ELIZABETH WAS SITTING by herself the next morning, meditating while Mrs. Collins and Maria were gone on business into the village, when she was startled by a ring at the door. As she had heard no carriage, she thought it not unlikely to be Lady Catherine, and under that apprehension was extinguishing her incense, when the door opened, and, to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy entered the room.
He seemed astonished too on finding her alone, and apologised for his intrusion by letting her know that he had understood all the ladies were to be within.
They then sat down, and when her inquiries after Rosings were made, seemed in danger of sinking into total silence. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, to think of something, and in this emergence recollecting when she had seen him last in Hertfordshire, and feeling curious to know what he would say on the subject of their hasty departure, she observed:
“How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Mr. Darcy! It must have been a most agreeable surprise to Mr. Bingley to see you all after him so soon; for, if I recollect right, he went but the day before. He and his sisters were well, I hope, when you left London?”
“Perfectly so, I thank you.”
She found that she was to receive no other answer, and, after a short pause, added:
“I think I have understood that Mr. Bingley has not much idea of ever returning to Netherfield again?”
“I have never heard him say so; but it is probable that he may spend very little of his time there in the future. He is rather afraid of zombies, and their numbers in that part of the country are continually increasing.”
“If he means to be but little at Netherfield, it would be better for the neighbourhood that he should give up the place entirely, for then we might possibly get a settled family there-one with a keener interest in the deadly arts. But, perhaps, Mr. Bingley did not take the house so much for the convenience of the neighbourhood as for his own, and we must expect him to keep it or quit it on the same principle.”
“I should not be surprised,” said Darcy, “if he were to give it up as soon as any eligible purchase offers.”
Elizabeth made no answer. She was afraid of talking longer of his friend; and, having nothing else to say, was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject to him.
He took the hint, and soon began with, “This seems a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.”
“I believe she did-and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.”
“Mr. Collins appears to be very… fortunate in his choice of a wife.”
Elizabeth detected hesitation in his compliment. Was he sensible of Charlotte’s being stricken?
“Yes, indeed, his friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would have accepted him, or have made him happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding-though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light it is certainly a very good match for her.”
“It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”
“An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”
“And what is fifty miles of zombie-free road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”
“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”
“It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”
As he spoke he let slip a sort of smile which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered:
“Sir, you forget that I have twice made the journey to the darkest reaches of the Orient-a journey you know to be frightfully long and fraught with bears. I assure you, my picture of the world is rather a bit bigger than Longbourn. However, Mr. and Mrs. Collins have never had a need of embarking on such adventures, so I suspect their ideas of distance are much like those of other ordinary people. I am likewise persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance.”
Mr. Darcy drew his chair a little towards her.
Elizabeth looked surprised. The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper from the table, and glancing over it, said, in a colder voice:
“Are you pleased with the news from Sheffield?”
A short dialogue on the subject of the army’s recent victory ensued, on either side calm and concise-and soon put an end to by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from her walk. The t^ete-`a-t^ete surprised them. Mr. Darcy related the mistake which had occasioned his intruding on Miss Bennet, and after sitting a few minutes longer without saying much to anybody, went away.
“Wah can be da meaning of dis?” howled Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. “Mah dear Ewiza, he muss be love you, aw he never wuh have called in dis famiwiar way.”
But when Elizabeth told of his silence; it did not seem very likely, even to Charlotte’s wishes, to be the case; and after various conjectures, they could at last only suppose his visit to proceed from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which was the more probable from the time of year. The ground was quite frozen, and neither fresh unmentionables nor field sports would be seen again till spring. Within doors there was Lady Catherine, books, and a billiard-table, but gentlemen cannot always be within doors; and in the nearness of the Parsonage, or the pleasantness of the walk to it, or of the people who lived in it, the two cousins found a temptation from this period of walking thither almost every day. They called at various times of the morning, sometimes separately, sometimes together, and now and then accompanied by their aunt. It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because he had pleasure in their society, a persuasion which of course recommended him still more.
But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice. He seldom appeared really animated, even at the sight of Mrs. Collins gnawing upon her own hand. What remained of Charlotte would liked to have believed this change the effect of love, and the object of that love her friend Eliza. She watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success, for her thoughts often wandered to other subjects, such as the warm, succulent sensation of biting into a fresh brain. Mr. Darcy certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind. And upon imagining Mr. Darcy’s mind, her thoughts would again turn to the subject of chewing on his salty, cauliflower-like brain.
She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea; and Mrs. Collins did not think it right to press the subject, from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment.
In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was beyond comparison the most pleasant man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible; but, to counterbalance these advantages, Mr. Darcy had a considerably larger head, and thus, more brains to feast upon.