The discomposure of spirits which this extraordinary visit threw Jonathan into, could not be easily overcome; nor could he, for many hours, learn to think of it less than incessantly. Sir Edmund, it appeared, had actually taken the trouble of this journey from Rosings, for the sole purpose of breaking off his supposed engagement with Miss Darcy. It was a rational scheme, to be sure! but from what the report of their engagement could originate, Jonathan was at a loss to imagine; till he recollected that her being the intimate friend of Bingley, and his being the brother of Luke, was enough, at a time when the expectation of one wedding made everybody eager for another, to supply the idea. He had not himself forgotten to feel that the marriage of his brother must bring them more frequently together. And his neighbours at Lucas Lodge, therefore (for through their communication with the Collinses, the report, he concluded, had reached Sir Edmund), had only set that down as almost certain and immediate, which he had looked forward to as possible at some future time.
In revolving Sir Edmund’s expressions, however, he could not help feeling some uneasiness as to the possible consequence of his persisting in this interference. From what he had said of his resolution to prevent their marriage, it occurred to Jonathan that he must meditate an application to his niece; and how she might take a similar representation of the evils attached to a connection with him, he dared not pronounce. He knew not the exact degree of her affection for her uncle, or her dependence on his judgment, but it was natural to suppose that she thought much higher of his lordship than he could do; and it was certain that, in enumerating the miseries of a marriage with one, whose immediate connections were so unequal to her own, her uncle would address her on her weakest side. With her notions of dignity, she would probably feel that the arguments, which to Jonathan had appeared weak and ridiculous, contained much good sense and solid reasoning.
If she had been wavering before as to what she should do, which had often seemed likely, the advice and entreaty of so near a relation might settle every doubt, and determine her at once to be as happy as dignity unblemished could make her. In that case she would return no more. Sir Edmund might see her in his way through town; and her engagement to Bingley of coming again to Netherfield must give way.
“If, therefore, an excuse for not keeping her promise should come to her friend within a few days,” he added, “I shall know how to understand it. I shall then give over every expectation, every wish of her constancy. If she is satisfied with only regretting me, when she might have obtained my affections and hand, I shall soon cease to regret her at all.”
The surprise of the rest of the family, on hearing who their visitor had been, was very great; but they obligingly satisfied it, with the same kind of supposition which had appeased Mr. Bennet’s curiosity; and Jonathan was spared from much teasing on the subject.
The next morning, as he was going downstairs, he was met by his mother, who came out of her library with a letter in her hand.
“Johnny,” said she, “I was going to look for you; come into my room.”
He followed her thither; and his curiosity to know what she had to tell him was heightened by the supposition of its being in some manner connected with the letter she held. It suddenly struck him that it might be from Sir Edmund; and he anticipated with dismay all the consequent explanations.
He followed his mother to the fire place, and they both sat down. She then said,
“I have received a letter this morning that has astonished me exceedingly. As it principally concerns yourself, you ought to know its contents. I did not know before, that I had two sons on the brink of matrimony. Let me congratulate you on a very important conquest.”
The colour now rushed into Jonathan’s cheeks in the instantaneous conviction of its being a letter from the niece, instead of the uncle; and he was undetermined whether most to be pleased that she explained herself at all, or offended that her letter was not rather addressed to himself; when his mother continued:
“You look conscious. Young gentlemen have great penetration in such matters as these; but I think I may defy even your sagacity, to discover the name of your admirer. This letter is from Mrs. Collins.”
“From Mrs. Collins! and what can she have to say?”
“Something very much to the purpose of course. She begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest son, of which, it seems, she has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases. I shall not sport with your impatience, by reading what she says on that point. What relates to yourself, is as follows: ‘Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mr. Collins and myself on this happy event, let me now add a short hint on the subject of another; of which we have been advertised by the same authority. Your son Jonathan, it is presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet, after his elder brother has resigned it, and the chosen partner of his fate may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land.’
“Can you possibly guess, Johnny, who is meant by this?” ‘This young lady is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire,—splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. Yet in spite of all these temptations, let me warn my cousin Jonathan, and yourself, of what evils you may incur by a precipitate closure with this lady’s proposals, which, of course, you will be inclined to take immediate advantage of.’
“Have you any idea, Johnny, who this lady is? But now it comes out:
“‘My motive for cautioning you is as follows. We have reason to imagine that her uncle, Sir Edmund de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye.’
“Miss Darcy, you see, is the woman! Now, Johnny, I think I have surprised you. Could she, or the Lucases, have pitched on any woman within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related? Miss Darcy, who never looks at any man but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in her life! It is admirable!”
Jonathan tried to join in his mother’s pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant smile. Never had her wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to him.
“Are you not diverted?”
“Oh! yes. Pray read on.”
“‘After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to his lordship last night, he immediately, with his usual condescension, expressed what he felt on the occasion; when it became apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, he would never give his consent to what he termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, that he and his noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.’ Mrs. Collins moreover adds, ‘I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Nicholas’s sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it. You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.’ That is her notion of Christian forgiveness! The rest of her letter is only about her dear Christopher’s situation, and her expectation of a young olive-branch. But, Johnny, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be namby, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
“Oh!” cried Jonathan, “I am excessively diverted. But it is so strange!”
“Yes—that is what makes it amusing. Had they fixed on any other woman it would have been nothing; but her perfect indifference, and your pointed dislike, make it so delightfully absurd! Much as I abominate writing, I would not give up Mrs. Collins’s correspondence for any consideration. Nay, when I read a letter of her, I cannot help giving her the preference even over Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my daughter-in-law. And pray, Johnny, what said Sir Edmund about this report? Did he call to refuse his consent?”
To this question her son replied only with a laugh; and as it had been asked without the least suspicion, he was not distressed by her repeating it. Jonathan had never been more at a loss to make his feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when he would rather have cried. His mother had most cruelly mortified him, by what she said of Miss Darcy’s indifference, and he could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration, or fear that perhaps, instead of her seeing too little, he might have fancied too much.