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Chapter 18

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

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Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room
at Netherfield, and looked in vain for Mr. Wickham
among the cluster of red coats there assembled, a
doubt of his being present had never occurred to her. 
The certainty of meeting him had not been checked
by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably
have alarmed her.  She had dressed with more than
usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for
the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his
heart, trusting that it was not more than might be
won in the course of the evening.  But in an instant
arose the dreadful suspicion of his being purposely
omitted for Mr. Darcy’s pleasure in the Bingleys’
invitation to the officers; and though this was not
exactly the case, the absolute fact of his absence
was pronounced by his friend Denny, to whom Lydia
eagerly applied, and who told them that Wickham had
been obliged to go to town on business the day before,
and was not yet returned; adding, with a significant
smile, “I do not imagine his business would
have called him away just now, if he had not wanted
to avoid a certain gentleman here.”

This part of his intelligence, though
unheard by Lydia, was caught by Elizabeth, and, as
it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable for
Wickham’s absence than if her first surmise had
been just, every feeling of displeasure against the
former was so sharpened by immediate disappointment,
that she could hardly reply with tolerable civility
to the polite inquiries which he directly afterwards
approached to make.  Attendance, forbearance,
patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham.  She
was resolved against any sort of conversation with
him, and turned away with a degree of ill-humour which
she could not wholly surmount even in speaking to
Mr. Bingley, whose blind partiality provoked her.

But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour;
and though every prospect of her own was destroyed
for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits;
and having told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas,
whom she had not seen for a week, she was soon able
to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of
her cousin, and to point him out to her particular
notice.  The first two dances, however, brought
a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. 
Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead
of attending, and often moving wrong without being
aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which
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 of talking 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 herself
suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much
by surprise in his application for her hand, that,
without knowing what she did, she accepted him. 
He walked away again immediately, and she 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 not wish me such an evil.”

When the dancing recommenced, however,
and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte
could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to
be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to
make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten
times his consequence.  Elizabeth made no answer,
and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity
to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand
opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’
looks, their equal amazement in beholding it. 
They stood for some time without speaking a word; and
she began to imagine that their silence was to last
through the two dances, and at first was resolved
not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would
be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige
him to talk, she made some slight observation on the
dance.  He replied, and was again silent. 
After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a
second time with: ­“It is your
turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.  I talked
about the dance, and you ought to make some
sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number
of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever
she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well.  That reply
will do for the present.  Perhaps by and by I may
observe that private balls are much pleasanter than
public 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 look odd to be entirely
silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage
of some, conversation ought to be so arranged,
as that they may have the trouble of saying as little
as possible.”

“Are you consulting your own
feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that
you are gratifying mine?”

“Both,” replied Elizabeth
archly; “for I have always seen a great similarity
in the turn of our minds.  We are each of an unsocial,
taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we
expect to say something that will amaze the whole
room, and be handed down to 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 cannot
pretend 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 gone down the dance, when he
asked her if she and her sisters did not very often
walk to Meryton.  She answered in the affirmative,
and, unable to resist the temptation, added, “When
you met us there the other day, we had just been forming
a new acquaintance.”

The effect was immediate.  A deeper
shade of hauteur overspread his features, but
he said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself
for her own weakness, could not go on.  At length
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,” replied Elizabeth
with emphasis, “and in a manner which he is likely
to suffer from all his life.”

Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous
of changing the subject.  At that moment, Sir
William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass
through the set to the other side of the room; but
on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped with a bow of
superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing
and his partner.

“I have been most highly gratified
indeed, my dear sir.  Such very superior dancing
is not often seen.  It is evident that you belong
to the first circles.  Allow me to say, however,
that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and
that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated,
especially when a certain desirable event, my dear
Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take
place.  What congratulations will then flow in! 
I appeal to Mr. Darcy: ­but let me not interrupt
you, sir.  You will not thank me for detaining
you from the bewitching converse of that young 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 him forcibly, and his
eyes were directed with a very serious expression 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 what we were talking of.”

“I do not think we were speaking
at all.  Sir William could not have interrupted
two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. 
We have tried two or three subjects already without
success, 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 with the same
feelings.”

“I am sorry you think so; but
if that be the case, there can at least be no want
of subject.  We may compare our different opinions.”

“No ­I cannot talk
of books in a ball-room; my head is always full 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 soon afterwards appeared
by her suddenly exclaiming, “I remember hearing
you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave,
that your resentment once created was unappeasable. 
You are very 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 their opinion, 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
make it out.”

“And what is your success?”

She shook her head.  “I
do not get on at all.  I hear such different accounts
of you as puzzle me exceedingly.”

“I can readily believe,”
answered he gravely, “that reports may vary
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 no credit on either.”

“But if I do not take your likeness
now, I may never have another opportunity.”

“I would by no means suspend
any pleasure of yours,” he coldly replied. 
She said no more, and they went down the other dance
and parted in silence; and on each side dissatisfied,
though not to an equal degree, for in Darcy’s
breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards
her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all
his anger against another.

They had not long separated, when
Miss Bingley came towards her, and with an expression
of civil disdain accosted her: 

“So, Miss Eliza, I hear you
are quite delighted with George Wickham!  Your
sister has been talking to me about him, and asking
me a thousand questions; and I find that the young
man quite forgot to tell you, among his other communication,
that he was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr. Darcy’s
steward.  Let me recommend you, however, as a friend,
not to give implicit confidence to all his assertions;
for as to Mr. Darcy’s using him ill, it is perfectly
false; for, on the contrary, he has always been remarkably
kind to him, though George Wickham has treated Mr.
Darcy in a most infamous manner.  I do not know
the particulars, but I know very well that Mr. Darcy
is not in the least to blame, that he cannot bear
to hear George Wickham mentioned, and that though my
brother thought that he could not well avoid including
him in his invitation to the officers, he was excessively
glad to find that he had taken himself out of the
way.  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; but
really, considering his descent, one could not expect
much better.”

“His guilt and his descent appear
by your account to be the same,” said Elizabeth
angrily; “for I have heard you accuse him of
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 a sneer.  “Excuse
my interference ­it was kindly meant.”

“Insolent girl!” said
Elizabeth to herself.  “You are much mistaken
if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack
as this.  I see nothing in it but your own wilful
ignorance and the malice of Mr. Darcy.” 
She then sought her eldest sister, who has undertaken
to make inquiries on the same subject of Bingley. 
Jane met her with a smile of such sweet complacency,
a glow of such happy expression, as sufficiently marked
how well she was satisfied with the occurrences of
the evening.  Elizabeth instantly read her feelings,
and at that moment solicitude for Wickham, resentment
against his enemies, and everything else, gave way
before the hope of Jane’s being in the fairest
way for happiness.

“I want to know,” said
she, with a countenance no less smiling than her sister’s,
“what you have learnt about Mr. Wickham. 
But perhaps you have been too pleasantly engaged to
think of any third person; in which case you may be
sure of my pardon.”

“No,” replied Jane, “I
have not forgotten him; but I have nothing satisfactory
to tell you.  Mr. Bingley does not know the whole
of his history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances
which have principally offended Mr. Darcy; but he
will vouch for the good conduct, the probity, and
honour of his friend, and is perfectly convinced that
Mr. Wickham has deserved much less attention from Mr.
Darcy than he has received; and I am sorry to say
by his account as well as his sister’s, Mr.
Wickham is by no means a respectable 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 has heard them from Mr.
Darcy more than once, but he believes that it was left
to him conditionally only.”

“I have not a doubt of Mr. Bingley’s
sincerity,” said Elizabeth warmly; “but
you must excuse my not being convinced by assurances
only.  Mr. Bingley’s defense of his friend
was a very able one, I dare say; but since he is unacquainted
with several parts of the story, and has learnt the
rest from that friend himself, I shall venture to still
think of both gentlemen as I did 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 modest hopes which
Jane entertained of Mr. Bingley’s regard, and
said all in her power to heighten her confidence in
it.  On their being joined by Mr. Bingley himself,
Elizabeth withdrew to Miss Lucas; to whose inquiry
after the pleasantness of her last partner she had
scarcely replied, before Mr. Collins came up to them,
and told her with great exultation that he had just
been so fortunate as to make a most important discovery.

“I have found out,” said
he, “by a singular accident, that there is now
in the room a near relation of my patroness.  I
happened to overhear the gentleman himself mentioning
to the young lady who does the honours of the house
the names of his cousin Miss de Bourgh, and of her
mother Lady Catherine.  How wonderfully these
sort 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 to pay my
respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trust
he will excuse my not having done it before.  My
total ignorance of 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 it earlier.  I
believe him to be Lady Catherine’s nephew
It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship
was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him
from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr. Darcy would
consider his addressing him without introduction as
an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to
his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there
should be any notice on either side; and that if it
were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in
consequence, to begin the acquaintance.  Mr. Collins
listened to her with the determined air of following
his own inclination, and, when she ceased speaking,
replied thus: 

“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have
the highest opinion in the world in your excellent
judgement in all matters within the scope of your
understanding; but permit me to say, that there must
be a wide difference between the established forms
of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate
the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider
the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with
the highest rank in the kingdom ­provided
that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same
time maintained.  You must therefore allow me to
follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion,
which leads me to perform what I look on as a point
of duty.  Pardon me for neglecting to profit by
your advice, which on every other subject shall be
my constant guide, though in the case before us I
consider myself more fitted by education and habitual
study to decide on what is right than a young lady
like yourself.”  And with a low bow he left
her to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances
she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being
so addressed was very evident.  Her cousin prefaced
his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not
hear a word of it, she felt as if hearing it all,
and saw in the motion of his lips the words “apology,”
“Hunsford,” and “Lady Catherine de
Bourgh.”  It vexed her to see him expose
himself to such a man.  Mr. Darcy was eyeing him
with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr. Collins
allowed him time to speak, replied with an air of
distant civility.  Mr. Collins, however, was not
discouraged from speaking again, and Mr. Darcy’s
contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length
of his second speech, and at the end of it he only
made him a slight bow, and moved another way. 
Mr. Collins then returned to Elizabeth.

“I have no reason, I assure
you,” said he, “to be dissatisfied with
my reception.  Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with
the attention.  He answered me with the utmost
civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying
that he was so well convinced of Lady Catherine’s
discernment as to be certain she could never bestow
a favour unworthily.  It was really a very handsome
thought.  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 her observations gave
birth to, made her perhaps almost as happy as Jane. 
She saw her in idea settled in that very house, in
all the felicity which a marriage of true affection
could bestow; and she felt capable, under such circumstances,
of endeavouring even to like Bingley’s two sisters. 
Her mother’s thoughts she plainly saw were bent
the same way, and she determined not to venture near
her, lest she might hear too much.  When they sat
down to supper, therefore, she considered it a most
unlucky perverseness which placed them within one
of each other; and deeply was she vexed to find that
her mother was talking to that one person (Lady Lucas)
freely, openly, and of nothing else but her expectation
that Jane would soon be married to Mr. Bingley. 
It was an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed
incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages
of the match.  His being such a charming young
man, and so rich, and living but three miles from
them, were the first points of self-gratulation; and
then it was such a comfort to think how fond the two
sisters were of Jane, and to be certain that they
must desire the connection as much as she could do. 
It was, moreover, such a promising thing for her younger
daughters, as Jane’s marrying so greatly 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 her single daughters to the care of their
sister, that she might not be obliged to go into company
more than she liked.  It was necessary to make
this circumstance a matter of pleasure, because on
such occasions it is the etiquette; but no one was
less likely than Mrs. Bennet to find comfort in staying
home at any period of her life.  She concluded
with many good wishes that Lady Lucas might soon be
equally fortunate, though evidently and triumphantly
believing there was no chance of it.

In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to
check the rapidity of her mother’s words, or
persuade her to describe her felicity in a less audible
whisper; for, to her inexpressible vexation, she could
perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Mr.
Darcy, who sat opposite to them.  Her mother only
scolded her for being 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 obliged
to say nothing he may not like to hear.”

“For heaven’s sake, madam,
speak lower.  What advantage can it be for you
to offend Mr. Darcy?  You will never recommend
yourself to his friend by so doing!”

Nothing that she could say, however,
had any influence.  Her mother 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; for though he was not always looking at
her mother, she was convinced that his attention was
invariably fixed by her.  The expression of his
face changed gradually from indignant contempt to a
composed and steady gravity.

At length, however, Mrs. Bennet had
no more to say; and Lady Lucas, who had been long
yawning at the repetition of delights which she saw
no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comforts
of cold ham and chicken.  Elizabeth now began
to revive.  But not long was the interval of tranquillity;
for, when supper was over, singing was talked of, and
she had the mortification of seeing Mary, after very
little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company. 
By many significant looks and silent entreaties, did
she endeavour to prevent such a proof of complaisance,
but in vain; Mary would not understand them; such an
opportunity of exhibiting 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 with
an impatience which was very ill rewarded at their
close; for Mary, on receiving, amongst the thanks
of the table, the hint of a hope that she might be
prevailed on to favour them again, after the pause
of half a minute began another.  Mary’s
powers were by no means fitted for such a display;
her voice was weak, and her manner affected. 
Elizabeth was in agonies.  She looked at Jane,
to see how she bore it; but Jane was very composedly
talking to Bingley.  She looked at his two sisters,
and saw them making signs of derision at each other,
and at Darcy, who continued, however, imperturbably
grave.  She looked at her father to entreat his
interference, lest Mary should be singing all night. 
He took the hint, and when Mary had finished her second
song, said aloud, “That will do extremely well,
child.  You have delighted us long enough. 
Let the other young ladies have time to 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 party
were 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 company with an air; for I consider music as a
very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible
with the profession of a clergyman.  I do not mean,
however, to assert that we can be justified in devoting
too much of our time to music, for there are certainly
other things to be attended to.  The rector of
a parish has much to do.  In the first place, he
must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial
to himself and not offensive to his patron.  He
must write his own sermons; and the time that remains
will not be too much for his parish duties, and the
care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot
be excused from making as comfortable as possible. 
And I do not think it of light importance that he
should have attentive and conciliatory manner towards
everybody, especially towards those to whom he owes
his preferment.  I cannot acquit him of that duty;
nor could I think well of the man who should omit an
occasion of testifying his respect towards anybody
connected with the family.”  And with a
bow to Mr. Darcy, he concluded his speech, which had
been spoken so loud as to be heard by half the room. 
Many stared ­many smiled; but no one looked
more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife
seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so
sensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Lady Lucas,
that he was a remarkably clever, good kind of young
man.

To Elizabeth it appeared that, had
her family made an agreement to expose themselves
as much as they could during the evening, it would
have been impossible for them to play their parts with
more spirit or finer success; and happy did she think
it for Bingley and her sister that some of the exhibition
had escaped his notice, and that his feelings were
not of a sort to be much distressed by the folly which
he must have witnessed.  That his two sisters
and Mr. Darcy, however, should have such an opportunity
of ridiculing her relations, was bad enough, and she
could not determine whether the silent contempt of
the gentleman, or the insolent smiles of the ladies,
were more intolerable.

The rest of the evening brought her
little amusement.  She was teased by Mr. Collins,
who continued most perseveringly by her side, and though
he could not prevail on her to dance with him again,
put it out of her power to dance with others. 
In vain did she entreat him to stand up with somebody
else, and offer to introduce him to any young lady
in the room.  He assured her, that as to dancing,
he was perfectly indifferent to it; that his chief
object was by delicate attentions to recommend himself
to her and that he should therefore make a point of
remaining close to her the whole evening.  There
was no arguing upon such a project.  She owed
her greatest relief to her friend Miss Lucas, who often
joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Mr. Collins’s
conversation to herself.

She was at least free from the offense
of Mr. Darcy’s further notice; though often
standing within a very short distance of her, quite
disengaged, he never came near enough to speak. 
She felt it 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 their carriage a quarter
of an hour after everybody else was gone, which gave
them time to see how heartily they were wished away
by some of the family.  Mrs. Hurst and her sister
scarcely opened their mouths, except to complain of
fatigue, and were evidently impatient to have the
house to themselves.  They repulsed every attempt
of Mrs. Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw
a languor over the whole party, which was very little
relieved by the long speeches of Mr. Collins, who
was complimenting Mr. Bingley and his sisters on the
elegance of their entertainment, and the hospitality
and politeness which had marked 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 from the rest, and talked only to each other. 
Elizabeth preserved as steady a silence as either
Mrs. Hurst or Miss Bingley; and even Lydia was too
much fatigued to utter more than the occasional exclamation
of “Lord, how tired I am!” accompanied
by a violent yawn.

When at length they arose to take
leave, Mrs. Bennet was most pressingly civil in her
hope of seeing the whole family soon at Longbourn,
and addressed herself especially to Mr. Bingley, to
assure him how happy he would make them by eating
a family dinner with them at any time, without the
ceremony of a formal invitation.  Bingley was all
grateful pleasure, and he readily engaged for taking
the earliest opportunity of waiting on her, after
his return from London, whither he was obliged to go
the next day for a short time.

Mrs. Bennet was perfectly satisfied,
and quitted the house under the delightful persuasion
that, allowing for the necessary preparations of settlements,
new carriages, and wedding clothes, she should undoubtedly
see her daughter settled at Netherfield in the course
of three or four months.  Of having another daughter
married to Mr. Collins, she thought with equal certainty,
and with considerable, though not equal, pleasure. 
Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her children;
and though the man and the match were quite good enough
for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by
Mr. Bingley and Netherfield.

 

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