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Chapter 17

Elizabeth related to Jane the next day what had passed between
Mr. Wickham and herself. Jane listened with astonishment and
concern; she knew not how to believe 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 such amiable
appearance as Wickham. The possibility of his having endured
such unkindness, was enough to interest all her tender feelings;
and nothing remained therefore to be done, but to think well of
them both, to defend the conduct of each, and throw into the
account of accident or mistake whatever could 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 misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short,
impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances
which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either
side."

"Very true, indeed; and now, my dear Jane, what have you got
to say on behalf of the interested people who have probably been
concerned in the business? Do clear 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. My dearest 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 his father had promised to
provide for. It is impossible. No man of common humanity, 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 he HAD been imposed on, would have much to suffer
when the affair became public.

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery,
where this conversation passed, 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. The two ladies were delighted to see their
dear friend again, called it an age since they had met, and
repeatedly asked what she had been doing with herself since
their separation. To the rest of the family they paid little
attention; avoiding Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, saying not
much to Elizabeth, and nothing at all to the others. They were
soon gone again, rising from their seats with an activity which
took their brother by surprise, and hurrying off as if eager to
escape from Mrs. Bennet's civilities.

The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to
every female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as
given in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularly
flattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself,
instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured to herself a happy
evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of
her brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a
great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of
everything in Mr. Darcy's look and behavior. The happiness
anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any single
event, or any particular person, for though they each, like
Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham,
he was be no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and
a ball was, at any rate, a ball. And even Mary could assure her
family that she had no disinclination for it.

"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it is
enough-- I think it is no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening
engagements. Society has claims on us all; and I profess myself
one of hose who consider intervals of recreation and amusement
as desirable for everybody."

Elizabeth's spirits were so high on this occasion, that though she
did not often speak unnecessarily to Mr. Collins, she could not
help asking him whether he intended to accept Mr. Bingley's
invitation, and if he did, whether he would think it proper to join
in the evening's amusement; and she was rather 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
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, by venturing to dance.

"I am by no means of the opinion, I assure you," said he, "that a
ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, to
respectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am so far
from objecting to dancing myself, that I shall hope to be
honoured with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course of
the evening; and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, Miss
Elizabeth, for the two first dances especially, a preference which
I trust my cousin Jane will attribute to the right cause, and not to
any disrespect for her."

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully
proposed being engaged by Mr. Wickham for those very dances;
and to have Mr. Collins instead! her liveliness had never been
worse times. There was no help for it, however. Mr.
Wickham's happiness and her own were perforce delayed a little
longer, and Mr. Collins' proposal accepted with as good a grace
as she could. She was not better the pleased with his gallantry
from the idea it suggested of something more. It now first
struck her, that SHE was selected from among her sisters as
worthy of being mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of
assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of
more eligible visitors. The idea soon reached to conviction, as
she observed his increasing civilities toward herself, and heard
his frequent attempt at a compliment on her wit and vivacity; and
though more astonished than gratified herself by this effect of
her charms, it was not long before her mother gave her to
understand that the probability of their marriage was extremely
agreeable to HER. Elizabeth, however, did not choose to take
the hint, being well aware that a serious dispute must be the
consequence of any reply. Mr. Collins might never make the
offer, 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, the younger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiable
state at this time, for form the day of the invitation, to the day of
the ball, there was such a succession of rain as prevented their
walking to Meryton once. No aunt, no officers, no news could
be sought after-- the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by
proxy. Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of her
patience in weather which totally suspended the improvement of
her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham; and nothing less than a
dance on Tuesday, could have made such a Friday, Saturday,
Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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