“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 reluctantly 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, 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 of 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 rejoined the conversation with his own observations of the Bennet sisters.
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 again before he left London, he found Mr. Gardiner 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 Bennet was coming to Gracechurch Street that day, and he would return to Pemberley on Wednesday. He would come again to London for the actual wedding; Mr. Wickham had no one to stand up with him; plus, Darcy’s penchant for meticulous planning required he be there to assure nothing went awry before the nuptials.
* * *
All were happy to welcome his return to Pemberley, with his sister most anxious to seek his company privately; but that would wait; today Darcy served as the “excellent” host. “Mr. Darcy, you were grievously missed on our journey to Nottingham,” Caroline called to him.
He answered her politely, “I am sorry to cause you grief, Miss Bingley.”
“Has your urgent estate problems been resolved?” Bingley implored.
“Generally so,” Darcy lied. “But I will return to London for a day or two at the end of the month. Then everything will be finalized.” He emphasized the last words to give Georgiana some peace while she waited to learn the whole story.
“I would have wished to be of service to you, Darcy,” Bingley offered. “You do so much for my family.”
“Your caring for Georgiana was of service to me, Bingley. I would never have left her in your care if I did not value your friendship. She means more to me than does Pemberley.” Georgiana blushed with his words, and her eyes misted with emotions. “In fact,” he continued, “I hoped to keep you at Pemberley when your sisters depart for Scarborough. Besides wishing you to care again for Georgiana in my absence, I would wish to spend some time with you in gentlemanly pursuits.”
“I would enjoy that, Darcy.” Bingley smiled from ear-to-ear.
* * *
Later that evening, Georgiana tapped lightly on his study door. “I wondered when you would make your way here, Dearest One,” he teased.
“I wanted to guarantee that our guests had retired for the night.” Georgiana seated herself across from his desk. “Please tell me what happened in London. Did you find Mr. Wickham?”
“Are you certain you want to hear all the unsavory details?”
“Besides knowing Miss Elizabeth is going to be well, your story can only confirm how fortunate I am to have you as my brother. Although it would probably upset me to ever see Mr. Wickham again, I do want to know his fate and your advantage.”
Darcy summarized the events of the last ten days, accenting the squalor in which he found both Mrs. Younge and George Wickham, but he assured Georgiana, “Mr. Wickham will marry Lydia Bennet; along with the Gardiners, I will attend the service at St. Clements Church.”
“Then you will be able to pursue Miss Elizabeth again,” Georgiana encouraged.
“Have you considered the ramifications of that action, Georgiana?” he started. “If I earn Elizabeth’s love, it would mean Mr. Wickham would be my brother–our brother.”
“Fitzwilliam, we have many relations we rarely see. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham will be in Newcastle; I am certain Miss Elizabeth would understand Mr. Wickham would never be welcomed at Pemberley. You could not have done all these things and then forsake the prize. You must find a way to win Miss Elizabeth; you deserve her, and although she does not know it yet, she needs you.”
“Georgiana, the man who earns your heart will be winning a true romantic.” He chuckled while she blushed. They finished the evening with his relating some of the more amusing Elizabeth Bennet stories shared by the Gardiners; they laughed and talked into the late hours.
* * *
As promised, he returned to London to witness the exchange of vows and to finalize the money matters. The wedding had taken place on a Monday at eleven o’clock in the morning. A month had passed since Mr. Wickham and Lydia Bennet had left Brighton, and finally to be rid of the chaos gladdened Darcy. In Lydia Bennet, Darcy saw the same effusive, immature girl from Hertfordshire; the results associated with her actions meant nothing to her. Instead, she babbled on about whether Mr. Wickham should wear his blue coat for the ceremony. Mrs. Gardiner tried to caution the girl, but silence could not be attained. Darcy thanked his stars for giving him a sensible sister rather than having someone like Mrs. Wickham in his family.
Darcy spent time with the Gardiners on Tuesday, but they spoke more of Lydia’s insolence rather than of Elizabeth and Jane; he would have preferred to hear about the latter. One of the Gardiner children, Cassandra, gave him a crayon picture of himself, Jane, and Elizabeth walking in a garden and holding hands. Although the likenesses were not accurate, the sentiment touched his heart in a way he had never known. He carried the drawing to Pemberley and placed it in a special spot in his study.
Returning to the security of Pemberley, having both Georgiana’s and Bingley’s companies brought him comfort. The turmoil of the past few weeks had taken its toll on his usually resilient composure. He required the company of family and friends after his dealings with the nefarious Mr. Wickham. Yet, being with Bingley constantly reminded Darcy he must make amends for his duplicity in separating Bingley from Jane Bennet. One early autumn day, he and Bingley sought time outdoors.
As he accepted the loaded gun from Darcy’s servant, Bingley said wistfully, “I believe the last time we partook of the season’s shooting was at Netherfield.”
“I believe you correct, Bingley.” Darcy paused as he planted the idea. “That was a pleasant time, was it not?” Although he did not purposely initiate it, a sigh slipped from his lips. If he were to maintain his sanity, he desperately required Elizabeth’s company again. “I was wondering Bingley, have you made a decision on Netherfield? It appears a waste of your father’s inheritance to let an estate one never uses.”
As expected, Bingley readily seized upon Darcy’s veiled suggestion. “Not having stayed through the winter, I remain uncertain of the house’s soundness. Mayhap I should consider returning to Netherfield and make my decision based on what I find.”
“That appears a most prudent means of making a your verdict.”
Bingley asked cautiously, “Would you consider joining me, Darcy? We could shoot, ride, and enjoy my estate. My sisters remain in Hertfordshire. I would be indebted if you would come with me.”
Darcy chuckled with the success of his ploy. “I would enjoy that, Bingley.”
“Capital! I will send servants to open the house. We can travel to Hertfordshire next week if you are agreeable.”
Darcy’s heart leapt. He would see Elizabeth again. Could they continue what they had begun at Pemberley? “I would be happy for the time together.” His friend took his words to mean his time with Bingley, but Elizabeth remained foremost in Darcy’s mind.
Over supper that evening, Bingley told Georgiana of his plan to return to Netherfield. “Your brother consented to join me,” he shared. Georgiana smiled knowingly at Darcy, but she said nothing other than to assure Bingley that she and Mrs. Annesley would be quite content to remain at Pemberley. Georgiana knew Darcy well enough to know the uncertainty he felt in returning to Elizabeth’s home. Everything could change in the next few weeks.
When he and Bingley set out on the following Monday, Georgiana hugged Darcy a bit longer than usual and reached up to caress his cheek. “I shall say a prayer for your safe and successful journey, Brother. As always, I wish you the greatest of happiness.” He smiled weakly at her as he boarded his coach; Darcy could think of nothing but Elizabeth and the tenuous situation of their relationship.