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The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

January 05, 2015 11:30AM
Chapter 22

Friday, February 12, 1813 – Darcy House, London


Darcy’s expectations regarding the difficulties he would face in recovering Miss Lydia were proven to be very accurate. Since he could not assume that Lydia had given her real name at any shelter, after confirming with the Director of the establishment that they had no record of a Lydia Bennet or a Lydia Wickham, he then had to meet every resident in the shelter. His business responsibilities did not disappear and decisions there were required. Consequently, he conducted such business in the mornings and only when that was complete did he consider himself free to search for Lydia. His list included some fifteen ‘homes’ which sheltered unwed mothers, former prostitutes and other young women of similar misfortune. It was taking him about a day to search each home. His evenings were kept free for normal social activities, visiting Elizabeth and Georgiana. He wished to maintain an appearance of regular, unexceptional behaviour so as to avoid any undue notice from family or friends. It was not easy since he wanted nothing more than to visit Elizabeth every day.

When he had begun his search, Darcy had sent a maid to request Mrs. Hodgkins, his housekeeper, to come to his study. When she appeared, he asked her to close the door and then, after ensuring she realized the need for strict secrecy, revealed that he was going to try and recover a young girl who had been debauched by Wickham. He needed a room prepared on the third floor, quite apart from the family rooms. Mrs. Hodgkins had been in service with the Darcy family for over thirty years and was a trusted employee. Her reliability was unquestioned.

Today, after nearly a fortnight of searching, he was at the St. Francis Home for Distressed Women which was located on the edge of Spitalfields. It was a respectable looking building, considering the area. Darcy approached the building and asked to see the Director to whom he was quickly taken. The Director, after being apprised of his mission, checked his record journal and searching for several minutes was able to state that a Lydia Bennet had indeed been taken in by their shelter and was still a resident. He sent for Lydia and while they waited, retrieved such information as they had on her. “Miss Bennet arrived here on November 5 of the past year. She was quite ill at the time and we think had been with child but lost it. She has since recovered. She has said little of her background, and would not divulge the names of her parents and definitely did not want them to be contacted.”

A knock on the door announced Lydia’s arrival. She was ushered into the room and requested to sit. Her surprise at seeing Darcy was obvious but her manner lacked the insolence that characterized her previous behaviour. There was, in fact, a touch of fear, or reluctance, as well as shame in her greeting, “Mr. Darcy, what are you doing here?”

“I have been searching for you. Your family is quite worried.”

“You have not told them I am here, have you?”

The alarm in her voice was obvious and Darcy immediately tried to calm her, “No, indeed. I am the only one who knows where you are.” He paused and looking at her as calmly as he could manage, repeated himself, “They are very concerned about you. Will you not let them help you?”

"I cannot! I cannot go home!"

Darcy thought for a moment and said, “I understand. Would you allow the Gardiners to help? Your two eldest sisters are living with them now. I know they would want to see you. Your parents need not know.”

“I don’t know. What would become of me?”

“I think that is something you and the Gardiners will have to discuss. Could I suggest a simple solution until such time as you and the Gardiners can decide what is best? I would like you to stay at Darcy House in secret. If you go to the Gardiners, it will be much more difficult to hide your presence than at my home. Under the circumstances, we need to prevent anyone else from knowing where you are. You do understand the need for such secrecy, I hope.”

“Oh yes, I have listened to the stories the other girls tell and my situation has been made very clear to me. I do not know what you plan, Mr. Darcy but I seem to have few choices left to me. George Wickham used me very ill indeed and I have to believe, used you so as well. He was lying about you, was he not?”

“Yes Miss Lydia, he was.” Darcy was rather surprised that this girl had reached this conclusion. He had not thought her to be that sensible.

"Why are you doing this? I am nothing to you and you don’t even like us.”

“If I had warned people about Wickham when I was in Hertfordshire, it is possible that he would have been banned from most places and you might not have been fooled by him.”

“I am not sure that I would have listened or believed you. He was most persuasive and I wanted to be convinced.”

Turning to the Director, he requested that someone help Lydia gather her few possessions and take her to the carriage. Once Lydia had left to go to her room, Darcy turned to the Director and extending his hand, shook that of the Director and vowed to inform Lord ______ of his assistance and his appreciation of such.

Once they returned to Darcy House, the carriage was driven around to the servants’ entrance and Lydia hustled inside. Once he had turned her over to the ministrations of Mrs. Hodgkins, Darcy immediately wrote a note to his doctor requesting his presence as soon as possible. The footman who would deliver the note was told to wait for a response. Darcy had now to inform the Gardiners.

~~~

The Gardiners were just finishing dinner when Darcy’s messenger arrived at the door and delivered Darcy’s message to Mr. Gardiner as he sat at the table. Tonight the only guest was Captain Stovall. Mr. Darcy had been expected. He had sent his regrets since urgent business would prevent his attendance. Mr. Gardiner looked at the outside and said with some surprise, “It is from Mr. Darcy!” He read it quickly and his explosive “Good Lord!” startled everyone. He read it again and then looked at everyone and before speaking, quickly stifled what he was going to say. Instead he looked at his wife and asked her to request their governess to see the children to the nursery. He then asked everyone to join him in his study.

As Captain Stovall made to leave the room, he was detained by Mr. Gardiner who looked at him saying, “Captain, this is a family matter involving my missing niece. You are very soon to be a part of this family and are welcome to join us, should you wish to do so.”

The Captain simply said, “If I can be of service, I will.”

Mr. Gardiner nodded and followed him into the room and then, looking at his wife, two nieces and the Captain, he answered their inquiring looks by saying, "I will read you Mr. Darcy’s note,”

Mr. Gardiner,

I must request your immediate presence at Darcy House. I suggest that Mrs. Gardiner accompany you along with your two nieces but that I will leave to your discretion. Simply put, I have recovered your youngest niece. She is currently here at my home. I am awaiting a visit from my doctor to examine her but to my eyes she seems healthy, although much restrained in behaviour. I have sent my carriage to bring you as quickly as possible. I have attempted to bring her here without any attention. I suggest the reason for your visit here be kept secret as well.

F. Darcy


Mr. Gardiner gave everyone a few minutes to comprehend the message and then, looking sternly, said, “The reason for coming into my study is to ensure that no word of what is happening is heard by a servant. Unless anyone thinks otherwise, I suggest we ready ourselves to leave immediately.” His suggestion finding nothing but eager compliance, the carriage departed within a quarter hour for Darcy House.

Elizabeth could hardly comprehend the speed with which Darcy had recovered Lydia. “Uncle, I am all amazed at Mr. Darcy’s success. You and my father searched for weeks and weeks without success and yet he has found them in a fortnight. I do not understand how this was possible.”

“No more do I, Lizzy. Mr. Darcy must have resources that we did not possess but this truly amazes me.”

The paucity of information precluded any significant discussion about Lydia other than the facts that she was alive, healthy and somewhat restrained in manner. Finally, the carriage drew up in front of Darcy House and everyone was ushered inside, divested of their outerwear and shown directly to Darcy’s study. He stood when they entered and went directly to Elizabeth. Taking her hand, and motioning to the others to find a seat, he led her to sit beside him on the sofa and then looking at them all, he began, “First, I have ordered tea and coffee. It should be here in a few minutes. I have also arranged for my doctor to visit Lydia. He arrived a few minutes ago and is with her now. He will join us when his examination is complete. Once the tea and coffee is delivered, I will explain how I discovered Miss Lydia.”

A maid delivered the tea and coffee within minutes and departed, closing the door behind her. Once he saw that everyone had been served, Darcy began, “I have a confession of my own which I must make first. I was not in enough control of myself when I first learned of Miss Lydia’s loss to risk talking about it. You see, around the end of September last, I received a letter from George Wickham …..”

When Darcy finished, he looked down his hands and quietly said, “You have no idea how many times over the past days I have reproached myself for my actions. I thought only of my family and protecting Georgiana. I thought I was honouring my father’s wishes for the last time in this regard. I knew I was only changing where George could exercise his propensities but I thought that society there would deal with him more harshly than ours. I had no idea that he had become so callous. In the past, his victims were left in the care of their family. I did not expect such behaviour.”

"Mr. Darcy, I think you take too much upon yourself,” responded Mr. Gardiner.

“I agree!” echoed Elizabeth, “you could not have known about Lydia.”

Darcy just shook his head, “Nevertheless, I should have made it impossible for any young woman to be left in his company.”

“Mr. Darcy, none of us had any idea of an attachment between Lydia and Mr. Wickham. You could not; we did not anticipate such an event.”

Darcy then explained his search for Lydia, touching on Mrs. Younge, Mrs. James, and the Chairman of the charitable organization and finally finding Lydia at the St. Francis home. When he was done, he simply said, “I was incredibly lucky. Miss Lydia could easily have been in a hospital or dead. There are many young girls who never make it to one of these shelters and according to the Director at St. Francis, she was quite ill when she arrived. She is safe here and I think I can protect her secrecy here more so than at Gracechurch Street but that is something for you to decide. Now that she is found, the question you face is what shall be done with her. I must add she seems adamant that her father and mother not be told of her whereabouts. Mr. Gardiner?”

“I started thinking about this problem when I entered the carriage. The usual approach is for the girl to be sent away to a distant relative in Ireland or Scotland or somewhere equally remote. I have no relations in those countries. I have never heard Thomas speak of any such either. I would very much agree that my sisters not be made aware of any of the particulars else it will be all over Meryton within hours.

Mrs. Gardiner shook her head but said nothing. Both Jane and Elizabeth remained silent although Darcy could see Elizabeth wanted to say something and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. She shook her head in response but gave him a faint smile. Darcy looked at Mr. Gardiner and with some caution began to speak, “I have a proposal but it obviously requires your approval and Lydia’s compliance. As soon as I began to search for her, I realized that, if I were fortunate enough to discover her, the problem of where she would go must arise. I had a possible solution in mind which could retrieve the reputation of the Bennet family and, I admit, serve my purposes as well. The seeds of the idea came from a letter I received from the steward of my Scottish estate. One of the crops my tenant farmers there grow well is sons. Land is scarce and unattached farms rare indeed. Every year it seems I am approached by second and third sons enquiring about the possibility of a tenant farm on one of my estates. I almost always have to inform the majority of them that I have nothing available. There are many more young men in this situation than I have farms available. Many of these young men wind up here in London but some travel to the new United States or our Canadian colonies or India.”

He paused, took a sip of coffee and then continued, “My thought was to offer one such young man enough money to buy land to build a farm in the Canadian colonies if he married Lydia. I have the names of several possible young men and could write my steward to fix upon one and send him to London. He and Lydia would sail secretly from here, or perhaps from Glasgow or elsewhere. We could attempt to save Lydia’s reputation by having them write to us saying she and Wickham sailed last September but failed to post the letter until they reached the Americas.”

He looked at Mr. Gardiner who was sitting leaning forward, elbows on his knees and looking discouraged as he asked, “How much would a decent farm cost over there?”

“I am sure I do not know but I was thinking of gifting them with £5,000 for the purpose. I have talked with several people in the past who are considering investing in Upper Canada which apparently has much good farm land. My investigations suggest buying enough land for a large farm of about four miles in circumference would cost about £3,000 and there would be more than enough funds left to build a decent house and hire labour. It would be a rough life for some years but it could be a good one eventually.”

“But such a sum!” burst out Elizabeth. Even Jane seemed stunned by the amount.

“I would have willingly expended as much or more to force Wickham to marry Lydia last fall. At least in this case I can be sure that funds will not be spent on gambling or debauchery.”

“Lydia is the responsibility of my family, Mr. Darcy. I will provide the funds.” insisted Mr. Gardiner.

Darcy shook his head saying, “Mine is the responsibility. If it were not for my mistaken pride, no decent family would have allowed their daughters in his presence. No! Mine is the fault and so must the remedy be.”

“I think you take too much upon yourself once again, Mr. Darcy,” answered Elizabeth.

The argument continued in this manner until all recognized that Darcy would not be denied. Fortunately, the doctor timed his entrance to bring that discussion to a close. He was able to assure them that Lydia was healthy, not with child and free of any disease to the great relief of them all. Accepting the thanks of them all and assuring them that he would respect their desire for secrecy, he excused himself and left. Mrs. Gardiner and her nieces were then taken by Darcy to talk with Lydia. As they walked upstairs, Mrs. Gardiner dropped back to whisper to Elizabeth, “I have heard that he is very proud but it seems to me that his real fault is obstinacy.” Elizabeth just shook her head and smiled.

While the ladies met with Lydia, the three gentlemen further discussed Darcy’s plan. While there was general agreement that it was workable, it did depend on Lydia’s compliance and that was not assured.

“I thought to have the couple travel to York , the capital of Upper Canada, under the name of Wickham. Then Wickham would “die” and Lydia would marry our young farmer and begin a life there. It would not be anything like what she is used to but they could build a good life there with hard work.” Darcy considered the problem further, “We would need a letter, written by Lydia before she leaves England but posted from Portsmouth or London that would address the elopement, where they are going, everything.”

“There is one major advantage to the Canadian colonies as a location,” offered Captain Stovall. “I was situated at the Halifax station for a year. To reach York one must travel up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. The river is closed to all ships from December to May most years. A letter sent from York in November might not reach England until June next. So we could have a second letter to be sent when they reach York which tells of Wickham’s demise and Lydia’s remarriage.

“Who shall talk to Miss Lydia?” asked Captain Stovall looking at Mr. Gardiner.

"I suggest Madeline and I and Mr. Darcy. She knows us and, I hope, will trust us to enough to accept the realities of her position.”

“May I suggest we do that tomorrow morning when we are more rested? I am sure everyone is quite tired by now,” suggested Darcy. This met with general approval and Darcy provided the other gentlemen with a glass of port while they awaited the ladies’ return. Conversation was desultory until the ladies rejoined them. Mrs. Gardiner related the little information that Lydia would impart, saying, “Lydia was not very informative. Wickham apparently left her at a brothel telling her he was going to get a carriage to take them to the living you, Mr. Darcy, were now giving him. He never returned. I suppose that is when he took passage. He had convinced her that they would marry but now she believes he only took her along because she had £50 and never intended marriage at all. She is quite bitter about him. The brothel keeper gave her the choice to stay and work or she could leave. Lydia chose to leave and tried to come to us. She had no money – Wickham took it all – did not know where she was and got lost. She would not tell us what happened then but only that she eventually found the home where Mr. Darcy discovered her.”

Darcy interjected, “She did not arrive at the home until November! There is at least a month she has not accounted for.”

“I know. She refused to discuss what happened during that period.”

“She seems very different,” offered Jane. “Cautious, watchful and missing that exuberance that seemed such a part of her. I do not know her at all.”

“Not surprising at all really,” muttered Mr. Gardiner. “Not surprising at all.”

Elizabeth looked at Darcy with a quizzical look, “Mr. Darcy, I have one further question. You were, by your own admission, looking for my sister for a fortnight before you found her. Yet, at no time did you tell any of us that you were searching. Why, sir? Why did you not tell us?”

“I simply did not want to raise hopes or expectations that I could not fulfill. I had no great expectations of success and did not want to raise yours only to dash them later.”

With that it was agreed that they all needed some rest and the Gardiners decided to return the next morning to discuss their plans for Lydia with her. As they readied themselves to leave, Elizabeth stepped back towards Darcy and placing a hand lightly on his arm, said a soft, “Thank you for finding my sister.” Darcy took her hand in his and gently kissed her knuckles, “Do not thank me for something I did willingly.” He paused and continued, “I know not when we shall meet tomorrow. Perhaps you could come with your aunt and uncle and I could introduce you to Georgiana. I know she wishes to meet you very much.”

"I would like that. Does she know about Lydia?”

“She knows only that she eloped, not that she is presently here at Darcy House.”

They walked to the front door and entered the carriage. It was a very quiet ride back to Gracechurch Street. All of them were consumed with their own thoughts.


Chapter 23

Saturday, February 13, 1813 – Darcy House, London


Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner accompanied by Elizabeth arrived at Darcy House shortly after luncheon. They noticed the knocker was not up indicating Mr. Darcy was not receiving callers. Nevertheless, the door was opened immediately and they were ushered into Darcy’s study after handing their outerwear to footmen. Darcy was waiting for them and settled them all comfortably in front of the fireplace.

Looking at the Gardiners, Darcy asked, “Have you thought further on my suggested plan, Mr. Gardiner?”

“Yes, indeed I have, sir. I think it is workable and could produce the results we wish for; however, I admit to being concerned that our niece would prefer to settle nearer her family. Ireland perhaps? Yet if she does so, I cannot see us hiding how long it took to effect the marriage.”

“That was my concern also. As well, it would be much more difficult or hazardous to talk of a marriage to Wickham. Others may be aware he sailed for the Americas. Are there any inducements we can offer Miss Lydia to encourage her to accept?”

Elizabeth could restrain herself no further, “I suppose we could offer a new dress and some lace and ribbons.” Elizabeth’s anger at the thought of having to bribe her sister to act in a manner which resurrected her reputation as well as that of her sisters was fierce. That she would receive a dowry of £5,000 when her sisters had only £1,000, only fuelled her anger further.

Mrs. Gardiner looked at Elizabeth and shook her head, “Lizzy, please. We do not know if she has been changed by her ordeal.”

“I am sorry Aunt. If it has changed her, I hope it is for the better. Her ordeal has not been so beneficial for her sisters.”

Darcy looked at Elizabeth and asked, “Miss Elizabeth, may it introduce you to my sister?”

Elizabeth put her anger and thoughts of Lydia aside and answered with a smile, “I would be delighted, sir.”

“Come then, she is in the music room.” Saying this, Darcy rose and led Elizabeth in the direction of the music room. As they walked, Elizabeth took the opportunity to look at the furnishings and furniture she could see. There was nothing ornate in the decorations or furniture and yet the impression of true elegance prevailed. An elegance based on quality and simplicity that did not exclude functionality. Elizabeth instinctively knew she could feel comfortable here. Darcy led her up the stairs and passed a set of doors to the right. “That is the drawing room and next to it, and connected, is the music room.” He opened the next set of doors to reveal a young woman seated at a small table looking through several sheets of music. An older woman was sitting on a settee in the centre of the room. The young woman turned and rose quickly at the sound of the doors opening. Darcy led Elizabeth towards her and made the introductions.

“Georgiana, may I introduce you to Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Miss Bennet, my sister Miss Georgiana Darcy.” Turning to the older woman, he continued, “Miss Bennet, allow me to introduce Mrs. Annesley, Georgiana’s companion. Mrs. Annesley, be known to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

The ladies made the ritual curtsies and the young ladies moved to sit together on the large settee behind the pianoforte. Elizabeth had some reservations about this meeting. She could not credit Wickham’s assessment of Georgiana as being “exceedingly proud “ and yet she knew that Mr. Darcy was reserved and, at one time, gave the appearance of great pride. She had not talked with Miss Darcy for very long before she realized the young woman was reserved but it was the result of shyness. Elizabeth began to try and make her comfortable such that conversation would flow more naturally.

Darcy watched quietly and with great satisfaction, then made his excuses to withdraw and rejoin the Gardiners. Both Elizabeth and Georgiana smiled in dismissal and returned to their conversation.

~~~

Darcy sought out Mrs. Hodgkins and requested her to bring Lydia to his study and then he rejoined the Gardiners. Once Lydia was shown into the room, he directed Mrs. Hodgkins that he was not to be disturbed. Lydia was sitting in a chair between her aunt and uncle. Darcy pointed to a sideboard where tea and coffee was available.

Mr. Gardiner looked at Darcy and suggested that he begin. Darcy nodded his acceptance and, looking at Lydia, realized that while her behaviour appeared more reasonable and controlled than he had ever seen previously, he could not assume that the wild, unruly part of her with which he was most familiar, had been banished. A slow cautious approach was necessary.

“Miss Lydia, what do you expect to happen to you?”

She looked at him in surprise, and then at her aunt and uncle, before replying, “I am sure I don’t know. The girls in St. Francis talk about being sent out to the country, to some place where no one knows you.”

“How do you feel about that? Would you prefer to return home?”

“I cannot go home! I do not want to go home! I could not face anyone. I think almost anything might be better than that.”

“We would like to retrieve your reputation and that of your sisters and have, I think, discovered a way to do so. It will involve a very great change for you and, quite possibly, a great opportunity as well.”

Lydia looked at Darcy and smiled ruefully, “Mr. Darcy, after the past months I am inured to change. As long as it does not involve George Wickham, I will not gainsay you.”

“How do you feel about marriage? A husband?”

“I don’t know. My…experiences have not led me to think well of most men. Yet I also know that if left on my own, my future is not hopeful. It will be difficult to put my trust in a man again.”

“I think I comprehend your fears Miss Lydia. Unfortunately perhaps our plan must encompass marriage to a man. Simply put, we propose to arrange a marriage between you and a young man from my estate in Scotland. He will be a decent, hard working young man from a good farming family. Your basic circumstances will be made known to him before you meet and his acceptance secured. You both will travel to our Canadian colonies and wed there. However, we will pretend that you and George Wickham were married in Gretna Green and traveled to the colonies where George died over the winter. The young man I will select will be given sufficient funds to acquire land to build a large farm in the colonies and you both will make your lives there. We will require you to write two letters. One will be dated from last October announcing your marriage and arrival in the colonies. It will be mailed from Portsmouth or London when you depart. A second letter will be sent when you arrive in the colonies telling of the demise of George and your marriage to the young man selected. People will attribute the delay to the distance between the colonies and here.”

Darcy paused, “I know that we tend to consider the colonies to be savage places but the reality is somewhat different. From reports that I have received, much of the society is not dissimilar to our country life, although a little rougher perhaps. Some of the amenities are lacking but they have dances, parties and social events. Your life will be quite different but, as I said, the young man you marry will be decent, hard working and will treat you well. He will have to know somewhat of your past – we cannot hide the fact that you lived with Wickham without benefit of marriage. It should not signify to him. What else you impart to him is a matter for you to determine.”

Lydia had listened to Darcy but he could not tell where her thoughts were tending. When she spoke, it was very quietly, “Why not Ireland or Scotland instead of the colonies? It is so very far.”

“The main reason is that George Wickham left England for our colonies at the end of September last and we don’t know who else may have knowledge of that happening. We can pretend a Gretna Green marriage and his subsequent death in the colonies. But it only signifies if you are there also.”

Darcy paused, “I am prepared to provide sufficient funds for you and your husband to establish yourself well in the colonies. We do need to act quickly.”

“May I meet and talk with this young man?” asked Lydia.

“Yes, but it will have to be on the basis of your acceptance of our plan.”

Mrs. Gardiner’s plea was heartfelt, “Lydia, I would urge you to accept Mr. Darcy’s offer. You will not be as well looked after should you decline it, since we will have to send you away and will be able to provide much less in the way of support. You may well have to accept work as a servant or in one the mills that are being formed. Marriage might be possible, but I doubt you will be able to find a man as good as the one Mr. Darcy is offering. Your life in the colonies may require much from you, but it could provide you with a much better life; and it will ensure better lives for your sisters who have suffered from your actions through no fault of their own.”

Lydia looked reluctant. “Why should I not have the funds that Mr. Darcy is offering?”

Darcy just shook his head, “That offer is being made to arrange your marriage and the restoration of the Bennet family reputation. To be very honest, giving you the money without a marriage that appears respectable will not help anyone but you. That is not an option.”

Mrs. Gardiner could see his words had caused Lydia some distress but felt no remorse in his speaking so plainly. Lydia’s bowed head suggested she recognized the truth being imparted. Lydia had a number of other questions which were answered as much as possible and Mr. Gardiner found himself agreeing to help her acquire a decent wardrobe since she had nothing but the clothes she wore. Darcy was able to provide some information about the colonies and did advise the purchase of warm clothing since winters there tended to be slightly harsher than in Hertfordshire. Eventually, Lydia consented to the plan, and all were relieved that the Bennet family reputation could be repaired.

~~~

In the music room, Georgiana and Elizabeth were finding that conversation was not as difficult as expected. Each was desirous of having the good opinion of the other and so a mutual appreciation seemed a foregone conclusion. Elizabeth, from comments by Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine DeBourgh, knew that Georgiana was very talented on the pianoforte. Seeing the table with sheet music, Elizabeth queried Georgiana, “I noticed when your brother introduced us that you were looking at some sheet music. Are these new pieces?”

“Yes they are. I bought them about a fortnight past and I am struggling with a few pieces. I admit to having difficulties with the Beethoven piano sonatas and this piece by Haydn is only now starting to sound correct. I have real problems mastering the fingering.”

“Could you show me? I admit that I have avoided such difficult works in the past.”

The two young women sat at the pianoforte and Georgiana began the Haydn piece. As she played, Elizabeth was impressed at the concentration she displayed and, after she had completed the piece, remarked, "That was excellently done. I have rarely seen technical skill and feeling brought together so very well.”

Georgiana blushed deeply. “My brother says you play very well.”

Elizabeth smiled, “Miss Darcy, he exaggerates my abilities undoubtedly for some nefarious purpose of his own.”

"Oh no! My brother never lies, except I sometimes think he is too kind to me.”

“The perfect older brother then. You have no idea how much I envy you. I do not have a brother, only four sisters. I should very much like to have had a brother.”

“And I would have liked a sister.”

Elizabeth laughed, “I admit it is nice sometimes. I am very close to my eldest sister, Jane. We have few secrets between us.”

Georgiana looked at Elizabeth, began to speak and then blushed and returned to playing once more. Elizabeth recognized the signs of someone wishing to bring up a topic that might prove upsetting. She rather thought she could guess the general topic, and decided to encourage an exchange of confidences. This young woman could well become her sister in time. If they were going to establish any kind of relationship, it should probably start now. “Miss Darcy, you were about to say or ask something but thought better of it. If you were concerned that you might offend, do not be so. I am not easily offended and I seriously doubt that you could do so.”

Georgiana’s embarrassment was obvious. “Miss Bennet, I ….”

Elizabeth laughed and interrupted “I think if we are going to exchange confidences, we should be less formal. Please, call me Elizabeth or Lizzy. Miss Bennet is my older sister, Jane.”

“Miss…Elizabeth, please call me Georgiana”

“Very well Georgiana, you were going to ask me something?”

“I know….my brother told me….you rejected his proposal of marriage a year ago. Yet you are here now and seem to be comfortable with my brother. I know I have not seen him this content for a long time. I don’t understand.”

“I am not sure how much your brother has told you and some, I cannot share. I can tell you that our relationship began with some ill behaviour by both your brother and myself which we both now heartily regret. I allowed myself to believe untruths about your brother that increased my dislike and your brother made a mistake that I deeply resented. When he made his offer, his behaviour was such that only a woman of a mercenary bent could have accepted it. My anger … well….suffice it to say I abused your brother most abominably. Since then, we both have tried to correct our mistakes and attitudes. For myself, I now consider your brother one of the best men I know.”

“Will you marry him?”

Elizabeth was taken aback by the blunt question.”What happened to the rather shy young girl I was just talking with?” Her laughter took the offence from her words, but Georgiana coloured regardless and immediately tried to apologize.”I am sorry. That was impertinent of me. Please ignore it.”

“Georgiana, I suspect your question tends from a concern for your brother. How could that offend me? I cannot answer because he has not asked me and I do not know when or even if he will be able to do so. I believe your brother has told you of the situation of my family. All I can say is that I esteem him highly, although I must insist that you not let him know my feelings.”

Elizabeth could see that Georgiana wanted to explore the topic further but it was not one of which she, Elizabeth, could provide the particulars. A change of topic was necessary and, since Pemberley was a favourite subject for her brother, perhaps his sister was of a like mind.

“Georgiana, I have talked to your brother about Pemberley and was wondering what and where your favourite places are.”

This proved to be a wise choice and they spent the remainder of their time together that day talking about walking trails, places to visit on horseback and sleigh rides in winter. Some gentle questioning led Georgiana to talk about her memories of her father and the few that she had of her mother. They parted with plans to have Georgiana come with her brother the next time he was to visit Elizabeth.


Chapter 24

Monday, February 22, 1813 – Darcy House, London


Lydia had been installed in Darcy House for over a week and was becoming increasingly restive with the confinement. Darcy could not hope to hide her presence from Georgiana and had, reluctantly, informed her that Lydia was being held there in secret. The particulars of their plans had not been vouchsafed to Georgiana; however, the need for secrecy had been strongly impressed upon her. Lydia’s only outing had been an afternoon with Mrs. Gardiner to a modiste to acquire her new wardrobe. None of the staff at Darcy House knew Lydia’s name and most supposed her to be a Darcy connection. Darcy did nothing to disabuse anyone of that supposition.

Hodgkins knocked on the door of Darcy’s study and, upon being told to enter, stepped into the room and said, “The young gentleman you are expecting is here, sir.” He then ushered a young man of about three and twenty into the study. Darcy rose from behind his desk and greeted him with a short bow, “you must be James Simpson?” and directed him to the chair fronting his desk. “Tea or coffee?”

“Coffee, please and yes, my name is James Simpson.”

Darcy considered the young man carefully. He was stockily built, about average height, not at all ill-favoured – in fact, he would probably be considered good looking by most women – and his hands showed evidence of hard work. His gaze was quite direct and, if he was discomposed by Darcy’s scrutiny, he hid it fairly well. He spoke with a distinct Scottish accent but it was not unpleasant. According to Higgs, his steward for his Scottish estate, James Simpson had a good reputation in that area, no known predilections for drink or women and was reputedly a good worker.

“James, how much has Higgs told you about my offer to you?”

“He basically asked me if I were willing to marry a lass that had been seduced and left unmarried. In return, I would get sufficient funds to establish a large farm in the colonies – Canada. My answer was that I would be willing, if the lass were.”

“There are a few more details we have to make clear to you. First, you and the young lady will travel to the colonies as soon as possible, but under assumed names. You will marry in York in the Upper Canada colony when you reach there. The young lady will be assumed to be a widow by the name of Lydia Wickham, her husband, George Wickham, having died during the previous winter. The funds mentioned will be released, to you, following the marriage. The young lady will write to her parents explaining the marriage, and the events leading up to it. You will be portrayed as a young man of some substance who needed a wife and met and fell in love with Mrs. Wickham.”

Darcy thought for a minute, “I am sure you have some questions.”

Simpson considered what he had been told for a few minutes before responding,“Farming is not an easy life. How much does the young lady know about it?”

"Virtually nothing, as far as I know,” Darcy paused, “she is a gentleman’s daughter and is, or was, rather spoiled. I don’t know how much that has changed. I do suspect that she will struggle at first.”

“Ah well, that is as may be. I must talk to the lass first. If I am to marry her, she must be my wife in all particulars.”

“That reminds me, what do your parents know and think of all of this?”

“They are not too happy with my choice of a wife but recognize that I could not get a better opportunity to establish myself. She is a gentleman’s daughter, after all. They will support me.”

“Are they accepting of the need for secrecy?”

“Yes. They will simply say I am going to the colonies as your agent and will announce the marriage locally, only when I write them.”

Darcy considered the young man. There was something that puzzled him and he very much wanted an answer. “Simpson, you puzzle me. You are a farmer’s son but your words and manner of expression sound like that of an educated man.”

Simpson laughed.”I must credit my mother. She was a governess for an English family for ten years before she met and married my father. She was most particular about our education and schooling. She taught us, as much as possible, and saw that we attended school.”

“Ah, that explains much. I am a little surprised that a young man with your attributes is not looking to make a future here in London, instead of which you are heading to the colonies.”

“I have no great liking for cities. The air is foul, there too many people, it is noisy. I cannot think of much to recommend them. Besides, I like farming and I think my chances of prospering are better in the colonies with your funds to support me, than here in London Town with only my wits.”

“Perhaps you are correct. I suspect that opportunities will exist almost anywhere for men with some education. Now, before I have the young lady brought down, there is something you must know. How familiar are you with the situation between England and the Americans?”

“Not very familiar at all.”

“You have to know then that war has broken out and that American forces are attacking our Canadian colonies. The area into which you are venturing is close to the border with the Americans and could, even now, contain fighting. I do not know more than that at the moment. You will have to be cautious but, at the same time, there may be opportunities for a young man with funds.”

“I see, I think.”

Darcy could understand Simpson’s concern. “I think it should be safe enough. I understand that additional troops are being sent to bolster our forces there. Now, shall I send for the young lady?”

“Please”

Darcy left the room and Simpson could hear murmurings from the hall outside and Darcy returned. “She shall be along shortly. Let us move to the library, and await her there.” Saying this, he led Simpson the short distance to that room, stopping on the way to instruct a maid to have tea and coffee brought there. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Simpson was awed by the volume of books contained in the library.”You are truly blessed, sir. I love to read and my mother would want to take up residence here. It was always a happy day for her when she could get a new book.” He wandered around the room, running his hand over the backs of the books as he considered them. He was interrupted by the sound of the door opening, and a young woman being ushered in.

Darcy, who had been following Simpson’s wandering about with a small smile, also turned towards the door and immediately moved to Lydia. Taking her hand, he brought her to face Simpson. “Miss Bennet, may I introduce Mr. James Simpson. Mr. Simpson, Miss Lydia Bennet.”

Simpson’s bow and Lydia’s curtsy were all that was proper. “I believe that you both need to discuss your possible life together. I will return to my study and leave you to do so. There will be a footman stationed outside the door, Mr. Simpson. When you are done, please let him know, and he will bring you both to my study. Is this acceptable to you both?”

Receiving their acknowledgement, Darcy returned to his study and awaited events. Some half hour later, he heard a knock on the door and Simpson and Lydia were shown in by a footman. He considered them both, as he bade them sit in the chairs fronting his desk. Lydia looked a little unhappy, but not unduly so. “Am I to understand that you both have agreed to the proposal?”

Simpson looked at Lydia, before answering. “Yes, I believe so. Miss Lydia is not too happy about the prospect of being a farmer’s wife but I have assured her that the funds we have will most likely allow us to hire someone to help in the house while she learns what must be done.”

"Excellent! Simpson, how soon can you be ready to leave? Miss Bennet has acquired all her clothing and is ready to leave now. Is this not true, Miss Bennet?”

After Lydia mumbled her agreement, Darcy continued, “There are two letters that Miss Bennet must now write. We have drafted them for her to copy.” Turning to Lydia, he handed her several sheets of paper. “Here are the letters we have drafted. We need you to copy them in your own hand. You may write here at my desk.”

While Lydia undertook to write the two letters, Darcy and Simpson moved to the chairs by the fireplace. “So, when shall you be ready to leave, Simpson?”

“I came fully prepared, sir. All my belongings are with me in my trunk. I suppose I could leave tomorrow.”

“No need to be quite that precipitous. I have tentatively booked passage on a ship departing several days hence. I was not quite sure when you would arrive but I can now confirm those arrangements. You have some few days if you need to supplement your clothing, although I would recommend waiting until you arrive in York to do so. You could visit a bookstore or other shops perhaps. I will provide you with an advance of £200 to cover such costs as may arise during your trip.”

Conversation continued in this fashion as Darcy outlined the arrangements he had made with respect to the funds, letters and secrecy. “One thing must be made perfectly clear to you both. No hint of these arrangements must ever arise in any communication with Miss Bennet’s family. The story we have constructed must become the reality. Your respectability and that of Miss Bennet’s family depends upon it. You may, however, write to me in fullest confidence, should the need arise.”

Lydia then approached them, handing over the transcribed letters which Darcy scanned quickly. “I will seal this and have you address them. This letter,” and he handed one to Simpson, “you will post from York when you arrive. The other I will keep and post after you sail. Now, I will have someone show you to your room, Mr. Simpson. If you wish to borrow a book from the library, please feel free to do so. You may do likewise, Miss Bennet.”

A footman was summoned and led the young couple to their respective rooms, as Darcy moved to put the finishing touches to his efforts. A note was written, to be delivered to the captain of the ship, confirming the passage arrangements. He would visit the Gardiner residence this evening to advise them of the progress in the arrangements. He was looking forward to seeing Elizabeth since he had been circumspect in his attendance for much of the past week. The presence of Mrs. Bennet, in town to help Jane buy her wedding clothes, had absorbed a lot of Elizabeth’s time and, as well, Darcy did not want to make himself too obvious such that Mrs. Bennet’s match-making instincts would focus on him. At the moment, she seemed to accept him as associated with Captain Stovall, and had made only one or two passing references to the perfidy of his ‘friend’ Mr. Bingley. She was back at Longbourn now, and he could enjoy Elizabeth’s company once more.


Chapter 25

Friday, February 26, 1813 – Longbourn, Hertfordshire


The drawing room at Longbourn was suffering a surfeit of people tonight and the surplus had overflowed into the music room and was threatening the small parlour. Elizabeth had managed to create a small oasis of calm in one corner of the drawing room with Darcy and the Gardiners in company. She had been watching Jane and Stovall who had commandeered a small settee which did not allow for a third person and thus ensured that they would not be separated. Watching Jane’s countenance and manners, Elizabeth could describe it as, at best, a cool civility. She was not greeting anyone with particular pleasure. Turning to her aunt, Elizabeth noted, “I never quite realized how wounded Jane was by the treatment we received from our neighbours. I expected it but Jane has such a sweetness of temper that she could not envisage treating anyone so poorly and hence was, I believe, severely wounded. I don’t think she has forgotten or quite forgiven them.”

Mrs. Gardiner looked at Jane and nodded her head. “I think you are right. Fortunately, she has never been a very demonstrative person and it is quite possible that most of the guests do not notice a difference.”

Elizabeth agreed and then, looking at Darcy, who appeared lost in thought, smiled and teased, “Mr. Darcy, you are very quiet, sir. Even a reticent person such as yourself should be counted on for more than two words in a half hour.”

Darcy visibly recalled his attention to his company, “My apologies. As you have observed Miss Elizabeth, my attention was elsewhere. I was contemplating the activities that took much of my morning today.”

Given the press of people, none of them wished to mention the particulars of those activities and Elizabeth was looking forward to spending time with her aunt later tonight to get a first-hand account. She would rather have talked to Darcy about it but could not anticipate having any occasion to speak with him privately. As she watched the press of people around Jane, she noticed her father leading a couple and a young woman towards them. The gentleman was vaguely familiar to her.

Mr. Bennet arrived and looked at his daughter, “I believe all the sense and sensibility is gathered in this one small corner.” He then proceeded to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and their daughter Miss Janet Thompson to the others, noting that they had taken the lease on the Netherfield property.

Elizabeth acknowledged the Thompsons with a minimal civility, mindful that this was the first time that her family had met the Thompsons since they came to Netherfield. Her polite inquiries as to how they were enjoying the neighbourhood elicited equally polite responses. That the Thompsons were slightly uncomfortable was obvious and that neither Mr. Bennet nor Elizabeth were inclined to alleviate their discomfort was obvious to Mr. Gardiner. He engaged them in conversation about Netherfield and was assisted by Darcy, who was familiar with the Netherfield estate from his time there with Bingley. Mrs. Gardiner endeavoured to engage Mrs. Thompson on her family, in which effort she was eventually assisted by Elizabeth who determined the couple to be both sensible and comfortable in manner. Mrs. Thompson was more than willing to talk about her two sons, their wives and children. Miss Thompson was very quiet and did not attempt to join the conversation and Elizabeth could not discern whether she was reserved, or shy, or disdainful of the company.

Looking at Mrs. Thompson, Elizabeth smiled pleasantly stating, "I am glad to see Netherfield settled by a family. For too long it has been empty. I realize that you are only leasing the property but it would be good for the neighbourhood to have a family settled there with some permanence.”

Mr. Thompson happened to overhear her words and responded with some pleasure, “I am pleased to hear you say as much, Miss Elizabeth. We do plan to purchase the property. My youngest son has taken a great interest in the property and looks to manage it for me. He and his family prefer the country life and the situation here is very much to his liking.”

Miss Thompson looked at Elizabeth and quietly asked, “Miss Elizabeth, will we be able to have the pleasure of your company when the wedding is over?” Her manner was quite pleasant and Elizabeth was inclined to believe her reserved rather than otherwise and attempted to be as civil as was possible.

“I am sorry but I will be travelling to Derbyshire with my sister and her husband in company with Mr. Darcy and his sister. I cannot say when I will return but, when I do, I expect to be residing with my aunt and uncle in London.”

“Perhaps then, we might call on you and your aunt there?”

"We would be delighted to receive you.” Elizabeth considered the young woman in front of her, “Miss Thompson, I assume you will be returning to London shortly to partake of the Season. Are you looking forward to it?”

A slight moue of distaste crossed Miss Thompson’s face as she answered, “This will be my second season and I expect as much pleasure from it as I had last year, which in truth was very little.”

Elizabeth’s obvious surprise caused Miss Thompson to smile briefly. “The curse of a substantial dowry for a tradesman’s daughter is the prevalence of mercenary motives in those men willing to enter a courtship. I encountered only pop-in-jays or the mercenary. It is really most discouraging and I expect my patience will not survive the whole season.”

“You are fortunate that your parents do not appear to feel compelled to see you married.”

Mrs. Thompson had been quietly listening to this conversation and thought to interject. “Mr. Thompson and I wish that our daughter be settled happily and see no reason for her to rush into an attachment.”

Miss Thompson smiled at her mother, "Indeed, they have left this decision in my hands. My father frequently says he cares not if I ever marry.” They all enjoyed a quiet laugh at this.

It was settled that the Thompsons would call on the Gardiners when Elizabeth returned and they took their leave shortly thereafter. Mrs. Gardiner, who was feeling fatigued, decided that she needed to rest and left for her room. Elizabeth accompanied her, ostensibly to help her aunt but in reality to be free to discuss the day’s events. Once in Mrs. Gardiner’s room, she wasted no time in asking for a full accounting of the morning’s activities.

“Well Lizzy, it was really very tedious. Mr. Darcy arrived very early at our house with Lydia and Mr. Simpson. Their trunks had been sent aboard the ship the night before. It was not long before we arrived at the docks. Mr. Darcy gave Mr. Simpson a couple of letters, one of which is to be posted from York when they arrive. The other I gather contained the introduction to the bank in York to access the funds Mr. Darcy has provided. I must say Lydia appeared reconciled to the trip. I kept expecting the old unrestrained, headstrong Lydia to show herself but she did not. She was not as lively as in the past and that could be a good thing indeed. She and Mr. Simpson may do well together. He was most respectful but quite firm in dealing with her and I saw no evidence of displeasure from either. In any event, they boarded and the ship sailed with nothing untoward happening. As we began to return, Mr. Darcy entered the post office to have Lydia’s first letter delivered. I would expect it to arrive here Monday next. Your uncle and I plan to remain until Tuesday next in order to be present when it arrives. I suspect we may also call on the Thompsons to develop that acquaintance, if possible. It could be useful in terms of your uncle’s business. I will not be slow to apprise you of events here.”

“The letter will occasion great pleasure here I am sure. I just hope that it will be sufficient to satisfy our neighbours and restore our respectability. It is a threadbare strategy to be sure.”

“Yes it is, but then all such marriages are meant only to lend a façade of respectability to that which is most reprehensible. It is no better or worse than other such endeavours.”

“Not to change the topic too much but I was rather surprised at Miss Thompson’s wish to get better acquainted.”

“As was I. The young lady is about Mary’s age I believe. I understand she has a very generous dowry of £40,000. She appears to be a very amiable young lady although perhaps somewhat reserved. She is undeniably quite handsome. If she wishes to further your acquaintance, I would certainly suggest you do so. It can do no harm to be on congenial terms with your family’s nearest neighbour.”

“We did not converse long enough for me to even begin sketching her character but the little I observed did suggest she might be someone I would like to know better. Her reaction to the season and potential suitors was quite interesting. I am glad for her sake that her parents are not pressuring her to make a match. With her dowry, of course, she can be selective. A large dowry offsets the supposed inferiority of her position in society.”

At this point Mr. Gardiner knocked on the door and pointedly suggested to Elizabeth that his wife needed her rest and that Jane was apparently awaiting her sister in their bedroom. After Elizabeth left the room, Mrs. Gardiner removed her robe, revealing a very enticing silk nightgown that left her shoulders quite bare and sliding under the bed sheets, raised an eyebrow at her husband and asked, “Are you planning to rejoinyour brother downstairs?”

“No indeed. I have much more pleasurable thoughts and activities in mind. I will be with you very, very shortly. Do not go to sleep!” With a delighted grin, he made a brief visit to his dressing room before rejoining his wife in bed. Their subsequent activities provided much pleasure to both since they were both firm believers that true proficiency requires much practice.

Elizabeth and Jane spent their last night together as unmarried sisters and Elizabeth, more than Jane, realized that they would never again be quite as close. Jane’s loyalties would henceforth be to her husband and children. They talked into the night of memories of the past and hopes for the future. It was nearly dawn before they fell asleep and yet neither would have the night be otherwise.




Thanks again to my Beta - Alida.
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

PeterJanuary 05, 2015 11:30AM

Will there be a new little Gardiner by the end of the year? :-)

GracielaJanuary 07, 2015 07:11PM

Re: Will there be a new little Gardiner by the end of the year? :-)

PeterJanuary 07, 2015 07:38PM

Oh! It seems that it will come sooner than I thought!

GracielaJanuary 08, 2015 02:06AM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

terrycgJanuary 07, 2015 04:53AM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

myredturtleJanuary 05, 2015 09:52PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

PeterJanuary 05, 2015 10:14PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

RedsonJanuary 05, 2015 11:07PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

PeterJanuary 05, 2015 11:29PM

smiling smiley smiling smiley smiling smiley

RedsonJanuary 06, 2015 12:53AM

The girl not to be trusted of course is Lydia

RedsonJanuary 05, 2015 11:10PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

Julia H.January 05, 2015 08:54PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

LisetteJanuary 05, 2015 07:47PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

ShannaGJanuary 05, 2015 05:26PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

Victoria LisaJanuary 05, 2015 04:29PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 22-25

IrishJanuary 06, 2015 05:34AM



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