J. Marie Croft (Joanne)

A Little Whimsical in His Civilities

Part I of II

Shall my reappearance be proof of a particular attachment? Have I any right to such a claim? My coming here shall be either a confirmation or a relinquishment of any bond.

Providence, impervious to Lady Catherine’s schemes, impelled me to return to Hertfordshire and thereby to the scene of my initial asinine impropriety. I say initial asinine impropriety, for last autumn’s infelicity was merely the first of several since my introduction here. ‘Tis poetic justice, I suppose, for such a pivotal outcome to hang in the balance at the very venue of social chasm in which our awkward association began. Dear God, please do not allow me to mishandle this crucial encounter as I did so very thoroughly our first.

In my defense, I must offer some excuse for incivility … if I was uncivil. Simply put, I just had to utter that fatuous comment about Elizabeth Bennet. How else could I deny an immediate and intense attraction to a woman beneath my station and unworthy of attention? Good principles, engrained under my father’s tutelage, prevented interference with lower-class females; though I have been sorely tempted on more than one occasion.

In retrospect, I was in a fit of pique that night; yet such an admission does not pardon petulance, arrogance, and conceit. I am ashamed to confess excessive vanity and hauteur have been my old friends these twenty odd years at least. Attempts are, even now, being made to amend my defective demeanor; but such long-entrenched companions as vainglory and hubris can neither be easily disregarded nor ousted. A full half year has passed since April 9th, the day I was taken to task for presumptuous meddling and disdainful pride. I trust there has been some state of improvement to my civility since Elizabeth’s acrimonious and humbling censure at Hunsford.

Now I have returned to this humble place. All hope for future felicity hinges on her reaction to my presence here tonight as well as on my own, God willing, impeccable comportment. I am reasonably sanguine about my prospects, but let me first see how she behaves. It will then be early enough for expectation.

Early enough? Bah! I swear time elapses this evening as if regulated by a broken timepiece. Suspicious of the assembly room’s sluggish clock, I consult my reliable fob-watch, which confirms it is, indeed, eighteen minutes past the hour. I grow increasingly impatient with this unendurable vigilance.

Next to me, Bingley is conversing with Miss Maria Lucas. Their mundane chitchat about the shire’s extraordinarily clear weather interests me not in the least… until my friend impresses me with a well-wrought, nonchalant inquiry about the Bennet family. My ears perk up, and now I cannot help but eavesdrop. Miss Lucas’s supposition is the Bennets are tardy because they have many females to prepare and only one lady’s maid. I would gladly hire an abigail apiece for the sisters if it would just bring the second eldest one here sooner.

Elizabeth will look exquisite should she arrive wearing sackcloth. Oh, God. If she has read my letter and given any credit to its contents, I fear she will deem sackcloth and ashes appropriate apparel. The woman is beyond reproach and must suffer no shame on my account; and I will tell her so … if she would just arrive already!

I had entertained hopes of receiving no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight of Longbourn’s young ladies attractively arrayed here by their mother in anticipation of our coming. Instead I see only the neighbours. In this confined and unvarying society, rumours of Netherfield’s occupation undoubtedly reached Mrs. Bennet’s thirsty ears three days ago. Our presence must be common knowledge by now. So, where are they? Where is Elizab … OOF!

“There, Darcy, look! The Bennets are finally arriving. Smashing!”

Neither Bingley’s jovial announcement nor his impudent and powerful elbow-jab to my ribs was remotely necessary. Apart from the occasional and, I daresay, compulsive glance at a timepiece, my hungry eyes have been riveted on the assembly room’s entryway since the moment I discovered her absence and strategically planted myself in this position. I had momentarily considered standing by a window to have advance intelligence of the Bennet carriage’s arrival; but, thanks to quickness of mind, I realized such standoffish behaviour might be misconstrued as unsociable.

Oh. It has just occurred to me I should have employed my time much better by interacting with the locals instead of standing here in this stupid manner. What an awkward, artless arse! Well, there is nothing to be done for it now. Henceforth I shall be diligent and demonstrate only improved conduct. The tide of my unpopularity must be turned. ‘Tis easier said than done, though, in this sea, a cursed crush of exuberant Merytonites. The insipidity and yet the noise, the nothingness and yet the self-importance of all these people! Furrowing my brow, I contemplate oddly familiar words and wonder whether I have uttered or heard them before.

“Did you hear me before, Darcy? I said the Bennets have arrived. Shake a leg, man!”

As we inch our way into the crowd, I well-nigh retch from the miasma of stale, cloying perfume and unwashed bodies. Certain members of this herd could benefit from an introduction to soap and water and a subsequent application. Even Queen Elizabeth apparently took a bath once a fortnight, whether it was necessary or not.

In a trice, an image of Elizabeth (definitely not good old Queen Bess) in a tub of soapy water has pervaded my susceptive mind. Delightful daydreams of the winsome woman are a weakness; but this concupiscent vision must be regulated … at least until later when it can be elaborated upon and fully appreciated privately in my chambers at Netherfield. Here and now is neither the time nor place for prurient thoughts whilst wearing snug breeches and a cutaway coat. Begone, sweet torment!

For a moment, I dread the emphatic behest actually exited this untoward mind via an untrustworthy mouth. Although inured to constant scrutiny at such assemblies, an abnormal number of looks are presently being cast in my direction. I prepare to return the glowers but realize I am already scowling. Ah, that would explain the cringeworthy looks. Good. I have neither the time for an apology nor a ready and reasonable rationale regarding sweet torment and its banishment.

As yet to lay eyes on the woman, and already I have resorted to ungentlemanly behaviour. Clodpole! This does not bode well as an auspicious beginning to our reunion. What can I offer in my defense? From the very beginning, from the first moment, I may almost say, of my acquaintance with Elizabeth Bennet, I have been at her mercy and out of my wits. I would not wish it generally known Fitzwilliam Darcy, man of the world, is held in the absolute thrall of a young country miss.

Haughty expression established and blinders firmly in place over my wicked mind’s eye, I pay heed to our snail’s-pace progress through the throng. As usual, hail-fellow-well-met Bingley is being greeted cheerfully by his neighbours; but few dare address me. I avoid eye contact with anyone who might impede forward movement. Oh, blast it all! Yes, in my eagerness and haste to reach Elizabeth, I have again forgotten my determination to be more personable. Smile, you sap-skull.

Egads, what is this? That reeky apothecary has apparently misinterpreted my smile as approachability and appears hellbent on renewing our acquaintance. My apologies, Jones, but I must plead ignorance of your presence.

Too late. See? This is precisely what comes from presenting a convivial countenance. Now I am obliged to swallow my pride and make the supreme sacrifice of stooping … I mean stopping to chat with a merchant. Not that it matters he is a lowly tradesman. I am, after all, above such prejudice since being on good terms with the Gardiners. It is, however, unfortunate Elizabeth cannot witness my forthcoming sociability.

“Good evening, Mr. Jones.” Affability could be my middle name.

“Mr. Darcy, I am honoured you remember me, sir.”

“Of course. You were of invaluable assistance to both Miss Jane Bennet and myself on separate occasions at

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