Pride and Prejudice > Chapter 24
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Pride and Prejudice
- by Jane Austen
Miss Bingley's letter arrived, and put an end to doubt. The very
first sentence conveyed the assurance of their being all settled
in London for the winter, and concluded with her brother's regret
at not having had time to pay his respects to his friends in
Hertfordshire before he left the country.
Hope was over, entirely over; and when Jane could attend to the
rest of the letter, she found little, except the professed affection
of the writer, that could give her any comfort. Miss Darcy's
praise occupied the chief of it. Her many attractions were again
dwelt on, and Caroline boasted joyfully of their increasing
intimacy, and ventured to predict the accomplishment of the
wishes which had been unfolded in her former letter. She wrote
also with great pleasure of her brother's being an inmate of Mr.
Darcy's house, and mentioned with raptures some plans of the
latter with regard to new furniture.
Elizabeth, to whom Jane very soon communicated the chief of
all this, heard it in silent indignation. Her heart was divided
between concern for her sister, and resentment against all others.
To Caroline's assertion of her brother's being partial to Miss
Darcy she paid no credit. That he was really fond of Jane, she
doubted no more than she had ever done; and much as she had
always been disposed to like him, she could not think without
anger, hardly without contempt, on that easiness of temper, that
want of proper resolution, which now made him the slave of his
designing friends, and led him to sacrifice of his own happiness
to the caprice of their inclination. Had his own happiness,
however, been the only sacrifice, he might have been allowed to
sport with it in whatever manner he thought best, but her sister's
was involved in it, as she thought he must be sensible himself.
It was a subject, in short, on which reflection would be long
indulged, and must be unavailing. She could think of nothing
else; and yet whether Bingley's regard had really died away, or
were suppressed by his friends' interference; whether he had
been aware of Jane's attachment, or whether it had escaped his
observation; whatever were the case, though her opinion of him
must be materially affected by the difference, her sister's
situation remained the same, her peace equally wounded.
A day or two passed before Jane had courage to speak of her
feelings to Elizabeth; but at last, on Mrs. Bennet's leaving them
together, after a longer irritation than usual about Netherfield
and its master, she could not help saying:
"Oh, that my dear mother had more command over herself! She
can have no idea of the pain she gives me by her continual
reflections on him. But I will not repine. It cannot last long.
He will be forgot, and we shall all be as we were before."
Elizabeth looked at her sister with incredulous solicitude, but
"You doubt me," cried Jane, slightly colouring; "indeed, you
have no reason. He may live in my memory as the most amiable
man of my acquaintance, but that is all. I have nothing either
to hope or fear, and nothing to reproach him with. Thank God! I
have not that pain. A little time, therefore — I shall certainly
try to get the better."
With a stronger voice she soon added, "I have this comfort
immediately, that it has not been more than an error of fancy on
my side, and that it has done no harm to anyone but myself."
"My dear Jane!" exclaimed Elizabeth, "you are too good. Your
sweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic; I do not know
what to say to you. I feel as if I had never done you justice, or
loved you as you deserve."
Miss Bennet eagerly disclaimed all extraordinary merit, and
threw back the praise on her sister's warm affection.
"Nay," said Elizabeth, "this is not fair. You wish to think all
the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill of anybody. I
only want to think you perfect, and you set yourself against it.
Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroaching
on your privilege of universal good-will. You need not. There
are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think
well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied
with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of
all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be
placed on the appearance of merit or sense. I have met with two
instances lately, one I will not mention; the other is Charlotte's
marriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!"
"My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. They
will ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enough
for difference of situation and temper. Consider Mr. Collins's
respectability, and Charlotte's steady, prudent character.
Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune,
it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, for
everybody's sake, that she may feel something like regard and
esteem for our cousin."
"To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but no
one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I
persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only
think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart.
My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded,
silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel,
as well as I do, that the woman who married him cannot have a
proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is
Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual,
change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to
persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and
insensibility of danger security for happiness."
"I must think your language too strong in speaking of both,"
replied Jane; "and I hope you will be convinced of it by seeing
them happy together. But enough of this. You alluded to
something else. You mentioned two instances. I cannot
misunderstand you, but I entreat you, dear Lizzy, not to pain
me by thinking that person to blame, and saying your opinion
of him is sunk. We must not be so ready to fancy ourselves
intentionally injured. We must not expect a lively young man to
be always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothing
but our own vanity that deceives us. Women fancy admiration
means more than it does."
"And men take care that they should."
"If it is designedly done, they cannot be justified; but I have no
idea of there being so much design in the world as some persons
"I am far from attributing any part of Mr. Bingley's conduct to
design," said Elizabeth; "but without scheming to do wrong, or
to make others unhappy, there may be error, and there may be
misery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to other people's
feelings, and want of resolution, will do the business."
"And do you impute it to either of those?"
"Yes; to the last. But if I go on, I shall displease you by saying
what I think of persons you esteem. Stop me whilst you can."
"You persist, then, in supposing his sisters influence him?"
"Yes, in conjunction with his friend."
"I cannot believe it. Why should they try to influence him?
They can only wish his happiness; and if he is attached to me,
no other woman can secure it."
"Your first position is false. They may wish many things besides
his happiness; they may wish his increase of wealth and
consequence; they may wish him to marry a girl who has all the
importance of money, great connections, and pride."
"Beyond a doubt, they do wish him to choose Miss Darcy,"
replied Jane; "but this may be from better feelings than you are
supposing. They have known her much longer than they have
known me; no wonder if they love her better. But, whatever
may be their own wishes, it is very unlikely they should have
opposed their brother's. What sister would think herself at
liberty to do it, unless there were something very objectionable?
If they believed him attached to me, they would not try to part
us; if he were so, they could not succeed. By supposing such
an affection, you make everybody acting unnaturally and wrong,
and me most unhappy. Do not distress me by the idea. I am not
ashamed of having been mistaken — or, at least, it is light, it
is nothing in comparison of what I should feel in thinking ill
of him or his sisters. Let me take it in the best light, in
the light in which it may be understood."
Elizabeth could not oppose such a wish; and from this time
Mr. Bingley's name was scarcely ever mentioned between them.
Mrs. Bennet still continued to wonder and repine at his returning
no more, and though a day seldom passed in which Elizabeth did
not account for it clearly, there was little chance of her ever
considering it with less perplexity. Her daughter endeavoured
to convince her of what she did not believe herself, that his
attentions to Jane had been merely the effect of a common and
transient liking, which ceased when he saw her no more; but
though the probability of the statement was admitted at the time,
she had the same story to repeat every day. Mrs. Bennet's best
comfort was that Mr. Bingley must be down again in the
Mr. Bennet treated the matter differently. "So, Lizzy," said he
one day, "your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulate
her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in
love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a
sort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn to
come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now is
your time. Here are officers enough in Meryton to disappoint all
the young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be your man. He
is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably."
"Thank you, sir, but a less agreeable man would satisfy me. We
must not all expect Jane's good fortune."
"True," said Mr. Bennet, "but it is a comfort to think that
whatever of that kind may befall you, you have an affectionate
mother who will make the most of it."
Mr. Wickham's society was of material service in dispelling the
gloom which the late perverse occurrences had thrown on many
of the Longbourn family. They saw him often, and to his other
recommendations was now added that of general unreserve.
The whole of what Elizabeth had already heard, his claims on
Mr. Darcy, and all that he had suffered from him, was now
openly acknowledged and publicly canvassed; and everybody
was pleased to know how much they had always disliked Mr.
Darcy before they had known anything of the matter.
Miss Bennet was the only creature who could suppose there might
be any extenuating circumstances in the case, unknown to the
society of Hertfordshire; her mild and steady candour always
pleaded for allowances, and urged the possibility of mistakes — but
by everybody else Mr. Darcy was condemned as the worst of men.