In Darcy's presence she dared not mention Wickham's name; but Elizabeth instantly
comprehended that he was uppermost in her thoughts; and the various recollections
connected with him gave her a moment's distress; but, exerting herself vigorously
to repel the ill-natured attack, she presently answered the question in a tolerably
disengaged tone. While she spoke, an involuntary glance shewed her Darcy with an
heightened complexion, earnestly looking at her, and his sister overcome with confusion
and unable to lift up her eyes. Had Miss Bingley known what pain she was then giving
her beloved friend, she undoubtedly would have refrained from the hint; but she
had merely intended to discompose Elizabeth, by bringing forward the idea of a man
to whom she believed her partial, to make her betray a sensibility which might injure
her in Darcy's opinion, and perhaps to remind the latter of all the follies and
absurdities by which some part of her family were connected with that corps. Not
a syllable had ever reached her of Miss Darcy's meditated elopement. To no creature
had it been revealed, where secrecy was possible, except to Elizabeth; and from
all Bingley's connections her brother was particularly anxious to conceal it, from
that very wish which Elizabeth had long ago attributed to him, of their becoming
hereafter her own. He had certainly formed such a plan, and without meaning that
it should affect his endeavour to separate him from Miss Bennet, it is probable
that it might add something to his lively concern for the welfare of his friend.
Elizabeth's collected behaviour, however, soon quieted his emotion; and as Miss
Bingley, vexed and disappointed, dared not approach nearer to Wickham, Georgiana
also recovered in time, though not enough to be able to speak any more. Her brother,
whose eye she feared to meet, scarcely recollected her interest in the affair, and
the very circumstance which had been designed to turn his thoughts from Elizabeth,
seemed to have fixed them on her more, and more cheerfully.
Their visit did not continue long after the question and answer above-mentioned;
and while Mr. Darcy was attending them to their carriage, Miss Bingley was venting
her feelings in criticisms on Elizabeth's person, behaviour, and dress.
But Georgiana would not join her. Her brother's recommendation was enough to
ensure her favour: his judgment could not err, and he had spoken in such terms of
Elizabeth as to leave Georgiana without the power of finding her otherwise than
lovely and amiable. When Darcy returned to the saloon, Miss Bingley could not help
repeating to him some part of what she had been saying to his sister.
"How very ill Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," she cried; "I never
in my life saw any one so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown
so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her
However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself
with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than her being rather
tanned -- no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer.
"For my own part," she rejoined, "I must confess that I never could see any beauty
in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features
are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character; there is nothing marked in its
lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes,
which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive any thing extraordinary
They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air
altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion which is intolerable."
Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that Darcy admired Elizabeth, this was not the
best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise; and in
seeing him at last look somewhat nettled, she had all the success she expected.
He was resolutely silent however; and, from a determination of making him speak
she continued, "I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed
we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect
your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, ``She a beauty!
-- I should as soon call her mother a wit.'' But afterwards she seemed to improve
on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only
when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one
of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having
forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth talked of all that had occurred during their visit,
as they returned, except what had particularly interested them both. The looks and
behaviour of every body they had seen were discussed, except of the person who had
mostly engaged their attention. They talked of his sister, his friends, his house,
his fruit, of every thing but himself; yet Elizabeth was longing to know what Mrs.
Gardiner thought of him, and Mrs. Gardiner would have been highly gratified by her
niece's beginning the subject.
<CHAPTER IV (46)>
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 be first 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 a 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 farther; 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 enquiry 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 every thing? -- 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.