Till Elizabeth joined the raid for ICC, and looked in vain for Mr. Wickham among the cluster of Death Knights there assembled, a doubt of his being present had never occurred to her. The certainty of meeting him had not been checked by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably have alarmed her. She had gone over her gear with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart and ICC, trusting that it was not more than might be won in the course of the evening. But in an instant arose the dreadful suspicion of his being purposely omitted for Mr. Darcy’s pleasure in Bingley’s invitation to the <Meryton Militia>; and though this was not exactly the case, the absolute fact of his absence was pronounced by his friend Denny, to whom Lydia eagerly applied, and who told them that Wickham had been obliged to log off for some real life emergency or other the day previous, and was not yet returned; adding, with a significant smile, “I do not imagine his business would have called him away just now, if he had not wanted to avoid a certain gentleman here.”
This part of his intelligence, though unheard by Lydia, was caught by Elizabeth, and, as it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable for Wickham’s absence than if her first surmise had been just, every feeling of displeasure against the former was so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that she could hardly reply with tolerable civility to the polite inquiries which he directly afterwards approached to make. Attendance, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham. She was resolved against any sort of conversation with him, and turned away with a degree of ill-humour which she could not wholly surmount even in speaking to Mr. Bingley, whose blind partiality provoked her.
But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of her own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; and having told all her griefs to Charlotte via whispers, whom she had not seen for a week, she was soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of Mr. Collins, and to point him out to her particular notice. The first two pulls, however, brought a return of distress; they were near-wipes of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a raid can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy.
She healed next with an officer of the <Meryton Militia>, and had the refreshment of talking of Wickham, and of hearing that he was universally liked. When the first quarter was over, she returned to whispering with Charlotte, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprise in his application for her heals for Rotface, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him. He called for an AFK break immediately, and she was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her:
“I dare say you will find him very agreeable.”
“Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”
When the raiding recommenced, however, and Darcy claimed her as his primary healer, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place with the raid, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to heal Mr. Darcy, and reading in guild chat, her guild’s equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the entire quarter, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the raid. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:—”It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the raid, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the dps meters, or the raid composition.”
He assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.
“Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that guild only raids are much pleasanter than pugged ones. But now we may be silent.”
“Do you talk by rule, then, while you are raiding?”
“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for several hours together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.”
“Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?”
“Both,” replied Elizabeth archly; “for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole server, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.”
“This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure,” said he. “How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly.”
“I must not decide on my own performance.”
He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down to Festergut, when he asked her if she and her guild did not very often run random heroics with the <Meryton Militia>. She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, “When you met us at the summoning stone the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.”
The effect was immediate. He said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself for her own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy replied, and in a constrained manner typed, “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”
“He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship,” replied Elizabeth with emphasis, “and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life.”
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject. At that moment, Sir William of <Lucas Pwnage> appeared close to them, meaning to pass through to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped and emoted a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his tanking and his partner.
“I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior tanking is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair healer does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Eliza shall take place. What grats will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy:—but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the purpose of putting your full attention to tanking.”
The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Sir William’s allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly. Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to his healer, and said, “Sir William’s interruption has made me forget what we were talking of.”
“I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted two people in the raid who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine.”
“What think you of books?” said he, smiling.
“Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings.”
“I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions.”
“No—I cannot talk of books in a raid; my head is always full of something else.”
“The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?” said he, doubtfully.
“Yes, always,” she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, “I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”
“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.
“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”
“I hope not.”
“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”
“May I ask to what these questions tend?”
“Merely to the illustration of your character,” said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. “I am trying to make it out.”
“And what is your success?”
She shook her head. “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.”
“I can readily believe,” answered he gravely, “that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Elizabeth, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.”
“But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.”
“I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours,” he coldly replied. She said no more, and they went to down Putricide and parted in silence; and on each side dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree, for in Darcy’s breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all his anger against another.
They had not long separated, when Caroline came towards her, and with an expression of civil disdain accosted her:
“So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are quite delighted with Wickham! Your guild mate has been talking to me about him, and asking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young man quite forgot to tell you, among his other communication, that he was the son of old Wickham, an officer in Darcy’s guild. Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implicit confidence to all his assertions; for as to Mr. Darcy’s using him ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, he has always been remarkably kind to him, though Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner. I do not know the particulars, but I know very well that Mr. Darcy is not in the least to blame, that he cannot bear to hear Wickham mentioned, and that though Bingley thought that he could not well avoid including him in his invitation to the <Meryton Militia>, he was excessively glad to find that he had taken himself out of the way. His coming into the server at all is a most insolent thing, indeed, and I wonder how he could presume to do it. I pity you, Miss Eliza, for this discovery of your favourite’s guilt; but really, considering his descent, one could not expect much better.”
“His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be the same,” said Elizabeth angrily; “for I have heard you accuse him of nothing worse than of being the son of an officer in <Pemberly>, and of that, I can assure you, he informed me himself.”
“I beg your pardon,” replied Caroline, turning away with a sneer. “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. I see nothing in it but your own willful ignorance and the malice of Mr. Darcy.” She then sought Jane, who had undertaken to make inquiries on the same subject of Bingley.
“I want to know,” said she, “what you have learnt about Mr. Wickham. But perhaps you have been too pleasantly engaged to think of any third person; in which case you may be sure of my pardon.”
“No,” replied Jane, “I have not forgotten him; but I have nothing satisfactory to tell you. Mr. Bingley does not know the whole of his history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances which have principally offended Mr. Darcy; but he will vouch for the good conduct, the probity, and honour of his friend, and is perfectly convinced that Mr. Wickham has deserved much less attention from Mr. Darcy than he has received; and I am sorry to say by his account as well as Caroline’s, Mr. Wickham is by no means a respectable raider. I am afraid he has been very imprudent, and has deserved to lose Mr. Darcy’s regard.”
“Mr. Bingley does not know Mr. Wickham himself?”
“No; he never saw him till the other morning.”
“This account then is what he has received from Mr. Darcy. I am satisfied. But what does he say of the guild?”
“He does not exactly recollect the circumstances, though he has heard them from Mr. Darcy more than once, but he believes that it was left to him conditionally only.”
“I have not a doubt of Mr. Bingley’s sincerity,” said Elizabeth warmly; “but you must excuse my not being convinced by assurances only. Mr. Bingley’s defense of his friend was a very able one, I dare say; but since he is unacquainted with several parts of the story, and has learnt the rest from that friend himself, I shall venture to still think of both gentlemen as I did before.”
She then changed the discourse to one more gratifying to each, and on which there could be no difference of sentiment. Elizabeth listened with delight to the happy, though modest hopes which Jane entertained of Mr. Bingley’s regard, and said all in her power to heighten her confidence in it. On their being joined by Mr. Bingley himself, Elizabeth withdrew to Charlotte; to whose inquiry after the pleasantness of her last healing assignment she had scarcely replied, before Mr. Collins came up to them, and told her with great exultation that he had just been so fortunate as to make a most important discovery.
“I have found out,” said he, “by a singular accident, that there is now in the room a close friend of my patroness. I happened to overhear the gentleman himself mentioning to the young lady who does the honours of the guild the names of Miss de Bourgh, and of her GM Lady Catherine. How wonderfully these sort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meeting with, perhaps, a friend of Lady Catherine in this assembly! I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trust he will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology.”
“You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!”
“Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine’s friend. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”
Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his alleged friend; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance. Mr. Collins listened to her with the determined air of following his own inclination, and, when she ceased speaking, replied thus:
“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in your excellent judgement in all matters within the scope of your understanding; but permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the dps, and those which regulate the tanks; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the tanking position as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in a guild—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young dps like yourself.” And emoting a low bow he left her to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. Mr. Collins prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not read a word of it, she felt as if she were hearing it all. It vexed her to see him expose himself to such a man. Mr. Darcy actually paused with unrestrained wonder and his contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of the pause, and at the end of it he only turned and moved another way. Mr. Collins then returned to Elizabeth.
“I have no reason, I assure you,” said he, “to be dissatisfied with my reception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. He answered me with the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that he was so well convinced of Lady Catherine’s discernment as to be certain she could never bestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him.”
As Elizabeth had no longer any interest of her own to pursue, she turned her attention almost entirely on Jane and Mr. Bingley; and the train of agreeable reflections which her observations gave birth to, made her perhaps almost as happy as Jane. She saw her in idea settled in that very guild, in all the felicity which a union of tanking and heals could bestow; and she felt capable, under such circumstances, of endeavouring even to like Bingley’s guild mates. Mrs. Bennet’s thoughts she plainly saw were bent the same way, and she determined not to engage her in conversation, lest she might hear too much. When they sat down to rebuff, therefore, she considered it a most unlucky perverseness which led Mrs. Bennet to forgo whispers; and deeply was she vexed to find that she was talking to that one person (Lady Lucas) freely, openly, and of nothing else but her expectation that Jane would soon be healing only Mr. Bingley. It was an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. His being such a well geared tank, and so rich, and being on the same server as them, were the first points of self-gratulation; and then it was such a comfort to think how fond the rest of the guild was of Jane, and to be certain that they must desire the connection as much as she could do. It was, moreover, such a promising thing for her other guildies, as Jane’s association must throw them in the way of other raiding guilds; and lastly, it was so pleasant at her time of life to be able to consign her other obligations to the care of Jane, that she might not be obliged to raid more than she liked. It was necessary to make this circumstance a matter of pleasure, because on such occasions it is the etiquette; but no one was less likely than Mrs. Bennet to find comfort in not raiding at any period of her life. She concluded with many good wishes that Lady Lucas might soon be equally fortunate, though evidently and triumphantly believing there was no chance of it.
In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to check the rapidity of Mrs. Bennet’s words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in a whisper; for, to her inexpressible vexation, she could perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Mr. Darcy, who sat opposite to them. Mrs. Bennet only scolded her for being nonsensical.
“What is Mr. Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him? I am sure we owe him no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing he may not like to hear.”
“For heaven’s sake, madam, speak lower. What advantage can it be for you to offend Mr. Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to his friend by so doing!”
Nothing that she could say, however, had any influence. Mrs. Bennet would talk of her views without moving to whispers. Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.
At length, however, Mrs. Bennet had no more to say; and Lady Lucas, who had been long yawning at the repetition of delights which she saw no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comforts of fish feasts and flasks. Elizabeth now began to revive. But not long was the interval of tranquillity; for, when buffing was over, the blood quarter was talked of, and she had the mortification of seeing Mary, after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company by wresting leadership of the raid from Bingley. By many significant whispers and did Elizabeth endeavour to prevent such a proof of complaisance, but in vain; Mary would not understand them; such an opportunity of exhibiting was delightful to her, and she began directing the raid. Elizabeth’s eyes were fixed on her with most painful sensations, and she watched her progress through the several trash pulls with an impatience which was very ill rewarded at their close; for Mary, on receiving the hint of a hope that she might be prevailed on to favour them again, after the pause of half a minute began to direct everyone on the Blood Council fight. Mary’s powers were by no means fitted for such a display; her voice was piercing, and her knowledge of the mechanics scant. Elizabeth was in agonies. She looked to her GM to entreat his interference, lest Mary should be talking all night. He took the hint, and when Mary had finished muddling through a poor explanation, said aloud, “That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough.”
Mary, though pretending not to hear, was somewhat disconcerted; and Elizabeth, sorry for her, and sorry for her GM’s speech, was afraid her anxiety had done no good. Others of the raid were now applied to.
“If I,” said Mr. Collins, “were so fortunate as to be able to raid lead, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an explanation; for I consider raid leading as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a tank. I do not mean, however, to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to leading, for there are certainly other things to be attended to. A tank has much to do. In the first place, he must make such an agreement for guild repair money as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own macros; and the time that remains will not be too much for his daily duties, and the care and improvement of his gear, which he cannot be excused from making as leet as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that he should have attentive and conciliatory manner towards everybody, especially towards those to whom he owes his preferment. I cannot acquit him of that duty; nor could I think well of the man who should omit an occasion of testifying his respect towards anybody connected with the GM.” And with a bow to Mr. Darcy, he concluded his speech, which had been spoken so aloud in vent. Mrs. Bennet seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly, and observed to Lady Lucas, that he was a remarkably clever, good kind of young man.
To Elizabeth it appeared that, had her guild made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success; and happy did she think it for Bingley and Jane that some of the exhibition had escaped his notice, and that his feelings were not of a sort to be much distressed by the folly which he must have witnessed. That his two guild mates and Mr. Darcy, however, should have such an opportunity of ridiculing her guild, was bad enough, and she could not determine whether the silent contempt of the gentleman, or the snickers not held back over vent of the ladies, were more intolerable.
The rest of the evening brought her little amusement. She was teased by Mr. Collins, who continued most perseveringly by her side, and though he could not prevail on her to heal him again, put it out of her power to do anything but raid heal. She owed her greatest relief to her friend Charlotte, who often joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Mr. Collins’s conversation to herself.
She was at least free from the offense of Mr. Darcy’s further notice; though often standing within a very short distance of her, quite disengaged, he never came near enough to speak. She felt it to be the probable consequence of her allusions to Mr. Wickham, and rejoiced in it.
The <Longbourn> party were the last of all the company to depart. Louisa and Caroline scarcely opened their mouths, except to complain of fatigue, and were evidently impatient to log off for the night. They repulsed every attempt of Mrs. Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw a languor over the whole party, which was very little relieved by the long speeches of Mr. Collins, who was complimenting Mr. Bingley on his tanking, and the patience and politeness which had marked their behaviour to their raid. Darcy said nothing at all. Mr. Bennet, in equal silence, was enjoying the scene. Mr. Bingley and Jane were standing together, a little detached from the rest, and talked only to each other. Elizabeth preserved as steady a silence and even Lydia was too much fatigued to utter more than the occasional exclamation of “Lord, how tired I am!” accompanied by a violent yawn.
When at length they arose to take leave, Mrs. Bennet was most pressingly civil in her hope of seeing the whole guild soon at another raid, and addressed herself especially to Mr. Bingley, to assure him how happy he would make them tanking for them at any time, without the ceremony of a formal invitation. Bingley was all grateful pleasure, and he readily engaged for taking the earliest opportunity of waiting on her, after his return from some pressing business in real life, which he was obliged to attend to the next day for a short time.
Mrs. Bennet was perfectly satisfied, and quitted the raid under the delightful persuasion that she should undoubtedly see Jane settled at <Netherfield> in the course of three or four months. Of having another guildie shipped off with Mr. Collins, she thought with equal certainty, and with considerable, though not equal, pleasure. Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her guildies; and though the man and the match were quite good enough for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr. Bingley and <Netherfield>.