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Chapter 21

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 he companion taken leave, than a glance from Jane
invited her to follow her upstairs. When they had gained their
own room, Jane, taking out her 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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