The Caroline Complication

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Chapter 11

Darcy and Bingley gambled on the fact that Wickham and Caroline would stay on the main road. They surmised that Wickham would have chosen a carriage, considering Caroline’s delicate situation, and carriages could travel much less quickly on the side roads. There were many inns that had to be checked along this route. Luckily, the fact that Darcy and Bingley were on horseback gave them a large advantage. They hoped to find the couple quickly.

They stopped at each inn, asking whether a young couple had recently rented a room for the evening. The innkeepers were not especially inclined to provide this information, but a liberal application of coin would often loosen their tongue. On the fourth inn they stopped at, they discovered that a couple that sounded suspiciously like Wickham and Caroline had switched horses, but had not taken a room. This information heartened them that they were at least on the correct trail.

They seemed to lose that trail after their luck at the fourth inn. No one recalled seeing anyone who looked like Wickham or Caroline. They road through the day and into the evening with no more luck. Finally, that night, Bingley convinced Darcy to let a room.

“We cannot continue riding through exhaustion,” he said, and Darcy knew he was right. They stopped at the next inn and paid for two rooms. Wickham fell asleep almost immediately, but Darcy was unable to relax enough for sleep to find him. He finally gave up and headed downstairs in the hope that a drink would calm him. As he descended the stairs he nearly ran into a man that was climbing them. The man nodded to Darcy but did not look him in the face as he tried to push past. Unfortunately for Wickham, Darcy recognized him anyway.

“You scoundrel!” growled Darcy, reaching for Wickham. Wickham darted out of the way, sending Darcy off-balance. He stumbled down a stair. Wickham stood above him, with a cruel smirk on his face.

“It is good to see you, Darcy,” he said. “Did you come to wish well to my bride and me?”

Darcy’s aim did not miss a second time and his fist made contact with Wickham’s cheekbone. He was not, in general, a violent man, but he found this punch extremely satisfying. Wickham tripped over the stair behind him and fell down with a thud. However, before Darcy could make another move, Wickham pulled a pistol out and aimed it directly at him.

“It seems that I have the advantage, old friend,” Wickham said.

“I think not,” said a voice from further up the staircase. Wickham turned around to see Bingley pointing a pistol directly at him. Darcy saw his chance and quickly disarmed Wickham while his attention was elsewhere. Once the pistol was no longer in his hand, Darcy twisted Wickham’s arm behind his back, preventing him from retrieving the gun.

“Impeccable timing, Bingley,” he said. “I thought you were sleeping.”

“I was,” responded Bingley with a shrug, “but then I heard a commotion in the stairway and came to investigate.”

“Where is Caroline?” said Darcy, twisting Wickham’s arm further. Wickham yelped and directed them to a room upstairs. Darcy took Wickham’s pistol, and the group proceeded to the room.

Bingley opened the door without knocking and they heard a gasp as Caroline sat up in bed. “Brother!” she gasped, and then her eyes lit on Darcy. Upon looking at him she instantly burst into tears.

Bingley pushed Wickham down into a chair, keeping his pistol trained on him. “Caroline, explain your behavior!”

“Do not,” said Wickham, sullenly. “There is no need to tell them our plans. They cannot stop us. They will not want to stop us!”

Caroline’s sobs increased. “Brother, I am so sorry,” she said. “He told me that he would expose me if I did not help him blackmail Fitzwilliam. I would be ruined! Our family would be ruined!”

“Wickham, this is low, even for you. Corrupting an innocent woman in an attempt to revenge yourself on me?”

Wickham chuckled, unable to take the same advice he gave Caroline. “This one was not much of a challenge. All I had to do was flatter her and she opened her knees to me like a common street whore.”

This earned another punch from Darcy.

“I suppose I deserve that. But listen, Darcy. Even you cannot fail to be impressed with this particular plan. I seduced your fiance. As I said, that was easy enough. What I had not planned on, though, was that she would become with child. She came to me sobbing, telling me that I had to help her. What was so wrong with helping myself along the way?

“Everyone knows that you are engaged to Caroline Bingley. If she were to get pregnant, people would naturally suppose that you are the father of the child. And if Caroline were to tell people that you refused to marry her after you got what you wanted, how would that look for you, Darcy? You know that people long for a scandal.”

“Of course your plan was blackmail, Wickham. Some things never change.”

Wickham smiled, proud of his scheme. “So I marry Caroline and you pay us a tidy sum to keep her from telling people that you took advantage of her and then abandoned her once she was ruined.”

“And you agreed to this scheme?” Bingley asked his sister.

“What else was I to do?” she cried. “I tried to get Mr. Darcy to agree to a quick marriage, and he would not. I even went so far as to try and seduce him so he would think the child was his, but he would not have me.”

“And my morals certainly saved me in this situation,” said Darcy gravely.

“But here is the best part,” said Wickham with a wide smile. “It does not matter that you found us, or that you know of our plan. Caroline can still ruin you with just one word. You may know about our plot, but it is still in your best interest to give us what we want. In fact, you may wish to escort us to Gretna Green yourselves.”

“Bingley, let us speak on this. You may lower your gun. Mr. Wickham is quite correct that our knowledge of this plot changes nothing.

“Fitzwilliam, it changes everything!” Caroline cried. “We can still be married. No one will believe Wickham if I swear this child is yours.”

Wickham glared at her.

“Miss Bingley, I have no interest in raising George Wickham’s child, and I have no interest in saving you from a situation of your own making,” Darcy said coldly.

Bingley dropped his pistol and he and Darcy moved to the other side of the room to speak privately.

“I am afraid that I was just extremely ungallant to your sister,” Darcy said.

“As I said before, Caroline has brought this upon herself.”

“I have another confession to make, Bingley. One that I have not uttered to another person, besides the lady in question. I have found myself quite in love with Elizabeth Bennet.”

Bingley chuckled. “Did you really think I did not know that?”

“Did Miss Bennet tell you?”

“Jane would never betray her sister’s confidence. It is just the fact that you are much worse at hiding your feelings than you believe yourself to be.”

“And you are not angry with me?”

“My friend, I know that you had every intention of honoring your promise to my sister, who has proved that she is not equally noble. We cannot help whom we love.”

“I see two ways that this situation can resolve itself. I can marry Caroline, accept the child as my own, and denounce Wickham. Or we can, as Wickham says, allow their plan to progress. I am inclined towards the second, but that may be for the most self-interested reasons. I do not want to contribute to the ruination of your family. If you wish me to save Caroline from this, I need you to say the word now.”

“I will not. Wickham is a scoundrel, that is certain, and I do not relish the connection I shall have with him. However, the imprudent marriage of my sister, although fodder for the gossips, will not tarnish the Bingley name anywhere near a much as a child born out of wedlock.”

“Wickham will not agree without a sizable amount of money, which I plan to offer to him. Ten thousand pounds, and the mistaken idea that he has taken something dear to me, should be what it takes. Are you sure that you are willing to accept him as your brother?”

“Darcy, I have dealt with Mr. Hurst for years. Wickham might even prove diverting,” said Bingley, with a smile.

“So we are agreed. We will ensure the marriage between Wickham and Caroline, which solves one of her problems but may create even more than she can imagine. In return, I will pay Mr. Wickham a sum of ten thousand pounds.”

“It is as happy a result of this sordid situation as is possible,” replied Bingley.

Finished with their conversation, they returned to Wickham, who smiled knowingly at them. “Have you seen the sense of my offer?” he asked.

Darcy gritted his teeth and replied, “We have. Name your price.”

“Twenty thousand pounds.”

“Five.”

“Fifteen thousand.”

“Seven.”

“Ten thousand.”

“Done,” said Darcy. “Now we should get some rest. I will pay for an expedited marriage license for you. Not a single pound will change hands until you are legally wed.”

Bingley and Darcy returned to their rooms. “Do you think that they will run?” asked Bingley.

“I cannot imagine they would,” said Darcy. “They would not risk the loss of money.” He stopped and looked at his friend. “I am so very sorry that your family became involved in this.”

“Caroline is the one who should apologize, not you. However, I suspect that she will be punished more than enough with Wickham for a husband.”

“I fear that is true,” replied Darcy. At this point, they had reached the doors to their rooms. The men shook hands and tried, finally, to get some rest.

The next morning, Bingley sent Jane a letter telling her that Caroline was located and the situation brought to its best possible resolution. Darcy purchased a marriage license, and the following day Wickham and Caroline were wed.

“I cannot believe that you are making me go through with this,” she said bitterly to Mr. Darcy. “The only reason that I turned to Wickham was because you were always so cold to me. If you had loved me more, this would never have happened.”

“If you had kept your promises, this would never have happened,” replied Darcy coldly. “This situation is of your own making.”

Bingley and Darcy served as the witnesses to the wedding. Afterward, the entire party began the long and awkward trip back to Netherfield.

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