At five o'clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half-past si_lizabeth was summoned to dinner. To the civil inquiries which then poured in, and amongst which she had the pleasure of distinguishing the much superio_olicitude of Mr. Bingley's, she could not make a very favourable answer. Jan_as by no means better. The sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or fou_imes how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, an_ow excessively they disliked being ill themselves; and then thought no mor_f the matter: and their indifference towards Jane when not immediately befor_hem restored Elizabeth to the enjoyment of all her former dislike.
Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom she could regar_ith any complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions t_erself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much a_ntruder as she believed she was considered by the others. She had very littl_otice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her siste_carcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was a_ndolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when h_ound her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.
When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley bega_busing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced t_e very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had n_onversation, no style, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added:
"She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. _hall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almos_ild."
"She did, indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensica_o come at all! Why must _she_ be scampering about the country, because he_ister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!"
"Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it no_oing its office."
"Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," said Bingley; "but this was all los_pon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she cam_nto the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice."
" _You_ observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley; "and I a_nclined to think that you would not wish to see _your_ sister make such a_xhibition."
"To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, abov_er ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? I_eems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a mos_ountry-town indifference to decorum."
"It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," said Bingley.
"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that thi_dventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes."
"Not at all," he replied; "they were brightened by the exercise." A shor_ause followed this speech, and Mrs. Hurst began again:
"I have an excessive regard for Miss Jane Bennet, she is really a very swee_irl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such _ather and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance o_t."
"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney on Meryton."
"Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside."
"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
"If they had uncles enough to fill _all_ Cheapside," cried Bingley, "i_ould not make them one jot less agreeable."
"But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of an_onsideration in the world," replied Darcy.
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their heart_ssent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dea_riend's vulgar relations.
With a renewal of tenderness, however, they returned to her room on leavin_he dining-parlour, and sat with her till summoned to coffee. She was stil_ery poorly, and Elizabeth would not quit her at all, till late in th_vening, when she had the comfort of seeing her sleep, and when it seemed t_er rather right than pleasant that she should go downstairs herself. O_ntering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and wa_mmediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high sh_eclined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse hersel_or the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at he_ith astonishment.
"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rather singular."
"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a grea_eader, and has no pleasure in anything else."
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I a_not_ a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."
"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," said Bingley; "and _ope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite well."
Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards the table wher_ few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others—all tha_is library afforded.
"And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; bu_ am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I eve_ooked into."
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in th_oom.
"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left s_mall a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"
"It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of many generations."
"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books."
"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these."
"Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of tha_oble place. Charles, when you build _your_ house, I wish it may be half a_elightful as Pemberley."
"I wish it may."
"But I would really advise you to make your purchase in that neighbourhood, and take Pemberley for a kind of model. There is not a finer county in Englan_han Derbyshire."
"With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it."
"I am talking of possibilities, Charles."
"Upon my word, Caroline, I should think it more possible to get Pemberley b_urchase than by imitation."
Elizabeth was so much caught with what passed, as to leave her very littl_ttention for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew near th_ard-table, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the game.
"Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?" said Miss Bingley; "will she b_s tall as I am?"
"I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet's height, or rathe_aller."
"How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me s_uch. Such a countenance, such manners! And so extremely accomplished for he_ge! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite."
"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to b_o very accomplished as they all are."
"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"
"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and ne_urses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I neve_eard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed tha_he was very accomplished."
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too muc_ruth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise tha_y netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing wit_ou in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing mor_han half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are reall_ccomplished."
"Nor I, I am sure," said Miss Bingley.
"Then," observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea o_n accomplished woman."
"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it."
"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteeme_ccomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woma_ust have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and th_odern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must posses_ certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."
"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet ad_omething more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensiv_eading."
"I am no longer surprised at your knowing _only_ six accomplished women. _ather wonder now at your knowing _any_."
"Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?"
"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, an_pplication, and elegance, as you describe united."
Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injustice of he_mplied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women who answere_his description, when Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaint_f their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation wa_hereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.
"Elizabeth Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, "i_ne of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex b_ndervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in m_pinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art."
"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed,
"there is a meanness in _all_ the arts which ladies sometimes condescend t_mploy for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."
Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue th_ubject.
Elizabeth joined them again only to say that her sister was worse, and tha_he could not leave her. Bingley urged Mr. Jones being sent for immediately; while his sisters, convinced that no country advice could be of any service, recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. Thi_he would not hear of; but she was not so unwilling to comply with thei_rother's proposal; and it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent for earl_n the morning, if Miss Bennet were not decidedly better. Bingley was quit_ncomfortable; his sisters declared that they were miserable. They solace_heir wretchedness, however, by duets after supper, while he could find n_etter relief to his feelings than by giving his housekeeper directions tha_very attention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.