Edward reined in his horse with a sharp movement, five feet or so after the place he usually stopped. His mind elsewhere, he handed control of the animal to the young groom. He jumped up the stairs of the front of the house and went in directly to the drawing room, not even considering freshening himself up. He hoped his sister would be alone, but if she was not, he would make his excuses.
As it turned out, she was alone, embroidering something or other. Her face lightened with a pleased smile when she saw him, and she lost no time in setting her work on a side table.
'Edward, you are back at last! I did not know were you had gone to, and my father took great pains to inform me that it would be of interest for me to find it out. Of course, he insisted that he would not be the one to tell me.'
'Oh, Jane, of interest indeed.' Edward could not avoid laughing at her perplexed face as he kissed her cheek and sat beside her. 'Would that my father be for once wrong! But I am deathly afraid that he is right in this case.'
'Why? What has happened?' Her interest increasing, her face had lost her usual sedateness.
'Nothing, my dear, sweet sister. Please do not be alarmed; I am only taking great pleasure in teasing you. Nothing grave at least; if anything, I bring good news, not bad.'
'The best of news, as some in this neighbourhood would say,' came Mr. Bennet's voice from the doorway.
Startled, Edward turned to where his father now stood, smiling; that seemed to prompt him, and he entered and sat himself in a comfortable chair a little away from them.
Jane resumed her work, and Edward could tell, by the care she took with each stitch, that she was as annoyed at their stalling as Jane could be, which was, when it came down to it, only slightly.
'Well, Jane, I take it that you have heard the superb good news from our Aunt Philips? Do you know that Netherfield is let at last? It turns out that, thanks to your own dear brother, you will be one of the lucky girls that will have first-hand information about the gentleman leasing it.' Edward adopted a pompous tone and then continued, saying, 'No, please, do not thank me yet, not until I have at least related the important details.'
Jane, who had moved to do no such a thing, only smiled wider and lowered her eyes.
'His name is Mr. Bingley. Do you not think it a very agreeable name? I certainly think so; it should be so, as he is a remarkably agreeable man. Indeed, I am surprised that such an overall pleasing man, with such gentlemanly manners and handsome countenance, is unmarried still. I can only hope the local matrons realize their luck, and count their blessings, because I am sure it will not last.'
'Is he to be married then?' asked Jane, and Edward had to check to make sure she was not teasing him then, because it did not seem possible that she fell for his raillery.
'Indeed, for though I do not know the gentleman overmuch, I know he will fall in love with my dear sister, and being he all that a gentleman ought be, you are sure to fall in love with him, and the both of you are, without doubt, to be married by the end of the year!'
'Edward, I do not know Mr. Bingley!' Jane's voice contained no little amusement, but it had a scandalized note all the same.
'Details, dear sister. I have yet to meet a man that does not fall in love on first seeing you. Though in this case, it could pose a problem. He has made the horrible mistake of bringing with him'—he made a pause then, and waited for Jane to raise her eyes to his—'a friend.'
'A friend? That does not seem so very horrible.' Jane seemed determinate to ignore his insinuations and was working again.
'You have yet to meet him, Jane, you cannot know. But I was not referring to his friend in particular, as you well know, just at the unfortunate event in which the two gentlemen would fall in love with you at the same time. This particular fellow's character would make it a far more difficult eventuality, though. You should choose at once and then I could warn the other away.'
'What do you mean?'
'What, having trouble with 'choosing one', are you?'
She blushed, but answered nonetheless in an even voice, 'How would his character make things more difficult?'
'He is a dour fellow, Jane; he did not laugh at even one of my jokes!'
Edward could perceive then a tiny shake of his sister's curls, and continued on, now sure he was not off mark.
'So, then, Jane, talk to me. I would have thought you to prefer a charming, agreeable fellow over his serious friend any time, but I should ask. Women's hearts do work in mysterious ways, and you could both have a secret weakness for a romantic hero and imagine it embodied in this curious man.'
'Perhaps,' said Mr. Bennet, unable of remaining aloof and silent any longer, 'you should wait until they meet your sister. It would not be the first time that men are silly enough as to not to recognize something of value at first sight. You might be lucky and avoid a duel if only one of them falls for her.'
'Should I be so lucky! Should my luck be as good as you make it sound, my sister would not have been born as beautiful as she is, and her remarkable saintly soul would remain forever stuck with me instead of marrying and going away to put up with another man's capricious nature.'
Jane was blushing at this, and Edward wondered again how she could remain so modest and good under such unrelenting praise. She did not speak. She would not, of course, censure both her father and brother, even if they bothered her exceedingly.
'We could make a wager,' said Mr. Bennet. 'I have always been one to trust in the silly nature of my neighbours.'
'I could not take advantage of my ageing father in such a way, I having all of the information and he none.' Edward leaned back. 'I have met the gentleman in question, and though in both could be found some weakness of character, I do not think them as silly as that.'
'Not as silly as that? Can that be taken in any way as a compliment? Come, Edward, behave yourself, and quench you dear sister's thirst for real information of the gentlemen. What you have spoken until now can hardly be considered news. Are they rich and handsome? Would they be silly enough as to fall in love and marry into any Hertfordshire family besides our own? The truly important subjects you have yet to touch upon.'
Jane kept her eyes on her work, but her fingers had stopped moving, and her whole body gave to Edward an impression of expectancy.
'Very well,' he said. 'If I must, I will do my duty as the neighbourhood's matrons' spy. They are both rich, of course, although I am given to understand that Mr. Darcy—the friend—is richer by far. He is the master of some great estate up north; Pemberley of Derbyshire, if I am not mistaken. I would conjecture they are worth around five thousand a year one and ten thousand the other, though for his pride I would have guessed double and a Peerage to boot.'
Mr. Bennet looked smug as he replied. 'That only shows me that you have still plenty to learn from your 'ageing father', as you put it. Some experience in the world will teach you that excessive pride is not only to be found in those individuals where it could be understood and excused. Indeed, how boring life would be if that were the case, for where would the two of us find our entertainment if people would behave exactly as good reason shows that they should?'
Edward grinned. 'Mr. Bingley is, as I have already said, excessively handsome in a pleasant, not overwhelming way. He shows a remarkable desire to please and be pleased with everybody and everything that certainly brings to my mind another person of our acquaintance.'
As Jane said still not a word, Edward shared an amused look with his father before continuing thus–
'Mr. Darcy is very tall and very serious, and I am afraid that he disproves of me for some reason.'
'And, patently, you of him!' Mr. Bennet cried.
He observed Edward over the fingers of his crossed hands, and appeared to be excessively diverted. 'You have not even granted him half his friend's agreeableness, my son. Is he so very handsome that you begrudge him already the ladies' attention?'
'I must grant anyone would find him handsome, if only because he is very rich. I am certain that the matrons will agree.'
And to Jane's look of disapproval, Edward replied, 'Oh, Jane, you know it is true! But if I am to be sincere and abstain myself to facts—present facts—then I have to say that I do not remember. We spoke very little. But I am certain the ladies need not to worry; I am perfectly certain that Mr. Darcy is the handsomest man this side of Hertfordshire, if not one with the most engaging manners.'
'Edward, what will you do when Jane here chooses the disagreeable one, I wonder? You have already raised our interest in him so much, that it can only be the natural outcome, you know. You would have done much better in keeping quiet about him and making his friend much more interesting. 'Agreeable', you describe him, and you say of his friend 'tall and brooding'; I wonder if you know the female mind at all.'
Edward grimaced. 'I did not say brooding. In any case, I do not care a jot of the female mind. Jane's mind, my sister's mind, I know much better; I am sure she would not be as silly as that.'
'I admire your faith,' said his father seriously. 'I am not so sure of myself and mine as to think them completely devoid of silliness.'
'If you had met the man, then you would not be so eager to surrender Jane to him, even in jest.' And then, even though he knew he was being made sport of, he could not avoid adding, 'He is not as very interesting as all that. He is really a very dull fellow.'
Jane then spoke, her sweet voice holding only a hint of teasing in it, 'You cannot dislike the man already, for his manners in your only meeting. Perhaps he was having a bad day, or he was, as the very best of men are wont to do from time to time'—and then she smiled and caught his eyes with hers—'in a sulk.'
Edward could not help laughing then. 'Indeed, sister, though I believe you are teasing me. It is most strange, you never do it.'
'You never have any need of it,' said Jane.
Their father then stood up and went to the door, and Edward could tell he had tired of company already, and was going to shut himself up with a book for a while. His tone was nonetheless good-humoured when he said, a foot on the doorway already, 'He has not. Neither of you will have any need of it while I am around, for I am sure I provide more than enough of it for any person!'
Silence reigned for a while after their father had gone. Jane concentrated on her work, and Edward stood and paced, first walking one way and then the other. He felt restless, but he did not know why; he had almost decided to ask for his horse to be saddled and go outside again when his sister spoke.
'Edward, is something the matter? You have something on your mind, I am sure. Come and sit by me again, and tell me; you will wear out the rug if you keep up like this.'
Edward did not even make the attempt to sit.
'I have told you already everything. There is nothing the matter. Mr. Bingley seems a very pleasant fellow and we are much taken with each other. At least, I have taken a liking to him and I think he has taken a liking to me. I think I can make him out, he does not seem deceitful in his manners…'
'I am sure you can,' said Jane, and he could see she was trying to hold back a wider smile. 'You are usually very perceptive and a very keen illustrator of character.'
'I can see you are laughing at me, but upon my word, I do not know why.'
'I am not laughing.' She doubted a moment and then continued, 'It is that lately it is very easy to forget that you are younger than me, but just now you were so anxious that you were the very picture of a little boy, and I remembered.'
Edward frowned. He could not like the fact that, at the age of twenty, he still had occasion to put his sister in mind of a child.
'Go on,' Jane urged him, 'I did not want to interrupt you.'
'I do not know what I wanted to tell you anymore.' He was sure it sounded as he was sulking, but his sister's comments did not serve to put him at ease. He sat down by her again; he felt ridiculous, and tried to laugh it off—to reclaim at least the semblance of dignity.
'Jane, do not worry so much. I am only restless, and Mr. Darcy's rudeness has discomfited me a little. I cannot understand why Mr. Bingley is his friend at all. But it is unfair of me, I know, and if I am ever to deserve your goodness as my sister I should try to imitate you a little. I know I never could have your natural kindness, but I promise to give the man a chance.'
Standing up again, he continued speaking without giving her a chance to respond or detain him in any way, saying, 'I think I will go riding before lunch, Jane. I shall try to spend all of my excess energy, so you will not have to stand my dreadful manners this afternoon, as well; although I do think we can blame them to this unseasonable weather, and so they are not my fault at all!'
And he hurried away before she could wish him a pleasurable ride.