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Ignorance and Irony - Chapter 3 (Part 2)

April 20, 2017 06:48PM
Chapter 3 (Part 2) – New Suitors

Longbourn, November 24th, 1811

“I was hoping to see you this morning!” Mr. Bennet said as Elizabeth quietly let herself into his study early a few days before the Netherfield Ball.

“Really?”

“Yes. I need you to review these accounts. I have informed Mr. Collins that as the future heir to Longbourn, he should take advantage of the situation and accompany me on some estate business this morning. I was hoping to have the books done today. Unfortunately, I will not have time to complete them before dinner,” he responded with a twinkle in his eye.

Elizabeth was not long in catching on and asked, “then you do not mind if I complete a letter to grandfather while in here do you?’

“Absolutely not! I know that Mary and Kitty are to work on Mary’s dress for the Bingley Ball today. Jane was planning on visiting some tenants and then Charlotte. I believe you will be quite alone my dear. You might also wish to read this section of his latest letter to me.”

Alone. The thought was very pleasing to Elizabeth. A few minutes later, Elizabeth did indeed find her own solitude in her Uncle’s study. After opening the accounts, Elizabeth realized that her Uncle had already completed them and that there were no mistakes. Elizabeth shook her head at his obvious design. I will have to thank him later for this gift, she thought.

Elizabeth quickly found the passage her Uncle had notated for her, and read with a smile.

Thomas, a report of an alarming nature has reached me: you are taking sport with my granddaughter and actually allowing Lady Catherine’s odious parson to unofficially court her? I can understand and even appreciate the situation you are in: your wife is probably making more of his interest than there is; however, if the man is as…persuadable as Lady Catherine’s past parsons, I would put an end to the inclination immediately. I assure you: unless Elizabeth falls deeply in love with someone of his low character, I would not let her marry him. She would have to prove her love for such a creature by marrying him in secret. Do you really want Elizabeth to marry this toad in secret?
In all serious however, I have written to Lizzy about the match and informed her she will not be made to marry the man. It can do neither party any good by allowing his attentions to continue where there is so obvious a difference of temperament. I am sure, if you allow Lizzy to read this letter, she can come up with alternate situations for you to make sport of. Pray, allow her the dignity of NOT having to refuse the man.

Elizabeth smiled as she read her grandfather’s words. She held her own latest letter in her hand and smiled in reflection of her grandfather’s own words to her regarding the ill-suited match. It is good to know someone supports me, she thought wryly as she pulled out a fresh page for her own letter to the Duke.

Longbourn, Hertfordshire
November 24, 1811

Grandfather,

I wish I could say that my life here in Hertfordshire was as busy as yours at Matlock. I thought shooting parties were not supposed to be very interesting to anyone other than the men? I cannot wait until I meet Bea and Eddy, they have always seemed like stimulating friends. Did the countess really invite single women to a shooting party? I thought her eldest son was married? I know she has a younger son in the military, but was unaware that he was on leave.

I cannot image however, that he would need help finding a wife. Why is Bea so worried he will not find someone? Certainly there are ladies of large fortune, myself not included, who wish to marry a second son.

I will admit to missing you more than a little. However, there is so much is happening here with my cousins, I am pleased to be here and am kept from thinking of you as often as I would like. Is it wrong that I wish you were here to witness their happiness as well? I know you feel the same; I know you wish that I was with you, at Matlock, meeting your friends finally. I have heard so many stories about them these past years, I already feel as if I do know them.

My life seems like a never ending dance to a confusing and unknown tune playing. Between unsuccessfully avoiding Mr. Collins, I have watched Jane start to fall in love, Mary actually falling in love, and now Kitty finding a love interest of her own. As I watch my cousins make changes in their lives for the better, I find myself at a loss.

I look at Longbourn but no longer feel at home here. After returning from Heythrop, I find that even Meryton seems changed, somehow. The logical part of me explains these feelings away with arguments like the fact that they renovated some of the shops in town, that’s why they feel foreign. There is a new tenant at Netherfield, who actually has started to update the old building that is why it feels different there. There is an encampment of soldiers, something that has not happened in your lifetime, staying outside of Meryton.

The emotional and human side of my character asks, “Then why do the people feel different?” Mrs. Bennet is still as much a loud matchmaker as she always has been. Mrs. Philips, Mrs. Long, and Mrs. Goulding are still the matriarchs of the gossip tree. Lydia is as loud as always, while Jane is just as sweet. Maybe I am simply being too philosophical.

I cannot say that all the people are the same. After all, there is a new tenant and an entire camp of soldiers near. In fact, while in Meryton, we met a new person: Lt. Wickham is what he is to be called. He has recently joined the regiment camped here in Hertfordshire. After his recent dealings with his former childhood friend, I am sure he will be quite content with his newest lifestyle. Indeed, I believe he will be a welcome addition to our society.

As Elizabeth started to write about Mr. Wickham, she could not help but remember her feelings from the night before. There simply was something not quite right about his manner. I am probably reading too much into it though. Instead of including her suspicions, she instead changed the subject.

The encampment has brought more than liveliness into our mix, but also a young lieutenant by the name of Sanderson. I mentioned earlier that Kitty has a possible suitor of her own. You will remember those drawing supplies you recently sent for Kitty? They helped introduce her to a very spirited and I believe honorable young Lieutenant by the name of Sanderson. Feel free to be as inquisitive as you regarding his circumstances.

Thankfully, Mrs. Bennet is still concentrating her energies on her eldest daughter and Mary’s courtship that she hasn’t realized Kitty’s interest is more than infatuation with red coats. Watching Kitty grow into young women, with her own fears and learning to overcome them has been wonderful to watch. She hasn’t had the chance to tell me much of her soldier, but that will come in time.

It is nearly the middle of November; this year is almost over. I feel it racing by. I understand from a recent letter from Mrs. Gardiner that since they will be joining us for Christmas, you were thinking of returning to Heythrop? If this is true, I would ask that you join us here. I have spoken with Uncle, and he approves. It is only up to you to decide. I thought it would ensure a calmer way of introducing you to the Bennet family. I understand that keeping your title quiet will be difficult; however, the Gardiners are only to be here for two weeks themselves. It might be convenient if you came with them.

Please write to let me know. I find that the longer I am away from you, the more I miss you.

Elizabeth Bennet

As soon as she signed the letter, she gave it to Hill to be mailed. The rest of the morning, she curled up in a chair near a window and read. For the first time in a week, Elizabeth finally was able to relax.

That afternoon, Elizabeth Bennet was not pleased. After a successful, quiet morning, she had decided to venture outdoors for a short walk. She asked if Kitty and Mary would like to join her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bennet heard the request and told Lizzy she could wait until Mr. Collins returned with Mr. Bennet. “It would be far better for all concerned if you spent more time with him, Miss Lizzy!”

“Aunt, I do not wish to –”

“Lizzy! You will wait for Mr. Collins!”

“Aunt – ”

“Indeed. It was good that you were productive rather than go visit the officers with Lydia. Do not think I did not see you monopolize Lt. Wickham last evening. He is not for you – you are to marry Mr. Collins,” she stated.

Frowning at her aunt’s plan, Lizzy stated, “Aunt, I could not possible marry Mr. Collins! My grandfather – ”

“Your grandfather will understand that this will ensure all of our family will be saved.”

“Aunt, he –”

“No more Lizzy! You will wait for Mr. Collins.” Then with a calculated gleam in her eye, she continued, “Lydia would do well for Lt. Wickham. He needs a livelier girl anyway.” Before Lizzy, Kitty, or Mary could respond, Mrs. Bennet started screaming for Hill to speak with her about dinner.

A silence descended upon the room. Lizzy started to gather her cloak and scarf and return them to the closet.

“You are welcome to join Mary and me, Lizzy,” offered Kitty.

Sighing, Lizzy said, “Alright. Show me the dress.” Kitty proudly led the way to the table where all manner of sewing notions were thrown about in an unorganized manner.

Lizzy could only laugh at the mess. It was Mary who interrupted Lizzy by holding up her gown, “Well. What do you think? It has a lot of pins in it for the added touches; Kitty assures me she’ll have it completed for the ball.”

“Yes, I shall! I will even have my dress completed!”

“Yours Kitty?”

Kitty turned to Lizzy excitedly and said, “Oh yes! Jane saw what we were planning on doing and offered to let me choose one of her older dresses. I am not her size by any means, but I have been taking the dress in. I chose a lovely light gold one she wore years ago. It is terribly out of fashion, but then, I can make something of it!”

“It is a light cream with gold thin strips?”

“Yes!” replied an animated Kitty.

Elizabeth, wide-eyed, asked quietly, “She does know which one you chose. She has seen it?”

Cautious at possibly having done something wrong, she responded, “Why yes, Lizzy, she pulled it out of the closet herself and offered it to me.” Kitty nervously asked, “Why Lizzy? Did I do something wrong?”

Jane offered it?”

At this point Mary interrupted, “Yes, Lizzy she did. Kitty had just commented about feeling nervous about dancing with Lt. Sanderson who asked her for her first dance and supper dance.”

Lizzy looked at Kitty who was blushing like a ripe cherry; she smiled and said, “Ah! Now I understand!”

Kitty still looked very confused but it was Mary who asked, “Is there something special about that dress, Lizzy?”

“Do you two remember when Jane went to London and spent time with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner when she first came out?” She continued when she saw both girls nod, “Well, Madeline wanted Jane to have something special to remember her first time out in society and took her to a play. She had a new dress ordered out of the softest creamiest fabric they could find. Jane has always claimed she felt like a lady for the first time in that dress, not a little girl. She probably gave you the dress Kitty, so that could also have that same confidence.”

Kitty was hesitant when she said, “If it is her first society dress, why did she give it to me?”

“Because you needed it more, sister,” came a voice from the entrance to the parlor, “I would not have you nervous at the ball.”

“But it’s your dress –”

“Not anymore.”

“Ah, cousins! Here you are!” came another voice from the hallway. Mr. Collins came running into the parlor and looked in horror at the table. He exclaimed, “What on earth –”

“My cousins were preparing older dresses for Mary and Kitty for the ball Mr. Collins, they have not been worn in a while. The dresses are still in excellent condition; my cousins are doing the responsible thing and remaking them. The mess will not be there later, I assure you.” Elizabeth stated calmly.

“Yes, yes, of course!” he stammered, then turned with a serious mien to Elizabeth and asked, “Speaking of the ball, Mr. Bingley has seen fit to include myself in that invitation. I wish to take this moment to solicit your first two dances Miss Elizabeth.”

“Of course she will dance with you, Mr. Collins!” cried Mrs. Bennet as she entered the parlor.

Lizzy could not take much more; she made a feeble excuse and went to her room. As she climbed the stairs she thought, I feel like I have to hide out and am a prisoner with him here. Oh please, let the remainder of his visit go by quickly.

Mr. Collins’ visit did not go peacefully by. Every day, Lizzy tried to avoid him. Every day, Mrs. Bennet would find her and make her spend time with him. It got so bad, that Lizzy felt she needed to speak with her Uncle about it. However, the harvest had been completed and her Uncle was very busy preparing the estate for winter and taking care of an alarming number of tenant problems. Lizzy for the first time felt alone at Longbourn.

She spent much time in the company of her cousins Mary, Kitty, and sometimes Jane. However, since Jane’s illness, she had been invited multiple times to visit with the Bingley sisters. Elizabeth herself had been invited twice to tea by Louisa, but she had been simply too busy to go. Jane and Lizzy spoke often about close Jane felt she was becoming to Caroline and Louisa. The Bingley sisters had even included her in some of their plans for the ball and Jane was ecstatic.

Elizabeth was pleased for Jane but missed her terribly. The only time she seemed to ever get to see Jane was in the evening when they would meet together in one of their rooms. However, for the past week, Mary and Kitty had joined them as well. Lizzy almost felt like an outcast. She wished both Mary and Kitty well and happy and was pleased that it looked as if they were.

She was conflicted; I am quite pleased with my relationship with Mary and Kitty. I do not believe it will ever be what Jane and I have, but I can honestly say they are friends now. However, I feel something changing with Jane and my relationship. I cannot put my finger on it, but I do so hate avoiding topics with her.

The night before the Bingley ball, when everyone was preparing for bed, Elizabeth stood in front of her window looking out at the darkness. She was thinking about all the changes that had already happened, and considering what would be happening next. She was startled out of her reverie when she heard the door open. As she turned around, she saw Jane standing in the doorway. “I know I have not seen you much.” Jane stated.

“I’m sorry if I am neglecting you.”

“You aren’t!” exclaimed Lizzy, “I do miss you, but you are right where you need to be, dear one! I am only feeling a little depressed today. It is as you say; I have not been outdoors much recently.”

“Is that due to the weather or to Mother’s insistence on your companion?”

“A little of both, I guess.”

Jane started, “I wanted to tell you how pleased I am about the friendship you are creating with Mary and Kitty. It is heartening to see you so open with them. They are blooming because of you.”

With a shrug, Lizzy said, “No, they are blooming because of themselves. I have very little to do with it.” Seeing that Jane was going to persist she asked, “How was your brunch with the Bingley sisters? I noticed you returned before it started pouring.”

Laughing slightly, Jane responded, clearly diverted, “It was wonderful. Mr. Bingley was there for part of it. However, Louisa offered to have the maids prepare my room since she did not want me to leave. She asked after you.”

“Who? Louisa?”

“Yes. I told her you are well. She was concerned.” Jane hesitated before she added, “I think she feels you are avoiding her.”

Lizzy shrugged in response. When she looked at Jane, she realized she needed to give her some type of response and so said, “I am sorry for it. I will make a point to speak with her tomorrow evening. I cannot help her invitations arrived after I had already made plans. I do like Louisa.” She then smiled widely, “Now, I have not had a chance to talk to you since Aunt took you into Meryton this week for your ball gown. May I see it?”

“It isn’t finished as of yet. However, the seamstress promised that it would be ready tomorrow morning.”

“Then describe it to me!” A few minutes after they started discussing the ball, Mary and Kitty came into the room and Elizabeth spent the rest of the evening smiling from ear to ear. Her cousins had much to say about their day.



The Netherfield Ball, November 27th, 1811

The evening of the Bingley Ball was clear and bright and without a cloud in the sky. For Lizzy’s part she was glad for it: Jane deserved a magical night and there was no doubt in her mind that Mr. Bingley was throwing it for her dearest cousin. Mr. Bennet had decided he needed to attend this ball and therefore the ladies split up: Mrs. Bennet, Jane, Lydia, and Mr. Collins leaving first and the carriage would return for Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, Mary, and Kitty. As the ladies waited in the drawing room for the carriage to return, Elizabeth realized her cousins looked extremely nervous.

“Mary! Kitty! I have not had a chance to compliment your dresses. They are not only appropriate but very beautiful on each of you. Kitty, you have excellent taste! Maybe I will have you choose my next dresses!” Elizabeth smiled as she said it.

Kitty blushed at the praise and nervously asked, “My dress isn’t…too dull is it?”

Elizabeth looked at her as she stood for inspection. The cream color dress was brightened with the little gold lines running vertically up the dress. Kitty, instead of choosing to adorn it with layers of lace, only used lace at the top for her sleeves and an overlay for the torso. With a high waist that fell straight to the floor, she was simply stunning. Elizabeth drew closer as she inspected the little multi-colored florets she had used to trim the bottom area. Lizzy cried, “Why, Kitty! You made a rose garden on the bottom of your dress!”

Kitty blushed again and said, “Yes. I thought a little color would be needed.” Then laughing she turned to Mary, “I had wanted to do it to your dress but thought you might not like it.”

Mary smiled and shook her head, “I love it! I do love what you have done to my dress though. I never thought I would wear a dress with lace on it.”

Elizabeth took a longer look at Mary’s dress. It was a deep green, and somehow Kitty had managed to find a thin fabric of the same green that almost looked like lace as an overlay for the dress. The effect was simple yet very elegant. Kitty had even found a green ribbon of the exact shade of the dress and had convinced Mary to wear it in her hair.

“Mary, you are simply lovely.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth.”


Kitty asked, “Lizzy, have not I seen this dress before?’

Lizzy replied, “Probably, I have not worn it since we attended the ball held last year at the Morgan’s estate.”

Kitty came closer, “Did you do something to it, Lizzy?”

Lizzy just smiled and said, “No. I had only worn it once and decided it would be just fine for tonight.”

“Well, you look as beautiful as always.”

“Thank you Kitty.”

The ladies heard the carriage pulling back up and Elizabeth went to get her Uncle, who was in the study. “Ready are we, Lizzy?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“You do not look excited.”

Lizzy simply replied, “I am!”

“Looking forward to dancing with a certain Lt. Wickham?”

Lizzy spun quickly and asked, “Why would you think that?”

Mr. Bennet just laughed and said, “I may be old but I am not deaf! Lydia informed you twice this week during meals that you are not to keep him to yourself. I can only imagine that means you are quite taken with him.”

Suspicious, she asked, “He isn’t the reason you are attending tonight?” Elizabeth could not deny she was looking forward to dancing with the gentlemen. However, the past weeks, he had started paying more and more attention to other young ladies with known dowries; there was something about that pecuniary action that went against the character he was portraying. Something is not right with Mr. Wickham. I simply cannot put my finger on it. I can understand why he would need to focus on marrying into money, but why does that bother me? Is it because I have money? How would he react if he knew of my own inheritance? It is completely understandable that he is looking to marry for monetary reasons given what Mr. Darcy has done to him.

Elizabeth had been torn. She understood her attraction to Mr. Wickham. She also completely understood that she could never fall in love with a man who had the ability to solely look at a women for what she will bring fiscally into the marriage. Maybe that is why I am at ease. He needs to marry well, and had no doubt that, like other men in the area and army, if he knew about her inheritance he would be right back at her side, she thought. Because she did not know how she felt about the man, she hadn’t written anymore to her grandfather about him, not wanting to worry him over the new Lieutenant’s actions.

However, another part of her continually attempted to compare Mr. Wickham with Mr. Darcy. Each time her head and her heart studied the relationship between the two, Elizabeth could not help but feel as if she was missing something; she felt as if a large piece of the enigma that was Mr. Darcy was just out of her reach. He is kind and compassionate to his friends but everyone else is not worth his notice. Shaking her thoughts and confusion away she thought, No, there is only enough goodness for one and I believe it belongs to Mr. Wickham.

“Partly,” her Uncle answered shaking the rest of Elizabeth thoughts away.

Elizabeth cried out when she realized what he was referring to, “Uncle! I assure you-”

“Now, now! Do not be miss-ish my dear. I have to give an account to your grandfather. I simply realized that I have never actually met this Mr. Wickham. From some conversations I have overheard you speak with Jane about him, I am not quite certain your grandfather would approve.”

“Uncle!” Elizabeth cried. She realized the only real conversation she held with Jane was regarding what Mr. Darcy did to Mr. Wickham. She could not fathom why that would make her Uncle wary of the man. “He is a good man, I assure-”

“Now, my dear, let it rest, stop trying to make assurances you cannot guarantee,” Mr. Bennet said as he gathered his gloves for the evening. He added as he offered his arm to his niece, “Also, I have a burning desire to see Mr. Collin’s dancing ability and since he is to dance with each of you ladies, I believe I will have a very humorous evening. I hope you will enjoy yourself this evening, I promise I will not be in the way”

She rolled her eyes and he escorted her out the door to the waiting carriage where her cousins had already entered, she said almost to herself, “No. Mr. Collins seems to have reserved that for himself.”

The carriage ride turned out to be a quiet one. Mary was anticipating meeting the Reverend that evening. They had found that their schedules the past week did not allow them much time together. Kitty was nervous about dancing with Sanderson. Mr. Bennet was lost in his thoughts and concerns about Mr. Wickham, and Lizzy was thinking about how nice it would be to dance with Wickham; she found as she thought of the handsome man, her thoughts once again turned to Mr. Darcy and his treatment of the man. I only hope Mr. Darcy does not scare him off.

As they pulled up and were handed out of the carriage, Lizzy looked up and saw that Netherfield was aglow.

“Well, into the breach, I daresay!” stated Mr. Bennet.

“Uncle!”

“Father!”

The four entered Netherfield amid laughter and smiles. As they made their way past the receiving line and into the crowded ball room, Mr. Bennet left to find a quiet corner to observe the proceedings as the ladies were approached by Miss Lucas.

“Mary! Kitty! Lizzy!” cried Charlotte. “You all look beautiful tonight!” she said as she approached with the Reverend Forsythe. “The Reverend and I have been waiting anxiously for you! Mary, he was quite concerned when you did not arrive with your mother and sisters.”

The Reverend blushed deeply as he amended the statement, “I was not concerned; I simply asked if you had seen her.”

Mary sought to dispel his discomfort and said, “Reverend, that is quite alright. It is nice to be missed. How is your family? You mentioned earlier that you had finally received a letter from your brother?”

As Mary, Charlotte, and Forsythe continued speaking, Kitty grabbed Lizzy’s arm and excused them from the rest. As they walked away Kitty whispered loudly, “Now to find my suitor!”

“And just who would that be, Miss Kitty?” asked a deep voice from behind the ladies.

The ladies turned around to see Lt. Sanderson smiling behind them. Kitty did not even try to hide her smile as she said, “Lieutenant, I am pleased you were able to come! To arrive so early? You must be waiting for someone!”

Sanderson bowed deeply to the ladies and turned toward Elizabeth and said, “Miss Elizabeth, a friend wished me to pass a message to you, Miss Elizabeth.” He then turned to Kitty and added, “I arrived early to ensure my two dances on your card were safe.”

Kitty openly blushed and smiled as she continued the flirtation, “Why Sanderson, how can you be sure my dance card is not already full? We have been here for a while now!”

Laughing out loud, Sanderson replied, “I watched you and your cousin come in only a few moments ago. Unless it was filled before you arrived, I suspect my dances are safe.”

“Then I wonder at you being worried so!”

“Lieutenant, you said you had a message for me?” interrupted Elizabeth.

“Yes! I am sorry! Lt. Wickham will not be in attendance this evening and wished to convey his apologies. However, he felt it would not do for him to be here.” Sanderson stated as he looked to where Mr. Darcy was standing.

Disappointed, Lizzy replied, “Thank you for the message, Lieutenant. But I hear the music starting. I believe you and Kitty have the first dance…and my partner is…” she paused as she looked around, half hoping Mr. Collins had forgotten about their dance. Unfortunately, she spotted him pushing his way through the crowd toward her, “coming…oh dear.”

“Cousin Elizabeth! They are starting and I believe I have your first two dances,” squeaked Collins as he attempted a bow too low for him.

“Of course.”

Lizzy could be found for the next hour shouting over the roar of the crowd and music. With each direction, Mr. Collins got a little bit clumsier. It was with a grateful heart that she was finally released and taken back to where Mary had chosen to sit out with the Reverend.

It slightly amused Lizzy that both parties barely registered her and Mr. Collins’ presence. For a quarter hour, Lizzy was left to amuse her cousin by herself. She saw more than one gentleman from Meryton wander in their direction only to take sight of Mr. Collins and change course. She was sure her friends were not avoiding her but rather Mr. Collins’ very wholesome anecdotes about his patroness. When Charlotte ventured toward them, it did not take Lizzy very much to convince Mr. Collins to ask her for the next two dances. As they walked away, she reminded her cousin that he had also promised to dance with each of his other female cousins.

As she watched Mr. Collin’s lead Miss Lucas toward the dance floor, she saw Jane and Mr. Bingley speaking with each other on the other side. Her happiness for her cousin quickly disappeared when she noticed Mr. Darcy hovering just near enough to the couple that he was not intruding but far enough away to watch the couple speak. Odious man! Not only has he scared away Mr. Wickham, but now he is pretentious enough to interfere with Jane and Mr. Bingley! As she thought this, she felt Mr. Darcy’s eyes swing toward her. She made eye contact for less than a minute and resolved to avoid his company the remainder of the evening. This caused her ill-humor to increase when she realized that meant she would have to avoid Mr. Bingley and Jane as well. After all, unlike some, I do not wish to spoil their evening.

For the next hour, Lizzy wandered the room and greeted many of her friends. By the time Mr. Collins had returned Charlotte to her, Lizzy’s card was by no means full of dances but enough to make the remainder of her evening quite pleasant. As soon as Mr. Collins had professed how adequately Charlotte had danced and left to find Kitty, Elizabeth immediately started to speak with Charlotte of Mr. Wickham and his relationship to Darcy.

“I cannot believe it, Charlotte, the complete arrogance of Mr. Darcy! He has scared Mr. Wickham away this evening!”

Charlotte raised an eyebrow at Lizzy and asked, “Whatever do you mean, Lizzy? Why would Mr. Darcy scare him away?”

“Oh Charlotte! I have so much to acquaint you with, it has been a week since I have seen you last, and I have found out so much about Mr. Darcy!” Lizzy drew Charlotte further away from the dance floor and to a quiet area near a wall. “Mr. Wickham grew up with Mr. Darcy and was favorite of the latter’s father. When the previous Mr. Darcy passed away, he left a living for Mr. Wickham in a local parsonage. However, when the day came for Wickham to take over the living, the current Mr. Darcy denied it! He is the reason Mr. Wickham had to join the regiment!”

Laughing, Charlotte stated calmly, “This sounds like one of Mariah’s gothic novels. Surely, there is more to this tale. What has Mr. Darcy to say?”

“Ask Mr. Darcy?” exclaimed Lizzy, “Why on earth would I need to do that? Wickham gave me all the facts: people, dates, and places. I simply cannot believe that it is not true; why would he lie? Indeed, let Mr. Darcy’s actions prove the tale. His arrogance and conceited pride toward all around him prove that he is capable of the actions against Mr. Wickham.”

“I have no idea, but you know Mr. Darcy may turn out to be less at fault than Wickham has led you to believe. There are always three sides to every story: one for each party, and then the truth.” Charlotte said, “For myself, I do not find any extra pride in him. I find him rather reserved to be sure, but not any more prideful than one ought. I believe he has a great estate –”

“Yes, indeed!” Interrupted Lizzy, “And that gives him the right to look down his nose at everyone around?”

“Indeed not, but I do not believe we will agree on this matter, at least not tonight.” Charlotte said, clearly wishing to change topics. She had disagreed with Lizzy many times before and had not wished to repeat that experience at a ball. “I see Mr. Bingley continues to pay his attentions to Jane.”

Clearly diverted, Lizzy turned to watch Jane being led back to Mr. Bingley by her last dance partner, Mr. Collins. “Yes he does. Jane has been quite pleased by his attentions.”

“Good. However, she is not very open, even I, who have known her for years, cannot tell her preference. She should show more affection, if she wishes to secure him.”

“Secure him? Before she even knows if she likes him or could love him?”

Charlotte waved Lizzy’s comment off, “Love is entirely immaterial. While it would be acceptable for one to find one’s spouse pleasing, it is not necessary. Happiness in marriage is pure chance, if she waits to show more affection until she feels like it she runs the risk of losing him.”

“Charlotte, I am shocked! I had no idea that you felt that way!” Lizzy stated. She was growing increasingly alarmed by the minute, “Surely you would not act like that simply for a proposal? Would you have her choose to marry without love?”

Indicating the couple, “From what I see of Mr. Bingley, and what I know of Jane, I do not believe she will have to make that choice. He clearly is interested.”

As Lizzy looked back at the couple, she was not given any chance to think about Charlotte’s statements, because Charlotte interrupted her thoughts and said, “Indeed, it is not his actions alone that cause for a pause; Mr. Darcy looks at you a great deal, Lizzy.”

“Only to censure of course; my actions are not polished enough, I’m sure.”

“Polished or not, I believe he is coming over here and since he has hardly ever spoken to me, I can only guess it is to speak with you.” Charlotte stated as she motioned to the man moving toward them from behind Lizzy.

Before Lizzy could process what Charlotte had said, Mr. Darcy had reached them and unceremoniously asked, “Miss Bennet, if you are not otherwise engaged, would you please do me the honor of the next two dances?”

Lizzy sputtered, “I…I am not engaged…I thank you.” After she finished, just as quickly as he came, Mr. Darcy turned and walked away only to disappear into the crowd.

Angry, Lizzy turned to Charlotte and exclaimed, “Oh! Why could I not think of a reason to refuse! Hateful man! I had done so well at avoiding his unpleasant company tonight!”

Charlotte laughed lightly and said, “Lizzy! He paid you a great compliment. You will be the only lady who is not of his party he has ever danced with or ever offered to!”

Lizzy simple ignored her and let her frustration stew for a few more minutes. She did not want to dance with him, but now, after accepting his offer, she could hardly refuse it. As he approached and offered his arm to lead her to the dance floor, she had resigned herself to an unpleasant task.

The dance started out quite silent. Lizzy started to think that their silence would last through both dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment for Mr. Darcy to make small talk, she said, “It is quite beautiful, Mr. Bingley and Miss Bingley have thrown a wonderful ball.”

“Indeed.”

Lizzy was amused at his reticence to speak, and allowed the silence to continue for a few more minutes. Finally, she addressed him a second time and said, "It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."

"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?" he responded.

“It would look odd, do not you think, for a couple to be entirely silent while dancing. One must have a little conversation. Not much is needed; once we dispense with pleasantries on both sides, we would not be required to converse anymore.”

"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?"

Raising an eyebrow, Lizzy replied, “Both, I fear. Both of us display unsocial tendencies this evening.”

“That is not a faithful representation of your character, I am sure,” replied Mr. Darcy with a smirk. Again they became silent. To Mr. Darcy’s credit, when the second dance started up, he attempted to start another conversation, “How often do you and your cousins’ walk toward Meryton?”

“Quite often,” Lizzy said. With a sudden thought, she added, “When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.”

The effect was immediate: Mr. Darcy pulled himself up as straight and as tall as could be. Before he could not be described as relaxed, however, after her comment, his attitude became one of stone. He made no response to Lizzy’s statement.

Lizzy watched as his visage became cold and was surprised a short time later, after Darcy had composed himself, to hear him say, “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends; whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”

Taking advantage of his decision to continue the topic, she said, “He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life.”

Before Darcy could make an answer, Sir William Lucas approached them and to Mr. Darcy stated, “Mr. Darcy! It is not often that we see such superior dancing. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Lizzy”, glancing at Jane and Bingley he said, “Shall take place.” Just as quickly as he had come, Sir William wandered off.

To Darcy, Sir William’s statement struck him powerfully, in an instant his eyes searched out Bingley’s form and saw, once again, Jane was with him. His thoughts began to distract him. Lizzy, however, watched the entire scene unfold before her and what she saw, she did not like.
Darcy’s displeasure at seeing Jane with Bingley was clear. In an attempt to return them to the previous topic, she asked, “I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was permanent. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."

Darcy was still very much focused on Bingley and Jane, and said in a distracted voice, “I am.”

“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?” she continued.

“I hope not.”

“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be sure of judging properly at first.”

As she spoke, Darcy sharply turned his attention back to Lizzy, and asked, “May I ask to what these questions tend?”

“Merely to the illustration of your character,” Lizzy replied, “I am trying to make it out.”

“Have you been successful?”

Lizzy smiled as she shook her head, "No, I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."

The music had stopped by this time, and Mr. Darcy offered his arm to Lizzy. He returned her to where she and Charlotte had been speaking before he claimed the dances. When they stopped at the side of the room, he stated emphatically, “I can believe that there is more than one opinion of my character being discussed; however, I would wish, Miss Bennet, that you not attempt to sketch my character at this time. I believe the performance of such an action would not reflect kindly on either party.” Before she could respond, Darcy walked away.

Lizzy was extremely disappointed by the abruptness of the conversation. Before she was able to overcome her disappointment and regain her spirits she was approached by Miss Bingley who had watched the two for the past hour.

With a false sense of concern, Miss Bingley stated, “Miss Lizzy, I hear you are quite delighted with George Wickham! Your cousin has been talking to me about him, and asking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young man quite forgot to tell you, among his other communication, that he was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr. Darcy's steward!”

Lizzy started to respond but was rudely interrupted when Miss Bingley continued, “As a friend, let me warn you to not to trust Mr. Wickham. Most of his assertions concerning Mr. Darcy are false. George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner; and whereas I do not know the particulars, I do know that Mr. Darcy is not in the least to blame. Indeed, Darcy cannot bear to hear George Wickham mentioned!”

Seething, Lizzy asked, “I wonder at your brother inviting him to the ball then, if his dearest friend has been so abused by Mr. Wickham.”

“My brother thought that he could not avoid including him in his invitation to the officers, he was excessively glad when he found out that Mr. Wickham chose not to attend.” Miss Bingley continued to drip insincere sympathy, “I pity you, Miss Lizzy, for this discovery of your favorite’s guilt; but really, considering his descent, one could not expect much better."

"His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be the same," said Elizabeth angrily; "for I have heard you accuse him of nothing worse than being the son of Mr. Darcy's steward, and that he informed me of himself."

"I beg your pardon," replied Miss Bingley, turning away with a sneer. "Excuse my interference—it was kindly meant."

As she watched Miss Bingley walk away as abruptly as she came, Lizzy seethed inside. Insolent girl! You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this. I see nothing in it but your own ignorance and the malice of Mr. Darcy. For much of the evening, Lizzy removed herself from the main crowd of people; her attitude was not one of pleasantness. Thus, she was able to watch the other guests for the most part.

It was as Lizzy was quietly observing Charlotte on the dance floor that Jane found her. The guests had just returned to the ballroom from the dining room, where dinner had been served. She had calmed herself reasonably, when Jane greeted her and told her of her inquiries on the subject of Wickham and Darcy. Lizzy’s anger was quickly reignited as she listened to Jane.

“Dear Lizzy, I have not forgotten your request concerning Mr. Wickham. I have nothing satisfactory to tell you. Mr. Bingley does not know the whole of his history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances which have originally offended Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley did say he could vouch for his friend’s good conduct, and honor. Mr. Bingley is perfectly convinced that Mr. Wickham has received far more from Darcy than is his due. I am sorry to say that Mr. Wickham is not a respectable man. I am afraid he has been very imprudent, and has deserved to lose Mr. Darcy's regard." Jane said uncomfortably.

"Mr. Bingley does not know Mr. Wickham himself?" Lizzy queried.

Shaking her head, Jane replied in the negative, "No; he never saw him till the other morning in Meryton."

Lizzy let her anger vent and exclaimed, "Then it was Mr. Darcy who had given Mr. Bingley his information and can choose to say whatever he will. What does he say of the living?"

Jane seemed concerned by the conversation, but stated, "He does not exactly recollect the circumstances, though he has heard them from Mr. Darcy more than once, but he believes that it was left to him conditionally only."

"I have not a doubt Mr. Bingley believes his friend," said Elizabeth angrily; "but you must excuse my not being convinced by assurances only.I shall venture to still think of both gentlemen as I did before." Lizzy realized she was much angrier than Jane was comfortable with and chose to change the topic. A few minutes later they were joined by Mr. Bingley, who distracted Jane long enough for Lizzy to escape.

As Lizzy wandered the room she let her thoughts wander as well. Of course Jane would side with Mr. Bingley, who, of course chooses to believe every word that drips from Mr. Darcy’s mouth. When they get married, I hope they are strong enough to withstand his censure. I can honestly say, I have had better nights than this. I hate it when Jane is upset and I was certainly upsetting her with my opinion of Mr. Darcy. For a few moments she let her anger fester.

Her anger quickly turned to mortification as she witnessed Mr. Collins approach Mr. Darcy. She had wandered close to Mary and the Reverend, and overheard him say, “Dear cousin, I have just found out, that there is now in the room a near relation of my patroness. I was informed by our hostess that Mr. Darcy is the nephew of my esteemed patroness! Indeed, I believe he is the one engaged to my lady’s daughter, Miss Ann De Bourgh! I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trust he will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology.”

"You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!" exclaimed Mary.

"Indeed, I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine's nephew. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well two weeks ago when I left her."

“Mr. Collins, that is not acceptable in society. Please, allow me to accompany you so that I may make the introductions myself –”. Lizzy watched in horror as her cousin was left to follow after Mr. Collins. It was clear to Lizzy by the hand gestures of her cousin Mary and the actions of her cousin Mr. Collins that Mary had not made the introduction in time and that she was left to introduce Mr. Collins after he had made his speech to Mr. Darcy.

Lizzy was very aware of the look of mortification on her face, when Mr. Darcy, without commenting to either Mr. Collins or Mary, looked in her direction. When she met his gaze, she could see it was the same hard cold face he adopted when she asked him questions he did not like earlier, regarding Wickham. Meeting his gaze, Elizabeth thought, If he thinks he can intimidate my family and me, he could not be more wrong! She stared at him for a few minutes and watched as he broke her gaze to simply bow to her family. She was confused by his action. He bowed as if to acknowledge the introduction. She could tell he was speaking a few words to Mary and then something to Mr. Collins. She watched as he bowed again and walked away from the couple.

She moved closer to Mr. Collins and Mary and heard Mr. Collins say, "My dear Cousin Mary, I have no reason, I assure you," said he, "to be dissatisfied with my reception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. He answered me with the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that he was so well convinced of Lady Catherine's discernment as to be certain she could never bestow a favor unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him."

“Cousin Collins, indeed he was much more civil than the situation required! You should not have spoken to him until I had introduced you!” Mary carefully exclaimed, “Indeed, Collins, he could have cut you direct simply because you had not been introduced!”

Waving Mary off, Mr. Collins stated, “He is much too magnanimous for that!”

Lizzy watched as he walked off toward where Mariah Lucas was standing and watched as he spoke with her. From the look on Mariah face, he had asked her to dance. When Lizzy turned back to approach Mary about what had happened, she realized she had retreated to the Parson. Oh well! Let him administer to her emotions!

As she continued her wandering around, she saw that Mr. Darcy had retreated to an area with a direct view of Jane and Bingley and was observing them. She also saw Kitty and Mrs. Bennet not far from where he was. As she started making her way over to them, she overheard yet another conversation that caused her to blush for her family members.

She saw her aunt speaking quite loudly to Lady Lucas, “Oh my dear friend! I just know how it will be! Jane and Mr. Bingley will marry, for who cannot see just how well matched they are. Just think, once Jane becomes the Mistress of Netherfield, she will be able to throw her sisters into the path of other rich men! Just image: Kitty could be a countess one day!”

“Mama!” whispered Kitty as loudly as she could, “You should not say such things. Mr. Bingley hasn’t proposed to Jane, and Mr. Darcy can hear you!”

Mrs. Bennet, very vexed that her second youngest would speak to her so, exclaimed quite loudly, “What is Mr. Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him? I am sure we owe him no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing he may not like to hear."

"For heaven's sake, madam, speak lower. What advantage can it be for you to offend Mr. Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to his friend by so doing!" stated Kitty as quietly as she could over the loud noise of the nearby crowd.

At this point, Lizzy could hear no more of the conversation, but still she blushed with shame and vexation. She could not help frequently looking at Mr. Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded; for though he was not always looking at her mother, she was convinced that his attention was invariably fixed by her. The expression of his face changed gradually from indignant contempt to a composed and steady gravity.

Lizzy was so upset by the turn of events throughout the evening, that she sought a corner near Mrs. Long and rested the rest of the evening making small talk with Mrs. Long and her nieces. It was near the end of the evening, well after the Longs had departed, that Lizzy noticed Mr. Darcy approaching her. She realized she had been sitting in silent contemplation regarding the behavior of her family for quite some time. She dreaded his approach.

Fortune was in luck for Lizzy, however, before he reached her, she heard her aunt state quite loudly that it was time for them to leave. She immediately rose to retrieve her wrap and offered to leave in the first carriage. Since their leaving was maneuvered by Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth found herself waiting for their carriage to be brought around. She realized, too late, that this would allow Mrs. Bennet the chance to say her goodbyes to the Bingley party.

Miss Bingley scarcely opened her mouth, except to complain of fatigue, and was impatient to have the house emptied of her guests. She repulsed every attempt of Mrs. Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw stillness over the whole party.

It was Mr. Bennet who saw their carriage arrive and stated, “That will do extremely well, my dear. I daresay your nerves were able to stand an evening out quite well. Let us leave these poor people to themselves. You have given sufficient praise where it was deserved, all that is left is for your nerves to act up and start fluttering on you!”

“Why, my dear Mr. Bennet, it was a lovely evening and would have been more so if you had only stayed in the ballroom to dance with me!”

“Of course my dear!” he replied dryly as he handed his wife into the carriage. Lizzy followed after. She barely heard one word that Mrs. Bennet said on the ride home. She was quite pleased that the evening had finally ended. The last thought she had before she went to bed was of Jane, I hope Mr. Collins’ and Mrs. Bennet’s actions have not harmed her chances with Mr. Bingley. I can only pray that Mr. Darcy sees her goodness, for surely otherwise, he will not let his friend align himself with the folly of this family.
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Ignorance and Irony - Chapter 3 (Part 2)

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