If Elizabeth, when Mr. Darcy gave
her the letter, did not expect it to contain a renewal
of his offers, she had formed no expectation at all
of its contents. But such as they were, it may
well be supposed how eagerly she went through them,
and what a contrariety of emotion they excited.
Her feelings as she read were scarcely to be defined.
With amazement did she first understand that he believed
any apology to be in his power; and steadfastly was
she persuaded, that he could have no explanation to
give, which a just sense of shame would not conceal.
With a strong prejudice against everything he might
say, she began his account of what had happened at
Netherfield. She read with an eagerness which
hardly left her power of comprehension, and from impatience
of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was
incapable of attending to the sense of the one before
her eyes. His belief of her sister’s insensibility
she instantly resolved to be false; and his account
of the real, the worst objections to the match, made
her too angry to have any wish of doing him justice.
He expressed no regret for what he had done which satisfied
her; his style was not penitent, but haughty.
It was all pride and insolence.
But when this subject was succeeded
by his account of Mr. Wickham when she
read with somewhat clearer attention a relation of
events which, if true, must overthrow every cherished
opinion of his worth, and which bore so alarming an
affinity to his own history of himself her
feelings were yet more acutely painful and more difficult
of definition. Astonishment, apprehension, and
even horror, oppressed her. She wished to discredit
it entirely, repeatedly exclaiming, “This must
be false! This cannot be! This must be the
grossest falsehood!” and when she
had gone through the whole letter, though scarcely
knowing anything of the last page or two, put it hastily
away, protesting that she would not regard it, that
she would never look in it again.
In this perturbed state of mind, with
thoughts that could rest on nothing, she walked on;
but it would not do; in half a minute the letter was
unfolded again, and collecting herself as well as she
could, she again began the mortifying perusal of all
that related to Wickham, and commanded herself so
far as to examine the meaning of every sentence.
The account of his connection with the Pemberley family
was exactly what he had related himself; and the kindness
of the late Mr. Darcy, though she had not before known
its extent, agreed equally well with his own words.
So far each recital confirmed the other; but when she
came to the will, the difference was great. What
Wickham had said of the living was fresh in her memory,
and as she recalled his very words, it was impossible
not to feel that there was gross duplicity on one side
or the other; and, for a few moments, she flattered
herself that her wishes did not err. But when
she read and re-read with the closest attention, the
particulars immediately following of Wickham’s
resigning all pretensions to the living, of his receiving
in lieu so considerable a sum as three thousand pounds,
again was she forced to hesitate. She put down
the letter, weighed every circumstance with what she
meant to be impartiality deliberated on
the probability of each statement but with
little success. On both sides it was only assertion.
Again she read on; but every line proved more clearly
that the affair, which she had believed it impossible
that any contrivance could so represent as to render
Mr. Darcy’s conduct in it less than infamous,
was capable of a turn which must make him entirely
blameless throughout the whole.
The extravagance and general profligacy
which he scrupled not to lay at Mr. Wickham’s
charge, exceedingly shocked her; the more so, as she
could bring no proof of its injustice. She had
never heard of him before his entrance into the shire
Militia, in which he had engaged at the persuasion
of the young man who, on meeting him accidentally in
town, had there renewed a slight acquaintance.
Of his former way of life nothing had been known in
Hertfordshire but what he told himself. As to
his real character, had information been in her power,
she had never felt a wish of inquiring. His countenance,
voice, and manner had established him at once in the
possession of every virtue. She tried to recollect
some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait
of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him
from the attacks of Mr. Darcy; or at least, by the
predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors
under which she would endeavour to class what Mr. Darcy
had described as the idleness and vice of many years’
continuance. But no such recollection befriended
her. She could see him instantly before her,
in every charm of air and address; but she could remember
no more substantial good than the general approbation
of the neighbourhood, and the regard which his social
powers had gained him in the mess. After pausing
on this point a considerable while, she once more continued
to read. But, alas! the story which followed,
of his designs on Miss Darcy, received some confirmation
from what had passed between Colonel Fitzwilliam and
herself only the morning before; and at last she was
referred for the truth of every particular to Colonel
Fitzwilliam himself from whom she had previously
received the information of his near concern in all
his cousin’s affairs, and whose character she
had no reason to question. At one time she had
almost resolved on applying to him, but the idea was
checked by the awkwardness of the application, and
at length wholly banished by the conviction that Mr.
Darcy would never have hazarded such a proposal, if
he had not been well assured of his cousin’s
She perfectly remembered everything
that had passed in conversation between Wickham and
herself, in their first evening at Mr. Phillips’s.
Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory.
She was now struck with the impropriety of
such communications to a stranger, and wondered it
had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy
of putting himself forward as he had done, and the
inconsistency of his professions with his conduct.
She remembered that he had boasted of having no fear
of seeing Mr. Darcy that Mr. Darcy might
leave the country, but that he should stand
his ground; yet he had avoided the Netherfield ball
the very next week. She remembered also that,
till the Netherfield family had quitted the country,
he had told his story to no one but herself; but that
after their removal it had been everywhere discussed;
that he had then no reserves, no scruples in sinking
Mr. Darcy’s character, though he had assured
her that respect for the father would always prevent
his exposing the son.
How differently did everything now
appear in which he was concerned! His attentions
to Miss King were now the consequence of views solely
and hatefully mercenary; and the mediocrity of her
fortune proved no longer the moderation of his wishes,
but his eagerness to grasp at anything. His behaviour
to herself could now have had no tolerable motive;
he had either been deceived with regard to her fortune,
or had been gratifying his vanity by encouraging the
preference which she believed she had most incautiously
shown. Every lingering struggle in his favour
grew fainter and fainter; and in farther justification
of Mr. Darcy, she could not but allow that Mr. Bingley,
when questioned by Jane, had long ago asserted his
blamelessness in the affair; that proud and repulsive
as were his manners, she had never, in the whole course
of their acquaintance an acquaintance which
had latterly brought them much together, and given
her a sort of intimacy with his ways seen
anything that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust anything
that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits; that
among his own connections he was esteemed and valued that
even Wickham had allowed him merit as a brother, and
that she had often heard him speak so affectionately
of his sister as to prove him capable of some
amiable feeling; that had his actions been what Mr.
Wickham represented them, so gross a violation of
everything right could hardly have been concealed from
the world; and that friendship between a person capable
of it, and such an amiable man as Mr. Bingley, was
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself.
Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without
feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
“How despicably I have acted!”
she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my
discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities!
who have often disdained the generous candour of my
sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable
mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery!
Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love,
I could not have been more wretchedly blind!
But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased
with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect
of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance,
I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven
reason away, where either were concerned. Till
this moment I never knew myself.”
From herself to Jane from
Jane to Bingley, her thoughts were in a line which
soon brought to her recollection that Mr. Darcy’s
explanation there had appeared very insufficient,
and she read it again. Widely different was the
effect of a second perusal. How could she deny
that credit to his assertions in one instance, which
she had been obliged to give in the other? He
declared himself to be totally unsuspicious of her
sister’s attachment; and she could not help remembering
what Charlotte’s opinion had always been.
Neither could she deny the justice of his description
of Jane. She felt that Jane’s feelings,
though fervent, were little displayed, and that there
was a constant complacency in her air and manner not
often united with great sensibility.
When she came to that part of the
letter in which her family were mentioned in terms
of such mortifying, yet merited reproach, her sense
of shame was severe. The justice of the charge
struck her too forcibly for denial, and the circumstances
to which he particularly alluded as having passed
at the Netherfield ball, and as confirming all his
first disapprobation, could not have made a stronger
impression on his mind than on hers.
The compliment to herself and her
sister was not unfelt. It soothed, but it could
not console her for the contempt which had thus been
self-attracted by the rest of her family; and as she
considered that Jane’s disappointment had in
fact been the work of her nearest relations, and reflected
how materially the credit of both must be hurt by
such impropriety of conduct, she felt depressed beyond
anything she had ever known before.
After wandering along the lane for
two hours, giving way to every variety of thought re-considering
events, determining probabilities, and reconciling
herself, as well as she could, to a change so sudden
and so important, fatigue, and a recollection of her
long absence, made her at length return home; and
she entered the house with the wish of appearing cheerful
as usual, and the resolution of repressing such reflections
as must make her unfit for conversation.
She was immediately told that the
two gentlemen from Rosings had each called during
her absence; Mr. Darcy, only for a few minutes, to
take leave but that Colonel Fitzwilliam
had been sitting with them at least an hour, hoping
for her return, and almost resolving to walk after
her till she could be found. Elizabeth could
but just affect concern in missing him; she
really rejoiced at it. Colonel Fitzwilliam was
no longer an object; she could think only of her letter.