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                解密文本:     《傲慢与偏见》   (美)简·奥斯汀  著      
   
 

 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
by   Jane Austen 
 

第一部(第1-23章)           第二部(第24-42章)          第三部(第43-61章)


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 Chapter 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

"But it is," returned she; "for 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 invitation enough.

"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."

"What is his name?"

"Bingley."

"Is he married or single?"

"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so? How can it affect them?"

"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

"Is that his design in settling here?"

"Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very 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 occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party."

"My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty."

"In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of."

"But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighbourhood."

"It is more than I engage for, I assure you."

"But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not."

"You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy."

"I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference."

"They have none of them much to recommend them," replied he; "they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters."

"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves."

"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least."

"Ah, you do not know what I suffer."

"But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood."

"It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them."

"Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all."

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in the following manner. Observing his second daughter employed in trimming a hat, he suddenly addressed her with:

"I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy."

"We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes," said her mother resentfully, "since we are not to visit."

"But you forget, mamma," said Elizabeth, "that we shall meet him at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long 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, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her."

"No more have I," said Mr. Bennet; "and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you."

Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.

"Don't keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven's sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces."

"Kitty has no discretion in her coughs," said her father; "she times them ill."

"I do not cough for my own amusement," replied Kitty fretfully. "When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?"

"To-morrow fortnight."

"Aye, so it is," cried her mother, "and Mrs. Long does not come back till the day before; so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, for 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 teasing?"

"I honour your circumspection. A fortnight's acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight. But if we do not venture somebody else will; and after all, Mrs. Long and her daughters must stand their chance; and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself."

The girls stared at their father. Mrs. Bennet said only, "Nonsense, nonsense!"

"What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?" cried he. "Do you consider the forms of introduction, and the stress that is laid on them, as nonsense? I cannot quite agree with you there. What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts."

Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.

"While Mary is adjusting her ideas," he continued, "let us return to Mr. Bingley."

"I am sick of Mr. Bingley," cried his wife.

"I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me that before? If I had known as much this morning I certainly would not have called on 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 perhaps surpassing the rest; though, when the first tumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was what she had expected all the while.

"How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet! But I knew I should persuade you at last. 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 should have gone this morning and never said a word about it till now."

"Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose," said Mr. Bennet; and, as he spoke, he left the room, fatigued with the raptures of his wife.

"What an excellent father you have, girls!" said she, when the door was shut. "I do not know how you will ever make him amends for his kindness; or me, either, for that matter. At our time of life it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day; but for your sakes, 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 stoutly, "I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I'm the tallest."

The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon he would return Mr. Bennet's visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Not all that Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley. They attacked him in various ways—with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained.

"If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield," said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, "and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for."

In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet's visit, and sat about ten minutes with him in his library. He had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard much; but he saw only the father. The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window that he wore a blue coat, and rode a black horse.

An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies, but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve he brought only six with him from London—his five sisters and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted of only five altogether—Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.

Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.

Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.

"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."

"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."

"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Mr. Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty."

"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

"Which do you mean?" and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."

Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings toward him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.

The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane's pleasure. Mary had heard herself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplished girl in the neighbourhood; and Catherine and Lydia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. They found Mr. Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless of time; and on the present occasion he had a good deal of curiosity as to the event of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. He had rather hoped that his wife's views on the stranger would be disappointed; but he soon found out that he had a different story to hear.

"Oh! my dear Mr. Bennet," as she entered the room, "we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice! Only think of that, my dear; he actually danced with her twice! and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her! But, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. So he inquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger—"

"If he had had any compassion for me," cried her husband impatiently, "he would not have danced half so much! For God's sake, say no more of his partners. Oh that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!"

"Oh! my dear, I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! And his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst's gown—"

Here she was interrupted again. Mr. Bennet protested against any description of finery. She was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Mr. Darcy.

"But I can assure you," she added, "that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man."

 

 

 

Chapter 4

When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister just how very much she admired him.

"He is just what a young man ought to be," said she, "sensible, good-humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners!—so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!"

"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."

"I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment."

"Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person."

"Dear Lizzy!"

"Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life."

"I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think."

"I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough—one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design—to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad—belongs to you alone. And so you like this man's sisters, too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his."

"Certainly not—at first. But they are very pleasing women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother, and keep his house; and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbour in her."

Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced; their behaviour at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgement too unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them. They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.

Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from his father, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it. Mr. Bingley intended it likewise, and sometimes made choice of his county; but as he was now provided with a good house and the liberty of a manor, it was doubtful to many of those who best knew the easiness of his temper, whether he might not spend the remainder of his days at Netherfield, and leave the next generation to purchase.

His sisters were anxious for his having an estate of his own; but, though he was now only established as a tenant, Miss Bingley was by no means unwilling to preside at his table—nor was Mrs. Hurst, who had married a man of more fashion than fortune, less disposed to consider his house as her home when it suited her. Mr. Bingley had not been of age two years, when he was tempted by an accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield House. He did look at it, and into it for half-an-hour—was pleased with the situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what the owner said in its praise, and took it immediately.

Between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spite of great opposition of character. Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, and ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy's regard, Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgement the highest opinion. In understanding, Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well-bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offense.

The manner in which they spoke of the Meryton assembly was sufficiently characteristic. Bingley had never met with more pleasant people or prettier girls in his life; everybody had been most kind and attentive to him; there had been no formality, no stiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and, as to Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful. Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. Miss Bennet he acknowledged to be pretty, but she smiled too much.

Mrs. Hurst and her sister allowed it to be so—but still they admired her and liked her, and pronounced her to be a sweet girl, and one whom they would not object to know more of. Miss Bennet was therefore established as a sweet girl, and their brother felt authorized by such commendation to think of her as he chose.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, he had removed with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James's had made him courteous.

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 eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth's intimate friend.

That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.

"You began the evening well, Charlotte," said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command 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. To be sure that did seem as if he admired her—indeed I rather believe he did—I heard something about it—but I hardly know what—something about Mr. Robinson."

"Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr. Robinson; did not I mention it to you? Mr. Robinson's asking him how he liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think there were a great many pretty women in the room, and which he thought the prettiest? and his answering immediately to the last question: 'Oh! the eldest Miss Bennet, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions on that point.'"

"Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed—that does seem as if—but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know."

"My overhearings were more to the purpose than yours, Eliza," said Charlotte. "Mr. Darcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is he?—poor Eliza!—to be only just tolerable."

"I beg you would not put it into Lizzy's head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for 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 close to her for half-an-hour without once opening his lips."

"Are you quite sure, ma'am?—is not there a little mistake?" said Jane. "I certainly saw Mr. Darcy speaking to her."

"Aye—because she asked him at last how he liked Netherfield, and he could not help answering her; but she said he seemed quite angry at being spoke to."

"Miss Bingley told me," said Jane, "that he never speaks much, unless among his intimate acquaintances. With them he is remarkably agreeable."

"I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise."

"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."

"I believe, ma'am, I may safely promise you never to dance with him."

"His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud."

"That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine."

"Pride," observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, "is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."

"If I were as rich as Mr. Darcy," cried a young Lucas, who came with his sisters, "I should not care how proud I was. I would keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine a day."

"Then you would drink a great deal more than you ought," said Mrs. Bennet; "and if I were to see you at it, I should take away your bottle directly."

The boy protested that she should not; she continued to declare that she would, and the argument ended only with the visit.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

The ladies of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield. The visit was soon returned in due form. Miss Bennet's pleasing manners grew on the goodwill of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and though the mother was found to be intolerable, and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish of being better acquainted with them was expressed towards the two eldest. By Jane, this attention was received with the greatest pleasure, but Elizabeth still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even her sister, and could not like them; though their kindness to Jane, such as it was, had a value as arising in all probability from the influence of their brother's admiration. It was generally evident whenever they met, that he did admire her and to her it was equally evident that Jane was yielding to the preference which she had begun to entertain for him from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love; but she considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general, since Jane united, with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which would guard her from the suspicions of the impertinent. She mentioned this to her friend Miss Lucas.

"It may perhaps be pleasant," replied Charlotte, "to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."

"But she does help him on, as much as her nature will allow. If I can perceive her regard for him, he must be a simpleton, indeed, not to discover it too."

"Remember, Eliza, that he does not know Jane's disposition as you do."

"But if a woman is partial to a man, and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find it out."

"Perhaps he must, if he sees enough of her. But, though Bingley and Jane meet tolerably often, it is never for many hours together; and, as they always see each other in large mixed parties, it is impossible that every moment should be employed in conversing together. Jane should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses."

"Your plan is a good one," replied Elizabeth, "where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married, and if I were determined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say I should adopt it. But these are not Jane's feelings; she is not acting by design. As yet, she cannot even be certain of the degree of her own regard nor of its reasonableness. She has known him only a fortnight. She danced four dances with him at Meryton; she saw him one morning at his own house, and has since dined with him in company four times. This is not quite enough to make her understand his character."

"Not as you represent it. Had she merely dined with him, she might only have discovered whether he had a good appetite; but you must remember that four evenings have also been spent together—and four evenings may do a great deal."

"Yes; these four evenings have enabled them to ascertain that they both like Vingt-un better than Commerce; but with respect to any other leading characteristic, I do not imagine that much has been unfolded."

"Well," said Charlotte, "I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were to be studying his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."

"You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself."

Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley's attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.

He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice. It was at Sir William Lucas's, where a large party were assembled.

"What does Mr. Darcy mean," said she to Charlotte, "by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?"

"That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer."

"But if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. He has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of him."

On his approaching them soon afterwards, though without seeming to have any intention of speaking, Miss Lucas defied her friend to mention such a subject to him; which immediately provoking Elizabeth to do it, she turned to him and said:

"Did you not think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teasing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?"

"With great energy; but it is always a subject which makes a lady energetic."

"You are severe on us."

"It will be her turn soon to be teased," said Miss Lucas. "I am going to open the instrument, Eliza, and you know what follows."

"You are a very strange creature by way of a friend!—always wanting me to play and sing before anybody and everybody! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable; but as it is, I would really rather not sit down before those who must be in the habit of hearing the very best performers." On Miss Lucas's persevering, however, she added, "Very well, if it must be so, it must." And gravely glancing at Mr. Darcy, "There is a fine old saying, which everybody here is of course familiar with: 'Keep your breath to cool your porridge'; and I shall keep mine to swell my song."

Her performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.

Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger sisters, who, with some of the Lucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room.

Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation, and was too much engrossed by his thoughts to perceive that Sir William Lucas was his neighbour, till Sir William thus began:

"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society."

"Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance."

Sir William only smiled. "Your friend performs delightfully," he continued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; "and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy."

"You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir."

"Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James's?"

"Never, sir."

"Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?"

"It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I can avoid it."

"You have a house in town, I conclude?"

Mr. Darcy bowed.

"I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself—for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas."

He paused in hopes of an answer; but his companion was not disposed to make any; and Elizabeth at that instant moving towards them, he was struck with the action of doing a very gallant 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 before 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 instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure to Sir William:

"Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner."

Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honour of her hand, but in vain. Elizabeth was determined; nor did Sir William at all shake her purpose by his attempt at persuasion.

"You excel so much in the dance, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour."

"Mr. Darcy is all politeness," said Elizabeth, smiling.

"He is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear Miss Eliza, we cannot wonder at his complaisance—for who would object to such a partner?"

Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some complacency, when thus accosted by Miss Bingley:

"I can guess the subject of your reverie."

"I should imagine not."

"You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner—in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise—the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!"

"Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."

Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Mr. Darcy replied with great intrepidity:

"Miss Elizabeth Bennet."

"Miss Elizabeth Bennet!" repeated Miss Bingley. "I am all astonishment. How long has she been such a favourite?—and pray, when am I to wish you joy?"

"That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy."

"Nay, if you are serious about it, I shall consider the matter is absolutely settled. You will be having a charming mother-in-law, indeed; and, of course, she will always be at Pemberley with you."

He listened to her with perfect indifference while she chose to entertain herself in this manner; and as his composure convinced her that all was safe, her wit flowed long.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother's fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his. Her father 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 their father and succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled in London in a respectable line of trade.

The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner's shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their sisters', and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.

Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were now productive of the most interesting intelligence. Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers' names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to know the officers themselves. Mr. Phillips visited them all, and this opened to his nieces a store of felicity unknown before. They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley's large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.

After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr. Bennet coolly observed:

"From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced."

Catherine was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lydia, with perfect indifference, continued to express her admiration of Captain Carter, and her hope of seeing him in the course of the day, as he was going the next morning to London.

"I am astonished, my dear," said Mrs. Bennet, "that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody's children, 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 had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ 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 their father and mother. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals."

"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in Clarke's library."

Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footman with a note for Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for an answer. Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled with pleasure, and she was eagerly calling out, 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, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tete-a-tete between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers.—Yours ever,

"CAROLINE BINGLEY"

"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tell us of 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 they would not offer to send her home."

"Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, and the 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 wanted in 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 will be answered."

She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged. Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mother attended her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. Her hopes were answered; Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters were uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission; Jane certainly could not come back.

"This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!" said Mrs. Bennet more than once, as if 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. Breakfast was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought the following note for Elizabeth:

"MY DEAREST LIZZY,—

"I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones—therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me—and, excepting a sore 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, "if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness—if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under 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 very well. I would go and see her if I could have the carriage."

Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her, though the carriage was not to be had; and as she was no horsewoman, walking was her only alternative. She declared her resolution.

"How can you be so silly," cried her mother, "as to think of such a thing, in all 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 one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner."

"I admire the activity of your benevolence," observed Mary, "but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required."

"We will go as far as Meryton with you," said Catherine and Lydia. Elizabeth accepted their company, and the three young ladies set off together.

"If we make haste," said Lydia, as they walked along, "perhaps we may see something of Captain Carter before he goes."

In Meryton they parted; the two youngest repaired to the lodgings of one of the officers' wives, and Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.

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 should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was convinced that they held her in contempt for it. She was received, however, very politely by them; and in their brother's manners there was something better than politeness; there was good humour and kindness. Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr. Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion, 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 Bennet had slept ill, and though up, was very feverish, and not well enough to leave her room. Elizabeth was glad to be taken to her immediately; and Jane, who had only been withheld by the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience from expressing in her note how much she longed for such a visit, was delighted at her entrance. She was not equal, however, to much conversation, and when Miss Bingley left them together, could attempt little besides expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindness she was treated with. Elizabeth silently attended her.

When breakfast was over they were joined by the sisters; and Elizabeth began to like them herself, when she saw how much affection and solicitude they showed 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 must endeavour to get the better of it; advised her to return to bed, and promised her some draughts. The advice was followed readily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and her head ached acutely. Elizabeth did not quit her room for a moment; nor were the other ladies often absent; the gentlemen being out, they had, in fact, nothing to do elsewhere.

When the clock struck three, Elizabeth felt that she must go, and very unwillingly said so. Miss Bingley offered her the carriage, and she only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane testified such concern in parting with her, that Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise to an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth most thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply of clothes.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

At five o'clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half-past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. To the civil inquiries which then poured in, and amongst which she had the pleasure of distinguishing the much superior solicitude of Mr. Bingley's, she could not make a very favourable answer. Jane was by no means better. The sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or four times how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, and how excessively they disliked being ill themselves; and then thought no more of the matter: and their indifference towards Jane when not immediately before them restored Elizabeth to the enjoyment of all her former dislike.

Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom she could regard with any complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much an intruder as she believed she was considered by the others. She had very little notice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.

When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added:

"She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild."

"She did, indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!"

"Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office."

"Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," said Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice."

"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley; "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition."

"Certainly not."

"To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum."

"It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," said Bingley.

"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of 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 have an excessive regard for Miss Jane Bennet, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it."

"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton."

"Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside."

"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.

"If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside," cried Bingley, "it would not make them one jot less agreeable."

"But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world," replied Darcy.

To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend's vulgar relations.

With a renewal of tenderness, however, they returned to her room on leaving the dining-parlour, and sat with her till summoned to coffee. She was still very poorly, and Elizabeth would not quit her at all, till late in the evening, when she had the comfort of seeing her sleep, and when it seemed to her rather right than pleasant that she should go downstairs herself. On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.

"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rather singular."

"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."

"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."

"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," said Bingley; "and I hope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite well."

Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards the table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others—all that his library afforded.

"And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into."

Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.

"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"

"It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of many generations."

"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books."

"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these."

"Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that noble place. Charles, when you build your house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley."

"I wish it may."

"But I would really advise you to make your purchase in that neighbourhood, and take Pemberley for a kind of model. There is not a finer county in England than Derbyshire."

"With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it."

"I am talking of possibilities, Charles."

"Upon my word, Caroline, I should think it more possible to get Pemberley by purchase than by imitation."

Elizabeth was so much caught with what passed, as to leave her very little attention for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the game.

"Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?" said Miss Bingley; "will she be as tall as I am?"

"I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet's height, or rather taller."

"How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! And so extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite."

"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."

"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"

"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished."

"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished."

"Nor I, I am sure," said Miss Bingley.

"Then," observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman."

"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it."

"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."

"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."

"Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?"

"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united."

Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women who answered this description, when Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.

"Elizabeth Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, "is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art."

"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, "there is a meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."

Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject.

Elizabeth joined them again only to say that her sister was worse, and that she could not leave her. Bingley urged Mr. Jones being sent for immediately; while his sisters, convinced that no country advice could be of any service, recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. This she would not hear of; but she was not so unwilling to comply with their brother's proposal; and it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent for early in the morning, if Miss Bennet were not decidedly better. Bingley was quite uncomfortable; his sisters declared that they were miserable. They solaced their wretchedness, however, by duets after supper, while he could find no better relief to his feelings than by giving his housekeeper directions that every attention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister's room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the inquiries which she very early received from Mr. Bingley by a housemaid, and some time afterwards from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters. In spite of this amendment, however, she requested to have a note sent to Longbourn, desiring her mother to visit Jane, and form her own judgement of her situation. The note was immediately dispatched, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her two youngest girls, reached Netherfield soon after the family breakfast.

Had she found Jane in any apparent danger, Mrs. Bennet would have been very miserable; but being satisfied on seeing her that her illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her recovering immediately, as her restoration to health would probably remove her from Netherfield. She would not listen, therefore, to her daughter's proposal of being carried home; neither did the apothecary, who arrived about the same time, think it at all advisable. After sitting a little while with Jane, on Miss Bingley's appearance and invitation, the mother and three daughters all attended her into the breakfast parlour. Bingley met them with hopes that Mrs. Bennet had not found Miss Bennet worse than she expected.

"Indeed I have, sir," was her answer. "She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness."

"Removed!" cried Bingley. "It must not be thought of. My sister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal."

"You may depend upon it, Madam," said Miss Bingley, with cold civility, "that Miss Bennet will receive every possible attention while she remains with us."

Mrs. Bennet was profuse in her acknowledgments.

"I am sure," she added, "if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, which is always the way with her, for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I have ever met with. I often tell my other girls they are nothing to her. You have a sweet room here, Mr. Bingley, and a charming prospect over the gravel walk. I do not know a place in the country that is equal to Netherfield. You will not think of quitting it in a hurry, I hope, though you have but a short lease."

"Whatever I do is done in a hurry," replied he; "and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here."

"That is exactly what I should have supposed of you," said Elizabeth.

"You begin to comprehend me, do you?" cried he, turning towards her.

"Oh! yes—I understand you perfectly."

"I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through I am afraid is pitiful."

"That is as it happens. It does not follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours."

"Lizzy," cried her mother, "remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home."

"I did not know before," continued Bingley immediately, "that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study."

"Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage."

"The country," said Darcy, "can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society."

"But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever."

"Yes, indeed," cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. "I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town."

Everybody was surprised, and Darcy, after looking at her for a moment, turned silently away. Mrs. Bennet, who fancied she had gained a complete victory over him, continued her triumph.

"I cannot see that London has any great advantage over the country, for my part, except the shops and public places. The country is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mr. Bingley?"

"When I am in the country," he replied, "I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either."

"Aye—that is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman," looking at Darcy, "seemed to think the country was nothing at all."

"Indeed, Mamma, you are mistaken," said Elizabeth, blushing for her mother. "You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant that there was not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in the town, which you must acknowledge to be true."

"Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families."

Nothing but concern for Elizabeth could enable Bingley to keep his countenance. His sister was less delicate, and directed her eyes towards Mr. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Elizabeth, for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother's thoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been at Longbourn since her coming away.

"Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeable man Sir William is, Mr. Bingley, is not he? So much the man of fashion! So genteel and easy! He has always something to say to everybody. That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important, and never open their mouths, quite mistake the matter."

"Did Charlotte dine with you?"

"No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince-pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up very differently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome! Not that I think Charlotte so very plain—but then she is our particular friend."

"She seems a very pleasant young woman."

"Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane's beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane—one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a man at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."

"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy.

"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."

Darcy only smiled; and the general pause which ensued made Elizabeth tremble lest her mother should be exposing herself again. She longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say; and after a short silence Mrs. Bennet began repeating her thanks to Mr. Bingley for his kindness to Jane, with an apology for troubling him also with Lizzy. Mr. Bingley was unaffectedly civil in his answer, and forced his younger sister to be civil also, and say what the occasion required. She performed her part indeed without much graciousness, but Mrs. Bennet was satisfied, and soon afterwards ordered her carriage. Upon this signal, the youngest of her daughters put herself forward. The two girls had been whispering to each other during the whole visit, and the result of it was, that the youngest should tax Mr. Bingley with having promised on his first coming into the country to give a ball at Netherfield.

Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attention of the officers, to whom her uncle's good dinners, and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance. She was very equal, therefore, to address Mr. Bingley on the subject of the ball, and abruptly reminded him of his promise; adding, that it would be the most shameful thing in the world if he did not keep it. His answer to this sudden attack was delightful to their mother's ear:

"I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement; and when your sister is recovered, you shall, if you please, name the very day of the ball. But you would not wish to be dancing when she is ill."

Lydia declared herself satisfied. "Oh! yes—it would be much better to wait till Jane was well, and by that time most likely Captain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you have given your ball," she added, "I shall insist on their giving one also. I shall tell Colonel Forster it will be quite a shame if he does not."

Mrs. Bennet and her daughters then departed, and Elizabeth returned instantly to Jane, leaving her own and her relations' behaviour to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of her, in spite of all Miss Bingley's witticisms on fine eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

The day passed much as the day before had done. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley had spent some hours of the morning with the invalid, who continued, though slowly, to mend; and in the evening Elizabeth joined their party in the drawing-room. The loo-table, however, did not appear. Mr. Darcy was writing, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was observing their game.

Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady, either on his handwriting, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in union with her opinion of each.

"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"

He made no answer.

"You write uncommonly fast."

"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."

"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!"

"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours."

"Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."

"I have already told her so once, by your desire."

"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."

"Thank you—but I always mend my own."

"How can you contrive to write so even?"

He was silent.

"Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp; and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley's."

"Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? At present I have not room to do them justice."

"Oh! it is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Darcy?"

"They are generally long; but whether always charming it is not for me to determine."

"It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill."

"That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline," cried her brother, "because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?"

"My style of writing is very different from yours."

"Oh!" cried Miss Bingley, "Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest."

"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them—by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents."

"Your humility, Mr. Bingley," said Elizabeth, "must disarm reproof."

"Nothing is more deceitful," said Darcy, "than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."

"And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?"

"The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved upon quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself—and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?"

"Nay," cried Bingley, "this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believe what I said of myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to show off before the ladies."

"I dare say you believed it; but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would be quite as dependent on chance as that of any man I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, 'Bingley, you had better stay till next week,' you would probably do it, you would probably not go—and at another word, might stay a month."

"You have only proved by this," cried Elizabeth, "that Mr. Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You have shown him off now much more than he did himself."

"I am exceedingly gratified," said Bingley, "by your converting what my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which that gentleman did by no means intend; for he would certainly think better of me, if under such a circumstance I were to give a flat denial, and ride off as fast as I could."

"Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intentions as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?"

"Upon my word, I cannot exactly explain the matter; Darcy must speak for himself."

"You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety."

"To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you."

"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either."

"You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr. Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs before we discuss the discretion of his behaviour thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases between friend and friend, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?"

"Will it not be advisable, before we proceed on this subject, to arrange with rather more precision the degree of importance which is to appertain to this request, as well as the degree of intimacy subsisting between the parties?"

"By all means," cried Bingley; "let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you, that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do."

Mr. Darcy smiled; but Elizabeth thought she could perceive that he was rather offended, and therefore checked her laugh. Miss Bingley warmly resented the indignity he had received, in an expostulation with her brother for talking such nonsense.

"I see your design, Bingley," said his friend. "You dislike an argument, and want to silence this."

"Perhaps I do. Arguments are too much like disputes. If you and Miss Bennet will defer yours till I am out of the room, I shall be very thankful; and then you may say whatever you like of me."

"What you ask," said Elizabeth, "is no sacrifice on my side; and Mr. Darcy had much better finish his letter."

Mr. Darcy took her advice, and did finish his letter.

When that business was over, he applied to Miss Bingley and Elizabeth for an indulgence of some music. Miss Bingley moved with some alacrity to the pianoforte; and, after a polite request that Elizabeth would lead the way which the other as politely and more earnestly negatived, she seated herself.

Mrs. Hurst sang with her sister, and while they were thus employed, Elizabeth could not help observing, as she turned over some music-books that lay on the instrument, how frequently Mr. Darcy's eyes were fixed on her. She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man; and yet that he should look at her because he disliked her, was still more strange. She could only imagine, however, at last that she drew his notice because there was something more wrong and reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in any other person present. The supposition did not pain her. She liked him too little to care for his approbation.

After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her:

"Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?"

She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.

"Oh!" said she, "I heard you before, but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say 'Yes,' that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all—and now despise me if you dare."

"Indeed I do not dare."

Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.

Miss Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; and her great anxiety for the recovery of her dear friend Jane received some assistance from her desire of getting rid of Elizabeth.

She often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking her guest, by talking of their supposed marriage, and planning his happiness in such an alliance.

"I hope," said she, as they were walking together in the shrubbery the next day, "you will give your mother-in-law a few hints, when this desirable event takes place, as to the advantage of holding her tongue; and if you can compass it, do cure the younger girls of running after officers. And, if I may mention so delicate a subject, endeavour to check that little something, bordering on conceit and impertinence, which your lady possesses."

"Have you anything else to propose for my domestic felicity?"

"Oh! yes. Do let the portraits of your uncle and aunt Phillips be placed in the gallery at Pemberley. Put them next to your great-uncle the judge. They are in the same profession, you know, only in different lines. As for your Elizabeth's picture, you must not have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?"

"It would not be easy, indeed, to catch their expression, but their colour and shape, and the eyelashes, so remarkably fine, might be copied."

At that moment they were met from another walk by Mrs. Hurst and Elizabeth herself.

"I did not know that you intended to walk," said Miss Bingley, in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.

"You used us abominably ill," answered Mrs. Hurst, "running away without telling us that you were coming out."

Then taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felt their rudeness, and immediately said:

"This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue."

But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered:

"No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye."

She then ran gaily off, rejoicing as she rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two. Jane was already so much recovered as to intend leaving her room for a couple of hours that evening.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

When the ladies removed after dinner, Elizabeth ran up to her sister, and seeing her well guarded from cold, attended her into the drawing-room, where she was welcomed by her two friends with many professions of pleasure; and Elizabeth had never seen them so agreeable as they were during the hour which passed before the gentlemen appeared. Their powers of conversation were considerable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.

But when the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the first object; Miss Bingley's eyes were instantly turned toward Darcy, and she had something to say to him before he had advanced many steps. He addressed himself to Miss Bennet, with a polite congratulation; Mr. Hurst also made her a slight bow, and said he was "very glad;" but diffuseness and warmth remained for Bingley's salutation. He was full of joy and attention. The first half-hour was spent in piling up the fire, lest she should suffer from the change of room; and she removed at his desire to the other side of the fireplace, that she might be further from the door. He then sat down by her, and talked scarcely to anyone else. Elizabeth, at work in the opposite corner, saw it all with great delight.

When tea was over, Mr. Hurst reminded his sister-in-law of the card-table—but in vain. She had obtained private intelligence that Mr. Darcy did not wish for cards; and Mr. Hurst soon found even his open petition rejected. She assured him that no one intended to play, and the silence of the whole party on the subject seemed to justify her. Mr. Hurst had therefore nothing to do, but to stretch himself on one of the sofas and go to sleep. Darcy took up a book; Miss Bingley did the same; and Mrs. Hurst, principally occupied in playing with her bracelets and rings, joined now and then in her brother's conversation with Miss Bennet.

Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."

No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest for some amusement; when hearing her brother mentioning a ball to Miss Bennet, she turned suddenly towards him and said:

"By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure."

"If you mean Darcy," cried her brother, "he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards."

"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing were made the order of the day."

"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball."

Miss Bingley made no answer, and soon afterwards she got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings, she resolved on one effort more, and, turning to Elizabeth, said:

"Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude."

Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. "What could he mean? She was dying to know what could be his meaning?"—and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him?

"Not at all," was her answer; "but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it."

Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in anything, and persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives.

"I have not the smallest objection to explaining them," said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. "You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."

"Oh! shocking!" cried Miss Bingley. "I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?"

"Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination," said Elizabeth. "We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him—laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done."

"But upon my honour, I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Tease calmness of manner and presence of mind! No, no; I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself."

"Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!" cried Elizabeth. "That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintances. I dearly love a laugh."

"Miss Bingley," said he, "has given me more credit than can be. The wisest and the best of men—nay, the wisest and best of their actions—may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke."

"Certainly," replied Elizabeth—"there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without."

"Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule."

"Such as vanity and pride."

"Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation."

Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.

"Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume," said Miss Bingley; "and pray what is the result?"

"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."

"No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."

"That is a failing indeed!" cried Elizabeth. "Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me."

"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome."

"And your defect is to hate everybody."

"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them."

"Do let us have a little music," cried Miss Bingley, tired of a conversation in which she had no share. "Louisa, you will not mind my waking Mr. Hurst?"

Her sister had not the smallest objection, and the pianoforte was opened; and Darcy, after a few moments' recollection, was not sorry for it. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

In consequence of an agreement between the sisters, Elizabeth wrote the next morning to their mother, to beg that the carriage might be sent for them in the course of the day. But Mrs. Bennet, who had calculated on her daughters remaining at Netherfield till the following Tuesday, which would exactly finish Jane's week, could not bring herself to receive them with pleasure before. Her answer, therefore, was not propitious, at least not to Elizabeth's wishes, for she was impatient to get home. Mrs. Bennet sent them word that they could not possibly have the carriage before Tuesday; and in her postscript it was added, that if Mr. Bingley and his sister pressed them to stay longer, she could spare them very well. Against staying longer, however, Elizabeth was positively resolved—nor did she much expect it would be asked; and fearful, on the contrary, as being considered as intruding themselves needlessly long, she urged Jane to borrow Mr. Bingley's carriage immediately, and at length it was settled that their original design of leaving Netherfield that morning should be mentioned, and the request made.

The communication excited many professions of concern; and enough was said of wishing them to stay at least till the following day to work on Jane; and till the morrow their going was deferred. Miss Bingley was then sorry that she had proposed the delay, for her jealousy and dislike of one sister much exceeded her affection for the other.

The master of the house heard with real sorrow that they were to go so soon, and repeatedly tried to persuade Miss Bennet that it would not be safe for her—that she was not enough recovered; but Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right.

To Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence—Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked—and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to himself. He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half-an-hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.

On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeable to almost all, took place. Miss Bingley's civility to Elizabeth increased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane; and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole party in the liveliest of spirits.

They were not welcomed home very cordially by their mother. Mrs. Bennet wondered at their coming, and thought them very wrong to give so much trouble, and was sure Jane would have caught cold again. But their father, though very laconic in his expressions of pleasure, was really glad to see them; he had felt their importance in the family circle. The evening conversation, when they were all assembled, had lost much of its animation, and almost all its sense by the absence of Jane and Elizabeth.

They found Mary, as usual, deep in the study of thorough-bass and human nature; and had some extracts to admire, and some new observations of threadbare morality to listen to. Catherine and Lydia had information for them of a different sort. Much had been done and much had been said in the regiment since the preceding Wednesday; several of the officers had dined lately with their uncle, a private had been flogged, and it had actually been hinted that Colonel Forster was going to be married.

 

 

 

Chapter 13

"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 to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."

"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in—and I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home."

"The person of whom I speak is a gentleman, and a stranger."

Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled. "A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr. Bingley, I am sure! Well, I am sure I shall be extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley. But—good Lord! how unlucky! There is not a bit of fish to be got to-day. Lydia, my love, ring the bell—I must speak to Hill this moment."

"It is not Mr. Bingley," said her husband; "it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life."

This roused a general astonishment; and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and his five daughters at once.

After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thus explained:

"About a month ago I received this letter; and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases."

"Oh! my dear," cried his wife, "I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure, if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it."

Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted to do it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason, and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

"It certainly is a most iniquitous affair," said Mr. Bennet, "and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself."

"No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it is very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends. Why could he not keep on quarreling with you, as his father did before him?"

"Why, indeed; he does seem to have had some filial scruples on that head, as you will hear."

"Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent, 15th October.

"Dear Sir,—

"The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with anyone with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.—'There, Mrs. Bennet.'—My mind, however, is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive-branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends—but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'ennight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day.—I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments 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 to be a most conscientious and polite young man, upon my word, and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance, especially if Lady Catherine should be so indulgent as to let him come to us again."

"There is some sense in what he says about the girls, however, and if he is disposed to make them any amends, I shall not be the person to discourage him."

"Though it is difficult," said Jane, "to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish is certainly to his credit."

Elizabeth was chiefly struck by his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying his parishioners whenever it were required.

"He must be an oddity, I think," said she. "I cannot make him out.—There is something very pompous in his style.—And what can he mean by apologising for being next in the entail?—We cannot suppose he would help it if he could.—Could he be a sensible man, sir?"

"No, my dear, I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him."

"In point of composition," said Mary, "the letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive-branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed."

To Catherine and Lydia, neither the letter nor its writer were in any degree interesting. It was next to impossible that their cousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it was now some weeks since they had received pleasure from the society of a man in any other colour. As for their mother, Mr. Collins's letter had done away much of her ill-will, and she was preparing to see him with a degree of composure which astonished her husband and daughters.

Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr. Bennet indeed said little; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collins seemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. He had not been long seated before he complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters; said he had heard much of their beauty, but that in this instance fame had fallen short of the truth; and added, that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time disposed of in marriage. This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers; but Mrs. Bennet, who quarreled with no compliments, answered most readily.

"You are very kind, I am sure; and I wish with all my heart it may prove so, for else they will be destitute enough. Things are settled so oddly."

"You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this estate."

"Ah! sir, I do indeed. It is a grievous affair to my poor girls, you must confess. Not that I mean to find fault with you, for such things I know are all chance in this world. There is no knowing how estates will go when once they come to be entailed."

"I am very sensible, madam, of the hardship to my fair cousins, and could say much on the subject, but that I am cautious of appearing forward and precipitate. But I can assure the young ladies that I come prepared to admire them. At present I will not say more; but, perhaps, when we are better acquainted—"

He was interrupted by a summons to dinner; and the girls smiled on 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 praised; and his commendation of everything would have touched Mrs. Bennet's heart, but for the mortifying supposition of his viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner too in its turn was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cooking was owing. But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some conversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject in which he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed very fortunate in his patroness. Lady Catherine de Bourgh's attention to his wishes, and consideration for his comfort, appeared very remarkable. Mr. Bennet could not have chosen better. Mr. Collins was eloquent in her praise. The subject elevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner, and with a most important aspect he protested that "he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank—such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both of the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine was reckoned proud by many people he knew, but he had never seen anything but affability in her. She had always spoken to him as she would to any other gentleman; she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood nor to his leaving the parish occasionally for a week or two, to visit his relations. She had even condescended to advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose with discretion; and had once paid him a visit in his humble parsonage, where she had perfectly approved all the alterations he had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest some herself—some shelves in the closet up stairs."

"That is all very proper and civil, I am sure," said Mrs. Bennet, "and I dare say she is a very agreeable woman. It is a pity that great ladies in general are not more like her. Does she live near you, sir?"

"The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship's residence."

"I think you said she was a widow, sir? Has she any family?"

"She has only one daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Bennet, shaking her head, "then she is better off than many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? Is she handsome?"

"She is a most charming young lady indeed. Lady Catherine herself says that, in point of true beauty, Miss de Bourgh is far superior to the handsomest of her sex, because there is that in her features which marks the young lady of distinguished birth. She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her from making that progress in many accomplishments which she could not have otherwise failed of, as I am informed by the lady who superintended her education, and who still resides with them. But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies."

"Has she been presented? I do not remember her name among the ladies at court."

"Her indifferent state of health unhappily prevents her being in town; and by that means, as I told Lady Catherine one day, has deprived the British court of its brightest ornament. Her ladyship seemed pleased with the idea; and you may imagine that I am happy on every occasion to offer those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies. I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine, that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay."

"You judge very properly," said Mr. Bennet, "and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?"

"They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."

Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.

By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:

"Do you know, mamma, that my uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town."

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:

"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin."

Then turning to Mr. Bennet, he offered himself as his antagonist at backgammon. Mr. Bennet accepted the challenge, observing that he acted very wisely in leaving the girls to their own trifling amusements. Mrs. Bennet and her daughters apologised most civilly for Lydia's interruption, and promised that it should not occur again, if he would resume his book; but Mr. Collins, after assuring them that he bore his young cousin no ill-will, and should never resent her behaviour as any affront, seated himself at another table with Mr. Bennet, and prepared for backgammon.

 

 

 

Chapter 15

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

Having now a good house and a very sufficient income, he intended to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with the Longbourn family he had a wife in view, as he meant to choose one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by common report. This was his plan of amends—of atonement—for inheriting their father's estate; and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part.

His plan did not vary on seeing them. Miss Bennet's lovely face confirmed his views, and established all his strictest notions of what was due to seniority; and for the first evening she was his settled choice. The next morning, however, made an alteration; for in a quarter of an hour's tete-a-tete with Mrs. Bennet before breakfast, a conversation beginning with his parsonage-house, and leading naturally to the avowal of his hopes, that a mistress might be found for it at Longbourn, produced from her, amid very complaisant smiles and general encouragement, a caution against the very Jane he had fixed on. "As to her younger daughters, she could not take upon her to say—she could not positively answer—but she did not know of any prepossession; her eldest daughter, she must just mention—she felt it incumbent on her to hint, was likely to be very soon engaged."

Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth—and it was soon done—done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire. Elizabeth, equally next to Jane in birth and beauty, succeeded her of course.

Mrs. Bennet treasured up the hint, and trusted that she might soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces.

Lydia's intention of walking to Meryton was not forgotten; every sister except Mary agreed to go with her; and Mr. Collins was to attend them, at the request of Mr. Bennet, who was most anxious to get rid of him, and have his library to himself; for thither Mr. Collins had followed him after breakfast; and there he would continue, nominally engaged with one of the largest folios in the collection, but really talking to Mr. Bennet, with little cessation, of his house and garden at Hunsford. Such doings discomposed Mr. Bennet exceedingly. In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there; his civility, therefore, was most prompt in inviting Mr. Collins to join his daughters in their walk; and Mr. Collins, being in fact much better fitted for a walker than a reader, was extremely pleased to close his large book, and go.

In pompous nothings on his side, and civil assents on that of his cousins, their time passed till they entered Meryton. The attention of the younger ones was then no longer to be gained by him. Their eyes were immediately wandering up in the street in quest of the officers, and nothing less than a very smart bonnet indeed, or a really new muslin in a shop window, could recall them.

But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance, walking with another officer on the other side of the way. The officer was the very Mr. Denny concerning whose return from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed as they passed. All were struck with the stranger's air, all wondered who he could be; and Kitty and Lydia, determined if possible to find out, led the way across the street, under pretense of wanting something in an opposite shop, and fortunately had just gained the pavement when the two gentlemen, turning back, had reached the same spot. Mr. Denny addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town, and he was happy to say had accepted a commission in their corps. This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. The introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of conversation—a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming; and the whole party were still standing and talking together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their notice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street. On distinguishing the ladies of the group, the two gentlemen came directly towards them, and began the usual civilities. Bingley was the principal spokesman, and Miss Bennet the principal object. He was then, he said, on his way to Longbourn on purpose to inquire after her. Mr. Darcy corroborated it with a bow, and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger, and Elizabeth happening to see the countenance of both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. Both changed colour, one looked white, the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat—a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know.

In another minute, Mr. Bingley, but without seeming to have noticed what passed, took leave and rode on with his friend.

Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham walked with the young ladies to the door of Mr. Phillip's house, and then made their bows, in spite of Miss Lydia's pressing entreaties that they should come in, and even in spite of Mrs. Phillips's throwing up the parlour window and loudly seconding the invitation.

Mrs. Phillips was always glad to see her nieces; and the two eldest, from their recent absence, were particularly welcome, and she was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden return home, which, as their own carriage had not fetched them, she should have known nothing about, if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones's shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility was claimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane's introduction of him. She received him with her very best politeness, which he returned with as much more, apologising for his intrusion, without any previous acquaintance with her, which he could not help flattering himself, however, might be justified by his relationship to the young ladies who introduced him to her notice. Mrs. Phillips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding; but her contemplation of one stranger was soon put to an end by exclamations and inquiries about the other; of whom, however, she could only tell her nieces what they already knew, that Mr. Denny had brought him from London, and that he was to have a lieutenant's commission in the ——shire. She had been watching him the last hour, she said, as he walked up and down the street, and had Mr. Wickham appeared, Kitty and Lydia would certainly have continued the occupation, but unluckily no one passed windows now except a few of the officers, who, in comparison with the stranger, were become "stupid, disagreeable fellows." Some of them were to dine with the Phillipses the next day, and their aunt promised to make her husband call on Mr. Wickham, and give him an invitation also, if the family from Longbourn would come in the evening. This was agreed to, and Mrs. Phillips protested that they would have a nice comfortable noisy game of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards. The prospect of such delights was very cheering, and they parted in mutual good spirits. Mr. Collins repeated his apologies in quitting the room, and was assured with unwearying civility that they were perfectly needless.

As they walked home, Elizabeth related to Jane what she had seen pass between the two gentlemen; but though Jane would have defended either or both, had they appeared to be in the wrong, she could no more explain such behaviour than her sister.

Mr. Collins on his return highly gratified Mrs. Bennet by admiring Mrs. Phillips's manners and politeness. He protested that, except Lady Catherine and her daughter, he had never seen a more elegant woman; for she had not only received him with the utmost civility, but even pointedly included him in her invitation for the next evening, although utterly unknown to her before. Something, he supposed, might be attributed to his connection with them, but yet he had never met with so much attention in the whole course of his life.

 

 

 

Chapter 16

As no objection was made to the young people's engagement with their aunt, and all Mr. Collins's scruples of leaving Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for a single evening during his visit were most steadily resisted, the coach conveyed him and his five cousins at a suitable hour to Meryton; and the girls had the pleasure of hearing, as they entered the drawing-room, that Mr. Wickham had accepted their uncle's invitation, and was then in the house.

When this information was given, and they had all taken their seats, Mr. Collins was at leisure to look around him and admire, and he was so much struck with the size and furniture of the apartment, that he declared he might almost have supposed himself in the small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings; a comparison that did not at first convey much gratification; but when Mrs. Phillips understood from him what Rosings was, and who was its proprietor—when she had listened to the description of only one of Lady Catherine's drawing-rooms, and found that the chimney-piece alone had cost eight hundred pounds, she felt all the force of the compliment, and would hardly have resented a comparison with the housekeeper's room.

In describing to her all the grandeur of Lady Catherine and her mansion, with occasional digressions in praise of his own humble abode, and the improvements it was receiving, he was happily employed until the gentlemen joined them; and he found in Mrs. Phillips a very attentive listener, whose opinion of his consequence increased with what she heard, and who was resolving to retail it all among her neighbours as soon as she could. To the girls, who could not listen to their cousin, and who had nothing to do but to wish for an instrument, and examine their own indifferent imitations of china on the mantelpiece, the interval of waiting appeared very long. It was over at last, however. The gentlemen did approach, and when Mr. Wickham walked into the room, Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him before, nor thinking of him since, with the smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. The officers of the ——shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but Mr. Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk, as they were superior to the broad-faced, stuffy uncle Phillips, breathing port wine, who followed them into the room.

Mr. Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy woman by whom he finally seated himself; and the agreeable manner in which he immediately fell into conversation, though it was only on its being a wet night, made her feel that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker.

With such rivals for the notice of the fair as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed to sink into insignificance; to the young ladies he certainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals a kind listener in Mrs. Phillips, and was by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin. When the card-tables were placed, he had the opportunity of obliging her in turn, by sitting down to whist.

"I know little of the game at present," said he, "but I shall be glad to improve myself, for in my situation in life—" Mrs. Phillips was very glad for his compliance, but could not wait for his reason.

Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia's engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in the game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes to have attention for anyone in particular. Allowing for the common demands of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to be told—the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She dared not even mention that gentleman. Her curiosity, however, was unexpectedly relieved. Mr. Wickham began the subject himself. He inquired how far Netherfield was from Meryton; and, after receiving her answer, asked in a hesitating manner how long Mr. Darcy had been staying there.

"About a month," said Elizabeth; and then, unwilling to let the subject drop, added, "He is a man of very large property in Derbyshire, I understand."

"Yes," replied Mr. Wickham; "his estate there is a noble one. A clear ten thousand per annum. You could not have met with a person more capable of giving you certain information on that head than myself, for I have been connected with his family in a particular manner from my infancy."

Elizabeth could not but look surprised.

"You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, at such an assertion, after seeing, as you probably might, the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday. Are you much acquainted with Mr. Darcy?"

"As much as I ever wish to be," cried Elizabeth very warmly. "I have spent four days in the same house with him, and I think him very disagreeable."

"I have no right to give my opinion," said Wickham, "as to his being agreeable or otherwise. I am not qualified to form one. I have known him too long and too well to be a fair judge. It is impossible for me to be impartial. But I believe your opinion of him would in general astonish—and perhaps you would not express it quite so strongly anywhere else. Here you are in your own family."

"Upon my word, I say no more here than I might say in any house in the neighbourhood, except Netherfield. He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire. Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by anyone."

"I cannot pretend to be sorry," said Wickham, after a short interruption, "that he or that any man should not be estimated beyond their deserts; but with him I believe it does not often happen. The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chooses to be seen."

"I should take him, even on my slight acquaintance, to be an ill-tempered man." Wickham only shook his head.

"I wonder," said he, at the next opportunity of speaking, "whether he is likely to be in this country much longer."

"I do not at all know; but I heard nothing of his going away when I was at Netherfield. I hope your plans in favour of the ——shire will not be affected by his being in the neighbourhood."

"Oh! no—it is not for me to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he must go. We are not on friendly terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might proclaim before all the world, a sense of very great ill-usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is. His father, Miss Bennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men that ever breathed, and the truest friend I ever had; and I can never be in company with this Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections. His behaviour to myself has been scandalous; but I verily believe I could forgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the memory of his father."

Elizabeth found the interest of the subject increase, and listened with all her heart; but the delicacy of it prevented further inquiry.

Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics, Meryton, the neighbourhood, the society, appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.

"It was the prospect of constant society, and good society," he added, "which was my chief inducement to enter the ——shire. I knew it to be a most respectable, agreeable corps, and my friend Denny tempted me further by his account of their present quarters, and the very great attentions and excellent acquaintances Meryton had procured them. Society, I own, is necessary to me. I have been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. I must have employment and society. A military life is not what I was intended for, but circumstances have now made it eligible. The church ought to have been my profession—I was brought up for the church, and I should at this time have been in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now."

"Indeed!"

"Yes—the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best living in his gift. He was my godfather, and excessively attached to me. I cannot do justice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere."

"Good heavens!" cried Elizabeth; "but how could that be? How could his will be disregarded? Why did you not seek legal redress?"

"There was just such an informality in the terms of the bequest as to give me no hope from law. A man of honour could not have doubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it—or to treat it as a merely conditional recommendation, and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it by extravagance, imprudence—in short anything or nothing. Certain it is, that the living became vacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an age to hold it, and that it was given to another man; and no less certain is it, that I cannot accuse myself of having really done anything to deserve to lose it. I have a warm, unguarded temper, and I may have spoken my opinion of him, and to him, too freely. I can recall nothing worse. But the fact is, that we are very different sort of men, and that he hates me."

"This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced."

"Some time or other he will be—but it shall not be by me. Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him."

Elizabeth honoured him for such feelings, and thought him handsomer than ever as he expressed them.

"But what," said she, after a pause, "can have been his motive? What can have induced him to behave so cruelly?"

"A thorough, determined dislike of me—a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with me better; but his father's uncommon attachment to me irritated him, I believe, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition in which we stood—the sort of preference which was often given me."

"I had not thought Mr. Darcy so bad as this—though I have never liked him. I had not thought so very ill of him. I had supposed him to be despising his fellow-creatures in general, but did not suspect him of descending to such malicious revenge, such injustice, such inhumanity as this."

After a few minutes' reflection, however, she continued, "I do remember his boasting one day, at Netherfield, of the implacability of his resentments, of his having an unforgiving temper. His disposition must be dreadful."

"I will not trust myself on the subject," replied Wickham; "I can hardly be just to him."

Elizabeth was again deep in thought, and after a time exclaimed, "To treat in such a manner the godson, the friend, the favourite of his father!" She could have added, "A young man, too, like you, whose very countenance may vouch for your being amiable"—but she contented herself with, "and one, too, who had probably been his companion from childhood, connected together, as I think you said, in the closest manner!"

"We were born in the same parish, within the same park; the greatest part of our youth was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing the same amusements, objects of the same parental care. My father began life in the profession which your uncle, Mr. Phillips, appears to do so much credit to—but he gave up everything to be of use to the late Mr. Darcy and devoted all his time to the care of the Pemberley property. He was most highly esteemed by Mr. Darcy, a most intimate, confidential friend. Mr. Darcy often acknowledged himself to be under the greatest obligations to my father's active superintendence, and when, immediately before my father's death, Mr. Darcy gave him a voluntary promise of providing for me, I am convinced that he felt it to be as much a debt of gratitude to him, as of his affection to myself."

"How strange!" cried Elizabeth. "How abominable! I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest—for dishonesty I must call it."

"It is wonderful," replied Wickham, "for almost all his actions may be traced to pride; and pride had often been his best friend. It has connected him nearer with virtue than with any other feeling. But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even than pride."

"Can such abominable pride as his have ever done him good?"

"Yes. It has often led him to be liberal and generous, to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor. Family pride, and filial pride—for he is very proud of what his father was—have done this. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive. He has also brotherly pride, which, with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers."

"What sort of girl is Miss Darcy?"

He shook his head. "I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to speak ill of a Darcy. But she is too much like her brother—very, very proud. As a child, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and, I understand, highly accomplished. Since her father's death, her home has been London, where a lady lives with her, and superintends her education."

After many pauses and many trials of other subjects, Elizabeth could not help reverting once more to the first, and saying:

"I am astonished at his intimacy with Mr. Bingley! How can Mr. Bingley, who seems good humour itself, and is, I really believe, truly amiable, be in friendship with such a man? How can they suit each other? Do you know Mr. Bingley?"

"Not at all."

"He is a sweet-tempered, amiable, charming man. He cannot know what Mr. Darcy is."

"Probably not; but Mr. Darcy can please where he chooses. He does not want abilities. He can be a conversible companion if he thinks it worth his while. Among those who are at all his equals in consequence, he is a very different man from what he is to the less prosperous. His pride never deserts him; but with the rich he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable—allowing something for fortune and figure."

The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the players gathered round the other table and Mr. Collins took his station between his cousin Elizabeth and Mrs. Phillips. The usual inquiries as to his success was made by the latter. It had not been very great; he had lost every point; but when Mrs. Phillips began to express her concern thereupon, he assured her with much earnest gravity that it was not of the least importance, that he considered the money as a mere trifle, and begged that she would not make herself uneasy.

"I know very well, madam," said he, "that when persons sit down to a card-table, they must take their chances of these things, and happily I am not in such circumstances as to make five shillings any object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters."

Mr. Wickham's attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few moments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relation was very intimately acquainted with the family of de Bourgh.

"Lady Catherine de Bourgh," she replied, "has very lately given him a living. I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but he certainly has not known her long."

"You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy."

"No, indeed, I did not. I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine's connections. I never heard of her existence till the day before yesterday."

"Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates."

This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poor Miss Bingley. Vain indeed must be all her attentions, vain and useless her affection for his sister and her praise of himself, if he were already self-destined for another.

"Mr. Collins," said she, "speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and her daughter; but from some particulars that he has related of her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude misleads him, and that in spite of her being his patroness, she is an arrogant, conceited woman."

"I believe her to be both in a great degree," replied Wickham; "I have not seen her for many years, but I very well remember that I never liked her, and that her manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the pride for her nephew, who chooses that everyone connected with him should have an understanding of the first class."

Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips's supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away with her head full of him. She could think of nothing but of Mr. Wickham, and of what he had told her, all the way home; but there was not time for her even to mention his name as they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, protesting that he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.

 

 

 

Chapter 17

Elizabeth related to Jane the next day what had passed between Mr. Wickham and herself. Jane listened with astonishment and concern; she knew not how to believe that Mr. Darcy could be so unworthy of Mr. Bingley's regard; and yet, it was not in her nature to question the veracity of a young man of such amiable appearance as Wickham. The possibility of his having endured such unkindness, was enough to interest all her tender feelings; and nothing remained therefore to be done, but to think well of them both, to defend the conduct of each, and throw into the account of accident or mistake whatever could not be otherwise explained.

"They have both," said she, "been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other, of which we can form no idea. Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side."

"Very true, indeed; and now, my dear Jane, what have you got to say on behalf of the interested people who have probably been concerned in the business? Do clear them too, or we shall be obliged to think ill of somebody."

"Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what a disgraceful light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father's favourite in such a manner, one whom his father had promised to provide for. It is impossible. No man of common humanity, no man who had any value for his character, could be capable of it. Can his most intimate friends be so excessively deceived in him? Oh! no."

"I can much more easily believe Mr. Bingley's being imposed on, than that Mr. Wickham should invent such a history of himself as he gave me last night; names, facts, everything mentioned without ceremony. If it be not so, let Mr. Darcy contradict it. Besides, there was truth in his looks."

"It is difficult indeed—it is distressing. One does not know what to think."

"I beg your pardon; one knows exactly what to think."

But Jane could think with certainty on only one point—that Mr. Bingley, if he had been imposed on, would have much to suffer when the affair became public.

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very 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. The two ladies were delighted to see their dear friend again, called it an age since they had met, and repeatedly asked what she had been doing with herself since their separation. To the rest of the family they paid little attention; avoiding Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, saying not much to Elizabeth, and nothing at all to the others. They were soon gone again, rising from their seats with an activity which took their brother by surprise, and hurrying off as if eager to escape from Mrs. Bennet's civilities.

The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularly flattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself, instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of her brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcy's look and behaviour. The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any single event, or any particular person, for though they each, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was by no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was, at any rate, a ball. And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it.

"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it is enough—I think it is no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening engagements. Society has claims on us all; and I profess myself one of those who consider intervals of recreation and amusement as desirable for everybody."

Elizabeth's spirits were so high on this occasion, 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, and if he did, whether he would think it proper to join in the evening's amusement; and she was rather surprised to find that he entertained no scruple whatever on that head, and was very far from dreading a rebuke either from the Archbishop, or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, by venturing to dance.

"I am by no means of the opinion, I assure you," said he, "that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, to respectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am so far from objecting to dancing myself, that I shall hope to be honoured with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course of the evening; and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, Miss Elizabeth, for the two first dances especially, a preference which I trust my cousin Jane will attribute to the right cause, and not to any disrespect for her."

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed being engaged by Mr. Wickham for those very dances; and to have Mr. Collins instead! her liveliness had never been worse timed. There was no help for it, however. Mr. Wickham's happiness and her own were perforce delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins's proposal accepted with as good a grace as she could. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry from the idea it suggested of something more. It now first struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors. The idea soon reached to conviction, as she observed his increasing civilities toward herself, and heard his frequent attempt at a compliment on her wit and vivacity; and though more astonished than gratified herself by this effect of her charms, it was not long before her mother gave her to understand that the probability of their marriage was extremely agreeable to her. Elizabeth, however, did not choose to take the hint, being well aware that a serious dispute must be the consequence of any reply. Mr. Collins might never make the offer, and till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.

If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talk of, the younger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiable state at this time, for from the day of the invitation, to the day of the ball, there was such a succession of rain as prevented their walking to Meryton once. No aunt, no officers, no news could be sought after—the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy. Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of her patience in weather which totally suspended the improvement of her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham; and nothing less than a dance on Tuesday, could have made such a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.

 

 

 

Chapter 18

Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, and looked in vain for Mr. Wickham among the cluster of red coats there assembled, a doubt of his being present had never occurred to her. The certainty of meeting him had not been checked by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably have alarmed her. She had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart, trusting that it was not more than might be won in the course of the evening. But in an instant arose the dreadful suspicion of his being purposely omitted for Mr. Darcy's pleasure in the Bingleys' invitation to the officers; and though this was not exactly the case, the absolute fact of his absence was pronounced by his friend Denny, to whom Lydia eagerly applied, and who told them that Wickham had been obliged to go to town on business the day before, and was not yet returned; adding, with a significant smile, "I do not imagine his business would have called him away just now, if he had not wanted to avoid a certain gentleman here."

This part of his intelligence, though unheard by Lydia, was caught by Elizabeth, and, as it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable for Wickham's absence than if her first surmise had been just, every feeling of displeasure against the former was so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that she could hardly reply with tolerable civility to the polite inquiries which he directly afterwards approached to make. Attendance, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham. She was resolved against any sort of conversation with him, and turned away with a degree of ill-humour which she could not wholly surmount even in speaking to Mr. Bingley, whose blind partiality provoked her.

But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of her own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; and having told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas, whom she had not seen for a week, she was soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of her cousin, and to point him out to her particular notice. The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy.

She danced next with an officer, and had the refreshment of talking of Wickham, and of hearing that he was universally liked. When those dances were over, she returned to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him. He walked away again immediately, and she was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her:

"I dare say you will find him very agreeable."

"Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil."

When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks, their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:—"It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

"Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent."

"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"

"Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."

"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?"

"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."

"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," said he. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."

"I must not decide on my own performance."

He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did not very often walk to Meryton. She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, "When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."

The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, but he said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself for her own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said, "Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."

"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."

Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject. At that moment, Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.

"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy:—but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me."

The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Sir William's allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together. Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to his partner, and said, "Sir William's interruption has made me forget what we were talking of."

"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine."

"What think you of books?" said he, smiling.

"Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."

"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions."

"No—I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."

"The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?" said he, with a look of doubt.

"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, "I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."

"I am," said he, with a firm voice.

"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"

"I hope not."

"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first."

"May I ask to what these questions tend?"

"Merely to the illustration of your character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to make it out."

"And what is your success?"

She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."

"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either."

"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity."

"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he coldly replied. She said no more, and they went down the other dance and parted in silence; and on each side dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree, for in Darcy's breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all his anger against another.

They had not long separated, when Miss Bingley came towards her, and with an expression of civil disdain accosted her:

"So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are quite delighted with George Wickham! Your sister has been talking to me about him, and asking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young man quite forgot to tell you, among his other communication, that he was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr. Darcy's steward. Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implicit confidence to all his assertions; for as to Mr. Darcy's using him ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, he has always been remarkably kind to him, though George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner. I do not know the particulars, but I know very well that Mr. Darcy is not in the least to blame, that he cannot bear to hear George Wickham mentioned, and that though my brother thought that he could not well avoid including him in his invitation to the officers, he was excessively glad to find that he had taken himself out of the way. His coming into the country at all is a most insolent thing, indeed, and I wonder how he could presume to do it. I pity you, Miss Eliza, for this discovery of your favourite's guilt; but really, considering his descent, one could not expect much better."

"His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be the same," said Elizabeth angrily; "for I have heard you accuse him of nothing worse than of being the son of Mr. Darcy's steward, and of that, I can assure you, he informed me himself."

"I beg your pardon," replied Miss Bingley, turning away with a sneer. "Excuse my interference—it was kindly meant."

"Insolent girl!" said Elizabeth to herself. "You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this. I see nothing in it but your own wilful ignorance and the malice of Mr. Darcy." She then sought her eldest sister, who has undertaken to make inquiries on the same subject of Bingley. Jane met her with a smile of such sweet complacency, a glow of such happy expression, as sufficiently marked how well she was satisfied with the occurrences of the evening. Elizabeth instantly read her feelings, and at that moment solicitude for Wickham, resentment against his enemies, and everything else, gave way before the hope of Jane's being in the fairest way for happiness.

"I want to know," said she, with a countenance no less smiling than her sister's, "what you have learnt about Mr. Wickham. But perhaps you have been too pleasantly engaged to think of any third person; in which case you may be sure of my pardon."

"No," replied Jane, "I have not forgotten him; but I have nothing satisfactory to tell you. Mr. Bingley does not know the whole of his history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances which have principally offended Mr. Darcy; but he will vouch for the good conduct, the probity, and honour of his friend, and is perfectly convinced that Mr. Wickham has deserved much less attention from Mr. Darcy than he has received; and I am sorry to say by his account as well as his sister's, Mr. Wickham is by no means a respectable young man. I am afraid he has been very imprudent, and has deserved to lose Mr. Darcy's regard."

"Mr. Bingley does not know Mr. Wickham himself?"

"No; he never saw him till the other morning at Meryton."

"This account then is what he has received from Mr. Darcy. I am satisfied. But what does he say of the living?"

"He does not exactly recollect the circumstances, though he has heard them from Mr. Darcy more than once, but he believes that it was left to him conditionally only."

"I have not a doubt of Mr. Bingley's sincerity," said Elizabeth warmly; "but you must excuse my not being convinced by assurances only. Mr. Bingley's defense of his friend was a very able one, I dare say; but since he is unacquainted with several parts of the story, and has learnt the rest from that friend himself, I shall venture to still think of both gentlemen as I did before."

She then changed the discourse to one more gratifying to each, and on which there could be no difference of sentiment. Elizabeth listened with delight to the happy, though modest hopes which Jane entertained of Mr. Bingley's regard, and said all in her power to heighten her confidence in it. On their being joined by Mr. Bingley himself, Elizabeth withdrew to Miss Lucas; to whose inquiry after the pleasantness of her last partner she had scarcely replied, before Mr. Collins came up to them, and told her with great exultation that he had just been so fortunate as to make a most important discovery.

"I have found out," said he, "by a singular accident, that there is now in the room a near relation of my patroness. I happened to overhear the gentleman himself mentioning to the young lady who does the honours of the house the names of his cousin Miss de Bourgh, and of her mother Lady Catherine. How wonderfully these sort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meeting with, perhaps, a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this assembly! I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trust he will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology."

"You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!"

"Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine's nephew. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se'nnight."

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance. Mr. Collins listened to her with the determined air of following his own inclination, and, when she ceased speaking, replied thus:

"My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in your excellent judgement in all matters within the scope of your understanding; but permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself." And with a low bow he left her to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not hear a word of it, she felt as if hearing it all, and saw in the motion of his lips the words "apology," "Hunsford," and "Lady Catherine de Bourgh." It vexed her to see him expose himself to such a man. Mr. Darcy was eyeing him with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr. Collins allowed him time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr. Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Mr. Darcy's contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of his second speech, and at the end of it he only made him a slight bow, and moved another way. Mr. Collins then returned to Elizabeth.

"I have no reason, I assure you," said he, "to be dissatisfied with my reception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. He answered me with the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that he was so well convinced of Lady Catherine's discernment as to be certain she could never bestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him."

As Elizabeth had no longer any interest of her own to pursue, she turned her attention almost entirely on her sister and Mr. Bingley; and the train of agreeable reflections which her observations gave birth to, made her perhaps almost as happy as Jane. She saw her in idea settled in that very house, in all the felicity which a marriage of true affection could bestow; and she felt capable, under such circumstances, of endeavouring even to like Bingley's two sisters. Her mother's thoughts she plainly saw were bent the same way, and she determined not to venture near her, lest she might hear too much. When they sat down to supper, therefore, she considered it a most unlucky perverseness which placed them within one of each other; and deeply was she vexed to find that her mother was talking to that one person (Lady Lucas) freely, openly, and of nothing else but her expectation that Jane would soon be married to Mr. Bingley. It was an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. His being such a charming young man, and so rich, and living but three miles from them, were the first points of self-gratulation; and then it was such a comfort to think how fond the two sisters were of Jane, and to be certain that they must desire the connection as much as she could do. It was, moreover, such a promising thing for her younger daughters, as Jane's marrying so greatly must throw them in the way of other rich men; and lastly, it was so pleasant at her time of life to be able to consign her single daughters to the care of their sister, that she might not be obliged to go into company more than she liked. It was necessary to make this circumstance a matter of pleasure, because on such occasions it is the etiquette; but no one was less likely than Mrs. Bennet to find comfort in staying home at any period of her life. She concluded with many good wishes that Lady Lucas might soon be equally fortunate, though evidently and triumphantly believing there was no chance of it.

In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to check the rapidity of her mother's words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in a less audible whisper; for, to her inexpressible vexation, she could perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Mr. Darcy, who sat opposite to them. Her mother only scolded her for being nonsensical.

"What is Mr. Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him? I am sure we owe him no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing he may not like to hear."

"For heaven's sake, madam, speak lower. What advantage can it be for you to offend Mr. Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to his friend by so doing!"

Nothing that she could say, however, had any influence. Her mother would talk of her views in the same intelligible tone. Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation. She could not help frequently glancing her eye at Mr. Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded; for though he was not always looking at her mother, she was convinced that his attention was invariably fixed by her. The expression of his face changed gradually from indignant contempt to a composed and steady gravity.

At length, however, Mrs. Bennet had no more to say; and Lady Lucas, who had been long yawning at the repetition of delights which she saw no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comforts of cold ham and chicken. Elizabeth now began to revive. But not long was the interval of tranquillity; for, when supper was over, singing was talked of, and she had the mortification of seeing Mary, after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company. By many significant looks and silent entreaties, did she endeavour to prevent such a proof of complaisance, but in vain; Mary would not understand them; such an opportunity of exhibiting was delightful to her, and she began her song. Elizabeth's eyes were fixed on her with most painful sensations, and she watched her progress through the several stanzas with an impatience which was very ill rewarded at their close; for Mary, on receiving, amongst the thanks of the table, the hint of a hope that she might be prevailed on to favour them again, after the pause of half a minute began another. Mary's powers were by no means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak, and her manner affected. Elizabeth was in agonies. She looked at Jane, to see how she bore it; but Jane was very composedly talking to Bingley. She looked at his two sisters, and saw them making signs of derision at each other, and at Darcy, who continued, however, imperturbably grave. She looked at her father to entreat his interference, lest Mary should be singing all night. He took the hint, and when Mary had finished her second song, said aloud, "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."

Mary, though pretending not to hear, was somewhat disconcerted; and Elizabeth, sorry for her, and sorry for her father's speech, was afraid her anxiety had done no good. Others of the party were now applied to.

"If I," said Mr. Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. I do not mean, however, to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainly other things to be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do. In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that he should have attentive and conciliatory manners towards everybody, especially towards those to whom he owes his preferment. I cannot acquit him of that duty; nor could I think well of the man who should omit an occasion of testifying his respect towards anybody connected with the family." And with a bow to Mr. Darcy, he concluded his speech, which had been spoken so loud as to be heard by half the room. Many stared—many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Lady Lucas, that he was a remarkably clever, good kind of young man.

To Elizabeth it appeared that, had her family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success; and happy did she think it for Bingley and her sister that some of the exhibition had escaped his notice, and that his feelings were not of a sort to be much distressed by the folly which he must have witnessed. That his two sisters and Mr. Darcy, however, should have such an opportunity of ridiculing her relations, was bad enough, and she could not determine whether the silent contempt of the gentleman, or the insolent smiles of the ladies, were more intolerable.

The rest of the evening brought her little amusement. She was teased by Mr. Collins, who continued most perseveringly by her side, and though he could not prevail on her to dance with him again, put it out of her power to dance with others. In vain did she entreat him to stand up with somebody else, and offer to introduce him to any young lady in the room. He assured her, that as to dancing, he was perfectly indifferent to it; that his chief object was by delicate attentions to recommend himself to her and that he should therefore make a point of remaining close to her the whole evening. There was no arguing upon such a project. She owed her greatest relief to her friend Miss Lucas, who often joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Mr. Collins's conversation to herself.

She was at least free from the offense of Mr. Darcy's further notice; though often standing within a very short distance of her, quite disengaged, he never came near enough to speak. She felt it to be the probable consequence of her allusions to Mr. Wickham, and rejoiced in it.

The Longbourn party were the last of all the company to depart, and, by a manoeuvre of Mrs. Bennet, had to wait for their carriage a quarter of an hour after everybody else was gone, which gave them time to see how heartily they were wished away by some of the family. Mrs. Hurst and her sister scarcely opened their mouths, except to complain of fatigue, and were evidently impatient to have the house to themselves. They repulsed every attempt of Mrs. Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw a languor over the whole party, which was very little relieved by the long speeches of Mr. Collins, who was complimenting Mr. Bingley and his sisters on the elegance of their entertainment, and the hospitality and politeness which had marked their behaviour to their guests. Darcy said nothing at all. Mr. Bennet, in equal silence, was enjoying the scene. Mr. Bingley and Jane were standing together, a little detached from the rest, and talked only to each other. Elizabeth preserved as steady a silence as either Mrs. Hurst or Miss Bingley; and even Lydia was too much fatigued to utter more than the occasional exclamation of "Lord, how tired I am!" accompanied by a violent yawn.

When at length they arose to take leave, Mrs. Bennet was most pressingly civil in her hope of seeing the whole family soon at Longbourn, and addressed herself especially to Mr. Bingley, to assure him how happy he would make them by eating a family dinner with them at any time, without the ceremony of a formal invitation. Bingley was all grateful pleasure, and he readily engaged for taking the earliest opportunity of waiting on her, after his return from London, whither he was obliged to go the next day for a short time.

Mrs. Bennet was perfectly satisfied, and quitted the house under the delightful persuasion that, allowing for the necessary preparations of settlements, new carriages, and wedding clothes, she should undoubtedly see her daughter settled at Netherfield in the course of three or four months. Of having another daughter married to Mr. Collins, she thought with equal certainty, and with considerable, though not equal, pleasure. Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her children; and though the man and the match were quite good enough for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr. Bingley and Netherfield.

 

 

 

Chapter 19

The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn. Mr. Collins made his declaration in form. Having resolved to do it without loss of time, as his leave of absence extended only to the following Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to make it distressing to himself even at the moment, he set about it in a very orderly manner, with all the observances, which he supposed 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, for your interest with your fair daughter Elizabeth, when I solicit for the honour of a private audience with her in the course of this morning?"

Before Elizabeth had time for anything but a blush of surprise, Mrs. Bennet answered instantly, "Oh dear!—yes—certainly. I am sure Lizzy will be very happy—I am sure she can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you up stairs." And, gathering her work together, she was hastening away, when Elizabeth called out:

"Dear madam, do not go. I beg you will not 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 upon Elizabeth's seeming really, with vexed and embarrassed looks, about to escape, she added: "Lizzy, I insist upon your staying and hearing Mr. Collins."

Elizabeth would not oppose such an injunction—and a moment's consideration making her also sensible that it would be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible, she sat down again and tried to conceal, by incessant employment the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion. Mrs. Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were gone, Mr. Collins began.

"Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assure you, that I have your respected mother's permission for this address. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did."

The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing, that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him further, and he continued:

"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh's footstool, that she said, 'Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.' Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, I think, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite. Thus much for my general intention in favour of matrimony; it remains to be told why my views were directed towards Longbourn instead of my own neighbourhood, where I can assure you there are many amiable young women. But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father (who, however, may live many years longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose a wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place—which, however, as I have already said, may not be for several years. This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. To fortune I am perfectly indifferent, and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since I am well aware that it could not be complied with; and that one thousand pounds in the four per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married."

It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him now.

"You are too hasty, sir," she cried. "You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without further loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them."

"I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long."

"Upon my word, sir," cried Elizabeth, "your hope is a rather extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so. Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation."

"Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so," said Mr. Collins very gravely—"but I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the very highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualification."

"Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you must have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be considered, therefore, as finally settled." And rising as she thus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had Mr. Collins not thus addressed her:

"When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on the subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character."

"Really, Mr. Collins," cried Elizabeth with some warmth, "you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one."

"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."

"I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart."

"You are uniformly charming!" cried he, with an air of awkward gallantry; "and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable."

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; determined, if he persisted in considering her repeated refusals as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to be decisive, and whose behaviour at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.

 

 

 

Chapter 20

Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards the staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room, and congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy prospect or their nearer connection. Mr. Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with the result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of her character.

This information, however, startled Mrs. Bennet; she would have been glad to be equally satisfied that her daughter had meant to encourage him by protesting against his proposals, but she dared not believe it, and could not help saying so.

"But, depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly. She is a very headstrong, foolish girl, and does not know her own interest but I will make her know it."

"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state. If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity."

"Sir, you quite misunderstand me," said Mrs. Bennet, alarmed. "Lizzy is only headstrong in such matters as these. In everything else she is as good-natured a girl as ever lived. I will go directly to Mr. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with her, I am sure."

She would not give him time to reply, but hurrying instantly to her husband, called out as she entered the library, "Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her."

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 altered by her communication.

"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."

"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopeless business."

"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.

"Come here, child," cried 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 this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must 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 but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning, but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively disappointed.

"What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, in talking this way? You promised me to insist upon her marrying him."

"My dear," replied her husband, "I have two small favours to request. First, that you will allow me the free use of my understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be."

Not yet, however, in spite of her disappointment in her husband, did Mrs. Bennet give up the point. She talked to Elizabeth again and again; coaxed and threatened her by turns. She endeavoured to secure Jane in her interest; but Jane, with all possible mildness, declined interfering; and Elizabeth, sometimes with real earnestness, and sometimes with playful gaiety, replied to her attacks. Though her manner varied, however, her determination never did.

Mr. Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what had passed. He thought too well of himself to comprehend on what motives his cousin could refuse him; and though his pride was hurt, he suffered in no other way. His regard for her was quite imaginary; and the possibility of her deserving her mother's reproach prevented his feeling any regret.

While the family were in this confusion, Charlotte Lucas came to spend the day with them. She was met in the vestibule by Lydia, who, flying to her, cried in a half whisper, "I am glad you are come, for there is such fun here! What do you think has happened this morning? Mr. Collins has made an offer to Lizzy, and she will not have him."

Charlotte hardly had time to answer, before they were joined by Kitty, who came to tell the same news; and no sooner had they entered the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Bennet was alone, than she likewise began on the subject, calling on Miss Lucas for her compassion, and entreating her to persuade her friend Lizzy to comply with the wishes of all her family. "Pray do, my dear Miss Lucas," she added in a melancholy tone, "for nobody is on my side, nobody takes part with me. I am cruelly used, nobody feels for my poor nerves."

Charlotte's reply was spared by the entrance of Jane and Elizabeth.

"Aye, there she comes," continued Mrs. Bennet, "looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we were at York, provided she can have her own way. But I tell you, Miss Lizzy—if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all—and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you—and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to you again, and you will find me as good as my word. I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much pleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied."

Her daughters listened in silence to this effusion, sensible that any attempt to reason with her or soothe her would only increase the irritation. She talked on, therefore, without interruption from any of them, till they were joined by Mr. Collins, who entered the room with an air more stately than usual, and on perceiving whom, she said to the girls, "Now, I do insist upon it, that you, all of you, hold your tongues, and let me and Mr. Collins have a little conversation together."

Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kitty followed, but Lydia stood her ground, determined to hear all she could; and Charlotte, detained first by the civility of Mr. Collins, whose inquiries after herself and all her family were very minute, and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking to the window and pretending not to hear. In a doleful voice Mrs. Bennet began the projected conversation: "Oh! Mr. Collins!"

"My dear madam," replied he, "let us be for ever silent on this point. Far be it from me," he presently continued, in a voice that marked his displeasure, "to resent the behaviour of your daughter. Resignation to inevitable evils is the duty of us all; the peculiar duty of a young man who has been so fortunate as I have been in early preferment; and I trust I am resigned. Perhaps not the less so from feeling a doubt of my positive happiness had my fair cousin honoured me with her hand; for I have often observed that resignation is never so perfect as when the blessing denied begins to lose somewhat of its value in our estimation. You will not, I hope, consider me as showing any disrespect to your family, my dear madam, by thus withdrawing my pretensions to your daughter's favour, without having paid yourself and Mr. Bennet the compliment of requesting you to interpose your authority in my behalf. My conduct may, I fear, be objectionable in having accepted my dismission from your daughter's lips instead of your own. But we are all liable to error. I have certainly meant well through the whole affair. My object has been to secure an amiable companion for myself, with due consideration for the advantage of all your family, and if my manner has been at all reprehensible, I here beg leave to apologise."

 

 

 

Chapter 21

The discussion of Mr. Collins's offer was now nearly at an end, and Elizabeth had only to suffer from the uncomfortable feelings necessarily attending it, and occasionally from some peevish allusions of her mother. As for the gentleman himself, his feelings were chiefly expressed, not by embarrassment or dejection, or by trying to avoid her, but by stiffness of manner and resentful silence. He scarcely ever spoke to her, and the assiduous attentions which he had been so sensible of himself were transferred for the rest of the day to Miss Lucas, whose civility in listening to him was a seasonable relief to them all, and especially to her friend.

The morrow produced no abatement of Mrs. Bennet's ill-humour or ill health. Mr. Collins was also in the same state of angry pride. Elizabeth had hoped that his resentment might shorten his visit, but his plan did not appear in the least affected by it. He was always to have gone on Saturday, and to Saturday he meant to stay.

After breakfast, the girls walked to Meryton to inquire if Mr. Wickham were returned, and to lament over his absence from the Netherfield ball. He joined them on their entering the town, and attended them to their aunt's where his regret and vexation, and the concern of everybody, was well talked over. To Elizabeth, however, he voluntarily acknowledged that the necessity of his absence had been self-imposed.

"I found," said he, "as the time drew near that I had better not meet Mr. Darcy; that to be in the same room, the same party with him for so many hours together, might be more than I could bear, and that scenes might arise unpleasant to more than myself."

She highly approved his forbearance, and they had leisure for a full discussion of it, and for all the commendation which they civilly bestowed on each other, as Wickham and another officer walked back with them to Longbourn, and during the walk he particularly attended to her. His accompanying them was a double advantage; she felt all the compliment it offered to herself, and it was most acceptable as an occasion of introducing him to her father and mother.

Soon after their return, a letter was delivered to Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield. The envelope contained a sheet of elegant, little, hot-pressed paper, well covered with a lady's fair, flowing hand; and Elizabeth saw her sister's countenance change as she read it, and saw her dwelling intently on some particular passages. Jane recollected herself soon, and putting the letter away, tried to join with her usual cheerfulness in the general conversation; but Elizabeth felt an anxiety on the subject which drew off her attention even from Wickham; and no sooner had he and his companion taken leave, than a glance from Jane invited her to follow her up stairs. When they had gained their own room, Jane, taking out the letter, said:

"This is from Caroline Bingley; what it contains has surprised me a good deal. The whole party have left Netherfield by this time, and are on their way to town—and without any intention of coming back again. You shall hear what she says."

She then read the first sentence aloud, which comprised the information of their having just resolved to follow their brother to town directly, and of their meaning to dine in Grosvenor Street, where Mr. Hurst had a house. The next was in these words: "I do not pretend to regret anything I shall leave in Hertfordshire, except your society, my dearest friend; but we will hope, at some future period, to enjoy many returns of that delightful intercourse we have known, and in the meanwhile may lessen the pain of separation by a very frequent and most unreserved correspondence. I depend on you for that." To these highflown expressions Elizabeth listened with all the insensibility of distrust; and though the suddenness of their removal surprised her, she saw nothing in it really to lament; it was not to be supposed that their absence from Netherfield would prevent Mr. Bingley's being there; and as to the loss of their society, she was persuaded that Jane must cease to regard it, in the enjoyment of his.

"It is unlucky," said she, after a short pause, "that you should not be able to see your friends before they leave the country. But may we not hope that the period of future happiness to which Miss Bingley looks forward may arrive earlier than she is aware, and that the delightful intercourse you have known as friends will be renewed with yet greater satisfaction as sisters? Mr. Bingley will not be detained in London by them."

"Caroline decidedly says that none of the party will return into Hertfordshire this winter. I will read it to you:"

"When my brother left us yesterday, he imagined that the business which took him to London might be concluded in three or four days; but as we are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced that when Charles gets to town he will be in no hurry to leave it again, we have determined on following him thither, that he may not be obliged to spend his vacant hours in a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintances are already there for the winter; I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd—but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you."

"It is evident by this," added Jane, "that he comes back no more this winter."

"It is only evident that Miss Bingley does not mean that he should."

"Why will you think so? It must be his own doing. He is his own master. But you do not know all. I will read you the passage which particularly hurts me. I will have no reserves from you."

"Mr. Darcy is impatient to see his sister; and, to confess the truth, we are scarcely less eager to meet her again. I really do not think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty, elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection she inspires in Louisa and myself is heightened into something still more interesting, from the hope we dare entertain of her being hereafter our sister. I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings on this subject; but I will not leave the country without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem them unreasonable. My brother admires her greatly already; he will have frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the most intimate footing; her relations all wish the connection as much as his own; and a sister's partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call Charles most capable of engaging any woman's heart. With all these circumstances to favour an attachment, and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Jane, in indulging the hope of an event which will secure the happiness of so many?"

"What do you think of this sentence, my dear Lizzy?" said Jane as she finished it. "Is it not clear enough? Does it not expressly declare that Caroline neither expects nor wishes me to be her sister; that she is perfectly convinced of her brother's indifference; and that if she suspects the nature of my feelings for him, she means (most kindly!) to put me on my guard? Can there be any other opinion on the subject?"

"Yes, there can; for mine is totally different. Will you hear it?"

"Most willingly."

"You shall have it in a few words. Miss Bingley sees that her brother is in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy. She follows him to town in hope of keeping him there, and tries to persuade you that he does not care about you."

Jane shook her head.

"Indeed, Jane, you ought to believe me. No one who has ever seen you together can doubt his affection. Miss Bingley, I am sure, cannot. She is not such a simpleton. Could she have seen half as much love in Mr. Darcy for herself, she would have ordered her wedding clothes. But the case is this: We are not rich enough or grand enough for them; and she is the more anxious to get Miss Darcy for her brother, from the notion that when there has been one intermarriage, she may have less trouble in achieving a second; in which there is certainly some ingenuity, and I dare say it would succeed, if Miss de Bourgh were out of the way. But, my dearest Jane, you cannot seriously imagine that because Miss Bingley tells you her brother greatly admires Miss Darcy, he is in the smallest degree less sensible of your merit than when he took leave of you on Tuesday, or that it will be in her power to persuade him that, instead of being in love with you, he is very much in love with her friend."

"If we thought alike of Miss Bingley," replied Jane, "your representation of all this might make me quite easy. But I know the foundation is unjust. Caroline is incapable of wilfully deceiving anyone; and all that I can hope in this case is that she is deceiving herself."

"That is right. You could not have started a more happy idea, since you will not take comfort in mine. Believe her to be deceived, by all means. You have now done your duty by her, and must fret no longer."

"But, my dear sister, can I be happy, even supposing the best, in accepting a man whose sisters and friends are all wishing him to marry elsewhere?"

"You must decide for yourself," said Elizabeth; "and if, upon mature deliberation, you find that the misery of disobliging his two sisters is more than equivalent to the happiness of being his wife, I advise you by all means to refuse him."

"How can you talk so?" said Jane, faintly smiling. "You must know that though I should be exceedingly grieved at their disapprobation, I could not hesitate."

"I did not think you would; and that being the case, I cannot consider your situation with much compassion."

"But if he returns no more this winter, my choice will never be required. A thousand things may arise in six months!"

The idea of his returning no more Elizabeth treated with the utmost contempt. It appeared to her merely the suggestion of Caroline's interested wishes, and she could not for a moment suppose that those wishes, however openly or artfully spoken, could influence a young man so totally independent of everyone.

She represented to her sister as forcibly as possible what she felt on the subject, and had soon the pleasure of seeing its happy effect. Jane's temper was not desponding, and she was gradually led to hope, though the diffidence of affection sometimes overcame the hope, that Bingley would return to Netherfield and answer every wish of her heart.

They agreed that Mrs. Bennet should only hear of the departure of the family, without being alarmed on the score of the gentleman's conduct; but even this partial communication gave her a great deal of concern, and she bewailed it as exceedingly unlucky that the ladies should happen to go away just as they were all getting so intimate together. After lamenting it, however, at some length, she had the consolation that Mr. Bingley would be soon down again and soon dining at Longbourn, and the conclusion of all was the comfortable declaration, that though he had been invited only to a family dinner, she would take care to have two full courses.

 

 

 

Chapter 22

The Bennets were engaged to dine with the Lucases and again during the chief of the day was Miss Lucas so kind as to listen to Mr. Collins. Elizabeth took an opportunity of thanking her. "It keeps him in good humour," said she, "and I am more obliged to you than I can express." Charlotte assured her friend of her satisfaction in being useful, and that it amply repaid her for the little sacrifice of her time. This was very amiable, but Charlotte's kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of; its object was nothing else than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins's addresses, by engaging them towards herself. Such was Miss Lucas's scheme; and appearances were so favourable, that when they parted at night, she would have felt almost secure of success if he had not been to leave Hertfordshire so very soon. But here she did injustice to the fire and independence of his character, for it led him to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her feet. He was anxious to avoid the notice of his cousins, from a conviction that if they saw him depart, they could not fail to conjecture his design, and he was not willing to have the attempt known till its success might be known likewise; for though feeling almost secure, and with reason, for Charlotte had been tolerably encouraging, he was comparatively diffident since the adventure of Wednesday. His reception, however, was of the most flattering kind. Miss Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked towards the house, and instantly set out to meet him accidentally in the lane. But little had she dared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited her there.

In as short a time as Mr. Collins's long speeches would allow, everything was settled between them to the satisfaction of both; and as they entered the house he earnestly entreated her to name the day that was to make him the happiest of men; and though such a solicitation must be waived for the present, the lady felt no inclination to trifle with his happiness. The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.

Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Mr. Collins's present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. Lady Lucas began directly to calculate, with more interest than the matter had ever excited before, how many years longer Mr. Bennet was likely to live; and Sir William gave it as his decided opinion, that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both he and his wife should make their appearance at St. James's. The whole family, in short, were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte's dying an old maid. Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point, and had time to consider of it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. The least agreeable circumstance in the business was the surprise it must occasion to Elizabeth Bennet, whose friendship she valued beyond that of any other person. Elizabeth would wonder, and probably would blame her; and though her resolution was not to be shaken, her feelings must be hurt by such a disapprobation. She resolved to give her the information herself, and therefore charged Mr. Collins, when he returned to Longbourn to dinner, to drop no hint of what had passed before any of the family. A promise of secrecy was of course very dutifully given, but it could not be kept without difficulty; for the curiosity excited by his long absence burst forth in such very direct questions on his return as required some ingenuity to evade, and he was at the same time exercising great self-denial, for he was longing to publish his prosperous love.

As he was to begin his journey too early on the morrow to see any of the family, the ceremony of leave-taking was performed when the ladies moved for the night; and Mrs. Bennet, with great politeness and cordiality, said how happy they should be to see him at Longbourn again, whenever his engagements might allow him to visit them.

"My dear madam," he replied, "this invitation is particularly gratifying, because it is what I have been hoping to receive; and you may be very certain that I shall avail myself of it as soon as possible."

They were all astonished; and Mr. Bennet, who could by no means wish for so speedy a return, immediately said:

"But is there not danger of Lady Catherine's disapprobation here, my good sir? You had better neglect your relations than run the risk of offending your patroness."

"My dear sir," replied Mr. Collins, "I am particularly obliged to you for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon my not taking so material a step without her ladyship's concurrence."

"You cannot be too much upon your guard. Risk anything rather than her displeasure; and if you find it likely to be raised by your coming to us again, which I should think exceedingly probable, stay quietly at home, and be satisfied that we shall take no offence."

"Believe me, my dear sir, my gratitude is warmly excited by such affectionate attention; and depend upon it, you will speedily receive from me a letter of thanks for this, and for every other mark of your regard during my stay in Hertfordshire. As for my fair cousins, though my absence may not be long enough to render it necessary, I shall now take the liberty of wishing them health and happiness, not excepting my cousin Elizabeth."

With proper civilities the ladies then withdrew; all of them equally surprised that he meditated a quick return. Mrs. Bennet wished to understand by it that he thought of paying his addresses to one of her younger girls, and Mary might have been prevailed on to accept him. She rated his abilities much higher than any of the others; there was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her, and though by no means so clever as herself, she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as hers, he might become a very agreeable companion. But on the following morning, every hope of this kind was done away. Miss Lucas called soon after breakfast, and in a private conference with Elizabeth related the event of the day before.

The possibility of Mr. Collins's fancying himself in love with her friend had once occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two; but that Charlotte could encourage him seemed almost as far from possibility as she could encourage him herself, and her astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out:

"Engaged to Mr. Collins! My dear Charlotte—impossible!"

The steady countenance which Miss Lucas had commanded in telling her story, gave way to a momentary confusion here on receiving so direct a reproach; though, as it was no more than she expected, she soon regained her composure, and calmly replied:

"Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza? Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman's good opinion, because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?"

But Elizabeth had now recollected herself, and making a strong effort for it, was able to assure with tolerable firmness that the prospect of their relationship was highly grateful to her, and that she wished her all imaginable happiness.

"I see what you are feeling," replied Charlotte. "You must be surprised, very much surprised—so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."

Elizabeth quietly answered "Undoubtedly;" and after an awkward pause, they returned to the rest of the family. Charlotte did not stay much longer, and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins's making two offers of marriage within three days was nothing in comparison of his being now accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte's opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she had not supposed it to be possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.

 

 

 

Chapter 23

Elizabeth was sitting with her mother and sisters, reflecting on what she had heard, and doubting whether she was authorised to mention it, when Sir William Lucas himself appeared, sent by his daughter, to announce her engagement to the family. With many compliments to them, and much self-gratulation on the prospect of a connection between the houses, he unfolded the matter—to an audience not merely wondering, but incredulous; for Mrs. Bennet, with more perseverance than politeness, protested he must be entirely mistaken; and Lydia, always unguarded and often uncivil, boisterously exclaimed:

"Good Lord! Sir William, how can you tell such a story? Do not you know that Mr. Collins wants to marry Lizzy?"

Nothing less than the complaisance of a courtier could have borne without anger such treatment; but Sir William's good breeding carried him through it all; and though he begged leave to be positive as to the truth of his information, he listened to all their impertinence with the most forbearing courtesy.

Elizabeth, feeling it incumbent on her to relieve him from so unpleasant a situation, now put herself forward to confirm his account, by mentioning her prior knowledge of it from Charlotte herself; and endeavoured to put a stop to the exclamations of her mother and sisters by the earnestness of her congratulations to Sir William, in which she was readily joined by Jane, and by making a variety of remarks on the happiness that might be expected from the match, the excellent character of Mr. Collins, and the convenient distance of Hunsford from London.

Mrs. Bennet was in fact too much overpowered to say a great deal while Sir William remained; but no sooner had he left them than her feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, she was very sure that Mr. Collins had been taken in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole: one, that Elizabeth was the real cause of the mischief; and the other that she herself had been barbarously misused by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing could appease her. Nor did that day wear out her resentment. A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.

Mr. Bennet's emotions were much more tranquil on the occasion, and such as he did experience he pronounced to be of a most agreeable sort; for it gratified him, he said, to discover that Charlotte Lucas, whom he had been used to think tolerably sensible, was as foolish as his wife, and more foolish than his daughter!

Jane confessed herself a little surprised at the match; but she said less of her astonishment than of her earnest desire for their happiness; nor could Elizabeth persuade her to consider it as improbable. Kitty and Lydia were far from envying Miss Lucas, for Mr. Collins was only a clergyman; and it affected them in no other way than as a piece of news to spread at Meryton.

Lady Lucas could not be insensible of triumph on being able to retort on Mrs. Bennet the comfort of having a daughter well married; and she called at Longbourn rather oftener than usual to say how happy she was, though Mrs. Bennet's sour looks and ill-natured remarks might have been enough to drive happiness away.

Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again. Her disappointment in Charlotte made her turn with fonder regard to her sister, of whose rectitude and delicacy she was sure her opinion could never be shaken, and for whose happiness she grew daily more anxious, as Bingley had now been gone a week and nothing more was heard of his return.

Jane had sent Caroline an early answer to her letter, and was counting the days till she might reasonably hope to hear again. The promised letter of thanks from Mr. Collins arrived on Tuesday, addressed to their father, and written with all the solemnity of gratitude which a twelvemonth's abode in the family might have prompted. After discharging his conscience on that head, he proceeded to inform them, with many rapturous expressions, of his happiness in having obtained the affection of their amiable neighbour, Miss Lucas, and then explained that it was merely with the view of enjoying her society that he had been so ready to close with their kind wish of seeing him again at Longbourn, whither he hoped to be able to return on Monday fortnight; for Lady Catherine, he added, so heartily approved his marriage, that she wished it to take place as soon as possible, which he trusted would be an unanswerable argument with his amiable Charlotte to name an early day for making him the happiest of men.

Mr. Collins's return into Hertfordshire was no longer a matter of pleasure to Mrs. Bennet. On the contrary, she was as much disposed to complain of it as her husband. It was very strange that he should come to Longbourn instead of to Lucas Lodge; it was also very inconvenient and exceedingly troublesome. She hated having visitors in the house while her health was so indifferent, and lovers were of all people the most disagreeable. Such were the gentle murmurs of Mrs. Bennet, and they gave way only to the greater distress of Mr. Bingley's continued absence.

Neither Jane nor Elizabeth were comfortable on this subject. Day after day passed away without bringing any other tidings of him than the report which shortly prevailed in Meryton of his coming no more to Netherfield the whole winter; a report which highly incensed Mrs. Bennet, and which she never failed to contradict as a most scandalous falsehood.

Even Elizabeth began to fear—not that Bingley was indifferent—but that his sisters would be successful in keeping him away. Unwilling as she was to admit an idea so destructive of Jane's happiness, and so dishonorable to the stability of her lover, she could not prevent its frequently occurring. The united efforts of his two unfeeling sisters and of his overpowering friend, assisted by the attractions of Miss Darcy and the amusements of London might be too much, she feared, for the strength of his attachment.

As for Jane, her anxiety under this suspense was, of course, more painful than Elizabeth's, but whatever she felt she was desirous of concealing, and between herself and Elizabeth, therefore, the subject was never alluded to. But as no such delicacy restrained her mother, an hour seldom passed in which she did not talk of Bingley, express her impatience for his arrival, or even require Jane to confess that if he did not come back she would think herself very ill used. It needed all Jane's steady mildness to bear these attacks with tolerable tranquillity.

Mr. Collins returned most punctually on Monday fortnight, but his reception at Longbourn was not quite so gracious as it had been on his first introduction. He was too happy, however, to need much attention; and luckily for the others, the business of love-making relieved them from a great deal of his company. The chief of every day was spent by him at Lucas Lodge, and he sometimes returned to Longbourn only in time to make an apology for his absence before the family went to bed.

Mrs. Bennet was really in a most pitiable state. The very mention of anything concerning the match threw her into an agony of ill-humour, and wherever she went she was sure of hearing it talked of. The sight of Miss Lucas was odious to her. As her successor in that house, she regarded her with jealous abhorrence. Whenever Charlotte came to see them, she concluded her to be anticipating the hour of possession; and whenever she spoke in a low voice to Mr. Collins, was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house, as soon as Mr. Bennet were dead. She complained bitterly of all this to her husband.

"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take her place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."

This was not very consoling to Mrs. Bennet, and therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before.

"I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate. If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it."

"What should not you mind?"

"I should not mind anything at all."

"Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of such insensibility."

"I never can be thankful, Mr. Bennet, for anything about the entail. How anyone could have the conscience to entail away an estate from one's own daughters, I cannot understand; and all for the sake of Mr. Collins too! Why should he have it more than anybody else?"

"I leave it to yourself to determine," said Mr. Bennet.

 

 

 

 

 

 第一章

   

  凡是有钱的单身汉,总想娶位太太,这是一条举世公认的真理。

    这样的单身汉,每逢新搬到一个地方,四邻八舍虽然完全不了解他的性情如何,见解如何,可是,既然这样的一条真理早已在人们心目中根深蒂固,因此人们总是把他看作自己某一个女儿理所应得的一笔财产。

  有一天班纳特太太对她的丈夫说:“我的好老爷,尼日斐花园终于租出去了,你听说过没有?”

  班纳特先生回答道,他没有听说过。

  “的确租出去了,”她说,“朗格太太刚刚上这儿来过,她把这件事的底细,一五一十地告诉了我。”

  班纳特先生没有理睬她。

  “你难道不想知道是谁租去的吗?”太太不耐烦地嚷起来了。

  “既是你要说给我听,我听听也无妨。”

  这句话足够鼓励她讲下去了。

  “哦!亲爱的,你得知道,郎格太太说,租尼日斐花园的是个阔少爷,他是英格兰北部的人;听说他星期一那天,乘着一辆驷马大轿车来看房子,看得非常中意,当场就和莫理斯先生谈妥了;他要在‘米迦勒节’以前搬进来,打算下个周未先叫几个佣人来住。”

  “这个人叫什么名字?”

  “彬格莱。”

  “有太太的呢,还是单身汉?”

  “噢!是个单身汉,亲爱的,确确实实是个单身汉!一个有钱的单身汉;每年有四五千磅的收入。真是女儿们的福气!”

  “这怎么说?关女儿女儿们什么事?”

  “我的好老爷,”太太回答道,“你怎么这样叫人讨厌!告诉你吧,我正在盘算,他要是挑中我们一个女儿做老婆,可多好!”

  “他住到这儿来,就是为了这个打算吗?”

  “打算!胡扯,这是哪儿的话!不过,他倒作兴看中我们的某一个女儿呢。他一搬来,你就得去拜访拜访他。”

  “我不用去。你带着女儿们去就得啦,要不你干脆打发她们自己去,那或许倒更好些,因为你跟女儿们比起来,她们哪一个都不能胜过你的美貌,你去了,彬格莱先生倒可能挑中你呢?”

  “我的好老爷,你太捧我啦。从前也的确有人赞赏过我的美貌,现在我可有敢说有什么出众的地方了。一个女人家有了五个成年的女儿,就不该对自己的美貌再转什么念头。”

  “这样看来,一个女人家对自己的美貌也转不了多少念头喽。”

  “不过,我的好老爷,彬格莱一搬到我们的邻近来,你的确应该去看看他。”

  “老实跟你说吧,这不是我份内的事。”

  “看女儿的份上吧。只请你想一想,她们不论哪一个,要是攀上了这样一个人家,够多么好。威廉爵士夫妇已经决定去拜望他,他们也无非是这个用意。你知道,他们通常是不会拜望新搬来的邻居的。你的确应该去一次,要是你不去,叫我们怎么去。”

  “你实在过分心思啦。彬格莱先生一定高兴看到你的;我可以写封信给你带去,就说随便他挑中我哪一个女儿,我都心甘情愿地答应他把她娶过去;不过,我在信上得特别替小丽萃吹嘘几句。”

  “我希望你别这么做。丽萃没有一点儿地方胜过别的几个女儿;我敢说,论漂亮,她抵不上吉英一半;论性子,好抵不上丽迪雅一半。你可老是偏爱她。”“她们没有哪一个值得夸奖的,”他回答道;“他们跟人家的姑娘一样,又傻,又无知;倒是丽萃要比她的几个姐妹伶俐些。”

  “我的好老爷,你怎么舍得这样糟蹋自己的新生亲生女儿?你是在故意叫我气恼,好让你自己得意吧。你半点儿也不体谅我的神经衰弱。”

  “你真错怪了我,我的好太太。我非常尊重你的神经。它们是我的老朋友。至少在最近二十年以来,我一直听道你慎重其事地提到它们。”

  “啊!你不知道我怎样受苦呢!”

  “不过我希望你这毛病会好起来,那么,象这种每年有四千镑收入的阔少爷,你就可以眼看着他们一个个搬来做你的邻居了。”

  “你既然不愿意去拜访他们,即使有二十个搬了来,对我们又有什么好处!”

  “放心吧,我的好太太,等到有了二十个,我一定去一个个拜望到。”

  班纳特先生真是个古怪人,他一方面喜欢插科打浑,爱挖苦人,同时又不拘言笑,变幻莫测,真使他那位太太积二十三年之经验,还摸不透他的性格。太太的脑子是很容易加以分析的。她是个智力贫乏、不学无术、喜怒无常的女人,只要碰到不称心的事,她就以为神经衰弱。她生平的大事就是嫁女儿;她生平的安慰就是访友拜客和打听新闻。

   

  

 

 第二章

    

  班纳特先生尽管在自己太太面前自始至终都说是不想去拜访彬格莱先生,事实上一直都打算去拜访他,而且还是跟第一批人一起去拜访他的。等到他去拜访过以后,当天晚上太太才知道实情。这消息透露出来的经过是这样的……他看到第二个女儿在装饰帽子,就突然对她说:

  “我希望彬格莱先生会喜欢你这顶帽子,丽萃。”

  她母亲气愤愤地说:“我们既然不预备去看彬格莱先生,当然就无从知道他喜欢什么。”

  “可是你忘啦,妈妈,”伊丽莎白说,“我们将来可以在跳舞会上碰到他的,郎格太太不是答应过把他介绍给我们吗?”

  “我不相信郎格太太肯这么做。她自己有两个亲侄女。她是个自私自利、假仁假义的女人,我睢不起她。”

  “我也瞧不起她,”班纳特先生说;“你倒不指望她来替你效劳,这叫我听到高兴。”

  班纳特太太没有理睬他,可是忍不住气,便骂起女儿来。

  “别那么咳个不停,吉蒂,看老天爷份上吧!稍许体谅一下我的神经吧。你简直叫我的神经要胀裂啦。”

  “吉蒂真不知趣,”她的父亲说;“咳嗽也不知道拣个时候。”

  “我又不是故意咳着玩儿。”吉蒂气恼地回答道。

  “你们的跳舞会定在那一天开,丽萃?”

  “从明天算起,还得再过两个星期。”

  “唔,原来如此,”她的母亲嚷道,“郎格太太可要挨到开跳舞会的前一天才能赶回来;那么,她可来不及把他介绍给你们啦,她自己也还不认识他呢。”

  “那么,好太太,你正可以占你朋友的上风,反过来替她介绍这位贵人啦。”

  “办不到,我的好老爷,办不到,我自己还不认识他呢;你怎么可以这样嘲笑人?”

  “我真佩服你想得这般周到。两个星期的认识当然谈不上什么。跟一个人相处了两个星期,不可能就此了解他究竟是怎样一个人。不过,要是我们不去尝试尝试,别人可少不了要尝试的。话说到底,郎格太太和她的侄女一定不肯错过这个良机。因此,要是你不愿意办这件事,我自己来办好了,反正她会觉得这是我们对她的一片好意。”

  女儿们都对父亲瞪着眼。班纳特太太只随口说了声:“毫无意思!”

  “你怎么这样大惊小怪!”他嚷道。“你以为替人家效点儿劳介绍是毫无意思的事吗?你这样的说法我可不大同意。你说呢,曼丽?我知道你是个有独到见解的少女,读的书都是皇皇巨著,而且还要做札记。”

  曼丽想说几句有见识的话可又不知道怎么说才好。

  于是班纳特先生接下去说:“让曼丽仔细想一想再发表意见吧,我们还是重新来谈谈彬格莱先生。”

  “我就讨厌谈彬格莱先生,”他的太太嚷起来了。

  “遗憾得很,你竟会跟我说这种话;你怎么不早说呢?要是今天上午听到你这样说,那我当然不会去拜访他啦。这真叫不凑巧。现在既然拜访也拜访过了,我们今后就少不了要结交这个朋友。”

  果然不出他所料,娘儿们一听此说,一个个都大这惊异,尤其是班纳特太太,比谁都惊异得厉害;不过,这样欢天喜地地喧嚷了一阵以后,她便当众宣布,说这件事她早就料到的。

  “你真是个好心肠的人,我的好老爷!我早就知道你终究会给我说服的。你既然疼爱自己的女儿,当然就不会把这样一个朋友不放在心上。我真太高兴了!你这个玩笑开得真太有意思,谁想到你竟会今天上午去拜访他,而且到现在一字不提。”

  “吉蒂,现在你可以放心大胆地咳嗽啦,”班纳特先生一面说,一面走出房间,原来他看到太太那样得意忘形,不免觉得有些厌恶。门一关上,班纳特太太便对她的几个女儿说“孩子们,你们的爸爸真太好了,我不知道你们怎样才能报答他的恩典;再说,你们还应该好好报答我一番呢。老实跟你们说吧,我们老夫妻活到这么一把年纪了,哪儿有兴致天天去交朋结友;可是为了你们,我们随便什么事都乐意去做。丽迪雅,乖宝贝,虽然你年纪最小,开起跳舞会来,彬格莱先生或许就偏偏要跟你跳呢。”

  “噢!”丽迪雅满不在乎地说。

  “我才不当它一回事。年纪虽然是我最小,个儿算我顶高。”

  于是她们一方面猜测那位贵人什么时候会来回拜班纳特先生,一方面盘算着什么时候请他来吃饭,就这样把一个晚上的工夫在闲谈中度过去了。

   

 

 

 

 第三章

    

  尽管班纳特太太有了五个女儿帮腔,向她丈夫问起彬格莱先生这样那样,可是丈夫的回答总不能叫她满意。母女们想尽办法对付他……赤裸裸的问句,巧妙的设想,离题很远的猜测,什么办法都用到了;可是他并没有上她们的圈套。最后她们迫不得已,只得听取邻居卢卡斯太太的间接消息。她的报道全是好话。据说威廉爵士很喜欢他。他非常年轻,长得特别漂亮,为人又极其谦和,最重要的一点是,他打算请一大群客人来参加下次的舞会。这真是再好也没有的事;喜欢跳舞是谈情说爱的一个步骤;大家都热烈地希望去获得彬格莱先生的那颗心。

  “我只要能看到一个女儿在尼日斐花园幸福地安了家,”班纳特太太对她的丈夫说,“看到其他几个也匹配得这样门当户对,此生就没有别的奢望了。”

  不到几天功夫,彬格莱先生上门回拜班纳特先生,在他的书房里跟他盘桓了十分钟左右。他久仰班纳特先生几位小姐的年轻美貌,很希望能够见见她们;但是他只见到了她们的父亲。倒是小姐们比他幸运,他们利用楼上的窗口,看清了他穿的是蓝外套,骑的是一匹黑马。

  班府上不久就发请贴请他吃饭;班纳特太太已经计划了好几道菜,每道菜都足以增加她的体面,说明她是个会当家的贤主妇,可是事不凑巧,彬格莱先生第二天非进城不可,他们这一番盛意叫他无法领情,因此回信给他们,说是要迟一迟再说。班纳特太太大为不安。她想,此人刚来到哈福德郡,怎么就要进城有事,于是她开始担心思了;照理他应该在尼日斐花园安安定定住下来,看现在的情形,莫不是他经常都得这样东漂西泊,行踪不定?亏得卢卡斯太太对她说,可能他是到伦敦去邀请那一大群客人来参加舞会,这才使她稍许减除了一些顾虑。外面马上就纷纷传说彬格莱先生并没有带来十二个女宾,仅仅只带来六个,其中五个是他自己的姐妹,一个是表姐妹,这个消息才使小姐们放了心。后来等到这群贵客走进舞场的时候,却一共只有五个人……彬格莱先生,他的两个姐妹,姐夫,还有另外一个青年。

  彬格莱先生仪表堂堂,大有绅士风度,而且和颜悦色,没有拘泥做作的气习。他的姐妹也都是些优美的女性,态度落落大方。他的姐夫赫斯脱只不过像个普通绅士,不大引人注目,但是他的朋友达西却立刻引起全场的注意,因为他身材魁伟,眉清目秀,举止高贵,于是他进场不到五分钟,大家都纷纷传说他每年有一万磅的收入。男宾们都称赞他的一表人才,女宾们都说他比彬格莱先生漂亮得多。人们差不多有半个晚上都带着爱慕的目光看着他。最后人们才发现他为人骄傲,看不起人,巴结不上他,因此对他起了厌恶的感觉,他那众望所归的极盛一时的场面才黯然失色。他既然摆起那么一副讨人嫌惹人厌的面貌,那么,不管他在德比郡有多大的财产,也挽救不了他,况且和他的朋友比起来,他更没有什么大不了。

  彬格莱先生很快就熟悉了全场所有的主要人物。他生气勃勃,为人又不拘泥,每一场舞都可以少不了要跳。使他气恼的是,舞会怎么散场得这样早。他又谈起他自己要在尼日斐花园开一次舞会。他这些可爱的地方自然会引起人家对他发生好感。他跟他的朋友是多么显著的对照啊!达西先生只跟赫斯脱太太跳了一次舞,跟彬格莱小姐跳了一次舞,此外就在室内踱来踱去,偶而找他自己人谈谈,人家要介绍他跟别的小姐跳舞,他怎么也不肯。大家都断定他是世界上最骄傲,最讨人厌的人,希望他不要再来。其中对他反感最厉害的是班纳特太太,她对他的整个举止都感到讨厌,而且这种讨厌竟变本加厉,形成了一种特殊的气愤,因为他得罪了他的一个女儿。

  由于男宾少,伊丽莎白·班纳特有两场舞都不得不空坐。达西先生当时曾一度站在她的身旁,彬格莱先生特地歇了几分钟没有跳舞,走到他这位朋友跟前,硬要他去跳,两个人谈话给她听到了。

  “来吧,达西,”彬格莱说,“我一定要你跳。我不愿看到你独个儿这么傻里傻气地站在这儿。还是去跳舞吧。”

  “我绝对不跳。你知道我一向多么讨厌跳舞,除非跟特别熟的人跳。在这样的舞会上跳舞,简直叫人受不了。你的姐妹们都在跟别人跳,要是叫舞场里别的女人跟我跳,没有一个不叫我活受罪的。”

  “我可不愿意象你那样挑肥拣瘦,”彬格莱嚷道,“随便怎么我也不愿意;不瞒你说,我生平没有见过今天晚上这么许多可爱的姑娘;你瞧,其中几位真是美貌绝伦。”

  “你当然罗,舞场上唯一的一位漂亮姑娘在跟你跳舞!”达西先生说,一面望着班府上年纪最大的一位小姐。

  “噢!我从来没有见过这么美丽的一个尤物!可是她的一个妹妹就坐在你后面,她也很漂亮,而且我敢说,她也很讨人爱。让我来请我的舞伴给你们介绍一下吧。”

  “你说的是哪一位?”他转过身来,朝着伊丽莎白望了一会儿,等她也看见了他,他才收回自己的目光,冷冷的说:“她还可以,但还没有漂亮到打动我的心,眼前我可没有兴趣去抬举那些受到别人冷眼看待的小姐。你还是回到你的舞伴身边去欣赏她的笑脸吧,犯不着把时间浪费在我的身上。”

  彬格莱先生依了达西先生的话走开以后,达西自己也走开了。伊丽莎白依旧坐在那里,对达西先生委实没有甚好感。不过她却满有兴致地把这段偷听到的话去讲给她的朋友听,因为她的个性活泼调皮,遇到任何可笑的事情都会感到兴趣。

  班府上全家上这一个晚上大致都过得很高兴。大小姐蒙彬格莱先生邀她跳了两次舞,而且这位贵人的姐妹们都对她另眼相看。班太太看到尼日斐花园的一家人都这么喜爱她的大女儿,觉得非常得意。吉英跟她母亲一样得意,只不过没有象她母亲那样声张。伊丽莎白也为吉英快活。曼丽曾听到人们在彬格莱小姐面前提到她自己,说她是邻近一带最有才干的姑娘;咖苔琳和丽迪雅运气最好,没有那一场舞缺少舞伴,这是她们每逢开舞会时唯一关心的一件事。母女们高高兴兴地回到她们所住的浪搏恩村(她们算是这个村子里的旺族),看见班纳特先生还没有睡觉。且说这位先生平常只要捧上一本书,就忘了时间,可是这次他没有睡觉,却是因为他极想知道大家朝思暮想的这一盛会,经过情形究竟如何。他满以为他太太对那位贵客一定很失望,但是,他立刻就发觉事实并非如此。“噢!我的好老爷,”她一走进房间就这么说,“我们这一个晚上过得太快活了,舞会太好了。你没有去真可惜。吉英那么吃香,简直是无法形容。什么人都说她长得好;彬格莱先生认为她很美,跟她跳了两场舞!你光想想这一点看吧,亲爱的;他确实跟她跳了两场!全场那么多女宾,就只有她一个人蒙受了他两次邀请。他头一场舞是邀请卢卡斯小姐跳的。我看到他站到她身边去,不禁有些气恼!不过,他对她根本没意思,其实,什么人也不会对她有意思;当吉英走下舞池的时候,他可就显得非常着迷了。他立刻打听她的姓名,请人介绍,然后邀她跳下一场舞。他第三场舞是跟金小姐跳的,第四场跟玛丽雅·卢卡斯跳,第五场又跟吉英跳,第六场是跟丽萃跳,还有‘布朗谢’。”

  “要是他稍许体谅我一点,”她的丈夫不耐烦地叫起来了,“他就不会跳这么多,一半也不会!天哪,不要提他那些舞伴了吧。噢!但愿他头一场舞就跳得脚踝扭了筋!”

  “噢!亲爱的,”班纳特太太接下去说,“我非常喜欢他。他真太漂亮啦!他的姐妹们也都很讨人喜欢。我生平没有看见过任何东西比她们的衣饰更讲究。我敢说,赫斯脱太太衣服上的花边……”说到这里又给岔断了。

  班纳特先生不愿意听人谈到衣饰。她因此不得不另找话题,于是就谈到达西先生那不可一世的傲慢无礼的态度,她的措辞辛辣刻薄,而又带几分夸张。

  “不过我可以告诉你,”她补充道,“丽萃不中他的意,这对丽萃并没有什么可惜,因为他是个最讨厌、最可恶的人不值得去奉承他。那么高傲,那么自大,叫人不可容忍!他一会儿走到这里,一会儿走到那里,把自己看得那么了不起!还要嫌人家不够漂亮,配不上跟他跳舞呢!要是你在场的话,你就可以好好地教训他一顿。我厌恶透了那个人。”

   

   

 

 第四章

     

  吉英本来并不轻易赞扬彬格莱先生,可是当她和伊丽莎白两个人在一起的时候,她就向她的妹妹倾诉衷曲,说她自己多么爱慕他。

  “他真是一个典型的好青年,”她说,“有见识,有趣味,人又活泼;我从来没有见过他那种讨人喜欢的举止!那么大方,又有十全十美的教养!”

  “他也长得很漂亮,”伊丽莎白回答道,“一个年轻的男人也得弄得漂亮些,除非办不到,那又当别论。他真够得上一个完美无瑕的人。”

  “他第二次又来请我跳舞,我真高兴死了。我真想不到他会这样抬举我。”

  “你真的没想到吗?我倒替你想到了。不过,这正是我和你大不相同的地方。你遇到人家抬举你,总是受宠若惊,我就不是这样。他第二次再来请你跳舞,这不是再自然不过的事吗?你比起舞场里任何一位小姐都要漂亮得不知多少倍,他长了眼睛自然会看得出。他向你献殷勤你又何必感激。说起来,他的确很可爱,我也不反对你喜欢他。不过你以前可也喜欢过很多蠢货啊。”

  “我的亲丽萃!”

  “唔!我知道,你总是太容易发生好感。你从来看不出人家的短处。在你眼睛里看来,天下都是好人,你都看得顺眼。我生平从来没听见你说人家的坏话。”

  “我倒希望不要轻易责难一个人,可是我一向都是想到什么就说什么。”

  “我知道你是这样的,我对你感到奇怪的也就是这种地方。凭你这样一个聪明人。为什么竟会忠厚到看不出别人的愚蠢和无聊!你走遍天下,到处都可以遇到伪装坦白的人。可是,这可只有你做得到。那么,你也喜欢那位先生的姐妹们吗?她们的风度可比不上他呀。”

  “初看上去的确比不上。不过跟她们攀谈起来,就觉得她们也都是些讨人喜欢的女人。听说彬格莱小姐将要跟她兄弟住在一起,替他料埋家务;她要不是个好邻居,那才怪呢。”

  伊丽莎白听着姐姐的话,嘴上一声不响,心里可并不信服。她比她姐姐的观察力来得敏锐,脾气她没有姐姐那么好惹,因此提到彬家姐妹,她只要想想她们在跳舞场里的那种举止,就知道她们并不打算要讨一般人的好。而且她胸有城府,决不因为人家等待她好就改变主张,她不会对她们发生多大好感的。事实上她们都是些非常好的小姐;她们并不是不会谈笑风生,问题是在要碰到她们高兴的时候;她们也不是不会待人和颜悦色,问题在于她们是否乐意这样做。可惜的是,她们一味骄傲自大。她们都长得很漂亮,曾经在一个上流的专科学校里受过教育,有两万镑的财产,花起钱来总是挥霍无度,爱结交有身价地位的人,因此才造成了她们在各方面都自视甚高,不把别人放在眼里。她们出生于英格兰北部的一个体面家族。她们对自己的出身记得很牢,可是却几乎忘了她们兄弟的财产以及她们自己的财产都是做生意赚来的。

  彬格莱先生从他的父亲那儿只承继了一笔将近十万镑的遗产。他父亲生前本来打算购置些田产,可惜没有了却心愿就与世长辞了。彬格莱先生同样有这个打算,并且一度打算就在自己故乡购置,不过目前他既然有了一幢很好的房子,而且有庄园听他任意使用,于是那些了解他性格的人都说,象他这样一个随遇而安的人,下半辈子恐怕就在尼日斐花园度过,购置田产的事又要留给下一代去做了。他的姐妹们倒反而替他着急,希望早些购置产业;不过尽管他现在仅仅是以一个租户的身分在这儿住了下来,彬格莱小姐还是非常愿意替他掌管家务,再说那位嫁了个穷措大的赫斯脱太太,每逢上弟弟这儿来作客,依旧象是到了自己家里一样。当时彬格莱先生成年还不满两个年头,只因为偶然听到人家推荐尼日斐花园的房子,他便来到这儿看看。他里里外外看了半个钟头,地段和几间主要的房间都很中他的意,加上房东又把那幢房子大大赞美了一番,那番话对他也是正中下怀,于是他就当场租了下来。他和达西虽然性格大不相同,彼此之间友谊却始终如一。达西所以喜欢彬格莱,是因为彬格莱为人温柔敦厚、坦白直爽,尽管个性方面和他自己极端相反,而他自己也从来不曾觉得自己的个性有什么不完美的地方。达西很器重彬格莱,因此彬格莱对他极其信赖,对他的见解也推崇备至。在智力方面讲,达西比他强……这并不是说彬格莱笨,而是说达西聪明些。达西为人兼有傲慢、含蓄和爱挑剔的性子,他虽说受过良好的教养,可是他的风度总不受人欢迎。从这一方面讲,他的朋友可比他高明了。彬格莱无论走到哪儿,一定都会讨人喜欢,达西却始终得罪人。

  从他俩谈起麦里屯舞会的态度来看,就足见两人性格的不同。彬格莱说,他生平从来没有遇到过什么人比这儿的人更和蔼,也没有遇到过什么姑娘比这儿的姑娘更漂亮;在他看来,这儿每个人都极其和善,极其殷勤,不拘礼,不局促,他一下子就觉得和全场的人都相处得很熟;讲起班纳特小姐,他想象不出人间会有一个比她更美丽的天使。至于达西,他总觉得他所看到的这些人既不美,又谈不上风度,没有一个人使他感兴趣,也没有一个人对他献殷勤,博取他的欢心。他承认班纳特小姐是漂亮的,可惜她笑得太多。赫斯脱太太姐妹同意他这种看法……可是她们仍然羡慕她,喜欢她,说她是个甜姐儿,她们并不反对跟她这样的一位小姐做个深交。班纳特小姐就这样成为一个甜姐儿了,她们的兄弟听到了这番赞美,便觉得今后可以爱怎么样想她就怎么样想她了。

   

   

 

 第五章

     

  距离浪博恩不远的地方,住着一家人家,这就是威廉·卢卡斯爵士府上。班纳特府上跟他们特别知已。爵士从前是在麦里屯做生意起家发迹的,曾在当市长的任内上书皇上,获得了一个爵士头衔;这个显要的身份使他觉得太荣幸,从此他就讨厌做生意,讨厌住在一个小镇上,于是歇了生意,告别小镇,带着家属迁到那离开麦里屯大约一英里路的一幢房子里去住,从那时候起就把那地方叫做卢家庄。他可以在这儿自得其乐,以显要自居,而且,既然摆脱了生意的纠缠,他大可以一心一意地从事社交活动。他尽管以自己的地位欣然自得,却并不因此而目空一切,反而对什么人都应酬得非常周到。他生来不肯得罪人,待人接物总是和蔼可亲,殷勤体贴,而且自从皇上觐见以来,更加彬彬有礼。卢卡斯太太是个很善良的女人,真是班纳特太太一位宝贵的邻居。卢府上有好几个孩子。大女儿是个明理懂事的年轻小姐,年纪大约二十六七岁,她是伊丽莎白的要好朋友。且说卢府上几位小姐跟班府上几位小姐这回非要见见面,谈谈这次跳舞会上的事业不可。于是在开完了跳舞会的第二天上午,卢府上的小姐们到浪博恩来跟班府上的小姐交换意见。

  班纳特太太一看见卢卡斯小姐,便客客气气,从容不迫地说:“那天晚上全靠你开场开得好,你做了彬格莱先生的第一个意中人。”

  “是呀;可是他喜欢的倒是第二个意中人。”

  “哦,我想你是说吉英吧,因为他跟她跳了两次。看起来,他是真的爱上她呢……我的确相信他是真的……我听到了一些话……可是我弄不清究竟……我听到了一些有关鲁宾逊先生的话。”

  “说不定你指的是我喻听到他和鲁宾逊先生的谈话吧;我不是跟你说过了吗?鲁宾逊先生问他喜欢不喜欢我们麦里屯的跳舞会,问他是否觉得到场的女宾们中间有许多人很美,问他认为哪一个最美?他立刻回答了最后一个问题:‘毫无问题是班纳特家的大小姐最美。’关于这一点,人们决不会有别的看法。”

  “一定的!说起来,那的确成了定论啦……看上去的确象是……不过,也许会全部落空呢,你知道。”

  “我偷听到的话比你听到的要更有意思了,伊丽莎,”夏绿蒂说。“达西先生的话没有他朋友的话中听,可不是吗?可怜的伊丽莎!他不过认为她还可以!”

  “我请求你别叫丽萃想起了他这种无礼的举动又生起气来;他是那么讨厌的一个人,被他看上了才叫倒霉呢。郎格太太告诉我说,昨儿晚上他坐在她身边有半个钟头,可是始终不开口。”

  “你的话靠得住吗,妈妈?……一点儿没说错吗?”吉英说。“我清清楚楚看到达西先生跟她说话的。”

  “嘿……那是后来她问起他喜欢不喜欢尼日斐花园,他才不得不已敷衍了她一下;可是据她说,他似乎非常生气,好象怪她不该跟她说话似的。”

  “彬格莱小姐告诉我,”吉英说,“他从来不爱多说话,除非跟知已的朋友们谈谈。他对待知已朋友非常和蔼可亲。”

  “我跟本不相信这种话,要是他果真和蔼可亲,就该跟郎格太太说话啦。可是这里面的奥妙是可想而知的,大家都说他非常骄傲,他所以没跟郎格太太说话,或许是因为听到朗格太太连马车也没有一部,临时雇了车子来参加跳舞会吧。”

  “他没跟郎格太太说话,我倒不计较,”卢卡斯小姐说,“我只怪他当时没跟伊丽莎跳舞。”

  “丽萃,假如我是你,”她母亲说,“我下次偏不跟他跳舞。”

  “妈妈,我相信我可以万无一失地向你保证,我怎么也不跟他跳舞呢。”

  “他虽然骄傲,”卢卡斯小姐说,“可不象一般人的骄傲那样使我生气,因为他的骄傲还勉强说得过去。这么优秀的一个青年,门第好,又有钱,样样都比人家强,也难怪他要自以为了不起,照我的说法,他有权利骄傲。”

  “这倒是真话,”伊丽莎白回答道,“要是他没有触犯我的骄傲,我也很容易原谅他的骄傲。”

  “我以为骄傲是一般人的通病,”曼丽说。她觉得自己的见解很高明,因此提高了谈话的兴致。“从我所读过的许多书看来,我相信那的确是非常普遍的一种通病,人性特别容易趋向于这方面,简直谁都不免因为自己具有了某种品质而自命不凡。虚荣与骄傲是截然不同的两件事,尽管字面上常常当作同义词用,一个人可以骄傲而不虚荣。骄傲多半不外乎我们对我们自己的估价,虚荣却牵涉到我们希望别人对我们的看法。”卢家一个小哥儿(他是跟他姐姐们一起来的)忽然说道:“要是我也像达西先生那么有钱,我真不知道会骄傲到什么地步呢。我要养一群猎狗,还要每天喝一瓶酒。”班纳特太太说:“那你就喝得太过分啦,要量给我看见了,我就马上夺掉你的酒瓶。”那孩子抗议道,她不应该那样做;她接着又宣布了一遍,说她一定要那样,一场辩论直到客人告别时方才结束。

   

 

 

 

 第六章

     

  浪博恩小姐们不久就去拜访尼是斐花园的小姐们了。人家了照例来回拜了她们。班纳特那种讨人喜爱的举止,使赫斯脱太太和彬格莱小姐对她愈来愈有好感。尽管班家老太太叫人不可容忍,几个小妹妹也不值得攀谈,可是两位彬格莱小姐却是愿意跟年纪大的两位班小姐作进一步深交,吉英极其喜悦地领受了这份盛意;可是伊丽莎白看出她们对待任何人仍然很高傲,甚至对待吉英也几乎没有两样,因此颇不喜欢她们;不过,她们所以待吉英好,看来多半还是由于她们兄弟爱慕她的缘故。只要你看见他们俩在一起,你就看得出他兄弟确是爱慕她的。伊丽莎白又很清楚地看出吉英一开头就看中了彬格莱先生,不由自主地向他屈服了,而且也可以说是对他喜爱极了。可是她高兴地想道,吉英虽说感情丰富,好在性格很镇定,外表上仍然保持着正常的和颜悦色,那就不会引起那些卤莽人的怀疑,因此他俩的心意也就不会给人察觉了。伊丽莎白曾经跟自己的朋友卢卡斯小姐谈到过这一点。

  夏绿蒂当时说道:“这种事想瞒过大家,也许是怪有意思的,不过,这样提心吊胆,有时候反而不妙。要是一个女人在她自己心爱的人面前,也用这种技巧遮遮掩掩,不让他知道她对他有意思,那她就可能没有机会博得他的欢心;那么,就是把天下人都蒙在鼓里,也无补于事。男女恋爱大都免不了要借重于双方的感恩图报之心和虚荣自负之感,听其自然是很难成其好事的。恋爱的开头都是随随便便……某人对某人发生点儿好感,本是极其自然的一回事;只可惜没有对方和鼓励而自己就肯没头没脑去钟情的人,简直太少了。女人家十有八九都是心里有一分爱表面上就露出两分。毫无问题,彬格莱喜欢你姐姐;可是你姐姐如果不帮他一把劲,他也许喜欢喜欢她就算了。”

  “不过她已经尽心竭力在帮他的忙了。要是我都能看出她对他的好感,而他却看不出,那他未免太蠢了。”

  “伊丽莎,你得记住,他可不象你那么懂得吉英的性格。”

  “假如一个女人爱上了一个男人,只要女方不故意瞒住男方,男方一定会看得出的。”

  “要是男方和女方见面的机会很多,或许他总会看得出。虽然彬格莱和吉英见面的次数相当多,却从来没有在一起接连待上几个钟头,何况他们见起面来,总是跟一些杂七杂八的人在一起,不可能让他们俩畅谈。因此吉英就得时时刻刻留神,一看到有机会可以逗引他,千万不要借过。等到能把他抓到手,再从从容容尽量去谈恋爱还来得及。”

  伊丽莎白回答道:“倘使只求嫁一个有钱的男人,你这个办法妙极了,我如果决心找个阔丈夫,或者干脆只要随便找个丈夫就算数,我或许会照你的办法去做。可惜吉英不是这样想法的;她为人处世,就是不愿意使心眼儿。而且,她自己也还拿不准她究竟对她钟情到什么地步,钟情得是否得体。她认识他才不过两个星期。她在麦里屯跟他跳了四次舞;有天上午她在他家里跟他见过一次面,此后又跟他吃过四次晚饭,可是总有别人在一起。就这么点儿来往,叫她怎么能了解他的性格呢。”

  “事情并不是你所说的那样。要是她只跟他吃吃晚饭,那她或许只看得出他的饭量好不好;可是你得记住,他们既在一起吃过四顿饭也就是在一起盘恒了四个晚上呀……四个晚上的作用可大着呢。”

  “是的;这四个晚上叫他们彼此摸透了一样性格,那就是他们俩都喜欢玩二十一点,不喜欢玩‘康梅司’;讲到别的重要的特点,我看他们彼此之间还了解很少。”

  “唔,”夏绿蒂说,“我一心一意祝吉英成功。我以为即使她明天就跟他结婚,她必能获得的幸福,比起她花上一年的时间,研究了他的性格、再去跟他结婚所能获得的幸福,并不见得会少到哪里去。婚姻生活是否幸福,完全是个机会问题。一对爱人婚前脾气摸得非常透,或者脾气非常相同,这并不能保证他们俩就会幸福。他们总是弄到后来距离越来越远,彼此烦恼。你既然得和这个人过一辈子,你最尽量少了解他的缺点。”

  “你这番话妙透了,夏绿蒂。不过这种说法未必可靠。你也明知道未必可靠,你自己就不肯那么做。”

  伊丽莎白一心只知道谈论彬格莱先生对她姐姐的殷勤,却一点儿没想到她自己已经成了彬格莱那位朋友的意中人。说到达西先生,他开头并不认为她怎么漂亮;他在跳舞会上望着她的时候,并没有带着丝毫的爱慕之意,第二次见面的时候,他也不过用吹毛求疵的眼光去看待她。不过,他尽管在朋友们面前,在自己心里,都说她的面貌一无可取,可是眨下眼的工夫,他就发觉她那双乌黑的眼睛美丽非凡,使她的整个脸蛋儿显得极其聪慧。紧接着这个发现之后,他又在她身上发现了几个同样叫人怄气的地方。他带着挑剔的眼光,发觉她的身段这儿也不匀称,那儿也不匀称,可是他到底不得不承认她体态轻盈,惹人喜爱;虽然他嘴上一口咬定她缺少上流社会的翩翩风采,可是她落落大方爱打趣的作风,又把他迷住了。伊丽莎白完全不明了这些情形,她只觉得达西是个到处不讨人喜欢的男人,何况他曾经认为她不够漂亮不配跟她跳舞。

  达西开始希望跟她深交。他为了想要慢慢地跟她攀谈攀谈,因此她跟别人谈话的时候,他问题留神去听。于是,有一次威廉·卢卡斯爵士大请客,他这样的做法当场引起了她的注意。

  且说当时伊丽莎白对夏绿蒂说:“你瞧,达西先生是什么意思呢,我跟弗斯脱上校谈话,干吗要他在那儿听?”

  “这个问题只有达西先生自己能够回答。”

  “要是他再这样,我一定要叫他明白我并不是个糊涂蛋。他挖苦人的本领特别高明,要是我不先给他点颜色看看,我马上就会见他怕啦。”

  不到一会儿工夫,达西又走到她身边来了,他表面上虽然并不想跟她们攀谈,卢卡斯小姐却不时怂恿伊丽莎白向他把这个问题正面提出来。伊丽莎白给她这样一激,便立刻转过脸来跟他说:

  “达西先生,我刚刚跟弗斯脱上校讲笑话,要他给我们在麦里屯开一次跳舞会,你看我的话是不是说得非常得体?”

  “的确说得起劲极了,不过这件事本来就是叫小姐们非常起劲的。”

  “你这样说我们,未免太尖刻了些吧。”

  “你这一下反而被别人嘲笑了,”卢卡斯小姐说。“我去打开琴,伊丽莎,下文如何,你自个儿明白。”

  “你这种朋友真是世上少有!……不管当着什么人的面,总是要我弹琴唱歌!……要是我存心在音乐会上出风头,我真要对你感激不尽。可是宾客们都是听惯了第一流演奏家的,我实在不好意思在他们面前坐下来献憾丑。”话虽如此,怎奈卢卡斯小姐再三要求,她便说道:“好吧,既是非献丑不可,只得献献丑吧。”她又板着脸对达西瞥了一眼,说道:“有名老古话说得好,在场的人当然也晓得这句话:‘留口气吹凉稀饭’;我也就留口气唱歌吧。”

  她得表演虽然说不上奇妙绝伦,也还娓娓动听。唱了一两支歌以后,大家要求她再唱几支。她还没来得及回答,她的妹妹曼丽早就急切地接替她坐到钢琴跟前去了。原来在她们几个姐妹之间,就只有曼丽长得不好看,因此她发愤钻研学问,讲究才艺,老是急着要卖弄卖弄自己的本领。

  曼丽既没有天才,格调也不高,虽说虚荣心促使她刻苦用功,但是同样也造成了她一脸的女才子气派和自高自大的态度。有了这种气派和态度,即使她的修养再好些也无补于事,何况她不过如此而已。再说伊丽莎白,虽说弹琴弹得并不如她,可是落落大方,没有矫揉造作的气习,因此大家听起来就高兴得多了。曼丽的几位妹妹,本在房间那头和卢家小姐们在一起,正在跟两三个军官跳舞跳得起劲,曼丽奏完了一支很长的协奏曲之后,她们便要求她再奏几支苏格兰和爱尔兰小调,她也高高兴兴地照办了,为的是要博得别人的夸奖和感激。达西先生就站在她们附近。他看到她们就这样度过一个晚上,也不跟别人攀谈攀谈,心里很是生气。他心思很重,威廉·卢卡斯爵士站在他身边他也不知道,最后他才听到爵士这样跟他说:

  “达西先生,跳舞对于年轻人是多么可爱的一种娱乐!说来说去,什么都比不上跳舞,我认为这是上流社会里最出色的才艺。”

  “当然罗,先生;……而且好就好在跳舞在低等社会里也很风行。哪个野蛮人不会跳舞。”

  威廉先生笑了笑没作声。接下来他看见彬格莱也来参加跳舞,便对达西这么说:“你的朋友跳得很不错,我相信你对此道也是驾轻就熟吧,达西先生。”

  “你大概在麦里屯看见过我跳舞的吧,先生。”

  “见过,不错,而且看得非常高兴。你常到宫里去跳舞吗?”

  “从来没去过,先生。”

  “你连在宫里都不肯赏脸吗?”

  “无论在什么地方,我也不愿意赏这种脸,能避免总是避免。”

  “你在城里一定有住宅吧?”

  达西先生耸了耸身子。

  “我一度想在城里住家,因为我喜欢上流社会;不过我可不敢说伦敦的空气是否适合于卢卡斯太太。”

  他停了一会儿,指望对方回答;可是对方根本就懒得回答。不久伊丽莎白朝他们跟前走来,他灵机一动,想乘此献一下殷勤,便对她叫道:

  “亲爱的伊丽莎小姐,你干吗不跳舞呀?……达西先生,让我把这位年轻的小姐介绍给你,这是位最理想的舞伴。有了这样一个美人儿做你的舞伴,我想你总不会不跳了吧。”他拉住了伊丽莎白的手,预备往达西面前送,达西虽然极为惊奇,可亦不是不愿意接住那只玉手,却不料伊丽莎白立刻把手缩了回去,好象还有些神色仓皇地对威廉爵士说:

  “先生,我的确一点儿也不想跳舞。你可千万别以为我是跑到这边来找舞伴的。”

  达西先生非常有礼貌地要求她赏光,跟他跳一场,可是他白白要求了。伊丽莎白下定了决心就不动摇,任凭威廉爵士怎么劝说也没有用。

  “伊丽莎小姐,你跳舞跳得那么高明,可是却不肯让我享享眼福,看你跳一场,这未免太说不过去了吧。再说,这位先生虽说平常并不喜欢这种娱乐,可是要他赏我们半个钟头的脸,我相信他也不会不肯的。”

  伊丽莎笑着说:“达西先生未免太客气了。”

  “他真的太客气了……可是,亲爱的伊丽莎小姐,看他这样求你,你总还会怪他多礼吧。谁不想要象你这样的一个舞伴?”

  伊丽莎白笑盈盈地瞟了一眼就转身走开了。她的拒绝并没有使达西觉得难过。达西正在相当高兴地想念着她,恰巧彬格莱小姐走过来招呼他:

  “我猜中你现在在幻想些什么。”

  “谅你也猜不中。”

  “你心里正在想,许多个晚上都是跟这些人在一起无聊度过的,这实在叫人受不了,我跟你颇有同感。我从来不曾这样烦闷过!既枯燥乏味,又吵闹不堪,无聊到了极点。这批人又一个个都自以为了不起!我就想听听你指责他们几句。”

  “老实对你说吧,你完全猜错了。我心里想的东西要妙得多呢。我正在玩味着:一个漂亮女人的美丽的眼睛竟会给人这么大的快乐。”

  彬格莱小姐立刻把眼睛盯在他的脸上,要他告诉她,究竟是哪位小姐有这种妙处使他这样想入非非。达西先生鼓起极大的勇气回答道:

  “伊丽莎白·班纳特小姐。”

  “伊丽莎白·班纳特小姐!”彬格莱小姐重复了一遍。“我真感到惊奇。你看中她多久啦?……请你告诉我,我几时可以向你道喜啊?”

  “我料到你会问出这样的话来的。女人的想象力真敏捷;从敬慕一跳就跳到爱情,一眨眼的工夫又从爱情跳到结婚。我知道你要预备来向我道喜了。”

  “唔,要是你这么一本正经,我就认为这件事百分之百地决定啦。你一定会得到一位有趣的岳母大人,而且当然罗,她会永远在彭伯里跟你待在一起。”

  她说得那么得意,他却完全似听非听,她看到他那般镇定自若,便放了心,于是那张利嘴越发滔滔不绝了。

   

 

 

 

 第七章

 

   

  班纳特先生的全部家当几乎都在一宗产业上,每年可以借此获得两千磅的收入。说起这宗产业,真是他女儿们的不幸。他因为没有儿子,产业得由一个远亲来继承,至于她们母亲的家私,在这样的人家本来也算得上一笔大数目,事实上却还不够补他的损失。班纳特太太的父亲曾经在麦里屯当过律师,给了她四千英镑的遗产。她有过妹妹,嫁给了她爸爸的书记腓力普,妹夫接下来就承继了她爸爸的行业;她还有兄弟,住在伦敦,生意做得很得法。浪博恩这个村子和麦里屯相隔只有一英里路,这么一段距离对于那几位年轻的小姐们是再便利不过的了,她们每星期总得上那儿在三四次,看看她们的姨母,还可以顺便看看那边一家卖女人帽子的商店。两个最小的妹妹咖苔琳和丽迪雅特别倾心于这方面,她们比姐姐们心事要少得多,每当没有更好的消遣办法时,就必定到麦里屯走一遭,消遣消遣美好的晨光,并且晚上也就有了谈助。尽管这村子里通常没有什么新闻可以打听,她们还老是千方百计地从她们姨妈那儿打听到一些。附近地方最近开到了一团民兵,她们的消息来源当然从此就丰富了,真叫她们高兴非凡。这一团人要在这儿驻扎整个冬天,麦里屯就是司令部的所在地。

  从此她们每次拜访腓力普太太都获得了最有趣的消息。她们每天都会打听到几个军官的名字和他们的社会关系。军官们的住宅不久就让大家知道了,再后来小姐们就直接跟他们搞熟了,腓力普先生一一拜访了那些军官,这真是替她的姨侄女们开辟了一道意想不到的幸福源泉。她们现在开口闭口都离不开那些军官。在这以前,只要提到彬格莱先生的偌大财产,她们的母亲就会眉飞色舞,如今跟军官们的制服对比起来,她们就觉得偌大的财产简直一钱不值了。

  一天早晨,班纳特先生听到她们滔滔不绝地谈到这个问题,他不禁冷言冷语地说:

  “看你们谈话的神气,我觉得你们真是些再蠢不过的女孩子。以前我不过半信半疑,现在我可完全相信了。”

  咖苔琳一听此话,颇感不安,可是并没有回答。丽迪雅却完全没有把爸爸的话当一回事,还是接着说下去,说她自己多么爱慕卡特上尉,还希望当天能够跟他见面,因为他明天上午就要到伦敦去。

  班纳特太太对她丈夫说:“我真奇怪,亲爱的,你总喜欢说你自己的孩子蠢。要是我呀,什么人的孩子我都可以看不起,可是我决不会看不起自己的孩子。”

  “要是我自己的孩子果真蠢,我决不愿意没有自知之明。”

  “你说得不错,可是事实上,她们却一个个都很聪明。”

  “我们两个人总算只有在这一点上看法不同。我本来希望你我在任何方面的意见都能融洽一致,可是说起我们的两个小女儿,的确非常蠢;关于这一点,到目前为止,我不得不跟你抱着两样的见解。”

  “我的好老爷,你可不能指望这些女孩都跟她们爹妈一样的见识呀。等她们到了我们这么大年纪,她们也许就会跟我们一样,不会再想到什么军官们了。我刻从前有个时期,我也很喜爱‘红制服’……─当然,到现在我心里头还喜爱‘红制服’呢;要是有位漂亮的年轻上校,每年有五六千磅的收入,随便向我的哪一个女儿求婚,我决不会拒绝他的;有天晚上在威廉爵士家里,看见弗斯脱上校全副军装,真是一表人材!”

  “妈妈,”丽迪雅嚷道,“姨妈说,弗斯脱上校跟卡特尔上尉上琴小姐家里去的次数,不象初来的时候那么勤了;她近来常常看到他们站在‘克拉克借书处’等人。”

  班纳特太太正要答话,不料一个小厮走了进来,拿来一封信给班纳特小姐。这是尼是斐花园送来的一封信,小厮等着取回信。班纳特太太高兴得眼睛也闪亮起来。吉英读信的时候,她心急地叫道:“嘿,吉英,谁来的信?信上说些什么?是怎么说的?喂,吉英,赶快看完说给听吧;快点儿呀,宝宝!”

  “是彬格莱小姐写来的,”吉英说,一面把信读出来:

  我亲爱的的朋友,……要是你不肯发发慈悲,今天光临舍下跟露薏莎和我一同吃饭,我和她两个人就要结下终生的怨仇了。两个女人成天在一块儿谈心,到头来没有不吵架的。接信后希即尽快前来。我的哥和他的几位朋友们都要上军官们那儿去吃饭。

  你的永远的朋友珈罗琳·彬格莱

  “上军官们那儿去吃饭!”丽迪雅嚷道,“这件事怎么姨妈没告诉我们呢。”

  “上别人家去吃饭,”班纳特太太说:“这真是晦气。”

  “我可以乘着车子去吗?”吉英部。

  “不行,亲爱的,你最好骑着马去。天好象要下雨的样子,下了雨你就可以在那儿过夜。”

  “这倒是个好办法,”伊丽莎白说。“只要你拿得准他们不会送她回来。”

  “噢,彬格莱先生的马车要送他的朋友到麦里屯去,赫斯脱夫妇又是有车无马。”

  “我倒还是愿意乘着马车去。”

  “可是,乖孩子,我包管你爸爸匀不出拖车子的马来。……农庄上正要马用,我的好老爷,是不是?”

  “农庄上常常要马用,可惜到我手里的时候并不多。”

  伊丽莎白说:“可是,如果今天到得你的手里,就如了妈妈的愿了。”

  她终于逼得父亲不得不承认……那儿匹拉车子的马已经有了别的用处。于是吉英只得骑着另外一匹马去,母亲送她到门口,高高兴兴地说了许多预祝天气会变坏的话。她果真如愿了;吉英走了不久,就下起大雨来。妹妹们都替她担忧,只有她老人家反而高兴。大雨整个黄昏没有停住。吉英当然无法回来了。

  班纳特太太一遍又一遍地说:“真亏我想出了这个好办法!”好象天下雨老师她一手造成的。不过,她的神机妙算究竟造成了多大幸福,她一直到第二天早上才知道。早饭还没吃完,尼日斐花园就打发了人送来一封信给伊丽莎白:

  我亲爱的丽萃,……今晨我觉得很不舒服,我想这可能是昨天淋了雨的缘故。承蒙这儿好朋友们的关切,要我等到身体舒适一些才回家来。朋友们再三要请钏斯医生来替我看病,因此,要是你们他上我这儿来过,可别惊讶。我只不过有点儿喉咙痛和头痛,并没有什么大不了的毛病。……─姐字。

  伊丽莎白读信的时候,班纳特先生对他太太说:“唔,好太太,要是你的女儿得了重病……万一她一病不起……倒也值得安慰呀,因为她是奉了你命令去追求彬格莱先生的。”

  “噢!她难道这么一下子就会送命!哪有小伤风就会送命的道理。人家自会把她等候得好好的。只要她待在那儿,包管无事。倘使有车子的话,我也想去看看她。”真正着急的倒是伊丽莎白,她才不管有车无车,决定非去一趟不可。她既然不会骑马,唯一的办法便只有步行。她把自己的打算说了出来。

  她妈妈叫道:“你怎么这样蠢!路上这么泥泞,亏你想得出来!等你走到那儿,你那副样子怎么见人。”

  “我只要见到吉英就成。”

  “丽萃,”她的父亲说,“你的意思是叫我替你弄几匹马来驾马车吗?”

  “当然不是这个意思。我不怕步行,只要存心去,这点儿路算得上什么。才不过三英里路。我可以赶回来吃晚饭。”

  这时曼丽说道:“你完全是出于一片手足之情,我很佩服,可是你千万不能感情用事,你得有理智一点,而且我觉得尽力也不要尽得过分。”

  珈苔琳和丽迪雅同声说道:“我们陪你到麦里屯。”伊丽莎表示赞成,于是三位年轻的小姐就一块儿出发了。

  “要是我们赶得快些,”丽迪雅边走边这么说,“或许我们还来得及赶在卡特尔上尉临走以前看看他。”

  三姐妹到了麦里屯便分了手;两位妹妹上一个军官太太的家里去,留下伊丽莎白独个儿继续往前走,急急忙忙地大踏步走过了一片片田野,跨过了一道道围栅,跳过了一个个水洼,终于看见了那所屋子。她这时候已经双脚乏力,袜子上沾满了泥污,脸上也累得通红。

  她被领进了餐厅,只见他们全家人都在那儿,只有吉英不在场。她一走进门就引起全场人的惊奇。赫斯脱太太和彬格莱小姐心想,这么一大早,路上又这么泥泞,她竟从三英里路开外赶到这儿来,而且是独个儿赶来的,这事情简直叫人无法相信。伊丽莎白料定她们瞧不起她这种举动。不过事实上她们倒很客气地接待了她,特别是她们的兄弟,不仅是客客气气接待她,而且非常殷勤多礼。达西先生说话不多,赫斯脱先生完全一言不发。达西先生的心里被两种情感弄得七上八下:一方面爱慕她那步行之后的鲜艳的脸色,另方面又怀疑她是否值得为了这么点儿事情独个儿打那么远赶来。至于赫斯脱先生,他一心一意只想要吃早饭。

  她问起姐姐的病情如何,可没有得到满意的回答。据说班纳特小姐晚上睡不好,现在虽然已经起床,热度却很高,不能出房门。使伊丽莎白高兴的是,他们马上就把她领到她姐姐那儿去。吉英看到她来,非常高兴,原来她为了不愿意让家里人着急和麻烦,所以信里并没有说明她极其盼望有个亲人来看看她。可是她没有力气多说话,因此,当彬格莱小姐走开以后,剩下她们姐妹俩在一块儿的时候,她只说到她们这儿待她太好了,使她非常感激……─除了这些话以外,就没有再说什么。伊丽莎白静悄悄地等候着她。早饭吃过以后,彬格莱家的姐妹也来陪伴她们,伊丽莎白看到她们对吉英那么亲切和祥,便不禁对她们有了好感。医生来检查了病人的症状,说她是重伤风(其实这也是可想而知的),他嘱咐她们要尽力当心,又劝吉英上床去睡觉,并且给她开了几样药。医生的嘱呼立刻照办了,因为病人热度又高了一些,而且头痛得很厉害。伊丽莎白片刻也没有离开她的房间,另外两位小姐也不大走开;男客们都不在家里,其实他们在家里也帮不了什么忙。

  正三点的时候,伊丽莎白觉得应该走了,于是勉强向主人家告别。彬格莱小姐要她乘着马车回去,她正打算稍许推辞一下就接受主人的盛意,不料吉英说是舍不得让她走,于是彬格莱小姐便不得不改变了请她坐马车回去的主意,请她在尼日斐花园小住一阵。伊丽莎白感激不尽地答应了。接下来就是差人上浪博恩去,把她在这儿暂住的事情告诉她家里一声,同时叫她家里给她带些衣服来。

   

   

 

 

 第八章

   

 

  五点钟的时候,主人家两姐妹出去更衣;六点半的时候伊丽莎白被请去吃晚饭。大家都礼貌周全,纷纷来探问吉英的病情,其中尤其是彬格莱先生问得特别关切,这叫伊丽莎白非常愉快,只可惜吉英的病情一些没有好转,因此她无法给人家满意的回答。那姐妹听到这话,便几次三番地说她们是多么担心,说重伤风是多么可怕,又说她们自己多么讨厌生病,……说过了这些话以后就不当它一回事了。伊丽莎白看到她们当吉英不在她们面前的时候就对吉英这般冷淡,于是她本来那种讨厌她们的心理现在又重新滋长起来。的确,她们这家人里面只有她们的兄弟能使她称心满意,你一眼便可以看出他是真的在为吉英担忧,再说他对于伊丽莎白也殷勤和悦到极点。伊丽莎白本以为人家会把她看作一个不速之客,可是有了这份殷勤,她就不这么想了。除他以外,别人都不大理睬她。彬格莱小姐的心在达西先生身上,赫斯脱太太差不多也没有什么两样;再说到赫斯脱先生,他就坐在伊丽莎白身旁,他天生一副懒骨头,活在世上就是为了吃、喝、玩牌,他听到伊丽莎白宁可吃一碟普通的菜而不喜欢吃烩肉,便和她谈不上劲了。

  伊丽莎白一吃过晚饭就回到吉英那儿去。她一走出饭厅,彬格莱小姐就开始说她的坏话,把她的作风说得坏透了,说她既傲慢又无礼貌,不懂得跟人家攀谈,仪表不佳,风趣索然,人又长得难看。赫斯脱太太也是同样的看法,而且还补充了几句:

  “总而言之,她除了跑路的本领以外,没有要样别的长处。她今儿早上那副样子我才永远忘不了呢,简直象个疯子。”

  “她的确象个疯子,露薏莎。我简直忍不住要笑出来。她这一趟来得无聊透顶;姐姐伤了点风,干吗要她那么大惊小怪地跑遍了整个村庄?……头发给弄得那么蓬乱,那么邋遢!”

  “是呀,还有她的衬裙……可惜你没看到她的衬裙。我绝对不是瞎说,那上面糊上了有足足六英寸泥,她把外面的裙子放低了些,想把来遮盖,可是遮盖不住。”彬格莱先生说:“你形容得并没有过火的地方,露薏莎,可是我并不以为然。我倒觉得伊丽莎白·班纳特小姐今儿早上走进屋来的时候,那种神情风度很不错呢。我并没有看到她的肮脏的衬裙。”

  “你一定看到的,达西先生,”彬格莱小姐说,“我想,你总不愿意看到你自己的姐妹弄成那副狼狈样子吧。”

  “当然不愿意。”

  “无缘无故赶上那么三英里路、五英里路,谁晓得多少英里呢,泥土盖没了踝骨,而且是孤孤单单的一个人!她这究竟是什么意思?我看她十足表现了没有家教的野态,完全是乡下人不懂礼貌的轻狂。”

  彬格莱先生说:“那正说明了她的手足情深,真是好极了。”

  彬格莱小姐死样怪气地说:“达西先生,我倒担心,她这次的冒失行为,会影响你对她那双美丽的眼睛的爱慕吧?”

  达西回答道:“一点儿影响也没有,她跑过了这趟路以后,那双眼睛更加明亮了。”说完这句话,屋子里稍许沉默了一会儿,然后赫斯脱太太又开口说话:

  “我非常关心吉英·班纳特……她倒的确是位可爱的姑娘……我诚心诚意地希望她好好儿攀门亲事。只可惜遇到那样的父母,加上还有那么些下流的亲戚,我怕她没有什么指望了。”

  “我不是听你说过,她有个姨爹在麦里屯当律师吗?”

  “是呀;她们还有个舅舅住在齐普赛附近。”

  “那真妙极了,”她的妹妹补充了一句,于是姐妹俩都纵情大笑。

  彬格莱一听此话,便大叫起来:“即使她们有多得数不清的舅舅,可以把整个齐普赛都塞满,也不能把她们讨人喜爱的地方减损分毫。”

  “可是,她们倘使想嫁给有地位的男人,机会可就大大减少了,”达西回答道。

  彬格莱先生没有理睬为句话;他的姐妹们却听得非常得意,于是越发放肆无忌地拿班纳特小姐的微贱的亲戚开玩笑,开了老半天。

  不过她们一离开了饭厅,就重新做出百般温柔体贴的样子,来到吉英房间里,一直陪着她坐到喝咖啡的时候。吉英的病还不见好转,伊丽莎白寸步不离地守着她,一直到黄昏,看见她睡着了,才放下了心,觉得自己应该到楼下去一趟(虽说她并不乐意下楼去)。走进客厅,她发觉大家正在玩牌,大家当时立刻邀她也来玩,可是她恐怕他们输赢很大,便谢绝了,只推说放心不下姐姐,一会儿就得上楼去,她可以拿本书来消消遣遣。赫斯脱先生惊奇地朝她望了一下。

  “你宁可看书,不要玩牌吗?”他说。“这真是少有。”

  彬格莱小姐说:“伊丽莎·班纳特小姐瞧不起玩牌,她是个了不起的读书人,对别的事都不感到乐趣。”

  伊丽莎白嚷道:“这样的夸奖我不敢当,这样的责备我也不敢当,我并不是什么了不起的读书人,很多东西我都感到乐趣。”

  彬格莱先生说:“我断定乐意照料你自己的姐姐,但愿她快些复元,那你就会更加快活了。”

  伊丽莎白从心底里感激他,然后走到一张放了几本书的桌子跟前。他立刻要另外拿些书来给她……把他书房里所有的书都拿来。“要是我的藏书多一些就好啦,无论是为你的益处着想,为我自己的面子着想;可是我是个懒鬼,藏书不多,读过的就更少了。”伊丽莎白跟他说,房间里那几本书尽够她看了。

  彬格莱小姐说:“我很奇怪,爸爸怎么只遣留下来了这么几本书。……达西先生,你在彭伯里的那个藏书室真是好极了!”

  达西说:“那有什么稀奇。那是好几代的成绩啊。”

  “你自己又添置了不少书,只看见你老是在买书。”

  “我有现在这样的日子过,自然不好意思疏忽家里的藏书室。”

  “疏忽!我相信凡是能为你那个高贵的地方啬主观的东西,你一件也没疏忽过。……查尔斯,以后你自己建筑住宅的时候,我只希望有彭伯里一半那么美丽就好了。”

  “但愿如此。”

  “可是我还要竭力奉劝你就在那儿附近购买房产,而且要拿彭伯里做个榜样。全英国没有哪一个郡比德比郡更好了。”

  “我非常高兴那么办。我真想干脆就把彭伯里买下来,只要达西肯卖。”

  “我是在谈谈可能办到的事情,查尔斯。”

  “珈罗琳,我敢说,买下彭伯里比仿照彭伯里的式样造房子,可能性更大些。”伊丽莎白听这些话听得出了神,弄得没心思看书了,索性把书放在一旁,走到牌桌跟前,坐在彬格莱先生和他的妹妹之间,看他们斗牌。

  这时彬格莱小姐又问达西:“从春天到现在,达西长高了很多吧?她将来会长到我这么高吧?”

  “我想会吧。她现在大概有伊丽莎白·班纳特小姐那么高了,恐怕还要高一点。”

  “我直想再见见她!我从来没碰到过这么使我喜爱的人。模样儿那么好,又那样懂得礼貌,小小的年纪就出落得多才多艺,她的钢琴真弹得高明极了。”

  彬格莱先生说:“这真叫我惊奇,年轻的姑娘们怎么一个个都有那么大的能耐,把自己锻炼和多才多艺。”

  “一个个年轻的姑娘们都是多才多艺!亲受的查尔斯,你这话是什么意思呀?”

  “是的,我认为一个个都是那样。她们都会装饰台桌,点缀屏风,编织钱袋。我简直就没有见过哪一位不是样样都会,而且每逢听人谈起一个年轻姑娘,,没有哪一次不听说她是多才多艺的。”*

  达西说:“你这一套极其平凡的所谓才艺,倒是千真万确。多少女人只不过会编织钱袋,点缀屏风,就享有了多才多艺的美名;可是我却不能同意你对一般妇女的估价。我不敢说大话;我认识很多女人,而真正多才多艺的实在不过半打。”

  “我也的确不敢说大话,”彬格莱小姐说。

  伊丽莎白说:“那么,在你的想象中,一个多才多艺的妇女应该包括很多条件啦。”

  “不错,我认为应该包括很多条件。”

  “噢,当然罗,”他的忠实助手叫起来了,“要是一个妇女不能超越常人,就不能算是多才多艺。一个女人必须精通音乐、歌唱、图画、舞蹈以及现代语文,那才当得起这个称号;除此以外,她的仪表和步态,她的声调,她的谈吐和表情,都得有相当风趣,否则她就不够资格。”

  达西接着说:“她除了具备这些条件以外,还应该多读书,长见识,有点真才实学。”

  “怪不得你只认识六个才女啦。我现在简直疑心你连一个也不认识呢。”

  “你怎么对你们女人这般苛求,竟以为她们不可能具备这些条件?”

  “我从来没见过这样的女人。我从来没见过哪一个人象你所说的这样有才干,有情趣,又那么好学,那么仪态优雅。”

  赫斯脱太太和彬格莱小姐都叫起来了,说她不应该表示怀疑,因为这种怀疑是不公平的,而且她们还一致提出反证,说她们自己就知道有很多女人都够得上这些条件。一直等到赫斯脱先生叫她们好好打牌,怪她们不该对牌场上的事那么漫不经心,她们才住嘴,一场争论就这样结束了,伊丽莎白没有多久也走开了。

  门关上之后,彬格莱小姐说,“有些女人们为了自抬身价,往往在男人们面前编派女人,伊丽莎白·班纳特就是这样一个女人,这种手段在某些男人身上也许会发生效果,但是我认为这是一种下贱的诡计,一种卑鄙的手腕。”

  达西听出她这几句话是有意说给他自己听的,便连忙答道:“毫无疑问,姑娘们为了勾引男子,有时竟不择手段,使用巧计,这真是卑鄙。只要你的做法带有几分狡诈,都应该受到鄙弃。”

  彬格莱小姐不太满意他这个回答,因此也就没有再谈下去。

  伊丽莎白又到他们这儿来了一次,只是为了告诉他们一声,她姐姐的病更加严重了,她不能离开。彬格醚再三主张立刻请钟斯大夫来,他的姐妹们却都以为乡下郎中无济于是,主张赶快到城里去请一位最有名的大夫来,伊丽莎白不赞成,不过她也不便太辜负她们兄弟的一番盛意,于是大家协商出了一个办法;如果班纳特小姐明儿一大早依旧毫无起色,就马上去请钟斯大夫来。彬格莱先生心里非常不安,他的姐姐和妹妹也说是十分担忧。吃过晚饭以后,她们俩总算合奏了几支歌来消除了一些烦闷,而彬格莱先生因为想不出好办法来解除焦虑,便只有关照他那管家婆尽心尽意地照料病人和病人的妹妹。

   

   

 

 

 第九章

 

   

  伊丽莎白那一晚上的大部分时间都是在她姐姐房间里度过的,第二天一大早,彬格莱先生就派了个女佣人来问候她们。过了一会儿,彬格莱的姐姐妹妹也打发了两个文雅的侍女来探病,伊丽莎白总算可以聊以自慰地告诉她们说,病人已略见好转。不过,她虽然宽了一下心,却还是要求他们府上替她差人送封信到浪博恩去,要她的妈妈来看看吉英,来亲自判断她的病情如何。信立刻就送去了,信上所说的事也很快就照办了。班纳特太太带着两个最小的女儿来到尼日斐花园的时候,他们家里刚刚吃过早饭。

  倘使班纳特太太发觉吉英有什么危险,那她真要伤心死了;但是一看到吉英的病并不怎么严重,她就满意了;她也并不希望吉英马上复元,因为,要是一复元,她就得离开尼日斐花园回家去。所以她的女儿一提起要她带她回家去,她听也不要听,况且那位差不多跟她同时来到的医生,也认为搬回去不是个好办法。母亲陪着吉英坐了一会儿工夫,彬格莱小姐便来请她吃早饭,于是她就带着三个女儿一块儿上饭厅去。彬格莱先生前来迎接她们,说是希望班纳特太太看到了小姐的病一定会觉得并不是想象中那般严重。

  班纳特太太回答道:“我却没有想象到会这般严重呢,先生,她病得太厉害了,根本不能搬动。钟斯大夫也说,千万不可以叫她搬动。我们只得叨光你们多照顾几天啦。”

  “搬动!”彬格莱叫道:“绝对不可以。我相信我的妹妹也决计不肯让她搬走的。”彬格莱小姐冷淡而有礼貌地说:“你放心好啦,老太太,班纳特小姐待在我们这儿,我们一定尽心尽意地照顾她。”

  班纳特太太连声道谢。

  接着她又说道:“要不是靠好朋友们照顾,我相信她真不知道变成什么样儿了;因为她实在病得很重,痛苦得很厉害,不过好在她有极大的耐性……她一贯都是那样的,我生平简直没见过第二个人有她这般温柔到极点的性格。我常常跟别的几个女儿们说,她们比起她来简直太差了。彬格莱先生,你这所房子很可爱呢,从那条鹅卵石铺道上望出去,景致也很美丽。在这个村庄里,我从来没见过一个地方比得上尼日斐花园。虽然你的租期很短,我劝你千万别急着搬走。”

  彬格莱先生说:“我随便干什么事,都是说干就干,要是打定主意要离开尼日斐花园,我可能在五分钟之内就搬走。不过目前我算在这儿住定了。”

  “我猜想得一点儿不错,”伊丽莎白说。

  彬格莱马上转过身去对她大声说道:“你开始了解我啦,是吗?”

  “噢,是呀……我完全了解你。”

  “但愿你这句话是恭维我,不过,这么容易被人看透,那恐怕也是件可怜的事吧。”

  “那得看情况说话。一个深沉复杂的人,未必比你这样的人更难叫人捉摸。”

  她有母亲连忙嚷道:“丽萃,别忘了你在作客,家里让你撒野惯了,你可不能到人家这里来胡闹。”

  “我以前倒不知道你是个研究人的性格的专家。”彬格莱马上接下去说,“那一定是一门很有趣的学问吧。”

  “不错;可是最有趣味的还是研究复杂的性格。至少这样的性格有研究的价值。”

  达西说:“一般说来,乡下人可以作为这种研究对象的就很少。因为在乡下,你四周围的人都是非常不开通、非常单调。”

  “可是人们本身的变动很多,他们身上永远有新的东西值得你去注意。”

  班纳特太太听到刚刚达西以那样一种口气提到乡下,不禁颇为生气,便连忙嚷道:“这才说得对呀,告诉你吧,乡下可供研究的对象并不比城里少。”

  大家都吃了一惊。达西朝她望了一会儿便静悄悄地走开了。班纳特太太自以为完全占了他的上风,便趁着一股兴头说下去:“我觉得伦敦除了店铺和公共场所以外,比起乡下并没有什么大不了的好处。乡下可舒服得多了……不是吗,彬格莱先生?”

  “我到了乡下就不想走,”他回答道;“我住到城里也就不想走。乡下和城里各有各的好处,我随便住在哪儿都一样快乐。”

  “啊,那是因为你的性格好。可是那位先生,”她说到这里,便朝达西望了一眼,“就会觉得乡下一文不值。”

  “妈妈,你根本弄错了,”伊丽莎白这话一出口,她母亲就红了脸。“你完全弄错了达西先生的意思。他只不过说,乡下碰不到象城里那么些各色名样的人,这你可得承认是事实呀。”

  “当然罗,宝贝……谁也没那么说过。要是说这个村子里还碰不到多少人,我相信比这大的村庄也就没有几个了。就我所知,平常跟我们来往吃饭的可也有二十四家呀。”

  要不是顾全伊丽莎白的面子,彬格莱先生简直忍不住要笑出来了。他的妹妹可没有他那么用心周到,便不由得带着富有表情的笑容望着达西先生。伊丽莎为了找个借口转移一下她母亲的心思,便问她母亲说,自从她离家以后,夏绿蒂·卢卡斯有没有到浪博恩来过。

  “来过;她是昨儿跟他父亲一块儿来的。威廉爵士是个多么和蔼的人呀,彬格莱先生──他可不是吗?那么时髦的一个人!那么温雅,又那么随便!他见到什么人总要谈上儿句。这就是我所谓的有良好教养;那些自以为了不起、金口难开的人,他们的想法真是大错而特错。”

  “夏绿蒂在我们家里吃饭的吗?”

  “没有,她硬要回去。据我猜想,大概是她家里街头等着她回去做肉饼。彬格莱先生,我雇起佣人来,总得要她们能够料理份内的事,我的女儿就不是人家那样教养大的。可是一切要看各人自己,告诉你,卢卡斯家里的几个姑娘全是些很好的女孩子。只可惜长得不漂亮!当然并不是我个人以为夏绿蒂长得难看,她究竟是我们要好的朋友。”

  “她看来是位很可爱的姑娘,”彬格莱说。

  “是呀,可是你得承认,她的确长得很难看。卢卡斯太太本人也那么说,她还羡慕我的吉英长得漂亮呢。我并不喜欢夸张自己的孩子,可是说老实话。这并不是我说话有信心。还在她十五岁的那一年,在我城里那位兄弟嘉丁纳家里,有位先生就爱上了她,我的弟妇看准了那位先生一定会在临走以前向她求婚。不过后来他却没有提。也许是他以为她年纪太小了吧。不过他却为吉英写了好些诗,而且写得很好。”

  “那位先生的一场恋爱就这么结束了,”伊丽莎白不耐烦地说。“我想,多少有情人都是这样把自己克服过来的。诗居然有这种功能……能够赶走爱情,这倒不知道是谁第一个发现的!”

  “我却一贯认为,诗是爱情的食粮,”达西说。

  “那必须是一种优美、坚贞、健康的爱情才行。本身健强了,吃什么东西都可以获得滋补。要是只不过有一点儿蛛丝马迹,那么我相信,一首十四行诗准会把它断送掉。”

  达西只笑了一下,接着大伙儿都沉默了一阵子,这时候伊丽莎白很是着急,怕她母亲又要出丑。她想说点儿什么,可是又想不出什么可说的。沉默了一下以后,班纳特太太又重新向彬格莱先生道谢,说是多亏他对吉英照顾周到,同时又向他道歉说,丽萃也来打扰了他。彬格莱先生回答得极其恳切而有礼貌,弄得他的妹妹也不得不讲礼貌,说了些很得体的话。她说话的态度并不十分自然,可是班纳特太太已经够满意的了。一会儿工夫,班纳特太太就叫预备马车。这个号令一发,她那位顶小的女儿立刻走上前来。原来自从她们母女来到此地,两个女儿就一直在交头接耳地商量,最后说定了由顶小的女儿来要求彬格莱先生兑现他刚以乡下时的诺言,在尼日斐花园开一次跳舞会。

  丽迪雅是个胖胖的、发育得很好的姑娘,今年才十五岁,细皮白肉,笑颜常开,她是母亲的掌上明珠,由于娇纵过度,她很小就进入了社交界。她生性好动,天生有些不知分寸,加上她的姨爹一次次以美酒嘉肴宴请那些军官们,军官们又见她颇有几分浪荡的风情,便对她发生了相当好感,于是她更加肆无忌惮了。所以她就有资格向彬格莱先生提出开舞会的事,而且冒冒失失地提醒他先前的诺言,而且还说,要是他不实践诺言,那就是天下最丢人的事。彬格莱先生对她这一番突如其来的挑衅回答得叫她母亲很是高兴。

  “我可以向你保证,我非常愿意实践我的诺言;只要等你姐姐复了元,由你随便订个日期就行。你总不愿意在姐姐生病的时候跳舞吧?!”

  丽迪雅表示满意。“你这话说得不错。等到吉英复元以后再跳,那真好极了,而且到那时候,卡特尔上尉也许又可能回到麦里屯来。等你开过舞会以后,我一定非要他们也开一次不可。我一定会跟弗斯脱上校说,要是他不开,可真丢人哪。”

  于是班纳特太太带着她的两个女儿走了。伊丽莎白立刻回到吉英身边去,也不去管彬格莱府上的两位小姐怎样在背后议论她跟她家里人有失体统。不过,尽管彬格莱小姐怎么样说俏皮话,怎么样拿她的“美丽的眼睛”开玩笑,达西却始终不肯受她们的怂恿,夹在她们一起来编派她的不是。

   

 

 

 

 第十章

 

   

  这一天过得和前一天没有多大的不同。赫斯脱太太和彬格莱小姐上午陪了病人几个钟头,病人尽管好转得很慢,却在不断地好转。晚上,伊丽莎白跟她们一块儿待在客厅里。不过这一回却没有看见有人打“禄牌”。达西先生在写信,彬格莱小姐坐在他身旁看他写,一再纠缠不清地要他代她附笔问候他的妹妹。赫斯脱先生和彬格莱先生在打“皮克牌”,赫斯脱太太在一旁看他们打。

  伊丽莎白在做针线,一面留神地听着达西跟彬格莱小姐谈话。只听得彬格莱小姐恭维话说个不停,不是说他的字写得好,就是说他的字迹一行行很齐整,要不就是赞美他的信写得仔细,可是对方却完全是冷冰冰爱理不理。这两个人你问我答,形成了一段奇妙的对白。照这样看来,伊丽莎白的确没有把他们俩看错。

  “达西小姐收到了这样的一封信,将会怎样高兴啊!”

  他没有回答。

  “你写信写得这样快,真是少见。”

  “你这话可说得不对。我写得相当慢。”

  “你一年里头得写多少封信啊。还得写事务上的信,我看这是够厌烦的吧!”

  “这么说,这些信总算幸亏碰到了我,没有碰到你。”

  “请你告诉令妹,我很想和她见见面。”

  “我已经遵命告诉过她了。”

  “我怕你那支笔不大管用了吧。让我来代你修理修理。修笔真是我的拿手好戏。”

  “谢谢你的好意,我一向都是自己修理。”

  “你怎么写得那么整齐来着?”

  他没有作声。

  “请告诉令妹,就说我听到她的竖琴弹得进步了。真觉得高兴,还请你告诉她说,她寄来给我装饰桌子的那张美丽的小图案,我真喜欢极了,我觉得比起格兰特小姐的那张真好得太多了。”

  “可否请你通融一下,让我把你的喜欢,延迟到下一次写信时再告诉她?这一次我可写不下这么多啦。”

  “噢,不要紧。正月里我就可以跟她见面。不过,你老是写那么动人的长信给她吗,达西先生?”

  “我的信一般都写得很长;不过是否每封信都写得动人,那可不能由我自己来说了。”

  “不过我总觉得,凡是写起长信来一挥而就的人,无论如何也不会写得不好。”

  她的哥哥嚷道:“这种恭维话可不能用在达西身上,珈罗琳,因为他并不能够大笔一挥而就,他还得在四个音节的字上面多多推敲。……达西,你可不是这样吗?”

  “我写信的风格和你很不同。”

  “噢,”彬格莱小姐叫起来了,“查尔斯写起信来,那种潦草随便的态度,简直不可想象。他要漏掉一半字,涂掉一半字。”

  “我念头转得太快,简直来有及写,因此有时候收信人读到我的信,反而觉得言之无物。”

  “彬格莱先生,”伊丽莎白说,“你这样谦虚,真叫人家本来要责备你也不好意思责备了。”

  达西说:“假装谦虚偏偏往往就是信口开河,有时候简直是转弯抹角的自夸?”

  “那么,我刚刚那几句谦虚的话,究竟是信口开河呢,还是转弯抹角的自夸?”

  “要算是转弯抹角的自夸,因为你对于你自己写信方面的缺点觉得很得意,你认为你思想敏捷,懒得去注意书法,而且你认为你这些方面即使没有什么了不起,完全不考虑到做出来的成绩是不是完美。你今天早上跟班纳特太太说,如果你决定要从尼日斐花园搬走,你五分钟之内就可以搬走,这种话无非是夸耀自己,恭维自己。再说,急躁的结果只会使得应该要做好的事情没有做好,无论对人对已,都没有真正的好处,这有什么值得赞美的呢?”

  “得了吧,”彬格莱先生嚷道,“晚上还记起早上的事,真是太不值得。而且老实说,我相信我对于自己的看法并没有错,我到现在还相信没有错。因此,我至少不是故意要显得那么神速,想要在小姐们面前炫耀自己。”

  “也许你真的相信你自己的话;可是我怎么也不相信你做事情会那么当机立断。我知道你也跟一般人一样,都是见机行事。譬如你正跨上马要走了,忽然有朋友跟你说:‘彬格莱,你最好还是待到下个星期再走吧。’那你可能就会听他的话,可能就不走了,要是他再跟你说句什么的,你也许就会再待上一个月。”

  伊丽莎白叫道:“你这一番话只不过说明了彬格莱先生并没有任着他自己的性子说做就做。你这样一说,比他自己说更来得光彩啦。”

  彬格莱说:“我真太高兴了,我的朋友所说的话,经你这么一圆转,反面变成恭维我的话了。不过,我只怕你这种圆转并不投合那位先生的本意,因为:我如果真遇到这种事,我会爽爽快快地谢绝那位朋友,骑上马就走,那他一定更看得起我。”

  “那么,难道达西先生认为,不管你本来的打算是多么轻率卤莽,只要你一打定主意就坚持到底,也就情有可原了吗?”

  “老实说,我也解释不清楚;那得由达西自己来说明。”

  “你想要把这些意见说成我的意见,我可从来没承认过。不过,班纳特小姐,即使把你所说的这种种情形假定为真有其事,你可别忘了这一点:那个朋友固然叫他回到屋子里去叫他不要那么说做就做,可是那也不过是那位朋友有那么一种希望,对他提出那么一个要求,可并没有坚持要他非那样做不可。”

  “说到随随便便地轻易听从一个朋友的劝告,在你身上可还找不出这个优点。”

  “如果不问是非,随随便便就听从,恐怕对于两个人全不能算是一种恭维吧。”

  “达西先生,我觉得你未免否定了友谊和感情对于一个人的影响。要知道,一个人如果尊重别人提出的要求,通常都是用不着说服就会心甘情愿地听从的。我并不是因为你说到彬格莱先生而就借题发挥。也许我们可以等到真有这种事情发生的时候,再来讨论他处理得是不适当。不过一般说来,朋友与朋友相处,遇到一件无关紧要的事情的时候,一个已经打定主意,另一个要他改变一下主意,如果被要求的人不等到到对方加以说服,就听众了对方的意见,你能说他有什么不是吗?”

  “我们且慢讨论这个问题,不妨先仔仔细细研究一下,那个朋友提出的要求究竟重要到什么程度,他们两个人的交情又深到什么程度,这样好不好?”

  彬格莱大声说道:“好极了,请你仔仔细细讲吧,连到他们的身材的高矮和大小也别忘了讲,因为,班纳特小姐,你一定想象不到讨论起问题来的时候这一点是多么重要。老实对你说,要是达西先生不比我高那么多,大那么多,你才休想叫我那么尊敬他。在某些时候,某些场合,达西是个再讨厌不过的家伙……特别是礼拜天晚上在他家里,当他没有事情做的时候。”

  达西微笑了一下,伊丽莎白本来要笑,可是觉得他好象有些生气了,便忍住了没有笑。彬格莱小姐看见人家拿他开玩笑,很是生气,便怪她的哥哥干吗要谈这样没意思的话。

  达西说:“我明白你的用意,彬格莱,你不喜欢辩论,要把这场辩论压下去。”

  “我也许真是这样。辩论往往很象争论,假若你和班纳特小姐能够稍缓一下等我走出房间以后再,辩论那我是非常感激的。我走出去以后,你们便可以爱怎么说我就怎么说我了。”

  伊丽莎白说:“你要这样做,对我并没有什么损失;达西先生还是去把信写好吧。”

  达西先生听从了她的意见,去把那封信写好。

  这件事过去以后,达西要求彬格莱小姐和伊丽莎白小姐赏赐他一点音乐听听,彬格莱小姐便敏捷地走钢琴跟前,先客气了一番,请伊丽莎白带头,伊丽莎白却更加客气、更加诚恳地推辞了,然后彬格莱小姐才在琴旁坐下来。

  赫斯脱太太替她妹妹伴唱。当她们姐妹俩演奏的时候,伊丽莎白翻阅着钢琴上的几本琴谱,只见达西先生的眼睛总是望着她。如果说,这位了不起的人这样看着她是出于爱慕之意,她可不大敢存这种奢望,不过,要是说达西是因为讨厌她所以才望着她,那就更说不通了。最后,她只得这样想;她所以引起了达西的注意,大概是因为达西认为她比起在座的任何人来,都叫人看不顺眼。她作出了这个假想之后,并没有感到痛苦,因为她根本不喜欢他,因此不稀罕他的垂青。

  彬格莱小姐弹了几支意大利歌曲以后,便改弹了一些活泼的苏格兰曲子来变换变换情调。不大一会儿工夫,达西先生走到伊丽莎白跟前来,跟她说:

  “班纳特小姐,你是不是很想趁这个机会来跳一次苏格兰舞?”

  伊丽莎白没有回答他,只是笑了笑。他见她闷声不响,觉得有点儿奇怪,便又问了她一次。

  “噢,”她说,“我早就听见了;可是我一下子拿不准应该怎样回答你。当然,我知道你希望我回答一声‘是的’那你就会蔑视我的低级趣味,好让你自己得意一番,只可惜我一向喜欢戳穿人家的诡计,作弄一下那些存心想要蔑视人的人。因此,我决定跟你说,我根本不爱跳苏格兰舞;这一下你可不敢蔑视我了吧。”

  “果真不敢。”

  伊丽莎白本来打算使他难堪一下,这会儿见他那么体贴,倒楞住了。不过,伊丽莎白的为人一贯温柔乖巧,不轻易得罪任何人,而达西又对她非常着迷,以前任何女人也不曾使他这样着迷过。他不由得一本正经地想道,要不是她的亲戚出身微贱,那我难免危险了。

  彬格莱小姐见到这般光景,很是嫉妒,或者也可以说是她疑心病重,因此由疑而妒。于是她愈想把伊丽莎白撵走,就愈巴不得她的好朋友吉英病体赶快复元。

  为了挑拨达西厌恶这位客人,她常常闲言闲语,说他跟伊丽莎白终将结成美满良缘,而且估料着这一门良缘会给达西带来多大幸福。

  第二天彬格莱小姐跟达西两人在矮树林里散步,彬格莱小姐说:“我希望将来有一天好事如愿的时候,你得委婉地奉劝你那位岳母出言吐语要谨慎些,还有你那几位小姨子,要是你能力办得到,最好也得把她们那种醉心追求军官的毛病医治好。还有一件事,我真不好意思说出口;尊夫人有一点儿小脾气,好象是自高自大,又好象是不懂礼貌,你也得尽力帮助她克制一下。”

  “关于促进我的家庭幸福方面,你还有什么别的意见吗?”

  “噢,有的是。千万把你姨丈人姨丈母的像挂到彭伯里画廊里面去,就挂在你那位当法官的伯祖父大人遗象旁边。你知道他们都是同行,只不过部门不同而已。至于尊夫人伊丽莎白,可千万别让别人替她画像,天下哪一个画家能够把她那一双美丽的眼睛画得维妙维肖?”

  “那双眼睛的神气确不容易描画;可是眼睛的形状和颜色,以及她的睫毛,都非常美妙,也许描画得出来。”

  他们正谈得起劲和时候,忽然看见赫斯脱太太和伊丽莎白从另外一条路走过来。

  彬格莱小姐连忙招呼她们说:“我不知道你们也想出来散散步,”她说这话的时候,心里很有些惴惴不安,因为她恐怕刚才的话让她们听见了。

  “你们也太对不起我们了,”赫斯脱太太回答道,“只顾自己出来,也不告诉我们一声。”

  接着她就挽住达西空着的那条臂膀,丢下伊丽莎白,让她独个儿去走。这条路恰巧只容得下三个人并排走。达西先生觉得她们太冒味了,便说道:

  “这条路太窄,不能让我们大家一块儿并排走,我们不是走到大道上去吧。”

  伊丽莎白本不想跟他们待在一起,一听这话,便笑嘻嘻地说:

  “不用啦,不用啦;你们就在这儿走走吧。你们三个人在一起走非常好看,而且很出色。加上第四个人,画面就给弄毁了。再见。”

  于是她就得意洋洋地跑开了。她一面跪溜达,一面想到一两天内就可以回家,觉得很高兴。吉英的病已经大为好转,当天晚上就想走出房间去玩它两个钟头。

   

   

 

 

 第十一章

 

   

  娘儿们吃过晚饭以后,伊丽莎白就上楼到她姐姐那儿去,看她穿戴得妥妥贴贴,不会着凉,便陪着她上客厅去。她的女朋友们见到她,都表示欢迎,一个个都说非常高兴。在男客们没有来的那一个钟头里,她们是那么和蔼可亲,伊丽莎白从来不曾看到过。她们的健谈本领真是吓人,描述起宴会来纤毫入微,说起故事来风趣横溢,讥笑起一个朋友来也是有声有色。

  可是男客们一走进来,吉英就不怎么引人注目了。达西一进门,彬格莱小姐的眼睛就立刻转到他身上去,要跟他说话。达西首先向班纳特小姐问好,客客气气地祝贺她病休复元;赫斯脱先生也对她微微一鞠躬,说是见到她“非常高兴”;但是说到词气周到,情意恳切,可就比不上彬格莱先生那几声问候。彬格莱先生才算得上情深意切,满怀欢欣。开头半小时完全消磨在添煤上面,生怕屋子里冷起来会叫病人受不了。吉英依照彬格莱的话,移坐到火炉的另一边去,那样她就离开门口远一些,免得受凉。接着他自己在她身旁坐下,一心跟她说话,简直不理睬别人。伊丽莎白正在对面角落里做活计,把这全部情景都看在眼里,感到无限高兴。

  喝过茶以后,赫斯脱先生提醒她的小姨子把牌桌摆好,可是没有用。她早就看出达西先生不想打牌,因此赫斯脱先生后来公开提出要打牌也被她拒绝了。她跟他说,谁也不想玩牌,只见全场对这件事都不作声,看来她的确没有说错。因此,赫斯脱先生无事可做,只得躺在沙发上打瞌睡。达西拿起一本书来。彬格莱小姐也拿起一本书来。赫斯脱太太聚精会神地在玩弄自己的手镯和指环,偶而也在她弟弟跟班纳特小姐的对话中插几句嘴。

  彬格莱小姐一面看达西读书,一面自己读书,两件事同时并做,都是半心半意。她老是向他问句什么的,或者是看他读到哪一页。不过,她总是没有办法逗她说话;她问一句他就答一句,答过以后便继续读他的书。彬格莱小姐所以要挑选那一本书读,只不过因为那是达西所读的第二卷,她满想读个津津有味,不料这会儿倒读得精疲力尽了。她打了个呵欠,说道:“这样度过一个晚上,真是多么愉快啊!我说呀,什么娱乐也抵不上读书的乐趣。无论干什么事,都是一上手就要厌倦,读书却不会这样!将来有一天我自己有了家,要是没有个很好的书房,那会多遗憾哟。”

  谁也没有理睬她。于是她又打了个呵欠,抛开书本,把整个房间里望了一转,要想找点儿什么东西消遗消遗,这时忽听得她哥哥跟班纳特小姐说要开一次跳舞会,她就猛可地掉过头来对他说:

  “这样说,查尔斯,你真打算在尼日斐花园开一次跳舞会吗?我劝你最好还是先征求一下在场朋友们的意见再作决定吧。这里面就会有人觉得跳舞是受罪,而不是娱乐,要是没有这种人,你怪我好了。”

  “如果你指的是达西,”她的哥哥大声说,“那么,他可以在跳舞开始以前就上床去睡觉,随他的便好啦。舞会已经决定了非开不可,只等尼可尔斯把一切都准备好了,我就下请贴。”

  彬格莱小姐说:“要是开舞会能换些花样,那我就更高兴了,通常舞会上的那老一套,实在讨厌透顶。你如果能把那一天的日程改一改,用谈话来代替跳舞,那一定有意思得多。”

  “也许有意思得多,珈罗琳,可是那还象什么舞会呢。”

  彬格莱小姐没有回答。不大一会儿工夫,她就站起身来,在房间里踱来踱去,故意在达西面前卖弄她优美的体态和矫健的步伐,只可惜达西只顾在那里一心一意地看书,因此她只落得枉费心机。她绝望之余,决定再作一次努力,于是转过身来对伊丽莎白说:

  “伊丽莎·班纳特小姐,我劝你还是学学我的样子,在房间里瞎走动走动吧。告诉你,坐了那么久,走动一下可以提提精神。”

  伊丽莎白觉得很诧异,可是立刻依了她的意思。于是彬格莱小姐献殷勤的真正目的达到了……达西先生果然抬起头来,原来达西也和伊丽莎白一样,看出了她在耍花招引人注目,便不知不觉地放下了书本。两位小姐立刻请他来一块儿踱步,可是他谢绝了,说是她们俩所以要在屋子里踱来踱去,据他的想象,无非有两个动机,如果他参加她们一起散步,对于她们的任何一个动机都会有妨碍。他这话是什么意思?彬格莱小姐极想知道他讲这话用意何在,便问伊丽莎白懂不懂。

  伊丽莎白回答道:“根本不懂,他一定是存心刁难我们,不过你最好不要理睬他,让他失望一下。”

  可惜彬格莱小姐遇到任何事情都不忍心叫达西先生失望,于是再三要求他非把他的所谓两个动机解释一下不可。

  达西等她一住口,便马上说:“我非常愿意解释一下,事情不外乎是这样的,你们是心腹之交,所以选择了这个办法来消磨黄昏,还要谈谈私事,否则就是你们自以为散起步来体态显得特别好看,所以要散散步。倘若是出于第一个动机,我夹在你们一起就会妨碍你们;假若是出于第二个动机,那么我坐在火炉旁边可以更好地欣赏你们。”

  “噢,吓坏人!”彬格莱小姐叫起来了。“我从来没听到过这么毒辣的话。……亏他说得出,该怎么罚他呀?”

  “要是你存心罚他,那是再容易不过的事,”伊丽莎白说。“彼此都可以罚来罚去,折磨来折磨去。作弄他一番吧……讥笑他一番吧。你们既然这么相熟,你该懂得怎么对付他呀。”

  “天地良心,我不懂得。不瞒你说,我们虽然相熟,可是要懂得怎样来对付他,不差得远呢。想要对付这种性格冷静和头脑机灵的人,可不容易!不行,不行,我想我们是搞不过他的。至于讥笑他,说句你不生气的话,我们可不能凭空笑人家,弄得反而惹人笑话。让达西先生去自鸣得意吧。”

  “原来达西先生是不能让人笑话的!”伊丽莎白嚷道。“这种优越的条件倒真少有,我希望一直不要多,这样的朋友多了,我的损失可大啦。我特别喜欢笑话。”

  “彬格莱小姐过奖我啦。”他说。“要是一个人把开玩笑当作人生最重要的事,那么,最聪明最优秀的人……─不,最聪明最优秀的行为……─也就会变得可笑了。”

  “那当然罗,”伊丽莎白回答道,“这样的人的确有,可是我希望我自己不在其内。我希望我怎么样也不会讥笑聪明的行为或者是良好的行为。愚蠢和无聊,荒唐和矛盾,这的确叫我觉得好笑,我自己也承认,我只要能够加以讥笑,总是加以讥笑。不过我觉得这些弱点正是你身上所没有的。”

  “或许谁都还会有这些弱点,否则可真糟了,绝顶的聪慧也要招人嘲笑了。我一生都在研究该怎么样避免这些弱点。”

  “例如虚荣和傲慢就是属于这一类弱点。”

  “不错,虚荣的确是个弱点。可是傲慢……只要你果真聪明过人……你就会傲慢得比较有分寸。”

  伊丽莎白掉过头去,免得人家看见她发笑。

  “你考问达西先生考问好了吧,我想,”彬格莱小姐说。“请问结论如何?”

  “我完全承认达西先生没有一些缺点。他自己也承认了这一点,并没有掩饰。”

  “不,”达西说,“我并没有说过这种装场面的话。我有够多的毛病,不过这些毛病与头脑并没有关系。至于我的性格,我可不敢自夸。我认为我的性格太不能委曲求全,这当然是说我在处世方面太不能委曲求全地随和别人。别人的愚蠢和过错我本应该赶快忘掉,却偏偏忘不掉;人家得罪了我,我也忘不掉。说到我的一些情绪,也并不是我一打算把它们去除掉,它们就会烟消云散。我的脾气可以说是够叫人厌恶的。我对于某个人一旦没有了好感,就永远没有好感。”

  “这倒的的确确是个大缺点!”伊丽莎白大声说道。“跟人家怨恨不解,的确是性格上的一个阴影可是你对于自己的缺点,已经挑剔得很严格。我的确不能再讥笑你了。你放心好啦。”

  “我,相信一个人不管是怎样的脾气,都免不了有某种短处,这是一种天生的缺陷,即使受教育受得再好,也还是克服不了。”

  “你有一种倾向,……对什么人都感到厌恶,这就是你的缺陷。”

  “而你的缺陷呢,”达西笑着回答。“就是故意去误解别人。”

  彬格莱小姐眼见这场谈话没有她的份,不禁有些厌倦,便大声说道:“让我们来听听音乐吧,露薏莎,你不怕我吵醒赫斯脱先生吗?”

  她的姐姐毫不反对,于是钢琴便打开了。达西想了一下,觉得这样也不错。他开始感觉到对伊丽莎白似乎已经过分亲近了一些。

   

   

 第十二章

   

 

  班纳特姐妹俩商量妥当了以后,伊丽莎白第二天早上就写信给她母亲,请她当天就派车子来接她们。可是,班纳特太太早就打算让她两个女儿在尼日斐花园待到下星期二,以便让吉英正好住满一个星期,因此不大乐意提前接她们回家,回信也写得使她们不太满意,……至少使伊丽莎白不十分满意,因为她急于要回家。班纳特太太信上说,非到星期二,家里弄不出马车来。她写完信之后,又补写了几句,说是倘若彬格莱先生兄妹挽留她们多待几天,她非常愿意让她们待下去。怎奈伊丽莎白就是不肯待下去,她打定主意非回家不可……也不怎么指望主人家挽留她们,她反而怕人家以为她们赖在那儿不肯走。于是她催促吉英马上去向彬格莱借马车。她们最后决定向主人家说明,她们当天上午就要离开尼日斐花园,而且把借马车的事也提出来。

  主人家听到这话,表示百般关切,便再三挽留她们,希望她们至少待到下一天再走,吉英让她们说服了,于是姐妹俩只得再耽搁一天。这一下可叫彬格莱小姐后悔挽留她们,她对伊丽莎白又嫉妒又讨厌,因此也就顾不得对吉英的感情了。彬格莱听到她们马上要走非常发愁,便一遍又一遍劝导吉英,说她还没有完全复元,马上就走不大妥当,可是吉英既然觉得自己的主张是对的便再三坚持。

  不过达西却觉得这是个好消息,他认为伊丽莎白在尼日斐花园待得够久了。他没想到这次会给她弄得这般地心醉,加上彬格莱小姐一方面对她没礼貌,另方面又越发拿他自己开玩笑。他灵机一动,决定叫自己特别当心些,目前决不要流露出对她有什么爱慕的意思……─一点儿形迹也不要流露出来,免得她存非份之想,就此要操纵我达西的终身幸福。他感觉到,假如她存了那种心,那么一定是他昨天对待她的态度起了举足轻重的作用……叫她不是对他更有好感,便是把他完全厌弃。他这样拿定了主意,于是星期六一整天简直没有跟她说上十句话。虽然他那天曾经有一次跟她单独在一起待了半小时之久,他却正大光明地用心看书,看也没看她一眼。

  星期日做过晨祷以后,班家两姐妹立即告辞,主人家几乎人人乐意。彬格莱小姐对伊丽莎白一下子变得有礼貌起来了,对吉英也一下子变得亲热了。分手的时候,她先跟吉英说,非常盼望以后有机会在浪博恩或者在尼日斐花园跟她重逢,接着又十分亲切地拥抱了她一番,甚至还跟伊丽莎白握了握手。伊丽莎白高高兴兴地告别了大家。

  到家以后,母亲并不怎么热诚地欢迎她们。班纳特太太奇怪她们俩怎么竟会提前回来,非常埋怨她们给家里招来那么多麻烦,说是吉英十拿九稳地又要伤风了。倒是她们的父亲,看到两个女儿回家来了,嘴上虽然没有说什么欢天喜地的话,心里确实非常高兴。他早就体会到,这两个女儿在家里的地位多么重要。晚上一家人聚在一起聊天的时候,要是吉英和伊丽莎白不在场,就没有劲,甚至毫无意义。

  她们发觉曼丽还象以往一样,在埋头研究和声学以及人性的问题,她拿出了一些新的札记给她们欣赏,又发表一些对旧道德的新见解给她们听。咖苔琳和丽迪雅也告诉了她们一些新闻,可是性质完全不同。据她们说,民兵团自从上星期三以来又出了好多事,添了好多传说;有几个军官新近跟她们的姨爹吃过饭;一个士兵挨了鞭打,又听说弗斯脱上校的确快结婚了。

   

 

  

 第十三章

 

   

  第二天吃过早饭的时候,班纳特先生对他的太太说:“我的好太太,我希望你今天的午饭准备得好一些,因为我预料今天一定有客人来。”

  “你指的是那一位客人,我的好老爷?我一些也不知道有谁要来,除非夏绿蒂·卢卡斯碰巧会来看我们,我觉得拿我们平常的饭餐招待她也够好了。我不相信她在家里经常吃得这么好。”

  “我所说到的这位客人是位男宾,又是个生客。”

  班纳特太太的眼睛闪亮了起来。“一位男宾又是一位生客!那准是彬格莱先生,没有错。……哦,吉英,你从来没出过半点儿风声,你这个狡猾的东西!……嘿,彬格莱先生要来,真叫我太高兴啦。可是……老天爷呀!运气真不好,今天连一点儿鱼也买不着。……丽迪雅宝贝儿,代我按一按铃。我要马上吩咐希尔一下。”

  她的丈夫连忙说:“并不是彬格莱先生要来;说起这位客人,我一生都没见过他。”

  这句话叫全家都吃了一惊。他的太太和五个女儿立刻迫切地追问他,使他颇为高兴。

  拿他太太和女儿们的好奇心打趣了一阵以后,他便原原本本地说:“大约在一个月以前,我就收到了一封信,两星期以前我写了回信,因为我觉得这是件相当伤脑筋的事,得趁早留意。信是我的表侄柯林斯先生寄来的。我死了以后,这位表侄可以高兴什么时候把你们撵出这所屋子,就什么时候撵出去。”“噢,天啊,”他的太太叫起来了。“听你提起这件事我就受不了。请你别谈那个讨厌的家伙吧。你自己的产业不能让自己的孩子继承,却要让别人来继承,这是世界上最难堪的事。如果我是你,一定早就想出办法来补救这个问题啦。”

  吉英和伊丽莎白设法把继承权的问题跟她解释了一下。其实她们一直没法跟她解释,可是这个问题跟她是讲不明白的。她老是破口大骂,说是自己的产业不能由五个亲生女儿继承,却白白送给一个和她们毫不相干的人,这实在是太不合情理。

  “这的确是一最不公道的事,”班纳特先生说,“柯林斯先生要继承浪博恩的产业,他这桩罪过是洗也洗不清的。不过,要是你听听他这封信里所说的话,那你就会心肠软一些,因为他这番表明心迹还算不错。”

  “不,我相信我绝对不会心软下来;我觉得他写信给你真是既没有礼貌,又非常虚伪。我恨这种虚伪的朋友。他为什么不象他的爸爸那样跟你吵得不可开交呢?”

  “哦,真的,他对这个问题,好象也有些为了顾全孝道,犹豫不决,且让我把信读给你们听吧!”

  亲爱的长者:

  以前你为先父之间曾有些芥蒂,这一直使我感到不安。自先父不幸弃世以来,我常常想到要弥补这个裂痕;但我一时犹豫,没有这样做,怕的是先父生前既然对阁下唯恐仇视不及,而我今天却来与阁下修好,这未免有辱先人。……“注意听呀,我的好太太。”……不过目前我对此事已经拿定主张,因为我已在复活节那天受了圣职。多蒙故刘威斯·德·包尔公爵的孀妻咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人宠礼有加,恩惠并施,提拔我担任该教区的教士,此后可以勉尽厥诚,恭待夫人左右,奉行英国教会所规定的一切仪节,这真是拜三生不幸。况且以一个教士的身份来说,我觉得我有责任尽我之所及,使家家户户得以敦穆亲谊,促进友好。因此我自信这番好意一定会受到你的重视,而有关我继承浪博恩产权一事,你也可不必介意。并请接受我献上的这一枝橄榄枝。我这样侵犯了诸位令媛的利益,真是深感不安,万分抱歉,但请你放心,我极愿给她们一切可能的补偿,此事容待以后详谈。如果你不反对我踵门拜候,我建议于十一月十八是,星期一,四点钟前来拜谒,甚或在府上叨扰至下星期六为止。这对于我毫无不便之处,因为咖苔琳夫人决不会反对我星期日偶而离开教堂一下,只消有另一个教士主持这一天的事怀就行了。敬向尊夫人及诸位令媛致候。

  你的祝福者和朋友威廉·柯林斯

  十月十五日写于威斯特汉附近的肯特郡汉斯福村

  “那么,四点钟的时候,这位息事宁人的先生就要来啦,”班纳特先生一边把信折好,一边说。“他倒是个很有良心、很有礼貌的青年,一定是的;我相信他一定会成为一个值得器重的朋友,只要咖苔琳夫人能够开开恩,让他以后再上我们这儿来,那更好啦。”

  “他讲到我们女儿们的那几句话,倒还说得不错;要是他果真打算设法补偿,我倒不反对。”

  吉英说:“他说要给我们补偿,我们虽然猜不出他究竟是什么意思,可是他这一片好意也的确难得。”

  伊丽莎白听到他对咖苔琳夫人尊敬得那么出奇,而且他竟那么好心好意,随时替他自己教区里的居民行洗礼,主持婚礼和丧礼,不觉大为吃惊。

  “我看他一定是个古怪人,”她说。“我真弄不懂他。他的文笔似乎有些浮夸。他所谓因为继承了我们的产权而感到万分抱歉,这话是什么意思呢?即使这件事可以取消,我们也不要以为他就肯取消,他是个头脑清楚的人吗,爸爸?”

  “不,宝贝,我想他不会是的。我完全认为他是恰恰相反。从他信里那种既谦卑又自大的口气上就可以看得出来。我倒真想见见他。”

  曼丽说:“就文章而论,他的信倒好象写得没有什么毛病。橄榄枝这种说法虽然并不新颖,可是我觉得用得倒很恰当。”

  在咖苔琳和丽迪雅看来,无论是那封信也好,写信的人也好,都没有一点儿意思。反正她们觉得她们的表兄绝不会穿着“红制服”来,而这几个星期以来,穿其他任何颜色的衣服的人,她们都不乐意结交。至于她们的母亲,原来的一般怨气已经被柯林斯先生一封信打消了不少,她倒准备相当平心静气地会见他,这使得她的丈夫和女儿们都觉得非常奇怪。

  柯林斯先生准时来了,全家都非常客气地接待他,班纳特先生简直没有说什么话;可是太太和几位小姐都十分愿意畅谈一下,而柯林斯先生本人好象既不需要人家鼓励他多说话,也不打算不说话。他是个二十五岁的青年,高高的个儿,望上去很肥胖,他的气派端庄而堂皇,又很拘泥礼节。他刚一坐下来就恭维班纳特太太福气好,养了这么多好女儿,他说,早就听到人们对她们美貌赞扬备至,今天一见面,才知道她们的美貌远远超过了她们的名声;他又说,他相信小姐们到时候都会结下美满良缘。他这些奉承话,人家真不大爱听,只有班纳特太太,没有哪句恭维话听不下去,于是极其干脆地回答道:

  “我相信你是个好心肠的人,先生;我一心希望能如你的金口,否则她们就不堪设想了。事情实在摆布得太古怪啦。”

  “你大概是说产业的继承权问题吧。”

  “唉,先生,我的确是说到这方面。你得承认,这对于我可怜的女儿们真是件不幸的事。我并不想怪你,因为我也知道,世界上这一类的事完全靠命运。一个人的产业一旦要限定继承人,那你就无从知道它会落到谁的手里去。”

  “太太,我深深知道,这件事苦了表妹们,我在这个问题上有很多意见,一时却不敢莽撞冒失。可是我可以向年轻的小姐们保证,我上这儿来,就是为了要向她们表示我的敬慕。目前我也不打算多说,或许等到将来我们相处得更熟一些的时候……”

  主人家请他吃午饭了,于是他的话不得不被打断。小姐们彼此相视而笑。柯林斯先生所爱慕的才不光光是她们呢。他把客厅、饭厅、以及屋子里所有的家具,都仔细看了一遍,赞美了一番。班纳特太太本当听到他赞美一句,心里就得意一阵,怎奈她也想到,他原来是把这些东西都看作他自己未来的财产,因此她又非常难受。连一顿午饭也蒙他称赏不置,他请求主人告诉他,究竟是哪位表妹烧得这一手好菜。班纳特太太听到他这句话,不禁把他指责了一番。她相当不客气地跟他说,她们家里现在还雇得起一个象样的厨子,根本用不到女儿们过问厨房里的事。他请求她原谅,不要见怪。于是她用柔和的声调说,她根本没有怪他,可是他却接接连连地道歉了一刻钟之久。

   

   

 

 第十四章

 

   

  吃饭的时候,班纳特先生几乎一句话也没有说;可是等到佣人们走开以后,他就想道,现在可以跟这位客人谈谈了。他料想到,如果一开头就谈到咖苔琳夫人身上去,这位贵客一定会笑逐颜开的,于是他便拿这个话题做开场白,说是柯林斯先生有了那样一个女施主,真是幸运极了,又说咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人对他这样言听计从,而且极其周到地照顾到他生活方面的安适,真是十分难得。班纳特先生这个话题选得再好也没有了。柯林斯先生果然滔滔不绝地赞美起那位夫人来。这个问题一谈开了头,他本来的那种严肃态度便显得更严肃了,他带着非常自负的神气说,他一辈子也没有看到过任何有身价地位的人,能够象咖苔琳夫人那样的有德行,那样的亲切谦和。他很荣幸,曾经当着她的面讲过两次道,多蒙夫人垂爱,对他那两次讲道赞美不绝。夫人曾经请他到罗新斯去吃过两次饭,上星期六晚上还请他到她家里去打过“夸锥”。据他所知,多少人都认为咖苔琳夫人为人骄傲,可是他只觉得亲切。她平常跟他攀谈起来,总是把他当作一个有身份的人看待。她丝毫不反对他和邻居们来往,也不反对他偶而离开教区一两个星期,去拜望拜望亲友们。多蒙她体恤下情,曾经亲自劝他及早结婚,只要他能够谨慎选择对象。她还到他的寒舍去拜访过一次,对于他住宅所有经过他整修过的地方都十分赞成,并且蒙她亲自赐予指示,叫他把楼上的璧橱添置几个架子。

  班纳特太太说:“我相信这一切都做得很得体,很有礼貌,我看她一定是个和颜悦色的女人。可惜一般贵夫人们都比不上她。她住的地方离你很近吗,先生?”

  “寒舍那个花园跟她老夫人住的罗新斯花园,只隔着一条胡同。”

  “你说她是个寡妇吗,先生?她还有家属吗?”

  “她只有一个女儿,……也就是罗新斯的继承人,将来可以继承到非常大的一笔遗产呢。”

  “嗳呀,”班纳特太太听得叫了起来,一面又摇了摇头。“那么,她比多少姑娘们都福气她。她是怎样的一位小姐?长得漂亮吗?”

  “她真是个极可爱的姑娘。咖苔琳夫人自己也说过,讲到真正的漂亮,德·包尔小姐要胜过天下最漂亮的女性;因为她眉清目秀,与众不同,一看上去就知道她出身高贵。她本来可以多才多艺,只可惜她体质欠佳,没有进修,否则她一定琴棋书画样样通晓,这话是她女教师说给我听的,那教师现在还跟她们母女住在一起。她的确是可爱透顶,常常不拘名份,乘着她那辆小马车光临寒舍。”

  “她觐见过皇上吗?在进过宫的仕女们中,我好象没有听见过她的名字。”

  “不幸她身体柔弱,不能过京城去,正如我有一天跟咖苔琳夫人所说的,这实在使得英国的宫庭里损失了一件最明媚的装璜;她老人家对我这种说法很是满意。你们可以想象得到,在任何场合下,我都乐于说几句巧妙的恭维话,叫一般太太小姐们听得高兴。我跟咖苔琳夫人说过好多次,她的美丽的小姐是一位天生的公爵夫人,将来不管嫁给哪一位公爵姑爷,不论那位姑爷地位有多高,非但不会增加小姐的体面,反而要让小姐来为他争光。这些话都叫她老人家听得高兴极了,我总觉得我应该在这方面特别留意。”

  班纳特先生说:“你说得很恰当,你既然有这种才能,能够非常巧妙地捧人家的场,这对于你自己也会有好处。我是否可以请教你一下,你这种讨人喜欢的奉承话,是临时想起来的呢,还是老早想好了的?”

  “大半是看临时的情形想起来的;不过有时候我也自己跟自己打趣,预先想好一些很好的小恭维话,平常有机会就拿来应用,而且临说的时候,总是要装出是自然流露出来的。”

  班纳特先生果然料想得完全正确,他这位表侄确实象他所想象的那样荒谬,他听得非常有趣,不过表面上却竭力保持镇静,除了偶而朝着伊丽莎白望一眼以外,他并不需要别人来分享他这份愉快。

  不过到吃茶的时候,这一场罪总算受完了。班纳特先生高高兴兴地把客人带到会客室里,等到茶喝完了,他又高高兴兴地邀请他朗诵点什么给他的太太和小姐们听。柯林斯先生立刻就答应了,于是她们就拿了一本书给他,可是一看到那本书(因为那本书一眼就可以看出是从流通图书馆借来的)他就吃惊得往后一退,连忙声明他从来不读小说,请求她们原谅。吉蒂对他瞪着眼,丽迪雅叫起来了。于是她们另外拿了几本书来,他仔细考虑了一下以后,选了一本弗迪斯的《讲道集》。他一摊开那本书,丽迪雅不禁目瞪口呆,等到他那么单调无味,一本正经地刚要读完三页的时候,丽迪雅赶快岔断了他:

  “妈妈,你知不知道腓力普姨爹要解雇李却?要是他真的要解雇他,弗斯脱上校一定愿意雇他。这是星期六那一天姨爹亲自告诉我的。我打算明天上麦里屯去多了解一些情况,顺便问问他们,丹尼先生什么时候从城里回来。”

  两个姐姐都吩咐丽迪雅住嘴;柯林斯先生非常生气,放下了书本,说道:

  “我老是看到年轻的小姐们对正经书不感兴趣,不过这些书完全是为了她们的好处写的。老实说,这不能不叫我惊奇,因为对她们最有利益的事情,当然莫过于圣哲的教训。可是我也不愿意勉强我那年轻的表妹。”

  于是他转过身来要求班纳特先生跟他玩“贝加梦”,班纳特先生一面答应了他,一面说,这倒是个聪明的办法,还是让这些女孩子们去搞她们自己的小玩艺吧。班纳特太太和她五个女儿极有礼貌地向他道歉,请他原谅丽迪雅打断了他朗诵对书,并且说,他要是重新把那本书读下去,她保证决不会有同样的事件发生。柯林斯先生请她们不要介意,说是他一点儿也不怪表妹,决不会认为她冒犯了他而把她怀恨在心。他解释过以后,就跟班纳特先生坐到另一张桌子上去,准备玩“贝加梦”。

   

 

  

 第十五章

 

   

  柯林斯先生并不是个通情达理的人,他虽然也受过教育,也踏进了社会,但是先天的缺陷却简直没有得到什么弥补。他大部分日子是在他那守财奴的文盲父亲的教导下度过的。他也算进过大学,实际上不过照例住了几个学期,并没有结交一个有用的朋友。他的父亲管束得他十分严厉,因此他的为人本来很是谦卑,不过他本是个蠢材,现在生活又过得很优闲,当然不免自高自大,何况年纪轻轻就发了意外之财,更其自视甚高,哪里还谈得上谦卑。当时汉斯福教区有个牧师空缺,他鸿运享通,得到了咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人的提拔。他看到他的女施主地位颇高,便悉心崇拜,备加尊敬;另方面又自命不凡,自以为当上了教士,该有怎样怎样的权利,于是他一身兼有了骄傲自大和谦卑顺从的两重性格。

  他现在已经有了一幢好房子,一笔可观的收入,想要结婚了。他所以要和浪博恩这家人家讲和修好,原是想要在他们府上找个太太。要是这家人家的几位小姐果真象大家所传闻的那么美丽可爱,他一定要挑选一个。这就是他所谓补偿的计划,赎罪的计划,为的是将来继承她们父亲的遗产时可以问心无愧。他认为这真是个独出心裁的办法,既极其妥善得体,又来得慷慨豪爽。

  他看到这几位小姐之后,并没有变更本来的计划。一看到吉英那张可爱的脸蛋儿,他便拿定了主张,而且更加确定了他那些老式的想法,认为一切应当先娶最大的一位小姐。头一个晚上他就选中了她。不过第二天早上他又变更了主张,因为他和班纳特夫人亲亲密密地谈了一刻钟的话,开头谈谈他自己那幢牧师住宅,后来自然而然地把自己的心愿招供了出来,说是要在浪博恩找一位太太,而且要在她的令嫒们中间找一位。班纳特太太亲切地微笑着,而且一再鼓励他,不过谈到他选定了吉英,她就不免要提请他注意一下子了。“讲到我几个小女儿,我没有什么意见……当然也不能一口答应……不过我还没有听说她们有什么对象;至于我的大女儿,我可不得不提一提……我觉得有责任提醒你一下……大女儿可能很快就要订婚了。”

  柯林斯先生只得撇开吉英不谈,改选伊丽莎白,一下子就选定了……就在班纳特太太拨火的那一刹那之间选定的。伊丽莎白无论是年龄,美貌,比吉英都只差一步,当然第二个就要轮到她。

  班纳特太太得到这个暗示,如获至宝,她相信很快就可以嫁出两个女儿了;昨天她提都不愿意提到的这个人,现在却叫她极为重视了。

  丽迪雅原说要到麦里屯支走走,她这个念头到现在还没有打消。除了曼丽之外,姐姐们都愿意跟她同去;班纳特先生为了要把柯林斯先生撵走,好让自己在书房里清净一阵,便请他也跟着她们一起去。原来柯林斯先生吃过早饭以后,就跟着他到书房来了,一直待到那时候还不想走,名义上在看他所收藏的那本大型的对开本,事实上却在滔滔不绝地跟班纳特先生大谈他自己在汉斯福的房产和花园,弄得班纳特先生心烦意乱。他平常待在书房里就是为了要图个悠闲清净。他曾经跟伊丽莎白说过,他愿意在任何一间房间里,接见愚蠢和自高自大的家伙,书房里可就不能让那些人插足了。因此他立刻恭恭敬敬地请柯林斯先生伴着他女儿们一块儿去走走,而柯林斯先生本来也只配做一个步行家,不配做一个读书人,于是非常高兴地合上书本走了。

  他一路废话连篇,表妹们只得客客气气地随声附和,就这样打发着时间,来到了麦里屯。几位年纪小的表妹一到那里,就再也不去理会他了。她们的眼睛立刻对着街头看来看去,看看有没有军官们走过,此外就只有商店橱窗里的极漂亮的女帽,或者是最新式的花洋布,才能吸引她们。

  不到一会儿工夫,这许多小姐都注意到一位年轻人身上去了。那人她们从来没见过,一副道地的绅士气派,正跟一个军官在街道那边散步。这位军官就是丹尼先生,丽迪雅正要打听他从伦敦回来了没有。当她们打那儿走过的时候,他鞠了一个躬。大家看到那个陌生人风度翩翩,都楞了一下,只是不知道这人是谁。吉蒂和丽迪雅决定想法子去打听,便借口要到对面铺子里去买点东西,带头走到街那边去了。也正是事有凑巧,她们刚刚走到人行道上,那两个男人也正转过身来,走到那地方。丹尼马上招呼她们,并请求她们让他把他的朋友韦翰先生介绍给她们。他说韦翰是前一天跟他一块儿从城里回来的,而且说来很高兴,韦翰已经被任命为他们团里军官。这真是再好也没有了,因为韦翰这位青年,只要穿上一身军装,便会十全十美。他的容貌举止确实讨人喜欢。他没有一处长得不漂亮,眉目清秀,身材魁梧,谈吐又十分动人。一经介绍之后,他就高高兴兴,恳恳切切地谈起话来……既恳切,又显得非常正派,而且又有分寸。他们正站在那儿谈得很投机的时候,忽然听到一阵得得的马蹄声,只见达西和彬格莱骑着马从街上过来。这新来的两位绅士看见人堆里有这几位小姐,便连忙来到她们跟前,照常寒喧了一番,带头说话的是彬格莱,他大部分的话都是对班纳特小姐说的。他说他正要赶到浪博恩去拜访她。达西证明他没有撒谎,同时鞠了个躬。达西正打算把眼睛从伊丽莎白身上移开,这时突然看到了那个陌生人。只见他们两人面面相觑,大惊失色,伊丽莎白看到这个邂逅相遇的场合,觉得很是惊奇。两个人都变了脸色,一个惨白,一个通红,过了一会儿,韦翰先生按了按帽子,达西先生勉强回了一下礼。这是什么意思呢?既叫人无从想象,又叫人不能不想去打听一下。又过了一会儿,彬格莱先生若无其事地跟她们告别了,骑着马跟他朋友管自走了。

  丹呢先生和韦翰先生陪着几位年轻的小姐,走到腓力普家门口,丽迪雅小姐硬要他们进去,甚至腓力普太太也打开了窗户,大声地帮着她邀请,他们却鞠了个躬告辞而去。

  腓力普太太一向喜欢看到她的侄女们,那大的两个新近不常见面,因此特别受欢迎。她恳切地说。她们姐妹俩突然回家来,真叫她非常惊奇,要不是碰巧在街上遇到钟斯医生的药铺子里那个跑街的小伙子告诉她,说是班纳特家的两位小姐都已回家了呢,这是因为她们家里没有打发马车去接她们的缘故,正当她们这样闲谈的时候,吉英向她介绍柯林斯先生,她不得不跟他寒喧几句,她极其客气地表示欢迎他,他也加倍客气地应酬她而且向她道歉,说是素昧生平,不该这么冒冒失失闯到她府上来,又说他毕竟还是非常高兴,因为介绍他的那几位年轻小姐和他还有些亲戚关系,因此他的冒昧前来也还勉强说得过去。这种过分的礼貌使腓力普太太受宠若惊。不过,正当她仔细量着这一位生客的时候,她们姐妹俩却又把另一位生客的事情,大惊小怪地提出来向她问长问短,她只得又来回答她们的话,可是她能够说给侄女儿们听的,也无非是她们早已知道了的一些情形。她说那位生客是丹尼先生刚从伦敦带来的,他将要在某某郡担任起一个中尉的职责,又说,他刚刚在街上走来走去的时候,她曾经对他望了整整一个钟头之久。这时如果韦翰先生从这儿经过,吉蒂和丽迪雅一定还要继续张望他一番;可惜现在除了几位军官之外,根本没有人从窗口走过,而这些军官们同韦翰先生一比较,都变成一些“愚蠢讨厌的家伙”了。有几个军官明天要上腓力普家里来吃饭。姨母说,倘若她们一家人明天晚上能从浪博恩赶来,那么她就要打发她的丈夫去拜访韦翰先生一次,约他也来。大家都同意了;腓力普太太说,明天要给她们来一次热闹而有趣的抓彩票的玩艺儿,玩过之后再吃一顿晚饭。想到了明天这一场欢乐真叫人兴奋,因此大家分别的时候都很快乐。柯林斯先生走出门来,又再三道谢,主人也礼貌周全地请他不必过分客气。

  回家的时候,伊丽莎白一路上把刚刚亲眼看见的那两位先生之间的一幕情景说给吉英听。假使他们两人之间真有什么宿怨,吉英一定要为他们两人中间的一人辩护,或是为两人辩护,只可惜她跟她妹妹一样,对于这两个人的事情完全摸不着头脑。

  柯林斯先生回来之后,大大称赞腓力普太太的殷勤好客,班纳特太太听得很满意。柯林斯说,除了咖苔琳夫人母女之外,他生平从来没见过更风雅的女人,因为他虽然和她素昧生平,她却对他礼貌周全,甚至还指明要请他明天一同去吃晚饭。他想,这件事多少应该归功于他和她们的亲戚关系。可是这样殷勤好客的事,他还是生平第一次碰到呢。

   

 

 

 

 第十六章

 

   

  年轻的小姐们跟她们姨妈的约会,并没有遭受到反对。柯林斯只觉得来此作客,反而把班纳特夫妇整晚丢在家里,未免有些过意不去,可是他们叫他千万不要放在心上。于是他和他的五个表妹便乘着马车,准时到了麦里屯。小姐们一走进客厅,就听说韦翰先生接受了她们姨爹的邀请,而且已经驾到,觉得很是高兴。

  大家听到这个消息之后,便都坐了下来。柯林斯先生悠闲自在地朝四下望望,瞻仰瞻仰一切;屋子的尺寸和里面的家具使他十分惊羡,他说他好象进了咖苔琳夫人在罗新斯的那间消夏的小饭厅。这个比喻开头并不怎么叫主人家满意,可是接下来腓力普太太弄明白了罗新斯是一个什么地方,它的主人是谁,又听他说起咖苔琳夫人的一个会客间的情形,光是一只壁炉架就要值八百英镑,她这才体会到他那个譬喻实在太恭维她了,即使把她家里比作罗新斯管家奶奶的房间,她也不反对了。

  柯林斯在讲述咖苔琳夫人和她公馆的富丽堂皇时,偶然还要穿插上几句话,来夸耀他自己的寒舍,说他的住宅正在装璜改善中等,他就这样自得其乐地一直扯到男客们进来为止。他发觉腓力普太太很留心听他的话,她愈听就愈把他看得了不起,而且决定一有空就把他的话传播出去。至于小姐们,实在觉得等得太久了,因为她们不高兴听她们表兄的闲扯,又没事可做,想弹弹琴又不成,只有照着壁炉架上那些瓷器的样子,漫不经心地画些小玩艺儿消遗消遗。等待的时间终于过去了,男客们来了。韦翰先生一走进来,伊丽莎白就觉得,无论是上次看见他的时候也好,从上次见面以来想起他的时候也好,她都没有错爱了他。某某郡的军官们都是一批名誉很好的绅士气派的人物,参加这次宴会的尤其是他们之中的精华。韦翰先生无论在人品上,相貌上,风度上,地位上,都远远超过他们,正如他们远远超过那位姨爹一样……瞧那位肥头大耳,大腹便便的姨爹,他正带着满口葡萄酒味,跟着他们走进屋来。

  韦翰先生是当天最得意的男子,差不多每个女人的眼睛都朝着他看;伊丽莎白是当天最得意的女子,韦翰终于在她的身旁坐了下来。他马上就跟她攀谈,虽然谈的只是些当天晚上下雨和雨季可能就要到来之类的话,可是他那么和颜悦色,使她不禁感觉到即使最平凡、最无聊、最陈旧的话,只要说话的人有技巧,还是一样可以说得动听。

  说起要博得女性的青眼,柯林斯先生遇到象韦翰先生和军官们这样的劲敌,真变得无足轻重了。他在小姐们眼睛里实在算不上什么,幸亏好心的腓力普太太有时候还听听他谈主,她又十分细心,尽量把咖啡和松饼敬给他吃。

  一张张牌桌摆好以后,柯林斯便坐下来一同玩“惠斯脱”,总算有了一个机会报答她的好意。

  他说:“我对这玩艺儿简直一窍不通,不过我很愿意把它学会,以我这样的身份来说──”腓力普太太很感激他的好意可是却不愿意听他谈论什么身份地位。

  韦翰先生没有玩“惠斯脱”,因为他被小姐们高高兴兴地请到另一张桌子上去玩牌,坐在伊丽莎白和丽迪雅之间。开头的形势很叫人担忧,因为丽迪雅是个十足的健谈家,大有把他独占下来的可能;好在她对于摸奖也同样爱好,立刻对那玩艺儿大感兴趣,一股劲儿下注,得奖之后又大叫大嚷,因此就无从特别注意到某一个人身上去了。韦翰先生一面跟大家应付这玩艺儿,一面从容不迫地跟伊丽莎白谈话。伊丽莎白很愿意听他说话,很想了解一下他和达西先生过去的关系,可是她要听的他未必肯讲。于是她提也不敢提到那位先生。后来出人意料之外,韦翰先生竟自动地谈到那个问题上去了。因此她的好奇心到底还是得到了满足。韦翰先生问起尼日斐花园离开麦里屯有多远。她回答了他以后,他又吞吞吐吐地问起达西先生已经在那儿待了多久。

  伊丽莎白说:“大概有一个月了。”为了不愿意让这个话题放松过去,她又接着说:“据我所知,他是德比郡一个大财主。”

  “是的,”韦翰回答道。“他的财产很可观……每年有一万镑的净收入。说起这方面,谁也没有我知道得确实,因为我从小就和他家里有特别的关系。”

  伊丽莎白不禁显出诧异的神气。

  “班纳特小姐,你昨天也许看到我们见面时那种冷冰冰的样子了吧,难怪你听了我的话会觉得诧异。你同达西先生很熟吗?”

  “我也只希望跟他这么熟就够了,”伊丽莎白冒火地叫道。“我和他在一起待了四天,觉得他很讨厌。”

  韦翰说:“他究竟讨人喜欢还是讨人厌,我可没有权利说出我的意见。我不便发表意见。我认识他太久,跟他也处得太熟,因此很难做个公正的判断人。我不可能做到大公无私。不过我敢说,你对他的看法大致可以说是骇人听闻的,或许你在别的地方就不会说得这样过火吧。这儿都是你自己人呢。”

  “老实说,除了在尼日斐花以外,我到附近任何人家去都会这样说。哈福德郡根本就没有人喜欢他。他那副傲慢的气派,哪一个见了都讨厌。你绝不会听到人家说他一句好话。”

  歇了一会儿,韦翰说:“说句问心无愧的话,不管是他也好,是别人也好,都不应该受到人家过分的抬举。不过他这个人,我相信不大会有人过分抬举他的。他的有钱有势蒙蔽了天下人的耳目,他那目空一切、盛气凌人的气派又吓坏了天下人,弄得大家只有顺着他的心意去看待他。”

  “我虽然跟他并不太熟,可是我认为他是个脾气很坏的人。”韦翰听了这话,只是摇头。

  等到有了说话的机会,他又接下去说:“我不知道他是否打算在这个村庄里多住些时候。”

  “我完全不知道;不过,我在尼日斐花园的时候,可没有听说他要走。你既然喜欢某某郡,打算在那里工作,我但愿你不要因为他在附近而影响了你原来的计划。”

  “噢,不;我才不会让达西先生赶走呢。要是他不愿意看到我,那就得他走。我们两个人的交情搞坏了,我见到他就不好受,可是我没有理由要避开他,我只是要让大家知道他是怎样亏待了我,他的为人处世怎样使我痛心。班纳特小姐,他那去世的父亲,那位老达西先生,却是天下最好心的人,也是我生平最最真心的朋友;每当我同现在这位达西先生在一起的时候就免不了逗起千丝万缕温存的回忆,从心底里感到苦痛。他对待我的行为真是恶劣万分;可是我千真万确地相信,我一切都能原谅他,只是不能容忍他辜负他先人的厚望,辱没他先人的名声。”

  伊丽莎白对这件事越来越感到兴趣,因此听得很专心。但是这件事很蹊跷,她不便进一步追问。

  韦翰先生又随便谈了些一般的事情。他谈到麦里屯,谈到四邻八舍和社交之类的事,凡是他所看到的事情,他谈起来都非常欣喜,特别是谈到社交问题的时候,他的谈吐举止更显得温雅殷勤。

  他又说:“我所以喜爱某某郡,主要是为了这儿的社交界都是些上等人,又讲交情,我又知道这支部队名声很好,受到大家爱护,加上我的朋友丹尼为了劝我上这儿来,又讲起他们目前的营房是多么好,麦里屯的众对待他们又多么殷勤,他们在麦里屯又结交了多少好朋友。我承认我是少不了社交生活的。我是个失意的人。精神上受不了孤寂。我一定要有职业和社交生活。我本来不打算过行伍生活,可是由于环境所迫,现在也只好去参加军队了。我本应该做牧师的,家里的意思本来也是要培养我做牧师;要是我博得了我们刚刚谈到的这位先生的喜欢,说不定我现在也有一份很可观的牧师俸禄呢。”

  “是吗?”

  “怎么会不是!老达西先生遗嘱上说明,牧师职位一有了最好的空缺就给我。他是我的教父,非常疼爱我。他待我的好意,我真无法形容。他要使我衣食丰裕,而且他自以为已经做到了这一点,可是等到牧师职位有了空缺的时候,却落到别人名下去了。”

  “天哪!”伊丽莎白叫道;“怎么会有那种事情,怎么能够不依照他的遗嘱办事?你干吗不依法申诉?”

  “遗嘱上讲到遗产的地方,措辞很含混,因此我未必可以依法申诉。照说,一个要面子的人是不会怀疑先人的意图的;可是达西先生偏偏要怀疑,或者说,他认为遗嘱上也只是说明有条件地提拔我,他硬要说我浪费和荒唐,因此要取消我一切的权利。总而言之,不说则已,说起来样样坏话都说到了。那个牧师位置居然在两年前空出来了,那正是我够年龄掌握那份俸禄的那年,可是却给了另一个人。我实在无从责备我自己犯了什么过错而活该失掉那份俸禄,除非说我性子急躁,心直口快,有时候难免在别人面前说他几句直话,甚至还当面顶撞他。也不过如此而已。只不过我们完全是两样的人,他因此怀恨我。”

  “这真是骇人听闻!应该公开地叫他丢丢脸。”

  “迟早总会有人来叫他丢脸,可是我决不会去难为他的。除非我对他的先人忘恩负义,我决不会揭发我,跟他作对。”

  伊丽莎白十分钦佩他这种见地,而且觉得他把这种同见地讲出来以后,他越发显得英俊了。

  歇了一会儿,她又说道:“可是他究竟是何居心?他为什么要这样作践人呢?”

  “无非是决心要跟我结成不解的怨恨,人认为他这种结怨是出于某种程度上的嫉妒。要是老达西先生对待我差一些,他的儿子自然就会跟我处得好一些。我相信就是因为他的父亲太疼爱我了,这才使他从小就感到所气恼。他肚量狭窄,不能容忍我跟他竞争,不能容忍我比他强。”

  “我想不到达西先生竟会这么坏。虽说我从来没有对他有过好感,可也不十分有恶感。我只以为他看不起人,却不曾想到他卑鄙到这样的地步……竟怀着这样恶毒的报复心,这样的不讲理,没有人道!”

  她思索了一会儿,便接下去说:“我的确记得,有一次他还在尼日斐花园里自鸣得意地说起,他跟人家结下了怨恨就无法消解,他生性就受记仇。他的性格上一定叫人家很厌恶。”

  韦翰回答道:“在这件事情上,我的意见不一定靠得住,因为我对他难免有成见。”

  伊丽莎白又深思了一会儿,然后大声说道:“你是他父亲的教子,朋友,是他父亲所器重的人,他怎么竟这样作践你!”她几乎把这样的话也说出口来:“他怎么竟如此对待象你这样一个青年,光是凭你一副脸蛋儿就准会叫人喜爱。”不过,她到底还是改说了这样几句话:“何况你从小就和他在一起,而且象你所说的,关系非常密切。”

  “我们是在同一个教区,同一个花园里长大的。我们的少年时代部分是在一起过的……同住一幢房子,同在一起玩耍,受到同一个父亲的疼爱。我父亲所干的行业就是您姨爹腓力普先生得心应手的那门行业,可是先父管家有方,使他受惠非浅,因此在先父临终的时候,他便自动提出负担我一切的生活费用。我相信他所以这样做,一方面是对先父感恩,另一方面是为了疼爱我。”

  伊丽莎白叫道:“多奇怪!多可恶!我真不明白,这位达西先生既然这样有自尊心,怎么又这样亏待你!要是没有别的更好的理由,那么,他既是这么骄傲,就应该不屑于这样阴险……─我一定要说是阴险。”

  “的确稀奇,”韦翰回答道:“归根结底来说,差不多他的一切行动都是出于傲慢,傲慢成了他最要好的朋友。照说他既然傲慢,就应该最讲求道德。可是人总免不了有自相矛盾的地方,他对待我就是意气用事多于傲慢。”

  “象他这种可恶的傲慢,对他自己有什么好处?”

  “有好处;常常使他做起人来慷慨豪爽……花钱不吝啬,待人殷勤,资助佃户,救济贫苦人。他所以会这样,都是因为门第祖先使他感到骄傲,他对于他父亲的为人也很引为骄傲。他主要就是为了不要有辱家声,有违众望,不要失掉彭伯里族的声势。他还具有做哥哥身份的骄傲,这种骄傲,再加上一些手足的情份,使他成了他妹妹的亲切而细心的保护人;你自会听到大家都一致赞他是位体贴入微的最好哥哥。”

  “达西小姐是个怎么样的姑娘?”

  韦翰摇摇头。“我但愿能够说她一声可爱。凡是达西家里的人,我都不忍心说他们一句坏话。可是她的确太象她的哥哥了……非常非常傲慢。她小时候很亲切,很讨人喜爱,而且特别喜欢我。我常常陪她接连玩上几个钟头。可是现在我可不把她放在心上了。她是个漂亮姑娘,大约十五六岁,而且据我知道,她也极有才干。她父亲去世以后,她就住在伦敦,有位太太陪她住在一起,教她读书。”

  他们又东拉西扯地谈了好些别的话,谈谈歇歇,后来伊丽莎白不禁又扯到原来的话题上来。她说:

  “我真奇怪,他竟会和彬格莱先生这样知已。彬格莱先生的性情那么好,而且他的为人也极其和蔼可亲,怎么会跟这样一个人交起朋友来?他们怎么能够相处呢?你认识彬格莱先生吗?”

  “我不认识。”

  “他的确是个和蔼可亲的好性子的人。他根本不会明白达西先生是怎样一个人。”

  “也许不明白;不过达西先生讨人欢喜的时候,他自有办法。他的手腕很高明。只要他认为值得跟人家攀谈,他也会谈笑风生。他在那些地位跟他相等的人面前,在那些处境不及他的人面前,完全是两个人。他处处傲慢,可是跟有钱的阔人在一起的时候,他就显得胸襟磊落、公正诚实、讲道理、要面子、也许还会和和气气,这都是看在人家的身价地位的份上。”

  “惠斯脱”牌散场了,玩牌的人都围到另一张桌子上来,柯林斯先生站在他的表妹伊丽莎白和腓力普太太之间。腓力普太太照例问他赢了没有。他没有赢,他完全输了。腓力普太太表示为他惋惜,于是他慎重其事地告诉她说,区区小事何必摆在心上,因为他根本不看重钱,请她不要觉得心里不安。

  他说:“我很明白,太太,人只要坐上了牌桌,一切就得看自己的运气了,幸亏我并不把五个先令当作一回事。当然好些人就不会象我这样说法,也是多亏咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人,有了她,我就不必为这点小数目心痛了。”

  这话引起了韦翰先生的注意。韦翰看了柯林斯先生几眼,便低声问伊丽莎白,她这位亲戚是不是同德·包尔家很相熟。

  伊丽莎白回答道:“咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人最近给了他一个牧师职位。我简直不明白柯林斯先生是怎么受到她常识的,不过他一定没有认识她多久。”

  “想你一定知道咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人和安妮·达西夫人是姐妹吧。咖苔琳夫人正是现在这位达西先生的姨母呢。”

  “不知道,我的确不知道。关于咖苔琳夫人的亲戚,我半点儿都不知道。我还是前天才晓得有她这个人的。”

  “她的女儿德·包尔小姐将来会承受到一笔很大的财产,大家都相信她和她的姨表兄将来会把两份家产合并起来。”

  这话不禁叫伊丽莎白笑了起来,因为这使她想起了可怜的彬格莱小姐。要是达西果真已经另有心上人,那么,彬格莱小姐的百般殷勤都是枉然,她对达西妹妹的关怀以及对达西本人的赞美,也完全白费了。

  “柯林斯先生对咖苔琳夫人母女俩真是赞不绝口,可是听他讲起那位夫人来,有些地方真叫我不得不怀疑他说得有些过分,对她感激得迷住了心窍。尽管她是他的恩人,她仍然是个既狂妄又自大的女人。”

  “我相信她这两种毛病都很严重,”韦翰回答道。“我有多少年没见过她了,可是我刻我自己一向讨厌她,因为她为人处世既专横又无礼。大家都说她非常通情达理;不过我总以为人家所以夸她能干,一方面是因为她有钱有势,一方面因为她盛气凌人,加上她又有那么了不起的一个姨侄,只有那些具有上流社会教养的人,才巴结上他。”

  伊丽莎白承认他这番话说得很有理。他们俩继续谈下去,彼此十分投机,一直谈到打牌散场吃晚饭的时候,别的小姐们才有机会分享一点韦翰先生的殷勤。腓力普太太宴请的这些客人们正在大声喧哗,简直叫人无法谈话,好在光凭他的举止作风,也就足以博得每个人的欢心了。他一言一语十分风趣,一举一动非常温雅。伊丽莎白临走时,脑子里只想到他一个人。她在回家的路上一心只想到韦翰先生,想到他跟她说过的那些话,可是一路上丽迪雅和柯林斯先生全没有住过嘴,因此她连提到他名字的机会也没有。丽迪雅不停地谈到抓彩票,谈到她哪一次输了又哪一次赢了;柯林斯先生尽说些腓力普先生和腓力普太太的殷勤款待,又说打“惠斯脱”输了几个钱他毫不在乎,又把晚餐的菜肴一盘盘背出来,几次三番地说是怕自己挤了表妹们。他要说的话太多,当马车停在浪博恩的屋门口时,他的话还没有说完。

   

 

 

 第十七章

 

   

  第二天,伊丽莎白把韦翰先生跟她自己说的那些话全告诉了吉英。吉英听得又是惊奇又是关心。她简直不能相信,达西先生会这样地不值得彬格莱先生器重,可是,象韦翰这样一个青年美男子,她实在无从怀疑他说话不诚实。一想到韦翰可能真的受到这些亏待,她就不禁起了怜惜之心;因此她只得认为他们两位先生都是好人,替他们双方辨白,把一切无法解释的事都解释做意外和误会。

  吉英说:“我认为他们双方都受了人家的蒙蔽,至于是怎样受到蒙蔽的,我们当然无从猜测,也许是哪一个有关的人从中挑拨是非。简单地说,除非是我们有确确实实的根据可以责怪任何一方面,我们就无从凭空猜想出他们是为了什么事才不和睦的。”

  “你这话说得不错。那么,亲爱的吉英,你将替这种有关的人说些什么话呢?你也得替这种人辨白一下呀,否则我们又不得不怪到某一个人身上去了。”

  “你受怎么取笑就怎么取笑吧,反正你总不能把我的意见笑掉。亲爱的丽萃,你且想一想,达西先生的父亲生前那样地疼爱这个人,而且答应要瞻养他,如今达西先生本人却这般亏待他,那他简直太不象话了。这是不可能的。一个人只要还有点起码的人道之心,只要多少还尊重自己的人格,就不会做出这种事来。难道他自己的最知已的朋友,竟会被他蒙蔽到这种地步吗?噢!不会的。”

  “我还是认为彬格莱先生受了他的蒙蔽,并不认为韦翰先生昨儿晚上跟我说和话是捏造的。他把一个个的人名,一桩桩的事实,都说得很有根有据,毫无虚伪做作。倘若事实并非如此,那么让达西先生自己来辨白吧。你只要看看韦翰那副神气,就知道他没有说假话。”

  “这的确叫人很难说……─也叫人难受。叫人不知道怎么想法才好。”

  “说句你不见怪的话,人家完全知道该怎么样想法。”

  吉英只有一桩事情是猜得准的,那就是说,要是彬格莱先生果真受了蒙蔽,那么,一旦真想大白,他一定会万分痛心。

  两位年轻的小姐正在矮树林里谈得起劲,忽然家里派人来叫她们回去,因为有客人上门来……事情真凑巧,来的正是她们所谈到的那几位。原来尼日斐花园下星期二要举行一次盼望了好久的舞会,彬格莱先生跟他的姐妹们特地亲自前来邀请她们参加。两位娘儿们和自己要好的朋友重逢,真是非常高兴。她们说,自从分别以来,恍若隔世,又一再地问起吉英别来做些什么。她们对班纳特府上其余的人简直不理不睬。她们尽量避免班纳特太太的纠缠,又很少跟伊丽莎白谈,至于对别的人,那就根本一句话也不说了。她们一会儿告辞了,而且那两个娘儿们出于她们的兄弟彬格莱先生的意料之外,一骨碌从座位上站了起来,拔腿就走,好象急于要避开班纳特太太那些纠缠不清的繁文缛节似的。

  尼日斐花园要举行舞会,这一件事使这一家太太小姐都高兴到极点。班纳特太太认为这次舞会是为了恭维她的大女儿才开的,而且这次舞会由彬格莱先生亲自登门邀请,而不是发请贴来请,这叫她更加高兴。吉英心里只是想象着,到了那天晚上,便可以和两个好朋友促膝谈心,又可以受到他们兄弟的殷勤待候;伊丽莎白得意地想到跟韦翰先生痛痛快快地狂跳一下,又可以从达西先生的神情举止中把事情的底细看个水落石出。至于咖苔琳和丽迪雅,她们可不把开心作乐寄托于某一件事或某一个人身上,虽然她们俩跟伊丽莎白一样,想要和韦翰先生跳上大半夜,可是跳舞会上能够使她们跳个痛快的舞伴决不止他一个人,何况跳舞会究竟是跳舞会。甚至连曼丽也告诉家里人说,她对于这次舞会也不是完全不感到兴趣。

  曼丽说:“只要每天上午的时间能够由我自己支配就够了。我认为偶然参加参加晚会并不是什么牺牲。我们大家都应该有社交生活。我认为谁都少不了要不些消遣和娱乐。”

  伊丽莎白这会儿真太高兴了;她虽然本来不大跟柯林斯先生多话,现在也不禁问他是不是愿意上彬格莱先生那儿去作客,如果愿意,参加晚会是不是合适。出乎伊丽莎白的意料之外,柯林斯先生对于作客问题毫无犹豫,而且还敢跳舞,一点不怕大主教或咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人的指责。

  他说:“老实告诉你,这样的舞会,主人是一个品格高尚的青年,宾客又是些体面人,我决不认为会有什么不好的倾向。我非但不反对自己跳舞,而且希望当天晚上表妹们都肯赏脸。伊丽莎白小姐,我就利用这次机会请你陪我跳头两场舞,我相信吉英表妹一定还会怪我对她有什么失礼吧,因为我这样尽先尽后有正当的理由。”

  伊丽莎白觉得自己完全上了当。她本来一心要跟韦翰跳开头几场,如今却来了个柯林斯先生从中作梗!她从来没有象现在这样扫兴过,不过事到如今,已无法补救。韦翰先生的幸福跟她自己的幸福不得不耽搁一下了,她于是极其和颜悦色地答应了柯林斯先生的请求。她一想到柯林斯此番殷勤乃是别有用心,她就不太乐意。她首先就想到他已经在她的几个姐妹中间看中了她自己,认为她配做汉斯福牧师家里的主妇,而且当罗新斯没有更适当的宾客时,打起牌来要是三缺一,她也可以凑凑数。她这个想法立该得到了证实,因为她观察到他对她越来越殷勤,只听得他老是恭维她聪明活泼。虽然从这场风波足以想见她的诱人的魅力,她可并不因此得意,反而感到惊奇,她的母亲不久又跟她说,他们俩是可能结婚的,这叫她做母亲的很喜欢。伊丽莎白对母亲这句话只当作没有听见,因为她非常明白,只要跟母亲搭起腔来,就免不了要大吵一场。柯林斯先生也许不会提出求婚,既然他还没有明白提出,那又何必为了他争吵。

  自从尼日斐花园邀请班纳特家几位小姐参加跳舞的那天起,到开舞会的那天为止,雨一直下个不停,弄得班家几个年纪小的女儿们没有到麦里屯去过一次,也无从去看望姨母,访问军官和打听新闻,要不是把参加舞会的事拿来谈谈,准备准备,那她们真要可怜死了。她们连蹯鞋上要用的玫瑰花也是叫别人去代买的。甚至伊丽莎白也对这种天气厌恶透了,就是这种天气弄得她和韦翰先生的友谊毫无进展。总算下星期二有个跳舞会,这才使吉蒂和丽迪雅熬过了星期五,星期六,星期日和星期一。

   

 

 

 第十八章

 

   

  伊丽莎白走进尼日斐花园的会客室,在一群穿着“红制服”的人们里面寻找韦翰先生,找来找去都找不着,这时候她才怀疑他也许不会来了。她本以为他一定会来,虽然想起了过去的种种事情而颇为担心,可是她的信心并没有因此受到影响,她比平常更小心地打扮了一番,高高兴兴地准备要把他那颗没有被征服的心全部征服,她相信在今天的晚会上,一定会让她把他那颗心完全赢到手。但是过了一会儿,她起了一种可怕的怀疑:莫不是彬格莱先生请军官们的时候,为了讨达西先生的好,故意没有请韦翰吗?虽然事实并非如此,不过他缺席的原委马上就由他的朋友丹尼先生宣布了。这是因为丽迪雅迫不及待地问丹尼,丹尼就告诉她们说,韦翰前一天上城里有事去了,还没有回来,又带着意味深长的微笑补充了几句:“我想,他要不是为了要回避这儿的某一位先生,决不会就这么凑巧,偏偏这时候因事缺席。”

  他这个消息丽迪雅虽然没有听见,却给伊丽莎白听见了。伊丽莎白因此断定:关于韦翰缺席的原因,虽然她开头没有猜对,却依旧是达西先生一手造成的。她觉得非常扫兴,对达西也就越发起了反感,因此接下来当达西走上前来向她问好的时候,她简直不能好声好气地回答他。要知道,对达西殷勤,宽容,忍耐,就等于伤害韦翰。她决定不跟他说一句话,怏怏不乐地掉过头来就走,甚至跟彬格莱先生说起话来也不大快乐,因为他对达西的盲目偏爱引起了她的气愤。

  伊丽莎白天生不大会发脾气,虽然她今天晚上大为扫兴,可是她情绪上并没有不愉快多少时候。她先把满腔的愁苦都告诉了那位一星期没有见面的夏绿蒂·卢卡斯小姐,过了一会儿又自告奋勇地把她表兄奇奇怪怪的情形讲给她听,一面又特别把他指出来给他看。头两场舞重新使他觉得烦恼,那是两场活受罪的跳舞。柯林斯先生又呆笨又刻板,只知道道歉,却不知道小心一些,往往脚步弄错了自己还不知道。他真是个十足叫人讨厌的舞伴,使她丢尽了脸,受尽了罪。因此,从他手里解脱出来,真叫她喜欢欲狂。

  她接着跟一位军官跳舞,跟他谈起韦翰的事。听他说,韦翰是个到处讨人喜爱的人,于是她精神上舒服了许多。跳过这几场舞以后,她就回到夏绿蒂·卢卡斯身边,跟她谈话,这时候突然听到达西先生叫她,出其不意地请她跳舞,她吃了一惊,竟然不由自主地答应了他。达西跳过以后便立刻走开了,于是她口口声声怪自己为什么这样没主意。夏绿蒂尽力安慰她。

  “你将来一定会发觉他很讨人喜欢的。”

  “天不容!那才叫做倒了大的霉呢!下定决心去恨一个人,竟会一下子又喜欢起他来!别这样咒我吧。”

  当跳舞重新开始,达西又走到她跟前来请她跳舞的时候,夏绿蒂禁不住跟她咬了咬耳朵,提醒她别做傻瓜,别为了对韦翰有好感,就宁可得罪一个比韦翰的身价高上十倍的人。伊丽莎白没有回答便下了舞池,她想不到居然会有这样的体面,跟达西先生面对面跳舞,她看见身旁的人们也同样露出了惊奇的目光。他们俩跳了一会儿,一句话也没有交谈。她想象着这两场舞可能一直要沉默到底,开头决定不要打破这种沉默,后来突然异想天开,认为如果逼得她的舞伴不得不说几句话,那就会叫他受更大的罪,于是她就说了几句关于跳舞方面的话。他回答了她的话,接着又是沉默。歇了几分钟,她第二次跟他攀谈:

  “现在该轮到你谈谈啦,达西先生。我既然谈了跳舞,你就得谈谈舞池的大小以及有多少对舞伴之类的问题。”

  他笑了笑,告诉她说,她要他说什么他就说什么。

  “好极了;这种回答眼前也说得过去了。待一忽儿我或许会谈到私人舞会比公共场所的跳舞会来得好;不过,我们现在可以不必作声了。”

  “那么说,你跳起舞来照例总得要谈上几句吗?”

  “有时候要的。你知道,一个人总得要说些话。接连半个钟头待在一块儿一声不响,那是够别扭的。不过有些人就偏偏巴不得说话愈少愈好,为这些人着想,谈话也不妨安排得少一点。”

  “在目前这样的情况下,你是在照顾你自已的情绪呢,还是想要使我情绪上快慰?”

  “一举两得,”伊丽莎白油滑地回答道。“因为我老是感觉到我们俩转的念头很相同。你我的性格跟人家都不大合得来,又不愿意多说话,难得开口,除非想说几句一鸣惊人的话,让大家当作格言来流传千古。”

  他说:“我觉得你的性格并不见得就是这样,我的性格是否有很近似这方面,我也不敢说。你一定觉得你自己形容得很恰当吧。”

  “我当然不能自己下断语。”

  他没有回答,他们俩又沉默了,直等到又下池去跳舞,他这才问她是不是常常和姐妹们上麦里屯去溜达。她回答说常常去。她说到这里,实在按捺不住了,便接下去说:“你那天在那儿碰到我们的时候,我们正在结交一个新朋友呢。”

  这句话立刻发生了效果。一阵傲慢的阴影罩上了他的脸,可是他一句话也没有说。伊丽莎白说不下去了,不过她心里却在埋怨自己软弱。后来还是达西很勉强地先开口说:

  “韦翰先生生来满面春风,交起朋友来得心应手。至于他是不是能和朋友们长久相处,那就不大靠得住了。”

  伊丽莎白加重语气回答道:“他真不幸,竟失去了您的友谊,而且弄成那么尴尬的局面,可能会使他一辈子都感受痛苦。”

  达西没有回答,好象想换个话题。就在这当儿,威廉·卢卡斯爵士走近他们身边,打算穿过舞池走到屋子的寻一边去,可是一看到达西先生,他就停住了,礼貌周全地向他鞠了一躬,满口称赞他跳舞跳得好,舞伴又找得好。

  “我真太高兴了,亲爱的先生,跳得这样一手好舞,真是少见。你毫无问题是属于第一流的人材。让我再唠叨一句,你这位漂亮的舞伴也真配得上你,我真希望常常有这种眼福,特别是将来有一天某一桩好事如愿的时候,亲爱的伊丽莎白小姐。”(他朝着她的姐姐和彬格莱望了一眼)“那时候将会有多热闹的祝贺场面啊。我要求达西先生:……可是我还是别打搅你吧,先生。你正在和这位小姐谈得心醉神迷,如果我耽搁了你,你是不会感激我的,瞧她那了双明亮的眼睛也在责备我呢。”

  后半段话达西几乎没有听见。可是威廉爵士提起他那位朋友,却不免叫他心头大受震动,于是他一本正经去望着那正在跳舞的彬格莱和吉英。他马上又镇定了下来,掉转头来对他自己的舞伴说:

  “威廉爵士打断了我们的话,我简直记不起我们刚刚谈些什么了。”

  “我觉得我们根本就没有谈什么。这屋子里随便哪两个人都不比我们说话说得少的,因此威廉爵士打断不了什么话。我们已经换过两三次话题,总是谈不投机,以后还要谈些什么,我实在想不出了。”

  “谈谈书本如何?”他笑着说。

  “书本!噢,不;我相信我们读过的书不会一样,我们的体会也各有不同。”

  “你会这样想,我真抱歉;假定真是那样,也不见得就无从谈起。我们也可以把不同见解比较一下。”

  “不……我无法在舞场里谈书本;我脑子里老是想着些别的事。”

  “你老是在为眼前的场合烦神,是不是?”他带着犹疑的眼光问。

  “是的,老是这样,”她答道。其实她并不知道自己在说些什么,她的思想跑到老远的地方去了,你且听她突然一下子说出这样的话吧:“达西先生,我记得有一次听见你说,你生来不能原谅别人……你和别人一结下了怨,就消除不掉。我想,你结的时候总该很慎重的吧?”

  “正是,”他坚决地说。

  “你从来不会受到偏见和蒙蔽吗?”

  “我想不会。”

  “对于某些坚持已见的人说来,在拿定一个主张的时候,开头应该特别慎重地考虑一下。”

  “是否可以允许我请教你一声,你问我这些话用意何在?”

  她竭力装出若无其事的神气说:“只不过为了要解释解释你的性格罢了,我想要把你的性格弄个明白。”

  “那么你究竟弄明白了没有?”

  她摇摇头。“我一点儿也弄不明白。我听到人家对于你的看法极不一致,叫我不知道相信谁的话才好。”

  他严肃的答道:“人家对于我的看法极不一致,我相信其中一定大有出入。班纳特小姐,我希望你目前还是不要刻画我的性格,我怕这样做,结果对于你我都没有好处。”

  “可是,倘若我现在不了解你一下,以后就没有机会了。”

  于是他冷冷地答道:“我决不会打断你的兴头。”她便没有再说下去。他们俩人又跳了一次舞,于是就默默无言地分手了。两个人都怏怏不乐,不过程度上不同罢了。达西心里对她颇有好感,因此一下子就原谅了她,把一肚子气愤都转到另一个人身上去了。

  他们俩分手了不多一会儿,彬格莱小姐就走到伊丽莎白跟前来,带着一种又轻藐又客气的神气对她说:

  “噢,伊丽莎小姐,我听说你对乔治·韦翰很有好感!你姐姐刚才还跟我谈到他,问了我一大堆的话。我发觉那年轻的官人虽然把什么事都说给你听了,可就偏偏忘了说他自己是老达西先生的账房老韦翰的儿子。他说达西先生待他不好,那完全是胡说,让我站在朋友的立场奉劝你,不要盲目相信他的话。达西先生一直待他太好了,只有乔治·韦翰用卑鄙的手段对待达西先生。详细情形我不清楚,不过这件事我完全知道,一点儿也不应该怪达西先生。达西一听见人家提到乔治·韦翰就受不了。我哥哥这次宴请军官们,本来也很难把他剔开,总算他自己知趣,避开了,我哥哥真高兴。他跑到这个村里来真是太荒谬了,我不懂他怎么竟敢这样做。伊丽莎小姐,我对你不起,揭穿了你心上人的过错。可是事实上你只要看看他那种出身,当然就不会指望他干出什么好事来。”

  伊丽莎白生气地说:“照你的说法,他的过错和他的出身好象是一回事啦,我倒没有听到你说他别的不是,只听到他骂他是达西先生的账房的儿子,老实告诉你,这一点他早已亲自跟我讲过了。”

  “对不起,请原谅我好管闲事;不过我是出于一片好意。”彬格莱小姐说完这话,冷笑了一下,便走开了。

  “无礼的小妞儿!”伊丽莎白自言自语地说。“你可转错了念头啦,你以为这样卑鄙地攻击人家一下,就影响了我对人家的看法吗?你这种攻击,倒叫我看穿了你自己的顽固无知和达西先生的阴险。”她接着便去找她自己的姐姐,因为姐姐也向彬格莱问起过这件事。只见吉英满脸堆笑,容光焕发,这足以说明当天晚会上的种种情景使她多么满意。伊丽莎白顿时就看出了她的心情;于是顷刻之间就把她自己对于韦翰的想念、对于他仇人们的怨愤,以及其他种种感觉,都打消了,一心只希望吉英能够顺利走上幸福的道路。

  她也和姐姐同样满面堆笑地说道:“我想问问你,你不没有听到什么有关韦翰先生的事?也许你太高兴了,想不到第三个人身上去吧;果真是那样的话,我一定可以谅解你的。”

  “没有的事,”吉英回答道,“我并没有忘记他,可惜我没有什么满意的消息可以告诉你。彬格莱先生并不了解他的全部底细,至于他主要在哪些方面得罪了达西先生,彬格莱先生更是一无所知;不过他可以担保他自己的朋友品行良好,诚实正派,他并且以为达西先生过去对待韦翰先生已经好得过分了。说来遗憾,从他的话和她妹妹的话来看韦翰先生决不是一个正派的青年。我怕他果真是太莽撞,也难怪达西先生不去理睬他。”

  “难道彬格莱先生自己不认识韦翰先生吗?”

  “不认识,那天上午在麦里屯他还是初次和他见面。”

  “那么,他这番话是从达西先生那儿听来的啦。我满意极了。关于那个牧师的职位的问题,他是怎么说的?”

  “他只不过听达西先生说起过几次,详细情况他可记不清了,可是他相信,那个职位虽然规定了是给韦翰先生的,可也是有条件的。”

  伊丽莎白激动地说:“彬格莱先生当然是个诚实君子喽,可是请你原谅,光凭几句话并不能叫我信服。彬格莱先生袒护他自己朋友的那些话,也许说得很有力;不过,他既然弄不清这件事的某些情节,而且另外一些情节又是听他朋友自己说的,那么,我还是不愿意改变我原来对他们两位先生的看法。”

  她于是换了一个话题,使她们俩都能谈得更称心。她们俩在这方面的意见是完全一致的。伊丽莎白高兴地听着吉英谈起,她在彬格莱先生身上虽然不敢存奢望,却寄托着多少幸福的心愿;她于是尽心竭力说了多少话来增加姐姐的信念。一会儿,彬格莱先生走到她们这里来了,伊丽莎白便退到卢卡斯小姐身边去。卢卡斯小姐问她跟刚才那位舞伴跳得是否愉快,她还没有来得及回答,只见柯林斯先生走上前来,欣喜欲狂地告诉她们说,他真幸运,发现了一件极其重要的事。

  他说:“这真是完全出于我意料之外,我竟然发现这屋子里有一位是我女施主的至亲。我凑巧听到一位先生跟主人家的那位小姐说,他自己的表妹德·包尔小姐和他的姨母咖苔琳夫人。这些事真是太巧合了!谁想到我会在这次的舞会上碰到咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人的姨侄呢!谢天谢地,我这个发现正是时候,还来得及去问候他吧。我根本就不知道有这门亲戚,因此还有道歉的余地。”

  “你打算去向达西先生自我介绍吗?”

  “我当然打算去。我一定去求他原谅,请他不要怪我没有早些问候他。我相信他是咖苔琳夫人的姨侄。我可以告诉他说,上星期我还见到她老人家,她身体着实健康。”

  伊丽莎白竭力劝他不要那么做,她说,他如果不经过人家介绍就去招呼达西先生,达西先生一定会认为他冒昧唐突,而不会认为他是奉承他姨母,又说双方根本不必打交道,即使要打交道,也应该由地位比较高的达西先生来跟他通候。柯林斯先生听她这么说,便显出一副坚决的神气,表示非照着自己的意思去做不可,等她说完了,他回答道:

  “亲爱的伊丽莎白小姐,你对于一切的问题都有卓越的见解。我非常敬佩,可是请你听我说一句:俗人的礼节跟教士们的礼节大不相同。请听我说,我认为从尊严方面看来,一个教士的位置可以比得上一个君侯,只要你能同时保持相当的谦虚。所以,这一次你应该让我照着我自己的良心的吩咐,去做好我认为应该做的事情。请原谅我没有领受你的指教,要是在任何其他的问题上,我一定把你的指教当作座右铭,不过对于当前这个问题,我觉得,由于我还算读书明理,平日也曾稍事钻研,由我自己来决定比由你这样一位年轻小姐来决定要合适些;”他深深鞠了一躬,便离开了她,去向达西先生纠缠。于是她迫不及待地望着达西先生怎样对待他这种冒失行为,料想达西先生对于这种问候方式一定要大为惊讶,只见她这位表兄先恭恭敬敬地对达西鞠了一躬,然后再开口跟他说话。伊丽莎白虽然一句也没听到他说些什么,却又好象听到了他所有的话,因为从他那蠕动嘴唇的动作看来,他无非口口声声尽说些“道歉”、“汉斯福”、“咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人”之类的话。她看到表兄在这样的一个人面前出丑,心中好不气恼。达西先生带着毫不掩饰的惊奇目光斜睨着他,等到后来柯林斯先生唠叨够了,达西才带着一副敬而远之的神气,敷衍了他几句。柯林斯先生却并不因此而灰心扫兴,一再开口。等他第二次开口唠叨的时候,达西先生的轻蔑的神气显得更露骨了。他说完以后,达西先生随便拱了拱身子就走开了。柯林斯先生这才回到伊丽莎白跟前来,跟伊丽莎白说:“告诉你,他那样接待我,我实在没有理由感到不满意。达西听到我的殷勤问候,好象十分高兴。他礼貌周全地回答了我的话,甚至恭维我说,他非常佩服咖苔琳夫人的眼力,没有提拔错了人。这的确是个聪明的想法。大体上说,我很满意他。”

  伊丽莎白既然对舞会再也没有什么兴味,于是几乎把全部注意力都转移她的姐姐和彬格莱先生身上去了。她把当场的情景都看在眼里,想象出了多少可喜的事情,几乎跟吉英自己感到同样的快活。她想象着姐姐做了这幢房子里的主妇,夫妇之间恩爱弥笃,幸福无比。她觉得如果真有这样一天,那么,连彬格莱的两个姐妹,她也可以尽量对她们发生好感。她看见她母亲也明明正在转着同样的念头,因此她决定不要冒险走到母亲跟前去,免得又要听她唠叨个没完。因此当大家坐下来吃饭的时候,她看到母亲的座位跟他隔得那么近,她觉得真是受罪。只见母亲老是跟那个人(卢卡斯太太)在信口乱说,毫无忌讳,而且尽谈些她怎样盼望吉英马上跟彬格莱先生结婚之类的话,这叫伊丽莎白越发气恼。她们对这件事越谈越起劲,班纳特太太一个劲儿数说着这门姻缘有多少多少好处。首先彬格莱先生是那么漂亮的一个青年,那么有钱,住的地方离她们只有三英里路,这些条件是令人满意的。其次,他的两个姐妹非常喜欢吉英,一定也象她一样地希望能够结成这门亲,这一点也很令人快慰。再其次,吉英的亲事既然攀得这么称心如意,那么,几个小女儿也就有希望碰上别的阔人。最后再说到她那几个没有出嫁的女儿,关于她们的终身大事,从此也可以委托给大女儿,不必要她自己再为她们去应酬交际了,于情于理,这都是一件值得高兴的事,怎奈班纳特太太生平就不惯于守在家里。她又预祝卢卡斯太太马上也会有同样的幸运,其实也明明是在趾高气扬地料定她没有这个福份。

  伊丽莎白一心想要挫挫她母亲的谈锋,便劝她谈起得意的事情来要放得小声小气一点,因为达西先生就坐在她们对面,可见得大部份的话都让他听到了。可是劝也无用,她的母亲只顾骂她废话,她真是说不出的气恼。

  “我倒请问你,达西先生与我有什么关系,我干吗要怕他?我没有理由要在他面前特别讲究礼貌,难道他不爱听的话我就不能说吗?”

  “看老天份上,妈妈,小声点儿说吧。你得罪了达西先生有什么好处?你这样做,他的朋友也不会看得起你的。”

  不过,任凭她怎么说都没有用。她的母亲偏偏要大声发表高见。伊丽莎白又羞又恼,脸蛋儿红了又红。她禁不住一眼眼望着达西先生,每望一眼就越发证实了自己的疑虑,因为达西虽然并没有老是瞧着她的母亲,可是他一直目不转睛地在望着伊丽莎白。他脸上先是显出气愤和厌恶的表情,慢慢地变得冷静庄重,一本正经。

  后来班纳特太太说完了,卢卡斯太太听她谈得那样志得意满,自己又没个份儿,早已呵欠连连,现在总算可以来安心享受一点冷肉冷鸡了。伊丽莎白现在也算松了口气。可惜她耳朵里并没有清净多久,因为晚饭一吃完,大家就谈起要唱歌。伊丽莎白眼看着曼丽经不起人家稍微怂恿一下就答应了大家的请求,觉得很难受。她曾经频频向曼丽递眼色,又再三地默默劝告她,竭力叫她不要这样讨好别人,可惜终于枉费心机。曼丽毫不理会她的用意。这种出风头的机会她是求之不得的,于是她就开始唱起来了。伊丽莎白极其苦痛地把眼睛盯在她身上,带着焦虑的心情听她唱了几节,等到唱完了,她的焦虑丝毫没有减轻,因为曼丽一听到大家对她称谢,还有人隐约表示要她再赏他们一次脸,于是歇了半分钟以后,她又唱起了另一支歌。曼丽的才力是不适宜于这种表演的,因为她嗓子细弱,态度又不自然。伊丽莎白真急得要命。她看了看吉英,看看她是不是受得了,只见,吉英正在安安静静地跟彬格莱先生谈天。她又看见彬格莱的两位姐妹正在彼此挤眼弄眉,一面对着达西做手势,达西依旧面孔铁板。她最后对自己的父亲望了一眼,求他老人家来拦阻一下,免得曼丽通宵唱下去。父亲领会了她的意思,他等曼丽唱完了第二支歌,便大声说道:

  “你这样尽够啦,孩子。你使我们开心得够久啦。留点时间给别的小姐们表演表演吧。”

  曼丽虽然装做没听见,心里多少有些不自在。伊丽莎白为她感到不好受,也为她爸爸的那番话感到不好受,生怕自己一片苦心完全白费。好在这会儿大家请别人来唱歌了。

  只听得柯林斯先生说:“假如我侥幸会唱歌,那我一定乐意给大家高歌一曲;我认为音乐是一种高尚的娱乐,和牧师的职业丝毫没有抵触。不过我并不是说,我们应该在音乐上花上太多的时间,因为的确还有许多别的事情要做。负责一个教区的主管牧师在多少事要做啊,首先他得制订什一税的条例,既要订得于自己有利,又要不侵犯地主的利益。他得自己编写讲道辞,这一来剩下的时间就不多了。他还得利用这点儿时间来安排教区里的事务,照管和收拾自己的住宅……住宅总少不了要尽量弄得舒舒服服。还有一点我认为也很重要;他对每一个人都得殷勤和蔼,特别是那些提拔他的人。我认为这是他应尽的责任。再说,遇到施主家的亲友,凡是在应该表示尊敬的场合下,总得表示尊敬,否则是不象话的。”他说到这里,向达西先生鞠了一躬,算是结束了他的话。他这一席话说得那么响亮,半个屋子里的人都听得见。多少人看呆了,多少人笑了,可是没有一个人象班纳特先生那样听得有趣,他的太太却一本正经地夸奖柯林斯先生的话真说得合情合理,她凑近了卢卡斯太太说,他显然是个很聪明优秀的青年。

  伊丽莎白觉得她家里人好象是约定今天晚上到这儿来尽量出丑,而且可以说是从来没有那样起劲,从来没有那样成功。她觉得姐姐和彬格莱先生真幸运,有些出丑的场面没有看到,好丰彬格莱先生即使看到了一些可笑的情节,也不会轻易感到难受。不过他的两个姐妹和达西先生竟抓住这个机会来嘲笑她家里人,这已经是够难堪的了,那位先生的无声的蔑视和两个娘儿们的无礼的嘲笑,究竟哪一样更叫人难堪,她可不能断定。

  晚会的后半段时间也没有给她带来什么乐趣。柯林斯先生还是一直不肯离开她身边,和她打趣。虽然他无法请她再跟他跳一次舞,可是却弄得她也无法跟别人跳。她要求他跟别人去跳,并且答应给他介绍一位小姐,可是他不肯。他告诉她说,讲到跳舞,他完全不发生兴趣,他的主要用意就是要小心等候她,她博得她的欢心,因此他打定主意整个晚上待在她身边。无论怎样跟解释也没用。多亏她的朋友卢卡斯小姐常常来到他们身边,好心好意地和柯林斯先生攀谈攀谈,她才算觉得好受一些。

  至少达西先生可以不再来惹她生气了。他虽然常常站得离她很近,边上也没有人,却一直没有走过来跟她说话。她觉得这可能是因为她提到了韦翰先生的缘故,她因此不禁暗暗自喜。

  在全场宾客中,浪博恩一家人最后走,而且班纳特太太还用了点手腕,借口等候马车,一直等到大家走完了,她们一家人还多待了一刻钟。她们在这一段时间里看到主人家有些人非常指望她们赶快走。赫斯脱太太姐妹俩简直不开口说话,只是嚷着疲倦,显然是在下逐客令了。班纳特太太一开口想跟她们攀谈,就被她们拒绝了,弄得大家都没精打采。柯林斯先生尽管在发表长篇大论,恭维彬格莱先生和他的姐妹们,说他们家的宴席多么精美,他们对待客人多么殷勤有礼,可是他的话也没有能给大家增加一些生气。达西一句话也没有说。班纳特先

     

 

 

 第十九章

   

 

  第二天,浪博恩发生了一件新的事情。柯林斯先生正式提出求婚了。他的假期到下星期六就要满期,于是决定不再耽搁时间,况且当时他丝毫也不觉得有什么不好意思,便有条不紊地着手进行起来,凡是他认为必不可少的正常步骤,他都照办了。刚一吃过早饭,看到班纳特太太、伊丽莎白和一个小妹妹在一起,他便对那位做母亲的这样说:

  “太太今天早上我想要请令嫒伊丽莎白赏光,跟我作一次私人谈话,你赞成吗?”

  “噢,好极了,当然可以。我相信丽萃也很乐意的,我相信她还会反对。……来,吉蒂;跟我上楼去。”她把针线收拾了一下,便匆匆忙忙走开了,这时伊丽莎白叫起来了:

  “亲爱的妈,别走。我求求你别走。柯林斯先生一定会原谅我。他要跟我说和话,别人都可以听的。我也要走了。”

  “不,不;你别胡扯,丽萃。我要你待在这儿不动。”只见伊丽莎白又恼又窘,好象真要逃走的样子,于是她又说道:“我非要你待在这儿听柯林斯先生说话不可。”

  伊丽莎白不便违抗母命。她考虑了一会儿,觉得能够赶快悄悄地把事情解决了也好,于是她重新坐了下来,时时刻刻当心着,不让啼笑皆非的心情流露出来。班纳特太太和吉蒂走开了,她们一走,柯林斯先生便开口说话:

  “说真的,伊丽莎白小姐,你害羞怕臊,非但对你没有丝毫损害,而且更增加了你的天生丽质。要是你不这样稍许推委一下,我反而不会觉得你这么可爱了。可是请你允许我告诉你一声,我这次跟你求婚,是获得了令堂大人的允许的。尽管你天性羞怯,假痴假呆,可是我对你的百般殷勤,已经表现得非常明显,你一定会明白我说话的用意。我差不多一进这屋子,就挑中你做我的终身伴侣。不过关于这个问题,也许最好趁我现在还控制得住我自己感情的时候,先谈谈我要结婚的理由,更要谈一谈我来到哈福德郡择偶的打算,因为我的确是存着那种打算的。”

  想到柯林斯这么一本正经的样子,居然会控制不住他自己的感情,伊丽莎白不禁觉得非常好笑,因此他虽然说话停了片刻,她可没有来得及阻止他往下说:

  “我所以要结婚,有这样几点理由:第一,我认为凡是象我这样生活宽裕的牧师,理当给全教区树立一个婚姻的好榜样;其次,我深信结婚会大大地促进我的幸福;第三(这一点或许我应该早提出来),我三生有幸,能够等候上这样高贵的一个女施主,她特别劝告我结婚,特别赞成我结婚。蒙她两次替我在这件事情上提出了意见(而且并不是我请教她的!),就在我离开汉斯福的前一个星期六晚上,我们正在玩牌,姜金生太太正在为德·包尔小姐安放脚蹬,夫人对我说:‘柯林斯先生,你必须结婚。象你这样的一个牧师,必须结婚。好好儿去挑选吧,挑选一个好人家的女儿,为了我,也为了你自己;人要长得活泼,要能做事,不求出身高贵,但要会算计,把一笔小小的收入安排得妥妥贴贴。这就是我的意见。赶快找个这样的女人来吧,把她带到汉斯福来,我自会照料她的。’好表妹,让我说给你听吧,咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人对我的体贴照顾,也可以算是我一个优越的条件。她的为人我真无法形容,你有一天会看到的。我想,你这样的聪明活泼一定会叫她喜欢,只要你在她那样身份高贵的人面前显得稳重端庄些,她就会特别喜欢你。大体上我要结婚就是为的这些打算;现在还得说一说,我们自己村里多的是年轻可爱的姑娘,我为什么看中了浪博恩,而没有看中我自己村庄的呢?事情是这样的:往后令尊过世(但愿他长命百岁),得由我继承财产,因此我打算娶他的个女儿作家室,使得将来这件不愉快的事发生的时候,你们的损失可以尽量轻一些,否则我实在过意不去。当然,正如我刚才说过的,这事情也许要在多少年以后才会发生。我的动机就是这样,好表妹,恕我不揣冒昧地说一句,你不至于因此就看不起我吧。现在我的话已经说完,除非是再用最激动的语言把我最热烈的感情向你倾诉。说到妆奁财产,我完全无所谓,我决不会在这方面向你父亲提出什么要求,我非常了解,他的能力也办不到,你名下应得的财产,一共不过是一笔年息四厘的一千镑存款,还得等你妈死后才归你所得。因此关于那个问题,我也一声不响,而且请你放心,我们结婚以后,我决不会说一句小气话。”

  现在可非打断他的话不可了。

  “你太心急了吧,先生,”她叫了起来。“你忘了我根本没有回答你呢。别再浪费时间,就让我来回答你吧。谢谢你的夸奖。你的求婚使我感到荣幸,可惜我除了谢绝之外,别无办法。”

  柯林斯先生郑重其事地挥手回答道:“年轻的姑娘们遇到人家第一次未婚,即使心里愿意答应,口头上总是拒绝;有时候甚至会拒绝两次三次。这样看来,你刚才所说的话决不会叫我灰心,我希望不久就能领你到神坛跟前去呢。”

  伊丽莎白嚷道:“不瞒你说,先生,我既然话已经说出了口,你还要存着指望,那真太奇怪了。老实跟你说,如果世上真有那么胆大的年轻小姐,拿自己的幸福去冒险,让人家提出第二次请求,那我也不是这种人。我的谢绝完全是严肃的。你不能使我幸福,而且我,相信我也绝对不能使你幸福。唔,要是你的朋友咖苔琳夫人认识我的话,我相信她一定会发觉,我无论在哪一方面,都不配做你的太太。”

  柯林斯先生严肃地说:“就算咖苔琳夫人会有这样的想法,我想她老人家也决不会不赞成你。请你放心,我下次有幸见到她的时候,一定要在她面前把你的淑静、节俭、以及其他种种可爱的优点,大大夸奖一番。”

  “说实话,柯林斯先生,任你怎么夸奖我,都是浪费唇舌。这自己的事自己会有主张,只要你相信我所说的话,就是赏我的脸了。我祝你幸福豪富。我所以放纵你的求婚,也就是为了免得你发生什么意外。而你呢,既然向我提出了求婚,那么,你对于我家里的事情,也就不必感到有什么不好意思了,将来浪博恩庄园一旦轮到你做评价,你就可以取之无愧了。这件事就这样一言为定吧。”她一面说,一面站起身来,要不是柯林斯先生向她说出下面的话,她早就走出屋子了。

  “要是下趟我有幸再跟你谈到这个问题,我希望你能够给我一个比这次满意点的回答。我不怪你这次冷酷无情,因为我知道,你们姑娘们对于男人第一次的求婚,照例总是拒绝,也许你刚刚听说的一番话,正符合女人家微妙的性格,反而足以鼓励我继续追求下去。”

  伊丽莎白一听此话,不免有些气恼,便大声叫道:“柯林斯先生,你真弄得我太莫名其妙了。我的话已经说到这个地步,要是你还觉得这是鼓励你的话,那我可不知道该怎么样放纵你,才能使你死心塌地。”

  “亲爱的表妹,请允许我说句自不量力的话:我相信你拒绝我的求婚,不过是照例说说罢了。我所以会这样想,简单说来,有这样几点理由:我觉得我向你求婚,并不见得就不值得你接受,我的家产你决不会不放在眼里。我的社会地位,我同德·包尔府上的关系,以及跟你府上的亲戚关系,都是我非常优越的条件。我得提请你考虑一下:尽管你有许多吸引人的地方,不幸你的财产太少,这就把你的可爱、把你许多优美的条件都抵消了,不会有另外一个人再向你求婚了,因此我就不得不认为:你这一次并不是一本正经地拒绝我,而是彷效一般高贵的女性的通例,欲擒故纵,想要更加博得我的喜爱。”

  “先生,我向你保证,这决没有冒充风雅,故意作弄一位有面子的绅士。但愿你相信我说的是真话,我就很有面子了,承蒙不弃,向我求婚,我真是感激不尽,但要我接受,是绝对不可能的。我感情上怎么也办不到。难道我说得不够明白吗?请你别把我当作一个故意作弄你的高贵女子,而要把我看作一个说真心话的平凡人。”

  他大为狼狈,又不得不装出满脸的殷勤神气叫道:“你始终都那么可爱!我相信只要令尊令堂作主应承了我,你就决不会拒绝。”

  他再三要存心自欺欺人,伊丽莎白可懒得再去理他,马上不声不响地走开了。她打定了主意:倘若他一定要把她几次三番的拒绝看作是有意讨他的好,有意鼓励他,那么她就只得去求助于她父亲,叫他斩钉截铁地回绝他。柯林斯总不见得再把她父亲的拒绝,看作一个高贵女性的装腔作势和卖弄风情了吧。

   

 

 

 

 第二十章

 

   

  柯林斯先生独自一个人默默地幻想着美满的姻缘,可是并没有想上多久,因为班纳特太太一直待在走廊里混时间,等着听他们俩商谈的结果,现在看见伊丽莎白开了门,匆匆忙忙走上楼去,她便马上走进饭厅,热烈地祝贺柯林斯先生,祝贺她自己,说是他们今后大有亲上加亲的希望了。柯林斯先生同样快乐地接受了她的祝贺,同时又祝贺了她一番,接着就把他跟伊丽莎白刚才的那场谈话,一五一十地讲了出来,说他有充分的理由相信,谈话的结果很令人满意,因为他的表妹虽然再三拒绝,可是那种拒绝,自然是她那羞怯淑静和娇柔细致的天性的流露。

  这一消息可叫班纳特太太吓了一跳。当然,要是她的女儿果真是口头上拒绝他的求婚,骨子里却在鼓励他,那她也会同样觉得高兴的,可是她不敢这么想,而且不得不照直说了出来。

  她说:“柯林斯先生,你放心吧,我会叫丽萃懂事一些的。我马上就要亲自跟她谈谈。她是个固执的傻姑娘,不明白好歹;可是我会叫她明白的。”

  “对不起,让我插句嘴,太太,”柯林斯先生叫道:“要是她果真又固执又傻,那我就不知道她是否配做我理想的妻子了,因为象我这样地位的人,结婚自然是为了要幸福。这么说,如果她真拒绝我的求婚,那倒是不要勉强她好,否则,她脾气方面有了这些缺点,她对于我的幸福决不会不什么好处。”

  班纳特太太吃惊地说:“先生,你完全误会了我的意思,丽萃不过在这类事情上固执些,可是遇到别的事情,她的性子再好也没有了。我马上去找班纳特先生,我们一下子就会把她这个问题谈妥的,我有把握。”

  她不等他回答,便急忙跑到丈夫那儿去,一走进他的书房就嚷道:

  “噢,我的好老爷,你得马上出来一下;我们闹得天翻地覆了呢。你得来劝劝丽萃跟柯林斯先生结婚,因为她赌咒发誓不要他;假如你不赶快来打个圆场,他就要改变主意,反过来不要她了。”

  班纳特先生见她走进来,便从书本上抬起眼睛,安然自得、漠不关心地望着她脸上。他听了她的话,完全不动声色。

  她说完以后,他便说道:“抱歉,我没有听懂你究竟说些什么。”

  “我说的是柯林斯先生和丽萃的事,丽萃表示不要柯林斯先生,柯林斯先生也开始说他不要丽萃了。”

  “这种事叫我有什么办法?看来是件没有指望的事。”

  “你去同丽萃说说看吧。就跟她说,你非要她跟他结婚不可。”

  “叫她下来吧。让我来跟她说。”

  班纳特太太拉下了铃,伊丽莎白小姐给叫到书房里来了。

  爸爸一见她来,便大声说:“上这儿来,孩子,我叫你来谈一件要紧的事。我听说柯林斯先生向你求婚,真有这回事吗?”伊丽莎白说,真有这回事。“很好。你把这桩婚事回绝了吗?”

  “我回绝了,爸爸。”

  “很好,我们现在就来谈到本题。你的妈非要你答应不可。我的好太太,可不是吗?”

  “是的,否则我看也不要看到她了。”

  “摆在你面前的是个很不幸的难题,你得自己去抉择,伊丽莎白。从今天起,你不和父亲成为陌路人,就要和母亲成为陌路人。要是你不嫁给柯林斯先生,你的妈就不要再见你,要是你嫁给他,我就不要再见你了。”

  伊丽莎白听到了那样的开头和这样的结论,不得不笑了一笑;不过,这可苦了班纳特太太,她本以为丈夫一定会照着她的意思来对待这件事的,哪里料到反而叫她大失所望。“你这话是什么意思,我的好老爷?你事先不是答应了我,非叫她嫁给他不可吗?”

  “好太太,”丈夫回答道,“我有两件事要求你帮帮忙。第一,请你允许我自由运用我自己的书房。我真巴不得早日在自己书房里图个清闲自在。”

  班纳特太太虽然碰了一鼻子灰,可是并不甘心罢休。她一遍又一遍地说服伊丽莎白,一忽儿哄骗,一忽儿威胁。她想尽办法拉着吉英帮忙,可是吉英偏不愿意多管闲事,极其委婉地谢绝了。伊丽莎白应付得很好,一忽儿情意恳切,一忽儿又是嘻皮笑脸,方式尽管变来变换去,决心却始终如一。

  这当儿,柯林斯先生独自把刚才的那一幕深思默想了一番。他的把自己估价太高了,因此弄不明白表妹所以拒绝他,原因究竟何在。虽说他的自尊心受到了伤害,可是他别的方面丝毫也不觉得难过。他对他的好感完全是凭空想象的,他又以为她的母亲一定会责骂她,因此心里便也不觉得有什么难受了,因为她挨她母亲的骂是活该,不必为她过意不去。

  正当这一家子闹得乱纷纷的时候,夏绿蒂·卢卡斯上她们这儿来玩了。丽迪雅在大门品碰到她,立刻奔上前去凑近她跟前说道:“你来了我真高兴,这儿正闹得有趣呢!你知道今天上午发生了什么事?柯林斯先生向丽萃求婚,丽萃偏偏不肯要他。”

  夏绿蒂还没来得及回答,吉蒂就走到她们跟前来了,把同样的消息报道了一遍。她们走进起坐间,只见班纳特太太正独自待在那儿,马上又和她们谈到这话题上来,要求卢卡斯小姐怜恤怜恤她老人家,劝劝她的朋友丽萃顺从全家人的意思。“求求你吧,卢卡斯小姐,”她又用苦痛的声调说道:“谁也不站在我一边,大家都故意作践我,一个个都对我狠心透顶,谁也不能体谅我的神经。”

  夏绿蒂正要回答,恰巧吉英和伊丽莎白走进来了,因此没有开口。

  “嘿,她来啦,”班纳特太太接下去说。“看她一脸满不在乎的神气,一些不把我们放在心上,好象是冤家对头,一任她自己独断独行。……丽萃小姐,让我老实告诉你吧;如果你一碰到人家求婚,就象这样拒绝,那你一生一世都休想弄到一个丈夫。瞧你爸爸去世以后,还有谁来养你。我是养不活你的,事先得跟你声明。从今天起,我跟你一刀两断。你知道,刚刚在书房里,我就跟你说过,我再也不要跟你说话了,瞧我说得到就做得到。我不高兴跟忤逆的女儿说话。老实说,跟谁说话都不大乐意。象我这样一个神经上有病痛的人,就没有多大的兴致说话。谁也不知道我的苦楚!不过天下事总是这样的,你嘴上不诉苦,就没有人可怜你。”

  女儿们一声不响,只是听着她发牢骚。她们都明白,要是你想跟她评评理,安慰安慰她,那就等于火上加油。她唠唠叨叨往下说,女儿们没有一个来岔断她的话。最后,柯林斯先生进来了,脸上的神气比平常显得益发庄严,她一见到他,便对女儿们这样说:

  “现在我要你们一个个都住嘴,让柯林斯先生跟我谈一会儿。”

  伊丽莎白静悄悄地走出去了,吉英和吉蒂跟着也走了出去,只有丽迪雅站在那儿不动,正要听听他们谈些什么。夏绿蒂也没有走,先是因为柯林斯先生仔仔细细问候她和她的家庭,所以不便即走,随后又为了满足她自己的好奇心,便走到窗口,去偷听他们谈话。只听得班纳特太太开始怨声怨气地把预先准备好的一番话谈出来:“哦,柯林斯先生。”

  “亲爱的太太,”柯林斯先生说,“这件事让我们再也别提了吧。我决不会怨恨令嫒这种行为。”他说到这里,声调中立刻流露出极其不愉快的意味:“我们大家都得逆来顺受,象我这样年少得志,小小年纪就得到了人家的器重,特别应该如此,我相信我一切都听天由命。即使蒙我那位美丽的表妹不弃,答应了我的求婚,或许我仍然免不了要怀疑,是否就此会获得真正的幸福,因为我一向认为,幸福一经拒绝,就不值得我们再加重视。遇到这种场合,听天由命是再好不过的办法。亲爱的太太,我这样收回了对令嫒的求婚,希望你别以为这是对您老人家和班纳特先生不恭敬的表示,别怪我没要求你们出面代我调停一下。只不过我并不是受到您拒绝,而是受到令嫒的拒绝,这一点也许值得遗憾。可是人人都难免有个阴错阳差的时候。我对于这件事始终是一片好心好意。我的目的就是要找一个可爱的伴侣,并且适当地考虑到府上的利益;假使我的态度方面有什么地方应该受到责备的话,就让我当面道个谦吧。”

   

 

 

 

 第二十一章

 

   

  关于柯林斯先生求婚问题的,讨论差不多就要结束了,现在伊丽莎白只感到一种照例难免的的不愉快,有时候还要听她母亲埋怨一两声。说到那位先生本人,他可并不显得意气沮丧,也没有表现出要回避她的样子,只是气愤愤地板着脸,默然无声。他简直不跟她说话,他本来的那一股热情,到下半天都转移到卢卡斯小姐身上去了。卢小姐满有礼貌地听着他说话,这叫大家都松了口气,特别是她的朋友。

  班纳特太太直到第二天还是同样不高兴,身体也没有复元。柯林斯先生也还是那样又气愤又傲慢的样子。伊丽莎白原以为他这样一气,就会早日离开此地,谁知道他决不因此而改变原来的计划,他讲她要到星期六才走,便决定要待到星期六。

  吃过早饭,小姐们上麦里屯去打听韦翰先生回来了没有,同时为了他没有参加尼日斐花园的舞会而去向他表示惋惜。她们一走到镇上就遇见了他,于是他陪着小姐们上她们姨妈家里去,他在那儿把他的歉意,他的烦恼,以及他对于每个人的关注,谈了个畅快。不过他却在伊丽莎白面前自动说明,那次舞会是他自己不愿意去参加。

  他说:“当时日期一天天迫近,我心里想,还是不要碰见达西先生的好;我觉得要同他在同一间屋子里,在同一个舞会上,待上好几个钟头,那会叫我受不了,而且可能会闹出些笑话来,弄得彼此都不开心。”

  她非常赞美他的涵养功夫。当韦翰和另一位军官跟她们一块儿回浪博恩来的时候,一路上他特别照顾她,因此他们有充分的空暇来讨论这个问题,而且还客客气气地彼此恭维了一阵。他所以要伴送她们,是为了两大利益;一来可以让她高兴高兴,二来可以利用这个大好机会,去认识认识她的双亲。

  她们刚回到家里,班纳特小姐就接到一封从尼日斐花园寄来的信。信立刻拆开了,里面装着一张小巧、精致、熨烫得很平滑的信笺,字迹是出自一位小姐的娟秀流利的手笔。伊丽莎白看到姐姐读信时变了脸色,又看到她全神贯注在某几段上面。顷该之间,吉英又镇静了下来,把信放在一旁,象平常一样,高高兴兴地跟大家一起聊天;可是伊丽莎白仍然为这件事焦急,因此对韦翰也分心了。韦翰和他的同伴一走,吉英便对她做了个眼色,叫她跟上楼去。一到了她们自己房里,吉英就拿出信来,说道:“这是另罗琳·彬格莱写来的,信上的话真叫我大吃一惊。她们一家人现在已经离开尼日斐花园上城里去了,再也不打算回来了。你看看她怎么说的吧。”

  于是她先把第一句念出来,那句话是说,她们已经决定,立刻追随她们的弟兄上城里去,而且要在当天赶到格鲁斯汶纳街吃饭,原来赫斯脱先生就住在那条街上。接下去是这样写的:……“亲爱的朋友,离开哈福德郡,除了你的友谊以外,我真是一无留恋,不过,我希望将来有一天,还是可以象过去那样愉快地来往,并希望目前能经常通信,无话不谈,以抒离悃。临笔不胜企盼。”伊丽莎白对这些浮话奢词,亦只是姑妄听之;虽说她们这一次突然的迁走叫她感到惊奇,可是她并不觉得真有什么可以惋惜的地方。她们离开了尼日斐花园,未必彬格莱先生便不会再在那儿住下去;至于说到跟她们没有了来往,她相信吉英只要跟彬格莱先生时常见面,也就无所谓了。

  歇了片刻,伊丽莎白说道:“不幸得很,你朋友们临走以前,你没有来得及去看她们一次。可是,彬格莱小姐既然认为将来还有重聚的欢乐,难道我们不能希望这一天比她意料中来得早一些吗?将来做了姑嫂,不是比今天做朋友更满意吗?彬格莱先生不会被她们久留在伦敦的。”

  “咖罗琳肯定地说,她们一家人,今年冬天谁也不会回到哈福郡来了。让我念给你听吧!”

  ‘我哥哥昨天和我们告别的时候,还以为他这次上伦敦去,只要三四天就可以把事情办好;可是我们认为办不到,同时我们相信,查尔斯一进了城,决不肯马上就走,因此我们决计追踪前去,免得他冷冷清清住在旅馆里受罪。我很多朋友都上伦敦去过冬了;亲爱的朋友,我本来还希望听到你进城去的消息,结果我失望了。我真挚地希望你在哈福德郡照常能够极其愉快地度过圣诞节。希望你有很多漂亮的男朋友,免得我们一走,你便会因为少了三个朋友而感到难受。’

  “这明明是说,”吉英补充道,“他今年冬天不会回来啦。”

  “这不过说明彬格莱小姐不要他回来罢了。”

  “你为什么这样想法?那一定是他自己的意思。他自己可以作主。可是你还没有全部知道呢。我一定要把那特别叫我伤心的一段读给你听。我对你完全不必忌讳。‘达西先生急着要去看看他妹妹;说老实话,我们也差不多同样热切地希望和她重逢。我以为乔治安娜·达西无论在容貌方面,举止方面,才艺方面,的确再也没有人能够比得上。露薏莎和我都大胆地希望她以后会做我们的嫂嫂,因此我们对她便越发关切了。我不知道以前有没有跟你提起过我对这件事的感觉,可是当此离开乡村之际,我不愿意不把这些感觉说出来,我相信你不会觉得这是不合理的吧。我的哥哥已经深深地受上了她,他现在可以时常去看她,他们自会更加亲密起来;双方的家庭方面都同样盼望这门亲事能够成功。我想,如果我说,查尔斯最善于博取任何女人的欢心,这可不能是出于做姐妹的偏心,瞎说一阵吧。既是各方面都赞成这段姻缘,而且事情毫无阻碍,那么,最亲爱的吉英,我衷心希望着这件人人乐意的事能够实现,你能说我错吗?’你觉得这一句怎么样,亲爱的丽萃?”吉英读完了以后说。“说得还不够清楚吗?这不是明明白白地表明她们不希望、也不愿意我做她们的嫂嫂吗?不是说明了她完全相信他的哥哥对我无所谓吗?而且不也是说明了:假如她怀疑到我对他有感情,她就要劝我(多亏她这样好心肠!)当心些吗?这些话还能有别的解释吗?”

  “当然可以有别的解释;我的解释就和你的解释完全两样。你愿意听一听吗?”

  “非常愿意。”

  “这只消三言两语就可以说明白。彬格莱小姐看出他哥哥爱上了你,可是她却希望他和达西小姐结婚。她跟着他到城里去,就为的是要把他绊住在那儿,而且竭力想来说服你,叫你相信他对你没有好感。”

  吉英摇摇头。

  “吉英,你的确应该相信我。凡是看见过你们俩在一起的人,都不会怀疑到他的感情。我相信彬格莱小姐也不会怀疑,她不是那么一个傻瓜。要是她看到达西先生对她的爱有这样的一半,她就要办嫁妆了。可是问题是这样的:在她们家里看来,我们还不够有钱,也不够有势,她所以急于想把达西小姐配给她哥哥,原来还有一个打算,那就是说,亲上加亲以后,亲上再加亲就更省事了。这件事当然很费了一些心机,我敢说,要不是德·包尔小姐从中作梗,事情是会成功的。可是最亲爱的吉英,你千万不要因为彬格莱小姐告诉你说,她哥哥已经深深地爱上了达西小姐,你就以为彬格莱先生自从星期二和你分别以来,对你的倾心有丝毫变卦,也别以为她真有本事叫她哥哥不爱你,而去爱上她那位女朋友。”

  “假如我对彬格莱小姐看法是一致的,”吉英回答道,“那么,你的一切想法就会大大地让我安心了。可是我知道你这种说法很偏心。珈罗琳不会故意欺骗任何人,我对这件事只能存一个希望,那就是说,一定是她自己想错了。”

  “这话说得对。我的想法既然不能安慰你,你自己居然转得出这样的好念头来,那是再好也没有了,你就相信是她自己想错了吧。现在你算是对她尽了责任,再也用不着烦恼。”

  “可是,亲爱的妹妹,即使从最好的方面去着想,我能够给这个人的,而他的姐妹和朋友们都希望他跟别人结婚,这样我会幸福吗?”

  “那就得看你自己的主张如何,”伊丽莎白说。“如果你考虑成熟以后,认为得罪了他的姐妹们所招来的痛苦,比起做他的太太所得来的幸福还要大,那么,我劝你决计拒绝了他算数。”

  “你怎么说得出这种话?”吉英微微一笑。“你要知道,即使她们的反对使我万分难受,我还是不会犹豫的。”

  “我并没有说你会犹豫;既然如此,我就可以不必再为你担心了。”

  “倘若他今年冬天不回来,我就用不着左思右想了。六个月里会有多少变动啊。”

  所谓他不会回来,这种想法伊丽莎白大不以为然。她觉得那不过是咖罗琳一厢情愿。她认为珈罗琳这种愿望无论是露骨地说出来也罢,委婉地说出来也罢,对于一个完全无求于人的青年来说,决不会发生丝毫影响。

  她把自己对这个问题的感想,解释给她姐姐听,果然一下子就收到了很好的效果,她觉得非常高兴。吉英这样的性子,本来不会轻易意志消沉,从此便渐渐产生了希望认为彬格莱先生准定会回到尼日斐花园一,使她万事如意,尽管有时候她还是怀疑多于希望。

  最后姐妹俩一致主张,这事在班纳特太太面前不宜多说,只要告诉她一声,这一家人家已经离开此地,不必向她说明他走原因;可是班纳特太太光是听到这片段的消息,已经大感不安,甚至还哭了起来,埋怨自己运气太坏,两位贵妇人刚刚跟她处熟就走了。不过伤心了一阵以后,她又用这样的想法来安慰自己;彬格莱先生不久就会回来,到浪博恩来吃饭;最后她心安理得地说,虽然只不过邀他来便饭,她一定要费些心思,请他吃两道大菜。

   

   

 

 

 第二十二章

 

   

 

  这一天班纳特全家都被卢卡斯府上请去吃饭,又多蒙卢卡斯小姐一片好意,整日陪着柯林斯先生谈话。伊丽莎白利用了一个机会向她道谢。她说:“这样可以叫他精神痛快些,我对你真是说不尽的感激。”夏绿蒂说,能够替朋友效劳,非常乐意,虽然花了一点时间,却得到了很大的快慰。这真是太好了;可是夏绿蒂的好意,远非伊丽莎白所能意料;原来夏绿蒂是有意要尽量逗引柯林斯先生跟她自己谈话,免得他再去向伊丽莎白献殷勤。她这个计谋看来进行得十分顺利。晚上大家分手的时候,夏绿蒂几乎满有把握地感觉到,要不是柯林斯先生这么快就要离开哈福德郡,事情一定能成功。但是她这样的想法,未免太不了解他那如火如荼、独断独行的性格。且说第二天一大早,柯林斯就采用了相当狡猾的办法,溜出了浪博恩,赶到卢家庄来向她屈身求爱。他唯恐给表妹们碰到了,他认为,假若让她们看见他走开,那就必定会让她们猜中他的打算,而他不等到事情有了成功的把握,决不愿意让人家知道。虽说他当场看到夏绿蒂对他颇有情意,因此觉得这事十拿九稳可以成功,可是从星期三那场冒险以来,他究竟不敢太鲁莽了。不过人家倒很巴结地接待了他。卢卡斯小姐从楼上窗口看见他向她家里走来,便连忙到那条小道上去接他,又装出是偶然相逢的样子。她万万想不到,柯林斯这一次竟然给她带来了说不尽的千情万爱。

  在短短的一段时间里,柯林斯先生说了多多少少的话,于是两人之间便一切都讲妥了,而且双方都很满意。一走进屋子,他就诚恳地要求她择定吉日,使他成为世界上最幸福的人,虽说这种请求,暂应该置之不理,可是这位小姐并不想要拿他的幸福当儿戏。他天生一副蠢相,求起爱来总是打动不了女人的心,女人一碰到他求爱,总是请他碰壁。卢卡斯小姐所以愿意答应他,完全是为了财产打算,至于那笔财产何年何月可以拿到手,她倒不在乎。

  他们俩立刻就去请求威廉爵士夫妇加以允许,老夫妇连忙高高兴兴地答应了。他们本来没有什么嫁妆给女儿,论柯林斯先生目前的境况,真是再适合不过的一个女婿,何况他将来一定会发一笔大财。卢卡斯太太立刻带着空前未有过的兴趣,开始盘算着班纳特先生还有多少年可活;威廉爵士一口断定说,只要林斯先生一旦得到了浪博恩的财产,他夫妇俩就大有觐见皇上的希望了。总而言之,这件大事叫全家人都快活透顶。几位小女儿都满怀希望,认为这一来可以早一两年出去交际了,男孩子们再也不担心夏绿蒂会当老处女了。只有夏绿蒂本人倒相当镇定。她现在初步已经成功,还有时间去仔细考虑一番。她想了一下,大致满意。柯林斯先生固然既不通情达理,又不讨人喜爱,同他相处实在是件讨厌的事,他对她的爱也一定是空中楼阁,不过她还是要他做丈夫。虽然她对于婚姻和夫妇生活,估价都不甚高,可是,结婚到底是她一贯的目标,大凡家境不好而又受过相当教育的青年女子,总是把结婚当作仅有的一条体面的退路。尽管结婚并不一定会叫人幸福,但总算约她自己安排了一个最可靠的储藏室日后可以不致挨冻受饥。她现在就获得这样一个储藏室了。她今年二十七岁,人长得又不标致,这个储藏室当然会使她觉得无限幸运。只有一件事令人不快……那就是说,伊丽莎白·班纳特准会对这门亲事感到惊奇,而她又是一向把伊丽莎白的交情看得比什么人的交情都重要。伊丽莎白一定会诧异,说不定还要埋怨她。虽说她一经下定决心便不会动摇,然而人家非难起来一定会使她难受。于是她决定亲自把这件事告诉她,嘱咐柯林斯先生回到浪博恩吃饭的时候,不要在班纳特家里任何人面前透露一点风声。对方当然唯命是从,答应保守秘密,其实秘密是很难保守,因为他出去得太久了,一定会引起人家的好奇心,因此他一回去,大家立刻向他问长问短,他得要有几分能耐才能够遮掩过去,加上他又巴不得把此番情场得意的情况宣扬出去,因此他好容易才克制住了。

  他明天一大早就要启程,来不及向大家辞行,所以当夜太太小姐们就寝的时候,大家便相互话别;班纳特太太极其诚恳、极有礼貌地说,以后他要是有便再来浪博恩,上她们那儿去玩玩,那真叫她们太高兴了。

  他回答道:“亲爱的太太,承蒙邀约,不胜感激,我也正希望能领受这份盛意;请你放心,我一有空就来看你们。”

  大家都吃了一惊,尤其是班纳特先生,根本不希望他马上回来,便连忙说道:

  “贤侄,你不怕珈苔琳夫人不赞成吗?你最好把亲戚关系看得淡一些,免得担那么大的风险,得罪了你的女施主。”

  柯林斯先生回答道:“老长辈,我非常感激你这样好心地提醒我,请你放心,这样重大的事,不得到她老人家的同意,我决不会冒昧从事。”

  “多小心一些只会有益处。什么事都不要紧,可千万不能叫她老人家不高兴。要是你想到我们这儿来,而她却不高兴让你来(我觉得这是非常可能的),那么就请你安分一些,待在家里,你放心,我们决不会因此而见怪的。”

  “老长辈,请相信我,蒙你这样好心地关注,真叫我感激不尽。你放心好了,你马上就会收到我一封谢函,感谢这一点,感谢我在哈福郡蒙你们对我的种种照拂。至于诸位表妹,虽然我去不了多少日子,且请恕我冒昧,就趁着现在祝她们健康幸福,连伊丽莎白表妹也不例外。”

  太太小姐们便行礼如仪,辞别回房;大家听说他竟打算很快就回来,都感到惊讶。班纳特太太满以为他是打算向她的哪一个小女儿求婚,也许能劝劝曼丽去应承他。曼丽比任何姐妹都看重他的能力。他思想方面的坚定很叫她倾心;他虽然比不上她自己那样聪明,可是只要有一个象她这样的人作为榜样,鼓励他读书上进,那他一定会成为一个称心如意的伴侣。只可惜一到第二天早上,这种希望就完全破灭了。卢卡斯小姐刚一吃过早饭,就来访问,私下跟伊丽莎白把前一天的事说了出来。

  早在前一两天,伊丽莎白就一度想到,柯林斯先生可能一厢情愿,自以为爱上了她这位朋友,可是,要说夏绿蒂会怂恿他,那未免太不可能,正如她自己不可能怂恿他一样,因此她现在听到这件事,不禁大为惊讶,连礼貌也不顾了,竟大声叫了起来:

  “跟柯林斯先生订婚!亲爱的夏绿蒂,那怎么行!”

  卢卡斯小姐乍听得这一声心直口快的责备,镇静的脸色不禁变得慌张起来,好在这也是她意料中事,因此她立刻就恢复了常态,从容不迫地说:

  “你为什么这样惊奇,亲爱的伊丽莎?柯林斯先生不幸没有得到你的赏识,难道就不作兴他得到别的女人的赏识吗?”

  伊丽莎白这时候已经镇定下来,便竭力克制着自己,用相当肯定的语气预祝他们俩将来良缘美满,幸福无疆。

  夏绿蒂回答道:“我明白你的心思,你一定会感到奇怪,而且感到非常奇怪,因为在不久以前,柯林斯先生还在想跟你结婚。可是,只要你空下来把这事情细细地想一下,你就会赞成我的做法。你知道我不是个罗曼谛克的人,我决不是那样的人。我只希望有一个舒舒服服的家。论柯林斯先生的性格、社会关系和身份地位,我觉得跟他结了婚,也能够获得幸福,并不下于一般人结婚时所夸耀的那种幸福。”

  伊丽莎白心平气和地回答道:“毫无问题。”她们俩别别扭扭地在一起待了一会儿,便和家人一块坐下。夏绿蒂没有过多久就走了;伊丽莎白独自把刚才听到的那些话仔细想了一下。这样不合适的一门亲事,真使她难受了好久。说起柯林斯先生三天之内求了两次婚,本就够稀奇了,如今竟会有人应承他,实在是更稀奇。她一向觉得,夏绿蒂关于婚姻问题方面的见解,跟她颇不一致,却不曾料想到一旦事到临头,她竟会完全不顾高尚的情操,来屈就一些世俗的利益。夏绿蒂做了柯林斯的妻子,这真是天下最丢人的事!她不仅为这样一个朋友的自取其辱、自贬身份而感到难受,而且她还十分痛心地断定,她朋友拈的这一个阄儿,决不会给她自己带来多大的幸福。

     

 第二十三章

  伊丽莎白正跟母亲和姐妹坐在一起,回想刚才所听到的那件事,决不定是否可以把它告诉大家,就在这时候,威廉·卢卡斯爵士来了。他是受了女儿的拜托,前来班府上宣布她订婚的消息。他一面叙述这件事,一面又大大地恭维了太太小姐们一阵,说是两家能结上亲,他真感到荣幸。班府上的人听了,不仅感到惊异,而且不相信真有这回事。班纳特太太再也顾不得礼貌,竟一口咬定他弄错了。丽迪雅一向又任性又撒野,不由得叫道:

  “天哪!威廉爵士,你怎么会说出这番话来?你不知道柯林斯先生要娶丽萃吗?”

  遇到这种情形,只有象朝廷大臣那样能够逆来顺受的人,才不会生气,好在威廉爵士颇有素养,竟没有把它当一回事,虽然他要求她们相信他说的是实话,可是他却使出了极大的忍耐功夫,满有礼貌地听着她们无理的谈吐。

  伊丽莎白觉得自己有责任帮助他来打开这种僵局,于是挺身而出,证明他说的实话,说是刚刚已经听到夏绿蒂本人谈起过了。为了尽力使母亲和妹妹们不再大惊小怪,她便诚恳地向威廉爵士道喜,吉英马上也替她帮腔,又用种种话来说明这门婚姻是何等幸福,柯林斯先生品格又非常好,汉斯福和伦敦相隔不远往返方便。

  班纳特太太在威廉爵士面前,实在气得说不出话;可是他一走,她那一肚子牢骚便马上发泄出来。第一,她坚决不相信这回事;第二,她断定柯林斯先生受了骗;第三,她相信这一对夫妇决不会幸福;第四,这门亲事可能会破裂。不过她却从整个事件上简单地得出了两个结论……一个是:这场笑话全都是伊丽莎白一手造成的;另一个是,她自己受尽了大家的欺负虐待;在那一整天里,她所谈的大都是这两点。随便怎么也安慰不了她,随便怎么也平不了她的气。直到晚上,怨愤依然没有消散。她见到伊丽莎白就骂,一直骂了一个星期之久。她同威廉爵士或卢卡斯太太说起话来,总是粗声粗气,一直过了一个月才好起来;至于夏绿蒂,她竟过了好几个月才宽恕了她。

  对班纳特先生说来,这件事反而使他心情上益发洒脱,据他说,这次所经过的一切,真使他精神上舒服到极点。他说,他本以为夏绿蒂·卢卡斯相当懂事,哪知道她简直跟他太太一样蠢,比起他的女儿来就更要蠢了,他实在觉得高兴!

  吉英也承认这门婚姻有些奇怪,可是她嘴上并没说什么,反而诚恳地祝他们俩幸福。虽然伊丽莎白再三剖白给她听,她却始终以为这门婚姻未必一定不会幸福。吉蒂和丽迪雅根本不羡慕卢卡斯小姐,因为柯林斯先生不过是个传教士而已;这件事根本影响不了她们,除非把它当作一件新闻,带到麦里屯去传播一下。

  再说到卢卡斯太太,她既然也有一个女儿获得了美满的姻缘,自然衷心快慰,因而也不会不想到趁此去向班纳特太太反唇相讥一下。于是她拜望浪博恩的次数比往常更加频繁,说是她如今多么高兴,不过班纳特太太满脸恶相,满口的毒话,也足够叫她扫兴的了。

  伊丽莎白和夏绿蒂之间从此竟有了一层隔膜,彼此不便提到这桩事。伊丽莎白断定她们俩再也不会象从前那样推心置腹。她既然在夏绿蒂身上失望,便越发亲切地关注到自己姐姐身上来。她深信姐姐为人正直,作风优雅,她这种看法决不会动摇。她关心姐姐的幸福一天比一天来得迫切,因为彬格莱先生已经走了一个星期,却没有听到一点儿她要回来的消息。

  吉英很早就给珈罗琳写了回信,现在正在数着日子,看看还得过多少天才可以又接到她的信。柯林斯先生事先答应写来的那封谢函星期二就收到了,信是写给她们父亲的,信上说了多少感激的话,看他那种过甚其辞的语气,就好象在他们府上叨光了一年似的。他在这方面表示了歉意以后,便用了多少欢天喜地的措辞,告诉他们说,他已经有幸获得他们的芳邻卢卡斯小姐的欢心了,他接着又说,为了要去看看他的心上人,他可以趁便来看看他们,免得辜负他们善意的期望,希望能在两个礼拜以后的星期一到达浪博恩;他又说,珈苔琳夫人衷心地赞成他赶快结婚,并且希望愈早愈好,他相信他那位心上人夏绿蒂决不会反对及早定出佳期,使他成为天下最幸福的人。对班纳特太太说来,柯林斯先生的重返浪博恩,如今并不是什么叫人快意的事了。她反而跟她丈夫一样地大为抱怨。说也奇怪,柯林斯不去卢家庄,却要来到浪搏恩,这真是既不方便,又太麻烦。她现在正当健康失调,因此非常讨厌客人上门,何况这些痴情种子都是很讨厌的人。班纳特太太成天嘀咕着这些事,除非想到彬格莱一直不回来而使她感到更大的痛苦时,她方才住口。

  吉英跟伊丽莎白都为这个问题大感不安。一天又一天,听不到一点关于他的消息,只听得麦里屯纷纷传言,说他今冬再也不会上尼日斐花园来了,班纳特太太听得非常生气,总是加以驳斥,说那是诬蔑性的谣言。

  连伊丽莎白也开始恐惧起来了,她并不是怕彬格莱薄情,而是怕他的姐妹们真的绊住了他。尽管她不愿意有这种想法,因为这种想法对于吉英的幸福既有不利,对于吉英心上人的忠贞,也未免是一种侮辱,可是她还是往往禁不住要这样想。他那两位无情无义的姐妹,和那位足以制服他的朋友同心协力,再加上达西小姐的窈窕妩媚,以及伦敦的声色娱乐,纵使他果真对她念念不忘,恐怕也挣脱不了那个圈套。

  至于吉英,她在这种动荡不安的情况下,自然比伊丽莎白更加感到焦虑,可是她总不愿意把自己的心事暴露出来,所以她和伊丽莎白一直没有提到这件事。偏偏她母亲不能体贴她的苦衷,过不了一个钟头就要提到彬格莱,说是等待他回来实在等待心焦,甚至硬要吉英承认……要是彬格莱果真不回来,那她一定会觉得自己受了薄情的亏待。幸亏吉英临事从容不迫,柔和镇定,好容易才忍受了她这些谗言诽语。

  柯林斯先生在两个礼拜以后的星期一准时到达,可是浪搏恩却不象他初来时那样热烈地欢迎他了。他实在高兴不过也用不着别人献殷勤。这真是主人家走运,多亏他恋爱成了功,这才使别人能够清闲下来,不必再去跟他周旋。他每天把大部分时间消磨在卢家庄,一直挨到卢府上快要睡觉的时候,才回到浪搏恩来,向大家道歉一声,请大家原谅他终日未归。

  班纳特太太着实可怜。只要一提到那门亲事,她就会不高兴,而且随便她走到那儿,她总会听到人们谈起这件事。她一看到卢卡斯小姐就觉得讨厌。一想到卢卡斯小姐将来有一天会接替她做这幢屋子里的主妇,她就益发嫉妒和厌恶。每逢夏绿蒂来看她们,她总以为人家是来考察情况,看看还要过多少时候就可以搬进来住;每逢夏绿蒂跟柯林斯先生低声说话的时候,她就以为他们是在谈论浪搏恩的家产,是在计议一俟班纳特先生去世以后,就要把她和她的几个女儿撵出去。她把这些伤心事都说给她丈夫听。

  她说:“我的好老爷,夏绿蒂·卢卡斯迟早要做这屋子里的主妇,我却非得让她不可,眼睁睁看着她来接替我的位置,这可叫我受不了!”

  “我的好太太,别去想这些伤心事吧。我们不妨从好的方面去想。说不定我比你的寿命还要长,我们姑且就这样来安慰自己吧。”

  可是这些话安慰不了班纳特太太,因此她非但没有回答,反而象刚才一样地诉苦下去。

  “我一想到所有的产业都得落到他们手里,就受不了。要不是为了继承权的问题,我才不在乎呢。”

  “你不在乎什么?”

  “什么我都不在乎。”

  “让我们谢天谢地,你头脑还没有不清楚到这种地步。”

  “我的好老爷,凡是有关继承权的事,我决不会谢天谢地的。随便哪个人,怎么肯昧着良心,不把财产遗传给自己的女儿们?我真弄不懂,何况一切都是为了柯林斯先生的缘故!为什么偏偏要他享有这份遗产?”

  “我让你自己去想吧。”班纳特先生说。

   

 

 

 

 

  




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