With Darcy now in on a secret of national importance, the time has come for Wickham and the Gardiners to rescue what remains of Lydia Bennet’s reputation. Mr Wickham, meanwhile, has plans to renew his wardrobe, but will he live to meet his tailor?
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, Twenty Two,Twenty Three, Twenty Four, Twenty Five
“I still do not see why I may not stay with you.” Lydia sighed petulantly at the door to Mrs Gardiner’s morning room. “Can we not explain everything? My aunt and uncle are perfectly reasonable folk, and would surely understand a little thing like,” she leaned close to whisper the word, “espionage.”
“They would understand it all too well,” George Wickham quirked one good-natured eyebrow and squeezed Lydia’s hand. “And would tell everyone of their acquaintance before support. If we are forced to flee again, then what will become of our wedding plans? Courage, my love, and a lifetime of ribbons and wonders awaits!”
“Really, my love, what do we care that everyone knows I have lived with you a fortnight now? It is not like I shall have a premature baby, now is it? I should say a passel of Bonapartists are our greater worry. Do you not need me to help you?”
“Your help shall be simply standing before the altar and being your natural, exuberant self.” He grinned what he knew was his most winsome grin. “I think just a little more obnoxious flinging around of the cash is all it will take to bring our villain out of his hole!”
She brightened. “And I shall have all the trousseau I have dreamed of!” Her face fell again. “But I shall have to listen to Lizzy’s self-righteous diatribes about letting Mr Darcy pay for it all. She will not be fooled by my uncle for a moment, you know, but she will be quick enough to believe that her lover paid for it all. I dearly hope that one day he disabuses her of that notion, but I suppose I shall have to bear it at least until they are married. Oh, how I shall laugh when she really discovers the source of our funds!”
Wickham touched his fingertip to Lydia’s nose and reminded her, “You must say nothing, you minx! Let her believe what she wishes to believe, for what does it matter when we know that what has paid for our glorious day is your skill at the card table?”
She smiled, an impish twinkle in those lovely brown eyes. “Oh, very well, but you must promise me that day will be soon! When do you think we shall walk down the aisle, my love? Did my uncle really give his blessing? I heard something of him writing to my Papa, making a show of asking his blessing, but Papa could not truly refuse, surely! Lizzy and Jane will persuade him to it, if he dislikes the duty so much that he would not answer on his own, but must we truly wait to have his reply before setting a date?”
“We must.” He glanced around and, seeing no one observing, slipped his arms around her waist. “And what fun will it be to steal moments to ourselves amid the respectability? I warn you, Miss Bennet, once we are wed we shall be keeping our own company for days, and respectability will be naught but a memory!”
“Promise?” She giggled, nestling further into his embrace and sneaking ticklish, wicked little kisses beneath his chin. “Then shall I be seeing you every day until the wedding?”
“Every day,” he whispered, snuggling her closer than ever. “I refuse to consider anything less!”
“And not a second after half ten in the morning!” she warned. “Otherwise, I shall mount a horse and begin searching for you myself! Oh, my darling, are you certain you will be quite safe? I know the hotel is still guarded, but if you make a regular habit of visiting me, they might lay in wait. They will not set upon you while you are out, surely!”
“I have been living as a monk since we were parted!” And it was true, which George Wickham would never have expected. “I believe he would be lucky to find me until our wedding brings out once more into the forefront of society. Worry not, Miss Bennett, for I am well guarded and marvellously behaved.”
She beamed, and lifted her sweet face for a kiss. “Then before my aunt returns from the nursery, kiss me, George Wickham, and may you kiss me so well that you even embarrass the devil on your shoulder into good behaviour until tomorrow.”
“Farewell, Aphrodite, until we meet again.” He pressed his lips to Lydia’s, bestowing on her a kiss that would make the devil blush with its heat. It was a warmth that didn’t leave George Wickham for what remained of the day and as the hours passed and dusk descended, still he could feel the soft kiss of Miss Lydia Bennet.
Dinner was taken with one of the men who had been assigned to watch over him, a nice sort of fellow with a military bearing that Wickham had never quite been able to acquire. Sensible too, and possessed of the sort of sensible countenance that befitted a man charged with the safety of Crown subjects, but his conversation was no match for Lydia’s company, and it was she who occupied Wickham when he settled before the hearth with the newspaper, she who was there when he peered out into the darkening street, the thought of their wedding that finally saw him leave the hotel and stride out into the city.
Once upon a time his path would’ve taken him straight to Covent Garden or somewhere like it, to the gaming tables and the drinking dens and the ladies of a certain sort. Yet he had no need for that now, for he had money spare, and no man wanted to drink alone. As for the ladies, charming though they were, they were not Miss Lydia Bennet.
Instead Wickham wandered to a place that he was no stranger to but once he had been merely a wide-eyed lad peering at what he could not have. Now as he strolled along Savile Row, he was not dreaming, he was planning.
Already he knew that he fit in here for the first time, that the cut of his clothes marked him as a man who might conceivably be dressed by Mayfair’s finest. What would George Wickham choose for the wedding day? He knew already, of course, for he had long dreamed of a suit cut and tailored by Stultz, and if not for one’s wedding day, then when? On he walked along Savile Row towards Clifford Street, as excited by the thought of it as Lydia was by her ribbons and lace.
There was behind him, of course, the comforting sense of shadow. That perfectly sensible fellow with whom he had taken his dinner, alert and sober as any man in uniform could be expected to be. He could not hear the steady, even footfalls, but the very fact that he could not hear lent Wickham a deep feeling of confidence. For the first time in his life, others were protecting him, as a man whose contributions to society were valued. The furtive presence at his back drifted in and out of view as he turned occasionally, never looking his direction, and never appearing to notice him… until he did.
Wickham was not looking toward the officer when he heard a dull click, then a man‘s grunt, then an inarticulate cry as someone was giving chase to… what? Whom? Whoever it might be, Wickham wasn’t about to be left behind and he took off after the officer and the figure who was fast disappearing into the dusk. Even at this distance in the gathering shadows Wickham recognised the figure of Lieutenant Bell, the name who wanted him dead. He realised too what that odd click had been, and a cold chill ran through his blood that brought him up sharp.
A gun. A gun that had been fired at him at point blank range and, God bless his fortune once again, had jammed. That alone had saved his life.
And as Wickham realised how close he had just been to death he was sure of something else too: he needed much more protection.
To be continued…