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CHAPTER 51

THEIR sister's wedding day arrived; and Jane and Elizabeth felt
for her probably more than she felt for herself. The carriage
was sent to meet them at ----, and they were to return in it by
dinner-time. Their arrival was dreaded by the elder Miss
Bennets, and Jane more especially, who gave Lydia the feelings
which would have attended herself, had she been the culprit,
and was wretched in the thought of what her sister must endure.

They came. The family were assembled in the breakfast room to
receive them. Smiles decked the face of Mrs. Bennet as the
carriage drove up to the door; her husband looked impenetrably
grave; her daughters, alarmed, anxious, uneasy.

Lydia's voice was heard in the vestibule; the door was thrown
open, and she ran into the room. Her mother stepped forwards,
embraced her, and welcomed her with rapture; gave her hand,
with an affectionate smile, to Wickham, who followed his lady;
and wished them both joy with an alacrity which shewed no doubt
of their happiness.

Their reception from Mr. Bennet, to whom they then turned,
was not quite so cordial. His countenance rather gained in
austerity; and he scarcely opened his lips. The easy
assurance of the young couple, indeed, was enough to provoke
him. Elizabeth was disgusted, and even Miss Bennet was
shocked. Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild,
noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister,
demanding their congratulations; and when at length they all
sat down, looked eagerly round the room, took notice of some
little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it
was a great while since she had been there.

Wickham was not at all more distressed than herself, but his
manners were always so pleasing, that had his character and his
marriage been exactly what they ought, his smiles and his easy
address, while he claimed their relationship, would have
delighted them all. Elizabeth had not before believed him
quite equal to such assurance; but she sat down, resolving
within herself to draw no limits in future to the impudence of
an impudent man. She blushed, and Jane blushed; but the
cheeks of the two who caused their confusion suffered no
variation of colour.

There was no want of discourse. The bride and her mother could
neither of them talk fast enough; and Wickham, who happened to
sit near Elizabeth, began enquiring after his acquaintance in
that neighbourhood, with a good humoured ease which she felt
very unable to equal in her replies. They seemed each of them
to have the happiest memories in the world. Nothing of the
past was recollected with pain; and Lydia led voluntarily to
subjects which her sisters would not have alluded to for the
world.

"Only think of its being three months," she cried, "since I
went away; it seems but a fortnight I declare; and yet there
have been things enough happened in the time. Good gracious!
when I went away, I am sure I had no more idea of being married
till I came back again! though I thought it would be very good
fun if I was."

Her father lifted up his eyes. Jane was distressed. Elizabeth
looked expressively at Lydia; but she, who never heard nor saw
any thing of which she chose to be insensible, gaily continued,
"Oh! mamma, do the people here abouts know I am married
to-day? I was afraid they might not; and we overtook William
Goulding in his curricle, so I was determined he should know
it, and so I let down the side-glass next to him, and took off
my glove, and let my hand just rest upon the window frame, so
that he might see the ring, and then I bowed and smiled like
any thing."

Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up, and ran out of
the room; and returned no more, till she heard them passing
through the hall to the dining parlour. She then joined them
soon enough to see Lydia, with anxious parade, walk up to her
mother's right hand, and hear her say to her eldest sister,
"Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower,
because I am a married woman."

It was not to be supposed that time would give Lydia that
embarrassment from which she had been so wholly free at first.
Her ease and good spirits increased. She longed to see Mrs.
Phillips, the Lucases, and all their other neighbours, and to
hear herself called "Mrs. Wickham" by each of them; and in the
mean time, she went after dinner to shew her ring, and boast of
being married, to Mrs. Hill and the two housemaids.

"Well, mamma," said she, when they were all returned to the
breakfast room, "and what do you think of my husband? Is not
he a charming man? I am sure my sisters must all envy me. I
only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to
Brighton. That is the place to get husbands. What a pity it
is, mamma, we did not all go."

"Very true; and if I had my will, we should. But my dear
Lydia, I don't at all like your going such a way off. Must it
be so?"

"Oh, lord! yes; -- there is nothing in that. I shall like it
of all things. You and papa, and my sisters, must come down
and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter, and I
dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get
good partners for them all."

"I should like it beyond any thing!" said her mother.

"And then when you go away, you may leave one or two of my
sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for
them before the winter is over."

"I thank you for my share of the favour," said Elizabeth;
"but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands."

Their visitors were not to remain above ten days with them.
Mr. Wickham had received his commission before he left London,
and he was to join his regiment at the end of a fortnight.

No one but Mrs. Bennet regretted that their stay would be so
short; and she made the most of the time by visiting about with
her daughter, and having very frequent parties at home. These
parties were acceptable to all; to avoid a family circle was
even more desirable to such as did think, than such as did not.

Wickham's affection for Lydia was just what Elizabeth had
expected to find it; not equal to Lydia's for him. She had
scarcely needed her present observation to be satisfied, from
the reason of things, that their elopement had been brought on
by the strength of her love, rather than by his; and she would
have wondered why, without violently caring for her, he chose
to elope with her at all, had she not felt certain that his
flight was rendered necessary by distress of circumstances; and
if that were the case, he was not the young man to resist an
opportunity of having a companion.

Lydia was exceedingly fond of him. He was her dear Wickham on
every occasion; no one was to be put in competition with him.
He did every thing best in the world; and she was sure he would
kill more birds on the first of September, than any body else
in the country.

One morning, soon after their arrival, as she was sitting with
her two elder sisters, she said to Elizabeth,

"Lizzy, I never gave you an account of my wedding, I believe.
You were not by, when I told mamma and the others all about it.
Are not you curious to hear how it was managed?"

"No really," replied Elizabeth; "I think there cannot be too
little said on the subject."

"La! You are so strange! But I must tell you how it went off.
We were married, you know, at St. Clement's, because Wickham's
lodgings were in that parish. And it was settled that we
should all be there by eleven o'clock. My uncle and aunt and I
were to go together; and the others were to meet us at the
church. Well, Monday morning came, and I was in such a fuss!
I was so afraid, you know, that something would happen to put
it off, and then I should have gone quite distracted. And
there was my aunt, all the time I was dressing, preaching and
talking away just as if she was reading a sermon. However, I
did not hear above one word in ten, for I was thinking, you may
suppose, of my dear Wickham. I longed to know whether he would
be married in his blue coat."

"Well, and so we breakfasted at ten as usual; I thought it
would never be over; for, by the bye, you are to understand,
that my uncle and aunt were horrid unpleasant all the time I
was with them. If you'll believe me, I did not once put my
foot out of doors, though I was there a fortnight. Not one
party, or scheme, or any thing. To be sure London was rather
thin, but, however, the Little Theatre was open. Well, and so
just as the carriage came to the door, my uncle was called away
upon business to that horrid man Mr. Stone. And then, you
know, when once they get together, there is no end of it.
Well, I was so frightened I did not know what to do, for my
uncle was to give me away; and if we were beyond the hour, we
could not be married all day. But, luckily, he came back again
in ten minutes' time, and then we all set out. However, I
recollected afterwards that if he had been prevented going,
the wedding need not be put off, for Mr. Darcy might have done
as well."

"Mr. Darcy!" repeated Elizabeth, in utter amazement.

"Oh, yes! -- he was to come there with Wickham, you know, But
gracious me! I quite forgot! I ought not to have said a word
about it. I promised them so faithfully! What will Wickham
say? It was to be such a secret!"

"If it was to be secret," said Jane, "say not another word on
the subject. You may depend upon my seeking no further."

"Oh! certainly," said Elizabeth, though burning with
curiosity; "we will ask you no questions."

"Thank you," said Lydia, "for if you did, I should certainly
tell you all, and then Wickham would be angry."

On such encouragement to ask, Elizabeth was forced to put it
out of her power, by running away.

But to live in ignorance on such a point was impossible; or at
least it was impossible not to try for information. Mr. Darcy
had been at her sister's wedding. It was exactly a scene, and
exactly among people, where he had apparently least to do, and
least temptation to go. Conjectures as to the meaning of it,
rapid and wild, hurried into her brain; but she was satisfied
with none. Those that best pleased her, as placing his conduct
in the noblest light, seemed most improbable. She could not
bear such suspense; and hastily seizing a sheet of paper, wrote
a short letter to her aunt, to request an explanation of what
Lydia had dropt, if it were compatible with the secrecy which
had been intended.

"You may readily comprehend," she added, "what my curiosity
must be to know how a person unconnected with any of us, and
(comparatively speaking) a stranger to our family, should have
been amongst you at such a time. Pray write instantly, and let
me understand it -- unless it is, for very cogent reasons, to
remain in the secrecy which Lydia seems to think necessary; and
then I must endeavour to be satisfied with ignorance."

"Not that I shall, though," she added to herself, as she
finished the letter; "and my dear aunt, if you do not tell me
in an honourable manner, I shall certainly be reduced to tricks
and stratagems to find it out."

Jane's delicate sense of honour would not allow her to speak to
Elizabeth privately of what Lydia had let fall; Elizabeth was
glad of it; -- till it appeared whether her inquiries would
receive any satisfaction, she had rather be without a
confidante.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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