The time at home passed quickly, but Elizabeth treasured every moment that she got to spend with Jane. There was no one else in her life with whom she could be so honest. Unfortunately, the one thing that she needed to talk about she did not dare bring up even with Jane. What could Mr. Darcy have meant, and why did a man that she detested continue to linger in her thoughts to the degree that he did?
Luckily she had the trip with her Aunt and Uncle to Derbyshire to look forward to. She dearly loved them, and the trip would take her to a part of the country that she had never seen before. However, they would not be able to begin their journey before more dramatic events came to Longbourn.
Lydia and Kitty came in one day with the news that the militia was moving to Brighton. They were disappointed that there would no longer be officers in town. Elizabeth gave a thought to Mr. Wickham, whom she had not seen for some months now. It could not be possible, could it, that he had remained this entire time in London? But if he had not, why had he not made himself known? She asked Kitty and Lydia if they had heard tell of his whereabouts.
“I would say that you chose somewhat poorly, Lizzy, in spite of his amiable looks and bearing. He still has not returned from London. Denny is terribly upset about it; he said that this does not reflect on the sort of man he believed Wickham to be.”
“Perhaps he fell in love with an heiress,” said Kitty, and the two younger girls danced about the room. “It would be so romantic!”
“Quiet,” said Lydia. “Do think of poor Lizzy’s feelings in all this. She has been quite thrown over.” Lydia’s face indicated that she was not so much sorry as she was interested in how her sister might react.
“Mr. Wickham had made me no promises. His conscience is clear on that account,” Elizabeth said lightly. However, her heart felt as if it was being crushed. She had so liked Mr. Wickham and had hoped for a future with him – fortune or no. For him to leave forever without so much as telling her was a difficult reality to accept.
Later, when they were alone, Jane consoled her. “Maybe there is some explanation. Maybe a member of his family fell ill.”
“No, he has no family,” Elizabeth said, and reminded Jane of his connection to Mr. Darcy.
“Well, there could be another explanation. What if he has fallen ill?”
“Denny would know. This sounds like an outright desertion, which I cannot believe he would be capable of. Is it possible that I misjudged him so completely?”
“If you have misjudged him, Lizzy, we all have. He never gave us any reason to suspect that his character was anything but clean. Perhaps it is for the best that he is gone, if that is the sort of man that he actually is.”
The discovery of Mr. Wickham’s desertion made Elizabeth question the veracity of everything that he told her. Did he indeed have romantic designs on her? Was he just hoping to find a girl of little willpower who would give him what he desired? If that was his plan he had chosen his target poorly. Nonetheless, Elizabeth was angry at herself for being fooled so completely. Then another thought came to mind – if Mr. Wickham was indeed not a man of noble character, was his description of what happened with Mr. Darcy true, or was it a lie? Elizabeth no longer knew what to believe. Instead of torturing herself further, she determined that it was time for her to go to bed. Her sleep was fitful, and she awoke feeling no less rested (or certain) than she had the evening before.
When one is particularly tired, the sound of unrestrained young people can easily make one feel less pleasant still. However, that was what awaited Elizabeth on that particular day.
“Mama! Papa! I have the most wonderful news!” Lydia cried as she rushed through the door. Kitty followed close behind, sobbing.
“Well, what is it, Lydia dear? And why has it caused Kitty such grief?”
“Colonel and Mrs. Forster have asked me to stay with them at Brighton. Oh, what a grand adventure I shall have!”
“It is not fair!” said Kitty. “I am two years old than you. I should have been invited.”
“Perhaps they could tell that I am the more adult of the two of us,” said Lydia smugly. She had not a single care for the pain that her sister was in.
Jane comforted Kitty, who could not stop crying.
“This is excellent!” said Mrs. Bennet, crossing the room to hug Lydia. “You shall be safe with the Forsters, and it will give the young men of the regiment more time to learn your agreeable qualities. An offer of marriage cannot be far behind!”
The two of them hugged each other and giggled as if both of them were 15. Elizabeth was dismayed to see that their mother did not pay an ounce of attention to poor, heart-broken Kitty. She sat next to her on the couch and assisted Jane in trying to comfort her.Lydia continued to flounce around the room, making things much harder for Kitty. Finally, Elizabeth could stand it no more. Leaving Kitty in Jane’s capable care, she knocked on the door of her father’s study.
Elizabeth explained, as calmly as she could manage, all the reasons that allowing Lydia to go to Brighton was a terrible idea.
“She cannot be controlled at home, Papa! What makes you think that she will comport herself better when her family is not around to shame her out of whatever egregious folly she thinks up?”
“Lydia will be Lydia, and it is probably best that she work out some of her silliness in Brighton – far from here. The Forsters will not let anything truly bad happen.”
“Mrs Forster is nearly as foolish as Lydia! I do not think that she will be a stern chaperone.”
“Colonel Forster has the power to control both his wife and your sister, I believe.”
“If she does something untoward, it will reflect on the entire family! On our marriage prospects, which may have already been harmed!”
“In what specific way have they been harmed, Lizzy?”
She couldn’t tell him the truth – not until she was certain that she understood it herself. “In no specific way, but having foolish girls in the family does not reflect well on the family in general!”
“Well, it is fortunate that we have you and Jane. No one could meet you and walk away with a bad impression of our family. Having two silly sisters will not affect that.”
“I hope, for all our sakes, that you are correct, Papa.”
She was not going to change her father’s mind, so she returned to once again help Jane comfort Kitty.
Kitty remained sullen and Lydia remained insensible of that fact. Within a few days, she was packed and ready to go.
“The next time you see me, pray that I will be engaged!” she cried.
“I only pray that when we see her again she will not be ruined,” Elizabeth said softly to Jane.