I believe we have already established that Mr Darcy, though sometimes inscrutable, is nevertheless a proper gentleman. And Elizabeth, although full of high spirits, is a proper young lady. The only unsupervised conversations she has had with men have been some conversations with her father (entirely proper) and her forced hearing of Mr Collins's proposal back in Chapter 19. Those conversations that she had with Mr Wickham all took place in company, as you may recall, whatever the 2005 movie version may have shown you (and what it showed was simply anachronistic and improper!).
Mr Darcy appears to have formed a bit of a tendre for Elizabeth, based on his observations back at Netherfield and on his conversation at Rosings yesterday. At the moment, Elizabeth has been harboring her "aversion" to Mr Darcy, which was the result of his initial refusal to dance with her at the Meryton Assembly – she took that slight and ran with it – coupled with her belief that he deprived the amiable Mr Wickham of a living (an appointed position as a clergyman). She also suspects that Mr Darcy did not approve of Bingley forming an attachment to Jane, and she is laboring under the impression that Mr Darcy's disapproval stems from her family's social and financial position, which is inferior to his.
Imagine, therefore, exactly how the two of them must feel at finding themselves completely alone in the sitting room at Hunsford, where Mr Darcy has come to practice conversation with Elizabeth. He believed all three ladies to be home, and has found himself instead with the object of his (sometime) affection. The both of them take an "in for a penny, in for a pound" approach and decide to go through the customary social motions.
A Bingley status update
When the conversation lags after initial inquiries, Elizabeth decides to satisfy her own curiosity about Bingley, and inquires about his health and about whether it's true that he intends to sell Netherfield Park. It seems that he's quite active in London and that he may, in fact, be wanting to sell his leasehold at Netherfield. (He doesn't own Netherfield, just the temporary right to it, after all.)
"And what is fifty miles of good road?"
Mr Darcy introduces the subject of the Collinses, and we get to see how Elizabeth's opinion has changed (and settled) after spending time at Hunsford:
"[H]is friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would have accepted him, or have made him happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding -- though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light, it is certainly a very good match for her."In speaking as she does, she is treating Mr Darcy as something more than a mere acquaintance, since she has spoken rather openly of her opinion. It's not quite to the level of gossip, but it certainly provides the sort of honest assessment that one wouldn't necessarily share with the world at large. She has observed that Mr Darcy seems unimpressed by Mr Collins (what sensible person would countenance all that scraping and bowing?); she is aware that Darcy had met Charlotte before Mr Collins ever did, and likely thinks her sensible enough; and she is trusting that he will neither think ill of her for the observation nor betray her confidence (such as it is).
When Darcy notes that it's an "easy distance" from Meryton, they get into a most interesting conversation – and one that Elizabeth does not fully understand the motivations for, I might add. To Darcy, who is a man of large fortune after all, the cost of a half day's travel is slight indeed. And he owns his own carriage, but even if he didn't, the cost of a hired carriage would mean little to him. Elizabeth points out that the Collinses do not have the sort of income that would allow them to make such a trip particularly often:
"It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Any thing beyond the very neighborhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far."Elizabeth assumes that Darcy is talking about Jane and Netherfield, but I have to say that I disagree – I believe he's fishing to see whether Elizabeth is so attached to Longbourn that she wouldn't want to leave for someplace else. Say, Derbyshire? It's one of the reasons I so like Colin Firth's performance in this scene from the 1995 BBC production:
As he spoke there was a sort of smile, which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered, "I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too near her family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make the expence of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mr and Mrs Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow of frequent journeys -- and I am persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance."
Mr Darcy drew his chair a little towards her, and said, "You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn."
Elizabeth looked surprised. The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper from the table, and, glancing over it, said, in a colder voice,
"Are you pleased with Kent?"
We are told that from then on, Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam pay calls at Hunsford quite often – sometimes together, and sometimes separately. Elizabeth assumes Darcy is merely being polite or trying to assuage his boredom; Charlotte assumes Darcy is interested in Elizabeth, but she can't quite be certain. Colonel Fitzwilliam keeps laughing at his cousin and calling him stupid, so obviously he's acting out of character and Fitzwilliam knows something the ladies don't know.
Here's hoping we get to find out what it is soon - in the meantime, the first 5:05 of this movie will show you dinner at Rosings and today's call at Hunsford:
Tomorrow: Chapter 33
Back to Chapter 31