Chapter 54

As soon as they were gone, Jonathan walked out to recover his spirits; or in other words, to dwell without interruption on those subjects that must deaden them more. Miss Darcy’s behaviour astonished and vexed him.

“Why, if she came only to be silent, grave, and indifferent,” said he, “did she come at all?”

He could settle it in no way that gave him pleasure.

“She could be still amiable, still pleasing, to my aunt and uncle, when she was in town; and why not to me? If she fears me, why come hither? If she no longer cares for me, why silent? Teasing, teasing, woman! I will think no more about her.”

His resolution was for a short time involuntarily kept by the approach of his brother, who joined him with a cheerful look, which showed him better satisfied with their visitors, than Jonathan.

“Now,” said he, “that this first meeting is over, I feel perfectly easy. I know my own strength, and I shall never be embarrassed again by her coming. I am glad she dines here on Tuesday. It will then be publicly seen that, on both sides, we meet only as common and indifferent acquaintance.”

“Yes, very indifferent indeed,” said Jonathan, laughingly. “Oh, Luke, take care.”

“My dear Johnny, you cannot think me so weak, as to be in danger now?”

“I think you are in very great danger of making her as much in love with you as ever.”

They did not see the ladies again till Tuesday; and Mr. Bennet, in the meanwhile, was giving way to all the happy schemes, which the good humour and common politeness of Bingley, in half an hour’s visit, had revived.

On Tuesday there was a large party assembled at Longbourn; and the two who were most anxiously expected, to the credit of their punctuality as sportswomen, were in very good time. When they repaired to the dining-room, Jonathan eagerly watched to see whether Bingley would take the place, which, in all their former parties, had belonged to her, by his brother. His prudent father, occupied by the same ideas, forbore to invite her to sit by himself. On entering the room, she seemed to hesitate; but Luke happened to look round, and happened to smile: it was decided. She placed herself by him.

Jonathan, with a triumphant sensation, looked towards her friend. She bore it with noble indifference, and he would have imagined that Bingley had received her sanction to be happy, had he not seen her eyes likewise turned towards Miss Darcy, with an expression of half-laughing alarm.

Her behaviour to his brother was such, during dinner time, as showed an admiration of him, which, though more guarded than formerly, persuaded Jonathan, that if left wholly to herself, Luke’s happiness, and her own, would be speedily secured. Though he dared not depend upon the consequence, he yet received pleasure from observing her behaviour. It gave him all the animation that his spirits could boast; for he was in no cheerful humour. Miss Darcy was almost as far from him as the table could divide them. She was on one side of his father. He knew how little such a situation would give pleasure to either, or make either appear to advantage. He was not near enough to hear any of their discourse, but he could see how seldom they spoke to each other, and how formal and cold was their manner whenever they did. His father’s ungraciousness, made the sense of what they owed her more painful to Jonathan’s mind; and he would, at times, have given anything to be privileged to tell her that her kindness was neither unknown nor unfelt by the whole of the family.

He was in hopes that the evening would afford some opportunity of bringing them together; that the whole of the visit would not pass away without enabling them to enter into something more of conversation than the mere ceremonious salutation attending her entrance. Anxious and uneasy, the period which passed in the drawing-room, before the ladies came, was wearisome and dull to a degree that almost made him uncivil. He looked forward to their entrance as the point on which all his chance of pleasure for the evening must depend.

“If she does not come to me, then,” said he, “I shall give her up for ever.”

The ladies came; and he thought she looked as if she would have answered his hopes; but, alas! the gentlemen had crowded round the table, where Mr. Luke Bennet was making tea, and Jonathan pouring out the coffee, in so close a confederacy that there was not a single vacancy near him which would admit of a chair. And on the ladies’ approaching, one of the boys moved closer to him than ever, and said, in a whisper:

“The women shan’t come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?”

Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. He followed her with his eyes, envied everyone to whom she spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against himself for being so silly!

“A woman who has once been refused! How could I ever be foolish enough to expect a renewal of her love? Is there one among the sex, who would not protest against such a weakness as a second proposal to the same man? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!”

He was a little revived, however, by her bringing back her coffee cup herself; and he seized the opportunity of saying:

“Is your brother at Pemberley still?”

“Yes, he will remain there till Christmas.”

“And quite alone? Have all his friends left him?”

“Mr. Annesley is with him. The others have been gone on to Scarborough, these three weeks.”

He could think of nothing more to say; but if she wished to converse with him, she might have better success. She stood by him, however, for some minutes, in silence; and, at last, on the young gentleman’s whispering to Jonathan again, she walked away.

When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed, the gentlemen all rose, and Jonathan was then hoping to be soon joined by her, when all his views were overthrown by seeing her fall a victim to his father’s rapacity for whist players, and in a few moments after seated with the rest of the party. He now lost every expectation of pleasure. They were confined for the evening at different tables, and he had nothing to hope, but that her eyes were so often turned towards his side of the room, as to make her play as unsuccessfully as himself.

Mr. Bennet had designed to keep the two Netherfield ladies to supper; but their carriage was unluckily ordered before any of the others, and he had no opportunity of detaining them.

“Well boys,” said he, as soon as they were left to themselves, “What say you to the day? I think every thing has passed off uncommonly well, I assure you. The dinner was as well dressed as any I ever saw. The venison was roasted to a turn—and everybody said they never saw so fat a haunch. The soup was fifty times better than what we had at the Lucases’ last week; and even Miss Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; and I suppose she has two or three French cooks at least. And, my dear Luke, I never saw you look in greater beauty. Mr. Long said so too, for I asked him whether you did not. And what do you think he said besides? ‘Ah! Mr. Bennet, we shall have him at Netherfield at last.’ He did indeed. I do think Mr. Long is as good a creature as ever lived—and his nephews are very pretty behaved boys, and not at all handsome: I like them prodigiously.”

Mr. Bennet, in short, was in very great spirits; he had seen enough of Bingley’s behaviour to Luke, to be convinced that he would get her at last; and his expectations of advantage to his family, when in a happy humour, were so far beyond reason, that he was quite disappointed at not seeing her there again the next day, to make her proposals.

“It has been a very agreeable day,” said Mr. Luke Bennet to Jonathan. “The party seemed so well selected, so suitable one with the other. I hope we may often meet again.”

Jonathan smiled.

“Johnny, you must not do so. You must not suspect me. It mortifies me. I assure you that I have now learnt to enjoy her conversation as an agreeable and sensible young woman, without having a wish beyond it. I am perfectly satisfied, from what her manners now are, that she never had any design of engaging my affection. It is only that she is blessed with greater sweetness of address, and a stronger desire of generally pleasing, than any other woman.”

“You are very cruel,” said his brother, “you will not let me smile, and are provoking me to it every moment.”

“How hard it is in some cases to be believed!”

“And how impossible in others!”

“But why should you wish to persuade me that I feel more than I acknowledge?”

“That is a question which I hardly know how to answer. We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing. Forgive me; and if you persist in indifference, do not make me your confidante.”

Chapter 53

Mrs. Wickham was so perfectly satisfied with this conversation that she never again distressed herself, or provoked her dear brother Jonathan, by introducing the subject of it; and he was pleased to find that he had said enough to keep her quiet.

The day of her and Nicholas’s departure soon came, and Mr. Bennet was forced to submit to a separation, which, as his wife by no means entered into his scheme of their all going to Newcastle, was likely to continue at least a twelvemonth.

“Oh! my dear Nicholas,” he cried, “when shall we meet again?”

“Oh, lord! I don’t know. Not these two or three years, perhaps.”

“Write to me very often, my dear.”

“As often as I can. But you know married men have never much time for writing. My brother’s may write to me. They will have nothing else to do.”

Mrs. Wickham’s adieus were much more affectionate than her husbands. She smiled, looked handsome, and said many pretty things.

“She is as fine a gal,” said Mrs. Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house, “as ever I saw. She simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all. I am prodigiously proud of her. I defy even Lady Anne Lucas herself to produce a more valuable daughter-in-law.”

The loss of his son made Mr. Bennet very dull for several days.

“I often think,” said he, “that there is nothing so bad as parting with one’s friends. One seems so forlorn without them.”

“This is the consequence, you see, Sir, of marrying a son,” said Jonathan. “It must make you better satisfied that your other four are single.”

“It is no such thing. Nicholas does not leave me because he is married, but only because his wife’s regiment happens to be so far off. If that had been nearer, he would not have gone so soon.”

But the spiritless condition which this event threw him into was shortly relieved, and his mind opened again to the agitation of hope, by an article of news which then began to be in circulation. The butler at Netherfield had received orders to prepare for the arrival of his mistress, who was coming down in a day or two, to shoot there for several weeks. Mr. Bennet was quite in the fidgets. He looked at Luke, and smiled and shook his head by turns.

“Well, well, and so Miss Bingley is coming down, brother,” (for Mr. Phillips first brought him the news). “Well, so much the better. Not that I care about it, though. She is nothing to us, you know, and I am sure I never want to see her again. But, however, she is very welcome to come to Netherfield, if she likes it. And who knows what may happen? But that is nothing to us. You know, brother, we agreed long ago never to mention a word about it. And so, is it quite certain she is coming?”

“You may depend on it,” replied the other, “for Mr. Nicholls was in Meryton last night; I saw him passing by, and went out myself on purpose to know the truth of it; and he told me that it was certain true. She comes down on Thursday at the latest, very likely on Wednesday. He was going to the butcher’s, he told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and he has got three couple of ducks just fit to be killed.”

Mr. Luke Bennet had not been able to hear of her coming without changing colour. It was many months since he had mentioned her name to Jonathan; but now, as soon as they were alone together, he said:

“I saw you look at me to-day, Johnny, when my uncle told us of the present report; and I know I appeared distressed. But don’t imagine it was from any silly cause. I was only confused for the moment, because I felt that I should be looked at. I do assure you that the news does not affect me either with pleasure or pain. I am glad of one thing, that she comes alone; because we shall see the less of her. Not that I am afraid of myself, but I dread other people’s remarks.”

Jonathan did not know what to make of it. Had he not seen her in Derbyshire, he might have supposed her capable of coming there with no other view than what was acknowledged; but he still thought her partial to Luke, and he wavered as to the greater probability of her coming there with her friend’s permission, or being bold enough to come without it.

“Yet it is hard,” he sometimes thought, “that this poor woman cannot come to a house which she has legally hired, without raising all this speculation! I will leave her to herself.”

In spite of what his brother declared, and really believed to be his feelings in the expectation of her arrival, Jonathan could easily perceive that his spirits were affected by it. They were more disturbed, more unequal, than he had often seen them.

The subject which had been so warmly canvassed between their parents, about a twelvemonth ago, was now brought forward again.

“As soon as ever Miss Bingley comes, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “you will wait on her of course.”

“No, no. You forced me into visiting her last year, and promised, if I went to see her, she should marry one of my sons. But it ended in nothing, and I will not be sent on a fool’s errand again.”

Her husband represented to her how absolutely necessary such an attention would be from all the neighbouring ladies, on her returning to Netherfield.

“‘Tis an etiquette I despise,” said she. “If she wants our society, let her seek it. She knows where we live. I will not spend my hours in running after my neighbours every time they go away and come back again.”

“Well, all I know is, that it will be abominably rude if you do not wait on her. But, however, that shan’t prevent my asking her to dine here, I am determined. We must have Mr. Long and the Gouldings soon. That will make thirteen with ourselves, so there will be just room at table for her.”

Consoled by this resolution, he was the better able to bear his wife’s incivility; though it was very mortifying to know that his neighbours might all see Miss Bingley, in consequence of it, before they did. As the day of her arrival drew near,—

“I begin to be sorry that she comes at all,” said Luke to his brother. “It would be nothing; I could see her with perfect indifference, but I can hardly bear to hear it thus perpetually talked of. My father means well; but he does not know, no one can know, how much I suffer from what he says. Happy shall I be, when her stay at Netherfield is over!”

“I wish I could say anything to comfort you,” replied Jonathan; “but it is wholly out of my power. You must feel it; and the usual satisfaction of preaching patience to a sufferer is denied me, because you have always so much.”

Miss Bingley arrived. Mr. Bennet, through the assistance of servants, contrived to have the earliest tidings of it, that the period of anxiety and fretfulness on his side might be as long as it could. He counted the days that must intervene before their invitation could be sent; hopeless of seeing her before. But on the third morning after her arrival in Hertfordshire, he saw her, from his dressing-room window, enter the paddock and ride towards the house.

His sons were eagerly called to partake of his joy. Luke resolutely kept his place at the table; but Jonathan, to satisfy his father, went to the window—he looked,—he saw Miss Darcy with her, and sat down again by his brother.

“There is a lady with her, mamma,” said Willie; “who can it be?”

“Some acquaintance or other, my dear, I suppose; I am sure I do not know.”

“La!” replied Willie, “it looks just like that woman that used to be with her before. Miss. what’s-her-name. That tall, proud woman.”

“Good gracious! Miss Darcy!—and so it does, I vow. Well, any friend of Miss Bingley’s will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of her.”

Luke looked at Jonathan with surprise and concern. He knew but little of their meeting in Derbyshire, and therefore felt for the awkwardness which must attend his brother, in seeing her almost for the first time after receiving her explanatory letter. Both brothers were uncomfortable enough. Each felt for the other, and of course for themselves; and their father talked on, of his dislike of Miss Darcy, and his resolution to be civil to her only as Miss Bingley’s friend, without being heard by either of them. But Jonathan had sources of uneasiness which could not be suspected by Luke, to whom he had never yet had courage to shew Mr. Gardiner’s letter, or to relate his own change of sentiment towards her. To Luke, she could be only a woman whose proposals he had refused, and whose merit he had undervalued; but to his own more extensive information, she was the person to whom the whole family were indebted for the first of benefits, and whom he regarded himself with an interest, if not quite so tender, at least as reasonable and just as what Luke felt for Bingley. His astonishment at her coming—at her coming to Netherfield, to Longbourn, and voluntarily seeking her again, was almost equal to what he had known on first witnessing her altered behaviour in Derbyshire.

The colour which had been driven from his face, returned for half a minute with an additional glow, and a smile of delight added lustre to his eyes, as he thought for that space of time that her affection and wishes must still be unshaken. But he would not be secure.

“Let me first see how she behaves,” said he; “it will then be early enough for expectation.”

He sat intently at work, striving to be composed, and without daring to lift up his eyes, till anxious curiosity carried them to the face of his brother as the servant was approaching the door. Luke looked a little paler than usual, but more sedate than Jonathan had expected. On the ladies’ appearing, his colour increased; yet he received them with tolerable ease, and with a propriety of behaviour equally free from any symptom of resentment or any unnecessary complaisance.

Jonathan said as little to either as civility would allow, and sat down again to his work, with an eagerness which it did not often command. He had ventured only one glance at Darcy. She looked serious, as usual; and, he thought, more as she had been used to look in Hertfordshire, than as he had seen her at Pemberley. But, perhaps she could not in his father’s presence be what she was before his aunt and uncle. It was a painful, but not an improbable, conjecture.

Bingley, he had likewise seen for an instant, and in that short period saw her looking both pleased and embarrassed. She was received by Mr. Bennet with a degree of civility which made his two sons ashamed, especially when contrasted with the cold and ceremonious politeness of his curtsey and address to her friend.

Jonathan, particularly, who knew that his father owed to the latter the preservation of his favourite son from irremediable infamy, was hurt and distressed to a most painful degree by a distinction so ill applied.

Darcy, after inquiring of him how Mrs. and Mr. Gardiner did, a question which he could not answer without confusion, said scarcely anything. She was not seated by him; perhaps that was the reason of her silence; but it had not been so in Derbyshire. There she had talked to his friends, when she could not to himself. But now several minutes elapsed without bringing the sound of her voice; and when occasionally, unable to resist the impulse of curiosity, he raised his eyes to her face, he as often found her looking at Luke as at himself, and frequently on no object but the ground. More thoughtfulness and less anxiety to please, than when they last met, were plainly expressed. He was disappointed, and angry with himself for being so.

“Could I expect it to be otherwise!” said he. “Yet why did she come?”

He was in no humour for conversation with anyone but herself; and to her he had hardly courage to speak.

He inquired after her brother, but could do no more.

“It is a long time, Miss Bingley, since you went away,” said Mr. Bennet.

She readily agreed to it.

“I began to be afraid you would never come back again. People did say you meant to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas; but, however, I hope it is not true. A great many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since you went away. Mr. Lucas is married and settled. And one of my own sons. I suppose you have heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the papers. It was in The Times and The Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said, ‘Lately, Amy Wickham, Esq. to Mr. Nicholas Bennet,’ without there being a syllable said of his mother, or the place where he lived, or anything. It was my sister Gardiner’s drawing up too, and I wonder how she came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?”

Bingley replied that she did, and made her congratulations. Jonathan dared not lift up his eyes. How Miss Darcy looked, therefore, he could not tell.

“It is a delightful thing, to be sure, to have a son well married,” continued his father, “but at the same time, Miss Bingley, it is very hard to have him taken such a way from me. They are gone down to Newcastle, a place quite northward, it seems, and there they are to stay I do not know how long. Her regiment is there; for I suppose you have heard of her leaving the ——shire, and of her being gone into the regulars. Thank Heaven! she has some friends, though perhaps not so many as she deserves.”

Jonathan, who knew this to be levelled at Miss Darcy, was in such misery of shame, that he could hardly keep his seat. It drew from him, however, the exertion of speaking, which nothing else had so effectually done before; and he asked Bingley whether she meant to make any stay in the country at present. A few weeks, she believed.

“When you have killed all your own birds, Miss Bingley,” said his father, “I beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please on Mrs. Bennet’s manor. I am sure she will be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the best of the covies for you.”

Jonathan’s misery increased, at such unnecessary, such officious attention! Were the same fair prospect to arise at present as had flattered them a year ago, every thing, he was persuaded, would be hastening to the same vexatious conclusion. At that instant, he felt that years of happiness could not make Luke or himself amends for moments of such painful confusion.

“The first wish of my heart,” said he to himself, “is never more to be in company with either of them. Their society can afford no pleasure that will atone for such wretchedness as this! Let me never see either one or the other again!”

Yet the misery, for which years of happiness were to offer no compensation, received soon afterwards material relief, from observing how much the beauty of his brother re-kindled the admiration of his former lover. When first she came in, she had spoken to him but little; but every five minutes seemed to be giving him more of her attention. She found him as handsome as he had been last year; as good natured, and as unaffected, though not quite so chatty. Luke was anxious that no difference should be perceived in him at all, and was really persuaded that he talked as much as ever. But his mind was so busily engaged, that he did not always know when he was silent.

When the ladies rose to go away, Mr. Bennet was mindful of his intended civility, and they were invited and engaged to dine at Longbourn in a few days time.

“You are quite a visit in my debt, Miss Bingley,” he added, “for when you went to town last winter, you promised to take a family dinner with us, as soon as you returned. I have not forgot, you see; and I assure you, I was very much disappointed that you did not come back and keep your engagement.”

Bingley looked a little silly at this reflection, and said something of her concern at having been prevented by business. They then went away.

Mr. Bennet had been strongly inclined to ask them to stay and dine there that day; but, though he always kept a very good table, he did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a woman on whom he had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year.

Chapter 52

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,

“M. GARDINER.”

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?”

“Very much.”

“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.

Chapter 51

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.

Chapter 50

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.,

“O. GARDINER.”

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.

Chapter 49

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.,

“OPH. GARDINER.”

“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.

Chapter 48

The whole party were in hopes of a letter from Mrs. Bennet the next morning, but the post came in without bringing a single line from her. Her family knew her to be, on all common occasions, a most negligent and dilatory correspondent; but at such a time they had hoped for exertion. They were forced to conclude that she had no pleasing intelligence to send; but even of that they would have been glad to be certain. Mrs. Gardiner had waited only for the letters before she set off.

When she was gone, they were certain at least of receiving constant information of what was going on, and their aunt promised, at parting, to prevail on Mrs. Bennet to return to Longbourn, as soon as she could, to the great consolation of her brother, who considered it as the only security for his wife’s not being killed in a duel.

Mr. Gardiner and the children were to remain in Hertfordshire a few days longer, as the former thought his presence might be serviceable to his nephews. He shared in their attendance on Mr. Bennet, and was a great comfort to them in their hours of freedom. Their other uncle also visited them frequently, and always, as he said, with the design of cheering and heartening them up—though, as he never came without reporting some fresh instance of Wickham’s extravagance or irregularity, he seldom went away without leaving them more dispirited than he found them.

All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the woman who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light. She was declared to be in debt to every tradesman in the place, and her intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been extended into every tradeswoman’s family. Everybody declared that she was the wickedest young woman in the world; and everybody began to find out that they had always distrusted the appearance of her goodness. Jonathan, though he did not credit above half of what was said, believed enough to make his former assurance of his brother’s ruin more certain; and even Luke, who believed still less of it, became almost hopeless, more especially as the time was now come when, if they had gone to Scotland, which he had never before entirely despaired of, they must in all probability have gained some news of them.

Mrs. Gardiner left Longbourn on Sunday; on Tuesday her husband received a letter from her; it told them that, on her arrival, she had immediately found out her sister, and persuaded her to come to Gracechurch Street; that Mrs. Bennet had been to Epsom and Clapham, before her arrival, but without gaining any satisfactory information; and that she was now determined to inquire at all the principal hotels in town, as Mrs. Bennet thought it possible they might have gone to one of them, on their first coming to London, before they procured lodgings. Mrs. Gardiner herself did not expect any success from this measure, but as her sister was eager in it, she meant to assist her in pursuing it. She added that Mrs. Bennet seemed wholly disinclined at present to leave London and promised to write again very soon. There was also a postscript to this effect:

“I have written to Colonel Forster to desire her to find out, if possible, from some of the young woman’s intimates in the regiment, whether Wickham has any relations or connections who would be likely to know in what part of town she has now concealed herself. If there were anyone that one could apply to with a probability of gaining such a clue as that, it might be of essential consequence. At present we have nothing to guide us. Colonel Forster will, I dare say, do everything in her power to satisfy us on this head. But, on second thoughts, perhaps, Johnny could tell us what relations she has now living, better than any other person.”

Jonathan was at no loss to understand from whence this deference to his authority proceeded; but it was not in his power to give any information of so satisfactory a nature as the compliment deserved. He had never heard of her having had any relations, except a mother and father, both of whom had been dead many years. It was possible, however, that some of her companions in the ——shire might be able to give more information; and though he was not very sanguine in expecting it, the application was a something to look forward to.

Every day at Longbourn was now a day of anxiety; but the most anxious part of each was when the post was expected. The arrival of letters was the grand object of every morning’s impatience. Through letters, whatever of good or bad was to be told would be communicated, and every succeeding day was expected to bring some news of importance.

But before they heard again from Mrs. Gardiner, a letter arrived for their mother, from a different quarter, from Mrs. Collins; which, as Luke had received directions to open all that came for her in her absence, he accordingly read; and Jonathan, who knew what curiosities her letters always were, looked over him, and read it likewise. It was as follows:

“MY DEAR MADAM,

“I feel myself called upon, by our relationship, and my situation in life, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under, of which we were yesterday informed by a letter from Hertfordshire. Be assured, my dear madam, that Mr. Collins and myself sincerely sympathise with you and all your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove. No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe a misfortune—or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of all others the most afflicting to a parent’s mind. The death of your son would have been a blessing in comparison of this. And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Christopher informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your son has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the consolation of yourself and Mr. Bennet, I am inclined to think that his own disposition must be naturally bad, or he could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age. Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not only joined by Mr. Collins, but likewise by Sir Edmund and his son, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one son will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Sir Edmund himself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family? And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace. Let me then advise you, dear madam, to console yourself as much as possible, to throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave him to reap the fruits of his own heinous offense.

“I am, dear madam, etc., etc.”

Mrs. Gardiner did not write again till she had received an answer from Colonel Forster; and then she had nothing of a pleasant nature to send. It was not known that Wickham had a single relationship with whom she kept up any connection, and it was certain that she had no near one living. Her former acquaintances had been numerous; but since she had been in the militia, it did not appear that she was on terms of particular friendship with any of them. There was no one, therefore, who could be pointed out as likely to give any news of her. And in the wretched state of her own finances, there was a very powerful motive for secrecy, in addition to her fear of discovery by Nicholas’s relations, for it had just transpired that she had left gaming debts behind her to a very considerable amount. Colonel Forster believed that more than a thousand pounds would be necessary to clear her expenses at Brighton. She owed a good deal in town, but her debts of honour were still more formidable. Mrs. Gardiner did not attempt to conceal these particulars from the Longbourn family. Luke heard them with horror. “A gamester!” he cried. “This is wholly unexpected. I had not an idea of it.”

Mrs. Gardiner added in her letter, that they might expect to see their mother at home on the following day, which was Saturday. Rendered spiritless by the ill-success of all their endeavours, she had yielded to her sister-in-law’s entreaty that she would return to her family, and leave it to her to do whatever occasion might suggest to be advisable for continuing their pursuit. When Mr. Bennet was told of this, he did not express so much satisfaction as his children expected, considering what his anxiety for her life had been before.

“What, is she coming home, and without poor Nicholas?” he cried. “Sure she will not leave London before she has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make her marry him, if she comes away?”

As Mr. Gardiner began to wish to be at home, it was settled that he and the children should go to London, at the same time that Mrs. Bennet came from it. The coach, therefore, took them the first stage of their journey, and brought its mistress back to Longbourn.

Mr. Gardiner went away in all the perplexity about Jonathan and his Derbyshire friend that had attended him from that part of the world. Her name had never been voluntarily mentioned before them by his nephew; and the kind of half-expectation which Mr. Gardiner had formed, of their being followed by a letter from her, had ended in nothing. Jonathan had received none since his return that could come from Pemberley.

The present unhappy state of the family rendered any other excuse for the lowness of his spirits unnecessary; nothing, therefore, could be fairly conjectured from that, though Jonathan, who was by this time tolerably well acquainted with his own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had he known nothing of Darcy, he could have borne the dread of Nicholas’s infamy somewhat better. It would have spared him, he thought, one sleepless night out of two.

When Mrs. Bennet arrived, she had all the appearance of her usual philosophic composure. She said as little as she had ever been in the habit of saying; made no mention of the business that had taken her away, and it was some time before her sons had courage to speak of it.

It was not till the afternoon, when she had joined them at tea, that Jonathan ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on his briefly expressing his sorrow for what she must have endured, she replied, “Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Jonathan.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Johnny, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

“Do you suppose them to be in London?”

“Yes; where else can they be so well concealed?”

“And Nicholas used to want to go to London,” added Willie.

“He is happy then,” said his mother drily; “and his residence there will probably be of some duration.”

Then after a short silence she continued:

“Johnny, I bear you no ill-will for being justified in your advice to me last May, which, considering the event, shows some greatness of mind.”

They were interrupted by Mr. Luke Bennet, who came to fetch his father’s tea.

“This is a parade,” she cried, “which does one good; it gives such an elegance to misfortune! Another day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in my nightcap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can; or, perhaps, I may defer it till Willie runs away.”

“I am not going to run away, mama,” said Willie fretfully. “If I should ever go to Brighton, I would behave better than Nicholas.”

You go to Brighton. I would not trust you so near it as Eastbourne for fifty pounds! No, Willie, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter into my house again, nor even to pass through the village. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your brothers. And you are never to stir out of doors till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner.”

Willie, who took all these threats in a serious light, began to cry.

“Well, well,” said she, “do not make yourself unhappy. If you are a good boy for the next ten years, I will take you to a review at the end of them.”