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The journey back to Longbourn is occupied with speculation on whether Wickham did or did not intend to marry Lydia and make their elopement respectable. The Gardiners can hardly believe that he is wicked enough to seduce a girl of good family and then abandon her, or foolish enough to expect that he would be allowed to get away with it. Elizabeth now tells them that he is indeed capable of all that. She tells them what she now knows of Wickham, but she does not tell them how and from whom she learned the truth. Hopeless as she now feels about her own prospects, she cannot bring herself to tell them about Darcy's proposal to her, her refusal, and his extraordinary letter that reversed all her previous beliefs about Wickham and himself.
They arrive at Longbourn. Mr. Bennet has written from London but without news of the fugitives. Mrs. Bennet has taken to her bed in this crisis. She weeps, complains of her nerves, and begs her brother to keep Mr. Bennet from fighting a duel with Wickham and getting himself killed. In the same breath she instructs him to tell Lydia not to order her wedding trousseau without consulting her.
Consulting with Jane, Elizabeth learns that Wickham left debts and bad feeling all over Meryton when the militia went away. She again regrets that she did not tell their friends and neighbors what she knew of him. Jane shows her the letter Lydia left for her hostess at Brighton. It raves about her dear Wickham and says what a joke it will be when she writes to her family and surprises them by signing her letter "Mrs. Wickham." Thoughtless and careless of consequences as Lydia might be, the letter indicates that she at least expected to be married.
Mr. Gardiner writes from London. The fugitives have still not been traced. Perhaps, he says, Elizabeth can say whether Wickham had family or friends from whom more might be learned. Elizabeth is embarrassed: she remembers her former partiality toward Wickham, which has prompted her uncle's inquiry.
Aunt Philips from Meryton comes with further news of Wickham's wicked reputation in the town. Meanwhile, the scandal has, of course, reached to Hunsford, and a letter arrives from Mr. Collins. It is typical of Collins-a confused mixture of condolence, advice, and horrified respectability. He quotes Lady Catherine, who points out the inevitable damage to the older daughters' prospects. Mr. Collins closes with the conflicting advice that the family forgive Lydia and at the same time throw her out to reap the fruits of her offense.
Mr. Bennet returns home, leaving the search for Lydia and Wickham to Gardiner. Now Mrs. Bennet, reversing herself, complains that her husband will not, after all, fight a duel with Wickham. Thus, in the midst of crisis, we are given comedy. Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet are still called upon to make us laugh.
NOTE: The comic touches in this chapter are a clue that the story may still have a happy ending.