Love's Arrow Poisoned
"There is a hoary snake that nestles 'twixt the barry ribs of Death; The honey underneath that serpent's tongues deserves not so his habitations name" - Thomas Lovell Beddoes
An hour or so later, Darcy was pacing his study reflecting on what he had learned. He had dealt somewhat distractedly with his other business matters and then gone back to the letter to read it again, but on second perusal its content was no more palatable. At least, he contemplated sardonically, his dilemma of the past few days was settled. He now had sufficient information to decide a course of activity and he knew he must consult Elizabeth; not only to inform her of what he had discovered but also because he knew he would greatly value her opinion on what action would be most appropriate. He scanned the letter for a third time:
I have made inquiries along the lines you requested and am sorry to report that the truth may turn out to be even less agreeable than appeared from the previous incomplete and, as we knew, less reliable information I received.
Well, that was to be expected, he reflected bitterly. He knew in his heart of hearts that however much he hoped the rumours that had been reported to him were false or exaggerated, where that gentleman (he gritted his teeth even as he thought the word) was concerned, the truth would invariably prove worse than he feared.
To separate truth from rumour is never easy in these circumstances or at this distance but my source, a Captain Perry (by all accounts a most reliable and discreet man) informs me that W is not well thought of among his fellow officers, who, originally charmed by his manners, have found him in the last month or two to be unreliable in his duties and of questionable moral character. This will hardly surprise you given our previous dealings with him but I know we both hoped, against our better judgement, that his marriage and removal to the North would steady him. As we feared, however, this would not appear to be the case. He is reported to have run up debts of honour with his gaming, the extent of which I have written to Captain Perry to request him to ascertain discreetly, though initial report would suggest they are substantial. It is also rumoured that he frequents houses the nature of which your own knowledge of him will supply, and is often the worse for liquor.
Just as he feared. Once again through his aid the man was living a life of drunkenness and dissipation and throwing his money away at the card and billiard tables. No, not his money. Not even just Darcy's money - the money his tenants had worked hard to earn for the estate which should be used for the good of them all, wasted on that scoundrel! Once again, he thought with relief that his father had never learned the true nature of the man.
The worst, however, I leave till last and even for W, I find it hard to believe. Perry states that in one or two of his most excessive debauches he has questioned the propriety of his wife's friendships with some of his fellow officers. Given, as you are aware, that she has recently become with child I can only wonder at his motives, if any, in thus sullying her character and that of his future son or daughter. Luckily, Perry tells me that only a small number of his acquaintances were present and heard these rantings. He has stated that he took it upon himself to convince those who were not too drunk at the time to remember them that they should be neither believed nor discussed with anyone else.
This was too much even for him! That the man could think it was bad enough, that he would express those suspicions to others, even when the worse for drink, was astonishing. He could not believe it. A wave of nausea washed over him as he contemplated that but for his timely and fortuitous appearance at Ramsgate eighteen months before his own sister, innocent and trusting Georgiana, would be married to that man!
The first time he had read the letter it had hardly registered, its content was so shocking. The second time he had read it to verify that he had understood it aright and it had confirmed and increased his unease. Now, the third time, his reaction was one of unbridled anger, and he paced up and down his study with a white face and lips compressed together. For full ten minutes he could not bear to return to it, though he knew he had read the worst it contained. Was the man forever to be a source of embarrassment and shame to all who knew him? It was bad enough that he should have to constantly be dragged into the man's web of deceit and profligacy; but now the man had relations. A wife, a child on the way, mother, father and sisters. As he thought this his anger, if possible, increased. That he himself was brother-in-law to the blackguard was punishment enough for any sins but Bingley, Jane, Elizabeth too? Bingley, his good friend, with easy manners and always eager to please. Jane, sweet tempered and always ready to believe the best of anyone. Elizabeth...
"Damn the man!" he muttered involuntarily as he paced.
Elizabeth, who was now sister to that man! To be tainted by association to that worthless rakehell, along with Jane, Bingley, all the rest. As his aunt would so succinctly declare It was not to be borne!! That the man would drink too much one night and fall into the harbour and be drowned!
"Damn the man!" broke forth from his lips again as he continued to pace relentlessly, cursing like a navvy.
This activity could not continue indefinitely, however, and fortunately there is a mechanism whereby the body's exertions can act like a safety valve to relieve the pressure that the effect of shock or tragedy can have on the mind. After several more minutes of determined pacing, although within the confines of his study - which he crossed from side to side in half a dozen steps - he was able to regain his equilibrium and return to the letter.
I am sorry I can bring you no gladder tidings, but you asked for any details I could obtain without censorship and that is what I have given you. Remember, I know not what is truth or rumour - but I am not sanguine.
As you know I am unable to leave my duties for the next ten days or so but I will pass on any information I receive from other sources, of which I have put inquiries in order. In the meantime, I have written to Captain Perry, asking him to send you regular reports of developments and I am sure he will prove reliable and discreet. I know you will act with tact and delicacy but let me urge you not to be too lenient if these reports prove truthful. You will recall I have felt you have been so in the past and I know your father's regard for him as well as Georgiana's reputation has weighed heavy with you in your previous dealings. Now he is even more closely connected to you - do not let him use that to his advantage as he has done in the past. I know you must be thinking of Elizabeth, her sister and your friend. Believe me, I am too - as I think of you. I believe decisive action will be called for. For my own opinion, the man deserves to be shot like a dog, but if you find that too excessive then use your own judgement.
I am sorry that this letter contains only what will pain you but I will finish by expressing my hopes that you and Elizabeth are in good health and getting on as well as you seemed to be the last time I had the pleasure of visiting you. It has become rather a cliché for me to say this to you, but you are a very fortunate man, and I know she will be a great help to you in whatever action you decide to take. Why, if I had thirty men with her character I would have a fighting force that would make any sensible Frenchman run a mile - as you know only too well! Do not shut her out of this, Darce.
I will visit Georgiana in London, as you were kind enough to suggest, when my duties permit but needless to say I will not mention this subject. I will pass on any new information when I receive it and will be happy to offer any more substantial assistance in a couple of weeks, should you require it.
I will only add,
As Darcy finished the letter he could not but reflect that Fitzwilliam always had a way to make him smile even in his blackest moods. That comment about Elizabeth was just like him and Darcy could not but agree that many of her qualities were sadly lacking in a great number of the men and women of his acquaintance, including many who thought very highly of themselves. Nor could he do nought but admit he did know the experience of being the object of her anger and contempt, though fortunately that was something he had been free from for some time, certainly the latter. If they had disagreements now they were soon resolved and resolving them had often brought them closer, and been most diverting. He reflected with a wry grin that while he might find himself unequal to the task which seemed before him, she would probably cower the blackguard completely with one apparently innocent sentence and a characteristic arch look.
These ruminations had brought him again to the window and he saw with some surprise the object of them walking in the grove which bordered the lake on that side of the house. Not that he should be surprized to see her there where she often strolled but it was her demeanour that struck him most forcibly. She was moving around without purpose, her hand occasionally raised to trail the leaves of the nearby willow tree. It was obvious she was contemplating something and at first the worrying conjecture that it might be his behaviour that morning assailed him. Then he saw that she held a letter in her hand and remembered Mrs. Reynolds information at the breakfast table. This sight, which at first assuaged his anxiety, soon increased it. What letter could hold her attention in such a way and dare he wonder, who was the correspondent? She was not close enough for him to read her expressions clearly, but he thought he could see her brow contracted in a manner which did not bode well for someone. He hoped he was not to be the recipient of those devastating verbal and physiognomic weapons he had just ascribed to her but he must talk with her immediately, letter or no letter. Then the thought struck him that she may have something she wished to share with him, but being unable to do so while he shut himself in his study with orders not to be disturbed, had gone off to await the time when he was free to talk.
With a deep calming breath he headed out of the room in order to request an exchange of confidences.
Elizabeth, having dealt with such domestic matters as required her attention that day had gone to deal with her correspondence at the very writing table that her husband's late mother had previously used. One letter was from Mrs Gardiner and as such could only contain what would please and amuse her and she read the latest escapades of her nieces and nephews and her aunt's account of Georgiana's visit with Mrs Annesley with an indulgent smile but less than complete attention, before putting it aside to await her reply later. The reason for her distraction was the other missive she had received and this was one which she was sure would not bring her any pleasure or amusement. Indeed, as soon as she had seen the handwriting of the direction she had felt uneasy and had decided to peruse her aunt's letter first, to better calm her mind before opening it. Having done the former, however, she found she could only sit with the letter unopened in her hand for a full five minutes, staring abstractedly out of the window towards the lake. However, her natural courage soon gained ascendancy over her concern with what it might contain, and she ripped it open with slightly more violence than was necessary and an expressive sigh.
It was not long and its contents were not such as to pose any challenge to her mental faculties to decipher its meaning, but her eyebrows went up in surprise as she scanned it. Having read all the way through to the end her confusion increased. It was not quite what Elizabeth had expected or feared when she had first seen the identity of the sender, but there were certain aspects of it which did concern her, and she puzzled over it for some time.
She got up and walked over to the window to gaze out again at the prospect over the lake. She felt she needed air and movement to sort her thoughts and the grove she could see from where she stood was the perfect place. Because the letter had not contained the one request she had most expected she would have liked to have discussed it with Darcy, though one or two phrases in it made it most difficult for her to show it to him. Also, she realized that it was time that she made a confession to him which was long overdue, a thought which put her mind in turmoil at the possible reaction. She so valued his good opinion of her that to do anything to threaten it made her feel so wretched as to be almost unwell at the very thought, but he had a right to know all. As he was presently unavailable, however, she decided to first settle her own thoughts on the subject. Taking the letter with her, she turned to leave, uttering as she went the name of the person uppermost in those thoughts in a heartfelt sigh.
"Oh Lydia, Lydia."
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