When I started posting this story I was unsure if it would entirely develop as I had planned. There were some surprises along the way, but this particular chapter went as outlined. There is a non-graphic attempted sexual assault scene in this chapter. I apologize for not putting a warning on the beginning of the story for those that would otherwise wish to avoid reading one or a story containing one. I will put that portion in a different color.
Wickham tugged on his uniform coat. Mrs. Bennet spread a good table and the frequent dinners were getting the better of his waistline. He would tell Elizabeth to be more mindful once they were married. Of course, considering marriage to her made other parts of his attire tighten as well.
She was entirely irresistible yesterday while they played chess. She teased and distracted him as her red lips smiled at just him. When her cheeks flushed with laughter, he could imagine another way to bring them such a rosy hue. She would enjoy his bed; he was certain of it. Aside from her physical charms, he respected her cunning mind. That she esteemed him when most others would look down on his position, and her interest in his life and amusements, was all the further encouragement he needed. As soon as he could settle on the best way to arrange financial matters, he would take her as his wife. A grin spread across his face as he considered just how much taking her would involve.
Hearing loud cheers in the common room, Wickham entered.
“Wickham! We’re going!” cheered Chamberlayne. He sloshed half his cup of ale on his arm. Other officers surrounded him and toasted as well.
Turning away in disgust from the half-inebriated men, Wickham sought out Denny. “What’s this about?”
Taking a large swig, Denny shook his head. “Fools the lot of them. Orders came in. We’re needed up North to put down a rebellion.”
“Rebellion? The Scots?”
“Nah, just idiot cropper scum that think they’re better than everyone.”
“Are they that eager to be heroes?”
“I sure hope your plan is ready,” Denny said.
“Of course, it is!” He snapped at his friend.
“Denny! Wickham! Drink up, friends!” Carter shoved full cups into their hands. “We owe it all to Lord Arlington. He personally recommended our regiment!”
“Begin the next phase today,” Wickham instructed.
“You think things will go smoothly?” Denny inquired.
“I have no doubts at all.” Wickham smiled. “Now, we will need to think of something to do about Arlington. His recommendation for our regiment was no mistake, I am sure.”
Denny grinned. “I will leave you to the scheming,” he said before gathering the other men for a game with Mr. Bennet, and to enjoy Longbourn’s superior port and pretty company.
He returned several hours later. “Did you complete your task?” Wickham asked.
“He said his vowels with Carter and Chamberlayne as witnesses. Quite put out too, I reckon.”
“How much?” Wickham asked, his pitch increased, and he leaned forward. His heart was racing with anticipation.
“Ten thousand,” came the reply.
Wickham sat back and grinned in satisfaction. “Excellent. Shall we?”
Both men laughed and returned to the common room.
The next day, Wickham arrived at Longbourn alone. He was disappointed to be told that Eliza had gone out walking, but he would look for her later. First, there was business with Mr. Bennet. Wickham was directed to the library and it was clear the other gentleman was in a foul mood.
“Ah, the others told you what you missed yesterday,” he said while motioning for Wickham to sit and pouring a glass of port for his guest. “I will not be playing against you. I know your mind is too shrewd; with Denny, I really thought I had a chance.” He set the glass in front of Wickham. “I’ll never touch the stuff again.”
Wickham abstained from the offer. He needed his head sharp. “I was sorry to hear about your misfortune,” he said in a tone of affected sincerity. “It is actually that matter I came to see you about.”
“Indeed?” Mr. Bennet flicked a piece of paper. “In my youth, I was a bit of a gamester. I thought it would be easy enough to earn a few thousand pounds for my daughters’ sake. I am writing my brother-in-law at the moment to cover the debt, but if you know of some secure investment I can make to pay him back, I would be thankful.”
“I have considered a way for no repayment to be necessary.”
“How can that be possible?” Mr. Bennet asked with a twinge of desperation in his voice.
“Denny lost to me last night, and I would be willing to cancel your debt in exchange for Miss Eliza’s hand in marriage and one hundred pounds per annum.”
Mr. Bennet turned white. “Why would you need to negotiate with me? If you ask for her hand and she accepts you, I will gladly give the one hundred pounds.”
Wickham took on a sorrowful expression. “I do not think she would accept as yet, based on her own affections, and we have received orders for the North to leave on Twelfth Night. I would hate to interrupt my courtship, or worse, not return to her. I do love her dearly, but time is now my enemy. I would do this also to give her peace of mind. I could never accept so much from her father and ruin her family’s happiness.”
Wickham held his breath as Mr. Bennet seemed to consider his options. Taking off his spectacles, he scrubbed his hand over his face then looked out the window. “So be it,” he whispered.
Wickham exhaled and stood. “I had hoped to see her today. Do you know which direction she intended to walk?”
“She was to call on a tenant, Mrs. Harrison, who just had a baby.” Mr. Bennet gave him the directions while hastily writing a note. “If she does not accept your proposal, give her this.”
Wickham nodded, although did not think it would be needed at all. He hastily left the room, intent on securing his bride.
Elizabeth walked to the Harrison’s farm and attempted to not be reminded of her day spent with Darcy. She wondered if the feeling, as though he were still physically present and beside her, would ever go away. She moved slower than usual and tried to tell herself it was because her ankle was still sore. She knew the truth, however. Her heart was weighed down.
Since Jane and the Gardiners left two days ago, she had more time for silent reflection. She still felt the sting of Darcy’s mode of proposal, although after Mr. Collins’ humiliating proposal her father had cautioned her to not be so sensitive about modes of address. Likewise, she hated that she had been so mistaken regarding his true character. Perhaps for others, he was gentlemanly enough, but she had superior standards. She frowned as she recalled their debate weeks ago at Netherfield about gentlemanly character. It was an insult to realize she could be so blind and mislead him so simply because of flattered vanity. The real thing that afflicted her mind was knowing she never deserved his proposal. She still maintained that their stations in life held no true obstacle, but her spirits had led her wrong. She had hoped to maintain his admiration for Jane’s sake without regard to his feelings, or hers.
She blinked back tears as she arrived at the Harrison’s door. She was quickly welcomed in and set to work. Pleased to see Nate’s continued recovery, she allowed the woman of the house to rest. An hour or two later, it was time for her to leave and Mrs. Harrison handed a letter to her.
“Molly, who works up at Netherfield, gave this to me on Christmas Day. She said it could only go to you or I would have passed it along to your sisters,” she cast her eyes down. “I did not want to be rude and sound demanding of your time, with all you do for us, and hint too strongly that you needed to visit soon.”
“Oh! My dear Mrs. Harrison, please forgive me!” Elizabeth cried. “I could never forget you or your family! I ought to have come on Boxing Day, but I felt unwell.”
“I know how it is,” the older woman met Elizabeth’s eyes. “They say it is just the master and his sisters and brother-in-law at Netherfield now. The others have left.” She gave Elizabeth a sad smile. “But I knew you would not forget us. Now, go on and read it.” She shooed Elizabeth out the door.
Elizabeth wandered the lanes for several minutes before she had the nerve to open the letter. It was in Georgiana’s handwriting and she could not have been more disappointed. At last, she opened it just to read that her friend enclosed her brother’s letter to keep it away from intrusive eyes. Hardly knowing what to expect, she opened and read his words.
My Dearest, Loveliest Elizabeth,
Words cannot express the pain I felt upon leaving your side today. I can only think that we must have had some terrible misunderstanding. You must know, you must have seen all these weeks, how constant my admiration for you is. You are unlike any other lady I have known. Your combined beauty and wit seem perfectly designed for me, but it goes well beyond any logical reasons. I love you. I feel your heart beating in mine. I offered you marriage for no other reason than I do not know how to live without you.
I asked to meet with you this morning to address your questions regarding Mr. Wickham, and I apologise for failing to do so due to my ungentlemanly impulses. Given your objections to my hand, I am thankful that you voiced them. We should only have honesty and openness between us.
I was wrong in my endeavour to separate Bingley from your sister. I was worried about the strength of his attachment, and if my words allowed him to wait the weeks that have passed since our conversation before the Netherfield Ball, then I cannot see it as an evil. Bingley has often been in love before and for his sake as well as your sister’s, he ought to have waited to test his true feelings. I do regret, however, the mode of my objection. It was built on unnecessary prejudice. In my youth, I was persuaded to believe women inconstant and mercenary creatures. I know now that I have unfairly judged the entire sex that way and, upon amending my views, believe your sister to be the best possible match for my friend.
I do not know what specifically Mr. Wickham has said about me. He was raised as a near companion to myself; the son of my father’s steward. My father was his godfather and took an active interest in Wickham’s life. My father paid for Wickham’s schooling and intended to provide for him in his will. Wickham was left one thousand pounds and it was recommended to me to give him the living of a valuable family holding when it came open if Wickham took orders. Shortly after the reading of the will, Wickham resolved to not enter the church and instead requested funds to study the law. Although he concealed his true character from my father, I have known of Wickham’s vicious propensities and wanton selfishness for many, many years. He was unable to hide his true self from a young man so close to him in age and I considered him most unsuited to the ministry of others. I gladly provided the income for his studies, on the condition that he never ask for the living. All connection between us then seemed dissolved.
I was mistaken, however. Three years passed and how Wickham lived, I know not. Rumours of a lascivious lifestyle would sometimes reach me, and I confess they did not surprise me. The living mentioned in my father’s will opened and, despite his earlier contract to give it up, Wickham approached me for it. He assured me he found the law an unprofitable study and his situation was now desperate enough to warrant his agreement to the life of a clergyman. I refused to alter our earlier agreement and he was profuse in his abuse to me and about me to others. For some time, there were repeated pleas for the position, invoking my father’s dying wish and our old friendship. Resisting them all, I did not repine the time when he seemed to give up his hopes.
I was once again mistaken. Georgiana completed her education last spring and was taken from school, as you know. She was put in the care of a woman named Mrs. Younge, who I later learned had a connection to Mr. Wickham. Mrs. Younge suggested a visit to the seaside for Georgiana and to Ramsgate they went, followed by Wickham.
There he persuaded Georgiana that he was in love with her and to consent to an elopement. I arrived by chance a day before the intended date. Georgiana found she could not pain me so much as to marry in secrecy and confessed it all to me. Upon learning I was in the area, Wickham immediately fled. Georgiana had no choice but to accept my testaments about her suitor., as devastating as it was.
Perhaps I ought to have exposed his true character to Meryton society but I can only say that I worried for my sister’s reputation and feared I would sound like a pretentious gentleman slandering a common man. I have met with Wickham, who assures me he has no need of my money and he has avoided me at every encounter. I dare not trust he is reformed and I am surprised to hear that he has spoken to you so much as to have your good opinion. I do not know what scheme he has planned, but it is now clear to me he has used his presence in this county well. He must detect my feelings for you, as open as I have displayed them.
I do apologise for not making my intentions clear to you weeks ago and exposing us both to gossip, but please be careful around Wickham. You cannot trust him! I will do everything in my power to put this letter in your hands on Monday morning and should you amend your answer you need only give me some opening. If not, I will only say that my love for you will never end and should you ever need my assistance I will always be your servant. God bless you, Elizabeth.
She believed it without hesitation. Yet, why did Will not give her the letter as he intended? There was the claim that Georgiana suddenly fell ill, but nothing was said about it in her note. Before she could consider more, she heard the voice of Mr. Wickham calling out to her.
“Miss Eliza!” She cringed. He was the last man in the world she wished to ever see again. “Eliza,” he said as he reached her side. He was breathing heavily as though he had run some distance to her, but his well-kept appearance made that unlikely.
“Mr. Wickham,” she nodded and continued on the path.
“Just a moment,” he reached for her hand. “I have the best news, my dear.”
Confused and concerned, she spun around. She attempted to pull her hand free, but Wickham did not relent.
“I have your father’s blessing.”
“For what?” she blurted out.
“Our marriage, of course!” She yanked her hand but his grip tightened and his other hand caught her arm. “Surprised, my love?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but he kissed her hard. When he released her, she could barely contain the urge to retch.
“Do not worry about the money. Your father’s debt will be forgiven and instead we will have something extra each year.”
“My…my…my father’s debt?” She stammered out.
“Forgiven is the wrong word. I have simply managed to collect one owed from our friend Darcy.”
“What do you mean?” she pleaded.
He pulled her closer. “Oh yes, I should have known you would be eager to hear how I manipulated him.”
Elizabeth’s skin crawled as one hand wrapped around her waist and he trailed the other over her throat.
“It was a splendid plan. When I realized you were only leading Darcy on for Jane’s sake, I knew we were kindred spirits. Your father’s sudden attack of conscience in wanting to provide a more generous dowry for you and your sisters was the perfect opening. Darcy soon exposed his interest in you. For your happiness, he would be willing to pay any price. He has already agreed to pay any sum owed to me by your father.”
Her confusion had progressed to fear when Wickham exchanged his hand for his lips on her neck. Squeezing her eyes shut, and willing the nightmare to cease, she forced herself to speak. Perhaps if he had to talk his lips would leave her skin. “But why does that mean we must marry?”
He placed one of her arms around his neck but stopped when he noticed the letter in her other hand, gripped tightly. His eyes dropped to the handwriting and his grip on her waist tightened painfully.
“You were not playing him. You were playing me!” He screamed harshly and turned red. He pushed her to the ground. She tripped over a root, twisting her newly healed ankle. He paced angrily in front of her. Then threw a folded piece of a paper at her.
“I have a letter of my own. Here. You have no choice.”
With trembling hands, Elizabeth opened the note and saw her father’s handwriting.
“No!” she screamed. She was not for purchase. “You have widely mistaken my character, Mr. Wickham, if you did not realize my selfishness. I care too much for my own happiness to rescue my family from the poor choices of my father.”
“You can’t mean that!” He bent and shouted in her face.
She pulled herself to her knees to be of more equal stature. “I do. Nothing in the world could prevail upon me to marry such a dissolute, unprincipled rogue as you.”
He pushed her backwards, knocking the air out of her lungs. Elizabeth hated how physically weak she was compared to him. “You stupid girl! You are determined to have him?”
Elizabeth vowed to herself if she survived this encounter she would indeed have Will. Nothing would keep her from him, even his own pride.
Maniacal laughter filled her ears. “You are, aren’t you?” He straddled her still prone figure and held her arms above her head with one hand while another roamed over her body. He said lowly but harshly in her ear. “And he will take you won’t he, beautiful Eliza? Then you must be my collateral lest everyone will know how his wife was a mercenary harlot.”
Elizabeth whimpered and kicked and strained to be released. “Settle, love or you will leave me no choice. Darcy wants an innocent wife for his first tumble, but he will have to know that I got a foretaste.”
Tears streamed down Elizabeth’s cheeks as pulled her bodice low. Afraid of his reaction, she bit her lip to avoid crying out in pain and disgust. In his zealousness, he let go of her hands and as she began to lower her arms, she felt a rock. Gripping it in her hand, she swung it round and hit him on the side of the head as hard as she could.
Wickham cried out in pain and blood trickled from the wound. He staggered up to tend to his injury and Elizabeth pulled free, scrambling backwards. He stood to reach her and promptly fell to the ground, clearly dizzy from his wound.
With savage instinct, Elizabeth stood and ran as best she could on her hurt ankle while attempting to fix her gown. She pushed herself at a painful pace until she came to the fork in the road to turn to Longbourn or Netherfield. Catching her breath, she looked around and perceived no sign of Wickham. Then, turning her back on Longbourn, she limped toward her sanctuary.
I’m going to post every day until the story is finished now. As brutal as that was, we’ve turned a corner on happily ever after.