The next few days were more calm than the previous had been. Elizabeth was relieved that Mr. Collins was no longer singling her out for special attention. Kitty and Lydia were fighting to be the recipients of that attention. Nothing else out of the ordinary occurred. Elizabeth was just beginning to feel that things might, at some point, return to normal when Jane received a letter.
Lydia intercepted the letter as soon as it arrived.
“Jane!” she called. “There is a letter here. From Netherfield!”
Jane rushed down the stairs, hope shining from her face. It had been some time since she had heard from any of the Bingleys, and she was anxious to see what news the letter contained.
Her sisters watched her intently as she broke the wax seal and opened the letter. Elizabeth, at least, attempted to be discreet, but the rest of the house seemed content to outright stare at her. Jane’s eyes continued to sparkle with hope as she began the letter, but her look soon turned to one of shock.
“What is the matter? What has happened?” Mrs. Bennet demanded. “Jane, why do you look so pale?”
“Mr. Bingley has left Netherfield,” Jane whispered.
“Is that all, silly girl?” said Mrs. Bennet. “He shall be back soon enough.”
“I do not think he shall,” Jane replied. “This letter from Miss Bingley makes it clear that they are returning to town and have no immediate plans to return.”
Mrs. Bennet blanched as pale as Jane had.
“This cannot be,” Mrs. Bennet said. “No, it certainly cannot be. It must be a misunderstanding. Jane, you must be misreading the letter. Give it here and let me see.”
“Mama, the letter is addressed to Jane alone,” Elizabeth protested. “She can read well enough. There is no need to see the words with your own eyes.”
Mrs. Bennet dropped her arm, which had been reaching for the letter. “Of course you are right, Lizzy,” she said faintly. “Jane can read quite well. I am suddenly feeling poorly. Girls, help me to bed.”
By the time they has assisted their mother to her room, she was nearly limp. She fell into bed and seemed to immediately fall asleep.
“I shall sit with her,” volunteered Mary.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said to her sister, and turned her attention to Jane.
“Come,” she said. “Mama is not the only one who needs rest.”
She took Jane’s hand and led her down the hall. Jane followed silently and obediently until they were in the bedroom with the door closed.
Jane sank onto the bed and burst into tears.
“Oh, Lizzy, what am I to do?” she said.
“Did the letter give any clue as to how long they plan to stay in town?”
“You may read the letter,” Jane said. “I do not mind.”
Elizabeth took the offered letter and read it quickly. Caroline Bingley was delighted to be returning to town. She said that Mr. Bingley was anxious to return, and their entire party looked forward to seeing Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Caroline thought that there might be some special connection between Mr. Bingley and Georgiana Darcy, and implied that their engagement might be announced soon.
“There is no way that this is true, Jane,” she said. “Mr. Bingley would not have misled you so if he was already promised to Miss Darcy, or if he had the slightest idea that he might soon be. I refuse to believe that he could be so deceitful.”
“What does it matter, Lizzy?” asked Jane. “He is gone. If he was truly interested in me, would he have left so abruptly?”
Elizabeth pondered the question, but could not think of a satisfactory answer. Why on earth would Mr. Bingley leave so suddenly, and when things were so promising between him and Jane? Mr. Bingley, she realized, would not. However, Elizabeth could think of several people who would be quite relieved to see Jane and Mr. Bingley separated: Caroline Bingley, the Hursts, and Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley’s sisters had made their opinion of the Bennet family quite clear, and Mr. Darcy likewise had been very forthcoming with his dislike for people who lived in the country. Elizabeth had no doubt that one of these people was responsible for Mr. Bingley’s departure, and she shared this belief with Jane.
“Oh, Lizzy, I do think that you are mistaken,” said Jane. “I cannot imagine that anyone would intentionally come between us, especially not one of the people closest to him. And his sisters were very accommodating when I was ill at Netherfield.”
“That may be true, Jane, but just because his sisters are fond of you does not mean that they are willing to invite you into their family.”
“I just cannot believe it of them. Likewise, I cannot believe that Mr. Darcy would do anything that is not in Mr. Bingley’s best interest.”
Elizabeth stayed silent. If she knew Mr. Darcy, and she thought that she was beginning to, his idea of what was in Mr. Bingley’s best interest might very well involve a return to London.
Darcy looked out the window of the carriage. He was torn. Although he understood that his removal from Hertfordshire was the safest thing, he also could not keep from thinking about Elizabeth Bennet. When he thought back to their dance at the ball, he could hardly remember the words that she had spoken, although he knew that they had injured his pride as she said them. What was much more clear to him was the way that color rose into her cheeks when she was speaking of something she was passionate about, and how clear her eyes were as they spoke.
He had been around many women in his life, women who were impressed by Pemberley and by his income. She did not seem swayed by those things, and that was what drew him to her. Truly, a man would have to be exceptional in order for Elizabeth to love him. He doubted whether he could be that exceptional, although he hoped that he could. However, after their last encounter, he did not know if he would have another chance to speak to her.
Darcy looked across the carriage to where Caroline Bingley sat. She had a satisfied smile on her face, and why should she not? After all, she and her sister Louisa had succeeded in getting their brother to return to town. Darcy was tempted to agree with them as they convinced Charles that Jane Bennet was not the right match for him, but each time he did, he imagined the disappointment and anger he would see in Elizabeth’s eyes if she was ever to discover that he was involved in convincing Charles to leave. Even in his imagination, he could not stand the intensity of that anger. So he stayed quite silent, allowing Mr. Bingley’s sisters to make the argument to leave. Darcy was not proud of his silence in this matter, but his conscience was nonetheless soothed in knowing that he had done nothing that would injure the woman that he could no longer deny he was in love with.