Jonathan had the satisfaction of receiving an answer to his letter as soon as he possibly could. He was no sooner in possession of it than, hurrying into the little copse, where he was least likely to be interrupted, he sat down on one of the benches and prepared to be happy; for the length of the letter convinced him that it did not contain a denial.
“Gracechurch street, Sept. 6.
“MY DEAR NEPHEW,
“I have just received your letter, and shall devote this whole morning to answering it, as I foresee that a little writing will not comprise what I have to tell you. I must confess myself surprised by your application; I did not expect it from you. Don’t think me angry, however, for I only mean to let you know that I had not imagined such inquiries to be necessary on your side. If you do not choose to understand me, forgive my impertinence. Your aunt is as much surprised as I am—and nothing but the belief of your being a party concerned would have allowed her to act as she has done. But if you are really innocent and ignorant, I must be more explicit.
“On the very day of my coming home from Longbourn, your aunt had a most unexpected visitor. Miss Darcy called, and was shut up with her several hours. It was all over before I arrived; so my curiosity was not so dreadfully racked as yours seems to have been. She came to tell Mrs. Gardiner that she had found out where your brother and Miss Wickham were, and that she had seen and talked with them both; Wickham repeatedly, Nicholas once. From what I can collect, she left Derbyshire only one day after ourselves, and came to town with the resolution of hunting for them. The motive professed was her conviction of its being owing to herself that Wickham’s worthlessness had not been so well known as to make it impossible for any young man of character to love or confide in her. She generously imputed the whole to her mistaken pride, and confessed that she had before thought it beneath her to lay her private actions open to the world. Her character was to speak for itself. She called it, therefore, her duty to step forward, and endeavour to remedy an evil which had been brought on by herself. If she had another motive, I am sure it would never disgrace her. She had been some days in town, before she was able to discover them; but she had something to direct her search, which was more than we had; and the consciousness of this was another reason for her resolving to follow us.
“There is a gentleman, it seems, a Mr. Younge, who was some time ago tutor to Mr. Darcy, and was dismissed from his charge on some cause of disapprobation, though she did not say what. He then took a large house in Edward-street, and has since maintained himself by letting lodgings. This Mr. Younge was, she knew, intimately acquainted with Wickham; and she went to him for intelligence of her as soon as she got to town. But it was two or three days before she could get from him what she wanted. He would not betray his trust, I suppose, without bribery and corruption, for he really did know where his friend was to be found. Wickham indeed had gone to him on their first arrival in London, and had he been able to receive them into his house, they would have taken up their abode with him. At length, however, our kind friend procured the wished-for direction. They were in —— street. She saw Wickham, and afterwards insisted on seeing Nicholas. Her first object with him, she acknowledged, had been to persuade him to quit his present disgraceful situation, and return to his friends as soon as they could be prevailed on to receive him, offering her assistance, as far as it would go. But she found Nicholas absolutely resolved on remaining where he was. He cared for none of his friends; he wanted no help of hers; he would not hear of leaving Wickham. He was sure they should be married some time or other, and it did not much signify when. Since such were his feelings, it only remained, she thought, to secure and expedite a marriage, which, in her very first conversation with Wickham, she easily learnt had never been her design. She confessed herself obliged to leave the regiment, on account of some debts of honour, which were very pressing; and scrupled not to lay all the ill-consequences of Nicholas’s flight on his own folly alone. She meant to resign her commission immediately; and as to her future situation, she could conjecture very little about it. She must go somewhere, but she did not know where, and she knew she should have nothing to live on.
“Miss Darcy asked her why she had not married your brother at once. Though Mrs. Bennet was not imagined to be very rich, she would have been able to do something for her, and her situation must have been benefited by marriage. But she found, in reply to this question, that Wickham still cherished the hope of more effectually making her fortune by marriage in some other country. Under such circumstances, however, she was not likely to be proof against the temptation of immediate relief.
“They met several times, for there was much to be discussed. Wickham of course wanted more than she could get; but at length was reduced to be reasonable.
“Every thing being settled between them, Miss Darcy’s next step was to make your aunt acquainted with it, and she first called in Gracechurch street the evening before I came home. But Mrs. Gardiner could not be seen, and Miss Darcy found, on further inquiry, that your mother was still with her, but would quit town the next morning. She did not judge your mother to be a person whom she could so properly consult as your aunt, and therefore readily postponed seeing her till after the departure of the former. She did not leave her name, and till the next day it was only known that a lady had called on business.
“On Saturday she came again. Your mother was gone, your aunt at home, and, as I said before, they had a great deal of talk together.
“They met again on Sunday, and then I saw her too. It was not all settled before Monday: as soon as it was, the express was sent off to Longbourn. But our visitor was very obstinate. I fancy, Johnny, that obstinacy is the real defect of her character, after all. She has been accused of many faults at different times, but this is the true one. Nothing was to be done that she did not do herself; though I am sure (and I do not speak it to be thanked, therefore say nothing about it), your aunt would most readily have settled the whole.
“They battled it together for a long time, which was more than either the lady or gentleman concerned in it deserved. But at last your aunt was forced to yield, and instead of being allowed to be of use to her nephew, was forced to put up with only having the probable credit of it, which went sorely against the grain; and I really believe your letter this morning gave her great pleasure, because it required an explanation that would rob her of her borrowed feathers, and give the praise where it was due. But, Johnny, this must go no farther than yourself, or Luke at most.
“You know pretty well, I suppose, what has been done for the young people. Her debts are to be paid, amounting, I believe, to considerably more than a thousand pounds, another thousand in addition to his own settled upon him, and her commission purchased. The reason why all this was to be done by her alone, was such as I have given above. It was owing to her, to her reserve and want of proper consideration, that Wickham’s character had been so misunderstood, and consequently that she had been received and noticed as she was. Perhaps there was some truth in this; though I doubt whether her reserve, or anybody’s reserve, can be answerable for the event. But in spite of all this fine talking, my dear Johnny, you may rest perfectly assured that your aunt would never have yielded, if we had not given her credit for another interest in the affair.
“When all this was resolved on, she returned again to her friends, who were still staying at Pemberley; but it was agreed that she should be in London once more when the wedding took place, and all money matters were then to receive the last finish.
“I believe I have now told you every thing. It is a relation which you tell me is to give you great surprise; I hope at least it will not afford you any displeasure. Nicholas came to us; and Wickham had constant admission to the house. She was exactly what she had been, when I knew her in Hertfordshire; but I would not tell you how little I was satisfied with his behaviour while he staid with us, if I had not perceived, by Luke’s letter last Wednesday, that his conduct on coming home was exactly of a piece with it, and therefore what I now tell you can give you no fresh pain. I talked to him repeatedly in the most serious manner, representing to him all the wickedness of what he had done, and all the unhappiness he had brought on his family. If he heard me, it was by good luck, for I am sure he did not listen. I was sometimes quite provoked, but then I recollected my dear Jonathan and Luke, and for their sakes had patience with him.
“Miss Darcy was punctual in her return, and as Nicholas informed you, attended the wedding. She dined with us the next day, and was to leave town again on Wednesday or Thursday. Will you be very angry with me, my dear Johnny, if I take this opportunity of saying (what I was never bold enough to say before) how much I like her. Her behaviour to us has, in every respect, been as pleasing as when we were in Derbyshire. Her understanding and opinions all please me; she wants nothing but a little more liveliness, and that, if she marry prudently, her husband may teach her. I thought her very sly;—she hardly ever mentioned your name. But slyness seems the fashion.
“Pray forgive me if I have been very presuming, or at least do not punish me so far as to exclude me from P. I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the park. A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing.
“But I must write no more. The children have been wanting me this half hour.
“Yours, very sincerely,
The contents of this letter threw Jonathan into a flutter of spirits, in which it was difficult to determine whether pleasure or pain bore the greatest share. The vague and unsettled suspicions which uncertainty had produced of what Miss Darcy might have been doing to forward his brother’s match, which he had feared to encourage as an exertion of goodness too great to be probable, and at the same time dreaded to be just, from the pain of obligation, were proved beyond their greatest extent to be true! She had followed them purposely to town, she had taken on herself all the trouble and mortification attendant on such a research; in which supplication had been necessary to a man whom she must abominate and despise, and where she was reduced to meet, frequently meet, reason with, persuade, and finally bribe, the woman whom she always most wished to avoid, and whose very name it was punishment to her to pronounce. She had done all this for a boy whom she could neither regard nor esteem. His heart did whisper that she had done it for him. But it was a hope shortly checked by other considerations, and he soon felt that even his vanity was insufficient, when required to depend on her affection for him—for a man who had already refused her—as able to overcome a sentiment so natural as abhorrence against relationship with Wickham. Sister-in-law of Wickham! Every kind of pride must revolt from the connection. She had, to be sure, done much. He was ashamed to think how much. But she had given a reason for her interference, which asked no extraordinary stretch of belief. It was reasonable that she should feel she had been wrong; she had liberality, and she had the means of exercising it; and though he would not place himself as her principal inducement, he could, perhaps, believe that remaining partiality for him might assist her endeavours in a cause where his peace of mind must be materially concerned. It was painful, exceedingly painful, to know that they were under obligations to a person who could never receive a return. They owed the restoration of Nicholas, his character, every thing, to her. Oh! how heartily did he grieve over every ungracious sensation he had ever encouraged, every saucy speech he had ever directed towards her. For himself he was humbled; but he was proud of her. Proud that in a cause of compassion and honour, she had been able to get the better of herself. He read over his uncle’s commendation of her again and again. It was hardly enough; but it pleased him. He was even sensible of some pleasure, though mixed with regret, on finding how steadfastly both he and his aunt had been persuaded that affection and confidence subsisted between Miss Darcy and himself.
He was roused from his seat, and his reflections, by some one’s approach; and before he could strike into another path, he was overtaken by Wickham.
“I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble, my dear brother?” said she, as she joined him.
“You certainly do,” he replied with a smile; “but it does not follow that the interruption must be unwelcome.”
“I should be sorry indeed, if it were. We were always good friends; and now we are better.”
“True. Are the others coming out?”
“I do not know. Mr. Bennet and Nicholas are going in the carriage to Meryton. And so, my dear brother, I find, from our aunt and uncle, that you have actually seen Pemberley.”
He replied in the affirmative.
“I almost envy you the pleasure, and yet I believe it would be too much for me, or else I could take it in my way to Newcastle. And you saw the old butler, I suppose? Poor Reynolds, he was always very fond of me. But of course he did not mention my name to you.”
“Yes, he did.”
“And what did he say?”
“That you were gone into the army, and he was afraid had—not turned out well. At such a distance as that, you know, things are strangely misrepresented.”
“Certainly,” she replied, biting her lips. Jonathan hoped he had silenced her; but she soon afterwards said:
“I was surprised to see Darcy in town last month. We passed each other several times. I wonder what she can be doing there.”
“Perhaps preparing for her marriage with Mr. de Bourgh,” said Jonathan. “It must be something particular, to take her there at this time of year.”
“Undoubtedly. Did you see her while you were at Lambton? I thought I understood from the Gardiners that you had.”
“Yes; she introduced us to her brother.”
“And do you like him?”
“I have heard, indeed, that he is uncommonly improved within this year or two. When I last saw him, he was not very promising. I am very glad you liked him. I hope he will turn out well.”
“I dare say he will; he has got over the most trying age.”
“Did you go by the village of Kympton?”
“I do not recollect that we did.”
“I mention it, because it is the living which I ought to have had. A most delightful place!—Excellent Parsonage House! It would have suited me in every respect.”
“How should you have liked making sermons?”
“Exceedingly well. I should have considered it as part of my duty, and the exertion would soon have been nothing. One ought not to repine;—but, to be sure, it would have been such a thing for me! The quiet, the retirement of such a life would have answered all my ideas of happiness! But it was not to be. Did you ever hear Darcy mention the circumstance, when you were in Kent?”
“I have heard from authority, which I thought as good, that it was left you conditionally only, and at the will of the present patroness.”
“You have. Yes, there was something in that; I told you so from the first, you may remember.”
“I did hear, too, that there was a time, when sermon-making was not so palatable to you as it seems to be at present; that you actually declared your resolution of never taking orders, and that the business had been compromised accordingly.”
“You did! and it was not wholly without foundation. You may remember what I told you on that point, when first we talked of it.”
They were now almost at the door of the house, for he had walked fast to get rid of her; and unwilling, for his brother’s sake, to provoke her, he only said in reply, with a good-humoured smile:
“Come, Mrs. Wickham, we are sister and brother, you know. Do not let us quarrel about the past. In future, I hope we shall be always of one mind.”
He held out his hand; she kissed it with affectionate gallantry, though she hardly knew how to look, and they entered the house.