The day passed much as the day before had done. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley had spent some hours of the morning with the invalid, who continued, though slowly, to mend; and in the evening Jonathan joined their party in the drawing-room. The loo-table, however, did not appear. Miss Darcy was writing, and Mr. Bingley, seated near her, was watching the progress of her letter and repeatedly calling off her attention by messages to her brother. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley were at piquet, and Mr. Hurst was observing their game.
Jonathan took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the gentleman, either on her handwriting, or on the evenness of her lines, or on the length of her letter, with the perfect unconcern with which his praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with his opinion of each.
“How delighted Mr. Darcy will be to receive such a letter!”
She made no answer.
“You write uncommonly fast.”
“You are mistaken. I write rather slowly.”
“How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!”
“It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours.”
“Pray tell your brother I long to see him.”
“I have already told him so once, by your desire.”
“I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well.”
“Thank you—but I always mend my own.”
“How can you contrive to write so even?”
She was silent.
“Tell your brother I am delighted to hear of his improvement on the harp; and pray let him know that I am quite in raptures with his beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Mr. Grantley’s.”
“Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? At present I have not room to do them justice.”
“Oh! it is of no consequence. I shall see him in January. But do you always write such charming long letters to him, Miss Darcy?”
“They are generally long; but whether always charming, it is not for me to determine.”
“It is a rule with me that a person who can write a long letter with ease cannot write ill.”
“That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Walter,” cried his sister, “because she does not write with ease. She studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?”
“My style of writing is very different from yours.”
“Oh!” cried Mr. Bingley, “Grace writes in the most careless way imaginable. She leaves out half her words, and blots the rest.”
“My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them—by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents.”
“Your humility, Miss Bingley,” said Jonathan, “must disarm reproof.”
“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
“And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty.”
“The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mr. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself—and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or any one else?”
“Nay,” cried Bingley, “this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believed what I said to myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to shew off before the gentlemen.”
“I dare say you believed it; but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would be quite as dependant on chance as that of any woman I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, ‘Bingley, you had better stay till next week’ you would probably do it, you would probably not go—and at another word, might stay a month.”
‘You have only proved by this,” cried Jonathan, “that Miss Bingley did not do justice to her own disposition. You have shewn her off now much more than she did herself.”
“I am exceedingly gratified,” said Bingley, “by your converting what my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which that lady did by no means intend; for she would certainly think better of me if, under such a circumstance, I were to give a flat denial, and ride off as fast as I could.”
“Would Miss Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intention as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?”
“Upon my word I cannot exactly explain the matter—Darcy must speak for herself.”
“You expect me to account for opinions which you chuse to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Mr. Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire her return to the house, and the delay of her plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety.”
“To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is not merit with you.”
“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”
“You appear to me, Miss Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Miss Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs before we discuss the discretion of her behaviour thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases between friend and friend, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?”
“Will it not be advisable, before we proceed on this subject, to arrange with rather more precision the degree of importance which is to appertain to this request, as well as the degree of intimacy subsisting between the parties?”
“By all means,” cried Bingley; “let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Mr. Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you that, if Darcy were not such a great tall lady, in comparison with myself, I should not pay her half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at her own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when she has nothing to do.”
Miss Darcy smiled; but Jonathan thought he could perceive that she was rather offended, and therefore checked his laugh. Mr. Bingley warmly resented the indignity she had received, in an expostulation with his sister for talking such nonsense.
“I see your design, Bingley,” said her friend. “You dislike an argument, and want to silence this.”
“Perhaps I do. Arguments are too much like disputes. If you and Mr. Bennet will defer yours till I am out of the room I shall be very thankful; and then you may say whatever you like of me.”
“What you ask,” said Jonathan, “is no sacrifice on my side; and Miss Darcy had much better finish her letter.”
Miss Darcy took his advice, and did finish her letter.
When that business was over, she applied to Mr. Bingley and Jonathan for the indulgence of some music. Mr. Bingley moved with alacrity to the pianoforte; and, after a polite request that Jonathan would lead the way, which the other as politely and more earnestly negatived, he seated himself.
Mr. Hurst sang with his brother; and while they were thus employed, Jonathan could not help observing, as he turned over some music books that lay on the instrument, how frequently Miss Darcy’s eyes were fixed on him. He hardly knew how to suppose that he could be an object of admiration to so great a woman; and yet that she should look at him because she disliked him was still more strange. He could only imagine, however, at last, that he drew her notice because there was a something about him more wrong and reprehensible, according to her ideas of right, than in any other person present. The supposition did not pain him. He liked her too little to care of her approbation.
After playing some Italian songs, Mr. Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Miss Darcy, drawing near Jonathan, said to him—
“Do not you feel a great inclination, Mr. Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?”
He smiled, but made no answer. She repeated the question, with some surprise at his silence.
“Oh!” said he, “I heard you before, but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say ‘Yes,’ that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all—and now despise me if you dare.”
“Indeed I do not dare.”
Jonathan, having rather expected to affront her, was amazed at her gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in his manner which made it difficult for him to affront anybody, and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any man as she was by him. She really believed that, were it not for the inferiority of his connexions, she should be in some danger.
Mr. Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; and his great anxiety for the recovery of his dear friend Luke received some assistance from his desire of getting rid of Jonathan.
He often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking his guest, by talking of their supposed marriage, and planning her happiness in such an alliance.
“I hope,” said he, as they were walking together in the shrubbery the next day, “you will give your father-in-law a few hints, when this desirable event takes place, as to the advantage of holding his tongue; and if you can compass it, do cure the younger boys of running after the officers. —And, if I may mention so delicate a subject, endeavour to check that little something, bordering on conceit and impertinence, which your gentleman possesses.”
“Have you anything else to propose for my domestic felicity?”
“Oh! yes. Do let the portraits of your aunt and uncle Phillips be placed in the gallery at Pemberley. Put them next to your great-aunt the judge. They are in the same profession, you know; only in different lines. As for your Jonathan’s picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?”
“It would not be easy, indeed, to catch their expression, but their colour and shape, and the eye-lashes, so remarkably fine, might be copied.”
At that moment they were met from another walk by Mr. Hurst and Jonathan himself.
“I did not know that you intended to walk,” said Mr. Bingley, in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.
“You used us abominably ill,” answered Mr. Hurst, “running away without telling us that you were coming out.”
Then, taking the disengaged arm of Miss Darcy, he left Jonathan to walk by himself. The path just admitted three. Miss Darcy felt their rudeness and immediately said,—
‘’This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue.”
But Jonathan, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, —
“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”
He then ran gaily off, rejoicing, as he rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two. Luke was already so much recovered as to intend leaving his room for a couple of hours that evening.