It is a truth universally accepted, that one cannot choose one's relations. Such was the regret of Fitzwilliam Darcy, that his lovely wife had a sister who had married ill. Lydia Bennet, the youngest sister of Elizabeth Darcy, had, in most unhappy circumstances to all but herself, married George Wickham, a man of most unscrupulous behaviour. Despite his particular grievances towards Mr. Wickham, Mr. Darcy had put aside all his pride and actually helped to bring the match about, though in his heart he did it all for Elizabeth.
His actions had all been resolved satisfactorily. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had married and settled at his estate in Derbyshire, while Mr. and Mrs. Wickham were at Newcastle with Mr. Wickham's regiment. However, life was not all fun and games for them. Both were extravagant in their ways and any thought of economy seemed beyond them. Consequently, they always exceeded their income and Lydia would entreat Elizabeth or her eldest sister Jane for some assistance. The sisters always obliged but continued to express their doubts of things every improving.
The Wickhams' situation was exacerbated by the arrival of a son at an appropriate time after their marriage. Young George was soon followed by a daughter, Frances, then another, Emily, and most recently, William. Elizabeth could hardly imagine by what means this family lived. Fortunately, Mr. Wickham had endeared himself to the colonel of his regiment and that good man also provided them with some assistance. Mr. Darcy, however, did not entirely trust in his brother-in-law's ability to maintain a family. He commissioned his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, to keep his ear to the ground in his military circles, and if he heard anything worrying about George Wickham, he was to inform Mr. Darcy immediately.
Many years passed before the Colonel was able to report anything of interest. He annually visited the Darcys at Pemberley and the master and mistress of the house eagerly looked forward to his visits. Colonel Fitzwilliam was equally popular with his second cousins, William and Edmund. The young boys loved his presence in the house. On the day he was expected this particular year, they sat fixed to the windows from breakfast, trying to catch a glimpse of his carriage. At half past one, the carriage was finally sighted. Their aunt Georgiana, Mr. Darcy's sister, could not control their excitement. "Boys, calm down!" she said, half agitated, half excited herself. William ran out of the room and into his father's study.
"Papa! Papa! Cousin Richard his here!"
"Thank you William. I shall come right away, but do you think you could stop jumping up and down? You've only just eaten."
William obliged and then, with his father's hand on his shoulder, he left the room.
By this stage, Colonel Fitzwilliam had alighted from his carriage and was handing his greatcoat to a footman.
"Darcy! How good to see you! Oh, and William and Edmund! How big you've grown since I last saw you. You're almost all grown up!"
"Heaven forbid!" said Mr. Darcy. "I don't think I'm ready for grown-up sons."
"Of course not. Where's Elizabeth?"
"Mummy's too fat to come downstairs," Edmund replied. Although he was only four, he felt himself equal to any adult conversation.
"Oh, how forgetful of me. Is all well?" the Colonel asked, referring to Elizabeth's confinement.
"Very well, I thank you," her husband replied. "Shall we not all go inside?"
Upstairs, Colonel Fitzwilliam met Elizabeth and Georgiana. "You both look remarkably well," he declared.
"I can see you're as good a flatterer as ever Richard," Mrs. Darcy replied.
"You don't like compliments?"
"No, but in my condition, I will take any that come my way."
They spent the rest of the afternoon talking about what had happened since they last met. The Colonel's regiment had been sent to Bath for the summer, but recently he had been visiting a friend in the north. Over supper, Georgiana asked him about this.
"How was your stay in Newcastle?"
"Very pleasant, my dear. My friend is a great socialiser and there were balls and dinners and soirees like I know not what."
"Yes, I believe Newcastle is not devoid of pleasures," Elizabeth said, thinking of the activities her youngest sister had described to her in her infrequent correspondence.
"I came across your brother-in-law while I was there," Colonel Fitzwilliam continued. "He asked to be remembered to you all."
The nerve! Thought Darcy. After all Wickham had done! He did not get angry though. He caught a look in his cousin's eye that suggested there was more to be told.
Soon Elizabeth excused herself from the table, pleading exhaustion. Georgiana offered to help her to her room, and so the two ladies said goodnight to the gentlemen. They chose to retire to the sitting room with a good bottle of brandy. Mr. Darcy was the first to broach the topic.
"So Richard, what else is there to tell about your trip to Newcastle? I can tell there is something."
"I'm afraid it will not be pleasant to you."
"I should like to know all the same."
"Very well." The Colonel took a sip of his brandy and then calmly said, "Mr. Wickham has been discharged from the Regulars."
Mr. Darcy believed he had misheard his cousin. "Pardon?"
"Mr. Wickham has been discharged from the Regulars for inappropriate conduct," Colonel Fitzwilliam repeated
"Good God, what did he do?" Darcy's voice rose in volume.
"Acted in an unsavoury manner towards the Colonel's wife and got into a brawl with a fellow lieutenant."
"Oh." Darcy was shocked. Even by his estimation, Wickham was no so stupid to ruin his very livelihood. "What is he doing now?"
"Nothing, as far as I can tell. He believes he had been unfairly treated and harbours a great resentment towards the Colonel."
"And Mrs. Wickham?"
"Also thinks her husband has been mistreated."
"But how are they feeding the children?"
"Charity, I suppose. They are good children, but are constantly neglected by their parents."
Mr. Darcy tried to see an easy solution to this problem. "I don't suppose the Colonel will take him in again?"
"No, there is no chance of that, I spoke to Colonel Fortescue And after this incident, and his behaviour in Brighton, which we all remember so well, I shouldn't think there's a regiment in Britain that would have him."
Mr. Darcy sighed and closed his eyes for a second. "I don't suppose you have any advice. I mean, I feel responsible for their welfare, for Elizabeth's sake."
The Colonel thought before answering. "When I said there wasn't a regiment in Britain that would take Wickham, well, that doesn't mean that there is not a regiment in the British Empire who would not take him."
"What are you suggesting?"
"Perhaps life would be more favourable to them in the colonies."
"The colonies? No! Impossible ... Where do you have in mind?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled at his cousin's sudden turn of opinion. "Do you remember my friend Johnson from school?"
"The name sounds familiar."
"Well, he is now in a regiment in New South Wales. Perhaps I could see if he had a place for Wickham."
"Australia? But it isn't it full of convicts? And I'm sure I've read that the land is most inhospitable."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled again as he recalled that there was a time not so long ago when his cousin would have been more than happy to see Mr. Wickham on the other side of the world. "It's not so bad. Many of the convicts are sent to settlements other than Sydney nowadays and Johnson says that the colony is growing more civilised every year."
"Even so, I should like to know what the conditions are like."
"Well then, I will write to Johnson and ask him about the place and what he thinks their prospects would be."
"And in the mean time?"
"In the mean time, though it is not at all your duty, I suggest you send Wickham some money. Let us hope he puts it to good use."
Mr. Darcy promptly followed his cousin's suggestion and received, in time, a very short reply from Mr. Wickham, thanking him for the money. Mr. Wickham acknowledged that his situation was bad, and that he would be grateful of any assistance. Wickham knew that Darcy would act because of his wife's connection to the family. He didn't realise that his former friend was seriously considering setting his family up on the other side of the world. There had been no response from Colonel Johnson as yet. Any decision on Mr. Darcy's behalf was further delayed by the approaching arrival of his third child, as well as the unexpected arrival of his mother and father-in-law. Mrs. Bennet had decided that she must assist her daughter in her time of need. Mr. Bennet was happy to oblige. He greatly enjoyed his visits to Pemberley.
Mr. Darcy was walking the grounds with his steward when the carriage arrived.
"I didn't know you were expecting visitors, sir," the steward said.
"Neither did I."
They hurried back to the house to find Mr. and Mrs. Bennet alighting from their equipage.
"Mr. Bennet, this is a surprise," Mr. Darcy said, trying for the life of him not to appear confused.
Before Mr. Bennet could speak, his wife answered for him.
"Mr. Darcy, you couldn't expect me to leave Lizzy alone now, when she needs me most."
Mr. Darcy thought this was a strange reason for visiting, considering Mrs. Bennet had been absent at the births of William and Edmund.
"You know," the lady continued, "there was a time when I thought Lizzy would never have a child, and that you would send her back to us. After all, Jane had two children before Lizzy even had one, and I..."
"Yes, shall we not go inside, Mrs. Bennet?" Mr. Bennet interrupted. "You don't want to get cold."
It was true that there had been an unusually long length of time between the Darcys marriage and the birth of their first son, and while this had caused some distress to them both, Mr. Darcy had never in his wildest dreams considered 'sending' his wife back to her parents.
He now escorted the visitors inside and left them in the capable hands of Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, who sent their belongings to the appropriate rooms. Mr. Darcy ran upstairs to tell his wife and sister about the arrival.
"Fitzwilliam, did I hear a carriage arrive?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, your parents have arrived."
"What? Now? They certainly know how to pick awkward times."
Elizabeth's parents soon joined them and were able to explain themselves. Mrs. Bennet greeted her daughter affectionately.
"Why Lizzy, you are bigger than I would have expected."
"Mamma, how pleasant to see you, although your visit has taken us quite by surprise," Elizabeth replied cautiously.
"Surprise? Do you think I would forget about you at a time like this?"
"But you weren't here when William and Edmund were born."
"I assure you my dear, if it had been in my power, I would have been, but your father overruled, as he always does." She looked at her husband, expecting an explanation. He decided to change the course of the discussion.
"You look well Lizzy," he said.
"Thank you Papa. Tell me, how was your trip?"
"Quite pleasant, I thank you. We visited Jane and Mr. Bingley before coming here."
"They are well, I hope?" Mr. Darcy asked.
"Yes, very well, are they not Mrs. Bennet?"
"Aye, although they are grieved to hear of this terrible news of our dear Wickham's."
"News?" Elizabeth asked. She tried to catch her husband's eye but he would not meet her gaze. She realised this meant he was concealing some fact from her, so she did not press her parents for information. At any rate, they were then distracted, as the nursery maid had brought in their grandchildren, and so their attention was diverted.
Mr. Darcy was surprised that his parents-in-law and the Bingleys knew of Wickham's misfortune, but he quickly supposed that they had been applied to for money.
Elizabeth waited until the rest of the party had retired for the night to question her husband.
"So, what is this news of which I have been kept unawares?"
Mr. Darcy felt he needed to explain his course of action. "I did not think it was wise to tell you, in your condition."
"I'm sure you had noble intentions, Fitzwilliam, but you will have to tell me now."
Mr. Darcy conceded the point, and in as gentle manner as possible, revealed the unhappy truth. Elizabeth's surprise and concern may be imagined. "Does this mean he is without employment?" she asked.
"Yes. When Richard first told me the news - he met Wickham while he was in Newcastle - I sent Wickham some money, and I assume that Bingley and your father have done the same."
"Does he have any idea how he shall support his family?"
"None that he has expressed to me." Mr. Darcy paused for a moment. "Elizabeth, Richard has suggested to me a way they we could set Mr. Wickham up in life again."
"I don't know, dear. You have already done so much for him."
"I would gladly do more if I thought I could help your sister."
"For my sake, of course," Elizabeth teased. "What is Richard's idea?"
"To find Mr. Wickham a commission in the New South Wales Corp."
"New South Wales? Australia? No, you cannot send them there! Although Lydia is not my favourite sister, I would not wish a colonial life on her."
"It is only an idea. Richard is attempting to receive more information on the place. Until then, it is just an idea."
"I am glad to hear it."
The couple talked further about the unexpected arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet until Mrs. Darcy ended the conversation by making a request of her husband.
"Fitzwilliam, would you do my a favour?"
"Would you send one of the servants to get the midwife?"
"I ... oh." Mr. Darcy was surprised by his wife's casual attitude but he nonetheless went into action with a feeling of excited nervousness growing in the pit of his stomach.
As it turned out, Mrs. Bennet was of little assistance to her daughter in her time of need. She became so nervous that she fainted and Georgiana had to revive her with smelling salts. After that the midwife ordered her out of the room. Had she not been otherwise engaged, Elizabeth would have enjoyed the irony of the situation.
Early the following morning, Mrs. Bennet was woken by the maid who attended her with good news. A baby girl had been born only a few hours earlier. Mrs. Bennet was in raptures and was quite happy to claim the congratulations of the maid. "Thank you Sarah. I dare say, it would not have been so quick, had I not been there."
After dressing she made her way to Elizabeth's room, which was full of commotion. The midwife was still present and two servants were rearranging the room to make it as comfortable as possible for the mother and child. Mrs. Darcy lay in bed, cradling her infant, with her sister-in-law seated beside her, admiring her new niece.
"Mamma, come in," Elizabeth called when she perceived her mother at the doorway. Mrs. Bennet approached her daughter and with tears in her eyes said, "Oh, my dear, I am so happy for you. You have two very fine sons, but a daughter will be a greater comfort to you."
"Thank you mother. Come, is she not pretty? I declare, she looks very much like Georgiana."
Georgiana blushed and turned down her eyes.
"Yes Lizzy, I can see some resemblance, but I do think her eyes remind me of Jane," Mrs. Bennet added.
There was a knock at the door and Mr. Darcy appeared with two sheepish-looking sons under his wing.
"I found these two downstairs. I think they might like to meet their sister."
Mrs. Bennet moved aside and then left the room to find her husband. The boys perched on the bed next to their mother and stood in awe of how small and pink their sister was.
"Now boys, you are going to have to take a prodigious deal of care of your sister," said their mother. "But you may model yourselves on your father, who is at all times an ideal elder brother."
Georgiana again blushed profusely. After a few minutes she escorted her nephews downstairs for breakfast, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Darcy alone with their daughter. They were silent for some time until Mr. Darcy realised that his wife had fallen asleep. With a smile he left her and started to write the important communications that needed to be sent.
Pemberley, March 17
You owe us more congratulations, as Elizabeth and I are now the proud parents of a daughter. She arrived safely this morning. We are to call her Anne, which should please the sensibilities of some of the family.
On a less pleasant note, have you received a reply from Johnson? I have recently discovered that Wickham's circumstances are well known by the rest of the Bennet family, and I think it would be best if we were to act expediently.
Mr. Darcy received a reply to this letter from Colonel Fitzwilliam within a week, to say that he had only just received Johnson's reply and enclosed it for Darcy's perusal. He said that he thought Johnson's recommendation of Sydney was very suitable to a man in George Wickham's situation. He further added, "Please give young Anne a smile for me and promise her that I shall spoil her rotten when we meet with many delightful gifts."
As Elizabeth had almost fully recovered her strength and the Bennets had once more returned to Longbourn, Mr. Darcy decided to discuss the matter with her. She was still opposed to the idea in principle, but Colonel Johnson's letter did allay some of her fears regarding the society of the free settlers of Sydney Town. She was even more convinced of the possible merits of such a scheme by a letter from her distressed sister.
Congratulations on the birth of your latest child. I hope she is as good as your boys. I must say, my children can behave most atrociously at times, but I cannot think how to get them to act better. Perhaps if we had more money I could hire a governess. Dear Wickham is in a very black mood at the moment, probably because he has nothing to do. I declare, I am quite sick of Newcastle and all the people in it. The Colonel has used us most abominably. If Mr. Darcy has any idea on how we may get out of this mess, I am sure we would be most happy to hear it.
Perhaps a change of scene would be best for her sister. In a smaller society, where none of her or her husband's previous indiscretions could be known, Mrs. Wickham would no doubt rise in importance. It would also be easier for the family to live well, despite their pecuniary circumstances.
"What do you now think on the matter?" Elizabeth's husband asked her.
"I should like to consult with Jane and my father. We are Lydia's family after all."
"Of course, but what is your opinion?" Mr. Darcy pressed.
Elizabeth smiled. "I am beginning to come around to your own," she admitted.
"In such a society I hope that they may enjoy the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed at a much smaller expense."
"And Lydia would enjoy being of greater consequence there than she can be as a poor soldier's wife in Newcastle."
"And no doubt the air would be most beneficial for the children's health, certainly more so than in Newcastle."
"Indeed." Elizabeth admired her husband's arguments, though she suspected he did not need to be persuaded by them too strongly to reach this decision.
Jane Bingley and Mr. Bennet were soon applied to for their opinions and their responses arrived speedily. Mr. Bennet thought the scheme had promise but he deferred the final decision to Mr. Darcy. Although he did not say it, Mr. Bennet had great admiration for that man's discernment. Jane Bennet, though somewhat horrified by wild images of Terra Australis, owned that she did think a change of scene would be beneficial for Mr. Wickham and her sister.
The decision was made then. Mr. Darcy went to London to meet with Colonel Fitzwilliam and discuss the matter with his attorney. The proposal was made to Mr. Wickham and was readily accepted. Colonel Johnson was applied to for a commission. All that remained to be done was the arranging of their passage. To New South Wales, therefore, they were to go.
It was decided that before they quit Britain, the Wickhams should spend a few days at Longbourn, so that they may say their farewells to Mrs. Wickham's family. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were to go thither also and then escort the travellers to their ship in Southampton. Their children would stay at Pemberley with their aunt.
On arrival at Longbourn the Darcys found the house in as much uproar as ever. Mrs. Bennet was overwhelmed by the number of guests she had received. "I'm afraid, Lizzy," she whispered rather loudly, "that you and Mr. Darcy will have to share a room." Elizabeth quietly assured her that this posed no problem.
It did not take her long to find her sister, who was in the breakfast room with her children.
"There you are Lizzy. Goodness, you do look old. You must be all of eight and twenty now."
"Yes, thank you Lydia."
At this point the two eldest Wickham children began quarrelling over a toy. "George! Fanny! Don't fight so!" their mother exclaimed, to little avail. "They are determined to be bothersome," she told her sister.
Mr. Wickham then entered the room. He greeted his sister-in-law more kindly than his wife had done and appeared in good spirits. However, Elizabeth was distressed to find that he too had a short temper with his children. She felt that all they needed was a little discipline and they would be as good as any children. She was pleased to notice that their second daughter, Emily, was a sweet girl, who seemed unaware of the drama that unfolded around her. When her sister tried to anger her by pulling her hair she merely walked away and found something else to amuse her.
Dinner became a momentous event. The Bennets, Wickhams and Darcys were joined by Sir William and Lady Lucas. Mr. Darcy found himself seated between Mr. Wickham and Sir William. To the former he had too many ill feelings to be civil and the latter he found too ridiculous to entertain. In their eight years of marriage, Elizabeth had taught him much about forbearance, but this was a situation in which his former silence ruled. Indeed, Elizabeth noted somewhat ruefully that her husband always became less communicative when they ventured into Hertfordshire.
If Mr. Darcy was uncharacteristically silent then Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Wickham covered his share in the conversation. Throughout the meal they did not cease talking, one of the friends she was leaving behind in Newcastle, of her children's recent illnesses, and how she hoped she would not get seasick; the other about her grandchildren, her delight in her new cook, and her despair in losing her favourite child to the antipodes.
"Oh my dear Lydia. Must you go so far away? I am sure I shall not know what to do with myself if I am never to see you all again."
"Lord, I think we must go. Wickham says we must, and I shan't argue with him. He says there are a great many opportunities in New South Wales and when I married my dear Wickham, I always hoped we would have a great adventure together."
Elizabeth, on hearing this, could not help but roll her eyes towards her father, who smiled in return.
"Well, we will all be sad to see you go," Mrs. Bennet continued. "Perhaps some of us who have not treated you so well in the past will even regret your loss." She glared at Mr. Darcy with this remark. Elizabeth decided to divert the conversation away from a topic that would be odious to all present, and asked Lady Lucas about her daughter, Mrs. Collins.
"She is very well, thank you, Mrs. Darcy. I believe you saw her last spring," Lady Lucas replied.
"Yes, we were visiting Lady Catherine at Rosings."
"I understand from Charlotte that Lady Catherine has improved in manner since Miss de Bourgh married."
"Yes, Mr. Green is a very respectable son-in-law and I believe Lady Catherine much approves of him."
"I thought at first that was not the case."
"No, I believe her ladyship was a little distressed by his common rank to begin with, but is a very caring husband and pays an appropriate deal of deference to his mother-in-law. And now there is a young heir to Rosings, so Lady Catherine has nothing to worry about."
"Aside from the daily interests of her neighbours and tenants," Lady Lucas added.
Mrs. Darcy could not help but see where Charlotte Collins got her sense from.
The evening soon finished and Elizabeth heartily looked forward to the next day when Charles and Jane Bingley were to arrive. Elizabeth had not seen her sister since before Anne had been born, and she also rejoiced that Mr. Darcy would find himself in the company of some of her relations with whom he was on the friendliest terms.
The Bingleys arrived punctually and immediately cast a cloud of serenity on the party at Longbourn. Their amiable nature was most welcome, as Lydia had been in a foul mood since her husband had criticised her at the breakfast table. Jane soon soothed her youngest sister and Mrs. Wickham returned to the parlour as excited as ever.
"Ooh, Jane, have you brought us any presents?" she asked.
Jane confirmed that she had brought a bonnet and a muslin gown for her sister. Lydia then complained that Lizzy had brought her nothing - "though she was five times as rich as the rest of them." Elizabeth, embarrassed, reminded her sister that she had brought her some clothes for her children.
"That is hardly exciting," Lydia pronounced, and then moved on to another topic. "What fun it shall be travelling the high seas."
"Are you children prepared for such a long journey?" Jane asked.
"Lord, I should think so. It shall be a game for them, I think. Although I do wish George and Fanny would not fight so much."
"What do you do to stop them?"
"I tell them to stop, but they never listen. Nobody ever listens to me."
Jane just smiled but she refused to indulge Lydia. Later that evening when she miraculously had some time alone with her dearest sister, she expressed her concern.
"Oh Lizzy, do you really think Lydia and Wickham will be better off in Australia?"
"Yes. At least there he will have employment. Colonel Fitzwilliam said there would not be a regiment in the country that would accept him after what happened in Newcastle."
"True, although I do think there may have been some misunderstanding there. I do not think Wickham is so wholly bad."
Lizzy was glad to see Jane still held her eternal optimism. "Well, I dare say we will never know the whole truth, but I am more concerned about Lydia's behaviour towards her children."
"Yes, they do seem to be quite badly behaved, though I cannot suppose them to be bad by nature."
"I agree. Lydia has little inclination to discipline them. George and Fanny appear to have no regard for her at all. Little Emily is almost an angel in comparison, and as for William, well, he is too young to cause too much mischief."
At this point the two sisters began talking about their own dear children and the rest of the family, and would have spent the rest of the night in conversation had it not been for an interruption from Mr. Darcy. He hated to stop them from enjoying each other's company, but did they know that their mother was searching for them? They left their privacy behind and followed him into the parlour.
"Oh, Lizzy, Jane, there you are. It is so good to have my girls here, even if Mary and Kitty could not be. I don't know why they could not make the journey."
"Mama, you know it is a long distance for them to travel for such a short time," Jane explained.
"Oh, but distance is nothing, for Lizzy and Mr. Darcy came all the way from Derbyshire to see our dear son and daughter off."
"Aye," said Lydia, "and they shall accompany us to Southampton afterwards. But it does not matter about Mary and Kitty. I received letters from them both, although Mary's was so long and boring, I did not read even half of it."
Elizabeth saw her husband seethe a little beside her at Lydia's display of idleness. Did her sister always have to be exposing herself?
There was one more day to pass before the Wickhams and Darcys would travel to Southampton. Mr. Darcy was already beginning to dread the journey. At Longbourn he could avoid Mr. Wickham tolerably but in Southampton they would spend at least a day in each other's company. His only comfort was that from then on, he would never see George Wickham again.
The final day passed rather harmoniously. Lydia was so excited about the journey that was to come that nothing could vex her. Mrs. Bennet was so agitated that her youngest and dearest daughter would be forever so far away that the fact that she had four very well married and attentive daughters remaining in England was of little consolation.
"Oh, what shall I do without you, my dear? It is so unfair at my time of life to have my daughters so far away from me. Why, Lizzy and Jane are in the north and even Mary and Kitty do not visit so often as I would like. And now Lydia must leave me as well. I do not see that it is necessary for them to move so very far away. Why, Mr. Bennet, if only you had done some something about that dreadful entail, then Longbourn could be the Wickhams' instead of those artful Collinses'."
However, Mr. Bennet was the only one who heard her, and he had known her long enough to know when to ignore her flights of fancy.
The chief part of the day was spent in checking the travellers' bags. Jane soon discovered that Lydia had packed more hats than children's clothes but this was immediately rectified by Elizabeth's present of clothes for her nephews and nieces.
A final dinner was eaten together. Everyone wished the Wickhams well, and Mr. Darcy was not the least among them. He still had misgivings about his brother-in-law's ability to reform, but he told himself there was nothing more he could do to improve the situation.
The two families rose before the rest of the household the next morning to set off for Southampton. The Wickhams were to travel in Mr. Bennet's carriage while Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would travel in his barouche. On the occasion, however, it was decided that two of the Wickham children should travel with the Darcys to save room in the other carriage. Elizabeth chose George and Emily, so as the split up the quarrelling eldest pair. Once settled, they were on their way.
At first the two young Wickhams were silent in awe of their aunt and uncle. Mr. Darcy in particular seemed very scary indeed as he gave orders to the coachmen before their departure. Their aunt, however, made them feel comfortable by asking them about the voyage they were about to undertake.
"Shall you like travelling by ship?" she asked.
"Oh yes. I should very much like to be a sailor and fight in wars and such things," George declared.
Elizabeth noticed that Emily paled a little at the mention of wars and so said, "Well, one day you might do that George, but you won't be involved in any battles in this journey."
"Although you will have to watch out for pirates," Mr. Darcy added.
"Pirates?" said Emily, her interest awakened.
"Yes, surely you know about pirates," Mr. Darcy continued.
"Like Bluebeard," said George excitedly. He turned to his sister and said, "Bluebeard would do mean things like cut all your hair off and steal your jewels."
"I wouldn't care," Emily replied bravely. "I haven't got any jewels anyway."
"Ah yes, but a pirate might kidnap you George, and take you to a deserted island," Mr. Darcy said.
"Would there be treasure on the island?" George asked.
"Of course, and you would find the treasure and then escape and share it with your family."
"I wouldn't share it with Fanny," George scowled.
"Would you share it with me?" Emily asked.
"Maybe. I would give you the jewels. A man doesn't need jewels."
Emily trusted her brother's offer and quite expected to be covered in jewels by the time they reached Sydney, wherever that may be. She her four-year-old mind was not used to imaginary stories, especially as her own parents did not delight their children with such things. Besides, her uncle was so serious that even George began to believe him.
The rest of the journey was spent in describing pirate ships, thinking up games to play on the way to Sydney and discussing the unusual animals that they would find in their new homeland, such as the kangaroo, the crocodile and the duck-billed platypus.
They arrived at Southampton in time to secure lodgings and George and Emily returned to their parents' care. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham decided to explore the town and so the Darcys were left to supper alone. This was welcome to them both.
The next morning Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham had business to finalise before the family's departure the following day. Elizabeth spent the morning with her sister and her children. In the afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy went for a short journey around Southampton. Mrs. Darcy observed that her husband looked tired.
"Yes, I believe I am," he replied, "but we will be home soon enough."
"I hope Wickham did not cause you too much distress this morning."
"Not at all. He was all politeness. Let us hope he maintains these good manners amongst their new acquaintance."
"I think you said once that Mr. Wickham was blessed with the manners that made it easy for him to make friends, but whether or not he was capable of retaining those friends was less certain."
"I do not think that anything I said during that period was made in the right spirit."
"You were correct in your judgment."
"But not in my motivation. I believe I was jealous of George Wickham."
"As well as having several very good reasons to think ill of him. But we shall forget about that. As a listener I did not have the purest of intentions either. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Jane's book and believe the best of our brother-in-law."
Later that night, however, Mr. Darcy had reason to doubt the sincerity of Mr. Wickham's expression. There was a knock at the door of their lodgings. The servant appeared saying there was a man to see Mr. Darcy. The visitor was shown in and introduced himself as a Mr. Murtle. It transpired that Mr. Murtle had been a patron at a gaming house that Mr. Wickham had been present at that night. After Mr. Wickham had lost several hands it was discovered that he had no money and several of the other patrons had become angry and forcibly detained him. Mr. Murtle had been sent to find Mr. Darcy, who Mr. Wickham promised would discharge his debts.
Mr. Darcy left immediately and did not return for some time. Mrs. Darcy began to feel again all the perverseness of youngest sister's marriage. If only she could protect her husband from Mr. Wickham's ungratefulness. But Mr. Darcy had connected himself to the Bennet family with his eyes open, and though he at times found the connection odious, he braved it all for the pleasure of being at home at Pemberley with Elizabeth and the children.
After several hours he returned, looking wearier than he had even that afternoon. Elizabeth looked at him expectantly. "Let us just say, I shall be happy when they are gone," he said. His wife dared not press him for further information. She knew he would be more forthcoming when they were away from this place.
Early in the morning, the emigrants arrived at the dockside with their benefactors. Their luggage was carried aboard. Lydia and the children were full of excitement. "What fun we shall have!" she declared. Mr. Wickham was less animated than usual. Perhaps he was still suffering the effects of the previous night's events.
The time soon came for them to board. "Well, goodbye Lizzy. I shan't promise to write as you know I'm a terrible correspondent, but I should like to hear from you all the same. Send my love to mama and papa and everyone."
"Goodbye Lydia. Pray, take care of yourself. Bon voyage."
Mr. Wickham's farewell to Mr. Darcy was less affectionate.
"Well Darcy, we must be leaving. We are most exceedingly indebted to you. I wish ... had circumstances been different..."
"No, I don't believe circumstances would have changed my opinion of you."
Mr. Wickham smiled. "Well, I got what I deserved from the Darcy estate in the end." He tried to walk away but Mr. Darcy held his arm.
"If I ever hear that you have not done the right thing by your wife and children, I will personally see you ruined."
Wickham laughed. "I don't owe you anything, Darcy."
"Just remember that the next time you face the debtors' prison."
Mr. Darcy released Wickham from his grip and he followed his wife onto the ship. Mr. Darcy returned his own wife.
"Well," she said philosophically, "I may never see my youngest sister again."
Mr. Darcy said nothing. He was still fuming from his parting words with Wickham.
"May God bless them," Elizabeth said as she waved to the family on the deck.
"Indeed," muttered Mr. Darcy. "I believe they will need it."
As it turned out, Mr. Darcy did not have reason to regret his assistance to Mr. Wickham. In Sydney the family prospered. Mr. Wickham, although unchanged in essentials, had the good fortune of serving with officers who respected his gentlemanlike appearance. Mrs. Wickham was treated with equal respect, if only because she came from a landed family. She could afford to employ two maids and her children were able to receive tuition when they desired it. To the four English-born Wickhams were added three Australian-born siblings, Richard, Catherine and Henry. Each of the seven was as different from one another as possible. Their mother, however, found it hard to keep track of them at the best of times, and so the household was often in confusion.
They all still lived with their parents, although George worked at the dockyards and William had a junior clerk's position with the Bank of New South Wales. Mrs. Wickham felt that her eldest daughters were a burden on the family and could not see why they did not get married to some man or another. At the same time, she was very proud of them, especially her Fanny, whom she often declared was the handsomest girl in the colony. Emily she thought pretty enough, but thought she spent too much time reading books. However, it was Emily who kept the family on the level whenever her mother was indisposed or in a bad mood, which was not uncommon.
So it was one spring day. Mr. Wickham, now retired from active service, was sitting at the dining table while Emily helped Henry with his sums. She was interrupted by a knock at the door. As there was no one else there to do it, she answered it herself.
"May we speak to Mr. George Wickham?" said the smaller of two very large men.
"Yes, come in. Papa!"
The visitors entered and stood next to her father. From his expression, Emily could tell he desired her absence.
"Come along Henry," she quietly spoke to her brother. "We'll finish this upstairs." They trod up the winding staircase, but Emily kept one ear on the conversation downstairs. From the fragments that she heard, she discovered that her father owed these men money. This was not the first time she had seen visitors with such a purpose in their house. This time, however, the demands of repayment were more threatening than usual.
"Listen to me, Wickham...Mr. Wentworth ain't too happy...Friday at the latest..."
At last Emily heard the front door close and quiet downstairs.
"Henry, why don't we finish this later? Why don't you go and play outside?"
Henry readily agreed. He grabbed his cloth cap and ran downstairs and out of doors. By the time Emily followed him down, her father had put on his coat and was preparing to go out.
"Ah, Emily, I'm just going out for a little while. I don't know when your mother will be back." Although he did not mention his visitors, he knew Emily must have had some idea of their reason for calling. There were things that he could hide from his wife that he could not conceal from his more perceptive children.
"I believe she and Fanny were visiting the draper's."
"I see. Well, keep an eye on things here while I'm gone, there's a good girl."
While the house was empty, Emily took the rare opportunity to read a novel she had purchased with her pocket allowance. Her mother had thought she would have been better to buy a new bonnet, but Emily got more pleasure from a moment's reading than the admiration of the local currency lads. She had been fully immersed in her story for almost half an hour when there was another knock at the door.
"Not again," Emily said to herself. "I wish my father wasn't always getting into scrapes."
She opened the door abruptly. A young man stood on the doorstep. He was much better dressed than the previous visitors. The first thing Emily noticed was that he wore the finest top hat she had ever seen. It was so unblemished, it must be brand new.
"Oh, hello there," the stranger said. His accent reminded her of her friend Victoria Shaw's father, a clergyman from Somerset. Whoever he was, he could not have been in Australia long. "Is this the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Wickham?"
"Yes," Emily replied curtly. She was not impressed by his fine manners. She could only imagine that her father had run into trouble with someone very rich and influential.
The young man continued nonetheless. "And may I speak to them?"
"They're not here," Emily snapped.
"I see. Well, shall I call back later then?"
"I guess you'll have to."
"Very well. Good-day to you madam."
He tipped his hat and was gone. Emily sighed with exasperation. She was sick of being her father's intermediary. She decided she did not want to be at home when this man returned to confront Mr. Wickham. She grabbed her bonnet and popped her head into the kitchen.
"Betsey I'm going to visit Miss Shaw for a while," she told the maid.
"Very well, Miss Emily."
She took her first step outside for the day. Ah! Freedom!
She did not return until the family's supper hour. Once she and Victoria began talking there was little that could stop them. Mrs. Shaw was an eminently sensible woman as well, and was a welcome addition to their conversation. The Shaws, like the Wickhams, had immigrated to Sydney around twenty years earlier. Mr. and Mrs. Shaw were from landed families but Mr. Shaw had chosen the Church as his profession and expressed his intention of pasturing the lost sheep of Sydney town. Victoria and Emily had met as children at Sunday School and remained firm friends ever since. Victoria was aware that her friend was agitated when she arrived, but did not probe her feelings. Instead she skirted around the topic by discussing books, fashions and an upcoming assembly. Finally, however, she could leave it no longer.
"My dear, I must ask, is there something the matter? You seem a little out of spirits today."
Emily smiled. "You are indeed a most perceptive friend. I should never be able to hide anything from you."
"I do not wish to impose on your privacy. I am concerned, that is all."
"I understand. I am just a little troubled by a visitor we had before I came out this afternoon."
"What sort of visitor?"
"One of my father's creditors I fear."
"Emily, it is nothing to be ashamed of if your father has a few debts here and there," Mrs. Shaw said.
"Oh, I am not ashamed. I am worried that this particular creditor may be a little more powerful than the regular collectors." She related the event to the ladies.
"I am not convinced that this man is seeking money from your father," said Mrs. Shaw. "After all, he asked to speak to Mr. and Mrs. Wickham, so he must have some business with your mother as well."
"Perhaps he is a suitor of Fanny's," Victoria suggested.
"Oh no, if Fanny had a suitor as illustrious as this young man I'm sure we would have heard about it!"
The ladies laughed and Emily began to feel a little better, although she was none the wiser.
As she walked home she hoped the house she would return to would be somewhat calm. Even more, she hoped that her father had sorted out his problems. She didn't want any more visits from strangers.
She let herself in through the front door. The level of noise that greeted her indicated that everyone was home. Henry and Catherine ran past. "Oh there you are Emmy," Catherine said. "We've got a visitor."
Emily's eyes widened. Surely not! She walked into the dining room to see her father and mother talking to the young man whom she had spoken to that afternoon, minus the top hat.
"Ah Emily, you're back at last. We'd quite despaired of you," Mrs. Wickham said. "There's someone you should meet."
"We've met already," Emily replied with a pointed gaze at the visitor.
"I'm sorry," he said, with a confused look on his face. "Are you Miss Emily Wickham?"
"Then I apologise for behaviour this afternoon. I thought you were the maid."
The whole family laughed at this, but Emily did not find the man's comment humorous.
"And who might you be, sir?" she asked.
He smiled in spite of her scowl. "Yes, we were not properly introduced. My name is Edmund Darcy."
Emily's mind was blank. She looked to her mother. Was she supposed to know this man?
"Oh, you're so slow sometime Emily," Fanny snapped as she entered the room with a tray of drinks. "He's our cousin."
"Cousin? But all our cousins live in England, don't they?"
"Indeed they do," Edmund said.
"So why are you here in Sydney?"
"Well, I've come to visit my relations, but unfortunately not all of them are giving me a particularly warm welcome," he replied with a smirk.
"I ...excuse me please." Emily hurried upstairs to freshen up, but also hide the heat of embarrassment that she was sure was reddening her face. Her mother and sister followed her.
"Emily, I insist you come downstairs and be civil to your cousin."
"Yes, but no more than civil," Fanny added. "Oh mama, he is so very handsome. I declare, I think Captain Wiltshire is nothing compared to Edmund Darcy."
"Oh yes my dear, and he is far richer. Old Mr. Darcy is as rich as a lord, to be sure."
Suddenly Emily had some recollection of her aunt and uncle Darcy. They had accompanied them to Southampton before they left for Australia. In fact, it was because of Mr. Darcy that she and George had spent the entire voyage keeping watch for pirates. She hurried back downstairs.
"Mr. Darcy, I'm sorry I ...well, it's nice to meet one of my cousins at last."
"Please, call me Edmund. We are cousins after all. And I believe the apologies should be all on my side. Thinking you were the maid - it was a terrible mistake."
"Papa, should I get any refreshments?"
"No, thank you Emily. I think we are fine as we are."
Emily cautiously sat down. "Mr. Darcy...Edmund, may I ask what has brought you so far?"
"Well, I completed my terms at university last year and since then I've been rather at a loss as to what to do so my father suggested I take a rip and visit our cousins in the antipodes."
As he spoke, Emily began to realise why Fanny thought him more handsome than Captain Wiltshire. There was something very different about Edmund Darcy, but maybe it was just that his clothes and air were far superior to the men of Sydney.
"Which university did you attend?" she asked.
"I should like to go to university," Emily said.
"University!" cried her mother, who had returned to the room. "What would you need all that learning for?"
Emily felt suitably chastised but Edmund rescued her pride by saying, "I'm sure you would do better than some of the dolts I met there. What would you choose to study?"
"Oh, literature I think. I love reading."
"Yes, a good choice. That is what I read, but my brother William chose sciences." His tone of voice indicated that he did not rate sciences highly.
Fanny, who had been listening to the conversation without having anything to add, was amazed to discover that there was another young Darcy who may be even more handsome than the one before her. "What does your brother do, Edmund?" she asked.
Edmund seemed taken by surprise. "Do? Well, he's the heir to Pemberley, my family's estate. He doesn't have to do anything. No, I'm the second son, so I'm the one who has to find employment."
"And what area shall you pursue?" Mr. Wickham asked. "The army is always respectable."
"True, but I think I might try my hand at politics."
Fanny again turned the conversation so as to avoid boredom. "What of your sister? Is she a handsome girl?"
"Anne? Yes, I believe she is rather handsome. My father has a hard time keeping all the suitors at bay. She is a great musician. Are any of your family musical?"
Emily took a sad look at the family's neglected pianoforte and sighed. "Not at all."
"Too much practice," Fanny added.
"Yes, of course," said their cousin. "No doubt you've followed more worthwhile pursuits."
At this point Henry and Catherine ran into the room, which reminded their mother that it was time they went to bed. Edmund took this as an opportunity to say his adieus. His aunt immediately asked him to dine with them the next evening, but Fanny reminded her that they had planned to attend the assembly that evening. Mr. Darcy asked if he would be welcome at the assembly as well, to which Mrs. Wickham replied, "Of course, it is a public assembly and I'm sure our society would be very impressed to receive the son of Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire." Edmund doubted his family was quite so infamous but he asked for the particulars of the assembly and told his cousins he looked forward to dancing with them. With that, he said goodbye, and Emily knew she would not have any peace until they met again, as her mother and sister planned to impress their visitor.
It was only after she had retired for the night that Emily began to think that it might be pleasant to dance with Edmund herself. This was not a conscious decision, but one she had made without even realising it. Having come to such a conclusion she quickly told herself that she had no interest in Edmund Darcy romantically whatsoever. After all, she had always thought the idea of first cousins marrying was somewhat barbaric. No, she assured herself, her interest in Edmund Darcy was merely because he was the most gentlemanlike man she had ever met. And besides, Fanny would probably keep his attention all night. Although he did say to his aunt that he looked forward to dancing with his cousins, meaning both Fanny and Emily, so perhaps there was a chance...
There was a knock at the door. "Emily, which gown do you think best?" Fanny asked, entering before a reply. She held her two best gowns in front of her. "The blue? I think the blue but Mama says the spotted muslin."
"No, Fanny, definitely the blue. It suits your eyes best."
"Ha! I knew you would agree with me! Mama! Emily says the blue."
"The blue!?" came Mrs. Wickham's voice from the corridor, "No, no, Fanny. Surely you must see that the spotted muslin is far superior to the blue. You girls have no sense for fashion as I do."
"But Mama, you are the one who insisted that I buy this blue dress, and yet you never let me wear it."
"Well, anything would have been an improvement on that horrible green thing you used to wear."
"Mama! You know that dress was a present from Harriet McIntosh!" Fanny cried. Harriet had been her childhood friend until she had died of the pox. With this Fanny left the room and Emily shut her door to the room she shared with Catherine, hoping to block out the arguments from the rest of the house. For not the first time in her life, she fell asleep dreaming of a different life in a paradise far, far away.
The Wickhams arrived at the ballroom at seven o'clock. They were only a small party: Mr. and Mrs. Wickham, Fanny and Emily. George and William were not fond of dancing and the other children were too young for such society. On arrival, Mr. Wickham joined a group of gentlemen, where he could talk about sport and politics and avoid the ladies' conversation about dresses and bachelors. Mrs. Wickham led her daughters to an empty table to give them advice.
"Now girls, be in your best humour tonight, especially as there will one very eligible young man here tonight. You know that many wives meet their husbands on the dance floor. That's how I won your father."
And hasn't that been a successful match, Emily mused.
While they were waiting for proceedings to begin, they were approached by Mary Adams and her two daughters. Mrs. Adams was the wife of an influential grazier from the Southern Highlands and her daughters, Susannah and Agnes, were two of the most eligible girls in the colony.
"Why Mrs. Wickham, I hear you have a visitor?"
"Yes, my nephew, Edmund Darcy. He is my sister Elizabeth's son," Mrs. Wickham replied proudly.
"How old is your nephew?"
"I..." Mrs. Wickham's memory failed her.
"I believe he is twenty-two, ma'am," Emily answered for her.
"I see. And does he have much property?"
"He is the second son, Mrs. Adams." That Mrs. Wickham knew.
"He plans to go into politics," Fanny added.
"Politics!" said Mrs. Adams in disgust. This obviously did not fit her ideal for a desirable son-in-law. "Well...well, I never." She moved off to find a table, followed by her daughters.
"Hmph!" said Mrs. Wickham as soon as they had gone. "I suppose she thinks Edmund would be interested in her daughters. What man could be? Susannah's nose is far too long, and as for Agnes, have you ever seen so may freckles?"
Emily laughed at her mother's rant. She thought she had done the Miss Adameses an injustice but did not seek to correct her.
At half past seven the dancing began but there was still no sign of Edmund. The hitherto handsome Captain Wiltshire asked Fanny to dance but she refused, no doubt having decided to keep herself for a more worthy gentleman. He then applied to Emily, who accepted. Captain Wiltshire, who was about five and twenty years old, had long been a favourite of Fanny's and spent most of the set quizzing her sister about her.
"Is Miss Wickham unwell?"
"I don't believe so."
"Does she mean not to dance then?"
"Then why did she refuse me?"
"Perhaps she is just waiting for a later dance."
The Captain was not satisfied but could think of no more questions to pose, so remained silent. At the end of the set, Emily returned to her table. Mr. Darcy was still nowhere to be seen and so Fanny, in desperation, accepted Captain Wiltshire's offer out of spite. Mrs. Wickham was engaged in conversation, so Emily found herself alone, viewing the ballroom. From across the floor she noticed her cousin's top hat. He caught sight of her and directly came to her table.
"Ah, there you are," he said. "My apologies for being late. I some business to attend to. Have I missed much?"
"Only the first dance. Fanny is dancing in this set and my mother is there, as you see."
"Yes, of course." Edmund looked back towards the entrance and waved to someone. Emily was most perplexed, until another young man approached them.
"Excellent, you made it," Edmund said. Emily remained confused. "Oh, of course, introductions. Miss Emily Wickham, this is Mr. Lewis Green of Rosings Park."
Mr. Green bowed politely.
"Rosings Park?" Emily asked.
"It's Green's estate in Kent," Edmund explained.
"I see, and how do you know each other?"
"Well, we are..." her cousin paused to remember.
"Second cousins once removed, I believe," Mr. Green finished for him.
"Oh yes, my father and your mother were cousins. Honestly, I don't know how anyone keeps track of family history."
Mr. Green blushed a little, suggesting to Emily that he was the sort of person who "kept track of family history."
"Did you meet by chance here in Sydney?"
"Oh no, we travelled together. Green is interested in investing in some property out here, so we were able to keep each other company on the long voyage."
At this point Fanny returned to the group and the appropriate introductions were made. Mr. Darcy then, true to his word, asked his cousin to dance, and so Emily found herself alone with Mr. Green. She found that the burden of making conversation fell entirely to herself, as Mr. Green offered little. In vain she tried to engage him in discussion, until she came upon a topic that was obviously close to his heart.
"Tell me again how you are related to Mr. Darcy?"
"My grandmother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Edmund's grandmother, Anne Darcy, were sisters."
"I see. So Mr. Darcy, my uncle, and your mother are cousins."
"Were cousins. My mother is no longer of this world."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Pray, do not concern yourself. She was sickly all her life. It was only by the grace of God that she lived as long as she did. I believe my father had a lot to do with prolonging her life. My mother was originally intended to marry Mr. Darcy, you see."
"But he married my aunt Elizabeth instead?"
"Exactly. Anyway, my father was an attorney who was assisting Lady Catherine and he fell in love with my mother. They told my grandmother that if she did not let them marry, they would elope. Of course, she gave them her blessing. Even though my father was of low rank, she would rather have her daughter marry him officially than suffer the shame of an elopement."
"And the reputation that would attach itself to the new family."
"Indeed," said Mr. Green, slowly.
"Tell me, what sort of people are the Darcys?"
"The very best. Mr. Darcy is the most generous man I know. He has advised me on managing Rosings since I came into my inheritance. Mrs. Darcy is also very kind. She is witty like Edmund, although perhaps a little less impetuous."
"Is William very serious? I got that impression from Edmund."
"Yes, he can be, but I think that Edmund thinks his brother is serious, when in fact he has more responsibilities as the elder son."
"Anne is one of the best girls in Britain, I am sure of it," he said rather wistfully.
"This is very interesting. I do not often hear about my relations."
"Well, let me tell you about another connection, although it is quite a distant one. The rector of a nearby parish to Rosings when I was young, a Mr. Collins, was the cousins of your grandfather Bennet. As your mother had no brothers, Mr. Collins inherited the family home of Longbourn."
"Oh, that is a shame for the estate to go out of the immediate family."
"Ah, but here's the rub. Mr. Collins has no sons himself. The estate will therefore be entailed on his nearest male relation, which will be one of the sons of the Bennet girls."
"But which one?"
"That all depends on Mr. Collins."
"You mean any of my brothers could be entitled to it."
"But this Mr. Collins has probably forgotten us. Who do you think he will choose?"
"Well, Edmund seems to think he has a chance, but I don't think Mr. Collins likes him very much. It will probably be one of the Bingleys, most likely Fred."
"How intriguing. All the inheritance battles I have known in Australia have been over sheep."
Edmund and Fanny returned, Fanny looking very pleased to be in the company of the most handsome gentleman in the room.
"Green, I hope you haven't been telling tales to Miss Emily," Edmund said jovially.
"Not at all. He has merely been telling me a little of his family history," Emily replied.
Edmund appeared a little worried, but he did not have time to respond as at that moment Captain Wiltshire approached the group of young people. Emily took the opportunity to make the introduction, fearing how her sister might behave.
"Captain Wiltshire, this is our cousin, Edmund Darcy, from Derbyshire and his friend Mr. Lewis Green of Kent. This is Captain Wiltshire. He served under our father before his retirement."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Captain Wiltshire said amiably to Edmund, not realising this was his rival for the affections of Miss Wickham. After pleasantries were exchanged all round, Captain Wiltshire asked for Fanny's hand in the next and, to Emily's surprise, she accepted. They moved off to take their places and Edmund said, "Well, cousin, would you like to join them?"
Emily was a little taken aback by his familiarity. She had come to expect such manners from the local men, but would have expected some more formality from the son of Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire. She accepted him, but said, "but what about Mr. Green? We cannot leave you alone, sir."
Fortunately (in some sense of the word at least), Mrs. Wickham joined the group and offered to stay with Mr. Green. "Come Emily, I won't have you turning a gentleman down. Mr. Green and I will have a nice conversation."
Emily was concerned for Mr. Green's sake, but the dance was about to start and she had no alternative.
Mr. Darcy was a fine dancer. Not only did he excel in the dance itself but there was something special about his deportment that made him stand out from the crowd. Moreover he was a great conversationalist. "My mother always told me that you must have some conversation while dancing," he said. Emily was indebted to her aunt for the lessons in etiquette.
"So," Edmund said, "what did Green tell you?"
Emily wondered why Edmund was so concerned about her conversation with Mr. Green. Perhaps he had something to hide. She would not lie to him. "He was telling me about Longbourn."
"Longbourn? However did that come up?"
"It was my mother's home for the first sixteen years of her life."
"Oh yes, of course. You know, with your family living so far away, I sometimes forget how closely we are related."
"I hope we are not entirely forgettable."
"Not at all. My parents have always been concerned for your welfare. That is why I am here."
"Are you checking up on us? Making sure we haven't become an uncivilised branch of the family?"
"No! Not at all!" Edmund seemed shocked. Emily smiled.
"I meant it as a joke," she said, and her cousin seemed to relax. "So," she said after a pause as they were separated by the dance, "what are your chances of inheriting Longbourn?"
"Mr. Green said that Mr. Collins may choose you as his heir."
Edmund burst out laughing in a rather improper manner. When he could control himself, he said, "I'm afraid Mr. Green has misunderstood the nature of the entail. You see, Rosings Park was not entailed away from the female line. Hence, it passed from his mother, to himself. But the Longbourn estate follows the male line."
"So who will inherit Longbourn?"
"Oh, I don't know, some relation of Mr. Collins probably." He laughed again heartily.
"Is Mr. Collins on good terms with your family?"
"I'm sure he would like to think so. He is always encouraging my father to meet him at St. James'. But Mr. Collins and I do not always see eye to eye. I believe he thinks I am a most insolent young man."
"Yes, well, it all stems back to when I corrected him on a Bible verse he used in a sermon."
"Well, the verse itself was correct but it was taken out of context and I felt it didn't reflect the true meaning of the passage as a whole. But then you don't argue with a clergyman."
"Especially one connected to your family."
"So if you will not inherit Longbourn, where shall you live?"
"My father has offered to provide a house in London, but he wants me to show more determination in pursuing my chosen path."
"So you shall not be an idle son?"
"A Darcy idle? Never! We come from a long line of hard-working landowners."
"I am glad my aunt Elizabeth married into such a noble family."
"I don't know a person who would disagree with you, except perhaps Green's grandmother."
"Do you see our other cousins regularly?"
"The Bingleys live within thirty miles of Pemberley, so we visit each other tolerably often. Their family is quite a bit larger than ours. We have nine cousins on that side."
"Nine! Goodness, there are only seven of us Wickhams and that is hard enough to keep track of."
"Yes, there's Charles, Isabella, Catherine, Fred, Jonathon, Amelia, Benjamin, Thomas and Elizabeth. At least, I think that's the right order."
"How old are they?"
"You expect me to remember all their ages? Charles would be six and twenty and little Beth eight. Charles, Bella and Cathy are married as well, so that means more names to remember."
Emily sighed. "I wish I could meet them all. Our society is so confined. I'm afraid you'll find your time her very tedious."
Edmund was distracted by something - or someone - on the opposite side of the room. "Hmm? Oh...not at all. I am beginning to like Sydney town greatly."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Wickham was becoming more and more pleased with her nephew's friend, Mr. Green. Not only was he as well bred as Edmund Darcy, but in her calculation he must have at least twelve thousand a year. Despite her own unfortunate alliance, Lydia Wickham was aware of the benefits of rich son-in-laws. Indeed, that at least one of her daughters should marry well was her one hope of not descending into poverty in her old age. Her husband had never been able to provide for their family sufficiently and her sons, although employed, could not support the lifestyle of the daughter of Mr. Bennet of Longbourn. Consequently, after hearing the words "Rosings Park" in Mr. Green's introduction, she had pictured her Fanny in that great place. Contrary to what her family had thought at the time, Lydia Bennet had paid attention to Mr. Collins' adoration of Rosings and his noble patroness, at least enough to know how grand it would be for Fanny to be its mistress. Now that would be something for Mary Adama to sneer at. If only she could get rid of Captain Wiltshire, then this very assembly would be the perfect place for the two young people to get acquainted.
"Are you fond of dancing Mr. Green?" she asked.
"On occasion, madam, when my partner is agreeable. Your daughters appear to be quite excellent dancers."
"Oh, that is very kind, sir. Emily wants something more of lightness, it has often been said, but Frances is very prodigious, if I do say so myself. I always enjoyed dancing myself, and have encouraged the girls. There is no greater amusement for young people."
"Do you still dance, madam?"
"Goodness, no. When Mr. Wickham was still in the army there were balls enough, and I would stand up quite regularly, but that was some years ago now."
"I understand you have sons. Are they here tonight?"
"No, they, unfortunately, do not care for such things. It pains me that they are not interested in more gentlemanly pursuits, like men such as yourself. Tell me again about Rosings."
Mr. Green obliged, confused. He could not quite make Mrs. Wickham out.