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Mr. Bennet popped his head out of his study door. “Hill.”
“Could you inform Lizzy that I would like to see her?” He held a very interesting missive in his hand and knew that his daughter had also received some correspondence from town. He was interested to know what Jane and Mrs. Gardiner had to say.
He closed the door and returned to his chair. Propping his feet on a footstool, he peered through his glasses once again at Edward Gardiner’s surprising letter. He gave it a quick perusal and then put it aside to open the next unexpected piece of mail. Colonel Fitzwilliam? The name did not sound familiar to him at all.
He smoothed the creases out of the letter and began reading.
Allow me to introduce myself to you. I am the Right Honorable Richard Fitzwilliam, colonel in his majesty’s militia and second son of the Earl of Matlock. I am also the cousin of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, whose acquaintance you hold, and the co-guardian of his sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy.
What follows is information that is of a very sensitive nature, and I would request that as a gentleman you guard it with utmost care.
Darcy has made me aware of the presence in your neighbourhood of a particular scoundrel with a well-practiced charm and ease of manner which will ingratiate him with nearly one and all. However, he is not to be trusted with credit, wagers, or the hearts and virtue of young ladies.
Mr. Wickham is, as he will doubtless present himself, an acquaintance of the Darcy family and has been for many years. His father was my uncle’s steward and a fine, upstanding man. His son has not been blessed with the same stalwart character. While Mr. Wickham’s father served the late Mr. Darcy well, treating him with the respect due one of his station, Mr. Wickham has treated my cousins poorly and, in so doing, has tarnished the memories of both the late Mr. Darcy and his own father.
There is much history into which we could delve, but suffice it to say that W. was a favourite of my uncle, and in homage to the service W’s father had provided for Pemberley, my uncle bequeathed W a legacy of one thousand pounds and held for him the living that was in my uncle’s power to bestow. The living was to be given upon there being a vacancy and W’s taking orders. However, W did not wish to take orders but petitioned that he be allowed to study the law. My cousin, Darcy, gave him three thousand pounds in lieu of the living. As it turns out, the law did not agree with W, and he spent his time and fortune in licentious living. When his funds had all been squandered, he returned to Darcy to request that he be allowed the living, which had just fallen open. Darcy refused based on the former arrangement of money in exchange for the living as well as the knowledge that W’s lifestyle was not fitting for a man of the cloth. As you may well imagine, W was furious and abused my cousin severely.
Darcy thought that this would be his last interaction with the man, but alas, it was not. And this is the portion of the tale that I impart with trepidation. The sharing of the above is of little significance. However, what I share now is of a graveness that as a father I am certain you will appreciate. It was just this past spring when W made his appearance once again and attempted to exact his revenge on Darcy. While Miss Darcy was in Ramsgate with her companion, a woman we later discovered was a friend of W’s, Wickham played upon her tender heart and aroused her affection with the goal of persuading her to elope with him and thereby acquiring her thirty thousand and ensuring the misery of her brother. Thankfully, Darcy arrived before the scheme could be set into motion and his sister confessed the whole of the matter to him. Once again, Wickham did not leave my cousin’s presence on friendly terms as you can well imagine.
He is a profligate and a gambler who will likely leave Hertfordshire with many unpaid debts and quite likely a few ruined maids.
I am given to understand, by my cousin’s account and that of Mr. Bingley, that you have several pretty daughters. I know that they do not have a fortune equal to what Miss Darcy has, but one of them has something that money cannot buy and would make her of great interest to W. – my cousin’s admiration. The possibility of separating Darcy from a lady he admires would please W immensely.
I have written a letter to Colonel Forester regarding W’s propensity to dally with the ladies and be less than genuine with the merchants. I have done all this at my cousin’s request as he does not wish to see the residents of Hertfordshire harmed by Wickham. He would have made his case known while in the area if it were not for fear of Miss Darcy’s folly being exposed and his fear that he could not calmly and rationally relate his knowledge of the man since the wound caused to his sister is still not one that has healed.
Again, I would petition you as both a gentleman and a father, to protect this information. Please notify either myself or Darcy should any merchant find that he has fallen prey to Wickham’s liberty in purchasing and lack of the same in paying his debts. Darcy has given his word that he will settle such accounts should the need arise.
Mr. Bennet sank back in his chair. First, he had received a missive from Gardiner mentioning both that there were wealthy and upstanding gentleman who admired and wished to court his eldest daughters and that there was a man in the militia of whom he should be cautious. And now, he had this letter repeating much of what he had heard but delving more deeply into the harm that Wickham had caused the Darcy family. He shook his head. He could not pass such damaging information off as being the dislike of one man to another, for what gentleman would place his sister’s reputation in such a potentially damaging position without cause?
“Come,” he called in response to the knock at his door.
“Hill said you wished to see me.” Elizabeth entered and took a seat near her father.
He nodded and gave her a fleeting glance. His mind was still turning over the information he had just read. He placed the letter in his hand next to the one from Mr. Gardiner on the desk. “I understand you received a letter from Jane. How is she?”
Elizabeth drew a folded piece of paper from her pocket. “You may read it.”
He shook his head. “I trust you to tell me all that I must know. Has Mr. Bingley called on her?”
Mr. Bennet loved the way Elizabeth’s face would shine when she smiled as she was now. He watched as her brows furrowed, and the smile faded into puzzlement.
“It is the strangest thing,” she said as she unfolded her letter.
“How so?” He was certain he knew what or, more precisely, who made Mr. Bingley’s call strange.
“Mr. Darcy called with him.”
Mr. Bennet feigned surprise. “He did? Is he interested in courting Jane?” He bit back a smile as his second eldest daughter shook her head and looked at him with more confused astonishment than he had ever seen on her face. Perhaps Mr. Darcy would be good for her if he could challenge her way of thinking as he seemed to be doing. Elizabeth needed a husband with a keen mind and a will that was not easily persuaded. From what he had gathered of the man while out hunting, Mr. Darcy seemed to possess both fortitude and intelligence.