Amazingly enough, this is my third or fourth Pride and Prejudice fanfic. We read it in English class, and suffice to say, I enjoyed it. Without further ado, First Impressions.
"Elizabeth, I refuse to allow you to pass another year without improving your riding," Jane told her younger sister conspiratorially in early August.
"Jane, I refuse to get back on a horse. Have you conveniently forgotten my last disaster?"
"Well, you shouldn't have been loaned Sir William Lucas' most spirited stallion, that's for certain. The great beast was already in a fine temper because of a thrown shoe, the mud must have been too much for it."
"You're making apologies for a horse that nearly killed me, Jane," Elizabeth pointed out.
"You can't let one mistake ruin your life. If you weren't so nervous, you'd be a terrific rider. Your posture and style were impeccable until the accident, and you moved like you were a part of your animal. I miss our evening rides, Lizzie."
Elizabeth gave a long-suffering sigh. "For you, I will endure. Very well. I will ride to Meryton with you, so you can correct any errors negligence has spawned. We will continue in that manner, and soon I will venture alone, and pray not to have another unfortunate accident, and this time without aid."
Jane made certain that her sister was on the most mild-mannered horse their father owned before they left the stables. The oldest Bennet sisters walked their mounts into town at a steady, easy pace, and the tension in Lizzie's back, arms, and hands eased with every plodding step. By the time they returned to Longbourn, she was smiling easily and thoroughly pleased with herself.
Around the beginning of September, Lizzie felt confident enough to take a bit of food in a saddlebag, mount a horse, and amble off on her own. She took a loping canter through the untamed wilds of Hertfordshire, her cheeks becoming quite flushed with the harsh wind and brisk exercise. She reckoned her location as half a mile or so from the vacant Netherfield home when Bolt, the stallion, decided he wanted to gallop a bit on the fields.
Though Lizzie was recovering much of her former skill as a rider, she was not quite prepared for a sudden, full gallop in an area quite probably full of hidden pockmarks where her horse could lame himself. She forgot herself and pulled rather hard on the reins, making Bolt rear up and kick out his hooves in discomfort.
If you have ever ridden (or even seen someone riding) sidesaddle, you will know that it is an old-fashioned saddle used only by women because of its unique design. Due to the restraining nature of skirts, especially in days long past, a woman's legs were kept together, off to one side, so that her buttocks was slightly off-center of the horse's spine. A sidesaddle has only one stirrup, but also has a "leaping pommel" upon which one of the lady's legs rests for added security.
However, while a "stride" saddle rider may clench his (or her) legs together when the horse rears (that is, raises its head and kicks its forelegs up and out so it may stand temporarily on its hind legs,) a lady riding sidesaddle is helpless. Depending on the angle the horse attains, her leaping pommel and a quick switch of hands from reins to the main pommel will be enough to keep her ahorse. If the angle is too steep for the leaping pommel to keep her in the saddle, and she is either too weak to keep her weight in the saddle or unable to move her hands quickly enough, she will fall.
And fall Elizabeth Bennet did, most spectacularly so. She landed flat on her back in the grass which mercifully cushioned her landing. Bolt, however, bolted.
"Ow," Elizabeth said profoundly.
She spent some three or four minutes lying there and trying to regain her suddenly scarce breath. The fall had surprised her, certainly, but she was not truly so damaged as her last incident. She might have a particularly nasty bruise on her back for some days to come, but she was quite certain she had not broken anything. She laboriously dragged herself into a sitting position, quickly mending her hair and smoothing her dress. It was a bit dusty, and there might be some leafy matter here and there, but it did not seem grievously torn or stained – the grass was already dying yellow, so she would have no unsightly green smears on her new white over-gown. With some effort, she eventually attained a standing position and began to walk unsteadily in the vague direction her horse had been pointed.
Three horses approached her at a sedate trot not long after she began searching for her mount. Two bore passengers, one bore only an empty sidesaddle.
"Excuse me, is this your horse?" asked the fair-haired man on the white horse.
"Yes, thank you very much for catching him for me. I was not enjoying even the idea of it." She took the reins and easily remounted, no mean feat in regards to such a tall creature.
"What happened," pressed the fair-haired man.
"I must have pulled too hard on his bit. He went straight up in the air and I couldn't even think before I was on the ground," Elizabeth smiled self-deprecatingly. "I'm Elizabeth Bennet. Thank you very much again, Mr.…"
"Bingley. Charles Bingley. But really, it was Darcy that did most of the work. A fine horseman, aren't you, Darcy?"
The darker complected stranger on his stunning black mount waited a long moment to reply. "I suppose."
"Thank you, then, Mr. Darcy. We're near Netherfield, aren't we?" Elizabeth smiled warmly. Darcy looked down.
"Yes, Miss Bennet," replied Bingley. "I was examining the property with some thought of purchase."
"Oh, splendid, you answered my next question before I even asked it," she smiled. "I thought I would remember two such handsome, courteous men if I had seen them in town."
Bingley grinned broadly at the compliment, but hurried to say he was neither. Darcy merely examined his ornate black-and-silver saddle with assumed interest, looking positively shy to Lizzie's imagining.
"You are both most certainly handsome, and most certainly courteous and thoughtful for fetching the horse of a woman you haven't met. Have you completed your business at Netherfield for the time being?"
"For the time being," answered Bingley.
"Then if you have no objection, I would feel very much obliged if one or both of you rode as far as Meryton with me – I have been riding with my sister until recently, and I suppose this is just proof that I'm not meant to ride alone."
The men had flanked her before she even completed her request and began the walk to Meryton. "Why haven't you ridden on your own recently?" asked Mr. Darcy, finally putting together a full inquiry.
"I had a terrible accident with a neighbor's horse a few years ago and was quite shaken. I broke an arm and very nearly had my legs crushed under the beast's weight. I am quite pleased that this most recent fall has not left me nearly so injured. I believe I will escape with no more than a bruise."
"Do you live in town, Miss Bennet?" asked Bingley.
"No – my uncle is an attorney there, and my youngest, silliest sisters go to gossip with my aunt nearly every day, but my father owns Longbourn, a mile or so from Meryton."
"Do you have many sisters? I confess to five, myself," he laughed, naming each and describing them shortly, "and Darcy has a younger sister, Georgiana, who is very dear to him."
"Many sisters?" Lizzie laughed. "If four is many, then I do most definitely have many sisters. Jane is the oldest and prettiest and most sweet-tempered of us all. I follow her with inferior looks and an unfavorable nature, and I am followed by Mary. She works very diligently at becoming accomplished, but none of us will ever surpass Jane's looks, and it's quite silly to try. Mary reads nearly constantly instead. I adore books, to be certain, but her favorites are usually dull sermons on how proper young ladies should act and how to conduct oneself when one wishes to gain a husband. Perhaps I am forward in admitting that despite my dear wish to marry for love, I will never marry a man I must conduct myself in order to gain the favor of. Love should not be won with falseness, and if one is acting with the intention of gaining love, one is being false. I believe also that one may have the best behavior in the room or the town for the moment and lack the proper manners for constant scrutiny. Jane has far superior manners to all of us, as well.
"Catherine is the fourth daughter, a rather impressionable soul who has unfortunately decided to follow the whims of Lydia, the youngest of us. Lydia is pretty, I suppose, but she is also very flighty and really too immature to have been already introduced into society. Mother is too like her to have seen the sense in waiting, however, so it must be borne. What were your sisters' encounters with polite society like?"
"Louisa is married to a gentleman named Mr. Hurst, and she and Caroline are keenly interested in fashion. They're both very accomplished but I think a little too concerned with money. The other three are much younger, and will remain with our parents until Louisa is wed or the oldest turns seventeen," Bingley elaborated.
Darcy paused again before speaking. "Georgiana is much younger than myself, as well, and is forever playing the pianoforte. She is accomplished in other areas, naturally, but finds exceptional pleasure in the arts, particularly music. She has…a welcoming heart."
"I should very like to meet her," Elizabeth said decisively, and sincerely. "She sounds like my dear sister Jane." Meryton was within sight. "This is far enough, thank you again, gentlemen. If you do decide to take up Netherfield, Mr. Bingley, I ask you now to attend the first ball in town after you move in – and please bring Mr. Darcy and both your introduced sisters – his, too, if she is willing. I'm quite in your debt about the horse," she smiled at Darcy. "It was a pleasure meeting you. Unless I misjudge, you seem very like my father – inclined to fine literature and fine brandy. Perhaps you may be induced to call upon us? Goodbye!" The angle she had turned at to see the men was becoming quite uncomfortable, so she waved quickly and set off at a trot without awaiting a reply.
Upon arriving at Longbourne, Lizzie handed her horse over to the groomsman and rushed to tell Jane of the two handsome strangers, one of whom considering moving into town. Her sister was properly appreciative of the news, and very discreet about the revelation.
Thus, it was no great surprise to the oldest Bennet girls when their mother made the announcement of her newest intelligence as September drew to a close. And after her father finished making Mrs. Bennet insensible over the knowledge he had visited Bingley, he invited Elizabeth to his study.
"Was there something you wished to tell me?"
"My dear Lizzie, when I introduced myself to Mr. Bingley, he most curiously asked if I was the father of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He declared he had never met such a good-humored girl in his life, and he was particularly pleased to hear from his friend Mr. Darcy a measure of recommendation not usually offered upon Darcy's first acquaintance. He was bold enough to admit Darcy usually had little interest in dances, but was looking forward to attending one in Hertfordshire.
"Truly, I do not tell you this to give you greater interest in the gentleman, but I am quite curious as to how you piqued his interest in you."
"I confess to doing nothing extraordinary – I lost my horse while they were examining Netherfield, and Mr. Bingley said Mr. Darcy had been the greatest help in recapturing it. I was properly thankful, of course. We three spoke of our siblings, and after Darcy's recommendation of his sister, I confess I will find myself quite disappointed if she does not come with her brother."
Upon hearing Charles Bingley had two men and two women in his company; Elizabeth was indeed saddened to hear the women were both Bingley's sisters, who he had described like a man blind to the faults of his family. Georgiana, she was sure, would have made a much better acquaintance. Nevertheless, she was looking forward to the ball.
Everyone was whispering of the handsome Mr. Bingley – four or five thousand a year! – and the even handsomer Mr. Darcy – ten thousand a year! Soon, however, it was discovered that Mr. Darcy rarely spoke to anyone outside BIngley's party, and the people of Hertfordshire determined he was proud.
Everyone, that is, except Elizabeth. Perhaps halfway through the ball, she found Mr. Darcy watching Mr. Bingley dance with Jane, and decided to approach him.
"Miss Bennet," he nodded briskly to her.
"Mr. Darcy, I'm quite pleased to see you, though I am sorry Miss Darcy was unable to venture to Netherfield with you. She sounded like a very splendid girl, if a little shy."
"She is very splendid," Mr. Darcy replied with a ghost of a smile. "Society does not suit her, however. Her retiring nature is interpreted as pride."
"I'm afraid most of town has slighted you the same, so perhaps it is for the best she has not been introduced in such a noisy and crowded setting. It is much easier to attend a ball in which one knows most of the guests. Having grown up with many of these men and women for neighbors, I am able to converse with them even if I find their manners intolerable. And I will always be able to find someone, like Jane or my dear friend Charlotte, to give me solace when I find everyone intolerable. Perhaps your sister merely ought to be introduced to more people in a more intimate setting prior to attending large parties."
Mr. Darcy turned to her. "I daresay you are right. I never considered such a thing – the Bingleys have always been so instantly comfortable with anyone and everyone, the thought never entered my mind that Georgiana's different nature required a different tact." He examined her closely, concentrating on her eyes. "Would you like to dance? I do not usually indulge in such whimsy, but Georgiana often informs me that young women adore to do so, and with such a shortage of men here, you will be unable to dance each time you wish."
Elizabeth instantly smiled at the invitation and had already half whisked Mr. Darcy away before he could finish speaking. They continued to chat amiably – or as amiably as Mr. Darcy could manage – through the steps, some quickly becoming very complicated when each realized the skill of the partner.
"You are a fine dancer, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth remarked on the third song.
"You are as well, Miss Bennet. Quite a standard above many of the ladies in the room."
Elizabeth glanced at Mr. Bingley and Jane, who were dancing yet again, not far from herself and Mr. Darcy. "I hope your friend has good intentions, Mr. Darcy, or he will break my dear sister's heart."
Darcy glanced at them. "You say this after a few hours of seeing them together?"
"I say this after over twenty years of knowing Jane. She has fallen for far less likable men, but never so quickly or so keenly has she been interested in one suitable to her temperament. I knew before they met that Mr. Bingley would enjoy her, she is beautiful, kind, and pleasant by all accounts – and not in the least interested in fortune. All men of fortune worry of such things, do you not?"
Darcy had the grace to clear his throat and glance away, as he had been worrying that very thing.
"Our family is, perhaps not as rich as some, but some of us are sensible, and truly even Lydia will not marry for wealth. Equally ridiculous reasons, perhaps, but certainly not wealth. I have always said to Jane – and she has always agreed – that our family is of wealth and standing enough to marry for love without any of our choices being regarded as improper, unless we aim for the first class or the terribly impoverished. I find it a very happy medium."
"Are you concerned you will not marry, Miss Bennet? You speak of the subject frequently."
"I suppose I am concerned I will be unable to find a man that I love who can bear my teasing. It is entirely my father's fault that I have within my nature the will to laugh at silliness. It is the only true felicity he has in his own marriage, all the more reason for me to wish for love in mine. I hope for a husband who can tolerate my laughter, for if I love him it will be good-natured. And you, Mr. Darcy? What do you require in a wife?"
Mr. Darcy smiled at this. "As long as you frequently make this future husband aware of the nature of your torments, I'm certain he will understand. Should I marry, largely I require only that she loves my dear sister Georgiana. Once that criterion is met, she must be at least not so painful to gaze upon as myself, so we may be tolerated in polite company, and she must be accomplished at an instrument, at least one foreign language, and dance – not that I could not love a woman who was not any of these things, but because my acquaintances and family are frequently unkind with those who are all of them, and still worse to those who are none of them."
Elizabeth considered this for a moment. "Then it is for your wife's sake that she must be accomplished? So she will not be slandered by your friends?"
"Of friends I have very few, Miss Bennet. Charles, my cousin Fitzwilliam, and Georgiana would never slander anyone. There are not many more, but most are at least half so kind as Mr. Bingley. It is mainly my family which these sentiments concern – my mother's sister is highly discriminating, and when she does condescend to attend anyone, she makes certain everyone understands how condescending she is. If I am frequently tried by her speeches, it is nothing to what a person she truly dislikes would feel."
And as Elizabeth and her sister passed the evening happily dancing with men well-suited to them, Caroline Bingley was seized with an implacable hatred for little Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
A/N: And that's chapter one! Tell me what you think!