A few days after this visit, Miss Bingley called again, and alone. Her friend had left her that morning for London, but was to return home in ten days time. She sat with them above an hour, and was in remarkably good spirits. Mr. Bennet invited her to dine with them; but, with many expressions of concern, she confessed herself engaged elsewhere.
“Next time you call,” said he, “I hope we shall be more lucky.”
She should be particularly happy at any time, etc. etc.; and if he would give her leave, would take an early opportunity of waiting on them.
“Can you come to-morrow?”
Yes, she had no engagement at all for to-morrow; and his invitation was accepted with alacrity.
She came, and in such very good time that the gentlemen were none of them dressed. In ran Mr. Bennet to his son’s room, in his dressing gown, and with his hair half finished, crying out:
“My dear Luke, make haste and hurry down. She is come—Miss Bingley is come. She is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Simon, come to Mr. Bennet this moment, and help him on with his breeches. Never mind Mr. Johnny’s hair.”
“We will be down as soon as we can,” said Luke; “but I dare say Willie is forwarder than either of us, for he went up stairs half an hour ago.”
“Oh! hang Willie! what has he to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your cravat, my dear?”
But when his father was gone, Luke would not be prevailed on to go down without one of his brothers.
The same anxiety to get them by themselves was visible again in the evening. After tea, Mrs. Bennet retired to the library, as was her custom, and Francis went up stairs to his instrument. Two obstacles of the five being thus removed, Mr. Bennet sat looking and winking at Jonathan and William for a considerable time, without making any impression on them. Jonathan would not observe him; and when at last Willie did, he very innocently said, “What is the matter papa? What do you keep winking at me for? What am I to do?”
“Nothing child, nothing. I did not wink at you.” He then sat still five minutes longer; but unable to waste such a precious occasion, he suddenly got up, and saying to Willie, “Come here, my love, I want to speak to you,” took him out of the room. Luke instantly gave a look at Jonathan which spoke his distress at such premeditation, and his entreaty that he would not give in to it. In a few minutes, Mr. Bennet half-opened the door and called out:
“Johnny, my dear, I want to speak with you.”
Jonathan was forced to go.
“We may as well leave them by themselves you know;” said his father, as soon as he was in the hall. “Willie and I are going up stairs to sit in my dressing-room.”
Jonathan made no attempt to reason with his father, but remained quietly in the hall, till he and Willie were out of sight, then returned into the drawing-room.
Mr. Bennet’s schemes for this day were ineffectual. Bingley was every thing that was charming, except the professed lover of his son. Her ease and cheerfulness rendered her a most agreeable addition to their evening party; and she bore with the ill-judged officiousness of the father, and heard all his silly remarks with a forbearance and command of countenance particularly grateful to the son.
She scarcely needed an invitation to stay supper; and before she went away, an engagement was formed, chiefly through her own and Mr. Bennet’s means, for her coming next morning to shoot with his wife.
After this day, Luke said no more of his indifference. Not a word passed between the brothers concerning Bingley; but Jonathan went to bed in the happy belief that all must speedily be concluded, unless Miss Darcy returned within the stated time. Seriously, however, he felt tolerably persuaded that all this must have taken place with that lady’s concurrence.
Bingley was punctual to her appointment; and she and Mrs. Bennet spent the morning together, as had been agreed on. The latter was much more agreeable than her companion expected. There was nothing of presumption or folly in Bingley that could provoke her ridicule, or disgust her into silence; and she was more communicative, and less eccentric, than the other had ever seen her. Bingley of course returned with her to dinner; and in the evening Mr. Bennet’s invention was again at work to get every body away from her and his son. Jonathan, who had a letter to write, went into the breakfast room for that purpose soon after tea; for as the others were all going to sit down to cards, he could not be wanted to counteract his father’s schemes.
But on returning to the drawing-room, when his letter was finished, he saw, to his infinite surprise, there was reason to fear that his father had been too ingenious for him. On opening the door, he perceived his brother and Bingley standing together over the hearth, as if engaged in earnest conversation; and had this led to no suspicion, the faces of both, as they hastily turned round and moved away from each other, would have told it all. Their situation was awkward enough; but his he thought was still worse. Not a syllable was uttered by either; and Jonathan was on the point of going away again, when Bingley, who as well as the other had sat down, suddenly rose, and whispering a few words to his brother, ran out of the room.
Luke could have no reserves from Jonathan, where confidence would give pleasure; and instantly embracing him, acknowledged, with the liveliest emotion, that he was the happiest creature in the world.
“‘Tis too much!” he added, “by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! why is not everybody as happy?”
Jonathan’s congratulations were given with a sincerity, a warmth, a delight, which words could but poorly express. Every sentence of kindness was a fresh source of happiness to Luke. But he would not allow himself to stay with his brother, or say half that remained to be said for the present.
“I must go instantly to my father;” he cried. “I would not on any account trifle with his affectionate solicitude; or allow him to hear it from anyone but myself. She is gone to my mother already. Oh! Johnny, to know that what I have to relate will give such pleasure to all my dear family! how shall I bear so much happiness!”
He then hastened away to his father, who had purposely broken up the card party, and was sitting up stairs with Willie.
Jonathan, who was left by himself, now smiled at the rapidity and ease with which an affair was finally settled, that had given them so many previous months of suspense and vexation.
“And this,” said he, “is the end of all his friend’s anxious circumspection! of all her brother’s falsehood and contrivance! the happiest, wisest, most reasonable end!”
In a few minutes he was joined by Bingley, whose conference with his mother had been short and to the purpose.
“Where is your brother?” said she hastily, as she opened the door.
“With my father up stairs. He will be down in a moment, I dare say.”
She then shut the door, and, coming up to him, claimed the good wishes and affection of a brother. Jonathan honestly and heartily expressed his delight in the prospect of their relationship. They shook hands with great cordiality; and then, till his brother came down, he had to listen to all she had to say of her own happiness, and of Luke’s perfections; and in spite of her being a lover, Jonathan really believed all her expectations of felicity to be rationally founded, because they had for basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Luke, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between him and herself.
It was an evening of no common delight to them all; the satisfaction of Mr. Luke Bennet’s mind gave a glow of such sweet animation to his face, as made him look handsomer than ever. Willie simpered and smiled, and hoped his turn was coming soon. Mr. Bennet could not give his consent or speak his approbation in terms warm enough to satisfy his feelings, though he talked to Bingley of nothing else for half an hour; and when Mrs. Bennet joined them at supper, her voice and manner plainly showed how really happy she was.
Not a word, however, passed her lips in allusion to it, till their visitor took her leave for the night; but as soon as she was gone, she turned to her son, and said:
“Luke, I congratulate you. You will be a very happy man.”
Luke went to her instantly, kissed her, and thanked her for her goodness.
“You are a good boy;” she replied, “and I have great pleasure in thinking you will be so happily settled. I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.”
“I hope not so. Imprudence or thoughtlessness in money matters would be unpardonable in me.”
“Exceed their income! My dear Mrs. Bennet,” cried her husband, “what are you talking of? Why, she has four or five thousand a year, and very likely more.” Then addressing his son, “Oh! my dear, dear Luke, I am so happy! I am sure I shan’t get a wink of sleep all night. I knew how it would be. I always said it must be so, at last. I was sure you could not be so beautiful for nothing! I remember, as soon as ever I saw her, when she first came into Hertfordshire last year, I thought how likely it was that you should come together. Oh! she is the most beautiful young woman that ever was seen!”
Wickham, Nicholas, were all forgotten. Luke was beyond competition his favourite child. At that moment, he cared for no other. His younger brothers soon began to make interest with him for objects of happiness which he might in future be able to dispense.
Francis petitioned for the use of the library at Netherfield; and Willie begged very hard for a few balls there every winter.
Bingley, from this time, was of course a daily visitor at Longbourn; coming frequently before breakfast, and always remaining till after supper; unless when some barbarous neighbour, who could not be enough detested, had given her an invitation to dinner which she thought herself obliged to accept.
Jonathan had now but little time for conversation with his brother; for while she was present, Luke had no attention to bestow on anyone else; but he found himself considerably useful to both of them in those hours of separation that must sometimes occur. In the absence of Luke, she always attached herself to Jonathan, for the pleasure of talking of him; and when Bingley was gone, Luke constantly sought the same means of relief.
“She has made me so happy,” said he, one evening, “by telling me that she was totally ignorant of my being in town last spring! I had not believed it possible.”
“I suspected as much,” replied Jonathan. “But how did she account for it?”
“It must have been her brother’s doing. They were certainly no friends to her acquaintance with me, which I cannot wonder at, since she might have chosen so much more advantageously in many respects. But when they see, as I trust they will, that their sister is happy with me, they will learn to be contented, and we shall be on good terms again; though we can never be what we once were to each other.”
“That is the most unforgiving speech,” said Jonathan, “that I ever heard you utter. Good boy! It would vex me, indeed, to see you again the dupe of Mr. Bingley’s pretended regard.”
“Would you believe it, Johnny, that when she went to town last November, she really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent would have prevented her coming down again!”
“She made a little mistake to be sure; but it is to the credit of her modesty.”
This naturally introduced a panegyric from Luke on her diffidence, and the little value she put on her own good qualities. Jonathan was pleased to find that she had not betrayed the interference of her friend; for, though Luke had the most generous and forgiving heart in the world, he knew it was a circumstance which must prejudice him against her.
“I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Luke. “Oh! Johnny, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another woman for you!”
“If you were to give me forty such women, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and, perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mrs. Collins in time.”
The situation of affairs in the Longbourn family could not be long a secret. Mr. Bennet was privileged to whisper it to Mr. Phillips, and he ventured, without any permission, to do the same by all his neighbours in Meryton.
The Bennets were speedily pronounced to be the luckiest family in the world, though only a few weeks before, when Nicholas had first run away, they had been generally proved to be marked out for misfortune.