That Mr. Gardiner could engage Mr. Hurst in lively conversation was a credit to the manners and breeding of the first gentleman. They spoke animatedly of common diversions in London; and Darcy did not remember another time in their acquaintance when Mr. Hurst had had so much to say, perhaps as the early hour had kept him from the port. When introduced to Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Gardiner was amiable without being obsequious and, if he noticed, did not acknowledge that each lady would only see him from the end of her nose.
Darcy, Bingley, Mr. Hurst, and Mr. Gardiner walked down to the trout stream with footmen following with tackle, rods, and bait, as well as refreshment for the anglers. They settled in on the bank in the warmth of the July day and talked genially for a while before falling into a companionable silence more conducive to fishing. Sitting next to Mr. Gardiner, Darcy struggled to remain still, not to prevent scaring the fish but because he feared all that might come pouring forth should he not maintain control.
Some time passed in the quiet of the sounds of nature before Mr. Gardiner, perhaps sensing the younger man’s distress, spoke sotto voce to Darcy. “I cannot thank you enough for this invitation, sir. There truly is nothing quite so pleasant as fishing.”
“You are most welcome any time.”
“Yes, indeed, the ladies do not know what they are missing.”
If possible, Darcy sat up straighter than before. “And what were Mrs. Gardiner and your niece planning for today?”
A tingling sensation permeated Darcy’s face as he held his expression in check. “Indeed? When did they plan to wait on her?”
Mr. Gardiner pulled his watch from his pocket. “Oh, I would say they should be there by now.”
Mr. Gardiner allowed several minutes to pass before speaking again. “You know, Mr. Darcy, I appreciate your hospitality, but I would not want to impose on your time. I know what a busy man you are. You must not feel compelled to remain here as host if you have any estate matters that require your attention.”
Darcy glanced at his companion’s profile and saw the slight turn of his lips as indication that Mr. Gardiner understood more than his words would suggest. “If you are certain, sir, there is an important matter I need to address,” Darcy said, rising.
“Go to it, young man. Surely you will have more success in that quarter than you will fishing, seeing as you lost your bait some half hour ago.”