Wickham is a weasel. That is all. LOL
XOXOXO Elizabeth Ann West
Chapter 7 - A Virtue of Marriage, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Georgiana Wickham flounced down the stairs at Darcy House in Grosvenor Square at a perfect mid-morning arousal for the lady of the house. Checking her porcelain complexion in the mirror in a hall outside of the breakfast room, she entered to dine with the brightest disposition a nearly sixteen-year-old bride without a care in the world could possess.
As she filled a plate with her favorite pastries, her smile dampened a bit as her rascally handsome husband refused to acknowledge her presence with even so much as a glance up from his paper, let alone the gentlemanly custom of rising for a lady entering the room. Puckering her lips into a slight pout, she popped a small strawberry into her mouth and spun around to face the table.
“If you eat nothing but sweets, your waistline will grow to unimaginable proportions.” George Wickham still refused to look up from the London paper, scanning furtively for any news of Darcy's marriage to Anne de Bourgh.
Georgiana's slight pout became a full on lip quibble at the harsh tones from her husband. Only married a little less than half a year, she already noticed he lessened the frequency in which he visited her chambers, preferring instead to stay out at all hours. “Does my body displease you? Is this why you no longer come to me?”
George Wickham let out a frustrated sigh and shuffled the newspaper closed before tossing it down the table in dismissal. He waited for a servant to refill his coffee and took a sip of the piping hot liquid, mindful not to scorch his mouth. With a clatter, he set the cup down, sloshing a small amount of the dark beverage onto the pristine white tablecloth underneath. Ignoring his faux pas, he tossed his napkin onto his plate full of half eaten food.
“Of course not, Georgie. I am just so bloody bored being cooped up in this house. Why don't we go out tonight, just you and I, and enjoy the theater? Must we stay cooped up in this town home for the entire Season?”
“Brother said we must stay out of society. That once we return from Bath we may use the town home until he returns.” Georgiana picked up a new pastry, then thought better of it and placed it back down on her plate. She reached for her tea instead.
“Mrs. Wickham,” he said slyly, waiting for her to smile at her fresh moniker, “you as a married woman must not always do as your brother says. As madame of the house, you may set the social calendar at your whim.”
Georgiana looked thoughtfully at the window that overlooked a small garden in front of the home, walled off from the busy street. Aside from visits to her modiste, she had not ventured out much from the house as her brother had instructed. Last autumn, he had made it clear that unless she behave accordingly, her dowry and allowance would be kept from them. But surely one night, while he was away in Kent, wouldn't cause any harm. Then again, the anger in her brother's eyes before she married made her pause. What if he did cut her and George off?
She shook her head. “No, Brother has enough to deal with in soon losing our cousin and being forced to marry. We must not add to his burdens.”
“Yes, poor Anne is not long for this life I'm afraid. But, as you know, when your brother returns, we shall have to go into full mourning at least for a small amount of time. Surely, she would wish for us to enjoy Town as much as we can before that unhappy event. Anne has the kindest heart a soul could ask for.” George turned on the charm and waited. He reached out to touch his wife's hand and knew he had won his argument the second her face turned to look at his with a softened expression.
“It is a distance to Kent, and Fitzwilliam might never know. I would like to see the new comedy being performed.”
“The Imposter? ” Wickham smirked, surprised his little wife was aware of the title.
Georgiana blushed and nodded. “Fitzwilliam had me read it last year upon turning fifteen and I have always wanted to see it performed live.”
Wickham picked up her hand properly and bestowed a kiss upon it. “Then tonight, let us shed this melancholy we both feel and will be served more of in the very near future and take a night for French debauchery!”
Georgiana giggled at the overly dramatic nature of her husband.
“On the stage only, of course,” he added with another sly grin.
“I'll go now and select an appropriate gown.” Georgiana rose from the table, this time with her husband offering her the proper behavior due a lady by rising with her.
“And I shall go to find a trinket for you, though it will hardly be worth a glance when the jewel of the Darcy family dons my arm this evening.”
George gave his wife a flourished bow, making her giggle more, and waited until he could hear her running up the stairs before collapsing back into the chair and rubbing his forehead. Nothing rested heavier on a man than a severe lack of both funds and the freedom to garner more.
No, his plan to elope with Georgiana crumbled when upon discovery and the deed done on paper and in the bedroom, Darcy produced the full will of the late George Darcy. Should Georgiana marry before the age of majority and without the consent of her guardians, the full dowry would remain under Darcy's control until she should reach majority age and then transfer to her husband. With Georgiana's sixteenth birthday being in three short weeks, Wickham had a five-year sentence to play out before he controlled a pence of the thirty thousand pounds.
Rising to leave the breakfast room and enter Darcy's study, Wickham helped himself to a healthy portion of the finest port and looked again at the business papers he had pulled out and placed on the grand desk. Hopefully, with enough details of the deals Darcy had with the gentry under his belt he would be able to forge an acquaintance with one or more of the men listed on the papers. A very lucrative acquaintance.
Chapter 8 - A Virtue of Marriage, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Elizabeth Bennet gently lifted the hem of her skirt and eyed the two flights of worn stone steps before her. The stair cases marked the entrance to Rosings, the estate owned by Mr. Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, an entrance that stared her down with its dark medieval decor. There certainly were scores upon scores of windows, just as her cousin Collins had described last autumn when he bragged about his patroness. But each pane of glass appeared as the narrowed eyes of a great mythological beast with the ornate stone decorations and a number of ghastly-sculpted gargoyles on each parapet.
"Perhaps I ought simply take the carriage to the parsonage? I don't wish to impose upon your aunt." Elizabeth looked to her right towards Colonel Fitzwilliam. She strained to keep up with his pace as his longer legs and experience with the uneven steps gave him much advantage.
The Colonel laughed and offered his arm to assist Miss Bennet the rest of the way. "And miss the look of surprise on Darcy's face? Never! Besides, the parsonage is unlikely to have resources for the horses. Darcy makes sure my aunt's stables are well staffed. Give the horses their rest." The last inn stop they skipped entirely on account of their excitement to see their future spouses.
An empty dread filled Elizabeth's stomach as the monstrous green lacquered doors opened to allow them entry. The Colonel greeted the longtime butler of the home, but Elizabeth's attentions were arrested at the site of Mr. Darcy approaching the entryway with such a somber expression it broke her heart.
The dark brown eyes of Fitzwilliam Darcy blinked numerous times, as he was most certain they must have been deceiving him. There stood Richard with none other than his beloved Elizabeth, the woman who haunted his dreams and filled his heart, yet though he was bursting to dash forward and greet her properly, he could not. Using years of practiced manners, the Master of Pemberley strolled forward in even measured steps. He gave a low bow to both of the new visitors.
"That's it?" The Colonel stepped forward to clap Darcy on the shoulder. "I travel lo these many miles from London with a particular companion and that formal bow is all the greeting we receive? Well, if I was a lady I should say –"
"Colonel, would you be so kind as to introduce me to your cousin? You spoke so much about him on our way from London." Elizabeth Bennett's voice rang clear as she looked pointedly towards the butler and footmen observing their small party.
"Yes, Richard. Where are your manners?" Darcy risked a flash of a smile in Elizabeth's direction and it was all the reassurance she needed. She had no delusions coming to Kent, even at the invitation of a friend, was not dangerous business.
"May I introduce Miss Elizabeth Bennet, an acquaintance from London who was coincidentally invited to visit her cousin and his wife at the parsonage? I offered her uncle to personally escort Miss Bennet seeing as I was traveling to the exact same location. Miss Bennet, this is my boring, droll cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy. He owns property." The barbs of Richard Fitzwilliam did nothing to distract the young couple now formally introduced to play their farce.
"Miss Bennet, may I say it is a pleasure to meet you." Darcy gallantly offered for her hand and bent down to kiss it properly. Elizabeth let out a small sigh that only those closest to her could hear.
"FITZWILLIAM! Why are you carrying on so long in the hall?" Lady Catherine's booming voice echoed in the large expansive entryway.
The Colonel offered his arm to Elizabeth once more, aggravating Darcy, but playing his role. “Come, we must not leave my aunt waiting.” The three entered the parlor to the sharp glare from the lady of the house. The unfamiliar young woman on her nephew's arm made Lady Catherine frown in disproval.
“Richard, whoever did you bring with you? I was not aware you were to bring a visitor, and a young woman at that, this is most unsuitable. Come here, girl, let me see you properly.”
Elizabeth's shoulders involuntarily pushed back at the older woman's verbal assault, but she felt Richard lightly nudge her where their arms connected as a sign to keep quiet.
“Aunt, a close acquaintance of mine had a niece traveling to visit your parson and his wife. It seemed only gentlemanly that I escort Miss Bennet as I was headed the same.”
“Miss Bennet? A Miss Bennet? Surely not that bit of muslin listed as your mistress, Darcy! Yes, yes I've heard of her, she is to leave, at once! Hawkins! Hawkins!” Lady Catherine rose from her ornate chair to pull the cord hanging in the far corner of the room. The butler obediently appeared in the parlor. “Hawkins, escort this garbage out of my home this instant!” She pointed towards Elizabeth, whose mouth dropped in fear.
“Hawkins, if you wish to remain employed, you will not touch Miss Bennet.” The cool, calm voice of Mr. Darcy negated his aunt's bluster.
“This is not your place, Fitzwilliam. How dare you have your cousin bring your mistress while your future wife lay dying above stairs? How dare you bring the same shame as my husband?”
Darcy continued to stand stoically, his arms clasped behind his back, just next to Elizabeth. If she inhaled deeply, she could smell his musk she knew all too well from their many walks in Hyde Park and elsewhere before this awful woman dragged him to Kent. The situation could not possibly be worse than she had imagined, but she had not truly expected a lady of the peerage to be so utterly without manners.
“Lady Catherine is mistaken, Hawkins. Miss Bennet is not here in any capacity related to me. She is here to visit her relations and no more. Is that clear?” Darcy's voice proved scarier to the poor butler than Lady Catherine's as the servant nodded and backed out of the room. Louis Hawkins had not recently been hired on at the estate, and though Lady Catherine indeed owned the home, it was not she who ruled the purse strings.
Lady Catherine looked to the three young people in her parlor and gave a sickening grin as Elizabeth looked to both men for what to do next. “It's clear now. The two of you share her favors, yes, that's it. I've heard of such things, in those dark circles of society, women who cater to particular tastes . . .”
“Close your mouth, madame, or I assure you I shall shut it for you!” The lion of Richard Fitzwilliam roared to life, releasing Elizabeth's arm as he marched forward to advance on his aunt. “That tongue of yours has always caused trouble in this family, and where my father might tolerate it, I shall not allow you to blacken my character, nor Darcy's, nor that of Miss Bennet. Am I clear?”
Lady Catherine de Bourgh suddenly shrank in stature at the dual assault from both of her nephews. Neither had ever spoken to her is such a manner and in her own home! But Lady Catherine was not an imbecile. There was no doubt this new madness in both of her nephews stemmed from this upstart before her, but her claws were in much too deep. No, to save her nephews, Lady Catherine would need to be crafty. Cunning.
“You would speak to an old woman, your superior in such a way? Why I ought to have you whipped, boy! You are not welcome in this home and I am most displeased you have not the manners to announce your travel companions. I am retiring to my rooms for the afternoon and I expect you both at dinner with your manners properly restored. Take this person to the parsonage if that is truly where she is destined for, but she is not for my company and that is final.”
Lady Catherine pulled on the cord three times and a young footman appeared to escort her upstairs. Dramatically leaning on her cane, and the boy's arm, Lady Catherine left the room and for the first time in many minutes, Elizabeth Bennet felt enough relief to release the breath she had been holding.
Richard left the parlor not long after his aunt, closing the doors behind him, presumably to see to his Anne. Darcy led Elizabeth to the nearest sofa and she happily settled onto it.
“Fitzwilliam, I am so sorry, truly sorry. I was a fool for letting Richard talk me into coming to the main house first. Such a fool!”
Darcy traced the jawline of his beloved with his finger and crooked her face up towards his. Kissing her with the passion of a man on the precipice of disaster, he pulled her upper body into a crush against his own with a tight embrace. Fearing discovery, he reluctantly released her to appear as indifferent acquaintances should his aunt send a servant.
“It is I who am sorry you heard those filthy words spew from my aunt. She is unbearable at best, but today she was—”
“She is losing her only daughter. I've seen people behave most oddly in the face of great tragedy and stress.” Elizabeth gave her future husband a look of pure compassion. This was the same explanation she used to comfort herself when her memories of the night she was thrown out from her family home attacked her dreams. It was the only explanation she could give for why her father would allow her mother to have behaved so abominably.
“That is no excuse. No excuse at all. She hardly ever sees her daughter, and . . . and I am rambling on when I have no inclination to speak to you about my aunt.”
Elizabeth offered him a shy smile. She had not wanted to say as such, but her Mr. Darcy was quite clever in remembering their privacy was limited. She had not traveled for a day in a rambling carriage to talk about unpleasant matters.
“Are you pleased I came? I did think for a moment such a plan was—”
Darcy silenced her with another kiss. The delicious warmth she felt each time he placed his lips on her own made Elizabeth tingle down to her toes. Wishing to convey such joy, she nuzzled her nose on his own larger aristocratic profile, eliciting a rare laugh from him.
“I am overjoyed you are near. I have worried senselessly since leaving London. The situation here has become most dire.” The serious tone behind his words added additional weight to Elizabeth's shoulders.
“And you have had no one to stand by you as you face it,” she declared.
The simplicity of her statement resonated deep within Darcy's soul. No other woman had ever considered his feelings beyond passing fancies of his favorite drink or play or book so as to further discussion in a ballroom. He would have embraced her again had the doors to the parlor not opened once more, with Richard strolling in, clearly agitated.
“She is in a worse state than I ever imagined.” The army man wasted no time in walking across the parlor to the small sideboard where his aunt kept spirits. Wisely pulling the decanter from the back, Richard poured the scotch that was not watered down to save money.
“I sent for you directly. That was the purpose of my express. I am only glad you finally secured leave,” Darcy said.
“Has the doctor—”
Elizabeth cleared her throat, attracting the attention of both men. Meekly, she smiled and rubbed her hands over the lap of her dress. The discussion of another woman's health, one that was still a stranger made her uncomfortable. “I'm terribly sorry, but the Collinses are expecting me. Would one of you escort me to the parsonage with the carriage?” She looked directly at Darcy when she said the words.
“We should both go.” Richard announced, downing his shot. “If we truly do not wish to raise talk, it's imperative the staff not see the two of you alone as much as possible. Aunt Catherine will be suspicious this entire visit, thanks to my damn need to play a prank.”
Darcy helped Elizabeth up from the sofa, biting back his words that he agreed with his cousin's sentiment. Perhaps if they had not arrived together, and instead Elizabeth had been introduced to his aunt as a visitor to the parsonage . . . but it was too late to change his aunt's perceptions now.
“I shall call on you tomorrow. Do you plan to take your daily walk in the morning?” Darcy asked, most earnestly.
“Sir, unless you decide to break my other ankle by running me down with your horse, I believe it is safe to say I shall walk each morning the weather is fine.” The two locked eyes and enjoyed another brief moment of connection until Richard cleared his throat.
“We'd better find a way to marry me and Anne quickly, the two of you won't last a week at this rate.”
The Trappings of Marriage
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are off to Gretna Green!
In Book 4 of the Moralities of Marriage series our dear couple have survived accidents, forced marriages, and meddling relatives. After a short stay at Pemberley where the future Mrs. Darcy comes to terms with the kind of wife Fitzwilliam Darcy will need on his arm, they take off for the border to marry over the anvil. When Mr. Darcy plans an idyllic wedding trip to his family estate just outside of Dumfries, the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy discover the trappings of marriage have yet to relinquish their hold.
Chapter 9 - A Virtue of Marriage, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Arriving just before dinner, Elizabeth's presence in the county stood as a complete surprise to her cousin Mr. Collins. Both gentlemen from the main house escorted her; there was little rudeness he could offer. Charlotte, on the other hand, brightened at the sudden arrival of her friend she had only invited to visit last week when her father and sister had cut their own visit short.
Unfortunately, once inside the smaller cottage, the two nephews of Mr. Collins' esteemed patroness had to leave much too soon for Elizabeth's taste. With no opportunity to privately farewell, Elizabeth settled for a smoldering look from her intended and a joke from the Colonel about his dinner plans interfering with his digestion.
“I can assure you, Colonel, the meals at Rosings are very fine indeed! Why Mrs. Collins and I enjoyed Lady Catherine's invitation just last week and the roast duck was superb. I only wish you had been present, Mr. Darcy, and you would agree that no finer a meal had been set.” Mr. Collins bumbled on and on as the two men tried to leave for the third time in as many minutes.
“Mr. Collins, I believe Lady Catherine is waiting for her nephews to return. Thank you gentlemen for seeing to my friend's safe travels.” Charlotte nodded her head as the men acknowledged her gratitude and appreciated her herding them towards the door, away from her husband.
Mr. Collins followed his wife and Elizabeth remained behind, breathing slowly until the door closed with a dull finality.
“How could you invite that woman to our home? You know Lady Catherine has an extreme dislike for my cousin after she shamelessly threw herself at Mr. Darcy in Hertfordshire and then again in London, from what I'm told!” Mr. Collins grabbed Charlotte's arm and shoved her violently into the parlor.
Charlotte did not cry out or say anything in response, and if Elizabeth had been ignorant of the parson's true nature, she might have been utterly shocked. Instead, she bore witness to her worst fears. Mr. Collins was not only a bully to her, as a result of her headstrong ways, but to all women, including his wife. Charlotte's disposition was as sweet and serene as Jane’s; there could be no discord as a result of behavior on her part.
Elizabeth stepped forward, blocking Mr. Collins from further hurting his wife. “I am so thankful for your hospitality, Mr. Collins. You are truly kind to invite me for the Easter holiday.”
“No, Lizzie, you mustn't,” Charlotte said.
“I know my business, Charlotte. My cousin and I have a long acquaintance with each other, afforded by our doomed courtship. But I am certain a man of the church could not possibly hold a grudge.” Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at her cousin. She could not yet declare herself under Mr. Darcy's protection, but that did not change the unequivocal knowledge she held such protection. And this time, this time she was not going to go quietly to keep up appearances.
“You forget yourself, Cousin.”
“Test me, Cousin,” she emphasized the moniker, “Try my patience and see who my friends are.” Elizabeth jutted out her chin as if to dare the man to strike her.
William Collins stood taller, adding a slight addition to his height, but Elizabeth Bennet did not flinch. What did she mean about her friends? She had traveled friendless to Kent, no doubt tossed from her aunt and uncle's for her poor behavior. He sniffed and looked beyond her to his wife, cowering behind. There was little he could do tonight to remove this harridan from his home, and he couldn't be bothered with such nuisances.
“I will take my dinner in my study. See to your friend's lodgings. Do not disturb my peace.” He enunciated each word as one spoke to a child. With a huff, he turned on his heel and marched out of the parlor, slamming the door to his study somewhere deeper in the house.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and thanked Providence for the strength to defy the man responsible for ruining her perfect life in Hertfordshire. A sob behind her made Elizabeth turn around and immediately she rushed to embrace her friend.
“Ssh, ssh, he's gone now Charlotte. No harm will come.”
“I was foolish to write you. My father left and would not allow Maria to stay beyond his visit. When they left, I was rash and sent for you.”
“I am here now. Your letter was a happy coincidence.” Elizabeth smiled at her friend with a cat-caught-the-mouse look.
“Happy? I brought you here and you shall be miserable. He will not relent you see, now that you have challenged him.” Charlotte's eyes widened in fear. But her friend shook her head.
“There are matters I cannot tell you, but I promise you when my time here is over, say the word and I will take you with me.” Elizabeth searched Charlotte's face for understanding but could find none. With a heavy heart, she hugged her friend once more and changed the subject to more mundane matters.
As the two women took the stairs to Elizabeth's guest room, Charlotte explained the biggest mystery in her life involved the chickens. The stress of the arrival and confrontation with Mr. Collins bubbled over and both women were laughing until they cried as Charlotte described her visions of a masterful egg thief. For a moment as Elizabeth began to inspect Anna's unpacking of her trunks in the rose themed room, it felt like just a year ago when the two of them had not a care in the world.
“Lizzie, why did you come to Kent so quickly? You must have scarcely received my letter before you began to travel.”
Elizabeth carefully moved her folio of letters and correspondence from the desk drawer back to the false bottom of her trunk. There were items in there she would not wish to see fall into the wrong hands.
“I cannot tell you all, Charlotte, but soon. I promise.”
“You're not in any kind of trouble are you? Without a home?”
Elizabeth swallowed hard. So the news of her dismissal from Longbourn had reached her friend's ears, though what could she expect. The whole neighborhood likely gossiped about the unruly Bennet daughter finally reaping her oats.
“I am well. My aunt and uncle provide me a good home. But when the opportunity to travel presented itself, I can say I was most pleased for a brief change in scenery.”
Charlotte Collins crossed her arms and waited. “How did you have the funds, if you do not mind me asking?”
To see Charlotte so serious, Elizabeth nearly doubled over once more in a fit of manic laughter. But this was a serious matter, indeed, and her friend was not being nosy, but careful. A single woman in possession of money to travel while estranged from her family usually meant only one occupation. Charlotte busied herself with seeing the bed was properly made for her guest.
“Promise you won't tell?” Elizabeth whispered, making Charlotte panic slightly at the potential truth of her friend's situation. “I do sums for my Uncle's business.”
“Lizzie!” Charlotte picked up a pillow from her friend's bed and slammed it down in annoyance.
“What? You insinuated . . .”
“I certainly did not!”
The two girls collapsed onto the bed and like times where they had lounged in one another's parlors or bedrooms as children reading, their heads touched, but no other part. Both looking up at the ceiling, the weight of their situations pressed all around them.
“I am not so very unhappy . . .”
“Don't. You owe me no explanation. And while I can do nothing about that weasel at the moment, I shall at least find a way to help you with the chickens to catch the thief.”
“The masterful egg thief,” Charlotte corrected.
“Yes, we shall catch the entire gang of egg thieves.”
You've been reading A Virtue of Marriage
Book 2 of The Moralities of Marriage, continuation of the saga from By Consequence of Marriage.
With Fitzwilliam Darcy hopelessly tangled in his family's lies and deceit in Kent, reinforcements are on the way in the form of his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and his secret fiancee, Elizabeth Bennet. Two generations of the Fitzwilliam family clash at Rosings and the matrimonial futures of both Darcy and Richard hang in the balance. When Lady Catherine goes on a rampage, and the Bennets become swayed by the vicious gossip swirling the Darcy family, both Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam learn you inherit each other's family drama by virtue of marriage.
A full-length novel, A Virtue of Marriage continues the three-part Moralities of Marriage series.
A Virtue of Marriage, Book 2 of the Moralities of Marriage
a Pride and Prejudice novel variation series
Release Date: March 31, 2015
308 pages in print.
+ 15 additional Pride & Prejudice variations are available at these fine retailers . . .
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Domestic abuse is awful. It was even worse back in Jane Austen's time where there were no court orders, no police to even be called. All one could rely on was friends and family, and even then, just like today, "just leave" isn't as simple as it sounds.
XOXOXO Elizabeth Ann West