A/N: This week, we step off of that cliff I left you on last week and begin our descent into the more dismal section of this story. This is where the shift in tone that I mentioned in comment threads begins.
“Lydia?” Surely it must be someone who looked like Lydia. Lydia was at home in Meryton, not wandering along the London Road thought Elizabeth as she leaned toward the window and looked where Maria had pointed. She gasped. “It is! But what is she doing here?”
She sat back and shook her head, looking in bewilderment from one gentleman across from her to the other.
Darcy rapped on the roof of the coach, and the carriage slowed and then stopped. “I am certain we have room for one more,” he offered with as smile.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied before leaning forward to look out the window again.
“Her sleeve is torn,” said Maria, who was still watching through the window. “It looks like she has injured herself. See. Is that not blood?”
Indeed, Elizabeth could see that Lydia’s arm bore a bright patch of red below a tear in the material. Lydia’s hair was also disheveled, and she seemed to stumble as she moved.
Darcy jumped down from the carriage and lifted Elizabeth to the ground so that neither would have to wait for the steps to be put in place. If his sister were injured, he knew that he would not wish to wait for such a thing, and he assumed from the distraught look on Elizabeth’s face that she felt the same.
Elizabeth thanked him once again and then hurried toward Lydia calling her name. Lydia jumped at her name, and Elizabeth thought for a moment she would run away. “Lydia,” she called again.
“Lizzy,” Lydia called back as she turned to meet Elizabeth.
The sisters met in an embrace. Lydia clinging tightly to Elizabeth and weeping. Darcy stood a short distance way. He did not wish to intrude on their privacy nor did he wish to be too far away if assistance was needed.
“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked as she rubbed her sister’s back in an attempt to calm her. Lydia was not one to become overwrought, so having her dissolve into great shaking sobs was unsettling to Elizabeth.
“I…wanted…to…see…Jane.” Lydia managed to get the words out between shuddering breaths. “He…said…he …would…help…me.”
Elizabeth sucked in a quick breath and turned her head slightly toward Darcy.
He could see the fear in her eyes and stepped closer.
“Who said he would help you?” Although she already suspected who might have been willing to help Lydia with her scheme, Elizabeth asked anyway, needing to have her suspicions confirmed.
“Wi…Wickham.” This admission brought on a fresh wave of sobs, and Elizabeth feeling the seriousness of what might have happened, wavered and then sank to the ground, guided by the strong hands of Darcy.
As Elizabeth sat on the ground for some minutes cradling Lydia and cooing soothingly to her, Darcy waved for Richard to join him.
“Did he hurt you?” Elizabeth asked. She pulled back to look at Lydia. There was a bruise on her right temple and a few scrapes on her cheek, and then there was also the gash on her arm.
Lydia shook her head. “I left before … he could.” Her sobbing had calmed, but her breathing was still shuttering.
It took some time, but the story was finally all told. Lydia, knowing that Jane’s letters spoke of her sister’s sadness, had determined to assist her sister by going to London and calling on Mr. Bingley. Surely, if Mr. Bingley knew of Jane’s despondence, he would set things to right. She was utterly convinced that Mr. Bingley loved Jane, and being given to romantic fancies as many a young lady of her age and sensibilities might be, she knew that it would only take a word to Mr. Bingley, and he would fly to his love.
The trouble was that she did not know where to look for Mr. Bingley in London. However, Wickham had assured her that he did. And so a scheme was proposed where Wickham would accompany Lydia to Mr. Bingley’s house and then on to the house of her aunt and uncle. Wickham was on his way to play cards with friends as was his custom, and it would only mean a brief stop along the journey for a bit of fun.
Thinking Wickham to be a trustworthy friend, — a fact that she kept repeating throughout her tale — Lydia had agreed readily to the plan, and the pair had set out for London.
The fun, as Wickham had called it, had involved small bets at first, but as time progressed, the amounts became larger, and Lydia had bowed out of the game. Wickham, though his pockets were nearly empty, did not.
Tiring of sitting about and watching the gentlemen play, Lydia had gone to refresh herself and then a short turn around the courtyard of the inn. As she was returning, she heard raised voices. Wickham had lost yet another hand and was completely without funds, a fact that seemed to anger his companions from the sound of their shouting.
Lydia had wavered in her decision to actually enter the room. She did not wish to be in the middle of a fight, and it did sound as if a scuffle was about to break out until Wickham suggested a deal of sorts. He had offered them her — a likely maiden as he had not yet lifted her skirts — as payment for the hand he had just lost. Frightened and unwilling to be misused, Lydia had snuck down the hall and out the window of an empty room. She had not wanted to exit by the front of the inn. It would be better, she had thought, if no one could point to where she had gone.
However, climbing out a window as not as easy as it had seemed, and that was where she had fallen. It was a bush that had torn her sleeve and arm and a rock that had bruised her head.
She had run as long as she could before slowing to a walk, but always moving forward and constantly watching behind.
Elizabeth sat silently, just rubbing Lydia’s back for several minutes. The results of Lydia’s adventure were not good but could have been so much worse. As it was, Lydia would likely be ruined. How could she not be? She had left her home in the company of a man who was not her father or brother or husband. But those consequences could be dealt with later. Right now, Lydia needed to be gotten into the safety of the carriage.
“We need to get you into the carriage,” she finally said to Lydia, who was fighting to keep her weary eyes open. “Can you walk?”
Lydia smiled and attempted to nod her head as her eyes fluttered shut.
“Lydia?” Elizabeth waited for a response. “Lydia,” she called again. Still, there was no response. She looked to where Darcy stood nearby with Richard at his side. She would need one of them to help her move Lydia. The colonel, she decided, was likely most familiar with carrying injured people.
“Lydia,” she said a third time as she looked at Richard with a silent plea for assistance in her eyes and spoke loudly enough for him to hear, “I am going to ask Colonel Fitzwilliam to carry you. He is a friend and can be trusted. Lydia, do you hear me? Do not be frightened. I will join you again in the carriage, but I cannot carry you myself.” She rubbed Lydia’s back. Receiving no reply, she whispered, “Do not be frightened,” once more before relinquishing her sister to Richard’s strong arms.