Ten thousand a year. The words hung in the air of the assembly room like ripe fruit on a low branch. Every eligible young lady at the ball appeared to share the notion that Mr. Bingley's tall, reserved friend was the most desirable man they had ever beheld. Every young lady that is, except Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth had astutely observed a decidedly bored expression on the man's face when her family was introduced to Mr. Darcy. The look was, it seemed to Elizabeth, an overt rejection of the friendly smiles bestowed upon him by all the women of her family. His pride was evident to Elizabeth from that moment, although it took the other occupants of the room half the night to realize that Mr. Darcy would not deign to dance with any of the local ladies, only with those from his own party, and even then with some reluctance.
Elizabeth found some amusement in observing the other young ladies discreetly pinching their cheeks and biting lips to bring color to their faces whenever they approached proximity to either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley. The color in her own face was quite unintentionally gained merely from dancing, as she was a popular partner. Elizabeth was, after several merry dances, obliged to sit down for two dances, due to the scarcity of gentlemen at the ball, though she politely claimed that it was in order to catch her breath.
It was during this time that she overheard a conversation between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley, who had been dancing nonstop, left the floor to persuade his friend to join him.
"Darcy,'' said Mr. Bingley, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.''
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.''
"I would not be so fastidious as you are,'' cried Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honor I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty. My partner, Miss Jane Bennet is an angel, and I am most insistent that you select a partner for the next dance."
Taking a side-glance at the men, Elizabeth saw Mr. Bingley looking at her, which caused her some alarm. She had no desire to be engaged in the next dance with the arrogant Mr. Darcy, particularly not under compulsion. It was evident that Bingley was going to suggest it to his friend. She abruptly rose from her seat and crossed the room to join her friend Charlotte Lucas who was standing near the refreshments. She acquired a drink from the table and turned to speak to Charlotte.
"Well Lizzy," said Charlotte. "I believe you may have lost your opportunity to dance with the illustrious Mr. Darcy. He watched you cross the room just now most attentively, as did Mr. Bingley."
"I was thirsty." Elizabeth replied. "And you are quite mistaken. Mr. Darcy detests dancing, I heard him say so himself. He won't be prevailed upon, that is certain."
"Lizzy, they are speaking of you still, I am sure of it." Charlotte murmured as she glanced away from the handsome figures, lest the gentlemen assume the same of herself and Lizzy.
Elizabeth was less discrete as she looked back from whence she came, laughing. "If they are as you say dear Charlotte, it cannot be a pleasant conversation. See how cross Mr. Darcy is, and Mr. Bingley, his face is the color of a beet. No, I think they must be speaking of hunting or livestock or similar vexations." As she spoke, her eyes met with those of Mr. Darcy, and she could not withhold a winsome smile at his expense, although she turned to speak to Charlotte as it lit upon her lips, leaving him to ponder on the source of her amusement.
The rest of the evening was pleasant enough for Elizabeth, who was once again called upon as a partner by none other than Mr. Bingley. She remained on the floor for the rest of the evening, and did not give one more thought to the wealthy but pompous Mr. Darcy.
Mrs. Bennet's wrap was still upon her shoulders in the entryway when she began to regale the events of the evening to Mr. Bennet. The music, the refreshments, the dances, the finery, the lace, she carried on, working herself into near hysteria over every detail.
"Oh, and Mr. Bingley!" She exclaimed, just as Mr. Bennet thought she had finished. "I have saved the best part for last Mr. Bennet, for Mr. Bingley was quite taken with Jane, as were all the young men. Mr. Bingley danced two dances with Jane, a great compliment I am sure. He has five-thousand a year you know." A contented sigh escaped her lips, as though she had herself been the belle. "Lizzy danced too though not nearly as much as Jane!"
Elizabeth smiled at her father, appreciative of the indulgence he gave his wife in listening to her carry on, for it seemed to sooth her mother's pent-up emotions to pour them out upon her husband, and there would be no rest for anyone until she had done so.
"Oh!" Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, once again curtailing a false finish. "I almost forgot to mention that horrible Mr. Darcy, who is hardly worth mentioning, but I must for convention's sake."
"Mr. Darcy?" Mr. Bennet's interest was piqued merely by his wife's lack of enthusiasm for the man.
"A proud, disagreeable man, who refused to stand up with any of your daughters, and wandered about the room looking for all the world as the Lord of a kingdom. He may have ten-thousand a year, but such an odious temperament could not be borne. No, Mr. Bingley may call him friend, but he is not worthy of our attention." Mrs. Bennet sniffed loudly, as if to punctuate her declaration.
"Oh, but he is handsome," Lydia proclaimed, "but not nearly as handsome nor jolly as the officers in their regimentals!"
"Nor as handsome as Mr. Bingley I daresay!" Mrs. Bennet added. "He is all that is happy and engaging in a young man. I do hope we shall entertain him very soon at Longbourn."
Jane, who had been listening with care, graced her mother with an encouraging smile, for in this, Jane harbored the same hope as her mother.