Thursday’s 300: Darcy’s Predicament, excerpt 8

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Today’s post is a few hundred words from chapter six. Darcy has explained to Elizabeth why he thinks Mrs. Bennet is unhappy with him, which is where this bit picks up. 🙂

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“None of this can be laid at your feet, and I beg of you not to believe it can. You have done what you could. The rest depended upon the will of others.” Darcy gripped the fence rail with one hand and curled the other into a tight fist to prevent himself from reaching out to pull her into his arms and comfort her. No matter how much he wished to, they had not reached that level of intimacy. He searched his mind for words to use, instead. “None who know you or Miss Bennet can find anything wanting, and no one with any sense will listen to the words of a cad like Wickham, anyway.”

Elizabeth wiped more tears, this time using the handkerchief Darcy thrust at her instead of her sopping wet sleeve. Her companion’s last words caught her attention. “Do you know Mr. Wickham?” She blew her nose, her gaze centered on Darcy, who sighed.

“I do, unfortunately.” Darcy looked down at his feet and made a conscious effort to relax. As much as he despised relating this tale, and as dangerous as it was for his sister’s reputation, Elizabeth had trusted him with her story, and he needed to do the same with her. He looked back up to find her watching him with rapt attention.

“Mr. Wickham is the son of my father’s former steward. We grew up together, he and I. We were almost like brothers, I would say. My father was fond of the elder man and, by extension, his son. As a way to reward a faithful servant, he educated young Wickham the same as he did me.” No longer able to remain still, Darcy began to pace alongside the fence, his hands clenched at his sides most of the time, but occasionally waving in the air to punctuate his words.

“George Wickham went to school with me, first to Eton and then Cambridge. The older my boyhood friend became, the more dissolute his behavior. He had long been able to hide his propensities from my father, who was his godfather, but he could not from me. I could not bear to see the disappointment in my father’s eyes and so kept quiet about it. I regularly paid his debts, and paid off the families of the girls he ruined.

“It did not take long for Wickham and me to go our separate ways. My father never knew. Then, just as I was ready to graduate, Father fell ill. I rushed home to be with him.” Darcy stopped moving and began staring off into space as he recalled that painful time. “He was gone within a fortnight.”

Darcy resumed his pacing, this time with one hand on his hip and the other alternately waving in the air and running over his head, he having tossed his hat to hang on a fence post. “Father left Wickham a legacy in his will; a thousand pounds, plus a living, if he chose to take orders. Wickham was not best pleased with any of it. He told me, when he finally claimed his inheritance six months later, at the passing of his own father, that he wished to study law instead, if I would fund it.”

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