FictionForest

Chapter 46

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

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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 feared 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 an 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 lose.”

“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 anyone.  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 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 now it was all too natural.  For such an attachment
as this she might have sufficient charms; 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.

 

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