The stately Netherfield library, widely regarded as the finest in the county, made for a perfect refuge from the raucous goings-on in Bingley’s drawing room. Endless rows of shelves lining the rich mahogany walls were stacked with pristine journals, most of which had never been cracked, a silent testimony to the lack of interest displayed by the estate’s current residents. Though nothing compared to the library at Pemberley, its atmosphere calmed Darcy’s strained sensibilities. Darcy appreciated the reprieve.
His long legs crossed, Darcy settled in a comfortable chair across from his friend. Bingley sat on the edge of his seat. A thousand questions flooded his thoughts on how Bingley’s life had suffered such a turn.
“For Heaven’s sake, how did you find yourself here?”
“Netherfield Park is a fine estate. Do you not agree?”
“I imagine it is as fine as any other. You miss my meaning entirely. I do not speak of the estate. I speak of your alliance with this Bennet family.” Darcy spat the appellation disdainfully. “In your letter you mentioned nothing of their connections, their fortune. What do they have to recommend themselves, pray tell? What were you thinking?”
“The Bennets are one of the finest families in Hertfordshire.”
“What about the father? What is his manner and deportment? He cannot be beyond reproach if his wife is any indication.”
“Mind you, Darcy, it is my family of whom you speak.”
“As I will endeavour to consider,” said Darcy, barely contrite and urging Bingley to answer his question.
“Mr. Bennet is a fine gentleman. He commands respect wherever he goes. I might add he is somewhat reclusive. He rarely ventures beyond the village of Longbourn nowadays. He does not visit Netherfield, but perhaps he will be persuaded to attend the ball, then you might meet him and judge for yourself.”
“Longbourn? Am I to assume Longbourn is the name of his estate? Does he have a son who will inherit the property?”
“No, Mr. Bennet has no sons. The estate is entailed to the male line of the family. Jane’s cousin, a Mr. Collins, will inherit.”
“My God! Do you mean to say you are one heartbeat away from supporting the lot of them?”
“Indeed, I am, if you choose to see it as such.”
“What were you thinking in taking on such responsibility?”
“You spoke with my Jane. Tell me that you do not think she is an angel.”
“I grant you that she is pretty. Her family, on the other hand, is quite another thing altogether.” Darcy thereafter went on to explain that he had found them ... unrefined, vociferous, ill-mannered, and unfashionable.
“But what about Jane’s sister, Elizabeth? I dare say she is pretty, as well.”
“I think ‘tolerable’ best describes her,” Darcy quipped. Elizabeth.
“Tolerable? Surely, you jest. I would not be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom!”
Indeed. Darcy had found it hard not to admire her. “I stand corrected, my friend. I seldom have beheld anyone more stunning than she.” Darcy altered his manner and tone dramatically in recollection of his initial impression of Elizabeth—her pleasing figure, her long dark hair, her eyes. He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “What can you tell me about her?”
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