Elizabeth related to Jane the next day what had passed between Mr. Wickham an_erself. Jane listened with astonishment and concern; she knew not how t_elieve that Mr. Darcy could be so unworthy of Mr. Bingley's regard; and yet,
it was not in her nature to question the veracity of a young man of suc_miable appearance as Wickham. The possibility of his having endured suc_nkindness, was enough to interest all her tender feelings; and nothin_emained therefore to be done, but to think well of them both, to defend th_onduct of each, and throw into the account of accident or mistake whateve_ould not be otherwise explained.
"They have both," said she, "been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other,
of which we can form no idea. Interested people have perhaps misrepresente_ach to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the cause_r circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on eithe_ide."
"Very true, indeed; and now, my dear Jane, what have you got to say on behal_f the interested people who have probably been concerned in the business? D_lear _them_ too, or we shall be obliged to think ill of somebody."
"Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. M_earest Lizzy, do but consider in what a disgraceful light it places Mr.
Darcy, to be treating his father's favourite in such a manner, one whom hi_ather had promised to provide for. It is impossible. No man of commo_umanity, no man who had any value for his character, could be capable of it.
Can his most intimate friends be so excessively deceived in him? Oh! no."
"I can much more easily believe Mr. Bingley's being imposed on, than that Mr.
Wickham should invent such a history of himself as he gave me last night;
names, facts, everything mentioned without ceremony. If it be not so, let Mr.
Darcy contradict it. Besides, there was truth in his looks."
"It is difficult indeed—it is distressing. One does not know what to think."
"I beg your pardon; one knows exactly what to think."
But Jane could think with certainty on only one point—that Mr. Bingley, if h_had_ been imposed on, would have much to suffer when the affair becam_ublic.
The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversatio_assed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking; Mr.
Bingley and his sisters came to give their personal invitation for the long-
expected ball at Netherfield, which was fixed for the following Tuesday. Th_wo ladies were delighted to see their dear friend again, called it an ag_ince they had met, and repeatedly asked what she had been doing with hersel_ince their separation. To the rest of the family they paid little attention;
avoiding Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, saying not much to Elizabeth, an_othing at all to the others. They were soon gone again, rising from thei_eats with an activity which took their brother by surprise, and hurrying of_s if eager to escape from Mrs. Bennet's civilities.
The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every femal_f the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to he_ldest daughter, and was particularly flattered by receiving the invitatio_rom Mr. Bingley himself, instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured t_erself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attention_f her brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great dea_ith Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcy'_ook and behavior. The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depende_ess on any single event, or any particular person, for though they each, lik_lizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was by n_eans the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was, at any rate, _all. And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination fo_t.
"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it is enough—I think i_s no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening engagements. Society ha_laims on us all; and I profess myself one of those who consider intervals o_ecreation and amusement as desirable for everybody."
Elizabeth's spirits were so high on this occasion, that though she did no_ften speak unnecessarily to Mr. Collins, she could not help asking hi_hether he intended to accept Mr. Bingley's invitation, and if he did, whethe_e would think it proper to join in the evening's amusement; and she wa_ather surprised to find that he entertained no scruple whatever on that head,
and was very far from dreading a rebuke either from the Archbishop, or Lad_atherine de Bourgh, by venturing to dance.
"I am by no means of the opinion, I assure you," said he, "that a ball of thi_ind, given by a young man of character, to respectable people, can have an_vil tendency; and I am so far from objecting to dancing myself, that I shal_ope to be honoured with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course of th_vening; and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, Miss Elizabeth, fo_he two first dances especially, a preference which I trust my cousin Jan_ill attribute to the right cause, and not to any disrespect for her."
Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed bein_ngaged by Mr. Wickham for those very dances; and to have Mr. Collins instead!
her liveliness had never been worse timed. There was no help for it, however.
Mr. Wickham's happiness and her own were perforce delayed a little longer, an_r. Collins's proposal accepted with as good a grace as she could. She was no_he better pleased with his gallantry from the idea it suggested of somethin_ore. It now first struck her, that _she_ was selected from among he_isters as worthy of being mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting t_orm a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.
The idea soon reached to conviction, as she observed his increasing civilitie_oward herself, and heard his frequent attempt at a compliment on her wit an_ivacity; and though more astonished than gratified herself by this effect o_er charms, it was not long before her mother gave her to understand that th_robability of their marriage was extremely agreeable to _her_. Elizabeth,
however, did not choose to take the hint, being well aware that a seriou_ispute must be the consequence of any reply. Mr. Collins might never make th_ffer, and till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.
If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talk of, th_ounger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiable state at this time,
for from the day of the invitation, to the day of the ball, there was such _uccession of rain as prevented their walking to Meryton once. No aunt, n_fficers, no news could be sought after—the very shoe-roses for Netherfiel_ere got by proxy. Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of her patienc_n weather which totally suspended the improvement of her acquaintance wit_r. Wickham; and nothing less than a dance on Tuesday, could have made such _riday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.