FictionForest

Chapter 7

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Mr. Bennet’s property consisted
almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year,
which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed,
in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and
their mother’s fortune, though ample for her
situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency
of his.  Her father had been an attorney in Meryton,
and had left her four thousand pounds.

She had a sister married to a Mr.
Phillips, who had been a clerk to their father and
succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled
in London in a respectable line of trade.

The village of Longbourn was only
one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance
for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither
three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their
aunt and to a milliner’s shop just over the
way.  The two youngest of the family, Catherine
and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions;
their minds were more vacant than their sisters’,
and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton
was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish
conversation for the evening; and however bare of news
the country in general might be, they always contrived
to learn some from their aunt.  At present, indeed,
they were well supplied both with news and happiness
by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the
neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and
Meryton was the headquarters.

Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were
now productive of the most interesting intelligence. 
Every day added something to their knowledge of the
officers’ names and connections.  Their lodgings
were not long a secret, and at length they began to
know the officers themselves.  Mr. Phillips visited
them all, and this opened to his nieces a store of
felicity unknown before.  They could talk of nothing
but officers; and Mr. Bingley’s large fortune,
the mention of which gave animation to their mother,
was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals
of an 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 must be two of the
silliest girls in the country.  I have suspected
it some time, but I am now convinced.”

Catherine was disconcerted, and made
no answer; but Lydia, with perfect indifference, continued
to express her admiration of Captain Carter, and her
hope of seeing him in the course of the day, as he
was going the next morning to London.

“I am astonished, my dear,”
said Mrs. Bennet, “that you should be so ready
to think your own children silly.  If I wished
to think slightingly 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 not agree.  I had hoped
that our sentiments coincided in every particular,
but I must so far differ from you as to think our
two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish.”

“My dear Mr. Bennet, you must
not expect such girls to have the sense of their father
and mother.  When they get to our age, I dare 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
I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel
Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir
William’s in his regimentals.”

“Mamma,” cried Lydia,
“my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain
Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson’s as
they did when they first came; she sees them now very
often standing in Clarke’s library.”

Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying
by the entrance of the footman with a note for Miss
Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited
for an answer.  Mrs. Bennet’s eyes sparkled
with pleasure, and she was eagerly calling out, while
her daughter read,

“Well, Jane, who is it from? 
What is it about?  What does he say?  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 Louisa and me, we shall be
in danger of hating each other for the rest of our
lives, for a whole day’s tete-a-tete between
two women can never end without a quarrel.  Come
as soon as you can on receipt of this.  My brother
and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers. ­Yours
ever,

“CAROLINE BINGLEY”

“With the officers!” cried
Lydia.  “I wonder my aunt did not tell us
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 seems likely to rain;
and then you must stay all night.”

“That would be a good scheme,”
said Elizabeth, “if you were sure that they
would not offer to send her home.”

“Oh! but the gentlemen will
have Mr. Bingley’s chaise to go to Meryton,
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’s purpose will
be answered.”

She did at last extort from her father
an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged. 
Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and
her mother attended her to the door with many cheerful
prognostics of a bad day.  Her hopes were answered;
Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. 
Her sisters were uneasy for her, but her mother was
delighted.  The rain continued the whole evening
without intermission; Jane certainly could not come
back.

“This was a lucky idea of mine,
indeed!” said Mrs. Bennet more than once, as
if the credit of making it rain were all her own. 
Till the next morning, however, she was not aware
of all the felicity of her contrivance.  Breakfast
was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield
brought the following note for Elizabeth: 

“MY DEAREST LIZZY, ­

“I find myself very unwell this
morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my
getting wet through yesterday.  My kind friends
will not hear of my returning till I am better. 
They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones ­therefore
do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having
been to me ­and, excepting a sore throat
and headache, there is not much the matter with me. ­Yours,
etc.”

“Well, my dear,” said
Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud,
“if your daughter should have a dangerous fit
of illness ­if she should die, it would
be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of
Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.”

“Oh!  I am not afraid of
her dying.  People do not die of little trifling
colds.  She will be taken good care of.  As
long as she stays there, it is all very well. 
I would go and see her if I could have the carriage.”

Elizabeth, feeling really anxious,
was determined to go to her, though the carriage was
not to be had; and as she was no horsewoman, walking
was her only alternative.  She declared her resolution.

“How can you be so silly,”
cried her mother, “as to think of such a thing,
in all this dirt!  You will not be fit to be seen
when you get 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 for the horses?”

“No, indeed, I do not wish to
avoid the walk.  The distance is nothing when
one has a motive; only three miles.  I shall be
back by dinner.”

“I admire the activity of your
benevolence,” observed Mary, “but every
impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and,
in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion
to what is required.”

“We will go as far as Meryton
with you,” said Catherine and Lydia.  Elizabeth
accepted their company, and the three young ladies
set off together.

“If we make haste,” said
Lydia, as they walked along, “perhaps we may
see something of Captain Carter before he goes.”

In Meryton they parted; the two youngest
repaired to the lodgings of one of the officers’
wives, and Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing
field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles
and springing over puddles with impatient activity,
and finding herself at last within view of the house,
with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing
with the warmth of exercise.

She was shown into the breakfast-parlour,
where all but Jane were assembled, and where her appearance
created a great deal of surprise.  That she should
have walked three miles so early in the day, in such
dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible
to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was
convinced that they held her in contempt for it. 
She was received, however, very politely by them; and
in their brother’s manners there was something
better than politeness; there was good humour and
kindness.  Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr.
Hurst nothing at all.  The former was divided between
admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given
to her complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s
justifying her coming so far alone.  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, and not
well enough to leave her room.  Elizabeth was glad
to be taken to her immediately; and Jane, who had
only been withheld by the fear of giving alarm or
inconvenience from expressing in her note how much
she longed for such a visit, was delighted at her
entrance.  She was not equal, however, to much
conversation, and when Miss Bingley left them together,
could attempt little besides expressions of gratitude
for the extraordinary kindness she was treated with. 
Elizabeth silently attended her.

When breakfast was over they were
joined by the sisters; and Elizabeth began to like
them herself, when she saw how much affection and
solicitude they showed for Jane.  The apothecary
came, and having examined his patient, said, as might
be supposed, that she had caught a violent cold, and
that they must endeavour to get the better of it;
advised her to return to bed, and promised her some
draughts.  The advice was followed readily, for
the feverish symptoms increased, and her head ached
acutely.  Elizabeth did not quit her room for a
moment; nor were the 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, and very unwillingly said so. 
Miss Bingley offered her the carriage, and she only
wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane testified
such concern in parting with her, that Miss Bingley
was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise to
an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. 
Elizabeth most thankfully consented, and a servant
was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family
with her stay and bring back a supply of clothes.

 

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