Monday, October 28, 2013

Jane and Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling (Part Five)

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four


Relief was more than twenty-four hours away, the boredom of which was broken up by visits from Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, who remained doting and, fortunately, formal in their address, and the periodic disappearance of Elizabeth, who seemed, to Jane’s eye, to spend a great deal more time with the company than one who professed to dislike them so ought. Finally, after much pleading, Elizabeth agreed that Jane was ready to brave the journey to the drawing room following the next evening’s dinner.

After being bundled in an excessive quantity of shawls, Elizabeth attended her sister to the drawing room, where the ladies awaited them. Jane wished Elizabeth would not treat her as if she were so very fragile, and suspected her solicitous activity had something to do with a desire to avoid the conversation of their companions. Not even Lizzy is beneath such maneuvers, Jane smiled to herself, seeking to redeem her family’s rudeness by her own perfection. The warm welcome she received, with her two friends professing such pleasure in her repair, gave her good reason to hope not all was lost. They entertained her admirably with their anecdotes and lively conversation, while all Elizabeth did towards her amusement was continue to adjust the blanket. When Miss Bingley called her Jane, she did not even look to her sister to gage her reaction, only replying pleasantly, “Yes, Caroline,” for the world as if she agreed to the intimacy. As she saw no adverse response in her hostess, she endeavored to think no more about it.

Jane knew herself abandoned by the ladies when the gentlemen entered the room, Miss Bingley being quick to attach herself to Mr. Darcy, and Mrs. Hurst called upon to entertain her husband. Jane had not previously noticed Caroline’s overt interest in Mr. Darcy, but it was easy to understand. Flattery was such a gentleman’s due. Only someone as foolishly idealistic as Elizabeth would shun his good opinion. Jane’s own opinion of Miss Bingley was solidified in seeing how very little of her interest Mr. Darcy returned, as he ignored her rather aggressive questioning to formally address himself to Jane. She thought his manner very becoming, and cast upon him her most endearing smile. 

Mr. Bingley was at her side, fussing about her even more than Elizabeth had. She thought him quite annoying in his attentions, but she smiled sweetly, even suffering herself to be removed to another chair, and betraying not a glimmer of irritation in his entire monopolization of her conversation.

When tea was over, Mr. Hurst reminded his 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 even his open petition rejected. She assured him that no one intended to play, and the silence of the whole party on the subject seemed to justify her. Mr. Hurst had therefore nothing to do but to stretch himself on one of the sophas and go to sleep. 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 her brother's conversation with Jane, who found the entire proceeding exceedingly dull. Only one thing provided any gratification: Mr. Bingley’s heart seemed entirely her own. Beauty and grace had triumphed over Mrs. Bennet’s coarse rudeness.

She felt her security from censure increase and was almost ready to dismiss Elizabeth’s entire account of the Bennets’ call as exaggerated, when Mr. Bingley brought up the topic himself.

“I enjoyed the visit with you mother and sisters yesterday,” she heard him begin with dismay. “Your youngest sister, Miss Lydia, is very amusing. High spirits and gaiety, just as I was at that age!” He spoke sentimentally, but something in Jane’s smile must have betrayed her unease, as he quickly continued, in a failed attempt to sooth his lady’s spirits, “She is at a trying age, but will grow out of it, soon enough. Did Miss Elizabeth tell you of how she called on me to fulfill a promise, so she called it, to hold a ball?” She did not! “So amusing!” Oh, Lydia! “As soon as you are well, we will pick a date, and I hope I may have the honor of your hand for the first set.”

Before a befuddled Jane could formulate an adequate reply, Caroline, who had abandoned her book to extoll the glories of reading, turned to her brother and interjected: "By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party. I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure."

"If you mean Darcy," cried her brother, "he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins. But as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing, and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards."

"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if they were carried on in a different manner, but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."

"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball."

Miss Bingley made no answer and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. Mr. Bingley renewed his request for the first two dances, and Jane was now master enough of herself to reply with every appearance of pleasure, though inside her heart seethed with anger. How could Lydia put herself forward in such an unladylike way? And how could Elizabeth not warn me of such an exposure of familial weakness? It was yet another source of shame to bury inside and pretend to ignore, along with all the other memories of mortification. Mr. Bingley’s overt enthusiasm was nothing compared with the daily miseries inflicted upon her by her relations. Renewing her determination to attach Mr. Bingley, even if it meant heeding Charlotte’s unsolicited advice, she longed for the day when she would be forever surrounded by the elegance of Netherfield. If only it were not situated so close to Longbourn. Fortunately, Mr. Bingley was only renting. They would find another house, one far away from Hertfordshire and its painful associations.

Jane’s thoughts were distracted upon Caroline petitioning Elizabeth to join her in promenading about the room, a request with which she had no choice but to agree. Mr. Darcy suddenly put aside his book and began following the ladies with his eyes. Could Miss Bingley have succeeded in winning his interest despite earlier appearances to the contrary? She invited him to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motive his joining them would interfere. Professing great interest and trying to get Elizabeth to join in her petition for an explanation, Caroline received a dismissive response from her companion but persevered, nonetheless, in requiring an explanation of his 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,” Unlikely! “or because you are conscious 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."

Jane turned her head to hide the encroaching blush. She was not used to such saucy speech from gentlemen, but Caroline seemed all delight, despite contrary protestations: "Oh! Shocking! I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?"

"Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination," said Elizabeth. "We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him – laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done."

All of Mr. Darcy’s words were forgotten. Oh Lizzy! Jane lamented. How dare you? Tease Mr. Darcy, of all people! Do not make me suffer so at your hands!

As soon as she could bear to once again attend, Jane was shocked to perceive that Mr. Darcy seemed not offended, as he should have been. Rather than having turned coldly from her sister in an appropriately disdainful snub, he proceeded to address Elizabeth directly, and in the most personal manner Jane had ever observed in him. "The wisest and the 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 Elizabeth, "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."

"Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride, where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation."

Well said, Mr. Darcy! Jane silently applauded, but Elizabeth just turned away to hide a smile.

"Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume," said Miss Bingley, "and pray what is the result?"

"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."

"No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, 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."

Jane feared she would tremble at the words, especially when her sister responded: 

"That is a failing indeed! Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are 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, bringing the exchange to an end. Jane was glad of it, and she returned her attention to Mr. Bingley, but a nagging notion would not desist. Of all the ladies anxious to gain his favor in the room, Mr. Darcy seemed to have bestowed it in the one corner where it would go unnoticed. He likes Lizzy. Even in the privacy of her own mind, she could only whisper this truth, and it was not until she retired that the full implications of the realization began to dawn upon her. 

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Come back tomorrow to read Part Six!

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3 comments:

  1. Oh my, Jane's got a bit of larceny in her the way she regards Bingley. Loving this!

    As to Lizzy, I didn't see her challenge as ill-mannered so much as cocky like she was amongst equals and close acquaintances because while Darcy chose to debate with her, others might feel intimidated by a forward female and be put off at the very least. Jane's fear was appropriate in this instance I think.

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    1. One of the things I was striving to achieve with this story was a questioning of Elizabeth's own propriety. Though the focus is Jane, the entire premise relies on the notion that Elizabeth doesn't "know herself," or most of her closest companions.

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  2. I think in a way, she is too forward in her manners in challenging Mr Darcy as she has only just known him. Women those times were expected to remain docile and to go against the convention would be thought a little ill-mannered.

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