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 coffee and muffin.
When the card-tables were placed, he had the opportunity of
obliging her in turn, by sitting down to whist.
"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
Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he
received at the other table 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 lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in the
game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes 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 far Netherfield was from Meryton; and, after
receiving her answer, asked in a hesitating manner how long
Mr. Darcy had been staying there.