It is, of course, generally accepted that a wealthy single man must be in search of a wife. As soon as such a man moves into a neighbourhood, each of the families that live there will, without any inquiry as to his own feelings on the subject, immediately consider him the rightful property of one of their daughters.
'My dear Mr Bennet,' said Mrs Bennet to her husband one day, 'have you heard that Netherfield Park has been rented at last?'
Mr Bennet replied that he had not.
'But it has,' she repeated. 'Mrs Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.'
Mr Bennet made no answer.
'Do you not want to know who has taken it?' cried his wife impatiently.
'You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.'
This was quite enough encouragement.
'Well, my dear, Mrs Long says that Netherfield has been taken by a rich young man from the north of England, that he came down on Monday to see the place and was so pleased with it that he agreed to take possession immediately, and that some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of the week.'
'What is his name?'
'Is he married or single?'
'Oh, single, my dear! An unmarried man of large fortune — four or five thousand pounds a year. What a fine thing for our girls!'
'And why is that? What difference does it make to them?'
'My dear Mr Bennet,' replied his wife, 'how can you be so annoying? You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.'
'Is that his intention in settling here?'
'Intention? Nonsense, how can you talk like that! But it is likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.'
'I see no reason for that. You and the girls may go, or, even better, you may send them by themselves, because as you are as good-looking as any of them, Mr Bingley might like you the best of the party.'
'My dear, you praise me too highly. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but when a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give up thinking of her own appearance. But you must go and see Mr Bingley when he comes.'
'I cannot promise to do so.'
'But consider your daughters. You must go, because it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.'
'You are too anxious to do what is proper, surely. I dare say Mr Bingley will be very glad to see you, and I will send him a few words by you to inform him of my complete agreement to his marrying whichever of the girls he chooses, though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.'
'I hope you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others, but you are always showing a preference for her.'
'They have none of them much about them to admire,' he replied. 'They are all silly and empty-headed like other girls, but Lizzy is a little more intelligent than her sisters.'
'Mr Bennet, how can you speak of your own daughters in such a way? You take pleasure in annoying me. You have no pity on my poor nerves.'
'You are mistaken, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have been listening to news of them for the last 20 years.'
'Ah! You do not know how I suffer.'
Mr Bennet was such a strange mixture of cleverness, sharp humour, silence and unexpected changes of mind, that the experience of 23 years had not been long enough to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to understand. She was a foolish woman. When she was anxious, she imagined herself to be ill. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its pleasure was visiting and news.
New Neighbours at Netherfield
Mr Bennet was among the first of those who visited Mr Bingley. He had always intended to do so, though he continued to let his wife believe that he would not go. He finally made his intentions known in the following way.
Watching his second daughter occupied in sewing a coloured band around a hat, he suddenly addressed her with:
'I hope Mr Bingley will like it, Lizzy.'
'We are not in a position to know what Mr Bingley likes,' said her mother bitterly, 'if we are not to visit him.'
'But you forget, mother,' said Elizabeth, 'that we shall meet him at the public balls, and that Mrs Long has promised to introduce him.'
'I do not believe Mrs Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, insincere woman, and I have no opinion of her.'
'Neither have I,' said Mr Bennet, 'and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.'
Mrs Bennet would not make any reply, but, unable to control her annoyance, began complaining to one of her daughters.
'Don't keep coughing so, Kitty! Have a little pity on my poor nerves.'
'Kitty lacks judgment in her coughs,' said her father. 'She chooses the wrong moment.'
'I do not cough for my own amusement,' replied Kitty. 'When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?'
'In two weeks from tomorrow.'
'So it is,' cried her mother 'I and Mrs Long does not come back until the day before, so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, because she will not know him herself.'
'Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr Bingley to her!'
'Impossible, Mr Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquainted with him myself. How can you be so annoying!'
'Well, if you will not perform this duty, I will do it myself.'
The girls looked at their father. Mrs Bennet said: 'Nonsense, nonsense! I am sick of Mr Bingley'
'I am sorry to hear that, but why did you not tell me so before? If I had known it this morning, I certainly would not have gone to see him. It is very unlucky, but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.'
The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished, that of Mrs Bennet being perhaps beyond the rest, though when the first excitement was over, she began to say that it was what she had expected all the time.
'How good it was of you! I was sure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! And it is such a good joke, too, that you went this morning, and never said a word about it until now.'
'Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose,' said Mr Bennet, as he left the room, having had enough of his wife's talk.
'What an excellent father you have, girls,' she said, when the door was shut. 'I do not know how you will ever repay him for his kindness. At our time of life, it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day, but for our dear daughters we would do anything. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr Bingley will dance with you at the next ball.'
'Oh,' said Lydia confidently, 'I am not afraid. Though I am the youngest, I'm the tallest.'
The rest of the evening was spent discussing how soon Mr Bingley would return Mr Bennet's visit, and deciding when they should ask him to dinner.
All that Mrs Bennet, together with her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was not enough to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr Bingley. They were forced at last to accept the second-hand information of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. He was quite young, very good-looking, extremely agreeable, and, in addition to all this, he planned to be at the next public ball. Nothing could be more exciting!
In a few days Mr Bingley returned Mr Bennet's visit, and sat for about ten minutes with him in the library. He had hoped to see the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard a great deal, but he saw only the father. The ladies were more fortunate. They had the advantage of observing, from an upstairs window, that he wore a blue coat and rode a black horse.
An invitation to dinner was sent soon after, and Mrs Bennet had already planned the meal that was to show the quality of her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which changed everything. Mr Bingley found it necessary to be in London the following day, and was therefore unable to accept the honour of their invitation. Mrs Bennet was both disappointed and worried. She began to fear that he might always be flying about from one place to another, and never settled in Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quietened her fears a little by spreading the word that he had gone to London only to collect a large party for the ball, and a report soon followed that Mr Bingley would bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him. The girls were unhappy at the thought of such a large number of ladies, but were comforted to find, when the party entered the ballroom, that it was in fact made up of only five altogether: Mr Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the older one, and another young man.
Mr Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanly. His sisters were fine women dressed in the latest fashions. His sister's husband, Mr Hurst, simply looked like the gentleman he was, but Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of everyone by his fine tall form, noble face, and the report, which was passed round the room within five minutes of his entrance, that he had an income of ten thousand pounds a year. He was looked at with admiration for half the evening, until his manners caused a general disgust which ended his popularity.
Mr Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the important people in the room. He danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. What a difference between himself and his friend! Mr Darcy danced only once with Mrs Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, refused to be introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening walking around the room. Mrs Bennet's dislike of his behaviour was sharpened by his having made one of her daughters appear neglected.
Elizabeth Bennet had been forced, by the small number of gentlemen, to sit out for two dances, and during part of that time Mr Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear, against her will, a conversation between him and Mr Bingley, who left the dancing for a few minutes to urge his friend to join in.
'Come, Darcy,' he said, 'I hate to see you standing around by yourself like this. You really should be dancing.'
'I certainly shall not. Both your sisters already have partners, and there is not another woman in the room with whom I would care to dance.'
'I would not like to be so difficult to please as you are,' cried Bingley. 'I have never met with so many pleasant girls in my life.'
'You are dancing with the only good-looking one,' said Mr Darcy, looking at the oldest Miss Bennet.
'Oh, she is the most beautiful creature that I ever saw! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very attractive and probably very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.'
'Which do you mean?' Darcy asked. Turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, until, catching her eye, he looked away and coldly said: 'She is fairly pretty, but not good-looking enough.'
He walked off, and Elizabeth remained with no very friendly feelings towards him. But she told the story with great spirit among her friends, because she had a playful nature and a strong sense of humour.
The evening on the whole passed off pleasantly for all the family. Mrs Bennet had seen her oldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been an object of attention by his sisters. Jane was as much pleased by this as her mother, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth shared Jane's pleasure, as she always did. Lydia and Kitty had never been without partners, and Mary, the least pretty of the family, had heard herself praised to Miss Bingley as a skilled musician.
They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village in Hertfordshire where they lived, and of which they were the most important family.
Within a short walk of Longbourn there lived a family with whom the Bennet's were especially friendly. Sir William Lucas had formerly been in trade in the town of Meryton, where he had made a fairly large fortune and risen to the honour of a title of rank. This honour had, perhaps, been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust for his business and for his home in a small market town, and, leaving them both, he had moved with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, which he called Lucas Lodge. But though proud of his rank, he was friendly and ready to help anyone who needed it. Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mrs Bennet. They had several children. The oldest of them, a sensible young woman of about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth's special friend.
It was a time-honoured tradition for the Misses Lucas and the Misses Bennet to meet and talk after a ball, and so the following morning brought the former to Longbourn for that purpose.
'You began the evening well, Charlotte,' said Mrs Bennet, with forced politeness, to Miss Lucas. 'You were Mr Bingley's first choice.'
'Yes, but he seemed to like his second better.'
'Oh, you mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice. Certainly that did seem as if he admired her. It does seem as if- but it may not lead to anything, you know.'
'But Mr Darcy is not so worth listening to as his friend, is he?' said Charlotte. 'Poor Eliza! To be only just fairly pretty!'
'I hope you will not put it into Lizzy's head to be annoyed by his rude treatment. He is such a disagreeable man that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs Long told me last night that he sat next to her for half an hour without once opening his lips.'
'Are you quite sure, madam? Is there not some mistake?' said Jane. 'I certainly saw Mr Darcy speaking to her.'
'Yes, because she finally asked him how he liked Netherfield, and he could not help answering her, but she said he seemed very angry at being spoken to.'
'Miss Bingley told me,' said Jane, 'that he never speaks much except among people he knows well. With them he is extremely agreeable.'
'I do not believe a word of it, my dear.'
'I do not mind his not talking to Mrs Long,' said Miss Lucas, 'but I wish he had danced with Eliza.'
'Another time, Lizzy' said her mother,'I would not dance with him, if I were you.'
'His pride,' said Miss Lucas, 'does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot be surprised that such a fine young man with family and fortune should think highly of himself.'
'That is very true,' replied Eliza, 'and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not wounded mine!
Jane Gains an Admirer
The ladies of Longbourn soon visited those of Netherfield. The visit was formally returned. Miss Bennet's pleasing manners continued to win the approval of Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley, and though the mother was considered to be unbearable, and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish was expressed to be better acquainted with the two oldest. This attention was received by Jane with the greatest pleasure, but Elizabeth saw pride in their treatment of everybody, even her sister, and could not like them. But it was plain that their brother did admire Jane, and Elizabeth observed that Jane was giving way to the preference which she had begun to feel for him from the first, and was beginning to be very much in love.
While Elizabeth was watching Mr Bingley's attentions to her sister, she did not realize that she herself was becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr Darcy had at first hardly admitted her to be pretty; he had seen her without admiration at the ball, and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But he had no sooner decided that no single part of her face was particularly attractive than he began to find that the whole was made uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. She was completely unconscious of this. To her, he was only the man who had made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her attractive enough to dance with.
He began to wish to know her better.
One day, a large party was amusing itself at Sir William Lucas's. A number of young ladies, and two or three army officers, were occupied in dancing at one end of the room. Mr Darcy stood near them, and Sir William was trying to make conversation with him. As Elizabeth moved towards them at this moment, Sir William was struck with the idea of doing the polite thing, and called out to her:
'My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing? Mr Darcy, you must allow me to present this young lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure, when so much beauty is in front of you.' And, taking her hand, he would have given it to Mr Darcy, who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it, when she immediately pulled away, and said in some confusion to Sir William:
'Sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. Please do not suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.'
Mr Darcy, with great politeness, requested to be allowed the honour of her hand, but without success. Elizabeth was determined, and Sir William's attempt at persuasion met with no success.
'You are such an excellent dancer, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to refuse me the happiness of seeing you, and though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to doing us this honour for one half-hour.'
'Mr Darcy is all politeness,' said Elizabeth smiling. She turned away. Her refusal had not harmed her in the gentleman's opinion, and he thought of her with some admiration.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from the town of Meryton — a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who usually went there three or four times a week to make a visit to an aunt, Mrs Philips, who was married to a lawyer, and to look at a hat shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions. They always managed to learn some news, and at present they were well supplied by the arrival of a regiment in the neighbourhood, which would remain for the whole winter. They could talk of nothing but officers.
After listening one morning to their excited remarks on this subject, Mr Bennet sharply observed:
'From all that I can understand from your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country.'
Kitty was a little ashamed, and did not answer, but Lydia laughed loudly.
'I am astonished, my dear,' said Mrs Bennet, 'that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. As a matter of fact, they are all very clever.'
'This is the only point on which we do not agree.'
Mrs Bennet was prevented from replying by the entrance of a servant with a note for Miss Bennet. It came from Netherfield. Mrs Bennet's eyes brightened with pleasure, and she called out eagerly, while her daughter read:
'Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, Jane, hurry up and tell us.'
'It is from Miss Bingley,' said Jane, and then read it aloud:
NETHERFIELD PARK 10th October
My dear Jane,
Will you be so kind as to come to dinner today with Louisa and me? We are all alone. Come as soon as you can on receiving this. My brother and the gentlemen are to have dinner with the officers.
Yours ever, CAROLINE BINGLEY.
'Having dinner out,' said Mrs Bennet, 'that is very unlucky.'
'Can I have the carriage?' asked Jane.
'No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain and then you must stay all night.'
'That would be a good idea,' said Elizabeth, 'if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home.'
'Oh, but the gentlemen will have used Mr Bingley's carriage to go to Meryton.'
'I would much rather go in the carriage,' repeated Jane.
'But, my dear, your father does not have enough horses. They are wanted on the farm.'
Jane was therefore forced to go on horseback, and her mother followed her to the door with many cheerful wishes for bad weather. Her hopes were answered. Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters were anxious for her, but her mother was pleased. The rain continued the whole evening. Jane certainly could not come back.
'This was a good idea of mine!' said Mrs Bennet.
Breakfast was hardly over next morning when a servant from Netherfield brought a note for Elizabeth from Jane to say that she was unwell.
'Well, my dear,' said Mr Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note out loud, 'if your daughter should have a dangerous attack of illness — if she should die — it will be a comfort to know that it was all the result of going after Mr Bingley, and following your orders.'
'Oh, I am not afraid of her dying. People do not die of little things like colds. They will take good care of her.'
Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, decided to go to her sister. The carriage was not available, and as she did not ride a horse, walking was her only possible way.
'How can you be so silly,' said her mother, 'in all this mud! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there.'
'I shall be very fit to see Jane, which is all I want.'
'We will go as far as Meryton with you,' offered Lydia and Kitty. Elizabeth accepted their company, and the three young ladies set off together.
At Meryton they parted, and Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field impatiently, and finding herself at last within sight of the house, with tired feet, dirty shoes, and a face bright with the warmth of exercise.
Her appearance caused a great deal of surprise. Elizabeth guessed that Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley were scornful that she should walk 3 miles so early and in such weather. She was received, though, very politely, and in their brother's manner was something better than politeness — kindness and pleasure. Mr Darcy said very little. He was occupied with admiring the brightness that exercise had added to the colour in her face.
Her sister Jane had hardly slept at all, and was feverish. The doctor came, advised her to return to bed, and promised some medicine. The fever increased, and her head ached badly.
Elizabeth stayed with her until three o'clock, and then felt she must go. But Jane showed such disappointment at parting from her that Miss Bingley was forced to invite her to remain at Netherfield for the present, and Elizabeth thankfully accepted this offer. A servant was sent to Longbourn to tell the family of her stay and to bring back a supply of clothes.
At half past six, Elizabeth was called to dinner. Jane was not at all better. Mr Bingley's sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or four times how sorry they were, how unpleasant it was to have a bad cold, and how very much they disliked being ill themselves, and then thought no more of the matter. Their lack of real feeling towards Jane, when she was not actually in their presence, brought back to Elizabeth all her original dislike of them.
Their brother was in fact the only one whose anxiety for Jane seemed sincere. His attentions to Elizabeth herself were most pleasing, and they prevented her from feeling herself such an unwelcome guest as she believed she was considered to be by the others.
When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began criticizing her as soon as she was out of the room. How poor her manners were — a mixture of pride and lack of good family. She had no powers of conversation, no style, no taste, no beauty. Mrs Hurst thought the same, and added:
'There is nothing to admire in her except being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.'
'She certainly did, Louisa. Her hair so untidy!'
'Yes, and her skirt! I hope you saw her skirt, covered in mud.'
'I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked extremely well when she came into the room this morning,' said Mr Bingley. 'Her dirty skirt quite escaped my notice. Her coming shows a concern for her sister that is very pleasing.'
'I am afraid, Mr Darcy,' observed Miss Bingley, in a half- whisper, 'that this adventure has rather lessened your admiration for her fine eyes.'
'Not at all,' he replied. 'They were brightened by the exercise.'
A short pause followed this speech, and Mrs Hurst began again:
'I am extremely fond of Jane Bennet. She is really a very sweet girl. I wish with all my heart that she were well settled. But with such parents, and such low relations, I am afraid there is no chance of it.'
'It must greatly lessen her chance of marrying a man of good position,' replied Mr Darcy.
Mr Bingley made no answer to this speech, but his sisters gave it their full agreement, and continued for some time to make fun of their dear friend's inferior relations.
Elizabeth spent most of the night in her sister's room, and in the morning requested that a note be sent to Longbourn, asking her mother to visit Jane and form her own judgment on her condition. The note was immediately sent, and Mrs Bennet, with her two youngest girls, reached Netherfield soon after breakfast.
If Mrs Bennet had found Jane in any real danger, she would have been very upset, but when she was satisfied that her illness was not serious, she had no wish for her immediate recovery, as her return to health would probably remove her from Netherfield. She would not listen, therefore, to her daughter's proposal of being taken home; nor did the doctor, who arrived at about the same time, think it advisable.
Mrs Bennet repeated her thanks to Mr Bingley for his kindness to Jane, with an apology for troubling him also with Lizzy. Mr Bingley was eager that his two guests should remain, and forced his younger sister to be polite too. She did this duty, even if rather unwillingly, but Mrs Bennet was satisfied, and left soon after that.
The day passed much as the day before had done. Jane was slowly recovering. In the evening, Elizabeth joined the company in the sitting room, and took up some needlework. Mr Darcy was writing a letter.
When that business was over, he asked Miss Bingley and Elizabeth to play some music. Miss Bingley moved eagerly to the piano. After a polite request for Elizabeth to begin the performance, which Elizabeth refused with equal politeness, Miss Bingley seated herself.
Mrs Hurst sang with her sister; and while they were employed in this, Elizabeth could not help noticing how frequently Mr Darcy's eyes fixed themselves on her. She could hardly imagine that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man, but it seemed even stranger that he should look at her so, because she knew he disliked her. She could only suppose that she drew his attention because there was something wrong about her. The supposition did not upset her; she liked him too little to care for his opinion.
Soon after, as Miss Bingley began to play a lively Scottish tune, Mr Darcy, approaching Elizabeth, said to her:
'Do you not feel a great desire, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity for a dance?'
She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.
'Oh,' she said, 'I heard you before, but I could not decide immediately on what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say «Yes», so that you might have the pleasure of thinking badly of my taste, but I always enjoy defeating such intentions. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance; and now, think badly of me if you dare.'
'I do not dare.'
Elizabeth, having rather expected to offend him, was astonished at his politeness, but there was a mixture of sweetness and intelligence in her manner that made it difficult for her to offend anybody. Darcy had never been so attracted to any woman as he was to her. He really believed that, if it were not for her inferior relations, he would be in some danger of falling in love.
Miss Bingley saw, or thought she saw, enough to be jealous, and her anxiety for the recovery of her dear friend Jane was increased by her desire to get rid of Elizabeth.
As a result of an agreement between the two sisters, Elizabeth wrote the next morning to her mother to beg her to send the carriage for them during that day. Mrs Bennet sent them a reply that they could not possibly have it before Tuesday. But Elizabeth had decided that she could stay no longer, nor did she very much expect that she would be encouraged to. She urged Jane to borrow Mr Bingley's carriage immediately.
The master of the house heard with real sorrow that they were leaving so soon, and repeatedly tried to persuade the older Miss Bennet that it was not safe for her, but Jane was always able to be decisive when she believed herself to be right.
It was welcome news to Mr Darcy. Elizabeth attracted him more than he wished. He decided to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him. He kept steadily to his purpose, and hardly spoke to her through the whole of the day, and although they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he kept firmly to his book and would not even look at her.
On the next morning, they left for home. They were not welcomed back very gladly by their mother, but their father was really happy to see them. The evening conversation had lost much of its liveliness, and most of its good sense, during the absence of Jane and Elizabeth.
'I hope, my dear,' said Mr Bennet to his wife, as they were at breakfast the next morning, 'that you have ordered a good dinner today, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party.'
'Whom do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call, and I hope my dinners are good enough for her!
'The person of whom I speak is a gentleman and a stranger.'
Mrs Bennet's eyes brightened. 'A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr Bingley, I am sure! Why, Jane, you never mentioned a word about this! But — good heavens! How unlucky! There is not a bit offish to be got today! Lydia, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to the cook immediately.'
'It is not Mr Bingley,' said her husband. 'It is a person whom I have never seen in the whole of my life.'
This caused general astonishment, and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and all five of his daughters at once.
After amusing himself for some time by not answering their questions, he explained:
'A short time ago I received a letter. It was from my cousin, Mr Collins, who, when I am dead, may put you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.'
Mr Bennet's property was, unfortunately for his daughters, to pass by law after his death to his nearest male relative, a distant cousin.
'Oh, my dear,' cried his wife, 'I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Please do not talk of that hateful man.' It was a subject on which she could never see reason.
'But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself:
HUNSFORD PARSONAGE NEAR WESTERHAM,
KENT 15th October
The disagreement that existed between yourself and my honoured father always caused me much anxiety, and since his death I have frequently wished for a renewal of friendship between our two branches of the family.
My mind is now made up on the subject. I have recently become a minister of the church and I have been fortunate enough to become the object of attention of the Lady Catherine de Bourgh. By her generosity I have been presented with a valuable position in this area, where I shall try to behave with grateful respect towards her.
As a churchman, I feel it to be my duty to encourage peace among all families within my influence, and for these reasons I consider that my offer of friendship is deserving of praise, and that the fact that I am heir to your property will be kindly forgiven by you.
I am troubled at being the means of harming your daughters, and beg to apologize for it, as well as to inform you of my readiness to do what is in my power to lessen the wrong done to them.
If you have no objection to receiving me into your house, I intend to visit you and your family on Monday next week, at four o'clock, and would be thankful to remain as your guest until the Saturday of the following week.
I remain, dear sir, with respectful greetings to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend, WILLIAM COLLINS.
'At four o'clock, therefore, we may expect this peace-making gentleman,' said Mr Bennet, as he folded up the letter. 'He seems a most dutiful and polite young man.'
'There is some sense in what he says about trying to lessen the harm done to the girls,' his wife agreed.
'Though it is difficult,' said Jane, 'to guess in what way he intends to do so.'
Elizabeth was chiefly struck with his high degree of respect for Lady Catherine. As for her mother, Mr Collins's letter had taken away much of her unfriendly feeling, and she prepared herself to see him with a calmness that astonished her husband and daughters.
Mr Collins arrived on time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr Bennet said little, but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr Collins seemed very willing to do so himself. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of about twenty-five. His manner was serious and his behaviour very formal. He had not been seated long before he began to offer his congratulations to Mrs Bennet on having such a fine family of daughters, and to admire their beauty. He added that he did not doubt that she would in time see them all well settled in marriage. This speech was not much to the taste of some of his hearers, but Mrs Bennet answered most readily:
'You are very kind, sir, I am sure, and I wish with all my heart that it may be so, or they will be poor enough. These matters are settled in such a strange way.'
'I am conscious, madam, of the injustice to your lovely daughters, but they may be sure that I have come prepared to admire them. At present I will say no more, but perhaps, when we are better acquainted...'
He was interrupted by the announcement of dinner, and the girls smiled at each other. They were not the only objects of Mr Collins's admiration. The hall, the dining room, and all its furniture, were examined and highly praised, and his approval would have touched Mrs Bennet's heart, if she had not believed that he was viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner, too, in its turn, was much admired, and he begged to know which of his cousins had prepared the excellent meal. But here he was corrected by Mrs Bennet, who informed him rather sharply that they could very well afford to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. She replied in a softer voice that she was not at all offended, but he continued to apologize for about a quarter of an hour.
After dinner, Mr Bennet thought it was time to have some conversation, with his guest. He therefore chose a subject on which he expected Mr Collins would be pleased to speak, and began by observing that he seemed very fortunate in receiving such an excellent living from Lady Catherine. Mr Bennet could not have thought of a better beginning. Mr Collins praised her loudly, expressing himself in an extremely respectful manner. By teatime his host had had enough, and was glad to take the young man into the sitting room and invite him to read to the ladies. Mr Collins readily agreed, and a book was produced, but at the sight of it he quickly stated, begging pardon, that he never read works of fiction. Kitty and Lydia looked at him in surprise. Other books were offered, and he chose a collection of writings on matters of religion. Lydia turned away as he opened the book, and before he had, in a dull voice, read three pages, she interrupted to speak to her mother. Her two oldest sisters urged her to hold her tongue, but Mr Collins, much offended, laid the book down.
Mr Collins was not a sensible man, and neither education nor society had improved him much. He was too conscious of his own importance, and, at the same time, too afraid of giving offence, especially to those above him in rank.
A fortunate chance had brought him to the attention of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, when the position at Hunsford became free. Having now a good house and a large enough income, he intended to marry. In ending the quarrel with the Longbourn family, he was thinking of a wife, as he meant to choose one of the daughters. This was his plan of lessening the wrong done to them by his being the heir to their father's property, and he thought it was an extremely generous one.
His plan did not change on seeing them. Miss Jane Bennet's beautiful face soon attracted him, and for the first evening she was his settled choice. But the next morning caused a change, because in a quarter of an hour's private talk with Mrs Bennet before breakfast, he received a warning about the cousin whom he had fixed on. 'As to her younger daughters, she could not be sure, she could not answer immediately — but her oldest daughter, she must just mention, she felt it her duty to state, was likely to be very soon engaged to be married.'
Mr Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth. It was done in a moment. Elizabeth, next to Jane both in birth and beauty, followed her as his choice as a matter of course.
Mrs Bennet was pleased with this suggestion, and trusted that she might soon have two daughters married. The man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before now stood high in her regard.
Lydia intended to walk to Meryton that morning, and every sister except Mary, who preferred to read, agreed to go with her. Mr Collins was their companion, at the request of Mr Bennet, who was most anxious to get rid of him and have his library to himself because his cousin never stopped talking.
The girls listened politely to his remarks until they entered Meryton. The attention of the younger ones was then no longer to be won by him. Their eyes were immediately wandering up the street in search of the officers.
But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man whom they had never seen before. He was of a most gentlemanly appearance and was walking with an officer on the other side of the road. All were struck by the stranger's manner. Kitty and Lydia knew the officer, and decided to find out who his friend was. They led the way across the street, under pretence of wanting something in a shop opposite, and had just reached the pathway when the two gentlemen arrived at the same place. Mr Denny, the officer, addressed them directly and introduced his friend, Mr Wickham, who had just joined the army.
The young man appeared very pleasant. He was good-looking and he had a fine figure and very pleasing manners. The whole party was still having a pleasant conversation, when the sound of horses drew their attention, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street. On recognizing the ladies in the group, the two gentlemen came directly towards them, and began the usual polite greetings. Bingley was the chief speaker, and Miss Jane Bennet the chief object. He was then, he said, on his way to Longbourn to inquire after her health. Mr Darcy followed him, and was beginning to decide to keep his eyes away from Elizabeth, when they suddenly became fixed on the stranger. Elizabeth happened to see the faces of both when they looked at each other, and was astonished at the effect of the meeting. The face of one became white, the other turned red. Mr Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat in greeting, but Mr Darcy seemed hardly to move a finger in return. What could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine, and it was impossible not to want to know the reason for this behaviour.
In another minute, Mr Bingley, who seemed not to have noticed what had happened, said goodbye to the ladies and rode on with his friend.
As they walked home, Elizabeth described to Jane what she had seen pass between the two gentlemen, but Jane could no more explain such behaviour than her sister.
At Meryton the young people had accepted an invitation from their aunt to supper and cards. The carriage took Mr Collins and his five cousins at a suitable hour to the town, and the girls had the pleasure of hearing, as they entered the sitting room, that Mr Wickham had accepted an invitation from their uncle to be present, and was already in the house.
When this information was given, and they had all taken their seats, Mr Collins was free to look around him and talk. To the girls the time of waiting appeared very long, but it was over at last. The gentlemen joined them, and when Mr Wickham walked into the room, Elizabeth felt that she had not been thinking of him with at all unreasonable admiration.
Mr Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every lady's eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy woman by whom he seated himself at last. With such fine men as Mr Wickham and the officers in competition for the attention of the ladies, Mr Collins seemed to sink into unimportance, but he still had from time to time a kind listener in Mrs Philips.
Elizabeth was very willing to hear Mr Wickham talk, though she could not hope to be told what she chiefly wished to hear — the history of his acquaintance with Mr Darcy. But her interest was most unexpectedly satisfied. Mr Wickham began the subject himself. He asked slowly how long Mr Darcy had been staying in the area.
'About a month,' said Elizabeth, and then, unwilling to let the subject drop, she added: 'He is a man of very large property in Derbyshire, I believe.'
'Yes,' replied Wickham, 'Pemberley, his property there, is a noble one — at least ten thousand a year. You could not have met with a person better able to give you information about it than myself. I have been connected with his family since my birth.'
Elizabeth could not help looking surprised.
'You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, at such a statement, after seeing the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday. Do you know Mr Darcy well?'
'Quite as well as I ever wish to do,' cried Elizabeth warmly. 'I have spent several days in the same house with him, and I find him very disagreeable.'
'I cannot pretend to be sorry,' said Wickham, after a short pause. 'His behaviour to me has been shameful. I could have forgiven him anything, though, except for his disappointing the hopes of his father and bringing shame on his memory.'
Elizabeths' interest in the subject increased.
'I was educated for the Church,' continued Mr Wickham,' and Mr Darcy's father left me, on his death, the best living to which he had the power to make an appointment, as soon as it became free. He was my godfather and he was very fond of me. He thought that he had provided for my future, but the living was given to somebody else.'
'Good heavens!' said Elizabeth. 'But surely that was against the law?'
'My godfathers wishes were not expressed clearly. Mr Darcy treated his father's words as a suggestion with certain conditions connected with it, and claimed that I had no right to the living because of some imagined wrongdoings of mine. But the fact is that he hates me.'
'This is quite shameful! He deserves that the truth should be made public.'
'Until I can forget his father, I can never be the means of shaming the son.'
Elizabeth honoured him for such feelings.
'We were born in the same place, and brought up together. My father managed the late Mr Darcy's affairs, and gave all his time to the care of his property.'
'I am surprised that Mr Darcy's pride has not made him fairer to you. I should have thought that he would have been too proud to be dishonest.'
'It is surprising,' replied Wickham, 'because his pride has often caused him to be generous, to give his money freely, to be an excellent host and a kind landowner, and to do good to the poor. He also has brotherly pride. He looks after his sister very well.'
'What sort of a girl is Miss Darcy?'
He shook his head. 'I wish I could call her likeable. But she is too much like her brother — very, very proud.'
'I am astonished at Mr Darcy's friendship with Mr Bingley. How can Mr Bingley, who is so agreeable and friendly to everyone, like such a man? He cannot know what Mr Darcy is.'
'Probably not. But Mr Darcy can please when he wishes. He can be a good companion if he thinks it worth taking the trouble. He is a very different man among those who are his equals in the world.'
Mr Wickham's attention was caught a little later by Mr Collins mentioning the name of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relations were acquainted with the family.
'You know, of course, that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters, and therefore she is aunt to the present Mr Darcy. Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two properties by marriage.'
This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of Miss Bingley. All that lady's hopes would be disappointed, if he was already promised to another.
The Ball at Netherfield
Elizabeth repeated to Jane, the next day, what had passed between Mr Wickham and herself. Jane listened with astonishment and concern. She could not believe that Mr Darcy could be so undeserving of Mr Bingley's friendship, but it was not in her nature to question the truthfulness of a young man of such pleasing appearance as Wickham.
'They have both been mistaken, I expect,' she said, 'in some way or other, of which we can form no idea.'
The two young ladies were called from the garden, where this conversation was taking place, by the arrival of some of the persons of whom they had been speaking. Mr Bingley and his sisters came to give their personal invitation for the long-expected ball at Netherfield, which was fixed for the following Tuesday. Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst appeared very pleased to see their dear friend again, and complained that it was a long time since they had last met. They took very little notice of the rest of the family, avoiding Mrs Bennet as much as possible, saying not much to Elizabeth, and nothing at all to the others.
The thought of the Netherfield ball was exciting to every female of the family. Mrs Bennet considered it to be given as a mark of attention to her oldest daughter, and was particularly pleased at receiving the invitation from Mr Bingley himself, instead of by means of a formal card. Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends and the attentions of their brother, and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr Wickham. The happiness of Kitty and Lydia depended less on any special event or person. All that they wished for was plenty of partners. Even the serious-minded Mary was willing to go.
Elizabeth's spirits were so high that though she did not often speak unnecessarily to Mr Collins, she could not help asking him whether he intended to accept Mr Bingley's invitation. To her surprise, he replied that he would go, and added:
'I shall hope to be honoured in the dance with the hands of all my cousins in the course of the evening, and I take this opportunity of asking for yours, Miss Elizabeth, for the first two dances especially. I trust that my cousin Jane will understand the reasons for this preference, and not think that it is in any way disrespectful to her.'
Elizabeth felt herself completely at a disadvantage. She had fully intended being promised to Wickham for those same dances, and to have Mr Collins instead! Her liveliness had never been expressed at a worse moment. But she could do nothing. Mr Collins's offer was accepted with as much pleasure as she could manage to show. It now first struck her, though, that she was chosen from among her sisters as being suitable in his opinion to be his wife at Hunsford Parsonage. The idea was soon strengthened as she observed his increasing politeness to her, and though she herself was more astonished than pleased, it was not long before her mother let her know that the possibility of their marriage was extremely pleasing to her. Elizabeth pretended not to understand her, because she knew very well that a serious argument would result from any reply. Mr Collins might never make the offer, and until he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.
If there had not been a ball to get ready for and to talk about, the younger Misses Bennet would have been in a sad state at this time. From the day of the invitation to the day of the ball, continuous rain prevented them from walking to Meryton. No aunt, no officers, no news could be looked for. Even Elizabeth might have found some test of her patience in weather that delayed the development of her acquaintance with Mr Wickham, and nothing less than a dance on Tuesday could have made such a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday bearable to Kitty and Lydia.
On the Tuesday evening, Elizabeth entered the sitting room at Netherfield, and looked without success for Mr Wickham among the group of officers present there. Until then, no doubt about him coming had entered her mind. She had dressed with more care than usual, and readied herself in the highest spirits to complete the winning of his heart. But in a moment the terrible thought came to her that he had been purposely left out of the Bingleys' invitation to the officers, for Mr Darcy's pleasure, and although this was not exactly the case, his friend Mr Denny told them that Wickham had had to go to London on business, and added:
'I do not imagine that he would have gone just now, if he had not wished to avoid a certain gentleman here.'
This information sharpened Elizabeth's feelings of displeasure against Mr Darcy, and although she tried to be cheerful, the first two dances brought a return of unhappiness. Mr Collins, serious and awkward, apologizing instead of paying attention, and often moving wrongly without being conscious of it, brought her all the shame and unhappiness which a disagreeable partner can give.
She danced next with an officer. Then she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr Darcy, who took her so much by surprise in his request for her hand that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him.
Elizabeth took her place in the set, astonished at the honour at which she had arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr Darcy, and seeing in the faces of her neighbours their equal astonishment. They spoke very little until they had finished the dance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did not often walk to Meryton. She answered that this was so, and, unable to stop herself, added, 'When we met you the other day there, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.'
The effect was immediate. The expression on his face became prouder than ever. At last he spoke:
'Mr Wickham is fortunate enough to have such pleasing manners that he can always be sure of making friends. It is less certain that he is able to keep them.'
'He has been unlucky enough to lose your friendship,' replied Elizabeth.
Darcy made no answer, and seemed anxious to change the subject. At that moment Sir William Lucas appeared, and stopped to offer him a mark of attention.
'My dear sir, such very high-class dancing is not often seen. I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially after a certain desirable event,' and he looked towards Jane and Mr Bingley. 'What congratulations will then flow in!'
Sir William's mention of his friend seemed to strike Darcy with some force, and his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together.
When the dance was over, Miss Bingley came towards Elizabeth, and, with a look of scorn, addressed her as follows:
'So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are quite pleased with George Wickham. But let me warn you not to trust what he says. The story that Mr Darcy has wronged him is completely untrue. He has always been kind to him, though Wickham treated him in a shameful manner. I do not know the details, but I do know that Mr Darcy is not to blame. I pity you, Miss Eliza, but really, considering his family, one could not expect much better.'
'His guilt and his family appear, by your account, to be the same,' said Elizabeth angrily.
'I beg your pardon,' replied Miss Bingley, turning away. 'My words were kindly meant.'
Elizabeth then went in search of her oldest sister, who met her with a smile of such sweet satisfaction that Elizabeth immediately understood her feelings and forgot everything else for the moment in the hope that Jane was on the way to happiness. Jane began to talk about Mr Wickham. 'Mr Bingley does not know the whole of the history, but is sure that his friend has acted rightly and honourably. I am sorry to say that by his account Mr Wickham is not at all a respectable young man.'
'Mr Bingley does not know Mr Wickham himself?'
'No. He never saw him until the other morning at Meryton.'
'This explanation, then, is what he has received from Mr Darcy. I am perfectly satisfied. Mr Bingley has defended his friend, but I shall continue to hold the same opinion.'
She then changed the subject to one more pleasing to them both, and listened with pleasure to the happy hopes which Jane had of Mr Bingley's feelings towards her. When Mr Bingley himself joined them, Elizabeth moved away to Miss Lucas.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Collins came up to them in a state of great excitement. He had discovered that Mr Darcy was a relative of Lady Catherine.
'You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr Darcy?'
'Of course I am.'
Elizabeth tried hard to persuade him against this, warning him that Mr Darcy would consider it as a piece of impoliteness rather than as a mark of respect for his aunt.
'Pardon me for neglecting to take advantage of your advice,' was his reply, 'but in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.' And, with that, he left her to approach Mr Darcy, whose astonishment was plain, and who replied with cold politeness.
Elizabeth felt ashamed of her cousin, and turned her attention to the more pleasing subject of Jane's future. Her mother's thoughts were plainly of the same kind, and when they sat down to supper, Elizabeth was deeply annoyed to find that Mrs Bennet was talking loudly to Lady Lucas of nothing else but her expectations that Jane would soon be married to Mr Bingley. Elizabeth tried without success to control her mother's words, because she could see that they were heard by Mr Darcy, who sat opposite them. Nothing she could say had any effect. Elizabeth reddened with shame.
When supper was over, singing was mentioned, and Elizabeth had the added discomfort of seeing Mary getting ready to entertain the company. Mary was the least pretty of the five sisters, so she had tried to make herself more attractive by becoming more able than the others, and was always eager to bring her musical skill to notice. But her powers were by no means fitted for this kind of performance. Her voice was weak, and her manner unnatural. Elizabeth listened with impatience. Mary sang twice, and Elizabeth could see Mr Bingley's sisters exchanging scornful smiles. She looked at her father, who understood and gently stopped his daughter.
The rest of the evening brought Elizabeth little amusement. Mr Collins continued at her side and would not leave her alone. Mr Darcy took no more notice of her, even when he was standing near her.
But Mrs Bennet left Netherfield perfectly satisfied. She was fully confident that she would see Jane married in the course of three or four months. She thought with equal certainty of having another daughter married to Mr Collins. She loved Elizabeth less than her other daughters, and she thought Mr Collins quite good enough for her.
Mr Collins Makes a Proposal of Marriage
The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn: Mr Collins made a formal proposal of marriage. Having decided to do it without delay, and having no lack of self-confidence, he began in a very orderly manner with all the ceremony which he supposed to be a regular part of the business. On finding Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth and one of the younger girls together soon after breakfast, he addressed the mother in these words:
'May I hope, madam, to speak privately with your lovely daughter Elizabeth?'
Before Elizabeth had time to express her surprise, Mrs Bennet immediately answered:
'Oh, yes, certainly. I am sure that Lizzy can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs.' And picking up her sewing, she was hurrying away, when Elizabeth called out:
'I beg you not to go. Mr Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself.'
'No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to stay where you are.' And when Elizabeth seemed about to escape, she added, 'Lizzy, you must stay and hear Mr Collins.'
Elizabeth could not oppose such a command, and a moment's consideration made her realize that it would be better to get the matter settled, so she sat down again. Mrs Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were gone, Mr Collins began:
'Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, your behaviour only adds to your other perfections. You would have been less pleasing in my eyes if there had not been this little unwillingness, but allow me to inform you that I have your respected mother's permission for this address. Almost as soon as I entered this house, I made you my choice as the companion of my future life. My reasons for marrying are, first, I think it a right thing for every church minister to set an example by doing so; secondly, I am sure that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly, Lady Catherine has advised it. As I am heir to this property on the death of your honoured father, I decided to choose my wife from among his daughters. I know very well that you have little fortune, but I shall never blame you for that when we are married.'
It was necessary to stop him now.
'You are in too much of a hurry, sir,' she cried. 'You forget that I have made no answer. Accept my thanks for the honour that you are showing me, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to refuse your proposal.'
'I quite understand,' replied Mr Collins, with a wave of the hand, 'that it is usual for young ladies to refuse the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he asks for the first time.'
'On my honour, sir,' cried Elizabeth, 'I am perfectly serious in my refusal.'
'When I next speak to you on this subject,' continued Mr Collins, 'I shall expect to receive a more favourable answer.'
Elizabeth tried without success to make him believe her. He had too good an opinion of himself and his position, and he pointed out that she was too poor to receive many other offers. To this she could make no reply, and immediately, and in silence, left the room, with the intention of asking for her father's support.
Mrs Bennet had waited in the hall for the end of the conversation. As soon as she saw Elizabeth open the door and, with a quick step, pass her towards the stairway, she entered the breakfast room and congratulated both Mr Collins and herself. Mr Collins received and returned these good wishes, but when he went on to give details of his conversation with Elizabeth, the information astonished Mrs Bennet.
'But you may depend on it, Mr Collins,' she added, 'that Lizzy shall be made to behave reasonably. I will speak to her myself immediately. She is a very foolish girl, and does not know her own interest, but I will make her know it. I will go to Mr Bennet, and we shall very soon settle the matter with her, I am sure.'
She would not give him time to reply, but hurried immediately to her husband, and called out as she entered the library: 'Oh, Mr Bennet, you are wanted immediately. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr Collins, because she swears she will not have him.'
Mr Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least changed by her information.
'I have not the pleasure of understanding you,' he said, when she had finished her speech. 'What are you talking about?'
'Mr Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy says that she will not have Mr Collins, and if you do not hurry, he will change his mind and not have her!
'And what am I to do about it? It seems a hopeless business.'
'Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that she must marry him.'
'Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.'
Mrs Bennet rang the bell and Miss Elizabeth was sent for.
'Come here, child,' said her father as she appeared. 'I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?' Elizabeth replied that it was. 'Very well — and you have refused this offer of marriage?'
'I have, sir.'
'Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother demands that you accept it. Is it not so, Mrs Bennet?'
'Yes, or I will never see her again.'
'An unhappy choice is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you will be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do!
Elizabeth could not help smiling at such an ending to such a beginning. Mrs Bennet, on the other hand, was extremely disappointed. She returned to the subject repeatedly, using both persuasion and threats to try and change her daughter's mind. Mr Collins himself remained silent and offended, unable to understand how his cousin could possibly refuse him.
While the family were in this state, Charlotte Lucas came to spend the day with them. Mr Collins's attentions were now turned to her, which Elizabeth found to be a great relief.
Netherfield Is Empty
After breakfast the next day, the girls walked to Meryton to inquire if Mr Wickham had returned. He joined them as they entered the town, and went with them to their aunt's. He explained to Elizabe