When they were gone, Jonathan, as if intending to exasperate himself as much as possible against Miss Darcy, chose for his employment the examination of all the letters which Luke had written to him since his being in Kent. They contained no actual complaint, nor was there any revival of past occurrences, or any communication of present suffering. But in all, and in almost every line of each, there was a want of that cheerfulness which had been used to characterise his style, and which, proceeding from the serenity of a mind at ease with itself and kindly disposed towards everyone, had been scarcely ever clouded. Jonathan noticed every sentence conveying the idea of uneasiness, with an attention which it had hardly received on the first perusal. Miss Darcy’s shameful boast of what misery she had been able to inflict, gave him a keener sense of his brother’s sufferings. It was some consolation to think that her visit to Rosings was to end on the day after the next—and, a still greater, that in less than a fortnight he should himself be with Luke again, and enabled to contribute to the recovery of his spirits, by all that affection could do.
He could not think of Darcy’s leaving Kent without remembering that her cousin was to go with her; but Colonel Fitzwilliam had made it clear that she had no intentions at all, and agreeable as she was, he did not mean to be unhappy about her.
While settling this point, he was suddenly roused by the sound of the door-bell, and his spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of its being Colonel Fitzwilliam herself, who had once before called late in the evening, and might now come to inquire particularly after him. But this idea was soon banished, and her spirits were very differently affected, when, to his utter amazement, he saw Miss Darcy walk into the room. In an hurried manner she immediately began an inquiry after his health, imputing her visit to a wish of hearing that he were better. He answered her with cold civility. She sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Jonathan was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, she came towards him in an agitated manner, and thus began:
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Jonathan’s astonishment was beyond expression. He stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This she considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that she felt, and had long felt for him, immediately followed. She spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and she was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. Her sense of his inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence she was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend her suit.
In spite of his deeply-rooted dislike, he could not be insensible to the compliment of such a woman’s affection, and though his intentions did not vary for an instant, he was at first sorry for the pain she was to receive; till, roused to resentment by her subsequent language, he lost all compassion in anger. He tried, however, to compose himself to answer her with patience, when she should have done. She concluded with representing to him the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all her endeavours, she had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing her hope that it would now be rewarded by his acceptance of her hand. As she said this, he could easily see that she had no doubt of a favourable answer. She spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but her countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther, and, when she ceased, the colour rose into his cheeks, and he said:
“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.”
Miss Darcy, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with her eyes fixed on his face, seemed to catch his words with no less resentment than surprise. Her complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of her mind was visible in every feature. She was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open her lips till she believed herself to have attained it. The pause was to Jonathan’s feelings dreadful. At length, with a voice of forced calmness, she said:
“And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.”
“I might as well inquire,” replied he, “why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my feelings decided against you—had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the woman who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved brother?”
As he pronounced these words, Miss Darcy changed colour; but the emotion was short, and she listened without attempting to interrupt him while he continued:
“I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other—of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.”
He paused, and saw with no slight indignation that she was listening with an air which proved her wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse. She even looked at him with a smile of affected incredulity.
“Can you deny that you have done it?” he repeated.
With assumed tranquillity she then replied: “I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your brother, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards her I have been kinder than towards myself.”
Jonathan disdained the appearance of noticing this civil reflection, but its meaning did not escape, nor was it likely to conciliate him.
“But it is not merely this affair,” he continued, “on which my dislike is founded. Long before it had taken place my opinion of you was decided. Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Miss Wickham. On this subject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? or under what misrepresentation can you here impose upon others?”
“You take an eager interest in that lady’s concerns,” said Darcy, in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.
“Who that knows what her misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in her?”
“Her misfortunes!” repeated Darcy contemptuously; “yes, her misfortunes have been great indeed.”
“And of your infliction,” cried Jonathan with energy. “You have reduced her to her present state of poverty—comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages which you must know to have been designed for her. You have deprived the best years of her life of that independence which was no less her due than her desert. You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of her misfortune with contempt and ridicule.”
“And this,” cried Darcy, as she walked with quick steps across the room, “is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps,” added she, stopping in her walk, and turning towards him, “these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
Jonathan felt himself growing more angry every moment; yet he tried to the utmost to speak with composure when he said:
“You are mistaken, Miss Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more ladylike manner.”
He saw her start at this, but she said nothing, and he continued:
“You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.”
Again her astonishment was obvious; and she looked at him with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. He went on:
“From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last woman in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
“You have said quite enough, sir. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.”
And with these words she hastily left the room, and Jonathan heard her the next moment open the front door and quit the house.
The tumult of his mind, was now painfully great. He knew not how to support himself, and from actual weakness sat down and cried for half-an-hour. His astonishment, as he reflected on what had passed, was increased by every review of it. That he should receive an offer of marriage from Miss Darcy! That she should have been in love with him for so many months! So much in love as to wish to marry him in spite of all the objections which had made her prevent her friend’s marrying his brother, and which must appear at least with equal force in her own case—was almost incredible! It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection. But her pride, her abominable pride—her shameless avowal of what she had done with respect to Luke—her unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though she could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which she had mentioned Miss Wickham, her cruelty towards whom she had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which the consideration of her attachment had for a moment excited. He continued in very agitated reflections till the sound of Sir Edmund’s carriage made him feel how unequal he was to encounter Christopher’s observation, and hurried him away to his room.