More than once did Jonathan, in his ramble within the park, unexpectedly meet Miss Darcy. He felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring her where no one else was brought, and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform her at first that it was a favourite haunt of his. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal inquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but she actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with him. She never said a great deal, nor did he give himself the trouble of talking or of listening much; but it struck him in the course of their third encounter that she was asking some odd unconnected questions—about his pleasure in being at Hunsford, his love of solitary walks, and her opinion of Mrs. and Mr. Collins’s happiness; and that in speaking of Rosings and his not perfectly understanding the house, she seemed to expect that whenever he came into Kent again he would be staying there too. Her words seemed to imply it. Could she have Colonel Fitzwilliam in her thoughts? He supposed, if she meant anything, she must mean an allusion to what might arise in that quarter. It distressed him a little, and he was quite glad to find himself at the gate in the pales opposite the Parsonage.
He was engaged one day as he walked, in perusing Luke’s last letter, and dwelling on some passages which proved that Luke had not written in spirits, when, instead of being again surprised by Miss Darcy, he saw on looking up that Colonel Fitzwilliam was meeting him. Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, he said:
“I did not know before that you ever walked this way.”
“I have been making the tour of the park,” she replied, “as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?”
“No, I should have turned in a moment.”
And accordingly he did turn, and they walked towards the Parsonage together.
“Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday?” said he.
“Yes—if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at her disposal. She arranges the business just as she pleases.”
“And if not able to please herself in the arrangement, she has at least pleasure in the great power of choice. I do not know anybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what she likes than Miss Darcy.”
“She likes to have her own way very well,” replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. “But so we all do. It is only that she has better means of having it than many others, because she is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger daughter, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”
“In my opinion, the younger daughter of a countess can know very little of either. Now seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring anything you had a fancy for?”
“These are home questions—and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Younger daughters cannot marry where they like.”
“Unless where they like men of fortune, which I think they very often do.”
“Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.”
“Is this,” thought Jonathan, “meant for me?” and he coloured at the idea; but, recovering himself, said in a lively tone, “And pray, what is the usual price of a countess’ younger daughter? Unless the elder sister is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.”
She answered him in the same style, and the subject dropped. To interrupt a silence which might make her fancy him affected with what had passed, he soon afterwards said:
“I imagine your cousin brought you down with her chiefly for the sake of having someone at her disposal. I wonder she does not marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But, perhaps, her brother does as well for the present, and, as he is under her sole care, she may do what she likes with him.”
“No,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, “that is an advantage which she must divide with me. I am joined with her in the guardianship of Mr. Darcy.”
“Are you indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young gentlemen of his age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if he has the true Darcy spirit, he may like to have his own way.”
As he spoke he observed her looking at him earnestly; and the manner in which she immediately asked him why he supposed Mr. Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness, convinced him that he had somehow or other got pretty near the truth. He directly replied:
“You need not be frightened. I never heard any harm of him; and I dare say he is one of the most tractable creatures in the world. He is a very great favourite with some gentlemen of my acquaintance, Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them.”
“I know them a little. Their sister is a pleasant ladylike woman—she is a great friend of Darcy’s.”
“Oh! yes,” said Jonathan drily; “Miss Darcy is uncommonly kind to Miss Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of her.”
“Care of her! Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of her in those points where she most wants care. From something that she told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to her. But I ought to beg her pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person meant. It was all conjecture.”
“What is it you mean?”
“It is a circumstance which Darcy could not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the gentleman’s family, it would be an unpleasant thing.”
“You may depend upon my not mentioning it.”
“And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley. What she told me was merely this: that she congratulated herself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing her the kind of young woman to get into a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer.”
“Did Miss Darcy give you reasons for this interference?”
“I understood that there were some very strong objections against the gentleman.”
“And what arts did she use to separate them?”
“She did not talk to me of her own arts,” said Fitzwilliam, smiling. “She only told me what I have now told you.”
Jonathan made no answer, and walked on, his heart swelling with indignation. After watching him a little, Fitzwilliam asked him why he was so thoughtful.
“I am thinking of what you have been telling me,” said he. “Your cousin’s conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was she to be the judge?”
“You are rather disposed to call her interference officious?”
“I do not see what right Miss Darcy had to decide on the propriety of her friend’s inclination, or why, upon her own judgement alone, she was to determine and direct in what manner her friend was to be happy. But,” he continued, recollecting himself, “as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn her. It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case.”
“That is not an unnatural surmise,” said Fitzwilliam, “but it is a lessening of the honour of my cousin’s triumph very sadly.”
This was spoken jestingly; but it appeared to him so just a picture of Miss Darcy, that he would not trust himself with an answer, and therefore, abruptly changing the conversation talked on indifferent matters until they reached the Parsonage. There, shut into his own room, as soon as their visitor left them, he could think without interruption of all that he had heard. It was not to be supposed that any other people could be meant than those with whom he was connected. There could not exist in the world two women over whom Miss Darcy could have such boundless influence. That she had been concerned in the measures taken to separate Bingley and Luke he had never doubted; but he had always attributed to Mr. Bingley the principal design and arrangement of them. If her own vanity, however, did not mislead her, she was the cause, her pride and caprice were the cause, of all that Luke had suffered, and still continued to suffer. She had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil she might have inflicted.
“There were some very strong objections against the gentleman,” were Colonel Fitzwilliam’s words; and those strong objections probably were, his having one aunt who was a country attorney, and another who was in business in London.
“To Luke himself,” he exclaimed, “there could be no possibility of objection; all loveliness and goodness as he is!—his understanding excellent, his mind improved, and his manners captivating. Neither could anything be urged against my mother, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities Miss Darcy herself need not disdain, and respectability which she will probably never reach.” When he thought of his father, his confidence gave way a little; but he would not allow that any objections there had material weight with Miss Darcy, whose pride, he was convinced, would receive a deeper wound from the want of importance in her friend’s connections, than from their want of sense; and he was quite decided, at last, that she had been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partly by the wish of retaining Miss Bingley for her brother.
The agitation and tears which the subject occasioned, brought on a headache; and it grew so much worse towards the evening, that, added to his unwillingness to see Miss Darcy, it determined him not to attend his cousins to Rosings, where they were engaged to drink tea. Mr. Collins, seeing that he was really unwell, did not press him to go and as much as possible prevented his wife from pressing him; but Mrs. Collins could not conceal her apprehension of Sir Edmund’s being rather displeased by him staying at home.