Ever wondered what it would be like to become Mr Bennet, if only for a moment? Read on, imagining yourself as Mr Bennet; then, based on your knowledge of Pride & Prejudice, decide what you will do at the end of this chapter.
From London you write Jane a few lines to say that you have arrived in safety, adding that you shall not write again till you have something of importance to mention.
By day you go about your business as a worried father. You travel to Epsom, the place where Wickham last changed horses, see the postilions, and discover the number of the hackney coach which took the runaways to Clapham. You travel to Clapham and attempt to discover at what house the coachman set them down, but this proves impossible.
By night, however, you are a different creature entirely. You prowl the streets of the city and slake your thirst in ways that mere mortals could never comprehend. Aside from your failure to recover your daughter and whatever is left of her virtue, it is a most satisfying business. Until, that is, your brother-in-law arrives and removes you from temptation to his house in Gracechurch Street, Cheapside.
He prevails on you to return to Longbourn as soon as you can. Only this will reassure his sister, your dear wife, who imagines you to have been killed in a duel with Wickham.
You object, however, in the strongest terms, stating that you are wholly disinclined at present to leave London. You pretend that this is out of concern for Lydia; in reality, you are entranced by the night life. Such variety - especially for the more refined tastes, like yours. You even glimpse someone with a remarkable resemblance to the disagreeable Mr Darcy ...
Colonel Forster writes with more bad news: Wickham owes more than a thousand pounds in Brighton. No wonder he is lying low! And, if he is ever found and forced to marry Lydia, how will you ever repay his debts? It is a hopeless business and, feeling your indolence return, you allow your brother-in-law to send you back to Longbourn.
When you arrive home, you have all the appearance of your usual philosophic composure. You say as little as you have ever been in the habit of saying; you make no mention of the business that has taken you away, and it is some time before your daughters have courage to speak of it. It is not till the afternoon, when you join them at tea, that Elizabeth ventures to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what you must have endured, you reply, "Say nothing of that. Who would suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it."
"You must not be too severe upon yourself," says Elizabeth.
"You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it!” You give a deep sigh. “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," adds Kitty.
"She is happy, then," you say, dryly; "and her residence there will probably be of some duration."
Then, after a short silence, you continue, "Lizzy, I bear you no ill-will for being justified in your advice to me last May, which, considering the event, shews some greatness of mind."
You are interrupted by Jane, who has come to fetch her mother's tea. It appears that your dear helpmeet in times of sorrow is still prostrate with grief.
"This is a parade," you cry, "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 night cap 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," says 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 East-Bourne, 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 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 takes all these threats in a serious light and begins to cry.
"Well, well," you say, "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." But this witty aside is to no avail; Kitty’s sobs merely increase in volume.
Two days later, a letter arrives for you from Mr Gardiner. its contents are such that for half an hour you cannot utter a word. Finally, you walk out of the house towards the little copse, where you are soon found by your two oldest and dearest daughters.
"Oh, papa, what news? what news?” cries Lizzy. “Have you heard from my uncle?"
"Yes, I have had a letter from him by express."
"Well, and what news does it bring? good or bad?"
"What is there of good to be expected?" you say, taking the letter from your pocket; "but perhaps you would like to read it." Elizabeth takes it impatiently. "Read it aloud," you continue, "for I hardly know myself what it is about."
"Gracechurch-street, Monday, August 2.
My dear brother,
At last I am able to send you some tidings of my niece, and such as, upon the whole, I hope will give you satisfaction. Soon after you left me on Saturday, I was fortunate enough to find out in what part of London they were. The particulars I reserve till we meet. It is enough to know they are discovered; I have seen them both --"
"Then it is as I always hoped," cries Jane; "they are married!"
Elizabeth reads on:
"I have seen them both. They are not married, nor can I find there was any intention of being so; but if you are willing to perform the engagements which I have ventured to make on your side, I hope it will not be long before they are. All that is required of you is to assure to your daughter, by settlement, her equal share of the five thousand pounds secured among your children after the decease of yourself and my sister; and, moreover, to enter into an engagement of allowing her, during your life, one hundred pounds per annum. These are conditions which, considering every thing, I had no hesitation in complying with, as far as I thought myself privileged, for you. I shall send this by express, that no time may be lost in bringing me your answer. You will easily comprehend, from these particulars, that Mr Wickham's circumstances are not so hopeless as they are generally believed to be. The world has been deceived in that respect; and, I am happy to say, there will be some little money, even when all his debts are discharged, to settle on my niece, in addition to her own fortune. If, as I conclude will be the case, you send me full powers to act in your name throughout the whole of this business, I will immediately give directions to Haggerston for preparing a proper settlement. There will not be the smallest occasion for your coming to town again; therefore, stay quietly at Longbourn, and depend on my diligence and care. Send back your answer as soon as you can, and be careful to write explicitly. We have judged it best that my niece should be married from this house, of which I hope you will approve. She comes to us to-day. I shall write again as soon as any thing more is determined on. Your's, &c.
"Is it possible!" cries Elizabeth, when she has finished. -- "Can it be possible that he will marry her?"
"Wickham is not so undeserving, then, as we have thought him!" says her sister. "My dear father, I congratulate you."
"And have you answered the letter?" says Elizabeth.
"No; but it must be done soon."
"Oh! then come back to the house," says she, "and write immediately. Consider how important every moment is, in such a case."
"Let me write for you," begs Jane, "if you dislike the trouble yourself."
"I dislike it very much," you reply; "but it must be done."
And so saying, you turn back with them, and walk towards the house.
"And may I ask -- ?" begins Elizabeth; then after a pause, "but the terms, I suppose, must be complied with."
"Complied with!” You give a derisive laugh. “I am only ashamed of his asking so little."
"And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!"
"Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done. But there are two things that I want very much to know: -- one is, how much money your uncle has laid down to bring it about; and the other, how I am ever to pay him."
"Money! my uncle!" cries Jane, "what do you mean, Sir?"
"I mean that no man in his senses would marry Lydia on so slight a temptation as one hundred a year during my life, and fifty after I am gone."
"That is very true," says Elizabeth; "though it had not occurred to me before. His debts to be discharged, and something still to remain! Oh! it must be my uncle's doings! Generous, good man; I am afraid he has distressed himself. A small sum could not do all this."
"No," you observe bitterly; "Wickham's a fool, if he takes her with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds. I should be sorry to think so ill of him in the very beginning of our relationship."
"Ten thousand pounds! Heaven forbid! How is half such a sum to be repaid?"
You make no answer. Back at the house, you go into the library to write, interrupted only by Jane and Elizabeth asking for their uncle’s letter to read to their mother. You know the exact moment when they break the good news, for the roof shakes with an ear-splitting shriek. Within fifteen minutes Mrs Bennet is out of bed, dressed and on her way to Meryton to celebrate with her sister Phillips.
Your letter finished, you sit and reflect on your shortcomings as a father. If, instead of spending your whole income, you had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of your family, Lydia need not be indebted to her uncle for whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for her. The satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young men in Great Britain to be her husband, might then have rested in its proper place.
You are determined, if possible, to find out the extent of Mr Gardiner’s assistance, and to discharge the obligation as soon as you can, with as little inconvenience and expense as possible. Your letter is soon dispatched; for though dilatory in undertaking business, you are quick in its execution. You beg to know farther particulars of what you are indebted to your brother-in-law; but you are too angry with Lydia to send any message to her.
The good news quickly spreads through the neighbourhood, aided and abetted by your dear wife’s industry and application. Your neighbours bear Lydia’s change of fortunes with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation, had Miss Lydia Bennet been secluded from the world in some distant farm house. But all is not lost, since in her marrying such an husband as Wickham, her misery is considered certain.
It is a fortnight since Mrs Bennet has been down stairs, but on this happy day she again takes her seat at the head of her table, and in spirits oppressively high. No sentiment of shame gives a damp to her triumph. The marriage of a daughter, which has been the first object of her wishes since Jane was sixteen, is now on the point of accomplishment, and her thoughts and her words run wholly on those attendants of elegant nuptials, fine muslins, new carriages, and servants. Her vacant mind searches busily through the neighbourhood for a "proper situation" for her daughter, and, without knowing or considering what their income might be, rejects many as deficient in size and importance.
"Haye-Park might do," says she, "if the Gouldings would quit it, or the great house at Stoke, if the drawing-room were larger; but Ashworth is too far off! I could not bear to have her ten miles from me; and as for Purvis Lodge, the attics are dreadful."
You allow her to talk on without interruption while the servants remain. But when they have withdrawn, you say to her, "Mrs Bennet, before you take any or all of these houses for your son and daughter, let us come to a right understanding. Into one house in this neighbourhood, they shall never have admittance. I will not encourage the impudence of either by receiving them at Longbourn."
You refuse to change your mind, OR you allow Wickham and Lydia into your house.
Which would Mr Bennet choose? Click on the link above and see if you're right, and come back next week for the next chapter!