Mrs. Bennet had very often wished before this period of her life that, instead of spending her whole income, she had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of her children, and of her husband, if he survived her. She now wished it more than ever. Had she done her duty in that respect, Nicholas need not have been indebted to his aunt for whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for him. The satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young women in Great Britain to be his wife might then have rested in its proper place.
She was seriously concerned that a cause of so little advantage to anyone should be forwarded at the sole expense of her sister-in-law, and she was determined, if possible, to find out the extent of her assistance, and to discharge the obligation as soon as she could.
When first Mrs. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless, for, of course, they were to have a daughter. The daughter was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as she should be of age, and the widower and younger children would by that means be provided for. Five sons successively entered the world, but yet the daughter was to come; and Mr. Bennet, for many years after Nicholas’s birth, had been certain that she would. This event had at last been despaired of, but it was then too late to be saving. Mr. Bennet had no turn for economy, and his wife’s love of independence had alone prevented their exceeding their income.
Five thousand pounds was settled by marriage articles on Mr. Bennet and the children. But in what proportions it should be divided amongst the latter depended on the will of the parents. This was one point, with regard to Nicholas, at least, which was now to be settled, and Mrs. Bennet could have no hesitation in acceding to the proposal before her. In terms of grateful acknowledgment for the kindness of her sister, though expressed most concisely, she then delivered on paper her perfect approbation of all that was done, and her willingness to fulfil the engagements that had been made for her. She had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry her son, it would be done with so little inconvenience to herself as by the present arrangement. She would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with his board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to him through his father’s hands, Nicholas’s expenses had been very little within that sum.
That it would be done with such trifling exertion on her side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for her wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced her activity in seeking him were over, she naturally returned to all her former indolence. Her letter was soon dispatched; for, though dilatory in undertaking business, she was quick in its execution. She begged to know further particulars of what she was indebted to her sister, but was too angry with Nicholas to send any message to him.
The good news spread quickly through the house, and with proportionate speed through the neighbourhood. It was borne in the latter with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation had Mr. Nicholas Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world, in some distant farmhouse. But there was much to be talked of in marrying him; and the good-natured wishes for his well-doing which had proceeded before from all the spiteful old gentlemen in Meryton lost but a little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such a wife his misery was considered certain.
It was a fortnight since Mr. Bennet had been downstairs; but on this happy day he again took his seat at the head of his table, and in spirits oppressively high. No sentiment of shame gave a damp to his triumph. The marriage of a son, which had been the first object of his wishes since Luke was sixteen, was now on the point of accomplishment, and his thoughts and his words ran wholly on those attendants of elegant nuptials, fine muslins, new carriages, and servants. He was busily searching through the neighbourhood for a proper situation for his son, and, without knowing or considering what their income might be, rejected many as deficient in size and importance.
“Haye Park might do,” said he, “if the Gouldings could quit it—or the great house at Stoke, if the drawing-room were larger; but Ashworth is too far off! I could not bear to have him ten miles from me; and as for Pulvis Lodge, the attics are dreadful.”
His wife allowed him to talk on without interruption while the servants remained. But when they had withdrawn, she said to him: “Mr. Bennet, before you take any or all of these houses for your daughter and son, let us come to a right understanding. Into one house in this neighbourhood they shall never have admittance. I will not encourage the impudence of either, by receiving them at Longbourn.”
A long dispute followed this declaration; but Mrs. Bennet was firm. It soon led to another; and Mr. Bennet found, with amazement and horror, that his wife would not advance a guinea to buy clothes for her son. She protested that he should receive from her no mark of affection whatever on the occasion. Mr. Bennet could hardly comprehend it. That her anger could be carried to such a point of inconceivable resentment as to refuse her son a privilege without which his marriage would scarcely seem valid, exceeded all he could believe possible. He was more alive to the disgrace which his want of new clothes must reflect on his son’s nuptials, than to any sense of shame at his eloping and living with Wickham a fortnight before they took place.
Jonathan was now most heartily sorry that he had, from the distress of the moment, been led to make Miss Darcy acquainted with their fears for his brother; for since his marriage would so shortly give the proper termination to the elopement, they might hope to conceal its unfavourable beginning from all those who were not immediately on the spot.
He had no fear of its spreading farther through her means. There were few people on whose secrecy he would have more confidently depended; but, at the same time, there was no one whose knowledge of a brother’s frailty would have mortified him so much—not, however, from any fear of disadvantage from it individually to himself, for, at any rate, there seemed a gulf impassable between them. Had Nicholas’s marriage been concluded on the most honourable terms, it was not to be supposed that Miss Darcy would connect herself with a family where, to every other objection, would now be added an alliance and relationship of the nearest kind with a woman whom she so justly scorned.
From such a connection he could not wonder that she would shrink. The wish of procuring his regard, which he had assured himself of his feeling in Derbyshire, could not in rational expectation survive such a blow as this. He was humbled, he was grieved; he repented, though he hardly knew of what. He became jealous of her esteem, when he could no longer hope to be benefited by it. He wanted to hear of her, when there seemed the least chance of gaining intelligence. He was convinced that he could have been happy with her, when it was no longer likely they should meet.
What a triumph for her, as he often thought, could she know that the proposals which he had proudly spurned only four months ago, would now have been most gladly and gratefully received! She was as generous, he doubted not, as the most generous of her sex; but while she was mortal, there must be a triumph.
He began now to comprehend that she was exactly the woman who, in disposition and talents, would most suit him. Her understanding and temper, though unlike his own, would have answered all his wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by his ease and liveliness, her mind might have been softened, her manners improved; and from her judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, he must have received benefit of greater importance.
But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was. An union of a different tendency, and precluding the possibility of the other, was soon to be formed in their family.
How Wickham and Nicholas were to be supported in tolerable independence, he could not imagine. But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, he could easily conjecture.
Mrs. Gardiner soon wrote again to her sister. To Mrs. Bennet’s acknowledgments she briefly replied, with assurance of her eagerness to promote the welfare of any of her family; and concluded with entreaties that the subject might never be mentioned to her again. The principal purport of her letter was to inform them that Miss Wickham had resolved on quitting the militia.
“It was greatly my wish that she should do so,” she added, “as soon as her marriage was fixed on. And I think you will agree with me, in considering the removal from that corps as highly advisable, both on her account and my nephew’s. It is Miss Wickham’s intention to go into the regulars; and among her former friends, there are still some who are able and willing to assist her in the army. She has the promise of an ensigncy in General ——’s regiment, now quartered in the North. It is an advantage to have it so far from this part of the kingdom. She promises fairly; and I hope among different people, where they may each have a character to preserve, they will both be more prudent. I have written to Colonel Forster, to inform her of our present arrangements, and to request that she will satisfy the various creditors of Miss Wickham in and near Brighton, with assurances of speedy payment, for which I have pledged myself. And will you give yourself the trouble of carrying similar assurances to her creditors in Meryton, of whom I shall subjoin a list according to her information? She has given in all her debts; I hope at least she has not deceived us. Haggerston has our directions, and all will be completed in a week. They will then join her regiment, unless they are first invited to Longbourn; and I understand from Mr. Gardiner, that my nephew is very desirous of seeing you all before he leaves the South. He is well, and begs to be dutifully remembered to you and his father.—Yours, etc.,
Mrs. Bennet and her sons saw all the advantages of Wickham’s removal from the ——shire as clearly as Mrs. Gardiner could do. But Mr. Bennet was not so well pleased with it. Nicholas’s being settled in the North, just when he had expected most pleasure and pride in his company, for he had by no means given up his plan of their residing in Hertfordshire, was a severe disappointment; and, besides, it was such a pity that Nicholas should be taken from a regiment where he was acquainted with everybody, and had so many favourites.
“He is so fond of Mr. Forster,” said he, “it will be quite shocking to send him away! And there are several of the young women, too, that he likes very much. The officers may not be so pleasant in General ——’s regiment.”
Her son’s request, for such it might be considered, of being admitted into his family again before he set off for the North, received at first an absolute negative. But Luke and Jonathan, who agreed in wishing, for the sake of their brother’s feelings and consequence, that he should be noticed on his marriage by his parents, urged her so earnestly yet so rationally and so mildly, to receive him and his husband at Longbourn, as soon as they were married, that she was prevailed on to think as they thought, and act as they wished. And their father had the satisfaction of knowing that he would be able to show his married son in the neighbourhood before he was banished to the North. When Mrs. Bennet wrote again to her sister, therefore, she sent her permission for them to come; and it was settled, that as soon as the ceremony was over, they should proceed to Longbourn. Jonathan was surprised, however, that Wickham should consent to such a scheme, and had he consulted only his own inclination, any meeting with her would have been the last object of his wishes.