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Chapter 16

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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As no objection was made to the young
people’s engagement with their aunt, and all
Mr. Collins’s scruples of leaving Mr. and Mrs.
Bennet for a single evening during his visit were
most steadily resisted, the coach conveyed him and
his five cousins at a suitable hour to Meryton; and
the girls had the pleasure of hearing, as they entered
the drawing-room, that Mr. Wickham had accepted their
uncle’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
much struck with the size and furniture of the apartment,
that he declared he might almost 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 ­when she
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 a comparison with the housekeeper’s
room.

In describing to her all the grandeur
of Lady Catherine and her mansion, with occasional
digressions in praise of his own humble abode, and
the improvements it was receiving, he was happily employed
until the gentlemen joined them; and he found in Mrs.
Phillips a very attentive listener, whose opinion
of his consequence increased with what she heard,
and who was resolving to retail it all among her neighbours
as soon as she could.  To the girls, who could
not listen to their cousin, and who had nothing to
do but to wish for an instrument, and examine their
own indifferent imitations of china on the mantelpiece,
the interval of waiting appeared very long.  It
was over at last, however.  The gentlemen did
approach, and when Mr. Wickham walked into the room,
Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him
before, nor thinking of him since, with the smallest
degree of unreasonable admiration.  The officers
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 far beyond them all in person, countenance, air,
and walk, as they were superior to the broad-faced,
stuffy uncle Phillips, breathing port wine, who followed
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 the agreeable manner in which he immediately fell
into conversation, though it was only on its being
a wet night, made her feel that the commonest, dullest,
most threadbare 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
he certainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals
a kind listener in Mrs. Phillips, and was by her watchfulness,
most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin. 
When the card-tables were placed, he had the opportunity
of obliging her in turn, by sitting down to whist.

“I know little of the game at
present,” said he, “but I shall be glad
to improve myself, for in my situation in life ­”
Mrs. Phillips was very glad for his compliance, but
could not wait for his reason.

Mr. Wickham did not play at whist,
and with ready delight was he received at the other
table between Elizabeth and Lydia.  At first there
seemed danger of Lydia’s engrossing him entirely,
for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise
extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too
much interested in the game, too eager in making bets
and exclaiming after prizes to have attention for anyone
in particular.  Allowing for the common demands
of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure
to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear
him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could
not hope to be told ­the history of his
acquaintance with Mr. Darcy.  She dared not even
mention that gentleman.  Her curiosity, however,
was unexpectedly relieved.  Mr. Wickham began
the subject himself.  He inquired how far Netherfield
was from Meryton; and, after receiving her answer,
asked in a hesitating 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
ten thousand per annum.  You could not have met
with a person more capable of giving you certain information
on that head than myself, for I have been connected
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 you much acquainted with Mr. Darcy?”

“As much as I ever wish to be,”
cried Elizabeth very warmly.  “I have spent
four 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 being
agreeable or otherwise.  I am not qualified to
form one.  I have known him too long and too well
to be a fair judge.  It is impossible for me
to be impartial.  But I believe your opinion of
him would in general astonish ­and perhaps
you would not express it quite so strongly anywhere
else.  Here you are in your own family.”

“Upon my word, I say no more
here than I might say in any house in the neighbourhood,
except Netherfield.  He is not at all liked in
Hertfordshire.  Everybody is disgusted with his
pride.  You will not find him more favourably
spoken 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; but with him I believe it does
not often happen.  The world is blinded by his
fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high
and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chooses
to be seen.”

“I should take him, even on
my slight acquaintance, to be an ill-tempered
man.”  Wickham only shook his head.

“I wonder,” said he, at
the next opportunity of speaking, “whether he
is likely to be in this country much longer.”

“I do not at all know; but I
heard nothing of his going away when I was
at Netherfield.  I hope your plans in favour of
the ­shire will not be affected
by his being in the neighbourhood.”

“Oh! no ­it is not
for me to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. 
If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he
must go.  We are not on friendly terms, and it
always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason
for avoiding him but 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, Miss Bennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one
of the best men that ever breathed, and the 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 could forgive him anything and everything, rather
than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the
memory of his father.”

Elizabeth found the interest of the
subject increase, and listened with all her 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, and speaking of the latter with gentle but very
intelligible gallantry.

“It was the prospect of constant
society, and good society,” he added, “which
was my chief inducement to enter the ­shire. 
I knew it to be a most respectable, agreeable corps,
and my friend Denny tempted me further by his account
of their present quarters, and the very great attentions
and excellent acquaintances Meryton had procured them. 
Society, I own, is necessary to me.  I have been
a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. 
I must have 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 been my profession ­I was brought
up for the church, and I should at this time have been
in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased
the gentleman we were speaking of just now.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes ­the late Mr.
Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best
living in his gift.  He was my godfather, and excessively
attached to me.  I cannot do justice to his kindness. 
He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had
done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere.”

“Good heavens!” cried
Elizabeth; “but how could that be? 
How could his will be disregarded?  Why did you
not seek legal redress?”

“There was just such an informality
in the terms of the bequest as to give me no hope
from law.  A man of honour could not have doubted
the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it ­or
to treat it as a merely conditional recommendation,
and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it
by extravagance, imprudence ­in short anything
or nothing.  Certain it is, that the living became
vacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an age to
hold it, and that it was given to another man; and
no less certain is it, that I cannot accuse myself
of having really done anything to deserve to lose
it.  I have a warm, unguarded temper, and I may
have spoken my opinion of him, and to
him, too freely.  I can recall nothing worse. 
But the fact is, that we are very different 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 can forget his father, I can never defy or
expose him.”

Elizabeth honoured him for such feelings,
and thought him handsomer than ever as he expressed
them.

“But what,” said she,
after a pause, “can have been his motive? 
What can have induced him to behave so cruelly?”

“A thorough, determined dislike
of me ­a dislike which I cannot but attribute
in some measure to jealousy.  Had the late Mr.
Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with
me better; but his father’s uncommon attachment
to me irritated him, I believe, very early in life. 
He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition
in which we stood ­the sort of preference
which was often given me.”

“I had not thought Mr. Darcy
so bad as this ­though I have never liked
him.  I had not thought so very ill of him. 
I had supposed him to be despising his fellow-creatures
in general, but did not suspect him of descending
to such malicious revenge, such injustice, such inhumanity
as this.”

After a few minutes’ reflection,
however, she continued, “I do remember
his 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
be just to him.”

Elizabeth was again deep in thought,
and after a time exclaimed, “To treat in such
a manner the godson, the friend, the favourite of his
father!” She could have added, “A young
man, too, like you, whose very countenance
may vouch for your being amiable” ­but
she contented herself with, “and one, too, who
had probably been his companion from childhood, connected
together, as I think you said, in the closest manner!”

“We were born in the same parish,
within the same park; the greatest part of our youth
was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing
the same amusements, objects of the same parental care.
My father began life in the profession which
your uncle, Mr. Phillips, appears to do so much credit
to ­but he gave up everything to be of use
to the late Mr. Darcy and devoted all his time to the
care of the Pemberley property.  He was most highly
esteemed by Mr. Darcy, a most intimate, confidential
friend.  Mr. Darcy often acknowledged himself to
be under the greatest obligations to my father’s
active superintendence, and when, immediately before
my father’s death, Mr. Darcy gave him a voluntary
promise of providing for me, I am convinced that he
felt it to be as much a debt of gratitude to him,
as of his affection to myself.”

“How strange!” cried Elizabeth. 
“How abominable!  I wonder that the very
pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! 
If from no better motive, that he should not have
been too proud to be dishonest ­for dishonesty
I must call it.”

“It is wonderful,”
replied Wickham, “for almost all his actions
may be traced to pride; and pride had often been his
best friend.  It has connected him nearer with
virtue than with any other feeling.  But we are
none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there
were stronger impulses even than pride.”

“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 money
freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants,
and relieve the poor.  Family pride, and filial
pride ­for he is very proud of what his
father was ­have done this.  Not to appear
to disgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular
qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley
House, is a powerful motive.  He has also brotherly
pride, which, with some brotherly 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 of brothers.”

“What sort of girl is Miss Darcy?”

He shook his head.  “I wish
I could call her amiable.  It gives me pain to
speak ill of a Darcy.  But she is too much like
her brother ­very, very proud.  As a
child, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely
fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to
her amusement.  But she is nothing to me now. 
She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen,
and, I understand, highly accomplished.  Since
her father’s death, her home has been London,
where a lady lives with her, and superintends her
education.”

After many pauses and many trials
of other subjects, Elizabeth could not help reverting
once more to the first, and saying: 

“I am astonished at his intimacy
with Mr. Bingley!  How can Mr. Bingley, who seems
good humour itself, and is, I really believe, truly
amiable, be in friendship with such a man?  How
can they suit each other?  Do you know Mr. Bingley?”

“Not at all.”

“He is a sweet-tempered, amiable,
charming man.  He cannot know what Mr. Darcy is.”

“Probably not; but Mr. Darcy
can please where he chooses.  He does not want
abilities.  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
different man from what he is to the less prosperous. 
His pride never deserts him; but with the rich he
is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable,
and perhaps agreeable ­allowing something
for fortune and figure.”

The whist party soon afterwards breaking
up, the players gathered round the other table and
Mr. Collins took his station between his cousin Elizabeth
and Mrs. 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.
Phillips began to express her concern thereupon, he
assured her with much earnest gravity that it was not
of the least importance, that he considered the money
as 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 in such circumstances as to make five shillings
any object.  There are undoubtedly many who could
not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de
Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding
little matters.”

Mr. Wickham’s attention was
caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few
moments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether
her relation was very intimately 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 he certainly has not known her
long.”

“You know of course that Lady
Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters;
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 is believed
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 his sister and her praise of himself, if he were
already self-destined for another.

“Mr. Collins,” said she,
“speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and her
daughter; but from some particulars that he has related
of her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude misleads
him, and that in spite of her being his patroness,
she is an arrogant, conceited woman.”

“I believe her to be both in
a great degree,” replied Wickham; “I have
not seen her for many years, but I very well remember
that I never liked her, and that her manners were
dictatorial and insolent.  She has the reputation
of being remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather
believe she derives part of her abilities from her
rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner,
and the rest from the pride for her nephew, who chooses
that everyone connected with him should have an understanding
of the first class.”

Elizabeth allowed that he had given
a very rational account of it, and they continued
talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper
put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies
their share of Mr. Wickham’s attentions. 
There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs.
Phillips’s supper party, but his manners recommended
him to everybody.  Whatever he said, was said
well; and whatever he did, done gracefully.  Elizabeth
went away with her head full of him.  She could
think of nothing but of Mr. Wickham, and of what he
had told her, all the way home; but there was not
time for her even to mention his name as they went,
for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent. 
Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the
fish she had lost and 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 losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at
supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his
cousins, had more to say than he could well manage
before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.

 

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