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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 head quarters.

Their visits to Mrs. Philips 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. Philips visited them all, and this opened to his nieces a source 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 any body'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."

"Mama," 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 te^te-a`-te^te between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the 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 not they?"

"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 home 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 head-ache, there is not much the matter with me.

Yours, &c."

"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 at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long is 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 horse-woman, 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 ancles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.

She was shewn 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 enquiries 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 beside 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 shewed 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 into 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.
 

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。



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