But of this answer Lydia heard not a word. She seldom listened to any body for
more than half a minute, and never attended to Mary at all.
In the afternoon Lydia was urgent with the rest of the girls to walk to Meryton,
and see how every body went on; but Elizabeth steadily opposed the scheme. It should
not be said, that the Miss Bennets could not be at home half a day before they were
in pursuit of the officers. There was another reason too, for her opposition. She
dreaded seeing Wickham again, and was resolved to avoid it as long as possible.
The comfort to her of the regiment's approaching removal was indeed beyond expression.
In a fortnight they were to go, and once gone, she hoped there could be nothing
more to plague her on his account.
She had not been many hours at home, before she found that the Brighton scheme,
of which Lydia had given them a hint at the inn, was under frequent discussion between
Elizabeth saw directly that her father had not the smallest intention of yielding;
but his answers were at the same time so vague and equivocal, that her mother, though
often disheartened, had never yet despaired of succeeding at last.
<CHAPTER XVII (40)>
ELIZABETH'S impatience to acquaint Jane with what had happened could no longer
be overcome; and at length resolving to suppress every particular in which her sister
was concerned, and preparing her to be surprised, she related to her the next morning
the chief of the scene between Mr. Darcy and herself.
Miss Bennet's astonishment was soon lessened by the strong sisterly partiality
which made any admiration of Elizabeth appear perfectly natural; and all surprise
was shortly lost in other feelings. She was sorry that Mr. Darcy should have delivered
his sentiments in a manner so little suited to recommend them; but still more was
she grieved for the unhappiness which her sister's refusal must have given him.
"His being so sure of succeeding, was wrong," said she; "and certainly ought
not to have appeared; but consider how much it must increase his disappointment."
"Indeed," replied Elizabeth, "I am heartily sorry for him; but he has other feelings
which will probably soon drive away his regard for me. You do not blame me, however,
for refusing him?"
"Blame you! Oh, no."
"But you blame me for having spoken so warmly of Wickham."
"No -- I do not know that you were wrong in saying what you did."
"But you will know it, when I have told you what happened the very next day."
She then spoke of the letter, repeating the whole of its contents as far as they
concerned George Wickham. What a stroke was this for poor Jane! who would willingly
have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in
the whole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual. Nor was Darcy's
vindication, though grateful to her feelings, capable of consoling her for such
Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to
clear one without involving the other.
"This will not do," said Elizabeth. "You never will be able to make both of them
good for any thing. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There
is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort
of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined
to believe it all Mr. Darcy's, but you shall do as you chuse."
It was some time, however, before a smile could be extorted from Jane.
"I do not know when I have been more shocked," said she.
"Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Mr.
Darcy! dear Lizzy, only consider what he must have suffered.
Such a disappointment! and with the knowledge of your ill opinion too! and having
to relate such a thing of his sister! It is really too distressing. I am sure you
must feel it so."
"Oh! no, my regret and compassion are all done away by seeing you so full of
both. I know you will do him such ample justice, that I am growing every moment
more unconcerned and indifferent. Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament
over him much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather."
"Poor Wickham; there is such an expression of goodness in his countenance! such
an openness and gentleness in his manner."
"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young
men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it."
"I never thought Mr. Darcy so deficient in the appearance of it as you used
"And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him,
without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit to
have a dislike of that kind.
One may be continually abusive without saying any thing just; but one cannot
be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty."
"Lizzy when you first read that letter, I am sure you could not treat the matter
as you do now."
"Indeed I could not. I was uncomfortable enough. I was very uncomfortable, I
may say unhappy. And with no one to speak to of what I felt, no Jane to comfort
me and say that I had not been so very weak and vain and nonsensical as I knew I
had! Oh! how I wanted you!"
"How unfortunate that you should have used such very strong expressions in speaking
of Wickham to Mr. Darcy, for now they do appear wholly undeserved."
"Certainly. But the misfortune of speaking with bitterness is a most natural
consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging. There is one point on which
I want your advice.
I want to be told whether I ought, or ought not, to make our acquaintance in
general understand Wickham's character."
Miss Bennet paused a little and then replied, "Surely there can be no occasion
for exposing him so dreadfully. What is your own opinion?"
"That it ought not to be attempted. Mr. Darcy has not authorised me to make his
communication public. On the contrary, every particular relative to his sister was
meant to be kept as much as possible to myself; and if I endeavour to undeceive
people as to the rest of his conduct, who will believe me? The general prejudice
against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people
in Meryton to attempt to place him in an amiable light. I am not equal to it. Wickham
will soon be gone; and therefore it will not signify to anybody here, what he really
is. Sometime hence it will be all found out, and then we may laugh at their stupidity
in not knowing it before. At present I will say nothing about it."
"You are quite right. To have his errors made public might ruin him for ever.
He is now perhaps sorry for what he has done, and anxious to re-establish a character.
We must not make him desperate."
The tumult of Elizabeth's mind was allayed by this conversation. She had got
rid of two of the secrets which had weighed on her for a fortnight, and was certain
of a willing listener in Jane, whenever she might wish to talk again of either.
But there was still something lurking behind, of which prudence forbad the disclosure.
She dared not relate the other half of Mr. Darcy's letter, nor explain to her sister
how sincerely she had been valued by his friend. Here was knowledge in which no
one could partake; and she was sensible that nothing less than a perfect understanding
between the parties could justify her in throwing off this last incumbrance of mystery.
"And then," said she, "if that very improbable event should ever take place, I shall
merely be able to tell what Bingley may tell in a much more agreeable manner himself.
The liberty of communication cannot be mine till it has lost all its value!"
She was now, on being settled at home, at leisure to observe the real state of
her sister's spirits. Jane was not happy.
She still cherished a very tender affection for Bingley.
Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth
of first attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than
first attachments often boast; and so fervently did she value his remembrance, and
prefer him to every other man, that all her good sense, and all her attention to
the feelings of her friends, were requisite to check the indulgence of those regrets
which must have been injurious to her own health and their tranquillity.
"Well, Lizzy," said Mrs. Bennet one day, "what is your opinion now of this
sad business of Jane's? For my part, I am determined never to speak of it again
to anybody. I told my sister Philips so the other day. But I cannot find out that
Jane saw any thing of him in London. Well, he is a very undeserving young man --
and I do not suppose there is the least chance in the world of her ever getting
him now. There is no talk of his coming to Netherfield again in the summer; and
I have enquired of every body, too, who is likely to know."
"I do not believe that he will ever live at Netherfield any more."
"Oh, well! it is just as he chooses. Nobody wants him to come. Though I shall
always say that he used my daughter extremely ill; and if I was her, I would not
have put up with it. Well, my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart,
and then he will be sorry for what he has done."