Added 12/16 - I'm so terribly scatterbrained lately! I could have sworn yesterday was the 16th! I guess I was so excited to celebrate that I jumped the gun a bit. Very typical of me.
*Read chapter one
“Now what do you make of this?” that lady exclaimed triumphantly to an ever-patient Lady Lucas. “I must say I always knew Jane's beauty would attract a wealthy man, if one should be so fortunate as to fall in her path, but I certainly never harbored such hopes for Lizzy! Not that I'm complaining, mind you. If Mr. Darcy should take it into his head to fall in love with my daughter it would be very fortunate indeed. I just hope Lizzy minds what she says. No need scaring him off with that tongue of hers. She can be entirely too much like Mr. Bennet sometimes and I can assure you, my dear, that a particularly becoming young lady he would not make!”
“Calm now, Mrs. Bennet. Miss Eliza has charming manners; a witty word of hers has never trespassed decorum. Surely you have nothing to fear - Mr. Darcy seems quite taken.” As these words were spoken, Lady Lucas' eyes were fixed across the room where the two youngest Bennet girls, Catherine (Kitty as all called her) and
Of course Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas were not the only ones whose attention was drawn to the elegant couple at the top of the line. The seemingly haughty Mr. Darcy's favoring of a much-beloved local lady easily rendered this the most exciting assembly of the season. Even Mrs. Long scaled down her previous assessment of his manners: when she had attempted to speak with him earlier, she believed he deliberately snubbed her, but now she was convinced that the man must be hard of hearing on the right, a sad ailment for one so young, “Miss Elizabeth best think twice of an alliance with such a prematurely deteriorating man, ten thousand a year not withstanding. He seems hale enough now but one never knows what the future might bring. She may well find herself tied for years to the sickbed. I knew of a young lady who found herself in just such a predicament; she thought she was very well married but not a year into the match her husband fell ill. She spent years nursing him, wasting her youth, and when the unfortunate man finally died found herself right back where she began, with nothing but her dowry to live on as everything went to his younger brother!” The entire neighborhood was suddenly highly interested in the expectations of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Kitty, to her great chagrin, missed a step as she surveyed the line, but any embarrassment she felt was swept away with elation for her sister. “Oh, my how exciting! Mrs. Long told me he has twice Mr. Bingley's income. I do hope he falls in love with Lizzy!” Silently she wondered if she might ever be so distinguished, her heart slightly aflutter with the notion.
Despite such rampant general interest, perhaps only one person in the room could be deemed as concerned as Mrs. Bennet with this surprising development. For Caroline Bingley, the sight of Mr. Darcy, a man who professed to deplore a ball, dancing with one of the local girls was disturbing enough to cause her face to flush with consternation. The effect was not becoming. Upon first perceiving the pair she hurried to her sister's side, ignored the appearance of her next dance partner on her right, and proceeded to interrogate her sister, Mrs. Hurst, regarding the identity of her favorite's partner.
“Louisa, you must know the name of that lady dancing with poor Mr. Darcy! How ever did she inveigle him into such an unpleasant predicament?”
Mrs. Hurst surveyed her sister carefully, taking in the jealous glint in her eyes, before gazing towards the lady in question, “I believe she is one of the Bennet girls and that Charles made the introduction. As you can surely see as well as I can Caroline, Mr. Darcy does not appear to be distressed.” In fact she could not say she had ever before seen him so at ease in public.
“Oh no Louisa, you are most certainly mistaken! He looks distinctly uncomfortable. And is not Bennet the name of that vulgar woman, the one thrusting daughters at Charles? In such unrefined company, Mr. Darcy must be suffering! Look, there she is now, standing by and ready to pounce on the poor man. Surely we must endeavor to relieve him from such an encroachment?”
“He is his own man, Caroline. We must trust him to fend for himself.” So disconcerted was Miss Bingley that she failed to notice as her would-be dance partner inconspicuously backed away, anxious no longer to dance with the neighborhood's new heiress but to share his marvel that the fashionable Miss Bingley was so undone by Meryton's own Lizzy Bennet instead!
To all this Darcy remained oblivious; for perhaps the first time in his life, he was blissfully ignorant of the scrutiny of others. Even he was surprised by his transformative reaction to
Elizabeth watched him retreat with a sense of relief for, at that timely moment, her mother made her descent, snatching her away from Mr. Lucas (who was, coincidently, the same patient partner who had been engaged to Miss Bingley for the last) before they could take their place on the floor.
“Oh my dear, dear Lizzy! Mr. Darcy is such a charming man! So handsome and tall! Ten thousand a year I'm told, plus probably more! Oh I do hope you endeavored to please him my dear. Just think, if he should marry you, how grand you would be!”
“This is no time to vex me child! It is up to you to make him smitten of course! You must put yourself forward and perhaps he will ask for a second dance.”
“You must excuse me, ma'am, but this dance is already promised.”
Mr. Darcy had returned to his former station and resumed his survey of the assembly, now casting a visibly more amiable mien on the room. The dance had been most agreeable, far beyond his expectations which, you will easily recall, were decidedly negative and he felt himself more generous in his estimation of the assembly as a whole. Knowing that the neighborhood could boast of some pleasant and sophisticated companionship relieved the entire company of much of its tedium.
Miss Elizabeth had proved to be a most pleasant partner indeed. He watched her as she moved down the dance – though his critical eye was forced to acknowledge more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, her figure was light and pleasing. He wished to know more of her and determined to further the acquaintance. As Bingley was blatantly enraptured with the eldest Miss Bennet (he was, at that moment, soliciting her hand for a second dance), Darcy perceived it would be an easy resolution to which to adhere.
“I must thank you for introducing Darcy to your sister," Bingley said to Jane as they took their places on the floor. “Never have I seen him enjoy a dance more.”
“I am pleased to have been of service, Mr. Bingley. Lizzy has always excelled at putting people at ease.”
“I wish more people shared her talent. Sadly, while Darcy always receives a great deal of notice wherever he goes, he would much rather go unobserved. In small, intimate groups he fares much better and is exceedingly charming, but in large gatherings he always seems to recede into himself.”
Jane Bennet smiled happily at the handsome man, charmed by the affection and care he displayed for his friend, the honor of his attention, and the excitement of that bestowed on her favorite sister. Never had she so thoroughly enjoyed an assembly.