When the gentlemen removed after dinner, Jonathan ran up to his brother, and seeing him well guarded from cold, attended him into the drawing-room, where he was welcomed by his two friends with many professions of pleasure; and Jonathan had never seen them so agreeable as they were during the hour which passed before the ladies appeared. Their powers of conversation were considerable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.
But when the ladies entered, Luke was no longer the first object; Mr. Bingley’s eyes were instantly turned towards Darcy, and he had something to say to her before she had advanced many steps. She addressed herself directly to Mr. Bennet, with a polite congratulation; Mrs. Hurst also made him a slight bow, and said she was ‘very glad’; but diffuseness and warmth remained for Bingley’s salutation. She was full of joy and attention. The first half-hour was spent in piling up the fire, lest he should suffer from the change of room; and he removed at her desire to the other side of the fireplace, that he might be farther from the door. She then sat down by him, and talked scarcely to any one else. Jonathan, at work in the opposite corner, saw it all with great delight.
When tea was over, Mrs. Hurst reminded her brother-in-law of the card-table—but in vain. He had obtained private intelligence that Miss Darcy did not wish for cards; and Mrs. Hurst soon found even her open petition rejected. He assured her that no one intended to play, and the silence of the whole party on the subject seemed to justify him. Mrs. Hurst had therefore nothing to do but to stretch herself on one of the sofas and go to sleep. Darcy took up a book; Mr. Bingley did the same; and Mr. Hurst, principally occupied in playing with his rings, joined now and then in his sister’s conversation with Mr. Bennet.
Mr. Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Miss Darcy’s progress through her book, as in reading his own; and he was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at her page. He could not win her, however, to any conversation; she merely answered his question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with his own book, which he had only chosen because it was the second volume of hers, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
No one made any reply. He then yawned again, threw aside his book, and cast his eyes round the room in quest of some amusement; when, hearing his sister mentioning a ball to Mr. Bennet, he turned suddenly towards her and said—“By the bye, Grace, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”
“If you mean Darcy,” cried his sister, “she may go to bed, if she chuses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Waters has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards.”
“I should like balls infinitely better,” he replied, “if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”
“Much more rational, my dear Walter, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”
Mr. Bingley made no answer, and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. His figure was elegant, and he walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of his feelings, he resolved on one effort more, and turning to Jonathan, said—
“Mr. Jonathan Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.”
Jonathan was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Mr. Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of his civility: Miss Darcy looked up. She was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Jonathan himself could be, and unconsciously closed her book. She was directly invited to join their party, but she declined it, observing that she could imagine but two motives for their chusing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives her joining them would interfere. “What could she mean? he was dying to know what could be her meaning” —and asked Jonathan whether he could at all understand her?
“Not at all,” was his answer; “but depend upon it, she means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing her will be to ask nothing about it.”
Mr. Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Miss Darcy in anything, and persevered, therefore, in requiring an explanation of her two motives.
“I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said she, as soon as he allowed her to speak. “You either chuse this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; —if the first, I should be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”
“Oh! shocking!” cried Mr. Bingley. “I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish her for such a speech?”
“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Jonathan. “We can all plague and punish one another. Teaze her—laugh at her. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”
“But upon my honour I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Teaze calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no—I feel she may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Miss Darcy may hug herself.”
“Miss Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Jonathan. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.”
“Mr. Bingley,” said she, “has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of women—nay, the wisest and best of their actions—may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”
“Certainly,” replied Jonathan—“there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”
“Perhaps that is not possible for any one. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
“Such as vanity and pride.”
“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”
Jonathan turned away to hide a smile.
“Your examination of Miss Darcy is over, I presume,” said Mr. Bingley; “and pray what is the result?”
“I am perfectly convinced by it that Miss Darcy has no defect. She owns it herself without disguise.”
“No,” said Darcy, “I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost for ever.”
“That is a failing indeed!” cried Jonathan. “Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me.”
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” she replied, with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
“Do let us have a little music,” cried Mr. Bingley, tired of a conversation in which he had no share. “Thomas, you will not mind my waking Mrs. Hurst.”
His brother made not the smallest objection, and the pianoforte was opened; and Darcy, after a few moments’ recollection, was not sorry for it. She began to feel the danger of paying Jonathan too much attention.