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This chapter begins with a note on property law and social classes. A brief narrative paragraph establishes the facts of Mr. Bennet's moderate income and entailed estate (see Glossary), and of Mrs. Bennet's relatives, who are in trade. Her sister, Mrs. Philips, is the wife of an attorney in Meryton, a mile from Longbourn. The two youngest Bennet girls, Kitty and Lydia, walk to the town almost daily to look in the shops and learn the gossip by visiting their aunt.
On this day they hear something that to them is great news. A regiment of militia has arrived, to be stationed in the town for the winter. From this moment on, the two girls-especially Lydia-can talk of nothing but the officers and their hopes of being noticed by them.
NOTE: Officers in the military were ranked as gentlemen, whatever the families of their origin. It was customary for a family to buy a commission in the army or navy for a younger son who could not inherit a title or estate; or they might help out a promising young man from a lower social class in this way; he could then make a gentlemanly career in the services. It would not be out of order for a girl of the Bennet family to marry an officer, but if neither he nor she had additional income it would not be wise. They could not live comfortably on an officer's pay.
Now we get a sample of Mrs. Bennet's plotting. Jane is invited to dine with Bingley's sisters. The gentlemen are to be away, dining with the officers. Mrs. Bennet decides that Jane cannot have the carriage but must go on horseback, because rain threatens. If the weather turns bad, she will have to stay overnight at Netherfield, and this will give Bingley's interest in her an opportunity to ripen.
Mrs. Bennet's scheme works all too well. Jane gets soaked and is kept in bed at Netherfield with a bad cold. Elizabeth hurries to her side. Jane feels so ill that Elizabeth is invited to stay and nurse her.
Here is a new situation, in which the story promises to take a fresh turn. Jane and Elizabeth are both under the same roof with Bingley and Darcy. The pace quickens from here on.
Day and evening follow at Netherfield. Elizabeth looks after Jane and makes occasional appearances in the drawing room. Caroline Bingley makes sharp conversational jabs at her in her presence and spiteful comments on her appearance and manners when she is gone. Bingley disagrees with his sister, but Darcy keeps quiet. We're not sure at this point whether Caroline is winning him over or not.