Please do not think I will be posting daily as I will not. However, thanks to Nicole Clarkston’s persistent encouragement, I stayed in my chair far longer than I should have. However, I could not seem to stop. Again, please overlook the flaws and errors. This has not been proofread by anyone except me (and I’m too close to this right now). I hope you enjoy! If you missed chapter one, here is the link: Letter of the Law, Chapter One.
Darcy was livid. Not only had Miss Bingley and her married sister, Mrs. Hurst, been late in readying themselves for the assembly, they had complained of the evening plans the whole of the way from their estate to Meryton, where the dance would be held. Every turn of the wheel brought a new complaint. Their neighbors would be unfashionable. It would be a degradation for their London friends to know they faced company that would be considered a degradation. The building would be rustic. The musicians would play rustic instruments. The dances called would be rustic. The food and drink would be, at best, rustic.
Did Bingley’s sisters even know what the word meant?
His friend had done nothing to restrain them. By the time the party had traveled the three miles, Darcy’s ears were ringing from the whining tones. His head throbbed. Would that he had brought his own carriage so he could sit in silence, contemplating his plan to find a woman worthy of his attentions. Hah! As if that would happen in this small community.
Since it would not do to present himself in any way attached to Miss Bingley, he hesitated as she made her grand entrance. She was the same as every single society female he had met over the past six years since leaving university. Her chin lifted elevating her nose into the atmosphere, her shoulders pressed back, her spine stiffened, while her eyes shot superiority over the other ladies in the room. He abhorred pretention and the Bingley sisters were undoubtedly the finest examples in the building, which was, indeed, rustic.
Charles Bingley’s inheritance came from his father’s background in trade. Any gentlemen’s wives and daughters would be a step up from Miss Bingley’s sphere, yet she would not see herself in her proper place. Instead, she had visions of grandeur she could make a reality by attaching herself to the Darcy family. He had been born and bred into the ton. He was the grandson of an earl whose family name and property had been established centuries earlier. She was nothing more than an upstart who he would not ever have given the time of day had it not been for her brother.
They had not taken three steps into the room when he heard it.
“Ten-thousand a year.”
“Ten-thousand a year.”
“Ten-thousand a year.”
“Ten-thousand a year.”
He smirked. If only these matrons knew his true monetary value, they would swoon to the floor. Ten-thousand a year? More like twenty, if the truth was known. Scoffing, he surveyed the press of people who had stopped dancing to stare at the Netherfield group. He was as likely to find a young lady to be his wife here as he would a diamond in a pig’s trough. He wanted to turn around and leave. Before he could follow through, they were approached by a man who introduced himself as Sir William Lucas. Apparently, he was the host of the evening. Tagging along behind was his wife and his two daughters.
The man was as friendly as Bingley, although he must have had a hearing deficit as he spoke loudly over the women’s whispers. Neither of his daughters would have caught Darcy’s interest, particularly the eldest. She was a plain sort with little fashion. Her manners were good. No preening. No sly smiles or thrusting her assets at him. No silently begging for his attention. Instead, she politely welcomed their party to the assembly and the county. He looked closer at the woman who appeared to be near his own age.
Perhaps he should marry her and be done with it? What was her name?
It both shamed him that he had not paid enough attention to catch it when her father made the introduction which decided him that she would not be the wife for him.
Following the Lucas family was the Bennets with their five daughters, the Longs with their two nieces, the Gouldings with no daughters, thank the Lord, and an assortment of individuals typical to a country setting.
As was proper, Bingley requested the next set with Miss Lucas. Before the query had left her brother’s mouth, Miss Bingley had stepped close enough to Darcy that he could hear her heavy breathing. He moved to the right, realizing he was performing a dance of his own. However, he was following her lead, which he refused to continue.
“Pardon me,” he said to no one in particular before walking to the drinks table. She followed, bringing her shadow, Mrs. Hurst, along with her.
“What a gentleman you are, Mr. Darcy. A cup of punch would ease the irritation from the dust from the road.” Miss Bingley simpered. “These country lanes are intolerable. And, I do believe the dirt from the floor is no better.” With that insult, she no doubt established herself to those within hearing as a snob of the highest order.
Darcy stepped away, taking up his expected perch against the wall in the far back corner of the room, directly across from the seated matrons and wallflowers. Bingley would know where to find him and his sisters would avoid him as his position would not allow the other ladies to observe them as the pinnacle of fashion they assumed they were.
It was all so ridiculous and brought to mind the first time he had accompanied his father to Tattersalls to look for breeding stock for their horse farm. He had spied a handsome stallion that stood tall and carried himself with dignity. His father had allowed himself to be pulled closer as the son praised the regal steed. Nonetheless, upon closer inspection, the evidence of the owner’s attempts to pass off an inferior horse was blatantly clear to the older man, not the son. Bad breath, long teeth, a hollow socket above the eye, a thin dip behind and before the wither, and cracked feet all covered by a carefully arranged mane, forelock, and tail brushed with water, a strategically positioned oversized rug, and wax melted into the split hooves. George Darcy had used his son’s fascination with the horse as an object lesson, that people can make themselves out to be much more than what they really are—that a wise man would use discernment in determining the quality of a man or a woman just as they should take the time and effort to look at the small details before paying good money for a horse. It was a lesson Darcy never forgot.
Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst would be horrified to know his thoughts. From experience, he had no doubt that the local mothers of Hertfordshire taught their own daughters to make the best of their looks to catch the eye of an unsuspecting gentleman. Well, he was not unsuspecting.
Darcy sighed as he observed the movement of the dancers. He abhorred dishonesty, and, to him, the tricks and wiles used by unattached females were deceitful. His sister would never act the part.
Suddenly, he wanted to pound the back of his head into the wall behind him. Of course, she had acted the part. Georgiana Darcy had attempted to hide her intentions of running off with Wickham. Despite it being at his instigation, she, as Richard had repeated to him over and over and over again, had known better.
Had his own mother acted the same? Was that how she had “caught” George Darcy? No! Surely not! Perhaps?
Darcy rubbed his chin. Was there not an honest woman in England? Were they born to flirt and pander to a man’s ego or was there some common training manual the mothers used to instill what they assumed was attractive behavior in their daughters? It was a mean art requiring a man to be able to look behind the artifice to find the true character of a female. Ridiculously impossible!
He heard her before he caught sight of her. The shrill tones heard easily over the din of the music.
“Oh, look! Mr. Bingley may have danced first with your Charlotte, but his eyes are on my Jane.” The garish headpiece of the matron bobbed in time to the tune. “With her beauty, I am confident they will be attached before the festal season.” She flicked her handkerchief. “If only Mr. Bennet was here, the young man could approach him before the night is over. Oh, my nerves! I am all aflutter. One daughter soon to be married.” The harpy scooted closer to the woman she was currently addressing. “She will be able to throw her sisters in front of other rich men. Lady Lucas, I declare that Jane was not born so beautiful for nothing.”
The nerve! Darcy felt his trimmed nails pressing into his palms so forced relaxation to each of his fingers. He wanted out of there. He wanted to ride north as fast as the wind to Pemberley to huddle in front of the warm fire in his study, listening to Georgiana practice her scales, while he shirked the necessity of finding a mate. Although he was loathe to admit it, Caroline Bingley had been correct. In spite of the eldest Miss Bennet’s classically lovely appearance, there was little fashion, beauty, or intellect to be had at the Meryton assembly.
Before he could move from his corner, Bingley approached.
“Come, Darcy,” said he. “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
His anger and disappointment to be suddenly without hope fueled his bitter words. “I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me for me to stand up with them.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” cried Bingley. “Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, who are uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
Very pretty? Not likely. As lovely as the eldest sister was, Darcy had not changed his mind about the possibility of discovering a gemstone in the mire. And, with such a mother? Impossible! But, he had to appease his friend.
“Which do you mean?” Turning around, he looked for a moment at one of the other Bennet daughters, until catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
“Darcy!” The look of horror on Bingley’s face pricked his conscience, however, the feeling was temporary.
Decision made, he would perform the duties of a guest by dancing once with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst then request the carriage to return to Netherfield Park. He required silence. He needed solitude to lick his frayed hopes in private.
He watched as the young lady he had scorned stood and moved next to Miss Lucas. Her step was light and her countenance lively. Foolish girl! Who was she, a farmer’s daughter, to be joyous when he was miserable at failing spectacularly in his quest? She was a nobody, a daughter of that boastful shrew who had undoubtedly sat close to him hoping to gain his notice. Well, she failed just as spectacularly as he had.
It was not until he had danced with Mrs. Hurst and then partnered with Caroline Bingley that a lightning bolt struck from the top of his head to his toes. He felt wretched. He wanted to curl into a ball after pounding some sense into himself.
“There is no fashion, no beauty, no intelligence to be found.” Caroline had complained. “We must convince Charles to abandon this rustic community and relocate to an estate in Derbyshire, closer to your home.”
Her words, so reminiscent of his own recent thoughts had caught him unawares. How could he have disdained the woman in front of him for her poor conduct when his own had been the same? His parents would have been heartily ashamed of him. He had been raised with good principles. Nevertheless, he had applied them to others more than he had himself.
Heat rose from his chest to his cheeks. He deserved the embarrassed countenanced but hoped it would be overlooked by others.
Miss Bingley mistook his emotion for ire. “I see you are in agreement, sir. Should we work together, we could be gone on the morrow, shaking the Hertfordshire dust off of our feet for the smooth streets of London before tea.”
He needed to regroup, to regain his footing on solid ground.
“You mistake me, Miss Bingley.” Taking a deep breath, he set his course. “In fact, I have not yet been able to ascertain if Netherfield Park is a viable estate for your brother’s needs. Upon first glance, the grounds look to be productive and the buildings appeared satisfactory. As far as the people of this shire, they are no different than any other country community of any distance from town. I believe you will find that rural life requires more of a female than keeping up with the styles of the day. I know Georgiana uses much of her time tending to the needs of our tenants as well as improving her education. Because she is not yet out in society, she does not act as my hostess. With that said, she does oversee the running of my households to the extent she is able. Rarely do I see her looking at fashion plates or the magazines London ladies seem to have stacked in their drawing rooms. She is more apt to have a book in her hands than a picture of a dress or a bonnet.”
“Mr. Darcy!” Miss Bingley simpered. “I believe it is you who now is mistaken.” The dance parted them. When the movement of the steps brought them back together, she plunged ahead, a picture of anxiety. “I would never insult your sister and I beg your forgiveness if you thought this was my intent. While I would be perfectly contented should my brother marry the type of woman Miss Darcy will grow to be, you have to admit that the current society offers not one person of elevated rank who would smoothly transition into the role of either the Mistress of Netherfield Park or Pemberley.” Her hand swept from one side to the other. “You could examine in detail each female in attendance and never find a hint of what constitutes an accomplished woman, sir. None could possibly surpass what is usually met with in company, at least not here in Hertfordshire. I, personally, have noted a decided lack of a certain something in their air, their manner of walking, the tones of their voices, their address, their expressions for the word to be half deserved—not even in Miss Bennet.”
Darcy smirked to himself. Had Miss Bingley been more cautious with her words, she would have exempted herself from the description of “each female in attendance”. However, she had not, and he could not agree more. Where he looked for intelligence, kindness, and loyalty, her observations displayed a smallness in her thinking. Again, it shamed him that his immediately conclusions had been the same.
“No, Miss Bingley, I am resolved to remain in the vicinity for enough days to help your brother along with the management of the estate. Any other purpose for my staying at Netherfield Park is my own.”
Gratefully, the music ended and his obligation to dance was over. Rather than leave the gathering, he would step back, not judging harshly based on appearances as Bingley’s sisters had done (and he had also done, he admitted).
Richard had been correct. With Miss Bingley being an imitation copy of all the façade London represented, he needed to look to the country for a wife. With this in mind, he had yet to be presented to a local lady who was the daughter of a peer of the realm, a child of a man of position and wealth who it would not be a travesty with which to attach himself. Possibly other portions of the shire had the requisite connected populace, but Meryton seemed without any families of merit. Perhaps he should hurry Bingley along, so he could accept the invitation extended by his former Cambridge roommate, Percy Hamilton. As Viscount Bennington, his country estate would draw the elite of rural culture to his house party which would begin in a fortnight. A brilliant idea, indeed.
With that decision made, Fitzwilliam Darcy chose to make the best of a bad situation. He would remain at the assembly, finding enjoyment where possible. These people…he stopped the thought. These were Bingley’s neighbors and Darcy needed to remember that fact.
A woman’s laugh distracted him from his musings. It was light and pleasing—musically joyous. Glad he was taller than most, his eyes roamed from one end of the room to the other, searching for the source of the sound.
Her. The sister of the Miss Bennet his friend was following like a puppy. The one Bingley had made an effort to prompt him to offer a dance to who had cheerfully walked away. The air rushed from his lungs. She had not heard his harsh words. She could not have and remained unaffected. Though he did not regret stating the unadorned truth, a gentleman would not have said them aloud. No, a gentleman would not have thought them in the first place.
Would anyone notice him attempting to dent the wood paneling with his forehead? Argh! Would he not learn?
He looked at the young woman again and found her eyes upon his person. They sparkled with glee. To his amazement and ire, he realized she was laughing at him.