Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 10: Springing the Trap

Welcome back to Thursday’s 300!

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Today and next Thursday are the action posts of the story. Hang on to your bonnets! It’s about to get wild! <3

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. Chapter 8 is here. Chapter 9 is here.

Enjoy!

Springing the Trap

Lord Matlock asked for an introduction, and Darcy presented first the Gardiners and then Elizabeth. She curtseyed when her name was given. When she rose from it to see the warm eyes of the elder couple looking at her, she blushed and cast her eyes down. Once the introductions were complete, Darcy escorted Elizabeth to a chair near his aunt.

“I am pleased to meet you, Miss Bennet. Darcy and Georgiana have told us so much about you.”

Darcy smiled at Lady Matlock’s cultured and proper statement. There was a note to it that indicated the truth behind her words. She was indeed happy to meet the young lady who had turned her nephew’s head.

“I am happy to meet you, as well. I hope Mr. Darcy’s words about me were kind.”

Elizabeth’s lips twitched as she glanced to her left at the man himself. At Georgiana’s giggle from the other side of her brother, Elizabeth ’s lips twitched again. It appeared her nerves had instantly calmed.

Lady Matlock lifted her hand to cover her mouth, holding in her own laugh. Removing it once she had control of herself again, she assured Elizabeth of Darcy’s good opinion. “It was all good things, I assure you.” She paused, noting Elizabeth’s blush with approval. “Tell me about yourself. I have heard what my nephew has to say, but I should like to hear a first-hand account from you.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth cleared her throat. “I am the second of five daughters. My father’s estate was Longbourn in Hertfordshire. My parents and sisters died in a carriage accident, and I came to London to live with my aunt and uncle.”

“I am so sorry. I cannot imagine the pain that must cause you.”

“Thank you, my lady.”

Glancing at Maddie, who was on the other side of Georgiana, listening wholeheartedly to a story that young lady was telling, Lady Matlock asked her next question. “How do you like living in town? Darcy tells me you enjoy the out-of-doors, but there is not much of it here, I fear.”

“I do,” Elizabeth smiled. “There is nothing quite as invigorating as a brisk walk on a chilly morning, with trees and flowers and grasses all around. I agree there is not much of that here in London but the parks are beautiful, and I enjoy visiting them.”

“Indeed.”

Darcy knew that Lady Matlock did not enjoy physical activity, so was unable to understand Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for it, but she did not appear to wish to put a damper on Elizabeth’s evening, and so remained silent on the subject.

“What are your accomplishments?”

Darcy had told Elizabeth she would face an interview of sorts this evening. Introducing her to his family was a clear indication that he was serious in his intentions toward her. He had thought the inquisition might be more subtle, but it seemed Lady Matlock intended to address it immediately and boldly. He listened in silence as Elizabeth needed no assistance to meet the countess on her level.

“I sew, both clothing and embroidery; I net purses, and have a passable ability to paint a screen. I am skilled in conversation, and am well-read, I speak French and Italian, and my mother taught me to set a fine table and to entertain.”

“Do you play or sing?”

“I do both, but very ill. I sing better than I play.” Elizabeth chuckled. “I confess that I enjoy both activities greatly. It might be better for my listeners if I did not.”

Darcy observed his aunt fight an emerging grin that threatened to overspread her face.

“How interesting,” was all she said. “Have you been to school?”

“No, I have not. Tutors were made available to those of us who desired to learn, and I took full advantage. I have always enjoyed learning.”

Lady Matlock tilted her head as she listened. “What did you study?”

For the next quarter hour, Elizabeth talked, describing the subjects she had learned and debating the relative merits of science and mathematics instruction for girls. Darcy grinned, seeing that Elizabeth impressed his aunt. Even so, he could sense her relief when the butler interrupted to announce the meal.

Darcy escorted Elizabeth to the dining room. Leaning down to speak softly to her, he expressed his happiness. “She likes you; if she did not, she would have insisted on strict propriety, and we would have walked into the dining room according to precedence.”

Elizabeth looked at him with wide eyes. “Really?”

Darcy nodded emphatically. “When she is uncomfortable, my aunt falls back on her training. I have seen her more relaxed than she is now, but it has been a long time. I knew she would take to you.” Darcy’s words were delivered in a gleeful manner, with a wide, smug smile and a sense of merriment.

Looking ahead once more, Elizabeth replied, “I am glad to have impressed her so. I found her to be very kind and easy to talk to.”

As the soup was served, Darcy heard Lord Matlock speak to Elizabeth.

“Miss Bennet, I understand your father owned an estate?”

Darcy smiled to himself. Lady Matlock had asked after her personal attributes; the lady’s husband was now going to delve into her background. Thankfully, he knew Elizabeth was too good-natured to take offense at their well-meant prying.

“He did. It was a small estate in Hertfordshire called Longbourn.”

“Excellent. Darcy tells me you had no brothers, and that a distant relative inherited.”

Elizabeth smiled again, this time at Darcy, before replying. “That is correct. My father’s cousin, a second cousin two or three times removed, was the only heir that could be found when my grandfather and my father wrote—or rewrote—the entail when Papa came of age.”

“That is a sad situation, and one that is seen far too often. My sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, insisted that her husband follow his family’s tradition of passing estates on to the eldest child, whatever the sex. She is a strong proponent of the rights of women.”

Darcy bit back his surprise at his uncle admitting in public that a family member was so inclined.

“Has she read Mary Wollstonecraft, then?”

“She has. Several times, I believe.” Lord Matlock shook his head and then seeing his guest’s look of wonder, added, “Do not think we approve, Miss Bennet. My sister is a termagant, quite frankly, and the opinions of her family and friends do not matter to her. Her husband, when he was alive, was able to check her, but since his passing, she has grown increasingly worse, imposing her will on her tenants and neighbors alike. I have no issue with her opinions. My wife is one of the best managers I have ever met, and should I die, she would make Matlock thrive in the absence of an heir. I know, too, that there are other ladies just like her.”

Elizabeth tilted her head as she listened. When Lord Matlock paused, she asked, with a gleam in her eye, “Then you do not oppose legislation that allows women to own property and manage their own funds?”

Matlock shook his head, fighting to hide a grin. “I do not, to be honest, but most of my colleagues do.” He paused for a moment. “I tell you this for a reason,” Matlock waved his fork. “My sister will not be happy that Darcy has chosen you over her daughter. She has declared for years that they have been engaged from infancy. They were not, however. Darcy’s mother told me long before she died that Catherine had begun making noises about a betrothal, but Anne did not wish her son to be tied to someone as a child. She wanted Darcy to marry for love, as she did.”

A crease formed between Elizabeth’s brows as she listened to his words. The presence of servants to remove the first course and bring out the second meant she could not respond. When the servants had completed their task and retreated once more, Elizabeth immediately remarked, “Are you saying I should be wary of Lady Catherine?” Her chin lifted. “Do you agree with her about this betrothal between Mr. Darcy and her daughter?”

“Oh, no, dear,” Lord Matlock rushed to reassure her. “After speaking with you for even this short time, I am convinced that you will do well for my nephew. I only wished to prepare you for her complaints.”

“I see.”

Elizabeth took a bite of food and chewed it thoughtfully, while Matlock did the same, carefully observing her.

“I believe, then, sir, that I should thank you. I will most certainly be alert for disapproval from that direction. Have you any advice on how to handle your sister?”

“Just send her to Darcy, or to me. One of us will straighten her out.”

“Indeed, I will,” Darcy said, inserting himself for the first time into their conversation.

Elizabeth nodded once. “Very well.  I will do that.”

The meal continued from that point, with conversation opening up between various parties at a steady and comfortable pace. The gentlemen decided they were enjoying themselves so much that they did not wish to separate, and so the social period after the meal was a convivial one, and the group parted happily at the end of the night.

~~~***~~~

The next day was Sunday. Though Darcy and Gardiner had planned to set the trap they had devised for Mr. Foxglove on that day, they decided at the last minute to wait one more day. Therefore, it was Monday at mid-day that Elizabeth made her first foray alone. Brutus whined and carried on, wanting to go with her, but everyone agreed that his presence would keep the man away, and so Brutus was forced to stay home. Elizabeth walked to her uncle’s warehouse and then to the park, but saw no one.

“Was he not out there?” she asked her uncle in a bitter tone as she stomped to and fro in the drawing room. “Was the investigator’s report incorrect? Did this Foxglove person see the men surrounding me? I knew they were too large to blend in!”

“Calm yourself, Lizzy.” Maddie understood her niece’s feelings, but anger was not going to catch the man. “We knew we might have to send you out more than once. All will be well.”

Taking a deep breath and letting it out again, Elizabeth stopped pacing, resting a hand on each hip. “Very well. I concede that it was unlikely he would show himself the first time out, but I had so hoped we would. I had thought him more opportunistic than he is, apparently.”

Darcy, who had insisted on being present and an active participant in the operation, spoke up. “My investigator noted Mr. Foxglove’s penchant for alcohol. Perhaps the call of the bottle was stronger today than that of his employment.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes but admitted that it was possible. “I feel exposed, walking about alone. I know it is unlike me, but this is not Meryton, and I am not the same person I was. And yes, Uncle, before you say it,” Elizabeth raised her hand to stop Gardiner from speaking when she saw him take a breath and open his mouth. “I know that I insisted on taking part and that this is likely the reason you did not want me involved in the first place. However, you cannot deny that having the real me out there is far better than having someone who looks like me. The weather is not cold enough yet to require bundling up, and my maid does not look enough like me to pass a close inspection. This is still the best option, and I intend to see it through.”

Gardiner subsided. “Very well. We shall stick to our plan and make another attempt tomorrow. I can think of no way to entice the man to action faster, can you, Darcy?”

Darcy had been admiring Elizabeth and lost the train of the conversation. He started upon being addressed, forcing his gaze from his beloved’s rosy cheeks, snapping eyes, and enticing form. “I am sorry. You were saying?”

Gardiner chuckled. “I said there is nothing we can do to force Foxglove’s hand.”

“That is sadly correct.” Darcy blushed furiously to see Gardiner’s amusement. He cleared his throat and twisted his neck to relieve the sudden pressure of his cravat. “We are forced to wait upon his whim, I fear.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Well, that is more frustrating than I can adequately describe. However, it must be done. I will not allow a small amount of discomfort to sway me from my purpose. I will go out again tomorrow and the next day, and the next, if needed.”

“Good girl!” Maddie cheered her on. “He cannot wait forever to make his move. We will soon have him, and you will be safe once more.”

“I eagerly await that day,” Elizabeth exclaimed with a fervency not often heard in her voice.

~~~***~~~

Elizabeth walked up Gracechurch Street toward Cheapside, as she had done for the last four days. She smiled at the people she passed, greeting many of them.

Approaching a large group of people in the center of the walk, Elizabeth stepped toward the building beside her, so she could walk around them. She approached a narrow alley between that building and the next, watching her feet on the uneven surface. She looked back up, and over at the group she was skirting when one of the men exclaimed loudly. She turned to look in the direction of the noise.

Coming out behind his prey, Collins snaked his left arm around her waist as his right hand flew up to clamp over her mouth. He pulled her tight to his body as he backed into the alley. He turned them sideways so he could see where he was going. It was a struggle to hold on to his prey, however, and that task took much of his attention.

Elizabeth began to fight, trying to pull the man’s hand off her mouth, kicking him, and twisting in his grasp. Collins dealt with her movements without issue, until they came to the other end of the alley.

Once there, he told the boy he had paid to stay with the carriage to open the door. Elizabeth thrashed harder. When it did not work, she held onto the doorframe of the conveyance. Collins struggled with the exertion, but was able to lift her petite frame. Suddenly, a searing pain ripped through him as she bit down hard on the hand that covered her mouth.

The pain of Elizabeth’s teeth sinking into the fleshy part of his hand stopped Collins in his tracks. He howled in anger and tried to pull away, but her teeth had a firm grasp, and she refused to loosen them. Collins let go of her waist and grasped her jaw, squeezing it hard to force her to stop biting. The pair struggled in this manner for a few minutes, until, noticing that they were beginning to attract attention, Collins picked the wildly squirming Elizabeth up and shoved her into the carriage, feet first. He twisted her arms to force her to let go of the door frame, and heaved himself up behind her, cursing her teeth and her willingness to fight. Yelling for the driver to move, Collins took his eyes off Elizabeth, looking up at the ceiling. When he looked back down, he was unprepared for what was coming.

Elizabeth’s strength surprised Collins. Even once in the carriage, she began to kick everywhere and wildly swung her fists, making contact with Collins’ nose. Instinctively, he pulled away his hand, which had returned to silence her screams, to stop the flow of blood. Her mouth suddenly freed from its restraint, she added her voice to the mix.

Elizabeth continued to kick, bite, punch, and scream until she suddenly and without warning, exhausted by the extreme emotions and efforts to free herself, stilled. Gracefully, she slid, unconscious, to the floor of the carriage, landing in a pile of muslin and limbs.

Collins sat up, stunned at the sudden silence and unexpected cessation of blows. He had tried for the first few minutes to control Elizabeth, but it quickly became clear that his efforts only inflamed her attack. He had then cowered in the corner, curled as tightly as he could get, his arms held protectively over his head. Now, as he stared down at the unconscious girl, he took stock of his injuries.

Collins’s hand continued to bleed, and he looked in disgust at the red stains all over his clothing that had been caused by contact with his palm. He examined the deep marks Elizabeth had left. He would need to see an apothecary before infection set in. His good hand touched his nose, wincing in pain, for one of Elizabeth’s punches had broken it. This was the injury that convinced him to give up the fight. His cravat was stained with blood from his nose, and would never come clean again.

Collins’s disgust at his bloody appearance only grew as he watched Elizabeth, unconscious on the floor.

“Nasty, conceited chit,” he muttered to himself, kicking her where she lay. “I should kill you now instead of waiting until we get outside of town. Think you are too good for me, do you?” Collins kicked her again for good measure.

To be continued …

 

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