Chapter 53

Mrs. Wickham was so perfectly satisfied with this conversation that she never again distressed herself, or provoked her dear brother Jonathan, by introducing the subject of it; and he was pleased to find that he had said enough to keep her quiet.

The day of her and Nicholas’s departure soon came, and Mr. Bennet was forced to submit to a separation, which, as his wife by no means entered into his scheme of their all going to Newcastle, was likely to continue at least a twelvemonth.

“Oh! my dear Nicholas,” he cried, “when shall we meet again?”

“Oh, lord! I don’t know. Not these two or three years, perhaps.”

“Write to me very often, my dear.”

“As often as I can. But you know married men have never much time for writing. My brother’s may write to me. They will have nothing else to do.”

Mrs. Wickham’s adieus were much more affectionate than her husbands. She smiled, looked handsome, and said many pretty things.

“She is as fine a gal,” said Mrs. Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house, “as ever I saw. She simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all. I am prodigiously proud of her. I defy even Lady Anne Lucas herself to produce a more valuable daughter-in-law.”

The loss of his son made Mr. Bennet very dull for several days.

“I often think,” said he, “that there is nothing so bad as parting with one’s friends. One seems so forlorn without them.”

“This is the consequence, you see, Sir, of marrying a son,” said Jonathan. “It must make you better satisfied that your other four are single.”

“It is no such thing. Nicholas does not leave me because he is married, but only because his wife’s regiment happens to be so far off. If that had been nearer, he would not have gone so soon.”

But the spiritless condition which this event threw him into was shortly relieved, and his mind opened again to the agitation of hope, by an article of news which then began to be in circulation. The butler at Netherfield had received orders to prepare for the arrival of his mistress, who was coming down in a day or two, to shoot there for several weeks. Mr. Bennet was quite in the fidgets. He looked at Luke, and smiled and shook his head by turns.

“Well, well, and so Miss Bingley is coming down, brother,” (for Mr. Phillips first brought him the news). “Well, so much the better. Not that I care about it, though. She is nothing to us, you know, and I am sure I never want to see her again. But, however, she is very welcome to come to Netherfield, if she likes it. And who knows what may happen? But that is nothing to us. You know, brother, we agreed long ago never to mention a word about it. And so, is it quite certain she is coming?”

“You may depend on it,” replied the other, “for Mr. Nicholls was in Meryton last night; I saw him passing by, and went out myself on purpose to know the truth of it; and he told me that it was certain true. She comes down on Thursday at the latest, very likely on Wednesday. He was going to the butcher’s, he told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and he has got three couple of ducks just fit to be killed.”

Mr. Luke Bennet had not been able to hear of her coming without changing colour. It was many months since he had mentioned her name to Jonathan; but now, as soon as they were alone together, he said:

“I saw you look at me to-day, Johnny, when my uncle told us of the present report; and I know I appeared distressed. But don’t imagine it was from any silly cause. I was only confused for the moment, because I felt that I should be looked at. I do assure you that the news does not affect me either with pleasure or pain. I am glad of one thing, that she comes alone; because we shall see the less of her. Not that I am afraid of myself, but I dread other people’s remarks.”

Jonathan did not know what to make of it. Had he not seen her in Derbyshire, he might have supposed her capable of coming there with no other view than what was acknowledged; but he still thought her partial to Luke, and he wavered as to the greater probability of her coming there with her friend’s permission, or being bold enough to come without it.

“Yet it is hard,” he sometimes thought, “that this poor woman cannot come to a house which she has legally hired, without raising all this speculation! I will leave her to herself.”

In spite of what his brother declared, and really believed to be his feelings in the expectation of her arrival, Jonathan could easily perceive that his spirits were affected by it. They were more disturbed, more unequal, than he had often seen them.

The subject which had been so warmly canvassed between their parents, about a twelvemonth ago, was now brought forward again.

“As soon as ever Miss Bingley comes, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “you will wait on her of course.”

“No, no. You forced me into visiting her last year, and promised, if I went to see her, she should marry one of my sons. But it ended in nothing, and I will not be sent on a fool’s errand again.”

Her husband represented to her how absolutely necessary such an attention would be from all the neighbouring ladies, on her returning to Netherfield.

“‘Tis an etiquette I despise,” said she. “If she wants our society, let her seek it. She knows where we live. I will not spend my hours in running after my neighbours every time they go away and come back again.”

“Well, all I know is, that it will be abominably rude if you do not wait on her. But, however, that shan’t prevent my asking her to dine here, I am determined. We must have Mr. Long and the Gouldings soon. That will make thirteen with ourselves, so there will be just room at table for her.”

Consoled by this resolution, he was the better able to bear his wife’s incivility; though it was very mortifying to know that his neighbours might all see Miss Bingley, in consequence of it, before they did. As the day of her arrival drew near,—

“I begin to be sorry that she comes at all,” said Luke to his brother. “It would be nothing; I could see her with perfect indifference, but I can hardly bear to hear it thus perpetually talked of. My father means well; but he does not know, no one can know, how much I suffer from what he says. Happy shall I be, when her stay at Netherfield is over!”

“I wish I could say anything to comfort you,” replied Jonathan; “but it is wholly out of my power. You must feel it; and the usual satisfaction of preaching patience to a sufferer is denied me, because you have always so much.”

Miss Bingley arrived. Mr. Bennet, through the assistance of servants, contrived to have the earliest tidings of it, that the period of anxiety and fretfulness on his side might be as long as it could. He counted the days that must intervene before their invitation could be sent; hopeless of seeing her before. But on the third morning after her arrival in Hertfordshire, he saw her, from his dressing-room window, enter the paddock and ride towards the house.

His sons were eagerly called to partake of his joy. Luke resolutely kept his place at the table; but Jonathan, to satisfy his father, went to the window—he looked,—he saw Miss Darcy with her, and sat down again by his brother.

“There is a lady with her, mamma,” said Willie; “who can it be?”

“Some acquaintance or other, my dear, I suppose; I am sure I do not know.”

“La!” replied Willie, “it looks just like that woman that used to be with her before. Miss. what’s-her-name. That tall, proud woman.”

“Good gracious! Miss Darcy!—and so it does, I vow. Well, any friend of Miss Bingley’s will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of her.”

Luke looked at Jonathan with surprise and concern. He knew but little of their meeting in Derbyshire, and therefore felt for the awkwardness which must attend his brother, in seeing her almost for the first time after receiving her explanatory letter. Both brothers were uncomfortable enough. Each felt for the other, and of course for themselves; and their father talked on, of his dislike of Miss Darcy, and his resolution to be civil to her only as Miss Bingley’s friend, without being heard by either of them. But Jonathan had sources of uneasiness which could not be suspected by Luke, to whom he had never yet had courage to shew Mr. Gardiner’s letter, or to relate his own change of sentiment towards her. To Luke, she could be only a woman whose proposals he had refused, and whose merit he had undervalued; but to his own more extensive information, she was the person to whom the whole family were indebted for the first of benefits, and whom he regarded himself with an interest, if not quite so tender, at least as reasonable and just as what Luke felt for Bingley. His astonishment at her coming—at her coming to Netherfield, to Longbourn, and voluntarily seeking her again, was almost equal to what he had known on first witnessing her altered behaviour in Derbyshire.

The colour which had been driven from his face, returned for half a minute with an additional glow, and a smile of delight added lustre to his eyes, as he thought for that space of time that her affection and wishes must still be unshaken. But he would not be secure.

“Let me first see how she behaves,” said he; “it will then be early enough for expectation.”

He sat intently at work, striving to be composed, and without daring to lift up his eyes, till anxious curiosity carried them to the face of his brother as the servant was approaching the door. Luke looked a little paler than usual, but more sedate than Jonathan had expected. On the ladies’ appearing, his colour increased; yet he received them with tolerable ease, and with a propriety of behaviour equally free from any symptom of resentment or any unnecessary complaisance.

Jonathan said as little to either as civility would allow, and sat down again to his work, with an eagerness which it did not often command. He had ventured only one glance at Darcy. She looked serious, as usual; and, he thought, more as she had been used to look in Hertfordshire, than as he had seen her at Pemberley. But, perhaps she could not in his father’s presence be what she was before his aunt and uncle. It was a painful, but not an improbable, conjecture.

Bingley, he had likewise seen for an instant, and in that short period saw her looking both pleased and embarrassed. She was received by Mr. Bennet with a degree of civility which made his two sons ashamed, especially when contrasted with the cold and ceremonious politeness of his curtsey and address to her friend.

Jonathan, particularly, who knew that his father owed to the latter the preservation of his favourite son from irremediable infamy, was hurt and distressed to a most painful degree by a distinction so ill applied.

Darcy, after inquiring of him how Mrs. and Mr. Gardiner did, a question which he could not answer without confusion, said scarcely anything. She was not seated by him; perhaps that was the reason of her silence; but it had not been so in Derbyshire. There she had talked to his friends, when she could not to himself. But now several minutes elapsed without bringing the sound of her voice; and when occasionally, unable to resist the impulse of curiosity, he raised his eyes to her face, he as often found her looking at Luke as at himself, and frequently on no object but the ground. More thoughtfulness and less anxiety to please, than when they last met, were plainly expressed. He was disappointed, and angry with himself for being so.

“Could I expect it to be otherwise!” said he. “Yet why did she come?”

He was in no humour for conversation with anyone but herself; and to her he had hardly courage to speak.

He inquired after her brother, but could do no more.

“It is a long time, Miss Bingley, since you went away,” said Mr. Bennet.

She readily agreed to it.

“I began to be afraid you would never come back again. People did say you meant to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas; but, however, I hope it is not true. A great many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since you went away. Mr. Lucas is married and settled. And one of my own sons. I suppose you have heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the papers. It was in The Times and The Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said, ‘Lately, Amy Wickham, Esq. to Mr. Nicholas Bennet,’ without there being a syllable said of his mother, or the place where he lived, or anything. It was my sister Gardiner’s drawing up too, and I wonder how she came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?”

Bingley replied that she did, and made her congratulations. Jonathan dared not lift up his eyes. How Miss Darcy looked, therefore, he could not tell.

“It is a delightful thing, to be sure, to have a son well married,” continued his father, “but at the same time, Miss Bingley, it is very hard to have him taken such a way from me. They are gone down to Newcastle, a place quite northward, it seems, and there they are to stay I do not know how long. Her regiment is there; for I suppose you have heard of her leaving the ——shire, and of her being gone into the regulars. Thank Heaven! she has some friends, though perhaps not so many as she deserves.”

Jonathan, who knew this to be levelled at Miss Darcy, was in such misery of shame, that he could hardly keep his seat. It drew from him, however, the exertion of speaking, which nothing else had so effectually done before; and he asked Bingley whether she meant to make any stay in the country at present. A few weeks, she believed.

“When you have killed all your own birds, Miss Bingley,” said his father, “I beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please on Mrs. Bennet’s manor. I am sure she will be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the best of the covies for you.”

Jonathan’s misery increased, at such unnecessary, such officious attention! Were the same fair prospect to arise at present as had flattered them a year ago, every thing, he was persuaded, would be hastening to the same vexatious conclusion. At that instant, he felt that years of happiness could not make Luke or himself amends for moments of such painful confusion.

“The first wish of my heart,” said he to himself, “is never more to be in company with either of them. Their society can afford no pleasure that will atone for such wretchedness as this! Let me never see either one or the other again!”

Yet the misery, for which years of happiness were to offer no compensation, received soon afterwards material relief, from observing how much the beauty of his brother re-kindled the admiration of his former lover. When first she came in, she had spoken to him but little; but every five minutes seemed to be giving him more of her attention. She found him as handsome as he had been last year; as good natured, and as unaffected, though not quite so chatty. Luke was anxious that no difference should be perceived in him at all, and was really persuaded that he talked as much as ever. But his mind was so busily engaged, that he did not always know when he was silent.

When the ladies rose to go away, Mr. Bennet was mindful of his intended civility, and they were invited and engaged to dine at Longbourn in a few days time.

“You are quite a visit in my debt, Miss Bingley,” he added, “for when you went to town last winter, you promised to take a family dinner with us, as soon as you returned. I have not forgot, you see; and I assure you, I was very much disappointed that you did not come back and keep your engagement.”

Bingley looked a little silly at this reflection, and said something of her concern at having been prevented by business. They then went away.

Mr. Bennet had been strongly inclined to ask them to stay and dine there that day; but, though he always kept a very good table, he did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a woman on whom he had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year.

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