Here we have the first half of Chapter 3 for you. We’re back to Darcy’s Point of View for this one. It has been run through the grammar checker, but not listened to. Please forgive the errors.
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Darcy was silent, and rigid with anger as he mounted his horse outside Longbourn and nudged it into motion, Bingley and Hurst following quickly behind. The ride back to Netherfield was quiet, and accomplished swiftly. The three gentlemen gathered in Bingley’s study. Darcy paced to the window, finding the serenity of nature to be conducive to sorting out his thoughts. He heard Bingley behind him, calling for a tea tray. A minute later, he heard the squeak of leather as his friend joined Hurst in front of the fireplace.
“So, Bennet has chosen to ignore your warning.” Hurst’s voice clearly displayed his disgust.
Darcy sighed, shaking his head. “He has. I do not understand why. Why would he leave his daughters unprotected?”
“You do not think he will tell them of the threat?” Bingley’s voice indicated surprise.
Darcy turned as a maid entered with the tea service. He remained silent, as did they all, until the girl had curtseyed and departed. When the door clicked shut, he spoke. “No, I do not think he will. He does not see a threat, and it is likely that restricting his daughters will be more effort than he is willing to expend.”
“So the trip this morning was wasted?”
“No,” Darcy assured his friend, “I do not think so.”
“Bennet is now aware of the risk,” Hurst interjected. “If anything should happen, the responsibility rests on his shoulders.” He turned to Darcy. “What step do you intend to take now?”
“I must write to my cousin and see what he can do. I have doubts about that path; the militia is a separate entity from the regulars, and I do not think the two mingle. However, Richard has contacts everywhere, and if it is possible to remove Wickham from the militia and insert him into the regulars, he will make it happen.”
Bingley sipped his tea as he listened, then nodded his understanding. “And in the meantime?”
“In the meantime, I should visit the local merchants. Wickham has not been here long enough to collect any debts, but he will. I will warn them.” Darcy took a sip of tea. “If they also ignore me, I can always go back around and pay the debts and use that as incentive for Wickham to disappear.”
“Too bad there is not a more permanent solution.”
“I agree, Bingley, but I also refuse to break moral and civil laws to find one.”
“I know. I only wish for him to disappear, and be unable to hurt anyone else.”
“As do we all, my friend. As do we all.” Darcy’s mouth twisted into a grimace before he took another sip of his tea.
Darcy wasted no time in visiting the merchants of Meryton. Immediately after tea, he set out once more, this time alone. While he at first met with some resistance, in the end, all the merchants agreed to let him know if Wickham allowed his bill to become too large, or if he came up with excuses not to pay it. Having discharged his duty, Darcy returned to Netherfield. He slipped quietly up the stairs, skipping the riser midway up that creaked, so he could avoid Bingley’s younger sister and her unwelcome attention to his every need, want, and desire.
Darcy was standing in front of the washstand, rinsing soap off his face and hands, when a knock sounded on his dressing room door. He could hear his valet, Smith, open the door and speak softly to someone before closing the door again and returning. Darcy wiped his face with the towel. “Yes?”
“Mr. Bingley is without, sir. He wishes to speak with you.”
Tossing the towel back onto the top of the stand, Darcy reached for his robe, pulling it on and tying it about his waist. “Call him in.”
Bingley entered cautiously, peeking around the side of the wardrobe that stood next to the door, and visibly relaxing to see Darcy dressed. He stepped fully into the room then, smiling ear to ear. “So, how did it go?”
Darcy’s lips curved up into a small answering smile. His friend was ever-eager; it is what endeared Bingley to him. “Have a seat in the chair. I am going to step behind the screen and change. I can tell you about it while I do.” With that, Darcy was soon out of sight of his friend. “I believe it went well. I have the promise of every merchant to come to me for payment, if need be.”
“Has he very big bills?”
“Not yet. He has been in Meryton only a day or two.”
“Did the shopkeepers readily listen to you?”
Darcy sighed. “Some did, others did not. However, I refused to leave until I had said my piece, and I believe I was persuasive enough that they believed me. It is in their best interest to do so, and they know it.” He came around the screen once more to stand in front of the pier glass while Smith tied his cravat. He watched his friend in the glass’s reflection.
Bingley nodded, looking thoughtful, his gaze trained on the floor. “That is true. What next, then?” Bingley looked up, and Darcy caught his eye in the mirror.
“Nothing yet. I sent the letter to my cousin express. I hope to hear back in a few days, but until then, we must simply watch and wait.” Darcy held his arms straight down so Smith could slip his tailcoat over them.
“What about the Bennets?”
Darcy shrugged as he turned around, tugging his cuffs out from the sleeves. “We pray their father takes my warning seriously.”
Bingley shook his head. “I do not like it. I do not trust him to do what he should.”
Darcy’s head tilted as he examined his friend. “Why do you care so much?”
Bingley’s head shot up. “Do you not care?”
“Of course I do! I would not have warned Mr. Bennet if I did not.”
“Good. I was worried for a second there.” Bingley shook his head. “I have said nothing to my family, but … Miss Bennet attracts me. I can easily imagine growing old with her by my side.”
Darcy’s eyebrows shot up. “You can? Are you certain? You have fallen in love many times before.”
“Yes, that is correct; I have. However, no other lady has made me think of the future. I could not see past the next ball with them. Miss Bennet has me thinking about settlements and babies.”
Darcy whistled. “That is serious.” He paused. “I do not know the state of the lady’s heart, and I do not wish to discourage you, but promise me you will go slowly with this and be certain of her affections before you propose marriage or courtship or what have you.”
Bingley stood and held out his hand. “I will; I promise.”
Darcy would have an opportunity to speak to Elizabeth the very next day. Bingley and his sisters planned to have a ball, and they were to be out visiting neighbors and issuing invitations. Darcy invited himself along, riding his horse instead of sitting in the carriage, much to Bingley’s single sister’s chagrin.
Once ensconced in the Bennets’ drawing-room, Darcy accepted a cup of tea and silently watched the visit proceed. He thought he hid his discomfort well.
Near the end of the visit, when the invitation had been issued and accepted, Darcy sidled up to Elizabeth, who was sitting alone at a side table, working on her stitching, and quietly asked her to walk in the gardens. She agreed with alacrity, standing and inviting Jane to come along.
“Oh, yes! I meant to request just that. Caroline, I know you do not like rambling about; please do finish your conversation with Mrs. Bennet. We will not be long.” Bingley did not allow his sister to say a thing. He said his piece and was out the door with Jane before Caroline was able to form a response.
Darcy and Elizabeth followed the other couple out to the garden. They walked silently for a few minutes, but Darcy knew his time was limited and did not allow himself to fall into contemplation for too long. He cleared his throat, unaccountably nervous about talking to her. “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Miss Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth looked at Darcy out of the corner of her eye as she strolled along beside him. “I am glad you made the request. I believe we are in dire need of some conversation between us.”
Flashing a quick smile that dimmed just as fast as it appeared, Darcy agreed. “We do.” He tipped his head toward the back of the garden. “I see a pretty little wilderness area just over there. I think we will need a small bit of privacy for this.”
Elizabeth hesitated, but only for a second. “Very well.” To Jane, she called, “I want to show Mr. Darcy the fountain. We will not be long.”
Jane smiled, waving them off and she turned her attention back to Bingley. Elizabeth grinned, shaking her head.
“My friend and your sister seem to have hit it off.” Darcy was curious what Elizabeth thought of the situation, so as they walked toward the walled-in area containing the fountain, he asked.
“They do.” Elizabeth’s fond smile matched the twinkle in her eye. “She has declared him to be everything a young man ought to be, sensible and good-humored. She blushes whenever someone brings up his name.”
“So, she likes him, then.” Darcy ducked his head to look at Elizabeth’s face, noting the sudden flash of irritation on her features.
Elizabeth stopped, turning toward Darcy. “Jane keeps her feelings to herself, for the most part, but I have never seen her behave so with any other gentleman. Mama likes to tell a tale of a suitor who wrote Jane poetry when she was but fifteen. I remember him. He was the second son of an earl, and, through his maternal grandmother, the heir to an estate in Sussex worth eight thousand a year. None of that mattered to Jane. The gentleman frightened her with his intensity. She told Papa, and he sent the gentleman away. Money does not matter to Jane. It never has. She has vowed to marry for love, the same as I have.”
Darcy recognized the sincerity in Elizabeth’s tone of voice and her mien. “That is good to hear,” he replied. “I believe Bingley’s feelings are stronger for Miss Bennet than anything he has ever experienced before. I am happy they seem to be returned.” Turning his mind to the reason for their foray into this part of the garden, Darcy took a deep breath. “Now we come to the heart of our chat.” He looked around, finding a bench tucked beneath an arbor. Gesturing to it, he asked, “May we sit?”
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