Posted on: 2011-04-16
Contrary to appearances, William Hurst did not sleep well either that night. Until dawn it was a mostly successful enterprise of thinking while his eyes were closed, with an intermission where he did his best to assure his wife that he was not going to be parted from her because of the visit they had yesterday. However, as he held her in his arms, the words which she uttered that had aroused the need for assurance, preyed heavily upon his mind.
When he married her without telling her the true nature behind the events which brought them together, he had forgotten that there was more than the symbolism of changing his name behind the matter. Not for the first time did he find himself resenting what his father had done, not just to him, but to her as well. Catching sight of a little girl playing the park with her father and deciding that someday she would be the perfect wife for his son, carried a certain aroma which he found distinctly unpalatable, not to mention disturbing.
Elizabeth had been right when she talked to him during that night when he first confessed to having a profound interest in her. Until then his thoughts had not once considered how she might be feeling about the conditions his father's will had enforced upon her. For many years an only child, all but abused and neglected by his father, he had no one but himself to consider until he and then his sister banished themselves to the Cape.
Plans were being made between him and Mr Reynolds to bring Georgiana home, but he was a little reluctant to do so until he told Elizabeth the truth, as well as being aware that he was dragging his sister away from a life she found pleasant and comfortable, and one in which she seemed settled, almost contented.
After that night when Elizabeth was made aware of how he felt and how she felt then, he had come to realise how harshly his father had treated them both, as nothing but pawns in his dusty legacy. Resigning himself, if only for a brief time, to a life without her, he had tried to make sure she had everything his father had denied her, the choice to marry whom she loved.
When she declared her love for him, he had been so scared of loosing it, that the concealment seemed the only way to keep it. At the time it had appeared a simple matter of avoiding all connections with their past, it had not occurred to him until the evening before last night, when Richard Fitzwilliam sat waiting in their kitchen, that the secret would come to an end before he was prepared for it.
Now, he had to tell Elizabeth everything. Not only Elizabeth, but her family, and his family, such as it was. His cousin would doubtlessly tell the police inspector over in the Limehouse parish about last night before he returned to Derbyshire, and the police inspector had been nothing but thorough in his dealings with the Darcy case.
William recalled how he made sure to evade the young constable who tailed him that night he left the mortuary for his alleged lodgings at Exchequer Coffee House, Palace Yard, Westminster. Indeed, it was incredible that he had managed to remember the lodging place his attacker told him they would be staying at while he was on the boat. That inspector would soon be paying him and Elizabeth a visit, one which he was sure would entail him going to the station and telling them the truth behind his concealment. And from there the legal process of recognising him would take over.
Setting all that aside, the one thing William still remained uncertain about was how Elizabeth would take the truth. Since their marriage, the subject of William Darcy had never come up, not even remotely. In conjunction with this silence, were the words she uttered last night. To him it seemed that there was a strong possibility to him that she might justifiably hate him after he confessed. Yet he could not leave her stranded in this limbo any longer. His hand been forced and there was no going back.
He watched her as they had breakfast together in the kitchen, the small, simple movements of her slender hands as she buttered a piece of toast, then applied some marmalade or preserve upon it before putting the food before her mouth and taking a bite, was somehow comforting and endearing to him. As yet she not broached the subject of her dreams last night, or his surprising revelation, and a part of him had hoped that he would at least have some forewarning of her reaction before he began.
"You don't ask me, my dear, why I took a false name," he uttered, filling his hands with the paperwork from last night, so his nerves would not show through their shaking, shuffling the papers into a pile that he could put into his brief case before he left, making the question appear almost innocent.
"No William, love," Elizabeth replied, her tone seemingly normal, as though she was not concerned in the slightest. "I should dearly like to know, of course. I should not like you to think that I'm not interested."
Looking up from his work, he saw an expression about her eyes that made him realise her worries from last night were still present. Abruptly, he dropped to his knees before her, taking his hand in his. "My darling, I stand in no danger."
Elizabeth laid her toast aside to meet his gaze. "Are you sure of that, William?"
He nodded, his dark handsome gaze never leaving her fine eyes. "Moreover, I've done no wrong, or injured no man. Shall I swear it?"
"No," she uttered softly. "No, never to me."
If ever he was to begin, now would be the time. Bowing his head, he studied the floral pattern on her dress as he searched for his opening words. "You realise, the dark matter that Mr Fitzwilliam spoke of..."
She touched his hands firmly. "No. I don't want to hear. Besides, I have something to tell you," she added, causing him to raise his eyes in puzzlement. "You're not the only one with a secret. Only I'm ready to tell you mine."
In one movement she rose from her chair, took his left hand and placed it upon the front of her waist. William glanced at her eyes to seem them glistening brightly, a nervous but pleased expression on her face. Confused, he glanced down at their hands again, until he realised what he had noticed last night and observed now as the senses in his fingers compared her roundness from when they married to now.
The revelation startled him, driving all other thought from his mind. A smile flew across his face, and before he knew it she was in his arms and he was laughing and crying all at once.
At the dust yard in Maiden Lane, Mr Reynolds was just crossing the entrance with Mr Younge. In front of the them the yard was alive with activity, as people carefully sorted through the mounds, sifting the dust until it was ready to be carted away. Like an island, his old, ramshackle bower stood in the midst of this scene, and he was sure if he squinted hard enough, he would see Wickham staring murderously at him out of one of the windows.
Which brought him back to why he was visiting today. Hurst had come to him that morning with the news that the truth would soon be out in the open, meaning that not only would Elizabeth and Society come to know of William Darcy, but the other, darker matter that involved the crippled, old squaddie and his machinations, would have to come to a head, in order to be dealt with at a time of their choosing, rather than in a court room, where no one would win but the journalists writing about the affair.
"Do you think Wickham's likely to drop down on me today, Younge?" He asked his companion whom he had visited before coming to Maiden Lane.
"I think it very likely, sir," Mr Younge replied.
They neared the house and the old squaddie within exited his rooms, hobbled down the stair case, then stepped outside to welcome them. "Reynolds, you're quite a stranger."
"Nothing wrong, Wickham?" Reynolds asked, trying his best to appear as if he was not aware of the machinations the old soldier had planned to launch on him.
Wickham shook his head as he led them inside. "No, nothing wrong. Quite the contrary. So my friend and partner, Mr Younge, gives me to understand that you are aware of our power over you."
Mr Reynolds nodded, remembering the plan he and Hurst laid out before he and Mr Younge left for Maiden Lane. Above all, this meeting had to go as Wickham intended, so they knew how much 'power' the old soldier believed he held over them before they proceeded further with the matter.
"First of all I'm calling you Reynolds," Wickham continued in a growling voice. "No mister and definitely no sir."
"Well since you say it is to be so, I suppose it must be," Mr Reynolds replied, doing his best to sound unprepared and scared of what the former soldier had planned.
"I suppose it must be," Wickham echoed before unveiling. "You are aware that you are in possession of property to which you have no right?"
"Yes," Mr Reynolds answered, though Wickham could have no conception of how aware he was. Not only that, but the soldier's understanding of the word, when compared to his own definition, were separated by a impassable river.
"And you are desirous of coming to terms?" Wickham asked.
Edmund nodded, as though he was reluctant to even voice a decision to which he was forced into making.
"You'll throw in your mound, with a generous stake and divide the lot into three!" Wickham began gleefully.
"I shall be ruined," Edmund murmured quietly.
"You'll leave me in sole custody of these mounds," Wickham continued as though he hadn't spoken. "When the mounds are cleared away, to the last shoveful that's when the final divison shall be made."
Mr Reynolds put a hand to face, almost as if he was trying to conceal his humiliation and despair. "I must keep this from the old lady. She must not know."
"Why should she not know?" Wickham countered. "She's was a dustman's wife once! she can become one again!"
"Eh?" Mr Reynolds queried.
Suddenly Wickham put his crutch to Reynolds' face, pressing the crook in the wood firmly against his nose. "Nose to the grindstone, Reynolds! Get to it! Get to it!"
As Wickham Senior plotted and schemed, he was thinking only of himself. No thought whatsoever crossed his mind, that his son, who had abandoned him in disgust as soon as he was old enough to possess such intellect and self-regard to do so, would be in need of the some of the funds that he was so avariciously blackmailing for.
George Wickham esquire, stood with his wife upon a train platform. To any outsider their appearance was both dignified, and pitiable. Dressed in what was left of their finest travelling attire, they waited for the transport which they had yet to acquire a booking for. His wife held a large bird cage in her hand, in which resided a canary bird, who seemed oblivious to the dire circumstances that its owner now found herself in.
Misfortune followed this family, stalking the bloodlines for generations. It had begun with the death of the only prosperous Wickham; a steward of one of the most prestigious estates in Derbyshire; Pemberley. Leaving behind a son, his master had little choice but to provide for his godson;- for the father left a legacy of debts from a life spent constantly trying to live ahead of his means for the express pleasure of his wife, -endowing him with funds and an education.
He had desired him to enter the church, and for a time, it had been the son's dearest wish to enter into that profession. But temptation foiled such noble schemes, as the all the advantages and privileges of an easy living at Cambridge were laid open to him. A life of idleness and dissipation followed, with a brief interlude of an attempted marriage to an heiress of thirty thousand pounds, foiled by her perceptive older brother, then another elopement with a young girl that, had he been sober, he would never have even considered marriageable.
Naturally, bitterness and disappointment followed, ending in a rather ignominious death upon the fields of Alma, an old, embittered Captain. Those emotions were a powerful legacy for a son who was unfortunate enough to become a veteran of that war, returning home with a lost limb serving as his only memento of that campaign.
For the second George Wickham, crippled, aged beyond his true years, orphaned by his son and widowed by his wife, it was not hard to desire revenge upon the family who wronged not just him but his father and grandfather before him. Nor was it entirely easy for his son to escape the same legacy, especially the circles he desired to move in were the same ones which this family had also moved in.
If George Wickham the third had been in a philosophising state, he would have reflected upon the irony that the family he had done his best to avoid, were in the end the same ones he turned to in the hope that they would rescue him from his plight. As he should have expected, the scheme was utterly unsuccessful. He had no one but himself to blame for the state of affairs in which he found himself now, and as usual, he was doing his best to convince his mind and conscience, that he had nothing to do with it.
He and Caroline could only imagine what Society was saying of them now.
"The boat train!" Lady Catherine de Bourgh cried, with all the shock and horror the widow of a knight of the realm could reasonably be allowed to convey in her voice, as she reported the scandal she had recently discovered. "The Wickhams have been exiled to Europe! Forced to live like leeches off the scraps of continental society!"
"What disgrace!" Lady Lucas, once best friend of the Wickhams, now doing her best to deny that she had ever been in such intimate acquaintance with them, opined.
Her husband snorted. "They deserve it for trying to live beyond their means. What do you think. Mr Harrington?"
Mr Harrington, was a rather unusual gentlemen. The cousin of a baron and a well connected one at that, he had the unfortunate position of being referred to as everybody's friend, no matter what amount of acquaintance he could claim with that person. He also possessed a nervous disposition that caused him anxiously worry whenever such a position was called into doubt. "No a gentleman does not need..."
"Don't ask Mr Harrington!" Lady Catherine cried, cutting the man off. "He can never be made to say a word on the misfortunes of others whatever the scandal!"
"Outrageous scandal!" Lucas commented, as his friend Harrington now began to worry that he was no longer Lady Catherine's most intimate friend, and knight errant. "I never heard anything more disgraceful!"
"I have something worse to tell you," Lady Catherine continued, "and Mr Harrington will not say anything to us about this either! Charles Bingley has disgraced his family by marrying a female boat person!"
There was a shocked silence as the ears and minds of Society digested this shocking, scandalous piece of nuptials. None of them knew or even perhaps cared of Mr Bennet's once position as a landed gentleman. Past was something only the elite of Society valued. Meanwhile Mr Harrington worried if he was also no longer the most intimate friend of Sir William and Lady Lucas as well.
"A woman of lower class!" Lady Lucas cried, shocked. "Makes me feel..."
"Such a scandal," Colonel Forster, Sir William's business partner, bemoaned.
"His father has cut him off without a penny!" Lady Catherine declared. In truth, she had heard nothing of the sort, but it was only natural to imagine what Mr Bingley would do upon hearing such news from his son.
"His mother cries," Lady Lucas informed the others, suddenly an expert and intimate of that noble empire building family as well.
"This social experiment is doomed to failure!" Lady Catherine declared.
Mr Harrington meanwhile, worried that perhaps he should visit his most intimate friend Mr Bingley Senior and ask him if he was still considered as such after this news.
At the station, the Wickhams rose from their misfortune to survey those who would be accompanying them on this voyage to another life. It was possible after all that news of their current poverty had not yet reached all corners of the Society in which they lived, thus perhaps enabling them to attach themselves another wealthy couple, who were gullible enough to be only too helpful and generous to the Wickhams while they settled into a new life in continental society.
Within moments, they found who they were looking for. A young couple evidently comfortably well off by the cut of their clothes and the generous amount of luggage they were taking with them, as well as, judging by their behaviour, not long married. Beside them a member of the boat train's crew seemed only too pleased to given the task of loading their luggage into the cargo section of the vehicle, and, judging by the time he was taking, liable to be well paid for the endeavour, by a couple who did not know how long such a process should be expected to take.
Caroline glanced at her husband with an evil smile, a expression which exactly matched his own. "Do you smell a little money, George?"
He nodded and together they made their way over to the them. Within minutes, their passage and their accommodation and food were all catered for by the charming victims who were only too eager to meet the nice Mr and Mrs Wickham, relieved that they would have some friendly acquaintances with whom to spend time with abroad. As for the Wickhams themselves, they revelled in the new found friendship, hoping that this latest alliance would prove to be far more profitable than any of their previous attempts to become rich off the backs of others fortunes.
In the Limehouse Mortuary and police station, for the wealth of the borough was such that it only allowed for one building to house both, Richard Fitzwilliam had just arrived for his appointed meeting with the Inspector. The officer greeted him with all the eagerness of a man who desired to tie up the remaining loose ends of a case which had been troubling him.
"So, Mr Fitzwilliam," the Inspector remarked as they sat by his desk, "you say you have some information concerning the murder of Mr William Darcy. But now the mystery is you seem reluctant to divulge it."
Richard bowed his head. It is true, he was reluctant to divulge the revelation which had been bothering him from the moment he recognised William Hurst. He was concerned for Elizabeth. She seemed so happy and contented in her life, that it seemed wrong to cause her husband into a dark matter that he probably had little connection to, other than a simple case of mistaken identity.
Especially as Elizabeth was now the sister of his dearest friend, who was still gravely ill, miles away from here. Yet it was his duty as a lawyer and as a cousin to discover the truth behind this concealment, for the man that was her husband must have had a reason to give a false name and then studiously avoid meeting with him so he would not be recognised. "It is concerning Mr Frederick Denny."
"Oh yes," the Inspector remarked, pausing in order to sort through his files and find the notes pertaining to such a fellow. "Mr Frederick Denny was followed from this very police station to his lodgings at Westminster where he seems to have evaded my man and disappeared." The Inspector looked up at his guest. "Have you caught sight of him, Mr Fitzwilliam?"
"I fear so," Richard replied.
It was the evening when they arrived at the door of the cottage in Blackheath, the Inspector and two of his men, just in case the man who they wished to question proved resistant to answering their inquiries, the urgent nature of their case overriding the inappropriateness of the hour at which they were calling.
William Hurst had been waiting for this moment all day, from the morning he parted from his wife to go work, having learned that he was soon to be a father, then at the Reynolds's townhouse where he and Mr Reynolds discussed what was to be done concerning the old squaddie Wickham's schemes in light of this secret being uncovered. Now he was home with Elizabeth, feeling cowardly for being unable to come to the point of confession, so much so that the knock on the door was a relief, causing him to rise and answer it quite promptly, knowing who he would find waiting for him.
"Do you recognise me?" the Inspector asked him, and he nodded, as the full horror of that night when he had first encountered the officer, in the curved roof of the Limehouse Mortuary and police station, crystallised in his mind's eyes once more. "And I recognise you most certainly, Mr Frederick Denny."
"William," he heard, as his wife came out from the parlour to join them in the hall, frowning at the sight of a policeman standing in their porch. "What's happening?"
He turned to her, hearing the slight fear in her voice, and felt the guilt of putting her through this deception keenly. Clasping her arm most tenderly, he turned from the Inspector and fixed his gaze upon her fine eyes. "Nothing can harm us, remember."
"Can I have a private word with you, Mr Denny?" The Inspector continued, appearing to possess little compunction about what anxiety he was causing to his suspect's female companion, whose uncertain stare wandered back and forth between him and the man he wished to question.
William turned to face the policeman, finding himself somewhat irritated by the officer's seemingly lack of compassion, and his persistence in using his first false name. He knew it was a deliberate act, designed to unsettle him, and thus he was also annoyed that it had the power to do so, even though he was aware of it. "Mrs Hurst, knows she can have no reason for being alarmed, whatever the business," he replied, emphasising his wife's name.
The Inspector frowned, as he countered that assertion with all the authority of his office behind him, an almost sarcastic scepticism being conveyed through his voice in his apparently smug reply. "Really, is that so?"
William took a deep breath to calm himself, and then all but threw the authority back in the officer's face. "Are you going to charge me with a crime?"
"I charge you with being in some way connected with the murder of William Darcy," the Inspector declared, growing annoyed himself now with the daring of this man.
Beside him Elizabeth gasped, as her dreams of the man that was to be her husband came back to her, along with the fear that she felt of the man standing next to her now, the man she loved, being parted from her. She was an intelligent woman, she knew full well what the Inspector was implying, that her husband was not just connected with the murder of William Darcy, but possibly responsible for the act himself. It was inconceivable to her that anyone could think that her husband was capable of murder. "No sir, you cannot!"
William sighed, upon hearing the Inspector's declaration, knowing that he could no longer just stand here and deny the charges. Not without telling the officer the truth behind the entire matter, and he had no desire for Elizabeth to be informed in this manner. Turning, he took his coat from the knewel post nearby. "I will come with you."
Elizabeth heard the capitulation in his voice and a fear took hold of her, that she would not see her husband ever again if he went with the officer now. "No, William, you don't have to go!" she cried, holding on to him.
He tenderly freed himself from her hands shaking grip on his arm, and clasped them both above her elbows for a moment in an attempt to calm her. "No, I choose to go. Don't distress yourself. I'll be back by morning."
Kissing her lips, a chaste but clear sign of his love for her, William stepped away, and shut the door before turning to face the Inspector, who continued to regard him with the greatest of scepticism.
"You know, Mr Denny," the officer said, "that you had no right to make that kind of promise, when it is highly likely that you will not be returning home tomorrow."
"On the contrary, sir," William replied, "I was speaking the absolute truth. And in time, you will come to realise that too."
Posted on: 2011-04-23
George Wickham Senior entered Younge's shop of curiosities in Clerkenwell and found a difference within the establishment, when compared to the manner of visits he conducted before. In the beginning when he had first visited the shop to buy back the bone of the limb he had lost on the fields of Alma, there had been a dull, downcast air, which seemed to hang over the interior, as though the souls of the strange, anatomical, departed works of art that Younge specialised in, had come to haunt their resting place.
Mr Younge's confession that he was lost in mourning due to unrequited love did nothing to dispel the uneasiness which Wickham could not but help experiencing whenever he entered the shop, and his gaze accidentally turned to the last anatomical exhibits. There was something quite unnerving about the hollow eye sockets of skeletons, such as the French gentleman that Younge often referred to. Wickham could not help but feel that they, along with the stuffed animals like the alligator and the mice, rendered creepy by their seemingly innocent human poses, were watching his every move, as an enemy would in battle, waiting to strike.
Now, however, a warm glow seemed to be cast over the shop's interior. There were three ostrich eggs in the window display, instead of the usual macabre animal pantomimes that darkened those glassy panes. The French Gentleman was in his usual stand opposite the fireplace, but he appeared to be the only exhibit not shrouded in the comforting evening shade which hung over the interior of the establishment. This reassuring atmosphere was also enhanced by the smell of lemon and darjeeling, infused together in the proprietor's usual welcoming tipple.
"Why it smells rather comfortable in here," Wickham observed to Mr Younge when the proprietor himself came into view, a contented smile upon his face.
"I am rather comfortable sir," Mr Younge replied with a quiet, happy sigh, before ushering his visitor to a chair.
"Don't use lemons in your business, do you?" Wickham queried as he sniffed the air, inhaling such a fruity scent once more.
"No," Mr Younge replied, before indicating with his hand the slices of the fruit lying upon a saucer by the tea crockery. "Will you partake, sir?"
"Will I partake?" Wickham echoed grumpily, the comfortable surroundings reminding him of his own lack of comforts at his residence in Maiden Lane, with all the now usual, daily disturbances. "Of course I'll partake. Will a man partake who's been tormented by dust carts heaving to and fro twenty-four hours a day?"
"Don't let it put you out, Wickham," Mr Younge commented lightly, before making his tone acquire a more sympathetic air. "You don't seem in your usual spirits," he observed.
"If it comes to that, you don't seem in your usual spirits," Wickham countered somewhat enviously. "You seem getting on for lively. And you've had your hair cut and you've fattened up."
Mr Younge paid the bitter tone in the observations no mind as he took up his saucer and tea, placing the china cup below his mouth to take sip before he remarked upon a few observations which he had made himself. "Well, Mr Wickham, I can see you're being whittled very low. One might fancy you've come to see the French gentleman rather than me!" he chuckled, with a eye to the skeleton proudly displayed across from them.
Wickham turned in the direction, inwardly shuddering as he caught sight of the hollow eye sockets which seemed to stare at him as though he were something to be haunted, and then noticed another difference about the shop. "Why, you've had the place cleaned up."
"Yes," Mr Younge remarked, and seeing the anxiety in the old squaddie's demeanour, decided to reveal the source behind these changes. "By the hand of an adorable woman."
"I presume the next thing you're gonna do is get married," Wickham groused, witnessing the transformation of his friend as he revealed the source and finding himself even more miffed when Mr Younge nodded. "To the old party?"
With a glance directed to the back room, where the woman was presently situated, to make sure she had not heard the insult, Mr Younge turned back to his companion with a reproach in his response. "The lady in question is not an old party."
Noticing her presence for the first time, surprised to notice that she was a young, pretty woman, diligent in her housekeeping, for she was presently occupied in the task of cleaning the rest of the china, the old squaddie obligingly dropped his voice to a whisper as he further enquired about her. "Then the lady's objections have been met?"
"The objections have been met by the kind interference of a new friend of mine," Mr Younge revealed in the same lowered tone, but with the added emotion of joy at his love now being returned. "He waited on the lady, and made the point that if I would, after marriage, confine myself to the articulation of men, children and the lower animals only, it might help relieve the lady's mind of her feeling respecting being regarded in a bony light." Mr Younge smiled at the memory of the moment that Pleasant Jenkinson told him this as she accepted his affections. "It was a happy thought, sir, which took root."
"You seem flush with friends at the moment, Younge," Wickham mused despondently, saddened that his companion no longer possessed the bitter feeling required for going through with their scheme to blackmail Mr Reynolds. "Still you may spend your fortune how you wish. I mean to travel. The tough job is ended, the mounds laid low. The hour is come for Reynolds to stump up."
In the cottage at Blackheath, Elizabeth regarded her husband a fresh this morning, having woken to find him sleeping by her side in the usual manner, as though the visit to the police station the night before never took place. She had not heard him come home, for her worries over what he might be going through at the police station eventually tired her out as the hours passed and his absence continued.
Now, back at home once more, he appeared to have not a care in the world as he partook of his morning meal, his movements unhurried, even sedentary. She knew not what to make of it. Last night, standing before the Inspector, he had seemed as worried as she was by the accusations which the officer made. This morning however, he was calm, and composed, leaving her uncertain as to how to broach the subject which last evening, was so disgusting for them.
"You're going to be late for the china house if you're not careful," she ventured at last, after a glance at the timepiece on the wall nearby descried the time when he had usually left for work gone past fifteen minutes ago.
William paused, laying his cup down in the saucer with a great deal of care before he spoke, ensuring that his tone was casual and unaffected. "The fact is my dear, I have left the china house and I'm in another way of business." He reached across the table and took her unoccupied hand in his own. "And I must ask you this, Elizabeth. You've become fond of this cottage?"
She smiled at him, half wondering if he was to begin his usual ritual of asking if all was well with their married life. "Of course I have, it is our life together."
"I'm afraid we have to leave, my dear," William informed her. "My new position has a dwelling house attached rent-free."
Elizabeth glanced at him astonished. To her mind that appeared an unusual situation to acquire, unless he had become a member of someone's household. The thought of narrow back stairs and small living quarters depressed her, for she had no reason to expect a repetition of the generous space which Mr and Mrs Reynolds had given him for just a study while he lived in her father's rented lodgings in Holloway.
"William..." she uttered as he continued to gaze at her with a searching but seemingly content expression about this new position, "do you consider this a gain my dear?"
"Yes I do," William assured her in the most composed tone he could manage, though inwardly he was just as concerned as she, but for entirely different reasons.
"And what about the baby?" she asked him, hoping that the inquiry would make him reveal the nature of his move and perhaps more information as to what his new position would entail of them all. "Will there be room in the house for the baby?"
"There will I'm sure be room enough for us all," he answered her. "But why should you take this on trust? We will go and look at it this morning."
She watched him as he finished his coffee and then rose from the chair to fetch their coats, not knowing quite what to make of him. All of a sudden it seemed that man she married had been reverted into the man he was before, the mysterious, reticent secretary, who always attended upon her, staring, studying her silently, judging her. As she had said to him only days ago, she could not help but feel that she was being tested, yet for what and for whom? The babe growing inside her, waiting to become a part of their lives? In pay for all her avaricious schemes and thoughts that she felt before she fell in love and married that mysterious secretary?
Whatever the reason was, she reasoned with herself that she was not going to discover it sitting in her kitchen. Elizabeth rose from her chair and joined her husband in the hall, where he helped her into her coat and opened the door. They walked towards the gate at the end of the garden, then William helped her inside the waiting carriage.
Throughout the journey she stared out of the parting above the door, while he held her hands in a tight comforting clasp, watching the houses and citizens of London tumble by, from the comfortable, simple living of their neighbourhood to the more affluent suburbs which society deigned to reside. Her mind froze as she the carriage slowed outside a very familiar looking house. A residence from which she had last quitted, in a fit of righteous anger, with the firm resolve never to step foot inside the house again.
William said nothing when she turned her amazed and confused features upon him, continuing in his silence as he helped her down from the carriage, up the grand steps and through the impressive door frame, into the large chequered hallway to the reception rooms which lay beyond. Her mind spun with the possibilities and fears so much, that by the time she entered the drawing room, to find Mr and Mrs Reynolds rising from their places on a nearby sofa, greeting her with nothing but smiles and pleasant expressions, she could do naught but pass out.
She came to in her husband's arms, resting upon the sofa that their hosts had recently vacated, with Mrs Reynolds smelling salts underneath her nose, William's anxious gaze as he held her, ready to lend his support should she faint again, and Mr Reynolds crouching before them all, waiting for her to come round.
"There, there my dear," Mr Reynolds uttered kindly, before stepping forward to help William as they assisted her rise from lying down into a seated position. "Lets lift you up. There," he pronounced before turning to his wife and addressing her with his usual, somewhat unflattering term of endearment, but always received as a sign of his affection for her nonetheless. "Old lady, if you don't begin a telling of the tale, someone else will."
Mrs Reynolds smiled at her husband before directing the warm expression upon their guests as she replied. "I'm going to begin, Edmund dear. It isn't easy to know where to begin when a person's in this state of happiness!" She took a deep breath, then patted William's hands, still clasping those of his wife's as she uttered the following. "Elizabeth my dear, tell me who this is."
Elizabeth looked towards the man she was directed to, finding William regarding her with a nervous gaze. Though she was confused, she had no reason as yet to answer the question with anything but truth. "Why my husband, of course."
Her hostess chuckled lightly at the reply. "Oh my!" she exclaimed before persisting in her efforts to bring forth a more satisfactory response. "His name, dearie."
Elizabeth blinked in puzzlement as she answered, uncertain as to why Mrs Reynolds felt a need to be reminded of such a title. "Hurst."
Mrs Reynolds shook her head, smiling at her even more now that she had received the response she desired. "No it ain't. Not a bit of it."
An slight inclination of what might lay behind her hostess's questioning began to penetrate Elizabeth's mind, but she had another possible answer to the inquiry which needed to be ruled out first. "Well, Denny, then."
"No it ain't," Mrs Reynolds repeated, still smiling. "Not a bit of it."
Elizabeth half frowned, half laughed, not knowing what to make of the expressions directed to her from her husband or from their hosts. "Well, his name is William?" She asked hopefully, as another part of the mystery slowly began to unravel within her mind.
Mrs Reynolds nodded as she patted hers and William's clasped hands once more. "I should hope so, dearie. Many's the time I've called him William. Guess my pretty."
Elizabeth shook her head. As much as she realised what the answer had to be within her mind, the reasons for concealing such a name continued to escape her, for surely he had nothing to gain in doing so. "I can't guess," she replied.
Her hostess pressed her gloved palm on her and William's hands once more, before resuming her tale. "I could. I found him out one night all in a flash, didn't I Edmund dear?" She paused to turn her gaze on to her husband for a brief moment, then back to the beautiful young woman before them.
"It was on a particular night when he'd had a disappointment about a certain young lady," she explained, with a knowing glance directed to both William and Elizabeth, as they realised that she must be referring to the night when William proposed to her and she refused. "Too many's the time I'd seen him sitting so lonely like that as a child. I just cried out, 'William, its you!' And he catches me as I fall down in his arms."
Elizabeth stilled, startled at having her suspicions confirmed, then glanced at her husband almost in wonder, her response somewhat quietened of its usual brightness when she took in his uncertain, almost pleading expression for her to understand and not be angered by his deception. "William Darcy? But that's not possible. He is drowned."
"Now my dear," Mrs Reynolds remarked, patting the joined hands of the young couple once more, "let me finish telling. So I says to Edmund, lord be thankful! Here is our William Darcy come home again to us. And we both fall down, crying for joy!"
William smiled at her now, although the attempt was half-hearted at best, as he was still nervous of receiving her anger. "Do you see my darling? Can you understand? These two, who I came to life to dispossess and disappoint, they cry for joy."
"Oh don't you mind him," Mrs Reynolds half admonished the man whom she had practically raised, with all the authority that a fond second mother might be supposed to reasonably possess. "So, William tells us about his disappointment with a certain young person and how he's going to leave London and let us keep our wrongful inheritance." Mrs Reynolds glanced at her husband whose own eyes met her gaze briefly before glancing down at the floor at the memory of his actions. "And my Edmund, well you should've seen him. To think that he'd come to the property wrongfully, turned him whiter than chalk."
She directed a smile of reassurance at him before turning her gaze back to the couple sitting before them. "So we came to our confabulation about a certain young lady. Edmund says, 'she's a little spoilt but that's only on the surface. She's true golden at heart.' And then William says 'oh if I could but prove so.' And then we says 'what would content you? If she was to stand up for you when you were slighted? If she was to be true to you when you were poorest and friendless? And all this against any interest. How would that do?' 'Do?' he says. 'It would raise me to the skies.' And we says 'make your preparations for it is our firm belief that up will you go.' Edmund says 'Elizabeth was a little frightened of me at first. She thought me a dusty and brown old bear!'
Elizabeth blushed, half ashamed of her first impressions, tempered as they were now and before by her continued observation of their kind manners and affable nature, as well as their constant generosity. "Well I..."
Mrs Reynolds brushed away her attempt at denial. "You did, my dear. He says 'what if I was to become that old bear she thought me once?' 'William' he says 'prepare to be slighted and oppressed.' And he began. Lord, how he began. And you proved yourself true as we knew you would. And William wouldn't let us tell you though that was the plan. He says 'she's so selfless and contented. I can't afford to be rich yet.' And so we go on. Now the baby's on the way. He's says 'I can't tell her now.' And I said 'if you don't tell her as soon as you can so she can come into her rightful home, then I will.'"
Elizabeth found herself smiling as she turned from Mrs Reynolds, to her husband, and then to their host, whose head was bowed nervously, awaiting her anger. She found she had none left to give. In fact none existed in the first place. For as she listened to Mrs Reynolds's account of the deception performed, she realised her husband's motive for doing so was not one born out of a selfish desire to change her ways, but a heart that yearned for her to love him as much as he had come to love her. As for Mr and Mrs Reynolds, they had only done what any good friends would do in their position.
"Now, come sir, and meet my gaze," she uttered to Mr Reynolds, who nervously looked up from the floor, to find her parting from her husband's clasp to rise from the sofa and stand before him. "Come on admit. You're a bad old bear." She laughed as she hugged him, before returning to her seat to embrace William, who wrapped his arms around her in relief that she had taken his secret so well.
"Well I did hope it might hint at caution, my dear," Mr Reynolds admitted. "And I assure you that on that celebrated day when I which has since been agreed upon, to be my greatest demonstration, I allude to crying, 'money,' and William stares at me as if I've gone a little strange, them flinty words hit my old lady so hard on my account I had to hold her hard and stop her from running after you, and telling you I was playing a part!"
Later, when their former host and hostess left them to take their air in the grounds, Elizabeth stood before the prospect where she could observe them, musing over all she had learned this morning. It was almost too incredible to believe. She had gained a fortune she always wished for, and now hardly seemed to matter. Her husband, whom she had feared after last night's excursion would be parted from her forever, was alive and well, and master of that grand fortune, laying open before her. She had been deceived, even up to the point of signing her name on the register for their marriage, only signing her first, as William took over the rest, but the deception did not make her angry, not as perhaps it once might have done.
She could understand why he might be driven to doing it, why she might have done such a thing if it had been her travelling back to England, to face a husband and a life she had never known, or cared for, courtesy of one embittered father. She could count herself blessed that her own was such a contrast, and wished that her husband had been dealt the same hand.
Speaking of husband, she mused as William wrapped his arms around her waist, his hands caressing her through the fabric of her dress, is dear face nestled upon her shoulder, his dear voice close and tender in her ear. After Mrs Reynolds had given her account, he had spoken of his own, giving her to understand everything which had taken place from the earliest moments of his childhood that he could remember, the innocent, carefree days passed in Derbyshire, before the times of sadness spent in Maiden Lane, until he and his sister exiled themselves to the Cape, to the moment he had learned of his father's death, and returned to England. He spoke to her as much as he had spoken to their hosts the night after she had refused his first proposal, and her reaction was more than he could ever have hoped for.
"Forgive me, my darling," he uttered lovingly now, his voice warm and soft by her ear as he rested his head against her dark hair. "I was drowned, or as good as. And as I lay by that river gasping for air, I thought I might as well be. I had nothing left to live for. And when you have nothing, you are very bold. I had nothing to loose by trying you out. And when I did, I found I had the best of friends and the most worthy of wives."
He pressed a kiss to those dark elaborately pinned tresses before he continued. "And then you told me of this new life growing within you. So it was then I realised that I did miraculously have everything I hoped for, I was so afraid to lose it and determined to hold fast to it. I couldn't risk telling you until I had one more signal of your love, and then yet more and more." He searched her eyes for understanding as she turned her face to gaze into his own, receiving it much to his surprise and relief. "Can you forgive me? We might still be in Blackheath had it not been for Mrs Reynolds and our friend, the Inspector."
Elizabeth clasped his hands which rested upon her waist, above where the child grew inside her and nuzzled his face with her own in reassurance. "There is nothing to forgive, my love. I am too ashamed of my own conduct back then to give credence to be angry at yours. We shall not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening when you first declared your affections, and were soundly, rudely rebuffed, nor for what my injured pride all but forced you into following through. You must learn some of my philosophy; think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure." Her gaze turned back to Mr and Mrs Reynolds outside. "I hope we do not have to part with them again."
"We never shall, my love, on that I swear," he remarked.
Posted on: 2011-04-30
They had only been standing together in front of the window for a few minutes before they were disturbed by the dogs barking outside, signalling the unexpected arrival of a visitor to their property. Turning they surveyed prospect of the pebbled driveway to the grand front door, where they saw a middle aged man with a wooden leg hobbling towards the house, in the company of another middle aged gentleman.
"And now for the other denouement," William murmured, and with a final kiss to his wife's slender neck, he took Elizabeth by the hand and led her into the dining room, where they were soon joined by the Reynolds's, a footman, who announced the identity of their visitors as Misters Younge and Wickham.
"Reynolds," the man with the wooden leg, who answered to the latter name, remarked in a growling tone, directing his gaze at William and his wife, "I thought you said that you'd dismissed this fellow."
"No fellows here," Darcy remarked, leaving his wife's side to confront the squaddie head on, "or I'll throw you out of the window, you wretch!"
Wickham sneered at the secretary, scoffing at the mere idea of the man proposing this form of action, let alone carrying it out, for he was still ignorant as to secretary's real identity, and turned to the gentleman he was blackmailing. "Reynolds, lets get down to business. I want the room cleared of this scum."
Mr Reynolds shook his head whilst his companions failed to obey the growled directive as well. "That's not going to be done, Wickham."
Wickham turned to his companion. "Mr Younge, will you be so good as to hand me over that document?"
Mr Younge produced the Will from his pocket and handed it over. "And now sir," he uttered, directing the title to Mr Reynolds, "having parted with it, I wish to make one small observation. Not that it is necessary, but it is a comfort to my mind. George Wickham, you are a precious old rascal."
His friend blinked in astonishment, too surprised by the insult to utter a word in reprisal, only able to stand startled as he received it.
Mr Younge continued. "George Wickham, note, that I took the liberty of telling Mr Reynolds about our enterprise at quite an early stage. Though my hands were not, for a few hours, quite as clean as I could wish, I hope I have made full amends."
"Certainly Mr Younge, certainly," Mr Reynolds assured him.
"Thank you sir," Mr Younge replied with a bow. "I'm much obliged for good opinion and for the influence so kindly brought to bear on a certain lady both by yourself and Mr William Darcy," he added, with a bow to the secretary, causing Wickham to gasp as he realised the true identity of gentleman, and how it changed matters regarding his schemes to profit from this malicious plan. "Everything else between you and me is now at an end, but I beg leave to repeat that you are a precious old rascal."
Wickham had time to collect himself by this point, and realised that although the victim had changed names, it was one which he preferred to have under his power, as there was still a profit to be made from this venture, and the reward would be all the greater for loosing his comrade in the scheme, as well as receiving the satisfaction of being able to accomplish what none of his forefathers had managed in his place. "You're a fool, you may go and be welcome." He turned his gaze on his first victim, who was regarding him with a composed expression, quite unlike the ones which he offered previously. "Now Reynolds, I'm here to be brought off! Now, buy me or leave me."
Mr Reynolds smiled. "I think I'll have to leave you, Wickham."
The squaddie scowled, but not with as half as much dissatisfaction as he might have previously entertained. "I see how this goes. You can afford to be so bold now you have so much less to lose!" He turned to the former secretary, the scowl turning into a malicious, almost gleeful grin. "But Mr Darcy here, ask him if he knows what this piece of paper is."
"It is a will of father's," William answered quite calmly, "of a later date than the one formally recognised, leaving the entire estate to the Crown."
"Right you are! So what is it worth to yer?" Wickham cried.
"Absolutely nothing," Darcy answered. Suddenly he left his wife's side and strode forward, whereupon he grabbed the soldier by his collar of his ragged clothing, and shoved the man against the ornate flourishing of the fireplace behind them. "You scoundrel."
"You're knocking my head against the wall!" Wickham cried, stunned by the sudden and somewhat violent manoeuvre.
"I mean to!" Darcy all but growled back, his grip tightening as he pressed the face of his blackmailer against the sculpted mantelpiece. "I'd give a thousand pounds to be able to smash your brains out!" He took a deep breath, pressing the man even further, while his voice acquired a extra amount of steel. "Let me show you something."
Leaving the unfortunate wretch where he stood, Darcy went to Mr Reynolds who gave him another piece of parchment, which he thrust up in front of Wickham's face. "This is the last Will of many made by my unhappy father. And it leaves the entire estate to Mr Reynolds, excluding me altogether. Mr Reynolds found it and it disturbed him beyond measure, so he buried it in the mounds, his intention being that it should never come to light. When he told me of this, I urged him to recover it and have it legally established." Darcy paused to he could grab the other Will in Wickham's hand, wrenching the precious document from his avariciously hungered grasp. "So you see that this, pathetic, piece of paper, has no value whatsoever."
Tossing both documents aside, he seized the man by his collar once more, pressing his firmly against the mantelpiece. "Now, you will listen to me! We knew enough about you and your family, to lead you on to the last possible moment so that your disappointment might be the heaviest possible. And believe this, I only possess my inheritance through Mr Reynolds, who insisted that I should have my fortune and he his small inheritance and no more. I owe everything I possess to the kindness and tenderness of Mr and Mrs Reynolds, and when I see a roundworm like you presume to rise up against these noble souls, the wonder is I don't twist your head off and throw it out of the window!"
With that last epithet, Darcy all but spat upon Wickham's face before he relinquished his grip of the man's collar to return to his wife's side, leaving Mr Reynolds to put an to the whole affair. Mr Reynolds handed Wickham his crutches. "I'm sorry, Wickham, that me and Mrs Reynolds can't have a higher opinion of you, but I shouldn't like to leave you worse off in life than when I found you, so what'll it cost to set you up in another stall?"
Wickham's mind, despite having been knocked about bit by first the disappointment of his scheming and then the violence of Mr Darcy's motions against his head, was still quick enough to comprehend what Mr Reynolds was offering and to seize upon this opportunity for some profit out of the failed venture. He remembered now his stall that he used to con people out of their well earned money, the occupation which had caused him to encounter Mr Reynolds in the first place, as he had set it up deliberately before the entry to the road upon which the Darcy townhouse resided. "Well sir, when I first made your acquaintance, I had got together a collection of ballads which was I may say above price."
"Well, then they can't be paid for, and you'd better not try!" Darcy cried from his place by his wife.
"There was a pair of trestles, umbrella, clothes horse." Wickham recollected, trying to speak as he had not even heard Mr Darcy's threat. But when he raised his eyes and saw that the gentleman was serious in his intention to carry it out, paused and surrendered the final haggle. "I leave the sum to you sir."
Mr Reynolds handed him some coins, a small fortune which Wickham did not earn as far as Darcy was concerned, but comparatively less than what the old squaddie had hoped to receive when he first entered the house earlier. "Come, here's couple of pound. And now," he added, beckoning the footmen and butler to come within from where they had been waiting out in the entrance hall, "in my final duties as host of this house, I shall see to it that you never darken the premises ever again."
With all the trouble that Wickham had attempted to inflict being resolved, events after those two denouements went much more smoothly. Elizabeth and Darcy celebrated their first dinner with Mr and Mrs Reynolds after Mr Younge left, during which the household were informed of the news that the Darcy heir had been found alive after all. Not having seen the young gentleman since he was a child and some even not at all, the servants were quite astonished to discover that the man whom they had known as Mr Hurst was in fact their master, Mr Darcy.
By degrees, all came to hear some of the details regarding his desire to conceal his name, and the idea of him wanting to fall in love with his wife and for his wife to fall in love with him appealed to the romantic in all of them, ensuring their approval and respect for the new master and mistress.
The next day Richard Fitzwilliam paid a much happier visit to the Darcy townhouse than the one he had conducted to the police station in Limehouse borough after the Inspector had been informed of the truth behind Mr Denny's disappearance. Overjoyed as he had been to learn that his cousin was alive after all this time, he was also happy to forget the deception that caused him sorrow earlier. He brought with him news of welcome from his parents, who were delighted to learn that their nephew was alive and married, and soon to be a father, as well as the necessary legal documents that would outline the proper ownership of the Darcy estates under William's control.
A visit was soon undertaken to the Fitzwilliam's townhouse, where another celebration was held to welcome William and his wife. Lord and Lady Matlock were delighted with their nephew and his wife, caring not a jot about the somewhat colourful background both of them now came from. A similar celebration was also held in Holloway a day later when the Bennets were informed of the extraordinary news.
Upon first hearing it, Mrs Bennet sat quite still, and unable to utter a syllable. Nor was it under many minutes, that she could comprehend what she had heard; though not in general backward to credit what was to the advantage of her family, or that came in the shape of a lover to any of them. She began at length to recover, to fidget about in her chair, get up, sit down again, wonder and bless herself. As for her husband, Mr Bennet took great pleasure in declaring himself to be a party to the secret shortly after his son in law had asked for his consent to marry Elizabeth, and informed his favourite daughter that since then William had risen every hour in his esteem.
News of Jane's marriage to Mr Bingley had also just reached them on the day of this celebratory dinner, causing much conversation and wonderment as her sister's revelation had. At first Mrs Bennet was disappointed that her eldest had only managed to secure herself a lawyer, but upon hearing that his father was a rich landed gentleman, her approval became as equally overflowing for her eldest daughter as it had for her second. Mr Bennet declared that he was also content with Bingley as a son in law, for the reputation of his father as one of Society's cavalier eccentrics was renowned throughout London.
When the familial celebrations were over, another was performed in the part of a soiree at the Darcy townhouse for Society. Much as Darcy and Elizabeth wished to keep themselves from that circle of rich judges, they were aware of the burden placed upon them by the reputation of the Darcy name, and that their children would should have every advantage open to them, including all that Society offered, so they did not endure as much hardship as their parents had. Having made the most of the previous events such as the strange case of the Darcy Will and all that it entailed, Society was content to talk and observe the young couple for many days to come, although after the soiree, both past times were limited to being in houses owned by everyone except the couple who were at the centre of such converse and observation.
Elizabeth and Darcy chose not to give up the cottage at Blackheath, keeping the property instead as a quiet residence for themselves and their family when they desired to get away from everything and just be themselves. They had spent so many months of their early married life there and their fortune granted them the opportunity to keep it without having to worry that the property would be a drain on the family resources. Returning to it after the last of the celebrations, they helped their new household staff pack what they wished to take with them back to the Darcy townhouse, then made sure the house was safely shut up until it was needed.
Richard Fitzwilliam then returned to their side, as he helped arrange for his younger and, as he joked, much prettier, cousin to return from the estate in the Cape and join her brother and his wife in London. Georgiana was delighted to be reunited with her brother and her cousins, and equally happy to meet her sister. Although a little shy, due to her youth and the relatively sheltered life she and William had spent aboard, she was anxious to become acquainted with Elizabeth, having heard much of her from her brother's many letters.
Elizabeth was pleased to meet with Georgiana also, finding her manners perfectly unassuming and gentle. She was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth, and though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful. She likewise entertained a warm opinion of the Fitzwilliam family also, and was relieved that after all the trials they had endured to reach this moment, no one seemed to begrudge her or William's place in Society now that the truth was public.
After the cousins had spent some time together catching up on all each had missed due to their many years of separation, Richard left the Darcys for Derbyshire, carrying with him a letter from Elizabeth to her sister, containing a detailed account of all that had occurred since she last saw Jane, upon the occasion of her wedding. He was also anxious to see his friend, for he had not visited the couple since the day of their nuptials either.
He hoped to be a witness to the much improved condition of his friend, however, the sight of Charles seated in a chair, attired in a warm loose smoking gown, trousers and shirt, with a pale yet healthy glow displayed across his features was more than he had ever expected to be greeted with.
Jane smiled happily at seeing his serious expression brighten into something approaching hopeful joy and rose up to greet him before offering him a chair. "Don't let him get overexcited, Richard. Visitors bring up his spirits."
Charles laughed softly as she left them both to attend to her cousins who now her husband was recovering, took up some of her time once more. Richard handed her Elizabeth's letter as she left, then grinned as he took the empty chair and took in his friend's recovery. "Charles, I am overjoyed to see you looking so well. If this is what marriage does to a man I might be tempted to undertake the state myself one day. Now, what have I missed?"
"My father paid us a visit up here, up the river," Charles informed him. "Objected to his hotel of course," he added, causing a pause as Richard chuckled, remembering the last time he had met Mr Bingley Senior, and hearing the same objection regarding his accommodation then. His friend's father was a fellow of discerning and exacting tastes, possessing a quixotic nature that while dictated that his children should earn the wealth they were to inherit, demanded that he, as current owner of the wealth, be provided with nothing but the vest best of what that wealth could offer him.
"As you know he's a much younger cavalier than me," Charles continued, emphasising the word, though it must be noted that the description was ironic, though few would realise this when they met the gentleman, for he possessed a youthful countenance, "and an admirer of beauty, was so affable as to suggest that Jane should have her portrait painted, which for him is like a paternal benediction with gushing tears! So our marriage being so solemnly recognised, I have no fears on that score. And you are handling my puny financial affairs so adeptly that what little I have to call my own, may be more than I ever had."
Richard nodded, then took time to inform him of his own news regarding his cousin's return from the dead. He observed his friend while he relayed the details of the matter, pleased to find that much of his appearance was not an illusion of health, but a real indication of his gradual recovery to that balanced and humoured state. Noting that his friend was well able to withstand the vivid tale of the scheme which Mr Wickham had tried and failed to involve the Darcy family in, he ventured to broach a more serious matter between them, that of the culprit responsible for his friend's current convalescence. "Charles, the schoolmaster."
In sudden, grave concern, Charles paled alittle, and reached out to clutch his arm across the small table that resided between where they sat. "He's not suspected?"
"No, rest easy," Richard assured him, giving the hand a comforting gentle clasp before elaborating on his answer. "I have made sure that the police have lost scent of him. I promise, Charles. But he still lives and he did you dreadful injury. And I cannot help but feel he should be punished."
Charles shook his head, a smile forming upon his features once more. "No, Richard, he does not live. And he did me a favour."
Richard frowned, unable to comprehend how stalking his friend to Derbyshire, then violently attacking him before dumping in a river and leaving for dead constituted as being declared such a deed of benevolence. "A favour?"
"Yes," Charles confirmed. "Consider this; had he not attacked me, I do not know what I would have done. How I would have injured her with my reckless passion." His friend made move to protest, causing him to pause and take his hand once more before he continued to state his case. "Richard, listen, listen. I would have lost her respect. Any possibility of our love would have been gone forever. Consider that, and consider what I have now. And then tell me whether the schoolmaster lives. If not as some ghost between here and hell, knowing as he does that he brought us together. You think he does not have punishment enough?"
Richard recollected his last sighting of the schoolmaster, as something of a spectre, haunting the lodgings he and Charles resided in near the Chancery. At the time he had found appearance of Mr Collins quite terrifying, along with the knowledge that he had been stalking Charles ever since Jane disappeared from London. As much as he disapproved of such actions, he had also disliked his friend's casual acceptance of them, and his decision to use the surveillance to his own morbid amusement, by goading the schoolmaster into madness. Looking back on the man now, Richard realised the pitiful nature that could now be applied to that haunting figure. His friend was correct. Mr Collins had punishment enough.
While it was the opinion of these two gentlemen of the bar that nothing needed to be done regarding the actions of Mr Collins, it was not the opinion held by the other authority who had involved himself in the case. Though the lawyers could rest easy in the knowledge that the police had indeed lost sight of the schoolmaster as being a suspect for this crime, one other person had kept note of Mr Collins's comings and goings all this time, and was now ready to confront the man with the evidence he had retrieved; the one piece of evidence that if presented to the authorities, could implicate the schoolmaster beyond all reasonable doubt.
It was not the fault of Richard or Charles that this person's interest in the matter had escaped their notice, for they had not the slightest knowledge that the person in question was involved in the dark violence in the first place. For they had not known where the schoolmaster spent his night before attacking Charles, or where he had returned to in order to recover and wash the evidence of the violence away from his person. No, only one man had known this, and that man did his best to ensure that the lawyers and police never learned this particular piece of information.
So, it came to pass on a winter's morning, that the person involved made his way to Mr Collins' school. This respected establishment was crowded with pupils and masters of varying ages and degrees of education, this day being the start of a new term. Such an event was no inconvenience to the person, for he wanted witnesses for this first meeting between him and the schoolmaster, and a new classroom of pupils would be the best unbiased witnesses that the world could provide him.
As for Mr Collins, he greeted this morning with the same grave, controlled demeanour with which he welcomed every day now. Since the night of the attack, he had been suffering from the weight of a guilty conscience, not in the knowledge that he had committed a sin, but in the worry that his sin had not accomplished what he desired it to; the end of his rival, and the return of his love to his side and hand.
When he had passionately declared to Jane that he hoped he may never kill Charles Bingley, he never imagined his hope being granted in quite this manner. As the days continued to bring news of the lawyer's recovery, along with the announcement of his marriage to Jane, so did Mr Collins suffering increase as he endured the punishment which his own actions had merited.
Until, one winters morning, after many sleepless nights spent in reflecting over the act and changing it till it brought forth the desired result, he turned round from his blackboard, where he had written his name so his new pupils might learn it, to find the man sitting amongst these innocent poor souls in his classroom.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but where might I be?" Jenkinson asked, affecting the behaviour of an ignorantly lost man about the borough.
Mr Collins did his best to sound and appear calm and collected, even though he was greatly discomposed by the man's presence. "Well, this a school, sir."
"And who might teach at this school?" Jenkinson asked, persisting in his ignorance.
"I do," Mr Collins informed him, though he had the sense that Jenkinson was already aware of what his answer would be.
Jenkinson paused in affected astonishment. "What, you're the master?"
Mr Collins wished he could glare at the man and order him out of the room, but that would alert and students immediately as to the strangeness of the encounter, and he feared what actions Jenkinson might take if he decided to. "Yes, I am the master."
"And a lovely thing it must be," Jenkinson mused in his same affected manner, casting his gaze about the curious boys who were watching the proceedings, "to teach young children like these what's right and to know that they learned what's right by your example. Might I ask a question of these lambs of yours?"
"If it is educational yes," Mr Collins allowed, inwardly fearful and suspicious as what sort of question Jenkinson had in mind, but reluctant to refuse, knowing such a response would only increase the curiosity of his pupils.
"Oh it is that," Jenkinson replied before grinning at the boys. "Tell me, young sirs, what sorts of water do we find on land?"
There was a pause as the boys thought upon the matter, then they recited the answers which they had been taught, listing all the sorts of water, as their master collected his breath and tried to ascertain what Jenkinson was attempting to learn.
"And, my lambs," Jenkinson continued, still smiling at the pupils, "what is it that they catch in these lakes and rivers and ponds?"
"Fish?" Ventured a lad hesitantly.
"Yes," Jenkinson answered, "but what else?"
"Weeds," proposed another.
"Yes," Jenkinson acknowledged, "but I'll have to tell you what else. I bet you won't guess." He reached down beside him and placed on the desk a large bundle of clothes which the schoolmaster knew very well.
Mr Collins froze as he caught sight of the garments, realising only this moment that Jenkinson had followed him after he left the cottage by the Lock, watched and waited while he washed himself clean, then discarded his blood stained clothing. The revelation that Jenkinson had retrieved the very garments which were meant to cast suspicion on him was disturbing to say the least.
"It is a bundle of clothes!" Jenkinson remarked gleefully, as the boys reacted with astonishment to such piece of news. "Bless me if I didn't catch this one in a river by me. You see it had been sunk there by a man who wore them..."
"How do you know that?" Mr Collins interrupted him hurriedly, horrified for a moment that the man would dare to relate an account of his violent attack to his pupils.
"Because I was watching him and I saw him," Jenkinson replied, looking at Mr Collins for the first time. Though his demeanour had not lost the grin which he wore whilst he had been quizzing the boys, it now acquired something of a devilish gleam. "And do you know for some reason I think that man fetched up in this school."
Mr Collins turned away from Jenkinson and slowly began to wipe his name off the blackboard. Though the action was by no meaning as soothing as he had hoped, it did allow him to regain a little of his composure as he answered. "Yes, I believe I know him."
"Beg that you may tell that man that I wish to see him at my lock upriver," Jenkinson remarked, his affected demeanour all but dropped now, as he went about the real reason for his unexpected visit.
"Yes I'll tell him," Mr Collins replied, still facing the blackboard, the hand which held the wet cloth that wiped away his name beginning to crush the rag into his fist.
"Do you think he'll come?" Jenkinson inquired, with a grave yet gleeful tone.
"I'm sure he'll come," Mr Collins answered, a desperate resolution forming within his tormented soul.
"Be seeing you, my lambs," Jenkinson remarked before he rose from the stool and left the classroom.
Mr Collins did not turn round until he had heard the door close behind his unwanted visitor. Securing the interest of his pupils once more was an easy endeavour, more due to his many years of training than to the composition of his mind. For the rest of the day he attempted to teach as he usually did, trying to pretend to teachers and students alike that all was well with him. But it was not an easy deception, as his mind was already travelling up river, to the cottage beside the Lock that lay before the village of Lambton, wondering what fate awaited him.
It was night by the time Collins arrived at the lock outside the village of Lambton. He took a train with what money he could spare, then walked the rest of the way, down the companion path beside the water's edge. A thick covering of snow had settled over the ground, and it was so cold that the river had frozen. But the schoolmaster remained unaware of the severe weather, for a coldness had settled over his body ever since Jenkinson appeared in his classroom, even before.
From the moment the lock keeper informed him of the news that the body of Bingley had been retrieved from the river by Jane Bennet, Collins became insensible to anything but his own wretchedness. The weight settled upon his heart, increasing in size day by day as the full state of how low he had brought himself was slowly revealed to him.
He could not escape hearing reports of the attack, for Society loved nothing more than a good, sensational story, and the drowning of a lawyer, son of a prominent man, rescued by a woman was the most sensational story since the Darcy inheritance.
When it emerged that the female rescuer was the sister of the woman promised as a bride in the Darcy inheritance, Society became even more consumed by the story. Journalists began to write daily accounts of the event, each one more gruesome, more vivid and more fantastical than the one before, sustaining but never quite sating the appetite.
As the story spread into other broad sheets and local papers, it brought accounts from noted men and women all over the country, criticising the levels of violence in the county. Ultimately the reports were nothing more than a general moan, but they kept people talking about the attack and Collins kept hearing them.
Eventually the accounts revealed new information, reports of how the lawyer was steadily recovering, that he had married his rescuer. He came to realise how much his violent actions condemned him, by achieving the very thing he tried to prevent. Along with these reports of the lawyer's continued survival, he waited for the moment when policemen came to his classroom to arrest him.
But they never did, no matter how much he wished or dreaded their coming, his days continued to be filled with the normality of routine. When he planned this violence, he had done what he could to ensure that afterwards he would escape retribution, by implicating another man.
He had not consciously chosen Jenkinson, at least, that is what he tried to tell himself. Jenkinson just happened to be the model for the clothes he wore to commit the act. Throwing those clothes in the river was a motion designed to confound the police, to force them to give up their investigation. He had never imagined that the law would not bother to find him, but the criminal would instead.
Collins could not understand why Jenkinson decided to find him. Evidently he possessed a motive by bringing the bundle of clothes to the school, but what it was Collins could not begin to determine. He had nothing that Jenkinson could want. But not meeting him, even though he could easily defend himself against the word of a vagrant, imprisoned for one crime before, was something he could ill avoid, unless he wished to see the man appear in his class room everyday.
"So I'm here," Collins answered as he entered the lock keeper's cottage to find Jenkinson in a chair, smoking his pipe as he waited for him. "Who is to begin?"
Jenkinson got up from his chair, crossing the short distance between them, and without warning, searched the schoolmaster's pockets, frowning at what little he found in the way of monetary value. "Well, where's your watch?"
"I left it behind," Collins replied. His timepiece was something it had cost him many years of wages to earn, and he had no desire to loose it to the pickpockets who loitered about the stations or along the roads to Lambton.
"I want it," Jenkinson growled, and not for the first time, Collins' noticed the hungry gleam his expression acquired whenever money was in his hand. He had seen that look when he first encountered the man in London, and given him five shillings after obtaining the information about Jane Bennet and the lawyer Bingley. "I mean to have it."
William Collins laughed as he at last realised the motive behind Jenkinson's attempt to blackmail him. "Is that what you want from me?"
"Look here, schoolmaster," Jenkinson remarked, irritated by the cold contempt he had just received, "you could've dealt with Bingley without my care having a curse. But when you copy my clothes, my neckerchief, shake blood on me, you make as if to throw the whole crime on me. You'll pay me and you'll pay me heavy, you sly devil! I was playing your game long ago, before you tried your clumsy hand in it. When you stole away, I steals after you, and when I sees you throw these bloody clothes away, I sees here then is proof. And I'll be paid for it, till I've drained you dry!"
Collins looked at him solemnly as he saw the flaw in this plan. He felt that he held an odd kind of power over the lock keeper, even though he knew that this scheme of Jenkinson's would condemn him to a slavery of sorts for the rest of his life. "Well you can't get out of me what is not in me. You've had more than two guineas off me already. Do you know how long it takes me to earn such a sum?"
"I don't know and I don't care," Jenkinson replied grimly, unperturbed by the schoolmaster's resistance. "You'll have to pawn every stick you own, beg and borrow every penny you can. I'll keep you company wherever you go till I'm satisfied."
Abruptly that vision of slavery turned into a hell. He recalled the madness which he had been driven to when he stalked Bingley only that summer. How the lawyer had turned the scare tactic on its head by wearing him down, leading him in false trails all over the city. Often he had blamed the lawyer for causing the violence to be visited on him in the first place by goading his attacker into madness. Silently he realised that he had to try and persuade the man to give up the scheme.
Gesturing to the money that Jenkinson already held in his hand, Collins uttered, "this is all the money I have. Say I give you this, and my watch, and every quarter when I draw my salary I give you a portion and..."
Jenkinson shook his head, dismissing the paltry sum, and at the notion that he could trust the schoolmaster to make such regular donations. "You got away from me once. I won't take a chance again."
"I am a man with absolutely no resources but myself," Collins informed him. "I have absolutely no friends."
"That's no matter to me," Jenkinson replied. "I don't care how you get the money. Whether you beg, steal, borrow, or marry it, I want what's owed me." He rose from his chair to repose himself on the bed which was resting nearby. "I'll give you grace till the morning, t'otherest, then partners you and I shall become."
Collins woke in the morning with no recollection of how he managed to fall asleep after the events of the night before. He had spent most of the hours in turmoil, wrestling with the knowledge that he would never be free of his crime, even when Jenkinson died, presuming the rogue died before him that is, freeing him of this malicious scheme, he would still remained tormented by the united happiness of the two people his violence was meant to divide forever.
He was a prisoner of his crime, bringing misfortune upon misfortune to rest about his shoulders, diving him down to plunge the lowest depths of society forever. There was nothing but torture left for him in this life, he would never find freedom from his demons, nor happiness ever again.
Despairingly he let his eyes slowly accustomed themselves to the slight light of dawn drifting through the small windows of the lock keeper's cottage. A wind swept through the gap between the front door and the floor, though the harshness of such extreme cold weather, made worse by the ice upon the river and the snow upon the ground, did little to cool the blood pounding within him.
He caught sight of Jenkinson, his gaoler, stretched out upon the bed, apparently still asleep. Collins had half suspected to be confronted with the man's Midas gleam when he came to that morning. Asleep however, granted him a rare chance to choose his own destiny.
Jenkinson opened his eyes as he heard the front door close and darted up from his bed to exit the cottage in hot pursuit of his fleeing quarry. In the bright light of the frost covered snowy grass, he could see the footprints of prey, and within a few paces he found the school master walking down the tow path. His own step was harsh upon the ground, cracking the compressed half frozen snow, the sound awfully loud in the stillness of the Derbyshire countryside.
Collins heard his gaoler begin to dog him, desperation and despair overwhelming his heart. For a moment he was determined to defy the rogue, to continue down the tow path, but the futility of it all eventually defeated him. Abruptly he halted, turned round, and retraced his steps, walking straight past the temporarily startled keeper.
Jenkinson watched him turn and pass him, so surprised by the sudden motion that he let the schoolmaster roam free for quite a distance before resuming his pursuit. "Come come, t'otherest, you can't be rid of me," he shouted, gleefully, cognisant of the power he held over the man. "I'm a going along with you wherever you go."
The return to the gates of the lock, with his gaoler still hot upon his heels, caused Collins to pause before the river, eyeing the dark icy depths that were akin to the emotions inside his heart and mind. This would be a bad pit for a man to fall into with his hands tied, he recalled saying once, when his mind was full of murderous plots, such a phrasing seeming now both apt and ironic to his tormented mind.
"It is no use, schoolmaster," Jenkinson uttered as the lock keeper came to stand behind him, like an executioner beside a condemned man. "You'll never be free of me."
Suddenly Collins turned round and grabbed Jenkinson about the waist, pulling the struggling rogue closely to his chest.
"Let go, I'll get my knife!" The lock keeper cried, but to no avail.
A terror settled over the rogue as his eyes caught sight of his captor dragging both of them towards the river's edge. "It is no use! You can't drown me! I told you. A man that's been brought back out of drowning cannot be drowned again!"
"But I can be!" Collins cried as he turned to face him. "And I'm resolved to be. And I'll hold you living and I'll hold you dead!"
There was a loud crack, the sound of the ice breaking under the impact, followed by the sinister simmering, as the river endured a sudden rise in temperature. Bubbles rippled through the narrow unfrozen surface, as the splashes slowly subsided. Later two bodies, locked together in a torment of their own devising, could be seen floating beneath the new icy plane of the river.
Posted on: 2011-05-07
Although Elizabeth often vowed to herself that her courage always rises at any attempt to intimidate her, she could not deny that she approached the second visit to Pemberley without experiencing a mild trepidation at the prospect. During her first visit her mind possessed nothing more than curiosity for the grand estate of which, had not a man drowned, she might have been mistress.
Even as she grew to admire the elegant interiors, that were pleasing in their simplicity as opposed to being overly fine or outrageous in their rich furnishings, and the surrounding grounds that nature could not have done more for, beyond a slight pity that she was not able to enjoy many a pleasant ramble within the ten mile round park, her heart had remained untouched.
Now however she could ramble as much as she chose, admire where she wished, give loose to her every fancy and indulge her imagination in every possible flight, supposing herself mistress of all that she surveys, for such an estate was true.
Thanks to the generosity of her husband's relatives and friends, she and Darcy would soon take up permanent residence in Pemberley's halls and parks. Their true state had been announced to Society, their acceptance assured by their fortune and patronage.
As she and her husband witnessed the overtures of many a gentleman and lady who only a few months ago had been more than pleased to drop her acquaintance upon hearing that she had all but eloped with a secretary, Elizabeth experienced some significant regret concerning how her own behaviour had been just as shallow when she was socialising in such circles.
There was no denying that she had spent her first months as the ward of Mr and Mrs Reynolds in a dreadful bitterness of spirit, too concerned with the grief over her loss of a sacrifice that would have ensured her family's future. She had been fortunate that Mr Darcy, or Mr Hurst as she had known him them, had been able to see through such self pity to love the real woman who hid herself beneath it, in a effort to protect a heart too broken by the many loses it had endured in close succession.
Indulging in many a ramble within the grounds of Pemberley would be a delight, but it was not that over which Elizabeth was experiencing trepidation. It was the knowledge that she was now mistress of this estate, and expected to run a household of servants, see after their care and that of the tenants, as well as becoming hostess to events in the surrounding villages, to soirees and balls at the estate.
Even when her father owned Longbourn, and she and Jane assisted him and their mother in running the estate, it was only in a tiny capacity, Longbourn being but a fraction of the size of Pemberley.
"My love, we are both new at this," William reminded her as the carriage and horses covered the remaining distance to the entrance of the country house. "We shall figure things out together, and receive help from many sources."
His words proved true soon after they settled, as Mr and Mrs Reynolds happily assumed their previous duties of steward and housekeeper, which had occupied them until his later father had taken them with him to the dust yard in Maiden Lane.
Within a few weeks they helped the new master and mistress learn the ropes of managing such a large and prosperous estate, so that by the time the master's sister returned home from the Cape, they were able to welcome her and the surrounding neighbourhood with all the style and gentility that the Darcys had been known for.
Georgiana was delighted to return home, to see an estate she remembered through only fleeting glimpses of her childhood when it was her grandfather's domain. Though the woods and hills were not immediately familiar to her, or the halls and parlours, they soon became as infinitely dear to her as that of her brother and sister in law.
In the Cape she had led a relatively sheltered life, the small quantity of English Society large enough to build her confidence, but not so large as to be overwhelming. Under her brother's watchful eye she had flourished into a beautifully accomplished young lady, who played and sang all day long. There had been nothing but the memory of their father's miserly treatment to damage her innocence, no rakes nor scroundels had threatened her heart.
A small, intimate family party came to Pemberley to welcome her home, consisting of the Bingleys and Richard Fitzwilliam. Charles was improving day by day and although he would never be quite the same man he was before he was attacked, in terms of mind this he believed was an improvement, though not in terms of strength.
He was considered well enough now to be moved from the Lambton Local Arms for the short five mile journey to Pemberley, where he was destined to reside during the rest of his recovery. During this time, he made the proper acquaintance of his brother in law, previously only seen during vague moments of awareness through his wedding ceremony.
Despite such disparate characters, the two relations by marriage soon grew close, Darcy appreciating Bingley's easiness, openness, the ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied.
Bingley found much to like in Darcy also, coming to value his judgement, steadfastness, quiet reserved fastidiousness and his superior understanding. He was by no means deficient through his education and attainment of the bar, and it was through that skill he recognised intelligence when he made their acquaintance.
When Georgiana arrived home, she found the three gentlemen to be the closest of friends, loyal to her and, in the case of Darcy, Bingley and Mr Reynolds, to their wives, as well as to each other. The eight soon bounded together against what personages of Society dared to darken the environs of the ten mile round estate, as all slowly recovered from the effects which the last year had dealt upon all of them.
Naturally one recovery was of a much longer duration than the rest, but he soon came to possess the energy he could summon before, giving him the confidence, if not alittle trepidation as well, for such is always felt when one returns to pastimes after a long absence, to attempt some exercise.
The first of these was a leisurely occupation, requiring only courage and conversation on the part of the gentlemen involved, for the pastime was fraught with the dangers of nature. It involved a boat, which Darcy would row gently across the large lake which was situated in front of Pemberley House, whilst Fitzwilliam would talk and Bingley also, when he had conquered the reminders of what happened to him the last time he was near a natural source of water.
"Now that I have the energy, Richard, I've been thinking about the future," Charles informed him and Darcy, who sat passively rowing between them, content to listen. "I've had the idea of taking Jane to one of the colonies, working at my vocation there."
"I shall be lost without you," Richard remarked, knowing that he would not be the only one, for his cousin's wife would miss her sister dearly too, as would Darcy, who had become close to both of his relations since their removal to Derbyshire.
But then Richard considered the other factor which might sway his friend's mind, one largely ignored since their retirement in the country, but one which would have be faced and endured sooner rather than later. "Maybe you're right," he conceded.
"No, I would not be right," Charles replied quietly, but with a firmness which indicated that his blood was up, a rare occurrence from such a mild disposition as he was known to possess. "Makes me angry to think I could turn coward on Jane, sneak away with her as if I were ashamed of her. Where would your friend's part in this world be, Richard, if she had turned coward against me and on immeasurably better occasion?"
"That's well said of course, Charles," Richard acknowledged, for he not considered such vocation to be attributed to such ignoble behaviour. Nevertheless, he felt must proffer his own opinion on the subject, for he sensed that was what his friend desired by his manner of venturing to declare such a proposition. "But are you sure that for her sake, you might not feel some slight coldness towards her on the part of s... society?"
Charles laughed, startling both gentlemen, for it was an expression of amusement that lacked none of the energy which usually accompanied such emotion, a sure sign of their brother in law and friend's return to strength.
"Yes you may well stumble on that word, Richard!" he cried. "Now listen to me. My wife is somewhat nearer to my heart than society is. I owe her a little more than I owe Society, and I am prouder of her than I ever was of Society. Therefore, I will fight it out to the last gasp, with her and for her, here, in the open field. So if I should ever think to hide her away, then you, who I love next best in all the world, will tell me what I shall most righteously deserve to be told:- that she would have done better that night I lay bleeding to death, to turn me over with her foot and spit in my face."
He spoke with such an energy upon the subject that a glow, provided by the sun on a warm spring day, so irradiated his features that he looked, for the time, as though he had never been mutilated. His youthful countenance struck his relatives and friends speechless for a time, just as it would have his wife, were she near enough to hear him.
But that was not possible, for the boat was nearing the middle of the large lake, far from the bank where Mrs Bingley sat, along with her sister Mrs Darcy, their sister in law Georgiana, and Mr and Mrs Reynolds. Only able to see the gentlemen in the boat were they, and then but at intervals, for another occupied their attention, a bundle held gently in Mrs Darcy's arms, the son and heir to the great estate in which they all currently resided.
"Go and find out what society thinks of me, my dear fellow," Charles added, "if it will make you feel any better. As for myself, come hell or damnation, I really couldn't care less."
His friend's judgement lingered long in Richard's mind, the impact and import of his words lasting through his return to town, causing him to accept an invitation to dinner from Sir William and Lady Lucas, who had been, as usual, indefatigably dealing dinner cards to Society, and whoever desires to take a hand, had best be quick about it, for the House of Overend, Gurney, was due to make a resounding smash next week, the wreckage casting about all those who once invested in its wake.*
Of these the Lucases would suffer the worst, having found out the clue to that great mystery of how people could contrive to live beyond their means, to make corrupt deals or accept bribes, to the limit and beyond the means of their resources. Next week, it shall come to pass, that Sir William will be obliged by the discovery of these nefarious methods of acquiring wealth, to accept the post of the Chiltern Hundreds, a meaningless sovereign stewardship requiring him to resign from the House of Commons and retire to Calais, surviving on the living provided by on Lady Lucas's diamonds.
It shall likewise come to pass, at as nearly as possible the same period, that Society will discover that it always did despise Lucas, and distrust Lucas, and that when it went to Lucas's dinners, it always had misgivings - though very secretly at the time, it would seem, and in a perfectly private and confidential manner.
The next week not yet arrived however, there is the usual rush to the residence of Sir William and Lady Lucas, of the people who go to their house to dine with one another and not with them. There is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr King and his daughter, Mr Forster and his wife, Lady Metcalfe, Miss Morris-Pope and Mr Harrington, whose presence is almost always forgot, that gentleman so reserved and fearful of expressing his opinion in the company of those he was anxious to keep as friends.
And there is Richard Fitzwilliam, who comes to observe these representatives of the Voice of Society, to reflect upon their judgement when it is expressed, how it relates of that of his cousin and his friend, and if he can find it within himself to possess the same opinion as his friend, of 'not caring less.'
The size of the dinner party was such that it made the room usually assigned to such an occasion heated and crushed, causing the host and hostess to move the dinner outside, or rather, for the servants of the host and hostess to make the arrangements just so. Lucas Lodge, as Sir William and his wife affected to call their salubrious residence, for it lodged beside the river, boasted a fine expanse of garden at the rear which led down to that source of water, along with a dock for steamers to float by.
When the meal gave way to brandy and cigars, Richard had been the first to escape the group, as his presence had ignited a rigorous, though hardly sound, debate on the merits of marriages which crossed the boundaries of Society. For a time he had recalled his friend's words, and staunchly stood his ground amongst them, but their opinion soon gave rise to his disgust, causing him to abandon the dining table for one which carried the remains of the courses which had been sampled this evening.
His freedom however, was not last.
"Really, Richard, as you refuse to join our debate, we've had to bring it to you!" Lady Catherine declared, the first amongst the persons present to breech his reprieve, bringing most of the party within her ordered wake.
"A debate," Richard remarked, with it must be said some degree of sarcasm and tiredness from having listened to much of it already, "on such a pleasant evening?"
His Aunt ignored his ill-humoured reply in favour of continuing with her own discussion. "Our debating question was, does a young man of very fair family, heir to a fortune, possessing a good appearance and some talent, make a fool or a wise man of himself by marrying a female waterman turned nursery maid?"
Lady Catherine made no mention of names, for she was very aware of the fact that her family was connected to the gentleman and female in question, but it was perfectly obvious to Richard and the rest of the persons present who she was referring to.
"That is hardly the question," Richard replied, determined to defend his friend, disgusted beyond keeping silence, as he had been enduring such derision for most of the evening since he arrived. "Which is I believe, whether the man who you describe does right or wrong in marrying a brave woman? I say nothing of her beauty."
"Excuse me," Sir William cried, the decibel of his tone serving to silence the rest of those present, so all might hear his response and the judgement of the lawyer. "Was this young woman ever a female waterman?"
"Never. But she might sometimes have rowed in boat with her Uncle," Richard answered, for indeed such was the case, as it had been the task of Philips to discover and collect the bodies, while his niece guided their vehicle along the river behind them.
"Has the young woman got any money?" Mr Foster asked in much the same manner as his business partner, although, if next week were here, such a state would not be the case, and emphatically denied as ever having been the case.
Fitzwilliam could not deny possessing some amusement knowing that his reply would do naught but vex them exceedingly. "Absolutely nothing!"
"Well then my gorge rises against such a marriage!" Sir William remarked, it being well known that he had married his wife on the strength of her diamonds, and she accepted him on the strength of his knighthood. "It offends and disgusts me! Why, it makes me sick."
Lady Lucas, eager to lend her support to her husband, sniffed delicately, as if she had caught the pungent smell of effluence, foul and cloying from the river behind them. "There must be equality in station," she observed. "A man accustomed to society must look out for a woman accustomed to society."
"And what if the man does not care for society?" Richard countered, all but stating the opinion of his friend, though his style was in the same vein as the debate had been conducted, in a certain hypothetical manner.
"Does not care for Society!" Lady Catherine echoed incredulously, as though the very affection was one which she had never heard existing before. "Really, nephew! What an absurd opinion." She scoffed at the notion, having been brought up, as the eldest daughter of an Earl, to regard Society as the kingdom in which she reigned, when the sovereign was absent of course.
There was a brief hush after her disbelief was expressed, causing her to wonder for a moment if any cared to agree with her. Casting about the group for one who could be relied upon to voice their support, she continued. "Mr Harrington, you are so small, I had forgotten you. You never say a word, always silent as a mouse. Come now, speak up and tell us what you think!"
Mr Harrington was cautious in the nature of his response, but nonetheless when he did open his mouth, it was not to the satisfaction of his damsel. "I am disposed to think that this is a question of the feelings of a gentleman."
"A gentleman who contracts such a marriage has no feelings!" Sir William declared emphatically, causing all to join him in a murmur of support, although when next week is upon them, such a gesture will be just as steadfastly denied as to ever having taken place.
"Pardon me sir, but I don't agree," Mr Harrington replied. "If this gentleman's feelings of gratitude, of respect, of admiration, and of affection, induce him to marry this lady."
Sir William was outraged by such an epithet being used. "Lady?" He queried incredulously for one would hardly describe a female waterman turned nursery maid as someone belonging to such a noble station.
"Why, yes, sir," Mr Harrington continued. "For what else would you call her, if the gentleman were present?"
It must be said at this moment that Sir William had the grace to look chagrined in despite of himself, a state which, when next week is upon us, Society will attribute as to him possessing some foresight of the smash which was to come.
"I say again," Mr Harrington continued, "that if this gentleman's feelings induced him to marry this lady, then he is the greater gentleman for the action, and she is the greater lady."
This opinion having silenced the committee, not perhaps in agreement with the judgement, but in shock at such a normally reserved gentleman as Mr Harrington being known to voice it, the speaker walked away from the committee, to the railings of the dock, at the edge of the garden.
And thither also went Mr Fitzwilliam, pausing to fetch two glasses of brandy and a couple of Sir William's excellent cigars on his way, before joining the gentleman whom he had gained a new respect for, as a result of this evening's debate, as well as a great regard for, as he had spoken justly of his friend and his lady.
"Time for one more before we go back," he remarked, offering one of the brandies and cigars to Mr Harrington, who took it with a quiet smile, before resting his arms in a similar fashion upon the railings before them.
Below them the gentle waves of the river flowed and ebbed, as the night descended, and the party faded from existence.
*1) Overend, Gurney & Company was a London wholesale discount bank, known as "the bankers' bank", which collapsed in 1866, around the time when Charles Dickens set Our Mutual Friend and I have set Along the River, owing about 11 million pounds, equivalent to £981 million at 2008 prices. Until events at Northern Rock in September 2007, it was the last run on a British bank. For more information, visit a well known online encyclopedia.