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Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

June 28, 2017 11:39PM
Chapter Eight


Bennet Townhouse
______ Street, London
Early February, 1812


“Mr. Hill?” Elizabeth had heard the front door close as she left her study. Their knocker was still not up on the door, nor would it be put up until the end of the full mourning period in June. The mourning wreath that adorned the door would remain until June and would discourage casual visitors, although, given that they were familiar with only a few of their neighbours, such visits were unlikely. Only Mrs. Throckmorton and the Misses Spurrell were encouraged to visit. Her butler looked annoyed, which was unusual, for he was a cheerful soul and it took a great deal to render him unhappy.

“We had a most insistent caller, Ma’am.” he replied. She had always been “Miss Elizabeth” to Hill when at Longbourn; but, with their removal to London, he had never failed to call her “Ma’am”. It was a sign of respect befitting her role as mistress of the house; nonetheless, it amused her slightly, though she never allowed herself to display it.

“Do we know the individual, Mr. Hill?”

“Yes, Ma’am. It was Mr. Wickham, and he was most persistent in requesting admittance.”

Elizabeth was thoughtful. She had no serious objection to Mr. Wickham’s company. He was certainly one of the most amiable gentleman she had ever encountered, although she did not altogether trust his character. His company was made more tolerable by their mutual dislike of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham had expressed his condolences along with most of the other Militia officers while she had stayed with the Philipses. Nevertheless, Hill was quite correct. Mr. Wickham should not be allowed to visit, for there remained several months of full mourning. Something about Hill’s response bothered her slightly.

“Persistent, Mr. Hill? I do not fully understand you.”

Hill shook his head, “I cannot truly say, Ma’am. But it seemed to me that he was offended to be denied entry, and I thought it inappropriate of him to press the matter as strongly as he did. I gave him your uncle’s direction; however, he claimed to be a close friend, and I had not thought you knew him so well.”

“I do not!” she exclaimed. “I have been in his company only a few times. I think he presumes too much on our brief acquaintance. He paid his respects in Meryton. There is no reason for him to call upon us now for that purpose. Thank you, Mr. Hill. I trust that he will speak with my uncle. Mr. Wickham is not to be admitted without Mr. Gardiner’s approval.”

Hill nodded, satisfied in his judgement. Elizabeth smiled a little ruefully. The fault may lie with her. She had, she now realized, been perhaps slightly too pleased with Mr. Wickham’s company, and had welcomed his attentions more warmly than their brief acquaintance warranted, although, as she recalled their encounter following the Netherfield ball, her responses then had been far from flirtatious. She was surprised that he would seek her out, would know where she lived, but then supposed that he could easily have spoken with her aunt Philips and learned her direction. Since ______ Street was not a place he might come upon accidentally, she could not doubt his visit was deliberate and wondered only briefly at his true purpose. She suspected that her inheritance was attractive to a gentleman in his circumstances. She wondered at his object, for she had been informed by her sister, Mary, that he had begun lately to pay his addresses to a Miss King who had come into a substantial fortune. Her thoughts, however, were not allowed to linger on the matter, for Mrs. Hill had come to claim her attention. There was a problem with the youngest maid and only the mistress’ word would suffice on the matter.

The next day, the weather afforded Elizabeth the opportunity to venture out for a walk and her object was Hyde Park. Mrs. Sutton and her sister were all otherwise engaged and she determined to walk alone, accompanied by a maid and their footman who took up station some fifteen feet behind her. She had been walking in the park for only a few minutes when Mr. Wickham presented himself.

“Miss Bennet.” he exclaimed, his countenance expressing the delight of an unexpected pleasure. “I had not thought to encounter you here.”

“Nor I you, Mr. Wickham.”

Elizabeth was far from accepting his assurance that their meeting was accidental, but saw no reason to contest the matter at this time. She was not surprised that he asked to accompany her - to which she agreed - and they walked on together. Conversation was inconsequential: the weather, the state of the roads between London and Meryton, and news from Meryton, were all subjects to be canvassed. Finally, Elizabeth, realizing that her companion must have been in London for several days, raised the matter with him.

“I admit to some surprise to have encountered you, Mr. Wickham. Are you on leave from your regiment?” she asked, wishing to dissemble so as to see how forthright he would be.

“I am. Colonel Forster was kind enough to grant me a week’s leave and I came down to London to visit a few friends. I called at your house yesterday. I was sorry to have missed you.”

“Mr. Hill informed me of your call. We are, unfortunately, only accepting visits from family and close personal friends.”

“I had thought. . .hoped that our acquaintance was such as to allow me to do so. I apologize if I have appeared indelicate.”

Despite his disclaimer, there was a touch of disappointment in his voice - a sense that she had, in some way, offended him. Elizabeth was not pleased at such presumptuousness. Charlotte Lucas was an acquaintance of such long standing as to have been received. Mr. Wickham most certainly was not.

“I do not believe that having been in company together on three or, perhaps, four occasions amounts to a close friendship, Mr. Wickham.” she replied coolly. She was not seriously annoyed with him, but did not wish to encourage his interest. She liked him well enough, but an attachment between them would not be encouraged. Not only were his circumstances against a match - she had never been insensible to the need for prudence in selecting a husband – but her reservations about his character could not be put aside if marriage was to be considered. She did not wholly trust the man.

“I do apologize, Miss Bennet. I certainly had not meant to suggest otherwise. Please simply put it down to disappointment. Meryton’s society is the poorer for your absence. You and Miss Bennet have been greatly missed.”

“Apparently, our company was not sufficient to induce you to put aside your reservations about attending Mr. Bingley’s ball, sir.”

Elizabeth had not meant to be quite so challenging, but this small inconsistency in his behaviour had long rankled her. His response did not satisfy once more, for he frowned briefly before resuming his amiable countenance and professing he should have thought better on the matter and attended.

Elizabeth nodded and forced herself to respond cheerfully and was soon confirmed in her opinion that Mr. Wickham was an even more congenial companion than Mr. Bingley when he chose to please, and clearly Mr. Wickham was, to her amusement, making every effort to please. Did he, she wondered, believe her so naïve as to be unaware of his intentions? If so, he would be sadly disappointed. She could enjoy his company, but he stirred no particular interest in her beyond that of agreeable companionship. She was far from convinced that their encounter was accidental and his surprise, unfeigned. Moreover, there was his apparent pursuit of Miss King, although that was a matter she could hardly mention.

Much sooner than she expected, they had completed her planned route and were approaching the park gate that led most directly to her house. She anticipated that Mr. Wickham would take his leave at this point, but the gentleman apparently had other plans, for he continued by her side as they strolled down the streets. When the finally approached her home, Elizabeth turned to him saying, “I must take my leave of you, Mr. Wickham. Your company has been quite enjoyable. I thank you and wish you a good day.” She curtsied and was about to turn away when he responded, “I am sorry we cannot continue our conversation, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth turned back to him in surprise. Did he expect her to invite him in? After what she had already said? A quick glance at his countenance suggested that indeed that was exactly his expectation. She was not sorry to have to do so, for, delightful as his company was, she had enjoyed a sufficiency of it that day. Besides the proprieties of mourning would be observed.

“Perhaps we shall meet again in the park, Mr. Wickham.”

She regretted her words almost immediately, for he made only a small effort to mask his interest in such a proposition and she suspected he had interpreted them as an invitation. It had been a most incautious sentence, for she had meant only to be polite, nothing more. He bowed, spoke the customary civilities and took his leave. She watched him walk jauntily down the street. Her footman, Robert, who had accompanied her in silence for the duration of the walk, coughed to remind her of where she was. She smiled at him in thanks and entered the house. She was divesting herself of her outerwear when Robert coughed once more.

“You must have that cough looked at, Robert. It seems most persistent.”

“’Tis all right, Miss. . .Ma’am.”

“I am glad to hear it. Nonetheless, should it continue, have Hill call the apothecary. I’m sure he’ll have some draught or other to alleviate your distress.”

“Actually, Ma’am, I wished to mention something I seen. . .saw.”

Elizabeth looked at him inquiringly, encouraging him to continue. The cough was obviously Robert’s attempt to capture her attention.

“He, Mr. Wickham that is, did not come upon you by chance, Ma’am. Leastways, I don’t think he did.”

Elizabeth became more alert. Robert had served the Bennet family faithfully for almost ten years and, when Mr. Hill retired as their butler, would be an excellent choice to replace him. If Robert had noticed something that disturbed him, it behooved her to consider it carefully. She looked at the maid who shrugged and shook her head.

“I had thought he might have been waiting at the park for us. No, how could he know I would walk out today?”

“No, Ma’am. I believe he was waiting near our house. I am sure I saw him following us to the park.” He paused for a few moments and Elizabeth thought he seemed a little undecided. She encouraged him to speak and, after a false start or two, he did.

“Its like this, Ma’am. Mr. Hill told me about Mr. Wickham calling at the house, and the day before that I had to go out for Mrs. Hill - she needed some onions at the green grocers and, because of the cold, sent me instead of Sarah – and I thought I saw a gentleman who looked like Mr. Wickham. I cannot be sure as he was some distance off, but when I saw him again today, I became more certain it was him.”

“I see.” Elizabeth liked Mr. Wickham well enough. She certainly did not believe herself in love with him, not had she any intention of allowing her heart to become engaged. She would not encourage any man in whom she could not repose complete trust. She supposed, if that element did not exist and, if he had an income sufficient to support a family, she might well have developed an attachment to him, for then his interest in her would have been less mercenary. However, today’s experience and learning that he had lain in wait for her, like a hunter does a deer, compounded her distrust. It was the resemblance to Mr. Townsend that had made her initially cautious. Handsome, amiable men must, in her opinion, prove themselves trustworthy. Until today, she had not decided upon Mr. Wickham’s status. That thought brought Mr. Darcy back to mind and she felt once again all the distaste for a man who might have cavalierly disadvantaged a friend of his youth. Might have, she reminded herself. Might have! She had no proof of Mr. Wickham’s assertions, although why he would fabricate such a story was more than she could account for. Nonetheless, she did not appreciate Mr. Wickham’s apparent pursuit of her. It made his motives more. . .mercenary, and his character more calculating - possibly duplicitous, for he had pretended their meeting was accidental - than she would have anticipated from his manners.

“Robert, I wish for you to be vigilant and let me know if Mr. Wickham appears to have resumed his. . .watch over the house.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Robert’s pleasure was obvious. He clearly did not care for such deliberate scheming.

Mrs. Sutton, after learning of the incident, felt it incumbent to express her concerns. She had barely begun to do so when Elizabeth interrupted her.

“I fully appreciate your concerns, Mrs. Sutton. I am certainly not in love with Mr. Wickham, although he remains one of the most entertaining gentlemen of my acquaintance. I enjoyed our walk today; however, I am quite aware of the impropriety of his behaviour. He should not have pretended to have met me by accident. Such dissembling is unbecoming a gentleman. My small inheritance is no doubt the reason for his attentions, and if his own circumstances had been more favourable, and had he not acted so duplicitously, it is possible that I would have, after my mourning period, considered his attentions more favourably. I suspect that his situation is distressed which may account for his behaviour. A militia officer’s income is far from sufficient to support a wife and family. As well, it seems he has also begun paying his attentions to a Miss King in Meryton. I have this from my sister, Mary. There is something very wrong about such mercenary behaviour and I am not at all pleased with Mr. Wickham.”

“I would urge you to be cautious. Distressed circumstances or no, there is a certain indelicacy in paying his attentions to you, particularly so early in your mourning period. It is, to my way of thinking, highly improper. You must not allow him to impose on you again. And to learn that he is doing the same to another young lady only casts him in a poorer light.”

Elizabeth assured Mrs. Sutton that she had already come to the same conclusion and repeated that, should Mr. Wickham be observed in the neighbourhood, she would forego her walk.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Mr. Wickham had apparently raised suspicions and concerns in quarters other than in the Bennet home. Mrs. Throckmorton and the Misses Spurrell called at the house the next day as was their wont. Their visits were always greeted with enthusiasm, for the latter were cheerful women and, if prone to gossip, it centred on the doings in the neighbourhood. The antics of the upper classes held little interest, as most were unknown to them. Their neighbourhood was another matter altogether and little took place that went unnoticed. Thus, when a gentleman, with whom they were completely unacquainted, chose to linger several days in a row on their street, their interest was piqued and their concern aroused. To impart their disquiet, for who knew what he could be contemplating, was of great importance.

“My dear,” said Miss May Spurrell, “I observed a gentleman strolling back and forth on our street every day for the past three days. He looks the part of a gentleman, to be sure, but why would he behave so? It is most peculiar. I wonder if he has designs on someone? Not every man who dresses as a gentleman, behaves like one. Why I remember, Mr. Thomson – You remember him, I am sure, Mrs. Throckmorton – he was a most gentlemanly person but rarely out of his cups. Why can you not recall. . .”

“Yes! Yes, May!” interrupted her sister, “But this gentleman does not appear to be so inclined; however, I confess his presence makes me uncomfortable. It is not seemly to loiter like that. Do you suppose he is like those terrible men who committed the murders on Radcliff Road? Perhaps he is simply waiting to break into someone’s house? I had thought to call the Constable, but May dissuaded me.”

Mrs. Throckmorton sniffed. She had been silent while the Misses Spurrell were voicing their concerns. Her audible sniff drew Elizabeth’s attention and she looked at her guest inquiringly. She rather approved of Mrs. Throckmorton.

Mrs. Throckmorton sighed melodramatically, “The Misses Spurrell are right to be concerned but I do not think that the gentleman’s attention is directed at them. My butler also noticed his behaviour and grew concerned enough to have a watch kept on him. His report leads me to warn you, Miss Elizabeth, for it is your house that appears to have drawn his interest. He walks up and down the street but he seems most interested in the comings and goings from your house. His manner, my butler tells me, sometimes appears quite agitated and impatient. I feel you should be on your guard.”

The Misses Spurrell were all aflutter and it was some minutes before they could be calmed. Elizabeth had not wanted to divulge her suspicions as to the gentleman involved, for she remained unpersuaded that he meant her harm. Mrs. Sutton, who had been apprised of Mr. Wickham’s actions, was not sanguine about the matter.

“I do not like it, Miss Elizabeth. This is most improper.”

“I believe,” Elizabeth said, “that the gentleman you have noticed is a Mr. Wickham with whom I was acquainted in Hertfordshire. He is an officer in the _____shire Militia. I know of nothing that would lead me to believe him dangerous.”

Mrs. Throckmorton was not appeased and her tone was severe. If Elizabeth had not known of her neighbour’s concern for her, she might have taken offense. The similarity between Mrs. Throckmorton’s manner and that of Mr. Darcy suddenly struck her, but her thoughts on the resemblance were dispelled as Mrs. Throckmorton continued, “Miss Elizabeth, you must know such behaviour is improper. No true gentleman would behave so. This Mr. Wickham may be a militia officer, but not all such men are true gentlemen. I must warn you to be cautious.”

Mrs. Sutton nodded emphatically and added her support. Elizabeth sought to soothe their concerns.

“And I shall be, Mrs. Throckmorton. You may be assured of that. I am always accompanied by Robert and a maid. I shall be in no danger from Mr. Wickham. I have already canceled my walk today as he was in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Sutton and I have spoken on the matter. As I told her, I am quite aware of the impropriety of his behaviour. He most certainly should not have pretended to meeting me by accident. My inheritance is undoubtedly the cause of his attentions, and I suspect that his situation is distressed which may account for his behaviour which I believe is quite uncharacteristic. A militia officer’s income is far from sufficient to support a wife and family.”

The ladies took their departure shortly thereafter, assuring Elizabeth that they would continue to watch for Mr. Wickham; but not all that Elizabeth could say would convince the Misses Spurrell that Mr. Wickham did not mean to murder them all in their beds.

Elizabeth gave little further thought to Mr. Wickham for several days. The Bennet sisters visited the Gardiners, after Sunday services, to stay for dinner and to spend time together. Sunday dinners had become almost a tradition and the two families dined in turn every Sunday. By the evening, the youngest Gardiner children had succumbed to a surfeit of excitement and been sent to their beds to sleep. The two eldest, although not ready for sleep, were, however, convinced to remove themselves to the nursery to read quietly in the hope, as their mother confessed, that they would also soon fall asleep.

The Bennet sisters and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner remained in the small parlour conversing and reminiscing.

"Do you miss your friends in Hertfordshire, girls?” inquired Mr. Gardiner. The response rather surprised him, for he learned that while both of them missed being able to move in that society, only Elizabeth had developed a friendship which had suffered from their removal to London.

"I do miss Charlotte, I confess.” she replied. “Letters are not as satisfactory as talking to her directly.”

“Charlotte was an excellent friend.” admitted Jane. Then she smiled impishly at Elizabeth, “But you, at least, had the pleasure of encountering a friend while walking in the park.”

Jane, while sensible to the impropriety of Mr. Wickham’s behaviour, could not imagine that his intentions were anything but praiseworthy. However, Elizabeth scowled. Robert had, as requested, kept watch and reported the day after she walked with Mr. Wickham that he was sure he had seen Mr. Wickham stationed some distance away down their street. Elizabeth could only suppose that he was waiting for her to emerge from the house. Her plans to walk in the park that day were, after some consideration, cancelled. That he would behave in a manner which required her to forego one of her pleasures, irritated her. She was worried and uncomfortable with the premeditation of Mr. Wickham’s actions. She supposed that she should be flattered by his interest in her; however, the reason for his interest was worrisome. She could hardly be unaware that his interest lay equally in her modest fortune as in herself. She was not so naïve. She remembered stating to Mrs. Powell that even handsome young men needed an income to live on as well as plain ones. Mr. Townsend’s attentions had been based on a belief that she possessed a fortune. Once apprised of her circumstances, he had directed his interest elsewhere. Was Mr. Wickham cast from the same mould? She could hardly believe otherwise based on his behaviour with Miss King and now, herself. It was difficult, indeed possibly dangerous, to ignore his behaviour. She most certainly resented the constraint that it imposed on her actions.

She had not, however, spoken to her sister of her concerns and Jane’s comment had provoked a response from Elizabeth – a scowl - that none of her relatives understood. Mr. Gardiner taking note of it, inquired into its cause and, after a very brief deliberation, Elizabeth revealed all that had recently taken place involving Mr. Wickham. Mr. Gardiner was alarmed by what he heard and resolved to visit the next day, and, if Mr. Wickham were present, to speak with him about such behaviour.

He informed his nieces of his intention and that he also intended to write Mr. Wickham’s superior officer to complain of such behaviour on the part of one of his officers. Jane, however, took matters in a slightly different direction.

“I have always wondered at your fondness for Mr. Wickham, Lizzy. I concede that he is an attractive gentleman, but I have seen little of substance to him. Of course,” and she sounded a little apologetic, “I have not spoken to him a great deal. He has not sought out my company.”

That in itself was unusual, for Jane was the most beautiful of the Bennet sisters and men gravitated to her like moths to a flame. Mr. Wickham had not and Elizabeth now wondered why that had been so, but was not allowed to ponder on the subject.

“Perhaps Lizzy might hold him in less regard, if they did not share such a dislike of Mr. Darcy.” continued her sister, playfully.

“Lizzy? What is this about Mr. Darcy? Is this the same family that is from Derbyshire?” asked Mrs. Gardiner.

Elizabeth agreed that it was and gave an abbreviated account of Darcy’s dealings with Wickham as the latter had related to her.

“There is certainly some bad business between the gentleman; however, it is difficult to arrive at a conclusion when one has only one side of a dispute.” Mr. Gardiner offered. His manner was disinterested and thoughtful.

“Mr. Bingley was very sure that the fault lay with Mr. Wickham, although he also confessed that he did not know the particulars of the matter.” added Jane, blushing slightly at her mention of Mr. Bingley.

“I believe that Mr. Bingley’s information came only for Mr. Darcy and is, therefore, not to be trusted.” declared Elizabeth with more firmness than she felt. “I find it difficult to question Mr. Wickham’s account. He has provided details of the affair that cannot be fabricated. While I have reserved judgement on the matter, as I do not know either gentleman well enough to discern the truth, I also believe, given the pride and disdain I have observed in Mr. Darcy’s treatment of those he considers beneath his touch, that Mr. Wickham’s account could be credible or, at least, not wholly wrong.”

Mrs. Gardiner’s eyebrows rose in amazement. She had rarely heard Elizabeth express such a vehement dislike of anyone.

Mrs. Sutton, who had been silent till now, inquired as to whether the gentleman being discussed was Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. When advised that it was, declared firmly, “I am not, of course, familiar with the details of what this Mr. Wickham claims, nor can I profess a personal acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, but I have heard his name mentioned frequently and always with the utmost respect for his respectability. I believe his manners have frequently been criticized but his liberality and generosity, never.”

“Perhaps Lizzy might not dislike Mr. Darcy as much, if he had not spoken so poorly of her at their first acquaintance.” replied Jane slyly. She had never been overly prone to teasing but removal from Longbourn and freedom from her mother’s effusions had encouraged her to be more open.

“Lizzy?” prompted Mrs. Gardiner.

“He called her only tolerable, Aunt. And not handsome enough to dance with.” said Jane.

“And he did not wish to give consequence to young ladies who had been slighted by other men.” She added with a smirk.

“Oh my!” replied Mrs. Gardiner. Her husband snorted in amusement and Elizabeth frowned in discomfort.

“The loss was his and his alone, Lizzy. I would have hoped that you had laughed this off. You can be in no doubt, surely, of your attractiveness and desirability as a dance partner.” said he. “Did you not question Mr. Darcy about the matter between himself and Mr. Wickham?”

Elizabeth nodded, “I could not, of course, given the circumstances discuss the matter openly; however, I did mention Mr. Wickham and implied some knowledge of the issue between them. Mr. Darcy refused to speak on it at all.”

“He said nothing?” responded her uncle.

“Nothing!” Elizabeth paused briefly as she remembered their conversation while dancing, “Well, not exactly nothing, that is, other than Mr. Wickham was more successful in making friends than in keeping them. This certainly does not address the matter.”

There was a brief silence as all considered her response. Her uncle was the first to respond.

“Does it not? I would have thought otherwise, surely. While he did not speak directly to the issue between them, could not his words be taken as a caution against Mr. Wickham’s character?”

Elizabeth pondered what her uncle had said. At the time, her dislike of Mr. Darcy, her irritation with Mr. Collins and her affront at the injustice perpetrated against Mr. Wickham, compounded with her disappointment that Mr. Wickham had chosen to miss the ball, had made her reluctant to credit anything Mr. Darcy had said. She now reconsidered Mr. Darcy’s rather elliptical statement.

“Do you mean, Uncle, that Mr. Wickham’s character is not as good as his amiable nature would suggest? That once it becomes known, people do not wish to keep his acquaintance? Mr. Darcy offered no proof of his assertion.” Thoughts of Mr. Townsend surfaced once more.

“Did Mr. Wickham offer any proof of his? I do not see how Mr. Darcy’s comment could be interpreted in any way, Lizzy, other than as a caution to you. Why he was not more explicit, I cannot say. There might well be excellent reasons for not disclosing the details. Or he might simply be a man who values his privacy a great deal. I would also note that, as you indicated, a public ball room is hardly the place to be discussing matters of a highly private nature. As I noted, he offered only as much proof as Mr. Wickham – none.”

"And, Lizzy," he added, "there's an old saying that bears thinking on. ‘By their friends shall you know them’. Mr. Darcy stands as friend to Mr. Bingley and you think highly of the latter. I do not know Mr. Bingley but I doubt he could be an honourable man and befriend someone who was the reverse. It simply is not sensible, Lizzy. Not sensible at all.”

“I no longer know what to think about Mr. Bingley.” replied Elizabeth, casting a worried look at Jane. Her sister’s mien was as serene as ever. “I know nothing to his discredit other than he lacks either constancy or resolution. I am not sure I would have him stand as testimony to Mr. Darcy’s honour.”

Mrs. Gardiner feared the conversation might devolve into a disquisition of Mr. Bingley which she did not believe advisable and, wishing to change the topic of conversation altogether, introduced the possibility of a trip to the museum which had been discussed the previous week. As there was little further to be gleaned about Mr. Wickham, the others were more than willing to accede to her preference.

Mr. Gardiner did indeed return to the Bennet residence the next day and, in company with Robert, patrolled the street for the better part of an hour without encountering Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth, when informed of the futility of their efforts, could only suppose that his leave had expired and he was required to return to his regiment. Her uncle was not, however, of a mind to allow matters to rest. Mr. Wickham’s behaviour was quite improper and his attentions, or rather the way he attended Elizabeth, disturbed him greatly. He had two letters to write. The first was to Colonel Forster, Mr. Wickham’s commanding officer.

Gracechurch Street, London
11 February, 1812

Colonel Forster,

I am writing to you on a matter of great import to you and myself. I am Edward Gardiner, brother to the late Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn and uncle to the surviving Miss Bennets. I am also, by the terms of the late Mr. Bennet’s will, guardian to Miss Elizabeth Bennet while Mr. Philips, with whom I know you to be acquainted, is acting as Miss Mary Bennet’s guardian in my stead. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary have yet to reach their majority. While Miss Jane Bennet, who has done so, does not require a guardian, I stand in loco parentis as her senior male relative.

Recent actions of an officer under your command, Mr. George Wickham, to be precise, are of a nature to cause me serious concern. I would have preferred to address Mr. Wickham directly but, as I have been unable to encounter him, I have chosen to inform you that you may raise the matter with Mr. Wickham personally.

Specifically, Mr. Wickham has been observed, by servants in my nieces’ home and by her neighbours, loitering in the close vicinity of that house. He apparently is there to anticipate Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s departure to walk in Hyde Park. The one occasion that he was successful, he gave her to believe the encounter was providential and not a planned action on his part. The lie to this is given by my niece’s footman who accompanied her at the time and observed the whole of Mr. Wickham’s actions.

Prior to this encounter – which has not been repeated due to vigilance on the part of my niece’s servants – Mr. Wickham called directly at their house, was informed they were not home to callers but that he could apply to me for permission. He did not do so and chose what now looks to be a duplicitous approach.

The reason for Mr. Wickham’s behaviour is obvious to me. My niece received a modest inheritance last autumn and Mr. Wickham is in want of a wife with a fortune, for, as I am sure you are aware, his own salary is not sufficient to support a wife and family in the manner to which a gentlewoman is accustomed. I cannot know, of course, if he has other means of support but, given his behaviour and what little he previously related to my niece, I have reason for doubt that he does.

My purpose in writing you is simple. I wish only that you direct Mr. Wickham to cease his attentions to my niece. She does not wish for them. She considers Mr. Wickham an amiable acquaintance, but as they have not been in each other’s company beyond several occasions, their acquaintance is of a limited nature. Moreover, she will be mourning the deaths of her parents and sisters until November next. Such attention as Mr. Wickham is directing is extremely inappropriate and unwanted. Should Mr. Wickham choose to approach me for permission to call on my nieces, I shall refuse it for that reason as long as they are in full mourning. That period shall last until the end of May. After that, Mr. Wickham may call and whether he shall be received will be at my niece’s discretion.

I would appreciate your prompt action on this matter.

Yours, etc.
Edward Gardiner


The second letter was directed to Mr. Philips who, he believed, should be made aware of Mr. Wickham’s actions and who might also be a source of information about the officer. Mr. Gardiner did not doubt that his sister, Mrs. Philips, would know of any gossip surrounding the gentleman. As well, he wished to make Mr. Philips aware of his concerns, for while Mary’s fortune was but half of Elizabeth’s, if Mr. Wickham was desperate, it might prove sufficient to attract his interest.

~~~~~~~~

Elizabeth had too much respect for her uncle’s acumen to not consider his words carefully. If he, a pragmatic man of business and one who did not take his family responsibilities lightly, thought the matter less simple and one-sided than she wished to believe, it would be remiss of her to dismiss it outright. As well, she was far from comfortable with Mr. Wickham’s recent behaviour and, while it might well be possible to attach an innocent interpretation to It, she could not think of one. She was not so naive as to ignore the possibility of there being a motive that was not innocent. She now understood that she had been strangely ambivalent towards Mr. Wickham. He had, indeed, charmed her and she had been very pleased at his attentions; however, the key question now was his trustworthiness. He had shown himself duplicitous and capable of dissembling, for, in addition to his recent actions, there was the matter of attending the Netherfield ball. He had asserted that he would not hide from Mr. Darcy but, when the opportunity presented itself to substantiate his boast, he had chosen to avoid the ball where Mr. Darcy was sure to be found.

It seemed impossible for her to consider Mr. Wickham without reference to Mr. Darcy. How was she to view Mr. Wickham? If she had not harboured such a dislike of his nemesis, would she have been so willing to give as much credit to his story as she had? She could well remember saying that she had not believed Mr. Darcy so dishonourable when Mr. Wickham first mentioned that Darcy had refused him the living contrary to his father’s wishes. Yet it had been Wickham whose behaviour had shown itself recently to be improper. She knew nothing of Darcy, apart from Wickham’s story, that hinted at anything dishonourable, and if that story was to some degree a fabrication, which seemed increasingly possible, then she had badly misjudged Mr. Darcy. He might be extremely disagreeable and unpleasant, but she had no grounds other than Mr. Wickham’s tale to question his integrity. Would she have so readily accepted Mr. Wickham’s recital of his woes, if she had not disliked Mr. Darcy so intensely?

That Mr. Darcy had insulted her was beyond question. That he had certainly not meant for it to be overheard, was quite possible, although he had made no attempt to speak quietly. Whether he had subsequently learned that she had, in fact, heard it, she could not know and possibly never would know. Certainly, he had proffered no apology, although, given he had been speaking in private with his friend, did she have the right to even expect one? After some thought she concluded that it mattered not. The comment was made and she had obviously neither forgotten it nor forgiven him for making it. She was not particularly inclined to do either, even now. It spoke poorly of his character that he would disparage a lady in such a public setting where he might be overheard by anyone.

She was sure of one more thing in regards of Mr. Darcy. He had viewed her friends and neighbours with absolute disdain. His attitude and manners had given offence almost from his introduction into their small society. Even ignoring his disparagement of her, he had been haughty and arrogant, his civility had been of the cold, unpleasant sort, making clear how little interest he possessed in conversing with anyone outside his own party. He was clearly of a station superior to that of anyone he encountered in Hertfordshire and he had not been reluctant to display his conviction of that superiority and the inferiority of those with whom he was required to associate. People could hardly be faulted for finding him disagreeable, for he made no effort to be otherwise. Even if he had not insulted her, there was little about his attitude and manners that was pleasing.

She had encountered men of a similar disposition during her visits with Mrs. Powell who, while not moving within the first circles, had accompanied Elizabeth to several balls where such men occasionally favoured them with their attendance. Elizabeth knew she had no cause for personal complaint; however, she had observed several instances in which young ladies, deficient in fortune or beauty or consequence, had been slighted – and frequently deliberately so, as if somehow their lower status in society rendered them less sensitive to insult. It had angered her then, and it angered her when she had been the object of Mr. Darcy’s disdain. It had fixed her opinion of him and little that he had done in the weeks that followed had given her cause to amend it.

Even as she was considering this conclusion, others surfaced to cause confusion, for he had not always been unpleasant with her. Towards him, she had frequently been quite impertinent, subtly mocking him and obliquely criticizing his behaviour. Yet, when she dispassionately reviewed his responses, she had to acknowledge that they had been without rancour and, indeed, sometimes expressed a surprising gallantry. If he had, on occasion, displayed anger, it arose through her provocations and was, for that reason, to be expected. She believed him critical of her; that his disdain for Hertfordshire encompassed her as well, for his stare appeared to bespeak nothing but censure. He had certainly not paid her any noticeable attention and had, in fact, sat in company with her alone at Netherfield for a half hour without speaking or deigning to acknowledge her presence.

In hindsight there was only singular one act of his, now that she can consider it thoughtfully, that contradicted feelings of contempt and disinterest. He had asked her, and only her – a woman he had deemed only tolerable some weeks previous – to dance at the Netherfield ball. Did he mean anything by it? And, if so, what? Was it a form of apology? That would suggest an awareness of his initial disparagement and that seemed improbable. She could not know the answers to such questions but clearly, he had found her tolerable enough to dance with that evening. He had not minded lending his consequence to her – and she was far from insensible to the amazement of their audience that resulted. That they had argued throughout, she accepted as being by her design. She had wanted to plague and question him, and had done so. An anger borne out of her frustration with Mr. Collins’ intentions and fuelled by a slight disappointment at Mr. Wickham’s absence had found him an easy target. It was, perhaps, a testament to his good breeding that he had borne with her as civilly as he had done. What had he said? “I would wish you to not sketch my character at the moment, for the result is likely to reflect poorly on us both.”

She knew him to be a man who spoke as he wrote – cautiously and carefully measuring his words for meaning. Nothing was said idly. She pondered that statement now for the first time. Given her words that preceded it, he certainly had no reason to believe her opinion of him to be favourable. Thus, her sketch of him would not be favourable to him. That assessment could only reflect poorly on her if she was wrong – that she had sketched his character incorrectly. Why had she not given his words more credit? She knew, without further thought, the reason, for she had not, at that time, been prepared to listen to, or accept, anything he said. Her dislike of him was too great for rational or dispassionate consideration. While it was tempting to assign significance to his words, she was reminded of the man’s arrogance. She had little difficulty in believing him capable of seeing his behaviour in a light that that reflected well on him and poorly on another. Mr. Wickham had not erred in one respect, pride was central to Mr. Darcy’s character. The man had owned it himself, only claiming that it was not a fault if kept under good regulation. She snorted. Was he to be the judge of that?

Yet, prior to hearing Mr. Wickham’s story of misfortune, she would not have thought Mr. Darcy dishonourable and Mrs. Sutton had stated quite firmly that he had a reputation as an honourable man. Unpleasant, certainly, but he had appeared a caring brother, a diligent landowner engrossed in his business correspondence, and an excellent friend to Mr. Bingley. In this she had to concede that her uncle had the right of the matter. If Mr. Bingley was an upright, respectable gentleman who had apparently known Mr. Darcy for several years, she doubted he would have accepted Mr. Darcy as a friend unless convinced that his character was cast from the same mould. Could Mr. Bingley have been mistaken? It was, unfortunately, possible, for Mr. Bingley appeared, in many respects, to be much like her own sister, Jane, who saw nothing but the good in everyone. Jane had even liked Miss Bingley! That Mr. Bingley had been deceived could not be considered impossible. Moreover, her opinion of Mr. Bingley had suffered by his actions. Would an honourable gentleman have been so inconsiderate towards her sister?

Her understanding of Mr. Darcy’s character could not, after much consideration, remained unaltered. She was forced to concede that she probably had seriously misjudged him. Mr. Wickham was almost certainly not as honest and credible as she had first supposed. Honesty required her to concede that she had been too satisfied with his attentions to seriously question his version of events; however, there were certain elements that only now seemed pertinent and which she had hitherto ignored or accepted his explanation. Despite his subsequent disclaimer and rationalization, he had avoided the Netherfield ball, although previously he had declared he would not avoid Mr. Darcy. She had not, at the time, thought credible his explanation for having done so, for she had no reason to believe that Mr. Darcy would have been anything other than civil. He had not behaved badly when unexpectedly encountering Wickham on the streets of Meryton, nor had he lost his composure in the face of her provocations. He might leave the ball or ignore the man altogether, but she could not believe that he would act improperly. For some reason, which she could not understand, she was convinced of this aspect of his character.

The other concern she now had was with the facility with which Mr. Wickham had exposed Mr. Darcy’s mistreatment of him, despite claiming he would never do so. She wondered at her blindness at not having perceived this inconsistency immediately. He might well have spoken in confidence with her; however, if Charlotte and Mary were to be believed, Mr. Wickham had spared little effort to sink Mr. Darcy’s character once that gentleman had left the county. What price Mr. Wickham’s professing to honour Mr. Darcy’s father by not speaking ill of the son? The more she thought about her acceptance of Mr. Wickham’s story, the greater her discomfort. That Mr. Wickham had suffered at Mr. Darcy’s hands, she was now reluctant to believe without reservation. There was undoubtedly some measure of truth in his story. How much and what parts was open to question. His story had clearly been slanted to show him in the best possible light, and it remained possible he had been injured in some manner. That it had been a malicious, dishonourable act on Mr. Darcy’s part, she no longer believed. Her confusion arose from her inability to see what Mr. Wickham had gained, if anything, by his disclosures. Until recently, his dealings with her had never infringed upon propriety. His behaviour had been proper and decorous. She had observed nothing in his treatment of her own sisters or any other young lady to give cause for any concern. Even his attentions to Miss King, as self-serving as they were, apparently met with that lady’s approval. There was almost certainly more to Mr. Wickham’s dealings with Mr. Darcy than she had been told but she could not see how any new information could materially change her opinion of both men. Mr. Wickham had proven to be mercenary and untrustworthy, and Mr. Darcy, disagreeable.

She wished to have nothing more to do with either of them. It was, she thought, also fortuitous – the only good thing she could find in the matter – that she was most unlikely to come into Mr. Darcy’s company ever again. He may be a respectable gentleman but she could not like his manners or his haughty behaviour. About Mr. Wickham, she could not be so confident that she would avoid his company; however, she would do so, if possible, and, when she could not, her manners would leave him in little doubt that his attentions were not welcomed.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

PeterJune 28, 2017 11:39PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

ClaireDJune 26, 2020 12:13PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

Kimberly F.July 22, 2017 01:09PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

ClaireDJune 26, 2020 12:13PM

Please post again soon!!!??? (nfm)

Gloria L.July 13, 2017 11:37PM

Re: Please post again soon!!!???

EvelynJeanAugust 19, 2017 04:37AM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

NicoletteJuly 04, 2017 10:52PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

Gloria L.June 29, 2017 03:25PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

EvelynJeanJune 29, 2017 08:07AM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 8

KateBJune 29, 2017 05:29AM



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