Beginning, Section II
Posted on 02 May 2007
London, to my inexperienced eyes, first appeared as nothing more than a mess. There is no polite way to describe it: a chaotic, noisy, crowded, muddy, and foul-smelling mess. I had never been in a city of such a size before, and my first reaction was to despair that it might be my new home. The country air and the friendliness of small towns agreed with me more. Hopefully, my new regiment would be stationed here for only part of the year, and might then depart for a more pleasant location.
What are the first needs of a man who has arrived in an unfamiliar place but does not have to go somewhere immediately? Food and lodging. With my pack on my shoulder, I stopped a man who seemed five to ten years older than me to inquire where I might find a room for the night. He wore clothing made of coarse material, like the regiment’s cast-offs, with more than one hole, and his boots were badly soiled. However, he walked with confidence and his face showed an almost impertinent air. As he spoke to me, I had a view of some missing and some badly stained teeth.
“Ye be wanting a room now, lad? With a woman or without?” His face showed no judgment, only a spirit of honest inquiry.
“Only for myself, Sir,” I answered.
“Don’t be callin’ me Sir in these parts, ye’ll be ruinin’ my reputation!” He broke out in laughter, almost bending over. “For a good room, ye’d best be goin’ to Darrow’s ten yards that way,” he said, pointing to my right, “Or Mrs. Quinn two streets behind, she runs a clean place. Else ye could just ask at any pub. Say Johnny Caster sent ‘ye, I be knowin’ wot goes on in the whole neighborhood. Ask anyone and they can find me.”
He left before I could thank him, and I followed his directions to Mr. Darrow’s small inn. I knocked on the door and the proprietor himself, a halfway bald middle-aged man with a round face and body greeted me civilly. I asked him what the rate would be for two nights, since my new regiment would probably house me in the barracks soon. Once we had agreed and he had given me the key to my room, informing me that if I wished a meal it would be served in one hour, I trudged up the staircase. My room was small and plain but well-kept. After observing this, I did what any sane person would do after a stressful couple of days and an unwanted journey: I lay down and promptly fell asleep.
A knock at the door woke me. I immediately stood and opened the door. A boy about twelve years old carrying a tray of food faced me.
“Sir, Mr. Darrow asked me to bring this up if ye were feelin’ too pot to come down, but if ye’re well, he asks ye to join ‘im for a drink, he said.”
“Thank you, lad,” I said, “let me eat here and you may tell Mr. Darrow I will be down shortly.” The boy nodded and went back down the stairs. After he left I quickly consumed my meal, which was much better than could be found in the militia, though not as good as the fare at Netherfield, and then descended to find the innkeeper.
In his manner of dress and speech, Mr. Darrow reminded me of the tradesmen of Meryton. Several empty plates at the side of the table showed that he appreciated his wife’s cooking. A Londoner born and raised, he had worked for many years as a carriage builder until his first child was born and he decided that it was best to open an establishment where a traveler might rest. He asked me some questions about Swindon, which felt like a most distant part of my past by now, and life in the militia. I asked him how I might arrive at Whitehall, the location of the War Office, in the morning.
“Are you sure of what is transpiring, Lieutenant? I have a nephew in the Regulars and he told me that you are usually bound to a single regiment for life, unless you purchase a commission in another or someone purchases it for you.” Mr. Darrow proceeded to offer me a second drink.
“I could not purchase a cart-horse, Mr. Darrow, much less a commission. And I know of no friend who could afford to be so generous with me.” After all, superior officers could order as they saw fit; if not, why was I in London at that moment?
At that point, the innkeeper decided to enlighten me as to the quality of various neighborhoods of London. With the wealth of information that he provided, he should have made a fortune by publishing it as a book. If I managed to remember and recount even half of it, others might be fooled into thinking I had lived here for years. After an hour and a half of this, I asked to return to my room, explaining that I wished to write a letter. He told the boy to place a couple of lighted candles in my room and send me a freshly mended pen, an inkstand, and a few sheets of paper.
Once I was in my room, I decided to begin a letter to Mr. Bennet.
“ Darrow’s Inn, Blankenship Street, London
To: Mr. Thomas Bennet
Longbourn Estate, near Meryton, Hertfordshire
Dear Mr. Bennet:
Since our last meeting, I was confined to barracks for almost three days and then suddenly ordered to London to join a regiment of the Regulars. Tomorrow I am to meet my new commanding officer, Col. Fitzwilliam. I regret not having been given the opportunity to speak to you again and possibly further our acquaintance. I hope that recent events have not caused trouble to your family, and that they are all well. My current situation comes as a surprise to me, and I would ask whether you know anything of its cause, since my former commanding officer is one to give orders and not explain.
I send my most sincere wishes for your welfare and that of your family, and would dearly wish myself still in Meryton at this moment, enjoying the society of its good people.
Lt. Reginald Martin Denny”
I wished to add some sort of postscript asking to be remembered to Kitty and Lydia, but dared not impose myself on the gentlemen in this way. Once I had finished this letter and entrusted it to the innkeeper for posting, I asked to be woken at first light in order to walk to Whitehall, and then trudged back up to my room in order to sleep, which did not come to me easily. I was worried what kind of a home London would be for me, although as long as people like Mr. Darrow existed, I supposed that I might manage. The innkeeper´s surprise at my situation made me think at length. I supposed that Colonel Fitzwilliam would know the answers to the questions in my mind, but would he share them with me? He might claim that I had no need to know, as superior officers often did.
Mrs. Darrow, a plump matron who reminded me of Mrs. Bennet with her outspoken manner and gushing voice, could not think of allowing me to depart without offering me a hearty breakfast. “You young soldiers need your strength, Mr. Denny, ye can’t be facing a Colonel with a growl in your insides!” If I ate here every day, I would have to engage in very hard physical labor afterward to avoid taking on the appearance of Mr. Hurst. Once I had finished my meal and fended off the lady’s offer of third helpings, I departed, keeping Mr. Darrow’s instructions about my route in mind. It would not do for me to be lost in London and arrive late. As I gradually came nearer to the center of town, the flows of carriages, horsemen, and people walking like myself became more intense: it was like being sucked into a current that made you move forward at its own will. As I continued what I now thought of as “my first London march”, I noticed the sometimes small and sometimes rather abrupt changes from neighborhood to neighborhood: the condition and size of the shops and other buildings, the clothing of the inhabitants, sometimes even the accents that I heard or the holes in the road.
The Horse Guards building was an impressive mass of gray stone with a vast paved parade ground in front. As I approached, I had a sensation of my own smallness compared to both this building and the armed forces that it commanded. I believe I spent five minutes trying to guess from which side I should enter.
The guard at the door that I chose saluted me and asked me to speak my business. I explained to him who I was and gave him Colonel Fitzwilliam’s letter. He told me to wait and then called over another officer, a captain of about my own age, who checked a list briefly and then instructed me to follow him. We went through a maze of corridors, ascended a flight of stairs, and then went through more corridors, until the officer stopped abruptly in front of a door and knocked quickly. The door was opened and a tall, handsome, sandy-haired man at least thirty years old, dressed in regimentals, appeared before us. The captain and I saluted.
“At ease, officers, state your business.” These were the first words that I heard my new commanding officer say. His voice reminded me of someone, but I could not make the connection at that moment.
“Sir, I present to you Lieutenant Denny, whom you summoned. Lieutenant Denny, your new commanding officer, Colonel Fitzwilliam of the Berkshire Lancers.”
“Thank you, Captain Larkin. You may return to your duties.” Captain Larkin saluted the Colonel and then scurried away. The Colonel turned to me and said, “Lieutenant, enter and seat yourself, and we will begin. Welcome to the Berkshire Lancers.”
“Thank you, Sir.” We entered the small room and Colonel Fitzwilliam sat behind a wooden desk. He showed me where I was to sit and then shuffled some papers on the desk.
“One moment … Lieutenant Reginald Martin Denny, son of Mr. Clement Denny, deceased, and Mrs. Edith Denny, formerly Godwin, born in Swindon, joined the militia at age fifteen, active service eight years, no disciplinary proceedings or black marks of any kind, under the command of Colonel James Forster. Lieutenant, you come highly recommended to me.”
“Permission to speak frankly and ask questions, Sir?”
“Granted.” The Colonel said with a small smile. “Before you begin, though, I will explain one thing. My trusted assistant, Major Kirkland, is to leave my service. He was fortunate enough to meet a well-dowered lady and intends to purchase a landholding. There is an established practice in His Majesty’s Armed Forces by which when an office becomes vacant, the commanders of other regiments may suggest a candidate. Commissions may then be exchanged. You seem to have handled a difficult situation in Hertfordshire. I need a truthful officer who can think on his feet and think beyond the rules when necessary. So here you are. You may speak, Lieutenant.”
After this small speech, I realized two things: first, that Colonel Fitzwilliam’s voice reminded me of one specific gentleman, whom I had met only twice. Second, his very name suggested to me that there was more to this tale than he had said.
“Sir, how was your cousin Mr. Darcy involved in my transfer?”
My new commander smiled quite broadly. “Quick-thinking and blunt, I like that. If you had not figured it out eventually, I would have serious reservations about you, Lieutenant. I think we may work together well. The answer to your question is one word: financially.” Mr. Darrow had been more right than he could have imagined.
“Colonel, my question to your answer is one more word: why?”
In response, the Colonel quickly tapped the stitches on my left hand. Then he stood up and said, “That is enough on this matter for now. Anyone who puts Wickham in prison deserves a reward. Let us go downstairs so that you can be fitted for your new regimentals and introduced to your new duties. You will be assisting me directly in all matters concerning the regiment. You had best be a fast learner. Earn my trust and we may be friends. By the bye, once the paperwork is finished you will be known as Major Denny. Have you anything to add before we begin?”
I stood up and saluted him. “Sir, I look forward to serving you and the Berkshire Lancers to the best of my ability.” I would have wrestled a rabid horse for this man.
“Then let us go to it, Lieutenant.” And with these words we left the office.
Downstairs, the regiment’s official tailor took my measurements and then I was taken to the staff office for some paperwork. When Staff Captain Blair informed me of the amount of my new pay-packet, I came close to whistling. In fact, he told me that in two days’ time I could receive my last month’s pay from the Militia, as well as my first month’s from my new regiment and an amount that was designated to cover the costs of my transfer, with stern instructions not to spend it all on gaming or disreputable women. Another officer gave me the directions of some tradesmen who were the Army’s official suppliers for various types of equipment that I would need. Apparently, within a few days the regiment would even be providing me with a horse to be used in the course of duty. After this was finished, I was sent again to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who told me of everything that I would need to do. Essentially, I was to be his eyes and ears among the soldiers, spotting any discontent or other problems and dealing with them quickly, at my own discretion if necessary, but consulting with him on anything serious or unexpected. I was to keep the accounts, enforce orders, reprimand those that failed to comply, assign duties and oversee their performance, and ensure that the soldiers and officers all engaged in proper conduct. In effect, I was being told that the functioning and reputation of the regiment, in every aspect, were my new business. Only a week ago I had been stationed on the back roads of Hertfordshire for the purpose of stopping highwaymen, while now the Berkshire Lancers would be hearing Colonel Fitzwilliam’s commands in my voice. How could I be equal to this responsibility? My new Colonel must have sensed something of my worries, for he told me at one moment, “At the beginning ask me anything that you need, but ask only me and not someone from another regiment. It will not be heard that the Lancers do not know how to manage themselves. Let this be my first order to you, Lieutenant: practice your shooting well, for the men respect nothing more than a good shot.” The next day my regimentals would be ready and I would be introduced to the men.
At the end of the day, every detail concerning my new duties seemed to have been resolved, delegated, or deferred for the future. Only one question remained: where was I to live? I was told that there were two possibilities: I could stay with the other officers at our temporary barracks, since our new quarters were not yet ready, or I could seek lodging of my own in town, as long as I would never be late in the morning. To my mind, the former seemed the more useful possibility, if I was to become acquainted with my new fellow officers more quickly, but the idea of having a home of my own for the first time, even a small place at a boarding-house, quite appealed to me. But how was I to find myself a place, and where, when I knew almost no one in this immense city? Mr. Darrow’s inn was too far for me to go back and forth every morning and evening, especially when the weather might be rainy or cold. I decided that in the beginning, for at least two weeks, I would live at the barracks, and after that, depending on how my pay seemed to hold up against expenses, and how conditions in town seemed to me, I might look into other lodging somewhere nearby.
When I was about to leave the War Office for the day, Colonel Fitzwilliam had further instructions for me. The first part concerned the location of the barracks, where we would be spending most of the time, and the routes between there and Whitehall, where one or the other of us might be summoned at times. The latter concerned a piece of paper that the Colonel gave me, the direction of a man who could assist me in finding lodging in an appropriate part of London. Before we took our leave, I was told that on the morrow I would begin duties at the barracks and my new regimentals, as well as my new comrades in arms, would await me there. I could bring my belongings at that time. The Colonel then left me to go to his family’s town house; from what the staff officers had told me, he was the second son of an earl, an upstanding and prominent member of town society with a residence in the most fashionable of neighborhoods and a vast estate in Derbyshire. I saluted him and hoped to gain his trust, although I did feel somewhat daunted.
Once I had left the building, I unfolded the last paper that I had received. It would do me no harm to find out what I could about housing in London, without needing to make a hasty decision. This is what the Colonel had written:
“Mr. Edward Gardiner, residing at Gracechurch Street, near Cheapside.”
And directly below that, “I urge you to visit him soon.”
I began to walk in the general direction of the inn. Hopefully tomorrow afternoon would be soon enough.
Posted on 2008-11-23
My first day in my new regiment went tolerably well. When I feared to be ridiculed as a youngster suddenly promoted above his station, instead Colonel Fitzwilliam spoke to all the troops and made it clear that all the respect due to him would be given to me as well. Apparently the Regulars had little respect for the Militia, for he did not say exactly where I had served, only that I had distinguished myself in the service of other regiments and was his personal choice for this post. I was also asked to make a brief speech, in which I told the men that I had been in the service since fifteen and had worked my way up the ranks. I also said that I looked forward to both working with them and enjoying our time off duty as well. At least it seemed that I was to be given the benefit of the doubt. I began to watch my new comrades, as I had been doing in essence for eight years, in order to gain an idea of each man’s character. My new Colonel told me that for the first week, Kirkland would still come around to inform me of what I needed to do. In the meantime, he also told me several useful things about how to deal with the troops, which rules were to be enforced strictly and which could be left alone at times, and most of all, that I should never admit it if I did not know something. I wore my new regimentals for the first time, remembering who I had now become: Major Denny of the Berkshire Lancers. I wondered what Lydia would think of my new uniform, or would she ever see it?
Regiments are always regiments. There are good men, there are men that you cannot know in one instant, men that would cause trouble, men that would not, and men that wish to hide their character. At the officer’s mess, Colonel Fitzwilliam introduced me to the officers of some other regiments as well, although on that day the introductions truly went by me like a blur. I had too many things in my head. Although there were no mishaps at all, I felt relieved when the day of training ended. The Colonel gave me leave to seek out Mr. Gardiner and return to the barracks afterwards. A lieutenant – my rank of one week ago – who had been born and raised in Cheapside told me how to arrive there. Within half an hour I found myself directed to a modest but comfortable-looking house with two floors, more stately than most in the neighborhood, and a manservant answered the door.
“Would it be possible for Mr. Gardiner to receive me?” I asked. “My commanding officer gave me his direction in order for him to assist me in finding a place to stay in London.”
“The master has not yet returned from the warehouses,” was the butler’s reply, “I shall ask whether Mrs. Gardiner may receive you.”
“Who has come, Stanton?” I heard a woman’s voice from nearby.
“Major Denny of the Berkshire Lancers, madam,” I said with a bow, and excuse me for liking how it sounded, “Colonel Fitzwilliam informed me that I should visit your husband.”
A brown-haired woman of about thirty-five years emerged from what was probably a sitting room. She had every appearance of maturity and intelligence, of dignity and courtesy rather than particular beauty.
“Please sit down, Major Denny,” she said in a soft voice. “My husband should return shortly and he will be able to assist you. I am Mrs. Gardiner. Come this way, if you would. Shall I ask Sally to bring some tea and refreshments?” She led me to a sitting room that was not large but was tastefully decorated, and showed me where I should sit. I thanked her for her kindness in receiving me, and a maid brought some tea and biscuits. Mrs. Gardiner asked me a few questions, where I was from, how long I had been in service, why I had been told to contact her husband, that sort of thing. She told me that she was born in Lambton, Derbyshire but her family had moved to London years ago and here she had met her husband. They had two children, who were in the nursery at the moment, with a cousin taking care of them. The tea that she offered me was the best I had ever tasted. I had the feeling that Mrs. Gardiner and my mother could quite easily be friends if they met. Confound living in barracks, I thought as I enjoyed Mrs. Gardiner’s hospitality, what I needed was a true home. What good was a promotion if it did not allow me to enjoy something?
Presently Mr. Gardiner arrived. He was about five years older than his wife, and both serious and friendly in manner. His appearance was not remarkable in any way, except for his eyes, which seemed to be observing everything at once. He claimed to have been informed that I would arrive, and we began to speak of where I might wish to live, where my duties were likely to take me, what sort of house I might lease on what terms, although I could not say very much about that last subject. Mr. Darrow’s information was of some help to me at least in terms of neighborhoods. “If you intend to find a wife and have children, Major, you will certainly require more space,” he said. Mrs. Gardiner did not remove herself from this discussion as many wives did; instead, she offered many practical suggestions.
Then I heard a footfall, rapid but soft, coming down the stairs. “Aunt and Uncle, James is asleep and Amelia is drawing pictures with Sally watching her.” I heard a very familiar and completely unexpected voice.
When she came into the sitting room, I have no idea which I came closer to doing, spilling my second cup of tea or falling out of my chair. Lydia Bennet stood five feet away from me with her long blond hair almost completely down and I could only gaze in astonishment. True to her word, she did not blush because of me, but first she froze, then she smiled, and exclaimed “Denny! What are you doing in London in the wrong regimentals?”
Do not ask me how I succeeded in standing up and bowing to Lydia. “I am now in a different regiment, Miss Lydia. I am sure this was not left to chance!” Kissing her hand was much easier. Releasing her hand was not. From the way that she moved her arm back slowly, it seemed not to be easy for her either.
“No, it was not,” said Mr. Gardiner with a chuckle. “Lydia, did your little cousins pull the pins out of your hair again?” And then he turned to me again and said “Major Denny, Lydia’s mother is my sister.” Now that explained some things and raised a hundred other questions in my mind.
“Major Denny?” Lydia asked with a raised eyebrow. “Someone finally recognized your worth! Well done!”
“I am now going to be living in London,” I explained, “and my new commanding officer said that I should come here for help finding a place to live.”
“Why not somewhere near here?” Lydia suggested. “If it is not too far from your new regiment, then you could come and visit me.” The Gardiners seemed slightly dismayed at their niece’s proposal, although I suspect this was more due to its boldness than its content.
“Miss Lydia, what can you tell me of your family in Meryton?” I asked, “Are your parents and sisters all well?”
Lydia began to recount, with her usual animated manner, what had happened in the last few days. Apparently Lydia, once she had heard from Matthew and Hubert that I had been sent to London, had implored her parents to allow her to come here as well, even promising her father that she would behave “as properly as possible”, without being daunted by his words that he was not sure whether she would ever see me. Kitty, instead, after eventually hearing the complete story of what had happened on the evening when Lydia saved my life, declared that she did not want “a husband who might get shot at any time” and abruptly ended any contact with officers. In any case, the militia was to decamp for Brighton in the next week. Mary was unchanged, but seemed to be interested in the upcoming visit of a clergyman who was a relative of the family, a Mr. Collins, who lived in Kent, and who would inherit the estate of Longbourn when Mr. Bennet would die, since there was no son in the family.
“How dreadful!” I said, imagining my mother and sisters being turned out of their own lodgings if I were killed in battle.
“But I have not yet told you the best news,” Lydia said with a smile, “First, I will be in London for an entire month, and second, Jane is to be married to Mr. Bingley!”
The first piece of news interested me much more than the second one, but I could only offer congratulations for one of them. Mr. Gardiner told me that he would make a list of suitable lodgings, and if I returned in two days’ time, we could visit some of them together. Lydia’s comment to this was to suggest to her relatives that I be allowed to visit Gardiner Emporium as well. “You will not believe how many pretty things from all over the world Uncle has, Denny!” was her comment. After that, I took my leave, but Lydia came with me to the door.
“I am happy to see you again, Miss Lydia,” I said slowly. “Will we be able to spend some time together as we did in Meryton? I… would like to speak with you about many things.”
She nodded, with an uncharacteristically serious look. “I will try to make it happen.” I kissed her hand again and bowed, and as I left, I could see her wave to me from a front window. After that, I truly did not want to return to the barracks, but that was my duty, and Colonel Fitzwilliam would expect me to be an example for all the other officers. So I returned and managed not to make a complete mess of things.
In the evening I tried to be companionable with my fellow officers, who were not so different in the end from those of the militia. Captain Mitchell was from a village eight miles from Swindon, and Lieutenant Cooper, the one from Cheapside, seemed to be pleasant company to me. A major from another regiment challenged me to a shooting match on the morrow. I agreed to the competition and challenged him to a footrace as well. That way I would be sure to win at least one competition and preserve the honor of my regiment; the other major was three inches shorter, eight years older, and probably twenty pounds heavier. Even when I was playing the part of a good officer, I have to admit that my thoughts kept returning to when I might enjoy living in a place that I could call home. And hopefully I would not always be there alone.
As to the next day’s competition, Major Trimble proved to be the better shot, but by a minimal difference. As I heard later, it was his habit to challenge other officers, and he had even bested a couple of Brigadiers. In the footrace, I won handily, and at least some of my fellow Berkshire Lancers had actually bet on me. Colonel Fitzwilliam and the regiment’s business kept me busy for the entire day; the most difficult moment was an argument between two soldiers about one of them having damaged the other’s pack. I managed to intervene before any blows were struck. It helped that both Colonel Fitzwilliam and I were tall enough to be imposing. “There will be no brawling in this regiment, soldiers,” I had said, “if you feel angry about something, save it for the French!” For I had heard from my commanding officer that morning that Napoleon had escaped from Elba and apparently was building an army in order to fight again.
In order to be sure not to be late for my appointment with Mr. Gardiner, I bought a pocket watch for the first time in my life. When I arrived, the same manservant opened the door as before, and inside the sitting room, I was greeted by both the Gardiners, Lydia, and a young boy who immediately bowed to me and said “James Gardiner, at your service, Officer”. I bowed too with a slight smile and said “Major Reginald Martin Denny at your service and that of your family, young man.”
“Lydia is reading a novel about soldiers to our son,” Mrs. Gardiner explained.
“Major Denny, may I please see your saber, Sir?” the boy asked. I saw Lydia start slightly upon hearing this; certainly she was thinking about the Netherfield ball and the night when she saved my life with Carter’s saber. I slowly drew mine from its scabbard, while telling James that he should not touch it. When it was fully drawn, his eyes went very wide. After this, the maid took the young master upstairs while the four of us remained.
“I have good news for you, Major Denny,” Mr. Gardiner said. As he told me, a small lodging was available for me at a modest price, and it was not too far from either Gracechurch Street or my regiment’s barracks. There were also a couple of other options in the vicinity; we agreed that after two days, when I would be available from my duties, we could visit them. Mr. Gardiner had prepared a list of locations, prices, and notes about the condition and furnishings of each place. Lydia also wished to be included in our visits; I also wished, although I did not say it, that whatever house I would find would please her. Left on my own, I might have chosen the first place with four clean walls and no holes in them.
The next day introduced me to a completely new part of my duties: the management of our accounts and provisions. In some ways, it was more surprising than moving to London: did our regiment really eat that much bacon every month? Our training continued; it is a new experience to order men to stand straighter or lower their weapons when for years you have always been the one receiving orders. I tried to make sure the salutes, many times from men older than myself, would not go to my head. There was always Colonel Fitzwilliam to remind me of the seriousness of my duties. I came to understand his character and his way of working more: he could easily become stern, and expected everything to be done quickly, because he was efficient and attentive to detail in every single action of his own. He could easily become impatient, but was not quick to anger. He could issue a quick order that would make a soldier fairly run to his duty, and then one minute later make a joke. In the small amounts of time at the end of the day that we had to ourselves, he told me of his service on the Continent, under the command of Wellington in Spain. Sensing his slowly increasing trust, I told him the details of the events that had brought me to London.
“You did us a good turn, Denny,” he said, “that black-hearted cur of a Wickham has been bedeviling my cousin Darcy for years. He has been court-martialed and transported now. And to think that Darce almost ended up having to call him brother – you are not to speak of this matter anywhere, are we understood?” And then he told me the sum of Wickham’s deeds over the years, including who the young lady with a fortune of thirty thousand was: his own cousin and ward, Mr. Darcy’s sister Georgiana, just a few months older than Lydia. I had suspected as much but knew nothing about her.
I gave him my assurance, as I had to his cousin. But what would my new Colonel have done if I told him that within a year his cousin might be calling me brother? Knocked me to the ground or made a wager on it, probably. Or maybe leaned back in his chair and laughed in disbelief. No, the last would be more Mr. Bennet’s way.
On the afternoon of the next day, I went with Mr. Gardiner and Lydia to inspect lodgings. I am not sure whether Mr. Gardiner allowed Lydia to accompany us as a favor to me or to her or because he was not sure what to do with her otherwise. Both of them were in very good spirits, of course without reaching Mrs. Bennet’s noise level. We spoke of many things, of Meryton, Longbourn, and London, of the goods that could be found at the Gardiner Emporium, of life in my new regiment. Surprisingly, Lydia did not ask me anything about the other officers, except for what kind of a man Colonel Fitzwilliam was and how was he different from Colonel Forster. When we reached one building and Mr. Gardiner sought out its owner, I saw my chance to ask Lydia something that I had wanted to know for over a week. I took her arm and asked her “Lydia, what made you come to me on that night?”
She raised her eyes to the ceiling. “I do not know. I did not think, I only felt that something was not right, that you were in some kind of danger, that I needed to do something. I was halfway there before I knew that I had started out. You had acted to protect me and it was my turn to do something for you.”
Singular. Remarkable. A miracle. I could not find the word to describe it. I wanted to take her in my arms and kiss her. I was surprised by what she said, even more than when the lady who owned one lodging house that we visited asked Mr. Gardiner “Are your daughter and her husband thinking to live here? Quite a handsome couple they are.” Lydia heard that as well, and we smiled at each other. I decided that this evening I would ask Lieutenant Cooper, or maybe Mr. Darrow, to recommend a jeweler to me.
After we had visited five places, Mr. Gardiner asked me whether I had some preference or could reach a decision. I asked for his opinion and that of Lydia before stating any thought of my own. They all seemed good enough to me, but I could not judge which was best. Mr. Gardiner’s considerations were more practical, but what stayed with me was Lydia’s words that “You need a happy place, Denny, where the sun comes through the windows.” We kept discussing this for enough time that Mr. Gardiner invited me to his house to dine. “You will enjoy it more than a public house near the barracks, Major,” he said. He was right. I did, and our discussion led me to choose the second house that we had visited, which was fifteen minutes’ walk away from the Gardiners’ home. My host would send a note the next morning to secure my place there.
That evening, Lydia briefly put her hand on my shoulder as I took my leave of her at the door. Only a few more days were what I needed and then I would ask for a private audience with her. I wanted to offer her a ring and a home. There was no escaping one fact, though. Nothing in my training provided me with the slightest idea of how to make a good marriage proposal. And then I remembered what Lord Nelson was supposed to have said: “Never mind maneuvers, just go straight at ‘em!” (*)So I made the arrangements for a ring and the new house, and in five days’ time, I felt as ready as I could be, meaning that I could not find anything more that I needed to do before I could propose.
My idea was to invite Lydia and the Gardiners to my new house on Lawrence Street on the first day that I was not on duty. I had even purchased a bottle of wine for all of us to share. The entire family came, including James, who could not stop asking questions, and Amelia, who was just three years old and clung to the skirts of her mother and the maid. The ring was in the pocket of my regimentals. After I had shown them the place, and we shared a drink together, I suggested a walk in a nearby park that Mr. Gardiner had showed me on our first visit here. As I locked the door, I noticed Lydia suddenly engaged in a whispered conversation with her aunt and uncle. Once we were on the street, I offered Lydia my arm.
We made our way to the park, but after we had been there ten minutes, Mrs. Gardiner asked us to stop because she felt tired and wished to rest briefly.
“Are you unwell, my dear? Shall we return to Gracechurch Street?” her husband asked her, in evident concern, as she sat slowly on a bench.
“I am sure it is nothing, Edward, only fatigue,” she said, “perhaps we should sit for a moment. You know I am no great walker.”
“Miss Lydia and I will wait for you, madam, if you wish,” I said. Something flashed in Lydia’s eyes when I said this, and then she said “If Major Denny and I need a chaperone, Sally could take the children and come with us.”
Mr. Gardiner said something that I could not hear to his wife, but she merely said “I will be well, Edward, just stay with me and let the young people have their walk.”
So Lydia and I walked on, followed by James, Sally the maid, and Amelia, who was in Sally’s arms. Once we were far enough away that the Gardiners could not see us, Lydia said “I need to tell Sally something” and quickly released my arm. I stood and waited for her. While I did, I looked around for somewhat more secluded paths. Lydia soon joined me, and we continued our walk. Then I took her to one side path that I had noticed, suddenly let go of her arm, and dropped to one knee before her, still holding her hand.
“My dear, spirited, beautiful Lydia,” I said to her, “you make life worth living for me. First you were my friend and then I came to love you, and then you saved my life. As time went on, I found I did not want to be without you. You are in my thoughts all the time. I am no grand gentleman, only a poor soldier, but you have as much devotion and loyalty from me as the Crown does. You are the only woman with whom I could wish to share my life. Will you marry me?”
Lydia caught her breath for a moment and then gave me a radiant smile and squeezed my hand firmly. And then we heard a boy’s voice saying “Marry him, Cousin Lydia, or I will pull all the pins out of your hair again!” and heard James running towards us.
“Yes, dear Denny, I love you and I will marry you!” she exclaimed joyously. And then she bent down and whispered in my ear, “You can take the pins from my hair on our wedding night.” Whether it was from her words, her breath in my ear, or the sight of her bending before me, I began to feel quite warm. And quite happy. I quickly reached into my pocket and blushed when I saw that the outline of the ring was noticeable. She must have guessed my intentions. Rather than say anything about that, I slipped the ring onto her finger and slowly rose. I had never seen her look more lovely than at that moment. Unfortunately, before I could enjoy the first kiss of our engagement, Lydia’s cousin barreled into my left leg, saying “I am ever so happy! I will have a real soldier for a cousin. Major Denny, Lydia, I wish you joy!”
I bent down to the little imp and said, “Master James, thank you for your wishes. If you can keep your eyes closed for a few moments I will bring a real Army pistol from the barracks tomorrow for you so see.”
“All right,” he said with a clever smile, and covered his eyes with his hands. I took Lydia’s cheeks in my hands and brought her mouth to mine. Her lips were soft, warm, and nothing but delightful. I let go of her face and held her close in my arms. Feeling her warmth so near me was much better than dreaming of her, as I had for every night since Wickham shot my hand.
“Did you kiss yet?” James asked after a few minutes. And when we turned to him, his eyes narrowed and he said “Why are you surprised? I have seen Papa kissing Mama and holding her in his arms; that is what people do when they become married.”
“In that case, James,” Lydia said with a laugh, “you should not mind seeing it again.” And she brought her arms around me and my mouth went hungrily to hers.
I had no idea that a tongue could be so delicious, nor a body so warm and soft. I was so absorbed in the sensation that I barely heard James running off shouting, “Sally, Papa, Mama, Amelia, Cousin Lydia and Major Denny are to be married! And he will show me a real Army pistol tomorrow!”
“My dearest handsome Reggie,” Lydia sighed to me as our lips and arms finally succeeded in releasing each other. “It is wonderful to be held by you.”
“My love, my enchanting Lydia,” I said to her, still holding her hand. “I think I need to speak with your uncle.”
“You do,” she said, “but give me one more kiss first.” How could I deny her?
(*) Quoted in Jack Caldwell, The Three Colonels
Posted on 2009-02-10
"You did WHAT?" was Colonel Fitzwilliam's reaction the next morning when I told him that I had proposed marriage to Lydia Bennet and been accepted.
So I told him again, adding that her uncle had given his provisional consent as well, until each one of us could write a letter to Mr. Bennet and receive his reply.
"I understood the first time, Denny," he said, "I was just surprised. First of all, I received a letter from my cousin Darcy last night, and apparently he is formally courting a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a sister of your young lady. And second, your timing could not have been worse. Just now I received word that we are to be sent to the Continent soon to stop Boney from his rascally tricks again."
I groaned. For the second piece of news, not the first one, although neither was a real surprise to me. And I had just gotten settled into my new lodgings.
"Before we start with our business, Denny, tell me one thing. What sort of a lady is Miss Bennet?"
"Your cousin's or mine, Sir? Or for that matter, the eldest, who is betrothed to his friend Mr. Bingley?"
"Really? Now that is quite a tale. You might as well tell me about all of them." So I did tell him what I knew, not leaving out my conversation at Netherfield with Mr. Darcy, or the fact that Colonel Forster was a friend of the Bennet family. By the end of it, my commander was actually laughing.
"This sounds like a plot from one of those novels that my young cousin Georgiana reads," he said, "I know Bingley reasonably well; he is quite an affable chap, friends with half of London, and a sweet and kindly lady sounds like an ideal match for him. Your Miss Lydia sounds most outspoken and unconventional, and I would have liked seeing her throw a saber at Wickham. What a pity that she missed. As for Darcy's Miss Elizabeth, from what you tell me, she will definitely liven him up and keep him on his toes. He needs a spirited and witty lady, one that is ready to talk with him about everything. You will be quite the family, all of you!"
I should have made that wager with him about becoming Mr. Darcy's brother. However, there were more serious matters to deal with. Colonel Fitzwilliam and I discussed what we would need to do in order to prepare for our upcoming mission to the Continent. We went through everything in detail, and then he recommended that I speak with the captains and lieutenants. He also told me a maxim that he had heard as a young officer: "when in charge, ponder; when in trouble, delegate; when in doubt, mumble." Obviously, he was not a man in doubt today, because his speech to the troops explaining what was to happen was very clear. I have to admit that I did not mumble either.
I dreaded to tell Lydia that on the very first day of our engagement, I was going to be sent abroad to fight. That the French might not agree with my plan to return did not need to be said. She was quite put out, but could recognize that it was not my fault; after all, nobody had asked me whether I wanted to leave the Militia, and if Bonaparte had been in the habit of considering my plans before making his own, he would never have left Corsica. "Be sure to come back to me, Reggie," she said in a very firm voice, "I want us to enjoy our married life!"
"Lydia," I said taking her face in my hands, "I know how brave you are. We will be brave for each other." And we held each other very close after that.
By the way, James was very pleased to see an Army pistol. When he asked me about learning how to use it, I said I would be glad to teach him, but we would have to wait a few years for him to grow tall enough to see the targets properly.
I was somewhat less pleased with the reply that I received in the post from Mr. Bennet a few days later. I had decided to be honest with him, explaining both my proposal to Lydia and my upcoming departure for the Continent. This is how his reply went:
"Dear Major Denny,
First of all, I congratulate you on your promotion. Colonel Forster tells me that your new commander can be a stern taskmaster at times but is always fair to his soldiers. I have no doubt that you will be a credit to the Crown in your new duties.
About your engagement to my daughter, allow me to express a few reservations. I have no objection to your character and no doubt of your attachment to each other. I would even go as far as to admit that your acquaintance may have been a better influence on Lydia's character than anything my wife and I have achieved. Until recently, I would have called her the silliest young female in Hertfordshire, but this seems to have changed. What concerns me is the timing of your engagement, as well as, to be blunt, your future income and ability to live within it.
First, your promotion to Major is recent, and I know that you have always been sending as much of your pay as you can to your mother and sisters. Therefore, I am afraid that you have no savings, and you would be attempting to support Lydia only on your pay, since her dowry is meager. I doubt that my daughter, young and carefree as she is, knows how to economize to such an extent.
Second, you admitted yourself that you are soon for the Continent. While my entire family will be praying for your safe return, we both know that the opposite is a possibility. This does not seem to me a good time for a wedding. I think that it would be better to wait until your return, and until you have managed to accumulate some savings from your pay, before you and Lydia can begin a life together.
Understand this, I am not denying you my consent or calling you unworthy of my daughter. I merely believe that it would be prudent to wait some time. Both you and Lydia are still quite young and have your lives ahead of you.
If you have any cause to come to Hertfordshire, I would welcome you to my home.
At the Gardiners', where I had become a frequent visitor, I showed the letter to Lydia. When she had finished reading it, she took a very deep breath, which I enjoyed watching.
"He did not refuse me," I said to encourage her, "he only told us to wait."
"I suppose it is too much to expect his opinion of me to have changed so quickly," she said. "but I do know that he likes you, or he would not have offered you a drink in his library."
"Not nearly as much as I like you, Lydia," I said and we quickly stole a kiss and an embrace.
"Once you return, let us marry as soon as possible," she whispered to me, "I want to be yours, all yours, and for you to be all mine. I can feel it in myself." I very much liked the idea of seeing her in a wedding dress and pledging myself to her before the altar. Not to mention everything that would come afterward.
Before I could feel ready for it, the time came for my regiment to leave for the Continent. The Gardiners and Lydia came to the barracks to see me off, which surprised me. Apparently, Lydia had insisted that she wished to see me, and her aunt and uncle had decided to act as chaperones for us. Or at least that was what I believed until Mr. Gardiner told me that if Lydia were overcome with emotion, she would best have someone with her. Mrs. Gardiner also said that she had a cousin in the army, and he had told her how awful he had felt the first time that he left the country.
"What is his name, and where does he serve?" I asked. "I might like to meet him."
"Unfortunately, he died in India six years ago," she told me. I was sorry to hear that and told her.
I noticed that Colonel Fitzwilliam was accompanied by a man who looked very much like him, but not quite as tall and with a rounder face, and a younger couple. His brother, his sister, and the sister's husband, I imagined.
What I did not expect was for my Colonel to wave me over and introduce me to his relations.
"Denny, this is my brother, Paul Fitzwilliam, Viscount Matlock. On my right are Sir Jeremy Weldings and my sister, Lady Diana Weldings. Major Denny is my assistant."
Well, allow me to be duly shocked – the closest thing to nobility I had ever met before was Sir William Lucas in Meryton. Of course I bowed; that was the only thing I was certain one had to do with someone noble.
"Never met a Viscount before, have you?" the man with the title in question said in a very deep voice, "Contrary to popular belief, we are not poisonous."
"I could not expect a relation of Colonel Fitzwilliam's to be poisonous, your Lordship," I answered.
"Aunt Catherine might qualify," his sister added. Everyone else chuckled or smirked.
"Yes, but she is not a Viscount!" the Colonel said, which made everyone laugh. Was teasing a Fitzwilliam family trait? And then he asked me "Is that your Miss Lydia, the tall blond young lady in the violet gown? Since she is here, I would like to meet her."
I agreed to bring her and her aunt and uncle over as well. I introduced the Colonel, Lydia, and the Gardiners, and the Colonel introduced his relations. Not a hint of haughtiness or disdain could be seen on their faces. Were they really nobility?
"I must congratulate you on your engagement, Miss Lydia," he said after bowing over her hand, "and on a few other things that we will assuredly not mention now." Her eyes went wide as she understood what he meant.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam is Mr. Darcy's cousin," I told her.
"And Mr. Darcy might become my brother," Lydia said with a bright smile, "What a lark! Who could have imagined it?"
"Lydia," Mrs. Gardiner said, "Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy might not appreciate your making their courtship known to others."
"Well, if they do not, they can tell me soon," Lydia said, "Besides, Mama has certainly already told half of Meryton!"
"I already knew about it from Darcy," said the Colonel.
Mrs. Gardiner and the Viscount began to speak of the countryside in Derbyshire. Our conversation flowed freely until it was time for the Colonel and me to board the ship, and more importantly, make sure that everyone in our regiment did as well. Due to the presence of the others, Lydia and I could not be as affectionate with each other as we wished. As I glanced back, I saw the Gardiners, Lydia, and the Colonel's relations leave together, still in conversation.
"They will all be fine," Colonel Fitzwilliam said, following my gaze, "What we need to do is figure out how to make trouble for the French." Or rather, follow our orders to make trouble for them.
Our campaign ended in a decisive battle at Waterloo, where we participated in the final offensive against Napoleon's feared Imperial Guard. Colonel Fitzwilliam and I survived with no injuries of any consequence; unfortunately, many good men did not. As we began our return journey to England, I felt that I had gained several new friends; there is nothing like facing death together for bonding people. The Colonel and I worked together comfortably and successfully; the difference in our ranks and ages, not to mention our families' place in society, always meant there was a certain distance between us, but we could both tell that we liked each other. He was awarded the Order of the Bath for his actions in battle, while as his assistant in charge of overseeing the whole regiment, I obtained a considerable amount of prize money.
While we were away, I wrote to Lydia, Mr. Gardiner, and Mr. Bennet frequently. I also wrote to my mother and sisters about my new position and my hope of marriage, Lydia's letters were full of her worries for me and her hopes for our future happiness as man and wife. Mother, Rachel, and Elinor wrote to me in a similar vein. Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet each wrote once, wishing me health and a safe return home.
Once we were back in London, the War Office allowed us a few days' leave. Colonel Fitzwilliam, or now Colonel Sir Richard Fitzwilliam, suggested that I meet him the next day at his parents' house on Grosvenor Square and then we could enjoy lunch at his club.
When I left for the Continent, I had no idea how long I would be gone, which was why I had had to give up my lodgings. All my belongings had fit into one trunk, which Mr. Gardiner had allowed me to leave at his warehouse. Until I found new lodgings, I would have to sleep at the barracks again. With this in mind, I went to the Gardiners to ask whether it would be possible for Mr. Gardiner to find me a new place to live.
The house in Gracechurch Street was a familiar sight to me. Stanton, unlike many butlers, was friendly in his greeting and congratulated me on the outcome of the campaign. Mrs. Gardiner, ever the gracious hostess, said "Major Denny, since we are about to dine, would you like to join us?" I was happy to accept. I noticed that she walked more slowly than usual and that her weight seemed to have increased. James was very happy to see me and burst out with "Major Denny! Did you give the Frenchies a good pounding? I am sure you did. Cousin Lydia would be happy to see you but she is at Longbourn with Uncle and Aunt Bennet. I am having new cousins all of a sudden – Cousin Jane now has a husband named Charles-"
"You should call him Mr. Bingley," his mother admonished.
"He said I could call him Charles!" James protested. "And Cousin Lizzy has become engaged to Mr. Darcy, he must be the tallest man in the world! I was afraid of him until Lizzy told him a joke and he laughed. And Mama tells me that in four months Amelia and I will have a new brother or sister!"
"Mr. Darcy has a very pretty sister," Amelia joined in, "Her name is Gorgeous Anna."
"I think you mean Georgiana, my dear," added Mr. Gardiner with a small smile. "Major Denny, welcome back to London. We are happy to see you safe and sound. Lydia wished to be here, but her mother has involved her in the wedding preparations and she simply could not escape."
In due course we settled down to a pleasant meal. I congratulated the Gardiners on their good news. My greatest surprise came when I asked Mr. Gardiner whether he could find me a new place to live, and he told me that I could return to Lawrence Street at any time; he had simply assumed the lease for my sake. "Thank you very much, Sir," I said.
He explained that it was no problem for him; since occasionally business associates of his needed a place to stay in London, he was able to oblige them. He assured me that I would find everything in good condition.
I slept very well in Lawrence Street that night. The only thing that I felt to be missing was Lydia's form next to me. Once again I found myself thinking of how pleasant our wedding night would prove. After I would have lunch with Colonel Fitzwilliam, I needed to find a way to go to Hertfordshire to ask for Mr. Bennet's consent in person. And then to Swindon – it had been too long since I had seen my family.
The next day, I arrived at Matlock House at noon. The largest carriage that I had ever seen, with a different crest from the one Colonel Fitzwilliam had told me belonged to his family, and all sorts of other decorations on it, was parked in front of the house. Someone must be visiting; all I could do was proceed to the door and ring the bell.
The butler who admitted me was not as friendly as Stanton. I think he would have liked to look haughty, but at the moment the best word to describe him would have been "flummoxed".
"Major Denny," he said, "I think it is best that you take a seat in the drawing room and await the Colonel. He is in the study with Lady Catherine, his aunt, and... they may stay there for some time."
Before I could ask him what he meant, I overheard two very raised voices. The Colonel's voice, deep and firm, and the voice of an older lady, who was clearly incensed.
"... Darcy dared not announce this sham of an engagement to me, of all people I first heard of it from my parson!"
"He was probably worried that you would react exactly as you have now, Aunt Catherine."
"Of course I would react! Darcy has no right to throw himself away for the arts and allurements of a penniless country chit. You know he is betrothed to Anne!"
"I have not met the lady, but I know that she is a gentleman's daughter, and I know my cousin's character well enough to trust his judgment. If he believes they are well suited, and she has accepted him, what business of mine is it to object?"
"Are the shades of Pemberley to be polluted by such low connections? Her uncles are in trade and the law – and not even a respected London barrister, but a country attorney – and her father's estate is entailed upon Mr. Collins, of all people!"
"Of all people indeed." Did I hear my commander chuckle?
"This is no laughing matter, Fitzwilliam!" the lady's voice had grown one notch higher. "Darcy is betraying his family! His union with Anne was planned, their estates were to be joined, since they were children. He is flouting every sense of honour and decorum. You must talk some sense into him and make him stop!"
Colonel Fitzwilliam's reply was too low for me to hear. Needless to say, the butler was also listening very intently. Probably other servants that I could not see were as well.
"... one of her sisters was recently married to a tradesman's son, who has recently leased an estate to fancy himself a member of the gentry..."
"Bingley is a good man; you could not find a kinder soul in all of England..."
"Stop interrupting me! I went to Darcy about this and he dismissed me with the utmost rudeness... smiled like a fool every time that I said her name...she must already have corrupted his mind..."
"... never been anything wrong with his mind..."
"Yes, in many ways he is a good man, but to choose such a woman! Why, her youngest sister is betrothed to a mere officer! I saw you blink, Fitzwilliam, are you beginning to understand that you must do your duty to the family and convince your cousin to desist from this foolishness?"
"NOT ANOTHER WORD, AUNT CATHERINE! You have no right to speak against Major Denny! He is my most trusted assistant and one of the best men I have ever commanded. And as for his Miss Lydia, if I had five hundred soldiers with her bravery, we would have vanquished Bonaparte by tea-time! I care nothing for the descent of those who have proven their character. I am confident that Darcy's fiancée is a fine lady as well, and I will be sure to attend their wedding, if only to show that he has relations who care for his happiness."
"What...? How dare you speak thus to me, insolent boy!"
"Madam, you forget yourself! You are addressing a knighted officer of the Crown, not scolding a little boy. In fact, after this I believe I will stand up with Denny at his wedding as well. And if you wish to speak with Father or Paul, they should be here in a few hours, but they will certainly not bend to your wishes. We have already spoken and we are all decided to support Darcy in this."
"I am going to have lunch with Denny now. As for Darcy's marriage, we have nothing further to say about it to each other. Good day, Aunt."
I heard a splutter followed by the sound of the Colonel's boots. "Oh, there you are, Denny, I am sorry you had to hear all that. Let us be on our way; I am in need of a good strong drink."
Before I could say anything, a cry of "Richard Edgar Fitzwilliam, come back here this instant!" was heard. Richard Edgar Fitzwilliam ignored it and we went out the door.
"Sir, do you truly intend to stand up with me when I marry Lydia?" I asked him. He might have said it only in order to enrage his aunt.
"Of course," he said and slapped me on the back. "We are both 'mere officers' and men of our word. And when we drink together, you might as well start calling me Fitz."To Be Continued . . .