“She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me.” ~ Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3
The infamous insult. Those words established the foundation for Elizabeth’s dislike of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. They will be equally damaging to Darcy in my current work-in-progress, Mr. Darcy, the Heir of Pemberley. It certainly does not bode well for him that Elizabeth’s head is full of another gentleman. Making matters worse, the dashing young man happens to be one of Darcy’s closest friends.
Earlier, I shared an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the story. This story continues to unfold and, as such, is subject to a fair amount of fine-tuning before its publication. One such tweak involves Bingley’s advice to Darcy.
“Perhaps one would be wise not to judge a book by its cover.”
I’ve since revised it to be less clichéd:
“It’s not the book’s cover but the writing on the inside that counts.”
Imagine Bingley invoking books in such a manner as this. Indeed, Bingley and Darcy are roughly the same age in this story. In addition, Bingley is wiser and far more outspoken than in canon. That said, I like this sentiment. Just as it is true for writing, it’s true for real life. The only thing that counts for anything is what one does. It’s not what one says one’s going to do. It’s not even what one’s capable of doing. It’s what one actually does that matters.
This maxim will be fundamental as Darcy and Elizabeth navigate the path toward happily ever after.
Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter 2 (unedited). For lack of a better title, let’s just call it Elizabeth’s take.
Owing to the scarcity of gentlemen, Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged to sit down for two dances. She did so outside on the balcony. She was not the only person to sit and wait among the shadows of the moon’s glow. Watching the clouds drift across the night’s sky, she heard two young men conversing. She was too curious a creature not to pay attention to their debate. Growing up in a household of girls, she rarely had a chance to spend time with the opposite sex, studying their varying quirks and odd proclivities.
What would be the harm in listening? Elizabeth wondered, easing closer yet careful to remain unseen.
As best she could surmise, one of the two men was not at all pleased to be at that evening’s soiree. The other, Mr. Charles Bingley—whom she had met earlier that evening—was doing his best to persuade the former to return to the festivities. As the more amiable of the two was failing miserably in his quest, Elizabeth lost interest in the discussion. She had resolved to return to the ballroom, and then the gentlemen’s conversation took a turn toward Elizabeth herself. Her momentary joy in being praised for her beauty by one gentleman turned into disgust in having been disparaged by the other.
Appalled, Elizabeth rushed back inside, determined to put the matter out of her mind.
“She is fairly tolerable, but she is not handsome enough to tempt me.”
A half-hour had not allowed enough time for the sting of the haughty gentleman’s words to abate. How had the events of the evening unfolded so dreadfully?
Thinking back, Elizabeth recalled having prepared for the ball with extra care that evening. Not necessarily because it was her first such ball in London, but rather because of who would be in attendance.
It dawned on Elizabeth as it had never before that her mother had been prescient in having insisted Elizabeth must go to town if she expected to make a good match. Indeed, for she now found herself in the throes of her first crush: at least the first one that signified. The moment she first heard Mr. Jonathan Hughes speak, Elizabeth was captivated. Something in his air gave the best depiction of his character.
Not that he paid the sort of attention to Elizabeth that called for such amorous sentiments on her part. Upon being introduced to him, he had bowed slightly, nodded, and flashed the most devastatingly charming yet innocent smile she could imagine.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bennet,” was all he said, and then he walked away.
As perfunctory as it all had been, it was enough to ignite the glimmer of hope in Elizabeth’s heart that she might soon get to know all there was to know about him. Starting that very night, for she was sure he would be there, and she was sure he would ask her to dance. And since Elizabeth could think of no more promising means to encourage affection than dancing, the possibility of a most pleasant evening was all but assured.
Recalling herself to the present, Elizabeth blew out a frustrated breath. No one liked being the victim of someone else’s misery, especially a complete stranger’s.
Insufferable man! She silently screamed. He is discontented with the ball and his company, but why must that be the means of my current distress?
That gentleman is just the sort of person who thinks too highly of himself compared to the people around him, and he does not care one fig for the feelings of others.
How is it possible that such a fine, tall person with such handsome features is capable of arousing such a degree of disdain with the utterance of so few words?
Elizabeth began to pity Mr. Bingley for suffering such an acquaintance. She was sure she never wanted anything to do with the likes of such a man. How unfortunate indeed that upon scanning the room searching for Jonathan Hughes, who was just what a true gentleman ought to be, Elizabeth espied him huddled together with none other than the haughty young man from the balcony.
“Who does that gentleman think he is?”
“Who does which gentleman think he is, Elizabeth?” asked Miss Isabella Madden, the young lady who had accompanied Elizabeth to that evening’s soiree. Had it not been for Elizabeth’s desire to spend time in Mr. Hughes’s company, she would have preferred to be anywhere other than that evening’s gathering. However, Isabella was always eager for entertainment. Given the young ladies’ blossoming acquaintance, Elizabeth surmised she would often attend such outings.
Solitary rambles about the countryside in Hertfordshire was Elizabeth’s idea of a pleasurable pastime—not feigning indifference over the slights of those who considered her beneath them in consequence, owing to their forbearers’ situations in life. She was a long way from Hertfordshire.
“Elizabeth,” the young lady said, trying to garner her friend’s attention.
Elizabeth’s mind was too busily engaged with thoughts of the haughty gentleman and his connection to Mr. Hughes to respond at once. After a moment or so, Elizabeth asked, “Pray, who is that gentleman standing over there with your cousin, the tall one who looks like he just tasted a bad lemon?”
“Oh, that is Mr. Darcy. Despite his dour countenance at present, I daresay he is one of the most handsome men in all of England. What’s more, he is the heir to one of the finest estates in the country, as well as half of Derbyshire.”
“Which half would that be? Surely not the most agreeable half.”
“Surely you jest. Mr. Darcy is one of the most sought-after young men in all of England.”
“Does that include you, Isabella?”
“Heavens forbid. Mr. Darcy is much too fastidious for my taste. However, you might like him. Shall I introduce you to him?”
Elizabeth scoffed. “I am sure I would not wish to be introduced to Mr. Darcy even if he were the last man in the world.”
How unfortunate that Elizabeth’s assertion coincided with a lull in the music and her voice carried all the way across the room to where the gentleman stood.
Mr. Darcy’s expression was haughty and severe. He glared at Elizabeth for what seemed like an eternity before he finally broke eye contact with her and resumed his former attitude, speaking with the gentleman who stood beside him.
Elizabeth could feel the color spreading all over her body. True, he had spoken meanly of her earlier that evening, but she was not one to repay unkindness with unkindness. She much preferred to deal with her detractors with more grace and wit than she had shown. Making matters worse, he was standing with Mr. Hughes—whose good opinion meant everything to her.
Isabella, having been shocked by her friend’s speech and having seen Mr. Darcy’s reaction, cried, “What on earth do you have against poor Mr. Darcy?”
Still reeling from Mr. Darcy’s silent rebuke, Elizabeth summoned her spirits to playfulness.
“Poor? I thought you said he stands to inherit half of Derbyshire.”
“I did indeed, but is that any reason to dislike him? He is one of my cousin’s closest friends, which makes him a dear friend of mine as well. I so wanted the two of you to get along.”
Hearing that Mr. Darcy was one of Mr. Jonathan Hughes’s closest friends made Elizabeth a bit uneasy. The possibility that her unkind words spoken about his friend might garner his disapprobation was not something she wanted.
Her voice contrite, Elizabeth said, “Pray do not fret, Isabella. I did not know Mr. Darcy meant so much to you and your cousin. I shall find a way to make amends with him, I promise.”
Even if it kills me, Elizabeth considered.
“I am delighted to hear that,” Isabella said. “I foresee all of us spending a good deal of time in one another’s company in the coming weeks at my family’s country estate in __shire. The last thing we need is warring factions between the sexes, for my cousin and his friends are as thick as thieves. So we ladies must stick together. Indeed, I mean for all of us to get along swimmingly.”
What a conundrum for Elizabeth that she’s the one having to make amends to Mr. Darcy. She has good intentions, but what happens when the two of them come face to face?
Pray, have your share in the conversation! I’d love to hear your take.
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