The next morning Elizabeth escaped the noise of her home with Mary. Elizabeth needed to purchase a ribbon for her hair to match a new dress. The one that was purchased to replace the one Miss Bingley ruined at the assembly where she met Mr. Darcy had been in her closet since it arrived. She was waiting for the perfect opportunity to wear it, and the Netherfield ball seemed like the ideal opportunity.
As she stood looking over the ribbons, a voice behind her called, “Good morning, Lizzy. What are you doing here this morning?”
Turning to the voice, Elizabeth saw Georgiana entering in a riding habit followed by Darcy and the colonel.
“Good morning, Georgiana, Mr. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“Good morning, Miss Elizabeth.”
Darcy advanced to Elizabeth. Talking her hand, he held it in his hand as he said, “Good morning, Elizabeth. I hope you are well.” Then he bowed over the hand he held placing a kiss on the back of it. “What a delightful surprise to see you this morning. It is an unexpected pleasure. Are you looking for something in particular?”
“Indeed, I recently received a new dress, and I need some ribbons for my hair that will match it.”
“That is what I am looking for as well.”
“What color do you need, Georgiana?”
“Something to go with a pale rose color.”
“What about you, Elizabeth?”
“I was looking for pale yellow and white.” Taking note of her choices, an idea occurred to Darcy.
Darcy turned to Mary. “Are you searching for something as well, Miss Mary?”
“Not really. Dr. Fordyce does not think it appropriate for young women to take too much interest in their attire.”
“I do not believe Mr. Fordyce would find it inappropriate for you to care for your appearance at a special event. He is only cautioning young women against thinking only of their outward appearance and not the more important internal beauty. I do not know what color your gown is, but I believe that the splendid light green ribbon would enhance your eyes and show off their natural beauty.” Darcy pointed to the ribbon he meant.
Mary blushed at Mr. Darcy’s words, and said, “I never thought about it like that before. I thank you for your insight into the passage, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps, I will make a purchase after all.”
With much giggling, the girls helped each other to make their selections as the gentleman observed them with fond expressions on their faces. When the exited the shop, the two groups took their leave of each other. Darcy could not pass up a chance and took Elizabeth’s hand for another kiss.
“I shall be counting the moments until your arrival. I look forward to opening the ball with you, my lovely Elizabeth.”
Color suffused her face, but Elizabeth did not look away. “I look forward to being in your arms again. Until then, my sweet William.” Darcy’s grin grew at her obvious affection. He could not wait for the time he could kiss her without stopping and to no longer having to separate at the end of the day.
As the Bennet carriage turned into the drive at Netherfield, the younger girls gaped at the sight of torches lighting and lining the drive. Every window of the house glowed with light, and torches lit the drive currently lined with carriages waiting to unload their passengers. Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary rode on the rear-facing seat, so each turned to the window to see what caused the reaction from their younger sisters.
It took almost ten minutes before their carriage reached the main entrance. Footman rushed forward, hands extended, to help the sister exit. Lydia practically jumped over her sisters trying to be the first to exit, but her father put out his arm to halt her progress.
“You, young lady, will follow your sisters as is appropriate. Nothing will change in the few seconds you are behind them. You and Kitty have both improved somewhat in manners, and I hope it will continue tonight.”
“Yes, Papa,” said Lydia and Kitty at almost the same time.
Mr. Bennet stepped down then helped his wife descend. Then the patiently waiting footman assisted Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia to exit. After a few more minutes, the party stood before their hosts in the main hall of Netherfield.
“Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. I am glad you could join us this evening.”
“We are delighted to be here,” gushed Mrs. Bennet. “We are all excited for the ball.”
The couple moved on, and Bingley greeted Jane and Elizabeth. “Ladies you both look lovely this evening,” he commented gallantly. Mr. Bingley looked at Jane as he made his comment, but Elizabeth did not notice as she was looking for William. Finally free from his distraction with the beauty before him, Bingley noticed her sister’s actions. “I believe you will find Darcy waiting for you at the ballroom door.” Elizabeth blushed but thanked Mr. Bingley for the information. They moved on to his sisters. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst spoke pleasantly to both girls as did Miss Bingley whose greeting was a cause for wonderment? She spoke politely to both ladies, grudgingly complimented Elizabeth gown, and hoped they would have a memorable evening. An almost knowing smirk graced her face with the last words.
Elizabeth and Jane moved towards the ballroom with Mary herding the younger girls behind them. At the door to the ballroom, Darcy greeted the sisters.
“How nice you look this evening. I hope each of you will save me a dance.”
The younger girls giggled and nodded, while a red-faced Mary said, “If you wish, Mr. Darcy.” Most of Darcy’s dance card was filled by Elizabeth and her sisters, as well as his own. A dance with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley and the final set with Elizabeth would fill his dance card. It would be the most he had ever danced at any ball.
When everyone but Elizabeth moved into the ballroom, Darcy offered his arm to his betrothed. “You look beautiful this evening, my dear.”
“I thank you for my lovely gift.” A short time before the Bennet’s departed from Longbourn a servant in the Darcy livery delivered a box for Elizabeth. When she opened it there was a dozen small white rosebuds. The enclosed note said,
“I thought these would look lovely in your beautiful dark hair.”
“You are most welcome. I must admit to being a little jealous. Those little buds get to caress you rich tresses, something I have longed to do.” A shy smile appeared on her face though Elizabeth blushed at his words. “How do you like your replacement dress?” Darcy’s sly smile made Elizabeth wonder if there was more to his question.
“I love it. I do not know who gave Mrs. ________ the instructions for the gown. I expected that Papa would send me into the shop to order the new dress, but I never heard mention of it.” As his smile grew, Elizabeth tilted her head to the side and studied Darcy. “William, did you have anything to do with my dress?”
“What do you mean?” His tone was innocent.
“Did you pick out this dress?”
“I may have had some say in the choices?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, thanks to your father’s distraction with his book, he allowed me to write the note to the seamstress. I thought this color would be extremely suited to you, and I suspected that you preferred elegant simplicity to a lot of frills. I am delighted I was correct for I look forward to showering you with gifts for the remainder of our lives.”
“William, I do not need gifts. All I need to make me happy is you.”
“That may be true, but you will have to learn to accept them. You can ask Georgiana; I enjoy surprising those I love with special gifts.”
“Where is Georgiana?”
“She is seated just over there. Shall we join her?”
At Elizabeth’s nod, they made their way to Georgiana and Mrs. Annesly.
“Good evening, Georgiana. You look beautiful.”
“Thank you, Lizzy. You look beautiful; your dress is exquisite.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth and Darcy exchanged a smile filled with meaning Georgiana did not understand. When the music began, Darcy bowed and escorted Elizabeth to the dance floor. They did not speak as they moved through the first dance, but their eyes and their touches said more than words ever could. Laughter and conversation continued through the second dance of the set. Their behavior caused a great deal of gossip behind the fans of the matrons that evening.
Darcy danced next with Georgiana, then the set promised to Miss Bingley, and then Jane. Between sets, he and Elizabeth were always together often with Georgiana or one of Elizabeth’s sisters. As the supper set began, Darcy had Elizabeth back in his arms. As they danced, they spoke of their future discussing their hopes and dreams. When the set ended, they retrieved Georgiana from her seat and moved into the dining room. They were seated at the main table near Jane and Bingley. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet was at the other end of the same table near the Hursts and Miss Bingley.
Once everyone was seated, Bingley stood and addressed his guests. “I would like to welcome you all to Netherfield Park and express my gratitude for the warm welcome we received to your neighborhood. I hope you will enjoy yourselves this evening. Before we serve the dinner, Mr. Bennet has an announcement he would like to make.”
As Bingley sat down a murmur spread through the crowd speculating at the forthcoming announcement, Mr. Bennet stood and said, “It gives me the greatest pleasure to announce the engagement of my daughter Elizabeth to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.” They are to marry in early January.” Loud applause followed the announcements as well as calls of congratulations.
Bingley stood again, saying, “Please raise your glass and join me in a toast to Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth.” He paused as the company raised their glasses. “May you have a long and happy life together.” Darcy and Elizabeth smiled at each other as they clinked their glasses and drank in acknowledgment of the toast in their honor. When Mr. Bingley sat down an arm of footman began to serve the white soup, and the dinner started.
The room buzzed with pleasant conversation as the residents of Meryton enjoyed the superb supper prepared by the Bingley’s chef. After dinner, several of the local ladies entertained. Elizabeth sang to a duet by Mary and Georgiana.
Throughout the dinner and entertainment, Miss Bingley kept up her pleasant façade. When everyone returned to the ballroom, she lingered until she and the servants were the only ones remaining in the room. Crossing the hallway, Caroline glanced about then turned away from the ballroom and down a corridor towards the back of the house. She opened a door onto the terrace, and a tall man dressed all in black slipped inside.
Caroline put her fingers to her lips to indicate the need for silence. She led the man back the way she had come and paused before a closed door. The gentleman slipped inside the darkened room lit only by the fire burning in the grate.
“Remain here and stay quiet. I will be back as soon as I can.” At his nod, she exited, closing the door behind her. The slipped off his coat and took a seat in the chair behind the door to wait.