Posted on 2016-01-12
London - May, 1807
The man behind the desk gestured towards the chair placed in front of it. He was relatively young man, not more than three and twenty and had already assumed the gravitas of one much older.
"Please sit." He said.
His guest did so. He was a man of much of an age with his host but gravitas was not, and had never been, a part of his nature. He wore an air of amusement and, his host thought, expectation. His smile appeared open and generous; he wore amiability like a cloak, and like such it could mask what lay beneath.
"Darcy." He said, nodding cheerfully.
Darcy nodded and glanced down at the papers facing him on the desk. The silence lasted some moments and appeared to discomfit the man sitting before the desk who cleared his throat, perhaps hoping to spur Darcy to action, or, more likely, indicative of a degree of nervousness that he could otherwise wish to conceal.
Darcy would admit only to himself that he took a slight pleasure in his guest's discomfiture; but, as it served no purpose, he chose to address the matter before them.
"You were not present" he said, "when my father's will was read."
The other nodded, "I was not informed of his passing till almost a week later."
Darcy grunted and shuffled the papers.
"I am given to understand that your father apprised you of the bequest left to you."
His guest nodded, "One thousand pounds, my father wrote; as well he intimated that your father wished to advance my career to the extent possible."
"Out of respect for your father and recognizing that circumstances would not allow him to do so."
"Your father was most gracious."
"And yours was a most deserving man, and one my father held in great respect."
Darcy pushed two pieces of paper across the desk.
"This will comply with the terms of the will once you have signed acknowledging receipt of the bank draft for one thousand pounds." He said, pointing to where his guest was to affix his signature. This was speedily complied with and both gentlemen retrieved the appropriate paper. His guest folded his and secured it in the inner pocket of his waistcoat; Darcy included his amongst the other papers in the folder that lay on the desk, and then leaned back in his chair gazing thoughtfully at the man before him. He had given much thought to the situation he faced. It had been tempting to adopt that method which would honour his father's wish and also sever the connection with his old childhood friend. Had the latter been possessed of a decent character, he might have honoured his father's explicit direction, but he could not and he was sure that, had his father known the character of his godson, he would have wished to make other arrangements. It was his duty to carry out his father's wishes in the way that he believed him to have wanted. And severing the connection would not have suited his father's pleasure.
The man before the desk could no longer repress his impatience.
"There was, my father gave me to understand, a further bequest from your father, Darcy."
Darcy nodded agreeably, "There was. I believe your father probably informed you that my father wished you to have the living at Kympton when it became available."
A spasm of distaste crossed the countenance of both for widely different reasons, In Wickham's case - for George Wickham was his name and he was the son of Darcy's steward - the bequest would confer no immediate advantage as the incumbent of the Kympton parish was hale and hearty for a man of somewhat advanced years and could enjoy good health for several more. Besides he would have to take orders and that prospect did not interest him at all. He was about to declaim his interest in the specific bequest when Darcy's next words gave him pause.
"However," Darcy said, "I would be extremely remiss in my responsibilities if I were to place the moral compass of the parish of Kympton in the hands of a man who has, in recent years, given no indication that he is in possession of one."
"Here now, Darcy!" Responded Wickham worried that a rejection of the bequest by its donor was to take place. He did not take issue with the substance of the charge laid at his feet and showed no sign of embarrassment - a fact that Darcy noted. Darcy spoke again before Wickham's protestations could gather force.
"My father" he replied, "wished to advance your career as best he could. That left three alternatives - the church, which I have just ruled out, law and the military."
He grimaced, "While the law would seem to befit you well, particularly as your father had made it his profession, I had not been at Cambridge a month before discerning that a habit of study was not one you possessed. I saw nothing in your terms there in subsequent years to suggest that the practice of law would suit you now."
"I must disagree, Darcy. I think it would suit me quite well."
"It is not a profession that will provide a comfortable living immediately, Wickham. How would you support yourself until it does?"
"I had given some thought to the matter. If I resign all claims to the living of Krypton, might I not expect some compensation?"
Darcy nodded. An internal sense of amusement wondered at the sum Wickham would suggest as reasonable compensation.
"What would you consider reasonable, Wickham?"
Wickham appeared as though he was considering the matter for the first time.
"I have not" he said, "given thought to that matter but as the living is worth, according to my father, about four hundred pounds per annum, an amount of ten thousand pounds does not appear unreasonable."
Darcy did not try too hard to hide his smirk.
"The living might not be available for five or even ten years, Wickham. Mr. Tallow is quite healthy for a man of sixty years. He could easily live so long as that. Why should I pay you ten thousand and him four hundred a year at the same time? You must not consider me so foolish, Wickham. It will not do. It insults us both."
Wickham shrugged. He had not really thought that his suggestion would be accepted immediately.
"What would you suggest then, Darcy?"
"I do not believe that the law will suit you at all, Wickham. Knowing your character as I do, I have no reason to believe that giving you one or five or ten thousand pounds will advance your career in law. It would, I have no doubt, only encourage your habit of sloth and dissolute behaviour."
Wickham coloured. He was about to protest vehemently such disparagement. He did not, could not, dispute Darcy's censure but it also could not be allowed to stand uncontested. He leaned forward, his hand raised, a finger pointing as to emphasize his words.
"I cannot" he said, "argue that . . ."
"Do not plague us both with a suggestion that your behaviour will be reformed with the presentation of a bequest, Wickham. If I do not believe you capable of becoming a worthy priest, I will hardly allow that you will undertake the study of law. Do not play me for a fool."
Wickham sank back into his chair. He knew Darcy well enough to be sure that he was not to be gainsaid on the matter. The prospect of receiving an infusion of funds to pay his debts appeared to have dissipated altogether.
"What" he asked, "do you propose then? How will you honour your father's wishes?"
"We have ruled out the church and law as possible professions. That leaves on the military. And" he said, "as you are too old by some ten years to join the navy that leaves only the army." He grinned at his old friend. "So it's an officer you shall be, Wickham."
Wickham was dismayed. It was not his intention to join a profession in which he might be exposed to danger. He enjoyed life's pleasures too much - women and gambling, in particular - to make such a prospect enticing.
Darcy nodded. Wickham's discomfit at the suggestion was . . . satisfying.
"I do not wish to join the army, to become an officer. I will not."
"That is unfortunate then, Wickham. You decline the bequest altogether then, Wickham?"
"No, of course not. There must be an alternative. I would take . . . Say, five thousand pounds, Darcy. Surely that would satisfy the terms of the bequest."
Darcy shook his head. "No Wickham. My father wished to advance your career and I doubt he intended that to mean providing you with the opportunity to seduce more young women or gamble your provenance away. No indeed. It is the army or nothing, Wickham."
A silence endured for over a minute as Wickham considered the implacable countenance of the man facing him across the desk. His distaste for the man did not blind him to his character. He was proud, haughty, and disdainful of those beneath his station in life but he was also dependable, resolute and intelligent. Wickham suddenly realized that this meeting, which he had entered so glibly and with every assurance of walking out with a substantial endowment of funds, had also been considered in some depth by Darcy.
"What" he asked, "are you offering in particular?"
Darcy nodded once more, suppressing any display of the satisfaction he felt.
"I will purchase you a Lieutenant's Commission in the army - cavalry, I think. You are quite a proficient rider and a passable shot and swordsman. You could do well."
Darcy frowned, "I think not. The militia do not pay well enough to support you adequately. It is the home of those with independent means and that you do not have. No, it is the regulars for you, Wickham; and, as we are fighting the frenchies, there is hope for advancement."
Wickham grunted, "Also hope that I get my bollocks shot off."
Darcy grinned and said nothing.
"I will, in addition, provide you with a uniform, horse and such equipment as you will need."
Wickham considered him closely for several moments. He would he knew, accept. He had no alternatives and, should the experience prove sufficiently unpleasant, he could sell the commission. That prospect heartened him enough to see if he could pry something further from Darcy.
"I have," he muttered, "some debts that must be cleared in Lambton."
Darcy's mien grew more pinched. He had suspected as much.
Wickham muttered once more, "not above three hundred pounds."
Darcy nodded, "Very well then. I shall assume them. Are we agreed then? A Lieutenant's Commission and payment of your debts in Lambton! That will, I believe, amount to something slightly more than two thousand and five hundred pounds."
Wickham grudgingly assented but not before making a final request which Darcy granted with a smirk.
"I will ensure that you are not assigned to the same regiment as my cousin. I am quite aware of how companionable you are with Richard." He paused briefly and then added, "As well, Wickham, I will make an offer that I am sure my father would have extended. Should you do well in the army, I will assist your further advancement if it is within my power to do so."
Wickham, who was about to rise from his chair to take his leave, sank back and considered Darcy once more. This was an unexpected promise. The late Mr. Darcy had always been generous with him, paying for his schooling - a gentleman's schooling that his own father could ill-afford - and the promise of advancing his career had not been unexpected. His own father had not expected more than the bequest of living of Kympton; suddenly Wickham realized that this last promise was really Darcy's, and Darcy's alone. Perhaps in memory of the good times they had shared as children before their characters had led them down different paths. He stood, bowed and then extended his hand to Darcy who, after a pause due more to surprise than displeasure, accepted it. The two men shook hands and separated following Wickham's parting words.
"Thank you, Darcy. I will hold you to that promise."
January 29, 1810
Darcy was sitting through the post that had just been laid beside him at breakfast. Holmes was a most efficient butler and only personal correspondence was normally so distributed. Today's batch was comprised of three letters only and it was the uppermost that captured his attention immediately. He had not seen the particular handwriting for almost three years. He opened it to find enclosed a second, sealed letter.
Naples, Kingdom of Naples
December 2, 1809
I doubt not that you are surprised to receive this letter from me. As we have not corresponded since our last meeting in London, I would not be at all amazed if you had thought me dead - should you think of me at all. It does not pain me at all to disappoint you in this regard. I am excessively healthy and in full possession of my limbs, mind and other essential parts which provided you with some amusement at our last meeting. I will not bore you with idle chatter as I know it plagues you greatly. I have improved in that regard, have I not?
My purpose in writing you is to request that you honour the promise you made at the end of that meeting - to advance my career if it were within your power to do so. I feel my request is worthy of your consideration and, should you agree to it, I will consider that you have honoured your father's wishes to the fullest extent. I should neither ask nor expect anything further from the Darcy family.
Eighteen months ago I was promoted to the position of Captain as the incumbent died of his wounds. My conduct has pleased my superior officers and I have included with this missive, one from Col. Henry Armstrong, the commanding officer in the 11th Hussars which attests to his satisfaction with my conduct and capabilities. It was with his encouragement and support that I have chosen to proceed with this application.
The Majority of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Hussars has become available as the current holder has resigned having received an inheritance of no little consequence. Colonel Armstrong has recommended me for the position and has won the approval of his superior to confirm my Captaincy which allows me to sell it and apply the funds towards the Majority. As a ready buyer for my Captaincy exists, all that is required is to acquire the purchase amount of thirty-two hundred pounds. It is, I acknowledge, a handsome sum but it shall be the last expenditure I shall require of you.
To my character, you have the commendation of Colonel Armstrong. If you require further references, I am sure that Major John Cullen (ret) who was my commanding officer - and whose commission I seek to purchase - would be acceptable. He may be contacted at the address included below.
I await your decision.
George Wickham, Cpt. 11th Hussars
Darcy scanned Colonel Armstrong's letter, was impressed at the unexpected warmth of the commendations. If the Colonel was to be believed, Wickham was the model soldier and had performed his duties in an exemplary manner. It did not reconcile with his memories of the man and he could not help but wonder if the Colonel had been beguiled as thoroughly as his father. The idea of writing Major Cullen was not a bad idea. As well he wondered if his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, might be able to glean information from his contacts in the military. Both were matters worth exploring for he was determined to assist Wickham this one last time. Then his father's wishes could be fulfilled and any obligation between the Darcy family and George Wickham met in its finality.The End