Warning: Violence is remembered and told in story form, though not explicitly shown. Not for young readers.
Her once vibrant eyes looked in the mirror, barely recognizing herself. Her left eye was swollen and red, a purple bruise just beginning to show. She ran a damp towel over the caked blood near her temple and rinsed it, watching the water in the basin swirl with red. She looked closely at the gaping slit on her cheek and wondered if it would need stitches. She had no money for the surgeon; she would have to stitch it herself. Maybe Agatha from next door would help her, but then the entire regiment would know about it. It was best to take care of it herself.
She dampened her cracked lips with fresh water and drank slowly, letting the cool liquid soothe her nerves. She hadn’t screamed this time. No, she’d learned long ago that screaming helped nothing and only left her throat sore afterward.
Ringing out the cloth, she dumped the dirty water out the window and refilled the basin. She rolled up her ragged sleeve to assess the damage. The dress was old and tired, and now it had fresh tears. It was likely beyond repair and she didn’t know where she would get the money to buy fabric to make a new one. Perhaps she could cut the sleeves and rework it and soak the stains in salt to get the blood out. That had worked before. Then perhaps no one would notice.
She lowered her forearms into the bowl, wincing as the water hit her open skin. She carefully plucked out any pieces of remaining glass and cleansed the wounds left by the jagged bottle edges. Changing the water out once again, she washed her face and hands and changed into a clean dress. It had been part of her trousseau. Fingering the lace at the bodice she remembered how she had loved the pale pink concoction and how proud she had been; a new bride in a new dress with a handsome officer on her arm. What a stupid girl she had been! How silly and naïve!
Now, married nine long years, she knew better. Her raw, chapped fingers worked the buttons quickly and smoothed the worn fabric over her middle. It was terribly out of style, but at least she was clean now. She tied a large kitchen apron over her dress and went to her sewing box. She found a pale yellow thread, the closest approximation she could find to her own skin color, and threaded it through the smallest needle in her basket. She went to the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of brandy, pouring a small amount into a tiny bowl. She thought about drinking some herself, but there would be hell to pay if her husband came home and the bottle had less than he remembered being in it.
She drew the threaded needle through the brandy to sterilize it and dabbed some over her cut, hissing at the sting it made in her open wound. Taking a deep breath, she sat in front of the mirror and held her face as still as possible. She slowly lifted the needle and gingerly stabbed it though her own skin. She fought the urge to wince and pull away, knowing that if she sewed it crooked she would have a ridiculous looking scar and an even bigger one if she did not sew it at all. Her last shred of vanity was all that stood between her and fainting dead away on her dressing table.
Slowly, she pulled the thread through, trying not to think about the tugging sensation she felt in her cheek. Carefully, she poked it through the other side and repeated the motion, telling herself it was just a few more and then it would be over.
Finally, after five stitches, the cut was closed and she tied off the thread. Sighing with relief, she fought the urge to lie down and began her next task.
There was no paper to be had in the small apartment. She finally settled on the back of a receipt from the local tailor. Only half the front side was written on, it would do admirably for her purpose. She mended a pen and took out her last bottle of ink, praying there would be enough in the bottom to complete her letter. She planned what she would say in advance, knowing there would be no room for mistakes and no paper and ink to try again.
Half an hour later, her letter complete, she put on her tattered bonnet and shawl and headed out into the bustling street. She kept her head down and her bonnet pulled low to hide her face.
She quickly found the man she was looking for.
“Mrs. Wickham! How are you this fine day?”
She curtseyed, careful to keep the left side of her face in shadow. “I am well, sir. I hear you are going home for a visit soon?”
“That’s right madam. I leave this afternoon, as a matter of fact.”
“How wonderful for you! I wonder, would you be so kind as to deliver a letter to my sister? I believe she lives quite near .”
He looked at the address on the letter and nodded. “Yes, it is but a few miles. I’d be happy to deliver your letter, madam.”
“Thank you, Sgt. Wattley. I am truly grateful.”
He bowed and took his leave, and she hurried back to her apartment before anyone else saw her. She didn’t want to think about what would happen if George heard she had sent a letter to her sister without his approval.
She let herself back into her lodgings and went to the kitchen to begin preparing the evening meal. George became cross if there was nothing ready when he came home, at least on the days he actually came home. Once the sandwiches were prepared and the soup simmering, she went and sat on the couch listlessly. Her letter dispatched, there was nothing to do now but wait.
“This letter has just come for you.”
“I thought the post had already come today.”
“It has, ma’am. This was delivered by a young soldier on horseback. He said it was from your sister.”
“Thank you, Thompson. That will be all.”
Elizabeth quickly escaped into her private study, shutting the door behind her. Sitting in front of the window, she tore the letter open.
I hope this letter finds you and your family well. Thank you for the recent funds—as you can see, George purchased a new suit and seems very happy with it. He has been very attentive of late and I find myself quite worn out with his daily presence.
I wish Mama and Papa were still alive—I long to visit Longbourn and see all my family again. I fear I dearly need a break from the dreadful weather here. Who would have thought spring in Newcastle would be so frightfully wet and muddy? My spirits have been quite low because of it. This led me to thinking about all the games you would play with us in the parlor on rainy days and I find myself longing for my resourceful, spirited sister again. You are the only one who always knew what to do in any situation. Father used to say you could talk your way out of a sunburn. I’m sure you would not let horrid weather get you down, but would find some way out of the melancholy. I’m afraid I have never had your imagination and feel quite trapped inside my little apartment.
I hope your reply comes quickly, I don’t know how long I can endure this season without some relief.
Elizabeth read over the somewhat disjointed letter twice more, wondering if what she was reading between the lines was actually what her sister was trying to tell her. Finally, assured she was right, she rang the bell.
“Please tell the stables I will be taking the coach to Newcastle first thing in the morning. Send Mrs. Reynolds to me and please ask Mrs. Bingley to come here as soon as possible. Thank you.”
Ten minutes later, Mrs. Reynolds had her instructions for the next week and Mrs. Bingley was walking into the study.
“Lizzy, what is going on? I just heard Mrs. Reynolds say you were leaving in the morning.”
“Read this, Jane.” Elizabeth handed the letter to her and waited until she finished.
“Does she mean what I think she means?”
“I’m sure she does. I will be leaving at first light. Will you come with me?”
“Of course I will. Lydia is my sister, too, and sisters must help each other. What do you plan to do?”
Elizabeth quickly laid out her plan and the sisters went upstairs to pack and inform the nannies and children of their departure before leaving letters for their absent husbands.
Two-and-a-half days later, Elizabeth and Jane were knocking on Lydia’s door.
Lydia rose off the couch slowly, wondering who was at the door. George wasn’t due home for several hours yet and she didn’t want Agatha to see her like this and spread gossip. Quietly, she tiptoed to the front window and looked out into the street. There, she saw a large carriage with the Darcy crest emblazoned on the side.
Thank God! She came!
Lydia moved to the door quickly and undid the latch, swinging it wide to reveal her sisters’ anxious faces.
“Lydia!” they cried in unison.
The three of them fell upon each other, kissing and embracing, disbelieving they were truly together after all this time. Finally, Lydia latched the door behind them and took them to the sitting room.
“Please, sit down. You must be tired from your journey.”
“Oh, it wasn’t too bad. The weather was fine and the roads were clear. We checked into the inn before we arrived here. We will be at the Lion’s Head,” Jane told her.
“Good, good. I wish I could put you up here, but as you can see, we are in rather small accommodations these days.”
Elizabeth remained silent, looking at the dark bruise on Lydia’s eye and the stitches in her cheek. So it was as bad as she thought. She shuddered to think about what was concealed under Lydia’s gown.
After a few moments, Jane excused herself and Elizabeth took the opportunity to share information with Lydia.
“Lydia, I showed Jane your letter and brought her with me. We are here to help you.”
“So you understood my letter?”
“Oh, thank God!”
“We may not have much time to converse. When do you expect Wickham back?”
“Not till this evening. By then he’ll have heard that you’re here. My neighbor keeps constant watch out her window and will have spread the word half way through town by now.”
“Very well. We will tell him that we stopped for a few days to see you on our way back from Edinburgh where we were visiting Jane and Bingley’s aunt. “
“Thank you, Lizzy. I knew you would think of something.”
“Now Lydia, you must tell me everything so I know best how to help you. Let us speak quickly before Wickham returns. How long has this been going on?” Elizabeth pointed to the stitches on Lydia’s cheek.
Jane returned and sat next to Lydia, placing a comforting arm about her shoulders.
“Well, in the beginning, everything was fine. At least it seemed to be. George got settled into his new commission and we took lodgings nearby. For a few months everything was idyllic, but then George began staying out late nearly every night with the other officers and coming home completely drunk. About a year after we wed, I realized I was with child. I told George, and he didn’t seem very pleased about it. I thought he just didn’t want me to lose my figure.” She gave a rueful laugh.
“One night, he was exceedingly drunk and fell on the stairs on his way up. He called out for me to come and help him. I got him to the top and said something about him limiting his drink. He got angry with me and said I had no right to tell him how to behave or what to drink.” She hesitated. “Then he shoved me. I tumbled all the way down the stairs and in the morning I knew I had miscarried my baby.”
“Oh Lydia! I am so sorry!” Jane comforted her sister as best she could, holding her and rubbing her arm.
“He had never been violent with me before that, so I believed him when he said it was an accident. He seemed so sorry and felt so badly about the baby. I believed him.” She paused and breathed slowly for a while, collecting herself and organizing her thoughts.
“After that it started getting worse. It came on so slowly, it’s only looking back on it that I realize what was really happening. He would get drunk and come home and if something wasn’t as he wanted it, he would get angry and hit me. He would always be sorry in the morning and say it wasn’t him, it was the drink. And he would be angry about the strangest things. One day it was that I had not worn the nightgown he wanted me to wear. He asked how was I to entice him if I insisted on wearing these frumpy old gowns. A few weeks later, it was that the fire had died down and he was cold. I should have ensured that it was kept ablaze all night for him.” She breathed raggedly and shook her head.
“Go on Lydia,” said Elizabeth softly.
“After a while, he stopped apologizing altogether and his foul moods lasted long past the nights. He would be sweet and jovial one minute, then cruel and demanding the next. I never quite knew what to expect with him. He was spending all our money on drink. That was when I wrote to you asking for funds. We moved lodgings for the second time and had bills to settle. Of course there was no money for it. George suggested I write to the two of you, especially you, Lizzy. He was so angry at Mr. Darcy. He would always say that Darcy had everything and he had nothing. He also suggested I apply to Jane for money. He said Mr. Bingley was so affable, you would never refuse me. I am sorry, sisters.”
“It’s alright Lydia. It’s all in the past now. Go on with your story,” said Jane gently. She and Elizabeth exchanged equally disturbed looks.
“A few years later, I was again with child. I decided not to tell George about it. I was afraid of him by that point. He was checking all my correspondence and knew every letter that came or went. When you offered to send the carriage for me, Lizzy, to attend little Richard’s christening, he took the money from the parcel and put the letter in his bureau. I never saw it until the christening was long past. I would have liked to have been there, but George would have never let me go.”
Elizabeth leaned forward and squeezed her hand sympathetically. “It’s all right, Lydia. It wasn’t your fault.”
“He had dismissed our cook the year before to free up the money for himself. Then he let the maid go, saying I had nothing else to do all day, it would be quite easy for me to keep up with the cooking and the cleaning. At least I still had a laundress coming twice a month. I was working hard and was very ill with my confinement; I could hardly keep anything down. I began to lose weight and became very weak. George came home one day and found me in bed. He cursed and shouted and finally realized I had a mild fever when the neighbor came over with a compress and tonic for me. He refused to call the doctor or even the apothecary. He said we lacked the funds and that I was young and strong, I would come through it all right.”
She looked into her sisters’ eyes, an odd look on her face. “You know, I think he hoped I would die. Then he would be free to do as he pleased once again. But he did not get his wish. Of course the child did not survive the illness. At the time I was sad; I dearly wanted a child of my own. We had been married more than five years by then and some of the older wives would look at me with such pity, like they felt so sorry for me in my barren state. Others were quite smug about it. If they only knew the truth.” She laughed bitterly. “I took steps to prevent further pregnancies. I was afraid my body couldn’t take it and frightened of what George would do to me. Alas, last year I became with child again. I didn’t tell George until I was in my fifth month. He only looked at me when he was drunk, so he might not have noticed for a while yet, anyhow.”
She pulled a tattered handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed lightly at her eyes. It was not lost on her sisters that this was the first display of true emotion she had shown since she began her sad tale.
“I carried the baby for seven months. One night George came home well in his cups and soaking wet from the storm outside. It was high summer and there was no fire lit in the grate for him to dry by. He began screaming for me to come and light the fire. I told him we had no wood—what little we had had to be saved for the stove for cooking.
“He didn’t like my answer and struck me, hard, across my face. I fell and hit my head on the mantle. I do not remember what happened after that. I was unconscious for some time, and when I awoke and tried to rise, I began to retch. I lost all the contents of my stomach and then some. That made my labor pains begin. It was too early for the babe to come, but we couldn’t stop the pains. The midwife came and delivered her. She was so small and white, with the pinkest little lips. But she was early and much too small. She struggled to breathe and fought through the night, but when the morning came, she was gone.” Lydia’s voice cracked at the end, fading away into a whisper.
Jane embraced her tightly, rubbing her back in a circular motion. “Oh, my sweet Lydia.” She rocked her quietly for a few minutes, making a shushing sound and stroking her hair like a small child.
Eventually, Lydia calmed enough to speak.
“After that, I found I didn’t care much what happened anymore. I began hoping he would just kill me and get it over with. I had tried to send a letter to Papa when he was still alive, but George found it before I sent it and burned it. He kept all the money so I could never leave on my own; he even kept the household money, not that there was much. When a letter came for me, he would read it first, then he read it aloud to me. He would laugh at your questions after my happiness, Lizzy, and he would take perverse pleasure in laughing at how my whole family believed me to be attending balls every week and shopping every day. He would stand over me and dictate my responses. There was never any money to send for help, and the man who posted letters at the inn was told not to send any letter I might give him. Apparently he played cards with George or something. I learned that when I tried to post a letter to kitty. He simply handed it back to me and said I should send it with my husband later. Though he needn’t have bothered. When my supply of ink and paper ran out, George refused to buy more.
“A few months ago, I realized I wasn’t going to die and would spend the rest of my life next to this horrid man. That’s when I began to plan. There was an officer newly come who hailed from Derbyshire. I attended a tea where he was present and befriended him. I made sure to be kind to him each time I saw him in town, knowing he had to go home sometime. I heard last week that he was to head to Derbyshire soon, and that’s when I wrote you the letter, Lizzy. You were always so clever, I knew you must have suspected something was going on. We haven’t seen anyone in nine years. I wasn’t even allowed to attend mama’s funeral.”
“Yes, I had suspicions that you were not the one writing your letters, but I did not know what to do about it or what was truly going on. I’m sorry I haven’t come for you sooner, Lyddie,” Elizabeth said in a voice full of regret.
“It’s all right, Lizzy. You tried to warn me about Wickham. I wouldn’t listen. And now I am paying for my folly,” Lydia replied.
“Can you leave with us? Do you think he will come after you?” Jane asked.
“Truly, I do not know. If he did come after me, it would not be because he wants his wife back. But he would miss the money I receive from my family. That might be enough for him to chase me down. Especially if I was with Lizzy. Sometimes I think he would do anything to spite Mr. Darcy. I’m sorry, Lizzy, but it’s true.”
Elizabeth nodded silently.
“What if you were to stay with me? Charles would be happy to have you, and the children would love to meet their aunt,” Jane suggested. “We are close to Pemberley, you would be able to see both of us regularly. Even Kitty is not too far, only forty miles away. What say you?”
“It sounds lovely, Jane, but I fear I would spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, waiting for him to come and get me. Legally, I belong to him now. And since he has never beat me with a stick wider than his thumb, there is nothing I can do to quell his behavior. I am completely at his mercy,” Lydia said bitterly.
Jane looked at her sister sadly, but was at a loss as to what she could do to help. Finally, Elizabeth spoke.
“You are right, Lydia. You are completely in Wickham’s power. He would never divorce you, if only to spite my husband, and even that could take years and would likely cost more than he has. You are still young, only four and twenty. You might yet remarry and have children of your own.”
Lydia looked at her sister with an odd light in her eye as Jane looked back and forth between them, feeling she was somehow missing something.
Elizabeth continued, “I’m afraid there is only one solution here.”
Lydia leaned forward expectantly while Jane grew more confused.
“George Wickham must die,” declared Elizabeth.
Jane gasped as Lydia smiled her first real smile that day. “I was hoping you would say that, Lizzy.”
“Are you sure this is going to work?”
“I don’t see why not. Now, Jane, Wickham will never believe that I bought him a bottle of brandy, so you must say it’s from you. Can you handle that?”
Elizabeth looked at her sister skeptically.
“I don’t like it, but I see that it’s necessary to save Lydia, so I am willing to do my part. Do not doubt me, sister.”
“Very well. I believe you, Jane.”
“So what is the plan?” Lydia asked.
“I have brought you a bottle of wine and Jane has brought a bottle of brandy for Wickham. This evening when he comes home, tell him that we are here and staying at the inn. We have invited you to dine with us there.”
Lydia nodded and Elizabeth continued. “We’ll eat and talk normally at first, then after the meal, Jane will give Wickham the bottle of brandy. We must insist that he drink some then. Say you want him to taste it or something, all right Jane?”
Jane nodded her assent.
“If he follows his usual pattern, he’ll drink half the bottle tonight.”
“That sounds about right,” Lydia replied.
“Now, these herbs are very strong. I’ve crushed up several times the normal dose. The apothecary told me that too much could kill a man and to be especially careful with it.”
“How do you know about this, Lizzy?” asked Jane.
“Shortly after I moved to Pemberley I became ill. I had a terrible headache and wanted to make myself an herbal remedy that I used to take at Longbourn. Apparently, there is a plant that looks very similar to the one I was looking for, but it only grows in northern climates. I made the tea and became quite ill. Poor Fitzwilliam was beside himself. The apothecary came and told me that I had gotten the wrong plant by mistake. It caused nausea, sleepiness, and memory loss. A little more would cause you to become unconscious. A lot more would kill you. I was much more careful after that, but I never forgot the herb.”
“How will we get Wickham to drink it? Will he not notice the flavor?” asked Jane.
“It has a very mild flavor, and if he were drunk enough, I don’t think he’d notice it.”
“So we need to keep him drinking throughout the meal,” Lydia said. “That shouldn’t be too hard.”
“Exactly. Once he opens the bottle of brandy, he’ll have a drink or two without the herb. I will crush it and make a sort of tea out of it and mix it with the brandy when his attention is elsewhere. By that point, he should be well in his cups and not even realize what he is drinking.”
“How will you get it in the bottle without him noticing? And what do we do afterward?” asked Lydia.
“That’s where we have to work together. Lydia, you know him best. Once you think he has had enough not to notice what he’s drinking, discreetly give me a signal. I will take the bottle to the other side of the room and add the tea. We must all be careful not to partake of any of it ourselves and to keep Wickham drinking as much as possible. The dose should be very strong, but I am not an apothecary and I do not know the exact amount required.”
“So just give him as much as possible and hope for the best?” Jane asked.
“Well, not entirely. The apothecary did tell me all those years ago that I had drunk about half of what I would need to become unconscious and that twice that amount would have likely taken my life. I’ve taken into account that Wickham is a man and much larger than me, and adjusted the does accordingly. I can only hope it’s enough.”
“What do we do after? George will fall into a stupor and then what? How long will it take?” Lydia asked.
“He may lose consciousness from the drink before the herbs even take effect. I imagine the doctor will think he drunk himself to death. It is common enough, and I doubt anyone will make a particular fuss. He has no family besides Lydia and you will not demand an investigation will you, Lydia?”
She released a rather unladylike snort and guffawed. “Not hardly.”
Jane and Elizabeth smiled at this sign of the old Lydia coming back to the surface.
“I think if we keep him with us long enough, we can have him drinking well into the night. I will tell the staff at the inn that we will leave at first light. Lydia, you must send around notes to all your acquaintances telling them you will be leaving first thing tomorrow for an extended stay with your sisters who stopped by unexpectedly to see you. Jane and I can help you pack now. When Wickham looks like he is about to fall asleep, we will simply leave him on the sofa in the sitting room. If it’s late enough, we can go ahead and have our breakfast and be on our way. If not, Lydia you may stay with us at the inn until dawn and we will all leave from there. I will simply tell the innkeeper on the way out that my brother-in-law unfortunately fell asleep in the sitting room and that as soon as he awakens, he will be on his way. A few extra coins should make up for their trouble. By then, he will be dead and we will be on our way home.”
“Lizzy, how can you be so calm? Your level-headedness astounds me,” said Jane.
“This is our sister, Jane. I would do the same for you and I know you would do it for me as well. It is distasteful, but needs must. Now, shall we get packing?”
The three women held each other in a tight embrace, then began gathering Lydia’s few possessions in preparation for the journey on the morrow. Jane provided paper and ink and Lydia sent out notes to all her neighbors, friends, and every officer’s wife she’d had the occasion to meet. She wrote a letter to her landlord, including the upcoming rent, saying she wished for everything to be in order financially before her trip, since she did not know when she would be back. She did the same with the laundress, the baker, grocer, and butcher. Jane happily provided the funds she needed so that Lydia might leave with what little dignity she had remaining.
Finally, Lydia’s trunk was packed and loaded onto the carriage. Elizabeth and Jane departed for the inn, and Lydia prepared herself for the evening to come. She dressed carefully, putting on her best dress and paying special attention to her hair. She tidied her rooms and gave one last look around the place that had been her home for the last three years. She felt nothing but relief to be leaving.
Later that evening, the Wickhams arrived at the inn for dinner. They were shown into a private sitting room upstairs that had been reserved for the night.
Wickham greeted Jane and Elizabeth with all the false charm they remembered of him, but without his youthful good looks it did not have the desired effect. Elizabeth felt herself cringing when she thought about how she had once defended this degenerate to her husband. As if the two could even be compared! She sighed to herself and set about her task.
“Mr. Wickham, it has been an age.”
“Mrs. Darcy, how lovely to see you again. Time has been kind to you, I see. Lydia tells me you have three children now?”
She smiled tightly. “Four, actually.”
“Ah, yes. Motherhood has only improved you, I think.” He leered lecherously at her bosom.
“Thank you. And how is the army treating you?”
“Grand! Couldn’t be better!”
Elizabeth nodded her agreement and smiled insincerely before leading everyone to the table where a maid had just laid out dinner.
As the meal progressed, Wickham continued to lavish false charm on Jane and Elizabeth, likely hoping to remain in their good graces in order to continue to receive their financial assistance.
Finally, the meal was at an end and there was a lull before the dessert was brought in. Lydia kept a close eye on Wickham, who had finished a little over half a bottle of wine so far. She nodded to Jane who fetched the brandy and presented it to Wickham.
“Ah, dear sister, how kind of you to think of me!”
He took her hand before she could pull it away and kissed it too slowly for her taste. Jane worked to conceal her disgust at the wet feeling he left behind on her skin.
“Mr. Bingley favors this particular vintage. We thought you might like it. Please, try some,” Jane said sweetly.
Not needing to be told twice, Wickham opened the bottle and poured himself a generous portion. Shortly after, the maid re-entered with dessert. While he was distracted with the pudding, Jane refilled his now empty glass and passed the bottle off to Elizabeth. Elizabeth quickly walked to the corner near a small table, keeping the brandy hidden in her full skirts. She picked up the small vase that she had previously filled with the deadly herbal tea blend and placed the brandy bottle on the table. Just before she poured the tea into it, a hand reached out to stay her.
“No, Lizzy,” said Lydia firmly.
“Lydia! What do you mean ‘no’? We decided this was the only way. I thought this was what you wanted!”
“It is, but I should be the one to do it. You’ve done enough, sister. This is my battle. Let me fight it.”
Her eyes never left Elizabeth’s as she took the vase from her hand. Elizabeth stood behind her and made sure Wickham couldn’t see Lydia’s hands if he were to look their way. She needn’t have bothered. His eyes were glued to the neckline of Jane’s gown. When he began to look up, she leaned forward just enough to keep his attention, much to Elizabeth’s surprise. Who knew Jane had it in her?
Lydia turned back around and nodded to Elizabeth. She made her way back to the table and surreptitiously picked up Wickham’s glass. She filled it to the rim with the poisoned brandy and sat down next to her sister.
For the next hour, all three women conspired to keep his glass full. Lydia stood behind him and rubbed his shoulders, endeavoring to keep him relaxed and his mind on the female company. Jane and Elizabeth giggled and flirted, occasionally rolling their eyes when his attention was diverted, which was not often. Although the activity itself was not enjoyable, every swallow he took of the tainted liquid encouraged the sisters to continue in their ruse. Every joke he made was laughed at; every opinion deferred to. Jane leaned forward and bared her ample cleavage, flashing her perfect smile at every opportunity. Elizabeth had lowered the shoulder on her gown and batted her eyelashes liberally, giving her effervescent personality free rein.
Several hours later, the bottle of brandy was empty and Wickham was passed out on the sofa in the sitting room. Elizabeth and Jane wasted no time in packing the remainder of their belongings and instructing the footman to load them onto the carriage. The sisters sat together in the bedroom for another hour, drinking tea and waiting for the sun to rise so they could leave without suspicion. Once they were dressed in traveling clothes and had settled the bill with the innkeeper, they headed outside to the carriage. Before walking out, Lydia approached the landlord.
“I’m sorry, sir, but my husband drank rather heavily last night and decided to sleep on the sofa in the sitting room. I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience this must be for you, but would you mind waking him in an hour or two and sending him home? We tried to wake him before we left, but he could not be roused.”
“It’ s no problem, Mrs. Wickham. We’ll see he gets home safely.”
She smiled kindly at the innkeeper and handed him a few coins for his trouble. She walked out the door and was about to get into the carriage, but just before the footman handed her in, she stopped.
“Sisters, I’ll be just another moment.”
Lydia hurried back into the inn and swiftly made her way upstairs and into the suite where Wickham lay prone on the small sofa. She looked at his once-handsome countenance and with a deep breath, she reached out and slapped his face with all her strength. Tears pricking her eyes and hands trembling, she leaned over and kissed his cold forehead.
“Goodbye, George,” she whispered.
She quickly ran downstairs and got into the carriage without a word. When they reached the outskirts of town, she said quietly, “It worked. He’s dead.”
Jane took her hand and Elizabeth reached across the carriage to squeeze her knee. They rode the rest of the day in silence.
Six days later, the Darcys stood waving the Bingley family and Lydia off as they headed down the drive. Walking toward the garden, Mr. Darcy turned toward his wife.
“Elizabeth, do you want to tell me why Lydia was here now, after all these years, and why she looked like she’d been thrown from a horse?”
Elizabeth looked down, unsure of how or what to tell her husband.
“And perhaps you can explain this.” He held up a letter. “I received a letter this morning from Newcastle. An innkeeper there remembered the crest on one of our carriages and a maid overheard the word Pemberley and decided to try their luck with us. Apparently, George Wickham was found dead in a sitting room in their inn, having drunk himself to death. Wickham’s fellow officers informed him that Mrs. Wickham had just left for an extended visit to her sister’s. The innkeeper took it upon himself to inform us. He writes that Wickham was due to be buried in the churchyard Wednesday morning and that they had found enough money in his pockets to cover the cost of the funeral. Singular, is it not?”
“Yes, quite,” she said quietly, looking away from him.
“Lizzy?” he said, his voice tinged with suspicion and disbelief, and a tiny bit of hope that it wasn’t as bad as he thought it was.
She knew this tone well.
“Oh, Fitzwilliam! It was horrible!” she cried, bursting into tears as she fell into his arms.
“There, there, dearest. Shhh, don’t cry. Everything’s all right now,” he soothed, his hands rubbing her back steadily as he rested his cheek on her hair. “Come, tell me everything.”
She nodded shakily as he led her to a bench in the garden, prepared to tell him everything and trusting in his love and strength to see her through.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and not meant to encourage or promote any acts of violence, malice, or vigilantism.