Jane Gains an Admirer
The ladies of Longbourn soon visited those of Netherfield. The visit was formally returned. Miss Bennet’s pleasing manners continued to win the approval of Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley, and though the mother was considered to be unbearable, and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish was expressed to be better acquainted with the two oldest. This attention was received by Jane with the greatest pleasure, but Elizabeth saw pride in their treatment of everybody, even her sister, and could not like them. But it was plain that their brother did admire Jane, and Elizabeth observed that Jane was giving way to the preference which she had begun to feel for him from the first, and was beginning to be very much in love.
While Elizabeth was watching Mr Bingley’s attentions to her sister, she did not realize that she herself was becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr Darcy had at first hardly admitted her to be pretty; he had seen her without admiration at the ball, and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But he had no sooner decided that no single part of her face was particularly attractive than he began to find that the whole was made uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. She was completely unconscious of this. To her, he was only the man who had made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her attractive enough to dance with.
He began to wish to know her better.
One day, a large party was amusing itself at Sir William Lucas’s. A number of young ladies, and two or three army officers, were occupied in dancing at one end of the room. Mr Darcy stood near them, and Sir William was trying to make conversation with him. As Elizabeth moved towards them at this moment, Sir William was struck with the idea of doing the polite 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 in front of 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 immediately pulled away, and said in some confusion to Sir William:
‘Sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. Please do not suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.’
Mr Darcy, with great politeness, requested to be allowed the honour of her hand, but without success. Elizabeth was determined, and Sir William’s attempt at persuasion met with no success.
‘You are such an excellent dancer, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to refuse me the happiness of seeing you, and though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to doing us this honour for one half-hour.’
‘Mr Darcy is all politeness,’ said Elizabeth smiling. She turned away. Her refusal had not harmed her in the gentleman’s opinion, and he thought of her with some admiration.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from the town of Meryton — a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who usually went there three or four times a week to make a visit to an aunt, Mrs Philips, who was married to a lawyer, and to look at a hat shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions. They always managed to learn some news, and at present they were well supplied by the arrival of a regiment in the neighbourhood, which would remain for the whole winter. They could talk of nothing but officers.
After listening one morning to their excited remarks on this subject, Mr Bennet sharply observed:
‘From all that I can understand from your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country.’
Kitty was a little ashamed, and did not answer, but Lydia laughed loudly.
‘I am astonished, my dear,’ said Mrs Bennet, ‘that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. As a matter of fact, they are all very clever.’
‘This is the only point on which we do not agree.’
Mrs Bennet was prevented from replying by the entrance of a servant with a note for Miss Bennet. It came from Netherfield. Mrs Bennet’s eyes brightened with pleasure, and she called out eagerly, while her daughter read:
‘Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, Jane, hurry up and tell us.’
‘It is from Miss Bingley,’ said Jane, and then read it aloud:
NETHERFIELD PARK 10th October
My dear Jane,
Will you be so kind as to come to dinner today with Louisa and me? We are all alone. Come as soon as you can on receiving this. My brother and the gentlemen are to have dinner with the officers.
Yours ever, CAROLINE BINGLEY.
‘Having dinner out,’ said Mrs Bennet, ‘that is very unlucky.’
‘Can I have the carriage?’ asked Jane.
‘No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain and then you must stay all night.’