Chapter Four: The Netherfield Ball
On entering their uncle's drawing-room the next day, the girls heard that
Mr Wickham was in the house. When he came in every woman looked at
him, but Elizabeth was the one he came to sit by and, as they did not play
cards, they soon fell into most agreeable conversation. Mr Wickham did not
play. To Elizabeth's surprise he began to talk of Mr Darcy.
'His estate is a noble one. I can give you much information on that, as I
have been connected with his family all my life.'
Elizabeth looked at him.
'You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, after seeing the cold manner of
our meeting yesterday. His father, Miss Bennet, was one of the best men that
ever lived and my greatest friend, but Mr Darcy's behaviour to me has been
Elizabeth listened with great interest.
'I was meant for a life in the Church, but it did not please the gentleman
we were speaking of just now.'
'Yes - the late Mr Darcy left me the best living he had to give, but in the
end, it was given to another.'
'No!' cried Elizabeth, 'How could that be?'
'Through Mr Darcy's dislike of me. The late Mr Darcy liked me too much,
however, and his son has always hated me for it.'
Soon afterwards the card party finished. Mrs Philips and Mr Collins joined
them. Mr Collins had lost, but he assured the others seriously that the money
was nothing to him. Thanks to the kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, it
was not necessary for him to think of such little matters.
Hearing this, Mr Wickham turned to Elizabeth and asked if her cousin was
intimately connected with the family of de Bourgh.
'Lady Catherine de Bourgh has recently given him a living. I do not know
how they met, but he has not known her long.'
'You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy
were sisters. She is aunt to the present Mr Darcy.'
'Indeed I did not know.'
'Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune and people
believe that she and her cousin will marry.'
This information made Elizabeth smile as she thought of poor Miss
Bingley. Useless indeed must be all her attentions, her affection for his sister
and her praise of himself, if he were already determined for another woman.
They continued talking till dinner. When Elizabeth went home she could
think of nothing but Mr Wickham and of what he had told her.
The next day Elizabeth told her sister what had passed between Wickham
and herself. Jane was surprised and shocked. She could not believe Mr
Darcy to be so bad, nor was it in her character to question a young man of
such agreeable appearance as Wickham.
'There must be some misunderstanding of which we can have no idea,'
said she. 'No man of honour could behave in such a manner.'
The two young ladies were called from the garden where this conversation
passed, by the arrival of some of the people of whom they were speaking.
Mr Bingley and his sisters had come to give their personal invitation for the
long expected ball at Netherfield. The two sisters were delighted to see their
dear friend Jane again. They paid little attention to the others, avoiding Mrs
Bennet as much as possible, saying not much to Elizabeth, and nothing to
the others. They hurried off so quickly that their brother was taken by
'The thought of the Netherfield ball was agreeable to all the ladies. Mrs
Bennet thought it a compliment to her oldest daughter. Jane imagined a
happy time in society with her two friends and the attentions of their brother,
and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing very much with Mr
Wickham. Catherine and I,ydia's happiness did not depend on anyone person
though they both, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr
Wickham. Even Mary, generally interested only in reading, didn't seem to
dislike the idea.
Until Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, she had been
sure to find Mr Wickham there. When she did not, she suspected that he had
not received an invitation because of Mr Darcy. Lydia asked Mr Denny, who
told them that Wickham had gone to town on business the day before. Later
he told Elizabeth that the presence of a certain gentleman at the ball was the
real reason for Mr Wickham's absence.
Elizabeth was sorry not to see Wickham and so disgusted with Darcy that
it was difficult to answer politely when he spoke to her. But she was not
made for ill-humour and was soon laughing with Charlotte Lucas about
the absurdities of Mr Collins. She was mortified, however, by having to
dance the first two dances with him. He danced badly, looked serious,
apologised and did not pay attention.
Elizabeth was in conversation with Charlotte when Mr Darcy suddenly
asked for her hand in the next dance. She was so surprised that she accepted.
When the music began they stood for some time without speaking. Though
first determined not to say a word, she presently thought she could punish
her partner more by obliging him to talk. She made some observation on the
dance. He answered and was again silent. After some minutes she spoke
'Now you must say something, Mr Darcy. I talked about the dance. You
should speak about the room or the people.'
He smiled and assured her that he would say what she wished.
'Very well. Now we can be silent.'
'Do you have to talk in a certain manner then, while you are dancing?'
'Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know.'
They were again silent till he asked her if she and her sisters did not very
often walk to Meryton.
'Yes,' she answered, and could not help continuing, 'When you met us
there the other day we had just met someone new.'
Immediately Darcy looked serious, but said not a word. Elizabeth could
not go on. At length he said, 'Mr Wickham is fortunate in such happy
manners that he makes friends with ease. If they remain friends is less
'He has been so unfortunate as to lose your friendship,' answered Elizabeth
warmly, 'and in a manner which may make him suffer all his life.'
Darcy made no answer. At that moment Sir William Lucas appeared near
them and, seeing Mr Darcy, stopped to compliment him on his dancing and
his partner. He hoped to have the pleasure of other dances soon, especially
when a certain desirable event took place, he said, glancing at Jane and Mr
Mr Darcy looked at his friend and Jane, who were dancing together, with a
very serious expression for some moments until he said,
'Sir William has made me forget what we were talking of.'
'I do not think we were speaking at all. There cannot be any two people in
the room with less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects
already with few results, and what we can talk of next I cannot imagine.'
Soon after the dance finished Miss Bingley came up to Elizabeth and said,
'So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are delighted with George Wickham! Your sister
has been asking me a thousand questions. I hear that the young man forgot to
tell you that he was the son of old Mr Darcy's steward. As a friend I must
tell you not to believe him. His stories about Mr Darcy are untrue, though
George Wickham's behaviour has been shocking. I am sorry Miss Eliza for
this discovery of your favourite's true character, but considering that he is
not a gentleman, one cannot expect much better.'
'The only thing he has done wrong is to be the son of Mr Darcy's steward,'
said Elizabeth angrily, 'and that, I assure you, he told me himself.'
She left to look for Jane who had promised to ask Bingley about Wickham,
but when she found them together Jane looked so happy that she forgot the
matter. When she imagined her sister living in that house with Bingley, in a
marriage of true affection, she even believed it possible to try and like his
Unfortunately , when they sat down to dinner, Elizabeth was placed near
her mother and Mr Darcy. Clearly Mrs Bennet's thoughts were also on
matrimony and she spoke freely to Lady Lucas of nothing else but her
expectation that Jane would soon be married to Mr Bingley. Elizabeth saw
that Mr Darcy could overhear the conversation and tried to tell her mother,
but Mrs Bennet did not tire of talking about the advantages of the marriage .
Mr Bingley was such a charming young man, so rich, living so near. His
sisters liked Jane so much and wished for the marriage as much as she did.
And it was such a good thing for her other daughters. If Jane married so
greatly, they would meet other rich men. She finished with many good
wishes that Lady Lucas might soon be as fortunate with her daughters.
When at last they got up to go, Mrs Bennet invited the whole family to
Longbourn, telling Mr Bingley how happy he would make them by eating a
family dinner with them at any time. Bingley promised to visit after a short
trip to London he was planning. Mrs Bennet left the house sure that she
would see her daughter married at Netherfield in a few months. She was just
as sure of having another daughter married to Mr Collins. Elizabeth was the
least dear to her of all her daughters, and she thought the man and the
marriage quite good enough for her.