The revelation of his friend's engagement, to the sister of his own intended bride no less, had sorely tested Mr. Bingley's forbearance, and he could not help but have some fun at the expense of a man so newly inducted into the role of lover. Mr. Darcy was fortunately in high spirits himself, and thus able to withstand multiple inquiries into his courtship, and as many sentimental praises of his lady, with some tolerance. He was so happy that he endured the former with grace, and as for the latter, it was no great hardship to indulge in himself. An entire bottle of Netherfield's best vintage seemed barely enough to sustain their pleasure, nor was it any deterrent to their continued festivities.
"I say, Darcy, I could not be happier, were it my own kin to marry!" Bingley exclaimed.
"Were it your own kin to marry, I should hope you would not be so joyful on my account."
Bingley blinked at this statement, the closest to explicit criticism ever ventured toward his sister's conduct, and then shamelessly laughed at her expense. "But we are to be kin now! A toast!"
They saluted their imminent fraternity, Bingley still chuckling over his friend's wit. "It is fortunate for us both that others have not had their way. Think how terrible it would be were I to become brother to that man Collins instead."
While not under any delusion that he possessed cleverness equal to Darcy's, Bingley had anticipated, based on the evening's ever-increasing merriment, that his observation would at least inspire an answering laugh and comment. Instead, he was shocked to discover his companion drop his glass and clutch the chair beside him, coughing fitfully. Bingley wondered with some anxiety if he would need to explain his friend's demise to the Bennets next day, which recovered him enough to cry, "Darcy? Darcy, are you well?"
Gathering himself up with great effort, Darcy shook his head, and resumed an air of utter civility. "Of course. My apologies for the rugs."
"Rugs? Oh yes, well, Caroline always hated them. I believe they came with the place." Momentarily taken by his musings, Bingley suddenly rounded on his friend. "But enough of that! You are not ill I trust?"
"In all purposeful respects, no." With a look of supreme control, Darcy deliberately asked, "May I ask in what way you would have become brother to Mr. Collins?"
Still distracted by the possibility of his friend's imminent collapse, and the horror he would have to face from his new relations should such an event occur, Bingley barely noticed the line of questioning. "Oh, it was simply that Mrs. Bennet was so set on Miss Elizabeth accepting him, though Jane tells me there never was any possibility, for Mr. Bennet would not stand for it. Shall I call for your man? You look quite pale!"
"I shall be perfectly well, Bingley, if you will only satisfy one further point: do I understand you correctly, that Mr. Collins made an offer of marriage to Eliz—Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"Why yes. Several, as I recall. Here, let me find you a new glass, you look as if you need it." In attempting to remedy Darcy's health, Bingley engaged in a nervous habit usually checked by his sisters: he babbled. While the other gentleman normally had as little use for the practice, he did not raise an objection in the present circumstance, and Bingley continued unabated,
"Happened just after we left last November, from what Jane said, and a good thing we were not nearby to hear the upset it caused. Having now some experience in the matter, I know not how the man found the courage to continue his suit after she refused him. Something about women being coy and denying the first proposal to garner a second. Thank God dear Jane is not of such a mind—here Darcy, do take some more, there's barely any left in your glass—what was it? Oh, well, thank goodness I was not expected to propose a second time, I barely managed to get the first one out! And how would I have answered Mr. Bennet when I approached him? I don't remember that man Collins very well, but he must be made of very stern stuff to go on with it. Though it must not have been a very great affection, for he proposed to Miss Lucas, er, Mrs. Collins, you do recall the former Miss Lucas? She accepted him the next day. So all I must say is that there is surely no credit to his philosophy: either a lady will take you at the first or not at all. Why, whatever is the matter?"
However, Mr. Darcy was in no condition to oblige his dear friend and soon-to-be brother, for he had succumbed to the worst fit of laughter to take him in a year. Bingley watched in some bewilderment, but was satisfied by this proof that his friend stood in no danger of sickness or death; and being deliriously happy himself, he did not need great inducement to join in the joke, regardless of not understanding its particulars.
When they had both finally calmed to the point of intelligible speech, Darcy answered, "To my complete astonishment, I find I can not share in your denouncement of Mr. Collins, or, more to the purpose, his philosophy. If a lady is worth having, she is worth the waiting for."
"Oh, certainly! It is only that I do not believe I could ever have done it myself. Could you?"
"I believe so." Darcy carefully sipped his glass, smiling. "But I will agree with your initial statement wholeheartedly: Mr. Collins as a brother, that brother, would have been terrible indeed."
Bingley avowed it would have been ghastly, and they each accepted another toast to their good fortune. Without a care to his former fears or the mess still upon the floor, Bingley said, "Well, Darcy, I'm sorry if I worried you there, but really, it little mattered. Mr. Bennet is not the sort to tolerate such treatment of his girls, I assure you. Jane says that after hearing of Miss Elizabeth's first refusal, he sent the man packing without so much as a second word, promising he would never speak to either again if they should change their minds. You know, he has been ever so kind to me, though I can't quite understand him all the time, and I would be very afraid to draw his ire: his humour is bad enough. Not the kind to have angered at you, not especially over anything to do with his daughters, and you know Miss Elizabeth is quite his favourite. Good man though, you'll surely have no trouble at all; not like me, I could barely speak to him at first, and he just stares at me as if I were a pig in his fence, or library, so to speak. Good lord, Darcy, whatever is wrong now?"
"If I may trouble you for another glass, I promise I will replace the others post haste." Darcy's reply came rather slowly, as he struggled to look as dignified as a man in the puddle of two broken wine cups can be. "And if I may beg you one favour further, please have the goodness to not mention anything further to do with Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet, or second proposals, until I may laugh with equal unconcern at all three."