FictionForest

Chapter 24

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

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Miss Bingley’s letter arrived,
and put an end to doubt.  The very first sentence
conveyed the assurance of their being all settled in
London for the winter, and concluded with her brother’s
regret at not having had time to pay his respects
to his friends in Hertfordshire before he left the
country.

Hope was over, entirely over; and
when Jane could attend to the rest of the letter,
she found little, except the professed affection of
the writer, that could give her any comfort. 
Miss Darcy’s praise occupied the chief of it. 
Her many attractions were again dwelt on, and Caroline
boasted joyfully of their increasing intimacy, and
ventured to predict the accomplishment of the wishes
which had been unfolded in her former letter. 
She wrote also with great pleasure of her brother’s
being an inmate of Mr. Darcy’s house, and mentioned
with raptures some plans of the latter with regard
to new furniture.

Elizabeth, to whom Jane very soon
communicated the chief of all this, heard it in silent
indignation.  Her heart was divided between concern
for her sister, and resentment against all others. 
To Caroline’s assertion of her brother’s
being partial to Miss Darcy she paid no credit. 
That he was really fond of Jane, she doubted no more
than she had ever done; and much as she had always
been disposed to like him, she could not think without
anger, hardly without contempt, on that easiness of
temper, that want of proper resolution, which now made
him the slave of his designing friends, and led him
to sacrifice of his own happiness to the caprice of
their inclination.  Had his own happiness, however,
been the only sacrifice, he might have been allowed
to sport with it in whatever manner he thought best,
but her sister’s was involved in it, as she
thought he must be sensible himself.  It was a
subject, in short, on which reflection would be long
indulged, and must be unavailing.  She could think
of nothing else; and yet whether Bingley’s regard
had really died away, or were suppressed by his friends’
interference; whether he had been aware of Jane’s
attachment, or whether it had escaped his observation;
whatever were the case, though her opinion of him must
be materially affected by the difference, her sister’s
situation remained the same, her peace equally wounded.

A day or two passed before Jane had
courage to speak of her feelings to Elizabeth; but
at last, on Mrs. Bennet’s leaving them together,
after a longer irritation than usual about Netherfield
and its master, she could not help saying: 

“Oh, that my dear mother had
more command over herself!  She can have no idea
of the pain she gives me by her continual reflections
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, but said nothing.

“You doubt me,” cried
Jane, slightly colouring; “indeed, you have
no reason.  He may live in my memory as the most
amiable man of my acquaintance, but that is all. 
I have nothing either to hope or fear, and nothing
to reproach him with.  Thank God!  I have not
that pain.  A little time, therefore ­I
shall certainly try to get the better.”

With a stronger voice she soon added,
“I have this comfort immediately, that it has
not been more than an error of fancy on my side, and
that it has done no harm to anyone but myself.”

“My dear Jane!” exclaimed
Elizabeth, “you are too good.  Your sweetness
and disinterestedness are really angelic; I do not
know what to say to you.  I feel as if I had never
done you justice, or loved you as you deserve.”

Miss Bennet eagerly disclaimed all
extraordinary merit, and threw back the praise on
her sister’s warm affection.

“Nay,” said Elizabeth,
“this is not fair. You wish to think all
the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill
of anybody.  I only want to think you perfect,
and you set yourself against it.  Do not be afraid
of my running into any excess, of my encroaching on
your privilege of universal good-will.  You need
not.  There are few people whom I really love,
and still fewer of whom I think well.  The more
I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with
it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency
of all human characters, and of the little dependence
that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense. 
I have met with two instances lately, one I will not
mention; the other is Charlotte’s marriage. 
It is unaccountable!  In every view it is unaccountable!”

“My dear Lizzy, do not give
way to such feelings as these.  They will ruin
your happiness.  You do not make allowance enough
for difference of situation and temper.  Consider
Mr. Collins’s respectability, 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, for
everybody’s sake, that she may feel something
like regard and esteem for our cousin.”

“To oblige you, I would try
to believe almost anything, but no one else could
be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded
that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only
think 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 a proper
way of thinking.  You shall not defend her, though
it is Charlotte Lucas.  You shall not, for the
sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle
and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself
or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility
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 seeing
them happy together.  But enough of this. 
You alluded to something else.  You mentioned
two instances.  I cannot misunderstand you,
but I entreat you, dear Lizzy, not to pain me by thinking
that person to blame, and saying your opinion
of him is sunk.  We must not be so ready to fancy
ourselves intentionally injured.  We must not expect
a lively young man to be always so guarded and circumspect. 
It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives
us.  Women fancy admiration means more than it
does.”

“And men take care that they should.”

“If it is designedly done, they
cannot be justified; but I have no idea of there being
so much design in the world as some persons imagine.”

“I am far from attributing any
part of Mr. Bingley’s conduct to design,”
said Elizabeth; “but without scheming to do wrong,
or to make others unhappy, there may be error, and
there may be misery.  Thoughtlessness, want of
attention to other people’s feelings, 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 saying what 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 besides his happiness; they
may wish his increase of wealth and consequence; they
may wish him to marry a girl who has all the importance
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
are supposing.  They have known her much longer
than they have known me; no wonder if they love her
better.  But, whatever may be their own wishes,
it is very unlikely they should have opposed their
brother’s.  What sister would think herself
at liberty to do it, unless there were something very
objectionable?  If they believed him attached to
me, they would not try to part us; if he were so,
they could not succeed.  By supposing such an
affection, you make everybody acting unnaturally and
wrong, and me most unhappy.  Do not distress me
by the idea.  I am not ashamed of having been
mistaken ­or, at least, it is light, it is
nothing in comparison of what I should feel in thinking
ill of him or his sisters.  Let me take it in
the best light, in the light in which it may be understood.”

Elizabeth could not oppose such a
wish; and from this time Mr. Bingley’s name
was scarcely ever mentioned between them.

Mrs. Bennet still continued to wonder
and repine at his returning no more, and though a
day seldom passed in which Elizabeth did not account
for it clearly, there was little chance of her ever
considering it with less perplexity.  Her daughter
endeavoured to convince her of what she did not believe
herself, that his attentions to Jane had been merely
the effect of a common and transient liking, which
ceased when he saw her no more; but though the probability
of the statement was admitted at the time, she had
the same story to repeat every day.  Mrs. Bennet’s
best comfort was that Mr. Bingley must be down again
in the summer.

Mr. Bennet treated the matter differently. 
“So, Lizzy,” said he one day, “your
sister is crossed in love, I find.  I congratulate
her.  Next to being married, a girl likes to be
crossed a little in love now and then.  It is
something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction
among her companions.  When is your turn to come? 
You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. 
Now is your time.  Here are officers enough in
Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country. 
Let Wickham be your man.  He is a pleasant
fellow, and would jilt you creditably.”

“Thank you, sir, but a less
agreeable man would satisfy me.  We must not all
expect Jane’s good fortune.”

“True,” said Mr. Bennet,
“but it is a comfort to think that whatever of
that kind may befall you, you have an affectionate
mother who will make the most of it.”

Mr. Wickham’s society was of
material service in dispelling the gloom which the
late perverse occurrences had thrown on many of the
Longbourn family.  They saw him often, and to
his other recommendations was now added that of general
unreserve.  The whole of what Elizabeth had already
heard, his claims on Mr. Darcy, and all that he had
suffered from him, was now openly acknowledged and
publicly canvassed; and everybody was 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 might be any extenuating circumstances
in the case, unknown to the society of Hertfordshire;
her mild and steady candour always pleaded for allowances,
and urged the possibility of mistakes ­but
by everybody else Mr. Darcy was condemned as the worst
of men.

 

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