"But," he added, "you will of course wish to have your humble respects delivered
to them, with your grateful thanks for their kindness to you while you have been
Elizabeth made no objection; -- the door was then allowed to be shut, and the
carriage drove off.
"Good gracious!" cried Maria, after a few minutes silence, "it seems but a day
or two since we first came! -- and yet how many things have happened!"
"A great many indeed," said her companion with a sigh.
"We have dined nine times at Rosings, besides drinking tea there twice! -- How
much I shall have to tell!"
Elizabeth privately added, "And how much I shall have to conceal."
Their journey was performed without much conversation, or any alarm; and within
four hours of their leaving Hunsford, they reached Mr. Gardiner's house, where they
were to remain a few days.
Jane looked well, and Elizabeth had little opportunity of studying her spirits,
amidst the various engagements which the kindness of her aunt had reserved for them.
But Jane was to go home with her, and at Longbourn there would be leisure enough
It was not without an effort, meanwhile, that she could wait even for Longbourn,
before she told her sister of Mr. Darcy's proposals. To know that she had the power
of revealing what would so exceedingly astonish Jane, and must, at the same time,
so highly gratify whatever of her own vanity she had not yet been able to reason
away, was such a temptation to openness as nothing could have conquered but the
state of indecision in which she remained as to the extent of what she should communicate;
and her fear, if she once entered on the subject, of being hurried into repeating
something of Bingley which might only grieve her sister farther.
<CHAPTER XVI (39) IT was the second week in May in which the three young ladies
set out together from Gracechurch-street for the town of ---- in Hertfordshire;
and, as they drew near the appointed inn where Mr. Bennet's carriage was to meet
them, they quickly perceived, in token of the coachman's punctuality, both Kitty
and Lydia looking out of a dining room upstairs. These two girls had been above
an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watching
the sentinel on guard, and dressing a sallad and cucumber.
After welcoming their sisters, they triumphantly displayed a table set out with
such cold meat as an inn larder usually affords, exclaiming, "Is not this nice?
is not this an agreeable surprise?"
"And we mean to treat you all," added Lydia; "but you must lend us the money,
for we have just spent ours at the shop out there." Then shewing her purchases:
"Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought
I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home,
and see if I can make it up any better."
And when her sisters abused it as ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, "Oh!
but there were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some
prettier coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable.
Besides, it will not much signify what one wears this summer after the ----shire
have left Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight."
"Are they indeed?" cried Elizabeth, with the greatest satisfaction.
"They are going to be encamped near Brighton; and I do so want papa to take us
all there for the summer! It would be such a delicious scheme, and I dare say would
hardly cost any thing at all. Mamma would like to go too, of all things! Only think
what a miserable summer else we shall have!"
"Yes," thought Elizabeth, "that would be a delightful scheme, indeed, and completely
do for us at once. Good Heaven! Brighton, and a whole campful of soldiers, to us,
who have been overset already by one poor regiment of militia, and the monthly balls
"Now I have got some news for you," said Lydia, as they sat down to table. "What
do you think? It is excellent news, capital news, and about a certain person that
we all like."
Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other, and the waiter was told that he need
not stay. Lydia laughed, and said, "Aye, that is just like your formality and discretion.
You thought the waiter must not hear, as if he cared! I dare say he often hears
worse things said than I am going to say. But he is an ugly fellow! I am glad he
is gone. I never saw such a long chin in my life. Well, but now for my news: it
is about dear Wickham; too good for the waiter, is not it? There is no danger of
Wickham's marrying Mary King. There's for you! She is gone down to her uncle at
Liverpool; gone to stay. Wickham is safe."
"And Mary King is safe!" added Elizabeth; "safe from a connection imprudent as
"She is a great fool for going away, if she liked him."
"But I hope there is no strong attachment on either side,"
"I am sure there is not on his. I will answer for it he never cared three straws
about her. Who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?"
Elizabeth was shocked to think that, however incapable of such coarseness of
expression herself, the coarseness of the sentiment was little other than her
own breast had formerly harboured and fancied liberal! As soon as all had ate, and
the elder ones paid, the carriage was ordered; and, after some contrivance, the
whole party, with all their boxes, workbags, and parcels, and the unwelcome addition
of Kitty's and Lydia's purchases, were seated in it.
"How nicely we are crammed in!" cried Lydia. "I am glad I bought my bonnet, if
it is only for the fun of having another bandbox! Well, now let us be quite comfortable
and snug, and talk and laugh all the way home. And in the first place, let us hear
what has happened to you all, since you went away.
Have you seen any pleasant men? Have you had any flirting?
I was in great hopes that one of you would have got a husband before you came
back. Jane will be quite an old maid soon, I declare. She is almost three and twenty!
Lord, how ashamed I should be of not being married before three and twenty! My aunt
Philips wants you so to get husbands, you can't think.
She says Lizzy had better have taken Mr. Collins; but I do not think there
would have been any fun in it. Lord! how I should like to be married before any
of you; and then I would chaperon you about to all the balls. Dear me! we had such
a good piece of fun the other day at Colonel Foster's. Kitty and me were to spend
the day there, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening (by
the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are such friends!); and so she asked the two Harringtons
to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then,
what do you think we did? We dressed up Chamberlayne in woman's clothes, on purpose
to pass for a lady, -- only think what fun! Not a soul knew of it but Col. and Mrs.
Forster, and Kitty and me, except my aunt, for we were forced to borrow one of her
gowns; and you cannot imagine how well he looked! When Denny, and Wickham, and Pratt,
and two or three more of the men came in, they did not know him in the least. Lord!
how I laughed! and so did Mrs. Forster.
I thought I should have died. And that made the men suspect something, and
then they soon found out what was the matter."
With such kind of histories of their parties and good jokes did Lydia, assisted
by Kitty's hints and additions, endeavour to amuse her companions all the way to
Longbourn. Elizabeth listened as little as she could, but there was no escaping
the frequent mention of Wickham's name.
Their reception at home was most kind. Mrs. Bennet rejoiced to see Jane in undiminished
beauty; and more than once during dinner did Mr. Bennet say voluntarily to Elizabeth,
"I am glad you are come back, Lizzy."
Their party in the dining-room was large, for almost all the Lucases came to
meet Maria and hear the news: and various were the subjects which occupied them.
Lady Lucas was enquiring of Maria, across the table, after the welfare and poultry
of her eldest daughter; Mrs. Bennet was doubly engaged, on one hand collecting an
account of the present fashions from Jane, who sat some way below her, and on the
other, retailing them all to the younger Miss Lucases; and Lydia, in a voice rather
louder than any other person's, was enumerating the various pleasures of the morning
to any body who would hear her.
"Oh! Mary," said she, "I wish you had gone with us, for we had such fun! as we
went along, Kitty and me drew up all the blinds, and pretended there was nobody
in the coach; and I should have gone so all the way, if Kitty had not been sick;
and when we got to the George, I do think we behaved very handsomely, for we treated
the other three with the nicest cold luncheon in the world, and if you would have
gone, we would have treated you too. And then when we came away it was such fun!
I thought we never should have got into the coach. I was ready to die of laughter.
And then we were so merry all the way home! we talked and laughed so loud, that
any body might have heard us ten miles off!"
To this, Mary very gravely replied, "Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate
such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female
minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer