It’s so exciting to be part of a new blog with its emphasis on writing, and as part of the celebrations I wanted to bring you some new stories. Collectively, I’ve called them Jane Austen’s Jewel Box – I’d love to know what you think! This came about because I love jewellery, and I think the Georgian and Regency period jewellery is especially beautiful. My idea is to write a collection of stories – every one will be inspired by one of Jane’s books and a piece of jewellery – the first is entitled – Elizabeth Darcy’s Ring, and other titles include Emma Knightley’s Earrings, Elinor Ferrars’s Brooch, Catherine Tilney’s Bracelet and so on, as well as writing a piece about Jane Austen herself. I haven’t quite decided how long each one will be because I’m very much a ‘do it as I go along’ writer, but as far as I’m concerned that’s part of the fun.
So, here is the beginning of my first story or novella – Elizabeth Darcy’s Ring.
Jane Austen’s Jewel Box
Elizabeth Darcy’s Ring – Jane Odiwe
Longbourn House, Hertfordshire – 16th December 1812
Mr Bennet exhaled deeply from behind his newspaper. He preferred breakfast to be a quiet affair, but why he still had an expectation for such a fancy he had no idea. For the last four and twenty years he had listened to Mrs Bennet’s unceasing prattling, chittering, twittering and chatting. He considered that breaking his fast would have been a quieter occasion had he sat in Meryton High Street as the militia marched by with a full military band blaring the songs of the day. He looked coyly round the edge of his newspaper to see Mrs Bennet arrayed in a bandbox of jewels from a sparkling diadem on her head to several rows of necklaces around her neck and layers of bracelets jangling on her wrists.
‘I cannot help thinking that such old-fashioned jewels will be out of place at Pemberley,’ whined Mrs Bennet, ‘and I cannot decide which to wear for the ball. Ought I to wear the cut-steel or the diamond paste? Of course, Lizzy will be wearing the real thing – no paste for her!’
‘My father made the purchase of the cut-steel for my grandmother. They were made by Mr Matthew Boulton himself, were considered most desirable at the time and came all the way from the exotic midlands.’
‘Exotic! What are you talking about, my dear? I never heard Birmingham called anything so fanciful in my life.’ Mrs Bennet caught her husband’s expression and knew she ought to temper her outbursts. ‘Cut-steel is very pretty, to be sure, by candlelight, but I am afraid I shall look like a country bumpkin with neither taste nor fashion. Besides, I am to wear a very fine gown – Lizzy sent the silk herself – and I do want to look my best.’
Mr Bennet’s expression softened. Just occasionally, he saw a glimpse of the girl he’d married, the beauty who had stolen his heart. But he loved to tease.
‘Then the diamond paste will set you off a treat!’ he declared, quickly retreating behind his paper.
Upstairs, Miss Kitty Bennet heard all that was going on below with some amusement. She’d escaped the dining parlour as soon as she could, knowing what was about to transpire. Her own feelings about the coming ball were those of great excitement, spoiled only by the knowledge that her sister Lydia was not to share the momentous occasion. Pulling out Lydia’s last letter, she reread every word. At least Lydia did not seem so very upset that she’d been snubbed or at least, that was the impression she was trying very hard to give.
I know, Kitty dearest, that if Elizabeth were to have her way, she would have invited us, I am certain of it! Mr Darcy has NEVER liked my beloved Wickham, and if we’ve been snubbed, it’s HIS doing. Neglecting a sister will forever be on HIS conscience, if he has one, which I doubt. He can keep his WRETCHED ball – in any case, I daresay it will be a stuffed shirt sort of affair. I shall think of you all when I am surrounded by the handsome beaux of Newcastle on Saturday night at the assembly. Major Armstrong declared last week he has never seen such loveliness gracing the dance floor, and little Pickersnick, Wickie’s right-hand man, has quite stolen my heart. I never thought I should find another to take the place of Denny for flattering with ‘passione d’amore’ but he is the sweetest, most attentive little lap-dog. He blushes as scarlet as his coat whenever I look his way, and he is willing to do just anything I ask – even delivering my little notes to Captain Webb who is the most good-looking man of my acquaintance, and I declare, quite in love with me.
Kitty put the letter away. Perhaps Lydia was not as sanguine as she tried to make out. She would have loved her sister to be with her at the ball – try as she might, she knew it just wouldn’t be as much fun without Lydia poking fun at all the Pemberley guests. Still, she was very pleased with her new gown and she couldn’t wait to wear it. It was laid on Lydia’s old bed – stiff, glazed muslin with a pink underskirt, the gown was embroidered on the hem and around the neckline. Her first really grown-up dress, a present from Elizabeth who knew her taste exactly. Lizzy had sent some muslin for sister Mary too, not that she was interested in clothes at all. Kitty decided Mary might have been more excited if she’d been sent a pile of books.
They were to travel to Pemberley that very morning and after stopping just one night at an inn along the way, they would be arrived at their destination the following afternoon. The Longbourn servants were already running hither and thither whilst Mrs Bennet emerged from the breakfast parlour flapping her arms like a demented bird, barking instructions, scolding her daughters and generally not being very useful to anyone. Mr Bennet disappeared into his favourite room and escaped into a book, ignoring the sounds without, until summoned that the carriage was ready.
‘Well, my dears, can there be anything more exciting than the prospect before us?’ said Mrs Bennet, settling herself in the carriage, arranging cushions behind her head and swaddling wraps around her knees to keep out the cold. ‘Just think, with good luck we may be attending two more weddings on our return.’
‘How so, Mrs Bennet?’ her husband queried.
‘Mary and Kitty, of course.’
Mr Bennet beamed at his daughters sitting opposite. ‘Whose weddings are you gracing with your presence, my dears?’
‘Oh, Mr Bennet!’ His wife looked at him in exasperation. ‘I am talking of their weddings – how can you be so obtuse?’
‘Are they engaged? Congratulations, Mary, congratulations Kitty – and all arranged without any inconvenience to myself. Mrs Bennet, I declare you are England’s greatest matchmaker.’
‘I declare you enjoy vexing me on purpose,’ Mrs Bennet replied, clamping her lips together and pointedly staring out of the window as they passed through Meryton and out onto the open road.
Mr Bennet merely winked at his daughters, opened his book and promptly fell asleep.
Pemberley, Derbyshire – 17th December 1812
Elizabeth Darcy was seated at her dressing table, deep in thought. Newly-wed, just a bride of four weeks, Elizabeth contemplated her reflection in the ancient looking-glass. The silver filigree mirror was flecked with tiny specks where the metal mercury at the back was worn away, giving her reflection and that of the room a dream-like quality. The scent of lavender, dust-sweet, rose from the drying flowers arranged in a Chinese bowl on the table near the window. Framed within the scallop shells and scrolls she saw the winter sunlight fall in dazzling bars across her Chippendale bed, sparkling on the grey satin of the rumpled counterpane, and glittering the silver thread on the embroidered panels. Soft depressions in the piles of pillows bore witness to the fact that the Darcys had not long risen, and Elizabeth felt the familiar pang of pleasure inside as she recollected last night’s passionate embraces in the arms of her beloved husband. This was, no doubt, her favourite room in the whole house. It was her very own, one of several rooms that Fitzwilliam Darcy had declared were to be her kingdom, for her sole use and pleasure. Her darling husband had his own suite of rooms but it was an infinite measure of delight to her that, as yet, he appeared to have no interest in sleeping in his own chamber.
Her new ring felt strangely unfamiliar on her finger. Fitzwilliam had given it to her last night. Lying in his arms, he’d dropped a kiss on the top of her head, and propping himself up on one elbow, he’d gazed at her so intently that she was almost unable to meet his eyes.
‘I didn’t think it was possible to love you any more than I do,’ he said pushing a handful of dark curls from her forehead and kissing her tenderly on the lips.
Reluctantly he pulled back again and Elizabeth watched his eyes flicker over her face, lingering over her reclining figure. Under his studied scrutiny, she held her breath hardly daring to move, as his mouth came down on hers again, kissing her so sweetly that she experienced a longing to be loved such as she’d never felt before.
‘I have something … just a trifle I wish to give you …’ he whispered.
Leaning away from her, she saw him feeling under the pillows before he drew out a small leather box.
‘Fitzwilliam!’ Elizabeth’s delight was plain to see. ‘But, this is too much coming on top of the beautiful necklace you gave me on our marriage.’
‘Nothing could be too much for my wonderful wife – besides, I must admit that I feel it absolutely necessary. As you know, my aunt will be here in the morning, and it will fall on you to entertain her whilst I am on business. And then there is the upcoming ball – you’ve had so much to do and organise. I just wanted to say how much I love and appreciate all you do.’
‘Oh, it is the most divine jewel I have ever seen! The diamonds are exquisite. Goodness, how many there are!’
‘Seventeen in total – one for each of the children we shall have.’
Elizabeth looked up in alarm at Mr Darcy’s serious expression. His looks were certainly sincere. Then just as the thought of the idea of seventeen children and all that would entail was sinking in she saw his mouth twitch in amusement, which set her off into peals of laughter, as his face changed with a teasing lop-sided grin.
‘Fitzwilliam, you are a rogue! For a moment I thought you were in earnest. My darling, I thank you, but I really do not need such extravagant gifts. Everything I do for you and for both of us, I do with pleasure and joy – I am the one who should be bestowing presents on you. My life and the time I spend with you is the treasure of my existence – you are the diamond of my days.’
He leaned forward to take her hand, placing the ring gently on her finger. Her hand was cold but his was warm to the touch, and she closed her fingers round his wrist relishing the heat. Instinctively, she lifted his hand to her cheek, and no more words were needed, as he held her so closely she could feel the drumbeat of his heart against her own.
Elizabeth felt she’d come home, she felt safe in his arms and knew nothing would ever come between her and the man she loved.
‘Fitzwilliam …’ she whispered. ‘I did not know … I never guessed that I could feel like this … that being together could be so heavenly.’
Mr Darcy smiled and pulled her closer still. ‘It can be even better.’
Elizabeth’s view through the window beyond her looking-glass was a scene from a picture book. Even on the greyest day in November, she thought she’d never seen anything quite to rival its beauty. Today in the sunshine, the copses to the east shimmered like veils of hazy blue gossamer, casting long shadows upon the golden hillsides. The Pemberley estate stretched endlessly before her, and there in the very middle of this rustic panorama she watched a horseman gallop into the distance. She would have recognised Fitzwilliam, had he been a dot on the horizon. He cut such a handsome and athletic figure, urging the horse on across the fields. Riding out with him was one of her greatest joys but today Mr Darcy was engaged on estate business, something she was getting used to after their wonderful honeymoon together where he had indulged her every whim.
There was a knock at the door.
‘Come in, Rebecca.’
Without knowing she did it, a small sigh escaped Elizabeth’s lips. She knew her maid was ready to dress her hair, and after that, Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be ready to receive her.
I hope you enjoyed the start – I’d love any feedback, and would love to know where you think the story will go next-even if I have my own ideas!