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The Jane Austen Book Club
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Pride  &  Prejudice
by Jane Austen

    . .


Chapter 31

 

olonel Fitzwilliams manners were very much admired at the parsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerably to the pleasure of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither, for while there were visitors in the house they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemens arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had only seen at church.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherines drawing room. Her ladyship received them civilly, but it was plain that their company was by no means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; and she was, in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; any thing was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collinss pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much. He now seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself as well as of Mr. Darcy. His eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity; and that her ladyship after a while shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged, for she did not scruple to call out,

What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hear what it is.

We are speaking of music, Madam, said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply.

Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?

Mr. Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sisters proficiency.

I am very glad to hear such a good account of her, said Lady Catherine; and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel, if she does not practise a great deal.

I assure you, Madam, he replied, that she does not need such advice. She practises very constantly.

So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies, that no excellence in music is to be acquired, without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times, that she will never play really well, unless she practises more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the piano forte in Mrs. Jenkinsons room. She would be in nobodys way, you know, in that part of the house.

Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunts ill breeding, and made no answer.

When coffee was over, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her other nephew; till the latter walked away from her, and moving with his usual deliberation towards the piano forte, stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performers countenance. Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenient pause, turned to him with an arch smile, and said,

You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.

I shall not say that you are mistaken, he replied, because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.

Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out, as will shock your relations to hear.

I am not afraid of you, said he, smilingly.

Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of, cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. I should like to know how he behaves among strangers.

You shall hear then but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.

I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.

True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.

Perhaps, said Darcy, I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.

Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this? said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?

I can answer your question, said Fitzwilliam, without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.

I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, said Darcy, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.

My fingers, said Elizabeth, do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many womens do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other womans of superior execution.

Darcy smiled, and said, You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think any thing wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.

Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine, who called out to know what they were talking of. Elizabeth immediately began playing again. Lady Catherine approached, and, after listening for a few minutes, said to Darcy,

Miss Bennet would not play at all amiss, if she practised more, and could have the advantage of a London master. She has a very good notion of fingering, though her taste is not equal to Annes. Anne would have been a delightful performer, had her health allowed her to learn.

Elizabeth looked at Darcy to see how cordially he assented to his cousins praise; but neither at that moment nor at any other could she discern any symptom of love; and from the whole of his behaviour to Miss De Bourgh she derived this comfort for Miss Bingley, that he might have been just as likely to marry her, had she been his relation.

Lady Catherine continued her remarks on Elizabeths performance, mixing with them many instructions on execution and taste. Elizabeth received them with all the forbearance of civility; and at the request of the gentlemen, remained at the instrument till her ladyships carriage was ready to take them all home.


Chapter 32

 

lizabeth was sitting by herself the next morning, and writing to Jane, while Mrs. Collins and Maria were gone on business into the village, when she was startled by a ring at the door, the certain signal of a visitor. As she had heard no carriage, she thought it not unlikely to be Lady Catherine, and under that apprehension was putting away her half-finished letter that she might escape all impertinent questions, when the door opened, and to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only, entered the room.

He seemed astonished too on finding her alone, and apologised for his intrusion by letting her know that he had understood all the ladies to be within.

They then sat down, and when her enquiries after Rosings were made, seemed in danger of sinking into total silence. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, to think of something, and in this emergency recollecting when she had seen him last in Hertfordshire, and feeling curious to know what he would say on the subject of their hasty departure, she observed,

How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Mr. Darcy! It must have been a most agreeable surprise to Mr. Bingley to see you all after him so soon; for, if I recollect right, he went but the day before. He and his sisters were well, I hope, when you left London.

Perfectly so I thank you.

She found that she was to receive no other answer and, after a short pause, added,

I think I have understood that Mr. Bingley has not much idea of ever returning to Netherfield again?

I have never heard him say so; but it is probable that he may spend very little of his time there in future. He has many friends, and he is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing.

If he means to be but little at Netherfield, it would be better for the neighbourhood that he should give up the place entirely, for then we might possibly get a settled family there. But perhaps Mr. Bingley did not take the house so much for the convenience of the neighbourhood as for his own, and we must expect him to keep or quit it on the same principle.

I should not be surprised, said Darcy, if he were to give it up, as soon as any eligible purchase offers.

Elizabeth made no answer. She was afraid of talking longer of his friend; and, having nothing else to say, was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject to him.

He took the hint, and soon began with, This seems a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.

I believe she did and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.

Mr. Collins appears very fortunate in his choice of a wife.

Yes, indeed; his friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would have accepted him, or have made him happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light, it is certainly a very good match for her.

It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.

An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.

And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a days journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.

I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match, cried Elizabeth. I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.

It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Any thing beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.

As he spoke there was a sort of smile, which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered,

I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too near her family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make the expence of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mr. and Mrs. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow of frequent journeysand I am persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance.

Mr. Darcy drew his chair a little towards her, and said, You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn.

Elizabeth looked surprised. The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper from the table, and, glancing over it, said, in a colder voice,

Are you pleased with Kent? A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensued, on either side calm and concise and soon put an end to by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from their walk. The tte--tte surprised them. Mr. Darcy related the mistake which had occasioned his intruding on Miss Bennet, and after sitting a few minutes longer without saying much to any body, went away.

What can be the meaning of this! said Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. My dear Eliza he must be in love with you, or he would never have called on us in this familiar way.

But when Elizabeth told of his silence, it did not seem very likely, even to Charlottes wishes, to be the case; and after various conjectures, they could at last only suppose his visit to proceed from the difficulty of finding any thing to do, which was the more probable from the time of year. All field sports were over. Within doors there was Lady Catherine, books, and a billiard table, but gentlemen cannot be always within doors; and in the nearness of the Parsonage, or the pleasantness of the walk to it, or of the people who lived in it, the two cousins found a temptation from this period of walking thither almost every day. They called at various times of the morning, sometimes separately, sometimes together, and now and then accompanied by their aunt. It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because he had pleasure in their society, a persuasion which of course recommended him still more; and Elizabeth was reminded by her own satisfaction in being with him, as well as by his evident admiration of her, of her former favourite George Wickham; and though, in comparing them, she saw there was less captivating softness in Colonel Fitzwilliams manners, she believed he might have the best informed mind.

But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice a sacrifice to propriety, not a pleasure to himself. He seldom appeared really animated. Mrs. Collins knew not what to make of him. Colonel Fitzwilliams occasionally laughing at his stupidity, proved that he was generally different, which her own knowledge of him could not have told her; and as she would have liked to believe this change the effect of love, and the object of that love, her friend Eliza, she sat herself seriously to work to find it out. She watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success. He certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind.

She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea; and Mrs. Collins did not think it right to press the subject, from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friends dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be in her power.

In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was beyond comparison the pleasantest man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible; but, to counterbalance these advantages, Mr. Darcy had considerable patronage in the church, and his cousin could have none at all.


Chapter 33

 

ore than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. He never said a great deal, nor did she give herself the trouble of talking or of listening much; but it struck her in the course of their third rencontre that he was asking some odd unconnected questions about her pleasure in being at Hunsford, her love of solitary walks, and her opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Collinss happiness; and that in speaking of Rosings, and her not perfectly understanding the house, he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again she would be staying there too. His words seemed to imply it. Could he have Colonel Fitzwilliam in his thoughts? She supposed, if he meant any thing, he must mean an allusion to what might arise in that quarter. It distressed her a little, and she was quite glad to find herself at the gate in the pales opposite the Parsonage.

She was engaged one day, as she walked, in re-perusing Janes last letter, and dwelling on some passages which proved that Jane had not written in spirits, when, instead of being again surprised by Mr. Darcy, she saw on looking up, that Colonel Fitzwilliam was meeting her. Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, she said,

I did not know before that you ever walked this way.

I have been making the tour of the Park, he replied, as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?

No, I should have turned in a moment.

And accordingly she did turn, and they walked towards the Parsonage together.

Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday? said she.

Yes if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases.

And if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he has at least great pleasure in the power of choice. I do not know any body who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy.

He likes to have his own way very well, replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.

In my opinion, the younger son of an Earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring any thing you had a fancy for?

These are home questions and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.

Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do.

Our habits of expence make us too dependant, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.

Is this, thought Elizabeth, meant for me? and she coloured at the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, And pray, what is the usual price of an Earls younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.

He answered her in the same style, and the subject dropped. To interrupt a silence which might make him fancy her affected with what had passed, she soon afterwards said,

I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly for the sake of having somebody at his disposal. I wonder he does not marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But, perhaps his sister does as well for the present, and, as she is under his sole care, he may do what he likes with her.

No, said Colonel Fitzwilliam, that is an advantage which he must divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianship of Miss Darcy.

Are you, indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladies of her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if she has the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way.

As she spoke, she observed him looking at her earnestly, and the manner in which he immediately asked her why she supposed Miss Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness, convinced her that she had somehow or other got pretty near the truth. She directly replied,

You need not be frightened. I never heard any harm of her; and I dare say she is one of the most tractable creatures in the world. She is a very great favourite with some ladies of my acquaintance, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them.

I know them a little. Their brother is a pleasant gentleman- like man he is a great friend of Darcys.

Oh! yes, said Elizabeth drily Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him.

Care of him! Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of him in those points where he most wants care. From something that he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to him. But I ought to beg his pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person meant. It was all conjecture.

What is it you mean?

It is a circumstance which Darcy, of course, would not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the ladys family, it would be an unpleasant thing.

You may depend upon my not mentioning it.

And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley. What he told me was merely this; that he congratulated himself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer.

Did Mr. Darcy give you his reasons for this interference?

I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady.

And what arts did he use to separate them?

He did not talk to me of his own arts, said Fitzwilliam smiling. He only told me what I have now told you.

Elizabeth made no answer, and walked on, her heart swelling with indignation. After watching her a little, Fitzwilliam asked her why she was so thoughtful.

I am thinking of what you have been telling me, said she. Your cousins conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was he to be the judge?

You are rather disposed to call his interference officious?

I do not see what right Mr. Darcy had to decide on the propriety of his friends inclination, or why, upon his own judgment alone, he was to determine and direct in what manner that friend was to be happy. But, she continued, recollecting herself, as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn him. It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case.

That is not an unnatural surmise, said Fitzwilliam, but it is lessening the honour of my cousins triumph very sadly.

This was spoken jestingly, but it appeared to her so just a picture of Mr. Darcy that she would not trust herself with an answer; and, therefore, abruptly changing the conversation, talked on indifferent matters till they reached the parsonage. There, shut into her own room as soon as their visitor left them, she could think without interruption of all that she had heard. It was not to be supposed that any other people could be meant than those with whom she was connected. There could not exist in the world two men over whom Mr. Darcy could have such boundless influence.

That he had been concerned in the measures taken to separate Mr. Bingley and Jane, she had never doubted; but she had always attributed to Miss Bingley the principal design and arrangement of them. If his own vanity, however, did not mislead him, he was the cause, his pride and caprice were the cause, of all that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. He had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil he might have inflicted.

There were some very strong objections against the lady, were Colonel Fitzwilliams words, and these strong objections probably were, her having one uncle who was a country attorney, and another who was in business in London.

To Jane herself, she exclaimed, there could be no possibility of objection. All loveliness and goodness as she is! Her understanding excellent, her mind improved, and her manners captivating. Neither could any thing be urged against my father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities which Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain, and respectability which he will probably never reach. When she thought of her mother, indeed, her confidence gave way a little, but she would not allow that any objections there had material weight with Mr. Darcy, whose pride, she was convinced, would receive a deeper wound from the want of importance in his friends connections, than from their want of sense; and she was quite decided at last, that he had been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partly by the wish of retaining Mr. Bingley for his sister.

The agitation and tears which the subject occasioned brought on a headache; and it grew so much worse towards the evening that, added to her unwillingness to see Mr. Darcy, it determined her not to attend her cousins to Rosings, where they were engaged to drink tea. Mrs. Collins, seeing that she was really unwell, did not press her to go, and as much as possible prevented her husband from pressing her, but Mr. Collins could not conceal his apprehension of Lady Catherines being rather displeased by her staying at home.

 
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