"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 of my sister's happiness with him in marriage, because
I knew that his conduct had not been always quite right. My father and mother knew
nothing of that, they only felt how imprudent a match it must be. Kitty then owned,
with a very natural triumph on knowing more than the rest of us, that in Lydia's
last letter she had prepared her for such a step. She had known, it seems, of their
being in love with each other many weeks."
"But not before they went to Brighton?"
"No, I believe not."
"And did Colonel Forster appear to think ill 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 repeat the particulars of Lydia's note to his wife?"
"He brought it with him for us to see."
Jane then took it from her pocket-book, and gave it to Elizabeth. These were
the contents: "MY DEAR HARRIET, 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 am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think
you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel.
I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not
send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make
the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What
a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray make my excuses to
Pratt, for not keeping my engagement and dancing with him to night. Tell him I hope
he will excuse me when he knows all, and tell him I will dance with him at the next
ball we meet, with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I get to Longbourn;
but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown before
they are packed up.
Good bye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will drink to our good
Your affectionate friend, LYDIA BENNET."
"Oh! thoughtless, thoughtless Lydia!" cried Elizabeth when she had finished it.
"What a letter is this, to be written at such a moment. But at least it shews that
she was serious in the object of her journey. Whatever he might afterwards persuade
her to, it was not on her side a scheme of infamy. My poor father! how he must
have felt it!"
"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 Elizabeth, "was there a servant belonging to it, who did not
know the whole story before the end of the day?"
"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
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 could be of use to us."
"She had better have stayed at home," cried Elizabeth; "perhaps she meant well,
but under such a misfortune as this, one cannot see too little of one's neighbours.
Assistance is impossible; condolence, insufferable. Let them triumph over us at
a distance, and be satisfied."
She then proceeded to enquire into the measures which her father had intended
to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of his daughter.
"He meant, I believe," replied Jane, "to go to Epsom, the place where they last
changed horses, see the postillions, and try if any thing could be made out from
them. His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which
took them from Clapham. It had come with a fare from London; and as he thought the
circumstance of a gentleman and lady's removing from one carriage into another might
be remarked, he meant to make enquiries at Clapham. If he could any how discover
at what house the coachman had before set down his fare, he determined to make enquiries
there, and hoped it might not be impossible to find out the stand and number of
I do not know of any other designs that he had formed: but he was in such a hurry
to be gone, and his spirits so greatly discomposed, that I had difficulty in finding
out even so much as this."
<CHAPTER VI (48)>
THE whole party were in hopes of a letter from Mr. Bennet the next morning, but
the post came in without bringing a single line from him. His family knew him to
be, on all common occasions, a most negligent and dilatory correspondent, but at
such a time they had hoped for exertion. They were forced to conclude that he had
no pleasing intelligence to send, but even of that they would have been glad to
Mr. Gardiner had waited only for the letters before he set off.
When he was gone, they were certain at least of receiving constant information
of what was going on, and their uncle promised, at parting, to prevail on Mr. Bennet
to return to Longbourn as soon as he could, to the great consolation of his sister,
who considered it as the only security for her husband's not being killed in a duel.
Mrs. Gardiner and the children were to remain in Hertfordshire a few days longer,
as the former thought her presence might be serviceable to her nieces. She shared
in their attendance on Mrs. Bennet, and was a great comfort to them in their hours
of freedom. Their other aunt also visited them frequently, and always, as she said,
with the design of cheering and heartening them up, though as she never came without
reporting some fresh instance of Wickham's extravagance or irregularity, she seldom
went away without leaving them more dispirited than she found them.
All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man, who, but three months before,
had been almost an angel of light. He was declared to be in debt to every tradesman
in the place, and his intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been
extended into every tradesman's family. Every body declared that he was the wickedest
young man in the world; and every body began to find out that they had always distrusted
the appearance of his goodness. Elizabeth, though she did not credit above half
of what was said, believed enough to make her former assurance of her sister's ruin
still more certain; and even Jane, who believed still less of it, became almost
hopeless, more especially as the time was now come when, if they had gone to Scotland,
which she had never before entirely despaired of, they must in all probability have
gained some news of them.
Mr. Gardiner left Longbourn on Sunday; on Tuesday, his wife received a letter
from him; it told them that on his arrival, he had immediately found out his brother,
and persuaded him to come to Gracechurch street; that Mr. Bennet had been to Epsom
and Clapham before his arrival, but without gaining any satisfactory information;
and that he was now determined to enquire at all the principal hotels in town, as
Mr. Bennet thought it possible they might have gone to one of them, on their first
coming to London, before they procured lodgings.
Mr. Gardiner himself did not expect any success from this measure, but as his
brother was eager in it, he meant to assist him in pursuing it. He added that Mr.
Bennet seemed wholly disinclined at present, to leave London, and promised to write
again very soon. There was also a postscript to this effect: "I have written to
Colonel Forster to desire him to find out, if possible, from some of the young man's
intimates in the regiment, whether Wickham has any relations or connections who
would be likely to know in what part of the town he has now concealed himself. If
there were any one that one could apply to with a probability of gaining such a
clue as that, it might be of essential consequence. At present we have nothing to
guide us. Colonel Forster will, I dare say, do every thing in his power to satisfy
us on this head. But, on second thoughts, perhaps Lizzy could tell us what relations
he has now living better than any other person."