The pattern separated them again immediately, and it was some time before Mr. Darcy was again close enough to reply, and Lizzy noted in the interim that he looked most uncomfortable.
“Why should I do that, Miss Bennet?” he asked when he finally had a chance.
“Because you do not! They should not be suffered to continue in this misconception - they may have expectations that we will not be able to meet. Even if you do not want to tell them how much you dislike me, you could at least convince them you are indifferent.”
“Indifferent? Dislike you?” Mr. Darcy frowned. “Miss Bennet, why would you think that I dislike you?”
“It has been obvious since the first time we met, Mr. Darcy! Everyone knows it - except Miss Bingley, evidently. I am sorry to say you have not been very successful at hiding your feelings.”
The dance separated them again, putting a halt to their whispered conversation, and Lizzy saw that Mr. Darcy was upset. She regretted telling him that all of Meryton knew of his disdain for her, but really, as he had been so obvious about it, he should not be surprised that people had noticed. Mr. Darcy’s discomposure caused him to miss a turn, nearly colliding with another dancer, an uncharacteristic mistake for someone who, though he disliked it, was so obviously skilled at the art.
“Miss Bennet, I find that it is you who are laboring under a misconception. I do not dislike you, nor am I indifferent to you; far from it, in fact. I am sorry that I gave you that impression. Believe me, it was unintentional, and I cannot understand how it could have occurred. I hope to afford you more clarity in the future.”
Lizzy was glad that they were forced apart again, as she did not know how to respond to such a declaration. What did he mean - ‘far from it’? When the dance brought them back together, Lizzy found she could not respond, and, looking into Mr. Darcy’s eyes, found herself captured there, while her surroundings began to recede. They danced in a world of their own, as if everyone else had ceased to exist. Lizzy could not read Mr. Darcy’s expression - she had been misreading him all along, it seemed, and now she had no idea what emotions were conveyed by that steadfast gaze. She noticed for the first time how intensely blue his eyes were, chastising herself for the rapid beating of her heart that this discovery engendered.
The spell was broken when the music ended, and all the other dancers, and the spectators as well, began to applaud. Lizzy curtseyed to Mr. Darcy and he bowed in return, and then offered his hand to escort her back to her chair. Lizzy could not bring herself to look at him now; she was mortified at having offended him in such a way, and angry with herself for feeling mortified. Why should she care? Whatever he may say now, Mr. Darcy’s manners to her had always been haughty and disdainful - had he not declared her only tolerable, and not handsome enough to dance with? He had been different in Darcinia, it was true, but perhaps he was playing a part for the Darcinians? Or could there be something about Darcinia itself that changed him? There was some kind of magic in the very essence of the place, and Miss Bingley’s behavior when she came here was evidence that it could make a person behave most peculiarly - or perhaps, make someone behave as the most extreme version of themselves? But Lizzy did not feel that she had been affected herself, and it still did not provide an explanation of Mr. Darcy. No, Lizzy would have to wait until they truly were alone to find out what he meant.
When Lizzy and Mr. Darcy had regained their seats Fitzwilliam the centaur stood and signaled for silence. Apparently, ceremonies were planned for the eventual arrival of The Hero and Eliza Bennet, rites which had been conceived and choreographed in the hopes that all that the Darcinians of the Cult of Eliza had been taught to believe would one day come true.