A/N: If you don’t wish to see a grown man cry, you should probably look away before you get to the last paragraph of this installment.
Lydia did not wake when Colonel Fitzwilliam lifted her from Elizabeth’s arms, nor did she wake when she was settled in the carriage beside her sister. In fact, for the remaining forty-five minutes of the journey to London and then through the streets to Gracechurch Street, she did not wake — not even when a pause was made to send a footman in search of Darcy’s physician.
Lydia simply would not wake.
In fact, Lydia had still not woken when Darcy and Richard left the Gardener’s home some two hours after arriving. The physician had come and gone. Mr. Bennet, who had arrived with Sir William, had been advised of what had happened. Tea and brandy had been shared as well as tales of Wickham’s previous treachery.
Darcy paced the length of the passageway at Darcy House. Thankfully, his sister was with their aunt, the Countess of Matlock. He would not have been able to see her and hide his agony. Miss Lydia lay lifeless in a bed, watched over by her relatives, and he was to blame.
If only he had he spoken to anyone of Wickham. If only he had at least told Sir William of Wickham’s penchant for gambling and seducing young maids. He shook his head and leaned heavily on the wall next to Richard’s bedroom door and covered his face with his hands. His hope was gone. Elizabeth would never be his.
“You look like the devil, Darcy,” said Richard as he approached him. Richard had gone out to visit a few friends, who he thought might be of use in ferreting out if Wickham were away from his unit with or without permission.
From the way his cousin was grinning, Darcy guessed it was likely that Wickham had not been granted permission to leave Hertfordshire.
Richard opened the door to his room and motioned for Darcy to enter before him. “Wickham is in town. He was spotted at a gaming hell tonight, foxed beyond reason, as is the regular habit of one such as Wickham.”
Richard shrugged out of his coat, tossed it on his bed and then sat down to remove his boots. “A hand, Darcy.”
He had not yet called his batman for assistance. There were particulars that needed to be discussed without the audience of even such a trusted and loyal man as Mr. Chase .
Between the two of them, Richard was soon free of his shoes and stockings and was working on removing the rest of his things as he continued his report on Wickham. “It is said he has debts in Meryton, as well as here in town, and not enough coin to pay. He is in serious trouble.” Richard smirked. “My guess is he will make a run for some obscure location as soon as he sobers.”
Darcy nodded. It did not matter where Wickham ran, he had done what he needed to ensure Darcy’s misery.
“He’ll sober in the room of one of my friends.” Richard pulled on his nightshirt.
“And then what?” Darcy shook his head.
Richard shrugged. “Likely he will get better than he deserves, but worse than he wishes.” He took a seat across from Darcy. “We have been here before. As you know, drawing his next breath is more than I think that man deserves, but there are laws.”
Richard rubbed the back of his neck, a sure sign to Darcy that there was a wrinkle in the well-laid plans of his cousin.
“He has spoken of Miss Lydia?” Darcy prompted. He did not wish to draw out this meeting any longer than need be. There was no need to take a circuitous route around whatever unpleasant bit of information Richard held. There was nothing that could sink him lower in his own despair, was there?
Richard grimaced. “It is worse than you think. He has not just claimed her to be ruined.”
Darcy’s brows furrowed. What worse could be said?
Richard drew a deep breath and released it. “He claims she ran off with his purse.”
“He calls her a thief?” Darcy sank back in his chair. That certainly would threaten more than Miss Lydia’s ability to marry, if Wickham were to pursue the claim as if it were true.
“When Miss Lydia ran off, he was not happy to be left without payment for his debts, and the gentlemen he was with had a fair go at him to show their displeasure.”
“Surely, he could stumble into the Thames, could he not?” Darcy wished to empty the contents of his stomach at the depth of Wickham’s rankness.
Richard tipped his head and studied his cousin. A distraught and tormented Darcy he had seen before but never had Darcy once suggested killing a man. “What are you not telling me?” he said, sitting forward in his chair.
Darcy pulled a note from his pocket and handed it to his cousin. “I am no longer welcome to call at the Gardiners or Longbourn.”
Richard unfolded the paper he had been handed.
I would like to extend to you my families thanks at having provided care for my Lydia on her arrival in town, but I have decided she would do better at home, and so we will be leaving in the morning and will not be here to receive your call. As I am certain, you will understand the need for peace and quiet while at Longbourn and will therefore not impose upon myself, my wife, or any of our daughters during this time of trouble. In fact, it is likely best if we sever all acquaintance. Your tales of woe done to yourself and to your family by the scoundrel that has now threatened mine will not leave my lips. I give you my word as a gentleman. However, I cannot get beyond the fact that the present circumstances might not have occurred had these grievous acts of Mr. W been known in the autumn when the regiment arrived in Meryton. I thought it better for my daughters’ peace of mind to write these things to you rather than to air them before you in their presence.
Darcy rose from his chair and moved to leave the room. “Do what you will with Wickham. I do not care,” he said as his hand rested on the door knob. “I will be leaving for Pemberley in the morning, and I would like to be left alone to mourn in peace.”
He swallowed the tears that threatened. “In three month’s time, I will do my duty and call on Aunt Catherine and Cousin Anne.”
Richard sprang from his chair. “No,” he fairly shouted as he grabbed Darcy by the shoulders. “You will not do your duty. This,” he waved the letter in front of Darcy’s face, “I will not accept this.”
“It is my fault,” Darcy snapped. “He is correct in that. Even if I had his permission, what hope to I have of winning Elizabeth when her sister has been so injured due to my negligence. You may not accept it, but I have no choice.”
“No choice? Fight for her! Fight for her sister!” Richard urged.
Darcy pushed Richard away. “Why? Why should I fight? How can I fight? I am the cause. I am the one I would wish to run through if it were Georgiana who was wounded and ruined.” He shook his head. “Leave me be.”
Richard grabbed Darcy’s arm before he left the room and held it firmly so that Darcy could not pull away. “Two weeks. Stay in town for two weeks. We must see Wickham to some end. Then, if things have not improved with Mr. Bennet, I will allow you to go to Pemberley and wallow.” He paused. There was one last strategy to keep his cousin where Richard could watch him and work on him. “If you go to Pemberley, Georgiana will hear you have returned, and my mother will allow her to come to you.”
Darcy closed his eyes and swallowed. Then, as the tears he had attempted to hold at bay spilled down his cheeks, he nodded and whispered his agreement before returning to his rooms.