THE LADIES OF LONGBOURN soon waited on those of Netherfield. Jane’s pleasing manners grew on the goodwill of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and though the mother was found to be intolerable, and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish of being better acquainted with them was expressed towards the two eldest. By Jane this attention was received with the greatest pleasure, but Elizabeth still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody. It was generally evident whenever they met, that Mr. Bingley did admire her and to her it was equally evident that Jane was in a way to be very much in love; but she considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general. Elizabeth mentioned this to her friend Miss Lucas.
“It may perhaps be pleasant,” replied Charlotte, “but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.”
“But she does help him on, as much as her nature will allow. Remember, Charlotte-she is a warrior first, and a woman second.”
“Well,” said Charlotte, “I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were to be studying his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance, 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, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
“Remember, Elizabeth-I am not a warrior as you are. I am merely a silly girl of seven-and-twenty years, and that without a husband.”
Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes, and her uncommon skill with a blade. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing, and her arms surprisingly muscular, though not so much as to diminish her femininity.
He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice. It was at Sir William Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.
“What does Mr. Darcy mean,” said she to Charlotte, “by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?”
“That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer.”
“Well if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. I have not yet forgiven him for insulting my honour, and may yet have his head upon my mantle.”
Mr. Darcy approached them soon afterwards. Elizabeth turned to him and said, “Did you not think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teasing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?”
“With great energy; but balls are always a subject which makes a lady energetic.”
“It depends on who’s throwing them, Mr. Darcy.”
“Well,” said Miss Lucas, her faced suddenly flushed, “I am going to open the instrument, Eliza, and you know what follows.”
“You are a very strange creature by way of a friend! Always wanting me to play and sing before anybody and everybody!”
Elizabeth’s performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who, at the end of a long concerto, joined eagerly in dancing with her younger sisters, some of the Lucases, and two or three officers at one end of the room.
Mr. 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 his thoughts to perceive that Sir William Lucas stood beside him, till Sir William thus began:
“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!”
“Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance. Why, I imagine even zombies could do it with some degree of success.”
Sir William only smiled, not sure of how to converse with so rude a gentleman. He was much relieved at the sight of Elizabeth approaching.
“My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing? Mr. Darcy, you must allow me to present this young lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure, when so much beauty is before you.” He took Miss Bennet’s hand and presented it to Mr. Darcy, who was not unwilling to receive it. But she instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure to Sir William, “Indeed, sir, 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.”
Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested the honour of her hand, but in vain. Elizabeth was determined. She looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with Mr. Darcy, for indeed he was thinking of her with some complacency, when thus accosted by Miss 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-the insipidity, the noise, the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!”
“You 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 woman can bestow.”
Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Mr. Darcy replied:
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet!” repeated Miss Bingley. “Defender of Longbourn? Heroine of Hertfordshire? I am all astonishment. You will be having a charming mother-in-law, indeed; and, of course, the two of you would fell many an unmentionable with your combined proficiencies in the deadly arts.”
He listened to her with perfect indifference while she chose to entertain herself in this manner; and as his composure convinced her that all was safe, her wit flowed long.