A look inside Wickham’s scheming mind on the day he meets Elizabeth in Meryton for the first time.
November 20, 1811
Wickham appreciatively eyed the assets Miss Lydia Bennet purposely flaunted in front of him. If the flirtatious and forward Miss Lydia was an example of the pleasures Meryton had to offer, perhaps he would enjoy his time in this godforsaken market town more than he had anticipated.
His sole reason for joining the militia had been to hide from angry creditors in London, but he might as well find some amusement while he was in uniform. And here he was, only an hour in town, and already four pretty girls were hanging on his every word. Well, perhaps the eldest Miss Bennet could not be described that way. She was a true beauty, one he would definitely not mind bedding, but she was also reticent and proper. It would not be worth the effort it would require to seduce her. Miss Elizabeth was pretty enough, but she had an clever, impertinent wit, and Wickham preferred his women very young and foolish. The other sister, whose name he had already forgotten, was a bit drab, but Miss Lydia showed great promise – just out of the schoolroom by all appearances, completely lacking in wit, propriety and restraint. Just the way he liked them. Too bad his new friend Denny was already scowling at him. He must have already set his cap for Miss Lydia, but why should Denny’s sentiments stand in the way of his pleasures?
He gave Denny a practiced smile. He still needed him to make introductions to the other officers. It would be much easier to fleece them at the card table if they saw him as Denny’s dear friend. Maybe this time he would win for once.
Miss Elizabeth asked, “Mr. Wickham, is this your first visit to Hertfordshire?”
He made a slight bow. “I have passed through it before, while travelling from my home in Derbyshire to London.” Was that a slight frown that passed over her face when he mentioned Derbyshire? He hurried to add, “Of course, I have lived in London for some years now.” That seemed to please her. How curious! What could she dislike about Derbyshire?
Two gentlemen whose coats showed the fine fit only the best London tailors could achieve approached on horseback. Wickham observed them with a sidelong glance; he always liked to know where the deep pockets were, just waiting to be fleeced. But wait – no, it could not possibly be! But it was.
At least Darcy had not seen him yet. His attention seemed to be fixed on Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and he was watching her with an expression Wickham had never seen him wear before, a look of mingled longing and desire. His former friend shifted in the saddle as if he could hardly bear to stay astride.
Could it be? Had the arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy fallen for the charms of a country miss? If so, Miss Elizabeth seemed oblivious of important conquest she had made. Her eyes were on Darcy’s friend who was inquiring about her sister’s health.
Darcy could not possibly be thinking of marrying the chit, could he? He would never consider anything but fortune and breeding in his wife, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet could not hold a candle to Miss Anne de Bourgh in those regards. Did he want to make her his mistress? That was even more difficult to believe; it was beneath Darcy’s moralistic dignity to conceive of seducing a gentleman’s daughter. So what did he want?
Just then Darcy tore his eyes away from Miss Elizabeth, and Wickham felt that piercing stare burning into his face. Now Darcy’s expression was one of distaste, perhaps remembering the sight of his precious sister in Wickham’s arms. Oh, how he hoped that memory haunted him. Damn him for interfering! Without Darcy, Wickham would now be in possession of Georgiana’s thirty thousand pounds, rather than hiding in this insipid town from debt collectors.
Darcy, white-faced, made the most perfunctory nod possible toward Wickham, who shifted from one foot to the other. Would his old friend expose him? But of course he would not dare, not when he knew Wickham had the power to ruin his sister with a word. What a pleasant thought! There was nothing Wickham liked better than making Darcy squirm.
With just a hint of a mocking smile, Wickham touched his hat, a salutation which Darcy barely deigned to return. After Darcy’s friend asked a last question of the eldest Miss Bennet, the two gentlemen rode off, but not before Darcy subjected Wickham to his best cold stare.
So, Darcy was in Meryton, and at least half in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Wickham’s smile grew. How could he resist the opportunity to charm a lady Darcy so admired, and perhaps plant a little poison about Darcy in her ear? Oh, yes. It would be a great pleasure. Miss Elizabeth might not the kind of young lady he preferred, but he was willing to overlook her cleverness if it gave him the chance to put a spoke in Darcy’s wheel.
Yes, it would be most satisfactory to make Miss Elizabeth fall in love with him instead of Darcy. With a warm smile, he turned to her and said in his most charming manner, “I hope you often brighten our day by visiting Meryton, Miss Elizabeth.”