A Very Different Assembly

(Special thanks to Amy R for the idea of Regency Col F & Charlotte…I got carried away! Enjoy Amy!)

Mr. Darcy was sitting in Bingley’s library with his leg elevated to keep the swelling down. He heard someone about to enter, and fearing it was Miss Bingley, he was about to hide behind the sofa when a voice called out, “Darce? Are you in there?”

Relieved that he wouldn’t expose himself to further injury by jumping over the furniture, Darcy beckoned his cousin to come in. “Yes Richard, come in!  What the devil are you doing here in Hertfordshire of all places?”

Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. “Bingley wrote and told me you were felled while riding Artemis and during a hunt no less!”

Darcy shook his head at the irony. “Yes Richard, it seems that horse was very poorly named. God of the hunt, indeed. Damn animal was spooked by the very fox it was meant to hunt!”

Fitzwilliam agreed. “Shall I petition Bingley to rename the beast Hermes?”

It took Darcy a moment, but then he smiled. “A very good choice, I’m sure- the god of mischief! Yes, I think that will do nicely.”

The Colonel slapped both of his knees, closing the subjects of both the errant horse and Darcy’s injury. “So Darce, now that I am come, is there anything I can do to aid in your convalescence?”

Darcy thought for a moment and then said, “Actually….”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Many of Meryton’s foremost residents had turned out that evening to the Assembly Ball to see if they could catch a glance of the newest and, from what all reports said, most eligible young man in the person of Charles Bingley. It had been reputed that he would bring seven gentleman and twelve ladies to the gathering, but in the end it was only himself, his two sisters, his brother-in-law and an army Colonel of whom no one was certain how he was related.

Charles Bingley, it was rumoured, had an income in excess of 5000 pounds a year and was declared by and large to be the handsomest and most amiable of men. Miss Bingley, so very tall and elegant in the latest Bond Street fashions, was thought of as everything charming. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst were such a fashionable young couple and graced everyone by showing such superior dancing as was rarely seen in Meryton.

Then there was the Colonel.

It began to circulate around the room that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was of the Heavy Dragoons, or was it the Foot? Perhaps it was the Cavalry after all. One thing that was known for certain was he walked with a wooden leg, or was it that he had a glass eye? Whatever it was, he had been highly decorated in the Peninsular War and it was a great honor to have such a brave man in their midst.

All the gentlemen found his company congenial. The Colonel was an excellent storyteller and had a very wry sense of humor that left his listeners wondering just how much truth his tales held. The women found him to be distinguished if not handsome. Miss Bingley had been heard saying that the Colonel was only a second son and all the mamas thought it a great pity indeed.

The Colonel knew what was being said and had no desire to correct any mistakes or confirm any truth to the rumours circulating about him. He was greatly relieved that no one knew he was the son of an Earl and that, besides his pay, he had quite a sizeable income and a minor estate he would someday take over. Richard began to understand why Darcy dreaded these types of events. If in a matter of moments everyone in a room had determined what you were like based on your material wealth, how could any intercourse between people be genuine?

Bingley had introduced Richard to one of the more prominent families in town. The Bennets had five daughters and several of them were uncommonly pretty. Bingley danced with the eldest and he left Richard to ask the second which he did dutifully.

Dancing with Miss Elizabeth was a pleasant enough experience. She made light conversation and had a good humour which pleased him while reminding him of someone. As she began discussing some freak of Greek mythology which he didn’t understand, it occurred to him where the resemblance was. Miss Elizabeth would be the perfect foil for Darcy!

The Colonel hoped that someday Darcy would thank him for this. “Miss Elizabeth, I hope that you will not think me too forward, but there is someone I would love to introduce to you. My cousin, a Mr. Darcy from Derbyshire, is also staying with Mr. Bingley but was unable to attend tonight because of an injury.”

With concern, Elizabeth asked, “Oh my, I hope that your cousin is alright and that the injury isn’t serious!”

“Not too serious, no. At least not the fall from the horse. You see, my cousin Darcy is the most fastidious…”

Colonel Fitzwilliam went on to explain the heavy sense of duty that Darcy felt for all things and how though they were both responsible for the care of Darcy’s sister, the actual burden fell squarely upon her brother. He painted a very sympathetic picture of his very shy cousin and made it quite clear that it was shyness and not being aloof or displeased that often caused him to withdraw from society.

“I am very sorry for him and should very much like to meet him. It sounds like he’s in need of a friend.”

Their half-hour was now over and the Colonel thanked Miss Elizabeth, “Yes, he is very much in need of a friend, even if he does not know it.”

Elizabeth blushed and quipped, “I understand. Some people think they can hide away and do everything themselves. I have such a friend as well. If you are not otherwise engaged, I should like to introduce you to her.”

“With pleasure, Miss Elizabeth. After you,” the Colonel bowed and then followed Elizabeth’s lead.

Elizabeth made her introductions. “Colonel Fitzwilliam, this is my good friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte, this is Colonel Fitzwilliam. The Colonel came to Hertfordshire to look after his cousin who was unable to attend tonight. I think that’s a very admirable quality, what think you Charlotte?”

Charlotte wished she knew what Elizabeth was about. “I think that is very admirable indeed! That you should be able to take time from your duties for the care of a family member must speak very highly of your good character, I’m sure.”

The Colonel smiled at Charlotte. “Miss Lucas, I thank you for your compliment, but I can assure you that I am doing no less than my cousin would do for me. If you are free, would you care to dance the next Miss Lucas?”

Elizabeth watched her friend blush prettily before Charlotte answered. “I am not engaged and would be delighted Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

Richard Fitzwilliam found he was actually anticipating a dance with a country miss. He offered his arm to Charlotte. “Excellent! Shall we?”

They found their way into the set and began their dance.

Charlotte Lucas, eldest child of Sir William Lucas, was seven and twenty and was reputed to be very plain. She was not a great beauty when compared with the Bennet girls, nor did she have the grace or poise of Mrs. Long’s nieces. She did not have the youth or verve of her younger sisters either. Saying that Charlotte Lucas was plain was accepted as an undisputable fact- the same as saying that Sir William was effusive or Mrs. Bennet was loud- it was true and all the denizens of Meryton knew it to be so.

Until tonight. On this evening, Charlotte Lucas was not plain, not an old maid and definitely not on the shelf. She blushed, she smiled, her stomach was all aflutter and she looked more like a girl in her first bloom of seventeen rather than the twenty-seven which she now was. Charlotte was beginning to feel foolish. She had never been of a romantic nature and had often boasted that very thing to Elizabeth. Yet, when she had danced with the Colonel, Charlotte began to understand that a marriage of affection might just be superior to one of convenience after all.

After supper, the Colonel sought out Charlotte’s hand once more. Being new in town and with not enough partners for all the girls, he had done his duty and danced with many of the town’s lovely maidens that night. Aside from his dance with Miss Elizabeth, who truly reminded him of his cousin, the only intelligent conversation he had had was with Miss Lucas and so he sought more. Charlotte had not expected such a compliment and her sincere thanks warmed his heart. He had overheard some of the men speak of Miss Lucas in unflattering, harsh tones, but he saw no evidence of truth in their words. Before him stood a very pretty and intelligent lady with whom he would share a simple dance and that was all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day found the Lucas family calling on the Bennets at Longbourn as they did after every ball. Charlotte and Elizabeth began their very serious work teasing Jane about her excellent match with the most amiable Mr. Bingley. It was decided that Jane had leave to like him for she had liked many a stupider man. Jane fought back with some teasing of her own. It had not gone unnoticed that Elizabeth played matchmaker and so together the Bennet sisters quizzed Charlotte of the subject of the Colonel.

Charlotte refused to take the bait. “Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam is very nice and a very gallant gentleman, but he is a soldier and I’m sure he felt it was his duty to stand up with the town’s token old maid and that is all.”

Elizabeth laughed and corrected her friend’s perception. “You make it sound as though you are a town institution and you know that is a gross exaggeration! And if the Colonel was only doing his duty, as you call it, why did he dance with you twice, escort you to supper and whenever he was free, he hovered about you like a shepherd attending his favorite lamb? I think the Colonel has a decided interest in you and you- Miss ‘A home and a comfortable life is all I ask’- may find that you can ask for more after all.”

Charlotte wouldn’t hear of it. “Oh Lizzy! You tease me so. The Colonel was only being polite I’m sure.”

 Jane piped in, “Very polite!”

Elizabeth laughed, “Very good Jane!”

Jane smiled. “I wasn’t with Mr. Bingley the entire night. I do have eyes you know. Charlotte, you must believe us, it should not be so impossible for you to think that a man such as he could wish to pay his addresses to you. Admit that you may have a bit of romantic nature in you after all and we will let the matter rest.”

Charlotte, knowing that she could not defeat both Jane and Elizabeth, admitted it freely. “Very well, you win. He is the first man who has ever made me question my ideals and I find that I could like him very much. There, are the two of you satisfied now?”

Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other, smiled and said in unison, “Very.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Colonel Fitzwilliam found that whenever he wasn’t on active duty it did not take him long at all to adjust to country hours. Because he had slept much later than was his usual wont, he was the last one to make it into the breakfast room. The Colonel found it amusing that everyone was doing their best to give an account of the dance to Darcy who obviously didn’t really care to hear any of it.

Miss Bingley went on about the lack of fashion, lack of decorum and lack of society so much that Richard began to wonder if Miss Bingley had attended the same Assembly as the rest of the party.

Deciding he’d had enough, the Colonel spoke. “Miss Bingley, I found the company to be well enough for a town of this size. You mustn’t try to compare last night to a function in Town for there is nothing like London. Indeed, I found last night to be very similar to the balls near my father’s estate. In all, I thought it a very pleasant evening with very pleasant people. Wouldn’t you agree Bingley?”

“Absolutely! It was a capital evening. I found I liked the company very well and look forward to spending the winter here very much as I get to know my neighbors better.”

Richard had watched Charles pay great attention to the eldest Miss Bennet and had himself found her to be a very good sort of girl and thought she’d do very well for Bingley and said so. “You were dancing with the handsomest girl all night. I think she’s quite a charming lady Bingley. Well done.”

Darcy groaned. Instead of one overly-chipper, moonstruck idiot, it appeared he needed to deal with two overly-chipper, moonstruck idiots. “So who is this new ‘angel’ of yours Charles?”

Bingley beamed. “Miss Jane Bennet. The Bennets are our nearest neighbors and, having met them all, I believe our houses will be quite close.”

Darcy could see it all now. Bingley would make a fool of himself over some country miss and raise expectations and break hearts once again without ever realizing the damage he’d wrought. At least with his leg as it was, he wouldn’t have to bear close witness to the carnage this time.

Bingley had been mesmerized by Jane Bennet alright, but he had still noticed that Richard had danced plenty himself. “I am not the only one who had a good evening Darcy. Your cousin cut quite a figure and I’m sure with his fine red coat broke many more hearts than I did. He even danced twice with the daughter of the local squire.”

Darcy groaned again, stood and leaning heavily on his cane, excused himself and made for the library where he would hide away from the attentions of Miss Bingley all day.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Over the course of the next few weeks, Darcy continued to convalesce and his knee began to heal even while his ankle still remained swollen. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam attended many dinners and functions throughout the area. Mr. Bingley continued to pay his attentions to Jane Bennet  and Darcy continued to find new places to hide at Netherfield while Colonel Fitzwilliam had found a kindred spirit in Charlotte Lucas.

One evening found the Netherfield party, minus Darcy of course, at the home of Mrs. Long. The Bennets, the Gouldings and the Phillips were all there but the Lucas’s had sent word that they would be late. Colonel Fitzwilliam, looking for someone to talk to, sought out Elizabeth as a substitute for his Charlotte. The Colonel was sharing some amusing anecdotes about his grumpy cousin’s recovery while Elizabeth related that she herself made for a most miserable patient as well. Richard dearly hoped Darcy would get well soon so he could finally meet the woman who Richard was sure could be the next Mistress of Pemberley. The two friends were laughing about childhood mishaps when the Lucas party arrived. Charlotte had fought against her long held beliefs and only just come to understand that she was falling in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She had trusted her friend’s opinions that he might even hold her in some regard as well and grew excited at the thought. Maybe she wouldn’t always be a burden to her family after all. Perhaps she wouldn’t end an old maid or wed to a man she couldn’t respect or love. Just maybe she, Charlotte Lucas, could have a marriage of love and affection.

Charlotte spied the Colonel’s red coat and made her way towards him when she saw he was not alone. He was in close conference with Elizabeth and they were laughing together- at her no doubt! For a moment, Charlotte couldn’t catch her breath and when she did, it made an audible gasp that caught the Colonel and Elizabeth’s attention. They both stood and rushed to the aid of a clearly distressed Charlotte.

Elizabeth had no idea what could be wrong with her friend. She was never over emotional or given to histrionics and therefore could not account for the reason her friend was now breathing heavily and had tears running down her cheeks. “Charlotte, dearest what is wrong? The Colonel and I only wish to help you. Tell us what troubles you so that we might help make it right.”

That was the last straw for Charlotte. “Oh yes! Patronize poor Charlotte! I’m so glad I could of use as a game to you. Thank you for your concern, but Elizabeth, I think you and your Colonel have done enough.”

Elizabeth was shocked. Charlotte Lucas was jealous! “My Colonel? I think not Charlotte. I was doing a very poor job of keeping this poor man company until your arrival.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam was astonished. He knew that he very much liked Miss Lucas, he found her pretty in her own way and there was no one else’s company he sought as much as hers. Until this moment when it was obvious he had hurt her, he hadn’t realized he was completely in love with her. Her good sense, her capable judgment, her gentle humor and the way she carried herself with an assuredness that none of the younger women possessed were all things he loved about her. One thing mattered even more than all of these. She loved him! She had not said it, could not say it because to do so would go against every constraint of society but it was so clearly written on her face for all to see. How wonderful!

Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed over Charlotte’s hand. “Miss Lucas, you must allow me to apologize. I would beg your forgiveness and ask permission to have a word with you if I may?”

Charlotte felt tired and confused. The emotions she’s been feeling for the last month were so new and she hardly understood herself anymore. Charlotte looked to Elizabeth who gave a small smile and nodded for her friend to go with the Colonel. She allowed him to lead her away to a quiet corner where they were still in full view but were afforded a modicum of privacy.

  “My dear Charlotte, I hope that you will not mind if I call you that?” She quietly said no and he continued, “My dear Charlotte, I must tell you that this last month has been the most wonderful month I have ever spent for I have been blessed to spend it getting to know you. You must allow me to tell you that I have come to feel the highest regard and admiration… oh, this is nonsense! I cannot speak thusly.”

Charlotte colored and quickly withdrew her hand. She felt there had never been another used as cruelly as she. Charlotte began to stammer some excuse and, as she turned to flee, the Colonel grabbed her arm in order to prevent her from leaving.

His face was serious and his eyes were pleading as he begged her to stay. “Please Charlotte, bear me out and listen to what I have to say. If you never wish to see me after, I will accept your decision.”

Charlotte had never ached before like she did now and just wished it to be over. “I will hear you Colonel but I refuse to be played a fool any longer. Say what you will and have done with it.”

“My dear, dear Charlotte, when I said this was nonsense, I only meant my ability to speak with eloquence. I am a soldier and as such am used to speaking plainly- to the point and purpose- so I won’t ramble on any longer. I love you Charlotte Lucas and beg you to consider being my wife.”

Charlotte smiled through her tears. “That was most definitely to the point and purpose Colonel.”

Unsure of what her answer would be, he questioned her, “I have not offended you, my sweet Charlotte?”

Clasping his hand, she happily replied, “Not at all Richard. I have considered little else these last few weeks as I have grown to love you so dearly and I would be honored to be your wife.”

Richard had never spoken of his situation to her and thought this would be a good time to do so. “Shall you like being the wife of a soldier?”

“While I am sure I do not care for the idea of you going into battle, I am confident that I can keep our home with enough economy to live quite comfortably. Are you certain in your choice? There are many women of much larger portion out there who I’m sure would have you, excellent man that you are. I would not want you to regret making me your choice.”

Richard kissed her hand and then held it between his own. “Trying to get rid of me so soon, are we? You are my first and only choice and I would not have you think otherwise. Now as for me going off to battle and you needing to economize, I have a few things to say on the matter…”

He proceeded to confess that he was at liberty to resign his commission at any time and he further explained the details of his investments and his estate. Charlotte was heard it all but the thing that pleased her most was that her beloved Richard would be a Colonel no more. He would be safe and sound and she could not ask for anything better in the whole world than that.

The Colonel cornered Sir William and asked for, and was granted, the honour of Charlotte’s hand. Seeing that there was no time like the present, the announcement was made and congratulations flowed in for the happy couple. Word began to circulate that he was not just a second son, but the second son of an Earl and that in addition to his Army pay, he had many investments, was immensely wealthy, had a great estate that took up half of Kent and must be addled in the head from an injury for choosing Charlotte over the other girls of Meryton. Once again, Richard understood how silly the business of the marriage market was and he was glad he need not be a part of it anymore.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Darcy was needing to lean on his cane a little less each day and was taking a turn about the grounds to stretch his legs in the great outdoors before the weather turned too cold to do so. It was tiresome being cooped up in the manor with the newly affianced Fitzwilliam and Bingley, who was undoubtedly soon to follow suit. Perhaps more than anything, Darcy was curious about what could be in the air in Hertfordshire that turned somewhat rational men into love-struck whelps. Could such a thing happen to him? Perhaps, but he would not stake anything of value on it. He had lived in the world too long and seen enough match-making mamas and their dutiful daughters to make him wary of being drawn in by anyone.

He was about to turn back towards the house when Bingley, in his carriage, stopped and asked if he would come along and pay some calls to the neighbors. When Darcy began to decline, both Bingley and the Colonel reminded him that he had resided nearly six weeks in the area and had yet to meet anyone. Resigned that he must go, Darcy grumbled to himself as he climbed in the carriage.

There would only be one call today and that would be the Bennets. They arrived in due course and Darcy thought the place was much better kept than Miss Bingley had said. They were received into the parlour and Darcy paid particular attention to his surroundings. This was the first time he would meet this Charlotte Lucas of Richard’s or Charles’ angelic Jane Bennet and he wanted to ensure his friends hadn’t been duped.

The introductions were made and Darcy found himself struck dumb by Elizabeth Bennet. He was no different than he ever was in company and she was not afraid of him. It was odd. She asked after his leg and was pleased to hear that it didn’t trouble him too greatly anymore. In a matter of minutes, Elizabeth had put him completely at ease and he was more talkative than his friends had ever recalled seeing. They had a lively discussion on the merits of Blake over Byron, their favorite tales from Greek mythology, why climbing trees in spring is superior to doing so in fall and several other topics. Darcy had never had a conversation, an actual conversation about something other than the weather or the meal being served, with a woman as bright and beautiful as Miss Elizabeth.

At some point, Charles and Miss Bennet had slipped out into the garden where he asked her to make him the happiest of men and she, of course, agreed. Mr. Bennet was applied to immediately and for once that man chose not to sport with his wife and told her directly the happy news. Mrs. Bennet declared that it was all exactly as she knew it would be, but everyone was so engrossed in their own business and conversations that they paid her little or no attention.

As the three gentlemen took their leave, Darcy was surprised to find he was unwilling to leave Miss Elizabeth’s company. Her fine eyes would surely haunt his dreams that evening and he was beginning to think he wouldn’t mind that at all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next week saw the preparations begin in earnest for the engagement ball ay Netherfield and the arrival of Mr. Bennet’s cousin at Longbourn. As all three gentlemen were now daily callers at Longbourn, Mr. Bennet shared the news that his cousin should be arriving shortly and shared the effusive letter from Mr. Collins. The Colonel and Darcy shared with Mr. Bennet how inaccurate the parson’s description of their aunt was and from what their cousin Anne had written them, they prepared Mr. Bennet to receive a sycophant of the very worst kind.

The day Mr. Collins arrived, he was surprised to find so many men already in the house. He had been given to understand there were five daughters and assumed that he would be given his pick from amongst them. Jane was by far the most beautiful of the girls, but she was newly engaged. Elizabeth was quite pretty too, but that tall fellow glared at him whenever he looked her way. Lydia was the next prettiest but was too young and silly. Kitty was insipid and then there was Mary. Mary was reverent and knew Fordyce by heart. She held the clergy to be among the most noble of professions and though plain, she seemed to be a sturdy enough woman and would make a right, proper mistress for his parish.

The day before the ball, the gentlemen of Netherfield were on their way to call on Longbourn when they unexpectedly met the ladies along with Mr. Collins in Meryton. The Colonel took Charlotte’s arm, Bingley walked with Jane, Darcy took what was now his place next to Elizabeth and taking his cue from the others, Collins asked for Mary’s hand and was pleased when she smiled brightly at him. Cousin Collins wondered if perhaps Miss Mary was not so plain after all.

In the high street, Lydia and Kitty ran into some of the officers they knew from the militia who had recently set up camp nearby. Captains Carter and Denny introduced their new friend who was come to join the ranks, a George Wickham. Lydia and Kitty led the small group towards the larger party and set forth to make the introductions but were cut short.

Wickham turned white while both Darcy and Fitzwilliam turned red. None of this went unnoticed by the party and before anyone could say anything, the Colonel stated, “Wickham, if you have not yet signed your papers, you will leave this place and have the good sense to understand this is a one-time allowance.”

Darcy was about to protest, but the Colonel held up his hand. “Darcy, you are too good and patient. This man is a scoundrel of the worst kind. Had you not stopped me last summer, we’d not need to have this conversation now.”

Wickham quietly stated that he had not signed his papers and that it might be in the best interest of everyone if he was on his way.

The younger girls were deeply offended that such a handsome young man should be treated so abominably in public. Darcy looked to his cousin who shrugged his consent. With a deep sigh Darcy began a tale that would be told for the good of the younger girls, so they might not be taken in by a handsome face that belonged to a man of questionable character. “George Wickham was the son of my father’s steward…”

When Darcy was finished with his tale, he had omitted the part about his sister being the rogue’s object, Lydia and Kitty were weeping while imagining themselves ruined and shunned by their family and polite society. Elizabeth squeezed his arm and smiled at him, for she had already been told this story by the Colonel before and knew how hard this must have been for Darcy to share.

Colonel Fitzwilliam had been right about his cousin. Elizabeth would have, had not for her prior intelligence, found him aloof and unwelcoming but she looked beneath the façade he presented to the world and saws the good man he was underneath and found she liked him very much. The more time she spent with the handsome and witty man, the more she knew she would find no other who’s ideas and tastes so closely matched her own. If Elizabeth had to, she would admit she was quite smitten with Mr. Darcy but she knew rationally there was a much greater divide between them than stood between her sister and Bingley or Charlotte and the Colonel. As much as he might admire her, and she was fairly sure he did, she knew he could never make her an offer and so decided to just enjoy the time they could spend together before he would eventually leave.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Netherfield Park had never before looked as splendid as it did the evening of the engagement ball. Caroline, resigned to having lost her chance with both Mr. Darcy and the Colonel, had thrown all of her efforts into making the ball something that Charles and Jane would appreciate. Miss Bingley had overheard the Colonel asking Charles what he would do with her once he was married to Jane. Charles had remarked that unless his sister’s behavior changed for the better, he would pack her away to his aunt in Scarborough.

Bingley then began a tirade about just how angry her antics had made him and how he would no longer tolerate any abuse of his Jane, her sisters, his future family or his friends. Caroline spoke at length with her sister Mrs. Hurst who concurred with Charles. Louisa had tried to warn Caroline many times that Mr. Darcy would never offer for her and reminded her how over the years she had made herself quite ridiculous over that man. Resigned to do better, Caroline put on her best smile and sought to be a gracious hostess while she still could. Hopefully, Charles would see she was sincere and allow her to stay either at Netherfield or in London.

The guests began to arrive and very quickly Netherfield began to grow crowded. Charles and Richard alongside Jane and Charlotte flitted around the room sharing their joy and accepting glad tidings. Darcy watched with envy the familiarity that was allowed between the couples now that they were engaged and wished he could share the same with his Elizabeth. That thought caused him to pause for a moment while he wondered when exactly she had become his Elizabeth. His thoughts were interrupted as he watched her cross the room and whisper something to Jane. Jane excused herself and walked back the way Elizabeth had come leaving the younger Bennet girl standing alongside Charles, Richard and Charlotte. Darcy took this opportunity to seek her out and secure his dances with her.

Offering her his arm, they stepped away from the group for a moment of privacy. Bowing over her hand, he looked into those eyes that so enchanted him and asked, “Miss Elizabeth, I hope you’ll forgive me for not asking earlier, but if you’re not otherwise engaged, might I ask if you are free for the first?”

His eyes were so warm and melted her heart as they always did. “No sir, I am not engaged and would be happy to dance the first with you.”

Still holding her hand, he smiled and the rare appearance of her dimples made her knees grow weak. “Might I enquire after the supper dance Miss Elizabeth?”

She could deny him nothing. “It’s yours if you wish it, sir.”

Knowing he wished for nothing more than to claim the right to every dance and all of her time, he asked, “The last dance as well then?”

As much as she wished to say yes, she knew it would be improper. “Mr. Darcy! You very well know that to be impossible! Think of the scandal!”

Darcy smiled. “Impossible? I know no such thing. Bingley will dance at least three with your sister, same as your friend and my cousin. Why should we not?”

She was becoming frustrated by his glib manner. “But sir, surely you must see the difference? They are engaged and certain allowances are therefore made…”

Darcy held both her hands, causing her to give him her complete attention. “Elizabeth, I do not only want your hand for this dance. I want your hand in life and I want your hand for always. Please say that you’ll grant me this wish and I promise I will spend the rest of my days telling you how much I love you and making certain that you never regret it.”

Elizabeth was overcome with joy. It was so much more than she had ever expected and now, knowing that she was marrying for the deepest love, gave voice to what her heart had long known.  “Yes, Fitzwilliam, you may have your three dances and any others that you choose and yes, I love you too and would be happy to give you my hand if only you promise to give me yours.”

Darcy was ecstatic but only those who knew him really well would ever be able to detect any change in that great man. “I would never deny my wife anything her heart desires.”

Blushing prettily at her fiancé, Elizabeth teased, “Well then Fitzwilliam, it’s probably a very good thing that all I desire is you.”

Elizabeth’s saucy tease made him realize that it was a very good thing they were in a crowded ballroom rather than alone. At that moment, Darcy thought it best not to delay and asked, “May we go to your father now?”

She nodded her agreement, “I think it might be for the best!”

As Darcy and Elizabeth passed their friends and family, it was patently obvious to all that they had come at last to an understanding.

Richard boasted aloud, “I made the match myself!”

Bingley and Jane laughed when Charlotte teased, “You sound like a proud match-making mama!”

“I am!” Richard made like he was wiping a tear from his eye as he tried not to laugh, “You raise them, you teach them right from wrong, you give them the best years of your life, all the while knowing someday they have to leave the nest. I am so proud of my little Darce!”

They chuckled as they speculated about what the future might hold for the future Darcys and for themselves.

Darcy found he needed to wait his turn to apply to Mr. Bennet for Collins was there ahead of him, seeking Mary’s hand. After his consent was given to both Collins and Darcy, Mr. Bennet told Mrs. Bennet to never mention being thrown into the hedgerows again for God had smiled on them by sending three very sensible men of good taste to their daughters.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The autumn of 1811 was never matched again for number of engagements in Meryton. It seemed that Darcy had been correct and something must have been in the air. When word made it back to London that Fitzwilliam, Darcy and Bingley had all found suitable brides in the same small market town, others came out of curiosity. In all, there were seventeen marriages made by New Year’s.

At the wedding breakfast for Richard and Charlotte, the groom held up a glass and asked the company to toast his cousin Darcy. “To Darcy, here’s to you for having the decency to injure yourself here in Meryton so that I could meet my dearest Charlotte. I will be forever grateful for your lackadaisical horsemanship. And to the future Mrs. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, for the introduction and knowing when to order an old soldier into battle.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The marriages made in Hertfordshire that fall were all very special. Darcy and his Elizabeth were very happy together, Bingley had found his angel at last in Jane and Collins had found the one woman in the world who loved him for who he was and never found him ridiculous.  The happiest of them all, however, were Charlotte and Richard. Each and every day they were thankful for the love they shared and knew they were blessed beyond measure to have found their other half.

~*~*~*~And everyone (yes, even Caroline) lived happilyever after….~*~*~*~

 

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Creative Commons License
A Very Different Assembly by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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