Jonathan’s impatience to acquaint Luke with what had happened could no longer be overcome; and at length, resolving to suppress every particular in which his brother was concerned, and preparing him to be surprised, he related to him the next morning the chief of the scene between Miss Darcy and himself.
Mr. Luke Bennet’s astonishment was soon lessened by the strong brotherly partiality which made any admiration of Jonathan appear perfectly natural; and all surprise was shortly lost in other feelings. He was sorry that Miss Darcy should have delivered her sentiments in a manner so little suited to recommend them; but still more was he grieved for the unhappiness which his brother’s refusal must have given her.
“Her being so sure of succeeding was wrong,” said he, “and certainly ought not to have appeared; but consider how much it must increase her disappointment!”
“Indeed,” replied Jonathan, “I am heartily sorry for her; but she has other feelings, which will probably soon drive away her regard for me. You do not blame me, however, for refusing her?”
“Blame you! Oh, no.”
“But you blame me for having spoken so warmly of Wickham?”
“No—I do not know that you were wrong in saying what you did.”
“But you will know it, when I tell you what happened the very next day.”
He then spoke of the letter, repeating the whole of its contents as far as they concerned Amy Wickham. What a stroke was this for poor Luke! who would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of womankind, as was here collected in one individual. Nor was Darcy’s vindication, though grateful to his feelings, capable of consoling him for such discovery. Most earnestly did he labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear the one without involving the other.
“This will not do,” said Jonathan; “you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of woman; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Darcy’s; but you shall do as you choose.”
It was some time, however, before a smile could be extorted from Luke.
“I do not know when I have been more shocked,” said he. “Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Miss Darcy! Dear Johnny, only consider what she must have suffered. Such a disappointment! and with the knowledge of your ill opinion, too! and having to relate such a thing of her brother! It is really too distressing. I am sure you must feel it so.”
“Oh! no, my regret and compassion are all done away by seeing you so full of both. I know you will do her such ample justice, that I am growing every moment more unconcerned and indifferent. Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament over her much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather.”
“Poor Wickham! there is such an expression of goodness in her countenance! such an openness and gentleness in her manner!”
“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young women. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
“I never thought Miss Darcy so deficient in the appearance of it as you used to do.”
“And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to her, without any reason. It is such a spur to one’s genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot always be laughing at a woman without now and then stumbling on something witty.”
“Johnny, when you first read that letter, I am sure you could not treat the matter as you do now.”
“Indeed, I could not. I was uncomfortable enough, I may say unhappy. And with no one to speak to about what I felt, no Luke to comfort me and say that I had not been so very weak and vain and nonsensical as I knew I had! Oh! how I wanted you!”
“How unfortunate that you should have used such very strong expressions in speaking of Wickham to Miss Darcy, for now they do appear wholly undeserved.”
“Certainly. But the misfortune of speaking with bitterness is a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging. There is one point on which I want your advice. I want to be told whether I ought, or ought not, to make our acquaintances in general understand Wickham’s character.”
Mr. Luke Bennet paused a little, and then replied, “Surely there can be no occasion for exposing her so dreadfully. What is your opinion?”
“That it ought not to be attempted. Miss Darcy has not authorised me to make her communication public. On the contrary, every particular relative to her brother was meant to be kept as much as possible to myself; and if I endeavour to undeceive people as to the rest of her conduct, who will believe me? The general prejudice against Miss Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton to attempt to place her in an amiable light. I am not equal to it. Wickham will soon be gone; and therefore it will not signify to anyone here what she really is. Some time hence it will be all found out, and then we may laugh at their stupidity in not knowing it before. At present I will say nothing about it.”
“You are quite right. To have her errors made public might ruin her for ever. She is now, perhaps, sorry for what she has done, and anxious to re-establish a character. We must not make her desperate.”
The tumult of Jonathan’s mind was allayed by this conversation. He had got rid of two of the secrets which had weighed on him for a fortnight, and was certain of a willing listener in Luke, whenever he might wish to talk again of either. But there was still something lurking behind, of which prudence forbade the disclosure. He dared not relate the other half of Miss Darcy’s letter, nor explain to his brother how sincerely he had been valued by his friend. Here was knowledge in which no one could partake; and he was sensible that nothing less than a perfect understanding between the parties could justify him in throwing off this last encumbrance of mystery. “And then,” said he, “if that very improbable event should ever take place, I shall merely be able to tell what Bingley may tell in a much more agreeable manner herself. The liberty of communication cannot be mine till it has lost all its value!”
He was now, on being settled at home, at leisure to observe the real state of his brother’s spirits. Luke was not happy. He still cherished a very tender affection for Bingley. Having never even fancied himself in love before, his regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and, from his age and disposition, greater steadiness than most first attachments often boast; and so fervently did he value her remembrance, and prefer her to every other woman, that all his good sense, and all his attention to the feelings of his friends, were requisite to check the indulgence of those regrets which must have been injurious to his own health and their tranquillity.
“Well, Johnny,” said Mr. Bennet one day, “what is your opinion now of this sad business of Luke’s? For my part, I am determined never to speak of it again to anybody. I told my brother Phillips so the other day. But I cannot find out that Luke saw anything of her in London. Well, she is a very undeserving young woman—and I do not suppose there’s the least chance in the world of his ever getting her now. There is no talk of her coming to Netherfield again in the summer; and I have inquired of everybody, too, who is likely to know.”
“I do not believe she will ever live at Netherfield any more.”
“Oh well! it is just as she chooses. Nobody wants her to come. Though I shall always say she used my son extremely ill; and if I was him, I would not have put up with it. Well, my comfort is, I am sure Luke will die of a broken heart; and then she will be sorry for what she has done.”
But as Jonathan could not receive comfort from any such expectation, he made no answer.
“Well, Johnny,” continued his father, soon afterwards, “and so the Collinses live very comfortable, do they? Well, well, I only hope it will last. And what sort of table do they keep? Christopher is an excellent manager, I dare say. If he is half as sharp as his father, he is saving enough. There is nothing extravagant in their housekeeping, I dare say.”
“No, nothing at all.”
“A great deal of good management, depend upon it. Yes, yes. They will take care not to outrun their income. They will never be distressed for money. Well, much good may it do them! And so, I suppose, they often talk of having Longbourn when your mother is dead. They look upon it as quite their own, I dare say, whenever that happens.”
“It was a subject which they could not mention before me.”
“No; it would have been strange if they had; but I make no doubt they often talk of it between themselves. Well, if they can be easy with an estate that is not lawfully their own, so much the better. I should be ashamed of having one that was only entailed on me.”