The history of Mr George Wickham is somewhat open to interpretation. In particular, the series of events which brought him into a closer acquaintance with his father’s elder brother could be called the ruin of him. Or, depending on one’s perspective, the making of him.
Oddly, Daniel Wickham did not write to his nephew and request a short stay at Pemberley, as would have been usual. Instead, he simply sent a note announcing his arrival at the Lambton inn, and requesting George’s presence.
“The matter is of a family nature,” he wrote, “and better not discussed in the public eye.”
And so young George presented himself at the inn, during the early hours of that Wednesday morning, to hear what his uncle had to say. And, incidentally, to have his life destroyed.
They exchanged the usual pleasantries, and then Daniel Wickham began to relate a good deal of family history – at first somewhat tedious, but increasingly macabre, outlandish, and disturbing. It was enough to make one doubt his uncle’s soundness of mind, and George said as much.
“I assure you, I am perfectly well,” was the reply. “And if you apply to your good father, he will confirm every thing I am telling you, little as he would wish to.”
George did not wish to confirm anything of the sort. The ease with which Daniel Wickham was speaking of unnatural horrors was alarming – to hear his father do the same! – but his uncle now arrived at his point.
“The very great thing,” he explained, “is your duty as a member of our family. The Wickhams are an old and respected part of the Watchers Council, and every generation has given its eldest son to the Great Duty. My wife passed some years ago, and you are to be my heir. It therefore falls to you to join the Council and join our battle against the forces of darkness.”
And there it was.
It has never been easy to lead a double life and emerge with one’s reputation intact. This George Wickham learned, to his cost, over the next five years.
He grew used to raised eyebrows, to muttered comments about his friendships with young women, to disapproving glances at his collection of occult literature. But fighting evil was considerably more important than preserving one’s good name, George reasoned, and the opinions of those that knew no better were immaterial.
Even the relinquishing of his clerical ambitions was nothing. “Some are called to save souls,” wrote his uncle, “and some to save worlds. The one is no less a high calling than the other.” He was correct, of course, and George knew it.
But the disdain and disapproval in the eyes of his childhood friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, as he signed over a sum of money (for use by the Council coffers) in the place of the living that was to have been George’s, still stung. Had it not been for the secrecy emphasised by his uncle, George would have liked to confide in Darcy further.
It was done, however, and it was done for the best.
After an enthusiastic start, and a somewhat disillusioning reception by his fellow Watchers, George quickly learned the difference between grand speech and everyday reality. He had imagined a gathering of eager guardians, equipping warrior girls for battle with their learned wisdom and extensive studies of combat strategy. Instead he found a leadership of stodgy men, rather too used to their books, and disinclined to listen to fresh ideas.
The work was wearying, but worthwhile. George was able to meet several Potential Slayers in training, and was soon given charge of one – a Miss Philippa Williams – to train as a swordswoman. (Her education was mostly undertaken by an older Watcher, but as he was no longer in his prime, the Council wished to give her a second tutor.)
Miss Williams was a spirited girl of thirteen, with a way of wrapping one round her little finger, all innocence, as she got her own way. George soon found himself teaching her knife throwing and use of a sabre, far earlier than recommended for a traditional course of training. “After all, it’s not as if I won’t use it,” she informed him, with a smile.
She was not, however, destined to use her skills. When the three of them were set upon by a vampire, just outside the local stables, Miss Williams’ – Philippa’s – neck was snapped. She never had a chance to reach for her weapon.
George Wickham was to learn many times, over the years, the very great difficulty to be had when attempting to change the course of one’s life.
His next lesson on the subject came at the hands of Fitzwilliam Darcy, when the very same gentleman flatly refused to take him back into the life he had removed himself from three years earlier.
“You have declined your claim of assistance,” wrote Mr Darcy, “squandered the money that was its replacement, and now that you find yourself in distress through your own fault, you wish to be believed to have a sincere desire to enter the clergy. I find this very strange. Why test my credulity to this extent when you could simply say that you wish for funds and hope I will be a willing assistant to the cause?” He further recommended George Wickham to seek gainful employment and a sober life, and also to reflect on his actions, and also to cease badgering Mr Darcy when he, Darcy, did not have any desire to help him, Wickham, to any thing more than a courteous greeting and a good meal at Pemberley, were he to be in need of such.
George resolved not to answer this letter, as the strongest sentiment in his heart was a desire to give Darcy a good kicking.
Had George been of stouter heart and firmer character, he may not have taken his misfortunes as hard as he did.
It is important, when facing trials, to keep in mind that one’s troubles are one’s own, and that others may – will, indeed – have their own difficulties, and may be distracted by these rather than refusing to assist one purely from deliberate ill-will. George, however, was young. He had been eager, committed to the cause, and then felt himself disillusioned. He took it badly.
His life became one of idleness and dissipation, while he kept merry company and endeavoured not to think of higher things. What was duty? What was valour? These led only to heartache. Good wine and willing women were all that could be asked for – and far more pleasant than his former life.
The low point of this sorry tale came when George renewed his acquaintance with a friend of his youth – Darcy’s young sister Georgiana, a slip of a girl, and as willing to befriend George Wickham as he was to befriend any person who could give him a night’s distraction.
Georgiana was all too ready to believe that her brother had been hard on his friend, all too ready to believe the best of George. George, meanwhile, savoured her smiles and pretty language. Before long he found himself taking liberties with speech and meaning – promising much that he should not – and with every smile and whispered sentiment, drawing her further in.
After all, she was a sweet girl. And if he must be exiled from the civilised society he had wished for, why might he not have good company, and her good funds to assist them both? Darcy and his stiff virtues be blowed – he would have the sister’s help if he could not have the brother’s.
One can imagine how that brother acted upon learning of George Wickham’s attempts to prey upon her virtue. But please, Dear Reader, also imagine how very ashamed of himself George Wickham was when he admitted to himself what he had become.
“If you are to be much in Meryton, you must be willing to dance with all the young ladies,” Miss Madison informed George Wickham with a smile. “For we are all willing, and you see it would not be fair for the officers to only dance with one or two of us.”
His commission – as an officer with a Hertfordshire regiment – was agreeable enough work. George had friends among the officers, and plenty of pleasant company in the town. The Colonel could talk as much as he liked of duty to King and Country; as far as the townspeople were concerned, George’s first duty as a soldier was to attend all the parties, dance with the ladies, compliment the men on their excellent brandy, and smile at every one.
At present, he was in the company of a Miss Sarah Madison, who was endeavouring to charm him with her wit, her beauty, and her high spirits. Unsuccessfully, however – she was pleasant enough, but for wit George could seek the company of Lizzy Bennet, for beauty her sister Jane, and for high spirits he would look no further than the youngest Miss Bennet, Lydia.
Lydia’s enthusiasm was infectious, and she had a way of cajoling one that reminded him of the late Philippa Williams. In fact, at this very moment she ran up to catch his hand, with a smile and a proclamation that George, of course, would dance with her.
He laughed, and surrendered himself.
“Did you hear my news, Wickham?” demanded Lydia Bennet. “I am to go with the regiment to Brighton, for Mrs Forster has asked me!”
George owned that he had, indeed, heard the news, and was treated to the same history of Lydia’s invitation, acceptance, and packing as she had told to every one she had seen in the last four days.
“And of course I must have some new hats, for Brighton is so fashionable!” Lydia concluded. “Naturally I could not wear this old thing, and be the shame of the town. Kitty says it is not fair, for I am going to Brighton and having all new clothes, and she has neither, but she is just sour because I am younger,” she added, shaking her head disdainfully at her sister’s misfortune.
Lydia was a sweet, impetuous thing in many ways. But she could also be vulgar – and some near-forgotten remnants of nicety in George recoiled from such displays.
No matter – social niceties were what they were, but they meant nothing to George, and he would not be a slave to them. He wished for a good purpose, yes, but he had no duty to any man – not a duty of profession, not a duty of courtesy, and for god’s sake not a duty of propriety.
He smiled at Lydia, and asked her what hats she hoped to buy for her trip.
The first weeks of the Brighton encampment were uneventful. George worked as a soldier by day, and as a lively dinner companion by night. All was well – and yet, to George’s restless heart, all was not as well as it should have been. He found his thoughts straying to former days, to past studies and occupations, and frequently was forced to cover a moment’s absent-mindedness with a laugh and a quick compliment.
One evening, indeed, he felt so stifled by the society chatter that he found himself wandering onto the balcony of the host’s house for some fresh air.
He was not the only escapee. To George’s very great surprise, he found the balcony occupied by Lydia Bennet, who was gazing out into the dark evening, looking thoughtful. George would have withdrawn with a brief nod, but Lydia greeted him warmly, and insisted that he join her.
Then she lapsed into silence. It was, in George’s experience, a very unusual condition for Lydia to be in. They simply looked out over the gardens together, without speaking at all.
Presently, George asked, “How do you find Brighton now that you are here?”
“Oh! well. Very well,” Lydia answered. “I have had such parties, and balls—” but here she fell silent again.
George raised an eyebrow. “Forgive me,” he said, “But you do not seem to be quite yourself, Miss Bennet. Is some thing the matter?”
“Oh, no,” she disclaimed. “That is…” Lydia hesitated. Then she turned to face him, and asked, abruptly, “Wickham, do you ever have bad dreams?”
George acknowledged that he was the occasional recipient of such dreams. As, he imagined, were the majority of the populace.
“Well, yes, every one does. Only, lately, I have had such dreams! Always with the most hideous creatures, and I must protect my friends from them, and at such cost—” She shuddered.
Here George was not sure what to say, so he remained silent – only offering her the comfort of a hand laid close by her own.
Lydia said, almost to herself, “I did not know that anything could cost one so very much.” And again they stood, side by side, and looked out into the darkness.
It was a warm July evening when George Wickham’s life returned full circle to its former self.
He was walking Lydia Bennet home from a dance at Lord C––––’s house. They had spoken on several occasions since their discussion of dreams. Neither had mentioned that evening again, but they had together talked of many other things, such as music, Brighton’s sights – even some books, although Lydia was not in the habit of much reading.
On this occasion, they were lamenting Lord C––––’s taste in furnishings when they suddenly found themselves interrupted by the most alarming screams of a girl nearby. George stiffened for a moment, before rushing – running! – to her aid. He ran towards the cries, only dimly aware of Lydia, matching his pace.
And there was the girl! A young servant, shrieking in terror, as the vampire – vampires, here! – came menacingly forward. She was backed into a tight corner, with no possible escape.
George knew from grim experience that his strength could not match the vampire’s – but he must, had to try. He came forward, grabbing the creature’s shoulder, only to find himself knocked off his feet, dazed.
“Wickham!” he heard the cry. “Oh help, what can I—”
George struggled to stand, but the vampire turned to him, snarling, and pulled him forward into its grasp. George wrestled with it, in vain, as Lydia cried out again “Wickham! No, you can’t!” – and then, all of a sudden, George was held by nothing but the thin air. He found himself standing, staring, at Lydia. Lydia who was standing stricken, wide-eyed, holding a mere stick.
There are times in life when one has many potential courses of action – and times when there is only one clear, definite path to take. This was the latter.
Lydia and George had little time for discussion. He told her simply that he knew what was happening, that he knew the cause of her sudden strength, that she needed training, but he did not know— but here, Lydia interrupted him.
“If they’re in London, we’ll just have to go to London, that’s all.”
They could not, quite obviously, abscond in the middle of the night. George pointed this out – but Lydia refused to see the obvious.
“I cannot simply take you to London without a word! Who knows what will be said!”
“Well, if that is all, why don’t we just tell them we have run off to get married?”
“Out of the question! It will ruin your reputation, Lydia. The scandal—”
“Scandal? What on earth does that matter?”
When put to him that way, George could not really find an argument against it. And, as Lydia pointed out, she had very nearly not managed to slay the vampire before it had killed all three of them. The great thing was training. And training, indeed, meant that Lydia must remove to London at once.
Scandal it was, then.
The day that George Wickham married Lydia Bennet was pleasanter than he had anticipated.
He had not relished the thought of marriage, even to Lydia. But, as his uncle had pointed out, marriage would diminish the scandal surrounding their flight to London – and also, as her husband, give George authority to take Lydia northward, to where the Council was most in need of the Slayer’s assistance. There he could train her, guide her, and even fight beside her if he wished.
Still, George had at first approached the marriage as a duty – and duty was not, in George’s opinion, a welcome friend.
But then, in their first moment alone together after the ceremony, Lydia turned to him and said, “Wickham, you look very handsome. But I must tell you – so far fighting evil has been rather stuffy and religious. Please reassure me: will all my Slayer duties be so monotonous? Surely we can have at least a little violence to mete out on our journey north?” and George remembered how impetuous and lovely she could be, and realised that he would be able to have her beside him for every single day of duty – delightful, welcome duty – until the day they died fighting.
And although, surely, that dark day would approach all too quickly, every day until then would be full of life.
George smiled at his new wife, and took her hand in his.