Posted on 2014-08-28
There were few things in Meryton so exciting as the arrival of newcomers into the neighborhood, and the introduction of Mr. Bingley--at an assembly, no less!--would no doubt be much discussed for weeks, nay, months to come. So handsome and affable was he that he was even forgiven for bringing only a small party and not the promised twelve ladies and seven gentlemen. A single young man in possession of a good fortune would have been marked in the annals of a small town in any case, but his set with Miss Charlotte Lucas quite sealed his fate in the stories and fables of Hertfordshire.
In the custom of proper country dances, his second dance with Miss Lucas was a lively reel. Seeing his amiability and charm, half of Meryton was quite in love with him already, despite his sisters' and friend's considerable pride, but such was not sufficient to protect him from a younger Mr. Goulding's sense of direction, or rather, lack thereof.
The Mr. Goulding in question was dancing with Miss Maria Lucas, who preferred not to be remembered in the telling of this event. It was certainly not her fault that Mr. Goulding went astray while he was supposed to be weaving amongst the men on that side of the dance. He first collided with Mr. Thomson, who was kind about it but was quickly lost in the dance himself. Mr. Thomson tripped into Mr. John Lucas, while Mr. Goulding had the misfortune of standing where Mr. Heyworth was supposed to be. Mr. Heyworth gave rather a great shout which startled the otherwise orderly ladies in the other line. Meanwhile, Mr. John Lucas jumped out of Mr. Thomson's way and promptly collided with Mr. Bingley. At the top of the set, Mr. Bingley had no choice but to fall into the band of musicians.
Then several things happened all at once.
The musicians, greatly affronted, ceased their playing and the dancing ground to a halt. (Some said it was for the best, for the flute was badly flat.)
A great deal of exclamation from the gentlemen determined that Mr. John Lucas was at fault. (Later reports acquitted him of the grievous sin.)
Mr. Bingley was extricated from the musicians. (His ankle was, as many a mamma repeated, irreparably sprained.)
Miss Elizabeth Bennet bit her lips to keep from laughing. (Miss Bennet scolded her.)
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy gave a suspicious cough. (He had seen that Miss Elizabeth shared his desire to laugh at his friend's predicament.)
Then Sir William Lucas, in his genial way, cleared away the onlookers, set the dancers to rights, got Mr. Bingley to a chair, and cheered the musicians into accord, though actual harmony was a long way off, and the dance was begun again, sans one pair.
Nothing so exciting had happened in Meryton in a long time, and an evening which would have been much talked of anyway was immortalized.
Mr. Bingley's ankle was not so fragile as to put him out of commission for an entire evening; indeed, he was well enough to dance the last two sets, though more sedate dances were requested in deference to him. He spent the interim in a chair, with his friend Darcy standing beside him.
"There is nothing worse than not dancing at a dance!" he cried. "Why are you not dancing, Darcy? I must sit around in this stupid way, but I would not keep you here on my account."
"You know perfectly well, Bingley," Darcy replied, curbing what he might otherwise have said out of deference to his friend's low spirits.
"I mean to dance with Miss Bennet as soon as my ankle is better," Bingley said. "Is she not the most beautiful creature?"
"She may be the only handsome woman in the room."
"What utter nonsense, Darcy. Did you not look at her sister?"
"The dark-haired one. Miss Elizabeth, I think."
Bingley gestured to the young lady, who was sitting out the set on the other side of the room. Darcy remembered the brightness in her eyes as Bingley was removed from the floor. She knew better than to laugh aloud but felt the desire to do so, regardless of whatever the proper thing to do was. Darcy saw nothing of interest when coming into this assembly, but perhaps he might come out of it better off than he imagined.
Sir William Lucas came to them at that moment to see if Bingley needed anything. "I shall be right again before too much longer," he replied, "but I should like to see my friend here dancing."
Darcy scowled at Bingley, but the damage was done. "Capital!" said Sir William. "I should be happy to introduce you to any young lady in our midst."
On another day, he might have stalked away, but the pretty young woman with the dark, laughing eyes compelled him.
Elizabeth was as shocked as anyone would be when the tall, handsome gentleman, who had disgusted them all so thoroughly with his manner, approached her with Sir William for an introduction. Mr. Darcy then asked for the honor of a dance, and, mystified, Elizabeth accepted.
They performed the first figure in silence.
"I believe we ought to have some conversation, Mr. Darcy."
He seemed startled to be addressed. "I beg your pardon," he said with a nod.
He said nothing else, however, and Elizabeth was approaching exasperation. Why did he ask her to dance if he would only be silent? "Is your friend badly hurt?" she asked, hoping to provoke him into speech.
To her surprise, he smiled slightly. "Bingley will be up and about in a few minutes, I imagine. I believe he was more startled than hurt."
"There must be little sillier than coming to a dance and not dancing," she said with a pointed look, for until asking her he had danced with only the two ladies in his party.
"There I cannot agree. Netherfield has a library with hardly a book to its name."
Their hands met for a heartbeat and Elizabeth laughed. Mr. Darcy gave her a genuine smile then. "I believe you wanted to laugh when my friend fell," he said lowly, when next he had an opportunity.
She felt herself blush, but owned the truth. "I do not know if you saw them, but it was more disorderly than any dancing lesson of my youth," she confided. "Poor Mr. Bingley! It was absurd, and I dearly love to laugh."
They passed the rest of the dance in convivial conversation, and when they bowed to each other at the last, Elizabeth was convinced she had formed a great friendship.
Mr. Bingley was, by the next set, recovered enough to stand up with Jane, who was all blushes and smiles. Elizabeth was happy to see her so admired by all the company, especially this newcomer, but another shock awaited her, for when the last set was announced, she found herself standing up once more with Mr. Darcy.
Darcy, for his part, was happy to have found someone in this country who promised to be an excellent acquaintance.
It surprised no one that, three months later, the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bingley was being celebrated, nor that the groom's closest friend and the bride's favorite sister stood up with them. Mr. Darcy had stayed in Hertfordshire only a month, for he had family obligations and business on his estate. The morning of the wedding was the first time Elizabeth had seen him since the ball at Netherfield, though she was often in the way of news from him, via his friend who was now her brother.
A great deal had happened since then. Mr. Collins had made his offer of marriage and, naturally, been refused. The odious Mr. Wickham had not returned after the Netherfield ball though he had promised so faithfully. Lydia was convinced Mr. Darcy had run him off and Elizabeth was not entirely in disagreement, but she did not think it was such an evil.
Mr. Darcy approached her at the wedding breakfast, and they sought seclusion near a drafty window which no one else would want to be near on such a blustery day. "I trust you are well, Miss Bennet?" he asked.
"Yes, I thank you," Elizabeth replied, but added, because he was her friend and deserved her honesty, "but a little melancholy."
He smiled at her fondly. "I can well imagine. I feel rather like I have lost a dear friend myself."
"I believe I have the advantage over you there. Jane will only be three miles away."
"And I shall be reliant on Bingley as a correspondent."
"Is his penmanship truly so bad as reported?"
"I was fortunate to ascertain the correct date for today's ceremony."
Elizabeth laughed, wondering not for the first time why this gentleman insisted on hiding his sense of humor so much of the time.
He spoke for a while on more mundane subjects, goings-on in Parliament and affairs of business at home. Then he turned a question to her. "I thought I understood from Mrs. Bingley that you are to travel with them in a few months."
"In part, yes. I am to travel with my aunt and uncle Gardiner. My brother and sister will be in the north as well, and will join us as we tour the Lakes."
"Have you seen the Lakes before?"
"No, I have never been to the north at all."
"It is beautiful country. I am sure you will delight in it." He got a look on his face which Elizabeth could not decipher, though she spent many hours that night making an attempt. "With your permission, I will extend an invitation to you all to come to Pemberley. Indeed, you must stay a few days there."
Though the offer astonished her, Elizabeth could hardly refuse him.
That moment during the Bingleys' wedding breakfast was often on Darcy's mind, whether he was in London or Derbyshire, during the weeks that followed. When he parted from Miss Bennet's company and returned to London, he wondered when during the autumn he had fallen in love with her.
He was ready and waiting when Elizabeth arrived at Pemberley with her family. Elizabeth was half in love with Pemberley before she alighted from the carriage, and Darcy smiled.
It startled no one when, five days later, Mr. Darcy applied to Mr. Gardiner for his consent, in the absence of Elizabeth's father. That he did so while Elizabeth was being helped up the stairs with a twisted ankle did come as a surprise.
They had been alone in Pemberley's library--which had precisely the number of books a library ought to have--and Elizabeth stood on the lowest rung of one of the ladders. Darcy stood next to her, and they discovered that this position made Elizabeth nearly as tall as him. Not that either of them was thinking in such terms as they leaned closer for a kiss.
Elizabeth lost her balance before she could have her first kiss and instead twisted her ankle. Darcy took this as a sign from on high that he ought to do things properly, and steal kisses only after gaining at least her uncle's consent.
Elizabeth's injury necessitated their staying at Pemberley two days longer than planned, however. The delay was put to good use, for as soon as Elizabeth's ankle was better, she and her betrothed secretly returned to the library, to make use of the ladder once more.
This time they were much more successful.
In later years, when asked the origin of their felicity in marriage, the Darcys would only own the great usefulness of a sprained ankle, whether from a tumble in an assembly room or in the great library of Pemberley.The End