FictionForest

Chapter 8

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

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At five o’clock the two ladies
retired to dress, and at half-past six Elizabeth was
summoned to dinner.  To the civil inquiries which
then poured in, and amongst which she had the pleasure
of distinguishing the much superior solicitude of
Mr. Bingley’s, she could not make a very favourable
answer.  Jane was by no means better.  The
sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or four times
how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to
have a bad cold, and how excessively they disliked
being ill themselves; and then thought no more of the
matter:  and their indifference towards Jane when
not immediately before them restored Elizabeth to
the enjoyment of all her former dislike.

Their brother, indeed, was the only
one of the party whom she could regard with any complacency. 
His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions
to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling
herself so much an intruder as she believed she was
considered by the others.  She had very little
notice from any but him.  Miss Bingley was engrossed
by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for
Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent
man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards;
who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a
ragout, had nothing to say to her.

When dinner was over, she returned
directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her
as soon as she was out of the room.  Her manners
were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of
pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no
style, no beauty.  Mrs. Hurst thought the same,
and added: 

“She has nothing, in short,
to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. 
I shall never forget her appearance this morning. 
She really looked almost wild.”

“She did, indeed, Louisa. 
I could hardly keep my countenance.  Very nonsensical
to come at all!  Why must she be scampering
about the country, because her sister had a cold? 
Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope
you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am
absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let
down to hide it not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact,
Louisa,” said Bingley; “but this was all
lost upon me.  I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet
looked remarkably well when she came into the room
this morning.  Her dirty petticoat quite escaped
my notice.”

You observed it, Mr.
Darcy, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley; “and
I am inclined to think that you would not wish to
see your sister make such an exhibition.”

“Certainly not.”

“To walk three miles, or four
miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her
ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone!  What could
she mean by it?  It seems to me to show an abominable
sort of conceited independence, a most country-town
indifference to decorum.”

“It shows an affection for her
sister that is very pleasing,” said Bingley.

“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,”
observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, “that
this adventure has rather affected your admiration
of her fine eyes.”

“Not at all,” he replied;
“they were brightened by the exercise.” 
A short pause followed this speech, and Mrs. Hurst
began again: 

“I have an excessive regard
for Miss Jane Bennet, she is really a very sweet girl,
and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. 
But with such a father and mother, and such low connections,
I am afraid there is no chance of it.”

“I think I have heard you say
that their uncle is an attorney on Meryton.”

“Yes; and they have another,
who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”

“That is capital,” added
her sister, and they both laughed heartily.

“If they had uncles enough to
fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it
would not make them one jot less agreeable.”

“But it must very materially
lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration
in the world,” replied Darcy.

To this speech Bingley made no answer;
but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged
their mirth for some time at the expense of their
dear friend’s vulgar relations.

With a renewal of tenderness, however,
they returned to her room on leaving the dining-parlour,
and sat with her till summoned to coffee.  She
was still very poorly, and Elizabeth would not quit
her at all, till late in the evening, when she had
the comfort of seeing her sleep, and when it seemed
to her rather right than pleasant that she should go
downstairs herself.  On entering the drawing-room
she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately
invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing
high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse,
said she would amuse herself for the short time she
could stay below, with a book.  Mr. Hurst looked
at her with astonishment.

“Do you prefer reading to cards?”
said he; “that is rather singular.”

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said
Miss Bingley, “despises cards.  She is a
great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise
nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I
am not a great reader, and I have pleasure
in many things.”

“In nursing your sister I am
sure you have pleasure,” said Bingley; “and
I hope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite
well.”

Elizabeth thanked him from her heart,
and then walked towards the table where a few books
were lying.  He immediately offered to fetch her
others ­all that his library afforded.

“And I wish my collection were
larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am
an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have
more than I ever looked into.”

Elizabeth assured him that she could
suit herself perfectly with those in the room.

“I am astonished,” said
Miss Bingley, “that my father should have left
so small a collection of books.  What a delightful
library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”

“It ought to be good,”
he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”

“And then you have added so
much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”

“I cannot comprehend the neglect
of a family library in such days as these.”

“Neglect!  I am sure you
neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that
noble place.  Charles, when you build your
house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley.”

“I wish it may.”

“But I would really advise you
to make your purchase in that neighbourhood, and take
Pemberley for a kind of model.  There is not a
finer county in England than Derbyshire.”

“With all my heart; I will buy
Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it.”

“I am talking of possibilities, Charles.”

“Upon my word, Caroline, I should
think it more possible to get Pemberley by purchase
than by imitation.”

Elizabeth was so much caught with
what passed, as to leave her very little attention
for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she
drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between
Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the
game.

“Is Miss Darcy much grown since
the spring?” said Miss Bingley; “will
she be as tall as I am?”

“I think she will.  She
is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s height,
or rather taller.”

“How I long to see her again! 
I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. 
Such a countenance, such manners!  And so extremely
accomplished for her age!  Her performance on
the pianoforte is exquisite.”

“It is amazing to me,”
said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience
to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young ladies accomplished! 
My dear Charles, what do you mean?”

“Yes, all of them, I think. 
They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. 
I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and
I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for
the first time, without being informed that she was
very accomplished.”

“Your list of the common extent
of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has
too much truth.  The word is applied to many a
woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting
a purse or covering a screen.  But I am very far
from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies
in general.  I cannot boast of knowing more than
half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance,
that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.

“Then,” observed Elizabeth,
“you must comprehend a great deal in your idea
of an accomplished woman.”

“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”

“Oh! certainly,” cried
his faithful assistant, “no one can be really
esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass
what is usually met with.  A woman must have a
thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing,
and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and
besides all this, she must possess a certain something
in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her
voice, her address and expressions, or the word will
be but half-deserved.”

“All this she must possess,”
added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add
something more substantial, in the improvement of her
mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at
your knowing only six accomplished women. 
I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

“Are you so severe upon your
own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”

“I never saw such a woman. 
I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application,
and elegance, as you describe united.”

Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried
out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and
were both protesting that they knew many women who
answered this description, when Mr. Hurst called them
to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention
to what was going forward.  As all conversation
was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left
the room.

“Elizabeth Bennet,” said
Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, “is
one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves
to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with
many men, I dare say, it succeeds.  But, in my
opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”

“Undoubtedly,” replied
Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed,
“there is a meanness in all the arts which
ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. 
Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”

Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied
with this reply as to continue the subject.

Elizabeth joined them again only to
say that her sister was worse, and that she could
not leave her.  Bingley urged Mr. Jones being sent
for immediately; while his sisters, convinced that
no country advice could be of any service, recommended
an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. 
This she would not hear of; but she was not so unwilling
to comply with their brother’s proposal; and
it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent for early
in the morning, if Miss Bennet were not decidedly
better.  Bingley was quite uncomfortable; his sisters
declared that they were miserable.  They solaced
their wretchedness, however, by duets after supper,
while he could find no better relief to his feelings
than by giving his housekeeper directions that every
attention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.

 

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