Unforgiving Temper, page 1
An Unforgiving Temper
BY: GAIL HEAD
Copyright © 2011 by Gail Head
All Rights Reserved.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
To my husband, Jeff, for his input, his patience, and his support the two long years it took to write this story;
To my friend, Alan, for graciously giving of his time and expert knowledge so that the story in my head could become a story worth the reading;
And to all my fellow authors at the Derbyshire Writers’ Guild for inspiring me to even attempt such an endeavor!
“I do remember his boasting one day, at Netherfield, of the implacability of his resentments, of his having an unforgiving temper.“- Miss Elizabeth Bennet
“Wickham, I am going to rip your heart out!”
Fitzwilliam Darcy grabbed the man who had been his childhood companion, shoving him against the oak paneled wall with a force that sent a violent tremor reverberating throughout the fashionable Ramsgate lodgings.
“You have been a thorn in my side since the day your father brought you to Pemberley, but no more!”
Struggling against the deadly grasp, George Wickham instantly seized upon the one subject that had any chance of deflecting Darcy's blind rage.
“Can I help it if your father took a liking to me?” Wickham gasped. “You know how benevolent he was – famously generous nature and all that. And temperate too! He advised you many times to follow his example, did he not?”
The calculated words found their mark and Darcy hesitated. Wickham's mouth twitched in triumph; but his confidence in the son always doing the honorable thing, especially where his dead father's memory was concerned, crumbled instantly when Darcy's hands suddenly closed around his neck.
“You dare to mention my father?” Darcy's fingers tightened dangerously. “It was for his sake, I have ignored the detestable way you defile his memory with your reckless, miserable excuse for a life. Be assured even his generosity would not excuse your behavior now. Your vile attempt to lure Georgiana away to Scotland to marry her fortune is utterly contemptible. She is but fifteen, you disgusting libertine – she trusted you!”
Wickham fought without success to free himself from Darcy's iron grasp and a strangled choke wedged in his throat. He had seriously underestimated the man. His surprise at Darcy's unbridled fury was now only exceeded by the growing, urgent need to breathe. He clawed furiously at the hands that prevented it, and his mouth gaped wide in a desperate attempt to obtain even the slightest measure of fresh air.
Through the mist of darkness that was rapidly engulfing him, Wickham saw the raging battle warring within Darcy. The unbridled desire to avenge Georgiana's honor pushed hard against the abiding allegiance to his father's memory. Wickham's eyes drifted closed with the vague realization that he had at last pushed Darcy too far. His hands slid limply away from Darcy's grasp with another fleeting acknowledgment of how badly he had miscalculated the cost of failure.
Just as he felt himself slipping into the darkness, there was a sudden, almost imperceptible change in the crushing hold on his neck; and then it was gone, allowing a flood of oxygen-rich air into his lungs. Opening his eyes, he was relieved to see that honor and allegiance had won the day and the cloud of rage was lifting.
The muscles in Darcy's face smoothed into a stony mask of contempt. “Get out,” he growled, dropping his hands to his sides.
Taking in deep gulps of delicious air, Wickham cautiously withdrew, straightening his rumpled clothing as he went. In spite of the narrow escape, his eyes held a glint of arrogant satisfaction. Old Darcy had saved him once again, just as he always had. Taking advantage of the shelter his ghostly protector had provided, Wickham could not resist one last riposte.
“You see, Darcy? Even beyond the grave, your father has a care for me.”
Darcy started for Wickham, hissing fiercely, “Get out of here before I change my mind and give you what you deserve!”
Wickham recoiled from the fresh explosion of cold fury, stumbling over a chair and nearly falling in his haste to reach the door. Once he was safely on the other side, he collected himself and hurried down the hallway, relieved to hear no footsteps pursuing him.
Reaching the foyer, he paused only briefly when he saw Georgiana waiting for him. She took a hesitant step forward, hurt and confusion shining in her eyes; but he merely shouldered past her as he made his way to the front door.
“George! Wait!” Georgiana called after him in a small voice. “Please! I…I thought Fitzwilliam would be happy for us. I did not know he would be so angry.”
Her forlorn plea only fueled the bitter disappointment and resentment swelling in his chest. He paused in the open doorway, gazing out past the Ramsgate clockhouse to the bustling harbor beyond, struggling to master his emotions. The waning summer sun glinted off well-oiled riggings of a ship as it made its way out of the harbor and into the wide, open sea beyond – sailing away. So like my fortunes, he thought bitterly.
He heard Georgiana's footsteps behind him. “Please, George; you must believe me. I had no idea,” she repeated softly to his back.
Turning slowly, he met her devastated, pleading look with an icy stare. “That's the trouble. You have no idea at all, you brainless chit! If you had just kept your mouth shut one more day, he could not have stopped me.”
“You do not mean what you are saying,” she whispered in a tone more hopeful than certain.
Wickham snorted derisively. “Be assured, I mean every word.”
“Fitzwilliam will come round, you will see!” Georgiana desperately threw her arms around him. “What is another week or two when we love each other so?”
“A week or two? Not hardly! We are finished.”
“But I love you, George, and you love me!”
“Love you?” Wickham looked her over with a bitter laugh. “Your brother was right, you are a child. It was never about love. It was about your thirty thousand pounds – nothing more. And now that he has placed that out of my reach, I am done playing nursemaid.”
Wickham grabbed her arms, roughly prying them from around his neck, and callously shoved her away. Georgiana staggered backwards, unable to catch hers
“It cannot be true; it cannot,” she sobbed, anguished tears streaming down her cheeks. “You said you loved me.”
“Do you think any man could love an awkward, plain little thing like you?” he sneered, emphasizing each word and raising his voice to be heard above the sound of her increasing cries. “You had better take care of that precious fortune of yours, my dear, for it is the only thing about you that holds any attraction. No man will ever give you a second look without it!”
Georgiana sat in a heap, flinching at the cruel, calculating insults as if each were a physical blow until, unable to bear any more, she dropped to the floor in great racking sobs.
“You are a miserable, pathetic creature!” Wickham snarled in contempt. “All I can say now is good riddance!”
He was turning to leave when the sound of a door opening down the hallway brought his head up to see Darcy emerge from the library and stop midstride. In one frozen moment, Wickham saw him take in Georgiana's crumpled form sobbing on the floor and then hurtle forward with a murderous roar.
Instinctively, Wickham ducked, jumping sideways just as Darcy reached for him. He shrank against the wall, his heart thudding. In the next moment, he lunged for the open door, only to have Darcy anticipate his action and slam it shut, cutting off his only immediate means of escape.
With a desperate, calculating look, he sprang for Georgiana. His grasping fingers brushed the edge of her skirts before Darcy caught him from behind, grabbing his coat and throwing him forcefully back into the wall. The impact sent a blinding burst of light roaring through his brain. He had no time to protect himself before two crushing blows landed squarely in his mid-section, forcing the air from his lungs. He struggled for breath as the next blow caught him fully in the face, knocking his head back into the wall. A warm trickle of blood flowed down his cheek and over his rapidly swelling lip, bringing a salty, metallic taste to his mouth.
Wickham tried to retaliate, swinging his fists sightlessly in the air, but found nothing. Shaking his head to clear his vision, he swung again, this time landing a glancing blow to Darcy's face which was immediately answered with another punch to his ribs. He tried to return the blow, but a sharp pain now stabbed at his chest with every gasping breath he drew. Darcy's fury rained down on him unchecked, and then one powerful blow struck the side of his head, making the room spin wildly as he slid down the wall.
Blindly, he raised his arms in a feeble attempt to fend off the relentless onslaught. Through the blackness, he heard a voice somewhere above Darcy's feral snarls and recognized it as belonging to Denham, Darcy's valet. Somewhere in the darkness of his addled mind, Wickham smiled wryly to himself. For once, the manservant's uncanny ability to interrupt at just the wrong time was of some use.
“Mr. Darcy! Sir, you must stop! You will kill him!”
Denham's frantic words went unheeded as Wickham felt the brunt of several more vicious blows.
“Please sir; no more – for Miss Darcy's sake. She needs you – terribly. See what a state she is in, Mr. Darcy!”
The assault ceased as suddenly as it had begun. After what seemed an eternity, Darcy's hold that had kept Wickham upright loosened and he slumped over. With a disgusted oath Darcy stepped back, panting heavily from his efforts.
“Get him out of here. Get them both out!”
It was then Wickham heard a swish of skirts and felt a pair of small, cool hands gently press a cloth to his throbbing face as his accomplice in the failed attempt on Georgiana knelt next to him.
“George? George, can you hear me?” Ann Younge's frantic whisper filtered through the painful haze surrounding him.
“You had better hear me, the pair of you!” Darcy growled menacingly. “Neither of you shall breathe a word of this to anyone. Not a single word. My sister's honor and reputation shall never be called into question. Do you understand? And if you ever attempt to profit from me or Georgiana again, I give you my solemn word that nothing – nothing – in this world will prevent me from finishing what I started this day! Now get out!”
Wickham moaned an unintelligible reply which quickly turned to a whimper and then a loud sob of pain as he was lifted to his feet and dragged to the back of the house, Ann's footsteps sounding close behind. With little ceremony, he was carried out the kitchen door and dropped next to the dust bin. He lay unmoving, feeling the effect of every blow Darcy had inflicted. Ann knelt beside him, murmuring encouragement as the door slammed loudly behind the servants and a stray cat, startled from her afternoon nap, hissed indignantly in their direction.
“It's all right, George, I am here,” Ann's voice quivered with worry. “Come, let's get you to your rooms. You can't stay here in the alley.”
“I don't think I can stand,” he mumbled through swollen lips.
“Take my arm and I'll help you. There's a lad. Just a bit more and then I can support you.”
Wickham struggled unsteadily to his feet, at once fearful that he might pass out from the increased pain brought on by the effort. Ann moved quickly to his side, sliding her arm gently around him. Once he felt her shoulder solidly beneath him, he took a tentative step; and then another, finally managing to limp blindly as she guided him forward.
The disheveled pair cautiously made their way through the back streets of Ramsgate. Every halting step brought excruciating pain. Wickham earnestly hoped to get to his rooms with little notice, but before they had reached the first street corner the shocked whispers and horrified gasps from everyone that passed left him in no doubt that his injuries and bloodied clothes were too much to be concealed. The public humiliation, however, was of little consequence compared to the keen mortification and growing anger he felt from Ann having witnessed his degradation.
At last reaching his rooms, he collapsed onto the bed utterly exhausted. The piercing pain in his ribs flared hideously with each labored breath he took and every inch of his body throbbed from Darcy's assault. Ann came with a basin of cool water and began gingerly washing the blood from his face and neck. Silently, he watched her through the swollen slits of his eyes and saw a grave concern glittering in her eyes. He began to wonder just how bad the damage truly was.
Once the worst was cleaned away, he demanded to see what he looked like. After some hesitancy, Ann lifted a mirror to his face. Peering intently at his reflection, Wickham took inventory of his wounds. His entire face was already purpling and swelling; there was a large cut on his lip; and both eyes were already blackened. Admittedly, he was a gruesome sight, but he knew that most of it would heal without any lasting effects.
His main concern was a deep gash across his left cheek; most probably from the ring Darcy always wore. The bleeding had finally stopped, revealing an open, half crescent cut just below his eye. There was no doubt it would leave a permanent scar. How would he attract any young ladies with such a mark on his face? His dashing good looks had always been a very useful asset - and now it was one more thing Darcy had taken from him!
“It will heal,” Ann murmured encouragingly. “With good care and a little luck, it will be small enough – ”
“Enough for what?” Wickham spat bitterly. “Enough to not repulse you or any lady I approach? And then what?” He tried not to think of the disastrous ending to a beautiful plan, but his mind would not rest. “I nearly had it! If only Darcy had come one day later – one damnable day – I would have the girl's fortune and we would have been set for life.”
“And we shall be yet,” Ann crooned as she replaced the cloth on his forehead with a fresh one. “You are a very clever man, George. You will find a way, I am sure of it.”
Wickham pressed his hand over hers, wincing at the movement. “I suppose you are right. I have always managed to use Darcy's weaknesses to my
I will never forget this humiliation, Fitzwilliam Darcy; nor shall you! he vowed silently. Gritting his teeth against the sting of Ann stitching his face, he directed the pain into his hatred for Darcy. By the time she had completed the task, he had found a renewed purpose in life.
“Pemberley's heir has foiled my plans for the last time,” he muttered, lightly fingering the six tiny stitches on his cheek. “Somehow, some way, I will exact a most exquisite revenge if it is the last thing I ever do!”
* * * *
Looking up from her ledger, Ann Younge eyed the red-coated officer entering her Lombard Street lodging house. A faint scent of the Thames wafted in on the warm spring air stirred by his arrival. Pensively, she watched him shut the door behind him and saunter casually toward the table where she sat. He was as handsome as ever in spite of the small crescent scar on his left cheek, the only remaining sign of the brutal beating he'd received from Fitzwilliam Darcy some eight months before.
An unconscious tugging at his coat sleeves brought a tiny smile to her lips and she thought of the roguish boy that had dared approach her, all those years ago in Derbyshire. His youthful adoration had been nothing but a source of gentle amusement to her at the time; but when he returned from his years at Cambridge a grown man, still adoring and strikingly handsome, the ten years' difference in their ages had seemed no impediment at all.
“It is high time you showed up,” she chided with a gleam of mischief in her eye. “I was beginning to think you too busy for old friends.”
Ignoring the unconvincing display of bad temper, Wickham slid his arms around her. “Ah, well, St. Clair's mother is a very accommodating hostess, you see. She has us attending every social engagement she can arrange during our ten days in town. Now that her woefully backward boy has finally emerged from his reticent shell – thanks to my expert tutelage, I might add – she is quite anxious to show him off to the cream of London society.”