After Elizabeth and Jane had left Darcy House, Richard once again found himself seated before his cousin’s desk. He picked up the papers he had discarded there earlier and tapped them on his left hand as he studied Darcy. He had hoped the call would do Darcy some good, and it appeared it had.
“Are those the figures?” Darcy sat comfortably reclined in his chair with his elbows propped on the arms and his chin resting on his steepled fingers.
“They are.” Richard tipped his head and raised a brow as he took note of the slight turning up of Darcy’s mouth. They were about to speak of Wickham, Darcy should not be smiling. “You seem happy.”
Darcy’s lips twitched. He was happy — very, very happy — and containing that happiness within a small smile was not easy. “I am.”
“I am glad,” Richard tucked the papers he held under his right thigh. “I should like to know why. I am delighted that seeing Miss Elizabeth has lifted your spirits, but to be honest, I had thought upon her departure, a gloom might once again settle in.”
“Fear not,” Darcy replied with a half smile, “I shall likely find my morose mood again soon enough, but for now you shall have to endure my less dour mood.”
“Does this shift in disposition have anything to do with the exchange I witnessed in the library?” He had seen the blushes on Elizabeth’s cheeks, and the dip of her head, as well as the kiss Darcy, had placed on her hand. From where he had sat next to Jane, it looked to him that the battle to sway Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy had doubtlessly been won.
Darcy could not contain his smile any longer and allowed it to spread across his face as he nodded. “It does. We have come to an understanding of sorts.”
Richard’s brow furrowed. “An understanding?” He questioned, “As in you made her an offer of marriage?”
Again Darcy nodded.
“Indeed?” Richard’s brows rose. He was not unfamiliar with men who made hasty decisions about things of great importance when faced with a dire situation. How many friends had he seen marry quickly before setting sail for the continent? It was not unusual or unthinkable nor did he condemn them for such actions. But to have his cousin join those ranks? Even when Darcy had discovered Wickham’s scheme to elope with Georgiana, he had been controlled — furious, naturally, but not to the point of losing the ability to consider all the ramifications of his actions before he made a decision. So, to have Darcy propose marriage to Elizabeth when Mr. Bennet was set against him, was startling.
“Yes,” was Darcy’s only reply.
“And was that her answer as well?” It must have been for his cousin to be as happy as he appeared to be.
“It was but with the stipulation, of course, that her father allows it.”
“And if he does not?”
Darcy rubbed his face. That question had crept into his mind also. “Truly, I do not know, but for now I have hope. And I shall continue to hold that hope in my heart until we have exhausted all possible means of persuading the man.”
Richard pulled the papers from under his leg. “Then we shall have to be as successful with the father as you were with his daughter.”
Darcy sighed. “I fear Mr. Bennet is not as reasonable as his daughter.”
Richard chuckled. “That is quite likely true.” He placed his papers on the desk. “These are as expected. There are a few larger sums that are owed to various merchants scattered amongst the smaller debts. However, when you consider them all together, the amount is not insignificant.”
Darcy scanned the list. Nothing there was startling. He lifted his eyes from the sheets before him. “And what of his other propensity?”
Richard shrugged. “There are no fatherless children of which he is aware, not that it is not a possibility.”
Darcy nodded and folded the papers he held. “I shall see to the monies needed and will be prepared to leave for Hertfordshire in the morning.” His brow furrowed. “I had thought to ask Bingley for the use of Netherfield, but do you think an inn would be better and attract less attention? I had hoped to carry out our business with some degree of secrecy.” He knew that complete secrecy would be impossible; however, he did wish to keep gossip to a minimum.
Richard understood his cousin’s reluctance to make his dealings with Wickham known openly. Richard also did not wish to have the true nature of his conversation with Colonel Forrester to become public knowledge. They needed to protect Lydia’s reputation as much as they possibly could. “I have business to conduct with Colonel Forrester of a delicate and private nature. I see no reason why I cannot conduct that business from the more comfortable accommodations of Netherfield than from an inn. You are my cousin. Bingley is your friend. You made the necessary arrangements for my comfort.” He held Darcy’s gaze. “Every word of that is true, and it is all that anyone needs to know about why you and I are there.”
Darcy could not argue with Richard’s logic. Every bit of what his cousin said was true. Still, it felt as if there were a layer of disguise to it.
“It cannot be helped,” Richard replied. “We do not conceal anything for our own gain, but for the protection of others. It is what you would do for Georgiana.”
Darcy sighed. It was exactly what he had done for Georgiana, and in so doing, he now found himself in this quagmire. “I was not wrong to conceal Georgiana’s trouble, was I?”
Richard’s mouth dropped open, and a small burst of incredulous laughter spilled out. “Would Mr. Bennet wish to see his daughter’s name bandied about as having fallen prey to a worthless schemer?”
Darcy shook his head. “I know it in my heart, but I cannot help thinking I might have prevented…”
“And Mr. Bennet might have required more decorum from his daughter. He is obviously not incapable of such. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are fine examples of proper young ladies.” Richard shook his head.
Darcy allowed it to be so.
“Remember how I did not wish to share the blame for Georgiana’s foolishness?” Richard had wanted to blame anyone and everyone for what had happened except for himself, Darcy, and Georgiana. It had taken several weeks before he had been able to see the error of Georgiana’s actions as her own, and it had taken just as long for him to accept his share of her folly. Darcy, on the other hand, had seen his shortcomings immediately.
Darcy smiled. There had been many loud arguments over that very thing. Poor Georgiana had taken to her room on more than one occasion due to the shouting Richard had done at Darcy when Darcy had dared to claim they had not done their duty to Georgiana in the best fashion.
“Seeing the error of one’s way is not easy for most men,” Richard said with a sheepish grin. “We cannot all be like you.”
Darcy rolled his eyes. “That is a very good thing.”
Richard chuckled. “Indeed,” he agreed. “And if I can be persuaded to see reason, I dare say, Mr. Bennet might also be persuaded.” He made the statement lightly, but in his heart, he was determined to see his cousin happy, and since that depended upon Mr. Bennet seeing reason, there was no option but to make it happen.
Darcy blew out a breath. “That is the hope.”
Richard rose. “Do you wish to make a foray into the wilds of London and call on Bingley? Or would you rather I bring him here?”
Darcy came around from behind his desk. “I have no desire to see his sister, so if you would be so kind as to invite him to dinner, I would be most thankful.”
Richard clapped his cousin on the shoulder. “You have no idea how glad I am to see that smile on your face.”
“Yes, well, allow me to wear it a while longer and visit Bingley for me.”
Richard laughed. “With pleasure, Darcy. With pleasure.”