A/N: Just to keep us on track as far as the timeline goes, this is the morning after Elizabeth’s arrival in town with Lydia and the morning after both Darcy and Elizabeth have learned of Mr. Bennet cutting ties with Darcy. I know the time has been spread out over many words and weeks of posts, so thought it feels like this break between families has been ongoing for some time, it is fresh for our characters.
Richard rode up Gracechurch Street and then down. In front of the Gardiner’s home, there was a carriage being made ready for travel, but he had not seen more than one small truck and a bag being loaded. Surely, if the Bennets were travelling, there would be more luggage than that. He took one more tour of Gracechurch Street before determining that he was not going to be able to speak to Mr. Bennet on the road as he thought he might be able to. He would have to knock and ask for a conference despite the early hour. So, that is what he did. He knocked; he requested; and now, he waited.
There was scurrying to and fro above him. Doors opened and closed. Heavy feet hurried up the stairs and down a hall, while at least one other set of feet descended the stairs and passed through the hall just outside the closed door to the room in which Richard paced.
Richard took one more turn around the small sitting room, pausing at the window long enough to see Sir William and Maria entering the carriage. Sir William agreed to something Mr. Bennet was saying, and then the door was closed and the carriage moved away. As Mr. Bennet turned to enter the house, Richard took a seat and waited for the man to enter the sitting room, which he did.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, I had not thought to see you again,” Mr. Bennet began, giving only a small tip of his head in greeting. He lowered himself into a chair slowly as if he were a man twice his age and weary to the bone.
Richard imagined Mr. Bennet was exhausted. Worry could do that. If Richard were to pause and recall his own concern for his cousin, he would likely yawn and scrub his face. He had slept very ill, and he suspected the same was true of the man sitting across from him.
“I told you yesterday that I would see the matter regarding Mr. Wickham through. I will not go back on my word, no matter how you have treated my family.” He pitied the man’s having to worry for his daughter, but he was not going to take a gentle approach. Mr. Bennet needed to feel the weight of his responsibility in this matter.
“Your family?” Mr. Bennet’s eyes grew wide as his face reddened. “It is your family, who has endangered mine.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam raised a brow. “I disagree,” he said before adding, “How is Miss Lydia this morning?”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes narrowed. “Feverish. Mr. Graham is with her now.”
“It grieves me to hear that, although I cannot say I am surprised. It has been my experience that exposure to the elements after an injury often leads to fever.” He was glad to hear that Mr. Bennet had at least called for Mr. Graham, Darcy’s physician. It was likely due to the man having already been made familiar with the case, but Richard did not care the reason. He only cared that Lydia was being given the best chance for recovery. “I will not take too much of your time as I am certain you are as anxious to return to your daughter as I am to return to my cousin.”
Mr. Bennet blinked as if startled by such as statement.
Richard pulled at his sleeve. Darcy would likely not thank him for this, but then, Darcy would likely never know he had spoken about him to Mr. Bennet. “Suffice it to say, your letter was not well received. I fear you have misjudged my cousin most severely, but that is not the purpose of my call today. Today, I am here to inform you that I have located Mr. Wickham, and he has been detained until it is determined what is the best course of action regarding his fate.”
He leaned forward slightly. “There is no gentle way to say this, and quite frankly, when it comes to business matters such as this, I am not currently feeling any more inclined to gentleness than you are. Wickham has bandied about the tale of a young lady who stole his purse.”
Mr. Bennet sank back in his chair as if overwhelmed, and Richard could not blame him for such a response. To be accused of theft was no small thing. It carried with it a hefty price for those found guilty of such an accusation. He paused for a moment, allowing Mr. Bennet time to recover slightly. Then he continued.
“The good news, if there can be any in this ordeal, is that Wickham is not in a position to follow through on such a claim, nor will he ever be in such a position. I shall see to that. However, you needed to be made aware of the fact.” He stood. “I shall return when I have any further news to share.”
“A letter would suffice,” said Mr. Bennet, pushing slowly to his feet.
“No, it will not.” Richard held Mr. Bennet’s gaze. “You may have severed your connections with my cousin, but until the matter at hand has been resolved, you will continue to see me. I, like my cousin, am a man of my word. We do not take honour lightly.” He paused at the door to the room. “I assume you will not travel to Hertfordshire today.”
He tipped his head and studied Mr. Bennet. “Mr. Graham is excellent at his job. I have great faith in him. He has seen me through some rather difficult times.” He put on his hat in preparation to leave. “If there is anything you need, do not hesitate to send word to Darcy House. I will be there for the next two weeks.” He gave a nod and departed before Mr. Bennet had a chance to reply.
“Colonel,” Elizabeth said in surprise as Richard exited the sitting room. “I had not thought to see you.”
“You did not?”
Her smile was sad. “My father…”
He nodded. “I know.”
Elizabeth drew a calming breath. “He is wrong,” she whispered.
“That I also know,” said Richard. “How is your sister? I understand Mr. Graham is here.”
Elizabeth looked back toward the stairs. “She is so very warm.”
“Has she woken?”
“Once last night,” Elizabeth replied. “She was distressed that she would have to leave town before seeing Mr. Bingley.”
“I shall see that he knows.” Richard took a step toward the door. “I must be leaving, but I shall repeat to you what I have said to your father. If you need anything, I am at Darcy House. You have only to send word.”
Elizabeth thanked him and then as he turned to leave, she called him back. “Would you deliver a message to your cousin for me?”
“I do not know what my father has said to Mr. Darcy, but would you tell him that I do not agree with my father and that I shall miss him.” She blinked against the tears that formed at the thought of not seeing Mr. Darcy again.
Richard grasped her hand. “I shall deliver your message, but you must not give up hope that this separation can be resolved and your friendship can be restored.”
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
He bid her farewell once more and left the house. As he rode back to Darcy House, he could not rid his mind of her tear-filled eyes and slightly trembling lips as they had parted. He shook his head. Things could not remain as they were, for if they did, not only would his cousin’s heart remain broken, he suspected, so would Miss Elizabeth’s.