Scheme of Infamy
Chapter 01 -- Leaving Longbourn
It was an unusually warm day for the middle of May and in an attempt to escape the heat of the sun Lydia had retired to her bedroom on the shady side of the house. To move the stale air from the room she opened the window and lingered there as it was her habit to look down the road for visitors. She could detect her father's voice from the library below and upon hearing her own name mentioned she determined to know what was being said.
"Lydia will never be easy until she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."
"If you were aware," said Elizabeth, "of the very great disadvantage to us all which must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent mannerónay, which has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently in the affair."
"Already arisen?" repeated Mr. Bennet. "What, has she frightened away some of your lovers? Poor little Lizzy!"
Was Lizzy trying to dissuade Father from allowing her to go to Brighton? Public notice? La. What do I live for but to be the centre of everyone's attention! Frightened away some of your lovers? Why, no one has ever courted Lizzy, not even Mr.. Collins tried courtship, only a ridiculous proposal.
"Our importance, our respectability in the world must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character."...
Lydia's thoughts then turned toward Lizzy's arguments and her anger was roused. Does anybody really care about my character? It is not as if there are such great expectations for any of the Bennet girls. With little dowry and no connections there is nothing but looks and happy disposition to capture a suitor's attention. All of Mama's hopes and dreams are pinned upon Jane making an eligible match. And Papa only takes pride in Lizzy's supposedly quick wit. But they both have yet to secure their futures.
Having such pride and attention invested in and so many expectations of the older two daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had let their guard down concerning the youngest of the brood. They had overlooked the upbringing of Kitty, Lydia, and to a lesser extent Mary, having left to Jane and Elizabeth the role of 'their brother's keeper' -- or in this case, their sister's keeper. Of course it is the younger child's obligation to resent this officious authority and therefore to defy the domination of elder siblings as much as possible. Lydia had perfected this act. The constant exuberance in her air and manner - not often united with great sensibility of character, was purely a result of her upbringing, or rather lack thereof.
"We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go then. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief..."
Lydia's attention was recalled to the conversation below and thus assured that she would still be going to Brighton she then sent her thoughts toward packing. "Yes, Papa, you shall have your peace and I shall have a grand adventure!"
As youngest of the five daughters, Lydia had her fill of hand-me-down dresses, shoes, toys, books and everything else. All the special attention and shopping for new clothes due to her impending trip fuelled her vanity and sense of self-importance. And after all, it was only her fair portion as special companion to Mrs. Forster. Jane and Lizzy had often been to London with the Gardiners. She only wanted to be able to do something first, before any of her sisters.
The days remaining before her departure passed quickly with final fittings for gowns and hasty trimming of bonnets. Mrs. Bennet bought things for Lydia's trunk with little regard for the family's means and the unwitting approval of Mr. Bennet. To all this extravagance, the outrageous sum of fifty guineas was secretly shared with her favourite daughter to spend during her holiday and the promise of more if she needed it.
Despite the multitude of purchases to update her fashion for the Brighton society there were a few items that were still needed. Before closing up the trunk Lydia decided to collect what she could from her sisters' wardrobes. From Jane she begged to borrow three handkerchiefs, for hers had the best embroidery. Mary willingly spared her long gloves since there would be few balls at which to wear them and she had little wish to attend such functions. Kitty was most reluctant to part with anything to aid her spoiled sister but did finally consent to lend a silver hair comb and some shoe rosettes.
Since Lizzy was off on a long ramble it would not be possible to gain permission till later but that would not stop Lydia from looking through the room and taking what she wanted. The most sought after object was a silk parasol, gifted to Lizzy by Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, which would be most useful to prevent freckling of a delicate complexion when strolling along the seashore.
Whilst searching through the room Lydia paused to admire Lizzy's pale yellow ball gown, a crisply ruffled pelisse and various slippers. She passed over those items knowing that they would not fit her figure. A curious nature caused her to peek inside a bandbox stored on a high shelf in the closet and what she found within completely distracted her from her purpose. Lizzy's parasol remained at Longbourn.
Chapter 02 -- Glories of Brighton
If adventures would not come to Lydia in her own town, she was determined to seek them during her stay in Brighton. In her youthful mind she had imagined streets with fun and frivolity around every corner. Charming officers would supply her with sweet confections, beautiful ribbons and trinkets whilst escorting her around town in vain attempts to win her favour. Her friend Harriet would give her freedom to see the sights and go to parties without mind to propriety or rules of society. She was nearly sixteen and she would be the heroine of an adventure!
The first days did indeed progress in a happy fashion. Everything was new and exhilarating. Although they did not immediately gain the attention of the fashionable crowd, they did learn the identities of several influential people. Harriet and Lydia, arm in arm, paraded through many streets smiling at people they did not know, peering in shop windows and watching from afar the sea bathing machines.
The house that Colonel Forster had let was only a short distance from the soldiers who were encamped in tents. Lydia was ecstatic at being able to observe the soldiers from the window in her second story room. She caught glimpses of them without their regimental jackets and hats. One evening soon after she realized the advantage of the position of her room, she had 'borrowed' the colonel's field glass. Using it, she was able to spy a longer distance upon the soldiers near a shallow stream. The soldiers there were often shirtless, and to her great delight, sometimes they were without breeches as well!
But the glories of Brighton would not continue to be all that Lydia imagined.
The end of the first fortnight marked the beginning of change. Mrs. Abercromby, wife of the general overseeing the military practices, had sent around an invitation for tea to all the colonels' wives. Lydia and Harriet arrived fashionably late and made their curtseys under the condescending eye of the hostess and they were quickly introduced around the room. In the parlour, there were a dozen matronly ladies and Lydia was nearly bored to tears.
Lydia's behaviour, slouching on the settee and huffing out loud sighs, was not unnoticed. Mrs. Abercromby took Harriet Forster aside for a few quiet words about such impropriety.
"Mrs. Forster, has your guest's governess left her? She seems full young to be out in such company."
Not daring to trifle with the good opinion of Mrs. Abercromby, Mrs. Forster answered promptly. "Miss Lydia Bennet is not yet sixteen. She has never had a governess. However, her parents have allowed her to be out in their limited society of Meryton."
"You must take her behaviour into your hand, Mrs. Forster. Her manners are not fit for the society here. She shows little breeding and no elegance at all. It is up to you, as her current guardian, to ensure that her actions reflect well upon your household. You also are still young but it is time for you to learn so that when your own child comes you will know what to do." This last statement accompanied a glance and nod towards Harriet's abdomen. "I will have my husband speak to your Colonel."
Whether it was her glowing complexion or rumours of her morning indisposition, Harriet was shocked at the older woman's implication. Indeed, she had only just begun to suspect her pregnancy and had not even mentioned it to her husband yet. She blushed, nodded, curtsied and left the vicinity of the hostess. Oh dear! What will my husband think of this?
A long discussion ensued between man and wife. The colonel was delighted with the prospect of fatherhood. On the other subject, it was decided that they would offer the parental guidance that Lydia was so desperately lacking. The presence of a flirtatious young girl around the encampment could be disruptive and they did not want her behaviour to be a reflection of the colonel's ability to command. But a benefit of keeping Lydia as Mrs. Forster's companion would be the convenience of having someone supervising the servants and greeting callers when she was indisposed.
Some little seed of motherly instinct took root and began to grow inside Harriet Forster. She began to instruct Lydia in proper comportment and the duties of running a household. Lydia was not unfamiliar with the manners and duties expected of her under the new rules. She had heard edicts much the same from Jane and Lizzy all her life. Given the ultimatum of behaving or being sent home early, she chose to give her best effort at appearing to be polite and well-bred.
Lord, I hate rules. Be on time for tea. No shouting to acquaintances across street venues. No wine at balls. Return to the chaperone immediately after a set is finished. No unaccompanied trips about town. What will all these rules gain me?
With an excess of spare time, Lydia sat to write her first letter home.
You will not guess my good fortune. I have been introduced to no less than twenty new officers and they all have promised to dance with me at the next ball! I must be very careful to not show a preference for any one and slight another for the men would surely come to blows over my attention. Tell Mama and the rest of the family what a grand time I am having. Harriet has eaten all the sponge-cake in the house and I must have a new parasol so we are just now preparing to shop. We will also walk by the library on ___ Street, which will put us in the path of many more officers and rich men. I am taking at least four handkerchiefs to drop! You must write to me often for you will have nothing better to do.
Your loving sister,
The novelty of life in Brighton soon wore off. Life among an encampment of soldiers was filthy and their quarters were nowhere near the modern and fashionable part of town. Watching the training exercises was interesting the first few times. But after a month passed, Lydia thought that even she could do the drills. Neither book nor needlework could keep Lydia occupied for more than a few minutes.
Nothing was fun at all. Only once had an officer bought her a glass of lemonade whilst out marketing with Mrs. Forster. Though she was the youngest of all the Bennet daughters, she was the tallest and often used that advantage to gain attention or a partner for a dance. When the dashing Captain ___ discovered her age to be but fifteen, he dropped the acquaintance faster than a week-old newspaper. The only officers that would talk with her were those already known from their time in Meryton. Indeed, even they would ignore her when young ladies of consequence were in the vicinity.
I have been amongst a whole camp full of soldiers for weeks now. Oh how I wished to have an offer of marriage. Even a courtship or a regular gentleman caller would do. Lord! How I should like to be married before any of my sisters; and then I would chaperone them about to all the balls.
In her naivety, she did not realize that a husband would necessitate her removal from the family home and would allow for few occasions at which to actually precede her sisters. Since just eight years of age, when Jane turned fifteen, all Lydia learned centered round how to catch a husband. Her mother's lessons had instilled in her a certainty that this was to be her main goal in life.
Reflecting on her boredom, Lydia sat down to compose another letter home. A vivid imagination has become my greatest asset. And so she wrote what was one of the longest letters ever written by her hand. It was a deceptive mixture of truth and fiction.
How envious of me will you be when I tell you that we have tea with four and twenty officers every day? Last evening a captain trod upon the hem of my muslin dress and tore a hole such that Harriet feared I was compromised. What excitement! My birthday is passed and there have been so many balls. There is one officer that pays me particular attention. If I do not leave Brighton with at least one proposal or offer of courtship I will be vastly disappointed. Wouldn't it be grand if I were married before all my sisters?
Thank you for your letters and sketches. When I do have time to look at them, they make me long for the comforts of home and sisterly affection. But then there is always something diverting going on here! Do not miss me too much. Sea bathing is not as much fun as you would imagine. The women are separated a great distance from the men and the bathing gowns are hideous.
Mrs. Forster is wretchedly ill most mornings and does not come out of her rooms until luncheon. This prevents us making morning visits to officers around camp but I have such fun acting as hostess when someone calls on us! Miss Lily ___ has just arrived in town. She is even more freckled than Mary King, if you can imagine such a thing. Her parasol is the ugliest I have ever seen! She fancies herself very important and fashionable but to me she is nothing but a quiz.
I must close now to get ready for we are going to the theatre this evening. I can never understand others' fascination with plays by Shakespeare, but it does give me the opportunity to watch people and flirt with officers. We may even catch a glimpse of the Prince Regent.
Your loving sister,
In concession of Lydia's sixteenth birthday and her heretofore good behaviour, the Forsters began to allow her attendance at more dinner parties and balls. Under their watchful eyes, surely nothing terrible could happen to her. Little did they know that this would be Lydia's opportunity to seek adventure and become the heroine she always imagined herself to be.
Chapter 03 -- Elopement Scheme Revealed
Mrs. Forster was eager to show off Lydia's improved behaviour at General and Mrs. Abercromby's ball, but the rules would still be strictly enforced. Lydia was faced with the prospect of standing with her chaperones the entire evening, for what officer would ask for a dance if she was not allowed to flirt and catch their eye? As luck would have it, the drapery along the opening to the balcony perfectly matched the shade of Lydia's dress and she was able to move slowly that way and conceal her progress, hoping to elude her chaperone's scrutiny for a few moments of fun.
Hidden from the occupants of the ballroom, Lydia paused on the verge of freedom to determine if anyone was on the balcony. It would not do to escape one chaperone only to be caught by another. Three men, two of them in uniform, stood in the dim light, apparently not having an amiable conversation. Their voices, though not raised, were demanding or nervous. Recognition of a familiar name spurred Lydia's desire to overhear.
"Mr. Wickham, your debts have reached an amount compelling my associates to take action. You still owe two hundred pounds amongst the officers, but we have taken the liberty of buying up your other debts around town. In addition to your gaming debts, you now owe us over £ 1000. Do you have any hope of raising the funds to repay this amount?" The stranger's voice was none too friendly and his words were punctuated by the tapping of a walking stick upon the cobbled patio.
Slightly anxious, Wickham replied. "If you give me a little more time, I will see what I can do. We are still friends, are we not?"
"We were good friends, now we are ... not." The unknown gentleman paused and released a wistful sigh. "Do not let us quarrel about the past. Be assured that in the future, we shall always be of one mind. You have one month Wickham. Make the most of it, either by amassing the money to repay us or by saying your farewells to this world and preparing to repay your debt in another way."
With that parting threat, the stranger strode to the stairs and left the ball by way of the garden path. Denny was the first to recover the courage to speak out loud. "What will you do? You surely cannot cover such a large sum on top of what you owe within our company and maintain the liberality of a gentleman."
Wickham shuddered out the breath he did not realize he had been holding. "I hardly know. My luck only takes me so far, one hundred pounds at most. The only other large sums I have ever obtained came through my special relationship with the Darcy family. Unfortunately I have used up my opportunities in that quarter."
"Well, I suggest you think of something quick. You will not be allowed any more credit around camp or town once word of this has spread." Denny spoke only the truth and held out little hope of his friend coming up with a scheme to gain £ 1000 quickly. "I must return to the ball for a dance with Mrs. Forster. Let me know what you decide to do."
Wickham was not left alone with his thoughts for long. Lydia emerged from the shadows and drapery to offer comfort and support to what she felt was her only friend left in Brighton. Deep in his own thoughts he did not hear her approach until she touched his arm.
"Mr. Wickham, I happened to overhear your conversation. I would offer you all the money you need, if I could. Is there anything I, or my family, can do to help your situation?"
"Alas, Miss Lydia, feminine comfort is not what I need and your family could not spare half such a sum to help me out of this situation." His response to the charitable offer began in a humorous tone. "If only my old friend Darcy were here to help me out." His words faded away accompanied by a resigned sigh.
"Yes, I know about your previous schemes to get money from that family. Too bad for you that you did not spend your ill-gotten gains more carefully! A little knowledge of the law would have served you well in your business dealings. And I must say that trying to elope with Miss Darcy was a bold move."
"How do you know such things?" He was clearly surprised that such details were known by a simple country girl. Perhaps she is not as foolish as I thought.
Lydia smiled coyly, never one to lose an opportunity to flirt with an eligible man. "A lady must have her secrets, Mr. Wickham."
"Well, well. You must be amazingly resourceful to have such knowledge. I bow to your superiority in this matter. Do you also have any information that might be useful, a high stakes card game, the name of a wealthy widow I can seduce or perhaps the location of a buried treasure? I have no time for your foolish games otherwise." He turned to go but his sleeve was caught within her grasping hand.
"I will share this little bit with you -- your friend Mr. Darcy was the means of keeping Mr. Bingley from proposing to my eldest sister. He has perhaps ruined her only chance at happiness and the future fortune of my entire family. Not to say that Jane did enough to secure the match -- La! I flirted more with Mr. Bingley than she did -- but she certainly could have worn the breeches in that marriage. But regarding your troubles, if it was worth it to me in a personal way I would perhaps share a little more of my knowledge."
"Name your price Miss Lydia. If you know of anything that I could use to persuade Darcy to pay my debts this time, I will make it worth your while!" He said this half seriously, believing the extent of her knowledge would not be worth enough to cover his losses.
"Mr. Wickham, you must know that there is only one thing I truly desire. That is to be married -- before all my sisters -- to a handsome soldier such as you. Do you know of any one that would be willing to marry me?"
"I would marry you myself if it came down to it." Not really, but if she believes I will find a husband for her maybe she will tell me something useful.
"Oh, dear George! I knew you always liked me best of all my sisters and the other girls in Meryton. We can marry as soon as you like!" She launched herself onto his body and embraced him enthusiastically.
His arms were not so eager and actually tried to push her away. It would not do to be caught in such a scene. Then I might be forced to marry her!
"I am in no position to marry you unless I can repay my debt. First thing first, my lady. I suspect that your chaperone is looking for you now. We must return to the party and plan to meet another time." Wickham arranged to call at the Forsters' for tea in two days' time and then sent Lydia on her way with the warning to not share her secrets with any one else.
The two schemers met several times over the course of the next week. Lydia was joyous and eager at the prospect of becoming Mrs.. Wickham. She assured her fiance that she held no ill feelings towards him for his flirtations with well dowered young ladies as long as he would now show her all his attention. Wickham was more cautious yet tried to ensure the confidence of his partner. By carefully choosing his words he avoided making any promises he did not intend to keep. Together they would come up with a plan to exact money from Darcy.
Colonel and Mrs. Forster noticed the increased frequency of Mr. Wickham's visits but did not detect any serious attachment or impropriety between the two and so they were not concerned. Imagine their surprise when they awoke to find Lydia missing and the following note in her stead.
"My dear Harriet,
You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write to them and sign my name 'Lydia Wickham.' What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray make my excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement, and dancing with him to-night. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when he knows all; and tell him I will dance with him at the next ball we meet, with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I get to Longbourn; but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up. Good-bye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will drink to our good journey.
Your affectionate friend,
Chapter 04 -- A London Wedding
On Lydia and Wickham's first clandestine meeting in Brighton she disclosed how she had found a letter from Mr. Darcy addressed to Lizzy and all that she could remember of its contents, from the separation of Mr. Bingley and Jane to the history of Wickham's association with the Darcy family. Specific care was also taken when reciting the phrases 'renewal of offers,' 'utmost force of passion' and the adieu of 'God bless you' which had been impressed upon her romantic sensibilities.
Together, they came to the conclusion that even if there was no formal understanding with Lizzy, Mr. Darcy would do anything and likely pay any sum to avoid a scandal associated with his name.
Wickham had been content to let Lydia insinuate herself and include her wedding as part of the scheme. After all, it was her money financing his escape from Brighton. There was no intention on his part of following through on that account, but until his debts were paid, it was better to lead her along.
All efforts had been made to conceal their trail. First, Lydia had left the note declaring their intent to travel to Gretna Green. It was most efficient in both time and cost to take the post coach toward London even though it did not disguise their direction. Departing the coach at the busy Epsom station allowed them entrance to London by hackney with relative anonymity. The arrival of two unremarkable travellers would not excite the memory of the general population. Anyone trying to trace the steps of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham would face a fruitless search.
They made their way to Mrs. Younge's boarding house in Edward__ Street. She would have welcomed paying customers had there been a vacancy. However, she wanted no part in a scheme that would potentially bring the wrath of Mr. Darcy upon her again and thus sent them on their way to lodgings in another street. And so the elopers settled in a less than reputable part of London and prepared to carry out the next part of the plan. After a rough draft, the following letter was composed.
It seems that a scandal involving the reputations of you and Miss Elizabeth Bennet is about to be spread around town. Your prompt action may be able to prevent this from happening. Meet me at Number 17 ____ Street, to discuss a monetary settlement beneficial to us all.
___ Inn, London
Lydia begged to be allowed out for a walk and also went to engage a servant to deliver the note to Darcy's townhouse. The timing was unfortunate, as the family party had left for Pemberley just two days before and thus the note was destined to travel to Derbyshire just as the gentleman addressee was heading back to London.
The poor district of London during the month of August was wreathed in an offal miasma that was best avoided by staying indoors. Wickham contented himself with drink and practicing card games and tricks. Lydia's only entertainment was her old pastime of looking out the window.
"Now that we are settled in London, what should we do while we wait for our scheme to unfold? I wish we could have a little fun. Can we go out to the theatre or shopping on ___ Street? Do you know anyone that might host a ball? Oh how I long for a ball!"
"The air here is so unhealthy we best stay inside. And any entertainment would come at a dear cost. We must save our -- well, your money until we are assured of Darcy's support. Come here and let me teach you a trick or two."
Days passed and Wickham began to be anxious that he would not be able to cover his debts in time. It seemed to take longer than expected for Darcy to arrive. With only the knowledge gained from Elizabeth at the inn in Lambton, Darcy was forced to conduct an exhaustive search and bribe Mrs. Younge who at first professed ignorance of Wickham's location in an attempt to gain an easy profit. She did not withhold the information long though, as she was of the opinion 'enough is as good as a feast' and Darcy offered more than enough to tempt. At last Darcy made his way to the ___ Inn to meet with Wickham.
"Please do join us Mr. Darcy. We have been expecting you. We hope that nothing serious delayed you." The door was held open by the cheerful Lydia as Mr. Wickham led his old friend into the room.
The startled expression upon Darcy's face was quickly concealed. What is the meaning of such a greeting? Is this a trap? A brief glance around the room showed only slight disarray, certainly not the scene of dissipation and vice that had been expected. "I have only just discovered your location in town. Wickham, what do you mean having Miss Lydia Bennet concealed with you in these lodgings?"
"Did you not receive our letter? We sent directions to this place as well as we could. And our reason for being here was clearly outlined." Wickham seemed a little wary. Darcy's characteristic inscrutable expression did not reveal whether he was feigning ignorance or if he was truly surprised at the situation.
Sensing Wickham's uncertainty and without giving away his own ignorance of their scheme, Darcy immediately began a counter-attack. "It matters little what your reason was. What remains now is for you to inform me precisely what you expect me to do about it."
"I need help paying some debts, old friend. And I knew that you could scarcely refuse to assist me if it meant protecting your reputation and that of the daughter of a gentleman. I care not what happens to Miss Bennet or her family, she is only the means to an end."
Darcy at once wanted remove the scoundrel from the room in order to persuade the foolish girl to abandon Wickham's scheme and return to her family. "What are your demands? Do you have a list of your creditors or the direction to send payment to? Come man, you cannot expect me to do all the work of tracing down the details. Fetch us some paper and ink so that we may make an accounting of the situation. Bring refreshments too." A coin was tossed in the general direction of the door to set Wickham off on the errand in a more eager manner.
Wickham departed quickly, leaving an opportunity for Darcy to persuade Lydia to abandon her part of the scheme. "Why are you so quick to elope with this man? Are you not aware of the disgrace that will befall your family?"
Lydia's courage rose at the attempt to intimidate her. "Mr. Darcy, I know that you think very little of my George. All of that has been explained in detail. But really there is only one thing we require of you. I only want you to pay George's debts so that we might marry as soon as may be. My family will all rejoice in my securing a husband, and at only sixteen too! There will be no harm to Lizzy or any of my family unless you force us to sell information of certain improprieties to the society pages."
A significant pause in the conversation followed as the shocking revelation caused Darcy to retreat to the window to ponder these new circumstances. Perhaps Miss Lydia is not so foolish and definitely not so ignorant as I first thought. Although probably not in time to save the girl's innocence, it was not yet too late for him to save her reputation and that of her family. Remembering Elizabeth's despair over the elopement, he determined that the primary objective of rescuing Lydia could still be achieved. But an added benefit would be deterring Wickham from being a menace to the general population by following the sage strategy, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."2 His cleverness allowed him to determine a plan of action by the time Wickham had returned with paper and ink.
"On the contrary Miss Lydia, there are many things I can and will - nay, I must do. You should know that your George had no intentions of marriage to a lady of so little fortune and connection as you. If you insist on marriage to him, it will only happen through my assistance. In such cases as this, I believe the established practice for a quick marriage is to go to Gretna Green, but you cannot. Too much time has elapsed to avoid scandal for your family. Now you must remove yourself to the Gardiners' residence and once I have drawn up the necessary documents you will subject yourselves to a marriage here in London." Darcy's statements stunned Lydia at first but then left her to silent imaginings of shopping for wedding finery.
The effect of the statement upon Mr. Wickham was to reaffirm his awareness of his childhood companion's own vicious propensities. While one was vicious in things wrong and immoral, the other was vicious in things correct and legal. Darcy had learned a few things from his great-uncle, the judge, and any marriage settlement he personally drafted could make the life of Mr. and Mrs. Wickham a nightmare. The glint in Darcy's eyes and the small smile at the corners of his mouth caused Wickham to tremble slightly before resigning himself to this fate, as it would be preferable to the fate proposed by his creditors.
Darcy proposed his own scheme, the terms of which would not only benefit the couple but would cost him no more than he had already been paying out to the scoundrel every few years.
For a term of five years the following terms would apply. First, Mr. Darcy would provide one servant and an allowance of £ 100 per annum for suitable lodging and expenses -- and no lines of credit or other personal debts were to be extended to them. Second, Mr. Wickham would have a commission, an ensigncy in the Regulars, to be served out honourably, without demerits or censure from his commanding officers. And finally, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Wickham would produce children, illegitimate or otherwise, during that term. If at the end of the five years all of the conditions had been met then a generous one time payment of five thousand pounds would be theirs.
Ideally Darcy would have included a stipulation that Lydia attend lessons at a finishing school. Unfortunately, it was unlikely that any school would take her on as a pupil, and there was no way to force her attendance or to study.
On the surface it would seem to be a most generous offer. Wickham did haggle for increases in Lydia's dowry and the annual allowance but ultimately submitted to the terms. The prospect of having his debts paid now and a small fortune in the future was enough to inspire his cooperation.
Of the three bound by the agreement, only one had any hope that it would succeed. Lydia intended to fulfil the bargain and to do everything possible to hold her husband to it also. Five thousand pounds! I will be married and rich!
While the documents were being prepared and the license obtained, Lydia was removed to the guardianship of her aunt and uncle. Wickham remained in his lodging, under the strict and watchful eye of guards loyal to Darcy.
The marriage settlements, with its arrangements from Mr. Bennet and a small supplement from Mr. Darcy in Mr. Gardiner's name, were soon ready. In addition, the private agreement was carefully drafted by Darcy. As it was signed, he implored Wickham and Lydia to reveal neither his identity as their benefactor nor the particular details of the marriage settlement to anyone.
The wedding took place at the end of August under the witness of the Gardiners and Mr. Darcy. The happy couple returned to Hertfordshire to visit at Longbourn before their journey to Newcastle.
Chapter 05 -- Return to Longbourn
The reception of the newlyweds at the family home was all that could have been expected. Mrs. Bennet greeted the couple with rapturous affection whilst Mr. Bennet, not quite so cordial, scarcely opened his mouth. Of the sisters, only Kitty seemed delighted with the visitors. Jane, Elizabeth and Mary were much too quiet and uneasy. How vexing! I must do something to spark my sisters' jealousy.
"Oh no, Jane. You must go lower now that I am married." Hoping to incite some reaction, Lydia took her husband's arm and formed the parade to enter the home. "To think that I am the youngest, yet the first to marry! You must all come to visit us in Newcastle and I will be sure to find you all husbands." That should do it! Lydia turned to the house and completely missed the rolling of Lizzy's eyes, the shaking of Jane's head and Mary's muttering of platitudes.
"You can't imagine the fun we had in Brighton and then in London. And soon we will be off to Newcastle. But what does it matter where we go as long as I am with my dear George." Lydia prattled on and on. "Why do you look so glum, Papa?"
Mr. Bennet lingered with the family in order to observe the simpering and smirking till he could tolerate no more. He rose quickly and announced, "I do wish you all the best in your marriage, Lydia. You have finally managed to distinguish yourself from amongst your sisters. Stay and court these ladies all you like Mr. Wickham, you will learn their faults soon enough. At twenty years of age the will reigns. - What comes next?3 Please excuse me."
A confused silence followed, until the door clicked shut behind him and then Lydia burst out laughing. "Well, really! Just wait until he sees us five years from now."
The next morning, after some hasty departures from the breakfast room by the men and the sending off of other daughters on errands, Mrs. Bennet approached her youngest in an agitated manner. "Lydia, we did not get a chance to discuss these things before your wedding and the consummation of your vows. I hope it is not too late. Your role now is to please your husband. However, there are ways to please him that do not involve procreation. Do not be in a hurry to provide an heir. Mr. Wickham is certainly not in need of one of those as he has yet to make his fortune in the world. And the life of a soldier is never certain. Why, you could be widowed at any time! Oh, my nerves!"
The fluttering of Mrs. Bennet's lace handkerchief was only stilled after several sniffs from the bottle of salts kept in a basket near her chair.
"Mama, Aunt Gardiner was full of sermons and Uncle Gardiner also gave my husband quite a lecture. We do not need any more advice. Aunt made me spend so much time taking care of her children that I realized what a burden they are. They were always wanting attention and never wanting to do what I liked. Who would ever want to have children of their own, that you cannot give back to a nurse or mother when you are tired of them? We will take the matter into hand and the future is accounted for in our marriage settlement. We shall be content and the fortune will come in time." And with that, Lydia bounced out of the room to show her ring to the servants and partake of some punch.
Mrs. Bennet was left speechless, having never heard such sensible and straightforward statements from her youngest daughter before.
A few days later, still wanting to be the centre of attention, Lydia approached Elizabeth to boast of her skill in finding a husband.
"Lizzy, you left the room before I could tell Mamma and the others the account of my wedding. Are you not curious to hear how it came about?" I wonder if she still has that letter from Mr. Darcy. What would she do if she knew how I used that information to suit my own purposes?
"Not really. No! indeed. Of some subjects it is possible to say too much."
"Oh but I insist on telling you, Lizzy. It was all so exciting."
And so, Lydia was able to describe the event in detail, intentionally including a hint of Mr. Darcy's role just to see her sister's reaction. She was not disappointed and delighted in recounting the scene to her husband later that night. Even though that gentleman was not enthused about the disclosure, he reconciled himself to the fact that Elizabeth already knew his character and therefore would not be shocked to learn of Darcy's noble gesture.
The newlyweds soon set off to make their life in Newcastle. The arrival of two such insignificant people has little impact on an established community and regiment so their days quickly settled into routine.
Chapter 06 -- Conclusion
All thoughts of the gentle reader now turn to the future life of the heroine of this story. More specifically, whether or not she found the fulfilment she desired by being the first of her sisters to marry, and whether or not she became rich too. As one might expect, an engagement, courtship and marriage entered into with such unbecoming haste often does end in domestic infelicity.
The servant paid for by Mr. Darcy was doubtless a spy for him. It had been Mr. Darcy's intent to use the servant for information about their behaviour. Living under such scrutiny became unbearable and the maid was sent packing back to Pemberley.
A brief period of trying to keep her own household was too much for Lydia. The discovery of rats invading the pantry - most likely from her neglect of kitchen chores - only enforced her distaste. It was quickly decided that their needs would be best met by residence in a boarding house.
The newly-wed couple found this situation most enjoyable. Wickham was very fond of the regularity of meals and clean linens. Lydia was content that she had no responsibility to the household other than lively and charming discourse in the parlour. She filled her days with reading horrid novels and trimming bonnets.
But all good things must come to an end and the loose accounting practised by the Wickhams eventually led to their being unable to pay for their accommodations. Sadly, this all happened within the brief span of Lizzy and Darcy's engagement and newlywed period. Wickham resigned himself to the knowledge that the entirety of his character was likely now revealed to Elizabeth and most likely, Mr. Bennet and the rest of the family. Given the nature of the dealings with Mr. Darcy, he was loath to directly apply to any family members for support and therefore they sought out quarters amongst the married soldiers.
Lydia however had no such compunction; after her prior attempt at housekeeping she was determined to leave the coprophilous barracks as soon as possible. She thought nothing of applying to her now rich sisters for a smidgeon of the balm of sisterly compassion. Though she dare not directly reveal the situation to the Darcy family, she could hint and so set her thoughts to paper.
"My dear Lizzy,
I wish you joy. If you love Mr. Darcy half as well as I do my dear Wickham, you must be very happy. It is a great comfort to have you so rich, and when you have nothing else to do, I hope you will think of us. I am sure Wickham would like a place at court very much, and I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help. Any place would do, of about three or four hundred a year; but however, do not speak to Mr. Darcy about it, if you had rather not.
A congratulatory letter of similar effect was also sent to Mrs. Bingley. What help then did flow in! Following her mother's example, Lydia managed to spend every extra farthing and pence on lace or frivolous finery.
Mrs. Bennet had feared the hardship of Lydia's life resultant upon her banishment to Newcastle. How they lived day-to-day mattered little because wherever Mr. and Mrs. Wickham went, their happy manners would allow them to form new friendships easily. Although they were not equally capable of retaining them, there would always be someone new to meet. They constantly moved about in search of lodgings suited to their circumstances and always managed to exceed their quarterly income but precede their reputation.
Lydia suffered very little under these circumstances and her character remained much as it ever was. The variety of people and shops easily kept her amused. The town's assembly rooms were the grandest thing Lydia had ever seen and she delighted in attending the balls not only for the dancing, but also for the opportunity to admire the chandelier system and its ten thousand pieces of cut crystal.4 Meryton was nothing compared to Newcastle.
Mr. Wickham, finding himself married to and in constant companionship of a girl ten years his junior, soon sunk into indifference bordering on depression. This was not the rich, foreign heiress of his hopes and dreams. His sole consolations were the camaraderie among the officers and the respect and esteem of the citizenry afforded by his rank and pleasing conversation. Hope for the future rested in his plans to take the £ 5000 from Darcy and desert his wife under the guise of being posted to India, Nova Scotia or the Bahamas -- wherever his fancy would take him.
Acquitting himself well during regional bread riots, and with just a little further assistance from Darcy, Wickham advanced a level in rank. His old habits were difficult to overcome though and he often sought out gaming tables, races, and other opportunities to gain a quick sum. The circumstances of his marriage, living conditions and finances began to have a negative impact on his health. Consulting with the local apothecary, a course of treatment was decided upon which included trips to Bath for the waters, a diet of soft food and visits to a London dentist as a last resort.
Lydia was quick to console her husband in his misery by keeping generous amounts of liquor available and writing home for Mrs. Hill's receipts for boiled potatoes and their kin. She had no cause to repine his trips to Bath as she then took the opportunity to visit her rich sisters. Together they took advantage of all that the Bingleys and Darcys offered, often overstaying their welcome.
The painful toothache became more than one soldier could bear and another trip to a London dentist was arranged. Being low on funds, Mr. Wickham was persuaded to allow a young apprentice named Brecht to remove the offending tooth. Unfortunate complications of the abscess set in and the patient did not survive.
Fortunate for Mrs. Wickham were her family connections. With the help of her father and the Bingleys she was able to pay off a very few pressing obligations. It is not the objective of this story to explain how the couple remained childless during their marriage of four and one-half years, but they did. And so Lydia, hindered by neither conscience nor misdeeds, approached Mr. Darcy upon the fifth anniversary of the infamous elopement. He acknowledged that she had upheld her part of the marriage agreement but refused to turn over a lump sum to such a spendthrift. Instead, the five thousand pounds was set up in an annuity to provide a regular income, sufficient but not overly generous.
Thus at only one and twenty years of age, the Widow Wickham looked forward to a future rich with the possibility of adventure.
1. All indented text is original to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
2. "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." is attributed to Sun-Tzu, Chinese general & military strategist (~400 BC). His theories and teachings were translated into French in 1722 by J.J.M. Amiot under the title Art Militaire des Chinois ou Recueil d'anceins sur la Guerre.
3. Mr. Bennet uses lines by Benjamin Franklin -- "I am about Courting a Girl I have had but little Acquaintance with. How shall I come to a Knowledge of her Fawlts? and whether she has the Virtues I imagine she has? Answ. Commend her among her Female Acquaintances." Miscellaneous Observations, vol. 1, Complete Works, (1706-1734). "At twenty years of age, the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment." Poor Richard's Almanac, June (1741)
4. Newcastle Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.co.uk/pr_01.htm#
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