Welcome back to another excerpt from Interrupted Proposal. I debated talking about the JAFF Writer Reader Get Together which took place this weekend, but had a feeling those of you waiting for the next excerpt would be a bit put out with me. 😉 Suffice it to say that it was amazing!! I want to write about it and post on social media, but I really have to get my homework done. 😉 Check social media in the next day or so for more info.
Here is another excerpt from my current WIP. For those of you just joining or wanting to reread the prior posts, here are the links:
What if?, What if? Part II, The Letter, Elizabeth’s Perspective, A Walk at Rosings, A Walk at Rosings Part II, What to Do About Wickham, Return to London, Meet the Gardiners, and Meet the Gardiners Part II.
Last month we got to meet Mrs. Gardiner, so let’s meet Mr. Gardiner now.
The Gardiner warehouses were an easy walking distance from the tradesman’s home and Darcy was again pleasantly surprised by the obvious care and wealth displayed. He had originally believed Elizabeth’s uncle would resemble her mother and aunt who lived in Meryton, but now he began to suspect that was not the case.
The footman led him up a flight of stairs to a row of offices, passing the first two and stopping at the last and clearly largest. An affable voice responded to the knock and the servant explained his mission before stepping aside for Darcy to enter.
“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Gardiner said as he rose from behind his desk. “This is an unexpected surprise. What can I do for you, sir?”
Darcy bowed his head in greeting. “Mr. Gardiner, I have come at your niece’s request. Miss Elizabeth has some concerns which she believed you might address in a manner which would be . . . given more urgency than her own.”
A crease formed between the gentleman’s brows, and he motioned to the chairs before his desk. “Please have a seat, sir. May I offer you refreshments?”
“Have you coffee?” Darcy replied as he took a seat.
A smile spread across the man’s face. “My niece has obviously told you little about me.” He proceeded to a table where he poured two cups of coffee. “Tell me what you think of this blend.”
Darcy inhaled the fragrant aroma before sipping the steaming brew. Instead of a bitter concoction demanding sugar and cream, the strong flavour was naturally sweetened and held a hint of chocolate. Darcy’s eyes widened and he sampled it again. “This is delicious!”
“I import it from Columbia in South America. It is one of my most in demand products, but I always have some on hand. Would you like me to send a bag to your home?”
“Most definitely. I believe I shall be opening an account with you, sir.” Darcy smiled but allowed it to fade. “Perhaps after you read Miss Elizabeth’s letter and we discuss what can be done there, we can speak more of what products you carry.”
The older gentleman nodded and held out his hand for the missive. “You are correct, of course. I am always enthusiastic to share one of my favourite beverages.”
He settled behind the desk and broke the seal. After reading the letter through once, he returned to the beginning and read it again before setting it on his desk. “Lizzy fears her youngest sisters might be targeted by Mr. Wickham? I will be honest with you, Mr. Darcy. My wife and I feared Lizzy may be in some danger from the man when we met him in December.”
Darcy was forced to clear his throat. “Yes, I fear . . . If you do not mind my asking, Mr. Gardiner, what precisely did Miss Elizabeth say in the letter?”
“She indicated that you felt responsible for the man paying particular attention to the Bennets.”
“Did she say why I felt so?”
“No, but I believe I understand.” He leaned forward, his hands folded on the desk before him. “It was clear Mr. Wickham dislikes you. My wife spent some time in Lambton when she was younger, so she is familiar with your family though not yourself. She doubted the veracity of Mr. Wickham’s tale.” He took a sip of his drink before meeting Darcy’s gaze directly. “We suspected some partiality on your part might have directed Mr. Wickham to my brother’s family.”
Darcy felt a blush cover his cheeks and found it difficult to speak. He nodded before taking another swallow of coffee. “I was made aware of Mr. Wickham’s presence in Meryton when I stopped to speak to Miss Elizabeth. I am certain he noted my intended purpose. It was not my intent to put Mr. Bennet’s daughters in danger from the man.”
“May I ask what your intent was?”
“At the time, it was to leave Hertfordshire and forget I had ever met your niece, but that was easier said than done.”
The man chuckled. “Lizzy has a unique way about her.” He met Darcy’s gaze again. “She did not have a favourable opinion of you in December.”
Darcy winced. “No, sir, she did not. I believe I might have improved her impression of me recently, but I can only hope. Before anymore can be done on that field, I must ensure her family is safe from any plans Mr. Wickham might have.”
Mr. Gardiner nodded. “Lizzy fears her father will not listen to you, her, Jane, or Mr. Bingley on this matter, and I believe I must agree with her. It would require my brother to take action and he rarely does so.” He shook his head. “Bennet was not always so, you must understand. Years of living with my sister, her nerves, and her demands have worn the man down. If they had had a son, perhaps it would not have been so, but Fannie never was a rational creature. I’ve been told both my sisters are much like our father’s first wife, their mother. My mother, his second wife, had little patience for them and was pleased when they married young.”
The man rose and walked about the office. “No, Bennet is not the man for this. Neither is my brother Phillips, though his wife may be of assistance. My eldest sister is the greatest gossip in Meryton, having her house on one of the main streets and able to see all from her parlour window.” He rubbed his chin. “No, the man you need to speak to is Sir William Lucas.”
“Sir William?” Darcy asked, certain he had heard incorrectly.
“Yes. The man was once mayor of Meryton and is still well respected.” Mr. Gardiner smiled. “And is nearly as great a gossip as my sisters. He has the merchants’ ears.”
“Elizabeth and I feared restricting Wickham’s credit might force him to act sooner rather than later.”
The man’s lips twitched, and he turned away from Darcy. “I believe my niece mentioned Mr. Wickham was recently engaged. Perhaps his plans have changed, and he is no longer interested in my nieces.”
Darcy nodded. “When I collected the letters from Miss Elizabeth, she told me of the engagement. Apparently, a local girl has inherited ten thousand pounds. Though less than Wickham may desire, it is a sum that would tempt him. I had planned to speak to the lady’s uncle but feared a similar reception as what Mr. Bennet might provide.”
Mr. Gardiner nodded as he paced the length of the room. “Which leads us back to Sir William.” He lifted his head and smiled. “And you already have the advantage there, Mr. Darcy. Sir William is impressed by rank and wealth, though he is not blinded by it. He understands there is evil in the world; he simply does not acknowledge it unless it is necessary. More importantly, he feels a responsibility for the people of Meryton and will act to protect them.”
“Then I must speak to Sir William.”
Poor Mr. Darcy. He thought he was just going to hand this off and be done with it. 😉
I hope you enjoyed this latest excerpt. Have a blessed month!