FictionForest

Chapter 41

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

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The first week of their return was
soon gone.  The second began.  It was the
last of the regiment’s stay in Meryton, and all
the young ladies in the neighbourhood were drooping
apace.  The dejection was almost universal. 
The elder Miss Bennets alone were still able to eat,
drink, and sleep, and pursue the usual course of their
employments.  Very frequently were they reproached
for this insensibility by Kitty and Lydia, whose own
misery was extreme, and who could not comprehend such
hard-heartedness in any of the family.

“Good Heaven! what is to become
of us?  What are we to do?” would they often
exclaim in the bitterness of woe.  “How can
you be smiling so, Lizzy?”

Their affectionate mother shared all
their grief; she remembered what she had herself endured
on a similar occasion, five-and-twenty years ago.

“I am sure,” said she,
“I cried for two days together when Colonel
Miller’s regiment went away.  I thought I
should have broken my heart.”

“I am sure I shall break mine,”
said Lydia.

“If one could but go to Brighton!” observed
Mrs. Bennet.

“Oh, yes! ­if one
could but go to Brighton!  But papa is so disagreeable.”

“A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.”

“And my aunt Phillips is sure
it would do me a great deal of good,”
added Kitty.

Such were the kind of lamentations
resounding perpetually through Longbourn House. 
Elizabeth tried to be diverted by them; but all sense
of pleasure was lost in shame.  She felt anew the
justice of Mr. Darcy’s objections; and never
had she been so much disposed to pardon his interference
in the views of his friend.

But the gloom of Lydia’s prospect
was shortly cleared away; for she received an invitation
from Mrs. Forster, the wife of the colonel of the
regiment, to accompany her to Brighton.  This invaluable
friend was a very young woman, and very lately married. 
A resemblance in good humour and good spirits had
recommended her and Lydia to each other, and out of
their three months’ acquaintance they
had been intimate two.

The rapture of Lydia on this occasion,
her adoration of Mrs. Forster, the delight of Mrs.
Bennet, and the mortification of Kitty, are scarcely
to be described.  Wholly inattentive to her sister’s
feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstasy,
calling for everyone’s congratulations, and
laughing and talking with more violence than ever;
whilst the luckless Kitty continued in the parlour
repined at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her
accent was peevish.

“I cannot see why Mrs. Forster
should not ask me as well as Lydia,”
said she, “Though I am not her particular
friend.  I have just as much right to be asked
as she has, and more too, for I am two years older.”

In vain did Elizabeth attempt to make
her reasonable, and Jane to make her resigned. 
As for Elizabeth herself, this invitation was so far
from exciting in her the same feelings as in her mother
and Lydia, that she considered it as the death warrant
of all possibility of common sense for the latter;
and detestable as such a step must make her were it
known, she could not help secretly advising her father
not to let her go.  She represented to him all
the improprieties of Lydia’s general behaviour,
the little advantage she could derive from the friendship
of such a woman as Mrs. Forster, and the probability
of her being yet more imprudent with such a companion
at Brighton, where the temptations must be greater
than at home.  He heard her attentively, and then
said: 

“Lydia will never be easy until
she has exposed herself in some public place or other,
and we can never expect her to do it with so little
expense or inconvenience to her family as under the
present circumstances.”

“If you were aware,” said
Elizabeth, “of the very great disadvantage to
us all which must arise from the public notice of Lydia’s
unguarded and imprudent manner ­nay, which
has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge
differently in the affair.”

“Already arisen?” repeated
Mr. Bennet.  “What, has she frightened away
some of your lovers?  Poor little Lizzy!  But
do not be cast down.  Such squeamish youths as
cannot bear to be connected with a little absurdity
are not worth a regret.  Come, let me see the list
of pitiful fellows who have been kept aloof by Lydia’s
folly.”

“Indeed you are mistaken. 
I have no such injuries to resent.  It is not
of particular, but of general evils, which I am now
complaining.  Our importance, our respectability
in the world must be affected by the wild volatility,
the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark
Lydia’s character.  Excuse me, for I must
speak plainly.  If you, my dear father, will not
take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits,
and of teaching her that her present pursuits are
not to be the business of her life, she will soon
be beyond the reach of amendment.  Her character
will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most
determined flirt that ever made herself or her family
ridiculous; a flirt, too, in the worst and meanest
degree of flirtation; without any attraction beyond
youth and a tolerable person; and, from the ignorance
and emptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off
any portion of that universal contempt which her rage
for admiration will excite.  In this danger Kitty
also is comprehended.  She will follow wherever
Lydia leads.  Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely
uncontrolled!  Oh! my dear father, can you suppose
it possible that they will not be censured and despised
wherever they are known, and that their sisters will
not be often involved in the disgrace?”

Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart
was in the subject, and affectionately taking her
hand said in reply: 

“Do not make yourself uneasy,
my love.  Wherever you and Jane are known you
must be respected and valued; and you will not appear
to less advantage for having a couple of ­or
I may say, three ­very silly sisters. 
We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not
go to Brighton.  Let her go, then.  Colonel
Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of
any real mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be
an object of prey to anybody.  At Brighton she
will be of less importance even as a common flirt
than she has been here.  The officers will find
women better worth their notice.  Let us hope,
therefore, that her being there may teach her her
own insignificance.  At any rate, she cannot grow
many degrees worse, without authorising us to lock
her up for the rest of her life.”

With this answer Elizabeth was forced
to be content; but her own opinion continued the same,
and she left him disappointed and sorry.  It was
not in her nature, however, to increase her vexations
by dwelling on them.  She was confident of having
performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils,
or augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition.

Had Lydia and her mother known the
substance of her conference with her father, their
indignation would hardly have found expression in their
united volubility.  In Lydia’s imagination,
a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of
earthly happiness.  She saw, with the creative
eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing-place
covered with officers.  She saw herself the object
of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present
unknown.  She saw all the glories of the camp ­its
tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines,
crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with
scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself
seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least
six officers at once.

Had she known her sister sought to
tear her from such prospects and such realities as
these, what would have been her sensations?  They
could have been understood only by her mother, who
might have felt nearly the same.  Lydia’s
going to Brighton was all that consoled her for her
melancholy conviction of her husband’s never
intending to go there himself.

But they were entirely ignorant of
what had passed; and their raptures continued, with
little intermission, to the very day of Lydia’s
leaving home.

Elizabeth was now to see Mr. Wickham
for the last time.  Having been frequently in
company with him since her return, agitation was pretty
well over; the agitations of formal partiality entirely
so.  She had even learnt to detect, in the very
gentleness which had first delighted her, an affectation
and a sameness to disgust and weary.  In his present
behaviour to herself, moreover, she had a fresh source
of displeasure, for the inclination he soon testified
of renewing those intentions which had marked the
early part of their acquaintance could only serve,
after what had since passed, to provoke her. 
She lost all concern for him in finding herself thus
selected as the object of such idle and frivolous
gallantry; and while she steadily repressed it, could
not but feel the reproof contained in his believing,
that however long, and for whatever cause, his attentions
had been withdrawn, her vanity would be gratified,
and her preference secured at any time by their renewal.

On the very last day of the regiment’s
remaining at Meryton, he dined, with other of the
officers, at Longbourn; and so little was Elizabeth
disposed to part from him in good humour, that on his
making some inquiry as to the manner in which her
time had passed at Hunsford, she mentioned Colonel
Fitzwilliam’s and Mr. Darcy’s having both
spent three weeks at Rosings, and asked him, if he
was acquainted with the former.

He looked surprised, displeased, alarmed;
but with a moment’s recollection and a returning
smile, replied, that he had formerly seen him often;
and, after observing that he was a very gentlemanlike
man, asked her how she had liked him.  Her answer
was warmly in his favour.  With an air of indifference
he soon afterwards added: 

“How long did you say he was at Rosings?”

“Nearly three weeks.”

“And you saw him frequently?”

“Yes, almost every day.”

“His manners are very different from his cousin’s.”

“Yes, very different.  But I think Mr. Darcy
improves upon acquaintance.”

“Indeed!” cried Mr. Wickham
with a look which did not escape her.  “And
pray, may I ask? ­” But checking himself,
he added, in a gayer tone, “Is it in address
that he improves?  Has he deigned to add aught
of civility to his ordinary style? ­for
I dare not hope,” he continued in a lower and
more serious tone, “that he is improved in essentials.”

“Oh, no!” said Elizabeth. 
“In essentials, I believe, he is very much what
he ever was.”

While she spoke, Wickham looked as
if scarcely knowing whether to rejoice over her words,
or to distrust their meaning.  There was a something
in her countenance which made him listen with an apprehensive
and anxious attention, while she added: 

“When I said that he improved
on acquaintance, I did not mean that his mind or his
manners were in a state of improvement, but that, from
knowing him better, his disposition was better understood.”

Wickham’s alarm now appeared
in a heightened complexion and agitated look; for
a few minutes he was silent, till, shaking off his
embarrassment, he turned to her again, and said in
the gentlest of accents: 

“You, who so well know my feeling
towards Mr. Darcy, will readily comprehend how sincerely
I must rejoice that he is wise enough to assume even
the appearance of what is right.  His pride,
in that direction, may be of service, if not to himself,
to many others, for it must only deter him from such
foul misconduct as I have suffered by.  I only
fear that the sort of cautiousness to which you, I
imagine, have been alluding, is merely adopted on
his visits to his aunt, of whose good opinion and
judgement he stands much in awe.  His fear of her
has always operated, I know, when they were together;
and a good deal is to be imputed to his wish of forwarding
the match with Miss de Bourgh, which I am certain
he has very much at heart.”

Elizabeth could not repress a smile
at this, but she answered only by a slight inclination
of the head.  She saw that he wanted to engage
her on the old subject of his grievances, and she
was in no humour to indulge him.  The rest of
the evening passed with the appearance, on his
side, of usual cheerfulness, but with no further attempt
to distinguish Elizabeth; and they parted at last
with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire
of never meeting again.

When the party broke up, Lydia returned
with Mrs. Forster to Meryton, from whence they were
to set out early the next morning.  The separation
between her and her family was rather noisy than pathetic. 
Kitty was the only one who shed tears; but she did
weep from vexation and envy.  Mrs. Bennet was
diffuse in her good wishes for the felicity of her
daughter, and impressive in her injunctions that she
should not miss the opportunity of enjoying herself
as much as possible ­advice which there
was every reason to believe would be well attended
to; and in the clamorous happiness of Lydia herself
in bidding farewell, the more gentle adieus of her
sisters were uttered without being heard.

 

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