The whole party were in hopes of a letter from Mr. Bennet the next morning,
but the post came in without bringing a single line from him. His family kne_im to be, on all common occasions, a most negligent and dilator_orrespondent; but at such a time they had hoped for exertion. They wer_orced to conclude that he had no pleasing intelligence to send; but even o_that_ they would have been glad to be certain. Mr. Gardiner had waited onl_or the letters before he set off.
When he was gone, they were certain at least of receiving constant informatio_f what was going on, and their uncle promised, at parting, to prevail on Mr.
Bennet to return to Longbourn, as soon as he could, to the great consolatio_f his sister, who considered it as the only security for her husband's no_eing killed in a duel.
Mrs. Gardiner and the children were to remain in Hertfordshire a few day_onger, as the former thought her presence might be serviceable to her nieces.
She shared in their attendance on Mrs. Bennet, and was a great comfort to the_n their hours of freedom. Their other aunt also visited them frequently, an_lways, as she said, with the design of cheering and heartening the_p—though, as she never came without reporting some fresh instance o_ickham's extravagance or irregularity, she seldom went away without leavin_hem more dispirited than she found them.
All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before,
had been almost an angel of light. He was declared to be in debt to ever_radesman in the place, and his intrigues, all honoured with the title o_eduction, had been extended into every tradesman's family. Everybody declare_hat he was the wickedest young man in the world; and everybody began to fin_ut that they had always distrusted the appearance of his goodness. Elizabeth,
though she did not credit above half of what was said, believed enough to mak_er former assurance of her sister's ruin more certain; and even Jane, wh_elieved still less of it, became almost hopeless, more especially as the tim_as now come when, if they had gone to Scotland, which she had never befor_ntirely despaired of, they must in all probability have gained some news o_hem.
Mr. Gardiner left Longbourn on Sunday; on Tuesday his wife received a lette_rom him; it told them that, on his arrival, he had immediately found out hi_rother, and persuaded him to come to Gracechurch Street; that Mr. Bennet ha_een to Epsom and Clapham, before his arrival, but without gaining an_atisfactory information; and that he was now determined to inquire at all th_rincipal hotels in town, as Mr. Bennet thought it possible they might hav_one to one of them, on their first coming to London, before they procure_odgings. Mr. Gardiner himself did not expect any success from this measure,
but as his brother was eager in it, he meant to assist him in pursuing it. H_dded that Mr. Bennet seemed wholly disinclined at present to leave London an_romised to write again very soon. There was also a postscript to this effect:
"I have written to Colonel Forster to desire him to find out, if possible,
from some of the young man's intimates in the regiment, whether Wickham ha_ny relations or connections who would be likely to know in what part of tow_e has now concealed himself. If there were anyone that one could apply t_ith a probability of gaining such a clue as that, it might be of essentia_onsequence. At present we have nothing to guide us. Colonel Forster will, _are say, do everything in his power to satisfy us on this head. But, o_econd thoughts, perhaps, Lizzy could tell us what relations he has no_iving, better than any other person."
Elizabeth was at no loss to understand from whence this deference to he_uthority proceeded; but it was not in her power to give any information of s_atisfactory a nature as the compliment deserved. She had never heard of hi_aving had any relations, except a father and mother, both of whom had bee_ead many years. It was possible, however, that some of his companions in the
——shire might be able to give more information; and though she was not ver_anguine in expecting it, the application was a something to look forward to.
Every day at Longbourn was now a day of anxiety; but the most anxious part o_ach was when the post was expected. The arrival of letters was the gran_bject of every morning's impatience. Through letters, whatever of good or ba_as to be told would be communicated, and every succeeding day was expected t_ring some news of importance.
But before they heard again from Mr. Gardiner, a letter arrived for thei_ather, from a different quarter, from Mr. Collins; which, as Jane ha_eceived directions to open all that came for him in his absence, sh_ccordingly read; and Elizabeth, who knew what curiosities his letters alway_ere, looked over her, and read it likewise. It was as follows:
"MY DEAR SIR,
"I feel myself called upon, by our relationship, and my situation in life, t_ondole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under, o_hich we were yesterday informed by a letter from Hertfordshire. Be assured,
my dear sir, that Mrs. Collins and myself sincerely sympathise with you an_ll your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of th_itterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove. N_rguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe _isfortune—or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of al_thers the most afflicting to a parent's mind. The death of your daughte_ould have been a blessing in comparison of this. And it is the more to b_amented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me,
that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from _aulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the consolation o_ourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition mus_e naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so earl_n age. Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in whic_pinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherin_nd her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me i_pprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to th_ortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingl_ays, will connect themselves with such a family? And this consideration lead_e moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event o_ast November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in al_our sorrow and disgrace. Let me then advise you, dear sir, to consol_ourself as much as possible, to throw off your unworthy child from you_ffection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinou_ffense.
"I am, dear sir, etc., etc."
Mr. Gardiner did not write again till he had received an answer from Colone_orster; and then he had nothing of a pleasant nature to send. It was no_nown that Wickham had a single relationship with whom he kept up an_onnection, and it was certain that he had no near one living. His forme_cquaintances had been numerous; but since he had been in the militia, it di_ot appear that he was on terms of particular friendship with any of them.
There was no one, therefore, who could be pointed out as likely to give an_ews of him. And in the wretched state of his own finances, there was a ver_owerful motive for secrecy, in addition to his fear of discovery by Lydia'_elations, for it had just transpired that he had left gaming debts behind hi_o a very considerable amount. Colonel Forster believed that more than _housand pounds would be necessary to clear his expenses at Brighton. He owe_ good deal in town, but his debts of honour were still more formidable. Mr.
Gardiner did not attempt to conceal these particulars from the Longbour_amily. Jane heard them with horror. "A gamester!" she cried. "This is wholl_nexpected. I had not an idea of it."
Mr. Gardiner added in his letter, that they might expect to see their fathe_t home on the following day, which was Saturday. Rendered spiritless by th_ll-success of all their endeavours, he had yielded to his brother-in-law'_ntreaty that he would return to his family, and leave it to him to d_hatever occasion might suggest to be advisable for continuing their pursuit.
When Mrs. Bennet was told of this, she did not express so much satisfaction a_er children expected, considering what her anxiety for his life had bee_efore.
"What, is he coming home, and without poor Lydia?" she cried. "Sure he wil_ot leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and mak_im marry her, if he comes away?"
As Mrs. Gardiner began to wish to be at home, it was settled that she and th_hildren should go to London, at the same time that Mr. Bennet came from it.
The coach, therefore, took them the first stage of their journey, and brough_ts master back to Longbourn.
Mrs. Gardiner went away in all the perplexity about Elizabeth and he_erbyshire friend that had attended her from that part of the world. His nam_ad never been voluntarily mentioned before them by her niece; and the kind o_alf-expectation which Mrs. Gardiner had formed, of their being followed by _etter from him, had ended in nothing. Elizabeth had received none since he_eturn that could come from Pemberley.
The present unhappy state of the family rendered any other excuse for th_owness of her spirits unnecessary; nothing, therefore, could be fairl_onjectured from _that_ , though Elizabeth, who was by this time tolerabl_ell acquainted with her own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had she know_othing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia's infamy somewha_etter. It would have spared her, she thought, one sleepless night out of two.
When Mr. Bennet arrived, he had all the appearance of his usual philosophi_omposure. He said as little as he had ever been in the habit of saying; mad_o mention of the business that had taken him away, and it was some tim_efore his daughters had courage to speak of it.
It was not till the afternoon, when he had joined them at tea, that Elizabet_entured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing he_orrow for what he must have endured, he replied, "Say nothing of that. Wh_hould suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it."
"You must not be too severe upon yourself," replied Elizabeth.
"You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fal_nto it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame.
I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soo_nough."
"Do you suppose them to be in London?"
"Yes; where else can they be so well concealed?"
"And Lydia used to want to go to London," added Kitty.
"She is happy then," said her father drily; "and her residence there wil_robably be of some duration."
Then after a short silence he continued:
"Lizzy, I bear you no ill-will for being justified in your advice to me las_ay, which, considering the event, shows some greatness of mind."
They were interrupted by Miss Bennet, who came to fetch her mother's tea.
"This is a parade," he cried, "which does one good; it gives such an eleganc_o misfortune! Another day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in m_ightcap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can; or, perhaps, _ay defer it till Kitty runs away."
"I am not going to run away, papa," said Kitty fretfully. "If I should ever g_o Brighton, I would behave better than Lydia."
" _You_ go to Brighton. I would not trust you so near it as Eastbourne fo_ifty pounds! No, Kitty, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you wil_eel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter into my house again, no_ven to pass through the village. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unles_ou stand up with one of your sisters. And you are never to stir out of door_ill you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rationa_anner."
Kitty, who took all these threats in a serious light, began to cry.
"Well, well," said he, "do not make yourself unhappy. If you are a good gir_or the next ten years, I will take you to a review at the end of them."