I’m going to be honest. I’m tempted to stop reading the comments. I’ve had trolls before and I don’t think anyone here is trolling me but I believe many of you are not reading closely. Some of that is just a careless mistake, others are mired in continued prejudice. I’m going to give a spoiler. Wickham isn’t so bad in this. If you can’t handle it, stop reading.
I’ll answer a few questions, and again, I might not continue reading reviews so I can’t promise I’ll be able to continue to clarify. If you remain confused, try rereading.
Wickham is not the man Lydia eloped with. This Wickham has never been in the military. He was in Lambton. Georgiana died 3 years ago, just after she turned 16. Lydia died only one year ago. Darcy would have noticed if Wickham weren’t around and had entered the miliita. This Wickham has also not wasted Darcy’s money. He spent it on school. The real question is why do the Wickhams say the father was fired and Darcy say the father quit? THAT should be something that continues to scratch at you until we find the answer.
Regarding Lydia being too young and dying in childbirth and correlating it to Georgiana dying of a miscarriage. I went with the medical explanation at the time. Lydia needed a c-section. Women of all ages need c-sections. In the past, they would blame it on the woman’s age if she were young because some have narrower hips still at that age. However, we know from Canon that Lydia looks fully-grown. I wrote it that way to give Elizabeth a greater sense of guilt. However, I think it’s clear as day that she shouldn’t blame herself.
To the person who said Wickham eloping with Georgiana was statutory rape: Not during this era. Georgiana was considered an adult. So was Lydia. And Eliza Williams. And Marianne Dashwood. And Catherine Morland. Oh, and my Elizabeth in Pledged. All found their love interests under the age 18. Statutory rape is a thing, this I firmly believe. But I also believe that teenagers have sex drives. That they’re not going to discriminate on age. And in this era, it did not make men creepy or gross to love a woman much younger than them. They were not encouraged to have serious attachments until they were older. Jane Austen continually criticizes men who fall in love under 25. By that age, most women were married. There was also a considerable prejudice (although maybe not as much as we would imagine) against ladies who have remained unmarried to that age.
As for the elopement: yep, Wickham AND GEORGIANA chose wrong there. However, never in an Austen work is the elopement the problem. The Wickham of Canon was a fortune hunter. That was a strike against him. However, Elizabeth didn’t think he was very evil until he eloped with Lydia with no potential benefit other than sex. Jane was so desperate to say they were in love because then it would make sense. However, Wickham didn’t intend on marrying Lydia. He was never in love with her, had never even thought that in a moment of passion. He simply wanted a “companion.” Oh, and she had some money to ease his situation for a day or two. However, you will find nowhere in the book does Elizabeth say Georgiana, Mary King, or Lydia were innocent dupes of Wickham. Nor does she think he is doing anything evil for grasping at a fortune. It makes him dishonorable and obviously the inferior to Darcy, but she’s not feeling the need to go tell the world. For that matter, neither does Darcy. I firmly believe no one considered Wickham would target anyone without money. Even then, he would be sure to actually MARRY them and the lady would have at least the comfort of that.
So essentially, we have a Wickham who was a jerk as a boy. His father lives and continued to direct his son. He did not run off with Darcy’s money and gamble it all away or live raucously. He made a mistake in eloping with Georgiana, he also believed Darcy would refuse his application. He then chose to allow Georgiana to go back to Pemberley where Darcy would try to convince her to give him up. He wanted a church wedding for her. He wanted to work hard to provide for her and prove himself to Darcy. He is learning and trying. He’s not perfect. No one here is.
Darcy SHOULD have given Wickham the money. Wickham had every legal right to it. Darcy withholding it is far worse than even the allegation that he didn’t give Wickham the living, for in the original, Wickham acknowledges he didn’t have a legal argument. He does here. Rather than having Darcy flawed for looking down on the Bennets and having a horrid proposal we have this flaw.
As for Elizabeth, yes she shouldn’t have said what she did. Her argument is not without merit but is poorly articulated. Just like Canon. In essence, the last chapter was the Hunsford Proposal. Next, comes the letter, or in structure terms, the big twist. Are you ready for it?
Elizabeth returned to the inn and plead a headache when her aunt and uncle asked why Mr. Darcy did not join her. She did not lie. This time, however, her tears and the subsequent pain in her head was not because of him as much as what she had said and felt.
She had badgered Mr. Darcy and forced him to confess everything to her, but she barely gave him a moment to breathe. Did she not feel anger at the man who seduced her sister and brought about her death? She might have blamed herself for setting Lydia off, but in her heart of hearts, Elizabeth knew that Lydia had always been flighty. She had remained unchecked by her parents. Eloping while on holiday was perhaps a natural consequence.
She had never voiced her concern to anyone save Darcy, and no one had ever laid it at her feet. He had understood in a way that only someone who also blamed themselves could. How could she say something so cruel and thoughtless to him? He had offered the one thing she had searched for her whole life—someone to understand her. And she used that against him.
It did not sound as though Georgiana or Mr. Wickham had asked for her dowry. If they had married in a church, he would have been bound by law to give the money. As a solicitor, Mr. Wickham would know that more than herself. Why would they not request her income? She fell asleep determined to find out more from Wickham on the morrow.
The following day, she coerced her relatives to walk with her and visit the Wickhams. Once they were duly engrossed in conversation with the older man, she turned her attention to George.
“I am sorry Mr. Darcy arrived during your call. You seemed most uncomfortable to have present. I suppose it must be many years since you have last seen him despite your close proximity.”
George sighed. “Yes.” He took a sip of his tea then shook his head. “No. With you, I must always be truthful.” He searched her eyes. “Something about you compels me to explain my woes, Miss Bennet.”
Elizabeth steeled herself to be as attentive as she ever could be. She hoped he would reveal the information she desired without requiring her to ask leading questions. “I can hardly credit that,” she said.
“It is quite true. It is though you have bewitched me and I can deny you nothing.”
Elizabeth thought he was being charming, but then he dropped his eyes.
“I had not thought to feel that again. I had not expected to fall under the spell of another woman.”
“I am sorry to hear you have suffered at the hands of another. Do you now mean to tell me a story of a woman’s inconstancy?”
“No,” George whispered. “No, my wife was loyal and devoted. I never wondered about her fidelity or love for me.”
“You must have been fortunate indeed.” She glanced around the room. “Pardon me for saying, I mean no offense, but perhaps she would have felt differently had she met with richer men.”
“I can see how you might think that. To be sure, I have very little to offer any lady. However, my wife came from one of the wealthiest families of the land. She was willing to forsake them all for me.”
“Did she not have a significant dowry?”
“I could not petition for it. I would not put Darcy through that from me again. I desired him to respect me as a brother. I had mistreated him in our youth, I had been vain and callous.” George shook his head. “He could not trust me.”
Elizabeth tried to look astonished. “Mr. Darcy!” she whispered.
George glanced at the others before returning his gaze to Elizabeth. “I made it clear to Georgiana we may never have her income to live on. I wanted to prove my worth to Darcy on my own merit.”
Elizabeth sucked in a breath. Could these two men had been so blind to one another? “That was very brave of both of you. She did not mind living here?”
George looked a bit ashamed of himself but shook his head. “We had eloped, but by the time we returned to Pemberley we had decided we wished for a church ceremony instead. I thought it would grieve my father too much—he had been so devoted to Mr. Darcy. There was no concealing it from her brother, however. She died before we could arrange matters.
“I am very sorry to hear it,” Elizabeth said. “I have only lost a sister. I cannot imagine the grief of losing a spouse.” Although, she acknowledged, she might have lost her chance with Mr. Darcy.
George gave her a sad smile. “I loved her so much—my whole life it seems. Although hardly in that way the entire time. However, she would not have wished me to be melancholy.”
“Have you spoken with Mr. Darcy about it? You must both miss her terribly.”
“He never believed that I loved her.” An anguished sob tore from his throat which he quickly covered with a cough. “Pardon me, the winter weather, I fear.”
“Yes, let us think of other things,” Elizabeth said with forced cheerfulness. “Have you drawn up a guest list for the ball?”
“I began last night,” George grinned then stood to find the paper.
For the remainder of the visit, they talked about plans for the ball. Elizabeth was pleased she did not need to think too much. Her mind was occupied with the confessions of each gentleman. If Darcy could learn to see past the errors of George’s youth and if George could see past Darcy’s anger, they could find common ground and friendship.
In her room at the inn, Elizabeth asked herself why it should matter. They could both live perfectly fine lives without speaking to one another ever again. They mourned a girl whom Elizabeth had never met. It all should be nothing to her, and yet she could not deny the kinship she felt to them. She had felt something more for Mr. Darcy…if she had not ruined it.
The next day was Sunday, and she knew she would not see Darcy. On Monday, Elizabeth’s feet carried her to a familiar path near Pemberley’s grounds. The estate was so massive, and Darcy surely had so many responsibilities that she dared not hope to see him again. However, she persisted in walking there over the next three days. At last, she saw him again.
“Miss Bennet,” he said while flushing and quickly bowed.
Elizabeth coloured as well. “Good morrow, Mr. Darcy.” Neither one spoke for several minutes. Elizabeth moved, determined to return to the inn.
“I regret that I have not seen you in several days. How have you been?”
Elizabeth looked at him over her shoulder. “Evading the questions of my aunt and uncle.”
“Forgive me,” he whispered. “I have been much occupied with estate business and could not manage time to call.”
Elizabeth whirled to face him. “Do you still wish to?”
“Certainly,” he said. “I am delighted in my acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.”
“I meant,” the words rushed out of Elizabeth’s mouth and she forced herself to calm. “I meant did you still wish to call upon me?”
“More than ever,” Darcy said as he approached. “I regret our last parting. I always seem to do or say the wrong thing. However, I think we ought to be honest with one another. It is one of the things I most admire about you.”
“Indeed, I have always been honest with you and appreciate that about you. I understand from your perspective that your sister’s marriage to Mr. Wickham appeared as yet another instance of his abuse against you. However, might there not be another way to look at things?”
“I do not know that I wish to discuss this with you again. I would not like to disagree every time we meet.”
“Would you prefer honesty or for me to agree with everything you say? I am no sycophant, sir.” She raised her chin.
“I would not wish you to be. If I wanted a woman to agree with everything I said, I would marry one of the ladies I have met in Town. That is not one of the reasons I wish to know you better.”
“Why do you wish to know me better?”
Darcy reached for Elizabeth’s hands and squeezed them. “I cannot put it into words. I am drawn to you.”
“I think most others would say I have drawn you in.”
“Why would they say that?”
“I am nothing compared to your status. My relations are in trade, as you know. I have no superior acquaintances and am only worth fifty pounds.”
“Never say that,” Darcy approached closer. “A woman’s worth is not weighed in pounds and pence. It is only a mathematical equation, not a testament of a woman’s value or the love in a man’s heart.”
Elizabeth let out the breath she had been holding and squeezed his hands in return. “Nor does a gentleman’s income define the love in a woman’s heart.”
Darcy’s eyes lit up as an immediate smile came to his face.
“I am not interested in your income or your estate. I only wish to know that you are a kind gentleman and master. Do your servants and tenants respect you or fear you? If I had not a penny in the world or the command of all its riches, I would only wish for the same. I would wish only to be loved by the one so dear to me as well.”
“Elizabeth,” Darcy whispered as he pulled her to him.
A piece of Elizabeth’s heart melted at his ardent display, but she had not meant the words as he took them. Or, she had not thought she had. Did she love him? It was far too early to know was it not? “I am sure your sister felt the same.”
“What?” Darcy asked in disbelief as he peered down at her.
“Your sister must have loved Mr. Wickham very much,” she said. He let go of her and Elizabeth immediately mourned the loss.
“What are you saying?”
“He claims to have loved her greatly and still mourns her.”
Pain and anguish crossed over Darcy’s face. “Has this all been a guise on his part? How much does he want from me this time? What has he paid you?”
Elizabeth drew back at the insult. “How dare you!”
“Tell me what I am supposed to think, Elizabeth! You claim my moods fluctuate but what of your own? One moment you accept my advances and the next you say I broke my sister’s heart by not handing over thirty thousand pounds to a known fortune hunter. You speak words of love and then say they were only about Wickham and my sister. If you have any care for me—”
“I do!” she cried. “I do care for you. I want you to find peace. It was terribly wrong of me to say what I did. I am sure you did not break your sister’s heart.”
Darcy searched her eyes. “But am I breaking yours?”
Elizabeth looked at the ground.
“Why does it matter if I make amends with George Wickham? Why should you care about him?”
Slowly, she lifted her eyes. “If you do not see the reason to end injustice and heal the breach with an innocent party then you are not the man I thought you were.”
“You say he truly loved Georgiana, but I have experienced his cruelty and craftiness many times through the years. Why should you accept his word over mine? What proof do you have that could not have convinced me while Georgiana lived?”
Elizabeth felt tears stinging her eyes. “I only know what I have seen, sir. There was no guile in his voice or look when he expressed his love for your sister and explained why he never asked for her money. Do you doubt love’s ability to change a person—or rather to reveal their truth?”
Darcy turned away from her. Disgust flashed on his face. “You would see love where there is none.”
“Love cannot be proven with words, only actions. It is Christmas. If you cannot find love and forgiveness at this time of year then when can you?”
He would not look at her but said in a voice so cold it chilled her heart. “I can never forgive him.”
Tears streamed down her face. She could not bear another interlude like this. Did he mean that she had imagined the love in his voice and looks as well? Without another word, she returned to the inn. It would be the last she saw of Fitzwilliam Darcy, she vowed.