Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want ofmore brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at NetherfieldPark, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the livingdead.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park isoccupied again?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not and went about his morning business of dagger sharpening andmusket polishing-for attacks by the unmentionables had grown alarmingly frequent in recentweeks.
“But it is,” returned she.
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
“Woman, I am attending to my musket. Prattle on if you must, but leave me to the defense of myestate!”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune; thathe escaped London in a chaise and four just as the strange plague broke through the Manchesterline.”
“What is his name?”
“Bingley. A single man of four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? Can he train them in the ways of swordsmanship and musketry?”
“How can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Marriage? In times such as these? Surely this Bingley has no such designs.”
“Designs! Nonsense, how can you talk so! It is very likely that he may fall in love with oneof them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
“I see no occasion for that. And besides, we mustn’t busy the roads more than is absolutelynecessary, lest we lose more horses and carriages to the unfortunate scourge that has sotroubled our beloved Hertfordshire of late.”
“But consider your daughters!”
“I am considering them, silly woman! I would much prefer their minds be engaged in the deadlyarts than clouded with dreams of marriage and fortune, as your own so clearly is! Go and seethis Bingley if you must, though I warn you that none of our girls has much to recommend them;they are all silly and ignorant like their mother, the exception being Lizzy, who has somethingmore of the killer instinct than her sisters.”
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me.You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. Ihave heard of little else these last twenty years at least.”
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and self-discipline,that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understandhis character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding,little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herselfnervous. And when she was nervous-as she was nearly all the time since the first outbreak ofthe strange plague in her youth-she sought solace in the comfort of the traditions which nowseemed mere trifles to others.
The business of Mr. Bennett’s life was to keep his daughters alive. The business of Mrs.Bennett’s was to get them married.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
MR. BENNET WAS AMONG the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended tovisit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till theevening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in thefollowing manner. Observing his second daughter employed in carving the Bennett crest in thehandle of a new sword, he suddenly addressed her with:
“I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy.”
“We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes,” said her mother resentfully, “since weare not to visit.”
“But you forget, mamma,” said Elizabeth, “that we shall meet him at the next ball.”
Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding oneof her daughters.
“Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven s sake! You sound as if you have been stricken!”
“Mother! What a dreadful thing to say, with so many zombies about!” replied Kitty fretfully.“When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”
“Aye, so it is,” cried her mother, “and it will be impossible to introduce him, since weshall not know him ourselves. Oh, how I wish I had never heard the name Bingley!”
“I am sorry to hear that” said Mr. Bennett. “If I had known as much this morning I certainlywould not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, wecannot escape the acquaintance now.”
The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished; that of Mrs. Bennet perhaps surpassingthe rest; though, when the first tumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was whatshe had expected all the while.
“How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet! But I knew I should persuade you at last. I wassure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! Andit is such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morning and never said a word aboutit till now.”
“Do not mistake my indulgence for a relaxation in discipline,” said Mr. Bennett. “The girlsshall continue their training as ever-Bingley or no Bingley.”
“Of course, of course!” cried Mrs. Bennett.”They shall be as deadly as they are fetching!”
“Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose,” said Mr. Bennet; and, as he spoke, he leftthe room, fatigued with the raptures of his wife.
“What an excellent father you have, girls!” said she, when the door was shut. “Such joys arescarce since the good Lord saw fit to shut the gates of Hell and doom the dead to walk amongstus. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr. Bingley will dance with you atthe next ball.”
“Oh!” said Lydia stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m also the mostproficient in the art of tempting the other sex.”
The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon Mr. Bingley would return Mr.Bennet’s visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
NOT ALL THAT Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on thesubject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley.They attacked him in various ways-with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distantsurmises; but he eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept thesecond-hand intelligence of their neighbour Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. SirWilliam had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, and, to crownthe whole, he meant to be at the next ball with a large party. Nothing could be moredelightful!
“If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mrs. Bennet toher husband, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”
“And if I can see all five of them survive England’s present difficulties, then neither shallI,” he replied.
In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet’s visit, and sat about ten minutes with him inhis library. He had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, ofwhose beauty and fighting skill he had heard much; but he saw only the father. The ladies weresomewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window thathe wore a blue coat, rode a black horse, and carried a French carbine rifle upon his back-quitean exotic weapon for an Englishman. However, from his clumsy wielding of it, Elizabeth wasquite certain that he had little training in musketry or any of the deadly arts.
An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned thecourses that were to do credit to her
housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be intown the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation,etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have intown so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little bystarting the idea of his being gone to London only to retrieve a large party for the ball; anda report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with himto the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies, but were comforted by hearingthat instead of twelve he brought only six with him from London-his five sisters and a cousin.And when the party entered the ball, it consisted of only five altogether-Mr. Bingley, his twosisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.
Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy,unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion, but little inthe way of combat training. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but hisfriend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsomefeatures, noble mien-and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes afterhis entrance, of his having slaughtered more than a thousand unmentionables since the fall ofCambridge. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared hewas much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration, until hismanners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to beproud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he waslively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talkedof giving one himself at Netherfield. And though he lacked Mr. Darcy’s proficiency with bothsword and musket, such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast! Mr. Darcywas the proudest, most disagree-
able man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst themost violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpenedinto particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.
Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances;and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear aconversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to presshis friend to join it.
“Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourselfin this stupid manner.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with mypartner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, andthere is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand upwith.”
“Upon my honour!” cried Mr. Bingley,”I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as Ihave this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at theeldest Miss Bennet.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sittingdown just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching hereye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to temptme; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by othermen.”
As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood turn cold. She had never in her life been soinsulted. The warrior code demanded she avenge her honour. Elizabeth reached down to her ankle,taking care not
to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant tofollow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat.
But no sooner had she grabbed the handle of her weapon than a chorus of screams filled theassembly hall, immediately joined by the shattering of window panes. Unmentionables poured in,their movements clumsy yet swift; their burial clothing in a range of untidiness. Some woregowns so tattered as to render them scandalous; other wore suits so filthy that one wouldassume they were assembled from little more than dirt and dried blood. Their flesh was invarying degrees of putrefaction; the freshly stricken were slightly green and pliant, whereasthe longer dead were grey and brittle-their eyes and tongues long since turned to dust, andtheir lips pulled back into everlasting skeletal smiles.
A few of the guests, who had the misfortune of being too near the windows, were seized andfeasted on at once. When Elizabeth stood, she saw Mrs. Long struggle to free herself as twofemale dreadfuls bit into her head, cracking her skull like a walnut, and sending a shower ofdark blood spouting as high as the chandeliers.
As guests fled in every direction, Mr. Bennett’s voice cut through the commotion. “Girls!Pentagram of Death!”
Elizabeth immediately joined her four sisters, Jane, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia in the centerof the dance floor. Each girl produced a dagger from her ankle and stood at the tip of animaginary five-pointed star. From the center of the room, they began stepping outward inunison-each thrusting a razor-sharp dagger with one hand, the other hand modestly tucked intothe small of her back.
From a corner of the room, Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward,beheading zombie after zombie as they went. He knew of only one other woman in all of GreatBritain who wielded a dagger with such skill, such grace, and deadly accuracy.
By the time the girls reached the walls of the assembly hall, the last of the unmentionableslay still.
Apart from the attack, the evening altogether passed off pleasantly for the whole family. Mrs.Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley haddanced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Jane was as muchgratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane’spleasure. Mary had heard herself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplished girl in theneighbourhood; and Catherine and Lydia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners,which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in goodspirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principalinhabitants.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
WHEN JANE AND ELIZABETH WERE ALONE, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr.Bingley before, expressed to her sister just how very much she admired him.
“He is just what a young man ought to be,” said she, “sensible, good-humoured, lively; and Inever saw such happy manners! So much ease, with such perfect good breeding!”
“Yes,” replied Elizabeth, “but in the heat of battle, neither he nor Mr. Darcy were to befound with blade or bludgeon.”
“Well, I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expectsuch a compliment.”
“He certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him, despite his lack ofgallantry. You have liked many a stupider person.”
“Oh! You are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see i faultin anybody. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”
“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone.”
“With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! You likethis man’s sisters, too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his.”
They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in the power of making themselves agreeablewhen they chose it, but proud and con-ceited.They were rather handsome, had been educated inone of the first private seminaries in town, but knew little of the deadly arts in which sheand her own sisters had been so thoroughly trained-both in England, and during their trips tothe Orient.
As for Mr. Bingley himself, between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spiteof great opposition of character. Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever. Hewas at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well-bred, werenot inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of beingliked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offense.
But what no one-not even Mr. Bingley-knew, was the reason behind Darcy’s cold demeanor. Foruntil recently, he had been the very picture of pleasantry; a young man of merry dispositionand utmost attentiveness. But his nature had been forever altered by a betrayal he had not thestomache to speak of.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
WITHIN A SHORT THOUGH PERILOUS WALK of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets wereparticularly intimate. Sir William Lucas had been formerly a maker of fine burial gowns of suchstately beauty that the King had seen fit to knight him. He had made a tolerable fortune, untilthe strange plague
had rendered his services unnecessary. Few thought it worth the expense to dress the dead infinery when they would only soil it upon crawling out of their graves. He had removed with hisfamily to a house about a mile from Meryton.
Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mrs.Bennet.They had several children.The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young woman, abouttwenty-seven, was Elizabeth’s intimate friend.
“You began the evening well, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command to MissLucas. “You were Mr. Bingley’s first choice.”
“Yes; but he seemed to like his second better.”
“Oh! You mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice, and because she fought sovaliantly against the unmentionables.”
“Did not I mention what I heard between him and Mr. Robinson? Mr. Robinson’s asking Mr.Bingley how he liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think there were many
pretty women in the room, and which he thought the prettiest? And his answering immediately tothe last question,’Oh! the eldest Miss Bennet, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions onthat point.’”
“Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed.”
“Mr. Darcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is he,” said Charlotte. “PoorEliza! To be called only tolerable.”
“I beg you would not put it into Lizzy’s head to be vexed by his ill-treatment; for he issuch a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Long toldme last night …” Mrs. Bennet’s voice failed her at the thought of poor Mrs. Long, her skullcrushed betwixt the teeth of those wretched creatures. The ladies sat in silent contemplationfor a few moments.
“Miss Bingley told me,” said Jane, finally, “that he never speaks much, unless among Hisintimate acquaintances.With them he is remarkably agreeable.”
“His pride,” said Miss Lucas,”does not offend me so much as pride
often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man,with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may soexpress it, he has a right to be proud.”
“That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had notmortified mine. I dare say I would’ve cut his throat had not the unmentionables distracted mefrom doing so.”
“Pride,” observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is a verycommon failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very commonindeed.”
Elizabeth could not help but roll her eyes as Mary continued.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A personmay be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to whatwe would have others think of us.”
At this point, Elizabeth let out a most palpable yawn. Though she admired Mary’s bravery inbattle, she had always found her a trifle dull in relaxed company.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
THE LADIES OF LONGBOURN soon waited on those of Netherfield. Jane’s pleasing manners grew onthe goodwill of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and though the mother was found to be intolerable,and the younger sisters not worth speaking to, a wish of being better acquainted ?with them wasexpressed towards the two eldest. By Jane this attention was received with the greatestpleasure, but Elizabeth still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody. It wasgenerally evident whenever they met, that Mr. Bingley did admire her and to her it was equallyevident that Jane was in a way to be very
much in love; but she considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by theworld in general. Elizabeth mentioned this to her friend Miss Lucas.
“It may perhaps be pleasant,” replied Charlotte,”but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be sovery guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, shemay lose the opportunity of fixing him. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show moreaffection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more thanlike her, if she does not help him on.”
“But she does help him on, as much as her nature will allow. Remember, Charlotte-she is awarrior first, and a woman second.”
“Well,” said Charlotte, “I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married tohim to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were to bestudying his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you areto pass your life.”
“You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound.You know it is not sound, and that youwould never act in this way yourself.”
“Remember, Elizabeth-I am not a warrior as you are. I am merely a silly girl of seven-and-twenty years, and that without a husband.”
Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far fromsuspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend.Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her withoutadmiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But nosooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature inher face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautifulexpression of her dark eyes, and her uncommon skill with a blade. To this discovery succeededsome others equally mortifying. Though he had detected more than one failure of perfectsymmetry in her form, he was forced to
acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing, and her arms surprisingly muscular, though notso much as to diminish her femininity.
He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself,attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice. It was at Sir WilliamLucas’s, where a large party were assembled.
“What does Mr. Darcy mean,” said she to Charlotte, “by listening to my conversation withColonel Forster?”
“That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer.”
“Well if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. Ihave not yet forgiven him for insulting my honour, and may yet have his head upon my mantle.”
Mr. Darcy approached them soon afterwards. Elizabeth turned to him and said, “Did you notthink, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teasing ColonelForster to give us a ball at Meryton?”
“With great energy; but balls are always a subject which makes a lady energetic.”
“It depends on who’s throwing them, Mr. Darcy.”
“Well,” said Miss Lucas, her faced suddenly flushed, “I am going to open the instrument,Eliza, and you know what follows.”
“You are a very strange creature by way of a friend! Always wanting me to play and sing beforeanybody and everybody!”
Elizabeth’s performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, she waseagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who, at the end of a long concerto,joined eagerly in dancing with her younger sisters, some of the Lucases, and two or threeofficers at one end of the room.
Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to theexclusion of all conversation, and was too much engrossed by his thoughts to perceive that SirWilliam Lucas stood beside him, till Sir William thus began:
“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!”
“Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polishedsocieties of the world. Every savage can dance. Why, I imagine even zombies could do it ?withsome degree of success.”
Sir William only smiled, not sure of how to converse with so rude a gentleman. He was muchrelieved at the sight of Elizabeth approaching.
“My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing? Mr. Darcy, you must allow me to present thisyoung lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure, when somuch beauty is before you.” He took Miss Bennet’s hand and presented it to Mr. Darcy, who wasnot unwilling to receive it. But she instantly drew back, and said with some discomposure toSir William, “Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not tosuppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.”
Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested the honour of her hand, but in vain. Elizabeth wasdetermined. She looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with Mr.Darcy, for indeed he was thinking of her with some complacency, when thus accosted by MissBingley:
“I can guess the subject of your reverie.”
“I should imagine not.”
“You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner-theinsipidity, the noise, the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! Whatwould I give to hear your strictures on them!”
“You conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I havebeen meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a prettywoman can bestow.”
Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what ladyhad the credit of inspiring such reflections. Mr. Darcy replied:
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet!” repeated Miss Bingley. “Defender of Longbourn? Heroine ofHertfordshire? I am all astonishment. You will be having a charming mother-in-law, indeed; and,of course, the two of you would fell many an unmentionable with your combined proficiencies inthe deadly arts.”
He listened to her with perfect indifference while she chose to entertain herself in thismanner; and as his composure convinced her that all was safe, her wit flowed long.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
MR. BENNET’S PROPERTY consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which,unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation;and unfortunately for all, was surrounded on all sides by high ground, making it troublesome todefend. Their mother’s fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supplythe deficiency of his. Her father had been an attorney in Meryton, and had left her fourthousand pounds.
She had a sister married to a Mr. Philips, who had been a clerk to their father and succeededhim in the business, and a brother settled in London, where he had earned his letters inscience, and where he now owned a pair of factories dedicated to the war effort.
The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for theyoung ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, despite theunmentionables which frequently beset travelers along the road, to pay their duty to their auntand to a milliner’s shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine andLydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than theirsisters’, and when nothing better
offered, a walk to Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours, and occasionally,practice their skills. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness
by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the wholewinter, wresting coffins from the hardened earth and setting fire to them. Meryton was to bethe headquarters.
Their visits to Mrs. Philips were now productive of the most interesting intelligence. Everyday added something to their knowledge of the officers’ names and connections, and fresh newsfrom the battlefields of Derbyshire, Cornwall, and Essex-where the fighting was at itsfiercest. They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley’s large fortune, themention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed tothe regimentals of an ensign, and the excited manner in which he spoke of beheading thestricken with a single touch of his sword.
After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr. Bennet coolly observed,“From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girlsin the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced.”
“I am astonished, my dear,” said Mrs. Bennet, “that you should be so ready to think your ownchildren silly.”
“If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it.”
“Yes-but as it happens, they are all of them very clever. You forget how quickly they becameproficient in those Oriental tricks you insisted on bestowing them.”
“Being practiced enough to kill a few of the sorry stricken does not make them sensible,particularly when their skills are most often applied for the amusement of handsome officers.”
“Mamma,” cried Lydia, “my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go sooften to Miss Watson’s as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often burningthe crypts in Shepherd’s Hill Cemetery.”
Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footman with a note for Miss Bennet;it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for an answer.
“Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about?”
“It is from Miss Bingley,” said Jane, and then read it aloud.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger ofhating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day’s tete-a-tete between two womencan never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on receipt of this, provided the roadis free of the unmentionable menace. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with theofficers.
“Dining out,” said Mrs. Bennet, “that is very unlucky, given the troubles on the road toNetherfield.”
“Can I have the carriage?” said Jane.
“No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and they springso easily from the wet earth. I should prefer you have speed at your disposal; besides, if itrains, you must stay all night.”
“That would be a good scheme,” said Elizabeth, “if you were sure that they would not offerto send her home.”
“I had much rather go in the coach,” said Jane, clearly troubled by the thought of ridingalone.
“But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm,Mr. Bennet, are they not?”
“They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them, and too many slaughtered uponthe road already.”