‘Well, well, and so Mr. Bingley is coming down, sister,’ (for Mrs. Philips first brought her the news).
‘Well, so much the better. Not that I care about it, though. He is nothing to us, you know, and I am sure I never want to see him again. But, however, he is very welcome to come to Netherfield, if he likes it. And who knows what may happen? But that is nothing to us. You know, sister, we agreed long ago never to mention a word about it. And so, it is quite certain he is coming?’
‘You may depend on it,’ replied the other.
Miss Bennet had not been able to hear of his coming without changing colour. It was many months since she had mentioned his name to Elizabeth; but now, as soon as they were alone together, she said,—
‘I saw you look at me to-day, Lizzy, when my aunt told us of the present report; and I know I appeared distressed; but don’t imagine it was from any silly cause. I was only confused for the moment, because I felt that I should be looked at. I do assure you that the news does not affect me either with pleasure or pain. I am glad of one thing, that he comes along; because we shall see the less of him. Not that I am afraid of myself, but I dread other people’s remarks.’
‘I begin to be sorry that he comes at all,’ said Jane to her sister. ‘It would be nothing; I could see him with perfect indifference; but I can hardly bear to hear it thus perpetually talked off. My mother means well; but she does not know, no one can know, how much I suffer from what she says. Happy shall I be when his stay at Netherfield is over!’
‘I wish I could say anything to comfort you,’ replied Elizabeth.
Mr. Bingley finally arrived. ‘There is a gentleman with him, mamma,’ said Kitty; ‘who can it be?’ ‘Some acquaintance or other, my dear, I suppose; I am sure I do not know.’
‘La!’ replied Kitty, ‘it looks just like that man that used to be with him before. Mr. what’s his name—that tall, proud man.’
‘Good gracious! Mr. Darcy!—and so it does, I vow. Well, any friend of Mr. Bingley’s will always be welcome here to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of him.’ Jane looked at Elizabeth with surprise and concern.
Her astonishment at his coming—at his coming to Netherfield, to Longbourn, and voluntarily seeking her again, was almost equal to what she had known on first witnessing his altered behaviour in Derbyshire.
Elizabeth said as little to either as civility would allow, and sat down again to her work, with an eagerness which it did not often command. She had ventured only one glance at Darcy. He looked serious as usual; and she thought, more as he had been used to look in Hertfordshire, than as she had seen him at Pemberley.
‘It is a long time, Mr. Bingley, since you went away,’ said Mrs. Bennet. He readily agreed to it.
‘I began to be afraid you would never come back again.
When first he came in, he had spoken to her but little; but every five minutes seemed to be giving her more of his attention. He found her as handsome as she had been last year; as good-natured, and as unaffected, though not quite so chatty. Jane was anxious that no different should be perceived in her at all, and was really persuaded that she talked as much as ever; but her mind was so busily engaged, that she did not always know when she was silent.
When the gentlemen rose to go away, Mrs. Bennet was mindful of her intended civility, and they were invited and engaged to dine at Longbourn in a few days’ time.
AS soon as they were gone, Elizabeth walked out to recover her spirits; or, in other world, to dwell without interruption on those subjects that must deaden them more. Mr. Darcy’s behaviour astonished and vexed her.
‘Why, if he came only to be silent, grave, and indifferent,’ said she, ‘did he come at all?’
She could settle it in no way at all that gave her pleasure.
‘He could be still amiable, still pleasing, to my uncle and aunt, when he was in town; and why not to me? If he fears me, why come higher? If he no longer cares for me, why silent? Teasing, teasing man! I will think no more about him.’
Her resolution was for a short time involuntarily kept by the approach of her sister, who joined her with a cheerful look which showed her better satisfied with their visitors than Elizabeth.
‘Now,’ said she, ‘that this first meeting is over, I feel perfectly easy. I know my own strength, and I shall never be embarrassed again by his coming. I am glad he dines here on Tuesday. It will then be publicly seen that on both sides we meet only as common and indifferent acquaintance.’ ‘Yes, very indifferent indeed,’ said Elizabeth, laughingly. ‘Oh, Jane! take care.’
‘My dear Lizzy, you cannot think me so weak as to be in danger now.’
‘I think you are in very great danger of making him as much in love with you as ever.’
On Tuesday there was a large party assembled at Longbourn; and the two who were most anxiously expected, to the credit of their punctuality as sportsmen, were in very good time.
His behaviour to her sister was such during dinner-time as showed an admiration of her, which, though more guarded than formerly, persuaded Elizabeth that, if left wholly to himself, Jane’s happiness, and his own, would be speedily secured.
Mr. Darcy was almost as far from her as the table could divide them. He was on one side of her mother. She knew how little such a situation would give pleasure to either, or make either appear to advantage. She was not near enough to hear any of their discourse; but she could see how seldom they spoke to each other, and how formal and cold was their manner whenever they did.
Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied every one to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee, and then was enraged against herself for being so silly!
‘A man who has once been refused! How could I ever be foolish enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex who would not protest against such a weakness as a second proposal to the same woman? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings.’
‘Is your sister at Pemberley still?’
‘Yes; she will remain there till Christmas.’
‘And quite alone? Have all her friends left her?’
‘Mrs. Annesley is with her. The others have been gone on to Scarborough these three weeks.’
She could think of nothing more to say; but if he wished to converse with her, he might have better success. He stood by her, however, for some minutes, in silence; and, at last, on the young lady’s whispering to Elizabeth again, he walked away.
‘It has been a very agreeable day,’ said Miss Bennet to Elizabeth. ‘The party seemed so well selected, so suitable one with the other. I hope we may often meet again.’ Elizabeth smiled.
To be continued next Tuesday!