The Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is famous for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Anyone who ever struggled with foot-in-mouth disease knows it’s not a pleasant affliction, especially when it manifests itself in front of that special person one seeks most to impress. With that in mind, I crafted this short story inspired by one of my favorite songs, Leave a Tender Moment Alone, in which Darcy resolves to mend his ways soon after the Meryton assembly.

Darcy caught Elizabeth completely off guard when he asked if he might have the pleasure of dancing with her at some point during the evening. Her eyes opened wide. If I say no, then I will be obliged to forgo any other requests the rest of the evening, for once a lady denies a gentleman’s request to dance she has no choice but to decline all subsequent entreaties. To do otherwise surely would be fodder for gossip and ridicule. I do not wish to watch everyone else make merriment. I want my share of excitement. Oh, you selfish, selfish man! How dare you put me in this position?

Elizabeth uttered the only thing she could in such a situation as this. “Yes, you may.”

Darcy bowed, she curtsied, and he soon disappeared into the crowd gathered across the room.

Needing time to fret over what had just happened, Elizabeth headed out the double French doors to take in the night air.

What is he thinking in asking me to dance given the manner of our separation just half an hour ago? Does he mean to torment me? Did he expect me to say no, knowing that, if I did, he would have the satisfaction of watching me forego the pleasure of dancing with other gentlemen, gentlemen who are not so wealthy as he is—certainly not so handsome but who are far more kind and considerate?

Having been the one who was standing next to Elizabeth when Mr. Darcy approached them and requested the next set, Elizabeth’s intimate friend, Charlotte Lucas, found Elizabeth standing alone outside. She tried her best to console Elizabeth. “Take heart, dearest Eliza. For what it’s worth, you did the right thing in accepting Mr. Darcy’s petition.”

“As though I had a choice in the matter,” said Elizabeth. “No doubt the sole reason he asked is because he was hoping I would say no; thus ruining what’s left of my evening.” Had it not been for her friend’s opening the instrument in the first place and prevailing upon Elizabeth to perform, perhaps her sister Mary might not have succeeded her and commenced a long concerto. Subsequently, at the request of her younger sisters, Mary had been persuaded to play something conducive to dancing. Some of Charlotte’s family and two or three officers eagerly joined them in dancing. Elizabeth had seen in Mr. Darcy, who stood near them, the silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening and yet he had prevailed upon her to stand opposite him.

A kind, unpretentious woman, Charlotte shook her head. “I don’t suppose that was his reason at all.”

“Do you have a better explanation?”

“It seems you are handsome enough to tempt the gentleman after all.”

“Oh, Charlotte! How can you make light of my situation? Had the insufferable man arrived mere moments earlier he would have heard my complaints against him for his latest offense.”

“Dearest Eliza, can you not see how much he likes you? While one may rightfully accuse him of sometimes saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, one must suppose that is his way. If you would but give him a chance, I dare say you will find him very agreeable.”

Charlotte and Jane were always endeavoring to give Mr. Darcy the benefit of the doubt tilted in favor of his goodness by virtue of his friendship with Mr. Bingley. I know better. “I dare say you are no friend at all even to wish such a fate upon me.”

 
Miss Elizabeth could not possibly have known that she and her friend were not alone on the terrace. Wishing to escape Miss Bingley’s annoying habit of deriding his inclination of admiring Elizabeth as well as her repeated taunts of wishing him joy in his would-be marriage, Darcy sought the solace of the night air while awaiting the next set.

He would not have been the least bit surprised were it Miss Bingley whom Elizabeth was speaking of with Miss Lucas. Bingley’s sister was always rude and condescending towards everyone—especially the Bennets.

Waves of trepidation tinged with a hint of remorse washed over him. Is that how Miss Elizabeth regards me as well? Standing in the shadows, Darcy stared into the distance. The moon that had shown so bright earlier that evening now barely peeped beyond the clouds.

Her opinion of him was even lower than he had supposed. He had no idea that he had made such a horrible impression upon her. Her grievances against him started long before that night, and he had no one to blame but himself.

Perchance she overheard what I said to Bingley that evening at the Meryton assembly. I didn’t mean a word of it. Since then, whenever they were in company, either he was too taciturn and aloof with her or he was fumbling for something to say and never just himself.

It’s truly a wonder she even agreed to dance with me at all. Darcy knew what he must do. Soon I will claim her hand for the promised dance. He was determined to get it right.

 

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