Eleven

Bingley returns to Netherfield

 

Elizabeth had the satisfaction of receiving a reply from her aunt in the shortest time possible. She sat down eagerly to read it:

My dear niece,

I must confess I am astonished by your request for information about Mr Darcy’s share in arranging Lydia’s marriage. I assumed that you would know all about it. Your uncle is as surprised as I am. But if you are really innocent and ignorant, I must tell you all the details.

On the day I returned to London from Longbourn, your uncle had a most unexpected visitor. Mr Darcy came to tell us he had discovered where your sister and Wickham were staying. The reason he gave for wanting to help was his belief that he was to blame for not making Wickham’s worthlessness more public, and that therefore it was his duty to assist us in every possible way.

If he had another motive, I am sure it would be just as honourable. He knew that Wickham had a close friend in London, a woman who had once been companion to Miss Darcy, and had been dismissed for some reason. So Mr Darcy found this woman, and bribed her to give him Wickham’s present address. He went to see Wickham, and insisted on seeing Lydia, hoping to persuade her to return to her family. However, Lydia told him she only cared for Wickham, and had no intention of leaving him, whether he married her or not. Wickham privately told Mr Darcy that he had left the regiment because of his gambling debts, not because he intended to marry Lydia, and that he was still hoping to find and marry a woman of fortune in order to have a comfortable income.

It was clearly necessary to persuade him to marry Lydia as soon as possible, and Mr Darcy had several meetings with Wickham to arrange financial matters with him.

Finally, Mr Darcy was able to visit your uncle, as I have said, to explain the whole business, and to insist that he alone should be responsible for paying Wickham the promised amount. Your uncle argued with him for a long time, but our visitor was so obstinate that Mr Gardiner eventually had to agree.

I think, Lizzy, that obstinacy is Mr Darcy’s real fault, rather than any of the other faults of which he has been accused. He paid Wickham several thousand pounds, for past debts and future expenses, and attended the wedding to make a final payment.

And in spite of Mr Darcy’s declared motives, my dear Lizzy, you may be sure that your uncle would never have given in, if we had not assumed that Mr Darcy had another interest in the matter. Will you be very angry with me, my dear Lizzy, if I take this opportunity of saying how much I like him? His behaviour to us has always been as agreeable as when we were in Derbyshire.

I think that if he marries the right woman, his wife may teach him to become more sociable. Please forgive me if I have assumed too much, or at least do not punish me by not inviting me to Pemberley. I shall never be happy until I have been all the way round the park.

But I must go to my children now.

Yours very sincerely,

M. Gardiner

 

Elizabeth read this letter with a mixture of pleasure and pain. Mr Darcy had thought so little of his pride that he had spent considerable time, effort and money on two people for whom he must feel the greatest disdain. He had even had to bargain with Wickham! She could not believe he had done all this for her, a woman who had already rejected him. But the fact remained that she and her family owed him everything. How bitterly she now regretted criticizing and mocking him in the past! She was ashamed of herself, but she was proud of him, proud that in a matter of honour, he had been able to conquer his own pride. She was even rather pleased, if a little regretful, that her aunt and uncle had felt sure that there was mutual affection between Mr Darcy and herself.

Mrs Bennet was quite depressed when Lydia and Wickham left Longbourn to travel north to Newcastle. But soon Mrs Philips brought the happy news that Mr Bingley was expected to return to Netherfield in a day or two, and Mrs Bennet became very excited. She made preparations to invite him to dinner, and counted the days that must pass before she could send the invitation.

However, on only the third morning after his arrival, she caught sight of him from her bedroom window, riding towards Longbourn House, with another gentleman, also on horseback. ‘Girls! Quickly!’ she cried. ‘Mr Bingley is coming! And who’s that with him? It must be Mr Darcy, that tall, proud man. Well, as he is Mr Bingley’s friend, we must be polite to him, but I must say, I hate the sight of him.’

Both Jane and Elizabeth felt uncomfortable, and sympathized with each other. Jane was nervous about meeting Bingley again, and determined not to show her feelings. Elizabeth was uneasy at the thought of seeing Darcy, as she was the only one who knew how much the whole family owed him, in spite of their general dislike of him. She was astonished that he had come to see her, and for a moment she allowed herself to hope that his affection and wishes might still be the same. She was disappointed, however, by the visit. Mr Darcy said scarcely anything to her, and appeared more thoughtful and less anxious to please than in Derbyshire. She wondered bitterly why he had come. In addition, she was highly embarrassed by her mother’s behaviour. With flattering smiles Mrs Bennet concentrated all her conversation on Mr Bingley, while throwing the occasional unpleasant remark in Mr Darcy’s direction. The only positive effect of the gentlemen’s visit was the way in which Jane’s charm and beauty appeared to excite Mr Bingley’s admiration all over again, which Elizabeth was relieved and delighted to see.

The Bennet family did not see the two gentlemen again until Tuesday, when they came to dinner at Longbourn. It was a great pleasure to Elizabeth to watch Bingley sitting beside Jane, and talking happily to her, but this was the only enjoyment she gained from the party. Mr Darcy was unfortunately sitting a long way from her, next to Mrs Bennet. Elizabeth could see how seldom they spoke to each other, and how cold and formal their behaviour to each other was. She would have given anything to be able to tell him that his kindness was appreciated by at least one of the family. All through the long dinner, she desperately hoped there would be an opportunity for her to have some real conversation with him later. But the evening passed without any more than a short exchange of politeness between them, and Elizabeth lost all hope of immediate happiness.

Two days after this, Mr Bingley called at Longbourn House again. This time he was alone, as Mr Darcy had gone to London. He sat with the ladies for over an hour, talking cheerfully and agreeably to them. He came the next morning, and again in the evening. Mrs Bennet took every opportunity to leave him alone with Jane, by calling her other daughters out of the room for some reason or other. She was hoping to encourage him to propose, but in spite of her efforts Bingley remained charming, and agreeable, and unattached.

But on the third day Bingley came in the morning to go shooting with Mr Bennet. He stayed for lunch, and was still there in the evening. And when Elizabeth entered the sitting-room unexpectedly, to her surprise she saw Jane and Bingley standing close together near the fire. They turned hurriedly when they heard her, and moved awkwardly away from each other. Bingley whispered something to Jane, and ran out of the room. Jane could not keep her secret from her sister, and, kissing her, cried, ‘I am the happiest creature in the world! Oh, Lizzy! I do not deserve this! Why isn’t everybody as happy as I am!’

Elizabeth congratulated her sister most warmly and sincerely. ‘At last!’ she thought. ‘The end of all Mr Darcy’s anxious advice! The end of all Caroline Bingley’s lies and plans! The happiest, wisest, most reasonable end!’

‘I must go and tell my mother,’ continued Jane, ‘as he has just gone to ask my father’s permission. Oh, Lizzy! What happiness!’

It was a joyful evening for all of them. Jane looked more beautiful than ever, and Bingley was clearly very much in love. Mrs Bennet could not say enough to describe her delight, although she talked of nothing else all evening, and Mr Bennet was evidently very pleased.

Before the two eldest sisters went to bed that night, Elizabeth listened willingly to Jane’s long description of Bingley’s good qualities. At the end, Jane added, ‘Oh, Lizzy! If only I could see you as happy as I am! If only there were another man like Bingley for you!’

‘Dear Jane, I can never be as happy as you, because I’m not as good as you. No, no, let me find my own husband. Perhaps, if I’m very lucky, I may meet another Mr Collins one day.’

The engagement was not kept a secret for very long. Mrs Bennet whispered the news to Mrs Philips, who told all her neighbours in Meryton. Everybody soon agreed that the Bennets were the luckiest family in the world, although only a few weeks before, when Lydia had run away, they had been considered the most unfortunate.