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Chapter 17

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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 by 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 those 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
timed.  There was no help for it, however. 
Mr. Wickham’s happiness and her own were perforce
delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins’s proposal
accepted with as good a grace as she could.  She
was not the better 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 from 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.

 

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