the same tiresome young lady for half an hour at a time, without any chance of relief, whilst the whole of the room speculates on our future marriage and her good fortune!”

“Darcy,” said his friend, “you are too sensitive. Of all the people I know, you are the most able to repel unwanted interest in a short sentence.”

“But why invite such interest,” Darcy replied, “if I do not wish to dance in the first place! I can not remember an occasion when I have obtained the pleasure you seem to find from taking the hand of a passably pretty woman in front of an assembled company.”

Bingley protested. “It is high time, then, that you did encounter a young lady to interest you. And what better way than to meet the daughters of my new neighbours at a ball in the local assembly rooms?”

Since this appeared to be a subject on which they were unlikely to agree, Darcy did not pursue the point. Instead, he made sure that Georgiana was happily settled in town with Mrs. Annesley before he left with his friend for Hertfordshire, accompanied by Bingley’s sisters and Mr. Hurst.

“My dear Mr. Darcy,” said Caroline Bingley, “how will Louisa and I be able to support spending this whole evening at the ball at Meryton? I cannot abide country manners and noisy music! Can you not persuade my brother, even now, that we should stay here at home?”

“I fear not, Madam,” said Darcy, who was leaning against the fireplace in the drawing room at Netherfield Park. “He is quite set on going, and on us accompanying him. I doubt very much whether Hertfordshire is as well provided with pretty young women as he has chosen to believe. But I regret that I have failed to persuade him to find any other better form of amusement acceptable for this evening.”

At that moment, the object of their conversation entered the room, attired for the ball.

Miss Bingley pursued her attempt to divert their brother from his purpose. “Are you really determined,” she said, “that we shall spend the evening with tradesmen’s daughters and elderly dowagers?”

“I can never understand,” replied her brother, “why you and Louisa must be so difficult to please, when we all have the prospect of such a pleasant evening in Meryton! Come, Darcy, all of you, a little social dancing will do you the world of good!”

And, within the hour, his chaise had delivered them to Meryton.

When they entered the assembly rooms, a group of musicians was busy playing a reel. All around him, it seemed to Darcy that very many ladies of all ages were regarding Bingley and his party with too much interest, whilst in the centre of all was an assortment of couples performing a dance with less than great ability. To Darcy, the evening did not seem to promise well.

The party from Netherfield was soon introduced to many of the company by Sir William Lucas, who took considerable pride in explaining to Darcy that he had been presented at court, and therefore was of some consequence in local society.

Within a few minutes, Darcy saw Bingley as usual quickly making the acquaintance of many of those assembled. His friend’s easy manners and willingness to be pleased soon found favour with the company. He was lively and unreserved, was soon dancing every dance, expressed anger to learn that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield.

Darcy observed all this as he walked about the room, averting his eyes from those he passed by, and hoping that Bingley’s sisters would return soon from dancing so that he had at least someone civilised to speak with.

He could not share his friend’s pleasure in the evening. Sir William’s attentions were intrusive, everywhere there seemed to be over-dressed matrons who looked up expectantly as he passed, eager to see whether he paused to ask one of their daughters to dance. The music was loud, the standard of dancing indifferent, and he saw no-one with whom any conversation could be a pleasure. He did observe that Bingley seemed much taken with the young lady who had been introduced as the elder Miss Bennet, a tall and graceful girl with pleasant manners, with whom he had danced twice.

During a break in the music, Bingley came over for a few minutes, to press his friend to join in.

“Come, Darcy,” said he, “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 sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman 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 girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them you can see uncommonly pretty.”

“On the contrary, you are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

“Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters, Miss Elizabeth, 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?” Darcy said. He turned round, and he looked for a moment at the young woman sitting close by till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own. She was talking to a tall serious young lady whom Sir William Lucas had introduced earlier as his eldest daughter.

“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me,” Darcy said.

“In any case, I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

Bingley protested but, having no success in his quest, he followed his friend’s advice.

Darcy was left to reflect that with family, fortune and everything in his favour, he was entitled to do as he pleased. There was certainly no reason why he should dance with someone who, because of the scarcity of gentlemen, had been obliged to sit out two dances. Besides that, the conversation that he had overheard between her mother and younger sisters showed them to be vulgar, loud and ill-educated.

By the end of the evening, Darcy had danced once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley. He had rebuffed the efforts of Sir William Lucas to introduce him to any other ladies. He could recall nothing of enjoyment, no conversation worth remembering. Indeed, his greatest pleasure was when the evening came to an end. 


Bingley’s company was welcome to Darcy precisely because they were so different in character and temperament. In understanding Darcy was the superior; Bingley was able, but his friend was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, whereas Darcy was continually giving offence.

A thoughtful observer might consider that Darcy’s reluctance to mix in company might be due to the shyness inherited from his father as well as the position in the world on which some of his mother’s family relied, regarding most people as not being worthy of notice. However, these were not considerations of which he was aware.

Darcy never spoke much away from familiar surroundings. Although he was one of the most attentive and best of brothers, only with his immediate family and close friends did he relax and, when he chose, could be very agreeable. Since he had yet to meet any lady whose approbation he wished to seek, Darcy in no way sought to hide his own distaste for company, and his resentment of the need to be sociable. Bingley’s elder sister, Caroline, he acknowledged to have a sharp wit, and she was not always unwelcome when she accompanied her brother, but Darcy had never considered her as a possible wife for himself. She might be handsome in the current fashion, but her ignorance of books and country pursuits, and his own lack of interest in her person, ruled her out from being eligible.

The manner in which the Netherfield party spoke of the Meryton assembly thereafter was characteristic of both Bin-gley and his friend Darcy.

As far as the assembly at Meryton was concerned, Bingley had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life; everybody had been most kind and attentive to him, there had been no formality, no stiffness, and

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