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The days leading up to the Assembly were irritating ones for Bella.
Lydia pestered more than was her wont (although Bella could be charitable and understand the reason, even if it did perturb).
Mama primped and prodded at Jane as she was the most likely to attract the wealthy Mr. Bingley (although he was less desirable than his friend, Mr. Darcy).
Jane smiled serenely and pretended to be all that was composure in the garden, but Bella thought she had just spaced out. Spaced out, what a curious term. Bella was uncertain of its origin, although was certain at its meaning every time she caught Jane smiling out the window, even when the weather was poor.
Kitty had taken to planning Bella’s gown and ribbons, but she knew better than to ask for more than three opinions between breakfast and nightfall.
Papa sighed and locked himself up in his library. No one (excepting Elizabeth) dared enter when he grumbled into his morning tea before disappearing. He also shut the door a bit too firmly when he wished the ladies to leave him be entirely.
Then there was Elizabeth. Elizabeth—well—Bella wasn’t quite certain where Elizabeth had got to. She was probably walking the countryside in the name of “fresh air” and “freedom.” In truth, Bella thought the day before the ball, Elizabeth was probably hoping to find her own Mr. Darcy, if not Mr. Darcy himself. Bella hoped emphatically she did not find the latter.
When the night of the ball finally arrived, Mama focused on Jane’s ensemble but came to Bella’s small room just before they were all together in the hall to look over Bella once. Kitty watched apprehensively from where she stood to the side, having helped Bella prepare (with the verbal assistance of Lydia, who had laid on the bed and sighed at not yet being able to attend).
Mama was silent for a long moment, her sharp eyes looking over her third daughter.
Nervousness suddenly clung to Bella, and she looked down at her simple gown of dark blue, that was improved with a ribbon of pure white upon the empire waist. Kitty had also added the thinnest trimming of lace at the bodice and at the sleeves that ended just above Bella’s elbows. The sleeves were a bit longer than exactly fashionable for a young lady’s first assembly, but Bella felt exposed in cap sleeves and lowered bosoms that single ladies preferred. Her hair had been placed simply, tied tightly into a bun at the base of skull, giving her face a stark contrast.
Mama nodded once to herself. “Good. Modest. The blue favors your coloring. The white is an elegant touch, Kitty.” She turned to her next daughter with a small smile, before taking in Bella once again. “And Mr. Darcy will have every opportunity to admire your neck and cheekbones.” Mama’s smile grew and she stepped forward, taking Bella’s hands in hers and squeezing them affectionately. “You are quite as beautiful as your sister Jane, Isabelle Mary,” she complimented. “Perhaps more so.”
“Do say I can be chief bridesmaid!” Kitty twittered, unable to help herself.
Bella looked at her sister reproachfully, but said nothing. Lydia had flounced away when Mama had entered and, thus, was not present to attempt to claim the title for herself. As expected, Mama was in effusions over the idea of a daughter married—and the third of her brood, indeed, before the first two!
The carriage ride was cramped (two parents and three daughters constituted its limit), but Bella just allowed Mama to give instructions to Jane and Elizabeth for the evening.
“Is that my white ribbon?” Elizabeth asked in a lull of conversation and Bella looked down at her dress, biting her lip in her worry. She honestly did not know (—though she was surprised that Elizabeth would care as she clearly was not favouring white that particular evening with her yellow dress—the yellow made Elizabeth’s straw coloured hair lackluster at best, in Bella’s opinion).
It seemed she was silent for a moment too long as Elizabeth exclaimed, “Mama!”
“Hush,” their mother stated decisively. “I asked you if you had use of the ribbon not three days ago, Elizabeth Bennet, and you did not. If you recall, I allowed you to order an extra book from the Mr. Clark’s in exchange for the trouble.”
Papa groaned from his place in the carriage, perhaps for having to endure the contrariness of women. He undoubtedly had been party to the scheme as he would need to approve the extra book purchase.
Bella looked over at her sister Elizabeth and saw that her lips were pressed firmly into an unhappy line.
Jane, it seemed, was not even paying attention, but staring out the window as they approached the Assembly Hall.
Papa exited first, but Elizabeth cut out after him, jostling poor, vapid Jane in the process. Jane, when she stepped out next at Mama’s direction, almost seemed to physically run into Elizabeth although Bella wasn’t particularly paying it mind. She had every intention of waiting until Mama stepped out.
“Five daughters,” Mama sighed in both exasperation and fondness, and (after a tussle of skirts) stepped out herself. However, she almost immediately turned and looked back into the carriage. “I think you might find, Isabelle Mary, that you have an escort into the hall.” She then had the audacity to wink at Bella before withdrawing.
Bella might have laughed—as she had never before seen Mama wink before!—but she was all astonishment.
When she was left alone in the carriage, she was forced to collect herself. She took an edifying breath, knowing that by stepping out onto the gravel she was firmly declaring herself as not only available but actively seeking a match.
She stepped out of the carriage, or nearly did. When she poked her head out, there was a rush of sound and colour, and the gloved hand of a man was presented to assist her.
Her eyes dashed up the proffered arm to alight on the welcome (and handsome) face of Mr. Darcy. “Hello,” she greeted, her hand slipping into his as she alighted from the carriage. She smiled up at him sweetly, grateful to have an escape from Elizabeth.
“Miss Isabelle Mary,” he greeted, his fingers squeezing hers in greeting before he took her hand and placed it into the crook of his arm. “I hope you are having a pleasant evening.”
Her smile turned private, a little small, but no less honest. “Are not all evenings spent in the company of our compatriots pleasant?”
His green eyes glinted in delight and he returned her smile, although it was only an upturn of the lips. “May I have the pleasure, Miss Isabelle Mary, of escorting you into the Assembly?”
She nodded and fell into step beside him, aware that Mama was looking on in delight, and that half of Meryton (or at least half of those who were still outside) were whispering and looking on.
It was strange being the center of attention. Bella did not care for it. She did not care for the jealous glances sent her way by women she had known all her life (well, since she had seemed to wake up a Bennet, but surely that itself was the dream). She did not care for the speculative look both the Lucas brothers sent her way. She was, however, grateful when Mr. Darcy seated her in a decently comfortable bench beside her Mama.
“Mrs. Bennet,” he greeted, bowing formally. “A privilege to see you again.”
“And you, Mr. Darcy.” Mama flittered her fan and then collapsed it, putting it down. “Are the rest of your party here with you tonight, or were you feeling the party spirit and decided to come early?”
Darcy did not quite fidget, but Bella could tell he was uncomfortable—perhaps even unused to—small talk. Still, he rallied, lowered his eyes briefly, both his arms behind his back. Bella wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t fisted in discomfort. “The latter, madam,” he agreed, glancing over at Bella. “Mr. and Miss Bingley, I am certain, will be here presently.”
“Marvelous!” Mama effused, looking over at Bella (most likely to check her posture).
Fortunately, it was Darcy who suddenly asked, as if it had just occurred to him, “Would you ladies care for some punch?”
Before her Mama could answer for her (and Bella would be forced to drink a cup of punch that might make her lightheaded), Bella interjected—”Do you think there is lemonade?”
“Quite,” Mama decided. “They should or this would not be a proper gathering.—Thank you, Mr. Darcy.” She nodded to him politely before he withdrew with another quick look at (and smile from) Bella.
She breathed out long when he was gone.
Mama, sensing her discomfort, placed a hand comfortingly on her arm, opening her fan with a quick flare with the other. “He is quite the gentleman,” she murmured. It was not a fluttering compliment, but instead was a reassurance. “You can trust in that—and I am here, Isabelle Mary. You still mean not to dance?”
“I do not,” Bella agreed. “I have two left feet.”
Looking over at her askance, Mama did not comment on her peculiar phrasing.
When Bella looked at the dance floor, she saw that at least Jane was dancing with a rather portly widower from the other side of Meryton. She could do worse, Bella supposed, and then her eyes scanned to find Elizabeth whispering with Charlotte Lucas. Elizabeth was also looking quite openly toward Mr. Darcy as she was whispering, and Bella’s stomach churned just seeing her.
That, perhaps, did not bode for a happy carriage ride home.
Fortunately, Mr. Darcy reappeared with two glasses of lemonade, and Bella smiled at him gratefully, glad to have something to do with her hands. She should not have worried, however, her Mama would not let her falter—and, Bella was beginning to suspect, neither would Mr. Darcy.
To Be Continued…
2 thoughts on “Disinclined to Dance (Pt. IV)”
Keep your paws off Mr D’Arcy, Elizabeth!
Loving this and anxiously awaiting more!!! Please update soon.. Just found this story and love it!!