Pride and Prejudice > Chapter 39
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Pride and Prejudice
- by Jane Austen
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
salad 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, showing 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 anything 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 of Meryton!"
"Now I have got some news for you," said Lydia, as they sat down
at table. "What do you think? It is excellent news — capital
news — and about a certain person we all like!"
Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other, and the waiter was told
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 it not? 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 to fortune."
"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 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, work-bags, and parcels, and the unwelcome addition
of Kitty's and Lydia's purchases, were seated in it.
"How nicely we are all 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 Phillips 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 Forster'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 Colonel 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 kinds 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 that occupied them: Lady Lucas was inquiring
of Maria, 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
Lucases; and Lydia, in a voice rather louder than any other
person's, was enumerating the various pleasures of the morning
to anybody 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 I drew up 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 anybody 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 a
But of this answer Lydia heard not a word. She seldom listened
to anybody for more than half a minute, and never attended to
Mary at all.
In the afternoon Lydia was urgent with the rest of the girls
to walk to Meryton, and to see how everybody went on; but
Elizabeth steadily opposed the scheme. It should not be said
that the Miss Bennets could not be at home half a day before
they were in pursuit of the officers. There was another reason
too for her opposition. She dreaded seeing Mr. Wickham again,
and was resolved to avoid it as long as possible. The comfort
to her of the regiment's approaching removal was indeed beyond
expression. In a fortnight they were to go — and once gone, she
hoped there could be nothing more to plague her on his account.
She had not been many hours at home before she found that the
Brighton scheme, of which Lydia had given them a hint at the inn,
was under frequent discussion between her parents. Elizabeth
saw directly that her father had not the smallest intention of
yielding; but his answers were at the same time so vague and
equivocal, that her mother, though often disheartened, had never
yet despaired of succeeding at last.