Ok, so I’m not being very patient. I can’t wait to share these with you. So, I’ll be posting a new chapter every two weeks on Saturday until the book is published. (Don’t forget, comments really do inspire me to write faster…just saying…)
Find previous chapters HERE
Truly that was beyond the pale, threatening little April in such a way. No matter how impatient he might be with her, the Papa she knew would never threaten a dragon with homelessness.
What had got into him? Why was he so entirely unreasonable? Did Longbourn have something to do with it?
“Cousin Elizabeth.” Collins’ voice slithered down the back of her neck, raising the tiny hairs in an itchy prickle. “Are you ready to join your sisters and me?”
“Yes, we should leave directly.” She brushed past him, not waiting for him to follow.
Kitty and Lydia raced on ahead. With officers waiting, the three miles’ journey could not pass quickly enough.
Their brisk pace offered a delightful boon. Who would have thought Mr. Collins unable to walk vigorously and talk at the same time? He huffed and puffed, unable to string together more than a pair of words at a time.
Had she but known, she would have insisted they walk out far earlier.
Under such pleasant circumstances, the distance passed quickly and the buildings of Meryton’s main street rose up before them.
“Oh, look! Officers!” Lydia pointed at a cluster of red coats standing near the haberdasher’s window.
Kitty took off at a run, kicking up a faint trail of dust in the cool, clear air.
Elizabeth drew a breath, but what point in trying to curb them? They would not listen and it would only look bad in front of any who observed her shouting.
“You should check your sisters.” Mr. Collins huffed and panted, sweat glistening on his forehead and cheeks. “Their unrestrained behavior does not look good upon you or your family. It will lead to ruin I am afraid. There are those among the community who already speak unfavorably about them.”
“I wonder that you would take the word of one who would speak to you in such a familiar and inappropriate way so seriously.” She shrugged and hurried ahead.
Who had he been listening to? Probably Lady Lucas who considered Charlotte an excellent prospect for Mr. Collins. But to stoop to such untoward means?
He muttered something she could not make out. No loss, it was not likely to be any more sensible than anything else he was apt to say.
Lydia looked over her shoulder, squinting in the bright sun, and waved at Elizabeth to join them. She hastened her steps, not so much to run, but enough to ensure that Mr. Collins would not easily catch up to her.
“See who we have found—almost the entire company.” Lydia looped her arm in Denny’s on the right and Carter’s on the left.
Kitty hung off Chamberlayne’s arm. Wickham stepped a little closer to Elizabeth and cocked his head.
“Walk with us—we are off to the vintner’s, the butcher’s and the chandler’s.” Lydia pulled her escorts down the street.
Elizabeth and Wickham fell into step behind them.
Heads turned, probably the sight of so many red coats. Still, it was disconcerting to be noticed by so many.
“Your sisters are quite energetic.” Wickham chuckled under his breath, lacing his hands behind him.
“That would be one word for it, perhaps not the one I would choose, but it is an apt description.” At least he was politic in his censure.
“What word would you choose to describe them?”
“Oh, no, sir, you will not trick me into displaying those things I do not wish reveal—at least not so easily.”
“Ah, Miss Bennet, you ascribe to me motives, and subtlety that are far outside my purview. I am but a humble soldier, madam, not a clever-tongued gentleman.” Did he just wink?
She laughed, and April nipped her ear.
“I see you have your pet with you. Do you bring her with you everywhere?”
“Not everywhere to be sure. The cold temperatures do not agree with her any more than they do any small … bird. I do like her company and she seems to find mine highly agreeable as well. Too much time in the house bores her, I fear. It is dangerous for one so small to go out alone, so we satisfy her curiosity by walking out together.”
“You do not fear she will simply fly away, never to be seen again?” Wickham peered into her hood.
April ducked into a deep fold.
“She is my friend, not my prisoner. If she wants to leave, she is free to do so. I would not hold her against her will.”
“What a singular philosophy. I have never heard anyone talk about a pet so.”
“She is my friend, not my pet.”
“A significant distinction, I am sure.” He dipped his head.
April snorted in her ear. “I still do not like him. You should not speak with him so.”
Wickham stared at April, but gave no sign of having heard her words.
That should not be disappointing, but it was.
“Your little bird does not seem to be the only one excessively fond of you. Your little cousins seem utterly entranced by the story you told them. Quite imaginative that: dragons and the Blue Order?” He winked again and smiled.
Something about the way his eyes crinkled at the sides … he could not hear dragons, but what did he know?
Her heart thundered hard enough to threaten her ability to speak.
Calm. Remain calm.
“I have told them those stories since the eldest was old enough for bedtime stories. I have had to weave quite the intricate web to keep them all interested, but I confess, I enjoy the stories as well.”
“You might consider writing them one day. As I understand, it is an acceptable diversion for genteel young ladies and some are interested in publishing such things.”
“I will keep it in mind, but I think, it is more something to keep within the family, just for the enjoyment of the children.”
“I think I should enjoy hearing more about your dragon adventures.” He looked straight ahead, his face serene and serious.
Uncomfortably, maybe dangerously, curious.
“That is a very peculiar interest for a gentleman and a soldier. I should think the affairs of the world would be of far greater import to someone in your position.” It was difficult to keep her voice light when the conversation had turned so dark.
“Whilst that might be true, I have always found that making allowances for a liberal amount of fiction in one’s life is quite necessary to maintaining equanimity. How else does one escape, even for a short time, from the drudgery that everyday life affords?”
“How indeed sir, how indeed?” More important, how could she end this conversation?
Lydia and Kitty paused at the chandler’s window and they stopped several steps away.
He turned and caught her gaze. “I was not joking, though. I have been fascinated with dragons all my life and I am, can I say, thrilled, to find someone who shares my interests. You know the story of the Lambton Wyrm? I grew up just miles from that town. I spent much of my boyhood searching for any trace of that beast. Though the mythos says it was kilt, I have never been convinced of its demise. Surely something as sturdy as a dragon could not be so easily undone.”
April growled in her ear.
Elizabeth edged back. “Dragons are for fairy stories and children—and perhaps artists who render them on signs and prints. Do be sensible, sir.”
Wickham’s gaze drifted to April.
The fairy dragon’s hackles raised, and she growled again.
“Perhaps you are right, Miss Bennet. I have held on to childish pursuits for too long. But faced with the losses I have suffered, can you truly blame me for lingering upon memories of happy times?”
“No, no, of course not. Pray excuse me though, I must go inside.” She sidled past him, through her sisters, and into the chandler’s shop.
Tables and displays littered the confined space, but with only one other shopper inside, it felt open and cavernous. She drew in a deep breath, filled with scents of tallow, tea, soap, and a hint of bacon.
April sneezed and pawed at her beak. Tea leaves often made her sneeze. “Your Aunt Gardiner does not like him either. You should heed her and avoid him. I fear he is a Deaf-Speaker. You know how dangerous they are.”
“You know they are very few and far between. It is very unlikely. I am sure if you, Heather, Phoenix and Rumblkins, perhaps Rustle as well, band together, you will be able to persuade him that his interests are just a passing childhood thing. All will be well, I am sure.”
“We have tried to persuade him.”
She turned to stare at April, a chill settling over her shoulders. “When?”
“Several times. At first I simply thought it was my voice, that it was too far beyond his hearing to affect him at all. So I asked Rumblkins with his low purry speech, and he could not persuade that man to even pet him. Rustle has the easiest voice to hear. He has tried on multiple occasions, but he has had no effect either. The man is completely dragon deaf—to our voices and our persuasions—just like Collins. I do not like it, not at all.”
She stroked April’s ruffled feathers smooth. “It will be well, do not worry.”
Somehow it would. This must just be an odd coincidence, a misunderstanding. It had to be.
“No, no, I am not sure it will. I am afraid.” April huddled close to Elizabeth’s neck.
“I promise, I will not let either of them harm you.”
“How delightful! You have your pretty bird with you today.” The chandler, short, round and rosy cheeked, waddled toward her, wiping his hands on his stained apron. “It is always such a delight to see such a bright little bauble in the crispy brown times of winter. Might she like a spoonful of sugar-flower water?”
“I think it would lift her spirits tremendously.” Elizabeth encouraged April to perch on her finger whilst the chandler brought a large spoon, more like a ladle, filled with sugar water, with several rose petals floating on top.
April flitted to the edge of the ladle and sipped the treat, warbling happily, if a mite forced.
“Might I touch her?” He extended a fat, stubby finger toward April.
April looked at him, head cocked. “Gently.”
“I think she will allow it, but you must be very gentle, like touching a flower so as not to ruin the petals. Just under her chin, she likes that a great deal.”
He ran his fingertip under her chin. She stretched up to guide him to the itchy spots and trilled as he found them.
“She has such a sweet song. Makes one go all soft inside, like warm tallow, I say. I am glad you brought her along today. A right ray of sunshine she is, Miss Bennet. I suppose I should be getting your mother’s order though, no?”
“I would appreciate it.”
He disappeared in the back of the store.
“I like him.” April plunged her beak into the ladle.
“Of course you do. He feeds you sweets, and pets you and tells you what a pretty little thing you are. What is there not to like?”
April hopped back to Elizabeth’s shoulder. “He is not easily persuaded, but he is still kind and thoughtful, not frightening at all.”
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