After Elizabeth and Jane left Darcy House, Richard once again found himself seated before his cousin’s desk. He picked up the papers he had discarded there earlier and tapped them on his left hand as he studied Darcy. He had hoped the call would do Darcy some good, and it appeared it had.
“Are those the figures?” Darcy sat comfortably reclined in his chair with his elbows propped on the arms and his chin resting on his steepled fingers.
“They are.” Richard tipped his head and raised a brow as he took note of the slight turning up of Darcy’s mouth. They were about to speak of Wickham; Darcy should not be smiling. “You seem happy.”
Darcy’s lips twitched. He was happy — very, very happy — and containing that happiness within a small smile was not easy. “I am.”
“I am glad,” Richard tucked the papers he held under his right thigh. “I should like to know why. I am delighted that seeing Miss Elizabeth has lifted your spirits, but to be honest, I had thought upon her departure, a gloom might once again settle in.”
“Fear not,” Darcy replied with a half smile, “I shall likely find my morose mood again soon enough, but for now you shall have to endure my less dour mood.”
“Does this shift in disposition have anything to do with the exchange I witnessed in the library?” He had seen the blushes on Elizabeth’s cheeks and the dip of her head as well as the kiss Darcy had placed on her hand. From where he had sat next to Jane, it looked to him that the battle to sway Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy had doubtlessly been won.
Darcy could not contain his smile any longer and allowed it to spread across his face as he nodded. “It does. We have come to an understanding of sorts.”
Richard’s brow furrowed. “An understanding?” He questioned, “As in you made her an offer of marriage?”
Again Darcy nodded.
“Indeed?” Richard’s brows rose. He was not unfamiliar with men who made hasty decisions about things of great importance when faced with a dire situation. How many friends had he seen marry quickly before setting sail for the continent? It was not unusual or unthinkable, nor did he condemn them for such actions. But to have his cousin join those ranks? Well, that was surprising. Even when Darcy had discovered Wickham’s scheme to elope with Georgiana, he had been controlled — furious, naturally, but not to the point of losing the ability to consider all the ramifications of his actions before he made a decision. So, to have Darcy propose marriage to Elizabeth when Mr. Bennet was still set against him, was startling.
“Yes,” was Darcy’s only reply.
“And was that her answer as well?” It clearly must have been for his cousin to be as happy as he appeared to be.
“It was but with the stipulation, of course, that her father allows it.”
“And if he does not?”
Darcy rubbed his face. That question had crept into his mind also. “Truly, I do not know, but for now, I have hope. And I shall continue to hold that hope in my heart until we have exhausted all possible means of persuading the man.”
Richard pulled the papers from under his leg. “Then we shall have to be as successful with the father as you were with his daughter.”
Darcy sighed. “I fear Mr. Bennet is not so reasonable as his daughter.”
Richard chuckled. “That is quite likely true.” He placed his papers on the desk. “These are as expected. There are a few larger sums that are owed to various merchants scattered amongst the smaller debts. However, when you consider them all together, the amount is not insignificant.”
Darcy scanned the list. Nothing there was startling. He lifted his eyes from the sheets before him. “And what of his other propensity?”
Richard shrugged. “There are no fatherless children of which he is aware, not that it is not a possibility.”
Darcy nodded and folded the papers he held. “I shall see to the monies needed and will be prepared to leave for Hertfordshire in the morning.” His brows drew together in uncertainty. “I had thought to ask Bingley for the use of Netherfield, but do you think an inn would be better and attract less attention? I had hoped to carry out our business with some degree of secrecy.” He knew that complete secrecy would be impossible; however, he did wish to keep gossip to a minimum.
Richard understood his cousin’s reluctance to make his dealings with Wickham known openly. Richard also did not wish to have the true nature of his conversation with Colonel Forrester to become public knowledge. They needed to protect Lydia’s reputation as much as they possibly could.
“I have business to conduct with Colonel Forrester of a delicate and private nature. I see no reason why I cannot conduct that business from the more comfortable accommodations of Netherfield than from an inn. You are my cousin. Bingley is your friend. You made the necessary arrangements for my comfort.” He held Darcy’s gaze. “Every word of that is true, and it is all that anyone needs to know about why you and I are there.”
Darcy could not argue with Richard’s logic. Every bit of what his cousin had said was true. Still, it felt as if there were a layer of disguise to it.
“It cannot be helped,” Richard replied the unspoken thought written in lines of uncertainty on Darcy’s face. “We do not conceal anything for our own gain but for the protection of others. It is what you would do for Georgiana.”
Darcy sighed. It was exactly what he had done for his sister, and in so doing, he now found himself in this quagmire. “I was not wrong to conceal Georgie’s trouble, was I?”
Richard’s mouth dropped open, and a small burst of incredulous laughter spilled out. “Would Mr. Bennet wish to see his daughter’s name bandied about as having fallen prey to a worthless schemer?”
Darcy shook his head. “I know it in my heart, but I cannot help thinking I might have prevented…”
“And Mr. Bennet might have required more decorum from his daughter,” Richard interrupted. “He is obviously not incapable of such. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are fine examples of proper young ladies.” Richard shook his head.
Darcy allowed it to be so.
“Do you remember how I did not wish to share the blame for Georgiana’s foolishness?” Richard had wanted to blame anyone and everyone for what had happened except for himself, Darcy, and Georgiana. It had taken several weeks before he had been able to see the error of Georgiana’s actions as her own, and it had taken just as long for him to accept his share of her folly. Darcy, on the other hand, had seen his shortcomings immediately.
Darcy replying smile was rueful. There had been many loud arguments over that very thing. Poor Georgiana had taken to her room on more than one occasion due to the shouting Richard had done at Darcy when his cousin had dared to claim they had not done their duty to Georgiana in the best fashion.
“Seeing the error of one’s way is not easy for most men,” Richard said with a sheepish grin. “We cannot all be like you.”
Darcy rolled his eyes. “That is a very good thing.”
Richard chuckled. “Indeed,” he agreed. “However, if I can be persuaded to see reason, I dare say, Mr. Bennet might also be persuaded.” He made the statement lightly, but in his heart, he was determined to see his cousin happy, and since that depended upon Mr. Bennet’s seeing reason, there was no option but to make it happen.
Darcy blew out a breath. “That is the hope.”
Richard rose. “Do you wish to make a foray into the wilds of London and call on Bingley? Or would you rather I bring him here?”
Darcy came around from behind his desk. “I have no desire to see his sister, so if you would be so kind as to invite him to dinner, I would be most thankful.”
Richard clapped his cousin on the shoulder. “You have no idea how glad I am to see that smile on your face.”
“Yes, well, allow me to wear it a while longer and visit Bingley for me.”
Richard laughed. “With pleasure, Darcy. With pleasure.”
That evening, Bingley attended dinner with his friend, and the inevitable and required topic of Darcy’s part in separating Bingley from Jane was canvassed and quickly discarded. Bingley had read the letter Darcy had sent with his cousin two days prior when Richard had gone to give Bingley Lydia’s message regarding her sister being in town.
Lydia’s message had been relayed cheerfully and loudly by Richard as he knew Caroline was just passing the door to the study as Bingley was shutting it. The rest of the information of which Bingley needed to be made aware, including Jane’s call on Bingley’s sisters and Darcy’s error in his recommendations, Richard had left to the work of Darcy’s letter. He had, of course, answered questions where he could and assured Bingley of Darcy’s sorrow at discovering his error.
Therefore, when the subject was broached over wine glasses and cutlery, it was a topic that had already been given an ample amount of contemplation. As is the way of things, time spent in contemplation of anything startling, especially of an unpleasant nature, when taken up in the mind of a reasonable and rational gentleman, such as Bingley was, will give the news and opinions time to soften and provide a greater chance for clarity in understanding to develop.
“I shall not question your opinion on the affections of ladies again,” Darcy said as the conversation drew to a close.
Having attained a nod of acknowledgment from his friend. Darcy took a sip of his wine before returning to his plate of food.
Richard was pleased to see his cousin savouring each bite as it indicated his spirits were still lifted, and Richard knew that Darcy with raised spirits would be much more beneficial to their cause. They — he and Bingley — must do their part to ensure Darcy did not slip back into a morose state, no matter how long it might take to set things to right.
“He is learning,” Richard said with a wink at Bingley. “Before you know it, he will be as knowledgeable about ladies as I am.”
Bingley guffawed. Richard was rarely without a dance partner or dinner companion when he was forced to attend a soiree. However, he, like his cousin, was not particularly fond of public gatherings where men and ladies were — as Richard put it — put on display and required to peruse each other as if they were horses to be auctioned at Tattersall’s.
Richard wiped his mouth and leaned back in his chair as his glass was refilled and his empty plate removed from the table. “He has tentatively engaged himself to Miss Elizabeth.” He avoided looking at Darcy, for he knew Darcy would not be pleased. However, Bingley needed to know the importance of all that was going to take place over the next few days. The unpleasant must be broached, of course, and directly, but not without some levity and forward movement toward a solution.
Bingley’s eyes grew wide. “Have I heard you correctly? Darcy has made an offer of marriage to a lady who is not of great standing or wealth and who has ties to trade?”
“Indeed, he has,” Richard replied.
Darcy rolled his eyes. It was not undeserved censure. Had he not used those same arguments as to why it was best if Bingley did not return to Hertfordshire and attempt to persuade the lovely Miss Bennet to love him? It was only natural that Bingley should throw back at him Darcy’s own concerns.
“He has been accepted by such a lady;” Darcy said, “however, the lady’s father has not given his consent and, as you know, his consent is unlikely to be given as things stand.”
Bingley folded his arms, a smug smile on his lips. “There is a man in Britain who would refuse the great Darcy name and fortune?”
Again, such teasing was not unmerited. Darcy had never considered that any father would ever object to himself as a husband for a daughter. The thought was humbling. “It appears there is.”
“Because he did not share all he knew of Wickham when in Hertfordshire,” said Richard. He had told Bingley about this when they had met two days ago, but a reminder seemed as if it might be needed to keep the conversation flowing in the direction he needed it to go.
“I knew about Wickham,” said Bingley.
“I would suggest not sharing that bit of news with Mr. Bennet until you have secured his daughter.” Darcy’s tone was bitter, and his smile had faded.
“I thought you were not going to offer advice where the ladies were concerned,” Bingley said lightly.
Richard breathed a sigh of relief as Darcy’s lips curled upwards at the comment.
“I shall not offer advice where their affections are concerned, but I shall where their fathers are concerned. I would not wish my current position on you.”
“And,” Richard interrupted before either of his companions could travel down some tangent that would not best serve the purpose of this meal, “in an attempt to alleviate the current circumstances in which Darcy finds himself, we are in need of your assistance in lending us the use of Netherfield.”
“You are going to Hertfordshire?” Bingley asked Darcy in surprise. “Why?”
“To deal with Wickham,” Richard replied. “Darcy believes, and I agree, that it is best to have very little left in England to remind anyone of the scoundrel’s existence.” He then told Bingley of his plan regarding Colonel Forrester and Wickham’s transfer.
Bingley rubbed his chin as Richard explained the purpose of Darcy and his trip to Hertfordshire. “So you are saying that you shall settle Wickham’s debts to the benefit of Bennet’s neighbours and dispose of the louse to the benefit of all but the colonies?”
“That is the plan,” said Richard. “He will go to his new unit accompanied by a letter to his commanding officer alerting him to the fact that Wickham has deserted once already and has a reputation for dealing unfairly with merchants.” He shrugged and smiled. “A man with Wickham’s reputation will not meet with leniency should he act dishonorably again.”
“Which he will,” said Bingley, nodding his head.
“It is rather likely,” agreed Richard.
“Very well,” said Bingley, reaching for his glass of wine, “I shall send a message along with you to the staff at Netherfield and shall do my part to aid your cause while I am here.”
“What part is that?” Darcy shifted in his seat and placed his empty glass on the table.
“I shall speak well of you, of course.”
Darcy eyed Bingley with concern. “You may regret doing so. It may make Mr. Bennet less than pleased with you.”
Bingley chuckled. “I do not intend to speak of you to Mr. Bennet. There may be one father in all of England who would refuse you, but what of the mothers?”
“An excellent thought,” agreed Richard. “A subtle comment about your friend’s regard for Mrs. Bennet’s daughter accompanied by a subtle reminder of his income and estate…” He rubbed his hands together in delight. “Yes, yes, that just might work.” He had not yet met Mrs. Bennet but from all he has heard regarding her desire to see her daughters well-married, he suspected she might be more forgiving than her husband.
Darcy sighed. He did not like the idea of being thrown on the mercy of Mrs. Bennet, but at present, he was not in a position to object to any plan that might win him Elizabeth’s hand.