At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
Bingley took his turn perched on a rock next to the stream, net in hand, attempting to catch a fish.
“There,” Lydia point to the right, “get him.”
Bingley drew the net through the water, but the fish darted away just as he reached it. “You have a good eye for this, Miss Lydia.”
Lydia smiled. “I do, but then, I have always noticed details. There –” she pointed to the right again, “he has come back.”
Bingley once again tried to scoop up the fish in the net.
“Perhaps if you were to move your net next to that pile of rocks and just wait, he will come back again,” suggested Lydia, and then she sighed. “It is rather hard to just sit and wait, though.”
Bingley had to agree. Waiting was not something which came easily to him. He tended to be impatient and wish for quick action, but he also knew that sometimes, patience was precisely what was needed. He had learned that from watching his father. His father was an accomplished negotiator with a calm demeanor and a longsuffering temperament — at least in the presence of those with whom he wished to strike a deal. Often, he would come out of the transaction the victor having secured exactly what he wished, but other times, he would come away nearly satisfied.
“You must know the essential items and not waiver on those, son, but you must also have a list of things which are of marginal importance.” He would chuckle. “Indeed, you should include at least one thing that you do not wish for at all. Then, it will be the first item to be shifted; followed in order by the other items on your list of margins. But never, compromise on the items of greatest importance. Walk away if necessary. No deal is worth giving up what is most important to you, your business, and your family.”
How often had he heard this same lecture from his father?
Bingley’s eyes shifted from the net in the water to where Jane sat. He had compromised what was of greatest value once, but he would not do so again.
“Now,” whispered Lydia.
Bingley swiftly drew the net up and under the fish, lifting it victoriously.
Lydia clapped her hands, drawing everyone’s attention to the fish she and Mr. Bingley had caught.
Bingley chuckled. He had not thought much of Miss Lydia when they had first met. She was just a young, flirtatious girl, given to outbursts of impropriety, but now that he had seen her several times in company, he had to admit that although she was still not always sensible, he preferred her sweet nature to that of his own sisters. There was little pretense with Miss Lydia — oh, there was scheming to be certain, but for the larger part of their new acquaintance, he had found her to be quite forthright. He allowed her the privilege of carrying the net to Mr. Abbot so that the fish could be put in the basket. He sat for a moment longer on the rock near the water’s edge and turned his attention back to Jane.
Patience had won him the fish and patience would prove his worth to Jane. He must deal with Wickham’s breach of contract, but he could write to a friend. He did not need to see to it himself. Indeed, it would be best if he did not see to it himself. He rose and rolled his shirtsleeves down over his forearms.
“Nice work,” said Richard, coming to take Bingley’s place with the net. Lydia was not far behind. It seemed she had appointed herself fishing instructor. No matter how Marcus scowled or attempted to draw her away, she was determined that everyone who wished a turn to catch a fish would be successful. Besides, she had said on more than one occasion with a bright smile, fish were delicious, and she would not be eating cold meat and cheese for supper.
Bingley bowed his head in acceptance of the compliment. “I shall wish you the same success.”
“Oh, he shall not fail,” Lydia assured Bingley. “Colonel Fitzwilliam is a very disciplined sort of man. He will have the skill and patience to accomplish the task.”
Richard smiled broadly. “A fine assessment.”
Lydia’s eyes sparkled. “I also heard him say he was as fond of fish as I am, and a man’s stomach will often rule his will.”
Bingley could not help the laugh that escaped him at the comment. “So you think him both clever and hungry?”
“I do,” Lydia replied. “Perhaps at a different spot — we might have completed our run of good fortune at this spot.” She placed her hands on her hips and looked up and down the stream. Then, with a clap of her hands and what Bingley considered a rather self-satisfied smile, she suggested that they try the spot near Mary Ellen.
“An excellent idea,” agreed Bingley with a smirk at Richard, who had yet to come to terms with his particular regard for that young lady.
Richard’s brows drew together. “How can you be certain that it will be a good location?” he asked Lydia.
“Oh, I cannot make a guarantee,” her eyes were fairly dancing with contained delight, “but I am certain with a bit of patience and attention, there might be something to be caught there.” She laughed lightly and walked away. “Come along,” she called.
The furrow between Richard’s brow deepened. “What does she mean?” he asked Bingley. “What else could be caught besides fish? A frog? I do not care for frogs.”
Bingley shook his head. “I believe, she means you might catch Miss Dobney or more likely Miss Dobney might catch you.”
“Miss Dobney catch me?” Richard looked toward Mary Ellen and then back at Bingley. “Does she wish to catch me?”
Bingley nodded. “Although I am not to say.”
“Come along, Colonel,” Lydia called again.
Richard tipped his head to the side, his lips pursed and his eyes narrowed, as he studied Miss Dobney. “I suppose,” he said at last, “it might not be such a bad thing.”
“Aye,” said Philip, who had come to join them right before Lydia had called to Richard the second time, “it would certainly make her happy.”
“Come along, Colonel,” said Philip. “You must do your duty and allow yourself to get caught so that Marcus and I might be free of a lovelorn sister.”
“Lovelorn?” Richard asked as he followed Philip.
Bingley chuckled and went to find Jane.
Later that evening, Bingley tapped his fingers on the table next to the letter he had written. He was uncertain if this was the best course of action. Perhaps he should just take a trip to town to speak with Mr. ___. Letters were tricky items. There was no guarantee that the intended recipient would be the only recipient of the news in a missive. He scanned the words again.
“A breach of contract has occurred. Please detain the party who is in neglect and extract payment as needed. The packet may be shipped from Portsmouth.”
“That is a serious look you are wearing,” said Richard as he slipped into the library at Pemberley. “Letter of business or pleasure?”
“Business,” said Bingley with a sigh. “An agreement has been breached, and I am uncertain of the best method of rectifying the situation.”
Richard settled into a large leather chair and tossed one leg over the other. “What are your options?”
Bingley shrugged and folded the paper without sealing it. “Write to an associate and have him deal with the issue or go see it done myself.”
Richard pondered this information for a while. “Is it a serious breach?”
Bingley nodded. “Damaging,” he blew out a breath, “but the remedy is not without great risk, either.”
The comment caused Richard to raise a brow and look eagerly at Bingley. “Is this remedy something that would fall outside of the law.”
Unwilling to admit such a thing, Bingley tilted his head and gave a half shrug.
Richard smiled. “I had not thought you capable of such.” There was a note of pride in the colonel’s voice.
“You do not condemn me?”
“I would need to know the particulars before I could pronounce any sort of judgment,” Richard replied with a grin. “I am not a strict judge if you are worried about that.”
Bingley blew out a breath and rose from his chair. “It is not that,” he said, moving to join Richard in the chairs before the unlit fireplace. “I wish to keep the number of people who know about any of this as small as possible.”
Richard’s eyes grew wide, and he let out a low whistle. “So it is a fair distance on the opposite side of the law?”
Again, not willing to admit it aloud, Bingley gave a half shrug.
“A pound of flesh?” Richard asked in a whisper. Bingley was almost certain he heard a hint of excitement in Richard’s voice.
“Something of that nature.” He sighed again. He longed to discuss this with someone who could advise him on the best course of action. If Wickham were to meet with an accident here in Derbyshire, Bingley knew that no one would ask questions, and if they did, Mr. Williams would confirm that it was merely an accident. Elsewhere, Bingley was uncertain if events would play out so cleanly. He shook his head. “Life and death are not mine to award.” He rubbed his chin with his right hand. “I should tend to it myself.”
“I wish you would tell me what it is.” Richard’s tone was disappointed. “If you are not indeed planning on killing someone, then I do not see the need to be quite so secretive.”
“What of transportation?” asked Bingley.
Bingley shook his head in response to the startled question. “Lady Catherine knew of Darcy marrying because of Mr. Collins.”
Richard wore a look of confusion. “Darcy mentioned that.”
“Collins learned of the wedding from Wickham.”
Richard’s eyes grew wide. “Darcy did not mention Wickham.”
Bingley smirked. “And why do you suppose that would be?”
Richard’s features grew hard. “Because I need very little reason persuade me to do harm to that man. Darcy is far too patient.”
Bingley nodded. “I quite agree. I cannot understand how he has managed to suffer Caroline’s attentions all these years without telling her to leave off.” He paused for a moment. “Although he did not ask her to stay yesterday.”
Richard gave a low chuckle. “She has reached her end. There is always a limit to Darcy’s patience but reaching that limit does not mean he is willing to leave all reason behind. He will always take what he thinks is the noblest road.”
“Which means sacrificing himself and not the other person,” said Bingley.
Richard nodded emphatically. “Precisely. Cutting off of friendship, paying off of debts, buying of property — all helpful and not without merit, but they do not eliminate the problem.”
“Yes, like Wickham,” agreed Richard. “It was only a fortunate accident that his purchasing Willow Hall worked out so well for Lucy. I am certain that Tolson would not have stayed clear of her.”
Bingley’s lips twitched.
“You think not?” asked Richard.
“Mr. Williams would not have allowed it.” Bingley had spoken to Mr. Williams long enough before presenting his deal to Wickham to know that the man was willing to bend the rules to see justice served in swift order.
Richard allowed this to be true.
Bingley rose to return to the desk and collect his letter. He slipped it into his pocket. He would consult with Mr. Williams before taking any action.
“What agreement do you have with Wickham?” Richard asked.
“I paid him for silence,” said Bingley. “About Lydia,” he added in reply to the question Richard was about to ask. “Lady Catherine knew about Lydia travelling to Derbyshire with Wickham.”
Richard nodded his understanding. “He does not believe you will carry through on your threat. He has not said a word regarding Georgiana because he knows I will not hesitate to relieve him of his life. ”
Bingley tapped the letter in his pocket. “How would you do it?”
Richard’s smile grew wide as if it was a topic he had considered at some length. “He has a good seat. I have seen him ride.”
“A transfer from the militia to the regulars?”
Richard nodded. “The cavalry, to be precise. I have connections enough to see him on his way to meet Old Boney within a fortnight.”
Bingley took his seat next to Richard once again, interested to hear exactly what he would have planned to dispose of Wickham. “But you have no guarantee that he would die.”
Richard shrugged. “Being of a lowly rank, he would be cannon fodder, but should he manage to return with his life, it would not be as a whole man. He’d no longer be pretty enough to pose any danger to any gently bred young woman. And I suspect, if he did not die of disease, he would eventually drift up along the Thames.” He nodded his head slowly as if satisfied with this result.
“And if the war should end before you have a chance to dispose of him in France? Then what?”
Richard’s face scrunched up as he considered his options. “That would take some thought,” he muttered at last. “I suppose, there could be a loose rock on a steep path where he might lose his footing.”
“What about transportation to one of the colonies?”
Richard’s brow rose. “It would relieve us of his presence, but what about the ladies there?” He again scrunched up his face as he considered it. “The journey might be hazardous.”
Bingley swallowed. He knew precisely how dangerous a sea voyage could be. “More so at some times of the year than at others.”
They sat in silence for a time.
“I wanted to string him up for harming Georgiana and would run him through if he harmed Miss Dobney,” said Richard, “but I would do neither.”
Bingley looked at him in disbelief. “You had a plan to see him done away with. Why this turnabout?”
Richard shook his head. “It is not a turnabout. I would still see him off to the war if I could. But if there is no war, I would not risk losing my life to avenge my angel.” He smiled. “I could not be the cause of their sorrow.” He shrugged. “I would persuade him to take a voyage, and then, I would spend my time comforting those he had wronged.”
Bingley understood the sentiment. “So, we are agreed that Darcy’s ways might indeed be the wisest?”
Richard groaned. “I will need a drink before I admit such a thing.”
Bingley laughed and rose to fetch the needed refreshment. “Shall I make it a large dose? Are you also going to admit your admiration for Miss Dobney?”
“You cannot call a lady an angel unless you admire her.”
Richard sighed. “Then make it a large dose.”
More in the Willow Hall Romance Series
A Pride and Prejudice Prequel ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 1
Events from the past combined with threats in the present threaten to tear Lucy and Philip apart unless Darcy can help his friends save their blossoming love and rid Lucy of her uncle once and for all.Click cover image to find that book in your favorite store.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 2
When Fitzwilliam Darcy bought Willow Hall, he thought he was helping a friend escape an untenable situation. Little did he know he was purchasing a second chance for his own happiness.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella, Willow Hall Romance Book 3
Lydia Bennet only meant to surprise her sisters and enjoy some fun. She thought she had planned well enough to avoid any disagreeable consequence, but she did not. However, when plans go awry, the results, much like the lady who made them, can be very unexpected.