Posted on: 2012-02-10
1. Mr. Collins
"Cousin Elizabeth," puffed Mr. Collins as they were returning from Meryton, "I would like to assure you of what a great honor it is for me to escort all my fair cousins in this way; I am sure that you must all be glad of some manly protection as you tread through these deserted paths, and, if I may say so, I hope that I may be soon in a position to render such similar service to you on a most regular basis, for as my gracious patroness often says, a delicately bred female cannot be too gently handled or too closely guarded by those who--"
"Oh look, Lizzy," said Lydia. "A rabbit."
Elizabeth spotted the rabbit immediately and, without a blink, removed a sizeable pistol from the covered basket over her arm, and shot it. The rabbit's squeal had not died out of the air before she was bending over it. "Good eye, Lyddie," she said as she tucked the now lifeless body into her basket with the pistol. "You know how much Papa loves rabbit."
Elizabeth was never troubled by Mr. Collins's attentions again.
2. Mr. Wickham
"Old Mr. Darcy loved me the best," (went Wickham's story), "and Darcy could not forgive me. You see, he prides himself a great deal on his personal accomplishments, not the least of which is that he believes himself an extremely good shot."
"Really?" asked Elizabeth, wondering where this would lead.
"Oh, yes. I know it may not seem much to a gently bred female such as yourself--in fact, to any man of sense it would be a matter less than nothing--but Darcy's pride cannot tolerate being second to anyone, especially in this, because his father was renowned for his marksmanship himself and he wished to be like him, and to win his favor back to himself."
"Are you saying, then, that you proved a better marksman than he?"
"Indeed I did," he admitted modestly. "Oh, Darcy spread word of his own abilities and always claimed the superiority, but when it came to actual shooting, I could always beat him, usually quite handily. Old Mr. Darcy knew this, and his affection and real pride led him to regard me as another son. Darcy and I had quite a public match of it one time at Pemberley, and he never forgave me for beating him." He leaned closer. "He is not a very graceful loser, I'm afraid."
"You shock me, Mr. Wickham."
"I have often wondered how my life would have been different if I had pretended to lose to him. Perhaps then he would not have hated me enough to deny me that living. It was his revenge, I believe, for what he saw as his public humiliation. He simply could not bear that think that he, the heir, had been beaten by the steward's son."
Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth had not found his account entirely credible. As much as she would have wished to believe Mr. Darcy capable of all manner of villainy, his behavior upon experiencing a much more ignoble recent defeat had been all that was calm and accepting, if not pleased. When once the ball had passed and she saw in what gentlemanly manner he handled his night of dancing horrors, she doubted even more.
The Irresistible Opportunity arrived a few weeks later. On an unseasonably warm afternoon a large group of young people had gathered on Longbourn's back lawn. Mr. Wickham was waxing eloquent on the harm that Darcy had done him, telling the story of his spectacular win during the shooting contest in affecting terms. He had a pistol strapped to his side, and his hand rested suggestively on the handle as he spoke.
"Mr. Wickham," said Elizabeth sweetly, in her best Caroline Bingley imitation. "After hearing you speak so much on the subject I can't help but feel a wish to see you demonstrate your shooting prowess. Won't you show us what you can do?"
Those of the present group that remembered young Lizzy Bennet's penchant for sharp shooting strove to hide snickers. Wickham preened under the praise, but seemed a little taken aback at the request. "I should be delighted, but--you don't mean now, surely?"
"Why not? We are outside, it is a beautiful day. Just one or two shots."
"Well…" he drew his hand back from the gun. "This pistol is not actually loaded, you know."
"Thank heaven for that," muttered someone from further back.
"That is no obstacle, I am sure. I will simply ask Papa to loan you one of his."
"Well, I…" he swallowed. "I would not wish to be a bother to Mr. Bennet. I know he does not like to be troubled."
"This will not trouble him. How should it? He need not come watch if he doesn't wish it, although I rather think he will. He enjoys watching others shoot very much."
There was nothing much he could say after that, so Elizabeth went back to the house to fetch a pistol and her father, who came chuckling. In short order Wickham found himself aiming at a tree about ten yards away, to which a bit of paper had been fixed. The whole crowd of young people, including Lydia, gathered around to watch. Most of them knew very well that Mr. Bennet and his daughter were both excellent shots themselves, but by one of those conspiracies of silence which sometimes spring up among friends, none of them said anything, just waited to see if this young gallant would prove himself.
Wickham's vanity was pleased by the attention, and he really was a moderately good shot, good enough he thought he could get away with appearing a truly fine shot before this country lot. He nicked the paper--only just--on his first shot, and the group applauded politely. When Mr. Bennet suggested another, further tree as a target, though, he hemmed a bit before beginning a speech about how the inaccuracy of current firearms would not allow for accuracy at any greater difference.
"Really, Mr. Wickham? You surprise me," said Elizabeth. "As a matter of fact, I saw Mr. Darcy shoot while I stayed at Netherfield to nurse Jane. He hit targets that were twice that distance."
He flushed. "With a rifle, perhaps," he answered quickly. "They are more accurate than pistols. And perhaps the day was stiller than this one is--or perhaps he has improved in the years since I knew him. It would certainly be like him to dedicate his life to improving his performance, after losing to me that one time."
"Well, my word, Mr. Wickham," spoke up Mr. Bennet, who was enjoying himself hugely. "You call this marksmanship? I bet even my little Lizzy could shoot further than that." Many grins among the crowds, quickly suppressed.
"I think you are mistaken sir," said Wickham, who was beginning to turn an angry red. "I am as fine a shot as there is in this militia regiment, aren't I?" He appealed to the other officers present, who agreed in a good natured fashion.
"And you don't believe someone like, say, myself could do any better?" asked Elizabeth.
"With all due respect, Miss Bennet, perhaps you are unaware of how much skill it takes to shoot a target from fifteen paces. Most men would struggle to hit the tree at all."
"Most men, perhaps," she agreed. "But I would have thought that a truly fine shot could have hit--oh, say that last, large leaf dangling from the branch of the elm there."
Wickham squinted and searched for a while before he identified which leaf she was talking about. "Absurd!" he declared. "No marksman in England could hit that leaf! I would stake my commission on it!"
"Are you saying, sir," drawled Mr. Bennet, "that you would actually place a wager on there not being one person among us today who could shoot that leaf down?"
An avaricious gleam appeared in Wickham's eyes. "I might consider a wager if one was offered. Are you a betting man, Mr. Bennet?"
"Not ordinarily, but in this case I might make an exception."
"Are you…" he looked at him consideringly. "Are you a marksman yourself?"
"Oh, I shall not shoot, if that concerns you. In fact, I will let you exclude from consideration any person whose shooting your fear. You tell me who you do not wish to shoot, and I will chose from the remaining candidates."
Wickham could hardly believe his luck, or the stupidity of this old man. "What stakes?"
"Any you wish to name, my dear sir."
He did some rapid mental calculations. "Fifty pounds."
There were some gasps in the group at this enormously high sum. Most wouldn't have imagined setting a bet beyond five pounds at the very most, especially in this casual setting. But Mr. Bennet seemed unphased. "I believe I could manage that."
Wickham was smart enough to realize that there could possibly be some unknown marksman in the group around them, so he rapidly named off not only the other officers, but every local man who seemed at all likely to know how to shoot beyond what it took to direct a scattering of buckshot in the general direction of a flock of birds. As his list grew more eyebrows rose; it was generally felt that he was being unsportsmanlike.
But even Wickham realized that he could not actually name every man present, and stopped eventually. "Well, Mr. Bennet?" he said challengingly, when he was at last finished.
Mr. Bennet gestured to the footman who had reloaded the pistol for them. Taking the gun, he immediately presented it to his second daughter. "There you are, Lizzy."
Elizabeth took the pistol, casually cocked it, and fired. The leaf disappeared.
An initial wave of laughter and applause disappeared as Wickham rounded on them, his face twisting in ugly fury. "Why you little--you set me up!" He took a rapid step towards her and raised his hand almost as if he was going to strike. Just in time, two of his fellow officers caught his arms. "You both set me up!"
"Now, now, Mr. Wickham," said Mr. Bennet sternly, "it perhaps was not so very fair of us, but you should learn not to bet so extravagantly on an unknown quantity. I shan't claim my money, if that's what worries you so."
He cursed at him. "You're right you won't claim it! I wouldn't pay that bet for--" it was at this point that he became aware of the shocked and disapproving eyes of the crowd on him, and made an effort to restrain himself. "Miss Elizabeth," he said after a moment, "you must forgive me for--but I'm sure you'll agree that the provocation--"
Elizabeth looked at him with cold eyes. "Mr. Darcy is twice the shot you are," she said. "And twice the gentleman." Then she stalked away.
Following this loss of reputation and face in the community, it wasn't long before Mr. Wickham sold out his commission to move on to more congenial territory. When Elizabeth thought of him, which was not often, it was with contempt. As for Mr. Darcy, he appeared in her thoughts rather more often, but the nature of her feelings towards that gentleman were a bit murkier. Since she did not, however, see any point in attempting to puzzle them out. She would never see him again, after all.