As posted on Everything Books and Authors:
“It is wise not to seek a secret, and honest not to reveal one.”
— William Penn, English Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania
Friday, April 17, 1812: Meryton, Hertfordshire
Lieutenant George Wickham was a troubled man as he sat with several fellow officers in
the Hare and Hound, drinking ale and discussing entertainment possibilities.
“I hear Sir William Lucas is hosting a party this afternoon, and officers are always
welcome at his affairs,” Lieutenant Reynolds said.
“What’s the occasion? He already got one daughter married off and the other is visiting
her,” Captain Denny responded.
“Probably he just needs another opportunity to practice civility and advise us to dance
at St. James’s with our betters,” Lieutenant Taylor said in his lazy drawl. His comment
drew a round of appreciative laughter, for the empty-headed, old gentleman was often the
butt of their rough jests.
But Wickham hardly listened, for he was consumed with his own problems, all of which
centred on his lack of money. He had lived for some time on his inheritance from his
godfather, old Mr. Darcy, father of the present heir. He had been a particular favourite of
the elder Darcy though relations with his son had been strained for some years.
Blast that priggish son! Wickham thought angrily, despairing for his blasted hopes. It still
galls me that I could get no more than a paltry three thousand pounds when I gave up the
Kympton living! That iceman is harder to deal with than a moneylender! And the old man
could at least have left me a decent living instead of a parsonage!
He took a long draught of his ale, remembering the acrimonious negotiations with
the younger Darcy, who maintained a cold, emotionless air as he rejected each appeal
Wickham made for greater remuneration. Darcy was firm that he would pay three
thousand pounds in return for the renunciation of all claims to the Kympton Parsonage,
and Wickham finally had to accept the offer. He had to get some money, having virtually
exhausted the thousand pound bequest, and in desperation, he signed the written
agreement Darcy demanded agreeing to the terms.
If I could have eloped with Georgiana before her wretched brother showed up! he
thought viciously. Thirty thousand pounds! And it was virtually in my hands when Darcy
appeared from nowhere! If I had just left the day before; the girl was ready and would
have gone with me were all the carriages not rented. That sum would have set me up for
life! Why, just the income would have been fifteen hundred a year!
And now he was at the end of his string again. Ale was in his mug only because of credit
from the barkeep based on his engagement to Miss King. It now appeared that hope was
about to be extinguished, and his thoughts were bleak.
Why else would her uncle be coming to take her to Liverpool? Once she is gone, I suspect
the engagement is over, which will spoil my last hope. These other officers are from the
gentry and do not have my problems; they are either the heirs of landowners or younger
sons with an allowance. I am an imposter, and once the engagement is broken, my credit
will evaporate. Even if I manage to escape when the regiment goes to Brighton, I will still
have no money. I might manage a few months of credit in a new location, but already my
debts of honour to the other officers are becoming a problem. If only I could break this
disastrous run of bad luck at cards and dice!
It never occurred to him that the fault was his—that he was an abject failure at games
of chance. He had never possessed the awareness to see himself as he was: an inept
gambler and, more crucially, a man who pretended to be a gentleman without the income
commensurate with his pretensions. Had he managed to secure Georgiana Darcy’s thirty
thousand pounds, he would have inevitably frittered the fortune away, always certain he
could recoup his losses on the next wager.
At that moment, another officer, Lieutenant Maxwell, came in, wearing the air of
enervated excitement so common to him.
“I have just heard the most amazing news!” he said.
“You always hear the most amazing news, Maxwell,” Taylor responded tiredly. “What is
“It seems one of the young ladies we know has become engaged, and you will never
guess which one!”
“What is really amazing is that we can almost hear the exclamation points as you speak,
Maxwell. Now, I hope your news is not about Miss King,” Taylor said. “That is old
information—months old, in fact.”
“No, no, this is about one of the Bennet daughters!”
“Jane Bennet?” Denny asked. “Did that Bingley fellow return to Hertfordshire?”
“No! It is her sister—Miss Elizabeth Bennet!”
“Really!” Denny said, genuine surprise in his voice. He rather admired the two older
sisters and might actually have fancied one if they had not been essentially penniless.
He thought Miss Elizabeth was most charming and certainly quite handsome, even if her
figure was not as robust as he preferred
“Most interesting,” Taylor drawled. “One of the local lads, I presume?”
“Not even close!” Maxwell said. “That is the truly astounding news. She is engaged
to that fellow from Derbyshire—the one you know, Wickham, the rich one. Derby or
Darby—I’m not sure exactly.”
“No!” Denny said in astonishment.
“But I heard she hated the man!” Reynolds said.
“Well, perhaps she might change her mind for—what was it, five thousand a year?”
“His name is Darcy,” Wickham said numbly, still feeling the shock reverberating through
his soul. “And it was Bingley who had the five thousand—Darcy clears more than ten
thousand a year just from his estate in Derbyshire.”
Darcy! he thought, so stunned that Maxwell’s earlier excitement seemed a mere
gossamer abstraction. How can this be? I know she believed what I said about him; I saw
it in her face!
Then a nauseating thought struck him, and he felt sick. Darcy must have told her about
me! He likely told everything—Cambridge, the drinking and carousing and seductions.
He might even know of the two bastards. And the renunciation of Kympton and, worst of
all, Georgiana. My reputation will not just be ruined but will be obliterated! Darcy! Why
did it have to be Darcy?
And then he remembered Mary King. When she hears of that attempted elopement, our
engagement will not have to wait until she leaves to come to an end. She will publicly
renounce it here in Meryton! My reputation will be shredded, and I will not even have the
option of escaping with the regiment. I will have to disappear instantly or be booted out,
and that will bring out every tradesman and officer owed a gambling debt. I could wind
up incarcerated at Marshalsea or in a prison hulk on the Thames!
But the remembrance of Georgiana brought a sudden scheme to his fevered brain.
Gretna Green? he thought urgently. Well, why not? It almost worked with Georgiana; it
might work this time if Mary King does not hear of the sordid details. But I cannot repeat
my mistake with Georgiana; I must move instantly. Mary will agree to my plan; I can
see she wants to be married. She thinks it a great lark—and it will be for a while. And
I can always disappear once I have my hands on her fortune and make my way to the
continent—Italy or perhaps Geneva. I speak Italian passably and French like a native,
and I am sure I can make my fortune if I just have a little money to lend credence to my
Only then, with his decisions made, did he pay attention to the conversation.
“I suggest Lucas Lodge,” Reynolds said. “Perhaps some of the Bennet girls will attend
and provide more details.”
“It is better than nothing,” Taylor said. “And if the two younger Bennet sisters attend, I
might steal another kiss from Kitty or even Lydia.”
“I believe I hear agreement,” Denny said with finality, and they stood to leave.
Except Wickham. He had returned to his plans and the need to secure a loan for the
journey to Scotland as well as lodgings when they returned. And a ring, of course, though
it would be an inexpensive one. And that meant Denny, for he had been quite careful
to never borrow money from him and to pay off anything he lost. Denny was the most
affluent of the group, the elder son of a York landowner. Wickham had known he might
need one last loan, a rather substantial one, and he had husbanded this one final source of
At that moment, providence provided an opening as Denny asked, “What about you,
George? Will you join us at Lucas Lodge? You might learn what possessed Miss
Elizabeth to marry your old enemy.”
“I believe I will pass, Denny,” he said carefully. “I know not what tales Darcy might
have spun, but I will not embarrass the charming Miss Elizabeth by pretending to believe
his lies. No, I will take myself elsewhere, but I wonder whether I might have a moment
before you go?”