Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 8: A Courtship

Welcome back to Thursday’s 300!

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We’re about halfway through this re-edit. I’ve not made many actual changes in any of these chapters so far. In this one, I again made very few changes; just removed a couple commas and rearranged a paragraph or two.

If you missed the first chapter, you can find it here. The second chapter is here.

Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 4 is here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 6 is here.

Chapter 7 is here.

Enjoy!

A Courtship

Darcy, who had risen when Elizabeth did, considered her words, finally asking, “Did he never return?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “Not that I remember. My Uncle Phillips in Meryton should know, if Uncle Gardiner does not.”

“I will ask your uncle for more information, then.” Darcy proceeded to share with Elizabeth the rest of what he had told Gardiner. He was unsurprised, given the fiery nature he knew her to possess, that she reacted angrily.

“Watching the house?” Elizabeth’s eyes flashed and her jaw set. “Who does this man think he is? I assume you feel he is somehow involved in the accident, or knows who is?”

“I admire your quickness of mind,” Darcy replied with a warm smile. “I do, indeed, feel that this man is somehow connected to your accident. Either he is the perpetrator, was hired by him, or knows him some other way. Haynes will find out, whichever of the options ends up being true.”

Elizabeth had begun to pace as she listened. She suddenly stopped, and turned to face Darcy. “If the accident was meant to kill us all, and it appears that it was, is it possible this person is trying to … finish what he started?”

Darcy watched as Elizabeth flushed and then paled as anger, fear, and grief flashed on her face. She gripped the back of the chair beside her.

Brutus, who had lain on the floor at her feet while Elizabeth and Darcy spoke, lumbered to his feet then padded over to her and leaned into her side. Automatically, her hand rose to rub the side of his massive head.

Softly, Darcy replied, “It is possible, but your uncle has put things in place to protect you while you are at home. I have offered to do the same while you are out and about, and Gardiner has granted his permission for me to do so.” He watched Elizabeth take comfort from Brutus’ presence.

Elizabeth’s hand constantly stroked her dog, and her eyes gazed at the animal for a few minutes as she thought in silence. Finally, she lifted her face to Darcy. “Why would you do that?”

Darcy had fidgeted, clasping and unclasping his hands and playing with the cuffs of his shirt, while Elizabeth had remained quiet. Now that he had permission to speak of it, he could hardly hold himself back. “I wish to court you, if you will grant me the pleasure.”

Elizabeth’s hand stilled its constant motion as she stared at him. Brutus shoved his head up under Elizabeth’s hand, asking her to resume. His actions seemed to startle her out of her thoughts. She blushed, looked down at her pet, and then back up at Darcy. “You wish to court me? Why?”

The corner of Darcy’s lips lifted, unsurprised that Elizabeth was questioning him. Her intelligence and inquisitiveness demanded that she do so. “I find you everything lovely. You are beautiful, accomplished, and graceful. You possess an inner strength and courage that I find inspiring, and your wit and good humor draw me like no one ever has before. I have come to care for you; I want to make you smile and laugh, and to be the reason for your joy.

“I do not know what your feelings toward me are, though I suspect they are favorable. I hope,” Darcy continued as he took a step toward her, “to know you better, and eventually to convince you that I would make a good husband.” Looking down at her from just a step away, Darcy witnessed her lips twitch. He breathed a sigh of relief, knowing deep inside that she was going to grant him his wish.

“They are favorable, sir. I will allow you to court me.”

She looked down, suddenly appearing embarrassed and, contrary to her character, shy.

“Thank you for honoring me.”

Closing his eyes in relief and happiness, Darcy took a deep breath, and then exhaled. Focusing his gaze on Elizabeth once more, he took her hand, and lifting it to his mouth, he bestowed a gentle kiss to her knuckles. “Thank you. I am the one who is honored.”

Hearing a knock on the partially-open door, the couple turned toward it. Gardiner poked his head into the room. “Have we success? It became too quiet in here, and I took it upon myself to discover the reason for such silence.”

Tucking into his elbow the hand he still held, Darcy proudly announced, “Miss Bennet has just granted me permission to court her.”

Gardiner’s face lit up with a grin as he entered the room. “Excellent!

~~~***~~~

One day, not long after after they began courting, Darcy and Elizabeth took a walk to the park. After an annoyed glance at their escort, Elizabeth sighed to herself and muttered under her breath.

From the day Elizabeth accepted his courtship, Darcy was a daily visitor at Gracechurch Street. The couple took many walks around the neighborhood, down to the park, or to Gardiner’s warehouse. Often, they took the Gardiners’ children and nurse with them. Always, Darcy brought four large, armed footmen for protection.

Though she had attempted to keep her irritation to herself, Darcy had seen it. He searched his mind for ways to assure her of the footmen’s loyalty and future silence about anything that might be said in the course of their walk. Finally, after seeing that she intended to make no comment and remained cheerful, he decided that saying nothing about it might be best. He stayed silent, enjoying her company and the feel of her hand on his arm.

It was not long, however, before Elizabeth spoke. “I believe that we must have at least some conversation, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy grinned. Keeping his gaze forward, he replied, “You are correct; we should. What is it you wish to speak about? I am open to any and all conversational topics.”

Elizabeth laughed. “That truly is a dangerous precedent to set. I may bring up things you never wish to speak about again.”

Looking down at Elizabeth’s happy eyes, Darcy’s heart lurched. “I am not afraid of you.”

Elizabeth blushed, and looked down for a moment, then blurted, “I adore your sister. She is such a sweet and kind young woman. You must be very proud of her.”

“I am. Georgiana has suffered much this year, and I am guilty of being unable to protect her as a guardian should, but it has not hardened her. She is growing into a compassionate and loving woman, the image of our mother.”

Elizabeth tilted her head as she listened, her eyes, fixed on the path before them. A faint line appeared between her brows as she listened.

“Will you tell me what happened to her, or is it private?”

Darcy hesitated. He wished to marry Elizabeth; therefore, she had a right to know what she was getting into. Taking a deep breath, he began.

“Georgiana is, as you know, more than ten years my junior. I, along with my cousin, was given guardianship of her at my father’s death. You remember Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“I do.”

Dipping his chin and lifting it again, he went on. “We had sent Georgiana to school, as per my father’s wishes, and when her education there was complete, we removed her and hired a companion, one Mrs. Younge. We were greatly deceived as to the woman’s character. She convinced me that a summer spent at Ramsgate was just the thing, and that all of my sister’s school friends would be there with their families. Georgiana seemed eager to go, so I approved the trip and rented her a house there. This was mid-June of this year.

“Not long after, about a month, I decided to drop in to visit. I sent no letter ahead warning of my arrival. It was a spur of the moment decision, and I would have arrived ahead of any missive, so I did not send one. I was soon to be happy that was so.” Darcy glanced at Elizabeth to discover that he had her complete attention. He continued.

“I noticed upon my arrival that Georgiana seemed agitated. It was not a quarter hour later that she burst forth with the news that she was engaged and that they planned to elope that evening. I was shocked, but what was worse was that the gentleman she was planning on eloping with was not my friend, as she had thought, but my enemy. George Wickham had convinced my fifteen-year-old sister that she was in love with him and that she should not share the news with me. You can imagine how I reacted.”

Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hand to muffle the gasp. “She did not know he was your enemy?”

Darcy shook his head, “No, and I will explain why. George Wickham is the son of my late father’s steward. John Wickham was a loyal and talented manager who ran Pemberley almost as though it were his own. My father esteemed him highly, and when George was born, the elder Wickham asked his employer to be one of the boy’s godparents. Father was delighted to do so, and treated George as he would a second son. George was sent to school along with me.

“Mrs. Wickham was very different than her husband. Where he was thrifty and a hard worker, she spent every farthing she could get her hands on, and I recall her always being negative and complaining about a lack of money. George spent most of his time at home with his mother and learned his spending habits from her. He was hard-pressed to keep funds in his pocket when he had any.

“Worse, at school, he fell into a crowd of boys who had little respect for rules and order. As we grew older, his misbehavior moved from pranks to drunkenness and gambling, among other things. I cleaned up his mistakes and paid his debts, in part to keep my father’s name from being smeared.

“When Father died, he left Wickham a bequest of one thousand pounds and a living when it came open, if George took orders. Wickham declared he did not want to go into the church; he would rather go study law. He asked for and was granted the sum of three thousand pounds in exchange for the living and signed away his rights to it. When it came open two years later, he arrived on my doorstep once more, his hand out, asking for the living. I denied his request, and he began to disparage me to everyone he met.”

“He was angry, then?” Elizabeth’s eyes were filled with tears.

“He was.” Darcy laid his free hand over Elizabeth’s. Her tears over the situation made him love her even more, and his heart swelled in his chest that she had allowed his courtship. “You will recall that I mentioned Mrs. Younge’s character. She had a relationship with Wickham and had falsified her references. At his urging, she applied for and was hired as my sister’s companion, and corresponded with Wickham regularly. It was he who told Mrs. Younge to convince me to allow Georgiana to go to Ramsgate. Mrs. Younge encouraged my sister to invite Wickham to visit and reinforced his words to her, which played a large role in convincing Georgiana that she was in love.”

“Thank heavens you arrived when you did! He would not have treated your sister well, I think.” Elizabeth squeezed his arm.

Darcy caressed her hand again. “No, he would not. I believe he intended to either abandon Georgiana once he had the dowry or move himself into Pemberley, knowing I would not abandon my sister no matter what she did.”

“She was heartbroken?” Elizabeth’s lips turned down and a crease formed between her brows.

“Not at first. She argued with me, trying to convince me Wickham was serious. However, when he left Ramsgate without a by-your-leave, she saw that I was right. She cried for days, and when we returned to Pemberley, she spent more time with her horse than with me.”

“She seems better now.”

“She is.” Darcy glanced at his companion. “She owes much of her healing to her friendship with you. She has spoken to me several times of how your sound and logical advice has helped her see things differently.”

“I am happy to be of assistance to her.” Elizabeth smiled broadly. “She is delightful, and I am sorry she had to go through that. What happened to Mrs. Younge?”

“I fired her on the spot, and gave her no reference. The last I heard, she was running a boarding house on Edward Street.”

“And, Mr. Wickham?”

“Where that scoundrel is, I do not know. As I said, he left Ramsgate the moment he discovered my knowledge of his plans, and I have not heard of him since.” Darcy’s fierce expression clearly demonstrated his feelings for his old acquaintance. When he saw Elizabeth shiver and an apprehensive light come into her eyes, he reined his anger in. “I am well, do not be afraid. If I ever see him again, I cannot vouch for his safety or reputation, and if my cousin ever finds him, his life is probably forfeit, but I no longer dwell on those feelings. I find I have much happier ones to contemplate.”

Elizabeth blushed under the warmth of his gaze and the comfort of his words. She smiled softly at him. “I am glad.”

Darcy House, London

One week later

“Mr. Haynes to see you, sir.” Darcy House’s butler announced the visitor and bowed, then left the room, closing the door behind him once the investigator had entered.

Darcy stood when Haynes strode in, greeting him with a bow and a handshake. Gesturing for the Bow Street Runner to sit, he offered the man a cup of tea, resuming his seat when Haynes declined. “You have something to report?” Darcy leaned on his desk, elbows atop it and hands clasped, eager to hear what Haynes had to say.

“I do.” Mr. Haynes pulled a packet of papers out of his pocket and untied the ribbon holding it together. Unfolding the pages, he explained what was inside. “The man watching the Gardiners’ house has been identified.”

“Who is he?” Darcy reached over the desk to accept the papers from the investigator, who had held them out to him as he had spoken. He began to skim them as he listened.

“Mr. Timothy Foxglove, lately of Kent. He is a drunk, and currently lives in the area of Seven Dials. He moved to London recently, within the last several months; he was formerly a tenant of the Rosings estate.”

“Rosings!” Darcy’s head shot up from its perusal of the papers, and his brows rose along with it. A crease formed between his eyes as he searched his memory for who this tenant might have been. “That is my aunt’s estate, as I believe you know.” Darcy glanced at Haynes long enough to see him nod. “I am in the habit of visiting every year at Easter and doing the books …” His voice trailed off as he pictured the tenants he had met.

“Mr. Foxglove apparently was let go because he failed to pay the rent for several quarters. The steward there was rather forthcoming about the man.”

“I am not surprised. My aunt is demanding and has not inspired much in the way of loyalty in her servants. I have spoken to her about it, as has my uncle, to no avail.” Darcy shook his head. “I have an image in my mind of the rent book, and I do recall someone being significantly behind. My aunt promised to speak to the tenant herself, so I did not meet him. She must have evicted him.”

“If he wasted his rent money on drink, I can understand why she might take that step. I, myself, have little sympathy for a man who cannot or will not control his drinking.” Haynes spoke decidedly.

“My cousin is a colonel in the army. He would agree with you.” Darcy tilted his head and examined the middle-aged man closely. “You were in the army, as well, were you not?”

“I was. I served in France between 1798 and 1802. If you did not keep your wits about you, you put your own life and that of your comrades in danger. It is the same in civilian life. I witnessed too many good men die because they were slow-witted from drink, and I was put in danger of my life twice for the same reason. I swore I would never make that mistake.” Haynes shrugged. “Some things stay with you forever.”

Darcy nodded. “I am sorry you had to experience that. My cousin has shared with me some of the things he has seen. I would not want to face them without men around me who were in full control of themselves.”

Both men were silent for a long moment after that, until Darcy spoke again, breaking the somber mood. “So, one of my aunt’s former tenants is watching the Gardiners’ house.” He leaned back in his chair, resting his elbow on the arm of it and holding his chin in his hand. “I wonder at the connection. What reason would he have for it?”

“There is more; Foxglove has a connection to the rector of Hunsford, which borders Rosings. The clergyman’s name is Mr. William Collins, and this Collins fellow has been seen coming out of Foxglove’s lodgings here in town.”

“Collins?” Darcy sat straight up again. “Where have I heard that name?” Darcy looked at his desk with his head cocked to the side, but he was not seeing the report or anything else occupying that space. Instead, he was searching his memory for the source of his knowledge of that name. Suddenly, a memory rose up in his mind, and he could hear Elizabeth’s voice speaking the man’s name. “That is it! Elizabeth—Miss Bennet—told me recently that the cousin who inherited her father’s estate was named Collins.”

Haynes nodded. “The steward at Rosings told me this Collins fellow had inherited an estate.”

Darcy nodded his head once, slapping his hands on the arms of the chair and gripping them tightly. He stood, extending his hand to Haynes. “Thank you for your diligence.”

Mr. Haynes rose, as well, and shook Darcy’s hand. “You are welcome.” He accepted the payment Darcy handed him, tucking it into his pocket. “I should like to dig a little deeper and see if I can discover anything else. I have a feeling about this Foxglove fellow. I will not be at all surprised to find he was involved in Miss Bennet’s accident.”

“And at the direction of Mr. Collins.” Darcy watched as Haynes tipped his head in acknowledgement. “Go ahead and do that; I must share the information you have discovered so far with Gardiner. If you do find anything else, let me know.”

After seeing Haynes out, Darcy gestured to Baxter to follow him into the study.

“I need a message sent to Gracechurch Street. Send one of the grooms in; I shall have it ready by the time he arrives.”

“Very good, sir.” The butler bowed and left the room, hastening to the small stables in the mews behind the house to carry out the master’s instructions.

Several minutes later, the groom selected was on a horse, note in his pocket, on his way to the Gardiner residence. Darcy remained behind, pouring himself a glass of port and settling into the chair behind his desk, examining the investigator’s report further and contemplating the options available to keep his dear Elizabeth safe.

To be continued …

 

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