Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten
Jane, Elizabeth, and Maria Lucas set out together from London for Hertfordshire. 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.
Elizabeth was not inclined to greet the spectacle of her sisters raptures with favor. Mr. Darcy's rebukes of her family still echoed in her mind, and here was a prime example of their indiscretion.
"And we mean to treat you all," Lydia gushed, "and you best be thankful you needn't lend us the money, for we almost just spent ours at the shop out there. I saw the most hideous bonnet and thought I might as well buy it as not, but Kitty said I oughtn't."
"Then Kitty has our sincerest gratitude for the fine repast," Jane replied on behalf of all, and surveyed the table of cold meat with true gratitude, even though it was only such fare as an inn larder usual affords.
"Yes, I think we can all be grateful for Lydia's forbearance and those who insured it," said Elizabeth dryly. "It would be dreadful to be subjected to spectacle of an ugly bonnet."
"I was going to pull it to pull it to pieces as soon as I got home, for surely I could make it up better."
"An industrious use of your time and money."
"It will not much signify what one wears this summer," Kitty eagerly put in, "as the militia are to leave Meryton."
"Are they indeed?" cried Elizabeth, taking her seat with the greatest satisfaction. The waiter was told that he need not stay.
"He is an ugly fellow!" Lydia irritably declared behind him. "I never saw such a long chin in my life. I am glad he is gone., Lizzy, for now we can speak openly, and I can tell you why you needn't be so happy about the militia's departure! Life will be terribly dull once they go, and you sound just like Mama!"
"I do?" came the incredulous reply.
"Yes. She thinks their departure the greatest of things. They are going to be encamped near Brighton."
"Excellent! I am pleased she should be so reasonable."
"Lizzy!" Lydia cried. "And I had so hoped you would persuade Papa to take us all there for the summer!"
"Oh yes! That would be a delightful scheme, indeed, and completely do for us at once. Good Heaven! Brighton, and a whole camp full of soldiers, to us, who have been overset already by one poor regiment of militia, and the monthly balls of Meryton!"
Lydia did not fully comprehend her sister's wit. "You needn't take such a tone. I told you Mamma will have none of it. She is so unreasonable these days. It would be such a delicious scheme, and I dare say would hardly cost anything at all, but she forbid me to mention it," Lydia concluded with a pout.
"She did?" again incredulous.
"She has been beastly ever since the carriage accident."
"I was told she was not seriously hurt!" exclaimed Jane.
"Mr. Jones says she's perfectly hale, but she has been behaving differently lately," Kitty explained. "I like Mama this way."
"You would!" Lydia mocked.
"How is Mama changed other than in her approval of the militia?" Elizabeth inquired.
"She is never any fun anymore. Always declaring what I may and may not do, and turning on everything she once approved. I never thought I'd see the day she'd prefer Mr. Darcy to Wickham, but here we are! One never knows what to expect from her anymore."
"She spends a great deal more time with us than usual," Kitty eagerly offered. "We've had lovely long walks, and she's reading aloud to us while we work."
"She is?" Elizabeth felt she was in a loop of incredulity.
"That has been rather fun, "Lydia concurred. "She's reading Cecilia to us now, and we just finished Udolpho."
Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other. "But reading makes my mother's head ache," the former meekly protested.
"Not anymore," replied Kitty. "She's declared all needlework worthless, and her fingers impossible, after making a muck of the fringe Mary tried to teach her."
"My mother embroiders beautifully," said Jane, yet more meekly.
"Not anymore," Lydia affirmed emphatically, "She says there is nothing to do but read. Of course, she also said she had never read Cecilia before, when Mary just read it to us again last fall."
Elizabeth shook her head. trying to clear a path through her confusion. "And what has this to do with Mr. Darcy?"
"She said Mr. Wickham damaged your opinion of Mr. Darcy, and that you were lucky to escape his clutches before he wrought more harm.," Kitty eagerly supplied. "You see, Miss King broke off her engagement to Mr. Wickham, which is what we so wanted to tell you, and she has removed to her uncle's in Liverpool. Mama believes Miss King is well rid of him, as there must be a g00d reason for her to act so, and she has forbidden us to speak to him anymore."
Elizabeth was all astonishment and knew not what to say but "Brava!"
"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 three straws about her. Who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?"
Elizabeth noted as Kitty hung her head in embarrassment at Lydia's words with surprise., supplying: "It was a connection imprudent as to fortune."
"That must be why Mama was so vexed you thought so ill of Mr. Darcy, Lizzy, for he is far richer than poor Wickham, no matter how disagreeable, but still I did not think you would be so indifferent to Wickham being safe!" Lydia complained between bites of food. "Mama is being most unfair!"
"Mr. Darcy was a guest of Rosings Park at Easter, and we saw him very often," Maria supplied.
Elizabeth groped for the sense in the conversation. "And what does my father have to say of such a change in my mother's behavior?"
"Not very much, though he seems rather amused by it. I believe he approves," Kitty replied.
"Perhaps we ought to consult a doctor," Jane said, worry on her brow.
"La! She is not ill at all. She has barely kept to her bed in two weeks, and no longer needs draughts all the time. "
"Indeed? Well, I suppose we shall have to witness this transformation ourselves in order to believe it, for it seems most unlikely!" Elizabeth turned her attention to her food, her brain in too great a whirl to attend as her sisters chattered on. Mrs. Bennet prefer Mr. Darcy to Wickham, let alone show such penetration of the man she actively sought to snub and offend the previous fall! What could cause such a turn around, and what would she say if she were to learn of his rejected proposal?