Lydia is in Brighton as Mrs. Forster’s particular guest. She is having a wonderful time with all the soldiers paying to her – especially Mr. Wickham.
July 30, 1812
“George!” Lydia waved her hand excitedly. “Over here!” She placed both hands over her heart when she saw him look up and smile at her as he hurried to her side.
“Lydia! What brings you to the Steine? Is it the shops or the view of the sea?”
The young girl smiled and let out a laugh. “Both! You know I love looking out at the sea and shopping!” She gave a sideways glance at Mr. Wickham. “And what brings you here?”
“Do you really have to ask?” He raised a single brow. “I hoped to encounter a lovely young lady!”
Lydia giggled and looked at him coyly. “And did you find one?”
“I most certainly did!” Wickham bowed over her gloved hand and pressed his lips to the back of it.
“You are such a tease!”
Wickham smiled and leaned in close. “You have not come all this way without a chaperone, have you? I shall have to speak with Colonel Forster if you have.”
Lydia waved a hand through the air. “Of course not. Harriet… Mrs. Forster is still in the tea shop. I prefer the millinery shops and am eager to go to the one down the road.”
The teasing smile briefly vanished from Wickham’s face, but it quickly returned. “Would you allow me to escort you?” He held out his arm to her.
Lydia dipped a rather deep curtsey. “I would be honoured.” She took his arm and they began walking.
“I think I could stay in Brighton forever!” Lydia said as she looked out at the sea. “On days like this when the weather is mild and the sky and water are so blue…” She paused and drew in a deep breath.
“Really?” A look of disappointment crossed Wickham’s face.
“Why would I not? It is lovely here! There is nothing like it in Hertfordshire!”
“Ah, but there are so many other grand places to see.” Wickham cast a sidelong glance at her. “In fact, I have big plans to see the world! I would much prefer to travel than remain in one place!”
Lydia smiled and let out a long sigh. “Oh, how I envy you! I only wish I could, as well!”
Wickham stopped and looked about him, before turning back to Lydia. “What is preventing you from doing so?”
Lydia shrugged. “I suppose I never really gave it much thought.” She tilted her head and looked at him mournfully. “But I cannot travel alone, and there is no one who could accompany me.”
Wickham leaned in. “Perhaps you can see the world with me!
Lydia drew back with a look of surprise. She then gave him a playful smile. “Oh, you are teasing me again, George!”
“Me? Tease you? I am in all earnest!”
Lydia’s heart began to pound and she felt a most delightful fluttering deep within. His eyes held hers with a piercing glint, and his smile assured her that his feelings were as deep as hers were for him.
“But how long must you wait before you are free to travel? How long must you serve in the Regiment?”
Wickham waved a hand through the air. “Being in the Regiment is not at all what I expected or hoped it would be. It has become more tedious than I can bear. I plan to depart at midnight in two days.”
Lydia tightened her arm about Wickham’s. “You cannot leave! I cannot bear the thought!”
Again he smiled. “Oh, my dear Lydia, I would never leave you. Would you do me the honour of accompanying me? I can think of no one I would rather see the world with than you!” He gave her a pointed look. “Please say you will go with me!”
Lydia’s breath caught. “Go with you?” The mere thought of departing with him brought upon a violent trembling – almost as if she were nervous, but no, these were certainly the pangs of true love! Finally, she stammered, “George, does this mean what I think it means?”
“Oh, my precious Lydia! Do you not even know me? Of course it does!” He leaned it to her. “What do you say? Will you make me the happiest man and join me on an adventure that will make every one of our acquaintances envious?”
Lydia began to slowly nod her head as she pondered this. Finally, with an emphatic nod, she cried, “Yes! Yes! Oh, George! I cannot wait! Must we even wait two days?”
“Yes, unfortunately we must. But can I trust that you will tell no one? Especially Mrs. Forster.”
“Oh, I will try to keep it from her! But it shall be so hard! May I leave a letter? It will not be found until we are long gone.” She drew in a deep breath. “Mrs. Forster and I have been quite at leisure in starting our day. She will sleep until ten o’clock if she has no appointments, sometimes later.”
“If you feel you must, but remember, you cannot speak of it to anyone!”
“Oh, you know I will not!”
“Good. I will come for you precisely at midnight. Be ready with a small satchel. You will not need much.” Wickham prodded her to begin walking again.
“But I must have some nice things!”
Wickham patted her hand and looked down at her. “Fear not, my dear. We shall have all we need.”
“But will we go first to London? They have the best shops and then, I imagine, we shall head north to Gretna Greene. We shall…” Lydia was stopped at the sound of Mrs. Forster calling her name.
As Wickham and Lydia turned back to see her hurrying towards them, Wickham admonished Lydia again. “Remember, do not mention this to anyone! This is our secret!”
“Yes!” Lydia concurred, her excitement building. “Our most wonderful secret!”