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The Chest of Secrets (JaOctGoHoNo 2019)

October 31, 2019 07:40PM
The Chest of Secrets
Summary: Upon the death of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father, Darcy learns of a family secret that he is now entrusted to keep safe. (A prequel to “The Bennet Sisters”.) Author’s Note: Huge shout out to all the betas who helped me! You ladies rock! Any mistakes left in here are fully mine and are no reflection on their awesomeness! In an effort to make this one post, I took out about 6 pages of stuff...sad smiley

Darcy House, London
May 6th, 1811

It was still astonishing to Fitzwilliam that one could be standing on the busiest street in the city, and still feel very alone in the world. Darcy was not daft. He knew what people said about him behind his back: taciturn, serious, and brooding. He had no problem with any of those appellations, especially if it kept some of the matchmaking mamas away from him. With many acquaintances, there were only a few whom he would call close, thus giving Darcy a sense of loneliness. In a rare moment, in which he did not have an engagement, or business meeting, he always sought out his sister’s company. Regrettably, she was not in London at the moment.

At the moment, Mrs. Younge was escorting Georgiana to the coast, Ramsgate specifically, for a holiday. She would be there until the end of the summer. Darcy had every intention of visiting her toward the end of the season. The Earl of Matlock had informed Darcy that he and Georgiana would need to be present in London for his eldest child and heir, Alexander’s, wedding in early August. Darcy had been pleased with a reason to leave London and spend some time alone with his sister out of the ton’s view.

With his sister away, Darcy now had no one to share his rare moments of free time with. He had an appointment that evening, a card party at the home of his friend Charles Bingley, and knew that if he went early to visit with Charles he would have to engage Charles’s sister in conversation as well.

Miss Caroline Bingley was a thorn in Fitzwilliam's side. He scowled as he thought of her. Conniving, materialistic female, he thought, she cares nothing for me, and only tolerates Georgiana’s company because she knows Georgiana is close to me.

Getting up from his chair, Darcy paced the length of his long office. She is just like the rest of the marriageable females I meet. They all simply want my money. How can I find a woman to marry who wants me, and only me?

An image of his Aunt and Uncle Matlock floated into his mind. Fitzwilliam smiled. They had defied the ton years before and married for love. It was a marriage that his father had always said he envied, “They saw what they wanted and they took it Fitzwilliam. When you fall in love do the same!”

As he was wont to do whenever he thought of his father, his mother came to mind as well. It had been three years since Darcy had found out the truth of his parent’s marriage. Fitzwilliam sighed in defeat and admitted to himself, Father did love Mother, even though she was not worthy of his notice. Will I also, one day, make the same mistake? Fall in love with someone so wholly unsuitable of my own notice?

With a determination he had not felt in a while, Darcy realized he didn’t have to stand there feeling alone. His favorite person in the world would welcome his early arrival with open arms. He quickly found some fresh paper to write his apologies that he could not afford to slight, and a quick letter to the Earl of Matlock, informing his uncle of his new plans. Cleaning his desk he quickly grabbed all the papers he needed to replace in the safe. As soon as he opened his personal safe, he stopped. Sitting on top was his father’s letter and his mother’s journal from the family chest.

Georgiana had just turned fifteen, and requested a grown up trip. Her wish was to visit the sea. Unable to refuse his sister anything, he agreed and let a house near the ocean and had started to prepare to take her there. Unfortunately, business had intruded and Georgiana ended up going alone with her companion Mrs. Younge. The day she left, Fitzwilliam had found himself needed to find an old document on some land he owned and went to the family security box to retrieve it. The first things he saw sitting on top of the other valuable documents were his father’s letter and his mother’s journal.

In an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, Fitzwilliam had gone to his family’s security box and removed the two articles. A wave of loneliness had swept over him and he had placed the two directly into the large inner pocket of his overcoat. Unwilling to re-read them again, he had immediately placed them in his safe, fully intending on returning them to the box as soon as he was able. Fitzwilliam had completely forgotten he not returned them yet.

Gingerly taking them from the safe, Fitzwilliam felt a connection to his parents he did not normally have.

“Fitzwilliam! Are you ready yet? I quite surprised you aren’t! I was fully expecting to have missed your carriage!” boomed Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam from where he stood at the entrance to Darcy’s study.

Fitzwilliam startled, dropped the letter and the small book. He quickly picked them up and shoved them in his pocket, and the papers in his other hand in the safe. He then swiftly closed the safe.

“I haven’t seen the little bug in quite a while,” Richard replied once Darcy asked after his reasoning for showing up, “And you probably need some company. A visit to the sea sounds perfect.”

Darcy only nodded and resumed his preparations for leaving. The items burned a whole in his pocket. He was vastly aware of their presence on his person as he left the study. When he found that his valet had already completed packing his things for his journey and the carriage was ready, Darcy found he did not have an opportunity to safely put the documents away in his luggage. He reasoned as long as they were on his person, they were safe from prying eyes so there they stayed until he and Richard reached Ramsgate two days later.

Darcy stepped out of his carriage and smelled in the deep fresh salty air at Ramsgate. He allowed himself a few moments to appreciate that he was really there, visiting his sister, instead of in the town. He only took a few moments, however, his overwhelming urge to see his sister drove him directly into the house that he had rented for his sister’s comfort. Having not sent word ahead of him and Richard, Fitzwilliam was not surprised to see the look of utter astonishment upon Mrs. Younge’s and Georgiana’s faces as he entered the room.

Georgiana was very surprised to see her brother, but soon overcame her astonishment and cried out in delight as only a fifteen year old could do, “Brother! I have missed you! We were just speaking of you! You arrival perfectly, almost as if you knew I wanted you close just now! You must have received my letter! I had not thought it would get to you until tomorrow. I was so afraid that you would be late!”

“Did you? I had no reason to come except that I wished to see you, Dearest. I received no letter,” Fitzwilliam said curious, “What is happening that you wanted me to come a few weeks early?”

If he had not been so focused on his sister, Darcy might have seen the color in Mrs. Younge’s face drain to a stark white. He might have seen her slow movements toward the door. But as it was, Darcy was listening quite intently to his sister and had no reason to question her companion’s odd behavior.

“I am to be married!” cried the young girl.

Darcy’s shock was acute or he would have seen how Richard moved to keep the companion in the room. He quickly turned in amazement toward the companion and noticed her pallor. He turned back to his sister and asked quickly, not wanting to believe the worst and said, “Really? I had not been made aware that you had formed an… attachment.”

Georgiana started to look hesitantly between Mrs. Younge and her brother and after finally finding her voice she said, “I apologize for not writing sooner, but Mrs. Younge assured me you would not be pleased with my choice. That is why I only just wrote to you. Even though you and he are not on the best of terms, I know you would want to be here for my wedding. I also know you would never refuse me if you knew that I loved him.”

Quickly ascertaining that the companion had encouraged an inappropriate relationship, Darcy was pleased to see Richard was not allowing the servant to go anywhere. He turned his full attention to Georgiana and asked, “You are quite right, dear. I would never stop you from marrying where your heart lay. Who is your heart’s desire?”

Darcy was not prepared for his sister’s next words. As she spoke the one name he had hoped to never hear again, Darcy felt his heart constrict, “George Wickham!”

Not wishing to frighten his sister, Darcy quickly asked in a strained voice, “Really? And when were you to… marry?”

“Tomorrow. We were to leave early in the morning for Gretna Green,” she grew quite excited as she continued, “I wrote to have you meet us there! It was to be such a fun surprise for George! I was going to prove you are the best of brothers and not the… cruel unfeeling person he had made you out to be.”

As his sister spoke, Darcy knew he would not be able to convince her of Wickham’s duplicity. He also knew there was no way Wickham’s tastes had changed so much from their school days. Darcy felt, as he continued to listen to his sister speak fondly of the man she thought she loved, who Darcy knew did not exist, that his only recourse would be to show his sister Wickham’s perfidy. But how could he do that?

After about fifteen minutes of allowing his sister to speak non-stop, Darcy finally interrupted, “Dearest, since George was supposed to be here for dinner, why do you not go and get ready to meet with him? I will greet him. There is much, in regards to your wedding, we must discuss. I would never dream of you eloping. I hope you will not be too upset with me if I demand you be married properly in a church, with all your family.”

“Oh no, brother! I would love that!” She hurriedly kissed her bother on the cheek and raced upstairs.

Darcy slowly turned to Mrs. Younge and leveled at her a glare that would put fear into any man’s heart. Mrs. Younge gave a good appearance of not being intimidated, but as she spoke her voice shook, “Mr. Darcy, it is good to see you. I had not realized you planned on visiting your sister… so soon.”

“That, madam is evident,” came his clipped reply. “May I ask whether you were acquainted with Mr. Wickham before or after you joined my employ?” Mrs. Younge hesitated too long, and Darcy had his answer, “I will take your silence to mean that you knew him before I trusted you with my sister. Let me ask this then: How much of my sister’s inheritance were you to abscond with?”

Mrs. Younge attempted to lie and said, “Mr. Darcy! You insult – ”

“Do not insult my intelligence by completing that sentence, madam. It will only diminish whatever I deem to pay you for your silence.”

Both Mrs. Younge and Richard looked aghast at Fitzwilliam. Mrs. Younge found her voice first and replied, “I housed Mr. Wickham for a year before you sought a companion for your sister. As you know, I rent out rooms in my home and at the moment my sister is discharging that duty for me. Mr. Wickham was behind in his rent for more than six months. I threatened to have his things and person removed from my property. He then informed me that he would have been able to pay his rent if he had been allowed to marry the woman he loved.” Throwing a wry glanced toward her employer, she continued, “I did not believe him, but when he offered me £1,000 to help him convince his love to marry him. I agreed. When Georgiana – ”

“Miss Darcy,” seethed Fitzwilliam.

Acknowledging the correction, Mrs. Younge concluded, “When Miss Darcy expressed a wish to see the sea, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for them to have some time together. I will assure you, even though you may not believe me, but Miss Darcy was never out of my presence and never alone with Mr. Wickham at any time. Her reputation is intact, that was part of my stipulation to agreeing to this plan. He had to win her and wedher.”

For the next hour, Darcy allowed Richard to pepper the elder lady with questions and thoroughly frighten her into promising never to breathe a word of the attempted elopement. Knowing that money would be the only way to silence her and Wickham, Darcy finally interrupted, “Mrs. Younge, I will not pay you the £1,000, rather I will loan you the money.” Holding up a hand at the shocked looks both individuals were giving him, he concluded, “I will have a receipt for my loan. Should I ever find that you are the cause of my sister’s… mistake being made known to the public, I will call for the loan to be paid immediately. Do we understand each other?”

Mrs. Younge swallowed and nodded. It would not be wise for her to refuse such an offer. Darcy quickly indicated that she should pack her belongings and he would arrange for her transport back to London in the morning. Her things at Pemberley and his London townhome would follow her as quickly as he could make arrangements.

“You will act as if nothing has changed this evening,” he added intensely.

“And Mr. Wickham?”

“Is no longer any concern of yours.”

The elder lady nodded and rose to leave. As soon as she left the room, Richard whispered loudly, “What on earth! Darcy! Why are you paying her anything? You need not!”

Darcy only hung his head in shame at allowing such a situation to occur. He sought solace in a small study with a desk and sat heavily down. For almost a half an hour, Richard continued to lecture him on what he should do or should not do in this situation. Finally when Darcy felt he could listen to no more he rasped out, “Richard, stop.” Richard did stop, if only because his surprise at having Darcy finally speak made him do so.

Darcy rubbed his eyes with his hands and said softly, “You are right, Mrs. Younge was in the wrong, but what I am more concerned about is Wickham,” he said as he spat the name out. “I cannot prove that he is not in love with her, what do I do if he is?”

“Surely you would not sanction a marriage between them?” cried an incredulous Richard.

“If they are in love, I will not be the one to stand in their way,” replied Darcy quietly, thinking about how loving the wrong person or believing she had loved the right person had ended for his mother.

“What do you plan on doing if he chooses to… share these recent events, or threatens to?” Richard asked.

“I am quite sure I can find bills outstanding here to pay off. The threat of sending him to the poor house will be enough to buy his silence in this matter.” Softly, he added, “I can deal with Wickham. Actually, I am more worried about Georgiana. If George does not love her, how can I get her to see that fact?”

Richard shrugged and offered, “Tell her? She listens to everything you have to say.”

“Believing oneself in love clouds one's judgment, Richard. She will not be thinking clearly. No, I must show her his actual feelings.”

The two men remained in the small room for the remainder of the evening until it was announced the Mr. Wickham had arrived. Richard quickly ascertained that Mrs. Younge was in the sitting room again with Georgiana who had come down for dinner. Darcy informed the servant who was waiting for instructions that Mr. Wickham was to be shown into the study first. He then sent Richard out to sit with Georgiana and Mrs. Younge.

It took only a minute before Wickham tentatively crossed the threshold. It took every ounce of Darcy’s will not to launch himself across the desk and strangle Wickham where he stood.

Smiling, realizing that Darcy was angry but felt he could do nothing, Wickham said jovially, “What a delightful surprise, Fitzwilliam! I had not thought you to be here, in Ramsgate! How fortuitous!”

“I have no doubt as to your surprise at my presence, Wickham,” Darcy spat out. “What remains to be seen is how fortuitous this meeting will be for you.”

“Well, now that you are here, we could discuss marriage settlements!” offered a cheerful Wickham, “After all, I am sure your wonderful little sister has told you of our plans by now.”

“She has,” Darcy replied, evenly, “However, whether or not you two will be married has not been decided as of yet.”

Wickham smiling gaily as he said happily, thinking the entire mess was cleared up, “But of course we will, we love each other. Whether you like it or not, we will be brothers one day!”

“You are aware that my sister is just fifteen and requires my approval to marry?” responded Fitzwilliam as he started to formulate a plan to get rid of the rake in front of him.

“You have never refused your little sister anything, why would you in matters of the heart?”

Darcy nodded and said, “True, if I truly believed you and Georgiana were in love, I would not stand in your way. I have even told Georgiana that. However, it seems that what neither of you realize is that she also requires the permission of her other guardian, my cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

At the mention of Richard, Wickham visibility paled. Richard was one of the only people in the world that he truly feared and had since they were children when Richard had given him a bloody nose for simply telling a small falsehood. Wickham felt he had always been able to manipulate Fitzwilliam, but knew he shouldn’t even try with the Colonel. Less sure of himself now, Wickham responded, “Surely, you will help pave the way with the Colonel?”

“I may, if I believe you two truly loved each other.”

The two sat in silence for quite a while. Wickham quickly thought about what he could do or say to convince Fitzwilliam of his eternal love for the young chit. To be honest, Fitzwilliam was right: Wickham did not even care for the annoying little child, but for her £30,000 and a permanent tie to Pemberley, he could put up with the little thing.

As Wickham considered his options, he did not realize that his pause gave Fitzwilliam the opportunity to consider his own. Fitzwilliam watched Wickham furiously thinking about what exactly to say and thought with almost panicked at the thought that maybe the senior Wickham had left an equally damning letter behind for his son that he had given the elder Darcy. All at once, Fitzwilliam realized that he needed to know if Wickham did knew more about the Darcy family that the conniving man was letting on.

Fitzwilliam was fairly certain he could word the settlement in such a way as to make both Georgiana and Wickham dependent upon him until his death. If not, maybe McKinley could. However, if Wickham knew about Georgiana, there would be no end to the blackmail. He was fairly certain that had Wickham known what his father had known, he would not be wiggling in his seat at the moment, but Fitzwilliam had to find out for certain if Wickham was aware of the contents of the family chest.

“George, if we are to be brothers, you must call me Fitzwilliam,” Fitzwilliam offered with a false sense of sincerity that Wickham failed to hear. Fitzwilliam was pleased to see he had taken the rake by surprise and continued, “I take it that the law was not… profitable enough for you? To be honest, I never thought it would be. What have you been doing these past three years? May I be bold enough to ask what you did with the money from my Father’s legacy?”

Wickham started to fidget in his chair, nor really caring what Wickham had done with the £3,000, Darcy continued, “Do you have any plans for an occupation in the near future?”

Wickham smiled wickedly and replied, “I had thought the title of gentleman always suited me more to employment.”

“Ah,” Darcy replied, “Your father was of the same mind, I believe, when he asked my father to send you to school.”

A little surprised by the direction of the conversation, Wickham replied, “He didn’t ask, your father offered the opportunity to him when I was nothing more than a child.”

“Really? I was under the impression your father asked my father to send you. Did he not want you to have a profession?”

Snorting at the thought, Wickham replied, “No. Father wanted me to have an education but was surprised when your father offered. He always told me to be thankful for your father’s generosity.”

“So he was not happy with my father leaving you the living?”

Wickham smiled at the memory and replied, “Actually no, I always thought he was a little jealous of my good fortune, although he would never admit it. He once told me that your father should have simply offered me a sum of money rather than dictating the direction of my life by giving me a living. I will admit I was a child when he told me this and agreed with him at the time: I was not a very religious child.”

“Were those the words he used?”

A little weary of speaking of a man he never really had a relationship with, Wickham finally had had enough, “Probably, the man was always blabbering on and I hardly ever listened. Now, can we get back to the subject at hand: the marriage settlements to your sister?”

Darcy realized, with a pleased sigh, that Wickham’s relationship with his father had been exactly as it had looked: bad. Unfortunately, had Wickham had a better relationship with his father, he might have been informed of the Darcys' secret and the Darcys would be in a lot more trouble than they actually were.

As it was, Darcy knew now how to handle George, “Of course, George. I will tell you, and this may upset you, that I will not allow Georgiana to marry until she turns eighteen. I will of course, require some sort of show of proof that you do love Georgiana and are not simply after her money: possibly gaining some profitable employ would be acceptable.”

“Employ? Eighteen? Surely not!” cried George, “That is three years from now!”

“Yes, I think it would be wise to prove that you can support yourself without my sister’s inheritance, do you not think? After all, her reputation in the first circles must be guarded. I do not think that three years will make a difference if you two truly love each other. She is still a child, George.”

George was not pleased with the way the conversation had turned and quickly attempted to turn the tables back in his favor, “I believe you are forgetting that you sister has been seen with me… unchaperoned.”

“Mrs. Younge states otherwise, and I believe her,” Darcy said calmly, “Add to that the witness of the servants in this house, I think everyone would as well.” Darcy then allowed some of his simmering rage he had been holding just beneath the surface to show through and savagely asked, “George I am beginning to believe you are not in love with Georgiana. Why would you attack her reputation in such a way?”

George sat down as he realized the only way to get to Georgiana’s inheritance would be to go along with Darcy’s scheme, and so said reluctantly, “Alright, are we to leave for London or Pemberley? What type of position will I be put into?”

“Pemberley?” inquired Darcy, “You will not be returning with us. I will allow you two to correspond, and I will read the missives to ascertain that you two are not planning another elopement. As to your employ, whatever you find will work for me. You simply must prove that you are capable of providing for Georgiana in a reasonable manner, and do so without my help. Of course, while you do that, I will reduce Georgiana’s pin money in order to help teach her to live more economically. If you succeed, and she still wishes to marry you even in a reduced state as she would be placing herself by marrying you: I will be more than happy to help you out again, in three years, like I did three years ago.”

Wickham was growing angrier by the second, and now he was starting to panic. There were creditors in London and in Ramsgate who were already becoming impatient for him to pay them back. One man of questionable repute had sent one of his goons to Ramsgate and Wickham had already promised them payment of £1,000 by the end of the following week.

In an attempt to blackmail Darcy, Wickham snarled, “I can always tell people here of the loss of her reputation and of your unwillingness to let two people, in love, wed. After all, you are certainly friendless here, while I have many friends. People have always liked me more than you; I am sure they will believe me over you.”

Darcy rose and replied just as savagely, “Are you sure? Who would they believe more? The man who has come simply because he wished to see his sister, and who supported her wish to see the sea, or the man who owes them a great deal? If you leave here today, without agreeing to my terms for your engagement to my sister, I will buy up every single one of your debts I can find, both here and in London, and add them to the ones I have already bought up from Lambton. I will see you in debtor’s prison before the week is out.”

Wickham leaned back heavily and knew his only option was to agree to Darcy’s terms, “Then will you buy up my debts here and in London if I agree to your other terms?”

Shaking his head, Darcy replied, “That would defeat the entire purpose of seeing whether or not it is my money or my sister you want. If you have debts, as a man of honor, you must determine how to pay them off.”

Wickham sat back down, knowing he was caught. He needed the money now. How could he manipulate Darcy into giving it to him? “You would put your sister through the heartache of a three year engagement?”

“If I actually believed you loved her, no,” Darcy replied calmly, “But I do not. I fully believe you do not love her and if I offered to pay for your debts right now, you would take it and walk away without a second look. So I ask you: do you love my sister enough to wait?”

Wickham sat in silence and finally asked, “And if I asked you to pay my debts, and in return agreed to walk away from your sister forever? How much would I receive?”

Darcy sat back and asked again, “Are you saying you do not love Georgiana?”

Laughing at the question, Wickham replied, “Dear God no! She is such a child; I have no need for her if you pay my debts, and possibly a little extra to help me get started again. For my silence of course.”

“Your silence can be bought simply by buying up your debts and holding the loans myself.”

Wickham paled at the thought, “Now see here Darcy, I don’t think it unreasonable for me to be paid to keep my mouth shut. After all, if your sister’s indiscretion were to get out, she would be ruined.”

Darcy nodded and sighed as he said, “You are right. For your silence, I will pay you the same amount as I did before, £3,000.” Pointing at Wickham, Fitzwilliam concluded, “Know this, I will buy up every single debt you have that I can find. If you so much as think about telling anyone of what you concocted here, I will have you thrown into prison and you will never see the light of day again. Am I understood?”

Wickham angry at how the situation had unfolded snarled, “Pay me and be rid of me then!”

Darcy smiled as he saw Wickham go a little paler as he said, “Colonel Fitzwilliam will bring your money by in the morning.”

Thankfully for Fitzwilliam, Wickham left quickly. Voices could be heard in the hallway, but Darcy paid no attention to them as he sat down heavily in the chair, pleased that his family would finally have no further dealings with anyone named Wickham. He allowed himself to feel remorse for only a minute before he heard the door open. Fitzwilliam shot up and out of his chair when he saw his dear sister enter the room with Richard close behind.

Seeing the tears on her face, he quickly wrapped her in a hug and whispered, “It is alright my dear. I am sorry for the hurt.” He looked quickly over his sister’s shoulder and with one look questioned Richard as to how she had come to be there.

Richard softly said, “I thought the best way for her to see the truth,” Darcy flinched as Richard continued, “was to be confronted by it. I know you wished to spare her pain, but she needed to hear him say it.”

Georgiana pushed back from her brother and said, “You knew, didn’t you? You knew from the very moment I said we loved each other when you first arrived, he was only after my dowry, didn’t you?”

Fitzwilliam only nodded, but the young lady was not done in a louder voice she said, “And Mrs. Younge? Did she know?” When neither man said anything Georgiana’s tears started anew and she whispered, “How am I to trust anyone again, Fitzwilliam? How?”

He could hear his father’s voice echo in Georgiana’s question. Knowing that his father had found a way to trust in the face of betrayal, made it easier for him to reply, he only replied, “We will find a way, dear Georgie, we will find a way.”

It was not long after that Fitzwilliam released his sister to her maid’s care. Thankful for having employed the daughter of Mrs. Reynolds, his housekeeper at Pemberley, as his sister’s personal maid years ago, Fitzwilliam knew Georgiana was in good hands. As soon as his sister was out of sight and up the stairs, Fitzwilliam returned to the small room he had spent most of the day in.

When he entered, he saw Richard sitting and studying his cousin. After what seemed like an eternity, Richard quietly asked, “Why? Why pay him so much?”

“I would not wish for Georgiana to go through any more than she already has,” Darcy dissembled.

“And you think by paying him more he’ll be quiet? By paying him off you’ve only enabled his lifestyle to continue. How many more people will he need take advantage of? How many more lives will he destroy?” Richard spit out, “When will he be held accountable for his actions?”

Darcy just shrugged. He knew that he had the ability charge Wickham with something. The young maids who he had helped move from Derbyshire after George Darcy’s death were only a couple in long line of people Darcy quietly helped move on from Wickham’s perfidy. Now, his dearest sister has been touched by the man’s treachery. If Darcy was not so worried about his family secret coming out, and ruining the reputation and memory of his good parents, he might just hold Wickham accountable. Now, all he wanted to do was be done with the Wickhams forever.

Darcy shrugged but Richard demanded to be satisfied and continued, “Darcy, I know you. There is something else you were worried about. All those questions you asked were for a purpose. Why ask about him and his father? What were you hoping to find out? What was Wickham hinting at?”

Darcy shrugged again and sat down at the desk once more. This time Richard rose and left the room. A little surprised by his cousin’s apparent acceptance of his silence, he was only a little taken back when Richard came back into the room with two glasses, and a decanter of whiskey, saying, “I have instructed, and paid, the upstairs maid to not allow anyone into this room. She has also informed me that there are no servants below stairs this late at night. This looks as if it contains a full bottle of whiskey. So I suggest you tell me what you were worried about before I ply you with so much drink you won’t be able to get up in the morning.”

Darcy sighed, “Richard, I’m not really in the mood.”

“Too bad. Drink up man.”

Darcy took the small glass and stared at it, realizing he needed it, Darcy drank. As soon as the glass hit the table, Richard filled it again. Darcy drank again. When Richard filled it a third time, Darcy refused to drink. He needed a clear head. He needed to make sure Wickham wouldn’t ever hurt his family again. He started thinking aloud, knowing that anything he said, Richard would make sure happened, “We need to buy up all of his debts here in Ramsgate. Is there someone you trust that could quietly keep tabs on George? If he leaves a town without paying, like here, I want to buy those debts to. If he so much as thinks about coming back for my family, I want to be able to nail him to the wall without involving sweet Georgie.”

Richard set the decanter down and as he sipped his own first glass of whiskey, considered his cousin. Fitzwilliam could feel Richard’s knowing stare. When he met his cousin’s eyes, Darcy realized there was just no hope for it. Richard would have the truth no matter the consequences.

It wasn’t as if Fitzwilliam didn’t trust his cousin. Richard was probably one of the two people, other that McKinley, that Fitzwilliam completely trusted. It was only that he did not wish for Richard’s good opinion of his parents to change, and was worried about whether or not he would want to tell Georgiana.

Fitzwilliam had no wish to tell his sister, ever, if he could help it. He wanted to protect her from the sad truth of their parents’ marriage if it was at all possible. Many times over the past four years, Fitzwilliam had wondered if he should just burn the contents of the chest, as his mother had written she had done in her diary. The small book that was still housed in the family chest, was more damning to his mother than anything she could have burned anyway. Something always held him back though. The chest was a reminder of his parent’s humanity, and a reminder that Fitzwilliam just couldn’t see getting rid of.

Whether it as the effects of the whiskey he hardly ever drank or his complete trust in his cousin, Darcy found himself quietly saying the words he hoped he would never have to say out-loud. Richard almost did not hear him, “Georgiana is only my half-sister.”

If he had not felt that his world was collapsing around him, Darcy would have laughed at the sight of his cousin choking on his drink. Richard finally wheezed out, “What?!”

Darcy only nodded. Richard asked, “Why? How? Your father – ”

“No,” Darcy interrupted softly, “My mother.”
Richard looked at Darcy with wide eyes, and Darcy said quickly, “My mother had been in love with someone before she married my father. She thought he had died but he came back into their lives sixteen or seventeen years later. It happened between around the time when our grandparents died.”

Richard sputtered, “But… how… when did your father, or mother I guess, tell you? How long have you known?”

Darcy just shrugged and said, “Since my father’s death. He left everything in a letter as well as Mother’s diary.” For the first time since he had unwittingly brought the documents, Darcy was pleased to see them. He rose to find the overcoat he had kept near him since his arrival a few hours before, and offered the old papers to his cousins, “Please, read them. I have no secrets from you.”

Richard reached for the letter. Fitzwilliam, reached and poured himself another shot of whiskey and prepared for another long evening. For the next few hours, he watched his cousin read his parents words quickly. Gone was the unreadable visage he cousin kept during his interrogation: Fitzwilliam could tell where Richard was at just by the emotions that quickly flitted across his cousins’ face. Briefly he wondered if he had looked just as astounded by the news as Richard did.

Staring to feel the exhaustion from the day, Fitzwilliam moved to recline on the sofa. He could recall his father’s words perfectly, and imaged the elder man was in the room with him, writing the words his cousin now read.

Dear Fitzwilliam,

First, I need to apologize: I am sorry to have thrust upon you so many responsibilities at so young an age. If it had been in my power, I would have allowed you more time to travel, spend time with your friends, and actually enjoy this time in your life. Unfortunately, I am not able to do that. There are many at Pemberley, London, and Scotland who will all be relying on you once I am gone. As much as I would wish a carefree time for you, I found I needed to equip you for the role you will be taking on. Since you are reading this letter, I can only assume you have already taken over the role of Master and that Connor has finally met his own fate.

Second, I need to express regret for something else: there are secrets in our family which I have not the ability to voice. I am sorry for my weakness and waiting until I am gone to tell you. I will freely admit what I am about to tell you will shock you, and will change your view of not only myself but of your mother.

You were so young when Ann died; just barely thirteen and Georgiana was barely two. I made a promise to her upon her deathbed and I fully intend to keep it even after my own death. However, at the time I did not feel that I could inform you of the promise until you were older and could understand the situation that we have placed you in. I can only say that I lost all courage of telling you in person since then. You are grown into such model gentleman; I could not find the words to explain what happened.

Now I face my own mortality and feel the responsibility and duty I have taken on keenly. I must find a way to tell you what happened. If this letter is disjointed and confusing, I apologize again. It is difficult for me to discuss topics that I have long avoided. I believe the best course of action would simply be to tell you the truth, bluntly.

Georgiana is not my daughter. She is your sister, and was christened a Darcy but is not of the Darcy bloodline: Georgiana is the product of one night of selfish abandon.

I believe I must start at the beginning. Before I do, I must plead with you to forgive your mother. If I had been in the same situation, I am not sure that I would have acted differently, and since the injustice was towards me, I expect you to respect my decision.

I believe the beginning was well before I met your mother. As you know, Ann and I wed in the year 1779 and she had just turned 18. However, her story started years before. The Fitzwilliam family were good friends, and I emphasize the past tense, with a family who resided near Matlock, by the name of Hall. Adam Hall was a decent sort of man whose wife died upon giving birth to their sixth child. Gabriel Hall was the third of the children. Not being in line to inherit much from his father, he decided to join the army.

Gabriel Hall and Ann grew up near each other; their family’s homes being less than two miles from each other. As the two grew up, their childlike friendship changed to one of a sweet first love. If fact, most people labeled them as childhood sweethearts even though they themselves never acknowledged their feelings for each other until the year before Ann was to be presented. In fact, Ann was engaged to be married to him. Knowing that if was going to be able to offer Ann the sort of life she had grown up in, Gabriel knew he would have to provide well for her. Not having the constitution for business, politics, law, or even the church, that left the only option being the military.

Gabriel's army regiment was sent in 1776 to the American colonies. Nothing was heard from him or of him for over a year. In 1777, Mr. Hall was informed that the company his son had been serving had been in a very ferocious battle in which most of the regiment had lost their lives. No one could tell Mr. Hall if his son had survived, and finally in 1778 they found a soldier who served with Gabriel. The soldier claimed he had seen his friend take a bayonet to the chest and the Halls and Ann could only assume he had died of his wounds.

Ann spent a year grieving as if she had been married to him. Her father, the Earl, insisted, however, that she spend a season in town the following year. It was then that I met your mother. I knew she was still heartbroken over Gabriel. I wish that I could claim that your mother and I fell in love: we didn’t. We married out of our duties to our families. Your mother and I did respect each other and built a marriage around that respect. I have always, however, known that your mother’s heart was not hers to give. She had always and would always love Gabriel Hall. However, we did cherish our marriage. She became my best friend and confidante and I would like to believe that I was hers.

We had our share of arguments and rough times. We buried two children before you were born. Ann had one more stillbirth after your birth; it affected her health greatly to the point that I do not believe she ever really recovered. Since she had already given me an heir, we agreed that we did not want to risk her health for any more children.

It was Christmas 1793 that Ann found out Gabriel had not died in the colonies. I had been summoned to London for some sort of important business matter that needed my attention. I came back to a very subdued Ann. I could not get her to speak with me for months. She just kept sinking into this deep depression. Each day it was just a little worse. I called for doctors and specialists even though she assured me she was fine.

It was in the spring of 1794 that I was called away to Scotland. A fire had broken out and severely damaged one of our properties there. Unfortunately, Ann’s father died a few days after I had left. The news of the Earl’s death followed me to Scotland after chasing me to London and then finally made its way to me in the north. By the time I arrived at Matlock, Ann’s father had been gone for four weeks and unfortunately, I arrived the day after her mother passed away in her sleep. More than likely of a broken heart. Ann had felt alone the entire time. I took her back to Pemberley where I thought she was simply grieving her father’s death. I was wrong. Three months into our mourning period, Ann came to my office, where she had never before set foot, and admitted that while she was at Matlock, she had come across Gabriel.

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I had not even known he was alive, much less so near to Ann. I was speechless and while I was thus, Ann calmly stated that she had known about his presence since he had come to see her at Pemberley during the Christmas holidays. Your mother was very honest with me. She rejected his advances and requests to leave me and to be with him. However, as a result of the combination of my delay and the family’s mourning, Ann could not stand the depression that hung over her family home and went riding by herself. She stated that she unconsciously had made her way to one of theirspots and found him there. Ann claimed that she had allowed herself to be comforted by Gabriel, and now had found herself in the family way.

I was astonished, mortified, angry, guilt, and so many other things. However, all I remember asking was what did she want to do then. Did she want to leave me? She replied that she had erred greatly, and hoped that one day I could forgive her, but that she had no wish to further dishonor our vows.

There was no way she could have hidden the truth from me; she was growing rounder by the day, her slight form showing every bump and curve. As we had already decided against having any more children and acted accordingly, I would have noticed her changing form and soon known of her deceit. I believe it was her honesty and her coming to me before I found out on my own that caused me to attempt to look past her indiscretion. At least that was what I continued to tell myself day after day.

When she was near the last days of her confinement, I received a report of Gabriel Hall’s whereabouts. I had sent my steward, Michael Wickham, to find out more about him, and I can only wish I had not done so. My steward reported to me that Gabriel, having finally believed Ann would never forsake the vows she had taken with me and that she would never forgive him or herself for what they had done, had killed himself. I received that news the day before Georgiana was born.

It was somewhere during her long delivery that whatever had died in me that day in my office was replaced with something different. Ann once told me that I never referred to the child as ours until I held Georgiana in my arms. In truth, until I did hold your sister, I never thought of her as thus. I can honestly say that the fear I felt for your mother’s life during this delivery was acute and something long buried was resurrected: hope.

I was called to Ann’s chamber to view my child, for that is what Ann and I had decided to allow everyone to believe, and the midwife put the small girl in my hands. We had never discussed it; but had the child been a boy, I am not sure I would have been able to accept the child as my own. It would be a daily reminder, every time I would see him with you, of the differences in paternal characteristics.

Ann quickly dismissed everyone from the room and looked at me. I could plainly see the regret on her face as she told me that she wished with all her heart that this child had been mine. If she could make the girl mine, she would. The moment she told me that she wanted to name Georgiana after me, I felt that little glimmer of hope fan into a flame of desire. I wanted my wife back. I wanted to be the husband she had needed and did not have. I wanted the chance to love her as she needed to be loved.

As I held that beautiful baby, I remember saying that the child was mine. That she was a Darcy and would always be a Darcy. Ann was still so very sick and weak from the delivery and we were not able to get Georgiana baptized until she was well over a month old. But when we did, I remember my Ann’s tears as I clearly replied that this child was mine and she would be called Georgiana Ann Darcy.

I settled a larger dowry on Georgiana than was originally determined when we wed: I wanted everyone to know that I loved this child and she was mine. For the next two years, we were a family. Ann, however, never fully recovered from the birth, and as you know she caught a cold and died from her illness.

It was a year after her death that I received the first demand from Mr. Wickham. I should have known better than to try to take care of this without involving family. Up until this point, I had thought Michael Wickham was a man to be trusted. He was always so affable, so helpful, and a very astute businessman. Michael was going to send a letter to a paper in London, which details his account of Ann and Gabriel’s clandestine meetings both here at Pemberley but also at Matlock. Unfortunately, he had been the one that I sent to help your Uncle Edward with some of the inheritance details since he had helped me through my own father’s death. While there, Michael had seen Ann leave my father in law’s house and come back rumpled. He had also seen how Gabriel had sought out her company and the smiles she had given him.

I know you have always wondered, although never said anything out loud, concerning my willingness to send young George to school. It is true that he was named after me and the fact that I am the young man’s godfather does not make me any less charitable toward him. Had Michael simply asked me to send the boy to school, I would have done so, and very willingly. His birth occurred during a point in my life where I should have been holding my second child. For a while, I imagined that George was my son and so felt great affection for the boy. Michael had no need to attempt to blackmail me into submission and yet he did.

The man demanded that I not only send his boy to school but provide some sort of occupation, or living for the boy. I will admit to a little mischievousness on my part; as Mr. Wickham had detailed in his blackmail letter, I was to provide a living for his son, I did just that. You will notice that I have willed the first parish, or living, to George Wickham once he takes his exams and is eligible to take orders.

Although a large part of me believes that the young man will never take orders, I fully believe George Wickham will come to you soon after my demise. Since I have not heard of the young man taking an interest in the church, I give you leave to execute my will as you see fit. If you wish to force the lad on some parish, do so with my blessing. Personally, I believe a monetary legacy would be more fitting to the young man than following holy orders. I know you have no love for my namesake and I do not condemn you for it. If you were to grant young Wickham, say £3,000 in lieu of his living, I think that would be fair.

This brings me to the last point I need to make clear: Georgiana may not be of my blood but she is my daughter, and I entreat you to continue to treat her as the precious child she is. She is still your sister, she may not be of my blood but she is Ann’s. Ann loved both of you very much, and her last wish was that Georgiana continue to be raised as a Darcy and not a bastard; after all, Ann and I were married at the time of Georgiana’s birth and therefore she is a Darcy if not by blood but certainly in the eyes of the law. I add to this one of my last wishes: even though she is not of my blood and therefore not a Darcy, please continue to treat her as your beloved sister and a true Darcy.

This brings me to my last wish: I do not want Georgiana to ever have to question herself and her status in this family. She is never to know of her origin, and actual parentage. I have ascertained that Gabriel’s family knew nothing of his indiscretion. He left no note informing them of the fact. In fact, I do not believe that he even knew about his daughter. I will, however, leave this topic up to you. If, at some point, it becomes necessary for parties to know, I understand if you do not honor my wish. I have every faith that you will do what you can to ensure Georgiana’s happiness.

I should clarify one more thing to you. Do not believe that I have joined you and Richard in guardianship over Georgiana simply because I cannot trust you. I do: implicitly. I only wish for someone available to whom you can trust implicitly. It was one of the worst decisions of my life seeking Michael Wickham’s help. A good friend who has an excellent knack for finding… information, recommended Conner to my employ. If you wish, I am sure McKinley will tell you his own story. Suffice it to say, I certainly made a better decision in Conner McKinley: I am pleased to know you will not be painted into a corner as I was.

I have no doubt that one day, you may need to tell Richard of Georgiana’s lineage. In my choosing Richard, who I know you love like a brother, I am also choosing someone whom I feel could represent Ann well. I have no doubts that between the two of you, Georgiana will be in good hands.

I can only say one more time, that I am so sorry for the burden I place on your shoulders. If you were any less of a man, I do not believe I would have had the courage. I can only say that I am very proud of the person you have become and entrust our family’s darkest secret to you. I only wish that I could have been stronger to discuss this with you in person. I can only imagine the thoughts running through your head. The only thing I can offer to make sense of it all is my own side of the story and your mother’s.

There is a small book in this box. It is your mother’s diary that was started the year before this whole mess ensued toward the end of her life. She once told me she only wrote in it the things she no longer felt comfortable speaking with me about. I spent the day after her death just reading her diary. So many things became so much clearer. We may not have married for love, but we did end up loving each other. Had I not read her inner most thoughts I do not believe I would have ever completely trusted her and trusted what my heart was saying. But I have read the book, and hope that one day you too will read it and learn from our mistakes. I trust you will make the right decision and have complete faith in leaving her in your care.

I end this now with only two regrets: that I never told Ann that I loved her as much as I now know that she loved me, and that I have placed you in such a situation. I can only conclude that I know you will act upon your duty and responsibility with the same honesty and integrity you have always exhibited. I am proud of the man you have become and in these last days of my life regret not being a better role model for you.

Your Father,
George Andrew Darcy

Fitzwilliam could feel Richard’s gaze. He looked up from where he had started to doze, and saw the Richard had already placed Ann Darcy’s diary down. He waited for Richard to tell him what he was thinking.

Tapping the old worn pages, Richard just said, “None of this matters, you know.” Darcy just shook his head but Richard continued, “Really, none of this matters. You know how many illegitimate children there are in the first circles of the ton. Her being a Fitzwilliam, Hall, or Darcy should not affect Georgiana.”

“You of all people know that it would affect Georgiana’s life.”

“Why?” asked Richard incredulously, “She’s still your sister, even if she isn’t a Darcy, she would be considered a Fitzwilliam, niece of an Earl. Not to mention the Hall’s aren’t exactly middle class. They may not be as important as the Darcy or Fitzwilliam families, but their heritage isn’t one to snivel at.”

“But she was born out of wedlock. That is all people will see,” Fitzwilliam replied, tired.

“So? She’ll still make a good match, if that is what you are worried about,” Richard reasoned, “There are a lot of people who could care less how a person is married but more how much they get from the marriage and what connections they could have from it.”

Growling Fitzwilliam stated, “I’m not worried about her getting married. For one thing: she is too young. For another, I’ll not grant approval unless she marries for love and respect.”

“Then what are you worried about?”

Fitzwilliam just shook his head, “In regards to Georgiana? Only that she knows that our parents loved her. That’s really all she needs to know. I don’t want my parent’s carelessness to affect her. Not only that but I have a responsibility to uphold the dignity of our family. I have no wish for the Darcy name to be dragged through the mud for any reason.”

“And you arrive to find Wickham up to his old tricks again?” Richard responded dryly, “Were you worried he would find out and blackmail you later?”

“Not that he would find out but that he already knew,” Darcy replied, “Which I am pretty sure is not much. He and Michael Wickham were not very close.”

Richard sat back and whistled, “If they had you would probably have a bigger problem on your hands.”


Richard grinned at Darcy and said, “Well, you are free of them now. There is no way he would wish to cross your path now.”

Darcy only smiled wryly, not really believing the statement and said, “Yes, I am finally done with the Wickhams. They will not harm my family again.”

The Chest of Secrets (JaOctGoHoNo 2019)

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