Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2008-09-08
The next day was to be his last in London. He had offered to carry any letters and parcels for the Collinses, and he set out to make his parting calls. He started with Mr. Johnson, who was in a private conference, but would not be long. Darcy waited outside his office.
The door was ajar, and Darcy could hear the conversation within. For a moment, he could not help listening.
"General Fitzwilliam paid you a lot of attention, last night," Mr. Johnson was saying.
There was a pause.
"I hope you are not going to be a simpleton, Lizzy," he continued. "Even your father has his limits, and I doubt even he would consider the General beneath you. And I hardly need point out to you that your father's aims for you are not realistic."
"Yes, sir," answered Miss Bennet.
She seemed to be keeping her tone as neutral as possible. Mr. Johnson scraped his throat.
"Now, as to Mr. Darcy," he said. "I have a few questions to ask you about him. When he was in Hertfordshire, eight years ago, did he give Jane any particular attention?"
"None at all," she replied.
Darcy thought he could detect some amusement in her voice.
"How can you be certain of that?" asked Mr. Johnson.
"I was told, at the time, that he was engaged to his cousin," she answered after a slight hesitation. "Sir, I do not know what you are aiming at, but I can assure you that neither Jane not Mr. Darcy would ever engage in anything improper."
Mr. Johnson did not seem convinced.
"Wickham had some strange stories about Darcy," he said.
"Yes, and we all know how honourable he turned out to be. If you are referring to his sob story about old Mr. Darcy's will, I can assure you he was lying. That living was given to him conditionally; he declined it and was compensated accordingly. Mr. Wickham imposed upon us all, sir."
"How do you know about it?"
"I was told about it when I was in Kent that year."
"Wait a moment! Was that before "
"And you did not warn anybody about him?"
"No, I did not. I was told about it in confidence, and I could not foresee I did not foresee in short, I made a grave mistake, and I will have to live with that guilt all my life. But to come back to Mr. Darcy, I can vouch for his probity, as I dare say would many other people "
It was enough. Darcy had no wish to let them know they had been overheard. As quietly as he could, he got into the next room and pretended to examine the bookshelves. This new information brought many questions with it.
That Miss Bennet was being pressured by her brother-in-law into marrying was hardly surprising, but it would make wooing her even more difficult. He felt a little insulted by Mr. Johnson's suspicions, but after all, that was what he got for listening at doors. It was not unreasonable for him to wonder why Darcy had sought his acquaintance, and Mrs. Johnson was beautiful enough to make any husband cautious. Had not Sir Arthur warned him before introducing them? Darcy was gratified by Miss Bennet's trust in him, however. She had believed him. It made his heart swell with affection for her, and he soon found it no problem to forgive her brother-in-law for his suspicions.
But how come Mr. Johnson knew Wickham? "We all know how honourable he turned out to be," had been Miss Bennet's words. What was she referring to? He could only suppose that she meant the debts Wickham had left behind in Meryton. He had not been surprised to get letters from the tradesmen there, as well as those in Brighton, where the militia had gone later. He'd settled them, because it was after all his own fault that the colonel had not been warned about the scoundrel. But why had she spoken of her guilt? What had she meant by "before"? It was very strange.
Mr. Johnson's interview with his sister-in-law lasted only a few minutes longer. Darcy waited till he heard her walk out the door. He was received by Johnson with as much friendliness as ever, and not a hint about what had just happened.
In order to be sure he would catch Miss Bennet at home, he called on Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Holmes before Mrs. Gardiner. They had nothing for Mrs. Collins, however, and he was soon in Gracechurch Street. The butler made him wait, though. It was odd. The Gardiners had never stood on such ceremony before.
He was shown up, however, and he found both Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet in the drawing-room. In between them was the boy he had seen before the two ladies seemed almost to be protecting him. They received him charmingly, however, and Miss Bennet had a letter ready for her friend, as well as some parcels. She gave him her compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, hoped he would have a pleasant time in Kent, and had a letter from her sister to show him, with news from her father. Mrs. Gardiner, too, had many questions about Rosings, and many an inquiry after Pemberley. He was made to stay over an hour, with little John sitting quietly on the sofa and giving him scared looks. Mrs. Gardiner tried very hard to keep Darcy for dinner. He was already engaged elsewhere, however, and had to leave.
The visit left him with a very strange feeling, and he couldn't stop thinking about it on the way to Rosings Park. There had been something about Miss Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner. They had wanted to keep him as long as possible, but it was not the usual way young ladies and their mothers tried to retain him. Especially Miss Bennet had looked very much unlike her usual self there had been no playfulness, no archness. There had been embarrassment in her looks. Was it the conversation she had just had with her brother-in-law? But Mrs. Gardiner, too, had seemed haunted. Was he imagining things? Oh, how he wished he were in Miss Bennet's confidence
Posted on 2008-09-16
It almost looked like haunted-looking women were the fashion. Bingley received him as cheerfully as usual, telling him about all the balls, dinners and shooting parties he had planned for the winter, but Georgiana was standing behind him with a terrified look on her face. It had been a long time since a ball inspired fear in her, so Darcy could not at all understand what was scaring her until later that evening, when she asked him to come and see her in her room.
"There was a letter waiting for me when I came back from Pemberley," she told him without preamble.
She took a small key from her reticule and opened a box on her desk. She took a dirty piece of paper from it and handed it to him. Darcy unfolded it. It was a letter from Wickham, threatening to tell Bingley about Georgiana and his intended elopement if Mrs. Bingley did not pay him one thousand pounds.
"This is ridiculous!" cried Darcy.
He started pacing in front of the fireplace. After Wickham's letter in the summer, the mystery wasn't too difficult to solve.
"He must be getting desperate," he said. "Well, there is only one way about it. Do you prefer it if I am the one to tell Bingley?"
She nodded, looking very pale.
"Ring for him."
Bingley took it remarkably well. Darcy would never have thought anybody could withstand a revelation of that nature so easily, even his old friend. The only thing that upset Bingley was that neither Georgiana nor Darcy had ever told him before.
"Why did you not trust me, Darcy? Did you really believe it would make a difference with me that Georgiana made a mistake at the age of fifteen? Do we not all make mistakes at that age?"
Darcy apologized and pacified him as well as he could. But Bingley could never be angry for long, and was incapable of anger at all if Georgiana was crying, which was soon triggered by the dispute between her brother and her husband. It wasn't long before Bingley was consoling his wife as best as he could, holding her in his arms and stroking her hair. Half an hour later, he was just grateful that the crisis had been averted. Darcy offered to write a letter to Wickham to let him know his plan had been foiled. The return address on the letter was a public house in London.
It was the third time in a few months that Wickham had come to his notice. First that letter of the summer, then the conversation he'd overheard between Mr. Johnson and Miss Bennet, and now this. It made him almost wish that any of the other parasites that had imposed upon his father came back to haunt him instead. But none of them was so deeply rooted at Pemberley than Wickham, he reflected, and he would probably be plagued with begging letters till the end of his life.
Once the letter was sent, however, nothing more was heard from Wickham. Bingley kept Darcy well occupied, and he soon forgot everything about the matter. His only worry until Christmas was how to dodge Lady Metcalfe, who was clearly intent on seeing her daughter mistress of Pemberley.
The day after his arrival, he paid a visit to the Collinses in order to bring them the letters he had been entrusted with. Both husband and wife went out of their way to welcome him and thank him for the honour he was doing them. He was starting to wonder what the fuss was about, until he realised that he had not been back at Hunsford since his infamous proposal to Miss Bennet. He was, in fact, sitting in the very room where it had happened. It suddenly occurred to him that, in all these years, he had, in fact, had a source of news from her, but he had never thought to ask Mrs. Collins about her friend. For a while, he marveled at his own stupidity, but in the end he had to admit to himself that he had avoided Hunsford because of its memories. He had been only too happy to let Bingley deal with the entire village. He had slighted the Collinses, and during his stay, he did his best to make up for it by walking to the parsonage every few days. It was a punishment to listen to Mr. Collins's panegyrics, but he deserved no better.
With November letters from Longbourn started coming again, with the same regularity as before. The pleasure was a little lessened by the knowledge he had to share it with Miss Bennet's uncle (and probably her brother-in-law), but he learnt that this favour was by no means universal according to Mrs. Collins, Mr. Bennet's letters to her husband were always very short.
There was no hint in them about the strange morning visit in Gracechurch Street, or Miss Bennet's stay in London at all. The only allusion to it one that Darcy thought slightly puzzling was a remark about Darcy having now met all of Mr. Bennet's grandchildren. He had indeed seen Mrs. Holmes's son and Mrs. Wilson's two daughters, but he had already seen them in the spring. Darcy could only suppose that Miss Bennet was unaware of this.
Christmas came and went, and soon it was time again to go to London again. But Darcy took no pleasure in it without Miss Bennet. He ached for a reason to go to Hertfordshire, but unless he proposed to her (and he doubted very much she would accept him), there was nothing he could do. He tried to amuse himself by redecorating his dining-room. He went to musical parties, and started dozens of books. But nothing could satisfy him her opinions, her taste, her sharp sense of observation was missing in everything. Everything he did only served to amplify her absence in his life.
It reminded him very much of that one winter when he had tried so desperately to forget her. He had been just as restless then, just as displeased with everything around him. He remembered how desperately he had looked for a wife, deluding himself that this was only an infatuation that would go away as soon as he got married. But every woman had failed to live up to the list of criteria he had set up for his bride. Now he knew that such a woman could not exist and would never have satisfied him in any case, that no accomplishment or elegance or fortune could ever interest him as much as Miss Bennet's intelligence, practicality, liveliness and affectionate heart.
He often thought back to his last conversation with Fitzwilliam, especially what his cousin had said about Anne. Now he saw that his ready agreement with Lady Catherine's last wish had been the effect of despair, of the despondency brought on by his persuasion that he would never find another woman like Elizabeth Bennet. He had, in fact, thrown away his hand, because he had thought it was worthless. He wondered how Anne would have fared if he had not proposed to her or if she had married anybody else. She must have noticed that she was not as valued as a wife as she ought to have been, despite his efforts to hide his indifference. He had done for her as much as he could, but she had needed more in a husband than the exertions of a heartbroken man. It was no wonder that she had sought to forget her sorrow in the pleasures of London, and that she had let it swallow her. More than once did he visit her grave, praying that she could forgive him, and wondering if he could ever forgive himself
Posted on 2008-09-22
As if in punishment, Mr. Bennet's letters stopped coming. It vexed Darcy beyond reason, and in a desperate attempt to hear something anything about Longbourn, he went to call on the Johnsons.
He found Mr. Johnson alone and in low spirits. His wife had left for Hertfordshire two days before Mr. Bennet was very ill.
"I am sorry to hear it. I suppose that Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Holmes have gone with her?"
"No, they're still in London. Jane and Elizabeth didn't think it was necessary to send for them yet. I have to say I agree, Mary and Kitty would only be in the way I wonder how those four came to grow up in the same house, the two younger have none of the sense of the elder."
"Did you ever meet Mrs. Bennet?" Darcy could not help asking.
"No," answered Mr. Johnson with a puzzled look. "I met Jane shortly after her mother's death."
For a moment, Mr. Johnson was lost in reverie.
"Heaven knows I have tried by best for them I am well aware that I am not the dashing fellow a young woman dreams of, and that I demanded much from Jane when I married her and she has never disappointed me. But I have always done my best to keep my end of the bargain. Nobody can say I do not have the best of intentions, whatever they think. Respectability is important in this world they have spent too much time holed up at Longbourn they have forgotten it."
Mr. Johnson was clearly talking more to himself than to Darcy, who thought it better to agree to the importance of respectability, hope that Mr. Bennet would soon be better, and steer the conversation towards the latest improvements of steam-ships. Mr. Johnson recollected himself, and showed him the plans of the improved vessels that would soon be crossing the Atlantic with more speed than ever before. It was a case of delicacy, and Darcy felt that, if Miss Bennet had been able to witness it, she would have approved of him.
Mr. Bennet died before the end of January. Darcy travelled to Hertfordshire for the funeral, and made a particular point of condoling Miss Bennet.
"If there is anything I can assist you with, I would be more than happy to help you," he said. "Do you have any plans for the future?"
"I intend to remain at Longbourn for one or two months, in order to help Mrs. Collins get settled in, and then I will travel to London, where I will stay with my uncle and aunt."
"I will call on you there, then."
And it was the last he saw of her for more than a month.
By mid-March he learnt of her arrival in Gracechurch Street. He went to call on her as soon as he could. In fact, he came so early that he found Miss Bennet still unpacking.
"I am sorry," he said. "I had understood that you had been in town for a few days already."
"You are right. I arrived two days ago. These are just some books that my father left me. They were delivered today. I was sorting through them."
"How are you doing?"
"I am very well, thank you. Mr. and Mrs. Collins are well installed at Longbourn, now. I dare say London will keep me well occupied."
Her tone of voice was determinedly cheerful. She clearly had no intention of dwelling on her grief.
"How is Mr. Collins adjusting to the management of the estate?" asked Darcy.
"As well as possible, I believe. My father left him very well-kept books and instructions."
"I should write to him to offer any advice that he may need."
She turned away to hide what he knew to be a smile.
"You are laughing at me, Miss Bennet," he said.
"Me! Not at all. I would never dare," she cried, blushing.
"I know better than to believe that," he answered with a smile. "But you will agree, I trust, that Mr. Collins has not had the advantage of learning how to manage Longbourn from Mr. Bennet, like I did from my father. I am sure he would be happy to have the ear of men with more experience of the business."
"Undoubtedly," she answered. "But perhaps Mr. Bennet did pass on his knowledge to someone in his last few years, and perhaps this person told Mr. Collins as much as they could. I have no doubt, however, that my cousin would pay more deference to your opinion."
"Perhaps you are right."
He smiled to show her he had understood her, but she only blushed and looked away, adjusting her black shawl around her shoulders.
His calls in Gracechurch Street continued in the same style. Often she was sitting with her aunt or her sisters, and she would leave it to them to converse with him. He would try to engage her in conversation, and sometimes succeed, but only to find her retreating into silence after a while. He could not account for it. The best moments he spent with her were when he found her helping little John with his alphabet. It occurred to him that none of the arts women used to charm men none of the accomplishments that were so much sought after were anything to the simple sight of a woman teaching a child the alphabet. Such patience, such affection how could he ever have been blind to it? The half hours they spent together quizzing John on his letters were some of the happiest he had had in a long time. He wished he knew how she felt about it. She never seemed displeased, but there was something almost demure about her, and he sometimes thought she was discouraging his attentions.
As to John, he continued to puzzle Darcy. He could not pinpoint who the child reminded him of. Even stranger, the relationship between the boy and the Gardiners was never explained to him. He did live in Gracechurch Street, however. Darcy concluded he must be the son of some less fortunate of their relations, who had sent him to learn a trade in Mr. Gardiner's firm. Six years old was a bit young to send a child from home, and John did not seem very happy at being in town. But Darcy was not enough acquainted with the customs of tradespeople to judge. It was probably a very common occurrence among them.
This torturous game, of calling on Miss Bennet every few days, and seeing his attentions received with willingness, and then unwillingness, continued for a few weeks. Darcy could only conclude that she was undecided about her feelings a situation much better than what she had told him seven years ago, but still not what he was hoping for. During his visits, he was careful to appear more the friend than the admirer, because he did not wish to attract the attention of her brother-in-law, but he could not imagine how she could doubt his intentions.
Or maybe she was too distraught over her father's death to even think about love he should not rule that out. She did not seem very sad, but he knew well that she was too good a conversationalist to let on about her feelings. He remembered his own father's death, and how he had felt the entire weight of Pemberley crush onto his shoulders. It had taken a long time to extricate himself from underneath it, and to breathe again. But the loss of his father would never cease to be painful. It made him wonder how princes could be so eager to succeed their fathers if the burden of one estate was too much, how much worse would an entire country not be? Then he thought about the differences between his situation and hers. At least, he had not been banished from his home, and he had not seen someone else take it over. He imagined leaving Pemberley without the certainty of ever going back, and the horror of it convinced him that, beyond a doubt, Miss Bennet's situation was much worse than his.
He decided to probe her relations about it, and one evening, as he was dining with the Johnsons, he asked in passing if Miss Bennet was comfortably installed at Gracechurch Street.
"After all," he said, "it cannot be easy for her to go from being mistress at Longbourn to being a guest in Gracechurch Street."
"I believe she bears it very well," answered Mrs. Johnson. "She was always happy there in the past, and my uncle and aunt have always been very fond of her."
"She will soon have a new house to be mistress of," added her husband. "Montgomery is tired of being outdone by Holmes and Wilson I dare say he will propose as soon as she's out of mourning."
"I am sure my sister has no inclination to marry Mr. Montgomery," said Mrs. Johnson.
"Well then, she'd better make inclination for it. She can't hide behind her father anymore, Jane, and I'm not going to let her run wild. It's high time she did her duty to her family. It's not like she's getting any younger."
"I think we ought to respect my father's wishes on the matter."
"Your father had no such wishes! You know as well as I do that Lizzy had complete rule over him. That time is over, and you know it, and your sister should know it too."
There was rather a long pause after that, and Darcy felt more than a little resentment coming from Mrs. Johnson. He had never seen such firmness in her, and for the first time, he could trace a definite resemblance between her and her sister. Did Mr. Johnson have any idea what a Bennet sister looked like when provoked?
It also opened a more serious dilemma: either he made his intentions known and Mr. Johnson would spoil everything, or he did not and Mr. Montgomery would be there first. He was running out of time. For two days, he hesitated, and weighed the matter, and thought it over, going in circles more often than not, but in the end, excruciating as it was, he had no other choice than to open up to someone about his concerns and send them as an emissary to Miss Bennet to ask permission to court her. He considered who he could trust with such a mission, but there was not a single person with who the idea of such a conversation did not make him cringe. In the end, he settled on Mrs. Johnson. She had always been kind to him, and if anyone knew of his history with her sister, it was her. Why she had forgiven him for his part in separating her from Bingley he had no idea, but he had no doubt that she knew everything
Posted on 2008-09-30
On his way to the Johnsons' home, he thought over what he wanted to tell Mrs. Johnson. He was agitated and almost hoped that something would come up to make him postpone his explanation. He was rather surprised to hear he was expected.
He was shown into the drawing-room where he found Mrs. Johnson and Miss Bennet, both looking pale and anxious.
"Thank God, you're here!" cried Miss Bennet.
Mrs. Johnson offered him a seat.
"Thank you for coming so quickly, sir," said Mrs. Johnson.
"What is the matter?" he asked in astonishment.
"We have a matter of some delicacy to discuss with you," Mrs. Johnson said as she and Darcy sat down. "We wish we did not have to mention what must be a painful subject to you, but it is a matter of urgency and importance."
Miss Bennet, who was too upset to do anything but pace the room, now turned to him and asked,
"Mr. Darcy, this is a rather desperate measure, but we can leave no stone unturned we are very sorry to cause you pain do you have any idea of the whereabouts of Mr. Wickham?"
Whatever Darcy could have imagined, it was not that.
"No, I have not," he said. "The last time I heard from him, his return address was a public house in town."
"I told you he wouldn't know, Lizzy!" cried Mrs. Johnson.
"We had to ask, Jane. There was a possibility. Lord knows he never left us alone!"
"What is this all about?" asked Darcy.
"There is no need " started Mrs. Johnson, but she was interrupted by her sister.
"No, Jane! He ought to know. I should have told him a long time ago."
She turned away from them and started pacing the room again.
"In the summer of 1812," she started, "after after we met in Kent the militia Mr. Wickham belonged to left for Brighton. Our youngest sister, Lydia, was invited by the colonel and his wife to be their companion there. It did not occur to me to share with her any of what you had told me about him, or to put her on her guard. A few weeks later, we learnt that she had eloped with Mr. Wickham. They had not gone to Scotland, however, but to London, and my father and my uncle were unable to trace them. After his debts were paid, there was nothing we could hope for from the law."
"Good God," cried Darcy. "To think I did that! I had no idea Believe me, madam, if I had known about your sister, I would never have paid his debts."
"Do not be distressed, sir," said Mrs. Johnson. "You acted with generosity, and you could not have known about the elopement. Nobody can blame you for this."
"I agree with my sister you are not to blame in this matter," said Miss Bennet in a decisive tone. "Six months later," she continued, "Lydia turned up on my uncle's doorstep. Mr. Wickham had abandoned her. She was with child. My father arranged for her to live on a farm, in Devonshire, where she still is today. She gave birth to a son."
She paused to rearrange her shawl.
"For two years, we heard nothing about Mr. Wickham, until Jane married Mr. Johnson. Two weeks after the wedding, he came to see Mr. Johnson, offering to marry Lydia on the condition that his debts were to be paid and that he would get employment at Mr. Johnson's firm. My brother was tempted to accept, but my father refused."
"I still think all this could have been avoided, Lizzy, if he had accepted. Maybe Mr. Wickham was trying to mend himself and undo the damage he had done."
"Jane, what damage could have been undone at that point? Could he have brought my mother back to life? Pray, how could he have restored Lydia's reputation after all this time?"
"Forgive me, Jane, I am angry, and I forget myself. It is hardly helpful to go over all this again." Turning back to Darcy, she said:
"Mr. Wickham disappeared again, but not before telling his creditors about Mr. Johnson, who was left with no choice but to satisfy them."
"It was a very troubled time for my husband, politically," added Mrs. Johnson.
Darcy nodded. Miss Bennet continued.
"For a long time, we heard nothing from Mr. Wickham, except for the occasional renewal of his offer to Mr. Johnson and you can imagine how he had changed his mind about that. But last fall, my uncle and aunt proposed that my nephew come to London, where he could be brought up to be a clerk in my uncle's firm. We all thought it was a good idea and my father sent for John in Devonshire. At the beginning of October, I travelled with him to London. A few weeks later the morning after we dined with you, I believe I received a letter from Mr. Wickham, demanding that I surrender his son to him. You can scarcely imagine how glad we were when you came to call on us, sir he would not dare anything with you in the house."
It all made sense to him now John's familiar look, the insistence of the ladies to keep him at Gracechurch Street, the allusion to grandchildren in Mr. Bennet's letter. He thought back to the failed blackmail attempt on Georgiana what on earth possessed Wickham to act in such an erratic way, to throw all caution and propriety out of the window, to burn all his bridges?
"I informed my uncle and my brother," continued Miss Bennet, "and they wrote to refuse him. Whatever John is, he is family, and it is not in our habit to abandon our children. God knows what Wickham would do with him! We were all very cautious never to leave John alone, and to tell the servants to turn away anyone they did not know. I took him back with me to Longbourn, but of course, after my father's death, he had to come back to London. We hadn't heard from Mr. Wickham ever since his letter to me, so we thought it was safe. But two days ago, John went missing, along with my aunt's new housemaid! My uncle, my brothers, the entire family has been looking everywhere, but how can we find him? How can we ever get him back?"
She flung herself in a chair and hid her face in her hands. Mrs. Johnson went over to comfort her, but was looking hardly less distressed than her sister. Darcy sat staring in front of him for several minutes. This was worse than anything Wickham had ever done. He tried to piece all the information together, but it was impossible. He stood up and took to tracing Miss Bennet's steps in front of the fireplace.
"What has been done to recover your nephew?" he asked.
"My uncle has interrogated every servant in the house to find out if they knew anything about the housemaid," said Mrs. Johnson, "but she had only been there for a week, and had kept very much to herself. My husband and my brothers have gone to inquire after her with every agency they could think of, but with no success. My aunt took her because of a recommendation of a friend's housekeeper, who had only a slight acquaintance with her. We never thought Mr. Wickham would have a friend infiltrate my uncle's servants!"
"And what was the housemaid's name?"
Could the housemaid have been using her real name? Could she be a relative of Mrs. Younge, Georgiana's old governess? Could she still be helping Wickham? He paced up and down the room some more, thinking of what he should do and what he should say, and once he had reached a decision, took leave from the two sisters. As he left the room, he saw that Mrs. Johnson was helping Miss Bennet with lavender water in an attempt to calm her down.
Posted on 2008-12-09
Darcy directed his carriage directly to Edwards Street, where he knew Mrs. Younge had started letting lodges after she had left Darcy's service. He inquired after Mrs. Younge to the girl who opened the door to him and was relieved to find that she was still mistress of the house.
Mrs. Younge recognized Darcy immediately and turned pale at his sight. Darcy didn't miss this and he asked, without preamble, if she was still in contact with Mr. Wickham.
"That depends on what you want," she answered.
She was trying to sound as haughty as possible, but the slight tremor in her voice betrayed her. Darcy stifled the anger he felt at her impertinence.
"I understand that Mr. Wickham has shown considerable interest in a young boy called John," he said.
Behind him, the girl who had opened the door gasped.
"There are many boys called John," said Mrs. Younge.
"This boy has left his family two days ago," Darcy continued. "They have been searching for him."
"What is that to us?" asked Mrs. Younge with feigned indifference.
"Another person from that household disappeared at the same time," said Darcy. "A housemaid named Sally Younge. Surely that name isn't so common?"
"And why are you interested in this?" asked Mrs. Younge.
"I am an intimate friend of the Gardiners," said Darcy, "and I am interested in all their concerns. They wish to have the child back. They do not know yet how to direct their search, but if they knew where Sally Younge can be found, things might become unpleasant for her and her family. However, if the child were returned unharmed to his family, I dare say the incident might be forgotten."
"Maybe the child is already with his family," answered Mrs. Younge.
"Mama!" cried the young lady.
Darcy ignored her, but did not miss her meaning. The look on Mrs. Younge's face told him that she was not happy that the information of her daughter was in the open.
"I have always thought of a child's family as those who take the best care of him," he said.
"Mr. Wickham has great ambitions for his son," snapped Mrs. Younge.
"And what are these ambitions?" asked Darcy. "Pray, what help can Mr. Wickham be to his son when Mr. Gardiner has already made arrangements to teach him a respectable trade?"
Mrs. Younge considered this for a moment.
"Maybe Mr. Wickham can be talked out of it," she said, "but it's going to take a lot of money."
"Really?" said Darcy.
He was almost amused by the predictability of the conversation.
"Two thousand pounds," said Mrs. Younge.
"Two thousand pounds to be bribed out of the care and education of a child? I think Mr. Wickham should learn to be realistic."
Darcy turned around to leave. Wickham was too desperate not to come after him with a more reasonable proposal. He took care to include Miss Younge in his salutation. The girl looked terrified.
He was pondering his next move on the way to his carriage when someone called his name. Miss Younge had come after him.
"Maybe I can bring you the child," she said, "if you can pay me twenty pounds."
She looked defiantly at him, as if she expected him to scold her. Her demands were modest enough, however, and Darcy had no trouble acceding to them. He gave her his address.
"Can I come tonight, at six o'clock? It's the only time I can leave the house without Mama noticing."
"I will be expecting you."
And she ran back into the house.
Once she was gone, he had time to contemplate what he had done. Not only had he taken it upon himself to bring John back to his aunt, but he would have been ready to pay a great deal more than twenty pounds for it. Of course, if he had gone to the colonel of that militia to warn him about Wickham, at the time, and if he had not paid Wickham's debts after he had left Meryton, this child's destiny would have been very different. So of course, John had a claim on his compassion. But if Darcy looked at himself honestly, he had to confess that what had spurred him into action was the sight of Miss Bennet in distress. All his life, he had worked hard to find every one of his weaknesses in order to overcome them, and now he had found the one that nothing could harden him against it, and he did not even wish to overcome. He would have to go through life knowing that this one woman would only have to look unhappy for him to be ready to ruin himself for her.
But was it really so bad? Had he not already once thrown himself at her mercy, and had she not treated him with honesty, and given him exactly his due? Whatever her anger and her resentment against him had been, the idea of taking revenge on him by trapping him into a miserable marriage had never even seemed to cross her mind. She had just shown him exactly how damaging to himself and to others his conduct was. There was no knowing how things would have gone if Bingley had married her eldest sister, but what he had missed at Netherfield was now obvious to him that Mrs. Johnson was a woman who concealed deep feelings under a thick layer of cheerfulness. The mistrust with which he went through life had blinded him to the richness of human nature, and had ultimately caused some of his most egregious mistakes, and it had taken Miss Bennet's refusal of him to make him understand that.
And had she not shown signs of forgiving him for what was truly unpardonable behaviour? Had she not received him at Longbourn, and at Gracechurch Street? More importantly, had she not trusted him with a family secret that was probably more mortifying to her than her mother's impropriety had ever been? No, his weakness was in good hands, and he had known that for a long time, ever since he had written her that letter where he had told her about Georgiana's elopement.
He thought back to his appointment with Miss Younge. In the spur of the moment, he had told her to bring the child to his home. This meant that he would be the one bringing back John to Gracechurch Street, thereby letting the entire family know what had happened. How he would cope with their gratitude, he did not know. What he did know, however, was that it would certainly delay his proposal to Miss Bennet. He wanted her to understand that he did not expect to receive her hand in marriage in exchange for his bringing back her nephew. His best hope was that she would be out when he brought back John. Maybe he could induce Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to keep quiet about his part in the affair. Otherwise, there would be no way to conduct that particular business with any delicacy.
Part 12 and 13
Posted on 2009-03-07
At exactly six o'clock, Miss Younge, holding John by the hand, was introduced in his study by his disapproving butler. For a moment she looked around the room, impressed with her surroundings, but clearly determined not to be intimidated. There was an air of good sense about her that Darcy liked, and he was happy to be dealing with her rather than with her foolish mother.
Darcy bade them sit down and offered some refreshments, which were gratefully accepted. It was not, strictly speaking, necessary (in fact, Darcy was certain most of his acquaintances would be shocked to hear who he was showing so much civility to), but he was curious about the story behind this abduction. Besides, he felt a little sorry for scaring her earlier and for causing a disagreement between her and her mother. He had a notion that his twenty pounds might come in handy.
As he was counting the bills, he saw she was biting her lip nervously.
"Is Mrs. Gardiner very angry?" she finally asked.
"I doubt very much that she is happy with you, Miss Younge."
"It is my mother that made me do it, sir, I swear!" she answered energetically. "She made me give up a very good position to go to Mrs. Gardiner and take the boy away as soon as I could. Now I'll never get anything good ever again. And all that for stupid Wickham!"
"I take it that it was Mr. Wickham's idea?"
"Yes," she answered contemptuously. "He's always full of ideas on how he's going to get rich and make us live in luxury. First, he was going to be a lawyer, but he never even finished his studies. Then, it was all the heiresses he was going to marry, but the best he ever brought back was some girl who had nothing at all, who he didn't even marry, and in the end he left her behind for us to take care of. Once, he joined the militia and told us he was going to become a general, but he left after he'd lost too much money at cards. Then he was going to be a professional gambler, but that didn't work out either, and now he's decided he wants to become a thief a gentleman-thief, as he calls himself and that's why he wanted John to help him because he's small. But we haven't seen Wickham in a week, and there are quite a few moneylenders looking for him, so I doubt he'll be much around for a while. We'd have been saddled with him, too," she added with a glance at the boy. "And you were right, this morning, it's no life for a child, being a pickpocket. He's much better off with the Gardiners."
She fell silent and glared at Darcy's inkpot. He wasn't sure what to say about her outburst. He could imagine too well how frustrating it must be to see a parent under Wickham's spell, year after year. But he couldn't tell her so.
"I commend you for your good sense and your kindness, Miss Younge," he finally settled on.
She blushed and thanked him.
"What are your prospects now?" he continued. "I cannot suppose that your mother will thank you for bringing John to me."
"Well, if I find a new position, it will be all right," she answered. "Mama can't very well do without me, what with Wickham always borrowing money from her. But if Mrs. Gardiner is really angry, then it's going to be very hard."
Darcy thought it over. In her last letter, Georgiana had written that she had trouble finding a new maid. Could he trust Miss Younge enough to recommend her to his sister? Oh, who was he trying to fool! Of course he would recommend her to Georgiana. When had he ever been able to resist the idea of helping out sensible, brave and independent young women? He offered to write to Georgiana immediately, and Miss Younge seemed genuinely happy at the prospect of discovering Kent she had never been out of London. She promised Darcy that Mrs. Bingley would never have any reason to complain, and thanked him again and again.
As soon as he'd finished his letter to Georgiana, Darcy ordered his carriage, and took John back to Gracechurch Street. They rode in silence. Darcy was worried about Miss Bennet, and John was too busy enjoying the ride.
There was light coming from the drawing room, and Darcy thought it best to tell the footman he wanted a private audience with Mr. Gardiner, without leaving his name. John had different plans, however. Without heeding Darcy, he jumped out of the coach and ran up the stairs. Darcy was hardly in the hall before the boy threw the door of the drawing-room open, and jumped into Miss Bennet's arms. They both started crying.
But Darcy had no time to feel discomfited. His hand was in hers. She was looking at him with adoration and gratitude through her tears. In one moment, all his most painfully sweet fantasies were upon him, more powerful and intoxicating than ever before.
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, how can we ever thank you!"
It was too much, and before he could think, the words were out.
"Will you marry me?"
"Yes, of course! Of course, I will marry you!"
At that moment, Mrs. Gardiner came in, wondering what the commotion was. One look was enough to convince her of what was going on. She'd long had her suspicions, and she was glad to see it come to a happy conclusion. She took John from Elizabeth's arms and spent as much time as possible fussing over him, sending messages to the rest of the family that John was safely back home, and kept everybody away from the drawing room.
Darcy and Elizabeth had of course much to discuss that evening. He soon learnt that she had revised her opinion of him a long time ago even before her sister's elopement. After reading his letter, she had at least acquitted him from villainy. He found that, when she had visited Pemberley, Reynolds had praised him so much that she had allowed him to be not so bad a man, and but for his unfortunate manners, she had almost regretted her refusal. When she had heard that he had befriended the Johnsons and the Gardiners, she had been certain he would avoid her at all costs.
"I was ever so surprised when you appeared at Longbourn," she told him. "I did not know what to make of it. I thought surely you must have forgotten me, after all these years, but you were so civil, so attentive, not only to my father, but also to me, that it took me quite a while to recover from it."
He learnt that she had wanted to tell him about her youngest sister for a long time, and that scruples on that account had been the only thing that had kept her from fully encouraging his attentions. That she had been unable to discourage him was due to the fact that his visits had provided much needed solace from her grief.
He assured her that he had never forgotten her, that the prospect of hearing from her again had been his main reason for befriending the Johnsons, his only reason, really, and that he had only gone to Longbourn to see her. He told her how what she had told him, almost eight years ago, had made him reconsider his conduct, his manners, his approach to others.
They spent a long time talking, and Mrs. Gardiner had to remind them that the family was going to bed.
Darcy had no trouble, the next morning, in getting the Gardiners and Mr. Johnson's approval. They were all very happy about it, and Mr. Montgomery was never mentioned again. The wedding was celebrated as soon as propriety permitted, and Mr. and Mrs. Darcy left for Pemberley to be happy.
Lady Alicia never gave Elizabeth precedence, no matter what General Fitzwilliam said. But the family accepted Elizabeth easily enough it was, after all, Darcy's second marriage, and his relatives were mostly relieved that he had not married his maid.
Mr. Collins was very good at managing his estate, mainly because most of it was done by his wife. Her correspondence with Elizabeth was, in the first year of her being mistress of Longbourn, very frequent. Sometimes, Darcy's judgement was applied to, but he preferred to leave most of it between the two friends. Mr. Collins had a very important role, however, in being courteous to all his neighbours, something he was schooled in very thoroughly by his father-in-law. He could not, however, provide the same kind of advice to the young ladies in Meryton that his cousin had done, and for a while the elegance of Hertfordshire suffered for it. Happily, Netherfield Park was soon occupied by new owners whose elegant daughter properly succeeded to the former mistress of Longbourn.
Georgiana never had any reason to complain about Sally. On the contrary, she was so happy with her that Sally quickly rose to upperclass maid, and the housekeeper was soon thinking about training her as her successor. Sally sent about half her money to her mother, who sent it straight to Wickham. It took Mrs. Younge a long time before she realised that he was not worth her devotion. It took Wickham even longer to realise that sending Darcy begging letters was a waste of his time.
How had Wickham learnt about his son? Straight from Lydia. The poor girl had never gotten over him, and had sent letter after letter to Edwards Street. In the hope of interesting him in her again, she had told him that John would go to London with Elizabeth. The idea of teaching his son to be a thief had been too alluring to his vanity, and that was how the plan to abduct John had started.
Mr. Johnson had to find someone else to suspect of showing his wife too much interest. He did not need to look long: Darcy's engagement soon brought the Bingleys to town, and Mr. Bingley renewed his acquaintance with Jane. Neither of them would of course do anything improper, but Mr. Bingley could not imagine any gallantry to be enough for Mrs. Johnson, and she would always blush becomingly at his attentions. Mrs. Bingley had a very different disposition from Mr. Johnson, and Mrs. Johnson's sweet disposition endeared her so much to her that they soon became fast friends.
It soon became apparent that John was not happy in London. He missed the farm on which he had spent the first six years of his life. It also became obvious to Mr. Gardiner that he was not cut out to work in his firm. A couple of childless tenants of Darcy's were more than happy to take him in as a help, where he did so well and endeared himself so much that they adopted him. He remained close to his uncle and aunt, who often came to visit him. It was much whispered about, but nobody ever dared say anything about it in front of Darcy. He wouldn't have minded too much, though. He was too happy to care much about his reputation.The End