London, 1814

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, or so one might well imagine from the carryings-on of the majority of women in society these days, mine own lovely spouse included.

It is a truth rather less acknowledged that a single man lacking in such a fortune may often secure one through a fortuitous marriage, especially if, like my old compatriot Willoughby, they are of an old and respected family.

All manner of sins will be forgiven such a man, and he may easily enough find fleshly pleasures and filthy lucre commingled in the happy singularity of some young nymph of good breeding and better fortune. But for a fellow who lacks both fortune and family name, it’s not near so easy, and a degree of approbation is of course attached to the adventure, but all’s well that ends well, as the Bard would say. Which is why, years after the fact, I was rather shocked to find that there were those who insisted on dredging up old scandal.

Shouldn’t have been, though. It’s human nature, really. Rise high in the world and there’s always someone wanting to knock you down a peg or three. I didn’t give tuppence for it, myself, but there were those who were somewhat less nonchalant on the subject than yours truly.

“Oh, Lizzy… How can she be so cruel?” wailed Lydia, apparently prepared to launch into a round of her infamous histrionics. I do love the woman, but she can be quite the trial at times.

“Come, now, dear,” I said soothingly, “I rather doubt your sister had much to do with it. Our Elizabeth is many things, but spiteful she is not.” This was doing a kindness to the former Miss Bennet, who had been quite the hellion in her day, and matrimony had, I imagined, little reformed her. Still, I’d always been rather fond of the girl, and didn’t like to hear her spoken badly of, even by her sister, and even with such provocation.

“Well if this is not Lizzy’s doing, then whom would you hold accountable?” The item in question was a smallish, leather-bound brown book, which she flung contemptuously at my feet.

I bent to pick it up and sighed.“I suppose I would have to blame the author, this-” I scanned the first few pages for the name of the guilty party, but the tract was merely attributed to ‘the author of Sense and Sensibility.’ Damned odd, thought I, but aloud I said, “-well, she daren’t even name herself.” I took a chance and assumed it was one of these new-fangled lady writers – a chap wouldn’t be caught dead writing this sort of drivel.

“Well,” sniffed Lydia, “perhaps you are right. She has no doubt abused my sisters’ confidences, twisted their words, and written this perfidious account to salve her spinster’s misery.” Her face brightened, the schadenfreude  seeming to cheer her momentarily.

In a flash, though, the anger shown through again. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but a close second best is a society madam who thinks her reputation smudged, though it already be ever so black. “So what do you intend to do about it?” she asked querulously.

“Do about it? My dear, I intend to do absolutely nothing. She is a nobody, writing penny romances that are worth about half that. Clearly the book is filled with scandalous rubbish, which no proper person could give credence to. Best thing is to ignore it completely. It’s been out for, what, a year? And this is the first I’ve heard of it? A week from now this book will be in the dustbin, and along with it her name, whatever that may be.”

I could tell the answer didn’t satisfy my darling wife, but as I pointed out, we hardly had time to argue the point further. “His Majesty awaits,” I chided. The shades of Pemberley might not yet be keen on my company, but the rather more corporeal Wellington demanded the presence of all his boon lieutenants on this, the greatest triumph of his life to date.

Though I had managed to distract Lydia, as I have so often been obliged to do over the years, the incident preyed upon my mind, and even after the pomp and ceremony of the day was over, something about it still nagged at me.

It was not until rather later that it occurred to me; although the particular pamphlet of romantic drivel that had so incensed my wife was of no particular consequence in and of itself, it was damned indicative of the sort of thing being written and passed off as literature in this modern age, and while it displayed a fair degree of accuracy in addressing some small aspects of polite society, it completely ignored the rather larger and more sordid facets of the world as I knew it.

Why, when I looked back upon the year of 1797, my marriage to Lydia, the hastily-arranged event which she, Lizzy, and that lady journalist had considered quite the dramatic interlude barely registers in light of the events that succeeded my posting to Newcastle.

It therefore occurred to me that I should set down my own recollections of the occurrences at the turn of the century so that a clearer and more extensive picture could be developed by the readers of a future age. Of course, since a good bit of what I’ve seen and done could be a damned embarrassment to several peers of the realm, our allies and enemies, and even my own family, I feel obliged to make some small efforts to ensure that such letters and memoirs are not published until well after yours truly has shuffled off this mortal coil.

I reckon a hundred years hence, or thereabouts, even the descendants of our good Prince Regent might be able to read such a tale with a wince and a grin, mourning the sad state of affairs that existed in the United Kingdom of yore, excusing the author his foibles and eccentricities, and finding some amusement in the various sketches of personages and events therein.

But to prepare the reader of the future to accompany me on a literary voyage through the recent past, I should quickly sketch a picture of the nature of my life, companions, and observations of the world prior to that fateful day in 1797 when I departed from Longbourn in a borrowed chaise and four, dressed in the regimentals of an Ensign in His Majesty’s 9th Dragoons, accompanied by a young and flirtatious wife, bound for Newcastle and full of youthful ambitions.


Author’s note: The assorted letters of Mister Wickham (to accord him here his proper honorifics would deprive the reader of the enjoyment of discovery which I believe they may, in time, experience) did indeed, according to his wishes as noted above, remain unpublished in his lifetime. 

However, a significantly greater period elapsed than the mere century that Wickham himself proposed as a suitable interval; they were discovered only recently in a set of archives. The original record of their disposition was lost, apparently in the widespread destruction that wracked London during the early raids by German Gotha bombers in 1917. 

Your humble servant has endeavored at all costs to arrange this manuscript chronologically, as Mister Wickham, judging from his notes, appears to have desired it, and altered the original text as little as possible to allow this voice from the past to speak to us quite directly. 

Endnotes have been added to explain items of historical significance, and for these I must take responsibility; in all other respects, the credit or approbation for the language and content of this text must rest with Wickham himself.



Pemberly, 1790

The elder Mr. Darcy and I shared rather a lot in common, including, I rather suspected, a bit of blood on the wrong side of the sheets.

Certainly we were more of a character than he and young Fitzwilliam, for despite having the sort of visage and physique that the ladies swooned over, and being an excellent rider when necessity demanded it, the younger Darcy was only a reluctant sportsman at best, and much preferred to apply himself to books, letters, accounts, and things of that nature.

He had a natural bent for mathematics and literature, tho’ and I’ve often wished I’d had his head for numbers when the cards were running against me at the gaming tables.

Here was another point on which my godfather’s tastes and mine diverged from Fitzwilliam’s; we both enjoyed a good hand of cards on occasion, whereas he could never countenance the pursuit, not being opposed on any moral grounds, mind you, but on account of the statistical odds that he swore made the games a losing proposition in the long run.

The same genius that served the family fortune well when applied to accounts made him an insufferable companion at the card table.

Yes, my godfather and I were two of a kind, and as I’ve said, I have my suspicions that it was due to yours truly being merely a chip off the old Darcy block, but in any case.

As Fitzwilliam himself was obliged to admit, his father was not merely fond of my society, but indeed had the highest opinion of me, probably because our inclinations were one and the same.

Wine, women, the company of clever chaps at the club; a strong horse between one’s legs and the baying of hounds; the crack of a good shotgun on a September morning – these we reckoned to be the pleasures that made a gentleman’s life worth living.

We enjoyed watching the bewigged mob in the House of Commons make themselves ridiculous by day and allowing the painted ladies of The Strand to make us ridiculous by night; and the old man’s bottomless pockets meant that we could indulge any and all these desires as we saw fit.

On one topic only we disagreed, that of my future situation. I was dead-set on joining the Army, but that fine institution's reputation had been tarnished in the eyes of my benefactor by the humiliating loss of the war against the American rebels seven years earlier.

Instead, Mister Darcy preferred that I join the clergy, offering me the parsonage at Pemberley and the living afforded it by the little town of Kympton as an enticement, and quite the prospect it was. Larger by half than the living at Rosings Park, the adjoining estate presided over by the formidable Lady Catherine, the rectory offered a commodious house, extensive gardens, a small stable, and of course the opportunity to preside over the largest congregation in the county. A flock of lambs, said the elder Darcy with a wink, that was not without its share of fine young shepherdesses.

A taste for fleshly delights was yet another trait that old Darcy and I shared - in the course of our heated discussions over whether I should be a soldier for the King or a soldier for God, the old rascal actually had the nerve to hand me a weighty leather-bound tome alleged to contain "some stimulating arguments for the superior virtues of service in the house of our Lord."

These "stimulating arguments" turned out to be Justine, the latest tract produced by that mad Frenchman de Sade, who was in fact a distant relative.  Many of the great houses had such relations across the Channel, Darcy being simply the Anglicized version of Charles D'Arcy, the family grand-sire eleven times removed, who along with his neighbor Sir Percival de Bourgh had won his estate smashing Saxon skulls at Hastings.

Those lands had stayed in the two families due to an often prudent and occasionally lucky line of descendants who had managed to back the winning contenders for the crown in no less than nine bloody wars. The Plantagenets and Tudors came and went, along with the Black Plague and the blacker-hearted Cromwell and through it all the Darcys and de Bourghs had kept their lineage alive and their boots planted kindly but firmly upon the smallfolk of Darbyshire.

But I digress. While the good Marquis' writing was indeed stimulating, and painted a beautifully debauched picture of the liberties that a man of the cloth might take with the innocent, it was less this, and more of Mr. Darcy's all-or-nothing stance on the subject that settled the issue in favor of the Church.

I would study at Cambridge, be ordained a minister in the Church of England, and return to Pemberley to sin during the week, and preach against it on Sunday.



Pemberley, 1791

The summer before I left for Cambridge, an event occurred that was to inflame my early passions and set the stage for a variety of later endeavors of natures both romantic and risqué.

Fitzwilliam had a sister, some years younger, named Georgiana. As their mother had died tragically in childbirth and the girl had outgrown her wet-nurse, a proper governess must needs be retained to oversee her upbringing, ensuring she was endowed with all the proper refinements requisite a young lady of breeding;  a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, and besides all this, to endow her with a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, lest her fair peers and future suitors should deem her somewhat less than distinguished.

The woman selected for this fearsome undertaking was a certain Miss Younges, who in addition to an excellent grounding in the aforementioned feminine arts, was uniquely qualified to aid Georgiana in acquiring that certain something, which the French term je ne se quoi, as she herself had been a resident of Paris for several years, where she had recently been engaged by an aristocratic family to serve in a similar capacity for their daughters.

It was of course to be hoped that Georgiana might gain more by her tutelage than those previous charges, who along with their unfortunate pater and mater familias, had gone to Heaven via the little door*  in the preludes of the Reign of Terror, while their governess had been obliged to leave the country under the small protections of being an Englishwoman.

Miss Younges, whose given name was Rebecca, was a tall, dark-haired woman of three and thirty years possessed of a wasp-waisted figure and a severe expression which rather belied her true nature, which was in fact quite frolicsome and libertine, though you would never imagine it by observing her at work with Georgiana.

However, an early exposure to la societe d’Paris, and to the lower associations which a working-class girl might form in that great city had given Miss Younges a range of talents that made her, in my frank and rather extensive experience, one of the most distinguished ladies I have ever known.

Certainly she had learned and then perfected uses for her tongue and fingers that went somewhat beyond forming the delicate syllables of French and Italian, or tickling the ivory keys of the piano-forte.

One might even observe that she might have just as easily been professionally employed to teach a young man swordplay as a young woman needlepoint, for she was skilled in both manipulating that euphemistic weapon of ardor, and seeing it fully sheathed in a multiplicity of feminine scabbards.

Such was her skill in these delicate matters that she proved quite capable of taking on two and occasionally three opponents at once, and though she might suffer le petit mort a half-dozen times in the engagement, she never failed to emerge the victor at the end of the contest, her sparring partners disarmed, spent, and sweating.

Certainly I learned as much or more from Miss Younges in her leisure hours as Georgiana did while her governess was at work, and I daresay my lessons were rather the more interesting and enjoyable.

Old Darcy, in loco parentis, both knew and approved the liaison, or so I gathered from the occasional double entendres he made in reference to his employee, and knowing how the two were inclined, I had little doubt that they’d be sparring soon themselves ere I left for Cambridge.

In fact, I rather suspected Miss Younges would aim to make herself the new Mrs. Darcy in time, for all that he was nearly two score years older than she, and the difference in their respective stations rather extreme.

As for Fitzwilliam, he remained blissfully ignorant of the situation, as being a year older, he had preceded me to university and was thus rarely a figure at Pemberley during that halcyon year.

But all good things must end, or at the very least be interrupted by worldly matters, so in the Fall of 1791, I headed off to Cambridge to prepare myself to take orders and return to minister to good people of Darbyshire.


The “little door” was a polite euphemism for the guillotine, and referenced the small, hinged opening in which the victim’s neck was placed and held by a wooden stock before the sharpened blade came crashing down.

Author’s note: Wickham has made an error in his memoirs; the Reign of Terror did not begin until 1793, so Miss Younges was definitely not severed from her employers and young charges by the guillotine (though they may well have suffered that fate in the end.) 

It is more likely that she was simply sacked and later (when they met again in 1796) told Wickham this version of the story, which he repeated in his letters without verifying the dates. 

I find it unlikely that Wickham simply embroidered the truth himself, as his memoirs are generally uncannily accurate when it comes to dates and places of significant historical events in his lifetime.



Cambridge, 1792

I passed my first year at Cambridge in fine style, which the reader should not suppose means good grades, but instead good times. 

I made several fine chums, notably John Willoughby and Merriweather Denny, and I am sure there were a handful of lesser acquaintances who no doubt orbited around our merry little triad in the manner of planets around brightly burning stars, but their names escape me.

However, in my second year of schooling at Cambridge, a sad event obtruded into my youthful frolics, whose results were to have lasting consequences, tho’ I little suspected it at the time. 

Word arrived from Darbyshire; the elder Mister Darcy had died, of what no one could say, but that he had passed in his sleep, with a smile on his rugged visage. Tho’ we had corresponded but little in that last year, and I had seen him only twice, once for the Glorious Twelfth*, and once in London for a spree of drunken debauchery in our old fashion, it was apparent that his attachment to me remained firm to the end, for when his last will and testament was read, he placed in my care the living at Pemberley, as soon as I should take orders and the rectory become vacant, and further instructed Fitzwilliam, the executor and primary beneficiary of his estate to promote my advancement in the best manner possible. 

I could tell by the look of distaste that passed o’er Darcy’s face when the lawyers read this codicil that those wishes of the deceased pater familias were unlikely to be honored, but I contented myself that the elder Darcy had bequeathed to me the immediate sum of a thousand pounds. 

Now, a thousand pounds, wisely invested, was sufficient to provide about 50 pounds a year, about a quarter of what a gentleman like myself required, but I concluded that cleverly wagered, that original thousand could be multiplied two or even three times in a matter of months, thereafter reinvested, and my foreseeable future thus secured. 

This plan did not work out precisely as I had hoped, for although I did enjoy some immediate success at the gaming tables, the cock-fighting pits, and the race tracks, these early victories were presently reversed, and by the time I received the sad news of my own father’s passing, some six months later, I had rather gone the way of the Duchess of Devonshire;** my fortune had been diminished from a thousand pounds to a mere two hundred, and my debts had in the meantime increased considerably. 

Another thing that had fallen with my fortunes were my grades at Cambridge; I had never been terribly keen on the ministry, and with the triple losses of my real father and my alleged (tho’ which was which, I would never be certain) and of my small fortune in the same six-month, it seemed likely that if there were a God in Heaven, he was not on the side of George Wickham, and hence, why should I be obliged to sing his praises and exhort the small-folk of Pemberley to do the same?

No, better ready cash now, I decided, than an in with the Lord of Hosts on some distant day of reckoning,  and so I took pen in hand and wrote to Darcy, explaining that while we both knew I was not meant for the clergy, I thought that my natural abilities of speech and manner should combine to make me a very good lawyer, and that if he would but settle the sum of six thousand pounds upon me, I should renounce my immediate claims to the rectory, and pursue a legal education instead. 

Darcy, who normally could not be bothered to reply to my letters in any particular haste came directly to see me upon receipt of this particular note, bearing three thousand in bank notes, and a thick stack of papers, which I glanced at but briefly before signing. 

It was half what I’d asked, but fifteen times what I had at that moment, and I reckoned there’d be more where that came from, if necessary, so I didn’t give the matter much thought.


* The 12th day of August, commonly referred to as the "Glorious Twelfth" was when gentlemen retired to the countryside to start the shooting season for red grouse.

** Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, had lost most of her fortune at the gaming tables by 1784; by 1786 she owed at least £100,000 in gambling debts and by 1789 her name was synonymous with bankruptcy and bad luck.


London, 1793-1794

I passed the next two years in glorious idleness and dissipation. The study of the Law did not engage too much of my time, and Darcy never deigned to call on me when he visited the City on business, nor did I receive any invitations to visit Pemberley, but this only aggrieved me during the hunting season.

Instead I contented myself with calling on Willoughby at his familial estate of Combe Magna, where the pheasants were fat, and the local milkmaids keen for entertainment.

Hunting was in fact an excellent diversion for a gentleman in my circumstances, since it took me away from the distractions of the City and their various costs, and ensconced me in the bosom of a country home where I had no real expenses, nor any obligations other than to amuse my friends and hosts, which was easily managed by simply being my ordinarily charming self.

I could sleep late, eat well, ride to the hounds, shoot gamebirds and fish the whole day through, and there were not infrequent country dances and dinners to occupy the evenings.

 These latter events, however, were not so common as to inconvenience me overmuch in my downstairs dalliances, and I enjoyed a half-dozen or more such delicious liaisons throughout the course of my stay at Combe Magna.

Yet one could only stay in the country from September to November; after that, the weather grew intemperate, the pleasures of the Fall drew to a close, and it was once again time to return to the City and all its expensive and dissolute pleasures.

Having learned something from the loss of my original endowment, I did rather better with the 3000 pounds I’d procured off Fitzwilliam, and by that, of course, I mean that I had rather better luck at the tables. 

In the first six-month, I’d multiplied my stake to about 5000 pounds, and this I was sensible enough to invest, intending to live off the interest, which amounted to about 150 pounds per annum.

But I ran with a flash crowd, and tho’ 150 pounds might have sufficed for me to live the quiet, studious life of a law student, it was in no way sufficient to finance the fashions, food, and feminine companionship that I and my fellow libertines considered to be the most necessary of life’s small pleasures, washed down, of course, with a plentitude of beer, wine, and the Demon Rum.

Whilst my boon companions, who along with Denny and Willoughby now occasionally included such notables as Corinthian Tom and Bob Logic had family stipends to support them and the promise of inheritances to look forward to, I was obliged to dip more and more frequently into my capital, which of course reduced my income, and drove a vicious cycle which threatened to see my small fortune extinguished in its entirety.

Only my continued luck at the gaming tables and the generous credit extended to me by a variety of London merchants kept me afloat, and allowed me to continually match my friends in all their debauched excesses.
At last, I had to admit to myself that my course as a rambler and a dandy was well and truly run; I had sampled all the Cyprian pleasures of the City, and they now bored me.

I had tried my hand at the Law, and found it too dry and monotonous a profession to tempt me.

Besides as a lawyer I should be obliged to practice law, which seemed a very tedious and time-consuming way to spend one’s days.

The more I contemplated things, the more I realized my old friend and father figure, the elder Darcy had seen the right of it.

To spend my life as a country rector would be perfectly ideal; I should have a comfortable and familiar home, could take a pleasant young wife, and labor not too hard at canting sermons.

I could enjoy the simple pleasures of being a gentleman farmer, the perquisites of lording it over the small-folk of Kympton, and escape to the City on “business” for a week or two, whenever I found myself growing bored.

Perhaps I should have a son of my own, or adopt one as old Darcy had adopted me, and in due time, initiate such a young scallywag into the finer pleasures of life, wine and women and cards and the hunt.

In short, I could lead a life much like the elder Darcy himself had enjoyed, if somewhat more circumscribed by finances.

To this end, I made some enquiries, and learned that through what could hardly be termed anything but Divine Providence, the living at Pemberley had only just recently become vacant, the late rector having gone to God’s grace, and no replacement yet arranged for.

Thus I sent a letter to Fitzwilliam by express post, expressing my desire to return to the Church, to Pemberley, and to the living which his father had intended for me.

You may imagine my surprise when Darcy replied to assure me that I should never receive the living; that the papers I had signed two years before had revoked in perpetuity (a fancy legal term meaning, apparently, forever) any claim I had against the rectory, old Darcy’s estate, and Fitzwilliam himself.

In his usual prideful and prejudicial manner, he completely ignored his own father’s dying wishes, displaying none of that spirit of Christian charity which should have impelled a better man to take pity on the unfortunate circumstances of a prodigal godson who, having learned his lesson, wanted only to return to the bosom of the Church (and perhaps a few of the more welcoming bosoms to be found therein) but no.

Of course, I slandered his name far and wide for this unkindness, which only added to his reputation as a cold, unfeeling, and unpleasant sort of person, and tho’ I daresay this was no better than he deserved, still it did nothing to improve my immediate circumstances.



London, 1796

Altogether this was a bit of a bad time for me, as my ready cash dwindled and I seemed to have little prospect of improving my situation.

There was only one rather notable event that occurred during this period, involving my former friend John Willoughby; I say former, because tho’ we had been fast friends for some years, that bond was all but dissolved in this curious affair.

I’d met Willoughby in St James, and after exchanging greetings, inquired as to what on Earth he was doing in the City, as I had been under the impression that he was attending a wealthy relative in Devonshire.

Willoughby confided in me that the two had suffered a disagreement, and that as he now feared he should be severed from her fortune, he’d come to London for the Season* to find himself a rich wife, and therefore I should not think to see him too often in our old haunts of gaming hells and brothels.

*Author’s Note: In London society of that day, the Season traditionally began after Easter and ended with the 12th day of August, commonly referred to as the "Glorious Twelfth" when gentlemen retired to the countryside to start of the shooting season for red grouse. In Wickham’s notes on this particular incident is included a clipping from Harper’s Bazaar which lampoons the festivities as simply a grand and elaborate matchmaking scheme. That clipping has been reproduced above for the reader’s elucidation.

I commiserated with him, admitting that I myself was in need of such a wife, but that they were damned hard to come by in my social circle.

I’d hoped Willoughby might offer to sponsor my attendance at some balls or dinners for the purpose of improving my chances at obtaining such a match, but whether through absentmindedness or a desire to avoid competition, no such proposal was forthcoming.

After we parted that afternoon, I had no further word from him, nor did I encounter him in our traditional haunts, but this was much as he’d led me to expect, so I thought little of it.Thus it came as some surprise that he should burst into the gambling parlor at Almacks  about a fortnight later, highly agitated, smelling of spirits, and demanding my immediate attention.

As I was hard into a game of vingt-et-un, I was less than inclined to give it. “Damn it, man,” says I, “but I’m ten pounds to the bad, and must remain here at least until I have recovered my losses.” But Willoughby would not be dissuaded, and promised me 20 guineas if I should quit my seat upon the instant. It is a testament to the sad circumstances I was in that I accepted this small inducement and strode out into the night with my friend.

The tale he relayed to me was outré even by my standards at the time, though in fact I’m sure I’ve since done far worse, while he himself has become so reformed as to be no great sort of company for a man of my many vices.

According to Willoughby, a little more than a year previous, he had formed an acquaintance with a young lady named Eliza whilst they were both visiting in Bath, and their tryst had led to her becoming with child.

Of course, Willoughby explained, he had no knowledge of this complication at the time, and never hearing from her after he’d left for Devonshire, supposed it was simply another libertine liaison, easily arranged and as easily forgotten.

But, the truth would out, and word reached Willoughby’s wealthy relative, the redoubtable Mrs. Smith, who called upon him to make right the wrong by marrying the girl, or be severed forever from any inheritance or acquaintance he might have expected from her.

Willoughby, not wishing to be bound to a girl lacking not only in wealth, but frankly in all other desirable attributes besides beauty, had crossed this Rubicon and taken himself to London, where he had quickly established himself as the paramour of a wealthy debutante, Miss Grey, who showed every sign that she might well secure his future through matrimony.

His one regret in the rambling monologue appeared to be that his departure from the countryside had forced his separation from a particularly charming, attractive and talented girl named Marianne, whose sole deficiency was that she was the second daughter of one of those poor but proud specimens of widow who make their way through life on the charity of their more fortunate friends and relations.

“That is all quite unfortunate, I admit,” I said, “but I cannot imagine by what means you suppose that I of all people can ameliorate this situation.”

Willoughby gave a frustrated growl and threw his head back, removing his hat and running a hand through his thick hair. “There’s more to the tale, Wickham. This girl Eliza is the natural daughter of one Colonel Brandon, another fellow from Somersetshire, and a veteran of the East India Company. He knows me, has found me out, and demands satisfaction.”

“My God, man,” I exclaimed, “do you mean to fight a duel?” 

Author’s note: The remainder of this particular episode has been published as a short story that stands by itself, on behalf of the unique value it may have for readers interested in the affairs of those persons whose lives formed the basis for Miss Austen’s historiographical accounts.

In short, this narrative, as recounted by George Wickham, sheds light on an heretofore obscure, but terribly important incident in the lives of the Dashwood sisters, an event that, had it gone differently than it did, might have marred forever any chance at future happiness that those two gentle souls stood to gain by their mutual acquaintance with Colonel Christopher Brandon. 

In her history of the Dashwoods, Miss Austen recounts that the Colonel once remarked apocryphally to Elinor Dashwood, in reference to John Willoughby; “we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct.” 

For an explanation of this cryptic remark, and full enlightenment of how the matter was resolved, the account by Wickham of his involvement in this affair may be of some interest, and may be immediately obtained as a free e-book for the Kindle, simply by clicking on this link or by clicking on the picture below.

And in closing, a small request. If you are enjoying this novel, please consider taking a moment today to make a donation to our Kickstarter project, or our PayPal fund.

E.H. Carpenter

Editor’s Note:
Chapters 6, 7, and 8 of this manuscript have been released as a separate text, A Matter of Honor, due to the unique historical value of that work in explaining an important but little discussed event in the lives of the Dashwood sisters, whose historiographer, the redoubtable Miss Austen, gave some account of Wickham in her later history of the Bennet sisters.

Readers may obtain a copy by clicking the link on the left, or by making a modest contribution to the Kickstarter project…

But little is lost by simply continuing from Chapter 9, wherein we meet more familiar friends.


London, 1796

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention, and it was the very pressing necessity of discharging my rising debts and finding myself some substantial position or fortune that set me on the course towards the next milestone in a romantic career that has not been so much checkered as it has been positively dark, for I freely confess that my exploits from ballroom to boudoir have been of a nature such that most blackguards seem respectably gray by comparison. 

But I can hardly fault myself as much as capricious Fortune, for when I most needed a sympathetic heiress, the good Lord saw fit to deliver one quite literally to my doorstep, and along with her, a means of revenging myself upon exactly the fellow whose ill-will and severe nature I held responsible for my predicament. 

“Wickham!” cried Georgiana, throwing her arms around my neck and giving my cheek a sisterly peck. 
“We’ve missed you terribly at Pemberley this last six-month! My brother is ever so cross, and I am a perfect slave to Miss Younges and her piano-forte!”

Georgiana, as it turned out, had been sent into the City under the watchful eye of Miss Younges to prepare herself for the coming Season, that halcyon time of balls, dinners, and theatrical engagements wherein a young woman might find a suitable partner to share her life and fortune with. 

But why go through all that when there was already an imperfect gentleman ready and willing to sweep said nymph off her feet and into the bridal suite? 

A marriage to Georgiana would solve all my problems, and I had always been terribly fond of her. 

You may find it hard to credit, but my attentions to her were only the most courteous - easily done, as Miss Younges was again close at hand to see to my wickeder impulses. 

The years since I had last seen that wanton woman had been kind, for she seemed hardly to have aged a day, and her appetites, if anything, had grown yet greater and more varied.

And so I immediately began to make love to Georgiana, in the most gentlemanly sense of the word; ever attentive, I squired her about Hyde Park and Vauxhall by night, took her to the newly rebuilt Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, and made the fulfillment of her every whim and desire my particular command.

I should like to say that I spared no expense in these undertakings, and in fact I did not; every line of credit extended to me I used to the last guinea, and I put off repaying more than a few of my accounts, telling myself that I should put a little something extra towards them after my marriage to the lovely Miss Darcy should resolve all fortunes in my favor. 

But my credit about town was not limitless; in fact, rather the contrary, so I was fortunate indeed that Georgiana herself was generous with her coin and carriage, and it turned out that in her company I dined well and kept the best sort of company without my wretched pocketbook being much diminished. 

She made rather a better man of me, since to keep myself ever in her attentions and to seek constantly to amuse, charm, flatter, and otherwise court her obliged me to quit my usual dens of vice and indolence. 

But if you fancy I was a completely changed man, you may guess again. Miss Darcy, a shapely nymphet whose coy rejoinders to my saucier entendres suggested that the pleasures of the marital bower should be many indeed raised my passions daily, but social convention would have pilloried us both were it to be satisfied before we wed, so perforce it was Miss Younges who bore the brunt of my aroused and frustrated libido.

These warm feelings took their toll on Georgiana as well, and as we both concurred that her guardians would never consent to our marriage, we agreed to elope to Brighton, have our union consecrated, and face the world’s approbation, or at least her family’s, as man and wife.

But as the Bard said, “the course of true love never did run smooth” and so it may come as little surprise that the week before Miss Darcy and I had planned to make good our plans, who should appear but that most annoying of those two guardians, her dear brother Fitzwilliam.

“Oh, George,” cried Georgiana, as she broke the news of Darcy’s visit “whatever shall we do? I am too much in love with you to disguise my feelings, I just know it! Surely he will suspect and then we are lost!” 

I pulled my bride-to-be into a warm embrace, and endeavoring to remain undistracted by the firm pressure of her generous and heaving bosom, whispered that there was nothing to fear, that we should be away in a few days, and that in the interim, had merely to greet each other as brother and sister and none would be the wiser.

“You know I hold your brother in the highest esteem,” says I, “but God bless ‘im, he’s a cold man, my little Georgie-peorgie, not like you and I. How can he suspect between us that which he himself feels for no woman?”



London, 1796

On the day set for our elopement, I had just finished my morning ablutions when I heard a knock at the door of my lodgings, and hurried thence to admit my darling bride-to-be.

You may well imagine my surprise when I was met, not by Georgiana attired in traveling clothes, but by a stern-faced, liveried fellow who I recognized as one of Fitzwilliam’s minions. 

“A letter for you, Sir,” says he, and proffered me an envelope, without so much as a tug at the forelock. 

Cursed Darcy, even his servants dared to ape his proud manner around those he reckoned his inferiors, men such as myself to whom they still ought to have rendered a polite obeisance. I snatched the letter, damning the fellow for his impudence and ordering him out. 

No sooner than the door shut on his glowering visage, I tore the envelope open, dreading what I already suspected I should found writ therein.

Mister Wickham;

I write to inform you that I have discovered your plot to abduct my innocent sister and trap her into a marriage of the utmost infamy and imprudence.

How you dare to think yourself worthy of her, I profess I cannot imagine. My father, God rest his soul, treated you with such familiarity that you may have forgotten your place in this world, but let me make it clear. 

You are the son of a steward, one step removed from mere servitude, and Georgiana is the daughter of one of the oldest and proudest families in all of England, one step removed from nobility. 

You can never deserve her, nor her fortune, which I do not doubt you covet far more than her company. All that you are you owe to the misguided benevolence of my father, but know that your connection to this family is at an end. 

I have forbidden Georgiana from seeing you, from speaking to you again; but should you dare attempt to continue in this madness, know that if you succeed in marrying her, you shall not marry her fortune; I go even now to meet with Colonel Fitzwilliam and our solicitors to entail her inheritance in such a manner as to guarantee that you shall never see a penny of it.

Know too that it is only my love for my sister and my desire to see her reputation preserved that prevents me from calling you out for the villain you are and seeing this issue settled for good over a brace of pistols.

Yours truly in enmity,

F. Darcy    

I was distraught over this letter. For all my wickedness, I truly did love Georgiana, and moreover, robbed of the prospect of her hand and fortune, the happiness that I had enjoyed over the past months in our courtship, and the happiness that I should have enjoyed as her husband were dashed at the stroke of a pen.

I cursed, I cried, I smashed a clenched fist against the wall. Every plan, every hope I had to better myself, was crushed by cruel Fate, but even if God himself were the architect of my misfortune, his instrument was ever my damnable god-brother. Darcy! 

I swore an oath that I should find Georgiana, consummate our plan to elope, and take her as my wife, God, Darcy, and fortune be damned. In truth, at this point, it was as much for spite of her brother as love of the lady that I now pursued this end, but to no avail. 

I visited her residence at Ramsgate; it was shut to me, and my darling Georgiana had been sent away, to where, I could obtain no intelligence, as the entirety of my ready cash proved insufficient to bribe any member of the household staff. Darcy had quite apparently anticipated me in this and ensured their loyalty through the offices of his bottomless pocketbook.

Having been thus thwarted, I returned to the gaming tables with what was left of my fortune, and through a run of good cards, sustained myself in the most wretched of circumstances through the summer. 

I rambled about the City, slept late, drank hard, ate poorly, and whored my way through Covent Garden and The Strand, but could not rid myself of the specter of my dashed hopes, the memory of my lost Georgiana. 

We are always most sentimental for that which we have lost; perhaps had I succeeded in marrying the girl I should have become bored or impatient with her, but deprived of her company, I thought Georgiana a perfect angel, placed her on a mental pedestal, and thus worshipped her memory even as I sought to erase it. 

At length I found myself tiring of the City, and faced with the uncomfortable prospect of having my not inconsiderable debts called in by the various haberdasheries and clubs at which I had accounts, decided to quit London and return to my country roots. 

Darbyshire was out of the question, but my friend Denny had for some time been entreating me to join him in Hertfordshire, where his militia unit had been but recently posted. 

Though in my foolish youth I’d entertained hopes of a commission in the regular Army, the militia held little attraction for me, as its ranks were filled by common lads enlisted for five years, and led by fellows such as Denny, who was a perfectly good chap, but not necessarily the sort of person one could easily imagine leading a charge against a battalion of Napoleon’s screaming sans-cullotes. 

Denny, I reckoned, was more comfortable leading a lady across the dance floor, and would sooner stick his fork in a slice of beef than his knife in a Frog, but in those days the militia was more worried about quelling mobs of hungry Devonshiremen* than facing down a cross-Channel invasion, so perhaps he was a good fit for a militia officer. 

At any rate, I decided to give in to his pestering and promised to accompany him back from his latest leave in London to survey the village wherein he was currently quartered, meet his Colonel, and consider the matter more seriously.


* The previous year, the militia had been called in to suppress a mob of poor workers rioting over the high price of bread in Devonshire; the rioters were dispersed, and their ostensible leader, the unfortunate Thomas Campion, was hanged after judgment at the Exeter Assizes.


Meryton, 1796

Meryton was small, but afforded the usual entertainments of a country town, according to Denny. There were several families of some small standing, and as a result, a pleasant society of frequent dinners and occasional balls. The hunting and fishing was reputed to be quite good, and my friend assured me that the officers of the regiment would provide a suitable and sufficient set of card players. 

We were taking the air along the street the following morning when Denny directed my attentions to a quintet of young lovelies approaching from the opposite direction.  “Mark,” said he “the progress of the Miss Bennets, whom I daresay are some of the county’s most eligible bachelorettes. The eldest, I hear, is being courted by Mr. Bingley, who has recently let Netherfield...” 

His muted narration ended as the ladies drew nearer, and Denny’s bright red coat caught the attention of one of the younger girls. “Denny! Oh, Mister Denny,” she called, waving a bright handkerchief as if to leave no doubt of whom exactly was hailing my companion. My companion whispered, “Leave all to me, Wickham,” before returning the greeting, and we soon found ourselves in the delightful company of the several Miss Bennets. Denny introduced me as a friend who had returned with him from town, and went on to say that I had accepted a commission in his corps.

This blatant falsehood was greeted with such looks and exclamations of excitement from the young ladies that I could only nod, smile, and feign enthusiasm for the venture. Already a trifle off-balance at Denny’s contrivance, I was annoyed yet again as a pair of approaching horses bore into sight none other than my nemesis of a god-brother. 

Darcy! Damnation, was there no place in England I could avoid his malevolent presence?

He was accompanied by his vacuous friend Charles Bingley, who hailed our little party and availed himself of the opportunity to lavish upon the eldest Miss Bennet the usual sort of polite flirtations much in vogue with the highborn classes. 

She, whom I’d quickly pegged as a perfect feminine match to the empty-headed Bingley in both temperament and intellect, blushed prettily and made the appropriate replies, while Darcy alternately stared daggers at me and cast longing gazes at the second oldest sister, Elizabeth. 

“Ho-ho,” thought I, “what’s this now?” Could it be Darcy favored this slender, dark-haired girl? If so, he certainly knew how not to impress a lady, by brooding silently astride his black charger and casting dark glances that, while I knew they were aimed at me, appeared for all the world to be directed at our entire little party. 

Presently, Mister Bingley having exhausted his small repertoire of charming blandishments, the two gentlemen rode on, while Denny and I completed our assignation to walk the ladies to their next destination. 

Denny was not the least contrite about his artifice. “Well, my good man,” said he, after we had escorted the young ladies to the house of their estimable uncle, Mister Phillips, “the ladies find you all that is to be desired, requiring, I have overheard Lydia whisper, only a set of regimentals to make you completely charming. Come let us visit the good Colonel and see you thus attired.”

 And so it was that I became a Lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of the Hertfordshire Militia, serving alongside Denny and under Colonel Foster, with 50 bluff young Redcoats in my charge, to see put through their paces with musket and bayonet, washed, fed, clothed, whipped or hung, as the circumstances might require.

Being the dashing new chap in town had its perquisites; I was soon invited to dine at the house of Mister Philips, and there was reacquainted with the assorted Miss Bennets. The meal was quite a feast, and our party did not lack for conversation.

After dinner, a game of whist was suggested, but I preferred to keep business and pleasure a bit separate, and so demurred that I didn’t play. 

A smart decision, that, as Mister Collins, a dowdy visiting churchman and relation of the Bennets took up the cards, and I found myself left to have a chat with the cleverest of the five girls, Elizabeth. 

I thought I might discover from her the nature of Darcy’s visit to Hertfordshire, but the look on her face, when I relayed that Darcy and I were intimately acquainted, was one of the greatest astonishment.

"You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, at such an assertion, after seeing, as you probably might, the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday,” says I. “Are you much acquainted with Mr. Darcy?" 

"As much as I ever wish to be," she replied very warmly. "I have spent four days in the same house with him, and I think him very disagreeable."

I smiled inwardly at this assessment that so neatly meshed with my own, and reckoned that the two of us would get on well, but decided to play the gentleman, and thus made some small excuses for Darcy’s behavior. My new friend was having none of it.

"Upon my word, I say no more here than I might say in any house in the neighbourhood, except Netherfield. He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire. Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by anyone." 

She delivered this judgement quite decidedly, and I shrugged a bit and smiled, wondering aloud if Darcy might be staying long in the neighborhood. 

On this point, Elizabeth could give no intelligence, but she hoped that I would not let his brooding presence be the reason for me to leave their pleasant country town.

Of this I was happy to assure her, saying, perhaps a little too passionately, "It is not for me to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he must go. We are not on friendly terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might proclaim before all the world, a sense of very great ill-usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is. His father, Miss Bennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men that ever breathed, and the truest friend I ever had; and I can never be in company with this Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections. His behaviour to myself has been scandalous; but I verily believe I could forgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the memory of his father."

She seemed to melt a little at this speech, and pressed me for more details, which I fed her slowly, and which she lapped up as a kitten drinks cream, thirsty for every terrible recollection of mine that would reinforce her own dim view of the heir to Pemberley.



Meryton, 1796

Fall in the country turned out to be a pleasant time for yours truly, as Colonel Foster was not a terribly hard taskmaster, and militia service thus placed none too many demands upon my time.

I generally left the business of running my company of troops to my sergeant, a doughty fellow by the name of Hawthorne with a face as red as his jacket, a fearsome moustache, and a voice like the bellow of an ox.

This sort of delegation meant I was free to sleep late, enjoy leisurely breakfasts in the officer’s mess, and to terrorize the local pheasants and foxes in the company of Denny, Pratt, and the other lieutenants.

I’d show up to the occasional parade practice, take my place in front of the troops, say a few kind words to lift their spirits when Sergeant Hawthorne had finished haranguing them, or look on with boredom as they practiced their musketry, but that was about the extent of it.

The great news about the village was that a ball would soon be held at Netherfield, and every woman in town, from girls of 15 summers to matrons of thrice that were all a-twitter about what showed every sign of being the society event of the year in this sleepy town. This was an event, ind you, which I would never have even bothered to attend had I been back in the City, but c’est la vie.

Indeed, a nattily-attired militia Lieutenant could hardly go anywhere, from Mrs. Lucas’s dining room to the warm embrace of a buxom serving girl in the hayloft of Mr. Phillip’s stable without hearing something of the event, although accounts differed greatly on where you heard tell of it.

The better sort of ladies with whom I was regularly seen to socialize viewed it as an excuse to buy new ribbons, an occasion to dress in their finest gowns, and an opportunity to entangle their daughters (or themselves) in a profitable liaison with a wealthy bachelor. 

And there was no shortage of bachelors, for such a small town. Many a lass had set their caps at Mister Bingley, the host of the event, and even the dourly ridiculous Mister Collins, with his book of Fordyce’s Sermons ever in hand was not entirely lacking in prospects, as he already held the Hunsford Parsonage, and stood to inherit Longbourn, the ancestral home of the Bennet family. 

For those with more martial tastes (and no concerns about money) there were several officers to be had, including Denny, Pratt, and of course myself. 

Indeed, the only fellow within fifty miles for whom some sort of conquest was not well-nigh assured was Mister Darcy, for although his fortune made even Bingley’s wealth look modest by comparison, his proud and condescending manner had made him a veritable pariah in Meryton, a situation which I, for one, found terribly amusing and completely appropriate.

Of course, not every female was as sanguine in their assessment of the upcoming festivities, though. For the washerwomen, serving girls, and sundry other menials with whom I occasionally consorted out of sight of polite society, the coming ball was viewed in a rather different light, namely as an annoying source of additional work. 

There were more linens to wash and iron, floors to scrub, silverware to polish, and hence, less time to pursue amorous liaisons with libertine lieutenants.

It rained nearly the entire week before the ball, so hunting and parade practice were both out of the question, and so I passed the time with my fellow officers drinking and playing cards. 

The ball was to be held upon the Tuesday, and so I was careful to prepare my uniform the day prior, that I might make the best possible impression on Elizabeth Bennet. A dalliance with this outspoken young lady would give me the opportunity to spite Darcy and amuse myself at the same time.

I was just finishing my preparations when there came a discreet rapping at my door. With a final glance at my uniform, I answered the timid knock to discover one of my privates standing outside, red-faced and dripping wet. 

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Sir,” he said, extending a smudged envelope, “but I’ve just run up from the camp, Sir, with a letter fer ya...” 

Grimacing, I took the letter from his damp hand, dismissing him with a nod. 

He saluted smartly, turned on his heel, and disappeared, leaving me to open the letter and read its contents in peace, a peace that was shattered as soon as I beheld the contents. 

Georgiana had returned to Pemberley.



The Midlands, 1796

Georgiana in Pemberley? I was still smitten with the girl, and with Darcy and Bingley engaged as the hosts of the ball at Netherfield, I should never have a better opportunity to sweep the lovely Miss Darcy off her feet, into the saddle, and away to the altar. 
The fact that I would come to her now dressed in the scarlet uniform of a Lieutenant could only improve my chances, I reckoned. 

So, I donned my freshly-prepared jacket not to dazzle the ladies of Meryton, but to dash off toward the love of my life. 

Before I could do that, though, there were things that had to be done. I begged a few days of leave from Colonel Foster, and explained to Denny that I was called to Town on urgent business, asking that he make my excuses to the Miss Bennets, among others. 
This he was happy to do, no doubt secure in the knowledge that my absence from the ball would only improve his own chances at making a match with one of the ladies.

The ride to Derbyshire was long, over a hundred miles of roads whose surfaces were muddied by the recent rains, which had thankfully stopped, tho’ the skies were thickly hung with dark clouds.

The treacherous footing was not the only hazard of the route; highwaymen were known to prowl these same roads, but wearing the uniform of a King’s officer, carrying both sword and pistols, but damned little coin, I supposed I had little enough to fear, and less to offer to ‘em.

And so I rode North, as hard as my chestnut mare would bear; through Northampton and then Leicester, stopping in each town to water my horse, stiffen my resolve with a drink, and rest my aching backside.

My final waystation would be in Derby, at the old Crown & Anchor pub on St. Peter’s street. This was the cozy public house where the elder Mister Darcy and I had often slaked our thirst enroute to another debauched tour of London, but since my estrangement from his son, it had been years since I’d darkened the doorstep there.

I figured I would stay the night, let my poor horse rest up a bit, get properly washed and breakfasted, and then ride the last twenty miles into the Peak District in which Pemberley was located.

Seeing my mare’s reins into the hostler’s hand, I strode into the smoky pub, found an open table, and hailed the serving girl. The smells of roasting meat, tobacco smoke, and bitter beer created a fragrant mélange that made my mouth water. I ordered a plate of roast and a pint of beer, and received both in quick order, along with a smile and a wink from the little hussy on serving duty.

I was halfway through my pint and had my mouth full of meat and drippings when I heard someone cough loudly behind me.

“Excuse, me, Sir,” a voice squeaked from that same direction, and I turned in my seat to face the source of my interrupted feast.

It was the publican, no doubt about to tell me that they’d no rooms for the night, but I reckoned a few fat guineas would change his mind quick enough.

“Begging your pardon,” he said in the toadying manner that only a veteran of such establishments can manage, “but I’ve got a letter for you, Sir.”

That was damned strange – who’d have known that I’d be riding through Derby and think to leave word for me? Denny and Colonel Foster thought me gone to London, and Georgiana wouldn’t know I was coming. That only left – Darcy!

I tore the letter from the publican’s greasy palm and ripped it open, knowing all too well what I’d find, and already seething.

Mister Wickham;

I should like to say that it gives me no pleasure to write to you, as in general it does not. But, I must confess there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I have confounded your schemes to sully the Bingley’s ball at Netherfield with your presence.

If you are reading this letter, then you have already ridden through the day and into the night, whilst Bingley and his sisters have enjoyed their soiree  - thus I say, turn back now, “brother” – there is no need to pollute the shades of Pemberley further.
Georgiana is not there; she is still abroad on the Continent, watched day and night, and as lost to you as if she were in darkest Abyssinia.

I cannot force you to leave Hertfordshire forever; I acknowledge that only King and Colonel may direct the progress of the Regiment. Still, I trust you will learn your place from this little exercise, and see to it that so long as the Regiment is quartered in Meryton, you do not obtrude into the company of your betters.

Yours still in enmity,
F. Darcy    

Oh, the villain! Never had I wished more that I was a savage Hottentot or ancient Viking, for then I could beat my chest, smite the furniture, and howl oaths into the gloom of night, but by God, I was an English gentleman, and we do things a bit differently, so I turned back to my roast, drained my beer and ordered another. 

I retired to bed and bath much, much later, under the watchful eye and wandering hands of that little minx of a serving maid, and thus found some use after all for the small purse I’d brought to secure my elopement.  



Meryton, 1796

My ride back to Meryton from Derby took me nearly two days. I saw no point in rushing the journey, as my horse was tired and my head throbbed from the previous night’s drinking and debauchery.

Once I returned, I made no mention of the affair, allowing Pratt and Denny to believe that I had simply returned to London to settle some accounts.

Meeting the Bennet girls in town on Thursday, I was invited to accompany them to their aunt’s house, where all and sundry fussed and cooed over me, telling me how very concerned they had been when I had not appeared at the ball, and sighing when I proclaimed my regret and vexation.

To Elizabeth only I confided that my absence from the festive occasion had been self-imposed. "I found," I said, "as the time drew near that I had better not meet Mr. Darcy; that to be in the same room, the same party with him for so many hours together, might be more than I could bear, and that scenes might arise unpleasant to more than myself." 

Elizabeth gave me to know that she thoroughly approved my forbearance, and we had leisure for a full discussion of it, and for all the commendation which we might civilly bestowed on each other, as Denny and I walked back the girls to Longbourn. 

During this walk, I particularly attended Elizabeth, and perceived that she was quite conscious of the advantages it afforded her and accepted the implicit compliment that it represented, for on reaching Longbourn, she made a particular point of introducing me to her father and mother.

Mister Bennet and I took to each other right away, for though he, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her, he was quite a jovial fellow. He reminded me in many ways of the elder Mr. Darcy, though Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly of their vice. 

By this, of course, I mean drink, women, and dice; instead he was fond of the country life and of books, and while I left the latter to him, we had sufficient common ground in the former for discussions of hunting, fishing, rambling and horticulture form the basis of an excellent acquaintance. 

His wife, for her part, behaved quite coldly to Elizabeth, but lavished the warmest of attentions on me, and made no secret of her ambitions that I marry any one of her daughters, save Jane, whom she suggested was practically betrothed to Mister Bingley.

I complimented her on having made this successful match for her eldest daughter, remonstrating that I myself was merely a poor militia Lieutenant, and wondering aloud if there were not more promising candidates for the hands of the remaining Miss Bennets.

“Oh, Mister Wickham, how it pains me to recall it,” she gushed dramatically, “but just yesterday my Lizzie received a most excellent proposal from Mister Collins, but she has turned him down, proud, vain, wicked child that she is!”

Mrs. Bennet made this speech as if the daughter in question was not sitting right there beside us, but Elizabeth bore this scathing critique without retort, but with aplomb and restraint, although she succeeded in indicating her thoughts on the subject with the hint of a smile, and a quick rolling of her lovely eyes.

When I departed Longbourn, Elizabeth accompanied me to the gate, and wished me a pleasant afternoon. Here I made free to compliment her on avoiding a match with Mister Collins. “I am sure that while in a material sense, he enjoys all the perquisites that I have myself been denied, that there is something lacking in his manner, aesthetics, and intellect that a woman of your caliber should require in a husband.”

At this, Miss Elizabeth blushed most prettily, and assured me that while modesty prevented her agreement, she could not possibly have married Mister Collins, as he was a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man whom no woman with a proper way of thinking could ever conceive of marrying.

I returned to the militia billets, and found the place in a bit of a tizzy. One of my soliders, a fellow named Jenkins, had apparently run out of patience for the exercises imposed by Sergeant Hawthorne, and had endeavoured to punch that worthy in his bearded, red face. The assault had succeeded, at least in part, as the Sergeant’s black and swollen left eye attested, but the victory was short-lived, as he’d been seized by a few of the other fellows, and now languished, bound and bruised, in a corner of one of the small buildings that the Regiment used to store supplies.

A Regimental Court-Martial was convened, consisting of three of the junior officers. As Jenkins was my man, Colonel Forster deemed it improper that I should sit in judgment of him, but Denny and Pratt were chosen, along with another Lieutenant named Landswell.

Now, Jenkins might have been hung or shot for his crime, but instead the Court-Martial awarded him 500 lashes of the cat-o’nine tails, to be delivered that afternoon.

Colonel Forster reviewed the sentence and commuted it to a mere 200 strokes, a sentence which was carried out in the traditional fashion.

The Regiment was formed in a square, with the ranks arrayed on three sides; the fourth side was generally open, and it was from here that we officers observed the proceedings.

Three Sergeants had formed a triangle of their halberds, driving the spiked butts deep into the soft ground and lashing the heads together; to this frame poor Jenkins was paraded by his guards, and ordered to strip off his jacket and shirt, after which he was bound to the triangle, legs spread and hands above his head.

The Colonel rode out into the square and read out the sentence, at which point two of our drummer boys, each furnished with a cat-o’nine, proceeded to administer the sentence, each delivering some twenty-five strokes in his turn before, arms tiring, he turned the grim duty over to his partner.

You may suppose this punishment very cruel, and indeed it was, tho’ somewhat ameliorated by the fact that young boys, and not grown men were employed to swing the lash; but for all of that they laid into Jenkins with a vigor, at least at first, and tho’ he endeavoured to bear it bravely, he soon cried out and writhed most piteously against his bindings, and his bare back evinced the bright color of welts and bruises.

After the first fifty strokes, the Regimental surgeon examined the wretched sufferer and determined that he was still fit to receive the remainder of his sentence, which the drummer boys returned to, tho’ their strokes grew weaker as their arms tired.

At similar intervals, the surgeon intervened, but each time judged Jenkins fit to suffer still, and so the entirety of the sentence was carried out. His back was bleeding and he had to be carried off by a pair of Sergeants once he’d been cut down from the triangle, but justice had been done, and the example set.

A grim days work, but as the judge at the Hertfordshire assizes had but recently told an unfortunate horse-thief, “You are not to be hung for stealing a horse, but so that, in the future, horses will not be stolen.”

How well that hanging served to reduce the number of stolen horses in the county, I cannot say, but the example of Jenkins’ bloody back served to keep order throughout the Regiment, for we did not have another such incident in all the time we were quartered in Meryton.



Meryton, 1796

The next few days were full of dramatic discoveries. Mister Bingley and his sisters had vacated Netherfield and returned to Town, taking my meddling god-brother along with them.  Elizabeth showed me a letter that Caroline Bingley had sent to Jane, and asked for my opinion as to how best it might be interpreted.

I took the letter, which consisted of sheet of elegant, little, hot-pressed paper, well covered with a lady's fair, flowing hand, and read the following:

My Dearest Jane;

My brother and Mister Darcy have left for town on some small affairs of business, and Louisa and I have resolved to follow them directly.

We mean to pause only to dine in Grosvenor Street, where Mr. Hurst has a lovely house. I do not pretend to regret anything I shall leave in Hertfordshire, except your society, my dearest friend; but we will hope, at some future period, to enjoy many returns of that delightful intercourse we have known, and in the meanwhile may lessen the pain of separation by a very frequent and most unreserved correspondence. I depend on you for that.

When my brother left us yesterday, he imagined that the business which took him to London might be concluded in three or four days; but as we are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced that when Charles gets to town he will be in no hurry to leave it again, we have determined on following him thither, that he may not be obliged to spend his vacant hours in a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintances are already there for the winter; I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd—but of that I despair.

I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.

Mr. Darcy is impatient to see his sister; and, to confess the truth, we are scarcely less eager to meet her again. I really do not think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty, elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection she inspires in Louisa and myself is heightened into something still more interesting, from the hope we dare entertain of her being hereafter our sister.

 I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings on this subject; but I will not leave the country without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem them unreasonable. My brother admires her greatly already; he will have frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the most intimate footing; her relations all wish the connection as much as his own; and a sister's partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call Charles most capable of engaging any woman's heart. With all these circumstances to favour an attachment, and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Jane, in indulging the hope of an event which will secure the happiness of so many?

Well, now, the carriage is ready, and I have almost exhausted this sheet of paper, but know that I am now and always,

Very sincerely yours,
Caroline Bingley

“Well,” queried Elizabeth, as I raised my eyes from the paper, “what do you make of it?”
I sighed audibly. “My dear Elizabeth, I am afraid I mark this as a scheme to separate Charles Bingley from your sister, under whose spell, if I am not greatly mistaken in my estimation of the man, he has lately fallen.”

My fair companion exhibited rather less astonishment at this statement than I should have expected, merely shaking her head and saying “It is as I thought, Sir. Caroline Bingley is the worst sort of woman, offering flowers to your face and a knife to your back. I have tried to warn Jane but she will not listen!”
I admitted that on this point I believed her to be correct, but added that I saw more than the hand of Bingley’s eldest sister in this plot.

“In truth,” says I, “Bingley dotes upon his sisters, but they do not influence his opinions overmuch. There is another, though, who does – a man with whom we are both acquainted, and whom-”

“Mister Darcy?” Elizabeth interjected.

“Indeed, though it pains me to speak of it, there can be no other. Darcy is a proud, prejudiced man; in the affairs of his family and friends, he will not brook their alliance with those that he considers of inferior station.”

“Inferior station?” exclaimed Elizabeth heatedly, a rosy flush suffusing her cheeks. “My sister Jane is a gentleman’s daughter - she would be a fit consort for a peer of the realm, and Bingley is not such a man, nor Darcy himself. How dare he!”

I laid my hand over hers, a forward gesture, but one meant, innocently enough in this case – I merely sought to calm the passion rising in my companion.“You speak the truth, dear Elizabeth, and tho’ we know it and society recognizes it, still Darcy believes himself and his entourage to be above us all, I know not why. Certainly his father was not cut of such an unsociable fabric, nor is his sister.”

Elizabeth gave me a wry smile. “Oh, yes, his sister. This Georgiana of whom no one can speak any ill, and whom Caroline Bingley has made her especial choice as the future wife of her brother, and despoiler of my sister’s hopes...” Her voice trailed off.

I shrugged slightly, thinking inwardly that on the matter of Georgiana Darcy, I was obliged to agree with Miss Bingley’s assessment; that she was, present company included, unmatched in beauty, elegance, and accomplishments.

Indeed,” I thought to myself “I once sought her hand, and she mine, but in the eyes of Fitzwilliam Darcy, I was not good enough for his sister, as his friend is too good for yours. It is yet another way in which the fiend has frustrated my every hope and ambition.” But aloud I replied, “I could not speak to all of that, for I have seen too little of her since I left Pemberley. She was an amiable child, but I hear she has grown to be a proud, reserved, disagreeable girl.”

You may well wonder at this answer, but it was too painful to think of my lost love, that one perfect woman who might have redeemed me, and I refused to demean her memory by using the story of our ruined engagement as ammunition against her brother, or as a conversation topic with Elizabeth. I imagined that if I painted my companion the picture she wished to see, the topic would be quickly closed, and I was not mistaken.

 “Oh, Mister Wickham, it is as I thought. No wonder Caroline Bingley marks her as a sister, for they have much in common.” She gave my hand a little squeeze, and withdrawing hers, favored me with a winning smile and said, “Come now, let us exercise ourselves with a walk to town and talk of gayer subjects!”



Meryton, 1796

About three weeks passed, and spirits of some of my friends at Longbourn grew rather downcast. Jane kept up a brave front, but the girl was completely lacking in guile and always wore her heart on her sleeve, a heart which was as full of sorrow in the absence of Charles Bingley as it had been full of happiness in his presence.

Mrs. Bennet complained constantly of her nerves, and it was difficult to tell which had affected them more greatly; the desertion of Bingley, Elizabeth’s refusal to marry the ridiculous Mister Collins, or the fact that Charlotte Lucas had caught the very bachelor that Elizabeth had thrown away.

Elizabeth was more troubled by her mother’s cold words than she let on, and of course took the slight that Jane had suffered very much to heart.

But not everyone at Longbourn was so affected; nothing could quell the gossipy, flirtatious natures of Lydia and Kitty, nor cause Mary to raise her eyes far from the pages of some gloomy novel or the keyboard of her beloved pianoforte, and Mister Bennet retreated into his library, emerging only at meal times to suffer under the various moods of his multifariously feminine household.

I liked to think that my society was of some service in dispelling the gloom which the late perverse occurrences had thrown on many of the Longbourn family. We saw each other often, and between my own unreserved declarations and those of the Miss Bennets, the whole town came to hear of my claims on Mr. Darcy, and all that I had suffered from him. With these sordid details now openly acknowledged and publicly canvassed, everybody was pleased to know how much they had always disliked Mr. Darcy before they had known anything of the matter.

Jane Bennet was the only creature who could suppose there might be any extenuating circumstances in the case, unknown to the society of Hertfordshire; her mild and steady candour always pleaded for allowances, and urged the possibility of mistakes—but by everybody else Mr. Darcy was condemned as the worst of men, and I was universally acknowledged among the best.

A month passed, and the big news in town was the arrival of the Gardiners. Mister Gardiner was a merchant of some standing in London, and his wife was the sister of the estimable Mrs. Bennet, although she was possessed of a somewhat more sanguine temperament than her sister.

This presented me with an interesting experience, as it turned out that Mrs. Gardiner had, about ten or a dozen years ago, spent a considerable time in that very part of Derbyshire in which I had resided in my youth. We had, therefore, many acquaintances in common; and though I had been little there since the death of the elder Mr. Darcy, it was yet in my power to give her fresher intelligence of her former friends than she had been in the way of procuring. Mrs. Gardiner had seen Pemberley, and fancied that she had known the late Mr. Darcy by character perfectly well.

Thankfully, she had no real knowledge of either his true nature, or of my own, but she found this to be a nearly inexhaustible subject of discourse. In comparing her recollection of Pemberley with the minute description which I was uniquely able to provide, and in bestowing her tribute of praise on the character of its late possessor, she was delighting the both of us.

On being made acquainted with the way that the present Mr. Darcy had treated me, she tried to remember some of that gentleman's reputed disposition when quite a lad which might agree with it, and was confident at last that she recollected having heard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy formerly spoken of as a very proud, ill-natured boy.

The Gardiners stayed a week at Longbourn; and what with the Phillipses, the Lucases, and the officers, there was not a day without its engagement. Mrs. Bennet had so carefully provided for the entertainment of her brother-in-law and sister that they did not once sit down to a family dinner. When the engagement was for home, some of the officers always made part of it—of which officers I was sure to be one.

I fancied that on these occasions, Mrs. Gardiner was paying particular attention to the congress between Elizabeth Bennet and myself. No doubt she imagined she saw some love blooming between us, but in fact we were merely good friends, thrown together by our mutual dislike of Fitzwilliam Darcy, but separated on her part by the lack of a passionate attraction to me, and on my part by a her lack of a fortune.

Christmas came and went, and with it, the Gardiners, who returned to London with Jane in tow. Of course she claimed aloud that she had no notion of seeing Mister Bingley, but I didn’t need Elizabeth’s confidences to know that her sister’s secret ambition was to be somehow magically reunited with her lost beau.

For those of us left behind in Meryton, there was then the spectacle of the wedding of Miss Lucas to Mister Collins, and everybody had as much to say, or to hear, on the subject as usual, which consisted largely of variations on two themes. The first was how lucky the plain-faced Mrs Collins had been to escape spinsterhood, and the second being how ridiculous a specimen of manhood she had seized upon to make that escape. For my part, I thought the two deserved each other, and should probably be as happy as many a married couple I’d seen, and only slightly more to be pitied.

A month or more passed. Elizabeth received several letters from Jane, in which the passage of time proved to that most good-hearted of women that the assertions of her sister with regards to the true nature of Caroline Bingley was more accurate than her own good nature had allowed.

I learned of this in one of our less-frequent interviews, for in late January I had made the acquaintance of Miss Mary King, a cold, freckle-faced young woman whose greatest endowment, it must be said, was the ten thousand pounds she had recently inherited at the decease of her grandfather.

Lydia and Kitty were inclined to bewail my less frequent attendance upon the family at Longbourn, but Elizabeth Bennet bore my absences with equanamity, which I rather thought was my testament to the belief that it was mere friendship and

nothing of a more serious nature that bound the two of us in confidence.

January passed into February, and February into March. Elizabeth repaid my desertion with one of her own, as she left Meryton to spend a month or so visiting the Collinses in Kent. This suited me quite well, as it removed one of my many distractions, the requirement to maintain a polite society with the family at Longbourn, and freed me to spend more time courting Miss King, indulging in my occasional downstairs liaisons, and doing my small part in the preparations to of the Regiment, to move our camp to Brighton for the summer.

Lydia and Kitty were regular guests around our billets, as were some of the other town flirts, including the Harrington sisters, Penny and Harriet. Their visits were encouraged by Mrs. Forster’s desire to surround herself with a young, impressionable audience, and those five women engaged themselves in every imaginable silliness.

One afternoon, Pratt, Denny and I walked into Colonel Forster’s house to consult our superior officer on some matter of preparation, and discovered that the girls had taken one of the poor man-servants, Chamberlayne, and dressed him up as a woman. This fact that was lost on poor Pratt, who was in the process of bowing and kissing the supposed

lady’s hand when the uproarious laughter of the girls told him something was amiss. He stormed red-faced from the parlor when Denny pointed out the sizable and rather hirsute nature of the hand he had just kissed, and was rather sore for days about the encounter.

In April, I received troubling news; Mary King was to go down to Liverpool to stay with her uncle, and though I redoubled my efforts to persuade that cold little fish of a woman to warm sufficiently to warrant a proposal before she departed, it was to no avail.

But if Mary King would not be going as my wife, there should be a Brighton at least one young lady of my acquaintance, as Mrs. Forster had prevailed upon the good Colonel to allow Lydia Bennet to accompany her to our new quarters, if her parents should consent.

Lydia was the youngest, tallest, and most flirtatious of the Bennet sisters; to call her vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled was in fact merely a case of giving the Devil her due. Given all that, is it so hard to see why a fellow like me should have a soft spot for her? I rather thought that she would be a source of great amusement and a familiar face in a new city, but little did I know then what the future might hold.



Meryton, 1797

In the second week in May, Elizabeth and Jane returned, the former from Kent, the latter from London. I was quite busy with the final details of preparing myself and my men for the march to Brighton, and so I thought little of the fact that I did not see the elder Bennet girls right away.

It was the last of the Regiment's stay in Meryton, and all the young ladies in the neighbourhood were drooping apace. The dejection was almost universal. Of all the local flirts, only one was in a good humour, for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had finally consented for Lydia to accompany Mrs. Forster as the Colonel’s wife had desired. That fortunate damsel alone fluttered about in restless ecstasy, calling for everyone's congratulations, and laughing and talking with more violence than ever; whilst the luckless Kitty joined the other Meryton girls in bemoaning her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish.

On the very last day of the regiment's remaining at Meryton, I dined with several of the other officers, at Longbourn, and observed that Elizabeth appeared to be little cold. I supposed that she was simply, in her own way, sad at the departure of the Regiment, and so I attempted to divert her with some small talk, making a cordial inquiry as to the manner in which her time had passed at Hunsford. 

She surprised me by replying that Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy had both spent three weeks at Rosings, and asked me if I was acquainted with the former.

I’m sure I must have appeared momentarily discomfited, as indeed I was, but quickly collecting my wits, I replied with a smile, that I had formerly seen him often, and furthermore observed that he was a very gentlemanlike man, I asked her how she had liked him. Her answer was warmly in his favour. 

Feigning indifference, I asked, “How long did you say he was at Rosings?”

“Nearly three weeks.” 

“And you saw him frequently?” 

“Yes, almost every day.” 

“His manners are very different from his cousin's.” 

“Yes, very different. But I think Mr. Darcy improves upon acquaintance.”

“Indeed!” I exclaimed, with a look which did not escape her. “And pray, may I ask? - ” But I caught myself, and adopting a gayer tone, amended my question. “Is it in address that he improves? Has he deigned to add aught of civility to his ordinary style?—for I dare not hope,” I continued in a lower and more serious tone, “that he is improved in essentials.” 

“Oh, no!” said Elizabeth. “In essentials, I believe, he is very much what he ever was.”

While she spoke, my mind fairly spun; I was unsure whether to rejoice over her words, or to distrust their meaning. There was a something in her countenance which made me listen with an apprehensive and anxious attention, while she added: 

“When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not mean that his mind or his manners were in a state of improvement, but that, from knowing him better, his disposition was better understood.” 

Her cleverly chosen words seemed innocuous enough, but I was left with no doubt that Darcy had given her enough of an account of my true nature to, if not completely redeem himself in her estimation, than at least to damn me. I was silent for a few minutes in contemplation of this curious turn of events, but shook it off – what was her approbation to me? I was bound for new adventures in Brighton. But no need to make much of it, thinks I, and turning to her again, I vouchsafed in the gentlest of accents: “You, who so well know my feeling towards Mr. Darcy, will readily comprehend how sincerely I must rejoice that he is wise enough to assume even the appearance of what is right. His pride, in that direction, may be of service, if not to himself, to many others, for it must only deter him from such foul misconduct as I have suffered by. I only fear that the sort of cautiousness to which you, I imagine, have been alluding, is merely adopted on his visits to his aunt, of whose good opinion and judgment he stands much in awe. His fear of her has always operated, I know, when they were together; and a good deal is to be imputed to his wish of forwarding the match with Miss de Bourgh, which I am certain he has very much at heart.” 

Elizabeth smiled at this, but she answered me only by a slight inclination of her head, and the subject was dropped.

I passed the rest of the evening with the appearance of my usual cheerfulness, but made no further attempt to distinguish Elizabeth; and we parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never meeting again. 

The matter was put quite out of my mind on the following day, as in a great cloud of dust and accompanied by the sad farewells of the feminine populace, the Regiment marched out of Meryton and off to Brighton.



Brighton, 1797

How should I describe Brighton, gentle readers? I can think of no better way than to append among these pages the most useful parts of an epigram written by the estimable Anthony Pasquin on the subject:

Brighthelmstone, or Brighton, in Sussex, is 54 miles from London. It was, like Amsterdam, a miserable-fishing town, but is now a place of importance, to which it was raised by the countenance and bounty of the Prince of Wales. The houses are, generally speaking, more inconvenient than unhandsome; and the streets are narrow and irregular. The coast is like the greater part of its visitors; bold, saucy, intrusive, and dangerous.

It is one of those numerous watering-places which beskirt this polluted island, and operate as apologies for idleness, sensuality, and nearly all the ramifications of social imposture: where the barren seek a stimulus for fecundity and the voluptuary wash the cobwebs from the interstices of their flaccid anatomies.

There are two taverns, namely, the Castle and the Old Ship, where the richer visitors resort; and at each of these houses a weekly assembly is held, where a Master of Ceremonies attends, to arrange the parties, not according to the scale of utility, but that of aristocracy.

There is a ball every Monday at the Castle, and on Thursdays at the Old Ship: every subscriber pays three shillings and sixpence, and every non-subscriber five shillings; and the masters of the respective inns receive the profits, except on those nights appointed for the benefit of the Master of Ceremonies; to whom all, who wish to be arranged as people of distinction, subscribe one guinea—and who would not purchase distinction at so cheap a rate? 

There is a theatre, commodious, and generally well directed; the nights of performance are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. At the lower end of North-street is a sort of Birmingham Vauxhall, called the Promenade Grove: it is a small enclosure of a paddock, tormented from its native simplicity, befringed with a few gawky poplars, and decorated with flowers, bowers, benches, frogs, ground-ivy, a ditch, and a wooden box for the minstrels.

The bathing-machines, even for the ladies, have no awning of covering, as at Weymouth, Margate, and Scarborough; consequently they are all severely inspected by the aid of telescopes, not only as they confusedly ascend from the sea, but as they kick and sprawl and flounder about its muddy margin, like so many mad Naiads in flannel smocks: the shore is so disastrously imperfect, that those who are enabled to plunge in, and swim beyond the surge, it is somewhat less than an even bet that many never return—in truth, the loss of lives here every season, would make any society miserable, who were not congregating in the mart of noisy folly.

There are lodgings of all descriptions and fitness, from twenty pounds per week on the Cliffs, to half a crown per night in a stable; and the sinews of morality are so happily relaxed, that a bawd and a baroness may snore in the same tenement; the keepers of the lodging-houses, like the keepers of mad-houses, having but one common point in view—to bleed the parties sufficiently.

There are carriages and caravans of all shapes and dimensions, from a wagon to a fish-cart, and there are two libraries on the Steyne, replete with every flimsy species of novels, involving the prodigious intrigues of an imaginary society: this kind of recreation is termed light reading; perhaps from the certain effect it has upon the brains of my young countrywomen, of making them light-headed!

And there is a parish church, where the poor go to pray; but as that is on a hill, and the gentry found their Sabbath visit to the Almighty very troublesome, the amiable and accommodating master priest has consigned the care of his common parish mutton to his journeyman, the curate, and has kindly raised a Chapel Royal for the lambs of fashion, where a certain sum is paid for every seat: and this, it must be admitted, is as it should be; as a well-bred Deity will assuredly be more attentive to a reclining Duchess, parrying the assaults of the devil behind her fan, than the vulgar piety of a plebeian on his knees.

Yes, that was Brighton as I and the officers of my Regiment found it when we marched in on a bright day at the end of May – a town that like many a bawdy-house, was a place of ill repute, but great reputation. 

Mark my words, you upstanding citizens of England; nothing good ever happens in Brighton – tho’ I use term here in the vernacular of your local parish priest. For those of us who reckon good and bad to be damned subjective terms, of course, that goes out the window – as for myself, I can attest that my short stay in that seaside den of vice and indolence changed the course of my career forevermore, though for better or worse, I own you must judge for yourself. 

I’ve no complaints, now that all’s been said and done, though I’ll admit I was not always so sanguine on the topic.



Brighton, 1797

It was early June when the event occurred that was to forever alter the course of my progress through this mortal coil and throw me headlong into a career that has taken me half-way ‘round the world and imperiled my life on any number of occasions. 

And like most such life-changing events, you’d never see it coming. Lydia was holding court in Mrs. Forster’s salon as she often did, and when I entered the room, she immediately hailed me into her little circle. "Oh! Wickham," said she, "I wish you had gone with us, for we had such fun! Mrs. Forster and I saw Lillian Welleston, and have had the most scandalous news from her! Pratt has proposed to Lady Athelwaite’s daughter, can you believe it? And of course she has refused him; I do love our poor Pratt, but he is poor, and hasn’t your looks or charm, dear Wickham, so how could he have imagined Miss Athelwaite should have him? I told Mrs. Forster it was quite the most ridiculous proposal I had heard of, save for Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth, but of course that hardly counts for it is too improbable to imagine and I am sure Lizzie simply invented it to cheer up poor Jane.”

Left to her own devices, Lydia would probably have continued to ramble on for several more minutes on the various topics of Jane’s misfortunes, the color of Miss Welleston’s newest hat, what they’d had for lunch, and the nature of the weather, but here I just had to interrupt. “Mr. Darcy has proposed to your sister?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yes indeed, if Lizzie is to be trusted, and of course she is such a proper girl that one is inclined to take her at her word, but you must own, dear Wickham, that it is quite the silliest notion. It was in Kent, I believe, while she was visiting plain old Charlotte and her odious husband, Mr. Collins, but of course Elizabeth turned Mr. Darcy down, and can you imagine why?”

I was about to admit a certain curiosity as to the reason for the refusal, but I didn’t have a chance to open my mouth, for Lydia, in her usual fashion, continued her story without even a pause for breath.

“It was all thanks to you, Mr. Wickham, and the horrible way in which Mr. Darcy had ruined your happiness, and of course there was the matter of Jane and Mr. Bingley, but lah, isn’t it ridiculous that he even asked her? Oh, I wish I could have seen his face when she turned him down, he is such a prideful man, I am sure I should have laughed until I died!”

In an attempt to forestall Lydia from veering off on another conversational tangent, and to satisfy my own desire to know just how much Elizabeth might have revealed, I enquired as to how she’d come by this information.

Lydia turned the full power of her dazzling smile upon me. “Oh, you know Lizzie would never tell me such things, for she thinks me too much a gossip, but it happened I was passing by the door of Jane’s room, and heard your name, and I just had to listen for a moment! So, I discovered the story of that most ridiculous of proposals, and then they began to discuss some letter from Mr. Darcy, and I couldn’t stay to listen, because Kitty was calling me, and we were supposed to go into town to buy some ribbons, and you know I find letters quite boring as a rule, so...”

Lydia continued to babble on, but I wasn’t paying attention, for two things were much on my mind, the first being a sense of relief that whatever version of the truth my damnable god-brother had communicated to Elizabeth in that letter had not gained wider distribution. The second, and rather more important, was the confirmation of my earlier suspicion that Darcy had a romantic interest in Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

I had marked something of the sort in our first encounter in Meryton months before, and it was apparent that his attraction had grown over the intervening period until he had finally proposed in Kent.

Of course, what Darcy didn’t know about women and their views on the world would fill a book, and it was plain to see that he had completely failed to comprehend that his meddling in the affairs of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet (which was made so evident in Caroline Bingley’s treacle-laden letters) had prejudiced Elizabeth against his suit rather strongly, and that furthermore, the knowledge of how badly he had treated me, a man who was a great friend and confidante to the Bennets in general and to Elizabeth in particular had no doubt ensured that his offer would be repulsed out of hand. 

My first impulse was to write my god-brother a scathing letter to let him know that I was cognizant of his disappointment, and to ask him how it felt to be crossed in love, etc, but then a second thought occurred to me. Darcy had money, but he wanted Elizabeth. I needed money, and had no use for Elizabeth, especially not now that she cozened something of an accurate view of my general nature. I had the greatest part of anyone in separating Darcy from the girl of his dreams, and thus was the only person who could easily help to reform his image in the mind of the Bennet family, society at large, and in particular, Elizabeth Bennet.

They all loved me, and despised him, but people are generally silly and easily led. It had taken little effort to convince the whole of Meryton of my virtues and his vices; how much easier should it be to reverse the process? My mind fairly spun. This was the sort of game for which I was made!

Another problem loomed; I could reform Darcy’s image, yet Elizabeth might still refuse him for the pain he’d caused her beloved Jane. But Jane wanted Bingley, and the vapid Bingley wanted whatever Darcy told him he wanted, and so... 

My plots thickened. I’d get Darcy his girl, in spite of his own pride and stupidity, and though I’d have to blacken my own reputation to salvage his, what was that to me as long as I received a fortune sufficient to set me up in the world? 

Did I care a fig for the good opinion of those fools in Meryton, or for that of bilious old Colonel Forster and his vapid flirt of a wife? Who else knew me, besides Denny and Pratt and the other Lieutenants; Denny had known me forever and would forgive me most anything; as for the rest, they could all go hang.

“...and that is just why you will never find me taking the waters, for all that they are – Wickham? Are you even listening? Lah, but you have such a strange expression!”

I smiled winningly at Lydia, a clever plan taking shape in my mind. “I’m sorry, dear Lydia,” says I, “but I must have been momentarily distracted by your loveliness.”

The fair maiden (if such she still was) blushed and fluttered her long, dark lashes, smiling like a little coquette, and Mrs. Forster tittered and rolled her eyes. I begged to be excused from their company, and headed back to my Regimental mess, therein to do my thinking as I did it best – with a bottle of brandy and a good cigar.



Brighton, 1797

Sipping a strong brandy and chewing pensively on a smoldering cheroot, I sketched out a plan which I thought rather clever.

I should seduce Lydia Bennet, which I thought should not be too difficult, and convince her to run away with me to London, where I imagined I might seek the aid and comfort of my long-time ally, Miss Younges.

The Bennet clan would cast about, attempting to find us, but I knew enough of them to be confident that even the estimable Mr. Gardiner should not be able to discover me in the particular part of London where we should be concealed.

After a suitable period had passed, I’d get word to Darcy, and allow him to ride in like a hero, rescuing Lydia’s honor at some minor expense to his bank accounts, and allowing me the opportunity to counsel him on how best to effect a reconciliation between Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet.

All that done, I could easily imagine Elizabeth falling well’nigh directly into his arms as soon as he should renew his suit, yet while I had no doubt that Darcy would propose again, still I took the greatest pleasure in knowing that it would be a great torment to his proud soul to be thus obliged to connect himself with a family where, to every other objection, would now be added an alliance and relationship of the nearest kind with myself, the man whom he so unjustly scorned.

You may think this plan depended overmuch on the whims of Lydia Bennet, a scandalous flirt with as changeable a mind as any woman born, yet I had little concern that I should be able to seduce her with ease.

When first I’d entered the Regiment in Meryton, she was ready enough to admire me; in truth it can be fairly said that every girl in or near Meryton was out of her senses about me for the first two months; but I never distinguished her by any particular attention; and, consequently, after a moderate period of extravagant and wild admiration, her fancy for me gave way, and others of the Regiment, who treated her with more distinction, soon became her favourites. 

And still, hadn’t it been she who was most unhappy with my courtship of Mary King, and been the first to offer a consoling word when the prospect of that young lady’s hand was lost to me? Moreover, I reckoned myself the handsomest, most charming, and most sympathetic of all the single officers, so I did not doubt for a minute that if I were to set my hand to the task, I should win her to me in very short order. 

Truth be told, rarely in the annals of seduction has a rake been obliged to expend so little effort in obtaining his ends, nor himself been so scandalized in the process.

The following morning, I invited the object of my new scheme to join me in a perambulation ‘round Promenade Grove, and in the course of our walk, essayed a few polite flirtations to assess the difficulty of my first task, that of winning her heart. It quickly became apparent, however, that my saucy companion desired my attentions directed not to that imagined seat of affectionate feeling, but to the twin globes of nubile flesh ‘neath which it sat.

“Wickham,” she said, “I cannot entirely make out your character – are you a gentleman or a scoundrel?”

This line of questioning caught me entirely off-guard, so removed was it from our previous discussion which had, until moments earlier, consisted of her detailing the various charms and deficiencies of any number of my fellow officers and the women who pursued them, and of my flattering commentary on how their charms all paled in comparison to her own.

“Why must I choose,” I rejoined, “for can’t a fellow be both?”

She laughed gaily. “Well, I don’t know,” says she, “time will tell, I do suppose, but I should much rather have you own to one or the other.”

“And which would you rather I own to,” says I, thinking to put the little minx in her place.

“Oh, I’m sure it would be much to bold of me to say,” she replied, “and this is exactly why I think one oughtn’t read too much, for the contradictions are all too vexing!”

She’d lost me completely – reading? What in the bloody blazes had that to do with anything? “Reading?” I replied, “Why, I thought one should derive good knowledge from books, and not confusion!”

“Indeed,” replied Lydia, “but perhaps if I tell you of my confusion you may be some help in furthering the education of a silly girl.” She fairly spun herself around in front of me as she made this last sally, clasping my hand in hers, fluttering her lashes, and making a face meant to convey earnestness – an emotion that was completely belied by the smirk adorning her pretty little lips.

I sketched a bow and said that of course I should be happy to lend what little knowledge I might be able to summon to clear the clouds of confusion from her beautiful brow, that the light of comprehension might better illuminate it.

Lydia laughed at my rejoinder, and pulled me over to one of the benches that sat at intervals along the little lane that wandered through the poplars.

From her reticule she produced two small pieces of paper, on which she had copied a few lines of text in a loopy, feminine scrawl. “Now Wickham,” says she, quite seriously, “do you believe yourself a gentleman?”

“It is enough that society acclaims it,” I replied, “and holds it up as the standard by which men should measure it, so yes, I should like to consider myself a gentleman.”

“I might like to consider you quite a gentleman as well,” Lydia rejoined, with a sly note in her voice that did not escape my notice, but let me read a little excerpt about the actions of such a personage.” She took up the first bit of paper and began to read aloud.

I found his hand in my bosom; and when my fright let me know it, I was ready to die; and I sighed and screamed, and fainted away. And still he had his arms about my neck...” 

I was quite shocked – where on Earth had she come by such a torrid scene?

“Well,” she said primly, folding her bit of paper and returning it to her reticule, “and that is the behaviour of a gentleman, a man of wealth and standing, with a very nice house and horses and I imagine a little phaeton or a chaise.” She paused a moment. “And so you see, Wickham, now that I am an educated woman having read some books, I can hardly think you a gentleman, as I am sure I have never found your hands upon my bosom!”

I’m not often caught off-guard, especially not by women 20 years my junior, but I’ll confess I couldn’t think of a thing to say, which bothered Lydia not a bit, as it was plain that she had plenty of words for the both of us.

“Well, that is the behaviour of Mister B., a gentleman, as recorded in Pamela, by the very respectable Mister Richardson, and I should think he knows what he writes of, and I can assure you that is not the worst of it. But if your actions have not proven you a gentleman, than there are many who might suppose you must then be a scoundrel,” and here she again began to read aloud from the second passage.

The redeemed captive had not altogether so much of the human-angelic species: she seemed to be at least of the middle age, nor had her face much appearance of beauty; but her clothes being torn from all the upper part of her body, her breasts, which were well formed and extremely white, attracted the eyes of her deliverer, and for a few moments they stood silent, and gazing at each other...

“So you see,” she finished, “you’ve neither gazed upon my breasts nor touched them, so it seems you’re neither a gentleman such as Mister B., nor a scoundrel like Mister Jones. I really cannot make out your character, Mister Wickham, for though you intimate that you may have the proclivities of both sorts of men, certainly you have shown me the attentions of neither!”

Here I managed to recover myself a little, for I was just a little familiar with the passage she had quoted from Tom Jones. The novel was an old one, having been published some years before my own birth, but it had been accounted scandalous enough back then, and the passing years had rendered its account of the eponymous foundling’s progress little more socially appropriate.

“Hadn’t Tom just rescued Miss, err, Winters-”

“Mrs. Waters,” supplied Lydia, helpfully.

“-yes, Mrs. Waters from the clutches of a villainous blackguard? I’m sure I’ve never been obliged to rescue you from such straits, and to look upon you with your dress ripped open, your breasts unbound, your-” 

Here I was obliged to pause, aware of the flush suffusing my companion’s cheeks and the distinct physical reaction that my exposition was inciting upon my own anatomy, a reaction bound to be betrayed by any inspection of the tight breeches that comprised an important part of my uniform.

“And if you were to someday come upon me with my bosom exposed?” Lydia’s tone was breathy, expectant.

“Then who knows that I might prove both a scoundrel in letting my gaze linger upon your exposed beauty, and a gentleman in taking your scandalously bared breasts unbidden into my hands!”

Now Lydia was the one struck momentarily speechless, and I took advantage of this rare occasion to say with an air of finality, “and so I say again, gentleman or scoundrel? Can’t a fellow be both? And if he can, just because it’s not yet been proven, doesn’t mean it shan’t be!”  

Lydia recovered herself and declared that while she was not yet ready to make a decided opinion on the topic, my answer had given her much to think on, and would I kindly hail a carriage, because she was feeling a little faint and should like to return to the Forsters.

Of course I was quick to oblige her, mentally kicking myself for having taken things a bit too far, or so I supposed at the time. More fool I, of course, but that really is what I thought.



Brighton, 1797

I called again that afternoon, but was told that Lydia was indisposed, and that a doctor was even now in attendance. 

When I vouchsafed my worries for the health of her ward, however, Mrs. Forster brushed off my concerns with a wave of her hand. “Oh, Mister Wickham,” says she, “it’s just a touch of female hysteria. A little therapy from our good Doctor Ward and I am certain that she will be up and about in no time!” She smiled at me. 

I feigned ignorance, and asked if the condition was likely to recur.

“Oh, I should think so,” she replied. “Young women often suffer from this sort of thing, especially when they’ve been excited by novels or...” her voice trailed off, as if she’d caught herself about to spill a secret. “...but it’s nothing for a good man like yourself to worry about,” she continued blithely, “for it quite generally disappears completely when a lady is married, so you shouldn’t think it a hazard.”

I smiled and thanked her for setting my mind at ease, chuckling inwardly at her guile or naiveté; with a woman like Mrs. Forster, one never could really tell.

I knew this so-called disease well enough, for there were more than a few young doctors in the fast crowd that I’d run with in Cambridge and London, and they’d told us all about the condition, which tended to manifest when a passionate woman lacked for the erotic stimulation of a lover, and was thus obliged to summon the local medicus or midwife to massage their femininity in such a fashion as to give them the release that more fortunate women found with their husbands or lovers.

As for the notion that this condition only afflicted unmarried women, I knew that to be quite false as well – many a fashionable lady and more than a few matrons were known to retain the services of professionals to see to their needs, much in the manner that lusty gentlemen relied on the services of cyprians and streetwalkers.

Had our morning’s conversation put Lydia in a hysterical frame of mind? I could not know for sure, but true to Mrs. Forster’s assurance, the little coquette was quite well enough to show up to the ball at the Old Ship, it being a Thursday, floating in on the arm of Lieutenant Pratt, who seemed well-recovered from his recent disappointment at the hands of Miss Athelwaite.

She danced with everyone but myself, but I ignored the apparent slight, and took a turn instead with all those young ladies of whom I knew, from our morning’s conversation, she had the worst opinion.

Very late in the evening, we met by the refreshment table, whose contents, consisting of a little tea and coffee, were made available to us by our subscription, and I must say that I supposed three shillings and sixpence to be rather a dear price for such weak fare.

I observed as much to Lydia, to which she gaily replied that to a mere militia Lieutenant, such a price might indeed seem rather dear, but that for men in other professions it should be a mere trifle.

“Lawyers, I think, make rather a great deal of money, do they not?” she queried, “and of course our daring Navy captains get quite a good fortune in prize money when they capture those dreadful French ships. Clergyman may do very well on their tithe and glebe, and doctors on the sums they receive for their services.” She delivered this last with a coy glance at me across her china cup.

“Alas,” I replied, “the sea does not agree with me, I have no head for the Law, and you know that Mister Darcy has dashed my hopes to serve as a man of the cloth.”

“But what about medicine,” said Lydia, “I think you have rather nice hands, which are quite important for a doctor, you know.”

I suspected that she was teasing me, for I knew well where the handsome Doctor Ward’s hands had been that afternoon, but I was spared any further discussion on the topic as Denny swept her off to join him in the last dance of the evening.

The next few days the Regiment was on maneuvers, so perforce I was unable to continue to pay court to Lydia, as I was obliged to march over hill and dale at the head of my sullen Redcoats, and when we returned at last to Brighton, it was only to discover that Lydia was once again discomfited and under the care of the estimable Doctor Ward.

“I declare, Mister Wickham,” said Mrs. Forster, when she greeted me in her cozy salon, “I am very glad you have returned, for our little friend has done nothing but read these last several days, and I fear it is bringing on the vapors. You know she does not take to the bathing machines, but I think if you were to take her for a carriage ride, the fresh air should do her a world of good!”

It was a trifle late in the day to be taking a ride of any distance, but we made happy plans in Mrs. Forster’s salon to sally forth upon the morrow to Blackdown, the highest peak in all of Sussex. It was a journey of some hours, and should furnish an excellent occasion for a picnic, but as Colonel Forster was a phlegmatic fellow not much enamoured of such endeavours, Mrs. Forster announced that she should impress the gloomy Mr. Pratt as her escort, and the four of us should take her carriage and make a splendid day of it.



Sussex, 1797

Upon the morrow, however, it appeared unlikely that the expedition should go forward, Pratt having unfortunately twisted his ankle while dismounting from his horse. To compound matters, Mrs. Forster, when I went to report this development, was found in her salon, sniffling into a lace handkerchief while Lydia flitted about prescribing hot tea and lemon juice and wondering if Dr. Ward should be summoned for what the Colonel’s wife weakly proclaimed was nothing more than a touch of ague.

“This is what comes of bathing machines,” Lydia proclaimed, “they are infernal devices, I am sure, which rob the user of the ephemeral life force which...”

There was no interrupting Lydia when she was off on a speech of this nature, which was delivered to the room at large while she continued to glide hither and yon, testing the temperature of damp cloths, chastising servants, and sugaring a cup of tea. “ I am sure you will never find me taking the waters, and lah, if it is waters one wants, why shouldn’t one go to Bath, where the very name is synonymous...” 

The only thing to do in such a situation was to talk over, around, and through her diatribe, addressing oneself to some particular party – Lydia was oblivious, and seemed to take for granted that others should speak amongst themselves, whilst her wise observations formed a sort of conversational background.

“My dear Mrs. Forster,” says I, “I’m terribly sorry that you are not feeling well – Pratt too is indisposed, so we shall have to make our foray on another day, and I shall have to content myself with studying the tactical wisdom of Polybius in your husband’s library.” In truth, I was more interested in the Colonel’s brandy and cigars than the ramblings of the verbose Greek historian, but one must keep up appearances.

My announcement served to momentarily silence Lydia, and arouse the lethargic Mrs. Forster. “Oh, Mr. Wickham,” says she, “you must not let my condition, or that of our friend Mr. Pratt prevent you from enjoying the pleasures of a long ride! No, no, I insist, you must take the carriage, and get our Lydia out of this stuffy house, and of course you must tell us all about Blackdown, for I am sure it must be quite splendid!”

And so it was that I found myself taking to the road in the Forster’s carriage, with Lydia sitting beside me, chattering merrily away in the sunlight as the breeze made her ribbons dance and brought a rosy flush to her cheeks.

It took about five hours to reach our destination, as we wended our way through Steyning, Storrington, and Pulborough, stopping at a small public house in Petworth to water the horses and refresh ourselves. Then on again through Midhurst and Fernhurst and to Haslemere. 

We then ascended the Blackdown, which although it is the highest point in Sussex, rises barely 900 feet, and so is rather more a hill than a mountain, in my opinion, but as you will. Lydia was in transports as we navigated the secluded sunken lane running from Haslemere past Aldworth, where the trees met overhead, making a shadowy tunnel over the path. Squirrels darted among the branches, and Lydia gave a little shiver and clutched at my arm, asking in a whisper if I supposed there might be highwaymen about. 

But we saw nothing more fearsome than rabbits and birds as we navigated the little path that twisted and turned through the copsewood, and emerged presently into the open heather that comprised the height of the Down, from which we could enjoy sweeping pastoral views of sheep grazing on the common, and all manner of small towns laid out below. 

Far beyond, the bright blue of the sea could be seen, and above us the late summer sun blazed in such warm radiance that I took the liberty of shedding my heavy red woolen jacket, lounging at the summit in shirtsleeves and suspenders while Lydia fussed with our picnic basket. 

One could not have imagined a more chaste and proper scene, such as any artist should have been fortunate to capture in watercolors or oil, but there are more things in Heaven and Earth, dear reader, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.



                                                                    Sussex, 1797

Man, said the formidable Mrs. Beeton, is a dining animal. Creatures of the inferior races eat and drink; man only dines. It is not a dinner at which sits the aboriginal Australian, who gnaws his bone half bare and then flings it behind to his squaw. Dining is the privilege of civilization. The rank which a people occupy in the grand scale may be measured by their way of taking their meals, as well as by their way of treating their women.

Well said, Mrs. Beeton,* well said, though I‟ll take the liberty of observing that conversely my way of taking a woman and treating a meal has always proved a great pleasure to all concerned.

And in applying that peculiar ranking of the world‟s many peoples, I must say that Lydia and I alone occupied not only the highest peak in Sussex on that warm summer‟s day, but the pinnacle of civilization, to judge by the contents of our picnic basket.
* Wickham likely found this passage in the weekly "Englishwoman’s Domestic", to which Lydia, like many English gentlewomen no doubt subscribed, and from which Mrs. Beeton's seminal text, the massive 1,112 page "Book of Household Management" was later compiled. What the by-then elderly Wickham might have been doing perusing such a text is anyone's guess, though the weekly digest gained a certain notoriety in later years for its publication of titillating accounts of school-girl punishments.
Slices of cold roast beef and ham, a rib of lamb, a roast fowl, a little tongue, a lobster, some sliced cucumbers, and various fruit. Assorted biscuits, a lovely trifle, bread, butter, a bit of cheese; and of course all the necessary sundries – mustard, horseradish, mint jelly, pepper, salt, etc. And for our service, we had plates, some cutlery, tumblers, and wine-glasses; to fill the latter, a quart of ale, a bottle of claret, and another of lemonade. Brandy I had in a flask, for my digestion, of course, and a cigar or two put aside as well.

As we had no servants to set up our feast, I should by rights have done this yeoman duty, but Lydia seemed happy enough to do it and I for my part was inclined to let her. We ate and drank and ate some more; Lydia providing the conversation, and I the audience. But her chosen topic presently departed from the usual nonsense about fashion, health, and the latest social scandals about Brighton, and returned to that subject to which she had alluded on our stroll along the Promenade on the week prior.

“Since I cannot make out if you are a gentleman or a scoundrel, dear Wickham,” said my saucy interlocutor with a smile, “I shall importune you to share your perspective on the topics of vice and virtue, for I must confess that my penchant for reading has once again left me feeling most confused.”

Now, the only Bennet girl who could properly be said to have a "penchant for reading" was plain, dull little Mary, who would no doubt make a very serviceable clergyman's wife – to imagine Lydia poring at lengths over texts in a library was, to say the least, a bit difficult.
“Why, Miss Lydia,” I teased her, “I did not know that you were so inclined to reading; pray tell, besides such weighty tomes as Pamela and Tom Jones, what books have you been laboring over? Vice and virtue? Mister Collins has not lent you a copy of Fordyce’s Sermons, I hope?”

Lydia colored a bit at my rejoinder, and said, “In truth, Sir, I have been endeavoring to improve my French, but I am afraid I am very poor at reading it – we did not have a governess, you know, and though dear Mama did try very hard to teach me, you know I found it terribly hard, and the books so very boring...”

“So you have come to Brighton, not to take the waters or enjoy the flirtations of handsome men, but to study alone and so enhance your accomplishments? Bravo, bravo!” I accompanied this with a sardonic grin and a little mocking clap of my hands, but Lydia was quite unfazed.
“I have, and I am fortunate that I have lately found some books that are rather more interesting, but it is so dull to study alone, when one is not talented, but tell me, Wickham, do you read French?”
I admitted that I did; like Lydia I wasn't terribly good at the language, but I'd been obliged to study it, along with Latin, and had in addition learned a little more of it from Miss Younges, though not the sort that was likely to be of help in translating whatever Lydia was muddling through.
“Excellent,” replied that fair maiden, reaching into the depths of the wicker hamper from which our repast had been but recently unpacked “then perhaps you might give me your thoughts on this epistle.”
She extracted a small volume printed on rough paper and entitled Histoire de Juliette ou les Prospérités du Vice. I took it from her, opened it to the frontispiece, and blanched, for the author was none other than the distant relation of the Darcys, the Marquis de Sade himself.

“Well, read a little, Mister Wickham,” says my wicked companion, busying herself with serving up dessert, “and tell me what to think.” She had no way of knowing that I had already some acquaintance with the author, as the elder Mr. Darcy, some years earlier, had presented me with another tract by the libertine lunatic as a perverse inducement to enter into a country version of the life monastic.

Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, I scanned first one page, and then another – quelle horreur! The eponymous Juliette was, within the first handful of pages, stripped of all garments and engaged in a menage’a’trois with a depraved abbess not at all unlike my own dear Miss Younges, and one of her fellow acolytes, the lascivious Euphrosine. Unlike my recollection of the unfortunate Justine who tale I'd previously read, Juliette was not forced into debauchery, but actively sought it out.

I could not read far; I stopped after a few sordid paragraphs, and flipped forward – if she had indulged in such wickedness in a mere eight pages, how much more depravity could be contained in the next hundred? I shouldn‟t have wondered, and shouldn't have scanned ahead – for worse than mere words, the text was illustrated!
Engravings showed women and men cavorting in every conceivable position, a few that I'd enjoyed myself, but many more that even my most debauched escapades in the bawdy houses of London could not match. And Lydia had seen all this, read all this! Closing the book, I hazarded a glance at my companion, who was busy serving up plates full of trifle in a most nonchalant manner.
“So, I'm sure you see my problem,” she said, as if nothing was amiss, and I was holding a book of poems and not a volume of a most salacious and perverse nature. “We are always being told that we must be virtuous, yet you see where that got poor Justine, and Pamela was obliged to wait for years to wed Mr. B, and I think he was a most unsatisfactory sort of man, whereas Juliette became quite rich and enjoyed every sort of delight, and though Tom Jones was intimately acquainted with quite every woman he met, still in the end he won the hand of Miss Western...”
She handed me one plate of trifle and continued to wax philosophic whilst nibbling daintily at her own. “And of course one has to look no further than your story, dear Wickham, to see that virtue goes quite unrewarded, for you are the best of men, yet you have been cruelly denied the inheritance that should have been yours. Or consider my lot! I have never been anything but good, and yet when dear Papa dies I shall be turned out of my home by that horrible Mr. Collins and probably be sent off to a convent to become the plaything of wicked monks, or obliged to work as a governess, and I don't know which should be the crueler fate! I think that if we were to allow ourselves be guided by our
vices and not our virtues, and perhaps our fortunes should be increased. What say you, good Sir?”
This last was delivered with batted lashes and a smile – but once again Lydia had managed to render me momentarily speechless, and I had no ready reply. This did not inconvenience Lydia at all, for she continued on almost without a pause.
“Dear Wickham, I see you are a deep thinker and unaccustomed to render a speedy answer on such weighty topics. Forgive me, I am just a silly girl, so I shall leave you to ponder the subject, and perhaps read some more, while I pick some flowers for Mrs. Forster, who has been so kind as to pack this lovely basket and let us take her carriage and of course to lend me stimulating books such as this from time to time, though I do not think her husband knows that she has borrowed them from his collection, but he will not miss them, for he has so many, you know.” And with this observation she rose and flounced away in the direction of the woods to search out some cowslip, dog rose and rampion, leaving me alone to ponder these latest revelations.
That a gentleman like Colonel Forster was a collector of erotic manuscripts was not terribly unusual; many fellows had such things hidden away for their personal delectation; officers and ship's captains often having the best of it, as they'd more opportunities to pick such things up in the course of their travels. But to see such a thing in the hands of a young gentlewoman was quite something else, and I wasn‟t sure what to make of it.
Women I'd always grouped into four groups; old biddies like Lady Catherine and Mrs. Gardiner – some of them likable, some of them not; the drabs of any age who worked as servants or walked the streets, lacking any attribute that could be of interest. Then there were buxom milkmaids, coy cyprians, saucy streetwalkers, and worldly women like Miss Younges, and finally, young gentlewomen such as Georgiana Darcy and the Bennet sisters. 

The first group I'd humor, the second I'd ignore, and the third I'd happily bed, either through the offices of my charming nature or with the added incentive of a handful of coins. The fourth group represented the sort of girl who enjoyed the protections of society and needed a ring on her finger and a walk down the aisle as a prelude to carnal pleasures. But Lydia – I'd never before met a proper gentlewoman who encouraged such very improper notions, and I wasn't sure just how to proceed. I'd planned to woo her in much the same way as I had Georgiana, but she gave every indication that the brazen approach I'd taken with Miss Younges might prove more effectual. But what if she really was just a silly girl and her impropriety resulted from naiveté rather than lasciviousness? My ruminations were cut short by a scream from the woods.


                                                   CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

                                                                    Sussex, 1797

I leapt to my feet. Hellfire and damnation! I should never have let Lydia wander off by herself! It was rare to find highwaymen this far removed from a center of commerce, but not unheard of – I cursed a blue streak as I bent to grab my sword from its scabbard, then dashed toward the woods from whence Lydia’s scream had emerged.

Damned foolish of me not to have stopped at the carriage to grab one of my pistols, but the element of surprise and audacity has carried the day in many a battle, and I’m sure I looked a fearsome sight, charging into that glade with my queue unbound, thin linen shirt and suspenders framing my muscled torso, a heavy infantry officer’s blade at the ready and a battle-cry on my lips.

Such a sight should have sorely tested the mettle of any scoundrel who thought he’d take his liberties with a pretty maid on her own, but as I burst through the screen of trees and into the clearing, I was astonished to see that no such villain awaited my blade.
Instead, there was just Lydia, reclining as if in a swoon at the base of a large tree on the opposite side of the glade, in a most shocking state of dishabille. Her shawl lay as if discarded; the bodice of her dress had been pulled half-down, revealing a creamy bosom commensurate with the girl’s tall stature.
I must have goggled at the sight for a good twenty seconds – I’d seen my share of fine female flesh in my day, but usually at the end of a long night of drinking or an afternoon of flirtation – never under such circumstances as this.
Lydia stirred slightly and the spell was broken - I fairly flew across the clearing to her side, dropping my sword and taking her limp hands in mine. “Lydia,” I said, and before I could go further, the object of my concern opened her eyes and smiled.
“So, Mister Wickham,” says she in a conversational tone, for all the world as if we were having tea in a parlor, “it seems you are more like Tom Jones than Mister B., after all. You’d rather look at a girl’s breasts than fondle them, wouldn’t you?”
It took me a moment to cozen the situation, but while I was still trying to process the fact that I was kneeling beside the half-naked object of my planned seduction, Lydia continued to rattle on.
“But still, it’s just like a scene from a novel. You would have saved me, dear Wickham, and I should have been ever so grateful and-” Her soliloquy ended abruptly as I regained my senses.
“Damn you and your infernal scheming, you little hussy,” I shouted. “wandering off, half-clothed, your friends and guardians to be worried sick as they searched for you, heartbroken when you turned up dead or worse!”
Lydia was gaping at this passionate display, her mouth making the prettiest little ‘o’ that only further infuriated me.
“You are a foolish, reckless girl, Lydia Bennet. You flirt and trifle with men and think yourself so clever, but you know nothing of the world and it’s many evils... I’ll teach you to play games like this.”
Caught up in the heat of the moment, all thoughts of propriety fled and in a trice I had her bent over my knee like a naughty servant and was delivering a fearsome spanking.
She was no waif, but I was a big man and strong; with one hand pinned behind her back and the other flailing, she squirmed and squealed while I gave her the sort of treatment that had it been delivered at an earlier age by Mrs. Bennet, might have served to make Lydia a much more tractable young woman.
But Lydia was not a little girl, and I was no matronly mother – squeals turned to sobs, my heart grew soft and my loins grew hard. I raised her from my lap and tenderly kissed away her tears – she threw her arms around my neck and begged me to forgive her, which I did, only to have her laugh and vouchsafe that she was not at all sorry, for if she hadn’t done it I would never have – I silenced her with a kiss full on the lips which she returned passionately. One hand tangled in her hair, pulling her pretty face to mine, and the other sought the ripe swell of her bosom, eliciting a moan of delight from the object of my affections.
More than that I shall not say, at least for now, but sufficient to say that it was very late indeed before I returned Colonel Foster’s carriage to Brighton, and along with it his ward, her complexion all aglow and her eyes sparkling.
“Goodnight, Mister Wickham,” she said, rather too seriously and with just a hint of a smile playing around her crimson lips.
“Goodnight, Miss Lydia,” said I, and sketched a bow.



Brighton & Clapham, 1797

Affairs proceeded quickly from that point; the object of my intended seduction had taken matters into her own hands (and a few other places) and was quite the willing accomplice to all my schemes, though of course I didn’t tell her the half of it.

What I did let on was that I was to come into a tidy fortune very soon, and would rather marry her than anyone else in the world, but that I should be cut off by my benefactor if our engagement were discovered before my living was secured.

We should have to keep it a secret, I said, knowing full well that it was entirely counter to Lydia’s nature to do so – not that she wasn’t a sly, cunning little thing when it served her purposes, it was just that she took such pleasure in gossip.

But Lydia swore that she should keep quiet as a titmouse in public, as long as, she whispered with a flirtatious smile, I gave her plentiful cause to scream aloud in private.

We both made good on our ends of the bargain, at least in the beginning, and I immediately put into effect the first part of my plan, which was to borrow as much money as possible from the other officers in the Regiment, twenty pounds here and fifty pounds there, always on the pretext that I was obliged to pay a gambling debt or an account in town, and that I should repay the loan within the fortnight.

Likewise, I made sure to take up on credit all manner of items from the good tradesmen of Brighton; new boots and trousers, jackets and shirts, a fine brace of pistols, lace and ribbons for Lydia, a great deal of cloth which I stored in chests, and assorted other items of value.
None of this did I pay a penny for, leaving instead notes promising a future payment, with a bit of interest, upon my honor as an officer. In this fashion, I obtained about 400 pounds in ready cash, and perhaps double that in durable goods, and might have gotten twice as much again, except that I learned Lydia had written to her sister Kitty of our intimate acquaintance and plans to elope.

Knowing that Lydia’s younger sister was, if slightly less talkative, than certainly no more discreet than my current paramour, I decided it was best to hasten our departure slightly, and tho’ I cursed the pair of them beneath my breath, to Lydia’s face I was all smiles and gaiety.

We left on a Saturday evening at about midnight, and I reckoned we had a good eight hours before Lydia was discovered missing, and a bit more, perhaps, to cozen that I had flown the coop as well.

I wanted a few weeks in London without fear of discovery by Colonel Forster, Mister Bennet, or anyone save Darcy, for that matter, and so had instructed Lydia to leave a note for Mrs. Forster indicating that we were bound for Gretna Green to get married.

It would be a believable enough story – certainly I would not be the first young gallant to abscond with his lady-love in such a fashion, as the little town just across the border in Scotland had been the site of many an illicit union since good old Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act had been voted in some forty years prior, raising to 18 the age at which a young Englishwoman no longer required her parent’s consent to tie the knot. The rascally Highlanders saw it somewhat differently – a Scots lass of 12 years was considered perfectly marriageable, and ever since the toll road had made Gretna Green accessible, the local clergy had been performing ceremonies for couples both young and old and often rather odd combinations thereof.

As our chaise rattled along the nighttime roads from Brighton to Epsom, Lydia was all a-twitter, regaling me with a recitation of her note to Mrs. Forster, her excitement to be going to Town, and various etcetera’s.

“ ‘My Dear Harriet,’ I wrote, and you know she is a dear, but her husband is so ridiculous and old, even if he is a Colonel, but he is only a Militia Colonel, after all, and you shall be far his superior in the Regulars, I should imagine…”

The pause as she misplaced her original thought was so momentary as to be unnoticeable to the casual observer.

“… but Harriet must be as simple as her husband is old if she cannot but immediately conclude that is you with whom I have eloped, for she cannot think it is Mister Denny, and she knows Pratt to be a disappointed man… and then I told her she may write to Ma-ma and Father if she likes, or not, it is all the same to me, but I do hope she will not, because it should be such a joke if I am to write to them myself, and sign my name ‘Lydia Wickham’ – oh, it has such a ring to it!”

I should very much have like to shut her up by giving her a good kissing, but my hands were occupied with the reins and my eyes with the road. This fact I observed rather drily, to which she saucily replied that her hands were not occupied, and if I did not desire to hear her talk, she should have to find some other manner in which to employ her lips and tongue.

This the little vixen proceeded to do, and the vigor with which she pursued her task and the occasional bouncing of the carriage over rut and stone combined to make it a most enjoyable drive for yours truly, although presently I found myself quite drained of all energy and might easily have dozed off had not the necessity of guiding our little carriage required my every attention.

Lydia, herself somewhat exhausted by her exertions and the lateness of the hour nestled herself in against me and promptly fell asleep, leaving me to stave off a series of yawns with thoughts of what the next few weeks would bring.

The sun had not quite risen when we reached Clapham, and here I stopped to refresh a bit, and exchange the chaise for a less taxing mode of conveyance.

We breakfasted at a small inn, Lydia quiet for a change, but only due to her exhaustion; I am sure she was quite untroubled by worries about the impropriety of her situation.



London, 1797

I found a lad willing to return the chaise to Brighton for two quid, and paid six shillings for passage on a hackney coach bound for London, which by and by deposited us at an address on Edward Street. This was the residence of none other than my sometimes paramour, occasional correspondent, and original tutor in the amorous arts, Mrs. Rebecca Younge.

I knew from our infrequent letters that she was now the owner of a large house whose rooms she let to lodgers; moreover, I knew by the nature of these particular "lodgers" to be, on the whole, a lot of flash mollishers, for whom my dear friend played the charitable matron.

She greeted me quite warmly, tho’ with a hard eye for Lydia, who languished drowsily in the parlor after the most minimal of introductions had been made. I asked her if she might put us up for a spell; I had no doubt that Darcy had marked her as one of my sole acquaintances in London after the debacle with Georgiana would no doubt have little trouble in ascertaining her whereabouts.

I thought she might be a bit recalcitrant, and had planned therefore to grease her palm nicely for her troubles, as I had been rather responsible for getting her sacked when I’d seduced Darcy’s sister.

It wasn’t her palm that wanted greasing, tho’, as her innuendo made quite plain; and it turned out that she bore me no ill-will, as her current profession as a procuress and flash-house proprietress had made her rather a better living than she’d ever enjoyed working for the Darcys, at least since the elder Darcy had gone on to his eternal reward.

She even warmed to Lydia, once the girl had gotten some proper sleep and a rather improper awakening, and had regained that joie de vivre that was her customary nature.

In fact, our hostess was only half joking when she suggested putting my fiancé to work, and I have no doubt that Lydia would have been only too happy to oblige, given a little inducement.

But I meant to make a somewhat honest woman of her myself, and told Mrs. Younge that in any case Lydia was far too high-class to be working so far east of St. James. "Too fine a bird for this rookery, my dear," said I with my usual charm, "but I reckon she’d let you stroke her feathers if you were so inclined."

Since our first tumble in the woods, Lydia had been quite keen to learn all about my history with women, to share her own limited experiences, and to wax philosophic about the future possibilities of sampling the various and sundry perversions she’d read about in Colonel Forster’s shockingly diverse collection of smut.

I had my doubts on that score, as any number of her fantasies required the combined contents of a Turkish pasha’s seraglio and a monastery full of perverted priests, but there was no harm in letting her expound upon the subject, at least when we were in private. Both of us generally found the topic to be rather the aphrodisiac, in fact.

She’d actually been delighted to discover that there was an older, more experienced woman in my past, crowing that it was just as she had thought; that I was after all a modern-day Tom Jones, and all my many conquests had only made the fact that she would take me to the altar a greater triumph for her. A strange way of looking at things, perhaps, but perhaps she had a point.

Over the course of the next two days, Lydia became as intimate with Mrs. Younge as she had been with Mrs. Forster, and on the third evening of our visit, after consuming more than a little of the Blue Ruin, we all three became rather more intimately acquainted than I, at least, had ever been with Harriet Forster.

Having sampled the various pleasures which the French refer to as ménage a trois, Lydia declared she would enjoy trying a few variations on the theme, and given that we were ensconced in a bawdy house as the particular guests of a proprietress whose nature was rather similar to my own, it was not too difficult to indulge her wicked whims.

But all these frolics were too soon cut short, for on that Friday, Mrs. Younge had a particular gentleman caller, one quite above the station of her usual male guests, and one rather unacquainted with the etiquette of such establishments. Mr. Darcy had arrived.

Of course Mrs. Younge put him off upon that first encounter, but he left a card with the strictest instructions that she should call if I appeared, and along with the card, a bit of ready cash to ensure her cooperation.

Had he left well enough alone, he might have gotten the very information he desired for half the price, but ever impatient, he showed up again upon the morrow to inquire whether I might have been found; again my clever friend put him off, and again she pocketed a little something for her efforts.

We conferred and determined it would be best if when I were discovered, it was not in the very house at which Darcy had previously called, and so arranged a carriage and the recommendation of another lodging-house in St. Clements, to which we removed that afternoon, with fond goodbyes to Mrs. Younge, and the promise of a small share of the earnings of the adventure.



London, 1797

Our accomplice managed to hold out only another day; on Monday our new matron announced that we had a visitor, and down to the parlor we went to meet my estimable god-brother.
Darcy was furious, of course – you could see it in his eyes, but he managed to keep a civil tongue on account of Lydia’s presence, and made a great show of concern for her. In short, without coming right out and calling me an incubus and seducer, he begged her to remove herself from my company, which he intimated might be considered by some to be a disgraceful situation, and to return to her friends and family, but Lydia was quite resolved on staying just where she was.

“Mister Darcy,” says she, “you cannot hope to understand, for everyone knows you to be a very stern and prideful fellow, but I am in love with Mister Wickham. I know you came here thinking to rescue me, but good Sir, I am not in need of rescuing, and anyway, even if you did save me from Mister Wickham’s depredations, I am sure it would do no good, as I could never find it in my heart to love you, even if you are the richest man in all of Derbyshire.”

This response caught me quite as off-guard as it did Fitzwilliam, and it took me a moment to realize that she was completely serious. When I did, it was all I could do to avoid laughing out loud – my self-centered little hussy actually thought that Darcy was here to rescue her from my wicked clutches with the intention of making her his lady wife!
If I found the idea laughable, Darcy clearly did not, and probably thought that she was taunting him at my behest. I only wish that it was I who had put that notion in her pretty little head, for then she’d have had an excuse for what was otherwise simply put the most stunning display of hubris I’d ever seen in any woman, let alone a country girl of barely fifteen years who hadn’t a penny to her name.
Lydia, as usual unconscious of the expressions of those around her, continued on in a similar vein. “Yes, Mister Darcy, I am afraid you have come too late. I am sure that Mister Wickham and I are to be married very soon, or perhaps later, it really does not signify. Now, will you take some tea with us, good Sir, or must you soon be on your way?”
Darcy grudgingly accepted her offer of tea, that social lubricant without which English society should no doubt grind to a screeching halt. I’m more for gin myself, but it was only ten in the morning.

As soon as she was out of the room, Darcy began to speak quickly and earnestly, he damning me for a blackguard and a rambler, I nodding in agreement with every imprecation he hurled my way.

“Every word you say and more is true, brother,” says I, knowing how that term grated upon his nerves, “but I’m the only man who can offer you what you most want in this world.”
Darcy laughed aloud at this riposte, and a bitter laugh it was. “George, I own half of Derbyshire and have ninety-thousand a year. You rent a room in a brothel and are on
the run from a mountain of debt. I can’t think of anything that you could give me that I would want, save news of your sudden and inexplicable demise.”
I smiled at his cruel words, and replied with a pair of my own. “Elizabeth Bennet.”
The very words seemed to stun Fitzwilliam; in my Cambridge readings, I recalled from Le Mort’d Arthur that wizards, witches, warlocks and the like were rendered helpless if one only knew their true names, but it appeared that it Elizabeth’s name was sufficient to similarly disarm Darcy.

Before he could regain his poise, I launched into my carefully rehearsed speech. I knew of his proposal, and the fair lady’s answer; moreover, I knew the reason he had been repulsed. I knew women, as well he might be aware, and there was only one way to win Elizabeth’s heart. I knew that as well, and would happily share the information with him – but here he snapped out of his daze.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll share it with me, you villain,” says he with a wry grimace “but at what cost?”
I began to sketch out the plan, but Lydia returned with our hostess, a serving maid, and a spot of tea and biscuit, so perforce our discussion was put on hold, and we were obliged
to discourse about the weather, the very thin nature of London society at the present time, and similar etcetera’s. I rather think I surprised them both when I suddenly said, “Lydia, dearest, I have just remembered! Mr. Darcy has suggested that you pay a visit to your aunt for a few days, while I attend to the arrangements for our wedding.”
Darcy’s eyes flashed daggers at me, but Lydia just laughed. “Oh, Mister Wickham,” says she, “you are quite the drollest fellow, and almost as forgetful as you are handsome. Haven’t I told you just last week that the Gardiner’s are in the Lake District? And Lizzie is with them, no doubt waxing philosophic over the rocks and trees. But what are rocks and trees compared to men like you, dear Wickham?”

Here Darcy interjected with a surprising degree of politeness that he had happened to see the Gardiners in the vicinity of Derbyshire a few days previous, and that Mr. Gardiner had intimated that he and his wife were returning to Town that very evening, as some sort of business – here he shot me a malevolent look – had arisen to require Mr. Gardiner’s immediate presence.

“Oh, lah, with my Uncle it is always business,” sighed Lydia dramatically - “he is a dear man, but it must be so very tiring to be in trade. I suppose I could go to amuse my Aunt while he is occupied with his dusty ledgers and whatnot, but then I should be so terribly lonesome without my darling Wickham.”

I made a convincing display of sadness that we should be parted for even a few days, but conveyed the necessity of the arrangement – saying nothing of the fact that it was the least that propriety demanded, but instead alluding to the fact that I required a bit of time alone to settle my estate preparatory to marriage.
And so it was that Mr. Darcy conveyed my fiancé to her uncle’s house that very afternoon, with a promise to return at once to discuss the particulars of our arrangement.



London, 1797

After that it was all a matter of agreeing on terms. I requested a Lieutenant’s commission in the Life Guards; Darcy replied that I should have an Ensigncy in the 20th Regiment of Foot. 
He had no intention of allowing me to remain so close to London, and to see me banished to Liverpool with the Fourth would serve his purpose nicely - for my part, I had no intention of remaining a foot soldier.

In the end, as with most negotiations, we met somewhere in the middle; I should have an Ensigncy in the Princess of Wales's Fencible Cavalry, a regiment billeted near Newcastle, which satisfied Darcy’s desire that I should be far removed from London and Derbyshire, and fulfilled my wish to pass my days riding sleek horses and my nights – well, you can easily imagine.  

As for money, I should have my debts paid off, my commission paid for, which was worth about another eight hundred pounds, two hundred pounds for horses, and another hundred for my uniforms. 

A  thousand pounds was to be settled on Lydia for her own use, and in addition, her father should grant her a hundred pounds a year for pin money, and bequeath her an equal share of the family fortune upon his decease. 

None of that should have satisfied me, without a more substantial enticement; I made it clear to Darcy that I still cherished hopes of making a fortune by marriage in some other country, and that though I was certain I could wed, with little difficulty, an heiress worth at least thirty thousand, I might be inclined to take on Lydia for perhaps half that sum. 

Darcy was furious, and damned me for a villain, swearing up and down I’d get five thousand pounds, and not a penny more. I had to remind him of how quickly I had spent the thousand pounds I’d been bequeathed by his father and the three thousand I’d gotten in exchange for the living at Kympton, and all that without the additional expenses of a wife and family. 

At last he agreed to ten thousand pounds, but with a variety of codicils; first that the money itself should be held in trust with a lawyer, and I should only have the interest on it. I reckoned this to be about four to five hundred per year, and I should have my earnings from the Regiment of another hundred and fifty; add to this what I aimed to make from gambling, and the cash and durables I’d obtained in Brighton, which my gullible god-brother was about to pay for, and I reckoned I’d be well set for a least a few years. 

Another codicil ensured that the money was mine so long as I was married to Lydia, which meant divorce was out of the question, but if illness or childbirth should claim her life, as it had both Darcy’s mother and my own, I should have the money free and clear. 

I could also claim it once I was fifty years old; I’m sure Darcy was counting on my profession and my libertine tendencies to see me into an early grave and return the ready cash to his pocket, but I had other plans. 

These particulars were decided in a week; in another we were to be married at St. Clements, in the parish where I’d made my new lodgings.

I paid Lydia a call a time or three at Gracechurch Street, but received a predictably frosty reception from the Gardiners, and therefore always made my visits as short as possible, for the benefit of all concerned – only Lydia seemed to mourn my hasty departures.

“I am so bored and frustrated, dear Wickham,” she wailed on one occasion, “and my uncle and aunt are horrid unpleasant all the time! Would you believe I have not once put my foot out of doors? Not one party, or scheme, or anything. And Aunt Gardiner will not even call a doctor, even when I’m feeling quite hysteric.”

I felt for the poor girl, really I did – it’s no good to have that sort of passion go unsatisfied, and I reckoned I’d have my work cut out for us on our wedding night. 

But if Lydia was not allowed out, I was rather less constrained, and paid more than a few nocturnal calls to my favorite bawd and accomplice, Mrs. Younge, to reward her monetarily and with payment in kind for the various services she had rendered me most recently.

Monday arrived – and with it Darcy, to ensure that I did not fail to make my appearance at the altar. He found me in the parlor of my lodgings, fortifying myself with a stiff drink. “Care to join me, brother?” says I, causing Darcy’s face to twist in a predictable grimace.

“For God’s sake, man, it’s barely half-past nine!” he exclaimed, but I paid him no heed.

“You’ve done me a good turn,” says I, “and I’m obliged to make sure you get your money’s worth, see… So do sit down and let’s go over this one more time.”

Darcy lowered himself stiffly into the seat across from me, and I waved my hand airily at him. “Go on, then, let’s hear what you’re to do…” 

I’d laid out the plan for him a bit at a time, in between signing this warrant and that note, with his lawyers and Mr. Gardiner’s men, Stone and Haggerston always hovering about, but this would be the first time I’d heard him recite it, start to finish.

Darcy sighed. “First, I’m to acquaint Charles Bingley with the fact that Jane Bennet is in love with him, and he with her…”

“Go on…”

“Then I’m to convey Bingley back to Netherfield, set him towards Jane’s doorstep, and renew my suit to Elizabeth.”

I shook my head emphatically. “No, no, no…”

“What?!” Darcy sounded as frustrated, exasperated, and confounded as I’d never before heard him, and while I gloated on the one hand, it was damned annoying to see him so blind about things. I took a deep breath, a draught of my gin, and reminded myself that my damnable god-brother was a rank amateur when it came to dealing with the fair sex.

“No, no, a thousand times, no,” says I. “You must be patient, man – let her come to you…”
“She never would. The girl’s as proud as I am,” he said ruefully, but his tone betrayed him – he actually admired her for it. Fitzwilliam Darcy was well and truly smitten, I reckoned.

“She will,” says I, “mark my words, only you must not rush things. Deliver Bingley to Miss Bennet, and then make your excuses and return to London for a week at least, or better yet a fortnight. Mind, of course, that Charles knows his business and makes a creditable offer before you think to return.”

Darcy looked straight into my eyes, with a wistful expression that conveyed both hope and fear, rather than the malice with which he usually regarded me.

“You are quite certain, George?” says he.

“Fitz, old chap,” says I, “I’ve studied the Good Book, the Law, and the Drill Manual, and know damned little about any of them. Three things I do know, and that’s horses, cards, and women. Be patient, man, be humble, be the author of her sisters happiness, and Elizabeth Bennet will be your wife.”

We held each other’s gaze, saying nothing. And then the spell was broken, our moment of bonhomie was over. I drained my glass, Darcy sighed, and we both rose and strode out the door and down the cobblestone street toward St. Clements. 

The wedding was nothing to speak of; on Lydia’s side were the Gardiners, with Mr. Stone and Mr. Haggerston, flanked by their dour wives, sitting in the pews.

Darcy stood as my best man, which is damned funny if you think about it, handing me first the ring, and later, after I’d helped Lydia into the carriage, a packet containing my commissioning letters for the Dragoons, and a thick stack of notes to purchase my horses and uniforms.

Lydia’s thousand had been settled upon her through Haggerston; she was blissfully unaware of its true source, and the bulk of my newfound wealth was of course tied up in escrow, with the interest to be paid out in monthly installments. All’s well that ends well, thought I, little imagining that this ending was merely the beginning of a most extraordinary adventure. 
“Remember,” I said, as I mounted the carriage, “patience.”

Darcy merely glowered in reply, which filled me with more than just a little cheer.



Meryton, 1797

The carriage conveyed us to Longbourn in fine style, and we arrived very near to dinner-time, all the better since I was quite famished. 

The family was assembled in the breakfast room to receive us - smiles decked the face of Mrs. Bennet and Kitty but her husband looked impenetrably grave; and her other daughters, alarmed, anxious, uneasy.

Lydia could scarcely contain her exuberance, and she ran headlong into the room, and her mother’s rapturous embrace. That worthy lady then gave her hand, with an affectionate smile, to me, and wished us both joy with an alacrity which shewed no doubt of our happiness.

Our reception from Mr. Bennet, to whom we then turned, was not quite so cordial. His countenance rather gained in austerity; and he scarcely opened his lips. I suspect our air of easy assurance was quite enough to provoke him, but he wisely held his counsel, for what could he possibly say? 

I stole a glance at Lydia’s sisters - Elizabeth appear disgusted, and even the usually genial Miss Bennet seemed a shocked. But Lydia was Lydia - untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their congratulations; and when at length they all sat down, looked eagerly round the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since she had been there.

As for myself, I was at least conscious of the impropriety and awkwardness of the situation, which was apparent to everyone save my wife, Mrs. Bennet, and Kitty, who was quite in Lydia’s thrall. But I’d been in an awkward spot or two before, and knew the best thing was just to bluff it out, so I smiled and made my manners so pleasing as to delight them all, and help make it easier to overlook that my character and marriage were not exactly what they ought to have been. 

Under the powers of my charm, Mr. Bennet and Mary began to warm slightly, but some of the clan was made of sterner stuff – Elizabeth blushed, and Jane blushed; but I, the author of their consternation suffered no variation of colour. Never imagine limits to the impudence of an impudent man, thought I, smiling all the more brightly. Seeing my sisters-in-law, the probable future wives of Bingley and Darcy so discomfited gave me a peculiar satisfaction.

While we waited for dinner to be ready, there was no want of discourse. The bride and her mother could neither of them talk fast enough; and I, who happened to sit near Elizabeth, began inquiring after my acquaintances in that neighbourhood, with a good humoured ease which she seemed very unable to equal in her replies. I knew she was just dying to favor me with a sharp remark at every turn, but good manners and Miss Bennet’s approbation obliged her to hold her tongue. 

My darling wife and her mother seemed each of them to have the happiest memories in the world. Nothing of the past was recollected with pain; and Lydia led voluntarily to subjects which her sisters would not have alluded to for the world. “Only think of its being three months,” she cried, “since I went away; it seems but a fortnight I declare; and yet there have been things enough happened in the time. Good gracious! When I went away, I am sure I had no more idea of being married till I came back again! Though I thought it would be very good fun if I was.”

Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes Heavenward, and Miss Bennet looked distressed. Elizabeth glared expressively at Lydia; but she, who never heard nor saw anything of which she chose to be insensible, gaily continued, “Oh! Mamma, do the people hereabouts know I am married to-day? I was afraid they might not; and we overtook William Goulding in his curricle, so I was determined he should know it, and so I let down the side-glass next to him, and took off my glove, and let my hand just rest upon the window frame, so that he might see the ring, and then I bowed and smiled like anything.”

At this, Elizabeth got up, and ran out of the room; and returned no more, until our party was passing through the hall to the dining parlour. She then rejoined us, just in time witness the spectacle of Lydia taking her mother’s hand and admonishing her eldest sister, saying “Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.” 

It was not to be supposed that time would give Lydia that embarrassment from which she had been so wholly free at first. Her ease and good spirits increased. She longed to see Mrs. Phillips, the Lucases, and all their other neighbours, and to hear herself called “Mrs. Wickham” by each of them; and in the meantime, she went after dinner to show her ring, and boast of being married, to Mrs. Hill and the two housemaids.

“Well, Mamma,” said she, when dinner was over and we had all returned to the breakfast room, “and what do you think of my husband? Is not he a charming man? I am sure my sisters must all envy me. I only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get husbands. What a pity it is, Mamma, we did not all go.”

“Very true; and if I had my will, we should. But my dear Lydia, I don't at all like your going such a way off. Must it be so?”

“Oh, Lord! yes; there is nothing in that. I shall like it of all things. You and Papa, and my sisters, must come down and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter, and I dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all.”

“I should like it beyond anything!” said her mother.

“And then when you go away, you may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over.”

“I thank you for my share of the favour,” said Elizabeth acidly, “but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.”



Meryton, 1797

We were not to remain above ten days at Longbourn, as I had received my commission, still sealed in an oilcloth packet before we’d left London, and was obliged to join my new regiment at the end of the fortnight.

Mrs. Bennet was quite vocal in communicating her regrets that our stay would be so short; but Kitty appeared to be the only one who shared her view, and these two made the most of the time by visiting about with Lydia, and having very frequent parties at home. These parties were acceptable to all; to avoid a family circle was even more desirable to such as did think, than such as did not.

Lydia was exceedingly fond of me. I was her dear Wickham on every occasion; no one was to be put in competition with me. I did everything best in the world; and she was sure I would kill more birds on the first of September, than anybody else in the country, and this proved quite an astute judgement – it was quite fortunate that the third day of our visit coincided with the first of September, and I was thus able to venture afield to go shooting a time or three, for there’s only so much tea and gossip a fellow can take. 

Other times, I contented myself with merely slipping out for long walks to escape the feminine nonsense that pervaded the Bennet household and drove poor Mr. Bennet to disappear into his library.

It was on one of these occasions, as I was rambling past a little copse of trees, when who should appear but my sister-in-law and former confidante, Elizabeth Bennet. She seemed a bit distressed, and was tucking a letter into her reticule as I approached.
“I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble, my dear sister?” I asked quizzically, as I joined her on the path.

“You certainly do,” she replied with a smile; “but it does not follow that the interruption must be unwelcome.”

“I should be sorry indeed, if it were. We were always good friends; and now we are better.”

“True. Are the others coming out?”

“I do not know. Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are going in the carriage to Meryton. And so, my dear sister, I find, from our uncle and aunt, that you have actually seen Pemberley.”

She replied in the affirmative, and I continued on. 

“I almost envy you the pleasure, and yet I believe it would be too much for me, or else I could take it in my way to Newcastle. And you saw the old housekeeper, I suppose? Poor Reynolds, she was always very fond of me. But of course she did not mention my name to you.”

“Yes, she did.”

“And what did she say?”

“That you were gone into the army, and she was afraid had… not turned out well. At such a distance as that, you know, things are strangely misrepresented.”

“Certainly,” I replied, biting my lip. Elizabeth had always had a clever wit and a sharp tongue, and I can’t say I was surprised, all things considered, to find them turned against me. I should have been perfectly happy to walk on in silence, but I recalled that I did owe Fitzwilliam a little something, and so I endeavoured to raise his name in conversation.

“I was surprised to see Darcy in town last month. We passed each other several times. I wonder what he can be doing there.”

“Perhaps preparing for his marriage with Miss de Bourgh,” said Elizabeth, a little bitterly. “It must be something particular, to take him there at this time of year.”

“Undoubtedly. Did you see him while you were at Lambton? I thought I understood from the Gardiners that you had.”

“Yes; he introduced us to his sister.”

“And do you like her?”

“Very much.”

“I have heard, indeed, that she is uncommonly improved within this year or two. When I last saw her, she was not very promising. I am very glad you liked her. I hope she will turn out well.”

“I dare say she will; she has got over the most trying age.”

“Did you go by the village of Kympton?”

“I do not recollect that we did.”

“I mention it, because it is the living which I ought to have had. A most delightful place! Excellent parsonage house! It would have suited me in every respect.”

“How should you have liked making sermons?”

“Exceedingly well. I should have considered it as part of my duty, and the exertion would soon have been nothing. One ought not to repine; but, to be sure, it would have been such a thing for me! The quiet, the retirement of such a life would have answered all my ideas of happiness! But it was not to be. Did you ever hear Darcy mention the circumstance, when you were in Kent?”

“I have heard from authority, which I thought as good, that it was left you conditionally only, and at the will of the present patron.”

“You have. Yes, there was something in that; I told you so from the first, you may remember.”

“I did hear, too, that there was a time, when sermon-making was not so palatable to you as it seems to be at present; that you actually declared your resolution of never taking orders, and that the business had been compromised accordingly.”

“You did! and it was not wholly without foundation. You may remember what I told you on that point, when first we talked of it.”

We had now almost reached the door of the house, and she favoured me with a good-humoured smile, saying “Come, Mr. Wickham, we are brother and sister, you know. Do not let us quarrel about the past. In future, I hope we shall be always of one mind.” So saying, she held out her hand and I kissed it with the usual affectionate gallantry, and so we ended our conversation, and entered the house.

For my part, I was so perfectly satisfied with this exchange that I never again distressed myself, or provoked my dear sister Elizabeth, by introducing the subject of it, and the day of our departure for Newcastle came soon enough, in any case.

Poor Mrs. Bennet was obliged to bid adieu to her favorite daughter and only son-in-law, and this leave-taking was precisely as dramatic and ridiculous as that pair of married women could make it. “Oh! my dear Lydia,” cried Mrs. Bennet, dabbing at her wet eyes with a handkerchief, “when shall we meet again?”

“Oh, Lord! I don’t know. Not these two or three years, perhaps.” Lydia was exaggerating for effect, as usual – I suspected we’d be guests again at Longbourn within the twelvemonth.

“Write to me very often, my dear,” implored my mother-in-law, to which Lydia only laughed. 

“As often as I can. But you know married women have never much time for writing. My sisters may write to me. They will have nothing else to do.” 

Quite the heartless little minx, was my blushing bride, with nary a thought for the feelings of anyone else, but in the spirit of familial harmony, I endeavoured to make my farewells a trifle more affectionate than my wife’s, and like to flatter myself that I had succeeded; smiling all the while, looking quite handsome in my uniform, and saying a great many pretty things.



Durham, 1797

The journey from Longbourn to Durham, where my Regiment was headquartered, was quite uneventful, and the location itself seemed unlikely to present many surprises. I’d studied up a bit on it, see, once my negotiations with Darcy had proceeded past the point where it was damned certain that I’d be billeted there, and not somewhere a bit closer to London.

Durham was the seat of the county of the same name, presided over by Willam Vane, Earl of Darlington. This fine fellow held another title; Colonel Darlington, and commanded my future Regiment when he wasn’t otherwise engaged. Durham was famed for its castle and cathedral, the former which held the reputation as the only English castle to never have been breached, and the latter of which held the bones of good Saint Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. These bits of trivia I recalled from my school days at Cambridge – perhaps my time there had not been completely wasted after all.

Otherwise, it was rather larger than Meryton, but still a quiet country town, for all of that, but was no further from Newcastle than Longbourn was from London, and this gave some cheer to both my lovely bride and myself that we should not be completely cut off from the sort of carefree society that we mutually fancied.

Newcastle-on-Tyne, as it was properly styled, was one of those old, fortified cities that one sees in the North; built where the river Tyne could be most easily forded, it had once been protected by high walls reinforced with 19 towers and accessible through seven massive gates. All these medieval defenses were now being torn down to make way for the expansion of the city, which was a hotbed of business in the north, its traditional industries of coal and shipbuilding being now supplemented by pottery making. All this had been relayed to me by my new uncle-in-law Mr. Gardiner, who being in business himself had quite the knowledge of such things, and warming to me in the course of making the arrangements for my marriage to his youngest niece had intimated that should I ever desire to quite the Army, there were fortunes to be made in coal, wool, wood and linen. Of course I desired a fortune, but I had no particular desire to work for one, though of course I didn’t say as much to the estimable Mr. Gardiner.

Lydia, of course, had as little interest as I did in the economies of that city, except as they applied to the quantities of silk, linen, and ribbon available for her consideration; she was quite enthusiastic to hear that Newcastle boasted of an assembly room where balls were held and card games were played, and a “Theater Royal” where the latest plays could be observed. She was also all a-twitter at the prospect that I should be commanded by a Peer of the Realm, and that her society with the Colonel’s wife, the former Lady Catherine Powlett, should give her an air of distinction far superior to that she had enjoyed as the favorite of Colonel Forster’s empty-headed wife Harriet.

Our plan was to take lodgings in the city straight away, and then to inquire through Lady Darlington and the other officer’s wives as to where the most suitable sort of house to be let might be found. When our carriage deposited us at our lodgings, I made short order of straightening my uniform and left Lydia to direct the servants in the unpacking of our belongings whilst I set off to muster with my new Regiment. I was a day or two early for it, but I’ve always found that making a punctual first impression would excuse a fellow from any number of subsequent late arrivals or complete absences.

Thus, I found my way down to the encampment of the Fencibles, and to the desk of a bored-looking orderly, who took the proffered packet containing my commission and orders and various etcetera’s, opened it, and then took to shuffling through the various papers with a quizzical expression.

Finally he looked up at me. “Err, begging your pardon, Sir, but I’m afraid there’s been some confusion. These orders are for the Fifth Dragoons, Sir, and we are all the Princess of Wales.”

“The Fifth Dragoons?” A slow, bitter realization was dawning in my breast.

“Yes, yes, the Fifth Dragoons, the Royal Irish, don’t you know. You’re far from home, Sir.” 

Darcy! He had cheated me again, and in such a way as to leave me no possible recourse. The King’s Commission he’d purchased had not been for the Princess of Wales's Fencible Cavalry as we’d agreed, but for the Fifth Dragoons! The Royal Irish? Why, I’d never heard of them. I swore inwardly that I’d never take another piece of paper from Darcy so long as I lived, that hadn’t been checked forwards and back by a scrivener and a lawyer or three.

I soon found out that the Fifth was stationed in Ireland, which given their styling, hardly came as a surprise. Nor, in retrospect, was it hard to see why that villain had chosen this regiment, since it was located as far from both London and Derbyshire as might be imagined, and separated from England by the Irish Channel.

And now, without some heroic efforts, I should be late, rather than early, to muster with my new commander. It would hardly be an auspicious start, and nothing remained but to leave Lydia to follow on with our household goods while I rode hell bent to the Eastern coast to catch the first ship to Ireland.



Durham - Liverpool, 1797

My gallop from Durham to Liverpool was as miserable a ride as I’d ever made in England. Not only had the weather had turned wet and gloomy; while I’ve always enjoyed riding for sport, and looked forward to my new duties as a cavalry officer, there are only so many hours a man can sit a horse before the pleasure fades and the pain sets in. 

Five hours of hard riding brought me to Ravenstonedale, where I had my horse fed, watered and rested, and fortified myself with beer and beef. An hour later I was riding again, but not reaching my objective until late in the evening, I very literally hobbled into the Golden Fleece on Dale Street, the wretched inn where I made my lodgings that night. 

To put this in the proper perspective, I was so tired and sore that I couldn’t bring myself to return the attentions of the buxom serving maid whose saucy innuendo as she served up my dinner of watery soup, cold roast, and stale bread left little doubt as to how easily and often she might have been had after hours. However, instead of indulging in the requisite flirtations necessary to secure her attentions for the evening, I hobbled up the stairs to my rented room and collapsed into bed.

The next morning I was feeling somewhat recovered, and betook myself in the early hours down to the docks, where I managed to secure a cabin on a vaguely reputable merchant brig Hibernia. 

It cost a pretty penny, too, but the captain, a fellow named Samuel Breeze assured me that it was one of the last spaces to be had that day, and the best of ‘em. He told me to show back up at noon, as the ship was due to cast off at half past, and promising not to delay the sailing, I set off for a stroll about the city.

When I returned to the docks a bit before noon, I beheld upon my approach a most interesting spectacle. A handsome woman dressed in dark, severe clothing cut to display her impressive figure to its best was engaged in a heated argument with the captain of the Hibernia, and conversation that did not, it seem, resolve in her favor, as I saw him laugh at her final sally, turn on his heel, and walk back down the dock toward where his men were busy taking in the lines, with the lady, for her part, collapsing in a pose of utmost despair on her rather extensive assortment of luggage, which did not comprise the usual assortment of trunks and hat-boxes, but was composed mainly of several large, long and heavy-looking wooden boxes. The lid of the top-most crate had been loosened and pulled a bit out to the side, revealing the contents to be neat stacks of small books, bound in somber black leather embossed  in gold.

What gentleman could mind his own business and simply walk by a clearly distressed damsel who sat sobbing, head in hands, an occupation that caused her considerable bosom to heave in a most delectable manner? Not George Wickham, by God!

Having approached to a respectable distance, I coughed discreetly, and when the young lady raised her large, wet eyes to my own, I offered first my handkerchief and then my assistance in rectifying whatever troubles she found herself beset with.

“You are too kind, good Sir,” she said, sniffling a bit as she dabbed at her eyes with the pocket cloth I’d provided, “but unless you are the master of yon ship, I fear there is little you can do for me.” 

I pursed my lips, stroked my chin, and neither admitting nor denying my ownership of said vessel, implored her to explain herself further.

Her name was Miss Dixon, and she was, it turned out, bound for Dublin same as myself, on a mission to bring the true word of God as approved by the Pope himself to the heathen hordes of benighted Irish who still labored under the delusion that the Church of England version of the Gospels reflected more correctly the true sentiments of the Lord of Hosts.
Captain Breeze was himself a Protestant it seems, with the scales still unlifted from his eyes, and for this reason my fair interlocutor was convinced he would not find space aboard his ship for her boxes of Bibles and her own lovely self. 

In point of fact, it was that I’d already taken the last available cabin, but no sense making myself out the villain in the piece.

Idle hands may be the Devil’s Workshop, but a libertine’s mind must surely be at least some sort of supplementary forge or storage shed therein, for the sight of this holyier-than-thou maiden had wakened the wicked urges of my loins as the dollymop serving-wench of yester-eve had not, and already a devious scheme quickened in the fertile ground of my mind, a plan that would satisfy both her needs for transport, and my own needs of a rather baser nature.



Liverpool, 1797

 “Miss Dixon,” says I, looking at her bare left hand, “I was raised to take orders myself, and tho’ life has thrust me from the bosom of the Church and cast me into a more martial profession, still I trust you may count me among those Christian soldiers of which the hymnals refer. Will you allow me to render such assistance as I might in this, your moment of tribulation?”

Her upturned face with its dewy eyes brightened at my words as if touched by a ray of Holy Light, and she avowed that she would put herself into my capable hands and trust that the Lord would show us a way. I smiled to myself at her choice of words, and then asked if I might look, for a moment, at her single curious adornment, a ring that hung from a little gold chain around her neck, directing the eye inexorably down to the ripe curves of the breasts that peeked from her décolletage. 

She gave me a very strange look at this request, but consented, removing the chain with nimble fingers and allowing me to look at the plain gold band suspended thereon. “It’s silly and vain,” she said, with a hint of a blush suffusing her plump little cheeks, “but I like to think it’s a symbol of my union with the Lord.”

I smiled back at her. “It’s not at all silly, my dear, for had you not this symbol of devotion upon your lovely breast, then our goal of spreading the good word might founder on this very shore,” I said, watching her eyes grow widen as I slipped the ring off the chain, “but truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways, so put your trust in Him—” I reached for her hand “—and in me–” I slid the ring  onto her finger “—and ‘twill all be for the best.”

Then, before the stunned Miss Dixon could speak, I had pulled her to her feet, tucked her arm in mine, and started marching down the dock towards where Captain Breeze was overseeing the final preparations for putting to sea. I hailed that worthy by his name, and when he turned glowering at our approach, I greeted him cheerfully and asked if he’d met my darling wife. His look of annoyance turned first to one of amazement, then of understanding mixed with avarice, an expression I knew all too well from my dealings with pimps, provocateurs, and prostitutes. “Your wife, Sir?” says he, a calculating expression crossing his craggy visage. 

“The very same,” I replied. “Captain Breeze, meet Mrs. George Wickham, formerly Miss Dixon.” As if on cue, my companion extended her hand daintily, displaying to effect the golden band now encircling her finger, a reasonable enough match for my own wedding band, if one didn’t look too closely. “Ho-ho,” thinks I, “she’s quick to play the part.” 

Captain Breeze sketched a bow and brushed his lips against her proffered fingertips, then straightening, declared that he feared there had been a misunderstanding, as he believed I had booked passage for myself alone. I assumed a look of contrition and replied that the mistake was mine, for I’d foolishly assumed the cabin would suit a pair of newlyweds, and hadn’t thought to mention that my wife was accompanying me to Ireland. “’Tis a cozy cabin,” he observed, “but for two so intimately acquainted, I declare it should indeed suffice, but I’m obliged to charge a trifle more for two than one, you see.” 

“Perfectly reasonable,” says I, reaching for my purse, “and what’s the difference?” 

“Thirty pieces of silver should be more than plenty for the pair of you,” he replied, grinning slyly at his own cleverness. A fair rate, I counted it, for he’d promised me the cabin for a guinea, so the company of the blushing bit at my side had set me back but a little more. Counting out the handful of shillings, I handed them over to Captain Breeze, then smiled winningly at my blushing ‘bride’ and said, “See, dearest? An innocent misunderstanding...” 

She opened her lips to speak, but I planted a kiss on her pretty red mouth that effectually stopped whatever she’d been about to blurt out, leaving her crimson-faced and speechless, and  adding, I thought, the perfect touch to my little charade. 

“Now, then, Captain,” I said peremptorily, “if you’d be so good as to have Mrs. Wickham’s accoutrement carried onboard, and then show us to our cabin, I should be much obliged.”
Thus it was that we watched as pair of sweating navvies tacked down the cover of the open crate and then man-handled first that one and then the rest aboard ship; her smaller cases and hatboxes followed the two of us into our snug little cabin, which with the addition of her effects and my own, left not a very great deal of room for the pair of us. I took stock of the room; it encompassed a tight, small space, with the chief source of light a small porthole window; an oil lamp as yet unlit, and a bed with a rough mattress covered with a dingy spread.

We stood there a moment regarding each other, and then the ship lurched as the crew cast off the lines, and stumbling with a surprised gasp, she fairly flew straight into my arms.



Dublin, 1797

And so it was that I came to arrive in Dublin, though truth be told I’d been coming more or less the entire voyage, thanks to the energetic and insatiable Miss Dixon, who when she wasn’t exhausting my patience with her lectures on the finer points of Catholicism was exhausting my stamina with her mouth and fundamental orifice in a manner which would make a whore blush. 

You’ll count it strange, no doubt, but my cabin-girl might as well have been a cabin-boy, given the nature of our intercourse, for she was possessed of the strange philosophy that her femininity must remain intact – saving herself for God, I reckoned, not that He gave any sign of taking much interest in that or any other aspect of her anatomy. And tho’ it occurred to me that her Bible studies seemed to have somehow misinterpreted the moral of Lot’s experience in Sodom and Gomorrah, who was I to complain?

Gentleman that I am, upon arrival in Dublin, I offered to see her and her Bibles into a carriage and safely on their way to lead some lost lambs down the path of righteousness, but she demurred quite primly, saying that some of her fellow Catholics were waiting on the docks to get her established properly – and the emphasis she put on that word while pointedly removing the ring from her finger and replacing it on the gold chain where it had formerly hung left no doubt in my mind that I’d served my purpose and would not be at liberty to appear in her parlor (nor slip in the back door) once we were well ashore and she was back with her fellow Bible-thumpers. Suited me fine, as I’d been wondering what I was to do with her when Lydia showed up.

And sure enough, awaiting her at the end of the docks was a rough wagon driven by a stern looking fellow in severe black garments and floppy-brimmed hat that was several years out of fashion in all respectable circles. I shouted at a couple of passing navvies to step lively and get the young Miss’s damned Bibles onto the cart, and was rewarded for my trouble with a good bit of surly mumbling that resolved itself only when I promised ‘em a shilling each if they shifted ‘em quick, and my boot in their arses if they didn’t. 

That got the lads moving, and they had three of the four boxes down right lively, off the ship and onto the cart quicker than you could say “Bob’s your Uncle,” but with the fourth box one of the louts stumbled at the end of the pier, lost his grip on the heavy container, and it fell with a loud crash to the cobbled street, striking on one corner, shattering the thin pine boards and sending Bibles spilling into the street. 

There was a moment of silence as the Good Books hit the pavement, but it was immediately followed by an excited murmur from everyone who’d stopped to stare at the source of the noise, for it wasn’t just Bibles that spilled forth from the shattered crate, but packing straw and a half-dozen muskets, barrels gleaming and stocks darkly oiled. 

You could have knocked me over with a feather, so the leather cosh that caught me upside the head and laid me out on the dock was certainly over-doing things a bit.

I woke up in a dank cell, to the sound of a wooden club being rattled against iron bars. I looked blearily about for the sound of the noise, which grated on my aching head something fierce.

Beyond the bars stood a portly fellow togged out as a Charlie, all cheap blue wool and gold buttons, bad attitude and worse breath, judging by his teeth. 

“Wakey, wakey, eggs’n’bakey,” says he, with that sort of evil cheeriness that bullies of his sort tend to evince when they’re at their most annoying. “Up you gets, now, ya damn’d Orangeman, fer tha’ guv’nor wants ta see ya...” 

I staggered to my feet, damned him for his impudence, and held forth for some minutes on his heritage, physical attributes, and probable affinity for unwholesome acts with farm animals. This he listened to with an amused expression, and then his face hardened. 
“Right, ya blue-blooded sod. The guv’nor will be seein’ ya now, an’ you can come along quiet like, or I can give ya a lump on the left side’o ya noggin ta match tha’ one on tha’ right.”


Dublin, 1797

My wretched gaoler led me down a dank corridor edged by barred cells, then up several flights of narrow stairs, and final to a massive wooden door, upon which he rapped out a few quick knocks before put his shoulder into in at heaving it open.

He stepped inside, took off his cap, tugged the forelock, and said in a toad-eating voice, “The prisoner, yer Grace, if it please ya, Sir.”

“Yes, yes,” replied a stentorian voice from the depths of the room, and the miserable Charlie gives me a hard look and a twitch of the chin indicating that I was meant to enter.

I did so, apprising myself quickly of the local environs; a richly appointed room, a fire burning against the chill of the Irish winter, and standing with his back to us, a tall, ginger-haired fellow.

My jailer twisted his cap nervously and stammered out “Beggin’ yer pardon, yer Grace… shall I stay then, Sir?”

The tall man turned, smiling broadly. “No, my good man. That will not be necessary. But do wait outside, for I may have need to remand our guest to you hospitality once more.”

Charlie tugs the forelock again and backs his way out, pulling shut the heavy door and leaving me alone with the strange fellow near the fire, who regarded me curiously for a moment, and then, gesturing with the sweep of an outstretched arm, enquired,  “So, tell me Mister Wickham, what do you think of Dublin Castle?”

I replied that I found his quarters to be rather superior to my own, a rejoinder that caused him to laugh aloud.

“Very true, I suppose,” says he, “very true. But where else should I have you lodged, Mister Wickham? Or is it Lieutenant Wickham? I must confess, I find you something of a conundrum. Your clothing tells me you are a gentleman; your papers tell me you hold a commission in my dear step-brother’s Regiment, but you arrive in my city, my country, in the company of a notorious arms smuggler.”

I stood a bit stunned by this assessment, but he continued musing aloud.

“The master of the Hibernia claims that you are married to a Miss Dixon, your partner in crime, who, sadly, remains at large with her compatriots. Yet the London papers have you married quite recently to a certain Miss Bennet. It’s all very curious, my good fellow.

What was I supposed to say? Words, which had always been my easy accomplices, had suddenly failed me, but my companion had words enough for the both of us.

“Well, well, I supposed I do have you at a disadvantage, Mister Wickham, for I know a little something of you and you know nothing of me. Allow me to introduce myself; Viscount Castlereagh, Chief Secretary for Ireland, at your service. But that is not quite correct is it,” he said, with a jolly chuckle edged with steel, “for it is you who will be at my service, or swinging by the neck, in short order.”

He moved to a small table, poured a pair of drinks, and motioned me to a chair, handing me one of the glasses, and settling himself in the chair opposite my own.

“Now, tell me your story, Mister Wickham. Be honest, for your own sake, and leave nothing out.”

And so I told him an abbreviated version of the history that I’ve recounted so far in this memoir, painting myself to be neither better nor worse than I was. You may wonder why I didn’t resort to my usual methods of charm, misdirection and toadying, but perhaps I can explain.

It has been my misfortune to be in the presence of several of the great men of history; I say misfortune, because it has never been a case where they simply wanted a jolly chat and to part with a “hail fellow, well met.” No, they’ve usually had a bit of leverage upon your correspondent, and furthering their schemes has put me in the way of more danger and discomfort than I like to think of. On the other hand, I’ve profited a bit by it all, met the odd tart that I shouldn’t have otherwise, and come through alright, so perhaps it’s as the Bard says, all’s well that ends well, etcetera.

But though he wouldn’t be the last, the Viscount Castlereagh was certainly the first, and like the rest he had a distinctive force of personality that compelled a fellow to admire him even as you despised him. You could just tell that he had big plans and meant to accomplish them, and damned be the chap who stood in his way.

If Wolfe Tone was Ireland’s greatest native-born hero, than surely Castlereagh was its greatest villain. He was regarded by many as the ‘Robespierre of Ireland’, and I cannot in good conscience say that it was not an apt sobriquet.

Certainly no Irishman played a more prominent role in extinguishing the dreams of the founding fathers of Irish republicanism than he did, and perhaps no Englishman did as much to help him in that grim task than yours truly – but I get ahead of myself.

I finished my tale and my liquor at about the same time, and my host favored me with a sardonic smile and clapped three or four times in a slow, mocking fashion. “Bravo, Mister Wickham,” says he, “bravo.”

He rose, topped off our glasses, and then seated himself. “Now, let me tell you a story,” he said as he cheerfully raised his glass, “and then we shall see what we shall see.”


Dublin, 1797

Castlereagh’s story was not a personal history as mine had been, but was instead a sort of mystery. As the Chief Secretary for Ireland, it was his historical duty to keep the Lord Lieutenant in line and administer the affairs of the Emerald Island, but Castlereagh had bigger plans; he meant, through patronage and bribery to obtain the passage of an Act of Union which would bind Ireland to England in an unholy matrimony that made my own marriage look like an exemplar of propriety.

He was stymied in his progress by an unlikely confederation of Catholics and Protestants who had set aside the “Scripture Politics” as Castlereagh was wont to decry them to form an outlawed political organization known as the United Irishmen, who had, the year previously, conspired with the Bonaparte to land a French army of liberation on Ireland’s green shores, and had more recently been to blame for an attempt by the Dutch to do the same.

The first plan had come to nought due to bad weather; the second due to the clever seamanship of Admiral Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown, and since then Castlereagh had been at work attempting to root out the United Irishmen’s leadership, but with limited success.

“And that, good Sir,” he concluded with a raised glass, “is where you come in.” He took a sip of brandy and continued apace.

“This insurgency is generally manned by low fellows, but you may be sure they take their orders from the gentry, and I require a man who can pass as such to help me winkle out the traitors in this city.”

A feeling of dread began to build in my stomach, but I said nothing, merely nodding and waiting for the shoe to drop.

“You, Mister Wickham, can pass as a gentleman; and as a suspected smuggler, you may have a little cachet with my opponents. I believe that you may make yourself out to be an ally, and thus reveal the leaders of this rabble to me.”

“But my Lord,” I replied, thinking quickly, “my commission with the Dragoons? For certainly any member of these United Irishmen would have no traffic with a member of the King’s Army?”

Castlereagh gave a sardonic laugh. “Surely you jest,” says he, “for don’t you know the word is that half the Regiment has taken the United Irish oath? Why, I’m certain they’ll be even happier to have you as a Dragoon than as a mere gentleman traveler.”

And that might really have been that; Castlereagh could have ordered me to spy for him amongst the ballrooms and taphouses of the city, and I’d no doubt have obliged, but he had to take it a step further.

“Observe,” says he, striding towards his desk and producing from the stacks of papers thereon a pair of sheets, “your motivation.”

He handed them to me with a flourish, and I glanced over the first one. It was written in a fashion not unfamiliar from my days studying the Law in London, and said, in a wordy fashion, that I was found to be not guilty of smuggling, absolved of any wrong-doing, etc., etc… Fairly standard stuff, in all, and none too interesting, to my mind. I glanced at the second sheet, blanched, and read it line by line in utter disbelief.

Whereas George Wickham, an officer in the 5th Dragoons is, and stands convicted, attainted, and condemned of treason; and sentence today is pronounced against him by this Court, to be hung by the neck until he is dead; of which sentence, execution yet remains to be done; these are therefore to will and require you to see the said sentence executed in the open street before St. Catherine’s church, upon the morrow, between the hours of ten in the morning and five in the afternoon of the same day, with full effect. And for so doing this shall be your sufficient warrant. And these are to require all officers, soldiers, and others, the good people of this nation of Ireland, to be assisting unto you in this service.

“The outcome of your adventure shall determine which of these papers I reward you with,” said Lord Castlereagh, and thus began my brief and inglorious double life as both an agent provocateur and an Ensign in the glorious 5th Dragoons.


Dublin, 1797

My first order of business after having been summarily dispatched from Dublin Castle was to muster with my new Regiment, which was rather an adventure in itself.

Unlike the militia regiment in which I’d previously served, the 5th Dragoons, or the Royal Irish as they were styled, were nowhere to be seen as a complete regiment, save once a year when they met for review.

At all other times, this among them, five of the six troops of the Regiment were dispersed far and wide throughout Ireland, billeted in various towns, and charged to carry out a range of duties that ran the gamut from the apprehension of smugglers and highwayman to controlling the Irish peasants and doing their part to reduce somewhat the excessive quantity of Irish whiskey by the simple expedient of imbibing it in mass quantities.

Each troop had a Captain, a Lieutenant, and a Cornet for its officers; a Quartermaster, a Sergeant, and two or three Corporals along with 20 or 30 private soldiers rounded out each contingent. Only the First Troop, along with the Regimental Headquarters, was billeted in Dublin itself, and it was there that I went in search of direction.

The Regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stewart Vane, the half-brother of Lord Castlereagh himself. Having grown accustomed to working for old campaigners like Colonel Forster, I found my new commander to be something of a surprise; Lieutenant Colonel Vane was a mere 19 years old, and owed his position rather less to his military acumen than his family’s political position.

For all his good breeding, he was quite the sporting chap, happily indulging in cards, drink, and the Cyprian attentions of the Irish tarts who were quite as numerous on Montgomery Street as their English counterparts were on The Strand.

With “The Colonel” generally engaged in or recovering from some sort of debauchery, it turned out that day-to-day routines of the Regimental headquarters were overseen in large part by his chief deputy, the dour Major Sirr, a thin, humorless fellow who managed affairs with the specialized assistance of the Adjutant, the Surgeon, and the Chaplain, as conditions warranted.

The good Major assigned me as the Cornet for First Troop, sending the previous occupant of that position out into the countryside to take up the Lieutenancy of Sixth Troop, his promotion meant as something of a balm for his exile from the libertine goings-on of the capital. His departure was not much mourned, I discovered, for the fellow, one Richard Forsythe, was accounted to be a vain, toadying little martinet, unbeloved of the troops for both his obsession with minutiae of drill and uniform, and with the draconian discipline with which he punished breaches of either one.

By day I was the picture of industry; betaking myself to a tailor to get new uniforms (the blue and buff coat that I’d had made up at Darcy’s expense in London being retired in favor of the bright red coat worn by the Royal Irish) finding suitable lodgings and sending word to Lydia to get her flirtatious, voluptuous little self on over to Dublin, as I was missing her something terrible. But by night I gave a different appearance indeed, and one that my profligate career in London had equipped me for rather perfectly.

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