As no objection was made to the young people's engagement with their aunt, an_ll Mr. Collins's scruples of leaving Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for a single evenin_uring his visit were most steadily resisted, the coach conveyed him and hi_ive cousins at a suitable hour to Meryton; and the girls had the pleasure o_earing, as they entered the drawing-room, that Mr. Wickham had accepted thei_ncle's invitation, and was then in the house.
When this information was given, and they had all taken their seats, Mr.
Collins was at leisure to look around him and admire, and he was so muc_truck with the size and furniture of the apartment, that he declared he migh_lmost have supposed himself in the small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings; a comparison that did not at first convey much gratification; but when Mrs.
Phillips understood from him what Rosings was, and who was its proprietor—whe_he had listened to the description of only one of Lady Catherine's drawing- rooms, and found that the chimney-piece alone had cost eight hundred pounds, she felt all the force of the compliment, and would hardly have resented _omparison with the housekeeper's room.
In describing to her all the grandeur of Lady Catherine and her mansion, wit_ccasional digressions in praise of his own humble abode, and the improvement_t was receiving, he was happily employed until the gentlemen joined them; an_e found in Mrs. Phillips a very attentive listener, whose opinion of hi_onsequence increased with what she heard, and who was resolving to retail i_ll among her neighbours as soon as she could. To the girls, who could no_isten to their cousin, and who had nothing to do but to wish for a_nstrument, and examine their own indifferent imitations of china on th_antelpiece, the interval of waiting appeared very long. It was over at last, however. The gentlemen did approach, and when Mr. Wickham walked into th_oom, Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him before, nor thinkin_f him since, with the smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. Th_fficers of the ——shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but Mr. Wickham was as fa_eyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk, as _they_ wer_uperior to the broad-faced, stuffy uncle Phillips, breathing port wine, wh_ollowed them into the room.
Mr. Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy woman by whom he finally seated himself; and th_greeable manner in which he immediately fell into conversation, though it wa_nly on its being a wet night, made her feel that the commonest, dullest, mos_hreadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker.
With such rivals for the notice of the fair as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed to sink into insignificance; to the young ladies h_ertainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals a kind listener in Mrs.
Phillips, and was by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffe_nd muffin. When the card-tables were placed, he had the opportunity o_bliging her in turn, by sitting down to whist.
"I know little of the game at present," said he, "but I shall be glad t_mprove myself, for in my situation in life—" Mrs. Phillips was very glad fo_is compliance, but could not wait for his reason.
Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received a_he other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger o_ydia's engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; bu_eing likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too muc_nterested in the game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prize_o have attention for anyone in particular. Allowing for the common demands o_he game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and sh_as very willing to hear him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she coul_ot hope to be told—the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She dare_ot even mention that gentleman. Her curiosity, however, was unexpectedl_elieved. Mr. Wickham began the subject himself. He inquired how fa_etherfield was from Meryton; and, after receiving her answer, asked in _esitating manner how long Mr. Darcy had been staying there.
"About a month," said Elizabeth; and then, unwilling to let the subject drop, added, "He is a man of very large property in Derbyshire, I understand."
"Yes," replied Mr. Wickham; "his estate there is a noble one. A clear te_housand per annum. You could not have met with a person more capable o_iving you certain information on that head than myself, for I have bee_onnected with his family in a particular manner from my infancy."
Elizabeth could not but look surprised.
"You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, at such an assertion, after seeing, as you probably might, the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday. Are yo_uch acquainted with Mr. Darcy?"
"As much as I ever wish to be," cried Elizabeth very warmly. "I have spen_our days in the same house with him, and I think him very disagreeable."
"I have no right to give _my_ opinion," said Wickham, "as to his bein_greeable or otherwise. I am not qualified to form one. I have known him to_ong and too well to be a fair judge. It is impossible for _me_ to b_mpartial. But I believe your opinion of him would in general astonish—an_erhaps you would not express it quite so strongly anywhere else. Here you ar_n your own family."
"Upon my word, I say no more _here_ than I might say in any house in th_eighbourhood, except Netherfield. He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire.
Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourabl_poken of by anyone."
"I cannot pretend to be sorry," said Wickham, after a short interruption,
"that he or that any man should not be estimated beyond their deserts; bu_ith _him_ I believe it does not often happen. The world is blinded by hi_ortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, an_ees him only as he chooses to be seen."
"I should take him, even on _my_ slight acquaintance, to be an ill-tempere_an." Wickham only shook his head.
"I wonder," said he, at the next opportunity of speaking, "whether he i_ikely to be in this country much longer."
"I do not at all know; but I _heard_ nothing of his going away when I was a_etherfield. I hope your plans in favour of the ——shire will not be affecte_y his being in the neighbourhood."
"Oh! no—it is not for _me_ to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. If _he_ wishe_o avoid seeing _me_ , he must go. We are not on friendly terms, and i_lways gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding _him_ut what I might proclaim before all the world, a sense of very great ill- usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is. His father, Mis_ennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men that ever breathed, an_he truest friend I ever had; and I can never be in company with this Mr.
Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections.
His behaviour to myself has been scandalous; but I verily believe I coul_orgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hope_nd disgracing the memory of his father."
Elizabeth found the interest of the subject increase, and listened with al_er heart; but the delicacy of it prevented further inquiry.
Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics, Meryton, the neighbourhood, the society, appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, an_peaking of the latter with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.
"It was the prospect of constant society, and good society," he added, "whic_as my chief inducement to enter the ——shire. I knew it to be a mos_espectable, agreeable corps, and my friend Denny tempted me further by hi_ccount of their present quarters, and the very great attentions and excellen_cquaintances Meryton had procured them. Society, I own, is necessary to me. _ave been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. I _must_ave employment and society. A military life is not what I was intended for, but circumstances have now made it eligible. The church _ought_ to have bee_y profession—I was brought up for the church, and I should at this time hav_een in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased the gentleman w_ere speaking of just now."
"Yes—the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best livin_n his gift. He was my godfather, and excessively attached to me. I cannot d_ustice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he ha_one it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere."
"Good heavens!" cried Elizabeth; "but how could _that_ be? How could hi_ill be disregarded? Why did you not seek legal redress?"
"There was just such an informality in the terms of the bequest as to give m_o hope from law. A man of honour could not have doubted the intention, bu_r. Darcy chose to doubt it—or to treat it as a merely conditiona_ecommendation, and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it b_xtravagance, imprudence—in short anything or nothing. Certain it is, that th_iving became vacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an age to hold it, an_hat it was given to another man; and no less certain is it, that I canno_ccuse myself of having really done anything to deserve to lose it. I have _arm, unguarded temper, and I may have spoken my opinion _of_ him, and _to_im, too freely. I can recall nothing worse. But the fact is, that we are ver_ifferent sort of men, and that he hates me."
"This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced."
"Some time or other he _will_ be—but it shall not be by _me_. Till I ca_orget his father, I can never defy or expose _him_."
Elizabeth honoured him for such feelings, and thought him handsomer than eve_s he expressed them.
"But what," said she, after a pause, "can have been his motive? What can hav_nduced him to behave so cruelly?"
"A thorough, determined dislike of me—a dislike which I cannot but attribut_n some measure to jealousy. Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his so_ight have borne with me better; but his father's uncommon attachment to m_rritated him, I believe, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear th_ort of competition in which we stood—the sort of preference which was ofte_iven me."
"I had not thought Mr. Darcy so bad as this—though I have never liked him. _ad not thought so very ill of him. I had supposed him to be despising hi_ellow-creatures in general, but did not suspect him of descending to suc_alicious revenge, such injustice, such inhumanity as this."
After a few minutes' reflection, however, she continued, "I _do_ remembe_is boasting one day, at Netherfield, of the implacability of his resentments, of his having an unforgiving temper. His disposition must be dreadful."
"I will not trust myself on the subject," replied Wickham; "I can hardly b_ust to him."
Elizabeth was again deep in thought, and after a time exclaimed, "To treat i_uch a manner the godson, the friend, the favourite of his father!" She coul_ave added, "A young man, too, like _you_ , whose very countenance may vouc_or your being amiable"—but she contented herself with, "and one, too, who ha_robably been his companion from childhood, connected together, as I think yo_aid, in the closest manner!"
"We were born in the same parish, within the same park; the greatest part o_ur youth was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing the sam_musements, objects of the same parental care. _My_ father began life in th_rofession which your uncle, Mr. Phillips, appears to do so much credit to—bu_e gave up everything to be of use to the late Mr. Darcy and devoted all hi_ime to the care of the Pemberley property. He was most highly esteemed by Mr.
Darcy, a most intimate, confidential friend. Mr. Darcy often acknowledge_imself to be under the greatest obligations to my father's activ_uperintendence, and when, immediately before my father's death, Mr. Darc_ave him a voluntary promise of providing for me, I am convinced that he fel_t to be as much a debt of gratitude to _him_ , as of his affection t_yself."
"How strange!" cried Elizabeth. "How abominable! I wonder that the very prid_f this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, tha_e should not have been too proud to be dishonest—for dishonesty I must cal_t."
"It _is_ wonderful," replied Wickham, "for almost all his actions may b_raced to pride; and pride had often been his best friend. It has connecte_im nearer with virtue than with any other feeling. But we are none of u_onsistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even tha_ride."
"Can such abominable pride as his have ever done him good?"
"Yes. It has often led him to be liberal and generous, to give his mone_reely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor.
Family pride, and _filial_ pride—for he is very proud of what his fathe_as—have done this. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate fro_he popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is _owerful motive. He has also _brotherly_ pride, which, with _some_rotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best o_rothers."
"What sort of girl is Miss Darcy?"
He shook his head. "I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to spea_ll of a Darcy. But she is too much like her brother—very, very proud. As _hild, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I hav_evoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She i_ handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and, I understand, highl_ccomplished. Since her father's death, her home has been London, where a lad_ives with her, and superintends her education."
After many pauses and many trials of other subjects, Elizabeth could not hel_everting once more to the first, and saying:
"I am astonished at his intimacy with Mr. Bingley! How can Mr. Bingley, wh_eems good humour itself, and is, I really believe, truly amiable, be i_riendship with such a man? How can they suit each other? Do you know Mr.
"Not at all."
"He is a sweet-tempered, amiable, charming man. He cannot know what Mr. Darc_s."
"Probably not; but Mr. Darcy can please where he chooses. He does not wan_bilities. He can be a conversible companion if he thinks it worth his while.
Among those who are at all his equals in consequence, he is a very differen_an from what he is to the less prosperous. His pride never deserts him; bu_ith the rich he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, an_erhaps agreeable—allowing something for fortune and figure."
The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the players gathered round th_ther table and Mr. Collins took his station between his cousin Elizabeth an_rs. Phillips. The usual inquiries as to his success was made by the latter.
It had not been very great; he had lost every point; but when Mrs. Phillip_egan to express her concern thereupon, he assured her with much earnes_ravity that it was not of the least importance, that he considered the mone_s a mere trifle, and begged that she would not make herself uneasy.
"I know very well, madam," said he, "that when persons sit down to a card- table, they must take their chances of these things, and happily I am not i_uch circumstances as to make five shillings any object. There are undoubtedl_any who could not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I a_emoved far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters."
Mr. Wickham's attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a fe_oments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relation was ver_ntimately acquainted with the family of de Bourgh.
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh," she replied, "has very lately given him a living.
I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but h_ertainly has not known her long."
"You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy wer_isters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy."
"No, indeed, I did not. I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine's connections.
I never heard of her existence till the day before yesterday."
"Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it i_elieved that she and her cousin will unite the two estates."
This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poor Miss Bingley.
Vain indeed must be all her attentions, vain and useless her affection for hi_ister and her praise of himself, if he were already self-destined fo_nother.
"Mr. Collins," said she, "speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and he_aughter; but from some particulars that he has related of her ladyship, _uspect his gratitude misleads him, and that in spite of her being hi_atroness, she is an arrogant, conceited woman."
"I believe her to be both in a great degree," replied Wickham; "I have no_een her for many years, but I very well remember that I never liked her, an_hat her manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation o_eing remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part o_er abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the pride for her nephew, who chooses that everyon_onnected with him should have an understanding of the first class."
Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and the_ontinued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end t_ards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham'_ttentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips'_upper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away wit_er head full of him. She could think of nothing but of Mr. Wickham, and o_hat he had told her, all the way home; but there was not time for her even t_ention his name as they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were onc_ilent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had los_nd the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing the civility of Mr.
and Mrs. Phillips, protesting that he did not in the least regard his losse_t whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that h_rowded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before th_arriage stopped at Longbourn House.