I hadn't intended Actions and Consequences to be a multi part story, but it was screaming for a sequel, or at least a conclusion, and so I gave in to the instant pestering of the voices in my head (yes, I know I'm mad, it goes with what we do), and here we are. I hope you enjoy my take on what happened in the last few scenes of a wonderful miniseries.
Summary- George fulfils his promise as he escorts the injured Mr. Bennet home, and during the journey the pair forms a strong friendship.
Disclaimer: Not mine, unfortunately, and no money is made from exploring the deep and angsty secrets of George's psyche.
Conversations in the Night- Part Two of Actions and Conseqences.
George gazed out into the night. The moon showed half her face in the clear night, bathing the landscape in her eerie silver glow that leached all the colour and left only shades of grey. He had spent many nights like this, gazing over the landscape, sometimes for the pleasure that solitary contemplation of the alien world of night gave him, sometimes for duty, watching for an enemy who could, at moment, spring upon his sleeping regiment. Over the years the two had merged, and while he still loved the solitude of night, he found himself on guard and unable to completely relax as he once did.
The lush, gentle landscape of southern England was very different to the harsh hills of Spain, but he felt no more comfortable here than there. He still didn't have a home, a place where he belonged, a place where he was accepted for himself. It hurt, but he had become accustomed to it.
Lying opposite him in the coach, supported against the sway and jolt by his sleeping wife's tender arms, Mr. Bennet stirred a little and looked across at the young man who had, he was certain, saved his life. Wickham's young face was set in a guarded, wary expression that was different to the flippant, self assured and supremely self confident face he had worn when they met in public. Mr. Bennet wondered at the young soldier who seemed to be intimately tied up in the whole mess they had found themselves in, but still separate from it. Who was he? What was his connection to Darcy and why did that most eminent of men seem to hold such as deep hatred of him? He couldn't bare Wickham's silence any longer, or that look of deep sorrow with which he studied the night time landscape.
"Clever of you to know someone so handy with a needle," Mr. Bennet said.
George's expression instantly changed, he smiled across at Mr. Bennet, his public face instantly hiding what had come before. "Less clever of you, sir, to insist on returning home."
"Oh, I always prefer to die at home," Mr. Bennet said flippantly. He liked Wickham, and what he had seen of the young man did not match with rumour. He relaxed back into his wife's arms and George went back to contemplating the landscape. "Wickham," Mr. Bennet said at length.
"You have done me a great service. If you are ever in need of a friend, I hope that you will call on me."
"Your offer is most generous, sir," George said.
"And meant most sincerely. You have done me a great service, you have restored my daughter to me, and be instrumental in the preservation of my own life. I owe you a great debt."
"I will remember, sir. I would like permission to call on you once in a while," George said.
"That you have, you will always be welcome at Longbourne."
There was another long pause in their conversation.
"I think you have suffered great hardship in your life," Mr. Bennet said.
George smiled with genuine humour. "Word for word, the very thing I said once to Miss Price."
"Ah yes, the redoubtable Miss Price. I did not see when we left Hammersmith, I wanted to thank her for restoring my daughter to me."
George glanced at Lydia who was asleep in the bench next to him, propped up against the padded wall of the carriage. She was so young and innocent and so very naive. She was lucky that Bingley had been too drunk and too heartbroken to contemplate anything more physical than mere conversation. He was fairly certain, from what he had seen of the girl, that her conversation would run out quite quickly and that she would have little success in holding off a man who was interested in her for more worldly entertainments.
"I'm sure that Miss Price will make herself known again soon," George said, "She seems to have a tendency to appear in the most unlikely of places."
"That is true," Mr. Bennet said. "I would know you better, Captain Wickham."
"There is little more to know, sir, I am who I am and that is all there is to it."
Mr. Bennet would have shook his head in denial if it didn't hurt so much. He must have knocked his head harder than he thought, he would not normally speak so candidly with someone who was almost a complete stranger. "Not from what I have heard tell of you."
George winced a little.
"How did you come to be entangled with Mr. Darcy, and why does he hate you so much? Come now sir, I saw how rude he was to you at Longbourne, there must be some reason for it."
"I am something of refugee, sir, drifting between worlds, unwelcome in either, and that is something that those in society cannot abide. My father was a simple man, the estate manager at Pemberly, and I was raised and educated with Mr. Darcy," George said.
"And those parasites who believe that they are the movers and shakers of our world cannot abide someone in their ranks who has come from humble origins," Mr. Bennet supplied. "Take Mr. Collins and his treatment of our redoubtable Miss Price as an example."
"I would rather not take Mr. Collins in any manner, sir," George said with a smile, "But you are right. My background counts against me."
"There is more, I can see it in your eyes."
"There is sir, much more, not all of which makes pleasant hearing."
"Everyone has aspects of their lives they don't wish known," Mr. Bennet agreed, "I, for one, did some quite disreputable things as a young man which few people know about."
George couldn't really imagine the studious Mr. Bennet doing anything disreputable, but the Mr. Bennet of the past could have been a very different man. George knew, only too well, that it was possible for a person to change beyond recognition. "Unfortunately my disreputable actions are a matter of public record," George said, "My days at university were not all spent in the lecture theatre or library."
"Yes, I thought you must have some learning, you are far too well spoken to be a simple soldier. Which university did you attend?"
"Cambridge, sir. I studied law for three years before deciding an academic life was not for me." As much as he liked and respected Mr. Bennet, George wasn't going to tell him the deeper reason for leaving his studies incomplete, not here and not yet.
"And after that?" Mr. Bennet asked. "You are too old to have come straight from university, and too young to have gained the rank of Captain without some former experience."
George was surprised at Mr. Bennet's perception. For a man who spent most of his time cocooned in his study, away from people in general and his family in particular, he was very perspicacious. He wanted to talk to the older man about his experiences, to share with someone what he had gone through. Sarah understood, but Sarah was a woman, and as much as he valued her, he wanted to be able to speak with someone of his own gender. However, this was not the place to do so. Mrs. Bennet may have been asleep, but she was still there, and who knew what people perceived while they slept.
"I would like to discuss matters further with you, sir, but we are nearing your home and it is time to wake your family."
"Ah, I understand," Mr. Bennet said, "You do not wish to discuss such things in front of my wife, even if she is asleep."
"You have read my meaning correctly, sir," George said. "I would like to discuss matters with you further, but in a more private setting."
"You will stay the night, of course."
"Your hospitality is most appreciated."
Mr. Bennet shook his wife's arm and she came awake with a startled snort. George reached over and touched Lydia's shoulder, bringing her gently awake.
"We are nearly at Longbourne," George said to the slowly wakening women.
The carriage rattled through the gates and up to the door of the sleeping house. George alighted from the carriage and knocked on the front door and it took several minutes of insistent banging before a sleepy voice inquired who had the temerity to disturb decent people at such an unpleasant hour of the morning. Soon, however, the whole house was abuzz as servants were roused from their beds to receive their master and carry him into his study.
George stood back from the bustle and watched with amusement as Mrs. Bennet gave an endless stream of orders, most of which were ignored by her staff who knew their jobs far better than she did. The fuss was just starting to die down when, out of seemingly nowhere, Miss Price stepped into the mix to stir it up again.
With her was a young lady of surpassing beauty, with dark hair cut unfashionably short and a milk pale complexion who was wearing the oddest clothing reminiscent of the leggings and tunic Miss Price had been wearing when she turned up at his lodgings some days previously. She was quickly identified to George as Miss Elizabeth, the missing Bennet daughter by one of the maids who, as a collective, flew into even more of a fluster when they realised that Mr. Darcy was asleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Stranger and stranger, George mused. He followed Miss Price in Mr. Bennet's room and watched as Lizzie took tender care of her father, scolding him lovingly as she dabbed something pungent onto the wound, making Mr. Bennet wince.
"Got a house full, Miss Price," he said softly in her ear. He couldn't help teasing her just a little, "Where am I to sleep?"
"I am grateful to you, George," she said as she turned her piercing gaze upon him, her undying sense of humour glinting in the candle light, "But where you… put yourself tonight is not my concern. Perhaps you should address yourself to Mr. Collins."
He smiled, delighted by her vibrancy. Very few women of his acquaintance would address any man in such a self assured way. "I, um… doubt that Mr. Collins is equipped to give me satisfaction with regard to my enquiry."
"Then you must take matters into your own hands," she turned her back on him, and the message was clear, she had made her decision, and he was not it, "Mine are full."
George gave a small chuckle as she left him. She had won, he could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice. Whatever her plan was, she had won and she didn't need him any more. He silently wished her a sad farewell. He would have liked to know her better, in every sense of the word, but she was too canny to fall for his superficial charm and he respected her too much to try anything more.
He took himself into the parlour and made himself as comfortable as possible on the couch. He supposed that he could have asked one of the servants to surrender, or maybe share, their bed with him, but didn't feel like trading banter with anyone else. He stared for a time at the faintly glowing coals in the grate, wondering how Miss Price and Darcy had managed to appear from nowhere, before succumbing at last to the warm, welcoming embrace of Morphias.