The Measure of A Lady
Part One: Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more...
"William, will you always love me?"
Fitzwilliam Darcy's attention snapped suddenly from the business correspondence to which he had devoted the last hour's perusal in the company of his heretofore silent sister. The strange question rankled him a bit, as he could not imagine any possible reason for Georgiana's doubting it.
"Of course, you silly bird."
"Truly? All our lives, no matter what happens?" Here, Darcy was motivated to examine her countenance, fearing to find some trouble in her dark eyes. Nearing sixteen now, Georgiana had been his ward since the passing of their father, and with more than ten years between them, there had been little of the rivalry which was rumored to exist in other households. Darcy had been old enough to appreciate her adoration when she was a small child, and old enough to realize how desperately she needed his personal attention when they had been left alone in the world. She was an obliging, intelligent and gracious girl in all respects, and had never given Darcy a moment's grief. She thought the world of him, and would give the world for her. It was, in his eyes, a most pleasing arrangement. Georgiana's questioning him now, in so plaintive a way, on such a matter, was quite the most surprising thing he had ever heard out of her.
"Have you ruined yet another dress climbing trees?" he teased, referring to a short lived spell of mischief in her younger years that had been responsible for her presenting herself at dinner in an unheard of state more than once.
"You are making light of me, William, and I don't think that's fair. I am not a child." She had not altered facial expressions since her initial declaration. "There are some girls who are married at my age, you know."
"And a very silly thing that is, too. Let us be glad that you shall never have to be one of them." He regarded her seriously. "I did not mean to sound as though I were making fun of you. And to answer your question, there is nothing you could ever do that would cause me to stop loving you. I swear it."
The change in her countenance was gratifying. She rose from the sofa where she had been resting, and crossed the room to where her brother sat at his desk. She kissed his cheek, and bade him good night. Darcy reciprocated, and watched her as she was leaving. There had been something rather altered in her manner of late, and he almost considered calling her back, but decided that they could speak of it in the morning. If there were indeed anything to speak of.
He did not speak with Georgiana the next morning, nor the morning after, and at the end of the week, she returned to her settlement in London with her companion, Mrs. Younge. They were to remain there another five days, then proceed to Ramsgate for an excursion of which Darcy did not entirely approve, but had been persuaded into allowing for the sake of her good humor, which she did not often threaten to lose. He wondered, not for the first time, if he was right in setting her loose, so to speak, in London, away from his direct supervision. Darcy painfully felt the lack of female guidance in these matters, and was only slightly mollified by the knowledge that Mrs. Younge would be dancing constant attendance upon her. Everyone whom he had consulted had seemed sure that London was the place where the most advantage might be gained for his sister at this age, and he had conceded to what he felt must be superior judgment, though privately he could comprehend no place in the world affording greater felicity than Pemberley itself, London be hanged. He felt that his fundamentally sensible sister realized that as well, but she was enjoying her stay in Town. This past year had been awkward for Darcy, regarding the management of his sister; she had finished with school, but was (in his considered opinion) far too young to be entertaining suitors, or, indeed, the prospect of marriage as anything but distant. He had received several arguments from various parties on this particular point, but, thankfully, none yet from Georgiana herself. He had long ago decided that she would be allowed to marry where she pleased. She was blessed with a large fortune, which meant that should the future object of her affections happen to be unfortunately impecunious, she would not be prevailed upon to forget her heart for her pocket book. However, the price of courting her, if such were the circumstances, would be steep-- at the very least, taxing-- for Darcy was determined to thoroughly sound out the character of any such young man before he were allowed into the front hall of Pemberley. He would have to be devoted to Georgiana indeed to endure all that Darcy intended to--
Stop it, he told himself sternly. He had ideas, certainly, of what he would require of a young man questing for his sister's hand, but he didn't actually wish to frighten all the young men away. He was protective of Georgiana, but that was to be expected. She was the heart of his life. No man who truly loved her could be afraid to ally himself with her brother, who loved her best of all. He would have to remember to emphasize that to her. She was very young, and though he trusted Mrs. Younge to keep close watch on her, the woman was only mortal, and could not be expected to monitor her charge's every conversation and acquaintance. Georgiana must know that she need not be afraid to bring a worthy young man home to him.
Darcy ran a hair through his thick, dark curls. Something concerning this Ramsgate excursion still did not sit right with him. He had given his permission already, and he was not willing to retract his word... But he began to wonder if it might be prudent to drop in a bit unexpectedly in the middle of things. He had been distracted of late, too much so to pay Georgiana the attention she deserved, and he could surprise her with a nice present of some sort, by way of apology. And while she was at it, she could show him whatever it was about Ramsgate that charmed her so... aside from the sea... what was the sea to the gardens of Pemberley?
PART TWO: Men were deceivers ever...
Georgiana sat, engaged in a review of the missives which had been sent her by the author of this excursion, and the soon- to- be partner of her life. This was an occupation to be much preferred over attempting conversation with the worthy lady who had been her companion since leaving school the previous year, and who now sat uncomfortable, fidgeting and scowling in her direction from across the carriage. Mrs. Younge was a handsome lady, not many years older than Georgiana herself. She was a willing co- conspirator in this strange adventure, and her enthusiasm for the romance of the situation seemed at times more abundant than Georgiana's. As they had packed last night, Mrs. Younge had seemed as giddy and flighty as any of the girls in the school where she had lately been headmistress, and Georgiana lately a student... Yet this morning her good humor had been waning sharply in tandem to the increase of their proximity to Ramsgate. Georgiana thought this strange, but everything this week had been odd in some way or another, and she had begun to take it as a matter of course.
She thought back to the visits Wickham had paid her the preceeding week, and felt that stirring which she had some time ago decided must be love, even though it faintly resembled carriage sickness. His words to her then had echoed the sentiments that danced across the pages of the correspondence she now read; promises of how happy they would be together, laud of her beauty and affirmations of his love. He had even begun to describe the chapel he had selected for the informal ceremony, and the small cottage where they would stay until they had managed to secure William's approval... This part of the plan always left Georgiana feeling a bit cold. She had not understood why Wickham had not solicited her brother for her hand to begin with, but when he had first declared his love for her, and begged her to elope with him, she had been so flattered by his attentions she hardly dared voice any objection. She half feared that unless she allowed herself to be guided by him in all things, he would decide the whole affair too troublesome to be dealt with, and break everything off between them. As time progressed, she had grown bolder, and eventually did broach her concerns, and Wickham had been neither irritated or uncertain-- rather he had addressed them with the gravity she felt they deserved.
"Believe me," he had said, "it pains me that we cannot yet share our joy with your brother-- whom I look upon quite as my own! But I fear... Well, my dear, your brother cares for you so much that I half think he is determined to never let you go. He is convinced that you are still a child, and far too young to consider marriage to anyone. That is why this is the best way; once he sees you bearing the dignified mantle of a married woman, he will be unable to deny how grown up you are, and he will surely give us his blessing. And..." here his face had grown serious, "I hesitated to mention this before, my Georgiana, for fear you would be pained, but I did speak to your brother once. Not formally, you understand, but I did broach the subject and he was quite adamant that you were still a child and such concerns were a thousand miles away from you. I knew then that I must speak to you directly, for I loved you too much to wait for as long as he would make us wait..."
She had been satisfied by the logic of his reply. That sounded very like the sort of thing William would say about her, and she believed wholeheartedly that he would come around to her point of view, as Wickham had said, once they were married and he could see that she was quite capable of acting as a woman.
That feeling was disturbing her stomach again, and she sifted through the pile of paper in her lap. The letters... reading them the first time, they had all sounded so wonderful, but reading them again, they all sounded very much alike. She hoped that Wickham's arrival would be timely. Doubt was beginning to grow strong, and her memory of his voice was growing weak...
"We're here Georgiana, if you would like to apply your attention somewhere other than your lap," Mrs. Younge intoned archly. Georgiana winced. She had thought her companion wished to be left in peace-- she had not imagined that she would feel slighted by her lack of attention.
She was not able to apologize, however, as the carriage was rolling to a stop, and Mrs. Younge was visibly all impatience to be outside in the daylight. "Do you remember when Mr. Wickham said he would arrive?"
"Mr Wickham? Oh... He will be here soon, I imagine. Don't worry yourself."
"Why would I be worried?" she questioned. But she received no answer-- Mrs. Younge had swept into the house already, leaving her quite alone with her uncertainties.
PART THREE: To one thing constant never...
Wickham descended upon them at dinner that evening.
He kissed her hand with grave decorum, and greeted her seriously, as they were then in the presence of Mrs.. Younge, who had the good grace to feign great interest in her book. He then tossed a glance at her, and smiled, calling out, "You there, Mrs.. Younge! What say you to giving us a bit of privacy? This lady and I are shortly to be wed, and we've much to discuss."
Georgiana regarded him with something like awe mixed with horror. He was certainly the most free person she'd ever met, and she couldn't decide whether she should better be amused, or offer to scold him for addressing her former teacher so. But Mrs.. Younge, seeming to take no offense, simply rose and exited the room with a graceful toss of her head. Wickham's gaze followed her as she left, and she paused just at the doorway, casting a glance over her shoulder which Wickham seemed to catch. Georgiana could not decipher the nature of that look; whether it were a caution to mind himself here, a reminder that their chaperone would not be far, or a secret communication of which she knew nothing... she did not look up at Wickham quickly enough to catch his response, but she quickly put the idea from her mind. What possible reason could Wickham have for secrets with her chaperone? It was she whom he intended to marry, was it not? She turned her face toward his, and questions fled her mind a moment later, when he bent over her and kissed her on the forehead.
"How was your journey, my darling?" He asked, leading her to the sofa.
"Dreadfully dull, I'm afraid," she replied. "The only thing that made it worthwhile was the knowledge that I should soon see you."
He laughed. "Heady words, miss! I shall become intoxicated by your flattery, if you do not have a care!"
Georgiana blushed. He always made her feel this way, like a charming and sophisticated lady who was accustomed to entertaining and being courted by scores of gentlemen.
He did not leave much time for pleasantries after that, however. He was only there, he said, to finalize the details of their next meeting, which would be on Tuesday, three days hence. He told her that he had given all the necessary instructions to Mrs.. Younge, and that she must trust her implicitly.
"Mrs.. Younge?" Georgiana echoed dully. "She is to come?"
He seemed surprised by this. "Yes, certainly, why should she not?"
"Well, I hadn't thought that as a married woman I should have need of a chaperone any longer! Truly, I had imagined that you and I would be quite alone."
"We will, my sweet, I swear it. But Mrs.. Younge has been extremely kind in aiding us throughout this. We need her help to execute every aspect of the plan. Besides, can you imagine leaving her here alone to be questioned by your brother when he discovers your flight? Such would hardly be courteous."
Georgiana nodded dully, and Wickham caught her under the chin with his hand, something that he had done often to her when she was a small child. "I promise you, you shall be very happy Georgiana. Do you trust me? I do love you."
She smiled a little at that, and nodded, which was all she could really do. The knot in her stomach was growing larger.
Lying in bed alone that night (their lodgings, thank heavens, allowed Mrs.Younge a totally separate set of apartments) Georgiana's thoughts went to her brother. Since leaving him and Pemberley earlier in the week, her thoughts had not strayed far from either. When her mind was not filled with dread and anticipation of the next three days, it was considering what William's reaction would be when the news reached him. She almost giggled. She was fairly certain that the very first thought to enter his mind would concern Wickham, tar and feathers... But he would come around, she was quite certain. All that would be necessary would be to show him how very happy she was as a bride, and how much she and her husband loved each other. He would be upset, of course, that he had not witnessed the union...
Georgiana suddenly burst into tears. He would be upset? It was she who would be heartbroken! She did not want to be married without William's blessing-- without a proper dress-- without William there to stand up with her! This whole affair was becoming quite unconscionable. If this drove William away from her, she would never forgive herself, or Wickham. She had feared such for as long as she had been engaged. That night at Pemberley, in which she had questioned her brother so importunately, she had wanted to settle within herself once and for all whether there were any danger of making William hate her. He had protested with eloquence to the contrary, and she was satisfied on that point-- but she had as little desire to hurt him as she did to make him lose affection for her. Alas, there seemed no way to avoid that, save a spontaneous abortion of the affair, accompanied by partial amnesia for all parties involved.
William would be satisfied with her happiness. Of that she was sure. He had always been guided by what he felt was best for her... And she would be happy with Wickham... She would be...
Georgiana was seized once more by ungovernable tears.
The next morning, Georgiana rose early, and leaving a note for Mrs.. Younge to indicate her whereabouts, she set out to a small church very near the inn where they had their lodgings. She had passed it on the journey up and marked it as the place to spend Sunday morning. She and Darcy attended church weekly, and he had always taught her to take instruction in the faith seriously. She hoped that a morning in God's house would enable her to think clearly on the subject of all that was before her, and lend her some guidance.
She arrived a bit late; she had not known when precisely the service started, but she was able to simply take a seat in one of the very back pews and join in the hymn without attracting any undue attention to herself. Her voice was sweet and clear, and she was very familiar with the hymn. Several people in the pews before her turned to see who was singing, and smiled at the lady there, though she was a stranger. Georgiana found herself smiling back at them. She sang two more hymns with increasing joy, until the congregation was seated. Then, as was her unfortunate tendency whenever the parson began to speak, her mind began to wander.
Dear God, show me what is right! she cried in her heart. No cause is dear enough to justify wounding William. But what can I do? I have given Wickham my promise... And I am here with Mrs.. Younge-- she will not be pleased if I confess to her my doubts, and I do not know if she would help me. If only I could reach William... If only I could make him come! But a letter would never reach him before Wickham returns for me. I do not know if I could get a letter past Mrs. Younge in any wise! O God, grant me discernment!
She sat leaning forward a little in the pew, her hands knotted together, strained and white in her lap. She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to clear her mind. It was then that she began to listen to the parson, as he read the Scripture for the day.
"...Love is patient, and is kind; love envieth not, love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but in the truth. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth..."*
Love is patient. What was it Wickham had said? 'I love you too much to wait...' Love doth not behave unseemly. Georgiana buried her face in her hands.
Realization had been creeping upon her ever since the carriage ride, and was standing before her too plainly to be ignored or denied any longer. The knot in her stomach was the size of an apple now, and she understood it for what it was: prudence, warning her to act no further in this madness.
Wickham does not love me. She mouthed the words silently to herself. Wickham does not love me.
A dry half sob rose in her throat. But the feeling that flooded her, oddly enough, was relief. She had never wanted things to be like this, and now... well, now that she was beginning to be quite certain that Wickham's intentions in this affair could not be very noble, (love seeketh not her own) she began to feel that she could yet salvage some decency from the situation. She would simply tell him that she would play no further part in this charade, and make preparations to return to London.
A tremendous sigh relieved her of the dreadful feeling of suffocation which had sat upon her chest ever since rising that morning. Everything was going to be all right now. She was certain that Wickham would be reasonable... Quite certain...
*Quoted from I Corinthians 13 in the King James Bible, but I substituted "love" for "charity" because it just made more sense for the context.
PART FOUR: Converting all your sounds of woe...
Georgiana tread lightly, thoughtfully, as she came up the stairs of the inn to their suite. She would have to speak to Mrs. Younge this very morning, and she did not foresee that it would be a pleasant exchange. During the remainder of the service, and on her way back to the inn, she had analyzed the situation as painstakingly as she had ever considered anything in her life, and she had come to the startling conclusion that there must be some unknown history between her companion and her erstwhile fianc», though she did not care to think to what extent their conspiracy might reach. Unless she missed her guess, the good lady would probably take herself off to some unknown place as quickly as possible once Georgiana communicated her change in humor-- the ire of Fitzwilliam Darcy, which was an inevitable consequence of his sister's imminent confession, was not to be lightly incurred.
Georgiana's hand was upon the latch when the sound of voices from within gave her pause. The one was unmistakably Mrs. Young, and the other, a man. It could be only *him*-- there were no gentlemen in the neighborhood with whom they were acquainted-- Georgiana stopped and corrected herself. With whom *she* was acquainted. She could no longer presume to know anything of her former teachers person or character; all she had imagined she knew of the woman had been proven false by this morning's discernment. Even now, she and Wickham were certainly within, scheming the details of Tuesday's supposed excursion. The more she considered the infamous conduct and deception of these two persons to whom she had trusted herself with the greatest faith, the more outraged she became. Granted, her own conduct in this matter did not bear the closest examination, but she was guilty of imprudence, naivet», rashness... She had not, would not, hurt anyone by design. But Wickham-- she was suddenly overcome by sadness. He had been a hero to her when she was a child, and he had never failed to be gentle and affectionate toward her; this childish admiration, and the persuasions of her own vanity, had formed the greatest part of her imagined love for him. It wounded her now to think that he was prepared to use her so selfishly, she who had thought of him as a brother for most of her life. She bit her lip and steeled herself, nonetheless. Whatever former affection she had borne him could only be saved if she acted the better part of prudence for them both in this matter. She would not accuse him. She would simply tell him...
She paused a moment in order to collect her faculties, then pulled the latch.
Wickham stood in the middle of the room, locked into an embrace with Mrs. Younge-- Georgiana stepped back as quickly as she could, and push the door not quite shut. She listened attentively to the pounding of her own heart as her blood rushed in her ears. Moments passed... She was fairly certain that they hadn't seen or heard her. She swallowed hard, and concentrated on the task of breathing for a few moments, then turned behind her shoulder, and said with unnatural volume, "Thank you so much for seeing me home, sir. I do appreciate it." She waited for another heartbeat, then opened the door.
She found them a chaste yet civil distance from each other. Wickham bore his hat in his hands and Mrs. Younge, though flushed, was seated on the sofa attending to needle work. Wickham smiled hugely when he saw her. "My dear Georgiana."
"I had no idea of seeing you again until Tuesday," she said, trying to smile.
"I could not wait; my feelings quite overwhelmed me, and I knew I should have no peace until I saw you again. I brought you these--" he swept a hand backward to indicate a bouquet of flowers that sat in a glass vase upon the table, "And your chaperone was kind enough to place them in water."
Georgiana look past him to the flowers, trying desperately to think of what she might say to him. A few tense moments of silence passed, and she looked down at her hands before intoning quietly, "May I see you alone, sir?"
She did not raise her eyes to see Mrs. Younge leave the room, to see the secret, warning look that passed between them. She did not look up as she listened to the even rhythm of his boots as they tapped the ground while crossing the room to stand before her. She did not speak until he said, "You are pale, my dear. I believe wonder at your imminent marriage is taxing you. Perhaps you should lie down."
Georgiana raised her head very slowly, and spoke deliberately, weighing each word. Imprudence had been her great vice through all this, but no more. She would allow no unconsidered utterance to pass her lips again. "Sir, I shall not be married."
His eyes widened in what seemed to be shock, but he recovered himself with disarming alacrity, and after a pause, he laughed a little, his voice rife with disbelief. "What say you, madam?"
She spoke again, her voice stronger. "I say I shall never be your bride, for you have deceived me, and sought my ruin for the increase of your fortune and your petty pleasures. The only person whom I bear with less patience in this moment is myself. I require that you leave immediately, and have the goodness not to intrude upon us again."
She saw something in his face then which frightened her, but she saw him check it almost immediately. He smiled very tightly, and replied with a deliberation which equaled her own, "Recollect what you are saying, Georgiana. We have planned this for so long, and you have since the moment of our betrothal proclaimed this as essential to your happiness as I know it is to mine; I cannot imagine what has caused you to think me so vulgar since we last spoke, but if you will only tell me, I am certain that I can make it right..."
"How can you do this?" Georgiana cried out with a great voice, her resolve to deal with him in a dignified manner melting away under his wheedling. This insincerity truly wounded her more deeply than any other, for it erased all possibility of his being moved to contrition and earning the forgiveness which would enable them to conclude this sad interlude with something like grace. She was resolved not to cry, but she felt hot tears prick at the corner of her eyes, and she blinked fiercely to relieve herself of their unwelcome intrusion. "I will not hear your denials, your *lies*, sir, for they can be nothing else. I have endeavored, in the interval since our last interview, to discern why you have chosen to mislead me so cruelly, and-- beyond even this-- attempt to enter into a permanent attachment which could lead to nothing but misery to one who labored under the cruel illusion that she was loved by you-- I confess I had hoped to find you willing to confess a weakness and leave me the friend I knew as a child, but I see now this can never be."
She managed the courage to maintain his eyes as she delivered this raillery, and at the completion of each sentence, Wickham's eyes grew a shade darker, his mouth was a degree tighter, so that by the end of her rebuke, Georgiana was positively alarmed-- but she held herself high.
He began his reply with a sneer. "And what do you propose to know, miss? Do you expect to run back to your brother? How do you contrive to make your way to him? For I assure that Mrs. Younge is not disinterested in seeing our original plans executed, and she shall neither accompany any return to London that you might attempt, nor aid you in bringing it about. What do you think will happen to you when awake on Tuesday morning to find yourself alone, without a sixpence to your avail --for you will recall that your most prudent brother has entrusted the management of your personal finances to Mrs. Young!-- an innkeeper's bill to reckon with, and no carriage? You would not even have the fee to send your brother a message by post. There are many who would be inclined to take advantage of a young lady in such pitiable circumstances, and not a few of them make their abode at Ramsgate."
Georgiana was crying in earnest by the time he had finished his speech, and it was for the simple, dreaful reason that he spoke the truth, and she could not avoid it. She had known it all along, but until this instant, she had not dreamed-- not even begun to dread in her most dire consideration of things-- that he could be so callous, so directly intent upon forcing her to his will once she had expressed her earnest desire to be released from it. She stood now before the man to whom, a mere day ago, she had been willing to pledge her life and troth, and for whom now she could conjure nothing but the most thorough repugnance. He seemed to sense it, and smiled again, without so much malice, but also without gentleness. "There, there. You shall see. It is not expected that a girl of your age should perfectly know her own mind. Trust yourself to me now, and you will not fare badly."
In the light of his eyes, there was a venom so plain to her now that she would have shuddered beneath it, had not his open contempt and perfidy finally succeeded in rallying all the fierce Darcy pride within her. She squared her small shoulders, set her expression, and regarded him with a mature scorn that made him start for a moment at the resemblance she bore another of the same name.
"I think I have divined your inspiration. The particulars were never revealed to me, but it was not so long ago that my brother ceased to keep company with you. As I recall, he severed all acquaintance, and you were no longer admitted to Pemberley's society. My brother understood your character, and you could not bear it, so you have lately sought to revenge yourself upon him by seizing his sister-- it is not surprising. Certainly you are incapable of facing him as a man, for he is your better in every pos--!"
A cry was torn from her throat and her dialogue aborted, as, with a look of menace such as she had never in her young life been exposed to, Wickham delivered her a vicious blow with the back of his ringed hand, and Georgiana was sent tumbling to the floor. She lay there, dumb and motionless for a moment as the pain seized command of all her faculties. She had never been struck, or touched in a manner intended to inflict pain, in all her life, and she was quite stunned. She did not know how much time passed, until she was conscious of Wickham moving away from her; she heard Mrs. Younge's voice, and presently, Wickham's, instructing her in the following manner--
"Take her into the room, and put her to bed. Stay with her constantly, and if you must move abroad, take care that she is locked in. Do not set her at liberty for an instant; I will conclude arrangements this evening, and we will speed our journey by a day. I shall come for you tomorrow morning. Be caution itself; if Darcy gains intelligence of this, we are all undone."
Presently, she began to stir, and felt Mrs. Younge's hands, which did not fail to be gentle, aiding her in setting her upon her feet. She allowed herself to be led to the bed chamber, and left there, as the door was locked following the older woman's departure. And there she wept, and prayed. Presently, her young heart was so exhausted in bearing up under a despair to which she was wholly unaccustomed, that she fell asleep, and thus passed most of the morning into the afternoon.
Georgiana first began to stir when it was sometime past noon.
She lay a long time in the same attitude as when she first opened her eyes, feeling no inclination, and divining no possible reason, to move; she was certainly a prisoner in this room and there was not much in it save a bed and bureau. Her face hurt terribly, and it felt swollen. Wickham will not have himself a particularly handsome bride at his wedding, she thought to herself, and smiled, then winced upon the discovery that it hurt to smile.
Though her body remained in repose, every part of her mind was active. It is not to be thought that she was insensible to the heavy tragedy of her situation, or that she was so quickly recovered from the abject cruelty of one to whom she had formerly supposed herself dear. Rather, she had removed herself almost entirely from the dismal reality of her circumstances, and was now contemplating the problem in a calculating, almost mathetmatical manner, so determined was she to deliver herself from Wickham's machinations. She guarded her reason jealously, for she was aware that should she for a moment deviate from her academic angle on the matter, she would be overcome, and, consequently, perfectly useless to herself.
She was analyzing Wickham's dire description of the situation in which she would find herself, were he and his compatriot to abandon her here. She found that, though founded on a certain practicality, she had the advantage of him, in that he was unaware of the true state of her personal finances. She *did* have a little money about her; certainly not enough to reckon the innkeeper's bill, but more than enough to send a summons to her brother, who would require only a word's notice to dispatch him immediately. As to those who might prey upon her hapless state-- of those, there were none less scrupulous than the one of whom she was currently laboring to relieve herself, and she could hardly imagine that another could possibly insinuate himself in her good graces with anything like a shade of the former's success. Thus, with the concerns attending her solitary state reasoned into negligibility, she began to plot her liberty. And pray.
Mrs. Younge was keeping a religious watch on the door behind which her charge was incarcerated. She was not by any means a resolute woman. Those virtues which she happened to seize upon as worthy of her attendance were selected according to their convenience, and the precision with which they were upheld was determined by expediency, and, likewise, expediency dictated that said virtues might be at any time be exchanged or ignored, also according to convenience. That is to say, each decision she made was regarded by an unwavering eye under the light of self interest, and a conscientious adherence to the dictates of her personal pleasure was the unremitting barometer of her conduct. With this in mind, one must consider the nature of her involvement with Wickham. That he was a villain, she did not doubt; that he was a rascal as recklessly devoted to his own caprice as herself, she recognized and did not wonder at. That he would leave her flat in the first moment he began to fear himself compromised, she was perfectly convinced. Mrs. Younge was not easy at the turn events had taken, for a number of reasons. The least troubling of which centered around Georgiana and her sudden obstinancy. It had been one thing at the onset of this excursion; the only means of reproach anyone might use against her was that she did not caution the girl against imprudence, but encouraged the indulgence of her whims. Now it was another matter all together; Wickham had mishandled her, ordered her imprisonment (which *she* had executed) and now meant to abduct her and force her into an unwilling alliance. Mrs. Younge's more delicate feelings, though outraged by this, could easily have been persuaded into reticence by the logical profits of such measures, were not the perils of the same in danger of swaying the balance of her effort back to the side of delicate feelings. Her mind was rather more quick than her conscience, and it appeared to her keen understanding of things relating to the security of her being that, though Wickham's actions were devoted to his personal interests, his interests were those of passion, rather than gain. When monetary advancement had been ostensibly his end, his actions had made a good deal more sense; she now perceived that he was moved from some fierce feeling-- certainly not love, for even the girl had been quick enough to see through that ridiculous sham-- but revenge, which, for some men, served to blind them farther than the other, finer motivation. His passion was limiting his reason, and action devoid of reason had landed the most self interested parties in the path of severe trouble. Mrs. Younge foresaw this concerning Wickham, and after some hours of deliberation on the matter, weighing whether it was likely that this affair might be concluded with some attention to their former ends. When it at last appeared to her as impossible, her mind became perfectly made up. She rose from the position she had maintained for the greatest part of the day and crossed the room to Georgiana's door.
Georgiana, her languor of the last several hours notwithstanding, shot instantly to her feet as she heard the turn of the key at the door. She steeled herself, ready to take the least opportunity to seize her freedom where it was not voluntarily given-- but drew back from hurling herself forward at just the last moment, when she perceived that Mrs. Younge stood at the door, not to block it, but to hold it open.
"I have long deliberated on this matter, and have decided that it simply will not do. I never had any thought towards abduction-- I will not allow myself to be endangered by his folly. I am leaving. When you see your brother, you will please to inform him that I was the means of setting you at liberty. I can do nothing more for you, but I have left you some money. You can get yourself a message to Mr. Darcy straight enough. If I were you, I would not be here when Wickham returns tomorrow. That is all-- except to say that I am sorry for you, but most of it was your own doing, you will please to remember that."
Georgiana stared after her, incredulous, for a moment until the woman turned and actually made her way out the door. Presently, she had quitted their apartments altogether, and Georgiana felt herself trembling so that she was required to take a seat-- which she did in the outer room, having no wish to confine herself any further in the bedchamber.
A rush of feelings seized her very much at once, and she was obliged to be still and let them run their course before she was able to consider her circumstances rationally. Mrs. Younge had left her with some money-- this was good. She quickly determined that her first course of action would be to dispatch a message to William begging his immediate presence... But she was yet left with the unpleasant fact that she had every reason to expect Wickham's presence tomorrow morning-- and barring the direct intervention of Providence, there was no possible hope of seeing William before then. Mrs. Younge was fled-- understandably. She was left to contend with him-- resist him-- defend herself from him all through her own power. A tremor ran through her, but Georgiana checked it instantly-- this would not do! No weakness! She would-- she *must*-- be her own mistress in this matter. There was no help for it-- no recourse-- her wits and prayers alone could save her now.
Fifteen minutes later, she was standing at the door of her rooms again, hesitating once more, as though she feared to encounter the apparitions of those who had lately fled awaiting her within. A message had just been posted to Pemberley, and she was left to await her brother's arrival. She had, while walking, determined a course of action against Wickham's imminent arrival; he had said to expect him the following morning. Georgiana, however, had decided to be far away by then. She was only returning to her rooms now to collect a few of her posessions, and when she had done so, she intended to return to the chapel where she had attended church that morning. The parson was a youngish man, and he had likewise a young and friendly looking wife, and she had decided to share her desperate circumstances with them. If they would not allow her to stay with them, she might at least pass the night in the church itself, and return to the inn after that time when Wickham would be gone. Perhaps if the parson and his wife were very kind, they would ask her to stay until William came. But she checked that thought. It would not do to depend too much on other people in this matter; such imprudence was responsible for the situation in which she found herself even now.
She turned the latch, and entered the room slowly. And immediately thereafter, felt the heaviness of a hand pressing down upon her shoulder.
She gave an involuntary, strangled shriek, and whirled about to face the intruder so quickly that she stumbled and fell to the floor, all in the space of about three seconds. She looked up to divine the identity of her supposed attacker (she did not doubt to see Wickham there) and found herself looking into the astonished eyes of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
She could not conceal her shock, nor the relief which immediately followed as her uttered her name with a voice that implied a thousand unasked questions, and immediately burst into uncontrolled weeping.
Darcy, her tears moving him, at least temporarily, from his confusion, knelt and helped her to her feet, then guided her to the sofa, where he sat beside her, holding her hand and observing her with alarm.
At length, Georgiana gained control of herself, and said, through tears that still would not abate, "How is that you have come? I have just come from posting a message to you at Pemberley... Unless both you and the messenger have sprouted wings..."
Darcy found himself smiling. "I set out not long after you-- I intended to surprise you here. And indeed, it seems I have; but where is Mrs. Younge? And what-- what is this?" His voice rose on a sudden note of indignation as his hand strayed near her eye. Georgiana had yet to regard herself in a glass but his reaction proved what she feared most; the her face was as grievous to behold as it was painful to bear.
The particulars of the instance in which she had obtained it could not be imparted without giving the details of other circumstances leading to it, so Georgiana took that moment to haltingly, but without sparing herself, tell him all there was to tell. This confession she executed with such a firmness of spirit, but with such remorse, that, especially in light of her quick recovery of senses and all that she had suffered by those who had truly been at fault from the first, that he quickly forgave her, and his energies and ire were turned to regarding the man who had abused her.
"I returned directly after the service had ended, intending to inform Mrs. Younge of my decision, but as I had the misfortune to discover Wickham here when I arrived, I told him instead. He did not believe me at first, but I showed him I was quite resolved. I do not know how far he would have gone but I insulted him-- I-- I compared him to you-- and he..." Georgiana swallowed. She felt William could not but infer what had happened from the sight of her, but to speak it aloud and confirm those suspicions was a different thing, and she feared his reaction. But he insisted she continue, so she steeled herself once more and continued.
"He struck me, so that I was nearly insensate and unable to resist farther, and in that space of time he and Mrs. Younge imprisoned me here so that I could reach no one and gain no assistance." Georgiana was a bit relieved to see him make no outward response to this other than a tightening about his mouth and jaw, so she rushed on. "I slept for a bit, and when I awoke, Mrs. Younge released me. She said she could go no farther in this business, gave me a bit of money, and left. I do not now know where she is. But she warned me against facing Wickham again-- he is supposed to return and collect us tomorrow morning-- so I had decided to seek sanctuary from the parson of the church I attended this morning, and avoid this place until you were able to come. Yet when I came into the room just now, I was so certain that you were he-- I do not know what I would have done--" here, she lost control of herself again, and tears were enthusiasticaly renewed, as, for the first time that day, she felt safe enough to surrender to all the terror which had nipped at her heels since her morning encounter with Wickham. Darcy, momentarily put aside his quiet fury-- for fury it was, despite the apparent temperance he was endeavoring to display in front of his sister-- and gathered her into his arms, and the next ten minutes or so were filled with attempting to convince her that he did not blame her at all, and that she was now perfectly safe, and that she would not face Wickham again, ever.
A half hour later, Georgiana was safely ensconced at the parsonage of St. Timothy's, having been conducted there by her brother, and her case pleaded by the same to the worthy clergyman and his lady, who accepted her so graciously and refused any and all monetary reimbursement so emphatically that Darcy went away thinking them quite the worthiest couple he had met in a very long time. It was necessary to remove Gerogiana from the scene of what would shortly be, without doubt, an unpleasant altercation-- there was no idea in Darcy's mind to quit Ramsgate before the time when Wickham was expected. His pride railed against it; the outraged protectiveness which any brother might feel towards a much younger sister who has been very dear to him for many years absolutely forbade that Wickham should leave this place without feeling the consequences of his villainy. And so Darcy lodged himself in Georgiana's quarters, and awaited the corrupted comrade of his childhood with no more trepidaiton than determination.
He did not expect to do such completely alone; he knew it would be folly to undersestimate a man with Wickham's lack of scruples. He might well come armed, or with comrades; it did not escape Darcy's recollection, however, that he came expecting to meet two women who would not much resist him. With all this considered, Darcy decided that the backup of one capable friend would assist him greatly, and immediately dispatched a message to his cousin, and Georgiana's joint guardian, Col. Fitzwilliam, who was currently at business in Dover. Special express had the message to him within a matter of hours, and it was not many hours after that Fitzwilliam joined him.
"I came as soon as I received your message," he told his cousin even as he was walking through the door of the apartment. "Is Georgiana safe?"
"She is well now," Darcy replied. "She is staying at a nearby parsonage. He frightened her very badly, and, I am afraid, misused her rather cruelly. But he shall answer for it now."
"Can you imagine what would have prompted him to this?" Fitzwilliam took his seat beside Darcy, and appeared to relax a bit. "I knew he had changed since his youth, but I had imagined his faults to lie in other, less violent areas--"
"He has not changed at all since his youth. He has always been what he was, and it is only now that we observe the depth of his character," Darcy stated with some bitterness, and rose abruptly to pour a glass of brandy which he had ordered upon his return from the parsonage.
"Surely it is not all... He cannot need money so badly that he would injure the daughter of he to whom he has owed so much."
"I believe his motives have been far less excited by pecuniary concerns than by ideas of revenge against me, for he must know that even if I would not let my sister suffer in poverty, I would not support him in the least. He would be little advantaged by the connection; I, however, would suffer greatly at the loss of my sister, and he knows it well."
Fitzwilliam fell silent; he had not been advised as to the particulars of the falling out between Wickham and his cousin, and he did not feel that now was the time to address them. He took his leave instead, and stretched himself out on a sofa, being tired by the ride, which he had made in great haste, and proceeded to fall soundly asleep. Darcy, on the other hand, was quite incapable of any such behavior, and knew he would remain painfully conscious until the morning light. Nevertheless, in deference to his cousin, he extinguished the light and sat for some time in the darkness.
There was a knock on the door at about six o'clock that morning.
Fitzwilliam had been risen about a half hour, and Darcy had not slept at all. Upon the hearing the noise, Fitzwilliam looked at his cousin, and by his sign, perceived that he should move to the other side of the room, where it was unlikely Wickham would immediately perceive him in the relative darkness, for Darcy had recently lit but one candle, and as it was just then dawn, the room was filled with shadows. It sat on a table easily within his reach, beside a pistol upon which rested Darcy's hand. Fitzwilliam was similarly equipped. Neither man believed it would come to firing their weapons, but Darcy was of the opinion that the gravity of his actions could not be too seriously impressed upon the miscreant, and truth to be told, Darcy would not shy from such measures if they became necessary.
By design, the door was not locked, and when no one answered the summons, the door opened slowly. Darcy was still as stone, as Wickham entered.
(sorry guys, I had meant to finish it in five installments, but the end is yet forthcoming.
PART SIX: Be you blithe and be you bonny...
He did not see Darcy immediately, but when he did, he glanced furiously from one side to the other, then turned with the obvious intent of rushing back out the door through which he had entered. In the few seconds which passed between his registering the situation and attempting to execute a departure, Fitzwilliam had moved in between him and the door so that when when he spun around, he was greeted by the sight of the man's pale, set face, and a pistol aimed at his head. He turned again toward Darcy and his eyes went to the pistol at his hand, and after a violent war of emotions waged across his features, his posture slumped into a suggestion of resignation, and his mouth twisted with something like humor.
"Well, Darcy, what *are* you going to do with me?"
Darcy's eyebrows arched elegantly in unison against his pale brow, and he adjusted his grip on his pistol. He gave a small smile when he saw Wickham blanch and flinch at the slight gesture, and replied in a cool tone, "That remains to be seen. Please. Sit down."
Wickham glanced behind him, as Fitzwilliam brought a chair forward and shoved it behind him so that he lost his balance and all but fell into it.
Darcy regarded him in silence for a very long moment, never wavering in his gaze, and as Wickham found himself quite unable to look anywhere other than the pistol under Darcy's fingers, it made for an almost humorous quarter hour of silence. Presently, Wickham began to grow pale, and sweat began to trickle from his forehead. He could only imagine that Darcy was devising methods of prolonging his death, and the longer he felt the burning weight of his dark eyes, the more difficult he found it to sit still. If Wickham could have seen that which Darcy was actually contemplating, there is no telling whether he would have been comforted or not, though it was unlikely; for Darcy was fighting within himself for control of his more violent urges. The moment he had seen Wickham's glib, handsome features, arrogant in their assurance of having his own way, his resolve to deal rationally with him had begun to slip. He appeared to have no recourse-- no friends, and had evidently anticipated a need for no methods of force beyond brute strength-- which, unfortunately, would have been enough to compel Georgiana. No, he must not dwell on that thought-- he would lose himself to thoughts of revenge... And such folly was what had landed them all here in the first place.
Darcy's finger suddenly twitched on the pistol, and Wickham, whose eyes had never strayed from that place, twitched as though they were both in one accord. It appeared that only the slight movement was required to break the spell which had held him motionless, and he immediately attempted to spring from the chair. He was immediately arrested in his effort by Fitzwilliam, who was standing so close behind him at such point that he was able to immediately clamp down on him by the shoulders, and cocked the pistol just in his ear. The unmistakable sound paralyzed him immediately, and he returned to his slumped position in the chair.
The spell seemed also to be broken for Darcy, who at last stood, accompanied by his pistol. He did not advance on Wickham, though this failed to reassure him, as the muzzle of Fitzwilliam's weapon was no less than an inch behind his left ear.
"What had you in mind when you first asked Georgiana to coincide with this scheme of yours?" He did not look at the man. "Had you planned to at least pretend an affection for some portion of your married life, or did you mean to wed her, ruin her, then leave her? For I am curious on this point."
Wickham was conscious that the manner in which he formulated this next sentence might well decide whether or not he walked from the room a whole man.
"I.. I did not purport to make her unhappy," he said at last. "Whether she has said so or not, she did feel something for me, at least at first... And I would not have been unkind to her. I, too, watched her grow into a woman."
His words were not wisely chosen. "She was not a woman! Not before you broke her heart and made it so! No woman could have looked into your lying eyes and believed a word you said!"
Wickham thought of Amanda Younge, and half a dozen other women that sprang to mind in an instant, but he kept his mouth prudently shut.
"You preyed upon the innocent heart and childhood affections of girl, and you have changed her forever. That alone should give me reason enough to-- to--" Darcy spun sharply on his heel, and looked out a window, still dark with pre- dawn light, as he fought for control of himself. Wickham felt very real fear in those moments, and presently Darcy addressed him again. Walking slowly forward, he reached for Wickham's arm, and held it up.
"Hold out your hand," he told him, in a tone that would brook no refusal. Very pale, Wickham complied.
Darcy drew his finger across the breadth of it, across the rings and the heavy knuckles. "There is a mark just this size printed quite indelibly across the left side of Georgiana's face. You are right handed, are you not?" Wickham nodded as Fitzwilliam allowed the cold metal of the barrel to touch his neck. Darcy nodded as if in reply. "How do you imagine she came across such a mark?"
Wickham's mouth was very dry. He tried to swallow, but his tongue seemed to stick in the back of his throat. He had the impression, however, that if he did not answer well, and with alacrity, Darcy would probably rip it from his mouth. He cleared his throat and said, in a half whisper-- "Truly, Darcy, I did not mean to-- to leave a mark--"
Fitzwilliam didn't wait for a signal from his cousin-- he simply stepped back in anticipation of what he knew was coming.
Darcy came at Wickham with blinding speed, caught him around the throat, and threw him against the wall, almost in one motion. Wickham was too stunned, and too intimdated by the pistols, to react, for, though he was hardly a man of no consequence, he had no recourse against bullets. Darcy pinned him by his shoulders, and shouted in his face.
"And what made you think that you could touch her at *all*? How did you *dare*? That alone is reason enough to--"
At this point, Wickham had weighed his circumstances in the following manner: Fitzwilliam's pistol was trained on him still, but Darcy's pistol was to the side now, as he was relying more on brute strength to press his point. Fitzwilliam, he judged, would be more reluctant to fire, and Darcy was too impassioned to do so. On this reasoning, he acted, with a strength born of desperation. He lunged with all his weight against Darcy, succeeded in momentarily shoving him out of the way, and forced himself in a similar manner against Fitzwilliam, who had more time to steel himself; he succeed in turning Wickham aside with a well delivered blow to the ribs, which caused him to stumble. Darcy, quite recovered, then found his restraint would stand up no longer against Wickham's outrages, and he fell upon him in such a matter as convinced Fitzwilliam that his assistance was perfectly unnecessary.
A minute later, it was over. Wickham lay at Darcy's feet, gasping for air (the wind knocked quite out of him), Darcy himself was breathing heavily, blood was trickling from the corner of Darcy's mouth, and blood was gushing from Wickham's nose. He did not seem inclined or able to move, but Darcy pushed at him with a booted foot, and uttered one terse syllable: "Up."
Wickham, no longer of a mind turned to disobedience, attempted to comply and succeeded in rising somewhat to his knees. This seemed to satisfy Darcy, who then stepped to the door and opened it. He said, "I cannot abide the sight of you another moment, if I am to successfully resist the temptation to blow your brain from your skull. If you are spotted near Georgiana or Pemberley ever again, I will certainly kill you. Get out."
Evidently most desirous of aiding Darcy's resolve to resist temptation, Wickham succeeded in stumbling out the door, which Darcy slammed after him.
He stood there for a long time after, not speaking nor making any move to sit or lie down. At length, his cousin was concerned, and encouraged him to rest.
"Don't ask me to do anything of the sort. I cannot be still, or I will go mad. I have never wanted to kill a man before, Fitzwilliam, and I do not know how I should feel."
Fitzwilliam, being a military man, understood him perfectly, and replied that they should certainly fetch Georgiana soon.
"Soon enough. I cannot imagine that she is awake at such an hour, and I-- could not go to her so soon after--" Darcy was very white, and he stepped into the bedroom, shutting the door after him.
Fitzwilliam sighed heavily, and took a seat in the outer room to await his cousin's recovery.
Pretty soon, all was right once more; they set out for the parsonage and arrived at something like eight a.m where they took breakfast with the clergyman's family; Georgiana was deliriously relieved to see them, though she greeted her cousin with some surprise. The parson's wife told them she had imagined every possible danger had befallen them since leaving her there; in her young mind, evidently, there was no limit to the evil of which Wickham was capable. Darcy attested to his being perfectly sound, though she noted his mouth with some concern. He informed her seriously that Wickham was gone forever, and she need fear no longer; they would return directly to Pemberley. She was ecstatic, and after giving the family which had sheltered her an affectionate farewell, they set out again. Fitzwilliam was obliged to return to Dover, so Georgiana and Darcy were together in silence for some time.
Georgiana seemed unwilling to talk, and Darcy felt himself almost unable. After a bit, however, Darcy judged that some matters required address; though he loathed to bring them forward, it was a conversation that must take place. He cleared, his throat, and did his best to speak gently.
"Georgiana-- why did you not feel-- that is, why could you not-- I am at a loss. I do not understand why you did not come to me sooner. Do you not know that I would never stand in the way of your alliance of any worthy young man-- and that I am your best aid in knowing which young men *are* worthy?"
Georgiana turned her sober, sorrowful face toward him-- dear God, how the sight of the fearful mark still filled him with rage!-- and said in a heartbreaking tone, "I did not think you wished to be bothered with me any longer."
Darcy started in consternation, and cried out almost as if she had struck him. "Dearest, what do you mean? How could I ever have given you such a notion? You are the most important thing in the world to me-- you cannot mean that!"
"But I do. Mrs. Younge-- she often suggested that you were a man of the world, and too busy with your own affairs to give any consequence to those of a young girl, and that you had sent me to London to get me out of your way..."
"It broke my heart to send you to London! I did not wish it in the least, but all those who advised me said it was the best place for you to-- to form attachments--" Darcy felt himself grow hot; attachments indeed! She would never again speak to a young man to whom she was not introduced by *him*.
"I began to think that if I were married, you would begin to notice me again; I should be a great lady, with-- with a house, and keeping guests--" she broke off, and dissolved into tears.
"You silly bird," he said roughly, and gathered her to him. "No more of this nonsense. We will have your things removed to Pemberley at once. You are coming home, and staying there. I have great need of you, and will not be able to spare you again for a very long while."
"That is good to hear," she said, through sniffling.
They remained in that attitude for most of the trip, for Georgiana eventually drifted off to sleep (unbeknownst to her brother, she had not slept at all out of anxiety for him) and he did not have the heart to move her. Altogether, it had been a dreadful business-- but he returned from it a better brother.
He cast a glance down at the sleeping form of his sister, and wondered if it would ever be possible to love another as much as he loved her...
© 2000 Copyright held by author