Their brother’s wedding day arrived; and Luke and Jonathan felt for him probably more than he felt for himself. The carriage was sent to meet them at ——, and they were to return in it by dinner-time. Their arrival was dreaded by the elder Mr. Bennets, and Luke more especially, who gave Nicholas the feelings which would have attended himself, had he been the culprit, and was wretched in the thought of what his brother must endure.
They came. The family were assembled in the breakfast room to receive them. Smiles decked the face of Mr. Bennet as the carriage drove up to the door; his wife looked impenetrably grave; his sons, alarmed, anxious, uneasy.
Nicholas’s voice was heard in the vestibule; the door was thrown open, and he ran into the room. His father stepped forwards, embraced him, and welcomed him with rapture; gave his hand, with an affectionate smile, to Wickham, who followed her gentleman; and wished them both joy with an alacrity which shewed no doubt of their happiness.
Their reception from Mrs. Bennet, to whom they then turned, was not quite so cordial. Her countenance rather gained in austerity; and she scarcely opened her lips. The easy assurance of the young couple, indeed, was enough to provoke her. Jonathan was disgusted, and even Mr. Luke Bennet was shocked. Nicholas was Nicholas still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. He turned from brother to brother, demanding their congratulations; and when at length they all sat down, looked eagerly round the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since he had been there.
Wickham was not at all more distressed than himself, but her manners were always so pleasing, that had her character and her marriage been exactly what they ought, her smiles and her easy address, while she claimed their relationship, would have delighted them all. Jonathan had not before believed her quite equal to such assurance; but he sat down, resolving within himself to draw no limits in future to the impudence of an impudent woman. He blushed, and Luke blushed; but the cheeks of the two who caused their confusion suffered no variation of colour.
There was no want of discourse. The groom and his father could neither of them talk fast enough; and Wickham, who happened to sit near Jonathan, began inquiring after her acquaintance in that neighbourhood, with a good humoured ease which he felt very unable to equal in his replies. They seemed each of them to have the happiest memories in the world. Nothing of the past was recollected with pain; and Nicholas led voluntarily to subjects which his brothers would not have alluded to for the world.
“Only think of its being three months,” he cried, “since I went away; it seems but a fortnight I declare; and yet there have been things enough happened in the time. Good gracious! when I went away, I am sure I had no more idea of being married till I came back again! though I thought it would be very good fun if I was.”
His mother lifted up her eyes. Luke was distressed. Jonathan looked expressively at Nicholas; but he, who never heard nor saw anything of which he chose to be insensible, gaily continued, “Oh! papa, do the people hereabouts know I am married to-day? I was afraid they might not; and we overtook Ruth Goulding in her curricle, so I was determined she should know it, and so I let down the side-glass next to her, and took off my glove, and let my hand just rest upon the window frame, so that she might see the ring, and then I bowed and smiled like anything.”
Jonathan could bear it no longer. He got up, and ran out of the room; and returned no more, till he heard them passing through the hall to the dining parlour. He then joined them soon enough to see Nicholas, with anxious parade, walk up to his father’s right hand, and hear him say to his eldest brother, “Ah! Luke, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married man.”
It was not to be supposed that time would give Nicholas that embarrassment from which he had been so wholly free at first. His ease and good spirits increased. He longed to see Mr. Phillips, the Lucases, and all their other neighbours, and to hear himself called “Mr. Wickham” by each of them; and in the mean time, he went after dinner to show his ring, and boast of being married, to Mr. Hill and the two valets.
“Well, papa,” said he, when they were all returned to the breakfast room, “and what do you think of my wife? Is not she a charming woman? I am sure my brothers must all envy me. I only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get wives. What a pity it is, papa, we did not all go.”
“Very true; and if I had my will, we should. But my dear Nicholas, I don’t at all like your going such a way off. Must it be so?”
“Oh, lord! yes;—there is nothing in that. I shall like it of all things. You and mamma, and my brothers, must come down and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter, and I dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all.”
“I should like it beyond anything!” said his father.
“And then when you go away, you may leave one or two of my brothers behind you; and I dare say I shall get wives for them before the winter is over.”
“I thank you for my share of the favour,” said Jonathan; “but I do not particularly like your way of getting wives.”
Their visitors were not to remain above ten days with them. Mrs. Wickham had received her commission before she left London, and she was to join her regiment at the end of a fortnight.
No one but Mr. Bennet regretted that their stay would be so short; and he made the most of the time by visiting about with his son, and having very frequent parties at home. These parties were acceptable to all; to avoid a family circle was even more desirable to such as did think, than such as did not.
Wickham’s affection for Nicholas was just what Jonathan had expected to find it; not equal to Nicholas’s for her. He had scarcely needed his present observation to be satisfied, from the reason of things, that their elopement had been brought on by the strength of his love, rather than by hers; and he would have wondered why, without violently caring for him, she chose to elope with him at all, had he not felt certain that her flight was rendered necessary by distress of circumstances; and if that were the case, she was not the young woman to resist an opportunity of having a companion.
Nicholas was exceedingly fond of her. She was his dear Wickham on every occasion; no one was to be put in competition with her. She did every thing best in the world; and he was sure she would kill more birds on the first of September, than any body else in the country.
One morning, soon after their arrival, as he was sitting with his two elder brothers, he said to Jonathan:
“Johnny, I never gave you an account of my wedding, I believe. You were not by, when I told papa and the others all about it. Are not you curious to hear how it was managed?”
“Not really,” replied Jonathan; “I think there cannot be too little said on the subject.”
“La! You are so strange! But I must tell you how it went off. We were married, you know, at St. Cecilia’s, because Wickham’s lodgings were in that parish. And it was settled that we should all be there by eleven o’clock. My aunt and uncle and I were to go together; and the others were to meet us at the church. Well, Monday morning came, and I was in such a fuss! I was so afraid, you know, that something would happen to put it off, and then I should have gone quite distracted. And there was my uncle, all the time I was dressing, preaching and talking away just as if he was reading a sermon. However, I did not hear above one word in ten, for I was thinking, you may suppose, of my dear Wickham. I longed to know whether she would be married in her blue gown.”
“Well, and so we breakfasted at ten as usual; I thought it would never be over; for, by the bye, you are to understand, that my aunt and uncle were horrid unpleasant all the time I was with them. If you’ll believe me, I did not once put my foot out of doors, though I was there a fortnight. Not one party, or scheme, or anything. To be sure London was rather thin, but, however, the Little Theatre was open. Well, and so just as the carriage came to the door, my aunt was called away upon business to that horrid woman Mrs. Stone. And then, you know, when once they get together, there is no end of it. Well, I was so frightened I did not know what to do, for my aunt was to give me away; and if we were beyond the hour, we could not be married all day. But, luckily, she came back again in ten minutes’ time, and then we all set out. However, I recollected afterwards that if she had been prevented going, the wedding need not be put off, for Miss Darcy might have done as well.”
“Miss Darcy!” repeated Jonathan, in utter amazement.
“Oh, yes!—she was to come there with Wickham, you know. But gracious me! I quite forgot! I ought not to have said a word about it. I promised them so faithfully! What will Wickham say? It was to be such a secret!”
“If it was to be secret,” said Luke, “say not another word on the subject. You may depend upon my seeking no further.”
“Oh! certainly,” said Jonathan, though burning with curiosity; “we will ask you no questions.”
“Thank you,” said Nicholas, “for if you did, I should certainly tell you all, and then Wickham would be angry.”
On such encouragement to ask, Jonathan was forced to put it out of his power, by running away.
But to live in ignorance on such a point was impossible; or at least it was impossible not to try for information. Miss Darcy had been at his brother’s wedding. It was exactly a scene, and exactly among people, where she had apparently least to do, and least temptation to go. Conjectures as to the meaning of it, rapid and wild, hurried into his brain; but he was satisfied with none. Those that best pleased him, as placing her conduct in the noblest light, seemed most improbable. He could not bear such suspense; and hastily seizing a sheet of paper, wrote a short letter to his uncle, to request an explanation of what Nicholas had dropt, if it were compatible with the secrecy which had been intended.
“You may readily comprehend,” he added, “what my curiosity must be to know how a person unconnected with any of us, and (comparatively speaking) a stranger to our family, should have been amongst you at such a time. Pray write instantly, and let me understand it—unless it is, for very cogent reasons, to remain in the secrecy which Nicholas seems to think necessary; and then I must endeavour to be satisfied with ignorance.”
“Not that I shall, though,” he added to himself, as he finished the letter; “and my dear uncle, if you do not tell me in an honourable manner, I shall certainly be reduced to tricks and stratagems to find it out.”
Luke’s delicate sense of honour would not allow him to speak to Jonathan privately of what Nicholas had let fall; Jonathan was glad of it;—till it appeared whether his inquiries would receive any satisfaction, he had rather be without a confidante.