Colonel Fitzwilliam was not in the best of spirits as he left the main house. He loved Darcy like a brother, but there were times when his cousin’s high-handedness drove the colonel to distraction. The reason for today’s irritation? Darcy had hinted that he might extend his visit to Rosings. Again.
Blast and damnation! cursed the colonel. I have little more than a month left to my leave, and then I must return to Spain. I had hoped to spend some of this time with my family and Georgiana. As fond as I am of Anne, I do not want to spend what little time I have in England trapped in Kent!
Fitzwilliam brooded, trying to determine Darcy’s real reasons for staying at Rosings, when he spied a likely motive. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was walking towards the house, perusing a letter in her hand. Fitzwilliam’s countenance lightened as he began to contemplate the mystery of the level of acquaintance between Darcy and the lovely young lady from Hertfordshire.
Miss Elizabeth looked surprised when she glanced up and saw him. Putting away the letter immediately and a smile gracing her face, the lady shared the usual greetings with the gentleman.
She added, “I did not know before that you ever walked this way.”
“I have been making the tour of the park,” the colonel replied, “as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the parsonage. Are you going much farther?”
“No, I should have turned in a moment.”
“Yes, if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases.” Fitz tried to hide any irritation he felt.
“And if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he has at least great pleasure in the power of choice. I do not know anybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy.”
“He likes to have his own way very well,” replied Fitzwilliam. “But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others because he is rich and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”
Miss Elizabeth’s fine, mocking eyes flashed. “In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose or procuring anything you had a fancy for?”
Fitz was forced to grin. “These are home questions—and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”
Fitzwilliam shrugged. “Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.”
His companion colored at the idea, but recovering herself, said in a lively tone, “And pray, what is the usual price of an earl’s younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.”
Fitzwilliam was surprised that she had mentioned the exact amount of Anne’s fortune. How could she have heard of it? Her cousin, the parson, perhaps? He knows all too much of my aunt’s business. He hid his disquiet well, however, answered her in the same style, and the subject was dropped.
After a period of quiet, Miss Bennet ventured, “I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly for the sake of having somebody at his disposal. I wonder he does not marry to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But perhaps his sister does as well for the present, and as she is under his sole care, he may do what he likes with her.”
“No,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, “that is an advantage which he must divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianship of Miss Darcy.”
“Are you, indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladies of her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if she has the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way.”
He controlled his temper, however, but only barely. “I am curious as to why you suppose my cousin likely to give uneasiness to anyone.”
“You need not be frightened,” she directly replied. “I never heard any harm of her, and I dare say she is one of the most tractable creatures in the world.”
Fitzwilliam relaxed as the lady continued. “She is a very great favorite with some ladies of my acquaintance—Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them.”
So relieved was Fitzwilliam that he did not mind his next words well. “I know them a little. Their brother is a pleasant, gentlemanlike man. He is a great friend of Darcy’s.”
“Oh, yes!” said Miss Elizabeth drily. “Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley and takes a prodigious deal of care of him.”
“Care of him!” Fitz laughed. “Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of him in those points where he most wants care. From something that he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to him.”
Suddenly, the colonel realized that he might have said too much. “But I ought to beg his pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person meant. It was all conjecture.”
“What is it you mean?”
Fitz saw no harm in continuing. “It is a circumstance which Darcy, of course, would not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the lady’s family, it would be an unpleasant thing.”
“You may depend upon my not mentioning it.”
“And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley! What he told me was merely this: That he congratulated himself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage but without mentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer.”
“Did Mr. Darcy give you his reasons for this interference?”
In a gossipy tone, he said, “I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady.”
“And what arts did he use to separate them?”
“He did not talk to me of his own arts,” said Fitzwilliam, smiling. “He only told me what I have now told you.”
Miss Elizabeth made no answer and walked on. After watching her a little, Fitzwilliam asked her why she was so thoughtful.
“I am thinking of what you have been telling me. Your cousin’s conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was he to be the judge?”
Fitzwilliam heard displeasure in her voice. “You are rather disposed to call his interference officious?”
“I do not see what right Mr. Darcy had to decide on the propriety of his friend’s inclination, or why, upon his own judgment alone, he was to determine and direct in what manner that friend was to be happy!
“But,” she continued, recollecting herself, “as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn him. It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case.”
The lady did not seem to enjoy Fitzwilliam’s jest, and therefore, abruptly changed the conversation. The two talked on indifferent matters till they reached the Parsonage, where the colonel took his leave.
As he returned to Rosings, he was uneasy. Miss Elizabeth was decidedly unhappy. Could I have offended her?
A ridiculous question! Of course not.