You were made perfectly to be loved – and surely I have loved you, in the idea of you, my whole life long.
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning (English Poet 1806-1861)
Tuesday, October 15, 1811 – Fifteen years later
As he slowed his horse to a walk, his gaze swept across the landscape of the place he believed to afford the perfect prospect. The lake reflected a beautifully clear sky and a mirror image of Pemberley House. His eyes were drawn toward the vision of loveliness that strode in his direction. The sight of her never failed to take his breath away; skin glowing with health that came from long walks in the sunshine, eyes sparkling with intelligence and wit. At the moment she noticed him nearing, a bewitching smile spread across her lips.
“Perfect!” he breathed.
He allowed the reins to fall to the ground as he dismounted and drank in her form, reveling in the grace of her movements as she approached him.
She came to stand before him, their bodies almost touching, and her eyes captured his. His breath quickened; her scent nearly overwhelmed his senses.
She raised a hand to caress his cheek, and he bowed his head to meet her touch. Bestowing upon him the gentlest of kisses, she then pulled back to look in his eyes. His heart rejoiced to recognize his own feelings reflected within her soul.
Winding his arms around her waist, he delighted in the feel of every inch of her body pressed against his. Lips met again and again. As he savored the taste of her love for him, her delicate fingers laced through his hair. The kiss deepened.
Though he felt he should never need to breathe again as long as she was near, his lungs rebelled. They pulled apart after one last gentle kiss.
Her saucy grin reached her eyes. “Have you had your fill of exercise for one morning, or would you rather join me?”
“A walk, perhaps, or would you like to receive the riding lessons I promised you?”
“I think not today, my love. My mind was turned more toward indoor activities. You are in desperate need of a bath, and I was looking forward to… assisting. I am certain the opportunity of other forms of exercise will soon present itself.”
The expression in her eyes made him gasp softly. “I do believe that can be arranged,” he responded huskily while bending closer for another kiss…
Fitzwilliam Darcy awakened with a start and turned away from the glare of dawn’s rays filtering through the open window. He burrowed further into the bedding and fought to hold on to the fading memory of the way she had felt in his arms. In the end, he had to reconcile himself to the truth—it had been only a dream.
As his gaze swept the room, recognition seeped through his sluggish musings. He sighed. Netherfield… and yet another day of enduring Caroline Bingley’s relentless attentions.
Although willing to put up with much for his good friend’s sake, he had to admit that after spending a fortnight at Charles Bingley’s new home, the situation was becoming almost too difficult to bear.
Bingley’s elder sister Mrs. Hurst’s habit of invariably repeating the opinions of those around her had long since become excessively annoying. The observation of her husband’s seemingly permanent state of inebriation had, at first, proven distracting, but he soon found this diversion to grow monotonous.
Still, the notion of shortening his visit would never have occurred to him if not for the presence of Bingley’s other sister. After two weeks of suffering through Caroline Bingley’s relentlessly enthusiastic pursuit of him, Darcy was tempted to escape to London—to be blissfully alone.
The only housemate who exhibited the smallest of sense was Bingley himself, but even this good fortune seemed to be coming to an end.
Last evening, his host had said, “I believe I will enjoy country living. All of the gentlemen in the area are quite sociable. Since our arrival, they have paid more visits than I had expected, and we have received many invitations. In answer to your references to a lack of activity, Caroline, you should be pleased to know that during my ride into the village today, I purchased tickets to the local assembly so that we may meet the families of all of our new neighbors. Sir William promises a superior time will be had by all!”
Once Caroline had recovered from tittering laughter, she answered, “Yes, of course! The local populous must be overjoyed to have true gentlemen such as Mr. Darcy and you in the neighborhood.” A slight sneer appeared upon her features, “But I do not believe that attending this assembly is at all necessary! While a country assembly might be considered ‘superior’ to this society, I have no doubt that it would seem primitive when compared to what we are accustomed to in London. If nothing else, think of Mr. Darcy, brother. He dislikes dancing so completely.”
Darcy remembered thinking that if Caroline had thought as highly of his comfort as she pretended to do at that moment, she would have excused him from dancing with her as she knew he disliked the activity.
“And I think that going out into society is just the thing to break Darcy’s gloomy disposition of late! I insist that we shall go. Besides, I have already purchased the tickets… we cannot back out now.”
Darcy shook his head—how did Bingley expect this event to resolve his gloomy disposition? He was aware only that Darcy was “uncomfortable with strangers.” Darcy wondered how his friend would react if his true level of discomfort at events such as these was known to him.
An evening which promised being surrounded by strangers—matchmaking mamas and mercenary young ladies certain to be among them—was not Darcy’s idea of a pleasant time. It tended more towards torture from his perspective.
Darcy moaned aloud and buried his head under a pillow. Every fiber of his being was yearning to escape into sleep, eagerly craving to be delivered into the arms of the woman who had haunted his dreams for a fortnight. But Morpheus had no intention of obliging his desire.
His thoughts wandered to the day that he arrived in Hertfordshire.
Soon after departing London, he came to understand why Bingley had hinted at riding alongside the carriage instead of within it. Three hours never seemed to take so long to pass! After Caroline Bingley’s non-stop chattering and blatant attempts at flirtation, he was in desperate need of a fresh air and exercise to recompose himself. One of Netherfield’s stable boys suggested he ride to Oakham Mount, which he promised would offer the best view of the area.
Even now, Darcy was uncertain whether or not the lady he had observed there had been an illusion. Her eyes had been closed, her face tilted upward. as the light breeze played with a number of chestnut brown curls which had broken free from their confinement. Her arms had been extended slightly from her sides. To him, she had seemed an angel about to take flight, and he almost had expected her to sprout wings.
She was the most beautiful thing he had ever beheld.
As if by enchantment, he had felt as if he were being drawn toward her, but he had encountered difficulty in discerning a path through the thicket that separated them. His disappointment had been great when he reached the top and discovered no trace of her.
Darcy returned to Oakham Mount daily, even varying the time of the day after being unsuccessful in his quest, but had not come upon her a second time.
Sighing again, he decided that the stress of the past few weeks, followed by that horrid carriage ride, must have affected him more than he had realized, causing him to imagine the vision of perfection at Oakham Mount.
Has it not been proven that there is not a woman alive who could make me feel the way I did when I saw her? I must be content with simply spending time with this idealized vision in my dreams alone!
The familiar sounds of his valet making preparations for the day pulled Darcy from his reverie.
Whether he would rather to stay in bed amongst the memories of his dream-lady mattered not; the time had come to rise and face the day—it was expected of him.
Elizabeth Bennet carefully ascended the stairs to the assembly room, following behind the other ladies of her family.
It had been a hectic day at Longbourn—a day filled with ribbons, lace, dresses, and shoes while six ladies rushed to and fro in preparation for the evening’s activities. Mr. Bennet could not manage at all in this atmosphere, consequently, about halfway through breakfast he left his wife and daughters to themselves for the relative peace of having the commotion muffled by the thick wood of his library door—behind which he would remain until his family had returned from the ball.
Upon her arrival in the ballroom, Elizabeth noted that she would need to find a private place to make a few minor repairs to her gown. Her youngest sister, Lydia, in her state of anticipation of the dancing that was soon to be had, had fidgeted about in the cramped carriage and had torn Elizabeth’s hem. Once civilities had been properly attended to, Elizabeth found the proprietor’s wife, Mrs. Jones, and was led to a small room in which she could make her repairs.
The light that lies in woman’s eyes, has been my heart’s undoing.
–Thomas Moore (Irish Poet 1779-1852)
The Netherfield party entered the assembly room. All sound and movement ceased as all eyes were turned toward the door.
Darcy managed to hold his blush at bay by raising The Mask—a severe, aloof expression behind which he usually hid when out in society to keep others as far away as possible. Though his expression may have been under good regulation, his thoughts and emotions were not. This is worse than I had expected—even Bingley looks uncomfortable. How can anyone breathe with such a horde crushing in on him? Why must so many people crowd into this small room?
Sensing their eyes upon him, his skin crawled, and his heart began to pound. Anxiety threatening to overwhelm him, Darcy hoped that none of these strangers would dare approach him. A clock on the far wall caught his attention, and he concentrated on the second hand to assist in breathing at regular intervals.
After what seemed like hours, but was only a few moments, the crowd began to stir and converse once again. As soon as the attention of the room was no longer directed solely at their party, his anxiety lessened. Darcy carefully moved his attention from the second hand and began to take note of his surroundings. He perceived Sir William Lucas moving forward to greet them, offering to introduce the party to the neighborhood. Darcy followed Bingley, though the remainder of their party did not deign to do the same.
Bingley chatted easily with his new neighbors in his usual cheerful manner, happily diverting attention away from him. He listened to Bingley’s conversations, but could not avoid hearing the whispers around them. Darcy recognized the usual gossip of the matchmaking mamas. Ah, so it is five thousand for Bingley and ten thousand for me this time, eh? I wonder how they make their estimations.
They neared a petite, but very loud, woman with graying auburn hair who was soon introduced as Mrs. Bennet. Darcy smiled internally when he recognized the puppyish look fall over Bingley’s face the moment Bingley spotted the blonde beauty standing next to the matron. It was the same expression that overtook Bingley’s countenance whenever he found a new object of infatuation, whilst instantly forgetting all of the other ladies on a seemingly never-ending list of those he had admired for brief intervals in the past.
The open manners and amiability which Bingley displayed at all times would always endear him to the loveliest lady at any gathering—and to all the other ladies as well. Bingley’s good temper never allowed him to notice that these ladies battled for his attention, in a competition that was especially ruthless up until he made his preference known. Darcy sighed in relief that, this night at least, Bingley had made his selection obvious in a timelier manner than was usual. He despised witnessing the incivility that ladies displayed toward one another when they were vying for the attentions of an eligible gentleman. Darcy had noted in the past that the more amiable or rich the gentleman, the more callous the ladies became. It was bewildering to him that Bingley observed none of it—ever. He felt it was as if it were impossible for his friend to think badly of ladies, though he seemed capable enough of recognizing abhorrent qualities amongst those of his own gender.
Taking note of the time, Darcy wondered how long it would be before he heard Bingley exclaim that this blonde beauty was “the most beautiful creature ever beheld!” as he had with countless other ladies to date.
Mrs. Bennet went on to introduce her daughters to the gentlemen. Bingley’s newest obsession was the eldest, Miss Jane Bennet.
Miss Mary, the third-born, was sitting nearby reading a book. It was a strange occupation for an assembly room, but one in which Darcy would rather be engaged. A bit envious, Darcy was disappointed that he was too distant to be able to make out the title.
The two youngest, Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia, were dancing with enthusiasm—a great deal more than was proper—attracting quite a bit of attention to their antics. Darcy was amazed at the matron’s decision to allow these two out in society at so young an age since they apparently did not know how to comport themselves. Perhaps their behavior would be acceptable for children playing in a field, but, even in the country, at public affairs ladies were expected to behave as ladies and should not be giggling loudly and running about.
Mrs. Bennet mentioned her second eldest, Miss Elizabeth, but she could not locate her daughter among the crowd. “Well, it matters not; you will see Lizzy at some other time I suppose! She is of no import when my Jane is before you!” She was smiling at Bingley as if these statements were the most natural thing to say in polite society, shocking Darcy with her coarse manners. At least Miss Bennet had the decency to blush. Of one thing he was certain: Miss Elizabeth was not her mother’s favorite daughter.
As Bingley applied for her daughter’s hand for the next dance, followed immediately by Miss Bennet’s acceptance, the matron turned to Darcy to ask if he enjoyed dancing as well. Darcy was so involved with his fear of having to stand with a blatantly crass mama who had five unmarried daughters whilst Bingley enjoyed himself that he failed even to notice that Mrs. Bennet had spoken! He bowed to Mrs. Bennet and turned to join Caroline and Louisa. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not! Darcy thought to himself.
Unfortunately, the distance he had retreated from her was not far enough to avoid hearing Mrs. Bennet telling anyone who would listen about his rudeness in walking away without answering her question.
I did not hear her ask me a question! Blast! If I attempt to apologize, it would bring attention to the fact that I can hear her from such a distance, which might insult her further.
Upon joining the ladies of his own party, Darcy became the object to whom Caroline Bingley addressed her opinions of her new neighbors. As was usual, Louisa readily agreed to every word her younger sister uttered.
Seeking a distraction was usually the way that Darcy coped with Caroline Bingley’s diatribes, and so the young man briefly pondered how it could have come about that the younger of Bingley’s sisters dominated the elder. He speculated that Caroline had such a demanding nature that anybody with a less forceful manner could easily be intimidated by the lady. Louisa did seem to lack the self-confidence necessary to resist her overbearing sister. In all of their acquaintance, he did not remember ever hearing Louisa voice an opinion not first belonging to her husband or sister—more often the latter.
Caroline Bingley’s complaints about boorish country manners were incessant enough to outlast his contemplations: the inferiority of society in Hertfordshire compared to Town, the highest ranking person in the neighborhood was only newly knighted, the decided lack of fashion, and the failure in the attempt to be fashionable were among the subjects of her critique. After taking a sip from her glass she continued, noting the lack of excellence of the refreshments, the low quality of the musicians, the insufficient size of the rooms, and her imagined shabbiness of the furniture—for, though of an older design, he saw nothing lacking in its quality. These and other ceaseless grievances were grating on him excessively.
The gentleman wondered if Caroline Bingley had anything favorable to say about, or a kind word to say to, anyone whom she thought “beneath” herself. He could not recall one occasion on which she had.
She continued to prattle on, even though Darcy did not give any indication of listening. When she began to deprecate the quality of wax used for the candles, for they did not burn evenly enough for her taste, he ground his teeth to keep himself from interrupting. When she finally paused to take a breath, he excused himself immediately.
Darcy began to wander around the outskirts of the dance, looking intently at Bingley’s neighbors. NOT with the hope of seeing her, of course; only out of curiosity. She exists only in my imagination, he told himself. And yet, his eyes continued to search the crowd.
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?
–Christopher Marlowe (English poet 564–1593)
The damage to her gown was more than Elizabeth had previously realized, and, even with Mrs. Jones’s assistance, it had taken longer than she had expected to repair it well enough to avoid falling before the whole of the neighborhood as she danced. She took one last look in the mirror before rejoining the assembly. Her curls never seemed to behave in the way she wished them to, and she tried to rearrange the ones that had been left loose to frame her face, but with little success. Her white muslin ball gown was well-worn, and Elizabeth was unsure whether or not it would survive another washing. For this evening it had been refreshed with deep green ribbons around the hem, sleeves, and neckline, and was passable. She looked well enough for her purposes, she supposed.
Judging from the bits of conversation that she overheard as she returned to the assembly room, she realized that she had missed the highly anticipated arrival of the Netherfield party. Elizabeth had her own reasons for looking forward to their joining the neighborhood. Since she and her father enjoyed character study as a hobby, new arrivals to such a small village as Meryton would no doubt offer the opportunity for many hours’ worth of diverting observation and conversation for the pair.
Elizabeth had missed part of the first set, and so she sat out the second dance. She spent the time studying the faces in the crowd looking for anyone unfamiliar and smiled when she spotted two ladies wearing elegant dresses along with sour expressions. They obviously think themselves far above their company and are not afraid of displaying their opinion!
One lady was very tall with dark eyes and copper hair piled upon her head under a turban adorned with long feathers protruding from the top, which seemed to increase her height considerably. Though she had an air of fashionable beauty at first glance, upon further consideration Elizabeth decided that her nose, chin, and jaw line were too pronounced. Even her cheekbones seemed to have sharp edges, making her appear quite shrewish. Her expertly fashioned orange silk dress was not complementary to her hair color or skin tone in the least, and Elizabeth was surprised that a lady so obviously interested in the latest fashions would put so little thought into color. Whether or not orange was the color this season should not matter if, when worn, it caused one to look as if her person clashed with her clothing.
The lady beside her was more petite than her companion. She had beautifully arranged hair the color of buttered toast. Elizabeth had to stifle a laugh when she noticed the feathers that were interlaced into the arrangement of her hair, as the general impression they produced reminded Elizabeth more of a peacock than a woman. The lady was critically eying the crowd in the assembly hall, especially the other ladies. It seemed that she was examining the fashions of the local populace and was not at all happy with what she found. The green silk of her beautifully crafted gown well-suited this lady, though it was unfortunate that the shade did not go well with the color her friend was wearing since they seemed intent on standing together.
Jane was dancing with a pleasant looking, tallish, golden-haired gentleman. His light blue eyes shone with admiration as he gazed at Elizabeth’s sister. Ah, another man madly ‘in love at first sight’ with my Jane! If he will be paying his attentions to her, I certainly hope he is more intelligent than Mr. Smythe was! He had a smile which was so genuine that one could not but feel that he was a good-natured young man. Even from this distance, Elizabeth could plainly see by the way Jane was smiling that she was taken with him as well. Jane had not moved her eyes from the gentleman’s face since her sister had begun her observation of them.
And there, sitting quite close to the refreshment table, was a dark-haired, red-faced, heavyset man, fashionably dressed, who seemed to be taking more pleasure indulging in the available food and drink than in any other entertainment this evening.
Elizabeth saw one other unfamiliar gentleman, facing away from her at present, standing near where she sat. Judging from what she could see of him from this angle, Elizabeth was quite interested in observing him from other aspects. He was very tall and attractively built, extremely well-dressed with unruly looking curls in his chocolate brown hair. She kept her eyes upon him, hoping he would turn so that she could see him better.
When he did turn to look about, she was not disappointed, her breath catching in her chest. Elizabeth was taken aback by how strikingly handsome he was, even though she perceived that he appeared to be struggling to keep strong emotions hidden from his features. She speculated on how his countenance would improve when graced with a smile and was interested in seeing it happen. She felt oddly drawn to him in a way she had never before experienced—it was an urgent, almost physical, need to be near him. Elizabeth felt she would have to guard her actions carefully or she would find herself drifting closer to him to satisfy this impulse.
Elizabeth watched as the man closed his eyes for a moment, as if in painful sadness. It shocked her because, briefly, she felt the strong emotions that flitted across his face. Quickly, his expression darkened and as he opened his eyes, she wondered what thoughts could be causing such a deep scowl.
Being extremely shy, Darcy would normally rather avoid situations such as these. His foul mood was not helping, especially now that she did not magically appear before him (NOT that he was expecting her to, of course). Darcy wanted only to melt away into the background. Tuning out his surroundings, he became lost in his own thoughts, contemplating his sister’s state of mind as a result of the events at Ramsgate which had transpired several weeks prior.
The guilt over his failure to protect his sister was intense. What Georgiana’s companion, Mrs. Annesley, had said about the effects of his more recent actions on his sister was also deeply disconcerting. Darcy had not realized that his almost constant attentions to his sister (“hovering,” as Mrs. Annesley had termed it) were making Georgiana even more ashamed of what almost had happened. His acceptance of Bingley’s invitation to Hertfordshire was based upon Mrs. Annesley’s recommendation that a separation would do them both good.
At the time Bingley had informed him of his newly leased property, Darcy had been torn between the need to assist his sister through her difficult recovery and the ability to offer the benefit of years of experience with his own estate to his good friend. After Mrs. Annesley voiced her concerns, his choice was clear. He would attend Bingley in his new enterprise.
So absorbed was he in his pain that he almost forgot where he was. No matter what Mrs. Annesley had said, tonight, in this jovial atmosphere, he was becoming overwhelmed with the thought that he had abandoned Georgiana in her time of need. As this feeling enveloped him, Darcy closed his eyes and The Mask fell away. His expression ended as a scowl as he contemplated his perceived inadequacy.
Just then, Bingley walked over to him. From experience, he knew what was coming next, and Darcy sighed. Being in these surroundings was enough to make him irritable, but in addition, the subject of his thoughts had made Darcy considerably cross, and he would have said anything to have Bingley leave him be at that moment. Later, when he had taken time to reflect on the evening, he realized that none of this excused what happened next.
“Come, Darcy,” said Bingley, “I can see what you are about. You had much better dance.”
Oh please, Bingley, LEAVE ME ALONE! Darcy’s inner voice screamed, but he said aloud, “I certainly shall not. You know how I dislike the activity. It would be a punishment to stand up with anyone in this assembly.”
After Bingley’s assertion that there were several uncommonly pretty girls in the room, Darcy tried to distract him by commenting upon Bingley’s partner.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!” Darcy discreetly glanced at the clock, noting it took little more than twenty minutes to make the declaration this time, a shorter time than all previous records. Bingley continued, “But there is one of her sisters, Miss Elizabeth, sitting down just behind you. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
Darcy played his part and made a show of looking around him, but he was not interested and so did not look at anyone in particular. He coldly replied, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Bingley followed his advice and returned to the dance.
Soon after this exchange, a lady came from behind and passed close in front of him. It was the Angel of Oakham Mount! Her hair was more elaborately arranged, and she was much more formally attired than she had been when he last had seen her, but he had dreamt of her every night and had seen her face in his mind at any time he closed his eyes for the last fortnight—there was no doubt that this was the same woman. It seemed impossible to him, but she was even more beautiful in person than in his memory.
As she passed, their eyes met for the briefest of moments; his breath caught in his chest, and he would swear his heart had stopped beating.
Those eyes! He had never before seen that shade of green—it was exquisite! How could any earthbound creature not want, not need, to become lost in those eyes forever? Her eyes were also extremely expressive. From them, he was certain that Bingley had been speaking of her, and that she had overheard what had been said, especially Darcy’s insulting phrases. Those eyes were sparkling with intelligence and wit, but they were also laughing—at him.
Miss Elizabeth, Bingley had said—Miss Bennet’s sister. Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth! Even her name had a sensuous, celestial quality about it! How magnificent she was! No, he would never think upon her as Miss Bennet or even Miss Elizabeth. After the way she had made him feel in the two brief moments he had seen her thus far, it was simply impossible to think of her as anything but Elizabeth.
When she turned and crossed the ballroom, a part of his heart felt as if it had been torn away, to be hers forever. He could not take his eyes from her form as she stopped near another young lady and whispered to her. The two of them laughed as Elizabeth’s gaze found his—and his heart sank.
Ridicule was the very last thing Darcy wanted to attract from anyone, but to be ridiculed by Elizabeth as a result of the most deceitful comment that had ever passed his lips was insupportable, though he felt it was rightly deserved.
OH! What an utter fool I have been! How could I have voiced those words? What blasphemy! There is only one thing to do. I must seek her out and apologize immediately! Remembering the earlier incident with Mrs. Bennet, he shook his head. Oh, yes, good going, Darcy! Not only have I insulted her, but I have also insulted her mother!
The situation caused a rare and long buried side of his personality to surface, the dreaded “Darcy Impulsiveness,” which, after a most embarrassing incident as a young man, had been under strict regulation for so many years that even Bingley had never been witness to this behavior. Before he knew what he was about, he had crossed the room and stood before her.
It was then, albeit too late, that he recalled that he had never been introduced to the lady. Talking to her would be a major breach of propriety and would only make the situation worse than it already was. Nor had he any idea of what to say! He blushed profusely, knowing he was standing before her in a stupid manner. At a word from her friend, Elizabeth turned toward him.
Elizabeth’s disappointment had been great upon hearing that this extremely attractive man, whom she had been admiring for the past minutes, had thought her “not handsome enough to tempt him.” She tried to push this thought aside by jesting about it to Charlotte, but as she did this, Elizabeth looked across the room toward the gentleman. The pain that she had seen displayed upon his countenance earlier in the evening seemed mild compared to what she saw there now. Though she remained deeply wounded by his statement, she could not help but feel guilt for laughing at him.
Elizabeth quickly looked away as she softly confessed, “Charlotte, I should not have behaved so rudely! I know it was wrong of him to speak of me in that way, but I saw how something terrible was troubling him earlier. I have now succeeded in making the evening worse for the gentleman.”
Charlotte saw that Darcy had crossed the room and was standing close by, staring at Elizabeth, and displaying the brightest blush Charlotte had ever seen. She motioned toward Darcy while saying, “Lizzy?”
Confused, Elizabeth turned toward her friend, only to find herself facing the gentleman in question, and she became completely mesmerized by the sight of him standing before her.
Darcy’s air was one of apprehension. When Elizabeth turned and met his eyes, he was pleasantly surprised as a wave of tranquility washed over him. He had expected to feel even more nervous in her presence than he did with others unknown to him, but being near her calmed him instead. He felt as if he had come home after being away for a great length of time. She has already proved to be the most fascinating person I have ever met, and I have yet to hear her speak!
As the two continued staring at each other in silence, Charlotte took pity and made the introduction. “Mr. Darcy, may I introduce my good friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn? Lizzy, please meet Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire.”
Darcy started when Charlotte began to speak, and the young lady hid her smile at his reaction. Obviously, Darcy had been so focused on Elizabeth that he had not even noticed she was there!
Darcy bowed. “Thank you Miss Lucas. Miss Bennet, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“I am pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth dropped a curtsy. So this is Fitzwilliam Darcy, about whom I have heard so much!
“Miss Bennet, will you permit me to apologize for something I believe you overheard a few minutes ago? Had I known to which lady my friend was referring, I surely would have chosen a different subject to deter his efforts, for I would not have been able to utter words which are so far from being true.” He shifted from foot to foot. Incredible! I have not said that much in a ballroom in my entire life! I managed to compliment her, as well, did I not?
“Yes, I did hear your conversation, sir, though not intentionally. Your apology is accepted, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth’s face lit up with a brilliant smile.
Darcy’s eyes opened wider. How does she manage to become more beautiful every moment I look upon her? Just then, he noticed the music for the next dance beginning and before he knew what he was about, he had spoken, “Will you do me the honour of dancing the next with me, Miss Bennet?”
Her smile widened, “Yes, I would be happy to, Mr. Darcy. Excuse us, Charlotte.” When their hands met, they both stopped as if stunned for a moment before Charlotte cleared her throat, bringing the couple back to reality.
Elizabeth felt very strange—but pleasantly so. There was a sort of tingling warmth beginning where he touched her gloved hand which slowly spread throughout her being. She wondered if everyone in Meryton could hear her heart beating.
As they walked away, Charlotte found herself hiding her smile as she thought, Ah, Lizzy, he is already in love with you! Well done!
Dreams and Expectations
is now available at Amazon.