eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 47

"I have been thinking it over again, Elizabeth," said her uncle,
as they drove from the town; "and really, upon serious
consideration, I am much more inclined than I was to judge as
your eldest sister does on the matter. It appears to me so very
unlikely that any young man should form such a design against
a girl who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and who
was actually staying in his colonel's family, that I am strongly
inclined to hope the best. Could he expect that her friends
would not step forward? Could he expect to be noticed again
by the regiment, after such an affront to Colonel Forster? His
temptation is not adequate to the risk!"

"Do you really think so?" cried Elizabeth, brightening up for a
moment.

"Upon my word," said Mrs. Gardiner, "I begin to be of your
uncle's opinion. It is really too great a violation of decency,
honour, and interest, for him to be guilty of. I cannot think so
very ill of Wickham. Can you yourself, Lizzy, so wholly give
him up, as to believe him capable of it?"

"Not, perhaps, of neglecting his own interest; but of every other
neglect I can believe him capable. If, indeed, it should be so!
But I dare not hope it. Why should they not go on to Scotland
if that had been the case?"

"In the first place," replied Mr. Gardiner, "there is no absolute
proof that they are not gone to Scotland."

"Oh! but their removing from the chaise into a hackney coach is
such a presumption! And, besides, no traces of them were to be
found on the Barnet road."

"Well, then-- supposing them to be in London. They may be there,
though for the purpose of concealment, for no more exceptional
purpose. It is not likely that money should be very abundant on
either side; and it might strike them that they could be more
economically, though less expeditiously, married in London
than in Scotland."

But why all this secrecy? Why any fear of detection? Why must
their marriage be private? Oh, no, no-- this is not likely. His
most particular friend, you see by Jane's account, was
persuaded of his never intending to marry her. Wickham will
never marry a woman without some money. He cannot afford
it. And what claims has Lydia-- what attraction has she beyond
youth, health, and good humour that could make him, for her
sake, forego every chance of benefiting himself by marrying
well? As to what restraint the apprehensions of disgrace in the
corps might throw on a dishonourable elopement with her, I am
not able to judge; for I know nothing of the effects that such a
step might produce. But as to your other objection, I am afraid
it will hardly hold good. Lydia has no brothers to step forward;
and he might imagine, from my father's behaviour, from his
indolence and the little attention he has ever seemed to give to
what was going forward in his family, that HE would do as
little, and think as little about it, as any father could do, in such
a matter."

"But can you think that Lydia is so lost to everything but love
of him as to consent to live with him on any terms other than
marriage?"

"It does seem, and it is most shocking indeed," replied Elizabeth,
with tears in her eyes, "that a sister's sense of decency and
virtue in such a point should admit of doubt. But, really, I
know not what to say. Perhaps I am not doing her justice. But
she is very young; she has never been taught to think on
serious subjects; and for the last half-year, nay, for a
twelvemonth-- she has been given up to nothing but amusement
and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in the
most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that
came in her way. Since the ----shire were first quartered in
Meryton, nothing but love, flirtation, and officers have been in
her head. She has been doing everything in her power by
thinking and talking on the subject, to give greater-- what shall
I call it? susceptibility to her feelings; which are naturally lively
enough. And we all know that Wickham has every charm of
person and address that can captivate a woman."

"But you see that Jane," said her aunt, "does not think so very
ill of Wickham as to believe him capable of the attempt."

"Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatever
might be their former conduct, that she would think capable of
such an attempt, till it were proved against them? But Jane
knows, as well as I do, what Wickham really is. We both know
that he has been profligate in every sense of the word; that he
has neither integrity nor honour; that he is as false and deceitful
as he is insinuating."

"And do you really know all this?" cried Mrs. Gardiner, whose
curiosity as to the mode of her intelligence was all alive.

"I do indeed," replied Elizabeth, colouring. "I told you, the
other day, of his infamous behaviour to Mr. Darcy; and you
yourself, when last at Longbourn, heard in what manner he
spoke of the man who had behaved with such forbearance and
liberality towards him. And there are other circumstances which
I am not at liberty-- which it is not worth while to relate; but his
lies about the whole Pemberley family are endless. From what
he said of Miss Darcy I was thoroughly prepared to see a proud,
reserved, disagreeable girl. Yet he knew to the contrary himself.
He must know that she was as amiable and unpretending as we
have found her."

"But does Lydia know nothing of this? can she be ignorant of
what you and Jane seem so well to understand?"

"Oh, yes! that, that is the worst of all. Till I was in Kent, and
saw so much both of Mr. Darcy and his relation Colonel
Fitzwilliam, I was ignorant of the truth myself. And when I
returned home, the ----shire was to leave Meryton in a week or
fortnight's time. As that was the case, neither Jane, to whom I
related the whole, nor I, thought it necessary to make our
knowledge public; for of what use could it apparently be to any
one, that the good opinion which all the neighbourhood had of
him should then be overthrown? And even when it was settled
that Lydia should go with Mrs. Forster, the necessity of opening
her eyes to his character never occurred to me. That SHE could
be in any danger from the deception never entered my head.
That such a consequence as THIS could ensue, you may easily
believe, was far enough from my thoughts."

"When they all removed to Brighton, therefore, you had no
reason, I suppose, to believe them fond of each other?"

"Not the slightest. I can remember no symptom of affection on
either side; and had anything of the kind been perceptible, you
must be aware that ours is not a family on which it could be
thrown away. When first he entered the corps, she was ready
enough to admire him; but so we all were. Every girl in or near
Meryton was out of her senses about him for the first two
months; but he never distinguished HER by any particular
attention; and, consequently, after a moderate period of
extravagant and wild admiration, her fancy for him gave way,
and others of the regiment, who treated her with more
distinction, again became her favourites."


It may be easily believed, that however little of novelty could be
added to their fears, hopes, and conjectures, on this interesting
subject, by its repeated discussion, no other could detain them
from it long, during the whole of the journey. From Elizabeth's
thoughts it was never absent. Fixed there by the keenest of all
anguish, self-reproach, she could find no interval of ease or
forgetfulness.

They travelled as expeditiously as possible, and, sleeping one
night on the road, reached Longbourn by dinner time the next
day. It was a comfort to Elizabeth to consider that Jane could
not have been wearied by long expectations.

The little Gardiners, attracted by the sight of a chaise, were
standing on the steps of the house as they entered the paddock;
and, when the carriage drove up to the door, the joyful surprise
that lighted up their faces, and displayed itself over their whole
bodies, in a variety of capers and frisks, was the first pleasing
earnest of their welcome.

Elizabeth jumped out; and, after giving each of them a hasty
kiss, hurried into the vestibule, where Jane, who came running
down from her mother's apartment, immediately met her.

Elizabeth, as she affectionately embraced her, whilst tears filled
the eyes of both, lost not a moment in asking whether anything
had been heard of the fugitives.

"Not yet," replied Jane. "But now that my dear uncle is come, I
hope everything will be well."

"Is my father in town?"

"Yes, he went on Tuesday, as I wrote you word."

"And have you heard from him often?"

"We have heard only twice. He wrote me a few lines on
Wednesday to say that he had arrived in safety, and to give me
his directions, which I particularly begged him to do. He merely
added that he should not write again till he had something of
importance to mention."

"And my mother-- how is she? How are you all?"

"My mother is tolerably well, I trust; though her spirits are
greatly shaken. She is upstairs and will have great satisfaction
in seeing you all. She does not yet leave her dressing-room.
Mary and Kitty are, thank Heaven, are quite well."

"But you-- how are you?" cried Elizabeth. "You look pale.
How much you must have gone through!"

Her sister, however, assured her of her being perfectly well; and
their conversation, which had been passing while Mr. and Mrs.
Gardiner were engaged with their children,. Was now put an end
to by the approach of the whole party. Jane ran to her uncle and
aunt, and welcomed and thanked them both, with alternate
smiles and tears.

When they were all in the drawing-room, the questions which
Elizabeth had already asked were of course repeated by the
others, and they soon found that Jane had no intelligence to
give. The sanguine hope of good, however, which the
benevolence of her heart suggested had not yet deserted her;
she still expected that it would all end well, and that every
morning would bring some letter, either from Lydia or her
father, to explain their proceedings, and, perhaps, announce
their marriage.

Mrs. Bennet, to whose apartment they all repaired, after a few
minutes' conversation together, received them exactly as might
be expected; with tears and lamentations of regret, invectives
against the villainous conduct of Wickham, and complaints of
her own sufferings and ill-usage; blaming everybody but the
person to whose ill-judging indulgence the errors of her
daughter must principally be owing.

"If I had been able," said she, "to carry my point in going to
Brighton, with all my family, THIS would not have happened;
but poor dear Lydia had nobody to take care of her. Why did
the Forsters ever let her go out of their sight? I am sure there
was some great neglect or other on their side, for she is not the
kind of girl to do such a thing if she had been well looked after.
I always thought they were very unfit to have the charge of her;
but I was overruled, as I always am. Poor dear child! And now
here's Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight
Wickham, wherever he meets him and then he will be killed, and
what is to become of us all? The Collinses will turn us out
before he is cold in his grave, and if you are not kind to us,
brother, I do not know what we shall do."

They all exclaimed against such terrific ideas; and Mr. Gardiner,
after general assurances of his affection for her and all her
family, told her that he meant to be in London the very next day,
and would assist Mr. Bennet in every endeavour for recovering
Lydia.

"Do not give way to useless alarm," added he; "though it is
right to be prepared for the worst, there is no occasion to look
on it a certain. It is not quite a week since they left Brighton.
In a few days more we may gain some news of them; and till we
know that they are not married, and have no design of marrying,
do not let us give the matter over as lost. As soon as I get to
town I shall go to my brother, and make him come home with
me to Gracechurch Street; and then we may consult together as
to what is to be done."

"Oh! my dear brother," replied Mrs. Bennet, "that is exactly
what I could most wish for. And now do, when you get to
town, find them out, wherever they may be; and if they are not
married already, MAKE them marry. And as for wedding
clothes, do not let them wait for that, but tell Lydia she shall
have as much money as she chooses to buy them, after they
are married. And, above all, keep Mr. Bennet from fighting.
Tell him what a dreadful state I am in, that I am frighted out
of my wits-- and have such tremblings, such flutterings, all
over me-- such spasms in my side and pains in my head, and
such beatings at heart, that I can get no rest by night nor by day.
And tell my dear Lydia not to give any directions about her
clothes till she has seen me, for she does not know which are
the best warehouses. Oh, brother, how kind you are! I know
you will contrive it all."

But Mr. Gardiner, though he assured her again of his earnest
endeavours in the cause, could not avoid recommending
moderation to her, as well in her hopes as her fear; and after
talking with her in this manner till dinner was on the table, they
all left her to vent all her feelings on the housekeeper, who
attended in the absence of her daughters.

Though her brother and sister were persuaded that there was no
real occasion for such a seclusion from the family, they did not
attempt to oppose it, for they knew that she had not prudence
enough to hold her tongue before the servants, while they
waited at table, and judged it better that ONE only of the
household, and the one whom they could most trust should
comprehend all her fears and solicitude on the subject.

In the dining-room they were soon joined by Mary and Kitty,
who had been too busily engaged in their separate apartments
to make their appearance before. One came from her books,
and the other from her toilette. The faces of both, however,
were tolerably calm; and no change was visible in either, except
that the loss of her favourite sister, or the anger which she had
herself incurred in this business, had given more of fretfulness
than usual to the accents of Kitty. As for Mary, she was
mistress enough of herself to whisper to Elizabeth, with a
countenance of grave reflection, soon after they were seated at
table:

"This is a most unfortunate affair, and will probably be much
talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into
the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly
consolation."

Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she
added, "Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw
from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is
irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin;
that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that
she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the
undeserving of the other sex."

Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too much
oppressed to make any reply. Mary, however, continued to
console herself with such kind of moral extractions from the evil
before them.

In the afternoon, the two elder Miss Bennets were able to be for
half-an-hour by themselves; and Elizabeth instantly availed
herself of the opportunity of making any inquiries, which Jane
was equally eager to satisfy. After joining in general
lamentations over the dreadful sequel of this event, which
Elizabeth considered as all but certain, and Miss Bennet could
not assert to be wholly impossible, the former continued the
subject, by saying, "But tell me all and everything about it which
I have not already heard. Give me further particulars. What did
Colonel Forster say? Had they no apprehension of anything
before the elopement took place? They must have seen them
together for ever."

"Colonel Forster did own that he had often suspected some
partiality, especially on Lydia's side, but nothing to give him any
alarm. I am so grieved for him! His behaviour was attentive and
kind to the utmost. He WAS coming to us, in order to assure us
of his concern, before he had any idea of their not being gone to
Scotland: when that apprehension first got abroad, it hastened
his journey."

"And was Denny convinced that Wickham would not marry?
Did he know of their intending to go off? Had Colonel Forster
seen Denny himself?"

"Yes; but, when questioned by HIM, Denny denied knowing
anything of their plans, and would not give his real opinion
about it. He did not repeat his persuasion of their not
marrying-- and from THAT, I am inclined to hope, he might
have been misunderstood before."

"And till Colonel Forster came himself, not one of you
entertained a doubt, I suppose, of their being really married?"

"How was it possible that such an idea should enter our brains?
I felt a little uneasy-- a little fearful of my sister's happiness with
him in marriage, because I knew that his conduct had not been
always quite right. My father and mother knew nothing of that;
they only felt how imprudent a match it must be. Kitty then
owned, with a very natural triumph on knowing more than the
rest of us, that in Lydia's last letter she had prepared her for
such a step. She had known, it seems, of their being in love with
each other, many weeks."

"But not before they went to Brighton?"

"No, I believe not."

"And did Colonel Forster appear to think well of Wickham
himself? Does he know he real character?"

"I must confess that he did not speak so well of Wickham as he
formerly did. He believed him to be imprudent and extravagant.
And since this sad affair has taken place, it is said that he left
Meryton greatly in debt; but I hope this may be false."

"Oh, Jane, had we been less secret, had we told what we knew
of him, this could not have happened!"

"Perhaps it would have been better," replied her sister. "But to
expose the former faults of any person without knowing what
their present feelings were, seemed unjustifiable. We acted with
the best intentions."

"Could Colonel Forster repeat the particulars of Lydia's note to
his wife?"

"He brought it with him for us to see."

Jane then took it from her pocket-book, and gave it to Elizabeth.
These were the contents:

"MY DEAR HARRIET,--
"You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot
help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as
soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you
cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there
is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should
never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You
need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do
not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write
to them and sign my name 'Lydia Wickham.' What a good joke
it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray make my
excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement, and dancing
with him to-night. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when he
knows all; and tell him I will dance with him at the next ball we
meet, with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I
get to Longbourn; but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a
great slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up.
Good-bye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will
drink to our good journey. Your affectionate friend,
"Lydia Bennet."

"Oh! thoughtless, thoughtless Lydia!" cried Elizabeth when she
had finished it. What a letter is this, to be written at such a
moment! But at least it shows that SHE was serious on the
subject of their journey. Whatever he might afterwards
persuade her to, it was not on her side a SCHEME of
infamy. My poor father! how he must have felt it!"

I never saw any one so shocked. He could not speak a word
for full ten minutes. My mother was taken ill immediately, and
the whole house in such confusion!"

"Oh! Jane," cried Elizabeth, "was there a servant belonging to it
who did not know the whole story before the end of the day?"

"I do not know. I hope there was. But to be guarded at such a
time is very difficult. My mother was in hysterics, and though I
endeavoured to give her every assistance in my power, I am
afraid I did not do so much as I might have done! But the
horror of what might possibly happen almost took from me
my faculties."

"Your attendance upon her has been too much for you. You do
not look well. Oh that I had been with you! you have had every
care and anxiety upon yourself alone."

"Mary and Kitty have been very kind, and would have shared in
every fatigue, I am sure; but I did not think it right for either of
them. Kitty is slight and delicate; and Mary studies so much,
that her hours of repose should not be broken in on. My aunt
Phillips came to Longbourn on Tuesday, after my father went
away; and was so good as to stay till Thursday with me. She
was of great use and comfort to us all. And Lady Lucas has
been very kind; she walked here on Wednesday morning to
condole with us, and offered her services, or any of her
daughters', if they should be of use to us."

"She had better have stayed at home," cried Elizabeth; "perhaps
she MEANT well, but, under such a misfortune as this, one
cannot see too little of one's neighbours. Assistance is
impossible; condolence insufferable. Let them triumph over us
at a distance, and be satisfied."

She then proceeded to inquire into the measures which her
father had intended to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of
his daughter.

"He meant I believe," replied Jane, "to go to Epsom, the place
where they last changed horses, see the postilions and try if
anything could be made out from them. His principal object
must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which
took them from Clapham. It had come with a fare from
London; and as he thought that the circumstance of a
gentleman and lady's removing from one carriage into another
might be remarked he meant to make inquiries at Clapham. If
he could anyhow discover at what house the coachman had
before set down his fare, he determined to make inquiries there,
and hoped it might not be impossible to find out the stand and
number of the coach. I do not know of any other designs that
he had formed; but he was in such a hurry to be gone, and his
spirits so greatly discomposed, that I had difficulty in finding
out even so much as this."





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
Nabou.com: the big site