My favorite love scene takes place at the Harvest Ball at Pemberley in An Arranged Marriage. It’s my favorite because I can still remember how much fun I had writing it. Elizabeth has been forced to marry Darcy some time earlier, but they have yet to consummate the marriage. Circumstances have caused them to live apart for some weeks, Elizabeth at Pemberley and Darcy in Town. Their parting was not good. Darcy wrote from London not to expect him to return in time for the ball.
Colonel Fitzwilliam led me to sit at the centre of the head table where Georgiana eventually joined us. A short while later, he stood and tapped his fork against his glass―a signal that quieted the crowd.
“Neighbours and tenants of Pemberley! On behalf of my cousin, Mr. Darcy, I welcome you to this belated Harvest Ball. He regrets most heartily that he is unable to join you tonight, but he would have me stand in his stead. Miss Darcy and I ask you to raise your glasses in a toast to the new mistress of Pemberley, Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
“Hear, hear!” The clamour of the crowd was friendly and approving, and I smiled and nodded in response.
“Mr. Darcy bade me assure you that, even though unforeseen events have caused his extended absence from Pemberley for much of this year, all shall remain as it is. He will return. All will be well. All will continue as it ever has. And you are to be commended for your hard work in once again reaping a successful harvest. I offer a toast to each of you.”
“Hear, hear!” the crowd rejoined again. “And to Mr. Darcy.”
“Now, eat, drink, and dance. Musicians, give us a song!”
There was much cheering and excitement as couples lined up for the first country dance. So many of the tenants approached me in greeting that I entreated Georgiana to take my place and begin the dance with Richard. It did my heart good to see the happiness upon her face. Her eyes sparkled, and a smile graced her countenance for the entire length of the reel, as well as the next, for the colonel led her right back to the floor with the beginning of the following set.
I spent no little time meeting guests and acknowledging their expressions of joy on my marriage. There were naught but friendly faces among the entire throng as far as I could see, and the only damper to my enjoyment was the thought of how much more wonderful the evening might have been if Mr. Darcy stood by my side and we were married in every sense. I missed him more that night than I ever did before.
Richard asked me to dance the next, a tune I thoroughly enjoyed. The dances were much livelier than those conducted at Netherfield or Eden Park with their stiff formality, for these were country folk, after all. I found myself comparing them to the assembly balls held at Meryton, for they were much alike, and I experienced a slight yearning in my heart for those old days now past.
Halfway through the evening, the musicians rested, and the principal meal was served. People had nibbled and drank throughout the night, but they now found seats at the tables and partook of the generous bounty Pemberley provided. Laughter and talk filled the room, and I rejoiced to see Georgiana’s continued smiles. Richard sat between us at the head table and teased her persistently, which she bore quite well.
It was just after dinner that he asked me to dance again. I protested and suggested Georgiana take my place, but she begged off. She wished to gather the children into a circle up front near the door and play a game of Drop the Handkerchief. And so I accepted the colonel’s invitation, and we led the next set, which lasted a good half-hour. By the time the final notes sounded, we found ourselves at the bottom of the line of dancers. I was quite flushed from the exercise but beamed with the joy of it all.
As Richard escorted me from the floor, a commotion broke out across the length of the great room, and a roar of cheering and applause erupted. There was such a company of people blocking my view that I was at a loss to explain its cause, and then I heard Richard’s exclamation.
“Why, it’s Darcy! He is come after all.”
I stood near the end of a long table on the side of the room nearest the servants’ entrance, and I was thankful for the sturdiness of the furniture, for I felt an urgent need to lean upon it for support.
The crowd parted, and I could see him there. Surely, it was my heart that suddenly leaped into my throat and threatened to bar all future breathing. I gasped for air and struggled to still my visibly moving bosom.
Shrugging off his greatcoat and dropping it along with his hat into the hands of a nearby servant, he raised his head and saw me. His gaze was severe. His eyes never wavered from mine, as though we were somehow locked together for all time. A mug of ale was thrust into his hands. He took a brief swallow without giving it a glance and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, never once taking his eyes from mine. Many men reached out and shook his hand, and I saw him nod without looking at them. Even when Georgiana ran up and kissed his cheek, he put his arm around her shoulder in a brief embrace without breaking his gaze upon me. And all the while he walked toward me, narrowing the distance between us with determined rapidity.
I, unknowingly, began to edge myself backward until there was no longer a table on which to hold, and I found myself at the doorway that led from the hall to the kitchen outside. I clutched the moulding for support, my hands behind me, icy cold.
“Ah, the master sees his bride.”
“At last they are to be reunited.”
I heard those cries and similar remarks made by the crowd, and from the corner of my eyes, I could see some of them elbow each other and laughing―not coarsely but rather in an approving manner.
“Shall you and Mrs. Darcy lead the next dance, sir?” one of the men called forth with added encouragement from several others.
“Not yet,” Mr. Darcy said, advancing toward me all the while, “not until I have greeted my wife in a proper manner.”
That produced laughter and knowing looks between the tenants. Still, he walked steadfastly toward me, and I could see the grimness about his mouth and the fire in his eyes. As unobtrusively as possible, I turned and walked through the door, steeling myself to appear perfectly calm and dignified.
“Ah, she wants to greet him in private,” I heard someone say. However, the moment I could no longer be seen by our guests, I turned and fled. To this day, I cannot tell you why I ran, only that I did. Sometimes I think I ran not only from Mr. Darcy but also from myself.
I barely missed colliding with a serving girl carrying a huge pitcher and another who walked behind her with a tray of goblets. I quickly stepped to the side and ran out into the night. Frantically, I searched for some place to hide, some provision of escape, when I heard Mr. Darcy’s voice call out, “Elizabeth!”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw him almost upon me. I ran faster and faster until I found myself inside the stable, recognizing my whereabouts only by the combined odours of horses, oats, and fresh hay. I darted along the stalls, stumbling over a saddle and harness in the dark. Up ahead I could see the back door of the shelter standing open, and so I ran toward it, hurrying out the other side where I once more felt the coolness of the evening fan my face.
“Elizabeth!” he called my name again, and I knew then that I could not outrun him, for he was right behind me. He reached out and caught my hand, turned me around, and forced me to face him. Bales of hay stacked just outside the stable stood guard like silent sentinels, and I remember my knees giving way and sinking down upon a mound of fresh hay not yet bound, and seeing Mr. Darcy all about me in the moonlight.
He took my face in his hands. Ferocity shone forth from his eyes as he stared into mine. It seemed as though he peered deep enough to see all the way through my heart, down into my innermost being.
“Elizabeth,” he said again, this time in a sort of groan, his breath coming short and fast. “Why?”
And then his mouth sought mine with fervent urgency. I welcomed his kiss with all that was within me. I felt his body hard against mine as he gathered me into his arms, and when he pushed my lips apart, my hands encircled his neck, clasping him to me as a dying woman clings to life. I fell back against the hay, and he fell with me. His lips released mine and then claimed them again and grazed hungrily over my cheek, my ear, and down my neck, his hands moving from my face to my shoulders, my arms and back, until at last, he groaned my name again and broke away.
Our breathing came hard and fast. At first, he said nothing, just continued to stare into my eyes, but then he put his hand to his mouth in that manner I knew so well as a signal of agitation, and shaking his head, he stood up.
“Why?” he cried out. “Why, Elizabeth? Tell me why!” He walked away from me and turned his back, obviously striving for composure. “Not one word. Not one word from you in four weeks!”
I made no utterance. In truth, I doubted that I possessed enough sense to form a complete sentence.
“Could you not take pity on me and at least advise me that you had reached Derbyshire safely?”
I looked down at my hands. I opened my mouth to speak, but as I feared, nothing came forth. Finally, I managed to utter something about Georgiana’s correspondence, but that would not satisfy him.
“And so you leave your duties to my sister, do you? Well, thank God, she had some compassion on me.”
“I . . . I knew that you and Richard also exchanged letters,” I said somewhat lamely.
He whirled around then as though I had struck him. “Richard? You now call Fitzwilliam by his given name, do you?”
I swallowed, feeling guilty but not knowing why. “We are cousins, are we not?”
“And what are we, Elizabeth?” he demanded, once more leaning over me, his face so close that I had to shrink away from him in order to focus my eyes. “Are we not husband and wife, married these many weeks, and yet I am still no more to you than ‘Mr. Darcy,’ while my cousin, it appears, enjoys a closer familiarity with you than I do?”
“No,” I said softly, reaching up and placing my hand upon his cheek. “No, he does not. I am your wife . . . William.”
With those words, I saw the strain in his face begin to melt, and once again I was in his arms, and he began to kiss me anew, our desire for each other impossible to contain. Again and again, we sought each other’s lips. My hands roamed from his face to his thick curls, while I felt his arms encircle my waist, the strength of his hands in the middle of my back as he pulled me closer and closer. We continued no little time in this manner until neither of us could breathe. Parting was necessary, at least for a moment, or we would have collapsed for lack of air. At length, he stood and, taking my hands, pulled me to my feet.
“I have so many questions,” he said.
“As do I,” I whispered.
“This is not the time, however.”
“No, we should return. Are we not obliged to our guests?”
When he sighed and nodded, I ran my hand across my mouth, hoping to erase any signs of our passion. I smoothed my skirt before my husband took my hand and led me back through the stable and to the rear entrance of the great hall. He stopped just outside and turned me toward him. I raised my head to see the full moon illuminate part of his face, the other still in shadow.
“You cannot go in like this, Mrs. Darcy.”
He smiled as he reached up and began to pluck bits of hay from my curls. “If you enter the room like this, I fear our guests will know exactly what we have been up to.” He then turned me around and brushed off the hay from the back of my gown, a task to which he seemed to apply himself with great relish and which caused my breathing once again to become somewhat laboured.
Inside, we were met with cheers and more knowing winks and comments than I cared to acknowledge. It did not bother me, though, for I was wildly happy as Mr. Darcy escorted me to the head of the line, and we led the next set and the next and the next.
“You have surprised me many times in the past, sir,” I said when we finally sat down, “but never like this. I knew you were proficient in a ballroom, but I had not the slightest idea you were such a fine country dancer.”
“Every savage can dance,” he said, cocking one eyebrow while his eyes rambled from my lips to my neck and below, “even this one.”
Oh my! What a scene! There are several scenes in An Arranged Marriage that I love, but this is my all time favorite. I have lost count of the number of times that I have read and re-read this scene. It was still just as good this time around. Is it your favorite? If it is, what makes it so? I love Elizabeth’s first sight of Darcy, the determination in his eyes and stride. He is a man on a mission and that mission is greeting his bride.
An Arranged Marriage was Jan Hahn’s first published book.
Jan Hahn has five releases, eBook and Paperback, and three are now Audiobooks.