Rascals and Rivals - Chapter 18

Rivals & Rascals

Chapter 18

September 23, 1812


The invitation to the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth gave Richard Fitzwilliam no small amount of pain. He had no intentions of attending, but he could not bring himself to throw the invitation in the fire. Although he kept the offending piece of paper hidden away in the back of his desk drawer, he could not resist looking at it every now and then. He held it in his hand and stared at it now, as he sat slumped in a chair in the larger of the two rooms that he had rented.

Someone knocked loudly on the door; Fitzwilliam initially ignored the noise, but when the pounding continued for several minutes, he got up reluctantly and opened the door. His landlady, red faced and sweating from the exertion of banging on the door, stood before him with a flustered look on her face. She announced that a gentleman named Mr. Edward Crandall was here to see him and that he did not look like he was going away until he got to speak with Mr. Fitzwilliam.

Fitzwilliam groaned. Crandall was his oldest friend, except for Darcy. Crandall, Darcy, and Fitz had spent most summers together when they were boys. Crandall lived in Dorsetshire and only came to town on rare occasions. Fitzwilliam had no desire to see anyone, particularly, someone who had such close associations in his mind with Darcy. He knew, however, that Crandall would be highly offended, if he refused to see him. Fitz did not feel, at this point in his life, that he could afford to give offense to anyone who still called him a friend.

“Send him up,” announced Fitzwilliam, in the same commanding tone that he had used to give orders to men in his regiment.

A few moments later, Crandall was standing in Fitz’s shabby front room. He looked Fitzwilliam over from head to toe and made a clucking noise with his tongue.

“I gather from your appearance that the rumors are true.”

Fitz sat down heavily and covered his eyes with his hand to block out the sunlight. “What rumors would those be, Cranny?”

“That you have got yourself booted out of the militia and disowned by your family, and you have, in a very short span of time, turned into a wretched and dissipated creature.”

“Those rumors are only half true. I will not deny the charges of dissipation, but I resigned my commission voluntarily and my family has, rather reluctantly I admit, decided against disowning me.”

“If that is the case, why have you let yourself go to this extent. Look at yourself, man, you are red eyed and shaggy, and pale as a corpse, besides. And look at these rooms; they are disgraceful; if your family has not disowned you, I cannot imagine why you would choose to live like this. You are above all of this.”

Fitz shrugged. “I like it here. It suits my present mood.”

“I know what you need, Fitz.”

“I have no doubt but that you do.”

Crandall ignored the sarcasm in Fitz’s voice. “What you require is a new profession to engage your time and give an interest to your plans and actions. You have never been one of those fellows who likes to be idle, fashionable as such a pastime is.”

Fitz smiled wanly at his friend, “What do you suggest Cranny, that I try my hand at the law?”

Crandall snorted. “Lord knows what your family would say if you became a common barrister, although a solicitor is allowed to be respectable enough for some. Regardless, you are not studious enough for the law. No, I had a more genteel profession in mind.”

Fitz raised an eyebrow. “You cannot be suggesting the church?”

Cranny leaned forward. “Ah, but I can and I am. As you know, I inherited a very good property in Dorsetshire. I am in position to offer you a living at -----, which is just now vacant. It is not a small rectory, and would provide you with a very comfortable income. It would be my pleasure to offer it to you, Fitz.”

Fitz shook his head. “You must be joking; I am the last person who is suited for the church.”

“I do not agree. You have always had sound principles, a natural ability to take command, and a lively disposition – all the qualities a good rector needs. Think about it Fitz, in your own small circle, you will have immense influence and the opportunity to do good.”

Fitz shook his head. “It is no use going on about it; I cannot accept it. I may have once had those qualities you speak of, but I no longer do.” He waved his hand. “You can see for yourself the depths to which I have sunk. I do not rise before noon on a good day, and I am out all night getting intoxicated or worse.”

“Well, as to that, there is many a clergy man who is more dissipated than you are. But, you will soon grow weary of the debauched life. I know you well enough to be certain of that. You have always had a careless streak but underneath, you are a true gentleman through and through. Think about it, Fitz, that is all I ask. The rectory comes with a smart house and fair sized parcel of land. It would be perfect for a family once you set your sights on a particular young lady.”

Fitzwilliam stood up abruptly. “I thank you for the offer; it is kind of you Cranny, but it is impossible. I may be on the road to ruin, but I am not a hypocrite. I have to get ready to go out, now. I have a pressing engagement. If you are in town for a few days, perhaps we can dine together on Tuesday.”

Crandall stood up and looked at his friend in silence. “Very well, Fitz. But, promise me you will give my offer serious consideration. I will give you a fortnight to decide, and then, if I do not hear from you I will have to offer the position to someone else. For the sake of the villagers, I cannot leave the position open for long. As for dinner on Tuesday, that is a splendid plan. I will meet you here at five. Perhaps, we can go to my club, if you clean yourself up a bit.”

Crandall headed for the door; just, before he reached it, he turned and addressed Fitz. “By the way, I was astonished to hear of Darcy’s wedding, but delighted, of course. I thought Darcy would be the last of us to wed; he always seemed to find fault with all of the young ladies. I thought he was too fastidious for words. I assume that I will see you at the wedding? It is in some out of the way place in the country, but I would not miss it for the world. It is to be a double wedding, I hear, as Charles Bingley is to marry the sister of Darcy’s betrothed.” Fitz nodded his head in a distracted fashion, and said nothing. “I must say,” Crandall continued, “I am exceedingly curious to meet Darcy’s young lady. She must be quite extraordinary to win him and then to transform him into such a cheerful creature. His last letter to me was positively effusive on most subjects. I assume we can attribute all of this to his lady. Have you met her Fitz?”

Fitzwilliam hesitated for a moment, when he spoke, his voice was slightly rough. “I have met the lady, yes, but I cannot claim to know her character very well. You will have to judge for yourself whether she is extraordinary or not. As to attending the wedding, I am afraid that I have other plans.”


When Crandall left, after protesting vociferously that of course Fitz must attend Darcy’s wedding, Fitz closed his eyes and ran his hand over his unshaven face. He thought of the irony of the difference between his situation and that of his cousin. While Elizabeth undoubtedly did have a beneficial affect on Darcy, his own life had been virtually ruined as a result of his acquaintance with her. Fitz could not say truthfully, however, that the fault was Elizabeth’s, or even Darcy’s. He had managed to ruin his life entirely on his own. Fitz looked at his hands, which were trembling slightly from the lack of laudanum. He stood up and looked about his dreary surroundings and then faced himself squarely in the mirror. He took in his haggard appearance and grimaced.

By god, Cranny was right; he was above all of this! Maybe Cranny was right about the benefits of taking a new profession, as well. Fitz tried to picture himself from behind a pulpit, and the idea of accepting the living slowly took a hold on his thoughts, until eventually it seemed not only possible, but the only sensible course to take.

October 1, 1812



Fitzwilliam Darcy sat at a desk in Bingley’s library trying to concentrate on a letter from his steward. His mind, however, was focused on listening for the sound of footsteps. He was expecting Elizabeth and Georgiana to return at any moment from a visit to the shops in Meryton. He smiled to himself at the thought that he would soon see Elizabeth, and, if all went well, even get to snatch a few precious moments with her alone. He was so happy now that she had finally accepted him, or rather, he thought with a boyish grin, now, that he had accepted her. There was only one blemish to his happiness and that was his cousin, Fitzwilliam.

Darcy had done all that was possible to protect Fitzwilliam from the small scandal that had erupted in the wake of Fitzwilliam’s duel with Wickham. Within days of the duel, rumors had rapidly spread through London and beyond that the second son of the Earl of Matlock had gravely injured a soldier of a lesser rank for failing to pay a debt. The earl himself had been appalled that his son had been involved in such scandalous doings, and had repeatedly threatened to disown him until Darcy had traveled to Matlock to discuss the matter with his uncle. Darcy’s task had not been easy since the earl took an extremely harsh view of what he termed “Richard’s shameless antics.” Still, Darcy did manage to convince the earl to grudgingly agree to abandon his plans of disinheritance by informing him that the duel was motivated by Wickham’s history of cruelly seducing young gentlewomen – a history that Darcy conveyed without revealing the roles of either Georgiana or Lydia Bennet.

Darcy had also spoken to friends of his with high connections in the military to prevent a court martial investigation of the duel. What Darcy was unable to do, however, was protect Fitzwilliam against himself. He had received regular reports of Fitzwilliam through mutual friends during the past month, and all of these reports indicated that Fitz was well on the road to self-destruction.

Darcy’s ruminations were interrupted by footsteps, but they were not the light footsteps of his beloved; rather, they were the slow, stately steps of one of Bingley’s footmen. Darcy looked up at the approaching servant with an impatient frown on his face; he was irritated at the servant for committing the crime of not being Elizabeth. His annoyance soon changed to interest, however, when the footman handed him a letter. Darcy examined the address of the letter quickly, and was pleased to find that that the letter was from his good friend, Edward Crandall. Darcy tore the letter open and read the contents quickly.

The news the letter contained brought Darcy great satisfaction. His friend announced that he had offered the living in Dorsetshire to Fitzwilliam, as Darcy had suggested. Crandall was pleased to say, that after initially rejecting the offer, Fitz had finally decided to accept the offer of the living. Crandall had ended the letter by saying, ‘Now that Fitz has resolved to accept the living, he looks more like himself already. He has lost that forlorn look, and is even taking pains with his appearance again. I am greatly relieved by his transformation; I have hopes that, by the time of your wedding, he will have rallied completely.’

Darcy was dashing off a quick reply to his friend, expressing his gratitude to him and his hopes of seeing him soon at his wedding, when he heard the quick footsteps that he had been listening for all morning. He immediately abandoned his letter and stood up in anticipation.

The door flew open, revealing, to Darcy’s delight, Elizabeth and no one else. With an impish smile, Elizabeth reached behind her to shut the door. The moment the door was fully closed, Elziabeth was in Darcy’s arms and he was kissing her with a hunger that was new to him. They had kissed on a numerous times in the weeks since their engagement, but never had Darcy kissed her with such abandonment. Elizabeth was completely dazzled; not just by the intensity of it, but also by the sense of joy that Darcy instilled in the kiss.

Several moments later, Darcy lifted his lips from Elizabeth’s and announced, “I have good news, Lizzy.”

Elizabeth smiled at Darcy, eager to know the reason for his exuberant mood. “Yes, my love?”

Hearing that particular endearment for the first time from Elizabeth’s lips was too much for Darcy. He forgot all about his news and, repositioning his mouth on Elizabeth’s, kissed her with renewed passion. Elizabeth responded with equal fervor until they both felt weak and breathless.

Finally, Elizabeth rested her flushed face against Darcy’s shoulder. “I should like to hear your good news now, if I may.”

Darcy nestled Elziabeth closer in his arms and kissed her temple. “I have received a letter today which eases my mind greatly and which I hope will give you equal reassurance. It seems that Fitzwilliam may be recovering his spirits, at last. He has accepted the living that my friend Crandall has offered him. He will be moving to Dorsetshire in a few weeks. I understand he will be very well situated there.”

Elizabeth expressed her delight at the news by throwing her arms around Darcy’s neck and kissing him on the cheek. “I cannot tell you how very glad I am to hear it. I know, although you will likely not admit it, that you are behind this plan to find a new profession for him. You are truly the best man that know.”

Darcy responded to this compliment by bestowing small kisses on the corner of Elizabeth’s lips. The resulting ticklish sensation made Lizzy laugh.

“The idea of your cousin becoming a clergyman is rather a strange one, but I imagine he will take to the situation very well. He does have amazing powers of persuasion. I can imagine that many young ladies will await his sermons most anxiously and happily do anything he bids them to do from his pulpit.”

Darcy stepped back so that he was holding Elziabeth at arm’s length. “Are you trying to make me jealous, Lizzy? I hope that you will not be persuaded to do my cousin’s bidding if you ever have the occasion to hear him preach a sermon.”

Elizabeth was relieved to see a teasing look in Darcy’s eye. She smiled up at him and pulled Darcy closer until, once again, the lengths of their bodies were touching.

“You need have no fear of that, sir. Your cousin may be persuasive, but he is nothing compared to you. I find that I am completely in your thrall. You could convince me to do your bidding without the need of a pulpit.”

Darcy found that he liked that idea of Elizabeth being in his thrall, very well, particularly as he knew himself to be so thoroughly enthralled by her. He lowered his head and resumed his impassioned kisses, this time on her neck and shoulders, rather than her lips. She reciprocated by loosening Darcy’s neck cloth and lightly stroking his neck with her fingertips. Darcy found these gentle caresses so stimulating that, without conscious thought, he soon found himself tracing delicate circles over Elizabeth’s left breast with his hand. Elizabeth looked at Darcy for a moment with a startled look, and then her expression slowly relaxed into a sensuous smile. She moved her hands lower on Darcy’s back until they rested, very lightly, on his buttocks. Darcy was as delighted as he was astonished by this bold gesture on Lizzy’s part. Overcome with desire, he was contemplating locking the library door, when the shrill sound of Miss Bingley’s voice penetrated the silence.

Moments later, when Miss Bingley and Georgiana entered the library, Darcy and Elizabeth were sitting on opposite ends of the library couch. Darcy held a book of poetry by Mr. Wordsworth on his lap.

Elizabeth looked up at the two ladies and greeted them in a voice that was only slightly tremulous, while she hastily pushed some stray tendrils of hair back in their proper place. Georgiana took in the flushed appearance of both her brother and Elizabeth, and noted in particular, that her brother’s neck cloth was uncharacteristically awry. She glanced, rather skeptically at the book on her brother’s lap.

“Oh, were you reading the poems of Mr. Wordsworth to Elizabeth, how romantic!. Have you ever told Miss Bingley about the time that you he met Mr. Wordsworth in the Lakes District? It is a fascinating story.”

Miss Bingley expressed a burning desire to hear the tale straight away. Darcy, much to his disgruntlement, was forced to spend the remainder of Elizabeth’s visit to Netherfield regaling Miss Bingley with all of the minute details of his brief acquaintance with Mr. Wordsworth.

October 7, 1812


Five days before the date of Darcy’s wedding, Fitz suddenly decided, against all of his earlier inclinations, to attend the event. He realized that the tumultuous chapter in his life that involved Elizabeth would never fully be closed until he had witnessed, with his own eyes, her wedding to his cousin.

Fitz also felt that he owed it to Darcy to accept his invitation. Darcy had written Fitz not once but twice in the past few weeks, stating that although he would understand if Fitz chose not to attend his wedding, but he would welcome Fitz with great pleasure if he did attend. The fog that had enshrouded Fitz’s mind for the past two months was starting to lift now that he had stopped patronizing Digby’s establishment. As his sense started to return, Fitz could see more and more how little cause he had to remain angry with Darcy. Darcy had won Elizabeth away from him, to be sure, but there was no indication that Darcy had done anything underhanded in the process. Fitz knew, as well, that Darcy had expended great effort in the aftermath of the duel with Wickham to ensure that that the ensuing scandal did not cause him undue harm legally or in relation to his family. Fitz also had heard from a reliable source that Darcy had paid Wickham a rather handsome sum to permanently leave the country, thus, avoiding an escalation of the scandal and saving Fitz the trouble of future dealings with Wickham. Although these efforts on his behalf by Darcy had infuriated Fitz when he first heard about them, he now realized how much worse things would have been for him after the duel if Darcy had not come to his defense.

Once he had resolved to attend Darcy’s wedding, Fitz felt a substantial weight lift from his mind. He knew that seeing Darcy and Elizabeth together would be painful, but he had hopes that seeing them thus would lessen the hold that Elizabeth still had on his imagination. He was tired of seeing Elizabeth’s laughing face every time he closed his eyes. Fitz hoped that seeing Elizabeth again, this time knowing that she now irrevocably belonged to another man, would cure him of his obsession with her.

Fitz was equally tired of feeling hatred for Darcy. Fitzwilliam was not a man naturally given to resentment and to feel alienated against Darcy was particularly unnatural. For while he had been slightly envious of Darcy most of his life, Fitz had always trusted and admired Darcy above all others. He did not think that he could ever resume the degree of friendship that he had previously had with Darcy given Darcy’s choice of bride, but Fitz hoped that his affections for Darcy would be at least partially restored. Thus, with the hopes of feeling more for Darcy and less for Elizabeth once he saw them again, Fitz made plans to attend Darcy’s wedding.

Fitz wrote to Darcy and Georgiana informing him that he planned to arrive the afternoon before the ceremony and he looked forward to seeing them both. He also wrote to Shelby, whom he knew planned to travel to Hertfordshire straight from Bath for the double wedding of his new sisters.

Fitz received letters the following day from Darcy and Georgiana, both expressing great pleasure that he would be joining them in Hertfordshire. He also received an effusive letter from Charles Bingley urging him to stay at Netherfield for as long as he liked. Bingley’s letter included an invitation to a formal ball that was to be held at Netherfield on the eve of the wedding. Fitz put down the invitation and groaned. The wedding itself was one thing: it would be a solemn and brief affair and he could leave quickly afterwards; a ball was another thing entirely. He was not sure if he could resist asking Elizabeth to dance, indeed, he would be expected to dance with her; but he knew that dancing with Elizabeth would likely be disastrous. His misgivings about attending the ball were so great, that he almost abandoned the idea of attending the wedding.

He paced around his small room and then poured himself a glass of brandy. He had vowed several weeks back never to touch laudanum or champagne again, but luckily, he had not made the same vow concerning brandy. He drank the brandy quickly. Moments after the brandy burned its way down his throat, Fitz felt his misgivings about the ball dissolve. ‘It is no great matter after all,’ he thought. ‘I will dance once with Elizabeth and twice with her sisters and Georgiana, and that will be that.’ Fitzwilliam then recollected that Miss Bingley would be there and that she was well aware that he had been competing with Darcy for Elizabeth’s affections. He knew that courtesy would require him to dance with Miss Bingley and that she was not likely to remain silent on the subject of Elizabeth. Fitz poured himself a second glass of brandy and downed it even quicker than the first glass.

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