‘That would be a good idea,’ said Elizabeth, ‘if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home.’
‘Oh, but the gentlemen will have used Mr Bingley’s carriage to go to Meryton.’
‘I would much rather go in the carriage,’ repeated Jane.
‘But, my dear, your father does not have enough horses. They are wanted on the farm.’
Jane was therefore forced to go on horseback, and her mother followed her to the door with many cheerful wishes for bad weather. Her hopes were answered. Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters were anxious for her, but her mother was pleased. The rain continued the whole evening. Jane certainly could not come back.
‘This was a good idea of mine!’ said Mrs Bennet.
Breakfast was hardly over next morning when a servant from Netherfield brought a note for Elizabeth from Jane to say that she was unwell.
‘Well, my dear,’ said Mr Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note out loud, ‘if your daughter should have a dangerous attack of illness — if she should die — it will be a comfort to know that it was all the result of going after Mr Bingley, and following your orders.’
‘Oh, I am not afraid of her dying. People do not die of little things like colds. They will take good care of her.’
Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, decided to go to her sister. The carriage was not available, and as she did not ride a horse, walking was her only possible way.
‘How can you be so silly,’ said her mother, ‘in all this mud! 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.’
‘We will go as far as Meryton with you,’ offered Lydia and Kitty. Elizabeth accepted their company, and the three young ladies set off together.
At Meryton they parted, and Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field impatiently, and finding herself at last within sight of the house, with tired feet, dirty shoes, and a face bright with the warmth of exercise.
Her appearance caused a great deal of surprise. Elizabeth guessed that Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley were scornful that she should walk 3 miles so early and in such weather. She was received, though, very politely, and in their brother’s manner was something better than politeness — kindness and pleasure. Mr Darcy said very little. He was occupied with admiring the brightness that exercise had added to the colour in her face.
Her sister Jane had hardly slept at all, and was feverish. The doctor came, advised her to return to bed, and promised some medicine. The fever increased, and her head ached badly.
Elizabeth stayed with her until three o’clock, and then felt she must go. But Jane showed such disappointment at parting from her that Miss Bingley was forced to invite her to remain at Netherfield for the present, and Elizabeth thankfully accepted this offer. A servant was sent to Longbourn to tell the family of her stay and to bring back a supply of clothes.
At half past six, Elizabeth was called to dinner. Jane was not at all better. Mr Bingley’s sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or four times how sorry they were, how unpleasant it was to have a bad cold, and how very much they disliked being ill themselves, and then thought no more of the matter. Their lack of real feeling towards Jane, when she was not actually in their presence, brought back to Elizabeth all her original dislike of them.
Their brother was in fact the only one whose anxiety for Jane seemed sincere. His attentions to Elizabeth herself were most pleasing, and they prevented her from feeling herself such an unwelcome guest as she believed she was considered to be by the others.
When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began criticizing her as soon as she was out of the room. How poor her manners were — a mixture of pride and lack of good family. She had no powers of conversation, no style, no taste, no beauty. Mrs Hurst thought the same, and added:
‘There is nothing to admire in her except being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.’
‘She certainly did, Louisa. Her hair so untidy!’
‘Yes, and her skirt! I hope you saw her skirt, covered in mud.’
‘I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked extremely well when she came into the room this morning,’ said Mr Bingley. ‘Her dirty skirt quite escaped my notice. Her coming shows a concern for her sister that is very pleasing.’
‘I am afraid, Mr Darcy,’ observed Miss Bingley, in a half- whisper, ‘that this adventure has rather lessened your admiration for 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 am extremely fond of Jane Bennet. She is really a very sweet girl. I wish with all my heart that she were well settled. But with such parents, and such low relations, I am afraid there is no chance of it.’
‘It must greatly lessen her chance of marrying a man of good position,’ replied Mr Darcy.