Two days after Mr. Bennet's return, as Jane and Elizabeth were walkin_ogether in the shrubbery behind the house, they saw the housekeeper comin_owards them, and, concluding that she came to call them to their mother, wen_orward to meet her; but, instead of the expected summons, when the_pproached her, she said to Miss Bennet, "I beg your pardon, madam, fo_nterrupting you, but I was in hopes you might have got some good news fro_own, so I took the liberty of coming to ask."
"What do you mean, Hill? We have heard nothing from town."
"Dear madam," cried Mrs. Hill, in great astonishment, "don't you know there i_n express come for master from Mr. Gardiner? He has been here this half-hour, and master has had a letter."
Away ran the girls, too eager to get in to have time for speech. They ra_hrough the vestibule into the breakfast-room; from thence to the library; their father was in neither; and they were on the point of seeking hi_pstairs with their mother, when they were met by the butler, who said:
"If you are looking for my master, ma'am, he is walking towards the littl_opse."
Upon this information, they instantly passed through the hall once more, an_an across the lawn after their father, who was deliberately pursuing his wa_owards a small wood on one side of the paddock.
Jane, who was not so light nor so much in the habit of running as Elizabeth, soon lagged behind, while her sister, panting for breath, came up with him, and eagerly cried out:
"Oh, papa, what news—what news? Have you heard from my uncle?"
"Yes I have had a letter from him by express."
"Well, and what news does it bring—good or bad?"
"What is there of good to be expected?" said he, taking the letter from hi_ocket. "But perhaps you would like to read it."
Elizabeth impatiently caught it from his hand. Jane now came up.
"Read it aloud," said their father, "for I hardly know myself what it i_bout."
"Gracechurch Street, Monday, August 2.
"MY DEAR BROTHER,
"At last I am able to send you some tidings of my niece, and such as, upon th_hole, I hope it will give you satisfaction. Soon after you left me o_aturday, 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 ar_iscovered. I have seen them both—"
"Then it is as I always hoped," cried Jane; "they are married!"
Elizabeth read on:
"I have seen them both. They are not married, nor can I find there was an_ntention of being so; but if you are willing to perform the engagements whic_ have ventured to make on your side, I hope it will not be long before the_re. All that is required of you is, to assure to your daughter, b_ettlement, her equal share of the five thousand pounds secured among you_hildren after the decease of yourself and my sister; and, moreover, to ente_nto an engagement of allowing her, during your life, one hundred pounds pe_nnum. These are conditions which, considering everything, I had no hesitatio_n complying with, as far as I thought myself privileged, for you. I shal_end this by express, that no time may be lost in bringing me your answer. Yo_ill easily comprehend, from these particulars, that Mr. Wickham'_ircumstances are not so hopeless as they are generally believed to be. Th_orld has been deceived in that respect; and I am happy to say there will b_ome little money, even when all his debts are discharged, to settle on m_iece, in addition to her own fortune. If, as I conclude will be the case, yo_end me full powers to act in your name throughout the whole of this business, I will immediately give directions to Haggerston for preparing a prope_ettlement. There will not be the smallest occasion for your coming to tow_gain; 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 niece should be married from this house, o_hich I hope you will approve. She comes to us to-day. I shall write again a_oon as anything more is determined on. Yours, etc.,
"Is it possible?" cried Elizabeth, when she had finished. "Can it be possibl_hat he will marry her?"
"Wickham is not so undeserving, then, as we thought him," said her sister. "M_ear father, I congratulate you."
"And have you answered the letter?" cried Elizabeth.
"No; but it must be done soon."
Most earnestly did she then entreaty him to lose no more time before he wrote.
"Oh! my dear father," she cried, "come back and write immediately. Conside_ow important every moment is in such a case."
"Let me write for you," said Jane, "if you dislike the trouble yourself."
"I dislike it very much," he replied; "but it must be done."
And so saying, he turned back with them, and walked towards the house.
"And may I ask—" said Elizabeth; "but the terms, I suppose, must be complie_ith."
"Complied with! I am only ashamed of his asking so little."
"And they _must_ marry! Yet he is _such_ a man!"
"Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done. But there ar_wo things that I want very much to know; one is, how much money your uncl_as laid down to bring it about; and the other, how am I ever to pay him."
"Money! My uncle!" cried Jane, "what do you mean, sir?"
"I mean, that no man in his senses would marry Lydia on so slight a temptatio_s one hundred a year during my life, and fifty after I am gone."
"That is very true," said Elizabeth; "though it had not occurred to me before.
His debts to be discharged, and something still to remain! Oh! it must be m_ncle's doings! Generous, good man, I am afraid he has distressed himself. _mall sum could not do all this."
"No," said her father; "Wickham's a fool if he takes her with a farthing les_han ten thousand pounds. I should be sorry to think so ill of him, in th_ery beginning of our relationship."
"Ten thousand pounds! Heaven forbid! How is half such a sum to be repaid?"
Mr. Bennet made no answer, and each of them, deep in thought, continued silen_ill they reached the house. Their father then went on to the library t_rite, and the girls walked into the breakfast-room.
"And they are really to be married!" cried Elizabeth, as soon as they were b_hemselves. "How strange this is! And for _this_ we are to be thankful. Tha_hey should marry, small as is their chance of happiness, and wretched as i_is character, we are forced to rejoice. Oh, Lydia!"
"I comfort myself with thinking," replied Jane, "that he certainly would no_arry Lydia if he had not a real regard for her. Though our kind uncle ha_one something towards clearing him, I cannot believe that ten thousan_ounds, or anything like it, has been advanced. He has children of his own, and may have more. How could he spare half ten thousand pounds?"
"If he were ever able to learn what Wickham's debts have been," sai_lizabeth, "and how much is settled on his side on our sister, we shal_xactly know what Mr. Gardiner has done for them, because Wickham has no_ixpence of his own. The kindness of my uncle and aunt can never be requited.
Their taking her home, and affording her their personal protection an_ountenance, is such a sacrifice to her advantage as years of gratitude canno_nough acknowledge. By this time she is actually with them! If such goodnes_oes not make her miserable now, she will never deserve to be happy! What _eeting for her, when she first sees my aunt!"
"We must endeavour to forget all that has passed on either side," said Jane:
"I hope and trust they will yet be happy. His consenting to marry her is _roof, I will believe, that he is come to a right way of thinking. Thei_utual affection will steady them; and I flatter myself they will settle s_uietly, and live in so rational a manner, as may in time make their pas_mprudence forgotten."
"Their conduct has been such," replied Elizabeth, "as neither you, nor I, no_nybody can ever forget. It is useless to talk of it."
It now occurred to the girls that their mother was in all likelihood perfectl_gnorant of what had happened. They went to the library, therefore, and aske_heir father whether he would not wish them to make it known to her. He wa_riting and, without raising his head, coolly replied:
"Just as you please."
"May we take my uncle's letter to read to her?"
"Take whatever you like, and get away."
Elizabeth took the letter from his writing-table, and they went upstair_ogether. Mary and Kitty were both with Mrs. Bennet: one communication would, therefore, do for all. After a slight preparation for good news, the lette_as read aloud. Mrs. Bennet could hardly contain herself. As soon as Jane ha_ead Mr. Gardiner's hope of Lydia's being soon married, her joy burst forth, and every following sentence added to its exuberance. She was now in a_rritation as violent from delight, as she had ever been fidgety from alar_nd vexation. To know that her daughter would be married was enough. She wa_isturbed by no fear for her felicity, nor humbled by any remembrance of he_isconduct.
"My dear, dear Lydia!" she cried. "This is delightful indeed! She will b_arried! I shall see her again! She will be married at sixteen! My good, kin_rother! I knew how it would be. I knew he would manage everything! How I lon_o see her! and to see dear Wickham too! But the clothes, the wedding clothes!
I will write to my sister Gardiner about them directly. Lizzy, my dear, ru_own to your father, and ask him how much he will give her. Stay, stay, I wil_o myself. Ring the bell, Kitty, for Hill. I will put on my things in _oment. My dear, dear Lydia! How merry we shall be together when we meet!"
Her eldest daughter endeavoured to give some relief to the violence of thes_ransports, by leading her thoughts to the obligations which Mr. Gardiner'_ehaviour laid them all under.
"For we must attribute this happy conclusion," she added, "in a great measur_o his kindness. We are persuaded that he has pledged himself to assist Mr.
Wickham with money."
"Well," cried her mother, "it is all very right; who should do it but her ow_ncle? If he had not had a family of his own, I and my children must have ha_ll his money, you know; and it is the first time we have ever had anythin_rom him, except a few presents. Well! I am so happy! In a short time I shal_ave a daughter married. Mrs. Wickham! How well it sounds! And she was onl_ixteen last June. My dear Jane, I am in such a flutter, that I am sure _an't write; so I will dictate, and you write for me. We will settle with you_ather about the money afterwards; but the things should be ordere_mmediately."
She was then proceeding to all the particulars of calico, muslin, and cambric, and would shortly have dictated some very plentiful orders, had not Jane, though with some difficulty, persuaded her to wait till her father was a_eisure to be consulted. One day's delay, she observed, would be of smal_mportance; and her mother was too happy to be quite so obstinate as usual.
Other schemes, too, came into her head.
"I will go to Meryton," said she, "as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my sister Philips. And as I come back, I can call on Lady Luca_nd Mrs. Long. Kitty, run down and order the carriage. An airing would do me _reat deal of good, I am sure. Girls, can I do anything for you in Meryton?
Oh! Here comes Hill! My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Miss Lydia i_oing to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry a_er wedding."
Mrs. Hill began instantly to express her joy. Elizabeth received he_ongratulations amongst the rest, and then, sick of this folly, took refuge i_er own room, that she might think with freedom.
Poor Lydia's situation must, at best, be bad enough; but that it was no worse, she had need to be thankful. She felt it so; and though, in looking forward, neither rational happiness nor worldly prosperity could be justly expected fo_er sister, in looking back to what they had feared, only two hours ago, sh_elt all the advantages of what they had gained.