The Appearance of Goodness
Their speculation ended with the entrance of his party to the assembly room. Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance and easy, unaffected manners. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report (which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance) of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. Mr Darcy was not so open. He danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley before standing at the side of the room, watching rather than participating in the dance, and speaking occasionally to one of his own party.
Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.
“Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. Do you not enjoy a lively country dance?”
“I am uncomfortable, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. I have danced with each of your sisters, but I know no one else in the room.”
“I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life,” cried Bingley, “as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with one of the most handsome girls in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
“Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at
“I will see you dance, Darcy,” Bingley said.
He returned to Miss Bennet's side, and
“Miss Bennet this is Mr. Darcy, a friend and a guest in my home. Darcy, Miss Bennet, the eldest of the Bennet daughters. Now,” Bingley said jovially, “my partner is ready to perform an introduction.” Despite the smile on his face,
Presently the three stood before her. “
Both gentlemen bowed and said, “Miss Elizabeth.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.”
“I am delighted, Miss Elizabeth. I find myself growing more pleased with Hertfordshire every day.” As he said this, he glanced quickly at Miss Bennet.
“I would not wish to keep you from your dance,”
Mr. Darcy, who looked vaguely uncomfortable, stepped forward and said, “I would be honoured if you would dance with me, Miss Elizabeth.”
She smiled in acquiescence. “I thank you, yes.”
The evening altogether passed off pleasantly. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter in company with the Netherfield party – Mr. Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way.
“Oh! my dear Mr. Bennet,” exclaimed his wife when they returned to Longbourn, “we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well she looked, and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that my dear; he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! And his sisters are charming women. Mr. Hurst did not seem one much for dancing, but Mr. Darcy danced with the ladies in his own party, and with Lizzy and Jane.”
Mr. Bennet protested against any description of finery or of the pairings for the various dances; but he listened with interest to Mrs. Bennet's reports that the new gentlemen had singled out his daughters.
Bingley and Darcy had formed a friendship in spite of an opposition of character. Darcy enjoyed Bingley's easiness, openness, and ductility of temper; Bingley relied on Darcy's judgement. In understanding Darcy was the superior – Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever.
The residents of the neighbourhood knew not what to think of Mr. Darcy. All approved of Bingley, but thought Darcy proud and reserved. He was not as anxious to enter into conversation, and even when he answered questions he did so with brevity, his manner discouraging to further conversation. He never spoke unkindly, but then, he rarely spoke.
“Miss Bingley told me,” said Jane, “that he never speaks much unless he is among his intimate acquaintance. With them he is remarkably agreeable.”
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear,” said Mrs Bennet. “If he had been so very agreeable, he would have spoken more to Mrs. Long when he stood beside her at the assembly.” She looked over to
“Certainly he was not talkative, but neither was he silent,”
Miss Lucas had called at Longbourn to talk over the ball, and was not hesitant to give her opinion. “His pride does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”
“That is very true,” replied
The ladies of Longbourn waited on those of Netherfield. The visit was returned in due form. Miss Bennet's pleasing manners grew on the good will of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and though the mother was found to be intolerable and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, the Netherfield ladies expressed a wish of being better acquainted with Jane and Elizabeth.
It was generally evident whenever they met, that Mr. Bingley admired Jane; and to Elizabeth 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 becoming very much in love. But Jane's temper was so composed, and her manner so cheerful, that her preference was not obvious to all.
At Sir William Lucas's, where a large party were assembled, Miss Lucas warned
Her laughter caught Mr. Darcy's attention across the room. They had dined in company four times since their dances together in Meryton – four evenings had they spent together in the same party. Mr. Darcy was a man of sense and education, who had lived in the world: during the Meryton assembly he had scarcely allowed her to be pretty in comparison with the elegant women he knew. But soon he began to find her face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. Her figure he found to be light and pleasing. And in spite of his certain knowledge that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. In short, more than any other of the ladies in Hertfordshire, Miss Elizabeth had caught his attention, and he stood near the fire and watched her as she conversed with her friend.
Bingley he also watched, as Miss Bennet engaged his full attention. Due to his age and situation Darcy suspected that Bingley had little real experience with the fairer sex, and he desired to guide him as much as he might in the ways of courtship, love, and ladies. He might be able to protect Bingley from an imprudent alliance.
He saw Colonel Forster join Miss Lucas and Miss Elizabeth in their conversation; again the latter's laughter rung across the room, and her smile drew him away from his position near the fire. With steady and sure steps he advanced near the three, choosing a place beside Miss Elizabeth.
“Do not you think, Mr. Darcy, that I have given the most reasonable arguments just now, when I was teazing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?”
He bowed and smiled at her. “You stated your position with great energy; but it is a subject which always makes a lady energetic.” There was a teasing glint in his eyes which she did not miss.
“The whim strikes me most often, Miss Elizabeth, when you are in proximity,” he rejoined.
Miss Lucas watched in amazement, again, as her friend conversed so easily with Mr. Darcy. With everyone else in the neighbourhood he was all haughtiness and indifference, but each time they were in company Elizabeth had somehow drawn him out despite his aloofness. Everyone else considered him the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, but with
“Such empty flattery does neither of us justice,” said
“It will be her turn soon to be teazed,” 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 any body and every body! 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,
“There is nothing to equal it!” he announced. “In polished society dance is one of the first refinements.”
“And in unpolished societies as well,” responded Darcy. “Every savage can dance.”
“Aha,” said Sir William, not quite sure how best to respond. “Your friend dances with much enjoyment, and you, as I recall from the assembly, comport yourself most adeptly on the dance floor.”
Darcy nodded at this remark and would have turned to go, but Sir Willam forestalled him by calling out to Elizabeth Bennet as she crossed the room within hailing distance.
“Miss Eliza! Why are you not dancing? I am convinced that Mr Darcy would be most pleased to stand up with you, though he disparages dancing in general. He has danced with you before, as I recall, and so should not find it a trial to repeat the experience. I know that I should enjoy watching your performance.”
“I have no hesitation in obliging Sir William for a half an hour,” said Mr Darcy, “considering the inducement of having you as my partner.”
“Indeed!” said Sir William. “How could he object?”
As Darcy escorted
“I can guess what you are thinking,” her sister Louisa whispered in her ear.
“I am not concerned in the least,” said Caroline. “Darcy will not be caught by her bucolic charms. He feels just as I about society such as this, and is only relieving his utter boredom. He shall make sport of the evening’s entertainments and the coarseness of the company on the way home in the carriage with the rest of us, as usual.”
“All but Charles.”
Caroline sighed. “We must protect him from himself, Louisa. Jane Bennet is a sweet girl, but could you even imagine having connections such as her frightful mother and outrageous younger sisters?”
“I do feel sorry for her,” said Louisa. “But luckily, this is Charles, and pretty girls are never more to him than a passing fancy.”
Caroline nodded in agreement and let her attention stray back to the dance floor where not only her brother, but the gentleman that she had marked as her own was making a fool of himself with an upstart country nobody.
Mrs Bennet had grown up in Meryton as Miss Gardiner, the daughter of an attorney. Upon her marriage to Mr Bennet she settled in the village of Longbourn, which was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for her daughters, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week to pay their duty to their aunt Mrs Phillips, and to a milliner's shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and
Thus they learned first from Mrs Phillips intelligence of the officers' names and connections, and then slowly through Mr Phillips became acquainted with the officers themselves. Each new association added to their felicity. The youngest Miss Bennets could contemplate nothing but officers, while the thoughts of the eldest two lingered at Netherfield.
The ladies of Netherfield were not very kindly disposed toward Jane and Elizabeth, whom they considered ill-connected and simple. Perhaps more importantly, Miss Bingley perceived that the sisters were a danger to the single men of the household--one of whom waxed almost poetic about Miss Bennet, and the other whose eyes followed Miss Elizabeth whenever they were in company. However, given the proximity of Longbourn to Netherfield and the frequency with which the two parties met in the neighbourhood, the acquaintance could not be altogether ignored; though Hertfordshire society might be confined and unvarying, Netherfield Park society was even more so. In issuing an invitation for luncheon, Miss Bingley considered the least damage would occur if she invited only Miss Bennet, on a day the gentlemen were engaged away from home.
Jane set off under an overcast sky riding the old, docile mare while the coach horses were used, for once, on the farm. She had not been gone a quarter of an hour before the clouds burst; her mother was delighted, for she suspected the rain would continue till evening, and that Jane would have to spend the night.
So it was; Mrs Bennet was still smug about her triumph the following morning when a footman arrived from Netherfield bearing a note for
"My dearest Lizzy,
I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones -- therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me -- and excepting a sore throat and head-ache, there is not much the matter with me.
Stepping out the door and into the brisk morning air, the irony of her mother's rejoinder, only faintly heard, made her laugh. "Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds."
That was not what she claimed the last time she had a trifling cold,
Though she worried over Jane's health, her mother's improper behaviour, and her younger sisters' flirting, being outdoors calmed
Holding the reins, he bowed deeply. "Miss Bennet. Though I can see my presence is unexpected, I am not surprised to see you. My every observation of you made me believe that you would find your way to Miss Bennet this morning in order to care for her."
His lips curved into the barest hint of a smile. "And I was not wrong, was I? I worried that you might not wait for your family coach to be readied--do not protest that I know you so well after so short an acquaintance, you see I was right there too--so I chose this horse purposely to bear you to Netherfield in safety."
"I insist, Miss Bennet. The weather is very dirty this morning, but my heavy boots are much better suited to shed the mud than your delicate ones. This way we shall preserve your petticoats and frock (if I may be permitted to speak of such things after an association as brief as ours) from the peril of soiling."
"Mr Darcy, I'm no horsewoman; and even if I were--"
"You need not concern yourself with that, Miss Bennet. I shall hold the reins and our speed will never exceed the pace of a walk. It will be quite safe, I assure you."
Here Darcy's smile grew devastating, and he lowered his voice as if he were taking her into his confidence. "But Miss Bennet, did you not see the alacrity with which I dismounted? I know not how members of the fairer sex keep their seats on such things," he declared, gesturing to the ladies' saddle on the horse. With a teazing lift of his eyebrows he said, "Admit it, have I not considered everything most satisfactorily?"
As he walked the horse, with all the care he had promised to take, Mr Darcy was neither silent nor loquacious. He spoke sparingly, but his conversation was such that pleased
Darcy walked the horse to the front entrance of Netherfield. The footman was quick to attend them with a block to help her alight from the horse. Darcy handed her down with the utmost of propriety, and though
Bingley was the first to regain his composure, and he rose and came towards her to extend a hostly welcome. “Miss Elizabeth! It is indeed a pleasure to see you, though in such sad circumstances. I wish I could inform you that your sister’s health is greatly improved, but sadly that is not the case.”
“I must go to Jane,” said
“Most certainly, but first will you not have a cup of tea to revive you from your journey?”
“Thank you, but I am in no need of refreshment,” said
“How very early for you to be about!” cried Louisa.
“And for such a trifling cause,” said Caroline. “Your sister is not terribly ill at all, Miss Eliza, though to hear my brother tell it you would think she is at death’s door. I wonder that you came all this way by yourself.”
"She was not by herself." Mr Darcy's boots shone impeccably as he walked into the room. "I happened upon Miss Bennet--" His head dipped in the slightest bow in her direction. "--when I was out for my morning ride, and it was my pleasure to bear her company for the remainder of the way to Netherfield."
The two sisters continued to be coldly polite, venturing very little else into the conversation. In their brother's manners there was something better than politeness; there was good humour and kindness. He rang for a footman to escort
Jane barely raised her head upon
“I could not stay at home knowing you were unwell, especially in a house of relative strangers. Do not tax yourself with speaking. I am here to nurse you, and you must rest if you are to get better. Close your eyes.”
In the breakfast room, Caroline and Louisa lost no time in voicing their opinions.
“There is something altogether encroaching in Eliza Bennet’s behaviour,” said Caroline. “Her presence here is hardly necessary. I would venture to guess she has some other motive for coming besides the wellbeing of her sister.” She glanced over at Darcy meaningfully.
He chose to ignore her and picked up the newspaper, but her brother’s reaction was swift.
“I thought it charming that she came. It shows a deal of compassion for her sister that is most pleasing.”
“It shows no compassion for me,” cut in Mr Hurst. “I deplore having my breakfast interrupted in such a manner. It does nothing for the digestion.” With that comment he served himself more braised kidneys and filled his wine glass, then continued to eat with a much dedication as before.
“I for one find it shocking how Miss Eliza traipses all over the neighbourhood without the advantage of a companion. So common – but then that is hardly surprising, given her mother’s origins.”
Louisa tittered. “Sadly lacking in refinement. But Jane Bennet is a sweet girl despite such connections – one wonders how it came about.”
“You would not want your sister following such a course of behaviour, would you, Mr Darcy?” said Caroline, feeling quite confident to continue, despite her brother’s protests.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet is not my sister,” said Mr Darcy, “and she may behave in such a manner as she feels the situation warrants.”
Caroline was not as well pleased with his response as she had hoped to be. She gave it one more try. “I thought Eliza looked so very plain when she arrived this morning, we had all thought her almost pretty before – but then candlelight at evening parties hides a multitude of sins.”
“You should have been out of doors with us then,” said Darcy. “There her eyes shone with a brilliance that was most becoming.”
When breakfast was over, the Bingley sisters came up to Jane’s room to see how she fared. They made such a show of being genuinely concerned that
Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst felt it best that
“You cannot possibly walk by yourself,” said Miss Bingley. “We shall order the carriage immediately.”
“But you cannot leave your sister alone, as ill as she is,” said Bingley.
“Nor do I want to sir,” responded Elizabeth, “but I must not impose upon your hospitality.”
Darcy glanced at Miss Bingley and then came forward. “I am sure it would be no imposition, but if you indeed insist that you must return home, I feel impelled to offer you my escort. I do not want Miss Bingley to add worrying about your welfare to the concern of attending to your sister all night.”
“I will not hear of you leaving, Miss Eliza!” cried Miss Bingley. “How came you to consider such a thing? If these gentlemen had not been so hasty I would have been allowed to finish speaking earlier. I wished only to order the carriage to be sent to Longbourn to bring what articles of clothing you must need in order to stay with us and care for your dear sister until she is on the mend.”
Bingley met this suggestion with enthusiasm and
Mr Bingley showed much interest and anxiety about Miss Bennet’s condition and appeared quite pleased with the report that although she was by no means better, she was sleeping comfortably for the present.
“How shocking it is to have a bad cold,” said Miss Bingley.
“I dislike it most excessively,” said Louisa.
“I would prefer no speaking of illness at mealtime,” said Mr Hurst. “It could bring on indigestion, which could spoil even the succulence of this fine duckling.”
“It is most tasty,” said Miss Bingley, spiking a morsel with her fork and nibbling it delicately. “But I am sure that no duckling could be finer than those served from the kitchens of Pemberley. Would you not say so, Mr Darcy?”
“You must ask someone impartial,” said Darcy. “I can say, however, that I have found everything offered to me at Netherfield very much to my liking.”
Upon finishing the meal
Mr Hurst cast her a look of astonishment. “You prefer reading to cards?”
“Miss Eliza prefers reading above all things,” said Miss Bingley. “She is quite a bluestocking.”
“I do enjoy reading,” said
“Such as nursing your sister!” said Bingley. “You must take some books back up with you to read to her. If there are none here that please your fancy, I can bring more from the library.”
“My father left such a small selection of books,” Miss Bingley lamented, addressing Mr Darcy. “Unlike the impressive collection you must possess at Pemberley.”
“Our family library has been the work of generations,” said Darcy.
“Everything about Pemberley is unsurpassed!” said his faithful assistant. “Charles, when you build a house you must visit Mr Darcy’s home and make plans of it to use as your model.”
“I should easier buy Pemberley than copy it, if Darcy would only sell it to me.”
Darcy laughed. “If I were able, Charles, I should do so in an instant, simply to make you happy.”
"How does your sister, Darcy? Do you hear much from her? She must be growing into quite a young lady – she is sixteen, is she not? And I would imagine tall like her brother."
“I think she is Miss Elizabeth’s height by now,” said Darcy, letting his eyes settle upon that lady.
“I long to meet her! Such a lovely girl, and so accomplished! If only she could have come to Netherfield with you,” Miss Bingley gushed.
“As you know, she is not yet out. She is currently staying with my uncle, the earl.”
“All young ladies are so accomplished,” cried Bingley. “It quite amazes me.”
“Really Charles,” Miss Bingley clucked disapprovingly. “A truly accomplished lady is the exception rather than the rule.”
“But they all paint tables and draw and cover screens and any amount of things! I hear of nothing else but a lady’s accomplishments when I go about in society.”
“The title of being accomplished is generally undeserved,” said Darcy. “I expect a lot more from an accomplished lady than the ability to net a purse or dabble with paints.”
“Indeed,” cried Miss Bingley. “She must excel at music, singing, dance, drawing, languages, and have an air of refinement, poise and address that is not commonly seen.”
“All the sophistications of finishing schools and seminaries," Mr. Darcy said, and
Miss Bingley, her brow delicately furrowed in confusion, looked on in wonder at Mr. Darcy's defection.
"For instance, aptitude for reading and comprehending poetry and prose. Knowledge of the natural world – an appreciation of flora," he said, his eyes flicking toward the book
Miss Bingley's brow furrowed more deeply, and the corners of her mouth turned down.
“Where will you find such a paragon?” asked
“I am acquainted with many such,” Miss Bingley asserted, though she had just agreed accomplished ladies were rare. “
“That hinges entirely on one's definition of superior,” said Darcy, in an under voice
“I shall have to go to
“Are we not playing cards?” asked Mr Hurst.
The others all apologized and returned to the game.
“My luck is holding out,” said Mr Darcy. “I came out early, hoping to find my wishes satisfied, and they have been – more than I expected.”
She had spent most of the long, dark hours at Jane's bedside pondering his words from last night, and the way he referenced what he knew of her in his conversation. She was too affected by it, she knew, and this speech was in the same vein.
“Look up, Miss
“Magnificent,” agreed Mr Darcy. “There is no need for you to apologise. I had wished to meet you too, without the constraints of company. As I mentioned last night, I guessed you shared my love of sunrises."
“Are you a studier of character?” asked
He smiled a rather devastating smile. “Where you are concerned, I begin to think that I am a mind reader.”
“Yes,” he said. “And I hope you will accept my company.” He gave her a formal bow and took her elbow.
She laughed merrily and allowed him not only to walk by her side, but to lead her back to the house by a much more circuitous route than the one she had previously taken.
Later in the morning Mrs Bennet arrived to check on the health of her eldest daughter. She was relieved to find that Jane was by no means near dying, but felt that her situation was one to take full advantage of.
“I am distressed to find that my dear Jane is still quite ill,” she said to Mr Bingley upon being ushered into the parlour. “Sadly we must impose upon your benevolence for a while longer.”
“I will not hear of her leaving until she has made a full recovery,” said Bingley with no small amount of feeling.
“You are most kind,” said Mrs Bennet, looking about the room. She noticed the admiration on Mr Darcy's face as his gaze had settled upon
Bingley laughed. “I have a very impulsive nature, but for the present Netherfield pleases me very much – very much indeed.”
Mrs Bennet beamed. ”You really ought to throw a ball!”
“And so I shall, but not before your daughter is well again.”
“Jane is very ill now, to be sure, but mark my words Mr Bingley – she will be fit as a fiddle in three weeks or so, with all the bloom returned to her cheeks and eager to dress up in her finery and dance all evening long. Nobody enjoys a ball like my Jane, or looks lovelier in a ball gown. I know I am her mother, but I cannot help but speak the truth.”
Bingley replied as he ought and Mrs Bennet continued in the same vein for some minutes till
Miss Bingley watched the door close behind her and said, “It is small wonder Miss Eliza has such forward manners with a mother such as that!”
“I find no fault in her manners,” cried Mr Bingley, immediately coming to her support.
“She has a pertness that some may find appealing but I think shows a sad want of propriety and exaggerated self consequence.”
“I agree that an overly high opinion of her own worth is a deplorable failing in a lady,” said Darcy.
“But I suppose a pair of fine eyes well overcomes such a flaw of character,” said Miss Bingley with a touch of bitterness.
“The finer the eyes, the more can be overlooked,” Darcy replied consideringly.
The card table had not been brought out. Mr Hurst and Mr Bingley were sitting before the fire talking of their sport earlier in the day. Louisa was nodding by her husband’s side, an embroidery frame about to fall from her slack hand. Mr Darcy was writing a letter and Miss Bingley was sitting close by, acting as advisor.
“How quickly you write Mr Darcy!”
“Not as quickly as I would like.”
“You must write so many letters in a year! To your family, and business letters too. And you do it all with such ease – I would find it excessively tedious.”
“I write out of necessity,” said Darcy shortly, “not from enjoyment.”
“You have been at it this age – such long and charming letters you do write!”
“My letter is neither long nor charming, and will never have opportunity to be either if I am to be interrupted at every turn.”
Darcy turned to her, a glint of laughter in his eyes. “You find my plight amusing?”
“No sir,” she replied, smiling. “Do not let me disrupt the progression of your correspondence.”
“Then with your permission I shall finish,” he said with a half smile, and turned back to his page.
Miss Bingley moved to a different chair and picked up a book. She made a great pretence of reading it for five minutes, and then she got up and walked across the room to the window. She turned, and stood, a picture of poise and elegance, then walked the length of the room and gazed a few moments at a portrait of a lady and two small children, set in a verdant landscape. She looked over at Mr Darcy, who was writing with some diligence, then sighed.
“Miss Eliza,” she called out. “Do join me here, and tell me what you think of this painting in comparison to, say, Thomas Gainsborough.”
She walked the full length of the room and stood, evaluating, for only a few moments before Mr Darcy raised his head from his letter and appraised them.
Miss Bingley noticed the diversion of his attention at once, and lost no time in remarking upon it.
“I see very little escapes you, Mr Darcy,” she said. “I suppose you are hoping for an invitation to talk of art with us.”
“You are incorrect, Miss Bingley. The last thing you could possibly want is my company.”
“How can you say such a thing? Miss Eliza – why should Mr Darcy think he is not wanted?”
“He means to tease us, no doubt. Our best recourse is to ignore him.”
“How can we ignore him when his eyes are trained so closely upon us?” asked Miss Bingley. “We must know what he means by such a remark!”
Mr Darcy had set his letter aside completely. “I shall tell you, if you insist, but I fear you shall not be well pleased. There are only two reasons you would chose to stand there together that come to mind. Either you have secrets to share, or you realize how your position by that candelabra shows your figures off to advantage. Should it be the former, I would be sadly in the way, and should it be the latter, I can enjoy the sight of two such lovely ladies all the better from this vantage point.”
“For shame!” cried Miss Bingley, turning to
“Perhaps the best way of punishing Mr Darcy would be to sit down and write letters.”
“Cruel girl!” applauded Mr Darcy. “I ought not have said a word.”
“My next choice would have been to tease you, Mr Darcy.”
“You are welcome to try.”
“Miss Bingley, you know Mr Darcy better than I – what are his follies and weaknesses that we can have sport with them?”
“Our acquaintance is only of a few months' time, but it has been long enough to know that Mr Darcy is a man without fault.”
“What a pity. Nothing to tease the man with, and yet I dearly love a laugh.”
With a dimpled smirk, Darcy asserted, “It has been my practice in life to avoid weakness and folly, Miss Bennet.”
“So you admit to being perfect in every way?”
“I have faults enough, Miss Elizabeth,” he said, shaking his head in laughter. “But I do not think my faults are those that lend themselves to teazing.”
“You may keep them to yourself by all means,” said
By this time Mr Darcy had made his way across the room till he was standing right next to
“Then I shall take it upon myself to reveal one fault a day to you, because I would by no means do anything to suspend your pleasure.”
“And which fault will be the first?” she asked lightly.
The lines of his face softened, and his expression shifted from amusement to something resembling tenderness. “I cannot be responsible for my thoughts when your fine eyes upbraid me,” he whispered, reaching toward her as though he might take her hand in his.
Miss Bingley had posed every feature and gesture to illustrate her annoyance at this tête-à-tête between Darcy and Elizabeth; but at this her face took on a shocked expression. “How could you?” she hissed, her eyes flitting angrily to meet his.
“Pardon me, Miss Bingley,” said Darcy, “but it was only a harmless jest. I will join you for a discussion of art now, if that is your desire.”
But Miss Bingley would not be appeased. The remainder of the evening she treated
The next morning she did not go out early for a walk, though the desire was strong. She did sit in the window embrasure and look out over the grounds, and she was certain she saw a figure of Mr Darcy’s stature walking along that same avenue where she had met him the day before.
After luncheon Jane was feeling well enough to go downstairs for an hour or two.
This was the only thing to give
When they met in the garden it was as if Miss Bingley’s outburst of the other evening had never happened. Mr Darcy initiated conversation with her that was light and amusing and in no time she was responding in kind. Before they went inside, he offered up another fault to her.
“Though it should be two,” he said, “because you avoided me yesterday morning.”
“One will suffice,” said
He stood almost too close then, and dropped his voice to a whisper that seemed nearly intimate. “When I am near you, my reason fails.”
“That is a fault indeed,” said Elizabeth, struggling to keep her voice even and her tone light, “and does not bode well for you. For a man without reason, you must admit, is nothing short of a fool." It was with equal parts of relief and disappointment that she stepped backward, even as she said playfully, "I will have to keep my distance.”
Darcy laughed. “And I will have to pick tomorrow’s fault with better care.”
And yet, though the day started so auspiciously, it continued much the same as the day before. Miss Bingley was cold, and Mr Darcy was again reserved and quiet, spending most of his time reading a book or playing piquet with Mr Hurst.
In the afternoon she found herself alone with Mr Darcy in the library. When she almost thought they would be in the same room by themselves for a half hour or more without uttering more than two words to each other, he approached the chair where she was ensconced and sat upon the footstool.
“I have an apology to make.”
She raised her eyes to his face and waited for him to continue.
“I must apologise for Miss Bingley’s behaviour to you. I am afraid that I am to blame for it.”
“You have nothing to apologise for. How can you be to blame for her actions?”
“Mr Bingley is a close friend. His sister has aspirations which are unfounded. I hope I need not elaborate more fully.”
“I understand you perfectly, Mr Darcy,” said
He leaned forward, his face expressive with meaning, and said, “I still take great pleasure in sunrises. They look particularly striking reflected in your eyes.”
Mr Darcy stood immediately and pulled a book from the shelf. “As I was saying, Miss Elizabeth,” he said smoothly, “The beauties of nature are unrivalled. Cowper expresses it best in these poems.” He passed the book to her with a wink and removed to his former seating place near the window.