Previous Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two /Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten / Chapter Eleven / Chapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen
O Holy Night
December 23, 1811
As Elizabeth left Mr. Darcy’s side and joined Wickham, something like an unpleasant memory flashed in her mind. However, it was more impression than memory, so she pushed it aside. Expecting for Darcy to leave after her refusal, she could barely contain her astonishment when he stayed for dinner. While they gathered in the drawing room before the meal, Darcy glared at her and Wickham.
The officer unabashedly enjoyed goading the arrogant gentleman. However, Wickham’s delight did not serve him well. Elizabeth’s primary interest in Wickham had been because he flattered her vanity. She was not too proud to admit that. What lady would not enjoy the attentions of a handsome man? It soon became apparent, though, that Wickham paying Elizabeth such notice flattered his ego. Out of some rivalry with Darcy — of which a valuable church living did not seem to be the motive — Wickham preyed upon her dislike of Darcy.
During the meal, Darcy sat near Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth observed him to see how he would react to her mother’s constant raving about the good fortune of Mr. Bingley’s return and how kind he was to want to marry her eldest daughter. Soon, Mrs. Bennet hinted at Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam marrying from among her other girls. Beside her, Mary blushed scarlet. How curious. As Mrs. Bennet had not been expecting so much company, the meal had fewer courses than she would have had ordered otherwise and Elizabeth gloried in the chance to be away from the gentlemen. In fact, she felt tempted to claim illness and return to her chamber, but she did not wish to ruin the evening of Jane’s betrothal. She would not let Mr. Darcy have such a victory over her.
Surprisingly, Mary, Georgiana, and Jane had their heads together when they returned to the drawing room. Now and then they nervously glanced at the clock. Half past six.
“Lizzy,” Jane said. “Will you walk with me?”
“Jane, you cannot leave,” Mrs. Bennet screeched. “When the gentlemen return Mr. Bingley will want to sit with you!”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow as she watched alarm enter Jane’s eyes and she glanced at Mary and Georgiana.
“Mama,” Mary said suddenly, “Miss Darcy had asked to see the fountain. Jane and Lizzy know it best. We would not want to put her out, would we?”
Mrs. Bennet paused for a moment, as she had always disliked Darcy. However, seeing as he brought Bingley back as well as another single gentleman, and friendship with his sister could do wonder for her daughters, she relented. “Very well, but hurry along!”
The last rays of the sun were slipping from the horizon and dusk came closer with every passing second. Reaching the fountain, they stared at it appreciatively for a moment.
“Forgive me, but I would hate to miss Mr. Bingley’s return to the drawing room,” Jane blushed. “You cannot fault me, my dear sister, for wishing to be by his side so much after so long a separation.”
Elizabeth gave her most beloved sister an indulgent smile. “No, indeed. If Miss Darcy has no objection to staying out here with me alone, that is. Although I wonder that her brother should like it.”
“Oh, there is no worry there,” Miss Darcy said with laughter. “He often wrote of your superior intelligence and abilities.”
Before Elizabeth could do more than gape at the sister to the most complicated man in the universe, Jane excused herself.
“And what is that?” Georgiana pointed to some flowers by a copse of trees.
Elizabeth explained the species as she walked closer to gain a better view. She had assumed Georgiana followed but noticed she did not hear footsteps. Turning to see where the girl had gone, a shadow moved from a tree, catching her eye and causing her to yelp.
Immediately, Elizabeth threw an arm out to protect Georgiana from the darkened intruder. “Miss Darcy, run!”
“She has returned to the house,” Wickham said. “She never saw me. We are quite alone.”
“Mr. Wickham? Why would you scare me?” Elizabeth felt her body relax and held a hand to her chest.
“Oh, there is really nothing to fear.”
Suddenly, he grabbed her arm, holding it so tight she was certain it bruised. He pulled her hard against his chest. One arm snaked around her waist while the one that abused her limb now raked up her shoulder and neck. Taking her jaw in hand, he forcefully bent her head back to look at him. Madness shone in his eyes.
“I will finally have my revenge.”
Revenge? What revenge? What did he speak of? “Sir, if you will please come back to the house. You are unwell. We can call a physician.”
“No, no. Your words or looks will not beguile me. Tell me,” he said and thrust her chin this way and then that, “do you think you are worth thirty thousand pounds to him?”
To who? Elizabeth took a shuddering breath. She had no idea what had caused this madness or who he spoke of, but she had no time to worry about such things. She needed to be free of him. She did not think she could overpower him. Gruffly, he let go of her face and then thrust a hand into his pocket. What he withdrew flashed in the moonlight.
“I think on your knees, will be best,” he simultaneously released his hand and shoved her forward. Elizabeth stumbled to her knees. Instantly, he was beside her and gripping her around the waist again. Then, Elizabeth felt the cold, hard steel against her neck and whimpered.
“You will have to be louder than that,” he said and pressed harder against the tender skin. Elizabeth felt a trickle of blood and prayed someone might come outside.
“Look!” Wickham exclaimed, and his breath became ragged in excitement and delight. Every exhale scorched her ear. “Play nice,” he whispered harshly.
“Miss Bennet?” Elizabeth heard Darcy’s anxious tone come from the direction of the house.
He held no lantern, and it took a moment for her to make out his frame in the increasing darkness.
“Over here, Darcy,” Wickham’s foul breath flew past her ear again. “I believe we can finally talk about the matter of what you owe me.”
“Wickham,” Darcy growled out. “I owe you nothing!”
Leaves crunched signalling Darcy’s approach. Wickham tightened his hold on Elizabeth, earning a whimper from her. The shuffling of feet ceased.
“Elizabeth?” Darcy asked, fear evident in his tone.
“Go ahead, sweetheart,” Wickham commanded. “Reassure him you live.” Wickham laughed. “So long as both of you do as I say the blade will not slice her throat.”
Elizabeth remained mute. She would not let him gain anything through her. The blade cut deeper, and Elizabeth bit back on the bile rising in her throat.
“You may have anything you desire so long as you do not harm her,” Darcy said. The previous tone was gone, and he was the Master of Pemberley in command once more.
“And you?” Wickham’s hand around her waist tightened. “Do you agree as well?”
“Elizabeth,” Darcy said calmly. “Cooperate with him, and I promise you will return safely to your parents.”
How had it come to this? Wickham was crazed and threatening her life? She had been blind, so blind! No injustice he had faced in life would justify this cruelty.
“Yes,” she said firmly. “I will obey you.”
“Ah, good to see she can be biddable,” Wickham said. “Now, you may approach, Darcy.”
Darcy’s feet moved at a steady rhythm, and soon he emerged from the shadows and trees.
“Our hero,” Wickham laughed. “Or should I say our bait! You see, it was he the others intended for you to meet out here. A lover’s tryst?”
“Wickham,” Darcy said, but his eyes never left hers. His blue eyes pleaded with her to trust him. “What do you want?”
“What should have been mine! Taken from my father and raised alongside you. I should have been treated as a son!” He spat at Darcy’s boots.
“And so, you were,” Darcy said calmly. “Many younger sons enter the Church.”
Wickham shook his head. “Not a Darcy. Tell me, was your uncle expected to live off a few hundred pounds per annum.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. Wickham was not a Darcy, and she highly doubted he would have concealed that heritage or that Darcy would not acknowledge him. She remained mute, allowing the scene to play out.
“Would you like a house? A thousand a year?” Darcy asked and attempted to step forward.
“Get back!” Wickham barked, and Darcy complied. “Thirty thousand pounds — what I should have had from if you had not interrupted my plans with your sister and the estate in Wiltshire.”
Elizabeth bit back a gasp. That would nearly ruin Mr. Darcy. It would take all of Miss Darcy’s fortune. Suddenly, Elizabeth realized that was what Wickham meant. He had hoped to marry her? No, he could never have wanted to act so honourably nor would Darcy have allowed it. Had he planned on eloping with the young girl?
A tear trickled down Elizabeth’s face. She had been so stupid to believe in anything the man said. And based on what? Her pleased vanity?
“You are running out of time, Darcy,” Wickham said. “Others will look for her soon, and if you do not agree to my demands, they will find you…with her dead body.”
“And I have your word that you will leave me alone after this?” Darcy asked.
“What would be the fun in that?” Wickham asked.
“Very well, anything,” Darcy said. “Let her go.”
“I knew you would defend her honour. Your stupid duty guides you in everything!” Wickham released Elizabeth and kicked her forward. She landed with a groan as her head hit the ground hard. She could barely make out sounds but heard Darcy lunge for her before Wickham screamed at him to get back.
They were fighting! She could hear punches being thrown and rolling on leaves. Elizabeth struggled to stay conscious.
“This may be even more satisfying than your money,” Wickham said in laboured breaths.
Elizabeth forced her eyes open, and she saw Darcy pinned on the ground underneath Wickham who held the knife to his throat.
“No!” she screamed and threw the rock that her head had landed on.
Wickham fell over with a thud and Darcy lunged for the knife. Securing it in the waist of his breeches he ran to Elizabeth. She needed help reaching a sitting position and tears flooded her eyes. Had she killed him?
“Elizabeth, it’s going to be well,” he said. “You are safe and unharmed,” he said it even as he ran hands over her limbs to check for breaks.
“But, he could wake,” she winced when he placed a handkerchief to her throat. “Or is he — is he—?” She could not bear to say the words and sobs consumed her.
“Only unconscious, I believe.” Darcy left her side to examine Wickham. “He breathes. He will have a devil of a headache when he wakes.”
Elizabeth scarcely heard but managed to nod. Her entire body shook and tears still streaked down her face.
Darcy returned to her side and settled Elizabeth into his arms, holding her tight. “I am sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “I am so sorry. I ought to have told you about Wickham and Georgiana. I never would have thought…”
Shuddering, she looked up to see tears escaping his own eyes. “It is not your fault.” She reached up and tenderly stroked one away.
“How can you say that?” he asked. “You are too generous, much too generous!” he clutched her tightly to him again. “What would I have done without you?”
Before she could think otherwise or stop him — although she found she did not really wish it after all — his lips came crashing down on hers. The church bells rang, reminding Elizabeth of a call to celebration.