"Are we all ready?" asked Fitzwilliam George Darcy. The five Darcy adults, and the two Bingleys, were seated at the large table in the library. The process of assembling themselves had taken some time as they continued to exercise care not to be seen unnecessarily. Two housemaids who had been in the hallway as Andrew and Corinna descended were sent on an errand to the far wing of the house before Georgiana returned upstairs to tell George and Clorinda that the way was clear for them to descend as well.
When no one spoke in answer to his query he said, "Very well, then, I shall go and return in a few minutes, Wickham accompanying me. Mrs. Bingley, Jane, I understand you shall be bringing Mrs. Wickham to our gathering?"
"That is correct, Fitzwilliam," she replied. "I am prepared to do so now."
The two exited the library, and the others sat in silence (though Corinna did whisper twice, once to Clorinda and once to Andrew, causing Clorinda to swallow a chuckle and Andrew to smile fondly at her.) In a few minutes Darcy re-entered the room with Wickham; there were slight bows and acknowledgements but again no words spoken before Jane and Lydia entered the room a minute or more after.
"My goodness, aren't we all solemn!" said Lydia.
"Yes, Lydia, we are." It was Clorinda speaking. "We have very serious matters with which to deal. Although the situation does not lack for potentially comedic aspects, perhaps even Father would find less to laugh at than usual."
An awkward silence followed this speech, then Fitzwilliam George Darcy began the discussion. "Wickham, and Mrs. Wickham, we wish to clear up any misunderstandings you may be suffering under, to inform you of much of which you likely are unaware and to learn more ourselves, and to clarify our thinking about what is to be done in the future. As Elizabeth has said, these are serious matters, and we would ask for your careful consideration of them. Many aspects of your future lives may depend on what is revealed and on decisions that may be made today.
"You have been told of the two worlds, and of the strange connection between them, and you see before you the proof of it, in the presence of my wife's and my counterparts from the other Pemberley. In an attempt to lessen the confusion, we have taken to calling us, the two Mr. Darcys, by our second names, which happen to differ: thus references to George are references to me, while my friend -- brother -- counterpart is known as Andrew. Our wives, for complicated reasons, answer to the names of Clorinda (that is my wife and your sister, Mrs. Wickham) and Corinna." The three persons to whom George referred inclined their heads slightly as their names were mentioned.
"The history of the other Pemberley is very relevant to what we must discuss, especially the account of what you, Mr. Wickham, or your counterpart in that world, have done. Many parts of this story will be uncomfortable for some of you who are here present, but it is a matter of necessity that the facts be laid out plainly. Andrew, I believe you should take up the tale at this point."
"Very well," said Andrew. "Wickham, and Mrs. Wickham, I will attempt to highlight the important differences between what you know to have happened in this world and what has taken place in the other. Your histories have been rather different in the two worlds. In this world, Wickham, it is my understanding that, nearly three years ago, at a time when Miss Georgiana Darcy was at Ramsgate --I am sorry to mention it, Georgiana--"
He glanced at Georgiana, but she returned a tight, well-controlled smile, and answered, "It is well, Fitz ... Andrew. I understand the necessity."
Andrew nodded, then returned his attention to Wickham. "There in Ramsgate, you attempted to persuade Miss Darcy to elope with you. Your designs were frustrated, thanks be to God, by my counterpart's unexpected arrival there, scarce days before the planned elopement."
"No, really?!" demanded Lydia. "Is that true, Wickie?" Upon seeing a fleeting expression of embarrassment on her husband's face, an expression of anger, turning to anger mixed with wonderment, overcame her own countenance. "So that is why Darcy was so set against you, and so strongly counselled me not to marry you."
"Yes, Mrs. Wickham, it is true," responded Andrew. "In our world, however, we were not so fortunate. I did not travel to Ramsgate at the crucial time, and Wickham was successful in making off with my sister. He married her at Gretna Green, and she suffered many of the same things you have suffered in this world, Mrs. Wickham. The Wickham in our world was also unstable, a wastrel, unfaithful and cruel to his wife."
Wickham cringed and ducked his head at these words, but Andrew continued implacably, "He succeeded in driving a wedge between my sister and me, an estrangement that lasted, on and off, for years. At the time when, in this world, Fitzwilliam Darcy accompanied Charles Bingley to Netherfield and George Wickham joined the militia in Meryton, I was too sick at heart to accompany my friend, and Wickham was busy playing the gentleman: spending my sister's money on the trappings of wealth, and throwing it away on wagers and games of chance. For that reason neither Georgiana nor I nor indeed Wickham met anyone from the Bennet family at that time. Charles Bingley did meet them, however, and promptly fell in love with the oldest of the sisters, the beautiful Miss Jane Bennet," here Andrew bowed in Jane's direction. "They were married in the spring of 1812. In the normal course of events I should have attended the wedding of my friend, but at that time my sister, herself yet but sixteen years old, was giving birth to a stillborn child, a son. She very nearly died. Wickham was off enjoying himself at Bath and elsewhere, and could not be troubled to be in attendance upon her. I cared for her as I might, and actually persuaded her to come live with me at my London townhouse for a time, simultaneously cutting off her husband's access to her funds. But he eventually managed to meet with her at a time when I was not there, and so worked upon her, pretending to truly love her and promising to treat her better than before, that she returned to him. Again he wasted whatever of her money he was able to lay his hands upon, got her with child, and interfered between the two of us. After their daughter Anne Elizabeth was born, some fifteen months ago now, he forced her to write me requesting a large sum of money, making it clear that, should I not provide it, they would move and I should find it "difficult" to see my sister or my niece. I was furious. I sent the money, but received no further response to messages I sent, and, unreasonably as I now see it to be, ceased my attempts to communicate with my sister.
"So matters remained until a fortnight before Christmas last. I was at Pemberley, like an animal holed up in its den, Georgiana was suffering in London and not in communication with me, and Wickham was doing his best to waste all the money he had managed to extract from me.
"The 12th of December is, in this world, the anniversary of the double wedding of the Darcys and Bingleys. In our world it is the bitter anniversary of my sister's leaving my home to return to her husband. It was on that day, just over six months ago now, that a miracle occurred. Elizabeth, Mrs. Darcy, showed up at my door. But it was the Elizabeth from here, who had unwittingly passed through the maze to my world. Our acquaintance began in misunderstanding: she initially thought I was her husband, and I had no idea of who she was. It required several days for us to sort matters out, but in the end, she had convinced me of the preposterous notions that she was who she had claimed to be and that therefore there was another world with a different Pemberley in it. We heard each other's stories, and she persuaded me to write again to my sister and let her know she was welcome to come to Pemberley. She did so, arriving on Christmas Eve, with her daughter. We had feared that her husband, George Wickham, would follow her. Instead, he preceded her. Just as Georgiana arrived, the way opened up for Mrs. Kenton to return … I beg your pardons for causing more confusion about names. Mrs. Kenton is the name we had decided to use for Mrs. Darcy, since neither the Darcy nor the Bennet name could be used before the servants without the potential for embarrassment."
"Kenton …" murmured Lydia, and then suddenly exclaimed, "That's it! I wondered where I had heard those names! Clorinda Corinna Kenton, right, Lizzy?" She turned to Corinna first, then recollecting herself, to Clorinda.
"Yes," Clorinda replied to her. "Do not tell me you read that! I thought you were to young for me to need to be concerned with that possibility."
"No," Lydia responded. "I did not read it. But Mary did. You remember: back then she wasn't quite so enamoured of her sermons as she is now. She used to sneak into your room, when you were off on some of your long walks, and read it, and she told me and Kitty what she had read. It was a rattling good story! We never spoke of it to you or Jane because we knew you would make sure we couldn't read any more of it, and we wanted to hear the end of the story. Did you ever finish it, Lizzy?"
"No, I never did. However, yes, that is where these names came from. … Erm … What was it that you were saying, Andrew?"
"Yes," said Andrew. "Wickham preceded my sister into Derbyshire, and when Elizabeth and I arrived at the fountain at the centre of the maze, for her to return to her home, none other than Wickham showed up in the entrance behind us. It was very cold; there was snow on the ground and the fountain had frozen over.
"Wickham," he turned and addressed the man, "I believe you can probably tell us what happened at that point."
"I do not understand," said Lydia. "I thought this was what happened in the other world, not this one. How could you know what happened, Wickie?"
"I do not understand it either, Lyds," was his response. "But I do have memories of what Darcy has been saying. I thought I had dreamed it, but it seems, perhaps, I did not. I do remember meeting him and Eliz … and Mrs. Darcy at the center of the maze, in the dead of winter."
"And what happened when you did?" asked Andrew.
"I threatened you with a pistol," responded Wickham slowly. "I demanded Georgiana's return, your payment of my debts, and I know not what all else. I threatened blackmail based upon your dalliance. But Miss Elizabeth flung a piece of ice at me and knocked the pistol from my hand. … That scar," he continued, as the realization dawned on him, "the one you asked me about, yesterday, here on my hand--that is where the ice shard struck me. Then you hit me, and pinned me to the wall of the maze. After that I remember only terror, and blackness. Such, at least, is my memory. I have supposed it to have been a nightmare. Now I understand you to be telling me that it really happened, only in another world."
"Yes," said Andrew. "It really happened, in another world. And in that world, we heard no more of you, or at any rate of Wickham, from then until now."
"But what happened to Wickie?" Lydia interrupted again.
"Elizabeth and I saw him sucked in, absorbed, into the hedge. We cannot explain it any better than that. Perhaps he can tell us …?"
Wickham's eyes lost their focus for several seconds; then he shook his head. "I cannot remember clearly, other than feelings of great anger, a furious but entirely futile determination to break out from your grip, and then from the bonds tying me to the maze. The fury was first mixed, and then overwhelmed, with terror and tremendous fear, and, following that, the blackness."
There was silence for several seconds before Andrew again took up his discourse. "As I have said, Wickham disappeared from our world at that time. We believed him dead. Elizabeth … Clorinda …" he nodded at Mrs. Darcy, "returned through the maze to this world. But she first laid on me the charge of travelling to Hertfordshire, there to meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet. That was on Christmas Eve. By the thirtieth of December Georgiana, and Annie --you do realize, do you not, Mrs. Wickham, that the girl upstairs who has befriended your daughter is the one of whom we speak?-- Georgiana, Annie and I arrived at the Bingleys' estate in Hertfordshire, Netherfield, and on New Year's Eve I met my Corinna, at an Assembly in Meryton." Andrew's face softened in a reminiscent smile as his glance went to his wife. "We were married shortly thereafter," he continued, "and have lived happily at Pemberley, with Georgiana and Annie, during the months since then."
He paused, then asked, "Is all clear so far? For now we come to the events of the last few days."
"Wait just a minute," said Lydia, who then turned to Corinna. "Lizzie, what happened to our family, what happened to me, while Wickie was running off with Miss Darcy and all the rest. I can't imagine that I waited for him!"
Jane and the two Elizabeths smiled wryly. The re-emergence of their sister's brash and insouciant cheerfulness was a source at once of encouragement and of a degree of embarrassment. Corinna answered her readily enough, however, "The militia spent that winter in Meryton, as I understand happened in this world as well, and my sister Lydia became friends with Colonel Forster's young wife, and our father was persuaded to allow her to travel, as a member of the Colonel's household, to Brighton, when the regiment left Meryton. This was but a short time after the wedding of Jane and Charles Bingley, which took place in February of 1812. Lydia returned home some months later, but only to visit, as she had quite suddenly been married, from the Colonel's house, to a young Lieutenant of the Regulars, whom she had met in Brighton."
"So I was only the second of us to marry. La! But tell on," said Lydia. "What is his name? Perhaps I know him!"
"Never mind that, Lydia! It is irrelevant to our purpose today," said Corinna. "In any case, it is probably just as well that you not know--it would be awkward indeed were you to meet him, knowing. And, no, Mary also was married before you were."
Lydia began to protest, but Clorinda, fixing her eye and quietly raising her hand with the palm outward, managed to induce her to subside. Clorinda then returned her gaze to Andrew, and he once more resumed speaking.
"Should you wish to know of the rest of your family, Mrs. Wickham, I can tell you briefly that all of your sisters have married. Miss Mary was indeed married before you, to the Reverend William Collins, with whom I believe you are acquainted …" --Lydia responded with something between a chuckle and an actual snort-- "… and your sister Catherine married a very good man, a Mr. John Haverford, though I should not expect you to recognize the name. Your parents have remained at Longbourn, though I had invited your father in particular to visit us in Derbyshire when it should be convenient for him to do so.
"So matters lay four days ago, in the early afternoon of the 16th of May, when my niece, Annie, wandered into the maze in the garden of our Pemberley and was transported to this Pemberley. We were, of course, greatly troubled by this, though we hoped those on this side would care for her, as they in fact have done. My sister planned to come after her, bringing my wife's and her abigail, Ellen Ingram, with her. The maze, however, chose to transport my wife and me to this world instead. It did not allow us to return, and in the end we decided to come here to the house, to await further developments. However, Ellen Ingram --the one from this world, of course-- who along with the others had come to the center of the maze, looked into the fountain and was transported to the other Pemberley. As it has done on other occasions, the maze then grew over so as to deny us access to the fountain, and so we concluded there was nothing more to be done for the time being.
"It was not long after that the Bingleys arrived to visit. Some sixth sense must have alerted Mrs. Bingley to the fact that her sister would be in need of her help, and it was indeed that very evening that my namesake, young Andrew Darcy, came into the world. This event occurred very nearly at the same moment when you, Mrs. Wickham, and the doctor who was to have attended to Mrs. Darcy, arrived here at Pemberley. It was I, of course, who received you in the entryway downstairs; George, and my Corinna as well, were upstairs with Mrs. Reynolds and the midwife in attendance upon Clorinda, welcoming the new life into the world."
"I see!" Lydia exclaimed. "That's why Charles …"
"Yes," Charles Bingley said, shamefacedly. "I was in my cups, and spoke most inadvisedly. I am very sorry for the misunderstandings that I have caused."
"I have come to the end of my narrative, for the time being," said Andrew. "George, perhaps you will wish to speak further, or ask Mr. Wickham to tell us what he was doing during the past few days in this world."
"Mr. Wickham, we all know the basic outline of the story of how you and your wife dishonoured your vows of faithfulness to each other," (both the Wickhams winced--what had sometimes seemed quite adventurous and romantic to both of them did not sound at all well when thus baldly described) "and how you ended threatening her very life, causing her to seek refuge with us here at Pemberley. Please tell us of your movements and actions and, if you can do so honestly, of the thoughts behind them, from the time when you discovered that she had fled hither from Newcastle."
"I would say … Perhaps …" Wickham floundered, trying to calculate what would be most to his advantage to say. But then remembering his decision to be honest, he decided to at least attempt it. "I was very angry, I remember, when I realized that Lydia had not taken refuge with Colonel and Mrs. Munworth, but rather had fled the city. My one thought was that I could not let her get away with this. She had almost eight hours' head start, but I was determined I would come up with her, so I left as soon as my physical state would allow it." He shook his head ruefully. "It was not difficult to find out on which stage she had travelled, and so I was able to follow as far as Leeds, and since I came on horseback I was, I believe, not terribly far behind by then."
He turned to his wife. "Your little trick in Leeds worked very well, throwing me off the scent and sending me towards Manchester before I discovered that you had boarded the stage but then left it again while still in Leeds. I was sure you did not have enough money for such a trick."
"I didn't," said Lydia. "That used up almost the last of it. I had to depend upon Mr. Darcy to pay the cabriolet that brought me here."
"I presume you then came through Sheffield and Matlock, or Derby? Whatever was the case, I was fairly certain you were headed this way, so I came on to Lambton, and talked my friend Giles Parker into letting me stay in his house. I must have arrived only a short time, perhaps a few hours, after you did.
"Later that night, in the inn at Lambton, I met a man from whom I heard both of your arrival here at Pemberley, Lyds, and of the birth of young master Darcy. The next day I busied myself with various tasks, planning to come to Pemberley the following morning."
"Wickham, that is misleading. Tell the truth." George's voice was dispassionate, with only a hint of coldness in it, but his face was stern.
Wickham swallowed, and his face whitened. "Very well. The man I met was the doctor who arrived here with you, Lydia. He had been dipping deep and was well on the go, and very angry about how he had been treated here at Pemberley, by Mr. Darcy and some obstreperous female --I believe the she, to whom he kept referring, was the midwife. In any case …" he swallowed once more, "Dr. Rushmore let fall what he had heard you, Mr. Bingley, say regarding the child's parentage, and I … I perceived an opportunity to …" he ducked his head, "to blackmail Mr. Darcy, to threaten to tell the world of the situation unless he paid me off. I spent the following day --that would be the day before yesterday-- preparing documents to support such a scheme, and then went to spend the night at a hidden place near to this house. You know where I refer to, Darcy; the hunting shelter." Both Darcy men nodded.
"The next morning at sunrise I lay in hiding near the edge of the woods, just north of the stables. I saw one of you two --you, I suppose?" he looked at George, and George nodded, "leaving the stables on a horse, heading in the direction of Lambton. I made my way through the woods around the north end of the house, coming out into the gardens near the infamous maze. To my surprise, I saw Darcy, whom I had just seen leaving Pemberley, crossing the lawn with Mrs. Darcy beside him. That must have been the two of you." He looked at Andrew and Corinna, and they nodded. "Mrs. Darcy saw me, but did not recognize me. I thought she must not have seen me clearly --I of course had withdrawn into the woods again-- but now I understand that she had never seen me before. In any case, in my haste to retreat, I brushed against the hedge of the maze. It caught me by foot and arm, wrapping its tendrils around me. I struggled violently, and called for help. Darcy and Mrs. Darcy came running to help me --it was just like the other time, was it not, Darcy? Despite all our struggles the maze held me fast. Once again, I was gripped --immobilized, in fact-- with terror until the darkness swallowed me and I remembered no more."
Andrew took up the tale. "My Elizabeth --Corinna-- and I did indeed come to try to save you from the hedge, but were unable to do so. This was now the second time I personally had seen you swallowed by the maze, but the first time for my wife. We both saw you gradually absorbed into a black hole in the hedge, but in the process we noticed two details that we now think to have been relevant. In your struggle, Wickham, you had lost your left boot, but the maze drew it in along with you. And we were vaguely able to see, as at a great distance, what appeared to be another human figure emerging from deeper in the darkness and struggling or contending with yours, or perhaps blending with yours. Then the foliage grew over the blackness and we saw no more. After several minutes, which we needed in order to recover from our exertions and from the horror we had witnessed, we returned here to the house. As soon as we were all able to be convened together --well, all except you, Mrs. Wickham--, we shared the news among ourselves. We assumed that the maze had chosen to remove you, Wickham, from this world as from the other. We were quite unprepared to hear that you were coming here, the next morning, from Lambton. Can you tell us how that came about?"
"Yes," said Wickham. "I awoke in the middle of the night, the night before last, that would be, in the darkness of the woods next to the maze. I had no idea of how I had gotten there, and my recollections of previous events were extremely muddled and fragmentary. Eventually my mind managed to register the fact that I was at Pemberley. I came near the house, and tried to gain entrance, but it was well-locked. At one point I climbed the old oak tree near the northwest corner of the house, beside the nursery. I climbed up and looked in the window, where I saw Anne and Mathilda comforting each other. I was seen by them as well, and this alarmed them greatly. I also saw Miss Darcy and you, Lydia, come in to comfort the two girls. I was greatly confused by the fact that I knew both girls but I could not reconcile in my mind the stories behind their existence in the world. I felt it very badly that my daughters should be so frightened of me that the mere sight of me should make them cry out in terror; I had apparently become a bogeyman to them. I decided, in the end, to return to Lambton, where I seemed to recall that Giles Parker had given me a place to stay, and then come here the next morning, to speak with you, Darcy. That is what I have done, and you have kept me here since then. I am still quite confused about a number of points, but this much I do remember fairly clearly."
"Upon what points are you confused?"
"None of what I know tells me why I have memories of the other world as well as this. How did I know both Anne and Mattie when I saw them? Why is my hand scarred, when the injury that caused the scar did not take place in this world?"
"One might add, why are your boots mismatched?" said George.
"Indeed. I do remember, when I awoke beside the maze, there was no boot on my left foot, but one was lying beneath me, which I put on. It is this one," here he extended an elegantly-shod member, "which I remember buying in London, from Hoby. That then must also have been in the other world. But this boot," here he extended his right foot, "I bought in Newcastle. In this world, it would seem." There was a short pause.
"I believe," said George, "that this brings us up-to-date, except for the news which we have heard from Ellen Ingram, who last night came through the maze to us from the other Pemberley. This is not the Ellen who went to that world four days ago, but the one who comes from there. Perhaps you can tell us what you have learned, Andrew."
"Very well," said Andrew. "It is an appalling tale. Apparently, another Mr. Wickham appeared in that world about the same time that you appeared here, Mr. Wickham. He also came to the Pemberley house in the middle of the night, but instead of climbing a tree, seeing Anne and Mathilda, and retiring to Lambton in order to return honourably on the morrow, he determined to force his way into the house. It seems that my father-in-law, Mr. Bennet, had come on the previous afternoon to visit my wife and me; of course he had found us from home. That night, even at that late hour, he was yet awake, reading in the library. When he stepped out onto the terrace in order to take the night air, Wickham was lying in wait for him. He violently attacked Mr. Bennet, trussed him up like an animal and left him on the library floor. Armed with a fireplace poker, he encountered the butler, Wilkins, and treated him in like manner, leaving him bound on the library floor alongside of Mr. Bennet. Later he found my valet, Enderby, above stairs; him also he bound and left on the floor.
"But Wilkins and Mr. Bennet, between them, had by then got loose from their bonds, They armed themselves with various items from the billiards room and, coming upstairs, freed Enderby. At that point Wickham was in the women's apartments, terrifying the nursemaid and then accosting my sister Georgiana in her bed, threatening her with the poker. The two Ellen Ingrams came to her aid, and among the three of them, they routed him, inflicting considerable damage upon him with a chamberpot, among other things; though he also inflicted physical injury on some of them. As he fled, Mr. Bennet and his cohort intercepted him, attacking with billiard balls and cue sticks, I am told; and as he fled from them, Joseph Padgett, who had been summoned by one of the Miss Ingrams, punished him with fists and later, I understand, with a hurled pitchfork.
"Despite all this, Wickham managed to escape, stealing a horse and riding off towards Lambton. There, at the point of fainting from his injuries and loss of blood, he arrived at the house of his friend Giles Parker. When Parker went to bring the apothecary to tend to his wounds, Wickham revived, only to attempt to force himself onto Mr. Parker's young sister, who had been tending to his injuries as best she was able. He wounded her before she struck him with a bottle, sending him again into a swoon. The apothecary arrived but quite understandably chose to attend Miss Parker's injuries first. To everyone's surprise, while the apothecary was yet attending her, Wickham suddenly expired. It could have been from any one of several injuries he had sustained, but was most likely from the combination of them all.
"We do not yet know the end of that story, but it appears that Wickham's body will be disposed of in a way that will make it clear that Mrs. Wickham is now a widow, without the full history of his demise ever becoming public knowledge.
"The question that is foremost in our minds, however, has been this. Who was that man? The question is tied up with the points of confusion you raised a few minutes ago, Wickham. I know not whether that man had a scar on his hand. He did have mismatched boots. He told my sister that he was married to Mr. Bennet's daughter Lydia. And in the dead man's pockets was found, along with money and a signet of mine which he had pilfered from Pemberley, a letter threatening disclosure of the illicit paternity of the newborn heir of Pemberley, who of course has not yet appeared in that world. You have testified that you yourself wrote that letter, Wickham, yet it was in his pocket. It is thus by no means clear, rather it is very doubtful at best, whether he was simply the Wickham of that world.
"I shall be very direct, Mr. Wickham. Here was a man who had, within the space of a very few hours, assaulted three older men, including the one he recognized as his father-in-law, treating them shamefully and cruelly, in order to ransack the house in which they were residing. He shamelessly robbed the heirs of his own benefactor. He threatened an innocent nursemaid, frightening her nearly out of her wits. He accosted a gentlewoman in her bed, a woman who, so he believed, was not his wife, and threatened to strike her with a poker. It would not matter if she had been his wife; what kind of an animal does it take to treat a woman so? He physically harmed the women who came to her aid, although I suppose for that one may plead the circumstance of himself being under attack at the time. He stole a horse, again in response to a situation of duress, of course. He sought, and was given, help from an old friend, and from the friend's sister. He repaid that kindness with the vilest treachery, assaulting the sister in an unspeakable manner, even as the brother was seeking further help for him. I have not words to describe such a beast, a knave, a villain, a swine. And all these are but additions to the long tally of his evil deeds from before the maze took him, whether in that world or in this. Such an evil man, such a dastard and a cur, does not deserve to live--the news that he is thoroughly and irrevocably dead in my world is very good news to me, and, I believe, to us all. If his soul rots in hell even as his body rots in the ground, it is but the merest justice."
Overcome by the strength of his emotion, Andrew closed his eyes and tried to regain his equilibrium. Corinna stroked his hand. Except for Jane Bingley, who closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side, an expression of great pain troubling her face, the others around the table nodded their agreement with what Andrew had just said, Georgiana Darcy most vehemently. Lydia Wickham's hands covered her face, the visible edges of which were bright red. Wickham himself was white as a sheet, as he stared in almost catatonic misery at the table in front of him.
Fitzwilliam George spoke. "We do not know who that man was, Wickham. And, similarly, we do not know who you are. It would seem that the maze built two new and different Wickhams out of the two men it had absorbed. You have memories of Wickham's past in both worlds. Each of you bore documentary evidence of your perfidious plans for the future in this world. In each world the Wickham that we knew had much to answer for. It is not clear, and it is probable that it never shall be clear, which aspects of those pasts you are responsible for, or for what aspects the other Wickham is even now being held accountable before the judgement seat of his Maker.
"Who are you, Wickham? What do you have to say for yourself?"
Squire Milburn, along with Thomson, Smathers and Mickels, and six canines on leashes, went from his house to Harry Merton's. There he asked Harry whether he had been over to Parker's house within the last couple of days.
"Nay, sir, that I ha'n't," said Merton.
"Not at all?"
"Nay, not at all."
"It would sound fairly convincing if I hadn't seen you there myself yesterday afternoon."
Harry's eyes shifted and he shook his head. "Aye, sir, I done forgotten … I didna think you meant when you brung me there."
"Don't assume you know what I mean and don't mean," warned the Squire. "You will only get yourself in trouble doing that. Answer me straight, lad. Apart from when I brought you there, you have not been to Parkers' house?"
Harry thought for a few seconds, before decidedly answering, "Nay, as I done said, I ain't been there."
"Very well. You are wearing a clean shirt today. Would you bring me the shirt that you were wearing yesterday?"
"What want you with my shirt?"
"That is my own business, Mr. Merton. Don't get in the way of my investigating, now."
Harry Merton ducked into his house, and soon was back with a clean-looking shirt. The Squire looked at it but did not reach for it. "Lad, I told you not to get in my way. You're obstructing the course of justice, now. That is not the shirt you were wearing yesterday. Go get it."
When Harry emerged again from the house, he had a much dirtier shirt with him. The Squire looked at it with recognition, and noted with interest the soiling on the sleeves. He then turned to the men with the dogs and said, "Take your dogs over yonder, Smathers, and you, Mickels, bring yours here." When the hounds had come, he handed the shirt to Thomson and said "Let them get their noses filled with this scent." Harry Merton looked on with trepidation. Things were taking a turn he had never thought of.
"Harry, you just abide here. We need to go investigate some things, but we shall be back, never you fear."
With the dogs and their handlers, the Squire went from Harry's house to the gaol. He brought out the rag from which the hounds had gotten Parker's scent earlier that morning, and with it renewed the scent for Smathers' dogs. All six dogs were then put to search around the gaol, and those with Parker's scent in their nostrils bayed as they once more picked up the trail from the window across the road to the stand of bushes. From there they were ready to lead the men back down the trail they had followed that morning. The two new hounds watched them interestedly, but they themselves still sniffed around the gaol and the bushes, unable to pick up the scent that they had been given.
Wrestling Smathers' hounds from their eagerness to follow the scent, the four men then went to Giles Parker's house. Smathers' dogs again became excited, pulling Smathers towards the house. This time, however, the other hounds, the ones who had been given Harry Merton's scent, also picked up a trail and, baying, led Mickels and Thomson through the woods, skirting the clearing in which Parker's house lay, before coming directly to the corner where the Squire had, the day before, found the contraband and stolen items buried. Smathers' dogs were brought to that area but did not show much interest in it; they kept pawing at the door of the house, as if thinking that their quarry lay within.
The Squire judged that he had seen enough. He took his helpers and their dogs back to Harry Merton's house, where he spoke briefly to the stable-boy, then accosted Harry himself. "You lied to me, lad," he said. "You did go to Parker's house, quite recently, and went to the place where we found that brandy. I rather suppose you buried it there yourself. I know for a fact that the story about Parker having it started here, and your stable-boy tells me he heard it from you, and you as much as told him to spread it. I don't know what other ways you may have lied to me, but I aim to find out, and you will take your friend's place in gaol until I do."
They delivered Merton to the gaoler, after which the Squire thanked Mickels and dismissed him to return home. He then asked Thomson to get a couple of lads with shovels and a plasterer's screen, and told him where to take them and what to do there. All of this activity had aroused plenty of interest in the village, of course, but as the Squire told the onlookers to stay away, they were only able to note that Thomson and the others in his party headed eastward out of town, and that the hounds (two of Smathers') that were with them began to bay soon after they turned a little to the north.
The hounds led the men to the same beech tree the Squire and his companions had found that morning. Thomson instructed the men with the shovels to carefully cover the place where the words "Thaks" and "Hary" were written, and then to dig up the hole, passing all the dirt they took out through the plasterer's sieve. They retrieved two cases of the same wine that had been found next to Giles Parker's house. The sifting of the soil produced a fine collection of bits of roots, and of small and medium-sized stones, but nothing else of particular interest. In the end Thomson simply led the men back into Lambton. Of course, the news of what they had found was all over town by nightfall.
Meanwhile, the Squire and Smathers, with Smathers' other two hounds, were searching westward from town, along the banks of the stream, Smathers and one dog covering the north bank and the Squire and the other on the south bank.
The knock, on the servants' entrance to Mrs. Wickham's dressing room, was so soft it was more like a scratch, but Ellen Ingram heard it. She came to her feet somewhat gingerly as her body was still rather sore, especially around her back and arms. It was surprising how much stress fell on those muscles even when one simply stood up. She crossed to the entrance door and opened it.
"Miss Ellen!" It was Nan Parker, speaking in an urgent whisper. "I dinna want t'come, being's you said to bide in the room. But Giles, he be out in the woods, yonder away." She pointed towards the north west, where the maze lay.
"How do you know this, Nan?"
"I know's whistle. I were listening for't."
"Come in, just for a minute," said Ellen. "Nobody saw you, on your way up, did they?"
"Nay, I dint see nobody, and none saw me."
"It is well. Now, just a minute." Ellen knocked at Mrs. Wickham's bedroom, and when summoned, stepped through the doorway with a curtsey.
"Ma'am, Nan Parker is in the room next door. She says her brother is out in the woods near the maze."
"Oh, dear," said Georgiana. Now what was to be done? She reviewed the situation in her mind. The last they had heard from Lambton was that Giles Parker was in gaol. He must have been released, then. But if so, why would he be hiding in the woods? Had he perhaps escaped? In that case, they at Pemberley would court trouble were they to help him. She quickly came to a conclusion. "Ellen," she said, "bring Miss Parker to my sitting parlour, then go and ask Mr. Bennet if he would please wait upon me there, as soon as it might be convenient for him to do so." Once again she thanked Heaven that Mr. Bennet had come to visit Pemberley. He would know what to do.
She went to the parlour and nodded in acknowledgement of Nan Parker's presence. As they waited for Ellen's return, it occurred to her to ask, "Miss Parker, is your brother likely to continue trying to attract your attention? It would not be well if anyone else should discern his presence."
"Nay," replied Nan. "I let un know I heared un. He'll wait, now."
It was but a few minutes later that Mr. Bennet, led by Ellen, entered the room. The women quickly brought him to an understanding of the situation. He considered it for a few moments, then said, "It seems to me that someone needs to speak to Mr. Parker. Miss Parker, you say he is near the maze? Perhaps I should be the one to go there and see him. However, I expect it would be useful to have you there as well, Miss Ingram, if you would be willing to accompany me."
Georgiana concurred with the plan, and Ellen expressed her willingness to go. "Nan," she said, "It is best for you to remain here, out of everyone's sight, for now. But we could take a message to your brother, if you wish."
"Tell un … tell un I be minded to go with un, can he work it."
"All be well with Nan?" Mr. Bennet and Ellen Ingram had barely entered the woods near the maze when Giles Parker appeared silently from the shrubbery. He looked disheveled, with his clothing dirty and torn in few places, and a disreputable looking dark cloth draped over his shoulders. Anyone seeing him would doubtless remember and be able to report the sight, but a thick stand of mature trees surrounded and overshadowed them, shielding them completely from any inadvertently watching eyes.
"Yes, Mr. Parker," said Bennet, and Ellen added, "She's been near me most of the time. We don't think anyone's seen her, and even if they had, Pemberley servants know not to gossip."
"Tell us, did Mr. Padgett and … and the others get away as planned, yesterday afternoon?" It was Mr. Bennet speaking.
"Aye," said Parker. "That part of things went smooth," and, "Thank God!" Ellen murmured.
"I reckon Sellon done told you, your hounds started sniffing around the haycart I were driving back, and t'Squire got all s'picious like. Harry Merton done tried to get me in trouble, too. It were well Nan were here, and not there."
"Yes, we heard you were put in gaol overnight. I am very sorry that you had to undergo such an experience on account of helping us."
"It were no great thing," Giles said, "I done enow, other times, to deserve a bit of that. Howsomever, I done broke gaol early this morn, Mr. Bennet. I doubt I guv the Squire enough of a runaround to keep un busy, but bye and bye he'll come here, seekin' me. I'd best be gone when he do. Can ye help me?"
"What kind of help do you need?" asked Mr. Bennet. "Where do you think to go."
"Nan and me, we been thinking America for some time now. Specially now, we'd like to go. We done saved money enow for a passage, but not for both on us. I don't like to go and leave her to face Squire, and Harry and all."
"Nan asked me to tell you that she be thinking the same way," contributed Ellen. "She be ready to go with you."
"Yes, you both should go, if possible. I shall have to speak with … with the others," said Mr. Bennet. "But I believe we shall see our way clear to help you. Do you have things at your home that you need to retrieve? Perhaps one of our folk could help you there."
"Nay," said Parker. "Best not. No doubt t'Squire have folk watching to see if we come back. There be nought much there anygates."
"So you could use some money for clothing as well as your passage?" suggested Mr. Bennet.
"Aye," said Parker. "Mr. Bennet, y'ken Turpin, that were there at t'house yesterday? He'll bring you what money we saved, nigh on twenty-five pound," --here Ellen's eyebrows rose-- "mayhap in a fortnight or so. He'll wait till t'Squire no longer be watching."
"So twice that amount should be sufficient for the two of you to travel?"
"Very well, we shall consider it. I think we should return to the house then. I shall send you word when arrangements have been made."
As Ellen turned to return to the house, Parker sent a slight "Whsssht!" in her direction. "Mr. Bennet," she said, "I would like to have a word with Mr. Parker. I shall be along to the house, directly."
She turned back to Parker. "Yes?" she said, not in a supercilious way, but not in an inviting one either.
"Lass, tha willna go with us?" His heart was in his eyes, but she hardened her heart against it. This was best, for the other Ellen as well, she was sure.
"Nay," she said. "I like my job. I willna leave the Darcys."
"Aye," he replied. "I feared it were so. What happened to us, lass?"
"Many things happened, Giles. Too many. Wickham happened. You never told me how tight you'd been with that villain. What is more, I've changed. I am not the woman you knew before. Mrs. Darcy has been good for me. Nor are you the man I knew. Maybe you are a better one. You go. Take Nan to her love in Tennesy. Find yourself a good woman over there. Go straight from now on, Giles. You have a second chance. Don't waste it."
Parker bowed his head in acceptance.
Ellen was turning towards the house when she saw Giles' body go taut, his head turned to one side, the better to hear. Several seconds later, she too became aware of a distant yipping and baying of hounds following a scent trail. It might be a trick of echo, but it sounded like there were dogs to the north and west of them, though the major part of the sound came from the east.
"Damn!" said Parker. "I shoulda knowed to keep movin'. Them's Smathers' dogs, two on 'em. I be goin', lass."
"No, wait," said Ellen. "Do not leave yet!"
She quickly ran to the edge of the woods and looked out. Mr. Bennet was still on the lawn outside the entrance. He was treating her like a lady, courteously waiting to accompany her into the house, she realized gratefully. "Mr. Bennet!" she called in a low voice, so as not to attract the attention of anyone in the house.
Mr. Bennet looked up and seeing her motioning urgently for him to come, responded with deliberate speed while still visible on the lawn. He rounded the first set of bushes at the woods' edge a bit faster, for he also could now hear the baying of the hounds, still at a distance, but drawing closer. His brain resumed its mode of unwontedly quick calculation of the options; it may be as well that certain episodes from his boyhood and adolescence, quite unknown to his family, were awakened in his memory.
"Quick, lad," he said to Parker. "Something of yours that bears your scent, now! That blanket, do you suppose? No, do not hand it to me: drop it there on the ground. Where shall you hole up?"
"Near the quarry," Parker said quickly. "Sellon will know, if need be. Or I'll come back, an' t'Squire be gone." He divested himself of the blanket, and Mr. Bennet, acknowledging with a nod of the head the information imparted, stooped and laced his hands together much as a groom would when assisting a rider onto his horse. He cast his eyes upwards, and Giles Parker, catching his drift immediately, eyed the branches overhead. Picking out a stout limb some nine feet above the ground, with no others in the way, he motioned to Mr. Bennet that he move about a yard to the left, then putting his foot in Mr. Bennet's laced hands, sprang upwards, catching the chosen limb with both hands and with no more ado swinging himself up into the canopy of the tree. Within a very few moments he was several dozen yards away, moving smoothly and with a minimum of effort and commotion of the leaves from one tree to the next.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet had straightened up a bit stiffly, rubbing the small of his back, but soon was able to move smoothly, if not quickly, again. He caught up a yard-long stick from the ground, and snagging its forked tip in the weaving of the blanket, began to drag it behind him. Realizing that this left too obvious a trail, he motioned to Ellen to come near and said in a low voice, "Just spread dead leaves around the area where we have stood, then away with you to the house. I believe I am for the maze, myself."
"Oh, be careful, sir!" she said. She then bethought herself of the map she had made the day before. "Here," she said. "This may help you. I made it yesterday, before Ellen and I attempted the maze. It brought me back out when the fountain took her instead of me."
She placed it in his hand. He thanked her and then resumed his motion away from the location of their rendezvous with Giles Parker. Ellen had by now restored a relatively undisturbed look to the ground underfoot in that spot, and with a nod of her head had headed for the house. At each pace Mr. Bennet would lift the stick, with the attached blanket, swinging it forward and letting it fall into contact with the ground again. In this way he arrived at the gate of the maze. The noise of the hounds was definitely stronger, but he figured he still had a couple of minutes before they found him. From the map he quickly determined the correct route to the fountain at the centre, but took the time to go some distance down into a couple of pathways he knew were incorrect; one of them, as it turned out, led back in a circle to the main path. His main goal was to penetrate deeply into the most confusing part of the maze; it did not seem important to him to actually reach the fountain. It was well that this was so, for the way was blocked two full sections from where the centre was marked on the map. Mr. Bennet was tall enough that with a slight jump he could see that the hedge had grown over solid for many yards ahead of him. He removed the stick from its entanglement with the blanket, turned it so as to brandish the other end, which was more blunt and smooth. With it he folded the cloth roughly into a smallish package. With his stick and another he picked up from the floor of the passageway he engaged the cloth, and lifting it, flung the blanket out into the overgrown section of hedge. The sticks he flung in the opposite direction, then, whistling through his teeth in a manner he had not practiced for a good many years, commenced strolling through the aisles of the maze, occasionally consulting his map to maintain his awareness of where he was.
Smathers and Squire Milburn had made their way westward well over a mile beyond where they had been that morning. When the Squire heard Smathers' whistle he crossed to the north side of the stream to join him. The dogs clearly agreed that there was a very interesting scent at that point, leading in the general direction of the Pemberley estate. With a couple of false starts they were able to follow the trail until they arrived in the vicinity of the great house itself, approaching it from the north. In a thick stand of trees almost within sight of the house they paused, the dogs showing some confusion, but then one of them found the scent again, leading eastwards towards the north end of the lawn surrounding the house. The Squire pondered the advisability of notifying the house of his presence on the premises, but decided the urgency of finding Parker immediately was greater; he had in any case already spoken to that interesting man Mr. Bennet of the possibility of his investigations leading him onto Pemberley land.
The dogs led Smathers directly to a gate leading to a passageway between high hedges, the Squire following several paces behind. Smathers, pausing at the entrance, cast an enquiring glance at his employer, but a nod sufficed to persuade him to allow the hounds to enter. Squire Milburn had heard of the great maze of Pemberley, but had never seen it for himself. He could well understand how it would be possible for a man to lose his way within it. But the dogs were in no doubt of the way to go, and so should be able to lead them out.
Smathers, several yards ahead of him, had just rounded another of the many corners in the passageways, when the Squire heard him saying, in an apologetic tone of voice, "I do beg your pardon, sir! Down, tha beastie!" This last admonition was doubtless addressed to one of the hounds rather than to Mr. Bennet, whom by this point the Squire had seen and recognized as the man Smathers must have been addressing.
"Why, Mr. Bennet," said the Squire. "Out for an afternoon stroll?"
"Yes, indeed," was the reply. "I had heard much of the great maze of Pemberley, and decided to experience it for myself." He gestured with a hand holding a piece of paper. "Even with a map to guide me it has not been easy to avoid becoming lost. It is indeed an impressive feature of the landscaping of this beautiful estate."
"Have you seen anything untoward, in your perambulations?" asked the Squire. "In particular, anyone entering the maze, or wandering in the woods? Our dogs have brought us here following the trail of one whom I seek."
"Indeed?" Mr. Bennet's countenance registered polite interest. "Who might that be, I wonder? Is it someone dangerous of whom I should warn those in the house?" His words evinced more concern than was discernible in his face, as he continued: "In any case, no, there has been no one in the maze, to my knowledge at least, other than myself. I have been here but a short while, however, so I suppose another might have hidden himself where I have not yet been. No doubt your hounds shall find him, if that is the case. Do not allow me to impede your search."
The dogs had been straining at their leashes while this discussion was taking place. The Squire felt some degree of mistrust, prompted perhaps by the slightly amused expression on Mr. Bennet's face, but the more urgent matter was to follow the scent, he felt. At one place the trail ended abruptly in a passage that went on further; the hounds had no interest in following the passage to its end. A second time it circled around but after the hounds charged around the circle two or three times, Smathers was able to convince them to try an adjacent passage, and indeed they picked up a scent there as well. This time the trail ended quite at the end of a passage. At bay, the dogs turned about in confusion a couple of times. Then one of them seemed to smell something ahead, and tried to burrow its way into the hedge. The Squire was certain that no man could have made his way through those dense stems and branches: even the dog could not get its forequarters fully in.
The second dog had essayed to burrow into the bushes a few feet to the side of its companion, when suddenly both of them withdrew, howling, and, jerking their leashes free of Smathers' grasp, streaked for the exit. One of their leashes whipped around Squire Milburn's foot and the dog executed a somersault in the air, but immediately the leash came free again and the dog ran pell-mell after his fellow. Smathers swore in frustration, and although the Squire refrained from similar behaviour, he could well understand the temptation to indulge in it. He glanced at Mr. Bennet, and caught, on the elderly gentleman's face, the fading of an expression of delight and amusement turning into one of solemnity.
"What ever could have happened to those poor dogs?" Mr. Bennet asked as if ingenuously. "Could they have both met with hedgehogs and gotten spines in their muzzles? Or are there nettles in the hedge?" Mr. Bennet had tucked the paper he had been consulting into a pocket, and had his hands clasped behind his back. For all the Squire could tell, he was twiddling his thumbs as he stood there.
"Da…" Squire Milburn
but then thought better of it, and headed rapidly for the exit. It did
not help his mood that Mr. Bennet, sauntering along behind him, needed
at one point to call him back from a false passage and restore him to
the way to the exit.
There was silence around the library table. It took Wickham over a minute to be able to speak, and, even then, his speech was so soft and tentative, yet simultaneously so tight and stressed, that the others had strain to hear him.
"I do not know …" he began, then paused. "I simply do not … I do not know. I do not know who I am, or what I am accountable for. I could wish, I should be glad to believe, that I am answerable only for what has happened since I awoke beside the hedge the night before last. And yet, I remember all too well many things … many things … far too many things … that I did before that time. I remember all the ways I justified those actions to myself, and, when I could, to others. I still want --or at least a part of me still wants-- to keep defending myself in those ways. But at the same time, I see clearly how pitifully inadequate all the excuses are. And why should I care to answer for those despicable actions, why should I defend myself at all, if it was not I who did them? Yet I cannot evade the need to do so. So, I feel responsible for, or at least sorry for, all that either of us … either of my two selves, did before the maze put a stop to it.
"It is an intolerable burden. I hear your reactions of abhorrence and revulsion, and I, or at least a part of me, agrees with you. As far back as I can remember, in two lives, all I can see are years and years of evil piled up behind me; mountains and mountains of hateful intentions which far too often resulted in actual hateful deeds. My sins have been doubled and heaped upon me: I have betrayed and abused not one but two wives, and misspent the opportunities of not just one but two lives; abused your and your father's generosity, Darcy, in another world as well as this one. I have been a selfish being all my life … all my lives: it seems that everything I have done or judged has always been with my own pleasure or benefit foremost in my mind, with almost no consideration at all for others' needs or rights or pleasure.
"You tell me of the crimes, the barbaric crimes, committed by my counterpart in the other world, and I rejoice that I have not done them. But it is in me to do them. I tried, that first night, to break in to Pemberley. Had I succeeded, I might have behaved as badly as he did. That next morning I saw my friend Giles' sister, and, shameful though it is to admit it, I felt, and had to reject, the urge to use her ill, even as he did. When I was left alone here in Pemberley house, had I found your signet in a desk drawer, do you think that it would not have found its way into my pocket even as that doctor's pitiful snuffbox did? When Annie was alone with me in the billiards room, the first thing my mind did was fill itself with schemes to abscond with her and hold her to ransom. It was the merest hint of rational self-interest that restrained me from doing it. If I had not seen so very clearly how foolish it would be, how unlikely to succeed, I fear that I should have attempted it.
"Who am I? I do not know. But I do not like who I am." Wickham's voice subsided, and once again there was silence, punctuated by occasional sniffs from Lydia's mouth.
Clorinda's voice broke that silence. "Those are the most hopeful words I could ever have desired to hear come from your mouth, Mr. Wickham."
"How ever can you say such a thing, Lizzy?" asked Lydia's sharp voice. "Do you like to see him grovel in front of you?"
"No," Fitzwilliam George Darcy replied emphatically. "This is not grovelling. There is no indignity in facing the truth, Mrs. Wickham, and that is what your husband is doing. It is hard. By God, it is hard! It humbles a man. But only thus is there the possibility of healing. Confession, humiliating as it is, is the only way that forgiveness and cleansing may be sought."
"Your husband is saying what a good man says, Lydia," said Corinna. "It was the best man in the world who taught us the formula, 'I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'8 Bad men (and bad women) are always sure that whatever they have done is right, that whatever has gone wrong is others' fault, that they themselves are blameless. Good men know their faults as no other does. Unless it be their wives." She smiled at Andrew, and he smiled unabashedly back.
"Wickham," said George, "Yesterday you said that what you would desire would be a new beginning. You said you would like to change. It seems to me that you have been granted precisely that opportunity. Since the maze brought you back into this world, from wherever you have come, you have been kept, it would seem, from actually doing evil. Even your untoward desires seem not to have been allowed to turn into evil intentions. Give thanks for that great gift. You have been given a second chance, and so far, it would seem, you have not spurned it.
"But remember that repentance is measured by faithfulness. You lament that your heart is still attuned to, and capable of committing, evil. That is the state of every man on this earth --certainly it is mine. With years of training the heart in the abhorrence of evil and the disciplines of avoiding it, and even more importantly in the love of the good, the temptations may lessen, but they are always there. You are but beginning that training. Do not lose hope, but do not become complacent. Do not despair when your obedience to what is right proves to be imperfect; the true disaster is not in occasional failure, but in abandoning the struggle. And cry out for help; you most emphatically cannot do this in your own strength. If you truly ask for help, it will be given you. We also will help you as we are able.
"I hope I speak for all of us here that we would wish to give you a second chance, to allow you to demonstrate that you really have changed, or at least that you truly desire to change. Nevertheless, I invite the others to speak as well."
Clorinda spoke next. "I could desire nothing more than to see your character reformed and established, Mr. Wickham. You were given wonderful gifts of birth, of nature, of upbringing and of opportunity, and ever since I have known you for who you truly were, my underlying feeling towards you as a person, longer lasting and in some sense even stronger than the anger, the revulsion, and the hatred with which I have struggled, born of your many sins against those I love, has always been pity and sorrow for the waste of those gifts. Do not waste them again." She paused, then added deliberately, "my brother."
"Our counterparts have spoken for both of us," said Andrew, looking at Corinna, who nodded. "Both you and we have said that we do not know who you are. Now you have the opportunity to answer that question, to choose by your actions who you will be. You have seen the darkness, our prayer is that you will come to the light, that you will begin to be who you were meant to be."
"Despite … despite …" Jane Bingley's voiced choked on itself, "despite the evil you have wrought, and the suffering you have brought on so many, especially on my dear Georgiana and dear Lydia, I have … I have never doubted that there was good within you, or at least the possibility of good. I want to see it grow. Please … please, let it do so!"
Tears were running down Georgiana's cheeks. "You did me great evil, George Wickham," she said. "You did even greater evil to my counterpart in the other world, and to many other women of whom you have taken advantage. I cannot speak for them. I can only speak for myself. I still find the greatest difficulty in the thought of trusting you. It is probable that I shall never trust you fully. But I choose to forgive you. I see, in the existence of Annie, how Providence can bring beauty out of evil, and to see you turn into a good man would be a miracle of the same magnitude. I hope that is what will happen."
"Mr. Wickham." Charles Bingley spoke. "I never knew you well. My friend Darcy told me you were not to be trusted, and gradually I learned more and more fully how thoroughly justified was that warning. You have been a very bad man. But if you wish to improve, if you are willing to change, I am eager to help you find the way to do so. But I, and my brother Darcy I know, need you to be certain that we stand ready to oppose you with every resource at our command, if you ever again threaten harm to anyone in our families. The harm you have done has got to stop."
"Indeed," said Fitzwilliam George, "Charles speaks for me on that point. Which brings us to perhaps the most crucial voice in this matter. What have you to say, Mrs. Wickham?"
Lydia looked almost furtively at the two Darcy men and at their wives, though her glance softened as she felt the reassurance in her sisters' eyes. She looked at Jane. Finally she looked at her husband. "Oh, Wickie!" she sighed. "What can I say? Yes, you have hurt me. You would have hurt me much worse at the beginning if Darcy had not prevented you from abandoning me. But sometimes I have almost wondered if that wouldn't have been better. Yet it was my own foolishness that laid me open to your persuasions, and I have hurt you, too, over the years, and especially in this … in this last thing. I also need to face the truth. Wickie, can we try again? Can we try and make a home that … Mattie at least can be safe in? Can you forgive me for … for …"
She was unable to continue. Wickham came over to her and put his arm about her. "Lyds," he said, "who am I to complain? You have done less to me than I have done to you, for years. Indeed, I think I needed to feel the pain of … of what you did, to have some idea of the pain I have caused. What do you say, old girl? Shall we let bygones be bygones, and like you say, make a home in which both … both of the children can be safe? I would wish for that."
Wordlessly Lydia turned towards her husband and buried her face in his shoulder.
8 Job 42.5-6
"Sellon, you are clear regarding what you are to do?"
"Aye, sir," Peter Sellon replied to Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Wickham, who had asked him to meet them in Mr. Darcy's office. "Soon now, nigh dark, I mun take t'pony cart, wi' a bit hay in't, west towards th'ridge, a couple hunnerd yards in t'woods. There Nan'll meet me, and maybe Giles, or else he'll be at t'quarry. I mun take 'em to track's end, then go with 'em over t'ridge an' on down till we meet a good road, to Macclesfield belike. They know whither they go beyond that. The while, I backtrack, bring t'cart an' pony back home, an' report t'you. That'll be tomorrow past noon, like as not, sir."
"Mr. Parker is, as I understand and from what I have seen, an accomplished woodsman," Mr. Bennet's eyebrow quirked as he substituted the word "woodsman" for the more invidious designation, "poacher"), "as are you, but you have had more opportunity than he to come to know that part of the country well, and in any case it is well for Miss Parker's safety to have two of you to ensure a quick and safe transit through the trackless portion of the journey." He paused, then bethought himself of an additional point. "One other matter, please suggest to Mr. Parker that they travel as Mr. and Mrs. ... Singleton --James and Mary Singleton perhaps--, for the present at least. We will also speak to Miss Parker of this. They, and you, should avoid their own names until they are well away, and knowing the name they will use, should anything go wrong, we would at least have a better chance of hearing and coming to their aid. If there is need for them to communicate with us, ask them to use those names."
"Aye, sir. James and Mary Singleton. I mun tell them, sir."
"Your errand is of great importance to Pemberley, Mr. Sellon. Your silence regarding it is also of importance. This service is not a small one, and Mr. Darcy shall know of it."
"You have the money where it will be safe?"
"Yes, Mr. Bennet. We sewed the main part of it into hidden pockets in the waist of her dress, and the purse with the other coins is also securely stowed," said Ellen. "Here, in this satchel, we have bread and cheese and a few other things, enough for three for a day or so. There are cloaks for the two of them, against the cold of the night, and a change of clothing. They can buy blankets and whatever else they might need in the port. Liverpool, no doubt."
"It is up to them, but that does seem most likely. You are ready, then, Miss Parker?"
"Aye, sir. And, I thank ye. Ye are helping us out o' a heap o' trouble. God pay ye, sir. An' ye too, Mrs. … Mrs. Wickham. An' thee, Ellen, such comfort tha' has been. What could I ha' done wi'out thee."
"No, Nancy, it is we who are indebted to you," said Georgiana. "Please convey our thanks to your brother Giles as well."
"James, ma'am. James Singleton. An' he be my husband, not my brother," said Nancy with a slight but definitely impish grin.
"Right, Mary," said Georgiana.
"Well, then, on your way," suggested Mr. Bennet. "The nights are short now, and you have a good many miles that you will want to cover before morning dawns."
None saw Ellen and Nancy pass quietly down the service stairs, out the servants' entrance to the western gardens and across the lawns to the side of the great maze. Silently they made their way under the trees, near the place were Ellen had met Giles earlier. Nancy gave a soft, bird-like whistle, which was answered from further ahead in the woods. The two women advanced another hundred yards or so and suddenly Giles was beside them.
"Sellon be awaitin' us," he said quietly.
"Has he been there long?" asked Ellen.
"Nay, but a minute or two."
Ellen turned to Nancy and the two women embraced. "Goodbye, my friend. God speed thee," said Ellen, and "God be wi' thee, too," said Nancy. Neither woman actually cried.
"Take care o' her, you hear, Giles?" said Ellen fiercely. "And yourself too."
"My thanks, Ellen," said Giles. There didn't seem to be anything more to be said, but just before he turned away he reached out and touched her hand. A few seconds later they had disappeared between the trees. Ellen waited till she heard the clop of a pony's hoofs and the slight rumble of the cart wheels moving away from her, before turning and heading back to Pemberley.
In the falling dusk, Fitzwilliam George Darcy rode into Lambton, eager to be quit of the task that awaited him. He headed directly to The Black Bull where, leaving his mount with one of the ostlers, he asked to be shown to the private parlour he had bespoken. As he had hoped, and indeed expected, it was already occupied by Dr. Marcus Rushmore, whose countenance gave some evidence of overexcited nerves in a precarious state.
Darcy closed the door, then began with no preliminaries, "Dr. Rushmore, what can you tell me regarding this … document?" His voice dripped with disdain as he pronounced the last word, laying Wickham's blackmailing letter on the table. After giving the doctor scant time to read it, he laid next to it another sheet of paper upon which Wickham, at his behest, had recreated, to the best of his memory, the cover letter which had originally accompanied the first letter.
Dr. Rushmore was at point non-plus. He had no idea why he had been peremptorily summoned all the way from Derby to meet with Mr. Darcy this evening, and the letter he was shown was completely unfamiliar to him. However, as he read further and noted what had been insinuated in it as well as what had been outright said, and then as he read the cover letter, comprehension dawned. Oh no! How can this be? Did I possibly say anything to anyone else, after that first night? So it must be he. But he seemed so friendly, and gentlemanly. How did Mr. Darcy find out? Can I pretend to know nothing of it all? But doubtless he can already tell from my expression and demeanour that such is not the case. He looked apprehensively at Mr. Darcy.
"I repeat the question. What can you tell me regarding these documents?"
"I have never seen either of them before, sir. I am simply appalled to see that they refer to a letter purporting to be from the pen of someone who could well be myself; I assure you that any such letter is certainly not of my authorship; I have written no such thing."
"Can you equally deny any knowledge of who might have written it, and how he might have come by the scandalous misinformation upon which he relies in making his misguided application to me for compensation for his silence, or why he would have chosen to use your identity in his attempt?"
He knows, thought the Doctor despairingly. He knows! The whole situation brought back very unpleasant memories of being called before headmasters and, at an even younger age, before his grandfather, and those memories shook him out of his customary loquacity and induced him to be straightforward (or at least relatively so) regarding his own failure in the matter. It was a wise decision. "I do not know this for certain, sir, but it is possible that the author of that missive, whosoever he may be, …erm… may perhaps have encountered me when I was in my cups, quite possibly upon the very evening of my ill-fated visit to Pemberley to attend upon Mrs. Darcy. I may have been induced to share some things I had heard, including certain words spoken by your brother, Mr. Bingley, which might be interpreted in the way the author of this document seems to have interpreted them."
"Do not blame others for that interpretation, when you yourself jumped to it and doubtless communicated it to them." Darcy's voice was implacable, although inwardly he was pleased that the Doctor had apparently concluded that dissembling would not help the situation. "Whom do you suspect of having heard your words? With whom did you speak?"
"I spoke with a gentleman I did not, and do not, know, in a small parlour in this very inn, sir. I am most confounded and ashamed of having done so. The barmaid may have been in the room at the time, as she was in and out, serving us. I do not remember anyone else being around, but I am afraid I was in a state of intoxication such that my memory may well be faulty regarding the incident. I am most thoroughly abased, and most humbly crave your pardon, sir, for the …"
"You may dispense with the apologies, Mr. Rushmore," said Darcy. "Grovelling will avail you nothing. The simple truth will serve you much better. Have you breathed a word of this matter to anyone else, upon any occasion?"
"No, sir, I do not believe I have."
"You may indeed hope that such is the case, Mr. Rushmore." Again Darcy was, quite offensively, addressing the Doctor as if he were not. "I know enough to assure you that your memory, as far as it goes, is accurate in this one instance. You did indeed bandy about my name, and much more unforgiveably my wife's name, in connection with the most scurrilous and totally false speculations, in conversation with a stranger, the very night when such speculations, based upon your own angry misinterpretation of the unconsidered words of an inebriated man, first arose in your muddled mind. As a doctor you are bound by the strictest professional standards and solemn vows of discretion and secrecy, and you have violated those vows and standards most egregiously. You have cast doubt upon my son's status as heir of Pemberley, impugning my own paternity and my wife's fidelity. By God, sir, if I thought more of you, I should call you out for your behaviour. You may consider yourself fortunate, however, that I do not deem you worthy of even such a perverted honour."
Darcy's voice cracked like ice in its intensity. He paused, then continued, more calmly but still coldly, "Nevertheless, my wife, who knows the whole, has prevailed upon me to be merciful, and not to immediately ruin you outright, tempted though I am to do so. Accordingly, let me make your position very clear to you. The man who wrote that letter has been dealt with --it is no concern of yours how--, and there will be no further spreading of rumours arising from that quarter. Or if there is, I shall hold you responsible. There is no question whatsoever as to the paternity of my son; he is my and my wife's son and no one else's. If any word or suggestion to the contrary reaches my ears, wherever it comes from, I shall hold you responsible for it. Your career as a respectable physician will be over, and I will ensure that even if you attempt to flee, the knowledge of your character will follow you. I will ruin you if anyone spreads such a rumour. Is the matter entirely clear to you?"
"Exceedingly clear, sir." Dr. Rushmore was quaking in his boots.
"That is well. I hope we need never mention it again. It will be no surprise to you that we do not intend to engage your services in the future, but as long as no more is heard in this regard I shall hold back from destroying you or even speaking negatively of you to our general acquaintance. One whisper of it, however, will place your whole future in jeopardy."
Dr. Rushmore sat, head bowed, arms across his chest and held tightly to it, shivering with the extremity of his chagrin. Darcy disdainfully picked up the letters, then extracted from his pocket a snuff-box which he set in their place on the table. "You should not be so trusting of genial strangers," he advised. "I understand he also lightened your pockets of the better part of a pound. I shall not return that; perhaps its loss may help you to strive for greater circumspection in the future."
Dr. Rushmore nodded in acquiescence as his hand went out almost furtively to retrieve his property.
"I will mention one further matter as well," Darcy continued. "It would behove you as a general policy and especially in the particular case, to abstain from disparaging such as Mrs. Nadderby. She has ten times the experience you do, and is well-respected by all. To denigrate her character or question her competence, as you made so free as to do, will only lower you and not raise you in the eyes of all whose opinions are worth earning. Furthermore, if I hear of you having so spoken, I will ensure that you are sorry for having done so. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir. I shall be circumspect and respectful in my words, sir."
It was a deeply shaken and meditative physician that returned to Derby the next morning. In the ensuing years he did prove to have acquired a touch of humility and discretion in his speech that aided him in the pursuit of a respectable practice of his profession (though many still thought him a bit of a gabble-grinder). But he never would accept work within miles of Lambton, and he reacted with silence or evasion if anyone spoke to him of the gentry from that part of the country. And he never again shared his suspicions, or even his sure knowledge, of scandals touching any of his clients. He had learnt his lesson.
21 May 1814
Squire Milburn was finishing a leisurely breakfast when he was told that Dick Turpin, the apothecary, wished to see him. Tucking a toothpick between his lips, he sauntered to his office and asked that Turpin be shown in.
"Hello, Turpin," he said. "What can I do for you this May morning?"
"I thought you would be interested in this, sir," said the apothecary. He proffered a sheet of inexpensive writing paper with a short message upon it.
The Squire saw written, in a rude hand and cheap ink, the words:
TURPEN ME AN NAN FINE BUT AINT CUMIN BAK. GIV THINGS IN HOUSE TO HARY.
It was signed "G".
Squire Milburn looked sharply at Turpin, then meditatively again at the missive. "I see," he said. "How did this come into your hands, Mr. Turpin?"
"It was slid under the door to my house when I got up this morning," said Turpin. He omitted the information, which some might consider pertinent, that he himself had been the one who had written it, as well as the one who had slid it into place under the door. Upon hearing the rumors of the discoveries under the beech tree, he had perceived an opportunity to simultaneously protect Giles and Nan, and abet Giles' revenge on Harry Merton.
The Squire again considered the letter. The writing was not particularly like or unlike what he had found under the beech tree, which he was morally certain Parker had written, but of course that meant little. The use of all capital letters was different. The proper spelling of the words FINE and HOUSE stood out, and particularly the letter N in "THINGS" as compared to its absence in "Thaks". But again, it all might mean nothing. Still, was he to believe that Parker had sneaked into town last night and left this under Turpin's door? If not, who had been his envoy? Or was Turpin mixed up in it; was it in fact Turpin's own doing? It would not surprise him. He knew Turpin since years agone, and respected him, but wouldn't put much past him, if he judged it needful. Yet time and again Turpin's judgement had been vindicated in the past. The Squire decided to trust that judgement, up to a point at least.
"Tell me, Turpin, why would Giles Parker write to you in particular about this?"
"Well, sir, it is my house he is abandoning, and it would be up to me what is done with his belongings in the house."
Squire Milburn nodded slowly, accepting the force of this reasoning. "And why would he give his things to Harry in particular?"
"Well, they were friends. Who else would he give them to? He couldn't very well come back for them."
"Coals of fire?" suggested the Squire, in a soft voice. 9
Turpin swallowed, then smiled slightly. "That was my thought as well, sir," he said. "When I heard of the writing under the beech tree I thought the same. Merton has been no friend, of late, to either of the Parkers."
Not Nan either then. He'd wondered. "And you truly believe the Parkers are gone, for good and all?"
"Yes, sir. They had spoken to me of emigrating to America. I would guess that is where they are away to."
"Not much sense in pursuing them, then, is there?" asked the Squire. "Drop the 'sir', Turpin; we are friends, are we not? I just have one more thing to take up with you. Be honest with me. What do you suppose I was looking for, when I had the men sift the ground under the beech tree?"
Dick Turpin looked the Squire in the eye. "I had supposed, Si … my friend, that you were looking for a key, that Parker might have left for his friend Harry."
"I was indeed. But we did not find it. Where do you suppose such a key might be?"
"I should hope, in a safe place."
"Yes. Of course, Parker may have taken it with him. Perhaps that is what has happened. I wonder where he met up with his sister? Or, if they are for America, where they may have acquired the money for their passage? But perhaps, since they are well and gone, I need not pursue those aspects any further. Only assure me, my friend, that you do not believe that justice has miscarried, in any of what has been done in this matter?"
"On the contrary, Squire, I believe it has been served." Again Turpin looked him in the eye.
"Very well, then," said the Squire. He reached out for the letter from Giles. "I thank you for bringing this to my attention. I shall retain it as evidence in the case." He rose, and just before opening the door to his office, said, "I do not believe I need to change the lock on that cell. It shall remain secure when needful, I trust. Come again and see me one of these days, Turpin. It is a pleasure to chat with you, my friend."
The Squire steepled his fingers as he sat back behind his desk, reviewing the conversation in his mind. His predecessor had suspected that Turpin might have a key to the gaol cell, and that suspicion was now confirmed, but Turpin had been put on notice that it was not to be abused. Which of course would simply continue his pattern of many years past. But who had broken in to Pemberley and caused such a hurly-burly there? After whom had the new Mistress' father, that odd man, come chasing with men and hounds, as if after a wolf; only to huddle with Parker and Turpin, and thereafter to send the hounds on a wild-goose chase while he headed meekly back to Pemberley and, as he had opportunity, subtly discouraged any further inquiries? How and why had Parker's scent led so clearly into the Pemberley maze and ended there? What had Bennet to do with that? How had Parker escaped so neatly?
When, two days later, Squire Milburn heard of messengers coming to Pemberley from the authorities in Manchester, and then when the death of Mr. Wickham became public, the pieces fell into place in his mind. He pondered the picture, confirmed a few details with Turpin, and came to the conclusion that, as Turpin had said, justice had been served. Once Harry Merton had cooled his heels long enough to learn his lesson, and made restitution where he might, he himself need not concern himself further in the matter. The matter of the maze still puzzled him, however.
Little Lizzy, now somewhat the larger of the two Lizzies (the other not yet having entirely regained her earlier girlish shape), strolled in the garden alone. Spring was in full bloom, and the odors and sights filled her with joy. She and Andrew had come out early, and had verified that the last short passage to the centre remained blocked. They had known that George would need to come downstairs before long, so ere that time Andrew would need to return upstairs, but Corry had not yet had her fill of the outdoors, and had asked to remain without for a while.
She thought of the children, of dear, lovely, lively Annie, who had begun this whole sequence of events; of precious Matilda, in whose eyes she saw such a hungry yet reticent, almost unbelieving, response to the love she had begun to experience in Pemberley; and of sweet little Andrew, whom she had again carried in her arms for over an hour last night and whom she loved as if he were her own, even as she acknowledged that she must soon leave him to the care of Clorinda and George. And to the care of Georgiana Darcy, and of the Bingleys, and of others he had not yet met: Bennets, Gardiners and Fitzwilliams. He was a fortunate little boy, and the vast estate he would one day inherit was by no means the greatest part of his riches.
She thought of what might be happening at her own Pemberley, and offered up a prayer that all might be well. She sighed, then, with a final look at the beauty surrounding her, spread her arms wide and inhaled a final deep draught of the spring-time breath of Pemberley's gardens, and returned to the house.
She was climbing the stairs to the family quarters, nearing the topmost level, when it happened. She felt a very definite movement within her, hardly more than a twitch but clearly discernible, emanating from the centre of her body. She gasped, and then felt it a second time. Her contentment metamorphosed into pure delight. He moved! My baby is alive, and is letting me know it! She sped up the last couple of steps, and as she started down the hall, the guest bedroom door opened and Darcy came out. She sped into his arms, crying "Oh, Fitzwilliam! The most wonderful thing! He moved, Fitzwilliam! The child moved!"
His arms tightened around her, and she could feel rather than hear him laughing with her for joy at this amazing gift. She reached up on her toes to kiss him, but to her surprise, at the last second, he turned his head so that her kiss was wasted on the air next to his cheek. He then held her at a some six inches distance, gazing at her with a fond smile, his eyes endearingly crossed from their proximity. He swallowed, almost as if painfully, and then deliberately placed his own gentle kiss on her forehead, and another on her hair, before saying, "That news makes me happier than I am able to express, Mrs. Darcy. But I am sure you intended to share it first with your husband."
Pulling back in consternation and embarrassment, Corry checked, and then realized that she had difficulty and doubt remembering what was the difference in the waistcoats the two Fitzwilliams had donned today. In her excitement she certainly had not thought to observe or consider the matter. Part of her wished to flee, abashed, to the guest chamber and indeed was preparing to do so, but when she looked up from under her lashes it was into Fitzwilliam's fond and reassuring gaze, and she felt his hands squeeze hers gently. "All is well, Elizabeth," he told her. "There is no need for you to distress yourself. I am indeed very happy for you, as Andrew shall be. He is in your chamber; go to him; and then both of you come to us, so that we may share in your joy."
Andrew was indeed overjoyed, and after a short time of blissful celebration together, they went to the Mistress's chambers and shared the news with Clorinda and George. Young Master Andrew was with them, dozing at his mother's bosom, and about a quarter of an hour later Georgiana and Annie came by and joined the rejoicing, and soon Jane, and even Lydia, bringing Mattie, were there as well.
What a celebration, Andrew thought, as he eyed George, who like him had been overlooking the happy knot of women and children clustered around young Andrew and Corinna's round belly. The two men smiled at each other in complete understanding.
9A conscious misapplication (less probably a misunderstanding) of Proverbs 25.22, perhaps better known to Turpin and the Squire from its citation in Romans 12.20.
"It's open, ma'am. I thought you would like to know."
"What is open, Ellen?" But she already knew.
"The last section of the maze, ma'am."
So, then. The time had come.
Corinna (for it was she to whom Ellen had spoken) immediately went to find her husband. He was with George in the Master's sitting room. "It is open," she said. "It would seem that we should ready ourselves to return."
"We have done that for which we were brought here, I think," said her husband. "Other than returning Annie to our world."
"Ellen as well," said Corinna. "What a privilege and a pleasure it has been, though. We thank you most sincerely, Fitzwilliam!" She flicked an eyebrow at George as she curtsied to him.
"It would be simplest if we were to say our farewells here above stairs," said Andrew. "Though perhaps some of you would wish to come with us to the fountain."
In the end, George decided to go out to await them within the maze. He would signal to let them know if he had managed to arrive undetected, so that they could go openly a little later. They would make their adieux, then come with Georgiana and Anne, and with Ellen.
Accordingly, they went to Lydia's rooms, in order to inform her of their impending departure. Elizabeth was surprised at how much she, and apparently Lydia also, felt the gravity of the occasion. They knew that they were unlikely to ever see each other again. The facts that Lydia would have another Lizzy, and Corinna another Lydia, mitigated the discomfort, but the pain remained. Corinna and Andrew had decided to forego visiting the other wing of the house to take their leave of Wickham, but Andrew charged Lydia to tell him that, even though they had left, their prayers would be with him, and their expectations of his continuing to follow the new direction he was establishing for his life. Elizabeth's tears began to escape as she held Mathilda. She had not spent a great deal of time with the little girl, but she had wormed her way into her heart even so. Mattie, of course, was unable to understand the full solemnity of what was happening, but seeing her aunt in tears frightened her and made her cry as well, and then Lydia was crying too, and the two sisters were laughing at each other, and embracing each other with Mattie clasped between them.
They next entered Georgiana's rooms, to let her know that the maze had opened and they should be returning to their Pemberley. Georgiana bowed her head, and her face shaped itself into a stoic mask reminiscent of her brother's. She began to gather together the napkins and other supplies she had collected for Annie's use, while Annie herself was encouraged by her Aunt Lizzy and Aunt Lydia to say goodbye to Mattie. The two little girls looked at each other solemnly, and when prompted put their arms awkwardly around each other, but then retreated to their mothers' arms and stared wide-eyed at each other.
Jane and Bingley, somewhat surprisingly, asked to join the expedition to the maze. "We have heard so often, now, of the wonder of people disappearing from one world only to appear in the other," said Jane. "This may be the only time we can ever observe it ourselves."
"We should be glad for your presence," said Andrew, "though perhaps I should request that George stand behind you, Charles, in order to catch you when we essay the journey." Charles turned somewhat red, but laughed along with the rest.
Clorinda, when they went to her rooms, was dandling a well-fed and very contented little Andrew. This was the hardest farewell for Corinna. She held the baby to her bosom, and whispered in his ear, "'Sweet Joy I call thee …' I shall miss you, little darling. 'Sweet joy befall thee', my love!" She could hardly bear to let him go into her husband's arms.
She then turned to Clorinda and they embraced each other. "Ah, Lizzy," said Clorinda. "How I shall miss you! We have had a time, have we not? I am very glad you were brought here to help me with Andrew's birth, and to aid us through the rest of what has happened. I fear … I fear we shall not see one another soon. I have loved having myself around to laugh with."
She could not speak of their laughing together without tears falling on both their parts, and each of them took an embroidered handkerchief from her pocket, and wiped her face. "What a pair of watering-pots we are, Lizzy! Oh! I shall miss you!" laughed Corinna.
"And I you!" Clorinda replied.
Corinna turned back to Andrew and reached out once more for the baby. Andrew went towards Clorinda with his arms out, and she walked into his embrace, leaning her head against his chest and letting him kiss her hair. "I must thank you for all you have done for my Elizabeth and me, Mrs. Kenton," he said tenderly. "My life turned around the day you walked into it, and all our happiness is due to you."
"It delights me to see the two of you so happy," she replied. "I am exceedingly grateful that you were able to come and visit us." She turned back to Corinna. "Oh, Lizzy, I hope we can again cross over to see you, or that you can come again to see us. I shall miss you, Lizzy."
"Come now, Clorinda," said Andrew. "That is the third time you have expressed the same sentiment!"
"Ah," she replied, "but then you must know that what I tell you three times is true!"10
"I shall miss you, Lizzy," responded Corinna, "you and dear little Andrew especially. Indeed, I shall miss you. (Keep count, I entreat!)" She resumed her tears, even as she laughed, and turned back to the baby, murmuring to him, "I love you! I love you! I love you!"
Her husband had gone to look out the window and now reported that George had signalled an undetected arrival within the maze. Clorinda kissed and embraced Anne Elizabeth, Corinna returned little Andrew into her arms and dried her own eyes, and so they took their leave.
Ellen remained behind to speak to the mistress briefly. "Mrs. Kenton, I suppose I am to go now, although I would willingly stay. It has been a pleasure for me to see you again, madam, to serve you even for a short time, and to meet the child you were carrying when we first met."
"I thank you, Ellen," said Clorinda, "for the affection that has motivated your good service both to the other Mrs. Darcy and to me, and especially for the way you helped Mrs. Wickham in the recent crisis. We are all very grateful to you."
Ellen curtsied with moist eyes, then hurried out to join the others in the maze.
It was a solemn group that found themselves assembled at the entrance to the maze's central chamber. Corinna had just given Jane a second loving farewell when Bingley, who had been gazing in fascination at the fountain, suddenly gave out a slight "Whiff," and both Lizzy and Jane said, "Fitzwilliam, help!" The Darcy men stepped to Bingley's sides and took hold of him. He had not quite swooned, but it had adversely affected his breathing to see a young woman materialize out of nothing within the pool of the fountain. It was the other Ellen, Ellen-from-here in this world. She stepped over the low wall from the pool onto the sward, wiping her feet on a piece of dark cloth that lay on the ground at the place of her arrival, and curtseyed to Mrs. and Miss Darcy.
"Is all well, Ellen?" asked Elizabeth.
"Yes, Madam," said Ellen-from-here. "We … that is, they are ready to receive you."
Perceiving that the Mistress required nothing else of her for the moment, she turned to her counterpart, and they entered upon a conversation of quiet but swift whispers, in which little but the names Giles, Nancy and Joseph were discernible to the others.
Charles Bingley had by now recovered his equilibrium; Andrew took his leave of him and, with a bow and a kiss to the hand, of Jane. He then turned to Georgiana and reached out his arms for Annie. Reluctantly, Georgiana let her go, then curtseyed to his bow before turning away, her face twisting as she tried to avoid or at least postpone the onslaught of her tears. "What wrong, Mamma?" asked Annie, but Georgiana just shook her head and managed to smile at her, then to reach out and stroke her cheek.
Corinna, meanwhile, turned, arms open, to George, who embraced her and kissed the top of her head. "Thank you for coming to us, Elizabeth," he said, and she smiled at him, a tight-lipped smile with a bit of a grimace in it. She then embraced Georgiana for several long seconds, before turning towards her husband with a determined shake of the head and a sniff to control her own watering eyes. "Let us go, my love," she said. "Miss Capulet had it entirely wrong: parting is a most unsatisfactory endeavour, bringing neither any sweetness nor a good and solid sorrow."11
Andrew and George bowed to each other, the corner of each's mouth twitching in slight amusement at the other's solemnity. "George, you have not yet been to our side of the maze," said Andrew, still not beyond a little subtle one-upmanship. "You know that you are welcome any time it will allow you to come."
"Thank you," George replied. "My wife and I have already spoken of the matter. We shall attempt to cross over together starting in September, though of course we do not know whether we shall be let through. Your Corinna came to assist my Clorinda, and Clorinda and I hope to return the favour."
Andrew and Corinna, with Anne Elizabeth walking between them, holding a hand of each, stepped towards the fountain. At the last minute Annie twisted from their grasp and turned, holding out her arms, to cry "Mamma!" Georgiana came up to embrace her one last time, and to reassure her, albeit in a choking voice, "Go, my love; your mamma shall be waiting for you!" Darcy took Annie in his arms, and as the rest of those gathered looked towards the three Darcys, they turned their faces towards the fountain, and, quite suddenly, disappeared from sight.
This time Charles was better prepared and did not faint, which was well, for it was Jane who was well nigh overcome with the shock, and sagged against him. One of the two Ellens came and chafed her hand, while the other dipped a kerchief in the water of the fountain pond, brought it over to her and laved her temples with it. Within a few minutes she had recovered, and thanking the two Ellens for their assistance she turned with a wan smile to her husband and her friend Georgiana and her brother, saying, "Well, now we have seen it actually happening. It is indeed a disconcerting sight. Shall we return to the house, then?"
As they headed off into the passages of the maze, the two Ellens looked at each other. "You want to go back, don't you?" said Ellen-from-there. "I'm willing enough to stay. What do you think?"
"It's likely to be for good, now," said the other.
"Why don't we both go look, and see which one of us it takes. Let it decide, like it did last time."
"Well, my Lizzy, what have you been up to?" Mr. Bennet spoke as calmly as if he were at home in his bookroom and his daughter had just come in from one of her astonishingly long walks through the countryside.
"Nothing much, Papa," she answered him. Holding her husband's outstretched hand, she stepped to the sward at the center of the maze. "I hear you have been having a bit of a time here; is it not so?"
"I may go so far as to say that we have experienced a modicum of excitement," he vouchsafed. "Tedium has, at least, not been the very greatest of our difficulties." He turned to Darcy. "I am glad you are come, Son. You are better equipped than I to deal with such upsets as we have been facing. And how is this young lady doing?" He made a slight bow in the direction of Anne Elizabeth, still in her uncle's arms as she had been when they appeared within the fountain. "I understand that you have been causing heartburn to your caretakers, young miss. It is good to see you returned safely hither."
"How have matters progressed, Mr. Bennet? I understand from Ellen that … oh, yes, where is Ellen? Apparently she did not accompany us."
As if to contradict him to his face, Ellen suddenly appeared behind him within the fountain. Elizabeth smiled at her, then looked slightly startled. "Yes, my lady," she confirmed, "It is I."
"It is well. Let us return to the house," said Darcy. "My sister will doubtless be very eager to see Annie, and we can rehearse the details of the situation in comfort once we are there."
They made their way through the convolutions of the maze, and after they were all out, Darcy took care that the gate was well-latched. As they crossed the lawn and neared the family entrance, the door burst open and Georgiana came out at a run. "Mamma!" cried Anne Elizabeth, and within seconds she was wrapped, in fact all but smothered, in her mother's arms, her face and head covered with kisses. Behind Georgiana, with tentative steps and tears dropping onto her cheeks, came Grace, her face alternating between an enormous smile and hiccupping sobs.
"Oh, Lizzy! Fitzwilliam! I'm so glad you're back! When I saw you from my window, coming through the maze-gate … " Georgiana's voice was choked off as she tightly embraced her sister and brother in turn. Mr. Bennet, standing back next to Ellen, overlooked the scene with approval.
As they entered the house, Georgiana swallowed and shook her head, then turned to her brother. "I presume Ellen has brought you up to date on developments here? You know of … of the events here at Pemberley two days ago, of Padgett's errand, and the situation with the Parkers?"
"Yes, we are aware of the general outline of those occurrences, although we should willingly hear more of your perspective on the matter."
"I mention this because just before you appeared at the maze gate, Wilkins notified me that Padgett has returned. I supposed you should wish to speak with him as soon as possible."
"Indeed," said Darcy. "Let us enter the house, then. We may speak in the privacy of the library."
About a half hour later (allowing for the changing of wet clothing and footgear) all were gathered in the library, ready to be brought up to date on the recent happenings. Padgett's narration was brief. He and Mr. Bennet's coachman, he reported, had completed their main task, getting rid of their grisly cargo without discovery or hindrance. Padgett had remained in the vicinity long enough to see that the body had been found and to hear that the constable was to be summoned, before distancing himself from the scene to meet up with the carriage at a pre-arranged place and take the south road away from the town. It was still early in the morning. At Macclesfield he had descended from the carriage, leaving it to continue the long journey to Hertfordshire and Longbourn. As he was making his way back through the Peak District to Pemberley, he encountered the Singletons heading in the other direction.
"They were well, then?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"Aye," responded Padgett. "They was main happy t'be away. Said t'thank you especial, sir." He looked at Ellen, and started to say something, then stopped.
"So we are to expect a visit from the Manchester authorities, bringing us news of the decease of a person known to us all." Darcy made it a statement rather than a question.
"Aye, sir," Padgett responded. "Will that be all, sir?"
"Yes, Padgett, you may go. We thank you for your extraordinary service in this matter. It shall not be forgotten."
Elizabeth noted that Ellen turned as if to leave as well, then moved back as if to stay. "It is well, Ellen," she said softly. "You may leave if you wish." Ellen blushed slightly, but limited herself to a nod and a quick curtsy, following which she quickly abandoned the room.
Anne Elizabeth had succumbed to sleep, but Georgiana still held her in her arms. The blissful expression on her face diminished, however, and turned to one of distress as she heard her brother and sister's narrative regarding events in the other Pemberley. "Oh, Fitzwilliam! How could you even consider letting him go free? When I think of all he has done …!"
"Yes, dear heart," he answered. "But you must remember that this was not the same man who was here and has now gone to his recompense. That man, it seems, had shown himself as bad as he could be. This man, at least since he was reborn from the maze, has in several ways demonstrated a willingness to humble himself and accept responsibility for his actions, and to take into consideration the needs and feelings of others."
"Dearest Georgiana," said Elizabeth, with a smile and a sigh. "I too find myself almost aghast over what we did. And yet, at the time, and as I think it through even now, I do not see how we could have done otherwise. He may indeed not be completely reformed, but, it truly did appear that he was attempting to change. The other Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth, and even Georgiana, who have known the Wickham of that world as I never knew the Wickham of this world, who knew well his deceitful ways, were also convinced that we must give him the opportunity to make good upon his professed repentance. They will keep watch, and insofar as possible limit the damage he is able to do, should he ever again turn to evil."
But it was difficult to console her. At last she closed her eyes and hugged her daughter tightly, nodding her head in acquiescence. Elizabeth came to her side and embraced her, then, after a minute or so, turned to her father, saying, "Well, Papa, from all I hear you have been quite the embodiment of 'derrynge-do', and I must say you have dressed the part. I do not believe I have ever seen you so nattily attired."
"Ah, yes!" laughed Mr. Bennet. "Enderby has adopted the improvement of my elegance as a project fit to engage his highest powers. Even I must admit that the clothing wherein I was garbed during the most energetic parts of our adventures had suffered somewhat from the process, but he apparently also deems the rest of the clothing I brought with me to be unworthy of my eminence. At this point I doubt whether any of my own clothing remains unaltered, and I am afraid, Son, that some of your own wardrobe has been sacrificed upon the altar of my fashionability. The alterations necessitated to adapt your size to mine must have been considerable."
They laughed together. "I am certain, sir, that Enderby enjoyed meeting the challenge," Darcy said. "The two of you together, along with Wilkins and Padgett and the ladies, have certainly experienced the adventure of a lifetime."
"It is certainly my hope," said Mr. Bennet with a shudder, "that no further such experiences of that sort await me. Yes, indeed, it was enough for a lifetime. And yet … it was all accomplished with extraordinarily little effort on my part."
"Do not believe him, Elizabeth! He did much more than he will admit to, and I for one am more grateful than I know how to express." Georgiana's voice was quiet, but conveyed the full conviction of her heart.
"Nay, Papa, did you not free yourself and Wilkins, and Enderby, and then, armed with nought but billiard balls and cues, and your own intrepidity, attack a desperate man?"
"Oh, no, we had a poker as well! And do not underestimate billiard balls and cues!"
"What ever would we ladies have done if you had not done all of that, Mr. Bennet? And then pursued him, and arranged for … for the disposition of … of the situation afterwards, and meeting with the Squire, and arranging matters for the Parkers? If nothing else, it greatly calmed my heart, from the very first, simply to know I could go to you for counsel and help."
"In all seriousness, Mr. Bennet," said Darcy, "We have been amazed by what we heard of your exploits, and are exceedingly grateful for your guiding hand in the adventures you have all suffered."
"You have, it seems to me, through the workings of Providence, managed to help right the moral balance of things," said Elizabeth. "You have helped the Darcy family in this universe as Darcy helped our family in the other."
"I can indeed only suppose that Providence brought me to be here at this time," Darcy's father-in-law answered. "Believe me that I am as surprised as anyone, and quite humbled, that I seem to have been able to be of help. Perhaps a little of your decisiveness has rubbed off on me, Son, to counteract my customary sloth in some degree. The news that Padgett has brought is very reassuring: the one matter that still gave me concern seems to be well on the way to a final resolution. Especially now that you are here to deal with the Mancunian constabulary when they appear --not to mention Squire Milburn, who will want to know that you have returned--, all seems to be under control. I find myself quite ready to revert to my wonted indolence, sitting quietly in this lovely room and resisting any temptations to step through yonder window in search of fresh air unless I have a footman or two to attend me."
"Providence indeed brought you to us, Mr. Bennet," said Georgiana Wickham, giving another tight clasp to her sleeping child, and murmuring, "and brought my family back to me."
"Georgiana, my dear, look who has come to visit you!"
Georgiana looked up with a tight smile from where she sat, on a bench at the edge of the north west lawn of Pemberley. Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam were approaching her, and the bundle in Elizabeth's arms could be nothing other than young Andrew. Georgiana's smile became more genuine as she tenderly received her nephew from his mother's arms.
"It is his first experience of the great outdoors, is it not?" asked Georgiana.
"It is," replied Elizabeth. "We saw you down here on this lovely day and decided to join you and let him feel the sunshine and the warm air."
You saw me here mourning my Annie, thought Georgiana, and with your typical empathy and tact chose this way to help me in my sorrow. She buried her face in the blankets, rubbing her cheek against the softness of the baby's face, then holding him in front of her. He blinked in the unaccustomed light, then fixed his eyes on hers for a few seconds before turning them elsewhere. She laid her index finger within his open palm, and felt the tiny fingers tighten around it. She could not help but smile.
Later that evening Georgiana derived similar consolation from a visit with her sister to Lydia Wickham's rooms. Mathilda grew restive if she tried to hold her for more than a few moments, but she was able to talk, and her un-selfconscious prattle, in which she referred more than once to her friend Annie, was soothing to Georgiana. Georgiana knew the child’s memories would quickly fade, but there was still a measure of comfort to be found in them.
She also received comfort from her music, enjoying many hours of surcease under the ministrations of Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart, and the newer, more turbulent compositions of Beethoven. But at night, for many nights thereafter, as she lay in her bed, piercingly aware of Annie's absence from the truckle-bed beside her, she could only weep. She knew Annie was well, and there was joy in that knowledge, but it could not remove the pain arising from the clear-sighted apprehension that she would, most probably, never have her at her side or in her arms again as she had had her these past days. Like King David in his chamber over the gate, her heart cried "Oh, Annie, my daughter! My love!"12 It was an ache that would not be filled.
10It is a little-known fact of literary history that the Bellman (from whom, of course, Lewis Carroll learned the phrase) had picked this saying up from the Barrister, who had been much struck upon hearing it from the lips of one of his professors, a close friend of a Darcy grandson.
11Romeo and Juliet II.2 "Parting is such sweet sorrow / That I shall say good night till it be morrow."
122 Samuel 18.33.
1814 was an outstanding year for the Bennet family, and particularly for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who became grandparents four times over.
Charles and Jane Bingley's son, Edward Charles Thomas, and John and Catherine Haverford's daughter Sarah Elizabeth, were both born in April of that year, amid great rejoicing.
Elizabeth Darcy was brought to childbed on the 15th of October, 1814. An eminent gynaeatrician, Dr. Smithson, had been brought from London to Derbyshire in case there should be problems with the birth, but he was only called for an examination beforehand and then told that he would be summoned should anything unexpected or untoward occur, and left in the Pemberley library with Messrs. Thomas Bennet and Charles Bingley. He thought it odd that Mrs. Darcy should prefer to be attended only by family, the Pemberley housekeeper and the local midwife, besides, of course, her abigail; but he had learned many years before to tolerate the eccentricities of the rich and well-connected. Furthermore he was convinced of Mrs. Nadderby's competence, and was quite willing to enjoy the library and the port therein contained, along with Mr. Bennet's acerbic witticisms, especially since he knew that his considerable fees and expenses would be paid in any case. He did not realize at that point that Mr. Darcy intended to remain with his wife throughout the process, but Darcy had in fact determined to do so, and with characteristic firmness carried through on his resolution despite being roundly informed, by Mrs. Nadderby, that his presence at the birthing was about as necessary as that of a cow in the dining parlour. He did leave the room twice during the process, however, each time heading outdoors to the north west lawn where lay the opening of the great maze, but each time he returned within but a few minutes, responding to his wife's enquiring glance with a slight shake of the head. With considerable aplomb (though of course not without due labour and a degree of attendant irascibility), and within a surprisingly short period of time, Mrs. Darcy gave birth to a daughter whom she and her husband named Clorinda Jane. Their niece, Anne Wickham, however, called her cousin "Andry" from the first time she saw her, and before Clorinda was a year old she would answer to that name as well.
To round out the year with what Mr. Bennet, raising in celebration an overflowing mug of good ale, termed a "bumper crop" of grandchildren, Lydia Larch produced a daughter, Frances Catherine, two weeks before Christmas.
The only untoward event of the year, from Fanny Bennet's perspective, was the purchase of an estate in Staffordshire, within easy driving distance of the Darcys' Derbyshire estate, by the Bingleys, and their removal thither that autumn. The family that eventually took up the lease of Netherfield consisted of a middle-aged gentleman and his wife: although they were possessed of two sons, the young men were unfortunately no longer living with their parents and thus unlikely to be susceptible to Mrs. Bennet's formidable match-making skills. Although her own daughters were all well-settled, she would gladly have added to her admirable string of successes by assisting Mrs. Lucas and Mrs. Long in finding matches for their as-yet-unmarried daughters.
Mary Collins' son Bennet James was not born until nearly two years later, but with his birth the succession to the ownership of Longbourn was established for another generation.
Mr. Bennet's surprise journey to Derbyshire in the month of May 1814 was but the first of many; from that time forward he spent half or more of his time away from Longbourn. Usually he was to be found in the library at Pemberley, though he also periodically visited the Bingley estate for a week or so at a time. There always subsisted between him and Georgiana Wickham a most cordial affection; he indeed viewed her almost as another daughter, and loved Anne Elizabeth as much as his own grandchildren, often saying that her and little Clorinda's liveliness reminded him of his Lizzy at their respective ages. Mrs. Bennet, when she accompanied him, was always amazed at the deference with which he was received by the Pemberley staff.
With Mr. Bennet so often from home, Mr. and Mrs. Collins were invited to take up residence at Longbourn, which of course had a further encouraging effect upon the frequency and duration of the aforementioned absences. Mr. Collins was instructed in the duties of the Master, and began in some degree to actually perform them. At the request of Mrs. Collins, her brother Darcy recommended a capable young man to function as steward for the estate, and between his and Mrs. Collins' efforts Longourn began to produce an income commensurate with the extent and richness of its fields.
Thus the extended family of the Bennets lived in peace and great joy for many years.
James and Mary Singleton, while yet on the ship sailing to America, resumed their first names and their fraternal relationship. Although Giles Singleton retained the new patronymic permanently, Nancy exchanged it for Toliver not long after they arrived in Tennessee. Back in Lambton, Squire Milburn and Dick Turpin raised a glass together in celebration of the news. They were not notified of Giles' wedding some six months later, because by then he was on the far frontier in the Missouri territory. There he found a fine woman of mixed English, French and Choctaw descent, and they and eventually their numerous descendants became prominent citizens in a new settlement there.
As Ellen Padgett was repeatedly heard to say, without making overt reference to the particular events she had in mind, it was an ill wind that blew nobody any good.
The widow Wickham remained at home in Pemberley with her daughter Anne, her brother and sister, and a growing brood of nephews and nieces. By the time ten years had passed from the events of this story, Clorinda had been joined by William, George, Roger and Anne. The Bingleys of Bellwood Manor also had increased their covey to four.
17-18 June 1815
George Wickham sat by a campfire in a small wood in the Belgian countryside, a few miles south of Brussels. The ground sloped southward towards the distant bivouac of the French troops. If rumour was to be believed, tomorrow they would go up against Boney himself. If the more extravagant rumours were believed, this would be the battle of the epoch, the culmination of all the decades of struggle to restrain the ambitions of the bantam Emperor.
Wickham had a healthy fear of the man. It was uncanny --preternatural, almost-- how such a thoroughly defeated, penniless exile could escape his prison and within a matter of days so resurrect the myths of his invincibility and his destiny as the restorer of all things French and glorious as to raise up, as if from nowhere, such a large, well-equipped and well-trained, fiercely determined and fanatically loyal army as they now faced. Only yesterday, Wickham had experienced the weight of their ferocity at first hand, at the battle of the Crossroads (which was all that 'Quatre-Bras' meant in plain English.) Along with the rest of Picton's 5th Division, his company had been ordered up in support of the beleaguered Dutchmen who were trying to hold the position against the sharply increasing attacks of Ney's Armee du Nord. Almost immediately they were called upon to stop a French advance to the east of the road, and they bore the brunt of repeated French attacks for some time thereafter. He was surprised how the fierce and deadly energy of the attacking Frogs aroused within him a similarly fierce determination to resist them at any cost. He and his men, despite heavy casualties, had given good account of themselves, he believed. In fact, he was told, Wellington himself, having arrived to take up command of the Allied troops, had ridden past and had expressed, to one of his aides-de-camp, his satisfaction with the performance of the troops in this sector. Wickham had not heard it himself, for he was one of the casualties; he had taken a bullet in his left hip.
A rough but competent surgeon dug out the bullet and patched up and bandaged the wound. It was an ugly gash about four inches long, now held together by a half-dozen stitches. And Wickham still had in him enough of that obstinate, battle-induced determination to oppose the Corsican Monster by any and every means, that he persuaded the surgeon to list him as fit for duty.
Now the wound was again causing him pain. For some reason, it felt slightly better when he sat up, hence his posture when most of those around him had taken to their beds. His hands were wrapped around a rapidly cooling cup of unpleasingly weak tea, but he was grateful for it anyway. His mind was not occupied with the condition and disposition of the Allied troops, nor even with the French ones; all such issues were beyond his competency and, fortunately, his responsibility as well. His duties were simple enough: to avoid recklessly or unnecessarily exposing his person (which of course he would in any case) or his men, to danger. To follow orders, even at the cost of life. To encourage and motivate his men to stoutly resist attack, or to carry out orders to attack, with all possible diligence and resolution. To kill as many of the enemy as one could; to inflict damage on them in any way possible. He felt, or at least hoped, he was ready to carry out those duties on the morrow.
Rather his mind was reaching back over the past thirteen months, reflecting on his life since his rebirth from within the maze.
He had left Pemberley, with Lydia and Mathilda, filled with an almost overwhelming sense of optimism. The approval of one's conscience is a heady draught. But even before their arrival at Newcastle, he had entered upon a period of constant struggle. He (or at least a part of him) still wished and intended to do what was right, but another part of him could hardly wait to abandon such a ridiculous aspiration, and simply relax into the old habits and practices of his former lives.
He tried to tally up in his mind a list of his successes and defeats in the struggle. Of course, which were which depended on which side he was on, to which of his two selves he was currently yielding the control of his mind. There were many things that he had denied himself during the past year, things that he had wanted, even wanted badly. But there had been lapses, sometimes serious lapses.
He had slept with two women other than his wife. Somewhat naturally, in the circumstances, these were unusually attractive females, and unusually eager to occupy his bed. But there had been any number of occasions when, with very little effort, he could have availed himself of other feminine company, but refrained. To much of himself the "lapses" seemed but the merest common-sense, and the lack of any gratification on the other occasions seemed but a great waste. To a surprising extent he felt no pleasure in remembering the liaisons themselves, though he knew he could easily enough recall specific details from them in order to fuel fantasies of future conquests. Rather the predominant feeling was one of resentment over the lost opportunities.
To the other side of him, however, those lapses into adultery were the source of pain, self-loathing and disgust, and the occasions when he had resisted temptation brought a degree of robust, though very humble, satisfaction. There was greater pleasure (for this side of him) in resisting the strong sucking undertow than there was in allowing oneself to be swept out to sea, nearly to be drowned.
Yet there remained that constant pull. Even now his mind wanted to veer off and revel in titillating memories of women after whom he had lusted, a good many of whom he had enjoyed, in his time. With a disgusted grunt he wrenched his thoughts away from them. Tomorrow he faced death: this was no time for such folly.
Very well, then, he remained a lecher, notwithstanding the fact that a part of him now hated his lechery and sometimes kept him from acting on it. He also knew himself to still be a covetous man, and, as occasion presented itself, a thief. Three times he had been unable to resist … no, that was denying his responsibility … he had failed to resist the temptation to relieve careless fellow-soldiers or travellers of certain valuable items. On the first of these occasions he had surreptitiously returned the stolen item to the possession of the friend from whom he had stolen it; another time he had found himself obliged to not only return it, but, most humiliatingly, to confess having taken it; the third time he had kept the item, the opportunity for returning it having passed, but he never used it.
An oath followed by a dying murmur arose from a group huddled beside a neighboring fire, and he caught the flash of a bottle raised in the firelight. Wickham rejoiced that he had resisted his predilection for gambling more successfully. It helped that he had little or nothing with which to indulge the habit; Darcy and Bingley had arranged for Lydia to hold the family purse-strings. It also helped that the remembrance of gambling sessions brought even less direct pleasure than did the remembrance of amorous exploits. But the pull was still there. And the drink, well, he had succumbed to its allure several times before he was ready to admit that he had not the self-control to drink in moderation, and that it was best for him to simply abstain. The mockery of his fellow officers, the jeering allusions to him as "St. George," of course did not help. But on at least some of the half-dozen occasions when he had indulged himself to the point of drunkenness, he had hurt Lydia, on one occasion with a fist as well as with his words. How he had hated to see there rise again in her eyes the fear which he had with such diligence endeavoured to dispel.
He turned his attention to the most difficult (and perhaps the most basic) issue of all: restraining that facile tongue of his, that it speak only the truth. Darcy had spoken to him alone, before he left Pemberley that first time, congratulated him on how he had faced up to the truth, and counselled him to continue to do so, warning that if he allowed himself to return to shading the truth and warping it to his own advantage, he would inevitably fall again into self-delusion, removing all defence against the recrudescence of his other vices. He had taken that advice to heart, and had struggled to follow it. But with the habit so deeply ingrained he failed constantly. One talked, after all, so much more often than one had occasions to fall into the other kinds of misbehaviour. Yet he had developed enough distaste for his own deceitfulness that he quickly felt remorse after indulging it, often in time to remedy the situation and set the record straight. And he tried conscientiously to speak the truth instead.
He had experienced a most unexpected benefit from these efforts at sincerity. He noticed it most with positive comments. Previously, whenever he said something complimentary of someone he had in mind some advantage he might gain by so doing. Now, while he might express similarly admirative words, he was more likely to do so with the consciousness of the truth of what he was saying. Thus, for instance, his occasional compliments to Lydia on her appearance were (at least sometimes) no longer flattery, and the result was that they actually enhanced his appreciation. For she was indeed, he was finally realizing, still a handsome and (at times) a pleasant woman, and she was his. No longer his in that he had control over her or could cause her to think what he liked, but in that she had committed herself to his care and in that, quite independently from his machinations, was admirable in his eyes and could bring delight to him if he would let her. He had not been aware of how his disrespectful and mindless will to manipulate the truth had amputated his own true response towards the things and people he was lying about.
Yet, he still failed in this regard much more than he wished. He was still a liar. And there were so many other things, so much else that he was ashamed of. He indeed had much to answer for.
He decided to stop enumerating negatives --he did not feel in any great danger of forgetting his failures, and to continue telling them over was simply too discouraging.
What could he place on the other side of the ledger, to oppose (for they could never erase) all these negatives? If nothing else, he had tried to restrain his proclivities towards wickedness; he could at least be glad for the evil he had not done. He remembered Darcy, reciting the litany of harm that his other self had inflicted at the other Pemberley, and how his heart had joined with the others' in revulsion and rejection of those actions and of the man who had done them. At least he had kept (or had been kept) from such villainy. He was still subject to vicious propensities, but the difference between the impulse to vice and the actual commission of it, was great.
But it was not just the absence of harm to others--he had learned to some small extent to actually seek their good. He had been a much better husband to Lydia during the past year. He had supported her through the stillbirth of her son, actually participating in her grief and thus helping her bear it (while restraining the unholy tendency to feel only relief at the child's death). The feeling of rightness in thus having cared for one who was rightly dependent on him for such care was new and pleasurable to him; he had experienced it but rarely if at all in his previous lives. In this and other ways he had acted in a loving manner towards Lydia, and to his surprise one result had been that he had begun, at least occasionally, to feel loving towards her as well. Another result had been a surprisingly generous and sincere response from her. They were far from an ideal married couple --they both, and he especially, were appallingly selfish and inconsiderate at times--, yet their marriage had been at the best point of its lifespan, at the time when his regiment had shipped out for the Continent.
And little Matilda --how he had learned to love her. It had begun as a simple desire to cease to be the bogey-man, which grew into a desire to be a true father to her. He was very grateful that at the times when he had fallen into drunkenness, he had retained enough sense to want to be sure that he did not frighten Matty again, and Lydia, bless her, had helped shield her from him. Matty's responses of shy, clinging, but eventually warm and even happy affection, were very precious to him.
It occurred to him that these good attitudes did not elicit even from his bad side the disgust and horror that his evil proclivities did from his good side. At most his evil thoughts tried to convince him that such things as loving Lydia and Matty were insipid and unimportant, but he knew better than that. He wondered briefly if this was the basis of the difference between good actions and evil ones, or at least if this was the way that good and evil became most readily apparent to us confused mortals: evil disgusts the good part, whereas even the evil part cannot so thoroughly reject the good. But the thought was too philosophical to retain, and he returned to his earlier meditations.
Twice they had been invited as a family to Pemberley and to the Bingleys' estate, Bellwood Manor. How much easier he found it to be faithful to his new ideals of goodness when in the presence of the Darcys and (for somewhat different reasons) the Bingleys. What a pleasure it was to be accepted by them, and by the Bennets, whom he had also hurt so much in his former life. But the memories also brought the chagrin of Georgiana Darcy's aversion to his presence. Both times she had arranged to be elsewhere when he and Lydia visited, despite her friendship by correspondence with Lydia and her affection for Matty. On the last occasion she had forgone Christmas at Pemberley; he was under no illusion that it was the presence of the Bennets or of the Gardiners that caused her to betake herself elsewhere. It was painful to realize that one's very existence was noxious to another, especially to someone so fine as Georgiana Darcy. He would give a great deal to be able to undo the actions of his past life that prompted such revulsion in her, but he knew there was no way to do so. He had done those things, and this was the consequence.
He was a better soldier, even a good soldier, now, and there was satisfaction to be found in that. Part of the change was simply ceasing to slack off and avoid his duties at every opportunity. However, he had stirred up within himself a positive determination to learn the skills an infantryman needed, and he had faithfully drilled them into his men. It had saved the lives of many of them yesterday, he believed, and if battle was indeed joined tomorrow, might well do so again. This was another new pleasure, to have done well a job that it was his duty to do. Again, he felt disgust for all the past years of sloth, and even his worse self could not find any pleasure in the memory of them, or destroy his satisfaction in his more recent pattern of fulfilling his responsibilities.
There were other good things, quite a few of them, in fact. True, they sometimes seemed to add up to pitifully little, but there was encouragement to be had in them.
On that dreadful day, so long ago now, Darcy had asked him who he was. He still did not know the answer to that question, and indeed his previous answer still held considerable validity. He wished he could answer that he was now a good man, but he knew that, if he were to be honest (which of course was such a central part of actually being, rather than just pretending to be, a good man), he could make no such claim. Yet he was different, changed from what he had been. There was much in him that still warranted disgust and self-loathing, and much that warranted disappointment and self-correction; yet also much for which he was grateful. He thought he could now say, albeit with diffidence, that he had least sometimes wanted to love and follow what was good; he had tried to be a good man, however far he had fallen short of it.
He lowered his head and closed his eyes in what had become a near-nightly practice: after reviewing what had transpired during the day, particularly including his own actions and inactions, he would petition Heaven for help. He asked pardon for his failures and strength to continue the struggle. This day he asked particularly for courage, for himself and his men, for the morrow. His mind and his fate were fixed: he would face the enemy as a man and as a soldier, and, God willing, acquit himself well.
He crept into the tent, found his bedroll and lay down in it, resting on his right side and laying his head on his rude pillow. Soon he had closed his eyes. As usual, dark, enticing images began to float to the surface of his mind, and for very weariness he fondled some of them for long seconds, holding in abeyance the disgust he knew they would also engender. In the end that same weariness helped him to drop off to sleep. Despite heavy rains that fell at times during the night, he slept soundly.
At 9.00 hours the next morning, they were ordered to move to dead ground on the reverse slope of the ridge, there to lie prone and await further orders. About noon the French artillery began a terrible cannonade, and by chance (for the French could not see them to aim at them) many of Picton's prostrate infantrymen were bound to be hit. By very good fortune, none of Wickham's men were among them.
About 13.30 came the order for immediate readiness, signalling that the French had begun to advance, and finally the command to stand and face the enemy. They swarmed back across the road that marked the crest of the ridge and there, on the very ground where they had slept the night before, found themselves locked in fierce, close-range battle with the infantry of D'Erlon's I Corps. Outnumbered, they fought furiously to hold their ground, and Wickham was seized again with that same resolute ferocity he had experienced at Quatre-Bras. He knew his wound had broken open and was bleeding, but he paid it no heed. He saw his general fall, not a hundred yards away, but of course there was naught he could do about it; so he turned back to the fray with renewed zeal. Even without him, Picton's line held, halting the French advance, but many had fallen, and the issue was still very much in doubt.
Wickham was vaguely aware of a commotion to his right, but never realized that it was the first rumour of the gallant charge of Uxbridge's cavalry, which at great cost was at least to ensure the defeat of this first probing attack by D'Erlon. He was rallying his troops to stand against yet another wave of attackers when he caught a bullet in his right lung, and fell.
He knew nothing for some time. Then he was awake again, unconscious of the time, but aware that the battle had moved elsewhere. Racked with pain and overcome with a terrible thirst, he could not so much as raise his head from the ground. His lips bubbled as they repeated, over and over, the words, "Have mercy on me! Oh, have mercy. Have mercy." Then the battlefield faded from before his open eyes, and all thought flew away.
In November of 1814, Lydia Wickham was delivered of a stillborn son. In the spring of 1815, as the world was turned topsy-turvy by the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba, her suspicions that she was again enceinte were proven correct. After her husband went, as did so many others, to an unsung hero's death at Waterloo, she packed up her household in Newcastle and travelled to Pemberley. There she remained, sincerely mourning, until some time after the birth of her second son, who ensured that the name of Wickham did not die out during least one more generation.
The pension from the King for a lieutenant's relict was not sufficient to live on, but her brothers augmented her income to approximate what she and her husband had received while in Newcastle. They helped her settle in a small cottage in Cheshire, near Wilmslow, a situation much like that which Darcy had offered her during her brief estrangement from her husband. She was able to visit her sisters, and Mattie and young George Wickham their cousins at Bellwood and Pemberley, often enough to enliven and enrich their lives; yet the distance was such that the Bingleys and Darcys were not constantly entertaining them. Lydia had retained a goodly measure of her youthful looks, and her spirits, though tempered more than formerly, remained lively. It was not surprising, therefore, when some six years into her widowhood she attracted the eye of a well-to-do businessman from Stockport, whom she married the following year, providing a stable home for her children, and a surprising degree of happiness for herself, her husband and the three children with whom she provided him.
As Ellen Padgett was repeatedly heard to say, without making overt reference to the particular events she had in mind, it was an ill wind that blew nobody any good.
In the fall of 1814 the Darcys had invited the Bingleys to Pemberley, and having made preparations for Pemberley to run smoothly in their absence, had visited the maze repeatedly during the months of September and October, with young Andrew in their arms. But although the fountain burbled softly and the water scintillated in the sunshine, they were invariably still in their own Pemberley when they returned to the house.
The following spring they briefly visited London, seeing their Gardiner and Fitzwilliam relatives, and participating in some of the events of the Season. It was at that time that they sought out and befriended a young Londoner named John Haverford, and Mrs. Darcy's sister Catherine, who was visiting them at the time, caught his eye, and in time his heart. They married and eventually settled in Southampton, where John was involved in a shipping venture, and raised their three children there. They would usually travel to London at least once a year, when the Darcys were there, and see them and the Gardiners and whoever else could be there at that time.
Mary Bennet never married, but lived at Longbourne with her parents for the remainder of their years.
The Bingleys raised their five children in peace and harmony at Bellwood Manor, although they were so often with their four Darcy cousins, Andrew, Roger, Corinna and Anne, either at Bellwood or at Pemberley itself, that they all felt more like brothers and sisters than like cousins.
Mr. Bennet, as well, continued his frequent travels to the Midlands, occasionally bringing Mrs. Bennet and Mary with him. He passed the majority of his time at Pemberley rather than Bellwood because of the indisputable excellence not only of the library there but of the port served in it. A surprising friendship developed between him and Georgiana Darcy, who remained with her brother and sister for many years, and who had heard from Ellen Padgett of Mr. Bennet's exploits on behalf of Georgiana Wickham at the other Pemberley.
So the sisters who formerly bore the name of Bennet, together with their families, lived in peace and prosperity for many years.The End