George Wickham balanced on the back two legs of his chair. A smile curled his lips as he saw the man who entered the upper room at the inn. This was the man they sent to deal with him? He chuckled inwardly. This man was all charm and smiles. This was not the usual sort of man with whom Wickham dealt. Well, at least, not as the victim. No, when dealing with anyone as malleable as this man, it was Wickham who would be the aggressor, and the poor blithe chap would not realize his folly until Wickham was well away and in possession of something that the man formerly possessed — money, jewels, a maidenly sister. Wickham’s smile grew at the thought. This man had a sister — a bit of a shrew but a wealthy one.
Mr. Williams raised a brow in his direction as if he knew what Wickham was thinking.
With a thud, Wickham dropped his chair to the ground and took up a proper position and demeanor for negotiations. His lips twitched with a barely contained smile. Perhaps Miss Lydia had not done him a disservice after all in conscripting him to take her to Derbyshire.
“Mr. Williams,” Charles Bingley stuck out his hand in greeting, “I trust you are well today.” Bingley motioned for his companion, Philip Dobney, to take a seat at the table before taking his own place.
“I am well and will be better once I have rid myself of this cad,” grumbled Williams.
“Understandable,” agreed Bingley with a smile. “Mr. Dobney has agreed to sign as a witness.” Bingley spread out some papers in front of him.
“Very good,” said Mr. Williams. “The sooner we can have this business concluded, the better. Although I do not like the idea of giving any assistance to an associate of Tolson.” He narrowed his eyes at Wickham. “Deserves the same fate if you ask me.”
Wickham swallowed. He would have to keep an eye behind him as he travelled. It was one of Mr. Williams’ men who had found Tolson after his fall. The events of that accident had never sat well with Wickham. It was why he had attempted to do just as required while in Derbyshire.
“Miss Lydia will be free of you, and you shall be free of your debts. Are we agreed?” Bingley produced a small pen and ink set from his bag.
“We are,” Wickham agreed, pondering just how much extra money he could extract from Bingley when telling him the number of what he owed.
“This is the record of debts I will pay,” Bingley slid the list Colonel Fitzwilliam had obtained from Lydia across the table.
Wickham looked at the paper in surprise. “Where did you get this?” His eyes scanned the paper, falling on a small flower constructed of hearts at the bottom of the page. “Miss Lydia?” he asked in surprise.
“She is resourceful,” said Bingley.
Wickham’s jaw clenched. Resourceful was not exactly the word he would use for the vixen.
“I just need a signature from you to show your agreement and from Mr. Dobney as the witness to said agreement,” said Bingley. He waited as Wickham signed the document and then slid it to Philip. “The money along with a further copy of this list has been sent to Brighton. All will be settled before your return and without Colonel Forester knowing.” Bingley blew lightly on the signatures to dry them. “Mr. Williams will post this to my solicitor.” He folded the paper and, after addressing it, sealed it before handing it to the constable. “I do have a bit of something for your trouble in escorting Miss Lydia to Willow Hall.” He nodded to Philip. “I will be only a moment more. I know you were expected at Aunt Tess’s for tea and had business to conclude before then, so I will delay you no longer.”
Wickham shifted uneasily in his seat. He could sense a change in the atmosphere as Philip Dobney left the room.
Bingley’s smile faded, and he looked to Mr. Williams for permission to proceed.
“You’ll find no resistance or condemnation from me — no matter the results.” He stood and moved to take a place at the door.
“Mr. Wickham,” Bingley began, “the Bennets are very dear friends of mine. I would find it particularly unsettling if something were to happen to any of them.”
Wickham eyed the man across from him suspiciously.
“You will leave Derbyshire, and you will not mention a word against Miss Lydia or her family, not in London, not in Brighton, not in Hertfordshire, not in any place in this world where word of your having done so might reach me.”
That did not seem so difficult. Bingley moved where Wickham did not — in Darcy’s circles. None of them would ever hear a word he spoke about anything. He smiled and nodded.
“No, Mr. Wickham, I do not believe you understand what I am saying. I am giving you the contents of this bag — five hundred pounds to do with as you choose. You will not come looking for more from me or anyone else associated with the Bennets, or you will find yourself in one of two places.” Bingley cast a glance over his shoulder toward Mr. Williams, who only smiled and found something outside the door to be of particular interest. “You will be either dead or wishing you were.”
Wickham’s eyes widened at the comment. He had not expected Bingley to threaten him in such a way. In fact, he had not expected Bingley to threaten him at all. Ah, but then he relaxed, Bingley was not capable of making good such a threat.
Bingley’s smile became predatory as he saw Wickham relax. “I am from trade, Mr. Wickham. I assure you there are unsavoury men of my acquaintance who, for a shilling, would see the matter resolved. And you mustn’t forget that my uncle’s ships have many interesting ports of call where you might be able to find a home if a wave does not sweep you off the deck.” Bingley slid the pouch of money across the table but did not lift his hand from it. He waited for Wickham to look him in the eye before he continued. “Five hundred pounds to keep silent, or you will repay it with your life. Have I made myself clear?”
“And if I do not take your blunt?”
“And not remain silent?” There was a slight growl to Bingley’s tone.
“Coaching inns and London streets are not safe.” Bingley’s glare was unwavering. “A loose step, a footpad — so many things can happen.” He pushed the packet of money closer to Wickham and removed his hand. “Your choice, Wickham. Five hundred quid for your silence or…” Bingley shrugged.
Wickham picked up the money, shifting the pouch from his right hand to his left before slipping it into his pocket. “I shall not say a word about any of this.”
Bingley stood. “See that you do not. My associates will be watching and listening.” He placed his ink and pen back into his bag and then gave Wickham one final hard look. “Do not mistake me for having the same scruples as my friend. He is a gentleman’s son. I am not.” Bingley took up his hat, and as he placed it on his head, the charming smile from earlier returned. “It has been a pleasure doing business with you gentlemen.” He gave a small bow and left the room.
“You are free to leave,” said Mr. Williams. “Do take care on the steps.”
Wickham patted the money in his pocket and blew out a breath. He was free to leave Derbyshire, and so he would, after a quick call on a friend who owed him a favour. He smiled. He would not be outwitted by the likes of Lydia Bennet and Charles Bingley. There were ways to remain silent and still exact his revenge — Darcy, Bingley, the Bennets, and the Dobneys — he chuckled. Not a one would be left unaffected.