Chapter 56

One morning, about a week after Bingley’s engagement with Luke had been formed, as she and the males of the family were sitting together in the dining-room, their attention was suddenly drawn to the window, by the sound of a carriage; and they perceived a chaise and four driving up the lawn. It was too early in the morning for visitors, and besides, the equipage did not answer to that of any of their neighbours. The horses were post; and neither the carriage, nor the livery of the servant who preceded it, were familiar to them. As it was certain, however, that somebody was coming, Bingley instantly prevailed on Mr. Luke Bennet to avoid the confinement of such an intrusion, and walk away with her into the shrubbery. They both set off, and the conjectures of the remaining three continued, though with little satisfaction, till the door was thrown open and their visitor entered. It was Sir Edmund de Bourgh.

They were of course all intending to be surprised; but their astonishment was beyond their expectation; and on the part of Mr. Bennet and Willie, though he was perfectly unknown to them, even inferior to what Jonathan felt.

He entered the room with an air more than usually ungracious, made no other reply to Jonathan’s salutation than a slight inclination of the head, and sat down without saying a word. Jonathan had mentioned his name to his father on his lordship’s entrance, though no request of introduction had been made.

Mr. Bennet, all amazement, though flattered by having a guest of such high importance, received him with the utmost politeness. After sitting for a moment in silence, he said very stiffly to Jonathan,

“I hope you are well, Mr. Bennet. That gentleman, I suppose, is your father.”

Jonathan replied very concisely that he was.

“And that I suppose is one of your brothers.”

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Bennet, delighted to speak to Sir Edmund. “He is my youngest boy but one. My youngest of all is lately married, and my eldest is somewhere about the grounds, walking with a young woman who, I believe, will soon become a part of the family.”

“You have a very small park here,” returned Sir Edmund after a short silence.

“It is nothing in comparison of Rosings, my lord, I dare say; but I assure you it is much larger than Lady Anne Lucas’s.”

“This must be a most inconvenient sitting room for the evening, in summer; the windows are full west.”

Mr. Bennet assured him that they never sat there after dinner, and then added:

“May I take the liberty of asking your lordship whether you left Mrs. and Mr. Collins well.”

“Yes, very well. I saw them the night before last.”

Jonathan now expected that he would produce a letter for him from Christopher, as it seemed the only probable motive for his calling. But no letter appeared, and he was completely puzzled.

Mr. Bennet, with great civility, begged his lordship to take some refreshment; but Sir Edmund very resolutely, and not very politely, declined eating anything; and then, rising up, said to Jonathan,

“Mr. Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favour me with your company.”

“Go, my dear,” cried his father, “and show his lordship about the different walks. I think he will be pleased with the hermitage.”

Jonathan obeyed, and running into his own room for his stick, attended his noble guest downstairs. As they passed through the hall, Sir Edmund opened the doors into the dining-parlour and drawing-room, and pronouncing them, after a short survey, to be decent looking rooms, walked on.

His carriage remained at the door, and Jonathan saw that his waiting-man was in it. They proceeded in silence along the gravel walk that led to the copse; Jonathan was determined to make no effort for conversation with a man who was now more than usually insolent and disagreeable.

“How could I ever think him like his niece?” said he, as he looked in his face.

As soon as they entered the copse, Sir Edmund began in the following manner:—

“You can be at no loss, Mr. Bennet, to understand the reason of my journey hither. Your own heart, your own conscience, must tell you why I come.”

Jonathan looked with unaffected astonishment.

“Indeed, you are mistaken, Sir. I have not been at all able to account for the honour of seeing you here.”

“Mr. Bennet,” replied his lordship, in an angry tone, “you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it. A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your brother was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Mr. Jonathan Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my niece, my own niece, Miss Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure her so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you.”

“If you believed it impossible to be true,” said Jonathan, colouring with astonishment and disdain, “I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your lordship propose by it?”

“At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted.”

“Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family,” said Jonathan coolly, “will be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence.”

“If! Do you then pretend to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?”

“I never heard that it was.”

“And can you likewise declare, that there is no foundation for it?”

“I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your lordship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.”

“This is not to be borne. Mr. Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has she, has my niece, made you an offer of marriage?”

“Your lordship has declared it to be impossible.”

“It ought to be so; it must be so, while she retains the use of her reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made her forget what she owes to herself and to all her family. You may have drawn her in.”

“If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it.”

“Mr. Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation she has in the world, and am entitled to know all her dearest concerns.”

“But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce me to be explicit.”

“Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Miss Darcy is engaged to my son. Now what have you to say?”

“Only this; that if she is so, you can have no reason to suppose she will make an offer to me.”

Sir Edmund hesitated for a moment, and then replied:

“The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of her father, as well as of his. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both brothers would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young man of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of her friends? To her tacit engagement with Mr. de Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from her earliest hours she was destined for her cousin?”

“Yes, and I had heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other objection to my marrying your niece, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing that her father and uncle wished her to marry Mr. de Bourgh. You both did as much as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion depended on others. If Miss Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to her cousin, why is not she to make another choice? And if I am that choice, why may not I accept her?”

“Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Mr. Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by her family or friends, if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with her. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us.”

“These are heavy misfortunes,” replied Jonathan. “But the husband of Miss Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to his situation, that he could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.”

“Obstinate, headstrong boy! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit down. You are to understand, Mr. Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person’s whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.”

That will make your lordship’s situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me.”

“I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. My son and my niece are formed for each other. They are descended, on the paternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the mother’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient—though untitled—families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young man without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”

“In marrying your niece, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. She is a lady; I am a lady’s son; so far we are equal.”

“True. You are a lady’s son. But who was your father? Who are your aunts and uncles? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.”

“Whatever my connections may be,” said Jonathan, “if your niece does not object to them, they can be nothing to you.”

“Tell me once for all, are you engaged to her?”

Though Jonathan would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Sir Edmund, have answered this question, he could not but say, after a moment’s deliberation:

“I am not.”

Sir Edmund seemed pleased.

“And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?”

“I will make no promise of the kind.”

“Mr. Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young man. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require.”

“And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. Your lordship wants Miss Darcy to marry your son; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing her to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept her hand make her wish to bestow it on her cousin? Allow me to say, Sir Edmund, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your niece might approve of your interference in her affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.”

“Not so hasty, if you please. I have by no means done. To all the objections I have already urged, I have still another to add. I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest brother’s infamous elopement. I know it all; that the young woman’s marrying him was a patched-up business, at the expence of your mother and aunts. And is such a boy to be my niece’s brother? Is his wife, is the daughter of her late mother’s steward, to be her sister? Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”

“You can now have nothing further to say,” he resentfully answered. “You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house.”

And he rose as he spoke. Sir Edmund rose also, and they turned back. His lordship was highly incensed.

“You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my niece! Unfeeling, selfish boy! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace her in the eyes of everybody?”

“Sir Edmund, I have nothing further to say. You know my sentiments.”

“You are then resolved to have her?”

“I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”

“It is well. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin her in the opinion of all her friends, and make her the contempt of the world.”

“Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude,” replied Jonathan, “have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Miss Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of her family, or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by her marrying me, it would not give me one moment’s concern—and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn.”

“And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Mr. Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.”

In this manner Sir Edmund talked on, till they were at the door of the carriage, when, turning hastily round, he added, “I take no leave of you, Mr. Bennet. I send no compliments to your father. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”

Jonathan made no answer; and without attempting to persuade his lordship to return into the house, walked quietly into it himself. He heard the carriage drive away as he proceeded up stairs. His father impatiently met him at the door of the dressing-room, to ask why Sir Edmund would not come in again and rest himself.

“He did not choose it,” said his son, “he would go.”

“He is a very fine-looking man! and his calling here was prodigiously civil! for he only came, I suppose, to tell us the Collinses were well. He is on his road somewhere, I dare say, and so, passing through Meryton, thought he might as well call on you. I suppose he had nothing particular to say to you, Johnny?”

Jonathan was forced to give into a little falsehood here; for to acknowledge the substance of their conversation was impossible.

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