What does Will plan to do about Wickham? It should be as simple as gathering his debts, right?
The following morning, Elizabeth waited impatiently for Will to arrive she did not know if he would bring Georgiana or not, but she rather doubted he would. Elizabeth did not know why Georgiana disliked her, but she also did not think was worth much of her concern. While she waited, she spoke with Jane.
“Mr. Bingley was to ask Papa the for permission to court me yesterday,” Jane said.
“And I ruined it!” Elizabeth shook her head. “Pray, forgive me. I did not intend to steal your happiness.”
“I know you did not mean to create a disturbance in our plans. Please, do not worry my behalf. I am only happy, no, happier that he will ask today. Now, the memory does not need to be marred with Wickham and your troubles.”
“Do you really think he is so evil? We did not know him for long. I do not think even spoke to him. He seemed very gentlemanly, and Will’s father enjoyed his company.”
“You know what he tried to do to Miss Graves. Will tells me there were other ladies too. If Wickham were willing to resort to such tactics with women, why would he stop there?”
“I suppose you are correct but I hate thinking.”
“I know, dearest,” Elizabeth embraced her sister. “You would rather go through all of life without realizing such evil existed. But it does. And unfortunately, it has seen fit to attach itself to Will.”
“Lizzy,” Jane began hesitantly. “Do you think… That is…” Jane sighed. “Well, is there not some sense in delaying the wedding? Why make yourself a potential target?”
“I have waited long enough to marry Will Darcy! I will not delay anything simply because of the tactics of George Wickham. I shall tell you what I told Will the other day on our walk. I would rather live one moment in this life as his wife than love hundred years without him.”
“No one is saying you ought to give him up for good. I only wonder if it should be postponed.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. Two much as happened in our past. Too much has already been in the way. Could you imagine giving up Mr. Bingley?”
Jane sucked in a deep breath. “That would be very difficult.”
“Now imagine being asked to do it not once but twice, and all due to your own fear. I will stand by him.” Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “He needs someone beside him.”
Jane sighed and looked out the window. “Then there is nothing left for me to say about the matter.”
“You are not any less stubborn than I am when you are convinced you are correct. You merely do it with more grace.
Jane smiled a little. “I do have more tact than you. However, I would not change you one bit.”
The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mary. She hummed a tune they had not heard before.
“What is that you are humming?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, you would not know it.” Mary shook her head and gave an exasperated sigh. “It is from Faniska and came out in Vienna a few years ago. Miss Darcy tells me both Herr Beethoven and Herr Haydn applauded it.” Mary sat down and pulled out some embroidery with a fond smile. “She bought the piece for me. It is the newest work I have ever had. You know how difficult it is to get the new pieces from the Continent and they are so expensive.”
“You seem to get along very well with her.” Elizabeth watched her sister closely for signs that anything was you irregular about her meeting with Miss Darcy. Additionally, it was peculiar that Mary was sitting with them at all, and desired to do something as mundane as needlework.
“I felt more akin to her than I do with nearly anyone else I have ever met in my life. I do hope we can become very great friends.”
Elizabeth heart sunk a little for her sister. Jane and Elizabeth had never meant to exclude Mary and yet they nearly always did. She was a few years younger than Elizabeth and the eldest of Fanny Bennet’s daughters. Jane and Elizabeth had gone through things before Mary’s birth which may then close. During those dark years, the sisters became inexplicably close. The youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were very close in age. They had the similar temperaments, while Mary was more severe and yet was not included with the older girls. However, she was now out in society, and that should change the dynamics. Elizabeth and most likely Jane would soon marry, but that did not mean they could not speak with their sister in a more adult way. Marriage would not be too many years off for her either. Before long they would all be married ladies. Elizabeth mentally applauded herself for her rational thoughts. Yes, it did not matter if so far for the last 17 years, they had not given Mary enough attention. They had far more than 17 years ahead of their lives to make the difference.
“I hope Miss Darcy can visit today,” Mary said as she pulled the needle through the fabric. “I do not like to say it, but I thought Mr. Darcy was a little harsh with his sister yesterday.”
Jane touched Mary’s arm. “He only appeared harsh to you because you have never had any critical words spoken to you. Miss Darcy needed correction, and her brother is her guardian. We have no business having any sort of opinion on the subject.”
“You cannot tell me that you think everything he was saying and how he treated her was right.”
There was an edge to Mary’s voice Elizabeth had not heard before. Jane glanced at Elizabeth, silently pleading for assistance. Elizabeth had not told Jane about Georgiana’s near elopement. That had been a Darcy secret she was not free to share. However, Jane simply saw the best in everyone. She would not be able to doubt Will solely by virtue of who she was. Mary, on the other hand, had no such prejudices.
“I am not at liberty to speak about it,” Elizabeth said. “However, Miss Darcy does deserve her brother’s censure. I knew when she suggested the idea to we separate that Will would not approve. However, I am not her mother or her guardian, and I cannot insist or make her obey. Indeed, she is at an age where nobody can. All Will can do is offer consequences for disobedience in hopes she learns to make the correct decisions.”
“But you only know what he has told you.”
“This is true, but I trust him. Believe me, he would have no reason to lie. If it appears he is harsh with his sister it is nothing compared to how he blames himself. I assure you, he only wants what is best for her. As none of us have ever had to raise a 16-year-old sister, I would say we do not have the right to have an opinion.”
“But Papa is never so strict, and we have all turned out fine.”
“Papa trusts us, and we have earned that trust. Miss Darcy has broken Will’s and that is all there is to say about it.”
Mary said nothing more but stabbed the fabric and angry manner as though she were biting her tongue and willing herself not to speak further. Her loyalty to Miss Darcy shocked Elizabeth. Jane and Elizabeth exchanged a glance. They would discuss it later. For now, they looked forward to the arrival of their suitors.
A few minutes later, Will and Charles arrived. It thrilled Elizabeth’s heart to see the unabashed joy enter Jane’s eyes at Charles’ arrival. His grin matched her intense feelings exactly and after a quick greeting, excused himself to Mr. Bennet’s study. Mary glared at Will for a few minutes before giving some reason to leave.
“Your cousin did not come?” Elizabeth asked once Mary was gone.
“No, he was needed with his Regiment. You may guess why Georgiana was not invited.”
“Indeed,” Elizabeth nodded. “I am sorry she is behaving so poorly. If we did not have enough worries with Wickham, I would find more compassion for her. I know it will soon be my place.”
Will sighed. “If she continues to treat you with such disrespect, I will not have her in our homes. She is welcome to stay with Richard’s mother. The countess asks after her often. Perhaps I ought to have allowed her to be raised by one of my aunts. However, Father left her in my care, and I did not wish to send her away. She had disliked going to school so much that I did not think making her live with relations would be any better.”
“The poor dear has gone through very much,” Jane said.
Elizabeth agreed. “I do not like her behaviour, but it could have very easily have been Jane or me acting that way. I know Sam thought I was full headstrong when I declared my love for you.”
“You think I have been wrong about Wickham?” Will eyed her with bewilderment.
“No! Of course not,” Elizabeth shook her head. “However, I understand the sentiments of a lady her age believing herself to be in love. If Father had not remarried and if Sam were much older than me and I did not have dear Jane, then I might have very well turned into something resembling her.”
“You do not blame me?” Will asked looking at his eyes and Elizabeth perceived he was too afraid to meet her eyes. “I have thought over it and cannot think of a time when she was spoiled or not held to consequences. Perhaps I was too harsh on her—”
Elizabeth placed a hand on Will’s knee which bounced during his speech. “Dearest, you are not to blame. You have done the best you can. Was she always so difficult? I do not remember her being this way a few years ago?”
“No,” Will shook his head. “She returned from Ramsgate spewing venom, but I never would have allowed her to go if she had behaved like this. I am surprised that a few weeks around Wickham could have her reacting this way so much later, but then I learned he had frequently visited her without my knowledge.”
“I do not understand it any better than you,” Elizabeth said with an encouraging smile. “However, none of us are frozen in time and cease to develop and change. Somehow, she will move on from this, and in a year or two’s time we can look back and sigh in relief.”
“I suppose you are correct. I have learned the value of patience.” Will sighed. “Now, I should tell you about my meeting with Colonel Forster.”
“I assume it was not successful or you would have led with that.”
“It was not as successful as I had wished,” Will acknowledged. “Wickham is in the Militia but has behaved above reproach. There is nothing I could say that would persuade the colonel to treat Wickham differently than the other officers. I could not explain about Georgiana and stories about how he spent his inheritance too freely made little impression.”
“I recall him being friends with Lord Harcourt,” Elizabeth said slowly. Still, the thought of the detestable lord made her skin crawl. “I thought Wickham gambled heavily. Does he not have debts?”
Will shook his head. “None that I am aware of. I could have Richard investigate about London, but I know he was not in debt in Lambton.”
“How did he live after spending the three thousand pounds from you?”
“I know not. When he made his application for the living in Kympton, he did not mention bad living situations, and I had supposed he lived off the interest of his income. Wickham always had expensive tastes, but I assumed he had learned to moderate them lest he exceed his income. Just because he realised he did not prefer to study the law does not mean he had spent all of the money.”
“I see,” Elizabeth said and bit her bottom lip. “What is your next plan?”
Will tensed and did not immediately reply.
“Before leaving, Richard came up with a possible method of ascertaining Wickham’s plans. He is a very accomplished military strategist, and his suggestion was a very common practice.”
Elizabeth turned to her sister. “Jane, would you excuse us a moment?”
“I am not supposed to leave.” Jane looked conflicted.
“Fear not, I will not be sacrificing my honour.”
“Your honour?” Jane and Will asked in unison.
“Will’s reputation shall be perfectly safe with me,” Elizabeth grinned.
“Very well,” Jane sighed and stood up. She hesitated at the door but left Will and Elizabeth alone.
The second the door closed, Elizabeth turned to her betrothed. “Tell me.”
“Did you really send your sister away so you might question me? Did you think I had qualms stating my plans before her?”
“Oh, no,” Elizabeth gave Will a sly look. “I merely assured our privacy for later.”
“After you tell me your plan, of course.” Elizabeth raised her brows.
Will let out an exhale, and his eyes drifted to her mouth. “That was quite a wager. I did not think you were the gambling sort.”
“Indeed, I am not,” Elizabeth leaned closer and Will’s breath quickened. “I have long admired your logical mind and how you make use of our time,” she murmured near his ear. She glanced at the clock then pulled back. Sitting demurely in her seat, she allowed a finger to trace a circle on Will’s knee. “However, if you prefer, we could spend the few minutes of privacy we have speaking about the weather, your sister, or—”
“Enough, woman!” Will clutched her to him, and Elizabeth let out a surprised yelp. With his mouth hovering over hers, he confessed, “Wickham has waited years to make his move. He will only do so under certain conditions. However, he showed his desires, and now we can pretend to give him what he wants.”
Will met Elizabeth’s lips, and for a moment, she gave into the kiss. However, her brain had not stopped operating despite his best efforts. She pushed him back. “Will, are you saying that you plan on baiting Wickham?”
“Yes.” He trailed kisses down her throat as his hands wandered across her back.
Focusing all of her attention on his words, and not his heavenly ministrations, Elizabeth attempted again. “You would never endanger someone else. Who will you use?”
Will nuzzled into the where her neck met her shoulder. The effect was dizzying. Elizabeth began to consider he would beat her at her own game. “Will?”
He kissed across her collarbone and up the other side of her throat before finding the sensitive spot near her ear. Thinking he had not heard her, she shook his shoulder a little. “Are you putting yourself in danger with this plan?”
Will then met Elizabeth’s lips in a crushing kiss, stealing all thought for a moment. It was not more than they had shared before but certainly more openly—in her family’s drawing room! The thought brought her mind back to the present. He was avoiding this conversation. She could not blame him, she had provided the tools for it. This time she pushed him away and dodged his lips when he attempted to kiss her again.
“Will, do not tell me that you are to be the lure.” When he did not answer, she cried, “Answer me!”
“Which do you prefer? That I answer you or that I do not tell you that I will be the bait?”
Elizabeth gasped and felt as though she had been slapped. The headiness of their previous kisses was now gone. “You would put yourself in harm’s way? Why? Do I mean nothing to you?”
“You mean everything to me!” Will said and raised her hands to his lips. “We could think of no other way to make him take his mark.”
Elizabeth could hear no more and ran from the room sobbing.