It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a husband.
However little known the feelings or views of such a woman may be on her first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that she is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their sons.
“My dear Mrs Bennet,” said her lord to her one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mrs Bennet replied that she had not.
“But it is,” returned he; “for Mr. Long has just been here, and he told me all about it.”
Mrs Bennet made no answer.
“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried her husband impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mr. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young woman of large fortune from the north of England; that she came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that she agreed with Mrs. Morris immediately; that she is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of her servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is her name?”
“Is she married or single?”
“Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single woman of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our boys!”
“How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear Mrs Bennet,” replied her husband, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of her marrying one of them.”
“Is that her design in settling here?”
“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that she may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit her as soon as she comes.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the boys may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Miss Bingley may like you the best of the party.”
“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a man has five grown-up sons, he ought to give over thinking of his own beauty.”
“In such cases, a man has not often much beauty to think of.”
“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Miss Bingley when she comes into the neighbourhood.”
“It is more than I engage for, I assure you.”
“But consider your sons. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Lady Wilhelmina and Sir Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit her if you do not.”
“You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Miss Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure her of my hearty consent to her marrying whichever she chooses of the boys; though I must throw in a good word for my little Teddy.”
“I desire you will do no such thing. Teddy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure he is not half so handsome as John, nor half so good-humoured as Lyndon. But you are always giving him the preference.”
“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied she; “they are all silly and ignorant like other boys; but Teddy has something more of quickness than his brothers.”
“Mrs Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
“Ah, you do not know what I suffer.”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young women of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood.”
“It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all.”
Mrs Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make her husband understand her character. His mind was less difficult to develop. He was a man of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When he was discontented, he fancied himself nervous. The business of his life was to get his sons married; its solace was visiting and news.
Mrs Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Miss Bingley. She had always intended to visit her, though to the last always assuring her husband that she should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid he had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in the following manner. Observing her second son employed in trimming a hat, she suddenly addressed him with:
“I hope Miss Bingley will like it, Teddy.”
“We are not in a way to know what Miss Bingley likes,” said his father resentfully, “since we are not to visit.”
“But you forget, papa,” said Edward, “that we shall meet her at the assemblies, and that Mr. Long promised to introduce her.”
“I do not believe Mr Long will do any such thing. He has two nephews of his own. He is a selfish, hypocritical man, and I have no opinion of him.”
“No more have I,” said Mrs Bennet; “and I am glad to find that you do not depend on his serving you.”
Mr Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain himself, began scolding one of his sons.
“Don’t keep coughing so, Kit, for Heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.”
“Kit has no discretion in his coughs,” said his mother; “he times them ill.”
“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kit fretfully. “When is your next ball to be, Teddy?”
“Aye, so it is,” cried his father, “and Mr Long does not come back till the day before; so it will be impossible for him to introduce her, for he will not know her himself.”
“Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Miss Bingley to him.”
“Impossible, Mrs Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquainted with her myself; how can you be so teasing?”
“I honour your circumspection. A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a woman really is by the end of a fortnight. But if we do not venture somebody else will; and after all, Mr Long and his sons must stand their chance; and, therefore, as he will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself.”
The boys stared at their mother. Mr Bennet said only, “Nonsense, nonsense!”
“What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?” cried she. “Do you consider the forms of introduction, and the stress that is laid on them, as nonsense? I cannot quite agree with you there. What say you, Martin? For you are a young gentleman of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts.”
Martin wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.
“While Martin is adjusting his ideas,” she continued, “let us return to Miss Bingley.”
“I am sick of Miss Bingley,” cried her husband.
“I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me that before? If I had known as much this morning I certainly would not have called on her. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.”
The astonishment of the gentlemen was just what she wished; that of Mr Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest; though, when the first tumult of joy was over, he began to declare that it was what he had expected all the while.
“How good it was in you, my dear Mrs Bennet! But I knew I should persuade you at last. I was sure you loved your boys too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! and it is such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morning and never said a word about it till now.”
“Now, Kit, you may cough as much as you choose,” said Mrs Bennet; and, as she spoke, she left the room, fatigued with the raptures of her husband.
“What an excellent mother you have, boys!” said he, when the door was shut. “I do not know how you will ever make her amends for her kindness; or me, either, for that matter. At our time of life it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day; but for your sakes, we would do anything. Lyndon, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Miss Bingley will dance with you at the next ball.”
“Oh!” said Lyndon stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.”
The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon she would return Mrs Bennet’s visit, and determining when they should ask her to dinner.
Not all that Mr Bennet, however, with the assistance of his five sons, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from his wife any satisfactory description of Miss Bingley. They attacked her in various ways – with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but she eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Sir Lucas. His report was highly favourable. Lady Wilhelmina had been delighted with her. She was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, she meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Miss Bingley’s heart were entertained.
“If I can but see one of my sons happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mr Bennet to his wife, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”
In a few days Miss Bingley returned Mrs Bennet’s visit, and sat about ten minutes with her in her library. She had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young gentlemen, of whose beauty she had heard much; but she saw only the mother. The gentlemen were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window that she wore a blue coat, and rode a black horse.
An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mr Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to his housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Miss Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mr Bennet was quite disconcerted. He could not imagine what business she could have in town so soon after her arrival in Hertfordshire; and he began to fear that she might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as she ought to be. Sir Lucas quieted his fears a little by starting the idea of her being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Miss Bingley was to bring twelve gentlemen and seven ladies with her to the assembly. The boys grieved over such a number of gentlemen, but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve she brought only six with her from London – her five brothers and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted of only five altogether – Miss Bingley, her two brothers, the wife of the eldest, and another young woman.
Miss Bingley was good-looking and ladylike; she had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. Her brothers were fine men, with an air of decided fashion. Her sister-in-law, Mrs Hurst, merely looked the lady; but her friend Miss Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by her fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after her entrance, of her having ten thousand a year. The ladies pronounced her to be a fine figure of a woman, the gentlemen declared she was much handsomer than Miss Bingley, and she was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till her manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of her popularity; for she was discovered to be proud; to be above her company, and above being pleased; and not all her large estate in Derbyshire could then save her from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with her friend.
Miss Bingley had soon made herself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; she was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one herself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between her and her friend! Miss Darcy danced only once with Mr Hurst and once with Master Bingley, declined being introduced to any other gentleman, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of her own party. Her character was decided. She was the proudest, most disagreeable woman in the world, and everybody hoped that she would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against her was Mr Bennet, whose dislike of her general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by her having slighted one of his sons.
Edward Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of ladies, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Miss Darcy had been standing near enough for him to hear a conversation between her and Miss Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press her friend to join it.
“Come, Miss Darcy,” said she, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your brothers are engaged, and there is not another man in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Miss Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant boys in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome boy in the room,” said Miss Darcy, looking at the eldest Master Bennet.
“Oh! He is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of his brothers sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round she looked for a moment at Edward, till catching his eye, she withdrew her own and coldly said: “He is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young gentlemen who are slighted by other women. You had better return to your partner and enjoy his smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Miss Bingley followed his advice. Miss Darcy walked off; and Edward remained with no very cordial feelings toward her. He told the story, however, with great spirit among his friends; for he had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.
The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mr Bennet had seen his eldest son much admired by the Netherfield party. Miss Bingley had danced with him twice, and he had been distinguished by her brothers. John was as much gratified by this as his father could be, though in a quieter way. Edward felt John’s pleasure. Martin had heard himself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplished boy in the neighbourhood; and Christopher and Lyndon had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. They found Mrs Bennet still up. With a book she was regardless of time; and on the present occasion she had a good deal of curiosity as to the event of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. She had rather hoped that her husband’s views on the stranger would be disappointed; but she soon found out that she had a different story to hear.
“Oh! my dear Mrs Bennet,” as he entered the room, “we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. John was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well he looked; and Miss Bingley thought him quite beautiful, and danced with him twice! Only think of that, my dear; she actually danced with him twice! and he was the only creature in the room that she asked a second time. First of all, she asked Master Lucas. I was so vexed to see her stand up with him! But, however, she did not admire him at all; indeed, nobody can, you know; and she seemed quite struck with John as he was going down the dance. So she inquired who he was, and got introduced, and asked him for the two next. Then the two third she danced with Master King, and the two fourth with Matthew Lucas, and the two fifth with John again, and the two sixth with Teddy, and the Boulanger -”
“If she had had any compassion for me,” cried his wife impatiently, “she would not have danced half so much! For God’s sake, say no more of her partners. O that she had sprained her ankle in the first dance!”
“Oh! my dear, I am quite delighted with her. She is so excessively handsome! And her brothers are charming men. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their suits. I dare say the lace upon M. Hurst’s shirt -”
Here he was interrupted again. Mrs Bennet protested against any description of finery. He was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Miss Darcy.
“But I can assure you,” he added, “that Teddy does not lose much by not suiting her fancy; for she is a most disagreeable, horrid woman, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring her! She walked here, and she walked there, fancying herself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given her one of your set-downs. I quite detest the woman.”
When John and Edward were alone, the former, who had been cautious in his praise of Miss Bingley before, expressed to his brother just how very much he admired her.
“She is just what a young woman ought to be,” said he, “sensible, good-humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! – so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!”
“She is also handsome,” replied Edward, “which a young woman ought likewise to be, if she possibly can. Her character is thereby complete.”
“I was very much flattered by her asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment.”
“Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than her asking you again? She could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other man in the room. No thanks to her gallantry for that. Well, she certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like her. You have liked many a stupider person.”
“Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”
“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”
“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough – one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design – to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad – belongs to you alone. And so you like this woman’s brothers, too, do you? Their manners are not equal to hers.”
“Certainly not – at first. But they are very pleasing men when you converse with them. Master Bingley is to live with his sister, and keep her house; and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbour in him.”
Edward listened in silence, but was not convinced; their behaviour at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than his brother, and with a judgement too unassailed by any attention to himself, he was very little disposed to approve them. They were in fact very fine gentlemen; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their sister’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.
Miss Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from her mother, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it. Miss Bingley intended it likewise, and sometimes made choice of her county; but as she was now provided with a good house and the liberty of a manor, it was doubtful to many of those who best knew the easiness of her temper, whether she might not spend the remainder of her days at Netherfield, and leave the next generation to purchase.
Her brothers were anxious for her having an estate of her own; but, though she was now only established as a tenant, Master Bingley was by no means unwilling to preside at her table – nor was Mr Hurst, who had married a woman of more fashion than fortune, less disposed to consider her house as his home when it suited him. Miss Bingley had not been of age two years, when she was tempted by an accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield House. She did look at it, and into it for half-an-hour – was pleased with the situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what the owner said in its praise, and took it immediately.
Between her and Miss Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spite of great opposition of character. Miss Bingley was endeared to Miss Darcy by the easiness, openness, and ductility of her temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to her own, and though with her own she never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Miss Darcy’s regard, Miss Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of her judgement the highest opinion. In understanding, Miss Darcy was the superior. Miss Bingley was by no means deficient, but Miss Darcy was clever. She was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and her manners, though well-bred, were not inviting. In that respect her friend had greatly the advantage. Miss Bingley was sure of being liked wherever she appeared, Miss Darcy was continually giving offense.
The manner in which they spoke of the Meryton assembly was sufficiently characteristic. Miss Bingley had never met with more pleasant people or prettier boys in her life; everybody had been most kind and attentive to her; there had been no formality, no stiffness; she had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and, as to Master Bennet, she could not conceive an angel more beautiful. Miss Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom she had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. Master Bennet she acknowledged to be pretty, but he smiled too much.
Mr. Hurst and his brother allowed it to be so – but still they admired him and liked him, and pronounced him to be a sweet boy, and one whom they would not object to know more of. Master Bennet was therefore established as a sweet boy, and their sister felt authorized by such commendation to think of him as she chose.
Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Lady Wilhelmina Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where she had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the queen during her mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given her a disgust to her business, and to her residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, she had removed with her family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where she could think with pleasure of her own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy herself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by her rank, it did not render her supercilious; on the contrary, she was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, her presentation at St. Joan’s had made her courteous.
Sir Lucas was a very good kind of man, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mr Bennet. They had several children. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young man, about twenty-seven, was Edward’s intimate friend.
That the Master Lucases and the Master Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.
“You began the evening well, Charles,” said Mr Bennet with civil self-command to Master Lucas. “You were Miss Bingley’s first choice.”
“Yes; but she seemed to like her second better.”
“Oh! you mean John, I suppose, because she danced with him twice. To be sure that did seem as if she admired him – indeed I rather believe she did - I heard something about it – but I hardly know what – something about Mrs Robinson.”
“Perhaps you mean what I overheard between her and Mrs Robinson; did not I mention it to you? Mrs Robinson’s asking her how she liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether she did not think there were a great many pretty men in the room, and which she thought the prettiest? and her answering immediately to the last question: ‘Oh! the eldest Master Bennet, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions on that point.’”
“Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed – that does seem as if – but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know.”
“My overhearings were more to the purpose than yours, Ed,” said Charles. “Miss Darcy is not so well worth listening to as her friend, is she? – poor Ed! – to be only just tolerable.”
“I beg you would not put it into Teddy’s head to be vexed by her ill-treatment, for she is such a disagreeable woman, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by her. Mr Long told me last night that she sat close to him for half-an-hour without once opening her lips.”
“Are you quite sure, ma’am? – is not there a little mistake?” said John. “I certainly saw Miss Darcy speaking to him.”
“Aye – because he asked her at last how she liked Netherfield, and she could not help answering him; but he said she seemed quite angry at being spoke to.”
“Miss Bingley told me,” said John, “that she never speaks much, unless among her intimate acquaintances. With them she is remarkably agreeable.”
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If she had been so very agreeable, she would have talked to Mr Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that she is eat up with pride, and I dare say she had heard somehow that Mr Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”
“I do not mind her not talking to Mr Long,” said Master Lucas, “but I wish she had danced with Ed.”
“Another time, Teddy,” said his father, “I would not dance with her, if I were you.”
“I believe, sir, I may safely promise you never to dance with her.”
“Her pride,” said Master 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 woman, with family, fortune, everything in her favour, should think highly of herself. If I may so express it, she has a right to be proud.”
“That is very true,” replied Edward, “and I could easily forgive her pride, if she had not mortified mine.”
“Pride,” observed Martin, who piqued himself upon the solidity of his reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
“If I were as rich as Miss Darcy,” cried a young Miss Lucas, who came with her brothers, “I should not care how proud I was. I would keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine a day.”
“Then you would drink a great deal more than you ought,” said Mr Bennet; “and if I were to see you at it, I should take away your bottle directly.”
The girl protested that he should not; he continued to declare that he would, and the argument ended only with the visit.
The gentlemen of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield. The visit was soon returned in due form. Master Bennet’s pleasing manners grew on the goodwill of Mr. Hurst and Master Bingley; and though the father was found to be intolerable, and the younger brothers not worth speaking to, a wish of being better acquainted with them was expressed towards the two eldest. By John, this attention was received with the greatest pleasure, but Edward still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even his brother, and could not like them; though their kindness to John, such as it was, had a value as arising in all probability from the influence of their sister’s admiration. It was generally evident whenever they met, that she did admire him and to him it was equally evident that John was yielding to the preference which he had begun to entertain for her from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love; but he considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general, since John united, with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which would guard him from the suspicions of the impertinent. He mentioned this to his friend Master Lucas.
“It may perhaps be pleasant,” replied Charles, “to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a man conceals his affection with the same skill from the object of it, he may lose the opportunity of fixing her; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely – a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a man had better show more affection than he feels. Miss Bingley likes your brother undoubtedly; but she may never do more than like him, if he does not help her on.”
“But he does help her on, as much as his nature will allow. If I can perceive his regard for her, she must be a simpleton, indeed, not to discover it too.”
“Remember, Ed, that she does not know John’s disposition as you do.”
“But if a man is partial to a woman, and does not endeavour to conceal it, she must find it out.”
“Perhaps she must, if she sees enough of him. But, though Miss Bingley and John meet tolerably often, it is never for many hours together; and, as they always see each other in large mixed parties, it is impossible that every moment should be employed in conversing together. John should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which he can command her attention. When he is secure of her, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as he chooses.”
“Your plan is a good one,” replied Edward, “where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married, and if I were determined to get a rich wife, or any wife, I dare say I should adopt it. But these are not John’s feelings; he is not acting by design. As yet, he cannot even be certain of the degree of his own regard nor of its reasonableness. He has known her only a fortnight. He danced four dances with her at Meryton; he saw her one morning at her own house, and has since dined with her in company four times. This is not quite enough to make him understand her character.”
“Not as you represent it. Had he merely dined with her, he might only have discovered whether she had a good appetite; but you must remember that four evenings have also been spent together – and four evenings may do a great deal.”
“Yes; these four evenings have enabled them to ascertain that they both like Vingt-un better than Commerce; but with respect to any other leading characteristic, I do not imagine that much has been unfolded.”
“Well,” said Charles, “I wish John success with all my heart; and if he were married to her to-morrow, I should think he had as good a chance of happiness as if he were to be studying her character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
“You make me laugh, Charles; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
Occupied in observing Miss Bingley’s attentions to his brother, Edward was far from suspecting that he was himself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of her friend. Miss Darcy had at first scarcely allowed him to be pretty; she had looked at him without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, she looked at him only to criticise. But no sooner had she made it clear to herself and her friends that he hardly had a good feature in his face, than she began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of his dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though she had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in his form, she was forced to acknowledge his figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of her asserting that his manners were not those of the fashionable world, she was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this he was perfectly unaware; to him she was only the woman who made herself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought him handsome enough to dance with.
She began to wish to know more of him, and as a step towards conversing with him herself, attended to his conversation with others.
Her doing so drew his notice. It was at Lady Wilhelmina Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.
“What does Miss Darcy mean,” said he to Charles, “by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?”
“That is a question which Miss Darcy only can answer.”
“But if she does it any more I shall certainly let her know that I see what she is about. She has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of her.”
On her approaching them soon afterwards, though without seeming to have any intention of speaking, Master Lucas defied his friend to mention such a subject to her; which immediately provoking Edward to do it, he turned to her and said:
“Did you not think, Miss 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 always a subject which makes a gentleman energetic.”
“You are severe on us.”
“It will be his turn soon to be teased,” said Master Lucas. “I am going to open the instrument, Ed, 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! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable; but as it is, I would really rather not sit down before those who must be in the habit of hearing the very best performers.” On Master Lucas’s persevering, however, he added, “Very well, if it must be so, it must.” And gravely glancing at Miss Darcy, “There is a fine old saying, which everybody here is of course familiar with: ‘Keep your breath to cool your porridge’; and I shall keep mine to swell my song.”
His performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before he could reply to the entreaties of several that he would sing again, he was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by his brother Martin, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.
Martin had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given him application, it had given him likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than he had reached. Edward, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Martin, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of his younger brothers, who, with some of the Lucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room.
Miss Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation, and was too much engrossed by her thoughts to perceive that Lady Wilhelmina Lucas was her neighbour, till Lady Wilhelmina thus began:
“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Miss Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society.”
“Certainly, madam; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.”
Lady Wilhelmina only smiled. “Your friend performs delightfully,” she continued after a pause, on seeing Miss Bingley join the group; “and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Miss Darcy.”
“You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, madam.”
“Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. Joan’s?”
“Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?”
“It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I can avoid it.”
“You have a house in town, I conclude?”
Miss Darcy bowed.
“I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself – for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Sir Lucas.”
She paused in hopes of an answer; but her companion was not disposed to make any; and Edward at that instant moving towards them, she was struck with the action of doing a very gallant thing, and called out to him:
“My dear Master Ed, why are you not dancing? Miss Darcy, you must allow me to present this young gentleman to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure when so much beauty is before you.” And, taking his hand, she would have given it to Miss Darcy who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it, when he instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure to Lady Wilhelmina:
“Indeed, madam, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.”
Miss Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honour of his hand, but in vain. Edward was determined; nor did Lady Wilhelmina at all shake his purpose by her attempt at persuasion.
“You excel so much in the dance, Master Ed, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this lady dislikes the amusement in general, she can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.”
“Miss Darcy is all politeness,” said Edward, smiling.
“She is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear Master Ed, we cannot wonder at his complaisance – for who would object to such a partner?”
Edward looked archly, and turned away. His resistance had not injured him with the lady, and she was thinking of him with some complacency, when thus accosted by Master Bingley:
“I can guess the subject of your reverie.”
“I should imagine not.”
“You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner – in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise – the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!”
“Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty man can bestow.”
Master Bingley immediately fixed his eyes on her face, and desired she would tell him what gentleman had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Miss Darcy replied with great intrepidity:
“Master Edward Bennet.”
“Master Edward Bennet!” repeated Master Bingley. “I am all astonishment. How long has he been such a favourite? – and pray, when am I to wish you joy?”
“That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. A gentleman’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy.”
“Nay, if you are serious about it, I shall consider the matter is absolutely settled. You will be having a charming father-in-law, indeed; and, of course, he will always be at Pemberley with you.”
She listened to him with perfect indifference while he chose to entertain himself in this manner; and as her composure convinced her that all was safe, his wit flowed long.
Mrs Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for her sons, was entailed, in default of heirs female, on a distant relation; and their father’s fortune, though ample for his situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of hers. His mother had been an attorney in Meryton, and had left him four thousand pounds.
He had a brother married to a Mrs Phillips, who had been a clerk to their mother and succeeded her in the business, and a sister settled in London in a respectable line of trade.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young gentlemen, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their uncle and to a milliner’s shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Christopher and Lyndon, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their brothers’, and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their uncle. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.
Their visits to Mr Phillips were now productive of the most interesting intelligence. Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers’ names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to know the officers themselves. Mrs Phillips visited them all, and this opened to her nephews a store of felicity unknown before. They could talk of nothing but officers; and Miss Bingley’s large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their father, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.
After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mrs Bennet coolly observed:
“From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest boys in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced.”
Christopher was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lyndon, with perfect indifference, continued to express his admiration of Captain Carter, and his hope of seeing her in the course of the day, as she was going the next morning to London.
“I am astonished, my dear,” said Mr Bennet, “that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody’s children, it should not be of my own, however.”
“If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it.”
“Yes – but as it happens, they are all of them very clever.”
“This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest sons uncommonly foolish.”
“My dear Mrs Bennet, you must not expect such boys to have the sense of their mother and father. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well – and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my boys I shall not say nay to her; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Lady Wilhelmina’s in her regimentals.”
“Papa,” cried Lyndon, “my uncle says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Master Watson’s as they did when they first came; he sees them now very often standing in Clarke’s library.”
Mr Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footwoman with a note for Master Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for an answer. Mr Bennet’s eyes sparkled with pleasure, and he was eagerly calling out, while his son read,
“Well, John, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, John, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love.”
“It is from Master Bingley,” said John, and then read it aloud.
“MY DEAR FRIEND,—
“If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Lawrence and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day’s tete-a-tete between two men can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on receipt of this. My sister and the ladies are to dine with the officers.—Yours ever,
“With the officers!” cried Lyndon. “I wonder my uncle did not tell us of that.”
“Dining out,” said Mrs Bennet, “that is very unlucky.”
“Can I have the carriage?” said John.
“No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.”
“That would be a good scheme,” said Edward, “if you were sure that they would not offer to send him home.”
“Oh! but the ladies will have Miss Bingley’s chaise to go to Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs.”
“I had much rather go in the coach.”
“But, my dear, your mother cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mrs Bennet, are they not?”
“They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them.”
“But if you have got them to-day,” said Edward, “my father’s purpose will be answered.”
He did at last extort from his mother an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged. John was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and his father attended him to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. His hopes were answered; John had not been gone long before it rained hard. His brothers were uneasy for him, but his father was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission; John certainly could not come back.
“This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!” said Mr Bennet more than once, as if the credit of making it rain were all his own. Till the next morning, however, he was not aware of all the felicity of his contrivance. Breakfast was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought the following note for Edward:
“MY DEAREST TEDDY, –
“I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mrs. Jones – therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of her having been to me – and, excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me. – Yours, etc.”
“Well, my dear,” said Mrs Bennet, when Edward had read the note aloud, “if your son should have a dangerous fit of illness – if he should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Miss Bingley, and under your orders.”
“Oh! I am not afraid of his dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. He will be taken good care of. As long as he stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see him if I could have the carriage.”
Edward, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to him, though the carriage was not to be had; and as he was no horseman, walking was his only alternative. He declared his resolution.
“How can you be so silly,” cried his father, “as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there.”
“I shall be very fit to see John – which is all I want.”
“Is this a hint to me, Teddy,” said his mother, “to send for the horses?”
“No, indeed, I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.”
“I admire the activity of your benevolence,” observed Martin, “but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.”
“We will go as far as Meryton with you,” said Christopher and Lyndon. Edward accepted their company, and the three young gentlemen set off together.
“If we make haste,” said Lyndon, as they walked along, “perhaps we may see something of Captain Carter before she goes.”
In Meryton they parted; the two youngest repaired to the lodgings of one of the officers’ husbands, and Edward continued his walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding himself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.
He was shown into the breakfast-parlour, where all but John were assembled, and where his appearance created a great deal of surprise. That he should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by himself, was almost incredible to Mr. Hurst and Master Bingley; and Edward was convinced that they held him in contempt for it. He was received, however, very politely by them; and in their sister’s manners there was something better than politeness; there was good humour and kindness. Miss Darcy said very little, and Mrs. Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to his complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying his coming so far alone. The latter was thinking only of her breakfast.
His inquiries after his brother were not very favourably answered. Master Bennet had slept ill, and though up, was very feverish, and not well enough to leave his room. Edward was glad to be taken to him immediately; and John, who had only been withheld by the fear of giving alarm or inconvenience from expressing in his note how much he longed for such a visit, was delighted at his entrance. He was not equal, however, to much conversation, and when Miss Bingley left them together, could attempt little besides expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindness he was treated with. Edward silently attended him.
When breakfast was over they were joined by the brothers; and Edward began to like them himself, when he saw how much affection and solicitude they showed for John. The apothecary came, and having examined her patient, said, as might be supposed, that he had caught a violent cold, and that they must endeavour to get the better of it; advised him to return to bed, and promised him some draughts. The advice was followed readily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and his head ached acutely. Edward did not quit his room for a moment; nor were the other gentlemen often absent; the ladies being out, they had, in fact, nothing to do elsewhere.
When the clock struck three, Edward felt that he must go, and very unwillingly said so. Master Bingley offered him the carriage, and he only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when John testified such concern in parting with him, that Master Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise to an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Edward most thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with his stay and bring back a supply of clothes.
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