The Gardiners returned before the afternoon was much advanced and were escorted by the housekeeper to their rooms. Mrs. Garderner went to her niece’s room where she met the still room maid to discuss Elizabeth’s progress while Mr. Gardiner walked down to where Lizzy had taken her fall. He found Mr. Darcy and the groundskeeper standing contemplating the gentle incline down to the lake. An under-gardener was already at work digging up the offending lump of grass that had tripped up the unfortunate girl.
“Mr. Gardiner,” said Darcy in acknowledgment.
“Mr. Darcy. I hope you do not mind. I wanted to take the walk we were anticipating this morning, while my wife spends a little time with Lizzy.”
“I have no objections. Indeed I shall walk down with you.”
The groundskeeper was dismissed with a nod of Darcy’s head and the two gentlemen began walking across the lawn.
“I was considering,” said Darcy after a few moments, “the possible need to install a path or staircase here. Obviously the incline is enough to be dangerous, when the grass is wet.”
Mr. Gardiner folded his arms and considered the scene, turning to glance back toward the house. “The difficulty would be to chose a manner to insert it gracefully into the landscaping design. Should the path wind or be straight? Should it be gravel or stone? Should there be a balustrade? Decorative or plain. Local stone or imported. Or courses, one must consider the whole vista, particularity how such a path should appear when viewed from across the valley. That is vitally important, I have found. One does not wish to introduce an asymmetry!”
“You understand,” cried Darcy?
Mr. Gardiner chuckled. “I may not own a country manor, Mr. Darcy, but my wife and I have spent several years visiting houses on our summer tours. Many an evening we have spent admiring this and tearing apart that gardener's plan that we have become, we think, quite the fireside experts.”
Darcy uttered a short laugh. “I imagine your good wife is after you to purchase a country residence of your own.”
“Oh, no. Not in the least. Madeline is too sensible to suggest such a thing. She knows the address I have in London is based on my need to be close to my warehouses rather than our income. But that does not mean we do not spend our winter hours by the fire discussing what we might do if we had such an expanse of garden to play with. Or, at least, what she would do. Myself, as long as there was a stream to stand beside, I would be happy.”
“You like to fish, then?”
“Indeed I do, when I have the chance of it. It is a compromise I have with Madeline. In the summer, when we tour, for every three days we spend visiting, I must have one day alone to fish. She spends those days either with friends or shopping.” He looked downcast, suddenly. “We had planned that I would have that day when we, ah, but Lizzy’s health comes first.”
“Do not despair. Pemberley has one of the finest streams in Derbyshire. I would be happy to lend you equipment, provide you with the more knowledgeable of my staff to show you the best places.”
“Well, thank you, sir. I would be pleased. Grateful. If it would not be an additional imposition.”
“Not at all. The fish are there to be caught by someone. Trout become arrogant when not taught good manners. I might find time to join you, if you don’t mind the company.”
“I would be delighted. Currently I have no one who shares my interest, until my son grows old enough to be more interested in fishing than making mud pies.”
“How old is your son?”
“I have two, one five, the other three. And two older sisters for them, aged eleven and nine.”
“A respectable family. And Miss Bennet, has she sisters and brothers?”
“A total of five sisters in that family. No brothers at all. Lizzy, the second daughter, being the brightest and active of the family, assists her father with the estate.”
Darcy blinked. “She does?”
“Someone must. My brother in law, apparently, has always afflicted with a creeping fatigue and he remains most days in his library. Our Lizzy, however, has energy in good measure. She carries his messages to his tenants, visits their wives and busies herself about the estate. If there is anything about the estate that must be discovered Lizzy is the one who goes looking for it. She also helps with his accounts. You know, yourself, it takes more than one man to maintain the records of even a small estate.”
“Then he will miss her. . . if her return is delayed.”
“Indeed he will. He could barely be persuaded to let her go for a month’s holiday. I expect your express messenger to return with a note begging that Lizzy be brought home by any means necessary.”
“And she will go, when she is well,” declared Darcy. By this point the men had arrived at the side of a broad stream. “What do you think of this location, Mr. Gardiner? Shall we come down tomorrow and see who shall win? Men or fish?”
“I am agreeable to that plan, Mr. Darcy.”