A few days after this visit, Mr. Bingley called again, and alone. He came, and in such very good time that the ladies were none of them dressed. In ran Mrs. Bennet to her daughter’s room, in her dressing gown, and with her hair half-finished, crying out,—
‘My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come—Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed.
He scarcely needed an invitation to stay to supper; and before he went away an engagement was formed, chiefly through his own and Mrs. Bennet’s means, for his coming next morning to shoot with her husband.
Elizabeth, who had a letter to write, went into the breakfast-room for that purpose soon after tea; for as the others were all going to sit down to cards, she could not be wanted to counteract her mother’s schemes.
But on her returning to the drawing-room, when her letter was finished, she saw, to her infinite surprise, there was reason to fear that her mother had been too ingenious for her. On opening the door, she perceived her sister and Bingley standing together over the hearth, as if engaged in earnest conversation; and had this led to no suspicion, the faces of both, as they hastily turned round and moved away from each other, would have told it all. Their situation was awkward enough; but hers she thought was still worse. Not a syllable was uttered by either; and Elizabeth was on the point of going away again, when Bingley, who as well as the other had sat down, suddenly rose, and, whispering a few words to her sister, ran out of the room. Jane could have no reserves from Elizabeth, where confidence would give pleasure; and instantly embracing her acknowledged, with the liveliest emotion, that she was the happiest creature in the world.
‘’Tis too much!’ she added, ‘by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh, why is not everybody as happy?’
Elizabeth’s congratulations were given with a sincerity, a warmth, a delight, which words could but poorly express. Every sentence of kindness was a fresh source of happiness to Jane. But she would not allow herself to stay with her sister, or say half that remained to be said, for the present.
‘I must go instantly to my mother,’ she cried. ‘I would not on any account trifle with her affectionate solicitude, or allow her to hear it from any one but myself. He is gone to my father already. Oh, Lizzy, to know that what I have to relate will give such pleasure to all my dear family; how shall I bear so much happiness?’
‘He has made me so happy,’ said she, one evening, ‘by telling me that he was totally ignorant of my being in town last spring! I had not believed it possible.’
‘I suspected as much,’ replied Elizabeth. ‘But how did he account for it?’
‘It must have been his sisters’ doing. They were certainly no friends to his acquaintance with me, which I cannot wonder at, since he might have chosen so much more advantageously in many respects. But when they see, as I trust they will, that their brother is happy with me, they will learn to be contented, and we shall be on good terms again: though we can never be what we once were to each other.’
‘That is the most unforgiving speech,’ said Elizabeth, ‘that I ever heard you utter. Good girl! It would vex me, indeed, to see you again the dupe of Miss Bingley’s pretended regard.’
‘Would you believe it, Lizzy, that when he went to town last November he really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent would have prevented his coming down again?’ ‘He made a little mistake, to be sure; but it is to the credit of his modesty.’
‘If you were to give me forty such men I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness. I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and, perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time.’
The situation of affairs in the Longbourn family could not be long a secret. Mrs. Bennet was privileged to whisper it to Mrs. Philips, and she ventured, without any permission, to do the same by all her neighbours in Meryton.
The Bennets were speedily pronounced to be the luckiest family in the world; though only a few weeks before, when Lydia had first run away, they had been generally proved to be marked out for misfortune.
To be continued next Tuesday!