Overheard- Chapter Six

Moment: The Bingleys and Darcy discussing the Bennet sisters at Netherfield

Elizabeth Bennet hurried away from the dining room, where she had been eating with the Bingley siblings and Mr. Darcy. If she was being honest- which she had no intention of being to anyone presently in the house- returning upstairs was nearly as much to leave the cloying presence of Miss Bingley and the silent disapproval and arrogant statements of Mr. Darcy as to play nursemaid to her ill sister, Jane. Watching Caroline Bingley go slightly red in the face was a small reward for her presence, though with her sister Louisa she was a force of silliness and self importance to be reckoned with, even if Miss Bingley's attentions were not directed towards herself. Elizabeth was thankful for small mercies. Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom she could regard with any complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much an intruder as she believed she was considered by the others. She had very little notice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.

Elizabeth sighed when she entered the blue, cheerful room, seeing the ever-hopeful face peeking out above the finely embroidered quilt. Despite her own talent for easy conversation, Jane would be so much better at conversing and living with people who disliked her, and were disliked in turn. Although, she wasn't sure if anyone could dislike Jane.

"Hello Lizzie." croaked her sister, clearly as afflicted by her illness as when Elizabeth had left her.

"Hello, Jane dear. How's your throat?"

"It's fine."

Elizabeth shook her head. "The physician will be back tomorrow, and I believe he recommended fluids and not much talking. Shall I see if there's any honey in the kitchen? Mother always gave us honey when we had a sore throat." Jane smiled a little wider and attempted to say something that Elizabeth interpreted as a 'yes'.

Pausing only to plump up Jane's pillow and refill her water glass, Elizabeth went back downstairs and was passing the dining room when she heard her own name, spoken fairly loudly in that sneering 'Miss Eliza' tone that only Caroline Bingley had perfected. Creeping closer, Elizabeth put her hand on the door knob when she realised that she was nearly interrupting a rant about herself, her manners, conversation, style, appearance. It was all Elizabeth could do to keep from laughing aloud. What a monologue! She was about to continue on her errand when she heard a delightful phrase from Miss Bingley, and decided that a girl with an awful 'mixture of pride and impertinence' would stay right where she was. Despite, perhaps, Miss Bingley's attempt to be subtle, Elizabeth had known that she was disliked in the house, and wasn't perturbed by the comments coming from inside the room. She knew it wasn't a true measure of her character, but born from Miss Bingley's frustration at being unable to 'set her cap' on Mr Darcy. Although it was slightly disappointing that Mr. Bingley, her one link to almost-sanity in the house, hadn't spoken up, though he rarely went against his sister.

Mrs Hurst joined in with a; "She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker." which slightly surprised Elizabeth. Mrs Hurst had never seemed to take much notice of Elizabeth, much less build up a negative opinion.

"I shall never forget her appearance this morning," she continued. "She really looked almost wild."

"She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!"

Elizabeth thought of her poor sister, unable to move from the bed and felt a sudden surge of dislike and anger towards Miss Bingley. Just a cold?. She scarcely noticed the insults to her own person, although she could not have disagreed; her hair had been rather windswept after her short trek.

"Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office." replied Louisa.

Despite her distaste for the two ladies, Elizabeth was forced to commend their eye for detail. She had worn a petticoat that had become very muddy, and a slightly older, shorter dress since she knew that it would get covered in mud. It was entirely in their characters to make her discrepancies in appearance the only thing that mattered.

"Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," said Mr. Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice." Perhaps she did have a champion in the room after all.

"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley; "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition."

"Certainly not." Short and precise, Mr. Darcy's reply held none of the expected disdain, although it had it's fair share of arrogance. Miss Darcy would not be permitted to convey herself in the same way as she herself could, and Elizabeth knew it.

"To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to shew an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum."

"It shews an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," said Mr. Bingley.

"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley, in a half-whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes."

"Not at all," he replied; "they were brightened by the exercise." A short pause followed this speech, in which Elizabeth was almost speechless. Mr. Darcy stooping to such a level as to admire anything about their unworthy country-town existence! It was most amusing, if meaningless. However, the fact that he had opposed Miss Bingley in such a matter was very surprising.

Mrs. Hurst began again - "I have an excessive regard for Jane Bennet; she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it." It was heartening to know that the affection that the sisters portrayed for Jane was not feigned, although true friends would not speak of others so. And the insult to her family was not unfelt. Loud, tactless and shrill, her mother perhaps deserve a small measure of their disdain, although it was still incredibly impolite of Mrs. Hurst to voice it. Her father, on the other hand, was surely beyond reproach from all but the scornful eyes of the sisters.

"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton," said Miss Bingley

"Yes;" agreed Mr. Darcy, "and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside."

"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily. How could they judge her most amiable aunt and uncle, who they had never met, and whose situation was barely below their own father's not very long ago? Any goodwill that Elizabeth felt towards them in their description of Jane had been swept away.

"If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside," cried Mr. Bingley, "it would not make them one jot less agreeable."

"But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world," replied Darcy. To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent. Elizabeth was torn between wounded pride and knowledge of the truth of his words. True, Mr. Bingley didn't seem to care, and there was no chance of Mr. Darcy considering any female in the area worthy of marriage, with the possible exception of Miss Bingley. Mr. Darcy would surely not attempt to dissuade Mr. Bingley from Jane? That was simply too officious, even for him. Reminded of her errand at the thought of her sister, Elizabeth decided to put the conversation- which she should never have heard in the first place- aside and continued to the kitchen, as the sisters indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend's vulgar relations.

A huge thank you to anyone who reviewed or followed, etc!

Any text that you recognise is the original and has been copied from the etext at pemberly . com. Please send in any ideas you have for overheard conversations, because they're really cool and I will try and do them!