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 attention of their brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of every thing in Mr. Darcy's looks and behaviour. The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia, depended less on any single event, or any particular person, for though they each, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was by no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was at any rate, a ball. And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it.
"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it is enough. -- I think it no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening engagements. Society has claims on us all; and I profess
myself one of those who consider intervals of recreation and amusement as desirable for every body."
Elizabeth's spirits were so high on the occasion that, though she did not often speak unnecessarily to Mr. Collins, she could not help asking him 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; 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 opinion, I assure you," said he, "that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character to respectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am so far from objecting to dancing myself, that 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 Wickham for those very dances: -- and to have Mr. Collins instead! her liveliness had been never worse timed. There was no help for it however. Mr. Wickham's happiness and her own was perforce
delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins's proposal accepted with as good a grace as she could. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry
from the idea it suggested of something more. -- It now first struck her that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille
table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors. The idea soon reached to conviction
, as she observed his increasing civilities toward herself, and heard his frequent attempt at a compliment on her wit and vivacity
; and though more astonished than gratified
herself by this effect of her charms, it was not long before her mother gave her to understand that the probability of their marriage was exceedingly agreeable to her. Elizabeth, however, did not chuse to take the hint, being well aware that a serious dispute must be the consequence of any reply. Mr. Collins might never make the offer, and till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.
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.