This is the third and last petty revenge, where a villain from Pride and Prejudice is given an unhappy ending. Summer and I are considering publishing an expanded version of our three Petty Revenges. You might wonder why we are mentioning it. After all, you can read them here. There are two reasons. The first is that Summer will improve them. After all, I didn’t ask her to work with me just because she makes nice covers.
The second reason is that I tend to sympathize with my protagonists and want to give them each a happily ever after. So, the former villains will have to learn to like the situations they are in. In doing so, they will have to change. I want to make that change plausible. We plan for each of the three stories to have a second part where they learn to accept the unhappy fate I gave them.
Let me give an apology. This story has too much telling rather than showing. This will be corrected when my co-author, Summer Hanford, gets a hold of it. It is also really too long to be a blog post, but the story requires it.
Today’s subject is George Wickham.
“I don’t want to go!” Lydia said angrily to her husband. “This is out child. I want it born with you nearby. I want you to come into the room and see me and the baby”
Wickham walked over to his wife and sat next to her on the edge of the bed. He took her in his arms and kissed her gently. “I want what is best for you,” he said.
“What’s best for me is to be with you. The Darcy’s are stuffy.”
“Yes, but don’t say that to them. Mrs. Darcy is going to have a baby a month before you do. She will have the best care that money can buy. Darcy will see to it that you have the same care.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “All right. But you’ve got to let me come home as soon as the baby is old enough.”
“Certainly. But I don’t want you to travel when it isn’t safe for both of you.” And he wanted to let Darcy support Lydia as long as possible. Let him pay for her. He would not turn out his wife’s pregnant sister. That was a sure thing.
The day after she left, Wickham was walking down High Street, which was near their lodgings. He was playing cards with Nickleby, and that was a sure thing. Sure that Nickleby would lose and sure that some of his losses would go into Wickham’s pockets. Wickham couldn’t resist a sure thing.
He noticed a tiny old man walking slowly across the street. Wickham was sticking to a narrow section that wasn’t fouled by the horses. A carriage with four horses rounded a curve, obviously out of control. Wickham worried that the carriage would not complete the turn and smash him against the building. There was no safety on his side of the street.
Making a dash, he ran a few yards across the street in front of the carriage, scooping up the old man in the process. He was in the way, and it was almost easier to carry him than go around him, especially since going around him would force him to come to the card game smelling of manure. Wickham put him down gently, finding the man’s head barely came up to his shoulders. Wickham steadied him, touched his hat in salute and continued on his way.
The evening exceeded his expectations. Nickleby not only lost but lost primarily to Wickham. The victory was all the sweeter since Nickleby paid in cash, not IOU’s. Wickham redeemed two small IOU’s from others in the game but still came out generously ahead.
Things did not go well for the next week. His losses weren’t large, but they were losses. While walking on High Street again, a woman who was laden with packages, dropped one without noticing it. Wickham picked it up. He briefly considered keeping it. He wasn’t a thief, but finders keepers. The package might be valuable. But there were other people on the street who might be observing him, and he was not a thief. After perhaps two seconds of thought, he sprinted after the woman and presented the package to her with a bow.
By what surely was a coincidence, he won that evening. But that was his last time he won for several days. Yet he considered it a possibility that doing a good deed on that stretch of High Street gave him good luck. For the next several days, whenever he walked there again, he kept his eyes open for an opportunity to do some easily achieved good deed. Yet no opportunity arose, and his luck continued to be bad.
In a foul mood, he realized he missed Lydia. A man without money had a hard time enticing a woman to his bed, but his wife was always available.
Wickham turned around to see the elderly man who had been in his way when he wanted to escape the carriage. “Yes?” he asked in an angry tone.
“I’m sorry to intrude. I never had the opportunity to thank you. You saved my life. My name’s Murray.”
Wickham shrugged. He had a hunch this man was not going to offer him money for that. Nevertheless, it didn’t hurt to be friendly. Sincerity was the best approach. “I’m sorry to react so negatively. My wife is visiting her sister and I was regretting her absence.”
“Will she be back soon?” Murray asked.
“No. She’ll have her baby there. Her sister’s husband can offer her better care than I can.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
“I’m not welcome in his home,” Wickham replied.
“Perhaps you should try to heal the breach.”
Wickham chuckled. “The fault is mine. I acted badly and don’t blame him for not forgiving me.” Perhaps that was carrying sincerity too far, but he couldn’t retract it.
“You’re a good man. Not only did you save my life, I also saw you return a package to someone who dropped it. You could have easily kept it.”
“Not as easily as you think,” he said. Several people observed him.
“That shows how good you are. I run a charity that needs some help.”
“I can’t afford to give money to charity,” Wickham said. He saves a man’s life and the man asks him for money?
“I wasn’t asking for money, just time. I teach some of the boys in the neighborhood a bit of basic education. Nothing fancy. Just reading and writing. A bit of basic arithmetic. You have a certain amount of panache. If you came and helped them, they would be more inclined to listen.”
“How do you get them to take time off work?” Wickham asked. Young boys generally worked all day.
“By feeding them. I’ll feed you as well. Many of them eat only when they come to learn. I won’t feed them if they don’t learn.”
Early the next morning, Wickham found himself in a room in a nearby backstreet. A large, fierce appearing man was acting as guard and another was the cook. The amount of food each boy got was figured out by his height. Everyone was measured against a wall marked with inches. Wickham was taller than the average man, and the plate put before him was piled with food. There was some teasing about whether he could finish it, but he did. Food was expensive, and what was presented wasn’t fancy, but it was filling. It was also designed to be eaten while paying attention to something else. He finished it, knowing he wouldn’t need to eat for the rest of the day.
There was no way he could earn the value of the meal in the time it took him to earn it. Better yet, the meal was a sure thing. All he had to do was make an attempt to teach. It was almost like his dealings with old Mr. Darcy. As long as he didn’t get into too much trouble, his support was a sure thing. Wickham could never resist a sure thing.
Wickham was no teacher, but he helped one of the older boys with multiplication. It was odd dealing with a thirteen-year-old who could not multiply a two-digit number by a one-digit number. Wickham started coming daily. The meal saved him the embarrassment of the officers’ mess, where he would have met men who held his IOU’s.
He largely stopped gambling, since the early hour of the school made staying up late difficult. Sleep was less important than playing when Nickleby was there, so he sometimes gambled and came out a modest winner. Very gradually, he started paying off his IOU’s.
His real goal was Mr. Murray. He was elderly without any blood relatives. His deceased wife’s grandnephew, named Anderson, was his only familial connection. He was the only rival for Mr. Murray’s money. Wickham didn’t expect it all, but even some money would be nice.
He saw Mr. Murray tell one boy he couldn’t return because he wasn’t making progress. Another boy was allowed to return after demonstrating he learned on his own. Although the boy simply learned to write the alphabet, Mr. Murray showed more pleasure in the boy’s return than he did with any of his current students.
With that in mind, Wickham confessed his sins, not all at once, but gradually, during the time he accompanied Mr. Murray on his three-block walk home every day. Mr. Murray started using a cane, and then used the cane and Wickham’s arm to get home. Eventually, Wickham came early and helped Mr. Murray both ways. It was a good opportunity for Wickham to present himself as a penitent sinner.
Wickham admitted lying about Mr. Darcy and the living he was supposed to receive, and he admitted trying to persuade Georgiana to elope with him but claimed to have been genuinely in love with her. He reflected he was attracted to Lydia because she reminded him of Georgiana. The only real resemblance was height and age, but Mr. Murray didn’t need to know that. Wickham described how he was bribed to marry Lydia, but attributed part of his motive to wanting to have enough money to take care of her. He admitted gambling and running up debts. He even told Mr. Murray about Nickleby.
“I’m not yet thirty,” Wickham said, “and I have so many regrets. I suppose it started when I stupidly thought I didn’t want to be a clergyman.”
“Would you become one if you had a living?” Mr. Murray’s asked.
“Yes.” Wickham wondered if the question was hypothetical. If he got a living, he would hire a curate and take whatever money was left over. It was a sure thing. He couldn’t resist a sure thing.
“I might be able to use some influence to get you a living. Could you prepare a sermon? I can arrange to have you preach it to some scholars who are very familiar with most books of sermons, so they would be unimpressed if you just read one. I’ve been telling my grandnephew about you. He said I should ask you to give a sample of your preaching before I commit to anything. The living in question would permit you to continue the type of work you are helping me with.”
Wickham never worked that hard while at Cambridge. He considered preaching on a theme of forgiveness but decided that would come off as pleading. He remembered a sermon he actually listened to about a mote and a beam. He managed to find a Bible and read,
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
This would work. He hoped Mr. Anderson would see himself as the hypocrite who saw flaws in others, but not in himself. Perhaps it was too subtle, but he had no other ideas. He wrote the sermon, practiced it many times, rewrote it and practiced some more. Who would have thought it would take thirty hours to come up with one sermon? But it did, and he was ready when Mr. Murray wanted him.
To his surprise, he was taken to an empty church. Five men sat in various locations, not near the pulpit. Wickham was very glad he had practiced. He read his sermon. Mr. Murray sat next to one of the men.
Wickham was used to watching his audience when he lied and misled people. His audience was the man sitting next to Mr. Murray. He could tell that he impressed the people but wasn’t certain what kind of results he would have. Would they offer him the living? How good was it?
Lydia returned with their son, George. He dragged the two of them to the sessions with Mr. Murray. He insisted Lydia helped teach some of the boys their letters. By some standards, she was uneducated, but she wrote fluent, readable letters. George rarely needed any more attention than being held, because he insisted she feed him just before they left. She was unhappy with the job but agreed to help when Wickham explained his motived.
To his surprise, Lydia took a certain amount of pleasure in her successes. She was attractive enough that the older boys wanted to please her. She also liked the hearty meals and joked with the boys about how she was tall enough to get plenty to eat.
Mr. Murray died, and the teaching sessions stopped. About a week later, Mr. Anderson sought Wickham. “You were named in Mr. Murray’s will. You will get a living. It’s a very poor one in a very isolated location near Scotland. There is no real village, only a tiny store that serves the locals. There isn’t even a tavern. The roads are so bad it takes almost a day to get anywhere. Even taking both the tithes and the glebe, you would have a hard time finding a curate to work there, although the parsonage is in good repair.”
“I have a wife and child to support.”
“Mr. Murray knew that. He’s set up a fund, which I will be administering. I live there and want the terms of the will to be enforced.”
“What are the terms?”
“First, you will run a tutoring session twice a week. Sundays, everyone who attends church will be fed a meal. Because the boys will eat well on Sundays, the sessions will be on Tuesdays and Fridays. That gives them three good meals a week, spread out enough to do some good. I will arrange the meals. Don’t worry. We aren’t expecting perfection, but my wife and I will help you by monitoring the boys’ progress. Your wife will teach girls, both their letters and some sewing.”
“Why would my wife and I take on this extra work?”
“Because you’ll be paid. Every session you teach will give you a pound. Your wife will get a pound for her sessions. Also, I’ll pay you every time you preach a good, original sermon. I have some choice, but if you do as good a job as you did before, I’ll give you two pounds. I won’t give you anything if it is something you read from a book, and I have an extensive library of sermons.”
Mr. Anderson went on to describe the community. Except for Mr. Anderson and a few other families, who sounded like puritans from the description, the community consisted of farmers who were barely making it. There would be few parties and no convivial evenings of card playing and dancing.
Multiply a two-digit number, 52, the number of weeks, by a one-digit number, six, the number of possible pounds per week, Wickham came up with £312. That was more money than he could make in the army. Even without the money for the sermons, he would make more. And a house was thrown in.
To make things worse, it was a sure thing. He would not be able to bring himself to leave. He also suspected that the time between Tuesday and Friday would not be enough for him to visit a city to gamble, especially if he had to write a sermon. He would have money, but nothing to spend it on.
He knew he would never bring himself to forgo the money. He and Lydia would be stuck. Forever.
That’s my revenge. What would be your petty revenge for Mr. Wickham?