Edited January 29.
Elizabeth anxiously adjusted her hair and dress one final time in anticipation of the Netherfield Ball. She had chosen a gown of light blue tulle, which was stitched at the top with intricate white and silver thread. Hill had done her hair in the latest fashion, which was pinned securely in place with several sparkling silver pins. Elizabeth was aware that this ball would be different from any other assembly or dinner party she had attended—she was determined to make an impression on Mr. Wickham.
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 paused to take a deep breath, and after one last scrutinizing look in the mirror, she stepped out of her quarters, nearly colliding with Mary.
“Don’t monopolize Mr. Collins this evening, Lizzy. He said he would save dances for all of us.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes in exasperation. Why was anyone interested in conversing with Mr. Collins, let alone dancing with him? “No need to worry. I’ll leave plenty of dances for all of my sisters,” she assured her.
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 music and laughter at the Netherfield ball filled the air as the Bennet family made their arrival, all except for Mr. Bennet who had taken ill with a sudden coughing fit.
But Elizabeth, ever the skeptic, was not one to be easily swayed by such trifles. “I suspect Papa’s ailment is nothing more than a clever excuse to avoid the tediousness of this ball,” she murmured to her sister Jane with a sly glint in her eye.
The irony and wit in her words were not lost on Jane, who couldn’t help but stifle a giggle.
Elizabeth quickly surveyed the room, hoping to spot Mr. Wickham’s familiar smile.
“You look very nice, Lizzy,” Charlotte said, smiling at her friend.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, glancing around the room. Everywhere she looked, people were conversing and twirling around the dance floor.
“Are you looking for someone?” Charlotte asked.
Rueful for not listening to Charlotte, Elizabeth turned with a smile and prepared to give her friend her full attention. “I expect Mr. Wickham any moment,” she said, only for Charlotte to frown.
At that moment, Elizabeth heard someone call her name. She turned to find a soldier from the militia bowing his head in greeting. “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 glanced behind him to see Mr. Darcy, and as soon as Elizabeth caught sight of him, her smile dropped away.
Lydia ran up to them, her back facing Elizabeth. “Denny,” she exclaimed, “I hope you’re planning to join us on the dance floor 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.” She led both men away toward the set, beginning to start on the dance floor.
Elizabeth pressed her lips together in disapproval as Mr. Darcy strolled around the room’s perimeter. She turned away but stilled as her cousin approached and cleared his throat. Elizabeth gave her friend a tight-lipped smile as she made the introductions. “Charlotte, allow me to present our relation, Mr. Collins. Meet my dear friend, Miss Lucas.”
Charlotte gave a deep curtsy and said politely, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, 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 song was relatively short. Nevertheless, the brief dance ended, and Elizabeth gave Charlotte a long stare as Mr. Collins brought her out on the floor for the first two dances.
Elizabeth was mortified when Mr. Collins abruptly changed direction and bumped into another woman. “Other way, Mr. Collins!”
She stood awkwardly as she was obligated to partner with her cousin for two full dances. Elizabeth tried to look away and pretend she had not noticed Mr. Darcy’s amused smirk. But as he walked behind the dancers, trailing them with an intrigued and bemused expression, her gaze was irresistibly drawn to him.
When her two sets with Mr. Collins were over, Elizabeth rushed away to the refreshments table.
Miss Bingley approached and stood condescendingly close, “Miss Eliza, I hear you’re quite taken with George Wickham. He didn’t tell you that he is the illegitimate son of old Wickham, Mr Darcy’s late steward?” She laughed mockingly. “Nevertheless, as a friend, I would advise you not to trust all of his statements. Wickham mistreated Darcy terribly.”
Elizabeth lifted her chin and met the other woman’s gaze with a steady expression. “Has he? How?”
“I cannot recall the details, but I am certain that Mr. Darcy was innocent of any wrongdoing. It is unfortunate for you, Eliza, that your favorite’s innocence proved false; however, considering his background, his actions were not entirely unexpected.”
Elizabeth scowled as she attempted to suppress her anger. “It seems like his guilt and his parentage are the same, from what you said. I’ve been hearing you accuse him of nothing more than the son of Mr Darcy’s steward, and he himself told me about it.”
“Pardon me for butting in, it was meant with kindness.” Miss Bingley spoke haughtily and spun on her heel.
Elizabeth sighed and turned towards the punch bowl. “Insolent girl.”
“Lizzy,” Jane scolded.
“I see nothing in her paltry attack but her own willful ignorance in a man as Mr Darcy.”
“Yes, but Lizzy. Mr Bingley did say that, though he does not know the whole of the history, he fears that Mr Wickham is by no means a respectable young man.”
Elizabeth turned towards her, “Does he know Mr Wickham himself?”
“No, not at all.” Jane replied.
“Oh, well, then he has had his account from Mr Darcy! I’ve not the least doubt Mr Bingley’s sincerity. Of course he would believe his friend, and it does him credit; but as to the other two gentlemen…” Elizabeth shook her head. “I should venture to think of them both as I did before.”
Mary, who had approached quietly, leaned in close with a hushed voice. “I have news of Mr. Wickham that you must hear,” she said.
Elizabeth paused, her cup of punch hovering mid-air. “What is it?” she asked.
Her sister glanced around quickly, then shook her head. “Not here,” she said firmly, tugging Elizabeth’s hand. With a quick pull, she led her away from the crowded ballroom.
Elizabeth trailed behind Mary, feeling baffled. She hadn’t expected to be led down a dark, narrow passageway away from the grand ballroom.
“Where are we headed?” her voice followed Mary, who increased her speed, her shoes clacking against the hardwood.
At the end of the hallway, Mary reached for a door and pushed it open, inviting Elizabeth to enter first. The room was dark, leaving Elizabeth confused about why Mary couldn’t tell her the news in the hallway. Maybe she was concerned someone might hear them?
Elizabeth was just about to inquire from Mary what the news was when she heard the sound of the key turning in the lock behind her.
Terror flooded her as it dawned on her that, incredibly, her sister had barred her in the room. “Mary? Mary!” she shouted into the darkness.
“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?”
Elizabeth was utterly stunned and found it difficult to catch her breath as she listened to her sister’s retreating footsteps. Until she suddenly heard something that made her jump in fright.
A loud throat-clearing interrupted her. She gasped and spun around to see a man standing in the corner near the window.
Elizabeth’s face flushed as the truth of the situation hit her—the stranger had listened to everything they said, including Mary’s confession.
She strained her eyes to make out his features in the gloomy light pouring through the window. Eventually, as she adjusted to the darkness, she spotted a deep blue coat and trousers that fit him snugly. A hint of his cravat, embroidered with a golden pattern, peeked out from beneath his coat collar.
A hush fell between them until, finally, he broke the silence. His voice had the familiar drawl of Mr. Darcy’s, “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!