Having been shown his rooms, Darcy changed his dusty travel clothes for some clean attire. Once he was prepared, he sent word to his friend, requesting to speak with Bingley.
A footman returned, with orders to escort Darcy to Bingley’s study.
“Darcy, it is a pleasure to have you and your sister visit with us. It is my hope that you enjoy the time you are here.”
“I believe it will be a pleasant holiday, my friend. At least for me. My sister is displeased with me, thereby will be displeased with anything I suggest.”
Bingley chuckled softly. “I noted that she was not enthusiastic about being here. And the orders you gave my housekeeper were shocking. You fully intend to have your sister doing the chores of a servant?”
“Indeed, I do. My father taught me the value of working hard, doing a servant’s duties, when I was younger. It is time that my sister learns that she was born to privilege, yet it could all be taken from her in a moment. What would come of her if something drastic happened? And she also requires a lesson or two on humility. She has been spending far too much time with our relations, and it is time for me to put my foot down. My sister will not become a selfish debutant who cares nothing for anyone whom she deems beneath her.”
“Like my family?”
“Unfortunately, Georgiana is furious that I would make her visit the home of someone who is in trade. Please allow me to apologize in advance, for I am certain that my sister will be rude and arrogant during our stay.” Darcy looked away from his friend.
“Does she know about your Hertfordshire relations?”
“Yes, and she is displeased that they are not of the ton. What can you tell me of them? Their father, is he well?”
Bingley poured a cup of coffee for himself and his friend. “The father, Mr Bennet, is the same since his attack of apoplexy. Fortunately, he has not had another attack, and has not worsened. You never told me you had relations in this neighborhood.”
“It has been many years, and to be honest, it has been some time since I thought about the location of their home. Netherfield was not an estate I was familiar with, as I was only eight when their mother died. How are the young ladies?” Darcy inquired, taking a sip of his coffee.
A dreamy look overcame Bingley’s visage. “Ah, the eldest is Miss Jane. She is an angel, with her beautiful flaxen hair and brilliant blue eyes. She is remarkable.”
Darcy chuckled. “And the younger sister?”
“Oh, yes, Miss Elizabeth. She is handsome, though not nearly as pretty as her sister. Tell me, just how are they related to you? Distant cousins?”
With a shake of his head, Darcy began to speak. “The first Mrs Bennet was originally Miss Olivia Darcy, my father’s sister. Aunt Olivia was a beautiful lady, filled with life and energy. And she loved nature. She had mahogany hair and chocolate eyes, which appeared to have flecks of gold that danced in them.”
“Your description could be for Miss Elizabeth. She has the same features and is said to frequent walker, taking in nature most days.” Bingley said. “I never knew your father had a sibling. How odd that you have never spoken of her or her daughters.”
“After my aunt’s death, her husband was obsessed with cutting ties between his daughters and the Darcy family. Jane and Elizabeth were denied any access to our family, forbidden from even writing to us. My father did the best he could to keep updated on my cousins, but since his death, I admit I have not put any energy into keeping updated. Between the estate, business dealings, and being my sister’s guardian, I have been overwhelmed often. My sister has never even met our cousins, and she did not know of them. I am quite neglectful, as I should have made an effort to inform Georgiana of our cousins.”
“Well, I am quite knowledgeable about Mr Bennet’s dislike for the Darcys. He made it plain as the nose on my face that he hated your family, just before he was overcome with apoplexy. And your cousins, they were distraught.”
“What did you make of the current Mrs Bennet? I seem to recall my father stating that Mr Bennet remarried, but I know nothing about the lady.”
“The current Mrs Bennet is formerly Miss Fanny Gardiner. She has a brother in trade in Town, I believe he is an importer. And Mrs Bennet has a sister, who is the wife of the local solicitor in Meryton. The current Mrs Bennet has three younger daughters, Miss Mary, Miss Katherine, and Miss Lydia. They are silly young girls, and Mrs Bennet is desperate to marry them off as soon as possible. From what I understand, the estate is entailed along the male line of the family, and the heir is a distant cousin that no one has ever met. She must be more desperate now, with Mr Bennet’s health being so delicate.”
“I know that trusts were arranged for Jane and Lizzy. My father saw that they were provided generous dowries and the trusts should have provided for their care all of these years.”
“With the level of anger Mr Bennet feels for the Darcy family, I doubt he would ever touch the money that came from your family. And I doubt Mrs Bennet is aware of the situation, or she would not behave as nervous as she does. She frets constantly about her future, and the future of her daughters. From what I have been told, she is not fond of Miss Elizabeth, and would likely never want her step daughter forced to live with her, if Mr Bennet were to die.”
Darcy thought about the information while he continued to drink his coffee. After some time, he spoke again. “In which direction is Longbourn from here?”
“To the north, near three miles.”
“And Miss Elizabeth, does she still enjoy taking strolls in nature?”
Bingley smiled. “According to her sister, Miss Elizabeth prefers to take an early morning walk to Oakham Mount. Unless her father’s condition worsens, she takes in the view from there every morning.”
~~ ** ~~
“Good morning, Papa.” Elizabeth whispered as she placed a kiss on her father’s forehead. “I pray you slept well. Mrs Hill will stay with you, while I take a walk to Oakham Mount. Then I will break my fast with you, while you enjoy some of Cook’s delicious beef broth. I know it is your favorite. After that, we will work on your exercises. If you behave yourself and do as instructed, I will read to you. Mr Polk sent the new volume you had him order.”
A slight grunt was all the reply Elizabeth received, though she was pleased to receive any acknowledgement from her father. He was beginning to respond in small ways, which brought joy to Elizabeth.
She slipped into her room to change into her half boots and don her spencer and bonnet. Over her spencer, she draped a warm woolen shawl. Once she was appropriately attired, Elizabeth opened the rear door of her father’s home, then stepped outside.
Though the air was cool and crisp, the young lady relished being outside. They had kept her father’s chamber warm, as the apothecary had suggested, and at times, Elizabeth felt the room was stifling. The sun was just beginning to rise in the east, showing the pleasant day that awaited them.
Elizabeth took her time, slowly making her way along her favorite path. She enjoyed the trees, the flowers, the view of the neighborhood. This was her private time, away from her family, away from her worries, and one with nature.
As she approached the base of Oakham Mount, Elizabeth heard a horse riding towards her. She looked up, though the sun was obscuring her vision, to see who was coming up the path. When the horse came to a stop, the rider dismounted and walked towards her.
“I would know you anywhere. Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Several moments passed before a memory from her past came forward. “William? Is it you?”
Darcy smiled. “Indeed. Lizzy, how I have missed you.” He gathered his cousin in his embrace. They stayed, wrapped in the familial love they had shared in their youth, for several moments, before the awkwardness of the situation forced them to step back from each other.
“How is your father?” Darcy asked.
“Mr Bingley told you of Papa’s attack?” Seeing Darcy nod his head, Elizabeth sighed. “Then you know of his continued fury with your family.”
“I know. It breaks my heart that he has not allowed the anger to dissipate. Holding on to the bitterness and hatred can only cause his health to continue to deteriorate.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Indeed. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to discuss the matter over the years. But he only becomes outrageous by his fury, ranting on about the Darcy family being responsible for Mamma, leaving me to change the subject. There was no possibility of Mr Bingley knowing of the situation. He was only commenting on your coming to visit him. And we could not warn him, as we had no way of knowing that he was a close friend of yours.”
“According to Bingley, your sister has grown up to be quite the beauty, as he cannot stop speaking of her being an angel.” Darcy chuckled.
“Oh, it is clear that they are both quite taken with one another. Jane speaks of his goodness and amiability. You would think they have been courting for many months, not just recently met.”
“And you, you look just like your mother. I remember Aunt Olivia, the painting still hangs in the gallery at Pemberley, and you are the very image of her.”
After tying up his horse, Darcy and Elizabeth made their way up the mountain, to a place where a fallen tree was used as a bench. They sat side by side, with Darcy staring at his young cousin. “I cannot believe I am here, with you. I have thought about you often over the years.”
“I have thought of you as well. I know it has been many years now, but I was saddened to learn of your mother’s death when your sister was born. I read an article in the papers announcing the birth and death. Is your sister here, with you? And your father?”
“You have not heard, Father died five years past. His heart was weak, and he was devastated after losing Mother. I miss them both terribly.”
“Poor William. I feel terrible for your loss. After I read the article of Aunt Anne’s death, Papa refused to allow me to read the papers until after he had finished reading, to guarantee there was no mention of the Darcy family. The only time I was allowed to read without his censoring the papers them was when I visited Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, in Town.”
“They are your step mother’s relations?”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “They have been ever so kind to Jane and I, treating us far better than Mother does.”
Darcy draped his arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Bingley stated that Mrs Bennet dislikes you.”
“Only because I am Papa’s favorite. I am a constant reminder of the loss of Mamma. Mother does not appreciate the reminder that Papa and Mamma had a love match, whereas their marriage is one of convenience.”
“It appears that we both have difficult people in our lives. Mine is in the form of a younger sister who is spoiled and selfish. She is not pleased to be here, as she would have preferred to be in Kent, at my Aunt Catherine’s estate.”
“Please tell me that Lady Catherine has improved over the years.”
With a hollow chuckle, Darcy shook his head. “Unfortunately, Aunt Catherine has only grown worse with age. She insists that I marry Anne, and since Father’s death, Aunt Catherine has demanded the marriage take place. It is her claim that it was an arrangement between her and my mother, made when Anne was just a babe. I know it was not a desire of Mother’s, for I read my mother’s journals. Mother did not wish me to marry Anne, as my cousin has always been of a sickly constitution.”
“And a spoiled child when I knew her.” A shudder overtook Elizabeth. “I cannot imagine you being happy with such a wife.”
Darcy had a far off look in his eyes. He could remember the last year of his father’s life, as Gerald Darcy claimed his desire to see his beloved niece, Elizabeth, returned to the family. He wished for a union between Elizabeth and William, and he spoke of it often. To be honest, Darcy had thought of such a marriage with pleasure, for he could remember how dear she had been to him as children. And his memory of seeing her in London had shown him her beauty.
“William, are you well?”
He turned towards his cousin, giving her a smile. “I was just thinking of my father. I have to admit to you a secret.”
Curiosity was obvious by the expression gracing Elizabeth’s beautiful face.
“You must not speak of this to anyone, for I do not wish to make trouble for Mrs Gardiner. My father received updates from Mrs Gardiner each month, and he knew when you and Jane were visiting Town. Mrs Gardiner is from Lambton, which is five miles from Pemberley. She knew our family, as her father did business with mine. When Father knew you were to be in Town, he would make arrangements to be able to see you.”
“I never saw Uncle Gerald.”
“From what I was told, Father would learn when you were going shopping or to the park. Then he could watch you from afar, without you knowing. He did not wish to cause you difficulties with your father. He might have forbidden you and Jane to visit the Gardiners, and he would not be able to see you. Father knew that one day we would be able to welcome you back to the family. At first, I wished to approach you and talk to you. But I knew Father was correct. I even saw you in the park one time. I was with Father and we watched you and Jane. It was a wonderful day; one I cherish dearly and have thought of often.”
“I wish I had known. It would have been wonderful to see Uncle Gerald. But I do understand the reason it was impossible. Papa has been so difficult since Mamma died. He spent the first year locked away in his library, drinking heavily. His great aunt, Mrs Madeline Bircher came to the house and chastised him for neglecting us and the estate. Aunt Maddie informed Papa that if he would not take care of himself and us, she would contact your parents and ask them take us to Pemberley to live. Well, I doubt you need me to tell you Papa’s reaction.”
“I can imagine. And I have no doubt that Mrs Bircher was not fondly thought of after that conversation.”
Elizabeth smiled. “No, though she wrote often as Jane and I grew up. She died last year. Her estate is located in Staffordshire, and she left it to Jane and I to divide. Needless to say, Mother was not pleased. She said the estate should have gone to Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Evidently, Mother is of the opinion that we have substantial trusts from the Darcy side of the family.”
Darcy realized his cousin was not aware of the legacy that had been established for her and her sister. “She is correct. You and Jane have dowries of thirty thousand each, as well as the interest that has been accruing. The last I heard, it had built up to quite a sum. And Father set aside enough for each of you in a trust. It was quite proper, as you and Jane are Darcys as well as Bennets. Neither of you will ever need to worry for support.”
Elizabeth was shocked at the news. “And to think, I believed we would have Mamma’s settlement to share between us. Papa said that we would have five thousand each.”
This news surprised Darcy. “Your mother’s dowry was thirty thousand pounds. I have seen the settlement papers. You were to share the dowry with Jane, when your mother died. Perhaps that is why my father made the changes he did, to protect you. He made me the executor of the trust, to oversee you were protected. But I do not understand why your father would tell you that you would only receive five thousand each. Where could the other money have gone?”
“I believe Papa invested some money with Uncle Gardiner, for he needed to make repairs to the estate. He had neglected everything for a year after Mamma’s death, making no repairs and allowing the crops to have a poor yielding. There was also a fire that damaged two of the tenant farms and homes. Perhaps that is where the funds went.”
“Well, it does not truly matter, as you are protected. How will your father receive me in the neighborhood? I wish to pay a call on him.”
“Oh, no. Please, it is too soon since his attack. Papa would not survive another attack, I am certain.”
Darcy pulled Elizabeth into his embrace. “Do not fret, Lizzy. I will do nothing to cause your family harm. But now that I have had a chance to speak with you, I wish to continue spending time with you. I have missed you dearly. Can we meet here, each morning?”
The thought of being with her cousin brought joy to Elizabeth. To be able to speak of her mother, of her mother’s relations, such pleasure was like a tonic to her soul. Elizabeth nodded her head. “Unless Papa has a bad morning or the weather is not cooperative, I will be here each morning at this time. This is my favorite place to start my day. The view from here is the best in all the neighborhood.”
“You always loved being in nature.” Darcy chuckled.
The two continued to speak for another hour, discussing their likes and dislikes, of events which had happened in the years they were apart. Each could feel joy from the bond that had always been between them, as it seemed to increase the moment they first spoke that morning. As Elizabeth walked towards Longbourn, she turned and watched Darcy ride off towards Netherfield. She dearly wished her father did not hold such hatred towards the Darcy family. But she knew she could not discuss the situation with him.
~~ ** ~~
Jane noticed a difference in her sister instantly. “Lizzy, you seem to have enjoyed your walk this morning.”
“Oh, Jane, I did indeed. Such a pleasant morning. And the view from Oakham Mount was quite enjoyable.” Elizabeth hummed as she made her way up the stairs, heading for her bedchamber. “I will change my gown and then check on Papa.”
“Papa is fine; I just came from checking on him. I wish to learn more of your enjoyable walk.” Jane followed Elizabeth into the bedchamber, closing the door behind her. “Now, tell me what happened on this walk.”
Seeing the door was closed, Elizabeth pulled her sister by the hand, leading her to her bed. Speaking softly, Elizabeth could no longer keep silent. “Mr Bingley has house guests. They arrived yesterday.”
Jane’s eyes grew round. “Our cousin?”
“Cousins. William and his younger sister, Georgiana. I have not met her yet, and I believe she is the same age as Lydia. Oh, Jane, Uncle Gerald died some years ago. It broke my heart to learn of his death. It had been my dream to one day be able to speak with him, ask him questions about Mamma. Would it not be interesting to learn of her childhood, her years before she met Papa? But we will never know these parts of her life, as our uncle is gone.”
“Indeed, that is sad. How is William? What is he like?” Jane was filled with questions.
“Jane, he is just as he was as a boy. And very handsome. He is tall, with wavy dark hair, and piercing blue eyes. And he still has the dimple on his cheek when he smiles. Remember how Mamma used to tease him to make him smile? We had such a lovely time. I was reminded how much I missed him…and the rest of our mother’s family.”
“You and William were always close. Mamma always said that you were always more Darcy than Bennet.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Georgiana claimed to have a headache, preferring to keep her own company rather than spend time with the Bingley siblings. She was displeased with her brother forcing her to be with his friend, and she intended to make certain that he knew she was not happy. Just because she was forced to be at the estate, Georgiana would not be forced to associate with the Bingleys.
Darcy knocked on the door to his sister’s bedchamber. Georgiana’s maid took her time answering the door, allowing her mistress time enough to recline on her bed. When she knew Georgiana was ready, the maid opened the door to find the Master of Pemberley.
“Alice, where is my sister? I wish to speak with her.”
“Miss Darcy is suffering a headache and decided to rest. She is asleep at the moment.”
Darcy was certain his sister was not ill, but he did not know how to prove his point. “Perhaps I should check on her. I can send for the physician if necessary.”
“She stated she should be well by tomorrow. Most likely the journey was too taxing for her.” Alice replied.
“Forgive me, but I must insist on checking on her now. Please step aside.” Darcy lightly pushed past his sister’s maid and walked towards the bed.
It was simple for Darcy to determine his sister was not sleeping. Her breathing and the movement of her eyes were revealing. “So, you believe you can fool me with claims of a headache and that you are sleeping? Georgiana, you cannot pull the wool over my eyes.”
His young sister’s ire grew. She opened her eyes and huffed. “What do you want, Fitzwilliam? I was trying to rest.”
“I will make you a bet, little sister. If you were to throw off your covers and show me that you are in a night shift and fully prepared for bed, I will allow you to journey to Rosings. But, if you are dressed appropriately for being out of the room, you will remain here with me, no argument, until we continue on to Pemberley.”
Georgiana’s eyes glared at her brother, as if throwing daggers at him. “You are not being fair, Fitzwilliam. You must allow me to make the journey to Rosings. You must. Better yet, you should take me there. Aunt Catherine would be thrilled, as would Anne. Our cousin cannot understand why you are failing to come to her, as you should. It is time to live up to our family’s expectations and offer for Anne. Please, Fitzwilliam. I long to have a sister, and Anne will be the perfect sister for me.” She sat up as she spoke, proving her brother correct on his assumption of her clothing.
“We are not having this discussion again. Besides, I wish for you to meet our other cousins. They live nearby, and I am certain that you will love them. Jane and Lizzy are very kind, and you should know them.”
“They are beneath us in station, being the daughters of a lowly country squire. How can you expect me to acknowledge them? This is unbelievable. You are deliberately attempting to ruin my reputation. I am the granddaughter of an earl. Our father, though untitled, was one of the richest gentlemen in England, with a fine estate. You cannot do this to me.”
“Remember, you have chores to tend today. If you have Alice perform them for you, I will dismiss her without reference. Your bed is to be made, and you will need to see to your clothing, see that any laundering needing to be done is done. And I expect you to be dressed to attend dinner tonight. Do not force me to come up here and drag you to the dinner table.”
~~ ** ~~
An express arrived at Rosings Park, addressed to the Countess of Matlock. When Rebecca Fitzwilliam opened the message, she was visibly upset. Her husband came to her side quickly. “What has happened? Is it Richard? Has he been wounded?”
“It is from Georgiana. She needs our assistance, as her brother is behaving irrationally. Not only did he drag our poor niece to stay in the home of a family whose wealth comes from trade, but he is insisting she meet their cousins…the ones by Olivia Darcy. You remember, Gerald’s sister, she married a country squire of no importance.”
“Why would Fitzwilliam wish to have connections with the likes of them? I remember that after Gerald’s sister died, the husband cut all ties with the Darcy family. It would be ridiculous to force Georgiana to have contact with the likes of poor country folks. What could be going through that boy’s mind?” Lord Matlock was shocked.
Lady Catherine overheard her brother’s discussion. Perhaps it is time I take matters in my own hands and force Darcy to marry Anne. I wish control of Pemberley, and I have waited long enough.
~~ ** ~~
The militia was newly arrived in Meryton, preparing to remain in the neighborhood until the following summer. The winters in Hertfordshire were relatively mild in comparison to the counties of the north, and for that purpose alone, George Wickham had decided to join the troop, under the command of Colonel Forster. The colonel had a reputation of being a simpleton, and Wickham would have an easy time in controlling the man.
Wickham had been attempting to keep away from the men who were searching for him, as he had accumulated debts far greater than he could ever pay. If only his godfather had been generous, but Gerald Darcy had gifted a miserly one thousand pounds and a living as the parson at Kympton. Infuriated, Wickham had allowed Fitzwilliam Darcy to take advantage of him, leaving Darcy to offer his former friend a mere three thousand pounds,far less than the living was worth. Now, Wickham would have to remain in the country, avoiding those he owed, rather than enjoying life, as he should. George Wickham had always thought himself to be deserving of wealth. The young man had been at his godfather’s side in the years leading to Gerald Darcy’s death. In Wickham’s mind, that deserved to have far more compensation that he had received.
If only I could gain access to the funds that the late Mr Darcy had hidden at Darcy House or Pemberley. His son had removed the funds and jewelry from the hiding places of his father. The younger Darcy was doing all in his power to keep me from my rightful inheritance, I am certain. He would not allow me to see his father’s will, so he is most likely hiding his father’s true gift to me. How unfortunate that I had been unable to find anything of real value to pawn. One day, I will find a way to make him pay me what I am due.
Wickham had entered the pub and walked over to sit with his friend, Lieutenant Denny. Denny was a good man, though not extremely intelligent. When Wickham had explained his tale of woes to Denny of how his childhood friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, had cheated him out of his inheritance, Denny felt sympathy for the new lieutenant. The lies were a favorite of the former steward’s son, making the current Master of Pemberley appear to be the villain.
“There you are, Wickham. I just heard some news you might wish to hear. Perhaps you will be able to better your lot afterall.”
Picking up a mug of ale from the table, Wickham took a sip. “What are you going on about, Denny?”
“You will have a chance to speak to the man about your inheritance. That one from the north.”
“How would I be able to speak with him? Darcy is in Town or at his estate.” Wickham motioned to the wench who was serving the customers to bring him another mug, then drank the remains of the first one.
“Because he is here. Staying at one of the estates near Meryton. I over heard the butcher telling Mrs Long about the guests of Mr Bingley. Seems that a Mr Darcy and Miss Darcy are to stay at Netherfield for a month.” Denny smiled. “Perhaps the gent will be kinder to you while he is on holiday.”
“You do not know Darcy. He is not kind in any manner.” Wickham sat there, thinking of what his friend had relayed. “You said Miss Darcy was with her brother? She is fond of me, as I devoted many hours to her enjoyment.”
“Then you should apply to the sister to come to your aid.” Denny smiled.
A smile also grew on Wickham’s lips. If I remember correctly, Georgiana Darcy’s dowry was thirty thousand pounds. Such a sum would do nicely, and, if anything were to happen to her brother, I could become Master of Pemberley. Now to find a way to speak with Georgiana alone. She was a gullible child, perhaps she still remembers me favorably.
~~ ** ~~
Three days later, Georgiana had escaped the manor house of Netherfield Park, claiming a desire to exercise her horse. Her real desire was to be as far from her brother and his friends. For three days, she had been forced to abide by Darcy’s ruling, cleaning up her room, making her bed, and doing her laundry.
Though her maid had been loyal, Alice took Darcy’s statement to heart. The maid did not wish to lose her position, especially when Darcy had stated she would not receive a reference. Alice sent money to her widowed mother and her four younger children, and her family could ill afford to lose the income.
The worst for Georgiana was having to dine with the Bingley family. Caroline Bingley was forever fawning over Georgiana, in an attempt to garner attention from Mr Darcy. Georgiana had watched women of society behave in the same manner, which she found to be appalling. Charles Bingley was always cheerful, with a smile gracing his lips. How distasteful it was to see the constant smile, especially since Georgiana could find nothing in her current situation to smile about.
Having ridden near a stream, which was close to the merchant village of Meryton, Georgiana decided to give her horse a moment to drink from the cool water.
“Miss Darcy, can it truly be you?” a man’s voice was heard from behind her.
Turning around, the girl looked at the man, attempting to place him. After a few moments, recognition came to her. “Mr Wickham, Mr George Wickham?”
“Indeed. What a pleasure to see you. It has been an age since we last met. Before your dear father’s passing, if I remember correctly.”
“Father died several years ago. How I miss him.” Georgiana gave a deep sigh.
“He was the very best of men, and it pains me to see how things have gone since his death. My godfather would be truly disappointed if he saw the situation in which I have been left.”
Georgiana frowned. “Why would my father be disappointed? You appear to be serving in a noble position, as a member of the militia, from the looks of your uniform.”
“It was out of desperation, Miss Darcy, which led me to my current position. After your brother denied me the living at Kympton, the living left to me in your father’s will, I was forced to find other means to support myself.”
“William denied you the living? How could my brother be so selfish? He had no right to act in such a manner. If Father left you the living, you should have been given said living. Well, I will have to speak with him on the matter, as it is horrible. Father enjoyed your visits, and you always made me smile.”
“Is your brother here, in the neighborhood?” Wickham asked.
“Yes, unfortunately. We are staying at Netherfield Park, with the Bingley family. If not for them, I would be in Rosings, visiting my Aunt Catherine and her daughter, Anne.”
A smile graced his lips. It was obvious that the girl was displeased with her brother. “Well, I, for one, am grateful you are here. For if you had not joined you brother, I would have missed the opportunity to see you. My, what a fine young lady you have become. I thought you were beautiful before, but you are far superior as a young lady than you were as a child.”
Georgiana’s vanity was peaked. “Thank you, Mr Wickham. I have missed you in the last years. How long are you to remain in the neighborhood?”
“Several months. We will remain in Meryton until late spring or summer. My dream is to have enough saved by then to be able to purchase a higher rank, so I would be able to earn a larger wage. Without such, I would be forced to remain unmarried, as I could not afford to keep a wife on the salary of a lieutenant. Especially a fine young lady, such as you have become.” Wickham knew he had set the hook, now he only needed to have Georgiana take the bait.
The flattery from a handsome young man was something that Georgiana had rarely received, as she was not yet out in society. Wickham was not surprised to see her blush. He knew he was using the correct tactics.
“Perhaps I could convince my brother he should give you the living.” Georgiana said. “You do not deserve to suffer so at the hands of William. Most likely he was jealous of you.”
“Please, Miss Darcy, do not trouble. I would prefer your brother not know I am here. If he discovered I was in the militia, I fear that he would do something to impede my employment. Fitzwilliam Darcy would have no difficulty in seeing me penniless, simply to amuse himself.”
Georgiana nodded her head. “He would do such, I am certain. He refuses me to do anything in which I find pleasure, forcing me to do as he demands. He is even having me do the work of servants, saying I need to learn how those beneath us work hard to provide comfort and care for us. They are servants, that is what they are supposed to do, is it not? Why is he torturing me, if not for his cruel nature and wish for entertainment?”
“I am appalled by your brother’s behavior. How could he treat such a delicate flower in such a manner? Miss Darcy, please know that if every you have need of a friend to protect you, I will be at your side.”
“What relief it is to know someone in this horrible place would protect me from my brother’s behavior. I am waiting to hear from my aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Matlock. They will be grateful that I have someone to protect me until they are able to come here and remove me from Brother.”
Wickham was nervous. The last thing he needed to interfere with his plan was Lord and Lady Matlock to show up and take Georgiana away before he had a chance to win her hand. “Well, perhaps you should write to them, informing them that a long time friend is in the neighborhood, and will watch over you. It would be a shame to have them take you away, just as we have found each other once again.”
Pink blossomed on Georgiana’s cheeks. “Thank you, Mr Wickham. I am ever so grateful to you for your devotion. How could you be anything but a gentleman, having had my father’s guidance as he was your godfather.”
“Miss Darcy, do you plan to ride regularly?”
A nod of the head was her reply.
“Would I be asking too much to request meeting you? My greatest desire would be to know you better. You have grown into a fine young lady, and it would be my pleasure to speak of happier times, when your father was alive.”
This was an opportunity Georgiana could not refuse. To think, she would be able to speak with someone she fondly remembered from her youth, someone who did not think highly of her brother. And it would give Georgiana an escape from the Bingleys. Not to mention, Wickham was just as handsome as he had always been. The young girl could feel pleasure from his compliments. “Mr Wickham, I would be pleased to meet you every day. Should we meet here, at the same time?”
“My dear Miss Darcy, nothing would bring me greater pleasure. You have given me such joy.” He lifted her hand to his lips, placing a gentle kiss on its back.
“I…I…should be returning to the house. William may begin searching for me if I am gone too long. The last thing I would wish is for him to ruin our meetings.”
“To tomorrow, Miss Darcy. And to pleasant dreams until then.”
Assisting the girl to remount her horse, Wickham waited until after she had ridden away before he chuckled. How simple this will be, as she likely will run off with me and eloped today, if I had asked her. Darcy has no notion as to how simple he has made this for me. My dear, sweet, stupid child, Georgiana Darcy, you will surrender to me in no time, and then I will take your dowry and leave you. Yes, this will be as simple as taking sweets from a child.
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