Her daughters listened in silence to this effusion, sensible that any attempt
to reason with or sooth her would only increase the irritation. She talked on, therefore,
without interruption from any of them till they were joined by Mr.
Collins, who entered with an air more stately than usual, and on perceiving whom,
she said to the girls, "Now, I do insist upon it, that you, all of you, hold your
tongues, and let Mr. Collins and me have a little conversation together."
Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kitty followed, but Lydia
stood her ground, determined to hear all she could; and Charlotte, detained first
by the civility of Mr. Collins, whose inquiries after herself and all her family
were very minute, and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking
to the window and pretending not to hear.
In a doleful voice Mrs. Bennet thus began the projected conversation. -- "Oh!
Mr. Collins!" -- "My dear Madam," replied he, "let us be for ever silent on this
point. Far be it from me," he presently continued, in a voice that marked his displeasure,
"to resent the behaviour of your daughter. Resignation to inevitable evils is the
duty of us all; the peculiar duty of a young man who has been so fortunate as I
have been in early preferment; and I trust I am resigned.
Perhaps not the less so from feeling a doubt of my positive happiness had my
fair cousin honoured me with her hand; for I have often observed that resignation
is never so perfect as when the blessing denied begins to lose somewhat of its value
in our estimation. You will not, I hope, consider me as shewing any disrespect to
your family, my dear Madam, by thus withdrawing my pretensions to your daughter's
favour, without having paid yourself and Mr. Bennet the compliment of requesting
you to interpose your authority in my behalf. My conduct may, I fear, be objectionable
in having accepted my dismission from your daughter's lips instead of your own.
But we are all liable to error. I have certainly meant well through the whole affair.
My object has been to secure an amiable companion for myself, with due consideration
for the advantage of all your family, and if my manner has been at all reprehensible,
I here beg leave to apologise."
<CHAPTER XXI (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 allusion 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 still meant to
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 every body 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
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, and was opened immediately. 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 his companion taken leave, than a glance from Jane invited her to follow
her up stairs. When they had gained their own room, Jane taking out the 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 that day in Grosvenor street, where Mr. Hurst had a house. The next was
in these words. "I do not pretend to regret any thing I shall leave in Hertfordshire,
except your society, my dearest friend; but we will hope at some future period,
to enjoy many returns of the delightful intercourse we have known, and in the mean
while may lessen the pain of separation by a very frequent and most unreserved correspondence.
I depend on you for that." To these high flown 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 soon 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 acquaintance are already there for the winter; I wish I could hear that you,
my dearest friend, had any intention of making one in the croud, 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 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 to 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 think you 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?"