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Chapter 46

Elizabeth had been a good deal disappointed in not finding a letter from Jane on their first arrival
at Lambton; and this disappointment had been renewed on each of the mornings that had now
been spent there; but on the third her repining was over, and her sister justified, by the receipt of
two letters from her at once, on one of which was marked that it had been missent elsewhere.
Elizabeth was not surprised at it, as Jane had written the direction remarkably ill.

They had just been preparing to walk as the letters came in; and her uncle and aunt, leaving her to
enjoy them in quiet, set off by themselves. The one missent must first be attended to; it had been
written five days ago. The beginning contained an account of
all their little parties and engagements, with such news as the
country afforded; but the latter half, which was dated a day
later, and written in evident agitation, gave more important
intelligence. It was to this effect:

"Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred
of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of
alarming you-- be assured that we are all well. What I have to
say relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night,
just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to
inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his
officers; to own the truth, with Wickham! Imagine our surprise.
To Kitty, however, it does not seem so wholly unexpected. I
am very, very sorry. So imprudent a match on both sides! But I
am willing to hope the best, and that his character has been
misunderstood. Thoughtless and indiscreet I can easily believe
him, but this step (and let us rejoice over it) marks nothing bad
at heart. His choice is disinterested at least, for he must know
my father can give her nothing. Our poor mother is sadly
grieved. My father bears it better. How thankful am I that we
never let them know what has been said against him! we must
forget it ourselves. They were off Saturday night about twelve,
as is conjectured, but were not missed till yesterday morning at
eight. The express was sent off directly. My dear Lizzy, they
must have passed within ten miles of us. Colonel Forster gives
us reason to expect him here soon. Lydia left a few lines for his
wife, informing her of their intention. I must conclude, for I
cannot be long from my poor mother. I am afraid you will not
be able to make it out, but I hardly know what I have written."

Without allowing herself time for consideration, and scarcely
knowing what she felt, Elizabeth on finishing this letter instantly
seized the other, and opening it with the utmost impatience, read
as follows: it had been written a day later than the conclusion of
the first.

"By this time, my dearest sister, you have received my hurried
letter; I wish this may be more intelligible, but though not
confined for time, my head is so bewildered that I cannot answer
for being coherent. Dearest Lizzy, I hardly know what I would
write, but I have bad news for you, and it cannot be delayed.
Imprudent as the marriage between Mr. Wickham and our poor
Lydia would be, we are now anxious to be assured it has taken
place, for there is but too much reason to fear they are not gone
to Scotland. Colonel Forster came yesterday, having left
Brighton the day before, not many hours after the express.
Though Lydia's short letter to Mrs. F. gave them to understand
that they were going to Gretna Green, something was dropped
by Denny expressing his belief that W. never intended to go
there, or to marry Lydia at all, which was repeated to Colonel
F., who, instantly taking the alarm, set off from B., intending to
trace their route. He did trace them easily to Clapham, but no
further; for on entering that place, they removed into a hackney
coach, and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom.
All that is known after this is, that they were seen to continue
the London road. I know not what to think. After making
every possible inquiry on that side London, Colonel F. came on
into Hertfordshire, anxiously renewing them at all the turnpikes,
and at the inns in Barnet and Hatfield, but without any success--
no such people had been seen to pass through. With the kindest
concern he came on to Longbourn, and broke his apprehensions
to us in a manner most creditable to his heart. I am sincerely
grieved for him and Mrs. F., but no one can throw any blame
on them. Our distress, my dear Lizzy, is very great. My father
and mother believe the worst, but I cannot think so ill of him.
Many circumstances might make it more eligible for them to be
married privately in town than to pursue their first plan; and even
if HE could form such a design against a young woman of
Lydia's connections, which is not likely, can I suppose her so
lost to everything? Impossible! I grieve to find, however, that
Colonel F. is not disposed to depend upon their marriage; he
shook his head when I expressed my hopes, and said he fear W.
was not a man to be trusted. My poor mother is really ill, and
keeps her room. Could she exert herself, it would be better; but
this is not to be expected. And as to my father, I never in my
life saw him so affected. Poor Kitty has anger for having
concealed their attachment; but as it was a matter of confidence,
one cannot wonder. I am truly glad, dearest Lizzy, that you
have been spared something of these distressing scenes; but
now, as the first shock is over, shall I own that I long for your
return? I am not so selfish, however, as to press for it, if
inconvenient. Adieu! I take up my pen again to do what I
have just told you I would not; but circumstances are such that
I cannot help earnestly begging you all to come here as soon as
possible. I know my dear uncle and aunt so well, that I am not
afraid of requesting it, though I have still something more to
ask of the former. My father is going to London with Colonel
Forster instantly, to try to discover her. What he means to do
I am sure I know not; but his excessive distress will not allow
him to pursue any measure in the best and safest way, and
Colonel Forster is obliged to be at Brighton again to-morrow
evening. In such and exigence, my uncle's advice and assistance
would be everything in the world; he will immediately
comprehend what I must feel, and I rely upon his goodness."

"Oh! where, where is my uncle?" cried Elizabeth, darting from
her seat as she finished the letter, in eagerness to follow him,
without losing a moment of the time so precious; but as she
reached the door it was opened by a servant, and Mr. Darcy
appeared. Her pale face and impetuous manner made him start,
and before he could recover himself to speak, she, in whose
mind every idea was superseded by Lydia's situation, hastily
exclaimed, "I beg your pardon, but I must leave you. I must
find Mr. Gardiner this moment, on business that cannot be
delayed; I have not an instant to loose."

"Good God! what is the matter?" cried he, with more feeling
than politeness; then recollecting himself, "I will not detain you
a minute; but let me, or let the servant go after Mr. and Mrs.
Gardiner. You are not well enough; you cannot go yourself."

Elizabeth hesitated, but her knees trembled under her and she
felt how little would be gained by her attempting to pursue them.
Calling back the servant, therefore, she commissioned him,
though in so breathless an accent as made her almost
unintelligible, to fetch his master and mistress home instantly.

On his quitting the room she sat down, unable to support
herself, and looking so miserably ill, that it was impossible for
Darcy to leave her, or to refrain from saying, in a tone of
gentleness and commiseration, "Let me call your maid. Is
there nothing you could take to give you present relief? A
glass of wine; shall I get you one? You are very ill."

"No, I thank you," she replied, endeavouring to recover herself.
"There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well; I am
only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just
received from Longbourn."

She burst into tears as she alluded to it, and for a few minutes
could not speak another word. Darcy, in wretched suspense,
could only say something indistinctly of his concern, and
observe her in compassionate silence. At length she spoke
again. "I have just had a letter from Jane, with such dreadful
news. It cannot be concealed from any one. My younger sister
has left all her friends-- has eloped; has thrown herself into the
power of-- of Mr. Wickham. They are gone off together from
Brighton. YOU know him too well to doubt the rest. She has
no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to-- she
is lost for ever."

Darcy was fixed in astonishment. "When I consider," she added
in a yet more agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it!
I, who knew what he was. Had I but explained some part of
it only-- some part of what I learnt, to my own family! Had his
character been known, this could not have happened. But it is
all-- all too late now."

"I am grieved indeed," cried Darcy; "grieved-- shocked. But is
it certain-- absolutely certain?"

"Oh, yes! They left Brighton together on Sunday night, and
were traced almost to London, but not beyond; they are
certainly not gone to Scotland."

"And what has been done, what has been attempted, to recover
her?"

"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my
uncle's immediate assistance; and we shall be off, I hope, in
half-an-hour. But nothing can be done-- I know very well that
nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on?
How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest
hope. It is every way horrible!"

Darcy shook his head in silent acquiescence.

"When MY eyes were opened to his real character-- Oh! had I
known what I ought, what I dared to do! But I knew not-- I
was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched mistake!"

Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, and
was walking up and down the room in earnest meditation, his
brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed, and
instantly understood it. Her power was sinking; everything
MUST sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an
assurance of the deepest disgrace. She could neither wonder
nor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought nothing
to her consolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of her
distress. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to make her
understand her own wishes; and never had she so honestly felt
that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be
vain.

But self, though it would intrude, could not engross her. Lydia--
the humiliation, the misery she was bringing on them all, soon
swallowed up every private care; and covering her face with her
handkerchief, Elizabeth was soon lost to everything else; and,
after a pause of several minutes, was only recalled to a sense of
her situation by the voice of her companion, who, in a manner
which, though it spoke compassion, spoke likewise restraint,
said, "I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence, nor
have I anything to plead in excuse of my stay, but real, though
unavailing concern. Would to Heaven that anything could be
either said or done on my part that might offer consolation to
such distress! But I will not torment you with vain wishes,
which may seem purposely to ask for your thanks. This
unfortunate affair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the
pleasure of seeing you at Pemberley to-day."

"Oh, yes. Be so kind as to apologise for us to Miss Darcy. Say
that urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal the
unhappy truth as long as it is possible, I know it cannot be long."

He readily assured her of his secrecy; again expressed his
sorrow for her distress, wished it a happier conclusion than
there was at present reason to hope, and leaving his
compliments for her relations, with only one serious, parting
look went away.

As he quitted the room, Elizabeth felt how improbable it was
that they should ever see each other again on such terms of
cordiality as had marked their several meetings in Derbyshire;
and as she threw a retrospective glance over the whole of their
acquaintance, so full of contradictions and varieties, sighed at
the perverseness of those feelings which would now have
promoted its continuance, and would formerly have rejoiced in
its termination.

If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection,
Elizabeth's change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor
faulty. But if otherwise-- if regard springing from such sources
is unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what is so often
described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even
before two words have been exchanged, nothing can be said in
her defence, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to the
latter method in her partiality for Wickham, and that its ill
success might, perhaps, authorise her to seek the other less
interesting mode of attachment. Be that as it may, she saw him
go with regret; and in this early example of what Lydia's infamy
must produce, found additional anguish as she reflected on that
wretched business. Never, since reading Jane's second letter,
had she entertained a hope of Wickham's meaning to marry her.
No one but Jane, she thought, could flatter herself with such an
expectation. Surprise was the least of her feelings on this
development. While the contents of the first letter remained in
her mind, she was all surprise-- all astonishment that Wickham
should marry a girl whom it was impossible he could marry for
money; and how Lydia could ever have attached him had
appeared incomprehensible. But no it was all too natural. For
such an attachment as this she might have sufficient charm; and
though she did not suppose Lydia to be deliberately engaging in
an elopement without the intention of marriage, she had no
difficulty in believing that neither her virtue nor her
understanding would preserve her from falling an easy prey.

She had never perceived, while the regiment was in
Hertfordshire, that Lydia had any partiality for him; but she was
convinced that Lydia wanted only encouragement to attach
herself to anybody. Sometimes one officer, sometimes another,
had been her favourite, as their attentions raised them in her
opinion. Her affections had continually been fluctuating but
never without an object. The mischief of neglect and mistaken
indulgence towards such a girl-- oh! how acutely did she now
feel it!

She was wild to be at home-- to hear, to see, to be upon the
spot to share with Jane in the cares that must now fall wholly
upon her, in a family so deranged, a father absent, a mother
incapable of exertion, and requiring constant attendance; and
though almost persuaded that nothing could be done for Lydia,
her uncle's interference seemed of the utmost importance, and
till he entered the room her impatience was severe. Mr. and
Mrs. Gardiner had hurried back in alarm, supposing by the
servant's account that their niece was taken suddenly ill; but
satisfying them instantly on that head, she eagerly communicated
the cause of their summons, reading the two letters aloud, and
dwelling on the postscript of the last with trembling energy,
though Lydia had never been a favourite with them, Mr. and
Mrs. Gardiner could not but be deeply afflicted. Not Lydia
only, but all were concerned in it; and after the first
exclamations of surprise and horror, Mr. Gardiner promised
every assistance in his power. Elizabeth, though expecting no
less, thanked him with tears of gratitude; and all three being
actuated by one spirit, everything relating to their journey was
speedily settled. They were to be off as soon as possible. "But
what is to be done about Pemberley?" cried Mrs. Gardiner.
"John told us Mr. Darcy was here when you sent for us; was it
so?"

"Yes; and I told him we should not be able to keep our
engagement. THAT is all settled."

"What is all settled?" repeated the other, as she ran into her
room to prepare. "And are they upon such terms as for her to
disclose the real truth? Oh, that I knew how it was!"

But wishes were vain, or at least could only serve to amuse her
in the hurry and confusion of the following hour. Had Elizabeth
been at leisure to be idle, she would have remained certain that
all employment was impossible to one so wretched as herself;
but she had her share of business as well as her aunt, and
amongst the rest there were notes to be written to all their
friends at Lambton, with false excuses for their sudden
departure. An hour, however, saw the whole completed; and
Mr. Gardiner meanwhile having settled his account at the inn,
nothing remained to be done but to go; and Elizabeth, after all
the misery of the morning, found herself, in a shorter space of
time than she could have supposed, seated in the carriage, and
on the road to Longbourn.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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