The plundering of Mr Wickham’s private correspondance continues this month, with a newly discovered series of letters exchanged with his boyhood companion, Fitzwilliam Darcy. It seems that the gentlemen were at an advanced stage of life when these exchanges are penned, and while much water has flowed under the bridges and old grievances have become sources of amusement, many things have never changed. We hope you find these letters as entertaining as we did.
-Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
My dear Darcy,
Salutations from the somewhat stormy Kent coast, where our bucolic Whitstable idyll is currently rather more like something Coleridge might have dreamed up than the gentle picture of rolling waves we usually enjoy.
And now the storm-blast came, and all that. How long ago were those days in the schoolroom? I have told Lydia to keep to the house, for I have no wish to see her carried off to sea and washed up on the coast of France. Even our Gallic cousins cannot be said to deserve such a fate!
Now that I have impressed you with weather, poetry and wives, to business. I am sure you have been expecting to hear from me with regard to the matter of young Harry, who I believe did not cover himself in glory on his recent visit to Pemberley. First, let me say that even aged chaps like you and I were young once. Of course, I was always a whippersnapper and would be still no doubt if not for this dashed respectability that I seem to have quite inadvertently come by. I seem to recall that even you, in the days of your youth, had the devil in you now and again, though I think we must both agree that Beelzebub was more often perched on my shoulder than on yours.
I am pleased to report that Harry has been confined to quarters with my boot up his backside since he ignominious return to the Wickham household. His mother and father will have much to say on the matter when they return from the East, I do not doubt, and he has asked me to once again pass on his heartfelt apologies, which you might rest assured I am more than delighted to do. A lesson learned for the youth, I think, so let us not speak of the matter again. No harm done, after all, and it was hardly a capital offence – I seem to recall getting up to far worse in my own, misspent youth.
And so to more entertaining matters. You will have read of my bay’s run at Epsom, I am sure, and can already imagine that the purse was carried straight from the winner’s enclosure to Lydia’s milliner, where it was well spent in a matter of moments. Once again I implore you, dear brother of mine, you simply must put your money into horseflesh – there is nothing like it for furnishing a return and what is more fun than a day at the races? Why, a day at the races that ends in the winner’s enclosure, of course – long may the House of Wickham raise the ribbon!
Do pass on my felicitations to your charming family; it has been too long since we dined together, and though I might happily bore you with my tales of the racetrack, far better to do so over claret and pheasant, wouldn’t you say?
And now this soldier, whose eye is bright, as Coleridge did not quite say, is called to supper, though with or without the company of that errant grandson, I cannot yet say.
Good hunting, whatever the quarry!
Dear Mr Wickham,
You will no doubt be satisfied to know that we have weathered the worst of the season’s savagery with little more than a few downed branches, resulting in one or two local houses in need of roof repairs. I feared greatly for the new wing of our orangery, as some of the glass had not yet arrived from London before our first winter storms struck. Fortunately, all seems to have come through well enough, and my dear wife may soon taste the pleasure of pineapples on a regular basis.
I am left to wonder how successful were your efforts at protecting your wife during the storm. Mrs Wickham has ever been a lady of spirit- as are each of her sisters in their unique ways, and none more so than the lady who honoured me with her hand these many years. My wife has at long last become a horsewoman, at an age when many a lady has retired to a low phaeton with a docile pony and a footman. Elizabeth prefers a brisk gallop on her favourite hunter to the peaks for the purpose of watching the storms roll in, and many is the day when I have been obliged to ride out in search of her.
On the matter of your grandson, I trust you have counseled the lad regarding the proper decorum when three innocent young ladies are present. It will be some while before Miss Emily dares to touch a deck of cards or speak the word “breeches” aloud again, and I believe Miss Margaret afterward directed some rather pointed questions to her mother regarding matters which neither her parents nor her grandparents deem appropriate knowledge for a girl of thirteen. As for Miss Georgina, I can only say that the Bennet spirit lives on in my youngest granddaughter, and her father has found it necessary to restrict her exposure to young males for an indefinite period of time.
I cannot brush off young Harry’s breach in etiquette quite so easily as you do. I certainly recall times in my youth when my behaviour was more rash than I would have liked, and I shall refrain from mentioning what other lapses in judgement were displayed by one particular companion of my youth. Boys we most decidedly were, but boys under good regulation. My father would have whipped me himself, had I so much as glanced sidelong at a young lady. Had I dared even to intimate such gestures as arose in my drawing room last fall, I doubt that I should have survived to adulthood.
I think you were not aware, but your Harry was also involved with some misdeeds in the stables. This was discovered only after your rather hasty departure, and my wife advised me to let the matter rest until you had written to acknowledge the other incident. I think it wise that he be put to some manual labour to allow him some while to ruminate on his own good fortune to be born into a family of some standing. I have already taken the liberty of repeating the apology you directed toward me to my head groom. I think once you have examined the boy regarding the full measure of his activities, you will understand Mr Harris’ rather guarded acceptance of your expressions of remorse.
Perhaps it is the work of his father’s extended absence, but I would counsel you and Mrs Wickham to take a firmer hand of the lad. He has been fortunate to accompany you on many of your travels, but I cannot think that having him tutored privately instead of sending him to Eton has been quite the thing for him. One such as I would have thrived on such an upbringing, but many is the boy who needs a solid knock or two from his peers to keep him along the straight path. I shall say no more and leave you to direct him as you see fit, but I leave you with the admonition that unless some firm caretaker intervene, an apple tends to remain close to the tree from which it has fallen until it rots.
I congratulate you on your success at the track. I cannot help but think that the many days I spent poring over my studies were squandered in comparison to the hours you toiled away at the races. My father’s allowances in those early days you have invested well, and may now relish the bounty of a youth wisely spent. I shall cheerfully raise a glass to your brilliant bay champion, as well as to his predecessor Brighton Fancy when next we meet. I trust you are for Lord Fallton’s soon to look over his new stock. As my eldest granddaughter has just become engaged to his son, perhaps we may see one another at Newmarket.
My heartiest wishes of health and happiness to your family. Elizabeth sends her greetings, and promises a lengthy answer to her sister’s missive within the next few days. She has been much occupied with our newest grandson, who celebrates his first month of life on the morrow. One thing I will say; the blessings of marriage and the joys of fatherhood have been nearly eclipsed by the delights of grandchildren. None could dote more foolishly over that generation than my wife, unless it should happen to be myself.
With felicitations to your family,
My dear Darcy,
What news from the coast, you cry! Did the fragrant Lydia catch her skirts in the gale and find herself whisked off to the land of the French, where wine flows like water and cheese is piled to the heavens, or did I, her knight in armour, whisk her safely back to our castle and barricade the doors?
Happily, I am now able to report that it was the latter though I must say, not all ladies of a certain age might be described as docile. I’ll wager you wouldn’t dare stand before my dear Lydia and level that accusation at her, your hearing might never recover! Mind you, if the Darcys are mixing pineapples with pleasure, I imagine we shall not be seeing you until the stocks are depleted, eh? Shutters drawn tight, doors firmly locked and pineapples all round!
You may rest assured that Harry is very well aware of decorum and such matters, and was merely seized by the spirit of mischief when faced with the good-humoured attentions of the charming young ladies who welcomed him to your home. Like many a lad has done since time began, he need only see a well-turned ankle and hear the encouraging laughter of the fairer sex to quite forget himself. One need only throw the spirited Miss Georgina into the pot with Harry and one has a most heady brew. Yet no harm was done and, indeed, he has been loudly singing the praises of his hosts and, of course, the young lady who is so possessed of the spirit of her forebears. You need not fear, Darcy, for he shall not be sowing his oats on your farmland, so to speak, and I shall be sure to speak to him again on the matter.
I would ask you to remember, old friend, that we were all boys once. Your own rash behaviour was always rather more prim than my own extravagances, but I hope you shall not contradict me when I say that each of us had his follies, and neither ended on the scaffold for them. Indeed, far be it from me to tell any man how his life might have been lived, but perhaps a little more sideward glancing in your youth might have resulted in a less protracted and argumentative courtship. What would you have done without your old friend and brother George, there to ensure that young Miss Elizabeth Bennet did not mistake you for a rogue? Why, many’s the time I’ve told the tale of making the match between you and you have heard it yourself, I know, but you need rest assured there is no need to thank me again. I did only what any brother would do.
So let there be no whipping of anyone unless they pay good money for it; do you recall the tale of that gouty old judge from Derbyshire? Even Lydia raised an eyebrow at his escapades, but I digress.
I laugh to recall now that I gave you the odd solid knock myself, and I seem to remember that you found it far from enjoyable. Indeed though, a few more knocks might have seen you happily wedded all the sooner!
My apologies to your Mr Harris and please inform the gentleman that I would be honoured to have him as my guest at a race meet of his own choosing. He shall see neither hide nor hair of my grandson, for I would not wish to be responsible for an apoplexy in the senior ranks of your stable staff. Harry also offers his apologies and his assurances that he did not know the mare was so easily given to temper, nor how valuable the saddle and irons, or he would certainly have taken more care. There, I think, the matter shall now rest, for what is better than a heartfelt apology from a lad and his grandfather?
Do pass my sincere good wishes to the soon-to-be Lady F and assure her she might expect a little something from the Wickhams in honour of her happy day. I still recall how the young lady would laugh at my tomfoolery when she was still in her cradle; how time has passed in the blink of an eye. My hearty congratulations too, to your young sprat on his first month; raise a glass from me to the boy and indeed, to your charming family as a whole. Long may their blessings be rich and the days be bright, and long may their horses be first past the post – though not at Newmarket, eh?
Thrice huzzah for grandchildren, however devilish they may be!
To Be Continued….