Chapter 18

Till Jonathan entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, and looked in vain for Miss Wickham among the cluster of red coats there assembled, a doubt of her being present had never occurred to him. The certainty of meeting her had not been checked by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably have alarmed him. He had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of her heart, trusting that it was not more than might be won in the course of the evening. But in an instant arose the dreadful suspicion of her being purposely omitted for Miss Darcy’s pleasure in the Bingley’s invitation to the officers; and though this was not exactly the case, the absolute fact of her absence was pronounced by his friend Mrs. Denny, to whom Nicholas eagerly applied, and who told them that Wickham had been obliged to go to town on business the day before, and was not yet returned; adding, with a significant smile—

“I do not imagine her business would have called her away just now, if she had not wished to avoid a certain lady here.”

This part of her intelligence, though unheard by Nicholas, was caught by Jonathan, and as it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable for Wickham’s absence than if his first surmise had been just, every feeling of displeasure against the former was so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that he could hardly reply with tolerable civility to the polite inquiries which she directly afterwards approached to make. Attention, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham. He was resolved against any sort of conversation with her, and turned away with a degree of ill-humour which he could not wholly surmount even in speaking to Miss Bingley, whose blind partiality provoked him.

But Jonathan was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of his own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on his spirits; and having told all his griefs to Christopher Lucas, whom he had not seen for a week, he was soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of his cousin, and to point her out to his particular notice. The two first dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Miss Collins, awkward and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of his release from her was exstacy.

He danced next with an officer, and had the refreshment of talking of Wickham, and of hearing that she was universally liked. When those dances were over he returned to Christopher Lucas, and was in conversation with him, when he found himself suddenly addressed by Darcy, who took him so much by surprise in her application for his hand, that, without knowing what he did, he accepted her. She walked away again immediately, and he was left to fret over his own want of presence of mind; Christopher tried to console him.

“I dare say you will find her very agreeable.”

“Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all!—To find a woman agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”

When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim his hand, Christopher could not help cautioning him in a whisper not to be a simpleton, and allow his fancy for Wickham to make him appear unpleasant in the eyes of a woman of ten times her consequence. Jonathan made no answer, and took his place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which he was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Miss Darcy, and reading in his neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and he began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly, fancying that it would be the greater punishment to his partner to oblige her to talk, he made some slight observation on the dance. She replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes he addressed her a second time with—“It is your turn to say something now, Miss Darcy—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

She smiled, and assured him that whatever he wished her to say should be said.

“Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.”

“Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?”

“Both,” replied Jonathan archly: “for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.”

“This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure,” said she. “How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly.”

“I must not decide on my own performance.”

She made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance, when she asked him if he and his brothers did not very often walk to Meryton? He answered in the affirmative; and, unable to resist the temptation, added, “When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.”

The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of hauteur overspread her features, but she said not a word, and Jonathan, though blaming himself for his own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said, “Miss Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure her making friends—whether she may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”

“She has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship,” replied Jonathan with emphasis, “and in a manner which she is likely to suffer from all her life.”

Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject. At that moment Lady Anne Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Miss Darcy she stopt with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment her on her dancing and her partner.

“I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear lady. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Mr. Reg (glancing at his brother and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Miss Darcy—but let me not interrupt you, ma’am. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young gentleman, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me.”

That latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Lady Anne’s allusion to her friend seemed to strike her forcibly, and her eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Luke, who were dancing together. Recovering herself, however, shortly, she turned to her partner, and said, “Lady Anne’s interruption has made me forget what we were talking of.”

“I do not think we were speaking at all. Lady Anne could not have interrupted any two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine.”

“What think you of books?’ said she, smiling.

“Books—Oh! No. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings.’

“I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions.”

“No—I cannot talk of books in a ballroom; my head is always full of something else.”

“The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?” said she, with a look of doubt.

“Yes, always,” he replied, without knowing what he said, for his thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by him suddenly exclaiming, “I remember hearing you once say, Miss Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”

“I am,” said she, with a firm voice.

“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”

“I hope not.”

“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”

“May I ask to what these questions tend?”

“Merely to the illustration of your character,” said he, endeavouring to shake off his gravity. “I am trying to make it out.”

“And what is your success?”

He shook his head. “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.”

“I can readily believe,” answered her gravely, “that report may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Mr. Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.”

“But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.”

“I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours,” she coldly replied. He said no more, and they went down the other dance and parted in silence; on each side dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree, for in Darcy’s breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards him, which soon procured his pardon, and directed all her anger against another.

They had not long separated when Mr. Bingley came towards him, and with an expression of civil disdain thus accosted him:—“So, Mr. Reg, I hear you are quite delighted with Amy Wickham! Your brother has been talking to me about her, and asking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young woman forgot to tell you, among her other communications, that she was the daughter of old Wickham, the late Mrs. Darcy’s stewardess. Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implicit confidence to all her assertions: for as to Miss Darcy’s using her ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, she has been always remarkably kind to her, though Amy Wickham has treated Miss Darcy in a most infamous manner. I do not know the particulars, but I know very well that Miss Darcy is not in the least to blame, that she cannot bear to hear Amy Wickham mentioned, and that though my sister thought she could not well avoid including her in her invitation to the officers, she was excessively glad to find that she had taken herself out of the way. Her coming into the country at all is a most insolent thing, indeed, and I wonder how she could presume to do it. I pity you, Mr. Reg, for this discovery of your favourite’s guilt; but really considering her descent, one could not expect much better.”

“Her guilt and her descent appear by your account to be the same,” said Jonathan angrily; “for I have heard you accuse her of nothing worse than of being the daughter of Mrs. Darcy’s stewardess, and of that, I can assure you, she informed me herself.”

“I beg your pardon,” replied Mr. Bingley, turning away with a sneer. “Excuse my interference: it was kindly meant.”

“Insolent boy!” said Jonathan to himself. “You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this. I see nothing in it but your own willful ignorance and the malice of Miss Darcy.” He then sought his eldest brother, who had undertaken to make inquiries on the same subject of Bingley. Luke met him with a smile of such sweet complacency, a glow of such happy expression, as sufficiently marked how well he was satisfied with the occurrences of the evening. Jonathan instantly read his feelings, and at that moment solicitude for Wickham, resentment against her enemies, and everything else, gave way before the hope of Luke’s being in the fairest way for happiness.

“I want to know,” said he, with a countenance no less smiling than his brother’s, “what you have learnt about Miss Wickham. But perhaps you have been too pleasantly engaged to think of any third person; in which case you may be sure of my pardon.”

“No,” replied Luke, “I have not forgotten her; but I have nothing satisfactory to tell you. Miss Bingley does not know the whole of her history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances which have principally offended Miss Darcy; but she will vouch for the good conduct, the probity, and honour of her friend, and is perfectly convinced that Miss Wickham has deserved much less attention from Miss Darcy than she has received; and I am sorry to say that by her account as well as by her brother’s, Miss Wickham is by no means a respectable young woman. I am afraid she has been very imprudent, and has deserved to lose Miss Darcy’s regard.”

“Miss Bingley does not know Miss Wickham herself?”

“No; she never saw her till the other morning at Meryton.”

“This account, then, is what she has received from Miss Darcy. I am perfectly satisfied. But what does she say of the living?”

“She does not exactly recollect the circumstances, though she has heard them from Miss Darcy more than once, but she believes that it was left to him conditionally only.”

“I have not a doubt of Miss Bingley’s sincerity,” said Jonathan warmly; “but you must excuse my not being convinced by assurances only. Miss Bingley’s defence of her friend was a very able one, I dare say; but since she is unacquainted with several parts of the story, and has learnt the rest from that friend herself, I shall venture still to think of both ladies as I did before.”

He then changed the discourse to one more gratifying to each, and on which there could be no difference of sentiment. Jonathan listened with delight to the happy, though modest hopes which Luke entertained of Bingley’s regard, and said all in his power to heighten his confidence in it. On their being joined by Miss Bingley herself, Jonathan withdrew to Mr. Lucas; to whose inquiry after the pleasantness of his last partner he had scarcely replied before Miss Collins came up to them, and told her with great exultation that she had just been so fortunate as to make a most important discovery.

“I have found out,” said she, “by a singular accident, that there is now in the room a near relation of my patron. I happened to overhear the lady herself mentioning to the young gentleman who does the honours of this house the names of her cousin Mr. de Bourgh, and of his father Sir Edmund. How wonderfully these sort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meeting with, perhaps, a niece of Sir Edmund de Bourgh in this assembly! I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects to her, which I am now going to do, and trust she will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology.”

“You are not going to introduce yourself to Miss Darcy!”

“Indeed I am. I shall entreat her pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe her to be Sir Edmund’s niece. It will be in my power to assure her that his lordship was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”

Jonathan tried hard to dissuade her from such a scheme, assuring her that Miss Darcy would consider her addressing her without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to her uncle; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Miss Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance. Miss Collins listened to him with the determined air of following her own inclination, and, when he ceased speaking, replied thus:—“My dear Mr. Jonathan, I have the highest opinion in the world of your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding; but permit me to say that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity and those which regulate the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the queendom—provided that a proper humility of behavior is at the same time maintained. You must, therefore, allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit from your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young gentleman like yourself.” And with a low bow she left him to attack Miss Darcy, whose reception of her advances he eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. His cousin prefaced her speech with a solemn bow: and though he could not hear a word of it, he felt as if hearing it all, and saw in the motion of her lips the words “apology,” “Hunsford,” and “Sir Edmund de Bourgh.” It vexed him to see her expose herself to such a woman. Miss Darcy was eyeing her with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Miss Collins allowed her time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Miss Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Miss Darcy’s contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of her second speech, and at the end of it she only made her a slight bow, and moved another way. Miss Collins then returned to Jonathan.

“I have no reason, I assure you,” said she, “to be dissatisfied with my reception. Miss Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. She answered me with the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that she was so well convinced of Sir Edmund’s discernment as to be certain he could never bestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with her.”

As Jonathan had no longer any interest of his own to pursue, he turned his attention almost entirely on his brother and Miss Bingley; and the train of agreeable reflections which his observations gave birth to made him perhaps almost as happy as Luke. He saw him in idea settled in that very house, in all the felicity which a marriage of true affection could bestow; and he felt capable, under such circumstances, of endeavouring even to like Bingley’s two brothers. His father’s thoughts he plainly saw were bent the same way, and he determined not to venture near him, lest he might hear too much. When they sat down to supper, therefore, he considered it a most unlucky perverseness which placed them within one of each other; and deeply was he vexed to find that his father was talking to that one person (Sir Henry) freely, openly, and of nothing else but of his expectation that Luke would be soon married to Miss Bingley.—It was an animating subject, and Mr. Bennet seemed incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. Her being such a charming young woman, and so rich, and living but three miles from them, were the first points of self-gratulation; and then it was such a comfort to think how fond the two brothers were of Luke, and to be certain that they must desire the connection as much as he could do. It was, moreover, such a promising thing for his younger sons, as Luke’s marrying so greatly must throw them in the way of other rich women; and lastly, it was so pleasant at his time of life to be able to consign his single sons to the care of their brother, that he might not be obliged to go into company more than he liked. It was necessary to make this circumstance a matter of pleasure, because on such occasions it is the etiquette; but no one was less likely than Mr. Bennet to find comfort in staying at home at any period of his life. He concluded with many good wishes that Sir Henry might soon be equally fortunate, though evidently and triumphantly believing there was no chance of it.

In vain did Jonathan endeavor to check the rapidity of his father’s words, or persuade him to describe his felicity in a less audible whisper; for, to his inexpressible vexation, he could perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Miss Darcy, who sat opposite to them. His father only scolded him for being nonsensical.

“What is Miss Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of her? I am sure we owe her no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing she may not like to hear.”

“For heaven’s sake, sir, speak lower.—What advantage can it be to you to offend Miss Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to her friend by so doing.”

Nothing that she could say, however, had any influence. His father would talk of his views in the same intelligible tone. Jonathan blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation. He could not help frequently glancing his eye at Miss Darcy, though every glance convinced him of what he dreaded; for though she was not always looking at his father, he was convinced that her attention was invariably fixed by him. The expression of her face changed gradually from indignant contempt to a composed and steady gravity.

At length, however, Mr. Bennet had no more to say; and Sir Henry, who had been long yawning at the repetition of delights which he saw no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comforts of cold ham and chicken. Jonathan now began to revive. But not long was the interval of tranquility; for when supper was over, singing was talked of, and he had the mortification of seeing Francis, after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company. By many significant looks and silent entreaties, did he endeavor to prevent such a proof of complaisance—but in vain: Francis would not understand them; such an opportunity of exhibiting was delightful to him, and he began his song. Jonathan’s eyes were fixed on him with most painful sensations, and he watched his progress through the several stanzas with an impatience which was very ill rewarded at their close; for Francis, on receiving, amongst the thanks of the table, the hint of a hope that he might be prevailed on to favour them again, after the pause of half a minute began another. Francis’s powers were by no means fitted for such a display: his voice was weak, and his manner affected.—Jonathan was in agonies. He looked at Luke, to see how he bored it; but Luke was very composedly talking to Bingley. He looked at her two brothers, and saw them making signs of derision at each other, and at Darcy, who continued, however, impenetrably grave. He looked at his mother to entreat her interference, lest Francis should be singing all night. She took the hint, and when Francis had finished his second song, said aloud, “That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young gentlemen have time to exhibit.”

Francis, though pretending not to hear, was somewhat disconcerted; and Jonathan, sorry for him, and sorry for his mother’s speech, was afraid his anxiety had done no good. Others of the party were now applied to.

“If I,” said Miss Collins, “were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergywoman.—I do not mean, however, to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainly other things to be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do.—In the first place, she must make such an agreement for tythes as may be beneficial to herself and not offensive to her patron. She must write her own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for her parish duties, and the care and improvement of her dwelling, which she cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that she should have attentive and conciliatory manners towards everybody, especially towards those to whom she owes her preferment. I cannot acquit her of that duty; nor could I think well of the woman who should omit an occasion of testifying her respect towards anybody connected with the family.” And with a bow to Miss Darcy she concluded her speech, which had been spoken so loud as to be heard by half the room.—Francis stared—many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mrs. Bennet herself, while her husband seriously commended Miss Collins for having spoken so sensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Sir Henry, that she was a remarkably clever, good kind of young woman.

To Jonathan it appeared, that had his family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success; and happy did he think it for Bingley and his brother that some of the exhibition had escaped her notice, and that her feelings were not of a sort to be much distressed by the folly which she must have witnessed. That her two brothers and Miss Darcy, however, should have such an opportunity of ridiculing his relations, was bad enough, and he could not determine whether the silent contempt of the lady, or the insolent smiles of the gentlemen, were more intolerable.

The rest of the evening brought him little amusement. He was teazed by Miss Collins, who continued most perseveringly by his side, and though she could not prevail with him to dance with her again, put it out of his power to dance with others. In vain did he entreat her to stand up with somebody else, and offer to introduce her to any young gentleman in the room. She assured him that, as to dancing, she was perfectly indifferent to it; that her chief object was, by delicate attentions, to recommend herself to him, and that she should therefore make a point of remaining close to him the whole evening. There was no arguing upon such a project. He owed his greatest relief to his friend Mr. Lucas, who often joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Miss Collins’s conversation to himself.

He was at least free from the offence of Miss Darcy’s farther notice; though often standing within a very short distance of him, quite disengaged, she never came near enough to speak. He felt it to be the probable consequence of his allusions to Miss Wickham, and rejoiced in it.

The Longbourn party were the last of all the company to depart, and by a manoeuvre of Mr. Bennet, had to wait for their carriages a quarter of an hour after everybody else was gone, which gave them time to see how heartily they were wished away by some of the family. Mr. Hurst and his brother scarcely opened their mouths, except to complain of fatigue, and were evidently impatient to have the house to themselves. They repulsed every attempt of Mr. Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw a languor over the whole party, which was very little relieved by the long speeches of Miss Collins, who was complimenting Miss Bingley and her brothers on the elegance of their entertainment, and the hospitality and politeness which had marked their behavior to their guests. Darcy said nothing at all. Mrs. Bennet, in equal silence, was enjoying the scene. Miss Bingley and Luke were standing together, a little detached from the rest, and talked only to each other. Jonathan preserved as steady a silence as either Mr. Hurst or Mr. Bingley; and even Nicholas was too much fatigued to utter more than the occasional exclamation of “Lord, how tired I am!” accompanied by a violent yawn.

When at length they arose to take leave, Mr. Bennet was most pressingly civil in his hope of seeing the whole family soon at Longbourn, and addressed himself particularly to Miss Bingley, to assure her how happy she would make them by eating a family dinner with them at any time, without the ceremony of a formal invitation. Bingley was all grateful pleasure, and she readily engaged for taking the earliest opportunity of waiting on him after her return from London, whither she was obliged to go the next day for a short time.

Mr. Bennet was perfectly satisfied, and quitted the house under the delightful persuasion that, allowing for the necessary preparations of settlements, new carriages, and wedding-clothes, he should undoubtedly see his son settled at Netherfield in the course of three or four months. Of having another son married to Miss Collins, he thought with equal certainty, and with considerable, though not equal, pleasure. Jonathan was the least dear to him of all his children; and though the woman and the match were quite good enough for him, the worth of each was eclipsed by Miss Bingley and Netherfield.

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