I’m FINALLY within a few chapters of ending the story (not here…but where I am in writing) so I am hoping to post Treasured more frequently this week!
“Young man,” Mr. Bennet stood in the open doorway, bringing Will’s attention to it. “Follow me, if you please.”
Will followed the patriarch to his library, knowing the rebuke his betrothed’s father would be giving him. Will sat opposite Mr. Bennet and patiently waited for the older man to begin.
“Will, I tire of seeing my daughter with tears in her eyes because of you.” Mr. Bennet sighed.
“It tears at my heart as well,” Will agreed. “Are you rescinding your blessing?” The papers had been signed but had not been mailed to his solicitor yet.
“And have her angry with me as well?” Bennet laughed. “No, but we must resolve this latest complication as fast as possible. What is your plan? I can assume it must be foolish and reckless to upset Lizzy so.”
Will blew out the breath he had been holding. “If Wickham wants to kill me then we have the surest chance of capturing him if he feels assured of his success. He does not know that his plan with the carriage almost worked. It is likely he will attempt such a scheme again.”
“So, you will endanger your life?”
“I see no other way.”
Suddenly, the door to the library banged open. Turning to see the intruder, Will’s heart seized to see Elizabeth standing in the doorframe with puffy eyes and tear streaks on her cheeks. She held a crumpled paper in her hand. A determined glint was in her eyes, but she gently shut the door before saying her piece. Once the door was closed, she sailed forward and demurely sat in a chair near her father’s desk before addressing them both.
“It is not the only way. This may be indelicate for me to suggest, but how does Wickham hold his liquor?”
“It was many years ago when we were last in company,” Will began to answer. “However, even when in his cups he seemed more in control of his faculties than others such as—”
“Such as Sam,” Elizabeth answered and nodded. “One night while we stayed at Darcy House, I found him in a drunken state and unable to open his chamber door. The drink had loosened his lips*. I did not understand all that he was saying then, but now I know he was explaining his regret over the engagement with Charlotte Lucas.”
“What are you suggesting?” Mr. Bennet asked.
“Ply him with drink and see if he will spill his secrets,” Elizabeth said with furrowed brows and pleading eyes.
“Do you think that will work?” Bennet asked Will.
“I doubt it,” Will shook his head. “Forgive me, love. It is very innovative, and I dare say on many another man it would work. However, I have never seen Wickham talk when he preferred to be silent.”
“Is it not worth trying?” Elizabeth approached and laid a hand on Will’s arm. Anguish filled her eyes and tears threatened to overspill once more. “At least attempt this before you risk your life.”
Will gulped and slowly nodded. “We will try it,” he murmured.
Truthfully, he had little hope of success but how could he not offer her this balm? Will had spent years wishing he had done something differently the night of the fire in Scotland. He might have saved his father and friends’ lives. If Elizabeth had an alternative, no matter how confident he was of its failure, he would allow her the opportunity to see it in motion. If anything happened to him, he did not wish for her to feel as though they had not done everything else possible.
“You will?” Elizabeth’s voice contained a mixture of disbelief and relief. Her shoulders sagged and let out a long exhale.
“How shall you manage that?” Mr. Bennet asked.
“We will have to have someone else approached him. He would be far too guarded if it were me or anyone associated with us. We can probably find somebody willing to get drunk for a few pounds.”
“Keep me apprised of your plans, please,” Mr. Bennet said, nodding at Will.
“Papa, may speak with Will privately?”
“Very well,” Bennet stood. “However, the door stays open.”
Will did not even pay attention to Elizabeth’s father as he left the room. His eyes were focused entirely on his betrothed. The minute he said they would try her plan, he became entranced. Would she always have this hold over him? He was utterly fascinating captivated by the many sides of her. At the moment, she held his gaze with softened eyes. What had he ever done to deserve the look of love he saw there? He had thrown away her love when she first offered it. Since his return into her life, they had quarreled and feared for their lives. They desperately needed a routine courtship. A part of Will knew, however, they would not get it. He would simply court her after they married.
“What changed your mind?”
Will shrugged. “I love you. This concerns you just as much as it does me. You have a stake in the matter, and your idea should be listened to.”
“Is that all?”
“I could sense how desperately you wanted to try this method. I do not wish to lie, Elizabeth. I think it unlikely that it will succeed. However, not only does it make sense to try it, I knew it would assuage some of your anxiety.” Will dropped his head for a moment and took a deep breath before bringing his eyes and back up to meet her gaze. “I know what it is to be haunted by remorse and regret, constantly feeling as though you might have done something different to prevent catastrophe. I would not put you through that. If you have any other suggestions, I will hear them out, and we will attempt them. If this were should happen–”
“Hush, my love.” Elizabeth placed a finger on Will’s lips to silence them. “Do not speak about that. Do not even think it. We shall be victorious. I believe that with every beat of my heart. Thank you for agreeing to my suggestion.”
Elizabeth lowered her hand and turned the crumpled paper over in them for a moment. Her eyes lingered over the note before returning to Will’s. “I am very sorry to hear that you have regret and feel as though you could have prevented something happening. Do I understand that you reference the fire?”
Will could not speak, the emotions threatened to well up once more. He nodded and knew that would be enough for Elizabeth.
“Has it helped at all to know that it was arson? If you had been with your father or Sam, you could not have prevented the fire. A madman was determined to set fire to the inn that night. If you had been with them, you probably would have perished as well.”
Will blinked at what Elizabeth said. Suddenly awe and understanding flitted through him, and a weight the size of a house lifted from his shoulders. “I had not thought of that. I have been so consumed with blaming myself that I did not even consider it in that light.” Will enveloped Elizabeth’s hands in his. “Thank you, my dearest. You always know what to say.”
Elizabeth lately chuckled. “I would not go that far.” Her soft smile began to fade, and she grew serious once more. “No matter the cause of the fire, it would not have been your fault they died. Accidents happen, and there is no one to blame. However, I am pleased if what I said brought some comfort to you. I hate that you have blamed yourself and felt wretched for so long. Why do you do it? Why do you think everything is your responsibility and that if the smallest thing goes wrong, you have failed? You are only human.”
Will’s eyes shuttered close at Elizabeth’s words. “You did not see much of my father. He was a very good man, but he had high expectations for the Darcy family. The ways of charm and grace did not come naturally to me, so I often felt inexplicably flawed and doomed to failure, unable to live up to the Darcy legacy.”
“I see,” Elizabeth nodded. “So continuing to accept only perfection from yourself has eased those feelings?”
“No. I suppose not.” Will furrowed his brow. “The Darcy legacy demands the best. With me at the helm, it feels as though one blunder after another.”
“One blunder after another? I suppose your tenants are starving and their roofs caving in? Your servants are owed money or leave en masse? You have no friends and no admittance to any events wherever you go. You have debts at every shop in every town you ever visited, and no creditor would weight your entrance to his establishment.”
A small slowly crept over Will’s face. “Fair enough, clever minx. None of those things are true. I know I do very fine by the Darcy accounts. The Darcy name is as strong as ever it was my father’s lifetime and continues to command respect. However, I failed to save my father’s life, I failed you, I failed Georgiana.”
Once more, Elizabeth silenced him with a finger to his lips. “Do you not see? All those things revolve around other people’s choices. You cannot control everything, Will Darcy. I am pleased to hear that the accounts do well, you are wise with investments, and others continue to respect you. However, even those things do not rely entirely on your actions. Do not judge yourself by the success of this or that. Those things do not determine your worth.”
“Are not most people given to arrogance and conceit? Would not most people fail to inspect themselves and admit when they have done wrong?”
Elizabeth nodded. “I suppose you could say that. However, thinking you have done wrong where there is no responsibility is just as terrible.”
“For some, that would only be false modesty and really would be an indirect boast. I have done so terribly, and then their final say own know you have not, and inwardly the person will congratulate themselves. I know that is not your feelings. No, yours speaks to hurt and insecurity. When you continue to feed that feeling, it will infect more and more facets of your life. Right now, it is mostly centered on Wickham, but it has affected your relationship with me in the past. You admit that you never told Georgiana about the scoundrel. I know your relationship with her at the moment is not what you would like it to be and perhaps you cannot fully expose what Wickham is to her for she will not listen. Again, that relies on her as well as you. However, if you interpret everything as a failure in those situations, you will tell yourself that is all you are. You will lack the confidence you need to make wise decisions on other matters.”
“I do not think I have ever heard such things before. I certainly have never considered them. How wise and right you are, my love. Thank you. I shall try to do better.” Will looked down Elizabeth’s hands, she continued to finger the note she held. “Is that my message to you from yesterday?”
Elizabeth looked down as well.” Yes. With all the excitement of yesterday. I did not have a chance to read it. When I left you in the drawing room and ran up to my chamber, I noticed it on the table. However I garnered your attention, I do not know. I am forever grateful for it, though. Reading your words of love, your devotion to me and to the future we will build, allowed me to see the reason behind your choice. You did not suggest to bait Wickham because you have no desire to be with me or just shorten your life. You have only wanted to end this so we might have our future at last. Once my mind was clear, I recalled the situation with Sam and knew that I could suggest the idea to you. I did not know if you would agree to it. Nor do I want you to do so merely out of deference. However, I was unable to think of it in the drawing room. All was doom and gloom in my head until I read your loving words.”
Will squeezed Elizabeth’s hands again before raising them to his lips. He would have liked for much more but was conscious of the fact that they had been alone for quite a while, even if the door was open. “I meant every word. I will love you until my dying breath. Now, I believe we should join your family. There ought to be congratulations in order.”
“Do you mean he has–?” Elizabeth’s hands flew to her mouth to contain a squeal of delight. “Oh, Jane will be delighted!”
“Yes, Charles has asked your father for courtship with Jane.”
“Well, it is about time. Although,” Elizabeth slid Will a sly glance. “I suppose not everyone is as rapid to the altar as we.”
“Considering that when I proposed five years ago, I expected a marriage within months, I would say we have taken quite the adventurous route to get to it.”
“It will make us enjoy the moment all the more.”
“I know I shall.” Will raise Elizabeth hands to her his lips once more. Before allowing himself to be escorted to the drawing room.