• Victoria Reeve

Pride & Prejudice Flipped CHAPTER 39

It was the second week in May, in which the three young gentlemen set out together from Gracechurch Street for the town of --- in Hertfordshire; and, as they drew near the appointed inn where Mrs. Bennet’s carriage was to meet them, they quickly perceived, in token of the coachman’s punctuality, both Willard and Lionel looking out of a dining-room upstairs. These two boys had been above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite tailor, watching the sentinel on guard, and dressing a salad cucumber.

After welcoming their brothers, 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 Lionel, “but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.” Then, showing his purchases – “Look here, I have bought this hat. I do not think it is very handsome; but I thought I might as well buy it as not.”

And when his brothers abused it as ugly, he added, with perfect unconcern, “Oh! but there were two or three much uglier in the shop. Besides, it will not much signify what one wears this summer, after the ---shire Militia have left Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight.”

“Are they indeed!” cried Edward, with the greatest satisfaction.

“They are going to be encamped near Brighton; and I do so want mamma 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. Papa would like to go too of all things! Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!”

“Yes,” thought Edward, “that would be a delightful scheme indeed, and completely do for us at once. Good Heaven! Brighton, and a whole campfulofsoldiers,tous,whohavebeenoversetalreadybyonepoor regiment of militia, and the monthly balls of Meryton!”

“Now I have got some news for you,” said Lionel, as they sat down at table. “What do you think? It is excellent news – capital news – and about a certain person we all like!”

Jack and Edward looked at each other, and the waitress was told she need not stay. Lionel laughed, and said:

“Aye, that is just like your formality and discretion. You thought the waitress must not hear, as if she cared! I dare say she often hears worse things said than I am going to say. But she is an ugly thing! I am glad she is gone. I never saw such a long chin in my life. Well, but now for my news; it is about dear Ms. Wickham; too good for the waitress, is it not? There is no danger of Georgiana Wickham’s marrying Marvin King. There’s for you! He is gone down to his aunt at Liverpool: gone to stay. Ms. Wickham is safe.”

“And Marvin King is safe!” added Edward; “safe from a connection imprudent as to fortune.”

“He is a great fool for going away, if he liked her.”

“But I hope there is no strong attachment on either side,” said Jack.

“I’msurethereisnotonhers.Iwillanswerforit,shenevercaredthree straws about him – who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?”

Edward was shocked to think that, however incapable of coarseness of expression himself, the coarseness of the sentiment was little other than his own breast had harboured and fanciedliberal!

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 Willard’s and Lionel’s purchases, were seated in it.

“How nicely we are all crammed in,” cried Lionel. “I am glad I bought my hat, 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 women? Have you had any flirting? I was in great hopes that one of you would have got a husband before you came back. Jack will be quite an old man soon, I declare. He is almost three-and- twenty! Lord, how ashamed I should be of not being married before three- and-twenty! My uncle Phillips wants you so to get husbands, you can’t think. He says Eddie had better have taken Ms. 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. Willard and me were to spend the day there, and Mr. Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening; (by the bye, Mr. Forster and mearesuchfriends!)andsoheaskedthetwoHarringtonstocome,but Harry was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by himself; and then, what do you think we did? We dressed up Charmaine in men’s clothes on purpose to pass for a gentleman, only think what fun! Not a soul knew of it, but Colonel and Mr. Forster, and Willard and me, except my uncle, for we were forced to borrow one of his suits; and you cannot imagine how well she looked! When Ms. Denny, and Georgiana, and Ms. Pratt, and two or three more of the women came in, they did not know her in the least. Lord! How I laughed! And so did Mr. Forster. I thought I should have died. And that made the women suspect something, and they soon found out what was the matter.”

With such kinds of histories of their parties and good jokes, did Lionel, assisted by Willard’s hints and additions, endeavour to amuse his companions all the way into Longbourn. Edward listened as little as he could, but there was no escaping the frequent mention of Georgiana Wickham’s name.

Their reception at home was most kind. Mr. Bennet rejoiced to see Jack in undiminished beauty; and more than once during dinner did Mrs. Bennet say voluntarily to Edward:

“I am glad you are come back, Eddie.”

Their party in the dining room was large, for almost all the Lucases came to meet Martin and hear the news; and various were the subjects that occupied them: Sir Lucas was inquiring of Martin, after the welfare and poultry of his eldest son; Mr. Bennet was doubly engaged, on one hand collecting an account of the present fashions from Jack, who sat some way below him, and, on the other, retailing them all to the younger Lucases; and Lionel, in a voice rather louder than any other person’s, was enumerating the various pleasures of the morning to anybody who would hearhim.

“Oh! Maurice,” said he, “I wish you had gone with us, for we had such fun! As we went along, Willard and I drew up the blinds, and pretended there was nobody in the coach; and I should have gone so all the way, if Willard 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 milesoff!”

To this Maurice very gravely replied, “Far be it from me, my dear brother, to depreciate such pleasures! They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of male minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me– I should infinitely prefer a book.”

But on this answer Lionel heard not a word. He seldom listened to anybody for more than half a minute, and never attended to Maurice at all.

In the afternoon Lionel was urgent with the rest of the boys to walk to Meryton, and see how everybody went on; but Edward steadily opposed the scheme. It should not be said that the Mr. Bennets could not be at home half a day before they went in pursuit of officers. There was another reason too for his opposition. He dreaded seeing Georgiana Wickham again, and was resolved to avoid it as long as possible. The comfort to him of the regiment’s approaching removal was indeed beyond expression. In a fortnight they were to go – and once gone, he hoped there could be nothing more to plague him on heraccount.

He had not been many hours at home before he found that the Brighton scheme, of which Lionel had given them a hint at the inn, was under frequent discussion between his parents. Edward saw directly that his mother had not the smallest intention of yielding; but her answers were at the same time so vague and equivocal, that his father, though often disheartened, had never yet despaired of succeeding atlast.

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