Edward reined in his horse with a sharp movement, five feet or so after the place he usually stopped. His mind elsewhere, he handed control of the animal to the young groom. He jumped up the stairs of the front of the house and went in directly to the drawing room, not even considering freshening himself up. He hoped his sister would be alone, but if she was not, he would make his excuses.
As it turned out, she was alone, embroidering something or other. Her face lightened with a pleased smile when she saw him, and she lost no time in setting her work on a side table.
'Edward, you are back at last! I did not know were you had gone to, and my father took great pains to inform me that it would be of interest for me to find it out. Of course, he insisted that he would not be the one to tell me.'
'Oh, Jane, of interest indeed.' Edward could not avoid smiling at her perplexed face as he kissed her cheek and sat beside her. 'Would that my father be for once wrong! But I am deathly afraid that he is right in this case.'
'Why? What has happened?' Her interest increasing, her face had lost her usual sedateness.
'Nothing, there is no call for alarm; I am only taking great pleasure in teasing you. Nothing grave at least; if anything, I bring good news, not bad.'
'The best of news, as some in this neighbourhood would say,' came Mr Bennet's voice from the doorway.
Startled, Edward turned to where his father now stood, smiling; that seemed to prompt him, and he entered and sat himself in a comfortable chair a little away from them.
Jane resumed her work, and Edward could tell, by the care she took with each stitch, that she was as annoyed at their stalling as Jane could be, which was, when it came down to it, only slightly.
'Well, Jane, I do think that you have heard the superb good news from our Aunt Philips. You do know that Netherfield is let at last? It turns out that, thanks to your own dear brother, you will be one of the lucky girls that will have first-hand information about the gentleman leasing it.' Edward adopted a pompous tone and then continued, saying, 'No, please, do not thank me yet, not until I have at least related the important details.'
Jane, who had moved to do no such a thing, only smiled wider and lowered her eyes.
'His name is Mr Bingley. Do you not think it a very agreeable name? I certainly think so; it should be so, as he is a remarkably agreeable man. Indeed, I am surprised that such an overall pleasing man, with such gentlemanly manners and handsome countenance, is unmarried still. I can only hope the local matrons realize their luck, and count their blessings, because it will not last.'
'Is he to be married then?' asked Jane, and Edward had to check to make sure she was not teasing him then, because it did not seem possible that she fell for his raillery.
'Indeed, for though I do not know the gentleman overmuch, I know he will fall in love with my dear sister, and being he all that a gentleman ought be, you are sure to fall in love with him, and the both of you are, without doubt, to be married by the end of the year.'
'Edward, I do not know Mr Bingley!' Jane's voice contained no little amusement, but it had a scandalized note all the same.
'Details, dear sister. I have yet to meet a man that does not fall in love on first seeing you. Though in this case, it could pose a problem. He has made the horrible mistake of bringing with him'--he made a pause then, and waited for Jane to raise her eyes to his--'a friend.'
'A friend? That does not seem so very horrible.' Jane seemed determinate to ignore his insinuations and was working again.
'You have yet to meet him, Jane, you cannot know. But I was not referring to his friend in particular, as you well know, just at the unfortunate event in which the two gentlemen would fall in love with you at the same time. This particular fellow's character would make it a far more difficult eventuality, though. You should choose at once and then I could warn the other away.'
'What do you mean?'
'I would prefer to avoid the scandal of a duel,' he said, with perfect seriousness.
She blushed, but answered nonetheless in an even voice, 'How would his character make things more difficult?'
'He is a dour fellow, Jane; he did not laugh at even one of my jokes!'
Edward could perceive then a tiny shake of his sister's curls, and continued on, now sure he was not off mark. 'So, then, Jane, talk to me. I would have thought you to prefer a charming, agreeable fellow over his serious friend any time, but I should ask. Women's hearts do work in mysterious ways, and you could both have a secret weakness for a romantic hero and imagine it embodied in this man.'
'Perhaps,' said Mr Bennet, 'you should wait until they meet your sister. It would not be the first time that men are silly enough as to not to recognize something of value at first sight. You might be lucky and avoid a duel if only one of them falls for her.'
'Then we are doomed -- I never have any luck.'
'We could make a wager,' said Mr Bennet. 'I have always been one to trust in the silly nature of my neighbours.'
'I could not take advantage of my ageing father in such a way, I having all of the information and he none.' Edward leaned back. 'I have met the gentleman in question, and though in both could be found some weakness of character, I do not think them as silly as that.'
'Not as silly as that? Can that be taken in any way as a compliment? Come, Edward, behave yourself, and quench you dear sister's thirst for real information of the gentlemen. What you have spoken until now can hardly be considered news. Are they rich and handsome? Would they be silly enough as to fall in love and marry into any Hertfordshire family besides our own? The truly important subjects you have yet to touch upon.'
Jane kept her eyes on her work.
'Very well,' said Edward. 'If I must, I will do my duty as the neighbourhood's ladies' spy. They are both rich, of course, although I am given to understand that Mr Darcy--the friend--is richer by far. He is the master of some great estate up north; Pemberley of Derbyshire, if I am not mistaken. I would conjecture they are worth around five thousand a year one and ten thousand the other, though for his pride I would have guessed double and a Peerage to boot.'
'Luckily, excessive pride is not only to be found in those individuals where it could be understood and excused. How boring life would be if that were the case, for where would the two of us find our entertainment if people would behave exactly as good reason shows that they should?'
Edward grinned. 'Mr Bingley is, as I have already said, excessively handsome. He shows a remarkable desire to please and be pleased with everybody and everything that certainly brings to my mind another person of our acquaintance.'
As Jane said still not a word, Edward shared an amused look with his father before continuing thus--
'Mr Darcy is very tall, very serious and very proud, and I am afraid that he disproves of me for some reason.'
'And, patently, you of him!' Mr Bennet cried. He observed Edward over the fingers of his crossed hands, and appeared to be excessively diverted. 'You have not even granted him half his friend's agreeableness, my son. Is he so very handsome that you begrudge him already the ladies' attention?'
'I must grant anyone would find him handsome, if only because he is very rich. I am certain that the matrons will agree.'
And to Jane's look of disapproval, Edward replied, 'Oh, Jane, you know it is true! But if I am to be sincere and abstain myself to facts--present facts--then I have to say that I do not remember. We spoke very little. But I am certain the ladies need not to worry; I am perfectly certain that Mr Darcy is the handsomest man this side of Hertfordshire, if not one with the most engaging manners.'
'Edward, what will you do when Jane here chooses the disagreeable one, I wonder? You have already raised our interest in him so much, that it can only be the natural outcome, you know. You would have done much better in keeping quiet about him and making his friend much more interesting. 'Agreeable', you describe him, and you say of his friend 'tall and brooding'; I wonder if you know the female mind at all.'
Edward grimaced. 'I did not say brooding. In any case, I do not care a jot of the female mind. Jane's mind, my sister's mind, I know much better; I am sure she would not be as silly as that.'
'I admire your faith,' said his father seriously. 'I am not so sure of myself and mine as to think them completely devoid of silliness.'
'He is not as very interesting as all that, in any case. He is really a very dull sort of fellow.'
Jane then spoke, her voice holding only a hint of teasing in it, 'You cannot dislike the man already, for his manners in your only meeting. Perhaps he was having a bad day -- even the best of men are not perfectly agreeable to everyone at all times.'
Edward snorted. 'I do believe you are teasing me. It is most strange, you never do it.'
'You never have any need of it,' said Jane.
Their father then stood up and went to the door, and Edward could tell he had tired of company already, and was going to shut himself up with a book for a while. His tone was nonetheless good-humoured when he said, a foot on the doorway already, 'He has not. Neither of you will have any need of it while I am around, for I am sure I provide more than enough of it for any person.'
Silence reigned for a while after their father had gone. Jane concentrated on her work, and Edward stood and paced, first walking one way and then the other. He felt restless, but he did not know why; he had almost decided to ask for his horse to be saddled and go outside again when his sister spoke.
'Edward, is something the matter? You have something on your mind, I am sure. Come and sit by me again, and tell me; you will wear out the rug if you keep up like this.'
'There is nothing the matter, truly. The man did not insult me, exactly, but I do believe I did not make a good impression. It is a pity--I like Bingley exceedingly.'
'I am sure they both liked you,' said Jane, with the assurance only a sibling could have.
He sat down by her again; he felt ridiculous, and tried to laugh it off--to reclaim at least the semblance of dignity. 'I am in an odd mood, myself, and Mr Darcy's rudeness has discomfited me a little. I cannot understand why Mr Bingley is his friend at all.'
Standing up again, he continued speaking without giving her a chance to respond. 'I think I will go riding before lunch, Jane. I shall try to spend all of my excess energy, so you will not have to stand my dreadful manners this afternoon, as well; although I do think we can blame them to this unseasonable weather, and so they are not my fault at all.'
And he hurried away before she could wish him a pleasurable ride.