It’s the day of the Netherfield Ball and Darcy is both excited and nervous…
November 26, 1811
Darcy awoke early on the 26th and immediately realized that the day of the ball had arrived. He tried to ignore his excitement over another chance to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet. And…( he swallowed and loosened the neck of his nightshirt)…to ask her to dance. Yes, he was still determined to dance with the lovely Miss Elizabeth and what could be more natural? Of course he would dance all night, helping to entertain his friend’s company at this, Bingley’s first ball. No one would even notice when he asked her to dance.
His resolute calm was dented as soon as he entered the breakfast parlour and found the entire Bingley clan at table.
“My! Aren’t we all early risers today?” Bingley quizzed his friend.
Darcy kept his face unmoved, and answered, “I would not know, Bingley. I am usually back from my morning ride before your face appears in the breakfast parlour.”
Bingley laughed, and Darcy could tell that his friend was excited about his ball and would be twitting him mercilessly all day. He took a place at the far end of the table, which unfortunately put him next to Miss Bingley and across from Mr. Hurst.
“So, Mr. Darcy,” Miss Bingley purred, “are you prepared to gallop around the ballroom with the Meryton maids tonight?” She turned to her brother. “Charles! You are going to order the orchestra to play a few waltzes, aren’t you?”
Charles considered. “I had thought not. The waltz is not yet accepted in polite society in Hertfordshire, and I would not like to offend anyone. Also, I don’t know if the local ladies and gentlemen have yet learned the steps.”
“Don’t be absurd, Charles, of course they have. Just because some old tabbies won’t allow it at the local dances does not mean others might not like it! And, I shudder to hear you describe the gentry of Hertfordshire as ‘polite society’. What a joke that is!”
Darcy tuned out the bickering and concentrated on his eggs and gammon. What would Elizabeth wear to the ball? The gown she wore to the assembly at Meryton was simple and not particularly notable…except for the way if fit her form and emphasized her graceful movement. And the way it clung to her shape!
His daydreaming was suddenly severed by Miss Bingley’s voice, sounding a bit impatient, as if she had spoken his name more than once. He turned to her.
“Yes, Miss Bingley? I am sorry, I did not hear you as I was wondering if the last book I ordered would come in today’s post.” (Whew. Lame, but at least a comprehensible sentence!)
“I was asking, Mr. Darcy, what your opinion was of the waltz. Do you think Charles should ask the orchestra to play 2 or 3 during the course of the evening? I despise letting narrow-minded provincials determine what music we should play.”
Darcy swallowed convulsively as he thought of waltzing with Elizabeth, her right hand held in his left for the entire dance, while his right hand touched her waist, feeling the warmth of her body as they whirled through the ballroom, the others blending into a swirl of color that left the two of them alone in their own private space. He swallowed again, trying to pretend that a bit of gammon needed to go down, then spoke, “I do not think that it would be a good idea to shock the locals at Charles’ first ball. I would wait until the next before trying to set fashion forward. But, it is entirely up to Charles, after all.”
Miss Bingley’s face showed her deep disappointment as she turned petulantly from him to harangue her brother further.
Darcy escaped from the table as soon as he decently could and went up to his room to make sure his valet was prepared for tonight. His black coat and black satin knee-breeches were already hanging up, fresh from the iron and it was clear that he could not hide in his room while his valet spun from task to task like a dervish. He sighed and decided to go for a walk…no, he would be obliged to ask his hosts if they would like to join him and he was in no mood for idle chatter or endless complaining. A sudden thought caused him to smile. Billiards! He would ask Hurst for a couple of games, effectively banishing Miss Bingley from that bastion of masculine entertainment!
Mr. Hurst was a dead bore and the day crept endlessly forward as Darcy managed to keep his opponent in the billiards room for a full two hours, but eventually Hurst’s vapid talk wore him down. Was Hurst really preferable to the acid-tongued Miss Bingley? It was difficult to decide. He paused on the landing of the main stairway to contemplate his next move. A ride? Reading? A letter to Georgiana? Since the weather was a little chilly and he had just written to his sister, he turned to the right at the top of the stairs and made his way to the library. At least there was no fear of Hurst appearing there!
After another two hours, this time trying to concentrate on his book, and constantly finding his mind wandering, the long day drew towards evening and the Netherfield gentry gathered for a substantial tea to fortify them for the ball. The conversation swirled around him as the others talked about the ball, and when he finished his second cup, Darcy firmly put it away from him and marched up the stairs to his dressing room. He felt like a knight girding his loins for battle…for such was his usual intercourse with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
As Jennings primped and polished him for the evening he tried to put himself into a state where he was unconscious of the annoying ritual, rather like the trances described by that Mesmer fellow. He desperately thought about how beautiful the fall leaves were at Pemberley, and how soon he would see Georgiana. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he heard, “There you are sir. All finished.”
He looked into the mirror and carefully examined his hair, his cravat, and his clothes. His face looked a bit pale, but the heat of the ballroom would soon remedy that. He heard the first carriage draw up to the door and swallowed the lump in his throat, pulling the cravat just a fraction looser in hopes that he could breathe. Even now she might be here, in a silk gown and pearls…simple adornments to emphasize, but never overshadow her loveliness. He heard a throat clear.
“Is everything all right, sir?”
Darcy turned to the anxious valet. “Yes, everything is quite all right.” And he turned to the door.