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Elizabeth’s skin was so soft that Darcy could not resist the temptation to stroke it with his thumb. He gave her delicate hand a squeeze. If he were more aware, his mind would have been filled with questions, not the least of which would have been, why did she not rip her hand from his? Instead, she lifted her face, and her beguiling eyes met his in wonder.
In a flash, he felt how much he truly admired the young lady before him. Slowly, his mind registered that she was pulling her lean fingers from his hand. He released her hand and quickly walked back into the house, wondering how so much of his life seemed to pass before him in just one instant. How could so much of his life now seem centered in the feeling of her hand in his? As innocent as it was, he ached to hold her hand again, to cradle it, to stroke every inch, to tenderly kiss each lovely finger. His hand reacted in response to his thoughts.
Once safely in the library, momentarily away from even Miss Bingley’s cloying remarks and Bingley’s sadness, he allowed himself to ponder what on earth had just happened.
Darcy paced. He had always been careful not to raise the hopes and expectations of any of the ladies of his acquaintance. Not that it stopped most from having hopes. But there had been occasions when he had been prompted by a forward lady or two to touch a bare hand. Any doubts he may have had about his attraction to Elizabeth Bennet died even as his body came alive in a way he had never known.
His reason told him it was mere attraction, infatuation, perhaps lust and carnal desire — and nothing more — that caused his reaction. His will determined that it could withstand the temptation of Elizabeth Bennet for a few more days. He would soon return to London — far, far away from her — and be lost in his worries once again.
There were beautiful ladies of the ton. There were witty, intelligent, kind, and accomplished ladies by the dozen, or so he had been told. True, he was fastidious, and he refused to bend on that, but surely Elizabeth Bennet was not the only woman who could fit his definition of perfection.
Perfection? When had he determined she was the lady most suited to him?
No, that thought would not do. She could not be the only woman whose touch ignited his dormant passion.
Passion? When had he determined his feelings were so ardent?
He was never excitable, and yet it was difficult to ignore his body’s impulse to rush after her and take her in his arms. He would kiss her lips mercilessly until she could tease him no longer. And then he would…
He shook his head. Nothing but carnal desire, certainly. He would not be a slave to such feelings. Other suitable ladies existed, he reasoned. He was only too busy before to notice these other women or to make their acquaintance. There was no such thing as destiny. And if there were, he could not afford it.
Surely there must be ten ladies who may stand in even better light than Elizabeth Bennet!
Just to firm his resolve and not at all because he was fleeing from the lady, his next thought was London. I must leave immediately for London.
His solitude was, welcomingly, broken by Bingley.
“Darcy, I wish to call on the Bennets tomorrow. Will you join me?”
Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. Would his friend always need his guidance? “Bingley, can you not go one full day without seeing her?”
The words reverberated in his ears as though he asked it more of himself. Of course, responded both his will and his reason, but his body betrayed itself again.
Sheepishly, Bingley replied, “I wished to invite them to the ball. Caroline has arranged for it on the twenty sixth.”
Drat! The ball. “No, Bingley, I will not accompany you on your calls tomorrow.” Bingley made to argue, but Darcy interrupted. “I have been away from my affairs and Georgiana long enough…”
“Darcy, I will need your assistance planning this ball and knowing how to act as a host. It is important to establish myself correctly, is it not?”
Darcy chewed over this thought for a moment. How very like Bingley to find the only legitimate means of detaining me. His jaw tensed. “Very well, but let us go on Tuesday.”
His friend clapped him on the back and nearly skipped out of the room, as Bingley would never spend longer than necessary in a library. Darcy squeezed the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes against the frustration of it all. He only needed some sign to firm his resolve that he could remain until Bingley’s ball and not succumb to Elizabeth Bennet’s siren call. He opened his eyes and, from the angle of his head, immediately espied her tatted bookmark kicked under a table. He had noticed her skilled work on it the other evening. Snatching it up so he could return it to her, he left the room. A remnant of Elizabeth in his pocket was certainly not the sign for which he had been looking.
Elizabeth and Jane arrived home but were not greeted happily by their mother.
“You ungrateful girls! How dare you put Mr. Bingley through the trouble of sending you home in his carriage?”
“I hardly think the use of his carriage was anything compared to staying several additional days,” Elizabeth replied.
“If only you had stayed for a week complete! I am certain Jane would have won Mr. Bingley’s hand!”
Jane blushed, but Elizabeth sighed. “While Jane was abed, she naturally did not see Mr. Bingley. Once she was able to leave her room, it was improper to remain as uninvited overnight guests.”
“Oh! I know you pushed her to leave too quickly! She will catch a cold again. Hill!” Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice rang out. “Hill! Take Miss Bennet upstairs and prepare a warm wrap for her lest she takes ill again.”
She ceased her frantic movements long enough to turn to Elizabeth. “Lizzy, I know there was nothing for you at Netherfield, and hence why I asked you not to go at all, but if you cost Jane her chance with Mr. Bingley simply because you wished to leave early when Jane alone was no trouble at all and so well liked by his sisters, I will never forgive you. You foolish, headstrong, selfish girl!”
Elizabeth would have shrunk back at the harsh words, but she was far too used to such by now, only amazed at how long her mother could lament without drawing breath. She looked towards her father for his support, but he only shrugged.
“I am glad you have come back, Lizzy. There was an utter lack of sense in this house without you.” He kissed her forehead and returned to his library.
Soon Elizabeth was inundated by her younger sisters telling her all about the news she had missed. By the time she went to bed that evening, she was grateful no one had asked her how her time at Netherfield had been. She hardly knew how to answer. Was she actually attempting some kind of truce with Darcy?
Certainly he only intended to enjoy a flirtation with her, she reminded herself again. She was as sensible of all the reasons he would have against a union with her, and she dared not think most men were capable of real attachment. Knowing he now admired her pleased her vanity as he had so early dismissed her beauty. More, still, he enjoyed her wit and conversation.
She pushed the thoughts aside. She need only remain in his company so long as he was in the area and to dissuade him from discouraging Bingley towards Jane. Once they were betrothed, she could affect a sudden displeasure with Darcy or direct her attentions towards another man, and he would forget he ever liked her in the first place. This thought both pleased and displeased her. His pride deserved a good humbling, but the thought that it would come at the cost of him thinking less of her after she had managed to earn his good opinion left a sour taste in her mouth. She decided she was through thinking of him for the evening.
George Wickham sat at his favourite coffeehouse in London. His funds were dwindling, but he refused to slink off to a dirty tavern. As long as he had the clothes of a fine gentleman, he would act the part. Unfortunately, the autumn was a slow time of year for finding wealth in London. The gentlemen of quality were rusticating at their country estates and would not be bringing their purses — or their lonely wives —back to town until January. Normally, he would leave town at this time of year as well, as London was too expensive for year-round living without a fortune, but he could not face the disappointment.
He had finally had the perfect plan as a means to be one of those gentlemen. He had pursued heiresses before, but none so young and naïve as Miss Darcy. On the very eve of their elopement, her brother, Wickham’s former playmate and recent enemy, appeared unannounced. The ridiculous girl could not bear to disappoint him and told him her plans. Darcy quickly put an end to the scheme; he would move heaven and earth to protect the ones he loved.
Wickham sat looking out the window. In the past, he was content to only have Darcy’s money on occasion. He had hoped for more when he turned down the living that was intended for him in the old master’s will. Still, Wickham had to admit Fitzwilliam Darcy was rather generous with an additional three thousand pounds. Turning him down when the living opened up, however, sparked Wickham’s ire. Growing up, Darcy had always been rather reserved in his disapproval of him. He would never confront Wickham or even inform his father of Wickham’s dissolute habits. Apparently, he was saving it all for once he became master of Pemberley.
Twice now, Darcy had bested Wickham’s desires, but Wickham knew he would try once more. On the count of the living, Darcy had the law on his side. The matter of the elopement was mere luck. Someday there would be an impenetrable scheme to get the better of Fitzwilliam Darcy. True, money he desired but also revenge; no one made a fool of George Wickham. No one who made themselves so superior to him with their haughty disdain and silence would escape unscathed. He would have Darcy plead with him.
A militia officer who looked familiar walked into the shop and made a purchase. Settling at a table near him, he asked, “Pardon me, are you done with the paper?”
In closer light, Wickham easily recognised the man. “Denny?”
“Wickham!” he returned while putting forth his hand for a friendly shake.
“How have you been, Denny?”
“Well enough. I joined the militia recently.”
“I can see. I suppose you have found the heiresses as difficult to woo as I have.”
“I do not have your luck at the tables after the lonely wives and widows leave town to sustain me.”
Wickham grinned. “Nor do you have my charm.”
“The uniform does well enough without me having to say too much.”
“Is that so?”
Denny nodded eagerly. “Indeed. We are regimented now in Hertfordshire. There are several young ladies who are simply wild to meet officers. You should sign up; we need new recruits.”
“I would make a terrible soldier. Besides, I am working on a project.”
“A new heiress has come of age? When last I saw you, the plan was to seduce…what was the name? Miss Danby?”
“Darcy,” Wickham corrected and inwardly seethed.
Denny perked up. “There is a Mr. Darcy currently in Meryton.”
“The Darcy I know would hardly spend time in such a place.”
“He would not care for it?”
“Not unless there are people of fortune and rank.”
“Then it may be the same Darcy after all. I would have little cause to meet with him, but he’s all the households can talk about, and not with favour.”
Wickham could hardly hold back his smile. It did sound like Darcy, but that would simply be too good to be true.
Denny continued, “If it weren’t for his friend Mr. Bingley, I think they may have driven him out with pitchforks by now.”
Wickham laughed outright. “Denny! What tidings you bring me.”
“Now, hold on. If you are thinking of a way to make money off him, I want to be in on the deal, too.”
Wickham paused for a minute. He disliked sharing in his triumphs, but he could ill afford to be miserly. Besides, they were friends for years. He knew the value of that. “Of course, my friend.”
Denny grinned. “So what has that quick mind of yours formed already?”
Wickham shook his head at the compliment and leaned in a bit closer. A few ideas came to mind, but before settling on one, he knew he needed to know more about Darcy’s present circumstances. Why was he in Hertfordshire at all?
Denny reported that Darcy had been there for several weeks now, and Wickham suspected that unless he had severely changed his habits, the friendship of Bingley alone could not be the draw. After all, he was supposed to have been with Bingley in town for many weeks while his sister was in Ramsgate last June.
One thing he could easily count on, though. Darcy may dislike his presence in the area, but he knew Darcy was too proud to publicly shame him or show weakness and leave merely because of him. On the other hand, Darcy may wish to return to his idyllic existence in his lavish townhouse and his pretty little sister at any moment. Wickham’s conquest would need to begin immediately.
14 thoughts on “Sufficient Encouragement Refresh– Chapter Four”
What a despicable scoundrel Wickham is! But at least Elizabeth is favouring Darcy at the moment even if it is for the benefit of Jane.
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What do you think will happen when Elizabeth meets Wickham?
What is Wickham planning?
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Evilness, of course!