We are almost to the end. I’ve several loose ends to tie up. Since the story is moving fast, it won’t be a long drawn-out process. Imagine Darcy’s reunion with Elizabeth. Sigh! Ok, I’m off to type. Enjoy! Please do not forget I will be taking this down one week after I finish to ready it for publication. Thank you for reading.
As twilight settled over the countryside, Fitzwilliam Darcy sought shelter. The constant discouragement from not overtaking Wickham was a living, breathing enemy. He was weary beyond measure. If he continued his brutal pace, he would reach Pemberley the next afternoon.
Giving the groom extra money to indulge Richard’s mare, Darcy first checked the interior of each carriage in the yard before slogging into the busy inn. Surveying the patrons, he found no one resembling his former friend. Again, he was denied the slim hope he could rescue his sister.
Darcy had been wrong. The motivation of gaining a fortune must have moved Wickham to exert himself beyond his usual habits.
Poor Georgiana. Darcy’s heart hung heavy in his chest. No innocent girl should be attached to a man who would rob her blind and toss her away like refuse. Darcy knew Wickham’s past, the many times he had ill-used women, making promises he had no intentions of keeping, then abandoning them without a blink of an eye or a twinge to his own conscience.
Did he have a conscience? At one time he did. When they were children, George played fair. It was only after Eton that he learned to lie and cheat for his own advantage.
And this was to be the man Georgiana would be bound to? He wanted to vomit. And sob.
“Wake me before daylight.” Darcy handed the proprietor some coins before heading directly to his room. He cared not that the bed felt like stone. He cared not that his dusty clothing would soil the blankets. He cared about his sister. He cared about Richard. He even cared about Richard’s horse, Earl. Mostly, he cared about a slip of a woman with a gleam in her eye and compassion in her heart. He missed Elizabeth. His last thought was of her attempting to capture three squirming puppies when sleep finally caught up with him, his eyes firmly closed and a smile on his face.
Elizabeth’s first sensation was a panicked need to breathe. When her mind cleared her hysteria subsided. She was, indeed, inhaling and exhaling with regularity.
The rock-hard floor beneath where she lay was filthy. The room’s furnishings draped with covers coated in dust. Surveying her surroundings, Elizabeth recognized nothing. However, she observed a water pitcher, a porcelain pot, and some bread resting upon a piece of unwashed linen covering a spot on the fireplace hearth. Two ropes extending from a metal ring embedded in the stones surrounding the gaping hole of the potential source of heat hung down. Her eyes followed the hemp to intricate knots and loops tightly surrounding each of her wrists.
Good Lord! Mr. Wickham had tied her to the wall.
Stretching her arms up and back as she rose to a sitting position, she estimated her range was approximately five feet. Standing and pulling on her bindings, she walked the semi-circle from one wall to the other.
Peeking inside the pitcher, she found it to be half full. Her hands were dirty, and her wrists already chaffed under the bindings. Wishing to wash her hands and cool the burn from the ropes, Elizabeth declined to pursue her desires. She had no idea how long she would be kept at this location so did not want to waste the few resources she had. One thing she did do was to move the chamber pot to the other end of the hearth, away from the food and drink. Pouring a few drops of precious liquid over her fingers, she wiped them on her skirt to dry. Her clothing appeared to be the only relatively clean surface available.
Cobwebs draped from the corners of each window while the moth-eaten fabric of the draperies hung like tattered lace. Faded rectangles on the walls indicated where paintings had once hung. The only bookshelf was lonely in its emptiness.
Wherever she was, the place had been long ago abandoned.
Brisk footsteps sounded upon the wood. She was not caught unawares when Mr. Wickham brashly entered the room.
“Miss Elizabeth, you are awake.”
Badly, she wanted to assure him she was having a nightmare of immense proportions. “I am.”
“Pray, be seated, we have much to discuss.” He pulled a chair close to her sphere of movement but wisely remained out of reach. “Do not be distressed. I cannot believe I shall have to keep you here for more than four days, five at most.”
“Why?” she demanded. “Why have you done this vile act?”
“How much do you know?” He was equally demanding.
“I know of your evil plans with Lady Catherine. I know of your resentment against Mr. Darcy. I know of your intent to ruin Miss Darcy for the sole purpose of stealing her dowry. I know you have flirted shamelessly with Lydia to gain information about the goings-on of the residents of Netherfield Park.” Elizabeth stood with her bound hands at her hips, her chin tipped up. She was angry! “What I want to know is how much you know, Mr. Wickham?”
“Ha!” he scoffed. “You have no power. Like I have been all my life, you have no authority, no position of superiority to elevate you to lofty heights. You cannot make demands of me.”
Elizabeth answered, “I hear your bitterness and shall have none of it, Mr. Wickham. Colonel Fitzwilliam told me details of your upbringing and of your fortune in being chosen as Mr. Gerald Darcy’s godson. You were given a gentleman’s education with the opportunities that came with Eton and Cambridge. You, who have been blessed, have no cause to repine.” Elizabeth turned her body away from him. She would rather look at the wall.
“You know nothing, Elizabeth Bennet.” He spat. “I have not spoken with or seen Lady Catherine in almost twenty years. My resentment of Darcy is pure and true. He is an evil man who patronizes all those below him and torments those who most would benefit from his benevolence, should he have any to give. Georgiana Darcy is like her brother—her only redeeming value is the money she brings to a marriage. Colonel Fitzwilliam is, under his spotless military cloak, a coward and a wastrel. Your sister, Miss Lydia, has been an easy conquest. A few kisses and she has told me everything I needed to hear.”
He sneered. “For example, I know of Richard’s crippling infirmity—bless the hole in the ground that finally humbled His Majesty, the second son of the Earl of Matlock. I know of Bingley’s lack of character which will besmirch Darcy’s name for having association with him. I am a flirt, Miss Elizabeth. I have no regrets nor any difficulty acknowledging my practices. That young man is blind to his own weaknesses. He will pay dearly for his misjudgment in thinking he can buy his way into Darcy’s sphere.” He rose up on his toes and dropped back to his heels. “I know of your family’s finances and Darcy’s offer to buy your loyalty. And I know you secretly abhor the man you have promised to marry. So, do not judge me. You know nothing.”
She was livid. How dare he presume to know her heart. He spoke lies.
“Mr. Wickham, you gain nothing with your charges. Nothing at all.” Turning her back on him, Elizabeth sought the least untidy spot on the hearth before sitting down. Flexing her fingers, she relaxed them one-by-one. Breathing slowly, she calmed her heart, so her voice lost the acidic quality she was inclined to spout. She would no longer allow him to believe he was in control. “Then I ask, what is your purpose? You apparently wanted Mr. Darcy gone. He is gone. Nevertheless, he will quickly return when he realizes his sister is unharmed. Therefore, how long shall I be kept here in unimportant. I am curious, while in captivity, will I be required to tolerate your company, or shall I be left alone?”
Elizabeth assumed he would not reply so was surprised when he responded.
“I am overcome by a sense of power at being able to have Darcy dance a jig to the tune I am playing,” he bragged. “You should worry that in your marriage you will always be second to Georgiana. I cannot imagine a worse life for a strong-willed female like you.”
At the lift of her brow he clarified, “Oh, you are surprised I have sketched your character accurately? Your youngest sister opens her mouth and everything she knows, including her opinions, spills out.” He chortled. “She views you as quite domineering and demanding, the most fearsome of her sisters, do you know?”
Elizabeth chose not to reply. Her words would be wasted on him.
“My dear, two items have been accomplished by sending Darcy on a wild goose chase. First, you were much easier to carry off without him constantly lurking around you. Second, I will let him know we spent both the days and nights together. He will be tortured at the thought of me having first go at you.”
“You will not touch me!” she spat each word at him.
“Of course, I will not.” He laughed. “What a perfect revenge. You will go back to him proclaiming your innocence, which will be the truth. However, the mental image he will carry his whole life will be one of you and me together, alone. Having a taste of you would not satisfy me nearly as much as knowing I hold power over his mind and his emotions for the rest of his miserable years.”
“You are mad!”
“Not at all, Miss Elizabeth.” He posed as if an attorney standing in a court of law or a vain man in front of a looking glass. “I am merely the judge and executioner of a lifetime sentence of doubt and despair. I find I am well-qualified for the task.”
“You are despicable!” Unable to contain her temper, she jumped up and approached him, drawing to a stop when the ropes came taut. “Then know this, George Wickham, you will suffer for a lifetime with the inherent knowledge that you will forever be the lesser man. You, who claim wisdom and justice, are nothing more than a little man of even littler worth. Your plan has no hope of success.”
“Ha! That is where you are wrong. I doubt not that he will bring his sister with him when he returns. He will not want her out of his sight. I cannot see him offering her in exchange for his betrothed. So, I suffer no loss, I will charge interest on the amount of her dowry by requiring forty-thousand for your return. He will pay. Oh yes, he will. His love for you will see to your safety and my prosperity.” His snicker was evil. “However, once you are in his arms, he will recall you left me to go to him.”
She opened her mouth to speak. He stopped her.
“I have no doubt your mind has conjured a multitude of insults to my character, perhaps even my parentage. Nonetheless, I AM IN CONTROL!” His shout bounced against the walls. “I will see Darcy and Richard suffer in repayment for the injury they have caused by withholding Georgiana’s dowry from me.”
“Humph!” Folding her arms in front of her, Elizabeth stepped back to the hearth. “I find I am weary of you, Mr. Wickham. You may now leave.”
The ploy garnered a painful response. The bite of his palm across her cheek stung. Despite this, his words showed he was not unaffected. “You cannot tell me what to do. You can do nothing to change the course I have set in motion. I will succeed where I have failed before. You shall see.” He turned and walked away from her. Before leaving the room, he looked back. “Just as I am weary of Lydia, I am weary of you, Elizabeth Bennet. I find you are barely tolerable as Darcy earlier proclaimed to the neighborhood. He is welcome to you, for all I care.”
The adrenaline pumping through her receded as soon as he left the room. Poor William. Poor Georgiana. As she again looked at her surroundings and the crude provisions left her she could not help but think, poor her.