FictionForest

Chapter 57

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

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The discomposure of spirits which
this extraordinary visit threw Elizabeth into, could
not be easily overcome; nor could she, for many hours,
learn to think of it less than incessantly.  Lady
Catherine, it appeared, had actually taken the trouble
of this journey from Rosings, for the sole purpose
of breaking off her supposed engagement with Mr. Darcy. 
It was a rational scheme, to be sure! but from what
the report of their engagement could originate, Elizabeth
was at a loss to imagine; till she recollected that
his being the intimate friend of Bingley, and
her being the sister of Jane, was enough, at
a time when the expectation of one wedding made everybody
eager for another, to supply the idea.  She had
not herself forgotten to feel that the marriage of
her sister must bring them more frequently together. 
And her neighbours at Lucas Lodge, therefore (for
through their communication with the Collinses, the
report, she concluded, had reached Lady Catherine),
had only set that down as almost certain and immediate,
which she had looked forward to as possible at some
future time.

In revolving Lady Catherine’s
expressions, however, she could not help feeling some
uneasiness as to the possible consequence of her persisting
in this interference.  From what she had said of
her resolution to prevent their marriage, it occurred
to Elizabeth that she must meditate an application
to her nephew; and how he might take a similar
representation of the evils attached to a connection
with her, she dared not pronounce.  She knew not
the exact degree of his affection for his aunt, or
his dependence on her judgment, but it was natural
to suppose that he thought much higher of her ladyship
than she could do; and it was certain that,
in enumerating the miseries of a marriage with one,
whose immediate connections were so unequal to his
own, his aunt would address him on his weakest side. 
With his notions of dignity, he would probably feel
that the arguments, which to Elizabeth had appeared
weak and ridiculous, contained much good sense and
solid reasoning.

If he had been wavering before as
to what he should do, which had often seemed likely,
the advice and entreaty of so near a relation might
settle every doubt, and determine him at once to be
as happy as dignity unblemished could make him. 
In that case he would return no more.  Lady Catherine
might see him in her way through town; and his engagement
to Bingley of coming again to Netherfield must give
way.

“If, therefore, an excuse for
not keeping his promise should come to his friend
within a few days,” she added, “I shall
know how to understand it.  I shall then give
over every expectation, every wish of his constancy. 
If he is satisfied with only regretting me, when he
might have obtained my affections and hand, I shall
soon cease to regret him at all.”

The surprise of the rest of the family,
on hearing who their visitor had been, was very great;
but they obligingly satisfied it, with the same kind
of supposition which had appeased Mrs. Bennet’s
curiosity; and Elizabeth was spared from much teasing
on the subject.

The next morning, as she was going
downstairs, she was met by her father, who came out
of his library with a letter in his hand.

“Lizzy,” said he, “I
was going to look for you; come into my room.”

She followed him thither; and her
curiosity to know what he had to tell her was heightened
by the supposition of its being in some manner connected
with the letter he held.  It suddenly struck her
that it might be from Lady Catherine; and she anticipated
with dismay all the consequent explanations.

She followed her father to the fire
place, and they both sat down.  He then said,

“I have received a letter this
morning that has astonished me exceedingly.  As
it principally concerns yourself, you ought to know
its contents.  I did not know before, that I had
two daughters on the brink of matrimony.  Let
me congratulate you on a very important conquest.”

The colour now rushed into Elizabeth’s
cheeks in the instantaneous conviction of its being
a letter from the nephew, instead of the aunt; and
she was undetermined whether most to be pleased that
he explained himself at all, or offended that his
letter was not rather addressed to herself; when her
father continued: 

“You look conscious.  Young
ladies have great penetration in such matters as these;
but I think I may defy even your sagacity, to
discover the name of your admirer.  This letter
is from Mr. Collins.”

“From Mr. Collins! and what can he have
to say?”

“Something very much to the
purpose of course.  He begins with congratulations
on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter,
of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the
good-natured, gossiping Lucases.  I shall not
sport with your impatience, by reading what he says
on that point.  What relates to yourself, is as
follows:  ’Having thus offered you the sincere
congratulations of Mrs. Collins and myself on this
happy event, let me now add a short hint on the subject
of another; of which we have been advertised by the
same authority.  Your daughter Elizabeth, it is
presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet, after
her elder sister has resigned it, and the chosen partner
of her fate may be reasonably looked up to as one
of the most illustrious personages in this land.’

“Can you possibly guess, Lizzy,
who is meant by this?” ’This young gentleman
is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the
heart of mortal can most desire, ­splendid
property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. 
Yet in spite of all these temptations, let me warn
my cousin Elizabeth, and yourself, of what evils you
may incur by a precipitate closure with this gentleman’s
proposals, which, of course, you will be inclined
to take immediate advantage of.’

“Have you any idea, Lizzy, who
this gentleman is?  But now it comes out: 

“’My motive for cautioning
you is as follows.  We have reason to imagine
that his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look
on the match with a friendly eye.’

Mr. Darcy, you see,
is the man!  Now, Lizzy, I think I have
surprised you.  Could he, or the Lucases, have
pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance,
whose name would have given the lie more effectually
to what they related?  Mr. Darcy, who never looks
at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably
never looked at you in his life!  It is admirable!”

Elizabeth tried to join in her father’s
pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant
smile.  Never had his wit been directed in a manner
so little agreeable to her.

“Are you not diverted?”

“Oh! yes.  Pray read on.”

“’After mentioning the
likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night,
she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed
what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent,
that on the score of some family objections on the
part of my cousin, she would never give her consent
to what she termed so disgraceful a match.  I thought
it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this
to my cousin, that she and her noble admirer may be
aware of what they are about, and not run hastily
into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.’ 
Mr. Collins moreover adds, ’I am truly rejoiced
that my cousin Lydia’s sad business has been
so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their
living together before the marriage took place should
be so generally known.  I must not, however, neglect
the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring
my amazement at hearing that you received the young
couple into your house as soon as they were married. 
It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the
rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have
opposed it.  You ought certainly to forgive them,
as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight,
or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.’ 
That is his notion of Christian forgiveness! 
The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte’s
situation, and his expectation of a young olive-branch. 
But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. 
You are not going to be missish, I hope, and
pretend to be affronted at an idle report.  For
what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours,
and laugh at them in our turn?”

“Oh!” cried Elizabeth,
“I am excessively diverted.  But it is so
strange!”

“Yes ­that
is what makes it amusing.  Had they fixed on any
other man it would have been nothing; but his
perfect indifference, and your pointed dislike,
make it so delightfully absurd!  Much as I abominate
writing, I would not give up Mr. Collins’s correspondence
for any consideration.  Nay, when I read a letter
of his, I cannot help giving him the preference even
over Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy
of my son-in-law.  And pray, Lizzy, what said Lady
Catherine about this report?  Did she call to
refuse her consent?”

To this question his daughter replied
only with a laugh; and as it had been asked without
the least suspicion, she was not distressed by his
repeating it.  Elizabeth had never been more at
a loss to make her feelings appear what they were
not.  It was necessary to laugh, when she would
rather have cried.  Her father had most cruelly
mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s
indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder
at such a want of penetration, or fear that perhaps,
instead of his seeing too little, she might have fancied
too much.

 

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