Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Sixteen! In case you are only just joining us, or have missed a part, never fear. Chapter 1 is here. Just follow the “Next Chapter” links at the bottom to read it as a serial. If you only missed last week’s chapter, then just click for Chapter 18.
Will Mr Darcy stop? Will Elizabeth proclaim her love for him in the middle of the street? Will they convince him to help? So many questions! How many will get answered today? Read and find out! 🙂
Chapter 19: Questions, Schemes, and Ultimatums
Elizabeth glanced back at Ellie exasperated and hurried to put on her bonnet while Mr Darcy, after stopping his horse and staring as though he’d seen a ghost, approached. In a fluid motion, he dismounted, stepped forward, and bowed gracefully before Elizabeth, who still struggled to straighten her bonnet as she stumbled over her own foot in a pathetic attempt at a curtsey. Both of them blushed and turned vivid shades of red until Ellie thought Elizabeth might burst. Was she holding her breath? She’d pass out if she kept on!
“Miss Bennet,” he repeated, “I must say how surprised I am to find you in Lambton. Have you been in the area long?”
Elizabeth clasped her hands before her and shifted in place. “We have been here but two days, sir.”
“And where are you staying?”
“At the inn.” Elizabeth pointed to the building nearby while Mr Darcy never removed his eyes from her.
He gave an odd sort of laugh. “Of course. I suppose you have travelled with your family?” He peered over at Ellie, but only for a second before his eyes latched greedily back on Elizabeth. “I hope they are well.”
Ellie pressed her lips together to keep from making a sarcastic comment. She’d thought it before, but how could Elizabeth ever have thought Mr Darcy didn’t like her? The man drank her in with his eyes like he was savouring an expensive glass of wine. Seriously? Did the man ever blink? He’d have to soon or his eyes might dry up!
“I am here with my aunt and uncle. My family with the exception of my youngest sister, however, are at Longbourn and are quite well. I thank you.”
He looked to Ellie again. “Would you do me the honour of introducing me to your friend?”
With a slight smile, Elizabeth angled and held out a shaky hand towards her. “Mr Darcy, this is Miss Eliza Forrester, a good friend of mine from London.”
Ellie gave a wobbly curtsey. “It’s lovely to meet you.”
He gave her a peculiar almost frown while he bowed, but couldn’t keep his eyes from Elizabeth for long and quickly ignored Ellie in favour of his infatuation. “I could not help but notice that you mentioned Miss Lydia specifically. I hope she is not unwell?”
Elizabeth peeked at Ellie. They’d hoped he would ask since it would not be as acceptable for Elizabeth to unload her family’s dirty laundry without a sort of invitation. “I do not believe her to be unwell,” she began, her voice hesitant. “She is staying in Brighton with friends, though I confess this morning I have heard news of her that worries me exceedingly.”
His brows furrowed. “But you said you believed her to be well.”
“Oh, she is well in body, but I fear she may have found herself in a troublesome situation. Miss Forrester, you see, was also in Brighton until a few days ago when she decided to travel north with her party. She has relayed some disturbing information regarding my sister that has me at sixes and sevens.”
While Elizabeth spoke, she began wringing her hands and tears pooled in her eyes. Of course, her emotions weren’t scripted, but were Elizabeth’s true feelings on Lydia’s situation. Mr Darcy stepped closer, though not as close as Ellie would like, obviously sympathetic to Elizabeth’s upset. He watched her with such intensity Ellie was surprised Elizabeth wasn’t bursting into flame. What was with this time period? Why couldn’t he just pull her in his arms and kiss her right there in the street? It was so frustrating!
“Surely she is in the care of someone responsible?”
“She is the particular friend of Mrs Forster, the colonel’s wife, but I fear Mrs Forster is just as silly and heedless as Lydia. I am not certain if the colonel knows of her plans. I cannot imagine my sister informing him of them.”
“Her plans?” His brows drew down in the middle as Elizabeth nodded.
“Even before Lydia departed Meryton, she has oft times enjoyed the society of Mr Wickham. I have heard they are thrown together often in Brighton. You must know him well enough to know what he is capable of—your history with the man must give you some idea of the rest.” Her voice dropped to almost a whisper at the last.
His eyes flared and he looked around them. “But are you certain? Could there be any mistake in the matter?”
Clutching her reticule, Elizabeth swallowed and shook her head. “I fear not. Lydia has confided in my good friend here, certainly bragging of what she believes to be her good fortune in securing him in marriage. Since she did not know we would happen upon one another here, Miss Forrester sent me a letter at Longbourn, but I shall not receive it until our return. By then, I know it will be too late. Lydia will be lost to us.”
Mr Darcy’s concerned expression was everything Ellie could’ve hoped for. His forehead sported worry lines and he brought his fist to his mouth several times as though fighting an emotional response. When Elizabeth finished her last statement, he turned to the inn. “Perhaps we should continue this where we have more privacy and perhaps we could get you something for your relief. A glass of wine, maybe?”
He tugged at his horse’s reins as he walked beside Elizabeth towards the inn. When they approached, a young boy rushed forward from the stable and took the horse, accepting a coin from Mr Darcy for his trouble.
As they neared the door, it opened and they came face to face with the Gardiners. “Lizzy!” exclaimed Mrs Gardiner with her hand to her chest. “We were just going to search for you. Are you ready to depart?”
“Miss Bennet, would you do me the honour?”
The Gardiner’s both then gaped at the tall, handsome stranger behind Elizabeth with some concern, but before they could speak, their niece rushed out, “Mr Darcy, may I present my uncle Mr Edward Gardiner and his wife, Mrs Gardiner.”
He dipped his chin in greeting. “Forgive me for delaying your outing, but Miss Bennet was relaying some information to me of the utmost importance.”
Her aunt and uncle almost appeared comical with their similarly raised eyebrows and open mouths as they turned to Elizabeth. “You were?” asked her uncle.
Instead of Elizabeth responding as they might have expected, Mr Darcy nodded. “Yes, sir, but I believe the remainder is better said without the possibility of being overheard. If you have a private room, we could discuss it there or I would be happy to arrange for a room if it is necessary.”
Both of the Gardiners appeared extremely displeased, but led the way back up to the breakfast parlour they had just occupied, closing the door behind them once they were all inside. Her uncle removed his hat and crossed his arms over his chest. “We just sat down to breakfast together, Lizzy. If you had such important information for Mr Darcy, why did you not say as much then? In fact, you have behaved in the most peculiar manner this morning. First, you would not allow your aunt inside your bedchamber, not to mention your sudden interest in visiting a place you wished to avoid until today.” He dipped his head, obviously conveying his meaning while not offending Mr. Darcy.
“Because I only just learnt of Lydia’s intentions when I happened upon Miss Forrester this morning.” She tugged at her gloves, removing them and her hat while she spoke. “While I have every faith in you and my aunt, Mr Darcy is familiar with the man whose schemes could ruin our family. I require his opinion and counsel if he is generous enough to provide it.”
Mrs Gardiner stepped forward and took Elizabeth’s hands. “Calm yourself, my dear. I confess I am quite confused by the bits and pieces you have told us as well as by what you have not. Please tell us all you have learnt from the beginning.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “When I left our rooms this morning for breakfast, I happened upon Miss Forrester, as you well know. As I said earlier, she was travelling north with a party of friends that broke their journey here. Unfortunately, they were separated. Before travelling, Miss Forrester spent the last few weeks in Brighton where she was in the company of Lydia on several occasions. Before she departed, my silly, stupid sister confided in Miss Forrester her intention of eloping with Mr Wickham.”
Though Mr and Mrs Gardiner both gasped and appeared shocked, her uncle’s shock quickly turned to disbelief. “She is by no means unprotected,” he defended. “But I would imagine Lydia is doing no more than bragging in the hopes of making herself more important than she is. I doubt there is any reason for concern.”
Mr Darcy, who closed his eyes at Elizabeth’s revelation, opened them, and shook his head. “I find it unlikely he intends to marry her, but he might spin such a web if he intends to ruin her. He has used such deception in the past.”
“I saw them together a lot,” interjected Ellie, probably a little louder than she should. “They were always together at parties and Lydia was definitely flirting with him. I’m certain they hooked up.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flared at Ellie. Yes, Elizabeth had told her not to say a word, but the Gardiners weren’t taking this seriously! Elizabeth had to convince them and if she wasn’t able to do it on her own, it was up to Ellie to make them see. Lydia had to be saved since now, it wasn’t so much Elizabeth needing to return as it was Ellie wanting to go home when this was all over. “I also overheard the officers laughing about Wickham using Lydia. He is messing with her head and she doesn’t see it at all. She believes he wants to marry her. He’ll lie to her, con her, and before anyone can fix it, she’ll be lost.”
“Where do you hail from, Miss Forrester?” asked Mr Gardiner, narrowing his eyes. “You have a peculiar accent. I have travelled all over England, but I am afraid I cannot place it.”
Elizabeth gave an indignant huff. “Really, Uncle. I have been acquainted with Miss Forrester for long enough to know she only means to help. What does it matter where she lives?”
“You must admit it is suspicious, Lizzy,” her uncle pointed out. “I have never heard you mention a Miss Forrester before, ever. Then, she appears today as though from nothing, having lost her party of friends, and tells you this story of Lydia and an elopement. Why should we believe her?”
Standing to her fullest height, Elizabeth’s eyes shot daggers. “Miss Forrester’s integrity in this matter is unimpeachable. I would trust her with my life and that of any of my family, including Jane. She informed me of Lydia’s intentions without expectation of reward and has offered her help. She merely wishes to be of aid. If you refuse to believe Miss Forrester, I insist you trust me on this matter. I would never lie about something this important. You must know that.”
“Lizzy,” her aunt attempted to soothe. “You cannot deny that your uncle’s concern is valid. This young woman appears and is either silent or speaks in an odd fashion, and you have never made mention of a Miss Forrester to me either.”
Ellie put a hand to Elizabeth’s shoulder, scrambling together a lie. “I am originally from London, but my family travels a lot so I am not often there. I have been to America and India which could be why you do not recognise my accent. I would not upset Lizzy like I have if I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary. Lydia is in trouble. I promise.” Unfortunately, Mr and Mrs Gardiner didn’t look convinced at all and Mr Darcy’s eyes narrowed a little when he looked at her. What if he was sceptical now, too?”
“I am aware of Mr Wickham’s charm with the fairer sex and his debauchery,” said Mr Darcy. “If Miss Lydia claims they will elope, he has likely concocted some scheme and proposed to her for some nefarious purpose. For some time, he has sought a wife with a fortune. If he desires to live in the style he has always coveted, he must wed for money. He will not take Miss Lydia for his wife. He is deceiving her.”
“There, you heard Mr Darcy!” cried Mr Gardiner with an outstretched arm in Mr Darcy’s direction. “Mr Wickham would have no interest in eloping with Lydia since she has no fortune. She is also by no means unprotected. Colonel Forster would prevent any such schemes or send Lydia home to your father.”
“He has no intention of marrying her.” Elizabeth was near tears and barely holding herself together. Why were her aunt and uncle so stubborn? Somehow, they needed to be convinced or they could kiss Lydia goodbye. “Mr Darcy also said he is possibly deceiving her in some way, Uncle! Why can you not accept this as a possibility?”
“”Tis too much and too sudden to be accepted without question, Lizzy,” asked her uncle. “Why have we had no letters from Longbourn? Surely, Colonel Forster would notify your father if such a scheme were afoot.”
“Perhaps this letter has not yet been delivered.” Both of Elizabeth’s arms fell to her sides and her hands clenched into tight fists. “I intend to try to prevent Lydia from ruining herself and our entire family’s respectability. If you do not believe Miss Forrester, then you may do as you wish and continue on to Pemberley. Eliza and I will forge ahead on our own.”
“You cannot be serious!” yelled Mr Gardiner. “I forbid it! You are under my protection and my authority. I will not have you traipsing all over England on a wild goose chase!”
Despite her respect for her uncle, Elizabeth didn’t back down. “I have my pin money, and I have no qualms travelling by post coach with Eliza should it be necessary.” Her aunt and uncle heaved in a shocked breath while Mr Darcy seemed more like he was fighting a smile than horrified by his beloved’s presumption. “You may not believe my friend, but I have every faith in her trustworthiness. Aunt, Uncle, I am disappointed you do not trust me—”
“Lizzy,” chided her aunt. “Do not say that which you might regret.”
Elizabeth’s lashes were wet with unshed tears while she blinked rapidly. “I shall go to my sister’s aid. With or without your help. Though, I do wish you would trust me. If a tragedy befalls my sister, I would feel responsible because I knew and did not go to her aid. I could never forgive myself.”
A look passed between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. In Elizabeth’s letter, Mr Darcy spoke of his sister’s planned elopement with Mr Wickham. Could he identify with her feelings in such a situation? He must or he would not have wanted to hear every dirty detail—not that they could share everything they knew. If they did that, they’d never get anywhere but the nearest asylum.
“I shall help you.” All eyes turned to Mr Darcy, who still maintained a straight face. “I am aware of Mr Wickham’s charm with the fairer sex and his debauchery as well. As I said earlier, if Miss Lydia claims they will elope, he has likely concocted some scheme and proposed to her for some nefarious purpose, since for some time, he has sought a wife with a fortune. I also could not allow Miss Bennet or Miss Forrester to travel by post coach and without the proper protection.”
“She must still have my permission, Mr Darcy,” said Mr Gardiner, throwing his hands in the air. What would happen if Mr Gardiner didn’t let Elizabeth go? Would she be willing to sneak out during the night?
“With all due respect, sir. Your niece has indicated her intention of travelling by post coach, if necessary, with no one to accompany her but her friend. You cannot guard her day and night to prevent her from departing without your knowledge. I would much prefer to ensure her safety than leave her to her own devices.”
“I apologise for imposing as I have, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth wrung her hands. “I just do not see any other way.”
“Please do not apologise,” he said soothingly. “Were I in a similar situation, I would act in precisely the same manner.” He studied Elizabeth’s expression as he slightly dipped his head. “I hope you realise that I am in earnest in my offer to be of aid, but I must make arrangements as soon as possible. Before I begin, I must ask, do you desire my help? Will you accept my aid?”
I think we know Elizabeth will accept, but what of the Gardiners? Will they let Mr Darcy help or will they continue on their tour of Pemberley? Tune in same time, same place next week to find out!
Thanks for reading everyone!