Mr Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanly. His sisters were fine women dressed in the latest fashions. His sister’s husband, Mr Hurst, simply looked like the gentleman he was, but Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of everyone by his fine tall form, noble face, and the report, which was passed round the room within five minutes of his entrance, that he had an income of ten thousand pounds a year. He was looked at with admiration for half the evening, until his manners caused a general disgust which ended his popularity.
Mr Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the important people in the room. He danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. What a difference between himself and his friend! Mr Darcy danced only once with Mrs Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, refused to be introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening walking around the room. Mrs Bennet’s dislike of his behaviour was sharpened by his having made one of her daughters appear neglected.
Elizabeth Bennet had been forced, by the small number of gentlemen, to sit out for two dances, and during part of that time Mr Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear, against her will, a conversation between him and Mr Bingley, who left the dancing for a few minutes to urge his friend to join in.
‘Come, Darcy,’ he said, ‘I hate to see you standing around by yourself like this. You really should be dancing.’
‘I certainly shall not. Both your sisters already have partners, and there is not another woman in the room with whom I would care to dance.’
‘I would not like to be so difficult to please as you are,’ cried Bingley. ‘I have never met with so many pleasant girls in my life.’
‘You are dancing with the only good-looking one,’ said Mr Darcy, looking at the oldest Miss Bennet.
‘Oh, she is the most beautiful creature that I ever saw! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very attractive and probably very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.’
‘Which do you mean?’ Darcy asked. Turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, until, catching her eye, he looked away and coldly said: ‘She is fairly pretty, but not good-looking enough.’
He walked off, and Elizabeth remained with no very friendly feelings towards him. But she told the story with great spirit among her friends, because she had a playful nature and a strong sense of humour.
The evening on the whole passed off pleasantly for all the family. Mrs Bennet had seen her oldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been an object of attention by his sisters. Jane was as much pleased by this as her mother, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth shared Jane’s pleasure, as she always did. Lydia and Kitty had never been without partners, and Mary, the least pretty of the family, had heard herself praised to Miss Bingley as a skilled musician.
They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village in Hertfordshire where they lived, and of which they were the most important family.
Within a short walk of Longbourn there lived a family with whom the Bennet’s were especially friendly. Sir William Lucas had formerly been in trade in the town of Meryton, where he had made a fairly large fortune and risen to the honour of a title of rank. This honour had, perhaps, been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust for his business and for his home in a small market town, and, leaving them both, he had moved with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, which he called Lucas Lodge. But though proud of his rank, he was friendly and ready to help anyone who needed it. Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mrs Bennet. They had several children. The oldest of them, a sensible young woman of about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth’s special friend.
It was a time-honoured tradition for the Misses Lucas and the Misses Bennet to meet and talk after a ball, and so the following morning brought the former to Longbourn for that purpose.
‘You began the evening well, Charlotte,’ said Mrs Bennet, with forced politeness, to Miss Lucas. ‘You were Mr Bingley’s first choice.’
‘Yes, but he seemed to like his second better.’
‘Oh, you mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice. Certainly that did seem as if he admired her. It does seem as if- but it may not lead to anything, you know.’
‘But Mr Darcy is not so worth listening to as his friend, is he?’ said Charlotte. ‘Poor Eliza! To be only just fairly pretty!’
‘I hope you will not put it into Lizzy’s head to be annoyed by his rude treatment. He is such a disagreeable man that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs Long told me last night that he sat next to her for half an hour without once opening his lips.’
‘Are you quite sure, madam? Is there not some mistake?’ said Jane. ‘I certainly saw Mr Darcy speaking to her.’
‘Yes, because she finally asked him how he liked Netherfield, and he could not help answering her, but she said he seemed very angry at being spoken to.’
‘Miss Bingley told me,’ said Jane, ‘that he never speaks much except among people he knows well. With them he is extremely agreeable.’
‘I do not believe a word of it, my dear.’
‘I do not mind his not talking to Mrs Long,’ said Miss Lucas, ‘but I wish he had danced with Eliza.’
‘Another time, Lizzy’ said her mother,’I would not dance with him, if I were you.’
‘His pride,’ said Miss Lucas, ‘does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot be surprised that such a fine young man with family and fortune should think highly of himself.’
‘That is very true,’ replied Eliza, ‘and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not wounded mine!