With the Colonel’s Help: A Pride and Prejudice Variation: Chapter 2

Richard muttered a curse. Remember Wickham? Of course, he remembered Wickham. “How could I forget that scoundrel?”

In Richard’s opinion, George Wickham, long time acquaintance and son of Pemberley’s former steward, was fortunate to still be breathing with all his limbs intact after the way he had treated Georgiana Darcy. The blackguard had played on Georgiana’s soft heart and his connection with the family to convince the young girl that she was in love with him enough to agree to an elopement. However, the only thing that Wickham truly loved about Georgiana was her money and the painful connection such a match would bring to Darcy, for Darcy had once denied George Wickham a living. The living had previously been refused by Wickham and a tidy sum given to him in its stead, but those facts held no weight of reasonability to Wickham. He blamed Darcy for his current lack of fortune, not his own foolishness. But such had always been the case with him. He had always supposed someone to be at fault for all his misfortunes. However, he was a charming scoundrel with the ability to worm his way into the affections of many with his pretty tales.

“How does Wickham play into this?” Richard asked.

“He is part of the regiment that was in Meryton last autumn, and being his normal, charming self, he ingratiated himself with many of the town’s people –”

“The young female ones no doubt,” Richard interrupted.

“Precisely,” Darcy agreed. “Miss Bennet was among them.”

“He did not…” Richard raised a brow in unspoken question. Wickham was not known for his restraint of desire when it came to many things — young, pretty ladies being chief among them.

Darcy shook his head. “No, most certainly not!”

“But they were in company?” Richard took a seat next to Darcy again, only perching on the edge of his chair.

“They were when I first came upon Wickham in Meryton. I did my best to avoid his presence, and he did his best to avoid mine.”

“And this first meeting was civil?” Richard knew that such a thing was unlikely — even for Darcy. One did not face the man who nearly stole his sister without some amount of animosity being shown in his features.

Darcy’s expression was pained. “No, I could not speak to him or even remain in his presence, so I nodded and rode on.”

Richard steepled his fingers, tapping his first fingers together as he thought. “So, he painted you as rude and who knows what else — most certainly none of it favourable.”

Darcy nodded slowly. He could well imagine the stories that Wickham might have told Elizabeth. None of them would be entirely true, of course, for the truth would make Wickham look very bad indeed. However, there would be enough truth sprinkled here and there to make every tale believable. It was how Wickham had always manipulated facts to obtain what he wanted.

“But Miss Bennet is not like other ladies. She is intelligent. Surely, she would not fall for his flattery, would she?”

Richard shrugged in response to Darcy’s questioning look and murmured, “Georgiana did.”

Darcy blew out a frustrated breath as he recalled the last conversation he had had with Elizabeth in Hertfordshire. Thinking about it now, it seemed evident that Elizabeth must have fallen for at least some of Wickham’s tactics.

“At Bingley’s ball, Miss Bennet mentioned not being able to decipher my character due to differing accounts about it.” He sighed. “She also mentioned how Wickham had been unfortunate enough to lose my friendship and in a manner which was likely to cause him suffering for the rest of his life.”

Richard groaned. Was there any female in all of Britain who was impervious to that scoundrel’s silver tongue? “So, to sum up, you have injured her sister, presented yourself as high and mighty, and been painted a blackguard by fraudulent accounts. Is that all or is there more?”

Darcy’s shoulders sagged as he sighed and shook his head. There was at least one more reason Elizabeth might dislike him. “I was not in an agreeable mood when I attended a public assembly upon first arriving in Hertfordshire. Bingley, however, was delighted to be at such a soiree and was insistent that I dance.”

A sense of apprehension settled in around Richard. Darcy in a foul mood was known to be quite unpleasant if provoked beyond his limit of tolerance, and Bingley was capable of breaching that wall. “And you refused.”

Darcy nodded. “Bingley then suggested I dance with his partner’s sister, and I let my dour attitude get the best of me and not only refused but declared Miss Bennet to be tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Richard let out a slow whistle. This was a heavy blow to sustain. Refuting deceptive tales and explaining away an arrogant appearance due to unpleasant company as well as a misguided attempt to aid a friend would be tricky enough. But this? He shook his head as he listed off Darcy’s offenses against Miss Bennet. “So we have an injured sister, your high and mighty attitude, Wickham’s duplicity, and a personal slight. Darcy, could you make things any more challenging?”

Darcy shrugged and fell back against the back of his chair as if defeated. “I could march over to the parsonage and propose while telling her about my apprehensions about her family.” The idea of offering despite all his misgivings had passed through his mind more than once in the past day and a half.

“Please, do not do that!” cried Richard.

“I would not,” retorted Darcy.

“Yes, you would — in an attempt to make her understand just how much you are willing to suffer for her sake, you would.” Richard shook his head. His cousin, for all his intelligence and good sense, was appallingly dreadful at communicating with ladies. “Winning her will be difficult enough as it stands now. However, if you were to do that, it would be nigh unto impossible. Whatever you do, your disapproval of her family and connections must not be mentioned. Full stop.”

Darcy could not argue Richard’s point, for his cousin was correct. There was a real possibility that he would do just as Richard said. “My misgivings cannot be entirely ignored. They will come up in my discussion of Bingley. How can they not?”

Richard’s head bobbed from side to side as he thought. It was a sticky situation. Darcy would need to be honest about the reason for his separation of Bingley from Miss Jane Bennet — he had, after all, already mentioned that Darcy thought the match imprudent, so it must be explained. “Those facts will arise in that discussion,” Richard said at last. “There is no avoiding it, but you must minimize them as a secondary concern — which they were.” He gave Darcy a stern look. “Your primary concern was a match of unequal affections, was it not?”

Darcy nodded.

“Had the feelings of your friend and Miss Bennet’s sister been deep and mutual, the concerns regarding connections and whatnot would be easily overcome,” Richard continued to explain the approach that should be taken. “Do you see what I mean? You have easily overcome such concerns due to deep feelings, so why cannot Bingley?”

Richard held up a hand to ward off the glare that Darcy directed his way. “Very well. They were not easily overcome — but they were overcome, and that is the salient point.”

He smiled as he stood and moved to the table to resume their game, patting Darcy’s shoulder as he passed him. “Do not fret. I have faced worse odds, and yet I stand before you in one piece.”

Darcy likewise rose from his chair. “True, but you were fighting men not women, and the object was to dispatch the enemy not win them over. I dare say one clever woman whose ire has been raised may well be a more formidable opponent than all of Napoleon’s army.” He accepted his cue from Richard as he continued. “And you must remember that our weapon is words — artillery in which our opponent is well-versed.”

Richard chuckled. “Not all of my associates or enemies in France were men, Darcy. Sometimes it is easier to smuggle out information in an attractive, seemingly helpless package. But, you are correct in that this battle will be difficult, considering Miss Bennet’s skill with words and your tendency to get tongue-tied in her presence. Now, if you would kindly allow me to ruminate while I beat you in a game of billiards.”

Darcy made a sweeping gesture to the table and gave a slight bow. “Do your best, Cousin.”

Richard stalked around the table, taking in all the possible manoeuvres before settling on a rather difficult shot. Darcy, on the other hand, took a quick glance at the table and an equally difficult shot. This continued for some minutes before Richard paused and eyed the table.

“If only you could deal with women the way you deal with billiard balls,” he said, “you would not need my help right now.”

He lined up his shot, his cue striking the ball with precision. “However, I believe I know how to approach Miss Bennet. She returns to Hertfordshire Monday next, does she not?”

“Yes, I believe that is the plan,” said Darcy as he circled the table.

“You mentioned that she had been taken in by Wickham’s lies. So, are you going to allow her to return home without a full disclosure of Wickham’s character? Do you not think that she or her sisters could be in danger if they do not know the truth about the rogue?”

Darcy’s cue skipped across the table top. He had not considered what danger might be posed to the ladies of Meryton with one such as Wickham in their midst. “They are not wealthy,” he argued weakly. Even he knew that Wickham was not above seeking pleasure simply for pleasure’s sake. He might even attempt an elopement as he had with Georgiana, only, with no money to be gained, he would likely leave the lady ruined at some inn along the road. His promises were never to be trusted, but a young lady would likely not know that until it was too late.

Richard raised a brow and gave Darcy a look of disbelief.

“Very well, he poses some danger,” Darcy admitted. The thought that in his wish to keep his own dealings with Wickham private he had placed others at risk was unsettling.

“My thinking,” Richard began, “is that we approach Miss Bennet together to inform her about the lies Wickham may be spreading. That way, she will not only have your account but mine as well.”

“Must we tell her of Georgie?”

Richard nodded slowly. “I assume it was Georgie’s situation that had you in such a dour mood when you arrived in Hertfordshire, was it not?”

Darcy nodded.

“Then I do not see how it can be avoided — at least in cautious, general terms if you do not trust her to handle the information with care.”

“I trust her.”

“Then we will impart all we know to her and allow her to judge how best to use what we share.” Richard lined up the same shot that Darcy had been trying to take a moment ago and successfully completed it. “Soundly beaten,” he declared with a smirk. “Thank you for your help, Darcy.”

“Glad I could be of service,” Darcy replied dryly, laying his cue on the table. Then turning more serious, he added, “Thank you.”

Richard inclined his head in acceptance. “I assume we will delay our departure yet again?”

“When must you return to your unit?”

“In a fortnight, but I would like to spend at least part of my leave in town.” He leaned against the side of the table. A few days to partake in some of the festivities in town would be enjoyable, but only if he knew that his cousin was well on his way to finally being happy.

“So, another day or two would be acceptable?”

“Monday will be soon enough,” Richard said with a nod. “What will be our reason for the delay?”

Darcy smiled. “I wish to stay for one more day of church services.”

Richard laughed. “So both our aunt and her parson will be pleased with you.”

“Something like that,” Darcy said with a shrug. “If they are both pleased, it will be enough of a screen to hide our true intent.”

“You know,” said Richard as they moved toward the door, “with thinking like that, we may just have a good chance to win this battle.” He paused before opening the door. “Do you think you can keep your wits about you?”

Darcy gave his cousin a quick, playful salute. “I shall do my best, sir.” And he would, for he knew that his life, or at least the happiness of it, depended on it.


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