To the Reader: For reasons of secrecy, the true events surrounding the elopement of Miss Lydia Bennett with George Wickham, Esq. have never been made public. Rather, the famous retelling was a carefully crafted falsehood by the late Jane Austen, for which many people owe her a great debt. Now, thanks to this author's recent encounter with one of the eyewitnesses, and another person who also knows what really happened, the truth can be told...
From the Secret Chronicles of the Watchers
"I fear you have long been desiring my absence," Mr. Darcy said, standing up from his chair. Elizabeth blinked her tears away, and stood up to bid him farewell. Even as she asked Darcy to extend apologies to Georgiana, and to conceal what had happened between Wickham and Lydia, Lizzy was wishing that Darcy could stay. All around her, the world was in a tailspin, and she didn't know if she could break out of it. He bowed, exited the room, and closed the door behind him.
"I shall never see him again," she realized aloud. Lizzy collapsed in the chair, and began to sob uncontrollably. Several minutes later, her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner burst in the door, begging to know what was wrong. Elizabeth composed herself, and began to tell them of Jane's letters. Aunt Gardiner was shocked to hear that Lydia would run off and elope, as was her uncle. After Elizabeth finished her explanation, Mr. Gardiner called for the servant to have their trunks packed at once. The three of them would be needed at Longbourn.
Darcy jumped on his horse, and spurred him into action. Riding out of Lambton at a dizzying speed, Darcy began to work on a plan of action. Hills and trees seemed to fly by in streaks as he raced back to Pemberley. This is all my fault, he thought. If I hadn't been so protective of my reputation, then all of this could have been avoided. Now all is lost... I worked so hard to change Elizabeth's opinion of me, and now she must think even worse of me than she did before!
As the horse rounded the corner to Pemberley, Darcy noticed a familiar carriage parked in front of the house. As he brought the horse to a stop, he checked again. Indeed, the carriage was that of his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Dismounting quickly, he ran up the front stairs, and burst through the main doors into the foyer. Heading straight for the drawing room, Darcy found himself in a frantic rush, accidentally bumping into a suit of armor. Throwing the doors open, he found Mrs. Reynolds serving tea to Fitzwilliam and two strange gentlemen, one dressed in a British Army uniform, the other in a suit similar to Darcy's. Fitzwilliam and the other gentlemen rose to greet him.
"Darcy, I'd like to introduce you to these very good friends of mine. Darcy, this is Captain Duncan MacLeod, and his kinsman Connor," Fitzwilliam said, motioning to both of them.
"Delighted, gentlemen, but this really isn't the time right now," Darcy said abruptly. "Fitz, something very important has come up."
"Oh?" Fitzwilliam asked, concerned.
"It appears that Miss Bennet's youngest sister has run off with a certain person of our acquaintance," he said.
"You can't be serious, Darcy."
"Do you think I would joke about him?"
"Could one of you just clear this up for us?" Connor asked. "Who is 'him'?"
"George Wickham," Darcy said, the disgust dripping from each word.
Connor and Duncan shared a brief glance. They both knew what they had to do.
"You'd better let us handle this, Mr. Darcy," Duncan said.
"I thank you for your offer of assistance, gentlemen, but I believe that I shall be able to handle Mr. Wickham," he replied.
"No, I very much doubt that you can handle Wickham. You see, he's..." Duncan began.
"He's...different," Connor explained.
"Yes, quite right. He happens to be one of the most deceitful scoundrels who ever walked the earth, seeking out innocent young women for nothing more than their fortunes. I'd say that makes him different from the average man," Darcy said.
"No, that's not what I was thinking of," Duncan said.
"Then what makes him different from me and Darcy?" Fitzwilliam asked.
"It's a kind of magic," Connor offered.
"What kind of explanation is that?" Darcy asked.
Duncan glanced at Connor, whose face warned him not to say too much. "We can't offer more of an explanation than that. You'll just have to take our word on it. But believe me, Mr. Darcy, Connor and I want to see Wickham pay for his crimes as much as you and the Colonel."
"And what has he done to you?" Darcy asked, somehow not believing that the MacLeods had been harmed by the same man.
"Where should I start?" Connor snapped, his face flashing red with anger, as his hawk-like eyes focused in on Darcy...
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on the characters of P&P, or Highlander (in its various forms), just a fan of both. Therefore, any inconsistencies you find in the portrayal of characters is solely my fault.
Darcy almost jumped back in his chair, thinking that Connor was going to dive at him. Fortunately, Duncan grabbed him, and hauled his kinsman back onto the sofa.
"Connor, now's not the time. We must concentrate on finding Wickham," ordered Duncan.
"I apologize, I appear to have hit a raw nerve," Darcy said. "Would you two gentlemen do the Colonel and I the honor of helping us find Mr. Wickham and young Miss Bennet?"
"Yes, we will gladly come along," Duncan said. "Isn't that right, Connor?"
"I'll find him. And when I do, I'm going to take his head, the filthy bastard!!!" Connor promised, a dark edge in his voice.
Wickham must have done more to MacLeod than I thought, Darcy realized.
"We must leave for London at once," Darcy announced, as he headed for the door. Just then, Mrs. Reynolds entered, with another tea tray in hand. He stopped and faced his housekeeper. "Mrs. Reynolds, I must leave on a matter of some urgency with Fitzwilliam and these two gentlemen. Please pay my respects to Bingley, and tell him that he may stay as long as he wishes at Pemberley with the rest of his party." He almost hesitated at that last part; Just think-Caroline Bingley being allowed to stay as long as she likes. Maybe this isn't a good idea after all, Darcy thought.
"Do you know when you shall be returning sir?" she asked.
"No, I'm afraid not." He turned to leave, and then stopped again. "Please inform Georgiana that Miss Bennet and the Gardiners will not be dining with us tonight. Tell her that they were called back to Longbourn on urgent business."
"Yes, sir," she said. Mrs. Reynolds made a short curtsy to each gentleman as he left. Connor, the last one to exit, stopped at the door, quickly poured himself another cup of tea, and downed it in one gulp. Replacing it on the tray, he said, "Thank you, madam. It's been a pleasure meeting you."
"As you say so, dear," Mrs. Reynolds said, closing the drawing room door behind him. As she put the tray down, her sleeve rolled up slightly, revealing a small, circular, blue tattoo with a Y-shape in the center. It was time to do some writing...
Elizabeth Bennet paced back and forth on the front porch of Longbourn, waiting for the post to arrive. It had been about two days since anyone had heard from her father, and about four hours since her return home. Her aunt and uncle were upstairs at the moment, keeping her hysterical mother company. Lizzy knew that Mama could be trying at times, but Lydia's elopement had really put her over the edge. Even though she knew that Lydia's affair with Wickham would bring the Bennet family much shame, she had severe doubts about Mr. Bennet going off and getting in a duel with Wickham.
And then there was Mr. Darcy. The tall, handsome gentleman who Lizzy had spent so much of the last 10 months reviling was now ingrained in her mind. Something had changed him; he was no longer the proud, disagreeable man who had set all of Meryton on its ear. Rather, she seemed to sense real love coming from Darcy; not the proud, spiteful emotions that he showed during an infamous marriage proposal at Hunsford. Lizzy no longer knew what to think about him. He had become a complete enigma, and it was driving her up the walls.
Fortunately, the sound of horses' hooves on gravel was heard, and Lizzy turned to see the postman riding up the driveway, a cloud of dust behind him. Jumping down, he walked up to Lizzy, wiping the sweat from his brow with a leather glove. From his pocket he removed a letter, and handed it to her as she paid him the postage. As he rode off, she turned it over, and recognized her father's wax seal. News, at last! Running upstairs, Lizzy burst into Mrs. Bennet's bedroom, looking for Uncle Gardiner. He wasn't there, but her mother was.
"Oh, dear Lord, child, what's wrong with you?" Mrs. Bennet snapped. "Going about, throwing the door open like that! Like to scare me half to death, what with me and my poor nerves! I thought you were Mr. and Mrs. Collins, come to tell me that your father was dead, and that he was here to turn us out to starve in the hedgerows!!!"
"No, Mama, it is only me. Pray, tell me, where is my uncle?" Lizzy asked, hoping she'd be able to leave before her mother had another outburst.
"I believe that he and your aunt are walking the garden right now. But what does it matter? That horrible Wickham shall be the ruin of us all!" she cried.
"Yes, Mama," Lizzy sighed, closing the door. She quickly turned, and ran out the stairs, and straight into the garden. Her aunt and uncle were looking over some bushes, when Lizzy approached, and turned to meet her. Lizzy took a second to catch her breath, and handed her uncle the letter. He opened it and read it quickly.
"I'm sorry, Lizzy, but your aunt and I must leave at once. Your father thinks he may have a lead as to Lydia's location, and requests my assistance," Mr. Gardiner said, looking up.
"Are you sure that I can not come with you?" Lizzy asked. "I am sure that Jane can look after things here at Longbourn. And I know things of Wickham's past which may be of assistance to us."
"Oh, what things?" Mrs. Gardiner asked, curiously.
"I am not at leisure to say, but I assure you that they can be helpful," Lizzy said, obviously torn between wanting to help her sister, yet keep Mr. Darcy's secret.
"Very well," Mr. Gardiner said reluctantly. "I shall warn you, though. This is against my better judgement. We will probably end up traveling into some of the seedier areas of London to seek them out."
"I am well aware of that, uncle. May I begin packing now?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied. "I shall go and inform your mother; it certainly won't be an easy task..."
A billowing cloud of dust rose up on the road to London. If one were to have passed through the dust trail, they would have found an expensive carriage being pulled by four horses, horses which were being strained to the limit at the moment. The carriage bounced wildly, as its speed surpassed the point where a good suspension system on a bumpy country road would make any difference. Unfortunately, one of these bumps was quite large; it broke a section of the front wheel to the carriage, and forced the drive to stop. Getting out, he surveyed the damage, and realized that he could carry his passengers no farther.
"What happened, Pembrook?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, leaning out of the window.
"Sorry to inform you, sir, but we hit a bump in the road. The one wheel's broke," he said.
Colonel Fitzwilliam glanced to his companions, and they shrugged and got out of the carriage. The end of the line had come a bit more quickly than they had hoped.
"How far to the next town?" Mr. Darcy asked. Looking around, he thought, We really are in the middle of nowhere. Has to be at least 15 miles to the next town...
"'Bout eight miles, sir," Pembrook replied.
"Let's unhitch the horses; we can ride ahead and get help," suggested Connor MacLeod, as he opened his shirt-collar. The summer heat was becoming oppressive.
"I wouldn't recommend it," Darcy replied. "Those horses are completely worn out. They wouldn't make it halfway there before they collapsed from exhaustion."
"So what, then?" Fizwilliam asked. "We can't simply stand here and wait if Wickham is as dangerous as I'm now beginning to think he is!"
"There's a stream near here where we can let the horses drink and cool down; let's walk them there, and then we can ride into town for help," Duncan said.
They all helped Pembrook unhitch the horses from the carriage, and walked them over to the stream. Connor and Duncan went back and moved the carriage off to the side of the road, and then joined Darcy and the Colonel by the water.
"I don't mean to invade your privacy, Connor, but what exactly did Mr. Wickham do to you?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.
"Well, if you must know, Fitz, it involved a niece of mine. Many, many years ago...seems like centuries now," Connor said as he shared a knowing glance with Duncan. "There was this handsome, well-mannered gentlemen who rode into Glenfinnan. He took a liking to my niece, Mary, and convinced her to run away and marry him. They ran away, alright, but they never got married. Instead, Wickham sent out a ransom note, asking for a sum of £2,000 in exchange for Sarah. The town fathers raised the ransom money, and sent it off, but I went on my own, convinced that I could rescue her before they paid up."
"And?" Darcy asked out of curiosity.
"The dog murdered her in cold blood! And then, he killed the messengers and took the money, and I couldn't do anything..." Connor looked as though he were going to either break down and cry, or explode in rage. Instead, he sucked it up, and composed himself in a minute or two.
"I'm sorry. It appears that many more people have been wronged by Mr. Wickham than I had previously thought," Darcy said.
"How did you come to know him?" Connor asked.
"George Wickham is the son of a very good man, Robert Wickham, who had the honor of being my late father's steward. He was a very good-natured boy when I first knew him; we grew up together. Then, I went off to Eton, and he seemed like an entirely different person when I came back," Darcy recalled.
"He was a different man," Duncan muttered. Darcy glanced at him, thinking that he'd heard something, but chose to ignore it.
"Anyway, Wickham and I went to Oxford together. I studied the law, even though I knew I'd probably never practice it. Wickham supposedly was there to study for the ministry, but instead he spent four years studying the opposite sex, if you take my meaning."
"I do," Connor said, grimly. He was afraid of what might come next in Darcy's narrative.
"After graduation, he decided not to go into the church, even though my father had already arranged a position for him in the village of Kimpton. After my father died five years ago, he left a sum of £4,000 for Wickham if he ever wanted to go and study something else, rather than enter the church. Wickham took the money, and I thought that would be the end of him. I was wrong.
"About a year ago, my sister Georgiana was spending the summer at Ramsgate in the company of a woman named Mrs. Younge. It turned out that Mrs. Younge was a friend to Wickham, and arranged for him to meet with my sister. He almost convinced her to elope, meaning that he would receive her inheritance of £15,000 upon their marriage. Fortunately, I arrived in time to prevent the horrible deed from taking place, and sent Wickham off in disgrace. He then went and joined the Army."
"What regiment?" Duncan asked, wondering if he knew the commanding officer.
"Colonel Forster's. They were lately quartered in Meryton, in Hertfordshire," Darcy responded.
"Forster is a good man. I'm sorry to see that he let a person like Wickham pull the wool over his eyes."
They sat together in silence for several moments, each looking at their own little area around them while the horses drank from the stream.
"What made you need to go after Wickham this time?" Connor asked.
"Umm...there is a woman, a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom I am...um...acquainted with. Her youngest sister went to spend the summer at Brighton with Colonel Forster's regiment. Miss Bennet just found out that Lydia was coerced by Wickham into eloping. However, the Bennets are not as well-off as I, so they will not be able to well absorb the financial burden of paying Wickham's massive debts, and his demands for Lydia's part of her father's inheritance," Darcy explained.
"So you're going to stop Wickham before he can extort anything out of the Bennets?" Duncan asked.
"That's quite noble of you Darcy," Fitzwilliam said. "I never knew you cared about her family that much."
"He doesn't," Connor said, knowingly. "He only cares about Miss Bennet. Am I right, Darcy?"
Darcy didn't answer. His face flushed instead.
"I think we've stayed here long enough," Darcy said, quickly. "The horses should be rested enough for us to head into the village."
Shrugging their shoulders, Connor and Duncan mounted their horses, and rode off toward the village. By the time Darcy and Fitzwilliam got started, they were a good eighth of a mile behind.
"When do you think we'll have to tell them?" Duncan asked.
"Never, I hope," Connor replied.
"Something's bound to happen sooner or later where we'll have to let them in on what we really are, Connor."
"I'd rather that they didn't know, though."
"Telling them could be helpful, though. Darcy has told us everything about his dealings with Wickham. You, on the other hand, only told him half the story."
"I told him the half that he needed to hear," Connor said sharply.
"But he doesn't realize the extent of Wickham's doings. He doesn't realize that what happened with Mary took place 150 years ago!" Duncan exclaimed
"He knows what I think he should know; we'll figure out the rest later."
Duncan looked at Connor like he was going to say something, but then changed his mind.
"Now let's give them a chance to catch up," Connor said.
They slowed their horses down, letting Darcy and the Colonel pull up along either side of them. As the entrance to the village neared, all of them exchanged uneasy glances. However, the two MacLeods felt something additional. A strange sensation came over their bodies which, though each had felt it dozens of times before, never lost its shock.
And as the four horsemen passed through the village gate, a pair of dark eyes watched them closely from the second-floor window of the inn...