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The Curse 11

May 08, 2017 05:52AM
Hi folks, one more week to the midterm, and it's all gets worse from there. I feel like I'm on one of those tilt-a-whirl rides, spinning faster and faster until I'm going to be thrown into space. Most days I have to chose between editing a new chapter sent back by my lovely betas, or adding more content to get this story closer to being finished. Some days, the mind is just too fried for either. Still, I'm trying to post and stay on a semi-regular schedule. I appreciate the well-wishes from everyone, it helps to know that not everyone is as insane as I am these days!

Thanks to my lovely betas, dreeem, priscillalts, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily!



Chapter 11

Armed with her new knowledge of Wickham, Lizzy returned to Longbourn determined to protect her family from him. She would also do what she could for the merchants of Meryton, for what affected one part of their community had an influence on all of them. Her family was barely stirring for breakfast by the time she arrived. She waited impatiently for the meal to be over and followed Mr. Bennet into his study when he left the table.

“Yes, Lizzy, what can I do for you?” he asked, settling himself at his desk and picking up a book.

“I wanted to speak to you about one of the officers,” she began, sitting on a chair before the desk.

Papa looked up in interest. “Oh? Has one caught your eye?”

The thought of Wickham being an object of desire was abhorrent to her and she shuddered in disgust.

“No!” she declared vehemently. “Quite the opposite. It is Mr. Wickham. I do not like him, and I think he has the means to do great harm while he is here.”

“Indeed. Are you certain?”

“Yes. When I first met him I felt…” How could she describe the tumult of emotions that had raged within her when she laid eyes on Wickham? Her dragon’s visceral reaction? The conviction that he meant no good? There were no words for something that instinctive.

“Bad,” she said inadequately. “Like I wanted to flee—fly away from him—and if I could not fly, then I would fight him.”

“Lizzy,” Papa began with a sigh.

She knew he thought she was letting her dragon nature get the best of her.

“I have more reasons than my reaction to be concerned about him,” she said sharply.

“I will hear you out,” he said solemnly.

“I met Mr. Wickham again last night at Aunt Phillips’ card party. There he told me a story of misdeeds committed on him by another gentleman.” She would leave Mr. Darcy out of this matter as much as she could, as she had promised him.

“I found the story to be improbable, but then he touched me—”

“He touched you?” Mr. Bennet sat up abruptly. “I hope you put him in his place.”

“I wanted to, but it was only a brush on my arm and I did not want to draw attention to myself. But he used the touch to try to work magic on me. He has a golden tongue and the magic was to make me believe him without question.”

“His actions are dubious to be sure, but you did not take harm from him, did you? Was his magic able to affect you?”

“It was not,” she allowed.

“I daresay that must have been quite the shock for him that you did not fall under his charm. He seems to be a young man of uncertain character; he probably used his story and his ability to persuade other young women to sympathy for him,” Papa said dismissively. “Now that you are aware of him, I trust you will avoid him and advise your sisters to do the same. Maybe the militia will be the making of him.”

“I have more to say,” Lizzy reported grimly. “I have since found that he is known for running up large debts that he is unable to pay, as well as a wandering eye toward the fairer sex.”

“And you discovered all that from the touch of his magic?” he asked in amusement. “Your ability must have grown. Or you have gone sleuthing. How very like gossip it seems. I am surprised by you.”

She clenched her jaw in irritation that he seemed determined to dismiss her concerns as little more than womanly fancy. Was he forgetting that she was also a dragon? Surely her instincts deserved more consideration than that! Reluctantly, she realized that she was going to have to reveal the source of her information so that Papa realized she was not merely spreading gossip.

“Mr. Darcy,” she stated coolly.

“Pardon?” Mr. Bennet’s attention suddenly deepened. “What has that gentleman have to do with this matter?”

“He is the one Mr. Wickham claimed to have mistreated him. I think he was attempting to blacken Mr. Darcy’s name.”

“Though it appears to have not worked. Tell me, have you met with Mr. Darcy often outside of these walls?”

“No,” Lizzy answered in confusion, then honesty compelled her to answer, “Twice only. He kept me company when I became a dragon unexpectedly near Meryton, and this morning I sought him out for the truth on Mr. Wickham’s story.”

“And Mr. Darcy was the one who told you to beware of this Mr. Wickham? Did he provide any particulars?”

“No,” she confessed. “I did not feel it proper to ask for them.”

“Yet you trust him regardless, over Mr. Wickham?”

“I do,” she replied firmly. “I would sooner trust a fox to watch a henhouse than I would trust Mr. Wickham.”

“Then Mr. Darcy does not make you feel ‘bad’?” Papa chuckled at her inadequate vocabulary.

She blushed, shifting in her seat. Speaking about that gentleman with her father was fast becoming uncomfortable.

“With Mr. Darcy I am… nervous. But it is not the same as with Mr. Wickham.” If it had been, she would have never gone to him for the truth. No, more than that: she had gone to him to warn him about the slander Wickham was spreading. She had thought he deserved to know and deserved a chance to defend himself as well.

Mr. Bennet stared at her for a long moment. She felt the same as when he had caught her trying to practice breathing fire as a young dragon. It was a good thing that had been a particularly wet summer. Lizzy’s heart began a rapid tap against the inside of her ribs. In that moment she would have gladly taken the alarm that Mr. Darcy gave her rather than face her father’s assessing gaze.

Finally he spoke. “Very well then, shall I see if I can make some charms to protect our dear shopkeepers in Meryton?”

“I do not think this can be solved by charms,” she said, trying to contain her temper.

“Then I will send a note with the charms, will that satisfy you?”

She nodded grudgingly. It was the best she could expect from him. “Thank you, Papa. It helps to know that you believe me about the danger.”

“And I have no doubt you will protect your sisters from this rapscallion with tooth and claw,” he chuckled. “But do try not to burn down the town in your zealousness. Now, off with you. You know I cannot make charms when you are near, especially if they are delicate. For that matter, stay away from the house entirely. I will tell Mary and Jane to carry the charms into town so that you do not risk making them impotent by the time they arrive.”

“Thank you,” she repeated, standing and kissing him on the head before leaving the room.

***



Bingley remained distant to Darcy for several days. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst noticed and tried without success to discern the cause. Darcy became concerned, for it was clear that with everyone else Bingley was as amiable as ever. It was only toward Darcy that he was ill-disposed. He could not think what he had done to offend his friend, but was sure there must be something which had caused Bingley’s current behavior.

Finally, Darcy had had enough of the surly treatment. He caught Bingley as the man had been about to leave to visit Longbourn again and all but wrestled him to the study. It was somewhat difficult given Darcy’s injured leg, but Bingley did not put up much of a struggle.

“What is this?” Bingley asked coldly once the door was shut behind Darcy.

“No, what is this?” Darcy retorted, gesturing between himself and Bingley. “We have ever been friends and I value our confidence in each other. Your attitude towards me has changed. I can only think it must have been something which I have done. Tell me so that I may rectify it.”

“You have done nothing,” Bingley responded, but his curt tone belied his words. “Or rather, you had done nothing until this moment. You have prevented me from leaving to see my beloved Miss Bennet. I am to meet her in the woods, where we will be quite occupied for some time. It amazes me what can occur between two people without a chaperone present.”

Darcy recoiled from Bingley. He had never heard his friend speak such vulgarities. In the next moment, his hand clenched and he had to fight not to knock Bingley down. He was speaking of Miss Elizabeth’s sister. Certainly she knew nothing of it, or she would have visited her dragon’s wrath down on Bingley.

“Then you intend to marry Miss Bennet? She will be quite ruined by the time you are done, even if nothing occurs.”

“Marry her?” Bingley laughed harshly. “Of course not, why should I? I care nothing of her reputation, or what she might suffer after I am gone. Why should I?”

“This is not how a gentleman acts!” Darcy barked. “If this is your true character, I am ashamed to be your friend!”

“As I am ashamed to be yours!” Bingley responded with heat. “If I had acted in such a manner to Miss Bennet, it would only have been because I followed your example in how a gentleman acts!”

“Me!” Darcy exclaimed.

“Yes, you! Do you deny that you have spent hours with Miss Elizabeth, unchaperoned and in quite a secluded place? More than that: you had the effrontery to tell me to send a carriage to your location, while leaving Miss Elizabeth to walk home, after dark, alone and in shame! Was that the end of your liaisons with her? No, for mere days ago you were seen to embrace her, and then walk with her into a stand of trees where once again you remained alone with her for an extended length of time!

“My intentions toward Miss Bennet have always been honorable. I cannot call anything you have done to Miss Elizabeth the same. I consider myself her almost-brother; why should I not call you out for how you have acted toward her?”

Darcy gaped at Bingley, equal parts humiliated and indignant. The idea of anyone imposing on Miss Elizabeth while she was in her dragon form was ludicrous. Not only did she have superior strength, size and speed, but she could also fly away at any time. Even if she were somehow hampered and could not fly, she also had talons and teeth as vicious as scimitars and daggers. Failing everything else, she still had a dragon’s ultimate offensive weapon: her fiery breath. Yet Bingley did not know Miss Elizabeth could become a dragon, did he? It was not a secret readily shared with strangers. Darcy did not consider telling the truth of the matter to him, for it was not his secret to reveal.

In any case, it remained that Miss Elizabeth had been in her human form when they spoke about Wickham. He dismissed the notion that they had embraced; she had merely caught him when he would have fallen. Only it had felt very much like an embrace. He had enjoyed it as such, once the pain in his leg faded sufficiently. She was still nearly as strong as a human as when she was a dragon; certainly stronger than him. Again, Bingley knew nothing of it. He only knew that Darcy had apparently been taking advantage of Miss Elizabeth with no intention of marrying or otherwise providing her protection.

Bingley was still expecting an answer. Darcy wished that he could tell Bingley that the circumstances were different with Miss Elizabeth, except it smacked of the hypocritical manners he had always despised. Having been woken to the situation, he could not look back on his interactions with Miss Elizabeth with a clear conscience. He had toyed with her reputation, lulled into a false sense of security perhaps because she was often a dragon. Was Miss Elizabeth any less a young lady, a gentleman’s daughter no less, because she was sometimes also a dragon? Did her curse give him the right to act in such a dishonorable way toward her?

His father would have caned him for treating a serving girl in such a way, let alone a lady of genteel birth! Her family might not have the same consequence as his, yet that did not make her undeserving of consideration. More than her reputation might be on the line. By meeting with her so frequently, he was also guilty of leading her on, perhaps even falsely engaging her affections when he had no intention of asking for her hand. Had a gentleman treated Georgiana as he had been treating Miss Elizabeth, Darcy would not have hesitated to call him out.

“I am sorry, Bingley,” Darcy spoke in a low tone. “I had not realized how damaging my actions were toward her.”

“Damaging? Good God, man, you have treated her as no more than your mistress! Unless you do intend to marry her?”

“Of course not!” Darcy snapped.

Bingley shook his head, an expression of condemnation on his face.

Darcy felt a hollow swoop in his stomach. How many times had he blamed Wickham for turning his acquaintances against him? This time he had managed to do it all on his own.

“Charles,” he said desperately, “You must know—please believe me when I say I never touched her. I swear I have not in any way attempted to compromise Miss Elizabeth.”

Bingley relaxed slightly. “I believe you. But you were seen embracing.”

“I stumbled; she kept me from falling. I released her as soon as I could.”

“She must be prodigiously strong to have caught you,” Bingley mused.

Darcy tried to arrange his features into an innocent expression.

Bingley fixed him with a hard look. “While I believe you have not sought private trysts with Miss Elizabeth, you must realize that is exactly the kind of gossip that might be started from your actions.”

Darcy’s heart leapt to his throat in agitation. “Has there been talk?” he demanded. If there were rumors that threatened Miss Elizabeth’s reputation, he must do the right thing and offer for her. It might not be the kind of match either of them had looked for, but he would not leave her prey to social ruin from vicious words.

Bingley shook his head. “Miraculously little, just that you have been seen sometimes in her company.”

Oddly, Darcy’s first reaction was not one of relief—but of disappointment. He was not ready to explore what that might mean and quickly locked the thought away.

“It pains me to say it,” Bingley began sternly, “but I ask that you have no further improper contact with Miss Elizabeth. If you cannot adhere to that, I must ask you to leave my house. I am sorry it has come to this, my friend. I had thought better of you than this.”

“So did I,” Darcy acknowledged quietly.

He could not flee the room fast enough.

Bingley’s words continued to trouble Darcy. Sleep eluded him as he lay in his bed that night, his mind churning with the conversation. He tried to reassure himself that it was not as though he had treated Miss Elizabeth as a mistress, but he could not deny that he had been high-handed with her. Once he had decided not to pursue her, he should have regarded Miss Elizabeth as no more than a casual acquaintance, instead of the undeniable friendship he had allowed to form. He had tried not to leave her disappointed, but doubt gnawed at him.

What was Bingley about, prodding him about marriage? Just because Darcy was not like Bingley—who was always in a state of love, whether it was falling in, or falling out of it—did not mean he would not appreciate and look forward to the company of a woman he could call his wife. Bingley was too quick with his emotions, often thinking that his brief infatuations were the basis of a good marriage.

Darcy wanted a marriage like his own parents, one built of respect, esteem and affection. He believed he could achieve such a marriage by selecting a good match for himself, and allowing his feelings for her to develop naturally. He had rejoiced that his own emotions were more consistent than Bingley’s, that he was not attracted to every pretty face that smiled at him. Did that not mean when he found someone that could touch his heart that his affections would be stronger for it? If no one else had ever caught his interest before, did that not mean there was something special about the one lady that had?

The silent confession stole his breath. All his life, he had thought he would select his partner through careful deliberation, and yet Elizabeth had slid past his reasoning to touch his heart. He refused to call what he felt for her love; in no way did it compare to the way his parents had treated each other. His parents had been joined as equals, not perfect, yet accepting of each other’s foibles. Darcy only had to think of Elizabeth’s family to realize his disdain for them far outweighed her appeal. Yet he could not deny that he held a certain… fascination toward Miss Elizabeth.

There had to be other women that could spark his interest and stir his heart! Just because he had not found any before now did not mean they did not exist. But Darcy remained worried. He was not a fickle creature. He could not so easily turn his heart to another, as Bingley often did. Darcy had thought he had prevented himself from becoming too attached to Miss Elizabeth, but now he was afraid he had failed. He had prided himself on his consistency, yet now that might prove to be his downfall. If he could not convince his heart to give up Miss Elizabeth, and society dictated that he could not have her, what was left for him but a hollow existence?



Quite a blow up in that chapter! I hope that helps to answer what's up with Bingley. What did you think Mr. Bennet is speculating right now?
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse 11

Autumn DMay 08, 2017 05:52AM

Re: The Curse 11

Michelle AnnMay 11, 2017 11:02AM

Re: The Curse 11

Linnea EileenMay 09, 2017 03:46AM

Re: The Curse 11

Tessa LMay 08, 2017 03:49PM

Re: The Curse 11

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