ELIZABETH 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 inquiries which she very early received from Mr. Bingley by a housemaid. She requested to have a note sent to Longbourn, desiring her mother to visit Jane, and form her own judgment of her situation. The note was immediately dispatched, but the rider was met with a group of freshly unearthed zombies on the road and dragged off to his presumable demise.
The note was dispatched a second time with more success, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her two youngest girls and their longbows, reached Netherfield soon after the family breakfast.
Had she found Jane in any apparent danger of having the strange plague, Mrs. Bennet would have been very miserable; but being satisfied on seeing her that her illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her recovering immediately, as her restoration to health would probably remove her from Netherfield. She would not listen, therefore, to her daughter’s proposal of being carried home; neither did the apothecary, who arrived about the same time, think it at all advisable. Bingley met them with hopes that Mrs. Bennet had not found Miss Bennet worse than she expected.
“Indeed I have, sir,” was her answer. “She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness.”
“Removed!” cried Bingley. “It must not be thought of!”
Mrs. Bennet was profuse in her acknowledgments.
“I am sure,” she added, “if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, no doubt due to her many months under the tutelage of Master Liu.”
“Might I expect to meet this gentleman here in Hertfordshire?” asked Bingley.
“I rather think you shan’t,” she replied, “for he has never left the confines of the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. It was there that our girls spent many a long day being trained to endure all manner of discomfort.”
“May I inquire as to the nature of this discomfort?”
“You may inquire,” said Elizabeth, “though I would much prefer to give you a demonstration.”
“Lizzy,” cried her mother, “remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home.”
“I hardly knew you to possess such character,” said Bingley.
“My own character is of little consequence,” replied Elizabeth. “It is the character of others which concerns me. I devote a great many hours to the study of it.”
“The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”
“Excepting, of course, when the country is overrun with the same unmentionables as town.”
“Yes, indeed,” cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. “I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town.” Everybody was surprised, and Darcy, after looking at her for a moment, turned silently away. Mrs. Bennet, who fancied she had gained a complete victory over him, continued her triumph.
“I cannot see that London has any great advantage over the country, particularly since the wall was built. It may be a fortress replete with shops, but it is a fortress nonetheless-and hardly fit for the fragile nerves of a gentle lady. The country is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mr. Bingley?”
“When I am in the country,” he replied, “I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, both in regards to the plague and otherwise. For while I sleep more soundly in the safety of town, I find my general disposition much improved by my present surroundings.”
“Aye-that is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman,” looking at Darcy, “seemed to think the country was nothing at all.”
“Indeed, Mamma, you are mistaken,” said Elizabeth, blushing for her mother. “You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant that there was not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in the town, which you must acknowledge to be true. Just as Mr. Darcy would surely acknowledge that the scarcity of graveyards makes the country altogether more agreeable in times such as these.”
“Certainly, my dear; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families. Well, three-and-twenty, I suppose-God rest poor Mrs. Long’s soul.”
Darcy only smiled; and the general pause which ensued made Elizabeth tremble. She longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say; and after a short silence Mrs. Bennet began repeating her thanks to Mr. Bingley for his kindness to Jane, with an apology for troubling him also with Lizzy. 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 Mrs. Bennet was satisfied, and soon afterwards ordered her carriage. Upon this signal, the youngest of her daughters put herself forward. The two girls had been whispering to each other during the whole visit, and the result of it was, that the youngest should tax Mr. Bingley with having promised on his first coming into the country to give a ball at Netherfield.
Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance. She had every bit of Lizzy’s deadly nature, though little of her sense, and had vanquished her first unmentionable at the remarkable age of seven-and-one-half years. She was very equal, therefore, to address Mr. Bingley on the subject of the ball, and abruptly reminded him of his promise; adding, that it would be the most shameful thing in the world if he did not keep it. His answer to this sudden attack was delightful to their mother’s ear.
“I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement; and when your sister is recovered, you shall, if you please, name the very day of the ball. But you would not wish to be dancing when she is ill.”
Lydia declared herself satisfied. “Oh! Yes-it would be much better to wait till Jane was well, and by that time most likely Captain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you have given your ball,” she added, “I shall insist on their giving one also. I shall tell Colonel Forster it will be quite a shame if he does not.”
Mrs. Bennet and her daughters then departed, and Elizabeth returned instantly to Jane, leaving her own and her relations’ behaviour to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of her, in spite of all Miss Bingley’s witticisms on fine eyes.