Netherfield Is Empty
After breakfast the next day, the girls walked to Meryton to inquire if Mr Wickham had returned. He joined them as they entered the town, and went with them to their aunt’s. He explained to Elizabeth his absence from the ball.
‘I found,’ he said,’ as the time approached, that I had better not meet Mr Darcy — that to be in his company might be more than I could bear.’
Elizabeth highly approved of his good sense. As Wickham and another officer walked back with them to Longbourn, she was able to introduce him to her father and mother.
Soon after their return, a letter was delivered to Miss Bennet. It came from Netherfield, and was opened immediately. Elizabeth saw her sister’s face change as she read it. But she soon controlled herself and, putting the letter away, tried to join in the conversation with her usual cheerfulness. But as soon as the officers had left, a look from Jane invited Elizabeth to follow her upstairs.
When they had reached their own room, Jane, taking out the letter, said, ‘This is from Caroline Bingley. What it contains has surprised me a great 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.’
She then read the letter out loud. It spoke of the writer’s sorrow at parting from Jane, and urged her to write frequently. Elizabeth judged this to be insincere. It stated that Mr Bingley had business in town, and would be in no hurry to leave it again.
‘It is clear from this that he will come back no more this winter,’ said Jane.
‘It is clear that Miss Bingley does not intend that he should!
Why do you think so? It must be his own decision. He is free to act as he wishes. But you do not know everything. I will read you the words that hurt me most. I will have no secrets from you.’ The letter then told of the beauty of Mr Darcy’s young sister, and of Mr Bingley’s admiration for her, and of the family’s hopes that they would marry.
‘Is it not clear enough? Does it not plainly state that Caroline neither expects nor wishes me to be her sister, and that she believes that her brother does not care for me? She means — most kindly — to warn me. Can there be any other opinion on the subject?’
‘Yes, there can. Mine is totally different. Miss Bingley sees that her brother is in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy. She follows him to town in the hope of keeping him there, and tries to persuade you that he does not care about you.’
Jane shook her head.
‘Really, Jane, you ought to believe me. No one who has ever seen you together can doubt his love. But the case is this — we are not rich enough or grand enough for them.’
Elizabeth spoke comfortingly to her sister, and gradually persuaded her that Mr Bingley would return later and answer every wish of her heart. To their mother they decided only to announce that the Netherfield party had left for a short time.