Jane has received the letter from Miss Bingley declaring they will not be returning to Netherfield and that she has every hope that her brother will soon marry Miss Darcy.
December 19, 1811
Mrs. Bennet hurried through the hallway to Mr. Bennet’s study. Without thinking, she pushed open the door and came to an abrupt halt in front of her husband’s desk.
Mr. Bennet slowly lifted his head. His bushy eyebrows lowered, partially covering the eyes that looked up to her. “Mrs. Bennet, have I not requested that you knock before you come bursting into my study? Have I not asked that you not disturb my peace unless it is of utmost importance?”
She waved her hands in agitation. “Oh, but Mr. Bennet, I assure you, it is! This is most distressing! I do not know what can be done about it!”
Mr. Bennet lifted a brow and tilted his head. “Distressing?” He put down his book and leaned back in his chair. Folding his arms across him, he said, “What is it, my dear?”
“It is Jane and Mr. Bingley! He is not to return to Netherfield. She has received a letter from his sister. It is all for naught! These past few months with all our high hopes and expectations have been in vain! I do not think he intends to marry our Jane! What can be done?”
Mr. Bennet looked down and shook his head. He fingered some papers on his desk in silence, while Mrs. Bennet waited fretfully.
When he looked back up, he asked, “What am I to do about it? If that is his decision, there is nothing that can be done!”
Mrs. Bennet leaned towards her husband. “What do you suppose our Jane did? He must have some reason for not returning. Do you suppose she said something he found unseemly? Could her behaviour have been unbecoming?” She suddenly turned, pounding her fists through the air. “Oh, I do not know what to do!”
He folded his hands, pressed his lips together, and then finally answered, “I do not believe Jane would ever do or say anything improper, but I would suggest you go to Jane to console and reassure her. She must be bitterly grieved and disappointed.”
“Yes! That is what I will do. And I will try to find out what she did to bring about this unexpected predicament!”
Mr. Bennet lifted his hand to voice his objection, but his wife quickly departed the room before he could say anything.
Mrs. Bennet went in search of Jane and found her with Elizabeth, both young ladies sitting on Jane’s bed. Elizabeth’s head leaned against Jane’s, and her arm was wrapped about her sister’s shoulder, which shook as she silently sobbed.
Mrs. Bennet entered the room with her arms braced on her hips. Elizabeth looked up, and her brows quickly lowered.
“Lizzy, I must talk with Jane. Run along.”
Elizabeth was not certain she wanted to leave her sister alone with her mother.
“Please, I need to be here for Jane.”
“As do I!” insisted Mrs. Bennet, who then looked at Jane. “A mother always wants to console her child!”
Elizabeth could readily see the look on their mother’s face, and her posture displayed more irritation than a desire to console. She knew Jane did not need to have their mother question her about what may have happened.
Jane slowly glanced up and looked at her mother through reddened eyes. “Thank you, Mama, but I want Lizzy to stay with me.” She clutched a handkerchief and brought it up to wipe away a tear that trailed down her cheek.
“If you insist, but I ask that you remain silent, Lizzy, while I speak with… console Jane.” Mrs. Bennet forced a smile and sat down on the bed on the other side of Jane. “We want you to know, dearest Jane, that we are as upset as you are about this news.” She reached over and took one of Jane’s hands. As she stroked it lightly, she said, “We all liked Mr. Bingley quite well. He was always so polite and amiable.”
Jane drew in a shaky breath and mumbled, “He was.”
Mrs. Bennet continued to stroke Jane’s hand and soon began to pat it lightly. “I am deeply grieved over this, as I am certain you are. I do not think you will find a finer man than Mr. Bingley.”
Jane silently nodded, while Elizabeth clenched her jaw to help her remain silent as her mother requested.
Mrs. Bennet’s pats on Jane’s hand became quicker. “But, what could have prompted this decision not to return?”
Jane’s fingers trembled as she fingered the handkerchief. “I do not know. He seemed most attentive to me at the Netherfield Ball,” she said in a quaking voice.
Elizabeth could hold her tongue no longer. “Mother, we do not know why he has chosen not to return. We can only hope this is a misunderstanding on Miss Bingley’s part.”
Mrs. Bennet pulled a handkerchief out of the bodice of her dress and began fanning herself with it. “You must tell me if there was anything you did that may have upset him.” The pats she gave to Jane’s hand now were sharp and in cadence with her words.
“Mother!” Elizabeth cried out. “Jane would do nothing…”
Jane put up her hand to silence her sister. “No, it is an honest request.” She glanced at her mother. “I have asked myself that same question, but I fear I cannot think of anything I said or might have done that would have prompted this decision of his.”
“There was nothing you ever could have done to warrant such an action!” Elizabeth assured her sister.
Mrs. Bennet frowned and she abruptly moved both her hands onto her lap. As she took in a deep breath, her shoulders raised and then lowered as she let the breath out. “Something must have occurred to cause him to leave Netherfield so abruptly.” She looked sternly at Jane. “Think on it, Jane, for you cannot allow such a thing ever to happen again!”
She rose to leave and then stopped. “Oh, dearest Jane. I would have you know that I suffered a great heartache when I was younger, and like me, you will soon forget him. I hope that gives you some consolation.”
Jane and Elizabeth watched silently as their mother walked out the door.
Jane turned to her sister. “Oh, Lizzy, Mama may be correct that it was my fault, but I cannot imagine what I may have done to bring this about!”
Elizabeth glanced over at the empty doorway. “Oh, dearest Jane. Do not fret that it was anything you said or did.”
She felt a tight knot growing inside as she recollected the behaviour of her younger sisters, her father, and more particularly, her mother, at the Netherfield Ball. She had seen the expressions of disapproval on the faces of both Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley, although she had not witnessed any look of displeasure or censure from Mr. Bingley. She was fairly certain this decision was due more in part to Mr. Bingley’s friend and sister than with him.
No, she was certain Mr. Bingley’s abrupt change of plans could not be attributed to Jane, but she doubted that other members of the Bennet family could be considered as blameless as her favourite sister was.