In the bucolic late 18th Century English countryside, the Reverend Tobias Whitmore, Vicar of St. Margaret’s, is happily settled with his lovely wife Lucy and their baby son Jamie. However, a chance trip for the couple to the genteel spa town of Bath provides up all sorts of unexpected opportunities for romps and frolics, to Tobias’ eternal surprise.
The Whitmores’ dear friend Meg is out of sorts and unsure of direction in her prosperous life as a medium-grade courtesan. Her visit away to distract herself from her megrims takes to her to the seafaring city of Bristol to reunite with her good friend Betty. She also attracts the admiration of Merchant Seaman Alex Marriott. But is Alex all he seems? And should Meg risk her secure existence all on the dice of romance?
Before they knew it, they were in the last few days of their visit and trying to fit in all the things they had promised themselves to do. One morning, after the Pump Room ritual, the pair walked up the hill to admire the finished splendour of the Royal Crescent, sitting grandly above the town.
Having marvelled over this feat of architecture, they strolled back through the open ground of Barton Fields, as a change from traversing the streets. Several other couples were enjoying this pleasant exercise in the autumn sunshine, so Tobias reckoned they had inadvertently joined in with another of Bath’s popular social activities.
He was enjoying the fresh air on his face and half-listening to Lucy’s recital of a shopping expedition with Betty. After relating various successes, she finished with, “She knew exactly which place to go to for the yarn Mama asked me to get, so I have my list nearly complete, thanks to her.”
Tobias, busy looking at the views around him, did not notice her hesitation and change of tone as she continued in a slight rush, “We have also been talking about other things too, more personal matters, and as a result, I thought it might be enjoyable if we could go to bed with another woman, perhaps Betty herself.”
Tobias blinked, not quite believing his ears.
“I mean,” his wife continued, “both Betty and Meg say it’s a most diverting experience.”
Tobias' voice went up several octaves. “Lucy!” He squeaked, looking over his shoulder in an exaggerated fashion that would not be out of place on the stage of the Theatre Royal.
At his apparent affront at her tentative suggestion, Lucy’s bright expression slipped. “I’m sorry,” she said in a very subdued voice. “I thought you might like the idea.”
Tobias quickly pulled himself together and tried to save the situation, not only to restore his wife’s dashed confidence but also to rescue a very promising amorous opportunity.
“I do like the idea,” he said immediately. “I was taken by surprise, that’s all. And worried we might be overheard.” With that, he manfully restrained himself from furtively glancing about again.
“Oh,” Lucy said, looking around at the other walkers in a measured way. “They’re all too interested in their affairs to bother with ours. And anyway,” she added viewing a couple more closely. “I’m the only woman promenading with a husband, or should I say, her own husband.”
The misunderstanding having been resolved, they walked along arm in arm. Tobias asked curiously, “Why bring this up now?” He was thinking rather ruefully that if this had been broached in the privacy of their bedroom it might have led to hours of interesting and active speculation.
Lucy sighed, “No reason in particular. It must be a sudden opportunity, I suppose. It hasn’t occurred to me before and, having talked it over with Betty, who was most persuasive, I thought it might be pleasurable for us both,” she squeezed his arm.
She continued thoughtfully, “At home, proprieties always have to be observed. After all, I’m the Holbournes’ eldest daughter, the vicar’s wife and Jamie’s mother. Not that I don’t love being those things,” she added quickly. “But here, I’m merely another girl passing through and no one cares who I am or what I do.”
Tobias glanced at his wife with some sympathy. There were no secrets between them regarding his libidinous activities before their marriage and he was sure Meg had confided in Lucy far past the point of diplomacy. His discreet adventures, if discovered at the time, would not necessarily be condemned outright, apart from by his mama.
There might have been a sneaking sympathy, particularly from other gentlemen, that a young man must sow his wild oats. However, a carefully brought up young lady like Lucy would have no such moral leeway. He could understand her wanting to grasp a little wanton freedom when she had the chance, especially as it was guaranteed to be a delight for him too.
He stopped and put his arm around her waist. “Whatever you wish, my love. If you think it would be an experience you would care for, then we shall appreciate it together. If not, well, it is entirely your choice.” He kissed her soft cheek below her bonnet, and then briefly pecked her on the lips. They looked deep into each other’s eyes, smiled, and continued their pastoral perambulation in perfect accord.