This is one of the ideas I had for Rebecca Wickham and I ended up not using it because it did not work with the other plans in the book. However, sometimes I wish I could use it… and I do think it a fitting end for her. This would have come immediately after Rebecca telling Rachel that little George cannot visit her any more. Rachel’s conversation with George ends a little differently.
…She opened the back door and pulled him in, unable to resist crushing him to her in a tight hug.
“You dear boy. What are you doing here? Did your mother say you could come?”
“She told me I wasn’t to come visit you anymore. Why would she say that?”
Her heart ached and she took a deep breath to steady herself. “And I you, dear boy. But I don’t want you to get into trouble.” He stared at the floor as she ran her hand through his unruly curls. “Do you understand?”
She nodded and rubbed his back and he winced, pulling away from her.
“Have you hurt yourself?” she asked with concern. He looked away and scuffed one foot against the table leg. “George? What is it?”
He refused to answer her, so she slowly turned him around until his back was facing her. She lifted his shirt, expecting to see a bruise where he had fallen out of a tree or been hit by a ball, but instead, she saw a large swath of blue and black along his lower back, ugly and swollen. She inhaled sharply.
“Georgie! What happened? Who did this to you?”
He sucked in his lips, refusing to meet her eyes. She grabbed his chin and turned him to face her. “Answer me, Georgie.”
“Mother,” he whispered.
Rachel dropped her hand and staggered back, her eyes wide and her voice caught in her throat. “No,” she breathed. “No. It can’t be.”
“I’m all right,” he said in a rush, finally looking up at her. “It was just a bit of the strap. It takes a little time to heal, but then everything is well again.”
“This has happened before?”
He swallowed and looked away. “Mother doesn’t like it when I disagree with her.”
“Is that what happened this time? You disagreed about something?”
“I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see you anymore. She wouldn’t tell me, and when I told her I loved you and wanted to see you, she gave me the strap.”
Rachel covered her mouth in horror, her eyes filling with tears. “Georgie, I need you to do something for me.”
“Yes, Aunt,” he said, sounding dejected.
“I need you to go into the bedroom and stay there until I tell you to come out. No matter who comes to the door. Even if it is your mother, you pretend you’re not here, all right? You stay in there, out of sight. Can you close the curtains?”
He looked at her quizzically and she shooed him off, then sat at the writing desk to pen a missive. She hurried across the yard to the orphanage and gave the man-of-all-work the note and told him to deliver it to Samuel Wickham, no one else.
An hour later, Samuel was pounding on her door. She opened it quickly and ushered him inside.
“What is going on, Rachel?”
“Mr. Wickham,” she emphasized his name, “your son is in danger. From your wife.”
Wickham’s eyes bulged. “What?”
“She has been beating him when he misbehaves. Did you know of it?”
“I knew he sometimes got the strap, as all children do. But it was nothing extreme.”
“You are mistaken on that score.”
She stood and went to her room, entering softly. She came back with George. Samuel seemed surprised to see him, but before he could say anything, Rachel told George to turn around and lift his shirt. He looked frightened, but she told him all would be well and he did as she asked. She held up the shirt and turned George’s back to the light, his bruises almost iridescent.
Samuel gasped. “Mother of—”
“Exactly,” said Rachel succinctly. “You may go back to my room, George. There is a new book on the table in the corner. Why do you not read it and tell me if it is good enough for me to read to the children, hmm?”
He nodded warily and left the room, closing the door softly behind him.
“Did you truly not know?” Rachel asked.
Samuel ran a hand over his face. “I had no idea.” He dropped his head back and exhaled loudly. “I cannot believe I missed it.”
“It is easy to miss things when a man avoids him home and his wife.”
Samuel snapped his head in her direction, a flush creeping up his neck. “I suppose I deserved that.”
She only nodded. “Something must be done.”
“I know. But what?”
“If you tell her to stop, she will only do something worse when you are not there.”
“You are too often from home to adequately protect the boy.”
“This cannot be allowed to continue. He cannot stay with her.”
“Then what are you going to do?” she demanded.
“I do not know! I have only just found out my slag of a wife has been beating my son. I have not moved on to formulating plans yet.”
She looked at him with a glimmer of sympathy, but only a glimmer. “You could send him to one of your brothers. Surely Gabriel or Michael would let him stay for a while.”
He scoffed. “That is hardly a permanent solution.”
“No, it likely would not work permanently, but it would give you time to sort something else out. Gabriel’s boy is only a little older than George and has only sisters. Offer your brother compensation for taking him in. Tell everyone it is so the boys can be together. He will be safe there and you can still see him often.”
“He is nearly all day at Pemberley as it is,” said Samuel absently.
“Obviously not often enough. Send him to your brother’s with strict instructions not to go back home under any circumstances, and tell Gabriel not to let Rebecca near him. He knows what she is, he will understand. His wife is a good woman—she will be kind to George.”
Samuel nodded, his mind still reeling. “It is a good plan. I will ask Gabe to take George in. We can say it is so he can attend school in the village more easily. He can stay through the festive season, at least. I will have to figure something out for after that.”
“Very well. I have to get to the orphanage. George can come with me today. You sort things out with your brother and go back to the cottage and pack up his things. Say nothing to Rebecca.”
Samuel nodded woodenly, then stood and went to the bedroom where George was curled in a chair in the corner, looking absently out the window. Samuel knelt before him and whispered something Rachel could not hear, then pulled the boy close and held him tightly, being careful to keep his arms near George’s shoulders. Rachel saw a few tears squeeze out of George’s eyes, and she turned away to give them their privacy.
Samuel walked up the stone path to the cottage, burning with rage. When he had received Rachel’s note alluding to danger to his son, he had been confused and alarmed. Then when he heard her account, he had been appalled and shocked. He had felt guilt and shame when he hugged his ten-year-old son and felt how fragile his thin shoulders were, how weak his tiny body in comparison to a full-grown woman wielding a strap. By the time he was halfway home, a black rage had descended over him, blinding his reason and filling him with hate.
Was it not enough that Rebecca had ruined his life? Had taken from him the chance to choose his own fate? Was it not enough that she had betrayed her own flesh and blood? Now she was turning on her own son. Had the woman no scruples? Had she not a shred of human decency in her slatternly body?
Not wanting to see her at all, he entered the house quietly and went straight upstairs to George’s room. He had everything in a bag in short order and was nearly out the door when he heard Rebecca crying out. He paused and listened for a moment, hearing the unmistakable sounds of intimate congress coming from her bedroom. He scoffed and shook his head. George’s room was directly above hers; there was no way she had not heard him walking above them. She had been perfectly quiet when he arrived. This show of ecstasy was for his benefit. Well, he would not satisfy her need for a dramatic show. He walked out the door and closed it quietly behind him, not giving her the satisfaction of a slam.
He was done with letting Rebecca take things from him. She would not take his dignity. Not anymore.
By the end of the day, George was installed at his uncle’s house, Samuel had given his brother money for his son’s keep, against great protest, and Samuel had asked Mr. Darcy if there was somewhere else he could stay for a while, for he did not wish to share a roof with his wife. Mr. Darcy had offered sympathy and asked no questions, then put Samuel in a suite of rooms on the main floor, generally reserved for an upper servant but currently vacant. Samuel said it would be of short duration, but they both suspected he would be there longer than currently planned.
By the end of the next day, Samuel had visited every shop in Lambton and settled all his wife’s accounts, then closed them, saying that any bills sent to him would not be paid. If she wished to purchase something, she would have to use ready money. The shopkeepers asked no questions, and more than one was glad to see a little fire in the eyes of the man they had known his entire life.
By the third day, Wickham had begun repairs on a small cottage at the back of the Pemberley property. Mr. Darcy had said he was welcome to it, as it had been empty nearly a decade. It had been little more than a hunting cabin when it was in use. It was backed by a dense forest and surrounded by a small yard. There was a chicken coop in the back and Samuel saw it stocked well, along with a large dog to protect the chickens.
Within a fortnight, the roof on the cabin was sound, the door had a new lock, and the kitchen, such as it was, had a working stove and was supplied with necessities. Pleased with his work, Samuel went to collect Rebecca.
She was surprised to see him, as was the youngest Smith brother, a bumbling youth who had more enthusiasm than skill. He threw the man’s clothes at him as he shoved him out the door and told Rebecca she had ten minutes to pack what she would, then he expected her outside. She was shocked by his behavior, for Samuel had never been very forceful and certainly never violent, but she did as she was bid. She wondered if they were going away somewhere. Perhaps something had happened, or perhaps he was jealous of her lovers and wanted her all to himself for a time. She smiled, thinking of how she would have him tied in knots by the end of the week, and a new gown in the closet shortly after, and packed her things quickly.
She was surprised to see a wagon outside instead of the carriage they usually used when they went on excursions. Still, so sure of her husband’s docility was she that she did not question it overmuch. She climbed up beside him on the bench and smiled for all the world as if he had not just thrown another man out of their house.
Samuel breathed deeply and gritted his teeth until his jaw ached. He had known she was impudent, but to be so even now—he would never again underestimate the impudence of an impudent woman. Soon enough they were at the cabin a few miles away.
“Where are we?”
“This is the northern border of Pemberley lands. A quarter mile through those woods is the boundary to Craven Hall.”
He said no more and jumped down from the wagon, making no move to help her alight. He took her bags from the back and marched through the front door. He set them in the small bedroom and came back into the main room, a parlor and dining room combined. Rebecca was standing in the doorway, looking about with wide eyes.
“The bedroom is through here. It is small, but I know you don’t mind being close with your guests, so it shouldn’t be a problem. There is a kitchen through there.”
She peeked into the door he pointed at and saw a stove and a work counter and some pots hanging from the ceiling. Overall, the cabin was less than a third of the size of their family cottage.
“Samuel, what is this? What is going on?”
“This,” he gestured to the cabin around them, “is your new home, where you will live alone, or I should say without any of your family. And what is going on is that you are a terrible wife and a worse mother, which is saying something. You have lost rights to both your son and your husband. Good evening.”
He left the cabin and climbed onto the wagon seat. He was turning around when Rebecca came screeching out of the cabin. “You cannot do this to me! I am your wife! You cannot leave me here!”
“You are hardly a prisoner. You are on Pemberley lands, surrounded by men who will be happy to service you, and provided with everything you need to continue your depraved existence. The key is on the table and your allowance will be deliver quarterly. Goodbye, Miss Appleby.”
He snapped the reins and pulled away, ignoring her cries and the sound of her feet running behind him. He should have done it years ago and perhaps much of her damage could have been avoided. But it was done now and done for the best.