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In Praise of Her Conceited Independence

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It was far too early in the morning to be making calls, but Darcy was a man on a mission. He was set to leave Ramsgate with his sister in an hour and had been fully prepared to depart, when Georgiana suddenly remembered that Miss Bennet did not know she would be going. Worse, she and Miss Bennet had not exchanged contact information and would not be able to correspond should they leave Ramsgate now.

Darcy was quick to suggest a solution. The night Miss Bennet had stayed with Georgiana in her room, she had sent a note to her aunt and uncle to explain where she was staying so that they would not worry. The servant who had delivered the message would know where Miss Bennet was residing, and Georgiana could hurry over to bid her friend goodbye and give her the address of her establishment in London.

The next problem to arise was brought up by Georgiana: Wanting to protect Georgiana’s privacy, Miss Bennet had not given her aunt and uncle the true explanation behind her decision to stay the night. Miss Bennet’s relations had been given to think that the reason for Miss Bennet spending the night away was that Miss Darcy, whom she had befriended at the beach, had taken ill just as her companion had been called away on urgent family business. As Miss Darcy would be alone until the next day, Miss Bennet felt it necessary to stay with her and nurse her until her brother arrived. Given this explanation, it would seem strange for Miss Darcy to arrive at the Gardiner residence looking the picture of health. 

Since Georgiana could not call upon Miss Bennet personally, it fell to Darcy, the ever-dutiful brother, to go out as Georgiana’s emissary and pass the message on to Miss Elizabeth in her stead.

He felt decidedly ill at ease to be calling on strangers at such an impolite hour, but with his sister being so low in spirits, he was pleased to have something to do in her service, and so swallowed his nerves and knocked on the door of the house to which the servant had led him.

If the Gardiners were surprised to be called upon so suddenly by one they did not know, they showed it not, and were everything that was welcoming. Mrs. Gardiner enquired most solicitously after his sister’s health, and the couple expressed warmly their pleasure upon being told that she was much improved and, feeling well enough to travel, had decided to go to London and recover fully in the comfort of her own home.

Feeling slightly more at ease at this warm reception, Darcy explained his mission and inquired after Miss Bennet, who was not present at the breakfast table.

“Lizzy is already gone, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Gardiner replied, “she often takes walks in the morning. You are more than welcome to join us for breakfast, though, if you should wish to wait for her to return.”

There was a warmth and ease about her that reminded Darcy of her niece, and as stiff as he usually felt among strangers, he sensed that his presence was not seen as an imposition and the welcome was genuine. He surprised himself with the desire to remain for breakfast with the family, unable though he was to take them up on the invitation.

 “I have a few remaining matters to attend to at the house before we leave; I fear I do not have the time. I thank you for the offer, though. Please send Miss Bennet my regards as well as my gratitude for her kind care of my sister.”

He left them with a piece of paper containing Georgiana’s address, and a puzzling feeling somewhat like regret. 

Soon, however, his thoughts were torn from Miss Bennet and the Gardiners by the most surprising visitors. No sooner had he arrived at the house, when a knock at the door sounded, and a few moments later, Mrs. Greene approached him, trailed by two constables. 

He showed them in and bid them to sit with all the courtesy he could offer, but was unable, perhaps, to conceal his discomfort and worry. “What can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked, attempting to sound calm.

“Mr. Darcy, we apologize very much for intruding, but an unfortunate incident has occurred here in Ramsgate, and we are obligated to follow every lead we have. Are you familiar, perhaps, with a Mr. Wickham?” asked the older constable. The younger one seemed very much in awe of Darcy’s wealth, and was avoiding meeting his eyes.

Darcy felt himself stiffen further, but tried to affect an air of nonchalance. “I have known Mr. Wickham since my childhood,” he replied haughtily, “but I have not seen him in several years.”

“He is here in Ramsgate,” the older constable explained, “and has been the victim of a most shocking crime. Two days ago, he was beset by bandits, who brutally assaulted him and robbed him of all his money.”

“Has he?” Darcy asked drily.

“This is a very serious matter, Mr. Darcy,” the constable said, stone-faced. “Mr. Wickham was grievously injured. While one of the bandits held him down, the other beat him with a plank. The plank had a nail sticking out of it, that has done him most serious damage. It hit him in such an angle as to pierce his eye, and it appears that he has lost his sight in that eye as a result.”

As much as he hated Wickham, Darcy could not help but wince at that.

“We have found it difficult to track the bandits,” the constable continued. “There have been no other reports of such attacks in this area, and we have very little to go on. We thought to ask Mr. Wickham if he had any enemies who might wish him ill, and he named you.” Here the man had the grace to blush. “He had seen your sister in this town and had thought that you might be here as well.”

“Mr. Wickham has been given three thousand pounds by me for the purpose of studying the law, and has squandered all the money in a most irresponsible manner; I have a very low opinion of the man. However, I would hardly wish him the kind of harm you have described, nor have I any need for what change he had in his pockets,” Darcy replied coldly. He knew it was not wise to mention the attempt on his sister.

The younger constable jumped in, in an attempt to soothe his temper. “We apologize deeply for the indignity we may be causing you, Mr. Darcy, but you must understand our difficult position. Mr. Wickham has been robbed of all his money, leaving him unable to pay some substantial bills in his place of lodging and several other businesses. We have quite a few people relying on us to retrieve the missing money. Would you please beg our pardon, and tell us where you were on the night before last?”

Darcy did not bother telling them that Wickham had never had the money and was simply using his injury as a way to avoid paying those bills. The less contempt he showed for Wickham, the less chance of them seriously investigating him or his sister. “I arrived in Ramsgate only yesterday,” he told the men. “My household staff can confirm the date of my arrival, and my steward and coachman can vouch for my whereabouts on the night before.”

They asked for permission to interview the witnesses he had named, but it was clear from their demeanor that they had no expectations of their efforts bearing fruit.

After they left, Darcy wondered if he should somehow contact Miss Bennet with this new information but decided immediately that the notion was foolish. There was no reason for her to be suspected, and it would merely draw unnecessary attention to her.

Besides, she was the daughter of a gentleman with a no doubt delicate constitution (though rather more mettle than most ladies he knew). It would do no good to distress her with the knowledge that her brave actions had had such a gory result.