On the fifth day of Christmas, Jane Austen gave to me… a new Christmas short story! I have a brand new short story for you and now it is time to give away copies!
Comment on this post for a chance to win one of 2 e-book copies of To Forget: Darcy’s London Christmas. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.
November 27, 1811
What a difference a pair of fine eyes and a clever wit could make in an otherwise dreadful social obligation.
Darcy laced his hands behind his head and stared up at the bed curtains. Rosy rays of dawn crept around the heavy woolen panels and illuminated Netherfield’s finest guest room, a neat, functional chamber, entirely appropriate to an older country manor.
Perhaps the Netherfield ball had been a good idea after all. Despite protestations that Bingley demanded the impossible of her, Miss Bingley arranged a first rate event. Probably the best the sleepy little market town had ever experienced.
A pleasant, country affair where one could dance with a partner and not fear it would find its way into the society pages the next day. What was there not to appreciate about that? Certainly, such an event was a novelty he might be willing to repeat.
A sharp gust of wind blew in around an ill-fitting window, fluttering the curtains. Fanciful shadows danced about the chamber. The maid had missed a corner in her dusting. He ought to mention it to the housekeeper himself. Miss Bingley might well have the poor girl sacked for the oversight.
Mother had always been particular about the housekeeping, but she trained the staff herself. Better see the maids properly trained than to send them packing.
Pemberley had been as dear to her as it was to Father. She ran the household with the same passion he oversaw the land. They both managed with a firm hand, balanced with the knowledge that proper instruction produced better results than repeated reproaches.
Despite Miss Bingley’s constant admonishments to the scullery maids, improvement only came when Elizabeth had stepped in. How patient she had been with the scullion assigned to make up the fire in Miss Bennet’s room.
He screwed his eyes shut and threw an arm over his eyes. Not again! Why could he not shake the thoughts of her from his mind?
Maddening, utterly maddening.
He rolled to his feet and shrugged on his dressing gown. Perhaps a walk on the grounds would help him clear his mind. Unless of course he should encounter her along the way. While it might not be likely, it was exactly the sort of bad luck to taunt him.
Why did she have to be so engaging when her family was wholly dreadful?
He rang the bell for his valet.
They were truly the worst examples of every offensive vice. Indolent and disconnected, Mr. Bennet ignored anything that might demand exertion: his estate, his wife, his daughters. He settled for what came and made no effort to shape what was to come. With the power to command so much for good, Bennet still chose his own ease over caring for those under his wings.
What a revolting connection.
And to shame his own daughter in public, even one as insipid as Miss Mary Bennet! If anyone deserved his censure, it was his horrid wife.
Darcy shuddered and brushed the revulsion off his shoulders.
His valet entered and initiated the mechanics of their morning ablutions.
To be fair, Mrs. Bennet shared much in common with the match-making-mamas of the ton. Most were every bit as determined as Mrs. Bennet to see their daughters successfully wed. But few could match that woman’s vulgarity, speaking loudly of Bingley as though he were already shut up in the parson’s pound with Miss Bennet.
The unfettered spleen!
At least the mamas of the ton had fortunes sufficient to cover their bad manners, giving them the form of respectability, if not the substance thereof. Mrs. Bennet had not even that thin veil to hide beneath.
Darcy gave his jacket a final tug and dismissed his valet with a nod.
Could Bingley afford such a disagreeable association?
Connection to a landed family, even a very minor one, would be good for him and help establish his position in society. Surely, though, there were other eligible girls who would not bring disagreeable baggage with them.
After last night, it would be difficult to convince Bingley of it. The cakey sot was utterly bewitched by his principal partner of the evening. He would probably be on his way to Longbourn to call upon her yet this morning.
How could he make Bingley understand? Old money and an established place in society, like Darcy’s, could weather the improprieties of a family like the Bennets. Bingley’s fragile social standing could not.
Perhaps something would come to him over breakfast.
He made his way downstairs. Servants bustled about, still working to restore order after the night’s festivities. Darcy dodged around their efforts and ducked into the morning room.
A pleasing array of breads and meats lay spread along the side board with pots of coffee and tea nearby. Coffee’s bitter bite suited the morning time well. Tea was better for afternoon and evening.
“Good morning, Mr. Darcy.” Miss Bingley rose and curtsied.
Interesting that she should be up so early the day after a ball and have breakfast laid out.
“Good morning.” He bowed and seated himself.
“I wonder that you are up so early sir, did you not sleep well?”
“It is the habit of a lifetime. I rarely sleep after sunrise.”
Everything in her expression begged to be asked a reciprocal question. But questions like that had the unfortunate tendency to lead to highly improper conversations. So he raised his eyebrow and cocked his head.
She blinked several times, clearly waiting for the desired query.
Darcy poured a cup of coffee.
She added sugar to her tea and stirred it silently.
He could go on the entirety of breakfast this way, quite comfortable in the silence. In fact, it would be preferable.
Miss Bingley resettled herself in her chair. “I hardly slept at all last night. I am sick with worry for Charles.”
She pressed her hand to her chest and leaned back with a sigh.
Drama belonged in the theater, not in the morning room.
“Has he taken ill?”
“After a fashion. Do you not consider him love-sick over Miss Jane Bennet?” Miss Bingley buttered a slice of toast.
How peculiar she should be considering the same things as he. Peculiar and uncomfortable.
“He paid her uncommon amounts of attention last night.” He sipped his coffee.
“Indeed he did, and I loath to think what it might mean for all of us. You know how impulsive Charles can be.”
“True enough, but he falls out of love nearly as quickly as he falls in. Are you not a bit premature in your concerns?”
Miss Bingley balanced her forehead on her fingers. “He seems utterly besotted with her, more so than I have seen him with any other. To be sure Miss Bennet is a good sort of girl—who could object to her alone? But her family?”
Darcy lifted an open hand. “I observed the same spectacle. Best not recount it.”
“I could not agree more. Oh, the vulgarity! Can you imagine—of course there is no need as you saw it all yourself. I need not convince you of the very great misfortune of being connected to such people. Charles, though—he has no notion.”
“I quite agree.” The words sounded so strange, tumbling from his mouth.
Agreeing with Miss Bingley? He would have wagered that such a thing would never happen.
“I knew you would see it the same way. We think so alike, you and I.”
Why was she batting her eyes? That was inevitably a bad sign. He clutched the edge of his chair lest he bolt from the room.
“Louisa and Hurst quite agree as well. Though Hurst cannot be roused to think it an urgent matter, Louisa and I are convinced we must act quickly.
“What have you in mind?”
“We must persuade him, to leave this place at once.”
“But you have only just hosted your ball. There will be many anxious to return the invitation. Dinners, parties—”
“I am well aware and dreading nearly every one of them. The society here is boorish and confined at best. The thought of all those engagements is an untold evil. I would endure them for propriety’s sake. But each one presents a grave danger of putting Charles in Jane Bennet’s company.”
Though perhaps a bit alarmist, her reasoning was sound.
“I see no choice but to separate them, for he will give her up no other way.”
“Are you certain such drastic means are required? I have never found him so difficult to sway.”
“Ordinarily I might agree. I have seen you work your persuasion upon him to great effect. But in this, the risk is too great, and the possibility of him being stubborn too real. I fear drastic measures must be taken. It is bad enough that there is no way I can prevent him calling upon Longbourn before he goes to London this morning.”
Darcy gripped his forehead. Was it impossible for her to think something out clearly? Did all her thoughts run in convoluted circles?
“If he is going immediately to London, I do not see the problem. They will be separated as you desire.”
“He will return in just a few days, though, perhaps with strengthened sentiments because he fancied himself lonely whilst he was gone.” She leaned forward and tapped the table. “What I propose is this. He will go to London today, and tomorrow we will all join him. Once there, we might begin to work upon him. He regards your insight very highly. If he were to hear you in agreement with us, it would convince him of the evils of returning to the country.”
Darcy had never sided with Miss Bingley against her brother before. Usually, he only interfered when Bingley asked his counsel. While it was true, Bingley relied upon him often, it was hard to conscience such open collusion.
“You know how my brother enjoys the diversions of London. Once settled there, you can have no doubt of his happiness.” She batted her eyes, again.
He turned aside.
Still, it was for Bingley’s own good that it happen. The sooner, the less painful the ending of the attachment for all involved.
“Very well, I will prepare to leave tomorrow.”
Miss Bingley pressed a hand to her chest. “I cannot thank you enough.”
Pray, no more batting eyes or fluttering hearts!
Darcy rose and excused himself.
If he were to be leaving Netherfield soon, then a morning walk, and in the off chance, an encounter with Miss Bennet, might not be so very dangerous a thing after all.
He called for his hat and coat.
Two days of dry weather had done little to reduce the puddles and patches of mud still riddling the footpaths. Pemberley’s footpaths were much better maintained than these. Little surprise. Netherfield’s owner neglected so many details of his estate.
The crisp air proved bracing, and no amount of neglect could diminish the morning sunshine. If he closed his eyes, he could almost smell Pemberley.
A flash of color caught his eye—a familiar shade of blue. Elizabeth had worn that color when she had stayed with her sister at Netherfield
She broke a small branch and slashed at the knee high grasses reaching for her skirts. Her brows drew together and she murmured under her breath.
What was she saying?
Perhaps if he drew nearer.
He ducked behind a large tree and pressed his back to the trunk.
“I cannot believe … if he should ever …” only snatches of her solitary ramblings were clear.
He held his breath and closed his eyes.
“Why must Mama push so hard and insist on what she truly does not understand? I know why she thinks it a good thing, but so soon? How can she think she knows his character? It certainly is not the same thing as knowing his position. How am I to convince her only a fool rushes into an alliance, no matter how ideal it seems?”
She cast the branch aside and stalked away.
So Miss Elizabeth saw it, too. The insidious matchmaking attempts by her mother, and she agreed no good would come of them.
She wanted to see her sister separated from Bingley.
Perhaps she might never know of it, but he would perform this service for his friend and for her. On the morrow they would be off to London and make sure Bingley never returned to Netherfield.
The following morning, Darcy settled into his coach, alone with his thoughts. Soon Meryton would be but a memory and the danger to Bingley—and to his own equanimity—would be over. If Elizabeth knew what he was doing for her, she would thank him, but of course she never would.
It should be enough to know himself that he was serving her.
The coach rolled past Longbourn. Would she be out walking now? He flashed a sidelong glance at the slowly passing country side. But no light and pleasing figure rose from the grasses nor peeked out from between the trees.
Just as well.
The little pang in his belly was not disappointment. He should not have eaten those kippers before he left.
So what did you think? Does this Christmas trip bode well for Darcy? Tell me about it in the comments and have a chance to win your own copy of To Forget: Darcy’s London Christmas.