Darcy; or at least, by the predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors,
under which she would endeavour to class what Mr. Darcy had described as the idleness
and vice of many years continuance. But no such recollection befriended her.
She could see him instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but
she could remember no more substantial good than the general approbation of the
neighbourhood, and the regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess.
After pausing on this point a considerable while, she once more continued to
read. But, alas! the story which followed, of his designs on Miss Darcy, received
some confirmation from what had passed between Colonel Fitzwilliam and herself only
the morning before; and at last she was referred for the truth of every particular
to Colonel Fitzwilliam himself -- from whom she had previously received the information
of his near concern in all his cousin's affairs, and whose character she had no
reason to question. At one time she had almost resolved on applying to him, but
the idea was checked by the awkwardness of the application, and at length wholly
banished by the conviction that Mr. Darcy would never have hazarded such a proposal
if he had not been well assured of his cousin's corroboration.
She perfectly remembered every thing that had passed in conversation between
Wickham and herself in their first evening at Mr. Philips's. Many of his expressions
were still fresh in her memory. She was now struck with the impropriety of such
communications to a stranger, and wondered it had escaped her before. She saw the
indelicacy of putting himself forward as he had done, and the inconsistency of his
professions with his conduct. She remembered that he had boasted of having no fear
of seeing Mr. Darcy -- that Mr. Darcy might leave the country, but that he should
stand his ground; yet he had avoided the Netherfield ball the very next week. She
remembered also, that till the Netherfield family had quitted the country, he had
told his story to no one but herself; but that after their removal, it had been
every where discussed; that he had then no reserves, no scruples in sinking Mr.
Darcy's character, though he had assured her that respect for the father would always
prevent his exposing the son.
How differently did every thing now appear in which he was concerned! His attentions
to Miss King were now the consequence of views solely and hatefully mercenary; and
the mediocrity of her fortune proved no longer the moderation of his wishes, but
his eagerness to grasp at any thing. His behaviour to herself could now have had
no tolerable motive; he had either been deceived with regard to her fortune, or
had been gratifying his vanity by encouraging the preference which she believed
she had most incautiously shewn. Every lingering struggle in his favour grew fainter
and fainter; and in farther justification of Mr. Darcy, she could not but allow
that Mr. Bingley, when questioned by Jane, had long ago asserted his blamelessness
in the affair; that, proud and repulsive as were his manners, she had never, in
the whole course of their acquaintance -- an acquaintance which had latterly brought
them much together, and given her a sort of intimacy with his ways -- seen any thing
that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust -- any thing that spoke him of irreligious
or immoral habits. That among his own connections he was esteemed and valued --
that even Wickham had allowed him merit as a brother, and that she had often heard
him speak so affectionately of his sister as to prove him capable of some amiable
feeling. That had his actions been what Wickham represented them, so gross a violation
of every thing right could hardly have been concealed from the world; and that friendship
between a person capable of it, and such an amiable man as Mr. Bingley, was incomprehensible.
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. -- Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could
she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried. -- "I, who have prided myself on my
discernment! -- I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained
the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable
distrust. -- How humiliating is this discovery! -- Yet, how just a humiliation!
-- Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity,
not love, has been my folly. -- Pleased with the preference of one, and offended
by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted
prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned.
Till this moment, I never knew myself."
From herself to Jane -- from Jane to Bingley, her thoughts were in a line which
soon brought to her recollection that Mr. Darcy's explanation there had appeared
very insufficient; and she read it again. Widely different was the effect of a second
perusal. -- How could she deny that credit to his assertions, in one instance, which
she had been obliged to give in the other? -- He declared himself to have been totally
unsuspicious of her sister's attachment; -- and she could not help remembering what
Charlotte's opinion had always been.
-- Neither could she deny the justice of his description of Jane. -- She felt
that Jane's feelings, though fervent, were little displayed, and that there was
a constant complacency in her air and manner not often united with great sensibility.
When she came to that part of the letter in which her family were mentioned,
in terms of such mortifying yet merited reproach, her sense of shame was severe.
The justice of the charge struck her too forcibly for denial, and the circumstances
to which he particularly alluded, as having passed at the Netherfield ball, and
as confirming all his first disapprobation, could not have made a stronger impression
on his mind than on hers. The compliment to herself and her sister was not unfelt.
It soothed, but it could not console her for the contempt which had been thus self-attracted
by the rest of her family; -- and as she considered that Jane's disappointment had
in fact been the work of her nearest relations, and reflected how materially the
credit of both must be hurt by such impropriety of conduct, she felt depressed beyond
any thing she had ever known before.
After wandering along the lane for two hours, giving way to every variety of
thought; re-considering events, determining probabilities, and reconciling herself,
as well as she could, to a change so sudden and so important, fatigue, and a recollection
of her long absence made her at length return home; and she entered the house with
the wish of appearing cheerful as usual, and the resolution of repressing such reflections
as must make her unfit for conversation.
She was immediately told, that the two gentlemen from Rosings had each called
during her absence; Mr. Darcy, only for a few minutes to take leave, but that Colonel
Fitzwilliam had been sitting with them at least an hour, hoping for her return,
and almost resolving to walk after her till she could be found. -- Elizabeth could
but just affect concern in missing him; she really rejoiced at it. Colonel Fitzwilliam
was no longer an object. She could think only of her letter.
<CHAPTER XIV (37)>
THE two gentlemen left Rosings the next morning; and Mr.
Collins having been in waiting near the lodges, to make them his parting obeisance,
was able to bring home the pleasing intelligence of their appearing in very good
health, and in as tolerable spirits as could be expected, after the melancholy scene
so lately gone through at Rosings. To Rosings he then hastened to console Lady Catherine
and her daughter; and on his return brought back, with great satisfaction, a message
from her ladyship, importing that she felt herself so dull as to make her very desirous
of having them all to dine with her.
Elizabeth could not see Lady Catherine without recollecting that, had she chosen
it, she might by this time have been presented to her as her future niece; nor could
she think, without a smile, of what her ladyship's indignation would have been.
"What would she have said? -- how would she have behaved?" were questions with which
she amused herself.
Their first subject was the diminution of the Rosings party.
-- "I assure you, I feel it exceedingly," said Lady Catherine; "I believe nobody
feels the loss of friends so much as I do.
But I am particularly attached to these young men; and know them to be so much
attached to me! -- They were excessively sorry to go! But so they always are. The
dear colonel rallied his spirits tolerably till just at last; but Darcy seemed to
feel it most acutely, more I think than last year. His attachment to Rosings, certainly
Mr. Collins had a compliment, and an allusion to throw in here, which were kindly
smiled on by the mother and daughter.
Lady Catherine observed, after dinner, that Miss Bennet seemed out of spirits;
and immediately accounting for it herself, by supposing that she did not like to
go home again so soon, she added, "But if that is the case, you must write to your
mother to beg that you may stay a little longer. Mrs. Collins will be very glad
of your company, I am sure."
"I am much obliged to your ladyship for your kind invitation,"
replied Elizabeth, "but it is not in my power to accept it. -- I must be in town
"Why, at that rate, you will have been here only six weeks.