"She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour 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." P&P Chapter 3

"Mr. Darcy I am so sorry I was delayed. I am ready for our two sets now."

Fitzwilliam Darcy was startled from his present bout of brooding to stare at the young lady standing in front of him. He knew full well he had not in fact asked her to dance even one set, let alone two. In fact he had not even been introduced to her. This was madness. This was extreme impertinence. This was well and truly unsupportable. This was… come to think of it, this was… well played. She had boxed him in most thoroughly.

Now that he looked more carefully, he recognized her. She was the sister of Bingley's latest angel that he had tried to convince him to dance with; although Darcy was completely unable to come up with her name. He had to own that she was in fact quite handsome when he finally took a good look at her; but her face… her face held a startling mixture of emotions. She made no attempt to hide them from him, but she had cleverly managed to place herself where only he could get a really good look. For everyone else, she would look quite demure, standing there smiling politely, appearing to all the world to be performing the perfectly ordinary office of accepting a dance. Look closer though, and he could see both a well-hidden look of fury in her eyes, and a small smirk of triumph on her lips; although he could not imagine what triggered either emotion.

Yes, this country miss had boxed in the Master of Pemberley, veteran of ten years in the first circles, like a pack of his best hounds with a fox… or perhaps a fox and chicken would be a better analogy. She had chosen the moment, the location and the setting perfectly. Without raising her voice, she had made the faux reply where it could be heard by several matrons that did not appear to be strangers to the gossip mill. He knew and she knew there had been no application; but she had left him the unpalatable choice of either dancing with her, or calling an apparently popular daughter of a prominent family a liar, publicly, on the first night of Bingley's residence in the neighborhood. Doing so would get him burned in effigy before the hour was up and Bingley along with him, so with such a simple little trick, she had forced his hand.

He gave her a look of his own fury, and replied coldly, "Of course, madam. Let us be off."

She gave a slight nod and the deed was done.

He extended his arm, as offering it to an old but thoroughly despised relative. She took it as if handling a snake, and they went off towards the forming set.

Once the dance started, all pretense of conversation ceased for a time, and she appeared to be satisfied to leave it at that. Her revenge was complete, and the next hour would be at her bidding. Darcy occasionally stole glances at the young lady, and found her mask firmly in place. She did not look happy to be dancing with him, and her look of triumph slowly faded as she realized she was punishing herself nearly as much as him, but he thought he could also see a look of firm resolution. She would extract the full punishment upon him, even at the expense of her own evening, but what was the offense? If she was setting her cap for him, she was using a stratagem completely beyond him, and if she was offended by him in some way, why would she want to dance? People did not go out of their way to dance with people they disliked. That would be nonsensical.

At length, he took an opportunity where the dance allowed them a few words that nobody else could hear to opine, "I believe we must have some conversation, madam."

She replied archly, "Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"

He strongly suspected that she did, but his custom was to just get the miserable chore over as quickly and easily as possible. He was not particularly fond of dancing, but if she was to get her full measure of revenge, he would not go down without a fight, so he replied somewhat curtly, "Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."

She replied, "Yes, I suppose we must speak a little, but I believe a very little will suffice."

He had to admit he quite surprisingly found himself liking her impertinence. She was not a shrinking violet that blew away at the first breeze, and yet she did not seem to have the hard edge that he saw in so many in the first circles. He could see Caroline Bingley out of the corner of his eye looking at him dancing with a look that was both angry and… proprietary? He had been ignoring Bingley's sister for so long he had not quite noticed that she was apparently laying traps for him. He had no idea why he had not noticed, as she was not in the least subtle about it, but he had not been exercising the care he should around her.

He looked back to his present partner, still with the mixture of looks on her face, and said, "Perhaps we could get by with a very minimal discussion… just the basics. For example, since we both well know we have not been introduced, perhaps you could tell me your name."

There… that should show her that he was not a man to be trifled with. He would play society's games, but he would not be caught out a second time.

She replied, "Of course, we have been introduced. I am all astonishment that you do not remember, sir. Perhaps it is the custom in London or Donkeyshire to forget introductions within the hour?"

He was not a man to be tempted by such easy bait, so he let the name of his county pass, and said, "Perhaps you could indulge me by refreshing my memory."

She gave him a calculating look, and somehow managed to perform a curtsey in the middle of the dance without looking odd, and said, "As you well know sir, I am Miss Tolerable. Your friend is dancing with my sister, Miss Not Handsome Enough. I had thought you quite gallant when you told Mr. Bingley 'As a gentleman, I must give consequence to young ladies who appear to be slighted by other men, but are in fact sitting out to let other ladies have a turn, since not every gentleman present is doing his customary duty.'"

His face showed the exact amount of alarm she had been hoping for, and he proceeded to blush furiously at the stark assertion that she had heard his remarks, and the not even slightly subtle reminder that he had not acted as a gentleman. Darcy nearly stumbled at the next turn, and she just smirked in triumph.

She looked at him in mock concern and asked, "Are you unwell sir? We may forego the remainder of the sets if you are too fatigued to dance for twenty minutes running, and I will happily alert the other ladies of your indisposition."

He had to own at that moment, that fox and chicken was not even the right analogy. Chicken and worm might be better. She had delivered a well-timed and precisely aimed setdown without uttering a single unkind word that had not originated in his own mouth; and his head was spinning in mortification. Nearly in a panic at being caught out with such ungentlemanly conduct, he considered her offer to go off and lick his wounds in private, but decided that he would own up to his behavior like a man.

Waiting for another semi-private moment, he said quietly, "I owe you an apology, Madam. I owe you a most sincere apology. Those were definitely not the words of a gentleman… not even close. I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. I am most profusely sorry."

Not to be so easily put off, she suggested, "Sir, I believe that a true gentleman does not even think such uncharitable thoughts, let alone speak them publicly. I am only happy that by pure happenstance, you said them where none but Mr. Bingley and I could hear. You only missed my mother by around half a minute. If you would like a suggestion sir, you may want to pay more attention to your surroundings next time you say something like that."

He replied with surprising vehemence, "There will be no next time!"

The music ended right at that moment, and the young lady apparently satisfied that she was done with him, curtsied and started to walk away, apparently forgetting that she had forced him into a second set as well.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, Member of the First Circles of Society, Practically a Peer, found himself unaccountably chasing after a country miss at a country assembly like an errant schoolboy. His strides were long enough that he caught up with her in just a few steps, and held out his arm to her.

He saw her glance at it much like the aforementioned worm, but then she decided that she must finish her own game if she did not want to be the subject of gossip herself; although glancing over at the pack of matrons on the side of the room, he thought it was much too late for that. They were clearly already the subject of discussion, and he could see her take a glance in the same direction and come to the same conclusion.

They walked towards the refreshment table, and he said very quietly, "I deserve no such boon, Miss, but I do hope you will accept my apology, and my gratitude."

She looked at him in complete puzzlement, and said, "Gratitude, sir?"

He sighed and said, "Yes, gratitude. Some lessons in life can only come the hard way, and this apparently is one. I behaved abominably, and I would appreciate any opportunity to correct it."

She looked at him carefully, apparently trying to judge his sincerity, and said, "Very well, I accept your apology, sir."

He asked, "Will you accept my gratitude as well?"

She actually lost a tiny bit of the fury in her eyes, perhaps reverted slightly towards her normal demeanor, and replied, "If I must."

"I insist"

With that, she actually giggled a little bit, apparently not really built for maintaining anger over the long term.

Darcy asked, "May I presume to offer you some refreshments while we await our second set?"

She looked slightly alarmed at the reminder of her own trap, but she had apparently decided to accept his apology, and she simply nodded.

Darcy left her in the company of one of her friends, a Miss Lucas, after she performed introductions, and went to the refreshment table for some punch.

Upon his return with refreshments for both ladies, he found them chatting happily and simply joined their circle for the remaining few minutes before the start of their second set.