"I know very well, madam," said he, "that when persons sit down to a card table,
they must take their chance of these things, -- and happily I am not in such circumstances
as to make five shillings any object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say
the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity
of regarding little matters."
Mr. Wickham's attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few
moments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relation were very intimately
acquainted with the family of de Bourgh.
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh," she replied, "has very lately given him a living.
I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but he certainly
has not known her long."
"You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters;
consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy."
"No, indeed, I did not. -- I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine's connections.
I never heard of her existence till the day before yesterday."
"Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed
that she and her cousin will unite the two estates."
This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poor Miss Bingley. Vain
indeed must be all her attentions, vain and useless her affection for his sister
and her praise of himself, if he were already self-destined to another.
"Mr. Collins," said she, "speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and her daughter;
but from some particulars that he has related of her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude
misleads him, and that in spite of her being his patroness, she is an arrogant,
"I believe her to be both in a great degree," replied Wickham; "I have not seen
her for many years, but I very well remember that I never liked her, and that her
manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably
sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from
her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the
pride of her nephew, who chuses that every one connected with him should have an
understanding of the first class."
Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued
talking together with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards; and gave
the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no
conversation in the noise of Mrs. Philips's supper party, but his manners recommended
him to every body. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully.
Elizabeth went away with her head full of him. She could think of nothing but
of Mr. Wickham, and of what he had told her, all the way home; but there was not
time for her even to mention his name as they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins
were once silent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had
lost and the fish she had won, and Mr.
Collins, in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Philips, protesting that
he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at
supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crouded his cousins, had more to say than
he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.
<CHAPTER XVII (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 really endured such unkindness, was
enough to interest all her tender feelings; and nothing therefore remained 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 in 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 chuse, 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, every thing 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 some 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 attention of their brother; and Elizabeth
thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a
confirmation of every thing in Mr. Darcy's looks and behaviour. 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
"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it is enough. -- I think
it 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 every body."
Elizabeth's spirits were so high on the 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 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 Wickham for those very dances: -- and to have Mr. Collins instead! her liveliness
had been never worse timed. There was no help for it however. Mr. Wickham's happiness
and her own was 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 the 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 exceedingly agreeable to her. Elizabeth,
however, did not chuse 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.