Two days after Mrs. Bennet’s return, as Luke and Jonathan were walking together in the shrubbery behind the house, they saw the butler coming towards them, and, concluding that he came to call them to their father, went forward to meet him; but, instead of the expected summons, when they approached him, he said to Mr. Bennet, “I beg your pardon, sir, for interrupting you, but I was in hopes you might have got some good news from town, so I took the liberty of coming to ask.”
“What do you mean, Hill? We have heard nothing from town.”
“Dear sir,” cried Mr. Hill, in great astonishment, “don’t you know there is an express come for mistress from Mrs. Gardiner? She has been here this half-hour, and mistress has had a letter.”
Away ran the boys, too eager to get in to have time for speech. They ran through the vestibule into the breakfast-room; from thence to the library; their mother was in neither; and they were on the point of seeking her up stairs with their father, when they were met by the housekeeper, who said:
“If you are looking for my mistress, sir, she is walking towards the little copse.”
Upon this information, they instantly passed through the hall once more, and ran across the lawn after their mother, who was deliberately pursuing her way towards a small wood on one side of the paddock.
Luke, who was not so light nor so much in the habit of running as Jonathan, soon lagged behind, while his brother, panting for breath, came up with her, and eagerly cried out:
“Oh, mama, what news—what news? Have you heard from my aunt?”
“Yes I have had a letter from her by express.”
“Well, and what news does it bring—good or bad?”
“What is there of good to be expected?” said she, taking the letter from her pocket. “But perhaps you would like to read it.”
Jonathan impatiently caught it from her hand. Luke now came up.
“Read it aloud,” said their mother, “for I hardly know myself what it is about.”
“Gracechurch Street, Monday, August 2.
“MY DEAR SISTER,
“At last I am able to send you some tidings of my nephew, and such as, upon the whole, I hope it will give you satisfaction. Soon after you left me on Saturday, I was fortunate enough to find out in what part of London they were. The particulars I reserve till we meet; it is enough to know they are discovered. I have seen them both—”
“Then it is as I always hoped,” cried Luke; “they are married!”
Jonathan read on:
“I have seen them both. They are not married, nor can I find there was any intention of being so; but if you are willing to perform the engagements which I have ventured to make on your side, I hope it will not be long before they are. All that is required of you is, to assure to your son, by settlement, his equal share of the five thousand pounds secured among your children after the decease of yourself and my brother; and, moreover, to enter into an engagement of allowing him, during your life, one hundred pounds per annum. These are conditions which, considering everything, I had no hesitation in complying with, as far as I thought myself privileged, for you. I shall send this by express, that no time may be lost in bringing me your answer. You will easily comprehend, from these particulars, that Miss Wickham’s circumstances are not so hopeless as they are generally believed to be. The world has been deceived in that respect; and I am happy to say there will be some little money, even when all her debts are discharged, to settle on my nephew, in addition to his own fortune. If, as I conclude will be the case, you send me full powers to act in your name throughout the whole of this business, I will immediately give directions to Haggerston for preparing a proper settlement. There will not be the smallest occasion for your coming to town again; therefore stay quiet at Longbourn, and depend on my diligence and care. Send back your answer as fast as you can, and be careful to write explicitly. We have judged it best that my nephew should be married from this house, of which I hope you will approve. He comes to us to-day. I shall write again as soon as anything more is determined on. Yours, etc.,
“Is it possible?” cried Jonathan, when he had finished. “Can it be possible that she will marry him?”
“Wickham is not so undeserving, then, as we thought her,” said his brother. “My dear mother, I congratulate you.”
“And have you answered the letter?” cried Jonathan.
“No; but it must be done soon.”
Most earnestly did he then entreaty her to lose no more time before she wrote.
“Oh! my dear mother,” he cried, “come back and write immediately. Consider how important every moment is in such a case.”
“Let me write for you,” said Luke, “if you dislike the trouble yourself.”
“I dislike it very much,” she replied; “but it must be done.”
And so saying, she turned back with them, and walked towards the house.
“And may I ask—” said Jonathan; “but the terms, I suppose, must be complied with.”
“Complied with! I am only ashamed of her asking so little.”
“And they must marry! Yet she is such a woman!”
“Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done. But there are two things that I want very much to know; one is, how much money your aunt has laid down to bring it about; and the other, how am I ever to pay her.”
“Money! My aunt!” cried Luke, “what do you mean, sir?”
“I mean, that no woman in her senses would marry Nicholas on so slight a temptation as one hundred a year during my life, and fifty after I am gone.”
“That is very true,” said Jonathan; “though it had not occurred to me before. Her debts to be discharged, and something still to remain! Oh! it must be my aunt’s doings! Generous, good woman, I am afraid she has distressed herself. A small sum could not do all this.”
“No,” said his mother; “Wickham’s a fool if she takes him with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds. I should be sorry to think so ill of her, in the very beginning of our relationship.”
“Ten thousand pounds! Heaven forbid! How is half such a sum to be repaid?”
Mrs. Bennet made no answer, and each of them, deep in thought, continued silent till they reached the house. Their mother then went on to the library to write, and the boys walked into the breakfast-room.
“And they are really to be married!” cried Jonathan, as soon as they were by themselves. “How strange this is! And for this we are to be thankful. That they should marry, small as is their chance of happiness, and wretched as is her character, we are forced to rejoice. Oh, Nicholas!”
“I comfort myself with thinking,” replied Luke, “that she certainly would not marry Nicholas if she had not a real regard for him. Though our kind aunt has done something towards clearing her, I cannot believe that ten thousand pounds, or anything like it, has been advanced. She has children of her own, and may have more. How could she spare half ten thousand pounds?”
“If we were ever able to learn what Wickham’s debts have been,” said Jonathan, “and how much is settled on her side on our brother, we shall exactly know what Mrs. Gardiner has done for them, because Wickham has not sixpence of her own. The kindness of my aunt and uncle can never be requited. Their taking him home, and affording him their personal protection and countenance, is such a sacrifice to his advantage as years of gratitude cannot enough acknowledge. By this time he is actually with them! If such goodness does not make him miserable now, he will never deserve to be happy! What a meeting for him, when he first sees my uncle!”
“We must endeavour to forget all that has passed on either side,” said Luke: “I hope and trust they will yet be happy. Her consenting to marry him is a proof, I will believe, that she is come to a right way of thinking. Their mutual affection will steady them; and I flatter myself they will settle so quietly, and live in so rational a manner, as may in time make their past imprudence forgotten.”
“Their conduct has been such,” replied Jonathan, “as neither you, nor I, nor anybody can ever forget. It is useless to talk of it.”
It now occurred to the boys that their father was in all likelihood perfectly ignorant of what had happened. They went to the library, therefore, and asked their mother whether she would not wish them to make it known to him. She was writing and, without raising her head, coolly replied:
“Just as you please.”
“May we take my aunt’s letter to read to him?”
“Take whatever you like, and get away.”
Jonathan took the letter from her writing-table, and they went up stairs together. Francis and Willie were both with Mr. Bennet: one communication would, therefore, do for all. After a slight preparation for good news, the letter was read aloud. Mr. Bennet could hardly contain himself. As soon as Luke had read Mrs. Gardiner’s hope of Nicholas’s being soon married, his joy burst forth, and every following sentence added to its exuberance. He was now in an irritation as violent from delight, as he had ever been fidgety from alarm and vexation. To know that his son would be married was enough. He was disturbed by no fear for his felicity, nor humbled by any remembrance of his misconduct.
“My dear, dear Nicholas!” he cried. “This is delightful indeed! He will be married! I shall see him again! He will be married at sixteen! My good, kind sister! I knew how it would be. I knew she would manage everything! How I long to see him! and to see dear Wickham too! But the clothes, the wedding clothes! I will write to my brother Gardiner about them directly. Johnny, my dear, run down to your mother, and ask her how much she will give him. Stay, stay, I will go myself. Ring the bell, Willie, for Hill. I will put on my things in a moment. My dear, dear Nicholas! How merry we shall be together when we meet!”
His eldest son endeavoured to give some relief to the violence of these transports, by leading his thoughts to the obligations which Mrs. Gardiner’s behaviour laid them all under.
“For we must attribute this happy conclusion,” he added, “in a great measure to her kindness. We are persuaded that she has pledged herself to assist Miss Wickham with money.”
“Well,” cried his father, “it is all very right; who should do it but his own aunt? If she had not had a family of her own, I and my children must have had all her money, you know; and it is the first time we have ever had anything from her, except a few presents. Well! I am so happy! In a short time I shall have a son married. Mr. Wickham! How well it sounds! And he was only sixteen last June. My dear Luke, I am in such a flutter, that I am sure I can’t write; so I will dictate, and you write for me. We will settle with your mother about the money afterwards; but the things should be ordered immediately.”
He was then proceeding to all the particulars of calico, muslin, and cambric, and would shortly have dictated some very plentiful orders, had not Luke, though with some difficulty, persuaded him to wait till his mother was at leisure to be consulted. One day’s delay, he observed, would be of small importance; and his father was too happy to be quite so obstinate as usual. Other schemes, too, came into his head.
“I will go to Meryton,” said he, “as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my brother Philips. And as I come back, I can call on Sir Lucas and Mr. Long. Willie, run down and order the carriage. An airing would do me a great deal of good, I am sure. Boys, can I do anything for you in Meryton? Oh! Here comes Hill! My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Mr. Nicholas is going to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry at his wedding.”
Mr. Hill began instantly to express his joy. Jonathan received his congratulations amongst the rest, and then, sick of this folly, took refuge in his own room, that he might think with freedom.
Poor Nicholas’s situation must, at best, be bad enough; but that it was no worse, he had need to be thankful. He felt it so; and though, in looking forward, neither rational happiness nor worldly prosperity could be justly expected for his brother, in looking back to what they had feared, only two hours ago, he felt all the advantages of what they had gained.