Could she exert herself it would be better, but this is not to be expected; and
as to my father, I never in my life saw him so affected. Poor Kitty has anger for
having concealed their attachment; but as it was a matter of confidence, one cannot
wonder. I am truly glad, dearest Lizzy, that you have been spared something of these
distressing scenes; but now, as the first shock is over, shall I own that I long
for your return?
I am not so selfish, however, as to press for it, if inconvenient. Adieu. I take
up my pen again to do what I have just told you I would not, but circumstances are
such, that I cannot help earnestly begging you all to come here as soon as possible.
I know my dear uncle and aunt so well that I am not afraid of requesting it, though
I have still something more to ask of the former. My father is going to London with
Colonel Forster instantly, to try to discover her. What he means to do, I am sure
I know not; but his excessive distress will not allow him to pursue any measure
in the best and safest way, and Colonel Forster is obliged to be at Brighton again
to-morrow evening. In such an exigence my uncle's advice and assistance would be
every thing in the world; he will immediately comprehend what I must feel, and I
rely upon his goodness."
"Oh! where, where is my uncle?" cried Elizabeth, darting from her seat as she
finished the letter, in eagerness to follow him without losing a moment of the time
so precious; but as she reached the door, it was opened by a servant, and Mr. Darcy
appeared. Her pale face and impetuous manner made him start, and before he could
recover himself enough to speak, she, in whose mind every idea was superseded by
Lydia's situation, hastily exclaimed, "I beg your pardon, but I must leave you.
I must find Mr. Gardiner this moment, on business that cannot be delayed; I have
not a moment to lose."
"Good God! what is the matter?" cried he, with more feeling than politeness;
then recollecting himself, "I will not detain you a minute, but let me, or let the
servant, go after Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. You are not well enough; -- you cannot
Elizabeth hesitated, but her knees trembled under her, and she felt how little
would be gained by her attempting to pursue them. Calling back the servant, therefore,
she commissioned him, though in so breathless an accent as made her almost unintelligible,
to fetch his master and mistress home instantly.
On his quitting the room, she sat down, unable to support herself, and looking
so miserably ill that it was impossible for Darcy to leave her, or to refrain from
saying, in a tone of gentleness and commiseration, "Let me call your maid. Is there
nothing you could take, to give you present relief? -- A glass of wine; -- shall
I get you one? -- You are very ill."
"No, I thank you;" she replied, endeavouring to recover herself. "There is nothing
the matter with me. I am quite well. I am only distressed by some dreadful news
which I have just received from Longbourn."
She burst into tears as she alluded to it, and for a few minutes could not speak
another word. Darcy, in wretched suspense, could only say something indistinctly
of his concern, and observe her in compassionate silence. At length, she spoke again.
"I have just had a letter from Jane, with such dreadful news. It cannot be concealed
from any one. My youngest sister has left all her friends -- has eloped; -- has
thrown herself into the power of -- of Mr. Wickham. They are gone off together from
Brighton. You know him too well to doubt the rest. She has no money, no connections,
nothing that can tempt him to -- she is lost for ever."
Darcy was fixed in astonishment. "When I consider," she added, in a yet more
agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it! -- I who knew what he was.
Had I but explained some part of it only -- some part of what I learnt -- to my
own family! Had his character been known, this could not have happened.
But it is all, all too late now."
"I am grieved, indeed," cried Darcy; "grieved -- shocked.
But is it certain, absolutely certain?"
"Oh yes! -- They left Brighton together on Sunday night, and were traced almost
to London, but not beyond; they are certainly not gone to Scotland."
"And what has been done, what has been attempted, to recover her?"
"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my uncle's immediate
assistance, and we shall be off, I hope, in half an hour. But nothing can be done;
I know very well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How
are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope.
It is every way horrible!"
Darcy shook his head in silent acquiescence.
"When my eyes were opened to his real character. -- Oh! had I known what I
ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not -- I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched,
Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, and was walking up and
down the room in earnest meditation; his brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth
soon observed and instantly understood it. Her power was sinking; every thing must
sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace.
She should neither wonder nor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought
nothing consolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of her distress. It was,
on the contrary, exactly calculated to make her understand her own wishes; and never
had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must
But self, though it would intrude, could not engross her.
Lydia -- the humiliation, the misery, she was bringing on them all -- soon swallowed
up every private care; and covering her face with her handkerchief, Elizabeth was
soon lost to every thing else; and, after a pause of several minutes, was only recalled
to a sense of her situation by the voice of her companion, who, in a manner, which
though it spoke compassion, spoke likewise restraint, said, "I am afraid you have
been long desiring my absence, nor have I any thing to plead in excuse of my stay,
but real, though unavailing, concern. Would to heaven that any thing could be either
said or done on my part, that might offer consolation to such distress! -- But I
will not torment you with vain wishes, which may seem purposely to ask for your
thanks. This unfortunate affair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the pleasure
of seeing you at Pemberley to-day."
"Oh, yes. Be so kind as to apologize for us to Miss Darcy.
Say that urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal the unhappy truth
as long as it is possible. -- I know it cannot be long."
He readily assured her of his secrecy -- again expressed his sorrow for her distress,
wished it a happier conclusion than there was at present reason to hope, and, leaving
his compliments for her relations, with only one serious, parting, look, went away.
As he quitted the room, Elizabeth felt how improbable it was that they should
ever see each other again on such terms of cordiality as had marked their several
meetings in Derbyshire; and as she threw a retrospective glance over the whole of
their acquaintance, so full of contradictions and varieties, sighed at the perverseness
of those feelings which would now have promoted its continuance, and would formerly
have rejoiced in its termination.
If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth's change
of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty. But if otherwise, if the regard
springing from such sources is unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what
is so often described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even
before two words have been exchanged, nothing can be said in her defence, except
that she had given somewhat of a trial to the latter method in her partiality for
Wickham, and that its ill-success might perhaps authorise her to seek the other
less interesting mode of attachment. Be that as it may, she saw him go with regret;
and in this early example of what Lydia's infamy must produce, found additional
anguish as she reflected on that wretched business. Never, since reading Jane's
second letter, had she entertained a hope of Wickham's meaning to marry her. No
one but Jane, she thought, could flatter herself with such an expectation. Surprise
was the least of her feelings on this developement. While the contents of the first
letter remained on her mind, she was all surprise -- all astonishment that Wickham
should marry a girl whom it was impossible he could marry for money; and how Lydia
could ever have attached him had appeared incomprehensible. But now it was all too
natural. For such an attachment as this, she might have sufficient charms; and though
she did not suppose Lydia to be deliberately engaging in an elopement, without the
intention of marriage, she had no difficulty in believing that neither her virtue
nor her understanding would preserve her from falling an easy prey.
She had never perceived, while the regiment was in Hertfordshire, that Lydia
had any partiality for him, but she was convinced that Lydia had wanted only encouragement
to attach herself to any body. Sometimes one officer, sometimes another had been
her favourite, as their attentions raised them in her opinion. Her affections had
been continually fluctuating, but never without an object.
The mischief of neglect and mistaken indulgence towards such a girl. -- Oh! how
acutely did she now feel it.