Pride and Prejudice: Gender Flipped Chapter Eight

 Chapter 8

At five o’clock the two gentlemen retired to dress, and at half-past six Edelmar was summoned to dinner. To the civil inquiries which then poured in, and amongst which he had the pleasure of distinguishing the much superior solicitude of Mrs. Bingley’s, he could not make a very favourable answer. Joe was by no means better. The brothers, on hearing this, repeated three or four times how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, and how excessively they disliked being ill themselves; and then thought no more of the matter: and their indifference towards Joe when not immediately before them restored Edelmar to the enjoyment of all his former dislike.

Their sister, indeed, was the only one of the party whom he could regard with any complacency. Her anxiety for Joe was evident, and her attentions to himself most pleasing, and they prevented him feeling himself so much an intruder as he believed he was considered by the others. He had very little notice from any but her. Master Bingley was engrossed by Mrs. Darcy, his brother scarcely less so; and as for Mrs. Hurst, by whom Edelmar sat, she was an indolent woman, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when she found him to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to him.

When dinner was over, he returned directly to Joe, and Master Bingley began abusing him as soon as he was out of the room. His manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; he had no conversation, no style, no beauty. Mr. Hurst thought the same, and added:

“He has nothing, in short, to recommend him, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget his appearance this morning. He really looked almost wild.”

“Hi did, indeed, Luke. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must he be scampering about the country, because his brother had a cold? His hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and his stockings; I hope you saw stockings, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the trousers which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact, Luke,” said Bingley; “but this was all lost upon me. I thought Master Edelmar Bennet looked remarkably well when he came into the room this morning. His dirty stockings quite escaped my notice.”

“You observed it, Mrs. Darcy, I am sure,” said Master Bingley; “and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your brother make such an exhibition.”

“Certainly not.”

“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above his ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could he mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.”

“It shows an affection for her brother that is very pleasing,” said Bingley.

“I am afraid, Mrs. Darcy,” observed Master Bingley in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of his fine eyes.”

“Not at all,” she replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.” A short pause followed this speech, and Mr. Hurst began again:

“I have an excessive regard for Master Joe Bennet, he is really a very sweet boy, and I wish with all my heart he were well settled. But with such a mother and father, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it.”

“I think I have heard you say that their aunt is an attorney in Meryton.”

“Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”

“That is capital,” added his brother, and they both laughed heartily.

“If they had aunts enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”

“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying women of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy.

To this speech Bingley made no answer; but her brothers gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations.

With a renewal of tenderness, however, they returned to her room on leaving the dining-parlour, and sat with his till summoned to coffee. He was still very poorly, and Edelmar would not quit his at all, till late in the evening, when he had the comfort of seeing him sleep, and when it seemed to him rather right than pleasant that he should go downstairs himself. On entering the drawing-room he found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high he declined it, and making his brother the excuse, said he would amuse himself for the short time he could stay below, with a book. Mrs. Hurst looked at him with astonishment.

“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said she; “that is rather singular.”

“Master Edel Bennet,” said Master Bingley, “despises cards. He is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Edelamr; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

“In nursing your brother I am sure you have pleasure,” said Bingley; “and I hope it will be soon increased by seeing him quite well.”

Edelmar thanked her from his heart, and then walked towards the table where a few books were lying. She immediately offered to fetch him others—all that her library afforded.

“And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle lass, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into.”

Edelmar assured her that he could suit himself perfectly with those in the room.

“I am astonished,” said Master Bingley, “that my mother should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy!”

“It ought to be good,” she replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”

“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”

“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”

“Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that noble place. Charlotte, when you build your house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley.”

“I wish it may.”

“But I would really advise you to make your purchase in that neighbourhood, and take Pemberley for a kind of model. There is not a finer county in England than Derbyshire.”

“With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it.”

“I am talking of possibilities, Charlotte.”

“Upon my word, Christopher, I should think it more possible to get Pemberley by purchase than by imitation.”

Edelmar was so much caught with what passed, as to leave his very little attention for his book; and soon laying it wholly aside, he drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between Mrs. Bingley and her eldest brother, to observe the game.

“Is Master Darcy much grown since the spring?” said Master Bingley; “will he be as tall as I am?”

“I think he will. He is now about Master Edelmar Bennet’s height, or rather taller.”

“How I long to see him again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! And so extremely accomplished for his age! His performance on the pianoforte is exquisite.”

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young gentlemen can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young gentlemen accomplished! My dear Charlotte, what do you mean?”

“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young gentleman spoken of for the first time, without being informed that he was very accomplished.”

“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a man who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of gentlemen in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Master Bingley.

“Then,” observed Edelmar, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished man.”

“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”

“Oh! certainly,” cried her faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A man must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, he must possess a certain something in his air and manner of walking, the tone of his voice, his address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

“All this he must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this he must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of his mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished men. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”

“I never saw such a man. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united.”

Mr. Hurst and Master Bingley both cried out against the injustice of his implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many men who answered this description, when Mrs. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby at an end, Edelmar soon afterwards left the room.

“Edelamr Bennet,” said Master Bingley, when the door was closed on his, “is one of those young gentlemen who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many women, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”

“Undoubtedly,” replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, “there is a meanness in all the arts which gentlemen sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”

Master Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject.

Edelmar joined them again only to say that his brother was worse, and that he could not leave him. Bingley urged Mrs. Jones being sent for immediately; while her brothers, convinced that no country advice could be of any service, recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. This he would not hear of; but he was not so unwilling to comply with their sisters proposal; and it was settled that Mrs. Jones should be sent for early in the morning, if Master Bennet were not decidedly better. Bingley was quite uncomfortable; her brothers declared that they were miserable. They solaced their wretchedness, however, by duets after supper, while she could find no better relief to her feelings than by giving her housekeeper directions that every attention might be paid to the sick gentleman and his brother.

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