Thursday’s 300: Darcy Overhears, Part 9

I still have not gotten to the point where I can give you entire chapters. If you saw our Longborn Literary Society Facebook Live broadcast on Saturday (or the replay), you know that I have struggled with the story for a week or so. I am new to using plot diagrams, and I had the “beats” off (don’t ask me what that is. I really do not know. LOL), so Rose and Leenie helped me rework it. I skipped ahead a bit after I wrote what’s here, and began a new scene. I’ll go back and fill in before I share next week’s post, which I hope will be an actual full chapter.

This week, I have the end of Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. As far as word count goes, it’s pretty much a full chapter, it’s just caddywampus. 😀

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Elizabeth’s brows rose, but she readily assented, and soon they were sitting side by side on the stone seat. Darcy’s heart pounded at the feel of her leg so close to his and he swallowed. Feeling again the passage of time, he forced words out through his suddenly dry mouth. “I spoke to your father yesterday about something I heard in town.” He glanced to his left to see that he had Elizabeth’s complete attention. “Did he tell you?”

“I saw you leave, so I knew you had spoken to him.” Elizabeth’s eyes never left Darcy’s. “I asked him what you said.”

“Did he tell you?”

“The basics, I believe. Mr. Wickham made a threat that involved me.”

“He did.” Darcy hesitated. “Did your father tell you anything else?”

“Only that I am too poor to be an object of prey to anyone and too intelligent to be taken in.” Elizabeth’s lips turned down as she spoke.

Darcy nodded. “That is all?”

“Yes.” Elizabeth dragged the word out slowly, her eyes narrowed and sharp as she stared into his. “Was there more?”

“Unfortunately, yes, there was. Miss Lydia was also mentioned, though not with the same intonation as you were.”

Elizabeth’s hand came up to cover her mouth as her eyes grew wide. “Oh, no. Lydia is enamoured of officers, and Mama encourages her in it.” She turned a deep shade of red, turning her head away. “And my father refuses to speak to any of us about this.”

Darcy heard anger in her voice, and something else; something that sounded very much like shame. “I am sorry that he is responding so callously.” He wanted to tell Elizabeth that if it were he who had received that intelligence, he would have locked his daughters up and ran the rake to ground, but denigrating her father would not win him favor, and the more he spoke with her, the more he wished to receive it.

“Thank you.” After a minute of silence, Elizabeth looked back at Darcy. He winced inside at the tears in her eyes, but admired her for the determined lift of her chin. “It is not your fault my father is lacksadaisical in his office as head of the family. I am sorry he did not take you seriously.” Suddenly balling her hands into fists, she ground out, “I do not know what he is thinking! He must not be! Two of his daughters are in danger, at least of having ruined reputations—which we all know will negatively affect the other three—and he does nothing. Refuses to at least warn us away from Wickham. My mother will invite him to dine with us, I know. How am I to bear it? Why would he allow that, knowing what he does?” Elizabeth leapt up to begin pacing up and down in front of the bench.

Darcy had risen when she had, and now stood back and allowed Elizabeth to express her frustration. When she finally stopped, he touched her arm, feeling a sensation akin to lightning run up his arm. “All will be well, Miss Elizabeth, I am certain. I have taken steps to stop Mr. Wickham from being in a position to harm anyone. If your mother does invite him, tell me and I will help you think of a way to keep yourself and your sister safe.”

Elizabeth shook her head, appearing to Darcy to be near tears. “Thank you for offering, sir, but I am uncertain you will be able to help.”

“I promise to try, though. It cannot hurt to make the attempt, can it?” Darcy found himself wishing he could pull Elizabeth into his arms and comfort her. He could see tears in her eyes. Despair was written all over her face. His arms ached with the effort to stay at his sides.

“No, I suppose not,” Elizabeth whispered. Her eyes got big and she gasped. Darcy realized that Elizabeth must have remembered something, and so remained quiet, waiting for her to speak about whatever it was that had come to her mind. He was not surprised when she asked about his childhood friend.

“I do not know,” he began, “exactly what Mr. Wickham said to you. He was my father’s favorite, and the son of his steward. We were raised together and sent to the same schools. Wickham developed habits of vice and debauchery, beginning at Eton and growing worse at Cambridge. I paid his debts and kept his transgressions covered up, hoping to save my father from sure disappointment. When Papa died, he left Wickham a living in his will. Wickham did not want it. I gave him three thousand pounds in lieu, he signed away his rights, and I did not hear from him for two more years.”

Elizabeth’s hand was again over her mouth, her eyes huge. “What then?”

Darcy looked down, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “Then, he …” Darcy silently debated with himself. How much should he tell her? He had not known Elizabeth long, but every instinct told him she was honorable and that his story and that of his sister were safe with her. Seeing her waiting expectantly, her hands now clasped in front of her, Darcy made his decision. “He attempted to convince my sister to elope, in collusion with her then-companion. I was able to stop it, purely by chance. I arrived without warning at the house I had rented for Georgiana and she confessed it all to me. I wrote to Wickham at his lodgings and told him to leave and never return, which he did. Georgiana was devastated to discover what manner of man he is. She is heartbroken still, four months later.”

“The poor girl,” Elizabeth cried. “And you, Mr. Darcy. How can you bear being away from her? No wonder you did not wish to dance at the assembly!”

“She wished me gone, or I would not have been moved from her side. Her new companion assures me that time will heal my sister, and my Aunt ___ (darcy or Fitzwilliam?) agrees.” Darcy paused, not knowing how to apologize but deciding just to say it. “I know that you heard me refuse to dance with you when we first became acquainted, and it has recently been pointed out to me that you …: Darcy licked his lips, his eyes looking away from hers. “You … dislike me. I am sorry that I said something so insulting. It was not gentlemanly. I was raised better, and it was not true anyway.” Darcy took a deep breath and plunged forward. “I also ignored you on your last day at Netherfield. I am very sorry for that, as well. You see, Miss Elizabeth, the longer I know you, the more you do tempt me. You have become the handsomest woman of my acquaintance, and if you will accept my friendship, I would like the opportunity to display more of my good qualities to you and fewer of my bad ones. What say you?”

Elizabeth’s brows had risen in surprise. “That was a great amount of information to impart in such a short time period,” she teased. “I accept your apologies and since you have persuaded me that Mr. Wickham is the lying scoundrel I suspected he was, then I will agree to be your friend. I should like to know you better, now that I can look at your previous actions with new and unclouded eyes.”

Darcy’s eyes closed in relief. He had come to feel for Elizabeth things that he had never felt for any lady before. He truly wished for friendship—and more. Opening his eyes, he thanked her. Before he could say anything else, he heard Bingley hail him as he and Jane entered and approached the fountain.

Chapter 4

The Bingleys and Darcy made their farewells not long after the two couples came in from their stroll. Miss Bingley was eager to escape Mrs. Bennet’s company, and once her brother appeared again in the drawing-room, she could not get out of there fast enough. Though Elizabeth and Jane tried to slip upstairs to chat, Mrs. Bennet would not allow it, calling them to sit with her and the other girls. They sat as patiently as they could while their mother effused about Mr. Bingley’s attention to Jane and commiserating with Elizabeth for having to entertain “that man.” Before long, she had to let all the girls go to rest before supper, and they rushed up to their rooms, chattering as they walked.

Elizabeth pulled Jane into her room, feeling as though she was going to burst if she did not talk about her conversation with Darcy. Locking the door behind them, she paced back and forth as it all poured out of her, while Jane sat on the bed and listened, her expression betraying her emotions. When Elizabeth was done speaking, she collapsed on the bed beside her sister, on her back and looking at the canopy above them. She turned her head, looking at Jane. “Well? What do you think?”

The crease in Jane’s brow showed Elizabeth that Jane was befuddled. “About which part? You said so many things!” Her face cleared. “Let us begin with Mr. Darcy being your friend. I am happy you agreed to that, Lizzy. While I hate to remind you of it, I believe I did say that you might have been wrong about him.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, but readily conceded the point. “Yes, I was wrong—very wrong. I really should listen to you more, I know.”

“Yes, you should.”

Giggling at her sister, Elizabeth enjoyed a brief moment of hilarity before becoming serious once more. “What is your opinion of Mr. Wickham’s threat to ruin me and Lydia?”

“I do not know what to think. It is difficult to believe someone could be that badly behaved, but Mr. Darcy would know, and his story coincided so closely with Mr. Wickham’s that it must be true.”

Elizabeth sat up. “It did,” she exclaimed eagerly. “Right up to the point of the living. Darcy did not deny Mr. Wickham that living until two years after the man had given it up. Mr. Wickham conveniently forgot that little tidbit.”

Jane shook her head. “As much as it pains me to think ill of anyone, it seems that Mr. Wickham is, indeed, a person to avoid. But, how will we keep you safe? And Lydia! Can we not tell Mama of the threat?”

“I do not know. I would like to, but how would Papa react? He does not see it as a serious threat, though how he can look at Lydia’s unchecked behavior and not see the potential for a scandal, I do not know.” Elizabeth reclined on the bed once more, left hand under her head and right hand going to her mouth. She began to chew on her thumbnail until Jane reached over and pulled her hand away again. “He will do one of two things: he will either roll his eyes and barricade himself in his library, or he will become angry and punish me for speaking. And you, if you join me, of course.”

“I do not wish for him to be upset with me, but I also do not want Mr. Wickham invited here.” Jane threw her hands up. “What a conundrum!”

After a few minutes of thought, Elizabeth spoke again. “Why do we not go to Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy and discuss it with them? Mr. Darcy did offer to help me think of a plan, when we spoke in the garden.”

Nodding, Jane agreed. “Yes, we should do that. They will probably not be able to attend us every day, nor can they guarantee they will be here every time Mr. Wickham is, but surely they can assist us in developing a plan of action. In the meantime, we should not allow ourselves or our sisters to be alone with the officers, especially Mr. Wickham.”

Elizabeth nodded her head one time, decisively. “I agree.” She hugged her sister. “Thank you, Jane. You are always so level-headed and help me think clearly and without prejudice.”

Smiling sweetly, Jane returned the hug. “Where would you be without me,” she teased.

~~~***~~~

The next day, Mrs. Bennet held a dinner, to which she had invited all four and twenty families in the neighborhood, and the Netherfield party. Elizabeth and Jane were relieved to see Darcy, the Hursts, and the Bingleys enter. As they …. After they ate, and the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing-room, Darcy, Bingley, Elizabeth, and Jane arranged themselves in one corner of the room, within sight of the rest of the guests but separated enough that their conversation could be private.

“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth began, “when we spoke the other day, you offered to help me come up with a plan to keep myself and my sisters safe.” She paused, and seeing Darcy nod, continued, “I have shared Mr. Wickham’s threats with Jane, but we were unable to devise a method to protect ourselves. We would like your assistance, if your offer is still valid.”

Darcy was relieved to be asked, and it showed in his mien. His eyes closed and he let out a breath. Opening his eyes again, he could see worry in Elizabeth’s eyes and sought to relieve her. “Of course it is. I am gratified that you have asked.” He knew he had said the right thing when he heard her exhale and saw her shoulders slump. “I have spent much of the last day thinking about it, and the only real way to protect you is, I believe, to make sure you are never alone. Take a footman with you when you walk, or a sister, and limit yourself to the gardens around your home. Do not leave your sisters alone with guests, especially officers, and most especially Wickham.”

Bingley interrupted to ask, “Have you considered informing your mother of the threats? Has your father, perhaps?”

Elizabeth responded, she and Jane having decided between them as they were dressing to make Elizabeth their spokesperson. “We did think of it, but with my father’s denial of the danger and his refusal to speak of it to us, we decided against it. To incite his wrath would be unwise. Papa is rarely angered, but when he is, he becomes ferocious.”

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