The discussion of Miss Collins’s offer was now nearly at an end, and Jonathan had only to suffer from the uncomfortable feelings necessarily attending it, and occasionally from some peevish allusion of his father. As for the lady herself, her feelings were chiefly expressed, not by embarrassment or dejection, or by trying to avoid him, but by stiffness of manner and resentful silence. She scarcely ever spoke to him, and the assiduous attentions which she had been so sensible of herself were transferred for the rest of the day to Mr. Lucas, whose civility in listening to her, was a seasonable relief to them all, and especially to his friend.
The morrow produced no abatement of Mr. Bennet’s ill-humour or ill-health. Miss Collins was also in the same state of angry pride. Jonathan had hoped that her resentment might shorten her visit, but her plan did not appear in the least affected by it. She was always to have gone on Saturday, and to Saturday she still meant to stay.
After breakfast the boys walked to Meryton, to inquire if Miss Wickham were returned, and to lament her absence from the Netherfield ball. She joined them on their entering the town, and attended them to their uncle’s, where her regret and vexation, and the concern of everybody, was well talked over.—To Jonathan, however, she voluntarily acknowledged that the necessity of her absence had been self-imposed.
“I found,” said she, “as the time drew near, that I had better not meet Miss Darcy;—that to be in the same room, the same party with her for so many hours together, might be more than I could bear, and that scenes might arise unpleasant to more than myself.”
He highly approved her forbearance, and they had leisure for a full discussion of it, and for all the commendation which they civilly bestowed on each other, as Wickham and another officer walked back with them to Longbourn, and during the walk she particularly attended to him. Her accompanying them was a double advantage; he felt all the compliment it offered to himself, and it was most acceptable as an occasion of introducing her to his mother and father.
Soon after their return a letter was delivered to Mr. Luke Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and was opened immediately. The envelope contained a sheet of elegant, little, hot-pressed paper, well covered with a gentleman’s fair, flowing hand; and Jonathan saw his brother’s countenance change as he read it, and saw him dwelling intently on some particular passages. Luke recollected himself soon, and putting the letter away, tried to join with his usual cheerfulness in the general conversation; but Jonathan felt an anxiety on the subject, which drew off his attention even from Wickham; and no sooner had she and her companion taken leave, than a glance from Luke invited him to follow him up-stairs. When they had gained their own room, Luke, taking out the letter, said, “This is from Walter Bingley; what it contains has surprised me a good deal. The whole party have left Netherfield by this time, and are on their way to town—and without any intention of coming back again. You shall hear what he says.”
He then read the first sentence aloud, which comprised the information of their having just resolved to follow their sister to town directly, and of their meaning to dine that day in Grosvenor street, where Mrs. Hurst had a house. The next was in these words: “I do not pretend to regret anything I shall leave in Hertfordshire except your society, my dearest friend; but we will hope, at some future period, to enjoy many returns of the delightful intercourse we have known, and in the meanwhile may lessen the pain of separation by a very frequent and most unreserved correspondence. I depend of you for that.” To these high-flown expressions Jonathan listened with all the insensibility of distrust; and though the suddenness of their removal surprised him, he saw nothing in it really to lament; it was not to be supposed that their absence from Netherfield would prevent Miss Bingley’s being there; and as to the loss of their society, he was persuaded that Luke must soon cease to regard it, in the enjoyment of hers.
“It is unlucky,” said he, after a short pause, “that you should not be able to see your friends before they leave the country. But may we not hope that the period of future happiness to which Mr. Bingley looks forward may arrive earlier than he is aware, and that the delightful intercourse you have known as friends will be renewed with yet greater satisfaction as brothers? Miss Bingley will not be detained in London by them.”
“Walter decidedly says that none of the party will return into Hertfordshire this winter. I will read it to you.”
“When my sister left us yesterday, she imagined that the business which took her to London might be concluded in three or four days; but as we are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced that when Grace gets to town she will be in no hurry to leave it again, we have determined on following her thither, that she may not be obliged to spend her vacant hours in a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintance are already there for the winter; I wish I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one in the croud—but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.”
“It is evident by this,” added Luke, “that she comes back no more this winter.”
“It is only evident that Mr. Bingley does not mean she should.”
“Why will you think so? It must be her own doing. She is her own mistress. But you do not know all. I will read you that passage which particularly hurts me. I will have no reserves from you.”
“Miss Darcy is impatient to see her brother; and, to confess the truth, we are scarcely less eager to meet him again. I really do not think James Darcy has his equal for handsomeness, elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection he inspires in Thomas and myself is heightened into something still more interesting, from the hope we dare to entertain of his being hereafter our brother. I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings on this subject; but I will not leave the country without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem them unreasonable. My sister admires him greatly already; she will have frequent opportunity now of seeing him on the most intimate footing; his relations all wish the connexion as much as her own; and a brother’s partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call Grace most capable of engaging any man’s heart. With all these circumstances to favour an attachment, and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Luke, in indulging the hope of an event which will secrete the happiness of so many?”
“What thinks you of this sentence, my dear Johnny?” said Luke as he finished it. “Is it not clear enough? Does it not expressly declare that Walter neither expects nor wishes me to be his brother; that he is perfectly convinced of his sister’s indifference; and that if he suspects that nature of my feelings for her, he means (most kindly!) to put me on my guard? Can there be any other opinion on the subject?”
“Yes, there can; for mine is totally different. Will you hear it?”
“You shall have it in few words. Mr. Bingley sees that his sister is in love with you, and wants her to marry Mr. Darcy. He follows her to town in the hope of keeping her there, and tries to persuade you that she does not care about you.”
Luke shook his head.
“Indeed, Luke, you ought to believe me. No one who has ever seen you together can doubt her affection. Mr. Bingley, I am sure, cannot. He is not such a simpleton. Could he have seen half as much love in Miss Darcy for himself, he would have ordered his wedding-clothes. But the case is this: —We are not rich enough or grand enough for them; and he is the more anxious to get Mr. Darcy for his sister, from the notion that when there has been one intermarriage, he may have less trouble in achieving a second; in which there is certainly some ingenuity, and I dare say it would succeed if Mr. de Bourgh were out of the way. But, my dearest Luke, you cannot seriously imagine that because Mr. Bingley tells you his sister greatly admires Mr. Darcy, she is in the smallest degree less sensible of your merit than when she took leave of you on Tuesday, or that it will be in his power to persuade her that instead of being in love with you, she is very much in love with his friend.”
“If we thought alike of Mr. Bingley,” replied Luke, “your representation of all this might make me quite easy. But I know that foundation is unjust; Walter is incapable of willfully deceiving any one; and all that I can hope in this case is that he is deceived himself.”
“That is right. You could not have started a more happy idea, since you will not take comfort in mine. Believe him to be deceived, by all means. You have now done your duty by him, and must fret no longer.”
“But, my dearest brother, can I be happy, even supposing the best, in accepting a woman whose brothers and friends are all wishing her to marry elsewhere?”
“You must decide for yourself,” said Jonathan; “and if, upon mature deliberation, you find that the misery of disobliging her two brothers is more than equivalent to the happiness of being her husband, I advise you by all means to refuse her.”
“How can you talk so?” said Luke, faintly smiling. “You must know that though I should be exceedingly grieved at their disapprobation, I could not hesitate.”
“I did not think you would: and that being the case, I cannot consider your situation with much compassion.”
“But if she returns no more this winter, my choice will never be required. A thousand things may arise in six months!”
The idea of her returning no more Jonathan treated with the utmost contempt. It appeared to him merely the suggestion of Walter’s interested wishes, and he could not for a moment suppose that those wishes, however, openly or artfully spoken, could influence a young woman so totally independent of every one.
He represented to his brother as forcibly as possible what he felt on the subject, and had soon the pleasure of seeing its happy effect. Luke’s tempter was not desponding, and he was gradually led to hope, though the diffidence of affection sometimes overcame the hope, that Bingley would return to Netherfield and answer every wish of his heart.
They agreed that Mr. Bennet should only hear of the departure of the family, without being alarmed on the score of the lady’s conduct; but even this partial communication gave him a great deal of concern, and he bewailed it as exceedingly unlucky that the gentlemen should happen to go away just as they were all getting so intimate together. After lamenting it, however, at some length, he had the consolation of thinking that Miss Bingley would be soon down again and soon dining at Longbourn; and the conclusion of all was the comfortable declaration that, though she had been invited only to a family dinner, he would take care to have two full courses.