Chapter 16 - A Scoundrel's Return
"Why I want to see my wife, of course! And the woman who was so very nearly my wife. I hear she is in residency here as well!"
Georgiana, along with the other current residents of Netherfield Hall, had been drawn by the cacophony of noise to the entrance hall. Looking over the banisters from the floor above, her heart constricted in her chest when she saw George Wickham below, shouting at Mr Bingley's steward demanding entrance. The tightness in her chest only increased when he gave his reason for visiting.
'The woman who was so very nearly my wife.' He meant her. She knew he meant her. Was this it? Was the secret of her own stupidity to finally be revealed to the world?
A gasp from beside her drew her attention. Lydia Wickham stared down at her husband in horror. Georgiana felt herself moving closer to the other woman and their eyes met. Did Lydia see her own fear reflected back in Georgiana's eyes? Her own horror at the man that would have ruined her life just like he had ruined Lydia's.
"You cannot turn me away. I will speak to my wife. It is my right." Georgiana heard the terrified gulp beside her, but at the continuation of his shouting she had turned her attention back to the man in the entrance hall below and found she could not now tear her eyes away from him. How she had wished she would never see his face again. Fitzwilliam had reassured her, when he had explained that Elizabeth's sister had married Mr. Wickham, that she need never set eyes on him. That the Wickhams would never be welcome at Pemberley.
"And I wish to see my daughter. I am her father - you cannot keep her from me." At these words Georgiana looked over once more at Lydia, whose eyes flickered over to the doorway of the nursery where her daughter napped alongside her cousin and then back below to where her daughter's father stood demanding to see them. Lydia's eyes continued this dance whilst her husband blustered below them. Her fear for her daughter emitted from her every motion.
As Mr. Wickham once more repeated his demands to see his daughter, Georgiana felt herself move closer to Lydia, taking her hand in her own as they watched the man they both feared below them.
"That is quite enough, Wickham." Fitzwilliam's voice was icy as he emerged from the parlour room with Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth.
"Ah Darcy, old chap!" Wickham maintained a faux cheeriness. The grin plastered onto his features sent a shiver down Georgiana's spine. "And Miss. Elizabeth." He bowed to Elizabeth.
"Mrs. Darcy," she corrected, her voice as cold as her husband's.
"Of course. My apologies. But returning to the matter at hand, this man is refusing to let me speak with my wife. Shall I speak to you about her, Darcy? And the woman who was almost my wife whilst we are at it?" Wickham's voice was polite but Georgiana heard the threat in it, and no doubt Darcy and Elizabeth did too.
Lydia gave another frightened squeak at this outburst and Georgiana reflectively tightened her grip on the other woman's hand, whether this was for Lydia's comfort or her own she was not sure. Unlike her companion Georgiana remained silent but internally her emotions were in turmoil. What did he mean by continuing to refer to her as 'the woman who was almost my wife'? What good did he think this would serve him? It certainly would never help him with getting into Fitzwilliam's good books. Or did he know that was now no longer possible and instead he was holding the knowledge of Georgiana's stupidity over her brother's head as a threat?
"He won't let him near me, will he?" Georgiana turned back to look at Lydia as she asked this question.
"Of course not," Georgiana replied. "Fitzwilliam will make sure you come to no harm." Even as the words left her mouth Georgiana wondered at the truth on them. For if it was a choice between protecting herself or Lydia, which would her brother chose? Georgiana knew that was not even a question. Her brother would chose her. Looking at Lydia's pleading eyes that knowledge brought her no comfort.
Beneath them, Wickham had started following Darcy up the stairs, they would be heading towards Bingley's study Georgiana assumed. In a sudden burst of movement, Lydia pulled Georgiana backwards and into the nearest room.
"What is he doing here?" Lydia muttered. "What does he want with me?" She paced from one end of the room and back. Georgiana watched her, wishing she knew the right words with which to answer her questions. Elizabeth would know, she thought. Or Fitzwilliam. They would know how to calm Lydia's distress. But Georgiana's mind was blank. For she knew the answer was that Wickham had come to claim his wife and daughter, and she assumed from his earlier performance that he intended to use the knowledge of her own near elopement as blackmail against Mr. Darcy. She also knew that explanation would not be of any comfort to Lydia. But what could she tell her that would not be a downright lie?
"I have to know!" Lydia announced, more to herself than Georgiana, and strode out of the room with determination. Georgiana hesitated for a few seconds and then followed, trying her best to ignore the ever growing tension in her stomach.
She found Lydia crouched down beside the door to Mr. Bingley' study, with her ear pressed against the keyhole.
"Mrs. Wick-, Lydia, what are you doing?" Georgiana asked, confused.
"What does it look like I am doing?" Lydia replied. "I want to know what they are saying about me."
And me, Georgiana thought and felt another twist in her gut.
"What are they saying?" Georgiana's fear mixed with curiosity got the better of her.
"They're talking about Georgiana!" Lydia's words were a fearful whisper. "But it doesn't make much sense to me."
Georgiana's heartbeat accelerated and her breathing grew shallow. Thankfully, Lydia was too intent upon her attempts to catch the words on the other side of the door to notice the sudden change in her companion. With a sudden decisiveness to match Lydia's earlier display, Georgiana knelt on the floor beside Lydia. With Lydia at the keyhole she had no choice but to bend over to the floor and press her ear against the gap in the bottom.
"What game are you playing this time, Wickham?" She had to strain to hear them but Georgiana managed to catch her brother's words.
"Game, Darcy? No game. I only request the return of my wife and daughter. It is not much to ask for, is it? And perhaps a new commission - I grow tired of Newcastle. Perhaps somewhere nearer Town? And a higher position, of course."
"Have you ever once considered that you should work towards what you want out of your life, rather than relying on tricks, and betrayal, and blackmail?"
"Oh, I've considered it many a time. But every time I do, I do not think it quite fair. That I should have to put in such effort when a man like yourself is given so much for having done so little to earn it."
"We cannot help the consequences of our birth, Wickham. And your lot was not so wicked as you would make it out to have been. You had a living set aside for you. You could have lived comfortably all your days, Wickham, and you would never have known poverty or debt as long as you were sensible. There is many a man in this land who would be thankful to have been born to that."
"Would you have liked that, Darcy? If I'd have lived out my days as a snivelling parson. Nothing more than a humble servant of Pemberley estate and its mighty master."
"You were my friend, Wickham." Her brother's voice dropped so quiet Georgiana barely caught his words, but nonetheless she heard the hurt contained within them.
"Indeed I was." Wickham's reply was nearly as quiet as her brother's. Georgiana was not sure if she had imagined the wistful nature of it, though it was certainly the least hostile she had heard him. "But reflecting on the past helps me not. A man in my situation must focus on the present. You know what I want, Darcy, and what I will do if I do not receive it."
"Mrs. Wickham? Miss. Darcy? Are you in need of assistance?" Georgiana jumped to her feet at the sound of her name. Feeling the heat flooding her face, she turned to face Mrs. Nicholls.
"No, thank you, Mrs. Nicholls. My shoelace had become untied and Miss. Darcy was helping me," Lydia lied without hesitation.
The small rise of her eyebrows gave away Mrs. Nicholls' disbelief but her voice remained even when she replied, "Then I apologise for disturbing you, ma'am. Are you and Miss. Darcy heading down to join your sisters in the parlour? I believe tea and refreshments have just been served."
"Yes, that is exactly what we are doing. Thank you, Mrs. Nicholls." Lydia grabbed hold of Georgiana's arm and she found herself being marched down the stairs.
"Interfering woman!" Lydia muttered to her.
"She was in the right. We should not have been trying to overhear Fitzwilliam's conversation with Mr. Wickham."
"I have a right to know what plans are being made for my future! And the future of my daughter." A sudden look of fear overtook Lydia then. "Georgiana! I have to fetch her!" Lydia let go of Georgiana's arm and ran back up the stairs. Once more Georgiana hesitated a few moments before following her. She found Lydia in the nursery removing her daughter from her cradle whilst the nursery maid looked on in confusion. The girl started to cry softly at this disruption to her sleep and Lydia shushed her as she took her into her arms.
"Sshh, my beautiful girl. It's going to be okay. I'm going to keep you safe. I'm going to take you far away."
"Far away?" Georgiana asked. "What do you mean? Lydia?" But Lydia had already scurried back out of the nursery. Georgiana shared a bemused look with the nursery maid, who was now bent over Thomas' crib trying to soothe him back to sleep after the disruption to his nursery.
I should go tell Elizabeth, Georgiana thought, let her know her sister is thinking of running away again. But then Elizabeth would find a way to make Lydia stay. And what would happen to her and her daughter then? What deal was Mr. Darcy making with Mr. Wickham? Would he placate Mr. Wickham with the return of his wife and daughter to protect Georgiana's reputation? If that was the only available option Georgiana believed he would take it. He would not be proud of the decision but it was a decision he would undertake nonetheless for her sake.
Would she let him?
No one had told her exactly why Lydia had run from Mr. Wickham and she had never asked. But she was not a fool. She saw the fear in Lydia's eyes. She knew it was this fear that had caused Lydia to run away, to live feral in the grounds of Pemberley for a month, to lie about Fitzwilliam pushing Elizabeth. It could only mean that life as Wickham's wife was even worse than Georgiana had ever imagined it could be, and in her regret she had imagined every possible scenario she could. But she was young and sheltered and she knew the realities of the world were harsher and more terrible than anything she could imagine.
She saw once more in her mind Lydia's fearful eyes. Her stricken whispers to her daughter.
Georgiana could not let her be sent back to him.
Like Lydia before her she swept out of the nursery in a rush of energy, but she turned and rushed until she was stood outside the door to Mr. Bingley's study. Once outside she paused, took a deep breath to try and calm herself, and pushed open the door.
It was hard to say who looked more surprised at her sudden entrance, Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham recovered from his shock first and greeted her with a smile that Georgiana had once thought charming but now she could only see as a sneer.
"Miss. Darcy, what a pleasant surprise. Darcy and myself were just discussing your good health." Georgiana doubted it was her health they were discussing but kept the thought to herself.
"Georgiana, what are you doing here? I thought you would be downstairs with Elizabeth and her family." Her brother had recovered from his earlier stupefaction at her entrance. She recognised the carefully worded order in his words but Georgiana Darcy found herself doing something she had never thought she would. She ignored her brother.
"I have no desire to pretend at niceties with you, Mr. Wickham," she told him. She was not sure how she managed to keep her voice sounding so calm. She did not want to show her fear or her nerves in front of Mr. Wickham. She wanted to appear in control, as if he did not bother her any more. "But the reason I have interrupted my brother and yourself is because I think I have figured out what trick you are here to enact, and I may not know the full details of what has occurred in your marriage, but what I do know is enough for me to know that in good conscience I cannot allow Lydia and her daughter to leave with you today. No matter what you threaten." It was the longest speech Georgiana had ever given in her life. When reflecting upon it afterwards she would be amazed at herself, unable to believe that she had found the courage or the words. But for just one brief moment of time all of Georgiana's shyness vanished in a certainty that these were words that she had to say.
Her anxiety returned as soon as the words were out of her mouth and she found herself speechless once more, her gaze flickering between the two people in the room, not sure whose reaction she feared more. She wanted her brother to speak up, to reassure her that he supported her actions. What she wanted Mr. Wickham's reaction to be she did not know. For though ideally he would agree to leave and never come back, she was not naive enough to truly believe that possible.
But instead a silence dragged on, as both men stared at her as speechless as she was, and just as surprised at her sudden outburst.
"I could ruin you." It was Mr. Wickham who broke the silence, all attempt at civility gone. "I could make a mockery of this family, just as you try to make one out of me. But it all matters little. By the laws of this land you cannot stop me from leaving this house with my wife and daughter. I just wished to remind the two of you that where you are concerned there is an extra incentive for you to follow said laws." He turned his back on Georgiana, a cold dismissal of a woman he had once claimed to love, and focused his attention back on Darcy. "It is your choice, Darcy. Which sister do you choose?"
Georgiana could do little but continue to watch the conversation unravelling before her, reeling from the thought that her intervention would be for nothing, Wickham would win, and he may just start a scandal about her out of spite. Or expect to be paid for silence. She had tried to be brave and do the right thing and she had failed.
"Actually, Wickham, it is your choice. I have tried to show some consideration to you, out of respect for my late father, and for the boy who was once my friend. My sincerest hope was that you could find some remaining good in you, that you would repent your conduct, admit to your sins, see the fault in your actions, and at least promise to try and improve, to be a better husband and father. But instead you have come in here with no shame, with nothing but threats and insinuations. I will have no more of you, Wickham."
Wickham chuckled darkly to himself. "And how will you have rid of me, Darcy? My wife is your sister. We are brothers. Would that not have made your dear deceased father content?"
"I do not think there is anything about who you are now that would have pleased the man who favoured you. He saw a bright future for you, Wickham, tried to help provide you with it, and you squandered it away. So do not dare to speak of what my father would have wished for." Georgiana had never heard her brother's voice so steel cold before. It scared her more than she would have cared to admit.
"But I will speak of it, Darcy. For if there was one thing old Mr. Darcy valued above all else, it was his family, and his family name. The same name you and dear Georgiana now seem content to allow to be dragged through the mud. All to save one silly little slut." Mr. Wickham spat the last word. Georgiana had never heard it before, though she could tell it was an insult. No doubt it was a word her brother would have preferred her not to hear.
Georgiana found her voice once more to ask a question that puzzled her greatly, "If that is how you feel about your wife then why are you desperate to have her back?" Why was Mr. Wickham so determined to retrieve a wife he held such little affection towards even to point of threatening blackmail? And if she secretly hoped the question might make Mr. Wickham see sense, then that was a desire she would not reveal to anyone, for she highly doubted its effectiveness.
Both men seemed startled at her interruption and Georgiana suspected they had been so focused on their anger and contempt for the other that they had entirely forgotten her presence.
"Principle, I suppose," Mr. Wickham answered her question with a careless shrug. "I have no desire to be a cuckold." Another word Georgiana did not understand. She was not willing to admit this ignorance by asking though.
"Georgiana, I think it would be for the best if you left Mr. Wickham and myself to finish our conversation," her brother interjected. His words and face were stern. This was no subtle hint she could ignore. It was an order he clearly expected her to obey. "This is quickly descending into a conversation that is not for the ears of a young lady." This last comment was said with a pointed glare at Mr. Wickham, who ignored it, and Georgiana assumed referred to the words she had not understood.
Georgiana was not in the habit of disobeying her brother. Obedience to the much elder brother she adored had come easily to her all her life. She had always trusted him to know and act as was best. But this one time she could not obey him until she had reassurance.
"I meant what I said, brother," she told him.
"I understand, Georgiana. But he will not hurt you or Lydia again, I promise."
"Oh, will I not, Darcy?" Mr. Wickham sounded more amused than anything. Her brother ignored him, his eyes still trained on Georgiana.
"Georgiana, go, please." A gentler request this time. And with such a promise made to her, Georgiana was willing to obey as faithfully as she ever had. If Fitzwilliam had promised her that neither Georgiana or Lydia would be hurt, then she would believe him.
"Yes, brother," she replied. She gave a small courtesy at her brother before sweeping out of the room, forcing herself to not even give Mr. Wickham a glance.
Once the door shut behind her Georgiana released a breath she had not even realized she was holding. It was now that her shock and awe at her own actions began to settle in to her. That the Georgiana who had swept into the study, looked Mr. Wickham in the eye and declared that she would not be threatened by him began to already feel like a different person. For how could quiet shy little Georgiana Darcy have done that?
It was in this state Elizabeth found her. Still stood outside Mr. Bingley's study trying to reconcile herself with what she had just done.
"Georgiana, what are you doing out here?"
"I, um, I, um..." Now that she had done it Georgiana found herself more nervous trying to explain what she had done than she had been as she stood in the room. "I had to have my say, Elizabeth. Whatever bad decisions she had made in the past, I cannot, we cannot, allow that, that, man, to take Lydia and that poor young girl away with him again. I know not what he has done to her, but I know it is a fate worth saving her from."
Elizabeth gave a small smile in Georgiana's direction. "That was brave of you, Georgiana. Those are the words of a compassionate and clever young lady, and I know the strength it must have taken for you to say them."
"Thank you, Elizabeth. I only hope Fitzwilliam agrees with you." Georgiana's stomach turned over once more, the worst it had all day. For if she feared Mr. Wickham, then she feared her brother's disappointment even more.
"I am certain he will."
Georgiana suddenly remembered the main issue at hand.
"Elizabeth, have you seen Lydia?"
"No. I meant to find her as soon as I saw Wickham but I got embroiled in an attempt to calm my mother. I had assumed she would be in the nursery."
"She was." No need to tell Elizabeth about their eavesdropping. "But she panicked and fled with Miss. Wickham. I think she has run away again."
Elizabeth sighed. "Oh, Lydia! Not again. We have to find her. Preferably without anyone else learning she had gone missing again. The last thing we need is my mother's wailing informing Wickham that his wife is out there somewhere, alone and unprotected." Georgiana gasped at the bleak picture Elizabeth's words painted. "She cannot have gone far. We will find her, Georgiana. But what then?"
Elizabeth glanced meaningfully at the study door.
"Fitzwilliam promised me he would allow no more harm to come to Mrs. Wickham," Georgiana told her.
"I know he never would. It is Mr. Wickham I do not trust. So difficult to believe now that I once did." Elizabeth bit her lip in thought. "But nevertheless that matters little now. We must find Lydia. And bring her home. You are right, Fitzwilliam will not allow her to come to any harm here, especially at the hands of that dreadful man. We had best split up if it is to be only the two of us in this search, as I think is best so as to keep this matter private. If I check the surrounding lands and woods - I still know them like the back of my hand and in my mind it is less than a year since I used to roam them - can you find your way into Meryton?"
"I think so, yes."
With their plan decided upon Elizabeth and Georgiana hurried to gather their outdoor attire and, deflecting Mrs. Bennet and her other daughters with a lie about wishing for fresh air, they left Netherfield Hall. It reminded Georgiana of their clandestine trip to the woods of Pemberley weeks before, a trip that had also ended with the discovery of Lydia Wickham, though unlike now that had not been the intention at the outset.
At the main road into Netherfield estate they parted ways, wishing the other good luck, as Elizabeth disappeared into the surrounding countryside and Georgiana continued along the main road towards Meryton.
She felt a gnawing doubt that she should not have agreed to part company. Hertfordshire was not her home, she did not know it as Elizabeth did, nor did she know Lydia Wickham as her sister by birth did. What would she say if she was to find Lydia? Would a promise from Fitzwilliam be enough to convince Lydia she was safe? Lydia did not trust Fitzwilliam, that much was abundantly obvious. If her opinion on her sister's husband seemed to have mellowed in the weeks she had resided at Pemberley, Georgiana doubted it would be enough for her to trust Fitzwilliam with something as important as her safety or that of her daughter, and she did not know how she could convince Lydia that she should.
But in the end Georgiana did not reach Meryton. She found Lydia and her daughter sat a small distance from the roadside on a fallen log, the daughter watching her mother's face as she sat in deep concentration.
Lydia jumped at the sound of her name. She looked up, frightened. The fear only slowly diminished when she recognised who had come to find her.
"I started to run away again," Lydia told her. "Then I realised I had taken no money. Nothing but the clothes on our backs. My first escape was fairly ill thought out but this time I gave it no thought at all. I could think of nothing but placing distance between myself and the man I call husband. I have nowhere to go. So I stopped and sat down. I cannot go back to Netherfield. Cannot go back to Longbourn - my home - it is the first place they'll look. No point going into Meryton with no money for a stagecouch. And I will not get very far walking before your brother comes and finds me."
"You say that like it would be a bad turn of events but I assure you my brother means you no harm. He has promised me no harm will come to you irregardless of what Mr. Wickham threatens."
"Even if he threatens to tarnish your name? The woman who was almost his wife. He kept repeating those words. He meant you, did he not?"
Georgiana opened her mouth - whether to confirm or deny Lydia's suspicions she did not know - but found no words came out. This was it. Her secret was out. Known to a woman who was not known for her subtleness and who faced her own desperate situation.
Would Lydia Wickham use the knowledge of Georgiana's mistake against her? She was after all the woman who in desperation had tried to claim Fitzwilliam had pushed Elizabeth down a hill to her near catastrophic accident.
But Lydia uttered no threats, she simply asked, "How old were you?"
"Fifteen. Same as you." Georgiana sat down beside Lydia on the log.
"Did he tell you he loved you?"
"Was he lying?"
"We are nothing to him, are we? Just tools to gain him what he wants."
"Money and revenge," Georgiana muttered.
"And now he will use that knowledge for both. For I have observed your brother these past weeks, and whilst I still cannot see the attraction, he is not as cold a man as he first appears. He loves Elizabeth. And he loves you. And he will not let your reputation go to ruin for my sake. Silly foolish Lydia Wickham."
"That is not true. I said he had promised me no harm would come to you irregardless of what Mr. Wickham threatened. That included threatens against myself. I may not fully know what you have suffered, Mrs. Wickham, and I think this is one of those situations where ignorance is, indeed, bliss." At this last Lydia gave a little humourless laugh. "But I see how you fear him, and even more so how you fear for your daughter, and I will not let you be hurt again on my behalf. Because of my foolishness. You are not the only one here who was a fool, Mrs. Wickham. I got lucky, I was saved, but our actions were the same. I cannot condemn you for them. Nor can Fitzwilliam, who forgave me for the very same actions. Come home, Mrs. Wickham, you will be safe."
"I have no other option, do I?" Lydia gave a tired smile. "But I thank you for your kind words, Miss. Darcy." Georgiana stood up and held out her hand to help Lydia raise herself and her daughter from the log.
Lydia was uncharacteristically quiet as they began the walk back to Netherfield. Georgiana left her to her thoughts, thinking instead of where Elizabeth would be and how best to send a message informing her of her sister's safe return if she was still out searching once they arrived back.
It was then she spotted a figure rushing up the path towards them. An all too familiar figure. Both Georgiana and Lydia froze to a halt. Georgiana could not believe such bad luck. Of all the people and all the paths, they had happened upon the same one as the man who had tried to ruin both their lives. A man she had already faced down once today. She did not think she had the courage for a second time.
He did not appear to have noticed them. He strode up the path towards them, but he was intent on his purpose, deep in thought. And Georgiana contemplated on how his meeting with her brother had ended. Had her brother broke his promise? Was Mr. Wickham out here looking for Lydia? But no, she reassured herself, Fitzwilliam would not have done that. And Mr. Wickham did not look like a man on a search. He looked like a man on a mission against a world he hated. She could see that as he came closer to them, his expression seething, his body language tense. He still had not noticed them, and she pulled Lydia over to the side, and indicated that they should keep walking. With both their heads turned away from him, as though they had found something of great interest in the countryside to the side of them, they continued walking.
It nearly worked. He did indeed walk past them without noticing who they were, so distracted by whatever occupied his thoughts, but just as the two young woman swapped secretive gleeful smiles a voice rung out behind them, freezing them in their places.
"Now there is two girls I never expected to find enjoying each other's company. Have all my nightmares collided? The girl who never stops talking and the girl who never talks."
Georgiana turned to face Mr. Wickham, but Lydia remained where she was, clinging to her daughter.
"You looked like you were leaving, Mr. Wickham. Do not let us stop you." The words were pleasant and light, and Georgiana was aware she was emulating Elizabeth's manner of insulting with clever words and a smile.
"I think I preferred you when you did not talk."
Georgiana wished she had another witty comeback, another of Elizabeth's mannerisms to copy, but her mind was a blank. All she wanted was to grab Lydia and run away. Then she realised there was nothing stopping her from doing exactly that.
"Good day, Mr. Wickham." She resisted her well trained polite habit to courtesy and turned away from the man who had haunted her for the last two years, praying Lydia would follow her.
They did not get more than two steps before his voice rung out behind them again.
"And where do you think you and our daughter are going, Mrs. Wickham?"
Lydia hesitated. Then she gave herself a little shake and, passing the younger Georgiana into the arms of her surprised namesake, took a step towards her husband.
"Home," she replied. "And I do not mean Newcastle."
"But has your new friend not told you? You are to come home with me."
"No!" Lydia shook her head wildly, staring at him in fear.
"No!" Georgiana echoed. "Fitzwilliam promised."
"Aww, maybe it's time you learnt little Georgie, people like your brother don't keep their promises. Did he tell you that you were safe from me, Lydia? Did he promise you that, too?"
"I won't go home with you, George! Just let me stay. Please." Her words started out as defiant but ended in a desperate plea. "All we did is make each other miserable."
"Misery likes company, as the saying goes. Your father told me that, Georgiana. My mother and your mother died around the same time, did you know that? Somehow old Mr. Darcy found it easier to speak to me of the loss of my mother than he did to speak to your brother about the loss of his. Perhaps it was simply easier for him to think of. Did your brother ever tell you the story of the vase?"
"The story of the vase?" Georgiana was curious, despite herself. Fitzwilliam rarely spoke of their parents, especially their mother. He had told her on many an occasion that they were good people who loved her, but little else.
"Oh, don't do your tricks, George!" Georgiana's contemplations were broken by Lydia's shriek. "Your little distractions."
"Fitzwilliam was right," Georgiana told him, a sudden cold burst of anger filling her. "You do not have the right to talk of my father. Even less my mother."
"Just ask him about the vase, little Georgie. One of the great Fitzwilliam Darcy's biggest regrets."
"Stop tricking her!" Lydia again. The babe in Georgiana's arms begun to scream, arms wailing for her mother. Georgiana tried her best to shush her, but having never handled a child before she had no idea where to even begin with the task.
"Take our daughter back off her little unintentional namesake and then we all go home, my dear Lydia. Be a family."
Lydia shook her head at him. "No," she stated. "No!" Again, louder. "I will not go home with you. You will have to drag me back up north, kicking and screaming. Take me with you, Wickham, and I will make your life a misery. I will never shut up. You will grow so tired of the sound of my voice. You will never have hot food on the table or clean clothes or a tidy house. I will flirt with every man who comes near me till you're a laughing stock. Might even have an affair or two. I will be the worst wife there ever was."
"You would not do that, Lydia. You know what would happen to you if you did." Wickham's voice is chilling, all amiability - faked or not - gone.
"Oh, I know," Lydia agreed, anger in every syllable. "You would make me a miserable wreck in return. I am fully aware of that. I would make you suffer, you would make me suffer, and on, and on, and on, until we're both dead. Because that's how it'll end this time, can't you see it? One murdered, one hanged. I am not sure who would snap first." She giggled, a eerie sinister sound, a sound that suggested a twisted amusement at the thought, and Georgiana felt goosebumps rise on her arm. She tightened her hold on the girl in her arms, not sure which of her parents she was most disturbed by at the present moment of time. "Do you think you could murder me, George?" Lydia had taken another step towards her estranged husband. A bitter smile played on her lips. "It would be the only way to make me stop. You make me go back and it will be only way to end both our misery. Or maybe I will be the one to snap. Maybe one day you will go to hit me and I will decide enough is enough. A kitchen knife within arm's reach. A hot heavy poker swung at your head. You think it hasn't occurred to me before? When all I can think of is how I want you to stop. For the pain to stop. You think I haven't thought of the ways I could make you stop." Lydia studied Mr. Wickham, head tilted to one side. Mr. Wickham stared back at her in horror. How the tables had turned between them. Now he was the one with the fear in his eyes.
"Lydia," he began carefully.
"Who do you think would snap first, dear husband? Who dies at the hands of the other? And who dies at the end of the rope?"
"Are you threatening me, Lydia?" Wickham had finally recovered his voice and some of his bravado.
"No. Merely making an observation," Lydia replied calmly. Then she broke the effect by gave a snort with laughter, but this time it sounded like sincere amusement. "Oh la! That sounded like something Lizzy would say! All witty and what not."
"Weren't you leaving, Mr. Wickham?" Georgiana copied Fitzwilliam's habit of giving suggestions that were actually veiled orders. She couldn't stop herself from smirking at him. This man flabbergasted by the savagery he himself had instilled in his wife.
Without another word Wickham turned on his heel and stormed off down the path away from them. Both women watched him till he was out of sight and then turned to look at each other with identical gleeful grins on their faces.
"He's gone," Lydia said. "He's really gone!" Then she laughed with joy. All traces of the woman who had been threatening a man with murder a minute previously had gone. Taking her daughter back from Georgiana she spun the girl around, and the girl grumbles and cries were replaced with squeals. Georgiana could not help but join in with their laughter. She felt lighter, free, like she had not realized how much George Wickham had still weighed on her until the fear of him was gone.
They had stood up to him. The two women George Wickham had wronged most of all - they had stood up to him once and for all. Each in their own way. But they had vanquished their demon that hid behind the facade of a charming man.
Georgiana joined Lydia in her spinning, arms out, skirts twirling.
They were free.
It was still in this state of euphoria that Elizabeth found them as they entered the grounds of Netherfield Hall. She pulled her sister into a tight hug, causing a shrill squeal of disapproval from her niece.
"Lydia! Where did you go?"
"I tried to run away again. But, la, Lizzy, it does not matter! I made Mr. Wickham go away! Is that not grand?"
"You? What? Lydia, what happened?"
But just then Mrs. Bennet and Kitty spilled out of the doors to Netherfield Hall, surrounding Lydia, demanding answers, and Georgiana and Elizabeth took a step back.
"We saw Mr. Wickham leave but Mr. Darcy has not graced us with his presence since so we do not know what was said," Kitty was telling her sister. "Is he gone?" And Lydia was off, telling the story of her threat to Mr. Wickham, adding embellishments, but Georgiana paid her words little mind. Kitty's words on her brother had reminded her - what deal had he struck with Mr. Wickham? Georgiana could not believe that he would have broken his promise, yet why else would Mr. Wickham have tried to force Lydia to go with him? Unless Mr. Wickham had lied. That seemed the most likely option.
"I think we should go and speak with your brother." Elizabeth's words reflected Georgiana's thoughts and the pair of them made their way back into Netherfield Hall and up the stairs to Mr. Bingley's study.
Mr. Darcy gave them both a tight smile when they entered. He seemed tired more than anything, as though the conversation with Mr. Wickham had drained him. Elizabeth went immediately to his side, kissing his cheek and taking one of his hands between her own. Her brother gave a more genuine smile at these small signs of affection.
"Is he gone?" he asked them.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied.
"What deal did you strike with him, brother?" Georgiana felt the question she needed answering flutter from her lips. Her voice came out as little more than a whisper, but she had to ask, had to know the answer that was so important to her. She had always trusted her brother, no questions asked. Now she needed to know that he trusted her judgement, too. That he had not ignored her request to put Lydia and her daughter's safety above her own reputation.
"He will not harm either yourself or Lydia again," he told her.
"That does not sound like him," Elizabeth commented.
Mr. Darcy sighed and pulled out a letter from his waistcoat pocket. "Let us say I persuaded him." He passed the letter to Elizabeth, who released his hand to take up the letter and began reading with a frown on her face. Curiosity winning out over etiquette, Georgiana moved to stand beside her sister, and read the letter over her shoulder. She noted her brother made no effort to stop her.
The letter was from her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and scanning it quickly Georgiana got the gist of it. If Wickham caused trouble again, her cousin suggested he could use his contacts at the War Office to have Wickham moved regiments once more, this time to a regiment intended for immediate action. For war. And quite possibly his death. The choice her brother had given Mr. Wickham was obvious - leave Lydia and Georgiana alone or you will be sent to face the possibility of death on the battlefield.
It was blackmail. There could be no denying that fact. Yet Georgiana could not condemn her brother for it. Not when it had been done to save herself and Lydia.
Elizabeth placed the letter down on the desk and turned to her husband, placing her hand upon his once more.
"There are times when we take actions that we would rather not because there is nothing else that can be done. I can see you are not happy with having to threaten Mr. Wickham but he gave you no other choice, you chose to keep our sisters safe, and that is what you have done today. Focus on that, Fitzwilliam."
Georgiana - feeling as though she was interrupting on a moment that should be private - gave a small smile and said "Thank you, brother," before turning to leave.
As she was leaving she heard her sister say, "If you wish to talk of it later we can but for know shall we turn our minds to happier thoughts? I have been thinking it will be time to go home soon, what do you think?"
"To Longbourn?" her brother queried.
The door open in her hand, Georgiana hesitated a moment to hear her sister's answer.
"No. Much as a love my family, Longbourn is not my home anymore. Pemberley is."
Georgiana shut the door behind her with a smile to match the one she knew would be stretched across her brother's face at that answer.
George Wickham was gone from their lives for good and Elizabeth considered Pemberley her home once more. The ecstatic feeling from earlier overtaking her once more, Georgiana skipped back to her room with a grin.
Apologies for how long is has taken for me to post this chapter *insert long list of excuses here*
I'm not going to make any promises about when the next one will be posted but I do want to say that I have every intention of finishing this story eventually.
I hope you all enjoyed the chapter and thank you for sticking with me.