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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 26 - 28

July 21, 2022 05:19PM

George Wickham was an intelligent, handsome man with a very simple goal in life: to work as little as possible and take every opportunity life afforded him to enjoy himself. His good looks and natural charm opened many doors, beginning with his godfather, whose name he bore, George Darcy. Out of that man’s generous pocketbook flowed all of the advantages which his own birth would never have allowed him to aspire to. He had lived a consequence free existence from six to six and twenty, his youthful indiscretions as well as his less than youthful exploits had been cleaned up, covered over or otherwise managed with extraordinarily little inconvenience to himself, until the death of George Darcy heralded the succession of his son, Fitzwilliam, as the Master of Pemberley.

He regretted his lack of foresight there. Currying favour with the father at the expense of the son was not, in hindsight, the wisest of decisions, but old habits are hard to break, and he had always hated Fitzwilliam Darcy’s unshakeable virtue. The Monk couldn’t be corrupted, bought or charmed and he had burned that bridge long before he attempted to seduce Georgiana. He still cursed the day that brought Darcy to Ramsgate, conveniently forgetting that the same will that had granted him the living he chose to forsake, also stipulated that Georgiana’s fortune could not be accessed by any husband she took without the approval of her guardians. Had he achieved his scheme he would still be a supplicant, beholden to the Monk for every penny that came his way. All that time and effort wasted, wooing that uptight little girl in a beautiful woman’s body, pretending to be an honourable gentleman and making do with pecks on the cheek and other such banalities.

Still, he had managed a little revenge of his own, turning the head of that pretty Miss Elizabeth, who had seen nothing but Darcy’s arrogance and pomposity and was more than compassionate towards his current reduced circumstances. The rumour was that she had given Darcy a set down over it during their dance at the Netherfield Ball! He had laughed heartily when he heard that. How delightful that he had taken a fancy to the only woman Wickham currently had the power to influence, and who already despised his, what had she called it? Oh yes, his “abominable pride”. He missed her lively company, regretted pursuing the freckled little Miss King when he could have been pursuing Elizabeth. She was ripe for the plucking, a few more choice words about honour, a wistful sigh, some accidental light brushes against her bodice as they walked together. She would not be uptight, he knew. He wondered whether she would be returning to Hertfordshire before he left. He would love to hear her impressions of the inhabitants of Rosings Park. He had lived well these last few months, making hay with the mawkish sentimentality of his neighbours who loved to pity him while hearing nothing good about the pompous misanthrope, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Until recently, that is, when suddenly all of his debts were being called in and his usual frolics were being curtailed.

He slammed his tankard down in bored frustration, not tasting the watered-down ale that was served in the enlisted men’s mess hall. He had been reduced to eating and drinking here as the Meryton innkeepers and taverns were no longer serving any officers who had outstanding debts and it was another week until pay day. In another month, he would be at Brighton, and many opportunities to improve his situation and get back to enjoying his life were sure to come his way. Until then, he could procure neither good drink nor a clean skirt and while debts were being called, the gambling tables were closed to him also. His fellow officers had begun comparing notes about his debts of honour amongst them, so the next few days he was going to have to lay low, hence his avoidance of the Officer’s Mess also. As he was no longer keeping much company with his fellow officers, he was not made aware of any of the general invitations that had been issued to the officers from the local gentry of late. He may as well return to his quarters as there was little to no fun to be had anywhere without any coin.

“Lieutenant George Wickham!”

The barked order sounded strangely familiar, but his habitual languor and indolence kept him from rising immediately. Colonel Forster was at the mess door, but it was another man, striding purposefully toward his table that caught his attention. He was roughly pulled by his lapels to his feet by Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, “Do you not know to stand when a ranking officer calls your name, Lieutenant!” He smiled grimly as he released him, and Wickham almost collapsed back into the chair. “What are you doing here, Wickham? The officer’s mess is across the camp, is it not? Having trouble retaining friends still, I see.” Wickham affected unconcern and offered a perfunctory salute to his senior officer, “What are you doing here, Colonel? Summoned to do more of Darcy’s dirty work, were you?”

“Although it is apparent that you are incapable of making a life for yourself without trading in some way on the Darcy name, some of us have other business to attend to. I am meeting with Colonel Forster in preparation for the removal to Brighton. While I am convalescing in recovery from my injuries, I have been tasked to oversee training our militia. We are working together to ensure all the militia companies attending will have every opportunity to improve their fighting skills in readiness for any future engagements. I confess I am hoping that the quality of officer to be found in the Warwickshire Militia is not exemplified by you. It is a wonder you chose the militia over the cavalry. You were never one for a real fight, but by god, you always had an excellent seat.” The Colonel was speaking loud enough for the gathered soldiers to hear and slapped Wickham on the back, a little harder than was necessary for it to be strictly in good humour. Wickham rebounded into the table, toppling over the tankard with the last of his ale.

“Yes, well, it wasn’t within my funds to allow the purchase of a commission into the cavalry unfortunately, so I chose the militia.”

“What, you burned through 4000 pounds in less than 5 years?! I thought you were heading for the bar, you know enough of the law from the other side of the dock - thought you might make a decent go of that!” Wickham could hear the gasps from the men in the mess and knew this revelation would travel quickly if he did not say something quickly. “What 4000 pounds, Colonel? You know I was intended for the church and was cheated out of my living by your canting prig of a cousin!”

“Oh ho! Cheated, were you? Intended for the church, eh?” Richard laughed heartily and slapped him on the back again. “I did not know a predilection for hard drinking, chasing skirt and an uncanny ability to lose all of your money at the gambling table were desirable criteria for a man of the cloth. It makes for a great story though, eh chaps, especially now he’s wearing a red coat! Gets this pretty face all the attention from the lovely young misses in the High Street?” He cupped Wickham’s chin and brought him nose to nose. Still smiling, the Colonel muttered, “I’ll be watching you, George. I am exceedingly glad to have found you at last.” Wickham sank into the chair as he was released and watched the Colonel stride from the room with Forster, who had watched the scene with curious detachment. Wickham, although a charming ne’er-do-well and practiced rake, was by no means the worst officer in his company - the militia made do with what they could get, and he was more interested in keeping his young wife happy than getting in the way of what looked like a family contretemps. If a Colonel in the Regulars, who was also the second son of an earl, wanted to spar with a lowly commissioned officer, who was he to get in the way?

Wickham sat in contemplation, realising he would probably have to make plans to escape a little early. He had planned to stay with the regiment until Brighton, recoup some of his losses and use his red coat and pretty face to find a willing, young heiress to charm into giving up her fortune. His instinct to wound Darcy through Elizabeth Bennet had misfired and what had it gotten him? Darcy was living his best life wherever he was, Elizabeth was probably too genteel to give him more than her sympathies and Colonel Fitzwilliam was even now in conference with his commanding officer planning who knows what kind of retribution. He grimaced in frustration, ignored by the enlisted men around him as a brawl had begun over a card game at another table, and loped out of the entrance, hoping inspiration or opportunity would strike soon.

He began to walk toward Meryton, skirting the main street lest he be called in directly to pay his debts when he noticed a group of familiar ladies walking towards the Philip’s residence. It appeared as though Elizabeth had returned and was calling at her Aunt’s house with her sisters. He did not see any gentlemen of the party, or any of his fellow officers and wondered if he could charm his way into joining them when a voice behind him arrested him.

“Mr Wickham, is that you?” Lydia Bennet had been dawdling at the milliner’s debating how to spend her last pennies and her sisters had left without her to visit with her aunt.

He turned in surprise to see her. “Why Miss Lydia, how come you to be here unaccompanied?” She laughed with the confidence of youth as she declared she was well able to walk unaccompanied to her aunt’s house, but that he would be welcome to escort her if he so wished. As this was exactly his heart’s desire, he offered her his arm and continued conversing amiably with her. Her conversation betrayed her youthfulness, but her figure and flirtatious manner more than made up for what she lacked in wit and her animal spirits gave her a similar vivacity, though less refined in nature, to her elder sister, Elizabeth. As they walked, he asked after her, hoping he had not mistaken her form when he espied her sisters entering the house earlier.

He stopped short upon hearing the remarkable revelation that she had returned, in company with Darcy and Bingley from London and not just in company but, in actuality, engaged to be married to the sanctimonious dullard. What would Darcy do with a spirited minx like Elizabeth Bennet?

“Wickham, are you well? You look as though you are about to cast up your accounts?”

“Did I hear you correctly? Miss Elizabeth is engaged to Mr Darcy?”

“Indeed, she is! What a fine joke it is! Though it is most assuredly not a joke. He is at Longbourn every day, mooning about her and trying to pretend he’s personable and disinterested. I have gotten some pretty presents out of it already, so I shan’t complain too much, but la, he’s such a bore! And they keep warning me about all the officers, and oh! Lizzy and Jane have said the most horrible things about you! Not being gentlemanly, or trustworthy, and loose with money and morals and other such nonsense. I am valiantly defending your good name, Wickham, but I believe you will not be welcome in my aunt’s house anymore!”

Lydia looked crestfallen, but as Wickham had been debating how best to detach himself from the situation, not wishing for a confrontation in the home of the town solicitor at this very moment, he very gallantly accepted her apologies, kissed her hand and decamped from her side as fast as dignity could allow. She watched him walking away with compassion and regret and vowed to continue defending him to her family and that odious Mr Darcy and to find a way to restore his former position in society or give him the comfort only she could provide. She directed her steps to her aunt’s and once inside became involved in her favourite parlour game and was instantly diverted from any of her serious thoughts of Wickham.

Lydia Bennet was fifteen years old, and not once in her short life had she troubled to think deeply about herself, her situation, her character or her consequence. Her mother declared her beautiful, vivacious and charming, and had continued to do so even when her precocious and attention-seeking displays outgrew the sweetness of infancy and became the vulgar and indecorous demands of shallow self-absorption. She was the baby of the family and the apple of her vain mother’s eye, who delighted in the reminders of her bright and happy youth where she herself had been the belle of every assembly ball and had consequently made a very advantageous match, on paper at least. Her husband, being too indolent to seek to improve his wife, or make any effort to find her agreeable, took solace in his library and retreated to his books, employing his wit against his wife’s insipidity in the only enjoyment available to him within his marriage.

His relationship with his daughters was predicated on very simple terms - if they could engage his intellect, he would exert himself to improve their minds and their principles. If they could not, he stepped back as if to savour the disaster slowly unfurling before his eyes. It was not as though he did not love them, but he took little responsibility for their character, behaviour or introduction to society, except to allow the two eldest frequent trips to London from an early age, which they enjoyed increasingly as they grew older, being able to sense the vast expanse between the sense and propriety displayed in the Gardiner home, and the lack thereof displayed at Longbourn. It is possible that Elizabeth and Jane would have developed their inherently gentle characteristics, intelligence, poise and grace without the benefit of a refined aunt and uncle, but that is neither here nor there. What is clear, is that the three daughters who did grow up without the same benefit, had developed none of the same.

Wickham’s path back to the barracks was even more furtive than his meanderings out. He thanked his lucky stars for happening upon Lydia unescorted and for the information she had revealed. That his chances for amusement in Meryton had all but vanished was apparent, but the presence of Fitzwilliam coupled with the astonishing news of Darcy’s engagement to Elizabeth gave him pause. Something was afoot, and he was damned if he was going to get caught in the noose. He cursed his luck in choosing the same little benighted village where Darcy chose to holiday, never once reflecting on his own part in fanning the flames of resentment and spreading his slanderous tale of misuse. He could not even use his botched elopement with Georgiana anymore as his thoughtless pronouncements against her, as a proud and disdainful creature like her brother, ensured no one would believe that they were star-crossed lovers kept apart by her cold-hearted brother.

He skirted the edge of the barracks and ducked in behind the wash tents where he quickly rifled through the officers clothing, looking for and finding all the loose change he could. That he was reduced to this kind of petty theft was shameful, but not beneath him, give his current circumstances. It was imperative that he flee, immediately. He could not afford to wait until pay day, or even the move to Brighton, where he had always intended to part ways with the militia. Much easier in a bustling seaside resort town than in a country village in the middle of Hertfordshire, although he appreciated the easy distance to London. If he was forced to, he could go on foot, and he would be harder to track in that instance. His pockets a little heavier with his bounty, he wondered if it was safe enough to gather his few possessions from his quarters.

He made his way out, blending with the other redcoats and skirting behind the ablutions area, studiously avoided by most of the men because of the stench. Where would the Colonel be lodging? He must be staying with Darcy at Netherfield. As he was deciding he chanced to hear part of a conversation between two of his fellow officers as they were passing the latrines. He heard enough to know he ought not to risk returning to his quarters today. There were rumours a Colonel in the Regulars was here with enough creditor’s notes to send a man to Marshalsea for the rest of his natural life. Wickham fled with nothing but his stolen coins and the shirt on his back, having shrugged out of his redcoat and tossing it into the privy as he bolted into the neighbouring woods in the general direction of London.

Absconders from the local militias were too common to spend much time and money pursuing. Days later, Lydia reported that she had given up asking the other officers for news of Wickham, who had little of good to say of him. At his disappearance he had left behind debts with the local trades and shops, which had been anonymously paid for by an agent from London, and debts of honour in even greater amounts, if the gamblers were to be believed. The general populace had attributed the generosity to one recently affianced gentleman farmer from Derbyshire, and although these reports were denied, his standing among the people of Meryton could not but improve. Even Lydia eventually parroted her mother and her aunt in telling her acquaintance she had always mistrusted Wickham’s appearance of goodness. She turned her attentions to Lieutenants Denny and Carter and then began the long and tedious process of wearing down her father by bewailing the loss of the regiment and demanding to go to Brighton at every opportunity.


“What do you mean he has absconded?” Darcy fixed Richard with a frustrated glare as he rose from Bingley’s desk at Netherfield.

“It is 3 days since he has been seen, Darce. Forster has neither the men nor the inclination to mount a serious manhunt. He probably took off right after I confronted him in the mess.” Darcy’s frustration boiled over as his fist pounded the desk.

“What the devil did you do that for? I asked you to come and help me strategise, not tip him off! His propensity for revenge against me knows no bounds. I needed a way to end him without risking Georgie’s reputation!” He turned to the window and ran a hand through his hair. “Now he is at liberty, and I will have to keep watching my back until he turns up again, and he will turn up again, Richard. He was incapable of leaving well enough alone when he had 4000 pounds in his pocket, he’s like my own harbinger of doom. I know not what bizarre quirk of fate led him to join the one militia that was wintering in the very village nearest to the estate that my friend chose to lease and invite me to, not even one year after that confounded disaster in Ramsgate! It’s like a gothic novel, for heaven’s sake. I need to finish it. I can’t have this hanging over my head while I try to build a life with the very woman who was almost convinced against me by his outrageous slander.”

“I am sorry Darcy, I saw him sitting with the enlisted men and I just needed to get my hands on him. It was all I could do not to run him through right then and there.” Richard sighed heavily as he dropped onto the couch next to the fire. “I have written to the Runners - you know he is hiding in London, there’s nowhere better for him to lay low, but we know his haunts. I will track him down.”

“I need to speak to Elizabeth. I will return to London ahead of schedule and do what needs to be done to further the search. She will understand. I have Mrs Younge’s information in my safe at Darcy House, among other things. He’s had a 3-day head start, Richard. We leave at first light.”

The Netherfield party were due to attend a supper and card party at Longbourn that evening. Darcy arrived early with Charles, as was their privilege as fiancés of the eldest daughters of the house, but due to the matronly attentions of Mrs Bennet was unable to politely arrange to have a private conversation before other guests had arrived. Seated together at the pianoforte, whilst others gathered at card tables throughout the house, Elizabeth played a movement from memory, fudging her way through the entire piece as she and Darcy discussed his intentions.

“But why must you leave, Fitz? Why is it your responsibility?” She worked hard to keep the fear out of her voice.

“Because the fault is mine, Lillybeth, and so must the remedy be.” He saw the fear, and he leaned towards her, surreptitiously caressing her arm as she played, “I will not endanger myself, Elizabeth, but I want to be on hand as I will be calling in his debts when he is found, charging him before the law. It has been my mistaken pride, my desire to not dishonour the memory of my father by pursuing his beloved godson, that has created new victims at every turn. Even when he - with Georgie…” He broke off, unable to continue before he conquered his rising emotion. Elizabeth leaned towards him but continued to play, as she knew their private conversation could only continue as she played. It was obvious to anyone who watched and listened that something else was going on at the pianoforte but as those who noticed loved them best, they were able to continue with the polite fiction that he was merely turning pages for her. His head dropped closer to hers as he breathed in the calm he always found in her presence.

“I feared for her future so much that I did not pursue him. No more, Lillybeth, I will not continue to cover up for his crimes. I cannot prosecute him for any of his moral crimes, but I knew this day would eventually come. I would not have kept all my receipts for his debts, I would not have saved every scrap of information I have been privy to about his depraved lifestyle and his associates, if I did not know that Wickham would lead me to this point. I am ashamed that I let it go on so long, that only when my fears for his disruption of my life, my happiness, are now sufficient for me to bring it to an end, on my terms, and not his. I am not sure if it wasn’t cowardice, rather than the loftier notions of compassion or a naive hope he would one day reform, that stayed my hand.” She shook her head briefly but with vehemence. “No, my dearest, I am resolved, I will no longer wait for him to intrude upon my notice, I will not be swayed from this course, and I will not allow his bitterness and spiteful entitlement to ruin what have been some of the happiest moments of my life thus far, and what I know will be the happiest life I can ever hope for, with you. I will protect you, and our family, Elizabeth. From at least this known enemy of our future, I must.”

Elizabeth had struggled to keep her countenance and continue playing through this impassioned, whispered speech. She blinked back tears at the force of his emotions and finally nodded her approbation and understanding, even if she could not bear the thought of his departure and knew her own fears would make his absence that much harder to endure. She whispered her heart’s desires, “I want to come with you, Fitz. I want to be able to comfort you as you go through this, to be near enough to able to listen and assist in any way I can. To not have to wait for the post to arrive every morning to hear how you are!”

“I confess I would like this also, Lillybeth, but I am planning to leave at first light tomorrow as Wickham has not been seen for 3 days. He has had time to go to ground in London, I know some of his haunts there, it is my best and only chance to assist in his discovery. I have no idea what penalties there are for leaving his militia regiment without permission, but I think it is less than in the Regulars and Richard knows Forster is unable to pursue him, so it is up to me. I have no idea how long this will take. It is possible I will not be able to return before our plans for you and Jane to come to London again take place. Forgive me, Elizabeth, it is not my intent to abandon you during our engagement in Hertfordshire or give offense to your family or your friends. I am happy for you to share my purpose in leaving, as fully and as openly as you can, if you think it wise or helpful in mitigating any aggrieved reactions. I am aware I am exposing you to further malicious gossip, but the timing cannot be helped.”

He looked at her as she played, wishing he could give her more comfort, but he saw the moment her resolve took shape and her courage rose to meet this next challenge. Through it all she played, and as she chose to segue to the close of this symphony, the parts of which she had played in a varied order and with greater repetition than the composer intended, her face had regained its calm and steady countenance. Before the closing bars, she glanced about the room, noting the general inattention towards them and took the opportunity to brush her lips against his cheek, clearly needing to express her love without words. He squeezed the arm he had never relinquished and as she played the final notes, dropped his hand to her leg, briefly squeezing it in an answering gesture of intimacy.

“Oh, my love, I will be praying for you and the Colonel, for success, for a speedy resolution and for as little mortification as possible, though I know that will probably not be answered to my satisfaction, so I will pray for strength also. If you are not returned within the week and have not much hope of a resolution at that time, I will consider moving up our scheduled shopping week in London and maybe we can hope for a brief return to Longbourn together once more, before our fixed engagements in London begin and we enter into a different kind of battle.” Her resolution, her dignity and her willingness to release him without further complaint, filled his heart with peace, and allowed him to immediately focus on the pressing matter at hand, trusting all to her judgment and good sense and praying for her strength and faith in him to be fulfilled.


Darcy House, London

My dearest Lillybeth,

I had hoped my first letter to you might be full of nothing but my love for you, my longing to be with you and sweet remembrances of our last time together, but alas this may be the best I can do, and I know you are more interested in the pertinent facts at hand. Know that my heart is with you always.

We have sent runners to all his old haunts, and some of his associates to see if we can determine his whereabouts, and I have asked them to discreetly follow Mrs Younge also. Before I expose my involvement, I want to be certain she is in place, and if she is assisting him - he has always been able to manipulate her – she is our best chance of laying hands on him. If he is aware of my involvement he will run without delay. Richard has returned to his regiment ostensibly but has raised up some former officers willing to do some unpleasant work for good pay and I feel confident that if we can surprise him, they will do what is necessary to prevent his escape. In these efforts they will be joined by two of my footmen, whose sister and cousin were impacted in the worst way by Wickham’s profligacy, so they will be well pleased should he choose to protest his capture. He has been sighted in the area in recent days, as much as we can gather, so we are on his trail.

As such, I have taken it upon myself to be visible in society so any word he may hear of my being in London will hopefully appear to be coincidental. I have dined at Chilton House, and met with my steward, solicitor and my banker, all legitimate reasons for me to be in town while preparing for our marriage. If nothing else, I will have the settlement papers ready for you and your father to peruse. I am praying I will be able to deliver them into your hand personally but would ask you to make preparations to come to London early. I find I cannot countenance not seeing your beautiful face for many more days, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, and it will lend an air of legitimacy to my being in town again. I have also dined at Gracechurch Street and Lillybet insisted that I take tea with her in your stead. She is quite the most accomplished young lady I have ever met, answering all of Miss Bingley’s list as well as my own requirement of improving her mind with extensive reading, so I am afraid she has quite stolen my heart. As she is not yet out, I will make do with my second favourite Elizabeth until such time as she favours me with her acceptance, or you favour me with another one just like her.

Uncle Henry and Aunt Gwendolyn send you their regards, and Georgie sends you all the love in the world, that she can spare from me. Know that we are safe, and that I am missing you more than I am capable of expressing.

Forever yours,



Longbourn, Hertfordshire

My dearest One,

Has it only been two days since you left? This will be the longest week of my life, but I am making use of the time to prepare the family for a change in plans. The Gardiners expect me in town next Monday, regardless of where things lay with W. Jane has agreed to stand in for me at events in Meryton during my absence but will join me at Gracechurch Street according to the original schedule the week after. Mama is beside herself but that is nothing new and to be honest, I believe she thrives on the drama and enjoys spouting whatever nonsense she can about her second daughter’s fiancé and his eccentric, entitled ways. I am grateful she has no knowledge of the W situation as she would be incapable of respecting your privacy, so she just thinks you are “busy and important” and therefore given to these abrupt decisions, regardless of the reason. It won’t be long before such capricious behaviour will be given the veneer of affable condescension in the manner of Lady Catherine, and no one will blink twice.

While it is my heart’s desire to disabuse these ignorant notions and declare to all your truly noble and amiable heart, it works in my favour to have a taciturn and forbidding fiancé to explain all my own eccentricities and melancholy moods during your absence. I am confident that once we are married, I will make very good use of your cultivated disdain for society to keep you all to myself for many months until either you or I tire of our own company. Fitzwilliam, my darling, I do want the world to know how truly wonderful you are, how warm, loving and utterly captivating is your true nature, but I am convinced that my family will trespass on your goodness so extensively that I will be driven to insanity ere long. I am therefore resolved to allow Jane and Charles to suffer the indignity of being the most affable and genial couple in the family, while you and I share the mantle of self-sufficient and conceited independence to keep the rabble at bay. What say you?

As I write, Lydia and Kitty have been squabbling over the contents of the sewing basket as a proxy argument over the integrity of W, neither subject being worthy of the breath expended in discussion, but I am hopeful that Lydia may yet be convinced that the way to ensure she is kept in the manner to which she has become accustomed cannot include dallying with low ranking officers of no fixed income, with questionable integrity and connections, who by necessity, follow the drum. If Richard has any tips on how to impress this universally acknowledged truth upon naive young girls without completely violating their innocence, I would be grateful.

It goes without saying that the man most responsible for their situation in life is doing what he has always done. Papa is in his library avoiding any and all responsibility and is also insisting that my presence is not required in London earlier than scheduled. As he knows I will not be moved in this decision, his only recourse is to ignore me sullenly, a tactic which used to never fail, I am ashamed to say, as his good opinion used to be the only one that mattered to me. It is remarkable to me how quickly and completely I have already “left and cleft”, as it were. I felt a momentary twinge of guilt, which was then overtaken by an intense and overwhelming need to be in your presence, somewhere in your orbit, just wherever you were.

It has become clear to me that my father’s circumstances are entirely of his own making and were made long past the age of his majority and maturity, and as such, have never been my responsibility to ameliorate. I love my father and am grateful for the attentions I received from him, but had I not been gifted with the wit and intelligence that earned these attentions, I would have been left essentially at the mercy of my mother’s best efforts. I cannot agree that my three younger sisters are any less deserving of their father’s love and attention, and it cheapens the value of his attentions to me. What is paternal love worth if it is only bestowed upon “the worthy” – based on some arbitrary and subjective measure? My mother’s love was similarly bestowed upon the two daughters she considered most beautiful, which so happened to be those most like her. That my father’s subjective assessment was based on intelligence is no less mercenary than an assessment based on physical appearance. Both are gifts received at birth, and essentially unchangeable characteristics, though I am convinced some measure of education and instruction can bear fruit with almost all levels of intelligence to be found in the human condition.

Oh dear, I seem to have strayed into melancholic introspection. These musings have been inspired by your absence, my love, and on my thoughts about our future, my hopes and prayers about any children that we might be blessed with, and the kind of love and life I wish them to have, that perhaps has been missing from mine. Rest assured my life will be complete if I am to share it with you alone all my days (I do hope you feel the same?) though I know an heir is highly desirable, and I am hoping, given my mother’s apparent fecundity, that my ability to bear children will be a likely outcome of our union, at some point. I hope you are not too disturbed that I have made such leaps of logic, I am well-read enough to understand the basics of procreation, though I would be less than honest if I suggested I haven’t been spending much time thinking on the mechanics of it of late, but the few hints my mother has given me have made me hope that The Mysteries of Udolpho or even Tom Jones might have given me a more accurate picture of the felicity of human intimacy? I look forward to being enlightened soon enough.

Moving from melancholic philosophy to connubial felicity in one paragraph has at least improved my humour. I am now giggling like a little girl, but rest assured I am missing you desperately and hoping this missive also leaves you in better humour than when you began it. Jane wishes to send you her love and prayers, please pass on our similar wishes to Richard. I am in no doubt of the serious nature of your business, my love, and know that you understand how necessary your safety and well-being are to my very breath, even if left unsaid from hour to hour.

All my love,



Richard Fitzwilliam watched the tension leave his cousin’s face as his eyes devoured the words his fiancée had written on the page. A ghost of a smile turned into a quiet chuckle, then a blush appeared before he cleared his throat, adjusted his cravat, and then he laughed out loud. Unable to stop himself, he caressed the ink before he looked up to see Richard’s amused smirk. “She is well and preparing to be in Gracechurch Street on Monday.” Richard raised a questioning eyebrow. “No, I am not going to tell you what made me laugh.” Darcy relaxed into his seat and gazed up into the ceiling with a satisfied smile. “She is delightful, quixotic and yet pragmatic, with the blessed ability to write and speak what she thinks with complete honesty and beguiling charm. How does one possess such mischief and insightful wit combined with pure innocence and unspoiled naiveté?” He smiled down at the letter before folding it and depositing it into his desk drawer. “What time can we expect an update?”

As Richard was about to respond, a knock preceded the immediate entrance of the butler, Harrison, who had been told to usher in the next visitor promptly and without ceremony. “Mr Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Lieutenant James bowed and gave a short salute as Harrison withdrew. At a nod from the Colonel, he began his report of the evening’s surveillance. It was short and to the point and differed little from the reports of the previous three nights, except that some fresh intelligence had been gleaned from Mrs Younge’s maid, who had been approached earlier by one of Darcy’s footmen and befriended for just such a purpose.

It appeared Wickham had written to her employer recently, as she had been heard railing about his demands the night before. The maid, Betsy, had no good feelings for Wickham, who had pursued a dalliance with the young in-between-stairs maid several months ago despite her vehement refusals. After a physical altercation, which had drawn the attention of Mrs Younge, Wickham had been summarily dismissed from the house, as well as from Mrs Younge’s bedchamber, by the burly footman employed for just such a purpose. Mrs Younge was in no humour to accede to anything Wickham may have requested, and all the staff had been told to refuse him entrance. Lieutenant James seemed to feel that Darcy’s footman was becoming attached to the tweeny as he expressed some concerns for her safety and her virtue, should Wickham reappear at the boarding house.

“Was it Sam?” At the lieutenant’s nod, Darcy sighed. “Sam almost lost his sister to Wickham’s depredations three years ago, he would feel Betsy’s situation deeply. Let Sam know if he has genuine feelings for Betsy, he has my blessings to court her and bring her to Pemberley. Mrs Harrison will be able to find something at Darcy House for her until our business is finished.”

Even the Colonel, who was well aware of Darcy’s generous nature, was surprised at this turn of events. “Sam is an excellent judge of character, Richard, and Betsy knew enough to resist Wickham’s charms, which speaks well of her discernment and moral fibre, regardless of her current situation or circumstances.”

“You are not responsible for Wickham, Darce.”

“I am responsible for the consequences of my inaction against him, Richard. It was my mistaken pride, my refusal to lay my private actions open to the world-”

“You could not expose Geor-” Richard blanched as he realised he was about to expose Georgiana himself, as Lieutenant James was still present. Darcy shook his head and continued. “I know enough of his character flaws, can easily contradict his falsehoods, and have the proof of his misdeeds, such that Wickham’s worthlessness should never have been so easily hidden. No young woman of character could have been deceived enough to love or confide in him, had I been even partly honest or presented a more amenable nature to the world. Richard, because of my reserve, my desire to shield the truth from everyone, and my selfish disdain for the well-being of others, I nearly lost two of the most important women in my life! If I can right any wrongs, if my wealth can undo whatever evil my father’s indulgence created, then I will spend what I have been blessed with to do so.”

He nodded to the lieutenant who had been patiently waiting for instructions, aware that he was privy to a private conversation and intent upon conveying to his superior that he could be trusted with these inadvertent confidences by his respectful stance and his lowered countenance. The Colonel was satisfied and briefly outlined his expectations and asked him to return with Sam if he had any questions about Darcy’s generous offer. They would need to move delicately and swiftly if Betsy was to be protected also. It also made it imperative that Darcy, Richard and any recognisable Pemberley staff would have to keep their distance until Wickham’s actual location was discovered.

The intelligence confirmed that Wickham was likely close by, and in desperate circumstances. Both knew him well enough not to fear violence, but Richard also understood that desperation and fear bred foolhardy and uncharacteristic behaviour in the best of men, so recommended caution in their next steps. Either flight or fight would reduce the chances of success in their endeavour. Darcy was resolute. If it was at all possible, Wickham’s association with the Darcy family would be terminated using whatever means necessary.

Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 26 - 28

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