Hasn’t it been great to get a preview of some upcoming books this month? I have the Christmas tingles just thinking about the pleasures that await us (though the English mainland has not been invaded since 1066, Ms. Reynolds. As if! Pah!) – Sounds like a cracking read though, so excited! My baubles are all of a flutter…
Anyway, as we are on the subject of ‘Works in Progress’, I thought to share mine. Here we have Mr Darcy partaking of dinner at the Gardiner’s house. The premise of this story is that Elizabeth has read Mr Darcy’s letter and they have met again before he leaves Kent. They have formed a tentative truce and are both now in London, where our determined hero is trying his best to woo his lady.
Jane Bennet was attempting to coax Georgiana into playing for them. Though Jane was gentle and kind, she did not seem to realise his sister’s reluctance was of a different kind to the polite demurring that usually followed such requests. Darcy could tell Georgiana meant to be firm and would not go anywhere near the instrument.
“But your brother tells me you play wonderfully well and practise so often, and we are all friends here.”
“No, you must forgive me, Miss Bennet, I am sure Fitzwilliam has exaggerated my abilities. My playing is very bad indeed,” Georgiana said.
Elizabeth got up from a window seat, where she had previously been sitting on her own, staring into the darkness outside as if mulling something over. Crossing the room with quick, nimble steps, she sat herself down at the pianoforte and opened it. “Now, Miss Darcy, you must listen to my playing—then I am confident you will soon know bad from good. What you are about to hear will give you a shock. Never in the history of drawing room performances has one woman’s boldness so far outstripped her talents,” she said, with a mock frown. “After five minutes you will be covering your ears and begging for mercy. Nonetheless, I shall begin.”
Darcy sat beside his sister while Elizabeth played. It was the same pretty piece he had enjoyed so much at Sir William Lucas’s party. It was obviously a favourite of hers, one she knew by heart, as there was no requirement for anyone to turn the pages, but she made mistakes, lots of them. Darcy could not tell which were deliberate and which were genuine, but with every wrong note or fudged passage, she would grimace or wince in Georgiana’s direction, and would mouth the words ‘dreadful’, ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’ at her.
Georgiana began to giggle.
“Feel free to take my place at any time, if you should so choose,” Elizabeth offered. “I shall relinquish it gladly, and what a charitable act it would be to release the assembled company from such a cacophony of sound.”
When Georgiana got up and took a seat beside Elizabeth on the bench, Darcy was all amazement. Elizabeth spoke quietly to her new companion while her fingers moved more easily over the notes, now with nary a single error. The music stopped and during a smattering of applause there was some more quiet conversation between the two ladies and then Georgiana began to play, without introduction or fuss. After a time, Elizabeth accompanied her by singing, her voice sweet and smooth, and what a welcome sound it was to Darcy’s ears; a balm to his high nerves. He closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, closed off his other senses, and gave himself wholeheartedly to the music. He could not both look and listen. It was too much. Too much like the future he wanted. Was it only ever to be a dream? What must he do to make it come true?
Georgiana’s bravery only lasted so long, and the applause and attention she garnered caused her to thank them all too quickly, before she almost ran across the room for comfort. She did not run to him, but to the colonel. How much damage had he done, everywhere, to so many people? Darcy, however, could not run. It was time to follow his sister’s example and bravely approach the pianoforte too.
Elizabeth looked up at him with a small smile as he stood above her.
“Thank you,” he said.
“For what, Mr Darcy, surely not my performance?”
“I actually very much enjoyed your performance. I have not seen such fine acting since Mrs Siddons played Lady Macbeth.”
“Well then, if all else fails, I have hope of a living on Drury Lane.”
“I think you know what I thank you for. Though she hides again now, tonight will have given her more confidence. Georgiana has never before played in public. Yet when she comes out she will be expected to entertain dozens of assembled guests in London’s finest drawing rooms.”
“Mr Darcy, I consider this one of London’s finest drawing rooms.”
“So do I,” he said quietly. “If only because you are currently in it.” He was quite proud of his brazenness, for it produced from Elizabeth the prettiest and deepest of blushes. She turned her head away, back to her fingers, which were still moving over the keys of the instrument, picking out bits of a tune.
“Sisters are very perplexing creatures, are they not?” she asked, changing the subject to hide her embarrassment, while looking across at Jane, who was assisting an upstairs maid in arranging the tea and coffee things.
“You are wondering about Mr Bingley.”
“I cannot help but wonder. When I left London for Kent I thought her still most sincerely dependent on him for her future happiness. I have arrived back to find her in much better spirits and hoped he to be the cause. Yet he is not here. Has he been here?”
“No. It seems I did an excellent job of convincing him of her unsuitability; that he should not be in love with her. I have since tried to tempt him here, without success.”
Elizabeth frowned but stayed silent.
“Though I run the risk of making you even more angry with me, I have to tell you something. I relate this to you because I wish you to know everything that has passed.”
“Because disguise of every sort is your abhorrence?”
He took a seat on the bench beside her and turned a page of the music on the stand. There was no need to, she was not using it, but he saw the necessity of making an excuse to the rest of the room for sitting so close.
“What a hypocritical thing for me to have said. I confess to you, most shamefully, that I was at the Hursts’ home in London when your sister called. It was I who advised the ladies to cut the visit short, to say they were going out. Then I removed myself and hid in the study so I would not have to meet her. When I heard the sounds of her departure, I went to the window and saw your sister stepping into your aunt’s carriage. Her pain was obvious; she well knew they were attempting to drop the acquaintance and yet I looked on, unmoved, as if her feelings were of no consequence.”
Elizabeth’s small frame stiffened. She clamped her lips together and turned her face away, presumably before she lost her temper.
“It was bad day’s work,” he said quickly. “I have since come to hold her in the highest esteem and am bitterly sorry, but I cannot undo what has been done. And there you have it, you now know the worst of me.”
She did not respond.
“I expect nothing,” he said. “I am underserving of your forgiveness. What I would wish to show you, however, if you will give me the chance, is that I am not generally so dishonourable, not usually so ungentlemanlike.”
Still, she was silent.
“You will have to talk to me sometime you know? I am not garrulous; I have said more in the last five minutes than I did all of yesterday put together. I shall have to depend on you much for conversation, you know, when we are married.”
Elizabeth’s head snapped around suddenly, her gaze met his and he almost laughed as shock overcame her whole countenance, her eyes impossibly wide, her mouth open.
“When we are…Mr Darcy? …I,” she blustered and faltered.
“We passed notes did we not, and you asked me to call on you?”
“It is all settled between us, is it not? You have, of course, come to realise you would be a fool to turn me down. I take no offence at your initial reluctance, but now you rightly feel your luck…”
“Oh, you are teasing me!” she burst out as comprehension and relief dawned at the same time. She stopped playing and held a hand to her chest. “That was most wicked.”
He smiled. “It was, I am sorry for it, but also saddened that you should look so relieved, as if you had been pardoned just before you were to go to the gallows. Would it be so very bad to be tied to me?”
At her desperate, confused look he shook his head, knowing he had gone too far. He had, once again, stupidly stormed ahead without a thought to her feelings. “I am sorry. I shall not press you again. I ask only for your friendship and can assure you I shall not speak so again, not unless… I begin to think it hopeless. Should I go away and not come back?”
“I think I should go away. We have been sitting here alone too long together,” she got up from the seat and prepared to leave him with a little bow.
“Yes, I do not blame you.”
“I am to go away to recover from the shock of finding you in masterful possession of a quality I had not previously ascribed to you.”
“Dishonesty perhaps, or presumption?” he asked, dejectedly.
“No sir, a sense of humour. I am so astounded I find myself in need of a cup of tea in a quiet corner; before I can be myself again. So, I go away, but it does not necessarily follow that I shall not come back.”
I wish you all a very merry Christmas (or at least a tolerable one). I will see you in the New Year. 2017 is going to be Austentastic! Big projects and good times ahead.