“Does your mother still keep to her room?” Mr. Bennet asked Jane. Because her father already knew the answer, a weary Jane merely nodded. “Admirable! Truly admirable! If I thought I could get away with it, I should do the same. I would lie in bed in my dressing gown and nightcap and give as much trouble as I pleased.”
“Mama no longer spends the day in bed, Papa. She is now in her chair.”
“Truly! Mrs. Bennet has moved from bed to chair? Alert the town crier!”
Knowing there was little to be gained by continuing such a conversation, after returning her mother’s breakfast tray to the kitchen, Jane went in search of Lizzy and found her in the garden. Since learning of Lydia’s flight from Brighton to London with George Wickham, Lizzy had been downcast. She believed that if only she had succeeded in taking Wickham’s true measure during his time in Hertfordshire, the elopement would not have happened.
They were in the garden but a short time when Mrs. Hill came in search of the two eldest Bennet daughters. “A post rider has come with a letter!” the servant announced, and Jane and Lizzy went running to their father’s study.’
“What news, Papa?” the pair asked in breathless unison. After pointing to a piece of paper on his desk, Lizzy was the first to reach it. The letter, from Uncle Gardiner, stated that Lydia and Wickham had been found in town. After the meat of the letter was digested, it was determined that the couple had not married, but would wed upon Mr. Bennet’s agreement to settle on Lydia one hundred per year during his life and fifty a year after his death.
Although Jane was elated by the news, Lizzy and her father exchanged glances. How was it possible that Wickham could be induced to marry on so slight a temptation?
“I must tell Mama,” Jane said and quickly departed.
Proof of the reception of the news that Lydia was to be wed came with Mrs. Bennet’s hosannas seeping through the floorboards and settling, like dust, upon the inhabitants of the study below.
* * *
The news of the impending marriage brought about a miracle. After a two-week absence, the lady of the house took her seat at the head of the table. As Mrs. Bennet made plans to rent various houses in the neighborhood for the newlyweds, her husband remained silent. But once the servants had departed, he informed his wife that if she wished to visit with the couple, she would have to make arrangements to do so somewhere other than at Longbourn because it was his intention to never welcome the pair into his home.
To that declaration, he added that he would not advance so much as a guinea for wedding clothes. “Lydia may enter into marriage in the same way she came into this world—wearing nothing!”
After supper, Mrs. Bennet asked Lizzy to speak to her father, stating that, “It is our Christian duty to welcome the prodigal sheep back into the fold,” Mama said, making a hash of the Gospel parables.
Lizzy was of a different mind. How dare Lydia bring scandal into the heart of her family? There was also the matter of Mr. Darcy. She was now heartily sorry to have acquainted that gentleman with her fears for her sister. But Lizzy understood the reality of village life. If her family was seen to have turned their backs on Lydia, everyone else would follow suit.
“What do you want me to say to Papa?” Lizzy asked.
“Oh, you will think of something,” Mrs. Bennet said. “You are just like your father—never at a loss for words.”
After first rejecting Lizzy’s argument for welcoming Mr. and Mrs. George Wickham into the bosom of the Bennet family, Mr. Bennet saw the wisdom of his daughter’s argument.
“I know that tomorrow your mother will be in the village bragging—actually bragging—that she has a daughter married at sixteen,” Mr. Bennet said, shaking his head. “The fact that the man is a villain, a pirate, a scoundrel, will not enter into her thinking. But there will be no peace at Longbourn if I do otherwise than what she asks.
“Now that the matter is settled, do you have any words of joy for your father, Lizzy? Please tell me Mr. Bingley is hiding at Netherfield for the purpose of surprising Jane with an offer of marriage. Or that Mr. Collins has a friend who will marry Mary. Or that the apothecary’s son has stopped flirting with Kitty and is moving the relationship forward.”
“No, Papa. I have no news to cheer you.” Nor would she. Lydia had seen to that.
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