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Chapter 6

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 Vingt-un 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 you 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!"

"You 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, a 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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