THE DAY PASSED much as the day before had done. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley had spent some hours of the morning with the invalid, who continued, though slowly, to mend; and in the evening Elizabeth joined their party in the drawing-room. The card table, however, did not appear. Mr. Darcy was writing, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was observing their game.
Elizabeth took up the oiling of her musket stock, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion.
“How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!”
He made no answer.
“You write uncommonly fast.”
“And you prattle uncommonly much.”
“How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!”
“And how odious indeed that I should so often suffer to write them in your company.”
“Pray tell your sister that I long to see her.”
“I have already told her so once, by your desire.”
“How can you contrive to write so even?”
He was silent.
“Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp; and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table.”
“Miss Bingley, the groans of a hundred unmentionables would be more pleasing to my ears than one more word from your mouth. Were you not otherwise agreeable, I should be forced to remove your tongue with my saber.”
“Oh! It is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Darcy?”
“They are generally long; but whether always charming it is not for me to determine.”
“It is a rule with me that a person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill.”
“That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline,” cried her brother, “because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?”
Mr. Darcy continued to work on his letter in silence, though Elizabeth perceived him to be a great deal annoyed with his friends.
When that business was over, Mr. Darcy applied to Miss Bingley and Elizabeth for an indulgence of some music. Miss Bingley moved with some alacrity to the pianoforte; and, after a polite request that Elizabeth would lead the way, she seated herself.
Mrs. Hurst sang with her sister as Elizabeth played.
When once the earth was still and dead were silent,
And London-town was for but living men,
Came the plague upon us swift and violent,
And so our dearest England we defend.
While they were thus employed, Elizabeth could not help observing how frequently Mr. Darcy’s eyes were fixed on her. She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man; and yet that he should look at her because he disliked her, was still more strange. She could only imagine, however, that she drew his notice because there was something more wrong and reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in any other person present. The supposition did not pain her. She liked him too little to care for his approbation.
Miss Bingley played next, varying the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her:
“Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?”
She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.
“Oh!” said she, “I heard you before, but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say ‘Yes,’ that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all-and now despise me if you dare.”
“Indeed I do not dare.”
Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger of falling in love, and were it not for his considerable skill in the deadly arts, that he should be in danger of being bested by hers-for never had he seen a lady more gifted in the ways of vanquishing the undead.
Miss Bingley saw, or suspected 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 Elizabeth. She often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking her guest, by talking of their supposed marriage, and planning his happiness in such an alliance.
“I hope,” said she, as they were walking together in the shrubbery the next day, “you will give your mother-in-law a few hints, when this desirable event takes place, as to the advantage of holding her tongue; and if you can compass it, do cure the younger girls of running after officers. And, if I may mention so delicate a subject, endeavour to check Miss Bennet’s unladylike affinity for guns, and swords, and exercise, and all those silly things best left to men or ladies of low breeding.”
“Have you anything else to propose for my domestic felicity?”
At that moment they were met from another walk by Mrs. Hurst and Elizabeth herself.
“I did not know that you intended to walk,” said Miss Bingley, in some confusion, lest she had been overheard.
“You used us abominably ill,” answered Mrs. Hurst, “running away without telling us that you were coming out.”
Then taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felt their rudeness, and immediately said:
“This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue.”
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered:
“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Besides, that path is most assuredly rife with zombies, and I have not the inclination to engage in fighting them off to-day. Good-bye.”
She then ran gaily off, rejoicing as she rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two. Jane was already so much recovered as to intend leaving her room for a couple of hours that evening.