|Available on Amazon
“Not all that Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley. They attacked him in various ways--with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained.”
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3
For my part, the beauty of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) is its license to reimagine Miss Austen’s stories in infinitely diverse yet intriguing ways, whether it be a change in the story settings, the manner in which the various characters meet and become acquainted with one another, and even who says what to whom. My favorite Jane Austen book, by far, is Pride and Prejudice. My favorite characters: Darcy and Elizabeth (in that order).
In my latest novel, Impertinent Strangers, I borrowed some of the words from the previously cited quote in crafting a delightful dance scene between our dear couple. Although the setting is the Meryton assembly, by this point in the story Darcy and Elizabeth know each other very well, having first met in Kent.
I hope you will enjoy reading the following excerpt just as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Chapter 23 Excerpt (Reprinted with Author’s Permission. All Rights Reserved.)
It was quickly decided that between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, the latter bore the most amiable countenance. Mr. Darcy, however, drew the greater share of the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report, which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year.
Elizabeth was rather dismayed. What a woefully insufficient measure of such a man as Mr. Darcy, when she knew him to be worthy of admiration for reasons having nothing at all to do with any of those things.
Seeing the manner in which the younger Bingley sister attached herself to Mr. Darcy meant nothing to her. That young woman might as well be his cousin Anne de Bourgh, Elizabeth considered as she sat out the dance watching the two of them move through the crowd. He barely even looked at his dance partner, who, on the other hand, could not tear her thirsty eyes away from him.
This was the first time that Elizabeth had ever had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Darcy dance. His air on the dance floor was everything a gentleman’s air ought to be. With what grace did he move, his noble lineage on full display.
Purposely tearing her own eyes away from him, she commenced scanning the dance floor in admiration of the other couples. Elizabeth espied her dearest sister Jane dancing with Mr. Bingley. What a pleasing prospect, she thought. If ever there existed a gentleman who was perfect for her sister, it was Charles Bingley. True enough, she had only been in company with the gentleman that one time when he called at Longbourn with Mr. Darcy. In Elizabeth’s estimation, Mr. Bingley was almost identical in temperament as well as understanding to Jane. What better recipe for love?
She reflected on her own love life or rather lack thereof. She supposed it could have been merely a coincidence that one of Mr. Darcy’s closest friends—the one whom he had spoken of when they were together in Kent, she rather surmised—happened to let the estate neighboring her father’s, and that Mr. Darcy was in Hertfordshire solely for the purposes of serving his friend in his new role as master of such a large property. Anything was possible.
But what if Mr. Darcy’s being here is no coincidence at all? She knew enough about him to know of his wont to manage things for his own convenience. I refuse to squander another moment on conjecture. I shall see how he behaves, and then I will know what to think.
Upon the completion of the dances with Miss Bingley, Darcy approached Elizabeth to claim her hand. She took her place opposite him on the assembly floor, all the while doing her best to avoid her neighbors’ looks of amazement that he had singled her out from among the crowd of eligible young ladies in want of dance partners.
As this was the first time she had ever danced with him, she did not intend to waste a single moment in polite silence. “You are aware, sir, that you have created quite a stir by inviting the sister of a fallen woman to stand opposite you,” she said when the dance allowed.
“I feel most fortunate to be dancing with the handsomest woman in the room.” They were then separated by the dance—a welcome reprieve for Elizabeth for she had not expected him to be so bold.
When they were reunited, he said, “It is a pleasure I wish to indulge in this evening as much as decorum will allow.”
Elizabeth colored. She almost missed a step. After a slight pause, she said, “Your first dance partner was very lovely.”
He smiled in confirmation. He said nothing.
“Is she a close acquaintance?”
Darcy gave her a look, and once again they were parted. Elizabeth really needed this reprieve. What must he think of my impertinence?
“You amaze me, Miss Elizabeth,” he said when they were united once more.
“I have long appreciated the liveliness of your mind; however, I am surprised by this particular side of you. Do you talk by rule while you are dancing?”
“Sometimes. I believe one must speak a little, for it would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together. However, if you would prefer silence then I shall do my best to hold my tongue.”
“By all means, feel free to speak to your heart’s content. I would by no means wish to suspend any pleasure of yours.”
Elizabeth made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance. It being her turn to say something, she remarked on her enjoyment of balls and assemblies, and she asked him which of the two he preferred.
“I hope you will not be disappointed to learn that I would rather avoid both. Dancing is one particular pastime I am wont to eschew whenever I can help it.”
“But you dance so well,” she exclaimed with energy. “That is to say you are a very accomplished dancer.”
“Accomplished, you say? I do not know that I have ever been described as such—at least not on the dance floor.”
Tiny chill bumps spread over her body at the way he looked at her when speaking those words. Their time at the temple immediately sprang to mind, for it was then that she had seen that same look in his eyes. If she were to live to be a hundred years old, she would never forget that look. Nor would she forget the way her body stirred in its wake.
They were separated once more, and Elizabeth reminded herself to breathe. By the time they reunited, Mr. Darcy’s expression had undergone a decided change.
“Are you happy to be here, Mr. Darcy?”
“I am. Why do you ask such a thing?”
“Your countenance is quite stern.” Indeed, he seemed very much the aloof, taciturn gentleman she had first believed him to be.
“I can only imagine what your thoughts portend. You are probably asking yourself how it is that you find yourself at such an assembly as this,” she said.
“You mistake me, Miss Elizabeth. I assure you that my mind is very agreeably engaged, despite my stern—as you so described it—countenance.” Subtly biting his lip, he added, “How might it be otherwise when I am dancing with you?”
Elizabeth arched her brow a little at this. Her spirits rising to playfulness, she said, “Oh! But you told me you do not like dancing.”
“I trust you will forgive me for saying that, for I believe I spoke too hastily. I am now given to understand that I simply never had the right dance partner; that is to say until now.”
Elizabeth had seen such varying aspects in Mr. Darcy’s character since first laying eyes on him in Kent. At times, she was wont to admit that the gentleman puzzled her exceedingly. One thing was certain, she liked him very much and especially when he flattered her ego so well as he did that evening. Their teasing banter did not abate for the rest of the dance and Elizabeth could hardly wait for their next set.
No sooner was the dance over than Miss Bingley raced across the room and laced her arm through Mr. Darcy’s. Not wishing for an introduction to Elizabeth, the overly zealous young lady said, “Come, Mr. Darcy, I am desperately in need of refreshment, and I require your assistance to navigate through this throng of merrymakers.”
He gave Elizabeth an apologetic look. “Until our next dance, Miss Elizabeth.”
When Miss Bingley felt she and the gentleman were safe, she said, “Mr. Darcy, if I did not know you so well as I do, I would suppose you were quite taken with your dance partner. I have never known you to be so at ease with a perfect stranger.”
“I posit you do not know me so well as you think, Miss Bingley.”
“Not know you, sir? Surely you mean to tease me. You are my brother’s best friend. I have long considered the two of us as very good—dare I say intimate—friends as well.” Here she paused and batted her eyelashes at him. “I cannot tell you how pleased I was when my brother informed me that you had the ideal country estate in mind for him, and how you would spend time helping him navigate the ins and outs of its management. What an excellent time we shall have, even if Charles is determined to associate with the likes of these people. No doubt, he will extend an invitation to each and every one of them to dine at Netherfield in their turn, and, if I know him at all, he will want to have a ball.”
Darcy said nothing in response to these conjectures.
“I can guess the subject of your reverie, sir. You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in such society. Indeed, you and I are of the same mind, as we often are. The insipidity, the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of these people! What I wouldn’t give to hear your strictures on them!”
Amid Darcy’s continued silence, Miss Bingley cried, “Mr. Darcy?”
“Pardon,” he said, tearing his eyes away from his former dance partner who by now was sitting with her sisters.
“I do not believe you have heard a word I have said.”
He shrugged a little. “It would appear that I am guilty as charged.”
“What on Earth has you so distracted?”
“I have been meditating on the very great pleasure that a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”
Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on Darcy’s face. “Pray which lady among us has the credit of inspiring such reflections?”
“My former dance partner and the only woman of my acquaintance whom I ever wish to dance with again. Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet!” Miss Bingley repeated. “I am all astonishment. Surely you could not have known her very long. When, in so fleeting an acquaintance as the two of yours, did she become such a favorite? And when, pray tell, am I to wish you joy?”
That was exactly the sort of question that Darcy had expected Bingley’s younger sister to ask, but he would not gratify her wishes with a response. Besides, the young lady will have her answer soon enough.
Such being the case, Darcy said nothing. Instead he went on listening to her with perfect indifference while she chose to entertain herself in this manner. As his composure convinced her that all was safe, her wit flowed long. Darcy only had one thing on his mind; that being his next set with Elizabeth.
Through the course of the evening, Jane and Elizabeth stole away from the others in their party and went outside for a breath of fresh air. Elizabeth could not recall the last time she had seen her sister so happy—so animated. The two young ladies joined hands and gave in to a bout of laughter.
“Dearest Jane, I think Mr. Bingley likes you very much.”
“Oh, Lizzy, do you really think so?”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Indeed, as does everyone else at the assembly, I am certain. Pray what do you think of him? Do you like him?”
As if not wishing to be too eager in her praise of the young man, Jane replied whimsically, “What is there not to like? He is sensible and good-humored. He is lively, and I never saw such happy manners. Mr. Bingley is just what a young man ought to be.”
“That is to say nothing of his handsome looks, which a gentleman also ought to possess so far as it can be arranged. So, there. You have my permission to like him.”
“Lizzy, be serious. A handsome face means nothing at all if there are carefully concealed flaws in one’s character—a lesson that we have learned most painfully.”
With the Wickhams so far away and seldom thought about as a consequence, Elizabeth pleaded, “Pray let us not speak of such misfortunes at such a time as this.”
“Very well. Too much happiness abounds this evening. Your Mr. Darcy is an excellent dance partner.”
“Jane, he is not my Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said, not unaware that she had put forth the same defense to her friend Charlotte months ago.
“Is he not?” Jane asked, her brow slightly arched. “You need not answer me, for if he is not now your Mr. Darcy, he will be very soon—that is to say unless there is no truth at all in the notion that to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love.”
Elizabeth smiled in silent acquiescence. Indeed, she had long believed in such an idea as well, which must certainly have explained her disappointment in hearing Mr. Darcy express his displeasure in the endeavor earlier that evening. Then again, he owed his distaste to not having danced with the right partner until now. Did she dare allow herself to hope that perhaps he was in her power?
Newsletter: Such Happy News
Buy the Book