Excerpt from my new WIP
Elizabeth sat alone, smiling as she watched the couples dancing gracefully around the floor. Occasionally, she nibbled at the cooky she held, taking comfort in the richness of the sweet almond confection. As she was a great favourite of Longbourn’s cook, Mrs. Bailey, who had learned the recipes for several types of cookies while a young woman in America, Elizabeth was never without several of the tasty morsels in her reticule. Mrs. Bailey kept her well-supplied.
Knowing her mother would disapprove of her eating while she waited for an invitation to dance, Elizabeth practiced her usual ruse. She hid the jumble in her embroidered handkerchief, careful to let no one see it. In any case, she was rarely asked to dance, cooky or not, as there were always more ladies than gentlemen at Meryton’s Assemblies. This night had been no exception. She had danced only one set.
Her sister Jane’s amiable partner for an earlier dance, Mr. Bingley, stood fairly close to Elizabeth, chatting with a handsome, austere man. Mr. Bingley’s voice carried over the music and gaiety, impossible to ignore.
“Darcy! Why are you standing here with your arms folded when there are so many uncommonly pretty girls lacking dance partners? You should not keep yourself apart from the company in such a stupid manner when lovely young women are seated and gentlemen are scarce. ’Tis rudeness itself. I must have you dance.”
“I certainly shall not,” answered the gentleman, drawing himself up to his full, intimidating height, looking down his nose at his friend. “You have been dancing with the only handsome girl in the room, and your sisters are engaged at present.”
Bingley’s voice softened. “She is an angel, is she not? The most beautiful creature I ever beheld.” He sighed. “However, there are plenty of suitable young ladies who are available.”
Elizabeth smiled upon hearing his praise of her sister. His pleasant manner and good sense caused him to rise several notches in her estimation.
The young man continued, “Look! There is her sister, and she has a very pretty face, too. I daresay she is most agreeable. You must ask her to dance. Allow me to ask my partner to introduce you.”
She felt the weight of the gentleman’s disapproving stare and glanced away.
“She is tolerable, I suppose, but there is rather too much of her to tempt me. Return to Miss Bennet and bask in her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Elizabeth’s eyes filled with unshed tears as she crushed the cooky hidden in her handkerchief. While she had never been obsessed with her looks in the way her younger sisters were, she always took pride in her appearance. Her father had often complimented her beautiful skin and her lustrous, thick hair, while her mother made sure her bonnets and dresses were stylish.
Even so, she grudgingly acknowledged to herself that she had been avoiding mirrors for at least two years now, and lately, her gowns had become uncomfortably snug.
True or not, his comments wounded her deeply. Though she was well-known for her intelligence and quick wit, she yearned to be told she was altogether lovely. She had many friends, but she feared that being bright and cheerful with a pretty face described a governess or a lady’s companion, and she did not aspire to those vocations.
Secretly, Elizabeth wished to be the wife of a gentleman who adored her, as well as a mother to children she would love, regardless of their outward features. She prided herself on valuing the characters of her friends and relatives rather than their physical attributes.
Too be judged so harshly by a person she had never met was disconcerting. Her view of the world and her place in it was shaken.
In the moment the haughty gentleman had declared her to be “too much,” she had become, to herself, “not enough.” Not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not tempting enough.
Mr. Bingley, sweet man, would not agree with his friend. “How can you say that, Darcy? She has a perfect complexion, beautiful eyes, and dainty hands which are lovely. Her entire face is alight when she smiles, and I have also observed how graceful she is when she walks. Surely you have noticed that.”
Darcy snorted. “I have. Who could miss it? She approaches the refreshment table every half hour, and she is sorely mistaken if she thinks her handkerchief hides what she is constantly eating. Bingley, I am not in humour to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men, especially when that slighting is so obviously justified in this case by the lady’s lack of discipline.”
His companion rather testily replied, “I would not be as fastidious as you for a kingdom. You are determined to be disagreeable, so I will leave you to it. Furthermore, I shall dare your disapproval and ask her myself.”
Elizabeth hardly ever allowed herself to dislike people she had never met, but she was willing to make an exception for tall, dark, brooding Mr. Darcy. Upon further reflection, she was somewhat surprised to realize she truly despised him, despite his unusual beauty and aristocratic profile, which was most unusual for her. She had never met the gentleman, yet she could hardly stand the sight of him. Odd, for she was generally accepting of everyone.
Seeing Mr. Bingley approaching her, she stuffed the handkerchief into her reticule and placed it under her chair. Her determined attempt at a pleasant countenance was successful.
A moment later, Mr. Bingley appeared before her, bowed, and extended his hand with a smile and a request.
Elizabeth stood and placed her hand in his, determined not to disgrace herself. She held her head high and fixed a smile upon her face, allowing her brilliant, green eyes to sparkle with mischief as he escorted her past Mr. Darcy onto the dance floor.
As she and Mr. Bingley moved through the steps, she glimpsed Mr. Darcy watching them several times, an inscrutable expression on his striking face.
Assuming that he looked at her only to find fault, her active mind formed a scheme, and she could hardly wait to set it in motion.
What do you think? Have you ever been judged harshly concerning your physical appearance? I have, so I have years of material to access in this story. My sister Gayle gave me this idea, and she will have much to contribute.
You can read future posts at Beyond Austen, where you can read works in progress by some of your favorite Austenesque authors. Leave a comment for the authors. Sometimes our readers influence our stories.
The actress in the picture is Toni Collette who played the part of Harriet Smith in the 1996 version of Emma.
And just in case you didn’t notice my Darcy model earlier in the post, here he is again, Mr. Thomas Beaudoin.