Insupportable. Really, there was no other word for it.
Caroline Bingley had done her level best to point out to her brother how unnecessary and ridiculous it would be to have such an event in their home —and for what? to appease some silly Bennet girls?—but it was futile. Charles, the fool, would not be dissuaded. “I made a promise,” he argued back. “I am a gentleman of my word.”
So, here she was, not only in the midst of an evening that would have been beneath her to attend, and sheer punishment at that, but indeed, she was now one of the hosts of it. She took a steadying breath, adjusted the trim on her sleeve and caught sight of Mr. Darcy. He, at least, had the decency to look appropriately displeased by the goings on.
And what was going on? Good heavens, what was not going on! Those younger Bennet girls were racing around the ballroom and giggling like peasant children who’d just seen their first Red Coat. Their mother was gossiping to that Lucas woman in tones that could drown out the voice of a commanding officer. And that middle Bennet girl — that horribly unmusical one — was fingering her piano music, just biding her time until she could unleash her immorally bad taste on the party. Caroline sniffed. If desperation had an odor, this would be it.
But, as annoying as they all were, these people were of little consequence to Caroline. No, she had far larger issues to contemplate. Her very own brother was staring at the eldest Bennet daughter as if he’d just seen Aphrodite personified. It was revolting. And Jane Bennet herself could hardly keep from smiling in her sweet but, clearly, simpleminded little way at everybody. Nobody was that good all the time, unless they were lacking in sense and sophistication.
Nothing, however, inspired the nausea deep in Caroline’s belly quite like having to look at Miss Elizabeth Bennet for any sustainable length of time. She watched her on numerous occasions throughout the course of the evening: Dancing with that odd, uncoordinated man at the start of the night (something-or-other Collins, she’d overheard the Bennet mother say). Laughing with Miss Charlotte Lucas, though over what topic Caroline would hardly chance a guess. In the company of her mother or one of her many sisters, always eyeing the world with her particular brand of impertinent regard. But it was her dance with Mr. Darcy that distressed Caroline most of all. She was positively mystified as to why he would have committed himself to Miss Elizabeth for so many precious minutes while she — Caroline herself! — was available for both dancing and conversation.
She was quite sure it must have been an act of pure graciousness on his part. He, too, must be doing his best to be the type of generous host that she knew herself to be, making sure each guest had at least one bright moment in their otherwise dreary little lives. That was why she’d insisted to the head cook that the punch be sufficiently spiked with rum. The locals might not have appreciated the more delicate flavors in the drink, but they would be aware of the absence of their favorite element. See how she was thinking of others? How anxious she was to please the common people? Mr. Darcy must be doing the same although, in Caroline’s opinion, he was, perhaps, taking his kindness to an extreme in this case.
Fortunately, during the course of that particular dance, Louisa came bustling up to her with news of Jane Bennet, who’d been asking questions about Mr. George Wickham, an officer Caroline knew was most repugnant to Mr. Darcy. Caroline soon gathered that Miss Bennet’s interest was, without a doubt, inspired by Miss Elizabeth’s personal curiosity. She smiled to herself. At last, she had something helpful to impart to that obnoxious second Bennet daughter. Knowledge that she had — that Miss Elizabeth did not — which would prove just how much higher in esteem Mr. Darcy held Caroline’s company over hers…despite the other’s supposedly “fine eyes.” What utter nonsense that was.
Caroline needed only to wait until the dance was over, and then she would seek out Miss Elizabeth and kindly —so very kindly— enlighten the silly girl on how things really stood. That would knock down a few of Elizabeth Bennet’s undeserved airs! And she would be doing a great service to Mr. Darcy in the process, as well as to everyone who had the misfortune of being socially connected with the Bennet family.
The very thought of her own generosity made Caroline almost blush with a rare sense of delight. And this made the insupportability of the evening just a bit more tolerable. For a brief moment, the Netherfield Ball was almost…enjoyable.