The Other Side of Pride and Prejudice
Part 35 -- Money Matters
Along the journey to London, Darcy had ample time to think over his plan to find Wickham and Lydia Bennet. Certain that Wickham had kept up his relations with Mrs Younge, Georgiana's former companion, Darcy resolved upon contacting her.
The moment he had stepped into his London townhouse, he headed for his study. Being a man who preferred a neat, ordered method of keeping records, it was not long before he had located the information on Mrs Younge when she had been in his service.
And so it was, that evening found Darcy in a relatively bad part of London.
The streets were crowded, dirty and noisy. Children ran along the road, heedless of the carts and horses. Here and there a drunk lounged in the gutter, women drying clothes at the window shouted across the street regardless of who heard them.
Darcy did his best to ignore the sounds as well as the stares people aimed at him, obviously unused to seeing a gentlemen in their midst. He looked at each house, searching for the one rented by Mrs Younge.
Finally he came across it. He rapped on the door. The door opened slightly and a man opened it. Darcy could not see much of his face, but the man's eyes had the look of one who was hunted. Not recognising Darcy as anyone he knew, the man opened the door wider.
"Can I 'elp you sir?" he asked.
"Yes. Is there a Mrs Younge here?"
"Mrs Younge? You'd be talking 'bout the lady who rented this place afore me." He made as if to shut the door. Darcy held it open.
"Do you know where she has moved to?"
The man looked Darcy up and down.
"I might . . . "
Darcy reached into his pocket and took out a few coins of relatively high denomination.
The money was taken. The man glanced at it and shoved somewhere into the recesses of is grimy apron.
"She's moved to Edward Street. Left this place 'cause some of the dealings she held 'ere were less than legal." He scowled. "The runners keep coming here now and again."
But you have not informed them about her. No doubt you also have shady dealings to hide.
"And where is Edward Street?" asked Darcy coldly.
The man grumbled but said, "It's somewhere over thataway."
Darcy held up two more coins.
The man closed the door behind him and walked down the street, pointing directions.
"Alright sir. Walk down to the end of the street and turn right. Then across the square and turn left. Then go to the third street on the left, under the arch, and it's either the fourth or fifth road on your right."
Darcy repeated this to the man, making sure he remembered it all.
"You're good. Get a drink for the gentlemen!" he yelled to a someone.
A boy appeared with a cup of water. Darcy drank it gratefully and gave the boy a shilling.
"I thank you sir for the information," said he to the anonymous man.
"Always ready to help you gentle-folk," replied he. He grinned toothily. "What you be wanting Mrs Younge for anyway, eh?"
"I need to settle an account," replied Darcy, his face hard.
Determined, he set off again, leaving the unknown member of the populace standing, wondering.
He walked along, repeating the directions over and over again under his breath. He followed them to the letter, pushig past people as he went along.
Night had fallen by this time, and he was both thankful and tense because of it. Thankful because the darkness made it harder for him to see the beggars, the miserable and those who were better left unknown. Tense, because the darkness made it easier for some desperate man to try his luck with Darcy.
If anyone is foolhardy enough to try and attack, they will soon regret it . . . thought Darcy darkly. But some part of him welcomed such an exchange of blows. The last few days had left him eager to vent his frustration, anger and despair on soome unfortunate wretch. As it was, the only evidence of his dark mood was one broken glass at his townhouse.
But no one tried to stop him. He walked carefully, trying his best to avoid the filth that covered the roads. Painfully aware that his fine clothes made him stand out amongst the local populace, he kept his head down, only looking up to check for the next road.
He turned left. The roads were crowded at this time of night. He passed a disruptable looking inn. Bawdy singing floated out the window. Grubby, hungry children scrounged the street for anything of value or to be eaten, while beggars whined and held out their hands.
A man pushed past him, and hurried on his way. Disorientated, Darcy looked around. Seeing a beggar-child standing in the shadows, he approached her. At first, the girl cringed at the sight of him, but he spoke kindly.
"Hello little one," he said softly.
The girl looked up at him with hungry eyes.
And how many others like her are there? Darcy thought.
"Do you know where Mrs Younge lives?"
The girl nodded.
"Can you tell me?"
"Yessir. She's in a house, down this road - " she pointed behind her, " - and Edward Street on your right. It's the big house, one the corner."
"Thank you child."
He pressed some coins into her dirty hand. She stared at them for a moment, then ran off.
Darcy continued down the dark road.
He found the house. Compared to the ones close by, it was large and clean.
Darcy rapped smartly on the door with his cane. It was opened to reveal two women. One he assumed was the housekeeper. The other was Mrs Younge.
His expression was hard and cold. Almost exactly the way she must have seen him last, when he dismissed her from his service.
She tried to shut the door, but Darcy forced it open. He entered the house, bending slightly to account for his hat.
"Mrs Younge . . . "
The lady in question looked at him as if seeing her judge for all her past actions. The door was closed behind him.
"What do you want with me?" she asked, fear tinging her voice. Darcy knew that she knew that he had the power to have any unpleasant retribution he wished.
Darcy did not answer immedietly. He took off his hat and gloves and proceeded into the next room. It was simple yet orderly furnished. He motioned for Mrs Younge to be seated. When she had done so, he glanced at the other woman. She understood his meaning and left the room, closing the only door in or out of it behind her.
"Where is he." he said without any preamble.
"Mrs Younge, you know exactly the man I am speaking of. Where is he?"
"I do not know who you are speaking of," said the woman, not looking at him.
Darcy did not answer to this immedietly. He sighed and spoke.
"I know perfectly well that you have kept your relations with Wickham since last year," he said as unemotionally as possible. "I know that you know his current whereabouts. For the third time, Mrs Younge, where is he?"
"How should I know where Mr Wickham is? I have not spoken or seen him since last year," said she stubbornly. She still did not look at him.
Her body language was the same that she had displayed when he spoke to her at Ramsgate. I am sure she knows where he is.
"Madam," said he coldly. "You know who I am. I know that you are aware of Wickham's location. Is he here in this house? Or somewhere else?"
"As I have said before, sir, I do not know where Wickham is!"
"I must know, madam. You will tell me."
"I will not."
There was a cloock on the wall. Darcy glanced at it. It was very late. Though his mind was still active, his body was exhausted. He had not rested ever since he had left Pemberley. How could he rest, knowing Elizabeth was in such trouble?
"The night is too far advanced for us to talk in any depth, Mrs Younge," said Darcy, opening the door. "But believe me, I will return tomorrow." He plut on his gloves and hat, then said, "And if you are thinking of being absent from the house tommorrow, I would would hate to have to alert the Bow Street Runners of this place."
At this threat, Mrs Younge blanched and drew a quick breath.
"You cannot prove anything!"
Darcy looked down at her for a long moment.
"You know me, Mrs Younge. You know that I am sincere. I will know Wickham's location sooner or later."
He left her and the disruptable part of London for his home.
He lay awake for most of the night. Elizabeth's tear-streaked face haunted him. In his mind, he saw himself in the Lambton Inn, putting his arms around her and whispering into her ear, "It will be right, it will be right. I will help you. I love you."
Then she would look up at him, saying that she trusted him, that she believed in him to set the wrong right.
But it was all a dream. Elizabeth was far away, trying to comfort her family when she herself was in need of comfort. Her family's good name, which had been stained with Lydia's folly, which could have been prevented had Darcy chose to tell the world of his dealings with Wickham.
So it was that the present circumstances found Darcy in London, trying to find the man he hated above all others, a girl who he could not respect, going so far as to threaten and most probably, bribe the woman who had orchestrated Georgiana's near-downfall - all because of his love for a woman who did not love him.
True to his word, Darcy returned to Mrs Younge. This day found her no more willing than the night before. She refused to tell him of Wickham's whereabouts, though with every passing minute, Darcy became even more sure that she knew where he was.
He was certain she was not hiding Wickham herself. Miss Lydia, he was sure, was not the type of girl who would submit herself to any prolonged inaction. He had not heard or seen any trace of Lydia in the house.
He left the house that day no more successful than last night.
For a third time, he visited Mrs Younge. He had cajoled her, threatened her but still she refused to tell him, though her resolution he knew was beginning to waver. She had finally admitted to knowing that Wickham was in London and hinted that she did indeed know where he resided and that he had a girl with him, but she would not reveal his location.
On this visit, he had taken a modest amount of money with him. If threats would not loosen her tongue, he was sure that an offer of thirty guineas would.
"You are wasting your time, sir, coming here again. I will not tell you where Wickham is," said Mrs Younge upon his first entering the room. But Darcy saw that the defiance in her eyes had diminished to be replaced with fear. Darcy made no answer. He paced the room and looked out the window at the figures passing by.
"How does your present situation go, Mrs Younge?" he asked conversationally. "Letting lodgings, I believe, is not so profitable as being a paid companion or governess."
"I beg your pardon? What do you mean?"
"But I suppose that your pay while in my employ was inflated. If I remember correctly, a few objects from my house disappeared last year, never to be found."
"I know nothing of that!"
"The magistrate might not believe you."
Mrs Younge paled.
"You have no proof."
Tired of all this beating about the bush, Darcy turned to her and placed the thrity guineas on the table between him and Mrs Younge. She stared st the money hungrily.
Darcy spoke softly. "Mrs Younge, I am willing to forget our past dealings, and will say no word of them to anyone. But I will know where Wickham is. I am willing to give you this sum - if you will tell me."
For a long moment, Mrs Younge stared at the substantial amount of money. Finally, she spoke.
"He and the girl came to my house first. I would have taken them in but had no room for them. They have rented a small room not far from here, in Watling Street."
Finding some paper and ink, Darcy put these in front of Mrs Younge.
"Write down the address and directions from here."
She complied. Darcy read it and put it safely in his pocket. As he did so, he noticed a small smile of triumph. He paused and said darkly,
"If you have played me false, madam, I can assure you that tommorrow will see you in a magistrate's court."
Mrs Younge violently snatched another piece of paper and wrote down another address and directions. She slammed the writing implement down and glared at Darcy.
"I thank you madam, for your generosity," said Darcy, dripping sarcasm. He took the paper and placed the false one on the table next to the money.
He left the house, never to return again.
Part 36: Preliminary Negotiations
The part of London where Darcy was this time was, if it was possible, even worse than the area where he had found Mrs. Younge. There was little light, except that which spilled onto the street from shuttered windows. Some looked around furtively in the manner of hunted men. Across the road, stood some scantily dressed women who beckoned to any man passing. Children, their faces dirty, impertinent and ragged, chased each other in the gutters. Once, Darcy had caught a young boy with his small hand reaching into his coat pocket. He had given the child some coins and told him to be on his way. On the face of every man, woman and child was an expression of desperation and hopelessness.
What a place to bring a young lady.
He was hiding somewhere near. The crowded neighborhood made it easier for such a man to hide himself away.
But the man had a young lady with him, a lady who had no claim on Darcy apart from being the youngest sister of the one he loved. And for his love's happiness, Darcy would go to the ends of the world to find Mr George Wickham and Miss Lydia Bennet.
What he was going to do when he found the pair, Darcy did not know. He only knew that Wickham's desire for money was a weakness that could be exploited.
But he had to be very careful not to give Wickham any advantage or let him see any weaknesses in himself. If he did so, Wickham could get whatever he wished from him.
If they be married, then I shall give them as much financial support as I can. If they are not, then it shall merely be a case of taking Lydia home to her family.
In a dark alleyway, Darcy glanced down at the paper he was holding. If the directions Mrs Younge had given him were correct, Harwood Street was at the end of the alley.
He continued to the exit. A woman passed in front of him and entered the building immediately to his left. He stood in front of the building and looked up, then left.
Is this the right place?
A wooden sign hanging on the front told Darcy the building was an inn. Seeing no other inns along the road, he glanced up.
There was a face at the window. The figure looked away, then stared directly at him. Soon, it was joined by another taller figure who took one look at Darcy then rapidly disappeared. The second figure was a very familiar one.
He walked determinedly to the door. He opened it and asked the startled innkeeper,
"I wish to see two of your guests, a man by the name of Wickham who brought a young lady with him called Miss Lydia Bennet."
The innkeeper gestured towards the stairs.
"Of course, sir. Up the stairs, last room on your left."
Without acknowledging the man Darcy ascended the staircase. Finding the room, he knocked on it.
There was no answer. He knocked again, this time more firmly.
He could hear sounds of a disagreement on the other side of the door.
"It has been absolute ages since we've had any fun. I'm letting him in!"
The door was opened by Lydia Bennet. She was dressed for bed in a pink robe.
"Good evening, Miss Bennet," said Darcy in a detached tone.
"Mr Darcy, what a surprise!" exclaimed Lydia. "What are doing here?"
He ignored the question. "May I enter?"
"Of course." She stood aside as he walked past her then shut the door.
Wickham was standing in the middle of the room, wide-eyed but otherwise revealed none of the emotion he was undoubtedly feeling. Disheveled, shirt unbuttoned and traces of wine about his person he looked nothing like the 'gentleman' Darcy had seen briefly in Meryton.
Neither spoke for some time. Even Lydia somehow sensed the tension between them and stayed silent.
Darcy looked about the room. It was small, with a sloping ceiling. There was an unused fireplace, two chairs, table with wine on it and a folding screen. He noticed disgustedly, that there was only one bed.
"I trust you are well, Miss Bennet?" said he, removing his gloves and hat.
"Yes sir, thank you."
None of them corrected his address to her. His hope rose; they were not married and he could take Lydia away from Wickham and that would be the end of the matter.
"And you, Mr Wickham?"
"I am also quite well, sir," replied he, never taking his eyes off Darcy.
"I apologise for this intrusion at this late hour, but I need to speak to Mr Wickham about a rather urgent matter. I also need to speak to you, Miss Bennet," said Darcy.
"Of course. I am at your service," said Wickham mockingly. He sat at the table and motioned Darcy towards he other chair. Darcy did not move.
A look of fear appeared in Wickham's eyes. He slowly got up. Darcy opened the door and motioned for Wickham to precede him. Darcy closed the door.
In the corridor, Wickham looked at him.
"Where to now, Darcy?"
Wordlessly, Darcy gestured towards the stairs. He followed Wickham down.
In the common room, the rowdy, partly drunk crowd did not notice Darcy's presence. Seeing them, the innkeeper approached them.
" 'Ow can I be of service to ye?" he asked wiping his hands.
"I require a private room, not for overnight, merely for discussion," said Darcy.
The innkeeper looked him up and down, then held out his hand. After Darcy gave him a coin, the man opened a door on the far side of the inn. Five men sat inside around a table holding cards. They looked up at the innkeeper's entrance and glared. The innkeeper barked at them and they hurriedly left.
"Thank you," said Darcy, entering the room behind Wickham. "Would you please see that we are not disturbed?"
The innkeeper grinned toothily and shut the door.
Darcy sat between the door and Wickham, who was seated opposite and watching him warily.
"What do you want with me?"
Darcy looked at him. "Our past has no reflection on this. I am here on present circumstance alone. I am not concerned about you, only for the young lady whom you have persuaded to come away with you."
"And why do you care for her, a girl so wholly unconnected with you?
"My reasons are my own. I should ask why did you convince her to flee with you when she has nothing to do with you or your debts."
"Chamberlyne was to go to Forster the next morning. I needed to leave at once, but there was a ball that evening and out of everyone there, only Lydia would have noticed my absence. I persuaded her to come with me on the pretence of an elopement, therefore allowing myself more time for my escape. Besides," smirked Wickham, "I was not at all adverse to having female companionship along the way."
Darcy looked at Wickham in disbelief. "And so to buy her silence, you made her and offer of marriage? I gave you more credit for cunning than that."
"Marry? Who said anything about marrying her?"
"You do not intend to marry her? Mr. Bennet may not be very rich but surely he could have done something for you if you were to marry his daughter."
"Marry one of the Bennet sisters? Of course not! I need to make my fortune, Darcy." Wickham scowled. "Some of us do not have the good luck as to have been born to wealth and power. I intend to gain it by marriage either here or in some other country." He paused and thought. "But I suppose if I had to marry one of the Bennet sisters, it certainly wouldn't be that feather-head upstairs. Elizabeth would have been my choice I suppose. Not quite so pretty as your sister, true but certainly with more spirit. But that would have been broken once I had my way with her."
In a flash, Darcy reached across the table and grabbed Wickham by his shirt. Wickham's eyes grew wide with fear, but then he gave a smirk.
"What's the matter, Darcy?" he said. "Don't like me abusing little Lizzy? No, I believe it was it the insult to your sister that has stung you."
"We are here to talk about your future, and nothing else," said Darcy through clenched teeth. "So keep your lying tongue silent and your filthy mind on the business at hand."
He threw Wickham back against the chair and breathed deeply, trying to regain control. It had actually been the reference to Elizabeth, but as long as Wickham believed it was the reference to Georgiana, who was safe and content at Pemberley, he had given no advantage to Wickham.
Calm, he turned back to Wickham sprawled in his chair.
"What do you intend to do?" he asked.
Wickham shrugged. "Resign my commission for one. Military life holds no interest for me any more. As for my future situation I confess I can conjecture very little about it."
Darcy tried his best to control his temper. "Can you even comprehend the trouble you have gotten Miss Bennet into? Do you not even care?"
Wickham looked at Darcy with an expression of indifference.
"I take no blame for her actions. She knew what she was letting herself in for when I told her. You cannot blame me for her decisions. The responsibility is hers alone."
"You accept no responsibility?" asked Darcy, shocked.
"Does it go against your principles, Darcy?"
Darcy shook his head disgusted. "Whenever I think that you can sink no lower, I find that I am mistaken."
"Now that you have found me I suppose I will have to leave London."
"Where would you go?"
"I do not know. I have nothing to live on. I cannot keep Lydia so she will have to be dropped off some place."
"You care for no one except yourself!"
"Of course. I am a survivor of many hardships - which are of your infliction!" spat Wickham. "If it were not for you, I could be living comfortably without this continual worry over money and live like you, a gentleman."
Darcy thought. He had been correct - Wickham's financial situation was something that could be used to make the man co-operate. But in the end, what he did for Wickham depended on Miss Lydia Bennet.
"What is your position at the present moment?" he asked Wickham.
"My debts, I suppose would be" - he calculated under his breath - "a sum considerably more than a thousand pounds. To me it is a source of worry - for man such as you it is merely a small matter."
Darcy shook his head. "I am prepared to help you."
Wickham froze. "What was that?" he asked.
"I am willing to help you. How I assist you will depend on Miss Bennet who is waiting upstairs. I will do my best to persuade her to quit her present situation and I will take her back to her family. I will discharge your debts, give you two thousand pounds and leave you to your own devices."
"What is the catch?" asked Wickham suspiciously.
"That you keep silent about your dealings with Miss Bennet. And you must never have any contact with me, Miss Bennet or any of our relations ever again."
"And if she does not wish to leave me? You have seen my powers at work, Darcy - you know what a hold I can have over an innocent lady who is easily influenced."
Darcy grimaced, but refused to rise to the bait. "Then we will speak some more." He stood up.
"Those are my conditions. If you decline, I will not help you and you will go to a debtor's prison. Do you accept them?" He held out his hand.
Wickham thought for a moment. He leaned forward and shook his hand, his eyes never leaving Darcy's.
"Then it is settled. You shall wait here whilst I speak with Miss Bennet." Darcy opened the door but paused before leaving.
"There is no where you can run to if that is what you are thinking," he said without turning around. "I will find you and besides, if you leave this room you have nothing but the clothes you wear. I advise that it is in your best interests that you co-operate."
"I wouldn't dare entertain such a notion," replied Wickham sarcastically.
Darcy left the room.
He did not trust Wickham, and so gave the innkeeper some money to make sure Wickham did not leave the inn. As an after thought, he sent a tankard of wine to Wickham.
The crowd in the common room had grown louder and rowdier. Darcy ascended the stairs and returned to the room.
Finding the door unlocked, he entered and found Lydia lying on the bed, a bored look on her face and her eyes closed.
"Miss Bennet," said Darcy softly in case she was asleep.
She was not asleep for her eyes flew open.
"Oh, so you are back? What took you so long? Where is Wickham?"
"He is downstairs," said Darcy shortly, closing the door. "Miss Bennet, we must talk."
"We do? What about?"
"Will you please be seated?"
She did as she was told. He remained standing, a grave expression on his face. He did not know Lydia very well, only that she was a flirt and was nearly as empty-headed as her mother, perhaps in some ways more so. Though she was Elizabeth's sister, she was nothing like her. He had never had to deal with such a person before had was at a loss at how to do so.
In the end, Lydia spoke first.
"Well? Why do you look so serious, sir?"
"The things of which I am to speak to you about are of a serious nature, Miss Bennet," began Darcy. "Your elopement - are you aware of the effect your action has had on people?"
"Is that all? I would not know, though I am sure all my sisters are green with envy. Mama is probably pleased to have one daughter married at last. She had thought Mr Bingley would marry Jane but then he left and - "
Darcy stared at the girl, no more than sixteen, with an expression of amazement. She was totally ignorant of the seriousness of her action or what chaos it had thrown her family into.
"Miss Bennet, your family is worried sick about you!" he said cutting her off. "Your sister had to cut her journey short and return home at once when she heard about this elopement and if she is an example of your family's current state, your family is not well at all. Your father has come to London in search of you and I believe your uncle is to join him, if he has not already done so."
Lydia frowned. "Why should they be so worried? I am going to be married, doesn't that make them happy?"
"It is not only that feelings of your relations that is at stake here, your reputation - in fact the reputation of your entire family is at risk. I do not believe you fully understand the severity of your actions. This elopement is a scandal and the entire world will look down on you and your entire family for it." He took a deep breath. "But it is not too late - the situation can be redeemed if you return home at once and show repentance for your folly. If this is done I dare say your reputation will suffer no permanent injury. I will help you and bring you home. Your youth can be the excuse for such an error of judgement"
Lydia's eyes blazed. "An error of judgement? Is that what you call it - an error of judgement? Mr Darcy, I have made the best decision I have ever made in my life!" She crossed her arms and looked defiantly up at him. "I am not leaving Wickham!"
Darcy stared at her. "Miss Bennet, I beg you to reconsider - "
"No sir, I am not leaving this room unless it is to go to the church to be married! I care not what my family thinks, or the opinion of the world. I am resolved to act in that matter which will in my opinion, constitue my own happiness, without reference to you or any other person. I do not want your help, I do not want to return home as Miss Bennet, only as Mrs Wickham."
"Mrs Wickham? You believe you are to be married to him?"
"Of course! He told me he loves me, why else would I have left with him? We will be married, I do not know when but we will be married."
"Miss Bennet, do you know what you are letting yourself in for, in a marriage to Mr Wickham? Do you know his true nature? Miss Bennet, you will regret such a decision. It is in your best interests to leave this place at once and let me accompany you to your uncle's house."
"How dare you have the presumption to tell me what is in my best interests! They are my interests. But I suppose I should not be surprised. Lizzy was right. You are the most arrogant man alive!"
Darcy sighed. He did not want to think of Elizabeth right now, such a distraction was not right at the present moment. Nevertheless, he was hurt by what Elizabeth had said. He told himself that it was before they had met each other at Pemberley.
"Miss Bennet I apologise. I admit that my past behaviour to your family has given you ample right to see me as such. But my character is not under discussion. You do not know Wickham's catalogue of his past offences - I do."
"Perhaps not, but I do know your offences against him. You wish him harm and persuading me to leave him is just another of your plots. Well, sir, I shall not yield. I repeat, I am not leaving my dear Wickham. I am going to marry him from Longbourn, all my sisters will be my bridesmaids and be exceedingly jealous but Mama shall be so happy."
Darcy's heart sank.
"And this is your final resolve? You have considered that such a connection will disgrace you in the eyes of the world?"
"If that is so, I shall try no more to dissuade you. I apologise if I have offended you - my desire for you and your family's well-being is the only excuse I can offer. I shall see that you two are married as soon as possible." He picked up his hat. "If you will excuse me."
Lydia smiled. "Thank you."
Darcy did not answer but left the room and went downstairs.
And so this is the way things will be.
Part 37: A visit to Cheapside
On Saturday Darcy paused before knocking on the door to the Gardiner's house in Cheapside. Mr Edward Gardiner had given his address to him that long-ago summer's day when they had gone fishing at Darcy's estate in Derbyshire. Taking a beep breath, Darcy thought over what he was to say to Mr Gardiner.
It was a week since he had visited Wickham and Lydia. The reason for the delay in finding the fugitives and the visit to the Gardiners was that his negotiations with Wickham had for some time been going nowhere. When Wickham had found out that he and Lydia were to be married, he had ranted and raved that there was no way he would spend the rest of his life attached to her and swore that he would leave as soon as possible. After listening to this tirade for some ten minutes, Darcy had calmly announced that it would be in Wickham's best interests if he married Lydia, for Darcy was still willing to assist Wickham.
Negotiations then began. It was agreed that all of Wickham's debts would be paid - a sum of more than a thousand pounds. It was the only thing they had agreed on, for when the subject of Wickham's future was brought up, one could not agree with the other.
Wickham, of course, had wanted more than Darcy was willing to give. He had expressed his desire for a small estate of 'no more than three thousand a year' in order to become a member of the landed gentry with no cost to himself in comparison to Bingley's family who had worked hard to gain their present position. It was implied that Darcy would give Wickham land from his own large estate of Pemberley. Darcy had steadfastly refused to comply, and Wickham had steadfastly refused to back down.
They had met again the next day and the day after that. After the third meeting, Wickham had grudgingly relented to set his sights a bit lower. Entering a trade was discussed and each of Darcy's suggestions discarded. Wickham had no intention of studying the law, becoming a merchant, practising medicine or any other trade. The Church was out of the question; Darcy would not allow a man of Wickham's morality to set a spiritual example for any parish.
The only feasible alternatives left was a career in one of the military disciplines, the Navy or the Army. Wickham wanted to go into the Navy, the more prestigious of the two as England commanded the greatest naval forces in the world but was impossible because of his age. Therefore, it was to be the Army regulars instead of the militia. As soon as they had agreed upon it, Darcy had written to Colonel Fitzwilliam, informing him of the basic facts that he believed was needed and requesting for some arrangement. His reply was helpful, though the writer had no doubt written it in a state of great curiosity, Darcy inferred from the general tone of his cousin's letter. Colonel Fitzwilliam said that it was possible to get an ensigncy in General _______'s regiment in Newcastle.
Wickham had been duly informed of this new arrangement, and after some characteristic grumbling, it was agreed on as pleasing to both parties.
All this had taken up to that Saturday morning. Over the grueling week, Darcy had frequently asked himself just why he was taking so much trouble to assist the man he hated. He told himself that it was his fault, of not informing others of Wickham's bad character and so preventing situations like this. Sometimes he just wanted to forget the whole affair and pretend it was no business of his - he frequently returned to his townhouse in London late in the night, tired and frustrated and ready to give up. But whenever such thoughts entered his mind, he remembered Elizabeth, upset and distraught with tears in her eyes after she had received news of Lydia's elopement. One thought of her and he was again determined to see the matter through to the end; not for Lydia's, certainly not for Wickham but for Elizabeth. And though he knew he would never see her again, at least he knew that he could ensure her happiness.
Darcy had come straight from Wickham and Lydia's lodgings to Cheapside in search of the Gardiners. As the affair involved the Bennets, he needed to inform a member of their family. Mr Bennet he did not know well enough in order to talk comfortably with him and no doubt the sentiment would have been equal.
Besides, he did not want Elizabeth to know out his involvement.
He had tried to visit Mr Gardiner yesterday but the servant had told him that he was talking to Mr Bennet, who would be leaving the next morning. Darcy left quickly without giving his name, only saying that a gentleman had called on business.
Now it was Saturday, Mr Bennet had hopefully left and he hoped that Mr Gardiner was in.
Darcy knocked on the door and it was opened by the servant. He asked to see Mr Gardiner.
"Yes sir, would you please wait here?" she said, gesturing to the drawing room. Darcy agreed and stood, hat in hand while the servant went to fetch Mr Gardiner.
When he appeared, he looked harried and tired, but the man's astonishment on seeing his visitor was evident.
"Mr Darcy, this is a pleasant surprise," said he. "What brings you here?"
"Good day, Mr Gardiner. I am here because I had located your niece, as well as Mr Wickham."
"You have?" At this, Mr Gardiner brightened up. "That is wonderful news! My brother and I have tried to but with no success. And how is Lydia?" he asked concerned.
Darcy grimaced slightly and sat. Mr Gardiner followed suit.
"She is well but also unmarried."
Mr Gardiner shook his head. "It is as Elizabeth feared then. What else?"
Darcy plunged into a description of how he had found Lydia and Wickham and of their current position. He told him of the arrangements he had taken the liberty of arranging and how all that was needed was Mr Gardiner's approval.
Mr Gardiner thought for a while, then said, "My I ask about the cost of all of this, his debts commission and such?"
Darcy expressionlessly named a figure that rendered Mr Gardiner speechless for a few moments. Before Mr Gardiner could speak another word, Darcy quickly added, "At the present it is only an estimate, though I expect it to rise rather than fall. I shall bear the cost of it all, there is no need to worry about that."
"Mr. Darcy, I cannot let you do that."
Darcy had expected such resistance and was determined not to give in. He changed the topic of conversation and asked where Mrs Gardiner and the children were.
"They are due to arrive back today. Madeline and the children have been at Longbourn this past week, for my brother's family was in great need of support after hearing about Lydia's elopement. Mr Bennet left this morning to return to his family." He paused. "Was it you who called yesterday?"
"Yes, it was."
"Why did you not see Mr Bennet? Surely he ought to know about this as well."
Darcy coughed. "I hope you will forgive me, sir, if I say that I felt that Mr Bennet was not a person whom I could so properly consult as you. In fact, I hope that you will comply with my wish and not inform any of his family of my involvement in this matter."
Mr Gardiner was surprised. "May I ask as to why you wish to remain anonymous?"
Darcy thought. He did not know any solid reason, only that he did not want Elizabeth to know about it. He did not want her to feel that she was indebted to him; he had done it out of love for her and that was all.
But he could say that to Elizabeth's uncle. He blushed slightly and said, "Forgive me if I choose not to answer that question."
Mr Gardiner nodded but gave the younger man a questioning look. Darcy looked back and smiled almost imperceptibly. Somehow, he was sure Mr Gardiner understood most of the meaning behind the smile.
He rose out of his chair. "I believe you are to be welcoming your family home soon. I would not wish to intrude upon it with matters of business. I will come again tomorrow."
Mr Gardiner offered him some refreshment before he left but Darcy declined. They shook hands and parted.
True to his word, Darcy visited the Gardiners again on Saturday, this time late in the evening when he hoped the children were in bed. He found Mr and Mrs Gardiner waiting for him. Mrs Gardiner greeted him warmly. She told him that her husband had related to her all that had passed in yesterday's meeting and so removing the need to repeat it all.
The main problems to be discussed, was how much was going to be settled on Wickham and Lydia and who was going to pay for it. When Darcy left them later that evening an amount had been decided but neither were willing to let the other bear the cost of such a large amount. They agreed to meet again on Monday and hopefully it would be settled.
The next evening found Mr Gardiner no more willing to relinquish the burden than before. But Darcy was obstinate. Every protest from Mr and Mrs Gardiner only made him more determined.
"I must be allowed to insist on this," said he, facing the Gardiners. "The fault is mine and so must the remedy be. It was through my mistake and pride, my reserve 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 open to the world his character would have been exposed and this elopement could never have taken place."
"Mr. Gardiner, I believe you take too much upon yourself," said Mr. Gardiner. But Darcy sensed that his resolve was weakening.
"I must insist on this sir. I assure you in this matter argument is fruitless." He got up and extended his hand. "The responsibility is mine - I must have it, sir."
Mr Gardiner looked at his wife. Something passed between them that Darcy could not decipher. Whatever it was, Mr Gardiner sighed and accepted Darcy's hand and shook it.
Darcy held it for a moment then returned to his seat.
"But I understood, sir, that you did not wish to be acknowledged in this venture," said Mrs Gardiner. "We must tell Mr Bennet of this, but we cannot without some explanation."
Darcy smiled. "Then simply tell him that it was Mr Gardiner who arranged it all."
Mr Gardiner shook his head. "Come now, Mr Darcy, you know that I will not allow that to happen. I, take all the credit for your assistance? We must give credit where it is due."
"No, I am perfectly willing to anonymous. Mr Gardiner, I insist that you take the credit for this. I do not wish to be thanked for this. When you write to Mr Bennet, please do not tell him about my involvement."
Mr Gardiner sighed. "If you insist, there is no point in arguing the matter any more."
"Thank you. The wedding is to be on Monday, and I have given you the location of Mr Wickham's lodgings. I myself have been away for too long, so I shall return to Pemberley. I abandoned my friends and family after returning for only four days."
"So you will not be here for the wedding?"
"I shall return before Monday and attend the ceremony, as well as overseeing the final financial arrangements."
Mr Gardiner nodded. "So if it is all settled, then nothing remains but to write to Mr Bennet and wait for Monday."
Part 38 Realisations
Darcy was in no mood to rejoice in his arriving home, for what was the point? He was to leave again in a few days.
He had sent no word of his arrival and so there was no one to greet him. It was not until he was removing his coat in the hall that Georgiana appeared. He gave no reaction to her arrival; he was to tired and drained.
Georgiana approached him hesitantly, uncertainty in her posture; nevertheless, when she spoke her voice was calm and controlled.
"Are you alright?"
He sighed, still determined not to burden her with his troubles.
"Is your business in London completed?"
"No, I shall be returning in a few days."
Georgiana looked sad, but smiled.
"Then come, we must make the most of your time here with us."
She gently but firmly took his arm and lad him to the drawing room.
Bingley and his family were sitting in the drawing room, quietly talking and did not notice the Darcys' entrance until Darcy sat down.
"Darcy!" said Bingley in pleasant surprise. "You are back. Hopefully, this time for some duration?"
"No, only for a few days. I need to be back in London by Monday."
His guests were disheartened; Miss Bignley most of all.
"I hope this business of yours can be concluded quickly so that you are free to spend more time with your friends," said she.
"As do I," replied he, thinking of one particular aquaintance of his.
"What a lot of business you must have to do during the course of the year, Mr Darcy. How dreadfully dull I would think it; I admire your perseverance."
"After all, I believe there are few who can manage such a large estate, as well as so many tenants, large fortune and more without any assistance whatsoever."
Darcy made no answer.
"Such duty reflects a character of strength, one who should be proud of their situation in life. Though someI believe it is something that everyone should have. One cannot have too much of pride, after all."
Darcy closed his eyes for a brief minute, reminded of one incident when he had realised that pride was his worst fault.
He was forever indebted to Elizabeth for opening his eyes. If it had not been for her, he would never have known. As painful as the incident at Hunsford had been, it was a test of Darcy's self, and if his meeting with Elizabeth had been any indication, he was well on his way to becoming a better man.
Maybe this trial was another test and though it may be better for him, the price for it was that Elizabeth would never be a part fo his future.
Bingley, seeing his friend was tiring of his sister's conversation, said, "I hope your journey was - "
"It would be such a pity if men such as yourself, Mr Darcy, were to change their ways," interrupted Miss Bingley. "Heaven forbid such an action! think of the impact on society!"
"I may have believed that once in the past, Miss Bingley, but now I believe that perhaps it would be a boon for society if everyone were to humble themselves," said Darcy coldly, not at all attracted by Miss Bingley's opinion on the subject. "And I also believe that society would benefit still more if people concentrated more on improving themselves instead of belittling others."
Miss Bingley was stunned into silence.
"And on the subject of pride," continued Darcy, rising from his seat, "I have learnt through experience that too much pride can be one of the greatest faults of a man - or woman. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was kind enough to point that out to me some time ago and though it was a hard lesson to learn, I now believe that she was perfectly correct."
He knew he was being rude to his friend's sister, but his dealings with Wickham and Lydia had given him a short temper.
Darcy paused before exiting the room.
"If you will excuse me, I have some work to complete."
He left and headed for his study.
It was some time later when all the paper work regarding the future of George Wickham and Lydia Bennet was completed. When all had been done, Darcy leaned his head back, tempted to just fall asleep where he sat.
A quiet knock on the door prevented him from sinking into slumber.
Georgiana walked through the door. Darcy shook himself into a semblence of conciousness and said,
"Good evening. Have our guests retired for the night?"
"Yes." She came and stood just in front of him. "I understand that Miss Bingley has been less than pleasing to you lately, brother. I believe that perhaps she may deign to add some civility in her tone now when she speaks of Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Darcy smiled tiredly.
"That itself is a blessing."
"But you cannot blame her for her behaviour, brother," continued she. "I think ever since she has been aware of your attraction to Miss Bennet she has been jealous and felt challenged by her. She has tried to gain your affections for so long, and now to have all her efforts rendered worthless by a lady who has not even tried to make you love her must make her feel quite angry."
"It does not excuse her from insulting Miss Bennet in our own house," replied Darcy. "I hope you were not shaken by her mentioning Wickham."
"I was surprised," admitted Georgiana, "But I managed to regain myself not dwell on the matter. Miss Bennet was most kind. Fitzwilliam," asked Georgiana, "does she know about our involvement with him? I got that impression when she had been speaking to Miss Bingley."
"Georgiana, I hope you do not mind, but yes, i have told her. Do not worry, I trust her with my life and she will not reveal what happened that summer."
"I am of your opinion."
Darcy did not answer. Elizabeth had not told anyone of his dealings with Wickham, but if she had then Lydia would not have gone to Brighton and Wickham would not have eloped with her and . . .
Stop that. No more 'ifs'; it has happened and you cannot change the past, only affect the future.
Georgiana looked at her brother questioningly.
"What is your business, that had you hurrying to London? Is it something to do with Miss Bennet? The business only arose when you returned from visiting her in Lambton, and she left half an hour later."
"Georgiana, I do not wish to trouble you with my burdens," said Darcy, beginning the old argument again.
"Fitzwilliam, I am no longer a child, though you still see me as one. I would like to know."
"Georgiana . . . "
"You have protected me and cared for me for so long, but you cannot do that forever; there are others you must do that for. I am growing up; I have a right to know."
Darcy looked at his sister. Though little more than sixteen, her figure was well-formed, her air dignified and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was very similar to their mother, both in form and spirit.
She is growing-up - and soon she will marry and leave me here. All alone . . .
"If you put it that way, I shall tell you."
Georgiana sat in a nearby chair while Darcy related to her the whole of his activities since he had seen Elizabeth in Lambton. He told her of how he finally bribed Mrs Younge, Georgiana's former companion, how he found the fugitives and arranged Lydia's marrige to Wickham.
"The wedding is on Monday, and I must attend," said he, carefully gauging his sister's reaction.
Georgiana was sitting still, her eyes wide. She said nothing for some minutes, while Darcy began to dread that he had done the wrong thing.
"Why are you doing all of this for him?" she asked finally.
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief.
"I am certainly not doing this for him, dearest," he replied. "It is more for Lydia and her family."
"All of the Bennet family?" said Georgiana with one raised eyebrow.
"Yes, all of them," said he smiling.
"I believe you," she said in a tone that implied the opposite."
Darcy shook his head.
"You are doing all of this for no other reason than your love for Miss Elizabeth."
He smiled at her.
"Yes, my clever little sister, you are quite correct. But it is late, and I think we should both sleep."
When he went to bed, Darcy found that he was calmer and happier than he would have been had he stayed in London. He could almost forget the past week, almost forget Wickham, Lydia, Wickham's fear of him, Lydia's defiance, Elizabeth . . .
There is no more need for tears, my dearest Elizabeth, he said silently. I have secured the security and reputation of your family and there will be no more need for tears.
No tears, except for his, for his own happiness that now could never be.
Georgiana will find someone, Bingley has Jane, (here he swore to bring his friend happiness by reuniting him with Jane Bennet) And I have no one.
On Monday I am attending a wedding - the unification of a couple that do not truly care for each other, but a wedding all the same.
Yet another reminder that while men and women around him were finding people whom they could share their lives with, he had no one.
Elizabeth will also find someone to care for her, protect her, love her.
I just wish that it was me.
Part 39 Mr. and Mrs Wickham
"I apologise, Bingley, if I insulted you or Miss Bingley in any way last night," said Darcy to his friend the next morning. For the moment, they were alone as the ladies and Mr Hurst had not yet joined them for breakfast.
"I thank you, Darcy, but really I must admit that I find Caroline's hypocrisy and manners disturbing at times. I know that I should not slight my own sister, but . . ." He trailed off, waving his hand around trying to find an appropriate thing to say. "Anyway, I feel that I must speak with her about it - and Louisa as well, but I confess I do not know how to go about confronting them."
"Did you not do that, the evening Miss Bennet dined at Pemberley?"
"I did, but I do not believe I did a very good job of it."
"Are you sure?"
"When I was speaking to them, I think Louisa and Caroline were not really listening to me," sighed Bingley. "How can I make them understand that I do not approve of their behaviour?"
Darcy was about to offer a suggestion, but caught himself.
You interfere too much in your friend's life. Bingley must learn to make his own decisions.
Bingley looked to him for inspiration.
"Could you advise me on this, Darcy?"
"Perhaps you should ask yourself, as to what course of action to take," replied he carefully.
Bingley looked taken aback.
"Bingley, you ought to be the one making the decision. You are their brother; they should know to listen to you. I am not going to offer any suggestions, save that when you do speak to them, do not let them offer any excuses. As for the rest, use your initiative."
Bingley was stricken; Darcy could see that and was tempted to help him. But Darcy had ordered Bingley's life for him enough already and that had to stop. Though some of Darcy's decisions for Bingley had been good, he had been gravely mistaken about Bingley's choice of wife. He was now certain that Jane Bennet was perhaps a perfect match for his easy-tempered friend.
Darcy had to remedy his mistake, but feared Bingley's reaction when he found out that his most trusted friend and relations had lied to him.
"Bingley, there is something I must tell you . . ."
Just then, Miss Bingley entered the room.
The gentlemen returned her greeting, then Bingley turned to Darcy.
Darcy decided to leave it for now.
"I cannot remember."
Darcy arrived in London the evening before the wedding. When he arrived at his townhouse, he found a letter from Mr Gardiner waiting for him. It was a short missive; written to inform Darcy of all the particulars of the next day.
'The wedding is to begin at eleven o'clock, at St. Clements, the church of the parish where Mr Wickham and Lydia are lodging. If you would be so kind as to await our arrival with Mr Wickham inside, Mrs Gardiner and I shall bring Lydia for the ceremony.
Mr Wickham received his commission yesterday and he is to join the regiment at the end of a fortnight. Before he and Lydia travel to the North, they are to visit Mr Bennet at Longbourn. I have written to my brother and hopefully he will satisfy Wickham's debts in Meryton.
My wife and I look forward to seeing you again on Monday.
Darcy put down the letter and sighed. Tomorrow would see the end of the whole blasted business.
Though it was more than half an hour before anyone was to arrive, Darcy found himself sitting inside St. Clements contemplating just what was the ultimate result of his involvement in the Lydia-Wickham affair.
Life would go on as normal for him, save some small yet significant changes. Georgiana was growing up, and Bingley was on the path to becoming his own man. Darcy's relations with the two would be different to what they had been in the past.
And Elizabeth? He did not know. What would she think of him if she did know about his involvement? Would she realise he had done it for her? Or would she believe he had done it for some other reason?
Just how had this affair affected their rather stormy and unpredictable relationship?
Whenever he thought he understood, something happened to change it all.
First I thought that she would accept me, then I found out that I was the last man in the world whom she could ever marry. When I feel that she must detest me, I meet her at Pemberley and hope rises. Then when I feel that relations are improving, this happens. Now how do things stand?
Either way, it did not matter. He would never see her again - he had come to terms with that.
"Something wrong, Darcy?" said a questioning voice.
He looked up as Wickham, smartly dressed in a blue coat sat down beside him. There was an expression of genuine commiseration in his face, but Darcy knew Wickham too well.
"Nothing of importance."
There was silence for a few minutes.
"You don't trust me, do you." A statement, not a question.
"Of course not. Can you blame me?"
"No, I suppose not. But I had hoped that it was all in the past, and we could bury our differences. We had been good friends in years long gone."
"Years too long gone to have any influence on the present or the future, Wickham."
Wickham gave a smile.
"Even so, those years have caused you to abandon your friends and come to London in search of me. Or is it because of me? I am still trying to figure out just why you have taken so much trouble to assist a man you hate and a girl whom you certainly cannot respect. I am at quite a loss to explain it. Am I wishing in vain for you to enlighten me?"
"But I can still speculate. If not for me, then it must be for Lydia. But not Lydia herself. Someone connected with her, perhaps? Someone who would be affected by Lydia's damaged reputation? Someone whom you do not wish to be hurt?"
Wickham was sharp, Darcy knew that, and he was getting too close to the truth.
"Your speculations are of no use, for I will not say a word, even if you should be correct."
"Even so, I must thank you for doing so. I am most exceedingly obliged," said Wickham sarcastically.
The priest entered, cutting off any reply and bent his head to speak to Wickham. Darcy did not listen to their conversation but silently breathed a sigh of relief that he had manged to dodge all of Wickham's questions.
At the back of the church, the doors opened. The priest stepped back to his position while Wickham stood. A few moments later, Darcy did the same. When Lydia, preceeding her aunt and uncle, stood close to them, Wickham stepped away from the pew to stand beside his bride.
Darcy looked at Lydia. She was dressed in a simple white muslin gown that became her very well. She held a small bouquet of flowers, and her eyes were shining, her face radiant. Even so, for once she looked quite serious as she stood beside her 'dear Wickham'.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner were quite grim as they stood off to one side. Darcy caught Mr Gardiner's eye and nodded as the priest began.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony . . . "
Darcy had attended quite a few weddings in his time, but never at any of them had he felt so certain that the union he was missing was doomed to failure.
These two are only brought together because of their passions and my interference, thought he soberly. Such a union cannot last for long. And when they do tire of each other's company, what then? Have I doomed two people to misery?
"George, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife . . . "
With a shock, Darcy suddenly realised that Wickham was now irrevocably part of the family that, apart from his own, would cause him the most heartache.
Wickham shall be Elizabeth's brother-in-law; and what if Elizabeth did return my affections? Can I ignore that Wickham is her brother, and so, mine if we were to marry?
As of yet, he did now know if his love was storng enough to forget such a connection.
Wickham glanced at him. He turned slightly to watch, as the priest led Wickham and Lydia through their vows. Mr and Mrs Gardiner was also watching them.
The Gardiners - now there was an example of a good marriage. Mr Gardiner was a man of good sense, principle and humour while his wife intelligent and kind. They obviously cared deeply about each other and respected their partner in life.
Darcy hoped that he too could have the kind of companionship and love the Gardiners shared. Somehow, he knew without a shred of doubt, that if he and Elizabeth were to come to an understanding, then their marriage would be one people would envy.
"I pronounce that they be man and wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
The wedding had concluded. Mr and Mrs Wickham laughed, Mr and Mrs Gardiner smiled. Darcy stood expressionless.
And this marriage of her youngest sister, is this the last service I shall do for Elizabeth? I shall never see her again, never have a second chance to tell her just how much I love her. Oh, why couldn't it have been different? How I wish that it was myself and Elizabeth standing there in front of the altar!
And if she comes to love another, perhaps it would be well that I will never know. But no, I could not bear it, not knowing and yet, would having knowledge of it be a worse punishment for me than never knowing?
How confused my thoughts are. But one thing is for certain - I still love her, with all my heart, and this act is my final proof of it - but I do not want her to know. She will fell gratitude - but I do not want her gratitude, only her love, and that I will not force, it has to come of her own free will.
Mr and Mrs Wickham were leaving to the waiting carriage outside, Mr and Mrs Gardiner following. Darcy fell into place behind them.
Outisde, the sun was shining brightly which helped relieve the cold of the church. Mr Gardiner was giving some papers to Wickham and Lydia to sign, regarding the debts and commission. Wickham dutifully signed these, while Lydia held onto his arm, beaming up at her husband.
Darcy approached them.
"Mr and Mrs Wickham, allow me to give you congratulations and my best wishes for your future. mr Wickham you have a lovely bride, and Mrs Wickham, I wish you all the happiness in the world."
He did not offer his hand to Wickham, nor did it seem Wickham expected him to.
Mr Wickham smiled and responded, "On behalf of Mrs Wickham and myself, I thank you, sir for attending and for your sincere congratulations."
Unable to contain her excitement any longer, Lydia exclaimed, "Oh, Mr Darcy, I am so happy! I was so afriad that something might happen to prevent it all, and now here I am with my lovely husband! I can't wait until we get to Longbourn and see all my sisters! I shall tell them all about the wedding, what my dress was like, my ring, what Wickham wore, who was the groomsman, and - "
"I beg your pardon, Mrs Wickham, but I have a something to ask of you - and your husband." Wickham raised his eyebrows but Darcy continued, "I would be much obliged if you will promise me not tell anyone of my involvement in this."
"And why not?" asked Lydia.
"Please, do not reveal any of this," repeated Darcy.
After some moments, Wickham agreed. Lydia did so as well, though more reluctantly.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner now came up to give their congratulations. Darcy stood off to one side watching. Sometimes he caught Wickham's eye. Wickham immedietly looked away.
After some minutes, the newly-weds climbed into the carriage, and drove off into the the London streets, waving as they disappeared from sight.
Darcy and the Gardiners stood there for a while in silence, thinking over what they had just witnessed.
Mr Gardiner then turned to him and said, "After this, I am thinking that perhaps some quieter, more leisurely entertainment is called for. Mr Darcy, will you do us the honour of having dinner with us tomorrow?"
Darcy smiled. "I would be honoured, sir."
Part 40 Family
If Mr and Mrs Gardiner had not invited him to dine at their house in Cheapside, Darcy would have probably left immedietly after the wedding. He had not been to Pemberley for almost a year, and when he had returned, he had left after four days. Spending more time with the Gardiners was not unappealing though, and he delayed his departure until Wednesday.
For the first time, Darcy went to Cheapside, and for the first time in his life, he entered one of the houses. Gracechurch Street, though the houses were not so large, was orderly and neat. The inhabitants respected everyone's privacy, occasionally greeting their neighbours when they saw one another.
A man of Darcy's standing had not often ventured into their lives, but though he was given some curious glances, he was undisturbed. Finding the Gardiner's house, he knocked on the door. The servant opened it and announced his arrival.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner had been sitting in the drawing room with their children, who shyly looked at the floor. Mrs Gardiner introduced each of them, two girls and two boys to Darcy, gently prompting them to greet him.
"Children, this is our friend, Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy, this is Alice, Kate, William and Robert," said Mrs Gardiner, going down the line. As each of their names was called, each child curtsied or bowed.
These children, the eldest cannot be more than eight, already have better manners than some of their cousins, thought he. There was ample evidence of the Gardiner's good parenting. Darcy wondered just how Jane and Elizabeth had turned out so well in comparison to their younger sisters. Perhaps Mr and Mrs Gardiner had a hand in their upbringing?
Bending slightly so that his tall frame was not so imposing, he returned the favour. When he looked up, he observed Mr and Mrs Gardiner sharing a smile.
"Dinner shall be ready soon," said Mr Gardiner. "In the meantime, children, don't make too much noise while you are playing."
Darcy watched as the children quietly returned to the activities his arrival had interrupted. Alice and Kate brought their dolls to little Robert and enacted stories they had made up while William piled blocks on top of each other with serious concentration.
"They are wonderful children," said he to Mrs Gardiner.
"Children are the hope of our world's future," added Mr Gardiner with pride as he lovingly watched Kate give her doll to Robert.
"But they need good parents to guide them in the first years of their lives," said Mrs Gardiner.
"I almost envy your children, Mrs Gardiner, "said Darcy honestly, "My mother died in Georgiana's birth and my father joined her in Heaven five years ago. At least I have some memory of my mother, vague though it may be. Georgiana unfortunately does not share that pleasure. I have had to take over my parent's position in bringing her up."
"And a wonderful job you have done of it, sir," responded Mr Gardiner. "For one who has had few examples to learn from, you have done very well as a parent."
Mrs Gardiner smiled at the young man. "Yes, it would seem you have been more of a father to Miss Darcy than an elder brother. If you had children of your own, you would make an excellent father."
"I would need a wife first," replied Darcy, laughing.
Mrs Gardiner smiled at his remark. "My joy at Alice's birth was increased fourfold, and now my happiness in marriage is complete."
"If you would count Jane and Elizabeth, one could almost say we have had six children to care for," said Mr Gardiner. "They visited us frequently when they were younger, but the younger girls have preferred to remain at home with my sister."
"It would seem that your parenting is quite different from your relatives," said Darcy delicately.
Mr Gardiner sighed. "I sometimes wish that we could have had more of a hand in bringing up Mary, Kitty and Lydia, but it is too late for anything to be remedied."
"I see. I had often wondered at the difference between the two eldest and the younger Bennet sisters."
"It is wonderful to see that Jane and Lizzy, before such sweet girls, have grown up into such beautiful women. Soon, they will marry; I would be saddened indeed if their husbands were not worthy of them," said Mr Gardiner. His wife agreed, nodding her head thoughtfully.
"Jane needs someone who will care for her selflessly, and Elizabeth's husband would have to a man who could match her spirit and independence. I know that they must also think of fortune, but I hope that they will put love and happiness before anything."
Elizabeth will only marry for love, and she does not love me.
"It will be difficult, to find two such men that were perfect for them," said Darcy.
"Come now, sir, do you not believe that there is a match for everyone one in this world?" chided Mrs Gardiner. "God made Eve for Adam; does it not follow that every one of His children should also have someone created for them?"
"I do not know; so far, I have seen no evidence of it."
He had seen very few marriages that seemed made in Heaven. True there were some; his own parents, some of his acquaintances, Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam . . . but when compared to the number of bad marriages he had seen, the ratio was very small.
"I certainly believe it is true, for I have been so fortunate as to meet my wife," smiled Mr Gardiner.
"I do not know if I have met the woman who is for me," replied Darcy softly.
"But of course you do not know when you first meet them - only future events will tell, and even so, you must still make your own choices and take the risk to find out if the one you believe is your partner-in-life, really is so."
A sudden tumble of blocks was heard crashing to the floor. William cried at the sight of his hard work lying scattered over the area and Mrs Gardiner immediately rose and went to her son's side, while Alice tried to pick up the blocks, her father helping. Mrs Gardiner tried to sooth her son, who refused to be calmed.
"Come now, William, we shall build a better tower this time, one that will not fall over so easily," coaxed Mr Gardiner, taking the blocks from Alice. He placed blocks on top of each other, in a more stable design while William's sobs lessened as he watched his father. When it was finished, William laughed.
Darcy watched this little family scene from where he sat. Mr and Mrs Gardiner were such wonderful parents, and not only did they care for their own offspring, they were willing to help and look after any others who wished for their assistance. He instinctively felt that the Gardiners would treat him almost as one of their own.
For once, he could rely on someone, rather than having everyone rely on him.
The servant entered and announced that dinner was ready. Mr Gardiner took the hands of his two daughters and led them into the dining room, William and Robert following behind. Mrs Gardiner smiled at Darcy and he escorted her inside.
The meal was certainly not as elegant as the ones he had with Georgiana and the Bingleys, not with four young children wanting attention, but it was by far more comfortable and friendly. The dinner itself was simple yet tasted delicious. Darcy enjoyed himself thoroughly.
Afterwards, Mrs Gardiner put the children were put to bed, leaving the two men to converse among themselves in Mr Gardiner's study.
Darcy glanced at the bookshelves, noting that many of the best volumes that sat there were ones he had himself. Mr Gardiner watched him, saying, "I doubt you will find one there that you have not read. Your library at Pemberley is more complete than my modest study."
"Yes, but my family has had the advantage of time to build up such a large collection." He rose from his seat and took down two of the books. "And yet, even with such an advantage, I do not have these which I have searched for a long time unsuccessfully."
"Which ones are they?" asked Mr Gardiner. When he saw which ones Darcy spoke of, he said,
"Ah, these I remember - Jane and Lizzy were staying with us some time ago, and my wife and I took them to the bookstore. Lizzy discovered those, and found them so interesting I bought them for her. She finished them within a day and forgot to bring them home with her. You are at liberty to borrow them, if you wish."
Darcy thanked him gratefully. Seeing a portrait of a family that included a woman who seemed a younger Mrs Bennet, Darcy wondered out aloud if Lydia would ever come to recognise her folly in eloping with Mr. Wickham.
"In time, she will come to realise her mistake," replied Mr Gardiner, sighing. "But by then, it will be to late; they are bound to each other until death parts them. But perhaps, it is possible that Mr Wickham will take advantage of this new beginning and life his life anew?" asked Mr Gardiner hopefully.
"I wish I could say yes, but I know him too well to believe that he will mend his ways."
"Do you think that Mr and Mrs Wickham will abide by their promises not to tell anyone of your involvement?" asked Mr Gardiner.
"Mr Wickham will not; he would not want the Bennet family to know any more of his conduct than they do already, nor would he want it known that I have assisted him so much, not after what he has told everyone about me."
"Yes, I had heard some of those lies that he spread around the neighborhood," said Mr. Gardiner shaking his head. "They were quite malicious and I am afraid to say that he told them with such skill that many believed them."
"Does the whole of Meryton believe me to have wronged Mr. Wickham?" said Darcy.
"I am sorry to say that they did, though some people's opinions did change. Elizabeth, one of the ones who most vehemently stood by Mr Wickham, now knows that she was mistaken." He looked at Darcy. "My niece told us of the truth of Mr Wickham's character during our return to Longbourn, and that she had acquired her information from her visit to Kent last spring. I may hazard a guess as to the source of her information, and I thank him for opening her eyes."
"But had I told her earlier, when I first learned that Wickham was in town, the entire elopement could have been prevented," replied Darcy, still harboring guilt about his reluctance to reveal Wickham's character.
"Mr Darcy, how can you blame yourself? I do not, nor does my wife, and, truth be told, neither does Lizzy. She first blamed herself if you can believe it, for withholding her knowledge for so long, yet she also did not foresee Lydia's action even though she has known Lydia since birth. If she could not have foreseen it, neither could you. She no longer blames herself, and so neither can she blame you."
Elizabeth does not blame me? thought Darcy, startled. Surely I deserve it, yet she does not? Can this be true?
He looked at Mr Gardiner. He had come to learn that he could be trusted; Mr Gardiner would not have told him this just for his peace of mind. So it must be true.
"I . . .I thank you, sir," said Darcy sincerely.
They talked of other subjects, and as the hours passed, Darcy's respect for Mr Gardiner increased. He was a well-educated man, who shared his love of reading. He found himself telling Mr Gardiner more and more about his life, asking for advice on this and that. Mr Gardiner would listen carefully and give him enough information to guide Darcy to a solution.
When the night had advanced quite late, Darcy left the Gardiners.
"I thank you for your hospitality, sir," said Darcy, shaking Mr Gardiner's hand. He turned to Mrs Gardiner, who had come to see him off and took his leave of her. She acknowledged him, and, after many invitations to meet again sometime if Darcy should be in London, he departed from the homely house in Cheapside with a lightened heart.
The next day, he left London and returned to Derbyshire, Wickham now out of his life forever.
Part 41 Confrontation
It was the end of summer, and autumn would soon be approaching. Darcy took his time on the road, there was no hurry and the weather was fine. He sent word of his coming, and hopefully the letter to Georgiana would reach Pemberley a day or so before him.
Unlike his earlier arrival, Georgiana and the Bingleys were waiting outside to greet him. Georgiana glided down the steps of the house and embraced her brother, taking no notice of the people around her.
"I hope you took good care of our guests in my absence?" asked Darcy.
"I believe I did. Charles is so much more happier than last winter and has been very good company while you were away." She took his hand and led him to join the others.
"Darcy, I hope you have returned for good this time," greeted Bingley. "You have been flying all over the country lately, is it time for you to settle down?"
"Yes, I have no more plans for the next few months," responded he. "Peace and quiet are all I desire."
Bingley seemed more jovial, like the man he had been before leaving Jane. Darcy hoped this was a good sign of his friend's growing independence.
Miss Bingley and her sister were standing off to one side. Miss Bingley had a worried expression on her face, but she greeted him cordially enough.
"How good it is that you have returned to us," she simpered. "We have been quite desolate without our gracious host."
"Come now, brother, we must not keep you standing outside. Shall we go in?" asked Georgiana.
They all took her advice and followed her into the house.
After diner, Darcy and Bingley retired to the study to talk. Darcy was interested to see what new developments his friend had undergone. Already he seemed more confident of himself.
After speaking of more trivial things, Bingley suddenly made an offer.
"I have been thinking, Darcy, of returning to Netherfield." Before Darcy could say anything to this, he hurried on. "The shooting season is coming and the game around Netherfield is very abundant. Would you like to join me? I have asked my sisters, but they are still thinking if they will come."
Darcy froze at his friend's invitation. Should I go? Run the risk of meeting Elizabeth again? After what Mr and Mrs Gardiner told me, is it right for me to go?
"Come Darcy, it would be better if I had company."
There was something in his friend's voice that made Darcy look up. He looked at Bingley, and sensed that though hunting was part of his desire to return to Netherfield, it certainly was not the main reason.
He was grateful to know that Bingley had made this decision himself. Darcy had been prepared to convince Bingley to go to Netherfield, but if he had already chosen to do so, it made things even better.
But should he go with him?
Though Bingley did not say it out loud, it was obvious he did really want his friend's company.
With a sudden decision, Darcy voiced his acceptance.
"Good, good, excellent! We shall be quite a merry party. I wonder how all our friends in Hertfodshire are? What changes have happened?" He continued in this manner for some time.
Darcy told himself he was going to Netherfield to see if Jane Bennet still returned his friend's love. If she did, he would confess his deception to Bingley, and do his utmost to see his friend married to her.
That's what he told himself anyway. He knew there was another reason - but as of yet, he did not acknowledge it.
Late that same evening, Darcy had retired to the library to begin reading the book he had borrowed from Mr Gardiner. He had setled down into a large chair by the fire, the first moment of complete peace and relaxation in a long time.
Unfortunately, his solitude was broken by the arrival of Miss Bingley.
"Mr Darcy, may I have a word with you?" asked the lady.
He sighed and put down his book. "Certainly."
She shut the door behind her. Coming closer to him, she began,
"Mr Darcy, you must speak to my brother at once!"
"On what subject, pray?"
"The day you left for London, he expressed his intention of returning to Netherfield!" She paused, waiting to see any reaction from him. When he gave none, she continued.
"He says it is for sport, and true, the hunting season is approaching; but we know that he will be inevitably be drawn to Jane Bennet. When I tried to inform him of the folly of such a venture, he told me in no uncertain terms, that he did not care for my opinion. Mr Darcy, you must speak to him!"
"It is Bingley's decision to make; I cannot presume to make him change his mind if he is determined upon it."
"But when he meets Jane again, his interest for her might, nay, will be rekindled and a marriage will soon follow. All our efforts since last November will be wasted."
"If he does not listen to his sister, then what makes you think that he will listen to me?"
"You are his oldest friend, and he takes your advice. Think of how many difficult decisions you have made for him in the past!"
"Miss Bingley, I should no longer presume to run Bingley's life for him. If he wishes for my advice, I shall give it, but no longer will I tell him what to do, least of all advise him in matters of his own heart. If he loves Miss Bennet, and she returns his affections and accepts a proposal, then I shall be most happy for him."
Aghast at what she was hearing, Miss Bingley exclaimed, "Do you not remember our objections to such a marriage? Jane may be a sweet girl, but her family, connections!"
Darcy sighed. "Miss Bingley, what we did to separate them, was wrong. I was mistaken in my belief of Miss Bennet's indifference, for I now know she returned his affections. Whether her feelings for him have altered since I last saw her, I do not know, but Bingley is entitled to find out. In fact," he continued, smiling, "I myself have never seen such plentiful sport as I did in Hertfodshire. Your brother invited me to join him, and I shall accompany him."
At this, Miss Bingley turned a shade paler.
"But, sir, surely you do not wish to return to Hertfodshire and its inhabitants. If I remember correctly, you did not enjoy our last stay there. In fact, you quite disliked some of the inhabitants, and may I be so bold as to say that some in particular did not approve of you, though I cannot see why. I share your opinion of them; they are a group of country savages and some of them were quite abominably rude to us. If you dislike the populace so much, then may I recommend that you do not return there."
Though she did not mention Elizabeth out loud, Darcy knew that she was uppermost in Miss Bingley's mind. His smile disappeared.
"Miss Bingley," he said coldly, "Is there any particular reason that you do not wish for me to go with your brother to Netherfield?"
The lady did not answer. He continued in a serious tone.
"Is it out of concern for me, that I might not enjoy my stay there, or are you afraid that I will again be thrown into the path of Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" He sighed. "Miss Bingley, after all these years, have you not come to the terms that you will never be anything more to me except for the sister of my closest friend? I never intended for you to believe our relationship any more intimate than that, and if I have led you to a misunderstanding, I apologise. I am now telling you quite bluntly, and I hope you will forgive my honesty, that you should give up your ambition of winning my affections."
Miss Bingley stood very still, frozen to the spot where she stood. Her eyes were fearful, as if only now she acknowledged something that she had known for many months.
"There is someone in the world for all of us," said Darcy gently. "But fate will only bring us so far. It is up to each individual to recognise what path their life has begun after the initial meeting - then we must decide if the risks and chances we must take along the road to final felicity in marriage are worth the hardships along the way."
"And you truly believe Elizabeth Bennet is the other half of your soul?" whispered Miss Bingley, the last traces of denial leaving her.
Darcy sighed. "I am not sure. But I am willing to take that chance."
Miss Bingley did not speak. The expression one her face was one of someone who had had their illusions and dreams shattered. Darcy could sympathise - God knew that he had felt the same pain once, many months ago.
"Your mind believed that we could be happy together," said he, walking towards the door. "Have you asked your heart what you truly want?"
He did not look back to see her reaction. He exited the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
Continued in Part 7
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