At Austen Authors (http://austenauthors.net), we are celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the events of Pride and Prejudice. In this excerpt, Darcy calls on the Gardiners to tell them he has located the wayward Lydia Bennet and the nefarious Mr. Wickham.
Friday brought Darcy a short letter from Georgiana. She and the Bingleys had traveled to Nottingham, and she told Darcy of a few items she purchased from the local merchants. The most important part of the letter was the last paragraph.
Now that Miss Bingley no longer examines this letter to comment on how much my handwriting resembles my brother’s, I can say what I wanted to tell you. Your sister, my darling Fitzwilliam, praises your efforts to save Miss Elizabeth, especially considering the mortifications you must be suffering at Mr. Wickham’s hands. You see, I have no doubt you have found him, and a resolution is at hand. I await your return and news of your success.
Reading the letter a second time, Darcy realized the blessing of having Georgiana as his sister rather than the impetuous Lydia Bennet. He held no doubt that Georgiana would gladly have suffered the public humiliation of rumors of her brief encounter with Mr. Wickham in order to save Miss Elizabeth where Lydia Bennet cared not for anyone but herself. The girl had refused his every attempt to save her reputation and that of her sisters. Miss Lydia and George Wickham deserved each other; Wickham would marry an embodiment of Mrs. Bennet; mayhap Darcy would have the final revenge.
In late afternoon, Darcy made a trip to Cheapside to speak to Mr. Gardiner. “I am sorry, Sir, but the master is within with his brother Bennet. Mr. Gardiner left specific orders that he not be disturbed,” the Gardiners’ butler explained.
Darcy had no desire to encounter Mr. Bennet; he did not want Elizabeth’s father to know to what extremes he had gone to save Elizabeth and her sisters. If he won Miss Elizabeth’s heart, he preferred to do so with her feeling a debt in accepting his hand in marriage. “I will return on the morrow, if that is acceptable?” Darcy said as he stepped away from the Gardiners’ door.
“The master will be home most of the day, Sir. His brother returns to Hertfordshire. I heard Mr. Gardiner say that
When he called on Mr. Gardiner the following day, he received a genuine welcome. “Mr. Darcy, it is so unexpected pleasure to see you again so soon. When Mr. Witmore said I had a visitor yesterday, I had no idea it was you; Mr. Bennet and I would have received you had we known.”
“It is of no consequence, Mr. Gardiner,” Darcy stated as he accepted the seat Gardiner indicated. “My business is of a delicate nature, and I purposely avoided Mr. Bennet’s knowledge of it.”
Mr. Gardiner said seriously, “You have my undivided attention, Sir.”
“As you are aware, I was with your niece Elizabeth when she received the news from Miss Bennet, which has distressed your family of late.”
“Elizabeth has told us of the comfort your presence provided her, but I do not understand how that affects you, Sir.” The knowledge that Elizabeth had spoken kindly of his effort to allay her fears soothed Darcy’s bruised ego. He wondered how she would react if Elizabeth ever discovered his secrecy. He prayed she would understand that he had to protect her; the tears she shed at the Lambton inn had torn his heart into pieces.
“Mr. Wickham’s relationship with my family has been a tenuous one, but my many dealings with the man has provided me intimate knowledge of his habits, which neither you nor your brother would have. My knowledge of George Wickham comes from the late Mr. Wickham being my father’s steward. Mr. Wickham and I attended Cambridge together, and I have dealt with him in such nefarious matters as this one on prior occasions. I brought that knowledge to London. I realize I have taken on more than is appropriate, but I pray you will forgive my intrusion into such a private matter when I tell you I have found Mr. Wickham and Miss Lydia and have spoken to them on several occasions regarding their folly.”
“You found them!” Mr. Gardiner’s relief showed upon his countenance. “I would gladly forgive your intrusion for such happy news. Where are they? Are they married?”
“They are not married,” Darcy said with regret, and Gardiner’s happiness faded. “But I have presented myself to both Mr. Wickham and to Miss Lydia as being your family’s agent in this matter. I concocted a prevarication, which I hope you will also forgive, to achieve an agreement with Mr. Wickham and your family. Yesterday, he applied for an ordinary license with the minister at St. Clements Church. He and Miss Lydia will be married in a little over a fortnight.”
Gardiner ran his fingers through his hair. He took a deep breath. “Mr. Darcy, my sister’s family will be ever in your debt.”
“When I spoke to Miss Lydia,” Darcy explained, “no matter what I offered as a logical reason for her leaving, the girl’s determination remains with Mr. Wickham. She openly expressed wanting nothing to do with ‘boring old Longbourn’ or with ‘sisters who never wanted to do anything that was adventurous.’ Miss Lydia believes Mr. Wickham plans to marry her as soon as his “luck” changes. She wants nothing to do with any of her ‘so-called’ friends. Despite my best arguments for her leaving, Miss Lydia speaks only of Mr. Wickham’s goodness.”
Although Darcy’s news astounded him, his niece’s lack of concern for her family, however, did not surprise Mr. Gardiner. “I fear only the two eldest Bennet sisters possess good sense, Mr. Darcy. They are our favorites, as you can well imagine.” Darcy could easily imagine Elizabeth; he had done so every day since the assembly at Meryton, but he made no comment. Mr. Gardiner, he was certain, recognized Darcy’s affection for Elizabeth. Why else would he have become involved in this most private matter if he did not care about Elizabeth Bennet? He no longer attempted to deny his feelings for her. “I have suggested that Miss Lydia be married from your home. Obviously, she cannot return to Longbourn without bringing shame upon her sisters.”
“Of course, Mr. Darcy. That is most prudent. Mrs. Gardiner is to return to Gracechurch Street a bit later today. After services tomorrow, we will make arrangements to retrieve Lydia from her reprehensible employment.” Mr. Gardiner said tentatively, “From what Lizzy and my brother Bennet has said of Mr. Wickham’s true nature, I suspect the man has demanded a hefty sum to bring about this marriage.”
Darcy smiled somewhat stiffly. “As I explained earlier, I held a prior knowledge of Mr. Wickham’s weaknesses. I have attempted to use those failings against the man, and I have negotiated in your family’s behalf what I believe to be a manageable solution.” He paused and searched for the words to explain what he had done in Elizabeth’s name. “After three days of negotiations, I have promised Mr. Wickham the following: your future nephew will resign his position in the militia and accept a comparable one in the regulars; my cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam has assisted me in locating a lieutenancy in Newcastle; Mr. Wickham’s debts in Brighton and Meryton will be paid; and as a dowry, Mr. Wickham will receive three thousand pounds.” He waited for the business savvy Mr. Gardiner to digest the terms.
“Likely close to five thousand pounds in total,” Gardiner calculated, and Darcy nodded his agreement. “It will be a strain on the Bennets’ finances, but my brother Phillips and I will share the expenses of my sister’s family.”
Darcy cleared his throat in trepidation. “Actually, I would take on the wedding’s expenses and Mr. Wickham’s placement.” He looked curiously at Elizabeth’s beloved uncle. Gardiner’s shock was evident, but Darcy had more to reveal. “It is my wish that neither Miss Elizabeth nor her father know of my involvement. It would not do to make my deeds known to those most innocent in this matter. I want no false gratitude.”
“You would have me wear borrowed feathers?” Mr. Gardiner said in disbelief. “I cannot allow you to assume such a debt, Mr. Darcy!”
“I will hear of no compromise,” Darcy insisted. “It is my conviction that if George Wickham’s worthlessness had been better known, it would be impossible for him to persuade any young woman of character to make an alliance without proper bonds. I knew of his low character, but my foolish pride would not permit me to make known the extent of his depravity. I once thought myself above his actions. However, I have come to realize if I had acted with honor, none of this would have been possible. I cared only for private affairs, and I did not consider the ramifications of Mr. Wickham’s evil on others.” Darcy would never speak of his sister’s shame, but he gave Mr. Gardiner to know that Mr. Wickham had betrayed Darcy’s family. He was obstinate about his involvement and would not relent, no matter how much Mr. Gardiner attempted to change his mind.
“Well, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Gardiner offered, “it seems you have Mr. Wickham’s life planned.”
Darcy laughed conspiratorially. “Mr. Wickham said something similar.”
Gardiner sighed and rumpled his hair again. “Will you join me for dinner, Sir?”
Darcy said apologetically, “I cannot, Mr. Gardiner, I have other obligations this evening.”
“When Mrs. Gardiner returns, I wish to discuss your proposal with her. Will you join us tomorrow evening as our guest?”
“It would be a pleasure to spend time with you and Mrs. Gardiner again.”
The men parted, each with a degree of satisfaction. Mr. Gardiner would see an end to the troubles Lydia had brought on the family; Darcy would preserve Elizabeth’s respectability and maintain his slim hopes that she would one day change her mind and marry him.
* * *
“I will not change my mind, Mr. Gardiner.” Darcy renewed his obstinacy in acting as the sole benefactor in the Wickham matter for Mr. Gardiner had had second thoughts about taking credit for Darcy’s triumph.
“I cannot see my way clear to give voice to your scheme,” Gardiner insisted.
“Mr. Gardiner, I shall not relent. You must allow me to be of service to your family.”
Mrs. Gardiner’s hand rested on her husband’s arm. “Perhaps, it is best, my Dear,” she said encouragingly. “Mr. Darcy appears earnest in his request, and if you feel a need to make things right, I am certain that Mr. Darcy will consider his investment in Lydia’s future as a loan. You may repay our Derbyshire friend for his kindness.”
Darcy had no intention of considering his outlay as a loan, but he would not argue with the lady. It was quite obvious that Mrs. Gardiner recognized Darcy’s preference for their niece. A preference he hoped one day to make public.
“I must tell you, Mr. Darcy, we will be forever in your debt,” Mr. Gardiner began. “We accept your offer relucantly in hopes by doing so we maintain the respectability of Lydia’s more deserving sisters. They should have fulfilling lives despite their youngest sister’s folly.”
The Gardiners had the pleasure of Darcy’s company that evening for dinner, and Darcy had the pleasure of listening to them tell stories of Jane and Elizabeth as children and as young ladies growing up in the Bennet household. Those tales of Elizabeth’s precociousness most interested him, but he also took delight in learning more about Jane Bennet. He had misjudged her nature, and he knew making amends to Bingley must come soon. “Those two girls!” Mrs. Gardiner laughed so hard at the story she told that tears came to her eyes. “They would look at you and maintain their innocence, which was usually true for Jane, but not so much for Lizzy. Even when one was angry over what they had done, a person could not be upset with either of them. Their goodness would make me love them even when my favorite vase lay in a hundred pieces on the drawing room floor.” Darcy knew he could love Elizabeth with all his heart. He ached for her. Darcy had a fleeting remembrance of how his heart had jumped in his chest when he had discovered her at Pemberley. Placing a bland expression on his countenance, Darcy returned to the conversation.
The Gardiners’ own children joined them for part of the evening, and the rambunctious brood showed an interest in Mr. Darcy because he was a “favorite,” according to their parents, of both “Cousin Jane” and “Cousin Elizabeth.” Having children in the house made Darcy fancy Elizabeth even more than usual. It was a perfect way to end a most pleasurable evening.
On Monday, Darcy finalized the plans for the church, the transfer of funds to Lydia Bennet, and the purchasing of the commission. Calling on the Gardiners one last time, he found they had sent a dispatch to Longbourn with news of the impending marriage. Finally, he thought, Elizabeth will be free of all these provocations: She will be able to laugh again; he dearly missed that laugh. Lydia was coming to Gracechurch Street that day, and he would return to Pemberley on Wednesday. He would return to London for the actual wedding; Mr. Wickham had no one to stand up with him; plus, Darcy’s need for meticulous planning required he be there to assure nothing went awry before the nuptials.