A/N: I believe I told some in the comments last week that we would see Elizabeth’s reaction this week. That was not correct. This week we will see Colonel Fitzwilliam swing into action, and then next week, Elizabeth will learn of the separation.
Richard stood for several minutes leaning against the frame of the door to his room after he had watched to make certain Darcy did, in fact, return to his own rooms. This was not what was supposed to happen. He was supposed to come home, discuss the fact that they had Wickham at their mercy, and devise a plan to see the man dealt with in the most effective manner. He blew out a great breath, pushed off from the door frame, and pulled the bell to call Mr. Chase.
Dropping into a chair to wait, he read Mr. Bennet’s letter again. Its contents shocked him as much this time as they had the first time he had read it. The gentleman had seemed friendly and even understanding as they had spoken of finding Lydia and then assuring him that she was not the first lady he had duped with his charming smile and sweet words. Richard shook his head.
It must have been the shock of the incident that propelled the man through the conversation as if it were a normal discussion of neighbourhood gossip and not a tale that ended with his daughter lying injured and senseless.
Yes. That must be it.
He rose and placed the letter on the table next to his bed.
The seriousness of the situation and the grief brought on by his daughter’s condition must have settled in later, addling his ability to see reason. Was the man, himself, not partially to blame? Had his daughter not encouraged Wickham? As Richard understood it, Miss Lydia was something of a flirt and rather silly — behaviours a father should quell and behaviours which would mark her as a possible conquest for Wickham.
“I need to see Darcy’s man,” Richard said as his man, Mr. Chase entered the room. “Intercept him before he goes to ready his master for bed.”
Mr. Chase gave a nod and left to do as he was instructed.
Miss Lydia was not innocent in this matter either, Richard reasoned as he again took a seat. Miss Elizabeth had pointed out to her father that Lydia knew better than to travel alone or in the company of a man who was not her relation. Perhaps, Darcy’s separation of Bingley and Jane had been the young lady’s impetus in devising the scheme, but it was her own foolishness that had seen her put the plan into action!
He sighed and leaned back staring at the ceiling. It was difficult for a man to own his part in the misfortune of those under his care. Unless, of course, that man was Fitzwilliam Darcy. Then, it was difficult for the man to accept only his share of the blame and not shoulder the full weight of a matter.
Such a letter as Mr. Bennet had sent would have likely only roused a regular gent to some fit of temper accompanied by shouting and drinking and a likely confrontation with the man accusing him of being the sole cause of a lady’s injury. But to Darcy, an accusation of responsibility would only prove his own feelings of failure to be true.
He sighed again and straightened as Chase and Darcy’s man, Dawson, entered.
“Take a seat,” he said, motioning with his head toward the chairs next to him. “There is a matter of which you must be made aware. Have you seen to your master yet tonight?” He directed the question to Dawson.
“No, sir. He has only just called.” He fidgeted uneasily. He was likely never tardy in responding to Darcy’s call.
“Then I will make this as quick as I can,” said Richard. “Mr. Darcy is not to know we have spoken — nor is anyone else.” He fixed the man with a hard stare and waited for agreement. “You will find him greatly altered, and if anyone asks the cause, you are to say he has received grievous news regarding a friend, which is completely true.” Richard paused. “He has, for the moment, lost his love.”
Dawson’s eyes grew wide.
Richard nodded. Dawson likely knew a good deal about who the lady was that Darcy favoured.
“It is hopefully only temporary, but I would appreciate it is you would speak to Chase of anything which worries you about your master — lack of sleep, refusal to eat, drinking to excess — anything that seems out of the ordinary or detrimental to his well being, and then, Chase will report it to me.”
Richard stood and the two men seated with him followed suit. “He has promised to remain in town for two weeks. If he begins to speak of leaving before that time, inform Chase, who, like with everything else concerning this situation, will inform me.” He stood at the door with Dawson. “I’ve not seen him like this,” he said softly.
“I understand, sir.”
Richard thanked him and closed the door.
“And me, Colonel?” Chase asked. “What is it that you wish for me to do other than relay messages?”
“You are good at strategy, are you not?”
“I like to think so, sir.”
“Good,” Richard clapped his man on the shoulder. “So while you put my clothes away, we will discuss some strategy.”
He stood in front of the Lieutenant who was of slightly shorter height than Richard but at least five years younger and with a more slight build. Chase was a man, Richard thought, who had likely had to use his wits to persevere his features so well. The larger bucks often liked to make sport of the smaller ones.
“I am going to share things with you that you will take to your grave.” He watched the lieutenant’s Adam’s apple rise and fall with a swallow.
“I am placing a great deal of trust in you — more than I do when I climb into my bath or allow you to hold a razor to my neck when shaving because what I am going to share has the potential to harm those whom I love.” His eyes narrowed slightly as he held the gaze of his batman. “And, you should know that as much as I enjoy the way my boots shine when you have polished them, I and my sword will not hesitate to splatter that shine with your blood if you harm those I love.”
Chase’s eyes grew wide as he nodded. “Of course, sir. I am not a gossip. I never share what I see or hear unless you have requested I do.”
Richard smiled. “Very good. For you do tie a fine cravat, and I would hate to have to break in a new man. I am not the easiest chap to serve.”
The corner’s of Chase’s mouth twitched, but he managed not to smile as he replied. “I couldn’t say, sir.”
Richard flopped back into his chair and began explaining the full story to Chase before the two set about devising the best course of action to remedy the current situation.