When Elizabeth returns to her inn, she finds two letters from Jane: the first relates that Lydia has eloped with Wickham, the second that there is no word from the couple and that they may not be married yet. Elizabeth panics, realizing that if Wickham does not marry Lydia, the reputations of both Lydia and the entire family will be ruined.
As Elizabeth rushes out to find the Gardiners, Darcy appears and she tells him the story. Darcy immediately blames himself for not exposing Wickham, and Elizabeth blames herself for the same reason. She decides to return home immediately. After an apology to Darcy and his sister for breaking their dinner engagement, Elizabeth and the Gardiners hasten back to the Bennet home in Longbourn.
On the way home, Mr. Gardiner attempts to reassure his niece that Wickham will certainly marry Lydia because he will not want his own career and reputation ruined. Elizabeth replies by telling them generally about Wickham’s past behavior, without revealing the details of his romance with Darcy’s sister. When she gets home, Elizabeth learns that her father has gone to London in search of Lydia and Wickham. Mrs. Bennet, of course, is hysterical, blaming Colonel Forster for not taking care of her daughter. In private, Jane assures Elizabeth that there was no way anyone could have known about their sister’s attachment to Wickham. Fretfully, they examine the letter that Lydia left for Colonel Forster’s wife, in which she looks forward to signing her name “Lydia Wickham.”
Mr. Gardiner follows Mr. Bennet to London and writes to Longbourn a few days later with the news that the search has been unsuccessful so far. He reports that Mr. Bennet is now going to every hotel in turn looking for the couple. Meanwhile, a letter arrives from Mr. Collins that, in his usual manner, accuses the Bennets of poor parenting and notes that Lydia’s behavior reflects poorly on the family as a whole. More time passes before Mr. Gardiner writes to say that attempts to trace Wickham through friends and family have failed. The letter further says, to Mrs. Bennet’s consternation, that Mr. Bennet is returning home.
Two days after Mr. Bennet returns to Longbourn, Mr. Gardiner writes to tell him that Wickham and Lydia have been found and that Wickham will marry her if the Bennets will guarantee him a small income. Mr. Bennet gladly acquiesces, deciding that marriage to a scoundrel is better than a ruined reputation.
The Bennets assume that the Gardiners have paid Wickham a sizable amount to get him to agree to the wedding. Not “a farthing less than ten thousand pounds,” Mr. Bennet guesses. The Bennets assume that they owe a deep debt to their relatives. Mrs. Bennet is deliriously happy at having Lydia married, even when her husband and daughters point out how much it has probably cost. Her happiness is tempered when her husband refuses to allow Wickham and Lydia to visit or to provide his newly married daughter with money to purchase clothes.