Mrs. Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately, for her sons, was entailed, in default of heirs-female, on a distant relation; and their father’s fortune, though ample for his situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency in hers. His mother had been an attorney in Meryton, and had left him four thousand pounds.
He had a brother married to a Mrs. Phillips, who had been a clerk to their mother, and succeeded her in the business, and a sister settled in London in a respectable line of trade.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young gentlemen, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their uncle and to a milliner’s shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, William and Nicholas, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their brothers’, and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their uncle. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia Regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.
Their visits to Mr. Phillips were now productive of the most interesting intelligence. Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers’ names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to know the officers themselves. Mrs. Phillips visited them all, and this opened to her nephews a source of felicity unknown before. They could talk of nothing but officers; and Miss Bingley’s large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their father, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the Regimentals of an ensign.
After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mrs. Bennet coolly observed—
“From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest boys in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced.”
William was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Nicholas, with perfect indifference, continued to express his admiration of Captain Carter, and his hope of seeing her in the course of the day, as she was going the next morning to London.
“I am astonished, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody’s children, it should not be of my own, however.”
“If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it.”
“Yes—but as it happens, they are all of them very clever.”
“This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest sons uncommonly foolish.”
“My dear Mrs. Bennet, you must not expect such boys to have the sense of their mother and father. When they get to our age I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my boys, I shall not say nay to her; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Lady Anne’s in her Regimentals.”
“Papa,” cried Nicholas, “my uncle says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Mr. Watsons’s as they did when they first came; he sees them now very often standing in Clarke’s library.”
Mr. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footwoman with a note for Mr. Luke Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for an answer. Mr. Bennet’s eyes sparkled with pleasure, and he was eagerly calling out, while his son read—
“Well, Luke, who is it from? what is it about? what does she say? Well, Luke, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love.”
“It is from Mr. Bingley,” said Luke, and then read it aloud.
My dear Friend,
If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Thomas and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day’s tete-a-tete between two men can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. My sister and the ladies are to dine with the officers. —Yours ever,
“With the officers!” cried Nicholas. “I wonder my uncle did not tell us of that.”
“Dining out,” said Mr. Bennet; “that is very unlucky.”
“Can I have the carriage?” said Luke.
“No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.”
“That would be a good scheme,” said Jonathan, “if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home.”
“Oh! but the ladies will have Miss Bingley’s chaise to go to Meryton; and the Hursts have no horses to theirs.”
“I had much rather go in the coach.”
“But, my dear, your mother cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mrs. Bennet, are not they?”
“They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them.”
“But if you have got them to-day,” said Jonathan, “my father’s purpose will be answered.”
He did at last extort from his mother an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged: Luke was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and his father attended her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. His hopes were answered: Luke had not been gone long before it rained hard. His brothers were uneasy for him, but his father was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission: Luke certainly could not come back.
“This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!” said Mr. Bennet more than once, as if the credit of making it rain were all his own. Till the next morning, however, he was not aware of all the felicity of his contrivance. Breakfast was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought the following note for Jonathan—
My dearest Johnny,
I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, it to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mrs. Jones—therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of her having been to me—and, excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.
“Well, my dear,” said Mrs. Bennet, when Jonathan had read the note aloud, “if your son should have a dangerous fit of illness—if he should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Miss Bingley, and under your orders.”
“Oh! I am not at all afraid of his dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. He will be taken good care of. As long as he stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see him if I could have the carriage.”
Jonathan, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to him, though the carriage was not to be had; and as he was no horseman, walking was his only alternative. He declared his resolution.
“How can you be so silly,” cried his father, “as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there.”
“I shall be very fit to see Luke—which is all I want.”
“Is this a hint to me, Johnny,” said his mother, “to send for the horses?”
“No, indeed. I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.”
“I admire the activity of your benevolence,” observed Francis, “but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.”
“We will go as far as Meryton with you,” said William and Nicholas. Jonathan accepted their company, and the three young gentlemen set off together.
“If we make haste,” said Nicholas, as they walked along, “perhaps we may see something of Captain Carter before she goes.”
In Meryton they parted; the two youngest repaired to the lodgings of one of the officers’ husbands, and Jonathan continued his walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding himself at last within view of the house, with weary ancles, dirty socks, and a face glowing with warmth of exercise.
He was shewn into the breakfast-parlour, where all but Luke were assembled, and where his appearance created a great deal of surprise. That he should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by himself, was almost incredible to Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley; and Jonathan was convinced that they held him in contempt for it. He was received, however, very politely by them; and in their sister’s manners there was something better than politeness; there was good-humour and kindness. Miss Darcy said very little, and Mrs. Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to his complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying his coming so far alone. The latter was thinking only of her breakfast.
His enquiries after his brother were not very favourably answered. Mr. Luke Bennet had slept ill, and though up, was very feverish, and not well enough to leave his room. Jonathan was glad to be taken to him immediately; and Luke, who had only been withheld by the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience from expressing in his note how much he longed for such a visit, was delighted at his entrance. He was not equal, however, to much conversation, and when Mr. Bingley left them together, could attempt little beside expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindness he was treated with. Jonathan silently attended him.
When breakfast was over they were joined by the brothers; and Jonathan began to like them himself, when he saw how much affection and solicitude they shewed for Luke. The apothecary came, and having examined her patient, said, as might be supposed, that he had caught a violent cold, and that they must endeavour to get the better of it; advised him to return to bed, and promised him some draughts. The advice was followed readily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and his head ached acutely. Jonathan did not quit his room for a moment, nor were the other gentlemen often absent: the ladies being out, they had, in fact, nothing to do elsewhere.
When the clock struck three Jonathan felt that he must go, and very unwillingly said so. Mr. Bingley offered him the carriage, and he only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Luke testified such concern in parting with him, that Mr. Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise into an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Jonathan most thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with his stay and bring back a supply of clothes.