``Is this,'' thought Elizabeth, ``meant for me?'' and she coloured at the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, ``And pray, what is the usual price of an Earl's younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.''
He answered her in the same style, and the subject dropped. To interrupt a silence which might make him fancy her affected with what had passed, she soon afterwards said,
``I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly for the sake of having somebody at his disposal. I wonder he does not marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But, perhaps his sister does as well for the present, and, as she is under his sole care, he may do what he likes with her.''
``No,'' said Colonel Fitzwilliam, ``that is an advantage which he must divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianship of Miss Darcy.''
``Are you, indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladies of her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if she has the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way.''
As she spoke, she observed him looking at her earnestly, and the manner in which he immediately asked her why she supposed Miss Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness, convinced her that she had somehow or other got pretty near the truth. She directly replied,
``You need not be frightened. I never heard any harm of her; and I dare say she is one of the most tractable creatures in the world. She is a very great favourite with some ladies of my acquaintance, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them.''
``I know them a little. Their brother is a pleasant gentleman-like man -- he is a great friend of Darcy's.''
``Oh! yes,'' said Elizabeth drily -- ``Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him.''
``Care of him! -- Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of him in those points where he most wants care. From something that he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to him. But I ought to beg his pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person meant. It was all conjecture.''
``What is it you mean?''
``It is a circumstance which Darcy, of course, would not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the lady's family, it would be an unpleasant thing.''
``You may depend upon my not mentioning it.''
``And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley. What he told me was merely this; that he congratulated himself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer.''
``Did Mr. Darcy give you his reasons for this interference?''
``I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady.''
``And what arts did he use to separate them?''
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