Author's note: the beginning is the introduction to Mr Wickham from Pride and Prejudice volume 1 Chapter 15 with adjustments made by myself to make it fit with my story. No offense or copyright infringement was meant by it. The events Elizabeth remembers occur in the summer before Ramsgate. Apologies if my geography is off but you get the idea.
Posted on 2009-06-11
But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentleman like appearance, walking with an officer on the other side of the way. The officer was the very Mr Denny, concerning whose return from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed as the passed. All were struck by the stranger's air. Elizabeth felt the smallest twinge of recognition coupled with a feeling of unease in the pit of her stomach. She knew that she had met this stranger before but could not put her finger on it. Her other sister's wondered who he could be, and Kitty and Lydia, determined if possible to find out, led the way across the street, under the pretence of wanting something in an opposite shop, and fortunately had just gained the pavement when the two gentlemen turning back had had reached the same spot. As Mr Denny and his companion approached Elizabeth was able to make out his face properly for the first time. It was him. Everything she had been trying so hard to forget came crashing back through her mind then. Everything that happened to her family two summers ago.
She looked into that handsome face and for a split second she saw what had drawn her sister to him. His countenance gave the impression of goodness and gentleness. But if you looked carefully you could see the way his eyes were assessing Elizabeth and her sister's for evidence of money and connections. Elizabeth saw as his eyes widen for a split second at the name Bennet and watched as he searched for the Bennet sister he had taken advantage of, not seeing her he relaxed slightly but not entirely.
"Have you any relation to a Miss Amelia Bennet?" He asked with polite curiosity. "I made her acquaintance in Cornwall two summers ago."
"Yes, indeed we did. She was our sister but she died a year ago," Said Lydia before Elizabeth could stop her. If he believed Millie to still be alive there was a chance he would leave her self and her sisters alone. Her mind started to race, she needed to get her sister's away from this animal. But she could not risk raising his suspicions and causing him to share his and Millie's story to the neighbourhood and ruin her family.
From behind her she heard hoof beats and turned to see Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy. She suddenly recalled where she had heard the name Darcy mentioned and remembered Mr Wickham's supposed suffering at Mr Darcy's hands. Even if it was true Mr Darcy must have no love for Mr Wickham and she could perhaps use that to keep her family safe. Mr Bingley dismounted announcing that they had been on their way to Longbourn to enquire after Jane's health. Elizabeth turned to Mr Darcy and caught his eyes. She mouthed "HELP ME" and inclined her head towards Mr Wickham and saw his eyes widen.
How could she look more beautiful each time he came upon her. He had agreed to accompany Bingley to Longbourn to perfrm his gentlemanly duty and to keep an eye on his friend and Miss Bennet. At least that was what he had told himself. But if he was honest with himself he had really hoped to see Elizabeth… Miss Elizabeth… again. As they rode up to the Bennet sisters and a short greasy haired man he saw that the youngest sisters were talking rather loudly to a gentlemen and an officer. As they approached Bingley called out to them and dismounted explaining the reason for their ride this morning. As they were often want to do his eyes immediately sought Elizabeth's eyes and what he saw there disturbed him they were filled with a combination of fear, pain and anger. He saw her mouth "HELP ME" and incline her head in the direction of the gentleman. He followed the direction of her inclination and he felt the anger surge through him as he realized the officers friend was Mr Wickham. It took a few moments for him to realize that Elizabeth wanted his help getting away from the rake. He had no idea what he had done to her but he vowed to help her in anyway he could and dismounted. He saw the smallest of smiles grace her face in gratitude as he approached.
When Mr Darcy had reached her side she smiled slightly at him then turned so that she could address the whole party. "Gentlemen, it is so good of you to enquire after Jane's health. Would you be so kind as to escort us home, I believe my father was looking for an opportunity to ask you to join him for a hunting party in the next few days."
"Of course. We were headed in that direction anyway," said Mr Darcy looking intensely at Elizabeth understanding that she wished for more than one male escort for herself and her three other sister's. Although Elizabeth thought his enthusiasm for the idea cold have been greater. She was grateful nonetheless for his understanding and cooperation.
"It would be our pleasure," came Mr Bingley's reply all though he was looking directly into Jane's eyes. Who blushed and looked down.
"LIZZY!" whined Lydia. "I haven't finished all my shopping and…"
"I promise I will personally escort you and kitty to Meryton and buy you both ribbons if you will just come home with us now." Lizzy said as quietly as she could. All the girls nodded. Lizzy almost had them on their way when Kitty realized that Mr Wickham had not been introduced to Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham.
"Mr Wickham, I just realized that you have not been properly introduced. This is Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy. The two gentlemen staying at Netherfield Park." Kitty said with a winning smile. What Elizabeth saw intrigued her to know end Mr Darcy and Wickham's eyes met and a look of pure hatred passed over both their faces but one being true gentleman and one trying to give the appearance of being so nodded to each other while bingley tore his eye's from the beautiful Jane to say:
"A pleasure sir," his eyes swiveling back to Jane. Lizzy ushered her sisters and mr Collins ahead of her and Mr Darcy. Jane and Bingley taking the lead with Mr Collins performing what he believed to be his cousinly duty and escorting his youngest cousins. Elizabeth turned to Mr Darcy once the others were far enough ahead to not overhear easily.
"Thank-you for your assistance Mr Darcy. I suspect you understood why I wished to get my sister's away from that man," she looked at him with a question in her eyes but refused to force his confidence they were after all barely able to remain civil with each other even at the best of times.
"You are correct Miss Elizabeth," he looked into her eyes and saw the question in them. But he knew that this was not the place to voice his experiences in Ramsgate this past summer. "I have every reason in the world to distrust that man especially around young women." He watched as her eyes became slightly teary and she turned her head away.
Elizabeth took a deep steadying breath before answering. "It would appear that we have more in common than I first believed," she felt her dislike of Mr Darcy slowly diminishing as they moved further away from Wickham. "It would appear that we should perhaps speak of this privately. Would I be able to convince you take a turn about the garden with me before we enter the house?" she knew how this could be misconstrued but she didn't care she needed to speak of her sister to someone, as she had never had the strength to tell Jane and she needed to organize herself before dealing with her father because despite what had happened to Amelia he still never exerted himself to control her younger sisters. She needed to have complete command of herself to ensure that she would be able to force him to listen.
"Yes Miss Elizabeth. I have a suspicion that it will be most enlightening." A part of him was excited that he would finally be able to speak to her alone but he squashed that notion before it took a complete hold on his thoughts she would not welcome any advances made by himself at such a time as this. Truth be told a greater part of him would be grateful to speak to a woman about what happened to Georgiana. Some closer to her age might be able to help him, help Georgiana forgive her self for Ramsgate.
As Longbourn came into site Elizabeth encouraged Jane and Mr Bingley to take a turn about the garden as well to ensure that propriety was observed. Once they had moved out of direct view of the house they separated into pairs and Elizabeth and Darcy moved towards a near by bench bathed in sunlight. She turned to him.
"Two summers ago my younger sister Amelia was invited to the seaside in Cornwall with my Aunt and Uncle Philips."
Posted on 2009-06-19
As Elizabeth recounted her sister’s tale to her companion she saw it all play out in her mind as if she was really there again…
Flashback two summers previously…
Elizabeth was in her father's carriage on her way to Cornwall to be with her younger sister Amelia, who had traveled there almost 3 weeks previously with her aunt and uncle Philips. She was very excited to see Millie again for she loved her sister and had missed her desperately when she had gone away from them for the first time.
Amelia was older than Mary by one year and younger than Elizabeth by one as well. She was the only one among her family who fit in with each member of it. For she had loved officers, balls and having fun just as much as Kitty, Lydia and their mother; she loved reading as much as Elizabeth and her father and playing the piano forte with Mary. Coupled with all these was the same good sense and pleasantness that encompassed Jane. She was most similar to Elizabeth, Kitty and Mary in colouring with brown eyes and hair, but her cheekbones were striking, drawing attention to her eyes and her lips and her figure elegant like Jane's.
Elizabeth had received a letter two days previously from Millie inviting her to come and join her family at the seaside. Millie's letters showed that she was in very high spirits for her uncle's friends in the area had thrown many balls and she had danced every dance at each of them. She had taken walks by the seaside and gone sea bathing with her aunt. Elizabeth was looking forward to her visit because she had never had much opportunity herself to travel.
Amelia had been having an even better time than she had let her family know. At the first card party she had attended with her family on the second day of her stay she had met a young gentleman. They had seen each other across the room, she had been talking with her aunt when he had smiled at her and she had immediately noticed how handsome he was. Throughout the evening they exchanged smiles and looks but were not given the opportunity of an introduction until the party was drawing to a close. Her uncle's friend, a Mr Williams, had noticed the two young people's looks throughout the evening and saw no harm in an introduction. He was speaking to Mr Philips as Mr Wickham came to take his leave and thank him for the invitation.
"You are most welcome young man. Have you met my friends Mr & Mrs Benjamin Philips and their lovely niece Amelia Bennet?" Asked Mr Williams.
"I can't say that I've had they pleasure," smiled Mr Wickham.
"Mr Philips has brought his family down to enjoy the sun and sea this summer and will be staying for the next two months."
"Then I hope we will have many opportunities to enjoy each others company over the summer," he said this looking exclusively at Amelia as she blushed and looked away.
He turned to Mr Williams to take his leave and departed.
Amelia could not keep the smile from her face.
The Philipses had both noticed that the gentleman was very handsome and seemed to look exclusively at Amelia but, as with Jane that was common enough. Mrs Philips, like her sister Mrs Bennet, hoped to make good marriages for the Bennet girls so she would not say anything until she learnt the income of the gentleman. If he turned out to be the recipient of 3000 pounds or more per annum then she would encourage the match and send an express to her sister to apprise her of the situation. Mr Philips as a rule, did not particularly care what the man was worth. He would make sure that the proprieties were observed but was indifferent to the couple, one way or the other. He had brought his niece with them at his wife's request and intended to enjoy reacquainting himself with his friends in the area.
The next morning Amelia was walking through the village, Papa had given her some extra funds for any little trinkets or fabrics she might want to buy in memory of her trip. She was standing out side the ribbon shop, looking in the window when she heard some one coming up behind her.
"Miss Bennet?" a deep male voice said. Amelia had fully turned and saw that it was Mr Wickham, whom she had noticed the previous evening.
"Mr Wickham," greeted Amelia, curtseying.
"It is a pleasure to see you again. I hope you are well this morning," he said as he rose from his bow.
"Indeed I am quite well. And yourself?" Answered Amelia, she blushed as she looked into his intense stare and looked down.
"I very well. And this fine morning has just been made all the more beautiful." Charmed Mr Wickham. He took the opportunity of her averted eyes to examine her more carefully than he had the previous evening. He had heard that a party from some county near London was coming down to visit. When he had noticed a young girl was with them he decided that she would be his next conquest. She was clearly gently bred and if she had money then he take steps to ensure his future with her; if not than she would prove to be an interesting diversion, for she was quite beautiful and well shaped. Looking closely in the morning light he saw through his practiced eye that while she was clearly the daughter of a gentleman she was not well off. Her dress showed the signs of being very well worn, mended and remended as did her bonnet. He was resolved on this course all remained to be discovered was exactly how innocent she was to this world of men.
"I was just about to take a walk along the cliffs and while I know it is against propriety, I would much rather have the company of a beautiful young lady than not." Amelia blushed furiously at the bold compliment but saw know harm in the walk.
"I would like that Mr Wickham, thank-you." So they set off. She not believing her luck to be walking with this handsome stranger, and to have the assurance that her mother would almost certainly not hear of this and scare him away.
Mr Wickham could tell that she was very flattered by the attention, even though his comments had been deliberately bold to test her reaction. She did not giggle which would suggest that she was a bold fool. She did not meet his boldness with a show of wit and a polite refusal, which would indicate at least a theoretical understanding of the danger she was in if there was no actual experience in it. Instead she had blushed, consented and thanked him. This showed that she was clearly an innocent but was not a fool. This would be easy. He would not even need to force it he would put the same show on for her as he had for his godfather.
As they walked, Mr Wickham asked about her life back home, her family, her home and what she did to amuse herself. Amelia could not remember the last time she had spoken about herself so much, for most of her acquaintance had known her, her whole life so therefore knew of every slip of the tongue in company and childish escapade. She exalted in every chuckle and ungentlemanly snort and every nod of sympathy. She told him nothing of consequence of her sisters, for she knew that if she spoke of them too much he might shift his interest if he met them.
Wickham had to admit that this Amelia Bennet was quite a conversationalist once she got going. He was usually no longer listening by this point in the walk but most of her stories were genuinely amusing. As he listened to how she spoke of her home life, he could see that despite her looks and wit she was starved for the sole attention of anyone. All he would have to do is continue to single her out and she would be putty in his hands. He currently was staying with an old friend and had arrived here less than a week ago. He was running out of the money he had demanded from Darcy, if he kept the cards to a bare minimum he might be able to last another year.
Only when Amelia returned to the house the Philipses had taken for the summer did she realize how long she had been walking with Mr Wickham. Her aunt and uncle had left early in the day to spend it together at a friend's house, when she walked in she looked at the clock in the hall and realized that it was 2 o'clock in the afternoon. She had been walking for four hours. But, she smiled to herself when she remembered her walking companion. He had been so attentive listening to her. When she had asked him to speak of his life he had told her of his childhood at Pemberley, how his Godfather, a Mr Darcy, had doted on him and how the son had denied him a living and future in the church out of spite. She felt a surge of anger at the new unknown Mr Darcy, but put it aside, Mr Wickham said that he was currently the steward at an estate about twice the size of Longbourn, he was taking a holiday at the beach for the summer now that the harvest was over. Objectively speaking this was a down grade in her status but their steward did reasonably well for himself and he lived in the servants quarters on the estate so he always had a place to live. If this estate in Devonshire, Darebin Hall, was twice the size then Mr Wickham must in fact do much better. Therefore as his wife she would always be safe and if she could have love in her marriage she would be most content.
She stopped herself right there. If she allowed her head to runaway with her feelings she would be heart broken by the time she had to return home. He had requested that they take another walk together the next day, she had said that she had to go shopping with her aunt the next day, but she promised to meet him in front of the ribbon shop at the same time the day after that. She knew that she needed a chaperone of some sort with her. She could not allow whispers of a scandal to ruin her family but the only person she had with her was her Aunt Philips. While she was not as bad as having her mother with her, she was bad enough. She knew that she needed her chaperone to be one of her older sister's but she was hesitant to invite them down she could see Jane coming and claiming Mr Wickham's attention without even trying. But she didn't want Lizzy to come either, because while she was confident in herself she was never as confident as Lizzy especially when Lizzy was in the room. She wrestled with the decision for most of the day. They would be here for another two months and a lot can change in that time. She would wait until she was sure that Mr Wickham held a special regard for her then ask that Lizzy join her just to make sure that Mr Wickham's head wasn't turned by Jane's ethereal beauty.
Two weeks went by and George, for he was now George to her when they were out of the public eye, was favouring her above all other ladies. He would always dance twice with her, be paired with her at card parties as much as possible and would smile at her from across the room when they were separated. Their walks had become the highlight of her day and she was always disappointed when engagements with her aunt and uncle meant that they would have to postpone. But wherever they happened to be going, she always found him either already invited or invited at the last minute. When she shopped with her aunt she would always see him staring at her from across the street.
Her aunt and uncle were not completely oblivious to the behaviour of these two young people but because there were no overt displays, and nothing more than dances being seen by them there was nothing they could do. When they heard that he was nothing more than a steward, they cautioned that it was an imprudent match and a marriage between the two would be frowned upon by her family and society as a whole. But everytime they brought it up she would say that there was nothing between them and that he simply a handsome face that she enjoyed talking to and dancing with. This was always enough for the two of them. When she asked if her sister Elizabeth could be invited to join her, they agreed. They had realized that there were not as many sources of amusement in the area as they had hoped for their young niece and felt that she needed the company of young ladies her own age. So Lizzy was sent for and she was expected to arrive by in perhaps four days time depending on the speed of the post and her carriage.
Posted on 2009-07-16
The morning Elizabeth's carriage was due George passed a note to Millie as she passed through town with her aunt. They had been passing love letters to each other for a while now and Millie never got tired of reading and rereading her letters from George. This one was something curious though.
My most beautiful Millie,
I have something of great importance to discuss with you. If you love me, I need you to meet me in the grove off Drewer Lane after the rest of your family are asleep this evening. This is of the utmost importance my love you must be there and tell no-one. I will explain everything to you tonight.
All my affection,
PS. Remember do not tell anyone that you are meeting me tonight.
Millie gasped at what she read. There was no doubt in her mind that George was going to ask her to marry him. He just wanted to make sure that there would be no interruptions, so he was asking her to meet him late at night when there would be no one out. Lizzy would be here before dinner and in the morning she would tell her everything, if she could get Lizzy on her side then her father would most certainly give his consent and she would be the first of her sister's married, this would make living with Lydia impossible so it would be best to plan for a short engagement for everyone's sanity.
Lizzy felt the carriage slowing, she closed her book, placed it in her bag and retied her bonnet around her brown curls. She watched as the front door of the house swung open and her sister and relatives moved towards the carriage with welcoming smiles on their faces. Uncle Philips handed her down, she smiled and thanked him and politely greeted her aunt. The Philips were not her favourite relatives but she loved them anyway. When she turned to Amelia she grinned and pulled her sister into a hug. Elizabeth had missed her desperately and was excited about spending some time with new people in a new place with her sister. As she pulled back she looked her sister in the eye and realized that she seemed to be very, very cheerful. Amelia's disposition was similar to her own but this was different. She was practically glowing. Unfortunately there was no chance to for them to speak privately that day. Mrs Philips was almost the exact copy of her sister Mrs Bennet and was desperate for an update on all the gossip she had missed while away. After dinner that evening no matter how hard she tried there was no way for Lizzy to suppress her yawns. She was exhausted from all the traveling and slept heavily through most but not all of the night.
Amelia waited an hour after she heard all of her family members go to bed to make sure that she would not be heard. She dressed in her finest gown and put on her pelisse and dressed up her hair with flowers. She snuck out through the frontdoor as it was the farthest from the bedrooms. She slowly made her way to Drewer lane. It was almost a full moon and she had plenty of light but it also made for some rather disturbing looking shadows. She was becoming more and more unnerved as she got closer but eventually she reached the grove. As she was watching the shadows around her she did not hear the sounds of the man approaching her from behind. Suddenly she was grabbed around the waist and pulled to the ground. She was about to scream when she heard his voice.
"Did you miss me my love?" George growled in her hear.
She took a deep breath before responding as she relaxed into his embrace. Reassuring herself that it was in fact her George.
"Yes, I did miss you," Millie smiled as she said this hoping that his words would be so perfect that she could repeat them to her sisters over and over and still smile at them. George leaned towards her and kissed her hard. She responded but there was something different in this kiss. His previous kisses had been slow and gentle this one was hard almost to point of being painful. She gasped as he moved his body on top of hers. She pulled away long enough to ask:
"George what are you doing?" she couldn't help the note of panic in her voice. She heard and felt him chuckle.
"What do you think I'm doing? Now be quiet." His voice became harsher at the last. He forced his lips on hers once again and she felt his hands moving over her body. She pushed her face away from his.
"Aren't you going to marry me?" But she knew the answer, before she had finished the question. She felt tears of pain and shame run down her face as she made the realization of what he really was.
"Marry you?" He asked in the same harsh and now sickening voice. "Why would I marry you?" She tried to fight him off but his hands closed around her wrists so hard that she thought they would break he pushed her down again. She felt one of his hands pulling up her skirts and because she did not know what else to do she stayed quiet.
After what felt like hours of lying there by herself she pulled herself upwards and started to walk back. She kept replaying everyone of her mistakes and realized that she should have known from the beginning what was happening and she had been to stupid to think outside of herself. She had spent to many thoughts on how wonderful it was to not have to share a spotlight with one of her sisters that she had missed all the signs. As she closed the front door and entered the house, she sighed in relief of being inside. She made her way quietly up the steps, tears still streaming down her face. She was so sad and tired and hurt, that she did not notice that Elizabeth was standing in her own bedroom doorway watching her.
Elizabeth had been awoken by what she thought was the front door opening and closing. She dismissed it because nobody would be up at this hour. But as she waited for sleep to reclaim her she heard what sounded like quiet sobbing and footsteps on the staircase. Curious she got up, put on her dressing gown and made her way to her door, opened it and peaked out. What she saw shocked her, her sister was there walking towards her bedroom door. Her was a mess with leaves and twigs stuck in it, there were grass stains all over her and what looked like bruises on her neck. Elizabeth watched as she opened and closed her bedroom door, then took a deep breath and followed her in without knocking.
Amelia gasped at the sudden sound and whirled to behold her sister looking both fearful and mad. At the site of her big sister she burst into great racking sobs and fell into her arms.
"Millie sweetheart what happened?" asked Elizabeth, fearing she knew the answer. Amelia knowing that denying everything was fruitless told Lizzy everything, how they met; the letters and finally what had happened that night.
Posted on 2009-07-17
When Millie had finished her tale to say that Elizabeth was in shock was an understatement. But she took a couple of deep breaths and focused. She remembered one of Mary's sermons about the reputation of a young lady and for once felt Mary may have been correct in what she had been preaching. Elizabeth knew that her sister's reputation had to be protected at all costs otherwise all of her sisters would be shunned by society and would have an even lower chance of marrying well. First she needed her father's support. She could not risk turning to the Philipses. Mr Philips might be helpful as a chaperone for the rest of their stay but he would not be useful because he was indifferent everything and with no children to marry off or support would possibly take the prudent course and cut all ties with their family without making any effort to help. Mrs Philips would simply behave the same as her mother would and spread the scandal throughout the country before dinnertime. She turned to Millie.
"Millie?" Elizabeth said gently. Millie raised her head. "I need to write to papa…" Millie started shaking her head. "Millie he has to be informed, if word of … tonight… should spread, it will effect our whole family and he needs to be the one to escort us home."
"Alright, Lizzy I'm so, so sorry. Do you think papa will forgive me?" there was real fear in her voice.
"Yes he will in time. Now you get into bed I will tell our aunt and uncle that you have a headache." Millie nodded. Lizzy helped her up. She knew she could not risk a maid seeing the bruises or the damage done to her dress so Lizzy helped her sister bathe and change then put her to bed.
"Millie. I have to get rid of your dress and pelisse, the servants must not know of what happened, for they are not of our household. Do you understand?" Millie nodded, she looked so sad and innocent. Elizabeth lent forward and gently kissed her forehead. "Get some rest sister. I will bring you up a tray at breakfast."
Elizabeth went back to her room with Millie's clothes. The fire was almost out so she stoked it and added another log. Once it was big enough she placed her sisters ruined clothing in it and sat watching it burn. As she did she let her feelings overtake her. The pain she felt for her sister was almost a physical burden and the anger she felt towards that man was unbelievable. She let those feeling wash over her and closed her eyes. After what must have been hours. She took a few deep breaths then got ready for her day. She sat at the tiny desk in her room and began to write. She told her father everything that had happened and begged for him to come and take them both home. She suggested that he tell the family that Millie had fallen ill since she had written to me and wished to return home. She begged that he tell no one, not even Jane, what had happened. She did not need to know how much evil there was in the world.
When she heard the rest of the house start to awaken she went downstairs to the breakfast room, a maid was setting out the breakfast foods. She asked that a tray be brought to her to give to her sister. She took it up to Millie's room, when she had eaten everything she went back downstairs to join her relatives for breakfast. She placed the letter to her father with the collection of mail near the front door. She wished to send it express but knew that it would arise too much suspicion.
"My Lizzy you look so pale." Said Mrs Philips by way of a greeting. "Are you sure that you wish to walk into the village with Millie and myself this morning? You could stay here and rest a while longer," Elizabeth was about to decline when she thought better. Millie had told her that she had written love letters to Mr Wickham, she needed to know who the man was if she was going to get them back.
"Yes I am sure, a little fresh sea air will do me good. But Millie awoke with a headache this morning, so she shall not be able to join us this morning." She smiled at her aunt as she sat down.
As Elizabeth and her aunt were in the milliner's Elizabeth was browsing some bonnets trying to figure out her next move when her aunt rushed out the door. She saw out the window her aunt talking with two gentlemen one was tall handsome with dark hair and eyes, the other was clearly older and a friend of her aunt. When her aunt returned Elizabeth asked who the gentlemen were.
"The elder one was Mr Williams, he is giving another ball this evening and I was only just now able to add you to the guest list. The other was an acquaintance of your sister, a Mr Wickham. A very hansome gentleman if I do say so myself. Do you not agree?" Elizabeth's eyes narrowed for a second. But she saw an opportunity to discover more about this rake who had so hurt her sister.
"Yes I suppose. Is he attending the ball this evening?"
"He said he would be attending with Mr Thornton, whom he has been staying with. Thornton House has the most amazing furnishings…" Her aunt continued to extol the wonders of the drawing rooms in Thornton House. But Elizabeth had since tuned her out and had begun thinking of her options. If both of these gentlemen were attending the ball tonight there was a chance that she could get her sisters letters back without having to tax her considerably limited resources through bribery.
"Aunt, I was wondering if you would mind if I left to explore the seaside trails. You know I love to walk and I saw some beautiful sites from the carriage yesterday. I promise to be back in plenty of time for the ball."
"Well I suppose so but be back no later than three o'clock this afternoon."
"Yes Aunt." Elizabeth smiled then set off.
As she reached the edge of the village she stopped a young girl perhaps ten years old and asked:
"Do you know where I might find Thornton House?" Elizabeth asked gently.
"It is just up the lane and behind the trees. It is a very pretty house." Elizabeth thanked the young girl with a smile then set off in the direction she had pointed. She did not relish what she would have to do to get her sister's letters back. If this had occurred back home in Meryton it would be her father would be able sent one of their loyal servants to retrieve the letter's but this was not the case. Her father would not demand a marriage occur. It was very unlikely that Mr Wickham was in a position to take care of a wife and Millie would not want him after what he did to her. So Elizabeth swore to do whatever was necessary to protect her sister's reputation.
She walked until she was right in front of the house and saw that it was the same size as Longbourn perhaps a little smaller and was three stories high. She returned to the tree line at the side of the house and using them as cover she walked around the perimeter of the house. It had three doorways: a front door, a back door and a servant's entrance. Most houses have family apartments on the top floor; guest rooms on the second floor and public rooms, servant quarters and kitchen on the bottom floor. She knew from experience there was no way to sneak into a house through the servant's quarters, there are too many people moving about at every hour of the night. If she wished to enter through the front door she would have to wait for a ridiculously early hour in the morning. Mr Thornton and Mr Wickham would most likely be home by then. The back door was her best chance. She would excuse herself from the ball to care for Millie and come back when she was certain that the gentlemen would be at the ball. She hoped that the Thornton's had kept to the traditional layout, she did not fancy having to explore every room in the house, fortunately with the master and his guest out this evening there would be minimal servants about and she should be able to accomplish her goal undetected.
Posted on 2009-08-01
When Elizabeth returned to the house she enquired of the servants if Mrs Philips had returned. When informed that she had not, she immediately set about planning her escapade. She went up to her room and looked through her trunks. She pulled out her deep purple morning gown, it was the darkest dress in her luggage and she needed to be as invisible as possible. She pulled her hair back into a tight bun using her most non-descript hairpins. She then rummaged through her green trunk and pulled out all the money she had brought with her. She felt around all the corners of all her trunks looking for spare change, every penny would help. Once she was convinced that she had every penny, she then left her room to visit Millie.
Millie had spent the whole day in bed. She alternated between sleep, crying and feeling sorry for herself. Not only had she ruined herself but she had ruined her sisters chances as well. Her whole family would suffer for it and she was to blame. Even if they did somehow forgive her, she would never forgive herself. She looked up when she heard the door open.
"Hello Lizzy," said Millie. "Have you sent your letter to Papa?"
"Good afternoon Millie. Yes I have. And I saw Mr Wickham through a shop window this morning," Lizzy saw Millie's frightened look and the way she flinched at the name. Fresh tears started pouring down her face and Lizzy sat down on the bed and pulled her into her arms. Once she quieted a little bit Lizzy spoke again. "Millie, I have discovered where Mr Wickham is staying in Cornwall. Now exactly how many letters did you write him?"
"I wrote him eight letters," Millie choked out and was overcome with sobs again. Lizzy waited until she was quiet again then said:
"Millie, our aunt, uncle and myself have been invited to a ball this evening, but I will make sure we leave early. Now I need you to remain in bed until Papa comes for us. I have told him to use the excuse that you are unwell and wish to return home but do not wish to end your aunt and uncle's holiday on your account. Can you abide this restriction?"
"Yes sister," her voice sounded so resigned that Lizzy new that it would be some time before she was inclined to leave her bed in any case. There was such an impression of defeat in her voice and body language that Lizzy felt her blood begin to boil.
She gripped her sister's chin in a hard grip and forced her to look her in the eye. "Amelia Bennet! Don't you dare blame yourself for what he did to you. It is all his fault not yours." Millie looked into her sister's eyes and had to avert her gaze.
"You know that is not the truth Lizzy. True it is largely his fault but I made the decision to allow him to see me. I made the decision to allow him to see me alone with no chaperone. I made the decision to meet him last night. I will be the reason that our family will be shunned by… everyone." More tears came and Lizzy knew that any disagreement on the point would be useless. Millie had resigned herself and had a very large stubborn streak that would not allow her to be moved on the point if she believed herself correct.
Approximately fifteen minutes later they heard the front door and their aunts loud and strident voice.
"I will tell Aunt Philips that you are asleep so that she will not bother you. I will return as soon as I can. I will claim fatigue from my travels as an excuse, I will also tell them that I have written to father about your returning home. Please rest and make sure that you eat all of your dinner. I love you Millie." Lizzy again kissed her sister on the forehead, left the room.
She found her aunt quickly, informing her that she would not attend the ball, because Millie was very ill and was currently sleeping. She also informed her aunt that she had sent a letter at Millie's request that their father come to take them home. Mrs Philips grudgingly accepted this after Lizzy subtly suggested that because the Philipses would be attending several more balls and parties before they left that she would still have plenty of stories to tell and boast about to Mrs Bennet and the rest of Meryton.
Once her relatives had left for the ball Elizabeth waited until the sun was just setting before quietly slipping out the back door to set off for Thornton House. Due to it being the middle of summer the sun was still up at this late hour and Elizabeth had enough light to guide her. She memorized every step, sight, sound and smell of her walk. Such things had helped her in the early years of her explorations of the country lanes around Hertfordshire. By using all her senses she would be able to find her way back in the dark.
When she had reached the tree line that surrounded the house she moved around it from within the bushes, checking for lights in the windows. Seeing candles in the servants quarters only, she moved quickly out of the trees towards the backdoor. She stopped on the back step and listened through the door to make sure that there was no one on the other side. When she was sure she quietly opened the door, stepped through and closed it again. She looked around, noting the objects in the hallway as her eyes adjusted to the different lighting. She could see the staircase at the other end of the hallway, she moved towards it checking her footing before each step, making sure that the floorboards wouldn't squeak under her. When she reached the steps, she stopped to listen to the movements of the house. When she was satisfied that there was no one about she headed slowly up the stairs, again checking for squeaks with each step.
She moved to the second floor, because that was usually where the guest rooms were placed, with the family apartments on the top floor. She checked the room closest to the staircase first. It had obviously been empty for along time because she could smell the dust that covered every surface. Most of the rooms on that floor were in a similar state. When she checked the last room it had an open trunk, the remains of a recently dowsed fire and slightly mussed sheets.
She moved methodically about the room. She would not go through the trunk until last, the mere idea disturbed her. The chest of drawers were locked, when she went to the writing desk she carefully looked through the contents, making sure that everything was left in the correct place after she moved to the next drawer. In the bottom drawer she found some letters. She found a key underneath the letter and nothing else. She picked up the key and moved towards the chest of drawers. She unlocked the chest and looked quickly through the drawers. When she reached the third drawer and there were piles upon piles of letters each bunch tied together with a different coloured ribbon or piece of string. She gasped.
Lizzy froze and listened hard. There were no approaching footsteps, so she turned back to the drawer in mute disbelief. All of the letters were written by female hands. Lizzy swallowed hard, she was very, very tempted to take all of the letters and burn them. She began to reach for them.
THERE MUST BE NO EVIDENCE! Her mind screamed at her. She pulled her hand back to her side and took a deep breath. She knew that she could not risk Mr Wickham having any reason to suspect foul play. If all of his letters were burned he would start asking questions, She had no alibi for this night and as Amelia's sister she would be his number one suspect. And she had no way of knowing how dangerous this man was beyond leaving behind debts of honor. She started to leaf through the letters, looking for her sister's handwriting. She finally found them and counted them up. She had all eight. Lizzy breathed a sigh of relief. Then placed them in her bag.
Quickly, Lizzy closed and clocked the chest of drawer's and replaced the key were she found it. She quickly moved to the door and back out into the hallway. As she reached the top of the staircase she came to a sudden stop as she heard footsteps on the steps.
She whirled and ran quietly to the nearest room and ran inside. She pressed her ear to the door and listened hard. The footsteps were heavy and quick, she guessed they belonged to a man. When they stopped in front of the door she had hidden behind she quit breathing altogether. She stood as still as a statue and silently prayed. When the steps moved off. She breathed again but kept listening, when she heard a door open and close she opened her door and bolted.
She ran as quickly and quietly as she could and went straight for the front door. She was completely panicked. She couldn't control herself anymore, she just had to run. The fear inside her was pushing her to get away as fast as she could because what she left behind her was dangerous. She made it through the door without incident but she kept on running. She ran down the running faster now that she was safely away from the house. When her Aunt and Uncle's house came into view she stopped. Gasping for breath and exhausted both emotionally and physically. She leaned against a nearby tree and reviewed this evenings results and smiled she had all of her sisters letters and no one had seen her. Even if someone had heard the front door they would have only seen a dark shape running in across the lawn and most likely thought nothing of it. She ran her hands over her hair, some of her curls had fallen loose from her run and she quickly pinned them back up and began walking slowly back to the house. She entered through the backdoor and ran up to her room.
Lizzy was grateful that the fire was still burning in her room. She opened her bag and one by one dropped the letters into the fire. She sat before it and watched as each one curled at the corners and was eventually consumed by the flames. When the last one had become ashes she breathed in a breath of relief that her family was now definitely safe from a scandal. Lizzy left her room and went into Millie's.
Millie was lying with her eyes open staring at the fire, she still had tear tracks down her cheeks. She looked up when she heard the door close.
"Hello Millie, I have some news."
"Lizzy. What are you doing here the carriage left only and hour ago?" Lizzy started at the small amount of time. It had felt like she was in Thornton House for hours.
"Millie I never left with Aunt and Uncle Philips. I walked out after they left, I walked to Thornton House." Millie gasped at the mention of the house where Wickham was staying. Lizzy quickly continued: "I went to retrieve your letters Millie. I knew that Mr Wickham was going to be at the ball tonight, with Mr Thornton. So I snuck up to his bedroom and retrieved them."
"Lizzy that was so very dangerous. What if someone had…"
"Millie those letters needed to be retrieved. If he had held on to them he could have blackmailed Papa and ruined your reputation by sending them to the newspapers. No one saw me. I promise."
Millie sighed and looked down. "Thank-you Lizzy. Your right."
Lizzy smiled at her sister. "Let's have some dinner. Papa will be here in the next few days and then this will be nothing but a memory."
Millie nodded. But inside she knew that she would never be able to marry. If she were to meet a man who could marry her for a mere 50 pounds a year. Her father would be obligated to tell him of her ruin and he would not want her anymore. Lizzy often joked that she would be the one to die an old maid who taught her sisters children how play their instruments and embroider cushions but Millie knew that that would never happen. Everyone who met Lizzy was instantly pleased to make her acquaintance because she was so lively and unaffected. Lizzy's teasing future, as an old maid would now be her future.
Posted on 2009-09-19
The days leading up to Mr Bennet's arrival followed a simple routine. Lizzy would wake up early and check on Millie, only leaving her room when it was expected of her, to spend a meal with her family members and pay her respects to her aunt's callers. This went on for three days until Mr Bennet arrived. Lizzy had been leaving Millie's room every ten minutes to look through the window at the end of the hall. She sighed in relief when she spotted their family carriage. She ducked into Millie's room to tell her of their father's arrival then quickly headed down the stairs to meet him. She arrived at the bottom of the stairs just as he had handed his coat and hat to the maid assisting him. He looked up when he heard her on the stairs. Lizzy was taken aback by how old he looked. Lizzy could name his age to the day but he had never looked like an old man to her until this moment. She walked quickly down the stairs and embraced him. Her father held her tightly and seemed unwilling to let her go.
"Papa." Mr Bennet pulled back and looked at her. "Come" Lizzy took his hand and led him into the study. Her aunt and uncle had been invited for tea at the Martins, so would not be back for a little while longer.
"I had held out the faint hope that your letter was an elaborate forgery or jest but from the dark circles under your eyes I can tell that is not so. Are you managing well enough my dear?"
"Yes papa I am well. Since I wrote to you there has been one development that may be classed as good news. I have successfully retrieved the letters Millie wrote to him."
"How did you manage to do that?" Mr Bennet asked sternly with narrowed eyes.
"I snuck into the house he was staying at while he and the master of the house were at a ball with my aunt and uncle. No one saw me and this way we will not have to pay him off or live in fear of the scandal being made public." Lizzy watched the play of emotion flit across her father's face. He ranged from anger, to fear, to disbelief and lastly a look of relief played over his face.
"While I cannot approve of your methods, I must applaud your bravery and appreciate the result." He pulled her into another hug. That was one worry lifted from his shoulders. "Now tell me how your sister is." He indicated to a settee by the fire and guided her to it then sat down himself.
"She is still very distressed. I have been doing my best to impress upon her that it is all Mr Wickham's fault." Her voice catched on his name and she felt her anger boil again but she clamped it down and focused. "Her greatest fear is that you and the rest of the family will never forgive her." Lizzy looked at her father imploringly. Mr Bennet saw the desperate question in his daughter's eyes and sighed.
"I will not pretend to feelings I do not have Elizabeth. But I do agree that most of the fault lies with Mr Wickham. Because of your actions Lizzy we are now safe from scandal and ruin so I do believe that I will eventually be able to forgive Amelia but I cannot pretend that I am there yet my dear." Lizzy nodded. Although she would have hoped for more she could not fault him for his feelings. "As to the rest of the family I believe that there is no reason for them to ever be informed, but I do wonder at why you do not wish to tell your dearest Jane?"
"You and I both know that she sees only that which is bright and wonderful in both the world and its people. I could not bare to tear her view of humanity down so brutally. It is better she believe that men like him are a rarity and not something that has ever hurt her family."
"I do not believe that you give Jane enough credit but I will abide by your wishes in that respect. I would however like to send for your aunt and uncle Gardiner. I think that Mrs Gardiner would be of help to Millie in a way that you cannot be and she is definitely smart enough to not want your mother's council on these things. I need to inform your uncle because I admit that after bringing your sister home I am not sure what to do from there but someone with a fresher and more removed pair of eyes may be able to help me see my next step forward."
"I agree with you about the Gardiner's whole heartedly. When do you think we will be able to depart by?"
"Tomorrow. I will make sure of it. Now take me to your sister before the Philipses return and drive us all to distraction." Lizzy smiled at her father as she stood and led him out of the room.
Millie watched as Lizzy closed the door and closed her eyes. Her judgment begins. Her father will never forgive her and she would have to listen and watch as her mother and sisters blamed her for their ruin and never forgave her for one mistake. She was over taken again by her pain and let loose with a fresh round of sobs.
When she heard footsteps on the stairs again she tried her best to quiet her sobs and regain control of her frayed emotions. The door opened and Lizzy and her father walked in. She looked into her father's eyes and burst into fresh tears. A few seconds later she felt strong arms come around her and smelled her father's unique scent of old books and cigars.
"Millie my darling, you must not be so hard on yourself it was all his fault."
"But I have ruin our family and I know that you and the rest of my family will never forgive me. I have ruin the chances of my sisters for a good marriage."
"Millie." Mr Bennet waited until she raised her head. "You must listen carefully to what I am about to say and when I am finished I will need a promise from you." Millie nodded. "First of all, the only other people who will know of this is your aunt and uncle Gardiner. Second of all, because of Lizzy's actions," Mr Bennet beckoned his second daughter join them on the bed. "The family has been saved from ruin. So you do not have to worry about anything other than your own recovery. Now the promise I must have from each of you is not only that you will never share this tale with anyone ever again." Both of the girls nodded.
"We promise papa."
"Good girls. Now Millie you must start to look towards your future. You are not, I would imagine, the only victim of a man such as Wickham." He noticed the way she flinched at his name. "You must find a way to move forward. We will be returning home tomorrow and you know how your mother's nerves are frayed when one of you is ill." He said this last part in jest hoping to lighten the mood but Millie's lips did not even quirk into an attempt of a small smile.
"Yes Millie. What papa says is true, when I was looking for your letters I found dozens of other letters in his drawers all from young women who claimed to be in love with him. You are not is first victim and I doubt you will be the last. You must move on my darling."
"There have been others?" Millie asked feeling slightly better with this knowledge that she was not the only fool to have been taken in by him.
"Yes Dearest, so do not be so hard on yourself." Millie nodded in silence as they all heard the front door and the loud voice of Mrs Philips.
"Come Lizzy, we had best go and greet your aunt. We need to inform your relations of our plans to depart tomorrow."To Be Continued . . .