"What does Mr. Darcy mean," said Elizabeth to Charlotte, "by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?"
"That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer."
"Nay, Charlotte, that is too sensible a reply! It puts this line of conversation quite at an end, and I am not yet inclined to abandon it. I shall answer for Mr. Darcy, regarding his motives: Inspired by the travels of the venerated Captain Cook, he has traveled to the wilds of Hertfordshire, to observe the savage Meryton society with his thoughts on scientific inquiry."
"You may laugh, my dear, but I am quite in earnest. You must own that you can think of no other motive for his coming to listen to my conversation, for he has made it quite apparent that there is nothing in our society to please him."
Charlotte owned that her observation matched Elizabeth's own: he thought himself above the present company and had no wish to enjoy the society or the conversation.
Such encouragement spurred Elizabeth on to continue in venting her feelings. "He is such a rude man! Someone ought to teach him a lesson, and to show him just how unpleasant the society here in Hertfordshire can be."
"And I daresay, Eliza, that you shall take it upon yourself to be this someone?"
"I rather think I shall. I believe I am also owed some retribution on a more personal charge; you remember his comments regarding my person at the assembly."
Charlotte had commiserated with her friend over the overheard slight before, and did indeed remember his comments. "And how will you exact your revenge, Eliza? How does one punish Mr. Darcy?"
"Nothing easier, my dear Charlotte. Observe his interactions with Miss Bingley. See how stiff he becomes whenever she approaches him with her compliments and solicitations. Now- see- she has just fluttered his eyelashes most charmingly at him, and observe his reaction: Is that not a look of unmistakable annoyance on his features? Every time her arm ever so delicately brushes his own, every time she throws her head back, showing her elegant hairstyle to its best advantage, does not his countenance grow darker and darker? There will be no difficulty in vexing him; one must only follow Miss Bingley's skillful example."
"I daresay you are right, Eliza. Miss Bingley's flirtation does rather seem to try his nerves. But could you really be as brazen as she is?"
"I could be as brazen as I like when with a person for whose opinion I do not care a whit. Doubtless Mr. Darcy will think ill of me, but the thought occasions no pain. He is such an arrogant man, I could not have won his approbation in any case."
The opportunity for carrying out her plan to punish Mr. Darcy came that very same evening, with the unwitting assistance of Sir William Lucas. Sir William had been engaging Mr. Darcy in conversation (with indifferent success) when Elizabeth walked past, and struck with the action of doing a very gallant thing, called out to her-
"My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing?-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." And, taking her hand, he gave it to Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth was sure that he would have liked to refuse, but was unwilling to let such an opportunity pass, and thus hastened to express her willingness to dance in such a way as to make it impossible for Mr Darcy to refuse to dance without being horribly rude. To her surprise, he received such maneuvering with more good humor than she had expected, and led her to the floor with nary a scowl.
She was determined, though, to deprive him of his good humor by the end of the dance, and accordingly, began complimenting him: "My word, Mr. Darcy, how well you dance! I do not know when I have last witnessed such lightness of foot, such elegant motion!"
Mr. Darcy looked startled at such an opening, and after thanking her with some discomfort for the compliment and returning it in kind, attempted to switch the subject to that of books. Elizabeth, however, would not be dissuaded: "Oh no- I cannot talk of books while dancing; my head is always full of something else. Tell me, Mr. Darcy: is the elegance of your dancing the result of much practice, or does it come to you naturally?"
Elizabeth then went on to express her approbation for his height, his clothes and the tie of his cravat. She watched with delight as with each compliment his expression became stonier and his annoyance more obvious. The terseness of his answers rather than deterring her, did quite the opposite.
"Oh!" cried she, "How pleasant it is to dance with a partner who does not rattle on like some other men of one's acquaintance! I daresay some green young men feel the need to prove their intelligence by talking ceaselessly during a dance, but a man of true breeding- here she met his gaze meaningfully- needs only his dignified silence to recommend him."
She wondered if her expression of approbation towards his silence would provoke him into finally speaking a word, but the set of his jaw only became more stiff. She imagined that he was clenching his teeth.
When the dance ended, he gave a short bow, and then hurried off as fast as politeness would allow, leaving Elizabeth feeling rather pleased with herself.
"I flatter myself that he has never endured a more unpleasant dance." Elizabeth later told the Misses Long, not quite able to disguise the smugness in her voice. Along with the rest of Meryton, they had heard of Mr. Darcy's slight towards Elizabeth, and had hurried over to her the minute the dance was over to hear her account of it, upon which her plan of punishing Mr. Darcy was duly explained.
"My word, Miss Elizabeth!" exclaimed the younger Miss Long, "I should never have thought to exact my revenge in such a way, but it does seem to have worked remarkably well. And there can be no doubt that he deserves it, the rude man!"
Some of the girls around her giggled, and cast glances at Mr. Darcy, where he was standing against a wall and scowling. He noticed the giggles and the glances that were being thrown his way from that quarter, and doubtlessly deducing the wrong reason for them, turned away.
This occasioned more merriment, which only gave Elizabeth more encouragement to begin thinking of new ways to flatter Mr. Darcy. Her friend Charlotte, however, took her aside a moment later, and cautioned her thus: "I begin to question the wisdom, Eliza, of setting on making yourself disagreeable to a man of such consequence as Mr. Darcy. Especially if your sister seeks to recommend herself to his friend."
"My dear Charlotte, I believe we have already had this argument. Jane does not seek to recommend herself to Mr. Bingley. At the moment she wishes only to know him better."
Charlotte's expression told Elizabeth what she thought about the wisdom of such a strategy, but she said no more on the subject.
Fate, coupled with the machinations of Mrs. Bennet, conspired to land Elizabeth in Mr. Darcy's company again sooner than she would have expected.
While there was no doubt that Elizabeth's first object at Netherfield was to see to the well being of her beloved sister, Jane, it must be owned that Elizabeth found a stimulating source of diversion in the form of Mr. Darcy.
During the interminably long minutes after supper when politeness obliged Elizabeth to sit with the company for some time before retiring upstairs to Jane, she often had to deal with Mrs. Hurst's superior attitude, and Miss Bingley's less than subtle jibes. The only thing that kept those evenings from being entirely dismal was watching Mr. Darcy grit his teeth harder and harder as the evening went on and forcing himself to maintain his politeness in the face of some truly shameless flirtation.
She also received some amusement from watching Caroline Bingley's response to her behavior. That woman had obviously set her sights on Mr. Darcy, and soon became quite unable to hide her hatred for Elizabeth, as it became clear that she saw her as competition. Why she should see her as a threat was a mystery to Elizabeth, as it was obvious to her that Mr Darcy despised her flattery even more than he did that of Miss Bingley. That lady, had at least, the friendship between Mr. Darcy and her brother, as an advantage. Elizabeth had not even that, and she fancied that he reacted even more negatively to her own fawning. Though perhaps, Elizabeth flattered herself, she was simply more talented at being a simpering sycophant than Miss Bingley was.
On the evening in question, the party was a rather quiet one. Each member of the group was occupied with their own employment- Mr. Bingley and Mr. Hurst were playing picquet, Mrs. Hurst observing them, Mr. Darcy writing a letter, and Elizabeth occupied by needlework, when her attention was caught by the exchange between Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy.
She was obviously trying to divert his attention from his letter onto herself, and was every so often leaning over his desk to make some comment or another.
"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer. Miss Bingley, though, refused to be discouraged by so blatant a hint.
"You write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
"Indeed!" Elizabeth chimed in, able to resist no longer, "I can have no respect for one who does not take care to considers his words before carelessly blotting them down. Slow writing is the mark of a wise and ponderous mind." She gave Mr. Darcy a meaningful look.
He frowned at such ridiculous flattery, and Miss Bingley scowled at her. She obviously did not want to be outdone by Elizabeth, and Elizabeth watched gleefully as she fell for her bait.
"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours," he replied.
Elizabeth jumped in again. "I am sure Mr. Darcy is most attentive to his duties. Any letters he must write, he immediately attends to, whether he finds them odious or not. He is so very conscientious!"
And so on and on it went, Elizabeth outdoing each and every one of Miss Bingley's flattering remarks, to the woman's increasing vexation, and Mr. Darcy's growing discomfort. At last, though, Elizabeth was obliged to excuse herself and leave the room, lest she give herself away by breaking out in giggles which were becoming harder and harder to suppress.
Finally, Jane was well recovered enough to leave the Bingley residence, and it had been agreed that the carriage would convey her and Elizabeth home the next day. Anticipation at the prospect of finally returning home had made Elizabeth impatient, and she came to the library to read in an attempt to pass the time.
Not five minutes after she had entered and selected a book, Mr. Darcy entered after her. He frowned a bit upon seeing that the library was already occupied and by whom, but after a minute he simply ignored her and settled down in a nearby chair with his book.
Elizabeth supposed that he would be happy to sit there for an hour without exchanging one word with her, but she was not about to let him.
"Prey tell, Mr. Darcy, what are you reading?"
He did not answer her, but merely tilted the book down so that she could read the cover.
"How diverting!" she exclaimed, overcoming the brief temptation to ask his opinion regarding one of her favorite books. "I do declare, I like nothing so much as a man who reads! I cannot comprehend how one can neglect the improvement of one's mind through reading, but sadly, it is all too common to meet people who fritter away all their times in frivolous occupations, and never once open a book."
"Indeed," he replied gravely. "If you will excuse me-" and he bowed and left.
"My word," she mused to herself once he had gone, "I only spoke three sentences before he ran out of the room. Lord, but I am talented!"
After her stay in Netherfield, Elizabeth rather felt that she had had her fun and extracted her revenge, and desired no more to think of Mr. Darcy and his pride. Unfortunately, the subject seemed to be ubiquitous; soon after her meeting the new and charming Lieutenant Wickham, during a dinner with the Philipses, the subject was brought up once more.
The handsome Mr. Wickham, to Lydia's unabashed delight and Elizabeth's more subdued pleasure, chose to seat himself between the two sisters upon entering the room, and Lydia almost immediately set about monopolizing his attention. She began by asking him about his intentions of enlisting, what rank he would be, and whether he thought he would look even more excessively handsome in his new uniform. Eventually, though, the conversation turned to more personal details.
"Where do you hail from, Mr. Wickham?"
"London, most recently," he replied, "but I have spent the chief of my childhood in Derbyshire."
"Why, that is where Mr. Darcy lives, is it not, Elizabeth?" asked Lydia, with a sly smile.
Elizabeth answered in the affirmative rather reluctantly. She had no desire to discuss Mr. Darcy after a rather unpleasant encounter she had had with him the day before. During her walk in Meryton with her sisters and Mr. Collins, while they were being first introduced to Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth had seen Mr. Bingley ride towards them followed closely by Mr. Darcy. Upon espying the group and Elizabeth in it, Mr. Darcy's face changed color to red, and after the barest tip of the head required by politeness he rode off.
Elizabeth had been left feeling mortified and doubtful. She had only meant to vex Mr. Darcy a little, not to harass him to such an extent that he could hardly bear to lay eyes on her. And really, his crime had only been one rude sentence, uttered in the space of a few seconds, while her retribution for the insult had lasted a full week! Guiltily, Elizabeth mused that she had only meant to cause the proud man a little annoyance, but not to bring about such distress as the kind she had seen on his face that morning.
Her plight was exacerbated by Kitty, who had been listening in, and had chosen that moment to chime in and make Elizabeth feel even worse: "Are you speaking of poor Mr. Darcy? La! Did you see how red his face became when he came across us yesterday? And then he just rode away! I almost do feel sorry for him, though he is so proud, for he has been quite ill-used indeed!"
Elizabeth glared at her sister. Kitty had found her retribution just as funny as she had at the time. To suddenly now say that he had been ill-used by her was quite a betrayal.
Her mortification was increased when Mary King decided that she must have her share of the conversation: "Oh yes, I've heard all about that! You have taken quite an interest in Mr. Darcy's affairs, haven't you, Lizzy? Maggie Long told me all about it!" she giggled slightly.
"Excuse me," Mr. Wickham muttered, "I must take my leave. I am suffering from slight indigestion. Goodbye," and he left without uttering an additional word or meeting their eyes.
The ladies were all sorry to see him go, and even sorrier a few days later, when they heard that he had changed his mind and abandoned his decision to purchase a commission in favor of returning to London. None of them, however, thought to connect his actions with the conversation that had taken place that evening in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Philips.
Any remorse that Lizzy may have felt for her treatment of Mr. Darcy was quickly wiped away the night of the Netherfield ball. During her painful dance with Mr. Collins, Lizzy saw Mr. Darcy across the room. He was watching the humiliating spectacle of her cousin dancing with a sardonic smirk on his face, and Lizzy immediately decided that he had clearly not been punished enough.
She began to wonder how Mr. Darcy would react if she began to follow him around the room, in an obvious attempt to procure an invitation to dance. If she was persistent enough, might she actually compel him to go to bed early and leave the ball? Soon however, all thoughts of Mr. Darcy were driven from her mind in her distress over her family's embarrassing behavior.
The next day, Mr. Bingley left for London. The rest of his party, including Mr. Darcy, left one day later. A note from Caroline Bingley to Jane indicated that they were not to return.