As no objection was made to the guild’s engagement with their friends, and all Mr. Collins’s scruples of leaving Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for a single evening during his visit were most steadily resisted, the queue conveyed him and his five cousins at a suitable hour to Arathi Basin; and the girls had the pleasure of hearing, as they entered Vent, that Mr. Wickham had accepted the invitation, and was then coming to the raid.
When this information was given, and they had all buffed as much as they were able, Mr. Collins was at leisure to look around him and admire, and he was so much struck with the size and diversity of the pre-made, that he declared he might almost have supposed himself in the third, alts of alts PvP team with <Rosings>; a comparison that did not at first convey much gratification; but when Mrs. Phillips understood from him what <Rosings> was, and who was its proprietor—when she had listened to the description of only one of Lady Catherine’s main tanks, and found that the GearScore of even the alts was above 5000, she felt all the force of the compliment, and would hardly have resented a comparison with the newest recruit.
In describing to her all the grandeur of Lady Catherine and her guild, with occasional digressions in praise of his own humble gear, and the improvements it was receiving, he was happily employed until the gentlemen joined them; and he found in Mrs. Phillips a very attentive listener, whose opinion of his consequence increased with what she heard, and who was resolving to retell it all among her RealID friends as soon as she could. To the girls, who could not listen to Mr. Collins, and who had nothing to do but to wish for the raid to get underway, and examine their own indifferent attempts at gemming for resilience, the interval of waiting appeared very long. It was over at last, however. The gentlemen did approach, and when Mr. Wickham appeared in the battleground, Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him before, nor thinking of him since, with the smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. The officers of the <Meryton Militia> were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but Mr. Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk, as they were superior to the broad-faced, stuffy Mr. Phillips, breathing port wine, who kept emoting that he was drunk.
Mr. Wickham was the happy DK towards whom almost every female eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy priest by whom he finally settled himself; and the agreeable manner in which he immediately fell into conversation, though it was only on the virtue of each PvP target, made her feel that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker.
With such rivals for the notice of the fair as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed to sink into insignificance; to the young ladies he certainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals a kind listener in Mrs. Phillips, and was by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with strudel. When the battle began, he had the opportunity of obliging her in turn, by offering to keep close to her that they might work as a team to defend their holdings.
“I know little of the game at present,” said he, “but I shall be glad to improve myself, for in my situation in life—” Mrs. Phillips was very glad for his compliance, but could not wait for his reason.
Mr. Wickham did not play at defense, and with ready delight was he received at the fore of the offense between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia’s engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of chain-fearing and dotting up the enemy, she soon grew too much interested in the game, too eager in casting Rain of Fire and exclaiming after honor points to have attention for anyone in particular. Allowing for the common demands of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to be told—the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She dared not even mention that gentleman. Her curiosity, however, was unexpectedly relieved. Mr. Wickham began the subject himself. He inquired how in a hesitating manner how long Mr. Darcy had been on the server.
“About a month,” said Elizabeth; and then, unwilling to let the subject drop, added, “He is a man of very good GearScore and raiding experience, I understand.”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Wickham; “his GearScore is a noble one. A clear ten thousand. You could not have met with a person more capable of giving you certain information on that head than myself, for I have been connected with his guild in a particular manner from my earliest days of being a noob.”
Elizabeth could not but look surprised.
“You may well be surprised, Elizabeth, at such an assertion, after seeing, as you probably might, the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday. Are you much acquainted with Mr. Darcy?”
“As much as I ever wish to be,” cried Elizabeth very warmly. “I have spent four days healing heroics for him and his friends and I think him very disagreeable.”
“I have no right to give my opinion,” said Wickham, “as to his being agreeable or otherwise. I am not qualified to form one. I have known him too long and too well to be a fair judge. It is impossible for me to be impartial. But I believe your opinion of him would in general astonish—and perhaps you would not express it quite so strongly anywhere else. Here you are in your own guild.”
“Upon my word, I say no more here than I might say in any guild in the server, except <Netherfield>. He is not at all liked in the whole battlegroup. Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by anyone.”
“I cannot pretend to be sorry,” said Wickham, after a short interruption, where he had to death grip a mage who tried to keep out of melee range, “that he or that any man should not be estimated beyond their deserts; but with him I believe it does not often happen. The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chooses to be seen.”
“I should take him, even on my slight acquaintance, to be an ill-tempered man.” Wickham only shook his head.
“I wonder,” said he, at the next opportunity of speaking, “whether he is likely to be in this server much longer.”
“I do not at all know; but I heard nothing of his going away when I was talking with anyone from <Netherfield>. I hope your plans in favour of the <Meryton Militia> will not be affected by his being in the server.”
“Oh! no—it is not for me to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he must go. We are not on friendly terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might proclaim before all the world, a sense of very great ill-usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is. His former GM, Elizabeth, who now no longer plays, was one of the best men that ever breathed, and the truest friend I ever had; and I can never be in company with Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections. His behaviour to myself has been scandalous; but I verily believe I could forgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the memory of our GM.”
Elizabeth found the interest of the subject increase, and listened with all her heart; but the delicacy of it prevented further inquiry.
Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics, the <Meryton Militia>, the server, the guilds he had opportunity to meet, appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.
“It was the prospect of constant society, and good society,” he added, “which was my chief inducement to enter the <Meryton Militia>. I knew it to be a most respectable, agreeable guild, and my friend Denny tempted me further by his account of their present server, and the very great attentions and excellent acquaintances this server had procured them. Society, I own, is necessary to me. I have been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. I must have employment and society. A guild where I am not an officer is not what I was intended for, but circumstances have now made it eligible. Being a GM ought to have been my profession—I was brought up for leadership, and I should at this time have been in possession of a most well-run guild, had it pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now.”
“Yes—our former GM bequeathed me the title when he stepped down and left the game. He was my friend, and excessively attached to me. I cannot do justice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when he left the guild, it was given elsewhere.”
“Good heavens!” cried Elizabeth; “but how could that be? How could his will be disregarded? Why did he not make you GM?”
“I was not online the last night he meant to be in the game. I had intended to be but a real life emergency arose and I was forced to deal with it. A man of honour could not have doubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it—or to treat it as a merely conditional recommendation, and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it by extravagance, imprudence—in short anything or nothing. Certain it is, that the GM position became vacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an ability to hold it, and that it was given to another man; and no less certain is it, that I cannot accuse myself of having really done anything to deserve to lose it. I have a warm, unguarded temper, and I may have spoken my opinion of him, and to him, too freely. I can recall nothing worse. But the fact is, that we are very different sort of men, and that he hates me.”
“This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced.”
“Some time or other he will be—but it shall not be by me. Till I can forget our former GM, I can never defy or expose him.”
Elizabeth honoured him for such feelings, and thought of him better than ever as he expressed them.
“But what,” said she, after a pause, “can have been his motive? What can have induced him to behave so cruelly?”
“A thorough, determined dislike of me—a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. Had our former GM liked me less, Mr. Darcy might have borne with me better; but our GM’s uncommon attachment to me irritated him, I believe, very early in our time with the guild. He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition in which we stood—the sort of preference which was often given me.”
“I had not thought Mr. Darcy so bad as this—though I have never liked him. I had not thought so very ill of him. I had supposed him to be despising his fellow-creatures in general, but did not suspect him of descending to such malicious revenge, such injustice, such inhumanity as this.”
After a few minutes’ reflection, however, she continued, “I do remember his boasting one day of the implacability of his resentments, of his having an unforgiving temper. His disposition must be dreadful.”
“I will not trust myself on the subject,” replied Wickham; “I can hardly be just to him.”
Elizabeth was again deep in thought, and after a time exclaimed, “To treat in such a manner the friend, the favourite of his GM!” She could have added, “A young man, too, like you, whose very lines of text may vouch for your being amiable”—but she contented herself with, “and one, too, who had probably been his companion from the earliest levels, connected together, as I think you said, in the closest manner!”
“We rolled our first toons in the same server, within the same starting area; the greatest part of our leveling was passed together; inmates of the same party, sharing the same amusements, objects of the same assistance from the guild.”
“How strange!” cried Elizabeth. “How abominable! I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest—for dishonesty I must call it.”
“It is wonderful,” replied Wickham, “for almost all his actions may be traced to pride; and pride had often been his best friend. It has connected him nearer with virtue than with any other feeling. But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even than pride.”
“Can such abominable pride as his have ever done him good?”
“Yes. It has often led him to be liberal and generous, to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his friends, and relieve the poor. Pride has done this. Not to appear to disgrace his guild, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the <Pemberley> guild, is a powerful motive. He has also brotherly pride, which, with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers.”
“What sort of girl is his sister?”
He shook his head. “I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to speak ill of a former guildy. But she is too much like her brother—very, very proud. As a low level casual player, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She is a well geared girl, and, I understand, highly accomplished. Since her GM quit the game, she has not raided and spends much of her time in crafting.”
After many pauses and many trials of other subjects, Elizabeth could not help reverting once more to the first, and saying:
“I am astonished at his intimacy with Mr. Bingley! How can Mr. Bingley, who seems good humour itself, and is, I really believe, truly amiable, be in friendship with such a man? How can they suit each other? Do you know Mr. Bingley?”
“Not at all.”
“He is a sweet-tempered, amiable, charming man. He cannot know what Mr. Darcy is.”
“Probably not; but Mr. Darcy can please where he chooses. He does not want abilities. He can be a conversible companion if he thinks it worth his while. Among those who are at all his equals in consequence, he is a very different man from what he is to the less geared or experienced. His pride never deserts him; but with the hardcore raiders he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable—allowing something for fortune and gear.”
The raiding party soon afterwards breaking up, the players each went back to attending to their gear and making repairs. Mr. Collins inserted himself into conversation with Elizabeth. The usual inquiries as to his success was made by the latter. It had not been very great; he had lost every point; but when Mrs. Phillips began to express her concern thereupon, he assured her with much earnest gravity that it was not of the least importance, that he considered the money spent on repairs as a mere trifle, and begged that she would not make herself uneasy.
“I know very well, madam,” said he, “that when persons sit down to PvP, they must take their chances of these things, and happily I am not in such circumstances as to make five gold any object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters.”
Mr. Wickham’s attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few moments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether Mr. Collins was very intimately acquainted with the guild of <Rosings>.
“Lady Catherine de Bourgh,” she replied, “has very lately given him a raiding spot. I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but he certainly has not known her long.”
“You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh split from the guild of <Pemberly> but that they have always had an alliance.”
“No, indeed, I did not. I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine’s connections. I never heard of her existence till the day before yesterday.”
“Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, has a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and Mr. Darcy will reunite the two guilds.”
This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poor Caroline. Vain indeed must be all her attentions, vain and useless her affection for his sister and her praise of himself, if he were already destined for another guild merger.
“Mr. Collins,” said she, “speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and her daughter; but from some particulars that he has related of her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude misleads him, and that in spite of her being his patroness, she is an arrogant, conceited woman.”
“I believe her to be both in a great degree,” replied Wickham; “I have not seen her for some time, but I very well remember that I never liked her, and that her manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the pride for Mr. Darcy, who chooses that everyone connected with him should have an understanding of the first class.”
Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till one of them had to log off for the night.