Elizabeth was surprised at the behavior of the gentleman seated across from her in the carriage. Mr Darcy was quite impossible to figure out. Usually Elizabeth was able to sketch a person’s character in a short time, but not Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. One moment he was all that was proper, then he acted like an insecure girl.
She was not certain who the real Mr Darcy was. The carriage had become silent as the occupants were lost in their own thoughts. Mr Bingley’s thoughts were of Miss Jane Bennet. He wished to be with her, courting her as he desired. He had no intentions of listening to either of his sisters on the matter, he was a man in love and refused to think of anything other than his beautiful Jane. Perhaps he would send Caroline and the Hursts to Scarborough, give him time alone with the young lady who held his heart.
The maid sat quietly in one corner of the bench, obviously uncomfortable with being in a carriage with people she did not know. The girl had never spoken a word to any of them, yet here she was, riding in the carriage, to make the situation proper, as Elizabeth Bennet was unmarried and the two men were not related to her. She found it humorous that the upper class felt it improper for an unmarried gently bred female to ride in a carriage with men, yet no one ever questioned an unmarried female servant riding in a carriage with men. But the maid knew it was not her place to question the rules set up by those who were better than herself.
All her life, Ginny had been instructed on proper behavior and the difference between the working class and those of high society.
The carriage came to a sudden stop, making Elizabeth reach out to grasp the window frame near her for fear that she would be thrown towards the back of the carriage, which would have landed her in the lap of the gentleman from Derbyshire.
They heard hooves riding quickly towards them. Bingley opened the carriage door and poked his head outside. Seeing the officers in their red coats, Bingley turned back to his friend. “Looks like the officers have some news. Come Darcy, let us discover what they know.”
Colonel Forester came to a halt near the carriage and stepped down from his mount. “We have found them. They are in a village nearly three miles ahead. From the looks of things, the carriage has a broken wheel. They will be stuck there, as there was no help to be had to repair it. Captain Denny saw the driver take one of the horses and ride off towards the north. If I am not mistaken, that would take him to Luton.”
Bingley nodded his head. “It is some distance from there to Luton, is it not?”
“The driver will not return anytime soon. My main concern is Wickham is inside the carriage with the ladies. From what I know of the miscreant, he will have at least two, if not three weapons on him. We would not wish harm to the ladies, especially your sister, Mr Darcy.”
Georgiana did not know what to say. She was certain that her brother would know how to handle the situation. He was clever and wise, and would stop at nothing to save her, if it was truly her in the carriage. How was she to devise a plan?
One thing she knew for certain was that she needed to find a way to retrieve the stone from Miss Elizabeth’s reticule. Perhaps, if they were able to change back into their own bodies, Fitzwilliam would be able to rescue her from Wickham. But there was another problem. How would she get the stone close enough for both she and her brother to touch it?
“Mr Darcy, does that plan sound good or do you have a different suggestion to defeat Wickham?”
Turning her attention back to the colonel, Georgiana apologized.
“Forgive me, Colonel, but I was thinking. What was your suggestion?”
“There is a cottage about a mile outside the village. Perhaps there is someone who could approach the carriage, ask if they need food or drink. Wickham would most likely be the first one out of the carriage, with your sister and her companion following them. My men could be hidden, so when the trio came past, they could apprehend Wickham.”
“Do not forget Mrs Younge’s duplicity in this situation. She is likely to be carrying a knife or a lady’s pistol with her.” Georgiana was certain her companion would be carrying such, as the woman never went anywhere without them. What was once thought to be strange now became expected.
“That is good to know. Then we could come up from behind them, taking Mrs Younge first, pulling your sister to the side before Wickham has a chance to react.”
“I have been through this area many times.” Lieutenant Decker stated. “It has fallen on hard times. There is a woman and her two children in that cottage. Both children are boys, and I am certain that for a coin or two, they would be willing to aid us. The parsonage is a few streets from where the carriage is located. We could have the boys say they were sent by the parson.”
Georgiana nodded. “I will be the one to pull my sister to safety. You men take Mrs Younge and Wickham and use as much force as you require in doing so. Wickham deserves every strike of a fist he receives.”
By that time, Elizabeth was standing beside the men. “Where do you wish me to be? I could assist in capturing Mrs Younge.”
“No, you cannot place yourself in such danger, Miss Elizabeth.” Georgiana stated, the tone of her brother’s voice declaring strongly of the refusal.
“If I were to wear a bonnet, no one would see my face. I could get closer to Mrs Younge, then trip her. At that point, Mr Darcy can rescue his sister and you men can concentrate on Mr Wickham and the fallen Mrs Younge.”
“Miss Elizabeth has a point, Sir. She would be able to reach Mrs Younge far easier than we could.” Colonel Forester agreed. “I would also state to you, Miss Elizabeth, that if anything appears to be wrong, and you would not be able to carry out your task, you will walk away. We do not wish to have to explain to your father why you were injured.”
“I agree, Colonel. Have no fear, I have bested many of the young men surrounding my home, in speed and in strength. Even at my age, I can climb trees with very little difficulties. Just do not tell my mother, as she would be calling for her salts and crying of her nerves.”
The men chuckled. Colonel Forester suggested they hurry to the cottage to recruit the boys and a different bonnet to disguise Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
~~ ** ~~
Two young boys approached the carriage which needed repairs. “Sir, sir… our mother sent us to see if you would care for some bread and drink. It may not be much, but it is all we have to spare.” The oldest boy called from outside the carriage.
Wickham opened the door, looking at the boys. “And what is in it for you? Do you expect me to give you my hard-earned funds?”
From behind him, Wickham could hear a snorting laugh. Turning, he noticed his captive was attempting to hide a smile behind her hand. “What is wrong with you, Georgiana?”
Darcy dropped the hand that was at his face. “You have never done a day’s work in your life. You were always expecting others to work for you.”
A frown grew, causing a crease to form on Wickham’s forehead. “If I did not know better, I would believe you were your brother. You sang a prettier tune when we went for walks in London. You thought me to be quite the catch.”
“Do not flatter yourself, Wickham. I know the truth of you. My father was a fool to waste his money seeing to your future. You will never amount to anything.”
“You suddenly have courage. If you were wise, you would keep your opinions to yourself. Do you wish for some refreshments or would you prefer to remain here?”
“I would prefer being back at Netherfield, but if this is the only option I have, I will accept some tea. Being out of this carriage and able to stretch a bit would be wonderful.”
Wickham returned his attention to the boys. “So how much is your mother wanting for her generosity?”
“She said it was yours if you wish, no need to pay. Our ma is a good lady, and she saw the ladies in the carriage. Follow us, we will take you to our house.”
First out of the carriage was Wickham, followed by Darcy and Mrs Younge brought up the rear. The trio was nearly a street behind the boys when they saw an elderly woman walking with a cane. Her bonnet had a wide brim and she wore a shawl over her shoulders, but there was something familiar about the woman, at least to Darcy. Looking down at the woman’s feet, he witnessed that the hem of her gown was covered in mud, apparently from a walk near the pond earlier in the day and failed to change gowns. There was only one lady he knew who would dare to be seen with her gown in such a condition, but how was she in this village?
Out of the corner of his eye, Darcy noticed something move near the rear of one of the vacant shops. Had someone learned of their disappearance and come to rescue him? Surely, they would not use a gently born lady to assist in taking down a pair of criminals such as Wickham and Mrs Younge. Who else was there, risking their lives to rescue him?
As the old lady neared Mrs Younge, she stumbled and nearly fell to the ground. While the attention of Mrs Younge was on the old lady, the cane was used to send the companion to the ground, face first in the dirt.
Suddenly everything changed. The boys had run off and Darcy spied his sister running in his direction.
Grabbing hold of Darcy’s arm, Georgiana pulled him behind a nearby shop which appeared to be closed.
“Georgiana, what is going on here? Miss Elizabeth is in danger. We must protect her from that pair of vipers.”
“We will, Brother, but first we must return to ourselves.” Georgiana held out her hand, showing him the stone which she had swiped from Elizabeth’s reticule. “Just do not ever tell Miss Elizabeth I stole the stone from her.”
“I believe we have both learned a great deal from this adventure.” Darcy declared as he leaned forward, taking hold of Georgiana by the hand which was wrapped around the Blue John Fluorite. As their fingers twined together, Darcy could feel the stone touch his flesh.
The siblings found themselves momentarily dazed after discovering they had been thrown to the ground once again. Fortunately, this time, each was in their proper body.
As Darcy smiled with glee at being himself again, he heard Wickham calling out to others who were now in the street.
“Take another step and I will kill Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Darcy’s heart was gripped with fear. He knew that she was the one lady he could ever love. In the time that they had known one another, Elizabeth Bennet had proven herself a cut above all others, no matter her status in society. All of his life, he had encountered the marriage mart, feeling as if he were a prime cut of meat up for sale. But not when he was with Elizabeth. The only difficult part of his relationship with the second Bennet sister was that she thought she was with Georgiana Darcy, not Fitzwilliam.
And now she was in danger, at the hands of Wickham. He must do everything possible to save her, even if it cost him his own.
Georgiana peered around the corner of the building shielding them from view. “W…William, what can we do to save Miss Elizabeth?”
“You remain here, out of sight. Wickham wants you, for your dowry. He was planning to take you to Gretna Green. Once you were married, he would claim your dowry and abandon you.”
“I am not surprised. The dinner with the officers, Wickham approached me, speaking, as he believed, to Fitzwilliam Darcy. His vile words shook me, made me realize that his sweet word when we were in London were false.”
“Now is not the time to fret over his words. We must determine how to save Miss Elizabeth.”
“If Wickham were to believe I would willingly go with him, he might drop his guard long enough to allow you to rescue Miss Elizabeth.”
“I cannot allow him to touch you, Georgiana. If he did…I would kill him if he ever harmed you. You are all the family I have left and I will not sacrifice you to such a scoundrel.”
Georgiana smiled. It was the first time in many years she felt close to her brother. “I have no intention of him touching me, Brother. I simply wish to distract him by making him believe I will go with him. In the distraction, you and the officers can disarm him and secure Miss Elizabeth’s safety.”
A sound came from behind them as Colonel Forester appeared. “Mr Darcy, Miss Darcy, are you well?”
“We are, Colonel. How did Wickham get his hands on Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy asked.
“When Mrs Younge fell, Miss Elizabeth attempted to move away, only to have the companion grab the hem of her gown, pulling Miss Elizabeth to the ground. Wickham saw that Miss Darcy was no longer in the road, and seeing the old lady was actually Miss Elizabeth, he ran over and took hold of her, holding a knife to her throat.” Colonel Forester was furious. “To think such a man felt he was worthy of being an officer is disgusting. No honor.”
“If he was distracted by thinking he could continue with his plan to marry my sister, do you believe we could safely remove Miss Elizabeth from his grasp?”
“It might work. I doubt he is aware of your being here, as Mr Bingley was making sure the boys were safely away from the road. All Wickham has seen are my officers.”
Darcy nodded his head. “If you would stay by my sister’s side as she distracts Wickham, I will make my way around and behind the rogue.”
The plan was discussed quickly, and in a moment, Darcy moved from the alley, leaving his sister in the hands of the colonel.
After giving her brother a few moments, Georgiana motioned to Colonel Forester. The two of them moved from the alley, visible to Wickham and the officers standing in the road.
“George, you must release Miss Elizabeth. I thought our plan was to go to Gretna Green. Come, we will continue there. The colonel will not stop us. I have promised to see your commission is purchased by another, and there will be no problems with your having left without permission. Colonel Forester realizes that I am with you of my own free will, and that we are to marry.”
Wickham looked at Georgiana with a wary expression. “How can I believe you? In the carriage, you spoke so differently.”
“I was confused, George. Now that I have thought of the situation, I realize I was being a silly girl. But I wish to be your wife, and to have a wonderful life together. How delightful it will be to sign my name as Mrs Wickham when I write to my brother to inform him of our marriage.”
The man was doubtful that the situation could be resolved so quickly, but Wickham was eager to be away from the area. “Darcy is unaware of our departure from Meryton?”
Colonel Forester shook his head. “We left Meryton without sending word to Mr Darcy. As far as I know, the gentleman is still at Netherfield.”
“Please, George, release Miss Elizabeth, so we might leave. Colonel Forester has a carriage we can use to continue our journey.”
“Why would he have a carriage, and Miss Elizabeth with him?” Mrs Younge hissed.
Elizabeth spoke, softly at first so as not to startle her captor. “I had walked to Meryton to visit my aunt. You remember Mrs Phillips. When Colonel Forester stopped to ask if I had seen you or Miss Darcy, I said I had not. Due to our not knowing there was a chaperone, the colonel requested my coming with them. There is a maid from my aunt’s home in the carriage. Colonel Forester believed we could catch up with you and liberate Miss Darcy. We had no way of knowing she was with you willingly. All we knew was she was seen with you, and then you were gone.”
There was a momentary relaxation in the hand in which Wickham held a large, evil looking knife. At that moment, everything changed.
Mrs Younge cried out to her lover, as she spied Darcy coming from behind him. “George, look out.” Her finger pointing towards the fast approaching Darcy.
Wickham turned his head slightly, just as Elizabeth Bennet stomped hard on his right foot. Shoving his captive to the side, the scoundrel turned his attention to the fast approaching figure, just as it tackled him, forcing Wickham to the ground. The men wrestled about, finally coming to the area where Elizabeth had landed. The officers moved forward, three of them taking hold of Wickham, twisting his arm behind his back, moving him away from Darcy and Elizabeth. Only then did anyone realize where the knife had gone.
There was a knife stuck in the right side Elizabeth Bennet’s abdomen.
“No!” Darcy cried out as he scurried across the ground to be at her side. Darcy pulled the blade from her body, flinging it to the ground.
The attention of the officers was momentarily distracted, giving Wickham a chance to escape. A chance he took, pulling free from the men holding him and lunging towards the knife. Grabbing the weapon, Wickham rolled over and prepared to attack the officers near him, until a shot rang out.
Wickham turned his eyes towards the sound of a pistol firing. He saw Colonel Forester, still standing beside Georgiana, holding a pistol in his hand, as the smoke from the firearm was still visible. Suddenly Wickham could feel a searing pain in his chest. Looking down at his hand, which had automatically moved to his chest.
Pulling the hand back from the front of his coat, Wickham could see blood had covered it and was dripping to the ground.
The man looked frightened for the first time in his life. How had he come to such an end? He had always believed himself above the society to which he had been born. Gerald Darcy had been his godfather, sending him to university alongside his own heir. How had it come to being poor, a wanted man, and now shot by an officer of the militia? He was supposed to have his own estate, endless funds at his fingertips, a beautiful wife to bear him heirs and plenty of mistresses on the side to see to his needs. But he was in this derelict village, falling to the dirt road, blood pouring from his chest.
These were the final thoughts that George Wickham had, as he was dead by the time his head touched the road. He would cause no further problems for anyone. The only thing he left behind was a line of debts and ruination.
Darcy leaned over, scooping Elizabeth in his arms. Looking around, he had no idea where to take her.
“Darcy, we should take her to a physician. There is none here, we need to take her to Meryton or Luton.” Bingley called out as he motioned his friend in the direction of the hidden carriage.
Colonel Forester hurried behind Darcy, assisting Georgiana to join her brother. The officers remained with Mrs Younge, who was sobbing as she looked at the lifeless form of her lover.
Once the Darcys, Bingley and Elizabeth were loaded into the carriage, Colonel Forester called for the driver to take them to Luton. They would find medical care in Luton, where there was only an apothecary at Meryton, and Luton was closer.
Darcy held Elizabeth in his arms, praying that she would be well. He could not lose her. Of all he had learned during his stay in Hertfordshire, Darcy had learned what it was like to know love. And he would do anything in his power to see that the young lady survived.
The maid sat in the corner of the carriage, watching everything happening. She knew that Miss Elizabeth was injured, but the way Darcy was holding her was inappropriate. If anyone else saw the familiar manner the gentleman held Elizabeth’s body, the Bennet family would face ruination.
“We must hurry.” Darcy stated. “And find a physician immediately. Miss Elizabeth must have the best care possible.”
Bingley had been looking out the carriage window rather than watching his friend. He saw a man wearing a red coat ride past the carriage, heading in the same direction they were traveling. “It appears that Colonel Forester sent one of the officers ahead of us. Most likely to discover the location of the physician. Good man, Colonel Forester.”
“Indeed. We owe him tremendously. As soon as Miss Elizabeth recovers, we will need to do something to show him and his officers our appreciation.” Darcy stated, though he could not turn his eyes from Elizabeth. He watched each movement of her body as she breathed. With each breath, he knew she was alive.
“All will be well, William. Have faith that she will survive.” Georgiana suggested softly.
Darcy nodded his head. “I am trying, Sister. Believe me, I am trying. If only she would open her eyes and speak to us, then I would feel some relief.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~