Twists and Turns Between First and Last Words

Twists and Turns Between First and Last Words

Every author engages in several practices and methods that are loosely gathered under the heading of “process.”

Many of my friends are inveterate outliners. Others keep copious notes which end up on white boards or tacked to cork. Then there are those who carefully lay down their ideas in notebooks.

I am no different…except for the outline.

I know where the story needs to go, but I only keep a bit of an organizational outline in my head. What then happens is that my brain percolates on the problem, so to speak. Then random notes flow out, usually during that space between full sleep and complete wakefulness. That’s when I crawl out of bed and pad into the kitchen where notepads and scrap paper live in our house. Then ideas or, as Mrs. Shelley called them, waking dreams are captured before they disappear.

How many times has our four-and-twenty-pound cat, Bear, been disturbed as I stumble to the kitchen muttering something lest I forget it?

Then these nocturnal emissions (OK, forgive the pun) are reviewed in the morning…or afternoon when I am in front of the keyboard. They are then dropped at the end of the current manuscript to be pulled out when needed—if I remember that they exist.

Oh, what fun when I am nearing the end of a story and scroll toward where my endnotes live only to discover a “brilliant” idea for a scene that was never composed. Then I get to go through a two-pronged agony: either I must go back to the appropriate spot and revise (murdering the words) to insert the earlier idea or I must bite my lip and accept that what is in the manuscript is better, so these children must die!

Often, though, the material comes forth because the book has a distinct need.

In my Bennet Wardrobe Series, the stories move back and forth upon the timeline, frequently intersecting with other books, but also referring to backstory elements that either never have been discussed or, possibly, explored in a previous book.

That was the situation in which I found myself as I started the “Lydia” book in the collection. The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion will be the seventh book in the sequence. Early on, I realized that I needed to explain once again the relationship between Leftenant George Wickham of the 33rd Regiment and two common soldiers, Sergeant Henry Wilson and Corporal Charlie Tomkins, late of the South Essex Regiment, but now attached to the 33rd in general and Wickham in specific.

The three men first met two books ago…in The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. Therein Wickham observes Wilson and Tomkins as they are attacked by three gutter rats in the mews behind Madras House. While the Countess dispatches the leader of the thugs, t’is Wickham who mops up any residual resistance. Tomkins and Wilson instantly gravitate toward the handsome officer. The rest of the story moves along to end with Captain Richard Sharpe arranging the attachment of the two subalterns to a new regiment.

You can see how much space I occupied just now explaining the bare bones of how Wilson and Tomkins ended up with Wickham. What was left open was how they remained with him given that Wickham was a mere lieutenant with nearly no money. How did they end up benefitting from his interest? How did they end up as more than just another of his corporals or sergeants?

My brain mulled and pondered…most of it out of my awareness.

Now, I will offer a tidbit that may be construed as a spoiler—but I will not reveal why.

From Keeper we know that Wickham was with General (formerly Colonel) Fitzwilliam at Waterloo. From an unpublished vignette I wrote when doing the blog tour for Countess Visits, we know that Wickham was Brigadier Fitzwilliam’s aide when the senior officer was attached to Wellington’s staff at the Congress of Vienna. He gave his journals to Tomlinson, the reporter for the London Times because he was leaving Vienna.

At the time, I had thought that departure was to get Wickham to his destiny at Waterloo.

However, as the crux which shapes Lydia’s personality during her lengthy sojourn with the Countess at the Beach House required her to have spent some time with her husband (is that oblique enough for you?) prior to June, 1815…but not too far off from that date. However, in the Wardrobe’s Universe Lydia could not just jaunt off to either Vienna or, as other authors have had her do, Brussels.

Besides, the people who are Lydia and George Wickham in the Wardrobe’s Universe may still love to dance, but they are also deeply in love with one another and cherish those quiet moments together. Brussels, that hotbed of ton-ish behavior just would not do for these people.

I needed to have them get together…in March 1815.

How could I get Wickham into Lydia’s proximity? Ahhhh…Wickham had connections. He was part of Fitzwilliam’s family and, by extension, Wellington’s. He may not have had a title, but he had, as we would say in Chicago, clout. Fitzwilliam sent him across Europe to deliver dispatches from the Duke to Horse Guards. Problem solved. Wickham was part of Fitzwilliam’s and Wellington’s military families.

Ooops…a problem. This all happened two years after I needed Pilgrim to begin.

Thus, what follows is an amalgam of my need to establish the relationship between the three soldiers…and then also to create the logical basis for why Wickham appears in London in early-Spring 1815. The following words are exactly what I typed at the end of the Pilgrim mss. Then I offer up the same material as it appears in this draft of the book. I hope this offers you some insights into how I build the Bennet Wardrobe stories.


This excerpt from The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion is ©2019 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction in any medium without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.


March 30, 1815

Had left Vienna on March 14. Riding relay across the continent to deliver dispatches to London. Wickham comes to Darcy House with a letter from General Fitzwilliam to Darcy. Wickham, near collapse thanks to his headlong charge from Vienna to London, to Horse Guards with dispatches from the Duke, Fitzwilliam and Uxbridge…begs a favor…as Gracechurch Street was filled with Gardiners…might he send for his wife to come from Longbourn to Darcy House so that they may spend a day in each other’s company. No Sgt Wilson or Cpl Tomkins, but messages from their men addressed to Mrs Laura Wilson and Mrs. Annie Tomkins. All at Longbourn.

The British Army, like British society, was filled with networks of military and social relationships. Like the Great Pyramid, now in early 1815, the Duke’s military family sat at the pinnacle with all others subsidiary to it, but also tied to it through ties of scarlet as well as varying hues of aristocratic blue.

So many were great commanders…like Henry Knox and Nathaniel Greene who populated General Washington’s headquarters. Yet, there were those adjutants, young men of promise, mere Captains, like Madison, Monroe, and Hamilton who learned leadership at the elbow of the master.

Britain was no different.

Consider for a moment, Wickham’s family…in its immediacy minimal. T’would have been rare for a generally nondescript Leftenant in an undistinguished regiment to even keep a batman…and then, perhaps a glorified farm boy…rather than a Chosen Man like Charlie Tomkins. As for Color Sergeant Henry Wilson? Why and how could a giant like him attach himself to a man as modest in accomplishments as George Wickham? Let alone avoid being poached away by a more glorious regiment? Yet resist such entreaties he did. How?

Much could be made of Wickham’s familial connections with the Darcys and the Matlocks.

Yet, t’was equally true that his connection with the Duke himself may have given Wickham outsize power to protect Tomkins and Wilson.

However, t’was well-known that Leftenant Colonel Sharpe was known to be a particular acquaintance. That warrior’s approbation, as well as Wickham’s martial behavior in over two years of Peninsular fighting, opened many doors for the somewhat elderly company commander. The relationship with Sharpe along with his lifelong acquaintance with Brigadier Fitzwilliam (serving on Wellington’s staff at the Congress of Vienna) placed Wickham in the outer reaches of Wellesley’s military family and thus made him someone not to be trifled with.

(((FIX))) And, Sharpe was widely known as Wellesley’s bulldog. Combine that with his Fitzwilliam connection and Wickham is but two degrees of separation from the Duke of Wellington. His silver cords as an aide de camp place him on the chair rail lining the wall of the Duke’s councils of war.

All part of Wickham’s military family as they were under his protection. For a mere Lieutenant, George Wickham cast a long shadow…his connections ran deep, even if some chose to keep him at a distance. None-the-less all were surprised at the resources the Wickhams and, by extension, the Wilsons and Tomkinses, could command. (((What was Wickham’s Club…see Countess))) (((BFT and Wilson and Hunters)))True, the Darcys rarely acknowledged their connection. Both ladies were Mamas…both having given birth after the three women had returned from their sojourn in Portugal in 1813 as General Wellesley prepared to breach the fastness of the Pyrenes prior to his victory over Soult in front of Toulouse in the spring of 1814.


Chapter I

Above the Zadorra River near Nanclares de la Oca, June 20, 1813

 George Wickham’s military “family” was as modest as it was exceptional. True, army officers of all ranks, unlike their naval brethren where such privilege was reserved for those commanding vessels and fleets, did keep servants and lesser ranks within their coterie. However, such attachments often depended less upon the accomplishment of the sponsor and more upon the wealth—and the habitual lifestyle expectations—that master brought to his encampment.

Yet, there were some who stood astride the cataclysmic conflicts that had ripped at Europe’s bowels, like the American rebel Washington, whose own leadership talents were so profound that he quickly marked the same in other men. How else could he have surrounded himself with the likes of the bookseller Knox or the foundry-man Greene? Then the Virginian reached into the cornucopia that was the new nation’s youthfully idealistic revolutionary vanguard and plucked out Madison, Hamilton, and Monroe.

The Marquess Arthur Wellesley, although two generations removed from the American commander, found the same wisdom in surrounding himself with men possessing unique skill sets. His staff family and mess certainly was populated with the usual number of men long in title and political connections, but short on martial talent. The Marquess, though, realized that he could keep the idle hands of Westminster and Horse Guards from disrupting his plans through the simple expedient of placing these silk stockings full of shit[i]  in sinecures that promised ample gold braid, birthday honors, and graft. An added benefit was that positions at headquarters kept them from commanding divisions whose presence on the battlefield would determine the boundary between victory and rout.

There were others who may not have dined in Wellesley’s mess—for the third son of an earl, albeit an Irish title, did find comfort in rubbing elbows with the scions of the ton and was rather snobbish when it came to mixing classes—but rather made their way into his map room sanctum sanctorum. There Major Michael Hogan would unspool to Wellesley the findings about French forces that had been gathered his corps of irregulars. In turn, the lord would detail his pack of wolves in the form of Captain Sharpe and his Rifles, hard men who often were backed by Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam’s regiment. At times, Wellesley would send Sharpe and Fitzwilliam deep into the enemy’s rear while Uxbridge’s[ii] flying wings would demonstrate across his front, thus distracting the crappauds much to their later displeasure.

In the old days before his marriage, Wickham would have cursed his birth as a steward’s son rather than a master’s. At the time he had decried his circumstances as bad luck. Having grown wiser in the past two years, he now took peculiar pleasure in his rude beginnings recalling Richard Sharpe’s speech after dinner at the Carriage Club[iii] which he had recorded in his journal:

“You have only to look at the very top of the ton to observe the decrepitude that has become celebrated and worshipped…and he is not unique amongst those who rule.

“They resent us, Wickham, because we are absolute evidence of the lie they have foisted off on the country—that only they are fit to lead, to prosper, to take advantage of all our Empire has to offer. And, so, they are free to pillage the patrimony of England.

“Of course, they must keep the populace in their place…one of servitude…of pulling their forelocks in respect. But if the militias were not moved around from shire to shire, how long would it be before the scenes of 1789 would appear in the lanes of Hertfordshire?

“Did they learn nothing from the American Rebellion—that hopeless people have nothing to lose?

“We have risen through our abilities, despite our birth, and that is dangerous to them. They will do anything to keep us in our place.

“Except, they need us…they need men like us to use in their battles over who controls which piece of useless land. They need men like us, abused and battered by life, to act as their war dogs: to claw and rip and tear at their enemies’ guts. They need men like us to ‘die for their country’ so that they can live off the fat of the land for which we gave all.

“Men like Darcy and Fitzwilliam, upright as they may be, have never felt that utter madness that drives us every waking moment and fills our dreams with nightmares. There is a security in being who they are. They do not know it, but t’is natural for them. We cannot scorn them for their lack of awareness of their privilege. That void mirrors our acute knowledge of the conditions under which they suffer our existence on the boundaries of their world. For their coterie, all is simply what it is.

“For men like us, it will never be.”[iv]

As much as he had fantasized that he was the natural child of George Darcy, Wickham knew he was unrelated by blood to either Darcy or Fitzwilliam. His youthful dream of being brother to the first and cousin to the second was just that: a wistful, foolish reverie. Now, after dozens of skirmishes and more than one full-blown clash between armies, Wickham understood that through blood, he had become brother to the second and cousin to the first. Of course, there also was the truth that his marriage to Lydia Bennet made him brother to her sister’s husband…but that link seemed less meaningful than it had in the past.

More important now was his family here in the field. While George Wickham was but a lowly Leftenant, he and his little band, thanks to their relationship with Sharpe and Fitzwilliam, members of Wellesley’s family in good standing, were but two degrees of separation away from the great commander. Perhaps they were not to be found in the inner circle, but their proximity to the Marquess’ august presence conferred a level of distinction that translated into a degree of deference accorded them by their peers—and a modicum of freedom from the hidebound classist strictures that organized the Army. As such, George Wickham cast a disproportionately large shadow.

However, as Wickham fully realized, given that he was the beneficiary of Darcy’s £500 investment, riches also played another role in the British Army slogging its way up the Peninsula in 1812. All officer ranks from Coronet through Colonel were purchased. Thus, the wealthier the family behind the son unfortunate enough not to have been birthed first, the greater the place a father would buy. That transaction usually was made less out of guilt and more from a consciousness of the social position an elevated posting would bring…reflecting the status of the family…in the hope that the spare heir would not embarrass the family by dying a less-than-heroic death.

Of course, simply because a man styled himself a major or colonel did not translate into ability on the battlefield, personal courage, or a capacity to avoid murdering his men in the dreadful scrum between the lines.

Leftenant Wickham wryly mused about this state of affairs as he settled himself onto his canvas camp stool after having made his final tour of his men’s encampment and accepted a plate of thick brown burgoo, filled with chunks of stringy meat of murky antecedents, from his batman Corporal Charlie Tomkins. After he had served his Leftenant the stew, Tomkins circled around the campfire, grabbed two chunks of dark broa[v] out of a sack leaning against the tripod which held the stewpot out over the coals, tossed one to Color Sergeant Henry Wilson, and settled his wiry frame onto a log next to his friend. Picking up his own plate, he dug into his second helping of the potage carefully chewing to protect his tender teeth from uncooked bits of barley. Bad enough that tomorrow the French would seek to shoot holes through his head: no sense in punching one himself, especially if t’would bring him pain whilst he was busy trying to punch holes in frogs!

Wickham gazed at the two men, their features cast in gold by the flickering faggots of ancient olive that had been sacrificed on the altar of English cuisine, neither of whom had left his side since that freezing December night back in 1811. The first time he saw them, Tomkins was laid out unconscious while Wilson was holding off three wharf rats even though he was blinded by earlier war wounds.[vi] The duo’s recovery and attendant loyalty to Lady Kate, the Countess of Deauville, which was readily transferred to George Wickham as per the instructions of Captain Sharpe, had shaped the behavior of the three men and their wives over the intervening eighteen months.

How many have wondered why the battalion’s color sergeant has chosen to align himself with a Leftenant of low origins? Tomkins, of course, is dismissed because he is, after all, my body man. But, Wilson, a towering specimen who somehow managed to evade Prinny’s Grenadier Guards’ recruiters, could have comfortably parked himself with the other three-stripers at the Sergeant Major’s fire pit and nobody would have been the wiser.

But Henry Wilson would rather find his comfort next to his file mate Tomkins and a steward’s son than with all the other top kicks in the regiment.

Tomkins came to his career of service both through practice—he had served as a second footman at one of the Cecil estates, Larchmont, in Warwickshire—and heritage—his grandfather had served as Colonel Cecil’s batman back in the Fifties. They had fought in the rear guard covering the retreat after withering fire destroyed Braddock’s army in the forests near Ft. Duquesne. Neither man was ever the same, suffering through a lifetime of nightmares and dissociative experiences.

Wilson, the result of a liaison between a Liverpool barmaid and a sailor, had been fortunate to catch the eye of one of the more enlightened vicars working the town’s waterfront. From the good father, he had learned to read like the Oxford-educated son the priest had never had and to write with a clerk’s steady copperplate. The young man could converse in the cultured tones of a Grosvenor Square drawing room or blister a reluctant private soldier with lingo that would make a stevedore blush.

If asked why he kept Tomkins’ company, Wilson would deny it, laying it rather to his allegiance to the Leftenant. Wilson had seen far too many men fall across the preceding seven years for sentimentality, but Henry Wilson would never voluntarily separate himself from Charlie Tomkins for Tomkins was his first and greatest friend.

The Sergeant appreciated that Tomkins had protected and taught him, a raw five-and-ten-year-old who had mustered into the South Essex back in ’05. He never would have survived Moore’s awful retreat to Coruna in the Year Nine without Tomkins. And, of this Wilson was certain, he never would have lived through that night behind Madras House when fate brought the Countess and Wickham into their lives.

The camp, a creature that came to life at sunset and died as quickly to the tune of sergeants chivvying men into the line of march before the sun had cracked the horizon the next morning, was draped like a gigantic blanket atop the rolling hills: a thousand twinkling fires outlining its form. Officers…the good ones, at least…already had ensured that their men enjoyed a last hot meal before what was sure to be a long day as the Marquess sent his 80,000 men against Jourdan’s 60,000 into the furnace heat of an Iberian day that was passing from spring into summer.

Now, the men tended to their personal post-prandial needs embodied in a cup or two of common red wine, perhaps augmented with a swig from a communal jug of “brandy.” Experienced campaigners, already having cleaned muskets and rifles, sharpened bayonets and swords, pondered the crusting remains of what, ghoulishly, might be their last dinner. At least around some campfires.

The three men of the Second Battalion of the 33rd Infantry—Wellesley’s Own—had seen too much to engage in meaningless speculation about the time and place of their deaths. Rather, curiosity trumped nerves.

“Oi, Mr. Wickham,” Tomkins quizzed his Leftenant, “Where’s ol’ Nosey takin’ us t’morrah?”

Wickham smiled, so used he was to Tomkins patois and Wilson’s cultured phrases, and chose to answer as he knew the taciturn Sergeant would usually—with a single word,



[i] Napoleon Bonaparte (1809) on in a rage referred to Charles-Maurice Talleyrand as “shit in a silk stocking.” This, Talleyrand’s biographers assert, reflected the Emperor’s anger at the Prince’s political maneuvers seeking to consolidate France’s gains through the pursuit of a peace settlement rather than Bonaparte’s martial endeavors. One might argue that, while Talleyrand was an unpleasant man, he was a French nationalist where Napoleon was an adventurist who realized that he could retain his grip on power only so long as his armies continued to plunder Europe.

[ii] Henry Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854) was known as the Earl of Uxbridge at this time. He lost his leg in the latter moments of the Battle of Waterloo.

[iii] Please see The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn, Ch. XXII.

[iv] Unpublished mss, The Journals of the Hon. Captain George Percival Wickham, edited and annotated by his Widow. The Bennet Family Trust, London. Entry of December 19, 1811. P. 9-11.

[v] Portuguese peasant bread.

[vi] Please see The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn, Book Two.

8 Responses to Twists and Turns Between First and Last Words

  1. I loved learning more about your writing process, and especially empathized with this line here:
    “Then I get to go through a two-pronged agony: either I must go back to the appropriate spot and revise (murdering the words) to insert the earlier idea or I must bite my lip and accept that what is in the manuscript is better, so these children must die!”

    Also found the excerpt intriguing! Like Jennifer, I appreciated this more mature version of Wickham, and I especially liked how you showed the way military life could offer a hint of egalitarianism in a society dominated by class and status. Obviously rank and order had a place in the military, but ability (and not just birth) could have a great impact, especially during wartime.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Don! (And forgive me if I’ve double posted; I had trouble posting previously.)

    • Thank you so much…I always told my writing students that they needed “to learn how to kill their children.” I operate on the idea that each word a strong writer lays down on the page is well-considered nd loved…much like a child. Thus, the process of revision may birth new ones, but it also assuredly kills old ones.

      As for GW…as you enter deeper into the Wardrobe’s Universe, you will discover how Wickham is shaped…his path of discovery…his reltaionship with Lydia. Since you have just finished “The Keeper,” you need to read “Henry Fitzwilliam’s War, “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque,” and “Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess” before you can once again immerse yourself in the story of Lydia and Wickham.

  2. I loved reading more about your writing process — and particularly empathized with this line here:
    “Then I get to go through a two-pronged agony: either I must go back to the appropriate spot and revise (murdering the words) to insert the earlier idea or I must bite my lip and accept that what is in the manuscript is better, so these children must die!”

    And I found the excerpt intriguing! Like Jennifer, I appreciated this more mature version of Wickham, and I especially liked how you showed the ways military life could provide some hint of egalitarianism in a society dominated by class and status. Obviously rank and order were central to military life — but merit, as well as birth, had a place in the institution, especially during wartime.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I liked all the interaction between the soldiers in this excerpt. It seems GW is more mature in this story. Love the research and scores of notes. One never knows when inspiration will come and so we just jot it down! Happy Writing!

    • Hi there…yes Wickham has become a true officer and a better man. As for end notes…yes, the historian in me insists I document…or at least comment..,on bits of texture I insert into the stories.

  4. Enjoyed your process of writing…do you then save all these bits of pieces and compile them in a folder or notebook after you are done each book? Thank you for the glimpse into ‘camp life’ and the three men who have bonded thanks to the Countess and Sharpe.

    • Hi Carole, I do keep files…notebooks. See the photo. If you zoom in on the Exile 2 page you will see a reference to the Deauville masque. While it evolved into the Madras House Masque, The hostess was the Dowager Countess of Deauville.

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