After so much excitement, things calmed down at Longbourn. Mary had gone to her new home with her husband. Everyone was waiting impatiently for Bingley to formalize his commitment to Jane. Lydia and Kitty continued to obsess over officers. And Elizabeth had time for walking, reading, and forgetting all about Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham, on the other hand, she had not forgotten about. He sometimes walked her and her sisters home from Meryton. He was as charming as always, and Elizabeth found herself liking him more and more as she spoke with him. For the first time, she did indeed begin to envision herself as an officer’s wife.
Mrs. Bennet was delighted that there were so very many eligible prospects for her daughters. However, her primary goal was still to secure Mr. Bingley for Jane. It had been several days since Jane had spoken to any of the Bingleys when a letter arrived for her from Netherfield.
“Well, open it, Jane, open it!” said her mother.
Jane smiled and unfolded the letter. As she read it, her face fell.
“What is the matter?” asked Elizabeth, concerned.
“It is from Caroline Bingley. She says that their entire party has left for London with no plans to return.”
“But Mr. Bingley would never leave without saying goodbye to you!”
“It cannot be made any more clear, Lizzy. He is gone.”
A wail went up from Mrs. Bennet. All that work and no husband to show for it. She began whimpering about her nerves and left the room to lay down.
“Jane, I feel that there must be more to this than we know. Mr. Bingley loves you, I know it. Anyone who has seen the two of you together know it!”
“But that is just the thing, Lizzy. Caroline mentions that her fondest wish is to see her brother married to Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana.”
“Why, that conniving woman!”
“Do not speak of her so, Lizzy. Perhaps she is not aware of the affection I have for her brother. Perhaps I misunderstood his affections towards me.”
“There can be no questioning either of those things. She knows; it is just that she does not care. And for her to write to you as a friend!”
Jane just looked at Elizabeth with tears in her eyes. Elizabeth felt the burn of her own tears as they contemplated a future that did not include Mr. Bingley.
Jane took her heartache in stride, but Elizabeth noticed that she spent most of her time in a distracted state. She walked around the house almost as if she were still asleep. Mrs. Bennet had ever increasing attacks of nerves that confined her to her bed. Mr. Bennet was initially happy for the quiet around the house, but after a time it made him more solemn as well, perhaps because his wit had fewer outlets. Kitty and Lydia remained in love with any man in a red regimental.
As for Elizabeth, she turned to her own officer to distract her from the sadness in her house. However, that was likewise not to be, as Mr. Wickham was called away on urgent business to London and was unsure when he would return. Elizabeth was hoping for a commitment from him prior to his leaving, but none was forthcoming. Suddenly, the Bennet daughters had gone from several promising prospects down to nearly none. Luckily, the Christmas season was upon them, which meant distractions, especially in the form of Uncle and Aunt Gardiner.
The Gardiners lived in London but always visited Longbourn for the holiday. Mr. Gardiner, who was quite as different from his sister Mrs. Bennet as it is possible to be, worked as a lawyer. Mrs. Gardiner was elegant, bright, and a favorite among her nieces, particularly the oldest two. It was a relief for both Jane and Elizabeth to be able to confide in their aunt in person, rather than having to send everything in letters. Mr. Bingley was not discussed, as Jane had made it clear that she did not want to hear his name. However, Elizabeth had conversation to fill the time in describing Mr. Wickham.
Mrs. Gardiner had been raised in Derbyshire and she was familiar, at least by reputation, of the residents of Pemberley. She recalled hearing that young Mr. Darcy was exceedingly proud and quiet as a child.
“Not much has changed,” said Elizabeth. “He is still cold and reserved and utterly the most vexing man I have met in my entire life!”
“So not at all like your Mr. Wickham,” replied her aunt.
“I should say not! Mr. Wickham is quite as amiable as he first appears. There is nothing cold about him.”
“I am glad that you have found someone whom you find agreeable. However, there are certain realities that need to be considered, were he to make an offer.”
Elizabeth knew that her aunt was right. If Mr. Wickham had received his living in the church, he would have quite enough to support a wife. However, that living was lost. Elizabeth had very little money to bring into marriage as well. If the two of them were to wed, their finances would be quite limited indeed, supported only by his officer’s pay, which was small.
“I know, Aunt, that you are thinking kindly of me to remind me of this,” said Elizabeth, and she meant it. “However, as there is not now an offer available and no guarantee that there shall be one, it seems premature to worry.”
“An offer can be made in an instant, Lizzy. Just think on it so you will know what your answer might be, if that offer were to come.”
Elizabeth nodded and thanked her aunt for her concern. However, her mind was not to be made, one way or another, by financial prospects. If she received an offer of marriage from someone she believed to be compatible to her, she would not let money keep them apart.
The Gardiners were so affected by Jane’s solemnity that they wished to do something to cheer her up. They invited her to go back to London with them. Jane was very amenable to the idea, particularly because she wished to see her friend Caroline Bingley again. Elizabeth suspected that Jane was interested in more than just renewing her friendship with Miss Bingley, but she wisely stayed quiet on the matter.
Soon after Christmas, the Gardiners and Jane departed. Elizabeth missed her dearly, but she suspected that the change in scenery would be a good thing for poor Jane. The two sisters kept in touch by letter. After Jane had been gone for some weeks, Elizabeth spied a familiar (but unhappy) name in the most recent letter. Jane had not yet heard from Caroline Bingley, despite sending a letter when she first arrived in London. Of course, Jane assumed that the letter had been lost, but Elizabeth thought the cause much more sinister. Jane planned to visit the Bingleys at home on Grosvenor Street, and promised Elizabeth that she would send the resolution of the visit as soon as she could.
Elizabeth hoped that she was incorrect, that the letter indeed had been lost and Miss Bingley had nothing but Jane’s best interests at heart. However, she could not make herself believe it. Her experience with Caroline Bingley, if nothing else, pointed to the fact that the only person in whose interest Miss Bingley worked was Miss Bingley.
Soon to be Mrs. Darcy, and never has a couple been better met, though Elizabeth.
The next letter from Jane confirmed Elizabeth’s dark thoughts. Jane had seen Miss Bingley at home. Excuses about a lost letter were made, and then Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst practically pushed Jane out the door so they could get to dinner. Miss Bingley had managed to relay that Mr. Bingley and Georgiana Darcy were getting along exceedingly well, and an announcement was expected any day.
Jane’s following letter was even more despondent. Miss Bingley waited a fortnight before returning the visit and her visit was short and tense. Jane expressed wonder about the change in Miss Bingley’s attitude towards her. She also stated that Miss Bingley had made it clear that Mr. Bingley was aware of Jane’s presence in London. Poor Jane had finally come to the realization that if Mr. Bingley had wanted to see her, he would have. She ended the letter to Elizabeth by stating her desire to avoid any and all Bingleys in the future. This made Elizabeth’s heart hurt, for even if she shared Jane’s sentiments, she was discouraged to see her sister, who always saw sunshine even when Elizabeth saw rain, be so disheartened by the entire enterprise. She longed for her sister to come home so that they could continue their lives without the uncertainty of Mr. Bingley’s intentions hanging over them.
However, it would be some time before she saw her favorite sister again. A letter arrived from Mary inviting her sisters to come visit her at Hunsford. Kitty and Lydia had no interest in a visit as there were unlikely to be any officers there, but Elizabeth felt an obligation to Mary to visit her new home. She knew that she would have to endure Mr. Collins’ foolishness. She hoped that marriage had made him more sensible, but she doubted it.