In celebration of Christmas and the holiday season, I offer you this excerpt from Pemberley Celebrations – The First Year, which I originally wrote back in 2001-2002. After a lot of changes and additions, I published it in 2011. It is a compilation of stories following Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy as they celebrate the holidays and special events in their first year of marriage.
In this excerpt, which is one of 4 Christmas stories in the book, Elizabeth finds herself feeling perhaps just a little restless. Pemberley is quiet, and she finds herself missing the noise and activity that were characteristic of Longbourn. Can Darcy come up with something to fill that void?
Here is the story.
A Few Days Before Christmas
“Is there something in particular you would like to do?” Darcy asked Elizabeth. “What did you find to keep yourself busy at Longbourn as Christmas neared?”
“Nothing in particular. We always had so many people around at Christmas that things would just happen. For days!”
“Are you sorry that you are not spending Christmas with your family?”
“Oh, no,” she offered softly. “I know we shall see my aunt and uncle in London after the New Year.” She continued to sit, looking a little unsure of what to do.
Darcy looked at her for a moment in silence as if thinking. Suddenly he stood up and walked over to her, taking her hand and cradling it in his palm. “Would you wait here a moment, Elizabeth? I shall return directly.”
He leaned over to kiss her hand and then abruptly left the room, leaving Elizabeth to wonder what had stirred him so unexpectedly. When he finally returned, he had Georgiana with him, along with two presents. “Here, these are for the two of you.” He handed one gift to Elizabeth and one to his sister.
“Fitzwilliam, I did not mean for us to open any presents today!”
“No,” he said, waving his hand. “You will understand when you see them. These will give us something to do!”
As the two women eagerly opened their gifts, Darcy stood back, holding his breath. Georgiana opened hers first, and with a great exclamation of glee cried, “Oh this is wonderful! My old ones were so worn!”
Elizabeth curiously looked over, but could not see what Georgiana had opened. She struggled to get the paper off her gift and finally succeeded, eagerly pulling the lid off of the package. She reached in and pulled out a pair of shiny, new…
“Ice skates!” Elizabeth ran her fingers over the silver blade of one of the skates. “Thank you!”
“Can we really go ice skating now? Is the pond frozen over?” entreated Georgiana.
“I have been checking the pond for over a week now. As it is more shallow than the lake and does not get the direct sunlight, it is completely frozen. The winds have calmed, and although it is quite cold, I think we best take the opportunity to skate now before anything more frigid does blow in. Now, go put on your warmest clothes!”
Georgiana practically skipped out of the room. Darcy looked at Elizabeth and asked, “Are you pleased with them?”
“Uh, yes!” Elizabeth let out a nervous laugh. “But my dearest, I fear I have never skated on ice before. I do not know how!”
“Ahh, that is all the better then.” He came over and put both of his hands upon her shoulders.
He leaned over her and whispered in her ear, “Certainly. That means you will have to hold on to me… tightly!”
Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. “Does that mean you will skate, too?”
“I assure you I would not miss it!” He picked up one of the skates. “Now, you had better go find something warm to wear. Make sure you put on your boots, knit muffler, bonnet, and gloves.”
Darcy and Elizabeth met Georgiana in the sitting room when they had finished getting ready. All were bundled up as warmly as they could possibly be.
They went out through the courtyard and towards the back woods to the pond, which was an easy walking distance from the house. In all the beautifully practical things the Darcy family had done around the grounds, one of the things Elizabeth enjoyed most were the benches that had been placed in areas where one might be inclined to sit and enjoy the scenery. There was one such bench on the edge of the pond, and this was where the three of them sat to put on their ice skates. Darcy helped Elizabeth attach the skates to the bottom of each boot. Georgiana seemed to know exactly what to do, and she quickly had hers on and was walking carefully over to the ice.
Elizabeth watched her sister-in-law as her strides across the ground suddenly became glides when she stepped out onto the ice. She continued to watch Georgiana’s graceful movements while Darcy sat down and put on his own skates. She looked down at the narrow sliver of silver that was to hold her up and she was not sure she would be able to stand, let alone take a step on them. Going out onto the ice seemed formidable, at best.
As soon as Darcy had secured his skates on his feet, he stood up and gently took her by the elbow. “Now, concentrate on keeping your ankles straight. Try not to let them turn in or out, as that will cause you to fall.” He gently pulled her up, and she did all she could to keep her ankles from turning. She leaned against him as she struggled to remain upright.
He let out a pleasant laugh and then suggested she simply stand for a few moments and try to get the feel of being on the skates. He continued to hold on to her until he felt she was ready to take her first step. She wanted so much to be able to step out on the ice and skate as beautifully as Georgiana, but knew she would probably not be able to do that for quite some time.
“Are you ready?”
“I am ready, I think, to sit back down. I truly do not think I can do this!”
“I beg to differ. I am quite certain you can do this!” He put a little pressure behind her elbow and said, “Now, take a step with me.”
As she took a step, she felt herself wobble, but was steadied by his strong arms. “Remember, keep your ankles straight. Now take another step.”
With each step she wobbled, and knew immediately this would be a disaster once they got on the slick ice. She could not imagine it any other way!
“Now, one last step.”
With that step she was on the very edge of the ice. Darcy put one arm behind her, wrapping it tightly around her waist. With his other hand, he grasped hers. “Now allow me to do the skating, and you try to get the feel of your feet on the ice.”
She was grateful that he held on to her tightly. She felt her legs occasionally start to slip one way or the other, but he would not allow her to fall.
“If you are able, watch my feet and try to follow with yours.”
Elizabeth cautiously looked down and watched as his feet moved forward and then out to the side. She felt that if she lifted one foot up off the ice at all, she would be down in a second. For each pair of smooth gliding steps he took, she barely made one clumsy step. They made several circuits around the pond, Darcy coming to her rescue more than half a dozen times, grasping her tightly so she would not spill onto the ice. On more than one occasion, she frantically reached over with her free arm to grab his shoulder as she felt herself start to lose her balance. He skated effortlessly and nothing she did seemed to affect his poise.
Darcy then manoeuvred around her so he was in front of her, actually skating backwards. He took both of her hands in his. “Now, continue to push your feet out in a glide, as you saw me do. Just remember…”
“I know! Keep my ankles straight!” Elizabeth cried out in a mixture of determination and frustration.
Darcy continued to skate backwards, only glancing behind him occasionally to see where he was going. Elizabeth concentrated on that one last instruction. She found herself gliding across the ice, being pulled along by him, still fearful of moving her feet, but enjoying the cold air nipping at her exposed face. She also enjoyed watching him. She admired him for the ability he had to make it look so easy; wondering whether she would ever be able to skate on her own, but fully convinced that she would never be able to skate backwards.
They continued in this manner for some time, the two of them slowly making their way around the perimeter of pond. When Elizabeth felt her feet begin to slip from underneath her, her husband had already anticipated it and held her up.
Each time he did, she could not help but smile appreciatively at him, and he smiled back.
After a while he said, “Now, I am going to let go…”
“For just a minute. Just keep gliding. Do not worry about moving your feet. Keep them still.” He slowly released his fingers from hers and let her slowly glide past him. He came up behind her, and this time propped his arms beneath each of hers, grasping each of her hands. “Now, I want you to try and take a forward step, echoing mine.” As his right leg went forward, it pushed hers forward. Then the same happened with his left.
Elizabeth felt surprisingly safe and secure, being held so closely and firmly by her husband. She had not thought it possible to experience that gliding motion that she had witnessed Georgiana do earlier, but now she was doing it!
As they passed Georgiana, Elizabeth called out to her, “Look, Georgiana! I am skating! I am actually skating!”
Georgiana smiled and nodded. “You are doing wonderfully, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth soon realized her husband had lightened his hold and was pulling away slightly, to encourage her to skate on her own. Each time, at the moment she felt herself go wobbly, she would call out to him and he would be right there to steady her. More often than not, however, he was there to steady her before she even asked for his assistance.
He finally decided she needed to venture out on her own. He slowed down their pace and very abruptly let go of her and drew back and away. When she felt his arms release her, a wave of panic overtook her and she looked back for him, which prompted her to lose her balance. As Darcy realized what was happening, he quickly caught up to her, but not in sufficient time to prevent her from falling, and they both came crashing down onto the ice.
“Are you all right, Elizabeth? You are not hurt, are you?”
Elizabeth began to laugh. “I think only my pride is hurt!”
After ascertaining that she had not injured herself, he fingered a few of her dark tresses and ran the back of his fingers down her cheek. “I have never seen you more beautiful!” he said unexpectedly. A wry smile appeared. “Your fine eyes are brightened even more by the exercise.”
Elizabeth laughed. “You are too kind, sir, but I cannot believe such a compliment.”
“But it is true, my dear, and although you are quite unaware of it, I spoke those same words very early on in our acquaintance.”
She looked at him curiously. “When might that have been?”
“When you walked to Netherfield to see your sister after she had taken ill. Everyone was so astonished that you walked that far!”
“Ah, yes. In the mud. I fear I was quite a disgrace when I arrived.”
“Well, a proficient walker I may be, but I fear a proficient ice-skater I shall never be!”
He laughed, and then his face changed and he made a slight grimace. “I fear I spoke those words quite unashamedly to Charles, the Hursts, and Miss Bingley, but it was the latter who seemed to take the most notice and offense at them.”
Elizabeth was rather surprised. “You actually said that to them? I can hardly believe it!”
“Perhaps it was not the wisest thing I ever did. I believe her attitude towards you was not always the most civil.”
“She obviously knew what your feelings were for me long before I became aware of them.”
“Yes, but that was a long time ago.”
He leaned down and kissed her briefly, then stole a glance at Georgiana, who was skating toward them with a smile on her face.
She came to a stop at their side. “I saw you fall, Elizabeth, and hope you did not hurt yourself!”
“As I told your brother, just my pride was wounded,” Elizabeth answered. “Now, I fear I have no idea how to get up.”
Darcy laughed softly. “Allow me to get up first, and then I shall assist you.” He untangled himself from her, and quickly stood up, as Georgiana skated away.
Darcy reached down and took Elizabeth’s hand, placing his feet against hers so they would not slip and cause her to go down again. He easily pulled her up. “Are you ready to try again?”
“Only if you do not let go!”
“As much as I would love to hold on to you forever, the only way for you to learn is to go on your own. Now, we shall try again. I shall hold on at first, but this time when I let go, keep your eyes ahead of you so you can watch where you are going. And do not worry; I am right behind you!”
“Would you please tell me, how I am supposed to stop myself if I think I am going to fall?”
“Well, there are a few different ways. First, you can make a sharp turn, like this.” He let go of her and skated forward and then made a quick turn, which brought him to an abrupt stop. He skated back over to her. “Or, you can dig the toe of your skate into the ice, like this.” Again he demonstrated.
“Is there any other way? Those look too difficult!”
“Certainly! Hit some immovable object!”
“Such as yourself, for instance, or the ice!” Elizabeth laughed.
“Yes, falling down on the ice will definitely stop you. I would not recommend it as the most beneficial way to stop. I would prefer, of the two, for you to run into me! Now, let us try again.”
This time, the lesson proceeded as it was supposed to. When he let go, she continued to glide. When she began to slow down, he was there again to propel her forward. “Now, try moving your feet on your own. Push each one forward.”
This time she met with success. Darcy skated around her so he faced her again. He reached out to slow her down as they neared the edge of the pond and took her hands, gently nudging her into a turn. “Now, keep skating towards me,” he said as he let go.
With much trepidation she pushed out her foot and felt herself start to move. Then she moved the other. She looked over at Georgiana who looked so graceful, and knew she looked anything but! Soon she was skating on her own, although very slowly. Darcy skated back behind her, giving her a little more distance. When she saw herself approaching the edge of the pond, she tried to remember what her husband told her to do. As she came closer to the edge, she did not think she would be able to do either of the manoeuvres that would bring her to a stop. All she could think of was to throw herself down on the ice.
Her hands went out, and she felt herself lean toward the side. Just as she was about to fall down, arms from behind were around her waist, lifting her into the air. Darcy made skating look so effortless, even now, as he cradled her in his arms. She enjoyed being held by him as he sailed across the ice.
“Are you ready to try again?” he asked.
Elizabeth wrapped her arms about her husband’s neck and laughed. “No, I think I would like to remain in your arms for a while. I much prefer this!”
He let out a hearty laugh. “For a while, but we must try one more thing.” He skated around the pond a few times holding his wife in his arms, her head resting contentedly against his chest. Eventually, he slowed and set her back down on the ice.
With a disappointed pout, Elizabeth asked, “One more thing? I was perfectly happy being carried by you!”
“Ah, but I would wager you will enjoy this.” With a formal bow he asked, “Would you do me the honour of dancing with me?”
“On the ice?” Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “I could never do that!”
“Ah, but you shall be holding on to me all the while.” He stood facing her and pressed one hand to her back. With the other, he took her hand. She put her free hand upon his shoulder, but when he began to move, she found herself instinctively wrapping it very tightly around his neck, fearful of falling.
He chuckled and in a whisper said, “Now this type of dancing could prove to be quite a pleasure.”
Elizabeth tried to smile but still feared for her life as he continued to instruct her. “Now, try to turn your feet in the direction I take you, and we shall be dancing.” He was skating forward, causing Elizabeth to go backwards. She did not have to move her feet much, as her husband was doing all the work. He skated slowly, but soon began turning, and she held on tightly. When she felt as if she was going to lose her balance, he quickly lifted her off the ice and then safely set her down again. She enjoyed it most when he was skating backwards and she going forward, because she could manoeuvre her feet a little better.
They continued to dance together for quite some time, although Elizabeth spent most of her energy endeavouring to stay upright. She was content to be held closely in his arms and felt a wave of exhilaration each time he lifted her completely off the ice.
He finally ushered her over to the bench, where Georgiana was sitting. “You two looked simply wonderful out there!”
Elizabeth laughed heartily. “I am certain that of the two of us, he is the one who looked wonderful!”
Darcy bowed before his sister. “Georgiana, would you do me the honour of dancing with me?”
“I would love to!” cried Georgiana.
Elizabeth could not help but notice the sparkle that lit Georgiana’s eyes when he asked her to dance, and as soon as she saw them together on the ice, she knew why. They had probably skated together for years, as Georgiana seemed to anticipate her brother’s moves and readily leaned into each of his turns. Elizabeth sighed and wondered if she would ever be as proficient.
As they skated past her, Darcy suggested to Elizabeth that she come back out onto the ice, staying close to the edge and practice a little. Elizabeth waved them off. She was perfectly content to remain where she was.
The dancing couple took turns skating forward and backwards, sometimes simply holding hands, sometimes facing each other as a dancing couple would. It was when he held her out and she began spinning on the ice that Elizabeth had a twinge of envy. They were making it look so beautiful, and oh so romantic! How she would love to skate with her husband that way!
She felt like she could watch them forever. No, that was not quite true. She would someday enjoy being the one dancing with him. She decided that she would make every effort to practice skating and someday, she would be able to skate with her husband as effortlessly and as gracefully as Georgiana. The thought crossed Elizabeth’s mind that she would prefer this to ballroom dancing any day!
When they finished and skated back over to Elizabeth, Darcy looked at her and cocked his head. “You did not practice at all, my love.”
“I could not stop watching you. You make it look so magnificent!”
“And with practice, you shall be able to do that also. I am going to take a few turns around the ice on my own.”
Elizabeth watched him as he stepped back onto the ice and soared effortlessly. His long legs made the strides so graceful, and when he came to the turns, he leaned his body in and let his momentum take him around. She turned to Georgiana, who was also watching her brother.
“Georgiana, you and your brother skated so beautifully together. You must have been doing that for years!”
“I learned to ice skate when I was four years old. Fitzwilliam taught me. It was a few years before he taught me to dance on skates, but whenever we were fortunate to have a winter cold enough to freeze the pond, we would come out and skate together. It was usually after Christmas, as I normally was in London before the holidays.” With a soft sigh she added, “You have brought Christmas back into his life; you know that, Elizabeth?”
“I think he was ready to have it back in his life.”
“You should have seen him last year. I did not know what I could do for him. He seemed so withdrawn and easily irritated. I believed he was tormented because of me and what had happened earlier in the year at Ramsgate. Little did I know it was because he was hopelessly in love and agonizing about it!”
Elizabeth laughed softly. “And I was even less aware!” She shook her head. “It is almost incomprehensible to think that a year later, after all our misunderstandings, we are married.” She turned to Georgiana, her eyes aglow. “And happily, at that!”
Georgiana let out a long sigh. “Oh, Elizabeth, that is all I ask for in life.”
“What is that, Georgiana?”
“To be married happily to a man I deeply love and respect.”
She put her arm about Georgiana and gave her a hug. “And you shall. I am certain you shall!”
Elizabeth smiled, thinking how much things had changed in one year. She continued to watch her husband skate with such ease, occasionally doing some turns, and frequently skating backwards all the way around.
When Darcy had finished, he teasingly reprimanded Elizabeth for not practicing while he skated. “It is the only way that you are going to become proficient!”
He came up to her and reached out his hands for her. She stood up quickly, forgetting that she had only a thin sliver to hold her up. She began to fall forward, only to be caught in her husband’s arms.
“On the other hand, I do enjoy how often you fall into my arms. Once you can skate without falling, perhaps I will not enjoy it as much!”
Elizabeth lifted her eyes to him, and smiled wryly. “You need not worry about that, my dear. As I so enjoy being held in your arms, I shall manage a few strategically timed tumbles to occur.”
Darcy pulled her closer and leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose.
Georgiana, who had taken off her ice skates, stood up. “I shall leave you two now.” With a giggle, she walked away.
They remained in each other’s arms for quite some time. It was Elizabeth who broke the silence.
“Fitzwilliam, I seem to have a problem.”
He brought his fingers to her chin and lifted up her face to him. “Do you not find ice skating to your liking?”
“It is not that at all. I do wish to learn how to skate as well as you and Georgiana. But I fear that in order for me to get some good practice, I shall have to ask that you not come to the pond with me to skate.”
Darcy gave her a perplexed look. “And may I inquire why?”
Elizabeth stepped back a bit and tilted her head up at him. “It is simple, dear. When you are on the ice, all I want to do is be in your arms or watch you. I cannot even think straight enough to get my feet to move in the proper manner when you are out there skating; your form is so pleasing. No, in order for me to practice well, you must stay away!”
Elizabeth was surprised when she saw that her husband was staring at her in disbelief, his jaw dropping open and a slight blush colouring his cheeks. “You find my figure… agreeable?” was all he seemed to be able to say.
“Most agreeable,” she answered in a tender voice.
That was all that was needed, for Darcy pulled her close again and wrapped her snugly in his arms. She pressed her head against his chest and could feel the racing of his heart as he held her close. The warmth and closeness of their bodies removed any awareness of the sharp cold wind that suddenly swept across them.
Before Elizabeth knew what was happening, he picked her up and began to skate again. Elizabeth wrapped her arms about his neck and leaned over to kiss him, as he continued to glide across the ice holding her in his arms. How long they skated this way, neither really knew.
I hope you enjoyed this, and I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!