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Chapter 7

Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate of
two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was
entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their
mother's fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could
but ill supply the deficiency of his. Her father had been an
attorney in Meryton, and had left her four thousand pounds.

She had a sister married to a Mr. Phillips, who had been a clerk
to their father and succeeded him in the business, and a brother
settled in London in a respectable line of trade.

The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a
most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually
tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to
their aunt and to a milliner's shop just over the way. The two
youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly
frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than
their sisters', and when nothing better offered, a walk to
Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours and
furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news
the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn
some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were well
supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of
a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the
whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.

Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were now productive of the most
interesting intelligence. Every day added something to their
knowledge of the officers' names and connections. Their
lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to
know the officers themselves. Mr. Phillips visited them all, and
this opened to his nieces a store of felicity unknown before.
They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley's large
fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother,
was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of
an ensign.

After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr.
Bennet coolly observed:

"From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must
be two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected it
some time, but I am now convinced."

Catherine was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lydia,
with perfect indifference, continued to express her admiration of
Captain Carter, and her hope of seeing him in the course of the
day, as he was going the next morning to London.

"I am astonished, my dear," said Mrs. Bennet, "that you should
be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think
slightingly of anybody's children, it should not be of my own,
however."

"If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it."

"Yes-- but as it happens, they are all of them very clever."

"This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not
agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every
particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two
youngest daughters uncommonly foolish."

"My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have
the sense of their father and mother. When they get to our age, I
dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do.
I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well--
and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young
colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my
girls I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster
looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his
regimentals."

"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster and
Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did
when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in
Clarke's library."

Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the
footman with a note for Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield,
and the servant waited for an answer. Mrs. Bennet's eyes
sparkled with pleasure, and she was eagerly calling out, while
her daughter read:

"Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he
say? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love."

"It is from Miss Bingley," said Jane, and then read it aloud.

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--
"If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with
Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for
the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tete-a-tete between two
women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you
can on receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine
with the officers.-- Yours ever,
"CAROLINE BINGLEY"

"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tell
us of THAT."

"Dining out," said Mrs. Bennet, "that is very unlucky."

"Can I have the carriage?" said Jane.

"No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems
likely to rain; and then you must stay all night."

"That would be a good scheme," said Elizabeth, "if you were
sure that they would not offer to send her home."

"Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to
Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs."

"I had much rather go in the coach."

"But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure.
They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet, are they not?

"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them."

"But if you have got them to-day," said Elizabeth, "my mother's
purpose will be answered."

She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that
the horses were engaged; Jane was therefore obliged to go on
horseback, and her mother attended her to the door with many
cheerful prognostics of a bad day. Her hopes were answered;
Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters
were uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted. The rain
continued the whole evening without intermission; Jane certainly
could not some back.

"This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!" said Mrs. Bennet more
than once, as if the credit of making it rain were all her own. Till
the next morning, however, she was not aware of all the felicity
of her contrivance. Breakfast was scarcely over when a servant
from Netherfield brought the following note for Elizabeth:

"MY DEAREST LIZZY,--
"I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I
suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday.
My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better.
They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones-- therefore do not be
alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me-- and,
excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the
matter with me.-- Yours, etc."

"Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the
note aloud, "if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of
illness-- if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it
was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders."

"Oh! I am not afraid of her dying. People do not die of little
trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long as she
stays there, it is all very well. I would go an see her if I could
have the carriage."

Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her,
though the carriage was not to be had; and as she was no
horsewoman, walking was her only alternative. She declared her
resolution.

"How can you be so silly," cried her mother, "as to think of such
a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you
get there."

"I shall be very fit to see Jane-- which is all I want."

"Is this a hint to me, Lizzy," said her father, "to send for the horses?"

"No, indeed, I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is
nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back
by dinner."

"I admire the activity of your benevolence," observed Mary, "but
every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my
opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is
required."

"We will go as far as Meryton with you," said Catherine and
Lydia. Elizabeth accepted their company, and the three young
ladies set off together.

"If we make haste," said Lydia, as they walked along, "perhaps
we may see something of Captain Carter before he goes."

"In Meryton they parted; the two youngest repaired to the
lodgings of one of the officers' wives, and Elizabeth continued
her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping
over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity,
and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary
ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of
exercise.

She was shown into the breakfast-parlour, where all but Jane
were assembled, and where her appearance created a great deal
of surprise. That she should have walked three miles so early in
the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost
incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was
convinced that they held her in contempt for it. She was
received, however, very politely by them; and in their brother's
manners there was something better than politeness; there was
good humour and kindness. Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr.
Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between
admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her
complexion, and doubt as to the occasion's justifying her coming
so far alone. The latter was thinking only of his breakfast.

Her inquiries after her sister were not very favourably answered.
Miss Bennet had slept ill, and though up, was very feverish, and
not well enough to leave her room. Elizabeth was glad to be
taken to her immediately; and Jane, who had only been withheld
by the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience from expressing in
her note how much she longed for such a visit, was delighted at
her entrance. She was not equal, however, to much
conversation, and when Miss Bingley left them together, could
attempt little besides expressions of gratitude for the
extraordinary kindness she was treated with. Elizabeth silently
attended her.

When breakfast was over they were joined by the sisters; and
Elizabeth began to like them herself, when she saw how much
affection and solicitude they showed for Jane. The apothecary
came, and having examined his patient, said, as might be
supposed, that she had caught a violent cold, and that they must
endeavour to get the better of it; advised her to return to bed,
and promised her some draughts. The advice was followed
readily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and her head ached
acutely. Elizabeth did not quit her room for a moment; nor were
the other ladies often absent; the gentlemen being out, they had,
in fact, nothing to do elsewhere.

When the clock struck three, Elizabeth felt that she must go, and
very unwillingly said so. Miss Bingley offered her the carriage,
and she only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane
testified such concern in parting with her, that Miss Bingley was
obliged to convert the offer of the chaise to an invitation to
remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth most thankfully
consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to
acquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply of
clothes.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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