Beginning, Section II
Posted on Sunday, 6 August 2006
Lizzy passed the chief of the night in her sister's room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the multiple inquiries she received from various maids. In spite of this amendment, she agreed that Mr. Jones should be called. She also requested a note be sent to Longbourn, desiring her mother to visit Jane and form her own judgment of the situation. Mr. Bennet and Lady Anne arrived soon after the family breakfast.
Her parents were relieved to find Jane not in any serious danger; but, in light of the impending return of Elizabeth and the children, they wished Jane to be as well as possible. Therefore they sided with the apothecary, silencing Jane's suggestion of being carried home. Dealing with Mrs. Bennet's objections was nothing compared to a group of sick children; Jane was compliant when that matter was brought up.
Both sensing their children each had some burden, Mr. Bennet took Lizzy to another part of the room for a quiet discussion, while Lady Anne asked Jane what troubled her. Jane's emotional discomfort came from her newfound knowledge of the evils of the world, but a mother's guidance was exactly what she needed to reach an acceptance of that; now she would not be fooled by Bingley's sisters, but she would always be civil and behave as a gentlewoman ought.
Lizzy resisted sharing her over-hearings and disordered thoughts, but none knew how to deal with her like her father; within minutes, the whole of the previous day's events and her reactions poured out in a confused rush. Her voice remained low, so to not disturb Jane; but the other ladies sensed that they had much to talk about with her later, much later.
When the parents finally felt they could leave Jane, they had Lizzy join them in talking with Mr. Bingley. They informed him of their reluctance to move Jane, and their reasoning.
“Removed!” cried Bingley. “It must not be thought of. My sister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal.”
“You may depend upon it, madam,” said Miss Bingley, with cold civility, “that Miss Bennet shall receive every possible attention while she remains with us.”
None of the Bennets were deceived by her words; they heard the tone too well. However, their manners were habitually good unless they were given true offense; therefore they simply thanked the Bingleys, and accepted the brother's offer of tea, acknowledging that they could not stay long as there were many matters at home waiting for them both. Mr. Bennet did open conversation by inquiring about their host's plans.
“Whatever I do is done in a hurry,” replied he; “and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here.”
“That is exactly what I should have supposed of you,” said Lizzy.
“You begin to comprehend me, do you?” cried he, turning towards her.
“Oh! Yes – I understand you perfectly.”
“I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through I am afraid is pitiful.”
“That is as it happens. It does not necessarily follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours.”
Her parents laughed through closed lips, unsurprised at her words. “I did not know before,” continued Bingley, after pausing to think about the Bennets' reaction, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”
“Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.”
“The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few such a study. In a country neighborhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”
“But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”
“Well,” said Mr. Bennet, not pleased with the tone in his old friend's son's voice, “I hope that does not mean you dislike being at Pemberley of all places.” Silence and shock drifted from the entire Netherfield party over his knowing the name, and Mr. Bennet felt compelled to explain. “Your father and I were at university at the same time, and we were good friends.”
“I do not remember him mentioning you, sir.”
Lady Anne kept her eyes on her teacup, not trusting herself to maintain the secret; fortunately, not even her daughter was looking her way. Her husband promptly answered, prepared for the question. “We were forced to sever our ties over a matter that neither of us was ever at liberty to speak of. However, I can assure you that we resolved our differences before his death. If he mentioned nothing of it to you, then I do not know what I could feel justified in telling you.”
Mr. Darcy wished for more, but the assertion that his ignorance confirmed the need for continued secrecy struck a chord with him. A gentleman's word was paramount, as his father had taught him. He nodded his assent, resolved on speaking with Mr. Bennet in private later. “I enjoy Derbyshire, but I have found other countries to be lacking.”
“I am sure everyone,” said Lady Anne, having found her voice at last, “favors their home country above all others; and Derbyshire has often been called the best of all of England, and therefore the world. A pity, Mr. Darcy, that there you have not yet found one sight in Hertfordshire that agrees with you.” Her tone was unassuming, but her look held a hint of being offended by the idea.
Lizzy resisted tensing; Timothy's words repeated in her memory before she could stop them. Lucky, she felt, that the Superior Sisters were still watching her parents. Mr. Darcy, however, nodded respectfully to the elders and turned silently away.
Lady Anne, who noticed the comment provoke a subtle tensing in the young man who could have been her son, chose to return to the previous topic. “What do you think about the country compared with the city, Mr. Bingley?”
“When I am in the country,” replied he, “I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either.”
A smile came to Lady Anne's face. “That is a rare quality.” With that compliment, she thought the conversation would be turned; however, Miss Bingley chose to ask about her own opinion of town. Only one answer came, a modified story about something her eldest daughter experienced. “I have found there is far more openness in the country, less deceit practiced. I knew a young lady who, at fifteen, was under the attention of a much older man who made her very uncomfortable; she felt him to be overbearing, and could not respect him. He wrote some verses on her, very pretty verses, but they were recognized as properly belonging to another author.”
“Alas that they were, or so would have ended his affection,” said Lizzy, recalling the story told by Mrs. Gardner, and able to be amused as Jane's identity was undisclosed. “There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”
“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is already strong. But if be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
Darcy smiled, as did her parents and Bingley. His sisters stared at Lizzy with skepticism, but knew of nothing to challenge the impertinent assertion. In the silence that followed, the Bennets decided that it was time to return home, and repeated their thanks for Mr. Bingley's patience and kindness. Mr. Bingley was unaffectedly civil in his answer, and forced his younger sister to be civil also, and say what the occasion required. She performed her part indeed without much graciousness, but neither Mr. Bennet nor Lady Anne commented. Their calm responses and knowing looks unnerved Miss Bingley, rendering her speechless.
Darcy chose to follow the Bennets out, after they encouraged Lizzy to return to Jane; he had to speak a little with Mr. Bennet, out of the ladies' hearing. The eagerness of the master's sisters to see the visitors gone was evident in how they claimed fatigue when Mr. Bingley declared he would walk them to the carriage. He took Lady Anne's arm, carrying a polite conversation with the mother of the sick angel.
This suited the other two men; they quickly came aside the carriage, away from the servants. “I wish,” said Mr. Darcy, “that I could know more of your times with my father. He spoke little of his years as a young man.”
“I would be pleased to acquaint you with tales of our youth, in whatever area you like; I know of nothing that your father be ashamed of my telling. Perhaps you could join me in my study? I would understand if you came at any time and had no wish to be around ladies.” Mr. Darcy felt this to be strange, but he supposed Mr. Bennet had seen how little he enjoyed Miss Bingley's company. He nodded, and assumed the conversation over as the Mistress of Longbourn was approaching.
Yet Mr. Bennet had one more thing to add. “If I may be so bold, I believe I must ask that, at some point, you take the trouble to apologize to my daughter Elizabeth.” The young man started, but Mr. Bennet only smiled. “She overheard you, sir, at the assembly. My wife and I have decided that you were in a foul mood for reasons that you cannot disclose, and have forgiven you, especially because of my memory of your father; however, our daughter's pride was slightly offended, and she has taken great delight in relating the story to the family. Her nature, Mr. Darcy, is to tease and laugh, and she takes after myself in studying human folly and character. What I must caution you is that, because of your actions that night, she now dislikes you.” He watched, amused as shock overtook Mr. Darcy's features and rendered him silent. “But I believe a simple apology to her and behaving civilly will suffice to mend her opinion into one more in line with what I am inclined to believe of you.”
With that, Mr. Bennet tipped his hat, bid the astounded young man good day, and boarded the carriage. He acquainted his wife with the conversation. “I believe,” said he, as the carriage left the gates of Netherfield, “that his honor will now force him to humble himself. Whether he can humble himself enough to consider courting our girl is another matter.”
For Lizzy, the rest of the day was unremarkable until after dinner, when she was able to leave Jane sleeping. Taking up needlework in the drawing room, she listened to Miss Bingley complimenting Mr. Darcy as he wrote to his sister. The lady's efforts to attract his attention violated every rule Lizzy's mother had ever taught about behavior towards men. She was excessively diverted by the spectacle, although she feared Lydia's taking her example; yet with her own mother on the case, Lizzy felt safe there. Indeed, safe enough and recovered enough to enter the discussion. A debate with Mr. Darcy ensued, on the merits of yielding to a friend's opinion and how. It veered dangerously towards a discussion on Mr. Bingley's character, having already compared the handwriting of himself and his friend, and the gentleman silenced the argument with a remark that offended Darcy somewhat. But his request was “no sacrifice on my side,” said Lizzy, “and Mr. Darcy had better finish his letter.”
This allowed him to complete it without Miss Bingley's comments, which made him more disposed to think better of the Bennets as a whole. When that business was over, he applied to Miss Bingley and Lizzy for the indulgence of some music. Miss Bingley moved with alacrity to the pianoforte, so much that Mr. Darcy felt unease over how he phrased his request; and, after a polite request that Lizzy lead the way, which the other as politely and more earnestly negatived, she seated herself.
Mrs Hurst sang with her sister, and while they were thus occupied, Lizzy noticed that Mr. Darcy took the moment to watch herself. Having overheard his complement of her eyes left no doubt that she was an object of some admiration to so great a man; but his ability to talk with her father and brother rendered her ability to maintain her dislike of the man difficult. If her own father had a good opinion of the man, she supposed she must cease speaking of the offense from the assembly; yet, he had to apologize for it before she would think at all kindly of him.
After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawing near Lizzy, said to her:
“Miss Bennet, I believe I gave you cause to despise me at the assembly. I am sorry that your father had to point my mistake to me, but allow me to apologize. If you are inclined to seize an opportunity of dancing a reel, may I be forgiven?”
The speech surprised her. Its tone was soft, and not completely from the obvious care to not be overheard by the other ladies; Lizzy could hear a hint of an honest wish for starting over. However, she knew not what to answer. He repeated the question, with considerable surprise at her silence.
“Oh!” whispered she, “I heard you before, but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You are correct, for my pride was offended, but I can say I laughed it off. If my father and brother and mother are kindly disposed towards yourself, then how can I not accept the apology? But I do not think this is the best place for you to be dancing with myself. You must seize another opportunity, for I am also reluctant to dance with my sister so unwell. And now despise me if you dare.”
“Indeed I do not dare. Your reasons are sound; but may I secure the first set at the next gathering where the art is performed?”
Lizzy, having rather expected to affront him, was astounded by his gallantry, and the possible further proof of Timothy's claim; but there was such a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody. She felt no choice but to nod her consent. He silently accepted, and sat in a chair away from herself; she was thankful, as his presence was beginning to make her most uneasy.
Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that if it were not for the inferiority of the majority of her connections, he should be in some danger. Yet he could not deny a respect for her father and mother; and he knew nothing but good of her other brothers. He decided to visit her father the next day to learn all he could about his own father, and gain a better understanding of the Bennet family; perhaps exposure to her aunt would fortify him against Elizabeth Bennet's charms.
Miss Bingley saw, or suspect enough to be jealous; and her great anxiety for the recovery of her 'dear friend' Jane received some assistance from her desire of getting rid of the sister. She then often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking her guest, by talking of their supposed marriage, and planning his happiness in such an alliance. Unfortunately for her, the gentleman was ill-disposed to hear any criticism of the other lady's character or family; the esteem he could claim to have for the Master of Longbourn was sufficient, and the rebuke the man gave, to make him feel his incivility to the lady on their first meeting. Thus he generally spoke to suggest that hearing further talk of marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bennet might render him more likely to make the match.
The was enough to ensure him a peaceful morning, and the opportunity to escape on his planned visit.
The next evening, when the ladies removed after dinner, Lizzy ran up to her sister, and seeing her well guarded from cold, attended her into the drawing room, where she was welcomed by Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst with many profession of pleasure; and Lizzy 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 humor, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.
But when the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the first object nor was she surprised; Miss Bingley's eyes were instantly turned toward Mr. Darcy, and she had something to say to him before he advanced many steps. He addressed himself with a slight bow to both Miss Bennets, with a polite congratulation bearing a hint of genuine warmth; Mr. Hurst also made Miss Bennet 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 further from the door. He then sat down by her, and talked scarcely to anyone else. Lizzy, at work in the opposite corner, saw it all with delight.
When tea was over, Mr. Hurst reminded in sister-in-law of the card table – but in vain. She had obtained private intelligence that Mr. Darcy did not wish for cards; and Mr, Hurst soon found his open petition rejected. She assured him that no one intended to play, and silence of the whole party on the subject seemed to justify her. Mr. Hurst therefore had nothing to do, but to stretch himself on one of the sofas and go to sleep. Lizzy was then not sure who to feel sorrier for: Mr. Hurst, for having only one in-law who possibly cared about him and for having such an indifferent wife, or Mrs. Hurst for being married to a man who acted so beneath her in wit. Mr. Darcy took up a book; Miss Bingley did the same; and Mrs. Hurst, principally occupied in playing with her bracelets and rings, joined now and then in brother's conversation with Miss Bennet.
Miss Bingley's attention was quite as engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, in any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume to his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
No one made any reply. Lizzy silently laughed, remembering Miss Bingley's professions about accomplishments, and knew her endeavors at reading were aimed to impress Mr. Darcy. But she knew the man was no fool, and wished the woman would be silent. No wonder, she then felt, at Mr. Darcy's taciturn nature when there were many like his faithful assistant in town. Jane hoped that her former friend would learn that men of sense did not like being fawned over; although she knew of several men in town who would greatly enjoy Miss Bingley's current behavior.
Miss Bingley then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement; when hearing her brother mentioning a ball to Miss Bennet, she suddenly turned towards him and did her best to persuade him from his course. However, not even an appeal to Mr. Darcy's dislike for such events pull Bingley from his plans.
Soon afterwards, Miss Bingley got up and walked about the room. Her figure was excellent, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings, she resolved on one effort more, and, turning to Lizzy, said:
“Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.”
Lizzy was surprised, but, wishing to stand anyway, agreed immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Lizzy herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk and and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. “What could he mean? She was dying to know what could be his meaning?” - and asked Lizzy whether she could at all understand him?
“Not at all,” was her answer, seeing a chance to make a little sport to buoy her spirits; “but depend on it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest was of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.”
Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in anything, and preserved therefore to requiring an explanation of the two motives.
“I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. “You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are aware that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I should be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”
“Oh! Shocking!” cried Miss Bingley. “I have never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”
“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Lizzy. “We can all plague and punish each other. Tease him – laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you much know how it is to be done.”
“But upon my honor, I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Tease calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no – I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we shall not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself.”
“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Lizzy. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintances. I dearly love a laugh.”
“Miss Bingley,” said he, “has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and best of men – nay, the wisest and best of their actions – may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”
“Certainly,” replied Lizzy, – “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”
“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
“Such as vanity and pride.”
That gave Darcy pause; the conversation with Mr. Bennet from earlier came to mind, pushing aside his normal opinion of what Miss Elizabeth Bennet's manner could mean. Her father had boasted that his girls were all artless, and their behavior stemmed from their natural dispositions. He owned that his youngest niece required lessons in restraint, but she had room to improve. But the important development of their meeting now came upon Darcy; if Miss Elizabeth was behaving naturally, then she quite possibly meant that she believed him to have both of the faults she named. Were it not for her father's connection to his own, he might be been sorely offended; but his own interest in her and the wish to know her father better forced him to consider his response carefully.
At last, he acknowledged her words. “Yes, those are both weaknesses indeed. Many among my circle have much to be rightly proud of, but – either by disposition or repetition – many more develop an unhealthy pride, and think meanly of others, particularly those of a station lower than their own. I presume from your expression that you do not view my character as immune to those weaknesses; alas, I fear you may be correct. I can only say this: I have been dependent on no one but myself, my own judgment for many years, and it has served me well. Perhaps too well, if a studier of character with – as I have been told by a source I believe to be reliable – keen understanding believes I have those faults. If I have them, it may perhaps be because of my reluctance to have to depend on others.”
Lizzy was silent; such a shock this was! A victory over the man all of Hertfordshire had declared not worth pleasing, the man who had apologized the other night! Would this evening have other surprises in store? She hoped not.
“Mr. Darcy,” cried Miss Bingley, alarmed at seeing her prospect humbling himself before a country nobody, “surely you overstate and Miss Eliza Bennet has mis-interpreted you.”
“Do not defend me, Miss Bingley. Miss Bennet is all too correct in her examination of myself. I have faults enough, Miss Bennet, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding – certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost for ever.”
“That is a failing indeed,” cried Lizzy. “Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your principal fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are otherwise safe from me.”
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil – a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied, with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
“Do let us have a little music,” cried Miss Bingley, tired of a conversation in which she had no share. “Louisa, you will not mind my waking Mr. Hurst?”
Her sister made not the smallest objection, and the pianoforte was opened; and Darcy, after a few moments' recollection, was not sorry for it. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention, however much he respected her father; and her reaction to his allowing her opinion to have merit confirmed that she held him in a low esteem, if any. That remained in his thoughts all evening.
Lizzy, meanwhile, felt equally disturbed by the debate. To have Mr. Darcy apologize was remarkable enough, but for him to admit she was right about his character? In front of his faithful assistant and his best friend, of all people! She knew not what to make of it, and wanted to be home.
In consequence of an agreement between the sisters, at breakfast they announced their intention of writing to their mother, to beg that the carriage might be sent for them in the course of the day. They both suspected that, had it been up to their aunt, the carriage would not be available, and that she would encourage them to accept any invitations to stay longer. Against staying longer, however, Lizzy was positively resolved; aside from the fear that they had intruded needlessly long despite their parents' judgment of Jane's health, being any more in Mr. Darcy's frequent company was bringing far too much confusion.
The communication excited many professions of concern; and enough was said of wishing them to stay at least till the following day to work on Jane; and till the morrow their going was deferred, with Mr. Bingley's carriage sending them home. Miss Bingley was then sorry that she had proposed the delay, for her jealousy and dislike of one sister much exceeded her affection for the other.
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 mixed intelligence. Elizabeth Bennet had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked – and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, though she heeded his warning of teasing him on the matter. How long that would last, he did not think on. Furthermore, she had bested him in a debate, forcing him to admit to failings he had not believed part of his nature until that night. Yet he had never enjoyed verbal sparring so much as he had the past several days, and her father's words had given him reason to think respectfully of her in general. It was all too confusing, and he knew not how to not allow any sign of admiration escape him now without offending her again. Thus he was careful in his words all of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half-an-hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, speaking to and looking at her no more than civility required.
On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeable to almost all, too place. Miss Bingley's civility to Lizzy increased at last 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. Lizzy took leave of the whole party in the liveliest spirits. Jane left feeling the weight of her mother's caution about her behavior toward Mr. Bingley; showing more of what she felt would bring him more into her company, provide more chances to know his character better. Thus she gave him a warmer smile than she previously allowed herself to; the gentleman's delight was obvious, and he even asked whether it would be convenient for his calling on the family on the morrow to check on her. She thanked him, but reminded him that her sister-in-law would arrive the next day. He therefore suggested the day after, to which Jane could think of no objection.
They were not welcomed home as cordially by their aunt as they wished. Mrs. Bennet wondered at their coming, and thought them very wrong to give them so much trouble, and was sure Jane had caught cold again; however, she kept such thoughts to herself, out of respect to her sister-in-law. But their parents, particularly their father, though very laconic in his expressions of pleasure, were really glad to see them; their absence was felt deeply in family conversations, and their aid in preparing for their eldest brother's wife would have been valued.
Mary and Felicia were found deep in study at the instruments, and had mastered some new pieces. Catherine, Rose and Georgiana had news from Meryton. Lydia also had news, but it tended to be of officers and who had dined with whom. It also appeared that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter had been much in the company of Felicia and Rose, respectively; their mother was sure of an attachment at this pace, and even their aunt believed it; so much so that Mr. Bennet and Mr. Phillips had each sent inquiries on the character of each man.
Posted on Sunday, 5 November 2006
The variety of Hertfordshire society increased the next day with the arrival of the former Elizabeth Elliot, wife of the eldest Bennet son. She brought her children and brother, as expected, but her middle sister's children also came; she explained that Captain and Mrs. Wentworth were out at sea now, and the children simply could not accompany them this time. It was little matter; they would stay at Longbourn Cottage, a charming abode with the appearance of Longbourn Manor on a smaller scale. It held enough room for a growing family and guests.
Most of the friends, family, and acquaintances of Michael Bennet were shocked that he even wished to marry the eldest daughter of the notoriously vain Sir Walter Elliot, and more so that she chose to accept him; but it seemed he approached her at the right moment, taking her away from her father in time to preserve her character from the faults he held in abundance. She still had much of the Elliot pride, but marriage and motherhood had tempered her feelings. Having the mother-in-law she did, and such a good mother still living, ensured that her goodness outweighed her faults. Here, many soon believed, was what Mr. Bingley's sisters ought to be: kind enough to others, and holding her pride in sufficient check to not cause offense. It was also said that Mr. Darcy would benefit from her example, although Mr. Bennet wondered at the idea.
The children were all healthy and hearty. Elizabeth's sons were now four, and, in appearance favoring their father's side, ready to make mischief whenever possible; her daughter would be two in February, and resembled her aunt Anne, her namesake. With her were her two nephews and one niece, of the same respective ages as her own; their manners fluctuated between their father's boldness and their mother's gentle strength, which caused their nanny – mercifully accompanying them – much grief.
Henry, her brother, was named for his maternal grandfather and his father, but his mother's character flowed through him in abundance. The difference was in his tendency to tease; that was presumed to be the influence of his friends, but no one could truly tell anymore. All anyone knew was that he would make a better baronet, but none were callous enough to actually say it; it was commonly known that, if not for Lady Elliot, Sir Walter would have run through the estate funds, plunging the family into extreme debts.
Knowing their mother had matters well in hand had enabled him to be comfortable leaving home, to join his sister in a visit to the always interesting Bennet family. This visit quickly proved more enjoyable; Mary Bennet appeared to react poorly to his teasing, and soon a fierce debate ensued. The family made sure Timothy and the other children were far away from the noise, but her sisters wondered if the behavior signified anything beyond a tendency toward disputes; the last time they met, a similar event took place, and each asked about the other – indirectly – for weeks after.
Only Lady Anne could stop them, and had to more than once; young love might proceed with difficulty, but enough was enough with small children in the home! Otherwise, the reunion was filled with joy and delight. Elizabeth knew not when Michael would return from his current mission, but she prayed it would be safely; although she would not admit to anyone that she held such feelings, as she still considered it undignified.
Dinners at Longbourn had a particular pattern to them, and the additional members to the party made little change on the course of events, aside from the sparring of the presumed couple. This evening held a small surprise, for Mr. Bennet chose to mention news from his correspondence, and had to break an important announcement to the family. “I hope, my dear,” he said to his wife, “that there are plans in the month of March, for I have reason to believe we shall have an unwanted guest.”
This produced great interest from the entire family. Timothy joined them in guessing who it could be. The master quickly silenced all conversation by holding up a letter, and said, “This is from my cousin, Mr. Collins.” That gentleman, all the family older than Timothy knew, would be in line to inherit the estate were it not for the five sons and four grandsons of Mr. Bennet; none had even met the man, and few wished to, as there was a long-standing disagreement between the lines of the family.
To halt any building exclamations, “I shall not sport with the intelligence of the present company by reading it; he is everything Lady Catherine de Bourgh said, and more. A supercilious, proud, vain, and stupid man; and he is now the clergyman of an aunt of Mr. Darcy, for which I pity the man as he makes a yearly visit to this relation. But my reason for mentioning this letter is this: the man wrote to ask to offer an “olive-branch,” and to visit our home starting today.” Exclamations erupted at the news, and he was forced to raise a hand to silence them. “I considered getting this over with, but he made a particular reference to my “amiable daughters and nieces” that, in context, made me very uneasy. Anne, did not Lady Catherine make it plain in her letter that we should avoid being connected to this man if we possibly can?”
“Oh, indeed,” said she; “she was adamant about what an insipid, tiresome manner he had.”
“Therefore,” said Mr. Bennet, “I have claimed that the family will be busy until at least March. In giving him such a date, I have factored in going to Mansfield for the wedding, our planned visit to Lady Catherine around Easter, and anything else that may happen between now and then. I dropped a few names, in the hope that he would accept my words and relent. Mind you, when I cannot delay it any longer, I would prefer that all the ladies are away from home; then he might be less disposed to stay. But it seems I may not be able to keep him away that long, so late February or early March may be when he arrives. Therefore, I must advise the three of the girls being courted that, if you become engaged soon, encourage an early February wedding. Then I shall send the remaining girls to various relations, or simply send all of you ladies to Lady Catherine; then I shall be satisfied that all the girls are fully safe from him.”
“Your plan is reasonable,” said Lady Anne; “but I advise you and Timothy to not be alone to face him; why should we subject our son to the certain criticisms this man shall give any more than absolutely inevitable? Let Elizabeth and the children stay with you. If this man is what you describe, then he will have no patience for young children and be eager to leave.”
“Excellent idea, my dear. Perhaps you and Mrs. Bennet will begin your visit with Lady Catherine early, taking at least one of the girls with you. Or maybe my sisters will wish for the company of one of the girls. In either case, I promise to do everything to spare the girls from unwanted attention.” With that declaration, he left the room. The boys followed him, desirous of learning from the wise man.
The ladies spent much of the evening in discussion of the fashions of Bath, where the Elliot family had visited recently, and the merits of various delicacies. Elizabeth had also brought a selection of marzipan from several shops, to the delight of all the ladies save the youngest who were not beyond the simplest of foods.
Later, Mrs. Bennet intercepted Lady Anne over the matter of Mr. Collins's visit. “Why,” asked she, “should we keep away a man who might marry one of the girls? His station is respectable enough.”
“Think, Fanny,” whispered Anne; “we know nothing of his character, or his acquaintances. How can we be sure he would not mention us to someone who would slip the news to the wrong ears?”
Mrs. Bennet had no response. She merely nodded, acknowledging the danger her sister may still be in, and which could transfer to the children, grandchildren, and other family. That was a risk that no marriage prospects could outweigh.
The next day, the Netherfield party was one of many who came to pay their respects to the new arrivals. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were disconcerted to find the Goulding, Lucas, and Phillips families already there; but the gentlemen took it in stride, even when additional visitors joined the party. Mr Hurst even brought himself to conversation with Mr. Bennet on several occasions, to the delight of the latter; Mr. Bennet drew out several amusing comments on various foods, wines, and card games, and yet it was more than satisfactory.
Bingley greeted the youngest Mrs. Bennet (in residence) with genuine pleasure, which was sufficient to procure her approval for the match with Jane. His affection was plain even to Timothy's youthful eye, and Jane's increased tendency to smile at the gentleman raised eyebrows from her father and her sister-in-law's brother.
Darcy was at first uneasy around the daughter of a notoriously vain and proud baronet, but soon realized that she held far more in intelligence and kindness. He privately suspected it was due to the lady's mother and mother-in-law. His own manners were less disagreeable to the ladies of Longbourn, and he humbled himself to apologize to Mrs. Bennet over any offense he may have given at the assembly. The lady was pleased enough, crediting it to his growing interest in Lizzy; therefore she was warm in her forgiveness, but moderated it to a generous praise of her niece that – while it embarrassed Lizzy – even Lady Anne could not object to.
Bingley's sisters were delighted with the fine society afforded by the presence of the eldest former Miss Elliot, and after greeting Jane with barely genuine delight at seeing her well, immediately tried to ingratiate themselves with Mrs. Michael Bennet; while connections like hers made a potential match between their brother and Miss Bennet less of an evil – yet undesired – event, they wanted to make friends with her for their own benefit. Unfortunately for them, she received their attentions with civil indifference. But the worst for Miss Bingley was when she addressed Lizzy with the following:
“Pray, Miss Eliza, how have you-”
“Excuse me, Miss Bingley,” cried Elizabeth; “did you just call my dear sister 'Eliza?'”
The lady and her sister were shocked into silence, and Mrs. Michael Bennet's outburst drew the attention of all of the room. Miss Bingley forced herself to speak civilly. “Oh, Mrs. Michael Bennet, I meant no harm. Your sister-in-law has not objected.”
“Well,” said Elizabeth, cutting off any further reply, “I find the name utterly repulsive; it has too much of a lower standing for my taste, and I cannot abide hearing one of my family spoken to with such a deplorable name. I may not be her mother, but I insist on hearing her called 'Miss Elizabeth.'”
Poor Miss Bingley found it hard to bear that two of her outlets for her feelings toward the young lady she believed her rival were taken from her. First Mr. Darcy himself suggested that teasing might make him think more about forming the connection, and now she had offended – however unintentionally – the lady's well-connected sister-in-law. She attempted a sincere apology to both her would-be friend and her rival; however, she felt Mrs. Michael Bennet's short acceptance was more polite behavior and less truly meant, and the sister-in-law's arch willingness to overlook the whole event left Miss Bingley angry.
It was not long after that Mrs. Hurst, having sensed her sister's unease, suggested that the party return to Netherfield to take care of business before her brother's intended ball; her own wishes for her sister being happily situated at Pemberley made her attempts at a graceful departure seem slightly awkward to the residents of Longbourn. Mr. Bingley had the decency to be ashamed at his sibling's ill-manners, but Lady Anne waved off any apologies as unnecessary. He was grateful that she was not holding it against him; Jane was resigned to not being approved of by her potential sisters-in-law, and was relieved her family was not opposed to the match because of his siblings.
Mr. Darcy found himself more confused about the Bennet family as he rode with Bingley to Netherfield. His respect for Mr. Bennet and his wife increased with each moment in their company, he found the intelligence of the younger females hardly lacking – save for the silliest one – and the children were delightful. He found Miss Bingley's distaste for their being allowed a largely free reign and being allowed to ask many questions of the adults offensive, but mourned that the Bennets were not of his social sphere; he and Bingley could freely associate with them, no shame on either of them, and he would be free to admire Miss Elizabeth, even to the point of marrying her if his fancy went that far. And yet one entirely pretentious family had willingly connected themselves with the Bennets; and a respectable family of consequence was about to connect themselves to the same family. It required more time to consider the situation.
Later that day, the younger Bennet women and Mr. Henry Elliot walked to Meryton for a card party at the Phillips. While only three of the girls called Mrs. Phillips their aunt, her parties were usually delightful events for the families of the area. The Netherfield party would not be present; Lady Anne and her eldest daughters suspected Miss Bingley ensured that they were occupied that night when the invitations were issued.
Mr. Bennet, Lady Anne, and Mrs. Bennet arrived by carriage after. They were in time for Lady Anne to observe an unusual sight: Mr. Darcy, on horseback, staring in controlled fury at another man in a gentleman's attire. The other man, an undeniably handsome man, seemed nervous to her eye. That Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley – who had been talking with a smiling Jane – soon rode off raised her curiosity. “How peculiar it is,” said she to her companions; “I must learn what that was about.”
Her opportunity came at the party; the militia arrived about an hour later, with the young man as their newest addition. Introduced as Mr. Wickham, he had taken a commission just that day, and was fortunate to receive a uniform within a short while. Mrs. Bennet – with the eye of a lady who knew attractive features when she saw them – commented, among other things, on “how well he looked in uniform, and what manners he showed.”
Mr. Bennet, ever the observant guardian, kept a wary eye on the man whenever he approached one of his girls or Miss Lucas – for neither Sir William nor Lady Lucas could attend. He was waiting on his inquiries about Colonel Forster and Captain Carter, and so could not ask either of them. The presence of another handsome man in uniform meant he stayed near Lydia most of the night.
Lady Anne's opinion on the man was undecided, but that he could disconcert the gentleman she thought could be her son-in-law was not in his favor. At last, she chanced to be sitting close enough to Lizzy to overhear Mr. Wickham speaking with her. At first the conversation was on the country itself, but then it turned to a topic that interested her more: the Darcy family. Within a few minutes, she learned that he was the son of the late steward of Pemberley. Such intelligence made her ears keener on the conversation, so she discretely leaned closer to hear.
Soon her curiosity turned to horror on hearing the particulars as Mr. Wickham slowly disclosed one claim about Mr. Darcy's behavior to Lizzy. Lady Anne acknowledged to herself “how convincing Mr. Wickham is, but if he honored George Darcy so much, than how could he reveal such things to a perfect stranger?” Furthermore, his comments on the Darcy sisters seemed off the mark with what Mr. Darcy had said of them. Especially of the younger, who struck Lady Anne – from description – as painfully shy. How, she desired to know, could he think them proud?
Only one aspect did she consider with some authority. He spoke of Mr. Darcy's aunt, the Countess of _____. The lady's daughter, the elder of her two children, was supposedly destined to be Mr. Darcy's bride. Lady Anne considered this information: it fit with the letter her husband received from Mr. Collins, but surely Miss Bingley would not pursue Mr. Darcy with such determination if he were already betrothed. Even that lady was not stupid.
More concerning was how readily Lizzy appeared to believe the account. Lady Anne was nearly incensed. Did she not teach her daughters better? Therefore she felt it necessary to speak with Colonel Forster immediately, which she did upon determining that Lizzy was in no danger; her cousin-in-law Mr. Goulding was just then approaching to take her away from the card tables, and his judgment was good.
Colonel Forster was deeply alarmed upon hearing Lady Anne's report of his newest officer. He could not stand liars in his ranks, and promised to keep a careful eye on Mr. Wickham. He agreed that no young lady should be left near him for any time, and assured her that he would put another officer – one whose judgment and character were unimpeachable – with Wickham whenever the man was away from the training areas.
Her primary mission achieved, she hurried to her husband to acquaint him with the events. Mr. Bennet's reaction was highly predictable; his loyalty to his friends made him troubled that Mr. Darcy's character had been questioned, and he never liked strange young men paying attention to any of his girls. Lizzy's apparent willingness to believe the tale displeased him, and he decided to remove the family early. Lydia loudly protested, but this only strengthened her uncle's will; she had been more eager to capture Mr. Wickham's attention, and her silliness at the card tables made it clear that he had been mistaken in giving in to Lydia earlier in the year. No explanation was given, not even once the ladies were home; but the girls knew better than to argue, for when their father was in such an angry state, all except their mother had to leave him alone. Lizzy and Jane spent a few hours talking of the former's conversation with Mr. Wickham; Jane wished there to be some good explanation that would exonerate Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy was more disposed to condemn the man.
The next morning, Mr. Bennet rode off after an early breakfast. Mrs. Bennet commented on this, demanding of her sister-in-law for its meaning. “Why,” was the answer, “he is speaking with Mr. Darcy regarding the newest officer in the militia. The young man had quite a shocking tale, and we must know Mr. Darcy's side to know the truth.”
This was not sufficient, and Lady Anne was obliged to repeat what she overheard. Mrs. Bennet was not disposed to think ill of a redcoat, but the possibility of gaining a wealthy nephew was at stake in her mind, and therefore she agreed to wait for Mr. Bennet's return. This meant much more quiet in the house than normally possible.
During the day, Mr. Bingley and his sisters came with an invitation to a ball, which could now be held as there was enough white soup. The visit was rather short, as they still had many visits to make, but Mr. Bingley secured the first set from Jane, the second from Lizzy, and a third from Elizabeth. Assurances of dances with at least some of the other girls followed before Miss Bingley urged her brother out. Unfortunately for her, he had been treated to several warm smiles from Jane, which could only secure their fate.
Before they left, Mr. Bingley informed them that Mr. Bennet and Colonel Forster had separately called on Mr. Darcy, and would likely closed up in business for several hours. Lizzy started over hearing that the colonel of the regiment was speaking with Mr. Darcy. She could only wonder how the man would react to hearing the accusations, but supposed that Colonel Forster would not be afraid of the man.
She did not realize how much of her feelings showed, for after the visitors left, her mother called her to her room for a talk. Lizzy suspected nothing until her mother began: “I am disappointed in you, Elizabeth.” The use of her full given name, not done since her sister-in-law had resigned the name Elliot, shocked Lizzy into silence. “Your father and I raised you to think carefully, to not jump to conclusions. Yet twice you have shown yourself absolutely willing to do so towards Mr. Darcy. This is not uncommonly clever behavior. This is willful misunderstanding and stubbornness. Do your father the honor of not saying another word against Mr. Darcy until after you have heard that gentleman's account of events.”
The force, not heard since she was much younger, left Lizzy speechless. Against her aunt, she would have privately been able to laugh it off as silliness; but this was her mother, who commanded her total respect. She had not said a word of Mr. Wickham's story to her, and doubted that Jane had. So, she wondered as she was wordlessly sent out of the room, how had her mother – and presumably her father – learned the account? She longed to speak with Jane, but Timothy had challenged Jane, Kitty, and Georgiana to a game of words, which Lizzy knew from experience could take hours.
Mr. Bennet was out late, not returning until nearly dinnertime. All questions about his day were in vain; he was absolutely silent, except for saying “Not now” to his eldest daughters and his wife. Even Lady Anne could tell he needed time to himself, and kept anyone from approaching her husband's study.
Dinnertime was an unusually silent affair. The children provided most of the conversation, supplemented by Lydia (whose words were carefully attended to by her uncle) and Georgiana. Their mothers aided talk until the meal was concluded, and the nanny took the children to the nursery in the cottage. Timothy went to his room to study, per his parents' teaching, while the ladies moved to the sitting room. Mr. Bennet accepted the company of Henry Elliot, and the gentlemen spent nearly an hour in Mr. Bennet's study.
The impatience for news of the conversation with Mr. Darcy reached a pitch in Lizzy's mind, and she finally sighed aloud. “Mama, please let me speak with Papa.”
“Wait for him to come to us.” And Lady Anne would say no more.
Not long after, the gentlemen entered. None had ever seen Mr. Bennet so stern; Lydia hoped to laugh it off. “Why, Uncle,” cried she, “you act as though something bad happened.”
“Yes, child,” snapped he; “something did happen. I learned the newest member of the militia is not to be trusted, and I was presented with evidence of the best authority to prove it. Let me say that Colonel Forster was horrified to learn what a person had joined his regiment, and is taking steps to have the man transferred to an active regiment with the strictest leader within a week.”
“You mean we have been deceived by a redcoat?” Lydia could not believe it, and would not. “No, Mr. Wickham-”
“Pray, silence, Lydia!” The sharpness of his tone frightened several of the young ladies. “I would not trust you near any regiment, not for 50£. No, Lydia, I have learned to be even more cautious where my girls are concerned, and you above all will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter my house again, or even to pass through the village, without the most complete character references from men I trust. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your elder cousins. And you are never to stir out of doors until you can prove you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner.”
The shock of the pronouncement, and its force, left even Mrs. Bennet convinced he meant every word. The only skeptic was Lydia, who tried to laugh it off, but only squeaked. “No,” whispered she, “no.”
“Now, child, do not cry.” Mr. Bennet's tone was not quite so harsh. “If you are a good girl for the next ten years, I will take you to a review at the end of them.”
Lydia burst into tears, realizing he meant to never let her near a redcoat again, and fled for her room. Her uncle did not trust that she would not attempt to go to Meryton on her own, and thus had the servants guard the doors and windows. Especially Lydia's.
The silence engulfed the entire room. Lizzy's thoughts engrossed her quickly. I was deceived? But he had every aspect of truth to his tale: names, facts-
Her thoughts were interrupted by her father walking over. “Lizzy, I am rather saddened to know Mr. Darcy's estimation of your greatest defect being willful misunderstanding of others was correct.” Her eyes rose sharply, shocked, to meet his. “He gave a few details of your debates. I will note that he, on reflection, found it impossible to fault you; your pride was offended, and he was unable to express himself well enough. At my request,” said he, pulling a letter out of his carvet, “he wrote a letter detailing all his dealings with Mr. Wickham. You shall be the first in the family to read it.”
I trust, dear readers, that you all know the contents of that part of Mr. Darcy's letter well enough, and so I need not repeat any of it. Therefore, let my pen move to other things.
Lizzy's first instinct, which was observed by the whole room as Mr. Bennet would not let her leave it yet, was to declare the whole false, but she held back from saying so. She needed a second reading, on which the very details of Mr. Wickham's story that alarmed her mother came to toy with her mind. Now it seemed very wrong of him to speak so to a perfect stranger. By the end of the third reading, Lizzy handed the letter to her mother and fled the room in shame.
I shall also trust that the nature of her self-reproach is well-enough known to not need repetition.
The letter slowly worked its way around the room. It would have saved time to read it aloud, but Mr. Bennet expressly forbid it. The horror of the occupants was considerable; for the first time in her life, Mrs. Bennet actually hated a redcoat, for she could see what he might have done to her girls if given the chance. Especially if it meant preventing a marriage between her niece and Mr. Darcy! Such feelings were deeply shared by Elizabeth, who whispered that she would return to the cottage for the night. Her brother escorted her, but not before bidding good-night to all, with a particular look saved for Miss Mary; it said to her, I would never put you through that pain.
For the younger ladies, it only brought tears to some of them. Jane, despite her own horror, had to help console her siblings and cousins. They had an uneasy night's sleep, and each knew that no one was going into Meryton alone until Mr. Wickham was out of the militia.
Lady Anne and Mr. Bennet checked on their second-eldest daughter early the next morning, hoping to alleviate her discomfort. They expected a call later that day, and hoped she would be prepared. They found Lizzy walking in the garden, near the house. She knew from experience that when she incurred her parents' displeasure, it was best to keep her walks close enough to be called in if they insisted. Sure enough, she heard her name called within minutes. She came to them, trying to hold her head high despite her self-reproach. They directed her to a bench, and seated themselves.
“Lizzy,” said her mother, taking her hand, “we are not angry at you, my love. I know how hard it is to be wrong about someone, and I agree that Mr. Darcy's behavior at the ball was wrong. But has he not apologized to you?”
Lizzy swallowed. “The night after your visit to Netherfield.”
“Well,” said her father, “that pleases me. I am expecting him later today, to answer any questions his letter may have created. Your cousin Lydia shall remain in her room until the gentleman leaves, so you may be easy on that score. Will you promise to treat the man civilly?”
Lizzy could only nod.
Mr. Darcy was punctual, calling after luncheon. Despite the grim business that prompted the visit, he smiled at the children when they passed by – they did not stop because their nanny and the other servants were herding them along – on his entrance. When he was shown into the drawing room, he received a friendly welcome from Mr. Bennet and his lady. Mrs. Bennet, drained from her morning argument with Lydia, kept to a simple “You are very welcome,” which shocked her nieces.
Mr. Bennet chose to not waste time. “I can answer for all of my family but one when I say that there are no questions about your letter's contents. Your cousin, Colonel __, is not unknown to us, and I consider his character unquestionable. If he is a witness to the truth, then I am satisfied.” He turned to his favorite daughter. “Lizzy, do you have any questions?”
“No, sir,” said she, to both men. “Mr. Darcy, I am heartily sorry for my own behavior. I own that I should have looked on what I heard with suspicion, and I hope that no one in Meryton suffers for his presence.”
“Mr. Wickham always has ease of manner,” answered Mr Darcy, with the tightness that comes with speaking of an enemy, “and many have believed him at one time or another. My own father was one of them to his dying day, so I cannot fault you. I suppose I have not been at my best, else you would have had clear reason to question him.”
Her spirits rose further from her father closing that topic and moving the conversation to the ball itself. The gentlemen spoke about how much Mr. Bennet detested the spectacle, and how much trouble being responsible for – at one time – ten young ladies was. Lady Anne and Elizabeth had to excuse themselves to look in on the children, and Mrs. Bennet aided Georgiana with some needlework; for hers was the best of all the family, and Georgiana wished to make a special cloth for her soon-to-be-sister Maria Bertram.
At last, it was evident that Mr. Darcy held a strong dislike of balls, and explained part of his reason, “I am not adept at the art of conversing with strangers.”
“And how is this possible,” asked Lizzy, recovered from earlier, “that a man of the world cannot converse with a stranger?”
“I am not practiced in the skill.”
“My fingers do not move over that instrument in the other room as well as I would like, but I suppose that is because I would not trouble myself to practice.”
Mr. Darcy smiled. “No, I believe you have put your talents in better places. It seems we neither of us perform to strangers.”
Such a declaration forced most of the ladies to refrain from raising startled looks toward the man or Lizzy. Her surprise over being teased was considerable, but nothing to when he finally took his leave, and addressed her, with noticeable unease:
“Miss Bennet, at Netherfield, I asked if you would reserve the first set for me at the next event with dancing. Although my friend's ball appears to be that occasion, am I asking too much to also request the supper set?”
Only the practice of dealing with many inquisitive relatives at once allowed Lizzy to hold her composure. “You are not too late, Mr Darcy, for I have not been asked yet by any others.”
He bowed, and, after securing dances from several other girls, left for Netherfield. In asking Miss Elizabeth for a second set, he knew he would be drawing a great deal of attention to both of them. He only hoped that people would assume he was paying penance for snubbing her at the assembly. Yet he was assured of a sensible dinner companion, and, given his earlier warning, Miss Bingley would be far less likely in intrude upon him.
The distinction was more than Lizzy was prepared for. Nothing seemed clear; on the one hand, Mr. Darcy appeared to be moving beyond his first actions and preparing to court her, but he still seemed rather distant to her. She found she needed long conversations with various family members to gain any understanding of the man.
Unusually, it was Elizabeth who provided the best advice. “Mr. Darcy,” said she, “likely grew up having been raised with good principles, but his education in dealing with others might have been accidentally neglected. Given who his mother's family is, it is very possible that he was not taught to keep justifiable pride from moving into contempt of those beneath him in society. He is struggling with the demands of some of his family and with the wishes of his heart. You must show yourself aware of this, and not pressure him. I am sure that he values what you call impertinence; after all, how many Miss Bingleys can one stomach before closing off from the world?”