Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand _ear, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default o_eirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother's fortune, though ampl_or her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his. He_ather had been an attorney in Meryton, and had left her four thousand pounds.
She had a sister married to a Mr. Phillips, who had been a clerk to thei_ather and succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled in London in _espectable line of trade.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenien_istance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or fou_imes a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner's shop jus_ver the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, wer_articularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant tha_heir sisters', and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton wa_ecessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for th_vening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they alway_ontrived to learn some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were wel_upplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militi_egiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryto_as the headquarters.
Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were now productive of the most interestin_ntelligence. Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers'
names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at lengt_hey began to know the officers themselves. Mr. Phillips visited them all, an_his opened to his nieces a store of felicity unknown before. They could tal_f nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley's large fortune, the mention of whic_ave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed t_he regimentals of an ensign.
After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr. Benne_oolly observed:
"From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of th_illiest girls in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am no_onvinced."
Catherine was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lydia, with perfec_ndifference, continued to express her admiration of Captain Carter, and he_ope of seeing him in the course of the day, as he was going the next mornin_o London.
"I am astonished, my dear," said Mrs. Bennet, "that you should be so ready t_hink your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody'_hildren, it should not be of my own, however."
"If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it."
"Yes—but as it happens, they are all of them very clever."
"This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I ha_oped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so fa_iffer from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish."
"My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of thei_ather and mother. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not thin_bout officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a re_oat myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smar_oung colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls _hall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becomin_he other night at Sir William's in his regimentals."
"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter d_ot go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she see_hem now very often standing in Clarke's library."
Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footman with a not_or Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for a_nswer. Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled with pleasure, and she was eagerly callin_ut, while her daughter read,
"Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love."
"It is from Miss Bingley," said Jane, and then read it aloud.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,—
"If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Louisa and me, w_hall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whol_ay's tete-a-tete between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come a_oon as you can on receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to din_ith the officers.—Yours ever,
"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tell us o_that_."
"Dining out," said Mrs. Bennet, "that is very unlucky."
"Can I have the carriage?" said 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 scheme," said Elizabeth, "if you were sure that the_ould not offer to send her home."
"Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, an_he Hursts have no horses to theirs."
"I had much rather go in the coach."
"But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wante_n the farm, Mr. Bennet, are they not?"
"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them."
"But if you have got them to-day," said Elizabeth, "my mother's purpose wil_e answered."
She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that the horses wer_ngaged. Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mothe_ttended her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. He_opes were answered; Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. He_isters were uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted. The rain continue_he whole evening without intermission; Jane certainly could not come back.
"This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!" said Mrs. Bennet more than once, a_f the credit of making it rain were all her own. Till the next morning, however, she was not aware of all the felicity of her contrivance. Breakfas_as scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought the following not_or Elizabeth:
"MY DEAREST LIZZY,—
"I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed t_y getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of m_eturning till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones—therefor_o not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me—and, excepting _ore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.—Yours, etc."
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, "i_our daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness—if she should die, i_ould be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, an_nder your orders."
"Oh! I am not afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds.
She will be taken good care of. As long as she stays there, it is all ver_ell. I would go and see her if I could have the carriage."
Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her, though th_arriage was not to be had; and as she was no horsewoman, walking was her onl_lternative. She declared her resolution.
"How can you be so silly," cried her mother, "as to think of such a thing, i_ll this dirt! 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."
"Is this a hint to me, Lizzy," said her father, "to send for the horses?"
"No, indeed, I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when on_as a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner."
"I admire the activity of your benevolence," observed Mary, "but every impuls_f feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion shoul_lways be in proportion to what is required."
"We will go as far as Meryton with you," said Catherine and Lydia. Elizabet_ccepted their company, and the three young ladies set off together.
"If we make haste," said Lydia, as they walked along, "perhaps we may se_omething of Captain Carter before he goes."
In Meryton they parted; the two youngest repaired to the lodgings of one o_he officers' wives, and Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing fiel_fter field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddle_ith impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth o_xercise.
She was shown into the breakfast-parlour, where all but Jane were assembled, and where her appearance created a great deal of surprise. That she shoul_ave walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and b_erself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabet_as convinced that they held her in contempt for it. She was received, however, very politely by them; and in their brother's manners there wa_omething better than politeness; there was good humour and kindness. Mr.
Darcy said very little, and Mr. Hurst nothing at all. The former was divide_etween admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to he_omplexion, and doubt as to the occasion's justifying her coming so far alone.
The latter was thinking only of his breakfast.
Her inquiries after her sister were not very favourably answered. Miss Benne_ad slept ill, and though up, was very feverish, and not well enough to leav_er room. Elizabeth was glad to be taken to her immediately; and Jane, who ha_nly been withheld by the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience fro_xpressing in her note how much she longed for such a visit, was delighted a_er entrance. She was not equal, however, to much conversation, and when Mis_ingley left them together, could attempt little besides expressions o_ratitude for the extraordinary kindness she was treated with. Elizabet_ilently attended her.
When breakfast was over they were joined by the sisters; and Elizabeth bega_o like them herself, when she saw how much affection and solicitude the_howed for Jane. The apothecary came, and having examined his patient, said, as might be supposed, that she had caught a violent cold, and that they mus_ndeavour to get the better of it; advised her to return to bed, and promise_er some draughts. The advice was followed readily, for the feverish symptom_ncreased, and her head ached acutely. Elizabeth did not quit her room for _oment; nor were the other ladies often absent; the gentlemen being out, the_ad, in fact, nothing to do elsewhere.
When the clock struck three, Elizabeth felt that she must go, and ver_nwillingly said so. Miss Bingley offered her the carriage, and she onl_anted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane testified such concern i_arting with her, that Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of th_haise to an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabet_ost thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn t_cquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply of clothes.