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Chapter 26

Mrs. Gardiner's caution to Elizabeth was punctually and kindly
given on the first favourable opportunity of speaking to her
alone; after honestly telling her what she thought, she thus went
on:

"You are too sensible a girl, Lizzy, to fall in love merely because
you are warned against it; and, therefore, I am not afraid of
speaking openly. Seriously, I would have you be on your guard.
Do not involve yourself or endeavour to involve him in an
affection which the want of fortune would make so very
imprudent. I have nothing to say against HIM; he is a most
interesting young man; and if he had the fortune he ought to
have, I should think you could not do better. But as it is, you
must not let your fancy run away with you. You have sense, and
we all expect you to use it. Your father would depend on
YOUR resolution and good conduct, I am sure. You must not
disappoint your father."

"My dear aunt, this is being serious indeed."

"Yes, and I hope to engage you to be serious likewise."

"Well, then, you need not be under any alarm. I will take care of
myself, and of Mr. Wickham too. He shall not be in love with
me, if I can prevent it."

"Elizabeth, you are not serious now."

"I beg your pardon, I will try again. At present I am not in love
with Mr. Wickham; no, I certainly am not. But he is, beyond all
comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw-- and if he
becomes really attached to me-- I believe it will be better that he
should not. I see the imprudence of it. Oh! THAT abominable
Mr. Darcy! My father's opinion of me does me the greatest
honour, and I should be miserable to forfeit it. My father,
however, is partial to Mr. Wickham. In short, my dear aunt, I
should be very sorry to be the means of making any of you
unhappy; but since we see every day that where there is
affection, young people are seldom withheld by immediate want
of fortune from entering into engagements with each other, how
can I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow-creatures if
I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would be
wisdom to resist? All that I can promise you, therefore, is not
to be in a hurry. I will not be in a hurry to believe myself his first
object. When I am in company with him, I will not be wishing.
In short, I will do my best."

"Perhaps it will be as well if you discourage his coming here so
very often. At least, you should not REMIND you mother of
inviting him."

"As I did the other day," said Elizabeth with a conscious smile:
"very true, it will be wise in me to refrain from THAT. But do
not imagine that he is always here so often. It is on your
account that he has been so frequently invited this week. You
know my mother's ideas as to the necessity of constant company
for her friends. But really, and upon my honour, I will try to do
what I think to be the wisest; and now I hope you are satisfied."

Her aunt assured her that she was, and Elizabeth having thanked
her for the kindness of her hints, they parted; a wonderful
instance of advice being given on such a point, without being
resented.

Mr. Collins returned into Hertfordshire soon after it had been
quitted by the Gardiners and Jane; but as he took up his abode
with the Lucases, his arrival was no great inconvenience to Mrs.
Bennet. His marriage was now fast approaching, and she was at
length so far resigned as to think it inevitable, and even
repeatedly to say, in an ill-natured tone, that she "WISHED they
might be happy." Thursday was to be the wedding day, and on
Wednesday Miss Lucas paid her farewell visit; and when she
rose to take leave, Elizabeth, ashamed of her mother's
ungracious and reluctant good wishes, and sincerely affected
herself, accompanied her out of the room. As they went
downstairs together, Charlotte said:

"I shall depend on hearing from you very often, Eliza."

"THAT you certainly shall."

"And I have another favour to ask you. Will you come and see
me?"

"We shall often meet, I hope, in Hertfordshire."

"I am not likely to leave Kent for some time. Promise me,
therefore, to come to Hunsford."

Elizabeth could not refuse, though she foresaw little pleasure in
the visit.

"My father and Maria are coming to me in March," added
Charlotte, "and I hope you will consent to be of the party.
Indeed, Eliza, you will be as welcome as either of them."

The wedding took place: the bride and bridegroom set off for
Kent from the church door, and everybody had as much to say,
or to hear, on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard from
her friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequent
as it had ever been; that it should be equally unreserved was
impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling
that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and though determined
not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what
had been, rather than what was. Charlotte's first letters were
received with a good deal of eagerness; there could not but be
curiosity to know how she would speak of her new home, how
she would like Lady Catherine, and how happy she would dare
pronounce herself to be; though, when the letters were read,
Elizabeth felt that Charlotte expressed herself on every point
exactly as she might have foreseen. She wrote cheerfully,
seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing which
she could not praise. The house, furniture, neighbourhood, and
roads, were all to her taste, and Lady Catherine's behaviour was
most friendly and obliging. It was Mr. Collins's picture of
Hunsford and Rosings rationally softened; and Elizabeth
perceived that she must wait for her own visit there to know the
rest.

Jane had already written a few lines to her sister to announce
their safe arrival in London; and when she wrote again, Elizabeth
hoped it would be in her power to say something of the
Bingleys.

Her impatience for this second letter was as well rewarded as
impatience generally is. Jane had been a week in town without
either seeing or hearing from Caroline. She accounted for it,
however, by supposing that her last letter to her friend from
Longbourn had by some accident been lost.

"My aunt," she continued, "is going to-morrow into that part of
the town, and I shall take the opportunity of calling in Grosvenor
Street."

She wrote again when the visit was paid, and she had seen Miss
Bingley. "I did not think Caroline in spirits," were her words,
"but she was very glad to see me, and reproached me for giving
her no notice of my coming to London. I was right, therefore,
my last letter had never reached her. I inquired after their
brother, of course. He was well, but so much engaged with Mr.
Darcy that they scarcely ever saw him. I found that Miss Darcy
was expected to dinner. I wish I could see her. My visit was
not long, as Caroline and Mrs. Hurst were going out. I dare say
I shall see them soon here."

Elizabeth shook her head over this letter. It convinced her that
accident only could discover to Mr. Bingley her sister's being in
town.

Four weeks passed away, and Jane saw nothing of him. She
endeavoured to persuade herself that she did not regret it; but
she could no longer be blind to Miss Bingley's inattention. After
waiting at home every morning for a fortnight, and inventing
every evening a fresh excuse for her, the visitor did at last
appear; but the shortness of her stay, and yet more, the alteration
of her manner would allow Jane to deceive herself no longer.
The letter which she wrote on this occasion to her sister will
prove what she felt.

"My dearest Lizzy will, I am sure, be incapable of triumphing in
her better judgement, at my expense, when I confess myself to
have been entirely deceived in Miss Bingley's regard for me.
But, my dear sister, though the event has proved you right, do
not think me obstinate if I still assert that, considering what her
behaviour was, my confidence was as natural as your suspicion.
I do not at all comprehend her reason for wishing to be intimate
with me; but if the same circumstances were to happen again, I
am sure I should be deceived again. Caroline did not return my
visit till yesterday; and not a note, not a line, did I receive in the
meantime. When she did come, it was very evident that she had
no pleasure in it; she made a slight, formal apology, for not
calling before, said not a word of wishing to see me again, and
was in every respect so altered a creature, that when she went
away I was perfectly resolved to continue the acquaintance no
longer. I pity, though I cannot help blaming her. She was very
wrong in singling me out as she did; I can safely say that every
advance to intimacy began on her side. But I pity her, because
she must feel that she has been acting wrong, and because I am
very sure that anxiety for her brother is the cause of it. I need
not explain myself farther; and though WE know this anxiety to
be quite needless, yet if she feels it, it will easily account for her
behaviour to me; and so deservedly dear as he is to his sister,
whatever anxiety she must feel on his behalf is natural and
amiable. I cannot but wonder, however, at her having any such
fears now, because, if he had at all cared about me, we must
have met, long ago. He knows of my being in town, I am
certain, from something she said herself; and yet it would seem,
by her manner of talking, as if she wanted to persuade herself
that he is really partial to Miss Darcy. I cannot understand it. If
I were not afraid of judging harshly, I should be almost tempted
to say that there is a strong appearance of duplicity in all this.
But I will endeavour to banish every painful thought, and think
only of what will make me happy-- your affection, and the
invariable kindness of my dear uncle and aunt. Let me hear from
you very soon. Miss Bingley said something of his never
returning to Netherfield again, of giving up the house, but not
with any certainty. We had better not mention it. I am
extremely glad that you have such pleasant accounts from our
friends at Hunsford. Pray go to see them, with Sir William and
Maria. I am sure you will be very comfortable there.-- Yours,
etc."

This letter gave Elizabeth some pain; but her spirits returned as
she considered that Jane would no longer be duped, by the sister
at least. All expectation from the brother was now absolutely
over. She would not even wish for a renewal of his attentions.
His character sunk on every review of it; and as a punishment for
him, as well as a possible advantage to Jane, she seriously hoped
he might really soon marry Mr. Darcy's sister, as by Wickham's
account, she would make him abundantly regret what he had
thrown away.

Mrs. Gardiner about this time reminded Elizabeth of her promise
concerning that gentleman, and required information; and
Elizabeth had such to send as might rather give contentment to
her aunt than to herself. His apparent partiality had subsided, his
attentions were over, he was the admirer of some one else.
Elizabeth was watchful enough to see it all, but she could see it
and write of it without material pain. Her heart had been but
slightly touched, and her vanity was satisfied with believing that
SHE would have been his only choice, had fortune permitted it.
The sudden acquisition of ten thousand pounds was the
most remarkable charm of the young lady to whom he was now
rendering himself agreeable; but Elizabeth, less clear-sighted
perhaps in this case than in Charlotte's, did not quarrel with him
for his wish of independence. Nothing, on the contrary, could
be more natural; and while able to suppose that it cost him a few
struggle to relinquish her, she was ready to allow it a wise and
desirable measure for both, and could very sincerely wish him
happy.

All this was acknowledged to Mrs. Gardiner; and after relating
the circumstances, she thus went on:-- "I am now convinced, my
dear aunt, that I have never been much in love; for had I really
experiences that pure and elevating passion, I should at present
detest his very name, and wish him all manner of evil. But my
feelings are not only cordial towards HIM; they are even
impartial towards Miss King. I cannot find out that I hate her at
all, or that I am in the least unwilling to think her a very good
sort of girl. There can be no love in all this. My watchfulness
has been effectual; and though I certainly should be a more
interesting object to all my acquaintances were I distractedly in
love with him, I cannot say that I regret my comparative
insignificance. Importance may sometimes be purchased too
dearly. Kitty and Lydia take his defection much more to heart
than I do. They are young in the ways of the world, and not yet
open to the mortifying conviction that handsome young men
must have something to live on as well as the plain."





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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