Posted on: 2010-09-07The most virtuous are those who content themselves with being virtuous without seeking to appear so.
Richard went to his chamber to change, for he had spilled some gravy on his cravat at dinner. When his valet, Hanson, came in with a fresh cravat, Richard was surprised. "Why did I not have to request this, Hanson? Have you been spending time chasing the kitchen maids again?" he quipped. Richard knew that the one of the best ways to find information about someone was to speak to the staff, and so had sent Hanson to find out what he could about Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sister.
Hanson had been one of Richard's finest officers until he was injured in a battle with the French and relieved from duty. Since he had nowhere to go except possibly back to work as a farmhand, which was the only thing he knew other than soldiering, Richard hired him and trained him as his valet. The Dragoons Light Calvary division Richard commanded specialized in reconnaissance, and Hanson's talents before the injury were almost as fine as Richard's. Hanson was able to get just about anyone to give him the information he wanted. Since becoming Richard's valet, he continued to help gather information for Richard's investigations, professional as well as personal.
Hanson began his report as he changed his master's cravat, "I was in the kitchen on your errand, sir, when one of the footmen came to alert me that you would need one. They are an efficient staff and work well together.
"I spent some time this afternoon at the tavern speaking to some of the locals and the rest of the day below stairs speaking with many of the staff, sir, and I have a favorable report for you. In all honesty, I have never experienced anything like it, sir, not even at Matlock and Pemberley. The local population here thinks highly of the Bennet ladies. The Bingley's London staff is in agreement with their opinion. The phrases the locals use to describe them are akin to "angels of mercy" and "the best of ladies". They have shown much more loyalty to the Bennet ladies than to the new mistress, though they do like their new master well indeed. The entire staff has gone to great lengths to make sure Miss Bennet and Miss Lizzy…excuse me, Miss Elizabeth, are comfortable during their stay here. I apologize for the informality, sir, but I have heard her affectionately referred to as 'Miss Lizzy' all afternoon.
"I also have it on good authority that the ladies not only take very good care of the tenants on their own estate, but on the Netherfield estate as well. Apparently, sir, excluding one short stay by a Mr. Smythe about two years ago, Netherfield has been vacant for many years before Mr. Bingley leased it and these two ladies could not leave the tenants unattended. They made sure the families were taken care of when ill or in financial trouble, and on Boxing Day. They have found jobs for the unemployed and extend all of their kindness to anyone in need, even on other estates if needed. Since the new mistress of Netherfield has not taken over these duties--and I have it on good authority she had indicated a rather exaggerated attitude of disgust about doing so, but it is unknown whether the Bennets are aware of this--the two eldest Bennet daughters have continued their tradition with the Netherfield tenants. The ladies always have something special for the children when they visit the tenant families, on their birthdays and Christmas as well. How they remember every child's birthday in the area astounds even the locals.
"I do understand their mother is not a very well respected lady by the locals, and not very sensible. She is not cruel as… let us say another lady who is new to the area, but she is quite demanding in her own way as she has fits of nerves many times a day. There seems to be some disagreement between the staff whether she is mercenary or simply overly concerned with the six ladies not 'ending up starving in the hedgerows' after Mr. Bennet's death, since his estate is entailed away from the female line. The youngest two sisters are very silly and almost wild, encouraged by their mother to be so. The middle child is a blue-stocking, and spends a good deal of time quoting Fordyce's sermons when she is not practicing the pianoforte. All the staff is of agreement that one would never guess the two eldest and the father are related to the rest of the family at all.
"Mr. Bennet is an intelligent, witty gentleman who dotes on the two eldest, especially Miss Elizabeth. He has also been kind to the Netherfield tenants in helping with repairs to the tenant houses and providing seed while the estate was vacant. If any repairs were too expensive for Mr. Bennet to take on himself, he would go through much trouble to petition the owner for funds and then oversee the repairs himself. It seems that Mr. Bingley can thank the Bennet family for the good condition he found the Netherfield estate in.
"On the specific concern you had, I also have a favorable report. The two eldest do not seem mercenary at all, sir, and I am of the opinion you should not have worries in this area. They have both turned down offers from men of fortune and consequence, and though from what I understand Mrs. Bennet is quite unaware of this fact, Mr. Bennet supported both ladies' choices. Miss Bennet refused Mr. Smythe, who was worth more than Mr. Bingley, after which he immediately cancelled his lease on Netherfield. Miss Elizabeth has refused one gentleman of high income and considerable rank about two years ago, but I have yet to find a name. One of the maids who worked at Longbourn last year mentioned she had overhead the two eldest Bennet ladies speaking of how character, respect, and love were more important than material matters when it came to marriage. None of the staff would disagree with this estimation." Hanson completed his report.
"Do you think they were bribed to give a good report?" Richard asked.
Hanson raised his brow a bit for the slightest moment as, after all he had heard, he had come to feel a bit protective of the Bennet ladies, but then schooled his features to his best valet face, "No, sir, I do not believe so, though I will admit the first of these glowing reports did make me suspicious. I have talked to too many people today for it to be untrue. Any time I mentioned their names, people automatically smiled. A few times, I went as far as insulting them by alluding to them being mercenary. I was angrily reprimanded every time, yelled at more than once, and in fact one of the footmen would have challenged me if the housekeeper had not intervened. They turned out to be good sources of information while angrily defending the Bennet ladies! The housekeeper then took me aside to explain that the staff is very fond of the ladies and I should not speak so of them.
"I honestly do not believe this level of devotion the staff has for these two ladies could be falsified, sir. It is rather extraordinary. I must say that after the stories I have heard today, the Bennet ladies have almost won me over!"
Richard laughed for he knew that Hanson was not one to be easily impressed or to exaggerate at all. "Thank you, Hanson. Excellent work, as usual. Keep me updated if there are any changes in opinion. You certainly have given me much to think about. I will be in the drawing room and then am planning on playing billiards if I can round up a game, so you do not need to wait up for me. I will fend for myself tonight. Good night, Hanson."
"Very good, sir. Good night." Hanson replied as he left Richard to his thoughts.
Richard was very confused. From what Darce had written to Georgiana, and based on the way he looked at Miss Elizabeth, he knew Darce was in love with her.
He had rushed to Hertfordshire expecting to need to rescue Darce from a wickedly unethical charlatan who had somehow found a new trick to draw him in that Darce did not expect. He was not at all prepared to meet with an intelligent, witty, graceful, well-bred, beauty with a sly sense of humor that did not seem to have a mercenary bone in her body. In fact, Richard would have thought of her for himself if Darce had not been there before him.
As for Darce, Richard had been actually looking forward to finding him as a moon-eyed, fawning lover, jumping to satisfy the lady's every whim, but he met with the opposite. If it were not for that one conversation during dinner about her uncle's bookshop, the two would not have spoken at all. It was as if he were avoiding her!
Why on earth was Darce keeping his distance? Darce should be flirting and courting such a fine lady! From what he could see so far, Miss Elizabeth was absolutely perfect for him.
Richard thought that maybe Darce needed a bit of a push to get him headed in the right direction, and set out to make his plan of attack.
Jane was well enough to visit downstairs for a short while. Elizabeth helped her to the drawing room. Jane's spirits were low after being held prisoner in her room for days by her illness and Elizabeth hoped the company of a certain gentleman would cheer her gentle sister.
Elizabeth could not help but smile when Mr. Bingley began to fuss over Jane immediately upon her entrance to the room. He escorted her carefully to the chair closest to the fire, checked to make sure she was out of any drafts which might assault her, and asked Elizabeth to help make sure her lap blanket and shawl were situated flawlessly. Mr. Bingley also made certain Jane's tea was perfectly prepared before pulling his own chair a bit closer than propriety normally allowed--for it would be a great risk indeed if he allowed her to strain her voice and do further damage to her throat while conversing with him.
Seeing that Jane was in good hands, and wishing to allow her and Mr. Bingley some private conversation, Elizabeth crossed the room to look for an occupation. She noticed Mr. Hurst was already sprawled out sleeping on the sofa and Mrs. Hurst was busy entertaining herself with her bracelets. Miss Bingley sat reading the second volume of the title Mr. Darcy was perusing, though she was more concerned with fidgeting, sighing, and looking at Mr. Darcy than paying attention to her book. Colonel Fitzwilliam was not yet present.
Elizabeth browsed the pile of books on a table and chose the second volume of a collection she had read in the past.
Colonel Fitzwilliam walked in and raised his eyebrows in surprise when he noticed the book she was reading. With a smile he said, "Miss Elizabeth! Why does it not surprise me that you read Latin? Tell me, which of Plato's dialogues has caught your attention this evening?"
Darcy's head snapped up as his attention became riveted on the pair.
Elizabeth smiled, "Yes I do, Colonel. I am reading the Republic at the moment. My father owns a different translation but I prefer this one. Serranus made an excellent translation of Plato from the Greek into Latin. Years ago I had borrowed it from my uncle's store, but as I was reading volume two he sold it directly out of my hands as I recall! I never did have the opportunity to finish the Republic, and missed out on reading this translation of the Laws, the Epinomis and the entirety of volume three of the collection."
As he stood and began to walk toward her, the grin spreading across Darcy's face was breathtaking, "I must apologize, Miss Elizabeth, for suspending your pleasure for two years. I remember Mr. Gardiner having to delay my purchase and have the collection delivered the next day since the second volume was missing from the shelf. He did mention his niece was reading it at home. You may borrow the entire collection now, if you would like." He motioned to the table where the first and third volume lay.
A sparkle lit Elizabeth's eye as she glanced to Colonel Fitzwilliam and back to Mr. Darcy. "I thank you, Mr. Darcy. Since your family appears intent on interrupting my reading of the Republic each time I begin it seems a proper compensation." she looked more closely at the bookmark, a white ribbon with "ECB" embroidered in the corner. With a delighted smile she continued, "So this is my ribbon that you are using as a bookmark! I had left it in the book by mistake." She pointed to the initials as Elizabeth handed it to Mr. Darcy.
Darcy looked flustered. "Miss Elizabeth, had I noticed the embroidery on the bookmark I would have returned it to Mr. Gardiner. It is now returned to its rightful owner." He said as he handed it to her, trying to hide his reluctance. Darcy knew it was irrational but now that he knew it was Elizabeth's ribbon it meant a great deal to him, especially since it bound them together in yet another way...she placed it in his book years ago while she was reading it. He did not want to part with the only physical reminder he might ever have of his Elizabeth.
"Nonsense, Mr. Darcy, it is only a ribbon, and one I had only missed for a day until it could be replaced. It would be a shame to separate the two who have traveled back and forth from London to Pemberley and now to Netherfield together, like old friends." After saying this, she blushed. "Why would you say such a silly thing, Lizzy?"
Darcy's gaze caught Elizabeth's and neither could look away. Suddenly he felt filled with an emotion he did not understand, and could only reply, "Thank you, Miss Elizabeth."
Caroline was unhappy that Eliza was now monopolizing the attention of both the eligible men in the house. Her nasal voice filled the room, breaking the enchantment, "Miss Eliza, why would your governess teach you Latin? It is a most inappropriate language for a lady to learn. Learning French and Italian are accepted accomplishments for ladies, not Latin."
It took her a moment to recover her wits after the mesmerizing look shared with Mr. Darcy. Turning her attention to Miss Bingley, Elizabeth replied, "Miss Bingley, I must apologize. There must be something lacking in my mode of communication for I remember answering similar queries on three previous occasions. Since there is still some confusion on your part, I shall attempt to enlighten you again. My family has never employed a governess."
Caroline smirked, "Well! It is perhaps a country tradition to choose not to educate one's children, but proper ladies are educated by a governess and later go to school or have several masters attend them."
"My mother taught us the basics, Miss Bingley, and then those of us who had the desire to learn more, did so. None of us were ever discouraged from learning, quite the contrary I assure you. We did have a teacher from Meryton for the French and Italian languages. I showed more of an interest in philosophy, science, languages, and mathematics than my sisters, therefore my father continued my education in those areas. Jane and I both had an interest in literature and history. It was my father who taught me Latin, and I did attempt a little Greek as well. I am afraid my talent for learning languages did not extend to Greek." Elizabeth laughed.
"These country ways are most confusing to those of us used to the ways of proper society, Miss Eliza. To be teaching a lady subjects which are normally only meant for gentlemen to learn is most irregular and might even be considered scandalous by those who move in the higher circles among the ton!" Caroline said, sneering.
Darcy was about to speak, but Colonel Fitzwilliam interrupted, afraid of the rage he saw in Darce's eyes and what it might tempt him to say, "Miss Bingley, I think you should be aware that Georgiana has been tutored in each of the subjects Miss Elizabeth has mentioned. I wonder if you are accusing my cousin and me, as her guardians, of not hiring the correct masters for Georgiana to become a proper young lady. Should you like to advise us further on the matter? Or perhaps you would do better to caution my mother, the Countess of Matlock? She happens to approve of our choice of subjects for her niece and, now that I think of it, my mother also plays chess, knows Latin and has a talent for mathematics."
At the sight of Miss Bingley's pale countenance and gaping mouth, he felt it would be only polite to divert the room's attention away from her. "That is correct, Miss Bingley, you managed to insult half the people in this room."
He turned to Elizabeth and continued smoothly, "Miss Elizabeth, Georgiana did not take to Greek well either. I do remember Darce here having a difficult time with it as well!"
Elizabeth was having a difficult time repressing her laughter at the Colonel's admonishment of Miss Bingley. She knew instinctively that if she had looked to Mr. Darcy at that moment, they both would have burst out laughing, so she was studying the pattern in the carpet instead. After a few deep breaths, she was able to school her features enough to look at Colonel Fitzwilliam and reply, "It is interesting to know that there is something Mr. Darcy does not do well, sir. According to some accounts, Mr. Darcy has no faults."
She glanced at Darcy with that teasing sparkle once again, which he returned.
Colonel Fitzwilliam chuckled, "Darce has no faults? Did he tell you that? I could name a few without needing to think…"
Darcy chuckled along with him, "I certainly would not say that, Richard. And I think that will do for now, thank you."
"Gentlemen, this has been a most enlightening conversation, but I see my sister is becoming fatigued, though she would never admit it for fear of interrupting our agreeable discourse. Will you please excuse us for the evening? I must take her to her room to rest. Good night, gentlemen." Elizabeth curtsied, and the gentlemen bowed and bid the Bennet ladies a good night, extending their best wishes to Jane for a speedy recovery.
Darcy watched her go and thought, "G-d help me, I love her so."
Bingley offered his arm as support to Miss Bennet and escorted the Bennet ladies above stairs.
Richard saw his chance to get Darce alone and asked him for a game of billiards. Darcy declined and bid good night to the rest of the party, knowing full well Richard wanted to talk to him about Elizabeth. He was not yet ready.
Richard saw his cousin was avoiding him and allowed him this one reprieve--but resolved that tomorrow would be different.
As Darcy entered his room, his mind was on the dinner conversation about Mr. Gardiner and his bookshop--which caused him to reminisce on how he met Mr. Gardiner years earlier.
After his mother died, the only truly agreeable memories he had of time spent with his father was when they had been shopping for books in London. There was one bookshop which had changed hands the previous year that his father was especially keen on visiting, and his fondness for this particular shop was shared by his son. He watched his father become friends with the new owner of the bookshop--Mr. Edward Gardiner. Mr. Gardiner was a man of intelligence and good breeding. While in most company both of the Darcys were ill at ease, Mr. Gardiner had an extraordinary talent for making them both comfortable.
Darcy still favored this shop above all others and had spent much time there with Mr. Gardiner through the years. He had often thought to invite Mr. Gardiner to his club or his home, but was afraid it would be inappropriate for him to do so and did not want to cause gossip for his sister's sake. It was only recently that he found Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were frequently invited to dine at other gentlemen's houses and Darcy was happy to extend an invitation for them to dine at Darcy House.
It was truly a pleasure to have them as his guests! At the time he was shocked at the thought since he could not remember ever feeling this way when dining with people who were not certain members of his own family or his friend, Bingley.
It did not surprise him to hear that Elizabeth and Miss Bennet had spent much time in London at their uncle's house. His being Elizabeth's uncle finally made some things clearer about how that side of the family had influenced Elizabeth and Miss Bennet. Darcy was proud to call Mr. Gardiner "friend", tradesman or not.
Once alone, Elizabeth noticed Jane avoided looking Elizabeth in the eye. Elizabeth was able to catch her gaze while helping Jane undress, and Elizabeth smiled. "Your Mr. Bingley was excessively attentive tonight, Jane."
A little smile appeared on Jane's features and disappeared almost as quickly. "He is not my Mr. Bingley, Lizzy. He was a perfect host tonight, was he not? He is all a young gentleman should be." Then with an amused grin she continued, "But I am surprised you noticed Mr. Bingley, considering the attention you received from the gentlemen. What was the subject of your discourse?"
"Were you so distracted that you did not hear what the remainder of the room was speaking of?" Elizabeth said while she held the bed coverings open for Jane, and then she sat on the coverlet.
Jane blushed and said, "Lizzy!"
"We were discussing reading Plato…or rather not reading Plato." Jane looked confused and Elizabeth laughed, "Oh Jane, both gentlemen are entertaining but I see no future with either of them. I am friends with Mr. Darcy and that is all it can ever be with either of the gentlemen. They are of the first circle after all."
Jane could see sadness touch Elizabeth's eyes. Jane had noticed Elizabeth's preference for Mr. Darcy, but Elizabeth was not yet ready to admit it. Jane was about to say something, when Elizabeth interceded.
"You must rest now, my dearest Jane. Though mama might not mind us staying here an extra few days, I do not think it is wise to put your health in danger! Sleep well, Jane."
Jane smiled up at her, "Good night, Lizzy"
Posted on: 2010-09-11
Friday, November 15, 1811
Darcy awakened after a usual course of dreaming that always began in ecstasy and ended in torment. His dreams had been so perfect since he met Elizabeth. He spent entire nights in conversation with Elizabeth, Elizabeth laughing at something he said, Elizabeth comfortably nestled in the library at the London house and Pemberley, Elizabeth playing the pianoforte and singing for him, Elizabeth accompanying him to plays and museums, Elizabeth walking the halls of Pemberley, the two of them walking arm in arm on the paths of Pemberley, showing Elizabeth his favorite hideaways on the grounds, Elizabeth with their children, and the activities that would take place to bring those children into existence. Last night he could add bathing to the list of activities that took place in his dreams.
Waking, Darcy felt as if he had been torn away from a little bit of heaven. He awoke disoriented by the reality of his dreams. His empty bed was agony. As he lay before rising, thoughts of the incompatibility of their social positions would come crashing down upon him, plunging him into despair.
The exquisite torture of loving Elizabeth was tenfold since she had been staying at Netherfield. He relished the opportunity to be so near her so often. But it was also especially difficult because her presence conjured memories of his dreams, leaving him blushing before her. "Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, does not blush!" he would reprimand himself, but he had found himself blushing more and more since he had first seen her.
He had hoped more than believed that these times went unnoticed by the others, as he would immediately walk to the window with a sudden, intense interest in the landscape or bury his face in a book and feign reading, seizing any opportunity to recover his equanimity.
Delight and misery, elation and agony were combined into every moment of his waking life. Yes, he loved her and he knew he always would…but he could never have her.
Darcy knew he could not avoid Richard forever, so he asked him to go for a ride. Usually, he enjoyed Richard's conversation, but not today. Richard was unrelentingly enumerating Elizabeth's charms. During their ride across the grounds of Netherfield, Richard brought up the subject of Elizabeth one time too many. Darcy lost control.
"Enough!" Darcy roared as he reigned in his horse. Richard slowed down and came alongside Darcy. "What are your intentions toward Miss Elizabeth, Richard?"
Richard bit back a smile "Intentions?" he shrugged "I suppose they are somewhat honorable."
Darcy's color rose in anger. "Richard, you have been informed several times that Miss Elizabeth does not have any dowry to speak of. As a second son, you have almost nothing to live on other than your officer's salary. Since your tastes run higher than your income you cannot afford to marry without consideration of the lady's fortune. Though your marked attentions to Miss Elizabeth cannot but show your good taste in choice of objects to dispose them on, you must know you cannot marry her. Am I correct?"
Richard continued with great effort to hide his amusement at his plan's success, "Of course you are correct! You know my situation as well as I."
Darcy dismounted and approached Richard's horse. "If this be the case, please explain to me how your intentions towards Miss Elizabeth could possibly be somewhat honorable? Luring her into a somewhat honorable attachment when there is absolutely no hope of a future will only cause her pain. I will not allow it to continue. Elizabeth is not the type of female some men might use as a diversion; she is most assuredly a lady in every sense of the word! You will abandon this game you are playing now or you will have to deal with me!"
Richard noticed the use of Miss Elizabeth's Christian name, but Darcy did not. "Finally! He is almost ready," he thought, "I need to push just a little further, and hope I do not get a black eye in the process." With a chuckle Richard replied aloud, "Shall it be pistols at dawn, then?"
Richard dismounted as Darcy's color rose again. "I full well know you do not wish to duel and neither do I! I am not in jest, Richard! Please, can you not desist in this infuriating teasing for the remainder of this conversation?"
With a slight bow of his head, Richard raised his brows and chose his words carefully, "What is Miss Elizabeth to you, Darce? Why are you so concerned with how I treat a woman who you so obviously deem unworthy of your notice?"
"Unworthy of my…This is not about me, Richard; this is about your behavior toward Miss Elizabeth!"
"Well, Darce, you are in such a quiet mood when we have been in company with Miss Elizabeth unless we are talking of books, anyone can see you do not think highly of either of her. I did not think you would care what my intentions were, honorable or not."
"I am finished with your attempts to turn the subject, Richard! Answer me! Are your intentions in any way dishonorable?"
"Oh, I am going to get a black eye!" Richard stood up straighter, "I ask again, Darcy, what difference that should make to you?"
Darcy was absolutely livid with Richard's evasiveness and what it implied. "Leave her be, Richard. She is a lady and it is my duty to protect her in any way I see necessary!"
"Ah, ha! He is ready now!" Richard laughed. "Duty? Ha! Oh, why do you not just say it, Darcy? Or can you not admit to yourself that you are in love with her?"
Darcy let go and stumbled back a step.
"Others may not see it, but do you honestly think that I cannot? I, who knows you better than I do my own brother? You are in love with Miss Elizabeth! There, I have said it for you! What do you think I have been doing since I arrived? Trying to get you to act! I have no intentions toward Miss Elizabeth past those of friendship, and I am certain she understands this. If it will make you feel better I will make certain she does when the next opportunity presents itself." Darcy visibly relaxed a little before Richard continued, thumping the back of his hand on Darcy's chest accusingly. "But you--you have spent most of the time in company with Miss Elizabeth ignoring her. From your treatment of her, I doubt she is able to discern you feel anything but indifference toward her!"
Darcy then told Richard of all the reasons he had for not pursuing Elizabeth, leaving out his promise to his mother. He told him about the conversation Elizabeth and he had about their friendship.
"Good show, if your goal was to make her completely confused, Darce. Or was that not your intention?"
The gentlemen grumbled to themselves as they remounted their horses and steered them onto a path through the woods, shooting arrows at each other with their looks.
Through the grove of trees they spied a group of children trying to fly a kite, to no avail. The gentlemen dismounted and began to make their way over to the children to show them how to use the kite when they noticed a lady headed in the children's direction. They stopped and watched the exchange to judge whether their assistance was needed.
Elizabeth was walking the grounds of Netherfield, thinking about all that had occurred since she arrived. She came upon a group of the servants' and tenants' children trying to fly a kite just outside the bounds of the Netherfield park.
"Miss Lizzy! Miss Lizzy has come! Will you help us, Miss Lizzy?" The children all squealed with glee to see their favorite playmate.
"Hello children! It is good to see you all! How are you faring on this beautiful day?" Elizabeth curtsied to the group as they approximated bows and curtsies themselves.
"We are well, thank you Miss Lizzy," the eldest boy, Jimmy, replied. "Have you come to play with us?"
"I am sorry Jimmy, but I cannot stay long. Miss Jane is ill and staying at Netherfield and I must return to tend to her. But what is this I see, a kite? Are you having trouble with it?"
"Yes, ma'am. Helen's father made us this kite, but we have not been able to get it to work. Do you know how to fly a kite, Miss Lizzy?" Jimmy gave her an eager look.
"Why, it is a good thing that I happened along just now, for I am known as the "queen of kites" across all of Hertfordshire these past few years! Helen's father taught me how to fly, and even make, my own kite years ago and I have made several since. I am especially good at getting kites down from trees." She laughed with the children since everyone knew how fond of climbing trees Miss Lizzy was. "Let us see what I can show you now before I must return to the house."
Elizabeth spent a few minutes showing the older boys the basics of how to fly the kite, and gave them the responsibility of teaching the younger children. She reminded all the children of their promise not to tell anyone of her running, slipped off her shoes, hiked her skirts up a bit and ran with the kite through the field until it was flying high above. Elizabeth handed off the kite to Jimmy. While the older children each took a turn with the kite, Elizabeth picked up each younger child and twirled them around.
As she was saying her goodbyes, little Lucy, a girl of about five years, began to cry. Elizabeth picked up Lucy and comforted her, "Oh! Lucy, what is the matter?"
Jimmy answered for her, "Lucy is afraid the ogress queen will try to cook and eat you and Miss Jane, like in the story you read to us, Miss Lizzy."
Confused, Elizabeth repeated, "The ogress queen?" when Elizabeth realized they were referring to Miss Bingley, she could not help but laugh out loud before checking her mirth. "Do you not think I could defend Miss Jane and myself from an ogress queen?"
The children all shook their heads in the negative. Jimmy said, "Miss Lizzy, we know you would be able to defeat many kinds of evil creatures, but from what we have seen Miss Bing…I mean the ogress queen seems vicious indeed."
Elizabeth ignored the slip of tongue. "Children, I can assure you there is no ogress queen at Netherfield. Miss Jane and I are quite safe there. And, if an ogress queen or any other dangerous creature were to appear, there are three brave and good knights to protect us. We shall be in no danger, I promise you. Do you believe me?"
They all nodded yes. Elizabeth dried off Lucy's tears and gave her a kiss on the cheek, resulting in a smile on the little girl's face. "Now children, I must return to the house. No more talk of ogress queens, agreed? That was just a tale." She curtsied to the children and they bowed and curtsied in return. "Will you walk with me a little while as I return?"
"We cannot, Miss Lizzy. Miss Bingley has told our parents that we cannot go any closer to the house than this field. Those in the house cannot see or hear us when we play here. Last time we went too close to the house…well…that was the day we thought there was an ogress queen living at Netherfield. We will not go so near again!"
Elizabeth sighed and then bid them goodbye before turning back toward the house.
"We should not have eavesdropped." Darcy said, though he was glad they did. His heart was deeply touched by Elizabeth's kindness toward the children.
"Well, we did begin with the best of intentions. It probably would have been better to make our presence known after a while but the picture of Miss Elizabeth interacting with the children was too charming to interrupt. If we had moved off, they would have seen us. She will be a wonderful mother some day. Being able to interact so well with the tenants and their children is a good asset for the mistress of an estate of any size as well." Richard openly smirked at Darcy.
Darcy changed the subject, "Miss Bingley does remind me of an ogress queen!"
The two had a good laugh as they continued on their return to Netherfield.
The following day, Jane was feeling much better and was able to come down for luncheon. Earlier, the ladies had sent a note to Longbourn asking when the carriage could be sent for them. They received a note from their mother in reply stating the horses would be needed on the farm for the next few days and their carriage could not be sent until Tuesday. Both ladies knew that their father had probably not been consulted in this plan and there would be no way to convince their mother to send the carriage sooner. They decided that at luncheon, Jane would ask Mr. Bingley for the loan of his carriage. Jane was concerned about the imposition they might be causing for the family by staying any longer, and Elizabeth was more than happy to get away from Miss Bingley.
When the subject was broached, Mr. Bingley insisted they return to Longbourn after luncheon the following day and the ladies agreed to spending another day at Netherfield. He was just announcing that it was settled when his sister interrupted.
Caroline Bingley by that time had quite enough of the insolent chit Eliza Bennet staying in her house and attracting all the attention of her Mr. Darcy and now Colonel Fitzwilliam as well. "Charles, do not be so inconsiderate. Miss Bennet and Miss Eliza must be anxious to return to their family. Of course the carriage will be ordered immediately and the ladies will return to Longbourn as soon as they can be ready to depart." She walked from the room to make the arrangements.
The gentlemen, and even Mrs. Hurst, sat silently aghast by Caroline's rude contradiction of her brother's wishes and their guests' approval of the plan, but there was not much to be done about it short of running after her to cancel the order for the carriage.
Mr. Bingley was first to recover, "Ah, yes…well. So it shall be. We will be sad to see you go."
The Bennet ladies returned above stairs immediately after luncheon to pack. As soon as their trunks were ready, they bid farewell to the Netherfield party.
Thanks were given and received graciously, and many smiles were exchanged though Caroline Bingley's was the only truly happy smile among all assembled--which turned into a sneer as soon as she thought no one was looking, but there were two who did see.
Richard could not help himself from whispering to Darcy, "The children may have been correct…she is the ogress queen after all!"
Saturday, November 16, 1811
The day following Jane and Elizabeth's return to Longbourn was as uneventful as a day at Longbourn can be. Jane rested and Elizabeth did a great deal of walking with the intention of clearing her head of Mr. Darcy, though it seemed to have the opposite effect. The two also discussed bits of nothing with their other sisters, but distinctly avoided speaking to each other about the gentlemen they had left at Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet was having fits of nerves about Elizabeth "allowing" Jane to come home without securing Mr. Bingley. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were interested in hearing of Colonel Fitzwilliam. Mrs. Bennet was disappointed to hear he was only a second son of an earl.
At dinner, Mr. Bennet had some news. Their cousin, who would be inheriting Longbourn upon Mr. Bennet's demise, was coming for a visit the following day. Mr. Bennet told the family he was looking forward to hours of amusement once he arrived, since the letter he had received from the young clergyman proved to be quite pompous and self-important. To prove his point, he read the letter aloud:
Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent
The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honored father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.
My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavor to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England.
As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds, I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I
cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologize for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, -- but of this hereafter.
If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Sunday, November 17th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,
Sunday, November 17, 1811
The following day, Mr. Collins arrived promptly at four o'clock, the exact time specified in his letter--so exact that Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet wondered if he had stopped somewhere on the way to delay his arrival.
He was as Mr. Bennet expected. Mr. Collins was not an intelligent gentleman. In fact, his manner of expression was silly, and his looks and manner were bordering on the absurd. He was a short, greasy man. He seemed to have an endless supply of inane chatter about his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her daughter Miss Anne de Bourgh and their home, Rosings Park--and very little else. He did preach a little, but the religious quotations he used were recalled incorrectly. He examined everything in the house minutely, and while he complimented Mrs. Bennet as he went, the way he looked at the house and its contents caused some to think that he was cataloging it all as his own future property.
His beady eyes examined every feature of the girls' figures minutely as well, returning several times to the two eldest, which induced a distinct feeling in both of being soiled by his gaze so much that they both felt a need to take a bath after being in his presence. To Elizabeth his leer also created a fear of being compromised while taking a bath while he was in the house.
After they retired, Jane and Elizabeth discussed wearing much lace around their necklines while Mr. Collins was in residence and making sure their bedroom door was locked any time either of them was within. It was unfortunate they did not think of locking the bedroom door when they were not within.
Monday, November 18, 1811
The next afternoon, a cold shiver ran down her spine as Elizabeth turned into her bedroom. "Mr. Collins! What are you doing in my bedchamber, sir?" she said quite loudly. Elizabeth stood looking through the doorway but still in the hall where she could be observed from her younger sisters' room. She did not want anyone to misunderstand the situation and think she had been in her bedchamber alone with
Lydia and Kitty came rushing out into the hallway and stifled their laughs with their hands.
"Oh, uh…I seem to have lost my way, Cousin Elizabeth" he said as he put one of Elizabeth's undergarments back into a drawer and closed it.
"Why are you going through my dresser drawer and holding some of my clothing if you are merely lost, Mr. Collins?"
He had no answer, but left the room begging forgiveness and bowing so low she thought he would fall over. As he came out into the hall still bowing, both Lydia and Kitty could no longer hold back their giggles. Mr. Collins ran down the hallway to the stairs to escape the scene.
Elizabeth turned to her sisters and gathered them into their room. She said firmly, "I suggest you both keep your door locked whether or not you are within while Mr. Collins remains at Longbourn! I beg of you Kitty, Lydia? Do not say one word of this to anyone, please? I will warn Mary and Jane, but please do not tell mama or papa, or anyone else. I will not be forced to marry Mr. Collins! I swear nothing happened between us other than that I opened the door and saw him there. Please?"
Though they thought it was ever so funny, they could understand why Elizabeth would not want to marry Mr. Collins. Both girls promised they would limit any discussion of the event between themselves in their room.
Elizabeth turned quickly, walked into her room and slammed the door, turning the key firmly in the lock. As she tried to keep herself from retching, she took the undergarment that had been in Mr. Collins' hand and put it into the fire. She wanted to gather every stitch of Jane's and her clothing to have it washed as well, but refrained from doing so since it would create much work for Longbourn's limited staff. Elizabeth was so angry that her eyes filled with tears. She threw herself onto the bed to scream into her pillow without disturbing anyone.
A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Elizabeth asked who it was and heard Jane's soft voice answer her. She let Jane in, quickly closed and locked the door behind her, and fell into her arms crying.
Jane was surprised, but tried to soothe Elizabeth. She moved Elizabeth to the bed and allowed her to calm before asking her what the matter was. A shivering Elizabeth told her what had occurred.
Jane, who with her trusting nature could not think ill of anybody, insisted there must be some sort of mistake. Jane did admit it seemed suspicious that Mr. Collins could get lost in such a small house and when pressed she could not come up with anything that could explain why he was going through the dresser drawer, and so finally she did concede they had better lock the door at all times.
At dinner, Jane told the family that Elizabeth was indisposed and would have a tray sent to her room.
Tuesday, November 19, 1811
The next day, when Elizabeth returned from her early morning ramble, Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet were in the drawing room talking while the rest of the family was breaking their fast.
The acoustics of Longbourn afforded anyone who was in the front hall to be able to hear voices in the drawing room if the door was left open slightly and the rest of the house was quiet. As Mrs. Hill helped her take off her bonnet, pelisse and gloves, she could hear her mother telling Mr. Collins that the family was expecting Mr. Bingley to make an offer to Jane. Elizabeth smiled. "Oh mama!" She thought and rolled her eyes at Hill, who smiled in understanding.
When Elizabeth heard the next, she froze. Her mother told Mr. Collins that Elizabeth was not promised to anyone, and then she heard Mr. Collins say he would be delighted to marry his cousin Elizabeth! Elizabeth stood staring at the drawing room door, eyes wide open in shock.
Mrs. Hill became worried when she saw the color draining from Elizabeth's face and then began to sway. She took hold of Elizabeth's arm and led her into the kitchen. Mrs. Hill did not want the rest of the family to see her like this. Once she was sitting on a stool in the corner of the kitchen, Mrs. Hill handed Elizabeth a cup of tea along with one of her favorite muffins and would not allow her to leave until she finished both.
Elizabeth dutifully followed directions, as she was too overwhelmed to argue. Slowly, she recovered her senses and looked worriedly at Mrs. Hill, who reassured her that the master would never force her to marry where she did not wish to.
Since Elizabeth and Mrs. Hill had a special bond between them, she took comfort in what was said. She knew that Mrs. Hill was right, and she would do everything in her power to avoid being alone with Mr. Collins…ever! "I will be well, Mrs. Hill, do not worry."
She thanked Mrs. Hill and made her way into the breakfast room for another cup of tea.
At breakfast, it was decided that the ladies of the house would take a walk into Meryton to visit their Aunt Philips. Mrs. Bennet suggested Mr. Collins accompany them, and Mr. Collins prattled on interminably about how honored he was to be offered the invitation. Though none of the girls wished him to come along, they knew he would not waver in his intent.
Before they departed, Elizabeth had no time to tell Jane what she had overheard, but she had begged Jane with her eyes not to leave her alone with Mr. Collins. Jane would not have needed the look from Elizabeth to do so after what had happened the afternoon before, but this look told Jane something else had occurred this morning of which she was not yet aware. She was not used to thinking ill of anyone, but she had thought long about what had passed the day before and could come to no other conclusion than that Mr. Collins was not an honorable man. Whatever had ensued that was currently clouding the eyes of her favorite sister concerned Jane and she vowed to make this walk as comfortable as possible for Elizabeth. Now that she could admit Mr. Collins was not honorable, she saw much more in the way he looked at Elizabeth--and it began to frighten her.
On their walk Elizabeth was able to avoid taking Mr. Collins' arm by pretending she did not notice his offer, but he did remain by Elizabeth's elbow. Jane attempted to place herself between them but Mr. Collins continually thwarted her efforts. Her only success at distracting him from her sister was by asking questions concerning Lady de Bourgh and Rosings Park. With Mr. Collins' tendency to rattle on and his need to catch his breath often due to being unused to walking, this scheme took up most of the walk to Meryton. Elizabeth shot Jane an appreciative look when she did not think Mr. Collins could see.
As they entered Meryton, the two youngest Bennet sisters were scouting the village for the red coats of the regimental uniforms worn by the officers of the Militia. They soon found candidates, and rushed toward them with the excuse of wishing to see the new bonnet in the shop window that the officers were standing near. The elder sisters and Mr. Collins followed at a more leisurely pace, with Jane and Elizabeth's thoughts on checking their younger sisters' exuberance.
The two officers were Mr. Denny and Mr. Saunderson, who were accompanied by another gentleman who Lydia was already flirting with shamelessly. The young man was tall and very handsome, with dark wavy hair, a pleasing smile--and dark eyes which were taking in Lydia's form a bit too eagerly, Elizabeth noted.
As Jane, Elizabeth, and Mr. Collins approached Lydia suggested too loudly that he would look much better in regimentals. They soon learned his name was Mr. Wickham, soon to be Lieutenant Wickham. To the elder sisters' embarrassment, Kitty and Lydia were only too happy to tell Mr. Wickham how handsome he would be in his red coat.
The gentlemen were then all introduced to the ladies' cousin, Mr. Collins. Elizabeth noticed something odd about the way Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham interacted when introduced, on two levels.
Their words were typical for a civil greeting between newly introduced acquaintances, but there was also a silent conversation occurring in their eyes and body movements that showed more than a small amount of prior knowledge of each other.
During the introduction Mr. Collins moved uncomfortably close to Elizabeth. She tensed and felt a need to move away, but Mr. Collins took hold of her arm in an almost possessive way preventing her escape. Mr. Wickham, though his manner of speaking was pleasing, made Elizabeth uncomfortable with his looks at her person which were not quite as obvious as Mr. Collins had been, but were even more disturbing in intensity. As the two men spoke, Mr. Wickham drifted closer until she was trapped between them; she could not move without her body brushing against one or the other.
It was as if there was a struggle for possession going on between them…possession over her. She had only just met Mr. Wickham! Why he would feel any sort of claim over her at this point in their acquaintance was a mystery.
The entire situation was alarming. She tried to back away from the pair, but every time she did they adjusted their positions, at times one or the other would brush against her, so she halted any movements and stood perfectly still instead. Suddenly overwhelmed with a need to cry out, her instincts told her doing so under the present circumstances would end badly.
She glanced at Jane to see if she had noticed, but Jane's attention was turned down the street toward some gentlemen approaching on horseback. Elizabeth was too distracted to concentrate on anything but Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham. Her eyes kept darting between the men as a feeling of panic rose within her until suddenly another figure was in front of her. Startled, she jumped backwards with a sharp gasp and fell into a wall of flesh. She was surrounded!
1 Sleeping Beauty was originally a different story than the one we know today. This refers to the second part of the story recorded by Charles Perrault, which was published in 1697 in French.
Posted on: 2010-09-14
Elizabeth felt hands on her upper arms pulling her away from the three men in front of her. The hands were gentle, and there was a familiar energy associated with the touch that made her feel safe. Instinctively, she pressed her back against the safe wall of flesh behind her, and the energy enveloped her almost as if it were a soothing embrace. She was still in too much of a panic to recognize it, but the voice connected to the energy boomed with venom, "Wickham!"
She watched as all color drained from Mr. Wickham's face and he turned to leave, but then a hand came down to grip Mr. Wickham's shoulder, stopping him. Elizabeth could see the hand must be gripping too tightly as Mr. Wickham winced and she could briefly see panic rising in his eyes Elizabeth looked to the other man who she finally recognized as Colonel Fitzwilliam. He had a threatening look in his eyes which was unfamiliar to her. "You were not going to leave our merry party, were you old friend? The fun has not yet begun!" Colonel Fitzwilliam said with a false grin.
Wickham's panic changed to an obviously well practiced mask of ease as he answered, "Of course not! It is a pleasure to see you again, Richard…William" and he tipped his hat at them both. Mr. Collins took a couple of steps back.
Elizabeth was still pressed against the soothing "wall", which she now knew was a tense Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham smirked with an evil glint in his eye as he looked from Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy and back a few times and she gasped.
She could feel a vibration against her back emanating from Mr. Darcy's chest, and heard a low, menacing sound which was almost like a growl. It was then she realized Mr. Darcy was slowly moving her away from the other men. He turned to put himself between her and those who had been causing her discomfort.
Her legs would barely obey her commands since they were trembling so violently, and she was so light-headed she thought she would faint, but she somehow managed to move. "Elizabeth Bennet does not swoon!" she told herself.
As Mr. Darcy moved her away from the group of men, she began to calm and take in her surroundings. She noticed Mr. Bingley had moved into Mr. Darcy's position as he and Elizabeth moved away, hopefully preventing either man from bolting. Jane was wearing a horrified expression and was standing a few steps to her right. Behind Jane were the rest of her sisters. Mary seemed almost as horrified as Jane, but Lydia and Kitty were giggling.
She realized Mr. Darcy had been able to detect her trembling because as she was calming and the quivering was subsiding, his grip on her arms was easing to a light touch, making Elizabeth think he was testing to see if her legs would hold her. He continued moving toward Jane, and then leaned down a bit and whispered something into her ear motioning to Jane and Mary to support her.
Confused and surprised, she turned her head to look at him, "How did he know about that?" His eyes were full of a tenderness that warmed her to the core as he turned to walk back towards the others.
The feeling of loss of the embracing energy originating from Mr. Darcy was great. She wanted to immerse herself in it forever. She almost reached out to pull him back but he was gone before she could move her hand.
Jane and Mary both held one of her elbows to support her. Jane motioned to the group of ladies to move to the shop window nearby so they would seem to be admiring the wares on display. She called over Kitty and Lydia to look at the bonnet they had used as an excuse to cross the street.
"Where have Mr. Denny and Mr. Saunderson gone?" Elizabeth wondered. "Will they hurt my 'knights'?"
Elizabeth looked to Jane, still trying desperately to keep her knees locked and remain standing. Jane was censuring Kitty and Lydia, who were watching the scene playing out between the gentlemen instead of ignoring it as she was hoping they would do. Realizing they would do better away from the controversy, Jane led the group of ladies into the bookshop where she knew Elizabeth could find a seat. Jane and Mary led Elizabeth to a chair, and then Jane went to find a book of poetry and opened it on Elizabeth's lap. She whispered to Mary to browse to avoid suspicion and took the latest copy of "The Lady's Magazine" off a shelf to have Kitty and Lydia flip through.
Jane and Elizabeth knew the bookshop owner well. Jane saw that Mr. Hall knew something was amiss and gave him a pleading look. He came closer to the ladies and asked, "May I be of assistance? Perhaps some water for Miss Lizzy?"
Elizabeth, now calm enough to recover her voice, cleared her throat and said quietly, "Yes, I thank you, Mr. Hall. That would be nice. I am feeling a bit weak at the moment, but I am sure it will pass shortly. I hope you do not mind if I sit for a few minutes. You know how I love a room full of books."
"Of course, Miss Lizzy! How often does an old coot like me have the pleasure of the company of such lovely young ladies? Excuse me a moment, please." he said gently as he moved into another room to fetch a glass of water, and give the ladies a moment of privacy.
Jane spoke softly to Elizabeth, "Oh Lizzy! Are you well?"
"I will be after resting a few minutes, thank you, Jane."
"I knew not what to do! It all happened so quickly. I was so happy to see Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam coming down the street!" As Mr. Hall reappeared with Elizabeth's water Jane whispered, "We shall talk more later."
She thanked Mr. Hall for the water, but Elizabeth's thoughts were outside, worried about her friends. She wondered how Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam knew Mr. Wickham and what had happened between them. Mr. Wickham called them by their first names! She also pondered just what had occurred between Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham, and what did she have to do with it? What was occurring outside that door right now?
Jane could see Elizabeth's eyes wandering to the window and noticed her color was paling again. Jane was also worried about their friends and said a silent prayer that all would end without violence.
They both watched the door hoping the gentlemen would join them soon.
Bingley had decided on the following Tuesday, the 26th of November, as the date for the ball. Caroline had reluctantly made out the invitations and was sending them round to the entire neighborhood, but Bingley wanted to deliver the Bennets' invitation personally. He invited Darcy and Fitzwilliam to join him on his visit to Longbourn as they both seemed weary of avoiding Caroline's antics. Both gentlemen heartily agreed to the visit, and they set off as soon as could be after breaking their fast.
While riding through the village of Meryton, Bingley spied Miss Bennet standing with her sisters who were speaking to some officers and two other gentlemen. While pointing out the location of the ladies to Darcy and Fitzwilliam, Bingley noticed both of them visibly tense at the same moment, then look to each other with particular expressions. Confused, Bingley looked back to the ladies to see Miss Elizabeth in a most concerning position and a look of panic on Miss Bennet's lovely features. All three gentlemen hastened toward the group and dismounted immediately.
Bingley moved toward Miss Bennet to inquire if all was well while Fitzwilliam and Darcy walked directly over to the men Miss Elizabeth seemed almost trapped between.
Richard and Darcy both spotted Wickham at the same time and exchanged a knowing look. When they looked back, they noticed Elizabeth was being harassed by Wickham and another man. She seemed to be afraid and trying to back away, but neither of the men would allow it. Dismounting before their horses had come to a stop they hurried to her aid. Darcy went directly to Elizabeth and Richard took the side opposite Darcy.
As he was walking over, Darcy could see that Elizabeth was frightened. It enraged him to think that Wickham and this other man had caused his Elizabeth discomfort. Elizabeth seemed in such a state of agitation that she did not recognize Richard and started when he appeared before her jumping back against Darcy's chest. He was momentarily surprised that she did not move away from him. Did she know it was him?
His instinct was to wrap her in his embrace and assure her he would protect her, but they were in the middle of the village of Meryton and it would surely compromise her. He especially did not want Wickham to notice he had any feelings for Elizabeth since Darcy was afraid of what the results of that knowledge would be.
He felt her trembling against him so forcefully that he was unsure she would be able to hold up her own weight much longer, so he supported her by placing his hands on her upper arms. His heart ached for her panic as his rage toward Wickham increased dramatically.
"Wickham!" Darcy's voice boomed. He began to shift Elizabeth to put himself between her and Wickham, and gently move her toward her sisters.
Wickham looked as if he would bolt but Richard acted quickly. Filled with an anger he could barely contain at crossing paths with this monster once again, Richard brought his hand down hard on Wickham's shoulder, gripping it tightly. "You were not going to leave our merry party, were you old friend? The fun has not yet begun!" Richard said, plastering a false grin across his features to distract any onlookers of the true nature of the meeting.
Wickham's panicked look changed to the charming mask both Darcy and Richard knew so well, "Of course not! It is a pleasure to see you again, Richard…William" and he tipped his hat at them both.
Mr. Collins tried to distance himself from the group, but stopped at a look filled with venom from both Darcy and Richard.
When Darcy heard Elizabeth gasp, he looked back at Wickham to find him eyeing her with lust-filled eyes. If his first priority had not been supporting Elizabeth, Darcy was sure he would have strangled the man. His anger was almost at the point of frenzy and he could not form words, but made a warning noise that came out almost as a growl.
He glanced at Bingley, who understood immediately what Darcy was trying to communicate. Darcy had to move Elizabeth away from the scene and he did not want leave an opening for either Wickham or the stranger to escape. As Darcy moved Elizabeth toward her sisters, Bingley stepped into Darcy's place. Bingley, usually the amiable, mild mannered gentleman, took on a boxing stance to warn the men that he was not to be underestimated.
He did not want to let Elizabeth out of his direct protection, but he knew he had to. Darcy loosened his grip on her arms and was glad she was able to stand under her own power.
Darcy leaned toward her and took a deep breath, filling himself with her calming scent. He whispered, "Your knights are here to protect you from the ogre, my queen." She turned to him with confusion in her eyes, their faces so close he almost leaned in to kiss her but checked himself. "I will keep you from harm!" he thought, and then reluctantly handed her off to Miss Bennet and Miss Mary's support. He knew she was in good hands.
As he walked back to the group of men, he could see Miss Bennet leading the ladies into the bookshop and he felt relieved they would not witness what might come.
When Darcy returned, it seemed there had not been much said while he was gone. Three of the four men were staring at each other in anger, and the stranger seemed frightened. Richard began, "Why do we not take this…discussion to a less public place, gentlemen?"
Up until that point seeing Wickham had been wrong, Mr. Denny and Mr. Saunderson had kept their distance from the confrontation, but at this statement the two intervened. Mr. Denny said, "Excuse me, gentlemen, but Mr. Wickham has just today joined the militia. I do not think we can allow you to take him off for a discussion as you call it. If you have a problem with Mr. Wickham, I suggest you speak to Colonel Forster."
"I may not be in uniform at the moment, but I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of the Dragoons. I have no doubt I will be speaking to Colonel Forster about Mr. Wickham soon, but for now I will take responsibility for Mr. Wickham's absence. Return to camp and notify Colonel Forster." Richard said the last with the authority of a man used to giving orders.
Every British soldier knew the name of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and had heard about the war hero's actions. Both men, visibly impressed by who they were in company with, returned to camp immediately.
Bingley led the group to a cluster of trees beyond the shops, far enough away from the village to have a discussion without being overheard.
"First off, who are you and why were you harassing Miss Elizabeth?" Richard said to Mr. Collins.
"Sir, I am Reverend William Collins, and have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, daughter of the Earl of Matlock, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of the parish of Rosings Park. I was escorting my betrothed to the village of Meryton." Mr. Collins bowed repeatedly throughout the whole of his speech.
All three gentlemen's eyes widened. Darcy opened his mouth to speak but Richard put his hand on Darcy's arm to quiet him. "Mr. Collins, we were speaking of why you were harassing Miss Elizabeth, not asking for a recital of my aunt's virtues. Which Bennet lady is your betrothed?"
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh is your aunt, sir? Oh! To be in the presence of the nephew of my most gracious patroness! I am humbled by your attention! I am pleased to inform you that only a few days ago Lady Catherine was in the best of health, as was her daughter, the charming and amiable Miss Anne de Bourgh. What affability and condescension I have experienced from Lady Catherine…" Mr. Collins was in raptures whenever speaking of Lady Catherine and this was no exception. Wickham rolled his eyes.
Richard interrupted again, "Mr. Collins! Please, you are not answering my questions. Let us begin again. Which Bennet lady is your betrothed?"
"I do apologize, dear sir, I have been carried away by the wondrous nature of my…"
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet." Mr. Collins answered simply.
"WHAT?" Darcy could not stop himself.
Confused, Mr. Collins answered, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet, sir. I am here in Hertfordshire at the urging of my esteemed patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh to choose a wife from among my cousins in compensation for inheriting Longbourn in the future when the unfortunate death of Mr. Bennet occurs. Lady Catherine has advised me to choose with discretion a genteel lady who will know her place and obey me. In my opinion, this describes Miss Elizabeth and these attractions, along with her many other charms, I have chosen her as my future wife. Mrs. Bennet and I have discussed the matter and agreed that my cousin Elizabeth will become my wife."
"And what does Mr. Bennet have to say to this?" Darcy could barely spit out the words without retching.
"I have not spoken to Mr. Bennet as of yet, sir, but, I flatter myself, why would he deny my suit? I am to inherit his estate. I am in respectable and easy circumstances live in a comfortable home at Hunsford, and my wife will have the honor of the condescension, notice and kindness of the noble Lady Catherine de Bourgh. What could she want for?"
Darcy's ire was so high his face was red and he was clenching his fists so tightly his knuckles were white. Richard thought to change the subject since he noticed Wickham was interested in Darcy's reaction.
"And so, since you believe her as your betrothed, you feel this gives you the right to harass her along with your friends in the middle of Meryton?" Richard asked.
"Esteemed sirs, I was not harassing Miss Elizabeth, I was escorting her. I had only just been introduced to Mr. Wickham and his colleagues when Mr. Wickham moved closer to Miss Elizabeth than propriety allows. I was only defending Miss Elizabeth's honor, sirs." None of the Netherfield gentlemen were satisfied with this explanation, but they all concurred with a look that this was probably the best they would get out of this buffoon.
"Wickham, what excuse do you have? Why are you here?"
"I have the great honor of having purchased a commission in the militia, Richard. I was just being friendly with my new acquaintances; if I stood too closely, I apologize. I meant no offense to the lady." Wickham did not try to hide his smirk and threw a pointed look at Darcy.
"So you are claiming you two have never met each other before today?" Richard was suspicious. Their actions were not those of two men unacquainted with each other, no matter what words they said.
"That is correct." Wickham replied.
"Wickham, you will stay far away from anyone named Bennet in the future, or I will not be responsible for what happens to you." Darcy said with his booming "Master of Pemberley" voice. "I will not be cleaning up any messes for you here, Wickham. Do I make myself clear?"
"You will behave yourself in a gentleman-like manner at all times while in Hertfordshire and at all other times you are in the militia. Be warned, the military does not take disgracing the uniform lightly. This is your chance to make a new start for yourself, Wickham…your last chance." Richard added with a murderous gleam in his eye, and then said under his breath but loud enough for everyone to hear "Your last chance should have been at Ramsgate. I would have been more than happy to run you through, and will not hesitate if you misbehave again."
Wickham replied with a wicked grin, "Of course, gentlemen!"
Turning, Richard said with same look, "Mr. Collins, as the parson of our aunt, you will conduct yourself in a gentleman-like manner at all times as well, do you understand?"
"Did you say "our aunt"? Are you to say I am in the company of two of Lady Catherine de Bourgh's nephews? Oh, I am truly honored…"
"Gentlemen, I would never wish to disgrace the honorable name of my noble patrone…"
"Mr. Collins, answer the question! Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir! I do understand, sir."
"Thank you. Wickham, you return to camp and report for duty immediately. Collins, we will join you in escorting the ladies to Longbourn."
Richard turned to Darcy and Bingley as they made their way back into the village, waiting until the other two were out of hearing range, "I do not know what else we are going to get out of these two. They are lying about knowing each other in my opinion, but I cannot see how to make them admit to it without applying the more…vigorous means of extracting information that I have had to use in the military but would not think of using here--though I must say I would enjoy using them on Wickham."
Richard's expression was almost wistful, and then he shook his head as if to clear it. "We cannot do much on the basis of them standing too close to Miss Elizabeth unless we wish to damage her reputation in the process. I will talk to Colonel Forster and warn him about Wickham's past disreputable behavior. I do hope Forster heeds my warning, we know how believable Wickham makes himself."
"I have never been as tempted to resort to physical violence as I have been for the past half hour with both of those men. Can Miss Elizabeth actually be engaged to that…that…Collins?" Darcy looked as if he were about to be sick.
"By all reports, Mr. Bennet is an intelligent man who loves his daughters, especially Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth. Miss Elizabeth is his favorite daughter. I have reason to know for certain he would not force her into marriage as some fathers would, no matter how beneficial it would be to her family." Richard said.
"Just where have you heard this?" Bingley asked.
"I have my sources." Richard said with a sly smile.
"Yes, Bingley, have you not learned by now that Richard has spies everywhere?" Darcy's face was beginning to show less tension.
Mr. Collins was waiting for them by an alleyway which passed between two shops. All four turned onto the street toward the bookshop. Darcy made sure he went in first and his eyes sought out Elizabeth's. She looked relieved to see him, so he went to her side. Bingley walked to Miss Bennet, who was paying Mr. Hall for their purchases. Richard stayed close to Collins in case Collins decided to make an attempt to get near Miss Elizabeth again.
Darcy noticed Elizabeth's color was returning, "Are you feeling any better, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Yes, thank you Mr. Darcy. I feel much better now. Will you be joining us for tea at Longbourn, sir?" she said aloud while communicating with her eyes that she wished to speak to him on the walk.
"We had every intention of escorting your party to Longbourn, madam, and I am sure I speak for the others when I accept your invitation for tea. Actually, we were on our way to Longbourn when we came across you earlier." Darcy cursed himself "Ah, maybe I should not have mentioned what happened earlier."
Bingley chimed in, back to his usual amiable self, "Yes, we were at that. Our intention was to deliver an invitation to the ball that will be given at Netherfield next Tuesday. I do hope you all will be able to attend."
Elizabeth smiled toward Mr. Hall, "Thank you so much, Mr. Hall, for your hospitality and the use of your chair while I rested. We shall see you soon, I am sure."
As the group left the bookshop, Colonel Fitzwilliam excused himself. "I thank you for the invitation, ladies, but I need to speak with Colonel Forster as soon as possible. I will meet you all at Longbourn if it does not take long, and if it does take a while I will go directly to Netherfield when I am finished."
Everyone bid Colonel Fitzwilliam a good day if they should not see him afterwards for tea.
Darcy extended his arm to Elizabeth and they walked from the shop together. When Mr. Collins came near, Elizabeth tightened her grip on Darcy's arm and paled a little.
"How is she going to be able to live in the same house with the man for several more days?" Darcy worried. "Maybe I should speak to Mr. Bennet about what happened today?"
Jane could see Elizabeth's reaction and called for Mr. Collins to explain a passage Mary had read in the Bible yesterday, but could not understand. No matter what else he was, he was a man of the cloth and so he should help anyone engaged in theological inquiry.
Bingley and Jane shared a look that said neither wanted to leave Mary alone with Mr. Collins, so they slowed down to keep them company while Mr. Collins and Mary talked of the Bible passage. Elizabeth and Darcy continued walking at the same pace while Lydia and Kitty walked ahead.
Elizabeth made sure everyone was out of hearing range before she spoke. "Will you tell me what happened while we were in the bookshop, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy was surprised at the question, "Nothing untoward, Miss Elizabeth. There is not much we can do other than warn the men without bringing you unwanted attention from the neighborhood. They have both been warned, and Colonel Fitzwilliam is speaking to Colonel Forster to warn him about Wickham's past instances of…reproachful behavior."
He paused and looked at her intently, "Might you allow me to speak to your father about what happened today, Miss Elizabeth? Mr. Wickham is not a man to be trusted especially around young ladies, as I am sure you have surmised. I should like to think he will, but past experience has taught me not to trust him to heed our warnings. I will tell you he has been told this is his last chance to redeem himself. I do hope he takes the chance he has been given.
"I also do wish to tell your father about today because…well, I think your father should know that Mr. Collins needs to be watched around his daughters as well." Darcy said this last part quickly. He did not say what he was thinking, that he feared for her safety.
Elizabeth looked at him thoughtfully, "This might be the better option."
"Better option? What do you mean?"
Elizabeth became visibly upset and Darcy was terrified of what she would say. "If you tell my father about today, he might make Mr. Collins leave sooner than planned. I hesitate to explain further…I have only told my sisters about this, Mr. Darcy, but I do trust you.
"My sisters and I have felt a need of locking our bedchamber doors since Mr. Collins has been in residence. I do not want my parents to know about what happened yesterday because I do not want to be forced into marriage to that ridiculous, disgusting man!"
At the look of alarm on Mr. Darcy's face she knew she had to explain further, "I have not been compromised, sir, but some might think I was and I do not want there to be any misunderstandings. I found him in my room…I am not sure how to word this…touching some clothing from my dresser drawer." Elizabeth turned bright crimson and Darcy could figure out just what type of clothing Collins had handled. "I stayed in the hallway and called my sisters' attention so there were witnesses, then ordered him out of my room. My sisters all have seen him…well they all understand what a disgusting man he is and have promised not to mention a word of this to anyone, sir. Even Kitty and Lydia have not spread this as gossip, and I must say that is a first!" Elizabeth tried to laugh at the last comment, but found she could not.
"May I ask what excuse did he give for being in your room?" Darcy said carefully.
"He claimed he was lost! How could someone get lost in a house as small as Longbourn?
"We all had already been locking our doors when within our rooms…due to certain…indications that it might be necessary. Since that incident, we have been locking our doors at all times. Mrs. Hill has a key that she keeps on her person so the maids can get in to clean, but she has been asked to lock the doors at all other times. He cannot gain access again. I did not explain to Mrs. Hill why we would be locking the doors. Actually she gave me the impression of being rather relieved when I told her this, which makes me suspicious that something has happened which I know nothing about. I have wondered if he had been found in our rooms another time by the maids…or worse. Oh! I do not want to think upon it!
"I would feel more comfortable if my father was aware of Mr. Collins having less than gentleman-like manners. Therefore, this is what I meant by telling him about today's events would be the better option."
Darcy was trying hard not to lose his temper about Mr. Collins' actions lest he turn around and strangle the man walking behind him, but he needed to put up The Mask to do it. He regretted having to do that with Elizabeth after what she had revealed to him. He hoped she did not get the wrong impression. "Forgive me for asking, but can you trust the staff at Longbourn not to talk to other servants in the area about the need to lock the doors?"
Elizabeth was disappointed to hear coldness enter Mr. Darcy's voice and the stone faced expression she saw him use with others fall over his face. "I should not have told him! What must he think of me now?" Elizabeth's vision became cloudy as her eyes filled with tears. She could not answer without beginning to cry, so she remained silent and looked off to the landscape so he could not see her expression.
"Miss Elizabeth?" Still she remained silent, but she wiped at her face. His heart ached. "I have upset her enough to make her cry? Was it the question or The Mask?" Darcy did not want to take any chances, so he placed his free hand over hers on his arm and said, "Miss Elizabeth, I am having a difficult time controlling my anger at Mr. Collins at the moment, especially hearing this after what has just occurred in Meryton. I am sorry if I have insulted you with my tone of voice. If it was the question which upset you, please know that most servants gossip among themselves which usually spreads to the gentry and I wanted to be sure you were safe from being the subject of such."
She took a few deep breaths, and recovered enough to smile a little, "I thank you, sir, for being so honest. It has helped. I am not quite myself and a bit emotional after this eventful morning! It has been more eventful than you already know of, in fact. To answer your question, the Longbourn staff is loyal to the family and not prone to gossip. They have been with us for many years, some since before I was born. Mrs. Hill is like a second mother to Jane and me. There is no risk of gossip…" she cocked her head to the side, "no, that is not entirely true…I should say no risk of negative gossip. I have often heard Charlotte, oh--Miss Lucas, say she has overheard her staff talking about how they praise certain members of our family. Some would call that gossip, but I think it is more pride than anything else." Elizabeth smiled again.
"Something you said earlier made me think there is something else that should be said before we reach Longbourn, Miss Elizabeth. You said you did not wish to marry Mr. Collins. I should tell you that while we were talking at Meryton, Mr. Collins mentioned he is betrothed to you." Darcy braced himself for her reaction.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and sighed, "Oh dear. Yes, well I guess I was wrong, sir; you do know just how eventful this morning has been after all! Mrs. Hill and I overheard him talking to my mother this morning before breakfast. My mother happily agreed to 'save us from the hedgerows after Mr. Bennet's death' but Mr. Collins has not yet petitioned my father, or me, about the matter.
"I can tell you exactly what will happen, though my initial reaction was not as calm as it is now. I will most certainly refuse him, and then my mother will ask my father to force me to marry Mr. Collins to save the family." She noticed Mr. Darcy shudder.
"But you see, sir, my father has a wish for his daughters to respect and love their marriage partners; something my mother has no understanding of. I suspect he has learned from…how shall I say it…experience that this would be preferable to a marriage of convenience. I do think if he thought me compromised by Mr. Collins, there is a possibility he would force me to marry him rather than ruin the entire family's reputation, but not otherwise. Though this morning when I overheard their conversation I do admit to being upset, after consideration of the subject during the walk to Meryton, I have no fears…as long as my father does not hear about that other incident we spoke of earlier and misunderstand what happened." She finished her speech just as Longbourn came into sight.
"That is good to hear, Miss Elizabeth. Be assured I will not tell your father of the incident you relayed to me a few minutes ago, only the one which I witnessed myself earlier today."
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy. I do appreciate everything you have done, and will do, on my behalf. You are a good friend, sir."
Elizabeth said with a brilliant smile, as they approached the front door. "I have not lost his friendship after all!"
Darcy tried to keep a pleasant expression on his face, but he felt a sudden turmoil within himself. "'A good friend' Do I want her to think of me that way?"
Posted on: 2010-09-17
~A bedroom somewhere near Meryton
George Wickham had left his encounter with William and Richard and went directly to see Colonel Forster to "explain" his relationship to the two men. He was gratified to see that Colonel Forster believed everything he told him. Wickham could only be more pleased by the outcome of the meeting if he could be there in person to see Richard's face when Colonel Forster rejected all that Richard would tell him!
After this meeting, he went directly to his "appointment" with a tempting barmaid that he had met at the local tavern the night before. All through this encounter his mind was not on the barmaid but upon the lady he had met earlier today. Taking time to rest afterward, Wickham's thoughts wandered over his life and how he came to be here in Meryton.
Wickham knew he had no scruples about how he got what he wanted, and he wanted anything he could get. His earlier adventures usually consisted of abusing a neighborhood until his gambling debts, creditors, or indulgences with the female members of the locality necessitated an escape either from the authorities ready to put him in prison or an angry father with a gun or pitchfork ready to force him to marry his daughter, depending upon which indiscretion was discovered first.
There had been several duel challenges along the way, which he enjoyed immensely, for he would be expected to adhere to the appointment as any honorable man would. Smiling at the thought that he was not an honorable man, he remembered the many occasions where he had escaped the area well before duel time. It greatly amused him to know there had been at least three people waiting for him at each of the prearranged dueling locations while he was on his way to the next village envisioning his next ploy.
Due to his polished charm, Wickham made friends easily. People of both genders flocked to him in droves and would believe almost anything he said. Sometimes he even amazed himself at what bold lies he could tell without being doubted. Wickham had a natural talent for instinctively knowing what most people wanted, and in changing his façade into what they wished to see. His confidence in this talent made him a bit careless at times, but he always made a plan of escape that could be carried out at a moment's notice.
In fact, planning his escape was the first thing he did when arriving in a new area. Depending upon his mood he chose some areas on the basis of a simple escape, but he also rather enjoyed the challenge of planning one in a less convenient situation.
While the escape was usually his first priority, during the planning he would determine his targets…for instance the scrumptious barmaid who was at the moment chattering away about something inane of which he need not pay any attention other than to nod every now and then. It was a requirement for there to be at least a couple of pretty and buxom, yet stupid and flirty women for him to charm, plus one who would be "the challenge".
It mattered not to him what station in society they were from, in fact the more women who were of the lower class the better. He knew servants, barmaids, and daughters of small shop owners would be overlooked by the upper classes in the neighborhood and their guardians would not have the funds to search for him for long, if at all.
The "challenge" was usually a gentleman's daughter who would normally not look twice at the son of a country steward; an intelligent or independent lady was ideal. He liked his women spirited and he loved to violate that spirit usually first with his charms, then later with his person. The lady was always willing, eventually.
The independent lady was the most amusing for the latter purpose, since they usually put up the most resistance. The gentleman's daughters who were intelligent were the most difficult to subvert since even if they were conquered physically, their minds might continue to resist. When he succeeded fully with intelligent ladies it was most satisfying--proving he could outwit any woman.
Once in a while he could convince a less intelligent women to run away to Gretna Green and charm her into living with him for a while, all the time promising he would marry her at some point…until he became frustrated with her stupidity or became short on funds and then he would move on.
He had spent years in this manner after being betrayed by his childhood friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who he had grown up alongside calling William, for his father treated them as if they were brothers.
Before his untimely death about five years past, Wickham's debaucheries had been completely funded by his godfather and benefactor, Mr. George Darcy. Wickham tested the limits of what Mr. Darcy would continue to finance, and lied to Mr. Darcy to obtain funds for the rest of his…habits. With his easy manners and ability to charm almost anyone, especially Mr. Darcy since he knew him so well, it had been all too easy to do.
William, Mr. Darcy's son, was different from his father in many ways and would not provide funds as his father did, and so Wickham was forced to fend for himself after the original bequest had been gone through. He was thankful he had the cleverness of mind to succeed in doing so, but was left with a feeling of bitter malevolence towards William for making it necessary.
On occasion he would endeavor to marry a lady with a fortune. He had tried this scheme a few times but either the father, uncle, or brother had discovered his true character and forbidden the match. The closest he had gotten to actual marriage, ironically, was to William's sister, Georgiana. A naive fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy had known Wickham all her life but mainly remembered him for a few occasions they had spent together at Pemberley when he had used his talents to entertain the daughter in order to recommend himself to her father.
This past summer, Wickham had met Georgiana at Ramsgate by chance when he was involved in some local "business" for his new benefactor. It was easily discerned that Georgiana was conveniently unaware of William's opinion of himself. After all, what brother would tell his young sister the things he had witnessed Wickham do while they had been at Cambridge together?
By happy coincidence, he knew Georgiana's companion quite well from past "business" dealings; at that time she was going by the name of "Mrs. Younge". Mrs. Younge became a willing assistant to his undertaking--at a price of course. Wickham was not surprised that William had hired this woman, for he knew part of her expertise was in concealing past indiscretions. They had spent much time together in the past learning quite a bit from the other's experiences…in many different subjects.
Oh, it would have been a triumph indeed to elope with Georgiana Darcy! Wickham would have obtained all the fortune he would have ever needed and gratified this consuming preoccupation to revenge himself on William in one fell swoop! Unfortunately, it all ended in nothing as William thwarted the plan only one day before they were to leave for Gretna Green, once again fueling the fire of his almost physical need for revenge.
Wickham was still connected with the Darcy family, though the Darcy's were unaware of this fact. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the sister of the late Mrs. Darcy, had become his new benefactress within the past year. He did not like taking orders from the old witch, but he did abide by it since it benefited him. She paid him well for doing what he loved to do best…cheat the law and society's rules. He loved the intrigue associated with the business she had him involved with and the thrill of the risk of it all.
Lady Catherine did not disapprove of his debaucheries as long as they did not interfere with his duties, though his actions always were required to come to pass in a place and time of her choosing. The rule he found most difficult was that he had to be certain he duped any gentleman's daughters according to the old witch's timetable and not his own. If she wanted him in a specific town or village for a certain period of time, he was not allowed to change the plan. Soon he learned how to pace himself and discovered that the extended anticipation was actually more exciting.
Recently, the old witch had sent him to a new village under the guise of a militiaman, paying for his commission herself through disguised channels. She had a plan for her enterprise to expand into this area, and she wanted him to keep watch on another of her "workers", Mr. Collins.
Why she had ever chosen this ridiculous man to work for her, Wickham could never understand. The way he worshipped the lady made Wickham physically ill at times. Wickham felt Collins must be in love with the harridan, for why else would someone put up with all that he did? Though she was oppressively egotistical towards him, he willingly fed her needs with his groveling. She was tyrannical and he was her obedient servant. She even forced him to be ordained and become her preacher to keep him close by!
Oh, he had his faults other than being an absurd sycophant. His weaknesses were of the flesh, and he usually liked the same type of woman Wickham did. If they were in the same town, Wickham loved to outdo Collins and get the woman first. But Collins was not really as stupid as he seemed to be when it came to these women. He had learned to act as if he felt sympathy for the girl when Wickham abandoned her and take up right where Wickham left off, and then follow his example of escape. That was fine with Wickham since he had already had his fill of enjoyment with them--first!
This time Wickham thought the old witch had gone too far, but Collins was still following her orders, so who was he to complain? She was forcing Collins to marry someone so that she could gain permanent access to the geographic area the lady came from!
When Wickham saw the lady he chose, even from afar he knew instantly by the look in her eyes that she was his ultimate challenge. He had heard about her from the townspeople, but he could tell much more by being in her presence. Not only was she proper and spirited, she oozed intelligence and independence from every pore of the luscious body of a gentleman's daughter. Too bad she did not have a fortune or she would be his perfect goal for a marriage partner! After only being in her presence for a minute he knew this one would be the masterpiece of his existence up to this point.
As he had stood there being introduced to her family and Mr. Collins, he began devising his plan. Until they were married, he would limit himself to flirting. He was absolutely certain that after she married Collins she would quickly tire of the boring, greasy, stupid man that would be her husband and gravitate toward a handsome, charming, intelligent man--himself. Then, once she had, he would enjoy her whenever he came to Rosings. He would hold off on dampening her spirit for a while, of that he was certain…the anticipation of that day would be reward enough.
But then…oh! Before long he had found out she truly was the ultimate prize! Once he arrived at the scene, it was plain for Wickham to see that William Darcy was in love with the country miss that Collins was about to marry! The cold-hearted, severely moral, ever proper William actually had within him the ability to love!
His plan changed a bit after he realized this. He would not only do his best to encourage the marriage between Collins and Elizabeth Bennet in order to make the old witch happy, but he would break the heart of the man he despised more than any other in the process!
He could not pass on a chance to guarantee the Lady Catherine's continued gratitude, have a source of recurrent pleasure in this delicious woman, dupe Collins repeatedly, and revenge himself on Darcy! This conquest would be considerably sweet indeed!
He laughed out loud at the prospect. When the barmaid made an inquiry as to why he was laughing, he hungrily took in the full length of her with his gaze, smiled rakishly, and said, "Time to have another go at it, my dear!"
The walking group reconvened in the hallway after their return from Meryton, where all outerwear was removed and given to an overwhelmed Mrs. Hill and Emily. Mrs. Hill whispered a warning to Jane and Elizabeth that Mrs. Bennet had been in a high state of anxiety all day. Jane asked for tea to be sent in for their guests, and almost everyone headed for the drawing room. Elizabeth made a gesture to Mr. Darcy telling him to stay in the hall. During the confusion of coats, hats, and gloves, Elizabeth slipped away to her father's study to let him know that Mr. Darcy would like to speak to him.
Mr. Bennet's eyebrows rose as high as they could. Elizabeth began to laugh, "No, Papa, it is not what you think. We are just good friends. Though part of what he needs to say is about me. He wishes to speak to you about something that occurred while we were in Meryton this morning. Do you wish me to stay, or would you like to speak to Mr. Darcy alone?"
Mr. Bennet debated this internally. Being an astute observer, he had noticed that Mr. Darcy was much more comfortable talking to anyone with Elizabeth nearby; she seemed to bring out the best in him. But from the way Elizabeth was acting, he thought Mr. Darcy might need to say things which cannot be said in front of a lady – which alarmed him greatly. "Which would you feel more comfortable with, my Lizzy?"
"I am not sure."
"Well then, let us allow Mr. Darcy to make the choice, shall we? Call him in."
Elizabeth went to the door and silently waved Mr. Darcy into the study. She did not want her mother or Mr. Collins to be aware of where they were. The gentlemen greeted each other and Mr. Bennet said, "Mr. Darcy, Lizzy tells me you need to speak to me about something that occurred in Meryton today. Should Lizzy be present for this conversation or should she go to the other guests?"
Darcy wanted Elizabeth to stay since he thought she should hear everything he had to say about Wickham. He also wanted her to be reassured that he would not say too much of what she told him. But then, he did not want to distress her reviewing what happened earlier. He looked to her, and she gave him a look saying she had decided she would like to stay, so he answered, "I do think Miss Elizabeth can stay, sir. She knows more than I about what happened this morning before I came upon the scene and the rest is something I would like her to hear."
Mrs. Hill had seen the two enter the study, so she had made up a smaller tray for three to bring in. The staff at Longbourn might not gossip, but that did not mean they did not hear the gossip from the neighborhood. She had a feeling the three would be in the study for a while and would need some refreshments.
Mrs. Hill knocked on the door to the study and entered. Elizabeth smiled at her and motioned to the table nearby, thanking her. The two women exchanged a look that told Elizabeth all she needed to know.
Elizabeth asked, "Mrs. Hill? What is being said?" Mrs. Hill glanced at Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth continued, "It is alright, you can speak freely."
"Well, Miss…Emily's boy just came back from the village where he was running an errand and he heard some talk that upset him and came to tell me. 'Tis being said that something happened this morning in Meryton involving you, Miss, but nobody knows what. I'm afraid the gossips will begin to make things up, ma'am."
"Thank you, Hill" Mr. Bennet was clearly dismissing her, and Mrs. Hill left with a curtsy.
When the door closed Elizabeth turned to the gentlemen and said, "Oh! I thought it happened quickly enough for nobody to notice." Her color was beginning to fade and Mr. Darcy was afraid she would react as she had earlier. Elizabeth surprised him when she began to prepare tea for the gentlemen instead. Commonplace actions always helped her calm.
Mr. Bennet did not miss the expression of concern on Mr. Darcy's face, "Exceedingly interesting, Mr. Darcy!"
"Well then, I guess you had better tell me what happened before any of the gossips come from Meryton to see my wife! She is already excited about one subject today, which I am attempting to keep contained within the house by not allowing her the use of the carriage…but her sister is sure to come eventually." He looked at Elizabeth pointedly.
Elizabeth blushed, "Yes, Papa, unfortunately Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam already know about that subject as you could not limit Mr. Collins' access to the public as well, sir. Many things happened in Meryton." She quickly turned her head to Mr. Darcy, "Oh, did Mr. Wickham hear it, too?" Darcy nodded.
"Who is Mr. Wickham?"
"Papa…I think I had better start explaining since I know what happened before Mr. Darcy and the other gentlemen arrived. As you know, my sisters, Mr. Collins, and I walked into Meryton. After we arrived, Kitty and Lydia began to talk to Mr. Denny and Mr. Saunderson, who were with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham was introduced as he has only just joined the militia and will be in the area for some time.
"Then some odd things began to happen which made me…uncomfortable. I was standing nearest to Mr. Wickham when he was introduced to Mr. Collins--and upon seeing him, Mr. Collins attached himself to my elbow. The two men exchanged looks which told of them knowing each other well, but their spoken words were as if they were making each others acquaintance for the first time." Mr. Bennet noticed that she stopped using the word "gentlemen" when referring to Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins.
"I can tell there is much more to this than you have said. Go on, child"
"The two men…Papa, I am not sure how to describe it. It was as if they were silently fighting for possession…over me. They both moved in close to me…I was frightened…" she was becoming too upset to speak.
Darcy continued for her, "That is when we arrived, Mr. Bennet. Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam and I recognized a situation developing and immediately went to Miss Elizabeth's aid. The two men were far too close to her, sir. Miss Elizabeth is correct; there was a struggle between them and they stood so close to her that she could not escape.
"I understand part of the reason for this since Mr. Collins later explained that he is under the impression…that Mrs. Bennet gave her permission…well sir, he says he is betrothed to Miss Elizabeth." Darcy said the last part slowly to see Mr. Bennet's reaction, while keeping part of his attention on Elizabeth throughout.
Mr. Bennet bolted up straight in his chair, "Mr. Darcy, my wife has been going on about Mr. Collins wanting to marry Elizabeth all morning, but are you saying she told Mr. Collins he has permission to marry her?" He raised his voice at the last few words.
"This is what Mr. Collins asserts, yes, sir."
Mr. Bennet was furious at his wife and Mr. Collins, but he knew this story was not over. He took a few deep breaths and pinched the bridge of his nose, "Please continue."
"Mr. Bennet, it does explain why Mr. Collins was acting 'possessive' as Miss Elizabeth calls it, but it does not explain why Mr. Collins is hiding his knowledge of Mr. Wickham, nor does it explain Mr. Wickham's actions. I must warn you about this man, sir.
"But first you should understand that my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, felt the same way as Miss Elizabeth does. These two men know each other and were pretending they did not. There is more going on here than any of us understands, and I do mean both men are hiding something. I mention Colonel Fitzwilliam because he is well known in the military for extracting information from those who are unwilling to give it. Though he did not use any military methods when questioning these two men, he can tell much from how people move and how they say things, and even from what they do not say. He is known as an expert in this area, sir. He would be impressed by your coming to the same conclusions as he did, Miss Elizabeth." Darcy smiled at Elizabeth.
"I should tell you both more about Mr. Wickham. Colonel Fitzwilliam remained in Meryton to talk to Colonel Forster, but I would like to warn the shopkeepers and other gentlemen in the area about him as well, sir. Wickham is not to be trusted to extend credit to at the shops, and he is a cheat at gambling. He will not pay debts, and should not be at all trusted…let us just say with being near ladies of any situation, sir." He glanced apologetically at Elizabeth.
"I have known Wickham all my life, as has Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was the son of my father's steward and brought up nearly alongside me. My father was good to him and sent him to school, including Cambridge. He fooled my father up until his dying day, sir, but I lived with the man at Cambridge. He is an evil man, though he has an amazing talent to charm almost anyone into believing that he is an angel instead. He makes friends easily, but he does not retain friendships for long. His true colors always show through, and usually too late for many of those who did trust him.
"My cousin and I have recognized his ways, and have tried to help those he has hurt--those we know about at least. We know not exactly why, but the people he hurts are usually too afraid to make complaints with the authorities, sir. There have been those who have begged us not to report what happened to them, all for fear of Wickham! Unfortunately, he is also good at covering his tracks. Even Colonel Fitzwilliam can not find him…usually.
"That he was unaware of our presence in the neighborhood when we approached was clear, but unusual for him. He should bolt now that he knows we are here, but if he stays…let us just say that would be concerning.
"That Mr. Collins knows him but will not admit it is even more concerning in my opinion. Additionally, Mr. Collins' behavior toward Miss Elizabeth, even if he does consider himself betrothed, was not appropriate in any way. I must say I do not trust the man. I can be more specific if you would like, sir, about what I have observed even in the short time I have seen him, but I would ask Miss Elizabeth to leave the room first." Mr. Darcy blushed considerably, as did Elizabeth. As an afterthought, Darcy added, "I mean no disrespect to you, sir, but after speaking to the man I wonder at my Aunt Catherine's offering your cousin the living at her estate. Perhaps if he did not have such a sought-after position he would not be so…confident in his behavior."
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh is your aunt, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth asked. Darcy nodded.
Mr. Bennet had become increasingly concerned all through Mr. Darcy's speech and more than curious about his protective feelings toward Elizabeth. "I am glad you have come to me with all this. I think I should be the one to warn the shopkeepers and neighbors in the area about Mr. Wickham's behavior since I am the principal landowner in the area.
"Lizzy, I would ask you a question. Is there anything else you would like to tell me about Mr. Collins behavior? Perhaps explain why all the girls' bedrooms are locked at all times since last night? And why none of my daughters are allowing any of the others to be alone with Mr. Collins? Or perhaps why the servants' wing has been locked since yesterday morning as well?"
Elizabeth blushed, but then her eyes widened at the information about the servants' wing being locked, which Elizabeth noticed made Mr. Darcy's back stiffen. She only said, "Sir, we are not comfortable with Mr. Collins in the house."
Mr. Bennet was thoughtful for a few moments. "Intriguing! Darcy only reacted to the fact that the servants' quarters are being locked, not to the girls' rooms. I am glad I brought it up in front of him. What did she tell Darcy that she does not feel she can tell me? And why does she trust him so? Do they have feelings for each other?"
"You have both given me a lot to think about. At present, though I think I should, I cannot tell Mr. Collins to leave Longbourn based on what you and the servants are willing to tell me. I have no way to account for it without causing more gossip, considering what Mrs. Bennet has led him to believe about Lizzy." At Elizabeth's worried look he got up, walked around the desk and placed his hand on Elizabeth's shoulder, "Do not worry, child, I will not be giving my permission for him to marry you. You know me better than that, do you not?" Elizabeth smiled at her father, and then Mr. Bennet continued, "I will have a talk with Mr. Collins and set him to rights about the proper behavior expected from a guest of Longbourn…and about your mother's scheming as well.
"After which, I will tell my wife that there was a slight misunderstanding in Meryton this morning which has all been smoothed out between the gentlemen involved and it turned out to be nothing of consequence. That should clear up the gossip."
Mr. Darcy was confused, "How will telling this to Mrs. Bennet clear up gossip, sir?"
Mr. Bennet laughed, "Ah, you do not know my wife and sister-in-law well, I see, Mr. Darcy! The pair is the most effective of all gossips in Hertfordshire. She will have our version of the story out there in no time at all as I will send for the carriage and she will be off to see her sister just after hearing the story! All will be well, my Lizzy!"
"I do hope so, Papa." She said as she stood and kissed his cheek.
"Mr. Bennet, should I stay? Did you want me to explain about Mr. Collins' behavior in more detail?" Darcy said, blushing again.
"No, Mr. Darcy, by the blush on both your faces I can well imagine what kind of behavior he has displayed. I actually prefer not to hear the details of it in reference to my daughter…as I am sure you would not about your sister, Mr. Darcy. But I will not allow it to continue, you can be assured." He rubbed his hand over his face, "Both of you enjoy tea with Mr. Bingley and my other daughters. I need some time alone to think before I send for Mr. Collins."
Elizabeth noticed Darcy's sudden withdrawal within himself as they joined the others in the drawing room. She could see he was deep in thought and wondered which subject that they had discussed with her father he was pondering. She could not have imagined what he was thinking.
The close relationship between Elizabeth and her father touched Darcy deeply…but it also made him uncomfortable on many levels. He missed his close relationship with his mother from his boyhood. Not only did he lose that kind of relationship with his own father when his mother died, but he had spent the years following her death watching his father become closer to the rascal Wickham than he was to himself. It was almost as if both of his parents died that day. And though he did not want to admit it to himself, he wanted to be the one Elizabeth was closest to.
He knew these feelings were irrational, and he should rejoice for Elizabeth and her father's relationship, and part of his feelings did. But he could not help himself from envying what Elizabeth had with her father, which he had been forced to relinquish with his own parents, or from being a bit jealous that he would never be as close to Elizabeth as he wished. Envy and jealousy were two emotions which he was not proud of in the least.
He did not react to anything going on around him until Mr. Collins approached Elizabeth. Then Darcy went into "protective mode" and stepped in between them, guiding Elizabeth to a sofa which sat two and sat down beside her, preventing Collins from access to the seat. Mrs. Bennet tried to get Mr. Darcy to move, clearly indicating that was Mr. Collins' rightful seat, but Darcy pretended not to hear her. He did not trust his anger to allow him to speak civilly to Mrs. Bennet just now--or to Collins for that matter.
After a while, Mr. Collins was called in to Mr. Bennet's study. With a knowing glance at Elizabeth he began to compare opinions of Shakespeare's plays with her to keep her mind off what was going on in the study. After some muffled but raised voices were heard from that direction, a door was slammed and Mr. Collins' mumblings were heard as he ascended the stairs to his bedchamber, and a second door slam could be heard from above.
Elizabeth whispered to Darcy, "I think it might be wise of you all to go before my mother hears the news, sir. I would rather you gentlemen not be witness to her reactions, for I believe she will be rather violent in her reproaches of me!"
Not wanting to leave her, he said, "Miss Elizabeth, are you sure this is what you wish? You do not want me to stay in case she would like to hear personally what I witnessed?"
Elizabeth smiled, knowing her mother would not be in the state of mind to understand anything Mr. Darcy said once she was told the match was off. "I thank you, Mr. Darcy, you are kind, but I do not think it will be necessary."
Darcy signaled to Bingley that it was time to go and the two took their leave. Jane mentioned it being a shame that Colonel Fitzwilliam could not finish his business in time to join them. She, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Bingley all exchanged looks all wondering what was taking Colonel Fitzwilliam so long.
Mr. Bennet poured himself a glass of port and thought for a while. Why did his wife have to be so silly and nonsensical? Why on earth did she feel she had the right to give permission for Mr. Collins to marry Lizzy? That Mr. Collins believed her without asking himself was another mystery. Could it be possible Mr. Collins was as ridiculous as Mrs. Bennet? Could not Mr. Collins see the revulsion Lizzy exhibited toward him every time he was in the room? Telling him he would not be granted permission to marry Lizzy was going to be difficult based on what he had heard so far. He decided not to single out Lizzy in his reprimands of how he had been leering at her.
After a while, Mr. Bennet rang for Mrs. Hill, surprising her since he rarely did so. Mrs. Hill rushed in immediately. That she was thinking something must be terribly wrong was evident on her features, and Mr. Bennet could not help but chuckle before asking her to send in Mr. Collins. Perhaps that bit of entertainment was just what he required to get through the next few minutes.
At the knock on the door, Mr. Bennet bid him to enter and motioned to the chair. Mr. Collins took it while displaying a wide smile in anticipation of the upcoming conversation.
Mr. Bennet stood directly in front of Mr. Collins. Clasping his hands behind his back and looking down on Mr. Collins, he said in a voice deep with authority, "Mr. Collins, I understand you have not been behaving as a gentleman towards my daughters. I myself have seen the way you looked at them when you first arrived, but it seemed you were attempting to control yourself better of late. It has now come to my attention this is not the case, and you have been displaying even worse behavior in public.
"You will behave in a manner which is expected from a guest at Longbourn, sir, or you will be expelled from the premises and prohibited from being in the company of my family. You will treat my daughters, and all other ladies, with the utmost respect and propriety."
Mr. Collins displayed a shocked expression. He was expecting Mr. Bennet to give him permission to marry Miss Elizabeth, not this! He opened his mouth to speak but Mr. Bennet held up his hand to quiet him, and continued in a booming voice he used but rarely.
"I am not at all finished, Mr. Collins. You will hear me out! I understand from my wife's ranting all morning that you wish to marry my daughter, Elizabeth. I have also heard from other sources that you have actually been telling people that you are already engaged to be married!
"I wish to make it perfectly clear that you do NOT have my permission to marry her. You have never even requested permission. I do not wish to cause you any disappointment, but I do wish to make certain you understand that you will never gain permission to marry any of my daughters, Mr. Collins.
"I will further add that you have greatly affronted me by assuming that you had permission to marry my daughter after a conversation with my wife. As long as I am alive, I am the master of this estate and the head of this family, and it would do you good to remember that fact, Mr. Collins! I am highly insulted that you have completely disregarded my authority.
"I do not want to hear of any of these issues further, not one word, sir. If I hear of any wrongful behavior from you again, I will have my men take you and your things off my property and you will not be welcome back here again until after I am dead. As to an engagement, there will be none and I do not want to hear it mentioned again!
"Now you may answer me in a one word reply, sir. Do you understand everything I have said to you?"
Mr. Collins replied, "Mr. Bennet, you do not understand, sir, my offer…"
Mr. Bennet boomed even louder than before, "MR. COLLINS! I said I will accept a one word reply…yes or no; do you understand all that I have said during this interview?"
Mr. Collins cowered and said meekly, "Yes"
"Good. Mr. Collins, do you agree to follow the rules I have set out during this interview? One word reply, sir." He held up one finger.
"Yes." He almost whispered.
"Good. I am satisfied. You may go."
"I must leave Longbourn?"
"You will leave Longbourn when your allotted visit is up, unless you do not follow the rules I have set forth, but for now you must leave my room!"
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Bennet."
Mr. Bennet let out a great sigh when Mr. Collins slammed the door behind him. He poured himself a glass of port and drank it down, then poured another and sat at his desk. He felt as if he had aged ten years in the past hour. He knew he must talk to his wife next, but needed some time alone first. He rubbed his face with both hands.
"I will have to be even more firm with Mrs. Bennet than I was with Mr. Collins. I see I should have done this many years ago with her. I cannot believe she went as far as to give her permission without consulting me. Then I must fix the gossip problem."
He nursed his drink standing by the window thinking back on his life and his regrets. He could not regret marrying Fanny since his daughters, especially Jane and his Lizzy, were a product of that marriage, but he did regret not having taken as heavy a hand as he should have.
He should have checked his wife's behavior from the beginning, and should have helped guide the younger daughters as well. He did not think there was any hope for Lydia though he would now try, but he decided to do more with Mary and Kitty to help form their characters into those of young ladies more like their older sisters. He could no longer leave them to their mother's exclusive care. She was beyond what he thought possible…and he knew it was his fault.
He was glad his eldest two girls turned out to be the sensible ladies that they were which was remarkable since they had been under her guidance the longest. He was happy they were both determined to look beyond a beautiful veneer when searching for a marriage partner…unlike the man he had been at their age. Mr. Bennet was well aware of the marriage proposals the girls had refused, though they all agreed it was best not to mention them to their mother.
Even he was impressed that Lizzy had the integrity not to have been influenced by the wealth and rank of a grandson of a member of the peerage. She had refused him because she could not respect nor care for the man--his wealth mattered not to her. She had always remained true to her values and, he hoped, would have a happy life as a result.
He wondered if Darcy was the man for her. In a few brief unguarded moments over the past months, Mr. Bennet saw love in Darcy's eyes when he looked at Lizzy. Mr. Bennet had heard much of the man through the years, and all of it was good. He had to take into account the source, but once he actually met Darcy, Mr. Bennet had to agree. The shyness he had heard so much of was obvious to him, though the rest of the neighborhood saw it as arrogance. They did not see how Lizzy affected his behavior for the better for some reason, and he thought that odd--yet most people did not study others as he did.
Lizzy was good for Darcy! He would be a truly great man with Lizzy by his side.
Was Darcy good for Lizzy? That was the question Mr. Bennet would need to answer for himself before Darcy came to him. He saw Darcy resisting his affections for Lizzy as well, and knew there was something Darcy needed to resolve first…though today he seemed closer to making his decision than he had been in the past.
"Ah…right now there are more immediate matters to deal with."
Mr. Bennet drank down the last of the port from his glass, and then rang again for Hill.
"Oh, what am I to do? Lady Catherine ordered me to marry Miss Elizabeth! Oh! I sent the express to her this morning after speaking to Mrs. Bennet saying we were betrothed! She will be extremely angry with me!"
He did not want to admit his failure, but he knew what he had to do - send an express letter to Lady Catherine. He sat down at the small table and took an extraordinarily long time in preparing his writing materials.
"What to say? How will she react? Oh, how did this happen?"
He thought it best to begin and be done quickly:
My dearest noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
I regret to inform you I am not engaged to be married to Miss Elizabeth Bennet as her father has refused his permission for me to marry any of his daughters.
Please advise me as to what to do next.
Your faithful servant,
Posted on: 2010-09-20
~Militia Headquarters, Meryton
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam waited in the outer office to see Colonel Forster. The two gentlemen had renewed their acquaintance when Richard delivered the correspondence from his General a few days prior. Colonel Forster had been surprised that a celebrated war hero was delivering messages, but this was cleared up once it was explained Richard was on his way to take leave in the area to spend some time with family.
It was an honor to gain the attention of Colonel Fitzwilliam, so Colonel Forster did not keep him waiting long. What he was not prepared for was the information Colonel Fitzwilliam would be passing along today. He explained that his new recruit, Mr. Wickham, was not a man to be trusted and he would like permission to go into more detail for the purpose of warning Forster against him.
Forster had heard about an altercation between the men earlier that day. Denny and Saunderson had been to see him earlier, and then Wickham had the foresight to go to Forster immediately upon return to camp. Wickham seemed a pleasant fellow and had already gained many of the men's friendly attentions with his open manners.
Though Forster was not a stupid man, he was not of as strong understanding as some might think his position would require. The fact is, his position had been purchased for him and though he might not be as capable as others who might have held his position, his connections in the world kept his place. He did not have the talent for seeing beyond the obvious as Fitzwilliam did, nor of seeing hidden motives…and so the conflicting stories were confusing to him.
Based on his reputation, Forster had no reason to doubt Fitzwilliam's information either. He recognized that while Fitzwilliam's connections might have been better than his own and instrumental in gaining his position, the man had distinguished himself many times on the battlefield and behind the lines as well. Fitzwilliam was one of the few who earned the right to be called "Colonel" and "hero".
"I will hear you out, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I must warn you Wickham has made quite a good impression on me, and all of my men for that matter. What information would you like to pass on, sir?"
"Wickham got to him already!" Richard sighed and shook his head.
"Colonel Forster, Wickham has a talent for making himself seem all that is pleasant and charming and useful, but underneath it all he is one of the most base creatures I have ever met…and I have met many in my time. You cannot be cautious enough with him, sir.
"He is not only a rake of the worst kind, but he becomes cruel to the women he lures in once he has established himself with them, leaving a trail of ruined and brutalized women--gentry among them--and fatherless children behind him. He will rob your men blind cheating at gambling and when his luck runs dry; his gambling debts will never be repaid. The local shops, and especially the tavern, should not allow him to run up lines of credit, for they will lose it all. He is the type of man who bleeds a village dry and then escapes.
"Colonel Forster, please, for the sake of your men and for the community you are here to serve you must keep a close watch on the man."
"Do you have any proof of these claims?"
"Those he leaves in his wake--anywhere from Cambridge to, from Kellington to Cornwall, and quite a few places in between--must have been threatened somehow since most will not testify against him. Those few who have had the courage to testify against him do so too late; the man has made escape an art and there will be no trace of him by that time. It is suspicious that some of those who have come forward met with unfortunate "accidents", but there is no proof tying Wickham to any of them."
Forster examined Fitzwilliam closely, "Are you sure this is not a personal quest for vengeance, Colonel?"
Insulted, Richard raised his voice, "What do you mean, sir?"
"Wickham has told me about your shared…background and that with Mr. Darcy. He had reported here upon returning to camp just a few minutes ago to let me know that you, or possibly both of you, would come to see me soon and would try to blacken his character. He did admit to some indiscretions in the past, but I doubt there are many men among the ranks of the military who had not engaged in some folly as a youth. You say you cannot prove any of the more serious charges you profess him guilty of and yet expect me to believe you and blindly lay restrictions upon a man who has not shown any evidence of misdeeds to me personally.
"This I cannot do. Because of your reputation in the military I will keep a watchful eye on him as a favor to you. But I can do no more than that at this time, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"And Colonel…I will not stand for any of my men being harassed, even by a distinguished officer as you. This is not a military assignment you are on, sir, this sounds personal to me."
Richard was furious and he made no effort to hide it. "Thank you for your time, Colonel Forster. I see you will have to learn for yourself about Wickham. I just hope it is not a lesson too hard learned." He stomped out of the room.
Too angry to be of good company to any ladies during a tea at Longbourn, he headed straight back to Netherfield…hoping Caroline Bingley stayed far away from him once he arrived.
Mrs. Bennet passed through the door to the study and began chattering immediately about a match between Mr. Collins and Lizzy.
Mr. Bennet had absolutely no patience left and began, "Mrs. Bennet…"
Mrs. Bennet continued prattling without paying the slightest bit of attention to her husband.
In his most authoritative voice he interrupted, "MRS. BENNET! You will sit down, cease this mindless blather and listen. NOW!"
Wide eyed, she did as she was told, folding her hands in her lap. It took a few moments before she came to the conclusion that she should be insulted and began again, "Mr. Bennet, you will not speak to me that way. You must think of my nerves…"
"Quiet, woman! You will listen to what I have to say and not interrupt again.
Do you understand, Mrs. Bennet?" he boomed even louder. "Good G-d they are both worse than children!"
She nodded with a sour expression.
"Mrs. Bennet, I wish to be perfectly clear with you. You do not have the right to give permission to any man to marry one of my daughters. I am the head of this family and the only person who has that honor. From this moment on, you will not give even the slightest hint to any suitor who may call on any of my daughters that they have even a remote chance of approval or disapproval should they ask for permission to marry her. Is this clear, Mrs. Bennet?"
She could tell by his color that he was quite serious. "But…"
"No 'buts', Mrs. Bennet! You have insulted me in a most terrible manner by giving Mr. Collins your permission to marry my daughter. What were you thinking, madam? Do you have absolutely no respect for me as head of this family? Must I cut back your pin money to prove that I am the one in charge, Mrs. Bennet?" She looked absolutely horrified. Take her pin money away? It could not be! She realized she had gone too far this time.
"I had no intention of allowing that ridiculous man to even think of marrying any of our daughters, and yet you told him he could and he went off telling others! Thankfully, Mr. Collins is an obviously absurd man and it is just possible that those who heard his story did not believe it. Regardless of whether they did or not, I will NOT allow Elizabeth, or any of my daughters, to marry Mr. Collins."
"But Mr. Bennet, if Mr. Collins told others in Meryton today, there will be a scandal, will there not? You must see that Elizabeth…you must make her marry him!"
"No, Mrs. Bennet, I do not see it. If there is a scandal, well madam, this was your doing and you will be the one to undo it.
"There happens to have been a difficulty regarding this matter in Meryton this morning and you will be the one to fix it. You love to gossip, now it is time to use it for your daughters' benefit. Say there was a misunderstanding which has now been cleared up, and that is all. If anyone begins to say it was anything else, you will laugh at them and tell them it is nonsense. Use your talent for gossip, Mrs. Bennet, to save all your daughters' reputations, or you WILL be thrown out in the hedgerows when I am gone for no worthy gentlemen will ever ask for any of their hands.
"I hope we have an understanding, madam. If you do not do what I say, you lose your pin money…completely. Mrs. Hill will take care of the household money."
"But, Mr. Collins…"
"Once Mr. Collins leaves this house when his visit is up, he will not be welcomed back for another visit. Do you understand all that I have said, Mrs. Bennet?"
Angrily, she replied, "You do not have to treat me as a child, Mr. Bennet; of course I understand what you have said."
"It seems I do need to treat you like a child, madam, for you act like one and the only way I can get you to behave is to take away your privileges as punishment – just like a child. I will continue to treat you like a child until you begin to act like an adult, Mrs. Bennet."
Mr. Bennet paused and took several deep breaths. In a much calmer voice, he continued, "Now, I have already had the carriage brought around. You will go to your sister's home directly and begin to work on undoing your mistake by saying only what I told you to. One word more or less and you will not be getting pin money this coming month.
Good day, madam." And he motioned toward the door.
Mrs. Bennet did as she was told.
Darcy and Bingley found Richard pacing in Bingley's study. It was obvious things had not gone well with Colonel Forster and Richard was enraged.
As soon as the door was closed behind them, Richard began, "That conniving little bastard! What on earth could Wickham have told Forster that would make him think he cannot trust my word? What could possibly completely erase my good reputation throughout the military?"
The two gentlemen were absolutely shocked.
"Perhaps I should go speak to him…" Darcy began.
"No! No, you cannot speak to him. Wickham has tarnished your reputation as well! Forster would not trust you any more than he would trust me - perhaps less!"
Bingley offered, "If I went to talk to him…"
"Bingley, since you have no personal knowledge of Wickham other than what happened this morning, he would think Darcy and I influenced you, or intimidated you depending on what Wickham told him. And none of us want the details of what happened this morning to become public knowledge or Miss Elizabeth's reputation might be damaged."
The three were thoughtful for a few minutes then Bingley asked, "Is Forster an imbecile or is Wickham that good at conniving?"
Darcy replied with a disgusted look on his face, "Wickham is that efficient at what he does, Bingley." He sighed, "We must keep a watch over our own, and hope Mr. Bennet can convince the shopkeepers and other gentlemen in the area to keep watch over theirs. I can only hope now that Wickham knows we are here it will prod him to move on and soon. Maybe one of us could keep watch over him whenever he is in the village?"
"Ah! Believe it or not, Forster already warned me that we should not harass Wickham!"
"Yes…yes I can believe it, Richard." Darcy said as he poured three glasses of brandy. "I know Wickham too well to doubt it."
~Rosings Park, Kent
Upon receiving Mr. Collins' express, Lady Catherine was sent into a rampage so intense her staff could not understand what she was saying and were afraid for her health…or in some cases, to say the staff was hopeful for her final demise would be more accurate.
When she calmed down enough to write, she sent an express to Collins telling him to get himself and Wickham to her cottage near the village of Epping the following day before noon.
After sending off the express, Lady Catherine went to her study and began to pace as she tended to do at times of upset. She thought over the situation in great agitation and began to make new plans.
She had known Collins for a few years. He was a complete fool, but he literally worshipped her. She liked to be completely certain that he would do anything she asked of him, and so financed his education so he could take orders and become her parson…after her last parson so conveniently died when he suddenly began to question her authority. She wanted Collins close to feed her pride, and especially wanted a parson without a conscience that she could control completely, since he was to be so closely involved in her pursuits.
Collins was ordered to get married as a ruse to make him look more legitimate. She was also looking ahead…she needed Longbourn to further her interests! It would be a good acquisition in the perfect location and legal. She could not keep on buying up land all over England without raising conjecture from her steward, her solicitor, and her brother.
If Collins would marry one of the daughters, that fool would have good reason to make trips there on a regular basis other than to just check up on his future inheritance…which would look too suspicious. She did not like to attract undue attention to her endeavors.
Now that buffoon went and did something to get the father to insist he would not allow Collins to marry any of his daughters? Did he expose himself as the degenerate he is? Maybe she should have insisted he bring a female along and install her at the inn nearby. Once he was married she cared not what he did with his wife, but he was ordered to behave himself for now. Though, if it had been something so drastic he probably would have been expelled from Longbourn by now.
There was only one man standing in her way of possession of Longbourn and that was Mr. Bennet. She had tried the path of least resistance…now they would have to take a more hazardous course. Mr. Bennet had to die, and then Collins would inherit.
Wickham would know what to do; he always had before.
Between Longbourn and the last of her planned acquisitions, she would be set up for most of England. She already had her property in Somerset, Wales, Worcestershire, Norfolk, the north of York, Scotland, and Ireland – some inherited and other recently purchased. Once her daughter, Anne, married her cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy the next phase of her scheme would be ready to proceed.
Pemberley…it should have been hers years ago! Her sister cheated her out of it by stealing George Darcy from her. She would make sure Darcy would marry Anne soon…and then it would finally be hers.
She smiled at how easy it was to manipulate the good, proper, honorable, and dutiful Fitzwilliam Darcy. She had been setting this up for years, starting right after her sister died. He had been practically abandoned by his father once his mother died and so he turned to her, which fit perfectly into her plans! She had allowed him some time to sow his oats, though she did not think he actually did that sort of thing…but now it was time. She anticipated no trouble getting him to "do his duty" and marry her daughter.
She laughed at how George Darcy had been such a fool trusting Wickham. She had always had a soft spot for Wickham because he was so devious and of good use to her in any of her endeavors. He was trustworthy as long as she kept him paid well, and his contacts in the shadier parts of England were invaluable. He had some intelligence, unlike that fool Collins, though not as much as Wickham would like to believe he had…enough for her to buy him the commission in the militia so that he could keep a watchful eye on Collins on this assignment.
It sounded like they had both failed so far, though they both could still be of use to gain the results she wanted. They had better not fail again, but in case they did she would devise an additional plan to give Collins an excuse to go to the same area for "visits".
Wednesday, November 20, 1811
When Richard walked into Bingley's study, an upset Darcy sat the desk, running his hand through his hair while reading a letter. He knew Darcy had received an express not long ago and Richard was concerned at his expression now. He asked if something was wrong with Georgiana.
"No, this is not about Georgie, Richard. Perhaps you might be of assistance if I can trouble you for your opinion on a matter of business? I have quite a lot to speak of."
"Of course, Darce!" though relieved that the letter was not about Georgiana, Richard continued to feel concerned about the look on Darcy's face. He sat across the desk from Darcy and made himself comfortable, expecting a long talk.
"I have received some disturbing news…I am unsure how to begin. I suppose I should start from the first time I heard of this matter.
"Years ago, when my father went over all of our properties and business with me, he told me of some unused property in India which he thought to be worthless. I did not understand why he would purchase such and questioned him about it. He told me that Sir Lewis had talked to both of our fathers about buying this land as an investment since he had adjoining land and wished to buy more, but did not have available assets at the time to do so. The intent was that Sir Lewis would eventually buy the land from our fathers. Sir Lewis had been so insistent, and the land was relatively inexpensive, that my father had invested in it to keep some peace with Sir Lewis and Lady Catherine. The Earl did not buy the land. Sir Lewis passed on shortly after, and my father kept the land in his memory.
"I also talked to your father about this same land about four years ago, asking his advice. He advised me to sell it since he had it investigated at the time Sir Lewis spoke to him and was informed that it was not of much worth, which is the reason he did not buy it. He did not want Sir Lewis wasting money buying it from him at some later date.
"Other concerns had come up at the time and I left the land to itself. Recently I had been thinking about selling the land in India and investing in something locally. I had contacted my solicitor, Mr. Thompson, to see if he had any contacts in India to look into the current situation of the land and see if there was any reason to keep it. Mr. Thompson had a cousin, Mr. Clark, who owns an investigation agency in India and has done work for Mr. Thompson when needed. When checking on Mr. Clark's reputation with my own investigator, Mr. White, I found that the two had worked together in the past. Indeed, Mr. White gave Mr. Clark the highest recommendation and felt that he was the best investigator in India. So a plan was put in motion to gather information. I thought this would be a simple matter and expected this business to be concluded as quickly as it could when corresponding over such distances. I was quite mistaken!" Darcy closed his eyes for a moment and sighed before going on.
"Mr. Clark has since proved to be invaluable, as predicted. A few months ago I received a letter from Mr. Clark stating there is a mining operation on my land and asking whether I had authorized it. Of course I had not, and was certain my father never did in his lifetime, so without delay permission was sent to investigate further into this illegal mining operation on the land in question." Darcy walked over to the brandy and poured two glasses, handing one to Richard and taking a long drink from the other. Darcy crossed to the window and stared out at nothing.
"Today I have received another report from Mr. Clark," he gestured toward the letter on the desk, "stating that there is much more amiss at the mine than simply illegal extraction of saltpeter. There is a shroud of secrecy surrounding the mine, understandable since it is illegal, and so Mr. Clark had sent four men into the mine posing as workers. It seemed no unknown Englishman could get in at all, so the men he used for this job were natives, experienced investigators well trained by Mr. Clark himself, and so Mr. Clark originally was not worried about them. The first two were able to pass along several messages, but then the messages stopped. At first Mr. Clark thought his men were caught passing on messages and were being punished, so another two men were sent in to find the first two. There were no traces of the first two men, and after reporting back to Mr. Clark twice, the second set of men also disappeared. His professional opinion was that all four men were found out and killed."
Richard reacted with shock. Darcy, visibly upset, said, "Yes, I agree!"
He stopped speaking to empty his glass and pour another, and then turned to Richard to continue, "Mr. Clark reported what little information his men had passed on to him and informed me that he would not be sending any more men into the mine. He is going to continue to investigate as far as he can from the outside. He will also look into the operations of the company's business in India.
"The information Mr. Clark's men had managed to pass on was this: While the workers were local natives, the mine is run by the British owned Bradstowe Company. They were mining saltpeter in large quantities. Also, the workers are being mistreated horribly by the Bradstowe Company.
"There are a few even more mysterious facts associated with the information Mr. Clark has been able to gather. The mine on my land extends under the property Sir Lewis had owned, which is now owned by our cousin, Anne de Bourgh. It seems to have been the first part of the mine excavated, as that part has been emptied of minerals and the mine extended into my land is more recently dug, though connected to the old. There are no surface buildings on the de Bourgh land, but there is evidence of a previous entrance which was blocked years ago. There is evidence in local government records of a mining operation opened and then closed down while Sir Lewis was alive, but there is no information at all about the current operation.
"There is something else which confuses me exceedingly, which you might be able to shed some light on, Richard. I mentioned earlier that both our fathers had told me that your father did not buy the land Sir Lewis asked him to. Well, the new part of the mine also extends onto land supposedly owned by the Earl!"
Richard got up and began to pace. "What the devil is going on in India?"
"The only information they had about the Bradstowe Company's operations outside the mine were that they also own ships which are being used to transport the saltpeter they mine, along with the usual native products we see in the shops here in England. The strangest thing of all is that the saltpeter seems to be stored in hidden compartments while the other goods are stored on the flooring above these compartments. At first, Mr. Clark's operatives thought the reasoning behind this was to be able to transport a greater number of goods, but hiding the saltpeter does not seem to be dependent on how many local goods are being shipped. Two of the ships were not half full of local goods, yet the saltpeter was still stored in the hidden compartments. In fact, one of these two ships was only carrying enough local goods to cover the hidden compartments' multiple hatch doors!
Darcy stopped Richard's pacing with a hand on his shoulder and said, "Richard? Why would they hide saltpeter? It makes no sense. If anything, the saltpeter should be on top, not the other goods! Those are the goods which they are shipping illegally!"
Richard thought for several minutes before answering, "I know it is needed to make gunpowder, among other things. With the war on the continent and the many naval battles recently, there is a great demand for gunpowder in England. But from what I understand, saltpeter is in abundant supply from English mines in India, among other locations, and the price of saltpeter is not high in England. It is shipped directly to England on a regular basis openly. There is no reason to hide it."
Darcy rubbed his hand over his face, "All this is leaving me with many questions. Why is someone operating a mine on my property? Why was land purchased in the Earl's name without his knowledge? Why the secrecy at the mine? Why are they using hidden compartments on the ships? Why were four men killed over this, Richard?" and then to himself he thought, "and I sent these men in there!"
Richard just shook his head.
Darcy sighed deeply. "Unbelievable as it may seem, there is more to be told! Another oddity is that the destinations of all of the Bradstowe Company's ships are closely guarded. The dock master and dock workers are all so secretive that even a substantial bribe could not persuade them to speak. There was no way for Mr. Clark's operatives to get to the maps or ships' logs or any other papers aboard without being detected. All such paperwork was carried by the captain of each ship in a satchel and it almost never left his side. The few occasions the captain was not in possession of the satchel, his first mate was. There is no paperwork filed on land about these shipments. Mr. Clark will be following up on some leads in this quarter as well as a few others.
"Richard, I do not understand…if the ships are going to England, why the secrecy? Where are these ships going if not to England?"
The two men both were silent for a few minutes, staring out the window.
Darcy spoke again, "I want to talk to my uncle again, since I was told by Mr. Clark that the mine extends onto land that is listed in his name. There is need to confirm that I understood him correctly during our conversation when he stated that he did not buy the land himself. Then, if your father agrees, I will authorize Mr. Clark to look into this aspect of the situation further as well as all the others. Could it be that I misunderstood and your father said he did buy the land?
"I also want to make sure The Earl had not authorized this mining operation. Could it have been an oversight that resulted in my not been notified? I know I am not receiving profits from the mines, or any communications from the Bradstowe Company. I do not think The Earl has any knowledge of this since I am sure he would not have allowed an oversight of this magnitude, and that he would not be involved in anything this illegitimate.
"But if my uncle has authorized the mining under some great misunderstanding, then he needs to know how the Bradstowe Company is treating its employees, for I am sure he would not agree to the detestable treatment Mr. Clark had detailed in his letters."
Richard shook his head again and said, "Darce, I know my father is kept well informed of all his properties and reviews the books with his solicitor frequently. He would have noticed by now that no checks were being cut to you with profits. Could my father have an employee cheating him…showing in the ledgers that there are monies being sent to you while in fact they are being diverted elsewhere? But if he knows about this mining operation, then why has he never brought up the subject with you since you have not? Surely he would have discussed it if he thought it was a joint venture."
The two puzzled this out for several more minutes before Richard continued, "No, I do not believe Father knows anything about this. Father keeps my brother thoroughly informed on all his inheritance so when the inevitable happens, The Viscount will be able to take over his duties immediately, just as you did when your father died. Father keeps me informed twice a year as well, for one never knows what will happen. If, G-d forbid, something were to happen to both The Earl and The Viscount, I would inherit…and Father believes in always being prepared.
"In all the times we have conferred, I have never once heard of any interests in India, let alone owning and operating a mine there. I am also sure my brother would have spoken to me of it if he had known about it, as he does with all the other holdings that he will eventually inherit."
The two discussed the subject for a while longer, but could come to no new conclusions, only uncovering more questions. They were both concerned, especially about the deaths.
Darcy finally decided he would send an express immediately to Mr. White, his investigator in England, sending him in search of information on the Bradstowe Company in England while Mr. Clark handled the same in India. Meanwhile, the day after Bingley's ball, Darcy and Richard planned to leave for London to speak to The Earl and Mr. White in person.
They both silently hoped Wickham was out of the area by then.
Darcy walked out of the study, only one thought repeating in his mind. "It is my fault these people are dead!" He had to escape, had to be alone! He rushed toward his chambers and literally bumped into Miss Bingley as he turned a corner. In no mood for her antics, he excused himself and mumbled that he was going for a ride, and then took the stairs two at a time to change into his riding clothes.
He had an overwhelming need to see Elizabeth, but thought better of riding to Longbourn. What would he say when he got there? Darcy could not deal with Mrs. Bennet and the silly younger sisters at this moment.
So, he rode to Oakham Mount, where he had first seen her and met her numerous times; where her presence was most strongly felt by him when she was not with him. Darcy stood where she had stood his first day in Hertfordshire and looked down on the view.
It truly was beautiful; he could see why she so enjoyed this spot. How he needed her right now…her essence was not enough. He could not think of anyone else in the world he wished to talk to.
The guilt of those men to their deaths on his behalf suddenly became overwhelming, and he lost control of his emotions. He sat on a fallen tree log and his tears flooded over his eyelids. Once he began, he could not stop.
Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back.
--Plato (Greek Philosopher 427 BC - 347 BC)
~Oakham Mount, on the border between Netherfield Park and Longbourn Estate
Elizabeth could no longer stand being in the house. The constant screeching and bitter words from her mother about the failed attempt to match her with Mr. Collins, mixed with reminders about "the hedgerows" was unbearable. Her sisters did not want to go for a walk, but she had to escape, so with a word to Mrs. Hill of where she was going, she was off to Oakham Mount as soon as she could slip away unnoticed by her mother.
As she climbed the hill, she heard noise coming from the top. At first she could not identify it but then as she got closer she realized it was the sound of someone crying. She almost turned back to give whoever was there some privacy, but then realized she should make certain there was not anyone injured and in need of assistance. Elizabeth walked up the hill as quietly as she could. If no one was injured she did not wish to cause any embarrassment by witnessing a private moment.
Elizabeth was shocked to see who it was, and could not turn away. Her heart ached and she was pulled forward toward Mr. Darcy. She allowed her instincts to guide her actions and gently placed both her hands on his, which were covering his face. He gasped and suddenly stopped crying, but did not move.
There was no way he could mistaken the warmth associated with her touch. Remembering what Aunt Catherine had said to him the last time he had cried, a sense of shame consumed him…that she should have found him displaying such weakness! Darcy refused to uncover his face. He remained sitting on the log with his elbows on his knees and face in his hands.
Her hands gently caressed his and a sense of being at home came over him. He could not help himself...he was completely under her control. She could do anything and he would allow it. He let her remove their hands from his face, keeping his eyes closed.
Terrified of losing her respect, he fought the draw of her eyes, afraid he would find disgust there, similar to what he saw when Aunt Catherine found him crying upon his mother's death. He could not resist for long--he had to know what she thought of him. Darcy raised his head to meet those eyes which he loved so dearly, and his breath caught. He found compassion mixed with something he had no words for, which touched him to his core. As if she were absorbing his pain, tears were gliding down her face. One of her tears fell on his cheek mixing with his own, another on his lip and as if by reflex his tongue went out to catch it before it rolled away.
"Elizabeth!" Tasting her tears, taking part of her within him--it was so personal an act, he was almost completely overwhelmed. He saw all his dreams in her eyes…their children, the two of them growing old together… their future.
As her hands gently brushed the tears off his face, Darcy closed his eyes forcing more tears to escape and gently leaned into her touch. "My soul is open to her. I could tell her anything. She is everything to me! She is the answer to every question.
She is my life! She is my love! She is perfection itself! Yet, I cannot have her! Why can I not be with her? Please Mother, if you can hear me; please help me to understand…what I am to do? I feel as though I cannot breathe without her!"
Elizabeth saw his suffering increase and intuitively leaned into him. Darcy buried his face in her waist, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her closer…and he wept for all he saw in her eyes which would be denied, wept for the ache of longing for her he knew would stay with him for eternity, wept for the guilt of India, wept for not being able to keep his promises to his mother, wept with all the sadness he felt for his parent's deaths,
and wept for his sister's suffering that he should have prevented last summer…all the sorrow and tears that had been denied for so many years filled his soul to overflowing and found release through his Elizabeth!
Elizabeth could not help but weep with him. Her love increased to a deluge almost completely consuming her being. She would have given him anything of herself just now…anything and everything to ease his pain. "What could be the matter, my love? Why are you suffering so? What can I do to help you? I love you so! Please allow me to help you!"
She ran her fingers through his hair with one hand and gently caressed his shoulders with the other and she felt him beginning to calm. He pulled her closer to him.
Suddenly Darcy realized that his actions were far beyond what propriety would allow. He pulled away quickly with a deep gasp of surprise at his lack of self restraint, eyes closed tightly. He covered his face with his hands again briefly and moaned while she moved to sit next to him on the log. "What must she think of me for acting so? I must apologize immediately or lose her good opinion forever!"
He could feel the heat of her body near him, the almost magnetic pull her soul always had upon his own. Darcy stood and walked a few steps away needing to put some distance between them, afraid he would do much more than embrace her in his weakened state.
His gaze swept the landscape as if he were looking for answers there…he could not look at her; he was too ashamed of what he considered his rakish behavior.
Finally recovering enough to use his voice he turned to her with more pain in his eyes than she had ever seen. "I cannot apologize enough for my actions, Miss Elizabeth" he turned away from her and continued angrily, "I denounced Collins and Wickham for their treatment of you, and then I act much worse! Please forgive me!"
Elizabeth did not know what to do. She wanted to say just how much she approved of his behavior, but she knew she could not. Holding him in her arms, sharing such deep emotions--it had been the most right moment she had ever experienced!
But she could never have him that way; he could never love her as she loved him. They were friends, and friends comfort each other. Holding a friend who is crying is an everyday occurrence. It was unusual that the friends should not be of the same gender, but the concept was acceptable.
She walked around in front of him and waited for him to look into her eyes, "Mr. Darcy, I am not offended, but I will accept your apology if it makes you feel better. I know you are a gentleman and I trust you completely, sir. I am not afraid of you."
He swallowed hard and searched her eyes. She really was not afraid of him. She had no idea what his longings could lead him to do if he lost control…she thought of him only as a friend.
He had to prove himself worthy of her trust. Darcy promised her silently he would double his efforts to control himself in the future. He could not risk her good opinion! It would kill him if she ever despised him, he was absolutely sure of it.
She took his hand and led him to the large boulder she usually sat upon when coming here, and motioned to him to sit as well. He was amazed at the strength of her trust in him. He sat next to her, a proper distance between them and sighed.
She was waiting quietly to see if he would talk about what was bothering him, and he knew it. The feeling that he could tell her anything had not left him, so he began, "I inherited land in India, which my father had bought. I had ignored it until recently. I hired someone in India to investigate to see whether it was worth selling. The investigator has found a mine on the land which I did not authorize, and four men were sent in posing as workers. It is believed they were killed."
His voice cracked at the last of this speech and he took a moment to collect himself. He could no longer look at her to see her reaction but he went on, "Before the men I sent were murdered, they passed along some information. The people operating the mine are mistreating the workers badly and men are dying every day from being overworked and underfed. On my land! I might as well be killing them myself!
"I know not how long this has been going on. I know not how many people have died because of my inattention. I know not who the people operating this mine are. I only know they are mining saltpeter, which is so readily available to be mined all over India and other parts of the world…it makes no sense." He said the last angrily.
Waiting to make sure he was finished speaking, Elizabeth stood before beginning, "Let me see if I understand this correctly. Your father passed on and you inherited a great estate which provides the livelihood of hundreds of families here in England. As a young man, just as you reached the age of majority, you were suddenly fully responsible for this great estate, property in London…are there others?" At his nod she continued, "in addition to other properties which provide the livelihood of countless other families. Furthermore, you took on the serious responsibility of raising your young sister. Any one of which would have been difficult for most people to take on individually, yet you did so all at once and at a time of great distress, upon your father's death.
"Sir, by all accounts I have heard, and I do not mean Miss Bingley…for you do not know of some of my more excellent sources…" at his questioning look she said, "Mr. Darcy, every lady must have her secrets!" she treated him to a saucy grin, "You, sir, have done quite an exemplary job of it all." She held up her hand to stop him as he opened his mouth to protest his alleged competence.
She continued, "There was also some land half a world away of which your father purchased and paid little attention to while alive, and of which you had absolutely no reason to believe was anything but empty, abandoned, and with no one depending upon it for anything.
"And now, sir, you are chastising yourself because some contemptible human beings have illegally used that land half a world away while you were exceedingly busy trying to manage a tremendous amount of responsibility suddenly laid upon your shoulders right here in England.
"Have I summarized the situation you now find yourself in correctly, Mr. Darcy?"
He blinked a few times and searched for something to say, but was having trouble finding his voice.
He was both uncomfortable hearing her praises of him and thrilled that she thought so highly of him. And she was right, maybe not about how he did so well with it all for he saw how many mistakes he had made along the way, but about the numerous responsibilities which he had taken on at his father's death she was correct. At length he said, "But the land in India is my responsibility…"
She nodded and raised both eyebrows, "Yes, and I suppose it would have been much more prudent had you abandoned all of your responsibilities here in England, including your sister, and boarded a ship bound for India to check on the seemingly deserted and insignificant bit of land there? Have you thought about just how long you would have had to be gone to do so? How long does it take to get to India from England, sir? Six months I believe? And how long would it have taken to travel by land once you arrived at an Indian port? If you had gone, would you have prepared yourself to deal with these degenerates who are on your land, or would you have suffered a similar fate to those who did go there more recently…who presumably were well trained to expect the worst since they were working for an investigator, unlike yourself if you had gone. Would you not have been killed, leaving your sister alone in the world?" She paused for a few moments.
"Mr. Darcy, can you not see that you made the only responsible choice you could have made?"
He got up and started pacing. "Elizabeth has made some good points. What else could I have done?" Aloud he said, "I could have made inquiries sooner..." He did not sound convincing, even to himself.
She tilted her head, raised both eyebrows even higher and crossed her arms across her chest.
Darcy smiled a little, "Yes, I do suppose you are right, Miss Elizabeth."
She displayed a brilliant smile that warmed his soul, "Of course I am, Mr. Darcy! I am glad you have come to see reason, sir."
Darcy almost whispered, "I must thank you, Miss Elizabeth, for helping me to see more clearly."
Smiling, she replied softly, "I am glad to have been of assistance, sir." then frowned a bit, "But I am afraid I must make my way back to Longbourn, Mr. Darcy, before my family forms a search party to come after me."
He looked up to the position of the sun and was surprised to see that they must have been there quite a while. "To show my thanks for your voice of reason in this matter, I would be honored to escort you home, madam." he bowed.
"I do believe I will accept, sir." She curtsied, and off they went in the direction of Longbourn, Mr. Darcy's horse trailing behind them.
After walking a few minutes in silence, Darcy said, "I have been thinking, Miss Elizabeth. You should not be walking alone with Collins and Wickham in the area. But I know you enjoy your morning walks…would you allow me to meet you in the morning to escort you on your walk when the weather permits?"
Elizabeth was a bit taken back by this offer but it did make sense, "Mr. Darcy, your concern is sound, I believe. I am surprised I did not think of the danger sooner, but it was probably a prejudice in favor of my morning rambles which prevented it from entering my head." She laughed, "I do believe your suggestion is a good one, but I would not want you to meet me at the house for it might…no, I must admit it would give my mother the wrong idea, sir. I will show you where I will meet you as we get closer to Longbourn. Agreed?"
"Yes, agreed." he expected to have a need to argue his point and was happy to see she was being reasonable instead. He then asked her if she had been reading the Plato that he had loaned her and their discussion went on from there.