LUCAS LODGE

Charlotte Lucas sat in the unused parlor in the servants' quarters of the house. She wore a chemise made of black leather, with gloves and high-heeled boots of the same material. Her hair was in a tight bun from which two dagger-form pen knives portruded. In her right hand, she held a riding crop.

When the faint knock came at the door, she stood erect. "Who is it," she called out forcefully.

"It is I, Mistress," came the timid reply.

She waited two full minutes before responding. "Enter," she finally commanded.

George Wickham stepped into the room. After he had taken two steps, Charlotte smacked the riding crop against the table. Wickham instantly dropped to the floor and crawled the rest of the way to where she stood. On reaching her, he laid himself prostrate on the floor before her.

"Speak," she said.

"I have procured the letter from my employer, Mistress. I believe you will be pleased."

"Read it to me."

He rolled to his side to pull a letter out of his pocket and read:

Dear Sir William,

I sincerely hope that this letter finds you and your fine family in the best of health. I write to you to testify to the impeccable behavior of George Wickham over these past six months.

Since he has left the militia and come to apprentice with me in your former shop (concerning said shop, I must not neglect to praise the exemplary work you did in establishing it and the generosity you showed in allowing me to purchase such a valuable enterprise when you received your well-deserved knighthood), Mr. Wickham has been an able and enthusiastic servant, learning everything that he has needed to learn about our trade and working tirelessly at any task that has been given him.

He has also taken it upon himself to do odd jobs for the other merchants in the village, and will continue to do so until the entirety of his indebtedness to them has been repaid. In all this time, he has not caused any trouble for anyone in Meryton and has been an sterling example of industriousness, devotion, and piety.

While he has not directly told me his reasons for desiring that I write this letter, I cannot help but suspect that it involves a desire to connect himself to your family in a particular way, as he is effusive in his praise for a certain member of your household. I can assure you, therefore, that his employment with me is quite secure, and I see no reason why you should hesitate in granting any request he may have in that regard. I wish joy to you and your family.

Your humble servant,

Peter Oatfield

Wickham looked up at Charlotte.

"Acceptable," she said. "You may rise to your knees."

He did so, but kept his head bowed.

"Make your request," she said.

"Mistress, may I now ask your father for your hand?"

"You may."

"Thank you, milady!", he said breathlessly. "Thank you, milady. I do not deserve you. I surely do not. How can I express my gratitude, milady?"

"You may kiss my left shoe."

He bowed down and began to passionately kiss the leather boot. So passionately, in fact, that he drew a rebuke from Charlotte.

"Do not use your tongue," she said sternly, "for we are not yet married."

"I am so sorry, Mistress! I was carried away with my emotions."

"Look up at me."

He lifted his head.

"What are you," she asked.

"I am a bad boy."

"I did not hear you."

"I am a bad boy," he said a bit louder.

"I did not hear you."

"I am a bad boy! I am so horribly wicked! I am vile! I am worse than a maggot!"

"You may speak to my father now. Return here to inform me of his answer. If you have persuaded him to give his blessing, you may hold my hand for a while, ungloved, before you return to your employer."

"Oh, thank you, Mistress! You cannot know how happy you make me. I never truly knew what I wanted in a woman until I met you. I will go to your father straightway."

He came to his feet, bowed deeply, and remained bowed as he exited the room backwards.

After he had left, and closed the door, Charlotte smiled slightly.