Mr. Bennet received a letter from his cousin Mr. Collins, who was the future owner of Longbourn after Mr. Bennets death. He wished to visit the Bennets and in a couple of days he did.
He had not been long seated before he complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters, said he had heard much of their beauty, but that, in this instance, fame had fallen short of the truth; and added, that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time well disposed of in marriage.
Mr. Collin’s prospect to marry Jane Bennet was quickly forgotten, as he was told by Mrs. Bennet that her eldest daughter was likely to be very soon engaged. Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth—and it was soon done—done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire. Elizabeth, equally next to Jane in birth and beauty, succeeded her of course.
Lydia’s intention of walking to Meryton was not forgotten and Mr. Collins was to attend them.
As they came to town the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance, walking with an offer on the other side of the way. The officer was the very Mr. Denny concerning whose return from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed as they passed.
Mr. Denny addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town, and, he was happy to say, had accepted a commission in their corps. This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best parts of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address.
The whole party were still standing and talking together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their notice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street. On distinguishing the ladies of the group the two gentlemen came directly towards them, and began the usual civilities.
The dinner at Mrs. Philips’s 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.
He required 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 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, warmly. ‘I have spent four days in the same house with him, and I think him very disagreeable.’
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.
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.’
‘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.’
‘This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced.’
To be continued next Tuesday!