The Bingleys, the Hursts and Darcy were having dinner at Netherfield. Mr Darcy was his usual quiet self and Mr Hurst had eyes only for his food. Only Miss Bingley, Mr Bingley and Mrs Hurst were engaged in conversation. Miss Bingley was awaiting the perfect moment to disclose some thrilling news that she had uncovered the previous night, at the ball. Finally, as was his habit, her brother started talking about the lovely Jane Bennet, and Caroline saw an opening.
Turning towards her sister, she said, "My dear Louisa, I can't believe I forgot to mention this most intriguing news when we had lunch together today. Indeed, I cannot wait to tell you!"
"What is it, Caroline?" asked Mrs Hurst with marked curiosity.
"Our dearest friend Jane was asking me a thousand questions about Mr Wickham yesterday!"
At these words, both Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy started.
"Oh my," replied Louisa with wide eyes, "Do you think she fancies him?"
Mr Bingley blanched and Mr Darcy's expression was cold, as was usual when the topic of Wickham came up.
Caroline drew out the anticipation by waiting a little before replying, "No, dearest Louisa, I do not think so."
Mr Bingley calmed a little, but Caroline was not done.
"You see, she was asking me on behalf of her sister!"
Mr Darcy's eyes were staring intently at Miss Bingley and his cheekbones tinged a little pink.
"Which sister?" he managed between gritted teeth.
"Why," replied Miss Bingley with wide, expressive eyes, as though the answer was obvious, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet of course! Jane told me that Miss Eliza is quite delighted with Mr Wickham."
Mr Darcy's eyes flashed with anger.
Caroline's brother saw fit to interrupt her before his friend could lose his temper.
"Caroline, I think Jane was merely trying to find out if Mr Wickham is a respectable young man, and I assured her that he isn't. It seems that Mr Wickham made some assertions about Darcy to Miss Elizabeth." Bingley's eyes had turned to his friend to gauge Darcy's reaction.
Darcy took a deep breath to calm himself, before asking, "Charles, do you know what Wickham's assertions were?"
"No, sorry, Darcy, I don't. I imagine they didn't paint you in the best light."
"I tried to tell Miss Eliza not to give credit to his assertions, but she seemed most convinced and quite rudely rejected any attempts at persuasion," said Miss Bingley.
Mr Darcy gritted his teeth. Wickham certainly knew how to rile him up. Wickham's lies certainly explained Elizabeth's recent froideur towards him, and the reason why she had asked him odd questions about his friendship with Mr Wickham during their dance.