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Chapter 16

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 talked; 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 any one."

"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 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
every one 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' 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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