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Wallk With Me - Chapters 12-13

May 20, 2015 04:53PM
Chapter 12 – A Letter from Longbourn

The next morning Elizabeth and her aunt were enjoying a quiet breakfast, scanning the newspaper for articles of interest. Their attention was soon caught by a piece in the society page mentioning that Mr. Darcy had been accompanied by an unknown young woman to the theatre the previous night and speculating on her name and connection to Mr. Darcy. While her dress and manner were commented on, the article noted with interest the attentiveness of the gentleman to his partner and his less forbidding manner. Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner enjoyed a companionable chuckle although the latter did advise her niece that such public attention would likely increase the more often she was seen with Mr. Darcy. As Elizabeth remembered the evening, she realized that while she enjoyed the play itself, it was the company of Mr. Darcy, his protectiveness, his desire to ensure her comfort and pleasure and his pleasure – for such she had noticed – in presenting her to his friends and close acquaintances that stood out in her memory.

Elizabeth had just returned from her walk – during which she paid little attention to her surroundings and much to her recent dealings with Mr. Darcy - after breaking her fast when the housekeeper approached to hand her a letter. Viewing the handwriting, she exclaimed, “Oh, it is from Jane. I have been hoping to hear from her.” Seating herself in the parlour and breaking open the seal she began to read.

Longbourn
April 28, 1812

Dear Lizzy,

I have so much news to impart I scarcely know where to begin. As you can see, Maria and I arrived safely. We were met by Lydia and Kitty at _____ where we changed to Papa’s carriage. Lydia and Kitty had arrived before us and arranged a meal at the inn but, unfortunately, spent all their monies on new bonnets and had nothing left to pay for the room and food. It would have been most embarrassing if I had not had sufficient monies available. The only good news of the trip was that it appears Mr. Wickham’s engagement to Mary King has been broken. It seems an uncle came and took her to Liverpool. I am glad for her. I believe it would have been a most imprudent marriage. Lydia was quite delighted and particularly by the fact that you were not present to claim Mr. Wickham’s attentions. I tried to tell Lydia that you were not interested in Mr. Wickham but I cannot see that she believed it. He seems to be a favourite of hers still.

Mama is most disappointed that I did not meet Mr. Bingley while staying in London. She cannot understand how we could meet Miss Bingley and not her brother. I find it difficult to convince her that Mr. Bingley is no longer interested in me. I know you disagree but I cannot believe otherwise. Mama is not unhappy that you remain in London although she does not fully understand why our aunt would need help with the children. I have said nothing to her of Mr. Darcy.

I have spoken but little to our father. He did call me into his study one morning to ask several questions about Mr. Darcy. I could tell him little other than that his behaviour was most amiable and that he appeared to regard you with affection. He asked my opinion and I simply told him that I had always thought well of Mr. Darcy.

I believe our father has taken some action in regards to Mr. Wickham although he has not spoken of it to anyone. Mr. Cobb made a passing reference to having talked to Papa recently while I stopped in his shop two days ago.

I do have some distressing news. It appears that Maria encountered Mr. Wickham in Meryton the day after we returned and revealed in conversation with him that Mr. Darcy had called on you frequently while in Kent and at Gracechurch Street as well. I would not be so worried by this if Lydia had not mentioned seeing Mr. Darcy while he called on our father. Mama was also aware of the visit although Papa has not said anything about it other than that Mr. Darcy called on some business matters.

Unfortunately, we were all invited to our aunt’s house last night and the militia officers, including Mr. Wickham, were present as well. I observed Lydia and Mr. Wickham in conversation and shortly thereafter he approached me and began to ask me about my visit in London. It is difficult to believe him to be as wicked as Mr. Darcy claims; he is a most charming gentleman. Nevertheless, I was on my guard and do not believe I revealed anything of substance. In fact, since you had said little of Mr. Darcy in your letters, I had but to say as much to Mr. Wickham. Whether he believed me, I cannot say. I did not try to hide that he called on us at Gracechurch Street but tried to convince him it was of little moment. I am not so sure I succeeded in that regard since I seemed to detect a trace of concern in his manner when he left. His very last question quite discommoded me since he said he understood my father had been much in Meryton lately. I am afraid I did not expect the question and while I answered as neutrally as possible, he may have detected something amiss in my manner since I did stumble a bit in answering. He appeared to have left my aunt’s house shortly thereafter.

I spoke to Lydia as we rode home and she casually mentioned that she had told Mr. Wickham of Mr. Darcy’s visit to Longbourn and my father and how no one knew of what they had spoken. She appears to have given the matter little thought but perhaps the news that the regiment is to move to Brighton within a month or so was of more distressing interest. Certainly her lamentations are extreme, although I admit I cannot sympathize with her or regret their departure; that cannot come too soon for my liking. It is late and my mother is calling for my attention. I will finish this letter tomorrow.

Oh Lizzy, I hardly know what to write. We were woken early in the morning by a fire in our stables. The wind was quite strong and father was concerned that it would spread to other outbuildings but fortunately we have had a lot of rain lately and the buildings were all quite damp. The horses were safely removed from the stables although one could hear their frantic cries. They were able to extinguish the fire before too much damage to the stables and also to prevent it spreading and father says we were very fortunate indeed. If it were not for the recent rain, the fire could have easily done considerable damage.

Papa was quite puzzled as to how the fire could start since we are always quite careful as to that possibility. It appears now that it was set deliberately. One of the grooms found a lamp broken behind the building and it is not one of ours. We do not know who could have done such a foul thing. It is not just the building but the horses could have died if the fire had gotten out of control.

The concern with the fire delayed my continuing this letter and our Aunt Philips visit at luncheon delayed it further. She came to tell us a rumour that Mr. Wickham had deserted the militia. In fact, that he had escaped arrest since orders had been issued for his arrest. I did not know whether to put much credit in such a rumour but Lydia and Kitty had met Denny while in Meryton and he confirmed the story in its particulars. Apparently Colonel Forster had been made aware of Mr. Wickham’s many debts of honour and his debts with tradesmen although, according to Denny, someone has been buying those debts from our shopkeepers. Also according to Denny the Colonel was not satisfied with Mr. Wickham’s behaviour – stories of inappropriate behaviour with several young women were mentioned. Lydia was inclined to dispute such claims and was quite angry with Denny since he did not seem inclined to do likewise. Lydia appears to believe that Mr. Wickham has been most unfairly treated and Mama was inclined to the same feelings until Papa very firmly stated that the stories were quite true and that Mr. Wickham was not a gentleman to be trusted in any particular. I cannot say that Lydia took the admonishment well or gave any credit to it.

Shortly before I finished this letter, one of our grooms reported that Mr. Adams – who, as you remember took over the east farm from Mr. Knowles – reported seeing someone running away from our stable early this morning. He had thought little of it until informed of the fire and then mentioned that the man had worn a militia uniform. Father intends to question Mr. Adams further in the morning and to mention the matter to Colonel Forster as well. He did not say as much but I think he is concerned that Mr. Wickham set the fire. I can think of no reason for his doing so unless he believes my father to have been behind his troubles. Was this an act of vengeance? It seems too horrible to be true. Did our father act in concert with Mr. Darcy? It seems all too possible, the more I think on it.

I am sorry this letter is so full of distressing news but everything seems to have conspired to that end. I do hope my next letter is more cheerful although perhaps I should take comfort that Mr. Wickham has removed himself from our lives. That is good news, I hope. Perhaps I can also take solace that Mama has been so wrapped in gossip about Mr. Wickham that she has yet to mention Mr. Bingley’s name today. I would willingly have her speak of Mr. Bingley often if it would have prevented such events as have occurred.

I would like to hear how your courtship is progressing but perhaps you should address such a letter to my father. I cannot be sure that Mama will not read my mail in the hope you are meeting suitors although she does appear quite disenchanted lately with the efforts of our aunt.

Your most affectionate and puzzled sister,
Jane


Elizabeth read the letter with increasing concern which was heightened by the possibility that Mr. Wickham may have attempted an act of vengeance against her family. Had she placed them all in danger by her actions? She found it hard to believe that the genial man she had met as Mr. Wickham could act so and yet, when she remembered his despicable attempt to elope with Georgiana which was as much about vengeance against Mr. Darcy as it was to acquire a fortune, she could no longer be sure.

With considerable trepidation she sought her aunt and, finding her working on the household accounts, begged her attention and presented her with Jane’s letter. Mrs. Gardiner, seeing Elizabeth’s distress, read the letter carefully, and then again, before responding, “This is quite serious, Lizzy. Your uncle must be made aware of this as quickly as possible.”

“Have I brought these troubles on my family, aunt? If I had said nothing, would this have happened?”

Mrs. Gardiner could see that Elizabeth felt some responsibility for the situation facing her family and replied warmly, “Nonsense, Lizzy. You did the correct thing and your father acted appropriately as well. Would you have left the merchants of Meryton to bear Wickham’s debts which they can ill afford? No, the only fault here is Mr. Wickham’s and I am less reluctant than Jane to ascribe the blame for the damage to the stable to him.”

Elizabeth was quiet for several moments before asking, “Should I tell Mr. Darcy what has happened? I am sure he will learn of it from my father but when, I cannot say.”

“He is to call this afternoon, is he not? I believe I should ask your uncle to meet with him then.”

Elizabeth could see that her aunt was more concerned than the events would suggest necessary and pressed her for an explanation but Mrs. Gardiner deflected her questions on the matter and finally Elizabeth plagued her no further.

When Darcy walked into the Gardiner parlour that afternoon, he was greeted by an obviously concerned Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle. Elizabeth wasted no time in handing him Jane’s letter to read and watched the play of emotions that crossed his face. His frown of displeasure and then pursed lips suggested he was reading about Lydia and Jane’s dealings with Mr. Wickham; however, both disappeared as he continued to read and his quick glance at her and the Gardiners accompanied by a worried look – Elizabeth wondered when she had begun to read his moods so well – suggested he was reading about the attack on the stables. After reading the letter once more, he addressed them all, “I do not like this at all.”

Mr. Gardiner did not try to hide his concern, “Has Mr. Wickham been prone to violence in the past, Mr. Darcy?”

“No, not that I am aware of at any rate. Of course,…”

Elizabeth could not help saying, “Of course?”

Darcy grimaced as his gaze shifted to her, “He has not been so harassed before. He usually makes his escape before his deeds become known.” He hesitated, “I am sorry. I may have caused more harm by trying to help. I cannot say what he will do but I do not like this situation.”

Mr. Gardiner shook his head, “Do not take too much on yourself, Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham’s deeds are no one’s fault except his own.” With a thoughtful look at, first Elizabeth and then Darcy, he raised the question that Elizabeth was reluctant to voice, “Should we be concerned - take precautions?”

Darcy ran his fingers through his hair – a gesture Elizabeth was now coming to associate with uncertainty – before replying, “I think so…but I do not…I wish Richard was here. He might have some advice.”

At Mr. Gardiner’s quizzical look, he said, “Richard is my cousin – Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Nodding to Elizabeth he continued, “Miss Elizabeth met him in Kent when he and I visited my aunt. He is away on military business. I will send him an express but I doubt he can help us immediately.”

They all sat in silence for a few minutes before Darcy broke the silence, “I think, at the very least, a few extra precautions are warranted.” Looking at Elizabeth, he said, “I think we should assume that Wickham has winkled out my interest in you. He will not know of the courtship, but that we met in Kent and that I called here, will not escape his notice. He is not particularly intelligent or even smart but he does possess a certain cunning along with his charming façade.” His face grew more thoughtful as he said, “If there is anything that gives me hope or confidence, it is that Wickham has the fortunate, for us anyway, conceit in his intelligence and abilities which, outside of a talent to charm young ladies, are sadly lacking. He is, as well, indolent and inclined to take the easiest path to any goal. He always assumes that he is smarter than anyone with a sense of responsibility. I believe his success in charming, and hiding his faults from, my father inculcated this belief.” His gaze lost that introspective aspect as he stared at Elizabeth, “I also think you should not venture out without at least two grooms or footmen in attendance.” Ignoring Elizabeth’s instinctive moue of dissent, he looked at Mr. Gardiner seeking his support which that gentleman was quick to provide.

“Mr. Darcy is quite correct, Lizzy. We should not take chances despite the inconvenience.” He took in his niece’s rebellious face, “We will not circumscribe your behaviour, my dear, but neither should we assume that nothing can or will happen. You are a likely target – as are your sisters. I intend to write your father and suggest that he take appropriate measures.”

Darcy opened his mouth to speak and then closed it which Mrs. Gardiner noticed and, upon being prompted to speak by her, he - with considerable caution – said, “Will Mr. Bennet take the matter seriously enough, do you think, to act upon a such a warning?”

Elizabeth’s instinctive flare of anger caused her to start to reply sharply before reconsidering. Darcy had clearly not wanted to offend but his knowledge of her father was limited and based on the latter’s behaviour, she could not fault him for expressing concern, “I was about to answer that ‘of course he would’ but if you are uncertain about the problem, I am sure my father is as well. I think a note from my uncle, advising him of the precautions he is taking and recommending that my father do likewise, might answer.”

Mr. Gardiner assented and promised to send a note by express immediately and left for his study to carry out that task. Elizabeth, however, was concentrating on Mr. Darcy and could see that he had turned thoughtful and abstracted. Not wishing to disturb his thoughts, she waited patiently, having come to realize that he was not prone to impulsive action - like that of which he had once accused Mr. Bingley – and considered a matter carefully before acting. She waited patiently until his attention seemed to return to his surroundings and prompted, “Mr. Darcy, would you care to share your thoughts with us?”

He blinked rapidly for a few moments before smiling, “I must apologize for my rudeness. I was simply considering whether I should take more action in this matter.”

Seeing Elizabeth’s raised eyebrow, he continued his explanation, “I was thinking of hiring a few Bow Street Runners to try and find him. Unfortunately, I do not know where he is. I would not expect him to remain in Hertfordshire. It should be difficult to hide there, I would expect?” His questioning glance at Elizabeth received an answering nod to which he replied, “then I think it best to try and see if he has come to London. He is now a deserter and the militia will also be searching for him although perhaps not as diligently as required.”

A few minutes later, Elizabeth could see Darcy watching her carefully and he, finding himself suddenly under scrutiny, suggested that they both might benefit from a brisk walk, a suggestion with which Elizabeth found herself in complete sympathy. Within minutes they were out of the house and walking quickly and, although no destination had been agreed upon, their feet seemed to be taking them unbidden towards the local park. As they walked Elizabeth found herself scanning her surroundings constantly and realized that she was searching for a glimpse of George Wickham. That her concern had been noted was clear when Darcy said, “Do not worry, Miss Bennet. Wickham will not bother you while I am around.”

Elizabeth glanced up at him briefly before returning her gaze to the path ahead, “It is the uncertainty, Mr. Darcy. I find it incredible that he would have attempted to burn our stables; but, if he can or will do that, what else might he attempt?”

Darcy nodded, “I think it is even more urgent to enlist additional help to find him. You must assure me that, under no circumstances, will you venture out without the protection I mentioned.”

Elizabeth could see his earnestness and worry and quickly gave the assurances he requested and then said, “Enough of Mr. Wickham! Let us talk of more cheerful topics. Tell me about Pemberley.”

“What would you wish to hear?”

“Anything you wish to tell me. I remember it has a wonderful library – at least according to Miss Bingley.”

“I seriously doubt if Miss Bingley ever entered the library after her first tour of the house.” Darcy’s grin was a bit wry, “She has been there but a few times and I do not remember her venturing far from her rooms and the drawing or music rooms.”

“She did not explore the grounds?”

“If she did, it was a most cursory exploration I assure you.” He smiled down at her, “On the other hand I believe you would love the park. There is any number of wonderful trails. My favourite is…” Darcy then spent, under skillful questioning from Elizabeth, the remainder of their walk describing several of his favourite walks. They rejoined the Gardiners in a much better frame of mind than when they had separated from them.


Chapter 13 – A Courtin’ We Will Go

The next few days followed a predictable pattern. In the mornings Elizabeth would assist her aunt with her children, amusing them with books, games, walks in the park and sundry other activities which she could be cajoled into by said children. Any activities outside the house always took place under the close and watchful presence of grooms or footmen and Elizabeth found that, after several days, that presence was rather reassuring and hardly intrusive at all. Darcy continued to devote his mornings to his business affairs leaving him free to devote the remainder of the day to courting Elizabeth.

That process was going more smoothly than either expected although minor disturbances could not be avoided. One such took place the day or two after their attendance at the theatre. Elizabeth had mentioned how she had observed his responses to those acquaintances that approached them at the theatre. “In particular,” said she, “I could feel when someone who approached was either well known to you or disliked, by your arm.” At his expression of surprise, she nodded, “Yes, your arm. I was not always able to see your face but your arm would tense under my hand when someone you disliked or did not know well approached us. You were quite relaxed in the presence of your friends on the other hand. It was quite interesting.”

Darcy was obviously not bothered by the comment, “It has ever been thus. I do not, as I mentioned once before, have the knack of recommending myself to strangers.”

Elizabeth forced herself to consider her next words carefully, since he could easily be offended by them. After a few moments, she felt she had to proceed - the issue would not disappear after all – and said in as neutral a tone as possible as she probed, “Are you aware of how you were viewed in Hertfordshire?”

“I think I am now, although I truly gave it very little consideration at the time.”

“Are you aware that your manner led them and myself to believe that you felt us as unworthy of your attention or consideration? That we were beneath your notice perhaps?”

Under her hand she could feel his arm tensing and saw a severe cast come over his countenance as he mastered his emotions. He also strove to match her dispassionate tones as he replied, “I am very much aware of this. Your words to me in Kent – ‘From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others’ - plagued me for a week when I returned to London. I was forced, if you will, to reconsider the whole of our acquaintance including that assembly in Meryton. As I did so it became clear to me that I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, if not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit.”

He shook his head as he spoke, a touch of sadness colouring his face and voice, “Unfortunately an only son – and for many years an only child – I was spoiled by my parents who though good themselves – and my father particularly was all that was benevolent and amiable – allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of the rest of the world, to wish, at least, to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was and such I might still be if you had not spoken as you did.”

“I had no idea my words would affect you so.”

“I can easily understand that. For much of our acquaintance you thought me devoid of any proper feeling – I am sure you did.”

“Please, do not repeat what I said then. These recollections will not do at all. I am most heartedly ashamed of the mistakes that I made.”

Darcy stopped and took both her hands in his, “Miss Bennet….Miss Elizabeth, what did you say that was not the truth? I find no fault with your opinions. That you were misled by Wickham, I cannot hold to your account. You had not the means or the experience to understand his deceptions. The fault was mine, and mine alone, for not exposing him to the world.”

Darcy moved to continue their perambulations, releasing one of her hands and fastening the other in his elbow with his hand anchoring it firmly. Elizabeth walked in silence beside him, casting a glance now and then at his face which seemed wrapped in pensive thought. She made no effort to speak, allowing him time to form the words he so obviously needed. Finally he spoke, his words slow and cautious as if he was tasting them as they were uttered, reluctant to have even one of them ill-suited to his intent, “Miss Bennet, I was…taught to observe the proprieties strictly…to restrict my confidences to those of my closest acquaintance…to…observe the prerogatives of rank and station…to accord such prerogatives respect regardless of the merits of the individual and to…disdain those not of rank or position despite their merits as individuals. I would…tolerate my aunt’s meanness, incivility and...officiousness to a degree, although I found it abhorrent and would not have done so, if she were of lesser rank. She is…her behaviour is no less objectionable than that of your mother and yet you bore it with more civility than I ever showed your mother who has, I believe, more cause - or excuse - for her behaviour arising, as it does, out of a very real concern for the future of her daughters and herself.”

Elizabeth could think of no words to interrupt him and realized his need to express these thoughts and her need to hear them. She could not, however, dwell on them because he, after a pause of some moments, was continuing, “As I contemplated my actions, my behaviour, I came to realize the hypocrisy that they represented. I could scorn your connections with trade without considering that I had accepted as my closest friend, a man whose roots were steeped in trade. I could disdain the improprieties of your younger sisters and your mother without weighing in the balance those of my own relations. My aunt’s behaviour was no less improper and I can assure you that she has displayed it in a broader society than you experienced and my own sister was guilty of an impropriety that could have blighted her life and reputation.”

At this Elizabeth felt compelled to intercede, “You are, I think, too harsh with your sister. She did not elope and she did tell you. She was but fifteen!”

“If I had not, by a stroke of providence, visited her, she would have eloped. And as to her age, she is as old as your youngest sister is she not?”

“True, true – but she did not elope and Lydia is everything but proper in her behaviour. Jane and I try to restrain her but our mother…” Elizabeth could only shake her head in dismay and not a little disgust.

“Your sister is young and not beyond help I believe.”

“Unfortunately, my mother sees nothing improper in her behaviour and our father is more concerned with his books and his peace and quiet which would be sacrificed if he restrained her.” Elizabeth was immediately dismayed that she had revealed so much but when she considered how open Darcy had been, she could not fault herself for her frankness.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, each considering that which the other had revealed, before Darcy said, “Let us put aside a comparison of the improprieties of our relatives for the moment. We, neither of us, should be judged by them. I do wish to try and explain – not excuse but explain – some of my behaviour when I was introduced to Hertfordshire society.” He took several deep breaths before continuing, “If you had not been with me last night, I would have been subject to the attentions of several young women and their mothers seeking to attach themselves to me. I cannot attend a ball without ensuring that I am not caught in a compromising position, or hear, as I did at your assembly, whispers of my income and possession of a large estate following me, before I had been there for more than a quarter hour. I rarely visit my club without being approached by someone looking to take advantage of me. I have learned, from harsh experience, to trust few beyond my limited circle.”

Elizabeth realized the matter was more complex than she had thought initially, “So in response, you disapprove of everyone and everything?”

Darcy looked at her in surprise and a reluctant smile - albeit a very small one - curved his lips, “I would have thought you to have said ‘hate’ instead of disapprove!”

Elizabeth was forced to smile as she remembered her words from her debate with Darcy wile at Netherfield, “Am I wilfully misunderstanding you now, sir?”

Darcy shook his head and they walked in silence for several minutes before Elizabeth ventured to resume the discussion, “I am attempting to sketch your character, sir, and I fear my questions are testing your patience severely.”

Darcy’s countenance remained thoughtful as he formed his thoughts, “I admit that my behaviour when we first met was…deplorable and I was little concerned as to how I was viewed since I did not see anyone whose opinion was of concern to me.” He glanced at her as he said, “in that I was very much mistaken and it is a salutary lesson. Was my manner so dreadful? In retrospect I believe it was but it is hard to see oneself through the eyes of another.”

Elizabeth’s surprise at his words could not be doubted, “Mr. Darcy, you were the personification of disdain for everyone around you except for your own party and how, sir, would you know if worthwhile opinions existed, if you engaged them not at all?”

“When I left Kent I was – as I have said - both discouraged and determined. I realized that you thought poorly of me, that I had not recommended myself to you.” He gave a rather nervous laugh, “You will perhaps be amazed at my vanity but I had rather thought you to be expecting my addresses, and that you returned my approbation. It was, I admit, a shock to learn otherwise. I perforce was required, after my initial anger, – I will not scruple to admit that, at first, I placed the blame on your want of sense – to consider how and why you could have taken me in such dislike. As I reviewed your words I kept returning to one phrase – ‘From the very beginning – from the first moment – I may almost say of my acquaintance with you’ – convinced me that you had overheard a comment that should never have been uttered and was, within a matter of weeks, quite untrue.”

Elizabeth shook her head, embarrassed at how her prejudices had biased her opinions, “It was certainly not the most politic thing to have said and it certainly gave impetus to my interpreting all of your subsequent behaviour in the most uncharitable light. However, if my manners led you to believe me to return your interest, I must apologize. It was most unconsciously done. I do not think I would have given much credit to Mr. Wickham’s story, or, as I did, encourage his reciting of it to myself, if it had not confirmed my ill-opinion of you. For this I am most heartedly ashamed.”

“Your retrospections should be totally void of reproach: the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first to accept, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly instructed! I would have come to you without a doubt of my reception – would have made you an offer of marriage – likely insulted you gravely in doing so since I perceived that you were to receive all the advantages of such a union. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. I dread to think of your reaction if I had made you an offer while all these issues lay between us. That those very qualities which I had despaired of finding in a woman, and which I so prized, were disregarded – were not given their proper value - when compared to my sacrifices I believed I would suffer should I make an offer.”

He shook his head slowly, “My arrogance was unbelievable. And yet, I knew my affections for you were such that I could not simply walk away. I had done so in Hertfordshire but with no success. I knew I had to change. I knew that my behaviour must be at fault, if you, whom I had grown to respect so greatly, found fault with it. Hence my contemplation.” He smiled ruefully, “I believe Georgiana thought me quite melancholy in my retrospections and I admit, to my shame, that I ignored her very much that week. I spoke little to anyone – not even Georgiana. I knew I must change. I was... determined to show you that I had changed, become a man that Miss Elizabeth Bennet would wish to have as a husband. I could not bear, you see, to know that you were in the world and thinking ill of me.”

Elizabeth found herself moved as never before by his expressions and words and could not but let him know that her opinions and feelings for him had changed; even if she was unsure that her feelings matched his, she believed herself well on the path to falling in love with him. That they would continue their courtship at Longbourn was no longer a matter for conjecture but only of when. She was, she admitted to herself, loath to be courted under her mother’s gaze despite the necessity of doing so. Stopping and turning to face him with a small smile, she said, “I believe, Mr. Darcy, that you may take comfort in knowing that I no longer think ill of you at all. Quite the opposite, in fact, and to such a point as I am considering returning to Longbourn and hoping you will, if not accompany me, at least call on me there?”

Before Darcy could respond, which he was quickly prepared to do, Elizabeth stopped him from speaking by the simple act of laying her fingers on his lips, “Please let me continue. I will not, cannot pretend that my affections are equal to yours. You have had some months for them to develop and grow. A bare fortnight ago, I rather thought you to be the last man I would ever want to marry. Now I feel so very different but my feelings and affections are still new to me and very confused. I need time, Mr. Darcy. Time to know you and time to know my own feelings with some assurance.”

Darcy clasped both her hands and kissed the fingers of each before replying, “I would expect nothing less. I am more delighted than you can know that your opinion has changed. That your affections are as positive as they are gives me great hope for the future and you have my assurances that you will have all the time you require and that no offer will be made before you are ready to hear it.”

“And Longbourn?”

“I would have no concerns about returning, although I admit I was hoping that Bingley would return before we did so. I cannot, of course, speak to his intentions but admit to hoping he would return also and I could stay with him.”

“When is he expected to return?”

“In a week or less, I believe. I have not heard from him since his initial response.”

“Elizabeth was relieved that she could delay her return for some time longer and communicated as much to Darcy. The remainder of their walk was devoid of the privacy that both could have wished for as her young cousins sought their attention. Elizabeth had the pleasure of watching the tall, serious looking man beside her entertain her cousins with stories of his childhood spent at Pemberley. So enthralled were they that his attention was not relinquished even when they had returned home and were enjoying tea with Mrs. Gardiner. That he would make a caring and protective father she had suspected, given his efforts to raise his sister but any doubts were erased as she watched and encouraged his interactions with her cousins.

The next morning Elizabeth chose, after breakfast to walk to the local shops which were some mile or so distant. Accompanied by John, the Gardiner’s footman, it took little more than a quarter hour to reach her first destination. It was a fairly busy morning and the noise and bustle of traffic and customers made for a lively scene. As Elizabeth left the cobbler’s shop, where a pair of her boots were to be repaired, and headed for the local bookstore her attention was captured by the sight of a man standing across the street, some thirty or forty yards away, but facing away from her. He appeared to be looking into the window of a shop and he seemed familiar. As she paid him more attention, he turned and met her eyes and was instantly recognizable as George Wickham. He made no effort at first to approach her and she could not readily discern the expression on his face, although she was certain that it contained none of the amiability that she associated with him. Then he took a step towards her but having come to a complete stop herself, John was quickly by her side and Wickham immediately came to a stop.

“Miss Elizabeth?”

“John, do you see that man across the street facing us?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“That is George Wickham. Try to fix his face in your mind so as to recognize him in the future should the need arise.”

Wickham remained staring at Elizabeth for some ten seconds and had raised his hat and bestowed what she thought to be a derisive bow before being obscured by passing carriages and wagons. He had disappeared from sight when Elizabeth could once again observe where he had stood. She found herself quite unsettled by the experience. What had he meant by simply standing there? Was this meeting accidental? Or had he deliberately made himself known? What could he mean by it? That he had been prevented from accosting her by John’s presence she was convinced and for the extra protection he had afforded she could only be thankful. She was not of a mind to believe or trust in Wickham’s gentlemen-like manners or behaviour. He was, she remembered, not wearing his regimentals but was garbed in a gentleman’s clothing, although even from this distance they appeared rather dishevelled and dusty which spoke poorly of his situation. His manner she thought insolent and he obviously believed she knew his history else he would have approached her despite the presence of a man servant.

If his purpose was to unsettle her, it had been accomplished and her first thought was to return to the Gardiner’s home but the company of John did provide, on further thought, an assurance of protection. He was a burly man in his mid-thirties who had been in service with the Gardiners for some twenty years. Not unintelligent, his loyalty to the Gardiners was unquestioned and he had a great fondness for the two oldest Bennet sisters from having known them from their childhood. Elizabeth could not be sure that Wickham had not crossed the street but felt that entering a shop would not be a problem if John was attending her closely. Despite her efforts to appear calm and to concentrate on finding an enjoyable book to read, she found herself quite discomposed and, after a half hour of browsing, left the shop with as many books in her hand as when she entered – which is to say, none.

When she entered the Gardiner’s house she wasted little time in apprising her aunt of all that had transpired and found a sympathetic ear for all her concerns. Since Darcy was expected to visit in a matter of a few hours they chose to wait for his visit to impart the news while Mrs. Gardiner sent a note to her husband that his presence would be needed at that time. Until then, the children were made to stay indoors despite it being a fine spring day, which they could normally expect to enjoy by a visit to the local park.

When Darcy arrived to see Elizabeth he was ushered directly into Mr. Gardiner’s study where he was surprised to see Elizabeth and the Gardiners. Elizabeth could see his concern and puzzlement and attempted to smile reassuringly although, since it appeared to increase his concern, she rather thought her efforts to have failed.

“Ah, Mr. Darcy. We are glad to see you,” stated her uncle with, for him, an unexpectedly grave air.

“What is the matter? Has something happened?” Darcy exclaimed.

Casting a quick glance at his niece Mr. Gardiner said, “I believe it must, although Lizzy has not revealed it to me. We chose to wait for your arrival so that Lizzy would not have to repeat her story.”

Now the focus of all eyes, Elizabeth sought to allay their fears, “Truly, I may be making too much of what happened but….but it made me uncomfortable and … worried.”

“What happened, Lizzy?” prompted her uncle.

Elizabeth then proceeded to tell of her trip to the shops and the encounter with Wickham. The faces of both her uncle and Darcy grew even graver as her story unfolded and neither interrupted her until she had finished. Darcy, who had taken the chair next to her, touched her hand lightly in support and she could tell he wished to do more. His face, by the time she finished, was flushed and she could see him mastering his anger. Finally, it became too much for him and he rose quickly and went to gaze out the window. She could see his hands clenching and unclenching by his side and finally after several minutes, with her aunt and uncle talking quietly together, she could not help but rise and walk over to stand beside him and place her hand on his arm.

“He did not harm me, Mr. Darcy. John was there to protect me.”

It was almost a growl as he replied, “He threatened you, Elizabeth. That, I will not abide.”

That he had called her by her Christian name did not escape her but was of no significance under the circumstances. She noted it as an indication of his feelings for her; was warmed by it; and was not inclined to upbraid him even gently for the breach of propriety. There were more important concerns and she took his arm and gently pulled him back to sit with her aunt and uncle who had noticed their interaction and their niece’s familiarity with her suitor, choosing to ignore any impropriety that may have occurred. Mrs. Gardiner voiced her most pressing concern, “I have kept the children indoors today. Are they in any danger?”

Darcy and Mr. Gardiner looked at each other and Darcy appeared to answer for both of them when he responded, “We cannot know but I think extra precautions are necessary and sensible. I will send an extra footman to you and I believe that they should be attended by two men at all times. As well, when Miss Bennet or you venture out, I would ask that you be attended by both men as well.” He paused slightly before saying, “I cannot say that Wickham is dangerous but this behaviour is unusual and I do not know what to expect.” He lapsed into thought before adding, “He appears to have been able to find you here in London, Miss Bennet. I assume that one of your sisters may have told him where you were staying.”

“Yes, or even my mother – she would not have seen any reason to withhold such information. Certainly Lydia or Kitty could have told him or even Maria Lucas now that I think on it. There was no secrecy involved and Jane did mention in her letter that you had called here at Gracechurch Street.”

Darcy remained silent for some few minutes while Elizabeth and her relations talked quietly of how they would deal with this problem until finally Elizabeth noticed that he was attending their conversation and appeared to have relaxed somewhat. She knew him well enough by now to know that, whatever he had been contemplating, would be revealed when he deemed it appropriate but, in this instance, she felt he needed to share with her his thoughts and plans if such were being considered. That he would be less reluctant to disclose them in private she intuited and therefore suggested, “Perhaps, Mr. Darcy, we could take advantage of the fair weather and venture out for a stroll?”

The small smile that crossed his lips was mirrored in his words, “Is the answer to any problem, to take a walk, Miss Bennet?”

Elizabeth delighted in the gentle tease and responded accordingly, “Of course!” and leaning towards him whispered, “And should the walk fail in its purpose, I believe the company will quite distract me from any problem.” She could not hide the light blush that accompanied her words – she was not normally so forward and she was not insensible of the mixture of amusement and disapproval being expressed by her relatives and the pleasure on Darcy’s mien. They could not have heard what was whispered but the intimacy of their behaviour was not entirely appropriate under the circumstances.

Shortly thereafter they departed in the Darcy carriage accompanied by a maid to walk in Hyde Park. If Elizabeth had hoped to gain some insight into his plans with respect to Wickham, she was forced to remain less than fully satisfied. Darcy admitted to considering some actions but that he had not firmed then in his own mind and, he conceded, their execution would depend on her decision with respect to their courtship.

“Wickham has moved into London and appears to be directing his attentions to you. I have made arrangements to hire several Bow Street Runners to seek him out if possible and will now fix their efforts since we know he is in London. More I cannot do although I will send an express to Colonel Forster advising him that Wickham has been seen here. I can hope they will make an effort to find him as well.”

They walked quietly with casual comments about their surroundings, both content to enjoy a companionable walk devoid of those issues which might still separate them or, in the case of Wickham, plague them. That they were, on occasion approached by acquaintances of Darcy, was to be expected and Elizabeth could see that here, away from a press of people, Darcy was less reserved in general. However, one such meeting did arise which called forth the hauteur she had seen displayed in Hertfordshire. Approached by one gentleman, whose manner Elizabeth thought to be too reminiscent of Lady Catherine and whose attitude towards her was redolent in superiority and condescension, Darcy was quick to both rebuke and end the conversation. His sincerity was obvious as he murmured, “I must apologize. I could not avoid the acquaintance. I hope you are not too offended.”

“I am not, Mr. Darcy. I cannot be offended by one whose opinion is of such little value to me. Do not apologize for behaviour of those over whom you have no control.” She was thoughtful for a moment of two, “Do not feel obliged to rebuke all who display their…condescension so obviously. I have learned to laugh at those whose opinions are of no importance to me. I refuse to be offended by such as those.”

“Thank you. I believe you to be more charitable than me in such situations. I am not disposed to accept any disrespect to those that I…care for.” He was pensive for several moments before venturing further comment, “I must, I suppose, take some consolation in the fact that, having offended you so greatly, my opinion must have been greatly valued.”

Elizabeth remained thoughtful – she had not missed the slight pause before he said ‘care for’ – but focused her response on the latter part of his declaration, “I had not considered it in that light but I believe you have the right of it. Your opinion was and is of…great value to me.”

“Can I hope that your opinion of me is improving?”

“I think, sir, that you know it is.”

“Has it improved sufficiently, do you think, for me to court you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth could detect both hope and uncertainty in his voice and she walked in silence for several minutes while she considered how best to phrase her answer. She was so wrapped in thought, she did not notice his increasing discomfort until glancing up she could see the worry on his face and feel the tension in his arm beneath her hand.

“Oh, I do apologize. I did not intend to discomfit you. The answer is yes and … no!” The confusion her reply engendered was obvious and prompted a small smile as she attempted to explain further.

“I can see my answer has perplexed you and I am sorry. Let me explain. Yes, I am prepared to have you court me at Longbourn but no, I would prefer to stay here for the nonce.”

“I have no objection certainly but would wish to understand your thinking.”

“It is quite simple really. I have enjoyed our encounters here. I feel we have made much progress without my mother’s attentiveness and would like to continue for a short while longer. That we must go back, I know.”

“Perhaps we could wait till Bingley returns. I expect him soon, although he has not given me a fixed date for his arrival. I had thought to stay with him if he returns to Netherfield. Otherwise I would find rooms at the Inn.”

Elizabeth nodded, “That seems appropriate.” She grinned, “If Mr. Bingley returns, my mother will be so appreciative of his presence that she is likely to miss yours altogether. Of course, when she is advised of the courtship, you will not be able to escape her attentions.”

“A man who can tolerate the attentions of Lady Catherine has nothing to fear from your mother, Miss Bennet.”

“Spoken like a gentleman, sir; however, be assured that I will endeavour to spare you her effusions to the best of my ability.”

Their footsteps having, by this time, returned them to the entrance to the park, they continued on companionably until they reached Darcy’s house where they joined Georgiana for tea after which they all removed to the Gardiners for dinner and enjoyable conversation.

~~~

Fortunately, there had been no further sightings of Wickham although a few days after the initial occasion, the Gardiners had been visited by Lieutenant Denny who was accompanied by several soldiers and looking to arrest Wickham for desertion. Elizabeth led him to the spot where she had noticed Wickham and Denny and his soldiers could thereafter be seen patrolling the area. Elizabeth rather thought their presence would more likely deter Wickham’s return than lead to his arrest but took some comfort that Wickham was unlikely to present any danger as long as they remained in the area.

Elizabeth found that the following days blurred together in her memory. The mornings remained the province of her cousins and herself while her afternoons and evenings belonged to herself and Darcy alone. That is not to say that they were in each other’s company only. Rather the converse, in fact, since Georgiana and her aunt and uncle were frequent companions and they attended an art exhibition, visited the British Museum – in company with her cousins and Georgiana – and dined in company with a couple with whom Darcy was very close. She had become accustomed to fending off intrusive and impertinent questions and Darcy had developed a facility to deflect many questions before they arose.

In the case of the dinner, however, she found herself in very agreeable company. It was a small group, Darcy having invited several of his closest friends and their wives to dine with Elizabeth and the Gardiners. Georgiana acted, with some reluctance, as hostess for the evening and both Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth found themselves easing her through the process to her evident appreciation, once the evening was done. The gentlemen were all school friends of Darcy and had also attended with him at Cambridge; their wives were only a year or two older than Elizabeth herself and surprisingly, like herself, were more a product of the country than town. Their eagerness to make her acquaintance was all that was amiable and civil and it was not difficult to ascertain that between each of the couples there existed a strong affection. The gentlemen, if not as amiable and easy in company as Mr. Bingley, were sociable, although Elizabeth was amused to note that one of them, reportedly a distant cousin of Darcy himself, seemed to possess a reserved nature not too dissimilar from that of his cousin.

It was not the dinner or the exhibit that remained foremost in her mind; instead, she could remember several of their discussions that had taken place. One such occurred a day or two after she had seen Wickham. The day had been windy and rainy and they were ensconced in the Gardiner sitting room with a maid occupying a chair far enough removed as to ensure them privacy in their conversation. They had been discussing their removal to Longbourn since Darcy had finally received a post from Bingley to the effect that he would arrive in London in a day or two. Elizabeth’s thoughts were diverted to Darcy’s re-introduction to Meryton society and their reception of him and her pensiveness was easily communicated to Darcy who sought an explanation. Elizabeth took several moments to frame her response, saying finally, “I am just thinking on how to repair the damage that I and Wickham have done to your reputation.” She gave him a rueful smile, “I am afraid I was quite unkind in my humour.”

“What can you have said of me that I did not deserve?.... Was it so very dreadful?”

“Not so very bad - but I confess I did allow myself to exercise a great deal of freedom.”

Darcy importuned her to reveal some of her more playful efforts and she finally relented and laughing said, “It was not so very dreadful I suppose. I did warn Mr. Goulding to ensure that his cows be hidden from your presence since your glower would curdle their milk before it could be delivered.”

She laughed with a degree of embarrassment saying, “I also believed I warned Mrs. Hayes, who was to enter her confinement in a few months, to avoid your company since that same glower might shorten her confinement period.” She glanced up at Darcy to see him biting his lips to control his mirth. He passed a hand across his lips before saying, “And that Miss Bennet, is the worst you said of me?”

“Oh, I am sure I said more. I can remember little now, although I do recollect saying that there was just enough pleasantness between you and Mr. Bingley for one good sort of man and that Mr. Bingley had received it all.” A quick glance at Darcy’s face eliminated any concerns she harboured as to his being offended. Indeed, he seemed rather thoughtful himself which prompted her to ask for the reason.

“I have no desire to hide this from you Miss Bennet. Indeed, since it is possible that we may be in Miss Bingley’s company at some time, I believe you should hear it first from me.” He took a deep breath and, releasing it, blurted, “It was shortly after I first made your acquaintance. I believe Miss Bingley was amusing herself by disparaging the local ladies and commented on reports of the beauty of yourself and your older sister and was, for my benefit I suspect, being most pointed about you. To my shame I said about you, ‘She a beauty, I would sooner call her mother a wit’ – however, this was early in our acquaintance and I was, I believe, attempting to deflect Miss Bingley’s notice of my interest.”

Elizabeth chuckled, “That is not so very bad but it does bring to mind a question. Miss Bingley seemed very early in our acquaintance to take me in extreme dislike which I cannot explain since she was more than friendly with Jane or at least acted so in her presence. With me she was rather uncivil than not.”

Darcy blushed slightly, “I am to blame, I am afraid. I think it was at Sir William’s that she caught me somewhat distracted and asked for an explanation. I spoke without thinking and my words made her jealous since she had long desired an attachment to me.”

“That her wishes were so directed was very quickly and easily seen but whatever could you have said?”

“I believe I said that I was meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow. Miss Bingley asked to whom I was referring and I, unwisely perhaps since she took great delight in abusing you whenever the opportunity presented, gave her your name. There you have it! Does that absolve me of having abused your beauty? I can think of several occasions when I told myself, although no one else, my true belief in your attractiveness – I believe I thought you one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance. Am I forgiven?”

“Most certainly, Sir, you are absolved but only on condition that you forgive me for my insults. Truly, I believe you have much, much more to forgive than I on this score.”

“Let us put this behind us, shall we? We both feel so very much different now that such words are, to me at least, meaningless.”
SubjectAuthorPosted

Wallk With Me - Chapters 12-13

PeterMay 20, 2015 04:53PM

Re: Wallk With Me - Chapters 12-13

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Re: Wallk With Me - Chapters 12-13

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Re: Wallk With Me - Chapters 12-13

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Re: Wallk With Me - Chapters 12-13

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