Not all that Mr. Bennet, however, with the assistance of his five sons, could ask on the subject was sufficient to draw from his wife any satisfactory description of Miss Bingley. They attacked her in various ways—with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but she eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Sir Lucas. His report was highly favourable. Lady Anne had been delighted with her. She was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, she meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Miss Bingley’s heart were entertained.
“If I can but see one of my sons happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mr. Bennet to his wife, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”
In a few days Miss Bingley returned Mrs. Bennet’s visit, and sat about ten minutes with her in her library. She had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young gentlemen, of whose beauty she had heard much; but she saw only the mother. The gentlemen were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window that she wore a blue dress, and rode a black horse.
An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mr. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to his housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Miss Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mr. Bennet was quite disconcerted. He could not imagine what business she could have in town so soon after her arrival in Hertfordshire; and he began to fear that she might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as she ought to be. Sir Lucas quieted his fears a little by starting the idea of her being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed, that Miss Bingley was to bring twelve gentlemen and seven ladies with her to the assembly. The boys grieved over such a large number of gentlemen, but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing that instead of twelve she had brought only six with her from London—her five brothers and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted of only five altogether—Miss Bingley, her two brothers, the wife of the eldest, and another young woman.
Miss Bingley was good-looking and ladylike; she had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. Her brothers were fine gentlemen, with an air of decided fashion. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Hurst, merely looking the lady; but her friend Miss Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by her fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report, which was in general circulation within five minutes after her entrance, of her having ten thousand a year. The ladies pronounced her to be a fine figure of a woman, and gentlemen declared she was much handsomer than Miss Bingley, and she was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till her manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of her popularity; for she was discovered to be proud, to be above her company, and above being pleased; and not all her large estate in Derbyshire could then save her from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with her friend.
Miss Bingley had soon made herself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; she was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one herself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between her and her friend! Miss Darcy danced only once with Mr. Hurst and once with Mr. Bingley, declined being introduced to any other gentleman, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of her own party. Her character was decided. She was the proudest, most disagreeable woman in the world, and every body hoped that she would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against her was Mr. Bennet, whose dislike of her general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment, by her having slighted one of his sons.
Jonathan Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of ladies, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time Miss Darcy had been standing near enough for him to overhear a conversation between her and Miss Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press her friend to join it.
“Come, Darcy,” said her, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your brothers are engaged, and there is not another man in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant boys in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome boy in the room,” said Miss Darcy, looking at the eldest Mr. Bennet.
“Oh! he is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of his brothers 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, she looked for a moment at Jonathan, till catching his eye, she withdrew her own and coldly said, “He is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young gentlemen who are slighted by other women. You had better return to your partner and enjoy his smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Miss Bingley followed her advice. Miss Darcy walked off; and Jonathan remained with no very cordial feelings towards her. He told the story, however, with great spirit among his friends; for he had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.
The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mr. Bennet had seen his eldest son much admired by the Netherfield party. Miss Bingley had danced with him twice, and he had been distinguished by her bothers. Luke was as much gratified by this as his father could be, though in a quieter way. Jonathan felt Luke’s pleasure. Francis had heard himself mentioned to Mr. Bingley as the most accomplished boy in the neighbourhood; and William and Nicholas had been fortunate enough to be never without partners, which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. They found Mrs. Bennet still up. With a book she was regardless of time; and on the present occasion she had a good deal of curiosity as to the event of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. She had rather hoped that all her husband’s views on the stranger would be disappointed; but she soon found that she had a very different story to hear.
“Oh! my dear Mrs. Bennet,” as he entered the room, “we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Luke was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well he looked; and Miss Bingley thought him quite beautiful, and danced with him twice. Only think of that my dear; she actually danced with him twice! and he was the only creature in the room that she asked a second time. First of all she asked Mr. Lucas. I was so vexed to see her stand up with him! but, however, she did not admire him at all: indeed, nobody can, you know; and she seemed quite struck with Luke as he was going down the dance. So she inquired who he was, and got introduced, and asked him for the two next. Then the two third she danced with Mr. King, and the two fourth with Christopher Lucas, and the two fifth with Luke again, and the two sixth with Johnny and the Boulanger.”
“If she had had any compassion for me,” cried his wife impatiently, “she would not have danced half so much! For God’s sake, say no more of her partners. O that she had sprained her ancle in the first dance!”
“Oh! my dear,” continued Mr. Bennet, “I am quite delighted with her. She is so excessively beautiful! And her brothers are charming men. I never in my life saw any thing more elegant than their frock coats. I dare say the embroidary upon Mr. Hurst’s neckerchief—”
Here he was interrupted again. Mrs. Bennet protested against any description of finery. He was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Miss Darcy.
“But I can assure you,” he added, “that Johnny does not lose much by not suiting her fancy; for she is a most disagreeable, horrid woman, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring her! She walked here, and walked there, fancying herself so very great! Not beautiful enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given her one of your set downs. I quite detest the woman.”