I’ve got a completed manuscript off to the editor so it’s time to post faster! Trust me, you’ll be glad you don’t have to wait…
The following morning, Elizabeth sat in the drawing room with Jane and Mary when Will arrived.
“Will,” Elizabeth said in astonishment. “I did not expect you until later.” She took in the severe frown he wore. “Is anything wrong?”
“Forgive me,” he said. “I thought this matter could not wait until later.”
He said nothing else and Elizabeth looked at her sisters. “Would you like me to ask for them to leave?”
“No, for it is your sister with whom I need to speak.”
“Me?” Jane asked. “Oh, no! Is something wrong with Charles? Is he ill?”
“Charles is very well. It is your sister Mary with whom I wish to talk.”
Elizabeth looked at her younger sister. She noted Mary did not seem surprised.
“Yes, sir? How may help you?” Mary continued her sewing, without looking up.
“Did you meet with my sister yesterday?”
“Did she not mention to you that she was not to leave the house?”
“No, sir, she did not. I went for a walk and happened upon her between here and Netherfield. It hardly would have occurred to me that she had been out walking without permission.” She stabbed her needle into the fabric and drew the thread through it before continuing. “Just as it hardly would have occurred to me that she needed such.”
Elizabeth gasped. “Mary! You will keep your opinions about Will and Miss Darcy to yourself.”
“She may as well tell me what Georgiana has poisoned her mind with, my love. Then I will know some of the imaginary complaints my sister has against me.”
They all stared at Mary in expectation who blinked with uncertainty at the scrutiny.
“Upon my word, Miss Darcy has said nothing against you, sir. She did not claim that it was harsh of you to demand she stay home. She did not tell me that had been your demand at all.” She blew out a breath. “Either you mistake her sentiments, or she did not understand your request. If she had wanted to make me think ill of you, she could have told me about your imperious rules. However, she did not. I think ill of you by my own observation.”
“I see,” Will said. “What else have you observed?”
“I have not known Georgiana for long. However, she seems the type of girl who is eager to please. She wants to be well-liked, and she craves independence. Surely a girl of her age, maturity, and experience in the world would understand the only way to gain independence is by earning your trust. Therefore she should be endeavoring to earn yours. That you have not given it says far more about you than her.”
Elizabeth scoffed and exchanged a look of confused amazement with her betrothed. What ridiculous reasoning her sister had.
“When I return to Netherfield, I will continue to make even clearer to Georgiana what my expectations are. She is not allowed to leave the house without an escort. As you have determined to become her friend, I have now made you aware of my expectation as well. In a few weeks, Miss Mary, I will be marrying your sister. That will make Elizabeth a sister to my own. However, you do not receive such rights by blood or law upon the marriage. You have proved to me, her guardian, that you are not a worthwhile friend and someone I can trust to influence my sister appropriately.”
Mary’s mouth fell open and her eyes watered. “Do you see, Lizzy? Do you see? I wonder how you can marry such a brute!”
Mary ran out of the room, dropping her sewing along the way and stifled a sob with a hand to her mouth. At a more sedate pace, Jane followed after her. Next, Will finally sat down in the chair next to Elizabeth. She frowned at him. While he had every right to say what he did and she did not blame him for the sentiment, it was not well executed. Chastising Mary was not his responsibility. Nor had she done anything to earn his ire. It is not as though she insisted Georgiana leave the house or lied when questioned about it.
Additionally sometimes being too harsh had the opposite effect of what one intended. Mary had always been an obedient child, no one had ever raised a voice to her. Will leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He sighed so heavily it sounded as though the weariness came from his bones. Elizabeth watched as Will first rubbed at his temples and then squeezed the bridge of his nose. This ordeal was giving him a headache and must have weighed heavily on him. The last thing he needed was a rebuke from Elizabeth.
“Would you like me a call for some powders?” Elizabeth whispered.
“Thank you, no, my love. I shall be well in a moment.”
Elizabeth sat in silence as Will attempted to rid himself of his pain. She wished she could see to his needs the way a wife would. If they were already married, she would have overruled him. He would be consuming powders and tea while laying in a cool, dark room as she massaged his temples. However, such things were far too intimate for her to do right now. She had never before considered the difficulty in seeing a loved one in such pain and unable to assist them. Tea soon arrived, and Elizabeth smiled as she poured Will’s cup. Jane must have sent it. Will drank his cup and soon returned to good humor.
“What happened after you left Longhorn yesterday?” Elizabeth asked.
Will shook his head. “As Charles and I were returning to the stables, we saw Georgiana ascending the stairs to the house. I questioned her, and for quite some time she refused to say anything. Finally, she spoke, but the most I got out of her was that she had seen your sister Mary.”
“I see,” she said. “Why did you not send a note last night.”
“By the time Georgiana spoke at all it was nearing suppertime. I was exhausted from the experience and thought it would be better to question Mary in person today.”
“And yet just now it did not seem like you were calm when you entered the room.”
“No.” Will shook his head. “No, I was not. I slept ill, thinking of all the danger that might have befallen her. I cannot get it out of my head that Wickham has twisted her mind somehow and is using her against me.”
“Do you think she would be willing to do that? Does she hate you so much?”
“I hope not.” Will sighed and ran a hand over his face. “I cannot think of what I have done to make her so angry with me; so willing to believe Wickham’s words. However, he did visit her when I was not around. Who knows how he poisoned her for years.”
“However she did not act out until recently, correct?” Elizabeth asked.
“That is correct. She seemed as loving and devoted as ever until Ramsgate.”
Elizabeth had no answers for Will. She did not understand her soon-to-be sister-in-law’s mind any better than he did. Additionally, she had not been around for the years in between. She also could not understand Mary’s resentment toward Will. But then her mother’s and Charlotte’s hatred of him did not make sense to Elizabeth either. Perhaps grief affected everyone strangely. It is not as though she had only kind thoughts of Will during the years they had been separated. They sat in silence for several minutes with Elizabeth only holding his hand. At last, an idea struck her. “What if Wickham is using Georgiana, although not in the way you suppose?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if he intends to merely distract you with all these issues with Georgiana so you cannot focus on him?”
“That is a possibility, I suppose. What do you suggest?”
“When you return to Netherfield, list very firm and clear rules for Georgiana. She cannot leave without an escort, as an example. Explain what the consequences to such misbehavior would be. Being sent to Pemberley or London might not be much of a deterrent,” Elizabeth observed. “What would she wish to avoid?
“This reminds me so very much of a conversation I have had with Charles recently. However, Georgiana is not spoiled as Caroline is. Loss of funds would not be a strong deterrent. Other than shopping with you and your sisters the other day, she had not gone in months. I could send her away.” Will stroked his jaw. “She is fond of our aunt, the Countess. However, Georgiana does not like staying in their home. They have far too many engagements during the Season for her liking. I can always send her to Lady Catherine, but given how she sent Collins to you in an attempt for me to marry her daughter, I do not wish to speak to her.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Those give us a direction in which to start. We may think of others later. Lay down these rules and then do not give her any more attention, except to praise her obedience.”
“I am not to correct her when she does wrong again?”
“That is up to you. I suppose you could give her one chance. However, do not make a game of it where she feels she holds your attention or consumes your thoughts.” Elizabeth refilled her tea and looked over her shoulder. Jane had not reentered, but the door was open. “Now, have you considered how to approach the scheme of getting Wickham drunk?”
“I have had little time to consider it. Have you?”
“I did entertain some thoughts last night. I will tell them to you, and you may improve them as needed.”
As it happened, Elizabeth’s plan did not need improvement. Will returned to Netherfield ready to make his sister see reason. Later, he would have to apologize for losing his temper with Miss Mary. He called for a servant to send for Georgiana, Mrs. Annesley, and Charles to be brought the drawing room.
“Fitzwilliam,” Georgiana said with a scowl. “Why have you requested me? I am sure whatever you have to say cannot apply to both Mr. Bingley and me.”
Will scowled again at his sister’s words. It should no longer surprise, and yet it continued to do so. “I have asked Charles here so he could also witness this and avoid any possibility of confusion with any person staying in this house.”
“What? And is Mr. Bingley to be my master now?” Georgiana said.
“I have conferred with Miss Mary Bennet, and she says she stumbled upon you while out walking. She says you never told her you were not to leave the house. She thinks my instructions were not clear enough. Allow me to rectify that now. Georgiana, you are confined to the house—not the grounds—the house, unless you have an escort. Nor does this mean bullying Mrs. Annesley into anything. Do you understand?”
“What counts as an escort? May I ride if the groom attends me? May I shop if a manservant or maid is present?”
Will thought for a moment. “Most of the time, I will prefer that you leave in the company of me, Charles, or Mrs. Annesley. There may be times, however, where I will allow you to leave or go with another. However, you must earn it and prove that you will not abuse the situation. As such, I would suggest you not attempt or hope for it for several weeks.”
Georgiana rolled her eyes in disgust.
“Is that clear enough for you, Georgiana?” Will stared at his sister.
“Why should I bother at all? Lock me in a tower. We both know that is what you would prefer. I am far too much in the way of your plans to woo Miss Elizabeth. I suppose this takes immediate effect?”
“Certainly. Can you comply? No. That is the wrong question I should ask. I know you are perfectly capable.”
“You know nothing about what I am capable of,” Georgiana glared at her brother. “You know nothing about me. You never have and you never will.”
“I see. I have forgotten a crucial element of this meeting,” Will said.
“What is that?”
“Should you not comply, you will be sent away.”
“That does not surprise me. After all, you convinced Mr. Bingley to do so to Caroline.”
“Miss Darcy,” Charles said in a shockingly angry voice. “You are a guest in my house, and as such you must display certain manners towards your brother and me. Your brother did not convince me of anything. Caroline’s actions warranted the decision.”
“Thank you, Charles,” Will said. “Georgiana, if you do not comply with these requests I will be forced to send you to one of our aunts. If that does not work, then I will send you to a reformatory school.”
“A reformatory school!” Georgiana looked at her brother as though he had three heads. “That is where girls of ill repute go! You cannot do that to me. I am a Darcy, and I have noble blood just as much as you do. The Earl and the Countess would not care for that and neither would Lady Catherine, you know.”
“It would not matter whether they like it or not. As your guardian, I make the decision. It would pain me to do so. However, I would do plenty worse rather than continue to make excuses for your behavior and not correct them. You are influenced by a man with no credibility. He has made more errors than you can conceive. It began, I am sorry to say, when our father did not accept the truth of him. Indeed, it would be more comfortable for me to pretend such things never occurred. But they did, and I have spent far too long acting as though they had no influence over the present. You made a mistake to trust Mr. Wickham. It is not too late to change your course. I also made the mistake of listening to him. Unlike you, I did not like or even respect him. I did so, and it had lasting and devastating consequences. It separated me from the woman I love. She needed me and my support for years.”
Tears shimmered in Georgiana’s eyes when Will had finished, but they did not appear to be tears of sadness or remorse. Will had a sinking feeling everything he just said meant nothing to her, as though she never heard him all. Later, he told himself, he would take the time to worry about his sister’s path and question how they could correct it. For now, his concern had to be seeing to her safety and also the protection of Elizabeth. “Now, if you agree to these terms, you may return to your room. I must speak to Charles privately.”
As expected, Georgiana said nothing. She stood and held her head high as she left the room. She did not stomp her feet, but her feelings were clear all the same. Mrs. Annesley followed after her. Will motioned for Charles to follow him and they retreated to the study. After closing the door, Will let out a long sigh.
“And this is why I never took the trouble to check Caroline all these years. As terribly difficult as it must be for you now, I wish I had done so with my sister long ago. I do not know if I can ever have her in my homes again. I will not abide by mistreatment of Jane or the Bennets. However, Hurst tells me she is of a mind to marry. As such, I do not know that she will ever learn the intended lesson.”
“Our tactics may be similar, Charles, but our motivations are different. Miss Bingley may never learn to be kind to Jane and the Bennets. However, she will learn where your boundaries are and what lines she can and cannot cross with you.
“This is true. So, if we have different motivations regarding our sisters, what then is yours?”
“I hardly know. I would wish for the return of the sweet girl she was not so long ago. In my heart, I do not know if that is possible.”
“No, indeed. We all have experiences in life which change us, and we cannot go back to who we were before. But do not give up on her Darcy. Now, what did you wish to talk to me about?”
Will gave his friend a small smile. “Thank you for your support, Charles. You have always been a good friend. You put up with me when most others would tell me to sot my arrogant self off.”
Charles laughed. “I have been sorely tempted at times.”
Will laughed as well. Charles then listened attentively as Will explain Elizabeth’s proposal. “Do you have such a man we could use?”
“There is one I would consider. I think Evans might do. His aunt heard of this position and sent for him. I understand he spent many years in Manchester and wished for a new lease on life. Caroline wanted me to let him go because he did not seem to have the proper look and mannerisms for a footman in her opinion. However, he gets his work done, and my housekeeper has no complaints.”
“Excellent,” Will nodded. “Send him tomorrow. Now, I must write a note of apology to Miss Mary for my sharp questioning of her. She gave me a set down, as was needed.”
“Did she really? I might have gotten the only docile sister of the bunch!” Charles laughed. He stood and walked to the door, but spoke before opening. “I do hope Elizabeth’s scheme works. There can be only so many dour men in the world, I should hate to have to find a new one to make friends with.”
Will laughed as Charles left him to his devices. Charles had been a good friend and if the positions were reversed Will probably would call him stupid for attempting such a thing and volunteered in his place. With any luck, Wickham would get drunk tomorrow and fill in all the details. Then Will would put this matter behind him and carry on with his engagement.