First published on this blog October 24-31, 2013
Your sister I also watched. – Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening's scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment. - Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
“The entire evening was not perfect: oh, no Mr. Bennet, it was not!”
“And what, dare I ask, could possible besmirch Mr. Bingley’s triumphant introduction to the neighborhood?”
“It was his horrible friend, Mr. Darcy! I care not at all for how handsome he is, nor for his 10,000 pounds and estate in Derbyshire, not after his ungentlemanly behavior towards poor Lizzy!”
“Oh? His sins must be grievous, indeed, for such a man to lose your favor so quickly. What did he do to you Lizzy? Need I call him out?”
“Little more than tell the truth, Papa,” Elizabeth replied with a mischievous smile. “He rightly observed that Jane was the only handsome lady in the room, and as I’m sure we all look quite plain in comparison, I cannot fault his taste.”
“Lizzy!” he mother admonished. “Mr. Darcy is not detestable because he admired Jane! You know very well he called you not tolerable enough to stand up with, when gentlemen were scarce, and more than one lady forced to sit down! You heard him yourself!”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes grew wide. “Is this true, Lizzy?”
“Not precisely,” she laughed. “Mr. Darcy said I was not handsome enough to tempt him to dance. Nothing worse.”
“Well! This is an adventure you’ve had, my dear! It’s not every lady who has the honor of being slighted by 10,000 pounds.”
“I can assure you," Mrs. Bennet interrupted, "that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy, for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, and not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set downs. I quite detest the man."
Jane Bennet said little of either gentlemen while they remained downstairs, but when she and Elizabeth found themselves alone, she had words on only one. "He is just what a young man ought to be: sensible, good humored, lively, and I never saw such happy manners! So much ease, with such perfect good breeding!" She confided, alive with the flattery and attention that had marked the evening’s assembly.
"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."
Jane blushed at her sister’s pointed humor. She knew she was expected to signal her agreement, but as Mr. Bingley’s appearance seemed rather immaterial, she pointed the conversation in a more meaningful direction. "I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment."
"Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never.”
Presumptuous, Lizzy! Jane silently admonished.
“What could be more natural than his asking you again?” Elizabeth continued.
Why must she insist on making light of it?
“He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other women in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person."
"Dear Lizzy!" Jane protested, though doubtful that the slight scold in her tone would be attended. Elizabeth was forever examining the characters of her fellow humans in a most merciless manner. Jane could only feel relief that her sister was reliably obtuse when it came to herself, for if she could penetrate that fair head, she would surely find far too much fault to tolerate.
"Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life."
No, you never would hear me speak it, she silently replied. Out loud she prevaricated: "I would wish not to be hasty in censuring anyone, but I always speak what I think." She studied Elizabeth for a hint of doubt upon her trusting mien, a concern her next words totally nullified.
"I know you do, and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense,” Jane turned away in embarrassment, “to be honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candor is common enough – one meets it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design – to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad – belongs to you alone.” Her sister not responding, Elizabeth tried another tactic. “And so, you like this man's sisters too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his."
"Certainly not,” she spoke too quickly and hastened to distance herself from the thoughtless outburst, “at first. But they are very pleasing women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house, and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbor in her."
Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced. Jane knew she had put an end to the inquiries. Lizzy would have to content herself with assumptions of her sister’s feelings, good or bad. They indulged in a few less meaningful observations from the assembly before bidding each other goodnight.
That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary, and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.
"You began the evening well, Charlotte," said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command to Miss Lucas. "You were Mr. Bingley's first choice." Jane wished her mother would not be so transparent in her quest for compliments.
"Yes, but he seemed to like his second better." Miss Lucas looked to Jane, apologetic and amused.
"Oh! You mean Jane, I suppose – because he danced with her twice. To be sure that did seem as if he admired her – indeed I rather believe he did – I heard something about it – but I hardly know what – something about Mr. Robinson."
"Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr. Robinson,” she smiled bemusedly, catching Elizabeth’s eye. “Did not I mention it to you? Mr. Robinson's asking him how he liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think there were a great many pretty women in the room, and which he thought the prettiest? And his answering immediately to the last question: ‘Oh! the eldest Miss Bennet beyond a doubt, there cannot be two opinions on that point.’”
"Upon my word!” Mrs. Bennet blushed in pleasure, as Jane renewed her attention to her work. “Well, that was very decided indeed – that does seem as if – but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know."
"My overhearings were more to the purpose than yours, Eliza," said Charlotte. "Mr. Darcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is he?” Oh no, thought Jane, not Mr. Darcy again. “Poor Eliza! To be only just tolerable."
"I beg you would not put it into Lizzy's head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him.” My mother has a very contrary understanding of what misfortune means. “Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat close to her for half an hour without once opening his lips."
Jane could not hold her tongue. "Are you quite sure, Ma'am? Is not there a little mistake? I certainly saw Mr. Darcy speaking to her."
"Aye – because she asked him at last how he liked Netherfield, and he could not help answering her, but she said he seemed very angry at being spoke to."
"Miss Bingley told me," Jane continued in defense of the most consequential person to have come into their social circle, "that he never speaks much unless among his intimate acquaintance. With them he is remarkably agreeable."
"I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was. Everybody says that he is ate up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise."
Or he couldn’t abide such idiocy as Mrs. Long is wont to spout, Jane mentally retorted.
"I do not mind his not talking to Mrs. Long," said Miss Lucas, "but I wish he had danced with Eliza.” As do I, or better still, with myself!
"Another time, Lizzy," said her mother, "I would not dance with him, if I were you."
What a ridiculous notion!
"I believe, Ma'am, I may safely promise you never to dance with him."
Oh, no Lizzy! Do not suddenly be as one with our mother on this issue!
"His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favor, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud."
"That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine."
Their sister Mary chose this moment to lecture on the distinctions between pride and vanity, and Jane was at liberty to let her mind wander. Usually, Lizzy was her staunchest ally against their mother’s unpolished behavior. It was she who was most likely to maneuver the conversation away from inappropriate subjects. A propensity to dislike and disparage Mr. Darcy was as dangerous as anything Jane could currently fathom. The appearance of two potential husbands in the neighborhood was as miraculous as manna from the heavens, and she prayed most fervently that her relations would do nothing to alienate these new acquaintances.
The ladies of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield. The visit was returned in due form. Jane could see that the sisters looked to find fault: their candid survey of the room and it’s accouterments, complete with the mortification of hearing their half-hearted compliments accepted by her mother with the greatest of pleasure, was apparent enough to any thinking creature. Maintaining her constant placidity, Miss Bennet exerted herself to please, and she was gratified to see her effort rewarded, as her accommodating and deferential manners grew on the good will of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. Upon their departure, a wish of being better acquainted with them was expressed towards the two eldest Bennet sisters. Jane comprehended such pointedness, as she knew Lizzy must, but it little mattered if Mrs. Bennet was deemed intolerable and her youngest daughters not worth talking to: she had been extended a hand of friendship from those who could do the most for her, and she could only express her joy.
“Is this not felicitous, Lizzy? I am very pleased to have won the good opinion of our new neighbor.”
“Yes, you would be pleased by such treatment. I have more exacting standards. The superciliousness of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst was not at all to my taste, and I cannot like them.”
“Much more good will come to you if you try to befriend them. There is nothing gained in dislike.”
“Is there not? I think a great deal of personal satisfaction might be found in the dismissal of others as unworthy. Think of the rush of superiority! Our new acquaintance certainly seem to relish the pleasure, which is as good a reason as any I can think of to heed your advice. Instead, I will seek amusement in the knowledge that my manners are far better than theirs, and they are only too ignorant to notice.”
“Oh, Lizzy!” Jane laughed. She knew precisely the feeling.
Charlotte Lucas was just leaving Lucas Lodge on a visit to Longbourn when she saw Jane Bennet pass by, apparently returning from Meryton. “Jane!” she called and quickened her pace to catch up to her friend. “You are out early this morning.”
Jane smiled sweetly, as she always did. “My mother consumed the remains of her preferred tincture last night. I hoped she might not know a moment’s unease without it, and so set out as soon as I’d breakfasted to replenish the stock.”
The two ladies fell in step together, and Charlotte considered Jane’s errand with amusement. Intimate as she was with Longbourn and it’s inhabitants, she was most certain the true reason for Miss Bennet’s excursion resided in a desire for solitude, but Jane was always quick to adapt her inclinations to duty. “Elizabeth chose not to join you?” she asked slyly.
“Lizzy was busy with my father this morning.”
“You mean they were cloistered together in his library, both engrossed in their own book, with not a word spoken between them?”
Jane smiled but said nothing.
“And as we all know how Eliza despises a walk, you would not dare to impose on her?”
“I admit to not having inquired if she wished to come,” she said with accustomed calm, though her smile was a bit forced. “I hope I did not make an assumption which in anyway curtailed the pleasures of my dear sister. It was not my intention.”
“No, you simply wanted some time to yourself, as we all do, and Mrs. Bennet’s tincture provided a ready excuse. It is acceptable to do things for your own benefit, you know, and no matter how beloved a sister, her presence cannot be always agreeable. No one's can.”
Jane smile grew natural again, and she laughed. “Have you completed your lecture, my dear Charlotte?”
“Not quite. I’m actually rather pleased to find you alone, for I have something I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Yes?” Jane asked with unfeigned curiosity.
“I’d like to ask you about Mr. Bingley.”
“Oh,” came an almost curt reply, and Jane quickened her pace.
“I just hope you make the most of this opportunity. He clearly likes you, and you must move quickly to solidify that attraction before he gets distracted.”
“Now I understand why it was so important to speak with me alone,” Jane sought a diversion. “Lizzy would be most perturbed to hear you speak so.”
“Eliza is younger than you, and she still entertains a great deal of romantic notions. I hope they never lead her to chagrin, just as I hope fear of her censure wont hinder you now.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” was the slightly offended response.
“Forgive me for saying so, but I know you hide a great deal of your true sentiments from Elizabeth, lest they diminish her admiration for you. You’ve confessed so much yourself.”
Jane looked in the opposite direction from her companion. She wished Charlotte had not such a good memory, nor so observant an eye. “I’m not sure I understand how that is relevant,” she protested, but her mind held a perfectly vivid image of her younger self, in a rare moment of weakness, crying upon Charlotte’s shoulder for the loss of Mr. Thornton, a wealthy friend of her Uncle Gardiner’s, whose very promising attentions desisted following Elizabeth’s mockery of the poems he wrote in her honor.
“Do you not? Mr. Bingley is thrown into our midst, for no definite period of time, and you are not at leisure to get to know if you like him well enough to marry. Eliza’s notions must be ignored in the face of the facts. I hope you do your best to encourage his suit, regardless of what anyone might say.” Jane would never criticize Mrs. Bennet aloud, but she longed to retort: You forget what an active advocate he will have in the form of my mother. Charlotte must have read her thoughts, for she continued: “A gentleman’s heart is unlikely to be touched by the wishes of a lady’s family. Most require the encouragement of the lady herself.”
“Charlotte!” Elizabeth’s voice called out from within Longbourn’s palings. “How good of you to keep Jane company. Had I known her intention, I would have ventured to accompany her.” She cast her sister a playful scold, and Jane smiled on Elizabeth with affectionate relief. Charlotte should not have initiated such an intrusive subject of conversation, but still she could not help but think of what had been said, knowing both the good intentions and sound mind behind the words. Yet she abhorred the notion of making a spectacle of herself and being the talk of the neighbors. As the daughter of Mrs. Bennet, she had experienced a bounty of such humiliation, and it had become the focus of Jane’s life to minimize such attention. To openly flirt with Mr. Bingley, as Charlotte had essentially suggested, would be intolerable. She envisioned herself with the manners of Lydia, her youngest sister: laughing and batting her eyes and bouncing up and down. Then she conjured an imaginary Elizabeth, all shock and disappointment. She could not bear to see her sister look at her like that. Surely, if she maintained her friendliest manners and exerted all her notable ability to please, it would suffice for Mr. Bingley? Besides, was she not the handsomest lady in the neighborhood? That must stand her in good stead.
It was at Sir William Lucas', where a large party was assembled, that Jane had next an opportunity to impress Mr. Bingley. His party arrived after hers, and as soon as he completed his introduction to his hosts, he began to scan the room in search of her. She knew it was so. When he discovered her, his face illuminated. Her satisfaction at his reaction shown through her smile, imbibing it with an unaccustomed degree of warmth, which she hoped he perceived.
“Miss Bennet! You look an angel descended from heaven, as usual!”
She blushed, finding such overt flattery embarrassing. She rather preferred the staid greeting of Mr. Darcy, who stood beside his friend, though she noticed with interest that he, too, seemed to be searching for someone. Determined to use this precious time to the best end, she focused her attention entirely upon the more receptive gentleman.
“You seem in fine spirits this evening, Mr. Bingley,” she smiled.
He beamed back. “I am always elevated in your company, Miss Bennet.”
Making use of an opportune sofa, Mr. Bingley sat beside Jane, choosing to entertain his fair lady with reports from his estate, clearly enjoying his new role. He spoke with all the excitement to be derived from novelty, and she listened with the all the interest of one who has always lived on a country estate and couldn’t find such matters more mundane. Yet her smile never wavered, and she replied to all his questions and statements just as she ought, so he never suspected how little she cared for drainage and pasture.
Soon their attention was called to the instrument, and Elizabeth sat down to perform. Jane watched with the same sensations she always had when Lizzy entertained at the pianoforte: something like jealousy, but muddled with regret. She wished she had been more diligent in her own fumbling attempts to learn to play, then she might adorn a room with something more than just beauty and elegance.
Elizabeth soon ceded her place to Mary Bennet, who roused no emotion in Jane at all. For many minutes she could devote all her attention to listening to Mr. Bingley’s talk and smiling encouragingly, until the tiring concerto was replaced by an Irish air, as her younger sisters and several Lucases began to enthusiastically perform in impromptu dance.
“Shall we join the set, Miss Bennet?” Mr. Bingley asked, his hand extended to her.
She smiled as brightly as she could, “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Bingley,” certain that no one, including Charlotte Lucas, could possibly miss her pleasure and enthusiasm, as she put all her effort into simulating both.
The Bennets were at breakfast when a letter from Netherfield came for Jane. Its arrival interrupted an exceedingly ridiculous conversation, which had just reached its culmination in this dire contribution from Lydia: "My aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in Clarke's library."
Though it was addressed to her daughter, Mrs. Bennet's interest in the missive far outshone Jane’s own. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure while Jane read the invitation, or rather command, with a hardening heart. She did not like the inferiority of position such a summons presumed upon.
"Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love."
"It is from Miss Bingley," said Jane, and then read aloud:
My dear Friend,
If you are not so compassionate as to dine today with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers.
"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tell us of that."
"Dining out," said Mrs. Bennet, "that is very unlucky."
"Can I have the carriage?" said Jane.
"No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain, and then you must stay all night." Jane was so astonished by the suggestion she could not reply.
"That would be a good scheme," said Elizabeth, "if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home." Well said, Lizzy! her sister mentally applauded, wishing she might defend herself so ably.
"Oh! But the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs."
Jane knew her mother would find endless excuses to arrange things in accordance with her scheme, and while she was already bracing herself for a horrid ride, she put forth the most convincing argument of which she could think: "I had much rather go in the coach."
"But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet, are not they?"
"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them."
"But if you have got them today," said Elizabeth, "my mother's purpose will be answered."
She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged. Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mother attended her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day.
Jane rode with forbearance into the threatening weather, at first counting the rare droplets, one by one, but when the rain began to fall in earnest, she did her best to ignore it entirely. Despite her stoic posture, she felt rather miserable, but hopes that her mother’s instincts might prove right buoyed her spirits. Endowed with a disposition to make the best of any situation, while she would far rather appear before her new friends elegant and arid, as was her customary state, she was not beneath using the unfavorable circumstances to rouse their interest and care. The vision of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst recalling her harrowing journey for the benefit of the gentlemen, and their tender dismay and concern at such a lovely creature as herself undergoing such a trial (yes, she thought even Mr. Darcy might be moved on such on occasion) brought a small smile to her face as she plodded along, the horse’s hooves heavy with mud. Maybe Mrs. Bennet was right, and Jane would not be able to return that day. Then she might see the gentlemen’s concern herself.
Her hopes were answered. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission. Jane certainly could not come back. Upon arrival Miss Bingley made much of tending to her needs, and Jane counted the drenching well worth the proof of affection it evoked. It wasn’t until she was warm and cozy by the fire (or rather chilled and clammy, despite warm blankets and vigorous flames) that she began to perceive the ill effects of her journey.
“So tell me more of your family, Miss Bennet,” Miss Bingley was saying. “We met your Uncle recently. Mrs. Phillips is your mother’s sister?”
“Yes,” she replied, wondering why it was so hard to concentrate on what her hostess was saying.
“Does your mother have any other sibling?” Mrs. Hurst inquired.
“I’m sorry?” she asked in confusion, then suddenly realizing what had been said continued, “Yes. My Uncle Gardiner lives in London.”
“How delightful!” Miss Bingley cooed. “If one is not so fortunate to have a house of one’s own in London, than one should always have an accommodating relative conveniently situated!”
“I do not know the name. On what street does he live?”
“Gracechurch Street.” She felt relieved to be able to supply the simple answer, and it took her some moments to notice that her hosts were staring at her rather blankly. She hurried to explain that the house was located convenient to his warehouses in Cheapside, only allowing a moment of mortification to sink in at the indiscretion before continuing: “Excuse me, but I think I am not well.”
“My dear Jane!” Miss Bingley exclaimed, “Indeed, you look very ill! Nicholls! Please help Miss Bennet at once!”
Jane was so grateful to find herself ushered into a bed that it was several hours before she realized Miss Bingley had called her by her Christian name. It was just the kind of casual intimacy that made Jane most uncomfortable. Her own manners were impeccable, and she sincerely hoped, before falling into a feverish sleep, that Miss Bingley spoke out of affection, and not from a sense of superiority.
The morning dawned on a worsening Jane, but she found a great deal of comfort in the few words conveyed to her from Mr. Bingley, expressing his concern and dismay at her predicament, along with assurances that her every need would be met while she remained at Netherfield, as she surely must until fully recovered. Jane imagined the excitable man fretting over her with as much satisfaction as her current state allowed, and she wondered whether or not Mr. Darcy might be similarly moved by her plight. His emotion would not be as transparent as his friend’s, but Jane envisioned the slight raise of eyebrow and change of countenance that might have expressed his concern. Such muted displays were much more to her taste than that she attributed to Mr. Bingley. In fact, when she considered the matter, Mr. Darcy’s manners were as flawless as her own. Unlike the other members of her family, whose scorn for Mr. Darcy was loudly expressed, Jane found nothing at fault with the man but his speaking slightingly of Lizzy at the Meryton Assembly, and as his insult of Elizabeth was a compliment to herself, she was inclined to be lenient.
About an hour after receiving Mr. Bingley’s message, his sisters presented themselves in the sick chamber. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst quickly determined to consult the apothecary, but Jane demurred at first, knowing full well the alarm that might be roused at Longbourn upon learning of Mr. Jones’ visit to her bedside. Her mother would soon be descending upon the estate in a flurry of concern and meddlesomeness. Never an apt nurse at the best of times, knowing that Mrs. Bennet’s interest lay in keeping her at Netherfield for as long as possible, Jane feared her persistent presence might cause more harm than help. But Miss Bingley, truly alarmed by her guest’s pallor, was persistent, too: “My dear Jane, enough! You must accept my advice. We will call for this Mr. Jones immediately, though I do wish Meryton had a surgeon. You look dreadfully ill!” The patient noted her concern in her favor, grateful in her weakness to forgive Miss Bingley’s continued familiarity, but when once again alone with no one but a maid, she considered the entire circumstance with misgiving. Mrs. Bennet’s presence was most undesired. Any benefit to be derived from being at Netherfield might be entirely undone by her mother’s coarse manners. Besides, was she not the same misguided mother who sent her daughter off on horseback into a certain storm? What might she not do to prolong her convalescence? Better to call forth Lizzy instead. Her care would be more to the point and her presence at Netherfield far less embarrassing. It was with some degree of bitterness and a great deal of intention, though lost on her sister, that Jane wrote:
My dearest Lizzy,
I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones – therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me – and excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.
The letter had its intended effect: Elizabeth set forth at once upon its reception.
“Oh, Lizzy! I’m so glad you came! I did so hope you would!” Jane greeted her sister with as much enthusiasm as her strength allowed.
“Then you should have said so. I would not have had as much opposition were your wishes known,” Elizabeth smiled, though her eyes betrayed nothing but concern, as she quickly made a survey of the accommodations and the patient. She and Miss Bingley spoke dispassionately about what had been done towards insuring her comfort, and shortly there after the two sisters found themselves alone. Jane was not equal, however, to much conversation, and could attempt little besides expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindness she was treated with, driven by a need to temper her sister’s dislike of their hostess. Elizabeth silently attended her.
When breakfast was over, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley joined them, and Elizabeth began to like them herself, when she saw how much affection and solicitude they showed for Jane, who could find pleasure, despite her state, in this opportunity to prove the worth of her new friends. She said a silent prayer of thanks that Miss Bingley did not address her familiarly in front of Elizabeth.
The apothecary came, and having examined his patient said, as might be supposed, that she had caught a violent cold, and that they must endeavor to get the better of it. He advised her to return to bed, and promised her some draughts. The advice was followed readily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and her head ached acutely. Elizabeth did not quit her room for a moment, nor were the other ladies often absent.
When the clock struck three, Elizabeth felt that she must go and very unwillingly said so. Jane was by no means better. If anything, the relief of Elizabeth's care seemed to allow her to display affliction more openly. Miss Bingley offered Elizabeth the carriage, and she only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane, strengthened by recent displays of affection, testified such concern in parting with her that Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise into an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth most thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply of clothes.
At five o'clock, the two ladies retired to dress, and at half past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. Jane soon drifted into the foggy haze of dreams accessible only to children, the sick, and the dying. Images of Netherfield’s inhabitants drifted before her, each in turn. Mr. Bingley, constantly outdoing himself in graciousness, and Mr. Darcy, with his fine profile and disdainful eye. She wished she might be so fortunate in life as to be able to show her displeasure, rather than always hiding behind an obsequious mask. Miss Bingley called her Jane and ordered her about, while Mrs. Hurst laughed gaily. Even Mr. Hurst had his turn, speaking of nothing but ragu until suddenly turning into Elizabeth, bustling about the room and directing the maid. Jane perceived that she had now drifted back into reality, and realizing that reality was a terribly cold place, she complained in a scratchy voice to her sister. Elizabeth piled on more blankets and built up the fire, but still Jane shivered. She knew not how she would bear it, and thanked her sister again for all her efforts on her behalf, while simultaneously shivering more violently than ever. Eventually, she must have fallen back to sleep, which was the only thing that brought any relief. She knew this upon waking again, some unknown time later, when the horrid cold returned. Elizabeth brought her a draught, and with relief she managed to return to dreams of her new friends, their elegant life, and being embraced as one of their own.
When she next arose, she instantly knew herself improved. Her head felt clearer, and she carefully raised it from the pillow to survey her surroundings. Elizabeth slept in a nearby chair.
“Lizzy?” her voice sounded a croak to her ears, and she winced at the harsh tones, but to Elizabeth it was a welcome relief.
“Jane!” she exclaimed, rising quickly and hurrying to her side. “How do you feel?”
“Far too warm and clammy. I think my fever broke. Will you remove some of these blankets?”
Elizabeth called for the maid, who assisted in changing Jane’s linens and refreshing her damp skin. Jane was glad to feel clean, but the ordeal drained her of the little strength she had. Soon she was again asleep.
Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister's room, observing with attention each return of restlessness in Jane. Twice more she complained of chills, and once more woke up drenched in sweat, but by the morning, when inquiries came in very early from Mr. Bingley by way of a housemaid, and sometime afterwards from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters, Elizabeth had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer. In spite of this amendment, however, 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, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her two youngest girls, reached Netherfield not long after breakfast concluded.
Had she found Jane in any apparent danger, 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. Elizabeth saw the situation differently.
“Jane is much improved, Mama. I think she might be conveyed home shortly.”
“Nonsense, Lizzy! Jane is doing very well where she is. A carriage ride could send her into a relapse.”
“It is only three miles. I do not think it could be so very disastrous a journey, and I’m sure she would be far more comfortable at home.”
Jane ran a weak hand across a silken sheet in silently disagreement. Fortunately, Mr. Jones arrived at this opportune moment, and he agreed entirely with Mrs. Bennet. “As Mr. Bingley himself insists that Miss Bennet remain for as long as is needed, I really cannot advocate moving her until she is perfectly well,” came his proclamation.
“There, Lizzy. What did I say? Jane, you will remain right here until we are absolutely certain you have completely recovered, and not a moment sooner.”
“Yes, Mama,” she replied as sweetly as always. She knew Elizabeth was not enjoying her time at Netherfield, but as she had suffered a terrible cold in getting there, she would not be rushed away before she had an opportunity to solidify her triumph over one, if not all, of the gentlemen. It was not just her future which depended on it, but Elizabeth’s too. She wished her sister would be more thoughtful of such things. To run away now might be perceived by Mr. Bingley as a desire to escape his company. She could only imagine what Charlotte Lucas would have to say of such a suggestion.
Jane was feeling more charitable towards her family than was her custom, but when Miss Bingley soon appeared and invited her mother and sisters to join the party in the breakfast parlor, Jane’s goodwill quickly diminished. Left alone to wonder what might be said downstairs, and how it might reflect upon herself, Jane was as near fretful as she ever came. She hoped Elizabeth would succeed in keeping the voluble lady on appropriate subjects of conversation, and that Lydia and Kitty, the remaining Bennet sister, would be too overawed by their company to say anything at all.
She was not left in limbo long. Elizabeth soon returned, and her look of suffering confirmed Jane’s worst suspicions even before she began to speak. Jane saw what was to come. Elizabeth had a difficult to fathom need to recount moments of grave discomfort. The act seemed to purge her from their influence. Jane did not understand why she could not refrain from ever acknowledging unpleasantness in the first place. It was better to leave such things in the past.
“That was intolerable!” Elizabeth began, leaning back against the closed door and shutting her eyes, as if pained. “You might be thankful for your sufferings, that it spared you the memories of such humiliation.”
“I know I should not speak ill of my own family. You need not tell me so. But of all people for my mother to intentionally insult, why must it be Mr. Darcy? His disdain is unbearable, especially when it is deserved.”
Jane had not been about to say anything of the sort, but she did not disagree, asking instead, with some degree of wonder, “What do you mean: insult Mr. Darcy?”
“He asked about my study of characters, and casually remarking that we live in a small society that cannot afford wide scope for such a pastime, my mother chose to think he was mocking the neighborhood, sending her into a passionate defense of the country. I thought I must sink through the floor.” She began to laugh, as Jane looked on in astonishment. “I’m sorry, but I must either laugh or cry. There is no hope for it.”
“Oh, no! This cannot be!” Jane cried out, and to the alarm of Elizabeth, she began to rise from her bed. “I must dress and go downstairs myself. Any wrong impression must be rectified with all haste!”
“Jane! My dear, you are not yourself! You must not think for a moment of stirring, not yet! I should not have burdened you with such tidings.” No, you should not! “Please calm yourself!”
“But do you not understand, Lizzy?” protested Jane, easily succumbing, in her weakened state, to the firm hand that held her down. “To have insulted such a man as Mr. Darcy!”
Elizabeth, who was unaccustomed to hearing her sister speak so, felt Jane’s head for renewed fever. “You must rest, Jane,” she commanded. “What care you for Mr. Darcy’s opinion, anyway? It matters little compared to Mr. Bingley’s affection.”
Does it not, Lizzy? she questioned silently, but Jane would say no more on the subject to her sister. She had already said too much. After years of careful self-censorship, she must not now expose her deepest thoughts and instincts. As soon as possible, she would venture downstairs, that she might survey the damage herself. Until then, there was little to do but hope, a sensation with which she was already far too familiar.
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 extol 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.
Elizabeth smiled brightly in greeting. “You look well rested! No adverse effects from last evening’s frivolity?”
Jane returned the expression. “No. My daring journey to the drawing room has not set back my recovery. I feel much improved.”
“Good! I was hoping you would, and not only for my own selfish reasons. Nothing matters more to me than your well-being, my dearest sister, but I am anxious to return home. Do let us write to Longbourn and request the carriage.”
Jane saw Elizabeth’s eagerness, but she could not share it. She was not prepared to leave Netherfield just yet, nor did she think her sister should. She would have preferred it had Mr. Darcy expressed such an interest in herself, for to be Mrs. Darcy was something, indeed, but Elizabeth was the next best person he could possibly have alighted upon. Mr. Darcy was too precious an opportunity - wealthy, handsome, and respectable - to quibble over which sister should have him.
She considered her options, quickly concluding that her mother would see the situation in much the same light as herself, even without knowing Mr. Darcy to be a prospect. I do wish Mama had not insulted him! Safe in the knowledge her mother would never concede to the request, Jane acceded to Elizabeth’s wishes, and a letter to Mrs. Bennet was promptly dispatched. When the expected refusal arrived, she participated in Elizabeth’s chagrin while inwardly rejoicing. There was a great deal of satisfaction to be derived in rightfully predicting the actions of others. Furthermore, the color had begun to return to her checks, which must be of assistance in subduing Mr. Bingley’s heart, and she had at least a few more days to enjoy the luxuries of Netherfield while accomplishing that task.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth was not to be so easily satisfied. Soon she was at Jane’s side, continuing to insist on their departure. “You might request the carriage of Mr. Bingley,” she argued, adding, “I fear we might become an imposition, were we to linger any longer.”
Jane scurried to defend her position. “Might it not be too forward a request? I would hate to be a further inconvenience, after having already caused so much.”
“Nonsense, Jane! Only you would imagine such a commonplace courtesy too much to ask.”
She tried again. “I would rather not display our lack of access to the carriage.”
“Says the lady who arrived upon a dripping wet horse!” Elizabeth laughed. “It will not do, my dear! Besides, do you truly imagine that every person at Netherfield did not know precisely how many horses my father keeps and what kind of equipage before they had been a full week in residence?”
Jane could think of no further excuse. She would have to ask Mr. Bingley to return them to Longbourn. Now she lamented her rosy cheeks. If she could only contrive to look wain and subdued, her hosts might forbid her departure.
Fortunate for Jane, the energy required to join the others downstairs restored her sickly pallor. With breathy weariness did she make her request, sitting in languor beside the fire, and the response received was everything she could have wished.
“My dear Jane!” Miss Bingley cried. “But you do not appear at all recovered. I’m surprised you chose to leave your room.” She looked at Elizabeth accusingly. “I’m sure you are not yet ready to travel.”
“But Caroline, I have already caused you such a great deal of trouble ...”
“Nonsense! You must remain with us at least until tomorrow. If you continue to improve, you may return to Longbourn after the morning service. I insist!”
“Very well,” Jane conceded with a look towards Elizabeth that she hoped appeared apologetic. “We shall leave tomorrow, as you insist.”
“Thank you for your continued hospitality,” Elizabeth chimed in, “and for the accommodation of your coach.”
“Not at all,” Miss Bingley replied, with an expression that suggested she might regret her own generosity. She is jealous of Lizzy, as she well should be! Jane happily reflected.
Jane studied Mr. Darcy closely that evening, but with no satisfaction for her efforts. He paid not the slightest bit of undue attention to her sister or any of the other ladies. If anything, he seemed to be assiduously avoiding Elizabeth’s company. He fears he might raise expectations, Jane thought with mingled respect and regret. He is the perfect gentleman. She sympathized with his reluctance to associate himself with the Bennet family. So long as he doesn’t apply the same scruples to his friend. She understood he was dominate over Bingley in their friendship - in every way the bigger man - and feared his influence. Turning her brightest smile upon Mr. Bingley, she responded to his urgent insistence that she remain for yet another day with a regretful but firm refusal, despite her sincere desire to stay just as long as she could possibly contrive. It would not do to rouse Mr. Darcy’s suspicions regarding her affection for his friend, but neither could she allow her behavior to betray anything but perfect decorum. Suddenly, all attempts to remain longer seemed uncouth and mercenary.
They were not welcomed home very cordially by their mother, who wondered at their coming, but it was no more than what both sisters expected. Their father showed true pleasure at their return, and their sisters were gratified by the increase of audience for either moral ministrations or militia gossip, as the case might be.
It proved fortunate they had not delayed their removal from Netherfield, as the very next day Mr. Bennet announced at breakfast that he expected a visitor. William Collins, cousin and heir to Mr. Bennet, might be thought to be of great interest to the family, but hitherto he had been known only in name. Mr. Bennet read his letter with relish, finding humor in every supercilious remark, of which there was an abundance. Jane listened attentively, less concerned with the statements of a silly man than with the prospects for such an acquaintance. She had long regarded him as a potential husband, and certain hints, as surprised as she was to perceive them, suggested that he too had considered the possibility. Her mother’s thoughts proved not dissimilar.
“There is some sense in what he says about the girls, however, and if he is so disposed to make them any amends, I should not be the person to discourage him.”
Nor I, thought Jane, but she doubted her own senses. Could he truly be proposing to marry one of them in a letter of introduction? If so, it was totally inappropriate - nearly preposterous to do so - but it was of little matter. Her younger sisters were bad enough in their manner to render lack of tact no barrier to an advantageous union. “Though it is difficult to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due,” she began carefully, “the wish is certainly to his credit.” But instead of receiving an answer, Elizabeth commented on the poor style of the letter, a topic much more engaging to their father than marital speculation. She would just have to wait until he arrived to satisfy her suspicions.
It took only a few minutes in Mr. Collins’ company to establish his intent. He was clearly disposed to admire, the ladies no less than the house. His manner was even worse than expected, but Jane still felt some satisfaction in perceiving his admiration was primarily directed towards herself, as it ought to be. She felt no concern that he should so aim his sights; her mother would soon inform him of Mr. Bingley’s attentions, and he would direct his intentions towards a more appropriate quarter. Mary might suit him very well. Jane did feel some concern for Elizabeth. It would be better if she had already secured Mr. Darcy’s affections, but she had no doubt her sister’s tongue would soon ward off the pretensions of a Mr. Collins. Elizabeth might do far better and should not be sacrificed to Longbourn’s preservation.
She saw Mr. Collins attach himself to Elizabeth the very next day, when all the ladies except Mary, despite Jane’s attempts to change her mind, walked to Meryton in his escort. She was pleased to see her mother had indeed warned him away from herself, but she wished Mary was there to capture his attention. But upon reaching Meryton, where they spotted an unknown gentleman, of handsome appearance and promising comportment, her attention wandered. Despite some shame in the forwardness of her youngest sisters, she was pleased to follow them across the street to acquire an introduction. Mr. Wickham presented exceedingly well, and Jane began to wonder if Mr. Bingley might not be supplanted until learning the newcomer was joining the militia. She had no interest in being the wife of a mere lieutenant.
A welcome distraction soon presented itself in the forms of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, who were just then riding down the street. Both looked exceedingly well on their thoroughbreds, but Jane could not help observing the superiority of Mr. Darcy’s seat. She silently sighed and cast his companion her most gracious smile, an effort for which she was rewarded by his immediate attendance.
“Miss Bennet! Ladies! This is an unexpected pleasure!”
“Good morning, Mr. Bingley,” she replied.
“We were just on our way to Longbourn to see how you and Miss Elizabeth fared during the journey home.”
Jane looked to Mr. Darcy for confirmation of the fact, thinking his presence on such an errand boded very well for Elizabeth’s prospects, but all she encountered was a stony stare. Following the direction of Mr. Darcy’s displeasure, she was surprised to find Mr. Wickham, his discomposure apparent. He gathered himself enough to offer a slight salutation, which Mr. Darcy barely acknowledged. Clearly, the two men were already acquainted and were not on cordial terms. She forced her attention to Mr. Bingley, despite the many questions that arose in her mind, and soon he departed along with his friend.
The militia men escorted them to their Aunt Phillips’ house, for which they were bound, and it wasn’t until after a lengthy visit that Jane was gratified by a communication with Elizabeth, as they were making their way homeward, confirming what she herself had observed between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. “Did you notice that our new acquaintance seemed familiar to Mr. Darcy? They acknowledged each other, but only with the barest civility.”
“I did indeed, but I know not what to make of it.”
“It is easy to believe that Mr. Darcy should have offered some offense, as it comes so easily to him, but it was Mr. Wickham who acknowledged him first.”
“It is difficult to imagine a man in Mr. Wickham’s circumstances daring to offend a man so much greater,” Jane conceded.
“Exactly. Mr. Darcy must be the guilty party, and Mr. Wickham has proven himself the better gentleman by maintaining his civility.”
“I would not presume to judge the situation without a greater knowledge of Mr. Wickham. After all, Mr. Darcy’s character has Mr. Bingley’s friendship to attest for it.”
“My dear Jane, you will defend either or both, if it would alleviate any appearance of wrong in everyone involved, but you forget: though Mr. Bingley’s friendship might stand in Mr. Darcy’s favor, little else does. We well know his capacity for insult.”
Jane did not reply. She had hoped Elizabeth had put the incident at the assembly behind her, but it seemed such optimism was premature. As it would not do to elevate Mr. Wickham at Mr. Darcy’s expense, she thought it best to refrain from all comment. There must be more to the situation, and she determined to ask Mr. Bingley if he knew what there was between the two men at her earliest convenience.
The ladies attended a card party at their Aunt Phillips’ home the following evening, and Jane was sorry to see Mr. Wickham both in attendance and spending a considerable amount of time in Elizabeth’s company, engaged in the appearance of private conversation. She had not seen her sister pay such rapt attention to a gentleman before, and she feared what it portended. Her concerns were justified the next day, when Elizabeth poured his tale of misuse at Mr. Darcy’s hands into her pained ears.
Jane listened with astonishment and concern. The passion with which her sister spoke was highly alarming. This was far worse an end to Elizabeth’s irrationality regarding Mr. Darcy than she had imagined possible. How could you be so unguarded as to allow this young man to play upon your prejudices and affections in such a way? Jane wanted to scold, but she knew such a tactic would never succeed with Elizabeth. Struggling to find a way to make her sister see reason, she finally replied, “Forgive my silence, Lizzy, but I know not what to think. How is it possible that Mr. Darcy could be so unworthy of Mr. Bingley's regard?”
“Mr. Bingley might be deceived regarding his friend’s true character.” Jane knew she should have expected that response, and silently cursed her sister’s quickness. “You should have heard Mr. Wickham speak for himself. There can be no doubt he suffered at Mr. Darcy’s hands.”
“I do not mean to question the veracity of a young man of such amiable appearance as Mr. Wickham...”
“Of course you do not,” Elizabeth replied, displaying exasperation. “It is not in your nature.”
“ ... but I can no more imagine a man of Mr. Darcy’s reputation and character behaving so!”
“The world is often and easily deceived, particularly when a large fortune is involved.”
And do you not learn from this story anything regarding what happens to the weak and friendless? Do not align yourself so foolishly, Lizzy! She took a steadying breath. “Perhaps Mr. Wickham misunderstood Mr. Darcy intentions.”
“That is very generous of you, Jane, but it will not do! One man was denied his livelihood, practically a birthright, when it was in the other’s disposal. How can such facts be misconstrued?”
“The very possibility of Mr. Wickham having endured such unkindness is enough to interest anyone’s tender feelings, but surely they have both been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other, of which we can form no idea. Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side."
"Very true, indeed, and now, my dear Jane, what have you got to say in behalf of the interested people who have probably been concerned in the business? Do clear them too, or we shall be obliged to think ill of somebody."
Jane almost wished she could cry in the face of such blatant misunderstanding on her sister’s part. "Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion,” she defended her sensibilities, struggling to find another tactic with which to convey her meaning. “My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what a disgraceful light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father's favorite in such a manner. One for whom his father had promised to provide! It is impossible. No man of common humanity, no man who had any value for his character, could be capable of it. Can his most intimate friends be so excessively deceived in him? Oh no!"
"I can much more easily believe Mr. Bingley's being imposed on, than that Mr. Wickham should invent such a history of himself as he gave me last night: names, facts, everything mentioned without ceremony. If it be not so, let Mr. Darcy contradict it. Besides, there was truth in his looks."
Oh Lizzy! "It is difficult indeed. It is distressing. One does not know what to think."
"I beg your pardon; one knows exactly what to think."
Nothing seemed to penetrate her sister’s prejudices. If only she had been born with their father’s ready tongue! “I am surprised Mr. Wickham was so forthcoming with his story. I know that Mr. Bingley, if he had been imposed on, would have much to suffer when the affair became public.”
There was no time to say more. The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of some of the very persons of whom they had been speaking. Mr. Bingley and his sisters came to give their personal invitation for the long expected ball at Netherfield, which was fixed for the following Tuesday. The two ladies were delighted to see their dear friend again, called it an age since they had met, and repeatedly asked what she had been doing with herself since their separation. Jane bore their effusions gracefully, with only the slightest glance about to see if any member of her family took exception with Miss Bingley’s use of her christian name, but finding them all as insensible on the subject as Elizabeth, even in the face of their own, notably cooler treatment at their visitor's hand, she attempted to set the matter behind her. It was too usual for her to be alone in her concern for the bad manners of others to dwell upon such familiar discomfort. What she really desired was a private word with Mr. Bingley, in order to question him regarding Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham, but such an opportunity was denied her. His sisters’ anxiety to be departed was apparent, and depart they soon did, having avoided Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, said not much to Elizabeth, and nothing at all to the others. Rising from their seats with an activity which took only their brother by surprise, they hurried off as if eager to escape from Mrs. Bennet's civilities. Jane felt the shame that should belong to others, but her concern for Elizabeth’s growing attachment to Mr. Wickham undermined its intensity. Surely she would have more opportunities to question Mr. Bingley before the ball.
She did not, for from the day of the invitation to the day of the ball there was such a succession of rain as to cause a complete cessation of all casual intercourse with the neighborhood. Jane could be expected to lament the weather in far less boisterous a manner than her sisters, but she would never be imagined so unfeeling as to rejoice in it, though that is precisely what she did. She thought it a very good thing for Elizabeth to have no opportunity to further her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham, as reflection must surely bring about the change of heart her own words had so utterly failed to instill. Better yet, Mr. Collins’ highly public and pompous request for Elizabeth’s hand for the first dances at the ball finally bore upon her than it was she who was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the mistress of his parsonage. Such a fate must teach better sense than to slight the possibility of being Mrs. Darcy. Jane wished she might speak to Charlotte Lucas on the subject, for they were sure to see eye to eye on such matters, and where Jane lacked the forcefulness to sway, Charlotte might have more success.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s faith in the veracity of Mr. Wickham’s story remained strong enough for her to entertain not a doubt of his attending the ball, until she arrived there and looked about her in vain. It was his friend Mr. Denny, upon Lydia’s application, who soon informed them that he had been obliged to go to town on business the day before and was not yet returned. He smiled significantly and said something to Elizabeth alone. Jane knew not what it was, but she saw her sister’s face harden, and she worried that whatever it was placed blame on Mr. Darcy for Mr. Wickham’s absence. Surely, if Mr. Darcy had wished to keep Mr. Wickham at bay, he could have persuaded Mr. Bingley to exclude him from the invitation? Their host was still greeting his guests, but Jane was to be his partner for the opening set. She thought to use the opportunity to finally ask all she had been wanting to for the past several days but reconsidered. I ought to be focused on securing Mr. Bingley’s affections to myself, not worrying about Elizabeth’s fate, Jane chided herself. If my sister wishes to throw her best opportunity for happiness away, I cannot allow it to endanger my own chances. She possessed more true affection for Elizabeth than anyone else, and she would do what she could on her behalf, but it must wait until later in the evening. While dancing, Mr. Bingley must have her undivided attention: must be the sole recipient of her most endearing smiles.
Soon the musicians could be heard, and Mr. Bingley appeared by Jane’s side to claim her hand. She smiled genuinely at his eagerness, sparing not a glance at Elizabeth’s pained expression as she reluctantly clasped Mr. Collins’ proffered arm. She could not, however, avoid seeing that gentleman trod most mercilessly upon his partner’s foot as he led her down the line. No one could. But Jane was philosophic: Learn from this, Lizzy! Such mortifications might be yours always, if you do not proceed with care!
With the conclusion of the set, Mr. Bingley led Jane to where his sisters stood with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Hurst. Her natural inclusion in their set made Jane feel more confident than ever before. She looked about her at the uncouth people populating the room and felt a natural affinity for the representatives of society amongst whom she was placed. This must be how Mr. Darcy looks upon the world, she thought. His birth protects him from any doubts of his place. Soon marriage will afford me the same protection. She looked towards the gentleman and was gratified to find his attention fixed upon Elizabeth, who stood across the room with Charlotte Lucas. She was speaking intently, and Jane readily imagined the subject that so engrossed her. She looked to Charlotte, noting her calm, skeptical mien with relief. When Mr. Darcy strode in their direction, bowing formally and addressing Elizabeth, Jane rejoiced to know that such a representative of manners and conduct should succeed Mr. Collins as a dance partner. The contrast, along with whatever sage wisdom Charlotte was pouring into Elizabeth’s ear, would hopefully drive the nonsensical Mr. Wickham from her mind.
“Miss Bennet, if you are not already engaged, I would be very happy if you would stand with me once more.”
Jane was surprised, but she beamed her acceptance, noting the glances and whispers of her neighbors as he led her to their place. Such remarkable attention could not be misconstrued. All must know it to be as good as a proposal. The music began, and Jane felt she had never been happier. She was not a lady of strong emotions, but the surge of contentment in knowing her own future amongst superior society secure, and probably her one worthy sister's as well, was unlike anything she had previously known. She sighed happily upon Mr. Bingley, who gazed on her lovingly in return. All would be perfect. Now how to convince him to relinquish the lease on Netherfield ...