Colonel Fitzwilliam & Lieutenant Wickham
As I wrap up my next novel, Propriety and Piquet, I realize it greatly contrasts Wickham and Fitzwilliam. They both have ongoing stratagems at Bath, and although their goals are independent, they end up in conflict just by being who they are.
Colonel Fitzwilliam has a large role to play in this story, as it also features Mr. Elliot–the poised, polished and persuasive villain of Persuasion. Between Wickham and Mr. Elliot, there are a lot of unpleasant men running around, and Colonel Fitzwilliam must give us something to hope for!
Thankfully, he is up to the job. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for me this is a year of Fitzwilliam! He is the hero of two of the books I’ve written (I do hope that won’t be confusing for my readers), as he is just the sort of solid, kind, humble hero I love.
Plus, in this one, he gets to be a sleuth! I like reading mysteries, but I rarely write them, so it has been a fun challenge.
Here is the beginning of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s story in Propriety and Piquet!
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam waited for Lord Castlereagh in a small inner office which smelled strongly of pipe smoke—the woodsy, Irish blend that Castlereagh favored.
He shifted in his chair, crossing his ankles, and getting comfortable. Richard expected to wait at least an hour, if indeed the meeting happened at all today.
His commission had been temporarily transferred from the Foreign Office to the Home Office at Whitehall. A novice might think that between these two important branches of Britain’s war effort that communication would be quite good, or at least passable, particularly as they were temporarily housed at the Whitehall Palace together. Richard was not a novice, however, and did not expect it.
If word of his coming had been sent in a timely fashion to Castlereagh, he’d eat his hat. For all he knew, Castlereagh might not even be in town.
Years of military service had taught Richard how to wait, and he took up one of the newspapers piled on Castlereagh’s desk to read while he waited.
It was thirty-five minutes later—so the ticking clock on the wall told him—when Lord Castlereagh entered.
His pale, good-looking features were pinched in annoyance. He had close-cropped sandy hair, and if he wore less fine clothing, would appear like any poor Irish workhand. Instead, he was one of the most important men in the country.
“How do you do, Colonel Fitzwilliam?” he said. “I was only just told of your coming.” He went around to the other side of his gleaming chestnut desk and sat heavily, in the manner of a man who has just realized how tired he is.
“Not at all, I assumed as much. I daresay you don’t remember, but we met some three years ago in Dover.”
“I do remember, yes. You were returning to France after an injury. Distinguished yourself thereafter, I believe, under Bromley.”
“Thank you, sir. I hear I’m to take some sort of clandestine assignment.”
“Only in the technical sense.” Castlereagh rubbed his eyes, then used a key from his inner pocket to unlock a drawer on his desk. “I wasn’t sure who they’d sent me until this morning. You’ll do very well, I think.”
“Can’t say I’m very excited about it. Spy work is not in my line.”
“I know; you’ve an honest face. But that is what I need right now.” He drew out a large square of parchment, loosely rolled, and laid it out flat in the clear space of his desk. “You’re to look for a document that’s roughly the same as this.”
Richard leaned forward to read it. There was a list inked on each side, in neat penmanship, and a map sketched in the middle. The list on the left was a series of military units.
69th, South Lincolnshire, Regiment of Foot
28th North Gloucestershire, Regiment of Foot
Royal Welch Fusiliers, Line Infantry
And so on.
The list on the right was locations. Leipzig, Eylau, Waterloo…
Castlereagh tapped his pointer finger on the map. “This is a copy of our strategic plans for the spring campaign along the French border. The original is gone.”
Richard felt his heart thud heavily, once. “Dear Lord.”
“Yes. Exactly. The original was stolen. We must get it back before it is delivered to a French agent. This could derail months of work; cost thousands of lives.”
Richard had been a soldier for years; he had been one of those small x’s on the map which held so much human suffering in so small a stroke of ink.
“I understand. There is some direction for my search, I assume? Or shall I coordinate border searches in all the likely ports?”
“No, my usual people are keeping an eye on outgoing missives and possible messengers. Frankly, if it gets that far, we are in trouble. No, I believe they are waiting—lying low as the saying is—until it is safer to leave the country with such a dangerous document. There have been a number of French émigrés traveling to Bath in the last month. We have reason to believe one or more of them is looking to buy the plans.”
“And the person who stole it?”
“The original culprit was caught, but the document had already changed hands. That man is in the Tower, I need hardly say, but is not talking. The initials WE have come to our attention from a scrap found on him. So far we have connected them to a gentleman of good birth and somewhat dwindled fortune, of the name Sir Walter Elliot.”
Richard rocked back in his chair. “Is his seat called Kellynch? Somewhere in Somersetshire?”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
“No, but he’s been staying with a friend of mine—my cousin.”
Castlereagh raised his eyebrows. “Who is that?”
“Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, in Derbyshire.”
“Ah. If we were looking to who could afford the price tag on such an item…”
“I’d stake my life on Darcy’s character.”
Castlereagh raised a slim hand. “Understood, nor would I see a motive there. I think—if Sir Walter is our man—his contact is likely to be residing at Bath.”
“How certain are you? From my cousin’s letters, Sir Walter sounds like a vain, silly man, but not a traitor. Surely there must be dozens of names that would fit those initials. William or Wilbur, Evans, Edwards, Ellis…”
“Yes, but there are fewer of that combination than you’d think. Even fewer who have been to London in the past three months, and fewer still have anything like the connections to succeed in the sale of such an item. Sir Walter may be a vain old man, but sometimes small vices carry one beyond one’s depth.”
“And is Sir Walter Elliot gone to Bath? I know he left the house where Darcy was staying, Netherfield Hall, but I didn’t recall his destination.”
“Indeed, he is gone to Bath. Therefore, I need you to hie there at once and uncover what is being done, and most importantly—return the plans to me here. I know this is not in your line, but that is what I want. You are—forgive me for speaking plainly—an unremarkable man in society. You are well-born, but a younger son. You are tall, but not particularly good-looking. You are the son of an earl, but not wealthy in your own right.” Castlereagh watched him closely, perhaps looking for signs of offended pride or blustering defensiveness. “You are accepted everywhere and of importance nowhere.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s lips quirked. “As my father would say, there’s the tree with no bark on it, and no mistake.”
“Good. If I thought you couldn’t handle a harsh truth, I would send you packing now. I expect regular updates. Any further news or dissidence you hear—domestic or foreign—report in the regular channels through the Home Office.”
Richard curled his lip. “I don’t know about that, sir. It seems to me that a fair bit of witch-hunting is sent down such channels. People are quick to report rumors that ruin lives.”
Lord Castlereagh speared him with a hard glare, reminding Richard that they were not friends, or even peers. It also reminded him that there had been more than one assassination plot against Castlereagh. The Irishman had made many enemies in his rise to power, and he had more reason than most to care about rumors of rebellion here at home.
“Give your reports in the usual channels,” Castlereagh repeated.
“Dismissed. And good luck.”
Look for Propriety and Piquet, Book 2 of my Sweet Regency Saga to be published on November 3!