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At breakfast the morning after Elizabeth returned home, Mr. Bennet announced that his cousin and heir was to arrive that afternoon and remain with them for a week. From his letter, he seemed a very odd mixture of humility and conceit, and both Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet anticipated the humour of his visit. They were not disappointed. They were, however, incorrect in how long such enjoyment could last.
It was during dinner that Elizabeth already began to lose patience with the gentleman. He droned on about his parsonage, calling it a humble abode, all the while talking about its superiority yet displaying his subservience to his patroness. His meekness mingled with self-importance was very evident when he spoke of Lady Catherine’s daughter, Miss de Bourgh.
“The court has been deprived of its brightest ornament due to her poor health. I even tell Lady Catherine that her daughter has all the markings of elevated rank and seems destined to be a duchess. Such compliments please her ladyship exceedingly, and I feel particularly bound to pay them. Indeed, as I know ladies find these delicacies very acceptable, I am happy to offer them as often as possible.”
Before Elizabeth could suggest otherwise, Mr. Bennet began praising Mr. Collins for his manner.
“It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with such delicacy. May I ask whether these words proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of study?”
“They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time. Even when I plan elegant compliments that can be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”
Elizabeth withheld her sigh at her father’s clear amusement. Mr. Collins was absurd, but she longed to give her opinion on the matter of insincere flattery, especially under the guise of ladies’ intelligence being insufficient to perceive the truth. She knew, however, her thoughts would be unwelcome. Mrs. Bennet would openly chastise her, and Mr. Bennet would offer no defence as he preferred a good joke to nearly anything else.
Her sisters rapidly lost patience with their civility when Mr. Collins refused to read a novel and instead favoured them with Fordyce’s Sermons. Although he claimed he was not offended when the younger girls started giggling together, he quickly turned to play backgammon with Mr. Bennet.
By the next day, Mr. Bennet was eager to send the gentleman, who had taken up residence in his library, on a walk with his daughters. Kitty and Lydia especially wished to meet with a militia officer who had gone to London on an errand.
When Mr. Collins arrived, he had alluded to the desire to take a wife, and as he walked exclusively next to Elizabeth, regardless of how she modified her pace, she swiftly came to the conclusion that he had decided she met his needs. She cringed at the thought. At last, they arrived in Meryton. Lydia and Kitty saw the officer with whom they had been eager to meet and ran headlong towards him. Jane and Elizabeth sighed and followed them at a slower pace. Mr. Collins attempted to keep up.
Upon reaching her sisters’ sides, Elizabeth could not help but smile. The officer had a very handsome friend with him. He was easily the handsomest man Elizabeth had ever seen. He also looked and behaved every bit the gentleman. Upon introductions, he entered into conversation readily.
“My friend, Denny, assured me that Meryton had very agreeable company: genteel, intelligent, and lively,” Mr. Wickham said to the ladies. “We have been walking up the street here all morning, and everyone we have met is friendly.”
“There is no shortage of friendship here,” Lydia said. “We are quite friends with all the militia officers. You must meet our uncle Phillips. He loves to have the officers dine with him.”
Elizabeth’s smile faltered a little at Lydia’s brashness, but Mr. Wickham replied quite congenially.
“I assure you, I would be pleased to meet with any relation of yours, Miss Lydia.”
“What do you think of our shops, Mr. Wickham?” Kitty asked. “Do we not have some of the best shops here?”
Again, Elizabeth grew uneasy with the lack of restraint and manners displayed by her younger sisters, but Mr. Wickham was not disgusted or offended in the least.
“I have not been in very many yet, Miss Kitty, but perhaps on your next walk, we might all shop together. I did, however, have to see the bookstore.”
Such interest compelled Elizabeth to speak. “How did you find it? I can only compare it to the London bookshops my relations frequent.”
He looked at her in silent appraisal for a moment, causing her to lightly blush. How nice it was to please upon first sight!
“It is everything a market town should have. Plant guides and farming methods for the gentlemen, severe sermons for their wives, and thrilling romances for their daughters.” He winked at Kitty and Lydia, causing them to giggle.
Elizabeth quite liked his manners and wit. “And what books do young gentlemen enjoy? As an officer in the militia, I suspect war accounts and histories interest you.”
“I wish I could claim it, but I confess I care not a jot for all that invention and death. Poetry, madam, is my preference.”
Elizabeth would have then asked his favourite poets, suspecting them in agreement with her tastes, but the sound of horses drew their notice. It was Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, and they drew near the ladies immediately. Elizabeth smiled as she saw Bingley’s eagerness to speak with Jane. She had just turned her eyes upon Mr. Darcy, sensible she should not exclude him, and was startled to see Darcy and Wickham staring at each other. Wickham had turned pale and Darcy red, but neither spoke. Darcy dismounted and stepped toward Elizabeth.
Wishing to ease the moment, Elizabeth introduced them, not caring that she did not proceed properly. “Mr. Darcy, this is Mr. Wickham. We are told he has recently taken a commission in the militia quartered here and is a friend to Mr. Denny. Mr. Wickham, this is Mr. Darcy; he is visiting his friend, Mr. Bingley, the one talking to my eldest sister.”
Mr. Wickham made to bow, but Mr. Darcy spoke before the other man finished. “We are acquainted.” His jaw was tight for a moment, and then he dismounted. “Miss Elizabeth, I had wanted to query you about the subject we spoke of on Saturday.”
Elizabeth blushed. He wished to speak of love? He extended his arm, and she was surprised that she was not unwilling to go when belatedly her mind realised he must have meant her correspondence with Miss Darcy.
“Oh, are you certain we should not speak with my sister as well, then?”
He gave her an unreadable look. “I have the lady’s reply here.”
“Oh! Very well.”
She finally took his arm and could feel the tension in it. His reaction to Mr. Wickham was most peculiar, and it was impossible for her not to wonder at it.
Mr. Darcy was silent, and Elizabeth’s own mind was preoccupied, but at last, she realised they must speak or else look too peculiar, walking silently together on the street.
“Was the direction on my letter unclear in some way?”
“Miss Darcy sent her reply to you instead of to Longbourn.” Indeed, she could not understand how he had a reply so quickly. Miss Darcy would not have received her letter until the final post on Saturday at the earliest, and no mail went on Sundays.
“Oh, she returned it express this morning but did not wish to alarm anyone at Longbourn, so she sent it to Netherfield.” Darcy smiled.
Elizabeth returned the smile. How curious! Elizabeth was rather concerned that the young lady was so excited by their correspondence when she could know nothing of Elizabeth but from her own letter. Then she was so concerned about giving offence that she chose to send it to Netherfield instead. And most unusual of all, she was sister to Mr. Darcy, whom Elizabeth could hardly fathom considering someone’s feelings in such a way. But then Elizabeth had to admit, siblings may be vastly different.
He handed the letter to Elizabeth, and his expression looked as though he were bestowing her with the greatest gift. Did he think so much of his sister?
“Do you and your sisters often walk to Meryton?”
“Yes, we do.” She glanced over her shoulder at the group. Mr. Wickham was watching them with peculiar interest. “We sometimes make new acquaintances, as you see.” She did not mean to bait Mr. Darcy, yet an expression of hauteur overtook his features.
“I would warn you about happy manners.” They had been walking around the shops, but he stopped to face her. “I boasted the other night that I take care not to expose my character to weakness and ridicule, but I confess I have a particular failing. I can be resentful, and my good opinion once lost is lost forever. This will make me seem worthy of ridicule, but we must all have some natural defect.”
“I thought yours was to hate everybody.” She clapped her hand over her mouth, realising what she had said.
“And is yours to wilfully misunderstand them?”
She frowned. The words were not said in sharpness, but she hated that someone could mistake that in her character. “You think I misunderstand your own? You are speaking in riddles.”
“Forgive me, I am not at leave to say much more.”
She sighed. Why must the man be so complicated? “You are careful in the creation of your implacable resentment?”
“You are not blinded by prejudice?”
“I hope not.”
“If you never change your opinion, then you must judge properly.”
“I do not hate upon sight. One may earn my good opinion or, through constantly showing a vicious and inferior character, earn my poor opinion.”
“Then I see not how this can expose you to ridicule.”
“Some may tell a different story of me.”
He gave the briefest glance to where his friend still talked with Jane, and Elizabeth immediately knew he meant Mr. Wickham. Of course, she had only known Mr. Darcy a month, and her impression was not very favourable. Without hearing Mr. Wickham’s words, it would be difficult to know if Mr. Darcy deserved censure.
Lydia called out to them. She was eager to visit their aunt Phillips. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth returned to the group. When Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham offered to walk with the ladies, Mr. Darcy excused himself, and Mr. Bingley followed. Upon their leave, Mr. Wickham glanced to the letter Elizabeth still held in her hand, and she hastily stuffed it in her reticule.
Mrs. Phillips invited the gentlemen inside, but they declined. The sisters were soon to learn that Mrs. Phillips had invited several officers to dine the following evening and planned to invite Mr. Wickham as well. The Longbourn party promised to attend for cards later in the evening.
“Darcy!” Bingley called to his friend, but Darcy continued to push his mount too fiercely over the fields towards Netherfield.
“Darcy! You will break your neck!”
For a moment, Darcy wondered if that might be best for everyone, but he reined in his feelings and eased the horse into a trot.
“Did you have another argument with Miss Elizabeth?”
“What? God no!”
“Then what was that about? I saw how you looked at the Miss Bennets before we left. You barely held yourself together and then seemed to have a death wish.”
Darcy exhaled. “Forgive me. I hoped to never see that man again.”
“The one with Mr. Denny. George Wickham.”
Bingley furrowed his brow. “Was he not the one who gave you trouble after your father’s death?”
“You have no idea.”
“Tell me,” Bingley said with genuine concern.
“I am sorry, but some things…”
“You do not trust me!”
“It is not that. It is done and settled; the harm is done by my own fault. There is no need to dredge it up again.”
“When have you ever caused harm? You think every decision through too much to even accidentally pain someone.”
Darcy shook his head to silence his friend. Bingley had far too much faith in him, as Elizabeth had said. If either one of them knew how he failed his sister, they would never respect him again. Now the very man who had nearly ruined his sister’s reputation and broke her heart had stood before him with Elizabeth at his side.
The two approached Netherfield in silence. They were informed by the butler that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had taken to their rooms with colds. Bingley invited him to a game of billiards, but Darcy made his excuses. He needed time to think.
Growing up, Wickham was always present as the son of the steward and his father’s godson. They even were sent to school together. Wickham’s true nature came out during that time. He was unscrupulous and an opportunist with a vicious, immoral streak. He turned down a living left for him in his godfather’s will for which Darcy fairly compensated him. Then two years later, he appeared asking for the placement. Wickham was unhappy when Darcy refused, and the way Wickham slandered Darcy’s name was no less than he expected.
Darcy did not anticipate that Wickham would develop designs on his sister. Yet aside from her wealth to fund his dissolute lifestyle, Darcy was certain Wickham wished for complete revenge on him by having absolute power over his beloved sister. That Wickham could scheme so efficiently should not have surprised Darcy. At school, Wickham showed a very capable mind, was shrewd, and had a charm only diplomats could rival.
He would not be caught unawares again. Somehow, Wickham knew of Darcy’s presence in Meryton and meant to profit from it. Darcy considered that Wickham may blackmail him over Georgiana’s reputation. Or simply beg for money again. Darcy would not stand for that. He would meet with Colonel Forster and tell him…
A dispute over a will did not make Wickham a criminal, and any greater proof he had of Wickham being unfit would involve exposing his sister. He could not pain her just to bring peace of mind to himself. Resolved, he pulled the bell and informed his valet they would be leaving on the morrow. Bingley could host the ball on his own. Darcy needed assurance that his sister was well and had no desire to be in Wickham’s company once more. He dressed for dinner and felt only a twinge of guilt for letting down his friend. He waited until after the meal was over to make his plans known.
“Bingley, I know you wished for me to stay for the ball, but I simply cannot with George Wickham about.”
Bingley furrowed his brow. “There is no need to leave. I already sent a message to Colonel Forster explaining that while I had invited all of the militia, you and Wickham have a dispute, and if he could find an excuse to see Wickham detained, I would be most happy. He replied with an agreement.”
“You really got him to agree to that without saying a thing?”
“Not everyone is like you. Some will make decisions based on friendship alone, or mere acquaintance in this case.” He grinned. Darcy raised his eyebrows in reply, and finally Bingley shook his head. “Very well, I also sent over one of my best bottles of port. The colonel was much obliged.”
“Very well, I can stay for the ball only.”
“I will need your support that evening, friend.”
A strange look passed Bingley’s face, but Darcy could not fathom the reason for it. They lapsed into silence. Now that he had calmed, he considered his feelings again when seeing Elizabeth next to Wickham. His attraction to her, his desire to possess her good opinion and admiration, had nothing to do with his feelings when he saw Wickham speaking with her. His protective instincts leapt to the fore, and he had to suppress the need to haul her away from the cad. He would not call himself oblivious to the concerns of others, but he was ever careful not to become officious—like his aunt and other relatives—unless someone was clearly in his care. His urge to meddle in Elizabeth’s life shocked him.
He could now do her the justice of knowing she would not fall for Wickham’s usual lies…or tactics of seduction. However, recognising that he felt Elizabeth was in his care made him face realities. He desired to know more of her. Yet it would be difficult to understand her character better without being obvious in his attentions. He would not allow anyone to force his hand. When he proposed to a lady, it would be for sensible reasons and not because his honour had somehow become bound to her.
Bingley seemed to be developing an attachment to the eldest Bennet daughter. Usually, he would impress on Bingley all the reasons such an attachment would be imprudent. Bingley’s position in society was more tenuous than his own. Darcy could more easily withstand any censure he received for marrying so below him and without regards to fortune or connections. But there was little reason to think that Bingley had more serious intentions towards Miss Bennet than any other lady in the past. Therefore, Darcy could suppress his usual arguments and, as Bingley’s guest, enjoy visits at Longbourn where he could meet more often with Elizabeth. Perhaps they could all call on Thursday.
As they sat in a far-too-quiet drawing room afterwards, he noticed the clouds rolling in. If he was not mistaken, they were due a storm as a cold snap followed all the warm weather they had been having. Hopefully, it would pass soon. He had calls to make on Elizabeth and Wickham. For now, he wrote his sister a letter and another to his butler ensuring she was well protected. As the evening wore on, he felt a scratching in his throat.
14 thoughts on “Sufficient Encouragement Refresh– Chapter Five”
Darcy should certainly have explained more about Wickham to Elizabeth, especially in regard to warning her sisters. Alas it seems he’s now about to be ill!
It’s been such a long time since I read this that I can’t remember what happens.
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I’ve forgotten a lot too! I’m a few chapters ahead of what’s posting though. 🙂 I’ve always found it interesting that Austen had it rain after the interaction between Wickham and Darcy. Such a natural thing, but also means there’s no chance for Elizabeth ask Darcy anything or observe him again. Nor do we get inside his head and what’s going on leading up to the ball. Will THIS Darcy stay or go?
Please have this book on kindle Uk
I would love to read it ♥️
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The series will be available in Kindle Unlimited once it’s complete!