IN CONSEQUENCE OF AN AGREEMENT between the sisters, Elizabeth wrote the next morning to their mother, to beg that the carriage might be sent for them in the course of the day. But Mrs. Bennet, who had calculated on her daughters remaining at Netherfield till the following Tuesday, which would exactly finish Jane’s week, could not bring herself to receive them with pleasure before. Her answer, therefore, was disappointing. Mrs. Bennet sent them word that they could not possibly have the carriage before Tuesday, for it had been badly damaged by errant musket balls during a skirmish between soldiers and a party of the sorry stricken near the encampment at Meryton.
This was at least partially true-for the carriage had indeed been caught in a crossfire when Catherine and Lydia used it to visit with a group of officers; but the damage was in fact less severe than Mrs. Bennet suggested. In her postscript it was added that if Mr. Bingley and his sister pressed them to stay longer, she could spare them. Against staying longer, however, Elizabeth urged Jane to borrow Mr. Bingley’s carriage immediately, and at length it was settled that their original design of leaving Netherfield that morning should be mentioned, and the request made.
The request excited many professions of concern; and enough was said of wishing them to stay at least till the following day to allow the ground to further harden; and till the morrow their going was deferred. Miss Bingley was then sorry that she had proposed the delay, for her jealousy and dislike of Elizabeth much exceeded her affection for Jane.
Mr. Bingley heard with real sorrow that they were to go so soon, and repeatedly tried to persuade Miss Bennet that it would not be safe for her-that she was not enough recovered to fight if the carriage should meet with trouble; but Jane reminded him that Elizabeth was as capable a bodyguard as there was in all of England.
To Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence-Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked-and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to himself. He resolved that no sign of admiration should now escape him. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.
On Sunday, after morning service, the separation took place. Miss Bingley’s civility to Elizabeth increased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane; and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole party in the liveliest of spirits.
The ride to Longbourn was altogether agreeable, save for a brief encounter with a small herd of zombie children, no doubt from Mrs. Beechman’s Home for Orphans, which had recently fallen along with the entire parish of St. Thomas. Mr. Bingley’s coachman could not help but vomit down the front of his cravat at the sight of the tiny devils grazing on sun-hardened corpses in a nearby field. Elizabeth kept her musket close, lest they advance. But luck was on their side, and the cursed children took no notice of the carriage.
They were not welcomed home very cordially by their mother. Mrs. Bennet thought them very wrong to give so much trouble, and was sure Jane would have caught cold again. Her protests were inflamed by the sight of vomit on the coachman’s cravat-a sure sign that they had encountered unmentionables en route. But their father was truly glad to see them, for the evening sparring sessions had lost much of their animation by the absence of Jane and Elizabeth.
They found Mary, as usual, deep in the study of human nature; Catherine and Lydia had information for them of a different sort. Much had been done and much had been said in the regiment since the preceding Wednesday; several of the officers had dined lately with their uncle, a private had been flogged for engaging in base acts with a headless corpse, and it had actually been hinted that Colonel Forster was going to be married.