Today we begin three parts of a story about Lydia and her shocking relations with Wickham that (some would say unfortunately) led to their wedding. A preface to this tale was posted on August 24, 2015, so you may like to go back to prepare yourself!
About a month after Lydia’s removal to Brighton, Mr. Wickham sauntered into a handsome suite attached to the Prince Regent’s palatial quarters in Marine Parade. It was not where a young officer of a common militia regiment might expect to be admitted, but when he asked for Mrs. Younge, the servant girl dimpled at his handsome face, and admitted him.
The lady, an elegant slender creature between thirty and forty attired in fashionable muslin with crimped hair looked up from her delicate carved writing-desk, with recognition, but did not rise, though her eye-brows did.
“George Wickham! As I live and breathe. Well, this is a nice surprise, I don’t think.”
“I thought you might be glad to see me, Penelope,” he said gracefully, in a warm tone, as if they had not parted long.
“What? After that fiasco? All our plans – ruined. I was out a pretty penny, I can tell you, and all came to nothing.”
“There was always some risk, you knew that,” he countered, with a gentle smile on his handsome face. “We were within only a few hours of Georgiana flying with me – and oh, what revenge upon Darcy it would have been, and what money would have been ours! She was worth at least thirty thousand pounds, and you know I always meant to divide it with you, Penelope.”
“To be sure you did.” She regarded him ironically. “It is easy to divide money we did not obtain. And who spoilt it all, pray, can you tell me that?”
“You know very well it was the girl herself. I could not control her entirely. I awakened her early love for me, yes, and thought it was enough; but she was cursed with a conscience.”
“And now you have come to remind me of that unhappy episode?” she asked, taking up her pen again, her impatience starting to show itself.
“No. Not at all. I do not like to think of it myself, and I am most unhappy about the whole thing, and should like to forget it.”
He sank into the velvet easy chair before her, and lounged, his hands in his pockets, a smile passing over his handsome features, as he looked about the room, at the gilding, and ormolu, and fine French paintings. “You seem to have done pretty well for yourself, Penelope. You do not appear to need Mr. Darcy’s shekels. Attached to the Prince Regent, are you? Pretty preferment.”
A little colour came to her pale features. “Don’t be absurd, Wickham. I am not His Royal Highness’s mistress, and never was. He likes his bed-girls young, and I know where they are to be found.”
Wickham raised his eyebrows. “Young. Like your name? A good advertisement.”
“If you like. Brighton, however, is all a-boom, in the underworld trades; there is money to be made. It is the place to be. Why, not even counting the girls at the camp, in the tents – and each soldier seems to have his own, do not you?”
“We’ll get to that,” said Wickham, with a smile.
“There are at least three hundred superior Cyprians in this part of the town alone, in service to the men about the Prince. I am in charge of a good many of them,” she finished complacently.
“So, you have landed on your feet, and got over the disappointment in Mr. Darcy’s riches.”
“I have,” she answered. “It was always you who hated him and wanted revenge, and from the looks of things, I have done the better. What are you, a militia-man? Is that the best you could do?” She lifted a scornful eyebrow.
“Don’t laugh at me, Pen. I remember when you were wearing a meek little black gown so as to pass yourself off as a learned governess, to be hired as Miss Georgiana Darcy’s cicerone. There’s embarrassment for you.”
She shrugged. “It is past; I have forgotten it. Things are better with me now. And why do you seek me? We have not been engaged together in anything so successful that you would want me to remember.”
“No,” he agreed, “but I remember you were canny enough in the previous matter, and – I have a bit of trouble of the same sort, again.”
“I might have known, it would be a young lady,” she sighed, rolling her great grey eyes resignedly. “Well, go ahead, tell me about it.”
“It is this way. I am being monopolised by a young miss who is absolutely in love with me and will hear no refusal; she wants to run away with me.”
“Does she? Well, let us get down to brass tacks. How much money does she have?”
“Nothing. That’s the problem.”
“That is a hopeless business then. Why do you come to ask me about it?”
“I thought I might bring her to you, and then when her family come after her, there might be a thousand or two to make, and we could give her back to them.”
“But why would they pay, when she can never be respectable again? She never will deserve a good name, if she has been your mistress.”Wickham twiddled uneasily with the frogging on his jacket. “They would pay if I promised to marry her, so we would get something; but of course, I would not be so mad as to marry her.”
“I should hope not! You must hold out for a girl of no less than ten thousand. You cannot afford to marry for less.”
“If not more. I still hope to find her, but here’s a thought – once I get the thousand or so I can screw out of her family, why, you can keep the girl.”
“Me? What do I want with such a simpleton?” She thought a moment. “How old is she?”
“She was just sixteen a month ago.”
“Is she handsome?”
“Quite. A tall, bonny lass, with blue eyes, yellow hair, and an easy temper.”
“You think His Royal Highness would find her to his taste? Young, and a good figure, you say?”
“Oh yes. Stout and well grown.”
“But then she’s not a virgin. He likes virgins.”
He waved his hand. “Never mind; I have broken her in and taught her something better. I’m sure you can get a pretty sum for her – you would know better than I.”
“I have to admit there is something in your story. I may be a fool, but I will go for it. Do you remember that I keep a series of lodging-houses in London? Not far from Kensington Palace, for obvious reasons.”
“Of course. Will I forget? So I shall take her there?”
“I think it best. I will go first, and meet you. She probably ought not be housed in my principal house in Edward-street, but I have other property available. When were you wanting to fly with her?”
“Almost at once. I have very pressing debts. The truth is, to be perfectly sincere, Penelope, I have made the town too hot to hold me.”
“I have no reason to doubt that. Why would you change your colours? Well, you shall quit Brighton. Take the girl, if you will – have you money for a carriage? No? I thought not – I will give you some pocket-money. Let us meet in Green Street next week, and once we have settled up, I will take the girl and bring her back here.”
“I knew I could count on you, Penelope.”
“Well, you owe me something, you know, Wickham. By the way, what is the girl’s name?”
“Very well. Now be very sure, Wickham, that this goes better than last time.”
“It will of course. What could go wrong?”