Times of Ukraine
Title: "Pride and Prejudice"
Author: Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man inpossession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man maybe on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so wellfixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is consideredthe rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have youheard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, andshe told me all about it."
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried his wifeimpatiently.
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfieldis taken by a young man of large fortune from the north ofEngland; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four tosee the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreedwith Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possessionbefore Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in thehouse by the end of next week."
"What is his name?"
"Is he married or single?"
"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of largefortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for ourgirls!"
"How so? How can it affect them?"
"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be sotiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marryingone of them."
"Is that his design in settling here?"
"Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likelythat he _may_ fall in love with one of them, and therefore youmust visit him as soon as he comes."
"I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or youmay send them by themselves, which perhaps will be stillbetter, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingleymay like you the best of the party."
"My dear, you flatter me. I certainly _have_ had my share ofbeauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now.
When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to giveover thinking of her own beauty."
"In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of."
"But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley whenhe comes into the neighbourhood."
"It is more than I engage for, I assure you."
"But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishmentit would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas aredetermined to go, merely on that account, for in general, youknow, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it willbe impossible for _us_ to visit him if you do not."
"You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley willbe very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you toassure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever hechooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word formy little Lizzy."
"I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit betterthan the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome asJane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are alwaysgiving _her_ the preference."
"They have none of them much to recommend them," replied he;"they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzyhas something more of quickness than her sisters."
"Mr. Bennet, how _can_ you abuse your own children in such away? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassionfor my poor nerves."
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for yournerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mentionthem with consideration these last twenty years at least."
"Ah, you do not know what I suffer."
"But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many youngmen of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood."
"It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, sinceyou will not visit them."
"Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I willvisit them all."
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour,reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twentyyears had been insufficient to make his wife understand hischaracter. _Her_ mind was less difficult to develop. She was awoman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertaintemper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous.
The business of her life was to get her daughters married; itssolace was visiting and news.
Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr.
Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the lastalways assuring his wife that he should not go; and till theevening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it.
It was then disclosed in the following manner. Observing hissecond daughter employed in trimming a hat, he suddenlyaddressed her with:
"I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy."
"We are not in a way to know _what_ Mr. Bingley likes," saidher mother resentfully, "since we are not to visit."
"But you forget, mamma," said Elizabeth, "that we shall meethim at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long promised to introducehim."
"I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has twonieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and Ihave no opinion of her."
"No more have I," said Mr. Bennet; "and I am glad to find thatyou do not depend on her serving you."
Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable tocontain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.
"Don't keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven's sake! Have a littlecompassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces."
"Kitty has no discretion in her coughs," said her father; "shetimes them ill."
"I do not cough for my own amusement," replied Kitty fretfully.
"When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?"
"Aye, so it is," cried her mother, "and Mrs. Long does not comeback till the day before; so it will be impossible for her tointroduce him, for she will not know him herself."
"Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, andintroduce Mr. Bingley to _her_."
"Impossible, Mr. Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquaintedwith him myself; how can you be so teasing?"
"I honour your circumspection. A fortnight's acquaintance iscertainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is bythe end of a fortnight. But if _we_ do not venture somebody elsewill; and after all, Mrs. Long and her daughters must stand theirchance; and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness,if you decline the office, I will take it on myself."
The girls stared at their father. Mrs. Bennet said only,"Nonsense, nonsense!"
"What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?" criedhe. "Do you consider the forms of introduction, and the stressthat is laid on them, as nonsense? I cannot quite agree withyou _there_. What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady ofdeep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts."
Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.
"While Mary is adjusting her ideas," he continued, "let us returnto Mr. Bingley."
"I am sick of Mr. Bingley," cried his wife.
"I am sorry to hear _that_; but why did not you tell me thatbefore? If I had known as much this morning I certainly wouldnot have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I haveactually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now."
The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished; that ofMrs. Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest; though, when the firsttumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was what shehad expected all the while.
"How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet! But I knew I shouldpersuade you at last. I was sure you loved your girls too wellto neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! and itis such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morningand never said a word about it till now."
"Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose," said Mr.
Bennet; and, as he spoke, he left the room, fatigued with theraptures of his wife.
"What an excellent father you have, girls!" said she, when thedoor was shut. "I do not know how you will ever make himamends for his kindness; or me, either, for that matter. At ourtime of life it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be makingnew acquaintances every day; but for your sakes, we would doanything. Lydia, my love, though you _are_ the youngest, I daresay Mr. Bingley will dance with you at the next ball."
"Oh!" said Lydia stoutly, "I am not afraid; for though I _am_ theyoungest, I'm the tallest."
The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon hewould return Mr. Bennet's visit, and determining when theyshould ask him to dinner.
Not all that Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of herfive daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to drawfrom her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley.
They attacked him in various ways--with barefaced questions,ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded theskill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept thesecond-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Herreport was highly favourable. Sir William had been delightedwith him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremelyagreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the nextassembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful!To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love;and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained.
"If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled atNetherfield," said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, "and all theothers equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for."
In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet's visit, and satabout ten minutes with him in his library. He had entertainedhopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, ofwhose beauty he had heard much; but he saw only the father.
The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had theadvantage of ascertaining from an upper window that he worea blue coat, and rode a black horse.
An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; andalready had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to docredit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived whichdeferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town thefollowing day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honourof their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted.
She could not imagine what business he could have in town sosoon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fearthat he might be always flying about from one place to another,and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucasquieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being goneto London only to get a large party for the ball; and a reportsoon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies andseven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grievedover such a number of ladies, but were comforted the daybefore the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve he broughtonly six with him from London--his five sisters and a cousin.
And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted ofonly five altogether--Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husbandof the eldest, and another young man.
Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasantcountenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were finewomen, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr.
Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soondrew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsomefeatures, noble mien, and the report which was in generalcirculation within five minutes after his entrance, of his havingten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a finefigure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer thanMr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for abouthalf the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turnedthe tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud;to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all hislarge estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a mostforbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to becompared with his friend.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all theprincipal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved,danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early,and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiablequalities must speak for themselves. What a contrast betweenhim and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurstand once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to anyother lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking aboutthe room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. Hischaracter was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeableman in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never comethere again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs.
Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpenedinto particular resentment by his having slighted one of herdaughters.
Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen,to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time,Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear aconversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from thedance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.
"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to seeyou standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You hadmuch better dance."
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I amparticularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly asthis it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, andthere is not another woman in the room whom it would not be apunishment to me to stand up with."
"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Mr. Bingley,"for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so manypleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there areseveral of them you see uncommonly pretty."
"_You_ are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,"said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! Butthere is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who isvery pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask mypartner to introduce you."
"Which do you mean?" and turning round he looked for amoment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his ownand coldly said: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough totempt _me_; I am in no humour at present to give consequenceto young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had betterreturn to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wastingyour time with me."
Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; andElizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings toward him.
She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends;for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted inanything ridiculous.
The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the wholefamily. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter muchadmired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley had danced withher twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Janewas as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though ina quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane's pleasure. Mary had heardherself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplishedgirl in the neighbourhood; and Catherine and Lydia had beenfortunate enough never to be without partners, which was allthat they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned,therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where theylived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. Theyfound Mr. Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless oftime; and on the present occasion he had a good deal ofcuriosity as to the events of an evening which had raised suchsplendid expectations. He had rather hoped that his wife'sviews on the stranger would be disappointed; but he soonfound out that he had a different story to hear.
"Oh! my dear Mr. Bennet," as she entered the room, "we havehad a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish youhad been there. Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it.
Everybody said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thoughther quite beautiful, and danced with her twice! Only think of_that_, my dear; he actually danced with her twice! and she wasthe only creature in the room that he asked a second time.
First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see himstand up with her! But, however, he did not admire her at all;indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck withJane as she was going down the dance. So he inquired who shewas, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Thenthe two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth withMaria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the twosixth with Lizzy, and the _Boulanger_--"
"If he had had any compassion for _me_," cried her husbandimpatiently, "he would not have danced half so much! For God'ssake, say no more of his partners. O that he had sprainedhis ankle in the first place!"
"Oh! my dear, I am quite delighted with him. He is soexcessively handsome! And his sisters are charming women.
I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses.
I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst's gown--"
Here she was interrupted again. Mr. Bennet protested againstany description of finery. She was therefore obliged to seekanother branch of the subject, and related, with much bitternessof spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Mr.
"But I can assure you," she added, "that Lizzy does not losemuch by not suiting _his_ fancy; for he is a most disagreeable,horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceitedthat there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walkedthere, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough todance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have givenhim one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man."
When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had beencautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to hersister just how very much she admired him.
"He is just what a young man ought to be," said she, "sensible,good-humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners!--somuch ease, with such perfect good breeding!"
"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young manought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is therebycomplete."
"I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a secondtime. I did not expect such a compliment."
"Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great differencebetween us. Compliments always take _you_ by surprise, and_me_ never. What could be more natural than his asking youagain? He could not help seeing that you were about five timesas pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to hisgallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and Igive you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupiderperson."
"Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people ingeneral. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world aregood and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill ofa human being in your life."
"I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I alwaysspeak what I think."
"I know you do; and it is _that_ which makes the wonder. With _your_good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsenseof others! Affectation of candour is common enough--one meetswith it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation ordesign--to take the good of everybody's character and make itstill better, and say nothing of the bad--belongs to you alone.
And so you like this man's sisters, too, do you? Their mannersare not equal to his."
"Certainly not--at first. But they are very pleasing women whenyou converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with herbrother, and keep his house; and I am much mistaken if we shallnot find a very charming neighbour in her."
Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced; theirbehaviour at the assembly had not been calculated to please ingeneral; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancyof temper than her sister, and with a judgement too unassailed byany attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approvethem. They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in goodhumour when they were pleased, nor in the power of makingthemselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud andconceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated inone of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune oftwenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending morethan they ought, and of associating with people of rank, andwere therefore in every respect entitled to think well ofthemselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectablefamily in the north of England; a circumstance more deeplyimpressed on their memories than that their brother's fortuneand their own had been acquired by trade.
Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly ahundred thousand pounds from his father, who had intended topurchase an estate, but did not live to do it. Mr. Bingleyintended it likewise, and sometimes made choice of his county;but as he was now provided with a good house and the liberty ofa manor, it was doubtful to many of those who best knew theeasiness of his temper, whether he might not spend theremainder of his days at Netherfield, and leave the nextgeneration to purchase.
His sisters were anxious for his having an estate of his own; but,though he was now only established as a tenant, Miss Bingleywas by no means unwilling to preside at his table--nor was Mrs.
Hurst, who had married a man of more fashion than fortune, lessdisposed to consider his house as her home when it suited her.
Mr. Bingley had not been of age two years, when he was temptedby an accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield House.
He did look at it, and into it for half-an-hour--was pleased withthe situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what theowner said in its praise, and took it immediately.
Between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, inspite of great opposition of character. Bingley was endeared toDarcy by the easiness, openness, and ductility of his temper,though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own,and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On thestrength of Darcy's regard, Bingley had the firmest reliance, andof his judgement the highest opinion. In understanding, Darcywas the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcywas clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, andfastidious, and his manners, though well-bred, were not inviting.
In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley wassure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continuallygiving offense.
The manner in which they spoke of the Meryton assembly wassufficiently characteristic. Bingley had never met with morepleasant people or prettier girls in his life; everybody had beenmost kind and attentive to him; there had been no formality, nostiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and, asto Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful.
Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whomthere was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he hadfelt the smallest interest, and from none received either attentionor pleasure. Miss Bennet he acknowledged to be pretty, but shesmiled too much.
Mrs. Hurst and her sister allowed it to be so--but still theyadmired her and liked her, and pronounced her to be a sweetgirl, and one whom they would not object to know more of.
Miss Bennet was therefore established as a sweet girl, and theirbrother felt authorized by such commendation to think of her ashe chose.
Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whomthe Bennets were particularly intimate. Sir William Lucashad been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made atolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by anaddress to the king during his mayoralty. The distinction hadperhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgustto his business, and to his residence in a small market town;and, in quitting them both, he had removed with his familyto a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from thatperiod Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of hisown importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himselfsolely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by hisrank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he wasall attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, andobliging, his presentation at St. James's had made him courteous.
Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever tobe a valuable neighbour to Mrs. Bennet. They had severalchildren. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent youngwoman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth's intimate friend.
That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet totalk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning afterthe assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and tocommunicate.
"_You_ began the evening well, Charlotte," said Mrs. Bennet withcivil self-command to Miss Lucas. "_You_ were Mr. Bingley'sfirst choice."
"Yes; but he seemed to like his second better."
"Oh! you mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with hertwice. To be sure that _did_ seem as if he admired her--indeedI rather believe he _did_--I heard something about it--but Ihardly know what--something about Mr. Robinson."
"Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr. Robinson;did not I mention it to you? Mr. Robinson's asking him how heliked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think therewere a great many pretty women in the room, and _which_ he thoughtthe prettiest? and his answering immediately to the lastquestion: 'Oh! the eldest Miss Bennet, beyond a doubt; therecannot be two opinions on that point.'"
"Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed--that doesseem as if--but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know."
"_My_ overhearings were more to the purpose than _yours_, Eliza,"said Charlotte. "Mr. Darcy is not so well worth listening toas his friend, is he?--poor Eliza!--to be only just _tolerable_."
"I beg you would not put it into Lizzy's head to be vexed byhis ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man, that itwould be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Longtold me last night that he sat close to her for half-an-hourwithout once opening his lips."
"Are you quite sure, ma'am?--is not there a little mistake?"said Jane. "I certainly saw Mr. Darcy speaking to her."
"Aye--because she asked him at last how he liked Netherfield,and he could not help answering her; but she said he seemedquite angry at being spoke to."
"Miss Bingley told me," said Jane, "that he never speaks much,unless among his intimate acquaintances. With _them_ he isremarkably agreeable."
"I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so veryagreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guesshow it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and Idare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keepa carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise."
"I do not mind his not talking to Mrs. Long," said Miss Lucas,"but I wish he had danced with Eliza."
"Another time, Lizzy," said her mother, "I would not dancewith _him_, if I were you."
"I believe, ma'am, I may safely promise you _never_ to dancewith him."
"His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend _me_ so much aspride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannotwonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune,everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If Imay so express it, he has a _right_ to be proud."
"That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easilyforgive _his_ pride, if he had not mortified _mine_."
"Pride," observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidityof her reflections, "is a very common failing, I believe. Byall that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very commonindeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, andthat there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling ofself-complacency on the score of some quality or other, realor imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, thoughthe words are often used synonymously. A person may be proudwithout being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion ofourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."
"If I were as rich as Mr. Darcy," cried a young Lucas, whocame with his sisters, "I should not care how proud I was. Iwould keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine aday."
"Then you would drink a great deal more than you ought," saidMrs. Bennet; "and if I were to see you at it, I should take awayyour bottle directly."
The boy protested that she should not; she continued to declarethat she would, and the argument ended only with the visit.
The ladies of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield.
The visit was soon returned in due form. Miss Bennet'spleasing manners grew on the goodwill of Mrs. Hurst and MissBingley; and though the mother was found to be intolerable,and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish ofbeing better acquainted with _them_ was expressed towardsthe two eldest. By Jane, this attention was received with thegreatest pleasure, but Elizabeth still saw superciliousness intheir treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even her sister,and could not like them; though their kindness to Jane, such as itwas, had a value as arising in all probability from the influenceof their brother's admiration. It was generally evidentwhenever they met, that he _did_ admire her and to _her_ it wasequally evident that Jane was yielding to the preference whichshe had begun to entertain for him from the first, and was in away to be very much in love; but she considered with pleasurethat it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general,since Jane united, with great strength of feeling, a composureof temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which wouldguard her from the suspicions of the impertinent. Shementioned this to her friend Miss Lucas.
"It may perhaps be pleasant," replied Charlotte, "to be able toimpose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes adisadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals heraffection with the same skill from the object of it, she may losethe opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poorconsolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There isso much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, thatit is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all _begin_ freely--aslight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of uswho have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement.
In nine cases out of ten a women had better show _more_ affectionthan she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but hemay never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."
"But she does help him on, as much as her nature will allow.
If I can perceive her regard for him, he must be a simpleton,indeed, not to discover it too."
"Remember, Eliza, that he does not know Jane's disposition asyou do."
"But if a woman is partial to a man, and does not endeavour toconceal it, he must find it out."
"Perhaps he must, if he sees enough of her. But, thoughBingley and Jane meet tolerably often, it is never for manyhours together; and, as they always see each other in largemixed parties, it is impossible that every moment should beemployed in conversing together. Jane should therefore makethe most of every half-hour in which she can command hisattention. When she is secure of him, there will be more leisurefor falling in love as much as she chooses."
"Your plan is a good one," replied Elizabeth, "where nothing isin question but the desire of being well married, and if I weredetermined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say Ishould adopt it. But these are not Jane's feelings; she is notacting by design. As yet, she cannot even be certain of thedegree of her own regard nor of its reasonableness. She hasknown him only a fortnight. She danced four dances with himat Meryton; she saw him one morning at his own house, andhas since dined with him in company four times. This is notquite enough to make her understand his character."
"Not as you represent it. Had she merely _dined_ with him, shemight only have discovered whether he had a good appetite; butyou must remember that four evenings have also been spenttogether--and four evenings may do a great deal."
"Yes; these four evenings have enabled them to ascertain thatthey both like Vingt-un better than Commerce; but with respectto any other leading characteristic, I do not imagine that muchhas been unfolded."
"Well," said Charlotte, "I wish Jane success with all my heart;and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think shehad as good a chance of happiness as if she were to be studyinghis character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage isentirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the partiesare ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand,it does not advance their felicity in the least. They alwayscontinue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have theirshare of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possibleof the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."
"You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You knowit is not sound, and that you would never act in this wayyourself."
Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley's attentions to her sister,Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becomingan object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcyhad at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked ather without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, helooked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made itclear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good featurein her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonlyintelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To thisdiscovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though hehad detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfectsymmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figureto be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that hermanners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caughtby their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware;to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere,and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.
He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towardsconversing with her himself, attended to her conversation withothers. His doing so drew her notice. It was at Sir WilliamLucas's, where a large party were assembled.
"What does Mr. Darcy mean," said she to Charlotte, "bylistening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?"
"That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer."
"But if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that Isee what he is about. He has a very satirical eye, and if I do notbegin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid ofhim."
On his approaching them soon afterwards, though withoutseeming to have any intention of speaking, Miss Lucas defiedher friend to mention such a subject to him; which immediatelyprovoking Elizabeth to do it, she turned to him and said:
"Did you not think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myselfuncommonly well just now, when I was teasing Colonel Forsterto give us a ball at Meryton?"
"With great energy; but it is always a subject which makes a ladyenergetic."
"You are severe on us."
"It will be _her_ turn soon to be teased," said Miss Lucas. "Iam going to open the instrument, Eliza, and you know whatfollows."
"You are a very strange creature by way of a friend!--alwayswanting me to play and sing before anybody and everybody!If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have beeninvaluable; but as it is, I would really rather not sit downbefore those who must be in the habit of hearing the very bestperformers." On Miss Lucas's persevering, however, she added,"Very well, if it must be so, it must." And gravely glancing atMr. Darcy, "There is a fine old saying, which everybody here is ofcourse familiar with: 'Keep your breath to cool your porridge';and I shall keep mine to swell my song."
Her performance was pleasing, though by no means capital.
After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreatiesof several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeededat the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequenceof being the only plain one in the family, worked hard forknowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient fordisplay.
Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had givenher application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air andconceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree ofexcellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected,had been listened to with much more pleasure, though notplaying half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto,was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irishairs, at the request of her younger sisters, who, with some of theLucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing atone end of the room.
Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a modeof passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation, andwas too much engrossed by his thoughts to perceive that SirWilliam Lucas was his neighbour, till Sir William thus began:
"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as oneof the first refinements of polished society."
"Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogueamongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savagecan dance."
Sir William only smiled. "Your friend performs delightfully," hecontinued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; "and Idoubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr.
"You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir."
"Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from thesight. Do you often dance at St. James's?"
"Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to theplace?"
"It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I canavoid it."
"You have a house in town, I conclude?"
Mr. Darcy bowed.
"I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself--for I amfond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that theair of London would agree with Lady Lucas."
He paused in hopes of an answer; but his companion was notdisposed to make any; and Elizabeth at that instant movingtowards them, he was struck with the action of doing a verygallant thing, and called out to her:
"My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing? Mr. Darcy, youmust allow me to present this young lady to you as a verydesirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure whenso much beauty is before you." And, taking her hand, he wouldhave given it to Mr. Darcy who, though extremely surprised,was not unwilling to receive it, when she instantly drew back,and said with some discomposure to Sir William:
"Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreatyou not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for apartner."
Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed thehonour of her hand, but in vain. Elizabeth was determined; nordid Sir William at all shake her purpose by his attempt atpersuasion.
"You excel so much in the dance, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel todeny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this gentlemandislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, Iam sure, to oblige us for one half-hour."
"Mr. Darcy is all politeness," said Elizabeth, smiling.
"He is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear MissEliza, we cannot wonder at his complaisance--for who wouldobject to such a partner?"
Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance hadnot injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of herwith some complacency, when thus accosted by Miss Bingley:
"I can guess the subject of your reverie."
"I should imagine not."
"You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass manyevenings in this manner--in such society; and indeed I am quiteof your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, andyet the noise--the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of allthose people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!"
"You conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind wasmore agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the verygreat pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a prettywoman can bestow."
Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desiredhe would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring suchreflections. Mr. Darcy replied with great intrepidity:
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet!" repeated Miss Bingley. "I am allastonishment. How long has she been such a favourite?--andpray, when am I to wish you joy?"
"That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. Alady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration tolove, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you wouldbe wishing me joy."
"Nay, if you are serious about it, I shall consider the matter isabsolutely settled. You will be having a charming mother-in-law,indeed; and, of course, she will always be at Pemberley with you."
He listened to her with perfect indifference while she chose toentertain herself in this manner; and as his composure convincedher that all was safe, her wit flowed long.
Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate oftwo thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, wasentailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and theirmother's fortune, though ample for her situation in life, couldbut ill supply the deficiency of his. Her father had been anattorney in Meryton, and had left her four thousand pounds.
She had a sister married to a Mr. Phillips, who had been a clerkto their father and succeeded him in the business, and a brothersettled in London in a respectable line of trade.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; amost convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usuallytempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty totheir aunt and to a milliner's shop just over the way. The twoyoungest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularlyfrequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant thantheir sisters', and when nothing better offered, a walk toMeryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours andfurnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of newsthe country in general might be, they always contrived to learnsome from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were wellsupplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival ofa militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain thewhole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.
Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were now productive of the mostinteresting intelligence. Every day added something to theirknowledge of the officers' names and connections. Theirlodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began toknow the officers themselves. Mr. Phillips visited them all, andthis opened to his nieces a store of felicity unknown before.
They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley's largefortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother,was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals ofan ensign.
After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr.
Bennet coolly observed:
"From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you mustbe two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected itsome time, but I am now convinced."
Catherine was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lydia,with perfect indifference, continued to express her admiration ofCaptain Carter, and her hope of seeing him in the course of theday, as he was going the next morning to London.
"I am astonished, my dear," said Mrs. Bennet, "that you shouldbe so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to thinkslightingly of anybody's children, it should not be of my own,however."
"If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it."
"Yes--but as it happens, they are all of them very clever."
"This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do notagree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in everyparticular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our twoyoungest daughters uncommonly foolish."
"My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to havethe sense of their father and mother. When they get to our age, Idare say they will not think about officers any more than we do.
I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well--and,indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel,with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls Ishall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster lookedvery becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals."
"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster andCaptain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they didwhen they first came; she sees them now very often standing inClarke's library."
Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of thefootman with a note for Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield,and the servant waited for an answer. Mrs. Bennet's eyessparkled with pleasure, and she was eagerly calling out, whileher daughter read,
"Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does hesay? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love."
"It is from Miss Bingley," said Jane, and then read it aloud.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,--
"If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Louisaand me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the restof our lives, for a whole day's tete-a-tete between two womencan never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can onreceipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine withthe officers.--Yours ever,
"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tellus of _that_."
"Dining out," said Mrs. Bennet, "that is very unlucky."
"Can I have the carriage?" said Jane.
"No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seemslikely to rain; and then you must stay all night."
"That would be a good scheme," said Elizabeth, "if you weresure that they would not offer to send her home."
"Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go toMeryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs."
"I had much rather go in the coach."
"But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure.
They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet, are they not?"
"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them."
"But if you have got them to-day," said Elizabeth, "my mother'spurpose will be answered."
She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment thatthe horses were engaged. Jane was therefore obliged to go onhorseback, and her mother attended her to the door with manycheerful prognostics of a bad day. Her hopes were answered;Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisterswere uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted. The raincontinued the whole evening without intermission; Jane certainlycould not come back.
"This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!" said Mrs. Bennet morethan once, as if the credit of making it rain were all her own. Tillthe next morning, however, she was not aware of all the felicityof her contrivance. Breakfast was scarcely over when a servantfrom Netherfield brought the following note for Elizabeth:
"MY DEAREST LIZZY,--
"I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is tobe imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friendswill not hear of my returning till I am better. They insist alsoon my seeing Mr. Jones--therefore do not be alarmed if you shouldhear of his having been to me--and, excepting a sore throat andheadache, there is not much the matter with me.--Yours, etc."
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read thenote aloud, "if your daughter should have a dangerous fit ofillness--if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that itwas all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders."
"Oh! I am not afraid of her dying. People do not die of littletrifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long as shestays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her if I couldhave the carriage."
Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her,though the carriage was not to be had; and as she was nohorsewoman, walking was her only alternative. She declared herresolution.
"How can you be so silly," cried her mother, "as to think of sucha thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when youget there."
"I shall be very fit to see Jane--which is all I want."
"Is this a hint to me, Lizzy," said her father, "to send forthe horses?"
"No, indeed, I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance isnothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be backby dinner."
"I admire the activity of your benevolence," observed Mary, "butevery impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in myopinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what isrequired."
"We will go as far as Meryton with you," said Catherine andLydia. Elizabeth accepted their company, and the three youngladies set off together.
"If we make haste," said Lydia, as they walked along, "perhapswe may see something of Captain Carter before he goes."
In Meryton they parted; the two youngest repaired to the lodgings ofone of the officers' wives, and Elizabeth continued her walk alone,crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stilesand springing over puddles with impatient activity, and findingherself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirtystockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.
She was shown into the breakfast-parlour, where all but Janewere assembled, and where her appearance created a great dealof surprise. That she should have walked three miles so earlyin the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almostincredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth wasconvinced that they held her in contempt for it. She wasreceived, however, very politely by them; and in their brother'smanners there was something better than politeness; there wasgood humour and kindness. Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr.
Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between admirationof the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion,and doubt as to the occasion's justifying her coming so faralone. The latter was thinking only of his breakfast.
Her inquiries after her sister were not very favourably answered.
Miss Bennet had slept ill, and though up, was very feverish, andnot well enough to leave her room. Elizabeth was glad to betaken to her immediately; and Jane, who had only been withheldby the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience from expressing inher note how much she longed for such a visit, was delighted ather entrance. She was not equal, however, to much conversation,and when Miss Bingley left them together, could attempt littlebesides expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindnessshe was treated with. Elizabeth silently attended her.
When breakfast was over they were joined by the sisters; andElizabeth began to like them herself, when she saw how muchaffection and solicitude they showed for Jane. The apothecarycame, and having examined his patient, said, as might besupposed, that she had caught a violent cold, and that they mustendeavour to get the better of it; advised her to return to bed,and promised her some draughts. The advice was followedreadily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and her head achedacutely. Elizabeth did not quit her room for a moment; nor werethe other ladies often absent; the gentlemen being out, they had,in fact, nothing to do elsewhere.
When the clock struck three, Elizabeth felt that she must go, andvery unwillingly said so. Miss Bingley offered her the carriage,and she only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Janetestified such concern in parting with her, that Miss Bingley wasobliged to convert the offer of the chaise to an invitation toremain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth most thankfullyconsented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn toacquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply ofclothes.
At five o'clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half-pastsix Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. To the civil inquirieswhich then poured in, and amongst which she had the pleasureof distinguishing the much superior solicitude of Mr. Bingley's,she could not make a very favourable answer. Jane was by nomeans better. The sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or fourtimes how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to havea bad cold, and how excessively they disliked being illthemselves; and then thought no more of the matter: and theirindifference towards Jane when not immediately before themrestored Elizabeth to the enjoyment of all her former dislike.
Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom shecould regard with any complacency. His anxiety for Jane wasevident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, andthey prevented her feeling herself so much an intruder as shebelieved she was considered by the others. She had very littlenotice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr.
Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, bywhom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only toeat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefera plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.
When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and MissBingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room.
Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixtureof pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, nobeauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added:
"She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being anexcellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance thismorning. She really looked almost wild."
"She did, indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance.
Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must _she_ be scamperingabout the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, sountidy, so blowsy!"
"Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inchesdeep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which hadbeen let down to hide it not doing its office."
"Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," said Bingley; "butthis was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennetlooked remarkably well when she came into the room thismorning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice."
"_You_ observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley;"and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see_your_ sister make such an exhibition."
"To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever itis, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What couldshe mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort ofconceited independence, a most country-town indifference todecorum."
"It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," saidBingley.
"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a halfwhisper, "that this adventure has rather affected youradmiration of her fine eyes."
"Not at all," he replied; "they were brightened by the exercise."A short pause followed this speech, and Mrs. Hurst began again:
"I have a excessive regard for Miss Jane Bennet, she is reallya very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were wellsettled. But with such a father and mother, and such lowconnections, I am afraid there is no chance of it."
"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney onMeryton."
"Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside."
"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
"If they had uncles enough to fill _all_ Cheapside," criedBingley, "it would not make them one jot less agreeable."
"But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying menof any consideration in the world," replied Darcy.
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave ittheir hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at theexpense of their dear friend's vulgar relations.
With a renewal of tenderness, however, they returned to herroom on leaving the dining-parlour, and sat with her tillsummoned to coffee. She was still very poorly, and Elizabethwould not quit her at all, till late in the evening, when she hadthe comfort of seeing her sleep, and when it seemed to her ratherright than pleasant that she should go downstairs herself. Onentering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, andwas immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to beplaying high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse,said she would amuse herself for the short time she could staybelow, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rathersingular."
"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She isa great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth;"I am _not_ a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."
"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," said Bingley;"and I hope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite well."
Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towardsthe table where a few books were lying. He immediately offeredto fetch her others--all that his library afforded.
"And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and myown credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many,I have more than I ever looked into."
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly withthose in the room.
"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father shouldhave left so small a collection of books. What a delightful libraryyou have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"
"It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of manygenerations."
"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you arealways buying books."
"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such daysas these."
"Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to thebeauties of that noble place. Charles, when you build _your_house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley."
"I wish it may."
"But I would really advise you to make your purchase in thatneighbourhood, and take Pemberley for a kind of model. Thereis not a finer county in England than Derbyshire."
"With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy willsell it."
"I am talking of possibilities, Charles."
"Upon my word, Caroline, I should think it more possible to getPemberley by purchase than by imitation."
Elizabeth was so much caught with what passed, as to leave hervery little attention for her book; and soon laying it whollyaside, she drew near the card-table, and stationed herselfbetween Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the game.
"Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?" said MissBingley; "will she be as tall as I am?"
"I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet'sheight, or rather taller."
"How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody whodelighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! Andso extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on thepianoforte is exquisite."
"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can havepatience to be so very accomplished as they all are."
"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"
"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens,and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this,and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the firsttime, without being informed that she was very accomplished."
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy,"has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman whodeserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or coveringa screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in yourestimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowingmore than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance,that are really accomplished."
"Nor I, I am sure," said Miss Bingley.
"Then," observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great dealin your idea of an accomplished woman."
"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it."
"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be reallyesteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what isusually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge ofmusic, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, todeserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certainsomething in her air and manner of walking, the tone of hervoice, her address and expressions, or the word will be buthalf-deserved."
"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this shemust yet add something more substantial, in the improvement ofher mind by extensive reading."
"I am no longer surprised at your knowing _only_ six accomplishedwomen. I rather wonder now at your knowing _any_."
"Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibilityof all this?"
"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, andtaste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united."
Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injusticeof her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knewmany women who answered this description, when Mr. Hurstcalled them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattentionto what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby atan end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.
"Elizabeth Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door wasclosed on her, "is one of those young ladies who seek torecommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing theirown; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in myopinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art."
"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chieflyaddressed, "there is a meanness in _all_ the arts which ladiessometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whateverbears affinity to cunning is despicable."
Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as tocontinue the subject.
Elizabeth joined them again only to say that her sister was worse,and that she could not leave her. Bingley urged Mr. Jones beingsent for immediately; while his sisters, convinced that no countryadvice could be of any service, recommended an express to town forone of the most eminent physicians. This she would not hear of;but she was not so unwilling to comply with their brother'sproposal; and it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent forearly in the morning, if Miss Bennet were not decidedly better.
Bingley was quite uncomfortable; his sisters declared that theywere miserable. They solaced their wretchedness, however, byduets after supper, while he could find no better relief to hisfeelings than by giving his housekeeper directions that everyattention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.
Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister's room, andin the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerableanswer to the inquiries which she very early received from Mr.
Bingley by a housemaid, and some time afterwards from the twoelegant ladies who waited on his sisters. In spite of thisamendment, however, she requested to have a note sent to Longbourn,desiring her mother to visit Jane, and form her own judgement ofher situation. The note was immediately dispatched, and itscontents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied byher two youngest girls, reached Netherfield soon after the familybreakfast.
Had she found Jane in any apparent danger, Mrs. Bennet wouldhave been very miserable; but being satisfied on seeing her thather illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her recoveringimmediately, as her restoration to health would probably removeher from Netherfield. She would not listen, therefore, to herdaughter's proposal of being carried home; neither did theapothecary, who arrived about the same time, think it at alladvisable. After sitting a little while with Jane, on MissBingley's appearance and invitation, the mother and threedaughter all attended her into the breakfast parlour. Bingley metthem with hopes that Mrs. Bennet had not found Miss Bennetworse than she expected.
"Indeed I have, sir," was her answer. "She is a great deal tooill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her.
We must trespass a little longer on your kindness."
"Removed!" cried Bingley. "It must not be thought of. Mysister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal."
"You may depend upon it, Madam," said Miss Bingley, with coldcivility, "that Miss Bennet will receive every possible attentionwhile she remains with us."
Mrs. Bennet was profuse in her acknowledgments.
"I am sure," she added, "if it was not for such good friends I donot know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed,and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in theworld, which is always the way with her, for she has, withoutexception, the sweetest temper I have ever met with. I often tellmy other girls they are nothing to _her_. You have a sweet roomhere, Mr. Bingley, and a charming prospect over the gravel walk.
I do not know a place in the country that is equal to Netherfield.
You will not think of quitting it in a hurry, I hope, though youhave but a short lease."
"Whatever I do is done in a hurry," replied he; "and therefore if Ishould resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off infive minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quitefixed here."
"That is exactly what I should have supposed of you," saidElizabeth.
"You begin to comprehend me, do you?" cried he, turningtowards her.
"Oh! yes--I understand you perfectly."
"I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easilyseen through I am afraid is pitiful."
"That is as it happens. It does not follow that a deep, intricatecharacter is more or less estimable than such a one as yours."
"Lizzy," cried her mother, "remember where you are, and do notrun on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home."
"I did not know before," continued Bingley immediately, "thatyou were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study."
"Yes, but intricate characters are the _most_ amusing. Theyhave at least that advantage."
"The country," said Darcy, "can in general supply but a fewsubjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you movein a very confined and unvarying society."
"But people themselves alter so much, that there is somethingnew to be observed in them for ever."
"Yes, indeed," cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner ofmentioning a country neighbourhood. "I assure you there isquite as much of _that_ going on in the country as in town."
Everybody was surprised, and Darcy, after looking at her for amoment, turned silently away. Mrs. Bennet, who fancied shehad gained a complete victory over him, continued her triumph.
"I cannot see that London has any great advantage over thecountry, for my part, except the shops and public places. Thecountry is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mr. Bingley?"
"When I am in the country," he replied, "I never wish to leave it;and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They haveeach their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either."
"Aye--that is because you have the right disposition. But thatgentleman," looking at Darcy, "seemed to think the country wasnothing at all."
"Indeed, Mamma, you are mistaken," said Elizabeth, blushing forher mother. "You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant thatthere was not such a variety of people to be met with in thecountry as in the town, which you must acknowledge to betrue."
"Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to notmeeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believethere are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine withfour-and-twenty families."
Nothing but concern for Elizabeth could enable Bingley to keephis countenance. His sister was less delicate, and directed hereyes towards Mr. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Elizabeth,for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother'sthoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been atLongbourn since _her_ coming away.
"Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeableman Sir William is, Mr. Bingley, is not he? So much the man offashion! So genteel and easy! He had always something to sayto everybody. _That_ is my idea of good breeding; and thosepersons who fancy themselves very important, and never opentheir mouths, quite mistake the matter."
"Did Charlotte dine with you?"
"No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about themince-pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servantsthat can do their own work; _my_ daughters are brought up verydifferently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and theLucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pitythey are not handsome! Not that I think Charlotte so _very_plain--but then she is our particular friend."
"She seems a very pleasant young woman."
"Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucasherself has often said so, and envied me Jane's beauty. I do notlike to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane--one doesnot often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says.
I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen,there was a man at my brother Gardiner's in town so much inlove with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make heran offer before we came away. But, however, he did not.
Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote someverses on her, and very pretty they were."
"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "Therehas been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. Iwonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in drivingaway love!"
"I have been used to consider poetry as the _food_ of love," saidDarcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourisheswhat is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort ofinclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve itentirely away."
Darcy only smiled; and the general pause which ensued madeElizabeth tremble lest her mother should be exposing herselfagain. She longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say;and after a short silence Mrs. Bennet began repeating her thanksto Mr. Bingley for his kindness to Jane, with an apology fortroubling him also with Lizzy. Mr. Bingley was unaffectedlycivil in his answer, and forced his younger sister to be civilalso, and say what the occasion required. She performed herpart indeed without much graciousness, but Mrs. Bennet wassatisfied, and soon afterwards ordered her carriage. Upon thissignal, the youngest of her daughters put herself forward. Thetwo girls had been whispering to each other during the wholevisit, and the result of it was, that the youngest should taxMr. Bingley with having promised on his first coming into thecountry to give a ball at Netherfield.
Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a finecomplexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with hermother, whose affection had brought her into public at an earlyage. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of naturalself-consequence, which the attention of the officers, to whomher uncle's good dinners, and her own easy manners recommendedher, had increased into assurance. She was very equal,therefore, to address Mr. Bingley on the subject of the ball, andabruptly reminded him of his promise; adding, that it would bethe most shameful thing in the world if he did not keep it. Hisanswer to this sudden attack was delightful to their mother's ear:
"I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement; andwhen your sister is recovered, you shall, if you please, name thevery day of the ball. But you would not wish to be dancingwhen she is ill."
Lydia declared herself satisfied. "Oh! yes--it would be muchbetter to wait till Jane was well, and by that time most likelyCaptain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you havegiven _your_ ball," she added, "I shall insist on their giving onealso. I shall tell Colonel Forster it will be quite a shame if hedoes not."
Mrs. Bennet and her daughters then departed, and Elizabethreturned instantly to Jane, leaving her own and her relations'behaviour to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; thelatter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join intheir censure of _her_, in spite of all Miss Bingley's witticisms on_fine eyes_.
The day passed much as the day before had done. Mrs. Hurstand Miss Bingley had spent some hours of the morning with theinvalid, who continued, though slowly, to mend; and in theevening Elizabeth joined their party in the drawing-room. Theloo-table, however, did not appear. Mr. Darcy was writing, andMiss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of hisletter and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages tohis sister. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs.
Hurst was observing their game.
Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficientlyamused in attending to what passed between Darcy and hiscompanion. The perpetual commendations of the lady, either onhis handwriting, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the lengthof his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praiseswere received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly inunion with her opinion of each.
"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer.
"You write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
"How many letters you must have occasion to write in thecourse of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I shouldthink them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours."
"Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."
"I have already told her so once, by your desire."
"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you.
I mend pens remarkably well."
"Thank you--but I always mend my own."
"How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent.
"Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement onthe harp; and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures withher beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitelysuperior to Miss Grantley's."
"Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again?At present I have not room to do them justice."
"Oh! it is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But doyou always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Darcy?"
"They are generally long; but whether always charming it is notfor me to determine."
"It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letterwith ease, cannot write ill."
"That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline," criedher brother, "because he does _not_ write with ease. He studiestoo much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?"
"My style of writing is very different from yours."
"Oh!" cried Miss Bingley, "Charles writes in the most carelessway imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots therest."
"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to expressthem--by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideasat all to my correspondents."
"Your humility, Mr. Bingley," said Elizabeth, "must disarmreproof."
"Nothing is more deceitful," said Darcy, "than the appearance ofhumility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimesan indirect boast."
"And which of the two do you call _my_ little recent piece ofmodesty?"
"The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects inwriting, because you consider them as proceeding from arapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if notestimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power ofdoing anything with quickness is always prized much by thepossessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection ofthe performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning thatif you ever resolved upon quitting Netherfield you should begone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, ofcompliment to yourself--and yet what is there so very laudablein a precipitance which must leave very necessary businessundone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyoneelse?"
"Nay," cried Bingley, "this is too much, to remember at night allthe foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, uponmy honour, I believe what I said of myself to be true, and Ibelieve it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assumethe character of needless precipitance merely to show off beforethe ladies."
"I dare say you believed it; but I am by no means convinced thatyou would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would bequite as dependent on chance as that of any man I know; and if,as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, 'Bingley,you had better stay till next week,' you would probably do it,you would probably not go--and at another word, might stay amonth."
"You have only proved by this," cried Elizabeth, "that Mr.
Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You haveshown him off now much more than he did himself."
"I am exceedingly gratified," said Bingley, "by your convertingwhat my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of mytemper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which thatgentleman did by no means intend; for he would certainly thinkbetter of me, if under such a circumstance I were to give a flatdenial, and ride off as fast as I could."
"Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your originalintentions as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?"
"Upon my word, I cannot exactly explain the matter; Darcy mustspeak for himself."
"You expect me to account for opinions which you choose tocall mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing thecase, however, to stand according to your representation, youmust remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed todesire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, hasmerely desired it, asked it without offering one argument infavour of its propriety."
"To yield readily--easily--to the _persuasion_ of a friend isno merit with you."
"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understandingof either."
"You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for theinfluence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requesterwould often make one readily yield to a request, without waitingfor arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularlyspeaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr.
Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstanceoccurs before we discuss the discretion of his behaviourthereupon. But in general and ordinary cases between friend andfriend, where one of them is desired by the other to change aresolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of thatperson for complying with the desire, without waiting to beargued into it?"
"Will it not be advisable, before we proceed on this subject, toarrange with rather more precision the degree of importancewhich is to appertain to this request, as well as the degree ofintimacy subsisting between the parties?"
"By all means," cried Bingley; "let us hear all the particulars,not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that willhave more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may beaware of. I assure you, that if Darcy were not such a great tallfellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half somuch deference. I declare I do not know a more awful objectthan Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; athis own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he hasnothing to do."
Mr. Darcy smiled; but Elizabeth thought she could perceive thathe was rather offended, and therefore checked her laugh. MissBingley warmly resented the indignity he had received, in anexpostulation with her brother for talking such nonsense.
"I see your design, Bingley," said his friend. "You dislike anargument, and want to silence this."
"Perhaps I do. Arguments are too much like disputes. If you andMiss Bennet will defer yours till I am out of the room, I shallbe very thankful; and then you may say whatever you like of me."
"What you ask," said Elizabeth, "is no sacrifice on my side; andMr. Darcy had much better finish his letter."
Mr. Darcy took her advice, and did finish his letter.
When that business was over, he applied to Miss Bingley andElizabeth for an indulgence of some music. Miss Bingley movedwith some alacrity to the pianoforte; and, after a polite requestthat Elizabeth would lead the way which the other as politelyand more earnestly negatived, she seated herself.
Mrs. Hurst sang with her sister, and while they were thusemployed, Elizabeth could not help observing, as she turnedover some music-books that lay on the instrument, how frequentlyMr. Darcy's eyes were fixed on her. She hardly knew how tosuppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great aman; and yet that he should look at her because he disliked her,was still more strange. She could only imagine, however, at lastthat she drew his notice because there was something more wrongand reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in anyother person present. The supposition did not pain her. Sheliked him too little to care for his approbation.
After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charmby a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawingnear Elizabeth, said to her:
"Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize suchan opportunity of dancing a reel?"
She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, withsome surprise at her silence.
"Oh!" said she, "I heard you before, but I could not immediatelydetermine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say'Yes,' that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste;but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes,and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have,therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want todance a reel at all--and now despise me if you dare."
"Indeed I do not dare."
Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed athis gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archnessin her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody;and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as hewas by her. He really believed, that were it not for theinferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
Miss Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; and hergreat anxiety for the recovery of her dear friend Jane receivedsome assistance from her desire of getting rid of Elizabeth.
She often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking her guest, bytalking of their supposed marriage, and planning his happiness insuch an alliance.
"I hope," said she, as they were walking together in theshrubbery the next day, "you will give your mother-in-law a fewhints, when this desirable event takes place, as to the advantageof holding her tongue; and if you can compass it, do cure theyounger girls of running after officers. And, if I may mention sodelicate a subject, endeavour to check that little something,bordering on conceit and impertinence, which your ladypossesses."
"Have you anything else to propose for my domestic felicity?"
"Oh! yes. Do let the portraits of your uncle and aunt Phillips beplaced in the gallery at Pemberley. Put them next to yourgreat-uncle the judge. They are in the same profession, youknow, only in different lines. As for your Elizabeth's picture, youmust not have it taken, for what painter could do justice to thosebeautiful eyes?"
"It would not be easy, indeed, to catch their expression, but theircolour and shape, and the eyelashes, so remarkably fine, mightbe copied."
At that moment they were met from another walk by Mrs. Hurstand Elizabeth herself.
"I did not know that you intended to walk," said Miss Bingley,in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.
"You used us abominably ill," answered Mrs. Hurst, "runningaway without telling us that you were coming out."
Then taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabethto walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felttheir rudeness, and immediately said:
"This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better gointo the avenue."
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain withthem, laughingly answered:
"No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, andappear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would bespoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye."
She then ran gaily off, rejoicing as she rambled about, in thehope of being at home again in a day or two. Jane was alreadyso much recovered as to intend leaving her room for a couple ofhours that evening.
When the ladies removed after dinner, Elizabeth ran up to hersister, and seeing her well guarded from cold, attended her intothe drawing-room, where she was welcomed by her two friendswith many professions of pleasure; and Elizabeth had never seenthem so agreeable as they were during the hour which passedbefore the gentlemen appeared. Their powers of conversationwere considerable. They could describe an entertainment withaccuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at theiracquaintance with spirit.
But when the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the firstobject; Miss Bingley's eyes were instantly turned toward Darcy,and she had something to say to him before he had advancedmany steps. He addressed himself to Miss Bennet, with a politecongratulation; Mr. Hurst also made her a slight bow, and saidhe was "very glad;" but diffuseness and warmth remained forBingley's salutation. He was full of joy and attention. The firsthalf-hour was spent in piling up the fire, lest she should sufferfrom the change of room; and she removed at his desire to theother side of the fireplace, that she might be further from thedoor. He then sat down by her, and talked scarcely to anyoneelse. Elizabeth, at work in the opposite corner, saw it all withgreat delight.
When tea was over, Mr. Hurst reminded his sister-in-law of thecard-table--but in vain. She had obtained private intelligencethat Mr. Darcy did not wish for cards; and Mr. Hurst soon foundeven his open petition rejected. She assured him that no oneintended to play, and the silence of the whole party on thesubject seemed to justify her. Mr. Hurst had therefore nothingto do, but to stretch himself on one of the sofas and go tosleep. Darcy took up a book; Miss Bingley did the same; andMrs. Hurst, principally occupied in playing with her braceletsand rings, joined now and then in her brother's conversationwith Miss Bennet.
Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watchingMr. Darcy's progress through _his_ book, as in reading her own;and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or lookingat his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation;he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quiteexhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, whichshe had only chosen because it was the second volume of his,she gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend anevening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoymentlike reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of abook! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable ifI have not an excellent library."
No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside herbook, and cast her eyes round the room in quest for someamusement; when hearing her brother mentioning a ball to MissBennet, she turned suddenly towards him and said:
"By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a danceat Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it,to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken ifthere are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather apunishment than a pleasure."
"If you mean Darcy," cried her brother, "he may go to bed, if hechooses, before it begins--but as for the ball, it is quite a settledthing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, Ishall send round my cards."
"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if theywere carried on in a different manner; but there is somethinginsufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. Itwould surely be much more rational if conversation instead ofdancing were made the order of the day."
"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it wouldnot be near so much like a ball."
Miss Bingley made no answer, and soon afterwards she got upand walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and shewalked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was stillinflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings, sheresolved on one effort more, and, turning to Elizabeth, said:
"Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example,and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is veryrefreshing after sitting so long in one attitude."
Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. MissBingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility;Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty ofattention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, andunconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to jointheir party, but he declined it, observing that he could imaginebut two motives for their choosing to walk up and down theroom together, with either of which motives his joining themwould interfere. "What could he mean? She was dying to knowwhat could be his meaning?"--and asked Elizabeth whether shecould at all understand him?
"Not at all," was her answer; "but depend upon it, he means tobe severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will beto ask nothing about it."
Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr.
Darcy in anything, and persevered therefore in requiring anexplanation of his two motives.
"I have not the smallest objection to explaining them," said he,as soon as she allowed him to speak. "You either choose thismethod of passing the evening because you are in each other'sconfidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you areconscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage inwalking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and ifthe second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."
"Oh! shocking!" cried Miss Bingley. "I never heard anything soabominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?"
"Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination," said Elizabeth.
"We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him--laughat him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to bedone."
"But upon my honour, I do _not_. I do assure you that myintimacy has not yet taught me _that_. Tease calmness ofmanner and presence of mind! No, no--feel he may defy usthere. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if youplease, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy mayhug himself."
"Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!" cried Elizabeth. "That isan uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, forit would be a great loss to _me_ to have many such acquaintances.
I dearly love a laugh."
"Miss Bingley," said he, "has given me more credit than can be.
The wisest and the best of men--nay, the wisest and best of theiractions--may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose firstobject in life is a joke."
"Certainly," replied Elizabeth--"there are such people, but Ihope I am not one of _them_. I hope I never ridicule what iswise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims andinconsistencies, _do_ divert me, I own, and I laugh at themwhenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what youare without."
"Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been thestudy of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose astrong understanding to ridicule."
"Such as vanity and pride."
"Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride--where there is areal superiority of mind, pride will be always under goodregulation."
Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.
"Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume," said MissBingley; "and pray what is the result?"
"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect.
He owns it himself without disguise."
"No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I havefaults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding.
My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too littleyielding--certainly too little for the convenience of the world.
I cannot forget the follies and vices of other so soon as I ought,nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffedabout with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps becalled resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."
"_That_ is a failing indeed!" cried Elizabeth. "Implacableresentment _is_ a shade in a character. But you have chosen yourfault well. I really cannot _laugh_ at it. You are safe from me."
"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to someparticular evil--a natural defect, which not even the besteducation can overcome."
"And _your_ defect is to hate everybody."
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully tomisunderstand them."
"Do let us have a little music," cried Miss Bingley, tired of aconversation in which she had no share. "Louisa, you will notmind my waking Mr. Hurst?"
Her sister had not the smallest objection, and the pianoforte wasopened; and Darcy, after a few moments' recollection, was notsorry for it. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth toomuch attention.
In consequence of an agreement between the sisters, Elizabethwrote the next morning to their mother, to beg that the carriagemight be sent for them in the course of the day. But Mrs.
Bennet, who had calculated on her daughters remaining atNetherfield till the following Tuesday, which would exactlyfinish Jane's week, could not bring herself to receive them withpleasure before. Her answer, therefore, was not propitious, atleast not to Elizabeth's wishes, for she was impatient to gethome. Mrs. Bennet sent them word that they could not possiblyhave the carriage before Tuesday; and in her postscript it wasadded, that if Mr. Bingley and his sister pressed them to staylonger, she could spare them very well. Against staying longer,however, Elizabeth was positively resolved--nor did she muchexpect it would be asked; and fearful, on the contrary, as beingconsidered as intruding themselves needlessly long, she urgedJane to borrow Mr. Bingley's carriage immediately, and atlength it was settled that their original design of leavingNetherfield that morning should be mentioned, and the requestmade.
The communication excited many professions of concern; andenough was said of wishing them to stay at least till thefollowing day to work on Jane; and till the morrow their goingwas deferred. Miss Bingley was then sorry that she hadproposed the delay, for her jealousy and dislike of one sistermuch exceeded her affection for the other.
The master of the house heard with real sorrow that they wereto go so soon, and repeatedly tried to persuade Miss Bennet thatit would not be safe for her--that she was not enough recovered;but Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right.
To Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence--Elizabeth had beenat Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than heliked--and Miss Bingley was uncivil to _her_, and more teasingthan usual to himself. He wisely resolved to be particularlycareful that no sign of admiration should _now_ escape him,nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing hisfelicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested,his behaviour during the last day must have material weight inconfirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcelyspoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, andthough they were at one time left by themselves for half-an-hour,he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would noteven look at her.
On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeableto almost all, took place. Miss Bingley's civility to Elizabethincreased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane;and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasureit would always give her to see her either at Longbourn orNetherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shookhands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole partyin the liveliest of spirits.
They were not welcomed home very cordially by their mother.
Mrs. Bennet wondered at their coming, and thought them verywrong to give so much trouble, and was sure Jane would havecaught cold again. But their father, though very laconic in hisexpressions of pleasure, was really glad to see them; he had felttheir importance in the family circle. The evening conversation,when they were all assembled, had lost much of its animation,and almost all its sense by the absence of Jane and Elizabeth.
They found Mary, as usual, deep in the study of thorough-bassand human nature; and had some extracts to admire, and somenew observations of threadbare morality to listen to. Catherineand Lydia had information for them of a different sort. Muchhad been done and much had been said in the regiment since thepreceding Wednesday; several of the officers had dined latelywith their uncle, a private had been flogged, and it had actuallybeen hinted that Colonel Forster was going to be married.
"I hope, my dear," said Mr. Bennet to his wife, as they wereat breakfast the next morning, "that you have ordered a gooddinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition toour family party."
"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming,I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in--andI hope _my_ dinners are good enough for her. I do not believeshe often sees such at home."
"The person of whom I speak is a gentleman, and a stranger."
Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled. "A gentleman and a stranger! It isMr. Bingley, I am sure! Well, I am sure I shall be extremely gladto see Mr. Bingley. But--good Lord! how unlucky! There is nota bit of fish to be got to-day. Lydia, my love, ring the bell--Imust speak to Hill this moment."
"It is _not_ Mr. Bingley," said her husband; "it is a person whomI never saw in the whole course of my life."
This roused a general astonishment; and he had the pleasure ofbeing eagerly questioned by his wife and his five daughters atonce.
After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thusexplained:
"About a month ago I received this letter; and about a fortnightago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, andrequiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who,when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as hepleases."
"Oh! my dear," cried his wife, "I cannot bear to hear thatmentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it isthe hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailedaway from your own children; and I am sure, if I had been you, Ishould have tried long ago to do something or other about it."
Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain to her the nature of an entail.
They had often attempted to do it before, but it was a subjecton which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason, and shecontinued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling anestate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a manwhom nobody cared anything about.
"It certainly is a most iniquitous affair," said Mr. Bennet,"and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheritingLongbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhapsbe a little softened by his manner of expressing himself."
"No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it is very impertinentof him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate suchfalse friends. Why could he not keep on quarreling with you, ashis father did before him?"
"Why, indeed; he does seem to have had some filial scruples onthat head, as you will hear."
"Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent,15th October.
"The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my latehonoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since Ihave had the misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wishedto heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my owndoubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memoryfor me to be on good terms with anyone with whom it had alwayspleased him to be at variance.--'There, Mrs. Bennet.'--Mymind, however, is now made up on the subject, for havingreceived ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as tobe distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable LadyCatherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whosebounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectoryof this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demeanmyself with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be everready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are institutedby the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel itmy duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in allfamilies within the reach of my influence; and on thesegrounds I flatter myself that my present overtures are highlycommendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in theentail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on yourside, and not lead you to reject the offered olive-branch.
I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means ofinjuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise forit, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them everypossible amends--but of this hereafter. If you should haveno objection to receive me into your house, I propose myselfthe satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday,November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass onyour hospitality till the Saturday se'ennight following, which Ican do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far fromobjecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided thatsome other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day.--Iremain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady anddaughters, your well-wisher and friend,
"At four o'clock, therefore, we may expect this peace-makinggentleman," said Mr. Bennet, as he folded up the letter. "Heseems to be a most conscientious and polite young man, uponmy word, and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance,especially if Lady Catherine should be so indulgent as to lethim come to us again."
"There is some sense in what he says about the girls, however,and if he is disposed to make them any amends, I shall not bethe person to discourage him."
"Though it is difficult," said Jane, "to guess in what way he canmean to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish iscertainly to his credit."
Elizabeth was chiefly struck by his extraordinary deference forLady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying,and burying his parishioners whenever it were required.
"He must be an oddity, I think," said she. "I cannot make himout.--There is something very pompous in his style.--And whatcan he mean by apologising for being next in the entail?--Wecannot suppose he would help it if he could.--Could he be asensible man, sir?"
"No, my dear, I think not. I have great hopes of finding himquite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility andself-importance in his letter, which promises well. I amimpatient to see him."
"In point of composition," said Mary, "the letter does not seemdefective. The idea of the olive-branch perhaps is not whollynew, yet I think it is well expressed."
To Catherine and Lydia, neither the letter nor its writer werein any degree interesting. It was next to impossible that theircousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it was now someweeks since they had received pleasure from the society of aman in any other colour. As for their mother, Mr. Collins'sletter had done away much of her ill-will, and she was preparingto see him with a degree of composure which astonished herhusband and daughters.
Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received withgreat politeness by the whole family. Mr. Bennet indeed saidlittle; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collinsseemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to besilent himself. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man offive-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and hismanners were very formal. He had not been long seated beforehe complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family ofdaughters; said he had heard much of their beauty, but that inthis instance fame had fallen short of the truth; and added,that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time disposedof in marriage. This gallantry was not much to the taste ofsome of his hearers; but Mrs. Bennet, who quarreled with nocompliments, answered most readily.
"You are very kind, I am sure; and I wish with all my heart itmay prove so, for else they will be destitute enough. Things aresettled so oddly."
"You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this estate."
"Ah! sir, I do indeed. It is a grievous affair to my poor girls,you must confess. Not that I mean to find fault with _you_, forsuch things I know are all chance in this world. There is noknowing how estates will go when once they come to be entailed."
"I am very sensible, madam, of the hardship to my fair cousins,and could say much on the subject, but that I am cautious ofappearing forward and precipitate. But I can assure the youngladies that I come prepared to admire them. At present I willnot say more; but, perhaps, when we are better acquainted--"
He was interrupted by a summons to dinner; and the girls smiledon each other. They were not the only objects of Mr. Collins'sadmiration. The hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture,were examined and praised; and his commendation of everythingwould have touched Mrs. Bennet's heart, but for the mortifyingsupposition of his viewing it all as his own future property.
The dinner too in its turn was highly admired; and he begged toknow to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cookingwas owing. But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, whoassured him with some asperity that they were very well able tokeep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do inthe kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. In asoftened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but hecontinued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.
During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when theservants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have someconversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject inwhich he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemedvery fortunate in his patroness. Lady Catherine de Bourgh'sattention to his wishes, and consideration for his comfort,appeared very remarkable. Mr. Bennet could not have chosenbetter. Mr. Collins was eloquent in her praise. The subjectelevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner, and with amost important aspect he protested that "he had never in his lifewitnessed such behaviour in a person of rank--such affabilityand condescension, as he had himself experienced from LadyCatherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of bothof the discourses which he had already had the honour ofpreaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine atRosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to makeup her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine wasreckoned proud by many people he knew, but _he_ had neverseen anything but affability in her. She had always spoken tohim as she would to any other gentleman; she made not thesmallest objection to his joining in the society of theneighbourhood nor to his leaving the parish occasionally for aweek or two, to visit his relations. She had even condescendedto advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chosewith discretion; and had once paid him a visit in his humbleparsonage, where she had perfectly approved all the alterationshe had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest someherself--some shelves in the closet upstairs."
"That is all very proper and civil, I am sure," said Mrs. Bennet,"and I dare say she is a very agreeable woman. It is a pity thatgreat ladies in general are not more like her. Does she live nearyou, sir?"
"The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated onlyby a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship's residence."
"I think you said she was a widow, sir? Has she any family?"
"She has only one daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of veryextensive property."
"Ah!" said Mrs. Bennet, shaking her head, "then she is better offthan many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? Is shehandsome?"
"She is a most charming young lady indeed. Lady Catherineherself says that, in point of true beauty, Miss de Bourgh is farsuperior to the handsomest of her sex, because there is that inher features which marks the young lady of distinguished birth.
She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has preventedher from making that progress in many accomplishments whichshe could not have otherwise failed of, as I am informed by thelady who superintended her education, and who still resides withthem. But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends todrive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies."
"Has she been presented? I do not remember her name amongthe ladies at court."
"Her indifferent state of health unhappily prevents her beingin town; and by that means, as I told Lady Catherine one day,has deprived the British court of its brightest ornaments.
Her ladyship seemed pleased with the idea; and you may imaginethat I am happy on every occasion to offer those littledelicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies.
I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine, that hercharming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that themost elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, wouldbe adorned by her. These are the kind of little things whichplease her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which Iconceive myself peculiarly bound to pay."
"You judge very properly," said Mr. Bennet, "and it is happy foryou that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May Iask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulseof the moment, or are the result of previous study?"
"They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and thoughI sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging suchlittle elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions,I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."
Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin wasas absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with thekeenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the mostresolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasionalglance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.
By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr.
Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again,and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to theladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced;but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from acirculating library), he started back, and begging pardon,protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, andLydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after somedeliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as heopened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonoussolemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:
"Do you know, mamma, that my uncle Phillips talks of turningaway Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. Myaunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Merytonto-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Dennycomes back from town."
Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; butMr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:
"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested bybooks of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit.
It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing soadvantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longerimportune my young cousin."
Then turning to Mr. Bennet, he offered himself as his antagonistat backgammon. Mr. Bennet accepted the challenge, observingthat he acted very wisely in leaving the girls to their own triflingamusements. Mrs. Bennet and her daughters apologised mostcivilly for Lydia's interruption, and promised that it should notoccur again, if he would resume his book; but Mr. Collins, afterassuring them that he bore his young cousin no ill-will, andshould never resent her behaviour as any affront, seated himselfat another table with Mr. Bennet, and prepared for backgammon.
Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of naturehad been but little assisted by education or society; the greatestpart of his life having been spent under the guidance of anilliterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one ofthe universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, withoutforming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in whichhis father had brought him up had given him originally greathumility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted bythe self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and theconsequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. Afortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine deBourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respectwhich he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as hispatroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of hisauthority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made himaltogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness,self-importance and humility.
Having now a good house and a very sufficient income, heintended to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with theLongbourn family he had a wife in view, as he meant to chooseone of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiableas they were represented by common report. This was his planof amends--of atonement--for inheriting their father's estate;and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility andsuitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on hisown part.
His plan did not vary on seeing them. Miss Bennet's lovely faceconfirmed his views, and established all his strictest notions ofwhat was due to seniority; and for the first evening _she_ was hissettled choice. The next morning, however, made an alteration;for in a quarter of an hour's tete-a-tete with Mrs. Bennet beforebreakfast, a conversation beginning with his parsonage-house,and leading naturally to the avowal of his hopes, that a mistressmight be found for it at Longbourn, produced from her, amidvery complaisant smiles and general encouragement, a cautionagainst the very Jane he had fixed on. "As to her _younger_daughters, she could not take upon her to say--she could notpositively answer--but she did not _know_ of any prepossession;her _eldest_ daughter, she must just mention--she felt itincumbent on her to hint, was likely to be very soon engaged."
Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth--and itwas soon done--done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire.
Elizabeth, equally next to Jane in birth and beauty, succeededher of course.
Mrs. Bennet treasured up the hint, and trusted that she mightsoon have two daughters married; and the man whom she couldnot bear to speak of the day before was now high in her goodgraces.
Lydia's intention of walking to Meryton was not forgotten;every sister except Mary agreed to go with her; and Mr. Collinswas to attend them, at the request of Mr. Bennet, who was mostanxious to get rid of him, and have his library to himself; forthither Mr. Collins had followed him after breakfast; and there hewould continue, nominally engaged with one of the largest foliosin the collection, but really talking to Mr. Bennet, with littlecessation, of his house and garden at Hunsford. Such doingsdiscomposed Mr. Bennet exceedingly. In his library he had beenalways sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, ashe told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every otherroom of the house, he was used to be free from them there; hiscivility, therefore, was most prompt in inviting Mr. Collins tojoin his daughters in their walk; and Mr. Collins, being in factmuch better fitted for a walker than a reader, was extremelypleased to close his large book, and go.
In pompous nothings on his side, and civil assents on that ofhis cousins, their time passed till they entered Meryton. Theattention of the younger ones was then no longer to be gained byhim. Their eyes were immediately wandering up in the street inquest of the officers, and nothing less than a very smart bonnetindeed, or a really new muslin in a shop window, could recallthem.
But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man,whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlikeappearance, walking with another officer on the other side of theway. The officer was the very Mr. Denny concerning whosereturn from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed asthey passed. All were struck with the stranger's air, allwondered who he could be; and Kitty and Lydia, determined ifpossible to find out, led the way across the street, under pretenseof wanting something in an opposite shop, and fortunately hadjust gained the pavement when the two gentlemen, turning back,had reached the same spot. 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 hewas happy to say had accepted a commission in their corps.
This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted onlyregimentals to make him completely charming. His appearancewas greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, afine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. Theintroduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness ofconversation--a readiness at the same time perfectly correct andunassuming; and the whole party were still standing and talkingtogether very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew theirnotice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street.
On distinguishing the ladies of the group, the two gentlemencame directly towards them, and began the usual civilities.
Bingley was the principal spokesman, and Miss Bennet theprincipal object. He was then, he said, on his way to Longbournon purpose to inquire after her. Mr. Darcy corroborated it witha bow, and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes onElizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of thestranger, and Elizabeth happening to see the countenance ofboth as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at theeffect of the meeting. Both changed colour, one looked white,the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched hishat--a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. Whatcould be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine; it wasimpossible not to long to know.
In another minute, Mr. Bingley, but without seeming to havenoticed what passed, took leave and rode on with his friend.
Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham walked with the young ladies tothe door of Mr. Phillip's house, and then made their bows, inspite of Miss Lydia's pressing entreaties that they should comein, and even in spite of Mrs. Phillips's throwing up the parlourwindow and loudly seconding the invitation.
Mrs. Phillips was always glad to see her nieces; and the twoeldest, from their recent absence, were particularly welcome, andshe was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden returnhome, which, as their own carriage had not fetched them, sheshould have known nothing about, if she had not happened tosee Mr. Jones's shop-boy in the street, who had told her thatthey were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield becausethe Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility wasclaimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane's introduction of him. Shereceived him with her very best politeness, which he returnedwith as much more, apologising for his intrusion, without anyprevious acquaintance with her, which he could not helpflattering himself, however, might be justified by his relationshipto the young ladies who introduced him to her notice. Mrs.
Phillips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding; buther contemplation of one stranger was soon put to an end byexclamations and inquiries about the other; of whom, however,she could only tell her nieces what they already knew, that Mr.
Denny had brought him from London, and that he was to have alieutenant's commission in the ----shire. She had been watchinghim the last hour, she said, as he walked up and down the street,and had Mr. Wickham appeared, Kitty and Lydia would certainlyhave continued the occupation, but unluckily no one passedwindows now except a few of the officers, who, in comparisonwith the stranger, were become "stupid, disagreeable fellows."Some of them were to dine with the Phillipses the next day, andtheir aunt promised to make her husband call on Mr. Wickham,and give him an invitation also, if the family from Longbournwould come in the evening. This was agreed to, and Mrs.
Phillips protested that they would have a nice comfortable noisygame of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards.
The prospect of such delights was very cheering, and they partedin mutual good spirits. Mr. Collins repeated his apologies inquitting the room, and was assured with unwearying civility thatthey were perfectly needless.
As they walked home, Elizabeth related to Jane what she hadseen pass between the two gentlemen; but though Jane wouldhave defended either or both, had they appeared to be in thewrong, she could no more explain such behaviour than her sister.
Mr. Collins on his return highly gratified Mrs. Bennet byadmiring Mrs. Phillips's manners and politeness. He protestedthat, except Lady Catherine and her daughter, he had never seena more elegant woman; for she had not only received him withthe utmost civility, but even pointedly included him in herinvitation for the next evening, although utterly unknown to herbefore. Something, he supposed, might be attributed to hisconnection with them, but yet he had never met with so muchattention in the whole course of his life.
As no objection was made to the young people's engagementwith their aunt, and all Mr. Collins's scruples of leaving Mr.
and Mrs. Bennet for a single evening during his visit were moststeadily resisted, the coach conveyed him and his five cousinsat a suitable hour to Meryton; and the girls had the pleasure ofhearing, as they entered the drawing-room, that Mr. Wickhamhad accepted their uncle's invitation, and was then in the house.
When this information was given, and they had all taken theirseats, Mr. Collins was at leisure to look around him and admire,and he was so much struck with the size and furniture of theapartment, that he declared he might almost have supposedhimself in the small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings; acomparison that did not at first convey much gratification; butwhen Mrs. Phillips understood from him what Rosings was, andwho was its proprietor--when she had listened to the descriptionof only one of Lady Catherine's drawing-rooms, and found thatthe chimney-piece alone had cost eight hundred pounds, she feltall the force of the compliment, and would hardly have resenteda comparison with the housekeeper's room.
In describing to her all the grandeur of Lady Catherine and hermansion, with occasional digressions in praise of his own humbleabode, and the improvements it was receiving, he was happilyemployed until the gentlemen joined them; and he found inMrs. Phillips a very attentive listener, whose opinion ofhis consequence increased with what she heard, and who wasresolving to retail it all among her neighbours as soon as shecould. To the girls, who could not listen to their cousin,and who had nothing to do but to wish for an instrument, andexamine their own indifferent imitations of china on themantelpiece, the interval of waiting appeared very long. It wasover at last, however. The gentlemen did approach, and whenMr. Wickham walked into the room, Elizabeth felt that she hadneither been seeing him before, nor thinking of him since, withthe smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. The officers ofthe ----shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlikeset, 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, stuffyuncle Phillips, breathing port wine, who followed them intothe room.
Mr. Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost everyfemale eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy woman bywhom he finally seated himself; and the agreeable manner inwhich he immediately fell into conversation, though it was onlyon its being a wet night, made her feel that the commonest,dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting bythe skill of the speaker.
With such rivals for the notice of the fair as Mr. Wickham andthe officers, Mr. Collins seemed to sink into insignificance; tothe young ladies he certainly was nothing; but he had still atintervals a kind listener in Mrs. Phillips, and was by herwatchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin.
When the card-tables were placed, he had the opportunity ofobliging her in turn, by sitting down to whist.
"I know little of the game at present," said he, "but I shall beglad to improve myself, for in my situation in life--" Mrs. Phillipswas very glad for his compliance, but could not wait for hisreason.
Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was hereceived at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At firstthere seemed danger of Lydia's engrossing him entirely, for shewas a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fondof lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in thegame, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes tohave attention for anyone in particular. Allowing for thecommon demands of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisureto talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him,though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to betold--the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She darednot even mention that gentleman. Her curiosity, however, wasunexpectedly relieved. Mr. Wickham began the subject himself.
He inquired how far Netherfield was from Meryton; and, afterreceiving her answer, asked in a hesitating manner how longMr. Darcy had been staying there.
"About a month," said Elizabeth; and then, unwilling to let thesubject drop, added, "He is a man of very large property inDerbyshire, 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 aperson more capable of giving you certain information on thathead than myself, for I have been connected with his family ina 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 ourmeeting 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 thinkhim very disagreeable."
"I have no right to give _my_ opinion," said Wickham, "as to hisbeing agreeable or otherwise. I am not qualified to form one. Ihave known him too long and too well to be a fair judge. It isimpossible for _me_ to be impartial. But I believe your opinionof him would in general astonish--and perhaps you would notexpress it quite so strongly anywhere else. Here you are in yourown family."
"Upon my word, I say no more _here_ than I might say in anyhouse in the neighbourhood, except Netherfield. He is not at allliked 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 shortinterruption, "that he or that any man should not be estimatedbeyond their deserts; but with _him_ I believe it does not oftenhappen. The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence,or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees himonly as he chooses to be seen."
"I should take him, even on _my_ slight acquaintance, to be anill-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 awaywhen 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 onfriendly terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but Ihave no reason for avoiding _him_ but what I might proclaimbefore all the world, a sense of very great ill-usage, and mostpainful 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 companywith this Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by athousand tender recollections. His behaviour to myself has beenscandalous; but I verily believe I could forgive him anything andeverything, rather than his disappointing the hopes anddisgracing the memory of his father."
Elizabeth found the interest of the subject increase, and listenedwith 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 allthat he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter with gentle butvery intelligible gallantry.
"It was the prospect of constant society, and good society," headded, "which was my chief inducement to enter the ----shire.
I knew it to be a most respectable, agreeable corps, and myfriend Denny tempted me further by his account of theirpresent quarters, and the very great attentions and excellentacquaintances Meryton had procured them. Society, I own, isnecessary to me. I have been a disappointed man, and my spiritswill not bear solitude. I _must_ have employment and society.
A military life is not what I was intended for, but circumstanceshave now made it eligible. The church _ought_ to have beenmy profession--I was brought up for the church, and I should atthis time have been in possession of a most valuable living, hadit pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now."
"Yes--the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentationof the best living in his gift. He was my godfather, andexcessively 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 legalredress?"
"There was just such an informality in the terms of the bequestas to give me no hope from law. A man of honour could not havedoubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it--or totreat it as a merely conditional recommendation, and to assert thatI had forfeited all claim to it by extravagance, imprudence--inshort anything or nothing. Certain it is, that the living becamevacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an age to hold it, andthat it was given to another man; and no less certain is it, thatI cannot accuse myself of having really done anything to deserveto lose it. I have a warm, unguarded temper, and I may havespoken my opinion _of_ him, and _to_ him, too freely. I can recallnothing worse. But the fact is, that we are very different sortof 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 himhandsomer 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 cannotbut 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, Ibelieve, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear the sort ofcompetition in which we stood--the sort of preference whichwas often given me."
"I had not thought Mr. Darcy so bad as this--though I havenever liked him. I had not thought so very ill of him. I hadsupposed him to be despising his fellow-creatures in general, butdid 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 theimplacability of his resentments, of his having an unforgivingtemper. His disposition must be dreadful."
"I will not trust myself on the subject," replied Wickham; "Ican 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 favouriteof his father!" She could have added, "A young man, too,like _you_, whose very countenance may vouch for your beingamiable"--but she contented herself with, "and one, too, whohad probably been his companion from childhood, connectedtogether, as I think you said, in the closest manner!"
"We were born in the same parish, within the same park; thegreatest part of our youth was passed together; inmates of thesame house, sharing the same amusements, objects of the sameparental care. _My_ father began life in the profession whichyour uncle, Mr. Phillips, appears to do so much credit to--buthe gave up everything to be of use to the late Mr. Darcy anddevoted 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 himselfto be under the greatest obligations to my father's activesuperintendence, and when, immediately before my father'sdeath, Mr. Darcy gave him a voluntary promise of providing forme, I am convinced that he felt it to be as much a debt ofgratitude to _him_, as of his affection to myself."
"How strange!" cried Elizabeth. "How abominable! I wonderthat the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just toyou! If from no better motive, that he should not have been tooproud to be dishonest--for dishonesty I must call it."
"It _is_ wonderful," replied Wickham, "for almost all his actionsmay be traced to pride; and pride had often been his best friend.
It has connected him nearer with virtue than with any otherfeeling. But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviourto 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 hismoney freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, andrelieve the poor. Family pride, and _filial_ pride--for he is veryproud of what his father was--have done this. Not to appear todisgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, orlose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive.
He has also _brotherly_ pride, which, with _some_ brotherlyaffection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of hissister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the mostattentive and best of brothers."
"What sort of girl is Miss Darcy?"
He shook his head. "I wish I could call her amiable. It givesme pain to speak ill of a Darcy. But she is too much like herbrother--very, very proud. As a child, she was affectionateand pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hoursand hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now.
She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and, Iunderstand, highly accomplished. Since her father's death,her home has been London, where a lady lives with her, andsuperintends her education."
After many pauses and many trials of other subjects, Elizabethcould 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 theysuit each other? Do you know Mr. Bingley?"
"Not at all."
"He is a sweet-tempered, amiable, charming man. He cannotknow what Mr. Darcy is."
"Probably not; but Mr. Darcy can please where he chooses. Hedoes not want abilities. He can be a conversible companion if hethinks it worth his while. Among those who are at all his equalsin consequence, he is a very different man from what he is to theless prosperous. His pride never deserts him; but with the richhe is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, andperhaps agreeable--allowing something for fortune and figure."
The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the playersgathered round the other table and Mr. Collins took his stationbetween his cousin Elizabeth and Mrs. Phillips. The usualinquiries as to his success was made by the latter. It had notbeen very great; he had lost every point; but when Mrs. Phillipsbegan to express her concern thereupon, he assured her withmuch earnest gravity that it was not of the least importance, thathe considered the money as a mere trifle, and begged that shewould not make herself uneasy.
"I know very well, madam," said he, "that when persons sit downto a card-table, they must take their chances of these things, andhappily I am not in such circumstances as to make five shillingsany object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say thesame, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removedfar 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 voicewhether her relation was very intimately acquainted with thefamily of de Bourgh.
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh," she replied, "has very lately givenhim a living. I hardly know how Mr. Collins was firstintroduced to her notice, but he certainly has not known herlong."
"You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and LadyAnne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to thepresent Mr. Darcy."
"No, indeed, I did not. I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine'sconnections. I never heard of her existence till the day beforeyesterday."
"Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune,and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the twoestates."
This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poorMiss Bingley. Vain indeed must be all her attentions, vain anduseless 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 Catherineand her daughter; but from some particulars that he has relatedof her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude misleads him, and that inspite of her being his patroness, she is an arrogant, conceitedwoman."
"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 thatI never liked her, and that her manners were dictatorial andinsolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably sensibleand clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilitiesfrom her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner,and the rest from the pride for her nephew, who chooses thateveryone connected with him should have an understanding ofthe first class."
Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it,and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfactiontill supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladiestheir share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be noconversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips's supper party, buthis manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said,was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabethwent away with her head full of him. She could think of nothingbut of Mr. Wickham, and of what he had told her, all the wayhome; but there was not time for her even to mention his nameas they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent.
Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she hadlost and the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing thecivility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, protesting that he did not inthe least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishesat supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his cousins,had more to say than he could well manage before the carriagestopped at Longbourn House.
Elizabeth related to Jane the next day what had passed betweenMr. Wickham and herself. Jane listened with astonishment andconcern; she knew not how to believe that Mr. Darcy could beso unworthy of Mr. Bingley's regard; and yet, it was not in hernature to question the veracity of a young man of such amiableappearance as Wickham. The possibility of his having enduredsuch unkindness, was enough to interest all her tender feelings;and nothing remained therefore to be done, but to think well ofthem both, to defend the conduct of each, and throw into theaccount of accident or mistake whatever could not be otherwiseexplained.
"They have both," said she, "been deceived, I dare say, in someway or other, of which we can form no idea. Interested peoplehave perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short,impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstanceswhich may have alienated them, without actual blame on eitherside."
"Very true, indeed; and now, my dear Jane, what have you gotto say on behalf of the interested people who have probably beenconcerned in the business? Do clear _them_ too, or we shall beobliged to think ill of somebody."
"Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out ofmy opinion. My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what adisgraceful light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father'sfavourite in such a manner, one whom his father had promised toprovide for. It is impossible. No man of common humanity, noman who had any value for his character, could be capable of it.
Can his most intimate friends be so excessively deceived in him?Oh! no."
"I can much more easily believe Mr. Bingley's being imposed on,than that Mr. Wickham should invent such a history of himselfas he gave me last night; names, facts, everything mentionedwithout ceremony. If it be not so, let Mr. Darcy contradict it.
Besides, there was truth in his looks."
"It is difficult indeed--it is distressing. One does not know whatto think."
"I beg your pardon; one knows exactly what to think."
But Jane could think with certainty on only one point--that Mr.
Bingley, if he _had_ been imposed on, would have much to sufferwhen the affair became public.
The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery,where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the verypersons of whom they had been speaking; Mr. Bingley and hissisters came to give their personal invitation for thelong-expected ball at Netherfield, which was fixed for thefollowing Tuesday. The two ladies were delighted to see theirdear friend again, called it an age since they had met, andrepeatedly asked what she had been doing with herself sincetheir separation. To the rest of the family they paid littleattention; avoiding Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, saying notmuch to Elizabeth, and nothing at all to the others. They weresoon gone again, rising from their seats with an activity whichtook their brother by surprise, and hurrying off as if eager toescape from Mrs. Bennet's civilities.
The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable toevery female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it asgiven in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularlyflattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself,instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured to herself a happyevening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions ofher brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing agreat deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation ofeverything in Mr. Darcy's look and behavior. The happinessanticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any singleevent, or any particular person, for though they each, likeElizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham,he was by no means the only partner who could satisfy them, anda ball was, at any rate, a ball. And even Mary could assure herfamily that she had no disinclination for it.
"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it isenough--I think it is no sacrifice to join occasionally in eveningengagements. Society has claims on us all; and I profess myselfone of those who consider intervals of recreation and amusementas desirable for everybody."
Elizabeth's spirits were so high on this occasion, that though shedid not often speak unnecessarily to Mr. Collins, she could nothelp asking him whether he intended to accept Mr. Bingley'sinvitation, and if he did, whether he would think it proper to joinin the evening's amusement; and she was rather surprised to findthat he entertained no scruple whatever on that head, and wasvery far from dreading a rebuke either from the Archbishop, orLady Catherine de Bourgh, by venturing to dance.
"I am by no means of the opinion, I assure you," said he, "thata ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, torespectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am sofar from objecting to dancing myself, that I shall hope to behonoured with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course ofthe evening; and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, MissElizabeth, for the two first dances especially, a preference whichI trust my cousin Jane will attribute to the right cause, and notto any disrespect for her."
Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fullyproposed being engaged by Mr. Wickham for those very dances;and to have Mr. Collins instead! her liveliness had never beenworse timed. There was no help for it, however. Mr. Wickham'shappiness and her own were perforce delayed a little longer,and Mr. Collins's proposal accepted with as good a grace as shecould. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry fromthe idea it suggested of something more. It now first struckher, that _she_ was selected from among her sisters as worthy ofbeing mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to forma quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligiblevisitors. The idea soon reached to conviction, as she observedhis increasing civilities toward herself, and heard hisfrequent attempt at a compliment on her wit and vivacity; andthough more astonished than gratified herself by this effectof her charms, it was not long before her mother gave her tounderstand that the probability of their marriage was extremelyagreeable to _her_. Elizabeth, however, did not choose to takethe hint, being well aware that a serious dispute must be theconsequence of any reply. Mr. Collins might never make theoffer, and till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.
If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talkof, the younger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiablestate at this time, for from the day of the invitation, to the dayof the ball, there was such a succession of rain as prevented theirwalking to Meryton once. No aunt, no officers, no news couldbe sought after--the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were gotby proxy. Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of herpatience in weather which totally suspended the improvement ofher acquaintance with Mr. Wickham; and nothing less than adance on Tuesday, could have made such a Friday, Saturday,Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.
Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, andlooked in vain for Mr. Wickham among the cluster of red coatsthere assembled, a doubt of his being present had never occurredto her. The certainty of meeting him had not been checked byany of those recollections that might not unreasonably havealarmed her. She had dressed with more than usual care, andprepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all thatremained unsubdued of his heart, trusting that it was not morethan might be won in the course of the evening. But in aninstant arose the dreadful suspicion of his being purposelyomitted for Mr. Darcy's pleasure in the Bingleys' invitationto the officers; and though this was not exactly the case, theabsolute fact of his absence was pronounced by his friend Denny,to whom Lydia eagerly applied, and who told them that Wickhamhad been obliged to go to town on business the day before, andwas not yet returned; adding, with a significant smile, "I do notimagine his business would have called him away just now, if hehad not wanted to avoid a certain gentleman here."
This part of his intelligence, though unheard by Lydia, wascaught by Elizabeth, and, as it assured her that Darcy was notless answerable for Wickham's absence than if her first surmisehad been just, every feeling of displeasure against the formerwas so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that she couldhardly reply with tolerable civility to the polite inquirieswhich he directly afterwards approached to make. Attendance,forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham. Shewas resolved against any sort of conversation with him, andturned away with a degree of ill-humour which she could notwholly surmount even in speaking to Mr. Bingley, whose blindpartiality provoked her.
But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though everyprospect of her own was destroyed for the evening, it could notdwell long on her spirits; and having told all her griefs toCharlotte Lucas, whom she had not seen for a week, she wassoon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of hercousin, and to point him out to her particular notice. The firsttwo dances, however, brought a return of distress; they weredances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn,apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrongwithout being aware of it, gave her all the shame and miserywhich a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give.
The moment of her release from him was ecstasy.
She danced next with an officer, and had the refreshment oftalking of Wickham, and of hearing that he was universally liked.
When those dances were over, she returned to Charlotte Lucas,and was in conversation with her, when she found herselfsuddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprisein his application for her hand, that, without knowing what shedid, she accepted him. He walked away again immediately, andshe was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind;Charlotte tried to console her:
"I dare say you will find him very agreeable."
"Heaven forbid! _That_ would be the greatest misfortune of all!To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do notwish me such an evil."
When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached toclaim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in awhisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickhamto make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times hisconsequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place inthe set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in beingallowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in herneighbours' looks, their equal amazement in beholding it. Theystood for some time without speaking a word; and she began toimagine that their silence was to last through the two dances,and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenlyfancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partnerto oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on thedance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause ofsome minutes, she addressed him a second time with:--"It is_your_ turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked aboutthe dance, and _you_ ought to make some sort of remark on thesize of the room, or the number of couples."
He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to sayshould be said.
"Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by andby I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter thanpublic ones. But _now_ we may be silent."
"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"
"Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would lookodd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet forthe advantage of _some_, conversation ought to be so arranged, asthat they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or doyou imagine that you are gratifying mine?"
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a greatsimilarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial,taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to saysomething that will amaze the whole room, and be handed downto posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character,I am sure," said he. "How near it may be to _mine_, I cannotpretend to say. _You_ think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
"I must not decide on my own performance."
He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gonedown the dance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did notvery often walk to Meryton. She answered in the affirmative,and, unable to resist the temptation, added, "When you met usthere the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."
The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of _hauteur_ overspreadhis features, but he said not a word, and Elizabeth, thoughblaming herself for her own weakness, could not go on. Atlength Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said, "Mr.
Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his_making_ friends--whether he may be equally capable of _retaining_them, is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose _your_ friendship," repliedElizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely tosuffer from all his life."
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing thesubject. At that moment, Sir William Lucas appeared close tothem, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of theroom; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped with a bow ofsuperior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and hispartner.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Suchvery superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that youbelong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that yourfair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to havethis pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirableevent, my dear Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shalltake place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal toMr. Darcy:--but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will notthank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of thatyoung lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me."
The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy;but Sir William's allusion to his friend seemed to strike himforcibly, and his eyes were directed with a very seriousexpression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together.
Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to his partner,and said, "Sir William's interruption has made me forget whatwe were talking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could nothave interrupted two people in the room who had less to say forthemselves. We have tried two or three subjects already withoutsuccess, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine."
"What think you of books?" said he, smiling.
"Books--oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not withthe same feelings."
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can atleast be no want of subject. We may compare our differentopinions."
"No--I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is alwaysfull of something else."
"The _present_ always occupies you in such scenes--does it?"said he, with a look of doubt.
"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said,for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soonafterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, "I rememberhearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave,that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You arevery cautious, I suppose, as to its _being created_."
"I am," said he, with a firm voice.
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"
"I hope not."
"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change theiropinion, to be secure of judging properly at first."
"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the illustration of _your_ character," said she,endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to makeit out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear suchdifferent accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that reports mayvary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet,that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment,as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect nocredit on either."
"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never haveanother opportunity."
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he coldlyreplied. She said no more, and they went down the other danceand parted in silence; and on each side dissatisfied, though notto an equal degree, for in Darcy's breast there was a tolerablepowerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon,and directed all his anger against another.
They had not long separated, when Miss Bingley came towardsher, and with an expression of civil disdain accosted her:
"So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are quite delighted with GeorgeWickham! Your sister has been talking to me about him, andasking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young manquite forgot to tell you, among his other communication, thathe was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr. Darcy's steward.
Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implicitconfidence to all his assertions; for as to Mr. Darcy's usinghim ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, he hasalways been remarkably kind to him, though George Wickham hastreated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner. I do not know theparticulars, but I know very well that Mr. Darcy is not in theleast to blame, that he cannot bear to hear George Wickhammentioned, and that though my brother thought that he could notwell avoid including him in his invitation to the officers, hewas excessively glad to find that he had taken himself out of theway. His coming into the country at all is a most insolent thing,indeed, and I wonder how he could presume to do it. I pity you,Miss Eliza, for this discovery of your favourite's guilt; butreally, considering his descent, one could not expect much better."
"His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be thesame," said Elizabeth angrily; "for I have heard you accuse himof nothing worse than of being the son of Mr. Darcy's steward,and of _that_, I can assure you, he informed me himself."
"I beg your pardon," replied Miss Bingley, turning away with asneer. "Excuse my interference--it was kindly meant."
"Insolent girl!" said Elizabeth to herself. "You are muchmistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attackas this. I see nothing in it but your own wilful ignorance andthe malice of Mr. Darcy." She then sought her eldest sister, whohas undertaken to make inquiries on the same subject of Bingley.
Jane met her with a smile of such sweet complacency, a glow ofsuch happy expression, as sufficiently marked how well she wassatisfied with the occurrences of the evening. Elizabeth instantlyread her feelings, and at that moment solicitude for Wickham,resentment against his enemies, and everything else, gave waybefore the hope of Jane's being in the fairest way for happiness.
"I want to know," said she, with a countenance no less smilingthan her sister's, "what you have learnt about Mr. Wickham.
But perhaps you have been too pleasantly engaged to think ofany third person; in which case you may be sure of my pardon."
"No," replied Jane, "I have not forgotten him; but I have nothingsatisfactory to tell you. Mr. Bingley does not know the whole ofhis history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances which haveprincipally offended Mr. Darcy; but he will vouch for the goodconduct, the probity, and honour of his friend, and is perfectlyconvinced that Mr. Wickham has deserved much less attentionfrom Mr. Darcy than he has received; and I am sorry to say byhis account as well as his sister's, Mr. Wickham is by no means arespectable young man. I am afraid he has been very imprudent,and has deserved to lose Mr. Darcy's regard."
"Mr. Bingley does not know Mr. Wickham himself?"
"No; he never saw him till the other morning at Meryton."
"This account then is what he has received from Mr. Darcy.
I am satisfied. But what does he say of the living?"
"He does not exactly recollect the circumstances, though he hasheard them from Mr. Darcy more than once, but he believes thatit was left to him _conditionally_ only."
"I have not a doubt of Mr. Bingley's sincerity," said Elizabethwarmly; "but you must excuse my not being convinced byassurances only. Mr. Bingley's defense of his friend was a veryable one, I dare say; but since he is unacquainted with severalparts of the story, and has learnt the rest from that friendhimself, I shall venture to still think of both gentlemen as Idid before."
She then changed the discourse to one more gratifying to each,and on which there could be no difference of sentiment.
Elizabeth listened with delight to the happy, though modesthopes which Jane entertained of Mr. Bingley's regard, and saidall in her power to heighten her confidence in it. On their beingjoined by Mr. Bingley himself, Elizabeth withdrew to MissLucas; to whose inquiry after the pleasantness of her last partnershe had scarcely replied, before Mr. Collins came up to them,and told her with great exultation that he had just been sofortunate as to make a most important discovery.
"I have found out," said he, "by a singular accident, that thereis now in the room a near relation of my patroness. I happenedto overhear the gentleman himself mentioning to the young lady whodoes the honours of the house the names of his cousin Miss deBourgh, and of her mother Lady Catherine. How wonderfully thesesort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meeting with,perhaps, a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this assembly!I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me topay my respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trusthe will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignoranceof the connection must plead my apology."
"You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!"
"Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done itearlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine's _nephew_. It willbe in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite wellyesterday se'nnight."
Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme,assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing himwithout introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than acompliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessarythere should be any notice on either side; and that if it were,it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, tobegin the acquaintance. Mr. Collins listened to her with thedetermined air of following his own inclination, and, when sheceased speaking, replied thus:
"My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the worldin your excellent judgement in all matters within the scope ofyour understanding; but permit me to say, that there must be awide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongstthe laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for, give meleave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal inpoint of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom--providedthat a proper humility of behaviour is at the same timemaintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictatesof my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform whatI look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profitby your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constantguide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fittedby education and habitual study to decide on what is right thana young lady like yourself." And with a low bow he left her toattack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerlywatched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was veryevident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow andthough she could not hear a word of it, she felt as if hearingit all, and saw in the motion of his lips the words "apology,""Hunsford," and "Lady Catherine de Bourgh." It vexed her tosee him expose himself to such a man. Mr. Darcy was eyeing himwith unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr. Collins allowedhim time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr.
Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, andMr. Darcy's contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the lengthof his second speech, and at the end of it he only made him aslight bow, and moved another way. Mr. Collins then returnedto Elizabeth.
"I have no reason, I assure you," said he, "to be dissatisfiedwith my reception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with theattention. He answered me with the utmost civility, and evenpaid me the compliment of saying that he was so well convincedof Lady Catherine's discernment as to be certain she could neverbestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsomethought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him."
As Elizabeth had no longer any interest of her own to pursue,she turned her attention almost entirely on her sister and Mr.
Bingley; and the train of agreeable reflections which herobservations gave birth to, made her perhaps almost as happy asJane. She saw her in idea settled in that very house, in all thefelicity which a marriage of true affection could bestow; and shefelt capable, under such circumstances, of endeavouring even tolike Bingley's two sisters. Her mother's thoughts she plainlysaw were bent the same way, and she determined not to venturenear her, lest she might hear too much. When they sat down tosupper, therefore, she considered it a most unlucky perversenesswhich placed them within one of each other; and deeply was shevexed to find that her mother was talking to that one person(Lady Lucas) freely, openly, and of nothing else but herexpectation that Jane would soon be married to Mr. Bingley. Itwas an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable offatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. Hisbeing such a charming young man, and so rich, and living butthree miles from them, were the first points of self-gratulation;and then it was such a comfort to think how fond the two sisterswere of Jane, and to be certain that they must desire theconnection as much as she could do. It was, moreover, such apromising thing for her younger daughters, as Jane's marrying sogreatly must throw them in the way of other rich men; and lastly,it was so pleasant at her time of life to be able to consign hersingle daughters to the care of their sister, that she might notbe obliged to go into company more than she liked. It wasnecessary to make this circumstance a matter of pleasure,because on such occasions it is the etiquette; but no one was lesslikely than Mrs. Bennet to find comfort in staying home at anyperiod of her life. She concluded with many good wishes thatLady Lucas might soon be equally fortunate, though evidentlyand triumphantly believing there was no chance of it.
In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to check the rapidity of hermother's words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in aless audible whisper; for, to her inexpressible vexation, shecould perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Mr. Darcy,who sat opposite to them. Her mother only scolded her forbeing nonsensical.
"What is Mr. Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him?I am sure we owe him no such particular civility as to be obligedto say nothing _he_ may not like to hear."
"For heaven's sake, madam, speak lower. What advantage canit be for you to offend Mr. Darcy? You will never recommendyourself to his friend by so doing!"
Nothing that she could say, however, had any influence. Hermother would talk of her views in the same intelligible tone.
Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.
She could not help frequently glancing her eye at Mr. Darcy,though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded; forthough he was not always looking at her mother, she wasconvinced that his attention was invariably fixed by her.
The expression of his face changed gradually from indignantcontempt to a composed and steady gravity.
At length, however, Mrs. Bennet had no more to say; and LadyLucas, who had been long yawning at the repetition of delightswhich she saw no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comfortsof cold ham and chicken. Elizabeth now began to revive. Butnot long was the interval of tranquillity; for, when supper wasover, singing was talked of, and she had the mortification ofseeing Mary, after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige thecompany. By many significant looks and silent entreaties, didshe endeavour to prevent such a proof of complaisance, but invain; Mary would not understand them; such an opportunity ofexhibiting was delightful to her, and she began her song.
Elizabeth's eyes were fixed on her with most painful sensations,and she watched her progress through the several stanzas withan impatience which was very ill rewarded at their close; forMary, on receiving, amongst the thanks of the table, the hint ofa hope that she might be prevailed on to favour them again, afterthe pause of half a minute began another. Mary's powers wereby no means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak, andher manner affected. Elizabeth was in agonies. She looked atJane, to see how she bore it; but Jane was very composedlytalking to Bingley. She looked at his two sisters, and sawthem making signs of derision at each other, and at Darcy, whocontinued, however, imperturbably grave. She looked at herfather to entreat his interference, lest Mary should be singing allnight. He took the hint, and when Mary had finished her secondsong, said aloud, "That will do extremely well, child. You havedelighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have timeto exhibit."
Mary, though pretending not to hear, was somewhat disconcerted;and Elizabeth, sorry for her, and sorry for her father's speech,was afraid her anxiety had done no good. Others of the partywere now applied to.
"If I," said Mr. Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing,I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the companywith an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion,and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. I donot mean, however, to assert that we can be justified in devotingtoo much of our time to music, for there are certainly other thingsto be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do. In thefirst place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may bebeneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He mustwrite his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be toomuch for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of hisdwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortableas possible. And I do not think it of light importance that heshould have attentive and conciliatory manner towards everybody,especially towards those to whom he owes his preferment. Icannot acquit him of that duty; nor could I think well of theman who should omit an occasion of testifying his respecttowards anybody connected with the family." And with a bow toMr. Darcy, he concluded his speech, which had been spoken soloud as to be heard by half the room. Many stared--many smiled;but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, whilehis wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken sosensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Lady Lucas, that hewas a remarkably clever, good kind of young man.
To Elizabeth it appeared that, had her family made an agreementto expose themselves as much as they could during theevening, it would have been impossible for them to play theirparts with more spirit or finer success; and happy did she thinkit for Bingley and her sister that some of the exhibition hadescaped his notice, and that his feelings were not of a sort tobe much distressed by the folly which he must have witnessed.
That his two sisters and Mr. Darcy, however, should have suchan opportunity of ridiculing her relations, was bad enough, andshe could not determine whether the silent contempt of thegentleman, or the insolent smiles of the ladies, were moreintolerable.
The rest of the evening brought her little amusement. She wasteased by Mr. Collins, who continued most perseveringly by herside, and though he could not prevail on her to dance with himagain, put it out of her power to dance with others. In vaindid she entreat him to stand up with somebody else, and offer tointroduce him to any young lady in the room. He assured her,that as to dancing, he was perfectly indifferent to it; that hischief object was by delicate attentions to recommend himself toher and that he should therefore make a point of remaining closeto her the whole evening. There was no arguing upon such aproject. She owed her greatest relief to her friend Miss Lucas,who often joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Mr. Collins'sconversation to herself.
She was at least free from the offense of Mr. Darcy's furthernotice; though often standing within a very short distance of her,quite disengaged, he never came near enough to speak. She feltit to be the probable consequence of her allusions to Mr. Wickham,and rejoiced in it.
The Longbourn party were the last of all the company to depart,and, by a manoeuvre of Mrs. Bennet, had to wait for theircarriage a quarter of an hour after everybody else was gone,which gave them time to see how heartily they were wishedaway by some of the family. Mrs. Hurst and her sister scarcelyopened their mouths, except to complain of fatigue, and wereevidently impatient to have the house to themselves. Theyrepulsed every attempt of Mrs. Bennet at conversation, and byso doing threw a languor over the whole party, which was verylittle relieved by the long speeches of Mr. Collins, who wascomplimenting Mr. Bingley and his sisters on the elegance oftheir entertainment, and the hospitality and politeness which hadmarked their behaviour to their guests. Darcy said nothing at all.
Mr. Bennet, in equal silence, was enjoying the scene. Mr.
Bingley and Jane were standing together, a little detached fromthe rest, and talked only to each other. Elizabeth preserved assteady a silence as either Mrs. Hurst or Miss Bingley; and evenLydia was too much fatigued to utter more than the occasionalexclamation of "Lord, how tired I am!" accompanied by aviolent yawn.
When at length they arose to take leave, Mrs. Bennet was mostpressingly civil in her hope of seeing the whole family soonat Longbourn, and addressed herself especially to Mr. Bingley,to assure him how happy he would make them by eating a familydinner with them at any time, without the ceremony of a formalinvitation. Bingley was all grateful pleasure, and he readilyengaged for taking the earliest opportunity of waiting on her,after his return from London, whither he was obliged to go thenext day for a short time.
Mrs. Bennet was perfectly satisfied, and quitted the house underthe delightful persuasion that, allowing for the necessarypreparations of settlements, new carriages, and wedding clothes,she should undoubtedly see her daughter settled at Netherfield inthe course of three or four months. Of having another daughtermarried to Mr. Collins, she thought with equal certainty, andwith considerable, though not equal, pleasure. Elizabeth was theleast dear to her of all her children; and though the man and thematch were quite good enough for _her_, the worth of each waseclipsed by Mr. Bingley and Netherfield.
The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn. Mr. Collinsmade his declaration in form. Having resolved to do it withoutloss of time, as his leave of absence extended only to thefollowing Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to makeit distressing to himself even at the moment, he set about itin a very orderly manner, with all the observances, whichhe supposed a regular part of the business. On finding Mrs.
Bennet, Elizabeth, and one of the younger girls together, soonafter breakfast, he addressed the mother in these words:
"May I hope, madam, for your interest with your fair daughterElizabeth, when I solicit for the honour of a private audiencewith her in the course of this morning?"
Before Elizabeth had time for anything but a blush of surprise,Mrs. Bennet answered instantly, "Oh dear!--yes--certainly. Iam sure Lizzy will be very happy--I am sure she can have noobjection. Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs." And, gatheringher work together, she was hastening away, when Elizabethcalled out:
"Dear madam, do not go. I beg you will not go. Mr. Collinsmust excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybodyneed not hear. I am going away myself."
"No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to stay where you are."And upon Elizabeth's seeming really, with vexed and embarrassedlooks, about to escape, she added: "Lizzy, I _insist_ upon yourstaying and hearing Mr. Collins."
Elizabeth would not oppose such an injunction--and a moment'sconsideration making her also sensible that it would be wisest toget it over as soon and as quietly as possible, she sat down againand tried to conceal, by incessant employment the feelings whichwere divided between distress and diversion. Mrs. Bennet and Kittywalked off, and as soon as they were gone, Mr. Collins began.
"Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so farfrom doing you any disservice, rather adds to your otherperfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes hadthere _not_ been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assureyou, that I have your respected mother's permission for thisaddress. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse,however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; myattentions have been too marked to be mistaken. Almost as soonas I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion ofmy future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings onthis subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state myreasons for marrying--and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshirewith the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did."
The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, beingrun away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing,that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attemptto stop him further, and he continued:
"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a rightthing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) toset the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I amconvinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; andthirdly--which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, thatit is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noblelady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice hasshe condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on thissubject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I leftHunsford--between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinsonwas arranging Miss de Bourgh's footstool, that she said, 'Mr.
Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry.
Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for _my_ sake; and foryour _own_, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not broughtup high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This ismy advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her toHunsford, and I will visit her.' Allow me, by the way, toobserve, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice andkindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of theadvantages in my power to offer. You will find her mannersbeyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, Ithink, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered withthe silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite.
Thus much for my general intention in favour of matrimony;it remains to be told why my views were directed towardsLongbourn instead of my own neighbourhood, where I canassure you there are many amiable young women. But the factis, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death ofyour honoured father (who, however, may live many yearslonger), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose awife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be aslittle as possible, when the melancholy event takes place--which,however, as I have already said, may not be for several years.
This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself itwill not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remainsfor me but to assure you in the most animated language of theviolence of my affection. To fortune I am perfectly indifferent,and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since Iam well aware that it could not be complied with; and that onethousand pounds in the four per cents, which will not be yourstill after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever beentitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent;and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shallever pass my lips when we are married."
It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him now.
"You are too hasty, sir," she cried. "You forget that I havemade no answer. Let me do it without further loss of time.
Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I amvery sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it isimpossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them."
"I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal waveof the hand, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject theaddresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, whenhe first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusalis repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by nomeans discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope tolead you to the altar ere long."
"Upon my word, sir," cried Elizabeth, "your hope is a ratherextraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that Iam not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are)who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance ofbeing asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal.
You could not make _me_ happy, and I am convinced that I amthe last woman in the world who could make you so. Nay, wereyour friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded shewould find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation."
"Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so," said Mr.
Collins very gravely--"but I cannot imagine that her ladyshipwould at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain when Ihave the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the veryhighest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiablequalification."
"Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary.
You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me thecompliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy andvery rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power toprevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you musthave satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to myfamily, and may take possession of Longbourn estate wheneverit falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may beconsidered, therefore, as finally settled." And rising as shethus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had Mr. Collinsnot thus addressed her:
"When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on thesubject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer thanyou have now given me; though I am far from accusing you ofcruelty at present, because I know it to be the establishedcustom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, andperhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suitas would be consistent with the true delicacy of the femalecharacter."
"Really, Mr. Collins," cried Elizabeth with some warmth, "youpuzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appearto you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to expressmy refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one."
"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, thatyour refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. Myreasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appearto me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that theestablishment I can offer would be any other than highlydesirable. My situation in life, my connections with the familyof de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstanceshighly in my favour; and you should take it into furtherconsideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it isby no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever bemade you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will inall likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiablequalifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are notserious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute itto your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to theusual practice of elegant females."
"I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to thatkind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man.
I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere.
I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me inyour proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. Myfeelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do notconsider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you,but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart."
"You are uniformly charming!" cried he, with an air of awkwardgallantry; "and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by theexpress authority of both your excellent parents, my proposalswill not fail of being acceptable."
To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth wouldmake no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew;determined, if he persisted in considering her repeatedrefusals as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father,whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to bedecisive, and whose behavior at least could not be mistakenfor the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.
Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of hissuccessful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in thevestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner sawElizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towardsthe staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room, andcongratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happyprospect or their nearer connection. Mr. Collins received andreturned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and thenproceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with theresult of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied,since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given himwould naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuinedelicacy of her character.
This information, however, startled Mrs. Bennet; she wouldhave been glad to be equally satisfied that her daughter hadmeant to encourage him by protesting against his proposals,but she dared not believe it, and could not help saying so.
"But, depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shallbe brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly.
She is a very headstrong, foolish girl, and does not know herown interest but I will _make_ her know it."
"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins;"but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whethershe would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in mysituation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriagestate. If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit,perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me,because if liable to such defects of temper, she could notcontribute much to my felicity."
"Sir, you quite misunderstand me," said Mrs. Bennet, alarmed.
"Lizzy is only headstrong in such matters as these. In everythingelse she is as good-natured a girl as ever lived. I will godirectly to Mr. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with her,I am sure."
She would not give him time to reply, but hurrying instantly toher husband, called out as she entered the library, "Oh! Mr.
Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar.
You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vowsshe will not have him, and if you do not make haste he willchange his mind and not have _her_."
Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, andfixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not inthe least altered by her communication.
"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, whenshe had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"
"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not haveMr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will nothave Lizzy."
"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopelessbusiness."
"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist uponher marrying him."
"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."
Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned tothe library.
"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I havesent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr.
Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabethreplied that it was. "Very well--and this offer of marriage youhave refused?"
"I have, sir."
"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insistsupon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"
"Yes, or I will never see her again."
"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this dayyou must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother willnever see you again if you do _not_ marry Mr. Collins, and I willnever see you again if you _do_."
Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such abeginning, but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that herhusband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessivelydisappointed.
"What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, in talking this way? Youpromised me to _insist_ upon her marrying him."
"My dear," replied her husband, "I have two small favours torequest. First, that you will allow me the free use of myunderstanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of myroom. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon asmay be."
Not yet, however, in spite of her disappointment in her husband,did Mrs. Bennet give up the point. She talked to Elizabeth againand again; coaxed and threatened her by turns. She endeavouredto secure Jane in her interest; but Jane, with all possiblemildness, declined interfering; and Elizabeth, sometimes withreal earnestness, and sometimes with playful gaiety, replied toher attacks. Though her manner varied, however, her determinationnever did.
Mr. Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what hadpassed. He thought too well of himself to comprehend on whatmotives his cousin could refuse him; and though his pride washurt, he suffered in no other way. His regard for her was quiteimaginary; and the possibility of her deserving her mother'sreproach prevented his feeling any regret.
While the family were in this confusion, Charlotte Lucas came tospend the day with them. She was met in the vestibule by Lydia,who, flying to her, cried in a half whisper, "I am glad you arecome, for there is such fun here! What do you think hashappened this morning? Mr. Collins has made an offer to Lizzy,and she will not have him."
Charlotte hardly had time to answer, before they were joined byKitty, who came to tell the same news; and no sooner had theyentered the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Bennet was alone, thanshe likewise began on the subject, calling on Miss Lucas for hercompassion, and entreating her to persuade her friend Lizzy tocomply with the wishes of all her family. "Pray do, my dearMiss Lucas," she added in a melancholy tone, "for nobody is onmy side, nobody takes part with me. I am cruelly used, nobodyfeels for my poor nerves."
Charlotte's reply was spared by the entrance of Jane andElizabeth.
"Aye, there she comes," continued Mrs. Bennet, "looking asunconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if wewere at York, provided she can have her own way. But I tellyou, Miss Lizzy--if you take it into your head to go on refusingevery offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husbandat all--and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain youwhen your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you--andso I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I toldyou in the library, you know, that I should never speak to youagain, and you will find me as good as my word. I have nopleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have muchpleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody. People who suffer asI do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination fortalking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so.
Those who do not complain are never pitied."
Her daughters listened in silence to this effusion, sensiblethat any attempt to reason with her or soothe her would onlyincrease the irritation. She talked on, therefore, withoutinterruption from any of them, till they were joined by Mr.
Collins, who entered the room with an air more stately thanusual, and on perceiving whom, she said to the girls, "Now, I doinsist upon it, that you, all of you, hold your tongues, andlet me and Mr. Collins have a little conversation together."
Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kittyfollowed, but Lydia stood her ground, determined to hear all shecould; and Charlotte, detained first by the civility of Mr. Collins,whose inquiries after herself and all her family were very minute,and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking tothe window and pretending not to hear. In a doleful voice Mrs.
Bennet began the projected conversation: "Oh! Mr. Collins!"
"My dear madam," replied he, "let us be for ever silent on thispoint. Far be it from me," he presently continued, in a voice thatmarked his displeasure, "to resent the behaviour of your daughter.
Resignation to inevitable evils is the evil duty of us all; thepeculiar duty of a young man who has been so fortunate as Ihave been in early preferment; and I trust I am resigned.
Perhaps not the less so from feeling a doubt of my positivehappiness had my fair cousin honoured me with her hand; for Ihave often observed that resignation is never so perfect as whenthe blessing denied begins to lose somewhat of its value in ourestimation. You will not, I hope, consider me as showing anydisrespect to your family, my dear madam, by thus withdrawingmy pretensions to your daughter's favour, without having paidyourself and Mr. Bennet the compliment of requesting you tointerpose your authority in my behalf. My conduct may, I fear,be objectionable in having accepted my dismission from yourdaughter's lips instead of your own. But we are all liable toerror. I have certainly meant well through the whole affair. Myobject has been to secure an amiable companion for myself, withdue consideration for the advantage of all your family, and ifmy _manner_ has been at all reprehensible, I here beg leave toapologise."
The discussion of Mr. Collins's offer was now nearly at an end,and Elizabeth had only to suffer from the uncomfortable feelingsnecessarily attending it, and occasionally from some peevishallusions of her mother. As for the gentleman himself, _his_feelings were chiefly expressed, not by embarrassment ordejection, or by trying to avoid her, but by stiffness of mannerand resentful silence. He scarcely ever spoke to her, and theassiduous attentions which he had been so sensible of himselfwere transferred for the rest of the day to Miss Lucas, whosecivility in listening to him was a seasonable relief to them all,and especially to her friend.
The morrow produced no abatement of Mrs. Bennet's ill-humouror ill health. Mr. Collins was also in the same state of angrypride. Elizabeth had hoped that his resentment might shorten hisvisit, but his plan did not appear in the least affected by it.
He was always to have gone on Saturday, and to Saturday he meantto stay.
After breakfast, the girls walked to Meryton to inquire if Mr.
Wickham were returned, and to lament over his absence fromthe Netherfield ball. He joined them on their entering the town,and attended them to their aunt's where his regret and vexation,and the concern of everybody, was well talked over. ToElizabeth, however, he voluntarily acknowledged that thenecessity of his absence _had_ been self-imposed.
"I found," said he, "as the time drew near that I had better notmeet Mr. Darcy; that to be in the same room, the same partywith him for so many hours together, might be more than I couldbear, and that scenes might arise unpleasant to more thanmyself."
She highly approved his forbearance, and they had leisure for afull discussion of it, and for all the commendation which theycivilly bestowed on each other, as Wickham and another officerwalked back with them to Longbourn, and during the walk heparticularly attended to her. His accompanying them was adouble advantage; she felt all the compliment it offered toherself, and it was most acceptable as an occasion of introducinghim to her father and mother.
Soon after their return, a letter was delivered to Miss Bennet;it came from Netherfield. The envelope contained a sheet ofelegant, little, hot-pressed paper, well covered with a lady's fair,flowing hand; and Elizabeth saw her sister's countenance changeas she read it, and saw her dwelling intently on some particularpassages. Jane recollected herself soon, and putting the letteraway, tried to join with her usual cheerfulness in the generalconversation; but Elizabeth felt an anxiety on the subject whichdrew off her attention even from Wickham; and no sooner hadhe and his companion taken leave, than a glance from Janeinvited her to follow her upstairs. When they had gained theirown room, Jane, taking out the letter, said:
"This is from Caroline Bingley; what it contains has surprised mea good deal. The whole party have left Netherfield by this time,and are on their way to town--and without any intention of comingback again. You shall hear what she says."
She then read the first sentence aloud, which comprised theinformation of their having just resolved to follow their brotherto town directly, and of their meaning to dine in GrosvenorStreet, where Mr. Hurst had a house. The next was in thesewords: "I do not pretend to regret anything I shall leave inHertfordshire, except your society, my dearest friend; but wewill hope, at some future period, to enjoy many returns of thatdelightful intercourse we have known, and in the meanwhile maylessen the pain of separation by a very frequent and mostunreserved correspondence. I depend on you for that." Tothese highflown expressions Elizabeth listened with all theinsensibility of distrust; and though the suddenness of theirremoval surprised her, she saw nothing in it really to lament;it was not to be supposed that their absence from Netherfieldwould prevent Mr. Bingley's being there; and as to the loss oftheir society, she was persuaded that Jane must cease to regardit, in the enjoyment of his.
"It is unlucky," said she, after a short pause, "that you shouldnot be able to see your friends before they leave the country.
But may we not hope that the period of future happiness towhich Miss Bingley looks forward may arrive earlier than she isaware, and that the delightful intercourse you have known asfriends will be renewed with yet greater satisfaction as sisters?Mr. Bingley will not be detained in London by them."
"Caroline decidedly says that none of the party will return intoHertfordshire this winter. I will read it to you:"
"When my brother left us yesterday, he imagined that thebusiness which took him to London might be concluded in threeor four days; but as we are certain it cannot be so, and at thesame time convinced that when Charles gets to town he will bein no hurry to leave it again, we have determined on followinghim thither, that he may not be obliged to spend his vacant hoursin a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintances are alreadythere for the winter; I wish that I could hear that you, my dearestfriend, had any intention of making one of the crowd--but ofthat I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshiremay abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings,and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent yourfeeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you."
"It is evident by this," added Jane, "that he comes back no morethis winter."
"It is only evident that Miss Bingley does not mean that he_should_."
"Why will you think so? It must be his own doing. He is hisown master. But you do not know _all_. I _will_ read you thepassage which particularly hurts me. I will have no reservesfrom _you_."
"Mr. Darcy is impatient to see his sister; and, to confess thetruth, _we_ are scarcely less eager to meet her again. I really donot think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty, elegance,and accomplishments; and the affection she inspires in Louisaand myself is heightened into something still more interesting,from the hope we dare entertain of her being hereafter oursister. I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to youmy feelings on this subject; but I will not leave the countrywithout confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem themunreasonable. My brother admires her greatly already; he willhave frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the mostintimate footing; her relations all wish the connection as much ashis own; and a sister's partiality is not misleading me, I think,when I call Charles most capable of engaging any woman'sheart. With all these circumstances to favour an attachment, andnothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Jane, in indulgingthe hope of an event which will secure the happiness of so many?"
"What do you think of _this_ sentence, my dear Lizzy?" saidJane as she finished it. "Is it not clear enough? Does it notexpressly declare that Caroline neither expects nor wishes me tobe her sister; that she is perfectly convinced of her brother'sindifference; and that if she suspects the nature of my feelingsfor him, she means (most kindly!) to put me on my guard? Canthere be any other opinion on the subject?"
"Yes, there can; for mine is totally different. Will you hear it?"
"You shall have it in a few words. Miss Bingley sees that herbrother is in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy.
She follows him to town in hope of keeping him there, and triesto persuade you that he does not care about you."
Jane shook her head.
"Indeed, Jane, you ought to believe me. No one who has everseen you together can doubt his affection. Miss Bingley, I amsure, cannot. She is not such a simpleton. Could she have seenhalf as much love in Mr. Darcy for herself, she would haveordered her wedding clothes. But the case is this: We are notrich enough or grand enough for them; and she is the moreanxious to get Miss Darcy for her brother, from the notion thatwhen there has been _one_ intermarriage, she may have lesstrouble in achieving a second; in which there is certainly someingenuity, and I dare say it would succeed, if Miss de Bourghwere out of the way. But, my dearest Jane, you cannot seriouslyimagine that because Miss Bingley tells you her brother greatlyadmires Miss Darcy, he is in the smallest degree less sensibleof _your_ merit than when he took leave of you on Tuesday, orthat it will be in her power to persuade him that, instead ofbeing in love with you, he is very much in love with her friend."
"If we thought alike of Miss Bingley," replied Jane, "yourrepresentation of all this might make me quite easy. But I knowthe foundation is unjust. Caroline is incapable of wilfullydeceiving anyone; and all that I can hope in this case is thatshe is deceiving herself."
"That is right. You could not have started a more happy idea,since you will not take comfort in mine. Believe her to bedeceived, by all means. You have now done your duty by her,and must fret no longer."
"But, my dear sister, can I be happy, even supposing the best, inaccepting a man whose sisters and friends are all wishing him tomarry elsewhere?"
"You must decide for yourself," said Elizabeth; "and if, uponmature deliberation, you find that the misery of disobliging histwo sisters is more than equivalent to the happiness of being hiswife, I advise you by all means to refuse him."
"How can you talk so?" said Jane, faintly smiling. "You mustknow that though I should be exceedingly grieved at theirdisapprobation, I could not hesitate."
"I did not think you would; and that being the case, I cannotconsider your situation with much compassion."
"But if he returns no more this winter, my choice will never berequired. A thousand things may arise in six months!"
The idea of his returning no more Elizabeth treated with theutmost contempt. It appeared to her merely the suggestion ofCaroline's interested wishes, and she could not for a momentsuppose that those wishes, however openly or artfully spoken,could influence a young man so totally independent of everyone.
She represented to her sister as forcibly as possible what shefelt on the subject, and had soon the pleasure of seeing itshappy effect. Jane's temper was not desponding, and she wasgradually led to hope, though the diffidence of affectionsometimes overcame the hope, that Bingley would return toNetherfield and answer every wish of her heart.
They agreed that Mrs. Bennet should only hear of the departureof the family, without being alarmed on the score of thegentleman's conduct; but even this partial communication gaveher a great deal of concern, and she bewailed it as exceedinglyunlucky that the ladies should happen to go away just as theywere all getting so intimate together. After lamenting it,however, at some length, she had the consolation that Mr.
Bingley would be soon down again and soon dining at Longbourn,and the conclusion of all was the comfortable declaration,that though he had been invited only to a family dinner, shewould take care to have two full courses.
The Bennets were engaged to dine with the Lucases and againduring the chief of the day was Miss Lucas so kind as to listento Mr. Collins. Elizabeth took an opportunity of thanking her.
"It keeps him in good humour," said she, "and I am more obligedto you than I can express." Charlotte assured her friend ofher satisfaction in being useful, and that it amply repaid herfor the little sacrifice of her time. This was very amiable,but Charlotte's kindness extended farther than Elizabeth hadany conception of; its object was nothing else than to secureher from any return of Mr. Collins's addresses, by engagingthem towards herself. Such was Miss Lucas's scheme; andappearances were so favourable, that when they parted at night,she would have felt almost secure of success if he had not beento leave Hertfordshire so very soon. But here she did injusticeto the fire and independence of his character, for it ledhim to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning withadmirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himselfat her feet. He was anxious to avoid the notice of his cousins,from a conviction that if they saw him depart, they could notfail to conjecture his design, and he was not willing to havethe attempt known till its success might be known likewise; forthough feeling almost secure, and with reason, for Charlotte hadbeen tolerably encouraging, he was comparatively diffident sincethe adventure of Wednesday. His reception, however, was ofthe most flattering kind. Miss Lucas perceived him from anupper window as he walked towards the house, and instantly setout to meet him accidentally in the lane. But little had shedared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited her there.
In as short a time as Mr. Collins's long speeches would allow,everything was settled between them to the satisfaction of both;and as they entered the house he earnestly entreated her to namethe day that was to make him the happiest of men; and thoughsuch a solicitation must be waived for the present, the lady feltno inclination to trifle with his happiness. The stupidity withwhich he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship fromany charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance;and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure anddisinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soonthat establishment were gained.
Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for theirconsent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Mr.
Collins's present circumstances made it a most eligible match fortheir daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and hisprospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. Lady Lucasbegan directly to calculate, with more interest than thematter had ever excited before, how many years longer Mr.
Bennet was likely to live; and Sir William gave it as his decidedopinion, that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of theLongbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both he andhis wife should make their appearance at St. James's. The wholefamily, in short, were properly overjoyed on the occasion.
The younger girls formed hopes of _coming out_ a year or twosooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys wererelieved from their apprehension of Charlotte's dying an oldmaid. Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She hadgained her point, and had time to consider of it. Her reflectionswere in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins, to be sure, wasneither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and hisattachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be herhusband. Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony,marriage had always been her object; it was the only provisionfor well-educated young women of small fortune, and howeveruncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantestpreservative from want. This preservative she had nowobtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having everbeen handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. The leastagreeable circumstance in the business was the surprise it mustoccasion to Elizabeth Bennet, whose friendship she valuedbeyond that of any other person. Elizabeth would wonder, andprobably would blame her; and though her resolution was not tobe shaken, her feelings must be hurt by such a disapprobation.
She resolved to give her the information herself, and thereforecharged Mr. Collins, when he returned to Longbourn to dinner,to drop no hint of what had passed before any of the family. Apromise of secrecy was of course very dutifully given, but itcould not be kept without difficulty; for the curiosity excitedby his long absence burst forth in such very direct questions onhis return as required some ingenuity to evade, and he was at thesame time exercising great self-denial, for he was longing topublish his prosperous love.
As he was to begin his journey too early on the morrow to seeany of the family, the ceremony of leave-taking was performedwhen the ladies moved for the night; and Mrs. Bennet, withgreat politeness and cordiality, said how happy they should beto see him at Longbourn again, whenever his engagements mightallow him to visit them.
"My dear madam," he replied, "this invitation is particularlygratifying, because it is what I have been hoping to receive; andyou may be very certain that I shall avail myself of it as soonas possible."
They were all astonished; and Mr. Bennet, who could by nomeans wish for so speedy a return, immediately said:
"But is there not danger of Lady Catherine's disapprobationhere, my good sir? You had better neglect your relations thanrun the risk of offending your patroness."
"My dear sir," replied Mr. Collins, "I am particularly obligedto you for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon my nottaking so material a step without her ladyship's concurrence."
"You cannot be too much upon your guard. Risk anythingrather than her displeasure; and if you find it likely to be raisedby your coming to us again, which I should think exceedinglyprobable, stay quietly at home, and be satisfied that _we_ shalltake no offence."
"Believe me, my dear sir, my gratitude is warmly excited bysuch affectionate attention; and depend upon it, you will speedilyreceive from me a letter of thanks for this, and for every othermark of your regard during my stay in Hertfordshire. As for myfair cousins, though my absence may not be long enough torender it necessary, I shall now take the liberty of wishing themhealth and happiness, not excepting my cousin Elizabeth."
With proper civilities the ladies then withdrew; all of themequally surprised that he meditated a quick return. Mrs. Bennetwished to understand by it that he thought of paying hisaddresses to one of her younger girls, and Mary might have beenprevailed on to accept him. She rated his abilities much higherthan any of the others; there was a solidity in his reflectionswhich often struck her, and though by no means so clever asherself, she thought that if encouraged to read and improvehimself by such an example as hers, he might become a veryagreeable companion. But on the following morning, everyhope of this kind was done away. Miss Lucas called soon afterbreakfast, and in a private conference with Elizabeth related theevent of the day before.
The possibility of Mr. Collins's fancying himself in love with herfriend had once occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two;but that Charlotte could encourage him seemed almost as farfrom possibility as she could encourage him herself, and herastonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at firstthe bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out:
"Engaged to Mr. Collins! My dear Charlotte--impossible!"
The steady countenance which Miss Lucas had commanded intelling her story, gave way to a momentary confusion here onreceiving so direct a reproach; though, as it was no more thanshe expected, she soon regained her composure, and calmlyreplied:
"Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza? Do you think itincredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure anywoman's good opinion, because he was not so happy as tosucceed with you?"
But Elizabeth had now recollected herself, and making a strongeffort for it, was able to assure with tolerable firmness that theprospect of their relationship was highly grateful to her, andthat she wished her all imaginable happiness.
"I see what you are feeling," replied Charlotte. "You must besurprised, very much surprised--so lately as Mr. Collins waswishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think itover, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I amnot romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortablehome; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connection, andsituation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happinesswith him is as fair as most people can boast on entering themarriage state."
Elizabeth quietly answered "Undoubtedly;" and after anawkward pause, they returned to the rest of the family.
Charlotte did not stay much longer, and Elizabeth was then leftto reflect on what she had heard. It was a long time before shebecame at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match.
The strangeness of Mr. Collins's making two offers of marriagewithin three days was nothing in comparison of his being nowaccepted. She had always felt that Charlotte's opinion ofmatrimony was not exactly like her own, but she had notsupposed it to be possible that, when called into action, shewould have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage.
Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating picture!And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in heresteem, was added the distressing conviction that it wasimpossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lotshe had chosen.
Elizabeth was sitting with her mother and sisters, reflecting onwhat she had heard, and doubting whether she was authorised tomention it, when Sir William Lucas himself appeared, sent by hisdaughter, to announce her engagement to the family. With manycompliments to them, and much self-gratulation on the prospectof a connection between the houses, he unfolded the matter--toan audience not merely wondering, but incredulous; for Mrs.
Bennet, with more perseverance than politeness, protested hemust be entirely mistaken; and Lydia, always unguarded andoften uncivil, boisterously exclaimed:
"Good Lord! Sir William, how can you tell such a story? Do notyou know that Mr. Collins wants to marry Lizzy?"
Nothing less than the complaisance of a courtier could haveborne without anger such treatment; but Sir William's goodbreeding carried him through it all; and though he begged leaveto be positive as to the truth of his information, he listenedto all their impertinence with the most forbearing courtesy.
Elizabeth, feeling it incumbent on her to relieve him from sounpleasant a situation, now put herself forward to confirm hisaccount, by mentioning her prior knowledge of it from Charlotteherself; and endeavoured to put a stop to the exclamations of hermother and sisters by the earnestness of her congratulations toSir William, in which she was readily joined by Jane, and bymaking a variety of remarks on the happiness that might beexpected from the match, the excellent character of Mr. Collins,and the convenient distance of Hunsford from London.
Mrs. Bennet was in fact too much overpowered to say a greatdeal while Sir William remained; but no sooner had he left themthan her feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, shepersisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, shewas very sure that Mr. Collins had been taken in; thirdly, shetrusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly,that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however,were plainly deduced from the whole: one, that Elizabeth wasthe real cause of the mischief; and the other that she herself hadbeen barbarously misused by them all; and on these two pointsshe principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing couldconsole and nothing could appease her. Nor did that day wearout her resentment. A week elapsed before she could seeElizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before shecould speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude,and many months were gone before she could at all forgive theirdaughter.
Mr. Bennet's emotions were much more tranquil on the occasion,and such as he did experience he pronounced to be of a mostagreeable sort; for it gratified him, he said, to discover thatCharlotte Lucas, whom he had been used to think tolerablysensible, was as foolish as his wife, and more foolish than hisdaughter!
Jane confessed herself a little surprised at the match; but shesaid less of her astonishment than of her earnest desire for theirhappiness; nor could Elizabeth persuade her to consider it asimprobable. Kitty and Lydia were far from envying Miss Lucas,for Mr. Collins was only a clergyman; and it affected them in noother way than as a piece of news to spread at Meryton.
Lady Lucas could not be insensible of triumph on being able toretort on Mrs. Bennet the comfort of having a daughter wellmarried; and she called at Longbourn rather oftener than usualto say how happy she was, though Mrs. Bennet's sour looks andill-natured remarks might have been enough to drive happinessaway.
Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint whichkept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth feltpersuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist betweenthem again. Her disappointment in Charlotte made her turn withfonder regard to her sister, of whose rectitude and delicacyshe was sure her opinion could never be shaken, and for whosehappiness she grew daily more anxious, as Bingley had now beengone a week and nothing more was heard of his return.
Jane had sent Caroline an early answer to her letter, and wascounting the days till she might reasonably hope to hear again.
The promised letter of thanks from Mr. Collins arrived onTuesday, addressed to their father, and written with all thesolemnity of gratitude which a twelvemonth's abode in thefamily might have prompted. After discharging his conscienceon that head, he proceeded to inform them, with many rapturousexpressions, of his happiness in having obtained the affection oftheir amiable neighbour, Miss Lucas, and then explained that itwas merely with the view of enjoying her society that he hadbeen so ready to close with their kind wish of seeing him againat Longbourn, whither he hoped to be able to return on Mondayfortnight; for Lady Catherine, he added, so heartily approvedhis marriage, that she wished it to take place as soon as possible,which he trusted would be an unanswerable argument with hisamiable Charlotte to name an early day for making him thehappiest of men.
Mr. Collins's return into Hertfordshire was no longer a matterof pleasure to Mrs. Bennet. On the contrary, she was as muchdisposed to complain of it as her husband. It was very strangethat he should come to Longbourn instead of to Lucas Lodge; itwas also very inconvenient and exceedingly troublesome. Shehated having visitors in the house while her health was soindifferent, and lovers were of all people the most disagreeable.
Such were the gentle murmurs of Mrs. Bennet, and they gave wayonly to the greater distress of Mr. Bingley's continued absence.
Neither Jane nor Elizabeth were comfortable on this subject.
Day after day passed away without bringing any other tidings ofhim than the report which shortly prevailed in Meryton of hiscoming no more to Netherfield the whole winter; a report whichhighly incensed Mrs. Bennet, and which she never failed tocontradict as a most scandalous falsehood.
Even Elizabeth began to fear--not that Bingley was indifferent--butthat his sisters would be successful in keeping him away.
Unwilling as she was to admit an idea so destructive of Jane'shappiness, and so dishonorable to the stability of her lover, shecould not prevent its frequently occurring. The united efforts ofhis two unfeeling sisters and of his overpowering friend, assistedby the attractions of Miss Darcy and the amusements of Londonmight be too much, she feared, for the strength of his attachment.
As for Jane, _her_ anxiety under this suspense was, of course,more painful than Elizabeth's, but whatever she felt she wasdesirous of concealing, and between herself and Elizabeth,therefore, the subject was never alluded to. But as no suchdelicacy restrained her mother, an hour seldom passed in whichshe did not talk of Bingley, express her impatience for his arrival,or even require Jane to confess that if he did not come back shewould think herself very ill used. It needed all Jane's steadymildness to bear these attacks with tolerable tranquillity.
Mr. Collins returned most punctually on Monday fortnight, buthis reception at Longbourn was not quite so gracious as it hadbeen on his first introduction. He was too happy, however, toneed much attention; and luckily for the others, the businessof love-making relieved them from a great deal of his company.
The chief of every day was spent by him at Lucas Lodge, and hesometimes returned to Longbourn only in time to make anapology for his absence before the family went to bed.
Mrs. Bennet was really in a most pitiable state. The verymention of anything concerning the match threw her into anagony of ill-humour, and wherever she went she was sure ofhearing it talked of. The sight of Miss Lucas was odious toher. As her successor in that house, she regarded her withjealous abhorrence. Whenever Charlotte came to see them,she concluded her to be anticipating the hour of possession;and whenever she spoke in a low voice to Mr. Collins, wasconvinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, andresolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house,as soon as Mr. Bennet were dead. She complained bitterly ofall this to her husband.
"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think thatCharlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that Ishould be forced to make way for _her_, and live to see her takeher place in it!"
"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let ushope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may bethe survivor."
This was not very consoling to Mrs. Bennet, and therefore, insteadof making any answer, she went on as before.
"I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate.
If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it."
"What should not you mind?"
"I should not mind anything at all."
"Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of suchinsensibility."
"I never can be thankful, Mr. Bennet, for anything about theentail. How anyone could have the conscience to entail away anestate from one's own daughters, I cannot understand; and allfor the sake of Mr. Collins too! Why should _he_ have it morethan anybody else?"
"I leave it to yourself to determine," said Mr. Bennet.
Miss Bingley's letter arrived, and put an end to doubt. The veryfirst sentence conveyed the assurance of their being all settledin London for the winter, and concluded with her brother's regretat not having had time to pay his respects to his friends inHertfordshire before he left the country.
Hope was over, entirely over; and when Jane could attend to therest of the letter, she found little, except the professed affectionof the writer, that could give her any comfort. Miss Darcy'spraise occupied the chief of it. Her many attractions were againdwelt on, and Caroline boasted joyfully of their increasingintimacy, and ventured to predict the accomplishment of thewishes which had been unfolded in her former letter. She wrotealso with great pleasure of her brother's being an inmate of Mr.
Darcy's house, and mentioned with raptures some plans of thelatter with regard to new furniture.
Elizabeth, to whom Jane very soon communicated the chief ofall this, heard it in silent indignation. Her heart was dividedbetween concern for her sister, and resentment against all others.
To Caroline's assertion of her brother's being partial to MissDarcy she paid no credit. That he was really fond of Jane, shedoubted no more than she had ever done; and much as she hadalways been disposed to like him, she could not think withoutanger, hardly without contempt, on that easiness of temper, thatwant of proper resolution, which now made him the slave of hisdesigning friends, and led him to sacrifice of his own happinessto the caprice of their inclination. Had his own happiness,however, been the only sacrifice, he might have been allowed tosport with it in whatever manner he thought best, but her sister'swas involved in it, as she thought he must be sensible himself.
It was a subject, in short, on which reflection would be longindulged, and must be unavailing. She could think of nothingelse; and yet whether Bingley's regard had really died away, orwere suppressed by his friends' interference; whether he hadbeen aware of Jane's attachment, or whether it had escaped hisobservation; whatever were the case, though her opinion of himmust be materially affected by the difference, her sister'ssituation remained the same, her peace equally wounded.
A day or two passed before Jane had courage to speak of herfeelings to Elizabeth; but at last, on Mrs. Bennet's leaving themtogether, after a longer irritation than usual about Netherfieldand its master, she could not help saying:
"Oh, that my dear mother had more command over herself! Shecan have no idea of the pain she gives me by her continualreflections on him. But I will not repine. It cannot last long.
He will be forgot, and we shall all be as we were before."
Elizabeth looked at her sister with incredulous solicitude, butsaid nothing.
"You doubt me," cried Jane, slightly colouring; "indeed, youhave no reason. He may live in my memory as the most amiableman of my acquaintance, but that is all. I have nothing eitherto hope or fear, and nothing to reproach him with. Thank God! Ihave not _that_ pain. A little time, therefore--I shall certainlytry to get the better."
With a stronger voice she soon added, "I have this comfortimmediately, that it has not been more than an error of fancy onmy side, and that it has done no harm to anyone but myself."
"My dear Jane!" exclaimed Elizabeth, "you are too good. Yoursweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic; I do not knowwhat to say to you. I feel as if I had never done you justice, orloved you as you deserve."
Miss Bennet eagerly disclaimed all extraordinary merit, andthrew back the praise on her sister's warm affection.
"Nay," said Elizabeth, "this is not fair. _You_ wish to think allthe world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill of anybody. Ionly want to think _you_ perfect, and you set yourself against it.
Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroachingon your privilege of universal good-will. You need not. Thereare few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I thinkwell. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfiedwith it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency ofall human characters, and of the little dependence that can beplaced on the appearance of merit or sense. I have met with twoinstances lately, one I will not mention; the other is Charlotte'smarriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!"
"My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. Theywill ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enoughfor difference of situation and temper. Consider Mr. Collins'srespectability, and Charlotte's steady, prudent character.
Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune,it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, foreverybody's sake, that she may feel something like regard andesteem for our cousin."
"To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but noone else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were Ipersuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should onlythink worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart.
My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded,silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel,as well as I do, that the woman who married him cannot have aproper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it isCharlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual,change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour topersuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, andinsensibility of danger security for happiness."
"I must think your language too strong in speaking of both,"replied Jane; "and I hope you will be convinced of it by seeingthem happy together. But enough of this. You alluded tosomething else. You mentioned _two_ instances. I cannotmisunderstand you, but I entreat you, dear Lizzy, not to painme by thinking _that person_ to blame, and saying your opinionof him is sunk. We must not be so ready to fancy ourselvesintentionally injured. We must not expect a lively young man tobe always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothingbut our own vanity that deceives us. Women fancy admirationmeans more than it does."
"And men take care that they should."
"If it is designedly done, they cannot be justified; but I have noidea of there being so much design in the world as some personsimagine."
"I am far from attributing any part of Mr. Bingley's conduct todesign," said Elizabeth; "but without scheming to do wrong, orto make others unhappy, there may be error, and there may bemisery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to other people'sfeelings, and want of resolution, will do the business."
"And do you impute it to either of those?"
"Yes; to the last. But if I go on, I shall displease you by sayingwhat I think of persons you esteem. Stop me whilst you can."
"You persist, then, in supposing his sisters influence him?"
"Yes, in conjunction with his friend."
"I cannot believe it. Why should they try to influence him?They can only wish his happiness; and if he is attached to me,no other woman can secure it."
"Your first position is false. They may wish many things besideshis happiness; they may wish his increase of wealth andconsequence; they may wish him to marry a girl who has all theimportance of money, great connections, and pride."
"Beyond a doubt, they _do_ wish him to choose Miss Darcy,"replied Jane; "but this may be from better feelings than you aresupposing. They have known her much longer than they haveknown me; no wonder if they love her better. But, whatevermay be their own wishes, it is very unlikely they should haveopposed their brother's. What sister would think herself atliberty to do it, unless there were something very objectionable?If they believed him attached to me, they would not try to partus; if he were so, they could not succeed. By supposing suchan affection, you make everybody acting unnaturally and wrong,and me most unhappy. Do not distress me by the idea. I am notashamed of having been mistaken--or, at least, it is light, itis nothing in comparison of what I should feel in thinking illof him or his sisters. Let me take it in the best light, inthe light in which it may be understood."
Elizabeth could not oppose such a wish; and from this timeMr. Bingley's name was scarcely ever mentioned between them.
Mrs. Bennet still continued to wonder and repine at his returningno more, and though a day seldom passed in which Elizabeth didnot account for it clearly, there was little chance of her everconsidering it with less perplexity. Her daughter endeavouredto convince her of what she did not believe herself, that hisattentions to Jane had been merely the effect of a common andtransient liking, which ceased when he saw her no more; butthough the probability of the statement was admitted at the time,she had the same story to repeat every day. Mrs. Bennet's bestcomfort was that Mr. Bingley must be down again in thesummer.
Mr. Bennet treated the matter differently. "So, Lizzy," said heone day, "your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulateher. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little inlove now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her asort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn tocome? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now isyour time. Here are officers enough in Meryton to disappoint allthe young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be _your_ man. Heis a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably."
"Thank you, sir, but a less agreeable man would satisfy me. Wemust not all expect Jane's good fortune."
"True," said Mr. Bennet, "but it is a comfort to think thatwhatever of that kind may befall you, you have an affectionatemother who will make the most of it."
Mr. Wickham's society was of material service in dispelling thegloom which the late perverse occurrences had thrown on manyof the Longbourn family. They saw him often, and to his otherrecommendations was now added that of general unreserve.
The whole of what Elizabeth had already heard, his claims onMr. Darcy, and all that he had suffered from him, was nowopenly acknowledged and publicly canvassed; and everybodywas pleased to know how much they had always disliked Mr.
Darcy before they had known anything of the matter.
Miss Bennet was the only creature who could suppose there mightbe any extenuating circumstances in the case, unknown to thesociety of Hertfordshire; her mild and steady candour alwayspleaded for allowances, and urged the possibility of mistakes--butby everybody else Mr. Darcy was condemned as the worst of men.
After a week spent in professions of love and schemes of felicity,Mr. Collins was called from his amiable Charlotte by the arrivalof Saturday. The pain of separation, however, might bealleviated on his side, by preparations for the reception of hisbride; as he had reason to hope, that shortly after his return intoHertfordshire, the day would be fixed that was to make him thehappiest of men. He took leave of his relations at Longbournwith as much solemnity as before; wished his fair cousins healthand happiness again, and promised their father another letter ofthanks.
On the following Monday, Mrs. Bennet had the pleasure ofreceiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spendthe Christmas at Longbourn. Mr. Gardiner was a sensible,gentlemanlike man, greatly superior to his sister, as well bynature as education. The Netherfield ladies would have haddifficulty in believing that a man who lived by trade, and withinview of his own warehouses, could have been so well-bred andagreeable. Mrs. Gardiner, who was several years younger thanMrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips, was an amiable, intelligent,elegant woman, and a great favourite with all her Longbournnieces. Between the two eldest and herself especially, theresubsisted a particular regard. They had frequently been stayingwith her in town.
The first part of Mrs. Gardiner's business on her arrival was todistribute her presents and describe the newest fashions. Whenthis was done she had a less active part to play. It became herturn to listen. Mrs. Bennet had many grievances to relate, andmuch to complain of. They had all been very ill-used since shelast saw her sister. Two of her girls had been upon the point ofmarriage, and after all there was nothing in it.
"I do not blame Jane," she continued, "for Jane would have gotMr. Bingley if she could. But Lizzy! Oh, sister! It is very hardto think that she might have been Mr. Collins's wife by this time,had it not been for her own perverseness. He made her an offerin this very room, and she refused him. The consequence of it is,that Lady Lucas will have a daughter married before I have, andthat the Longbourn estate is just as much entailed as ever. TheLucases are very artful people indeed, sister. They are all forwhat they can get. I am sorry to say it of them, but so it is.
It makes me very nervous and poorly, to be thwarted so in my ownfamily, and to have neighbours who think of themselves beforeanybody else. However, your coming just at this time is thegreatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us,of long sleeves."
Mrs. Gardiner, to whom the chief of this news had been givenbefore, in the course of Jane and Elizabeth's correspondencewith her, made her sister a slight answer, and, in compassion toher nieces, turned the conversation.
When alone with Elizabeth afterwards, she spoke more on thesubject. "It seems likely to have been a desirable match forJane," said she. "I am sorry it went off. But these thingshappen so often! A young man, such as you describe Mr. Bingley,so easily falls in love with a pretty girl for a few weeks, andwhen accident separates them, so easily forgets her, that thesesort of inconsistencies are very frequent."
"An excellent consolation in its way," said Elizabeth, "but it willnot do for _us_. We do not suffer by _accident_. It does not oftenhappen that the interference of friends will persuade a youngman of independent fortune to think no more of a girl whom hewas violently in love with only a few days before."
"But that expression of 'violently in love' is so hackneyed,so doubtful, so indefinite, that it gives me very little idea.
It is as often applied to feelings which arise from a half-hour'sacquaintance, as to a real, strong attachment. Pray, how_violent was_ Mr. Bingley's love?"
"I never saw a more promising inclination; he was growing quiteinattentive to other people, and wholly engrossed by her. Everytime they met, it was more decided and remarkable. At his ownball he offended two or three young ladies, by not asking them todance; and I spoke to him twice myself, without receiving an answer.
Could there be finer symptoms? Is not general incivility the veryessence of love?"
"Oh, yes!--of that kind of love which I suppose him to have felt.
Poor Jane! I am sorry for her, because, with her disposition, shemay not get over it immediately. It had better have happened to_you_, Lizzy; you would have laughed yourself out of it sooner.
But do you think she would be prevailed upon to go back withus? Change of scene might be of service--and perhaps a littlerelief from home may be as useful as anything."
Elizabeth was exceedingly pleased with this proposal, and feltpersuaded of her sister's ready acquiescence.
"I hope," added Mrs. Gardiner, "that no consideration withregard to this young man will influence her. We live in sodifferent a part of town, all our connections are so different, and,as you well know, we go out so little, that it is very improbablethat they should meet at all, unless he really comes to see her."
"And _that_ is quite impossible; for he is now in the custody ofhis friend, and Mr. Darcy would no more suffer him to call onJane in such a part of London! My dear aunt, how could youthink of it? Mr. Darcy may perhaps have _heard_ of such aplace as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think amonth's ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, werehe once to enter it; and depend upon it, Mr. Bingley never stirswithout him."
"So much the better. I hope they will not meet at all. But doesnot Jane correspond with his sister? _She_ will not be able tohelp calling."
"She will drop the acquaintance entirely."
But in spite of the certainty in which Elizabeth affected to placethis point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley'sbeing withheld from seeing Jane, she felt a solicitude on thesubject which convinced her, on examination, that she did notconsider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes shethought it probable, that his affection might be reanimated, andthe influence of his friends successfully combated by the morenatural influence of Jane's attractions.
Miss Bennet accepted her aunt's invitation with pleasure; andthe Bingleys were no otherwise in her thoughts at the same time,than as she hoped by Caroline's not living in the same housewith her brother, she might occasionally spend a morning withher, without any danger of seeing him.
The Gardiners stayed a week at Longbourn; and what with thePhillipses, the Lucases, and the officers, there was not a daywithout its engagement. Mrs. Bennet had so carefully providedfor the entertainment of her brother and sister, that they didnot once sit down to a family dinner. When the engagement wasfor home, some of the officers always made part of it--ofwhich officers Mr. Wickham was sure to be one; and on theseoccasion, Mrs. Gardiner, rendered suspicious by Elizabeth'swarm commendation, narrowly observed them both. Withoutsupposing them, from what she saw, to be very seriously in love,their preference of each other was plain enough to make her alittle uneasy; and she resolved to speak to Elizabeth on thesubject before she left Hertfordshire, and represent to her theimprudence of encouraging such an attachment.
To Mrs. Gardiner, Wickham had one means of affording pleasure,unconnected with his general powers. About ten or a dozen yearsago, before her marriage, she had spent a considerable time inthat very part of Derbyshire to which he belonged. They had,therefore, many acquaintances in common; and though Wickham hadbeen little there since the death of Darcy's father, it was yetin his power to give her fresher intelligence of her formerfriends than she had been in the way of procuring.
Mrs. Gardiner had seen Pemberley, and known the late Mr. Darcyby character perfectly well. Here consequently was aninexhaustible subject of discourse. In comparing her recollectionof Pemberley with the minute description which Wickham couldgive, and in bestowing her tribute of praise on the character ofits late possessor, she was delighting both him and herself. Onbeing made acquainted with the present Mr. Darcy's treatmentof him, she tried to remember some of that gentleman's reputeddisposition when quite a lad which might agree with it, and wasconfident at last that she recollected having heard Mr.
Fitzwilliam Darcy formerly spoken of as a very proud, ill-naturedboy.
Mrs. Gardiner's caution to Elizabeth was punctually and kindlygiven on the first favourable opportunity of speaking to heralone; after honestly telling her what she thought, she thus wenton:
"You are too sensible a girl, Lizzy, to fall in love merely becauseyou are warned against it; and, therefore, I am not afraid ofspeaking openly. Seriously, I would have you be on your guard.
Do not involve yourself or endeavour to involve him in anaffection which the want of fortune would make so veryimprudent. I have nothing to say against _him_; he is a mostinteresting young man; and if he had the fortune he ought tohave, I should think you could not do better. But as it is, youmust not let your fancy run away with you. You have sense, andwe all expect you to use it. Your father would depend on_your_ resolution and good conduct, I am sure. You must notdisappoint your father."
"My dear aunt, this is being serious indeed."
"Yes, and I hope to engage you to be serious likewise."
"Well, then, you need not be under any alarm. I will take careof myself, and of Mr. Wickham too. He shall not be in love withme, if I can prevent it."
"Elizabeth, you are not serious now."
"I beg your pardon, I will try again. At present I am not inlove with Mr. Wickham; no, I certainly am not. But he is, beyondall comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw--and if hebecomes really attached to me--I believe it will be better thathe should not. I see the imprudence of it. Oh! _that_ abominableMr. Darcy! My father's opinion of me does me the greatesthonour, and I should be miserable to forfeit it. My father,however, is partial to Mr. Wickham. In short, my dear aunt,I should be very sorry to be the means of making any of youunhappy; but since we see every day that where there isaffection, young people are seldom withheld by immediate wantof fortune from entering into engagements with each other, howcan I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow-creaturesif I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would bewisdom to resist? All that I can promise you, therefore, is notto be in a hurry. I will not be in a hurry to believe myself hisfirst object. When I am in company with him, I will not bewishing. In short, I will do my best."
"Perhaps it will be as well if you discourage his coming here sovery often. At least, you should not _remind_ your mother ofinviting him."
"As I did the other day," said Elizabeth with a conscious smile:"very true, it will be wise in me to refrain from _that_. But donot imagine that he is always here so often. It is on youraccount that he has been so frequently invited this week. Youknow my mother's ideas as to the necessity of constant companyfor her friends. But really, and upon my honour, I will try to dowhat I think to be the wisest; and now I hope you are satisfied."
Her aunt assured her that she was, and Elizabeth having thankedher for the kindness of her hints, they parted; a wonderfulinstance of advice being given on such a point, without beingresented.
Mr. Collins returned into Hertfordshire soon after it had beenquitted by the Gardiners and Jane; but as he took up his abodewith the Lucases, his arrival was no great inconvenience to Mrs.
Bennet. His marriage was now fast approaching, and she was atlength so far resigned as to think it inevitable, and evenrepeatedly to say, in an ill-natured tone, that she "_wished_ theymight be happy." Thursday was to be the wedding day, and onWednesday Miss Lucas paid her farewell visit; and when sherose to take leave, Elizabeth, ashamed of her mother'sungracious and reluctant good wishes, and sincerely affectedherself, accompanied her out of the room. As they wentdownstairs together, Charlotte said:
"I shall depend on hearing from you very often, Eliza."
"_That_ you certainly shall."
"And I have another favour to ask you. Will you come and seeme?"
"We shall often meet, I hope, in Hertfordshire."
"I am not likely to leave Kent for some time. Promise me,therefore, to come to Hunsford."
Elizabeth could not refuse, though she foresaw little pleasurein the visit.
"My father and Maria are coming to me in March," addedCharlotte, "and I hope you will consent to be of the party.
Indeed, Eliza, you will be as welcome as either of them."
The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off forKent from the church door, and everybody had as much to say,or to hear, on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard fromher friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequentas it had ever been; that it should be equally unreserved wasimpossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feelingthat all the comfort of intimacy was over, and though determinednot to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of whathad been, rather than what was. Charlotte's first letters werereceived with a good deal of eagerness; there could not but becuriosity to know how she would speak of her new home, howshe would like Lady Catherine, and how happy she would darepronounce herself to be; though, when the letters were read,Elizabeth felt that Charlotte expressed herself on every pointexactly as she might have foreseen. She wrote cheerfully,seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing whichshe could not praise. The house, furniture, neighbourhood, androads, were all to her taste, and Lady Catherine's behaviourwas most friendly and obliging. It was Mr. Collins's pictureof Hunsford and Rosings rationally softened; and Elizabethperceived that she must wait for her own visit there to know therest.
Jane had already written a few lines to her sister to announcetheir safe arrival in London; and when she wrote again, Elizabethhoped it would be in her power to say something of theBingleys.
Her impatience for this second letter was as well rewarded asimpatience generally is. Jane had been a week in town withouteither seeing or hearing from Caroline. She accounted for it,however, by supposing that her last letter to her friend fromLongbourn had by some accident been lost.
"My aunt," she continued, "is going to-morrow into that part ofthe town, and I shall take the opportunity of calling in GrosvenorStreet."
She wrote again when the visit was paid, and she had seen MissBingley. "I did not think Caroline in spirits," were her words,"but she was very glad to see me, and reproached me for givingher no notice of my coming to London. I was right, therefore,my last letter had never reached her. I inquired after theirbrother, of course. He was well, but so much engaged with Mr.
Darcy that they scarcely ever saw him. I found that Miss Darcywas expected to dinner. I wish I could see her. My visit wasnot long, as Caroline and Mrs. Hurst were going out. I dare sayI shall see them soon here."
Elizabeth shook her head over this letter. It convinced her thataccident only could discover to Mr. Bingley her sister's being intown.
Four weeks passed away, and Jane saw nothing of him. Sheendeavoured to persuade herself that she did not regret it; butshe could no longer be blind to Miss Bingley's inattention. Afterwaiting at home every morning for a fortnight, and inventingevery evening a fresh excuse for her, the visitor did at lastappear; but the shortness of her stay, and yet more, the alterationof her manner would allow Jane to deceive herself no longer.
The letter which she wrote on this occasion to her sister willprove what she felt.
"My dearest Lizzy will, I am sure, be incapable of triumphing inher better judgement, at my expense, when I confess myself tohave been entirely deceived in Miss Bingley's regard for me.
But, my dear sister, though the event has proved you right, donot think me obstinate if I still assert that, considering whather behaviour was, my confidence was as natural as your suspicion.
I do not at all comprehend her reason for wishing to be intimatewith me; but if the same circumstances were to happen again, Iam sure I should be deceived again. Caroline did not return myvisit till yesterday; and not a note, not a line, did I receivein the meantime. When she did come, it was very evident that shehad no pleasure in it; she made a slight, formal apology, for notcalling before, said not a word of wishing to see me again, andwas in every respect so altered a creature, that when she wentaway I was perfectly resolved to continue the acquaintance nolonger. I pity, though I cannot help blaming her. She was verywrong in singling me out as she did; I can safely say that everyadvance to intimacy began on her side. But I pity her, becauseshe must feel that she has been acting wrong, and because I amvery sure that anxiety for her brother is the cause of it. I neednot explain myself farther; and though _we_ know this anxiety tobe quite needless, yet if she feels it, it will easily accountfor her behaviour to me; and so deservedly dear as he is to hissister, whatever anxiety she must feel on his behalf is naturaland amiable. I cannot but wonder, however, at her having anysuch fears now, because, if he had at all cared about me, wemust have met, long ago. He knows of my being in town, I amcertain, from something she said herself; and yet it would seem,by her manner of talking, as if she wanted to persuade herselfthat he is really partial to Miss Darcy. I cannot understand it.
If I were not afraid of judging harshly, I should be almosttempted to say that there is a strong appearance of duplicity inall this. But I will endeavour to banish every painful thought,and think only of what will make me happy--your affection, andthe invariable kindness of my dear uncle and aunt. Let me hearfrom you very soon. Miss Bingley said something of his neverreturning to Netherfield again, of giving up the house, but notwith any certainty. We had better not mention it. I am extremelyglad that you have such pleasant accounts from our friends atHunsford. Pray go to see them, with Sir William and Maria. I amsure you will be very comfortable there.--Yours, etc."
This letter gave Elizabeth some pain; but her spirits returned asshe considered that Jane would no longer be duped, by the sisterat least. All expectation from the brother was now absolutelyover. She would not even wish for a renewal of his attentions.
His character sunk on every review of it; and as a punishment forhim, as well as a possible advantage to Jane, she seriously hopedhe might really soon marry Mr. Darcy's sister, as by Wickham'saccount, she would make him abundantly regret what he hadthrown away.
Mrs. Gardiner about this time reminded Elizabeth of her promiseconcerning that gentleman, and required information; andElizabeth had such to send as might rather give contentment toher aunt than to herself. His apparent partiality had subsided,his attentions were over, he was the admirer of some one else.
Elizabeth was watchful enough to see it all, but she could see itand write of it without material pain. Her heart had been butslightly touched, and her vanity was satisfied with believing that_she_ would have been his only choice, had fortune permitted it.
The sudden acquisition of ten thousand pounds was the mostremarkable charm of the young lady to whom he was now renderinghimself agreeable; but Elizabeth, less clear-sighted perhaps inthis case than in Charlotte's, did not quarrel with him for hiswish of independence. Nothing, on the contrary, could be morenatural; and while able to suppose that it cost him a few strugglesto relinquish her, she was ready to allow it a wise and desirablemeasure for both, and could very sincerely wish him happy.
All this was acknowledged to Mrs. Gardiner; and after relatingthe circumstances, she thus went on: "I am now convinced, mydear aunt, that I have never been much in love; for had I reallyexperienced that pure and elevating passion, I should at presentdetest his very name, and wish him all manner of evil. But myfeelings are not only cordial towards _him_; they are evenimpartial towards Miss King. I cannot find out that I hate her atall, or that I am in the least unwilling to think her a very goodsort of girl. There can be no love in all this. My watchfulnesshas been effectual; and though I certainly should be a moreinteresting object to all my acquaintances were I distractedlyin love with him, I cannot say that I regret my comparativeinsignificance. Importance may sometimes be purchased toodearly. Kitty and Lydia take his defection much more to heartthan I do. They are young in the ways of the world, and notyet open to the mortifying conviction that handsome young menmust have something to live on as well as the plain."
With no greater events than these in the Longbourn family, andotherwise diversified by little beyond the walks to Meryton,sometimes dirty and sometimes cold, did January and Februarypass away. March was to take Elizabeth to Hunsford. She hadnot at first thought very seriously of going thither; but Charlotte,she soon found, was depending on the plan and she graduallylearned to consider it herself with greater pleasure as well asgreater certainty. Absence had increased her desire of seeingCharlotte again, and weakened her disgust of Mr. Collins. Therewas novelty in the scheme, and as, with such a mother and suchuncompanionable sisters, home could not be faultless, a littlechange was not unwelcome for its own sake. The journeywould moreover give her a peep at Jane; and, in short, as thetime drew near, she would have been very sorry for any delay.
Everything, however, went on smoothly, and was finally settledaccording to Charlotte's first sketch. She was to accompany SirWilliam and his second daughter. The improvement of spendinga night in London was added in time, and the plan becameperfect as plan could be.
The only pain was in leaving her father, who would certainlymiss her, and who, when it came to the point, so little liked hergoing, that he told her to write to him, and almost promised toanswer her letter.
The farewell between herself and Mr. Wickham was perfectlyfriendly; on his side even more. His present pursuit could notmake him forget that Elizabeth had been the first to excite and todeserve his attention, the first to listen and to pity, the firstto be admired; and in his manner of bidding her adieu, wishingher every enjoyment, reminding her of what she was to expect inLady Catherine de Bourgh, and trusting their opinion of her--theiropinion of everybody--would always coincide, there was a solicitude,an interest which she felt must ever attach her to him with a mostsincere regard; and she parted from him convinced that, whethermarried or single, he must always be her model of the amiable andpleasing.
Her fellow-travellers the next day were not of a kind to make herthink him less agreeable. Sir William Lucas, and his daughterMaria, a good-humoured girl, but as empty-headed as himself,had nothing to say that could be worth hearing, and werelistened to with about as much delight as the rattle of the chaise.
Elizabeth loved absurdities, but she had known Sir William's toolong. He could tell her nothing new of the wonders of hispresentation and knighthood; and his civilities were worn out,like his information.
It was a journey of only twenty-four miles, and they began it soearly as to be in Gracechurch Street by noon. As they droveto Mr. Gardiner's door, Jane was at a drawing-room windowwatching their arrival; when they entered the passage she wasthere to welcome them, and Elizabeth, looking earnestly in herface, was pleased to see it healthful and lovely as ever. On thestairs were a troop of little boys and girls, whose eagerness fortheir cousin's appearance would not allow them to wait in thedrawing-room, and whose shyness, as they had not seen her fora twelvemonth, prevented their coming lower. All was joy andkindness. The day passed most pleasantly away; the morning inbustle and shopping, and the evening at one of the theatres.
Elizabeth then contrived to sit by her aunt. Their first object washer sister; and she was more grieved than astonished to hear, inreply to her minute inquiries, that though Jane always struggledto support her spirits, there were periods of dejection. It wasreasonable, however, to hope that they would not continue long.
Mrs. Gardiner gave her the particulars also of Miss Bingley'svisit in Gracechurch Street, and repeated conversationsoccurring at different times between Jane and herself, whichproved that the former had, from her heart, given up theacquaintance.
Mrs. Gardiner then rallied her niece on Wickham's desertion,and complimented her on bearing it so well.
"But my dear Elizabeth," she added, "what sort of girl is MissKing? I should be sorry to think our friend mercenary."
"Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonialaffairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Wheredoes discretion end, and avarice begin? Last Christmas youwere afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent;and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only tenthousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary."
"If you will only tell me what sort of girl Miss King is, I shallknow what to think."
"She is a very good kind of girl, I believe. I know no harm ofher."
"But he paid her not the smallest attention till her grandfather'sdeath made her mistress of this fortune."
"No--what should he? If it were not allowable for him to gain_my_ affections because I had no money, what occasion couldthere be for making love to a girl whom he did not care about,and who was equally poor?"
"But there seems an indelicacy in directing his attentionstowards her so soon after this event."
"A man in distressed circumstances has not time for all thoseelegant decorums which other people may observe. If _she_ doesnot object to it, why should _we_?"
"_Her_ not objecting does not justify _him_. It only shows herbeing deficient in something herself--sense or feeling."
"Well," cried Elizabeth, "have it as you choose. _He_ shall bemercenary, and _she_ shall be foolish."
"No, Lizzy, that is what I do _not_ choose. I should be sorry,you know, to think ill of a young man who has lived so long inDerbyshire."
"Oh! if that is all, I have a very poor opinion of young menwho live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who livein Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all.
Thank Heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall find a manwho has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner norsense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worthknowing, after all."
"Take care, Lizzy; that speech savours strongly of disappointment."
Before they were separated by the conclusion of the play, shehad the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany heruncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed takingin the summer.
"We have not determined how far it shall carry us," said Mrs.
Gardiner, "but, perhaps, to the Lakes."
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, andher acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful.
"Oh, my dear, dear aunt," she rapturously cried, "what delight!what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu todisappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks andmountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! Andwhen we _do_ return, it shall not be like other travellers,without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We_will_ know where we have gone--we _will_ recollect what we haveseen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled togetherin our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe anyparticular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relativesituation. Let _our_ first effusions be less insupportable thanthose of the generality of travellers."
Every object in the next day's journey was new and interestingto Elizabeth; and her spirits were in a state of enjoyment; forshe had seen her sister looking so well as to banish all fear forher health, and the prospect of her northern tour was a constantsource of delight.
When they left the high road for the lane to Hunsford, every eyewas in search of the Parsonage, and every turning expected tobring it in view. The palings of Rosings Park was their boundaryon one side. Elizabeth smiled at the recollection of all that shehad heard of its inhabitants.
At length the Parsonage was discernible. The garden sloping tothe road, the house standing in it, the green pales, and the laurelhedge, everything declared they were arriving. Mr. Collins andCharlotte appeared at the door, and the carriage stopped at thesmall gate which led by a short gravel walk to the house, amidstthe nods and smiles of the whole party. In a moment they wereall out of the chaise, rejoicing at the sight of each other.
Mrs. Collins welcomed her friend with the liveliest pleasure,and Elizabeth was more and more satisfied with coming when shefound herself so affectionately received. She saw instantly thather cousin's manners were not altered by his marriage; his formalcivility was just what it had been, and he detained her someminutes at the gate to hear and satisfy his inquiries afterall her family. They were then, with no other delay than hispointing out the neatness of the entrance, taken into the house;and as soon as they were in the parlour, he welcomed them asecond time, with ostentatious formality to his humble abode,and punctually repeated all his wife's offers of refreshment.
Elizabeth was prepared to see him in his glory; and she couldnot help in fancying that in displaying the good proportion ofthe room, its aspect and its furniture, he addressed himselfparticularly to her, as if wishing to make her feel what shehad lost in refusing him. But though everything seemed neatand comfortable, she was not able to gratify him by any sigh ofrepentance, and rather looked with wonder at her friend thatshe could have so cheerful an air with such a companion. WhenMr. Collins said anything of which his wife might reasonably beashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, she involuntarilyturned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discerna faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear.
After sitting long enough to admire every article of furniture inthe room, from the sideboard to the fender, to give an accountof their journey, and of all that had happened in London, Mr.
Collins invited them to take a stroll in the garden, which waslarge and well laid out, and to the cultivation of which heattended himself. To work in this garden was one of his mostrespectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command ofcountenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness ofthe exercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible.
Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, andscarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he askedfor, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which leftbeauty entirely behind. He could number the fields in everydirection, and could tell how many tress there were in the mostdistant clump. But of all the views which his garden, or whichthe country or kingdom could boast, none were to be comparedwith the prospect of Rosings, afforded by an opening in the treesthat bordered the park nearly opposite the front of his house. Itwas a handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground.
From his garden, Mr. Collins would have led them round his twomeadows; but the ladies, not having shoes to encounter theremains of a white frost, turned back; and while Sir Williamaccompanied him, Charlotte took her sister and friend over thehouse, extremely well pleased, probably, to have the opportunityof showing it without her husband's help. It was rather small,but well built and convenient; and everything was fitted up andarranged with a neatness and consistency of which Elizabethgave Charlotte all the credit. When Mr. Collins could beforgotten, there was really an air of great comfort throughout,and by Charlotte's evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposedhe must be often forgotten.
She had already learnt that Lady Catherine was still in thecountry. It was spoken of again while they were at dinner,when Mr. Collins joining in, observed:
"Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing LadyCatherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and Ineed not say you will be delighted with her. She is all affabilityand condescension, and I doubt not but you will be honouredwith some portion of her notice when service is over. I havescarcely any hesitation in saying she will include you and mysister Maria in every invitation with which she honours us duringyour stay here. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming.
We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed towalk home. Her ladyship's carriage is regularly ordered for us.
I _should_ say, one of her ladyship's carriages, for she hasseveral."
"Lady Catherine is a very respectable, sensible woman indeed,"added Charlotte, "and a most attentive neighbour."
"Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sortof woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference."
The evening was spent chiefly in talking over Hertfordshirenews, and telling again what had already been written; and whenit closed, Elizabeth, in the solitude of her chamber, had tomeditate upon Charlotte's degree of contentment, to understandher address in guiding, and composure in bearing with, herhusband, and to acknowledge that it was all done very well. Shehad also to anticipate how her visit would pass, the quiet tenorof their usual employments, the vexatious interruptions of Mr.
Collins, and the gaieties of their intercourse with Rosings.
A lively imagination soon settled it all.
About the middle of the next day, as she was in her room gettingready for a walk, a sudden noise below seemed to speak thewhole house in confusion; and, after listening a moment, sheheard somebody running upstairs in a violent hurry, and callingloudly after her. She opened the door and met Maria in thelanding place, who, breathless with agitation, cried out--
"Oh, my dear Eliza! pray make haste and come into the dining-room,for there is such a sight to be seen! I will not tell you whatit is. Make haste, and come down this moment."
Elizabeth asked questions in vain; Maria would tell her nothingmore, and down they ran into the dining-room, which frontedthe lane, in quest of this wonder; It was two ladies stopping ina low phaeton at the garden gate.
"And is this all?" cried Elizabeth. "I expected at least that thepigs were got into the garden, and here is nothing but LadyCatherine and her daughter."
"La! my dear," said Maria, quite shocked at the mistake, "it isnot Lady Catherine. The old lady is Mrs. Jenkinson, who liveswith them; the other is Miss de Bourgh. Only look at her. Sheis quite a little creature. Who would have thought that she couldbe so thin and small?"
"She is abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all thiswind. Why does she not come in?"
"Oh, Charlotte says she hardly ever does. It is the greatest offavours when Miss de Bourgh comes in."
"I like her appearance," said Elizabeth, struck with other ideas.
"She looks sickly and cross. Yes, she will do for him very well.
She will make him a very proper wife."
Mr. Collins and Charlotte were both standing at the gate inconversation with the ladies; and Sir William, to Elizabeth'shigh diversion, was stationed in the doorway, in earnestcontemplation of the greatness before him, and constantlybowing whenever Miss de Bourgh looked that way.
At length there was nothing more to be said; the ladies drove on,and the others returned into the house. Mr. Collins no soonersaw the two girls than he began to congratulate them on theirgood fortune, which Charlotte explained by letting them knowthat the whole party was asked to dine at Rosings the next day.
Mr. Collins's triumph, in consequence of this invitation, wascomplete. The power of displaying the grandeur of his patronessto his wondering visitors, and of letting them see her civilitytowards himself and his wife, was exactly what he had wishedfor; and that an opportunity of doing it should be given so soon,was such an instance of Lady Catherine's condescension, as heknew not how to admire enough.
"I confess," said he, "that I should not have been at all surprisedby her ladyship's asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend theevening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge ofher affability, that it would happen. But who could haveforeseen such an attention as this? Who could have imaginedthat we should receive an invitation to dine there (an invitation,moreover, including the whole party) so immediately after yourarrival!"
"I am the less surprised at what has happened," replied SirWilliam, "from that knowledge of what the manners of the greatreally are, which my situation in life has allowed me to acquire.
About the court, such instances of elegant breeding are notuncommon."
Scarcely anything was talked of the whole day or next morningbut their visit to Rosings. Mr. Collins was carefully instructingthem in what they were to expect, that the sight of such rooms,so many servants, and so splendid a dinner, might not whollyoverpower them.
When the ladies were separating for the toilette, he said toElizabeth--
"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about yourapparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance ofdress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I wouldadvise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superiorto the rest--there is no occasion for anything more. LadyCatherine will not think the worse of you for being simplydressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved."
While they were dressing, he came two or three times to theirdifferent doors, to recommend their being quick, as LadyCatherine very much objected to be kept waiting for her dinner.
Such formidable accounts of her ladyship, and her manner ofliving, quite frightened Maria Lucas who had been little used tocompany, and she looked forward to her introduction at Rosingswith as much apprehension as her father had done to hispresentation at St. James's.
As the weather was fine, they had a pleasant walk of about halfa mile across the park. Every park has its beauty and itsprospects; and Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, thoughshe could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected thescene to inspire, and was but slightly affected by his enumerationof the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what theglazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh.
When they ascended the steps to the hall, Maria's alarm wasevery moment increasing, and even Sir William did not lookperfectly calm. Elizabeth's courage did not fail her. She hadheard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her awful from anyextraordinary talents or miraculous virtue, and the merestateliness of money or rank she thought she could witnesswithout trepidation.
From the entrance-hall, of which Mr. Collins pointed out, with arapturous air, the fine proportion and the finished ornaments,they followed the servants through an ante-chamber, to the roomwhere Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson weresitting. Her ladyship, with great condescension, arose to receivethem; and as Mrs. Collins had settled it with her husband that theoffice of introduction should be hers, it was performed in aproper manner, without any of those apologies and thanks whichhe would have thought necessary.
In spite of having been at St. James's Sir William was socompletely awed by the grandeur surrounding him, that he hadbut just courage enough to make a very low bow, and take hisseat without saying a word; and his daughter, frightened almostout of her senses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowingwhich way to look. Elizabeth found herself quite equal to thescene, and could observe the three ladies before her composedly.
Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-markedfeatures, which might once have been handsome. Her air wasnot conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such asto make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was notrendered formidable by silence; but whatever she said wasspoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self-importance,and brought Mr. Wickham immediately to Elizabeth's mind; andfrom the observation of the day altogether, she believed LadyCatherine to be exactly what he represented.
When, after examining the mother, in whose countenance anddeportment she soon found some resemblance of Mr. Darcy, sheturned her eyes on the daughter, she could almost have joinedin Maria's astonishment at her being so thin and so small. Therewas neither in figure nor face any likeness between the ladies.
Miss de Bourgh was pale and sickly; her features, though notplain, were insignificant; and she spoke very little, except ina low voice, to Mrs. Jenkinson, in whose appearance there wasnothing remarkable, and who was entirely engaged in listening towhat she said, and placing a screen in the proper direction beforeher eyes.
After sitting a few minutes, they were all sent to one of thewindows to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them topoint out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informingthem that it was much better worth looking at in the summer.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all theservants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins hadpromised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat atthe bottom of the table, by her ladyship's desire, and looked asif he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. He carved,and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish wascommended, first by him and then by Sir William, who was nowenough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, in amanner which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could bear.
But Lady Catherine seemed gratified by their excessive admiration,and gave most gracious smiles, especially when any dish on thetable proved a novelty to them. The party did not supply muchconversation. Elizabeth was ready to speak whenever there wasan opening, but she was seated between Charlotte and Miss deBourgh--the former of whom was engaged in listening to LadyCatherine, and the latter said not a word to her all dinner-time.
Mrs. Jenkinson was chiefly employed in watching how little Missde Bourgh ate, pressing her to try some other dish, and fearingshe was indisposed. Maria thought speaking out of the question,and the gentlemen did nothing but eat and admire.
When the ladies returned to the drawing-room, there was littleto be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she didwithout any intermission till coffee came in, delivering heropinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as provedthat she was not used to have her judgement controverted. Sheinquired into Charlotte's domestic concerns familiarly andminutely, gave her a great deal of advice as to the managementof them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in sosmall a family as hers, and instructed her as to the care of hercows and her poultry. Elizabeth found that nothing was beneaththis great lady's attention, which could furnish her with anoccasion of dictating to others. In the intervals of her discoursewith Mrs. Collins, she addressed a variety of questions to Mariaand Elizabeth, but especially to the latter, of whose connectionsshe knew the least, and who she observed to Mrs. Collins was avery genteel, pretty kind of girl. She asked her, at differenttimes, how many sisters she had, whether they were older oryounger than herself, whether any of them were likely to bemarried, whether they were handsome, where they had beeneducated, what carriage her father kept, and what had been hermother's maiden name? Elizabeth felt all the impertinence of herquestions but answered them very composedly. Lady Catherinethen observed,
"Your father's estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think. Foryour sake," turning to Charlotte, "I am glad of it; but otherwise Isee no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It wasnot thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh's family. Do youplay and sing, Miss Bennet?"
"Oh! then--some time or other we shall be happy to hear you.
Our instrument is a capital one, probably superior to----Youshall try it some day. Do your sisters play and sing?"
"One of them does."
"Why did not you all learn? You ought all to have learned. TheMiss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an incomeas yours. Do you draw?"
"No, not at all."
"What, none of you?"
"That is very strange. But I suppose you had no opportunity.
Your mother should have taken you to town every spring for thebenefit of masters."
"My mother would have had no objection, but my father hatesLondon."
"Has your governess left you?"
"We never had any governess."
"No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters broughtup at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing.
Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education."
Elizabeth could hardly help smiling as she assured her that hadnot been the case.
"Then, who taught you? who attended to you? Without agoverness, you must have been neglected."
"Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such of usas wished to learn never wanted the means. We were alwaysencouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary.
Those who chose to be idle, certainly might."
"Aye, no doubt; but that is what a governess will prevent, andif I had known your mother, I should have advised her moststrenuously to engage one. I always say that nothing is to bedone in education without steady and regular instruction, andnobody but a governess can give it. It is wonderful how manyfamilies I have been the means of supplying in that way. I amalways glad to get a young person well placed out. Four niecesof Mrs. Jenkinson are most delightfully situated through mymeans; and it was but the other day that I recommended anotheryoung person, who was merely accidentally mentioned to me,and the family are quite delighted with her. Mrs. Collins, did Itell you of Lady Metcalf's calling yesterday to thank me? Shefinds Miss Pope a treasure. 'Lady Catherine,' said she, 'youhave given me a treasure.' Are any of your younger sisters out,Miss Bennet?"
"Yes, ma'am, all."
"All! What, all five out at once? Very odd! And you onlythe second. The younger ones out before the elder ones aremarried! Your younger sisters must be very young?"
"Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps _she_ is full young tobe much in company. But really, ma'am, I think it would bevery hard upon younger sisters, that they should not have theirshare of society and amusement, because the elder may not havethe means or inclination to marry early. The last-born has asgood a right to the pleasures of youth at the first. And to bekept back on _such_ a motive! I think it would not be very likelyto promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind."
"Upon my word," said her ladyship, "you give your opinion verydecidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?"
"With three younger sisters grown up," replied Elizabeth,smiling, "your ladyship can hardly expect me to own it."
Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a directanswer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creaturewho had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence.
"You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, therefore you neednot conceal your age."
"I am not one-and-twenty."
When the gentlemen had joined them, and tea was over, thecard-tables were placed. Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr.
and Mrs. Collins sat down to quadrille; and as Miss de Bourghchose to play at cassino, the two girls had the honour ofassisting Mrs. Jenkinson to make up her party. Their table wassuperlatively stupid. Scarcely a syllable was uttered that didnot relate to the game, except when Mrs. Jenkinson expressed herfears of Miss de Bourgh's being too hot or too cold, or havingtoo much or too little light. A great deal more passed at theother table. Lady Catherine was generally speaking--statingthe mistakes of the three others, or relating some anecdote ofherself. Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing to everythingher ladyship said, thanking her for every fish he won, andapologising if he thought he won too many. Sir William did notsay much. He was storing his memory with anecdotes and noblenames.
When Lady Catherine and her daughter had played as long asthey chose, the tables were broken up, the carriage was offeredto Mrs. Collins, gratefully accepted and immediately ordered.
The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherinedetermine what weather they were to have on the morrow. Fromthese instructions they were summoned by the arrival of thecoach; and with many speeches of thankfulness on Mr. Collins'sside and as many bows on Sir William's they departed. As soonas they had driven from the door, Elizabeth was called on by hercousin to give her opinion of all that she had seen at Rosings,which, for Charlotte's sake, she made more favourable than itreally was. But her commendation, though costing her sometrouble, could by no means satisfy Mr. Collins, and he was verysoon obliged to take her ladyship's praise into his own hands.
Sir William stayed only a week at Hunsford, but his visit waslong enough to convince him of his daughter's being mostcomfortably settled, and of her possessing such a husband andsuch a neighbour as were not often met with. While Sir Williamwas with them, Mr. Collins devoted his morning to driving himout in his gig, and showing him the country; but when he wentaway, the whole family returned to their usual employments, andElizabeth was thankful to find that they did not see more ofher cousin by the alteration, for the chief of the time betweenbreakfast and dinner was now passed by him either at work inthe garden or in reading and writing, and looking out of thewindow in his own book-room, which fronted the road. Theroom in which the ladies sat was backwards. Elizabeth had atfirst rather wondered that Charlotte should not prefer thedining-parlour for common use; it was a better sized room, andhad a more pleasant aspect; but she soon saw that her friendhad an excellent reason for what she did, for Mr. Collins wouldundoubtedly have been much less in his own apartment, had theysat in one equally lively; and she gave Charlotte credit forthe arrangement.
From the drawing-room they could distinguish nothing in thelane, and were indebted to Mr. Collins for the knowledge ofwhat carriages went along, and how often especially Miss deBourgh drove by in her phaeton, which he never failed comingto inform them of, though it happened almost every day. Shenot unfrequently stopped at the Parsonage, and had a fewminutes' conversation with Charlotte, but was scarcely everprevailed upon to get out.
Very few days passed in which Mr. Collins did not walk toRosings, and not many in which his wife did not think itnecessary to go likewise; and till Elizabeth recollected thatthere might be other family livings to be disposed of, she couldnot understand the sacrifice of so many hours. Now and thenthey were honoured with a call from her ladyship, and nothingescaped her observation that was passing in the room duringthese visits. She examined into their employments, looked attheir work, and advised them to do it differently; found faultwith the arrangement of the furniture; or detected the housemaidin negligence; and if she accepted any refreshment, seemed to doit only for the sake of finding out that Mrs. Collins's joints ofmeat were too large for her family.
Elizabeth soon perceived, that though this great lady was not incommission of the peace of the county, she was a most activemagistrate in her own parish, the minutest concerns of whichwere carried to her by Mr. Collins; and whenever any of thecottagers were disposed to be quarrelsome, discontented, ortoo poor, she sallied forth into the village to settle theirdifferences, silence their complaints, and scold them intoharmony and plenty.
The entertainment of dining at Rosings was repeated about twicea week; and, allowing for the loss of Sir William, and there beingonly one card-table in the evening, every such entertainment wasthe counterpart of the first. Their other engagements were few,as the style of living in the neighbourhood in general was beyondMr. Collins's reach. This, however, was no evil to Elizabeth,and upon the whole she spent her time comfortably enough;there were half-hours of pleasant conversation with Charlotte,and the weather was so fine for the time of year that she hadoften great enjoyment out of doors. Her favourite walk, andwhere she frequently went while the others were calling on LadyCatherine, was along the open grove which edged that side ofthe park, where there was a nice sheltered path, which no oneseemed to value but herself, and where she felt beyond the reachof Lady Catherine's curiosity.
In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passedaway. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it wasto bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so smalla circle must be important. Elizabeth had heard soon after herarrival that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a fewweeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintances whomshe did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparativelynew to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amusedin seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley's designs on him were, byhis behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destinedby Lady Catherine, who talked of his coming with the greatestsatisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration,and seemed almost angry to find that he had already beenfrequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself.
His arrival was soon known at the Parsonage; for Mr. Collinswas walking the whole morning within view of the lodgesopening into Hunsford Lane, in order to have the earliestassurance of it, and after making his bow as the carriage turnedinto the Park, hurried home with the great intelligence. On thefollowing morning he hastened to Rosings to pay his respects.
There were two nephews of Lady Catherine to require them, forMr. Darcy had brought with him a Colonel Fitzwilliam, theyounger son of his uncle Lord ----, and, to the great surpriseof all the party, when Mr. Collins returned, the gentlemanaccompanied him. Charlotte had seen them from her husband'sroom, crossing the road, and immediately running into the other,told the girls what an honour they might expect, adding:
"I may thank you, Eliza, for this piece of civility. Mr. Darcywould never have come so soon to wait upon me."
Elizabeth had scarcely time to disclaim all right to thecompliment, before their approach was announced by thedoor-bell, and shortly afterwards the three gentlemen enteredthe room. Colonel Fitzwilliam, who led the way, was aboutthirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly thegentleman. Mr. Darcy looked just as he had been used to lookin Hertfordshire--paid his compliments, with his usual reserve,to Mrs. Collins, and whatever might be his feelings toward herfriend, met her with every appearance of composure. Elizabethmerely curtseyed to him without saying a word.
Colonel Fitzwilliam entered into conversation directly withthe readiness and ease of a well-bred man, and talked verypleasantly; but his cousin, after having addressed a slightobservation on the house and garden to Mrs. Collins, sat forsome time without speaking to anybody. At length, however,his civility was so far awakened as to inquire of Elizabeth afterthe health of her family. She answered him in the usual way,and after a moment's pause, added:
"My eldest sister has been in town these three months. Haveyou never happened to see her there?"
She was perfectly sensible that he never had; but she wishedto see whether he would betray any consciousness of what hadpassed between the Bingleys and Jane, and she thought helooked a little confused as he answered that he had never beenso fortunate as to meet Miss Bennet. The subject was pursuedno farther, and the gentlemen soon afterwards went away.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's manners were very much admired at theParsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerablyto the pleasures of their engagements at Rosings. It was somedays, however, before they received any invitation thither--forwhile there were visitors in the house, they could not benecessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after thegentlemen's arrival, that they were honoured by such anattention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church tocome there in the evening. For the last week they had seen verylittle of Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam hadcalled at the Parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr.
Darcy they had seen only at church.
The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour theyjoined the party in Lady Catherine's drawing-room. Her ladyshipreceived them civilly, but it was plain that their company was byno means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; andshe was, in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking tothem, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other personin the room.
Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anythingwas a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins'spretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much. He nowseated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent andHertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new booksand music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertainedin that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit andflow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself, as wellas of Mr. Darcy. _His_ eyes had been soon and repeatedly turnedtowards them with a look of curiosity; and that her ladyship,after a while, shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged,for she did not scruple to call out:
"What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you aretalking of? What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hearwhat it is."
"We are speaking of music, madam," said he, when no longerable to avoid a reply.
"Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects mydelight. I must have my share in the conversation if you arespeaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose,who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a betternatural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a greatproficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her toapply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully.
How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?"
Mr. Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister'sproficiency.
"I am very glad to hear such a good account of her," said LadyCatherine; "and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect toexcel if she does not practice a good deal."
"I assure you, madam," he replied, "that she does not need suchadvice. She practises very constantly."
"So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when Inext write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on anyaccount. I often tell young ladies that no excellence in musicis to be acquired without constant practice. I have told MissBennet several times, that she will never play really well unlessshe practises more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument,she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosingsevery day, and play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson's room.
She would be in nobody's way, you know, in that part of the house."
Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt's ill-breeding, andmade no answer.
When coffee was over, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabethof having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly tothe instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherinelistened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her othernephew; till the latter walked away from her, and making withhis usual deliberation towards the pianoforte stationed himselfso as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance.
Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenientpause, turned to him with an arch smile, and said:
"You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this stateto hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister _does_ playso well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear tobe frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises atevery attempt to intimidate me."
"I shall not say you are mistaken," he replied, "because youcould not really believe me to entertain any design of alarmingyou; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance longenough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionallyprofessing opinions which in fact are not your own."
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said toColonel Fitzwilliam, "Your cousin will give you a very prettynotion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I amparticularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to exposemy real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped topass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy,it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to mydisadvantage in Hertfordshire--and, give me leave to say, veryimpolitic too--for it is provoking me to retaliate, and suchthings may come out as will shock your relations to hear."
"I am not afraid of you," said he, smilingly.
"Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of," criedColonel Fitzwilliam. "I should like to know how he behavesamong strangers."
"You shall hear then--but prepare yourself for something verydreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire,you must know, was at a ball--and at this ball, what do youthink he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemenwere scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than oneyoung lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy,you cannot deny the fact."
"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in theassembly beyond my own party."
"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well,Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait yourorders."
"Perhaps," said Darcy, "I should have judged better, had Isought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommendmyself to strangers."
"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" said Elizabeth,still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why aman of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, isill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"
"I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "withoutapplying to him. It is because he will not give himself thetrouble."
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," saidDarcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.
I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interestedin their concerns, as I often see done."
"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrumentin the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. Theyhave not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce thesame expression. But then I have always supposed it to be myown fault--because I will not take the trouble of practising.
It is not that I do not believe _my_ fingers as capable as anyother woman's of superior execution."
Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You haveemployed your time much better. No one admitted to theprivilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neitherof us perform to strangers."
Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine, who called out toknow what they were talking of. Elizabeth immediately beganplaying again. Lady Catherine approached, and, after listeningfor a few minutes, said to Darcy:
"Miss Bennet would not play at all amiss if she practised more,and could have the advantage of a London master. She has avery good notion of fingering, though her taste is not equal toAnne's. Anne would have been a delightful performer, had herhealth allowed her to learn."
Elizabeth looked at Darcy to see how cordially he assented tohis cousin's praise; but neither at that moment nor at any othercould she discern any symptom of love; and from the whole ofhis behaviour to Miss de Bourgh she derived this comfort forMiss Bingley, that he might have been just as likely to marry_her_, had she been his relation.
Lady Catherine continued her remarks on Elizabeth's performance,mixing with them many instructions on execution and taste.
Elizabeth received them with all the forbearance of civility,and, at the request of the gentlemen, remained at the instrumenttill her ladyship's carriage was ready to take them all home.
Elizabeth was sitting by herself the next morning, and writing toJane while Mrs. Collins and Maria were gone on business intothe village, when she was startled by a ring at the door, thecertain signal of a visitor. As she had heard no carriage, shethought it not unlikely to be Lady Catherine, and under thatapprehension was putting away her half-finished letter that shemight escape all impertinent questions, when the door opened,and, to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only,entered the room.
He seemed astonished too on finding her alone, and apologisedfor his intrusion by letting her know that he had understood allthe ladies were to be within.
They then sat down, and when her inquiries after Rosings weremade, seemed in danger of sinking into total silence. It wasabsolutely necessary, therefore, to think of something, and inthis emergence recollecting _when_ she had seen him last inHertfordshire, and feeling curious to know what he would sayon the subject of their hasty departure, she observed:
"How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November,Mr. Darcy! It must have been a most agreeable surprise to Mr.
Bingley to see you all after him so soon; for, if I recollect right,he went but the day before. He and his sisters were well, I hope,when you left London?"
"Perfectly so, I thank you."
She found that she was to receive no other answer, and, after ashort pause added:
"I think I have understood that Mr. Bingley has not much idea ofever returning to Netherfield again?"
"I have never heard him say so; but it is probable that he mayspend very little of his time there in the future. He has manyfriends, and is at a time of life when friends and engagements arecontinually increasing."
"If he means to be but little at Netherfield, it would be better forthe neighbourhood that he should give up the place entirely, forthen we might possibly get a settled family there. But, perhaps,Mr. Bingley did not take the house so much for the convenienceof the neighbourhood as for his own, and we must expect him tokeep it or quit it on the same principle."
"I should not be surprised," said Darcy, "if he were to give it upas soon as any eligible purchase offers."
Elizabeth made no answer. She was afraid of talking longer ofhis friend; and, having nothing else to say, was now determinedto leave the trouble of finding a subject to him.
He took the hint, and soon began with, "This seems a verycomfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal toit when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford."
"I believe she did--and I am sure she could not have bestowedher kindness on a more grateful object."
"Mr. Collins appears to be very fortunate in his choice of a wife."
"Yes, indeed, his friends may well rejoice in his having met withone of the very few sensible women who would have acceptedhim, or have made him happy if they had. My friend has anexcellent understanding--though I am not certain that I considerher marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. Sheseems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light it iscertainly a very good match for her."
"It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy adistance of her own family and friends."
"An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles."
"And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half aday's journey. Yes, I call it a _very_ easy distance."
"I should never have considered the distance as one of the_advantages_ of the match," cried Elizabeth. "I should neverhave said Mrs. Collins was settled _near_ her family."
"It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire.
Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, Isuppose, would appear far."
As he spoke there was a sort of smile which Elizabeth fanciedshe understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Janeand Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered:
"I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too nearher family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend onmany varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make theexpenses of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil.
But that is not the case _here_. Mr. and Mrs. Collins have acomfortable income, but not such a one as will allow of frequentjourneys--and I am persuaded my friend would not call herself_near_ her family under less than _half_ the present distance."
Mr. Darcy drew his chair a little towards her, and said, "_You_cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment.
_You_ cannot have been always at Longbourn."
Elizabeth looked surprised. The gentleman experienced somechange of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaperfrom the table, and glancing over it, said, in a colder voice:
"Are you pleased with Kent?"
A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensued, on eitherside calm and concise--and soon put an end to by the entranceof Charlotte and her sister, just returned from her walk. Thetete-a-tete surprised them. Mr. Darcy related the mistake whichhad occasioned his intruding on Miss Bennet, and after sitting afew minutes longer without saying much to anybody, went away.
"What can be the meaning of this?" said Charlotte, as soon as hewas gone. "My dear, Eliza, he must be in love with you, or hewould never have called us in this familiar way."
But when Elizabeth told of his silence; it did not seem verylikely, even to Charlotte's wishes, to be the case; and aftervarious conjectures, they could at last only suppose his visit toproceed from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which wasthe more probable from the time of year. All field sports wereover. Within doors there was Lady Catherine, books, and abilliard-table, but gentlemen cannot always be within doors; andin the nearness of the Parsonage, or the pleasantness of the walkto it, or of the people who lived in it, the two cousins found atemptation from this period of walking thither almost every day.
They called at various times of the morning, sometimesseparately, sometimes together, and now and then accompaniedby their aunt. It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliamcame because he had pleasure in their society, a persuasionwhich of course recommended him still more; and Elizabeth wasreminded by her own satisfaction in being with him, as well as byhis evident admiration of her, of her former favourite GeorgeWickham; and though, in comparing them, she saw there wasless captivating softness in Colonel Fitzwilliam's manners, shebelieved he might have the best informed mind.
But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was moredifficult to understand. It could not be for society, as hefrequently sat there ten minutes together without opening hislips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessityrather than of choice--a sacrifice to propriety, not a pleasureto himself. He seldom appeared really animated. Mrs. Collinsknew not what to make of him. Colonel Fitzwilliam's occasionallylaughing at his stupidity, proved that he was generally different,which her own knowledge of him could not have told her; and asshe would liked to have believed this change the effect of love,and the object of that love her friend Eliza, she set herselfseriously to work to find it out. She watched him whenever theywere at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but withoutmuch success. He certainly looked at her friend a great deal,but the expression of that look was disputable. It was anearnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether therewere much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing butabsence of mind.
She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility ofhis being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea;and Mrs. Collins did not think it right to press the subject, fromthe danger of raising expectations which might only end indisappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt,that all her friend's dislike would vanish, if she could supposehim to be in her power.
In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned hermarrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was beyond comparison themost pleasant man; he certainly admired her, and his situation inlife was most eligible; but, to counterbalance these advantages,Mr. Darcy had considerable patronage in the church, and hiscousin could have none at all.
More than once did Elizabeth, in her ramble within the park,unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. She felt all the perverseness ofthe mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought,and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform himat first that it was a favourite haunt of hers. How it could occura second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even athird. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance,for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal inquiriesand an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought itnecessary to turn back and walk with her. He never said a greatdeal, nor did she give herself the trouble of talking or oflistening much; but it struck her in the course of their thirdrencontre that he was asking some odd unconnected questions--abouther pleasure in being at Hunsford, her love of solitary walks, andher opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Collins's happiness; and that inspeaking of Rosings and her not perfectly understanding the house,he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again shewould be staying _there_ too. His words seemed to imply it. Couldhe have Colonel Fitzwilliam in his thoughts? She supposed, if hemeant anything, he must mean an allusion to what might arise inthat quarter. It distressed her a little, and she was quite gladto find herself at the gate in the pales opposite the Parsonage.
She was engaged one day as she walked, in perusing Jane's lastletter, and dwelling on some passages which proved that Janehad not written in spirits, when, instead of being again surprisedby Mr. Darcy, she saw on looking up that Colonel Fitzwilliamwas meeting her. Putting away the letter immediately andforcing a smile, she said:
"I did not know before that you ever walked this way."
"I have been making the tour of the park," he replied, "as Igenerally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at theParsonage. Are you going much farther?"
"No, I should have turned in a moment."
And accordingly she did turn, and they walked towards theParsonage together.
"Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday?" said she.
"Yes--if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at hisdisposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases."
"And if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he hasat least pleasure in the great power of choice. I do not knowanybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what helikes than Mr. Darcy."
"He likes to have his own way very well," replied ColonelFitzwilliam. "But so we all do. It is only that he has bettermeans of having it than many others, because he is rich, andmany others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, youknow, must be inured to self-denial and dependence."
"In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know verylittle of either. Now seriously, what have you ever known ofself-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented bywant of money from going wherever you chose, or procuringanything you had a fancy for?"
"These are home questions--and perhaps I cannot say that Ihave experienced many hardships of that nature. But in mattersof greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Youngersons cannot marry where they like."
"Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think theyvery often do."
"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are notmany in my rank of life who can afford to marry without someattention to money."
"Is this," thought Elizabeth, "meant for me?" and she colouredat the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, "Andpray, what is the usual price of an earl's younger son? Unlessthe elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not askabove fifty thousand pounds."
He answered her in the same style, and the subject dropped. Tointerrupt a silence which might make him fancy her affected withwhat had passed, she soon afterwards said:
"I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly forthe sake of having someone at his disposal. I wonder he doesnot marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But,perhaps, his sister does as well for the present, and, as she isunder his sole care, he may do what he likes with her."
"No," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, "that is an advantage which hemust divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianshipof Miss Darcy."
"Are you indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do youmake? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladiesof her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if shehas the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way."
As she spoke she observed him looking at her earnestly; andthe manner in which he immediately asked her why she supposedMiss Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness, convinced herthat she had somehow or other got pretty near the truth. Shedirectly replied:
"You need not be frightened. I never heard any harm of her; andI 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 thatyou know them."
"I know them a little. Their brother is a pleasant gentlemanlikeman--he is a great friend of Darcy's."
"Oh! yes," said Elizabeth drily; "Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kindto Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him."
"Care of him! Yes, I really believe Darcy _does_ take care ofhim in those points where he most wants care. From somethingthat he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to thinkBingley very much indebted to him. But I ought to beg hispardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was theperson meant. It was all conjecture."
"What is it you mean?"
"It is a circumstance which Darcy could not wish to be generallyknown, because if it were to get round to the lady's family, itwould be an unpleasant thing."
"You may depend upon my not mentioning it."
"And remember that I have not much reason for supposing itto be Bingley. What he told me was merely this: that hecongratulated himself on having lately saved a friend fromthe inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but withoutmentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspectedit to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to getinto a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have beentogether the whole of last summer."
"Did Mr. Darcy give you reasons for this interference?"
"I understood that there were some very strong objectionsagainst the lady."
"And what arts did he use to separate them?"
"He did not talk to me of his own arts," said Fitzwilliam, smiling.
"He only told me what I have now told you."
Elizabeth made no answer, and walked on, her heart swellingwith indignation. After watching her a little, Fitzwilliam askedher why she was so thoughtful.
"I am thinking of what you have been telling me," said she.
"Your cousin's conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was heto be the judge?"
"You are rather disposed to call his interference officious?"
"I do not see what right Mr. Darcy had to decide on thepropriety of his friend's inclination, or why, upon his ownjudgement alone, he was to determine and direct in what mannerhis friend was to be happy. But," she continued, recollectingherself, "as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair tocondemn him. It is not to be supposed that there was muchaffection in the case."
"That is not an unnatural surmise," said Fitzwilliam, "but it is alessening of the honour of my cousin's triumph very sadly."
This was spoken jestingly; but it appeared to her so just a pictureof Mr. Darcy, that she would not trust herself with an answer,and therefore, abruptly changing the conversation talked onindifferent matters until they reached the Parsonage. There, shutinto her own room, as soon as their visitor left them, she couldthink without interruption of all that she had heard. It was notto be supposed that any other people could be meant than thosewith whom she was connected. There could not exist in theworld _two_ men over whom Mr. Darcy could have such boundlessinfluence. That he had been concerned in the measures taken toseparate Bingley and Jane she had never doubted; but she hadalways attributed to Miss Bingley the principal design andarrangement of them. If his own vanity, however, did not misleadhim, _he_ was the cause, his pride and caprice were the cause, ofall that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. Hehad ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the mostaffectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could sayhow lasting an evil he might have inflicted.
"There were some very strong objections against the lady,"were Colonel Fitzwilliam's words; and those strong objectionsprobably were, her having one uncle who was a country attorney,and another who was in business in London.
"To Jane herself," she exclaimed, "there could be no possibilityof objection; all loveliness and goodness as she is!--herunderstanding excellent, her mind improved, and her mannerscaptivating. Neither could anything be urged against my father,who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities Mr. Darcyhimself need not disdain, and respectability which he willprobably never each." When she thought of her mother, herconfidence gave way a little; but she would not allow that anyobjections _there_ had material weight with Mr. Darcy, whosepride, she was convinced, would receive a deeper wound fromthe want of importance in his friend's connections, than fromtheir want of sense; and she was quite decided, at last, that hehad been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partlyby the wish of retaining Mr. Bingley for his sister.
The agitation and tears which the subject occasioned, brought ona headache; and it grew so much worse towards the evening,that, added to her unwillingness to see Mr. Darcy, it determinedher not to attend her cousins to Rosings, where they wereengaged to drink tea. Mrs. Collins, seeing that she was reallyunwell, did not press her to go and as much as possibleprevented her husband from pressing her; but Mr. Collins couldnot conceal his apprehension of Lady Catherine's being ratherdispleased by her staying at home.
When they were gone, Elizabeth, as if intending to exasperateherself as much as possible against Mr. Darcy, chose for heremployment the examination of all the letters which Jane hadwritten to her since her being in Kent. They contained no actualcomplaint, nor was there any revival of past occurrences, or anycommunication of present suffering. But in all, and in almostevery line of each, there was a want of that cheerfulness whichhad been used to characterise her style, and which, proceedingfrom the serenity of a mind at ease with itself and kindlydisposed towards everyone, had been scarcely ever clouded.
Elizabeth noticed every sentence conveying the idea of uneasiness,with an attention which it had hardly received on the firstperusal. Mr. Darcy's shameful boast of what misery he had beenable to inflict, gave her a keener sense of her sister'ssufferings. It was some consolation to think that his visitto Rosings was to end on the day after the next--and, a stillgreater, that in less than a fortnight she should herself be withJane again, and enabled to contribute to the recovery of herspirits, by all that affection could do.
She could not think of Darcy's leaving Kent without rememberingthat his cousin was to go with him; but Colonel Fitzwilliam hadmade it clear that he had no intentions at all, and agreeableas he was, she did not mean to be unhappy about him.
While settling this point, she was suddenly roused by the soundof the door-bell, and her spirits were a little fluttered by theidea of its being Colonel Fitzwilliam himself, who had oncebefore called late in the evening, and might now come to inquireparticularly after her. But this idea was soon banished, andher spirits were very differently affected, when, to her utteramazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the room. In anhurried manner he immediately began an inquiry after her health,imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better.
She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a fewmoments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabethwas surprised, but said not a word. After a silence ofseveral minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner,and thus began:
"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will notbe repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admireand love you."
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. She stared,coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficientencouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had longfelt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but therewere feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and hewas not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride.
His sense of her inferiority--of its being a degradation--of thefamily obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, weredwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence hewas wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensibleto the compliment of such a man's affection, and though herintentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry forthe pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by hissubsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. Shetried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience,when he should have done. He concluded with representing toher the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all hisendeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and withexpressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by heracceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easilysee that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He _spoke_ ofapprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed realsecurity. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther,and, when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and shesaid:
"In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established modeto express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed,however unequally they may be returned. It is natural thatobligation should be felt, and if I could _feel_ gratitude, I wouldnow thank you. But I cannot--I have never desired your goodopinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. Iam sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been mostunconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of shortduration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long preventedthe acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty inovercoming it after this explanation."
Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with hiseyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no lessresentment than surprise. His complexion became pale withanger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in everyfeature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure,and would not open his lips till he believed himself to haveattained it. The pause was to Elizabeth's feelings dreadful.
At length, with a voice of forced calmness, he said:
"And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour ofexpecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with solittle _endeavour_ at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is ofsmall importance."
"I might as well inquire," replied she, "why with so evident adesire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me thatyou liked me against your will, against your reason, and evenagainst your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility,if I _was_ uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know Ihave. Had not my feelings decided against you--had they beenindifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think thatany consideration would tempt me to accept the man who hasbeen the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of amost beloved sister?"
As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed colour; butthe emotion was short, and he listened without attemptingto interrupt her while she continued:
"I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motivecan excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted _there_.
You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the principal,if not the only means of dividing them from each other--ofexposing one to the censure of the world for caprice andinstability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes,and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind."
She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he waslistening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by anyfeeling of remorse. He even looked at her with a smile ofaffected incredulity.
"Can you deny that you have done it?" she repeated.
With assumed tranquillity he then replied: "I have no wish ofdenying that I did everything in my power to separate my friendfrom your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards _him_I have been kinder than towards myself."
Elizabeth disdained the appearance of noticing this civilreflection, but its meaning did not escape, nor was it likely toconciliate her.
"But it is not merely this affair," she continued, "on which mydislike is founded. Long before it had taken place my opinionof you was decided. Your character was unfolded in the recitalwhich I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham. On thissubject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary actof friendship can you here defend yourself? or under whatmisrepresentation can you here impose upon others?"
"You take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns," saidDarcy, in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.
"Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can helpfeeling an interest in him?"
"His misfortunes!" repeated Darcy contemptuously; "yes, hismisfortunes have been great indeed."
"And of your infliction," cried Elizabeth with energy. "Youhave reduced him to his present state of poverty--comparativepoverty. You have withheld the advantages which you mustknow to have been designed for him. You have deprived thebest years of his life of that independence which was no less hisdue than his desert. You have done all this! and yet you cantreat the mention of his misfortune with contempt and ridicule."
"And this," cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps acrossthe room, "is your opinion of me! This is the estimation inwhich you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. Myfaults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! Butperhaps," added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towardsher, "these offenses might have been overlooked, had not yourpride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that hadlong prevented my forming any serious design. These bitteraccusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greaterpolicy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the beliefof my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; byreason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sortis my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related.
They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice inthe inferiority of your connections?--to congratulate myself onthe hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedlybeneath my own?"
Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet shetried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said:
"You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode ofyour declaration affected me in any other way, than as it sparedthe concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had youbehaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."
She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued:
"You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possibleway that would have tempted me to accept it."
Again his astonishment was obvious; and he looked at her withan expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. She wenton:
"From the very beginning--from the first moment, I may almostsay--of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing mewith the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and yourselfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form thegroundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events havebuilt so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a monthbefore I felt that you were the last man in the world whom Icould ever be prevailed on to marry."
"You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehendyour feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my ownhave been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of yourtime, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness."
And with these words he hastily left the room, and Elizabethheard him the next moment open the front door and quit thehouse.
The tumult of her mind, was now painfully great. She knew nothow to support herself, and from actual weakness sat down andcried for half-an-hour. Her astonishment, as she reflected onwhat had passed, was increased by every review of it. That sheshould receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! That heshould have been in love with her for so many months! So muchin love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objectionswhich had made him prevent his friend's marrying her sister,and which must appear at least with equal force in his owncase--was almost incredible! It was gratifying to have inspiredunconsciously so strong an affection. But his pride, hisabominable pride--his shameless avowal of what he had done withrespect to Jane--his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging,though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner inwhich he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty towards whomhe had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which theconsideration of his attachment had for a moment excited. Shecontinued in very agitated reflections till the sound of LadyCatherine's carriage made her feel how unequal she was toencounter Charlotte's observation, and hurried her away toher room.
Elizabeth awoke the next morning to the same thoughts andmeditations which had at length closed her eyes. She couldnot yet recover from the surprise of what had happened; it wasimpossible to think of anything else; and, totally indisposedfor employment, she resolved, soon after breakfast, to indulgeherself in air and exercise. She was proceeding directly to herfavourite walk, when the recollection of Mr. Darcy's sometimescoming there stopped her, and instead of entering the park, sheturned up the lane, which led farther from the turnpike-road.
The park paling was still the boundary on one side, and shesoon passed one of the gates into the ground.
After walking two or three times along that part of the lane, shewas tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at thegates and look into the park. The five weeks which she had nowpassed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, andevery day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. She wason the point of continuing her walk, when she caught a glimpseof a gentleman within the sort of grove which edged the park;he was moving that way; and, fearful of its being Mr. Darcy,she was directly retreating. But the person who advanced wasnow near enough to see her, and stepping forward with eagerness,pronounced her name. She had turned away; but on hearingherself called, though in a voice which proved it to be Mr.
Darcy, she moved again towards the gate. He had by that timereached it also, and, holding out a letter, which she instinctivelytook, said, with a look of haughty composure, "I have beenwalking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Willyou do me the honour of reading that letter?" And then, with aslight bow, turned again into the plantation, and was soon out ofsight.
With no expectation of pleasure, but with the strongest curiosity,Elizabeth opened the letter, and, to her still increasing wonder,perceived an envelope containing two sheets of letter-paper,written quite through, in a very close hand. The envelope itselfwas likewise full. Pursuing her way along the lane, she thenbegan it. It was dated from Rosings, at eight o'clock in themorning, and was as follows:--
"Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, by theapprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentimentsor renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting toyou. I write without any intention of paining you, or humblingmyself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both,cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formationand the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have beenspared, had not my character required it to be written and read.
You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demandyour attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly,but I demand it of your justice.
"Two offenses of a very different nature, and by no means ofequal magnitude, you last night laid to my charge. The firstmentioned was, that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I haddetached Mr. Bingley from your sister, and the other, that I had,in defiance of various claims, in defiance of honour andhumanity, ruined the immediate prosperity and blasted theprospects of Mr. Wickham. Wilfully and wantonly to havethrown off the companion of my youth, the acknowledgedfavourite of my father, a young man who had scarcely any otherdependence than on our patronage, and who had been broughtup to expect its exertion, would be a depravity, to which theseparation of two young persons, whose affection could be thegrowth of only a few weeks, could bear no comparison. Butfrom the severity of that blame which was last night so liberallybestowed, respecting each circumstance, I shall hope to be in thefuture secured, when the following account of my actions andtheir motives has been read. If, in the explanation of them,which is due to myself, I am under the necessity of relatingfeelings which may be offensive to yours, I can only say that Iam sorry. The necessity must be obeyed, and further apologywould be absurd.
"I had not been long in Hertfordshire, before I saw, in commonwith others, that Bingley preferred your elder sister to any otheryoung woman in the country. But it was not till the evening ofthe dance at Netherfield that I had any apprehension of hisfeeling a serious attachment. I had often seen him in love before.
At that ball, while I had the honour of dancing with you, I wasfirst made acquainted, by Sir William Lucas's accidentalinformation, that Bingley's attentions to your sister had givenrise to a general expectation of their marriage. He spoke of itas a certain event, of which the time alone could be undecided.
From that moment I observed my friend's behaviour attentively;and I could then perceive that his partiality for Miss Bennetwas beyond what I had ever witnessed in him. Your sister Ialso watched. Her look and manners were open, cheerful, andengaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard,and I remained convinced from the evening's scrutiny, thatthough she received his attentions with pleasure, she did notinvite them by any participation of sentiment. If _you_ have notbeen mistaken here, _I_ must have been in error. Your superiorknowledge of your sister must make the latter probable. If it beso, if I have been misled by such error to inflict pain on her,your resentment has not been unreasonable. But I shall not scrupleto assert, that the serenity of your sister's countenance and airwas such as might have given the most acute observer a convictionthat, however amiable her temper, her heart was not likely to beeasily touched. That I was desirous of believing her indifferentis certain--but I will venture to say that my investigation anddecisions are not usually influenced by my hopes or fears. I didnot believe her to be indifferent because I wished it; I believedit on impartial conviction, as truly as I wished it in reason.
My objections to the marriage were not merely those which I lastnight acknowledged to have the utmost force of passion to putaside, in my own case; the want of connection could not be sogreat an evil to my friend as to me. But there were other causesof repugnance; causes which, though still existing, and existingto an equal degree in both instances, I had myself endeavouredto forget, because they were not immediately before me. Thesecauses must be stated, though briefly. The situation ofyour mother's family, though objectionable, was nothing incomparison to that total want of propriety so frequently, soalmost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three youngersisters, and occasionally even by your father. Pardon me. Itpains me to offend you. But amidst your concern for the defectsof your nearest relations, and your displeasure at thisrepresentation of them, let it give you consolation to considerthat, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share ofthe like censure, is praise no less generally bestowed on you andyour elder sister, than it is honourable to the sense anddisposition of both. I will only say farther that from what passedthat evening, my opinion of all parties was confirmed, and everyinducement heightened which could have led me before, topreserve my friend from what I esteemed a most unhappyconnection. He left Netherfield for London, on the dayfollowing, as you, I am certain, remember, with the design ofsoon returning.
"The part which I acted is now to be explained. His sisters'uneasiness had been equally excited with my own; our coincidenceof feeling was soon discovered, and, alike sensible that no timewas to be lost in detaching their brother, we shortly resolvedon joining him directly in London. We accordingly went--andthere I readily engaged in the office of pointing out to myfriend the certain evils of such a choice. I described, andenforced them earnestly. But, however this remonstrance mighthave staggered or delayed his determination, I do not supposethat it would ultimately have prevented the marriage, had it notbeen seconded by the assurance that I hesitated not in giving, ofyour sister's indifference. He had before believed her to returnhis affection with sincere, if not with equal regard. But Bingleyhas great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on myjudgement than on his own. To convince him, therefore, that hehad deceived himself, was no very difficult point. To persuadehim against returning into Hertfordshire, when that convictionhad been given, was scarcely the work of a moment. I cannotblame myself for having done thus much. There is but one partof my conduct in the whole affair on which I do not reflect withsatisfaction; it is that I condescended to adopt the measures ofart so far as to conceal from him your sister's being in town. Iknew it myself, as it was known to Miss Bingley; but her brotheris even yet ignorant of it. That they might have met without illconsequence is perhaps probable; but his regard did not appearto me enough extinguished for him to see her without some danger.
Perhaps this concealment, this disguise was beneath me; it isdone, however, and it was done for the best. On this subjectI have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer. If Ihave wounded your sister's feelings, it was unknowingly done andthough the motives which governed me may to you very naturallyappear insufficient, I have not yet learnt to condemn them.
"With respect to that other, more weighty accusation, of havinginjured Mr. Wickham, I can only refute it by laying before youthe whole of his connection with my family. Of what he has_particularly_ accused me I am ignorant; but of the truth ofwhat I shall relate, I can summon more than one witness ofundoubted veracity.
"Mr. Wickham is the son of a very respectable man, who had formany years the management of all the Pemberley estates, andwhose good conduct in the discharge of his trust naturallyinclined my father to be of service to him; and on GeorgeWickham, who was his godson, his kindness was thereforeliberally bestowed. My father supported him at school, andafterwards at Cambridge--most important assistance, as his ownfather, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, wouldhave been unable to give him a gentleman's education. Myfather was not only fond of this young man's society, whosemanner were always engaging; he had also the highest opinion ofhim, and hoping the church would be his profession, intended toprovide for him in it. As for myself, it is many, many years sinceI first began to think of him in a very different manner. Thevicious propensities--the want of principle, which he was carefulto guard from the knowledge of his best friend, could not escapethe observation of a young man of nearly the same age withhimself, and who had opportunities of seeing him in unguardedmoments, which Mr. Darcy could not have. Here again I shallgive you pain--to what degree you only can tell. But whatevermay be the sentiments which Mr. Wickham has created, asuspicion of their nature shall not prevent me from unfoldinghis real character--it adds even another motive.
"My excellent father died about five years ago; and his attachmentto Mr. Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will heparticularly recommended it to me, to promote his advancement inthe best manner that his profession might allow--and if he tookorders, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soonas it became vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousandpounds. His own father did not long survive mine, and within halfa year from these events, Mr. Wickham wrote to inform me that,having finally resolved against taking orders, he hoped I shouldnot think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediatepecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment, by which he couldnot be benefited. He had some intention, he added, of studyinglaw, and I must be aware that the interest of one thousand poundswould be a very insufficient support therein. I rather wished,than believed him to be sincere; but, at any rate, was perfectlyready to accede to his proposal. I knew that Mr. Wickhamought not to be a clergyman; the business was therefore soonsettled--he resigned all claim to assistance in the church, wereit possible that he could ever be in a situation to receive it,and accepted in return three thousand pounds. All connectionbetween us seemed now dissolved. I thought too ill of him toinvite him to Pemberley, or admit his society in town. In townI believe he chiefly lived, but his studying the law was a merepretence, and being now free from all restraint, his life was alife of idleness and dissipation. For about three years I heardlittle of him; but on the decease of the incumbent of the livingwhich had been designed for him, he applied to me again by letterfor the presentation. His circumstances, he assured me, and Ihad no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. He hadfound the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutelyresolved on being ordained, if I would present him to the livingin question--of which he trusted there could be little doubt, ashe was well assured that I had no other person to provide for,and I could not have forgotten my revered father's intentions.
You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with this entreaty,or for resisting every repetition to it. His resentment was inproportion to the distress of his circumstances--and he wasdoubtless as violent in his abuse of me to others as in hisreproaches to myself. After this period every appearance ofacquaintance was dropped. How he lived I know not. But lastsummer he was again most painfully obtruded on my notice.
"I must now mention a circumstance which I would wish toforget myself, and which no obligation less than the presentshould induce me to unfold to any human being. Having saidthus much, I feel no doubt of your secrecy. My sister, who ismore than ten years my junior, was left to the guardianship ofmy mother's nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and myself. About ayear ago, she was taken from school, and an establishmentformed for her in London; and last summer she went with thelady who presided over it, to Ramsgate; and thither also wentMr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design; for there proved to havebeen a prior acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge, inwhose character we were most unhappily deceived; and byher connivance and aid, he so far recommended himself toGeorgiana, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impressionof his kindness to her as a child, that she was persuaded tobelieve herself in love, and to consent to an elopement. She wasthen but fifteen, which must be her excuse; and after stating herimprudence, I am happy to add, that I owed the knowledge of itto herself. I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before theintended elopement, and then Georgiana, unable to support theidea of grieving and offending a brother whom she almostlooked up to as a father, acknowledged the whole to me. Youmay imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister'scredit and feelings prevented any public exposure; but I wroteto Mr. Wickham, who left the place immediately, and Mrs. Youngewas of course removed from her charge. Mr. Wickham's chiefobject was unquestionably my sister's fortune, which is thirtythousand pounds; but I cannot help supposing that the hope ofrevenging himself on me was a strong inducement. His revengewould have been complete indeed.
"This, madam, is a faithful narrative of every event in whichwe have been concerned together; and if you do not absolutelyreject it as false, you will, I hope, acquit me henceforthof cruelty towards Mr. Wickham. I know not in what manner,under what form of falsehood he had imposed on you; but hissuccess is not perhaps to be wondered at. Ignorant as youpreviously were of everything concerning either, detectioncould not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not inyour inclination.
"You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you lastnight; but I was not then master enough of myself to know whatcould or ought to be revealed. For the truth of everything hererelated, I can appeal more particularly to the testimony ofColonel Fitzwilliam, who, from our near relationship andconstant intimacy, and, still more, as one of the executors ofmy father's will, has been unavoidably acquainted with everyparticular of these transactions. If your abhorrence of _me_should make _my_ assertions valueless, you cannot be preventedby the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that theremay be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour tofind some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands inthe course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.
If Elizabeth, when Mr. Darcy gave her the letter, did not expectit to contain a renewal of his offers, she had formed noexpectation at all of its contents. But such as they were, itmay well be supposed how eagerly she went through them, and whata contrariety of emotion they excited. Her feelings as sheread were scarcely to be defined. With amazement did she firstunderstand that he believed any apology to be in his power; andsteadfastly was she persuaded, that he could have no explanationto give, which a just sense of shame would not conceal. With astrong prejudice against everything he might say, she began hisaccount of what had happened at Netherfield. She read with aneagerness which hardly left her power of comprehension, andfrom impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring,was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before hereyes. His belief of her sister's insensibility she instantlyresolved to be false; and his account of the real, the worstobjections to the match, made her too angry to have any wish ofdoing him justice. He expressed no regret for what he had donewhich satisfied her; his style was not penitent, but haughty.
It was all pride and insolence.
But when this subject was succeeded by his account of Mr.
Wickham--when she read with somewhat clearer attention arelation of events which, if true, must overthrow every cherishedopinion of his worth, and which bore so alarming an affinity tohis own history of himself--her feelings were yet more acutelypainful and more difficult of definition. Astonishment,apprehension, and even horror, oppressed her. She wished todiscredit it entirely, repeatedly exclaiming, "This must be false!This cannot be! This must be the grossest falsehood!"--andwhen she had gone through the whole letter, though scarcelyknowing anything of the last page or two, put it hastily away,protesting that she would not regard it, that she would neverlook in it again.
In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest onnothing, she walked on; but it would not do; in half a minute theletter was unfolded again, and collecting herself as well as shecould, she again began the mortifying perusal of all that relatedto Wickham, and commanded herself so far as to examine themeaning of every sentence. The account of his connection withthe Pemberley family was exactly what he had related himself;and the kindness of the late Mr. Darcy, though she had notbefore known its extent, agreed equally well with his ownwords. So far each recital confirmed the other; but when shecame to the will, the difference was great. What Wickham hadsaid of the living was fresh in her memory, and as she recalledhis very words, it was impossible not to feel that there was grossduplicity on one side or the other; and, for a few moments, sheflattered herself that her wishes did not err. But when sheread and re-read with the closest attention, the particularsimmediately following of Wickham's resigning all pretensions tothe living, of his receiving in lieu so considerable a sum asthree thousand pounds, again was she forced to hesitate. Sheput down the letter, weighed every circumstance with what shemeant to be impartiality--deliberated on the probability of eachstatement--but with little success. On both sides it was onlyassertion. Again she read on; but every line proved more clearlythat the affair, which she had believed it impossible that anycontrivance could so represent as to render Mr. Darcy's conductin it less than infamous, was capable of a turn which must makehim entirely blameless throughout the whole.
The extravagance and general profligacy which he scrupled notto lay at Mr. Wickham's charge, exceedingly shocked her; themore so, as she could bring no proof of its injustice. She hadnever heard of him before his entrance into the ----shire Militia,in which he had engaged at the persuasion of the young manwho, on meeting him accidentally in town, had there renewed aslight acquaintance. Of his former way of life nothing had beenknown in Hertfordshire but what he told himself. As to his realcharacter, had information been in her power, she had never felta wish of inquiring. His countenance, voice, and manner hadestablished him at once in the possession of every virtue. Shetried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguishedtrait of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him from theattacks of Mr. Darcy; or at least, by the predominance of virtue,atone for those casual errors under which she would endeavourto class what Mr. Darcy had described as the idleness and viceof many years' continuance. But no such recollection befriendedher. She could see him instantly before her, in every charm ofair and address; but she could remember no more substantialgood than the general approbation of the neighbourhood, andthe regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess.
After pausing on this point a considerable while, she once morecontinued to read. But, alas! the story which followed, of hisdesigns on Miss Darcy, received some confirmation from whathad passed between Colonel Fitzwilliam and herself only themorning before; and at last she was referred for the truth ofevery particular to Colonel Fitzwilliam himself--from whom shehad previously received the information of his near concern inall his cousin's affairs, and whose character she had no reasonto question. At one time she had almost resolved on applyingto him, but the idea was checked by the awkwardness of theapplication, and at length wholly banished by the convictionthat Mr. Darcy would never have hazarded such a proposal, ifhe had not been well assured of his cousin's corroboration.
She perfectly remembered everything that had passed inconversation between Wickham and herself, in their first eveningat Mr. Phillips's. Many of his expressions were still fresh inher memory. She was _now_ struck with the impropriety of suchcommunications to a stranger, and wondered it had escaped herbefore. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward ashe had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with hisconduct. She remembered that he had boasted of having no fearof seeing Mr. Darcy--that Mr. Darcy might leave the country,but that _he_ should stand his ground; yet he had avoided theNetherfield ball the very next week. She remembered also that,till the Netherfield family had quitted the country, he had toldhis story to no one but herself; but that after their removal ithad been everywhere discussed; that he had then no reserves, noscruples in sinking Mr. Darcy's character, though he had assuredher that respect for the father would always prevent his exposingthe son.
How differently did everything now appear in which he wasconcerned! His attentions to Miss King were now the consequenceof views solely and hatefully mercenary; and the mediocrity ofher fortune proved no longer the moderation of his wishes, buthis eagerness to grasp at anything. His behaviour to herselfcould now have had no tolerable motive; he had either beendeceived with regard to her fortune, or had been gratifying hisvanity by encouraging the preference which she believed she hadmost incautiously shown. Every lingering struggle in his favourgrew fainter and fainter; and in farther justification of Mr.
Darcy, she could not but allow Mr. Bingley, when questionedby Jane, had long ago asserted his blamelessness in the affair;that proud and repulsive as were his manners, she had never, inthe whole course of their acquaintance--an acquaintance whichhad latterly brought them much together, and given her a sort ofintimacy with his ways--seen anything that betrayed him to beunprincipled or unjust--anything that spoke him of irreligiousor immoral habits; that among his own connections he wasesteemed and valued--that even Wickham had allowed himmerit as a brother, and that she had often heard him speak soaffectionately of his sister as to prove him capable of _some_amiable feeling; that had his actions been what Mr. Wickhamrepresented them, so gross a violation of everything right couldhardly have been concealed from the world; and that friendshipbetween a person capable of it, and such an amiable man as Mr.
Bingley, was incomprehensible.
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy norWickham could she think without feeling she had been blind,partial, prejudiced, absurd.
"How despicably I have acted!" she cried; "I, who have pridedmyself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on myabilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of mysister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust!How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation!Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind!But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with thepreference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other,on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courtedprepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, whereeither were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself."
From herself to Jane--from Jane to Bingley, her thoughts werein a line which soon brought to her recollection that Mr. Darcy'sexplanation _there_ had appeared very insufficient, and she readit again. Widely different was the effect of a second perusal.
How could she deny that credit to his assertions in one instance,which she had been obliged to give in the other? He declaredhimself to be totally unsuspicious of her sister's attachment;and she could not help remembering what Charlotte's opinionhad always been. Neither could she deny the justice of hisdescription of Jane. She felt that Jane's feelings, though fervent,were little displayed, and that there was a constant complacencyin her air and manner not often united with great sensibility.
When she came to that part of the letter in which her family werementioned in terms of such mortifying, yet merited reproach, hersense of shame was severe. The justice of the charge struck hertoo forcibly for denial, and the circumstances to which heparticularly alluded as having passed at the Netherfield ball,and as confirming all his first disapprobation, could not havemade a stronger impression on his mind than on hers.
The compliment to herself and her sister was not unfelt. Itsoothed, but it could not console her for the contempt which hadthus been self-attracted by the rest of her family; and as sheconsidered that Jane's disappointment had in fact been the workof her nearest relations, and reflected how materially the creditof both must be hurt by such impropriety of conduct, she feltdepressed beyond anything she had ever known before.
After wandering along the lane for two hours, giving way toevery variety of thought--re-considering events, determiningprobabilities, and reconciling herself, as well as she could, toa change so sudden and so important, fatigue, and a recollectionof her long absence, made her at length return home; and sheentered the house with the wish of appearing cheerful as usual,and the resolution of repressing such reflections as must makeher unfit for conversation.
She was immediately told that the two gentlemen from Rosingshad each called during her absence; Mr. Darcy, only for a fewminutes, to take leave--but that Colonel Fitzwilliam had beensitting with them at least an hour, hoping for her return, andalmost resolving to walk after her till she could be found.
Elizabeth could but just _affect_ concern in missing him; shereally rejoiced at it. Colonel Fitzwilliam was no longer anobject; she could think only of her letter.
The two gentlemen left Rosings the next morning, and Mr.
Collins having been in waiting near the lodges, to make themhis parting obeisance, was able to bring home the pleasingintelligence, of their appearing in very good health, and in astolerable spirits as could be expected, after the melancholy sceneso lately gone through at Rosings. To Rosings he then hastened,to console Lady Catherine and her daughter; and on his returnbrought back, with great satisfaction, a message from herladyship, importing that she felt herself so dull as to makeher very desirous of having them all to dine with her.
Elizabeth could not see Lady Catherine without recollecting that,had she chosen it, she might by this time have been presented toher as her future niece; nor could she think, without a smile, ofwhat her ladyship's indignation would have been. "What wouldshe have said? how would she have behaved?" were questions withwhich she amused herself.
Their first subject was the diminution of the Rosings party.
"I assure you, I feel it exceedingly," said Lady Catherine; "Ibelieve no one feels the loss of friends so much as I do. ButI am particularly attached to these young men, and know them tobe so much attached to me! They were excessively sorry to go!But so they always are. The dear Colonel rallied his spiritstolerably till just at last; but Darcy seemed to feel it mostacutely, more, I think, than last year. His attachment toRosings certainly increases."
Mr. Collins had a compliment, and an allusion to throw in here,which were kindly smiled on by the mother and daughter.
Lady Catherine observed, after dinner, that Miss Bennet seemedout of spirits, and immediately accounting for it by herself,by supposing that she did not like to go home again so soon,she added:
"But if that is the case, you must write to your mother and begthat you may stay a little longer. Mrs. Collins will be very gladof your company, I am sure."
"I am much obliged to your ladyship for your kind invitation,"replied Elizabeth, "but it is not in my power to accept it.
I must be in town next Saturday."
"Why, at that rate, you will have been here only six weeks. Iexpected you to stay two months. I told Mrs. Collins so beforeyou came. There can be no occasion for your going so soon.
Mrs. Bennet could certainly spare you for another fortnight."
"But my father cannot. He wrote last week to hurry my return."
"Oh! your father of course may spare you, if your mother can.
Daughters are never of so much consequence to a father. And ifyou will stay another _month_ complete, it will be in my powerto take one of you as far as London, for I am going there earlyin June, for a week; and as Dawson does not object to thebarouche-box, there will be very good room for one of you--andindeed, if the weather should happen to be cool, I should notobject to taking you both, as you are neither of you large."
"You are all kindness, madam; but I believe we must abide byour original plan."
Lady Catherine seemed resigned. "Mrs. Collins, you must senda servant with them. You know I always speak my mind, and Icannot bear the idea of two young women travelling post bythemselves. It is highly improper. You must contrive to sendsomebody. I have the greatest dislike in the world to that sortof thing. Young women should always be properly guarded andattended, according to their situation in life. When my nieceGeorgiana went to Ramsgate last summer, I made a point of herhaving two men-servants go with her. Miss Darcy, the daughterof Mr. Darcy, of Pemberley, and Lady Anne, could not haveappeared with propriety in a different manner. I am excessivelyattentive to all those things. You must send John with the youngladies, Mrs. Collins. I am glad it occurred to me to mention it;for it would really be discreditable to _you_ to let them goalone."
"My uncle is to send a servant for us."
"Oh! Your uncle! He keeps a man-servant, does he? I am veryglad you have somebody who thinks of these things. Whereshall you change horses? Oh! Bromley, of course. If youmention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to."
Lady Catherine had many other questions to ask respecting theirjourney, and as she did not answer them all herself, attention wasnecessary, which Elizabeth believed to be lucky for her; or, witha mind so occupied, she might have forgotten where she was.
Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever shewas alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not aday went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulgein all the delight of unpleasant recollections.
Mr. Darcy's letter she was in a fair way of soon knowing byheart. She studied every sentence; and her feelings towards itswriter were at times widely different. When she remembered thestyle of his address, she was still full of indignation; but whenshe considered how unjustly she had condemned and upbraided him,her anger was turned against herself; and his disappointedfeelings became the object of compassion. His attachmentexcited gratitude, his general character respect; but she couldnot approve him; nor could she for a moment repent her refusal,or feel the slightest inclination ever to see him again. Inher own past behaviour, there was a constant source of vexationand regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family, a subjectof yet heavier chagrin. They were hopeless of remedy. Her father,contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself torestrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters; and hermother, with manners so far from right herself, was entirelyinsensible of the evil. Elizabeth had frequently united with Janein an endeavour to check the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia;but while they were supported by their mother's indulgence, whatchance could there be of improvement? Catherine, weak-spirited,irritable, and completely under Lydia's guidance, had been alwaysaffronted by their advice; and Lydia, self-willed and careless,would scarcely give them a hearing. They were ignorant, idle, andvain. While there was an officer in Meryton, they would flirtwith him; and while Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, theywould be going there forever.
Anxiety on Jane's behalf was another prevailing concern; andMr. Darcy's explanation, by restoring Bingley to all her formergood opinion, heightened the sense of what Jane had lost. Hisaffection was proved to have been sincere, and his conductcleared of all blame, unless any could attach to the implicitnessof his confidence in his friend. How grievous then was thethought that, of a situation so desirable in every respect, soreplete with advantage, so promising for happiness, Jane hadbeen deprived, by the folly and indecorum of her own family!
When to these recollections was added the development of Wickham'scharacter, it may be easily believed that the happy spirits whichhad seldom been depressed before, were now so much affected as tomake it almost impossible for her to appear tolerably cheerful.
Their engagements at Rosings were as frequent during the lastweek of her stay as they had been at first. The very last eveningwas spent there; and her ladyship again inquired minutely intothe particulars of their journey, gave them directions as to thebest method of packing, and was so urgent on the necessity ofplacing gowns in the only right way, that Maria thought herselfobliged, on her return, to undo all the work of the morning, andpack her trunk afresh.
When they parted, Lady Catherine, with great condescension,wished them a good journey, and invited them to come toHunsford again next year; and Miss de Bourgh exerted herselfso far as to curtsey and hold out her hand to both.
On Saturday morning Elizabeth and Mr. Collins met for breakfasta few minutes before the others appeared; and he took theopportunity of paying the parting civilities which he deemedindispensably necessary.
"I know not, Miss Elizabeth," said he, "whether Mrs. Collins hasyet expressed her sense of your kindness in coming to us; but Iam very certain you will not leave the house without receivingher thanks for it. The favor of your company has been muchfelt, I assure you. We know how little there is to tempt anyoneto our humble abode. Our plain manner of living, our smallrooms and few domestics, and the little we see of the world,must make Hunsford extremely dull to a young lady likeyourself; but I hope you will believe us grateful for thecondescension, and that we have done everything in our powerto prevent your spending your time unpleasantly."
Elizabeth was eager with her thanks and assurances of happiness.
She had spent six weeks with great enjoyment; and the pleasureof being with Charlotte, and the kind attentions she had received,must make _her_ feel the obliged. Mr. Collins was gratified, andwith a more smiling solemnity replied:
"It gives me great pleasure to hear that you have passed yourtime not disagreeably. We have certainly done our best; andmost fortunately having it in our power to introduce you to verysuperior society, and, from our connection with Rosings, thefrequent means of varying the humble home scene, I think wemay flatter ourselves that your Hunsford visit cannot have beenentirely irksome. Our situation with regard to Lady Catherine'sfamily is indeed the sort of extraordinary advantage and blessingwhich few can boast. You see on what a footing we are. Yousee how continually we are engaged there. In truth I mustacknowledge that, with all the disadvantages of this humbleparsonage, I should not think anyone abiding in it an object ofcompassion, while they are sharers of our intimacy at Rosings."
Words were insufficient for the elevation of his feelings; andhe was obliged to walk about the room, while Elizabeth tried tounite civility and truth in a few short sentences.
"You may, in fact, carry a very favourable report of us intoHertfordshire, my dear cousin. I flatter myself at least that youwill be able to do so. Lady Catherine's great attentions to Mrs.
Collins you have been a daily witness of; and altogether I trustit does not appear that your friend has drawn an unfortunate--buton this point it will be as well to be silent. Only let meassure you, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that I can from my heart mostcordially wish you equal felicity in marriage. My dear Charlotteand I have but one mind and one way of thinking. There is ineverything a most remarkable resemblance of character and ideasbetween us. We seem to have been designed for each other."
Elizabeth could safely say that it was a great happiness wherethat was the case, and with equal sincerity could add, that shefirmly believed and rejoiced in his domestic comforts. She wasnot sorry, however, to have the recital of them interrupted bythe lady from whom they sprang. Poor Charlotte! it wasmelancholy to leave her to such society! But she had chosen itwith her eyes open; and though evidently regretting that hervisitors were to go, she did not seem to ask for compassion.
Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, andall their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms.
At length the chaise arrived, the trunks were fastened on, theparcels placed within, and it was pronounced to be ready. Afteran affectionate parting between the friends, Elizabeth wasattended to the carriage by Mr. Collins, and as they walkeddown the garden he was commissioning her with his bestrespects to all her family, not forgetting his thanks for thekindness he had received at Longbourn in the winter, and hiscompliments to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, though unknown. Hethen handed her in, Maria followed, and the door was on thepoint of being closed, when he suddenly reminded them, withsome consternation, that they had hitherto forgotten to leaveany message for the ladies at Rosings.
"But," he added, "you will of course wish to have your humblerespects delivered to them, with your grateful thanks for theirkindness to you while you have been here."
Elizabeth made no objection; the door was then allowed to beshut, and the carriage drove off.
"Good gracious!" cried Maria, after a few minutes' silence, "itseems but a day or two since we first came! and yet how manythings have happened!"
"A great many indeed," said her companion with a sigh.
"We have dined nine times at Rosings, besides drinking tea theretwice! How much I shall have to tell!"
Elizabeth added privately, "And how much I shall have to conceal!"
Their journey was performed without much conversation, or anyalarm; and within four hours of their leaving Hunsford theyreached Mr. Gardiner's house, where they were to remain a fewdays.
Jane looked well, and Elizabeth had little opportunity ofstudying her spirits, amidst the various engagements which thekindness of her aunt had reserved for them. But Jane was to gohome with her, and at Longbourn there would be leisure enoughfor observation.
It was not without an effort, meanwhile, that she could waiteven for Longbourn, before she told her sister of Mr. Darcy'sproposals. To know that she had the power of revealing whatwould so exceedingly astonish Jane, and must, at the same time,so highly gratify whatever of her own vanity she had not yetbeen able to reason away, was such a temptation to opennessas nothing could have conquered but the state of indecisionin which she remained as to the extent of what she shouldcommunicate; and her fear, if she once entered on the subject,of being hurried into repeating something of Bingley whichmight only grieve her sister further.
It was the second week in May, in which the three young ladiesset out together from Gracechurch Street for the town of ----,in Hertfordshire; and, as they drew near the appointed inn whereMr. Bennet's carriage was to meet them, they quickly perceived,in token of the coachman's punctuality, both Kitty and Lydialooking out of a dining-room upstairs. These two girls had beenabove an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting anopposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard, and dressing asalad and cucumber.
After welcoming their sisters, they triumphantly displayed a tableset out with such cold meat as an inn larder usually affords,exclaiming, "Is not this nice? Is not this an agreeable surprise?"
"And we mean to treat you all," added Lydia, "but you must lendus the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there."Then, showing her purchases--"Look here, I have bought this bonnet.
I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as wellbuy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home,and see if I can make it up any better."
And when her sisters abused it as ugly, she added, with perfectunconcern, "Oh! but there were two or three much uglier in theshop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin totrim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable. Besides,it will not much signify what one wears this summer, after the----shire have left Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight."
"Are they indeed!" cried Elizabeth, with the greatest satisfaction.
"They are going to be encamped near Brighton; and I do sowant papa to take us all there for the summer! It would be sucha delicious scheme; and I dare say would hardly cost anything atall. Mamma would like to go too of all things! Only think whata miserable summer else we shall have!"
"Yes," thought Elizabeth, "_that_ would be a delightful schemeindeed, and completely do for us at once. Good Heaven!Brighton, and a whole campful of soldiers, to us, who have beenoverset already by one poor regiment of militia, and the monthlyballs of Meryton!"
"Now I have got some news for you," said Lydia, as they sat downat table. "What do you think? It is excellent news--capitalnews--and about a certain person we all like!"
Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other, and the waiter was toldhe need not stay. Lydia laughed, and said:
"Aye, that is just like your formality and discretion. Youthought the waiter must not hear, as if he cared! I dare say heoften hears worse things said than I am going to say. But he isan ugly fellow! I am glad he is gone. I never saw such a longchin in my life. Well, but now for my news; it is about dearWickham; too good for the waiter, is it not? There is no dangerof Wickham's marrying Mary King. There's for you! She is gonedown to her uncle at Liverpool: gone to stay. Wickham is safe."
"And Mary King is safe!" added Elizabeth; "safe from aconnection imprudent as to fortune."
"She is a great fool for going away, if she liked him."
"But I hope there is no strong attachment on either side,"said Jane.
"I am sure there is not on _his_. I will answer for it, he nevercared three straws about her--who could about such a nastylittle freckled thing?"
Elizabeth was shocked to think that, however incapable ofsuch coarseness of _expression_ herself, the coarseness of the_sentiment_ was little other than her own breast had harbouredand fancied liberal!
As soon as all had ate, and the elder ones paid, the carriage wasordered; and after some contrivance, the whole party, with alltheir boxes, work-bags, and parcels, and the unwelcome additionof Kitty's and Lydia's purchases, were seated in it.
"How nicely we are all crammed in," cried Lydia. "I am glad Ibought my bonnet, if it is only for the fun of having anotherbandbox! Well, now let us be quite comfortable and snug, andtalk and laugh all the way home. And in the first place, letus hear what has happened to you all since you went away. Haveyou seen any pleasant men? Have you had any flirting? I wasin great hopes that one of you would have got a husband beforeyou came back. Jane will be quite an old maid soon, I declare.
She is almost three-and-twenty! Lord, how ashamed I should be ofnot being married before three-and-twenty! My aunt Phillips wantsyou so to get husbands, you can't think. She says Lizzy hadbetter have taken Mr. Collins; but _I_ do not think there wouldhave been any fun in it. Lord! how I should like to be marriedbefore any of you; and then I would chaperon you about to allthe balls. Dear me! we had such a good piece of fun the otherday at Colonel Forster's. Kitty and me were to spend the daythere, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little dance in theevening; (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are _such_ friends!) andso she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill,and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what do youthink we did? We dressed up Chamberlayne in woman's clothes onpurpose to pass for a lady, only think what fun! Not a soulknew of it, but Colonel and Mrs. Forster, and Kitty and me,except my aunt, for we were forced to borrow one of her gowns;and you cannot imagine how well he looked! When Denny, andWickham, and Pratt, and two or three more of the men came in,they did not know him in the least. Lord! how I laughed! andso did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died. And _that_made the men suspect something, and then they soon found outwhat was the matter."
With such kinds of histories of their parties and good jokes, didLydia, assisted by Kitty's hints and additions, endeavour toamuse her companions all the way to Longbourn. Elizabethlistened as little as she could, but there was no escaping thefrequent mention of Wickham's name.
Their reception at home was most kind. Mrs. Bennet rejoiced tosee Jane in undiminished beauty; and more than once duringdinner did Mr. Bennet say voluntarily to Elizabeth:
"I am glad you are come back, Lizzy."
Their party in the dining-room was large, for almost all theLucases came to meet Maria and hear the news; and variouswere the subjects that occupied them: Lady Lucas was inquiringof Maria, after the welfare and poultry of her eldest daughter;Mrs. Bennet was doubly engaged, on one hand collecting anaccount of the present fashions from Jane, who sat some waybelow her, and, on the other, retailing them all to the youngerLucases; and Lydia, in a voice rather louder than any otherperson's, was enumerating the various pleasures of the morningto anybody who would hear her.
"Oh! Mary," said she, "I wish you had gone with us, for we hadsuch fun! As we went along, Kitty and I drew up the blinds,and pretended there was nobody in the coach; and I should havegone so all the way, if Kitty had not been sick; and when we gotto the George, I do think we behaved very handsomely, for wetreated the other three with the nicest cold luncheon in theworld, and if you would have gone, we would have treated youtoo. And then when we came away it was such fun! I thoughtwe never should have got into the coach. I was ready to dieof laughter. And then we were so merry all the way home! wetalked and laughed so loud, that anybody might have heard usten miles off!"
To this Mary very gravely replied, "Far be it from me, my dearsister, to depreciate such pleasures! They would doubtless becongenial with the generality of female minds. But I confessthey would have no charms for _me_--I should infinitely prefer abook."
But of this answer Lydia heard not a word. She seldom listenedto anybody for more than half a minute, and never attended toMary at all.
In the afternoon Lydia was urgent with the rest of the girlsto walk to Meryton, and to see how everybody went on; butElizabeth steadily opposed the scheme. It should not be saidthat the Miss Bennets could not be at home half a day beforethey were in pursuit of the officers. There was another reasontoo for her opposition. She dreaded seeing Mr. Wickham again,and was resolved to avoid it as long as possible. The comfortto _her_ of the regiment's approaching removal was indeed beyondexpression. In a fortnight they were to go--and once gone, shehoped there could be nothing more to plague her on his account.
She had not been many hours at home before she found that theBrighton scheme, of which Lydia had given them a hint at the inn,was under frequent discussion between her parents. Elizabethsaw directly that her father had not the smallest intention ofyielding; but his answers were at the same time so vague andequivocal, that her mother, though often disheartened, had neveryet despaired of succeeding at last.
Elizabeth's impatience to acquaint Jane with what had happenedcould no longer be overcome; and at length, resolving tosuppress every particular in which her sister was concerned,and preparing her to be surprised, she related to her the nextmorning the chief of the scene between Mr. Darcy and herself.
Miss Bennet's astonishment was soon lessened by the strongsisterly partiality which made any admiration of Elizabeth appearperfectly natural; and all surprise was shortly lost in otherfeelings. She was sorry that Mr. Darcy should have delivered hissentiments in a manner so little suited to recommend them; butstill more was she grieved for the unhappiness which her sister'srefusal must have given him.
"His being so sure of succeeding was wrong," said she, "andcertainly ought not to have appeared; but consider how much itmust increase his disappointment!"
"Indeed," replied Elizabeth, "I am heartily sorry for him; but hehas other feelings, which will probably soon drive away hisregard for me. You do not blame me, however, for refusing him?"
"Blame you! Oh, no."
"But you blame me for having spoken so warmly of Wickham?"
"No--I do not know that you were wrong in saying what youdid."
"But you _will_ know it, when I tell you what happened the verynext day."
She then spoke of the letter, repeating the whole of its contentsas far as they concerned George Wickham. What a stroke wasthis for poor Jane! who would willingly have gone through theworld without believing that so much wickedness existed in thewhole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual.
Nor was Darcy's vindication, though grateful to her feelings,capable of consoling her for such discovery. Most earnestly didshe labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear theone without involving the other.
"This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able tomake both of them good for anything. Take your choice, butyou must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantityof merit between them; just enough to make one good sort ofman; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For mypart, I am inclined to believe it all Darcy's; but you shall doas you choose."
It was some time, however, before a smile could be extortedfrom Jane.
"I do not know when I have been more shocked," said she.
"Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Mr.
Darcy! Dear Lizzy, only consider what he must have suffered.
Such a disappointment! and with the knowledge of your illopinion, too! and having to relate such a thing of his sister!It is really too distressing. I am sure you must feel it so."
"Oh! no, my regret and compassion are all done away by seeingyou so full of both. I know you will do him such ample justice,that I am growing every moment more unconcerned and indifferent.
Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament over him muchlonger, my heart will be as light as a feather."
"Poor Wickham! there is such an expression of goodness in hiscountenance! such an openness and gentleness in his manner!"
"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the educationof those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and theother all the appearance of it."
"I never thought Mr. Darcy so deficient in the _appearance_of it as you used to do."
"And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decideda dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one'sgenius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind.
One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; butone cannot always be laughing at a man without now and thenstumbling on something witty."
"Lizzy, when you first read that letter, I am sure you could nottreat the matter as you do now."
"Indeed, I could not. I was uncomfortable enough, I may sayunhappy. And with no one to speak to about what I felt, noJane to comfort me and say that I had not been so very weak andvain and nonsensical as I knew I had! Oh! how I wanted you!"
"How unfortunate that you should have used such very strongexpressions in speaking of Wickham to Mr. Darcy, for now they_do_ appear wholly undeserved."
"Certainly. But the misfortune of speaking with bitternessis a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had beenencouraging. There is one point on which I want your advice.
I want to be told whether I ought, or ought not, to make ouracquaintances in general understand Wickham's character."
Miss Bennet paused a little, and then replied, "Surely there canbe no occasion for exposing him so dreadfully. What is youropinion?"
"That it ought not to be attempted. Mr. Darcy has notauthorised me to make his communication public. On thecontrary, every particular relative to his sister was meant tobe kept as much as possible to myself; and if I endeavour toundeceive people as to the rest of his conduct, who will believeme? The general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, thatit would be the death of half the good people in Meryton toattempt to place him in an amiable light. I am not equal to it.
Wickham will soon be gone; and therefore it will not signify toanyone here what he really is. Some time hence it will be allfound out, and then we may laugh at their stupidity in notknowing it before. At present I will say nothing about it."
"You are quite right. To have his errors made public might ruinhim for ever. He is now, perhaps, sorry for what he has done,and anxious to re-establish a character. We must not make himdesperate."
The tumult of Elizabeth's mind was allayed by this conversation.
She had got rid of two of the secrets which had weighed on herfor a fortnight, and was certain of a willing listener in Jane,whenever she might wish to talk again of either. But there wasstill something lurking behind, of which prudence forbade thedisclosure. She dared not relate the other half of Mr. Darcy'sletter, nor explain to her sister how sincerely she had beenvalued by her friend. Here was knowledge in which no onecould partake; and she was sensible that nothing less than aperfect understanding between the parties could justify her inthrowing off this last encumbrance of mystery. "And then," saidshe, "if that very improbable event should ever take place, Ishall merely be able to tell what Bingley may tell in a much moreagreeable manner himself. The liberty of communication cannotbe mine till it has lost all its value!"
She was now, on being settled at home, at leisure to observe thereal state of her sister's spirits. Jane was not happy. She stillcherished a very tender affection for Bingley. Having never evenfancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth offirst attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greatersteadiness than most first attachments often boast; and sofervently did she value his remembrance, and prefer him to everyother man, that all her good sense, and all her attention to thefeelings of her friends, were requisite to check the indulgence ofthose regrets which must have been injurious to her own healthand their tranquillity.
"Well, Lizzy," said Mrs. Bennet one day, "what is your opinion_now_ of this sad business of Jane's? For my part, I amdetermined never to speak of it again to anybody. I told mysister Phillips so the other day. But I cannot find out that Janesaw anything of him in London. Well, he is a very undeservingyoung man--and I do not suppose there's the least chance in theworld of her ever getting him now. There is no talk of hiscoming to Netherfield again in the summer; and I have inquiredof everybody, too, who is likely to know."
"I do not believe he will ever live at Netherfield any more."
"Oh well! it is just as he chooses. Nobody wants him to come.
Though I shall always say he used my daughter extremely ill; andif I was her, I would not have put up with it. Well, my comfortis, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart; and then he willbe sorry for what he has done."
But as Elizabeth could not receive comfort from any suchexpectation, she made no answer.
"Well, Lizzy," continued her mother, soon afterwards, "and sothe Collinses live very comfortable, do they? Well, well, I onlyhope it will last. And what sort of table do they keep? Charlotteis an excellent manager, I dare say. If she is half as sharp asher mother, she is saving enough. There is nothing extravagant in_their_ housekeeping, I dare say."
"No, nothing at all."
"A great deal of good management, depend upon it. Yes, yes.
_they_ will take care not to outrun their income. _They_ willnever be distressed for money. Well, much good may it dothem! And so, I suppose, they often talk of having Longbournwhen your father is dead. They look upon it as quite their own,I dare say, whenever that happens."
"It was a subject which they could not mention before me."
"No; it would have been strange if they had; but I make nodoubt they often talk of it between themselves. Well, if theycan be easy with an estate that is not lawfully their own, somuch the better. I should be ashamed of having one that wasonly entailed on me."
The first week of their return was soon gone. The second began.
It was the last of the regiment's stay in Meryton, and all theyoung ladies in the neighbourhood were drooping apace. Thedejection was almost universal. The elder Miss Bennets alonewere still able to eat, drink, and sleep, and pursue the usualcourse of their employments. Very frequently were theyreproached for this insensibility by Kitty and Lydia, whoseown misery was extreme, and who could not comprehend suchhard-heartedness in any of the family.
"Good Heaven! what is to become of us? What are we to do?"would they often exclaim in the bitterness of woe. "How canyou be smiling so, Lizzy?"
Their affectionate mother shared all their grief; she rememberedwhat she had herself endured on a similar occasion, five-and-twentyyears ago.
"I am sure," said she, "I cried for two days together whenColonel Miller's regiment went away. I thought I should havebroken my heart."
"I am sure I shall break _mine_," said Lydia.
"If one could but go to Brighton!" observed Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh, yes!--if one could but go to Brighton! But papa is sodisagreeable."
"A little sea-bathing would set me up forever."
"And my aunt Phillips is sure it would do _me_ a great deal ofgood," added Kitty.
Such were the kind of lamentations resounding perpetuallythrough Longbourn House. Elizabeth tried to be diverted bythem; but all sense of pleasure was lost in shame. She felt anewthe justice of Mr. Darcy's objections; and never had she been somuch disposed to pardon his interference in the views of hisfriend.
But the gloom of Lydia's prospect was shortly cleared away; forshe received an invitation from Mrs. Forster, the wife of thecolonel of the regiment, to accompany her to Brighton. Thisinvaluable friend was a very young woman, and very latelymarried. A resemblance in good humour and good spirits hadrecommended her and Lydia to each other, and out of their_three_ months' acquaintance they had been intimate _two_.
The rapture of Lydia on this occasion, her adoration of Mrs.
Forster, the delight of Mrs. Bennet, and the mortification ofKitty, are scarcely to be described. Wholly inattentive to hersister's feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstasy,calling for everyone's congratulations, and laughing and talkingwith more violence than ever; whilst the luckless Kitty continuedin the parlour repined at her fate in terms as unreasonable as heraccent was peevish.
"I cannot see why Mrs. Forster should not ask _me_ as well asLydia," said she, "Though I am _not_ her particular friend. Ihave just as much right to be asked as she has, and more too,for I am two years older."
In vain did Elizabeth attempt to make her reasonable, and Janeto make her resigned. As for Elizabeth herself, this invitationwas so far from exciting in her the same feelings as in her motherand Lydia, that she considered it as the death warrant of allpossibility of common sense for the latter; and detestable as sucha step must make her were it known, she could not help secretlyadvising her father not to let her go. She represented to him allthe improprieties of Lydia's general behaviour, the littleadvantage she could derive from the friendship of such a womanas Mrs. Forster, and the probability of her being yet moreimprudent with such a companion at Brighton, where thetemptations must be greater than at home. He heard herattentively, and then said:
"Lydia will never be easy until she has exposed herself in somepublic place or other, and we can never expect her to do it withso little expense or inconvenience to her family as under thepresent circumstances."
"If you were aware," said Elizabeth, "of the very greatdisadvantage to us all which must arise from the public noticeof Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner--nay, which hasalready arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently inthe affair."
"Already arisen?" repeated Mr. Bennet. "What, has shefrightened away some of your lovers? Poor little Lizzy! But donot be cast down. Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to beconnected with a little absurdity are not worth a regret. Come,let me see the list of pitiful fellows who have been kept aloofby Lydia's folly."
"Indeed you are mistaken. I have no such injuries to resent.
It is not of particular, but of general evils, which I am nowcomplaining. Our importance, our respectability in the world mustbe affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain ofall restraint which mark Lydia's character. Excuse me, for I mustspeak plainly. If you, my dear father, will not take the troubleof checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that herpresent pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she willsoon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will befixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt thatever made herself or her family ridiculous; a flirt, too, in theworst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attractionbeyond youth and a tolerable person; and, from the ignorance andemptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off any portion ofthat universal contempt which her rage for admiration will excite.
In this danger Kitty also is comprehended. She will follow whereverLydia leads. Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled!Oh! my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will notbe censured and despised wherever they are known, and that theirsisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?"
Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, andaffectionately taking her hand said in reply:
"Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Janeare known you must be respected and valued; and you will notappear to less advantage for having a couple of--or I may say,three--very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbournif Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go, then. ColonelForster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any realmischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of preyto anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance even asa common flirt than she has been here. The officers will findwomen better worth their notice. Let us hope, therefore, thather being there may teach her her own insignificance. At anyrate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorisingus to lock her up for the rest of her life."
With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content; but herown opinion continued the same, and she left him disappointedand sorry. It was not in her nature, however, to increase hervexations by dwelling on them. She was confident of havingperformed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, oraugment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition.
Had Lydia and her mother known the substance of her conferencewith her father, their indignation would hardly have foundexpression in their united volubility. In Lydia's imagination,a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthlyhappiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streetsof that gay bathing-place covered with officers. She sawherself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of themat present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp--itstents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowdedwith the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, tocomplete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderlyflirting with at least six officers at once.
Had she known her sister sought to tear her from such prospectsand such realities as these, what would have been her sensations?They could have been understood only by her mother, who mighthave felt nearly the same. Lydia's going to Brighton was allthat consoled her for her melancholy conviction of her husband'snever intending to go there himself.
But they were entirely ignorant of what had passed; and theirraptures continued, with little intermission, to the very day ofLydia's leaving home.
Elizabeth was now to see Mr. Wickham for the last time.
Having been frequently in company with him since her return,agitation was pretty well over; the agitations of formal partialityentirely so. She had even learnt to detect, in the very gentlenesswhich had first delighted her, an affectation and a sameness todisgust and weary. In his present behaviour to herself,moreover, she had a fresh source of displeasure, for theinclination he soon testified of renewing those intentions whichhad marked the early part of their acquaintance could only serve,after what had since passed, to provoke her. She lost all concernfor him in finding herself thus selected as the object of such idleand frivolous gallantry; and while she steadily repressed it, couldnot but feel the reproof contained in his believing, that howeverlong, and for whatever cause, his attentions had been withdrawn,her vanity would be gratified, and her preference secured at anytime by their renewal.
On the very last day of the regiment's remaining at Meryton, hedined, with other of the officers, at Longbourn; and so littlewas Elizabeth disposed to part from him in good humour, that onhis making some inquiry as to the manner in which her time hadpassed at Hunsford, she mentioned Colonel Fitzwilliam's andMr. Darcy's having both spent three weeks at Rosings, andasked him, if he was acquainted with the former.
He looked surprised, displeased, alarmed; but with a moment'srecollection and a returning smile, replied, that he had formerlyseen him often; and, after observing that he was a verygentlemanlike man, asked her how she had liked him. Heranswer was warmly in his favour. With an air of indifference hesoon afterwards added:
"How long did you say he was at Rosings?"
"Nearly three weeks."
"And you saw him frequently?"
"Yes, almost every day."
"His manners are very different from his cousin's."
"Yes, very different. But I think Mr. Darcy improves uponacquaintance."
"Indeed!" cried Mr. Wickham with a look which did not escapeher. "And pray, may I ask?--" But checking himself, he added,in a gayer tone, "Is it in address that he improves? Has hedeigned to add aught of civility to his ordinary style?--for Idare not hope," he continued in a lower and more serious tone,"that he is improved in essentials."
"Oh, no!" said Elizabeth. "In essentials, I believe, he is verymuch what he ever was."
While she spoke, Wickham looked as if scarcely knowingwhether to rejoice over her words, or to distrust their meaning.
There was a something in her countenance which made him listenwith an apprehensive and anxious attention, while she added:
"When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not meanthat his mind or his manners were in a state of improvement, butthat, from knowing him better, his disposition was betterunderstood."
Wickham's alarm now appeared in a heightened complexion andagitated look; for a few minutes he was silent, till, shakingoff his embarrassment, he turned to her again, and said in thegentlest of accents:
"You, who so well know my feeling towards Mr. Darcy, willreadily comprehend how sincerely I must rejoice that he iswise enough to assume even the _appearance_ of what is right.
His pride, in that direction, may be of service, if not to himself,to many others, for it must only deter him from such foulmisconduct as I have suffered by. I only fear that the sort ofcautiousness to which you, I imagine, have been alluding, ismerely adopted on his visits to his aunt, of whose good opinionand judgement he stands much in awe. His fear of her hasalways operated, I know, when they were together; and a gooddeal is to be imputed to his wish of forwarding the match withMiss de Bourgh, which I am certain he has very much at heart."
Elizabeth could not repress a smile at this, but she answered onlyby a slight inclination of the head. She saw that he wanted toengage her on the old subject of his grievances, and she was inno humour to indulge him. The rest of the evening passed withthe _appearance_, on his side, of usual cheerfulness, but withno further attempt to distinguish Elizabeth; and they parted atlast with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of nevermeeting again.
When the party broke up, Lydia returned with Mrs. Forster toMeryton, from whence they were to set out early the nextmorning. The separation between her and her family was rathernoisy than pathetic. Kitty was the only one who shed tears; butshe did weep from vexation and envy. Mrs. Bennet was diffusein her good wishes for the felicity of her daughter, andimpressive in her injunctions that she should not miss theopportunity of enjoying herself as much as possible--advicewhich there was every reason to believe would be well attendedto; and in the clamorous happiness of Lydia herself in biddingfarewell, the more gentle adieus of her sisters were utteredwithout being heard.
Had Elizabeth's opinion been all drawn from her own family,she could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugalfelicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youthand beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youthand beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weakunderstanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriageput an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, andconfidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestichappiness were overthrown. But Mr. Bennet was not of adisposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which hisown imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures whichtoo often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice.
He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes hadarisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very littleotherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly hadcontributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happinesswhich a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; butwhere other powers of entertainment are wanting, the truephilosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.
Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety ofher father's behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it withpain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionatetreatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she couldnot overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continualbreach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposinghis wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highlyreprehensible. But she had never felt so strongly as now thedisadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable amarriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising fromso ill-judged a direction of talents; talents, which, rightly used,might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters,even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife.
When Elizabeth had rejoiced over Wickham's departure shefound little other cause for satisfaction in the loss of theregiment. Their parties abroad were less varied than before, andat home she had a mother and sister whose constant repinings atthe dullness of everything around them threw a real gloom overtheir domestic circle; and, though Kitty might in time regain hernatural degree of sense, since the disturbers of her brain wereremoved, her other sister, from whose disposition greater evilmight be apprehended, was likely to be hardened in all herfolly and assurance by a situation of such double danger as awatering-place and a camp. Upon the whole, therefore, shefound, what has been sometimes found before, that an eventto which she had been looking with impatient desire did not,in taking place, bring all the satisfaction she had promisedherself. It was consequently necessary to name some otherperiod for the commencement of actual felicity--to have someother point on which her wishes and hopes might be fixed, andby again enjoying the pleasure of anticipation, console herself forthe present, and prepare for another disappointment. Her tourto the Lakes was now the object of her happiest thoughts; it washer best consolation for all the uncomfortable hours which thediscontentedness of her mother and Kitty made inevitable; andcould she have included Jane in the scheme, every part of itwould have been perfect.
"But it is fortunate," thought she, "that I have something to wishfor. Were the whole arrangement complete, my disappointmentwould be certain. But here, by carrying with me one ceaselesssource of regret in my sister's absence, I may reasonably hope tohave all my expectations of pleasure realised. A scheme ofwhich every part promises delight can never be successful; andgeneral disappointment is only warded off by the defence ofsome little peculiar vexation."
When Lydia went away she promised to write very often andvery minutely to her mother and Kitty; but her letters werealways long expected, and always very short. Those to hermother contained little else than that they were just returnedfrom the library, where such and such officers had attendedthem, and where she had seen such beautiful ornaments as madeher quite wild; that she had a new gown, or a new parasol, whichshe would have described more fully, but was obliged to leaveoff in a violent hurry, as Mrs. Forster called her, and they weregoing off to the camp; and from her correspondence with hersister, there was still less to be learnt--for her letters toKitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under thewords to be made public.
After the first fortnight or three weeks of her absence, health,good humour, and cheerfulness began to reappear at Longbourn.
Everything wore a happier aspect. The families who had been intown for the winter came back again, and summer finery andsummer engagements arose. Mrs. Bennet was restored to herusual querulous serenity; and, by the middle of June, Kitty wasso much recovered as to be able to enter Meryton without tears;an event of such happy promise as to make Elizabeth hope thatby the following Christmas she might be so tolerably reasonableas not to mention an officer above once a day, unless, by somecruel and malicious arrangement at the War Office, anotherregiment should be quartered in Meryton.
The time fixed for the beginning of their northern tour was nowfast approaching, and a fortnight only was wanting of it, whena letter arrived from Mrs. Gardiner, which at once delayed itscommencement and curtailed its extent. Mr. Gardiner would beprevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later inJuly, and must be in London again within a month, and as thatleft too short a period for them to go so far, and see so muchas they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure andcomfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up theLakes, and substitute a more contracted tour, and, accordingto the present plan, were to go no farther northwards thanDerbyshire. In that county there was enough to be seen tooccupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs. Gardiner ithad a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she hadformerly passed some years of her life, and where they were nowto spend a few days, was probably as great an object of hercuriosity as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth,Dovedale, or the Peak.
Elizabeth was excessively disappointed; she had set her heart onseeing the Lakes, and still thought there might have been timeenough. But it was her business to be satisfied--and certainlyher temper to be happy; and all was soon right again.
With the mention of Derbyshire there were many ideas connected.
It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking ofPemberley and its owner. "But surely," said she, "I may enterhis county without impunity, and rob it of a few petrified sparswithout his perceiving me."
The period of expectation was now doubled. Four weeks were topass away before her uncle and aunt's arrival. But they did passaway, and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, with their four children, didat length appear at Longbourn. The children, two girls of sixand eight years old, and two younger boys, were to be left underthe particular care of their cousin Jane, who was the generalfavourite, and whose steady sense and sweetness of temper exactlyadapted her for attending to them in every way--teaching them,playing with them, and loving them.
The Gardiners stayed only one night at Longbourn, and set offthe next morning with Elizabeth in pursuit of novelty andamusement. One enjoyment was certain--that of suitablenessof companions; a suitableness which comprehended health andtemper to bear inconveniences--cheerfulness to enhance everypleasure--and affection and intelligence, which might supplyit among themselves if there were disappointments abroad.
It is not the object of this work to give a description ofDerbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through whichtheir route thither lay; Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenilworth,Birmingham, etc. are sufficiently known. A small part ofDerbyshire is all the present concern. To the little town ofLambton, the scene of Mrs. Gardiner's former residence, andwhere she had lately learned some acquaintance still remained,they bent their steps, after having seen all the principal wondersof the country; and within five miles of Lambton, Elizabethfound from her aunt that Pemberley was situated. It was not intheir direct road, nor more than a mile or two out of it. Intalking over their route the evening before, Mrs. Gardinerexpressed an inclination to see the place again. Mr. Gardinerdeclared his willingness, and Elizabeth was applied to for herapprobation.
"My love, should not you like to see a place of which you haveheard so much?" said her aunt; "a place, too, with which somany of your acquaintances are connected. Wickham passed allhis youth there, you know."
Elizabeth was distressed. She felt that she had no business atPemberley, and was obliged to assume a disinclination for seeingit. She must own that she was tired of seeing great houses; aftergoing over so many, she really had no pleasure in fine carpets orsatin curtains.
Mrs. Gardiner abused her stupidity. "If it were merely a finehouse richly furnished," said she, "I should not care about itmyself; but the grounds are delightful. They have some of thefinest woods in the country."
Elizabeth said no more--but her mind could not acquiesce.
The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy, while viewing the place,instantly occurred. It would be dreadful! She blushed at thevery idea, and thought it would be better to speak openly toher aunt than to run such a risk. But against this there wereobjections; and she finally resolved that it could be the lastresource, if her private inquiries to the absence of the familywere unfavourably answered.
Accordingly, when she retired at night, she asked the chambermaidwhether Pemberley were not a very fine place? what was the nameof its proprietor? and, with no little alarm, whether the familywere down for the summer? A most welcome negative followed thelast question--and her alarms now being removed, she was atleisure to feel a great deal of curiosity to see the house herself;and when the subject was revived the next morning, and she wasagain applied to, could readily answer, and with a proper air ofindifference, that she had not really any dislike to the scheme.
To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.
Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearanceof Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when atlength they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a highflutter.
The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground.
They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for sometime through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent.
Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw andadmired every remarkable spot and point of view. Theygradually ascended for half-a-mile, and then found themselvesat the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased,and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situatedon the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with someabruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building,standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of highwoody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importancewas swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance.
Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabethwas delighted. She had never seen a place for which naturehad done more, or where natural beauty had been so littlecounteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warmin their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to bemistress of Pemberley might be something!
They descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and drove to thedoor; and, while examining the nearer aspect of the house, allher apprehension of meeting its owner returned. She dreadedlest the chambermaid had been mistaken. On applying to seethe place, they were admitted into the hall; and Elizabeth, asthey waited for the housekeeper, had leisure to wonder at herbeing where she was.
The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman,much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion offinding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour.
It was a large, well proportioned room, handsomely fitted up.
Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoyits prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, which they haddescended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance,was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground wasgood; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the treesscattered on its banks and the winding of the valley, as far asshe could trace it, with delight. As they passed into otherrooms these objects were taking different positions; but fromevery window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms werelofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortuneof its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste,that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less ofsplendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
"And of this place," thought she, "I might have been mistress!With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted!Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoicedin them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncleand aunt. But no,"--recollecting herself--"that could neverbe; my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me; I should nothave been allowed to invite them."
This was a lucky recollection--it saved her from somethingvery like regret.
She longed to inquire of the housekeeper whether her masterwas really absent, but had not the courage for it. At lengthhowever, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turnedaway with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was,adding, "But we expect him to-morrow, with a large party offriends." How rejoiced was Elizabeth that their own journeyhad not by any circumstance been delayed a day!
Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approachedand saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham, suspended, amongstseveral other miniatures, over the mantelpiece. Her aunt askedher, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward,and told them it was a picture of a young gentleman, the son ofher late master's steward, who had been brought up by him athis own expense. "He is now gone into the army," she added;"but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabethcould not return it.
"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of theminiatures, "is my master--and very like him. It was drawn atthe same time as the other--about eight years ago."
"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs.
Gardiner, looking at the picture; "it is a handsome face.
But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."
Mrs. Reynolds respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on thisintimation of her knowing her master.
"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth coloured, and said: "A little."
"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, ma'am?"
"Yes, very handsome."
"I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the galleryupstairs you will see a finer, larger picture of him than this.
This room was my late master's favourite room, and theseminiatures are just as they used to be then. He was very fondof them."
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham's being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy,drawn when she was only eight years old.
"And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?" said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Oh! yes--the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; andso accomplished!--She plays and sings all day long. In the nextroom is a new instrument just come down for her--a presentfrom my master; she comes here to-morrow with him."
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were very easy and pleasant,encouraged her communicativeness by his questions and remarks;Mrs. Reynolds, either by pride or attachment, had evidentlygreat pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.
"Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?"
"Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spendhalf his time here; and Miss Darcy is always down for thesummer months."
"Except," thought Elizabeth, "when she goes to Ramsgate."
"If your master would marry, you might see more of him."
"Yes, sir; but I do not know when _that_ will be. I do notknow who is good enough for him."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying,"It is very much to his credit, I am sure, that you should thinkso."
"I say no more than the truth, and everybody will say thatknows him," replied the other. Elizabeth thought this wasgoing pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishmentas the housekeeper added, "I have never known a cross wordfrom him in my life, and I have known him ever since he wasfour years old."
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most oppositeto her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had beenher firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; shelonged to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying:
"There are very few people of whom so much can be said. Youare lucky in having such a master."
"Yes, sir, I know I am. If I were to go through the world, Icould not meet with a better. But I have always observed, thatthey who are good-natured when children, are good-naturedwhen they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered,most generous-hearted boy in the world."
Elizabeth almost stared at her. "Can this be Mr. Darcy?"thought she.
"His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Yes, ma'am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just likehim--just as affable to the poor."
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient formore. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. Sherelated the subjects of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms,and the price of the furniture, in vain, Mr. Gardiner, highlyamused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributedher excessive commendation of her master, soon led again tothe subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits asthey proceeded together up the great staircase.
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "thatever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays, who think ofnothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants orservants but will give him a good name. Some people call himproud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, itis only because he does not rattle away like other young men."
"In what an amiable light does this place him!" thoughtElizabeth.
"This fine account of him," whispered her aunt as they walked,"is not quite consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend."
"Perhaps we might be deceived."
"That is not very likely; our authority was too good."
On reaching the spacious lobby above they were shown into avery pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater eleganceand lightness than the apartments below; and were informed thatit was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who hadtaken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
"He is certainly a good brother," said Elizabeth, as she walkedtowards one of the windows.
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy's delight, when sheshould enter the room. "And this is always the way with him,"she added. "Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sureto be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do forher."
The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms,were all that remained to be shown. In the former were manygood paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and fromsuch as had been already visible below, she had willingly turnedto look at some drawings of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whosesubjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they couldhave little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walkedin quest of the only face whose features would be known to her.
At last it arrested her--and she beheld a striking resemblanceto Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she rememberedto have sometimes seen when he looked at her. She stoodseveral minutes before the picture, in earnest contemplation,and returned to it again before they quitted the gallery. Mrs.
Reynolds informed them that it had been taken in his father'slifetime.
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a moregentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt atthe height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowedon him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praiseis more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As abrother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people'shappiness were in his guardianship!--how much of pleasure orpain was it in his power to bestow!--how much of good or evilmust be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forwardby the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as shestood before the canvas on which he was represented, and fixedhis eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deepersentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; sheremembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety ofexpression.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection hadbeen seen, they returned downstairs, and, taking leave of thehousekeeper, were consigned over to the gardener, who metthem at the hall-door.
As they walked across the hall towards the river, Elizabethturned back to look again; her uncle and aunt stopped also, andwhile the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building,the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road,which led behind it to the stables.
They were within twenty yards of each other, and so abrupt washis appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Theireyes instantly met, and the cheeks of both were overspread withthe deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a momentseemed immovable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself,advanced towards the party, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not interms of perfect composure, at least of perfect civility.
She had instinctively turned away; but stopping on his approach,received his compliments with an embarrassment impossible tobe overcome. Had his first appearance, or his resemblance tothe picture they had just been examining, been insufficientto assure the other two that they now saw Mr. Darcy, thegardener's expression of surprise, on beholding his master,must immediately have told it. They stood a little aloof whilehe was talking to their niece, who, astonished and confused,scarcely dared lift her eyes to his face, and knew not whatanswer she returned to his civil inquiries after her family.
Amazed at the alteration of his manner since they last parted,every sentence that he uttered was increasing her embarrassment;and every idea of the impropriety of her being found thererecurring to her mind, the few minutes in which they continuedwere some of the most uncomfortable in her life. Nor did heseem much more at ease; when he spoke, his accent had none ofits usual sedateness; and he repeated his inquiries as to thetime of her having left Longbourn, and of her having stayed inDerbyshire, so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spokethe distraction of his thoughts.
At length every idea seemed to fail him; and, after standing afew moments without saying a word, he suddenly recollectedhimself, and took leave.
The others then joined her, and expressed admiration of hisfigure; but Elizabeth heard not a word, and wholly engrossedby her own feelings, followed them in silence. She wasoverpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there wasthe most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world!How strange it must appear to him! In what a disgraceful lightmight it not strike so vain a man! It might seem as if shehad purposely thrown herself in his way again! Oh! why did shecome? Or, why did he thus come a day before he was expected?Had they been only ten minutes sooner, they should have beenbeyond the reach of his discrimination; for it was plain thathe was that moment arrived--that moment alighted from hishorse or his carriage. She blushed again and again over theperverseness of the meeting. And his behaviour, so strikinglyaltered--what could it mean? That he should even speak to herwas amazing!--but to speak with such civility, to inquire afterher family! Never in her life had she seen his manners so littledignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as on thisunexpected meeting. What a contrast did it offer to his lastaddress in Rosings Park, when he put his letter into her hand!She knew not what to think, or how to account for it.
They had now entered a beautiful walk by the side of the water,and every step was bringing forward a nobler fall of ground, ora finer reach of the woods to which they were approaching; butit was some time before Elizabeth was sensible of any of it;and, though she answered mechanically to the repeated appealsof her uncle and aunt, and seemed to direct her eyes to suchobjects as they pointed out, she distinguished no part ofthe scene. Her thoughts were all fixed on that one spot ofPemberley House, whichever it might be, where Mr. Darcy thenwas. She longed to know what at the moment was passing inhis mind--in what manner he thought of her, and whether, indefiance of everything, she was still dear to him. Perhaps hehad been civil only because he felt himself at ease; yet therehad been _that_ in his voice which was not like ease. Whether hehad felt more of pain or of pleasure in seeing her she couldnot tell, but he certainly had not seen her with composure.
At length, however, the remarks of her companions on herabsence of mind aroused her, and she felt the necessity ofappearing more like herself.
They entered the woods, and bidding adieu to the river for awhile, ascended some of the higher grounds; when, in spots wherethe opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, were manycharming views of the valley, the opposite hills, with the longrange of woods overspreading many, and occasionally part of thestream. Mr. Gardiner expressed a wish of going round the wholepark, but feared it might be beyond a walk. With a triumphantsmile they were told that it was ten miles round. It settled thematter; and they pursued the accustomed circuit; which broughtthem again, after some time, in a descent among hanging woods,to the edge of the water, and one of its narrowest parts. Theycrossed it by a simple bridge, in character with the general airof the scene; it was a spot less adorned than any they had yetvisited; and the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowedroom only for the stream, and a narrow walk amidst the roughcoppice-wood which bordered it. Elizabeth longed to explore itswindings; but when they had crossed the bridge, and perceivedtheir distance from the house, Mrs. Gardiner, who was not agreat walker, could go no farther, and thought only of returningto the carriage as quickly as possible. Her niece was, therefore,obliged to submit, and they took their way towards the house onthe opposite side of the river, in the nearest direction; buttheir progress was slow, for Mr. Gardiner, though seldom able toindulge the taste, was very fond of fishing, and was so muchengaged in watching the occasional appearance of some trout inthe water, and talking to the man about them, that he advancedbut little. Whilst wandering on in this slow manner, they wereagain surprised, and Elizabeth's astonishment was quite equal towhat it had been at first, by the sight of Mr. Darcy approachingthem, and at no great distance. The walk here being here lesssheltered than on the other side, allowed them to see him beforethey met. Elizabeth, however astonished, was at least moreprepared for an interview than before, and resolved to appearand to speak with calmness, if he really intended to meet them.
For a few moments, indeed, she felt that he would probably strikeinto some other path. The idea lasted while a turning in thewalk concealed him from their view; the turning past, he wasimmediately before them. With a glance, she saw that he had lostnone of his recent civility; and, to imitate his politeness, shebegan, as they met, to admire the beauty of the place; but shehad not got beyond the words "delightful," and "charming," whensome unlucky recollections obtruded, and she fancied that praiseof Pemberley from her might be mischievously construed. Hercolour changed, and she said no more.
Mrs. Gardiner was standing a little behind; and on her pausing,he asked her if she would do him the honour of introducing himto her friends. This was a stroke of civility for which shewas quite unprepared; and she could hardly suppress a smile athis being now seeking the acquaintance of some of those verypeople against whom his pride had revolted in his offer toherself. "What will be his surprise," thought she, "when heknows who they are? He takes them now for people of fashion."
The introduction, however, was immediately made; and as shenamed their relationship to herself, she stole a sly look athim, to see how he bore it, and was not without the expectationof his decamping as fast as he could from such disgracefulcompanions. That he was _surprised_ by the connection wasevident; he sustained it, however, with fortitude, and so farfrom going away, turned his back with them, and entered intoconversation with Mr. Gardiner. Elizabeth could not but bepleased, could not but triumph. It was consoling that he shouldknow she had some relations for whom there was no need toblush. She listened most attentively to all that passed betweenthem, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of heruncle, which marked his intelligence, his taste, or his goodmanners.
The conversation soon turned upon fishing; and she heard Mr.
Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as oftenas he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offeringat the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointingout those parts of the stream where there was usually mostsport. Mrs. Gardiner, who was walking arm-in-arm withElizabeth, gave her a look expressive of wonder. Elizabethsaid nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the complimentmust be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, wasextreme, and continually was she repeating, "Why is he soaltered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for _me_--itcannot be for _my_ sake that his manners are thus softened. Myreproofs at Hunsford could not work such a change as this.
It is impossible that he should still love me."
After walking some time in this way, the two ladies in front,the two gentlemen behind, on resuming their places, afterdescending to the brink of the river for the better inspection ofsome curious water-plant, there chanced to be a little alteration.
It originated in Mrs. Gardiner, who, fatigued by the exercise ofthe morning, found Elizabeth's arm inadequate to her support, andconsequently preferred her husband's. Mr. Darcy took her placeby her niece, and they walked on together. After a short silence,the lady first spoke. She wished him to know that she hadbeen assured of his absence before she came to the place, andaccordingly began by observing, that his arrival had been veryunexpected--"for your housekeeper," she added, "informed us thatyou would certainly not be here till to-morrow; and indeed, beforewe left Bakewell, we understood that you were not immediatelyexpected in the country." He acknowledged the truth of it all,and said that business with his steward had occasioned his comingforward a few hours before the rest of the party with whom hehad been travelling. "They will join me early to-morrow," hecontinued, "and among them are some who will claim an acquaintancewith you--Mr. Bingley and his sisters."
Elizabeth answered only by a slight bow. Her thoughts wereinstantly driven back to the time when Mr. Bingley's name hadbeen the last mentioned between them; and, if she might judgeby his complexion, _his_ mind was not very differently engaged.
"There is also one other person in the party," he continued aftera pause, "who more particularly wishes to be known to you.
Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sisterto your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?"
The surprise of such an application was great indeed; it was toogreat for her to know in what manner she acceded to it. Sheimmediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy might have ofbeing acquainted with her must be the work of her brother, and,without looking farther, it was satisfactory; it was gratifying toknow that his resentment had not made him think really ill of her.
They now walked on in silence, each of them deep in thought.
Elizabeth was not comfortable; that was impossible; but she wasflattered and pleased. His wish of introducing his sister to herwas a compliment of the highest kind. They soon outstripped theothers, and when they had reached the carriage, Mr. and Mrs.
Gardiner were half a quarter of a mile behind.
He then asked her to walk into the house--but she declaredherself not tired, and they stood together on the lawn. Atsuch a time much might have been said, and silence was veryawkward. She wanted to talk, but there seemed to be anembargo on every subject. At last she recollected that she hadbeen travelling, and they talked of Matlock and Dove Dale withgreat perseverance. Yet time and her aunt moved slowly--andher patience and her ideas were nearly worn our before thetete-a-tete was over. On Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's coming upthey were all pressed to go into the house and take somerefreshment; but this was declined, and they parted on eachside with utmost politeness. Mr. Darcy handed the ladies intothe carriage; and when it drove off, Elizabeth saw him walkingslowly towards the house.
The observations of her uncle and aunt now began; and each ofthem pronounced him to be infinitely superior to anything theyhad expected. "He is perfectly well behaved, polite, andunassuming," said her uncle.
"There _is_ something a little stately in him, to be sure," repliedher aunt, "but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming.
I can now say with the housekeeper, that though some people maycall him proud, I have seen nothing of it."
"I was never more surprised than by his behaviour to us. It wasmore than civil; it was really attentive; and there was nonecessity for such attention. His acquaintance with Elizabethwas very trifling."
"To be sure, Lizzy," said her aunt, "he is not so handsome asWickham; or, rather, he has not Wickham's countenance, forhis features are perfectly good. But how came you to tell methat he was so disagreeable?"
Elizabeth excused herself as well as she could; said that she hadliked him better when they had met in Kent than before, and thatshe had never seen him so pleasant as this morning.
"But perhaps he may be a little whimsical in his civilities,"replied her uncle. "Your great men often are; and therefore Ishall not take him at his word, as he might change his mindanother day, and warn me off his grounds."
Elizabeth felt that they had entirely misunderstood his character,but said nothing.
"From what we have seen of him," continued Mrs. Gardiner, "Ireally should not have thought that he could have behaved in socruel a way by anybody as he has done by poor Wickham. Hehas not an ill-natured look. On the contrary, there is somethingpleasing about his mouth when he speaks. And there is somethingof dignity in his countenance that would not give one anunfavourable idea of his heart. But, to be sure, the good ladywho showed us his house did give him a most flaming character!I could hardly help laughing aloud sometimes. But he is aliberal master, I suppose, and _that_ in the eye of a servantcomprehends every virtue."
Elizabeth here felt herself called on to say something invindication of his behaviour to Wickham; and therefore gavethem to understand, in as guarded a manner as she could, thatby what she had heard from his relations in Kent, his actionswere capable of a very different construction; and that hischaracter was by no means so faulty, nor Wickham's so amiable,as they had been considered in Hertfordshire. In confirmationof this, she related the particulars of all the pecuniarytransactions in which they had been connected, without actuallynaming her authority, but stating it to be such as might berelied on.
Mrs. Gardiner was surprised and concerned; but as they werenow approaching the scene of her former pleasures, every ideagave way to the charm of recollection; and she was too muchengaged in pointing out to her husband all the interesting spotsin its environs to think of anything else. Fatigued as she hadbeen by the morning's walk they had no sooner dined than sheset off again in quest of her former acquaintance, and theevening was spent in the satisfactions of a intercourse renewedafter many years' discontinuance.
The occurrences of the day were too full of interest to leaveElizabeth much attention for any of these new friends; and shecould do nothing but think, and think with wonder, of Mr.
Darcy's civility, and, above all, of his wishing her to beacquainted with his sister.
Elizabeth had settled it that Mr. Darcy would bring his sisterto visit her the very day after her reaching Pemberley; and wasconsequently resolved not to be out of sight of the inn the wholeof that morning. But her conclusion was false; for on the verymorning after their arrival at Lambton, these visitors came.
They had been walking about the place with some of their newfriends, and were just returning to the inn to dress themselvesfor dining with the same family, when the sound of a carriagedrew them to a window, and they saw a gentleman and a ladyin a curricle driving up the street. Elizabeth immediatelyrecognizing the livery, guessed what it meant, and imparted nosmall degree of her surprise to her relations by acquaintingthem with the honour which she expected. Her uncle and auntwere all amazement; and the embarrassment of her manner asshe spoke, joined to the circumstance itself, and many of thecircumstances of the preceding day, opened to them a new ideaon the business. Nothing had ever suggested it before, but theyfelt that there was no other way of accounting for such attentionsfrom such a quarter than by supposing a partiality for theirniece. While these newly-born notions were passing in their heads,the perturbation of Elizabeth's feelings was at every momentincreasing. She was quite amazed at her own discomposure; butamongst other causes of disquiet, she dreaded lest the partialityof the brother should have said too much in her favour; and, morethan commonly anxious to please, she naturally suspected thatevery power of pleasing would fail her.
She retreated from the window, fearful of being seen; and asshe walked up and down the room, endeavouring to composeherself, saw such looks of inquiring surprise in her uncle andaunt as made everything worse.
Miss Darcy and her brother appeared, and this formidableintroduction took place. With astonishment did Elizabeth seethat her new acquaintance was at least as much embarrassed asherself. Since her being at Lambton, she had heard that MissDarcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of a very fewminutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy. Shefound it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond amonosyllable.
Miss Darcy was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth;and, though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed,and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was less handsomethan her brother; but there was sense and good humour in herface, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle.
Elizabeth, who had expected to find in her as acute andunembarrassed an observer as ever Mr. Darcy had been, wasmuch relieved by discerning such different feelings.
They had not long been together before Mr. Darcy told her thatBingley was also coming to wait on her; and she had barely timeto express her satisfaction, and prepare for such a visitor, whenBingley's quick step was heard on the stairs, and in a moment heentered the room. All Elizabeth's anger against him had beenlong done away; but had she still felt any, it could hardly havestood its ground against the unaffected cordiality with which heexpressed himself on seeing her again. He inquired in a friendly,though general way, after her family, and looked and spoke withthe same good-humoured ease that he had ever done.
To Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner he was scarcely a less interestingpersonage than to herself. They had long wished to see him.
The whole party before them, indeed, excited a lively attention.
The suspicions which had just arisen of Mr. Darcy and their niecedirected their observation towards each with an earnest thoughguarded inquiry; and they soon drew from those inquiries the fullconviction that one of them at least knew what it was to love.
Of the lady's sensations they remained a little in doubt; but thatthe gentleman was overflowing with admiration was evident enough.
Elizabeth, on her side, had much to do. She wanted toascertain the feelings of each of her visitors; she wanted tocompose her own, and to make herself agreeable to all; and inthe latter object, where she feared most to fail, she was mostsure of success, for those to whom she endeavoured to givepleasure were prepossessed in her favour. Bingley was ready,Georgiana was eager, and Darcy determined, to be pleased.
In seeing Bingley, her thoughts naturally flew to her sister;and, oh! how ardently did she long to know whether any of his weredirected in a like manner. Sometimes she could fancy that hetalked less than on former occasions, and once or twice pleasedherself with the notion that, as he looked at her, he was tryingto trace a resemblance. But, though this might be imaginary,she could not be deceived as to his behaviour to Miss Darcy, whohad been set up as a rival to Jane. No look appeared on eitherside that spoke particular regard. Nothing occurred betweenthem that could justify the hopes of his sister. On this pointshe was soon satisfied; and two or three little circumstancesoccurred ere they parted, which, in her anxious interpretation,denoted a recollection of Jane not untinctured by tenderness,and a wish of saying more that might lead to the mention of her,had he dared. He observed to her, at a moment when the otherswere talking together, and in a tone which had something of realregret, that it "was a very long time since he had had thepleasure of seeing her;" and, before she could reply, he added,"It is above eight months. We have not met since the 26th ofNovember, when we were all dancing together at Netherfield."
Elizabeth was pleased to find his memory so exact; and heafterwards took occasion to ask her, when unattended to byany of the rest, whether _all_ her sisters were at Longbourn.
There was not much in the question, nor in the precedingremark; but there was a look and a manner which gave themmeaning.
It was not often that she could turn her eyes on Mr. Darcyhimself; but, whenever she did catch a glimpse, she saw anexpression of general complaisance, and in all that he saidshe heard an accent so removed from _hauteur_ or disdain of hiscompanions, as convinced her that the improvement of mannerswhich she had yesterday witnessed however temporary itsexistence might prove, had at least outlived one day. When shesaw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the goodopinion of people with whom any intercourse a few months agowould have been a disgrace--when she saw him thus civil, notonly to herself, but to the very relations whom he had openlydisdained, and recollected their last lively scene in HunsfordParsonage--the difference, the change was so great, and struckso forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain herastonishment from being visible. Never, even in the companyof his dear friends at Netherfield, or his dignified relationsat Rosings, had she seen him so desirous to please, so freefrom self-consequence or unbending reserve, as now, when noimportance could result from the success of his endeavours, andwhen even the acquaintance of those to whom his attentionswere addressed would draw down the ridicule and censure ofthe ladies both of Netherfield and Rosings.
Their visitors stayed with them above half-an-hour; and whenthey arose to depart, Mr. Darcy called on his sister to join himin expressing their wish of seeing Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, andMiss Bennet, to dinner at Pemberley, before they left thecountry. Miss Darcy, though with a diffidence which markedher little in the habit of giving invitations, readily obeyed.
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece, desirous of knowing how _she_,whom the invitation most concerned, felt disposed as to itsacceptance, but Elizabeth had turned away her head. Presuminghowever, that this studied avoidance spoke rather a momentaryembarrassment than any dislike of the proposal, and seeing inher husband, who was fond of society, a perfect willingness toaccept it, she ventured to engage for her attendance, and theday after the next was fixed on.
Bingley expressed great pleasure in the certainty of seeingElizabeth again, having still a great deal to say to her, and manyinquiries to make after all their Hertfordshire friends. Elizabeth,construing all this into a wish of hearing her speak of her sister,was pleased, and on this account, as well as some others, foundherself, when their visitors left them, capable of consideringthe last half-hour with some satisfaction, though while it waspassing, the enjoyment of it had been little. Eager to be alone,and fearful of inquiries or hints from her uncle and aunt, shestayed with them only long enough to hear their favourableopinion of Bingley, and then hurried away to dress.
But she had no reason to fear Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's curiosity;it was not their wish to force her communication. It was evidentthat she was much better acquainted with Mr. Darcy than theyhad before any idea of; it was evident that he was very much inlove with her. They saw much to interest, but nothing to justifyinquiry.
Of Mr. Darcy it was now a matter of anxiety to think well; and,as far as their acquaintance reached, there was no fault to find.
They could not be untouched by his politeness; and had theydrawn his character from their own feelings and his servant'sreport, without any reference to any other account, the circlein Hertfordshire to which he was known would not have recognizedit for Mr. Darcy. There was now an interest, however, inbelieving the housekeeper; and they soon became sensible thatthe authority of a servant who had known him since he was fouryears old, and whose own manners indicated respectability, wasnot to be hastily rejected. Neither had anything occurred inthe intelligence of their Lambton friends that could materiallylessen its weight. They had nothing to accuse him of but pride;pride he probably had, and if not, it would certainly be imputedby the inhabitants of a small market-town where the family didnot visit. It was acknowledged, however, that he was a liberalman, and did much good among the poor.
With respect to Wickham, the travellers soon found that he wasnot held there in much estimation; for though the chief of hisconcerns with the son of his patron were imperfectly understood,it was yet a well-known fact that, on his quitting Derbyshire,he had left many debts behind him, which Mr. Darcy afterwardsdischarged.
As for Elizabeth, her thoughts were at Pemberley this eveningmore than the last; and the evening, though as it passed itseemed long, was not long enough to determine her feelingstowards _one_ in that mansion; and she lay awake two wholehours endeavouring to make them out. She certainly did nothate him. No; hatred had vanished long ago, and she hadalmost as long been ashamed of ever feeling a dislike againsthim, that could be so called. The respect created by theconviction of his valuable qualities, though at first unwillinglyadmitted, had for some time ceased to be repugnant to herfeeling; and it was now heightened into somewhat of a friendliernature, by the testimony so highly in his favour, and bringingforward his disposition in so amiable a light, which yesterdayhad produced. But above all, above respect and esteem, therewas a motive within her of goodwill which could not beoverlooked. It was gratitude; gratitude, not merely for havingonce loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgiveall the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him, andall the unjust accusations accompanying her rejection. He who,she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy,seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve theacquaintance, and without any indelicate display of regard, orany peculiarity of manner, where their two selves only wereconcerned, was soliciting the good opinion of her friends,and bent on making her known to his sister. Such a changein a man of so much pride exciting not only astonishment butgratitude--for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed; andas such its impression on her was of a sort to be encouraged, asby no means unpleasing, though it could not be exactly defined.
She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him, she felta real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know howfar she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how farit would be for the happiness of both that she should employ thepower, which her fancy told her she still possessed, of bringingon her the renewal of his addresses.
It had been settled in the evening between the aunt and theniece, that such a striking civility as Miss Darcy's in coming tosee them on the very day of her arrival at Pemberley, for shehad reached it only to a late breakfast, ought to be imitated,though it could not be equalled, by some exertion of politenesson their side; and, consequently, that it would be highlyexpedient to wait on her at Pemberley the following morning.
They were, therefore, to go. Elizabeth was pleased; thoughwhen she asked herself the reason, she had very little to say inreply.
Mr. Gardiner left them soon after breakfast. The fishing schemehad been renewed the day before, and a positive engagementmade of his meeting some of the gentlemen at Pemberley beforenoon.
Convinced as Elizabeth now was that Miss Bingley's dislike ofher had originated in jealousy, she could not help feeling howunwelcome her appearance at Pemberley must be to her, andwas curious to know with how much civility on that lady's sidethe acquaintance would now be renewed.
On reaching the house, they were shown through the hall intothe saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it delightful forsummer. Its windows opening to the ground, admitted a mostrefreshing view of the high woody hills behind the house,and of the beautiful oaks and Spanish chestnuts which werescattered over the intermediate lawn.
In this house they were received by Miss Darcy, who wassitting there with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, and the ladywith whom she lived in London. Georgiana's reception of themwas very civil, but attended with all the embarrassment which,though proceeding from shyness and the fear of doing wrong,would easily give to those who felt themselves inferior thebelief of her being proud and reserved. Mrs. Gardiner and herniece, however, did her justice, and pitied her.
By Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley they were noticed only by acurtsey; and, on their being seated, a pause, awkward as suchpauses must always be, succeeded for a few moments. It wasfirst broken by Mrs. Annesley, a genteel, agreeable-lookingwoman, whose endeavour to introduce some kind of discourseproved her to be more truly well-bred than either of the others;and between her and Mrs. Gardiner, with occasional help fromElizabeth, the conversation was carried on. Miss Darcy lookedas if she wished for courage enough to join in it; and sometimesdid venture a short sentence when there was least danger of itsbeing heard.
Elizabeth soon saw that she was herself closely watched by MissBingley, and that she could not speak a word, especially to MissDarcy, without calling her attention. This observation would nothave prevented her from trying to talk to the latter, had theynot been seated at an inconvenient distance; but she was not sorryto be spared the necessity of saying much. Her own thoughtswere employing her. She expected every moment that some of thegentlemen would enter the room. She wished, she feared thatthe master of the house might be amongst them; and whethershe wished or feared it most, she could scarcely determine.
After sitting in this manner a quarter of an hour without hearingMiss Bingley's voice, Elizabeth was roused by receiving fromher a cold inquiry after the health of her family. She answeredwith equal indifference and brevity, and the others said no more.
The next variation which their visit afforded was produced bythe entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety ofall the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place tillafter many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley toMiss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post. There wasnow employment for the whole party--for though they could not alltalk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes,nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table.
While thus engaged, Elizabeth had a fair opportunity of decidingwhether she most feared or wished for the appearance of Mr.
Darcy, by the feelings which prevailed on his entering the room;and then, though but a moment before she had believed herwishes to predominate, she began to regret that he came.
He had been some time with Mr. Gardiner, who, with two orthree other gentlemen from the house, was engaged by the river,and had left him only on learning that the ladies of the familyintended a visit to Georgiana that morning. No sooner did heappear than Elizabeth wisely resolved to be perfectly easy andunembarrassed; a resolution the more necessary to be made, butperhaps not the more easily kept, because she saw that thesuspicions of the whole party were awakened against them, andthat there was scarcely an eye which did not watch hisbehaviour when he first came into the room. In no countenancewas attentive curiosity so strongly marked as in Miss Bingley's,in spite of the smiles which overspread her face whenever shespoke to one of its objects; for jealousy had not yet made herdesperate, and her attentions to Mr. Darcy were by no meansover. Miss Darcy, on her brother's entrance, exerted herselfmuch more to talk, and Elizabeth saw that he was anxious forhis sister and herself to get acquainted, and forwarded as muchas possible, every attempt at conversation on either side. MissBingley saw all this likewise; and, in the imprudence of anger,took the first opportunity of saying, with sneering civility:
"Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the ----shire Militia removed fromMeryton? They must be a great loss to _your_ family."
In Darcy's presence she dared not mention Wickham's name;but Elizabeth instantly comprehended that he was uppermost inher thoughts; and the various recollections connected with himgave her a moment's distress; but exerting herself vigorously torepel the ill-natured attack, she presently answered the questionin a tolerably detached tone. While she spoke, an involuntaryglance showed her Darcy, with a heightened complexion,earnestly looking at her, and his sister overcome with confusion,and unable to lift up her eyes. Had Miss Bingley known whatpain she was then giving her beloved friend, she undoubtedlywould have refrained from the hint; but she had merely intendedto discompose Elizabeth by bringing forward the idea of a manto whom she believed her partial, to make her betray a sensibilitywhich might injure her in Darcy's opinion, and, perhaps, toremind the latter of all the follies and absurdities by whichsome part of her family were connected with that corps. Not asyllable had ever reached her of Miss Darcy's meditatedelopement. To no creature had it been revealed, where secrecywas possible, except to Elizabeth; and from all Bingley'sconnections her brother was particularly anxious to conceal it,from the very wish which Elizabeth had long ago attributed tohim, of their becoming hereafter her own. He had certainlyformed such a plan, and without meaning that it should effecthis endeavour to separate him from Miss Bennet, it is probablethat it might add something to his lively concern for the welfareof his friend.
Elizabeth's collected behaviour, however, soon quieted hisemotion; and as Miss Bingley, vexed and disappointed, darednot approach nearer to Wickham, Georgiana also recovered intime, though not enough to be able to speak any more. Herbrother, whose eye she feared to meet, scarcely recollected herinterest in the affair, and the very circumstance which hadbeen designed to turn his thoughts from Elizabeth seemed tohave fixed them on her more and more cheerfully.
Their visit did not continue long after the question and answerabove mentioned; and while Mr. Darcy was attending them totheir carriage Miss Bingley was venting her feelings in criticismson Elizabeth's person, behaviour, and dress. But Georgianawould not join her. Her brother's recommendation was enoughto ensure her favour; his judgement could not err. And he hadspoken in such terms of Elizabeth as to leave Georgiana withoutthe power of finding her otherwise than lovely and amiable.
When Darcy returned to the saloon, Miss Bingley could not helprepeating to him some part of what she had been saying to hissister.
"How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy,"she cried; "I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as sheis since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisaand I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."
However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, hecontented himself with coolly replying that he perceived noother alteration than her being rather tanned, no miraculousconsequence of travelling in the summer.
"For my own part," she rejoined, "I must confess that I nevercould see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; hercomplexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at allhandsome. Her nose wants character--there is nothing markedin its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the commonway; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called sofine, I could never see anything extraordinary in them. Theyhave a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in herair altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, whichis intolerable."
Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that Darcy admired Elizabeth,this was not the best method of recommending herself; butangry people are not always wise; and in seeing him at last looksomewhat nettled, she had all the success she expected. He wasresolutely silent, however, and, from a determination of makinghim speak, she continued:
"I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, howamazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and Iparticularly recollect your saying one night, after they had beendining at Netherfield, '_She_ a beauty!--I should as soon call hermother a wit.' But afterwards she seemed to improve on you,and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer,"but _that_ was only when I first saw her, for it is many monthssince I have considered her as one of the handsomest women ofmy acquaintance."
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all thesatisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one anypain but herself.
Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth talked of all that had occurred duringtheir visit, as they returned, except what had particularlyinterested them both. The look and behaviour of everybody theyhad seen were discussed, except of the person who had mostlyengaged their attention. They talked of his sister, his friends,his house, his fruit--of everything but himself; yet Elizabethwas longing to know what Mrs. Gardiner thought of him, and Mrs.
Gardiner would have been highly gratified by her niece's beginningthe subject.
Elizabeth had been a good deal disappointed in not finding aletter from Jane on their first arrival at Lambton; and thisdisappointment had been renewed on each of the mornings thathad now been spent there; but on the third her repining wasover, and her sister justified, by the receipt of two lettersfrom her at once, on one of which was marked that it had beenmissent elsewhere. Elizabeth was not surprised at it, as Janehad written the direction remarkably ill.
They had just been preparing to walk as the letters came in;and her uncle and aunt, leaving her to enjoy them in quiet, setoff by themselves. The one missent must first be attended to;it had been written five days ago. The beginning contained anaccount of all their little parties and engagements, with suchnews as the country afforded; but the latter half, which wasdated a day later, and written in evident agitation, gave moreimportant intelligence. It was to this effect:
"Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurredof a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid ofalarming you--be assured that we are all well. What I have tosay relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night,just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, toinform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of hisofficers; to own the truth, with Wickham! Imagine our surprise.
To Kitty, however, it does not seem so wholly unexpected. Iam very, very sorry. So imprudent a match on both sides! ButI am willing to hope the best, and that his character has beenmisunderstood. Thoughtless and indiscreet I can easily believehim, but this step (and let us rejoice over it) marks nothing badat heart. His choice is disinterested at least, for he must knowmy father can give her nothing. Our poor mother is sadlygrieved. My father bears it better. How thankful am I that wenever let them know what has been said against him; we mustforget it ourselves. They were off Saturday night about twelve,as is conjectured, but were not missed till yesterday morning ateight. The express was sent off directly. My dear Lizzy, theymust have passed within ten miles of us. Colonel Forster givesus reason to expect him here soon. Lydia left a few lines forhis wife, informing her of their intention. I must conclude, forI cannot be long from my poor mother. I am afraid you will notbe able to make it out, but I hardly know what I have written."
Without allowing herself time for consideration, and scarcelyknowing what she felt, Elizabeth on finishing this letter instantlyseized the other, and opening it with the utmost impatience, readas follows: it had been written a day later than the conclusion ofthe first.
"By this time, my dearest sister, you have received my hurriedletter; I wish this may be more intelligible, but though notconfined for time, my head is so bewildered that I cannot answerfor being coherent. Dearest Lizzy, I hardly know what I wouldwrite, but I have bad news for you, and it cannot be delayed.
Imprudent as the marriage between Mr. Wickham and our poorLydia would be, we are now anxious to be assured it has takenplace, for there is but too much reason to fear they are not goneto Scotland. Colonel Forster came yesterday, having leftBrighton the day before, not many hours after the express.
Though Lydia's short letter to Mrs. F. gave them to understandthat they were going to Gretna Green, something was droppedby Denny expressing his belief that W. never intended to gothere, or to marry Lydia at all, which was repeated to ColonelF., who, instantly taking the alarm, set off from B. intending totrace their route. He did trace them easily to Clapham, but nofurther; for on entering that place, they removed into a hackneycoach, and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom.
All that is known after this is, that they were seen to continuethe London road. I know not what to think. After making everypossible inquiry on that side London, Colonel F. came on intoHertfordshire, anxiously renewing them at all the turnpikes, andat the inns in Barnet and Hatfield, but without any success--nosuch people had been seen to pass through. With the kindestconcern he came on to Longbourn, and broke his apprehensionsto us in a manner most creditable to his heart. I am sincerelygrieved for him and Mrs. F., but no one can throw any blameon them. Our distress, my dear Lizzy, is very great. My fatherand mother believe the worst, but I cannot think so ill of him.
Many circumstances might make it more eligible for them to bemarried privately in town than to pursue their first plan;and even if _he_ could form such a design against a young womanof Lydia's connections, which is not likely, can I suppose herso lost to everything? Impossible! I grieve to find, however,that Colonel F. is not disposed to depend upon their marriage;he shook his head when I expressed my hopes, and said he fearedW. was not a man to be trusted. My poor mother is really ill,and keeps her room. Could she exert herself, it would be better;but this is not to be expected. And as to my father, I never inmy life saw him so affected. Poor Kitty has anger for havingconcealed their attachment; but as it was a matter of confidence,one cannot wonder. I am truly glad, dearest Lizzy, that youhave been spared something of these distressing scenes; butnow, as the first shock is over, shall I own that I long foryour return? I am not so selfish, however, as to press for it,if inconvenient. Adieu! I take up my pen again to do what Ihave just told you I would not; but circumstances are such thatI cannot help earnestly begging you all to come here as soon aspossible. I know my dear uncle and aunt so well, that I am notafraid of requesting it, though I have still something more toask of the former. My father is going to London with ColonelForster instantly, to try to discover her. What he means to doI am sure I know not; but his excessive distress will not allowhim to pursue any measure in the best and safest way, andColonel Forster is obliged to be at Brighton again to-morrowevening. In such an exigence, my uncle's advice and assistancewould be everything in the world; he will immediately comprehendwhat I must feel, and I rely upon his goodness."
"Oh! where, where is my uncle?" cried Elizabeth, darting fromher seat as she finished the letter, in eagerness to follow him,without losing a moment of the time so precious; but as shereached the door it was opened by a servant, and Mr. Darcyappeared. Her pale face and impetuous manner made him start,and before he could recover himself to speak, she, in whosemind every idea was superseded by Lydia's situation, hastilyexclaimed, "I beg your pardon, but I must leave you. I mustfind Mr. Gardiner this moment, on business that cannot bedelayed; I have not an instant to lose."
"Good God! what is the matter?" cried he, with more feelingthan politeness; then recollecting himself, "I will not detain youa minute; but let me, or let the servant go after Mr. and Mrs.
Gardiner. You are not well enough; you cannot go yourself."
Elizabeth hesitated, but her knees trembled under her and shefelt how little would be gained by her attempting to pursue them.
Calling back the servant, therefore, she commissioned him,though in so breathless an accent as made her almost unintelligible,to fetch his master and mistress home instantly.
On his quitting the room she sat down, unable to supportherself, and looking so miserably ill, that it was impossiblefor Darcy to leave her, or to refrain from saying, in a toneof gentleness and commiseration, "Let me call your maid. Isthere nothing you could take to give you present relief? Aglass of wine; shall I get you one? You are very ill."
"No, I thank you," she replied, endeavouring to recover herself.
"There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well; I amonly distressed by some dreadful news which I have justreceived from Longbourn."
She burst into tears as she alluded to it, and for a few minutescould not speak another word. Darcy, in wretched suspense,could only say something indistinctly of his concern, andobserve her in compassionate silence. At length she spokeagain. "I have just had a letter from Jane, with such dreadfulnews. It cannot be concealed from anyone. My younger sisterhas left all her friends--has eloped; has thrown herself intothe power of--of Mr. Wickham. They are gone off together fromBrighton. _You_ know him too well to doubt the rest. She hasno money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to--sheis lost for ever."
Darcy was fixed in astonishment. "When I consider," she addedin a yet more agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it!I, who knew what he was. Had I but explained some part ofit only--some part of what I learnt, to my own family! Had hischaracter been known, this could not have happened. But it isall--all too late now."
"I am grieved indeed," cried Darcy; "grieved--shocked. But isit certain--absolutely certain?"
"Oh, yes! They left Brighton together on Sunday night, andwere traced almost to London, but not beyond; they arecertainly not gone to Scotland."
"And what has been done, what has been attempted, to recoverher?"
"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg myuncle's immediate assistance; and we shall be off, I hope, inhalf-an-hour. But nothing can be done--I know very well thatnothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? Howare they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope.
It is every way horrible!"
Darcy shook his head in silent acquiescence.
"When _my_ eyes were opened to his real character--Oh! had Iknown what I ought, what I dared to do! But I knew not--Iwas afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched mistake!"
Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, andwas walking up and down the room in earnest meditation, hisbrow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed, andinstantly understood it. Her power was sinking; everything_must_ sink under such a proof of family weakness, such anassurance of the deepest disgrace. She could neither wondernor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought nothingconsolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of herdistress. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to makeher understand her own wishes; and never had she so honestly feltthat she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be vain.
But self, though it would intrude, could not engross her.
Lydia--the humiliation, the misery she was bringing on them all,soon swallowed up every private care; and covering her face withher handkerchief, Elizabeth was soon lost to everything else;and, after a pause of several minutes, was only recalled to asense of her situation by the voice of her companion, who, in amanner which, though it spoke compassion, spoke likewise restraint,said, "I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence, norhave I anything to plead in excuse of my stay, but real, thoughunavailing concern. Would to Heaven that anything could beeither said or done on my part that might offer consolation tosuch distress! But I will not torment you with vain wishes, whichmay seem purposely to ask for your thanks. This unfortunateaffair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the pleasure ofseeing you at Pemberley to-day."
"Oh, yes. Be so kind as to apologise for us to Miss Darcy. Saythat urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal theunhappy truth as long as it is possible, I know it cannot be long."
He readily assured her of his secrecy; again expressed his sorrowfor her distress, wished it a happier conclusion than there wasat present reason to hope, and leaving his compliments for herrelations, with only one serious, parting look, went away.
As he quitted the room, Elizabeth felt how improbable it wasthat they should ever see each other again on such terms ofcordiality as had marked their several meetings in Derbyshire;and as she threw a retrospective glance over the whole of theiracquaintance, so full of contradictions and varieties, sighedat the perverseness of those feelings which would now havepromoted its continuance, and would formerly have rejoiced inits termination.
If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection,Elizabeth's change of sentiment will be neither improbable norfaulty. But if otherwise--if regard springing from such sourcesis unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what is so oftendescribed as arising on a first interview with its object, and evenbefore two words have been exchanged, nothing can be said inher defence, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to thelatter method in her partiality for Wickham, and that its illsuccess might, perhaps, authorise her to seek the other lessinteresting mode of attachment. Be that as it may, she saw himgo with regret; and in this early example of what Lydia's infamymust produce, found additional anguish as she reflected on thatwretched business. Never, since reading Jane's second letter,had she entertained a hope of Wickham's meaning to marry her.
No one but Jane, she thought, could flatter herself with such anexpectation. Surprise was the least of her feelings on thisdevelopment. While the contents of the first letter remained inher mind, she was all surprise--all astonishment that Wickhamshould marry a girl whom it was impossible he could marryfor money; and how Lydia could ever have attached him hadappeared incomprehensible. But now it was all too natural. Forsuch an attachment as this she might have sufficient charms; andthough she did not suppose Lydia to be deliberately engaging inan elopement without the intention of marriage, she had nodifficulty in believing that neither her virtue nor herunderstanding would preserve her from falling an easy prey.
She had never perceived, while the regiment was in Hertfordshire,that Lydia had any partiality for him; but she was convinced thatLydia wanted only encouragement to attach herself to anybody.
Sometimes one officer, sometimes another, had been her favourite,as their attentions raised them in her opinion. Her affectionshad continually been fluctuating but never without an object.
The mischief of neglect and mistaken indulgence towards such agirl--oh! how acutely did she now feel it!
She was wild to be at home--to hear, to see, to be upon thespot to share with Jane in the cares that must now fall whollyupon her, in a family so deranged, a father absent, a motherincapable of exertion, and requiring constant attendance; andthough almost persuaded that nothing could be done for Lydia,her uncle's interference seemed of the utmost importance, andtill he entered the room her impatience was severe. Mr. andMrs. Gardiner had hurried back in alarm, supposing by theservant's account that their niece was taken suddenly ill; butsatisfying them instantly on that head, she eagerly communicatedthe cause of their summons, reading the two letters aloud, anddwelling on the postscript of the last with trembling energy,though Lydia had never been a favourite with them, Mr. andMrs. Gardiner could not but be deeply afflicted. Not Lydiaonly, but all were concerned in it; and after the firstexclamations of surprise and horror, Mr. Gardiner promisedevery assistance in his power. Elizabeth, though expecting noless, thanked him with tears of gratitude; and all three beingactuated by one spirit, everything relating to their journey wasspeedily settled. They were to be off as soon as possible. "Butwhat is to be done about Pemberley?" cried Mrs. Gardiner.
"John told us Mr. Darcy was here when you sent for us; was itso?"
"Yes; and I told him we should not be able to keep ourengagement. _That_ is all settled."
"What is all settled?" repeated the other, as she ran into herroom to prepare. "And are they upon such terms as for her todisclose the real truth? Oh, that I knew how it was!"
But wishes were vain, or at least could only serve to amuse herin the hurry and confusion of the following hour. Had Elizabethbeen at leisure to be idle, she would have remained certain thatall employment was impossible to one so wretched as herself;but she had her share of business as well as her aunt, andamongst the rest there were notes to be written to all theirfriends at Lambton, with false excuses for their suddendeparture. An hour, however, saw the whole completed; andMr. Gardiner meanwhile having settled his account at the inn,nothing remained to be done but to go; and Elizabeth, after allthe misery of the morning, found herself, in a shorter space oftime than she could have supposed, seated in the carriage, andon the road to Longbourn.
"I have been thinking it over again, Elizabeth," said her uncle,as they drove from the town; "and really, upon seriousconsideration, I am much more inclined than I was to judge asyour eldest sister does on the matter. It appears to me so veryunlikely that any young man should form such a design againsta girl who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and whowas actually staying in his colonel's family, that I am stronglyinclined to hope the best. Could he expect that her friendswould not step forward? Could he expect to be noticed againby the regiment, after such an affront to Colonel Forster? Histemptation is not adequate to the risk!"
"Do you really think so?" cried Elizabeth, brightening up for amoment.
"Upon my word," said Mrs. Gardiner, "I begin to be of youruncle's opinion. It is really too great a violation of decency,honour, and interest, for him to be guilty of. I cannot thinkso very ill of Wickham. Can you yourself, Lizzy, so wholly givehim up, as to believe him capable of it?"
"Not, perhaps, of neglecting his own interest; but of every otherneglect I can believe him capable. If, indeed, it should be so!But I dare not hope it. Why should they not go on to Scotlandif that had been the case?"
"In the first place," replied Mr. Gardiner, "there is no absoluteproof that they are not gone to Scotland."
"Oh! but their removing from the chaise into a hackney coach issuch a presumption! And, besides, no traces of them were to befound on the Barnet road."
"Well, then--supposing them to be in London. They may be there,though for the purpose of concealment, for no more exceptionalpurpose. It is not likely that money should be very abundant oneither side; and it might strike them that they could be moreeconomically, though less expeditiously, married in Londonthan in Scotland."
"But why all this secrecy? Why any fear of detection? Why musttheir marriage be private? Oh, no, no--this is not likely.
His most particular friend, you see by Jane's account, waspersuaded of his never intending to marry her. Wickham willnever marry a woman without some money. He cannot affordit. And what claims has Lydia--what attraction has she beyondyouth, health, and good humour that could make him, for hersake, forego every chance of benefiting himself by marryingwell? As to what restraint the apprehensions of disgrace in thecorps might throw on a dishonourable elopement with her, I amnot able to judge; for I know nothing of the effects that such astep might produce. But as to your other objection, I am afraidit will hardly hold good. Lydia has no brothers to step forward;and he might imagine, from my father's behaviour, from hisindolence and the little attention he has ever seemed to giveto what was going forward in his family, that _he_ would do aslittle, and think as little about it, as any father could do,in such a matter."
"But can you think that Lydia is so lost to everything but loveof him as to consent to live with him on any terms other thanmarriage?"
"It does seem, and it is most shocking indeed," replied Elizabeth,with tears in her eyes, "that a sister's sense of decency andvirtue in such a point should admit of doubt. But, really,I know not what to say. Perhaps I am not doing her justice.
But she is very young; she has never been taught to thinkon serious subjects; and for the last half-year, nay, for atwelvemonth--she has been given up to nothing but amusementand vanity. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in themost idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions thatcame in her way. Since the ----shire were first quartered inMeryton, nothing but love, flirtation, and officers have beenin her head. She has been doing everything in her power bythinking and talking on the subject, to give greater--what shallI call it? susceptibility to her feelings; which are naturallylively enough. And we all know that Wickham has every charm ofperson and address that can captivate a woman."
"But you see that Jane," said her aunt, "does not think so veryill of Wickham as to believe him capable of the attempt."
"Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatevermight be their former conduct, that she would think capable ofsuch an attempt, till it were proved against them? But Janeknows, as well as I do, what Wickham really is. We both knowthat he has been profligate in every sense of the word; that hehas neither integrity nor honour; that he is as false anddeceitful as he is insinuating."
"And do you really know all this?" cried Mrs. Gardiner, whosecuriosity as to the mode of her intelligence was all alive.
"I do indeed," replied Elizabeth, colouring. "I told you, theother day, of his infamous behaviour to Mr. Darcy; and youyourself, when last at Longbourn, heard in what manner hespoke of the man who had behaved with such forbearance andliberality towards him. And there are other circumstances whichI am not at liberty--which it is not worth while to relate; buthis lies about the whole Pemberley family are endless. From whathe said of Miss Darcy I was thoroughly prepared to see a proud,reserved, disagreeable girl. Yet he knew to the contrary himself.
He must know that she was as amiable and unpretending as wehave found her."
"But does Lydia know nothing of this? can she be ignorant ofwhat you and Jane seem so well to understand?"
"Oh, yes!--that, that is the worst of all. Till I was in Kent,and saw so much both of Mr. Darcy and his relation ColonelFitzwilliam, I was ignorant of the truth myself. And when Ireturned home, the ----shire was to leave Meryton in a week orfortnight's time. As that was the case, neither Jane, to whomI related the whole, nor I, thought it necessary to make ourknowledge public; for of what use could it apparently be to anyone, that the good opinion which all the neighbourhood had ofhim should then be overthrown? And even when it was settledthat Lydia should go with Mrs. Forster, the necessity of openingher eyes to his character never occurred to me. That _she_ couldbe in any danger from the deception never entered my head.
That such a consequence as _this_ could ensue, you may easilybelieve, was far enough from my thoughts."
"When they all removed to Brighton, therefore, you had noreason, I suppose, to believe them fond of each other?"
"Not the slightest. I can remember no symptom of affection oneither side; and had anything of the kind been perceptible, youmust be aware that ours is not a family on which it could bethrown away. When first he entered the corps, she was readyenough to admire him; but so we all were. Every girl in ornear Meryton was out of her senses about him for the firsttwo months; but he never distinguished _her_ by any particularattention; and, consequently, after a moderate period ofextravagant and wild admiration, her fancy for him gaveway, and others of the regiment, who treated her with moredistinction, again became her favourites."
* * * * *
It may be easily believed, that however little of novelty could beadded to their fears, hopes, and conjectures, on this interestingsubject, by its repeated discussion, no other could detain themfrom it long, during the whole of the journey. From Elizabeth'sthoughts it was never absent. Fixed there by the keenest of allanguish, self-reproach, she could find no interval of ease orforgetfulness.
They travelled as expeditiously as possible, and, sleeping onenight on the road, reached Longbourn by dinner time the nextday. It was a comfort to Elizabeth to consider that Jane couldnot have been wearied by long expectations.
The little Gardiners, attracted by the sight of a chaise, werestanding on the steps of the house as they entered the paddock;and, when the carriage drove up to the door, the joyful surprisethat lighted up their faces, and displayed itself over their wholebodies, in a variety of capers and frisks, was the first pleasingearnest of their welcome.
Elizabeth jumped out; and, after giving each of them a hastykiss, hurried into the vestibule, where Jane, who came runningdown from her mother's apartment, immediately met her.
Elizabeth, as she affectionately embraced her, whilst tears filledthe eyes of both, lost not a moment in asking whether anythinghad been heard of the fugitives.
"Not yet," replied Jane. "But now that my dear uncle is come,I hope everything will be well."
"Is my father in town?"
"Yes, he went on Tuesday, as I wrote you word."
"And have you heard from him often?"
"We have heard only twice. He wrote me a few lines onWednesday to say that he had arrived in safety, and to give mehis directions, which I particularly begged him to do. He merelyadded that he should not write again till he had something ofimportance to mention."
"And my mother--how is she? How are you all?"
"My mother is tolerably well, I trust; though her spirits aregreatly shaken. She is upstairs and will have great satisfactionin seeing you all. She does not yet leave her dressing-room.
Mary and Kitty, thank Heaven, are quite well."
"But you--how are you?" cried Elizabeth. "You look pale.
How much you must have gone through!"
Her sister, however, assured her of her being perfectly well;and their conversation, which had been passing while Mr. andMrs. Gardiner were engaged with their children, was now put anend to by the approach of the whole party. Jane ran to her uncleand aunt, and welcomed and thanked them both, with alternatesmiles and tears.
When they were all in the drawing-room, the questions whichElizabeth had already asked were of course repeated by theothers, and they soon found that Jane had no intelligenceto give. The sanguine hope of good, however, which thebenevolence of her heart suggested had not yet deserted her;she still expected that it would all end well, and that everymorning would bring some letter, either from Lydia or herfather, to explain their proceedings, and, perhaps, announcetheir marriage.
Mrs. Bennet, to whose apartment they all repaired, after a fewminutes' conversation together, received them exactly as mightbe expected; with tears and lamentations of regret, invectivesagainst the villainous conduct of Wickham, and complaints ofher own sufferings and ill-usage; blaming everybody but theperson to whose ill-judging indulgence the errors of herdaughter must principally be owing.
"If I had been able," said she, "to carry my point in going toBrighton, with all my family, _this_ would not have happened;but poor dear Lydia had nobody to take care of her. Why didthe Forsters ever let her go out of their sight? I am sure therewas some great neglect or other on their side, for she is not thekind of girl to do such a thing if she had been well looked after.
I always thought they were very unfit to have the charge of her;but I was overruled, as I always am. Poor dear child! Andnow here's Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fightWickham, wherever he meets him and then he will be killed, andwhat is to become of us all? The Collinses will turn us outbefore he is cold in his grave, and if you are not kind to us,brother, I do not know what we shall do."
They all exclaimed against such terrific ideas; and Mr. Gardiner,after general assurances of his affection for her and all herfamily, told her that he meant to be in London the very next day,and would assist Mr. Bennet in every endeavour for recoveringLydia.
"Do not give way to useless alarm," added he; "though it isright to be prepared for the worst, there is no occasion to lookon it as certain. It is not quite a week since they left Brighton.
In a few days more we may gain some news of them; and till weknow that they are not married, and have no design of marrying,do not let us give the matter over as lost. As soon as I get totown I shall go to my brother, and make him come home withme to Gracechurch Street; and then we may consult together asto what is to be done."
"Oh! my dear brother," replied Mrs. Bennet, "that is exactlywhat I could most wish for. And now do, when you get totown, find them out, wherever they may be; and if they arenot married already, _make_ them marry. And as for weddingclothes, do not let them wait for that, but tell Lydia sheshall have as much money as she chooses to buy them, after theyare married. And, above all, keep Mr. Bennet from fighting.
Tell him what a dreadful state I am in, that I am frighted outof my wits--and have such tremblings, such flutterings, allover me--such spasms in my side and pains in my head, andsuch beatings at heart, that I can get no rest by night nor byday. And tell my dear Lydia not to give any directions abouther clothes till she has seen me, for she does not know whichare the best warehouses. Oh, brother, how kind you are! Iknow you will contrive it all."
But Mr. Gardiner, though he assured her again of his earnestendeavours in the cause, could not avoid recommending moderationto her, as well in her hopes as her fear; and after talking withher in this manner till dinner was on the table, they all lefther to vent all her feelings on the housekeeper, who attendedin the absence of her daughters.
Though her brother and sister were persuaded that there was noreal occasion for such a seclusion from the family, they did notattempt to oppose it, for they knew that she had not prudenceenough to hold her tongue before the servants, while theywaited at table, and judged it better that _one_ only of thehousehold, and the one whom they could most trust shouldcomprehend all her fears and solicitude on the subject.
In the dining-room they were soon joined by Mary and Kitty,who had been too busily engaged in their separate apartmentsto make their appearance before. One came from her books,and the other from her toilette. The faces of both, however,were tolerably calm; and no change was visible in either, exceptthat the loss of her favourite sister, or the anger which she hadherself incurred in this business, had given more of fretfulnessthan usual to the accents of Kitty. As for Mary, she wasmistress enough of herself to whisper to Elizabeth, with acountenance of grave reflection, soon after they were seatedat table:
"This is a most unfortunate affair, and will probably be muchtalked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour intothe wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation."
Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, sheadded, "Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may drawfrom it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female isirretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin;that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; andthat she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards theundeserving of the other sex."
Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too muchoppressed to make any reply. Mary, however, continued toconsole herself with such kind of moral extractions from theevil before them.
In the afternoon, the two elder Miss Bennets were able to befor half-an-hour by themselves; and Elizabeth instantly availedherself of the opportunity of making any inquiries, which Janewas equally eager to satisfy. After joining in generallamentations over the dreadful sequel of this event, whichElizabeth considered as all but certain, and Miss Bennet couldnot assert to be wholly impossible, the former continued thesubject, by saying, "But tell me all and everything about itwhich I have not already heard. Give me further particulars.
What did Colonel Forster say? Had they no apprehension ofanything before the elopement took place? They must have seenthem together for ever."
"Colonel Forster did own that he had often suspected somepartiality, especially on Lydia's side, but nothing to give him anyalarm. I am so grieved for him! His behaviour was attentive andkind to the utmost. He _was_ coming to us, in order to assure usof his concern, before he had any idea of their not being gone toScotland: when that apprehension first got abroad, it hastenedhis journey."
"And was Denny convinced that Wickham would not marry? Didhe know of their intending to go off? Had Colonel Forsterseen Denny himself?"
"Yes; but, when questioned by _him_, Denny denied knowinganything of their plans, and would not give his real opinionabout it. He did not repeat his persuasion of their notmarrying--and from _that_, I am inclined to hope, he mighthave been misunderstood before."
"And till Colonel Forster came himself, not one of youentertained a doubt, I suppose, of their being really married?"
"How was it possible that such an idea should enter our brains?I felt a little uneasy--a little fearful of my sister's happinesswith him in marriage, because I knew that his conduct had not beenalways quite right. My father and mother knew nothing of that;they only felt how imprudent a match it must be. Kitty thenowned, with a very natural triumph on knowing more than therest of us, that in Lydia's last letter she had prepared her forsuch a step. She had known, it seems, of their being in love witheach other, many weeks."
"But not before they went to Brighton?"
"No, I believe not."
"And did Colonel Forster appear to think well of Wickhamhimself? Does he know his real character?"
"I must confess that he did not speak so well of Wickham as heformerly did. He believed him to be imprudent and extravagant.
And since this sad affair has taken place, it is said that heleft Meryton greatly in debt; but I hope this may be false."
"Oh, Jane, had we been less secret, had we told what we knewof him, this could not have happened!"
"Perhaps it would have been better," replied her sister. "But toexpose the former faults of any person without knowing whattheir present feelings were, seemed unjustifiable. We acted withthe best intentions."
"Could Colonel Forster repeat the particulars of Lydia's note tohis wife?"
"He brought it with him for us to see."
Jane then took it from her pocket-book, and gave it to Elizabeth.
These were the contents:
"MY DEAR HARRIET,
"You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannothelp laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, assoon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if youcannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for thereis but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I shouldnever be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. Youneed not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you donot like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when Iwrite to them and sign my name 'Lydia Wickham.' What a goodjoke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray makemy excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement, and dancingwith him to-night. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when heknows all; and tell him I will dance with him at the next ballwe meet, with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes whenI get to Longbourn; but I wish you would tell Sally to mend agreat slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up.
Good-bye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you willdrink to our good journey.
"Your affectionate friend,
"Oh! thoughtless, thoughtless Lydia!" cried Elizabeth when shehad finished it. "What a letter is this, to be written at sucha moment! But at least it shows that _she_ was serious on thesubject of their journey. Whatever he might afterwardspersuade her to, it was not on her side a _scheme_ of infamy.
My poor father! how he must have felt it!"
"I never saw anyone so shocked. He could not speak a wordfor