Hypothetically, what would a gentleman in Regency times prefer?
Let’s assume our gentleman has several children. Would he want one to be wealthy and the others simply not poor, or would he want all of them to have equal wealth? Did he have the luxury of a choice?
When having many children was normal, it was unrealistic for most gentlemen to expect all their children to live at the same level they did, or as each other. A man who divided his property equally among his sons[i] almost guaranteed that none of his descendants would be wealthy in a few generations.
This was such an accepted fact. The English used it as an attempt to eliminate influential Catholic landowners in Ireland. Queen Anne’s Law (1703) made it so that:
“When a Catholic died, his estate would normally be divided equally among his sons. However, if his eldest son converted to the Protestant faith, that eldest son alone would inherit all the land, and all his Catholic brothers would be disinherited.”[ii]
Therefore, convert or not, Catholic wealth was eroded, and this law achieved the intended effect. As an aside, while taking a tour of Dublin many years ago, our guide was bitter about the law in particular and the English in general.
In our new book, Hypothetically Married, we start with the premise that before the opening of the story Mr. Collins died, breaking the entail, Mrs. Bennet died, eliminating the logical heir, and then Mr. Bennet died. It seems unlikely that Mr. Bennet would leave his property all to Jane. For the premise of this story, we assumed it would be left equally to his five daughters.
It would be impractical for Mr. Phillips and Mr. Gardiner to administer Longbourn. Both had their own concerns. Even if they did so and managed to save a reasonable amount of money, how could they fairly divide the income? Some of the sisters would likely wish to put money back into the estate, and others not. The estate would suffer and resentment would build. We hypothesized that Mr. Phillips and Mr. Gardiner decided managing the divided estate fairly couldn’t be done, so they sold it.
Although most of the book is from the point of view of Darcy or Elizabeth, Mr. Phillips’ point of view is used in the first two chapters and in the brief epilogue. Below is how our story begins.
[i] Daughters? Did you really expect a man who has sons to leave property to his daughters? ? [ii] Gavelkind in Ireland. Also see Popery Act.
Part One: Real Errors in Judgment
Mr. Phillips drummed his fingers on the desktop. His hands went to his cravat to see if it was tied properly. He briefly wished he had a mirror in his office, even if he’d rarely employ it. He moved his inkwell closer to the center of the desk. Once, thirty years ago, he’d accidentally knocked his inkwell off his desk when waiting for a particularly tense meeting. Since then, he didn’t like it to be near the edge.
Pulling his attention from the inkwell, he straightened his blotting pad for the second time since telling his assistant, Mr. Whitestone, to show in Mr. Wickham. He set his fingers drumming once more. A light knock sounded.
Mr. Phillips brought his hands together on the desktop, clasping them with deliberate lightness. He did not care for Mr. Wickham nor for what must be done. Still, the thing must be done, and he was the one who must do it.
Working to ease the tension in his jaw, he called, “Come in.”
The door creaked open. Mr. Phillips winced. He should remember to have Mr. Whitestone oil the hinges. The young man gestured Mr. Wickham inside, then backed out. He pulled the door closed with another creak.
Mr. Phillips offered Mr. Wickham a nod but didn’t stand. Wickham sauntered across the room, expression affable. He stopped before the desk and offered an answering dip of his head, deep enough to be nearly a bow. His smile, when he raised his chin, was likely meant to be winning.
Mr. Phillips had been an attorney for too many years to be moved by a show of even teeth. A handsome face and a pleasant smile did not guarantee a good person. Mr. Phillips was just sorry he hadn’t applied that knowledge sooner.
“Sit down, Mr. Wickham.” Mr. Phillips made an effort to sound genially. “A glass of port?”
“No, thank you.” Mr. Wickham took the chair opposite Mr. Phillips, giving every appearance of casual self-assurance. “I think you know why I’m here.”
And why shouldn’t Wickham be assured? He knew Mr. Phillips had few options left for his niece. “Lydia said to expect you.”
Wickham’s grin grew. “She’s a good girl.”
“I’m relieved you think so, as you’ve asked for her hand.” Mr. Phillips had to work to keep back the rise of bile in his throat.
“I did, true,” Wickham drawled. “Still, before I commit to marriage to Miss Lydia Bennet just yet, I must know the financial situation.”
Mr. Phillips raised his eyebrows. “I rather thought your proposal and Lydia’s rather public display over it were a commitment.”
Wickham sputtered a denial, half rising.
Annoyance sparking in him, Mr. Phillips held up a staying hand. “Regardless, I will give you the information.”
Mr. Wickham settled back in the chair, his smug look returning. He nodded for Mr. Phillips to continue.
“In a nutshell, Lydia will have five hundred pounds a year, paid quarterly.” Phillips took in the avaricious gleam in Wickham’s eyes and couldn’t help a touch of smugness of his own as he continued. “But the principal can’t be touched. The money is to be paid to her. As her husband, you have the right to take it from her, but the payments are set up so that she must receive the money first.”
Wickham’s wide lips pulled down in a frown. He opened his mouth to speak, but Mr. Phillips continued.
“On her death, the principal and payments will be divided equally between any children she has, and the principal will still remain beyond reach. While they are minors, the payments will go to their legal guardian, presumably you.”
Wickham scowled. “What if she doesn’t produce any brats at all?”
“If she dies without issue, both the capital and stipend will be equally divided between her surviving sisters.” Containing a grin at Wickham’s obvious dismay, Mr. Phillips leaned back in his chair and waited for Mr. Wickham’s next question.
“Lydia told me there was more money,” Wickham snapped.
Well, that wasn’t exactly a question, but it served. “There is, but the remainder of the money is mine to control.” Mr. Phillips took mild pleasure in the anger that flashed in Wickham’s eyes. “And as I don’t want my ward’s husband to end up in debtor’s prison, I have taken the liberty of ascertaining the amounts of your debts to Meryton merchants. Those debts will be paid.”
“With her principal?” Wickham demanded, sitting forward in his chair, eyes flashing. “That’s all but criminal. I’ll bring a suit.”
Mr. Phillips held up a staying hand once more. “Via the interest. It is my estimate that you will begin receiving the additional money after two quarters.” He gave a sad shake of his head, affecting acute disappointment. “You haven’t been in Meryton even two months. I don’t see how you could have run up so much debt in that time.”
Wickham brought a fist down on the desktop, causing the inkwell to jump. “You have no right to keep that money from me.”
“I have no right to give it to you at any time,” Mr. Phillips snapped, unintimidated. “If Lydia chooses not to marry you, I will be happy to reinvest it for her benefit. Mark me well, I shall in no way press her to accept your suit, no matter how you’ve compromised her.”
That set Wickham back in his chair again. He glowered at Mr. Phillips for a long moment. Finally, he forced an almost amiable smile. “She’ll marry me.”
Mr. Phillips nodded. “I agree. She’s besotted.”
“She’ll also agree that I should have the money.”
“Which is why I am her guardian and why I have the making of that decision.”
Wickham glared at him.
Mr. Phillips returned the look calmly, waiting until Wickham dropped his gaze. “Don’t get upset about the money. When your legal debts are paid, you will start receiving the funds.”
“Still, you have no right to withhold it,” Wickham muttered, gaze on the floor.
The man was a child, Mr. Phillips realized sadly. Marriage to a man like Mr. Wickham was precisely the sort of thing he was supposed to prevent, but in spite of his bold words, he truly had little choice now. “I have every right and have the legal documents to prove it.” Mr. Phillips had made sure he had considerable control of his nieces’ money. He would never take a farthing for himself, but he wanted to be certain that no one else could do so, either. “By the way, I am not touching your gambling debts.”
Wickham’s head snapped up. “Debts of honor should be paid.”
“Then pay them.” Mr. Phillips shrugged.
“Give me the money to.”
Mr. Phillips’ refusal instigated another staring match. Again, Wickham dropped his gaze. It was a wonder the man began such competitions. A conscience as heavy as his could never hope to prevail.
“A debt is a debt,” Wickham groused as he resumed contemplation of his shoes.
“Gambling debts are not legally enforceable, which means the only thing that will make you pay them is that you won’t be given credit unless you do,” Mr. Phillips stated. “Frankly, I will be made glad if no one in Meryton is willing to gamble with you.”
He wondered what Mr. Wickham’s reaction would be when he discovered none of the merchants of Meryton would extend him any additional credit. Mr. Phillips had made it plain that while he wished Lydia’s union to begin with a clean slate, he didn’t want his ward’s husband to accrue more debt. He would not pay any debt acquired in the future.
Face folded into troubled lines, Mr. Wickham stared at Mr. Phillips. “We will need more money. Miss Mary is marrying well, and Lydia’s other three sisters are sure to attract wealthy suitors. More could be given to Lydia. You should be glad to pay a little more to get her off your hands, especially under the circumstances.”
“I will not cheat my other wards for Lydia’s benefit. You are free to refuse to marry her. There will be no breach of promise lawsuit, since you have no assets.”
Wickham looked ready to spit, which Mr. Phillips hoped he would not, finding the habit disgusting. He waited, fascinated despite himself at how easy it was to read Wickham’s emotions, which was surprising because Wickham previously fooled him. The man’s struggle to rein in his anger was readily apparent.
“I thought she would bring more money,” Wickham finally grated out.
Mr. Phillips shrugged with cultivated indifference. Perhaps Wickham’s anger resulted from his having dug himself into a hole. If he repudiated the engagement, he would lose all credibility. Too many people witnessed him agree with Lydia when she said they were engaged. If he denied it, he would lose the respect the community had given him. He would also have trouble getting credit now and must realize that.
“There is another way to get money,” Mr. Phillips finally offered, for Lydia’s sake. “I could use another clerk. I will pay you the same amount as I pay Mr. Whitestone, which is generous, considering your lack of experience.”
Wickham, who’d leaned forward eagerly at the mention of money, jerked backwards. A sneer curled his lips. “Me? Work for you? With Whitestone?”
Mr. Phillips’ smile was benign. “Mary is engaged to him. A moment ago, you said she is marrying well, so you must like what he earns.” A third time, he raised a hand to stay Mr. Wickham’s words, knowing what they would be, but wanting to try. “The offer is not charity. I will let you go if you don’t work. Don’t worry, I won’t make you work as hard Mr. Whitestone, but almost as hard.” Mr. Phillips waved his hand dismissively before dropping it back to the desk. “I don’t expect immediate competence, but you can read and write, and I can train you. I have documents that need copying. I’ll personally check to see that you do it neatly and correctly. I’ll give you more interesting work after you prove your competence.”
Wickham stretched his legs out and smiled. “No.”
Mr. Phillips shrugged. He hadn’t expected Wickham to accept. “You won’t take my offer of gainful employment, but you’re determined to marry Lydia?”
“I am. Can we post the banns immediately?”
“Certainly.” Before either party changed their minds and Mr. Phillips was left with a compromised, possibly pregnant, definitely willful, young woman on his hands. “Now may I interest you in a glass of port?”
“Certainly.” Wickham’s tone mockingly mimicked Mr. Phillips of moments ago.
Ignoring the barb, Mr. Phillips opened a drawer and pulled out two glasses and a bottle of port. He poured a little into each glass, then pushed one across the desk to Wickham. They clicked glasses and drank without saying a word.
If anyone saw them, they would assume the two men drank in celebration. Mr. Phillips didn’t think either of them did, though. It was a measure of Mr. Wickham’s desperation that he was marrying someone who wasn’t worth more than Lydia. It was a measure of Mr. Phillips’ desperation that he was allowing it.
And now the Giveaway! To celebrate the launch of Hypothetically Married, we’re giving away two kindle copies!
To enter, just comment below. Your comment may, but does not need to, include your thoughts on the following questions:
To which of his daughters should Mr. Bennet have left Longbourn? Why?
The Giveaway runs from May 10th to May 16th. Winners will be announced on Sunday, May 20th. Good Luck!
Renata & Summer