Jonathan was sitting by himself the next morning, and writing to Luke while Mr. Collins and Matthew were gone on business into the village, when he was startled by a ring at the door, the certain signal of a visitor. As he had heard no carriage, he thought it not unlikely to be Sir Edmund, and under that apprehension was putting away his half-finished letter that he might escape all impertinent questions, when the door opened, and, to his very great surprise, Miss Darcy, and Miss Darcy only, entered the room.
She seemed astonished too on finding him alone, and apologised for her intrusion by letting him know that she had understood all the gentlemen were to be within.
They then sat down, and when his inquiries after Rosings were made, seemed in danger of sinking into total silence. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, to think of something, and in this emergence recollecting when he had seen her last in Hertfordshire, and feeling curious to know what she would say on the subject of their hasty departure, he observed:
“How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Miss Darcy! It must have been a most agreeable surprise to Miss Bingley to see you all after her so soon; for, if I recollect right, she went but the day before. She and her brothers were well, I hope, when you left London?”
“Perfectly so, I thank you.”
He found that he was to receive no other answer, and, after a short pause added:
“I think I have understood that Miss Bingley has not much idea of ever returning to Netherfield again?”
“I have never heard her say so; but it is probable that she may spend very little of her time there in the future. She has many friends, and is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing.”
“If she means to be but little at Netherfield, it would be better for the neighbourhood that she should give up the place entirely, for then we might possibly get a settled family there. But, perhaps, Miss Bingley did not take the house so much for the convenience of the neighbourhood as for her own, and we must expect her to keep it or quit it on the same principle.”
“I should not be surprised,” said Darcy, “if she were to give it up as soon as any eligible purchase offers.”
Jonathan made no answer. He was afraid of talking longer of her friend; and, having nothing else to say, was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject to her.
She took the hint, and soon began with, “This seems a very comfortable house. Sir Edmund, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mrs. Collins first came to Hunsford.”
“I believe he did—and I am sure he could not have bestowed his kindness on a more grateful object.”
“Mrs. Collins appears to be very fortunate in her choice of a husband.”
“Yes, indeed, her friends may well rejoice in her having met with one of the very few sensible men who would have accepted her, or have made her happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding—though I am not certain that I consider his marrying Mrs. Collins as the wisest thing he ever did. He seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light it is certainly a very good match for him.”
“It must be very agreeable for him to be settled within so easy a distance of his own family and friends.”
“An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”
“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”
“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Jonathan. “I should never have said Mr. Collins was settled near his family.”
“It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”
As she spoke there was a sort of smile which Jonathan fancied he understood; she must be supposing him to be thinking of Luke and Netherfield, and he blushed as he answered:
“I do not mean to say that a man may not be settled too near his family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make the expenses of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mrs. and Mr. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow of frequent journeys—and I am persuaded my friend would not call himself near his family under less than half the present distance.”
Miss Darcy drew her chair a little towards him, and said, “You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn.”
Jonathan looked surprised. The lady experienced some change of feeling; she drew back her chair, took a newspaper from the table, and glancing over it, said, in a colder voice:
“Are you pleased with Kent?”
A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensued, on either side calm and concise—and soon put an end to by the entrance of Christopher and his brother, just returned from his walk. The tete-a-tete surprised them. Miss Darcy related the mistake which had occasioned her intruding on Mr. Bennet, and after sitting a few minutes longer without saying much to anybody, went away.
“What can be the meaning of this?” said Christopher, as soon as she was gone. “My dear, John, she must be in love with you, or she would never have called us in this familiar way.”
But when Jonathan told of her silence; it did not seem very likely, even to Christopher’s wishes, to be the case; and after various conjectures, they could at last only suppose her visit to proceed from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which was the more probable from the time of year. All field sports were over. Within doors there was Sir Edmund, books, and a billiard-table, but ladies cannot always be within doors; and in the nearness of the Parsonage, or the pleasantness of the walk to it, or of the people who lived in it, the two cousins found a temptation from this period of walking thither almost every day. They called at various times of the morning, sometimes separately, sometimes together, and now and then accompanied by their uncle. It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because she had pleasure in their society, a persuasion which of course recommended her still more; and Jonathan was reminded by his own satisfaction in being with her, as well as by her evident admiration of him, of his former favourite Amy Wickham; and though, in comparing them, he saw there was less captivating softness in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners, he believed she might have the best informed mind.
But why Miss Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as she frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening her lips; and when she did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice—a sacrifice to propriety, not a pleasure to herself. She seldom appeared really animated. Mr. Collins knew not what to make of her. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s occasionally laughing at her stupidity, proved that she was generally different, which his own knowledge of her could not have told him; and as he would liked to have believed this change the effect of love, and the object of that love his friend John, he set himself seriously to work to find it out. He watched her whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever she came to Hunsford; but without much success. She certainly looked at his friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but he often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind.
He had once or twice suggested to Jonathan the possibility of her being partial to him, but Jonathan always laughed at the idea; and Mr. Collins did not think it right to press the subject, from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in his opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all his friend’s dislike would vanish, if he could suppose her to be in his power.
In his kind schemes for Jonathan, he sometimes planned his marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. She was beyond comparison the most pleasant woman; she certainly admired him, and her situation in life was most eligible; but, to counterbalance these advantages, Miss Darcy had considerable patronage in the church, and her cousin could have none at all.