FictionForest

Chapter 21

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

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The discussion of Mr. Collins’s
offer was now nearly at an end, and Elizabeth had
only to suffer from the uncomfortable feelings necessarily
attending it, and occasionally from some peevish allusions
of her mother.  As for the gentleman himself,
his feelings were chiefly expressed, not by
embarrassment or dejection, or by trying to avoid her,
but by stiffness of manner and resentful silence. 
He scarcely ever spoke to her, and the assiduous attentions
which he had been so sensible of himself were transferred
for the rest of the day to Miss Lucas, whose civility
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-humour or ill health. 
Mr. Collins was also in the same state of angry pride. 
Elizabeth had hoped that his resentment might shorten
his visit, but his plan did not appear in the least
affected by it.  He was always to have gone on
Saturday, and to Saturday he meant to stay.

After breakfast, the girls walked
to Meryton to inquire if Mr. Wickham were returned,
and to lament over his absence from the 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.  To Elizabeth, however,
he voluntarily acknowledged that the necessity of
his absence had been self-imposed.

“I found,” said he, “as
the time drew near that I had better not meet Mr.
Darcy; that to be in the same room, the same party
with him for so many hours together, might be more
than I could bear, and that scenes might arise unpleasant
to more than myself.”

She highly approved his forbearance,
and they had leisure for a full discussion of it,
and for all the commendation which they civilly bestowed
on each other, as Wickham and another officer walked
back with them to Longbourn, and during the walk he
particularly attended to her.  His accompanying
them was a double advantage; she felt all the compliment
it offered to herself, and it was most acceptable as
an occasion of introducing him 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 of elegant, little,
hot-pressed paper, well covered with a lady’s
fair, flowing hand; and Elizabeth saw her sister’s
countenance change as she read it, and saw her dwelling
intently on some particular passages.  Jane recollected
herself soon, and putting the letter away, tried to
join with her usual cheerfulness in the general conversation;
but Elizabeth felt an anxiety on the subject which
drew off her attention even from Wickham; and no sooner
had he and his companion taken leave, than a glance
from Jane invited her to follow her upstairs. 
When they had gained their own room, Jane, taking
out the letter, said: 

“This is from Caroline Bingley;
what it contains has surprised me a good deal. 
The whole party have left Netherfield by this time,
and are on their way to town ­and without
any intention of coming back again.  You shall
hear what she says.”

She then read the first sentence aloud,
which comprised the information of their having just
resolved to follow their brother to town directly,
and of their meaning to dine in Grosvenor Street, where
Mr. Hurst had a house.  The next was in these
words:  “I do not pretend to regret anything
I shall leave in Hertfordshire, except your society,
my dearest friend; but we will hope, at some future
period, to enjoy many returns of that delightful intercourse
we have known, and in the meanwhile may lessen the
pain of separation by a very frequent and most unreserved
correspondence.  I depend on you for that.” 
To these highflown expressions Elizabeth listened
with all the insensibility of distrust; and though
the suddenness of their removal surprised her, she
saw nothing in it really to lament; it was not to
be supposed that their absence from Netherfield would
prevent Mr. Bingley’s being there; and as to
the loss of their society, she was persuaded that Jane
must cease to regard it, in the enjoyment of his.

“It is unlucky,” said
she, after a short pause, “that you should not
be able to see your friends before they leave the
country.  But may we not hope that the period
of future happiness to which Miss Bingley looks forward
may arrive earlier than she is aware, and that the
delightful intercourse you have known as friends 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 into Hertfordshire this
winter.  I will read it to you:” 

“When my brother left us yesterday,
he imagined that the business which took him to London
might be concluded in three or four days; but as we
are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced
that when Charles gets to town he will be in no hurry
to leave it again, we have determined on following
him thither, that he may not be obliged to spend his
vacant hours in a comfortless hotel.  Many of my
acquaintances are already there for the winter; I
wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend,
had any intention of making one of the crowd ­but
of that I despair.  I sincerely hope your Christmas
in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which
that season generally brings, and that your beaux
will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the
loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.”

“It is evident by this,”
added Jane, “that he comes back no more this
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 his own master. 
But you do not know all.  I will
read you the passage which particularly hurts me. 
I will have no reserves from you.”

“Mr. Darcy is impatient to see
his sister; and, to confess the truth, we are
scarcely less eager to meet her again.  I really
do not think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty,
elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection she
inspires in Louisa and myself is heightened into something
still more interesting, from the hope we dare entertain
of her being hereafter our sister.  I do not know
whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings
on this subject; but I will not leave the country
without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem
them unreasonable.  My brother admires her greatly
already; he will have frequent opportunity now of
seeing her on the most intimate footing; her relations
all wish the connection as much as his own; and a sister’s
partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call
Charles most capable of engaging any woman’s
heart.  With all these circumstances to favour
an attachment, and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong,
my dearest Jane, in indulging the hope of an event
which will secure the happiness of so many?”

“What do you think of this
sentence, my dear Lizzy?” said Jane as she finished
it.  “Is it not clear enough?  Does it
not expressly declare that Caroline neither expects
nor wishes me to be her sister; that she is perfectly
convinced of her brother’s indifference; and
that if she suspects the nature of my feelings for
him, she means (most kindly!) to put me on my guard? 
Can there be any other opinion on the subject?”

“Yes, there can; for mine is
totally different.  Will you hear it?”

“Most willingly.”

“You shall have it in a few
words.  Miss Bingley sees that her brother is
in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy. 
She follows him to town in hope of keeping him there,
and tries to persuade you that he does not care about
you.”

Jane shook her head.

“Indeed, Jane, you ought to
believe me.  No one who has ever seen you together
can doubt his affection.  Miss Bingley, I am sure,
cannot.  She is not such a simpleton.  Could
she have seen half as much love in Mr. Darcy for herself,
she would have ordered her wedding clothes.  But
the case is this:  We are not rich enough or grand
enough for them; and she is the more anxious to get
Miss Darcy for her brother, from the notion that when
there has been one intermarriage, she may have
less trouble in achieving a second; in which there
is certainly some ingenuity, and I dare say it would
succeed, if Miss de Bourgh were out of the way. 
But, my dearest Jane, you cannot seriously imagine
that because Miss Bingley tells you her brother greatly
admires Miss Darcy, he is in the smallest degree less
sensible of your merit than when he took leave
of you on Tuesday, or that it will be in her power
to persuade him that, instead of being in love with
you, he is very much in love with her friend.”

“If we thought alike of Miss
Bingley,” replied Jane, “your representation
of all this might make me quite easy.  But I know
the foundation is unjust.  Caroline is incapable
of wilfully deceiving anyone; and all that I can hope
in this case is that she 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 be deceived,
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, in accepting a
man whose sisters and friends are all wishing him to
marry elsewhere?”

“You must decide for yourself,”
said Elizabeth; “and if, upon mature deliberation,
you find that the misery of disobliging his two sisters
is more than equivalent to the happiness of being
his wife, I advise you by all means to refuse him.”

“How can you talk so?”
said Jane, faintly smiling.  “You must know
that though I should be exceedingly grieved at their
disapprobation, I could not hesitate.”

“I did not think you would;
and that being the case, I cannot consider your situation
with much compassion.”

“But if he returns no more this
winter, my choice will never be required.  A thousand
things may arise in six months!”

The idea of his returning no more
Elizabeth treated with the utmost contempt.  It
appeared to her merely the suggestion of Caroline’s
interested wishes, and she could not for a moment suppose
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 she felt on the subject, and had
soon the pleasure of seeing its happy effect. 
Jane’s temper was not desponding, and she was
gradually led to hope, though the diffidence of affection
sometimes overcame the hope, that Bingley would return
to Netherfield and answer every wish of her heart.

They agreed that Mrs. Bennet should
only hear of the departure of the family, without
being alarmed on the score of the gentleman’s
conduct; but even this partial communication gave
her a great deal of concern, and she bewailed it as
exceedingly unlucky that the ladies should happen
to go away just as they were 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,
she would take care to have two full courses.

 

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