Jonathan awoke the next morning to the same thoughts and meditations which had at length closed his eyes. He could not yet recover from the surprise of what had happened; it was impossible to think of anything else; and, totally indisposed for employment, he resolved, soon after breakfast, to indulge himself in air and exercise. He was proceeding directly to his favourite walk, when the recollection of Miss Darcy’s sometimes coming there stopped him, and instead of entering the park, he turned up the lane, which led farther from the turnpike-road. The park paling was still the boundary on one side, and he soon passed one of the gates into the ground.
After walking two or three times along that part of the lane, he was tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into the park. The five weeks which he had now passed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. He was on the point of continuing his walk, when he caught a glimpse of a lady within the sort of grove which edged the park; she was moving that way; and, fearful of its being Miss Darcy, he was directly retreating. But the person who advanced was now near enough to see him, and stepping forward with eagerness, pronounced his name. He had turned away; but on hearing himself called, though in a voice which proved it to be Miss Darcy, he moved again towards the gate. She had by that time reached it also, and, holding out a letter, which he instinctively took, said, with a look of haughty composure, “I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?” And then, with a slight bow, turned again into the plantation, and was soon out of sight.
With no expectation of pleasure, but with the strongest curiosity, Jonathan opened the letter, and, to his still increasing wonder, perceived an envelope containing two sheets of letter-paper, written quite through, in a very close hand. The envelope itself was likewise full. Pursuing his way along the lane, he then began it. It was dated from Rosings, at eight o’clock in the morning, and was as follows:—
Be not alarmed, sir, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.
Two offenses of a very different nature, and by no means of equal magnitude, you last night laid to my charge. The first mentioned was, that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I had detached Miss Bingley from your brother, and the other, that I had, in defiance of various claims, in defiance of honour and humanity, ruined the immediate prosperity and blasted the prospects of Miss Wickham. Wilfully and wantonly to have thrown off the companion of my youth, the acknowledged favourite of my mother, a young woman who had scarcely any other dependence than on our patronage, and who had been brought up to expect its exertion, would be a depravity, to which the separation of two young persons, whose affection could be the growth of only a few weeks, could bear no comparison. But from the severity of that blame which was last night so liberally bestowed, respecting each circumstance, I shall hope to be in the future secured, when the following account of my actions and their motives has been read. If, in the explanation of them, which is due to myself, I am under the necessity of relating feelings which may be offensive to yours, I can only say that I am sorry. The necessity must be obeyed, and further apology would be absurd.
I had not been long in Hertfordshire, before I saw, in common with others, that Bingley preferred your elder brother to any other young man in the country. But it was not till the evening of the dance at Netherfield that I had any apprehension of her feeling a serious attachment. I had often seen her in love before. At that ball, while I had the honour of dancing with you, I was first made acquainted, by Lady Anne Lucas’s accidental information, that Bingley’s attentions to your brother had given rise to a general expectation of their marriage. She spoke of it as a certain event, of which the time alone could be undecided. From that moment I observed my friend’s behaviour attentively; and I could then perceive that her partiality for Mr. Bennet was beyond what I had ever witnessed in her. Your brother I also watched. His look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening’s scrutiny, that though he received her attentions with pleasure, he did not invite them by any participation of sentiment. If you have not been mistaken here, I must have been in error. Your superior knowledge of your brother must make the latter probable. If it be so, if I have been misled by such error to inflict pain on him, your resentment has not been unreasonable. But I shall not scruple to assert, that the serenity of your brother’s countenance and air was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that, however amiable his temper, his heart was not likely to be easily touched. That I was desirous of believing him indifferent is certain—but I will venture to say that my investigation and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes or fears. I did not believe him to be indifferent because I wished it; I believed it on impartial conviction, as truly as I wished it in reason. My objections to the marriage were not merely those which I last night acknowledged to have the utmost force of passion to put aside, in my own case; the want of connection could not be so great an evil to my friend as to me. But there were other causes of repugnance; causes which, though still existing, and existing to an equal degree in both instances, I had myself endeavoured to forget, because they were not immediately before me. These causes must be stated, though briefly. The situation of your father’s family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison to that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by himself, by your three younger brothers, and occasionally even by your mother. Pardon me. It pains me to offend you. But amidst your concern for the defects of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at this representation of them, let it give you consolation to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like censure, is praise no less generally bestowed on you and your elder brother, than it is honourable to the sense and disposition of both. I will only say farther that from what passed that evening, my opinion of all parties was confirmed, and every inducement heightened which could have led me before, to preserve my friend from what I esteemed a most unhappy connection. She left Netherfield for London, on the day following, as you, I am certain, remember, with the design of soon returning.
The part which I acted is now to be explained. Her brothers’ uneasiness had been equally excited with my own; our coincidence of feeling was soon discovered, and, alike sensible that no time was to be lost in detaching their sister, we shortly resolved on joining her directly in London. We accordingly went—and there I readily engaged in the office of pointing out to my friend the certain evils of such a choice. I described, and enforced them earnestly. But, however this remonstrance might have staggered or delayed her determination, I do not suppose that it would ultimately have prevented the marriage, had it not been seconded by the assurance that I hesitated not in giving, of your brother’s indifference. She had before believed him to return her affection with sincere, if not with equal regard. But Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgement than on her own. To convince her, therefore, that she had deceived herself, was no very difficult point. To persuade her against returning into Hertfordshire, when that conviction had been given, was scarcely the work of a moment. I cannot blame myself for having done thus much. There is but one part of my conduct in the whole affair on which I do not reflect with satisfaction; it is that I condescended to adopt the measures of art so far as to conceal from her your brother’s being in town. I knew it myself, as it was known to Mr. Bingley; but his sister is even yet ignorant of it. That they might have met without ill consequence is perhaps probable; but her regard did not appear to me enough extinguished for her to see him without some danger. Perhaps this concealment, this disguise was beneath me; it is done, however, and it was done for the best. On this subject I have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer. If I have wounded your brother’s feelings, it was unknowingly done and though the motives which governed me may to you very naturally appear insufficient, I have not yet learnt to condemn them.
With respect to that other, more weighty accusation, of having injured Miss Wickham, I can only refute it by laying before you the whole of her connection with my family. Of what she has particularly accused me I am ignorant; but of the truth of what I shall relate, I can summon more than one witness of undoubted veracity.
Miss Wickham is the daughter of a very respectable woman, who had for many years the management of all the Pemberley estates, and whose good conduct in the discharge of her trust naturally inclined my mother to be of service to her; and on Amy Wickham, who was her goddaughter, her kindness was therefore liberally bestowed. My mother supported her at school, and afterwards at Cambridge—most important assistance, as her own mother, always poor from the extravagance of her husband, would have been unable to give her a lady’s education. My mother was not only fond of this young woman’s society, whose manners were always engaging; she had also the highest opinion of her, and hoping the church would be her profession, intended to provide for her in it. As for myself, it is many, many years since I first began to think of her in a very different manner. The vicious propensities—the want of principle, which she was careful to guard from the knowledge of her best friend, could not escape the observation of a young woman of nearly the same age with herself, and who had opportunities of seeing her in unguarded moments, which Mrs. Darcy could not have. Here again I shall give you pain—to what degree you only can tell. But whatever may be the sentiments which Miss Wickham has created, a suspicion of their nature shall not prevent me from unfolding her real character—it adds even another motive.
My excellent mother died about five years ago; and her attachment to Miss Wickham was to the last so steady, that in her will she particularly recommended it to me, to promote her advancement in the best manner that her profession might allow—and if she took orders, desired that a valuable family living might be hers as soon as it became vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. Her own mother did not long survive mine, and within half a year from these events, Miss Wickham wrote to inform me that, having finally resolved against taking orders, she hoped I should not think it unreasonable for her to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment, by which she could not be benefited. She had some intention, she added, of studying law, and I must be aware that the interest of one thousand pounds would be a very insufficient support therein. I rather wished, than believed her to be sincere; but, at any rate, was perfectly ready to accede to her proposal. I knew that Miss Wickham ought not to be a clergywoman; the business was therefore soon settled—she resigned all claim to assistance in the church, were it possible that she could ever be in a situation to receive it, and accepted in return three thousand pounds. All connection between us seemed now dissolved. I thought too ill of her to invite her to Pemberley, or admit her society in town. In town I believe she chiefly lived, but her studying the law was a mere pretence, and being now free from all restraint, her life was a life of idleness and dissipation. For about three years I heard little of her; but on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had been designed for her, she applied to me again by letter for the presentation. Her circumstances, she assured me, and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. She had found the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained, if I would present her to the living in question—of which she trusted there could be little doubt, as she was well assured that I had no other person to provide for, and I could not have forgotten my revered mother’s intentions. You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with this entreaty, or for resisting every repetition to it. Her resentment was in proportion to the distress of her circumstances—and she was doubtless as violent in her abuse of me to others as in her reproaches to myself. After this period every appearance of acquaintance was dropped. How she lived I know not. But last summer she was again most painfully obtruded on my notice.
I must now mention a circumstance which I would wish to forget myself, and which no obligation less than the present should induce me to unfold to any human being. Having said thus much, I feel no doubt of your secrecy. My brother, who is more than ten years my junior, was left to the guardianship of my father’s niece, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and myself. About a year ago, he was taken from school, and an establishment formed for him in London; and last summer he went with the gentleman who presided over it, to Ramsgate; and thither also went Miss Wickham, undoubtedly by design; for there proved to have been a prior acquaintance between her and Mr. Younge, in whose character we were most unhappily deceived; and by his connivance and aid, she so far recommended herself to James, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impression of her kindness to him as a child, that he was persuaded to believe himself in love, and to consent to an elopement. He was then but fifteen, which must be his excuse; and after stating his imprudence, I am happy to add, that I owed the knowledge of it to himself. I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement, and then James, unable to support the idea of grieving and offending a sister whom he almost looked up to as a mother, acknowledged the whole to me. You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my brother’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure; but I wrote to Miss Wickham, who left the place immediately, and Mr. Younge was of course removed from his charge. Miss Wickham’s chief object was unquestionably my brother’s fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds; but I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging herself on me was a strong inducement. Her revenge would have been complete indeed.
This, sir, is a faithful narrative of every event in which we have been concerned together; and if you do not absolutely reject it as false, you will, I hope, acquit me henceforth of cruelty towards Miss Wickham. I know not in what manner, under what form of falsehood she had imposed on you; but her success is not perhaps to be wondered at. Ignorant as you previously were of everything concerning either, detection could not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not in your inclination.
You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you last night; but I was not then mistress enough of myself to know what could or ought to be revealed. For the truth of everything here related, I can appeal more particularly to the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who, from our near relationship and constant intimacy, and, still more, as one of the executors of my mother’s will, has been unavoidably acquainted with every particular of these transactions. If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting her, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.