Mary Lydon Simonsen
A Wife for Mr Darcy
To my fellow Jane Austen fans at A Happy Assembly
who encouraged me to write this story
With all paths to Meryton muddied from recent rains, it was impossible for anyone at Longbourn to venture into the village without risking ruining shoes or soiling frocks, so all of the Bennets were at home. While Mrs. Bennet was in her bedchamber resting, Mr. Bennet kept to his library, successfully ignoring Mary’s attempt to master a new piece on the pianoforte. In the parlor, Lydia and Kitty perused a magazine obtained from the circulating library showing the latest London fashions, and Lizzy was upstairs pinning up the hem on Jane’s new dress. It was then that Mrs. Hill came to announce that Mr. Darcy was in the parlor and wished to speak to Miss Elizabeth.
“Mr. Darcy! Here to see me?” Lizzy looked at Jane with a puzzled expression. After their awful meeting at the assembly, she was hoping the gentleman would return to London and that she would never have to be in his company again.
“Yes, miss. The gentleman asked your father if he could have a word with you, and Mr. Bennet said he had no objection.”
“What can he possibly want?” Jane asked.
“Perhaps he thinks I did not hear his insults regarding my beauty, or lack of it, and has come to tell me in person.” Both sisters giggled, and when Jane offered to go downstairs with her sister, Lizzy said that she was not afraid of him and would go into the lion’s den alone.
When Lizzy entered the parlor, she found Mr. Darcy lost in thought and staring out the window, so much so that he had not heard her come in.
“Mr. Darcy, I understand you wish to speak to me,” she said, interrupting his reverie.
“Yes, I do, and I thank you for receiving me.” He declined an offer of tea, explaining that his visit would be brief, but then said nothing. If it was to be a short visit, then why did he not begin? He obviously had a purpose in mind but was having difficulty finding the right words with which to express it.
“Miss Elizabeth, at the assembly, you overhead a remark I made in which I stated that I chose not to dance with you because you were tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me. Even if the statement had been true, it was incredibly rude to have uttered it, and I have come to apologize.”
Mr. Darcy’s confession came as a complete surprise to Lizzy, but she now understood the reason for his struggle. He was not in the habit of admitting he had erred.
“Your apology is accepted, Mr. Darcy. I appreciate that you took the trouble to come to tell me in person that I am more than tolerable,” Lizzy said, half laughing at his clumsy effort to repair any damage resulting from his comment.
Darcy winced at her response. “I can assure you that I find you to be much more than tolerable, Miss Elizabeth. You are a very handsome woman, and I might have had an opportunity to express such a sentiment if I had sought an introduction. However, I do not have the talent of conversing easily with those whom I have never seen before. I cannot appear to be interested in their concerns as others do, and I find I have little patience for the type of discourse one hears at these dances.”
“What type of discourse is that, Mr. Darcy?”
“The usual banter about weather and roads and other such things that are of little interest to me,” and leaning forward in his chair, he continued, “Whether it be Meryton or London, I hear the same conversations. A lady will comment on the number of couples in attendance at a dance, and the gentleman will respond by mentioning the size of the ballroom. And what, pray tell, do we learn from that exchange? One party is good with measurements, and the other can count.”
Now Lizzy laughed openly. “Sir, you mistake the purpose of such an exchange. It is certainly not about the dimensions of the room or the number of couples. The parties are merely trying to sketch each other’s character so that they might discover if this is a person they would like to get to know better. If that is the case, one can hope that another conversation about some weightier matter might follow in a quieter venue.”
“But you are an intelligent woman. Do you not find the whole exercise to be tedious?”
“No, I do not, and may I add that you puzzle me. You tell me you are uncomfortable conversing with those with whom you are not acquainted, but then you complain about a lack of conversation. This puts me in mind of a gentleman I met at a card party. He said that he did not like the food and then grumbled that there was not enough of it.”
“I realize that is a contradiction,” he said, crossing and uncrossing his legs, indicating his discomfort.
“It is indeed. I take it that what you really want to do is to begin in the middle. Somehow, without benefit of introductions or the casual conversation that follows, you may come to know your party well enough to discuss what? The war with France? No matter how well acquainted you are with your party, you will have little success with such a topic in a ballroom or assembly hall. Those are subjects best reserved for dinner parties where you are not trying to speak above the dancers and musicians.”
“I see,” Darcy said, nodding his head in understanding. “You are recommending that if I wish to have a substantive conversation at some future date, then I must become better acquainted with my neighbors so that I might be invited to these more intimate venues. I must lay the foundation for weightier discussions by talking to Mr. Long about his purchase of a breeding pair of Border Leicester sheep, or I must give ear to Mrs. Long, who is unhappy with the quality of fabric being sold in the village. I am quite capable of conversing about sheep, as it is a frequent topic of discussion with my steward and tenants, but I am less sure about my ability to wax eloquent on the quality of calico and muslin.”
Lizzy smiled. It was a pleasant surprise to know that the dour Mr. Darcy had a sense of humor.
“Mrs. Long has a daughter who lives in Kensington,” Lizzy responded, “and has been complaining about the inferiority of goods in the village shops for as long as I can remember, so no one would think you rude if you did not engage her. Instead, may I suggest Sir William Lucas, a kind gentleman, who has recently been knighted at St. James’s Palace? He would be happy to share his experience with you.”
“I shall seek him out at the first opportunity.”
“There is another difficulty, sir. By virtue of your rank, it is you who must initiate the conversation. No one will approach Mr. Darcy of Pemberley without being properly introduced.”
“You know the name of my estate?”
“Such information is widely circulated as is the case whenever any single man comes into the neighborhood. Ladies must have dance partners, Mr. Darcy.”
“I see. May I ask what else is said about me?”
Lizzy hesitated. Did Mr. Darcy really want to hear about the discussions in the village regarding the size of his fortune or, worse, that he was considered to be a most disagreeable man, completely lacking in the charm of his friend, Mr. Bingley?
“Your silence speaks for you, Miss Elizabeth, and it is not undeserved. But do you think it is possible to overcome a bad first impression?”
“Most definitely. A more satisfactory performance will replace the previous image, and it would reflect well on you in that you recognized where you fell short and…”
“…and that I was willing to make corrections,” Darcy said, finishing her sentence. At that point he stood up. “The Bingleys and I have been invited to the home of Sir William Lucas. Will you be there, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Most definitely. Charlotte Lucas is my dearest friend.”
“Then I shall look forward to having a conversation with you on a topic somewhere between the number of couples in the room and the wars on the Continent,” and then he smiled, thanked Lizzy for receiving him, and took his leave.
After watching the gentleman ride down the lane, Jane asked her sister, “What are we to think about Mr. Darcy?”
Lizzy shook her head, confused by the whole visit. But some things were clearer. Mr. Darcy was more handsome than she had remembered and had eyes that were more green than gray, attractive legs, and a voice that was very pleasing to the ear, especially when he used it to say that she was handsome and intelligent. Because of these things, she found that her determination never to think well of him was faltering and that might not be a bad thing at all.
It was during the ride from the assembly to Netherfield that Darcy had recognized the need to apologize to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The carriage was barely out of sight of the assembly hall when Bingley had begun a litany of praise for all that he had experienced that evening. The food was delicious, the music lively, the men agreeable, and the ladies handsome, and of all those attractive ladies, the most beautiful was Miss Jane Bennet. Although Darcy found little to admire at the assembly, he had refrained from commenting as he had no wish to dampen his friend’s recollections. His sisters were less generous and had used Darcy’s comment that Miss Elizabeth was “not tolerable enough to tempt him to dance” to support their low opinion of their neighbors.
Darcy had been in ill humor the whole of the evening, and his unhappiness had been reflected in that thoughtless statement. He realized that if Bingley’s sisters had overheard his remark, then others may have as well.