"If you believed it impossible to be true," said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment
and disdain, "I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship
propose by it?"
"At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted."
"Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family," said Elizabeth coolly, "will
be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence."
"If! Do you then pretend to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously
circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?"
"I never heard that it was."
"And can you likewise declare, that there is no foundation for it?"
"I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask
questions which I shall not choose to answer."
"This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has
my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?"
"Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible."
"It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But
your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget
what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in."
"If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it."
"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language
as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to
know all his dearest concerns."
"But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever
induce me to be explicit."
"Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption
to aspire, can never take place. No, never.
Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?"
"Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make
an offer to me."
Lady Catherine hesitated for a moment, and then replied, "The engagement between
them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each
other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of her's. While in
their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both
sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman
of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family!
Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends?
To his tacit engagement with Miss De Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of
propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he
was destined for his cousin?"
"Yes, and I had heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other
objection to my marrying your nephew, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing
that his mother and aunt wished him to marry Miss De Bourgh. You both did as much
as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion depended on others. If Mr.
Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he
to make another choice?
And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?"
"Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it.
Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or
friends, if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured,
slighted, and despised, by every one connected with him. Your alliance will be a
disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us."
"These are heavy misfortunes," replied Elizabeth. "But the wife of Mr. Darcy
must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation,
that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine."
"Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for
my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit
down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution
of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to
submit to any person's whims.
I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment."
"That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable; but it
will have no effect on me."
"I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are
formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble
line; and, on the father's, from respectable, honourable, and ancient -- though
untitled -- families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid.
They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective
houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without
family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not
be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere
in which you have been brought up."
"In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere.
He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal."
"True. You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your
uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew does not object
to them, they can be nothing to you."
"Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?"
Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine,
have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment's deliberation,
"I am not."
Lady Catherine seemed pleased.
"And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?"
"I will make no promise of the kind."
"Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable
young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede.
I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require."
"And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything
so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but
would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable?
Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him
wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments
with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous
as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you
think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these.
How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot
tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore,
to be importuned no farther on the subject."
"Not so hasty, if you please. I have by no means done.
To all the objections I have already urged, I have still another to add. I am
no stranger to the particulars of your youngest sister's infamous elopement. I know
it all; that the young man's marrying her was a patched-up business, at the expence
of your father and uncles. And is such a girl to be my nephew's sister? Is her
husband, is the son of his late father's steward, to be his brother? Heaven and
earth! -- of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"
"You can now have nothing farther to say," she resentfully answered. "You have
insulted me in every possible method.
I must beg to return to the house."
And she rose as she spoke. Lady Catherine rose also, and they turned back. Her
ladyship was highly incensed.
"You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling,
selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in
the eyes of everybody?"
"Lady Catherine, I have nothing farther to say. You know my sentiments."
"You are then resolved to have him?"
"I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will,
in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any
person so wholly unconnected with me."
"It is well. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of
duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all
his friends, and make him the contempt of the world."
"Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude," replied Elizabeth, "have any possible
claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by
my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family, or
the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it
would not give me one moment's concern -- and the world in general would have too
much sense to join in the scorn."
"And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall
now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be
gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it,
I will carry my point."
In this manner Lady Catherine talked on, till they were at the door of the carriage,
when, turning hastily round, she added, "I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I
send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously