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Chapter 47

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

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“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, 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 Försters 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 as 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
his 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 anyone 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.”

 

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