Through the course of the evening, Jane and Elizabeth stole away from the others in their party and went outside for a breath of fresh air. Elizabeth could not recall the last time she had seen her sister so happy—so animated. The two young ladies joined hands and gave in to a bout of laughter.
“Dearest Jane, I think Mr. Bingley likes you very much.”
“Oh, Lizzy, do you really think so?”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Indeed, as does everyone else at the assembly, I am certain. Pray what do you think of him? Do you like him?”
As if not wishing to be too eager in her praise of the young man, Jane replied whimsically, “What is there not to like? He is sensible and good-humored. He is lively, and I never saw such happy manners. Mr. Bingley is just what a young man ought to be.”
“That is to say nothing of his handsome looks, which a gentleman also ought to possess so far as it can be arranged. So, there. You have my permission to like him.”
“Lizzy, be serious. A handsome face means nothing at all if there are carefully concealed flaws in one’s character—a lesson that we have learned most painfully.”
With the Wickhams so far away and seldom thought about as a consequence, Elizabeth pleaded, “Pray let us not speak of such misfortunes at such a time as this.”
“Very well. Too much happiness abounds this evening. Your Mr. Darcy is an excellent dance partner.”
“Jane, he is not my Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said, not unaware that she had put forth the same defense to her friend Charlotte months ago.
“Is he not?” Jane asked, her brow slightly arched. “You need not answer me, for if he is not now your Mr. Darcy, he will be very soon—that is to say unless there is no truth at all in the notion that to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love.”
Elizabeth smiled in silent acquiescence. Indeed, she had long believed in such an idea as well, which must certainly have explained her disappointment in hearing Mr. Darcy express his displeasure in the endeavor earlier that evening. Then again, he owed his distaste to not having danced with the right partner until now. Did she dare allow herself to hope that perhaps he was in her power?
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