by Jack Caldwell
The Austen Interviews #6 – An Interview with Major Archibald Denny
JACK CALDWELL – Hello, everyone—Jack Caldwell here, just back from obtaining my second restraining order, this one against Marianne Brandon. For those unfamiliar with the situation, please read my interview with her here.
Today’s guest is a man you think you know but don’t. There’s a good reason for it—he’s even less fleshed out than everyone’s favorite stud-muffin, that loud-mouthed plot device, Colonel Fitzwilliam—
(VOICE OF COLONEL FITZWILLIAM) – Hey! I resemble that remark!
JC- Quiet in the peanut gallery, please. Back to today’s guest introduction. From Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, and featured in my upcoming novel, The Three Colonels, let’s welcome Major Archibald Denny.
ARCHIBALD DENNY – Thank you, Mr. Caldwell. But I have to ask you—Archibald? Really?
JC – Yes, it’s an author’s prerogative. Austen didn’t give you a name, so I did. Major Denny, I suspect our audience is confused by your rank, as you were only a lieutenant in the —-shire militia with George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. Would you care to share your story with our friends?
AD – I have no objection, but since you were the one who devised my backstory, should not it be your tale?
JC – It sounds better coming from you.
AD – You know, this is only to promote The Three Colonels.
JC – Yeah. So?
AD – Very well. I am the only son of a shopkeeper from Plymouth. I was raised by my uncle, because my father and mother died when I was a young boy and we lost the business. My uncle was in shipping, but with several children of his own, there were little funds for my future. I attended school, but I knew from a young age that I was destined for the military life, either the army or navy. The sea held no attraction for me, so I joined the army. Unfortunately, all my family could afford at the time was a commission in the militia. My uncle promised me that should I do well and his business continued to grow, he would try to do more for me.
Once I joined Colonel Forster’s regiment, I found I had chosen well. I had an aptitude for things martial, particularly logistics and the training of soldiers. However, no matter how hard I applied myself, there was no opportunity for advancement in the militia.
JC – No promotions without money, eh?
AD – Just so. For me to rise in the world, I needed to be in the Regular Army. Finally, in late 1812, my family raised the funds I needed. I sold my militia commission and bought a lieutenancy in the Regulars.
There, I became very fortunate. My commanding officer, a general of infantry, took notice of my orderly mind. He introduced me to his friends, including Colonel Brandon. I earned a competency promotion to captain in quick order. Just before he retired, he arranged my transfer to staff at Horse Guards, the headquarters of the army.
JC – Your rise was very rapid.
AD – It was, and I felt my luck. I also gained enemies, jealous of my good fortune. My patron’s parting advice to me was that there was only one way I could continue to advance, given I had no rich protectors. Be the best at whatever I was assigned to do, he told me.
I swallowed my pride and bit my lip when insulted. I worked hard and became invaluable to my superiors, even those who had ridiculed me. I caught the eye of men such as the Duke of Wellington, and my position was secure. A death vacancy made me a major, something almost unheard of for someone not in combat, and it was a testament to my superiors’ confidence in my abilities.
JC – A true professional soldier, then. So how did you become friends with George Wickham?
AD – I was afraid you were going to ask that.
JC – Well?
AD – My uncle was kind to take me in, but he was not a demonstrative man. He was of a quiet and serious temperament. I find that I have too great a tendency to fall into that myself, so I surround myself with talkative, lively people. Their good cheer was infectious and enjoyable.
JC – Seems Wickham fits the bill.
AD – He did. I own I was a somewhat irresponsible when first I joined the militia corps and had a bit too much fun with drink and barmaids. It was during one of those escapades that I made George’s acquaintance. We got each other out of a scrape, the details of which I would rather not elaborate, save there was no permanent damage, and a life-long friendship was formed. A year later, he expressed interest in a military career, so I convinced him to join our regiment.
JC – Forgive me, but I find it difficult to believe an ambitious, hard-working officer could achieve all that you have while remaining friends with a reprobate like Wickham.
AD – Yes. Well, by the time Wickham joined us, I saw that an irresponsible lifestyle was not going to help me achieve what I wanted—promotion and position. I changed my ways, but I still enjoyed George’s company. I make no excuses for his bad behavior, but you must remember he is a fine fellow, as long as one does not hold any of his debts.
JC – I take it you did not.
AD – No. I do not like cards. Backgammon and chess hold more attraction for me.
JC – Okay, I’ve got to ask—what about Lydia Bennet?
AD – I respect Mrs. Wickham very much.
JC – There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?
AD – I have no idea what you mean.
JC – Come off it! Did you know that Lydia was going to run off with Wickham?
AD – No! (PAUSE) I knew George was in some distress at Brighton—debts of honor, you know. I suspected he was going to leave, and I thought he might not go alone, but he had shown no particular interest in Miss Lydia. As for her, she was lovely, delightful, and attentive to all of us—
JC – Stringing all of you along, was she?
(SOUND OF DENNY GETTING TO HIS FEET)
AD – Sir, I insist you withdraw that scurrilous statement!
JC – All right, all right, calm down. You can take your hand off your sword now.
(SOUND OF DENNY RESUMING HIS SEAT)
AD – Mrs. Wickham always comported herself like a lady in my presence.
JC – Then how do you square that with her actions with Wickham?
AD – Mrs. Wickham is of a lively, romantic, and naïve nature. I am sure she fell in love with George and truly believed she was eloping. Remember, sir, she was barely sixteen. What she was convinced of by George once they reached London, I could not say. But she is a respectable married woman now, and I will not say one word against her.
JC – Sounds to me like you’ve got the hots for Lydia Wickham, friend.
AD – What?
(SOUND OF THE STUDIO DOOR OPENING)
GEORGE WICKHAM – Ah! There you are, Denny! What is this, an interview? Telling tales? Gads, it is good I got here, then!
JC – This is a closed set, Lt. Wickham.
GW – That’s Captain Wickham to you, sir! Ha, ha! Well, what should we start with, Denny? That brawl in O’Daniel’s pub?
AD – You came just in time, George. There might have been a brawl in here today.
JC – Uh, oh.
GW – I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I say, isn’t there any ale about this place? You, wench! Bring us each a pint!
JC – Wickham, that’s my wife you’re ordering around!
GW – Sorry. She’s a ripe one, though.
JC – Watch it, you clown!
GW – No offence, old man! Lord, it’s hostile in here!
(VOICE OF COLONEL FITZWILLIAM) – Wickham! You want to see hostile, I’ll give you hostile!
GW – @#%&! Fitzwilliam! Umm, I think it best we push off, Denny. Let’s go to that new bar just down the street.
AD – As you wish. I have nothing more to say today.
JC – And that’s it for this edition of the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles. We wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you next time.
GW – What kind of drink is “sushi,” anyway?
JC – I might need a third restraining order. My lawyer’s making a killing on legal fees this quarter.