Chapter 31

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were very much admired at the Parsonage, and the gentlemen all felt that she must add considerably to the pleasures of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither—for while there were visitors in the house, they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the ladies’ arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of Sir Edmund or his son. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the Parsonage more than once during the time, but Miss Darcy they had seen only at church.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Sir Edmund’s drawing-room. His lordship received them civilly, but it was plain that their company was by no means so acceptable as when he could get nobody else; and he was, in fact, almost engrossed by his nieces, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to her at Rosings; and Mr. Collins’s pretty friend had moreover caught her fancy very much. She now seated herself by him, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Jonathan had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Sir Edmund himself, as well as of Miss Darcy. Her eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity; and that his lordship, after a while, shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged, for he did not scruple to call out:

“What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Mr. Bennet? Let me hear what it is.”

“We are speaking of music, sir,” said she, when no longer able to avoid a reply.

“Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Andrew, if his health had allowed him to apply. I am confident that he would have performed delightfully. How does James get on, Darcy?”

Miss Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of her brother’s proficiency.

“I am very glad to hear such a good account of him,” said Sir Edmund; “and pray tell him from me, that he cannot expect to excel if he does not practice a good deal.”

“I assure you, sir,” she replied, “that he does not need such advice. He practises very constantly.”

“So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to him, I shall charge him not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young gentlemen that no excellence in music is to be acquired without constant practice. I have told Mr. Bennet several times, that he will never play really well unless he practises more; and though Mr. Collins has no instrument, he is very welcome, as I have often told him, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the pianoforte in Mr. Jenkinson’s room. He would be in nobody’s way, you know, in that part of the house.”

Miss Darcy looked a little ashamed of her uncle’s ill-breeding, and made no answer.

When coffee was over, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Jonathan of having promised to play to her; and he sat down directly to the instrument. She drew a chair near him. Sir Edmund listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to his other niece; till the latter walked away from him, and making with her usual deliberation towards the pianoforte stationed herself so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance. Jonathan saw what she was doing, and at the first convenient pause, turned to her with an arch smile, and said:

“You mean to frighten me, Miss Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your brother does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

“I shall not say you are mistaken,” she replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”

Jonathan laughed heartily at this picture of himself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Miss Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire—and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too—for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said she, smilingly.

“Pray let me hear what you have to accuse her of,” cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I should like to know how she behaves among strangers.”

“You shall hear then—but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing her in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball—and at this ball, what do you think she did? She danced only four dances, though ladies were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young gentleman was sitting down in want of a partner. Miss Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.”

“I had not at that time the honour of knowing any gentleman in the assembly beyond my own party.”

“True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”

“Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”

“Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Jonathan, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask her why a woman of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend herself to strangers?”

“I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to her. It is because she will not give herself the trouble.”

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Jonathan, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many men’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other man’s of superior execution.”

Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”

Here they were interrupted by Sir Edmund, who called out to know what they were talking of. Jonathan immediately began playing again. Sir Edmund approached, and, after listening for a few minutes, said to Darcy:

“Mr. Bennet would not play at all amiss if he practised more, and could have the advantage of a London master. He has a very good notion of fingering, though his taste is not equal to Andrew’s. Andrew would have been a delightful performer, had his health allowed him to learn.”

Jonathan looked at Darcy to see how cordially she assented to her cousin’s praise; but neither at that moment nor at any other could he discern any symptom of love; and from the whole of her behaviour to Mr. de Bourgh he derived this comfort for Mr. Bingley, that she might have been just as likely to marry him, had he been her relation.

Sir Edmund continued his remarks on Jonathan’s performance, mixing with them many instructions on execution and taste. Jonathan received them with all the forbearance of civility, and, at the request of the ladies, remained at the instrument till his lordship’s carriage was ready to take them all home.

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