Miss Bingley seemed to be in a unique state of agitation the afternoon preceding the Assembly at Meryton. Mr Darcy found himself curious in spite of himself and asked her what was wrong.
"Oh!" said Miss Bingley. "It is nothing."
But it was quite obvious that there was something on her mind. Further conversation on behalf of Mr Darcy soon brought out the focus of her worries.
"It is only that I will soon be put in the company of Mr John Bennet," she said, "which is something I have been trying to avoid."
Mr Darcy had never actually met John Bennet, but he had heard more than enough from Bingley about that gentleman. John Bennet was the eldest child and only son of a local landowner. He was a particular friend of Bingley's, the two having been at Oxford together, and Bingley had taken the lease on Netherfield partly on John Bennet's urging.
In fact, Bingley seemed to be quite enthusiastic at the prospect of introducing Darcy to John Bennet, having confided in him that Bennet was, in fact, "the best man I have ever had the experience to know." (He then reassured Darcy that he was a close second.) It was hard to reconcile Bingley's love of the man to Miss Bingley's dread of him, but Darcy supposed it was possible that Bingley had been deceived.
Further questioning, however, revealed that it was not so much the man's presence that Miss Bingley dreaded, but the prospect that he might be paying his attentions to her. It seemed that Bingley was much in favor of seeing a match between his sister and his friend.
(In this Darcy could not quite fault him, for did he not want the same for Bingley and Georgiana? And were Miss Bingley safely married, perhaps she might stop paying so much attention to him.)
He wondered what it was the Miss Bingley found lacking in John Bennet as a suitor, if it were just that his name was not "Fitzwilliam Darcy" or if the man in fact had more serious defects.
"Is he ugly, then?"
Oh no, Miss Bingley reassured him, John Bennet was the furthest thing from ugly.
Miss Bingley shook her head. Evidently, John Bennet rivaled Charles Bingley for amiability, if tempered by a more reserved disposition.
"Ah," said Darcy, remembering something Bingley had mentioned to him, "I think I comprehend. Mr Bennet has yet to come into his inheritance."
"Even if he had," said Miss Bingley, "his yearly income would only come to half Charles' own. Less than, now that he has come of age and the property has been broken to provide dowries for his four younger sisters. And such sisters! The eldest is quite wild—an absolute hoyden—the youngest two are incorrigible flirts, and the middle one is an absolute bore. The mother is insufferably vulgar and as for the father, I always feel as if the man is secretly laughing at me! This would be bad enough, but his nearest relations consist of one uncle who is a country solicitor and another in Trade! Is it any wonder I have no wish to marry him, no matter how amiable his disposition and fair his face."
Mr Darcy nodded as he listened to this tirade. With such grave reservations, it was no wonder why Miss Bingley hoped to avoid the man's attentions. Still, there was one question he had yet to ask.
"Do you like him?"
"Like!" Miss Bingley cried. "What does liking have to do with anything?"
"Humor me, Miss Bingley."
"Yes," she said, after a very long moment. "I do."