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CHAPTER 52

ELIZABETH had the satisfaction of receiving an answer to her
letter as soon as she possibly could. She was no sooner in
possession of it than, hurrying into the little copse, where
she was least likely to be interrupted, she sat down on one of
the benches and prepared to be happy; for the length of the
letter convinced her that it did not contain a denial.

"Gracechurch-street, Sept. 6.

MY DEAR NIECE,

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 enquiries to be necessary
on your side. If you do not choose to understand me, forgive
my impertinence. Your uncle is as much surprised as I am --
and nothing but the belief of your being a party concerned
would have allowed him to act as he 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 uncle had a
most unexpected visitor. Mr. Darcy called, and was shut up
with him several hours. It was all over before I arrived; so
my curiosity was not so dreadfully racked as your's seems to
have been. He came to tell Mr. Gardiner that he had found out
where your sister and Mr. Wickham were, and that he had seen
and talked with them both; Wickham repeatedly, Lydia once.
From what I can collect, he left Derbyshire only one day after
ourselves, and came to town with the resolution of hunting for
them. The motive professed was his conviction of its being
owing to himself that Wickham's worthlessness had not been so
well known as to make it impossible for any young woman of
character to love or confide in him. He generously imputed the
whole to his mistaken pride, and confessed that he had before
thought it beneath him to lay his private actions open to the
world. His character was to speak for itself. He called it,
therefore, his duty to step forward, and endeavour to remedy an
evil which had been brought on by himself. If he had
another motive, I am sure it would never disgrace him. He
had been some days in town, before he was able to discover
them; but he had something to direct his search, which was more
than we had; and the consciousness of this was another reason
for his resolving to follow us. There is a lady, it seems, a
Mrs. Younge, who was some time ago governess to Miss Darcy, and
was dismissed from her charge on some cause of disapprobation,
though he did not say what. She then took a large house in
Edward-street, and has since maintained herself by letting
lodgings. This Mrs. Younge was, he knew, intimately acquainted
with Wickham; and he went to her for intelligence of him as
soon as he got to town. But it was two or three days before he
could get from her what he wanted. She would not betray her
trust, I suppose, without bribery and corruption, for she
really did know where her friend was to be found. Wickham
indeed had gone to her on their first arrival in London, and
had she been able to receive them into her house, they would
have taken up their abode with her. At length, however, our
kind friend procured the wished-for direction. They were in
---- street. He saw Wickham, and afterwards insisted on seeing
Lydia. His first object with her, he acknowledged, had been to
persuade her to quit her present disgraceful situation, and
return to her friends as soon as they could be prevailed on to
receive her, offering his assistance, as far as it would go.
But he found Lydia absolutely resolved on remaining where she
was. She cared for none of her friends; she wanted no help of
his; she would not hear of leaving Wickham. She was sure they
should be married some time or other, and it did not much
signify when. Since such were her feelings, it only remained,
he thought, to secure and expedite a marriage, which, in his
very first conversation with Wickham, he easily learnt had
never been his design. He confessed himself 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 Lydia's flight on her own folly alone. He meant to resign
his commission immediately; and as to his future situation, he
could conjecture very little about it. He must go somewhere,
but he did not know where, and he knew he should have nothing
to live on. Mr. Darcy asked him why he had not married your
sister at once. Though Mr. Bennet was not imagined to be very
rich, he would have been able to do something for him, and his
situation must have been benefited by marriage. But he found,
in reply to this question, that Wickham still cherished the
hope of more effectually making his fortune by marriage in some
other country. Under such circumstances, however, he 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 he could get; but at length
was reduced to be reasonable. Every thing being settled
between them, Mr. Darcy's next step was to make your uncle
acquainted with it, and he first called in Gracechurch-street
the evening before I came home. But Mr. Gardiner could not be
seen, and Mr. Darcy found, on further enquiry, that your father
was still with him, but would quit town the next morning. He
did not judge your father to be a person whom he could so
properly consult as your uncle, and therefore readily postponed
seeing him till after the departure of the former. He did not
leave his name, and till the next day it was only known that a
gentleman had called on business. On Saturday he came again.
Your father was gone, your uncle at home, and, as I said
before, they had a great deal of talk together. They met again
on Sunday, and then I saw him 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,
Lizzy, that obstinacy is the real defect of his character,
after all. He has been accused of many faults at different
times, but this is the true one. Nothing was to be done that
he did not do himself; though I am sure (and I do not speak it
to be thanked, therefore say nothing about it), your uncle
would most readily have settled the whole. They battled it
together for a long time, which was more than either the
gentleman or lady concerned in it deserved. But at last your
uncle was forced to yield, and instead of being allowed to be
of use to his niece, 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 him great
pleasure, because it required an explanation that would rob him
of his borrowed feathers, and give the praise where it was due.
But, Lizzy, this must go no farther than yourself, or Jane at
most. You know pretty well, I suppose, what has been done for
the young people. His debts are to be paid, amounting, I
believe, to considerably more than a thousand pounds, another
thousand in addition to her own settled upon her, and his
commission purchased. The reason why all this was to be done
by him alone, was such as I have given above. It was owing to
him, to his reserve and want of proper consideration, that
Wickham's character had been so misunderstood, and consequently
that he had been received and noticed as he was. Perhaps there
was some truth in this; though I doubt whether his reserve,
or anybody's reserve, can be answerable for the event. But
in spite of all this fine talking, my dear Lizzy, you may rest
perfectly assured that your uncle would never have yielded, if
we had not given him credit for another interest in the
affair. When all this was resolved on, he returned again to
his friends, who were still staying at Pemberley; but it was
agreed that he 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.
Lydia came to us; and Wickham had constant admission to the
house. He was exactly what he had been when I knew him in
Hertfordshire; but I would not tell you how little I was
satisfied with her behaviour while she staid with us, if I
had not perceived, by Jane's letter last Wednesday, that her
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 her repeatedly in the most serious manner,
representing to her all the wickedness of what she had done,
and all the unhappiness she had brought on her family. If she
heard me, it was by good luck, for I am sure she did not
listen. I was sometimes quite provoked, but then I recollected
my dear Elizabeth and Jane, and for their sakes had patience
with her. Mr. Darcy was punctual in his return, and as Lydia
informed you, attended the wedding. He 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 Lizzy, if I take this
opportunity of saying (what I was never bold enough to say
before) how much I like him. His behaviour to us has, in every
respect, been as pleasing as when we were in Derbyshire. His
understanding and opinions all please me; he wants nothing but
a little more liveliness, and that, if he marry prudently,
his wife may teach him. I thought him very sly; -- he 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. Your's, very sincerely,

M. GARDINER."

The contents of this letter threw Elizabeth 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
Mr. Darcy might have been doing to forward her sister's match,
which she 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! He had followed them purposely to
town, he had taken on himself all the trouble and mortification
attendant on such a research; in which supplication had been
necessary to a woman whom he must abominate and despise, and
where he was reduced to meet, frequently meet, reason with,
persuade, and finally bribe, the man whom he always most wished
to avoid, and whose very name it was punishment to him to
pronounce. He had done all this for a girl whom he could
neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper that he had
done it for her. But it was a hope shortly checked by other
considerations, and she soon felt that even her vanity was
insufficient, when required to depend on his affection for her
-- for a woman who had already refused him -- as able to
overcome a sentiment so natural as abhorrence against
relationship with Wickham. Brother-in-law of Wickham! Every
kind of pride must revolt from the connection. He had, to be
sure, done much. She was ashamed to think how much. But he
had given a reason for his interference, which asked no
extraordinary stretch of belief. It was reasonable that he
should feel he had been wrong; he had liberality, and he had
the means of exercising it; and though she would not place
herself as his principal inducement, she could, perhaps,
believe that remaining partiality for her might assist his
endeavours in a cause where her 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 Lydia,
her character, every thing, to him. Oh! how heartily did she
grieve over every ungracious sensation she had ever encouraged,
every saucy speech she had ever directed towards him. For
herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him. Proud that
in a cause of compassion and honour, he had been able to get
the better of himself. She read over her aunt's commendation
of him again and again. It was hardly enough; but it pleased
her. She was even sensible of some pleasure, though mixed with
regret, on finding how steadfastly both she and her uncle had
been persuaded that affection and confidence subsisted between
Mr. Darcy and herself.

She was roused from her seat, and her reflections, by some
one's approach; and before she could strike into another path,
she was overtaken by Wickham.

"I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble, my dear sister?"
said he, as he joined her.

"You certainly do," she 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. Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are going in the
carriage to Meryton. And so, my dear sister, I find, from
our uncle and aunt, that you have actually seen Pemberley."

She 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 housekeeper, I suppose? Poor
Reynolds, she was always very fond of me. But of course she
did not mention my name to you."

"Yes, she did."

"And what did she say?"

"That you were gone into the army, and she was afraid had
-- not turned out well. At such a distance as that, you
know, things are strangely misrepresented."

"Certainly," he replied, biting his lips. Elizabeth hoped she
had silenced him; but he soon afterwards said,

"I was surprised to see Darcy in town last month. We passed
each other several times. I wonder what he can be doing
there."

"Perhaps preparing for his marriage with Miss de Bourgh," said
Elizabeth. "It must be something particular, to take him there
at this time of year."

"Undoubtedly. Did you see him while you were at Lambton?
I thought I understood from the Gardiners that you had."

"Yes; he introduced us to his sister."

"And do you like her?"

"Very much."

"I have heard, indeed, that she is uncommonly improved within
this year or two. When I last saw her, she was not very
promising. I am very glad you liked her. I hope she will turn
out well."

"I dare say she will; she 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 patron."

"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 she
had walked fast to get rid of him; and unwilling, for her
sister's sake, to provoke him, she only said in reply, with
a good-humoured smile,

"Come, Mr. Wickham, we are brother and sister, you know.
Do not let us quarrel about the past. In future, I hope we
shall be always of one mind."

She held out her hand; he kissed it with affectionate
gallantry, though he hardly knew how to look, and they
entered the house.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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