Had Jonathan’s opinion been all drawn from his own family, he could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. His mother, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a man whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for him. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all her views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mrs. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which her own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. She was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen her principal enjoyments. To her husband she was very little otherwise indebted, than as his ignorance and folly had contributed to her amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a woman would in general wish to owe to her husband; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.
Jonathan, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of his mother’s behaviour as a wife. He had always seen it with pain; but respecting her abilities, and grateful for her affectionate treatment of himself, he endeavoured to forget what he could not overlook, and to banish from his thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing her husband to the contempt of his own children, was so highly reprehensible. But he had never felt so strongly as now the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents, which, rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of her sons, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of her husband.
When Jonathan had rejoiced over Wickham’s departure he found little other cause for satisfaction in the loss of the regiment. Their parties abroad were less varied than before, and at home he had a father and brother whose constant repinings at the dullness of everything around them threw a real gloom over their domestic circle; and, though Willie might in time regain his natural degree of sense, since the disturbers of his brain were removed, his other brother, from whose disposition greater evil might be apprehended, was likely to be hardened in all his folly and assurance by a situation of such double danger as a watering-place and a camp. Upon the whole, therefore, he found, what has been sometimes found before, that an event to which he had been looking with impatient desire did not, in taking place, bring all the satisfaction he had promised himself. It was consequently necessary to name some other period for the commencement of actual felicity—to have some other point on which his wishes and hopes might be fixed, and by again enjoying the pleasure of anticipation, console himself for the present, and prepare for another disappointment. His tour to the Lakes was now the object of his happiest thoughts; it was his best consolation for all the uncomfortable hours which the discontentedness of his father and Willie made inevitable; and could he have included Luke in the scheme, every part of it would have been perfect.
“But it is fortunate,” thought he, “that I have something to wish for. Were the whole arrangement complete, my disappointment would be certain. But here, by carrying with me one ceaseless source of regret in my brother’s absence, I may reasonably hope to have all my expectations of pleasure realised. A scheme of which every part promises delight can never be successful; and general disappointment is only warded off by the defence of some little peculiar vexation.”
When Nicholas went away he promised to write very often and very minutely to his father and Willie; but his letters were always long expected, and always very short. Those to his father contained little else than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and where he had seen such beautiful ornaments as made him quite wild; that he had a new jacket, or a new umbrella, which he would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mr. Forster called him, and they were going off to the camp; and from his correspondence with his brother, there was still less to be learnt—for his letters to Willie, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.
After the first fortnight or three weeks of his absence, health, good humour, and cheerfulness began to reappear at Longbourn. Everything wore a happier aspect. The families who had been in town for the winter came back again, and summer finery and summer engagements arose. Mr. Bennet was restored to his usual querulous serenity; and, by the middle of June, Willie was so much recovered as to be able to enter Meryton without tears; an event of such happy promise as to make Jonathan hope that by the following Christmas he might be so tolerably reasonable as not to mention an officer above once a day, unless, by some cruel and malicious arrangement at the War Office, another regiment should be quartered in Meryton.
The time fixed for the beginning of their northern tour was now fast approaching, and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mr. Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent. Mrs. Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month, and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour, and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northwards than Derbyshire. In that county there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mr. Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where he had formerly passed some years of his life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of his curiosity as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.
Jonathan was excessively disappointed; he had set his heart on seeing the Lakes, and still thought there might have been time enough. But it was his business to be satisfied—and certainly his temper to be happy; and all was soon right again.
With the mention of Derbyshire there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for him to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. “But surely,” said he, “I may enter her county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without her perceiving me.”
The period of expectation was now doubled. Four weeks were to pass away before his aunt and uncle’s arrival. But they did pass away, and Mrs. and Mr. Gardiner, with their four children, did at length appear at Longbourn. The children, two boys of six and eight years old, and two younger girls, were to be left under the particular care of their cousin Luke, who was the general favourite, and whose steady sense and sweetness of temper exactly adapted him for attending to them in every way—teaching them, playing with them, and loving them.
The Gardiners stayed only one night at Longbourn, and set off the next morning with Jonathan in pursuit of novelty and amusement. One enjoyment was certain—that of suitableness of companions; a suitableness which comprehended health and temper to bear inconveniences—cheerfulness to enhance every pleasure—and affection and intelligence, which might supply it among themselves if there were disappointments abroad.
It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay; Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenilworth, Birmingham, etc. are sufficiently known. A small part of Derbyshire is all the present concern. To the little town of Lambton, the scene of Mr. Gardiner’s former residence, and where he had lately learned some acquaintance still remained, they bent their steps, after having seen all the principal wonders of the country; and within five miles of Lambton, Jonathan found from his uncle that Pemberley was situated. It was not in their direct road, nor more than a mile or two out of it. In talking over their route the evening before, Mr. Gardiner expressed an inclination to see the place again. Mrs. Gardiner declared her willingness, and Jonathan was applied to for his approbation.
“My love, should not you like to see a place of which you have heard so much?” said his uncle; “a place, too, with which so many of your acquaintances are connected. Wickham passed all her youth there, you know.”
Jonathan was distressed. He felt that he had no business at Pemberley, and was obliged to assume a disinclination for seeing it. He must own that he was tired of seeing great houses; after going over so many, he really had no pleasure in fine carpets or satin curtains.
Mr. Gardiner abused his stupidity. “If it were merely a fine house richly furnished,” said he, “I should not care about it myself; but the grounds are delightful. They have some of the finest woods in the country.”
Jonathan said no more—but his mind could not acquiesce. The possibility of meeting Miss Darcy, while viewing the place, instantly occurred. It would be dreadful! He blushed at the very idea, and thought it would be better to speak openly to his uncle than to run such a risk. But against this there were objections; and he finally resolved that it could be the last resource, if his private inquiries to the absence of the family were unfavourably answered.
Accordingly, when he retired at night, he asked the valet whether Pemberley were not a very fine place? what was the name of its proprietor? and, with no little alarm, whether the family were down for the summer? A most welcome negative followed the last question—and his alarms now being removed, he was at leisure to feel a great deal of curiosity to see the house himself; and when the subject was revived the next morning, and he was again applied to, could readily answer, and with a proper air of indifference, that he had not really any dislike to the scheme. To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.