This week we continue with our story of George Wickham and Lydia Bennet. Lydia has written her favourite gentleman another note, and is searching for a secret way to put it into his hands.
-Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
Lydia Bennet peeped around the shelf when she heard the voice she had awaited. There he was! George Wickham, resplendent in red, strolled amiably down the walk with his friend Denney. He paused outside the millinery shop, and she heard Denney suggest that they walk down to the tobacconist’s together.
Lydia bent her head to listen intently. George was making some affable excuse, claiming that he had given up smoking for a time, because he had discovered the ladies found the odour objectionable. “Something of the farmyard about it, so they say; one wonders where one’s suppliers find it sometimes!”
After another moment, the two had arranged to meet again in a quarter of an hour. Denney went on about his errand, while George appeared to contentedly survey the street, greeting passers-by whom he knew.
Lydia could abide it no longer. She moved around the shelf, just near enough the window that her hushed voice could carry to him. “George!”
He appeared to turn his head slightly, so that the corner of his eye might catch her through the glass, but no one upon the street could suspect him of looking at her or following her into the shop. He flicked a finger and smiled a little more broadly—an indication that he had heard her. It was another full minute before he casually stepped back from his place and appeared to enter the shop as a mere idle curiosity.
George barely threw her a glance as he strolled through the door yet he seemed to fill the room if not physically, than with his presence. She was so very aware of him, too aware in too many ways, and his feigned indifference was as delicious as it was frustrating, for did it not make their forbidden notes and stolen kisses even more delightful?
He took a little time to wander, a minute or more passing before he finally turned, with utmost nonchalance, and looked in Lydia’s direction. The smile returned, wicked and enchanting and for the benefit of Lydia alone.
“Good day, Miss Bennet,” he said politely, inclining his head. “Forgive my rudeness, I did not see you.”
She held back a moment, playing at irritation for his perceived slight. “I am quite certain, Mr Wickham, that there is much to overwhelm in this lovely shop. Have you, perchance, noted this ribbon? I can hardly think but that such a fine, brightly coloured sample would have drawn your eye instantly.”
“Quite beautiful,” George told her, though his gaze never so much as flitted to the ribbon. “Remarkably so, Miss Bennet.”
She blushed, and was perfectly conscious of the way her eyes tended to sparkle when she smiled just so. “This is the finest to be found anywhere, I am quite assured. Only feel how smooth and soft it is, and yet it has the most brilliant shine of all.” She extended her hand to stroke it, displaying bare skin—for what lady would wear her gloves to shop for ribbon?
“And where, if you might enlighten me, would a lady of your most unique charms wear such a ribbon?” His hand shifted a little, just enough to brush the ribbon and, quite innocently, Lydia’s fingers too.”
“Oh, I cannot waste such finery on a mere bonnet. It should be reserved for a lady’s hair, or perhaps the trim on her garments. Do you not agree? For something this fine and smooth ought to be enjoyed to its fullest.” She allowed her hand to linger, looking directly into his eyes with a pert little tug to her lips.
“What do you think, sir? Is this shade too daring for a maiden? My elder sisters would claim that it is, but what good are rich colours if one is only permitted to wear them after the age of thirty?”
“I believe that would depend on the maiden in question.” He blinked. “And I believe it would flatter you most beautifully, if it is not impertinent of me to say so.”
Wickham’s hand withdrew and he added, “If nothing else, it would complement your blush.”
She batted her lashes, very faintly so none could accuse her of overt flirtation. “If it is a lady’s blush you admire, you certainly know how to evoke such an expression, sir. I find that I must wear it often in your company.”
She looked back to the ribbon, then slid a length of it from the roll. She held it against her cheek and tilted her head becomingly. “Does it truly suit me, sir?”
Wickham cocked his head to one side as though viewing a piece of art, his brow furrowed in thought. Then he reached out and brushed his fingertips down the ribbon then, as though it were perfectly polite to do so, lightly down Lydia’s cheek in turn. The smile returned, devilish now, and he told her, “A perfect match.”
She gasped, whether in surprise or delight cannot be certain, and her fingertips daintily covered her mouth. At some point of her maidenly astonishment, she lost her grip on her reticule, and it dropped on his toes. “Oh!” she cried, stepping back slightly. “Do forgive me, sir.”
“I can only apologise, Miss Bennet,” came the smooth reply. He stooped to retrieve the dropped reticule and she saw something in his expression flicker as he stood once more and held it out to her, a secret shared between them.
She accepted it, then examined the clasp. “I do not think I can have lost anything,” she reported confidently. “That happened to Jane once, for her clasp broke when her reticule fell, and she lost her little fan.”
“I am sure you have lost nothing, Miss Bennet; a crisis happily averted.”
She glanced one more time, testing a small pocket she had sewn into the outside of the reticule. “Indeed, everything is in its place,” she agreed. “I am most obliged to you, kind sir. And now, I fear I must be going, for Mrs Forster expected me for tea later. She has guests, and I am to assist in her hostessing duties.”
“And I must attend to my correspondence,” he replied meaningfully. “Good day, Miss Bennet.”
She curtseyed in reply. “Good day, Mr Wickham.”
Stop by next week to see what our couple are up to next!