That evening, Bingley attended dinner with his friend, and the inevitable and required topic of Darcy’s part in separating Bingley from Jane was canvassed and quickly discarded. Bingley had read the letter Darcy had sent with his cousin two days prior when Richard had gone to give Bingley Lydia’s message regarding her sister being in town.
Lydia’s had been relayed cheerfully and loudly by Richard as he knew Caroline was just passing the door to Bingley’s study as Bingley was shutting it. The rest of the information of which Bingley needed to be made aware, including Jane’s call on Bingley’s sisters and Darcy’s error in his recommendations, Richard had left to the work of Darcy’s letter. He had, of course, answered questions where he could and assured Bingley of Darcy’s sorrow at discovering his error.
Therefore, when the subject was broached over wine glasses and cutlery, it was a topic that had already been given an ample amount of contemplation. And as is the way of things, time spent in contemplation of anything startling, especially of an unpleasant nature, when taken up in the mind of a reasonable and rational gentleman, such as Bingley was, will give the news and opinions time to soften and will provide a greater chance for clarity in understanding to develop.
“I shall not question your opinion on the affections of ladies again,” Darcy said as the conversation drew to a close.
Having attained a nod of acknowledgment from his friend. Darcy took a sip of his wine before returning to his plate of food.
Richard was pleased to see his cousin savouring each bite as it indicated his spirits were still lifted, and Richard knew that Darcy with raised spirits would be much more beneficial to their cause. They — he and Bingley — must do their part to ensure Darcy did not slip back into a morose state, no matter how long it might take to set things to right.
“He is learning,” Richard said with a wink at Bingley. “Before you know it, he will be as knowledgeable about ladies as I am.”
Bingley guffawed. Richard was rarely without a dance partner or dinner companion when he was forced to attend a soiree. However, he, like his cousin, was not particularly fond of public gatherings where men and ladies were — as Richard put it — put on display and required to peruse each other as if they were horses to be auctioned at Tattersalls.
Richard wiped his mouth and leaned back in his chair as his glass was refilled and his empty plate removed from the table. “He has tentatively engaged himself to Miss Elizabeth.” He avoided looking at Darcy, for he knew Darcy would not be pleased, but Bingley needed to know the importance of all that was going to take place over the next few days. The unpleasant must be broached, of course, and directly, but not without some levity and forward movement toward a solution.
Bingley’s eyes grew wide. “Darcy has made an offer of marriage to a lady who is not of great standing or wealth and who has ties to trade?”
“Indeed he has,” Richard replied.
Darcy rolled his eyes. It was not undeserved censure. Had he not used those same arguments as to why it was best if Bingley did not return to Hertfordshire and attempt to persuade the lovely Miss Bennet to love him? It was only natural that Bingley should throw back at him Darcy’s own concerns.
“He has been accepted by such a lady;” Darcy said, “however, the lady’s father has not given his consent and, as you know, his consent is unlikely to be given as things stand.”
Bingley folded his arms, a smug smile on his lips. “There is a man in Britain who would refuse the great Darcy name and fortune?”
Again, such teasing was not unmerited. Darcy had never considered that any father would ever object to Darcy as a husband for a daughter. The thought was humbling. “It appears there is.”
“Because he did not share all he knew of Wickham when in Hertfordshire,” said Richard. He had told Bingley about this when they had met two days ago, but a reminder seemed as if it might be needed to keep the conversation flowing in the direction he needed it to go.
“I knew about Wickham,” said Bingley.
“I would suggest not sharing that bit of news with Mr. Bennet until you have secured his daughter.” Darcy’s tone was bitter, and his smile had faded.
“I thought you were not going to offer advice where the ladies were concerned,” Bingley said lightly.
Richard breathed a sigh of relief as Darcy’s lips curled upwards at the comment.
“I shall not offer advice where their affections are concerned, but I shall where their fathers are concerned. I would not wish my current position on you.”
“And,” Richard interrupted before either of his companions could travel down some tangent that would not best serve the purpose of this meal, “in an attempt to alleviate the current circumstances in which Darcy finds himself, we are in need of you assistance in lending us the use of Netherfield.”
“You are going to Hertfordshire?” Bingley asked Darcy in surprise. “Why?”
“To deal with Wickham,” Richard replied. “Darcy believes, and I agree, that it is best to have very little left in England to remind anyone of the scoundrel’s existence.” He then told Bingley of his plan regarding Colonel Forrester and Wickham’s transfer.
Bingley rubbed his chin as Richard explained the purpose of Darcy and his trip to Hertfordshire. “So you are saying that you shall settle Wickham’s debts to the benefit of Bennet’s neighbours and dispose of the louse to the benefit of all but the colonies?”
“That is the plan,” said Richard. “He will go to his new unit accompanied by a letter to his commanding officer alerting him to the fact that Wickham has deserted once already and has a reputation for dealing unfairly with merchants.” He shrugged and smiled. “A man with Wickham’s reputation will not meet with leniency should he act dishonorably again.”
“Which he will,” said Bingley, nodding his head.
“It is rather likely,” agreed Richard.
“Very well,” said Bingley, reaching for his glass of wine, “I shall send a message along with you to the staff at Netherfield and shall do my part to aid your cause whilst I am here.”
“What part is that?” Darcy shifted in his seat and placed his empty glass on the table.
“I shall speak well of you, of course.”
Darcy eyed Bingley with concern. “You may regret doing so. It may make Mr. Bennet less than pleased with you.”
Bingley chuckled. “I do not intend to speak of you to Mr. Bennet. There may be one father in all of England who would refuse you, but what of the mothers?”
“An excellent thought,” agreed Richard. “A subtle comment about your friend’s regard for Mrs. Bennet’s daughter and a subtle reminder of his income and estate…” He rubbed his hands together in delight. “Yes, yes, that just might work.” He had not yet met Mrs. Bennet but from all he has heard regarding her desire to see her daughters well-married, he suspected, she might be more forgiving than her husband.
Darcy sighed. He did not like the idea of being thrown on the mercy of Mrs. Bennet, but at present, he was not in a position to object to any plan that might win him Elizabeth’s hand.