Greetings, fair readers! Today we have another instalment in our Wickhams/ Thorntons mashups, and we are hoping you will indulge us as we introduce a new character.
After a lifetime of hard-earned wisdom, the George and Lydia Wickham we all remember for their impulsiveness have grown rather respectable. Now doting grandparents, they have broadened their sphere of influence to a particular young couple, and a most unlikely friendship has formed. Indeed, many an eyebrow has arched over the tales discovered in their correspondence, in part due to the seeming incongruity of the couples concerned. However, there are times when we all find a kindred soul in unexpected places, and it seems the reserved young couple discovered the voice of experience and friendship in the flamboyant grandparents.
If you missed their early letters, you can find the beginnings of their story here:
Today the tale resumes with the arrival of the Wickhams to Milton. They have not arrived alone, for accompanying them is one Harold Solomon Wellesley George Wickham, a favoured grandson. One cannot help but wonder how the formidable introduction will take place, and if the lad is a true Wickham at heart.
Margaret Thornton was smiling. That was not a rare circumstance, but the haste which accompanied her movements and the heightened scrutiny with which she surveyed her home impressed upon all its inhabitants that a particularly delightful event was to take place. She swept from the upstairs guest quarters to the formal drawing room, the library, the dining room, and at last the smallest sitting room, glancing over each piece of furniture and each dainty comfort with eager satisfaction.
Hannah Thornton, ever the staid matron, watched her daughter-in-law pace before her sewing chair at least four times. The house on Marlborough Street was in its proper order, as always, but Margaret absolutely insisted upon seeing to matters herself. The girl ought to be resting just now, but Hannah had long since given over any attempt to dissuade the young woman from whatever she had taken into her head. Time had proved her to be a match for John in every way, and that included her boundless energy and determination to see personally to each detail of her affairs.
“Margaret,” she dropped her sewing at last, “had not you ought to send for John? He will wish to greet your guests as well.” And, she hoped silently, he will make his wife take her rest!
“He promised that he would return at half past,” Margaret assured her as she breezed past to arrange a fragrant bower of pillows on the sofa.
Hannah lifted a brow. If John had made such a promise to his mother, he would have tried to keep it, but would have been just as likely to become embroiled in matters at the mill. If he made that promise to Margaret, he would arrive fifteen minutes early with his hands freshly washed and his cravat straightened. She shook her head and returned to her sewing. Before she had made two stitches, a door banged and John’s steps clattered anxiously in the foyer. Smiling just a little, Hannah raised her eyes to the mantel clock. Twenty minutes early.
Margaret rushed from the room to welcome her husband in privacy, but they returned directly. As hoped, John absolutely demanded that Margaret seat herself. The reprieve was short-lived, however, as within moments a maid was announcing that the long-awaited guests were drawing to the door in a lavish carriage. Margaret bounded to her feet, glancing once more at the scented cushions to be certain their arrangement met her exacting standards. No frill might be out of place when Mrs Wickham graced the room with her opulent presence.
Mrs Lydia Wickham was every bit as flamboyant as her reputation and even more so than she had when she blessed the Thornton/Hale wedding with her presence. She descended from the carriage in a cloud of white and gold, her beaming face peering out of the lashings of lace giving every impression of a cherub perched on high, the yellow flowers clustered around her hat lending a touch of the sun peeking from behind a cloud.
There were feathers too, of course, for when were there not if Mrs Wickham was in the vicinity, and diamonds gleamed on her fingers. In her arms she carried a neatly wrapped package, bound in bright yellow ribbon. The bow that topped it was every bit as fancy as the lady who carried the parcel and Mrs Wickham paused to peer up at the house with an approving nod as she approached.
Strolling in Lydia’s wake came George Wickham, his hands knitted behind his back as he ambled along, chatting to the young man at his side. Like his wife, Mr Wickham was clad in the finest fabrics yet where his wife was all drama, he was all understatement, every inch the gentleman who allowed his empress to command the stage.
And that young man was unmistakably a Wickham. Indeed, if one were to imagine the boy’s grandfather several decades earlier, then one would be forgiven for picturing a character not unlike the youngster. He would make a handsome man, no doubt, and shared that same mischievous twinkle in his dark eyes. Whether he shared the same sense of trouble remained to be seen.
“What a beautiful little house for any wife to command!” Lydia beamed, addressing herself to nobody in particular. “George, Harry, come along and see Mrs Thornton’s kingdom! You have tarried all day talking of nonsense, come now!”
Neither Mister nor Master Wickham jumped to her command but instead they maintained their strolling gait, leaving Lydia to tap one impatient foot.
“You are made of mischief!” Her tone was indulgent though and soon the Wickhams were together once more and ready to meet their hosts.
The master and mistress of the home awaited side by side, their apparel far more sombre than that of their guests, but every expression of pleasure was writ across their faces. Margaret Thornton’s sedate manners prevailed but a moment after the initial greetings, for even she was unequal to the tide of Lydia Wickham’s effusions. Everything was the subject of her admiration- the scope of the room, the heavy, ornate furnishings which seemed to have little in common with their mistress. Even the not-so-distant clatter of looms which caused them to raise their voices above the common level only lent her cause to express herself with more exuberance.
“I have rarely seen a place so beautiful and yet so very far from the south!” Lydia held out the parcel to Margaret and glanced towards Harry, who peered with interest at the gift. “For you, my dear. It is to be opened privately.”
Blushing slightly, but affecting a gracious nonchalance which did nothing to deceive her husband, Margaret thanked her. “How very kind, Mrs Wickham. I shall treasure your thoughtfulness.”
Beside her, John Thornton’s eyes twinkled as he offered his hand to first the lady, then the gentleman. “Indeed, we are most grateful. It is a pleasure to welcome you both at last. And this must be Master Harold, of whom we have heard so much!”
“This is our Harry,” Wickham told them proudly, gesturing to his young charge. “One of our many grandchildren; a young chap who is most dedicated to his horses, is that not so, sir?”
Harry nodded and told them, “I intend to be the youngest gent to train a winner at Epsom!”
Lydia beamed indulgently, addressing Margaret once more. “A Wickham in every manner of speaking!”
Margaret smiled at the lad while gesturing toward her mother-in-law. “You remember Mrs Thornton, of course. This young man,” she turned toward the elder lady, “is Mr and Mrs Wickham’s grandson.”
“I have a gift for you also, Mrs Thornton,” Lydia remembered. “It is in the second carriage. I had intended to bring it with me but Mr Wickham has been most distracting!”
Hannah Thornton dipped a stately head, her eyes traveling over Lydia Wickham’s lavishly appointed person. She made her thanks, but rather soon her attention diverted to the young man. “How do you find our city, Master Wickham?”
Harry bowed low, his hand extended in a courtly, flamboyant flourish. Lydia nodded her approval as her grandson stood. He told Mrs Thornton, “Alas, I have seen little of it. My view was obscured by my grandmother’s ample cushions!”
“Harry,” she whispered quickly, a tinkle of laughter following. “Such mischief!”
“We must amend that,” Mr Thornton smiled. “Mr Wickham, Master Harry, would either of you care to see the mill? Or perhaps my wife had other plans for you.” He gave a knowing sideways glance toward his lady.
“If Mrs Thornton has no other plans, it would be a pleasure,” Wickham replied. With a swift glance to his grandfather, Harry nodded keenly. “It will do young Harry good to see something of industry, without cushions to obscure his view!”
Next time, Master Harry Wickham undertakes a trip to the mill in the care of his host and, of course, his grandfather, Mr George Wickham. As the member of a family noted for its mischief, what mayhem might young Master Wickham leave in his wake?