As if my life weren’t wild enough, here come the holidays, pitching us to a new level of crazy. I love it, please don’t mistake my tone, but the last thing on my mind right now is writing a blog post. I mean, if I struggled to find the time and focus in September, how am I supposed to manage when holiday hoopla beacons?
I did have a lovely thought to write about shopping in Austen’s day, a perfect Black Friday topic, but when was I supposed to find the time to put it on paper? Impossible.
I wrapped up NaNoWriMo this week. My project was a continuation of last year’s, as I have barely worked on it in the interim. I’m so grateful to have gotten the 50,000 words in, and it felt great to be writing again.
Wednesday night, my daughter and I went to see The King and I. Lovely! Thanksgiving dinner we had at a restaurant catering to expats. It’s become our tradition. Since we don’t get the day off, it’s really hard to pull off a big meal at home. I did make a small turkey our first year here, but even it barely fit in my tiny oven.
Christmas is in full swing here already. The Swiss equivalent to Santa Clause (Samichlaus) arrives in a week! Advent begins on Sunday, and this weekend is my town’s Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt) and parade. My in-laws arrive next Wednesday for ten days of earl celebrations, and from there it is a quick slide through Hannukah, Christmas, a bevy of birthdays (including my little guy’s 2nd!!!), and right on into the New Year. Whew! To party, party, party, I will find ample time. Writing? It’s back on the back burner.
So I’m taking the easy way out on this post and sharing a scene from my work in progress, a seemingly endless attempt to convert the first three books I wrote into a single novel. Honestly, it’s a ton of fun to work on, when I actually get the opportunity to do so. It’s such a happy story, and it still makes me laugh nearly a decade after first writing it. The story is a Pride and Prejudice reimagining premised on Darcy dancing with Elizabeth when they first meet at the Meryton assembly. That one change creates a cascade effect that entirely alters the fates of many characters, as hinted here in the introduction of Caroline Bingley to George Wickham. Enjoy, and may all my friends in the US have a beautiful Thanksgiving weekend.
At Netherfield, a distracted Caroline Bingley paced the floors, feeling most put out by a second consecutive day of Mr. Darcy having absented himself in favor of the company at Longbourn. Occasionally, she would stop to strum on the keys of the pianoforte discordantly, eventually causing her sister to flee from the room. Following one of these impromptu musical interludes, having shut the instrument with a snap of disgust, the butler interrupted her with the announcement of a visitor for Mr. Darcy. Upon learning he was not at home, the gentleman had insisted on waiting. The butler handed Miss Bingley a newly printed, elegant card bearing the name of a man she did not recognize. The distraction was welcome, and she ordered the visitor shown in. Pasting a more pleasant look upon her face, she picked up her neglected work and awaited the stranger’s arrival.
Immaculate in his new uniform – boots shining, buttons gleaming – Lieutenant Wickham was a pleasing vision to Caroline’s refined eye, as she was to his. At the moment of his entry, even Miss Bingley could find some merit in Kitty and Lydia Bennet’s intense admiration for a red coat. He bowed in a most gentlemanly manner and introduced himself, excusing his intrusion while emphasizing the urgency of his need to see Mr. Darcy. Miss Bingley invited him to sit down before replying, “I am afraid my brother and his friend may not return for several hours. May I convey a message on your behalf?”
She watched the handsome face fall, and he stood and walked to the window, staring out of it in the same brooding manner she had so often observed in Darcy. Who is this militia man? she wondered. Why would such a gentleman not seek a commission in the regulars? And most prominently: What is his relationship with Mr. Darcy?
He moved from the window and returned to his prior seat, bestowing a sad smile on his hostess. “I am afraid, Miss Bingley, that the delicacy of my business with Darcy cannot be easily expressed in a mere message. But surely, as you presently reside in the same house, you must know him rather intimately. Dare I impose upon you with my troubles?”
You may indeed, sir! Dare away! she thought, eager to hear what he had to say. Her audible reply, however, was more tempered. “I am always happy to oblige my friends, Mr. Wickham. You pose no imposition.”
“Thank you, Miss Bingley. You are graciousness itself.” He paused, as if collecting his thoughts. “I gather by my admittance here today that you are aware of the particular nature of my intimacy with the Darcy family?”
“I am sorry, sir, but you are mistaken. An hour ago, I had never heard your name.”
He looked dismayed. “Surely, I never could have imagined that you would invite me in, had you known nothing of the connection! Darcy never speaks of me?”
“Never to me, sir,” she replied indignantly. Wickham rose and began to pace the room, as one in deep thought. Caroline’s mind raced to conclusions as she impatiently waited for him to proceed. An intimate relationship with the Darcys! Whatever could it be?
When her suspense was almost overwhelming, he finally turned to her with a most endearingly pathetic look and said, “Please forgive me my unforgivable distraction, but I am most saddened by what you say. I should depart at once, having already taken up too much of your time. My sorry story would only cause you to lose whatever good opinion of me you may have formed.”
It was too much for her to bear. “Please, Mr. Wickham! I can see you are in distress over a matter of great importance to you. Again, I offer you my services as messenger. I have known Mr. Darcy for many years, for he is a great friend to my brother. You may be assured of my total discretion.”
His face momentarily brightened before falling once more. “Forgive me, my good Miss Bingley,” he said tenderly. “In your kindness, you offer your ear to my tale of woe, and it is simply too tempting to tell it all. What a relief it would be to me to oblige you, but how can I? It is too much to ask. And yet, my avenues of hope are so limited, I have so few options, how can I refuse?” He paused ponderously. “Very well, then,” he said decisively. “Perhaps you will prove the very person to best advise me on how to proceed.”
“I will do my best,” she readily assured him.
He smiled at her enthusiasm. “You see, my father was the steward to all the Pemberley estates, underneath the late Mr. Darcy, who was the very best man I ever knew.” Caroline’s face, despite her ardent effort, betrayed her dismay at this revelation. “You wonder how a man educated as myself can be the son of a servant?” he inquired, and she bowed her head and blushed her reply. “I was raised at Pemberley, side by side with Fitz – I mean, Mr. Darcy. His father was a generous man and provided for me amply. He was my godfather, you see, and he personally saw to my education, intending me for a future in the church. Have you ever visited Pemberley, Miss Bingley?”
“Yes, I have. It is a magnificent estate,” she said, the tinge of longing in her voice not lost upon Mr. Wickham.
“Then perhaps you are familiar with the nearby village of Kympton?”
“Indeed, I am. I believe we dined with the rector during our visit. A Mr. Westover, as I recall.”
Once again, turmoil swept across Wickham’s malleable face. With great feeling, his voice trembling, he declared, “That is the very living that the elder Mr. Darcy had intended for me!”
Caroline was astonished. “How can this be? Surely, Mr. Darcy would not disregard his father’s intentions?”
“There was an informality in the terms of the bequest, and Darcy chose to doubt it and treat it as a conditional recommendation. When the living became available two years ago, it was given to another man. This Mr. Westover, I presume.”
“Dear me, how dreadful! I should not think it of Mr. Darcy. What possibly could have cause such a falling out between two childhood companions?”
“I am afraid, Miss Bingley, that it is a very delicate matter. What, indeed, could cause the best friend of my youth to cast me off so decidedly, without explanation and without remorse? I have a theory as to what lies at the bottom of the misunderstanding, but I am afraid it involves a lady’s honor, so I dare not mention it lightly. You will reassure me, dear Miss Bingley, of your absolute secrecy?”
“You have my word, Mr. Wickham. Please continue,” she urged.
With a faint blush, he confessed, “It seems that Darcy was most displeased when Miss Darcy, with whom I have always shared a very affectionate, brotherly relationship, fancied herself enamored of me. She was in the first throes of her womanhood, and must not be blamed. It is only what so many experience at that age.” By now he was visibly red, nearly the same shade as his coat! It was the perfect addition to his performance, yet perhaps it was not all feigned. It is possible the effect was aided by honest shame for the intense perversion of this revisionist history, as all the best actors do rely on emotions to perfect their art.
For Caroline, the many questions this new acquaintance had provoked suddenly seemed to have one astonishingly obvious answer. Rapidly, her mind jumped to its conclusion: George Wickham was clearly the illegitimate son of the late Mr. Darcy! It made too much sense to her not to be true. She reasoned thusly: first, there had never been a hint of scandal about the family and everyone must have a skeleton in the closet someplace; second, why else would Darcy go to such lengths to separate Georgiana from a long-term intimate on the threat of a mere schoolgirl crush; third, why else would the elder Mr. Darcy have been so attentive to his steward’s son, undertaking the role of godfather, and even making provisions for his future; and forth, she believed she perceived a familial resemblance between the men. Mr. Wickham was certainly proving a highly interesting diversion.
Their conversation was interrupted when Mrs. Hurst entered the room, having just been informed that there was a visitor. Introductions were made, and the intruder found herself pleasantly surprised by the sister’s amiability and cordiality, as her sulkiness had been incessant for several days. Upon sharing a communicative look, of the sort Louisa missed, Caroline invited Mr. Wickham to join the sisters for tea. They shared a pleasant afternoon, inviting their new acquaintance to stay for dinner. Even Mr. Hurst was jolly, having discovered the new lieutenant to be a formidable partner in cards.
When Darcy and Bingley returned that evening, they were understandably both flabbergasted and dismayed to learn who had been benefiting from Netherfield’s hospitality in their absence. Darcy had announced to Bingley his intention to travel to Rosings during the ride home, and they came upon the party in the drawing room while still discussing travel arrangements. It was Louisa who innocently “let the cat out of the bag,” so to speak, by exclaiming that Mr. Darcy would surely not wish to depart now that his old companion had just come amongst them, the estranged nature of their relationship being something to which she was not privy. Mr. Darcy’s countenance darkened as he inquired precisely to whom she referred. Upon having his suspicions confirmed, he stormed from the room, leaving Bingley to explain his odd behavior to its remaining and rather astonished inhabitants.
“Louisa,” he began, “am I to understand that Mr. Wickham has been here for the majority of the day, quite comfortably insinuating himself into your good graces?”
But it was his other sister who replied, “Yes, Charles. That is the correct name of the unfortunate man with whom we became acquainted. He has sadly lost the esteem of his former companion, and I must say that I am shocked to see how readily Mr. Darcy rejects his late father’s favorite!”
“Caroline, I know not what Mr. Wickham has said to convince you that such is the case, but I warn you now that I have it directly from Darcy that the man is not to be trusted! I must ask you to cease all contact with him.”
“I am sorry, Caroline, but I must be firm in this. He is not welcome in this house. Darcy will not tolerate his presence, and nor shall I. He is a known rogue, and you should be wary of any attention he has paid you.”
“Mighty shame, that,” Mr. Hurst piped in. “Rarely have I had such a whist partner. Wickham and I certainly showed the ladies how the game is played.”
“Be that as it may,” Charles responded wearily, “We must have nothing to do with the man. His society it completely unsuitable.”
“I am surprised to hear you speak so, Charles, considering the recent choice you have made. Surely, you are in no position to pass judgement on what qualifies as suitable society.”
“Caroline!” gasped Louisa, but her sister was already out the door and closing it behind her. Her anger grew as she climbed the stairs. How dare Darcy dictate what company I should or should not keep, when it is he who is determined to dote like a fool on a country nobody? To behave so callously towards his own brother was abominable. Clearly, Mr. Darcy was not the gentleman she has always assumed him to be. Miss Bingley did not pause to consider how she would behave towards an illegitimate offspring, nor how satisfying it was to be able to look down upon Mr. Darcy’s morality. Her mind was entirely occupied by two subjects: the memory of Wickham’s handsome amiability, and the degree of vexation it would cause Mr. Darcy were she to thwart her brother’s will and pursue the acquaintance.
– First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice, Chapter Seventeen