A/N: Welcome back to my loyal readers and a hearty welcome to new ones!

This is a little vignette that looks at the rudeness of the slight at the Meryton assembly. This is the fifth in my Propriety series, although as you can see, I snuck it into the middle of Rules of Etiquette. It's another short conversation.

I'm finding these vignettes fun to write, so would appreciate knowing if you find them fun to read. Wade

"Miss Elizabeth, I must offer my most sincere apologies."

Elizabeth Bennet looked in complete perplexity at the gentleman in front of her for a moment before replying, "Can you be more specific, Sir?"

The gentleman looked chagrined, and replied, "I wish to apologize for my friend's behavior."

Elizabeth still looked puzzled, and replied, "That does not narrow it down very much, Mr. Bingley."

Starting to feel a bit of panic, Bingley decided he needed to be explicit.

"For my friend, Darcy. I am certain you heard him slight you, and I am here to offer an apology on his behalf."

Elizabeth shook her head, and said, "I am afraid I cannot accept such an apology, Mr. Bingley."

Bingley looked confused, and Elizabeth was then startled by another voice coming from just over her left shoulder.

"Leave off, Bingley. While I appreciate your efforts, I prefer to do my own apologizing."

Elizabeth judged that despite his size, Mr. Darcy was light on his feet, probably a useful skill for a fox.

Mr. Darcy walked in front of the pair, then looked carefully at Bingley and raised an eyebrow.

Bingley got the message that the pair had not even been introduced and got to it.

"Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, may I present to your acquaintance Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn."

As soon as the proprieties were satisfied with bow and curtsy, Darcy looked at Elizabeth, and began.

"As I mentioned, I prefer to correct my own errors. Miss Elizabeth, I offer my most profound and heartfelt apologies. What I said was both unkind and untrue. I hope you might forgive me long enough for me to demonstrate that I can behave in a gentlemanlike manner."

Elizabeth liked the apology very much. An apologizing man should show contrition and sincerity, but he should not carry on all night with the task. Mr. Darcy had done his duty without adding any excuses or explaining himself, and that was as it should be.

She replied, "Mr. Darcy - that was a very nicely done apology, and I applaud you on its execution. I have never heard better. However, I am afraid I can no more accept it from you than I could from Mr. Bingley."

Darcy looked befuddled and just stared at the lady.

Elizabeth continued, "Pardon me, I can see you are confused, so I shall explain."

"I would appreciate it, Miss Elizabeth."

"You see Mr. Darcy, I cannot accept your apology because you have committed no offense."

Both gentlemen looked completely perplexed by that, and Elizabeth just waited patiently for her words to sink in.

"Did you hear the entire conversation."

"Every word."

"And you think me without fault?"

"Yes, Sir."

Both men's brows furrowed as they started thinking furiously.

Finally, it was Mr. Bingley who snapped his fingers and said, "Aha! You asked at first for me to be more specific. From that I deduce that you found offense with some of my other friends but are too polite to say it. Is that correct, Miss Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth smiled slightly, and said, "More or less, Sir. However, your purpose has been well‑served. Mr. Darcy has been fully absolved of any wrongdoing, so no more is required. I bid you a good evening, Sirs."


Both men almost yelled right at the same moment the lady was executing her curtsey, which left them laughing a bit.

Bingley deferred to Darcy with a nod, so that gentleman asked, "I cannot so easily excuse my behavior, Miss Elizabeth, but I will show you the respect of accepting your answer, even though I cannot pretend to understand it."

Elizabeth smiled brightly, and said, "Thank you, Mr. Darcy. Your respect is well appreciated."

Darcy smiled warmly, and Elizabeth returned it in kind.

Bingley jumped in with, "Well, that is all sorted as it should be, and I am very happy."

"Thank you, Mr. Bingley."

"However, Miss Elizabeth, if you do not mind, I still find myself confused. Could you explain what you meant by asking for specifics?"

Elizabeth looked carefully at the man, and said, "Not without breaking propriety, Sir… and probably being a bit unkind while I am at it."

Bingley looked chagrined, and asked, "If you could be so kind as to explain, I would be greatly in your debt, Miss Elizabeth. Darcy and I will promise not to take offense."

"You mean so unkind."

Bingley just nodded.

Elizabeth sighed, and said, "Are you certain, Mr. Bingley?"

He nodded his approval.

She looked at Mr. Darcy, who smiled and said, "Miss Elizabeth, I doubt I will be able to sleep until I understand your reasoning, so if you would be so kind as to allow me some slumber, I would also be in your debt."

Elizabeth smiled. She really liked this Mr. Darcy.

"Well, Mr. Bingley. Will you do something for me."

"I am at your disposal, Miss Elizabeth."

"Look carefully behind me. You will see an older widow dressed all in black to the left of the punch table, and a group of three ladies of around eighteen years, one of whom is wearing pink. Continue on to the left and you will see another young lady wearing yellow, and a matron just behind her sitting down."

"I see them."

Elizabeth paused a moment, and looked a bit embarrassed, as she said, "Are you certain you wish to know? It will involve observations of people's behavior in a public space - in other words, gossip."

Bingley said, "I am not afraid of you, Miss Elizabeth."

Darcy nodded in agreement.

She just nodded, and said, "We shall see. Those are respectively Mrs. Mason, a very well-respected widow of ten years who always wears black, the two Goulding daughters, and a Long niece, Miss Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Hutchins."


"Those are the only ladies in this room whom your sisters have not publicly and specifically disparaged tonight. Everything else from fashion to gowns to dancing to shoe roses to hair to teeth has come in for criticism."

Mr. Bingley's face had been going from smiling and cheerful, to confused and suddenly to full consternation. He turned red with embarrassment and even sported a ferocious frown. Both Elizabeth and Darcy were happy to detect that he was at least capable of the expression. Elizabeth did not really think the man was likely to correct his pernicious sisters at this late stage of their lives, but if he was interested in Jane, she wanted to see what he was made of. Beyond that, Elizabeth was frankly more concerned about what Mr. Darcy thought. He was looking at her in wonder, and after a few seconds his face broke out in a smile and he chuckled.

Darcy was the first to speak, and he just said, "Touché - Point to Miss Elizabeth."

Elizabeth looked at him calmly at first, and then very cautiously returned his smile, which made the gentleman's heart practically thump out of his chest.

Mr. Bingley said, "At least a point… more like a set I should think. It seems I have some work to do on my household, and I thank you for pointing it out, Miss Elizabeth."

Elizabeth nodded, and was satisfied for the moment.

Darcy looked at her, and said, "Is that all you have, Miss Elizabeth?"

She looked perplexed, so he continued, "You said Bingley would have to be specific. That implies a selection of offenses. You have only really enumerated one, though it includes two people. I can hardly believe you are done."

"That was difficult enough, Mr. Darcy. I believe the author of my deportment manual is spinning in her grave."

He just chuckled again, and said, "Be brave, Miss Elizabeth. My sanity depends on it."

"How so, Sir?"

"Because if you do not, I will spend all night trying to work out what you would have said next, and then I would have to call on you at the crack of dawn to demand you answer, which will make your father displeased with me. It seems much better to just put Bingley out of his misery right now and retain the opportunity to defer your father's anger to a later date, or at least a later hour."

Elizabeth laughed, and had to admit that the 'dour Mr. Darcy' everyone in the assembly was talking about did not actually seem to exist.

Bingley added, "Please, Miss Elizabeth. Give me all of it now. How am I to correct my household if I do not even know the offenses?"

Elizabeth looked at him critically, and said, "They seem so obvious to me, Mr. Bingley."

"I beg of you, Miss Elizabeth, please indulge me."

Elizabeth blew out a careful breath, and said, "Well, Sir. Look to your right. Do you see a girl of about fifteen years in a brown dress?"


"Her name is Molly Hatcher. She is the daughter of a shopkeeper, who died about 2 years ago. She lives with her widowed mother on some meagre savings with assistance from my father and the other landowners."

"I see."

Mr. Bingley looked like he did not see, but that could be corrected.

"Well, Mr. Bingley. This is a public assembly, so she paid the same for her ticket that you did. Her mother might bring in £60 on a good year, and you have perhaps £5,000 according to rumors, yet you paid the same. Now, we all share and share alike at neighborhood assemblies, but your friend, Mr. Hurst has eaten and drank as much as any four other people in the room. The only thing saving him from being in complete violation of all acceptable behavior is that the other four members of his party have not eaten or drank anything at all, as far as I can tell, so it all averages out, but…"

Bingley's face once again fell practically to the floor, and he could not quite make out her eyes.

With much less cheer, he said, "Well, that is something I will need to address. It seems so obvious now, but I confess I was so caught up in the enjoyment of the dances, I had not noticed."

Elizabeth replied, "It is not for you to regulate everyone in the room, Mr. Bingley. The Hursts should account for their own behavior. I am not blaming you… simply answering your question, since when you approached me, you seemed to feel a compulsive need to apologize for somebody."

Darcy laughed, and said, "Welcome to the world of responsibility, Bingley. A gentleman is responsible for his party's behavior… although after tonight, you may wish to seek wiser council than mine."

Elizabeth looked at him and said, "That was uncalled for, Mr. Darcy. There is nothing wrong with your behavior."

Darcy chuckled and said, "Far be it for me to argue with a lady, but…"

Elizabeth shushed him and said, "Just the first half of that sentence was really all you needed, Mr. Darcy. They are words to live by, and everything after the 'but' is superfluous."

He smiled and laughed more, and once again the two were looking at each other happily.

Bingley watched them bat back and forth, and decided to break in, asking, "Something tells me you are not quite finished, Miss Elizabeth. May I have the rest?"

Elizabeth looked at him sympathetically and said, "I will give you some relief by pointing out my own party's bad behavior, Mr. Bingley, just to even the scales a bit. When you were introduced, my mother practically assaulted Mr. Darcy. While it is true that gentlemen are expected to dance with the ladies, it is not up to matchmaking mamas to throw their daughter at every rich blunderbuss that comes through the door. My two youngest sisters may well have out‑drank Mr. Hurst and they certainly out‑sillied him. Every matron in the room with a marriageable daughter has spent the entire night scheming to throw them in your path."

That brought a good laugh to both gentlemen, and Elizabeth was beginning to like both very much.

Bingley said, "It sounds like you are softening the blow, Miss Elizabeth. Pray, continue."

Elizabeth sighed and continued.

"Well, Sir. After that awful introduction which would have embarrassed me from five paces even if I were not involved, Mr. Darcy did the only thing he could. The rumors of his 10,000 a year and so on and so forth started circling the room within minutes. He did what any sensible man would do… placed himself equidistant from all the matchmaking mamas and your frankly mercenary looking youngest sister, with his back to the wall so no lady could 'accidentally' trip over him and claim compromise. Once relatively safe, he tried to just endure the evening while remaining vigilant. I felt quite sorry for him, to be honest."

"You did not find him rude and taciturn."

"Mr. Bingley, my father is not here tonight, which is unfortunate. He could give Mr. Darcy lessons in rudeness and taciturnity. No, Mr. Darcy was doing just fine until…"

Both gentlemen looked at her carefully, so she continued.

"… until you, Sir took it upon yourself to chastise your friend publicly like a misbehaving schoolboy, within my hearing."

Both gentlemen's jaws dropped practically to the floor, as she continued.

"Mr. Darcy did the only sensible thing he could when being thus accosted. You made him look at me, but he did not really pay very much attention, and then he simply told you things so obvious he should not need to explain them. I am not handsome enough to tempt a man such as Mr. Darcy to enter the snake‑pit of local society until he knows the players better. It would be foolish and foolhardy. Helen of Troy would not be handsome enough. He would raise the consequence, and expectations of any lady he paid any attention to. His words were not a criticism, they were simply an assessment, and accurate besides, so no offense could be taken. Even if I was one to take offense, he should never have been put in that position in the first place."

Both gentlemen were still staring with their mouths open.

Elizabeth continued, "Be careful what you ask for, Mr. Bingley. I hope I have not ruined your evening."

The two stared in stupefaction at the lady for perhaps a quarter minute. Darcy was the first to break the impasse by bursting out into laughter that could be heard all the way across the room, and a second or two later, Bingley joined in. This went on for some time, until both gentlemen were wiping tears from their eyes and shaking their heads, while Elizabeth looked on nervously.

Once again, Darcy being the superior in control managed to control his laughter enough to answer.

"Oh, Miss Elizabeth. That was classic… absolutely classic. It was perfection. May I just ask one more thing?"

"Of course, Mr. Darcy."

"Now that Bingley has his next month's tasks set out, or perhaps next year's, and by an extremely unlikely bit of good fortune, I am out of the doghouse, or apparently never in it in the first place; I would like to politely request the honor and pleasure of your hand for a set or so."

Elizabeth smiled, and said, "I would be happy to oblige, Mr. Darcy. The next three sets are free, so you may choose any you like."

With a huge grin, Fitzwilliam Darcy said, "Excellent! I will take them."

~~~ Finis ~~~