Darcy nodded and after replacing the letter in his desk, he poured his cousin and himself more of the port. He tipped the glass to his lips after saluting him, letting the pleasant burn slide smoothly down his throat as he closed his eyes. There was more he wished Richards views upon, but how to begin?
"I have seen Wickham." Darcys quiet announcement broke the silence like the crack of a rifle shot.
"Wickham! He would not dare!" Fitzwilliam fairly exploded.
"No, we met quite by accident while I was accompanying Bingley in Hertfordshire. Apparently, he has come upon enough money to purchase a lieutenancy and has joined a militia stationed in Meryton."
"A militia! Wickham? He must be at the end of his resources, or hiding from pressing obligations, to do so. Wickham, a soldier! I wish, by God, I had him under my command!" Fitzwilliam paced the length of the room then turned and demanded, "Did you speak with his commanding officer? Tell him what a villain hes acquired?"
"How could I tell him?" Darcy remonstrated in response to Fitzwilliams glower. I would be called upon to furnish proof that neither Inor youcan ever give." Darcy held Fitzwilliams blazing eyes with his own until the latters shoulders slumped in acknowledgement. Darcy indicated the armchairs by the hearth, and both sat down heavily, their faces turned away each from the other in private, frustrated thought. For several long minutes the only sound in the room was a wind come blasting against the windowpanes.
"Richard, how do you account for Wickham?"
Fitzwilliam raised a blank face. "Account for him?"
"Explain him." Darcy bit his lower lip, then let out the breath he was holding and expanded on a question that had plagued him for over a decade. "He received more than he could have dreamt of from my father and was put in the way of advancing well beyond his origins. Yet he squandered it all, even as it was given, and repaid all my fathers solicitude with the attempted seduction of his daughter." He paused, took another swallow of the port then continued in a lowered voice, "Would you call it a natural frailty?"
"Natural frailty! Hes a blackguard, and there is the beginning and end of it!" Fitzwilliam roared. He stopped, then, and mastered himself before continuing in a more subdued tone. "And so he was from the start, as you have cause to remember. I may be only a year older than you, but I saw him playing his hand against you even when we were children."
"My father never saw it." Darcy swirled the liquid in his glass.
"Humph," Fitzwilliam snorted. "As to that, I am not entirely convinced. Your father was an unusually perceptive man. I cannot help but think he had Wickhams measure, although why he did not act, I cannot say. But in one thing he was deceived. I do not believe he could ever have conceived of Wickhams harming Georgiana. Nor could any of us! We knew him to be a sneak thief, liar, and profligate, but," Fitzwilliam pounded the arm of his chair, "even we, who suffered his tricks, could not guess the depths of his viciousness!"
"Perhaps he only fell into it accidentally. The pressures of his debts...time against him..." Darcy recalled the mornings sermon.
"Accidentally fell into it! Fitz...it was a cold-blooded, carefully planned campaign! Probably was about it for months!"
"But Richard," Darcy faced his cousin directly, his countenance awash with confliction, "human frailty cannot be so summarily dismissed. I make no claims to be immune from its effects, and you, surely, do not, as you appeal to it regularly! We all hope that, given its consideration, the balance will weigh out in our favour for our attention to duty and to charity."
Fitzwilliam cocked his head to one side and looked deeply into his cousins eyes. "That is true, Fitz," he replied slowly, "and I am no theologian...or philosopher, for that matter. That is rather your line than mine. But, if you are asking me whether we are to excuse Wickhams behaviour to Georgiana because he could not help himself, or if, in the end, his scale will be tipped to the good, I beg leave to tell you, Cousin, you may go to the Devil! For, barring sudden and immediate sainthood, the creatures a rogue of the deepest dye and will remain so. Even the Army cant change that!"