A Change of Legacies
"My dearest, I love you too much to wait another day," he said, caressing her cheek. "Let us leave for Gretna Green tonight."
"I cannot – I do not – I do not think I am ready to leave so soon. This is all so sudden. I wish to be married to you as well, but I do not think I am ready for such a step."
"I own it may seem sudden for you, but I have been in love with you for so long. So very long, my dearest." His thumb brushed against her lips, and Georgiana could hardly bear the sensation, so wonderful and yet so overwhelming it was to her. "I cannot wait; I cannot brook any sort of delay. There is nothing I wish more than to be married to you."
"I would like to at least speak with Fitzwilliam, first – "
"Oh, my precious Georgiana, I understand, but it may be some time before he visits. Come with me tonight."
"I think it might be better to at least wait until Monday, as we had planned originally."
"It pains me that you think so, my darling," he said. "Speak to Mrs. Younge; I am sure she will agree."
"But – my brother – "
"I am sure your brother will be exceedingly happy to find we have wed. After all, he and I are nearly brothers ourselves, so close were we as children. And think of how much easier it shall be on him, to not have to support your coming out into society. All those London seasons – they cannot be something a single gentleman with an estate to run wishes to devote his energy to."
"Fitzwilliam says I am too young to have a season for several years more."
"Of course, he would be too kind to tell you that supporting you through a season will be a great burden to him, and it might be that you go several seasons before you find a match, when he is entering a time of life where an established gentleman should be considering his own marriage. Think of how much easier it will be on him when we return from Scotland, and you are a married woman."
"Do you think I am a burden to him?"
"My love, of course you are, but I promise you shall never be a burden to me."
"Let us go tonight, then," she said, feeling a strange wave of dizziness at having made the decision. But he loved her so, and he was right – she would only be a burden to her brother so long as she was unmarried. Fitzwilliam had not sought her guardianship, but it could hardly be avoided after the death of their beloved father. She might marry the man she loved, and relieve her brother of such a burden, all as soon as they could reach Gretna Green.
"I knew you would see things as I do," he said, taking up her hands and kissing them. "Go to Mrs. Younge – she will help you see your things packed. I will go and hire a coach."
"But we already have a carriage here in Ramsgate – may we not just take that?"
"Mrs. Younge will need to return to London – after all, once you are a married woman you will not have need of a companion. Your brother's carriage may set her down there at his house so that she may pack up her things. After all, it should be returned to your brother's home – when we are married, we shall set up our own carriage."
"Oh, may we get a landau? I have always loved our landau at Pemberley."
"We may purchase whatever sort of carriage you choose, but I adore the idea of riding through the country in a landau, so that all England may see my beautiful bride. Now let me go and see about a coach, and you pack your things. I will return later for you, my love, and then you may make me the happiest of men."
Mr. Wickham smiled deeply at her, and Georgiana skipped off, calling out for Mrs. Younge to help her. There was so much to do!
Georgiana had not understood how long it would take them to reach Gretna Green, when she had committed to going, and she began to wonder if they should not have stayed in Ramsgate, where she might have written to her brother of the happy news, and then they could have been married in London. She knew it took longer, to put on a wedding in London, but still, this had been a most gruelling drive.
Even with her dear Mr. Wickham taking a shift on the ribbons, so that the coach might continue through the night, and a change of horses at every inn, they had still been driving for three days. Even she, who had been required to do nothing but sit and sleep in the carriage, felt exhausted, and she felt terrible when poor Mr. Wickham came into the coach, after handing the ribbons off to the driver. He always looked terribly spent, but when she suggested they stop for the night, he would always tell her that he would rather marry his darling Georgiana sooner – it was certainly something worth being a little tired for.
When he said it, it always gave her a little heady rush of happiness. George Wickham, who had always been so kind to her as a girl – secretly in love with her all these years! She could never have thought it, and yet she had felt such pleasing emotions when he admitted it to her.
When they were in the carriage together, sometimes they would speak of how things would be when they were married. She would bring fortune enough to the match that they could set up quite nicely somewhere, and he wished for her to have horses, and a fine new pianoforte, and every nice thing that could be provided, for he intended to see her happy always. When he came in from his shift, though, he slept, and when she could not fall back asleep herself, Georgiana wished she had brought a book with her in the coach. It was not the sort of thing one thought to carry when eloping, but although she had a few packed away in her trunk, for the journey she must resort to looking out the coach's window at the spectacularly wild scenery of the north, glad at least this was new and delightful.
When they finally entered Gretna Green, it was late afternoon. Mr. Wickham eschewed the blacksmith – it was not nearly good enough for his Georgiana – and so they found an inn where the innkeeper promised the marriage might be done, and then a room provided for as long as they needed to rest after their journey.
This sounded well to the both of them, and Wickham ordered their trunks unloaded. The ceremony itself shocked Georgiana in its brevity. Two of the inn's servants were gathered in the common room with them, and the innkeeper looked to Mr. Wickham, and said:
"Do ye, sir, declare yerself inna desire ta be married to thee lass?"
"And do ye, lass, declare yerself inna desire ta be married to this man?"
Georgiana hesitated. This all seemed so wrong, to be here without her brother, to be so much farther from home than she had ever been before. But Mr. Wickham looked at her pleadingly, and she finally whispered: "I do."
"Then by the laws of Scotland, I pronounce ye man and wife," the innkeeper said. "Ye may kiss the bride."
Mr. Wickham – Georgiana realised she must call him George, now, for they were married! – had always teased her with the idea of kissing, always caressing her face or touching her lips with his fingers, but had never actually followed through. He did so now, and it was a wet, slovenly experience that left her thoroughly disgusted. Why she had been warned against doing such a thing before she was married she did not know; she did not understand why anyone would want to do so after.
"Ye must needs sign this paper, as a way of documentin' the marriage 'tis done," the innkeeper said. "Then Brenda may show ye to yer room."
They were surely far from the only couple who had driven on through the night from points south to reach this inn; they found a tray of cold meat and bread on the table in the little room they had been provided. George ate hungrily, with no time for the sorts of endearments he was always giving her, and she realised just how wearying the travelling must have been for him.
When he was finished, he looked up at her with a strange smile, and said, "So are you ready for your wedding night, my Georgiana?"
"Yes?" she said, although she was not entirely sure what he meant by it.
"I shall go downstairs for another drink, then, and you may change into your nightclothes."
She did as he instructed, struggling to free herself from the dress she had been wearing since they left Ramsgate, and untie her own stays. She missed the help of Miss Hughes, who had been nominally acting as her lady's maid for years, even though Georgiana was not a married lady. She recognised, strangely, that now that she was actually married, Hughes was not here, for George had said her presence would merely slow them down.
She was wearing her nightgown and sitting on the edge of the bed when he returned, smelling strongly of drink. He closed and locked the door behind him, and smiled that strange smile again at her, taking the few steps in the little room that were required to get to the bed, and kneeling in front of her. Then he gave her another of those slovenly kisses, and pushed her back on the bed, so that his full weight was on top of her.
It was only now that Georgiana felt herself to be suffocating, under the weight of him, under the strange firmness between her thighs, and his hands slipping into places below her nightgown that left her feeling highly uncomfortable, and then, rather quickly, afraid. She wanted Mrs. Younge – nay, she wanted her brother – she wanted her father – if her mother was more than a distant memory, certainly, she would have wanted her mother – she wanted to be anywhere but in this place. She whimpered, then cried out in fear, and pushed against his shoulder, feeling the tears streaming down her face.
What are you doing, George? What are you doing to me? Stop. I don't like this. Please, stop. She might have said it aloud; she might only have thought it, but suddenly, mercifully, the weight was gone.
"You know, I would be well within my rights as a husband, dear Georgiana," George said, rearranging his breeches. "You're quite lucky I only go for willing girls. The damage is done, so far as your brother is concerned, whether or not the marriage is consummated. Indeed, now that I think on it, this might be quite useful as leverage. Although I shall have to find a more pleasant bedfellow, for the evening."
"I do not understand. George, what are you talking of?"
"Oh you poor, innocent child. Do you not understand what this is all about? No, if you had, you would not be here, and I would not be awaiting my thirty thousand pounds. I suppose if your good father had survived, he would have warned you against those who would use you for your inheritance. Your worthless brother, on the other hand, clearly has not."
Georgiana was young, she was not well-versed in the ways of the world, but enough of what he said began to sink in for her, and with an encroaching feeling of the most horrible dread, she began to understand why he spoke of her inheritance. She continued crying, the frightened tears of a young girl far from home and with no hope of any comfort, and when she looked up at George – nay, Mr. Wickham, for there was no reason to address him so familiarly – she did not find anything to reassure herself.
"Thirty thousand pounds! There is no way he will get out of it now," Mr. Wickham said, triumphantly. "He will hand over the money, and then our business together shall be done, Georgiana. I only hope for your sake it shall happen quickly. For now, though, we must see you secured for the night."
He produced a long strip of fabric – perhaps such as a gentleman used for his cravat, although she could no longer think of him as a gentleman – and she eyed it with suspicion and fear, finding she was correct in both concerns when he pulled her jaw open and yanked the fabric back against both corners of her mouth, tying it behind her head. She was unable to speak, now, unable to make any noise of substance, and she might have been frightened, if she had not just recently passed a far more frightening moment.
Georgiana felt him pulling her arms behind her back, trying her wrists and then her ankles together. When she was left, thus trussed, lying on the bed, as George Wickham went out in search of his more pleasant bedfellow; when she was left, breathing heavily in her fear, and unable to do anything to alleviate it, Georgiana began to consider how rapidly things had gone wrong.
This was not right, this could not be! George had loved her! He would not leave her in this way; he would not tie her up like a chicken to be cooked for dinner! He would not use her for her fortune! And yet he had. There was no denying that he had. She tried to scream against the fabric tied close against her mouth, but the sound she made was barely a whimper, and she knew a fear far beyond that which she had ever considered possible.
Georgiana woke painfully, it seemed, up through the deep, deep layers of sleep, fleeing the dream. Her heart was pounding, her breathing panicked, and she took some time to reorient herself, to ensure that it had not been real.
It had not. There was the presence of her husband – her real husband, the one she truly loved and had married little more than a month ago – in the bed beside her. His arm, with the horrid pink scar that had shocked her so when she first saw it, was draped over her stomach, and they were both in a state of undress that would have completely appalled her to even think about before her wedding. It might even have continued to do so, had they remained in England, but they were in Paris, a city that even now, in defeat, had its own standards and morals, and although Georgiana had thought before they came here that none of her own standards should be undermined, she liked the warm, firm nakedness of the man who shared her bed, although the thought of this still made her blush.
She slipped out from his embrace, and pulled on a dressing gown, making her way to the window and looking out across the rooftops that comprised the view from their room, in the low haze of the city's remaining light at the present hour. It still seemed strange to her to be here, in the country England had been at war with for most of her life, with peace not yet formally declared. Yet it would be, that much was clear even to someone so loosely connected with the negotiations as she.
Georgiana opened the window, and was reminded that the air was no less foul than that of London, although it still calmed her. She knew full well what had prompted the dream. There they had been yesterday, walking along, enjoying this unexpected honeymoon, discussing their engagement for the opera that evening, when she had been certain she had glimpsed George Wickham. It was an impossibility, of course – Mr. Wickham had gone missing after the battle in Waterloo, and was most likely dead. Yet whomever this gentleman was who bore such a resemblance to him, he had been enough to prompt a most horrible dream.
The church bell down the street rang, a fine, pure tone through the window, and Georgiana watched as her husband stirred slightly, ran his hand languidly across the space in the bed where she should have been, and then woke, immediately, looking troubled at her absence. She felt a surge of fondness for him, before he spotted her by the window, and said, "Whatever are you doing over there, Georgiana? Will you not come back to bed?"
"Nothing, just thinking on a bad dream," she said, making her way back to the bed, and slipping out of her dressing gown.
"Do you wish to talk about it?" he asked, looking at her with some concern.
"No, it was one of those absurd dreams that would never truly happen," she said. "I was only a little disturbed when I woke."
It could have happened, but it would not, now. She had been the innocent girl of her dreams, back then, but she was older, and, more significantly, a married woman, now; she understood fully what Wickham had been about in her dream, and was most thankful to be married to a man who had gone about things much more delicately their first night together, and most nights thereafter, a man who loved her most earnestly, and whose love she fully returned. She blushed again, to think of their activities in this bed, and those before it, and relaxed back into his embrace, pulling his arm very tight against her chest.
It could have happened, though. If George Wickham had convinced her to elope before her brother arrived in Ramsgate, her fate might very well have been that of her dream. She shuddered at the thought of it, she could not help herself, and once again was asked if she wished to speak about her dream.
"No, I don't think so," she whispered, turning around to face him. "Will you help me forget about it?"
Georgiana had always been shy, and she suspected the rest of her acquaintance would still describe her as such. Over the brief course of her marriage, however, she had gained enough confidence to be able to say such a thing to her husband. How her mind had even conjured those sloppy, terrible kisses of her dream she did not understand, for every one she had ever experienced had been so very pleasing, like the one she gave him now and found returned most tenderly.
Her request was met with the degree of surprise and enthusiasm a gentleman who loves his wife must feel, upon being invited to an unexpected round of marital relations in the midst of the night. And Georgiana did finally find herself able to push thoughts of George Wickham from her mind, in the comfort of Matthew Stanton's attentions.