Col. Fitzwilliam is one of my favourite secondary characters in all of Jane Austen’s novels, and I don’t think I am alone in my interest in the Colonel. I have read many P&P variations in which Col. Fitzwilliam is given great attention. Since Jane Austen does not say much about him, it gives other writers lots of freedom to paint him as they like. In most P&P variations he is cast as a jovial and trustworthy character. However, I have also read some very dark versions of the Colonel.
To me, Col. Fitzwilliam is a good guy. I cannot imagine him otherwise, because I trust Darcy’s judgment and Darcy clearly trusts his cousin both with his sister’s guardianship and with information regarding his friend, Mr. Bingley. Although I could never imagine a romantic relationship between Col. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth, I think he could easily be one of Lizzy’s good friends. I think they have a lot in common. They both have an easy disposition and although the Colonel has lived a more privileged life than Lizzy, by virtue of being a second son, he will have to consider prudence, rather than love, when making a match. Every time I read a P&P variation with Col. Fitzwilliam as a character in it, I hope to see him happily settled like Lizzy. In my three P&P variations, Col. Fitzwilliam is a beloved character. He is a great friend and protector to Darcy and Lizzy in To Save and Protect, falls in love in To Love and Cherish, and finds happiness in marriage in the third novel, To Desire and Deserve.
Below is a conversation, from To Love and Cherish, between Col. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, when the two discuss Lord Paisley and Georgiana Darcy as a possible love match. I hope you enjoy the conversation!
On the following morning, Pemberley was abuzz with anticipation as the servants prepared for the imminent arrival of the honored guests. Elizabeth had left her rooms earlier than usual to speak to Mrs. Reynolds about the planned menu and to ensure that the rooms were prepared. Mr. Darcy left the house after breakfast to oversee the matters regarding the Greens while Lord Paisley and Colonel Fitzwilliam enjoyed a ride. Georgiana kept to the music room, steadfastly practicing a new piece of music. It was almost noon before Elizabeth was free to take a short walk. Upon leaving the house, she was joined by Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Elizabeth smiled as the gentleman approached her. “I understood you had gone riding with His Lordship.”
“We have only now returned. I saw you and thought to join you.”
“Has Lord Paisley gone inside?”
“Yes. He would not dream of presenting himself to you smelling of horse,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said rolling his eyes.
“I enjoy your company as always, dear cousin. But, I cannot help thinking that you have a motive in joining me.”
“You and I, I hope, do not stand on ceremony.”
“Indeed, you can tell me anything, Richard.” Elizabeth smiled. “Although I believe I can hazard a guess as to what has displeased you.”
“I am not exactly displeased. But I am not entirely pleased either.”
“Far be it for me to question your decisions. But since I share the guardianship of Georgiana with her brother, I find myself bound to ask your motives in inviting Lord Paisley to Pemberley.”
“Lord Paisley was invited by Fitzwilliam.”
“Of course, he was. But Darcy would not have invited the man if the invitation was not also endorsed by you.”
“What do you mean, Richard? What can possibly be wrong with having His Lordship stay here?”
“Do not gammon me, Lizzy. You must know that a man of Paisley’s wit, stature, and charm cannot possibly go unnoticed by an impressionable young girl like Georgiana.”
“I suppose he cannot.” Elizabeth conceded, her eyes twinkling with mirth. “But we can hardly hold the poor man’s charm and wit against him.”
“I am not holding any of his charms against him. But Georgiana is not out yet. She does not know many men beyond her relatives. Surely, you must see that being thrown into the company of a man who is worldly and experienced in the art of flirtation would not be the most prudent thing for her.”
“But Lord Paisley and Georgiana have met before. This is not the first time they have been in each other’s company.”
“Georgiana was too young and too shy when they first met. She is now older and well … I am concerned on her behalf. I am afraid that Georgiana may develop a tender for him.”
“But what is so wrong about that? Georgiana is to have her debut in a few short months. She is bound to develop a tendre for one gentleman, or even two. And where better to feel the first flush of attraction than in the bosom of Pemberley.”
“Yes, but why Paisley?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked. “Of all the young men, why him?”
“Why not?” Elizabeth countered. “Lord Paisley is an impressive gentleman. He has a well-informed mind and a charming disposition. I appreciate his sense of irony and his eye for the ridiculous. In fact, I believe I am half in love with him myself.”
“Do not be ridiculous, Lizzy,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said, not able to hide the humor in his eyes. “And do not let Darcy ever hear you say so. For he would send Paisley packing, if not worse.”
Elizabeth laughed merrily, causing the colonel to chuckle as well.
“And he is Fitzwilliam’s friend. I do understand your misgivings, Richard,” she said once they both sobered. “I confess I never considered Lord Paisley as a match for Georgiana. When we last saw him, Georgiana was too young and I never paid any attention to their interactions. But I have come to change my opinion on the matter. In fact, when I consider it, I find them to be a good match.”
“What nonsense, Lizzy! A good match? A young innocent miss and a man of the world?”
“Why ever not?” Elizabeth asked.
“Georgiana needs a man who would love and cherish her. Paisley will not do for that purpose.”
“You do not believe him likely to develop feelings for Georgiana?”
“I do not believe him likely to develop feelings for anyone,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said. “Lord Paisley is an amiable man, and an intelligent and entertaining acquaintance, but he will not make a good husband.”
“Do you think him incapable of love?”
“Incapable is not the word I would use,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said after a short pause. “I would rather say that he is unwilling to love. He is a sworn bachelor.”
“He was a sworn bachelor,” Elizabeth said. “But his situation is now changed. His Lordship’s heir has proved himself an unworthy man. So, he is bound to marry and produce an heir of his own.”
“A marriage of convenience?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked with a raised eyebrow. “Poor man!”
“Poor man, indeed.” Elizabeth laughed. “So, you see, Richard? His Lordship is entering the marriage market and I have to say that he is an excellent catch for any young lady fortunate enough to capture him.”
“I cannot deny the advantages that can be gained if one were to marry a man like the marquess. He is revoltingly rich and there is no denying that he is an engaging man. But his heart is hardened. He will not love her as she deserves to be loved. He has a history, you see? A sordid love affair. From his green days. I do not know the particulars, but it is safe to say that His Lordship never recovered from his heartache and has not committed himself to any young lady since then. He is experienced in the games of flirtation, but no sooner he captures the attentions of a woman than he moves on to the next conquest.”
“You are afraid His Lordship may turn Georgiana into his latest conquest?”
Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head. “Lord Paisley is honorable. He does not play his games with innocents. Georgiana is everything that is lovely, but I think she is too young and inexperienced to interest a man of his tastes. Even if he were interested, he respects Darcy too much to toy with his sister’s feelings. Lord Paisley will not pursue Georgiana.”
Elizabeth did not agree but decided to keep her opinion to herself for the moment.
“However, I cannot say the same for Georgiana. As I said, Paisley is charming and charismatic, and I fear that he may leave a lasting impression on her heart.”
“I do not disagree with you, Colonel. In fact, I believe that Georgiana is attracted to His Lordship. I do not believe that she is even aware of her partiality. At the present, she finds him equally fascinating and infuriating.”
“Oh, dear!” Colonel Fitzwilliam exclaimed. “It is as I feared.”
“This is going to be a very important season for Georgiana. She will need to develop necessary skills to maneuver in the ton, to differentiate her friends from her foe, and to be able to understand her heart and to speak her mind. By all accounts, Lord Paisley is considered to be highly respected and pursued amongst the ton. Georgiana’s interactions with His Lordship can serve as an excellent window into what she is soon to experience.
“Are you not considering the heartache she may experience?”
“As my father used to say, ‘Next to marriage, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It gives her something to think of,’” Elizabeth said with mock severity and then smiled reassuringly. “I do not wish Georgiana to be unhappy and will do everything in my power to protect her. But I will allow her to make her own decisions. If what she is experiencing now is a passing fancy, it will be harmless. If her feelings are of a more serious nature, and if they are not returned by the gentleman, time will help heal her wounds. But she will be better for it.”
“Consider, Richard, before the arrival of His Lordship, Georgiana’s only experience with love was Mr. Wickham. We both know that Mr. Wickham was an unworthy young man and unworthy suitor. Lord Paisley, on the other hand, is a gentleman of first consequence. He will set the standard against which all her future suitors will be measured.”
“I do see your point,” Colonel Fitzwilliam conceded. “But you said if her feelings are not returned by the gentleman. Do you have reason to believe that Paisley may be partial to Georgiana?”
“I do.” Elizabeth nodded. “But I need your assurance that this will stay between us for now. I do not want Fitzwilliam to know.”
“I never believed or imagined you to keep secrets from your husband, Lizzy,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said with a raised eyebrow.
“It is not my secret, Richard. Indeed, it is nothing more than a suspicion at this point and I certainly would not want to concern Fitzwilliam until I am more certain.”
“What is it that you suspect?”
“I am not entirely sure.” Elizabeth shrugged. “But I know that Lord Paisley is not indifferent to Georgiana. I can see admiration and amusement in his eyes when he watches her.”
“Georgiana is a beautiful girl.”
“No one can doubt her loveliness,” Elizabeth said. “But I believe it is more than a mere attraction to her beauty. He likes to engage her in arguments, which I can tell you from personal experience, is a clear mark of interest. He wants to see if she can match him in intellect, and I must say, although Georgiana is much younger and is still quite timid, she does not lack in understanding.”
“Dear god!” Colonel Fitzwilliam exclaimed with sudden realization. “Paisley broke Mr. Green’s arm. I thought that was only because he was protecting his friend’s sister.”
“I cannot help reflecting that that is precisely how Fitzwilliam would have reacted had I been in Georgiana’s place.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded gravely. “Why is he not declaring himself? Why is he not speaking to Darcy about his intentions?”
“How can he?” Elizabeth asked with no little amusement. “When he does not know what his intentions are yet?”
“But surely, if he finds himself attracted to Georgiana, he must declare himself, and if he cannot, he should go away.”
“Well, he has only been here two days. But, as I understand from my housekeeper, the chamber maids have made the most peculiar observation.”
“Do tell,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said, anxious and amused in equal measures.
“It seems,” Elizabeth said, her smile growing wider, “that His Lordship’s trunks have been unpacked, packed, and again unpacked since his arrival two days ago.”
“What? Why? His valet must have maggots in his brain. What is the meaning of such odd conduct?”
“Either His Lordship’s valet has gone mad or His Lordship is not certain whether he should stay at Pemberley or leave.”
It took Colonel Fitzwilliam a short moment to understand Elizabeth’s meaning, upon which he burst out laughing. “He must truly be in love, poor man!”
“I believe he is struggling with his feelings. He was looking for a marriage of convenience, but I believe seeing Georgiana was an unexpected turn, which now threatens to overset his plans.”
“If he is attracted to Georgiana,” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, his face no longer amused by the facts, “if his feelings are…that is…if he really cares for her… Why is he struggling?”
“For the same reasons you are struggling, Richard. You cannot fathom that a sworn bachelor with a hardened heart can possibly fall in love with an innocent young girl. Imagine how the bachelor himself must be feeling.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam fell silent and then—“I wonder how Darcy has not noticed! He is usually very quick. How is he not suspicious?”
“He is suspicious,” Elizabeth said, her face suddenly grave. “Although, I am persuaded, he is not aware of his own suspicion. I cannot explain it. It is as if he knows, and yet he does not see the facts before his eyes.”
“I do not mind telling you, Lizzy, that when Darcy finally becomes conscious of even a hint of attachment between those two, he will raise hell in this house. Paisley should speak with Darcy.”
“Yes, but consider, Richard…. How can he come forward when he is not certain of his feelings yet? He needs to reconcile with his own sentiments before he can convince Darcy of the depth and steadfastness of his feelings for Georgiana. And Georgiana is not even out. Consider how foolish His Lordship would look to ask Fitzwilliam for the hand of his sister before she has even been presented.”
“What an ill-chosen time to fall in love!”
Elizabeth giggled. “People do not choose when and with whom they fall in love.”
“What is to be done?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, amused by Elizabeth’s humor.
“We must have patience.”
“And what of your brooding husband?”
“We must hope His Lordship makes his decision before Fitzwilliam makes it for him.”
“How are we to know His Lordship’s decision?”
“Oh, I am sure we will know soon enough,” Elizabeth said with a wicked smile. “All we have to do is to ascertain whether His Lordship’s valet is engaged in packing his trunks or unpacking them.”