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  • CHAPTER 41

  • 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.

  • >

  • CHAPTER 42

  • Had Elizabeth's opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a

  • very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort.

  • Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which

  • youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding

  • and illiberal mind had very early in their

  • marriage put an end to all real affection for her.

  • Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of

  • domestic happiness were overthrown.

  • But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which

  • his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console

  • the unfortunate for their folly or their vice.

  • He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his

  • principal enjoyments.

  • To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly

  • had contributed to his amusement.

  • This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his

  • wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true

  • philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.

  • Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father's behaviour

  • as a husband.

  • She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for

  • his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not

  • overlook, and to banish from her thoughts

  • that continual breach of conjugal