Posted on 2012-03-24
It was with great excitement that Mrs. Bennet received the news of the neighbouring estate, Netherfield Park, being let at last to a single young man of sizeable fortune.
"They say he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week," Mrs. Bennet told her family with relish.
They were enjoying a quiet evening in the sitting room; the girls talked softly together and Mr. Bennet was wrapped up in a thick book. His wife chattered and worked at some embroidery, both to inconsequent effect.
"What is his name, Mama?" asked Jane dutifully.
"Oh! Mr. Bingley; Mrs. Long told me so. Such a fine, agreeable young man… four or five thousand a year, to be sure…"
"How very fine for him," murmured Mr. Bennet absently, flipping a page of his book.
Mrs. Bennet beamed at her husband. "Well, yes, and it is a very fine thing for our girls too, is it not?"
"How so, Mama?" asked the youngest, a little alarmed by the glint in her mother's eyes.
Mr. Bennet put aside his book, quick as always to see an opportunity for teasing his wife. "Yes, indeed, Mrs. Bennet. How so?"
"How can you all be so tiresome! Of course I am thinking of his marrying one of them."
"Is that his design in settling here, Mama?" said Elizabeth, her eyes twinkling.
"Don't be nonsensical," chided Mrs. Bennet. "Design! Really, Lizzy, I thought you fancied yourself clever. But it is very possible that he may fall in love with one of you - even our dear Georgiana, perhaps."
Georgiana looked even more alarmed and began to protest feebly. Jane gently squeezed her hand and said, "Mama, is it not a little soon to be thinking of such things?"
"More nonsense. I certainly agree that one cannot count one's eggs before they are hatched, but who can blame me here? You are so pretty, Jane, and Georgiana is such a sweet little thing. And Lizzy, if she will only curb her impudence a little, can be very charming. Therefore, Mr. Bennet, you must visit Mr. Bingley as soon as he comes."
"I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go."
"How silly you are! We cannot visit him if you do not do so first."
"What a pity. I will send a note with the girls when they visit, to assure him that he is welcome to marry any one of them, with my blessing - would not that be far more expeditious?"
Mrs. Bennet begged her husband to be serious.
"I am perfectly serious, my dear," said Mr. Bennet gravely; but he winked slyly at his daughters.
Their mother ranted, pleaded, and wheedled by turns - all to no avail. She retired after a while due to a severe attack of nerves - "Your father is determined to vex me," she wailed to the girls - and the hour being late, the rest of the family soon followed her example.
The Bennet girls were part of that enviable group of people in this world for whom it is easy to imagine a happy ending.
Elizabeth Bennet was clever, self-assured, and pretty. There had never been any real tragedy in her life, and she was still young enough that she had no thought of encountering it in the future. She had a family who was very dear to her; in particular a younger sister to coddle, an older one to look up to, and a father who had always doted on her. The only real bane of her existence was a rather silly mother, and even so Elizabeth knew that Mrs. Bennet's heart was in the right place - she did love her children (she loved Mr. Bennet too, but only seemed to remember following some form of indulgence or another).
Elizabeth's older sister Jane was three years her senior, and was given to playing the part of responsible guardian more aptly than the girls' parents. She was as kind and generous as she was beautiful - and Jane was quite beautiful, all golden hair and soft eyes and perfect features. Her looks made her the object of resentment and envy among girls her age, though her disposition made her impossible to hate.
Georgiana Bennet was the only other sibling - a young girl just shy of sixteen and the darling of the family. She was almost as remarkably handsome as her eldest sister, and possessed some of the same sweetness in her looks and manners; there was an innocent, vulnerable aspect about her clear blue-grey eyes that could not but appeal to one's fiercest protective instincts. She was petted by all and sundry beginning from a very young age, which may have encouraged her to turn out rather vain and selfish. However, Georgiana was the kind of girl who everyone spoiled, but could never become spoilt herself.
In childhood, Elizabeth often found both her sisters to be almost intolerably perfect in temperament as much as appearance; but then, although she was not the model child each of her sisters were, everyone loved bright, mischievous Lizzy for her own sake. Lovable little girls have a tendency of growing up into very fine young ladies, and such was the case with all the Miss Bennets of Longbourn.
And so, despite the fact that Longbourn was entailed away from the female line, which was quite unfortunate given the marked absence of a male heir (which fact Mrs. Bennet regretted acutely and loudly), the Bennets were always called a fine family wherever they went, and was certainly respectable enough. Still, it was a source of constant vexation to Mrs. Bennet that while her daughters were the handsomest in the neighbourhood, none of them were married. They were certainly not growing any younger, and neither was Mr. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet shuddered to think what would befall them should anything happen to him.
So Mrs. Bennet was in a very ill humour the next afternoon, when her husband said to Elizabeth,
"That is a very fine hat you and Jane are toiling over, my dear. I hope Mr. Bingley will like it."
"We cannot know what Mr. Bingley will like," interjected Mrs. Bennet, "for you will not visit him!" The utter bleakness of this logic seemed almost too much for the worthy matron to bear, and a handkerchief was hastily brought up to dab daintily at her eyes.
"You forget, Mama," Jane said consolingly, "that we are to meet him at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long has promised to introduce him to us."
Mrs. Bennet harrumphed. "Mrs. Long! I believe she will do no such thing. No, for she has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her."
"No more have I," said her husband. "I am glad that you do not depend upon her serving you."
Mrs. Bennet sniffed, and deigned not to reply.
Mr. Bennet, careful to seem cheerfully oblivious, continued: "When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?"
"So it is," cried Mrs. Bennet. "And Mrs. Long does not come back 'til the day before; so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, since she will not know him herself."
"Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr. Bingley to her."
Georgiana, who had been tinkering at the pianoforte in the corner, turned to peer curiously at her father. "But Papa, how can Mama do so, when she is not acquainted with him herself?"
"Precisely; so you see, it would not be such a dilemma if your father would only call upon him," said Mrs. Bennet. "But he is stubborn as anything, and so pray do not speak of it, Georgiana, for you know it tears my nerves to pieces. I am heartily sick of Mr. Bingley!"
"I am very sorry to hear that," said her husband. "Why did you not tell me so before? If I had known, I certainly would not have called on him this morning. It is very unlucky; but I have really paid the visit, so we cannot escape the acquaintance now."
The girls stared, and the extent of Mrs. Bennet's astonishment and subsequent raptures can only be imagined. After the first tumult of joy was over, she claimed that it was what she had expected all along.
"Ah, but I knew you loved our girls too much to neglect such an acquaintance!" said Mrs. Bennet triumphantly. "You are such a good father, Mr. Bennet. Girls, I do not know how we may ever repay him for such a kindness."
"It is quite within your power to do so, madam," said Mr. Bennet, quickly tiring of his wife's raptures. "Your silence on the subject is repayment enough."
Elizabeth was not surprised to find that, contrary to various reports circulating around the village in speculation of the size and persons of the Netherfield party, the group that entered the assembly room was far less numerous than her neighbours had foretold. She knew their tendency to exaggeration, and it was with a little amusement that she observed that the party only consisted of five altogether: Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, his brother-in-law, and another young man. From her vantage point she could see them more clearly than the others, and to her quick eye she perceived real amiability only on Mr. Bingley's countenance, and general hauteur (to varying degrees of intensity) on the faces of the rest of his party.
"Stand tall, my dears," Mrs. Bennet whispered.
Georgiana, who had begged tearfully to stay at home with Papa but been refused by an adamant Mama, retreated a little further behind her sisters. She had never possessed the same ease in company that her sisters had been blessed with; consequently, she was a shy creature, who was by far more comfortable in an intimate family circle at home with her dear music than in an assembly such as this.
"Don't fret, Georgiana," Jane said in her soothing voice.
"If you like," added Elizabeth, "I can stay here with you and glare frightfully, so that anyone will be too frightened to bother us."
This coaxed a grateful laugh out of Georgiana, who said loyally, "Oh, Lizzy, you couldn't look frightful if you tried. And you mustn't stay if you want to dance. I couldn't bear to disappoint all those people who'd want to dance with you!"
"I don't quite think there's much need to fear that," Elizabeth said with a smile. "There is such an unfortunate ratio of young men to ladies here tonight, you know - and who will dance with me when you and Jane are ten times prettier?"
"Lizzy," said Jane reproachfully. Elizabeth only laughed.
Mrs. Bennet suddenly turned, eyes frantic.
"They are headed this way! Oh, Jane, smile your sweetest - don't be too brash now, Lizzy - and for heaven's sake, Georgiana, come out from behind your sisters' skirts!"
Georgiana looked appalled. Jane said, "It will soon be over, dearest."
Elizabeth winked at her. "If not, we can sneak out the door when no one's looking."
"Lizzy!" from Mrs. Bennet, what managed to be both a whisper and a shriek.
Elizabeth lowered her head, traces of laughter still playing about her eyes. When she lifted them, it was to see Mr. Bingley's respectful bow and her mother's simpering curtsey. The girls curtsied too, and introductions were made: Mr. Bingley's sisters, his brother-in-law Hurst, and his good friend Mr. Darcy.
"Do you care for dancing, Mr. Bingley?" asked Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh! - yes, I love to dance," Mr. Bingley replied with a charming sincerity, "and if Miss Bennet will honour me with her hand for this set, I shall begin directly."
"Thank you, sir," said Jane politely.
Mrs. Bennet glowed with satisfaction. "And you, Mr. Darcy?" she asked, turning to Mr. Bingley's friend, tittering at her own boldness. "Do you like to dance?"
"No," was the curt reply.
Elizabeth glanced up at this, and turned her inquiring eyes full upon Mr. Darcy's face - it was certainly a handsome one, probably the handsomest she'd ever seen, but her mouth twisted wryly when she considered that his curt dismissal surely made it less so; and so it did, judging by Mrs. Bennet's offended expression.
Mr. Darcy met her eyes, and coldly withdrew them; his person soon followed, with a dismissive bow, as the music started and Mr. Bingley led Jane to the dance floor.
"Oh, Lizzy, he was so stern - I was almost frightened of him," Georgiana confessed to her sister in a whisper.
"Oh, but his manners were so charming," said Elizabeth, eyes sparkling merrily.
Georgiana giggled softly, but Mrs. Bennet heard also and failed to grasp the irony in her daughter's tone.
"Really, Lizzy, I'm surprised at you!" she huffed. "All the wealth and consequence in the world shan't let me pretend his manners to be better than they are. Don't be so dreadfully shallow, please."
"Yes, Mama," said Elizabeth gravely, though she shared a bemused glance with Georgiana.
"Darcy, I hate having you stand about in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
Georgiana Bennet had been obliged to sit out the dance, and was near enough to hear Mr. Bingley's good-natured entreaties to his friend; her eyes lifted, and she curiously listened for the gentleman's reply.
"No, I had much better not," said Darcy. "Your sisters are engaged at present, and there is not another woman in the room with whom it would not be a punishment to stand up with; you are dancing with the only handsome girl here."
"She is the loveliest creature I have ever beheld! But her sisters are very fine also; and there is Miss Georgiana - very pretty too, is she not? - do ask her to dance, Darcy."
Georgiana pinked charmingly at the praise, and blushed even more violently when she felt Mr. Darcy's cold gaze upon her.
"Surely not. She is much too young; hardly my sister's age, and I am in no humour to give consequence to empty-headed little girls slighted by her friends. I question the propriety of her being out at all. You would do better to return to your partner."
At this, Georgiana's face felt uncomfortably hot, and to her horror tears began to prick at her eyes; she hastily got up, and as she passed Mr. Darcy, he noticed her stricken expression in spite of her lowered head - and perhaps it was the very youth which he had disdained, and the hurt, childlike eyes, which made his own darken with remorse. He felt regret at having been within her hearing, and recalled his harsh words with mild alarm.
Elizabeth had returned from her dance, and found her younger sister looking pale and downcast.
"Georgiana?" she said, drawing her aside. "What has happened to make you look so?"
"Oh, Lizzy," Georgiana said, glancing up earnestly. "Please don't be distressed; I am only being silly. I - overheard some conversation - I know it is wrong to eavesdrop - but I heard anyway, and I wish I hadn't, and Lizzy--" she stuttered to a broken stop.
"Tell me all," demanded Lizzy, and Georgiana did. At the end of her retelling, Elizabeth regarded Mr. Darcy balefully, left with no warm feelings toward the man who had slighted a beloved sister.
Georgiana searched her sister's face anxiously. "I know it is silly to care so much, and I daresay it is partly because I am so tired. You would have laughed it off, I'm sure, but," Georgiana sighed, "do you think I'm an empty-headed little girl?"
"You are nothing of the sort," said Elizabeth severely. "If he honestly thinks that, he is a hundred times more empty-headed than you are. Pay him no mind, Georgiana; he is a rude, offensive man, determined to be displeased with everything, and--"
Georgiana's eyes widened, and Elizabeth swirled around to meet Mr. Darcy's half-rueful, half-angry face.
"Miss Elizabeth. Miss Georgiana."
"Mr. Darcy," said Elizabeth coldly, and was not sorry or embarrassed for him to have overheard her diatribe. It is certainly a sort of poetic justice, she thought with a little triumph.
To both ladies' astonishment, he applied for Georgiana's hand in the next set. Georgiana stammered out an acceptance, and was led away with a bewildered glance at her sister, a look which Elizabeth returned in equal measure. What can he be about?
"Was Georgiana upset?" asked a soft voice at her ear, and Elizabeth turned to greet Jane. They were both somewhat protective of sweet, timid Georgiana, and Elizabeth almost smiled at her eldest sister's anxious eyes.
"A little," Elizabeth said, and told Jane what had happened. "She is more confused than anything else, however, for Mr. Darcy only just now asked her to dance. What do you make of that, Jane?"
"Perhaps he feels sorry, and wished to atone."
"A man like him would consider dancing with him to be such a great honour as to be equal to atonement. Goodness, what a boorish--"
Jane chided, "Lizzy!" She shook her head, and frowned a little. "He might have wished to apologize."
"I wouldn't think him capable of apology."
"It is well for you to feel for our sister, but if he should earn Georgiana's forgiveness, should he not also have yours?" said Jane with a gentle admonishment in her tone.
"We shall see, I suppose, but you know I really am so very meek and forgiving by nature - how can there be a question of it?" said Elizabeth lightly, quirking her lips.
Jane shook her head, but could not help a smile.
"To be sure, I am quite enjoying my dislike of the gentleman, and therefore you must indulge me - Why, Jane dearest!" Elizabeth laughed at her sister's disapproving look, "you may protest, but I do not think even you can reason me out of my perverseness."
Posted on 2012-03-31
"Certainly, he is just what a young man ought to be," said Jane. "Sensible, good-humoured, and lively, and such happy manners I never saw."
Elizabeth and Georgiana glanced at each other. The former replied, "He is also handsome, which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."
"Oh! I was so happy when he asked you to dance a second time, Jane!" said Georgiana.
"I was very flattered. I did not expect such a compliment."
Elizabeth said slyly, "Did you not? I did for you. But then compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. In fact, I shall be shocked if he does not pay you the very great compliment of falling in love with you quite soon."
Georgiana giggled, but stopped when Jane said with real distress in her voice, "Oh, I hope he does not, Lizzy! That is, I am sure I like him very well, but--"
Elizabeth hastened to say, "No, Jane, I was only teasing."
"What thought you of Mr. Bingley's friends?" inquired Jane, turning the subject.
"Or you mean, the rest of his posse?" laughed irrepressible Lizzy. "I am not quite as convinced of Miss Bingley's good manners, or Mrs. Hurst's, as I am of their brother's. Mr. Hurst did not impress, I will say, and as to Mr. Darcy - well! You will have to ask Georgiana, I suppose."
"Indeed, he did not say much to me at all!" protested Georgiana. "I was scared to death of him."
"Jane thought he meant to apologize."
"He did," Georgiana insisted, and hesitantly added, "sort of."
"A sort-of apology from the illustrious Mr. Darcy!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Why, Georgiana, how in the world did you bear it? Such magnanimity, a veritable onslaught of honour!"
"Oh, Lizzy, you mustn't tease. It really was good of him to acknowledge his unkind words to me. I am sure he only said what he did in the first place because he was in an ill humour at his friend's pressing that he should dance, when he didn't wish to," said Georgiana, to which Jane nodded approvingly.
Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced. Georgiana was quick to feel a slight, sensitive creature as she was, but also quick to forgive, and possessed of the same inclination as their sister Jane - to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad. No matter her sisters' belief, Lizzy still thought of Mr. Darcy what she pleased: he was a proud, disagreeable fellow, and cared not that he gave offense. That he had hurt darling Georgiana, she would not forgive nor forget for a while yet.
As to Mr. Bingley's sisters, Elizabeth's belief in their conceit was quite cemented. They had paid Jane particular attention the evening before, her being beyond a doubt the most suitable friend for them while they were in the neighbourhood. Jane's looks and manners were exactly such that would recommend her to Bingley's sisters, or really any one; so pretty as to justify being seen with, and so sweet of temper as to be sufficiently impressed by any stray kindness they felt inclined to bestow.
Their mother was certainly set upon Jane's being on especially good terms with any significant member of Netherfield's household, and had observed Jane's new friendship with Miss Bingley with a complacent eye. Her wishes and hopes certainly were not difficult to guess: that a friendship with the sister would pave the way for something more with the brother, was Mrs. Bennet's firm belief.
By-and-by their neighbours the Lucases called at Longbourn; they lived only a short walk away, and it was absolutely necessary that the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over the ball. Miss Charlotte Lucas, the eldest child of Sir William Lucas at seven-and-twenty, was an intimate friend of Elizabeth's, and she was accepted with real pleasure by the latter and her sisters.
Mrs. Bennet was glad to see her also, but her motive was rather different from her daughters'. Her manners could only be called gloating, though she condescended to say, "You began the evening well, Charlotte. You were Mr. Bingley's first choice."
"Yes, but he seemed to like his second better."
"Oh! You mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice. To be sure that did seem as if he admired her - indeed I rather believe he did - I heard something about it, something about Mr. Robinson?"
"Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr. Robinson; did I not mention it to you? Mr. Robinson's asking him how he liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think there were a great many pretty women in the room, and which he thought the prettiest? And Mr. Bingley's answering immediately to the last question - 'Oh! Miss Jane Bennet beyond a doubt. There cannot be two opinions on that point.'"
Jane coloured, and Mrs. Bennet preened. "Upon my word! Well, that was very decided indeed. That does seem as if - but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know."
"My, but it has been an evening of overhearings!" remarked Elizabeth before she quite realized what she was saying, and there was an apology in her eyes for her younger sister.
Georgiana smiled, and spoke up to reassure, "Miss Lucas's were rather more to the purpose, I'm afraid. But however, Lizzy, it shan't bother me - for you know you've taught me well, to remember the past only as it gives me pleasure."
Charlotte looked questioning, but only said, "That is a good philosophy."
"Why? What did you hear? - my dears, pray tell me what was said!" said Mrs. Bennet, curious and loud in her voicing of that curiosity.
To everyone's relief, Jane hastily intervened, "Oh, Mama, it was nothing to be sure! Nothing of consequence, or of truth."
"You know it is universally acknowledged that eavesdroppers never hear what would give pleasure," added Elizabeth, "so I daresay it won't do us much good to dwell on it."
Sensing the tension in the air, despite Lizzy's light words, Charlotte was desirous of turning the subject. She was unconscious that she did not do so very successfully: "Georgiana, it must have been a triumphant evening for you also. You partnered Mr. Bingley's friend for a dance, did you not? I believe you were the only one outside of his party that he danced with! What thought you of him?"
"I beg you would not put it into Georgiana's head to like him," interjected Mrs. Bennet. "He is an odious, disagreeable man. Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat next to her for half an hour without once opening his lips."
"Why, Mama," protested Georgiana, "I am sure there must have been some mistake - and he was perfectly civil to me."
"Was he?" said Mrs. Bennet with sudden interest, turning to her. She forgot Mr. Darcy's disagreeableness as visions of having her youngest installed as mistress of a rich estate, with all the attendant pin-money and carriages, ran through her head. Ten thousand a year, and very likely more, she thought breathlessly.
Georgiana saw something of her mother's sentiments in her face, and paled - quickly she said, "Yes! He talked of his sister, who is ever so much younger than him, and said I reminded him of her, though she is dark and I fair."
Mrs. Bennet thought through this rapidly. Mr. Bingley had already shown quite marked preferment for her Jane - Georgiana was apparently too young and sister-like - well! She eyed her second eldest speculatively, and said, "Lizzy, what thought you of Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth lifted incredulous eyes to her mother. "Ma'am, I assure you my sentiments on the gentleman coincide with yours perfectly. He did not trouble to make himself agreeable anywhere; therefore, I do not give myself the trouble of liking him. There is too much pride and arrogance to him, I think."
Jane said, "Miss Bingley told me that he never speaks much unless among his immediate acquaintance. With them he is remarkably agreeable."
"His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud."
"My goodness, you are all determined to champion him! - and if you must know, it can only make my dislike all the more determined too," Elizabeth said laughingly.
But they could see that Lizzy was only saying so to be contrary, and smiled at her. Mrs. Bennet was already in the throes of a splendid matchmaking scheme, and it was well for Elizabeth's peace of mind that she was wholly unconscious of it.
The ladies of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield. The three daughters were silently decided tolerable, their mother much less so. As the ladies left, Mrs. Bennet in a flurry of vulgar gratitude, Miss Bingley sank down upon the settee with an air of relief.
"I have never been so affronted to hear Charles praised," she remarked.
Louisa Hurst laughed. "Such lack of tact and subtlety - an offensive woman! To be sure, Jane Bennet is a sweet girl, and her sisters…"
"… seem to have better comportment than their mother, at least," said Caroline, "but heavens! I never knew there could be such a shy mouse of a girl as Miss Georgiana, and there is something that positively speaks of mockery in Eliza Bennet's face - although I will admit with you that her manners were perfectly correct."
"Charles is all praise over the Bennets."
"And in raptures over Jane! No worries in that quarter, dear sister; I will be sure to hint to him that her smiles, no matter how sweet, will not compensate for her horrendous connections at all."
"What could?" asked Mrs. Hurst rhetorically.
"I do not mean to cut her, however," said Miss Bingley, feeling herself quite magnanimous, "no one else in the neighbourhood is as suitable a friend. Well, I daresay she will be glad to keep us company by and by, and we will see her often enough. Does Charles plan to attend at Lucas Lodge?"
"Sir William Lucas was so very particular in his invitation," said her sister, "that it would be rude not to go."
"A pity," Caroline said with a sigh, resigned to another evening wasted in backwards Hertfordshire - but taking some comfort from the fact that yet again, her dress will appear to much advantage among these country bumpkins.
Mr. Bingley's admiration for Jane seemed to grow every time they met. At first, Elizabeth and Georgiana exchanged smiles; but as their acquaintance progressed they did not see as they had expected, the yielding of Jane to the initial preference she had entertained for their new neighbour. Mr. Bingley, it was sure, was in a way to be very much in love - but they could detect no answering sentiment in Jane, whose uniform cheerfulness of manner and composure of temper never faltered. At last Elizabeth said to her, when they were alone,
"Jane, tell me honestly: what do you feel for Mr. Bingley?"
Jane bit her lip. "He is a pleasant man."
"He is in love with you."
Elizabeth expected her to blush, and she did; but it was not a blush of pleasure, only of consciousness. "He likes me, I know," she said, eyes troubled, "but I did not think it quite so bad as that. Oh, Lizzy… I would hate to encourage him, when - well, you understand."
"Are you sure you don't like him in return?" asked Elizabeth. "Forgive me, Jane, but you are very well-suited - he is the only one I know who can match you in amiability and goodwill."
"Sometimes I think we are too similar," Jane admitted, "and other times I think I don't understand his character enough to judge at all. How could I? What do I know of him? What substantial knowledge could be gained from a fortnight of conversing among large mixed parties, and four dances at Meryton?"
Elizabeth clasped her sister's hands. "Oh, Jane, I do not press you. I know you would do anything before marry without affection. But, will you not give Mr. Bingley a chance? There is no harm in that - he might make you happy; Charlotte says happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."
"Would you advise me as she does?" said Jane with some disquiet.
"Heavens, no! I just feel sorry for Mr. Bingley, is all. Who could blame him for falling in love with you? I could only wonder if he did not."
"I do not think it such an inevitable thing that a man should fall in love with me, as you do, Lizzy. But he is entirely blameless, which is why I must be kind. It would not be kind at all to pretend to more than I feel."
Elizabeth smiled at this. "Jane, could you ever be unkind?"
Jane's sentiments in mind, Elizabeth took it upon herself to study Mr. Bingley's. He was certainly as smitten as any young man could be. Elizabeth, like Jane, grew to be troubled at his obvious preferment; she only hoped his attachment was not too deep, for it could only end in disappointment for him, and embarrassment for Jane.
Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley's attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball - indeed he felt a faint annoyance at her quick judgement of him. When they next met, he looked at her only to criticize, remembering her sharp temper (though he could not fault her for feeling protective of her sister).
But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
Of this, Elizabeth was perfectly unaware. To her, he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had hurt Georgiana's feelings without a second thought.
He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. At Sir William Lucas's, his doing so drew her notice.
"What can Mr. Darcy mean, by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?" Elizabeth said to Charlotte and Georgiana.
"I rather wonder that he is not afraid of overhearing something not entirely complimentary to himself," remarked Charlotte wryly, as she had been told of the previous circumstances of her dealings with the gentleman.
Georgiana said, "I think he admires you, Lizzy."
Her sister was startled into laughter. "Georgiana! That is quite absurd."
"Why should it be absurd for him to admire a pretty woman?" questioned Georgiana, eyes wide and innocent.
Elizabeth turned to Charlotte, saying ruefully, "You see, Charlotte, how impertinent little Georgie has grown?"
"It is your influence; you have only yourself to blame," said Charlotte smilingly. "You cannot be always on the one end of the teasing, Eliza. That would not be fair."
"I was not teasing!"
"Whatever his motive is," said Elizabeth, "if he does it anymore, I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. If I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of him."
On his approaching them soon afterwards, Miss Lucas and Georgiana entreated her not to mention such a subject to him - which, of course, immediately provoked Elizabeth to do it. She turned to him and said,
"Did you not think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teasing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?"
"With great energy - but it is a subject which always makes a lady energetic."
"You are severe on us."
"It will be her turn soon to be teased," said Miss Lucas, with a look for her friend. "I am going to open the instrument, Eliza, and you know what follows."
"You are a very strange creature by way of a friend! Always wanting me to play and sing before anybody and everybody! Charlotte, I would really rather not."
"I am determined to hear you, and Georgiana also, of course," insisted Miss Lucas.
Georgiana exclaimed at this, "Oh no, I couldn't!"
"If I must, Georgiana, so must you," Elizabeth said, eyes brightening. She turned to Mr. Darcy, "My sister is the musical one in our family, and though I do not doubt you are in the habit of hearing the very best performers, I am sure you will soon agree with me that she is very talented." Her eyes silently challenged and upbraided him, the phrase empty-headed little girl still ever-present in her mind.
But Mr. Darcy only agreed with her very gallantly, while Georgiana glanced at him in apprehension, and whispered to Elizabeth, "I will play, because Miss Lucas wishes it - but I couldn't sing before everyone, Lizzy, do not make me!"
"No one will make you do anything you do not wish," assured Elizabeth, "except perhaps - well, I think I will play first. They will not care to hear my performance after yours." Georgiana blushed and protested, but her sister only laughed at her affectionately.
Elizabeth's performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. Her voice was easy and unaffected, and her audience listened to her with pleasure. She was succeeded at the instrument by Georgiana, who timidly sat before it but grasped her sister's hand to prevent her from leaving, so that she may stay beside her.
Georgiana was never one for display; she loved her music for its own sake, and applied herself for the same reason. The calibre of her playing, however, could not but draw the notice of everyone who listened to her.
Mr. Darcy was roused to admire her performance despite himself - he was caught by the sensitive way she played, caught by an odd resemblance to his own mother, who had died more than ten years ago. Indeed, it was a very strong resemblance; the high brow, the soft, contemplative eyes - his own sister could not be more like. Miss Darcy, like himself, had taken after their father.
His gaze did not stay long on one sister, however. By and by, it was naturally drawn to Elizabeth Bennet, who was looking down on Georgiana fondly as she turned pages for her. The tender affection in her eyes made his own soften; they were obviously very dear to one another.
As the performance came to an end, and Georgiana stood with a bashful smile, he clapped with the rest - meditating not only on an excellently executed song, but the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.
Posted on 2012-04-07
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton, a most convenient distance. The young ladies, at their mother's bidding, walked thither to pay their duty to Mrs. Bennet's sister, who had married an attorney in Meryton, a Mr. Phillips. Their aunt was glad to see them, and happily supplied her nieces with news of the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood. It was to remain the whole winter, they were told, and Meryton was the headquarters.
The Bennet girls dutifully carried this intelligence back to Longbourn, which gave animation to Mrs. Bennet. She was momentarily distracted from Mr. Bingley's large fortune (and his friend's still larger one).
Mr. Bennet remarked that her interest surpassed their daughters', and coolly asked if she had any designs upon a red coat herself.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said she, "you must not tease me. Of course I am too old for such nonsense; when a woman has three grown up daughters, she must give over thinking of such things. I assure you, my interest is all on behalf of the girls. Jane will marry Mr. Bingley, 'tis almost a sure fact, and Lizzy shall have Mr. Darcy--"
Her second-eldest started.
"--but if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want Georgiana, I shall not say nay to him. Georgiana, did you not think Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals?"
Georgiana stared at her mother, horrified, and protested, "Mama, I am sure he did not notice me, and I hardly think he wishes to marry me any more than I do him."
Mrs. Bennet was prevented from 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 today with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête 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.
Mrs. Bennet was disappointed. "Dining out? 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."
"But Mama, would they not offer to send her home?" asked Georgiana.
Mrs. Bennet said condescendingly, "The gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs. Besides, your father cannot spare the horses. Are they not wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet?"
"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them," said her husband dryly, but he gave Jane a sympathetic glance.
"I had much rather go in the coach," said Jane unhappily. Elizabeth said to her father, "But if you have got the horses today, sir, my mother's purpose will be answered."
Mr. Bennet at last acknowledged 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. Elizabeth and Georgiana watched anxiously by the window and were uneasy for her, but their mother was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission. Jane certainly could not come back.
"This was a lucky idea!" said Mrs. Bennet gleefully.
The next morning, breakfast was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought a note from Jane, who wrote of being unwell.
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, "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. As long as she stays at Netherfield, it is all very well; she will be taken good care of," replied his wife.
The sisters shared a look, and Elizabeth said, "Mama, you know it is Jane's way to make as little of any discomfort as she can, for fear of worrying us. I am certain she is worse than she lets on. I ought to go to her."
"I'll go with you," said Georgiana promptly.
"How can you be so silly," cried their mother, "as to think of such a thing! 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," retorted Elizabeth. She turned to her sister and said, "But I agree that you ought not to go, Georgiana. It is too far. You are as apt to take a cold as Jane, and there is still a chill in the air."
"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. I never take cold."
"Well," said Mrs. Bennet complacently, now resigned to the idea, and reflecting that Elizabeth might as well go to Netherfield too - there was more than one single gentleman of means there, after all, "do not feel it incumbent upon you to be back by dinner. If you are entreated to stay, we can do very well without you for a time, Lizzy. And if you see Mr. Darcy, be sure to smile your sweetest."
Elizabeth eyed her mother disbelievingly. Mr. Bennet looked to his favourite, and said gravely - though his eyes twinkled - "Ah, you are to ensnare the proud, disagreeable fellow then, Lizzy? I wish you luck in your endeavours."
Mrs. Bennet continued, "Georgiana may accompany you as far as Meryton. My sister very likely has news, and she will be thrown into good company if she is entertaining."
Georgiana acquiesced, though a little reluctantly, and she and Elizabeth set off together.
"I hope Jane is not too ill," said Georgiana as they walked along.
"You know how she is - always held back by the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience."
"I should hate to fall ill as she did, in an unfamiliar house among strangers!"
"I can only imagine what they must think of her. But Jane's disposition should clear her of the worst sort of suspicion, I hope."
"She does not like Mr. Bingley, does she?" guessed Georgiana.
"She does like him, but not enough. You know what an incurable romantic she is. I fear that Mama will make things uncomfortable for her, constantly throwing her at Mr. Bingley as she is."
"What about you?"
"Yes, Mama is throwing you at Mr. Darcy, did you not notice?" said Georgiana, face grave, but breaking into a peal of laughter as Elizabeth gaped at her.
"Imp!" cried her older sister, "Charlotte was right! You are learning too much of my impertinence, Georgie. Well, when you are having trouble with your 'smart young colonel', do not come to me."
Georgiana laughed unrepentantly, then sobered as they reached Meryton. When they parted, she repaired to her aunt's with an entreaty to her sister that she let them know of Jane's true condition as soon as may be.
Elizabeth continued her walk alone. She crossed 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 ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.
She was shown into the breakfast parlour, where all but Jane were assembled. 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!
"Miss Eliza, welcome," Miss Bingley said politely, but gazed at her with frank astonishment - and eyed her dirty skirt with something akin to suspicion. "I can hardly credit your having come so far. I am astonished!"
Elizabeth could well believe it.
"It is not so far," said she, "only three miles. The distance is nothing, when one has a motive."
So saying, she glanced at the rest of those assembled - Mr. Darcy had said very little, and Mr. Hurst nothing at all. Remembering her mother's admonishment with regards to the former, she turned her eyes away a little consciously. It was all for naught, in any case; she was convinced he held her in contempt for her disheveled appearance and impulsive behaviour. In truth, although he was doubtful as to the occasion's justifying her coming so far alone, he was admiring also the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion.
Mr. Bingley received her very amiably and kindly; he answered her enquiries after her sister not very favourably, however - and as Elizabeth was anxious to go to her, Miss Bingley brought her upstairs to Jane's room.
Jane, as she had expected, was worse than her note had said. She was delighted at Lizzy's entrance, though protesting feebly that she should not have given herself the trouble; it was only a slight cold. When Miss Bingley left them together, Elizabeth shook her head at her sister.
"I knew I should find you thus, uncomplaining sister mine," said Elizabeth, half exasperation, half fondness. "You must adopt some of our mother's philosophy - those who do not complain are never pitied, you know."
Jane laughed weakly. "I do not want to be pitied."
Elizabeth could hear, from the rasp of her voice, that she was not quite equal to conversation, and bid her "hush", before silently attending 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 showed for Jane. The apothecary came, and having examined his patient, said that she had caught a violent cold. He 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.
"I am afraid it is time for me to return to Longbourn," Elizabeth said reluctantly, as the clock struck three.
"You are very welcome to our carriage," said Miss Bingley, with a little relief.
"Oh, Lizzy," said Jane with real distress in her voice, "must you go? I do not - would it be too much trouble - Miss Bingley, you have been too kind - but - "
Elizabeth bit her lip, and Miss Bingley was obliged to convert her offer of the chaise into an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth consented most thankfully, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with her stay, and bring back a supply of clothes.
The next morning, Elizabeth was able to send a tolerable answer to the inquiries which she received from Mr. Bingley by a housemaid. Jane had improved, though not before growing worse, the night before. In spite of this, she requested to have a note sent to Longbourn, desiring her mother to visit Jane and form her own judgement of the situation. The note was immediately dispatched, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by Georgiana, reached Netherfield soon after the family breakfast.
Had she found Jane in any apparent danger, Mrs. Bennet would have been very miserable; but being satisfied that her illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her immediate recovery.
"You must not be removed from Netherfield," she insisted in response to Jane's proposal of being carried home, "It would be entirely imprudent." Turning to the apothecary, who arrived about the same time, "Would it not be? She must not be moved, must not she, Mr. Jones?"
"Indeed," he returned, "I do not advise it."
"Are you quite well, Jane?" Georgiana asked, pressing her eldest sister's hand with an anxious look.
"I am much better," said Jane, struggling to sit up against her pillows. "Lizzy will tell you. Do not fret, dearest."
After sitting a little while with Jane, on Miss Bingley's appearance and invitation Mrs. Bennet and two daughters all attended her into the breakfast parlour. Bingley met them with hopes that the mother had not found Miss Bennet worse than she expected.
"And yet I have, sir," answered she. "She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness."
Bingley agreed emphatically that Jane's removal was not to be thought of, and Mrs. Bennet glowed with satisfaction.
"You may depend upon Miss Bennet receiving every possible attention while she remains with us, madam," said Miss Bingley, with cold civility.
Mrs. Bennet thanked her profusely. Her addresses paid to all persons Bingley, she quickly turned her attentions to another object of interest. "Mr. Darcy, I hope my daughters do not impose."
"It is not for me to decide what constitutes an imposition; it is not my household," said Mr. Darcy coolly. Seeing the Miss Bennets' embarrassment, however, he relented, "They could never impose in any case."
"That is very kind, sir!" cried Mrs. Bennet, beaming at him. "Lizzy here is a charming girl. Not quite Jane's equal, perhaps, but everybody fancies her exceptionally clever," - then, thinking perhaps that Mr. Darcy was not likely to admire exceptionally clever girls, she hastened to add - "and she is handsome, and accomplished too. Why, I remember, when she was fifteen, there was a young man - "
"Mama," Elizabeth interrupted desperately, face burning with mortification, as she saw Miss Bingley give Mr. Darcy an incredulous, expressive smile, "has Charlotte called at Longbourn since I've been away?"
"Yes, she called yesterday with her father."
Seeing her mother desirous of returning to her former train of conversation, it was Georgiana who now spoke up. "Miss Lucas did not dine with us, but she showed me the new design she had made for a handkerchief. It was very pretty." Her soft voice subsided, but there was gratitude in Elizabeth's look.
Mrs. Bennet felt obliged to say, "The Lucases are very good sort of girls, I assure you. But it is a pity they are not handsome! Charlotte, now - well, I do not think her so very plain, but then she is Lizzy's particular friend."
"Miss Lucas seems a very pleasant young woman," said Bingley.
This was the wrong thing to say.
"Oh! Yes, I suppose - but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me my girls' beauty. I do not like to boast of my own children, but to be sure - one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says."
The general pause which ensued, as their hosts made some uncomfortable noises of vague assent, was very dreadful to Elizabeth and Georgiana's feelings, and they trembled lest their mother should expose herself again. Elizabeth longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say, and after a short silence Mrs. Bennet began repeating her thanks to Mr. Bingley for his kindness to Jane.
Elizabeth, observing Mr. Bingley's unaffected civility, regretted again that Jane could not equal his attachment in full measure. Yet she consoled herself with the thought that in forsaking an attachment with Mr. Bingley, she forsook his sisters also. Miss Bingley, indeed, was just now hardly gracious in her replies to Mrs. Bennet, but the matron was satisfied, and soon afterwards ordered her carriage.
Elizabeth drew her sister aside, and asked quietly, "Is all well at home, Georgie?"
"Why, yes, of course," answered Georgiana with surprise. "All is the same, a little lonely perhaps, 'til you and Jane return, but Mama is always in high spirits and Papa scarcely less so." She paused. "Well, no, that is not precisely true."
Her sister giggled softly. "Papa in high spirits, behaving as Mama does! Georgiana, I am ashamed of you."
"No, I meant, he is his teasing self as always," Georgiana said, though smiling at the thought as well, "he misses you, of course. The other day he bid me not to go into Meryton, saying it was bad enough to have two daughters out of the house, but if I were gone too he should suffer to endure all of Mama's fussing."
"Bear up, little one," grinned Elizabeth, squeezing her sister's hands, "Jane is mending quickly, and we shall be home before you know it. Only you must help me convince Mama; I fear she would have us impose upon the Bingleys more than is proper."
"I will try," promised Georgiana.
She soon departed with her mother, and Elizabeth returned instantly to Jane.
Mr. Darcy watched her go, and was silently commending her affection for both her sisters before remembering Mrs. Bennet's sundry vulgarities with a grimace. It would have been impossible not to understand her hints; she was practically selling her second-eldest to him, in such haste was she to extol Elizabeth's virtues. Not that he disagreed on the points of her intelligence, beauty, or accomplishments; but there was nothing he despised quite so much as a matchmaking mother, though he was familiar enough with the species. He sighed inwardly, but then recalled Miss Elizabeth's blushing face with something like a smile - she was not anxious for his good opinion, that much was certain from her embarrassment, not to mention her initial impression of him. Her disinterest by no means injured her in his eyes.
Then the smile faded, because somehow this was troubling too; yet why should it be? He could never enter into such an imprudent attachment. Should he not be happy that there was no cause to fear giving rise to groundless expectations? - but he was beginning to suspect that they might not be so groundless after all.
Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst soon began berating the Bennets' behaviour, but try as they might, could not prevail on Mr. Darcy to join them in their censure.
Posted on 2012-04-28
Elizabeth, focused on her needlework, could not stifle a small, amused smile at the dialogue playing out across from her.
Mr. Darcy was writing to his sister, while Miss Bingley occupied herself with watching the progress of his letter, and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to the same. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was observing their game.
Miss Bingley's perpetual commendations on the evenness of Mr. Darcy's lines, or on the length of his letter, diverted Elizabeth excessively.
"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer.
"You write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours."
"Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."
"I have already told her so once, by your desire."
"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
"Thank you - but I always mend my own."
"How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent.
"Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her enjoyment of town, and wish with all my heart I was there with her. Oh! How superior the it is in town, to be sure. There is nothing quite so diverting as a London ball." She paused. "Do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Darcy?"
"They are generally long; but whether always charming, it is not for me to determine."
"Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?" said Miss Bingley. "Will she be as tall as I am?"
"I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth's height, or rather taller."
Miss Elizabeth looked up at this, curious to hear of Miss Darcy, who had been said by a certain gentleman to resemble her younger sister. Before she could help it, she blurted, "What does she look like?"
Miss Bingley seemed annoyed at her intrusion upon the conversation, but Mr. Darcy turned to her with a small smile. "She is rather like me, I have been told. We are both of us dark, and take after the Darcys."
"Miss Darcy is a very handsome girl," put in Miss Bingley, eager to show the upstart Eliza Bennet that she was quite familiar with Mr. Darcy's sister. "The loveliest dark, curling hair you ever saw, and remarkably fine blue eyes. She is a perfect doll. Her manners are charming, very lively; I quite dote on her."
Elizabeth said under her breath, "Very like her brother, then," and laughed to herself over the idea.
Mr. Bingley spoke, startling them; they did not think he had been attending. "I assure you, Miss Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy's sister could not be more unlike him in temperament, though they are in physical appearance. It is quite a comical picture to see them both at a ball, their respective comportments thrown in sharp relief against one another."
Miss Bingley was a little put out at the turn of the conversation, and said, "By the by, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult with the wishes of the present party. I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure."
"If you mean Darcy, he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins. As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; as soon as Nicholls has made enough white soup I shall send round my cards."
"I should like balls infinitely better," replied Miss Bingley, "if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process. It would surely be more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."
"Much more rational I daresay, my dear Caroline, but it would not be near so much like a ball."
Giving up in disgust, Miss Bingley turned to Elizabeth and said in patronizing tones, "You agree with me, I am sure, Miss Eliza. I know you would prefer to spend an evening in quiet perusal of a book, great reader that you are, instead of a noisy assembly."
"Oh no, you mistake me," said Elizabeth gravely, but her eyes twinkled, "I think there is nothing quite so diverting as a ball."
There was a suspicious cough from Mr. Darcy's corner, where he had returned to writing his letter; a curious smile played about his lips as he finished its composition.
Jane's convalescence was slow but steady, and the next evening Elizabeth brought her down to join the rest in the drawing room. She was welcomed by her two friends with many professions of pleasure; and Elizabeth had never seen them so agreeable as they were during the hour which passed before the gentlemen appeared. Their powers of conversation were considerable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.
But when the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the first object. Miss Bingley's eyes were instantly turned towards Darcy, and she had something to say to him before he had advanced many steps. He addressed himself directly to Miss Bennet, with a polite congratulation; Mr. Hurst also made her a slight bow, and said he was "very glad"; but diffuseness and warmth remained for Bingley's salutation. He was full of joy and attention. The first half hour was spent in piling up the fire, lest she should suffer from the change of room; and she removed at his desire to the other side of the fireplace, that she might be farther from the door. He then sat down by her, and talked scarcely to anyone else.
Elizabeth, at work in the opposite corner, saw it all and was troubled for Jane's sake. Her older sister looked grateful yet apprehensive, and forcedly cheerful as though afraid of giving offense. Elizabeth had never seen her so strained in her good humour. Her smile was wan, and Elizabeth, resolved, moved to sit beside them, insinuating herself into their conversation.
Jane's expression relaxed, and she gave her younger sister a tremulous smile. Mr. Bingley, oblivious to all, beamed at Elizabeth. "I have observed your tender care of your sister, Miss Elizabeth, and I know you must be very joyful to see her quite well again."
"Jane's restored good health was all I ever hoped for these past days in your home," answered Elizabeth. "We must thank you for your hospitality."
As Bingley demurred, Jane reached over and clasped her sister's hand. "Dear Lizzy," she said, "who could ask for a better nurse? You are too good to me."
"Dearer Jane! And I echo, who could ask for a better sister, a more uncomplaining patient? You are certainly much easier to care for than I ever was."
Her sister laughed, eyes sparkling - if possible, Bingley's grin widened at seeing her mirth, and Elizabeth felt another quick pang of regret for him - but Jane was unaware, and said, "That is true indeed, Lizzy. What a harum-scarum child you were! So reluctant to stay in one place, so terrified of confinement. Poor Mama worried over you something dreadful."
"I dare say I wanted for discipline," said Elizabeth ruefully, "but Mama had not the resolve, nor Papa the heart; I was terribly spoiled. You and Georgiana were always perfectly behaved, of course."
"I do not find that difficult to credit at all," said Bingley with a warm smile for Miss Bennet, who returned it weakly.
"You were prone to mischief as a child, Miss Elizabeth?" Mr. Darcy asked suddenly; Elizabeth started. She had not thought he was attending, but there he was - pulling up a chair to their circle, eyes trained most disconcertingly on her face.
But she replied, "Yes," and even added saucily, "were you?"
Darcy bit back a smile. "I could not say. My sister was the troublemaker, growing up." His voice and countenance softened as he said the last, and Elizabeth thought how well the expression became him; then her dislike of the man strangled the thought to death.
"Miss Darcy is a spirited girl," agreed Mr. Bingley, "I can imagine her as a most precocious child."
"Are you very much acquainted with her?" asked Jane with interest, "She sounds lovely, though quite different from our Georgiana."
Darcy said, "They are very close in age, though from what I have seen of Miss Georgiana, their temperaments are indeed divergent. There is something, though - " he caught himself, and stopped.
"Yes?" Elizabeth said, eager in her curiosity, then blushed at her own impertinence and turned her eyes back to her work in some confusion.
Mr. Darcy gave in to a fond smile this time, directed at Elizabeth's bowed head. She did not divine it, but her sister did; and Jane's eyes widened a fraction. There was a little smile on her face as she regarded Mr. Darcy watching her sister.
"Something about the expression of their eyes," Darcy said at last, looking somewhat conscious himself.
Jane and Elizabeth knew that Mrs. Bennet would not reply propitiously to the request for a carriage to be sent for them; however, the former felt it to be very much required, and was as anxious as her sister to quit Netherfield, albeit for different reasons. Mr. Bingley was growing too attentive, and Jane was growing increasingly troubled - she stubbornly adhered to her resolution, her conviction that to betray any feeling she did not feel could only harm them both. So when their mother had answered as they had expected, that the carriage could not possibly be spared before Tuesday, the sisters were decided between themselves to borrow Mr. Bingley's immediately.
The request was made, exciting many professions of concern. The master of the house heard with real sorrow that they were to go so soon, and repeatedly tried to persuade Miss Bennet that it would not be safe for her - that she was not enough recovered; but Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right.
To Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence - Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked.
The separation took place on Sunday, after morning service. Miss Bingley's civility to Elizabeth increased very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane - and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole party in the liveliest spirits.
Their reception at Longbourn, on their mother's part at least, was not very welcoming nor cordial. Mrs. Bennet wondered at their coming.
"It is very wrong of you to give so much trouble," she said peevishly, "I suppose your mother's wishes are of no consequence to you at all. Lizzy, you obstinate girl, it was your idea, was it not? Irresponsible child! I am sure you will tell me next that you did not seek Mr. Darcy out at all. What do you mean by being so contrary?"
Their father, on the other hand, though very laconic in his expressions, was really glad to see them. Nonetheless, he said to his daughters teasingly, "Ah, I have enjoyed somewhat of a respite from the surfeit of women in the house, but now I suppose the ratio is one-to-four once more, most disadvantageously to myself - is that not so, Georgiana?"
Georgiana giggled, wrinkling her nose affectionately at her father. "I missed Jane and Lizzy, and so did you, Papa. You know you did."
"Alas! Caught by my youngest," sighed Mr. Bennet, smiling and ruffling her golden curls.
"Heavens, I know you are disappointed to see me, Papa," said Elizabeth, "but you must not take it out on Georgiana's hair, sir."
Jane smiled serenely, taking her youngest sister's hand. "You have been well, dear?"
"Very well," Georgiana began, but their mother clambered to interrupt, "Why would she not be? She visits my sister Phillips very often, in fact she did only yesterday - and I daresay there is much enjoyment to be had there." - there was not a drop of irony in Mrs. Bennet's tone - "The officers dine with her uncle often, and she has news for us, I am sure. Georgie?"
"I do not hear much," hedged Georgiana.
"Nonsense! What have you ears for, then, child? Well?"
"Perhaps my news shall render it unnecessary to importune Georgiana for hers," put in Mr. Bennet, "do you wish to guess it?"
"What news can you have, Mr. Bennet, that I am not aware of?" his wife returned with perfect indifference.
Mr. Bennet delighted in unsettling it. "I flatter myself that it sometimes so happens. Well, since you are so averse to it, I will not make you guess. I hope, my dear, that you plan on a good dinner tomorrow, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."
"Who? I know of nobody that is coming, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in, and I hope my dinners are good enough for her."
"The person of whom I speak, is a gentleman and a stranger."
Mrs. Bennet's eyes lit up. "A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr. Bingley, I am sure. Why Jane - you never dropped a word of this, you sly thing! Well, I shall be extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley. - But - good lord! How unlucky! There is not a bit of fish to be got. Georgiana, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to Hill this moment."
Jane ventured to say, hesitantly, "Mr. Bingley never mentioned such a visit, Mama."
"It is not Mr. Bingley," said her father, "it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life."
This roused a general astonishment, and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and daughters at once.
After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thus explained, "About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases."
Mrs. Bennet looked at the letter her husband had withdrew from his pocket with a look of profound disgust. "What can you mean, going on about that odious man? Pray do not talk of him. I think it the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it."
Elizabeth glanced at her sisters at this, and inwardly sighed before attempting to explain to her mother the nature of an entail - again. But it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason, and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.
"It certainly is a most iniquitous affair," said Mr. Bennet solemnly, "and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will read his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself." - so saying, he handed it to his wife.
Mrs. Bennet accepted the proffered letter, saying querulously, "No, I am sure I shall not. I think it very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends!"
Her husband and daughters shared a look as Mrs. Bennet's eyes moved over the epistle. Presently she finished, absently handing it to Jane - and when she looked up, there was a marked transformation in her mien. She wore a thoughtful look on her face, as she said, with a degree of composure astonishing to see,
"Indeed, I bear him no ill-will. If he is disposed to make amends to my girls, I shall not be the one to discourage him."
Georgiana furrowed her brow. "Make amends? What can that mean? What can he do about the entail?"
"I hardly think he would help being next to inherit, even if he could," added Elizabeth wryly.
"Though it is difficult to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due," Jane said, "the wish is certainly to his credit."
"Just so, my dear," her father said, taking the letter from her and folding it up, "and we may expect this peacemaking gentleman at four o'clock on the morrow. I doubt not he will prove a valuable acquaintance."
Posted on 2012-05-19
Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. He was a tall, heavy looking man of five and twenty, with a grave and stately air, and very formal manners. He had not been long seated before he complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters; he said he had heard much of their beauty, but that in this instance, fame had fallen short of the truth.
"I do not doubt that you shall soon see my cousins, fair as they are, in due time well disposed of in marriage," he said, with the air of bestowing a great compliment.
This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers - the girls privately took some exception to the idea of being "disposed of", but their mother quarreled with no compliments.
"You are very kind, sir! I wish with all my heart it may prove so, for else they will be destitute enough," she said. "Things are settled so oddly."
"You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this estate."
"Ah! sir, I do indeed. It is a grievous affair to my poor girls, you must confess. Not that I mean to fault you, for such things, I know, are all chance in this world."
"I am very sensible, madam, of the hardship to my fair cousins,--and could say much on the subject, but that I am cautious of appearing forward and precipitate. But I can assure the young ladies that I come prepared to admire them. At present I will not say more, but perhaps when we are better acquainted--"
He was interrupted by a summons to dinner; and the girls looked to each other, amused yet a little uneasy. They were not quite so eager to be admired, as Mr. Collins was to admire them, and as for the promise (threat?) of better acquaintance…
Elizabeth glanced at her cousin, who had fell to examining and praising the hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture. His commendation of everything, while drawing repeated references to his benevolent patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, certainly made him seem an oddity.
They sat down to dinner, and the meal too was very admired by Mr. Collins - he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellence of its cookery was owing.
"My daughters?" said Mrs. Bennet, affronted, "I assure you, sir, we are well able to keep a good cook. My daughters have no place in the kitchen."
Mr. Collins begged her pardon most humbly, for about a quarter of an hour, although Mrs. Bennet had readily forgiven him the offense.
Elizabeth contemplated their visitor, having guessed by now all that "making amends to my fair cousins" entailed. She wondered if the skill to cook held much sway with him as a desirable characteristic in a future wife - wondered with some mirth - and then thought regretfully that he was not very likely to marry the Longbourn cook, after all.
"Do you live very near your patroness, sir?" Jane was inquiring politely, as their cousin had just paused in a rather longwinded account of her ladyship's great condescension in visiting his home and offering suggestions as to the improvement thereof - particularly the suggestion of installing shelves in the closet, a subject upon which Mr. Collins waxed eloquent.
He now answered Jane, "The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, the residence of Lady Catherine."
"I think you said she was a widow, sir?" said Mrs. Bennet. "Has she any family?"
"She has one only daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property. Miss De Bourgh is a most charming young lady indeed. I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine that her daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay."
"You judge very properly," said Mr. Bennet, with a droll glance to Elizabeth, "and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?"
Mr. Collins seemed gratified by his host's praise, and the girls had to stifle a smile at his utter incomprehension of their father's mockery. He said, "They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."
"That is very impressive, sir," said Elizabeth gravely, but her eyes were mirthful. "Do you find it necessary to dispense these elegant compliments very often? If so, it might not be remiss to further apply yourself. It would altogether be a pity for such skill to fade for want of a little - practice."
Georgiana half-choked, and Jane handed her a glass of water, throwing Lizzy a warning glance - though she herself was biting her lip very fiercely, and there was a suspicious glint in her eye.
"I assure you, Cousin Elizabeth," Mr. Collins was saying with some asperity, "I do not want for practice or application."
Mr. Bennet raised his eyebrows expressively at his favourite. "Ah, Lizzy, you have given offense. Perhaps you did not know that such natural talent as my cousin's is quite beyond the necessity of common practice."
"Please accept my humble apologies, sir," Elizabeth said meekly, and turned away to hide her grin.
Mr. Collins was somewhat mollified, and with great generosity of spirit, forgave her with a cool nod.
Jane Bennet, possessing the advantage of having the most classically beautiful looks of the Bennet girls, was soon fixed by Mr. Collins to be his choice of future spouse; he was rebuffed, however, by the lucky woman's own mother, who was quick to hint that her eldest was very likely to be soon engaged, and her second eldest scarcely less so.
"Georgiana, to be sure…" she trailed off suggestively, internally reflecting with glee that she was rapidly running out of eligible daughters. Her eyes sparkled at the thought of having three daughters married before the year was out.
As for Mr. Collins, that worthy gentleman quickly became resigned to the exchange of the youngest for the eldest. He reflected with great complacency that Cousin Georgiana was quite as handsome as her elder sisters, and quiet and demure besides - just the sort of girl his patroness would approve of. Very musical too! - for she had graced them with a performance the evening before, and even to his undiscerning ear he knew her to be a talented pianist. Not as talented as Miss De Bourgh would have been, of course, had she the time or energy to cultivate such an interest, but then, that was impossible.
In any case, Miss Georgiana seemed a sweet young girl, and within five minutes, Mr. Collins was imagining her delighted countenance as he made known his intentions towards her.
Georgiana, practicing in the music room (having decided that her talent was not above "common practice") remained perfectly unaware of her cousin's plans for her future happiness. In many ways she was a child still, young and sheltered and cosseted by two protective sisters, and as such, she had never indulged - seriously - in the thought of a lover.
So she played her sonatas and concertos with a heart as light as her fingers; and this was the scene that her sister Elizabeth intruded upon when she stole into the room.
"Georgiana?" she called, and winced when her sister, startled, fumbled a note. "I am sorry to disturb you, but Mama was very adamant that we walk into Meryton today."
"Why?" said Georgiana, her soft voice betraying an uncharacteristic hint of petulance. "Why is she forever wanting us to go there?"
Elizabeth laughed delightedly, "Georgiana, you are becoming naughtier everyday! Well, little one, we must bear up under Mama's everlasting need for Meryton gossip, however many objections we may have to it."
Georgiana sighed, and closed her instrument with a martyred expression on her pretty face. "I will fetch my shawl," she said.
The shawl was fetched, and going together they found their older sister and Mr. Collins waiting for them in the foyer, the former enduring their cousin's speeches with typical Jane-like grace.
"My dear cousins!" said he, upon seeing them, "What a fine day it is for a walk! I am most honoured to accompany you. I have often prided myself on my capacity for exertion, and I assure you that I feel it very proper indeed that such delicate females such as yourselves should want for a strong, masculine arm to lean upon--" he half-bowed, half-offered an arm, in an odd, affected gesture, "--Miss Georgiana, if I may be so privileged as to give you my support?"
Georgiana stared at him, not looking at all as though she felt equally privileged to receive it. "Sir?" she said uncertainly, but took his arm, eyes flitting between him and her sisters.
Jane and Elizabeth exchanged an uneasy glance, before following wordlessly.
In pompous nothings on Mr. Collins's side, and civil assents on that of his cousins, their time passed 'til they entered Meryton. As they proceeded down the way, their attention was caught by an officer they saw frequently at their Aunt and Uncle Phillips', walking towards them with a young man whom they had never seen before.
Mr. Denny soon espied them, and eager as always to talk with the pretty mademoiselles Bennet, approached them with a friendly smile. He addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town - and he was happy to say, had accepted a commission in their corps.
His appearance was greatly in his favour. They were struck with Mr. Wickham's air and most gentlemanlike looks, not least of all Georgiana Bennet.
In truth, Georgiana could not help the adoring look on her face. He had all the best part of beauty: a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. She might be shy and timid, and certainly more sensible than half the young girls her age thanks to the tutelage of her sisters - she might be all this and more - but when all was said and done, she was still a flesh-and-blood sixteen-year-old girl not quite immune to the flattering cut of a redcoat upon a trim, stalwart figure of a handsome young man. - and Lieutenant George Wickham was assuredly such.
She could not quite muster up more than a murmured greeting and shy smile for their new acquaintance, however, her diffidence asserting itself as it always did. Her cousin, whose arm she still leaned upon (though she had contrived, in her quiet way, to do so with as much distance between them as possible), was very civil, but hardly as impressed by the stranger's fine person as his cousins were. Jane and Elizabeth responded cheerfully to Mr. Wickham's happy readiness of conversation - a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming.
The whole party were still standing and talking together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their notice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street.
They came directly towards them. Bingley's jovial face brightened remarkably at the sight of Jane, and addressed her,
"Miss Bennet! We were just on our way to Longbourn on purpose to inquire after you. Are you quite well?"
"Thank you, sir, I am very well," replied Jane placidly.
"Very glad I am to see it, too!" cried Mr. Bingley, beaming on her.
Mr. Darcy corroborated his friend's words with a bow. He was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger. A curious change came over Darcy then; his eyes shuttered, his face impassive, he barely managed a slight nod. Mr. Wickham's face was flushed.
"Mr. Darcy," he said.
"Wickham," said Darcy, and Elizabeth was astonished at the severe tone of his voice. "I did not know you were in Hertfordshire."
"Circumstances have rendered my - change in locale - rather more necessary than usual. I bid you good day, sir," said Mr. Wickham, and his eyes flickered strangely. "May I inquire after Miss Darcy?"
"You may not."
"I beg your pardon, then," bit out Mr. Wickham, turning his face away.
Mr. Darcy appraised him with cold eyes, and after politely taking his leave of the Miss Bennets, sparing their cousin only a passing glance, rode away - Mr. Bingley followed with an uncertain smile and tip of his hat, leaving the ladies to gaze at each other in wonder.
Mr. Wickham, whose colour was still high, resumed conversation with an affectedly unconcerned tone of voice. Elizabeth could scarcely attend, and left her sister Jane to be the principal spokeswoman.
What could be the meaning of it? - Mr. Darcy's almost cryptic words, the pointedly cold manner; who was Miss Darcy to Wickham? It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know.
My dear brother,
Town is delightful. There is so much to do and see, so many people to admire, and so many people to admire me. As they should!
Aunt and Uncle send their best regards. Richard also, but he is sulking at present because Miss Irving, who he met at Lady Dalrymple's ball evening before last, will not give him the time of day. She is very rich, and I have heard him telling fibs about Cousin Henry being sickly and likely to die, leaving him sole heir to our uncle, so it must be serious. Or as serious as Richard can be about anything, anyway; - it may interest you to know that he has asked me to marry him again last Thursday. You know he has been proposing to me about every three weeks these past five months at least; he really is regular as clockwork about it. I time my orders from the milliner's by his proposals.
Now, I don't ask you to scold him into good behaviour, as I have often seen you do - there is no need for that at all. He took my rejection quite cheerfully, and asked me whether I thought Miss Irving was likely to prefer military men. That is constancy for you! As for myself, I think it good practice for when I reject young men for real. (And I can envision your disapproving scowl as clear as can be, so don't you start on that again, you stodgy old bear you.)
I do not mean to run on about Richard's escapades, however. What of yours? I suppose Mr. Bingley has fallen in love (again). Caroline has been hinting for me to visit you, that her brother would particularly like it if I did. I wish she would stop throwing me at him. And, brother mine, I know her schemes align more closely than I like with yours. I imagine Mr. Bingley is just the sort of brother-in-law you would want for yourself. But Lord, can you and the charming Miss Bingley not see his half-frightened expression whenever I talk to him? It makes me skittish when people are intimidated by me - although you seem to handle it well enough. - Truly, I would rather manipulate through charm and flirtation. For all of our sakes, I hope Mr. Bingley stays in love with his Miss Bennet.
To me, however, Miss Bennet's sister is just as interesting, if not more. You have been very sly, brother, but not so sly as you think. How came you to talk of Miss Elizabeth Bennet with such enthusiasm? Well, I suppose that is not quite the right word - heaven knows you do not 'enthuse' - but you understand my meaning, I'm sure. What may seem idle interest in another passes for amazing preoccupation with you. Why, you mentioned Miss Elizabeth no less than four times in a span of three pages. Need I say more? You were practically babbling. I can just picture your appalled countenance, but allow me to say that you seem to be more intrigued by this young lady than you are possibly willing to admit. Have you, for once, taken my request for a sister to heart? I should b so glad if you did!
In closing, I vehemently, vehemently oppose your suggestion of joining you at Rosings next Easter. I have no pressing desire to see Aunt Catherine, thank you very much. You may talk to me of duty and obligation, but I am perfectly content to be an undutiful, ungrateful niece if it means I can forgo our aunt and cousin's charming company. They will never thank you for it, and neither will I. Oh, Fitzwilliam, please please please do not make me go to Rosings with you!
Posted on 2012-06-03
Acting upon a call and invitation given by Mr. Phillips, the next evening saw Mr. Wickham calling upon the Phillips' at a suitable hour. The engagement was not only his to keep; he was given to understand, when he entered, that the Longbourn family was present in addition to some others from his regiment.
He walked into the room, anticipating the evening with pleasure. He recalled the ladies he had met the day before - they were all quite pretty, and he'd always had a weakness for pretty women. As for their cousin, he was a bit of a joke, and not a particularly good one. He could see him now, holding court with Mrs. Phillips, hardly stopping for breath in a longwinded account of - of something, something that apparently called for a kind of wild gesticulation of the arms.
Wickham was aware that he drew the notice of that man's cousins, and smiled with inward complacency; he was glad they were at least as eager as he to continue their acquaintance. The youngest, - Georgette? No, that was not quite right - sat beside one of her elder sisters, shy admiration in her eyes. The third sister sat in another corner, and upon catching his eye offered him a friendly smile, which decided Wickham as to the happy woman he should finally seat himself by.
He was gratified to see her eyes alight with genuine good humour as he approached, and inwardly resolved to be his most charming self. There was a sweetness in her look and smile, which rendered her face exceedingly attractive - Wickham thought her one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen. He exerted himself to speak as engagingly as he could. She was, perhaps, more restrained than he in her conversation, but he knew by her expression that he held her interest.
Eventually he endeavoured to bring their conversation to a topic of (he believed) mutual interest, and affecting a hesitant manner asked her, "I was surprised to see Mr. Darcy yesterday. Has he been staying in Netherfield long?"
"About a month," said she, "you are acquainted with him, are you not? What a happy coincidence it must be, to find a familiar face in a strange neighbourhood where you expected to be a perfect stranger."
"It is a coincidence, certainly, though whether a happy one I dare not conjecture," said Wickham, "but I am far from denying an acquaintance with the gentleman. You could not have met with a person less capable of doing so. I have been connected with Mr. Darcy's family in a particular manner from my infancy. My father was a particular friend to the late Mr. Darcy, and devoted his time to the care of the Pemberley property. The young master Darcy and I were in the same parish, within the same park; the greatest part of our youth was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing the same amusements, objects of the same parental care."
His companion could not but look surprised.
He looked at her then, truly looked at her, and it occurred to Wickham that it would be a very pleasant thing to see her beautiful face diffused with sympathy.
"You wonder, of course, that the cold greeting you witnessed yesterday should have taken place between once-intimate friends," he said.
"I have always thought that time and distance make strangers of us all," said Miss Bennet cautiously.
Wickham shook his head. "Ah, I wish it were so simple a matter as time and distance! It is not. Mr. Darcy has hated me - yes, hated me - ever since I began to draw his sister's interest."
"His sister?" queried Miss Bennet. She blushed. "Oh, forgive me, Mr. Wickham. I mean no impertinent curiosity."
"I do not think you impertinent," said Wickham with a smile. He lowered his eyes, leaning fractionally closer. "Miss Darcy and I were engaged once."
Miss Bennet's eyes widened.
"You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet. It was not generally known - indeed, not known by anyone except Miss Darcy and myself."
"It cannot have been a secret engagement?"
"It was not meant to be secret, but Miss Darcy wanted time to… acquaint her family - namely, her brother and principal guardian - with the idea," said Wickham, with a faint curl to his mouth. "She was easily persuaded that it was not a particularly good one."
"Mr. Darcy objected? Yet surely, if - " Miss Bennet said haltingly " - if there was true affection, surely he could have been reconciled to it in time."
"I have not so much confidence in that as you do, my dear Miss Bennet. The truth of the matter is that the son of a steward, no matter how honest his feelings or intentions, his ambition to make something of himself, will never be good enough for a Miss Darcy of Pemberley."
"I am sure it was not just such cold-hearted calculation as you describe," protested Jane. "Of course I can see, materially, the disadvantages of the match - but I think Mr. Darcy must also be very fond of his sister, and very loath to give her up to even the most eligible gentleman. I know that if it were our dear Georgiana, I should not think anyone good enough for her."
"Certainly, Mr. Darcy has a good deal of brotherly pride, which, with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister; and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers. Yet I was always given to believe that his pride in the family name surpassed everything else, even family affection."
Jane remembered the soft look on Mr. Darcy's face as he had spoken of his younger sister at Netherfield, and said uneasily, "Oh no, I could not believe that of him. Certainly I never thought him lacking in affection for Miss Darcy."
Wickham, irked at her continual defense of Mr. Darcy, turned away before she could see the flash of annoyance in his face. When next he spoke, it was in a deliberately quiet voice. "Forgive me, Miss Bennet. Perhaps I have no right to give my opinion as to his motives - I am not qualified to form one. I cannot forget the despicable accusations, the motives he attributed to me. It is impossible for me to be impartial."
Jane was touched at the despondency of his tone, and said, "That is not so at all, Mr. Wickham! You have all the right in the world to be as partial as you choose. No one shall fault you for it. How you must have loved her, and suffered for it! - she too! I could only imagine the pain both of you must have endured."
"I thank you, Miss Bennet. Your sympathy much warms my heart," said Wickham, still quietly, "yet I do not know if it is particularly well-directed when you include Miss Darcy in your kind condolences. She seemed none the worse for wear after the ordeal. Indeed, there are times when I doubt if I ever meant anything to her, if I have been played for a fool by brother and sister both."
"I am sure it cannot be so, Mr. Wickham," said Jane eagerly, "I am sure she loved you. How could she not have?" She blushed then, realizing how her words might be construed, and hoping she had not discomfited Mr. Wickham.
Wickham was as far from discomfiture as it was possible to be. He smiled at her, and in a bold move took her hand and pressed it. "You are very kind, Miss Bennet." He let go, but the action by no means lessened the warmth in his gaze.
Jane blushed harder, and said, "I am sorry for you and Mr. Darcy both to have lost a friend, and I hope your plans in favour of the ----shire will not be affected by the unhappy estrangement."
"Indeed they will not. I have not been long in the area, but what I have seen thus far could not fail to please. It was the prospect of constant society, and good society, which was my chief inducement to enter the ----shire. Society, I own, is necessary to me. I have been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude."
Jane was again touched, and gave him a compassionate look, which became her features very well. Before she could speak, however, the voice of her cousin intruded upon their notice. Mr. Collins had followed Mrs. Phillips nearer to their side of the room, and was saying,
"… I assure you I am most willing to take part in whist, my dear madam, and should not mind a trifling loss - as others might, I am sure, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters."
Mr. Wickham's attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few moments, he asked Jane in a low voice whether her relation were very intimately acquainted with the family of de Bourgh.
"Lady Catherine has very lately given him a living," said Jane. "I do not believe he has known her long."
"You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy."
"No, indeed, I did not. - I knew nothing of Lady Catherine's connections."
"Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates."
Jane was taken aback. Unbeknownst to Wickham, this was the most injurious thing he might have said about Mr. Darcy. If he were indeed promised to another lady, she could not imagine what he could mean by betraying an interest in Elizabeth. - and she had seen him watching Lizzy, seen the admiration in his eyes herself, seen him single her out from amongst a crowd more than once. Jane was willing as ever to attribute the purest motives to anyone, to jump to their defense if they should be questioned, to think as kindly of them as she could; but she was an older sister first and foremost, and Mr. Wickham's latest revelation was perhaps more troubling than anything else he had said heretofore.
"And you are certain?" she said, unable to keep the distress from her tone, "Certain that Mr. Darcy is engaged to Miss de Bourgh?"
Mr. Wickham frowned at her strange interest in the matter. "I do not know if the engagement has been formally announced, but I know it to be a dear wish of everyone in the family. Mr. Darcy himself has never denied it, and I daresay he is as willing as anyone for the marriage to occur. Miss de Bourgh's inheritance I have already alluded to; it would be in every way a good match."
Jane was somewhat relieved, for Mr. Wickham had not said the engagement was a certain thing. Perhaps Mr. Darcy did not feel himself honour-bound to anyone; his intentions must therefore be honourable. Moreover, Elizabeth did not yet seem likely to care one way or another. But the heart was by no means a predictable entity, and Jane resolved within herself to watch her sister's admirer closely.
Jane related to her sisters the next day, what had passed between Mr. Wickham and herself. Elizabeth and Georgiana listened to her with astonishment, and perhaps the person of Mr. Wickham was rendered more interesting than ever by the idea of his possessing a tragic history in the form of thwarted love. He cut a very romantic figure in their imaginations, and it was enough to interest all their tender feelings.
"I am troubled by his account, however," said Elizabeth thoughtfully, "it is strange that he should confide so much in a stranger, yet one's sympathy cannot but be aroused."
"Was he very improper in telling Jane of his disappointment?" Georgiana wondered. "You are so kind and lovely, Jane, that he must not have been able to help it. I do not think it unnatural that he should want a sympathetic ear."
"Indeed not!" said Elizabeth, "and who better than Jane to provide it? The relief of unburdening oneself must be heightened by the fairness of the listener, in this case. Don't look so, Jane!" - with a smile - "I have all the respect in the world for the heartbreak the gentleman must have suffered, but truly, we must not deny him the chance to turn in his affections. Soon, I think, we must prepare ourselves for a surfeit of admirers - in messrs. Bingley, Collins and Wickham. How enviable of you two that you should be up to your ears in them, while I have not a one!"
There was a pause. Then -
"You wish for Mr. Collins's attentions?" said Georgiana incredulously.
"No! Not at all," said Lizzy quickly - with an inward shudder - "I do not say that either you or Jane like being the object of these men's affections, nor that I desire them - it is - well, perhaps I am vain and silly, but I sometimes wish a prospective suitor would flock to me first before my sisters," - only partially teasing.
Georgiana's eyes widened innocently. "Why, what about Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth gaped at her, and burst into giggles.
"I was not being funny!" Georgiana protested.
"Alas, Mama has converted you," cried Elizabeth, still giggling helplessly, "Why should Mr. Darcy look at me at all but to find fault?"
"But he does look at you! He looks at you a great deal. - He looks at you admiringly, Lizzy. Is it so impossible?"
"Yes, - and furthermore, it's improbable."
Georgiana gave up, and turned to Jane. "She is being contrary."
"She is," said Jane. "Lizzy, I think it very probable that Mr. Darcy has - noticed you, at least."
"And I think it very strange, that my mother and sisters should all push me at him, as if - well, if Mr. Wickham was not good enough for Mr. Darcy's sister, I doubt I should be good enough for the man himself."
"We do not know that for certain," Jane protested.
"You do not doubt the veracity of such an amiable young man as Mr. Wickham?" Elizabeth insisted.
"No - not at all," said Jane, "but certain things - circumstances - may have been misrepresented, perhaps, or there were other factors at play that neither Mr. Wickham nor we could know of. I do not like to think ill of either of them."
"Whatever one may think of them, one thing is certain - I am hardly likely to be considered a good candidate for the role of Mrs. Darcy, least of all by Mr. Darcy himself."
Jane was not so sure, and opened her mouth to protest; but fell silent at the last, as she could see no reason to encourage her sister to like Mr. Darcy, if the man's own motives might possibly be suspect.
You are impertinent, as always. Yet I find, as time passes by, that I do not mind impertinence as much as I might, in certain places, in certain situations, and in certain people. However, you are not one of those people, my dear. Your 'stodgy old bear' of a brother does not particularly appreciate cheek in a younger sister more than ten years his junior.
Kindly intimate to Fitzwilliam that I find his advances towards my sister distasteful, no matter in how joking a manner he treats them. He should know that I do not consider it a good joke. He is much too old for you, besides being your guardian. It is entirely inappropriate. Besides, I do not much care for the idea of his becoming my brother - he is already too permanent a fixture in my life as it is. You have my permission to tell him so.
You are right in one thing, however. I do not enthuse, especially not about an indifferent acquaintance such as Miss Elizabeth. Her conversation, I admit, is more interesting than any other young lady's, not that such a feat is at all difficult to achieve. Furthermore, interesting conversation is hardly an impetus for you to hint at acquiring a sister. She comes of a family that I should never willingly align ours with.
As to Rosings, that is settled. It was not a 'suggestion' and I was not soliciting your opinion. I am determined. Since you do not wish it, I will not 'talk to you of duty and obligation'; the lecture would fall on deaf ears in any case, and I do not approve of exercises in futility. I will merely expect you to comport yourself as befitting a Darcy of Pemberley, and will not countenance any childish tears or angry tantrums. Those tend to become less and less effective as you gain in years, Lydia my dear.
Aunt Catherine and Cousin Anne look forward to our visit.
Brother,To Be Continued . . .
I am not speaking to you.