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Another Month Complete 7

July 17, 2020 04:57PM
*****

Chapter 7

He spotted her sitting at a small table in the farthest corner from the door, sipping her tea. A book was in her hand despite the low light in that part of the room. When she saw him, her eyes widened and she brought the book to her lap.

“May I sit down, Miss Bennet?”

“Not if you are here to convince me to return to the Parsonage.”

“Not at all. I am here to offer you a ride to London.”

“I thank you, Mr. Darcy, but I have already bought my ticket.”

“That is not a problem, Miss Bennet. We can easily give it away.”

“Mr. Darcy, there is no need for you to be concerned. I am very capable of making my way to London on my own.”

“Of that I have no doubt, Miss Bennet. But Georgiana would be so grateful for your company. I tend to fall asleep when we ride together and she is then left with no one to talk to. It would make her very happy if you would accept.”

“Mr. Darcy,” said Elizabeth with an arched brow and a cheeky grin, “clearly, you lack practice in the subtle art of manipulation.”

“Perhaps, Miss Bennet, but you must know that Georgiana is anxious about your taking the Post on your own. She would rest easy with you by her side.” He paused, then added, “as would I.”

“Well … I would not wish to make Miss Darcy unhappy,” she laughed. “I suppose I can sacrifice my adventure for her sake.” She smiled broadly at him as he offered his arm and asked as to the location of her belongings. Having secured her trunk and baggage, he helped her into the carriage, then closed the carriage door.

“Are you not joining us, Mr. Darcy?”

“No, Miss Bennet. I believe that you and my sister will enjoy your time together more in private. But rest assured that I will not be but a few feet away. He tipped his hat and mounted his horse.

*****

“I am so pleased, and quite honestly, relieved that you agreed to ride with us, Miss Bennet. I would not like to think of you alone on a Post coach.”

“I would not have been as comfortable or had your sweet company, Georgiana, but I'm sure it would have been safe enough,” replied Elizabeth.

“Perhaps,” replied Georgiana, not quite convinced, but she did not wish to contradict Elizabeth.

“I wanted you to know that I was mortified by my aunt's behavior last night. I have always felt that she is a little too hard on me, but I never dreamed she could be so... I can't imagine what you must have felt when you returned to the Parsonage. Please allow me to apologize for myself, for my brother, the Colonel and Anne. We were all so ashamed.”

Elizabeth grasped Georgiana's hand and pressed it. “There is no reason for you to feel ashamed or to apologize for anything that you have not done! Your aunt has very old-fashioned ideas, which is understandable, given the time in which she was brought up. But it is remarkable that at her age she has not yet learned the meaning of civility.” Elizabeth chuckled, “She is, however, very quick to remind others of their manners.”

Elizabeth's easy going attitude allowed Georgiana to breathe a bit easier. This charming and intelligent woman made it so easy to be in her company. There was no artifice, no pretense. Georgiana returned Elizabeth's smile and thought what a perfect wife she would make for her brother.

They rode in silence for a while, then chatted about ordinary things and enjoyed being each other's company. After about an hour, Darcy instructed the driver to stop alongside a small, but picturesque field of wild flowers. There, they laid out the carriage rugs and sat down to enjoy some of the fine food prepared by Rosings' cook.

“I'm starving!” declared Darcy, practically diving into the basket. The ladies giggled, but were equally eager to partake of its contents. “You may laugh, Georgiana, but I did not have any dinner last night and only a cup of coffee this morning,” he said defensively, then laughed at himself, good naturedly. “But you are right, I should slow down and conduct myself properly.” Georgiana breathed deeply, with obvious pleasure. It was so good to see Fitzwilliam at ease for a change. It had been a long time since she had seen this side of him.

When they were once again settled in the carriage, Georgiana suddenly turned mysteriously quiet.

“Is everything all right, Georgiana? You seem distressed.”

“I am perfectly well, Elizabeth. But there is a very serious matter that I wish to discuss with you and I don't know how to begin.”

“Start at the beginning then.”

“Before I do, I'd like to ask how well you know George Wickham and what you think of him. It is an impertinent question, I know, but it is important.”

Elizabeth's heart stopped beating for a moment. “Good heavens! She is still upset about my mention of Wickham! Why on earth did I need to bring him into the conversation?”

“My sisters and I met him in Meriton, along with other members of the regiment and found him very pleasant and easy to talk to. He told me that his father had been the steward on your estate and that he had grown up playing with your brother. He had wonderful things to say about your father.” Elizabeth did not know how to proceed. “To be honest, Georgiana, I thought him quite charming.”

“That is precisely what I thought,” said Georgiana, “and that is why I must relate my own personal history concerning Wickham to you, Elizabeth. You may not wish to believe me, but I give you my word that all I am about to say is true.” She leaned back for a moment and took a deep breath before starting again.

“Wickham did grow up at Pemberley. My father admired and trusted old Mr. Wickham, and when Mrs. Wickham died he understood, only too well, how difficult it was to bring up a boy without a mother. He therefore included George in many of our family activities and was very kind to him. I think George mistook my father's kindness for true fatherly affection and began to see himself as one of the family. But he was a very defiant and mischievous child. He enjoyed testing the limits my father set for all of us and didn't mind getting into a little trouble … first, because he could easily charm his way out of it and second, because he was always successful in blaming the deed on Fitzwilliam. I cannot tell you how many whippings my brother received for things that Wickham had done.”

Elizabeth grew cold and pale as she listened. Georgiana had been right, she didn't want to hear it or believe it, but she knew, deep down, it was the truth.

“George paid little attention to me when Fitzwilliam was away at school, but as soon as he returned, he made my brother believe that we had grown very close. He insisted on spending a great deal of time with me, his aim being to make Fitzwilliam envious of our relationship. He did the same with my father, telling Fitzwilliam that our father loved him best.”

“When my father died, Wickham was to get the living in our small parish, and as soon as it became available Fitzwilliam offered it to him. But Wickham scoffed at the idea. He said he would go out of his mind writing sermons for a living. Instead, he wanted three thousand pounds to pursue a degree in the law. Fitzwillam obliged him and thought it would be the last we would see of him. But Wickham had no intention of studying the law and, in a very short period of time, had squandered the money. When he came back insisting on more, Fitzwilliam refused him. Wickham was furious and then planned his revenge on my brother through me.”

Elizabeth's eyes filled with tears. She dreaded hearing what would come next. Remembering all of Wickham's malicious stories, told with such sincerity, made her ill. And she had believed every word! She had wanted to believe him, for his tales supported her prejudiced view of Darcy. Even Jane had questioned the validity of Wickham's assertions, but her own mind had been made up.

“When I was fifteen I spent part of the summer with my companion at Ramsgate. Fitzwilliam was engaged in some business dealings at the time. Wickham came to Ramsgate as well and made me believe that our paths had crossed again quite by accident. He asked to spend time with me and as my companion saw no harm in it, we met almost daily. I was flattered by his attentions and began to believe that he truly loved me. Sadly, I was so naive that I believed myself in love with him! He persuaded me to run away to Scotland and elope.”

Elizabeth gasped. “Georgiana, you need not tell me everything. It must pain you so to speak of it! I am very sorry that I brought up his name the day we met. I should never have …”

“No, Elizabeth, no! Had you not let me know that you were acquainted with him, I would not have known to warn you!” Georgiana handed Elizabeth her handkerchief and continued. “A day before we were to leave for Scotland, Fitzwilliam traveled down to see me – quite by chance. I could not bare to deceive him and told him of our plans. Wickham then showed his true nature and his true feelings for me. He demanded a great deal of money to keep the whole affair secret, but showed not an ounce of regret for having to part with me. I was devastated, and of course, terribly humiliated! The whole scheme had been to avenge my poor brother. Had Fitzwilliam not arrived in time I would have brought such shame and scandal upon my entire family … and ruined my own reputation forever! And all for a bit of flattery. So you see, Elizabeth, I had to warn you of this man's devious and immoral character. Fitzwilliam has never made these facts known to anyone, except the Colonel, of course, for the sake of my reputation. And he must never ever know that I confided in you. Please promise me you will keep this secret.”

“Of course I will, Georgiana. You may well have saved me from a similar fate had I gone home and continued my acquaintance with him. Thank you, my sweet, wonderful friend. Thank you!” They embraced for a moment, then sat back and retreated into their own thoughts.

Georgiana felt completely drained after having recounted her humiliating tale to Elizabeth, and her body longed for sleep. When her lids became heavy and she started to doze, Elizabeth eased her friend's head down onto her lap, lifted her legs onto the seat and held her fast.

From his vantage point in the saddle, Darcy watched the scene in utter amazement. Elizabeth looked out the window and met his steady gaze. What she saw was a look filled with such tender affection that her heart leapt in her chest.. She could not help but return it.

Leaning back against the cushions Elizabeth now had time to reflect on all that had occurred since her arrival at Rosings. She chuckled to herself as she realized that there was no longer a need to sketch Mr. Darcy's character. The last piece of the puzzle had been found. She had been wrong about everything concerning Fitzwilliam Darcy, and all because he had insulted her at their very first meeting. To be sure, he had behaved in a haughty, conceited and arrogant manner. But she now understood his shyness, his reluctance to engage with strangers. For all his wealth and station, Darcy had been robbed of his trusting, open nature, thanks to his experiences with George Wickham. It was not easy for him to trust anyone he did not already know. “ I have not the talent some have in conversing easily with strangers.”

The more she learned about him, the clearer it became that at his core, he was a very good man. His efforts on his aunt's behalf at Rosings had shown him to be a fair and empathic master. His family ties were strong and he took his responsibilities very seriously. She had never known a brother more devoted and loving. He had also proven himself to be a generous and loyal friend. Not many men would have had the strength of character to admit their misdeeds and take steps to correct them. And perhaps, most important of all, was the fact that he still cared for her, despite the way she had rejected him. 'True love does not alter when it alteration finds ......” She knew he still wanted her. She felt enveloped by his love.

Her own feelings for him had developed so gradually that she could not pinpoint when they had started to change. In the weeks that followed the proposal, she had slowly come to respect him. She could not help but admire his controlled reserve, on the one hand, and his willingness to speak out and act, on the other. Watching the way he treated Anne and Georgiana truly touched her heart. Her realization that he was, perhaps, one of the best men she had ever met, had only been tempered by Wickham's stories. How could she reconcile these conflicting accounts of him? But now, this last obstacle had been removed and she could allow herself to love him.

She watched him riding alongside the coach until she caught his eye again, then bestowed a broad smile and a loving gaze that pierced his mind and heart. He didn't exactly know what had changed, but the message Elizabeth was sending him was clear. He breathed deeply and smiled back at her contentedly.

*****

When they reached Gracechurch Street Georgiana was still asleep. Elizabeth folded one of the carriage rugs and gently slipped it under her head so that she could rise from her seat without waking her. Darcy helped her down from the coach with his right hand, then took the other in his left. He held them fast and close to his heart as he spoke.

“Miss Bennet, I was hoping to come to Hertfordshire a week or two before the wedding to be of what service I can to the groom. Would I be welcome at Longbourne, do you think? I did not make a very good impression on your mother in November, I'm afraid.” He grinned.

Elizabeth loved seeing the smile that had so rarely graced Darcy's face of late. His cleft chin wrinkled in the most charming way and made him all the more handsome!

“Be assured that you will be most welcome, Mr. Darcy. I shall await your visit with pleasure,” said Elizabeth. “And you needn't worry about my mother, Sir ---- her memory is not always accurate and can be quick to change. Will you be bringing your sister, as well?” asked Elizabeth.

“I don't think she will allow me to travel to Hertfordshire without her. She values your friendship so dearly, Miss Bennet.”

“As I do her's, Mr. Darcy. Won't you and Miss Darcy come upstairs to meet my aunt and uncle? They will want to thank you for your kindness in bringing me safely to their door ... as will Jane.”

“I think it would be best to arrange a visit for tomorrow, Miss Bennet. I am grimy from the road, not fit to be seen or to sit in your family's parlor. May Georgiana and I call in the afternoon, around three, perhaps?”

“That would be an excellent time, Sir.” Once again, she gave him her warmest smile and tenderest gaze.

“How I have longed for you to look at me that way, my sweetest, loveliest Elizabeth?” thought Darcy. He brought both her hands to his lips and kissed them before letting them go.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Another Month Complete 7

Gaby A.July 17, 2020 04:57PM

Re: Another Month Complete 7

AntonellaMTCJuly 19, 2020 03:38PM

Re: Another Month Complete 7

Shannon KJuly 18, 2020 04:52AM

Re: Another Month Complete 7

elainejJuly 17, 2020 06:55PM

Re: Another Month Complete 7

Michelle AJuly 17, 2020 07:37PM



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