FictionForest

Chapter 35

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

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Elizabeth awoke the next morning to
the same thoughts and meditations which had at length
closed her eyes.  She could not yet recover from
the surprise of what had happened; it was impossible
to think of anything else; and, totally indisposed
for employment, she resolved, soon after breakfast,
to indulge herself in air and exercise.  She was
proceeding directly to her favourite walk, when the
recollection of Mr. Darcy’s sometimes coming
there stopped her, and instead of entering the park,
she turned up the lane, which led farther from the
turnpike-road.  The park paling was still the
boundary on one side, and she soon passed one of the
gates into the ground.

After walking two or three times along
that part of the lane, she was tempted, by the pleasantness
of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into
the park.  The five weeks which she had now passed
in Kent had made a great difference in the country,
and every day was adding to the verdure of the early
trees.  She was on the point of continuing her
walk, when she caught a glimpse of 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
was now near enough to see her, and stepping forward
with eagerness, pronounced her name.  She had
turned away; but on hearing herself called, though
in a voice which proved it to be Mr. Darcy, she moved
again towards the gate.  He had by that time reached
it also, and, holding out a letter, which she instinctively
took, said, with a look of haughty composure, “I
have been walking in the grove some time in the hope
of meeting you.  Will you do me the honour of
reading that letter?” And then, with a slight
bow, turned again into the plantation, and was soon
out of sight.

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 itself was likewise full.  Pursuing
her way along the lane, she then began it.  It
was dated from Rosings, at eight o’clock in
the morning, and was as follows: ­

“Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving
this letter, by the apprehension of its containing
any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those
offers which were last night so disgusting to you. 
I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling
myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness
of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort
which the formation and the perusal of this letter
must occasion, should have been spared, had not my
character required it to be written and read. 
You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which
I demand your 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 of equal magnitude, you last
night laid to my charge.  The first mentioned was,
that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I had
detached Mr. Bingley from your sister, and the other,
that I had, in defiance of various claims, in defiance
of honour and humanity, ruined the immediate prosperity
and blasted the prospects of Mr. Wickham.  Wilfully
and wantonly to have thrown off the companion of my
youth, the acknowledged favourite of my father, a
young man who had scarcely any other dependence than
on our patronage, and who had been brought up to expect
its exertion, would be a depravity, to which the separation
of two young persons, whose affection could be the
growth of only a few weeks, could bear no comparison. 
But from the severity of that blame which was last
night so liberally bestowed, respecting each circumstance,
I shall hope to be in the future secured, when the
following account of my actions and their motives
has been read.  If, in the explanation of them,
which is due to myself, I am under the necessity of
relating feelings which may be offensive to yours,
I can only say that I am sorry.  The necessity
must be obeyed, and further apology would be absurd.

“I had not been long in Hertfordshire,
before I saw, in common with others, that Bingley
preferred your elder sister to any other young woman
in the country.  But it was not till the evening
of the dance at Netherfield that I had any apprehension
of his feeling a serious attachment.  I had often
seen him in love before.  At that ball, while I
had the honour of dancing with you, I was first made
acquainted, by Sir William Lucas’s accidental
information, that Bingley’s attentions to your
sister had given rise to a general expectation of their
marriage.  He spoke of it as 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 Bennet was beyond what I had ever witnessed
in him.  Your sister I also watched.  Her
look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging
as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard,
and I remained convinced from the evening’s
scrutiny, that though she received his attentions
with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation
of sentiment.  If you have not been mistaken
here, I must have been in error.  Your
superior knowledge of your sister must make the latter
probable.  If it be so, if I have been misled by
such error to inflict pain on her, your resentment
has not been unreasonable.  But I shall not scruple
to assert, that the serenity of your sister’s
countenance and air was such as might have given the
most acute observer a conviction that, however amiable
her temper, her heart was not likely to be easily
touched.  That I was desirous of believing her
indifferent is certain ­but I will venture
to say that my investigation and decisions are not
usually influenced by my hopes or fears.  I did
not believe her to be indifferent because I wished
it; I believed it on impartial conviction, as truly
as I wished it in reason.  My objections to the
marriage were not merely those which I last night acknowledged
to have the utmost force of passion to put aside,
in my own case; the want of connection could not be
so great an evil to my friend as to me.  But there
were other causes of repugnance; causes which, though
still existing, and existing to an equal degree in
both instances, I had myself endeavoured to forget,
because they were not immediately before me. 
These causes must be stated, though briefly.  The
situation of your mother’s family, though objectionable,
was nothing in comparison to that total want of propriety
so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself,
by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even
by your father.  Pardon me.  It pains me to
offend you.  But amidst your concern for the defects
of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at
this representation of them, let it give you consolation
to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so
as to avoid any share of the like censure, is praise
no less generally bestowed on you and your elder sister,
than it is honourable to the sense and disposition
of both.  I will only say farther that from what
passed that evening, my opinion of all parties was
confirmed, and every inducement heightened which could
have led me before, to preserve my friend from what
I esteemed a most unhappy connection.  He left
Netherfield for London, on the day following, as you,
I am certain, remember, with the design of soon returning.

“The part which I acted is now
to be explained.  His sisters’ uneasiness
had been equally excited with my own; our coincidence
of feeling was soon discovered, and, alike sensible
that no time was to be lost in detaching their brother,
we shortly resolved on joining him directly in London. 
We accordingly went ­and there I readily
engaged in the office of pointing out to my friend
the certain evils of such a choice.  I described,
and enforced them earnestly.  But, however this
remonstrance might have staggered or delayed his determination,
I do not suppose that it would ultimately have prevented
the marriage, had it not been seconded by the assurance
that I hesitated not in giving, of your sister’s
indifference.  He had before believed her to return
his affection with sincere, if not with equal regard. 
But Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger
dependence on my judgement than on his own.  To
convince him, therefore, that he had deceived himself,
was no very difficult point.  To persuade him
against returning into Hertfordshire, when that conviction
had been given, was scarcely the work of a moment. 
I cannot blame myself for having done thus much. 
There is but one part of my conduct in the whole affair
on which I do not reflect with satisfaction; it is
that I condescended to adopt the measures of art so
far as to conceal from him your sister’s being
in town.  I knew it myself, as it was known to
Miss Bingley; but her brother is even yet ignorant
of it.  That they might have met without ill consequence
is perhaps probable; but his regard did not appear
to me enough extinguished for him to see her without
some danger.  Perhaps this concealment, this disguise
was beneath me; it is done, however, and it was done
for the best.  On this subject I have nothing more
to say, no other apology to offer.  If I have
wounded your sister’s feelings, it was unknowingly
done and though the motives which governed me may to
you very naturally appear insufficient, I have not
yet learnt to condemn them.

“With respect to that other,
more weighty accusation, of having injured Mr. Wickham,
I can only refute it by laying before you the whole
of his connection with my family.  Of what he
has particularly accused me I am ignorant;
but of the truth of what I shall relate, I can summon
more than one witness of undoubted veracity.

“Mr. Wickham is the son of a
very respectable man, who had for many years the management
of all the Pemberley estates, and whose good conduct
in the discharge of his trust naturally inclined my
father to be of service to him; and on George Wickham,
who was his godson, his kindness was therefore liberally
bestowed.  My father supported him at school,
and afterwards at Cambridge ­most important
assistance, as his own father, always poor from the
extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to
give him a gentleman’s education.  My father
was not only fond of this young man’s society,
whose manners were always engaging; he had also the
highest opinion of him, and hoping the church would
be his profession, intended to provide for him in
it.  As for myself, it is many, many years since
I first began to think of him in a very different
manner.  The vicious propensities ­the
want of principle, which he was careful to guard from
the knowledge of his best friend, could not escape
the observation of a young man of nearly the same age
with himself, and who had opportunities of seeing
him in unguarded moments, which Mr. Darcy could not
have.  Here again I shall give you pain ­to
what degree you only can tell.  But whatever may
be the sentiments which Mr. Wickham has created, a
suspicion of their nature shall not prevent me from
unfolding his real character ­it adds even
another motive.

“My excellent father died about
five years ago; and his attachment to Mr. Wickham
was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly
recommended it to me, to promote his advancement in
the best manner that his profession might allow ­and
if he took orders, desired that a valuable family
living might be his as soon as it became vacant. 
There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. 
His own father did not long survive mine, and within
half a year from these events, Mr. Wickham wrote to
inform me that, having finally resolved against taking
orders, he hoped I should not think it unreasonable
for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage,
in lieu of the preferment, by which he could not be
benefited.  He had some intention, he added, of
studying law, and I must be aware that the interest
of one thousand pounds would be a very insufficient
support therein.  I rather wished, than believed
him to be sincere; but, at any rate, was perfectly
ready to accede to his proposal.  I knew that
Mr. Wickham ought not to be a clergyman; the business
was therefore soon settled ­he resigned all
claim to assistance in the church, were it possible
that he could ever be in a situation to receive it,
and accepted in return three thousand pounds. 
All connection between us seemed now dissolved. 
I thought too ill of him to invite him to Pemberley,
or admit his society in town.  In town I believe
he chiefly lived, but his studying the law was a mere
pretence, and being now free from all restraint, his
life was a life of idleness and dissipation. 
For about three years I heard little of him; but on
the decease of the incumbent of the living which had
been designed for him, he applied to me again by letter
for the presentation.  His circumstances, he assured
me, and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly
bad.  He had found the law a most unprofitable
study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained,
if I would present him to the living in question ­of
which he trusted there could be little doubt, as he
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 in proportion
to the distress of his circumstances ­and
he was doubtless as violent in his abuse of me to
others as in his reproaches to myself.  After this
period every appearance of acquaintance was dropped. 
How he lived I know not.  But last summer he was
again most painfully obtruded on my notice.

“I must now mention a circumstance
which I would wish to forget myself, and which no
obligation less than the present should induce me to
unfold to any human being.  Having said thus much,
I feel no doubt of your secrecy.  My sister, who
is more than ten years my junior, was left to the
guardianship of my mother’s nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam,
and myself.  About a year ago, she was taken from
school, and an establishment formed for her in London;
and last summer she went with the lady who presided
over it, to Ramsgate; and thither also went Mr. Wickham,
undoubtedly by design; for there proved to have been
a prior acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge,
in whose character we were most unhappily deceived;
and by her connivance and aid, he so far recommended
himself to Georgiana, whose affectionate heart retained
a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child,
that she was persuaded to believe herself in love,
and to consent to an elopement.  She was then
but fifteen, which must be her excuse; and after stating
her imprudence, I am happy to add, that I owed the
knowledge of it to herself.  I joined them unexpectedly
a day or two before the intended elopement, and then
Georgiana, unable to support the idea of grieving
and offending a brother whom she almost looked up to
as a father, acknowledged the whole to me.  You
may imagine what I felt and how I acted.  Regard
for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented
any public exposure; but I wrote to Mr. Wickham, who
left the place immediately, and Mrs. Younge was of
course removed from her charge.  Mr. Wickham’s
chief object was unquestionably my sister’s fortune,
which is thirty thousand pounds; but I cannot help
supposing that the hope of revenging himself on me
was a strong inducement.  His revenge would have
been complete indeed.

“This, madam, is a faithful
narrative of every event in which we have been concerned
together; and if you do not absolutely reject it as
false, you will, I hope, acquit me henceforth of cruelty
towards Mr. Wickham.  I know not in what manner,
under what form of falsehood he had imposed on you;
but his success is not perhaps to be wondered at. 
Ignorant as you previously were of everything concerning
either, detection could not be in your power, and
suspicion certainly not in your inclination.

“You may possibly wonder why
all this was not told you last night; but I was not
then master enough of myself to know what could or
ought to be revealed.  For the truth of everything
here related, I can appeal more particularly to the
testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who, from our near
relationship and constant intimacy, and, still more,
as one of the executors of my father’s will,
has been unavoidably acquainted with every particular
of these transactions.  If your abhorrence of me
should make my assertions valueless, you cannot
be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my
cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting
him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of
putting this letter in your hands in the course of
the morning.  I will only add, God bless you.

“FITZWILLIAM DARCY”

 

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