As we wait for the Twelve Days of Christmas to begin here at Austen Variations, I have another missing scene for you. But this is not from Pride and Prejudice, but from Darcy’s Voyage. (And no, it’s not even a Christmas story.) I recently discovered this little piece when I found an old thumb drive and was hoping there were some stories on it that somehow did not get transferred to a laptop I purchased about two years ago. It did contain several of my missing stories, so I was thrilled. In this scene, Darcy has gone to London expressly to reveal a secret to the Gardiners and seek their input on how best to inform Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of it. If you have read Darcy’s Voyage (or Pemberley’s Promise as it was initially titled), you will understand the background of this scene. If you have not read it, I hope you will be curious enough to put it on your TBR list. Enjoy!
Darcy Visits the Gardiners
The carriage stopped and Darcy gazed out the window at the modest home in the Cheapside area of London. It was a moderate sized home and well kept. The gardens looked as though they had been lovingly tended, and the house itself appeared recently painted.
When the door was opened, he asked, “Is this it?”
“Yes, sir, “ Durnham replied.
“Thank you. I am not quite sure how long I will be. They may throw me out after the first few minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” The expression on his valet’s face was one of doubt that anyone would throw his Master out of their home.
Darcy said no more, leaving Durnham to wonder what business brought his master to this part of town, who these people were, and exactly why they would not welcome him.
He stepped out and tugged at his coat. His heart beat a little more rapidly as he considered what brought him here, and he took in a deep breath to steady himself.
“It is now or never,” he softly whispered.
“What was that, sir?” Durnham looked at him expectantly.
“Nothing,” Darcy waved his hand and began to walk up the path to the door. With each step, he turned over in his mind what he would say, what the Gardiners’ reaction might be, and what would Elizabeth think once she heard about this visit.
He nervously straightened his neck cloth and took in a deep breath before raising his hand to knock. He stood for a moment as he gathered fortitude to proceed with his plan.
At that moment, the door opened unexpectedly giving Darcy a start.
“Oh!” exclaimed the gentleman. “I was not aware someone was at the door.” He tilted his head as he scrutinized Darcy from head to toe and then shook his head. “Are you lost, sir? Is there some way I can be of help?”
“No!” It came out a little trifle harsher than he wanted. “No,” he repeated softly. “I am here to see Mr. Gardiner.”
“Ah! I am he!” he exclaimed. “And may I enquire who…”
“Dear, do we have a guest?” a feminine voice asked from behind the man. A pleasant looking woman peered out.
“Mr. Darcy! What a pleasant surprise this is!”
Mr. Gardiner’s eyes widened at his wife’s revelation. “Heavens! Pray, excuse me for my lack of manners. Do come in, Mr. Darcy.”
“I have not come at a bad time?”
“Hardly,” Mr. Gardiner said, eyeing him curiously and extending a hand to invite him in.
“I think perhaps the sitting room would suit well,” Mrs. Gardiner offered. “It is small, but very comfortable.”
“Any place shall suffice,” Darcy assured her.
As they walked in, Darcy was struck by how inviting and warm the room was. He felt a sense of calm overtake him. “This is indeed a fine room,” he said.
The three of them walked in, and Darcy turned to Mrs. Gardiner. “I fear I am at a loss to know whether we have met before, Mrs. Gardiner. You seemed to know me, but I regret I do not recollect having met you before.”
Mrs. Gardiner smiled. “It has been many years, sir, and I do not expect you would remember me. I grew up in Lambton, you see, but to own the truth, I was able to recognize you from your portrait in the gallery at Pemberley. We toured there recently.”
“Ah, yes! That would explain it.” He let out a soft laugh. “I am a few years older and wiser, perhaps, but I always felt it was a good likeness.”
“A very good likeness!” affirmed Mr. Gardiner. “I am surprised I did not recognize you myself!” He let out a hearty laugh. “But I fear I moved on past your portrait quickly. It was my wife and my niece, Elizabeth, who stood before it for quite some time.”
At Elizabeth’s name, Darcy took in a quick breath.
“Have a seat, Mr. Darcy. I understand Elizabeth was on the ship with you to America. Your ship, Pemberley’s Promise!”
Darcy sat down in a cushioned chair and clasped his hands tightly, resting them on his knees. “Yes, and that is what brings me here.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner sat down on a small sofa opposite him. Their eyes were wide with curiosity as they gazed at Mr. Darcy and waited in silence for him to continue, which he did not immediately do.
After what seemed an eternity, Mr. Gardiner finally broke the silence. “To what do we owe the honour of this visit, Mr. Darcy? I do hope nothing untoward occurred on the ship. Does it concern our Elizabeth?”
Mr. Darcy took a deep breath and cleared his throat. He placed both hands on the arms of the chair and gripped them tightly. “I would ask that you allow me to explain in full the situation before you make any sort of rash judgment against me or your niece. But yes, what I have to say pertains to your niece… and myself.”
Mr. Gardiner’s brows lowered, while Mrs. Gardiner’s eyes widened.
“Go on,” Mr. Gardiner said slowly.
“We met on the ship and she became quite ill while down in steerage. I felt she would not be able to recover in that environment… I had the only…” He looked at Mrs. Gardiner and paused. “The ship was full to capacity. I offered a solution to Miss Bennet, which was to have the captain marry us so she could sleep in the only available bed on the ship that was not in steerage – but in my cabin.”
Anger within Mr. Gardiner impelled him to jump from his seat, but Mrs. Gardiner reached out and gently held him back from approaching the gentleman sitting across from them.
He looked at Mr. Darcy with eyes full of anger and amazement. “How could you have done such a thing? And… and why is it that we do not know of this marriage? Did you abandon her once the ship reached shore? Is that why she was so altered when she arrived?”
His questions and accusations came so forcefully and quickly, Mr. Darcy could not reply. Mrs. Gardiner’s gentle voice seemed to calm her husband as she said, “Edmund, shall we let the gentleman finish? I am certain he has more to tell us and will explain everything.”
It was with reluctance that Mr. Gardiner sat down again and turned to Mr. Darcy. “I shall allow you the opportunity to explain yourself, sir, and I do hope for your sake, that you have a good explanation!”
Mr. Darcy then proceeded to explain to the Gardiners all that happened on board the ship and why they married. He was quick to tell them that although they had both agreed to annul the marriage, neither wished to do so now.
When he had finished explaining what happened, there was silence. Mr. Darcy tightly gripped the arms of the chair again as he waited for another outburst. He looked from Mr. Gardiner to his wife and then back, giving them time to adjust to this news and formulate any response.
The dark expression across Mr. Gardiner’s face had not yet faded, and he finally asked, “And did you truly intend to annul this marriage after living together as man and wife?” He looked to his wife, who had a deep blush on her cheeks. Looking back at Darcy, he asked, “Did you consider, sir, just what this would mean for her?”
Mrs. Gardiner’s blush deepened, and she quickly looked down at her folded hands in her lap. “We did not live as man and wife,” Darcy began. “We… the marriage was never consummated. “ He watched their expressions and waited – for what, he knew not.
Mr. Gardiner seemed at a loss for words. His wife, however, spoke up.
“Mr. Darcy, I do appreciate that you came to inform us of this situation. We trust our Elizabeth implicitly, and your reputation is well known to me from my acquaintances in Lambton.” She reached over and took her husband’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “What can we do to be of assistance to you? Obviously you have come here for some reason. May I assume that her family is not aware of your marriage?”
Mr. Gardiner shot a glance at his wife and then back at Darcy. “You have not informed her parents?”
Mrs. Gardiner turned to her husband and again squeezed his hand. “Of course not, dear. That is why he has come to us.” She turned to Mr. Darcy. “Am I correct?”
“You are very astute, Mrs. Gardiner. I am at a loss to know how to inform them of a marriage that has been kept secret for several months. Eliz… Miss Ben…, my wife has a great respect and admiration for you, and I felt you might be able to help me decide the best way to go about this.” A look of concern darkened his features and he added, “Without causing too much resentment toward me.”
“Her father will not be happy!” Mr. Gardiner declared, shaking his head. “I can think of no reasonable manner in which to tell the man that his favourite daughter has been secretly married!”
Mr. Darcy leaned forward. “Elizabeth does not know that I have come to you, but I am certain she would have confided in you if she could have. We have both just recently affirmed to each other that we want this marriage more than anything else, and an annulment is out of the question.”
“I am glad to hear that!” Mr. Gardiner huffed, still trying to grasp all that Mr. Darcy had told them.
“If you are inclined to accept my marriage to Elizabeth, then please give me advice on how best to approach her father and mother. You know them better than I.”
“You will have no trouble with her mother,” laughed Mrs. Gardiner. “She will only see the advantage of the marriage!”
Mr. Darcy smiled back at Mrs. Gardiner, but it quickly disappeared when he looked back and saw Mr. Gardiner’s grave expression.
He began shaking his head. “Mr. Darcy, I find what you and my niece have done to be incomprehensible. I would have thought she had better sense than to have begun this charade in this first place. It makes me wonder if she was too ill to have made a rational decision.”
“I confess she was ill, but she was very capable of understanding what she was doing.” A slight smile appeared. “She slapped me when I first offered her the extra bed in my cabin.”
“That’s our Elizabeth!” exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner with a smile.
A small smile actually appeared on Mr. Gardiner’s face. “Yes, I can certainly see her doing that, but back to the issue of Mr. Bennet.” Mr. Gardiner furrowed his brow. “It is imperative that he gets to know you and your character before you attempt to break this news to him!” He let out a huff. “He must see that he can trust you as a man of integrity.”
“And one who loves and cares for his daughter,” Mrs. Gardiner added.
“If it is of any comfort to you, I can assure you I do.”
Mrs. Gardiner nodded. “I believe you do.”
“We do not wish to wait too long before we announce it,” Mr. Darcy replied. “But I will do everything in my power to garner the man’s respect.”
Darcy stood up. “I have kept you too long. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to explain things to you.”
“Please, Mr. Darcy, would you care to stay and join us for some tea? We would enjoy getting to know our niece’s husband.”
“But were you not going out?”
Mr. Gardiner responded. “It was nothing pressing. If you have no other obligations, I would appreciate spending some time with you. My wife seems convinced of your goodness and integrity. I should like to be further convinced myself.”
Mr. Darcy remained with them for several more hours. He spent some time alone with Mr. Gardiner in his study, answering a few more delicate questions that were easier to answer without the lady being present.
When he was about to depart, Mrs. Gardiner drew him aside. “I am going to write my niece a little missive and scold her mercilessly!”
“Oh, please do not, Mrs. Gardiner. I know she is concerned that her family is likely to be highly upset about the marriage.”
Mrs. Gardiner waved her hand. “I am not going to write about that, Mr. Darcy. I plan to scold her for feeling she could not tell me of her marriage. I hoped she felt that she could come to me about anything!”
“I am sure she would have if she had but known how gracious you have been to me.”
Once Darcy stepped out the door, Mrs. Gardiner let out a most contented sigh. “Oh, my dear Edmund! Our own niece married to Mr. Darcy! I did not think I would be able to contain myself!”
“Well, you did quite well, Madelyn! I cannot believe it myself! But he does seem a good man.”
“Oh, he is, and if you will excuse me, I shall withdraw to my sitting room and get that missive penned to Elizabeth. I want her to know how we both support her and her husband!” She gazed up at Mr. Gardiner. “We do support them, do we not?”
Her husband slowly nodded his head. “I find nothing objectionable about the man.”
“I am so glad!” She leaned over and kissed his cheek, setting off directly to the sitting room.
Once she was gone, he said softly to himself, “And I shall send a missive off to my brother-in-law, advising him of some extraordinary news of which Mr. Darcy will be apprising him, and for him to give the gentleman the benefit of the doubt, even if he does not at first understand.”
Mr. Gardiner let out a chuckle. “Oh, but if I know him as well as I think I do, he will enjoy putting Mr. Darcy through quite a harrowing interrogation before he is through with him!”
Rubbing his hands together and with a grin on his face, he exclaimed, “Oh, how I wish I could be there to witness it!”