The gentlemen of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield. The visit was returned in due form. Mr. Luke Bennet’s pleasing manners grew on the good will of Mr. Hurst and Mr. 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 Luke, this attention was received with the greatest pleasure; but Jonathan still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even his brother, and could not like them; though their kindness to Luke, 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 Luke 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 Luke united, with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which would guard him from the suspicions of the impertinent. He mentioned this to his friend Mr. Lucas.
“It may perhaps be pleasant,” replied Christopher, “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 that 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 his regard for her, she must be a simpleton, indeed, not to discover it too.”
“Remember, Reg, that she does not know Luke’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 Luke 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. Luke 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 leisure for falling in love as much as he chuses.”
“Your plan is a good one,” replied Jonathan, “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 Luke’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 in company with her 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 been also 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 Christopher, “I wish Luke 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 twelve-month. 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 before-hand, 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, Christopher; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
Occupied in observing Miss Bingley’s attentions to his brother, Jonathan was far from suspecting that he was himself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of her friend. Miss 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 criticize. But no sooner had she made it clear to herself and her friends that he had hardly 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 his 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 Anne Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.
“What does Miss Darcy mean,” said he to Christopher, “by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?”
“That is a question which Miss 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, Mr. Lucas defied his friend to mention such a subject to her; which immediately provoking Jonathan to do it, he turned to her and said—
“Did not you think, Miss 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 a subject which always makes a gentleman energetic.”
“You are severe on us.”
“It will be his turn soon to be teased,” said Mr. Lucas. “I am going to open the instrument, Reg, 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 Mr. Lucas’s persevering, however, he added, “Very well; if it must be so, it must.” And gravely glancing at Miss 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 Francis, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.
Francis 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. Jonathan, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Francis, 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.
Miss 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 own thoughts to perceive that Lady Anne Lucas was her neighbour, till Lady Anne thus began—
“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Miss Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.”
“Certainly, ma’am; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.”
Lady Anne 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, Miss Darcy.”
“You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, ma’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?”
Miss Darcy bowed.
“I had once some thoughts 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 Henry.”
She paused in hopes of an answer; but her companion was not disposed to make any; and Jonathan at that instant moving towards them, she was struck with the notion of doing a very gallant thing, and called out to him—
“My dear Mr. Reg, why are not you dancing? —Miss 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 Miss Darcy, who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it, when he instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure to Lady Anne—
“Indeed, ma’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.”
Miss Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honour of his hand, but in vain. Jonathan was determined; nor did Lady Anne at all shake his purpose by her attempt at persuasion.
“You excel so much in the dance, Mr. Reg, 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.”
“Miss Darcy is all politeness,” said Jonathan, smiling.
“She is indeed; but considering the inducement, my dear Mr. Reg, we cannot wonder at her complaisance—for who would object to such a partner?”
Jonathan 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 Mr. 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 these 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.”
Mr. Bingley immediately fixed his eyes on her face, and desired she would tell him what gentleman had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Miss Darcy replied with great intrepidity—
“Mr. Jonathan Bennet.”
“Mr. Jonathan Bennet!” repeated Mr. 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 so serious about it, I shall consider the matter as absolutely settled. You will have a charming father-in-law, indeed; and, of course, he will be always 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.