Posted on Friday, 21-Aug-98
Author's Note: Before anyone says anything -- yes, I know the pivotal song wasn't written until about 50 years after P&P. Any mistakes in the Italian translation are my own fault.
There was certainly something unusual going on, Mr. Bennet mused as he stirred his coffee.
He was a man who was greatly amused by the faults and foibles of others, and the company in the Bennet parlor this evening provided ample sources of diversion. Four members of his family and one of his guests were doing exactly what he would have expected. His second daughter and other guest, however, were not.
Mary was sitting in a corner alone, with her nose in a book, as usual -- apparently she was trying to teach herself German, since she had exhausted the works of the most prominent English philosophers, and she seemed determined to investigate the moral structure of every civilized country. No doubt the family would be favored with the theories of Kant and Nietzche over luncheon tomorrow.
Jane and her new fiancÚ, Mr. Bingley, were entirely absorbed with each other and seemed not to notice that they were seated in the middle of a rather crowded parlor, despite their being the center of attention of almost every other person in the room. Bingley was a pleasant enough fellow, Mr. Bennet reflected, and a very good match for Jane. Thankfully, their symptoms of lovesickness took a quiet turn and he was not likely to be disturbed by Bingley reciting sonnets in the moonlight outside his library window.
The lady of the house, Mrs. Bennet, was fluttering about in utmost ecstasy, wild with delight at having her oldest daughter engaged to such an eligible man. However, Mr. Bennet thought he was likely to capsize his coffee cup if he heard her shriek "Five thousand a year!" one more time.
Kitty was perched on a chair next to her mother, and the rapturous descriptions of the wedding clothes that Jane would need to purchase seemed to have momentarily roused her from the sulky state she had been in ever since Lydia's wedding. Kitty was equally likely to be doused with whatever Mr. Bennet was drinking, if she made one more complaint about not having been allowed to go to Brighton.
The family's other guest, Mr. Darcy, had been included in the invitation to dinner out of courtesy as Mr. Bingley's friend. His behavior seemed rather more cordial than it had been during his last visit to Hertfordshire, which was truly amazing, since he had been marked by the population of Meryton as the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world. Tonight he had been seated on Mrs. Bennet's right during dinner, and although they were certainly not the most ideal dinner companions, Mr. Darcy had been heard to remark that the pheasant was very well done indeed, in response to Mrs. Bennet's polite query. To Mr. Bennet, this seemed extremely suspicious.
And then there was Elizabeth. Mr. Bennet was surprised to note that she was very quiet this evening. Under ordinary circumstances, her wit and humor would have found many victims in such a gathering. What could so affect her that commonplace conversation, even about the weather, seemed an immense effort? And then her countenance would turn pale and flushed by turns, especially when she raised her eyes to look at...
"Shall we not have some music? Mary, why do not you play that new concerto for us?" Mrs. Bennet had apparently run out of things to say about clothing warehouses in London and was seeking another way to display her family for Mr. Bingley.
Ten seconds passed before Mary realized she had been addressed, but she eventually raised her head from her book. "But Mamma, I loaned my book of piano exercises to Maria Lucas, because her mother said she admired my fingering technique and..."
Elizabeth abruptly stood up. "It is of no matter, Mary. I will be happy to play for you all." And she quickly walked over to the piano-forte.
Mr. Bennet set his coffee cup back in its saucer and leaned forward a little in his chair. He had been considering retiring to the library -- despite the risk that he would be followed there by Mr. Bingley, who would most likely offer to play chess or backgammon with him -- but listening to Elizabeth play was certainly an enjoyable alternative. His books could wait for the short time necessary for her performance.
The performance suddenly promised to become much more interesting, because -- of all people! -- Mr. Darcy had politely risen and put himself at Elizabeth's service to turn the pages of her music. Elizabeth spoke something to the gentleman, which Mr. Bennet could not hear. Mr. Darcy spoke no reply, but only nodded. This innocent action made Elizabeth's cheeks flame scarlet, and she quickly turned her attention to her music.
Mr. Bennet had been expecting the Mozart aria which Elizabeth had played almost constantly these last months, but instead he recognized a different Italian song, which she had only recently learned. As he listened to his favorite daughter, his suspicions became even more focused.
O mio babbino caro,
Mi piace, e bello, bello!
Vo andare in Porta Rossa,
Per comperar l'annello.
(O my darling father,
I love him, he is the most handsome man!
I want to go to the Porta Rossa,
So that I can buy the ring.)
Mr. Bennet's thoughts abruptly turned to his daughter's behavior over the past few days, ever since Mr. Bingley's return to Netherfield. Was it possible?
Si, si, ci voglio andare!
E se l'amassi indarno,
Vo andrei sul Ponte Vecchio,
Mi per buttarmi del Arno!
(Yes, yes, I must go there!
And if my love is in vain,
I will go to the Ponte Vecchio,
To hurl myself into the Arno!)
It was very nearly beyond even Mr. Bennet's capacity for incredulity. Could Elizabeth be in love with Mr. Darcy? But she had been so decidedly prejudiced against him, only a few months ago! However, there was no denying that the expression in her eyes when she looked at him held a light that Mr. Bennet had not seen her bestow on any other man.
Mi struggo, e mi tormento!
O Dio, vorrei morir!
Babbo, pieta, pieta!
Babbo, pieta -- pieta.
(I struggle with myself and torment myself!
O God, I want to die!
Father, have pity, have pity!
Father, have pity -- have pity.)
There must have been struggles indeed, if her opinion was so decidedly changed. Ah, but was Mr. Darcy worthy of his dear Lizzy? Mr. Bennet found he had to blink several times and swallow past a constriction in his throat as Elizabeth released the final note. She met her father's eyes and gave him a smile of melting sweetness, and then turned her head to look at the man standing next to her, who gazed back as intensely.
Mr. Bennet was therefore not terribly surprised when Mr. Darcy approached him a few minutes later and requested to speak with him in the library.