Hi there. Here is the beginning of my new story.
Blurb: The Netherfield ball becomes a crime scene. Confused by what she had learned from Darcy during their dance and after. She enters the gardens outside Netherfield, to clear her mind. Unfortunately, she is followed by Mr Collins, who is bent on having Elizabeth as his wife.
Darcy comes outside, looking for Elizabeth, finding her lying on the ground, unconscious, with a bloody knife in her hand. Beside her, the bloody body of Mr Collins, killed with a stab wound.
Who committed the murder, and will the truth come out before Elizabeth is convicted?
Longbourn was an estate in Hertfordshire, England. The estate had belonged to the Bennet family for more than two hundred years. The current head of the family was Mr Thomas Bennet, who was married to Mrs Fanny Bennet, nee Gardiner and they had been blessed with five children, though unfortunately, due to an entail on the property, the Bennet offspring were daughters.
The entail clearly stated that the estate could not be inherited by the female line of the family, which caused Mrs Bennet many hours of nervous fretting. Without a son, when her husband died, she would be homeless. And any unmarried daughters at the time of Mr Bennet’s death would also be homeless. So it was not surprising that Mrs Bennet was adamant that her daughters be married as soon as possible.
The eldest daughter was Miss Jane Bennet. She was a sweet natured, beautiful young lady of one and twenty. With hair the color of sunlit wheat, and brilliant light blue eyes, most in the neighborhood thought her to be the most delightful jewel in the county. Jane never said a cross word or thought ill of anyone, no matter what was known of the person.
Next in line of birth was Miss Elizabeth Bennet. If two sisters could be opposites, yet be the best of friends, it was Jane and Elizabeth Bennet. Where her sister was fair, Elizabeth had dark chestnut hair and chocolate brown eyes, which danced with mischief. Elizabeth was outgoing, kind to everyone, yet willing to stand against any perceived injustice and spoke her mind openly. She was also well read, with a thirst to learn, which had endured her to her father.
After Elizabeth, there was Mary, a pious young lady who only read books such as Fordyce Sermons. Then came Kitty and Lydia. Though they were born a year apart, the two acted as if they were twins, always together. Mr Bennet declared his youngest daughters to be two of the silliest girls in all of England.
The entail on the estate meant the heir to the estate was a distant cousin of Mr Bennet’s, one William Collins. Mr Collins was a clergyman, with the living at an estate in Kent. It was unfortunate that the man decided to visit the Bennet family, stating that he was wishing to repair the rift which had happened before Mr Collins’ birth, between Mr Bennet and Mr Collins’ father.
Mr Collins decided that the best way to repair the rift was to marry one of the Bennet sisters. Unfortunately, Mr Collins was not the sort of man that most would willingly wish for a husband. He was a ridiculous fool, pompous and arrogant, and always prattling on about nonsense. His patroness was the main topic of conversation, as the man worshipped the lady as if she were the Queen of England. Rarely did he share a sentence that did not include the words “Lady Catherine de Bourgh”.
At first, Mr Collins was interested in securing the hand of the eldest Miss Bennet. Mrs Bennet was certain that Jane was meant for better, as the young man who had leased the neighboring estate of Netherfield Park, showed an interest in Jane. Mrs Bennet was certain that there would soon be an offer of marriage for her dear Jane, and it would be a far more advantageous match.
So Mrs Bennet had suggested that Elizabeth would be the next logical of her daughters to marry the inept clergyman. Elizabeth was her father’s favorite, and Mrs Bennet felt the opposite and that Mr Bennet indulged Elizabeth more than he should.
Besides his foolishness, Mr Collins was repulsive to be around due to his lack of care to his person. His greasy hair and body odor was repugnant, as was the cologne he splashed on his person and clothing, in large quantities. Elizabeth informed her mother, in no uncertain words, that she would not, under any circumstances, be willing to marry Mr Collins. This led to a disagreement between Mrs Bennet and her second, and least favorite, daughter.
~~ ** ~~
The gentleman from Netherfield, Mr Charles Bingley, was preparing to host a ball, and had invited the Bennet family, along with the neighborhood. Of course, the invitation was extended to include Mr Collins, as he was to still be visiting his relations.
So Longbourn was in an uproar as the ladies of the house decided what to wear for the ball. As the militia were in the nearby village of Meryton, there would be many young men in red uniforms attending the ball, so there would be plenty of partners with which the young ladies could dance.
Mr Collins had asked each of his fair cousins for a set of dances, asking Elizabeth for the first. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agreed, knowing that if she were to refuse, she would be unable to dance the entire evening. Of her sisters, only Mary looked forward to dancing with the clergyman. Kitty and Lydia were vocal about their dislike of having to stand up with the odious man.
~~ ** ~~
The ladies were ready for the evening at the ball, and soon, Mr Bennet left his study for an evening he would prefer to do without.
There was not enough room for the entire Bennet family and Mr Collins in the Bennet family carriage, so Mr Bennet suggested the two men ride on horseback. The weather was mild for late November, and there would be room for the ladies to be comfortable in the carriage. Mr Collins complained, as he was not fond of riding horseback. The truth was, the man had never learned how to properly ride, and found it to be difficult. But there was no alternative left him, unless he wished to walk the three miles from Longbourn to Netherfield.
The men and the carriage of ladies all arrived at Netherfield early. All were prepared for a splendid evening. If only life were simple.
~~ ** ~~
Charles Bingley was only twenty two when his father died, leaving him with a fortune earned in trade, two sisters to marry off, and the task of rising above the family’s origins in trade to become a member of the landed gentry. Charles and his sisters had attended the best schools and been taught all that was proper to be included in society, but being the master of an estate was far from anything Bingley had ever known.
Fortunately, two things happened. First, the eldest of his sisters, Louisa, married Mr Gilbert Hurst. Hurst was the first born son and heir to his father’s estate, worth nearly four thousand pounds per annum.
The second fortunate event was the day that Charles met Fitzwilliam Darcy. The two men became the best of friends, and Darcy, unlike Bingley, had been raised to be the master of his family’s estate. There was little that Darcy had not been trained about running an estate, especially one as large as Pemberley, one of the largest estates in Derbyshire. Pemberley had been in his family for more than five generations, and the Darcy men took great pride in participating in the day to day workings of the estate. As a child, Darcy had trained in every position of work at the estate, from mucking out the stalls for the horses to sowing the seeds for the crops, from emptying chamber pots to changing the linens on the bed. Gerald Darcy, Fitzwilliam’s father, had been trained the same way, and wanted his son to have the same respect for the people who brought comfort and made the estate and house run smoothly.
Bingley took his friend’s advice and decided to lease an estate before purchasing one. This is what brought the young man to Netherfield Park, in Hertfordshire. It was a pleasant neighborhood, with kind people, and Bingley felt comfortable with all that he saw.
With him came both of his sisters, Caroline and Louisa, Hurst, and Darcy. They had not been in the neighborhood for a full week when they attended their first assembly in Meryton. That night, Charles Bingley lost his heart to Miss Jane Bennet. He knew, deep in his being, that she was the lady whom he would marry. Bingley was infamous for declaring he was in love with this young lady or that one. But this time, Bingley knew it was different.
At the same time, his friend was losing his own heart. Fitzwilliam Darcy, being one of the wealthiest and most eligible bachelors in all of England, had his pick from the cream of society. But he was not pleased with what the ton had to offer. Simpering young ladies who fawned over him, wanting him for his money and connections, not the man he was. He met his match when it came to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She was intelligent, willing to speak her mind, not demure to whatever he thought. Darcy was also lost in her beauty, especially her sparkling brown eyes.
Where Bingley openly showed his preference to Jane, Darcy hid his attraction to Elizabeth. Or, at least, he thought he did. Little did he know that there were some people who recognized his feelings developing for the second eldest Bennet sister, or he would have used more caution in his actions?
One of the people who noticed the attraction Darcy had for Elizabeth Bennet was Miss Caroline Bingley. This was not welcome, as Caroline had designs to become the next Mrs Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley. She was not about to allow a young country girl of no consequences rob her of her desires.
~~ ** ~~
As the guests arrived at Netherfield, Bingley and his sisters greeted them in the foyer. Darcy had taken up his usual position, in a far corner of the ballroom, where he could watch the happenings and not be a part of them. Fitzwilliam Darcy was extremely uncomfortable in large groups of people, especially when he did not know the people well. It mattered not if it were a ballroom in London or an assembly room in Meryton, Darcy was uncomfortable. He was shy by nature, and found it difficult to speak with people unless he was familiar with them. This had led many in the neighborhood to believe the man to be proud and arrogant, including the one lady his heart desired. He had insulted Elizabeth from the start, declaring to Bingley that she was tolerable, though not handsome enough to tempt him to dance, when Bingley pestered him to dance at the first assembly. Unfortunately, Elizabeth overheard the comments and took great offense to his words. The words colored her opinion of the great man, though Darcy was unaware of her feelings.
When Darcy saw Elizabeth enter the ballroom, he could not take his eyes from her. She was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. Wearing a gown of forest green, Elizabeth was the very image of a woodland fairy princess, from the stories his mother had told him when he was a boy. Her hair was done in a loose fashion, allowing her curls to entice him with the way they bounced when she moved.
This night will be impossible. All I wish to do is claim her as mine and run away from here, taking her far away, so we can be alone. My fingers ache from the desire to roam through her curls, my lips want to lay claim to hers. Good God, how am I to remain a gentleman? Just the sight of her across a room makes my body react. How I long to make her mine, as I do in my dreams, each and every night since I first saw her. But my family would never approve of my marrying so far beneath us. I must remember Georgiana. What future would she have if I were to forget everything and marry as I wished? I must marry someone from our circle, so my sister will have a chance at a good match.
With both of Darcy’s parents dead, he had become one of the guardians of his much younger sister. Lady Anne Darcy, nee Fitzwilliam, had died when Georgiana was only a year old, and Fitzwilliam was only twelve. Gerald Darcy had died ten years after his beloved, leaving his twenty two year old son as Master of Pemberley, head of the Darcy family and fortune, and father figure for a then eleven year old girl.
If Darcy had no sister, he could have remained at Pemberley, never leaving the country life for the city. He despised being in Town, and the parties and balls held. The only reason he continued to participate was to one day be able to see his sister settled in a good marriage.
Another reason Darcy could not ask for Elizabeth’s hand was clearly heard from across the room. Her mother and youngest two sisters were vulgar in the way they spoke and behaved. Mrs Bennet was constantly speaking of Bingley’s wealth, and how she expected him to ask for her eldest daughter’s hand, discussing what changes should be made at Netherfield when Jane became Mistress of the grand house. The two youngest Bennet daughters were flirting with the militia officers who were in attendance for the ball, being loud and skirting the boundary of propriety with their daring behavior.
Even the middle Bennet daughter was thought to be horrid, as she continuously offered to perform on the pianoforte, singing along with her playing. Both were enough to make most people cringe, and dogs to howl. Darcy had been privileged enough to hear Elizabeth Bennet play the pianoforte and sing, and, though her technical performance could use some work, she performed with emotion. Her voice touched Darcy, enchanting him completely. He could listen to her for hours without growing tired.
Mr Bennet could also be considered to be abominable, as he rarely took the initiative to curb the behavior of his wife and younger daughters. And somethings, when he took measures to rein them in, he made a fool of himself and his family. Several times, witnessing her family’s misbehavior, Darcy was certain he saw a blush of embarrassment on Elizabeth’s cheeks.
I wish it were within my power to take her away from all of them, take her to Pemberley, where she would never have to endure the foolishness of her relations. Good God, look at that man dressed as a parson. Is he the cousin I have heard Mrs Bennet prattling on about? He looks familiar.
As if those thoughts had drawn Mr Collins’ attention, the parson came across the room and stood before the Master of Pemberley.
“Forgive me, Sir, but I just learned that you are Mr Darcy of Pemberley.”
“I am. What does that have to do with you?”
Mr Collins smiled, bowing in a manner that caused Darcy to believe the man was going to kiss his boots. As Mr Collins stood back up, he began speaking. “My good sir, I have the living at Hunsford, thanks to the generosity of your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I have the honor to be able to inform you that your aunt and your cousin…forgive me, your bethrothed, were in good health and spirits just three days previously, when I left Kent to come here, to my future estate.”
“Your future estate?”
“I am the heir to Longbourn, as Mr Bennet and his wife have had no sons. I am Mr Bennet’s second cousin.”
“And this makes you believe you have the right to address me as if we were acquaintances? We have never been introduced, but you boldly approach me as if we had.”
“I realize it may flaunt propriety, but after all, I am your aunt’s closest advisor and confidant. My connection to your own family should allow for such leniency.” Mr Collins’ smile was nauseating to observe.
“Collins. William Collins.”
Darcy felt repulsion for having to deal with such a man. But, of course, his aunt would hire someone who would grovel at her feet and worship her every word. “Mr Collins, just because you are in my aunt’s confidence, it does not hold that you are in mine. And I do not appreciate your speculation of my relationship with my cousin. I am not engaged to Miss de Bourgh, nor do I ever plan on being.”
“But…but your aunt…she speaks of it daily. How you will be coming in the spring to make your formal declaration. She has said that the engagement is of a particular sort, arranged between Lady Catherine and your own dear mother, from your birth.”
“Again, you have no knowledge of my life, and I will ask you once more to refrain speaking of matters that are none of your concern. What my aunt spouts is not the truth of the matter. But I will not discuss it with you.” Darcy turned to walk away from the man.
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy. And I am sure that I speak for my dear cousin when I say that you will be welcome in our humble cottage, when next you visit at Rosings.” Mr Collins bowed.
Darcy stopped for a moment, wondering to which cousin the parson was referring. “Your cousin?”
“Yes, for I am to wed my cousin. Her mother has already blessed the union with her consent. I will be one of the most fortunate men in England, with my cousin, Elizabeth, as my wife.”
“Miss Elizabeth? I had not heard you were betrothed to Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy’s heart had nearly stopped beating. So many thoughts ran through his mind, as well as prayers that it could not be the truth.
“Well, um, I will propose to her in the morning. But with her mother already giving her blessing, it is as good as if Miss Elizabeth accepted already.” Mr Collins smiled. “I pray that she will temper her behavior some, as I am certain that your aunt will not approve of my cousin’s impertinence. A few lessons from Lady Catherine will have my wife conforming to proper behavior soon enough.”
“Miss Elizabeth does not seem the sort to conform, and I would think her unsuitable to be the wife of a parson, especially the parson for my aunt. No, my aunt would disapprove of your cousin’s impertinence. Would not Miss Mary make a more suitable wife of a parson?”
“M…Miss Mary?” Mr Collins looked across the room at his middle cousin. “She had the proper manners and was fond of sermons. But her appearance is far from pleasing. Would you chose her over her elder sisters? I must think of my own pleasure, as your aunt instructed me to choose a pretty sort of girl for my sake.”
“I am sure that, with a change in the style of her clothing and a less severe style for her hair, Miss Mary would be nearly as attractive as her elder sister. And more so, if you take in account for the agreeable nature of her attitude. A difficult personality can make even the prettiest girl appear plain or ugly.”
This made Mr Collins hesitate on his decision. But he was being compensated for marrying Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and the amount of money was far too grand to turn down. And the thought of having her warming his bed was extremely pleasing. “Well, her mother has already decided on Miss Elizabeth being my wife, so I must heed her decision. As their mother, she would be able to determine which would be the proper wife for me.”
Darcy was determined to make certain that Mrs Bennet’s decision was made invalid. He was certain that Mr Bennet would not force his daughter into such a marriage. “Forgive me, Mr Collins, but I have to speak with someone.” Without waiting for the parson’s reply, Darcy turned and walked away.
Seeing Mr Bennet speaking with Charles Bingley, Darcy made his way across the room, approaching the pair.
“Ah, Darcy, Mr Bennet was just telling me that he was impressed with our decision on the repairs to the mill. He spoke with the steward and is willing to assist us if we need.” Bingley stated.
“We are meeting with the steward tomorrow afternoon, if you care to join us for the meeting, Mr Bennet.” Darcy replied.
“That is kind of you to offer, Mr Darcy. I will graciously accept. Is the plan something you have seen put in action previously?”
Darcy nodded. “It is similar to what we did at the mill near my estate.”
“In Derbyshire, is it not?” Mr Bennet asked.
“It is. Do you know Derbyshire?”
“No, though my sister in law was born and raised in the village of Lambton. Do you know the village?”
“I do indeed, as it is only three miles from my home of Pemberley. I do much of our business, for the estate, through Lambton’s shops.”
“Then you will likely know my sister in law’s family, as her father owns the book shop.” Mr Bennet smiled.
“Mr Thompson? Is she Miss Helen Thompson?” Darcy was surprised.
“She was, though now she is Mrs Helen Gardiner. She is married to my wife’s brother. He is a successful importer in Town.”
“Edward Gardiner, of Gardiner Imports?”
Mr Bennet chuckled. “Indeed. Do you know Gardiner?”
“I do, as he has some of the best products. My sister’s modiste will only purchase her fabrics from Gardiner. I am amazed at his ability to procure the finest brandy and port.”
“I have to admit that I am particularly pleased with his selection of spirits. He sends me a bottle or two when he gets a new shipment in the warehouse.”
“You are a fortunate man, Mr Bennet. I had no idea that his wife was Mr Thompson’s daughter. This has been an enlightening conversation.” Darcy had momentarily lost track of what he had come to speak with Mr Bennet. “By the way, speaking relations, I just had an interesting discussion with your cousin.”
“I cannot believe anyone would find Mr Collins to be interesting, especially when he speaks.” Mr Bennet chuckled. “The man is a fool.”
“And he believes he has been given approval to marry your daughter, Miss Elizabeth. He told me that your wife has given him her approval, and that he is certain that Miss Elizabeth will accept him when he proposes to her, as she would do as her mother says.”
“I knew he was hinting around about marrying one of my daughters, but I had no idea that he felt it has already been arranged. I will have to speak with him.” Mr Bennet stated. “I thank you for bringing the news to my attention.”
“It was the least I could do. Miss Elizabeth is worth far more than that groveling parson has to offer.”
“Indeed. My Lizzy is the brightest of all of my girls, and quite pretty, in her own way. I wish for her to marry for love, not be forced into a marriage of convenience.” Mr Bennet related.
Darcy was pleased to hear Mr Bennet’s words. He was certain the man would protect his favorite daughter. But there was something inside Darcy that could not let him walk away. Knowing Mr Gardiner to be a kind and sensible man, and remembering Mr Thompson’s daughter as being levelheaded and caring, Darcy was thinking better of Elizabeth’s family connections. But it was the thought of someone else claiming Elizabeth as a wife that prompted the Master of Pemberley to act outside his norm.
“Mr Bennet, I would like to know your daughter better. Would you permit me to call on her?”
“Mr Darcy, you surprise me. I have heard tell that the night of the Assembly, you were heard to say that my Lizzy was tolerable, though not handsome enough to tempt you. Are you now interested in one of my other daughters? Perhaps my youngest, Lydia?” Mr Bennet had a passion for watching the follies of others and laughing at foolishness.
The redness of Darcy’s cheeks made Mr Bennet chuckle. “Please, forgive me. I never wished for your family, or anyone else, to know of my foolish words. Does Miss Elizabeth know of those horrible words, uttered by stupidity?”
“She is the one who told me.”
“Dear God, what must she think of me?” Darcy was lost in thought.
“My daughter has been her mother’s least favorite daughter, and as such, my ridiculous wife has constantly belittled Lizzy, claiming her to be plain and unattractive, especially in comparison to her sisters. Your words were like a knife to Elizabeth. But wounds can be mended, and if you truly wish to know my daughter better, you can always begin by speaking honestly, and explaining why you uttered such words at the Assembly. Lizzy is not cruel, though it will be difficult for her to believe any words of her beauty.”
“I will heed your advice, Mr Bennet. And I am grateful for your generous words. Not every father would allow a man a second chance after making such an arse of himself.”
“Well, see that it is not a frequent occurrence and I will not be worried.” Mr Bennet said.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy looked about the room, recognizing the Elizabeth standing beside Miss Charlotte Lucas. Taking a deep breath, Darcy walked across the room.
“Miss Elizabeth, I wondered if I could have a set of dances tonight.”
Seeing her cousin coming towards her, and knowing he was planning to ask for her to dance the first with him, Elizabeth decided that the lesser of the two evils to choose from would be Darcy, she spoke. “I have not been claimed for the first set, Mr Darcy. Do you dare to dance it with me?”
“Indeed, I would be honored to do so. While we wait, would you ladies like a glass of punch?”
Elizabeth nodded her head, as did Charlotte. As Darcy stepped away to obtain the drinks, Mr Collins approached. “You were speaking with Mr Darcy?” Seeing Elizabeth acknowledge the question, Collins continued. “He is such a fine gentleman, but of course, he would be, as he is the nephew of my noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Coming from such a fine family line could only produce the finest of people.”
“Mr Collins, allow me to introduce you to my dear friend, Miss Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte, this is my father’s cousin, Mr William Collins. He is the parson at Hunsford, part of Rosings Park, which is owned by Mr Darcy’s aunt. Cousin, Miss Lucas is the daughter of the mayor of Meryton, Sir Willim Lucas.”
“Such a pleasure to meet you, Miss Lucas. Now, Cousin Elizabeth, I came to secure the first set of the night. I am certain you have saved the set for me, but I wish to make a formal commitment for your hand for the dance.”
“I am afraid that I will be unable to dance the first with you, Mr Collins. Mr Darcy asked for a set, and I promised him the first.”
“Forgive me, Cousin Elizabeth, but I am sure that you were aware of my intentions of opening the ball with you. I thought I had made myself clear on the matter. Mr Darcy will not be offended when he learns of our previous understanding. You will have other dances available to enjoy his company. The first set is not proper for you to dance with a gentleman of his upbringing. No, I will speak with Mr Darcy and explain the confusion. I am certain he will understand.”
“I will understand what, Sir?” Darcy had returned with a glass of punch for each of the young ladies.
“I was just stating that my dear cousin was mistaken in giving you permission for the first set. I had asked each of my fair cousins for a set, with the intention of dancing the first set with my betrothed.” Mr Collins stated.
“So you have asked Miss Elizabeth for the first set? And I thought you had stated earlier that you were not yet engaged to marry Miss Elizabeth, has she expressed her agreement to be your wife?” Darcy asked the man, using his Master of Pemberley tone.
“I…I…well…no…not as yet. But as I explained, I have the approval of her mother and there is no reason why my cousin would go against her dear mother. Besides, it would not be appropriate for you to dance the first set with my cousin. Gossip would have you portrayed as interested in my cousin, when we both know of your engagement to your cousin, Miss de Bourgh.”
“Mr Collins, I have already informed you that I am not engaged to my cousin or to anyone. I have asked for and was granted, by Miss Elizabeth, the privilege of dancing the first set of dances tonight. Are you insinuating that a fine young lady such as Miss Elizabeth would promise the first set to me, when she was already promised to another?”
“Well…um…I was certain that she understood my desire to dance the first with her, as our betrothal is all but announced.”
Darcy stood his full height. “Mr Collins, I have spoken with Mr Bennet, and was assured that Miss Elizabeth is not promised to anyone, including yourself. As a matter of fact, I asked Mr Bennet if I could call on Miss Elizabeth tomorrow, and was granted permission. Being that he is her legal guardian, he has more to say on the matter than does her mother. I would suggest you accept the fact and be on your way to speak with someone else. The dancing is soon to begin and I am certain the ladies would prefer to enjoy their punch than listen to your prattling on about foolishness.”
When Darcy turned his back towards the bumbling parson, he did not see the expression the man gave him. It was clear that Mr Collins was torn between his fury at being treated so, in front of his cousin, whom he believed to be his betrothed, and the fact that the person offending him was the nephew of his patroness. He did not wish to treat his patroness’ nephew in a manner which would inflame Lady Catherine’s ire, yet Mr Collins could not stand by and allow such an insult to be leveled at him.
“Mr Darcy, please forgive me, but I must state that it is highly improper for someone of your rank in society to be seen dancing the first set with someone of my cousin’s position. My cousin’s estate is not grand, and his income is far below of your own, and I am certain that such a distinction would give way to gossip. Your aunt would…”
“My aunt’s opinion is none of my concern.” Darcy stated as he turned his attention towards Collins. “It is none of your business if I chose to dance every dance with Miss Elizabeth, or any other lady in this room. Your rude behavior is what will cause gossip, especially with your speculation on your cousin’s income. What you should do is to walk away from me, immediately. Do not disrespect me, your cousins, or anyone else in this room. Can you understand what I am saying?”
“I was only trying to protect…”
“I am an adult, the master of my own estate for several years now. I believe I am well able to decide my feelings when it comes to who I wish to dance with. Your protection is NOT necessary. Walk away from me immediately.” Darcy turned back towards the ladies, attempting to control his fury.
Elizabeth was amazed by all that had been said. Could she have truly heard Mr Darcy declare an interest in paying a call on her? Was he declaring an interest in her, before her relations and friends? She could not understand how this gentleman, who never looked upon her without appearing to find fault in her, was defending her against her cousin.
Finally, Mr Collins decided to give up his attempts to secure his cousin’s hand for the first set. He was certain that all would be well, once Mrs Bennet had spoken with her daughter. And Mr Collins decided that he would demand a short engagement period. He intended to have Elizabeth as his wife and in his bed before the year was over.
He was furious over the behavior of his patroness’ nephew. I must send an express to my noble ladyship before I go to bed tonight. It is urgent she know of her nephew’s behavior. Perhaps he is ill, or taken leave of his senses, but he is not acting the way he should. And his words of his own engagement to Miss de Bourgh, how could he lead people to believe such lies? How would it reflect on Lady Catherine when it was learned that Mr Darcy has trifled with a young gentlewoman, claiming no betrothal to his cousin? Lady Catherine would be furious if I did not inform her.
How dare that man take my dance with my cousin? I am her betrothed, it is proper that we share the first set of the evening. How will it look to the people of the neighborhood when they learn that my betrothed danced the first set with another man? I must make certain that Elizabeth knows that I will not tolerate her wanton ways. She may be a beautiful young lady, but she will be a proper wife to me, or she will regret her behavior.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy led Elizabeth to the dance floor, taking their places in the line of dancers. As the first notes of music began, the dancers prepared to take their first steps. Elizabeth examined the man standing across from her. What an oddity Fitzwilliam Darcy was. How could she determine the truth about him?
The first night they had met, Elizabeth had overheard Darcy’s words of her not being tolerable enough to dance with. And every time she would see him, his eyes were fixed on her, while he wore an expression which led her to believe he found her to be far beneath his acquaintance. She had also heard many things said about the great man, things told to her by George Wickham, a man who grew up with Darcy and claimed to know him well.
George Wickham had come to Meryton to join the militia. The man had been born at Pemberley, the son of Darcy’s father’s steward. Due to the older Wickham’s loyalty to the Darcy family and their estate, Gerald Darcy gifted George Wickham a gentleman’s education and promised in his will that Wickham would be granted the living as the parson at Kympton, when the living came available and if Wickham took orders. Wickham had been paid the worth of the living, along with the thousand pounds left to him in Gerald Darcy’s will, totaling four thousand pounds. Rather than tell the truth, as he felt Darcy owed him far more, Wickham told everyone a sad tale of misery due to Darcy mistreating him. This tale had been told to Elizabeth Bennet, coloring her opinion of Darcy further against the man.
The first dance of the set was performed in relative silence, further confusing Elizabeth. Finally, as the second dance began, Darcy took the moment to speak.
“Miss Elizabeth, I wondered if I could request a second set of you. Perhaps the supper set is available?”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide. Why would such a man as Darcy wish to dance, not only a second set, but the supper set? That would mean he wished to dine with her. Fortunately for her, the dance separated them for a few steps, giving her time to think. When they were returned to each other, Elizabeth accepted his offer for the supper set.
“I am grateful. I wish to speak with you on a matter of extreme importance.” Darcy smiled, and for the first time, Elizabeth witnessed a dimple in his cheek. A small gasp escaped her at the sight.
He should smile more often, it changes his entire appearance. I never stopped to admire how handsome he is, until now. “You realize you will be forced to dine with me? Are you certain that you wish to spend so much time with me, speaking?” She flashed an impertinent grin at him, her eyebrow lifting high with a challenge.
How I adore her when she teases me. Her eyes are dazzling when she teases. I would be a fool to allow the ton to dictate my choice of a wife. Elizabeth Bennet is all I could ever wish for, as a partner in life. She is intelligent, beautiful, caring, devoted. I have no doubts that she could be the perfect Mistress for Pemberley.
“Miss Elizabeth, it would be my honor to spend the supper hour together. As I said, I have something with which to speak to you, and I am certain we can find other topics to fill the time.”
The dance separated them again, and as they returned to each other, Darcy spoke again. “I learned, only tonight, that we have some people we both respect. I had no idea that you were Edward Gardiner’s niece. Nor did I know that Mrs Gardiner was known to me from when she lived in Lambton, near my estate of Pemberley. I am pleased your father took the time to inform me, as I think highly of both of them.”
“You know my aunt and uncle? I am surprised.”
“And why would that surprise you?”
Elizabeth looked into his eyes as she spoke. “Because my uncle is in trade, and Aunt Helen’s father is also in trade.”
Darcy smiled again. “I do not look down on tradesmen. I have done a lot of business with your uncle, and am planning to invest some money on a venture he has come up with. He is a fair and reasonable man, and that is hard to find. As for Mrs Gardiner’s father, he is well respected in Lambton and the neighborhood. My family has done business with him since I was a child.”
“You surprise me, Mr Darcy. But it is a pleasant surprise, as I am extremely fond of my aunt and uncle. I enjoy any time I am allowed to go to Town to stay with them.”
The dance continued, with Elizabeth becoming more comfortable with speaking with Darcy. As the dance came to an end, Elizabeth found she was not ready to finish the enjoyable time she was spending with the man.
Darcy took Elizabeth’s hand and placed it on his arm as he led her from the dance floor. “Who do you have the second set with? I will escort you to him.”
“I am supposed to dance with Mr Bingley, but it appears his sister has second thoughts on the matter.” Elizabeth replied, nodding her head in the direction of Mr and Miss Bingley. It was clear that Miss Bingley was not pleased with whatever her brother was saying. As Darcy led Elizabeth towards Bingley, they could overhear Caroline Bingley ranting.
“Charles, how will it look if you dance the first set with Miss Bennet, and the second set with her sister? You might as well declare your intentions, as it will be obvious to all. You would dance with the Bennet sisters before you would dance a set with your own sister? I will be humiliated.”
“Caroline, I made Miss Elizabeth a promise to dance with her. I promised her the second set.”
“Is it not bad enough that the chit danced the first set with Mr Darcy? Does she have to come before me with my own brother? She is a country nobody, and how she convinced Mr Darcy to dance the first set with her, I will never know.”
“Because I asked Miss Elizabeth for the first set, and she graciously accepted.” Darcy replied as the pair came close to Miss Bingley. His words made Caroline Bingley furious.
“Mr Darcy, forgive me. I was attempting to explain to Charles that it would be inappropriate for Charles to dance the next set with Miss Elizabeth, rather than with me.” Caroline had to bite her tongue to keep from uttering the rest of her words against the Bennet sisters. She was furious with Darcy dancing the first set with Elizabeth.
“Mr Bingley, I believe your sister might be correct. You should dance this set with her, rather than with me. I do not mind.” Elizabeth stated.
“I will keep Miss Elizabeth company, so do not worry for her.” Darcy declared. “We were having a delightful conversation, so it will give us a chance to continue.”
It was hard to tell who was more surprised by this revelation, Caroline or Elizabeth.
Bingley nodded his head. “I am grateful for your kindness, Miss Elizabeth. I pray you have another set available for me.”
“I have free, the second dance after supper. Will that work for you?”
“It does. Thank you, Miss Elizabeth. Come Caroline, we must take our places for the set.” Bingley took his sister by the elbow and led her towards the dance floor.
Darcy turned towards Elizabeth. “Would you care to have a seat or take some fresh air on the balcony?”
“I believe the balcony would be delightful. It is a little warm in here tonight.”