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"I have been thinking it over
"Do you really think
"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
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
"In the first place,"
Mr. Gardiner, "there is no absolute proof that they are not gone to
"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
“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
some money. He
cannot afford it. And
what claims has
"But can you think that
"It does seem, and it is
shocking indeed," replied
"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
"Oh, yes! that, that is
of all. Till I was in
"When they all removed
"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
this interesting subject, by its repeated discussion, no other could
them from it long, during the whole of the journey.
They travelled as
possible, and, sleeping one night on the road, reached Longbourn by
the next day. It
was a comfort to
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.
"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 direction, 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 are, thank Heaven, are quite well."
"But you-- how are you?"
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 questions which
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,"
she, "to carry my point in going to Brighton, with all my family, this
would not have happened; but poor dear
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
alarm," added he; "though it is right to be prepared for the worst,
there is no occasion to look on it a certain.
It is not quite a week since they left
"Oh! my dear brother,"
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
marry. And as for
wedding clothes, do
not let them wait for that, but tell
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.
both, however, were tolerably calm; and no change was visible in
that the loss of her favourite sister, or the anger which she had
incurred in this business, had given more of fretfulness than usual to
accents of Kitty. As
for Mary, she was
mistress enough of herself to whisper to
"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."
In the afternoon, the
two elder Miss
Bennets were able to be for half-an-hour by themselves; and
"Colonel Forster did own
had often suspected some partiality, especially on
"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
sister's happiness with him in marriage, because I knew that his
not been always quite right. My
and mother knew nothing of that; they only felt how imprudent a match
be. Kitty then
owned, with a very
natural triumph on knowing more than the rest of us, that in
"But not before they
"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
"He brought it with him for us to see."
Jane then took it from
and gave it to
"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
"I never saw any one 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
"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
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,"
Jane, "to go to Epsom, the place where they last
changed horses, see
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
It had come with a fare