To Conquer Mr. Darcy
To David with love
It was nearing noon on a hot June day when Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped out of the stuffy coach into the raucous noise of London. Since it was only a short distance to Darcy’s house, he decided to take the opportunity to stretch his legs after the long ride rather than hire a carriage. Paying a boy to cart his luggage for him, he set off at a quick pace.
He sincerely hoped that his cousin would prove to be in town. He could not be certain, since Darcy had been such a poor—in fact non-existent—correspondent since their trip to Rosings. Georgiana’s last letter had not indicated any planned travels, so presumably she at least would be there. He would prefer to see Darcy, though, so that he could at least attempt to resolve whatever it was he had said or done that had offended his cousin.
Darcy had clearly been angry and upset when they left Rosings, but had been unwilling to discuss his concerns. At the time, knowing that Lady Catherine had called Darcy in for a private conference just before their departure, Colonel Fitzwilliam had assumed that his mood was related to that event, and that she must have finally overstepped the boundaries regarding Darcy’s supposed engagement to her daughter. But now, after nearly two months of uncharacteristic silence from Darcy, and despite several letters sent to him, he could only conclude that Darcy’s anger must have been directed toward him. Try as he might, he could not recollect anything more offensive in his behavior than the usual teasing he engaged in with his cousin. Well, he would just have to jolly Darcy out of his sulk and find out what was on his mind.
He rapped sharply on the front door and was admitted by a servant who knew him well enough not to comment on his unexpected arrival. He was informed that Darcy was out, but Miss Georgiana was at home and would receive him in her sitting room. Disregarding the offer to show him in, Colonel Fitzwilliam strode down the hall and walked in.
“Cousin Richard!” Georgiana said delightedly. “What a lovely surprise! I thought you were still in Newcastle!”
He kissed her cheek in greeting. “Sorry to disappoint you, sweetheart. His Lordship decided that Major General Bradford needs to discuss certain matters with me immediately, so there I was, sent off post-haste to London with nary a chance even to tell you I was coming. Can you put up your poor wandering cousin for a few nights while I suffer the slings and arrows of the Major General?”
Georgiana smiled. “Oh, Richard, of course. Why else would we keep your room available?”
He bowed slightly. “Let me excuse myself then to make myself presentable for the company of a lady, which, after roasting for two days in the most uncomfortable coach in England, I assure you that I am not.”
“Of course. I will be here when you are ready. And, Richard,” she added, her voice becoming serious, “I am glad you are here. I need to talk to you about William.”
“So something is up in that quarter. I suspected as much. I shall be interested to hear all about it.”
In his room he was grateful to shrug out of his sweaty uniform while one of the menservants vainly tried to unwrinkle the garments he had packed hurriedly in Newcastle. “Well, they will just have to do for today,” Colonel Fitzwilliam told him. “Perhaps you could spruce up the rest for tomorrow.”
A knock came at the door as he was buttoning his waistcoat. Philips, Darcy’s long-time butler, was on the other side. Colonel Fitzwilliam waved him in.
“Welcome to London, Colonel.” Philips looked unwontedly nervous. “I know you have just arrived, but I wondered if I might be so bold as to beg a moment of your time.”
“Of course,” he said amiably. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, sir, I hope you will not think this excessively forward of me, but when I heard you were here, I thought perhaps… I should take the opportunity to speak with you about a concern that I have, that is to say that the staff in general have, but we have been at a loss as to whom to approach about it.”
“Well, I’ll be happy to hear you out, but surely if this is a staff concern, would Darcy not be the one to address?”
“Yes, sir, of course, but you see, the concern is, well, about Mr. Darcy, sir. He just hasn’t been himself of late.”
The colonel held his chin up as the valet began tying his cravat. He was quite surprised that the loyal and reticent Philips would approach him about Darcy at all, much less with a concern. “Not himself? What do you mean?”
“He seems very, well, withdrawn, I would say, for lack of a better word. He spends most of his time alone in his study, and we, the staff that is, have noticed that he often seems to be, well, in some distress. He goes out most evenings, although he doesn’t seem to look forward to it, but then when his friends come calling, he isn’t at home to them, not even Mr. Bingley. Mr. Darcy has never been what I would call a man of many words, sir, but now, well, we don’t hear much of anything out of him beyond requests and thank yous, even his valet. And, well, there are other things, but I’m sure you see the problem.”
“What other things, Philips?” Now he was truly concerned.
“Well, sir, he’s been short with Miss Georgiana a few times. And he has taken to staying up half the night, sometimes reading, but sometimes pacing or just staring off into space. And, well, begging your pardon, sir, but as you know Mr. Darcy has never been one for excessive imbibing, as it were, but there have been several occasions when he has, well, gone through more than a bottle on his own, though Cook says it is a challenge to tempt him to eat much of anything. I don’t mean to complain, sir, he has been no trouble to us, but, well, we are worried. I don’t know what he would say if he knew I was talking to you about him like this, sir.”
“You were quite right to bring this to me, Philips, and you may be certain that I will keep this conversation to myself.”
“Thank you, sir. If there is anything I can do to help, anything at all, please say the word.” He bowed and left the room.
The colonel turned to the valet. “What do you have to say about all this? Do you agree with Philips?”
The young man snorted. “He’s not telling you the half of it, sir, and that’s all I’ll say about that. I value my position here.”
A few minutes later Georgiana was warming to the same theme. “He has not been the same since the two of you came back from Kent. He is abstracted, and sometimes I find that he is paying no attention to what I say. But the worst is when I come upon him when he is not expecting to see me, and he looks so bleak. I have tried talking to him, asking him if something is wrong, but he says that everything is fine, and it is so obviously not fine that I have no idea what to say. All I can think is that it must be something to do with me. It’s been rather frightening. I haven’t known who to turn to.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head. “Do you have any idea what this may be about?”
She hesitated. “I know of nothing that can have caused such a change. I cannot think of anything that I would expect to bother him this much, anything new, that is, only the old things. There is no trouble with his friends; in fact, he is being rather unusually sociable, though he hardly seems to enjoy it. And I assume that there is not any financial trouble, because you would know about that, would you not? The kitchen talk is that there is a woman involved, but I cannot see what would upset him so much about that either.” She paused, then added in a softer voice, “I have wondered if it has anything to do with last summer.”
“I am quite sure it has nothing to do with that,” he said reassuringly. “Not to worry, sweetheart; I will worm it out of him somehow. We shall get to the bottom of this.”
After dinner the gentlemen retired to the study. Darcy poured out two glasses of port. Colonel Fitzwilliam sipped it appreciatively. “Now I remember why I come here: your wine cellar.”
“Well, I would hate to think that it was for the company,” Darcy replied.
“Unlikely. I have been told by a number of people that you have been rather poor company of late.”
Darcy shot him a suspicious glance. “I’m honored to know that I am so popular.” … Your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others… Swallowing a sizeable amount of port, he eyed his cousin warily.
“Something is obviously on your mind, Darcy. What is it?”
“Don’t tell me Georgiana has you started on this, too. She has somehow decided that I am upset about something, and she has been like a bulldog about it. Pay no attention to her.”
“You have always been a terrible liar. Now, tell Cousin Richard what the problem is.”
“There is no problem, Fitzwilliam!” snapped Darcy.
“I am not an idiot, Darcy,” he said amiably. “People are worried about you. I am worried about you. For God’s sake, even you admit that it has affected Georgiana!”
Darcy, seeing the inquisitorial light in his cousin’s eye, started to feel sympathy for cornered animals. He sighed. “Richard, leave it. There are some things that need to be private.”
“There are some times when you need to turn to your family and friends. And stop guzzling that port as if it were water; it deserves better treatment than that.” Silence was his only response. “Do not let your damned pride get in the way, Darcy. Pride goeth before a fall, and all that.”
Darcy gave a harsh laugh. “Believe me, that is one lesson I have down very well, thank you.”
“You cannot distract me that easily. Now, as your cousin, and your friend, and Georgiana’s guardian, I am asking you to tell me what is wrong.”
“For God’s sake, stop it! If I need to talk, I promise, I will come to you.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood up. For a moment Darcy thought that he had won the point, but then he saw his cousin was only going as far as the side table. Bringing the decanter of port and an unopened bottle of wine back to the desk, he refilled Darcy’s glass. “If you want to do this the hard way, we will do it the hard way,” he said in a voice the officers under his command would recognize instantly.
“And what exactly does that mean?”
“It means I plan to drink you under the table, cousin, and sooner or later you will be drunk enough to talk. Waste of good port, though.”
“What makes you think you can out drink me?”
“I’m a soldier. It’s one of the few useful skills we learn. Drink up, now.”
Darcy, exhausted, rested his head in his hands. “Look, Richard, if I tell you what it is, will you leave me alone?”
In a somewhat gentler voice, Colonel Fitzwilliam replied, “Probably not.”
They were silent for some minutes. Finally Darcy said, “It is the oldest story known to man. I fell in love with a woman, and she refused me. Are you satisfied?”
“She refused you? Darcy, I can’t think of one woman in the world who would refuse you. Well, maybe the Duchess of ____, she has enough money and lands of her own, and no use for handsome young men, or so I hear. Of course, she is also old enough to be your mother.”
“Very amusing, Fitzwilliam. Yes, there is a woman out there who would and did refuse me, for the very simple reason that she could not like or respect me.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam sat back and pondered this information. Recalling his cousin’s unusual behavior at Rosings, an idea began to form in his mind. “Darcy, is it possible that we are speaking of the lovely Miss Bennet?”
Darcy drained his glass. “Touché, my friend. I applaud your deductive reasoning,” he said with some bitterness.
“Well, I applaud your taste. If she only had money, I might have offered for her myself. I am surprised she refused you, though; I would have thought her more practical than that.”
You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it. “You cannot be aware of how grave my sins are in her eyes, then.”
“I know she found you high-handed. Are there other sins besides that?”
I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. “There are so many to choose from, it is hard to know where to begin. You could start with the fact that she received her information about my character from none other than our dear friend George Wickham. Then there is the small matter that I broke her sister’s heart by discouraging Bingley from marrying her, and that I was unforgivably condescending and rude to her in my proposal… I think that covers the main points,” Darcy said bitterly. “Let us not forget that I am arrogant and conceited as well.”