Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Lady Wonda Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where she had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of damehood by an address to the queen during her mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given her a disgust to her business, and to her residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, she had removed with her family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where she could think with pleasure of her own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy herself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by her rank, it did not render her supercilious; on the contrary, she was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, her presentation at St. James’s had made her courteous.
Lord Lucas was a very good kind of man, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mr. Bennet. They had several children. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young man, about twenty-seven, Edelmar’s intimate friend.
That the Master Lucases and the Master Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.
“You began the evening well, Craig,” said Mr. Bennet with civil self-command to Master Lucas. “You were Mrs. Bingley’s first choice.”
“Yes; but she seemed to like her second better.”
“Oh! you mean Joe, I suppose, because she danced with him twice. To be sure that did seem as if she admired him—indeed I rather believe she did—I heard something about it—but I hardly know what—something about Mrs. Robinson.”
“Perhaps you mean what I overheard between her and Mrs. Robinson; did not I mention it to you? Mrs. Robinson’s asking her how she liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether she did not think there were a great many pretty men in the room, and which she thought the prettiest? and her answering immediately to the last question: ‘Oh! the eldest Master Bennet, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions on that point.'”
“Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed—that does seem as if—but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know.”
“My overhearings were more to the purpose than yours, Edel,” said Craig. “Mrs. Darcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is she?—poor Edel!—to be only just tolerable.”
“I beg you would not put it into Lammy’s head to be vexed by her ill-treatment, for she is such a disagreeable woman, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by her. Mr. Long told me last night that she sat close to him for half-an-hour without once opening her lips.”
“Are you quite sure, sir?—is not there a little mistake?” said Joe. “I certainly saw Mrs. Darcy speaking to him.”
“Aye—because he asked her at last how she liked Netherfield, and she could not help answering him; but he said she seemed quite angry at being spoke to.”
“Master Bingley told me,” said Joe, “that she never speaks much, unless among her intimate acquaintances. With them she is remarkably agreeable.”
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If she had been so very agreeable, she would have talked to Mr. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that she is eat up with pride, and I dare say she had heard somehow that Mr. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”
“I do not mind his not talking to Mr. Long,” said Master Lucas, “but I wish she had danced with Edel.”
“Another time, Lammy,” said his father, “I would not dance with her, if I were you.”
“I believe, sir, I may safely promise you never to dance with her.”
“Her pride,” said Master Lucas, “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 woman, with family, fortune, everything in her favour, should think highly of herself. If I may so express it, she has a right to be proud.”
“That is very true,” replied Edelma, “and I could easily forgive her pride, if she had not mortified mine.”
“Pride,” observed Matthew, who piqued himself upon the solidity of his reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
“If I were as rich as Mrs. Darcy,” cried a young Lucas, who came with her brothers, “I should not care how proud I was. I would keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine a day.”
“Then you would drink a great deal more than you ought,” said Mr. Bennet; “and if I were to see you at it, I should take away your bottle directly.”
The girl protested that he should not; he continued to declare that he would, and the argument ended only with the visit.