George Wickham has finally told Lydia Bennet exactly what occurred before their elopement. Yet what happened to the Bonapartist spy whom Wickham accidentally apprehended? What of the injured messenger and more importantly, what became of the fleeing villain who will surely want Wickham’s blood and knows his beloved Lydia’s name? Read on and find out!
Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
Catch up on previous adventures here! One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty One
Lydia Bennet pressed cold fingertips to her mouth. Her eyes felt dry as cotton, so long had it been since she had blinked properly, and her hair was tingling. Wickham had stopped speaking to wait on her reaction, and he hesitated now. There was that look in his eye that spoke of doubt, of uncertainty, and for an instant, her anger flared.
“George Wickham! Did you expect me to believe such a tale? Of all the childish, mean jokes! How can you be so cruel to my nerves, after everything?”
“Why would I–” Wickham blinked and his mouth fell open for a moment before he recovered himself. “Then tell me, Lydia, who are my pursuers? Why are we barefooted in a harlot’s bedchamber? Why would I lie?”
She sniffled, realising belatedly that her eyes were now beginning to sting. She swiped at her nose with her hand — how Jane or Lizzy would have chided her!— and the tears began to flow. “I don’t know!” she shot back in an unsteady voice. “It all seems so… so spectacular! How could it be true? Are you really running from Bonapartists? We shall both be killed! Tell me it has all been a good joke. You devil, I think I shall forgive you anything if you only assure me it has all been a lie!”
“I would not put you in danger for all the world.” He pressed the pad of his thumb to her cheek to blot away the tears. “And I had intended to approach your father and ask for your hand but– that devil of a lieutenant is still roaming free and he has issued his ultimatum: declare him innocent or– I cannot have you in danger, my love. I will not!”
Lydia felt her bottom lip beginning to quiver, and then some deep cunning within her kindled and blazed. She would not become the blubbering fool! Not she, the girl who taunted all the boys in Meryton and made fools of half of them. She bit down on her lip and drew a ragged breath. “Right, then,” she stuck up her chin and dashed the last tear from her cheek. “Tell me how we shall serve those blackguards.”
She saw the change in Wickham’s expression too, saw a glimmer of his familiar Puckish smile before he said, “You are a most singular girl indeed. How I love you!”
Then he reached for her hand and twined his fingers with hers. “I have a scheme, might I be so bold as to elaborate?”
She nodded, wide-eyed and leaning forward on the bed.
“The messenger proved to be an excellent eye witness, once he was settled before the fire with a glass of brandy. He shall live, the traitor shall likely swing but the lieutenant who fled the scene, well he is another matter indeed.”
“Why should he be above the law? Has he some wealthy protector?” Lydia crossed her knees and began to massage her chilled toes. The movement was unconscious on her part, so engrossed in the story was she, but her George smiled and gently took her foot between his own hands to warm it. She tipped back on the bed, grinning and bracing on her elbows.
Lydia Bennet, however, was not a girl to be swayed from her thinking by a gallant soldier. The problem at hand still loomed, and her able mind had applied itself to the task. “Oh, he must have fled the country!” she suggested. “Of course, he must have, the filthy coward.”
“We – that is, those authorities who suddenly find themselves rather saddled with George Wickham, eyewitness, to protect, had assumed the fellow would go to ground or even flee for France and the villain whose coin he was happy to take but apparently he took the matter rather personally. Perhaps because I not only outstripped him at the card table, but also prevented his traitorous plotting.” Wickham sighed and dropped his head to rest against Lydia’s shoulder. His soft hair tickled against her neck, as frustratingly charming as the rest of him. “And he sent me a rather angry letter. And it named you.”
“Me! But how… oh, George, you dear, lovable old fool! You were crowing my name in the tavern! I ought to punish you for that— no lady wishes to have her name uttered in such an environ— but I suppose a man boasting of me as his good fortune ought not to be chastised too severely.”
“That made up my mind. I wrote to fellow dealing with the matter in Whitehall and said to him, now look here, I cannot and will not have my love in danger.” Wickham lifted his head and met her gaze with his own. She saw now not deception or mischief in the dark depths, but affection, undisguised and adoring. “We could not delay, every moment was a moment he might harm you. So we fled, you and I, and met his hired henchman on the road, but here we are, safe still.”
“But what of your winnings? You said you left them, I am sure you did. I am not like to forget a thing like that!”
“Gone, for I needed to ensure your people were safe whilst you were in my care. The money has gone on hired men to watch your home, and ensure no harm comes to any there.” He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it very gently, letting his lips linger there. “But it was all I had. Now though, I am rather tired of running and I propose that we draw the villain out into the open. Let us see my contact in Whitehall and offer, for a small purse, to be loud, public and outrageous. That should bring our vengeful lieutenant running!”
“Loud, public, and outrageous?” Lydia’s eyes brightened. “Why, my darling, I know precisely what to do!”
“It will be delicious, I know,” Wickham urged, stealing a gentle kiss from her lips. “Will you share it!”
“I shall tell you that later. For now,” she wrapped her arms about his shoulders, sliding them under the thin lawn of his shirt so that her bare skin tingled against his. “This bed is entirely too decadent for us not to take advantage of. Will you warm me, George?”
“And then back to Mrs Younge’s for shoes,” he decided, easing Lydia back onto the luxurious silken covers. “Then perhaps you and I might away to Whitehall, to let our betters know that we are ready to stand firm?”
“Oh, yes,” she sighed, relishing the hot tickle of his breath at her neck as he burrowed them both under the covers. “I like that bit about standing firm. Very firm,” she purred luxuriantly. “Now what was that other bit you mentioned, about wanting no girl but me?”
“No girl but you.” He pressed his lips to her throat. “You have snared me, you enchantress, he whom no woman could tame!”
“Tame? Oh, I cannot have that. I am perfectly content to think of you as ensnared, but not quite domesticated. How fearfully dull!”
“Enchanted, enraptured, in love.” Wickham punctuated each word with a kiss. “And the only harlot in this harlot’s bed, for you are the finest lady I know.”
To Be Continued….