Darcy could not help gazing back at her. He saw the gratitude reflected upon her face, but could detect nothing else, so it was with some uncertainty that he replied. "If you will thank me, let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you, might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."
He paused, and realised this was the moment. It was time to risk everything once again. "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections, and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me upon this subject forever."
It was shorter than his first attempt, but a complete contrast from those words which he had since regretted ever uttering. Desperately he hoped that she understood that he still felt ardent admiration and love for her, and wished for them to unite.
"My feelings," Elizabeth began, after a moment of silence which was agonising for her companion, "my feelings are.... I am ashamed to remember what I said then. My feelings are so different. In fact they are quite the opposite."
They had come to a halt a long time ago, or so it seemed, at the moment when he had revealed his true motive for his actions in London. Now Darcy felt himself truly still, as he heard her words. And wonderful words they were. Forgetting himself, he smiled, then took her gloved hands in his own, leaned forward, and placed a tender kiss upon her lips. He felt her brief second of hesitation, then she was kissing him back, and he found himself desiring the moment to go on forever.
Part they must however, if only for a while. There was so much to be thought and felt, and said. Gently he removed his lips from hers, savouring their taste, memorising the moment forever. Then keeping hold of one hand, he led them on, further up the path.
"When I said to you that I ardently admired and loved you, I had little idea just how deeply the emotions ran. It was only later, that I came understand my heart, and realise how long it had belonged to you. I have wanted, so many times, to tell you how I felt, as each time we met, how the feelings grew in both power and longevity, despite all the events which tried and failed, to throw obstacles in our paths. In Derbyshire particularly, I wanted to tell you, to take you in my arms and comfort you, to take the grief away which I saw in your eyes, and share it with you. But I had no idea of how much you felt for me, and so I kept my distance."
He paused, to steal a look at her, seeing her quiet, but content to smile, then continued. "I never intended you to find out about my actions in London, indeed I never intended for your father to do so either. I though I would only be able to deal with your uncle, though I did wonder if my level of acquaintance with him would allow me to.
"But when I saw him come to tell his brother's butler to let me in, and saw the worry upon his face, I realised how I would have felt in Ramsgate, and so I began. As for you, I did not want your gratitude. I wanted your love, though I know it was rather selfish of me to think of such a thing as I did it. But I could not get that moment in Lambton out of my mind. I wanted so much to wipe that grief from your face."
He smiled, and then, feeling the need for a new topic to be undertaken in view of their recent agreement, added, "you know, we are indebted for our present understanding, to my Aunt, whom I understand came to see you a few days ago. She paid call on me through her return to Kent, and relayed to me what had occurred during her meeting with you, dwelling emphatically on every expression of yours, so much in fact that I could imagine hearing your beautiful voice saying them.
"She looked for assurances from me, which you had failed to give. Unluckily for her, I refused to give them as well." He paused, then continued. "It taught me to hope, as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain, that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine frankly and openly."
Elizabeth coloured and gave Darcy the chance to hear her laugh as she replied, "yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations."
"What did you say of me, that I did not deserve? My behaviour to you at the time was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. Your reproofs, so well applied, I shall never forget. 'Had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.' You can not know how much they tortured me."
"I had not the smallest idea of their ever being felt in such a way."
"I can easily believe it. You thought me devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way, that would have induced you to accept me."
"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. Such recollections will not do at all. I have long since been ashamed of what I said."
"You need not be. I needed such reproofs, though I did not realise until long after that evening was over. Before we met at Pemberley I had learned to give them justice and credence, and changed my manner to everyone. There, I was so anxious to prove to you that I had changed, that all other matters were ignored." He paused, his thoughts recalling other remembrances. "My letter," he began. "Did it, did soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?"
"At first, I confess, I was too insensible to give any of it credence. But then I read it again, and I realised how much was true, indeed almost all, from your point of view. I knew Jane rarely showed her emotions, Charlotte had even commented upon it, but I had ignored it until then. The more I read and understood it, the more my former prejudices of you were removed."
"I knew that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed that letter. There was one part especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power reading again. I remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me."
"The letter certainly shall be burnt, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard; but, though we have both reason to think my opinions not entirely unalterable, they are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies."
"When I wrote my letter, I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit."
"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote it, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
"No, I have been a selfish being all my life. As a child I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Such I might have remained but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth."
She looked up at him as he finished this speech, for the first time since they had last kissed, and her look was such that Darcy could do naught but bring them to a stop, pull her gently into his arms, and show her just how grateful he was for her entrance into his life.
1. Billiards: 'A family of table-games played with various numbers of balls and a cue. English billiards is played with three balls – plain white, spot-white, and red – and six pockets. Players score by pocketing a ball other than their cue-ball, by their cue-ball going in a pocket off another ball, and by cannons, that is, striking the other two balls with the cue-ball.' Source is The Oxford World Encyclopaedia, ifinger edition.
One evening passed and another arrived before Mr Bennet found himself being followed out of the parlour and into his sanctuary by Mr Darcy. The owner of Longbourn had surmised that such an event might occur soon, having observed the length of time he and his favourite were absent the day before, followed by the silence originating from both of them after their return.
Being a man of quick parts, Mr Bennet had taken care to observe his daughter's and his guest's facial expressions during the enquiries from their family as to where they could have been walking to, as well as their manner during the former's explanation. He then added these observations to the expressive and warm handshake Elizabeth had received from Bingley when the gentlemen callers had arrived that morning, to the other long walk which had followed. All of which, when taken together, had given him the foresight to see that Mr Darcy would seek a moment alone with him as soon as may be.
So Mr Bennet had not taken many steps to his sanctuary when he turned round and found Mr Darcy behind him. Observing the gentleman's serious look, he hid his bemused smile and began. "I take it that you would like a moment of my time?"
Darcy was momentarily taken by surprise, but then nodded solemnly as he answered, "yes sir, if you would be so kind."
Mr Bennet inclined his head in return and led his visitor to the Library. He felt him come to a halt after crossing the threshold, but he did not comment on such a position until he had taken possession of the armchair behind his desk, and poured them each a snifter of brandy.
"You may sit, Mr Darcy, or would you prefer to stand during your application?"
By now Darcy had accustomed himself to the fact that Mr Bennet intended and was likely to be one step ahead of him throughout this interview, and so it was without surprise that he answered him. "I will stand, sir."
Mr Bennet nodded and leaned back in his armchair. "You may begin, and I beg you to be precise as you possibly can, for I am an old man tired by the evening's recent obligations. But also be aware that you are referring to my favourite daughter."
Darcy noted the owner of Longbourn's hidden smile, and began. "Mr Bennet, your daughter, Miss Elizabeth, has made me the happiest man on earth by granting me the honour of her hand. I now come before you to humbly request your consent and blessing to the match."
Andrew Bennet steepled his fingers beneath his chin, and regarded the man before him with all the appearance of careful consideration. "Very good," he remarked. "I shall not ask how you intend to provide for her, because I am aware of the many advantages you have, by both our recent dealings in London and the reputation you have acquired in this area."
Darcy unclasped his hands and inclined his head a little. "Nevertheless, sir, I can assure you that your daughter will want for nothing both financially and affectionately." He paused to add in a devout voice, "I love her with all my heart."
This simple phrase, could not have been more well chosen. Mr Bennet lost his strive for cynical joviality, for all the usual manners of character which he had relied on all through his life, and during the last application of this kind. He realised once again that he was dealing with a man who had everything to recommend himself, and who was offering all that he possessed to the daughter he loved most in the world.
"Well," he began, in a voice which had difficulty hiding the sudden onset of emotion which had arisen within him, "I have nothing more to say. I know already what my daughter feels for you, I asked her as much when she learned from Mrs Gardiner of all what you did for our family in London. For that I would offer to pay you, but I suspect that you will rant and storm about your love for Elizabeth and there will an end of the matter."
Darcy smiled as Andrew had intended him to, before saying, "sir, I gave you one reason for my actions before, and I cannot deny that Elizabeth was another, but nor would I expect repayment of any kind from you, including her. Receiving the honour of her hand is more than I had hoped for."
Mr Bennet nodded and took a deep breath as he realised the true of sense of this occasion once more. "My consent and blessing are granted. Now, before you sit down, sir, be so kind as ring the bell and call Elizabeth into the room, so I can inform her of this news, and we can discuss the next step in this process."
It was not until the rest of the occupants of Longbourn had gone to bed, and doubtless Netherfield too, that Mr Bennet had time to sit alone in his sanctuary, and reflect upon all the events of the day. Silently he moved himself from his desk full of signed copies of settlement and such, to the pair of armchairs by the window seat, where he could gaze out on the night before him.
There was a sad smile upon his face as he availed himself of the above comfort. A year, nay, even three months ago, he would have been astonished to find himself in his current state of affairs. One daughter married before her time, and to a man whom he would never, in all seriousness, wished upon her, no matter how silly she chose to be. Another, his eldest, engaged to the man he had not expected to renew the tenancy of Netherfield after his abrupt departure the year before. And lastly, his favourite newly engaged to a man whom he had previously been convinced she hated along with the rest of his neighbourhood.
Of course a summary such as this was hardly adequate to assure proper understanding of all the events which had occurred, even to a mind which had been involved in almost every event which occurred to change feelings and circumstances. If anything it served to create more astonishment than before.
Andrew steepled his fingers underneath his chin again, and brought his thoughts right back to the very moment from which this sequence of events had began. The night he had exited his brother in law's sitting room, and crossed the entrance hall to the study. He could still remember vividly what he had intended to do, if his brother in law had not received such an unexpected visitor to his door. He had finished the one leather bound volume which he had brought with him in the rushed departure from his house to town, and was about to avail himself of one of Edward's until he had exhausted his mind enough to make it capable of sleep.
And if he had not seen Mr Darcy about to leave his card with the butler? He would have gone to bed, then left town the next day without any idea of his youngest's whereabouts, nor that they were to receive some unforeseen assistance in the search to find her. With this alternative happenstance in mind, Andrew realised that it was doubtful he would have expected Mr Darcy to visit him as he had done so this evening. Indeed, it was unlikely that he would have learned of that gentleman's actions for his family until this very night.
What a series of changes had been wrought by so little! What an understanding he had now obtained with the future husband of his favourite in a series of evenings! It was indeed a moment to wonder. And yet, though he had been given this opportunity to foresee the future, Mr Bennet found himself still unprepared for what was to come.
When Elizabeth had confessed to him her true feelings for Darcy, he had known this evening would soon arrive, else he would not be the studier of character he was renowned for. But as much as he had tried to prepare himself for this, he now found that preparation to be in vain, as the evening in question had come upon him. Truthfully, he would never be ready to lose his daughter, even if it meant gaining a son in law of whom he could not be more proud, or feel was more worthy and deserving of one of his daughters.
Andrew sighed as he looked out on to the night, and his thoughts reached this conclusion. He knew it was inevitable, even if he could not prepare himself for it as much as he would wish himself to. A piece of harmony, of understanding would be gone from Longbourn soon, leaving behind only short visits to sustain him. And inadequate though they were, such visits would have to do.
Many evenings passed before Darcy ever found himself alone in Netherfield once more. After his evening spent in the company of Elizabeth and Mr Bennet, during which he had amazed both father and daughter alike by revealing the exact amounts he planned to settle on his future wife and children, and the weekly allowance and duties of the future mistress of Pemberley.
The former of which he had ratified with them and their solicitors after the news was made known to the rest of Longbourn, there had followed a number of dinners, held at various houses in the neighbourhood, as the news of the engagements came to be learned and announced.
The last of these was yet to be given, hence his solitary, for Bingley had travelled to town to tell his sisters and then fetch them back to Netherfield in time for the last dinner engagement planned before the news of the forthcoming nuptials were published in the papers and thus to Society at large.
As for his own family, Darcy already held in his possession letters of congratulation and promises to attend said wedding. His Matlock cousins, Aunt and Uncle, were overjoyed, as was his de Bourgh cousin Anne, and although Lady Catherine had yet to send a reply, both he and her daughter were hopeful that she had paid heed to the warning he had given her when she visited him in London.
Georgiana too had sent her response to his news, and her joy had been such that four pages were insufficient to contain her delight. She was also invited to the dinner at Netherfield, indeed her carriage was expected any moment, which was why Darcy had refused to stay to dinner at Longbourn, something which a year before he would never have felt so much of a temptation to accept.
Silently he stood at one of the windows of the Drawing Room which overlooked the driveway to the house, his eyes awaiting the slightest sign or sound which would tell him that his sister had arrived. A half-full forgotten wine glass rested upon the windowsill before him, the sole remnant of his evening meal. Though outwardly impatient in both expression and stance, inwardly he was turning reflective.
He felt upon the brink of so many things tonight. Peace, contentment, bliss, fulfilment, happiness. It could be defined in so many words, and yet summed up into one. Completeness.
He had never thought to reach this state. He had never believed it was possible. All his life he had been searching for what was missing within him, attending assemblies, balls, social functions, Society events which he hated, but felt obligated to attend, due to a friend or family member, when really, though until this moment he had refused to admit it to himself, it was because of the flame of hope within him which had refused to die away. That he would find someone in those crowds of debutantes and daughters, someone who would make feel what he felt to be on the brink of now.
And he had. He had found Elizabeth. Or she had found him. Perhaps even they had both found each other. Whatever the truth, despite all the once, seemingly insurmountable, obstacles between them, they had come together and found an understanding far beyond that hope of his. Which was something within itself. Something to reflect over, to marvel upon, to savour.
To cherish for the rest of his life. Indeed, he had much to cherish already. Barely had their courtship begun, yet he was wishing for more. They had kissed twice on the day he had proposed, and more had followed each day, with the kisses proving each more enjoyable and memorable, and all the more difficult to end, on both their parts. He accomplished so many things he had long wished to earn the privilege of, and in so few days!
He had heard her joyful laughter, seen her smile at him, heard her speak his first name, and in such a tone that he silently wished for no one else to speak it again, save her. She had kissed him, held his hand, allowed his to caress her cheek, and wound a curl of her dark hair in his fingers while he savoured the pleasure of her love.
He had been able to gaze closely at her beautiful eyes, to realise the compliment he had paid them at Lucas Lodge all those months ago was woefully inadequate now he knew that they were really looking at him. He had come to be able to tease her, and to be teased in return, to laugh with her, and exchange beliefs, thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and more, to a far greater degree than he had ever found with anyone.
Everyday with her he learned something new, and earned more privileges, making everyday, every hour, every second, without her, wanting. He could not wait until the day came when he would be able to spend every moment with her, and without any interruptions, when he would be able to grant her everything he had to offer, for the rest of their lives.
A crackle and rustling, sounds of wheels pressing on the pebbles of the driveway, became audible then, making him come out of these thoughts in time to see his sister's carriage drive pass the window he was standing before. Darcy straightened, brushed out the rumpled creases in his clothes caused by his stance, then left the Drawing Room and made his way to the Entrance Hall of Netherfield to greet Georgiana.
It was time to enjoy the rest of his life, now that he had someone to share it with.