What if Darcy left Hunsford and immediately sought Bingley out, resulting in an engagement between Charles and Jane? What if Darcy & Elizabeth meet again at the engagement ball?
He’s here. How can I face him? What if he turns and walks away? Perhaps he will not see me; I am, after all, not worthy of his attentions. How could I ever have believed him to be guilty of all that Wickham said of him? Truly, I am a girl of little sense and less discernment. I subtly shift my position to take full advantage of the cover provided by the tall gentleman conversing with Papa.
“Lizzy,” Papa says, “do you have no opinion on the subject to offer Mr. Grainger?”
“I am sorry, Papa.” I feel the blush cover my chest and make its way up my neck and onto my cheeks. Mr. Grainger merely smiles down at me, seemingly enjoying the telltale signs of my mortification. I know that I must flee if I am to recover any semblance of calm. “I was momentarily distracted. Please, sir, if you would excuse me?”
I give a quick curtsey before turning to escape the conversation to which I am no longer capable of attending and am surprised to find Mr. Grainger’s hand on my arm.
“Miss Bennet, would you do me the honour of dancing the next with me? I have it on good authority that a very little conversation will do when one is dancing.” Mr. Grainger’s blue eyes gaze at me with unconcealed mirth and a hint of something less amusing. He is certainly a handsome gentleman when he smiles in that way. Too handsome. I am reminded that Wickham is also handsome – a handsome liar and a handsome seducer of young women. A glance at Papa reveals his amusement at my present predicament. He so enjoys these games. And he is so little inclined to bother himself with the potential danger. Will he ever mature into the father I need at such a moment? All that’s left is for Mama to appear and ascertain his annual income, then my shame can be complete.
“I… I … thank you, yes.”
Mr. Grainger leads me not towards the dance floor, but rather in the direction of the refreshment tables. “I thought perhaps you might like some punch while we wait for the conclusion of the present dance.” Maybe my first impression was wrong. I do tend to such exaggerations of character. Have I learned nothing?
“That would be lovely, sir. Thank you.”
I wait while Mr. Grainger collects the glasses, all the while discretely glancing around the room in the hopes of gaining one small glimpse of him. Jane said he was to come. He would surely come to the engagement celebration honouring his best friend. I need… no, I want to thank him for all he has done on Jane’s behalf. I know that we owe all of her present happiness to his confession. Is it too much to hope that such happiness might also await me? If only I had been more circumspect with regards to my own opinions. But no, I was persuaded to think ill of him from my first moments in his presence. One remark, one careless remark, and our future collision course was set. Oh, to have those moments back! I close my eyes and wish the pain to subside.
I gratefully accept the refreshment from Mr. Grainger and allow the sip of wine to rest on my tongue, savouring the flavour and the relief the cool liquid bestows. I take yet another sip, and smile at him as he looks at me, observing my every move. How much longer will I be called upon to play this game? Does he even know that he can not possibly win the prize he seeks? Can he not tell that my heart yearns for another? Is it not writ across my forehead? Is it not etched in my eyes?
Mr. Grainger disposes of our glasses and immediately steers me toward the dancers who are aligning themselves down the center of the ballroom floor. The musicians lift their instruments, and the first strains of Astley’s Hornpipe call the couples to begin the Longways Country Dance. I smooth my hands down the front of my lavender silk gown, a present from my Aunt Gardiner, in an attempt to steady my frayed nerves. Lord, I sound like Mama! I very nearly laugh aloud at my foolishness.
Mr. Grainger bows as I curtsey, then reaches for my hand, and we begin the steps of the dance that will lead us to the end of the assembled couples. In and out, we weave our way among the other dancers. True to his assumption, Mr. Grainger says very little when we find ourselves brought together. I am quite well satisfied with the silence and find I can bear it with equanimity. I return his frequent smiles, and he seems to be pleased enough with those empty offerings.
We are set to release ourselves to our new quarter partners for the final turn when I look up and into the brownest eyes I have ever seen. In that moment, I know that were I to live to be one hundred, those eyes will be the ones I will long to see when last I close my eyes at night and when first I open them to greet the morn. I close my eyes briefly to break the hold he has over me. In so doing, I fail to properly execute the turn and find myself in the arms of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Continued . . .
If you enjoyed this excerpt, you may read the remainder of the first chapter of this short story on Beyond Austen.