Thank you very much to all who entered my prize draws on the launch of Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar-I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by your kind wishes. It’s been lovely to have so many of our readers celebrate with me – I really appreciate your warmth and support!!
Here are the winners drawn out of the hat!
The paperback copies – Christa, Maggie Griscom, and Monica P.
The e-book gift cards – Kathy Wallace and Lilyane Soltz.
The chocolate calendars – Mari and Hazel Mills.
The card Advent calendars – Linda Clark and Pam Hunter
The set of Christmas cards – Lisa G
They were trotting down the long driveway at last, she saw with some relief, and as the other carriages turned in the circle before the great door of Chawton House, Lizzy couldn’t help feeling just a little excited. She’d never been to a proper ball before, and one in Regency costume was the stuff of her dreams. She’d soon find her new friends, Lizzy thought, although she really must ask if she could use the phone before she did anything else. Through the window was the sort of scene she’d seen in paintings. A country house of majestic proportions under a blanket of snow, dazzled and shimmered with candlelit interiors, and was lit up from the outside with flares and lanterns casting magical beams of radiant light, turning shadows into swathes of velvet blue and violet. Pretty girls, brilliant in angel-white, holding onto the arms of their handsome beaux, stepped down from a succession of carriages, which rolled around the gravel sweep. There was a sense of anticipation as laughter tinkled in the air like the dangling crystals of chandeliers caught in a sudden breeze.
It was snowing again, and as she stepped down onto the icy carriage step, Lizzy slipped, tumbling over her feet. It felt just like “falling down stairs” in a dream, she thought, twitching and jumping just before one fell asleep, and for a moment she wasn’t sure where she was or what she was doing. Everything about the world she found herself in seemed fragile, like the glass snowstorms she loved, broken in an instant unless carefully handled. Mr Williams stepped forward and caught her hand, steadying her gently as she found solid ground, but when she looked up to thank him, he merely looked the other way.
Just as soon as Mr Williams escorted her up the steps, he disappeared. Lizzy saw him briefly chatting to a young man at the head of the reception party, before he clasped the gloved hand of a young woman standing next in line, kissing it before he headed off. Lizzy looked round, feeling a little abandoned, but it wasn’t long before she spotted Mrs Bennet and her five daughters. Jane and Elizabeth looked more beautiful than she’d ever imagined in white muslin, a pink sash for Jane and blue for Lizzy. Kitty and Lydia wore shades of pale coral and green, and stood whispering and pointing, mostly at a number of young redcoats who ogled back. Mary looked completely out of place and clung to her father, seemingly reluctant to let go of his arm.
‘Lizzy! Over here,’ Mrs Bennet beckoned with a wave of her fan. ‘Well, I must say you’ve turned out rather well, that gown is most becoming, though perhaps your lace has slipped a little, dear. Let me fix it for you.’ Mrs Bennet fussed about her until she was satisfied. ‘Come, let me introduce you to the Bingleys.’ She didn’t wait to see if Lizzy followed and was off at a pace in front, before suddenly stopping and whirling round as if she’d remembered something of great importance. Mrs Bennet’s face loomed large, and Lizzy had to bite her lip to keep a straight face as the former looked from one side of the room to the other, with all the shrewd observance of a spy at large.
‘It’s Mr Bingley’s ball, you know,’ she started to say in hushed tones, ‘he’s shown a very marked interest in my Jane at all the other gatherings, and I have high hopes.’
This was followed by a knowing look, which Lizzy interpreted immediately, being firstly, an expert on the book, Pride and Prejudice, and secondly, an avid watcher of any adaptation known to Janeites. Lizzy also felt she was being given fair warning, that Mrs Bennet was letting her know Mr Bingley was “off-limits”.
‘Do you expect an engagement soon, Mrs Bennet?’ asked Lizzy, knowing these were exactly her companion’s thoughts.
‘I do, indeed,’ said Mrs Bennet, nodding furiously and agitating the carefully coiffured curls on her head so much they quivered like a diamond brooch en tremblant. ‘Tonight may be the occasion when Bingley declares himself – I do hope so. This ball is being given in Jane’s honour … just look, he is besotted!’
They’d reached the reception party, Mrs Bennet pulling her through the awaiting crowd of people to the front. Lizzy saw Jane and Mr Bingley deep in conversation. They only seemed to have eyes for the other, which was lovely to see, but then Lizzy remembered that after the ball Mr Bingley gave at Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice, he left next morning without giving Jane any idea of his return. Was that about to happen again? So many things seemed similar to the events in the book, but she didn’t know if she could bear to witness what might be Jane’s last happy evening.
Mr Bingley introduced his sisters, Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst, two very proud young women, to Lizzy’s mind, before they were all swept through into the ballroom. Lydia and Kitty were over-excited already, but when they saw Mr Wickham there was no stopping them.
‘Oh, he’s here, Kitty,’ Lydia screamed too loudly, so that a party of people standing to her right turned to stare. ‘I must dance with him first, and I’ve every chance of that now our sister has to dance with Mr Collins!’
Both girls laughed uproariously, and Lizzy saw Elizabeth stand stock-still, as she realised Mr Wickham was in the room. She was blushing, and it seemed she was trying her hardest not to draw his attention, but then Lydia rushed over to him and, within seconds, pointed her sister out to him before she laughed again.
Elizabeth ignored them and introduced Lizzy to her friend Charlotte Lucas, whereupon there was an outpouring of all the grievances about Mr Collins she’d been saving up for a week.
‘Just look at him, Charlotte. I believe he had the maids dress his hair in rags last night to achieve those curls. Did you ever see such an oddity?’
‘But, we should not judge only on appearance, Elizabeth,’ said Charlotte, ‘and he surely has height in his favour.’
‘Without doubt, he’s tall enough, which adds a certain pomposity to his manner, but he is overly formal and so grave, that I find I’m inclined to giggle like my youngest sisters every time he opens his mouth. He stated, most seriously, that he has come here to admire us, and at every possible moment he leers and expresses his esteem for the most inane comments uttered by me or my sisters, not to mention his constant fawning over every stick of furniture or piece of silver he imagines comes with the estate.’
‘Well, he will inherit, and there is nothing that can be done about that. It may be he is looking for a wife, Eliza, and then all will be safe.’
‘Charlotte, I know what that look means. One of my sisters may have him, but you know I could not marry a man I do not love.’
© Jane Odiwe
Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar is now available in paperback and e-book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.