FictionForest

Chapter 39

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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It was the second week in May, in
which the three young ladies set out together from
Gracechurch Street for the town of ­,
in Hertfordshire; and, as they drew near the appointed
inn where Mr. Bennet’s carriage was to meet
them, they quickly perceived, in token of the coachman’s
punctuality, both Kitty and Lydia looking out of a
dining-room upstairs.  These two girls had been
above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting
an opposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard,
and dressing a salad and cucumber.

After welcoming their sisters, they
triumphantly displayed a table set out with such cold
meat as an inn larder usually affords, exclaiming,
“Is not this nice?  Is not this an agreeable
surprise?”

“And we mean to treat you all,”
added Lydia, “but you must lend us the money,
for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.” 
Then, showing her purchases ­“Look
here, I have bought this bonnet.  I do not think
it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy
it as not.  I shall pull it to pieces as soon
as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.”

And when her sisters abused it as
ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, “Oh!
but there were two or three much uglier in the shop;
and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin
to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable. 
Besides, it will not much signify what one wears this
summer, after the ­shire have left
Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight.”

“Are they indeed!” cried
Elizabeth, with the greatest satisfaction.

“They are going to be encamped
near Brighton; and I do so want papa to take us all
there for the summer!  It would be such a delicious
scheme; and I dare say would hardly cost anything
at all.  Mamma would like to go too of all things! 
Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!”

“Yes,” thought Elizabeth,
that would be a delightful scheme indeed,
and completely do for us at once.  Good Heaven! 
Brighton, and a whole campful of soldiers, to us,
who have been overset already by one poor regiment
of militia, and the monthly balls of Meryton!”

“Now I have got some news for
you,” said Lydia, as they sat down at table. 
“What do you think?  It is excellent news ­capital
news ­and about a certain person we all
like!”

Jane and Elizabeth looked at each
other, and the waiter was told he need not stay. 
Lydia laughed, and said: 

“Aye, that is just like your
formality and discretion.  You thought the waiter
must not hear, as if he cared!  I dare say he often
hears worse things said than I am going to say. 
But he is an ugly fellow!  I am glad he is gone. 
I never saw such a long chin in my life.  Well,
but now for my news; it is about dear Wickham; too
good for the waiter, is it not?  There is no danger
of Wickham’s marrying Mary King.  There’s
for you!  She is gone down to her uncle at Liverpool: 
gone to stay.  Wickham is safe.”

“And Mary King is safe!”
added Elizabeth; “safe from a connection imprudent
as to fortune.”

“She is a great fool for going away, if she
liked him.”

“But I hope there is no strong attachment on
either side,” said Jane.

“I am sure there is not on his
I will answer for it, he never cared three straws
about her ­who could about such a nasty little
freckled thing?”

Elizabeth was shocked to think that,
however incapable of such coarseness of expression
herself, the coarseness of the sentiment was
little other than her own breast had harboured and
fancied liberal!

As soon as all had ate, and the elder
ones paid, the carriage was ordered; and after some
contrivance, the whole party, with all their boxes,
work-bags, and parcels, and the unwelcome addition
of Kitty’s and Lydia’s purchases, were
seated in it.

“How nicely we are all crammed
in,” cried Lydia.  “I am glad I bought
my bonnet, if it is only for the fun of having another
bandbox!  Well, now let us be quite comfortable
and snug, and talk and laugh all the way home. 
And in the first place, let us hear what has happened
to you all since you went away.  Have you seen
any pleasant men?  Have you had any flirting? 
I was in great hopes that one of you would have got
a husband before you came back.  Jane will be
quite an old maid soon, I declare.  She is almost
three-and-twenty!  Lord, how ashamed I should be
of not being married before three-and-twenty! 
My aunt Phillips wants you so to get husbands, you
can’t think.  She says Lizzy had better have
taken Mr. Collins; but I do not think there
would have been any fun in it.  Lord! how I should
like to be married before any of you; and then I would
chaperon you about to all the balls.  Dear me!
we had such a good piece of fun the other day at Colonel
Forster’s.  Kitty and me were to spend the
day there, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little
dance in the evening; (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and
me are such friends!) and so she asked the
two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so
Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what
do you think we did?  We dressed up Chamberlayne
in woman’s clothes on purpose to pass for a
lady, only think what fun!  Not a soul knew of
it, but Colonel and Mrs. Forster, and Kitty and me,
except my aunt, for we were forced to borrow one of
her gowns; and you cannot imagine how well he looked! 
When Denny, and Wickham, and Pratt, and two or three
more of the men came in, they did not know him in
the least.  Lord! how I laughed! and so did Mrs.
Forster.  I thought I should have died.  And
that made the men suspect something, and then
they soon found out what was the matter.”

With such kinds of histories of their
parties and good jokes, did Lydia, assisted by Kitty’s
hints and additions, endeavour to amuse her companions
all the way to Longbourn.  Elizabeth listened as
little as she could, but there was no escaping the
frequent mention of Wickham’s name.

Their reception at home was most kind. 
Mrs. Bennet rejoiced to see Jane in undiminished beauty;
and more than once during dinner did Mr. Bennet say
voluntarily to Elizabeth: 

“I am glad you are come back, Lizzy.”

Their party in the dining-room was
large, for almost all the Lucases came to meet Maria
and hear the news; and various were the subjects that
occupied them:  Lady Lucas was inquiring of Maria,
after the welfare and poultry of her eldest daughter;
Mrs. Bennet was doubly engaged, on one hand collecting
an account of the present fashions from Jane, who sat
some way below her, and, on the other, retailing them
all to the younger Lucases; and Lydia, in a voice
rather louder than any other person’s, was enumerating
the various pleasures of the morning to anybody who
would hear her.

“Oh!  Mary,” said
she, “I wish you had gone with us, for we had
such fun!  As we went along, Kitty and I drew
up the blinds, and pretended there was nobody in the
coach; and I should have gone so all the way, if Kitty
had not been sick; and when we got to the George, I
do think we behaved very handsomely, for we treated
the other three with the nicest cold luncheon in the
world, and if you would have gone, we would have treated
you too.  And then when we came away it was such
fun!  I thought we never should have got into
the coach.  I was ready to die of laughter. 
And then we were so merry all the way home! we talked
and laughed so loud, that anybody might have heard
us ten miles off!”

To this Mary very gravely replied,
“Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate
such pleasures!  They would doubtless be congenial
with the generality of female minds.  But I confess
they would have no charms for me ­I
should infinitely prefer a book.”

But of this answer Lydia heard not
a word.  She seldom listened to anybody for more
than half a minute, and never attended to Mary at all.

In the afternoon Lydia was urgent
with the rest of the girls to walk to Meryton, and
to see how everybody went on; but Elizabeth steadily
opposed the scheme.  It should not be said that
the Miss Bennets could not be at home half a day before
they were in pursuit of the officers.  There was
another reason too for her opposition.  She dreaded
seeing Mr. Wickham again, and was resolved to avoid
it as long as possible.  The comfort to her
of the regiment’s approaching removal was indeed
beyond expression.  In a fortnight they were to
go ­and once gone, she hoped there could
be nothing more to plague her on his account.

She had not been many hours at home
before she found that the Brighton scheme, of which
Lydia had given them a hint at the inn, was under
frequent discussion between her parents.  Elizabeth
saw directly that her father had not the smallest
intention of yielding; but his answers were at the
same time so vague and equivocal, that her mother,
though often disheartened, had never yet despaired
of succeeding at last.

 

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