Pride and Prejudice > Chapter 41
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Pride and Prejudice
- by Jane Austen
The first week of their return was soon gone. The second began.
It was the last of the regiment's stay in Meryton, and all the
young ladies in the neighbourhood were drooping apace. The
dejection was almost universal. The elder Miss Bennets alone
were still able to eat, drink, and sleep, and pursue the usual
course of their employments. Very frequently were they
reproached for this insensibility by Kitty and Lydia, whose
own misery was extreme, and who could not comprehend such
hard-heartedness in any of the family.
"Good Heaven! what is to become of us? What are we to do?"
would they often exclaim in the bitterness of woe. "How can
you be smiling so, Lizzy?"
Their affectionate mother shared all their grief; she remembered
what she had herself endured on a similar occasion, five-and-twenty
"I am sure," said she, "I cried for two days together when
Colonel Miller's regiment went away. I thought I should have
broken my heart."
"I am sure I shall break mine," said Lydia.
"If one could but go to Brighton!" observed Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh, yes! — if one could but go to Brighton! But papa is so
"A little sea-bathing would set me up forever."
"And my aunt Phillips is sure it would do me a great deal of
good," added Kitty.
Such were the kind of lamentations resounding perpetually
through Longbourn House. Elizabeth tried to be diverted by
them; but all sense of pleasure was lost in shame. She felt anew
the justice of Mr. Darcy's objections; and never had she been so
much disposed to pardon his interference in the views of his
But the gloom of Lydia's prospect was shortly cleared away; for
she received an invitation from Mrs. Forster, the wife of the
colonel of the regiment, to accompany her to Brighton. This
invaluable friend was a very young woman, and very lately
married. A resemblance in good humour and good spirits had
recommended her and Lydia to each other, and out of their
three months' acquaintance they had been intimate two.
The rapture of Lydia on this occasion, her adoration of Mrs.
Forster, the delight of Mrs. Bennet, and the mortification of
Kitty, are scarcely to be described. Wholly inattentive to her
sister's feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstasy,
calling for everyone's congratulations, and laughing and talking
with more violence than ever; whilst the luckless Kitty continued
in the parlour repined at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her
accent was peevish.
"I cannot see why Mrs. Forster should not ask me as well as
Lydia," said she, "Though I am not her particular friend. I
have just as much right to be asked as she has, and more too,
for I am two years older."
In vain did Elizabeth attempt to make her reasonable, and Jane
to make her resigned. As for Elizabeth herself, this invitation
was so far from exciting in her the same feelings as in her mother
and Lydia, that she considered it as the death warrant of all
possibility of common sense for the latter; and detestable as such
a step must make her were it known, she could not help secretly
advising her father not to let her go. She represented to him all
the improprieties of Lydia's general behaviour, the little
advantage she could derive from the friendship of such a woman
as Mrs. Forster, and the probability of her being yet more
imprudent with such a companion at Brighton, where the
temptations must be greater than at home. He heard her
attentively, and then said:
"Lydia will never be easy until she has exposed herself in some
public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with
so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the
"If you were aware," said Elizabeth, "of the very great
disadvantage to us all which must arise from the public notice
of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner — nay, which has
already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently in
"Already arisen?" repeated Mr. Bennet. "What, has she
frightened away some of your lovers? Poor little Lizzy! But do
not be cast down. Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to be
connected with a little absurdity are not worth a regret. Come,
let me see the list of pitiful fellows who have been kept aloof
by Lydia's folly."
"Indeed you are mistaken. I have no such injuries to resent.
It is not of particular, but of general evils, which I am now
complaining. Our importance, our respectability in the world must
be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of
all restraint which mark Lydia's character. Excuse me, for I must
speak plainly. If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble
of checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her
present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will
soon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will be
fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that
ever made herself or her family ridiculous; a flirt, too, in the
worst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attraction
beyond youth and a tolerable person; and, from the ignorance and
emptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off any portion of
that universal contempt which her rage for admiration will excite.
In this danger Kitty also is comprehended. She will follow wherever
Lydia leads. Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled!
Oh! my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not
be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their
sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?"
Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, and
affectionately taking her hand said in reply:
"Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane
are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not
appear to less advantage for having a couple of — or I may say,
three — very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbourn
if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go, then. Colonel
Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real
mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of prey
to anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance even as
a common flirt than she has been here. The officers will find
women better worth their notice. Let us hope, therefore, that
her being there may teach her her own insignificance. At any
rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorising
us to lock her up for the rest of her life."
With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content; but her
own opinion continued the same, and she left him disappointed
and sorry. It was not in her nature, however, to increase her
vexations by dwelling on them. She was confident of having
performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or
augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition.
Had Lydia and her mother known the substance of her conference
with her father, their indignation would hardly have found
expression in their united volubility. In Lydia's imagination,
a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly
happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets
of that gay bathing-place covered with officers. She saw
herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them
at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp — its
tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded
with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to
complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly
flirting with at least six officers at once.
Had she known her sister sought to tear her from such prospects
and such realities as these, what would have been her sensations?
They could have been understood only by her mother, who might
have felt nearly the same. Lydia's going to Brighton was all
that consoled her for her melancholy conviction of her husband's
never intending to go there himself.
But they were entirely ignorant of what had passed; and their
raptures continued, with little intermission, to the very day of
Lydia's leaving home.
Elizabeth was now to see Mr. Wickham for the last time.
Having been frequently in company with him since her return,
agitation was pretty well over; the agitations of formal partiality
entirely so. She had even learnt to detect, in the very gentleness
which had first delighted her, an affectation and a sameness to
disgust and weary. In his present behaviour to herself,
moreover, she had a fresh source of displeasure, for the
inclination he soon testified of renewing those intentions which
had marked the early part of their acquaintance could only serve,
after what had since passed, to provoke her. She lost all concern
for him in finding herself thus selected as the object of such idle
and frivolous gallantry; and while she steadily repressed it, could
not but feel the reproof contained in his believing, that however
long, and for whatever cause, his attentions had been withdrawn,
her vanity would be gratified, and her preference secured at any
time by their renewal.
On the very last day of the regiment's remaining at Meryton, he
dined, with other of the officers, at Longbourn; and so little
was Elizabeth disposed to part from him in good humour, that on
his making some inquiry as to the manner in which her time had
passed at Hunsford, she mentioned Colonel Fitzwilliam's and
Mr. Darcy's having both spent three weeks at Rosings, and
asked him, if he was acquainted with the former.
He looked surprised, displeased, alarmed; but with a moment's
recollection and a returning smile, replied, that he had formerly
seen him often; and, after observing that he was a very
gentlemanlike man, asked her how she had liked him. Her
answer was warmly in his favour. With an air of indifference he
soon afterwards added:
"How long did you say he was at Rosings?"
"Nearly three weeks."
"And you saw him frequently?"
"Yes, almost every day."
"His manners are very different from his cousin's."
"Yes, very different. But I think Mr. Darcy improves upon
"Indeed!" cried Mr. Wickham with a look which did not escape
her. "And pray, may I ask? — " But checking himself, he added,
in a gayer tone, "Is it in address that he improves? Has he
deigned to add aught of civility to his ordinary style? — for I
dare not hope," he continued in a lower and more serious tone,
"that he is improved in essentials."
"Oh, no!" said Elizabeth. "In essentials, I believe, he is very
much what he ever was."
While she spoke, Wickham looked as if scarcely knowing
whether to rejoice over her words, or to distrust their meaning.
There was a something in her countenance which made him listen
with an apprehensive and anxious attention, while she added:
"When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not mean
that his mind or his manners were in a state of improvement, but
that, from knowing him better, his disposition was better
Wickham's alarm now appeared in a heightened complexion and
agitated look; for a few minutes he was silent, till, shaking
off his embarrassment, he turned to her again, and said in the
gentlest of accents:
"You, who so well know my feeling towards Mr. Darcy, will
readily comprehend how sincerely I must rejoice that he is
wise enough to assume even the appearance of what is right.
His pride, in that direction, may be of service, if not to himself,
to many others, for it must only deter him from such foul
misconduct as I have suffered by. I only fear that the sort of
cautiousness to which you, I imagine, have been alluding, is
merely adopted on his visits to his aunt, of whose good opinion
and judgement he stands much in awe. His fear of her has
always operated, I know, when they were together; and a good
deal is to be imputed to his wish of forwarding the match with
Miss de Bourgh, which I am certain he has very much at heart."
Elizabeth could not repress a smile at this, but she answered only
by a slight inclination of the head. She saw that he wanted to
engage her on the old subject of his grievances, and she was in
no humour to indulge him. The rest of the evening passed with
the appearance, on his side, of usual cheerfulness, but with
no further attempt to distinguish Elizabeth; and they parted at
last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never
When the party broke up, Lydia returned with Mrs. Forster to
Meryton, from whence they were to set out early the next
morning. The separation between her and her family was rather
noisy than pathetic. Kitty was the only one who shed tears; but
she did weep from vexation and envy. Mrs. Bennet was diffuse
in her good wishes for the felicity of her daughter, and
impressive in her injunctions that she should not miss the
opportunity of enjoying herself as much as possible — advice
which there was every reason to believe would be well attended
to; and in the clamorous happiness of Lydia herself in bidding
farewell, the more gentle adieus of her sisters were uttered
without being heard.