Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, and looked in vain fo_r. Wickham among the cluster of red coats there assembled, a doubt of hi_eing present had never occurred to her. The certainty of meeting him had no_een checked by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably hav_larmed her. She had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in th_ighest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart, trusting that it was not more than might be won in the course of the evening.
But in an instant arose the dreadful suspicion of his being purposely omitte_or Mr. Darcy's pleasure in the Bingleys' invitation to the officers; an_hough this was not exactly the case, the absolute fact of his absence wa_ronounced by his friend Denny, to whom Lydia eagerly applied, and who tol_hem that Wickham had been obliged to go to town on business the day before, and was not yet returned; adding, with a significant smile, "I do not imagin_is business would have called him away just now, if he had not wanted t_void a certain gentleman here."
This part of his intelligence, though unheard by Lydia, was caught b_lizabeth, and, as it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable fo_ickham's absence than if her first surmise had been just, every feeling o_ispleasure against the former was so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that she could hardly reply with tolerable civility to the polite inquirie_hich he directly afterwards approached to make. Attendance, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham. She was resolved against any sor_f conversation with him, and turned away with a degree of ill-humour whic_he could not wholly surmount even in speaking to Mr. Bingley, whose blin_artiality provoked her.
But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of he_wn was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; an_aving told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas, whom she had not seen for _eek, she was soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of he_ousin, and to point him out to her particular notice. The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr.
Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and ofte_oving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and miser_hich a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment o_er release from him was ecstasy.
She danced next with an officer, and had the refreshment of talking o_ickham, and of hearing that he was universally liked. When those dances wer_ver, she returned to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, whe_he found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much b_urprise in his application for her hand, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him. He walked away again immediately, and she was left to fre_ver her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her:
"I dare say you will find him very agreeable."
"Heaven forbid! _That_ would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find _an agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil."
When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of _an ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place i_he set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed t_tand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks, their equa_mazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the tw_ances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying tha_t would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, sh_ade some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent.
After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:—"It i_your_ turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, an_you_ ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or th_umber of couples."
He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.
"Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I ma_bserve that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But _now_e may be silent."
"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"
"Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to b_ntirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage o_some_ , conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have th_rouble of saying as little as possible."
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagin_hat you are gratifying mine?"
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarit_n the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze th_hole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," sai_e. "How near it may be to _mine_ , I cannot pretend to say. _You_ think i_ faithful portrait undoubtedly."
"I must not decide on my own performance."
He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down th_ance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did not very often walk t_eryton. She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist th_emptation, added, "When you met us there the other day, we had just bee_orming a new acquaintance."
The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of _hauteur_ overspread hi_eatures, but he said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself fo_er own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constraine_anner said, "Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure hi_making_ friends—whether he may be equally capable of _retaining_ them, i_ess certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose _your_ friendship," replied Elizabet_ith emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all hi_ife."
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject. At tha_oment, Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through th_et to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stoppe_ith a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and hi_artner.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superio_ancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles.
Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, an_hat I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when _ertain desirable event, my dear Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr.
Darcy:—but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detainin_ou from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes ar_lso upbraiding me."
The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Sir William'_llusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes wer_irected with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who wer_ancing together. Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to hi_artner, and said, "Sir William's interruption has made me forget what we wer_alking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not hav_nterrupted two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We hav_ried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to tal_f next I cannot imagine."
"What think you of books?" said he, smiling.
"Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the sam_eelings."
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be n_ant of subject. We may compare our different opinions."
"No—I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of somethin_lse."
"The _present_ always occupies you in such scenes—does it?" said he, with _ook of doubt.
"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thought_ad wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenl_xclaiming, "I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly eve_orgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are ver_autious, I suppose, as to its _being created_."
"I am," said he, with a firm voice.
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"
"I hope not."
"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to b_ecure of judging properly at first."
"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the illustration of _your_ character," said she, endeavouring t_hake off her gravity. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts o_ou as puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that reports may vary greatl_ith respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketc_y character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that th_erformance would reflect no credit on either."
"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have anothe_pportunity."
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he coldly replied. Sh_aid no more, and they went down the other dance and parted in silence; and o_ach side dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree, for in Darcy's breas_here was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured he_ardon, and directed all his anger against another.
They had not long separated, when Miss Bingley came towards her, and with a_xpression of civil disdain accosted her:
"So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are quite delighted with George Wickham! You_ister has been talking to me about him, and asking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young man quite forgot to tell you, among his othe_ommunication, that he was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr. Darcy'_teward. Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implici_onfidence to all his assertions; for as to Mr. Darcy's using him ill, it i_erfectly false; for, on the contrary, he has always been remarkably kind t_im, though George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner. _o not know the particulars, but I know very well that Mr. Darcy is not in th_east to blame, that he cannot bear to hear George Wickham mentioned, and tha_hough my brother thought that he could not well avoid including him in hi_nvitation to the officers, he was excessively glad to find that he had take_imself out of the way. His coming into the country at all is a most insolen_hing, indeed, and I wonder how he could presume to do it. I pity you, Mis_liza, for this discovery of your favourite's guilt; but really, considerin_is descent, one could not expect much better."
"His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be the same," sai_lizabeth angrily; "for I have heard you accuse him of nothing worse than o_eing the son of Mr. Darcy's steward, and of _that_ , I can assure you, h_nformed me himself."
"I beg your pardon," replied Miss Bingley, turning away with a sneer. "Excus_y interference—it was kindly meant."
"Insolent girl!" said Elizabeth to herself. "You are much mistaken if yo_xpect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this. I see nothing in i_ut your own wilful ignorance and the malice of Mr. Darcy." She then sough_er eldest sister, who has undertaken to make inquiries on the same subject o_ingley. Jane met her with a smile of such sweet complacency, a glow of suc_appy expression, as sufficiently marked how well she was satisfied with th_ccurrences of the evening. Elizabeth instantly read her feelings, and at tha_oment solicitude for Wickham, resentment against his enemies, and everythin_lse, gave way before the hope of Jane's being in the fairest way fo_appiness.
"I want to know," said she, with a countenance no less smiling than he_ister's, "what you have learnt about Mr. Wickham. But perhaps you have bee_oo pleasantly engaged to think of any third person; in which case you may b_ure of my pardon."
"No," replied Jane, "I have not forgotten him; but I have nothing satisfactor_o tell you. Mr. Bingley does not know the whole of his history, and is quit_gnorant of the circumstances which have principally offended Mr. Darcy; bu_e will vouch for the good conduct, the probity, and honour of his friend, an_s perfectly convinced that Mr. Wickham has deserved much less attention fro_r. Darcy than he has received; and I am sorry to say by his account as wel_s his sister's, Mr. Wickham is by no means a respectable young man. I a_fraid he has been very imprudent, and has deserved to lose Mr. Darcy'_egard."
"Mr. Bingley does not know Mr. Wickham himself?"
"No; he never saw him till the other morning at Meryton."
"This account then is what he has received from Mr. Darcy. I am satisfied. Bu_hat does he say of the living?"
"He does not exactly recollect the circumstances, though he has heard the_rom Mr. Darcy more than once, but he believes that it was left to hi_conditionally_ only."
"I have not a doubt of Mr. Bingley's sincerity," said Elizabeth warmly; "bu_ou must excuse my not being convinced by assurances only. Mr. Bingley'_efense of his friend was a very able one, I dare say; but since he i_nacquainted with several parts of the story, and has learnt the rest fro_hat friend himself, I shall venture to still think of both gentlemen as I di_efore."
She then changed the discourse to one more gratifying to each, and on whic_here could be no difference of sentiment. Elizabeth listened with delight t_he happy, though modest hopes which Jane entertained of Mr. Bingley's regard, and said all in her power to heighten her confidence in it. On their bein_oined by Mr. Bingley himself, Elizabeth withdrew to Miss Lucas; to whos_nquiry after the pleasantness of her last partner she had scarcely replied, before Mr. Collins came up to them, and told her with great exultation that h_ad just been so fortunate as to make a most important discovery.
"I have found out," said he, "by a singular accident, that there is now in th_oom a near relation of my patroness. I happened to overhear the gentlema_imself mentioning to the young lady who does the honours of the house th_ames of his cousin Miss de Bourgh, and of her mother Lady Catherine. Ho_onderfully these sort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meetin_ith, perhaps, a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this assembly! I a_ost thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects t_im, which I am now going to do, and trust he will excuse my not having don_t before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology."
"You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!"
"Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. _elieve him to be Lady Catherine's _nephew_. It will be in my power to assur_im that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se'nnight."
Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr.
Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinen_reedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the leas_ecessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, i_ust belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin th_cquaintance. Mr. Collins listened to her with the determined air of followin_is own inclination, and, when she ceased speaking, replied thus:
"My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in you_xcellent judgement in all matters within the scope of your understanding; bu_ermit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the establishe_orms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in poin_f dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a prope_umility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allo_e to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me t_erform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profi_y your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education an_abitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself."
And with a low bow he left her to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of hi_dvances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed wa_ery evident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though sh_ould not hear a word of it, she felt as if hearing it all, and saw in th_otion of his lips the words "apology," "Hunsford," and "Lady Catherine d_ourgh." It vexed her to see him expose himself to such a man. Mr. Darcy wa_yeing him with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr. Collins allowed hi_ime to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr. Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Mr. Darcy's contempt seeme_bundantly increasing with the length of his second speech, and at the end o_t he only made him a slight bow, and moved another way. Mr. Collins the_eturned to Elizabeth.
"I have no reason, I assure you," said he, "to be dissatisfied with m_eception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. He answered m_ith the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that h_as so well convinced of Lady Catherine's discernment as to be certain sh_ould never bestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought.
Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him."
As Elizabeth had no longer any interest of her own to pursue, she turned he_ttention almost entirely on her sister and Mr. Bingley; and the train o_greeable reflections which her observations gave birth to, made her perhap_lmost as happy as Jane. She saw her in idea settled in that very house, i_ll the felicity which a marriage of true affection could bestow; and she fel_apable, under such circumstances, of endeavouring even to like Bingley's tw_isters. Her mother's thoughts she plainly saw were bent the same way, and sh_etermined not to venture near her, lest she might hear too much. When the_at down to supper, therefore, she considered it a most unlucky perversenes_hich placed them within one of each other; and deeply was she vexed to fin_hat her mother was talking to that one person (Lady Lucas) freely, openly, and of nothing else but her expectation that Jane would soon be married to Mr.
Bingley. It was an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable o_atigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. His being such _harming young man, and so rich, and living but three miles from them, wer_he first points of self-gratulation; and then it was such a comfort to thin_ow fond the two sisters were of Jane, and to be certain that they must desir_he connection as much as she could do. It was, moreover, such a promisin_hing for her younger daughters, as Jane's marrying so greatly must throw the_n the way of other rich men; and lastly, it was so pleasant at her time o_ife to be able to consign her single daughters to the care of their sister, that she might not be obliged to go into company more than she liked. It wa_ecessary to make this circumstance a matter of pleasure, because on suc_ccasions it is the etiquette; but no one was less likely than Mrs. Bennet t_ind comfort in staying home at any period of her life. She concluded wit_any good wishes that Lady Lucas might soon be equally fortunate, thoug_vidently and triumphantly believing there was no chance of it.
In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to check the rapidity of her mother's words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in a less audible whisper; for, t_er inexpressible vexation, she could perceive that the chief of it wa_verheard by Mr. Darcy, who sat opposite to them. Her mother only scolded he_or being nonsensical.
"What is Mr. Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him? I am sure w_we him no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing _he_ ma_ot like to hear."
"For heaven's sake, madam, speak lower. What advantage can it be for you t_ffend Mr. Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to his friend by s_oing!"
Nothing that she could say, however, had any influence. Her mother would tal_f her views in the same intelligible tone. Elizabeth blushed and blushe_gain with shame and vexation. She could not help frequently glancing her ey_t Mr. Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded; fo_hough he was not always looking at her mother, she was convinced that hi_ttention was invariably fixed by her. The expression of his face change_radually from indignant contempt to a composed and steady gravity.
At length, however, Mrs. Bennet had no more to say; and Lady Lucas, who ha_een long yawning at the repetition of delights which she saw no likelihood o_haring, was left to the comforts of cold ham and chicken. Elizabeth now bega_o revive. But not long was the interval of tranquillity; for, when supper wa_ver, singing was talked of, and she had the mortification of seeing Mary, after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company. By man_ignificant looks and silent entreaties, did she endeavour to prevent such _roof of complaisance, but in vain; Mary would not understand them; such a_pportunity of exhibiting was delightful to her, and she began her song.
Elizabeth's eyes were fixed on her with most painful sensations, and sh_atched her progress through the several stanzas with an impatience which wa_ery ill rewarded at their close; for Mary, on receiving, amongst the thank_f the table, the hint of a hope that she might be prevailed on to favour the_gain, after the pause of half a minute began another. Mary's powers were b_o means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak, and her manne_ffected. Elizabeth was in agonies. She looked at Jane, to see how she bor_t; but Jane was very composedly talking to Bingley. She looked at his tw_isters, and saw them making signs of derision at each other, and at Darcy, who continued, however, imperturbably grave. She looked at her father t_ntreat his interference, lest Mary should be singing all night. He took th_int, and when Mary had finished her second song, said aloud, "That will d_xtremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other youn_adies have time to exhibit."
Mary, though pretending not to hear, was somewhat disconcerted; and Elizabeth, sorry for her, and sorry for her father's speech, was afraid her anxiety ha_one no good. Others of the party were now applied to.
"If I," said Mr. Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I shoul_ave great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for _onsider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with th_rofession of a clergyman. I do not mean, however, to assert that we can b_ustified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainl_ther things to be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do. In th_irst place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial t_imself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; an_he time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the car_nd improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making a_omfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that h_hould have attentive and conciliatory manner towards everybody, especiall_owards those to whom he owes his preferment. I cannot acquit him of tha_uty; nor could I think well of the man who should omit an occasion o_estifying his respect towards anybody connected with the family." And with _ow to Mr. Darcy, he concluded his speech, which had been spoken so loud as t_e heard by half the room. Many stared—many smiled; but no one looked mor_mused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collin_or having spoken so sensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Lady Lucas, that he was a remarkably clever, good kind of young man.
To Elizabeth it appeared that, had her family made an agreement to expos_hemselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have bee_mpossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success; an_appy did she think it for Bingley and her sister that some of the exhibitio_ad escaped his notice, and that his feelings were not of a sort to be muc_istressed by the folly which he must have witnessed. That his two sisters an_r. Darcy, however, should have such an opportunity of ridiculing he_elations, was bad enough, and she could not determine whether the silen_ontempt of the gentleman, or the insolent smiles of the ladies, were mor_ntolerable.
The rest of the evening brought her little amusement. She was teased by Mr.
Collins, who continued most perseveringly by her side, and though he could no_revail on her to dance with him again, put it out of her power to dance wit_thers. In vain did she entreat him to stand up with somebody else, and offe_o introduce him to any young lady in the room. He assured her, that as t_ancing, he was perfectly indifferent to it; that his chief object was b_elicate attentions to recommend himself to her and that he should therefor_ake a point of remaining close to her the whole evening. There was no arguin_pon such a project. She owed her greatest relief to her friend Miss Lucas, who often joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Mr. Collins's conversatio_o herself.
She was at least free from the offense of Mr. Darcy's further notice; thoug_ften standing within a very short distance of her, quite disengaged, he neve_ame near enough to speak. She felt it to be the probable consequence of he_llusions to Mr. Wickham, and rejoiced in it.
The Longbourn party were the last of all the company to depart, and, by _anoeuvre of Mrs. Bennet, had to wait for their carriage a quarter of an hou_fter everybody else was gone, which gave them time to see how heartily the_ere wished away by some of the family. Mrs. Hurst and her sister scarcel_pened their mouths, except to complain of fatigue, and were evidentl_mpatient to have the house to themselves. They repulsed every attempt of Mrs.
Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw a languor over the whole party, which was very little relieved by the long speeches of Mr. Collins, who wa_omplimenting Mr. Bingley and his sisters on the elegance of thei_ntertainment, and the hospitality and politeness which had marked thei_ehaviour to their guests. Darcy said nothing at all. Mr. Bennet, in equa_ilence, was enjoying the scene. Mr. Bingley and Jane were standing together, a little detached from the rest, and talked only to each other. Elizabet_reserved as steady a silence as either Mrs. Hurst or Miss Bingley; and eve_ydia was too much fatigued to utter more than the occasional exclamation of
"Lord, how tired I am!" accompanied by a violent yawn.
When at length they arose to take leave, Mrs. Bennet was most pressingly civi_n her hope of seeing the whole family soon at Longbourn, and addresse_erself especially to Mr. Bingley, to assure him how happy he would make the_y eating a family dinner with them at any time, without the ceremony of _ormal invitation. Bingley was all grateful pleasure, and he readily engage_or taking the earliest opportunity of waiting on her, after his return fro_ondon, whither he was obliged to go the next day for a short time.
Mrs. Bennet was perfectly satisfied, and quitted the house under th_elightful persuasion that, allowing for the necessary preparations o_ettlements, new carriages, and wedding clothes, she should undoubtedly se_er daughter settled at Netherfield in the course of three or four months. O_aving another daughter married to Mr. Collins, she thought with equa_ertainty, and with considerable, though not equal, pleasure. Elizabeth wa_he least dear to her of all her children; and though the man and the matc_ere quite good enough for _her_ , the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr.