Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 25

No Pretty picture today! My computer is acting up and has been installing an update for the last 13 hours…not a good sign. My photo subscription I can only access through it, for some reason. And the keyboard attachment on my iPad is broken. Toddler ripped it right in half. It still works, but I’m going to kill y neck by having to look at the screen flat on the desk and when I have neck pain I get a migraine. So… Wham bam post today.

Thanks for the comments yesterday! We’re almost done!


 

Chapter Twenty-Five

Darcy winced as his carriage lurched over another rut in the road. Elizabeth stirred beside him and he pulled the blanket closer around her and held her tighter in his arms. She had insisted she needed little rest to brave the two hundred mile journey, but Darcy had planned more stops than the others were taking. His uncle arranged for them to stay at a friend’s home, for which Darcy was grateful. He despised inns and having his wife in one even more so.

He ran a hand over his face and mentally ticked off his list of tasks. His uncle would speak with the gentlemen of the area. Arlington remained in London hoping to keep MPs and lords alike from working into a frenzy over the increased attacks. Mr. Truman had been given special leave to assist them in speaking with the shopkeepers. His father was a successful shopkeeper in Leeds and he had known the Bingleys since he was a child. Bingley would talk with his uncle.

Darcy had been selected to meet with the militia platoons set to arrive. He knew Colonel Forster’s regiment had been sent to West Riding, as to who led the specific platoons meant for Huddersfield, Darcy was ignorant. He had to admit, he would not be surprised if it were Wickham. They had released Denny to rejoin the Regiment near Manchester, but he did not know the details any more than Darcy did. Of course, meeting him in such an errand would mean he could not give Wickham the thrashing he deserved.

Darcy ground his teeth to stave off more recriminations and violent desires. With any luck, they could stave off violence in Huddersfield or other Bingley mills and perhaps even find a way to remove the gravest concerns the dissatisfied croppers had. Then, he could get on with his life. He would meet with Wickham and present his evidence of blackmail and extortion. Then he would offer Wickham a respectable life…perhaps in Canada. Anywhere, as long as it was far, far away from his loved ones.

He frowned. Of course, that was only part of the problem facing him and Elizabeth. He had agreed to marry her without her father’s presence because he agreed with Mr. Gardiner that she needed some time and distance from Mr. Bennet. They could not avoid him forever, though. Even at his most pretentious times would he never have suggested Elizabeth give up her connection to any of her family, let alone her father. Now, she suggested perhaps missing Jane and Bingley’s wedding, but he knew she would regret that choice. She only needed some encouragement to forgive Mr. Bennet.

The carriage rattled as it went over another muddy rut. Elizabeth roused but nestled closer to him. Her beautiful eyes looked up at him with love, and he knew he would never grow tired of the sight. “Did you rest well? Do you require a stop?”

“No. I am quite content for now.”

“Oh, only for now? Growing tired of your dour husband already?” he teased. There were so few he felt entirely comfortable with.

“Never will I tire of you, or being held in your arms.” She wrapped an arm around his waist and squeezed him. “I feel so safe with you.”

He tried to smile, as she undoubtedly had intended with her words, but in truth his heart broke for her again. In the two nights since they wed, she had been as bold and brave as he would have ever guessed she could be in their chambers. Only now did she give any hint that the effects of Wickham’s actions still lingered. He ought to have been there for her and he vowed to never fail her again.

“Do not think that,” she said. Her hand left his side and instead rubbed at the wrinkles on his brow caused by his thoughts.

“You can read my mind now?”

“Only on this, I think,” she said. “You are not to blame for Wickham’s actions.”

“I ought to have told you about his hatred of me long before. I had intended to say something, anything, to your father but lost my nerve. I failed you both.”

“Wickham is responsible for his own choices. You are not responsible for it anymore than your father for favoring him all those years. I do not care what Wickham expected from life, it is our actions and decisions that define us, even in the face of perceived injustice.”

Darcy slowly nodded his head. “It took me a very long time to absolve my father for any blame. It is difficult to be so generous with myself, however.”

Elizabeth gently kissed him. “You are the best man I have ever known or could ever hope to know. You have raised a beautiful, strong and caring sister. Your opinion is well respected by powerful lords and land owners—if not ignorant country misses,” she gave a rueful smile. “How can you be all this and in any way bear the responsibility for Wickham’s actions? I am sure your every interaction with him was likely out of care for him, even if he could not accept that at the time.”

He allowed her words to wash over him. It was true. He had continually hoped Wikcham could rise above his natural instincts and take the advantages he had been given. At one time he loved him as a brother as much as he now cared for Bingley. Realizing that one cannot force good decisions on a person was a hard lesson to learn. They turned off the main road and passed by a lodge.

“I believe we are coming up on Lundell Castle,” he said. Elizabeth straightened and made her way to the seat across from him. He frowned and reached for her hand so he might have some contact with her still. “I hate having to be formal and proper with you.”

She squeezed his hand before releasing it and placing her bonnet on her head and sliding gloves on her hands. He eyed her graceful movements, jealous of the gloves when it ought to have been him that felt the touch of her skin.

“Will,” she said softly and he looked at her face, pleased to see her blushing. Perhaps she could read his mind on those feelings as well.

The carriage pulled up before the building. It retained the name castle, but the old building was not inhabited and not even in view of the current manor house. They were shown to a large drawing room and greeted by Sir John and Lady Lundell as well as his uncle. After a few minutes conversation they were invited to refresh themselves in their chambers by their hosts. As was previously arranged, Darcy would be leaving as soon as possible to meet with the lieutenants of the Militia platoons. Elizabeth insisted she would be well with Lady Lundell as company and so after quickly washing the grime of travel off him and changing his clothes, Darcy returned downstairs to meet the other gentlemen in the library.

“Ah, William. You made better time than I had anticipated,” his uncle said.

“I suspect Elizabeth will wish to rest for awhile but she tolerated our pace very well. Now, has there been progress made?”

“Not nearly enough,” Lord Matlock sighed.

“There are several gentlemen who support Lord Peters and Mr. Morris’ campaign to punish the frame breakers,” Sir John sighed. “It should be no surprise that they do not understand responsibility. They were all in trade before buying their estates—even if it was a few generations back—they lack breeding. Your uncle assures me, however, that you are not like them,” he finished with a tone of condescension that could rival Darcy’s Aunt Catherine.

Darcy shared a quick look of bemusement with his uncle. This kind of prejudice was precisely why the different classes of England did not trust each other. During the reign of Henry VIII, Darcy’s forefather had been raised to a baron. Alas, Darcy’s father came from Lord Darcy’s second son’s line, who then had several sons himself. Without the benefit of several estates to parcel out to each successive son, they had to seek income somehow. With the all that followed in the generations between then and now—which included the bloody change over of many monarchs—the untitled, but eventually, landed Darcys had amassed greater wealth and kept their heads better than many of England’s oldest noble families. Sir John Lundell boasted a lineage as one of the first baronetcies created and a long line of knights before that. He clearly disliked that many gentlemen in the area had income from trade, however far back, and assumed that they only valued money while over-romanticizing his own position. Darcy doubted Sir John cared so much more about his tenants’ welfare compared with his purse strings. Additionally, holding that view seemed to infantalise his tenants.

“Then we will hope the Militia and any hired guards are well regulated,” Darcy replied with a tight smile before leaving on his errand.

*****

The sounds of groans swirled around Wickham. They had been marching for nigh on a week in what he considered excessively uncivilised conditions. He had foolishly believed that joining the Militia was going to be his means for revenge on Fitzwilliam Darcy and with his fine coin in Wickham’s pocket. He imagined himself finding a way to be set for life, with pretty, pleasant company and balls in between. He nearly had it all. Then, he was fooled by Eliza and Darcy won again.

When he realized Denny would inevitably link everything back to him, Wickham thought only to flee the country and be thankful Darcy did not kill him for touching Eliza. Now, his sore feet and bone weary exhaustion only fueled his hatred. He might have been content to let Darcy live his life but the other man clearly desired to escalate matters. His cousin recommended the Derbyshire Militia to assist in West Riding where none other than his uncle was the Lord Lieutenant. If that is how Darcy wanted to play, then Wickham would meet him. By sending him to his death, clearly he did not desire to prosecute. If Wickham survived this encounter with the unruly mob of King Ludd’s followers, he would return the favor to Darcy.

The Regiment reached Manchester yesterday and there Denny rejoined the ranks, uncharacteristically silent about his London excursion. Now, Wickham marched with his friend turned traitor on to a town called Huddersfield where there was knowledge of a planned attack the following night. The truth was, Wickham could little blame the attackers. The mill owners were becoming filthy rich all over the North while the frame breakers were still poor farmers hoping to earn wages from fabric they weaved in the winter. Merchants they might have sold to before were now restricted in who they could trade with due to the War. It seemed the only people that did not suffer were the rich like Darcy and his aristocratic family. Loyalty meant nothing to them. Wickham’s father had quit a successful law practice to become old Mr. Darcy’s steward. Perhaps children of other well to do servants would be happy with a few hundred pounds to open a shop with, but Wickham was always meant for more. Then the old man had to die and leave his hateful son with too much control over Wickham’s future with a set of conditions. He had to spend money to make friends, had to buy them rounds and lose to them at cards, lest no one would mingle with the son of a steward at school and university. His costly and dissolute lifestyle was imposed on him by a Darcy, the same one he had to be cunning and charming to, and now the newest one thought to blame him for it all.

At last they reached their destination. Leaving their serjeants in charge of setting up camp, Wickham and Denny silently made their way to the inn where they would be quartered. Judging by Denny’s pale complexion, the anger Wickham felt was palpable.

The innkeeper looked at Wickham and shrunk back after thrusting a missive into Denny’s hands.

“Well?” Wickham bit out after Denny had scanned its contents.

“You’re never going to believe this,” he said. Then he finally met Wickham’s eyes.

“We’re to meet with Darcy any minute.”

Wickham did not feel the least bit guilty when he punched Denny square in the nose. He stepped back in disgust as blood poured from his old friend’s face and rubbed his red-stained flesh on Denny’s coat. “We had best prepare then.”

He spun on his heel and entered the private meeting room. He cared not for the whispers circulating around him. Denny shuffled along after him, pinching the bridge of his nose with a handkerchief.

Before the weak ale they were served had quenched his thirst after a week of walking on dirt paths, Darcy arrived. Wickham had expected Darcy to seem surprised to see him, but instead he met Wickham’s gaze with steely resolve. Marching directly to him, Darcy pulled Wickham forward by his lapels, screwed up his fist and punched him in the jaw. Wickham felt his head rattle and his teeth chatter. Before he had regained his senses, Darcy punched him in the gut so hard he regurgitated all the ale he had swallowed.

The splatter on his boots must have cooled Darcy’s ire. Flicking his eyes from his boots and then to Wickham and Denny, Darcy sat without preamble and said, “Let’s get to it.”

Denny attempted to help Wickham up, but was waved off. Wickham fumed as he stumbled to his seat. If he were not so afraid of the gallows, he would run Darcy through at this moment.

“Our presence was noted. They will be fools to attack,” Wickham said.

“I do not think wisdom is one of their strong suits,” Darcy replied.

Just like Darcy to see no value in those below him.

“Our orders are to enter the factory after the final shift tomorrow night. Mr. Bingley has hired men who will be arriving at the encampment this afternoon. They will explicitly obey our serjeants,” Denny said.

Wickham concealed his reaction to Denny’s words. They were protecting a Bingley mill? Would friendship drive Darcy here when Wickham had every expectation that Eliza fled to London and even now Darcy could be courting or wedding her? Another man might be too angry at being thrown over but Darcy would easily forgive the trespass if he believed Wickham was at the heart of the matter.

He reconsidered Darcy’s earlier anger. Wickham had presumed Darcy reacted because he still smarted from their last meeting, however uncharacteristic a violent reaction from him was. Now, he realized that Darcy must know of Wickham’s treatment of Eliza. A reconciliation between Eliza and Darcy must be imminent if it did not already occur. Wickham would wager everything Darcy was worth that Darcy had higher stakes in the mill than mere friendship.

He allowed Denny to continue to speak on logistics of how they would defend the mill, hoping to ensure as few casualties as possible. Darcy spoke in a detached tone. Of course he could, it would not be his life being risked. When the meeting appeared over, Darcy glanced at him. “Denny, I will need a moment to speak with Wickham alone.”

“My, my. Your uncle still pulls your strings, does he? And where are his sons? Safe at home while poor Darcy must deal with rabble rousers and dirty Militia men?”
Darcy did not rise to the bait and instead occupied himself by taking a swig of ale.

“Given your hostility toward Denny, you have likely surmised that I know it was he who delivered that note blackmailing my aunt. A peer. Nay, a very powerful peer’s popular wife. You are intelligent enough to gather just how much trouble you could be in should we prosecute.”

Wickham focused on his cup on the table. “But you never will.”

“Do not be so certain. You did not blackmail only me and my wife’s family, but you involved the House of Matlock and they are far less forgiving.”

Darcy undoubtedly meant to threaten him, but Wickham latched onto the fact that he already wed Eliza. “What are you offering instead?”

“Transportation. Life in a colony with enough funds to begin well. The rest is up to you.”

“And if I say no?”

Darcy merely shook his head. Again refusing to rise to the bait as they both knew Wickham had to recognize the position he was in. Men were executed for blackmailing peers.

“I don’t suppose you could have made these provisions before you send me to a tinder box with a ready match?”

“It was not my goal, or even Arlington’s, to see you face these men,” in Darcy’s eyes, Wickham saw a look of fondness that had once existed between them. “You joined the Militia—undoubtedly for foul intents that you nearly accomplished—had you not wanted to risk your life and limb to defend others you ought to have thought about that before joining.”

“What would you know of it?”

Darcy shook his head. “You have always thought you knew me so well. While you were skipping classes at university to gamble at the Duke of Somerset’s table—Oh, yes, I easily surmised how you knew that piece of gossip about my aunt—I served my five years.”

“The rumour was you had gone to Kent with your cousins.”

“Never mind the rumours. We will all act according to our duty and then you may resign your commission and choose your future location of residence.”
Darcy gave Wickham a pitying look and in that moment Wickham hated him all the more than when he had believed Darcy to be a self-righteous hypocrite. Instead, knowing that Darcy chose the path of honour when he could have paid his way out of service, seeing him leave behind his new bride to see after his investment and the human collateral caught up in it all, made Wickham realise just how depraved and unprincipled his life had been. And instead of being jealous of his carefree and comparatively charmed life, Darcy pitied him. Something stronger even than the desire for revenge and love of money surged forward. His pride would not accept Darcy’s charity.

“Leave off,” Wickham suddenly stood and his chair loudly scraped on the hard floor.

“I don’t want any more of your money.”

He made to leave and pushed by but Darcy pulled him by the arm. “You can hardly leave the country on your own dime and I am through believing you can resist the temptation of wealth through Darcy money or revenge on me.”

Wickham shoved Darcy’s hand aside. “There comes a time when a man’s got nothing but his pride left. You won it all, Darcy and the last thing I want is to see your face again or have you pity me.”

This time when Wickham tried to leave the room, Darcy did not stop him. A primitive beast gnashed on his insides. He deserved more out of life but the cards were stacked too unevenly against him. Visions of riches and grandeur dissolved away, and instead he desired mutual destruction. If Wickham could not be rich and refused more of Darcy’s pity-money then Darcy ought to feel the cost somehow. Tomorrow night would be interesting indeed.

2 thoughts on “Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 25

  1. Oh, I can read between the lines how bitterness will roll in Wickham’s chest and he will act without a thought of the outcome. He cares not if he dies in avenging himself on Darcy and/or his friends. This is mounting in tension and turmoil. Waiting the next chapter with bated breath.

    Thank you for this chapter.

    Like

    1. Yay! I’m glad I painted it clear enough. I know I have been vague at times with Wickham’s plotting. That’s because he had multiple scenarios he was thinking about and he actually wasn’t that good of a planner. I will consider fleshing that out more in editing, but here he believes he has only one option.

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