After being introduced to the Bennets, Mr. Bingley requested the hand of Jane, who accepted, smiling as brightly as her nature would allow.
Lydia and Kitty both left with their partners for the first set. This left Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy standing with Mary and Elizabeth as the Hursts had gone to dance the first set.
Elizabeth tried to make polite conversation with Caroline, asking how she liked the neighbourhood and if they had travelled far. The responses were clipped just long enough to be polite but provoked no further conversation. Mary and Mr. Darcy, both not social butterflies, were content standing quietly watching the exchange.
Mary was saved further awkwardness when she spotted an acquaintance that she wished to speak with, leaving Elizabeth alone with a snippy Caroline, who was mentally criticizing her outfit so she could laugh with her sister later, as well as a reserved Darcy who was trying to think of something to say. He opened his mouth twice but shut it both times and chose to remain silent.
The motion didn't go unnoticed by Elizabeth. It brought a small smile to her lips. Thankfully Caroline stopped the awkward silence by reminding Mr. Darcy that he had promised the first dance to her.
"Wha—" he cut himself off. He couldn't call her a liar in public. He nodded slightly. "Certainly, Miss Bingley." Before he could say anymore Caroline had latched onto his arm and was leading him away from Elizabeth. He glanced back to see if she was affronted by the rude snub that wasn't subtle at all. Instead of looking angry, she was smiling, her mouth quirking as if she was holding back a laugh, though the amusement showed in her bright eyes.
As soon as they took their place in the line that was now quite large, as everyone was now partnered, (aside from the women that couldn't because of the scarcity of gentlemen), the music started. Elizabeth was soon joined by her friend Charlotte who stood quietly whilst her lively friend observed the dance between Jane and Bingley.
"Mama will be pleased." Elizabeth smiled, her mood soaring at the happiness of Jane.
"That is true. She looks happy. I don't think I have ever seen her smile so much," Charlotte remarked before turning her attention back to Elizabeth. "Lizzie, pray tell, how was your conversation with Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth's smile died slightly but returned with a chuckle when she spotted the gentleman, stony-faced, sharing a dance with Caroline who obviously didn't see that he didn't reciprocate her obvious attachment.
"He didn't speak a word," Elizabeth stated with a smirk, as if the memory amused her. "I think he was going to, then..." she trailed off as her attention was captured by the loud boasting of her mother.
"Look! Jane is dancing with Mr. Bingley!" she hollered, glass in hand. Thankfully she was swiftly side tracked by Mary, who, upon seeing the wince of her elder sister, started her mother on a suitable subject that quieted her mother's boasting and she was sent a silent thank you from Elizabeth.
Mary, being considered plain in a house full of beauty, strived hard for recognition and she was considered the most accomplished in the house. However, she wasn't a favourite of either of her parents. She accepted it but considered herself blessed because she was considered a treasure by her elder siblings who gave her the attention that she craved. Along with her elder sisters, she attempted to curtail her mother's inappropriate behaviour in public. They each tried to prevent as much embarrassment as possible and succeeded in most cases.
As Mary engaged Mrs. Bennet, the first set ended, and the evening progressed in a similar manner. Mary and Elizabeth continuously had to side track their mother, with some aid from their father who stepped in to give his daughters a break.
Elizabeth was conversing with Charlotte during the time when she was forced to sit out from the dancing. She stood a few feet in front of Mr. Darcy who was approached by Mr. Bingley. She was close enough to hear but not so close for them to suspect her doing so.
"Come, Darcy," Bingley said. "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"I certainly shall not. You know 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 a woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
Elizabeth mused over this statement and tried to verify his character.
"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Mr. Bingley, (this brought a smile to Elizabeth) "for I have never met so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty."
"You were quick to secure the hand of the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy with a chuckle, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! Just like an angel. But Miss Elizabeth –"
Elizabeth instinctively turned around on the mention of her name. Mr. Bingley stopped mid-sentence, then a large grin stretched across his face.
"Ah. Miss Elizabeth, you have met Mr. Darcy of course?" he asked. Both gentlemen bowed when she curtsied and answered positively. "That is good. He was just wondering..." He trailed off giving his friend a little shove and a meaningful look. Both Darcy and Elizabeth had to refrain from rolling their eyes.
"Miss Elizabeth, would you do me the honour of having the next dance?" He held out his hand. She arched her brown slightly and smiled before accepting his hand and being led to the floor where the other couples took their places.
Many looked on in wonder at Elizabeth who so far had been the only one to dance with the proud Darcy besides Bingley's relations. The attention made Darcy seem uneasy. He was always uncomfortable being watched.
As the dance began they remained in silence before Elizabeth decided to make him speak.
"How are you enjoying the country?" She inquired.
"It is better than London. It feels closer to home, but not quite Pemberley." He uttered the sentence surprised at its length and truth. Why did I just say that? he questioned himself.
"You live in Pemberley then?"
"Yes." His answer was clipped. This was how most fortune hunting women started their conversations. After his answer they remained in silence for some time.
"How is your punishment?" she asked him, laughing at his furrowed brow that showed his confusion.
"You told that it would be a punishment to dance?" She smiled sweetly as his face turned a tint of pink at his embarrassment.
"It seems I was mistaken. It is not a punishment." He rectified his belief to her which made her smile slightly.
"How can you not enjoy dancing?" she questioned again, making him wonder what was with all the questions.
"I didn't say I didn't enjoy it. I don't do it if I can help it," he answered truthfully again, confused at her laughter.
"Mr. Darcy, you take joy in dancing yet despise doing it. Yes, sir, that explains it," she summed up, making him realise his confusing statement.
"I do not converse well with others, as is apparent. Yet it appears my torment of dancing all depends on my partner."
"You have danced with many people this evening to come to this conclusion then?" she asked.
"No, but people dance the same wherever," he stated, hoping that would be the end. She had gotten him to speak more than he would usually.
"Ah, where is your evidence sir? You do not dance with another lady outside your party apart from me, and that was because you were forced."
"As I have already stated, I do not feel comfortable with those with whom I am not well acquainted," he muttered quietly, surprised that he was defending himself to Elizabeth.
"How do you further acquaintances when you do not instigate any conversation to begin with? Do you feel up to a challenge?" she asked sweetly, whilst smiling up at him.
He raised a brow before asking what the challenge would entail.
"It's simple. All you have to do is dance with as many ladies as possible tonight, to support your statement. You wouldn't want to form unfounded conclusions, would you?"
She smiled at him, waiting for him to either politely decline or defend his argument with evidence. She thought he would decline. She was pondering if she had over stepped herself with her request.
"Of course, Miss Elizabeth, I wouldn't want to hold any unfounded conclusions. I accept your challenge." He smirked at her expression. Obviously she wasn't expecting that response.
Elizabeth couldn't think of a suitable answer whilst she puzzled over his words. The dance had ended without her realising. He led her over to her family, where Mr. Bingley was conversing with Jane and Mary.
When the next set started both Elizabeth and Jane had partners, leaving Mr. Darcy to ask for Mary's hand. Surprising those around them, she accepted and allowed him to escort her to the floor.
The evening progressed with Mr. Darcy trying to prove Miss Elizabeth wrong by dancing with different ladies from the neighbourhood whilst Caroline watched from a corner of the room with a frown upon her face. Elizabeth had a smile of satisfaction as the evening drew to a close. Mr. Darcy wasn't as hostile and seemed to almost enjoy himself, whilst his friend was still the more open of the two. Mr. Bingley, being the amiable gentleman, expressed his disappointment at the early end of the ball whilst promising to hold his own ball.
As they made their leave, all the Bennet girls were in high spirits, including Mary, who was usually slighted for her other siblings. However, because of dancing with Mr. Darcy, she had a partner for almost every set after that.
Upon arriving home they dressed for bed and settled down for the night. Mrs. Bennet was excitedly telling Mr. Bennet of the Netherfield gentleman who showed such a preference to Jane. He sighed and nodded along, knowing that his wife didn't care that he was actually there.
Lydia and Kitty retold stories of the amiable gentlemen they each danced with. Being the youngest, that was all they cared for when attending a ball. Mary was exhausted and went straight to sleep after reassuring her elder sisters that she did enjoy herself more than she thought.
Jane and Elizabeth shared a room, so after dressing for bed Elizabeth couldn't help but tease Jane on her admirer.
"Lizzie, do be serious. Do you really think he likes me?" She was a gentle creature and was very modest and shy.
"Jane, he danced twice with you as our mama pointed out, and he couldn't stop staring at you for the other part." Her statement sent them into giggles.
"Mr. Darcy became amiable enough after your dance. What did you do?" Jane asked whilst brushing out her golden locks.
"I didn't do anything per say. I just challenged his view on dancing," she claimed. Jane just shook her head at her sister's antics.
"Lizzie, is that wise to challenge gentlemen as such? What would mama say?" Jane exclaimed mockingly, quite used to her sister's sharp tongue.
"She will probably declare that I shall end up a spinster if I argue with every amiable man." Lizzie couldn't help but laugh at Jane's sigh.
"What do you think of Caroline, Mr. Bingley's sister? She appears charming," Jane prompted, waiting expectantly to hear her sister's view.
"She seems amiable enough. However it appears a facade. I warn you to be careful around her. She finds joy in criticising everyone around her in hopes of winning Mr. Darcy's hand."
Jane simply shook her head and declared her charming enough although not as amiable as her brother. Although she couldn't dispute that Caroline did seem quite attached to Mr. Darcy.
The sisters spoke some more, but no more on the Netherfield party. Eventually they tired enough to sleep.
Unbeknown to them, the Bennet sisters were a subject of discussion in the home of Netherfield.
"Miss Bennet is a charming woman. Don't you agree, Louisa?" Caroline asked her sister as they sat in the drawing room.
"She is just charming," Mr. Bingley interjected, causing Caroline to sigh.
Louisa and Caroline were seated whilst Mr. Darcy stood ready to take leave to his room at the next available second, regretting his choice in following Charles into the room.
"What do you think?" Caroline called, dragging him into the conversation.
"I agree that she is amiable enough. If you would excuse me, I am exhausted" he declared, retreating, hoping to avoid anymore eye batting from Caroline, but not before Charles called,
"I'm not surprised. I haven't seen you dance so much, ever. What did Miss Elizabeth do to evoke such a change in you?"
The mention of his behaviour being linked to Elizabeth startled Caroline whose face turned into a deep scowl. Fortunately Mr. Darcy had long legs to carry him away before he was forced to answer that question.
He was looking forward to tomorrow. If all went well he wouldn't have to suffer Caroline's attentions alone.
With a smile, he fell asleep to dreams of a certain lady occupied with her sparkling eyes and a cheeky smile.
Next: More introductions...