FictionForest

Chapter 48

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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 to Longbourn.

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 mother’s tea.

“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.”

 

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