A Perfectly Good Marriage

Part 1 – On Pleasure Bent Again

George Wickham’s life seemed to be coming together quite nicely. He admitted to himself that things had been getting a bit difficult in Brighton between the usual debts to tradesmen and his debts of honor. But when the newly-minted Marquess of __ had rolled into town, all of Wickham’s troubles were at an end. The Marquess, but recently come of age, had been strictly reared in a most sheltered setting. He had been educated by tutors, not even permitted the gentleman’s privilege of a university education, and his only trips away from his father’s estate somewhere up north had been to the home of an elderly aunt and uncle. He had not even been allowed a Grand Tour. After the recent passing of his religious and strictly moral father, the young Marquess had been ready—more than ready—to sample the delights of wine, women, and song in a freewheeling place such as Brighton.

Wickham, who made his acquaintance one warm afternoon during a promenade, had been only too happy to oblige. The Marquess (whose Christian name was John) had instantly liked the gentlemanly young officer. Lieutenant Wickham had represented himself as being from a good family in Derbyshire. Several years older than the Marquess, Wickham seemed to be an urbane, well-educated, and sophisticated gentleman with decidedly cosmopolitan tastes. The young Marquess latched onto his new friend like a leech, and Wickham was delighted. He set about devoting all of his spare time to showing young Johnny (for they quickly became intimate friends) all the delights to be gained from vintage wines and fine spirits, discreet (and expensive) young Cyprians, and deep play at the gaming tables. Very deep play.

Johnny soaked it all up like a sponge, enjoying every minute. He was open-handed and generous, and his pockets were deep and wide. After allowing his young friend some minor triumphs at cards, Wickham began, carefully and oh so gently, to tighten the screws. The Marquess was having too good a time to care—or even to notice—and by the time the young man left town—in good spirits and still in charity with his good friend–Wickham found himself richer to the tune of an incredible five thousand pounds.

In the cold light of dawn, after a good (and solitary) night’s sleep, Wickham had decided on a course of action. He could not let this windfall slip through his fingers as other windfalls had in the past. He needed to use the money wisely to set himself up in such a fashion that the funds could not only last him a long time but could be the foundation of a much greater fortune. He resolved on departing for London as soon as possible. To that end, he used a few hundred pounds to pay off his more pressing debts. He then wrote to his dear friend Mrs. Younge, resigned his commission, and prepared to set off.

In preparing for his journey, Wickham decided that Lydia Bennet, who was in Brighton with the colonel’s wife, would make a cozy armful to provide him with comfort and entertainment for his first week or so in Town. Her relentless prattling would certainly grow tiresome, but there was nothing tiresome at all about her figure, which was surprisingly well-endowed for one so young. He reasoned that when he was ready to forward his plans, he could make her available to Mrs. Younge for a fair price, taking into consideration her slightly-used condition. He would still come out ahead. His legacy to her would consist of teaching her a few extremely valuable tricks of her future trade.

And so it was that at midnight on a muggy July night in Brighton, Miss Lydia Bennet and Mr. George Wickham set out in a hired chaise for what Lydia thought to be Gretna Green, where they would be married. In reality, the chaise was hired as far as London, where their journey would end. Lydia squealed with excitement for the first few miles until Wickham decided to see if she would allow him a few liberties. He found her to be uncommonly generous with her favors. He did not want to deprive the poor girl of her maidenhead in a hired chaise with bad springs. Even Lydia Bennet deserved better than that. Nonetheless, they had some exceedingly enjoyable sport. He quickly recovered from his embarrassment over Lydia’s new nickname for his manly appendage. She called it “Little Georgie,” but there was nothing silly about what she learned to do for it under his tutelage. Lydia was a fast learner, and passionate in the bargain, and he found himself looking forward to giving Little Georgie free rein in a comfortable bed.

When they arrived at their questionable lodging-house in London, he cajoled and then bribed the landlady to change the sheets and air the bedding while he and Lydia enjoyed a tolerable breakfast in the small adjoining sitting room. Wickham knew, in his sordid little heart, that Lydia could expect a life of misery once he had abandoned her. He reasoned that she should at least have a brief interlude of beautiful memories to look back on. And he was just the man to provide them for her. He lazily admired the globes of her magnificent rump as she stood up from the table. When she bent to pick up her reticule, which had fallen to the floor, the sight of her breasts all but falling out of the front of her bodice was awe-inspiring. While she might be far from perfect, parts of her were excellent, and Wickham felt a pleasant stirring within the tight confines of his breeches.

Lydia picked up her reticule and undulated over to the bed. Looking back over her shoulder, she threw him a playful glance. “So,” she purred. “How is Little Georgie?”

Little Georgie was by now at full attention. Wickham threw down his napkin, stood up from the table, and went to join her. On his way he picked up the bottle of port and two glasses and stopped to draw the curtains against the encroaching daylight.

Some considerable time later, he was awakened as Lydia’s warm, silky body stirred against his. He was lying on his side with Lydia curled up against him. One of his hands was wedged between her breasts, cupping one of them. The other hand was splayed over her flat, soft belly. She waggled her bottom suggestively, causing Little Georgie to stand to attention once more. “Dearest,” he murmured. “How are you feeling? Are you quite well?”

“I feel wonderful,” she replied with another suggestive wiggle. “I cannot help thinking that thanks to you and Little Georgie, I have done what none of my other sisters has done. What a fine joke! And I must say, I liked it a great deal.”

“Did you indeed? Would you care to try again?” He moved the hand on her belly several inches lower.

Her only response was another giggle, and she turned in his arms to face him, reaching to caress him in the pleasing way he had taught her. This time he moved them so that she rode atop him, and he fondled her breasts and watched her face as she took her pleasure. For some unaccountable reason—he did not usually enjoy this position—watching her served to increase his ardor. He took a certain pride in being able to pleasure her thus, and when she had reached the pinnacle several times, he took hold of her hips and began to urge her to move in the rhythm that pleased him most. Surrounded as he was by her lush body, her warm, velvety softness, it was not long until both of them cried out, arms and legs tangling as they lay together in complete, sated exhaustion.

When they awoke again, the room had darkened. Wickham pulled on his slightly ragged dressing-gown, rang the bell, and ordered hot water and towels for them, to be followed in a half-hour by a hearty supper. Once they had both bathed—an enjoyable task when undertaken together—they dressed in their night-clothes and made short work of their supper, sharing a bottle of wine and retiring immediately to the bedroom when they had finished eating. They passed the night with several exceedingly pleasurable interludes interspersed with periods of deep, exhausted, restful slumber.

Part Two – A Tavern or a Coffee-House?

Wickham, alas, was awake with the sun. He supposed this was an unfortunate relic of his military service, but once awakened, he could not go back to sleep. He rubbed his eyes, feeling as weary as if he had spent the entire day yesterday in the saddle. Well, he had spent it in the saddle. Even poor Little Georgie was having difficulty standing to attention for morning roll call. He felt as though his poor appendage had been run over by a heavy farm wagon—or perhaps a gun carriage with mounted artillery piece. Well, she was a strapping, healthy girl, was Lydia, and he and Little Georgie had given her the ride of her life—not to mention his—last night. He had no cause for complaint. The sport of riding St. George had piqued his interest, and Lydia was blessed with a good seat—an excellent seat.

He looked back at the sleeping girl and his heart constricted. Poor little love. At least he’d been able to give her some pleasure and satisfaction. Quite a lot as he thought on it. He sighed and began to shave using the cold water left in the ewer from the night before. Then he dressed hastily—thanking Providence he had bought some new shirts—and tiptoed out of the rooms and downstairs in search of coffee. He did not look forward to this day’s work. He anticipated meeting with Mrs. Younge, though he had not made an appointment.

He returned to the rooms with a tray for Lydia, finding that she was beginning to stir. “Dearest, I have business to conduct today, and I must go out for a few hours. Will you be all right here?”

“Oh, do not worry about me. I have brought some work to do. I have brand-new trimmings for one of my bonnets, and that will keep me occupied for quite some time.” She yawned and smiled up at him through her tangled chestnut hair.

“Well, come and have your breakfast first. I will join you in a cup of coffee, as I’ve already eaten.” They sat together at the little table, which was very cheerful and cozy in the morning sunlight. He had thought Lydia might be much like other women—not at her best in the harsh light of day. But she was enchanting. Her skin was rosy, and her innocent white nightgown pulled across her not-so-innocent bosom. Her lips were unusually pink, probably as a result of many kisses. Her large, somewhat short-sighted, blue eyes peeked at him through her tousled curls. Her voice, always slightly hoarse, had a pleasingly husky quality this morning. He wanted nothing more than to drag her back to bed and keep her there all day.

Such was not to be. He pulled himself together with a sigh. “Do not go out, dearest, and do not open the door to anyone but the servant girl. I have ordered a luncheon for you to be served at noon, and I should return before two o’clock.” He kissed her somewhat more tenderly than was his custom, turned, and left.

The morning was uncommonly fresh and fine for London. The sky was a cloudless blue, and the air had a cool edge unusual for late summer in this part of the city. The neighborhood where their lodgings were situated was decidedly poor, smelly, and noisy. Nevertheless, there was a vest-pocket park of sorts a few squares away, and Wickham found his steps turning in that direction without his conscious direction. He found a well-cared-for patch of grass, a few rose shrubs in bloom, a tall elm tree, and a small fountain that actually worked. He seated himself on one of the benches with a deep sigh and lost himself in his gloomy thoughts.

He could not do it. He could not consign that girl to the foul clutches of Mrs. Younge. Even after a day and a night of strenuous lovemaking, she was an innocent. She had entrusted herself to him with her whole heart and without a single thought for the consequences or for the future. He closed his eyes, only to see hers peeking out at him from those tangled curls. He could hear her laugh. Once he had thought it annoying and grating. Now it seemed girlish and delighted. He had thought her stupid. In reality, she was innocent, naïve, and untutored. He could feel her soft skin, taste her full lips, hear her soft moans. She cried out his name in her moments of bliss. What was he to do? He felt his hands curl up into fists. One thing was certain. He would kill any man who got within three feet of her. She belonged to him, and he was starting to resign himself to the fact that he very probably belonged to her.

The bells of some nearby church struck the hour—ten o’clock, it was. He could not return to her this early, or she might become upset. He would seek out a tavern—no, he would seek out a coffee house—and while away an hour before returning to her. Perhaps he could think of some way out of the mess he had entangled himself in.

Out of force of habit, he chose a table where he could see the door. No one he recognized came in or out. He knew that Darcy was engaged at Pemberley with Georgiana (here a twinge of guilt), Bingley, and Bingley’s truly awful sisters. He’d be safe from Darcy for a month, perhaps even six weeks. It was now Tuesday morning, and doubtless Lydia’s family would soon receive word that she was missing. But they would be searching for her up north, checking the road to Gretna Green. He had left the regiment in good standing, debts paid, no problems that he knew of left behind. Except the girl. Why had he brought Lydia? And why was some part of him saying, “Thank God you did, my boy.” He shook himself. They had a few more days, and then he would have to make a move to secure their safety.

He called for more coffee and something to eat with it. The near five thousand pounds was secreted safely on his person. Lydia had no idea it existed, and that was fine for now. He ate his meal without tasting it. He must find a man of business—an ethical man of business—to handle his small fortune, dole him out enough to live on, and make the money grow. No card games, no schemes, no swindles. Did he know such a man? He cudgeled his brain. Had he ever heard Darcy mention anyone? Had he ever heard his own father, before his death, mention anyone? What about his godfather, the elder Darcy?

Inspiration came with his third cup of the good Turkish brew. He paid his shot and was soon on his way to the City, where he found the offices of Harrison Griswold. He noticed that the sign now read “Harrison Griswold & Son,” and that the offices were bright and clean, with gilt lettering and polished brasses. Harrison Griswold was a cousin of Wickham’s late father. He had left home at a young age, come to London to work as a clerk in a counting-house, and proven himself honest, astute, and reliable. More to the point, he was a wizard with money. Wickham could only hope that his tattered reputation would not be so well-known to his relation that he would find himself put out on the street. He sent in his card with some trepidation and soon found himself being escorted into a large, imposing office.

“George, my boy!” exclaimed his cousin. A portly, cheerful looking man with a shock of white hair came around the desk. “I have not seen you since you were a child. And I daresay you do not remember me at all. What brings you to my offices?” He extended a hand, which Wickham shook, and indicated a comfortable chair.

When the two had sat, Wickham began. “I find I have inherited a sum of money from a friend,” he began. “After settling my debts, I have some forty-eight hundred pounds.” He sent up a silent prayer that went something like “Dear Lord, please don’t let me botch this.” Then he continued. “I believe this could form the nucleus of a comfortable life if properly managed. I confess freely that I have been an exceedingly poor manager of money in the past, and that I have earned the disapprobation of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who has rightly washed his hands of me. I am, ah, betrothed to a young lady of good family, a gentleman’s daughter, though unfortunately she has no dowry.”

Griswold, who had been seriously attentive, now spoke. “Do you not think it an imprudent match?”

“I am convinced that there are elements in choosing one’s partner in life that far outweigh financial considerations. Love and esteem are among them.” To his surprise, Wickham found himself agreeing with what should have been a lie.

“Well said, young cousin. What is it you would expect me to do?”

“I will need some funds to get through the wedding, to go on a short honeymoon, perhaps in the north, and to secure a home for my bride here in Town. A small flat in a respectable neighborhood should suffice—it is not necessary that it be fashionable, but I would like my wife to feel safe in her surroundings. Upon our return from the honeymoon, I will seek employment. I am university-educated. It should be possible to find a situation as a secretary, or perhaps a clerk. Once I have secured such employment, I would wish to employ a maid-of-all-work to assist my wife with the heavier work around our home. Additional funds would be placed in your care as they become available.” He sat back, feeling somewhat winded.

“The honeymoon is somewhat of an extravagance,” said Mr. Griswold. “But I believe it to be a necessary extravagance if there is such a thing. Mrs. Griswold and I still look back on our few brief days with a great deal of pleasure, though it has been some thirty years now. Aside from that, your plan is sound.” Mr. Griswold removed his spectacles and fell silent, and the silence became uncomfortable.

After what seemed an eternity, he replaced his spectacles and regarded Wickham intently. “George, I must be completely honest with you. Your reputation has preceded you. I know more than I care to about the drinking, the card games, the women. I know that your benefactor, Darcy, has settled your debts time and time again. I have a fair idea of the amount of Darcy money you have squandered with loose living. I must ask you some pointed questions.”

“I will do my best to answer them, sir.”

“How did you come by this money?”

“I won it at cards from the Marquess of __, sir. I will say that we were still friends when we parted.”

“And your debts?”

“I have satisfied my creditors at Brighton. There were debts at Meryton of a few hundred pounds. Mr. Darcy paid them. My hope is some day to be able to repay him, but it will be a long struggle.”

“And what of this young lady, your betrothed. Where is she now?”

Wickham sighed. “She is here in London with me.”

“And your intentions toward her. Are they honorable? I assume she is not yet of age.”

“You are correct, sir. She is sixteen years old. And my intentions are completely, entirely honorable.” He drew a deep breath. “However, they were not always honorable. I found as I came to know her that I could not disgrace her, nor could I abandon her to her fate. She has won my heart, sir. I wish to make a home for her.”

“What, then, are your plans for marrying her?”

“I know they are not the best of plans, but I will take her to Gretna Green and marry her there. The marriage will be legal in Scotland and recognized here. It is not the most desirable way to perform a marriage, but in our case, it is the most practical.”

“You had not thought of throwing yourself on the mercy of her father?”

“I do not believe that would achieve our desired objective, sir. There are times when it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

Griswold sighed. “All right, George. For some inexplicable reason, I believe you. God help me if I am wrong, but I am inclined to help you. When will your funds be available?”

“They are available now, sir, if I might be shown to a place of retirement for a few moments.”

Griswold stood and showed him to an anteroom. Wickham removed the notes from their hiding place and returned to his cousin’s office, where he found Griswold writing something.

“Here it is, sir.”

Griswold counted the money. “Just so. There is some paperwork we must complete.” To begin, he counted out two hundred pounds and handed it to Wickham. “Use it wisely, son. Many people survive on much less than that. We will change that to smaller notes and coins before you depart.”

Wickham nodded and placed the notes in the pocket of his waistcoat. Once the agreements and papers had been signed, Griswold scribbled an address. “This is the address of a respectable widow in the neighborhood of Hans Town. While you will not find any of the elite living there, you will find decent middle class and working families occupying the houses and flats. This lady has at least one flat that may meet your requirements. If you like it, send me word immediately and I will negotiate a lease for you. Here is my card. Do not take your intended with you. Mrs. Johnson will not approve of seeing an unescorted young lady out viewing flats with a young man.”

“I understand, sir.”

“Go on with you, then. Today is Tuesday. Decide about the flat tomorrow morning and plan to be out of town early Thursday. You have enough funds to hire a decent conveyance and to stay at decent inns. Call on me when you return to town, and do not tarry. I may have some employment prospects for you. Try to return here before three weeks have passed.”

Wickham rose, and the two men shook hands. “I cannot thank you enough, sir,” Wickham began.

“I am doing this for the sake of your honored father and because I believe you have the makings of a decent man, George. Do not disappoint me.”

Wickham looked him square in the eye. “I will do my best, sir.”

As he was leaving, he heard a clock strike two.

Part 3 – A Wedding in Cheapside

He hurried back to the lodgings he shared with Lydia, where he found her in her dressing-gown, bent over some kind of sewing. An exceedingly stylish bonnet sat on the table where she was working. She rose immediately, came into his arms, and put her face up for a kiss.

“You must forgive my appearance, dear George,” she said finally. “I brought only a few gowns with me, and I thought it better to preserve them for times when I must be seen in public.”

“I do not mind at all. You look very fetching, and I can see you have been hard at work here.”

“Yes, there was a great rent in my best worked muslin gown, and I thought I had better mend it. I have just finished, and the gown looks almost as good as new. I also washed out your shirt, but I’ve no way to iron it now that it is dry.”

“You did not have to do that, Lydia. Though I do thank you for it.” He took a seat at the table and pulled her onto his lap.

“Papa has always said I am one of the silliest girls in England, but I cannot sit still and be idle. Of course, I do enjoy parties and games and other diversions. But if none of those enjoyable pastimes presents itself, I am happy to occupy myself with making over a hat or a gown.” Her voice dropped, and she adopted a conspiratorial tone. “I never dared to say it at home, but I always imagined I would enjoy being ‘prenticed to a milliner’s shop. I would create beautiful bonnets for the wealthy ladies of the ton, and they would pay me fabulous amounts of money.” She paused and clasped her hands in front of her. “Everyone would flock to the shop of Madame Lydie, and only the wealthiest, most fashionable ladies would be admitted. Just think of the money I should make!”

“You are a very ambitious and imaginative lady. Now, kiss me.”

Lydia obliged willingly and enthusiastically, and when they arrived at the point where they needed to breathe for a while, she said, “It appears my dear friend Little Georgie has awakened from his slumber.”

“Yes, he is most anxious to pay you a visit. Are you at home to him?”

“For Little Georgie I am always at home.”

He picked her up and carried her to the bed, staggering a little because Lydia was a fine, strapping, healthy girl. He remembered to bend his knees slightly, and they made it to the bed in style. Both of them removed their clothes in frantic haste, with Wickham remembering to drape his coat and trousers over the nearby chair. He only had two suits, and this was the best of the two by far. Lydia threw the coverlet to one side and sat on the edge of the bed, opening her arms. “Come here, and bring Little Georgie. I’m waiting for him.”

Wickham did not have to be asked twice, and it was not long before he had Lydia purring, then moaning beneath him. For some unaccountable reason, he took her in his arms and rolled their bodies over so that she was atop him, just as he had done the previous day. Lydia threw him a smoldering look, smiled, and tossed her head before beginning to roll her hips with agonizing slowness.

“Lydia,” he gasped. “Where did you learn to do that?”

She laughed. “What a joke! You showed me, silly! Last night when you put your hands on my hips. Do you not like it?”

“Oh, I like it very much.”

She continued to move slowly above him, and with what few wits he had left, Wickham began to wonder what she would be like when she became truly proficient. As he had the night before, he managed to satisfy her several times before looking to his own pleasure, and they ended up exhausted in a tangled heap of arms and legs. When they came to themselves, Wickham again ordered hot water to be followed by supper. He also ordered a bottle of the best wine to be procured in that humble establishment.

When they were seated in their dressing-gowns at the small table, he thought it best to lay their plans out. “Well, Miss Bennet, do you think you can be ready to depart for Gretna Green on Thursday morning?”

Lydia jumped from her chair, managing to tip it over, and flew around the table to embrace him. “Oh, Wickham! I thought we were never going to go! Or at least, I was beginning to worry.” She looked down at him. “Of course, I can be ready to go. Can we not go sooner?”

He laughingly disentangled himself from her embrace, righted her chair, and seated her at the table again. “We have things to do here, first. If you can manage for a couple of hours on your own, I plan to go tomorrow to see about a little flat for us, just big enough for two, in a neighborhood where you can be comfortable and safe.” His face grew serious “There won’t be any lords and ladies of the ton, and it is not an elegant sort of neighborhood. I hope you will not be too disappointed. We must make strict economies, and we must adhere to them. Otherwise we will not succeed. Can you do that, my girl?”

Lydia nodded, her face solemn. Then she smiled and looked over at him. “I can do that if you will help me. Just think. Our own little home, and you will come home at night, and I will feed you a good dinner, and then,” here she giggled suggestively. “We will retire to our own chamber and shut the door. You will help me with the economies, will you not? I can make all of my own clothes, and I will learn to mend my stockings—and yours as well.”

“I will help you if you will help me. Is it a bargain?”

“It is a bargain.”

“Then come over here and sit on my lap, and let us drink a toast to our new home.”

It was not long before Little Georgie had come to full attention again, and they made their way back to the tumbled bed to give him the workout he so obviously desired.

Part Four

The next morning began much as the previous morning had. Wickham and Lydia enjoyed a very early breakfast together, and he prepared to set off for Hans Town while she began work on yet another bonnet. “I thought I might take you to Astley’s Amphitheatre this afternoon. Would you enjoy that, Lydia?”

She clasped her hands together. “I have always wanted to see it! It will be so exciting. Hurry home, dearest Wickham!”

With a kiss, he was on his way. The rooms in Hans Town proved to be more than acceptable. The building—indeed the entire neighborhood—was fairly new, and he found everything in good repair, streets clean and presentable, and the rooms themselves spacious and well proportioned. The furnishings were not fancy, but they appeared to be immaculate and free of marauding insects. The rent seemed reasonable, and the Widow Johnson cooed romantically over the prospect of having newlyweds among her tenants. The remainder of the house was occupied by two younger couples and an elderly gentleman, all perfectly respectable. Wickham refrained from telling her about their unorthodox wedding plans. A note was dispatched to Harrison Griswold, and after leaving Mrs. Johnson with a few shillings in earnest money, Wickham started back towards the rooms he shared with Lydia.

On the way, he passed a jeweler’s shop and paused to study the display of rings in the window. He was very soon selecting a plain band of real gold, in what he hoped would be Lydia’s size. He was surprised by the money that could be saved by avoiding the shops in the wealthier parts of London where he had been accustomed to shop. For a small additional consideration, the jeweler engraved two sets of initials within the ring as he waited. When that was done, and the ring had been safely housed in a small velvet bag, Wickham turned his steps towards the rooms.

He arrived to find Lydia pale and still, with obvious traces of tears on her face. A look about the sitting-room revealed a grim-faced Fitzwilliam Darcy and a second gentleman, equally grim, whom he did not know.

“Oh, Wickham!” Lydia sobbed as she threw herself into his arms. “They will not listen to me. Please, please make them listen! I will not go with them!”

He patted her shoulder and attempted to quiet her gently, without much success. Turning to Darcy, he said quietly, “How did you find us?”

Darcy was looking positively dyspeptic with anger. “Your friend Mrs. Younge is quite annoyed that you broke your engagement with her yesterday. She provided us with your direction.”

“I have no further need of Mrs. Younge.”

“To be sure?” Darcy’s tone managed to combine insolence and ire in equal measure. “To be sure? Then what were you planning to do with Miss Lydia when you discarded her?”

Wickham, continuing to soothe Lydia, ignored Darcy and looked over at the unknown gentleman.

“Ah, I am forgetting my manners,” added Darcy in tones of pure poison. “Mr. Edward Gardiner, may I present George Wickham, late of the _ Militia. Wickham, Mr. Gardiner is Lydia’s maternal uncle. He and her family have been most understandably concerned about her whereabouts.” He regarded Lydia calmly. “Her father has had to abandon the search and return to Hertfordshire to care for her mother, who is distraught.”

Lydia threw up her chin. “Mama is always distraught about something or other. George, I told these gentlemen that if they wanted me to accompany them, they would have to drag me out of here bound and gagged, or else I would scream the house down.” She looked at him calmly. “I am still prepared to do so. You have only to say the word.”

Darcy was startled. He had not realized that this chit had such fortitude. In that, she somewhat resembled her sister, Elizabeth.

“So, what precisely are your intentions toward my nice, Mr. Wickham?” Gardiner spoke for the first time. His entire attitude and bearing suggested repressed anger.

“Sir, my intentions are to marry Miss Lydia at the first possible opportunity.” He pulled the velvet bag from his pocket and tossed it to Gardiner, who caught it expertly. “I have come into a small but respectable sum of money. I have used some of it to satisfy my debts in Brighton.”

“Yes, yes. We were aware of that. And you have resigned your commission.”

“That is correct. The remainder of the sum, some 4600 pounds, has been invested with a cousin of my father’s, Mr. Harrison Griswold, who has offices in the City.”

“I know of Mr. Griswold,” added Darcy. “He was also known to my father. And you say you have invested your capital with him?”

“Yes, Darcy, I have. He has assisted me in securing a lease on a comfortable set of rooms in a decent neighborhood. It’s not Mayfair, but Miss Bennet will be secure and comfortable there. I have just returned from making those arrangements. He has also agreed to assist me in securing respectable employment.”

Darcy regarded him in some surprise, but his eyes were narrowed. “So what is the catch, Wickham? How much do you want this time?”

“There is no catch, Darcy, and Mr. Griswold himself took a great deal of time to try to uncover one. And I want nothing. These funds represent my last stand, my last chance at a decent life. I am tired of running. I am done with owing people money. I intend to settle in a comfortable neighborhood, to take care of my wife, to do honest work, and to save my money. Who knows, one day we might even be able to afford a small place in the country. But whatever we do, I intend to accomplish it without any meddling from you—and without owing you another shilling.”

“And how did you plan to marry Miss Lydia without her father’s permission? She is obviously not anywhere near being of age.”

At this Lydia’s tears began to flow quietly, and she came and stood next to Wickham. He placed a protective arm around her back. “Simple. The only solution for us is Gretna Green. We plan to leave at first light tomorrow morning.”

“Well!” Darcy stood and threw a triumphant look at Mr. Gardiner. “I might just be able to save you the trouble, Wickham.” He reached into a pocket and extracted a folded piece of paper. “It is a special license, procured just this morning. As Miss Lydia’s uncle, Mr. Gardiner is empowered to act in her father’s absence. There is absolutely no reason why you should not marry her this very afternoon.” He paused and threw a sharp, dyspeptic look at Wickham and Lydia. “That is, if you choose to do so.” He held the license where Wickham could see it, but he did not let go of it.”

Wickham pulled Lydia closer to him. “What do you say, Lydia? It would save us a long, tedious trip to Scotland.”

“I will be sorry not to have such a romantic wedding, dearest. But the important thing is that we be married. Will I have time to dress properly?” She looked anxiously over at her uncle and Mr. Darcy, who were standing by the window.

“Yes, you shall. If you promise me to wear that very fetching bonnet you trimmed yesterday.” Wickham turned to the two astonished visitors. “Gentlemen. Will you do me the honor of drinking Miss Bennet’s health in the tavern downstairs? She requires an hour to make herself ready. Lydia, dearest, I will send the maid to assist you.”

The three men retired to the small tavern attached to the rooming-house, where the bride’s health was pledged with a surprisingly good homebrewed ale. Mr. Gardiner dispatched a hasty note to his wife asking her to bring the Gardiner carriage to meet them at the Gardiners’ parish church, where the vicar had already been alerted. When an hour had passed, Lydia, escorted by the smiling maid, met the gentlemen in the tavern and they all rode to the Gardiners’ church, where Mrs. Gardiner awaited them with the parson. Darcy astonished everyone by finally relaxing, and he entertained the group to a delightful wedding supper at the famed Piazza.

The new Mr. and Mrs. Wickham insisted upon returning to their humble rooms for the wedding night, but they were very prompt in calling upon Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, and upon Mr. Darcy, the next day to express proper thanks. Darcy suggested that the couple remove to a charming inn on the other side of Richmond, near a country village called Highbury, where they spent a most romantic few days until their rooms in Hans Town were in readiness.

Part 4 – Madame Lydie

Of course, it was not all smooth sailing for the young couple. Wickham, who had settled into a job as secretary to the young Earl of __, was often called into work at odd hours by his employer, who was quite active in politics. Nevertheless, he succeeded in making himself invaluable to the Earl, and his star was generally considered to be rising. Every available spare penny was invested with Mr. Griswold, and the young couple managed to content themselves with their simple life in Hans Town.

Smoothing over relations with Lydia’s family took considerable effort, as Wickham was not initially received at Longbourn. When he was finally able to settle a respectable sum upon his wife in case of his death, Mr. Bennet moderated his stance, and the reunion was indeed a happy one. Of course, Darcy married Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and to Wickham’s astonishment, the Wickhams were received by the Darcys whenever they were in London. Mrs. Darcy could not account for her sister’s vast improvement in temperament and demeanor, but she was very happy to spend time with Mrs. Wickham whenever she could.

When the couple had been married for a year, Wickham announced that he would like to take his wife to a modiste in Bond Street where she would order one gown suitable for dinners. Invitations were beginning to trickle in for the young couple from family and intimate friends. Lydia, happy in her new home, had created herself a very handsome wardrobe from fabrics bought with a sharp eye for value at the warehouses of Cheapside, and Wickham felt she deserved an elegant gown.

They therefore sallied forth one day to the establishment of Madame Isabelle in Bond Street. Madame Isabelle was known to Wickham, as he had squandered substantial sums there on one girl or another in his past life. She warmed to the new Mrs. Wickham immediately, made her feel welcome, and ordered that several appropriate gowns be brought out for her approval. Lydia chose an attractive, simple gown, Wickham approved, and Lydia was measured.

As they were preparing to leave, Madame Isabelle spoke. “I hope you will not mind this personal remark, Mrs. Wickham, but your bonnet is simply ravishing. May I inquire who your milliner is?”

Lydia threw back her head and laughed in a most unladylike manner. “I am my own milliner, Madame Isabelle. I enjoy making over my bonnets, and I do not own a bonnet that I have not torn apart and re-made at least once.”

“But really? That is amazing! My congratulations, Mrs. Wickham!”

The Wickhams left, and a few days later a note was delivered requesting that Mrs. Wickham return for the final fitting of her gown. The work was quickly finished, and Madame Isabelle invited Mrs. Wickham into her private office, where tea was waiting in a delicate Limoges service. “Mrs. Wickham,” she began. “I have a proposal for you.”

Thus it was that before too many more weeks had passed, the discreet gold-lettered sign in the window of Madame Isabelle’s exclusive shop on Bond Street was changed to read “Madame Isabelle, Modiste” while slightly smaller, but no less graceful gold letters read, “Madame Lydie, Milliner.” Lydia’s dream was realized, as she became exclusive milliner to the most discriminating and fashionable ladies of the ton. Competition for her bonnets was keen, and she realized fabulous prices for them. Though most of her profits were sent to Mr. Griswold for investment, Lydia and Wickham found it expedient to secure a small house in a much more exclusive neighborhood so that she could be nearer the shop while Wickham was nearer to his employment. The young Earl was beginning to urge him to stand for a seat in the House of Commons.

And what of Little Georgie? Well, Lydia and George worked hard, but they never neglected to have supper together. And though their little house was the first stare of elegance, they continued to share the same rooms and the same bed, all the nights of their life. Lydia did, indeed, become a true proficient, and her husband considered himself a lucky man. Little Georgie was instrumental in the siring of three children—two strapping boys and a girl with curly chestnut hair and large blue eyes like her mother. As they grew into a respectable—and respected—middle age, Mr. and Mrs. Wickham freely admitted to themselves—but never to anyone else—that a perfectly good marriage could be built on the solid foundation of mutual regard and cheap physical attraction.

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