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CHAPTER 57

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
every body 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 intreaty 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
teazing on the subject.

The next morning, as she was going down stairs, 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
become 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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