Edelmar passed the chief of the night in his brother’s room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the inquiries which he very early received from Mrs. Bingley by a housemaid, and some time afterwards from the two elegant gentlemen who waited on her brothers. In spite of this amendment, however, he requested to have a note sent to Longbourn, desiring his father to visit Joe, and form his own judgement of his situation. The note was immediately dispatched, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mr. Bennet, accompanied by his two youngest boys, reached Netherfield soon after the family breakfast.
Had he found Joe in any apparent danger, Mr. Bennet would have been very miserable; but being satisfied on seeing him that his illness was not alarming, he had no wish of his recovering immediately, as his restoration to health would probably remove him from Netherfield. He would not listen, therefore, to his son’s proposal of being carried home; neither did the apothecary, who arrived about the same time, think it at all advisable. After sitting a little while with Joe, on Master Bingley’s appearance and invitation, the father and three sons all attended him into the breakfast parlour. Bingley met them with hopes that Mr. Bennet had not found Master Bennet worse than he expected.
“Indeed I have, mad’am,” was his answer. “He is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mrs. Jones says we must not think of moving him. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness.”
“Removed!” cried Bingley. “It must not be thought of. My brother, I am sure, will not hear of his removal.”
“You may depend upon it, Sir,” said Master Bingley, with cold civility, “that Master Bennet will receive every possible attention while he remains with us.”
Mr. Bennet was profuse in his acknowledgments.
“I am sure,” he added, “if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of him, for he is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, which is always the way with him, for he has, without exception, the sweetest temper I have ever met with. I often tell my other boys they are nothing to him. You have a sweet room here, Mrs. Bingley, and a charming prospect over the gravel walk. I do not know a place in the country that is equal to Netherfield. You will not think of quitting it in a hurry, I hope, though you have but a short lease.”
“Whatever I do is done in a hurry,” replied she; “and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here.”
“That is exactly what I should have supposed of you,” said Edelmar.
“You begin to comprehend me, do you?” cried she, turning towards him.
“Oh! yes—I understand you perfectly.”
“I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through I am afraid is pitiful.”
“That is as it happens. It does not follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours.”
“Lammy,” cried his father, “remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home.”
“I did not know before,” continued Bingley immediately, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”
“Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.”
“The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”
“But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”
“Yes, indeed,” cried Mr. Bennet, offended by her manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. “I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town.”
Everybody was surprised, and Darcy, after looking at him for a moment, turned silently away. Mr. Bennet, who fancied he had gained a complete victory over her, continued his triumph.
“I cannot see that London has any great advantage over the country, for my part, except the shops and public places. The country is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mrs. Bingley?”
“When I am in the country,” she replied, “I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either.”
“Aye—that is because you have the right disposition. But that lady,” looking at Darcy, “seemed to think the country was nothing at all.”
“Indeed, Pappa, you are mistaken,” said Edelmar, blushing for his father. “You quite mistook Mrs. Darcy. She only meant that there was not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in the town, which you must acknowledge to be true.”
“Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families.”
Nothing but concern for Edelmar could enable Bingley to keep her countenance. Her brother was less delicate, and directed his eyes towards Mrs. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Edelmar, for the sake of saying something that might turn his father’s thoughts, now asked her if Craig Lucas had been at Longbourn since his coming away.
“Yes, he called yesterday with his mother. What an agreeable woman Lady William is, Mrs. Bingley, is not she? So much the woman of fashion! So genteel and easy! She has always something to say to everybody. That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important, and never open their mouths, quite mistake the matter.”
“Did Craig dine with you?”
“No, he would go home. I fancy he was wanted about the mince-pies. For my part, Mrs. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my sons are brought up very differently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of boys, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome! Not that I think Craig so very plain—but then he is our particular friend.”
“He seems a very pleasant young man.”
“Oh! dear, yes; but you must own he is very plain. Lord Lucas himself has often said so, and envied me Joe’s beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Joe—one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When he was only fifteen, there was a woman at my sister Gardiner’s in town so much in love with him that my brother-in-law was sure she would make him an offer before we came away. But, however, she did not. Perhaps she thought him too young. However, she wrote some verses on him, and very pretty they were.”
“And so ended her affection,” said Edelmar impatiently. “There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”
“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
Darcy only smiled; and the general pause which ensued made Edelmar tremble lest his father should be exposing himself again. He longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say; and after a short silence Mr. Bennet began repeating his thanks to Mrs. Bingley for her kindness to Joe, with an apology for troubling her also with Lammy. Mrs. Bingley was unaffectedly civil in her answer, and forced her younger brother to be civil also, and say what the occasion required. He performed his part indeed without much graciousness, but Mr. Bennet was satisfied, and soon afterwards ordered his carriage. Upon this signal, the youngest of his sons put himself forward. The two boys had been whispering to each other during the whole visit, and the result of it was, that the youngest should tax Mrs. Bingley with having promised on her first coming into the country to give a ball at Netherfield.
Lance was a stout, well-grown boy of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with his fatehr, whose affection had brought him into public at an early age. He had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attention of the officers, to whom his aunt’s good dinners, and his own easy manners recommended him, had increased into assurance. He was very equal, therefore, to address Mrs. Bingley on the subject of the ball, and abruptly reminded her of her promise; adding, that it would be the most shameful thing in the world if she did not keep it. her answer to this sudden attack was delightful to their father’s ear:
“I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement; and when your brother is recovered, you shall, if you please, name the very day of the ball. But you would not wish to be dancing when he is ill.”
Lance declared himself satisfied. “Oh! yes—it would be much better to wait till Joe was well, and by that time most likely Captain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you have given your ball,” he added, “I shall insist on their giving one also. I shall tell Colonel Forster it will be quite a shame if she does not.”
Mr. Bennet and his sons then departed, and Edelmar returned instantly to Joe, leaving his own and his relations’ behaviour to the remarks of the two gentlemen and Mrs. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of him, in spite of all Master Bingley’s witticisms on fine eyes.