Lydia Bennet was a pretty young thing, but rather vacuous. She took his mind off his troubles though, made him smile. When she proposed the idea of running off together, he initially resisted. After all, she wasn’t from a wealthy family. But she was adamant that if they forced her father’s hand, he would give them at least a few hundred pounds a year and pay off George’s gambling debts rather than face a scandal.
Lieutenant George Wickham grimaced and set down the empty glass.
He’d done a fine job of becoming a rake and a ne’er-do-well.
Running off with Lydia Bennet would set his well-earned reputation solidly in stone.
But then he’d long ago resigned himself to a life of dishonor. He’d never be as good and noble as his godbrother. So long as he tried to live up to Darcy’s impeccable standards, he’d always be under his shadow.
It was easier trying to be good for nothing than live up to someone like that.
He blew out a breath and stood to leave.
Stepping outside, he collided with a lady hurrying in the opposite direction.
“I beg your pardon,” he said with a bow.
“No, it was my fault. I’m terribly sorry.”
He recognized the lady as Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s close friend, Charlotte Lucas.
She was not exceptionally beautiful or vivacious but conducted herself with the purportment of a lady. In a society where creamy porcelain complexions and buxom physiques were the beau ideal, Charlotte’s thin frame and freckled face did nothing to her advantage. Still, he knew her to be an intelligent woman, even charming in rare moments when she let down her reserve. And there was something about those freckles, that lopsided smile, and the mossy green eyes that was curiously beguiling once George happened to take note of them.
But what he took note of now were the flushed cheeks and the harried look in Charlotte’s eyes.
Part of him said to bid her good day and go about his business, but another, more suppressed part, told him to inquire if she was well.
He stood uncertainly for a moment then surprised himself by doing the latter.
“Miss Lucas, are you all right?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” Her answer came too quickly. “I’m afraid I’m just in a bit of a hurry. I…”
George glanced up at the shrill male voice too-loudly calling out her name from the end of the street.
Mr. Collins’ short strides covered the distance with surprising speed and he reached her side in a moment.
“Miss Lucas, there you are,” he said out of breath. “I spotted you coming out of the millinery and called out from across the street, but you no doubt didn’t hear me.”
“I’m sorry. I—”
“Not to worry,” he interjected. “I’ve caught up with you at last, and now I’ll escort you home. Let me carry your packages.”
He reached for the two small hatboxes in her hands.
George caught the downcast look in Charlotte’s eye as Mr. Collins took possession of her packages.
He felt a rising urge to help rid her of Mr. Collins.
“Now then, whenever you’re ready,” Collins continued. “I’d like to speak with your father as soon as possible, for I’ve resolved to ask him for your hand in marriage.”
“My … hand in marriage?” she asked, taken aback.
“Yes. We should be married within the year, and you may then return with me to Hunsford to set up housekeeping.”
He said it all so matter-of-factly and seemed oblivious to the look of shock on Charlotte’s face. She met George’s gaze for a moment. But a moment was all he needed to see the look of sad resignation flicker in her eyes before she looked away.
How could she even think of marrying such a man?
He knew the answer, but, still… Would it not be favorable to continue life unmarried than be bound to the likes of William Collins for the rest of her life?
Before he could help himself, he was speaking. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Collins, but I’m afraid Miss Lucas is already spoken for.”
Now Mr. Collins looked shocked. “Already … spoken for? But how? By whom?”
“By me. She has only this day accepted my proposal of marriage. I was just about to escort her home when you interrupted us, Mr. Collins. If you please?” He held out his hand and Collins slowly handed him Charlotte’s packages.
George nodded and held out his arm to Charlotte. She looked at him with a suppressed smile and gratefully took his arm.
Collins stood dumbfounded and, for once in his life, bereft of words.
Once George and Charlotte were around the corner, she glanced up at him. “Thank you. But you shouldn’t have said those things.”
“Because they’re not true. I’m almost surprised he believed it. As if a man like you would ever marry a woman like me.”
George stopped and turned to look at her.
If only she knew.
“On the contrary, Miss Lucas. A man like me would be very lucky to gain a woman like you. Surely you’ve heard the rumors.”
“I have, but I choose to only believe what I know to be true of a person.”
“The rumors are true, believe me. Or, if not, they’re well-deserved. I’m no good, Miss Lucas. You can know that to be true.”
His honesty surprised him, but, for a change, he meant every word he said.
She shook her head. “I’m afraid that’s where you’re wrong, for nearly everything I’ve seen from you today proves the opposite to be true. There is good in you, Mr. Wickham. Why do you try so hard to be wicked?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Forgive my boldness, but … perhaps you need to find a reason not to be?”
He met her gaze earnestly. “Perhaps … perhaps I already have.”
© Whitney L. Schwartz 2016
As seen in Spark magazine, February 2017