Welcome to Twisted Austen 2018! For the next eight days we will countdown to Halloween with Young Wickham, a Pride and Prejudice sequel and Mansfield Park mashup. Read along and enter to win prizes (more info below). Thanks for celebrating with me!
About two-hundred years ago, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, with only a thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, in the county of Derbyshire, and to be thereby established as a lady of society, with all the comforts and consequences of a handsome house and large income. All Meryton, the town nearest to Longbourn, exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the attorney himself, allowed her to be at least four thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Bennet and Miss Catherine quite as handsome as Miss Elizabeth did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. Other voices disagreed, but they were quieter. Only in whispers were the words “scandal” and “Wickham” spoken, but they lingered in the townspeople’s minds, despite Miss Elizabeth’s most fortuitous marriage and her elder sister’s similarly advantageous match.
There certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them. Miss Bennet, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to her uncle’s clerk, and Miss Catherine wed the Rev. Mr. Norton, a friend of Mr. Darcy. The matches were not contemptible, and Mrs. Bennet could rest in comfort, knowing she had successfully disposed of all five of her daughters. The rest of the family could never quite forget that her youngest, Miss Lydia, had married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, absconding from her chaperones in Brighton with a lieutenant of the militia. The two spent weeks together in London, unmarried, before Mr. Darcy tracked them down and forced a union, saving the reputation of the entire family. The couple had been welcomed once to Longbourn before departing for Mr. Wickham’s new assignment in the North, after which there was a veritable breech between the sisters, the natural result of the conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces. Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which they moved so distinct, as almost to preclude the means of ever hearing of each other’s existence, but Mrs. Norton must have kept a somewhat steady correspondence with her estranged sister that she was able to have the power to tell them, as she now and then did, that Lydia had got another child.
But arrived when Mrs. Wickham could no longer afford to cherish pride and resentment, or to lose one connection that might possibly assist her. Now a widow with a large family and very little income to supply their wants, she was eager to regain the sisters she had so carelessly sacrificed, and she addressed Mrs. Darcy in a letter which spoke of so much contrition and despondence, such a superfluity of children, and such a want of almost everything else, as could not but dispose them all to a reconciliation. She was, furthermore, preparing for her ninth lying-in, and after bewailing the circumstance, and imploring their countenance as sponsors to the expected child, she could not conceal how important she felt they might be to the future maintenance of the eight already in being. Her eldest was a boy of ten years old, a fine spirited fellow who longed to be out in the world. Was there any chance of his being hereafter useful to Mr. Darcy in the concerns of his estates? His grandfather had been steward at Pemberley, and Mrs. Wickham could not consider the position as beneath his descendant.
The letter was not unproductive. It reestablished peace and kindness. Mrs. Darcy dispatched money and baby linen while Mr. Darcy proffered friendly advice, though he could not so easily consent to take young Wickham under his wing. He suggested the boy might be more suited to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a military career, a path he pledged to assist. Mrs. Wickham replied with professions of gratitude, but thought her second son better suited to such a life. George, she insisted, though formerly having described him as spirited, was too delicate for adventure. The boy was not sickly, just sedentary and studious, or at least so his mother described him. It was all she could do, she complained, to get him out and about instead of burrowing his nose into some book or another. It was this unfathomable habit of reading that clearly qualified him for the task of stewarding Pemberley’s vast interests. Surely Mr. Darcy would not care to waste the burgeoning talent as his disposal.
“Lydia certainly paints a mixed picture of the boy,” was Mrs. Darcy’s first comment.
Mr. Darcy’s was more to the point. “If it were anyone else, Elizabeth, you know I would not hesitate.”.
“I know,” she replied, folding her letter with a sigh. “We are fortunate that none of my other sisters are in such need, but it would be far easier were it Mary’s child.”
“John would be an admirable apprentice for Mr. Thompson,” he nodded, “were he not interested in pursuing the law.”
“An endeavor you have so kindly offered to finance.”
“I would do almost anything to assist our relations, but this – this is no light undertaking.”
“No. That it is not,” she agreed.
“We would have to be very careful and deliberate when bringing any young person into our household, but this child, however innocent of his parent’s sins, particularly demands we only proceed with the utmost caution.”
“It is to his detriment that he is said to closely resemble his father.”
Mr. Darcy’s eyes spoke to his conflict. “How is it that Wickham continues to plague me from beyond the grave? But the boy is not just his child, he is his father’s grandchild, and as such the honor of my own father’s memory demands something be done for him, to say nothing of his relationship to you. Perhaps Mrs. Norton would undertake to house him?”
“My dear Mr. Darcy,” that lady, who sat beside her sister knitting socks for distribution amongst her husband’s needier parishioners, “what am I to do with a boy? Mr. Norton’s indifferent state of health renders such an arrangement quite impossible. He could no more bear the noise of a child than he could fly. I think nothing of the inconvenience such an addition to my small household would cause. I should be happy to do my share to assist poor Lydia, and perhaps if Mr. Norton should ever get well of his gouty complaints, he would enjoy the companionship of a bookish young man, should he prove to be so. That is, of course, were the boy intended for the Church. As he is not, I should think he would do much better off living on the estate, perhaps with some tenant.
“He is my nephew, Mrs. Norton, and yours as well,” Mr. Darcy sternly replied.
“It would be cruel to bring him here and then treat him as an inferior, Kitty,” Mrs. Darcy explained.
“Cruel? I think not. Securing employment at Pemberley is a great honor.”
“Your feelings illustrate the complexities of the arrangement Mrs. Wickham proposes. We must be mindful not only of our personal feelings but also those of the world. A family member, established for life at Pemberley yet in its employ, is awkwardly positioned socially. It is a point of great delicacy. Should he be introduced into the company of my children, not even the smallest degree of arrogance towards their relation ought to be tolerated. Though they cannot be equals – their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different – but I should like them to be very good friends.”
“Perhaps he will prove his parents’ superior and be to our boys what his father failed to be to you,” Mrs. Darcy suggested.
“That would be wonderful. The child is not accountable for his father’s sins. Should his disposition be good, I should like nothing more than to be of service to the boy, but should it be really bad, we must not, for our own children’s sake, continue him in the family.”
“I perfectly comprehend you, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Norton said. “You are thinking of your daughters, but that is of all things upon Earth the least likely to happen, brought up, as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters. It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it.”
“I assure you I thought nothing of the sort, though there is some truth in what you say. I only meant to observe that should the boy’s residency prove problematic, we will still be duty bound to provide for him. Should he not be destined for the role of steward, we must see that he has an alternative trajectory to pursue. He will be our responsibility.”
“It sounds like you are agreeable to sending for him,” Elizabeth observed.
“I am not sure I would say ‘agreeable,’ but yes, under the circumstances, I do not see how we can in good conscience reject Mrs. Wickham’s request.”
“You are certain?” she pressed.
“Only that we take him on a trial basis. I will write to Mrs. Wickham myself to explain my reasoning and assure her that we will undertake the boy’s upbringing, whether at Pemberley or not.”
“I am sure Lydia will be most grateful for your care and consideration, Mr. Darcy,” said Mrs. Norton.
He smiled uncomfortably in reply. From what he recalled of his sister-in-law, he very much doubted it.
The little boy performed his long journey in safety. George Wickham was at this time just eleven years old and possessed of all the charm to which his lineage entitled him, a first impression that did little to ease the concerns of Mr. Darcy. Though tall, he was lean for his age with pallid skin, both conditions that life at Pemberley should shortly cure, and the rest of his appearance was assessed favorably by his cousins. There was nothing timid or shy in the boy’s demeanor, and though clearly overawed by the grandeur of his new circumstances, he expressed his admiration with an innocent candor devoid of those vulgarities one might look for in Mrs. Wickham’s child. His Aunt Darcy, with features he instantly loved for bringing his own mother before him, was necessarily the less awful of the strangers into whose care he was being thrust. Mr. Darcy’s gravity of deportment was intimidating, and George felt instinctively that the great man did not like him. Holding this fear well-guarded, he smiled good-naturedly when Mrs. Reynolds introduced him, expressing his gratitude to his aunt and uncle with becoming sincerity. He was embraced by his aunt and shook hands with Mr. Darcy before being presented to his cousins. Despite his honest desire that the children befriend one another, Mr. Darcy could not suppress the uncomfortable knot that built in his chest as he watched his first born clasp his arm chummily about the boy who so closely resembled the old family nemesis, proprietarily conducting the remaining introductions.
The eldest Darcy child was thirteen years old and beginning to take on the physical attributes of manhood. He was mere weeks away from his entrance to a well-known public school, an event he anticipated with great glee. Some boys might have reason for trepidation when confronting such a transition, but Thomas Darcy, the capable and handsome heir of Pemberley, had little to fear. Acceptance amongst his peers was inevitable, and he went in the company of his best friend and cousin, Mark Bingley. His father and mother had both, in turn, impressed upon him the importance of making George feel welcome, and it was with an air of importance and swagger that he presented his younger siblings. “This is Edward. He is eleven, too. I should predict you to be tight as thieves if he were not a dead bore. Meet Maria. Maria, this is George. She is seven years old, but don’t think poorly of her for it. It is a trying age that she shall soon overcome. And here is Julia. She is only five. You needn’t think of her at all.”
“Mama!” Julia protested. “Tom is being mean.”
“The commentary is unneeded, Tom,” Mrs. Darcy admonished.
“Forgive me, Mama,” he said with a bow and a cheeky grin. “Of course, I should never go on so before anyone else, but Cousin George is family, and it seemed only fair to give him some notion of what to expect from such a ragamuffin crew as my siblings.”
George turned grateful eyes up at his cousin and gazed on him with admiration. The restriction in Mr. Darcy’s chest loosened. George Wickham could do no better than to take Tom for a role model.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Two!
Stop by, read the story, and enter to win! Increase your chances of winning by leaving multiple comments (be sure to include you email address in at least one). At the end of the event (giveaway open through November 7th), I will randomly select two grand winners. Each will receive copies of all five Twisted Austen ebooks, including Young Wickham, plus a set (six each) of these adorable decorative clothes pins, purchased at my local grocery here in Switzerland. Two runners up will receive Young Wickham ebooks. What if you already have all the Twisted Austen books? Enter anyway. We'll work something out. This giveaway is open internationally. Extra entries for social media shares, but you must mention them in your comments for credit. Good luck to all who enter, thank you so much for reading, and have a very happy Halloween!