FictionForest

Chapter 6

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The ladies of Longbourn soon waited
on those of Netherfield.  The visit was soon returned
in due form.  Miss Bennet’s pleasing manners
grew on the goodwill of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley;
and though the mother was found to be intolerable,
and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish
of being better acquainted with them was expressed
towards the two eldest.  By Jane, this attention
was received with the greatest pleasure, but Elizabeth
still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody,
hardly excepting even her sister, and could not like
them; though their kindness to Jane, such as it was,
had a value as arising in all probability from the
influence of their brother’s admiration. 
It was generally evident whenever they met, that he
did admire her and to her it was equally
evident that Jane was yielding to the preference which
she had begun to entertain for him from the first,
and was in a way to be very much in love; but she
considered with pleasure that it was not likely to
be discovered by the world in general, since Jane
united, with great strength of feeling, a composure
of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which
would guard her from the suspicions of the impertinent. 
She mentioned this to her friend Miss Lucas.

“It may perhaps be pleasant,”
replied Charlotte, “to be able to impose on
the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage
to be so very guarded.  If a woman conceals her
affection with the same skill from the object of it,
she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it
will then be but poor consolation to believe the world
equally in the dark.  There is so much of gratitude
or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not
safe to leave any to itself.  We can all begin
freely ­a slight preference is natural enough;
but there are very few of us who have heart enough
to be really in love without encouragement.  In
nine cases out of ten a women had better show more
affection than she feels.  Bingley likes your sister
undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her,
if she does not help him on.”

“But she does help him on, as
much as her nature will allow.  If I can perceive
her regard for him, he must be a simpleton, indeed,
not to discover it too.”

“Remember, Eliza, that he does
not know Jane’s disposition as you do.”

“But if a woman is partial to
a man, and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must
find it out.”

“Perhaps he must, if he sees
enough of her.  But, though Bingley and Jane meet
tolerably often, it is never for many hours together;
and, as they always see each other in large mixed
parties, it is impossible that every moment should
be employed in conversing together.  Jane should
therefore make the most of every half-hour in which
she can command his attention.  When she is secure
of him, there will be more leisure for falling in
love as much as she chooses.”

“Your plan is a good one,”
replied Elizabeth, “where nothing is in question
but the desire of being well married, and if I were
determined to get a rich husband, or any husband,
I dare say I should adopt it.  But these are not
Jane’s feelings; she is not acting by design. 
As yet, she cannot even be certain of the degree of
her own regard nor of its reasonableness.  She
has known him only a fortnight.  She danced four
dances with him at Meryton; she saw him one morning
at his own house, and has since dined with him in
company four times.  This is not quite enough
to make her understand his character.”

“Not as you represent it. 
Had she merely dined with him, she might only
have discovered whether he had a good appetite; but
you must remember that four evenings have also been
spent together ­and four evenings may do
a great deal.”

“Yes; these four evenings have
enabled them to ascertain that they both like Vingtun
better than Commerce; but with respect to any other
leading characteristic, I do not imagine that much
has been unfolded.”

“Well,” said Charlotte,
“I wish Jane success with all my heart; and
if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think
she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were
to be studying his character for a twelvemonth. 
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. 
If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well
known to each other or ever so similar beforehand,
it does not advance their felicity in the least. 
They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards
to have their share of vexation; and it is better
to know as little as possible of the defects of the
person with whom you are to pass your life.”

“You make me laugh, Charlotte;
but it is not sound.  You know it is not sound,
and that you would never act in this way yourself.”

Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s
attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting
that she was herself becoming an object of some interest
in the eyes of his friend.  Mr. Darcy had at first
scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at
her without admiration at the ball; and when they
next met, he looked at her only to criticise. 
But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and
his friends that she hardly had a good feature in
her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly
intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark
eyes.  To this discovery succeeded some others
equally mortifying.  Though he had detected with
a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry
in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure
to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting
that her manners were not those of the fashionable
world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. 
Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only
the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who
had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.

He began to wish to know more of her,
and as a step towards conversing with her himself,
attended to her conversation with others.  His
doing so drew her notice.  It was at Sir William
Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.

“What does Mr. Darcy mean,”
said she to Charlotte, “by listening to my conversation
with Colonel Forster?”

“That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can
answer.”

“But if he does it any more
I shall certainly let him know that I see what he
is about.  He has a very satirical eye, and if
I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall
soon grow afraid of him.”

On his approaching them soon afterwards,
though without seeming to have any intention of speaking,
Miss Lucas defied her friend to mention such a subject
to him; which immediately provoking Elizabeth to do
it, she turned to him and said: 

“Did you not think, Mr. Darcy,
that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now,
when I was teasing Colonel Forster to give us a ball
at Meryton?”

“With great energy; but it is
always a subject which makes a lady energetic.”

“You are severe on us.”

“It will be her turn
soon to be teased,” said Miss Lucas.  “I
am going to open the instrument, Eliza, and you know
what follows.”

“You are a very strange creature
by way of a friend! ­always wanting me to
play and sing before anybody and everybody!  If
my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have
been invaluable; but as it is, I would really rather
not sit down before those who must be in the habit
of hearing the very best performers.”  On
Miss Lucas’s persevering, however, she added,
“Very well, if it must be so, it must.” 
And gravely glancing at Mr. Darcy, “There is
a fine old saying, which everybody here is of course
familiar with:  ‘Keep your breath to cool
your porridge’; and I shall keep mine to swell
my song.”

Her performance was pleasing, though
by no means capital.  After a song or two, and
before she could reply to the entreaties of several
that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded
at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having,
in consequence of being the only plain one in the
family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments,
was always impatient for display.

Mary had neither genius nor taste;
and though vanity had given her application, it had
given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner,
which would have injured a higher degree of excellence
than she had reached.  Elizabeth, easy and unaffected,
had been listened to with much more pleasure, though
not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of
a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude
by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger
sisters, who, with some of the Lucases, and two or
three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end
of the room.

Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent
indignation at such a mode of passing the evening,
to the exclusion of all conversation, and was too
much engrossed by his thoughts to perceive that Sir
William Lucas was his neighbour, till Sir William
thus began: 

“What a charming amusement for
young people this is, Mr. Darcy!  There is nothing
like dancing after all.  I consider it as one of
the first refinements of polished society.”

“Certainly, sir; and it has
the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less
polished societies of the world.  Every savage
can dance.”

Sir William only smiled.  “Your
friend performs delightfully,” he continued
after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; “and
I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself,
Mr. Darcy.”

“You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir.”

“Yes, indeed, and received no
inconsiderable pleasure from the sight.  Do you
often dance at St. James’s?”

“Never, sir.”

“Do you not think it would be a proper compliment
to the place?”

“It is a compliment which I never pay to any
place if I can avoid it.”

“You have a house in town, I conclude?”

Mr. Darcy bowed.

“I had once had some thought
of fixing in town myself ­for I am fond
of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain
that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas.”

He paused in hopes of an answer; but
his companion was not disposed to make any; and Elizabeth
at that instant moving towards them, he was struck
with the action of doing a very gallant thing, and
called out to her: 

“My dear Miss Eliza, why are
you not dancing?  Mr. Darcy, you must allow me
to present this young lady to you as a very desirable
partner.  You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure
when so much beauty is before you.”  And,
taking her hand, he would have given it to Mr. Darcy
who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling
to receive it, when she instantly drew back, and said
with some discomposure to Sir William: 

“Indeed, sir, I have not the
least intention of dancing.  I entreat you not
to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for
a partner.”

Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested
to be allowed the honour of her hand, but in vain. 
Elizabeth was determined; nor did Sir William at all
shake her purpose by his attempt at persuasion.

“You excel so much in the dance,
Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness
of seeing you; and though this gentleman dislikes the
amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am
sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.”

“Mr. Darcy is all politeness,” said Elizabeth,
smiling.

“He is, indeed; but, considering
the inducement, my dear Miss Eliza, we cannot wonder
at his complaisance ­for who would object
to such a partner?”

Elizabeth looked archly, and turned
away.  Her resistance had not injured her with
the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some
complacency, when thus accosted by Miss Bingley: 

“I can guess the subject of your reverie.”

“I should imagine not.”

“You are considering how insupportable
it would be to pass many evenings in this manner ­in
such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. 
I was never more annoyed!  The insipidity, and
yet the noise ­the nothingness, and yet
the self-importance of all those people!  What
would I give to hear your strictures on them!”

“Your conjecture is totally
wrong, I assure you.  My mind was more agreeably
engaged.  I have been meditating on the very great
pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of
a pretty woman can bestow.”

Miss Bingley immediately fixed her
eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what
lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections. 
Mr. Darcy replied with great intrepidity: 

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet!”
repeated Miss Bingley.  “I am all astonishment. 
How long has she been such a favourite? ­and
pray, when am I to wish you joy?”

“That is exactly the question
which I expected you to ask.  A lady’s imagination
is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from
love to matrimony, in a moment.  I knew you would
be wishing me joy.”

“Nay, if you are serious about
it, I shall consider the matter is absolutely settled. 
You will be having a charming mother-in-law, indeed;
and, of course, she will always be at Pemberley with
you.”

He listened to her with perfect indifference
while she chose to entertain herself in this manner;
and as his composure convinced her that all was safe,
her wit flowed long.

 

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