Shall We Dance?
It is nearly the party season, after all, but as we now well know, a dance between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is never a simple matter. Whether in print or played out on the screen, they are always full of delicious tension, unspoken desires, much embarrassment and confusion. Don’t you just love them?
In this extract from my first book Ardently, Lizzy has been publicly spurned by her previous suitor, the dandified Mr Yorke and is having to endure being the centre of gossip and what’s worse-she has now been sitting down for several dances in a row! Luckily, a tall, handsome man from Derbyshire is about to enter the room.
Elizabeth was becoming low as she remained seated and considered changing her mind about Mrs Mountford’s offer to take her home, but then rescue came in the most surprising form; a familiar and now most beloved form. He walked towards her with a firm and determined tread and bowed. He took her hand from her lap, brought her to her feet and took her to the set. Not just to the set in fact, but the front of it, without saying a word.
“What on earth are you doing here?”
Mr Darcy’s brow furrowed. “Dancing, it would seem.”
She laughed. “I’m sorry, that was rude. I meant I did not know you were even returned to Bath.”
“I arrived just after you had collected Georgiana. I decided very much on a whim to join you.”
Their hands touched in the dance, a quick clasp. Elizabeth’s heart hammered so loudly in her chest that she was sure he would hear it. They were separated briefly by the movements and then returned. Another quick clasp was required and she wished for a thousand more of them. “You ought to be careful, Mr Darcy, I wouldn’t want to sully your impeccable reputation. I find myself the subject of gossip tonight.”
“I have heard it. Gossip is a transient, ephemeral thing, Miss Bennet. One subject may be forsaken for another quite easily. I have always tried to avoid being the object of it myself, but tonight I see the benefit of perhaps creating some. I very rarely dance. I intend to dance twice with you. The second being the supper dance. Do you think that might suffice?”
He was a dear, dear man. How had she ever thought badly of him? Elizabeth cocked her head to the side. “Hmm, I am not sure. If you wanted to keep tongues truly busy perhaps you ought help me on with my cloak and maybe kiss my hand when you bid me goodnight.”
It was brazen, forward of her. She saw his jaw twitch and feared that while he had meant to be merely gallant, she had positively flirted in return. She cursed herself, she was not good at flirting; teasing, contradicting, provoking, on the other hand, all those things she excelled at!
He was silent for a good long while before quietly replying, “gladly”.
She smiled at the floor, embarrassed. “Do you know, I once promised never to dance with you, and now I have done so, not just once, but twice!”
“Did you really hate me so much?”
Her head shot up again and she gave him a grave look. “I’m afraid I did. I quite delighted in despising you. You were such a great outlet for all my general annoyances. In fact, it is very inconvenient to not be able to hate you anymore. You make yourself far too agreeable these days, Mr Darcy.”
He looked a little relieved to have her tease him again, it felt like safer, more familiar ground. “I beg your pardon, Miss Bennet. Is there a way in which I might make amends? Some way I might offend you? I am your humble servant, willing to outrage you at a moments’ notice. I could perhaps stand around silently in the corner and ignore you for a full half hour? Oh, now I regret asking you to dance, you would have much preferred it if I had slighted you.”
“You did not ask me to dance.” She pointed out.
“Did I not?” He was thoughtful for a moment. “No, I have rather dragged you up here against your will. I hope you will not take it as further proof of my ungentlemanlike behaviour, or my selfish disdain for others?”
She was sombre then, pained and saddened. “Please do not remind me of what I said back then. I have long been ashamed of those words.”
He became serious too. “You should not be! What did you say of me that I did not deserve, richly deserve? Your accusations were ill-founded, based on mistaken premises but my behaviour towards you was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. You can scarcely conceive how your words have tortured me all these years. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me. I have long wanted the opportunity to apologise.”
“These recollections will not do at all,” she said firmly. “I should hope we have both improved a little in civility since then. You should learn a little of my philosophy, think only of the past as it gives you pleasure.”
The dance stopped. They had joined it late and so it was over quickly and Elizabeth was dismayed. He looked as if he might have said more. She wanted to say more, but all the couples had begun to move away. He took her hand to lead her back to Mrs Mountford. Elizabeth was not sure if she imagined it, but liked to think he had squeezed her fingers a little as they fell into step together. Oh how frustrating it was to be a woman in such circumstances. Why was she not allowed to lead him into a dark corner, to reach up and whisper in his ear; to tell him of how her feelings had changed since that awful day in Kent, to tell him that now, rather than his being the last man in the world she could be prevailed on to marry, he was the only man she could possibly marry.
He politely enquired after her comfort and suggested she might like some punch. She nodded in reply. As Mr Darcy left, Georgiana hurried up to her, her face shining with happiness and looking prettier than Elizabeth had ever seen her.
“How lovely to see you and my brother dancing, Elizabeth. You look so well together.”
“It was very kind of him to come to my rescue. I was feeling quite ostracised.”
“I think it was borne out of more than kindness.”
Elizabeth looked sternly at her. “Now, do not run on so, imagining things that are not likely to come to pass.” As she spoke she realised it was a warning to herself also. Mr Darcy’s words to her had been intimate, they had flirted it was true, but still she was not sure of him. They had spoken of the past, not the future. She still didn’t dare to dream, fearing the crushing disappointment that might follow.
Georgiana continued to smile at her. “I am just saying you are quite a striking couple, is all. I never saw him dance with Anne. Not once. And yet he is such a good dancer.”
“He is.” Elizabeth conceded.
“You don’t know how much pleasure it would give me to call you sister.”
“Georgiana! Enough!” Elizabeth cried, but then with a raised brow and a mischievous glint her eye, added “goodness me, if this is the response a single dance gives rise to, I hate to think what you will be like when he takes my hand for the supper dance.”
Eyes wide, Georgiana was about to break into further raptures when she was quieted sternly by Elizabeth due to the arrival of Miss Bingley.
“Eliza, my dear. How are you baring up? Frederick Yorke has asked for my hand for the next, the impudent scoundrel. I couldn’t say no of course. I wouldn’t want to sit down for the rest of the evening, but I shall not enjoy it, on your account, I assure you.” Despite these words and seemingly in direct contradiction of them, she turned around and gave Mr Yorke a teasing wave.
Mr Yorke wandered warily across the ballroom in their direction. As he reached them, Elizabeth felt the comforting, reassuring presence of Mr Darcy draw closer too, till he was beside her. One hand passed her the promised glass of punch, his other hovered with a gossamer touch over the small of her back. She felt his protection, his concern. He greeted Yorke tersely who paused in their company only long enough to give Elizabeth a brief nod, before he spirited Miss Bingley away.
I hope you all enjoyed it. I had fun thinking of all the different variations I’ve read these past couple of years and some of my favourite ballroom scenes, what’s yours? I can’t imagine writing a book without at least one in.
Have a lovely day and party on.