After tearing himself away from Elizabeth at the Lambton Inn, Darcy had given free rein to both his horse and his temper. Galloping over the familiar countryside was the perfect situation for venting his rage at George Wickham, who once more had come between Darcy and his Elizabeth. Darcy wanted Wickham’s blood. He would thrash him for ruining Lydia Bennet, then pummel him bloody for making Elizabeth cry. Darcy had never felt more helpless than when he had seen tears running down Elizabeth’s lovely cheeks. He had longed to take her into his arms, to tell her that he would fix everything, that all would be well again, but all he could do was to offer her a glass of wine. He would have been happy to rip Wickham limb from limb.
By the time Darcy reached Pemberley, he had dismissed his fury and was once more a civilized man. If he wanted to help Elizabeth, he would have to render courtesy and no doubt a substantial sum of money to Wickham, rather than the beating he deserved. His love for Elizabeth and his responsibility as master of Pemberley left him no other choice.
Inside the house, Georgiana flew down the stairs to meet him, her face alight. “What did she say?” Then, as she took in his sober countenance, her smile vanished. “Oh, no. Did she refuse you? I am so sorry.”
For a moment Darcy was taken aback by her question. “I did not ask her,” he said shortly. “It was not the right time. She had just received some bad news from home, and will be returning there immediately.”
Georgiana hesitated. “I hope it is nothing too serious.”
Darcy did not meet her eyes. “Some scandal concerning one of her sisters, nothing more. Hopefully it will come to nothing.”
His sister looked puzzled by his vagueness, but did not question him.
Miss Bingley, of course, could not leave well enough alone when he announced that the Gardiners and Miss Bennet had sent their apologies and would not be dining with them that evening. “What a pity!” she cried with patent insincerity. “I had so looked forward to seeing dear Eliza again.” Her attempt at civility annoyed Darcy as much as her insulting comments on Elizabeth’s appearance had done the previous day.
“I say, Darcy,” Bingley said. “Did they give any reason for their sudden departure? I had thought they planned to remain in the area for several more days.”
“Just that they were returning home immediately,” said Darcy. He had promised Elizabeth that he would hide the truth as long as he could, and with any luck, the whole matter of Lydia Bennet could be resolved before Bingley heard of it.
“No doubt one of the Gardiners’ children has some trifling ailment,” said Mrs. Hurst. Her tone suggested that such an ailment must have been deliberately planned by the child.
“Children seem to recover so quickly,” said Miss Bingley, who apparently could not leave the subject of Elizabeth’s family quickly enough. “Do you suppose tomorrow will be as fair a day as today? Perhaps we could take a drive through the grounds. I declare, there is no spot in England that can make the beauty of the park here!”
“I hope the weather will permit it, but you will have to excuse me. Some pressing business has arisen in Town that requires my personal attention, and I will be leaving early tomorrow morning.” Darcy braced himself for the storm that was sure to follow his announcement.
It did not materialize, apart from an agonized look from Georgiana. Miss Bingley merely tightened her lips, and all conversation came to a halt until Mrs. Annesley displayed her good breeding by changing the subject.
Darcy let the discussion flow around him as his thoughts turned to his plans for locating George Wickham. He was not so preoccupied, though, that he did not notice Mrs. Hurst speaking urgently in her sister’s ear. From their whispered conversation, he suspected that Miss Bingley had not missed the significance of his sudden change of plans immediately following Elizabeth’s departure. Perhaps now she would finally stop pestering him with her obsequious attentions.
The image of Elizabeth’s reddened eyes rose before him again. Damn George Wickham!