Mr. Gardiner felt he deserved the luxury of spending the afternoon reading the book on fishing he had purchased during their visit to Oxford. He had been trying to finish it for days. He had started it in Lambton, but was interrupted by the urgent need to return to London. There had been no time to read on that chaotic journey, especially since all his energies had been devoted to consoling Elizabeth as best he could. When he finally reached London, he had to find Mr. Bennet’s hotel; and once he had discovered his brother-in-law and brought him back to Gracechurch Street, there was no peace to be had. Mr. Bennet’s disturbance of mind was evident.
He was fond of his brother-in-law, but on occasion Mr. Gardiner found Mr. Bennet’s directionless behavior exasperating. By God, he did not intend to allow his own daughters to run wild simply because it was too much trouble to rein them in! For the last few days, Mr. Bennet had required his constant guidance in the search for Lydia. Although he would never have admitted it to anyone, Mr. Gardiner was glad to see Mr. Bennet depart.
He looked forward to seeing his dear wife and children again that evening, but he knew that their arrival would bring a happy chaos with it that would preclude time to himself. That was why he intended to make the most of this quiet time at home.
Mr. Gardiner had not even finished one chapter when he heard a sharp knock at the door. A minute later, his manservant appeared and handed him a calling card. Mr. Gardiner’s eyebrows shot up when he read the name on it.
Why in the world would Mr. Darcy be calling on him here? Not only was their acquaintance slight, but Darcy was supposed to be at Pemberley, a full two days journey away. Mr. Gardiner chuckled to himself. Lizzy had been sly indeed! Apparently she and Darcy had far more of an understanding than she had admitted. But that still did not explain Darcy’s appearance on his doorstep. Well, most likely he was in search of news of Lizzy, and did not want to interrupt the household at Longbourn during this crisis. That was fair enough. Mr. Gardiner instructed the servant to send Mr. Darcy in.
Mr. Darcy’s face was marked with lines of tension, but he shook Mr. Gardiner’s hand and exchanged cordial greetings. He did not hesitate in turning immediately to his business. “You have no doubt guessed that I am here to discuss your niece’s situation.”
“Well, that is good news! It is unfortunate you were not here yesterday, as Lizzy’s father was still in town then.” So Darcy must be on the verge of making an offer – good news indeed!
The corners of Mr. Darcy’s lips turned down and his brows drew together, then his expression cleared with understanding. “My apologies, sir; I should have been more precise. I am here regarding your niece Miss Lydia.”
Now it was Mr. Gardiner’s turn to be surprised. “I was not aware you had a particular connection to Lydia,” he said cautiously.
“I do not. My connection – my unfortunate connection – is to Mr. Wickham. I feel some responsibility for failing to prevent the current situation, and having some knowledge of Wickham’s confidantes, I felt I was in a good position to discover his present location.”
“I will certainly be grateful for any information you can share with me. Our searches have been fruitless to date.”
“I can do somewhat better than that, sir. I have already discovered them, and I believe the resolution is near to hand.”
Stunned, Mr. Gardiner pushed himself half-way out of his chair. “You have seen them? Is Lydia well?”
Darcy hesitated. “Miss Lydia is in good health, but I am sorry to say that I was unable to persuade her to leave her present situation, even when I offered to assist her in returning her to her friends. She is absolutely resolved on remaining where she is, expecting they will be wed sooner or later. Under the circumstances, I felt my only option was to secure a marriage between them.
“Is Mr. Wickham agreeable to that?”
“He admitted marriage was not his design, but he has some very pressing debts of honor, and was therefore open to negotiation. He wanted more than he could get, of course, but in time we came to an agreement. He is now prepared to marry Miss Lydia, provided that certain conditions are met.”
That was fast work indeed! Mr. Gardiner wondered just how expensive those conditions were. “Of course, the question is how to present this matter to her father. He is hardly likely to believe Wickham is is marrying Miss Lydia for nothing more than her charms and her slight dowry.”
“Indeed.” Darcy looked out the window for a moment, as if gathering his courage. “This matter is my responsibility, and as such I will bear the financial burden. However, I would prefer that none of the Bennets be aware of my part in this.”
Mr. Gardiner could not quite repress a smile at this. A secret from all the Bennets? Hardly likely; it was obvious that Lizzy must be party to this whole manner, since it was utterly ridiculous to think that Darcy had any responsibility of his own in this matter, regardless of what he might say. Still, if Darcy wished to pretend that it had nothing to do with Lizzy, that was his business. Clearly he would soon enough be a member of the family, and it would no longer matter. He could hardly wait to tell his wife!
But he only said, “Mr. Bennet is not a fool, and he has his pride. You would perhaps do better to allow him to pay some small part of what is required, allowing him to believe it to be the entire amount.”
The corners of Darcy’s mouth turned up in a slight smile. “Then perhaps we should discuss the details.”