It was the second week in May, in which the three young ladies set ou_ogether from Gracechurch Street for the town of ——, in Hertfordshire; and, a_hey 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 an_ydia looking out of a dining-room upstairs. These two girls had been above a_our in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watchin_he sentinel on guard, and dressing a salad and cucumber.
After welcoming their sisters, they triumphantly displayed a table set ou_ith such cold meat as an inn larder usually affords, exclaiming, "Is not thi_ice? 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 he_urchases—"Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is ver_retty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to piece_s 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 hav_ought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will b_ery 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 u_ll there for the summer! It would be such a delicious scheme; and I dare sa_ould 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, an_ompletely do for us at once. Good Heaven! Brighton, and a whole campful o_oldiers, to us, who have been overset already by one poor regiment o_ilitia, 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 certai_erson we all like!"
Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other, and the waiter was told he need no_tay. Lydia laughed, and said:
"Aye, that is just like your formality and discretion. You thought the waite_ust not hear, as if he cared! I dare say he often hears worse things sai_han I am going to say. But he is an ugly fellow! I am glad he is gone. _ever saw such a long chin in my life. Well, but now for my news; it is abou_ear Wickham; too good for the waiter, is it not? There is no danger o_ickham's marrying Mary King. There's for you! She is gone down to her uncl_t Liverpool: gone to stay. Wickham is safe."
"And Mary King is safe!" added Elizabeth; "safe from a connection imprudent a_o fortune."
"She is a great fool for going away, if she liked him."
"But I hope there is no strong attachment on either side," said Jane.
"I am sure there is not on _his_. I will answer for it, he never cared thre_traws about her—who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?"
Elizabeth was shocked to think that, however incapable of such coarseness o_expression_ herself, the coarseness of the _sentiment_ was little othe_han her own breast had harboured and fancied liberal!
As soon as all had ate, and the elder ones paid, the carriage was ordered; an_fter some contrivance, the whole party, with all their boxes, work-bags, an_arcels, and the unwelcome addition of Kitty's and Lydia's purchases, wer_eated in it.
"How nicely we are all crammed in," cried Lydia. "I am glad I bought m_onnet, if it is only for the fun of having another bandbox! Well, now let u_e quite comfortable and snug, and talk and laugh all the way home. And in th_irst 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 grea_opes that one of you would have got a husband before you came back. Jane wil_e 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 aun_hillips wants you so to get husbands, you can't think. She says Lizzy ha_etter have taken Mr. Collins; but _I_ do not think there would have bee_ny fun in it. Lord! how I should like to be married before any of you; an_hen I would chaperon you about to all the balls. Dear me! we had such a goo_iece of fun the other day at Colonel Forster's. Kitty and me were to spen_he day there, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little dance in th_vening; (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are _such_ friends!) and so sh_sked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was force_o come by herself; and then, what do you think we did? We dressed u_hamberlayne in woman's clothes on purpose to pass for a lady, only think wha_un! 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 canno_magine how well he looked! When Denny, and Wickham, and Pratt, and two o_hree more of the men came in, they did not know him in the least. Lord! how _aughed! and so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died. And _that_ade the men suspect something, and then they soon found out what was th_atter."
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 al_he way to Longbourn. Elizabeth listened as little as she could, but there wa_o escaping the frequent mention of Wickham's name.
Their reception at home was most kind. Mrs. Bennet rejoiced to see Jane i_ndiminished beauty; and more than once during dinner did Mr. Bennet sa_oluntarily to Elizabeth:
"I am glad you are come back, Lizzy."
Their party in the dining-room was large, for almost all the Lucases came t_eet Maria and hear the news; and various were the subjects that occupie_hem: Lady Lucas was inquiring of Maria, after the welfare and poultry of he_ldest daughter; Mrs. Bennet was doubly engaged, on one hand collecting a_ccount of the present fashions from Jane, who sat some way below her, and, o_he other, retailing them all to the younger Lucases; and Lydia, in a voic_ather louder than any other person's, was enumerating the various pleasure_f 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 w_ent along, Kitty and I drew up the blinds, and pretended there was nobody i_he 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 w_reated the other three with the nicest cold luncheon in the world, and if yo_ould have gone, we would have treated you too. And then when we came away i_as such fun! I thought we never should have got into the coach. I was read_o die of laughter. And then we were so merry all the way home! we talked an_aughed 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, t_epreciate such pleasures! They would doubtless be congenial with th_enerality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for _me_
—I should infinitely prefer a book."
But of this answer Lydia heard not a word. She seldom listened to anybody fo_ore 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 t_eryton, and to see how everybody went on; but Elizabeth steadily opposed th_cheme. It should not be said that the Miss Bennets could not be at home hal_ day before they were in pursuit of the officers. There was another reaso_oo for her opposition. She dreaded seeing Mr. Wickham again, and was resolve_o avoid it as long as possible. The comfort to _her_ of the regiment'_pproaching removal was indeed beyond expression. In a fortnight they were t_o—and once gone, she hoped there could be nothing more to plague her on hi_ccount.
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 discussio_etween her parents. Elizabeth saw directly that her father had not th_mallest intention of yielding; but his answers were at the same time so vagu_nd equivocal, that her mother, though often disheartened, had never ye_espaired of succeeding at last.