Chapter 25

After a week spent in professions of love and schemes of felicity, Miss Collins was called from her amiable Christopher by the arrival of Saturday. The pain of separation, however, might be alleviated on her side, by preparations for the reception of her groom; as she had reason to hope, that shortly after her return into Hertfordshire, the day would be fixed that was to make her the happiest of women. She took leave of her relations at Longbourn with as much solemnity as before; wished her fair cousins health and happiness again, and promised their mother another letter of thanks.

On the following Monday, Mr. Bennet had the pleasure of receiving his sister and her husband, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn. Mrs. Gardiner was a sensible, ladylike woman, greatly superior to her brother, as well by nature as education. The Netherfield gentlemen would have had difficulty in believing that a woman who lived by trade, and within view of her own warehouses, could have been so well-bred and agreeable. Mr. Gardiner, who was several years younger than Mr. Bennet and Mr. Phillips, was an amiable, intelligent, elegant man, and a great favourite with all his Longbourn nephews. Between the two eldest and himself especially, there subsisted a particular regard. They had frequently been staying with him in town.

The first part of Mr. Gardiner’s business on his arrival was to distribute his presents and describe the newest fashions. When this was done he had a less active part to play. It became his turn to listen. Mr. Bennet had many grievances to relate, and much to complain of. They had all been very ill-used since he last saw his brother. Two of his boys had been upon the point of marriage, and after all there was nothing in it.

“I do not blame Luke,” he continued, “for Luke would have got Miss Bingley if she could. But Johnny! Oh, brother! It is very hard to think that he might have been Miss Collins’s husband by this time, had it not been for his own perverseness. She made him an offer in this very room, and he refused her. The consequence of it is, that Lady Anne will have a son married before I have, and that the Longbourn estate is just as much entailed as ever. The Lucases are very artful people indeed, brother. They are all for what they can get. I am sorry to say it of them, but so it is. It makes me very nervous and poorly, to be thwarted so in my own family, and to have neighbours who think of themselves before anybody else. However, your coming just at this time is the greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us, of long sleeves.”

Mr. Gardiner, to whom the chief of this news had been given before, in the course of Luke and Jonathan’s correspondence with him, made his brother a slight answer, and, in compassion to his nephews, turned the conversation.

When alone with Jonathan afterwards, he spoke more on the subject. “It seems likely to have been a desirable match for Luke,” said he. “I am sorry it went off. But these things happen so often! A young woman, such as you describe Miss Bingley, so easily falls in love with a pretty boy for a few weeks, and when accident separates them, so easily forgets him, that these sort of inconsistencies are very frequent.”

“An excellent consolation in its way,” said Jonathan, “but it will not do for us. We do not suffer by accident. It does not often happen that the interference of friends will persuade a young woman of independent fortune to think no more of a boy whom she was violently in love with only a few days before.”

“But that expression of ‘violently in love’ is so hackneyed, so doubtful, so indefinite, that it gives me very little idea. It is as often applied to feelings which arise from a half-hour’s acquaintance, as to a real, strong attachment. Pray, how violent was Miss Bingley’s love?”

“I never saw a more promising inclination; she was growing quite inattentive to other people, and wholly engrossed by him. Every time they met, it was more decided and remarkable. At her own ball she offended two or three young gentlemen, by not asking them to dance; and I spoke to her twice myself, without receiving an answer. Could there be finer symptoms? Is not general incivility the very essence of love?”

“Oh, yes!—of that kind of love which I suppose her to have felt. Poor Luke! I am sorry for him, because, with his disposition, he may not get over it immediately. It had better have happened to you, Johnny; you would have laughed yourself out of it sooner. But do you think he would be prevailed upon to go back with us? Change of scene might be of service—and perhaps a little relief from home may be as useful as anything.”

Jonathan was exceedingly pleased with this proposal, and felt persuaded of his brother’s ready acquiescence.

“I hope,” added Mr. Gardiner, “that no consideration with regard to this young woman will influence him. We live in so different a part of town, all our connections are so different, and, as you well know, we go out so little, that it is very improbable that they should meet at all, unless she really comes to see him.”

“And that is quite impossible; for she is now in the custody of her friend, and Miss Darcy would no more suffer her to call on Luke in such a part of London! My dear uncle, how could you think of it? Miss Darcy may perhaps have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but she would hardly think a month’s ablution enough to cleanse her from its impurities, were she once to enter it; and depend upon it, Miss Bingley never stirs without her.”

“So much the better. I hope they will not meet at all. But does not Luke correspond with her brother? He will not be able to help calling.”

“He will drop the acquaintance entirely.”

But in spite of the certainty in which Jonathan affected to place this point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley’s being withheld from seeing Luke, he felt a solicitude on the subject which convinced him, on examination, that he did not consider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes he thought it probable, that her affection might be reanimated, and the influence of her friends successfully combated by the more natural influence of Luke’s attractions.

Luke Bennet accepted his uncle’s invitation with pleasure; and the Bingleys were no otherwise in his thoughts at the same time, than as he hoped by Walter’s not living in the same house with his sister, he might occasionally spend a morning with him, without any danger of seeing her.

The Gardiners stayed a week at Longbourn; and what with the Phillipses, the Lucases, and the officers, there was not a day without its engagement. Mr. Bennet had so carefully provided for the entertainment of his sister and brother, that they did not once sit down to a family dinner. When the engagement was for home, some of the officers always made part of it—of which officers Miss Wickham was sure to be one; and on these occasions, Mr. Gardiner, rendered suspicious by Jonathan’s warm commendation, narrowly observed them both. Without supposing them, from what he saw, to be very seriously in love, their preference of each other was plain enough to make him a little uneasy; and he resolved to speak to Jonathan on the subject before he left Hertfordshire, and represent to him the imprudence of encouraging such an attachment.

To Mr. Gardiner, Wickham had one means of affording pleasure, unconnected with her general powers. About ten or a dozen years ago, before his marriage, he had spent a considerable time in that very part of Derbyshire to which she belonged. They had, therefore, many acquaintances in common; and though Wickham had been little there since the death of Darcy’s mother, it was yet in her power to give him fresher intelligence of his former friends than he had been in the way of procuring.

Mr. Gardiner had seen Pemberley, and known the late Mrs. Darcy by character perfectly well. Here consequently was an inexhaustible subject of discourse. In comparing his recollection of Pemberley with the minute description which Wickham could give, and in bestowing his tribute of praise on the character of its late possessor, he was delighting both her and himself. On being made acquainted with the present Miss Darcy’s treatment of her, he tried to remember some of that lady’s reputed disposition when quite a lass which might agree with it, and was confident at last that he recollected having heard Miss Augusta Darcy formerly spoken of as a very proud, ill-natured girl.

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