"You were grave and silent," he said to her later, "and gave me no encouragement."
"Because I was embarrassed," she replied.
Bingley was ready to leave for Longbourn half an hour too early.
'We cannot go so soon,' I said, though I was just as eager to set out.
'We might be delayed on the way,' he said.
'Not on such a short journey,' I replied.
'Jennings will not want to drive the horses too fast.'
'We will reach Longbourn too soon, even if they walk all the way.'
'There might be a branch in the road.'
'We can drive round it.'
'Or the carriage might lose a wheel.'
'We cannot go for half an hour,' I said, settling myself down with a book.
I was not as complacent as I seemed. I was as anxious to go as Bingley, and yet I was reluctant to go as well. He had the happiness of knowing his feelings were returned. I had no such assurance. To see Elizabeth again! I hardly dared think about it. If she smiled, what joy! If she avoided my gaze, what misery.
Bingley walked over to the window.
'You should do as I do, and choose a book,' I said.
He walked over to me and took it from my hands, then turned it round before handing it back to me.
'You will do better if it is the right way up,' he said.
He looked at me curiously, but I did not enlighten him as to the cause of my distraction. Instead, I kept my eyes on the page, but they saw nothing.
At last the appointed time came, and we set out for Longbourn. We were both of us silent. We arrived. We went in. Mrs Bennet greeted Bingley with an excess of civility, and gave me a cold bow. We repaired to the dining-room. Jane happened to look up as we entered and Bingley took his place next to her. Happy Bingley! I had no such fortune. I was almost as far from Elizabeth as it was possible to be. Even worse, I was seated next to her mother.
Mrs Bennet had gone to a great deal of trouble with the dinner, and it was not difficult to see why. Her constant glances towards Jane and Bingley showed what direction her thoughts were taking. The soup was good, and it was followed by partridges and venison.
'I hope you find the partridges well done?' Mrs Bennet asked me.
'Remarkably so,' I replied, making an effort to be agreeable.
'And the venison. Did you ever see a fatter haunch?'
'You will take some gravy, I hope?' she pressed me.
I had little appetite, and I declined her offer.
'I suppose you are above a simple gravy,' she said. 'You will be used to a variety of sauces in London.'
'I am,' I replied.
'You have dined with the Prince of Wales, I suppose?'
'I have had that honour.'
'Some people think that sort of gluttony genteel, but I confess I have always thought it vulgar. We do not have twenty sauces with every dish. We are not so wasteful in the country.'
She turned her attention back to Bingley, and I endeavoured to eat my meal. I watched Elizabeth, hungry for a glance in a way that I was not hungry for the food, but she did not look at me.
The ladies withdrew.
The gentlemen sat over the port. I took no interest in the conversation. The iniquities of the French did not interest me. The Prince of Wales's follies could not hold my attention. I glanced at the clock, and then at the other gentlemen. Would they never stop talking?
We rejoined the ladies and I went towards Elizabeth, but there was no space near her. The dinner party was a large one, and as she poured out the coffee I could not get close. I tried nonetheless, but a young lady who will be for ever blighted in my eyes moved close to her and engaged her in conversation.
Did Elizabeth look vexed? I thought she did, and the thought gave me hope. I walked away. As soon as I had finished my coffee, which burned my mouth because I drank it so quickly, I took the cup over to her for refilling.
'Is your sister still at Pemberley?' she asked.
She seemed cool, aloof.
'Yes, she will remain there till Christmas,' I said.
She asked after Georgiana's friends, but said no more. I did not know whether to speak or whether to be silent. I wanted to speak, but I had so much to say I scarcely knew where to begin, and on reflection I realised that none of it could be said in a crowded drawing-room.
My silence drew notice from one of the ladies and I was obliged to walk away, cursing myself for not having made more of my opportunity.
The tea-things were removed and the card tables placed. This was my opportunity! But Mrs Bennet demanded my presence at the whist table and I could not refuse without giving offence. I nearly gave it. I nearly said, 'I would much rather talk to your daughter.' What would she have said? Would she have told me that she had no intention of inflicting such a disagreeable man on Elizabeth, or would she have been stunned, and fallen blissfully silent? I was tempted to try, but I could not embarrass Elizabeth.
I could not keep my mind on the game. I lost repeatedly. I looked for an opportunity to speak to Elizabeth before I left, but I could not find one, and I returned to Netherfield in sombre mood.
Bingley, by contrast, was brimming with happiness.
I have decided that, tomorrow, I must tell him that Jane was in town over the winter, and that I kept it from him. He will not be pleased, but the deception has gone on for long enough.