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A Young Lady Ashamed (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

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The next day Elizabeth told Jane what had passed between Mr Wickham and herself. Jane listened with astonishment and concern.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed, when Elizabeth had done. “Why should he behave so cruelly?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “Jealousy, I imagine.”

“How abominable! I had not thought Mr Darcy as bad as this.”

“How can Bingley be friends with such a man?”

“He cannot know what Mr Darcy is,” Jane replied.

“Perhaps not,” said Elizabeth, then, thoughtfully: “Mr Darcy can be most pleasant when he chooses.”

Jane smiled. “He certainly wishes to be pleasant to you, Lizzy. I have seen the way his eyes follow you—”

“Oh, no, Jane!” said Elizabeth hastily. “You are mistaken – quite mistaken!”

At this point, the two young ladies were interrupted by the arrival of Mr Bingley and his sisters who came to give their personal invitation for a ball at Netherfield, which was fixed for the following Tuesday.

The prospect was extremely agreeable to every female of the family. Mrs Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to her eldest daughter; Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her friends; Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr Wickham. Kitty and Lydia dwelt blissfully on the fact that Mr Bingley meant to invite all the officers of the regiment; and even Mary assured her family that she was not unwilling to attend.

Elizabeth’s spirits were so high that she could not help asking Mr Collins 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.

“Far from objecting,” he replied, “I hope to be honoured with the hands of all my fair cousins, and I take this opportunity of asking you, Miss Elizabeth, for the first two dances.”

Elizabeth had expected to be engaged by Wickham for those very dances – and to have Mr Collins instead! She accepted with as good a grace as she could. It struck her for the first time that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the wife of Mr Collins, and it was not long before her mother gave her to understand that the probability of their marriage was exceedingly agreeable to her. Elizabeth said nothing. Mr Collins might never make the offer, and, till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.

*

Till Elizabeth entered the drawing room at Netherfield, on the night of the ball, and looked in vain for Mr Wickham among the cluster of redcoats, a doubt of his being present had never occurred to her. She had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of his heart. His friend, Mr Denny, to whom Lydia eagerly applied, told them that business had obliged Wickham to go to town the day before.

“I do not imagine his business would have called him away,” he added, with a significant smile, “if he had not wished to avoid a certain gentleman here.”

Elizabeth was convinced that Mr Darcy had persuaded his friend to omit Wickham from his invitation. But she was not made for ill-humour. Having told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas, she felt much better. The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress. Mr Collins, often making the wrong moves, gave her all the shame and misery that a disagreeable partner can give.

She danced next with an officer and was talking to Charlotte when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr Darcy, who took her so much by surprise by asking her for the next dance that she accepted him. Charlotte tried to console her.

“I dare say you will find him very agreeable.”

“Heaven forbid! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”

When the dancing recommenced, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Elizabeth took her place in the set. They stood for some time without speaking a word. She made some slight observation; he replied and was again silent.

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr Darcy,” she told him. “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.”

Vocabulary

  • agreeable to – if you are agreeable to something or if it is agreeable to you, you are willing to do it or to allow it to happen.
  • be obliged – if you are obliged to do something, a situation, rule, or law makes it necessary for you to do that thing.
  • cluster of – a cluster of people or things is a small group of them close together.
  • convinced – if you are convinced that something is true, you feel sure that it is true.
  • dwell on/upon – think, speak, or write at length about (a particular subject, especially one that is a source of unhappiness, anxiety, or dissatisfaction)
  • high spirits – lively and cheerful behavior or mood
  • in vain – without success or a result
  • omit – if you omit something, you do not include it in an activity or piece or work, deliberately or accidentally.
  • recommence – begin or cause to begin again
  • worthy of – if a person or thing is worthy of something, they deserve it because they have the qualities or abilities required.

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