Elizabeth nervously arranged her hair and clothes one last time in preparation for the Netherfield Ball. She had chosen a pale blue gown embroidered at the bodice with white and silver thread and had asked Hill to pin her hair up with silver pins. She pretended to dress just as she would for any assembly or dinner party. But she knew that was a lie. Her excitement to see Mr. Wickham had hastened her preparations. She was ready to depart for the ball before any of her sisters.
The door opened then, and her younger sister Lydia bustled into the room. “Lizzy, are you almost ready? Everyone’s already downstairs waiting for us!”
Elizabeth nodded, still fussing with her hair, ensuring the curls would hold all night. “Yes, I’m nearly done.”
“You look beautiful, Lizzy! Now come on, let’s go.” Lydia picked up her skirts and hurried out of the room, leaving Elizabeth alone.
She took a deep breath, and with one last critical glance in the mirror, she stepped out of the room, almost running into Mary.
“Do not monopolize Mr. Collins tonight, Lizzy. He has promised us all dances.”
Elizabeth stared, surprised that anyone wanted to converse with Mr. Collins, let alone spend time dancing with him. “You can be sure I will leave plenty of dances for all my sisters.”
Mary solemnly nodded with a long look, then turned away to descend the stairs. Elizabeth shook her head slowly and followed her sister to the waiting carriage.
The Netherfield ball was in full swing when they arrived. Elizabeth surveyed the room, expecting to see Mr. Wickham’s smile beaming her way.
“Lizzy, you look very nice,” said Charlotte Lucas, her good friend, and neighbor.
“Thank you, and you as well.” Elizabeth looked around the room again. Everywhere she looked, people were chatting, laughing, and dancing.
“Are you looking for someone?”
Flushed at how inattentive she had been to her friend, Elizabeth looked back and gave Charlotte her full attention. “I am expecting Mr. Wickham any moment.”
Her smile did not dim though she was taken aback by Charlotte’s frown. Just then, she heard a voice call out her name. She turned to find a member of the militia bowing deeply.
“Miss Bennet, you look quite remarkably well this evening,” said Lt. Denny.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, smiling while looking behind him with a slight frown.
“I am instructed to convey to you, Miss Bennet, my friend Wickham’s most particular regrets that he’s been prevented from attending the ball. He’s been obliged to go to town on urgent business, though I don’t imagine it would have been so urgent if he’d not wished to avoid a certain gentleman.” He turned to look back over his shoulder to where Mr. Darcy stood.
Elizabeth’s smile dropped completely.
Lydia rushed up, stopping in front of Elizabeth, her back turned to her elder sister. “Denny, I hope you’ve come prepared to dance with us tonight.”
Another member of the militia who had followed Lydia interjected. “Forgive the intrusion, Ma’am. I would dance with both your sister at once if I could, but as it is….”
Lydia rolled her eyes and grabbed Lt. Denny’s arm. “Oh, never mind that. Come on, Denny.”
Elizabeth flattened her lips, sending a frown in Mr. Darcy’s direction, who was now walking along the room’s walls. She turned away but stilled as her cousin approached and cleared his throat. She led both men away toward the set, beginning to start on the dance floor.
Elizabeth smiled flatly towards her friend as she did her duty. “Charlotte, may I present our cousin, Mr. Collins. My friend, Miss. Lucas.”
Charlotte curtsied. “How do you do, sir?”
“Miss Lucas, I am honored to meet any friend of my fair cousins. So many agreeable young ladies. I’m quite enraptured.”
Unfortunately, the previous set was not a long reel. Still, a very short dance, and Elizabeth shot Charlotte a long look as Mr. Collins led her out onto the dance area for the first two dances.
Elizabeth was horrified that Mr. Collins immediately turned in the wrong direction and slammed into another woman. “Other way, Mr. Collins!”
She looked away, embarrassed and frustrated that she was stuck for two entire dances, when her gaze was caught by Mr. Darcy smiling at her cousin’s mistake. Elizabeth turned away and tried to ignore the man now walking behind the dancers, following them down the line, watching the dance.
Darcy witnesses the embarrassing moment and smiles in amusement as Elizabeth and Mr. Collins continue dancing. Elizabeth sees his smirk and turns her face away. Darcy follows them down the line, watching the dance with an intrigued and bemused expression.
When her two sets with Mr. Collins were over, Elizabeth rushed away to the refreshments table. Mary told her she had overheard important information about Mr. Wickham and led her out of the ballroom to talk to her privately.
Mary leaned in and whispered, “I’ve heard something concerning Mr. Wickham that you need to know.”
Elizabeth swallowed her mouthful of punch. “What did you hear?”
Her sister looked from side to side, then shook her head. “Not here. Follow me.”
She grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and pulled her away from the bustling ballroom.
Elizabeth followed Mary, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. She hadn’t expected to be taken down a narrow, dimly lit hallway far from the main ballroom.
“Where are we going?” she asked, but Mary didn’t answer. Instead, she quickened her pace, her shoes tapping on the wooden floor.
They reached a door at the end of the hallway. With a swift motion, Mary unlocked the door and pushed it open, motioning for Elizabeth to go in first. She stepped quickly inside the darkened room, confused as to why Mary could not have told her the news in the hallway. But perhaps she was worried anyone could go in the hall for air?
Elizabeth was about to ask Mary to tell her the news when she heard the sound of the essential turning in the lock behind her.
“Mary? Mary!” Panic rose in her throat as she realized that, against all reason, her sister had locked her in the room.
“My dear Lizzy,” she said in a singsong voice, “you don’t think I’d let you have Mr. Collins all to yourself, do you?”
Gobsmacked, Elizabeth could scarcely breathe as she listened to the retreating footsteps. But then she heard something that startled her out of her wits.
It was the sound of a clearing throat. She whirled, gasping to see the figure of a man standing in the corner of the room next to the window.
Elizabeth felt her cheeks burn as she realized the unknown man must have heard all of their conversation—and Mary’s confession.
She couldn’t look him in the eye any longer, so instead, she focused on his attire, what she could make out in the faint moonlight through the window. As her eyes grew accustomed to the lack of light, she could make out a dark blue coat and breeches that fit him perfectly, but she could not make out his features.
They stood there in silence until finally, he spoke up in the familiar drawl of Mr. Darcy’s voice, “It appears you are locked in this room with me….”
Things look baaaaad for our dear couple when Elizabeth and the Gardiners visit Pemberley…
As Mr. Darcy courts Elizabeth, old foes try to keep them apart and the sheep have more to say as well. But no matter how hard they try, nothing can stop Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from falling in love. The culprit behind the constant interference is revealed and with a happily ever after, all’s wool that ends wool!