He So Singled Her Out
Many thanks to Molly, Ann2, Lou, Captain Everett, and P. Bingham for tips on "Impolite Conversation"’ in Regency times. As Ann2 noted, no matter when, boys will be boys!
"When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her, in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man of ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks their equal amazement in beholding it." (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)
It was the morning after the Netherfield Ball. George Wickham was tired from his trip to London the previous day and a long night of gaming after the other officers’ return from the ball. Despite a fair night insofar as winnings went, Wickham was surly on hearing of the many pleasures his cowardice had cost him.
His friend Captain Denny was still somewhat intoxicated from the long night of gaming. Wickham had encouraged Denny into a well-soaked state as it made him an easier mark for the experienced gamester. Wickham, Denny, and Carter strolled through the streets of Meryton, talking as they went. Carter needed to visit the blacksmith and see to equipment for his horse.
As the three officers waited for the smith to finish with another customer, Denny and Carter continued to regale their friend with tales of the previous evening’s delights. They told him of the food, the drink, the music, the dances, and the many pretty faces.
Carter said, "I must say, Wickham, I thought Denny here might transfer his attentions from Miss Lydia Bennet to Miss Elizabeth when he first saw how well she looked."
"Well she looked indeed," laughed Denny. "That is a nicely rounded chit, that one."
Towards the other end of the stable a tall man straightened up from examining his horse’s new shoe and whirled around to look at the three officers. Denny and Carter were facing away from the man, but Wickham plainly saw that his former friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, was now listening to their every word.
Denny laughingly poked at Carter and continued, "Seems to me that you are the one who was most tempted to pursue Miss Elizabeth in Wickham’s absence, Carter. You looked at her as though you were dreaming she would be a short-heeled wench for the likes of you." Carter made a noise of protest as Denny talked on, "You’ll have to forgive him, Wickham. You must admit that Miss Bennet is quite well furnished!"
Wickham shot both Denny and Carter a look. He also noticed Darcy's reaction. His first thought was that Darcy's anger and disgust were caused by his presence. His friends’ next information, however, put matters in a different light.
Carter still looked embarrassed, "I was not the only man who admired her. I paid her no particular attentions, however. If you wish to have a shy at someone, Wickham, look to that gentleman, Mr. Darcy."
"Aye," replied Denny. "He did quite single her out! You know how he never dances with any but his own company, but even he could not deny Miss Elizabeth’s charms last night. She looked lovely, and certainly healthy enough! She was the only local lady he so honored. I suppose he couldn’t resist the temptation to see if she was as soft to the touch as she looked." He winked at Wickham and laughed.
Wickham eyed Darcy in wonder. Darcy looked as angry as he had at Ramsgate. Unable to resist baiting him, Wickham coolly pulled out a cigar and lit up, asking "He so singled her out? Darcy danced with my Elizabeth, did he?"
Carter smiled now. "Have no fear, Wickham. Your lady did you credit. I don’t think he had an easy time of it with her. Denny and I were standing nearby as they danced and even overheard her chide him for his famous temper and give him comeuppance for his treatment of you!"
Wickham smiled at this. Knowing him as he did, he could see quite clearly that Darcy was livid. After Wickham’s disappointment at not having the courage to attend the ball and all its amusements, Darcy's discomfort now was most welcome.
Wickham spoke up mockingly, "So, Darcy fell prey to both her charm and her wit, did he? I’m glad to hear it. Whether singled out by the wrong man or the right man she is a fiery vixen. It is gratifying to be so in her favor. I have charmed many lovely ladies in my time, but few of such spirit. There are too many weak-willed girls in this world, girls who allow others to lead them away from where their passion would take them." Wickham knew this veiled reference to Georgiana was the height of recklessness, but he was gambling that Darcy would be unwilling to expose his sister.
Wickham however, had underestimated the combined effects of jealous anger and fraternal protectiveness. He had unknowingly found Darcy's limit and pushed him beyond it. Hardly knowing what he was about, Darcy strode menacingly towards Wickham. Wickham stood frozen in shock and fear.
The smith came back asking, "Is the job to your satisfaction, sir?" Darcy's infuriated gaze whipped away from Wickham to the smith, causing the smith to step back in apprehension. "Sir?" he squawked, frightened.
Denny and Carter turned as they heard the smith. They could see the man looking at Mr. Darcy in terror. Carter sucked in his breath at the sight of Darcy, both embarrassed and apprehensive that their conversation had been overheard. Denny was merely amused. Wickham held Darcy's gaze and made ready to flee.
Darcy's anger cooled and turned bitter as he saw the fear on the blacksmith’s face. Though he wished to silence Wickham in a way he would never forget, he had no desire to create a public scandal. He shrank from the thought of exposing both Georgiana and his feelings for Miss Bennet. Barely in control of his anger, he barked out, "It will do!" and thrust some money (about twice the amount due) into the blacksmith’s trembling hands. With one last glare towards Wickham, he led his horse out of the building and mounted it.
Wickham and Carter both let out audible sighs of relief. Denny laughed, "You act as though he was going to come over here and run us all through!" Wickham let out a shaky laugh and took a puff of his cigar.
Carter moved to the blacksmith to discuss his business. Wickham watched Darcy's departure, hoping it would be a long time before they met again.
As he rode out of Meryton, Darcy was still choked with anger. He was glad that he had decided to leave for London along with Bingley and his sisters. He knew now that if he were thrown into George Wickham’s company he might lose control of his rage and cause a very unpleasant scene.
He tried to put all thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet being charmed by Wickham from his mind. He attempted to convince himself that it did not matter and that she did not matter to him. His heart, however, knew the truth. Darcy's horse thundered away towards Netherfield.
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