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Tuesday passed in tedious hours until Elizabeth could be in Mr. Wickham’s company again. She could hardly wait to discover the meaning behind his meeting with Mr. Darcy. When they arrived at the Phillips’s residence, the men were still separated from the ladies. In due time, they returned, and Elizabeth could barely contain her satisfaction when Mr. Wickham was her partner at a game of lottery tickets. At first, he only conversed on the weather, although Elizabeth had to admit how well he could keep her interest even on that.
At last, Mr. Wickham brought up the subject of which Elizabeth longed to know more: his history with Mr. Darcy.
“How far away is Netherfield from Meryton?”
“Nearly three miles.”
“And how long has Mr. Darcy been in the area?”
“About a month.” She paused a moment and added, “I understand he is a man of very large property from Derbyshire.”
“Yes.” He gave her a calculating look. “His estate yields a clear ten thousand pounds per annum. You could not have met with an individual more capable of giving you details in that quarter. I have been connected with his family from my infancy.”
Elizabeth could not conceal her look of shock.
“You may well be surprised given our manner of greeting, but I assure you, we were both simply sorry to remember our last meeting. We had a bit of an argument and have been too busy to see each other since, so I am certain we were both merely embarrassed. Not to worry, it was trivial really.”
Elizabeth gave him a slight smile, not at all sure his words explained what she saw.
He lowered his voice, “Actually, he was involved in my attempts to woo a lady. Alas, it did not end well, but I should like to return the favour to him.”
“I do not take your meaning, sir.” She felt her cheeks redden.
“I could see my friend admires you.”
“You are mistaken, sir. We were merely discussing his sister.”
Wickham’s eyes widened, but he quickly recovered. “He protects her with his life. If he has asked you to become acquainted with her, that is a very great sign indeed. I think I will soon be wishing you joy.”
Lydia’s head bobbed up from her cards, and she crinkled her brow.
“Please, sir!” Elizabeth hissed at Wickham. “Lower your voice and moderate your claims.”
“Very well, I will cease my teasing. I suppose you must be very well acquainted with him, then.”
“I would not say that at all. We had only seen each other in passing company these many weeks until just last week when my sister took ill while visiting Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. She could not leave, and I went to help nurse her.”
“I have heard of Miss Bingley. An insipid, mercenary London miss who forgets she comes from trade and believes herself nearly equal with most peers.” Elizabeth felt her lips twitch. “Darcy must have been very pleased with your company instead. I am certain Miss Bingley must be jealous of all the attention he undoubtedly gave you.”
“Nay, sir, and I certainly do not desire to gain his notice. Nor would I say he has given it. Everyone is disgusted with his pride. He would never offer for me.”
“Poor Darcy. His manners mistakenly give offence, and he cannot appear as he would wish, as he should. He was raised by such excellent parents who taught him very well. His familial pride has led him to be liberal and generous, to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and to relieve the poor. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate from those popular qualities, or to lose the influence of the Pemberley House are powerful motives. He also has brotherly affection, which makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers.”
Attempting to turn the course of conversation, Elizabeth fixated on gaining information of Miss Darcy. She had enjoyed her first letter from her new friend. It was easy to tell the young lady was shy but eager for the friendship. “What is Miss Darcy like?”
“Very much like her brother. But then I can never see a fault in a Darcy. His father was the greatest of men. My father had been a successful solicitor and then became Mr. Darcy’s steward. Mr. Darcy was my godfather and excessively attached to me. I can hardly do justice to him. He provided for me amply in his will. I owe my career to the younger Darcy.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brows. Was this what Mr. Darcy and his family were like? A man with ten thousand pounds per annum was considered generous for supplying only the cost of a commission in the militia? Mr. Wickham’s very countenance proved his amiability. He was too kind to understand that he owed Mr. Darcy no great allegiance.
The thought put to mind another amiable friend of his. Elizabeth was even more certain she should find every means to attend to Jane and Mr. Bingley’s courtship. If Mr. Darcy got it in his head to leave Netherfield or that Jane was unsuitable, then that would be the end of Jane’s happiness. Elizabeth had all the more reason to ensure Mr. Darcy felt appreciated, and if that meant not spurning his sentiments for the time being, she would have to bear it.
“You do not look convinced, Miss Bennet. Come, I must put in a good word for my friend as I know he is very taken with you. Do you not see any good in him at all?”
“To be a friend to gentlemen as amiable as Mr. Bingley and yourself must much be in his favour. And I have seen nothing that would appear he is unprincipled or immoral.”
“My, you are conservative with your praise.”
She chewed her bottom lip. “I choose to know an acquaintance well before assessing them. Equally, I reserve such assessments from those with whom I am not well acquainted.”
“Very sensible, I am sure.”
Keeping her latest words in her mind, she pushed aside the niggle of doubt she had over some of Mr. Wickham’s testimony, and supper soon put an end to their exchange. She watched Mr. Wickham for the remainder of the evening. Everything he said and did was graceful, and she went away with her head full of him and his conversation. She could think of nothing but Mr. Wickham and what he had told her all the way home, but there was not the time for her even to mention his name as they went. Lydia and Mr. Collins spoke incessantly of the games they had played. Mr. Collins added copious commentary on the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips and the dishes at supper. At last, they reached Longbourn.
On Wednesday, Elizabeth caught Jane by the hand to walk in the garden together. They often talked there as they could have more privacy than upstairs with other sisters wandering about and listening at doors. Elizabeth related to Jane all that had passed between her and Mr. Wickham. Lizzy expressed it all with a mixture of incredulity and amusement, but Jane was far from agreeing. She held her tongue because there was not sufficient time to discuss it further. However, on Thursday, Jane canvassed the subject with her sister more thoroughly.
“Why should it be so difficult to believe that Mr. Darcy admires you?”
“Because upon first sight, he declared me not handsome enough to tempt him!”
“What does that signify?”
“I certainly dressed with more care than usual that evening. My best was not good enough.”
Jane understood Lizzy’s feelings. Their mother was forever telling Elizabeth that her beauty was nothing to Jane’s. She squeezed her sister’s hand. “You know you are lovely. You laughed at his absurd words at first. We do not know what addled his senses that evening, but it seems he has finally found them. Besides, it is better that he admires you in your ordinary appearance than for a ball.”
Lizzy gave a small smile. “There is some logic in that.” Then she let out a long exhale. “Which is precisely why I cannot trust it. Mr. Darcy is the sort with such standards that he must always be surrounded by the best of everything.”
“Lizzy, you cannot argue that you are inferior and also superior at the same time.”
“Oh no! I am not so silly as that. It is only that his taste is ridiculous.”
“What makes you think so beyond the words at the ball? He engages you in conversation. He has asked you to dance twice now. He attended you at the pianoforte and has encouraged a friendship with his sister.” It was not like Lizzy to think so lowly of herself or so meanly of others.
Lizzy furrowed her brow. “He cannot mean anything by his admiration, then. I have nothing to tempt him to,” she looked very uncomfortable as she finished her words, “matrimony.”
“I cannot agree with that at all. He surely sees by now that you are lively, witty, and kind. You are the most wonderful of sisters.”
“Yes, but I am without fortune and connections. Our family lacks restraint. It must repulse him.” Lizzy stared at her hands.
“Do you imagine he is so proud or that it is only the prudence of his position in society?”
“Both, I daresay.”
Jane cast her eyes down, too. “I do hope you are wrong. For if the latter is the case, then I have been very foolish with Mr. Bingley.”
“Dear Jane! You are so much better than me! Your qualities must be enough for any sensible man who cared for his happiness in life to see how deserving you are.”
“Is that what you believe Mr. Bingley thinks?” She fervently wished for that to be the case.
“I think he has from the first moment he spoke with you.” Lizzy smiled and squeezed her sister’s hands.
Jane returned the smile. “Then I do so very much hope his friend can see the same in you. Imagine if we married the best of friends!”
Lizzy laughed. “Your imagination is far too rapid! I am uncertain if Mr. Darcy even admires me at all, but I am certain I do not desire his notice. I cannot return any sentiments he may have for me.”
“You do not still think he is so proud, do you? I must think him very sensible and amiable if for no other reason but his opinion of you. He is friends with Mr. Bingley, who we know to be very amiable, and now we know Mr. Wickham, who is no less gentlemanly.”
Lizzy shook her head. “I feel as though I have seen such differing aspects of him. I cannot make him out at all.”
Jane smiled slyly and leaned forward. “Then you must speak with him more. My imagination may be too rapid, but some attachments begin slowly.”
Lizzy shook her head again and lightly laughed. “You are too much of a romantic, dear. Now, I do want to talk to you seriously for a moment. I was very concerned when Mr. Wickham explained that Mr. Darcy had been exceedingly kind to him when, in fact, all he has gained is his career is as a lieutenant in the militia.”
“But it must be more than he had ever hoped to attain as the son of a steward. Consider, one must have a letter of recommendation from a gentleman.”
“Yes, but Mr. Darcy could do so much more for Mr. Wickham. Do you not feel as though he takes advantage of his friendships?”
“How can that be when he has so much more to offer them?”
Lizzy frowned. “I suppose that is true. I only feared that he attached himself to amiable young men who could not bear to see his flaws.”
“You believe Mr. Bingley imposed upon? Is it not easier to believe that Mr. Darcy has superior qualities? Or that he has no deficiencies that would earn the ending of a friendship?”
“I speak as I find. As I said, I have seen too many sides to his character to be sure of anything.”
Jane was silent before replying, “I do hope you are wrong. Mr. Bingley would suffer greatly if that is the case.”
Their conversation was brought to an end by the arrival of the formal invitation to the ball at Netherfield. It was planned for the following Tuesday.
As Jane considered how the evening might pass in the company of her two friends and with the attentions of their brother, she was surprised to overhear Mr. Collins ask Lizzy for the first set. She agreed with some reserve. Jane assumed her sister had desired to be engaged with Mr. Darcy during those dances. Their mother was very pleased to hear Lizzy agree to the dances, and most curious of all, Mr. Bennet seemed to be as well.
The warm, dry weather they had been experiencing finally ended that evening, and with the return of colder air came a torrent of rain lasting until the morning of the ball. The women of the household were at odds with each other, and their father was hardly in a more agreeable state. Even the shoe-roses had to be delivered by proxy. Jane frequently wondered how the inhabitants of Netherfield fared. She missed her friends and could not hide the truth from any of her family that she felt impatient to see Mr. Bingley again. She allowed herself to wonder, even to almost hope, that an offer would soon be made, perhaps even the night of the ball. If distance made the heart fonder, she would not repine even the rain.
10 thoughts on “Sufficient Encouragement Refresh– Chapter Six”
I wonder what Wickham’s plan is? Elizabeth definitely needs to be less trusting with someone she’s only just met! Hopefully Mr Collins will sprain his ankle getting out of the carriage at Netherfield!
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Alas, Ms. Austen gave us an overly-trusting Elizabeth. Perhaps Mr. Bennet ought to have wished the sprained ankle on Collins instead of Bingley!