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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. Bingleys 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 his legs shattered was enough to interest all her tender feelings; and nothing 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 in some way or other. Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is impossible for us to conjecture the causes 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 fathers favourite in such a manner, one whom his father had trained in the deadly arts and promised to provide for. It is impossible.

I can much more easily believe Mr. Bingleys 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, and may even feel a duel necessary to restore his honour. She could hardly bear the thought.

The two young ladies were summoned from the dojo, 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. Jane and Elizabeth were embarrassed to receive callers in their sparring gowns, but their unusual appearance did not deter the ladies from being delighted to see them-particularly, their dear friend Jane. The ladies 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. Bennets 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 their brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcys look and behavior.

Elizabeths 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. Bingleys invitation, and if he did, whether he would think it proper to join in the evenings 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, said he, that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, can have any evil tendency; and 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. Wickhams happiness and her own were perforce delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collinss proposal accepted with as good a grace as she could. She was soon after afflicted with a most palpable urge to vomit, and politely cupped her hands lest the sight of her sick distress the present party. Thankfully, the urge subsided quickly, but the realization that invited it remained. Did this fat little priest mean to take her as a wife? She was horrified at the thought of marrying of man whose only skill with a blade was cutting slivers of gorgonzola.

If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for, the younger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiable state, 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. The earth was again soft, and the dead numerous. No aunt, no officers, no news could be sought after. 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 16 | Pride and Prejudice and Zombies | CHAPTER 18