Darcy Tells His Cousin Of Hertfordshire
The setting: Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy are in London to prepare to go to Lady Catherine's for their annual trip. It is the first time they have met since Mr. Darcy came back from Hertfordshire.
"Well, Darcy, how did your winter go?" Col. Fitzwilliam asked when they were finally alone.
"It went very well, thank you, Fitzwilliam."
Fitzwilliam waited a moment, thinking that Darcy would continue.
"'Very well?' Is that the extent of your narrative--'Very well'? Come, Darcy, I must have particulars," Col. Fitzwilliam said almost jokingly. He was one of the few people who could joke to Darcy, and even then he didn't always feel entirely comfortable. "Did you meet any eligible young ladies? Did you break their hearts? How many offers of marriage did you have from their mothers?"
Darcy could not resist smiling at his cousin. Then he sighed and said, "Why could not young men have guardians as well as young ladies. I would have been grateful for some relief in that quarter."
"So you did break some hearts, then. Why was your young friend so much in need of a suitable guardian?" Col. Fitzwilliam knew his cousin well enough to know that he would get no names, but since it was not yet time for bed, he thought that there were few better ways to spend a quiet evening at his cousin's house in London.
"The man did not know his own interests, I'm afraid. He was lured into an attachment with a young woman who, I am sure, did not return his affections."
"If she did not return his affections, how could it be said that he was attached?" Col. Fitzwilliam replied.
"He thought she did."
"But would he not be a better judge of her heart?"
"No," Darcy replied, "He is disposed to think everyone agreeable. It is true that she is very lovely, and seems to be very good, but I haven't a doubt that she is not in love--except perhaps in love with his money."
"And you think fortune is her object?"
"She welcomed his attentions, but did not appear to return them. To me, it seemed as though she were conversing with any young man in her acquaintance, and not a man who was so attached. Her mother, to be sure, was very interested in the match; but then, what woman of meager fortune would not wish her daughter to be settled so well?"
"You spoke with the mother, then, on this matter?" Col. Fitzwilliam smiled at the thought of this meeting which could not have taken place.
"She made no scruple about speaking of the match as if the engagement were already settled; and said, "Of course, that will throw the girls into the paths of other rich young men. Can anything be clearer than that?"
"I dare say you're right, Darcy. But just because the mother was after the man's fortune, doesn't mean the daughter was."
"Although the daughter is beautiful, she is still on the verge of becoming an old maid. She has no fortune to speak of, and no brother to look after her in her old age. Surely it is the object of one of the girls to be well married."
"'One of the girls'? How many are there?"
"Five. The third daughter seems to not enjoy company very much; and the youngest two enjoy it a bit too much--they are very silly and unrefined. So it appears that it is left to the two eldest to marry well. And if the eldest is approached by a rich young man, why should she resist? It would be only natural for her to marry, even if she does not love, simply to secure her own state, and the state of her sisters, whom she must think of and love."
"But if she marries for money, even if she does not love this man, is that a justifiable reason to keep them apart? They would have one fortune between them, this man appears to love the lady, and you yourself have no objections to the lady--or at least none that I can tell."
"It is not so much the lady as her family, Fitzwilliam. I told you briefly of her younger sisters' behaviour, but one must also consider the rest of the family. The father is quite indolent, and appears to make no attempt to restrain the daughters into some sense of propriety--how the eldest daughters fared so well, I cannot comprehend. The mother is worse than her youngest daughters, if only because she has had more time to develop the art of being ridiculous. I met the mother's sister, who is married to a lawyer in the town, and is almost as silly as her sister; and her mother's brother is in trade, and lives in Cheapside. There is nothing to be said for the match, except that it would be a great advantage to the lady and her family, and a very bad reproach to my friend."
Throughout the whole of the recitation, Darcy had seemed incomprehensibly grave.
Finally Col. Fitzwilliam ventured, "You are not now thinking differently, are you?"
"On the contrary, I am quite pleased with my success. The man has often been in love, but never before has it been so difficult for me to detach him from a lady. Indeed, previously he had been infatuated with a young woman, but a few days or weeks at most was enough to cure him of his regard. But in this case, it has required much more effort on my part to convince him that she only wanted his money, and that she did not love him."
"Then what is the matter?" Col. Fitzwilliam bluntly asked.
"Pardon me?" Darcy replied "I don't understand you, Fitzwilliam."
"You don't seem to be your usual self, Darcy. I have not seen you like this in many months."
These last words were spoken in such a way to convey the real meaning, without having to explicitly say the name of George Wickham.
Darcy nodded and inhaled deeply. "I saw him again."
Fitzwilliam was not prepared for this. If Darcy had admitted that he had been thinking about the man, that would have been understandable--but this?
"Where? When? What happened?"
"In Hertfordshire last fall when I was there with Mr. Bingley, he was again forced onto my notice."
"And what happened? Did he seem repentant? Did he leave immediately? I can't imagine that he would be accepted into good society."
"He was unchanged, as far as I could tell. My manners, as you know, do not necessarily make strangers like me, and most of them are not worth knowing, and it is difficult to pretend otherwise; so when he came into the town--he is in the militia, by the way--he found a ready ear for his 'troubles.'"
"But surely he could not be believed. It is impossible."
"Fitzwilliam, those people do not know what we know. He is as he always was--very pleasing, especially to ladies. The gentleman's education my father provided him with, combined with his easy manners, made him liked by the whole town within two days, I'm sure. I know for a fact that certain ladies were disposed to think well of him. Miss Bingley mentioned as much after the Netherfield Ball. It appears that one of the ladies had been making delicate inquiries into the character of that man. I could have enlightened them if it weren't for...."
"But were those ladies not at risk with such a man about?"
"No," Darcy laughed ruefully. "All the women in the town together could hardly raise a fortune large enough to tempt him. Had I thought otherwise, it might be different; but they are quite safe, I assure you."
"Well, Darcy, you must learn to not think of the man, that is all. If he is in the militia, they must move about, so there will be no cause to not go into Hertfordshire, if Bingley invites you. So there you will be safe. You surely will never see him again. The odds are just too small." Col. Fitzwilliam rose to leave, "Indeed, you must learn to think that way. Good night, Darcy."
"Good night, Fitzwilliam."
Col. Fitzwilliam looked at his cousin with no small amount of regret. "No wonder he is so grave," he thought to himself as he walked up to his room. "It was many months before he was fully recovered from Ramsgate, and now this! Well, at least they will never meet again."
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.