If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talk of, the younger
Miss Bennets would have been in a 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.
<CHAPTER XVIII (18)>
TILL Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield and looked in vain for
Mr. Wickham among the cluster of red coats there assembled, a doubt of his being
present had never occurred to her. The certainty of meeting him had not been checked
by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably have alarmed her. She
had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest 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 omitted for Mr. Darcy's pleasure in the Bingleys'
invitation to the officers; and though this was not exactly the case, the absolute
fact of his absence was pronounced by his friend Mr. Denny, to whom Lydia eagerly
applied, and who told them 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 imagine his business would have called him away just now, if he had not wished
to avoid a certain gentleman here."
This part of his intelligence, though unheard by Lydia, was caught by Elizabeth,
and as it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable for Wickham's absence than
if her first surmise had been just, every feeling of displeasure against the former
was so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that she could hardly reply with tolerable
civility to the polite inquiries which he directly afterwards approached to make.
-- Attention, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham. She was resolved
against any sort of conversation with him, and turned away with a degree of ill
humour, which she could not wholly surmount even in speaking to Mr. Bingley, whose
blind partiality provoked her.
But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of her
own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; and having
told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas, whom she had not seen for a week, she was
soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of her cousin, and to point
him out to her particular notice. The two first dances, however, brought a return
of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn,
apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of
it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple
of dances can give.
The moment of her release from him was exstacy.
She danced next with an officer, and had the refreshment of talking of Wickham,
and of hearing that he was universally liked. When those dances were over she returned
to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly
addressed by Mr. Darcy, who took her so much by surprise 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 fret over 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
a man 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 a man of
ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set,
amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite
to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks their equal amazement in beholding
They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that
their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not
to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her
partner to oblige him to talk, she made 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 is your
turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. -- I talked about the dance, and you ought
to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number 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 may
observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. -- But now we
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 be entirely
silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation
ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine
that you are gratifying mine?"
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarity
in 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 the whole 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," said
he. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. -- You think it a
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 the dance,
when he asked her if she and her sisters did not very often walk to Meryton. She
answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, "When
you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."
The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features,
but he said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself for her own weakness,
could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said, "Mr. Wickham
is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends -- whether
he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with
emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject. At that moment
Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the
other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy he stopt with a bow of superior
courtesy, to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear Sir. Such very superior dancing
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, and that I must hope
to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event,
my dear Miss 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 detaining you from the bewitching converse
of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me."
The latter part of this address was scarcely, heard by Darcy; but Sir William's
allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes were directed
with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together.
Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to his partner, and said, "Sir
William's interruption has made me forget what we were talking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted
any two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. -- We have tried
two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I
"What think you of books?" said he, smiling.
"Books -- Oh! no. -- I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want
of subject. -- We may compare our different opinions."
"No -- I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something
"The present always occupies you in such scenes -- does it?"
said he, with a look of doubt.
"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had
wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming,
"I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that
your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose,
as to its being created."