Posted on 2014-09-25
"If he had had any compassion for me," cried her husband impatiently, "he would not have danced half so much! For God's sake, say no more of his partners. O that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!"
- Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 3
"Do you enjoy dancing Mr. Bingley?"
Charlotte Lucas could not have been more pleased to be asked to dance the first set by the handsome newcomer to their little end of Hertfordshire. She knew it was only out of deference to her father's position as a knight and host of this evening's events, but Charlotte was flattered just the same. At seven and twenty, and with a shortage of gentlemen in the neighborhood, she seldom danced at the balls any longer. She knew she was rather plain and felt his compassion as he seemed to genuinely enjoy dancing with her, instead of merely tolerating the experience as others had done.
Mr. Bingley was a very amiable sort of gentleman; or at least he had been until they went down the set the first time and his eyes found her friend, Jane Bennet.
"Forgive me. You were saying?"
Charlotte suppressed a grin as the dance separated them. Most men were taken with Jane's beauty and while she could be jealous if she wished, she would rather be happy if her friend finally had a suitor of independent means...and who could withstand her family's...eccentricities. Of course, Mr. Bingley was not a landed gentleman, he had no cause to be so proud like the other men who fell at Jane's altar. Not that it would hurt a thing for her to be more encouraging.
When the steps to the dance allowed her to speak once more she tried again. "I had asked if you enjoy dancing."
"Oh, very much! I intend to dance every set, although I have not been introduced to any of the other ladies yet."
This was no surprise. She knew for a fact he had not so much as glimpsed upon the Bennet sisters before tonight, much to their extreme displeasure. Naturally, Mrs. Bennet claimed him for one of her own as soon as she heard his income. It did not matter a thing about his character or even if he was handsome. Truthfully, Charlotte quite agreed with her. With a large enough income a woman could bear with almost anything.
"I would be happy to introduce to any lady who strikes your fancy."
He beamed. "In that case I would very much like an introduction with the angel over there in blue..."
Bingley did not finish his statement for he landed oddly on his right foot, instantly paled in pain and staggered off the dance floor. Thankfully it was crowded enough that none of the more intrusive members of Meryton society noticed them leave the floor.
"Mr. Bingley! Are you well?"
"I believe I have sprained my ankle."
"Oh my! Allow me to fetch my father."
She left Bingley leaning against a wall as there were no seats to be had. She could not find her father but located her brother and explained the situation. He was searching for their father while she was to return to Bingley. As she approached, she noticed Bingley's friend, Mr. Darcy was now with him.
"Come, Darcy. I will have to leave but will you stay? I should hate for our whole party to leave when I am so new in the neighbourhood."
"Surely they will understand."
Bingley pulled Darcy in closer but Charlotte always had very acute hearing. "Darcy, Miss Lucas was about to introduce me to the most beautiful lady I have ever beheld. An angel! I cannot bear for her to think ill of me. Would you dance with her and tell her of me?"
"You will have to dance with others as well, several of the ladies here are uncommonly pretty. There must be someone to meet your fastidious standards. But you must dance! If not they will think the whole party hateful and arrogant. Please, Darcy?"
Charlotte had to hide a chuckle at Bingley's pleading look.
"Very well, but only because I do not wish to offend your neighbours."
"I knew you would have compassion for me"
"You realize my main motivation is so we will have engagements to attend as often as possible and I may be away from your sisters?"
Bingley laughed and Darcy smiled. Bingley looked over Darcy's shoulder, finally noticing Charlotte just as her father and brother arrived.
"Ah, Miss Lucas. You have returned with your father and your brother I see."
"I thought they might assist you. I took the liberty to call your carriage."
"Thank you." With one man clutching each arm, Bingley managed to leave the ballroom. Charlotte was left to stand with Darcy.
"Do you dance, Mr. Darcy?"
He chuckled while shaking his head. "I do tonight. I cannot tell you how many times Bingley has dragged me to a ball and stayed the whole night. I have often wished he sprained his ankle in the first set so we might leave early and now I am to be his image in the neighbourhood in his absence!"
He took a deep breath. "I would be most pleased to finish Bingley's set with you, Miss Lucas."
Charlotte smiled as an idea formed in her mind and happily accepted.
After some silence Charlotte decided to assist matters. "Your friend had asked for an introduction to the eldest Miss Bennet."
"Ah, yes. His angel." He rolled his eyes.
"Do I understand you wish to meet more partners?"
Letting out an exasperated sigh, Darcy agreed. "I do tonight."
"Forgive me, but I could not help but hear you have fastidious standards. Which do you prefer, blonde or brunette? Tall like you or short?"
Darcy looked at her in a touch of disgust until he saw her sly smile.
"Truthfully, beauty matters little, especially in a ballroom. I dislike dancing and I cannot recommend myself to strangers. My standards are only pleasant conversation." He looked at her shrewdly, "Might you have any friends that are as witty and clever as you?"
"I do, indeed. One enjoys teasing very much as well." Darcy frowned a little and Charlotte added. "But I will tell you some stories that you may use to your advantage and I assure you she is quite pretty."
"Which do you mean?"
Charlotte waited for them to pass by her friends. "Mr. Bingley's angel is in blue but my clever friend is in green."
The rest of the set passed in pleasant conversation, although Darcy frequently seemed distracted as they passed a certain lady, and when they finished Charlotte introduced him to two of the Bennet sisters.
"Mr. Darcy this is the eldest Miss Bennet and here is my good friend Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Charlotte was pleased to see Darcy give Elizabeth a genuine smile as Jane's partner came to collect her for the next dance. "If you are not otherwise engaged for the next set, might I have the honour, Miss Elizabeth?"
After her friend's acceptance, Darcy began to lead her to the dance floor. She was happy to overhear him say, with an obvious smile on his face, "I have been wondering if you knew of any fine trees to climb..."
Six weeks later
Charlotte and Elizabeth stood in an alcove at the ball at Netherfield, held in honour of the engagements of the eldest two Miss Bennets to the single Netherfield gentlemen.
"Charlotte, you never did tell me what made you think Darcy would enjoy a dance with me."
"Oh, it was when he confessed to desiring Bingley to sprain his ankle in the first set on every other occasion. I could only think how much it sounded like something your father would say and I know you enjoy his wit."
"What a strange friend you are! I really should be more vexed that you have no compassion for me and will spill the secrets of my childhood exploits to just any stranger who happens upon you!"
Elizabeth and Charlotte laughed before hugging. Darcy and an officer approached. "My dear friend Miss Charlotte Lucas, allow me to introduce my cousin Colonel Jonathan Fitzwilliam."
After the usual civilities the two moved to the dance floor. Darcy and Elizabeth overheard the Colonel say, "I regret that I am not a naval captain, Miss Lucas, for I have heard you are infinitely fond of them..."
Charlotte shot a withering glare at Elizabeth as the Colonel laughed and tugged her hand.
"An excellent idea, my love," Darcy said to Elizabeth.
"Well, now it is her turn to be teased!"The End