The next morning, the sky was grey and the temperature not very engaging, so the party assembled for breakfast decided that a walk in the park would not be a good idea. Instead they were to pay a call on the Hursts. Elizabeth knew that her "good friend" Caroline Bingley would be there but she was a well-bred young lady and knew what propriety required.
Shortly before noon, they were admitted in the sitting-room of the wealthy mansion in Grosvenor Street where Jane had called the year before. Caroline and Louisa welcomed them, barely acknowledging Elizabeth, showing a false joy in seeing Jane and Charles and warmly greeting Miss and Mr. Darcy. Mr. Hurst seemed please to see his brother Bingley and his friend, but showed no interest in the ladies. Everybody took a seat in the room, Caroline sitting close to the Darcys, Mrs. Hurst in front of the Bennet sisters and Mr. Hurst apart with Charles. Elizabeth was quite satisfied with this seating arrangement; witnessing Carolineís behaviour towards Mr. Darcy was always a source of enjoyment. Louisa rang for tea and a light luncheon was brought soon after.
"So, I take it you are well settled at Netherfield by now," began Louisa, talking to Jane," how do you like the place?"
"Oh, and it must be so convenient to you, to be so close to all your family!" added Caroline.
While her sister was shocked at such a low blow, Jane answered softly: "I enjoy the place very much, thank you, Charles has done everything for me to feel at ease. And being close to Lizzy is a real source of happiness."
"Iím sure it is!" mumbled Mr. Darcy, but loud enough for Caroline and Georgiana to hear it.
"Charles, are you going to buy the place?" asked Mr. Hurst.
"I know not still. I have not spent any time there in the summer and Iíd like to experience one before making up my mind."
With a despising smile, Caroline added: "Iím sure that a whole year of Hertfordshire scenery and company is necessary to make such a decision."
That was more than enough for Elizabethís somewhat unsettled mind and she suddenly forgot her good manners. First, Caroline had insulted her family Ė even though she was painfully aware Miss Bingley had a basis for her insults - and now she was insulting her friends: "Iím sure that even one Season of London scenery and company would be enough for me. Flatteries and hypocrisy are too difficult to endure."
Mr. Darcy hid his laugh in a cough; Georgiana, who had understood Carolineís implied meaning, looked admiringly at Miss Bennet and it took several minutes for Miss Bingley to regain her composure.
Louisa felt it her duty to restart the conversation. "Charles, did you make any plans for your stay in town?"
"Indeed we did; Miss Darcy, Miss Bennet and my dear Jane are to go shopping; Iíd like to go to my club; we are to go to the theatre and maybe an operaÖ"
"And of course, you must come and dine with us. Letís stay tomorrowÖ Louisa? And, Miss Darcy, Mr. Darcy, of course you must accompany them!" interrupted Caroline.
At this interference in the management of Louisaís household, Elizabeth smiled broadly. Mr. Darcy, who was - incidentally - looking at her, couldnít help but smile as well. Caroline noticed the look and the smile and her complexion took on some of the green hue that had been seen at Pemberley. Charles and Jane also noticed Mr. Darcyís attitude towards Elizabeth and they exchanged a meaningful look; was there something going on?
An upset, "Of course, we would be very happy to have all of you for dinner tomorrow," was Mrs. Hurstís answer.
Janeís eyes sought Georgianaís agreement to the scheme; then she kindly replied, "And we are very happy to accept this invitation."
Caroline wanted to gain back control of the situation. She remembered the planned shopping trip and thought that her knowledge of London would prove her superiority. "Louisa and I had planned to go shopping today," she said, daring her sister to contradict her, "Why donít you join us? Jane, I could show you a very nice new little milliner shop in Bond Street, the sort you have in Meryton, only with a such more fashionable selection; and Georgiana, I still have to introduce you to my dressmaker."
Georgiana didnít recall any conversation about Carolineís dressmaker, but in fact, as soon as Miss Bingley opened her mouth, she often closed her ears. Not wanting to be rude, she said: "Why, yes!"
Jane, as always accommodating, agreed to the idea. Nevertheless, she was aware that this call had already been quite trying for her sisterís patience; and she had brought her to London for her to get some rest. So she put on her best upset look and said to Elizabeth: "But, Lizzy, you look tired, are you sure you are able to come?"
Miss Bingley smiled, delighted to be able to get rid of her challenger and have Miss Darcy for herself. Therefore she agreed and said: "Why, yes, Miss Eliza, you donít seem very well. Maybe we could take you back to Holland Park Avenue on our way to Bond Street."
Elizabeth was grateful to her sister and although not wanting to be a dupe of Carolineís intentions, she agreed to enter their game. "I thank you, yes. Indeed, I think I would rather get some rest than go out shopping."
Mr. Darcy couldnít find anything wrong in his beloved but, on hearing her saying this, he began to feel concerned. "Would you like me to fetch the apothecary?"
She coloured at the attention and answered shyly, "Oh, no, itís nothing serious. I just need some rest, do not make yourself uneasy."
Well, he was and the tone she had just used was worsening his uneasiness.
Shopping was not a tempting idea for the gentlemen, so they decided to go to their club. Mr. Hurst was very happy to spend time without his sister in law, Mr. Bingley, quite sorry to leave his wife but resolved to enjoy his time and Mr. Darcy, very concerned about Elizabethís welfare. As Charles didnít want to be parted from Jane for too long, he suggested that the men rejoin the ladies later in the afternoon at Mollandís, the famous Bond Street sweetshop. The ladies with the exception of Louisa agreed on the idea, although the cause of their eagerness was not the same. Once the Hursts and Caroline had fetched their coats, the ladies left in the Darcy carriage and the gentlemen on horseback.
The Fencing Lessons, Chapter 5
Return to Austen Interlude