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Even More Consequences From A Call

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Chapter 24

 

Walking trails, Hertfordshire
Thursday, October 24, 1811

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy ambled along the walking trails towards Meryton with Elizabeth on his arm and Reginald and Miss Bennet in front of them. He thought back over the past few weeks with fondness. There had been many chances for him to see Elizabeth. They frequently took walks, went riding, were together almost all day on Sundays, and attended the same dinner parties.

 

He was proud of Reginald for honouring the full year-long mourning period for the former Mrs. Hurst, even though it severely hindered his attempts at furthering his understanding with Elizabeth. He was impatient to propose, but knew how much Elizabeth worried about her sister’s tender feelings. It was doubtful Elizabeth would accept his hand until Reginald was free to propose to her sister. He was a man of action, but he could be patient, when he had no other choice.

 

The Bingley’s were still being tolerated, barely, but they were not being outright excluded from society. Miss Bingley’s behaviour had changed. He was undecided if Bingley had managed to exert some control over his sister, if Mrs. Verdier had demanded Bingley assist her more actively, or if Miss Bingley had become more adept at hiding her feelings. At the end of the day, the reason for the alteration of her behaviour was inconsequential. Her improvement may be fooling her brother, but it was still clear to him that Miss Bingley was unhappy with the current state of affairs.

 

He was ready to cut ties with Bingley, but felt there was a slight chance for his friend to redeem himself. They would never be as close as they once were, but if Bingley exerted himself in the slightest, they could remain on friendly terms. Ultimately, the remainder of their time in Meryton would determine the future of their relationship.

 

“I will be sad to see you leave,” Elizabeth said, breaking the companionable silence.

 

“So will I,” Miss Bennet added.

 

“We should only be gone for a fortnight, maybe a few days longer,” he tried to comfort them both.

 

“I wish we did not have to go,” Reginald said. “I must admit, it was dashingly convenient of my Uncle James to find estates within twenty miles of each other for Grace and Harold. I will be sad to see them leave Haye Park.”

 

“Will they return?” Miss Bennet asked.

 

“Grace and Richard have said they will remain at Cherry Grove. They are anxious to start their married life. Richard is nervous about not being on hand to prepare their estate for the winter,” he said. “I am sure it will surprise you ladies to hear this, but I must apprise you that Richard has an issue trusting others to complete tasks.”

 

He was pleased to see both sisters take no pains to hide their mirth.

 

“I will miss my sister terribly. Living in the same households as Grace these past ten months, has been like a gift from God,” Reginald added. “My Cousin Harold is unsure what he will do. As Aunt Phoebe refuses to leave Meryton at present, I am confident he will return with us to Haye Park.”

 

“Why did Lady Dobbs decide to stay in Meryton, William?” Elizabeth asked.

 

Reginald answered in his place. “My uncle was ill for most of his life and did not leave his estate very often. Aunt Phoebe married young and spent the majority of her time in Surrey. To this day, she misses my uncle, deeply, but she seems to have become very comfortable here. And, I am sure it will make William blush, but I think she is staying for his benefit. She has become very fond of him and is concerned Miss Bingley will try to cause trouble, perhaps by compromising him or causing mischief with your courtship.”

 

As Reginald expected, he could feel his cheeks heating up. “I have become very fond of Lady Dobbs. To add to Reginald’s very thorough explanation, I do not believe Dobbs feels ready to make decisions regarding Bouldermoss by himself yet. Richard was taught estate management with his brother when he was younger and Reginald started training Georgie and Grace in March. You must remember, Dobbs spent the majority of his life on a ship. Not only has he been learning how to run an estate, we have also been teaching him how to navigate society and the skills all country gentlemen are expected to have.”

 

“Like riding a horse, hunting birds, holding a fox hunt,” Elizabeth said. “He would have learned how to shoot pistols and swordplay in the navy.”

 

“Exactly, my dear. There is also the art form of making sure you are not intentionally or accidentally compromised during the season,” he added with a grin.

 

“I never thought about it like that before,” Miss Bennet said. “In a way, men have accomplishments just like we women do.”

 

“I hope you will forgive me if I do not agree with that statement,” Reginald told the elder sister with a grin.

 

“If we had a brother, I imagine he would have learned some womanly pursuits,” Elizabeth said with a wicked grin. “Especially if he was the youngest.”

 

“Even though I am the elder sibling, I can testify to the accuracy of your conjecture,” he admitted, then delighted in Elizabeth’s laughter.

 

“Which accomplishments can you boast of, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth asked cheekily.

 

“I have absolutely no idea what you are speaking of, Miss Elizabeth,” he said with a dimpled grin.

 

“What about Lady Dobbs, Anne, and Lady Catherine? Will they be joining you?” Miss Bennet asked.

 

“Yes and no,” William answered. “Lady Dobbs is enthusiastic to see the estates and, more specifically, to help her son make sure the household servants are performing their duties diligently. My Aunt Catherine had suggested the de Bourgh’s return to Rosings soon, but Anne said she wanted to remain in Meryton. I suppose they will return to Kent eventually, but, as Anne has said many times, she grew up in a lonely household and has enjoyed the female companionship.”

 

“Anne is very fortunate that she was able to inherit and remain in her childhood home,” Elizabeth said, sounding slightly bitter.

 

“Is something wrong, Mr. Hurst?” Miss Bennet asked.

 

“No, Miss Bennet.”

 

“Mr. Hurst, my sister is correct. You give the impression that you have a question or statement to make. Please, do not feel that you will upset us,” Elizabeth said gently.

 

After a short period of silence, Reginald started speaking.

 

“The only restriction on who may inherit Whitemeadow was in my grandfather’s will. Because grandfather knew my father’s disposition so well, the estate passed to my father on the condition that it was then inherited by his eldest grandson or the eldest granddaughter if I was no longer alive. If my father ever changes his will in an attempt to disown me, his inheritance would be void and the estate would pass to me anyway. I am not certain of the legality of the terms, but it has kept my father in line, not that there are many cousins he would want to leave it to instead. Darcy has never mentioned any restrictions in connection to Pemberley. I was wondering how the entail on Longbourn came about.”

 

“You do not have to answer,” William said when he noticed the sisters were blushing.

 

“It is not a secret in Meryton. It is merely a trifle embarrassing,” Elizabeth confessed.

 

“I apologize for indirectly asking for such personal information,” Reginald said quietly.

 

“Truly, Mr. Hurst, you could hear the story from almost any older resident of Meryton,” Miss Bennet said with crimson cheeks. “It started with our great-grandfather. He was not very... judicious with his funds.”

 

“Oh, Jane, there is nothing for it but to tell them. William and Mr. Hurst will not think less of us,” Elizabeth said. “Our great-grandfather was a gamester, sirs. There, I have said it. He gambled away all of the estate funds.”

 

“Miss Elizabeth is correct,” Reginald said. “I do not think less of you for the actions of your ancestor. My own father has come close to losing our estate due to his indifference to estate matters and his reliance on the servants.”

 

“When our great-grandfather died, in a disgraceful duel over a gambling debt no less, our grandfather was still in university. When he inherited, grandfather was almost forced to sell or break up Longbourn because he would not have been able to pay the annual taxes. Grandfather was in love with, and courting, a young lady with a large dowry. He confessed all to her before he proposed and she accepted him regardless. They worked together and made Longbourn prosperous again and actually increased the income. The entail was created shortly before our parents were married. Papa and Aunt Jane have told us so many stories about that time period,” Elizabeth said with a sigh.

 

“It was a distressing time in their lives,” Miss Bennet said quietly. “Grandfather had just found out he was dying and did not inform his family. Neither of his children were married. Papa had recently attained his majority and graduated from university so grandfather knew he would not be able to impose his will on his son. He tried to force Aunt Jane to marry a vicar, who was older than he was, just to possibly have grandchildren before he died.”

 

“I assume he failed,” he said gently. “Mr. Sakville does not see that old.”

 

“I am very pleased to hear you say that, William. I will be sure to let Uncle Frederick know you think he is in fine health and looks younger than he should,” Elizabeth said with a saucy grin.

 

“Oh Lizzy,” Miss Bennet said whilst shaking her head. “Papa told us they were all surprised when his father started acting odd. They found out shortly after Aunt Jane met Uncle Frederick that grandfather did not have much time left. Besides trying to make Aunt Jane marry, one of the things he did right after his diagnosis was set up the entail.”

 

“We never met our Bennet grandfather, but growing up we had a close relationship with our grandmother. She told us that grandfather’s desperation for grandchildren was what made him pressure Aunt Jane to marry. She also assumed it must have influenced his decisions regarding how the entail was set up,” Elizabeth said.

 

“I cannot agree with his reasoning, but, given his history, I can understand his desire to make sure the estate was protected and kept complete,” he said. “Your previous statement makes me think there is something odd about the entail.”

 

“Not necessarily odd,” Elizabeth said. “Uncle Phillips told me it is actually quite common. You see, the Bennet family has a long-established history of having few pregnancies and only one child, a son, survive to adulthood. You can imagine the joy of my grandparents when Aunt Jane was born and thrived. My father is known to publicly jest about how lucky he is to have five such beautiful daughters, but, in private, he has told us many times how blessed he is to have all of us.”

 

“The Darcy family has a similar history, one or two children per generation,” he admitted. “I have never thought to wonder why that was. Most of our neighbours have large families.”

 

“Our Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Stuart were never blessed with any children. Based on comments I heard the adults make, I think my aunt suffered many disappointments. The Phillips’ have always acted as surrogate parents to us. Every time one of our siblings was born, they would take the older children to London to visit our Gardiner relations. They would spoil us and allow our parents the time to bond with their newest daughter,” Elizabeth remembered with a fond smile.

 

“That was very nice of them,” he told her with a gentle smile.

 

“When our grandfather was told his prognosis, he scoured the family bible and found out the last time two children survived to adulthood was the generation after Longbourn was established. He hired a private investigator to trace the sole Bennet daughter, his nearest blood relative, and, since her family stayed in the same town, he was able to find out fairly quickly there was one other male alive with Bennet blood,” Elizabeth told them.

 

“Grandfather wrote the entail so that his grandson, whether from our father or Aunt Jane, would inherit.”

 

“I apologize for interrupting you, Miss Bennet. What about your Cousin Edmund?” Reginald asked with a confused look on his face.

 

“Edmund is not Aunt Jane’s blood son, Mr. Hurst,” Miss Bennet replied quietly.

 

“Our cousin is from Uncle Frederick’s first marriage. His mother was the daughter of a duke,” Elizabeth added. “Our aunt met Edmund when he was two months old. She could not love him any more if he came from her body.”

 

“If there was no grandson from our grandfather’s children, the estate would go to the distant male cousin the investigator found, or, if he predeceased papa, it would be inherited by his son,” Miss Bennet said.

 

“I never understood why he set it up that way,” Elizabeth complained. “Why could papa’s eldest daughter not inherit?”

 

“You know why, Lizzy. Aunt Jane explains it every time you get upset,” Miss Bennet gently admonished. “Our grandfather was a good man and loving father, but he had certain notions about the way a family functioned. I might add his attitude was very common for the time period. Both of his children have told us the surest way to upset him was to challenge his authority. Our aunt was not surprised in the slightest when she found out how the entail was set up.”

 

“I do not mean this statement to sound indelicate,” Reginald said hesitantly, “but your uncle is a duke.”

 

William smiled when the sisters laughed.

 

“Uncle Frederick has offered to have the entail forcibly broken many times but Aunt Jane will not let him. Papa agreed with his sister and said it would not work anyway because one of them would need to have a son to break it,” Elizabeth said. “I understand their decision may seem odd to you, but even if we lose Longbourn, we would never be thrown into the hedgerows. Aunt Jane prefers to honour her father’s wishes, even if she does not agree with them.”

 

“I am not an expert, but it sounds as though your grandfather set up a strict settlement, not an entail,” he said.

 

“What makes you believe it is a strict settlement, whatever that is?” Elizabeth asked inquisitively.

 

“The main difference is that a strict settlement needs the person currently in possession, your father, to join with the legitimate heir who has reached their majority, your grandfather’s blood grandson, to break it, whereas an entail could be broken by a common recovery, such as your uncle offered to achieve,” he explained.

 

“You mean even if mama or Aunt Jane have a son, if he does not survive to adulthood, we would still lose Longbourn to the other branch of our family?” Elizabeth asked.

 

“Granted, I do not have all of the details, but from what you have told us, yes, I expect that to be true,” he answered. The group walked for a few moments, thinking about what they heard, before Elizabeth spoke again.

 

“Grandfather had a copy of the paperwork sent to the possible heir to make him aware of the situation. Papa and Mama told us a few years ago that the man and his young son had turned up at Longbourn. Jane and I were very young and Mary was an infant. I do not remember the visit,” Elizabeth explained. “Papa told us that they got into an argument because his relative, Mr. Collins, thought that, with three daughters born in succession, the Bennet’s should vacate Longbourn immediately. He felt that his family would certainly end up inheriting in the near future and wanted to start making long term improvements right away. Mama told us their argument became so heated, she had to send a footman for the magistrate.”

 

He whistled and responded, “That showed a lot of disrespect.”

 

“What if the son of the current heir presumptive does not survive to adulthood?” Reginald asked.

 

“That is an intriguing thought,” he replied. “What would happen?”

 

“I do not know,” Miss Bennet admitted. “It was never mentioned.”

 

“It is a moot point, anyhow,” Elizabeth added. “He is dead and his son, who has reached his majority, is very much alive. In fact, he recently wrote papa a ridiculous letter.”

 

He shot Reginald a questioning look, but he shrugged his shoulders in response.

 

“You have seemed troubled these past few days, Elizabeth. Might I presume that missive was the cause? You know, I have heard that a problem shared is a problem halved,” he quipped and smiled when she laughed.

 

“Touché, William,” she responded and told them about the letter.

 

“He actually invited himself to live at Longbourn?” Reginald asked incredulously.

 

“Yes,” Miss Bennet responded. “Papa was most put out.”

 

“He was livid, Jane,” Elizabeth corrected her sister. “He felt Mr. Collins was being pompous.”

 

He looked at Elizabeth closely and prompted, “I feel as though there is more to your story than what you have told us so far, Elizabeth.”

 

“The more I think about what Mr. Collins wrote, and more importantly the specific words and phrases he used, the more I wonder if he is simply naïve. He must have graduated university to become ordained, but if his father was as domineering as papa described...” Elizabeth trailed off.

 

“He might not have known better than to invite himself to become a resident of your household?” he asked.

 

“Exactly. Think about it. His father was brazen enough to try and force his way into managing Longbourn when our parents were obviously still building their family. It makes me wonder what type of family life our cousin, for lack of better word, was exposed to,” Elizabeth tried to explain.

 

“I believe I understand,” he assured her. “You feel that, with the right influences, he might improve?”

 

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

 

“I wonder...” Reginald stopped, looking embarrassed.

 

“Please continue, Mr. Hurst,” Miss Bennet encouraged.

 

“If his letter was really as bad as you disclosed, and he implied a need to make amends by marrying a Bennet daughter, do you think he will heed your father’s refusal?”

 

William sucked in a breath. “What did your father’s response say, exactly?” he asked.

 

Elizabeth just stared at them for a moment before responding, “He did not show it to us before it was sent, but I believe that has been the source of my unease. I can absolutely see the person who wrote that letter showing up and expecting us to rearrange our guests to accommodate his desires.”

 

“We will speak to your father when we return you to Longbourn. We should come up with a contingency plan for his possible arrival,” he suggested.

 

They walked along in silence until they could see the first building of Meryton.

 

“I wanted to discuss one more thing before we arrived,” William said.

 

“What is on your mind?” Elizabeth asked.

 

“I am worried about Anna. I wanted to ask your opinions before I speak with Mr. Sayers,” he admitted.

 

They stopped walking and Elizabeth asked, “What about Anna?”

 

“Elizabeth, please do not take this as criticism, because I know that everyone has made the best of a bad situation. Nevertheless, I think she needs more structure in her life. I am hopeful that with Miss Thomlin back in Meryton, Anna will have a normal schedule instead of being passed to whatever neighbour is available. She needs to be taught, preferably in a school setting. I would hate to see her become the wife of a tenant by default because she did not know enough to give her a variety of opportunities,” he said, then grew uncomfortable with the way everyone stared at him.

 

“What would you suggest?” Elizabeth asked, looking confused.

 

“I would request to be allowed to sponsor her at boarding school. When she has absorbed the subjects they teach, and based on her personal preferences, she could be any number of things. She could go into service as an upper servant. My housekeeper, for example, is still in fine health, but in another ten to twenty years, I would need to find a suitable replacement. The same would be true for when I get married or have children. My wife may need a maid and the children would need a nanny and then a governess. She could also go into the medical field and become a midwife or nurse. If she finds teaching, sewing, or artwork to be her passion, I would help her set up an establishment of sorts...” he noticed everyone else in the group was now looking at him with wide eyes and he stopped talking.

 

“You dear, sweet, kind, and gentle man,” Elizabeth told him with tears glistening in her eyes.

 

“She reminds me of Alfie,” he said quietly. “I would hate to have Anna not be given a chance to realize her potential. I comprehend, and appreciate, that Alfie is doing exactly what he enjoys. I want to give Anna the same opportunity. Would I insult her father by making the offer?”

 

“If you explain it to him the way you did to us just now, he will be honoured,” Miss Bennet surprised him by answering.

 

“I agree,” Elizabeth said looking at him as though he hung the moon. “He will miss her, terribly, but the future you are offering is what I know he would want for her.”

 

“Knowing the little imp, she just might become an author and give Mrs. Wollstonecraft a run for her money,” Reginald joked. “We should continue walking. I see a few townsfolk looking our way.”

 

They made their way into town and approached Clarke’s library, where they saw soldiers from the widely anticipated militia.

 

“Colonel Forster, how nice to see you,” Elizabeth welcomed the commander they had been introduced to at Lucas Lodge.

 

“Miss Elizabeth,” the Colonel nodded in greeting. “It is nice to see you all again. Allow me to introduce you to some of my men. This is Captain Carter, Lieutenant Denny, and just over there is Lieutenant Wickham.”

 

“Wickham!” Darcy was surprised to see his childhood friend. He was unsure what was going on. He was suddenly reminded of their concerns from last December. Did Wickham join the militia because he knew he was here with Georgiana?

 

“Darcy, I did not know you were in Hertfordshire,” Wickham said, seeming genuinely surprised to see him.

 

“You two know each other?” Colonel Forster asked curiously.

 

“My father was the steward of the Darcy estate and his father was my godfather. We grew up together,” Wickham answered.

 

“Ah,” Colonel Forster responded with a nod of his head.

 

“It is nice when old friends meet unexpectedly,” Miss Bennet said kindly.

 

“It is almost serendipitous,” Elizabeth suggested with a raised brow.

 

Reginald asked Colonel Forster a question about the militia’s arrival that started a conversation.

 

Darcy caught Wickham’s eye and walked to the edge of the library.

 

“Wickham, what are you up to?” Darcy growled.

 

“Nothing, Darcy, I swear to you.”

 

“Do you plan to run up debts in Meryton? I told you at Cambridge the last time, I would not cover for you again.”

 

“Darcy,” Wickham sighed, “I have been trying to improve my behaviour. Our talk a year ago cleared up many of the issues I had with you.”

 

“Just like that?” he asked incredulously. It was hard to believe.

 

“No, it was not as easy as it sounds for me to let go. I verified what you told me with the servants on pension row and did a lot of thinking.”

 

“You did not believe the journals you read?” he asked incredulously. “You knew the writing was my father’s.”

 

“I was so certain I was correct, Darcy. Your information was a revelation. I needed time to process everything and think. It changed everything I thought about myself,” Wickham finished quietly.

 

William thought back on that visit.

~*~

Pemberley, Derbyshire
Wednesday, October 31, 1810

 

“Sir, Mr. Wickham is asking to see you,” Mr. Reynolds told him.

 

“Escort him in,” William said while preparing himself for whatever Wickham had come to request.

 

Wickham waltzed in as though he was master of the estate and sat down without waiting to be offered a seat.

 

“Darcy, my circumstances are exceedingly bad. The law has turned out to be a most unprofitable study, I am sorry to say. I know there are no other family members you must provide for. I am certain that you have not forgotten your revered father’s intentions,” Wickham said with a smarmy grin. “I am now resolved on being ordained as soon as possible. I trust there could be little doubt you should offer me the living at Kympton now that Mr. Annesley has passed away.”

 

William could not believe what he was hearing. “Wickham, you accepted £3,000 and signed away all rights to the living and were given your £1,000 legacy.”

 

“As I said, my circumstances are dire. The living will do nicely,” Wickham said. “I would, naturally, need some funds to take the examination.”

 

“Have you investigated the requirements to become ordained?” he asked.

 

“I have a university degree and I must take the examination. What else is there to know,” Wickham said mockingly.

 

“I have learned a lot of details regarding the giving of a living since I have taken over Pemberley. Did you know that, in addition to your university degree, you have to spend an entire year serving under a parish priest? You would have to live the entire time sober and maintain a godly life? You would have to submit proof of this to the bishop, including testimonial letters from the community you served, before he would allow you to take the examination,” he said.

 

“You will just have to have the rector from Lambton fulfill the duties and I will spend a year working under him. I am sure you would both be willing to write me a letter when the time comes. Is the bishop not one of your Fitzwilliam relatives?” Wickham said, as if it was the most natural solution.

 

“You are unbelievable. You think I would leave the people in the village of Kympton to your stratagems? You squandered £4,000 in three years and then turn up asking me to grant you the living you were already compensated for? Leave, Wickham. You will not receive another farthing of Darcy money.”

 

“I am three weeks older than you.”

 

“Yes, Wickham, I know that. You have spent our entire lives trying to one-up me with that fact,” he said frustrated, with his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He continued and gestured with his hands, “The wind blows. Water is wet. Shall I continue listing unchangeable facts? What is your point?”

 

“I was not allowed to attend the will reading or review the will.”

 

“What are you blathering on about now? Why would you be at the reading of my father’s will? Besides that, need I remind you that your father was involved in creating said will and was present at the reading? If, as I suspect, you are insinuating that I would tell untruths to conceal a larger inheritance, do you not think your father would have verbalized my misdeeds?” William was pleased to see Wickham appear less confident for a moment.

 

“Not necessarily. I wonder if he knew what I did?”

 

“I have been outside with Grey all morning making sure the preparations for winter are on track to be completed before the first expected snowfall. I am exhausted and would like a respite before dinner. State the reason for your visit,” he said bluntly.

 

“I am saying that, as the elder brother, I am sure our father left Pemberley to me and you paid Mr. Wickham to keep the secret.”

 

William could not believe what he had heard. It was rubbish. It was absolutely impossible. Wickham sat there, looking at him smugly, like he had played a trump card and won the pot. He could not help it, he started laughing.

 

“It is useless to hide it any longer, brother,” Wickham spat. “If I have to, I will call the magistrate, but I will get what is mine.”

 

When he got his mirth under control, he asked, “Do you know how long a babe takes to be born?”

 

“I have heard it is nine months,” Wickham answered, looking confused.

 

“Close enough. Do you know when my parents were married?”

 

“How could I forget. Their anniversary was always a week before my birthday,” Wickham said bitterly. “Everything was always centered around their special day instead of mine.”

 

“Were you aware that my father was persuaded to take my mother on a honeymoon to the continent immediately following their wedding? Grandfather wanted them to spend the first six months of their marriage touring the continent, but they had to return early because my mother started getting sick in the mornings.” He could almost see the wheels turning in Wickham’s head and saw the moment the truth washed over him.

 

“No, it is impossible. You are trying to stay in control of my birthright.”

 

“I enjoy reading my father’s journals. They are a major source of comfort when I particularly miss him and are a wealth of information on how he handled issues that came up when he was master. I keep them on the shelf behind me,” William said. He turned around, located the correct volume, and found the relevant time period. “Here it is, the day before the wedding. You are familiar with my father’s writing. Would you like to read the next few months’ worth of entries? While you do that, if you want, I will have Mrs. Reynolds retrieve mother’s journals from my sister’s chambers. Did you know my father’s habit transferred onto her? When they arrived in Paris, father bought my mother a journal and they spent their evenings writing down what they had seen that day.”

 

He watched Wickham read a few pages and then scan through half the journal until he looked up.

 

“We look so much alike, that cannot be a coincidence.”

 

“Alike? Yes, we both have brown hair, brown eyes, and are of a similar height, if you consider a three-inch difference to be close. Other than that, we do not have any similarities. Look at our noses and our hairlines. I look exactly like my father and you look like yours, with your mother’s eye colour,” William said. “How many times have you heard people say you look like Mr. Wickham? How could you think my father was yours?”

 

“But I was so certain. Why else would he offer to be my godfather or sponsor my education?”

 

“Because, like us, our fathers grew up at Pemberley together as friends. Your father was the closest thing to a brother my father had. He felt that if he did have a nephew, or niece, he would have offered to pay for their education.”

 

“But I had so many characteristics in common with him. We both butter our bread in the same way, enjoy strawberry jam, dislike mutton, and prefer fly-fishing to bait fishing,” Wickham said, as though he was grasping at straws.

 

“George,” he said with a sigh, “those are all learned traits. Anyone who spent enough time with my father was bound to share some of his likes and dislikes while managing to pick up some of his idiosyncrasies. I had just as many things in common with your father and you never suggested we were switched at birth. However, I sound like my father, am just as tall, and have the same build, nose, hair and eye colour. If you noticed, all of the physical characteristics I just listed apply to you and your father. If you really think about everything we have discussed, objectively, and take into account the journals you are reading, there can be no denying the fact that we are not brothers. It is unquestionably not feasible.”

 

He allowed Wickham to flip through the rest of the father’s journal before asking if he should have his mother’s fetched.

 

“No, I need to think of all we have discussed and what I have read. I really am completely out of funds, Darcy.”

 

“With the condition that you speak to the rector at Lambton before you leave, I will give you twenty pounds, Wickham, to honour our fathers, but no more,” he said as he rang the bell for Mr. Reynolds to escort Wickham out. “You have known Mr. Rook your entire life, he knew both of our fathers, and most importantly, he was present at my parents wedding. He can testify to the fact that my parents were out of the country for almost five months. I will have my carriage take you to the nearest post stop, after it stops in Lambton.”

~*~

Meryton, Hertfordshire
Thursday, October 24, 1811

 

“What was the result of your introspection?” William asked.

 

“That I squandered the gifts my godfather provided me,” Wickham sighed. “With the twenty pounds you gave me, I bought a ticket to London and became friends with Denny. He was joining the militia and suggested I did too.”

 

“I cannot imagine you being a soldier,” he shook his head.

 

“Neither can I, but I seem to be good at it. I confessed everything to Colonel Forster, without names, and he mentored me. He put me in for a promotion recently, but has not heard back on whether or not it was granted.”

 

William was shocked at how proud Wickham looked at the praise from his superior officer. “Richard has told me the militia is rife with corruption. I would not be surprised to find out that his superiors are holding out for a bribe.”

 

“That was my thought too. Can you imagine? Me, a Captain in the militia?” Wickham asked with a rueful grin.

 

“I would be worried about the fathers that may end up filing complaints with the Colonel,” Darcy said dryly.

 

“I have learned to be more circumspect, Darcy,” Wickham replied, clearly dismayed. “I also drink a lot less spirits and only play cards for low stakes. I truly have been trying.”

 

“How often do you get sent to London on an errand?” he asked, fishing for information.

 

“Often,” Wickham responded. “For certain communiqués, Colonel Forster only uses men he trusts.”

 

“Where do you play cards when you are in London?”

 

“Why are you asking me about my habits?” Wickham asked with narrowed eyes.

 

William looked at this man closely. Visually he appeared to be the man he grew up with, but he was beginning to think maybe Wickham really had started to change. Richard would be able to tell if his reformation was sincere. Richard had never trusted George, even when they were children. If his cousin was persuaded he was improved, it would go a long way towards convincing him of Wickham’s sincerity.

 

“Would you and Colonel Forster have time to meet Richard and I for tea later?”

 

“Richard Fitzwilliam?”

 

“Yes, he is in Meryton too, but we are leaving tomorrow to visit his wife’s estate. We would need to speak with you today,” William said.