He smiled and asked her if she and her sisters walked often to Meryton.
"Yes," she replied, and unable to resist the temptation, she added: "When you met us there the other day, we had just formed a new acquaintance – a Mr Wickham – from Pemberley in Derbyshire. You must know him."
The effect was immediate. His body stiffened. "I prefer to forget that I was once acquainted with Mr Wickham," he said coldly.
"Is that quite fair, Mr Darcy? If Wickham has aroused your resentment, can you not forgive him?"
"I hardly ever forgive. My resentment, once created, is unappeasable."
"You are sure that – in this case – it has been created?"
"Certainly, Miss Bennet," replied Darcy firmly.
"And you are never blinded by prejudice?"
"I hope not."
"If you never change your opinion, it is essential that you judge properly at first."
"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"To the illustration of your character," replied Elizabeth. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all."
"I wish, Miss Bennet," he replied seriously, "that you would not attempt to read my character at the present moment. I fear that you will not see it to my credit."
She said no more, and they went down the dance and parted in silence. Miss Bingley came towards her.
"So, Miss Eliza, your sister tells me you are quite delighted with George Wickham! I wonder if he told you that he was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr Darcy's steward? Let me recommend you to believe little of what he says. As to Mr Darcy's using him ill, it is false. He has always been kind to him, though Wickham has treated him infamously. I do not know the particulars, but I know that Mr Darcy is not in the least to blame. Wickham's coming into the country is a most insolent thing but, considering his descent, one could not expect better."
"His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be the same thing," said Elizabeth angrily. "You accuse him of nothing worse than of being the son of Mr Darcy's steward, and of that he informed me himself."
"I beg your pardon," replied Miss Bingley, turning away. "Excuse my interference. It was kindly meant."
"Insolent girl!" said Elizabeth to herself. "You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this."
The rest of the evening brought her little amusement. She was bothered by Mr Collins, who kept by her side, and though he could not persuade her to dance with him again, put it out of her power to dance with others. She owed some relief to Charlotte Lucas, who often joined them and engaged Mr Collins's conversation.
Elizabeth turned her attention almost entirely on her sister and Mr Bingley and could not doubt that gentleman's high regard and deep affection for Jane.
Her mother's thoughts were bent the same way. When they sat down to supper, Elizabeth was vexed and ashamed to hear her mother talking openly to Lady Lucas of her expectation that Jane would soon be married to Mr Bingley, and pointing out the advantages of the match – his being so charming and so rich; and such a promising thing for her younger daughters, as Jane's marrying so well must throw them in the way of other rich men.
Elizabeth tried in vain to check the rapidity of her mother's words, and to persuade her to speak more quietly; for, to her great shame and horror, she could see that most of it was overheard by Mr Darcy. Her mother only scolded her for being nonsensical. "What is Mr Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him? Am I obliged to say nothing he may not like?"
"For heaven's sake, Mama, speak lower. What advantage can it be to you to offend Mr Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to his friend by so doing."
Nothing she could say had any effect. Elizabeth blushed with shame and vexation. She could not help glancing often at Mr Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded. The expression of his face changed gradually from contempt to a composed, steady gravity.
Even when supper was over, Elizabeth was left with but a short interval of peace. Singing was talked of, and she had the humiliation of seeing Mary preparing to oblige the company. Mary's voice was weak, and her manner affected. Elizabeth was in agonies.
Finally, it appeared to Elizabeth that Lydia and Kitty behaved abominably, flirting shamelessly with all the officers. She felt that if her family had made an agreement to exhibit themselves in a poor light, they could not have had finer success.
When at length they rose to leave, Mrs Bennet assured Mr Bingley how happy he would make them by eating dinner with them at any time, without the ceremony of a formal invitation. Bingley thanked her sincerely and vowed he would take the earliest opportunity of doing so.
Mrs Bennet left under the delightful persuasion that she should undoubtedly see her daughter settled at Netherfield in the course of a few months. Of having another daughter married to Mr Collins, she thought with equal certainty, though not with equal pleasure.
- at length - after a long time
- composed - if someone is composed, they are calm and able to control their feelings.
- contempt - if you have contempt for someone or something, you have no respect for them or think that they are unimportant.
- descent - you use descent to talk about a person's family background, for example their nationality or social status.
- gravity - the gravity of someone's behaviour or speech is the extremely serious way in which they behave or speak.
- in the course of - during the specified period or activity
- insolent - if you say that someone is being insolent, you mean they are being rude to someone they ought to be respectful to.
- paltry - you can use paltry to describe something or someone that you consider to be small or unimportant.
- prejudice - preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
- resentment is bitterness and anger that someone feels about something.
- steward - a steward is someone who has the responsibility for looking after property.
- stiffen - if you stiffen, you stop moving and stand or sit with muscles that are suddenly tense, for example because you feel afraid or angry.
- to someone's credit - if something is to someone's credit, they deserve praise for it.
- unappeasable - not able to be pacified, placated, or satisfied
- vexed - annoyed, frustrated, or worried