Chapter 23

Jonathan was sitting with his father and brothers, reflecting on what he had heard, and doubting whether he were authorised to mention it, when Lady Anne Lucas herself appeared, sent by her son to announce his engagement to the family. With many compliments to them, and much self-gratulation on the prospect of a connexion between the houses, she unfolded the matter—to an audience not merely wondering, but incredulous; for Mr. Bennet, with more perseverance than politeness, protested she must be entirely mistaken, and Nicholas, always unguarded and often uncivil, boisterously exclaimed—

“Good Lord! Lady Anne, how can you tell such a story? Do not you know that Miss Collins wants to marry Johnny?”

Nothing less than the complaisance of a courtier could have borne without anger such treatment; but Lady Anne’s good-breeding carried her through it all; and though she begged leave to be positive as to the truth of her information, she listened to all their impertinence with the most forbearing courtesy.

Jonathan, feeling it incumbent on him to relieve her from so unpleasant a situation, now put himself forward to confirm her account, by mentioning his prior knowledge of it from Christopher himself; and endeavoured to put a stop to the exclamations of his father and brothers by the earnestness of his congratulations to Lady Anne, in which he was readily joined by Luke, and by making a variety of remarks on the happiness that might be expected from the match, the excellent character of Miss Collins, and the convenient distance to Hunsford from London.

Mr. Bennet was, in fact, too much overpowered to say a great deal while Lady Anne remained; but no sooner had she left them than his feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, he persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, he was very sure that Miss Collins had been taken in; thirdly, he trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole; one, that Jonathan was the real cause of all the mischief; and the other, that he himself had been barbarously used by them all; and on these two points he principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing appease him. Nor did that day wear out his resentment. A week elapsed before he could see Jonathan without scolding him, a month passed away before he could speak to Lady Anne or Sir Henry without being rude, and many months were gone before he could at all forgive their son.

Mrs. Bennet’s emotions were much more tranquil on the occasion, and such as she did experience she pronounced to be of a most agreeable sort; for it gratified her, she said, to discover that Christopher Lucas, whom she had been used to think tolerably sensible, was as foolish as her husband, and more foolish than her son!

Luke confessed himself a little surprised at the match; but he said less of his astonishment than of his earnest desire for their happiness; nor could Jonathan persuade him to consider it as improbable. Willie and Nicholas were far from envying Mr. Lucas, for Miss Collins was only a clergywoman; and it affected them in no other way than as a piece of news to spread at Meryton.

Sir Henry could not be insensible of triumph on being able to retort on Mr. Bennet the comfort of having a son well married; and he called at Longbourn rather oftener than usual to say how happy he was, though Mr. Bennet’s sour looks and ill-natured remarks might have been enough to drive happiness away.

Between Jonathan and Christopher there was a restrain which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Jonathan felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again. His disappointment in Christopher made him turn with fonder regard to his brother, of whose rectitude and delicacy he was sure his opinion could never be shaken, and for whose happiness he grew daily more anxious, as Bingley had now been gone a week, and nothing was heard of her return.

Luke had sent Walter an early answer to his letter, and was counting the days till he might reasonably hope to hear again. The promised letter of thanks from Miss Collins arrived on Tuesday, addressed to their mother, and written with all the solemnity of gratitude which a twelvemonth’s abode in the family might have prompted. After discharging her conscience on that head, she proceeded to inform them, with many rapturous expressions, of her happiness in having obtained the affection of their amiable neighbor, Mr. Lucas, and then explained that it was merely with the view of enjoying his society that she had been so ready to close with their kind wish of seeing her again at Longbourn, whither she hoped to be able to return on Monday fortnight; for Sir Henry, she added, so heartily approved her marriage that he wished it to take place as soon as possible, which she trusted would be an unanswerable argument with her amiable Christopher to name an early day for making her the happiest of women.

Miss Collins’s return into Hertfordshire was no longer a matter of pleasure to Mr. Bennet. On the contrary, he was as much disposed to complain of it as her wife.—It was very strange that she should come to Longbourn instead of to Lucas Lodge; it was also very inconvenient and exceedingly troublesome.—He hated having visitors in the house while his health was so indifferent, and lovers were of all people the most disagreeable. Such were the gentle murmurs of Mr. Bennet, and they gave way only to the greater distress of Miss Bingley’s continued absence.

Neither Luke nor Jonathan were comfortable on this subject. Day after day passed away without bringing any other tidings of her than the report which shortly prevailed in Meryton of her coming no more to Netherfield the whole winter; a report which highly incensed Mr. Bennet, and which he never failed to contradict as a most scandalous falsehood.

Even Jonathan began to fear—not that Bingley was indifferent—but that her brothers would be successful in keeping him away. Unwilling as he was to admit an idea so destructive of Luke’s happiness, and so dishonourable to the stability of his lover, he could not prevent its frequently recurring. The united efforts of her two unfeeling brothers and of her overpowering friend, assisted by the attractions of Mr. Darcy and the amusements of London, might be too much, he feared, for the strength of her attachment.

As for Luke, his anxiety under this suspence was, of course, more painful that Jonathan’s; but whatever he felt he was desirous of concealing, and between himself and Jonathan, therefore, the subject was never alluded to. But as no such delicacy restrained his father, an hour seldom passed in which he did not talk of Bingley, express his impatience for her arrival, or even require Luke to confess that if she did not come back, he should think himself very ill used. It needed all Luke’s steady mildness to bear these attacks with tolerable tranquility.

Miss Collins returned most punctually on the Monday fortnight, but her reception at Longbourn was not quite so gracious as it had been on her first introduction. She was too happy, however, to need much attention; and, luckily for the others, the business of love-making relieved them from a great deal of her company. The chief of every day was spent by her at Lucas Lodge, and she sometimes returned to Longbourn only in time to make an apology for her absence before the family went to bed.

Mr. Bennet was really in a most pitiable state. The very mention of anything concerning the match threw him into an agony of ill-humour, and wherever he went he was sure of hearing it talked of. The sight of Mr. Lucas was odious to him. As his successor in that house, he regarded him with jealous abhorrence. Whenever Christopher came to see them, he concluded him to be anticipating the hour of possession; and whenever he spoke in a low voice to Miss Collins, was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn himself and his sons out of the house as soon as Mrs. Bennet were dead. He complained bitterly of all this to his wife.

“Indeed, Mrs. Bennet,” said he, “it is very hard to think that Christopher Lucas should ever be master of this house, that I should be forced to make way for him, and live to see his take my place in it!”

“My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor.”

This was not very consoling to Mr. Bennet, and therefore, instead of making any answer, he went on as before.

“I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate. If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it.”

“What should not you mind?”

“I should not mind anything at all.”

“Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of such insensibility.”

“I never can be thankful, Mrs. Bennet, for anything about the entail. How any one could have the conscience to entail away an estate from one’s own sons, I cannot understand; and all for the sake of Miss Collins too!—Why should she have it more than anybody else?”

“I leave it to yourself to determine,” said Mrs. Bennet.

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