FictionForest

Chapter 53

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

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Mr. Wickham was so perfectly satisfied
with this conversation that he never again distressed
himself, or provoked his dear sister Elizabeth, by
introducing the subject of it; and she was pleased
to find that she had said enough to keep him quiet.

The day of his and Lydia’s departure
soon came, and Mrs. Bennet was forced to submit to
a separation, which, as her husband by no means entered
into her scheme of their all going to Newcastle, was
likely to continue at least a twelvemonth.

“Oh! my dear Lydia,” she
cried, “when shall we meet again?”

“Oh, lord!  I don’t
know.  Not these two or three years, perhaps.”

“Write to me very often, my dear.”

“As often as I can.  But
you know married women have never much time for writing. 
My sisters may write to me.  They will have
nothing else to do.”

Mr. Wickham’s adieus were much
more affectionate than his wife’s.  He smiled,
looked handsome, and said many pretty things.

“He is as fine a fellow,”
said Mr. Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house,
“as ever I saw.  He simpers, and smirks,
and makes love to us all.  I am prodigiously proud
of him.  I defy even Sir William Lucas himself
to produce a more valuable son-in-law.”

The loss of her daughter made Mrs.
Bennet very dull for several days.

“I often think,” said
she, “that there is nothing so bad as parting
with one’s friends.  One seems so forlorn
without them.”

“This is the consequence, you
see, Madam, of marrying a daughter,” said Elizabeth. 
“It must make you better satisfied that your
other four are single.”

“It is no such thing.  Lydia
does not leave me because she is married, but only
because her husband’s regiment happens to be
so far off.  If that had been nearer, she would
not have gone so soon.”

But the spiritless condition which
this event threw her into was shortly relieved, and
her mind opened again to the agitation of hope, by
an article of news which then began to be in circulation. 
The housekeeper at Netherfield had received orders
to prepare for the arrival of her master, who was
coming down in a day or two, to shoot there for several
weeks.  Mrs. Bennet was quite in the fidgets. 
She looked at Jane, and smiled and shook her head
by turns.

“Well, well, and so Mr. Bingley
is coming down, sister,” (for Mrs. Phillips
first brought her the news).  “Well, so much
the better.  Not that I care about it, though. 
He is nothing to us, you know, and I am sure I
never want to see him again.  But, however, he
is very welcome to come to Netherfield, if he likes
it.  And who knows what may happen? 
But that is nothing to us.  You know, sister, we
agreed long ago never to mention a word about it. 
And so, is it quite certain he is coming?”

“You may depend on it,”
replied the other, “for Mrs. Nicholls was in
Meryton last night; I saw her passing by, and went
out myself on purpose to know the truth of it; and
she told me that it was certain true.  He comes
down on Thursday at the latest, very likely on Wednesday. 
She was going to the butcher’s, she told me,
on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and
she has got three couple of ducks just fit to be killed.”

Miss Bennet had not been able to hear
of his coming without changing colour.  It was
many months since she had mentioned his name to Elizabeth;
but now, as soon as they were alone together, she said: 

“I saw you look at me to-day,
Lizzy, when my aunt told us of the present report;
and I know I appeared distressed.  But don’t
imagine it was from any silly cause.  I was only
confused for the moment, because I felt that I should
be looked at.  I do assure you that the news does
not affect me either with pleasure or pain.  I
am glad of one thing, that he comes alone; because
we shall see the less of him.  Not that I am afraid
of myself, but I dread other people’s
remarks.”

Elizabeth did not know what to make
of it.  Had she not seen him in Derbyshire, she
might have supposed him capable of coming there with
no other view than what was acknowledged; but she
still thought him partial to Jane, and she wavered
as to the greater probability of his coming there
with his friend’s permission, or being
bold enough to come without it.

“Yet it is hard,” she
sometimes thought, “that this poor man cannot
come to a house which he has legally hired, without
raising all this speculation!  I will leave
him to himself.”

In spite of what her sister declared,
and really believed to be her feelings in the expectation
of his arrival, Elizabeth could easily perceive that
her spirits were affected by it.  They were more
disturbed, more unequal, than she had often seen them.

The subject which had been so warmly
canvassed between their parents, about a twelvemonth
ago, was now brought forward again.

“As soon as ever Mr. Bingley
comes, my dear,” said Mrs. Bennet, “you
will wait on him of course.”

“No, no.  You forced me
into visiting him last year, and promised, if I went
to see him, he should marry one of my daughters. 
But it ended in nothing, and I will not be sent on
a fool’s errand again.”

His wife represented to him how absolutely
necessary such an attention would be from all the
neighbouring gentlemen, on his returning to Netherfield.

“’Tis an etiquette I despise,”
said he.  “If he wants our society, let
him seek it.  He knows where we live.  I will
not spend my hours in running after my neighbours
every time they go away and come back again.”

“Well, all I know is, that it
will be abominably rude if you do not wait on him. 
But, however, that shan’t prevent my asking him
to dine here, I am determined.  We must have Mrs.
Long and the Gouldings soon.  That will make thirteen
with ourselves, so there will be just room at table
for him.”

Consoled by this resolution, she was
the better able to bear her husband’s incivility;
though it was very mortifying to know that her neighbours
might all see Mr. Bingley, in consequence of it, before
they did.  As the day of his arrival drew
near: 

“I begin to be sorry that he
comes at all,” said Jane to her sister. 
“It would be nothing; I could see him with perfect
indifference, but I can hardly bear to hear it thus
perpetually talked of.  My mother means well;
but she does not know, no one can know, how much I
suffer from what she says.  Happy shall I be,
when his stay at Netherfield is over!”

“I wish I could say anything
to comfort you,” replied Elizabeth; “but
it is wholly out of my power.  You must feel it;
and the usual satisfaction of preaching patience to
a sufferer is denied me, because you have always so
much.”

Mr. Bingley arrived.  Mrs. Bennet,
through the assistance of servants, contrived to have
the earliest tidings of it, that the period of anxiety
and fretfulness on her side might be as long as it
could.  She counted the days that must intervene
before their invitation could be sent; hopeless of
seeing him before.  But on the third morning after
his arrival in Hertfordshire, she saw him, from her
dressing-room window, enter the paddock and ride towards
the house.

Her daughters were eagerly called
to partake of her joy.  Jane resolutely kept her
place at the table; but Elizabeth, to satisfy her mother,
went to the window ­she looked, ­she
saw Mr. Darcy with him, and sat down again by her
sister.

“There is a gentleman with him,
mamma,” said Kitty; “who can it be?”

“Some acquaintance or other,
my dear, I suppose; I am sure I do not know.”

“La!” replied Kitty, “it
looks just like that man that used to be with him
before.  Mr. what’s-his-name.  That tall,
proud man.”

“Good gracious!  Mr. Darcy! ­and
so it does, I vow.  Well, any friend of Mr. Bingley’s
will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I
must say that I hate the very sight of him.”

Jane looked at Elizabeth with surprise
and concern.  She knew but little of their meeting
in Derbyshire, and therefore felt for the awkwardness
which must attend her sister, in seeing him almost
for the first time after receiving his explanatory
letter.  Both sisters were uncomfortable enough. 
Each felt for the other, and of course for themselves;
and their mother talked on, of her dislike of Mr.
Darcy, and her resolution to be civil to him only
as Mr. Bingley’s friend, without being heard
by either of them.  But Elizabeth had sources
of uneasiness which could not be suspected by Jane,
to whom she had never yet had courage to shew Mrs.
Gardiner’s letter, or to relate her own change
of sentiment towards him.  To Jane, he could be
only a man whose proposals she had refused, and whose
merit she had undervalued; but to her own more extensive
information, he was the person to whom the whole family
were indebted for the first of benefits, and whom
she regarded herself with an interest, if not quite
so tender, at least as reasonable and just as what
Jane felt for Bingley.  Her astonishment at his
coming ­at his coming to Netherfield, to
Longbourn, and voluntarily seeking her again, was
almost equal to what she had known on first witnessing
his altered behaviour in Derbyshire.

The colour which had been driven from
her face, returned for half a minute with an additional
glow, and a smile of delight added lustre to her eyes,
as she thought for that space of time that his affection
and wishes must still be unshaken.  But she would
not be secure.

“Let me first see how he behaves,”
said she; “it will then be early enough for
expectation.”

She sat intently at work, striving
to be composed, and without daring to lift up her
eyes, till anxious curiosity carried them to the face
of her sister as the servant was approaching the door. 
Jane looked a little paler than usual, but more sedate
than Elizabeth had expected.  On the gentlemen’s
appearing, her colour increased; yet she received them
with tolerable ease, and with a propriety of behaviour
equally free from any symptom of resentment or any
unnecessary complaisance.

Elizabeth said as little to either
as civility would allow, and sat down again to her
work, with an eagerness which it did not often command. 
She had ventured only one glance at Darcy.  He
looked serious, as usual; and, she thought, more as
he had been used to look in Hertfordshire, than as
she had seen him at Pemberley.  But, perhaps he
could not in her mother’s presence be what he
was before her uncle and aunt.  It was a painful,
but not an improbable, conjecture.

Bingley, she had likewise seen for
an instant, and in that short period saw him looking
both pleased and embarrassed.  He was received
by Mrs. Bennet with a degree of civility which made
her two daughters ashamed, especially when contrasted
with the cold and ceremonious politeness of her curtsey
and address to his friend.

Elizabeth, particularly, who knew
that her mother owed to the latter the preservation
of her favourite daughter from irremediable infamy,
was hurt and distressed to a most painful degree by
a distinction so ill applied.

Darcy, after inquiring of her how
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner did, a question which she could
not answer without confusion, said scarcely anything. 
He was not seated by her; perhaps that was the reason
of his silence; but it had not been so in Derbyshire. 
There he had talked to her friends, when he could
not to herself.  But now several minutes elapsed
without bringing the sound of his voice; and when
occasionally, unable to resist the impulse of curiosity,
she raised her eyes to his face, she as often found
him looking at Jane as at herself, and frequently on
no object but the ground.  More thoughtfulness
and less anxiety to please, than when they last met,
were plainly expressed.  She was disappointed,
and angry with herself for being so.

“Could I expect it to be otherwise!”
said she.  “Yet why did he come?”

She was in no humour for conversation
with anyone but himself; and to him she had hardly
courage to speak.

She inquired after his sister, but could do no more.

“It is a long time, Mr. Bingley, since you went
away,” said Mrs. Bennet.

He readily agreed to it.

“I began to be afraid you would
never come back again.  People did say
you meant to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas;
but, however, I hope it is not true.  A great
many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since
you went away.  Miss Lucas is married and settled. 
And one of my own daughters.  I suppose you have
heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the
papers.  It was in The Times and The Courier, I
know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. 
It was only said, ’Lately, George Wickham, Esq.
to Miss Lydia Bennet,’ without there being a
syllable said of her father, or the place where she
lived, or anything.  It was my brother Gardiner’s
drawing up too, and I wonder how he came to make such
an awkward business of it.  Did you see it?”

Bingley replied that he did, and made
his congratulations.  Elizabeth dared not lift
up her eyes.  How Mr. Darcy looked, therefore,
she could not tell.

“It is a delightful thing, to
be sure, to have a daughter well married,” continued
her mother, “but at the same time, Mr. Bingley,
it is very hard to have her taken such a way from
me.  They are gone down to Newcastle, a place
quite northward, it seems, and there they are to stay
I do not know how long.  His regiment is there;
for I suppose you have heard of his leaving the ­shire,
and of his being gone into the regulars.  Thank
Heaven! he has some friends, though perhaps
not so many as he deserves.”

Elizabeth, who knew this to be levelled
at Mr. Darcy, was in such misery of shame, that she
could hardly keep her seat.  It drew from her,
however, the exertion of speaking, which nothing else
had so effectually done before; and she asked Bingley
whether he meant to make any stay in the country at
present.  A few weeks, he believed.

“When you have killed all your
own birds, Mr. Bingley,” said her mother, “I
beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please
on Mr. Bennet’s manor.  I am sure he will
be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the
best of the covies for you.”

Elizabeth’s misery increased,
at such unnecessary, such officious attention! 
Were the same fair prospect to arise at present as
had flattered them a year ago, every thing, she was
persuaded, would be hastening to the same vexatious
conclusion.  At that instant, she felt that years
of happiness could not make Jane or herself amends
for moments of such painful confusion.

“The first wish of my heart,”
said she to herself, “is never more to be in
company with either of them.  Their society can
afford no pleasure that will atone for such wretchedness
as this!  Let me never see either one or the other
again!”

Yet the misery, for which years of
happiness were to offer no compensation, received
soon afterwards material relief, from observing how
much the beauty of her sister re-kindled the admiration
of her former lover.  When first he came in, he
had spoken to her but little; but every five minutes
seemed to be giving her more of his attention. 
He found her as handsome as she had been last year;
as good natured, and as unaffected, though not quite
so chatty.  Jane was anxious that no difference
should be perceived in her at all, and was really persuaded
that she talked as much as ever.  But her mind
was so busily engaged, that she did not always know
when she was silent.

When the gentlemen rose to go away,
Mrs. Bennet was mindful of her intended civility,
and they were invited and engaged to dine at Longbourn
in a few days time.

“You are quite a visit in my
debt, Mr. Bingley,” she added, “for when
you went to town last winter, you promised to take
a family dinner with us, as soon as you returned. 
I have not forgot, you see; and I assure you, I was
very much disappointed that you did not come back and
keep your engagement.”

Bingley looked a little silly at this
reflection, and said something of his concern at having
been prevented by business.  They then went away.

Mrs. Bennet had been strongly inclined
to ask them to stay and dine there that day; but,
though she always kept a very good table, she did
not think anything less than two courses could be good
enough for a man on whom she had such anxious designs,
or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten
thousand a year.

 

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