Pride and Prejudice > Chapter 48
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Pride and Prejudice
- by Jane Austen
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 knew him to be, on all common occasions,
a most negligent and dilatory correspondent; but at such a time
they had hoped for exertion. They were forced to conclude that
he had no pleasing intelligence to send; but even of that they
would have been glad to be certain. Mr. Gardiner had waited
only for the letters before he set off.
When he was gone, they were certain at least of receiving
constant information of 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 consolation of his
sister, who considered it as the only security for her husband's
not being killed in a duel.
Mrs. Gardiner and the children were to remain in Hertfordshire
a few days longer, 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 them in their hours of
freedom. Their other aunt also visited them frequently, and
always, as she said, with the design of cheering and heartening
them up — though, as she never came without reporting some
fresh instance of Wickham's extravagance or irregularity, she
seldom went away without leaving them 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 every tradesman in the place, and his
intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been
extended into every tradesman's family. Everybody declared
that he was the wickedest young man in the world; and everybody
began to find out 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 make her former
assurance of her sister's ruin more certain; and even Jane,
who believed still less of it, became almost hopeless, more
especially as the time was now come when, if they had gone to
Scotland, which she had never before entirely despaired of,
they must in all probability have gained some news of them.
Mr. Gardiner left Longbourn on Sunday; on Tuesday his wife
received a letter from him; it told them that, on his arrival,
he had immediately found out his brother, and persuaded him to
come to Gracechurch Street; that Mr. Bennet had been to
Epsom and Clapham, before his arrival, but without gaining
any satisfactory information; and that he was now determined
to inquire at all the principal hotels in town, as Mr. Bennet
thought it possible they might have gone to one of them, on
their first coming to London, before they procured lodgings.
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. He added that Mr. Bennet seemed wholly
disinclined at present to leave London and promised 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 has any relations or connections
who would be likely to know in what part of town he has now
concealed himself. If there were anyone that one could apply
to with a probability of gaining such a clue as that, it might be
of essential consequence. At present we have nothing to guide
us. Colonel Forster will, I dare say, do everything in his power
to satisfy us on this head. But, on second thoughts, perhaps,
Lizzy could tell us what relations he has now living, better than
any other person."
Elizabeth was at no loss to understand from whence this
deference to her authority proceeded; but it was not in her
power to give any information of so satisfactory a nature as the
compliment deserved. She had never heard of his having had
any relations, except a father and mother, both of whom had
been dead 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 very sanguine 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 of each was when the post was expected. The
arrival of letters was the grand object of every morning's
impatience. Through letters, whatever of good or bad was to
be told would be communicated, and every succeeding day was
expected to bring some news of importance.
But before they heard again from Mr. Gardiner, a letter arrived
for their father, from a different quarter, from Mr. Collins;
which, as Jane had received directions to open all that came for
him in his absence, she accordingly read; and Elizabeth, who
knew what curiosities his letters always were, 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, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now
suffering under, of which we were yesterday informed by a letter
from Hertfordshire. Be assured, my dear sir, that Mrs. Collins
and myself sincerely sympathise with you and all your respectable
family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest
kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove.
No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so
severe a misfortune — or that may comfort you, under a circumstance
that must be of all others the most afflicting to a parent's mind.
The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison
of this. And it is the more to be lamented, because there is
reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this
licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from
a faulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the
consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think
that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not
be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age. Howsoever that
may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not
only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and
her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with
me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be
injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady
Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves
with such a family? And this consideration leads me moreover
to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event
of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been
involved in all your sorrow and disgrace. Let me then advise you,
dear sir, to console yourself as much as possible, to throw off
your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her
to reap the fruits of her own heinous offense.
"I am, dear sir, etc., etc."
Mr. Gardiner did not write again till he had received an answer
from Colonel Forster; and then he had nothing of a pleasant
nature to send. It was not known that Wickham had a single
relationship with whom he kept up any connection, and it
was certain that he had no near one living. His former
acquaintances had been numerous; but since he had been in the
militia, it did not 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 any news of him. And
in the wretched state of his own finances, there was a very
powerful motive for secrecy, in addition to his fear of discovery
by Lydia's relations, for it had just transpired that he had
left gaming debts behind him to a very considerable amount.
Colonel Forster believed that more than a thousand pounds
would be necessary to clear his expenses at Brighton. He owed
a good deal in town, but his debts of honour were still more
formidable. Mr. Gardiner did not attempt to conceal these
particulars from the Longbourn family. Jane heard them with
horror. "A gamester!" she cried. "This is wholly unexpected.
I had not an idea of it."
Mr. Gardiner added in his letter, that they might expect to see
their father at home on the following day, which was Saturday.
Rendered spiritless by the ill-success of all their endeavours, he
had yielded to his brother-in-law's entreaty that he would return
to his family, and leave it to him to do whatever occasion might
suggest to be advisable for continuing their pursuit. When Mrs.
Bennet was told of this, she did not express so much satisfaction
as her children expected, considering what her anxiety for his
life had been before.
"What, is he coming home, and without poor Lydia?" she cried.
"Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who
is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?"
As Mrs. Gardiner began to wish to be at home, it was settled
that she and the children 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 brought its master back
Mrs. Gardiner went away in all the perplexity about Elizabeth
and her Derbyshire friend that had attended her from that part
of the world. His name had never been voluntarily mentioned
before them by her niece; and the kind of half-expectation which
Mrs. Gardiner had formed, of their being followed by a letter
from him, had ended in nothing. Elizabeth had received none
since her return that could come from Pemberley.
The present unhappy state of the family rendered any other
excuse for the lowness of her spirits unnecessary; nothing,
therefore, could be fairly conjectured from that, though
Elizabeth, who was by this time tolerably well acquainted with
her own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had she known
nothing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia's
infamy somewhat better. 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
philosophic composure. He said as little as he had ever been in
the habit of saying; made no mention of the business that had
taken him away, and it was some time before his daughters had
courage to speak of it.
It was not till the afternoon, when he had joined them at tea,
that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on
her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have
endured, he replied, "Say nothing of that. Who should 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 fall into 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 soon enough."
"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 will probably 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 last May, which, considering the event, shows some
greatness of mind."
They were interrupted by Miss Bennet, who came to fetch her
"This is a parade," he cried, "which does one good; it gives such
an elegance to misfortune! Another day I will do the same; I
will sit in my library, in my nightcap and powdering gown, and
give as much trouble as I can; or, perhaps, I may defer it till
Kitty runs away."
"I am not going to run away, papa," said Kitty fretfully. "If I
should ever go to Brighton, I would behave better than Lydia."
You go to Brighton. I would not trust you so near it as
Eastbourne for fifty pounds! No, Kitty, I have at last learnt to
be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever
to enter into my house again, nor even to pass through the
village. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up
with one of your sisters. And you are never to stir out of doors
till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day
in a rational manner."
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 girl for the next ten years, I will take you to a review
at the end of them."