With the Colonel’s Help: A Pride and Prejudice Variation: Chapter 1

The sun shone bright and warm on Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam as he stood before Rosings. He turned and looked back in the direction from whence he had come. The slow but persistent twisting of his stomach continued its work in making him feel very uneasy. There was something not right in how Miss Elizabeth Bennet had responded to his information regarding his cousin Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

He took off his hat and ran a hand through his hair. The story he had told had been told with an intent to promote his cousin — for it was a viable example of the caring sort of friend Darcy was. However, Richard had the distinct impression that his comments had, in fact, done just the opposite.

He paced toward the side of the house, thumping his walking stick in a very intentional fashion on the ground. He had just lifted the stick to give the earth another resounding thud when the path of what must be done became apparent. He beat that one last note on the path and then, with a twirl, tucked the stick under his arm and hurried to the house.

“Darcy, we need to talk.” Richard deposited his outerwear with a footman and taking his cousin, who fortunately was in the passage, by the arm, nearly dragged the poor fellow down the hall and into the billiards room.

Closing the door behind him, Richard placed himself between it and his cousin. It was time to have a discussion that was well past due. However, he knew it was a discussion in which his reserved cousin would not be an eager participant, and that, coupled with the man-handling Darcy had just received, would likely cause his cousin to seek escape. But escape was not an option.

“What are your intentions regarding Miss Bennet?” Richard began.

Darcy sucked in a quick breath and looked at Richard warily before folding his arms and, to Richard’s amusement, attempting to look nonchalantly annoyed. “I know not of what you speak. I assure you I have no intentions in regards to Miss Bennet.”

Richard cocked a brow. He had not thought his cousin able to prevaricate without some show of distress. “No intentions?” His tone was doubtful. “Come, now, Darcy. It is not like you to tell such falsehoods,” he said, pressing his point.

Darcy swallowed. “I speak the truth. I have no intentions toward Miss Bennet.”

Richard’s lips curled into a small smile. Darcy was shifting from foot to foot, which was a sure indication that while what he said was true, it was done in an attempt to conceal something else. “No intentions toward Miss Elizabeth Bennet?” He asked. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the lady in whose presence you become a blundering fool and whose person your eye rarely leaves — you have no intentions towards her?”

Richard crossed his arms and leaned against the door. “Might I remind you that you can answer my questions forthwith and we will be on our way about the remainder of our day; or I can call for some port and we can enjoy enough of it to make your tongue more easily persuaded to tell me what I wish to know. Either way, as I am certain you are aware, I will get my answers. Therefore, I suppose the correct question is, do you wish to have a headache tomorrow or not?”

Darcy eyed his cousin cautiously.

Richard’s gaze was unwavering as Darcy again shifted from one foot to another and his jaw clenched and unclenched. “Which will it be, Darcy?”

With an exasperated sigh, Darcy shook his head. “Very well, I shall answer your questions. I have no desire to spend an entire trip to London in a closed carriage with you while feeling as if the carriage has run over me.” He gave Richard a severe look. “My answers go no further than us. Is that understood? If Aunt Catherine even thinks we are hinting at the things about which we are about to speak, things could become quite uncomfortable for many people — you and me foremost.”

Richard nodded his consent. The seriousness of the situation magnified in his mind as he realized his cousin was likely considering marrying Miss Bennet. “I would not ask if I did not think the answer imperative.”

Darcy crossed to the window and stared out across the lawn toward the groves. He ran a hand through his hair. “I like her, Richard. I like her very much — in fact, I am quite certain I love her.”

He turned to look at his cousin and shook his head. “But, it cannot be. I must not love her. She is not an acceptable choice,” his shoulders slumped, and he turned back to the window. “However, I am also convinced that I will be utterly miserable without her.”

Richard shook his head. The situation was indeed serious, for he suspected that the lady who had stolen his cousin’s heart was little disposed to the same emotions written in Darcy’s posture and voice. “I neither see why you must not love her, nor do I see how she is an unacceptable choice.”

He knew what Darcy’s reply would be, of course, but he also knew it was time to challenge the way in which his cousin thought. For if Darcy did not change his thinking, he would be as he had just claimed he would be — miserable. That was not something Richard wished to see happen. His cousin had endured enough heartache.

Darcy turned to face Richard again. “You know what is expected of me when I marry.”

“You mean you are expected to marry Cousin Anne?”

Darcy shook his head. “You know very well that I do not intend to marry Anne, nor does she intend to marry me.” Disdain coloured his tone as he continued. “Only Lady Catherine wishes for such an arrangement.”

He paced a circle around the billiard table. “I had always hoped to find a lady among the ton who would fit the criteria of having both wealth and position and who would be someone whom I would be able to love. However, I have been through several seasons and have found none. Many have the pedigree, but none have captured my heart.” He stopped and stared past Richard to the door as he continued. “And then…”

“You met Miss Bennet,” supplied Richard.

Darcy nodded slowly. “She is enchanting.” He smiled as he said it and then turned grim once again. “But she has no connections and very little wealth. I have turned these things over in my mind — day and night, truth be told — arguing the side of my heart and then the side of duty. I have come to no acceptable answer.”

Richard’s voice softened as he saw the turmoil of such thoughts etched on his cousin’s face. “You cannot reason away love. Even you must be able to fathom that?”

He had left his position at the door and now stood close enough to Darcy to lay a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “You cannot give up a life of happiness out of a sense of duty.”

He moved away and began setting up the billiard table. “Consider. Who will be affected? Lady Catherine — she will not be happy unless you marry Anne, no matter what the lady’s pedigree. Perhaps my father — but even if he does not approve at first, he would be hard-pressed not to be charmed by Miss Bennet.”

“You have not met her family,” Darcy interrupted. “Her oldest sister is just as well-bred as Miss Elizabeth, but her younger sisters are extremely silly and ill-mannered. And her mother.” He closed his eyes and shook his head as if pained by some memory. “Her mother, Richard, is always going on about things in the most inappropriate fashion. Her father is intelligent and possesses a quick wit, but he is neglectful in his duties, and both his family and his estate suffer for it. In addition to all that, she has an uncle who is a county solicitor and another who is involved in trade. How would connections such as these be thought of as anything but an affront to our family and a disadvantage to Georgiana’s prospects in the future?” He sighed deeply. “It is not just my happiness with which I have to be concerned.”

Richard’s tone was once again firm. “And how happy will Georgiana be if she knows you have sacrificed your happiness for hers? She will be devastated.” He held up a hand to stop Darcy’s rebuttal. “No — do not tell me she will not be aware of your unhappiness. She has already suspected something is not right with you. She has told me so in her letters, and she thinks it is her fault.”

Richard looked at Darcy levelly. “If you do not follow your heart, you will seriously damage hers, and I think you know that. For once, Darcy, put duty second and do something for yourself. It will not make you a lesser man. In fact, if Miss Bennet is involved, I would wager it would make you a better man. She is suited to you like no other and will be the making of you, I am certain of it.”

Darcy narrowed his eyes, took up his cue, and studied the table.

Richard waited patiently. He knew his cousin was not just studying a shot. Darcy’s mind was weighing what Richard had told him, but the agitation of that mind needed to be released in movement so that clarity could be achieved.

Darcy took his shot and circled the table once more. “You are likely right.”

Richard bit back a smile at Darcy’s unwilling admission.

“I could not put Georgie in that position,” Darcy continued. “She would never forgive herself. There is but one choice, and, as foreign as this sounds and feels, I must put duty second.”

Richard did not attempt to hide his smile at his befuddled cousin’s countenance. “While I am happy you have finally come to the right conclusion, I must now move on to why I asked for such a confession in the first place.” Richard shifted uneasily. “In my desire to help you appear in the best light to Miss Bennet’s eyes, I may have put my foot in it.”

Darcy sagged and closed his eyes as he shook his head. While Darcy was uneasy and rather silent in the presence of ladies such as Elizabeth, Richard was often quite the opposite — at ease and loquacious nearly to a fault.

“What did you say to her?” Darcy asked.

Richard took the cue from Darcy’s hand. “It would be best if we sat for this and that you were not armed.”

Darcy raised a wary brow but took a seat as Richard had suggested.

“I met Miss Bennet today while touring the park.” Richard lay Darcy’s cue on the table. “We walked and talked for some time, and from what I gathered from her comments, you have not made a favourable impression on her. ”

He came to take the chair next to Darcy. “I might like to know what you did or said when in Hertfordshire to so sour her impression of you, but I suppose that can be delved into later.”

“The point, Richard,” Darcy said in exasperation.

Richard grimaced. “The point is I wanted to leave her with some positive note regarding your character, and so, I chose to tell her about your loyalty to your friends.”

Darcy’s brows furrowed, and Richard could see that he was attempting to figure out why such a story would cause an issue.

“I may have told her about how you helped Bingley avoid an imprudent match.”

Darcy’s eyes widened, and Richard hurried on with his explanation.

“Miss Bennet did not approve of the interference. She thought it was rather high-handed of you to decide such a thing for your friend. And then she became a bit withdrawn and quiet, claiming a headache from fatigue as the reason. She was not fatigued. It was apparent that what I said had distressed her greatly. Her sister, who has been in town — the one she asked if you had seen — is Bingley’s angel, is she not?”

Darcy held his head in his hands. “Yes,” the anguished reply was soft.

Richard’s own heart broke at the sound of that word. He had definitely made a jumble of things. “Why did you separate them?”

Darcy shook his head but did not lift it from where it rested in his hands. “Bingley would do better to establish himself with a lady of higher connections, but I would not have denied him his heart had I not suspected that Miss Bennet — Miss Jane Bennet, ” he clarified as he finally lifted his head, “was indifferent to him. I did not wish to see him hurt.” He scrubbed his face. “So I have lost my chance at happiness?”

“You have not lost.” Richard grasped Darcy’s shoulder. “I do hope you can forgive me for telling Miss Bennet about Bingley, but I truly was doing it as a service to you, not as a disservice — as it turns out to have been. But you have not lost,” Richard repeated. “As my father always says, ‘what is done is done; now, how are you going to fix it?’”

It was a phrase Richard had heard many times over the course of his years, and it had become a part of his very fiber — a maxim by which to live.

Darcy chuckled at Richard’s imitation of Lord Matlock’s voice.

“It must be set right, of course,” Richard continued as he rose and began pacing a path from his chair around the billiards table and back again. “First, we must ascertain how much damage has been caused to Miss Jane Bennet.”

Darcy nodded. “And inform Bingley of my interference.”

“If necessary,” Richard agreed and then added with a rueful smile, “which I believe it is.” He took another turn around the billiards table. “Were you your normal reserved and proper self when in Hertfordshire, or were you more reserved and a bit uncivil?”

“I was constantly in Miss Bingley’s presence.”

Richard groaned. He had seen Darcy with Miss Bingley. The woman always put Darcy on edge with her fawning and posturing. It was as if she expected something she possessed in manners, countenance, or position could suddenly sway Darcy to develop an unquenchable desire for her! Richard shook his head. How many times had he himself heard her supposed qualifications woven into a conversation? “Miss Bingley is an understandable reason for being less civil than is your normal wont.”

Darcy nodded. “She was insufferable.”

“When is she not?” Richard asked with a small laugh.

“I am sure I have never observed such a time,” Darcy grumbled, causing Richard to chuckle once again.

“Very good. We have established that you most likely need to speak with Bingley in an attempt to undo the wrong caused by your interference and that you were driven to incivility by the presence of Miss Bingley, which I will assume was accompanied with a lofty air.” He stopped on the far side of the billiards table and, looking at Darcy, waited for confirmation that his assessment so far was accurate. Receiving Darcy’s acceptance of the facts, Richard continued, “Well, then, besides your off-putting countenance and Miss Bingley, are there any other reasons why Miss Bennet might have a dislike for you?”

Darcy expelled a deep sigh as he nodded slowly. “Remember Wickham?”


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