[NOTE: These scenes are NOT posted in the order they fit in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Don’t sweat it! Just sit back and (hopefully) enjoy them!]
From Chapter 6: Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. (…) It was at Sir William Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.
It was a capital night at Lucas Lodge.
Sir William Lucas was hosting a gathering in honor of the ____ Militia Regiment, and the lodge was filled with the principal families of the district: The Longs, the Gouldings, the Phillipses, and the Bennets.
The Lucases had been successful in trade, so much so that William Lucas was able to sell his interests and establish himself as a gentleman farmer. He bought a fine house, renaming it Lucas Lodge. He became mayor soon afterwards, and when King George III visited Meryton, it was his august duty to welcome his sovereign.
Truly, the speech he delivered was inspired by Provenance herself! The old man had nodded, smiled, and showed great benevolence with his appreciation. How proud Mr. Lucas was when his name appeared on the honors list on the king’s birthday next! The day of his investiture at the Court of St. James’s was burned in his memory.
True, it was but an honorary title, not hereditary. Just as the office of mayor was honorary and held no power. And the king was mad. Still, Mr. William Lucas was now Sir William, and his wife was Lady Lucas. Capital, capital!
Sir William realized with his new title came new expectations from his neighbors. He strove to be worthy of his position and their respect. He considered his family and the Bennets, owners of the largest estate by acreage in the area, the principal figures in the district. By conscious effort, Sir William changed his manner of comportment. Since his every word was important, he learned to choose them with great care. His friend, Thomas Bennet, was a great help in this endeavor. Bennet advised Sir William to use words of at least four syllables whenever possible. Sir William knew he was on the right track every time Bennet smiled or chuckled.
What did not change was Sir William’s natural benevolence and liberality. Indeed, he was sometimes too generous for his own good. Thank goodness for Lady Lucas! Her pains at economy allowed them to live in a finer manner than their income usually afforded.
Lady Lucas’s frantic efforts resulted in a most pleasant evening for friends, neighbors, and guests. The gentlemen were in their Sunday best, the soldiers resplendent in scarlet and buff, and the ladies wore a rainbow of lace and taffeta. Wine and punch were in abundance. The pianoforte stood ready to provide entertainment.
The militia officers were the usual types—men trying to act the gentleman while stuffing themselves with food and drink. It was of little consequence. Their dashing uniforms gave the setting a dignified air, and their presence made the ladies happy. As a knight, Sir William knew it was his duty to provide for those charged with protecting the kingdom and keeping the peace. What were a few pounds compared to upholding their station, he explained to his wife.
The militia was not the only guest of honor. Sir William was happy Mr. Bingley’s party was in attendance as well. The new resident of Netherfield Hall was a most amiable gentleman, wealthy and sociable. He was a very fine figure of a man, and he hoped Charlotte would catch his eye.
Ah, Charlotte! Quiet, clever Charlotte! Sir William loved all his children, but none more than his eldest. It was a shame no one worthy of her had yet approached him for her hand, and Lady Lucas was concerned. Sir William was not. All things in their time, he thought. Besides, Charlotte’s resent preoccupation could be a sign someone had caught her eye.
Perhaps it was Mr. Bingley’s august companion, Mr. Darcy! The gentleman’s dress, carriage, and demeanor screamed of money and position. Sir William had met his like before at Court. They were not rude, he explained to his wife, but displayed the reserve expected for their class. It was best to speak politely to one’s betters.
Mr. Bingley’s sisters were elegance itself. They moved and conversed with the economy of their station. The Bennet ladies were quite the opposite. They were an explosion of liveliness and loveliness, brightening the room as they entered. Jolly Miss Lydia and giggling Miss Kitty were as thick as thieves with his daughter Maria. Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth sought the company of Charlotte.
Ah, there it was—Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas, smiling and nodding and fighting again. Sir William had grown up with the former Fanny Gardiner, and at one time had been attracted to the pretty tradesman’s daughter. Miss Charlotte Wigglesworth soon made him forget all about Miss Gardiner, though. She made him a capital wife, running his household, an affectionate mother to their splendid children, and neatly ascending to their elevated situation. He lamented Miss Gardiner not for an instant. It was his one regret he could never convince his dear Lettie of that.
He eyed his son John. Oh, bother! He was at the punch table. There was no telling what he had added to the punch. That he had was not in doubt; his self-satisfied smirk was an admission of guilt. Sir William could be discreet when it suited his purposes. A quiet word to a servant, and the punch was soon diluted.
The crisis adverted, Sir William could return his attention to his guests. He took pains to share words with each and every one. Bennet was his usual amusing self, though sometimes his humor quite escaped Sir William’s understanding. Mr. Bingley was easy and affable, a man after his heart. Mr. Hurst, on the other hand ,was not, but the host felt no insult. Hurst was from London, and their ways were more confined than gentlemen of the country. Phillips was boisterous, and Goulding was a bore. Poor Goulding was always a bore, but as there was nothing for it, the good knight nodded, smiled, and pitied him.
Music now filled the air, which sent Sir William’s toe to tapping. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was at the pianoforte, and her easy and unaffected performance was all that was charming. Several were the entreaties she would sing again, but she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by Miss Mary.
Her talents tended towards more serious, challenging pieces, and even Sir William had to grant she was not quite mistress of them. At the end of a long concerto, the young lady was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs at the request of the younger Bennet sisters. They, with some of the Lucases and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room. What capital entertainment!
Mr. Darcy stood near him. Sir William had yet to great him personally, so he thus began.
“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing, after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.”
Mr. Darcy’s voice was level. “Certainly, sir, and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.”
Sir William only smiled. He had heard that tone of voice many times at Court. It was an indication of Mr. Darcy’s great importance.
Upon seeing Bingley join the group, Sir William continued after a pause. “Your friend performs delightfully, and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy.”
“You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir.”
“Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James’s?”
“Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?”
“It is a compliment which I never pay to any place, if I can avoid it.”
What an amusing man! He quite reminded him of Bennet. “You have a house in town, I conclude?” Mr. Darcy bowed. “I had once some thoughts of fixing in town myself, for I am fond of superior society. But I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas.”
Sir William paused in hopes of an answer, but his companion made none. Miss Elizabeth was at that instant moving towards them, and he was struck with the notion of doing a very gallant thing.
“My dear Miss Eliza, why are not you dancing?” He turned to the gentleman with a smile. “Mr. Darcy, you must allow me to present this young lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure, when so much beauty is before you.”
Taking her hand with the intention of giving it to Mr. Darcy, who, though he seemed surprised, was not unwilling to receive it. Miss Elizabeth instantly drew back and spoke with some discomposure.
“Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.”
Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honor of her hand, but in vain.
Sir William tried to shake her purpose with an attempt at persuasion. “You excel so much in the dance, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you! And though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general,” he indicated Mr. Darcy, “he can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.”
“Mr. Darcy is all politeness,” said Miss Elizabeth, smiling.
“He is indeed, but considering the inducement, my dear Miss Eliza, we cannot wonder at his complaisance. For who would object to such a partner?”
Miss Elizabeth looked archly and turned away.
Sir William sensed a cut and eyed the gentleman with some discomposure. But he was relieved by what he saw. Mr. Darcy was far from injured; indeed he took the entire episode with some complacency. Why, there was almost a smile dancing on his lips!
Sir William wondered if he had been saved by Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from committing some great faux pas. That would never do! He would have to remember to ask Bennet about it.
He gave a short bow to his guest, taking his leave of him. He had yet to greet Colonel Forster. By the time he found the officer, he had forgotten his intention of talking with Bennet. Instead, he lost himself in the laughter and music which filled his house.
What a capital evening!