Chapter IX

ELIZABETH PASSED THE chief of the night in her sister's room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the inquiries which she very early received from Mr. Bingley by a housemaid, and some time afterward from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters. In spite of this amendment, however, she requested to have a note sent to Longbourn desiring her mother to visit Jane and form her own judgment of her situation. The note was immediately dispatched and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her two youngest girls, reached Netherfield soon after the family breakfast.

Had she found Jane in any apparent danger Mrs. Bennet would have been very miserable; but being satisfied, on seeing her, that her illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her recovering immediately, as her restoration to health would probably remove her from Netherfield. She would not listen, therefore, to her daughter'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 Jane, on Miss Bingley's appearance and invitation the mother and three daughters all attended her into the breakfast parlor. Bingley met them with hopes that Mrs. Bennet had not found Miss Bennet worse than she expected.

“Indeed I have, sir,” was her answer. “She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness.”

“Removed!” cried Bingley. “It must not be thought of. My sister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal.”

“You may depend upon it, madam,” said Miss Bingley, with cold civility, “that Miss Bennet shall receive every possible attention while she remains with us.”

Mrs. Bennet was profuse in her acknowledgments.

“I am sure,” she added, “if it were not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world—which is always the way with her, for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I ever met with. I often tell my other girls they are nothing to her. You have a sweet room here, Mr. Bingley, and a charming prospect over that gravel walk. I do not know a place in the county 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 he, “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 Elizabeth.

“You begin to comprehend me, do you?” cried he, turning toward her.

“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 necessarily follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours.”

“Lizzy,” cried her mother, “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 few subjects for such a study. In a country neighborhood 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 forever.”

“Yes, indeed!” cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighborhood. “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 her for a moment, turned silently away. Mrs. Bennet, who fancied she had gained a complete victory over him, continued her 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, Mr. Bingley?”

“When I am in the country,” he 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.”

“Ay, that is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman,” looking at Darcy, “seemed to think the country was nothing at all.”

“Indeed, mamma, you are mistaken,” said Elizabeth, blushing for her mother. “You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He 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 was; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighborhood, I believe there are few neighborhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families.”

Nothing but concern for Elizabeth could enable Bingley to keep his countenance. His sister was less delicate, and directed her eye toward Mr. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Elizabeth, for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother's thoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been at Longbourn since her coming away.

“Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeable man Sir William is, Mr. Bingley, is not he? So much the man of fashion! so genteel and easy! He 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 Charlotte dine with you?”

“No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up differently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome. Not that I think Charlotte so very plain; but then she is our particular friend.”

“She seems a very pleasant young woman,” said Bingley.

“Oh, dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane's beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but, to be sure, Jane—one does not often see anybody better-looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen there was a gentleman at my brother Gardiner's, in town, so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were.”

“And so ended his affection,” said Elizabeth, 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 Elizabeth tremble lest her mother should be exposing herself again. She longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say; and after a short silence Mrs. Bennet began repeating her thanks to Mr. Bingley for his kindness to Jane, with an apology for troubling him also with Lizzy. Mr. Bingley was unaffectedly civil in his answer, and forced his younger sister to be civil also, and say what the occasion required. She performed her part, indeed, without much graciousness; but Mrs. Bennet was satisfied, and soon afterward ordered her carriage. Upon this signal the youngest of her daughters put herself forward. The two girls had been whispering to each other during the whole visit, and the result of it was, that the youngest should tax Mr. Bingley with having promised, on his first coming into the country, to give a ball at Netherfield.

Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humored countenance—a favorite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attentions of the officers, to whom her uncle's good dinners and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance. She was very equal, therefore, to address Mr. Bingley on the subject of the ball, and abruptly reminded him of his promise, adding that it would be the most shameful thing in the world if he did not keep it. His answer to this sudden attack was delightful to her mother's ears.

“I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement; and when your sister is recovered, you shall, if you please, name the very day of the ball. But you would not wish to be dancing while she is ill?”

Lydia declared herself satisfied. “Oh, yes, it would be much better to wait till Jane was well; and by that time, most likely, Captain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you have given your ball,” she added, “I shall insist on their giving one also. I shall tell Colonel Forster it will be quite a shame if he does not.”

Mrs. Bennet and her daughters then departed, and Elizabeth returned instantly to Jane, leaving her own and her relations' behavior to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of her, in spite of all Miss Bingley's witticisms on fine eyes.

Footnotes

  1. Mr. Bingley continues to distinguish himself from his arrogant, shallow sisters. His concern for Jane is genuine; he has presumably been worrying about her all night and couldn't wait another moment to obtain an update about her recovery. His sisters, however, seem to have sent their inquiries as an afterthought.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The youngest Bennet sisters have already shown themselves to be somewhat silly, shallow, and boy-obsessed. We can assume that they have selfish reasons for accompanying their mother to Netherfield and don't really care much about how Jane is recovering.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Mrs. Bingley apparently does care about Jane's welfare; however, her obsession with matchmaking often distracts her from the risks she takes with her daughter's safety. She clearly doesn't think it was immoral to send Jane out into the rainy night so she'd be stranded at Netherfield.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Mr. Bingley continues to demonstrate his genuine, gentlemanly kindness. He simultaneously hopes for Jane's improvement without hurrying her departure from Netherfield, and doesn't treat her mother with disdain like his sisters do.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Miss Bingley's "cold civility," or forced politeness, starkly contrasts with her brother's genuine hospitality. Once again, she reveals her arrogance and artificial kindness toward the Bennets (especially Jane).

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Mrs. Bennet reveals a second motive behind sending Jane to Netherfield on a rainy night: forging a friendship between the Bennets and the Bingleys. Even if Jane and Mr. Bingley do not marry, Mrs. Bennet recognizes that the Bingleys are powerful connections for as long as they remain in the neighborhood.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Mrs. Bennet treats her daughters like products to be pushed on potential suitors. Jane is the most docile and beautiful of the Bennet sisters, and therefore the most likely to secure a suitable match. Mrs. Bennet displays poor breeding and lack of tact by putting down her other girls just to make Jane seem more attractive.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Mrs. Bennet doesn't want Mr. Bingley to leave Netherfield because she wants him to stay and marry Jane. The Bingley sisters share a similar anxiety; they want their brother to stay and become an established member of the landed gentry. Of course, the Bingleys do not think Jane is a suitable match for their brother, so they are not interested in Mrs. Bennet's concerns.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Elizabeth seems to enjoy sketching characters of others. Though her assessments are usually correct about simple characters like the Bingleys, she struggles with complex characters like Mr. Darcy. Her snap judgments of complex characters are more likely to lead to prejudice.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Everyone is shocked that Mrs. Bennet speaks to Mr. Darcy in such a disrespectful manner. She is intent on disliking him, to the point of overreacting. Mr. Darcy, however, doesn't rise to the bait and simply turns away.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Mrs. Bennet reveals how clueless she is by claiming that Sir William Lucas is fashionable and genteel. Sir William is actually quite unfashionable and only pretends to be genteel. Suggesting that Sir William is on equal footing with Mr. Darcy, who is from an old aristocratic family, is nothing short of ridiculous.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Mr. Bingley can’t seem to form a negative opinion about anything, so it’s difficult to determine whether he is being genuine. He may be trying to diffuse an argument that seems to be arising between Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Genteel young ladies would not be raised to cook and clean like housemaids; instead, they would be trained to oversee households and engage in ladylike activities like dancing and playing the piano. Mrs. Bennet strongly (and tactlessly) implies that the Lucases are inferior to the Bennets because the Lucas girls have to do things like bake mince pies. The Bennets probably can’t afford to hire a cook, but Mrs. Bennet is so concerned with appearances that she’s willing to stretch their budget.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Mrs. Bennet’s focus is always on securing a match between Mr. Bingley and Jane. She can’t compliment another girl without owning that Jane is prettier, even if the girl in question is a close family friend.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Mrs. Bennet seems to be advertising Jane’s desirability. Jane doesn’t have a sizable dowry, so beauty is her main selling point. Mr. Bingley seems to be falling for it, however; he is clearly smitten with Jane.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Elizabeth is worried that her mother will embarrass herself—and the Bennet family—once again. Mrs. Bennet has very little self-awareness and has no idea that the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy think so poorly of her.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Kitty and Lydia only accompanied their mother because they wanted to ask Mr. Bingley about the ball he promised to host at Netherfield. Neither Mrs. Bennet nor her youngest daughters seem concerned about Jane.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Mr. Bingley politely and good-naturedly reminds Lydia that it would be in poor taste to host a ball at Netherfield while Jane is ill. Though he may suspect that Lydia doesn’t care about her sister, he is likely oblivious to her selfishness—as he is with his sisters’ arrogance.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. “Stout” means healthy and strong here, as opposed to stocky. Lydia, who is “well-developed” with “high animal spirits,” is sexualized far more than the other Bennet sisters. She is obsessed with men (specifically officers) and neither of her parents seem concerned about her overt flirtatiousness.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. Mr. Darcy’s growing affection for Elizabeth cannot be extinguished easily, even in the face of her mother’s embarrassing behavior. Elizabeth, however, doesn’t notice or care what the Bingleys or Mr. Darcy think of her. She’s focused on caring for Jane.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff