The Netherfield Ball
"It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; but when a beginning is made — when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt — it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more." - Jane Austen
The day of the ball arrived and with it came a foreboding sense of uneasiness. The household was in utter chaos. Mr. Collins was even more irritating today. He went around talking to all the young women in the family about acting modest at a ball. I did not want to be lectured when my stomach was in knots. I knew that I would see Darcy. After the way I might have encouraged him in Meryton, I did not know what to expect.
"Where are my lace gloves?" Lydia shouted from the top of the stairs.
"In your hands," I shouted back.
"Oh," Lydia laughed, "so they are!"
Everyone was busy, but, Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet and I. I had already laid out my gown the night before. I followed Mr. Darcy's advice and found a hunter green ball gown. It was a crossover dress and was made of silk. The sleeves had just a hint of lace at the edges.
I decided to go to the sitting room to read having made all my preparations in advance. Mr. Collins walked into the room and looked at me with a disapproving eye. Mr. Bennet, who was also reading a book, looked up, weariness etched upon his aged features. I looked at my father who shrugged and shook his head.
I rolled my eyes, "What are you staring at?"
"Should you not be busy making yourself exceptional for the ball?"
"I suppose I should, but, where would we be without you asking me that question?"
"I confess," Mr. Collins continued, "that Miss Charlotte Lucas painted a different portrait of you."
I stood up, "Well, she lied and you might be better off considering her."
Mr. Collins turned towards Mr. Bennet, "You should have better control over your daughter."
Mr. Bennet spoke up, "I would never control my daughter. She has a good head on her shoulders and can think for herself. That is all she needs." Mr. Collins looked away, his face flushed with embarrassment. When we were all dressed and ready to leave, Mr. Collins stated that we would make a lovely painting and that we would need to take two barouches, suggesting that Jane and I ride with him. Lydia and Kitty laughed, for, they were happy to not have to take the journey with Mr. Collins, even if it was only for three miles.
As we neared the ball, my stomach began to feel queasy. It was a feeling that I had not experienced since my first day of school. I looked at Jane, "I do not feel well."
"What is wrong?"
"My stomach," I looked down, "I think I am nervous."
Jane angled a look at Mr. Collins (who was watching us with utmost curiosity). She leaned towards me and whispered, "Darcy?"
I nodded, "Yes."
"Don't worry," she whispered, "you will be fine. There will be many people there, and you might not even see him."
This was true. Netherfield was a large place. The entire village was going to be there and perhaps even some families from the surrounding towns. Families of all shapes and sizes had been invited to the ball. I was silly. Why should I have been anxious about seeing Darcy? We were both human. He was a man, and I was a woman. It was simple. Why was I making this more complicated? I drew in a deep breath as I exited the carriage. I walked into the mansion and saw several people were already dancing. I took hold of Jane's arm as Mr. Bingley, and Miss Caroline came to greet us.
"Miss Elizabeth," Caroline said, "that is a beautiful dress. The color brings out your, as Mr. Darcy puts it, fine eyes."
"Oh... um," I blushed, "Thank you. Your dress is just as beautiful."
Caroline smirked, "Oh! Thank you, but, I do not have the fine eyes needed to do the dress any justice."
Bows and curtsies were exchanged as my eyes scanned the room, "Are you looking for anyone?"
I shook my head at Caroline, "No."
Miss Caroline smiled and looked beyond where I was standing, "Mr. Darcy." She curtsied.
I turned and saw Mr. Darcy standing behind me. I curtsied, "Mr. Darcy."
"Miss Elizabeth." His eyes gazed into mine.
My heart quivered and felt as though it was going to leap from my chest. It was a pleasant feeling, and it frightened me at the same time. It felt as though my heart was going to explode.
"How have you been, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Good. And you sir, how have you been?"
"Good," he mirrored my words.
I smiled, "Mr. Darcy, I-"
Caroline interrupted, "Mr. Darcy, I have a few guests here that I would like to introduce you to."
Mr. Darcy looked at me as I smiled at him; his eyes filled with hope. He left to mingle with some guests. Caroline believed these people were more worth his time than I was. She wanted to keep him as far away from me as she could manage. Caroline was not in love with Darcy. She loved Pemberley and in marrying Mr. Darcy, she would get her prize.
I turned towards Jane and found that she was already dancing with Mr. Bingley. I watched them dance as I leaned against the threshold and noticed Mr. Darcy watching me. A few men came my way to ask me to dance. I obliged them and saw Mr. Darcy narrow his eyes at them, for, they had beaten him to the chase. Once my dancing was done, Mr. Darcy started to walk closer towards me. I grabbed my shawl and walked outside to the balcony. I closed the French doors behind me. I heard the French doors open, and Mr. Darcy came out from behind them. I drew in a nervous breath.
"Miss Elizabeth." He closed the door behind him.
"You are out here alone," Mr. Darcy stated.
"Yes," I smiled nervously, "But, please don't tell Mr. Collins.
"It is our secret." He sent me a small smile.
"I believe you just smiled."
"It will not happen again, I assure you."
"Oh!" I laughed, "But, you should smile more. It becomes you."
Mr. Darcy's features turned pink. He softly replied, "Miss Elizabeth, I-"
The French doors opened again, and I heard a familiar voice, "Oh! There you are Mr. Darcy!"
He grumbled, "What is it now?"
"Charles is looking for you."
I was alone on the terrace once again. The air chilled me as I wrapped my shawl closer about my shoulders. Twenty minutes passed, and I began to lose hope that he would return. I wondered what Darcy meant to tell me. The doors opened once again, and I turned around with a smile, hoping that it was Darcy. But, my smile faded once I saw Mr. Collins standing where Darcy ought to have been.
"Miss Elizabeth," he bowed, "May I have the next dance?"
"You need not worry about not being able to dance." He took my hand, "We will stand in an inconspicuous corner of the room."
I snorted, "That makes me feel so much better."
"I knew it would." He remarked, oblivious to my sarcasm.
Once we reached the dance floor, my stomach dropped to the floor. Caroline and Darcy were dancing together. Is this what was happening while I waited for him to come back to the terrace? I do not know why, but my heart began to ache. I know I should not have been so hurt. He was a fictional character, and I was a real person. I could have kicked myself for even thinking I stood a chance. My goal was to get out of this world and find my way back home. I had forgotten about that, blinded by some fairy tale of being with Fitzwilliam Darcy. Tears began to well up in my eyes. I was upset not only with Darcy for dancing with the dragon lady, but with myself for losing sight of my goal.
"Dear cousin," Mr. Collins asked, "what is wrong?"
I strained to answer him, but, every time I attempted to talk, my voice shook. I blinked back my tears but to no avail as they streamed down my cheeks. I walked back to the terrace as fast as I could manage. I tried to leave behind a mystified Collins but found that he had followed me back. I guess he wasn't that bad of a guy, after all.
I looked away, but Collins was no fool. He moved closer and saw that tears were falling from my eyes. I wiped away my tears. My voice quaked, "What? What do you want now? Are you going to lecture me about the proper ball etiquette and how a dutiful lady does not cry?"
"No." He shook his head. His forehead creased with concern, "No. I am not going to give you a lecture. I am concerned. You were fine and now you are not. This is worrying me! Did someone upset you?"
"No," I looked away.
"And so, what is wrong, dear cousin?"
"I'm just emotional." I lied, "All that dancing. It just makes me want to cry ..."
Mr. Collins raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Darcy had walked out of here before I went in to ask you to dance. Perhaps, he knows what upset you. I must ask him."
"No!" I pleaded, "I think I just need to be alone. I hope you understand."
"No. Not in this state," Mr. Collins paused for a long while. "I will tell Mr. Darcy you are crying. You two must be close, being outside without a chaperone."
"No! Don't! Just leave this situation as is."
"Upon my honor," Mr. Collins shook his head, "I cannot do that!"
Mr. Collins left the balcony and in a few minutes, the French doors opened and then shut. I could not face him now. I kept my back to him. Darcy cleared his throat, "Miss Elizabeth."
"I am fine." I murmured, "What Mr. Collins told you is not true."
"Turn around." He demanded, "Let me find out for myself."
"No." I said with as much obstinacy as I could manage.
He walked towards me and taking me by the shoulders, turned me around to face him. I looked down, ashamed of my tears. He looked away with a mix of frustration and pain. With his hands still on my shoulders, he asked, "Shall I stay with you a little longer?"
My shoulders shook as I put my hands to my face, for, fear of being discovered. I had never wept in front of anyone in my life. Why did I have to cry now? And, why in front of him?
"Shall I stay with you a little longer?" He asked again.
"If you want to but not because you believe you need to." I looked up at him.
"Do you desire me to?" asked Darcy.
I whispered, "Yes."
He placed his jacket around my shoulders. I looked up at him and found that he was still looking down at me. "I apologize," I looked away, "I am usually not like this."
"Is something wrong?"
"Nothing I wish to discuss." How could I tell him that he was the reason that I was like this? I was too prideful to tell him the real reason behind my tears. Perhaps if we talked about Wickham, the story would set itself right?
"I met a Mr. Wickham last week. He says that you two are friends."
Mr. Darcy glared at me, "We are not."
"Miss Elizabeth, what are you attempting to uncover?"
"Are we at that part already?" I mumbled to myself.
"What part are we at?"
"Nothing of consequence," I unfolded my fan and smiled behind it.
Mr. Darcy looked at me in amusement, "What would you have me say, Miss Elizabeth? For, I have found something of great interest."
"You," he seemed rather pleased with himself. "You are not what you seem."
"I cannot disagree with that." I sighed.
"In the meantime, Miss Elizabeth," he walked closer towards me, "you must content yourself with a warning. If you try my temper, you will find that-"
"Your good opinion once lost is lost forever," I smiled behind my fan, "Yes, I know."
The ball was in my court! Team Darcy = 0. Team Amanda = 1!
Now that I had him on his toes, I wiped my tears away and smiled at Darcy. I took his coat off and placed it on his arm. Patting his arm, I chimed, "I feel much better now. Thank you." Curtsying, I left a perplexed Darcy in the dark.