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The Temptation of Immediate Relief

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Mr. Darcy arrived at the residence where Mr. Wickham and Lydia Bennet were hiding. Mrs. Younge had initially been reluctant to divulge the pair’s location to Darcy— but after some time, and money, she had yielded.

“Mr. Darcy.” There was a glint of surprise in Wickham’s eyes as he opened the door.

“Mr. Wickham.” Darcy’s eyes, on the other hand, betrayed nothing but loathing.

Darcy’s first objective, of course, was to convince the young Miss Bennet to return to her friends in Brighton and forget Wickham— but she would hear none of it. She did not care one jot for her friends, nor for returning to the status quo— she was utterly convinced that her ‘dear Wickham’ would marry her, and that the wedding would be soon, and that Darcy should not insult her dear love so, as he was going to marry her, and she loved him as she had never loved another. Darcy gleaned several facts from this spiel, all of which corroborated his conclusion: that the only honourable course of action could be to ensure the wedding.

Darcy then requested to speak with Wickham alone. He began by stating plainly that he knew Wickham had no intent of marriage. Some might have considered his acute bluntness unseemly, perhaps, but in these circumstances, there was no cause to equivocate; Darcy knew exactly what kind of man Wickham was, and moreover, knew him to be incapable of improvement.

“Ah, I see you are as forthright about your views as ever, Fitzwilliam. I suppose, given the past, there is no chance I could sway you to believe otherwise?”

“There is not.”

“Then, you are correct. Though, I am certain you have gathered that the girl would never believe such slanders about her dear Wickham.”

“Indeed, I have— and given this, you have no cause to refrain from answering my further questions truthfully. First— was this based upon a similar design towards the Bennet name, as the attempt at Georgiana had been towards the Darcy name?”

“What business have you with the Bennet name?—but no, in all honesty, it was not. I already intended to leave the regiment— some debts, you see— but when I suggested elopement on a whim, she accepted far too easily. Really, though I cannot take credit for such a design, I must confess I would not feel a very great deal of remorse were it a consequence— it was her who was foolish enough to grant my every request.”

If duelling had not been an outdated and illegal practice, Wickham’s utter lack of shame might have prompted Darcy to demand satisfaction then and there. However, Darcy intended to reach an arrangement, not to risk death— and as such, he instead gritted his teeth and maintained the appearance of civility. “Had I not found you, what would you have done? Where would you have gone?”

Wickham paused— he soon injected an air of charismatic nonchalance into that pause, but Darcy did not fail to notice the first split-second of it; he understood full well that Wickham had been caught off-guard. Then, with a quite deliberately nonchalant half-shrug, and in a tone that would have convinced near anyone but Darcy to dismiss the matter as unimportant, Wickham responded, “…I was still in the process of determining that matter.”

From this, Darcy understood Wickham to be penniless, with nowhere in particular to go.

“In that case— why not marry her, especially when she is so convinced you will do so? Your situation would be bettered to some degree, at least.”

Wickham laughed. “You have said the reason yourself. How could I ever be content to confine myself to a wife for only some degree of betterment? I would need ten or twenty times the paltry dowry of a Miss Bennet, at least, to even consider the notion.”

At last, Darcy had found what he was seeking. Wickham had plainly admitted to being financially driven— and, given his situation and character, it was highly unlikely he would have any scruples as to the source of the money. It was Darcy’s own fault that Wickham’s true nature had not been more widely known— therefore, he would pay to remedy the consequence. It was only right.

The magnitude of Wickham’s starting demand drew out the negotiation process, but a number acceptable to both parties was eventually reached (although, in Darcy’s opinion, it was still far more than Wickham deserved). Wickham, more than once, repeated his query as to Darcy’s stake in the Bennet family’s reputation, and Darcy, each time, redirected the conversation. Darcy would never deign to give Wickham access to such sensitive information— and besides, the expression on Wickham’s face seemed to indicate he already had some inkling.

Once Wickham’s price was decided, Darcy turned his attentions to persuading Mr. Gardiner to take credit for the contribution. This was an unexpectedly arduous process, but Darcy eventually prevailed— after all, if he was magnanimous to the Bennets under his own name, his intentions would never be believed selfless. Yes, perhaps Elizabeth was the reason Darcy wished to clear the Bennet name— but this good deed had never been some sort of rakish bid for her affections!—and if Darcy’s involvement was known, that would doubtless be the motivation presumed by all— so, he could not allow such ideas to spread.

As soon as was possible, the wedding took place. Darcy attended, as he understood well that Wickham could not be trusted to hold his end of the bargain unsupervised.

Before making arrangements to leave London, Darcy intended to take a second measure to disguise his participation in the matter. However, this was rendered redundant, when an eavesdropped conversation revealed another man to have, for some reason, taken the very same course of action that he had set upon.

“Now, my dear, you must not mention that Mr. Darcy was involved in the wedding proceedings; it is to be a secret.”

“A secret!—oh Lord, how I love secrets!—yes, of course, I promise to never tell any person in the world!”

As Darcy was of reasonable intelligence, he could easily predict that this promise would not be fulfilled. However, there was very little that could be done by anyone to change that; Darcy’s part here was complete.