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CHAPTER 53

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 any thing 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 enquiring of her how Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner did, a
question which she could not answer without confusion, said
scarcely any thing. 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 he 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 any one but himself;
and to him she had hardly courage to speak.

She enquired 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.

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 any thing. 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 any thing 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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