So it’s the end of the year, time to celebrate and cosy up with old friends….
Here’s Darcy and Lizzy, thrown together at Christmas after the Netherfield Ball.
This is Part One. Look out for Part Two and the conclusion (very soon, I promise). Have a great Christmas, and to anyone struggling at this time of year – I wish you Peace on Earth.
She was almost home. Elizabeth Bennet was nearing the lane that led to Longbourn’s front door and she longed to be warm again. Despite the thick snow that covered the fields surrounding Meyton, she had volunteered to take a note from her mother to Lady Lucas, reasoning that it was a short walk to Lucas Lodge and the fresh air might restore her spirits.
Christmas festivities were rapidly overtaking Longbourn. Fires were lit in every room, the smell of baking pies permeated the air, and her small cousins—brought from Town by her uncle and aunt Gardiner a few days previously—were busy making decorations and nosily chasing each other about the house. It was usually her favourite time of year, when everyone was predisposed to laughter, love was limitless, and much joy was to be had from simple pleasures. She was generally a social creature and enjoyed all the parties and dinners, along with the opportunities for dancing and music they afforded. This year, however, she was struggling to embrace the yuletide with the same delight she usually did.
Mostly because her eldest sister Jane was unhappy, though she smiled and remained her warm, generous self, it was not difficult for Elizabeth to see the hole that had been left in her sister’s heart. Mr Bingley had gone, Jane was deserted and bereft. Then there was her dear friend Charlotte’s engagement to Mr Collins, which made Elizabeth both sad, and a little angry at the world. Charlotte deserved a better life, and more worthy a companion than the pompous, ridiculous, obsequious, portly little man she had settled for.
In this reflective frame of mine she had walked to Lucas Lodge, through a calm, picturesque, winter country scene. Yet after she had delivered her note, she had made the mistake of sitting with Charlotte for too long. When she chanced to look out the window, she saw that heavy snow had begun to fall atop the thick blanket which already covered the ground. Concerned that the lanes might become unpassable, she had immediately donned her outdoor clothes and hurried home.
Elizabeth knew every tree and hedgerow, could cut her way through them quickly, but was she stopped abruptly just as Longbourn came within easy reach, taken aback by the curious sight of a carriage which had slid into a snowdrift. She recognised the livery as Mr Darcy’s, and her astonishment was altogether complete when she realised Mr Darcy, in his elegant great coat and tall hat, was pushing the carriage from behind with one of his servants, while his driver and groom encouraged the horses from the front. Their efforts were proving to be in vain, they could not budge it even an inch.
She thought to go back and retrace her steps, to walk the long way around till she was at the back of the house, where she might go in through the kitchen door. Detestable man that he was, she had no interest in exchanging pleasantries with Mr Darcy. She contemplated for too long, however, giving Mr Darcy the opportunity to look up and notice her.
He started in surprise but recovered quickly, bowed and tipped his hat. “Miss Bennet.”
“Mr Darcy, I confess I never thought to see you in our small part of Hertfordshire again.” Nor had she wanted to. She had said a private good riddance to the man less than a month ago, when she had heard of his leaving for London after the Netherfield Ball.
“I have stopped only briefly on my way North. Mr Bingley had a matter that needed personally attending to at Netherfield. I merely came this way to be of assistance to him, and now I travel onto Matlock.”
“Ah, but at this present moment, you appear to be travelling nowhere.”
“A minor accident, we shall be away in a moment? The snow will stop shortly.”
After a quick glance up at the sky, she gave him a doubtful look. “I shouldn’t count on it doing so merely because you have told it to, Mr Darcy. The weather may prove less pliable than your friends.”
His brow wrinkled as if he were confused. He stepped forwards till he loomed over her, causing Elizabeth to remember what she had noticed the very first time they had met; that he was decidedly masculine. None of his features were pretty, everything about him was dark—his hair and eyes were almost black. He was much taller than her, at least a foot, and his chest was broad. His shoulders were straight, his hands large and strong. Mr Darcy had presence, even when he was silent, or ensconced in a corner, he was impossible to ignore. She was conscious of her attraction to him. It rose up to vex her at their every encounter. He looked like the sort of a man she could lose her heart to, be willing to entrust with her hand even, so it was fortunate she had quickly discovered he found her only tolerable—else she might have made a complete fool of herself over him, and discovered his hateful character all too late. What worse tragedy could befall a girl than to be madly in love with a man before she discovered he was thoroughly detestable?
“The road North dips into a valley about a mile further up,” she told him. “I should imagine it will be impossible to get through now, though I wish you the best of luck.”
“I have excellent horses and a skilled driver who I have great faith in, all will be well. Merry Christmas, Miss Bennet.”
His ‘Merry Christmas’ was so sombre, so incongruous with the sentiment expressed that it made her smile. She wished him the same, offered him a small bow, and walked on. They had not really exchanged the proper niceties; nobody had asked after anyone’s health. Though perhaps that was a good thing, for if she were to enquire after Mr Bingley, she doubted she would be able to do so with any equanimity.
She had not gone ten feet, however, before she heard their resumed efforts to rescue the carriage come to naught. There was much heaving and mutterings of oaths, but it seemed firmly stuck.
Turning around, she raised her voice to be heard above the wind, which was now blowing in all directions, whipping snow up at her face. “Mr Darcy, these roads and the surrounding terrain are as familiar to me as the lines on the palms of my hands. It would be foolhardy to continue. You will get no further North today and would do better to return to Netherfield.”
“The house has not been readied,” he shouted back. “I was there only for a few hours, to conduct some business. I am certain there is not even a bed made up. I should not like to bother the staff.”
“Would not a house, even one that is shut up, be better than freezing to death out on the road?”
Mr Darcy glanced in the direction of Netherfield before a sudden gust of wind knocked him a step sideways. Elizabeth battled with it too, and was fortunate to remain on her feet.
“You should not be concerned for my welfare, Miss Bennet, I ought to be concerned for yours, and see you safely to your door.”
“I am just a few moments away from safety. I beg you to take my advice and go back to the Netherfield.”
“Do you, Miss Bennet? I thank you for concern.” He smiled and she could not determine whether it was rendered strange because she had so rarely seen him smile, or because he was staring at her so intently.
“I should worry for anyone who was attempting to travel in such weather. It is fast becoming a blizzard. You ought to make haste, whatever you decide.”
At last he seemed to take notice of her warnings and glanced at the carriage and then at his men, one of whom was not much more than a boy, skinny and wearing only the thinnest of cloaks. He shivered and stomped at the ground, clapped his hands together in an effort to keep warm.
“Unharness the horses, we will ride back to Netherfield and take shelter there.” Mr Darcy shouted. His groom quickly jumped to do his bidding.
Elizabeth tried to walk away, reasoned that he was a grown man with two other strapping men, a young lad, and some fine horses to assist him, but after a few steps she chastised herself. She ought to be charitable. It was Christmas, after all. “Mr Darcy,” she said, and hoped he could not tell she spoke through gritted teeth. “You are all wet and cold. At Longbourn you might dry off while your men can have something hot to eat and drink in the kitchen, and the horses might rest in the stables. Netherfield is three miles yonder, an easy distance in good weather, but a thoroughly unpleasant one in this storm.”
He shook his head proudly but another strong gust of wind seemed to sap his resolve and his shoulders sagged. Though he did not deign to thank her, he and his entourage of attendants began to follow her.
Mr Darcy caught her up after a few moments to walk beside her, and she saw him regard Longbourn suspiciously as they neared it; as if he were a lamb being led to the slaughter. Perhaps her mother terrified him, Elizabeth mused. Having witnessed Mrs Bennet’s desperation and determination to see her daughters well wed he might fear being trapped and held to ransom until he agreed to marry one of them. She shuddered, being wed to Mr Darcy was not a fate she should wish on any of them, no matter how much she sometimes despaired of Kitty and Lydia.
“Mr Bingley could not come himself?” Elizabeth enquired, having to raise her voice to be heard over the wind.
“Oh, I suppose he might have, though I offered to spare him the trouble, as I would be passing nearby. He has no intention of returning to Netherfield in the near future, and wished for me to speak to his steward.”
“It would be better altogether for the neighbourhood if were to give it up altogether then, so we might see a new family settled there.”
“I am glad we agree on this matter, Miss Bennet. Bingley and Netherfield were not a good match.”
“It is difficult to settle in a new place, no matter how attractive a proposition it presents, if one’s family and friends are opposed it.”
Mr Darcy stopped and turned to face her. They were now only a few feet away from the house. “He would be foolish to disregard the feelings of those closest to him altogether, that would show a great deal of arrogance. A man must consider the duty he owes to his family before he makes any important decisions. Mr Bingley took the lease of Netherfield on a whim, which is his way; he is too often carried away by his emotions, does not consider carefully enough. He would do better to wait for an estate he might purchase outright. One that will be equal to his standing in his society, that might complement his position and enhance it even.”
Hateful man! Elizabeth fumed. She was quickly regretting her decision to extend a welcome to him. They were talking of Jane, he knew it as well as she did. “Perhaps he had an emotional attachment to the place,” she said crossly, losing her composure. “He might have been exceedingly happy there, if others had not made their displeasure so obvious.”
“Yes, and no doubt he will see some other estate a few months hence that he becomes just as attached to. Netherfield is a good house, but has some residual issues and difficulties attached to it.”
Her temper was flaring and who knows what she might have said next. Fortunately for her, but unluckily for him, he was then hit directly on the nose by a large mound of snow. The attack was followed by some high-pitched giggling and a scurrying of boots in some nearby trees. Mr Darcy looked both affronted and quite ridiculous as ice dripped from the end of his nose. He brushed it off with as much dignity as he could muster, while Elizabeth tried not to laugh. The snowball had most likely been thrown by her young cousin George, though she wished she had been brave enough to have launched it herself.
“Come on in now, George,” she called out. “The weather grows worse and it is time for tea.”
The butler, perhaps having heard voices from outside, opened the door. She quickly directed the man to show Mr Darcy’s servants where the stables and kitchen were and was relieved when Mr Darcy went with them to see about his horses.
Most of the family were gathered in the parlour, and once she had changed out of her boots, she joined them and was given a prized seat by the fire. When she told them of the invitation she had been forced to extend, and to whom it had been extended, Kitty and Lydia both groaned, while Mary congratulated on her Christian charity. Her father’s and Mrs Gardiner’s eyebrows rose in interest, and her mother began a long speech detailing her dislike of the man.
Even through her thick boots, Elizabeth’s stockings had gotten damp on her walk, and her toes were cold. Comfortable in the familiarity of her family, she slipped off her shoes and rested her feet on the edge of the hearth.
Mr Darcy took a long while to join them. He walked warily in, yet extended all the proper thanks and apologies, and was polite when introduced to those he did not already know. Elizabeth watched him carefully as he greeted her uncle and aunt, but to her surprise he did not recoil in disgust and shook hands decently with Mr Gardiner, even going so far as to ask what his line of business was.
When he took a chair, though, he retreated to almost the very rear of the room and seemed content to be overlooked as the conversation began again and went on around him.
“Lizzy,” Jane whispered into her ear, making her start. When Elizabeth looked at her sister, Jane nodded at her feet. Realising her stockings were on show and that her skirts had ridden up to almost her calves, she straightened in her chair and slipped her shoes back on. Mr Darcy, when she glanced over at him, was looking at the hearth at the exact spot where she had been warming her toes. He seemed to be deep in thought before his head rose to meet her gaze and colour flooded his cheeks. Elizabeth moved to find a seat a little further away from the fire. A half hour ago she had been chilled down to the bone, now she felt very hot indeed.
He was to stay for dinner, of course, for the storm showed no signs of abating. His promised presence at the table caused a great deal of furious whispering amongst the Bennet girls as they descended the stairs after dressing. It was eventually decided by Lydia that it was Elizabeth’s duty to take the seat next to him. It was somehow her fault that the ‘dreadful bore that no one cared a fig for’ was stranded amongst them.
“What would you have her do, Lydia,” Jane said, whispering softly. “She could hardly leave him outside struggling to free his carriage, until the cold had turned him to stone.”
“No, I could not,” Elizabeth sighed. “Though I wonder if anyone would notice any difference in him.”
It made all of them but Jane laugh, who tried, yet failed to bring them to order. They burst upon the drawing room, colourful and loud. Mr Darcy flinched. They were, Elizabeth suspected, too much of an assault upon his senses.
He was an almost silent dinner partner, though he ate heartily, and before the ladies rose to leave the men to their port, he thanked Mrs Bennet most sincerely for the meal, and complemented her on it most elegantly. Their mother, who was always as eager for praise as she was for news of single, young gentlemen in the neighbourhood, softened with alarming fickleness under his words. Once the ladies were alone with their sewing, she began expounding on his qualities and manners with as much energy as she had decried them earlier. Elizabeth was left musing upon the beneficial effect a few kind words could have. It was a shame that some people did not exert themselves to be so generous more often.
Sleep did not come easily. How could it when her tormenter lay in a bed just down the corridor. The thought caused her to toss and turn until the early hours of the morning. When her fretful mind did finally allow her some rest, she had the oddest, most disturbing of dreams. Thankfully, he was absent at breakfast, having gone out early and taken his own men and every able-bodied man at Longbourn to recover his carriage; with the exception of her Papa, who had claimed himself busy and retreated to his library. Elizabeth expected her father would remain there for the best part of the day and felt like following him. They would likely be confined to the house for the foreseeable future and spending the day engrossed within the pages of a good book seemed a capital plan.
She lingered over her toast and pushed her eggs around her plate listlessly. Though when she saw Mr Darcy trudging back up the front path, a furious expression on his face and his hat in his hand, she swallowed the last of her tea quickly and decided to make good her escape. She was choosing a book when she heard some colourful language being used outside the library window. Both she and Mr Bennet looked out to see Mr Darcy throw his hat upon the snow and then kick it across the park in frustration.
Mr Bennet chuckled. “It was cold enough to give the devil a chill last night. Even if he extracts his carriage, the roads will be frozen solid. The ice will prove too treacherous for his horses, as he knows only too well. Mr Darcy, I suspect, will be our guest this Christmas, Lizzy. However shall we amuse him?”
Thanks for reading everybody and stay tuned to the advent calendar for the next (and final instalment)