This is part of a scene where Darcy and Bennet are chatting at the Netherfield Ball, after Darcy dances with Elizabeth.
“Very well, Bennet, you are indeed a good friend,” said Darcy. “Now, since you chose that last disagreeable topic, I would like to challenge you with my choice.”
Bennet raised his brows, but Darcy’s demeanour revealed there was jest in his intended conversation, and a smile threatened on one side of his mouth.
Darcy saw his friend understood his intention and so continued, affecting outrage, “Tell me, as a friend, what in blazes is that cousin of yours thinking, dancing when he has no notion of the forms? I was pained to see the embarrassment on your daughters’ faces as he was disrupting all the participants in the dance and ruthlessly treading on the ladies’ feet!”
Bennet noticed a hint of a wry smile in Darcy’s eyes. “I see we have abandoned all principles of gentlemanly discourse, and I am sorely regretting upsetting your sensibilities with the last topic, such that you feel a need to punish me severely by bringing up my cousin in such a manner,” Bennet said, his mouth twitching to suppress a grin. “I too observed his performance, and if it were not likely that it would further mortify the young women on the receiving end of his company, I would drag him off by his ear like an errant school boy!” However much he thought his cousin ridiculous, his humour was severely tried by Collins.
“My apologies for his ungentlemanly conduct, old man,” he continued. “He drives me quite mad. I was hopeful about his improvement, but it is obvious he does not care how he exposes himself. I have had more than one occasion to chastise him discreetly this evening, but somehow he thinks he is above heeding my counsel. All the response I receive is another ill-mannered speech about your aunt and her condescension and how the import of his station bestows him the right to do as your aunt would admire. I hope you are not so unfortunate as to be much in his company at your aunt’s estate.”
“I imagine I have succeeded in obtaining a little retribution for your opinions on the last topic, Bennet.” Darcy smiled and added drily, “Perhaps if I am ever again in the company of Mr. Collins, I could imply that you are inferior in the skills needed for a proper supplicating sycophant and make the suggestion that he exert himself to provide you advice on how to show subjection towards me and my station! I am sure he would act on my advice with uncommon alacrity!” Darcy was trying not to laugh. Bennet showed no such restraint and threw his head back with a hearty guffaw.
“If he were able to convince me as you suggest, it would make our wrangling much less lively!”
“You are correct, Bennet; that would certainly be most regrettable. In that case, I have no choice but to amend my strategy. I will avoid him, scowl most viciously to show I am not at all approachable, and refuse to attend to his ridiculous speeches.”
“Well done. In any case, we will not long have him in Hertfordshire; he is to return to Kent next Saturday.”
“I am sure you will be most grateful.”
Bennet indicated his agreement and then paused. He took a deep breath and began, “Darcy, I have another serious matter to discuss. We have a new acquaintance in the neighbourhood who causes me concern. I worry because it is not likely this person will take his leave any time soon since he is in Colonel Forster’s group of militia officers. Do you know Mr. George Wickham?” Bennet turned to point the man out. “He is right now standing up with Miss Maria Lucas. I have not yet met him but have learned much of him. He claims to be known to you.”
Darcy’s defences immediately came to full alert. He roused himself from the amusing thoughts of a moment before, straightened to his full height, and clenched his fists at his sides. “I do know him, sir, and he is a scoundrel. He was the son of my father’s steward, a very good man, and I have known him most of my life. We played together as children, and I was aware of Wickham’s nature, but his pleasant manner allowed him to gain my late father’s good opinion. My father funded Mr. Wickham’s education through school and at Cambridge. Away from my father’s eyes, he used his charms to gain friends who shared his wicked ways. He quickly developed habits of gambling, deceit, and debauchery, which caused me to abandon any presumed friendship from our youth.” Darcy was unable to hide his disgust towards Wickham.
“He tells a tall tale of misuse at your hands, and as much as my family has tried to question the verity of his claims, much of Meryton is charmed by him.”
So how much will Darcy tell Bennet, and what does this mean for Wickham’s situation in Meryton? And why are the Bennets questioning his claims? What do they know? How will Wickham react to all of this?