A/N: Today’s installment is a little shorter than some, but it contains an important meeting. Just to keep you on track with the timeline of the story, this meeting takes place just nine days after Lydia’s injury.
For four days, Darcy House sat empty of its master. For four days, the Gardiner’s sitting room was occupied for an hour each day by Mr. Bingley. For four days, Darcy and Richard made calls and paid debts, and for four days, Elizabeth sat by Lydia’s side reading her poems while she improved and gained strength. Hours ticked past. The sun set and the moon rose, and Mr. Bennet’s opinion began to soften. Whether this was due to the arguments presented to him by Mr. Gardiner, who through his wife’s intelligence had learned of Mr. Darcy’s proposal, or whether it was due to Mrs. Bennet’s constant laments over her second daughter never marrying and how delightful it would be to have Elizabeth marry Mr. Bingley’s friend with ten thousand a year, or whether it was simply due to time and seeing his youngest daughter becoming well, one cannot say. But no matter the cause of his waning displeasure with Mr. Darcy, the results were such that on the morning of the fifth day, he was in a humor to be amenable to a call such as Colonel Fitzwilliam intended to make.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Mr. Bennet greeted Richard as Richard entered Mr. Gardiner’s study.
Richard would have been happy to meet in the sitting room, had it not been filled with females, but it was, and what he needed to discuss with Mr. Bennet needed no audience larger than Mr. Gardiner, who was seated across a chess board from Mr. Bennet.
“Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner,” Richard nodded to each man. He motioned to a chair and waited for Mr. Gardiner’s permission to take it. “How is Miss Lydia?”
“She is improving each day,” replied Mr. Gardiner. “I should think within a week, she will be well enough to travel.”
“That is excellent news.” He had one week to make Mr. Bennet see reason if today’s meeting did not do the trick. “My cousin and I have just returned from travelling ourselves.”
“Was it a pleasant trip?” Mr. Gardiner asked.
“The results were positive, but the trip itself was not one of pleasure.” He drew a folded document from his pocket. “Five days ago, I was made aware of some debts that Mr. Wickham had left unpaid when he left Hertfordshire.” He unfolded the paper he held as he spoke. “I made my cousin aware of these numbers and together, we have seen each account settled. More accurately, Darcy has seen these settled. I am after all merely a colonel and do not have the deep pockets of my cousin — not that he would have allowed me to pay a cent toward any of these anyway.” He held Mr. Bennet’s gaze. “Darcy does not take responsibility lightly and would never defer duty to another when he could see to it himself.” He handed the paper he held to Mr. Bennet. “You may wish to see the damage Mr. Wickham did in such a short time while in Hertfordshire.”
“But those debts,” said Mr. Gardiner, motioning to the paper Mr. Bennet was accepting, “were not Mr. Darcy’s.”
Richard shook his head. “No, they were not his, but it was implied that they were his fault due to his neglect in warning the inhabitants of Hertfordshire that Mr. Wickham was untrustworthy. So, they became his.”
“He paid all these?” Mr. Bennet’s eyes were wide as he scanned the page a second time.
“Every one of them.” Richard shifted. “We did not only travel to Hertfordshire to settle accounts. I said I would see to Mr. Wickham, and, with Darcy’s help and the approval of Colonel Forrester, I have. Wickham has taken a commission in the regulars and will sail to Canada in a fortnight. He will remain under strict supervision until he can no longer see land.”
“Mr. Darcy paid these and purchased Mr. Wickham a commission?” Mr. Bennet stared at the sheet in front of him as if incapable of comprehension.
“Again, it was implied that Mr. Wickham’s actions were Darcy’s fault.” Richard allowed his voice to carry in its tone a bit of the anger he felt at his cousin being accused of such a thing. “I believe our business is now at an end, Mr. Bennet. I will continue to inquire after Miss Lydia for my own and Darcy’s sake until I know that she is well.” He blew out a breath. “There is, however, one thing about which I must speak before we part ways.”
He put his hand in his pocket and drew something out but kept it concealed. “As you are aware, Georgiana’s care since her father’s death has been shared by Darcy and myself. We have done our best for her, but we have not always done the best for her. We have erred many times. Caring for a young lady is not an easy task.”
Mr. Bennet muttered his agreement.
“She was foolish — naive — caught up in her sensibilities rather than her sense, and we nearly lost her.” He paused a moment and then place the rock he held in his hand on the table next to the chess board. “We are not unlike. We have both nearly lost those we loved due to our own errors.” He stood and tapped the rock. “A story from the Good Book,” he said in reply to the unasked question he could see on Mr. Bennet’s face. “I know I am not worthy to cast the first stone.” He lifted his finger and moved to leave. “The question remains,” he said as he reached the door, “are you?” And with that and a good day, he left.