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Lucas Lodge is where most of you guessed Wickham would set his sights, both Charlotte and Maria receiving three votes each. While I appreciated your reasoning, I am relieved to have spared these ladies such a fate, reserving it for a far more deserving woman. For those who would like a taste of what is to come (that's my version of a spoiler alert), I invite you to join me for a morning call at the impressive estate adjacent to Longbourn ...
At Netherfield a distracted Caroline Bingley paced the floors, feeling most put out by a second consecutive day of Darcy absenting himself in favor of the company at Longbourn. Occasionally she would stop to strum on the keys of the pianoforte discordantly, eventually causing her sister to flee from the room. Following one of these impromptu musical interludes, having shut the instrument with a snap of disgust, the butler interrupted her with the announcement that there was a visitor for Mr. Darcy. Upon learning he was not at home, the gentleman had insisted on waiting. The butler handed Miss Bingley a newly printed, elegant card, baring a name she did not recognize. The distraction was welcome and she ordered the man shown in. Pasting a more pleasant look upon her face, she picked up her neglected work and awaited the gentleman's arrival.
Immaculate in his new uniform – boots shining, buttons gleaming – the newly made Lieutenant Wickham was a pleasing vision to Caroline's refined eye, as she was to his. At the moment of his entry, even Miss Bingley could find some merit in Kitty and Lydia Bennet's intense admiration for a red coat. He bowed in a most gentlemanly manner and introduced himself, excusing his intrusion while emphasizing the urgency of his need to see Mr. Darcy. Miss Bingley invited him to sit down before replying, “I am afraid my brother and our guest may not return for several hours. Perhaps I may convey a message on your behalf?”
She watched the handsome face fall before he stood and walked to the window, staring out of it in the same brooding manner she had so often observed in Darcy. “Who is this militia man?” she wondered. “Why would such a gentleman not seek a commission in the regulars? And what is his relationship to Mr. Darcy?”
He moved from the window and returned to his prior seat, bestowing a sad smile on his hostess, “I am afraid, Miss Bingley, that the delicacies of my business with Mr. Darcy cannot be easily expressed in a mere message. But surely, as you presently reside in the same home, you must know Mr. Darcy rather intimately – dare I impose upon you with my troubles?”
“Yes indeed sir. Dare away!” she thought, always eager to learn more about Mr. Darcy, through whatever means. Her audible response, however, was more subtle, “I am always happy to oblige my friends, Mr. Wickham. You pose no imposition.”
“Thank you, Miss Bingley. You are graciousness itself.” He paused before continuing, taking a moment to gage the effect of his words. “I gather by my admittance here today that you know something of the particular manner of my intimacy with the Darcy family?” he said with an appearance of perfect honesty though he knew it was most unlikely that Darcy would ever speak of him. He was also armed with a great deal of information regarding the inhabitants of Netherfield, which he had been scrupulously garnering since he encountered Darcy in Meryton.
“I assure you sir. I have never heard your name before this very hour.”
“Surely I never thought you would ask me in had you not previously heard my name! Mr. Darcy never speaks of me?”
“At least not to me, sir.” The indignation in her tone was not lost on Wickham, who rose again and began to pace the room as if deep in thought. Caroline's mind raced to conclusions as she impatiently waited for him to proceed. An intimate relationship with the Darcy's! Whatever could it be?
When he felt he had adequately built up her suspense, he turned to her with his most endearingly pathetic look, “Please excuse my unforgivable distraction, but I am most saddened. I should depart at once, having already taken up too much of your time. My sorry story would only cause you to lose whatever good opinion of me you may have already formed.”
It was too much for her to bear. “Please Mr. Wickham! Obviously you have something of great import on your mind. Again I offer you my services in communicating with Mr. Darcy. We have known each other for many years as he is a great friend to my brother. I assure you I will be totally discreet.” His face momentarily brightened before falling again, noting with satisfaction Miss Bingley's corresponding expressions.
“Forgive me, Miss Bingley,” he said tenderly. “In your kindness you have offered your ear to my tale of woe and it is simply too tempting to tell all. You cannot know how badly I want to oblige you, but how can I? And yet, my avenues of hope are so small, I have so few options, how can I refuse?” He paused ponderously. “Very well then. Perhaps you are the very person to offer advice on how to proceed.”
“I will do my best,” she readily assured him.
He smiled at her enthusiasm. “You see my father was the steward to all the Pemberley estates, underneath the late Mr. Darcy, the best man I ever knew.” Caroline's face, despite her ardent effort, betrayed her dismay.
“You wonder how a man educated as myself can be the son of a servant?” She bowed her head and blushed in reply. “I was raised at Pemberley, side by side with Fitz – I mean, Mr. Darcy. His father was a generous man and provided for me amply. As my godfather,” Godfather! “he oversaw my education, preparing me for a future in the church. Have you ever been to Pemberley Miss Bingley?”
“Yes, indeed I have. It is a magnificent estate,” she replied collectedly, though Wickham could perceive the tinge of longing.
“Then perhaps you are familiar with the small
nearby?” village of Kympton
“Yes I am. I believed we dined with the rector during our visit. A Mr. Westover, if I recall.”
Again turmoil swept over Wickham's malleable face and he paced once or twice more before saying, with great feeling, “That is the very living that the elder Mr. Darcy intended for me!”
Caroline was shocked, “How can this be? Surely Mr. Darcy would not disregard his father's will?”
“There was an informality in the terms of the bequest and Darcy chose to doubt it – to treat it as a conditional recommendation. Certain it is, that the living became vacant two years ago and that it was given to another man, presumably the one you dined with.”
“Dear me how dreadful! I should not think it of Mr. Darcy.” Suspiciously, “What could have caused such a massive falling out between two childhood companions?”
“I am afraid, Miss Bingley, that it is a very delicate matter. What indeed could cause the best friend of my youth to cast me off so decidedly, without explanation, without remorse? I have a theory of what lies at the bottom of this misunderstanding but I am afraid it involves a lady's honor, so I dare not mention it lightly. This is why I so wished to speak to Darcy. You will reassure me, kind Miss Bingley, of your absolute secrecy?”
“It is undoubted, Mr. Wickham. Please continue.”