The gentlemen of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield. The visit was soon returned in due form. Master Bennet’s pleasing manners grew on the goodwill of Mr. Hurst and Master Bingley; and though the father was found to be intolerable, and the younger brothers not worth speaking to, a wish of being better acquainted with them was expressed towards the two eldest. By Joe, this attention was received with the greatest pleasure, but Edelmar still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even her brother, and could not like them; though their kindness to Joe, such as it was, had a value as arising in all probability from the influence of their sister’s admiration. It was generally evident whenever they met, that she did admire him and to him it was equally evident that Joe was yielding to the preference which he had begun to entertain for her from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love; but he considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general, since Joe united, with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which would guard his from the suspicions of the impertinent. He mentioned this to his friend Miaster Lucas.
“It may perhaps be pleasant,” replied Craig, “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 man conceals his affection with the same skill from the object of it, he may lose the opportunity of fixing her; 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 man had better show more affection than he feels. Bingley likes your brother undoubtedly; but she may never do more than like him, if he does not help her on.”
“But he does help her on, as much as his nature will allow. If I can perceive him regard for her, she must be a simpleton, indeed, not to discover it too.”
“Remember, Edel, that he does not know Joe’s disposition as you do.”
“But if a man is partial to a woman, and does not endeavour to conceal it, she must find it out.”
“Perhaps she must, if she sees enough of him. But, though Bingley and Joe 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. Joe should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which he can command her attention. When he is secure of her, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as he chooses.”
“Your plan is a good one,” replied Edelmar, “where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married, and if I were determined to get a rich wife, or any wife, I dare say I should adopt it. But these are not Joe’s feelings; he is not acting by design. As yet, he cannot even be certain of the degree of his own regard nor of its reasonableness. He has known her only a fortnight. He danced four dances with her at Meryton; he saw her one morning at her own house, and has since dined with her in company four times. This is not quite enough to make him understand her character.”
“Not as you represent it. Had he merely dined with her, he might only have discovered whether she 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 Craig, “I wish Joe success with all my heart; and if he were married to her to-morrow, I should think he had as good a chance of happiness as if he were to be studying her 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, Craig; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
Occupied in observing Mrs. Bingley’s attentions to her brother, Edelmar was far from suspecting that he was himself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of her friend. Mrs. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed him to be pretty; she had looked at him without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, she looked at him only to criticise. But no sooner had she made it clear to herself and her friends that he hardly had a good feature in his face, than she began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of his dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though she had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in his form, she was forced to acknowledge his figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of her asserting that him manners were not those of the fashionable world, she was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this he was perfectly unaware; to him she was only the woman who made herself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought him handsome enough to dance with.
She began to wish to know more of him, and as a step towards conversing with him herself, attended to his conversation with others. Her doing so drew his notice. It was at Lady Wonda Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.
“What does Mrs. Darcy mean,” said he to Craig, “by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?”
“That is a question which Mrs. Darcy only can answer.”
“But if she does it any more I shall certainly let her know that I see what she is about. She has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of her.”
On her approaching them soon afterwards, though without seeming to have any intention of speaking, Master Lucas defied his friend to mention such a subject to her; which immediately provoking Edelmar to do it, he turned to her and said:
“Did you not think, Mrs. 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 gentleman energetic.”
“You are severe on us.”
“It will be his turn soon to be teased,” said Master Lucas. “I am going to open the instrument, Edel, 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 Master Lucas’s persevering, however, he added, “Very well, if it must be so, it must.” And gravely glancing at Mrs. 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.”
His performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before he could reply to the entreaties of several that he would sing again, he was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by his brother Matthew, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.
Matthew had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given him application, it had given him likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than he had reached. Edelmar, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Matthew, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of his younger brothers, who, with some of the Lucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room.
Mrs. 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 her thoughts to perceive that Lady Wonda Lucas was her neighbour, till Lady Wonda thus began:
“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mrs. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society.”
“Certainly, mad’am; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.”
Lady William only smiled. “Your friend performs delightfully,” she continued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; “and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mrs. Darcy.”
“You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, mad’am.”
“Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James’s?”
“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?”
Mrs. 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 Sir Lucas.”
She paused in hopes of an answer; but her companion was not disposed to make any; and Edelmar at that instant moving towards them, she was struck with the action of doing a very gallant thing, and called out to him:
“My dear Master Edel, why are you not dancing? Mrs. Darcy, you must allow me to present this young gentleman to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure when so much beauty is before you.” And, taking his hand, she would have given it to Mrs. Darcy who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it, when he instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure to Lady Wonda:
“Indeed, mad’am, 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.”
Mrs. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honour of his hand, but in vain. Edelmar was determined; nor did Lady Wonda at all shake his purpose by her attempt at persuasion.
“You excel so much in the dance, Master Edel, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this lady dislikes the amusement in general, she can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.”
“Mrs. Darcy is all politeness,” said Edelmar, smiling.
“She is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear Master Edel, we cannot wonder at her complaisance—for who would object to such a partner?”
Edelmar looked archly, and turned away. His resistance had not injured him with the lady, and she was thinking of him with some complacency, when thus accosted by Master 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 your 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!”
“Your 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 man can bestow.”
Master Bingley immediately fixed his eyes on her face, and desired she would tell him what gentleman had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Mrs. Darcy replied with great intrepidity:
“Master Edlemar Bennet.”
“Master Eldemar Bennet!” repeated Master Bingley. “I am all astonishment. How long has he 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 gentleman’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 father-in-law, indeed; and, of course, he will always be at Pemberley with you.”
She listened to him with perfect indifference while he chose to entertain himself in this manner; and as her composure convinced him that all was safe, his wit flowed long.