Elizabeth thought that she was living in a nightmare; no matter how hard she tried, she could not persuade herself that this was really happening. Besides, it felt like a nightmare. She looked down at her hands and didn’t recognize them as her own. Her voice sounded strange in her ears; all the people in the pub were lost in a mist, and she could not see faces or hear distinctive voices. There was one person, however, that she could see with amazing clarity and absolute fear. George Wickham’s eyes had not left her face, torturing her with their cold, scrutinizing gaze. And as it always happened in dreams, she had no command of her reactions; her body, her face, her mind had all wills of their own and refused to obey any logical attempt on her part to do something to save herself. She could not help her gaze being full of irony or disgust, although she knew that irritating him would be the stupidest thing she could do. She was frightened; however, her face had decided to be brave.
Long, tormenting moments passed before his voice was heard. Lower than she remembered, but very calm and soft.
“You should by now know better than to laugh at me, Miss Bennet.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Wickham, I have never met a man who intended to kill me before, therefore I have no idea how I should behave.” ‘I can’t have said that! My whole body is shaking, how can my voice be so steady?’
“I see, Miss Bennet, that you have not formed a favorable impression of me.” His lips formed a satisfied smile, but his eyes remained icy cold, causing torturing shivers down her spine. “But this is not a place to discuss these things. If you would follow me outside…”
“Do I really look like a woman who would follow a suggestion equivalent with suicide?” Her eyes met his; challenge was written in them.
“It is clear that you are scared out of your wits,” he commented chuckling in a surreal way, while Elizabeth tried to refrain from slapping him, “therefore I will not trouble myself with mentioning that you are being paranoid. But to prove my good intentions, I will accept to have our discussion in a secluded corner of this place.” His voice did not betray any feeling, any thought, any weak point Elizabeth could take advantage of; he seemed to be the predestined winner, who was used to making his opponents retire before putting up a fight. ‘How different from his interview, when he was giving a show to impress me. And I was stupid enough to buy it!’ Elizabeth was getting more and more disgusted, but couldn’t say if she felt worse towards him or towards herself.
“I am not moving from my place. You’ll have to drag me.”
“My dear Elizabeth, I am afraid that you overestimate your power to pose demands.” It was the first time she heard her name was coming from his lips. He made it sound horrible, ugly; he made her ashamed of it. “I have too much power to be obliged to face such childish stubbornness.”
“What can you do to me, in such a crowded place?”
“You will follow me to that table.” He said pointing at one that was almost hidden from her view, obviously ideal for a secret rendezvous. “Because I can do many things to him.” His eyes lit dangerously; like a wild animal who expects to derive pleasure from the terrified expression of its prey.
“Am I expected to understand whom you mean, or do you just feel clever when no one knows what you’re talking about?” She felt, no, she was certain that she completely understood his meaning, but she was determined not to play his game.
He laughed, a cold, heartless laugh, without the tiniest hint of merriment in his eyes. His eyes were unreadable; two spots of burning coal that mirrored nothing. As if they were unconnected to the rest of his face; as if they were just two instruments used only to watch and cause fear, without having the slightest contact with his soul. ‘Does he even have a soul?’ “Oh, I am sorry; I seem to have overestimated your intelligence. I was referring to your employer, the great William Darcy.” She wanted to slap him. It hurt more to hear ironic remarks directed at William than towards her.
“Mr. Darcy,” she said with as an indifferent voice as she could command, “has no fear for his life, if we take into consideration the excellent security that he surely employs. In any case, I do not see how you could use his wellbeing for the purpose of making me yield to any demand of yours.” Her voice was not calm, and had lost its ironic tone. She regretted that he could see that she was very upset; that she had let him upset her so.
“Stop the games, Elizabeth.” He said, looking like a tired parent asking his child to give him peace. “I know very well that you are his present distraction. Everyone talks about it. I would have learnt it even if I had not been watching both of you on a 24 hour basis.” She gave a start and he nodded, silently answering her unasked question. ‘Yes, I am about to tell you some very unpleasant truths, so don’t play innocent with me.’ “And you are clever enough I hope to see that there are so many other interesting ways of rendering somebody’s life a hell other than killing him.” He winked at her and she followed him to the table he desired, wondering if she had the strength to face what was happening; or if the burden would be too heavy for her as it had been for so many others; if she too would be crushed.
She had already made her first retreat. She desperately needed to attack him.
“Still, you do not seem to have shown that much imagination in dealing with Mr. Younge. Or should I say the late Mr. Younge?”
He laughed again; and it was like a terrible clatter in her ears.
“You are really scared of me, aren’t you? Funny the way things turn, isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t think of any answer that would really hurt his ego and self-confidence.
“For your information, however, I will let you know that Jason Younge is still in this world, polluting it with his presence.”
“Why should I believe you?” She regretted asking, she would give the impression that she was very weak and panicked.
“Because I do not consider you an opponent worthy enough to try to lie to you.”
“So you only play fair with the inferior?”
“At last! A spirited remark! Thank you Elizabeth, I had begun to get bored with the frightened caricature you had become.” It seemed that nothing could shake him; it was a battle lost from its very beginning; like the one Anne Darcy had fought.
“So, would you care to know what happened to your friend Jason?” He asked scornfully.
“Jason is most definitely not my friend and I couldn’t care less about him,” she spat.
“Ah, Elizabeth, now why should I believe you?” He retorted ironically.
“I don’t give a damn if you believe me or not, George.” She pronounced his name as if it was the most offensive word she could utter.
“Now that we are at ease with each other, I can tell you that little secret of mine.” He leaned towards her to whisper to her, while she felt nauseous having him so close to her. She felt as if she was cheating on Will at that moment. Wickham’s lips touched the skin of her cheek before moving to her ear; and they lingered there for what seemed an eternity. Elizabeth felt cheap. She wanted to push him away, and rub her skin to remove the atrocious feeling of him, but she couldn’t. His hands grabbed hers before she could move and held her motionless. “I have treated Jason with much more patience than anyone in my place would have shown .”
“I can imagine. You are the definition of honor and generosity.” She finally managed to disengage herself from his grasp.
“I must inform you, Elizabeth, that I do not accept lectures on ethics by someone who is fucking her boss to get a position in that insignificant publication of yours.” She didn’t answer, just continued to stare at him in the same way, as a smile curved his lips.
“You can’t deny it, can you?” His voice felt like hot oil on her skin.
“I do not see any point in denying it. I am sure that your emotional intelligence will not let you understand any of my feelings, and I wouldn’t want to waste your time and mine as well.”
His hand was tapping the table and for some moments he seemed completely concentrated on that action; fingers on the wood; fingers tapping the wood one after the other, rhythmically, in excellent succession. When he lifted his eyes to look at her again, his face was cold, relaxed; unshaken. Elizabeth regretted that she had let him gain time. She had begun to suspect, or rather hope that his passiveness was a mask; she prayed that she could break that mask; destroy the defenses; attack.
“I had warned Jason I would kill him, from the first time he talked to Darcy. From the time he did not let me properly seduce that little sister of your man. You should be angry with him for that, too. Had I married the girl, I would have become the Pemberley CEO. Darcy would have taken an insignificant position, you would have never been allowed to search as much as you did, you would not be forced to face the dilemmas you do now and you would go on living in your fairy tale leaving me to do my job in peace.”
“You seem to be too certain of my wishes, Mr. Wickham. What makes you suppose that I would have liked to live in a fantasy?”
Wickham sighed and smiled wickedly. “Ah, Elizabeth, ignorance is a huge privilege. Unfortunately, people cannot appreciate it, until they are forced to face knowledge. Trust me, when you hear all that I have to say tonight you will find yourself willing to give everything you possess to gain back your blissful ignorance.”
“You know nothing, absolutely nothing about me and don’t you dare presume…” Elizabeth felt that she was losing her self-control again.
“On the contrary, I know everything about you, your thoughts, your ridiculous ideals, your feelings. I know how to drive you mad. I know that you have fallen for William Darcy...”
“You said that I am only sleeping with him for the promotion.” She interrupted him, trying to trap him somehow.
He was unshaken, nay even amused. “I was just trying to get an interesting reaction from my comment before. You see, Elizabeth, I know your weak points. I know how to hurt you; I know how to make you beg me; how to make you give anything to me…” He leaned dangerously towards her again.
“In that case, you also know how close I am to slapping you this very moment.” Her eyes were fire.
“If Jason Younge were here now, he would assure you that attempting to hurt me, in any way is definitely not a good idea.”
“Jason was a stupid rascal.” Elizabeth wondered why she didn’t feel she meant her words. It surprised her that she couldn’t feel anything akin to resentment for Younge anymore; but most of all, it astonished her that she wanted to appear cruel to Wickham, to show that she had no heart either, that she could still abuse someone that she considered dead. Yes, she was desperately trying to give the impression of being heartless. On that night, heart was another word for vulnerability. She could not afford vulnerability.
“He still is. But now he is also a wounded one,” he replied with his horrid smile.
“So wounded that he cannot contact anyone?” She looked at him defiantly.
“So wounded and frightened that he does not dare contact anyone. My men,” he said in perverse amusement, “have showed interesting powers of imagination. I, for one, would never have considered stabbing one’s whole body with a dull spoon as a remarkable torture. But they recorded his screams, and judging from them, it must be quite an experience.”
Elizabeth didn’t even try to hide her panic. She was tired, exhausted, drained; she didn’t want to fight any longer; she couldn’t see any point in it. Even if he pulled out a gun at that moment and threatened to shoot her, she doubted that she would even attempt to flee.
“What do you want from me?”
“I want what belongs to me. I want what you found at ‘Meryton,’ Elizabeth.”
“I found nothing.” She didn’t say it to be believed; she just considered that she had the duty to show some resistance.
“Oh, c’mon sweetheart. You ran like crazy to Meryton and then you left the buildings as if you had seen a ghost.” He spoke in such a superior air, as if he were some kind of god that knew everyone’s actions and all the motives for them. She wanted to beat him, just to see an expression of pain on his face; to make sure that he was human too, to destroy his arrogance; but then, she realized he was right in thinking of himself as a god, or rather a devil: he knew everything about everyone and she began to fear that nothing could save her from his clutches. A new wave of fear crushed her, but it took her exhaustion away. Adrenaline filled her veins once more. She could defend herself; she would fight for her life. And she would definitely live just in order to give a punch to that fool who played shamelessly with so many lives. A punch that would set him bleeding. Yes, blood and pain… She tried to concentrate on what he was saying: He was speaking in a low voice, rather to himself than to her. “I could never imagine that the Darcys would leave clues behind them. Very brave; and very stupid on their part.”
Elizabeth barely contained her gasp at the realization. Her hands were trembling, her whole body was shaking, but the thought was there; ‘He did not know what she had found at Meryton.’ He knew that she had found something important that had greatly upset her, something that contained clues, as he had said. Clues, not proof. He did not know about the forgotten, unreleased issue. This could be her salvation. She only had to gain control over her self; over her brain, over her reactions. But this continued to be a nightmare, in which no part of her obeyed and in which she was facing exactly what she mostly feared and wished to avoid. And those damned hands of hers would not stop trembling!
“I see that the mention of your late in-laws has upset you greatly, Elizabeth. And I do not possess so much time to comfort a scared child. Drink some scotch; smack your lovely cheeks, whatever. Just stop looking so damned terrified. It’s really unbecoming. And irritating.” His fingers had resumed their rhythmic tapping on the table and his eyes were focused on them rather than her.
“I am not scared, you idiot.” Somehow, she wanted his attention back to her. She wouldn’t be dealt by him like some annoying insect, because this is how she felt now. Like an insect that could only bite him and cause him momentary discomfort but not really harm him. And the only reason why he didn’t crush her with a simple movement of his hand was because he wouldn’t give himself the trouble.
“Hardly spirited at all. You’re losing your charms one by one, Elizabeth.” He was still not looking at her.
“I am not trying to recommend myself to you.”
“Judging from what happened to Mrs. Darcy, who lost our good opinion, you should be dying to make yourself pleasing to me.” His fingers were moving faster and faster. ‘A bomb before the explosion.’ Elizabeth’s eyes followed them despite herself. She was hypnotized, completely under his control, at his mercy. Her breathing became faster, her cheeks turned crimson, her legs felt heavy as if they were tired by overexertion, as his recital was reaching its crescendo. Thumb, index…and a sudden stop. She waited for something to happen, she was certain that something would happen when he would stop. Something that would release the tension that was built. But nothing, absolutely nothing occurred. This was a torture; and he was enjoying it.
“I am not afraid of you!” she cried in despair. “Kill me, Wickham. Kill me now, pull out your damn gun and just shoot me!” The truth was that she was more afraid than she had ever thought possible. She wanted this to stop. She was praying for this to stop. In any way possible. By a bullet, if necessary, but she wanted the torture to stop.
“We, bad guys, are very stereotyped, aren’t we?” He paused for a moment, pretending to think hard: “Well, sometimes, with good reason. My excellent father used to lose his patience rather easily. But you, clueless reporters, suffer from a pathetic lack of imagination.” He smiled in condescension. “Do you think that the worst I can do to you is kill you? Do you really believe that the worst my father did to Anne Darcy was killing her?”
Elizabeth remained silent.
“You are sadly mistaken, Miss Bennet. We were almost charitable in killing Anne Darcy painlessly in a road accident. We were not very angry with her then. Actually we spared her a more torturous death planned for her as soon as she returned to Columbia. She had pissed off our providers, not us.” His smile made her sick.
“So, you expect me to praise your kindness in your dealings with Mrs. Darcy?”
“Oh, no, Elizabeth. Don’t take the trouble. To own the truth, my father was very cruel with her.” He said it as if he were very proud of it. “But not when he killed her.” He whispered cryptically, leaning to her again and resting his cheek against hers for a moment.
He wore an expensive aroma and his skin felt soft against hers. In that split second, she remembered William. How different he was, how different he felt. How he was right when Wickham was wrong. How she had learnt to surrender to him, to trust him, to love him and she recalled that she had a duty to resist Wickham and his attempts to intimidate her, to make her feel ashamed of herself. The disgust that Wickham evoked in her in contrast with the precious thought of William reminded her that she had the power to choose the good over the evil; and to fight for it.
It also gave her an amazing clarity of mind.
“The worst thing you did to Anne Darcy was taking her away from her children; and making her husband hate her,” she said with a firm voice.
“Thank God, this conversation might actually take less than an eternity!” He clapped his hands idly, in mock approbation of her understanding.
“You threatened George Darcy, didn’t you? Did he know everything? Was he working with you in this?” She was delirious; she could not stop talking and asking.
“We are not here to discuss the Darcys.” He dismissed her passion tiredly.
“You are trying to frighten me, are you not? You haven’t succeeded yet.”
Wickham was ready to mock her, but on taking a deep look in her eyes he noticed a rather annoying sparkle in them. A sign of life. He knew he had to kill the life in her eyes to succeed.
“Very well, Elizabeth, you want to hear about the Darcys? You’ll hear about the Darcys.” His voice had acquired a triumphant arrogance, which betrayed a sadistic pleasure derived from the prospect of what he was about to say. He wanted to shock her, to defeat her with words. This, however, more evil than his previous apathy, seemed at the same time more human; a human flaw. Elizabeth knew how to confront human flaws, or so she thought.
“He knew, George Darcy always knew, even before she found out. He knew about my father’s mercantile interests and was wise enough to stay away – or even co-operate with us whenever it suited him.”
“No, this cannot be…” Elizabeth muttered, without even knowing why every fiber in her body was revolted at the thought.
“Oh yes, it very well can. Do you think that my father was a beginner then? That the school thing was his first project? Do you really believe that the stocks gave him so much power and influence…and money? And are you na´ve enough to insist that George Darcy, a man of the world, with so many sources was unaware of these activities?
“Unlike his daft son, George Darcy was a clever businessman, Miss Bennet. Unlike you, and unlike his stupid wife he knew that conscience and ethics are luxuries. Do you hear me? Luxuries, dwelled upon by idealists like you who mess around! And if you think that you are clever or worthy enough to fight us, you are sadly mistaken. You and your semblances exist only because we let you exist. Because you are good at making the masses believe that yes, fighting the system, the crime, the…corruption,” he smirked, “as you call exists and is effective. You do a wonderful job at blinding them, Elizabeth!”
“But sometimes we get out of hand, don’t we?” She asked calmly. Now it was her voice that had lost all its emotion. He ignored her, somewhat lost in his feverish speech. Elizabeth was watching his mouth open and close in exaggerated syllables, his muscles convulse, his color raised, his eyes bright with fiery pride. Emotion appeared at last, and it permitted her to have a glimpse of his inner layers. What she saw there didn’t scare her, like the enigma he previously was, but disgusted her; disgusted and saddened her. So much ugliness existed in the world…
“When George became my godfather, when he gave me his name, the name he didn’t give to his own son, he knew. He knew that the baby would grow and follow my father’s lead, he knew that I would have none of his scruples, none of his reluctance and his hesitation…None of the weaknesses that prevented George Darcy from joining my father in the “Security in schools” program and become really grand. He knew that I would not succumb to the ridiculous romantic notions that held him captive of the shrew he married; the bitch that caused my father’s displeasure; and his own downfall.”
“But you have succumbed to romantic notions, Mr. Wickham. You are in love with yourself.” Elizabeth said sardonically. The fiercer Wickham’s speech was becoming, the more immune to it she felt.
“I simply care about the only person who will never betray me, Miss Bennet.”
“I wouldn’t be so certain Mr. Wickham. Love is always danger and risk; you always have to be prepared, independent of who the receiver is.”
“You are talking nonsense. I…” He was irritated that she refused to understand.
“You love yourself. I suppose it could be understandable, given the psychotic brain you possess. But love, Mr. Wickham can bring disappointment; and disgust. And believe me, it is far better to feel these things towards another than towards yourself.”
He laughed. Seconds passed, one by one, while his face convulsed as he could not stop, and she merely looked at him, without betraying any feeling; or more accurately, without experiencing any feeling.
“No, Miss Bennet, the worst is to see your dear wife, with whom you are stupidly infatuated, to whom you have offered everything—everything—to whom you have revealed all your secrets, betray you.” He winked at her, but she didn’t need the hint to realize that they were talking about William’s parents again. She blinked quickly and then cursed her weakness.
“Oh, yes, where do you think that Anne Darcy found all these clues to nearly threaten us? Do you think that any of our men would betray us? No, Miss Bennet, no one is as stupid as that! Only an idiot husband would do that, would open his heart to his wife to ease his conscience… Ha! Yes, as if the harpy could ever ease his conscience. The notion of conscience is a delusion for cowards, Elizabeth. A delusion that the bitch used to crush him, to make him a ridiculous miniature of the man he could be. She tried to publish, Miss Bennet, she actually tried to publish the information… To make known to public what had been her husband’s words of agony, his tumult, his despair – a despair that her own uprightness had given birth to! Now, Miss Bennet, you surely think that I am not in a position to judge people, but what do you say? She was supposed to love the man, and she tried to tread on him as if he were an insect. Do you still admire her? I’d be thrilled to hear your opinion.”
Elizabeth’s mouth remained decidedly shut. Her brain almost refused to register all this awful information, as for analyzing it – it was simply out of the question.
“And he was so pathetic that he would been have resigned to his fate; go to jail and try to drag my father along with him… Lose everything.” He paused. His wicked smile disappeared for a moment, replaced by a harshness that made him look like a maniac. Then, struck by a sudden idea, his mouth opened for a moment, and then resumed his previous wicked smile.
“Actually,” he said in a much lower and calmer voice than before, “your Mr. Darcy should eternally be licking our feet. Everything he has is Pemberley…My father saved Pemberley, Elizabeth.” He stated. “My father stopped her from exposing everything to the hungry mass; giving them something to devour – to satisfy their appetite, while someone would continue our work.”
“It’s not working.” She interrupted him in the middle.
“I beg your pardon?” He tried to hide his surprise, but Elizabeth noticed the shadow that passed momentarily over his eyes; she was pleased.
“Your speech, Mr. Wickham. The ‘whatever we stupid good people do, bad people will win, because you are more powerful and more clever, standing behind and supporting everyone and everything….without you the world can neither exist or function’ speech. It’s not working. I have heard it before… In stupid movies actually. Shall we take it to a more personal level?”
“Yeah, personal… Let’s talk about your trepidation to lose everything that makes you talk nonsense Mr. Wickham.”
“You want personal? Fine, you’ll have it!” He spat in anger but then his face turned soft again. His index finger grazed her cheek. “I tried to protect you, Elizabeth. But you wouldn’t listen to reason.” Elizabeth thought that this resembled stupid movies again: this time with Wickham acting monstrously the part of a serial killer.
“Personal, huh? My father sent a very personal note to George Darcy. Warning him that he would lose all personal life if he did not make up for his unforgivable mistake. I may prefer more refined techniques, Miss Bennet, but believe me, when my father said that he would kill both Darcy children, he meant it. He had the power to do it without paying any price.” Wickham spoke slowly, distinctly, as if every word had to be overly-accentuated so that it would never fade. Elizabeth still tried not to betray any feelings, but now a flood of them invaded her, crushed her, broke her in thousands of pieces. She stopped breathing; she could not bring herself to breathe without thinking; she had to find each muscle, each part of her lungs and make them obey her. Inhaling. Exhaling. She focused on the act.
“Well, this finally made Mr. Darcy get the hint and try to put limits to his wife’s illusions that she was the goddess of justice. He failed miserably. She tried to go to the police. My father happened on her on her way there. Once or twice in his life he had experienced such rage. And of course, he would be ruthless. I believe that his exact words were: ‘If you ever dare appear in your home again, you will not find your children alive. The only way you will look at your children, from now on, will be either by looking at their pictures or watching their dead bodies. You choose.’” He paused and pretended to be pensive.
“Hmmmm…that apparently shook Annie at last. You see, she believed in justice; stupidly, blindly bound on the idea…But she was a mother, Elizabeth; and a clever woman. ‘I will kill them even if it is the last thing I will do in this life,’ my father said…As I have told you he was less refined.” Wickham smirked again. “The note she sent to poor George, yes, that was my father’s doing. He made her write that on the spot; so that George would believe she had left him of her own will, because he had let her down. To own the truth, that was not necessary. George Darcy would not go after her even if he had known the truth. He knew how much was at stake. But it was my father’s small revenge to him; for talking. My father made sure that George Darcy would remain miserable, betrayed, and in the dark, for the rest of his life. And so he did. Till his dying moment. Yes, not polished, my father,” he murmured, “but a genius all the same.” An uncanny smile appeared on his face.
“What do you hope to achieve by telling me all this?” she asked dryly.
“You asked for it, Elizabeth, remember? I was rather reluctant to comply, but I did it all the same.”
He was right. Damn him, he was right!
“What do you want from me, Wickham? I’ve had enough of your games!”
“I could say that too, but you see, I began to find pleasure in the shocked picture you present, my dear.” He answered smugly.
“What do you want?” Her eyes were fierce, she was getting deeper and deeper in the nightmare.
“I want the proof. All of it.”
“I don’t have any proof. Just indications.”
“You’re lying,” he said scornfully.
“Look, there is only this paper.” Elizabeth opened her bag and pulled out a Meryton issue. She handed it to him in complete silence.
As she watched him perusing it, she wondered if what people called fate existed. How could she have known, years ago, when she had made a habit of keeping old magazine issues in her bags that this would result in her salvation one day? Was it destined to be this way? How she had left the issue where she had found the threatening note and Anne Darcy’s hints in her bag? Why? What had made her to do it? The thought was just…weird. She shivered and waited for his reaction.
His laugh was hoarse, as if it released some of his tension.
“And you got through all this just for a note? And Anne Darcy’s declaration that she did not trust Wickhams?” He was almost incredulous, but evidently very pleased with himself.
She didn’t answer. After all, this was a nightmare. She wasn’t sure if she could keep herself from shouting the truth at him.
“You thought you could threaten us with such a note? Where everything is insinuated, nothing said? Really, Elizabeth, I had never had a high opinion of your mind, but I thought you less na´ve than this!”
She lowered her eyes, in a desperate attempt to regain the control over her body and mouth.
“You will not get away with this, Wickham.” She hissed. Damn it! Why couldn’t she simply keep her mouth shut? “William Darcy can…”
“No, he can’t. He can’t do anything to me, Elizabeth. You cannot do anything to me. Understood? Whatever happens, you lose and I win.”
“What are you going to do? Threaten to kill us for the rest of our lives?”
“I told you before, Elizabeth, but you wouldn’t listen. I do not need to threaten your lives. I have back-ups, Elizabeth. If anything is ever revealed, Pemberley will be destroyed. Losses of millions, loss of creditability, loss of many generations’ labors. Do you think Darcy will forgive you if you will be the means of it?”
“Really, Miss Bennet, did you plan to reveal only what could be used to your advantage? You would have to explain that George Darcy served the other front. You would have to stain the Darcy name—forever. I don’t know how upright your William is, but how can you picture him facing the prospect? Will he still love you when you will be the cause of his name being pronounced in disgust? When his sister will die in shock?”
No response “Really, Elizabeth,” he continued his sadistic monologue, acutely aware of the devastating effect it had on Elizabeth’s composure. Her hands were shaking; she tried to hide it by entwining her fingers nervously, but to no avail. All color had vanished from her face. A small drop of sweat traveled along her brow. “Tell me, has your William no family pride? No pride at all?”
“I see you get my point,” he said tapping the table lightly and trying to make her look at him. “But in case you are still harboring any doubts about my power to take everything, and I mean everything, from you and from him, let me tell you this. There are papers at Pemberley, well placed, that can be used in a very interesting way. Papers that could persuade anyone that Pemberley’s owners, past and present, knew everything about the drug-dealing. These papers are hidden and being watched over by some loyal friends.” She gasped as she realized where all this was heading.
“I can extricate myself from this, Elizabeth, even if you go and publish everything. I’ll throw all the blame to my father and deny even suspecting his horrid activities. But this will be my revenge if you stain my father’s name: I will prove that your boy knew and helped in everything; that he was the successor of my father, as well as his… I have placed abundant evidence and many friends in Pemberley, Elizabeth. Do not ever, ever doubt that I am capable of this…” He winked.
She needed air, there was not enough air anymore; she was suffocated and she wanted to cling to life. Emerge from the nightmare and cling to life. She stood up. Suddenly. Abruptly.
“I am leaving.”
He didn’t try to stop her. It was evident that his words had worked their way through her. He regarded her realizing that the light in her eyes was gone; only shadows existed there. ‘Another soul killed by the truth. Killed by me. Drained. Crushed.’ He smiled inwardly, a warming sense of pride settling into his heart. This was his art; he was very good at it. And Elizabeth Bennet was one of his finest creations—or rather destructions. He watched her as she closed the door behind her, without even turning to look back. A small death. A great miracle.
Richard was having yet another sleepless night. He tossed and turned, and each time Morpheus flirted with him, Monika’s image appeared and his eyelids shot open. It was sheer torture and he had no idea how to fight against it; he had no idea if he wanted to fight it. He wished to know what he should do. He prayed to go to sleep and wake up and find everything fixed. He begged to be able to have a glimpse of his future. The slightest hope that this unbearable burden would someday disappear or become easier to carry. He wanted…
His cell phone rang. He looked at the clock. 2:00 a.m? Could anything have happened to Monika? His heart was caught at the thought. “Yes?” he answered the phone in a breathless voice.
“Richard, it’s Monika.” She didn’t sound alright; he had not heard that agitated tone in her voice since the night they had…What the hell was wrong?
“What happened?” He asked more abruptly than he meant to.
“There is nothing wrong with me, but rather with…” she paused and he could swear that she was having trouble maintaining a steady voice. “Look, Richard, I need your cousin’s cell number.”
“Yes. Darcy’s,” she answered curtly.
“What game are you playing?” He couldn’t explain the feeling that was burning in his chest. Anger, rage…Jealousy?
“Please, Richard, believe me, this is not a game.” Her voice was…pleading? He had never heard her speak like this before. He felt his anger dissipating. All he was aware of was the sudden urge to reach for her and hold her. He tightened the grip of his phone unconsciously. “Trust me, Richard.”
“Trust you?” He repeated her words, so difficult to absorb, in a broken voice.
“I’ll call you as soon as I tell him what I have to. It won’t take long. But please, Richard, give it to me. We don’t have much time.” She, who had always been cool and detached, was anxious, almost panicked. Richard gave her the number without further enquiries.
“Thank you.” Her voice was low, warm. “Gotta hang up now.”
“Monika.” He sounded soft and tender, as if his words were embracing her, soothing, comforting.
“When you do what you have to do, don’t call me.”
“Come home, Monika.”
A gasp, a sigh, a sob?
Elizabeth opened the door of her apartment and threw the keys on the floor. She kicked the door closed, without even looking back. Her stare was blank, her eyes focused on the void in front of her, hardly blinking. Her brain was empty; her heart was empty; her soul was empty. She felt like a machine rather than a human. She dreaded the moment when she would become human again. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth Bennet preferred to hide from the pain because she was not certain if she could bear it.
No one was in the house. Probably Paul had finally secured his beloved Teresa’s hand. The thought didn’t fill her with warmth, didn’t even bring the slightest smile on her face. It was better this way.
She poured herself a glass of wine, tasted it and spat it out immediately. No, she needed something stronger. With unsteady hands she grabbed the tequila bottle and poured some liquid to a glass. It was not flowing as fast as she wanted. She hit the bottle on the bench and broke its upper part. Half the tequila splashed on the floor. She tried to fill the glass, but her hands didn’t quite co-operate. She drank but felt no taste. Her right hand was bleeding. She felt no pain. It was as if her heart was not residing in her body anymore, as if it had decided to watch her pathetic existence from afar. She had no tears.
She tried to fill the glass again, cursing her inability to control her moves. Without any patience, she brought it to her lips, half empty. Amazed, she found that her mouth was immune to the usual burning of the alcohol. Determined to make at least her tongue sense something, she drank a third and a fourth glass, more filled this time. The bleeding continued, tiny drops fell on the glass. She paid no attention. She could not even feel disgust. Nothing.
Glass in hand, she stood with her back against the wall and slowly let her body slide down, until she was sitting on the floor, crumbled, her knees tightly pressing against her chest. She looked at her glass. Empty. Her hand searched blindly for the bottle. Her fingers touched something but she had no control over them. She pushed the bottle too strongly; it fell down and broke to pieces.
She continued watching the void before her, distinguishing no objects, no colors. Everything was a blur, or rather distinct spots that would not unite to form a picture. Minutes passed. She closed her eyes. Opened them again. And there, at the table that stood opposite her, eye level with her, stood a photograph. Their photograph. Scotland.
She felt a drop, a single drop dampening her cheek. It took her a few moments to realize that it was a tear. Her tear.
And then, without realizing how or why, she began weeping, uncontrollably, her whole body shaking, her hands crossed, each arm embracing the other. As if she was all alone in this world and no one but herself could offer comfort to her trembling body. Self-pity filled her. She was mourning for her loss, for her life, for what she had become.
Pity…vulnerability, and the tears continued flowing, blurring her vision. It didn’t matter. There was nothing left to see. There was nothing of importance left. It was as if she saw her happiness, no; her whole life ending. It was as if she was crying for her own death, having the unmistakable sense of the irrevocable. Of something that had ended. Forever.
“Why?” she shouted, at the top of her voice. All the rage, all the torture, all the despair was in that word. The yelling of the woman that had been exiled from Paradise, that had forsaken happiness, after witnessing exactly what it was. How could she go on?
William was there, always there, with her, residing in her. Dying with her. “Why to me? Why to us?”
Blood, sweat and tears, all mingled on her skin and her mouth, leaving a bitter taste. He was in her, but he could not help her. It was a decision she had to make on her own. She was so lonely; so lost. She could picture his dark eyes looking at her sadly. Not anger or fear or bitterness. Just sadness. She could not bear it; she could not bear his sadness. She had to get away from him, to stop thinking of him.
But his marks were there. On her soul, on every part of her body. His touch was everywhere; she could feel it, burning her skin, but not offering any solace. Not anymore.
His touch, his love. She remembered the melody of his profession, she recalled the way he had imprinted his love on her skin, on her cheek, by drawing the words with his mouth. It was there.
She could not go on living with this burden! What would she decide? If she remained silent, violating her sense of duty, her principles, whatever she had ever believed in and fought for, she could never be what she was; the woman that William had loved. She would be a stranger to herself; a stranger to him. She would be lost forever, a living corpse, a wondering shadow; just like Anne Darcy.
If she betrayed William… She would never forgive herself, even if he forgave her. She could not stand the idea of his pain, his disgrace, the loss of everything, the humiliation… Another death. For both.
Whatever she chose they were lost. Lost.
‘Call him. Talk to him.’
What for? Why leave the decision to him, pass the burden to him? This was the coward’s way out. She had to protect him. She had to decide alone. It was the last thing she could do for him. It was the last thing she would do for him.
She dug her nail deeply into her cheek, the cheek that had received his mark of love. It slipped down, making the wound deeper, extricating the memory, removing his gift. More blood.
William thought that he would dream of her, but instead a sense of foreboding kept him wide awake. He had this paranoid fear for her, for them. He suddenly felt that their relationship was something most precious and fragile; and in danger. His heartbeat could not return to a normal pace. It was as of his own body was preparing him for something that was to occur. When his cell phone rang, his every fiber tensed. Elizabeth? A weak voice whispered in him.
“Mr. Darcy, there is something you should know.” Monika’s voice was firm, but filled him with apprehension all the same.
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