Chapter 1: The Meryton Assembly Posted on Tuesday, 10 December 2002
20th October, 1811
Just returned from a dance at the Meryton Assembly with Bingley and his sisters. I had the most awful time. If not for my brotherly affection for Bingley, I would not have bothered to come up from London. Bingley has rented Netherfield Manor because he finds country manners so charming, and he has convinced himself that he will make his home there. It may turn out to be a very hasty and imprudent decision. Personally, I would have preferred Bingley to settle near Pemberley, perhaps in the neighboring county. But, no! Caroline Bingley would then be too close for comfort. She is a beautiful woman to admire at a safe distance, but whenever I come any closer, I often feel as if she would snare me. Very unsettling feeling indeed.
More unsettling is one particular young lady I met tonight. A Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I never had anyone looked at me with such cheekiness! I was already in a foul mood when I first arrived at the Assembly Room. I did not want to be there but for Bingley's insistence. All eyes were on us, and we were subjected to intense scrutiny. A total buffoon by the name of Sir William Lucas greeted us. I suppose he tried to be amiable. Consideration must be given to his background in trade, and thus, having such vulgar manners. I could instantly hear loud whispers of "five thousand a year," "Netherfield," "Ten thousand a year," "Derbyshire," "noble mien," "fine figure," and so forth. If I had thought London society was insufferable whenever I attended any balls or gatherings where there would be the inevitable dowager trying to match-make for me, this was worse! In London, at least, one could find one's social equal. But here, one finds the likes of Sir William Lucas. Quite savage!
Bingley, as usual, was determined to find everyone amiable. He was determined to be pleased. He was introduced to the only handsome girl in the room, a Miss Jane Bennet, and he immediately danced the first two dances with her. Bingley had the audacity to call me fastidious and chided me for not dancing. I thought I had done my gentlemanly duty in standing up with his sisters. Mrs. Louisa Hurst is an elegant dancer, and Caroline Bingley would be so if only she would stop trying so hard. She kept such a possessive hold on my arm. I must remember to guard my manner with her. If I should ever look at her with a lingering thought, she might start buying her wedding trousseau! I would put the safe distance of an entire county between us if I could arrange it!
Bingley proceeded to lecture me for not dancing. To confess the truth, I would have gladly danced with Miss Bennet if Bingley would allow it. I think the old fellow understood my meaning, but he chose to ignore it. He was determined to have his "most beautiful creature" to himself, and told me in a causally tone that "there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty. . ." I looked around and briefly glanced at Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I must admit that I barely looked at her at all. Whether she was pretty or not, I was not interested. Our eyes did met for a moment, but I was too upset at Bingley. I was a better man than him in many ways, so why should I be refused by him the chance to dance with the most handsome girl in the room. I have never settled for second best, and I was not going to start now. So I told Bingley coldly, "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men." Bingley understood me well, and went back to Miss Jane Bennet. I walked off to sulk in a corner.
Then, something amazing happened. Miss Elizabeth Bennet walked past me to greet another young lady across the room. She looked at me, and our eyes met for a moment. There was a look of mirth and bemusement in her eyes, and a countenance of lively defiance. She looked at me the way I usually looked at people whom I disdain. Very vexing! I have never considered such a woman should warrant any additional thoughts on my part. But after the initial shock of receiving her defiant look, I found myself watching her across the room. Her eyes were unusually fine, and her manner was lively and playful. She seemed to be in great spirit as she talked to her friends, and elicited hearty laughter from them. As they all glanced towards me briefly, I have no doubt that I was the subject of their bemusement. How dare she? I should think that young ladies, even those raised in the country, should learn to behave with proper decorum and propriety. I wanted to storm out of the assembly room then, so be away from such barbaric people. By then, Bingley was dancing with Elizabeth Bennet, and I seemed to be rooted to the floor. I have seen many graceful dancers, but there is a freshness about Miss Elizabeth Bennet that is so bewitching.
Bewitching! What in heaven's name am I thinking? I have met more beautiful women, with more dignified airs and pleasing countenance, who regard me with proper respect and attentive grace. As for Miss Elizabeth Bennet, what is there to recommend her other than her fine eyes and pretty face? Her mother Mrs. Bennet has the most improper manner. She was loud and intolerable. Her younger sisters flirted with every young man present. I have not met Mr. Bennet, and I am certain that he may not be the perfect gentleman. What gentleman would allow such disgraceful behaviour in his family?
I should make plans to leave for London soon. I certainly do not wish to extend this insufferable country society any longer than I need to. Caroline Bingley persists in pointing out defects of any young woman she encounters so as to put herself in the most pleasant light. Miss Bennet is spared because Bingley has obviously taken a liking to her. As for the rest, I quite agree with Caroline Bingley that there is little beauty and no fashion in Meryton and its surroundings. I dread to be at Netherfield when the Bennets of Longbourn pay their visit.
Chapter 2 Posted on Tuesday, 10 December 2002
25th November, 1811
Preparations for the ball at Netherfield are at a frantic pace. Bingley had given his promise to host the ball merely three weeks before. The poor man had no idea what he had gotten himself into when he decided to invite all the militia officers currently headquartered at Meryton. The guest list continued to grow as it seemed that all of Meryton would attend. I can safely surmise that grand events do not occur with any frequency in this part of Hertfordshire. Oh, there are enough social gatherings and assembly dances, I suppose, but a winter ball with a band of musicians hired expressively from London must be a rarity. Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Louisa Hurst, to their credit, seem quite capable of organization. Their manner is quite intolerable though. Caroline Bingley seems agitated, Mrs. Hurst has a perpetual frown, and they both shout at the servants all the time. Poor Bingley is relegated to pay bills, and to stay out of their way. Hurst wisely decided to indulge in drink and long naps. How I miss the calm and efficient manner my own dear mother used to manage such affairs at Pemberley! She would go around humming a sweet song and weave her magic . . . Yes, it has been too long since sounds of laughter and music echoed through the halls of Pemberley. . .
So, to escape the duet of shouting from the Bingley sisters, I went for a long walk to gather my thoughts. The events of the past few weeks have caused unprecedented turmoil in my mind, and perhaps, even in my heart. I have struggled to ignore my emotions, but I have to confront them now. Yes, I am in grave danger. I honestly do not think I have ever felt so bewitched by a woman before.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet!
I had looked upon her without admiration at the Meryton Assembly, though admittedly I was intrigued. She had dared looked upon me with such disdain! On our second meeting, I had decided to look upon her with a critical eye. There was hardly an extraordinary feature on her face. Yet, almost instantaneously, I was forced to admit to myself that her face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. Her figure is light and pleasing, and though her manners are not of the fashionable world, I am indeed caught by their easy playfulness. Surely who can help but be drawn in by that delightful twinkle in her eyes? Even in her most pointed remarks, there is an honesty and sweetness in her countenance. What sharp and impertinent opinions she has! I do enjoy lively debates with my friends. My days at Cambridge were memorable, and I miss the intellectual stimulation. Bingley is a very good friend, but far too agreeable. My cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam is a worthy opponent, but I rarely see him. . .
A few days after the Meryton Assembly dance, at Sir William Lucas' party, I could no longer deny the truth: "The very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow." I admitted such feelings aloud to Caroline Bingley, and had to endure her shrewd remarks about wishing me joy and having Mrs. Bennet for a mother-in-law. I let her rambled on indifferently then, because I did not feel that I was in any danger at all. Admiration for a set of "fine eyes" at the safe distance is perfectly natural. I am my own master. I have a calmness of temper and presence of mind which few can boost of possessing. Then, to hear her sing and play the pianoforte! With such sincerity and feeling! Miss Elizabeth Bennet may not have the masterful skills of the Bingley sisters, but her music is most pleasing. Her simpler style touches the heart more effectively. To confess the truth, I have rarely heard anything which gave me more pleasure. I had resolved to store that away in my memory as a pleasurable encounter and nothing more. Sir William Lucas even tried to do a gallant thing and have Miss Elizabeth Bennet dance with me. "You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure, when so much beauty is before you," said he. I was surprised, but I did want to dance with her. I offered my hand, but Miss Bennet refused it. She had spoken politely, but archly. I did not take offense though. My remarks at the Meryton Assembly dance were rude indeed, and I could not blame her thinking of me as a most disagreeable man.
I tried to put Miss Elizabeth Bennet out of my mind, and I thought I had succeeded when a few days later, she showed up at Netherfield early in the morning. She had walked three miles on foot, alone and unchaperoned. Her boots and petticoat were muddy, her hair a bit untidy. But her eyes! They were so bright, and her cheeks glowed with health. The object of her scampering about the country? Her sister Jane had taken ill at Netherfield the day before, and was forced to stay in bed. So, out of concern and great love for her sister, Miss Elizabeth Bennet came over as soon as she could. Bingley's sisters laughed at the sight of her muddy clothes, and Caroline Bingley added that it showed an abominable sort of conceited independence and indifference to decorum. I quite agreed that I would not wish my little sister to make such a journey, but upon reflection, Bingley was right too. "It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing." Such devotion and love for one's sibling. I can readily comprehend it because I care for my own sister deeply and will do anything for her. The important discovery though, at that moment, was Miss Elizabeth Bennet's character. To her liveliness of mind, honesty and intelligence, one must add deep caring heart. What child-like abandonment she displayed when she played with my dog in the garden. There are no artificial airs about her. I almost run down there to join her!. . . If not for her lowly family connections, Miss Bennet would indeed be quite a prize for any man to consider.
The following nights that Miss Elizabeth Bennet spent at Netherfield were at once enchanting and vexing for me. Through our conversations, I have come to admire more and more her courage to speak her mind, and like me, she does not bestow praises easily. When I spoke of knowing only six truly accomplished women, she shocked us all by saying, "I rather wonder now at you knowing any." I had meant that there are very few women who would seek constantly to improve their mind by extensive reading, and I subconsciously added Miss Elizabeth Bennet to my list of six. Her declaration made me stopped to look at her intensely. She boldly returned my gaze. Our verbal sparring continued on the following nights, each time with the Bingleys as our audience. I hated Miss Bennet for not being a yielding female, but I admired her more each time for speaking her mind with such poise and confidence. At times, although I hate to admit, she even got the upper hand. The first alarm of the dangers of paying too much attention to Miss Bennet sounded in my head. I must master my unsettled emotions with a rational mind. Cold logic should rule supreme.
I was relieved to see Miss Jane Bennet recovered from her illness, and with her sister, they finally left Netherfield. I had endured Caroline Bingley's persistent teasing about my admiration for Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and I was resolved to put an end to it. It was sheer madness to admire such an impertinent woman of such unsuitable family background.
I saw the Bennet sisters only once since then. A chance meeting at Meryton. Their cousin, a Mr. Collins, was with them, and to my great surprise, George Wickham! Why should our paths cross again? Should warn the Bennets of Wickham's character? Perhaps he was just passing through town. He was with a militia officer, so he might be joining the regiment. God save those who comes into friendship with Wickham!
I am firmly resolved to attend the ball tomorrow night with perfect indifference. Soon, I shall be in London, and then, back to Pemberley for Christmas. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, with her fine eyes and lively mind, would soon fade away to become a memory. I sincerely hope that my present tranquility of mind would not be disturbed again.