The parlour at Netherfield was bursting with cheer as my family enjoyed Jane and her Mr. Bingley’s first Christmas Eve celebration. The newly wed couple sat side-by-side on a sofa across from where I stood near the window and whispered to one another as they observed those around them. Jane’s countenance was blissful as was Charles’, who tended to gaze more at his wife than her relations, which was as it should be in my opinion. After all, they were only wed the month prior.
“I told everyone how it would be! Jane was destined to be mistress of Netherfield. I knew she would catch Mr. Bingley’s eye, did I not, Mr. Bennet?”
I rolled my eyes. Of course, Mama had forgotten how she lamented when Charles departed the neighbourhood and cried how the dreadful Mr. Bingley had used her poor daughter ill. Of course, none of that mattered now. He had returned and all was again right with the world.
Papa sipped at a glass of brandy and shook his head at Mama’s ridiculous proclamations. He had surrendered long ago when it came to Mama. After all, she did not require an answer. She did not even give him time to respond.
The sound of the pianoforte interrupted Mama’s incessant chatter. Thank goodness for the master Charles had acquired for Mary! Just a few lessons had already made a marked improvement in her playing. Every inhabitant of Longbourn was indebted to Charles for the thoughtful birthday gift whilst Mary was overjoyed with the opportunity.
Kitty’s voice sounded clear and strong as she sang along with the instrument, and I still stood in awe of how she could carry a tune! We never knew until Lydia married Wickham and moved to Newcastle. After all, Kitty had never attempted to perform in the past. Lydia never cared to perform, so Kitty had followed suit.
Kitty had changed without Lydia’s deleterious influence. Rather than remaining a silly and flighty girl, Kitty had made great strides in correcting her behaviour, taking advice from Jane and me when she was uncertain of propriety. I suppose Kitty’s improvement was one advantage of Lydia’s scandalous elopement!
I gazed upon my family; my heart content they were so well and happy, yet I bore a weight I had not shared with a living soul. Who knew the burden I harboured would appear as in the guise of a Christmas guest? Neither Jane nor Charles had mentioned Mr. Darcy would journey to Netherfield for the holiday. My once satisfied heart plummeted when my eyes travelled to where he sat near the fire.
Why had he come? Could he not celebrate the holiday in his own home? His presence had a terrible effect on my equanimity, and despite the company of his sister, which I found enjoyable, I could not bear his presence.
I watched him, my heart breaking more by the second until he turned in my direction, and I jolted my eyes back to Jane and Charles. My chest constricted, and I struggled in a breath.
He had not come when Charles returned for Jane. He had not come to their wedding. Illness was the supposed culprit, but my belief was he wished to avoid me. He had not come. How I wish those words would stop echoing in my mind!
The dreadful morning, when I learnt of Lydia’s elopement, was the last time I set eyes upon Mr. Darcy. He had been solicitous and kind, ensuring I was well and sending for my aunt and uncle, but then he left. He hastened from my side as though I had some contagion.
How he must despise me—sister to Wickham! His every principle must revolt against such a connection! A connection between us must be an impossibility in his mind.
My heart pounded against my ribs and my chest pained me. How could I endure the next fortnight in Mr. Darcy’s company? Did he want to torture me with his presence? If I had not been so prideful and vain, I would have accepted his proposal at Hunsford. We could have been wed…
“Lizzy!” called Charles, “will you not play for us, or at the very least, sing. We have not heard from you yet this evening.”
Was Mr. Darcy looking at me? I had no way of peeking in his direction, but the side of my face tickled as it did when he first resided at Netherfield. I began to tremble. Why was I giving him so much power over me? He was the one who chose not to return with Charles!
But he did not know I loved him—not that such tender sentiments were welcome now. My heart held Mr. Darcy dear, and it always would. I had attempted to persuade it to feel otherwise, but all my efforts were in vain. No matter who he married or whether he continued to love me in return, I belonged to him, body and soul. I was a wretched being indeed!
“Lizzy?” Dear Jane! I had never shared my heartache with her. She would have understood, but I could not cause my dearest sister distress when she was, at last, happy. “I would enjoy hearing you sing as well.”
I clasped my hands together. How could I play when they would not stop their incessant shaking? “I will sing if you do not mind accompanying me, Georgiana?”
Georgiana’s face lit. The dear girl had been so thrilled to be in my company once more, and whilst I was pleased to see her, I had great difficulty associating with her brother. I had avoided his company since I could not pretend him an indifferent acquaintance. Such a deception was beyond my capabilities.
My legs wobbled as I stood and crossed the room to the pianoforte. How I wanted to peer to the side—to see if he regarded me with the same expression as when I stayed at Netherfield!
I thumbed through the sheet music and found a piece my aunt purchased a few years ago as a Christmas present. Perhaps if I sang in French, my mistakes would not be as noticeable?
With a smile, Georgiana took her place at the instrument and played a short introduction. I inhaled deeply, swallowed the nerves, which had risen to my throat, and closed my eyes.
Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella —
Un flambeau, courons au berceau!
C’est Jésus, bonnes gens du hameau.
Le Christ est né; Marie appelle
Ah! Ah! Que la Mère est belle,
Ah! Ah! Que l’Enfant est beau!
As I sang my eyes fluttered open to reveal Mr. Darcy staring straight at me! His sky blue eyes locked with mine, and I gasped, inhaling in such a way that I choked. My vision blurred and a tear rolled down my cheek whilst I attempted to clear my throat, but a tickle continued to plague me. Just as the cough would begin to subside, it would start anew.
My face burned. “Forgive me!” With my hand upon my mouth, I rushed from the room. My quick strides took me to the library where I placed one hand upon the desk, and the other upon my stomach.
After a few moments, a full glass of brandy was held aloft before my face.
“A sip might help clear what ails you.”
“Do not feel you must, but I have found it beneficial in the past.”
“I merely choked.”
“Your singing was lovely until the cough forced you to quit. I am exceedingly sorry my presence has disturbed you so.”
I cradled the glass in my palms and took a scalding gulp. “I had not expected you to journey to Netherfield for Christmas—especially after you declined to attend the wedding.”
“I penned a letter with my regrets. I was ill.”
Something burned within me. Perhaps it was the brandy, but it was of no matter. “You did not wish to lay eyes upon me.”
“I beg your pardon?” His low voice dropped a step.
Another sizeable swallow was taken from the glass. “Do you truly require me to repeat what I said?”
“Yes, in fact, I do.” His tone was harsh and stern.
I could not do this! I would only prompt an argument, and a nasty one at that. I downed the last of the brandy and placed the empty decanter upon the desk.
Without finishing, I turned and began to walk for the doorway, but the room lurched before I could reach the door. A hand grasped my elbow and turned me around.
“Perhaps I should request some coffee before you rejoin your family.”
He was so handsome! I surveyed every detail of his beloved countenance. He would depart soon enough, and I did not want to forget one detail in the lonely years to come. A part of me was angry with him, but how could I remain so when it was Lydia who rode roughshod over my hopes and dreams.
My eyes were tracing a lock of hair that curled over his forehead when they were drawn up to a sprig of greenery just overhead.
“Mistletoe,” observed Mr. Darcy just after I peered up to the ceiling.
I swayed and reached to put a hand on his shoulder. Our gazes met, and without thought, I wobbled onto my tiptoes and pressed my lips against his.
He started but did not pull away. His body was rigid and one hand remained at my elbow as the other stayed suspended near my side. How could I have kissed him? He did not want this. How mortifying!
But how could I remove myself without further embarrassment? Such a feat would require all the bravado I possessed. If only he would disappear, so I could fall to the floor and weep!
When I pulled myself free, I would have to run for my chambers. I would feign illness until Mr. Darcy returned to London or Pemberley. I would not continue to pine over him. I was making a fool of myself!
If my head was spinning before, it was nothing to this! My knees knocked, my toes curled, and I leaned against his solid chest whilst the fingernails of my free hand dug into the shoulder of his jacket.
His lips shifted against mine as his hand grazed around my side to press against the small of my back, shifting me closer whilst he deepened the kiss.
He pulled back a hairsbreadth. “Elizabeth?” His voice was a raspy whisper. “Does this mean you do not blame me for your sister’s elopement?”
I rested my forehead against his. “Why would I blame you for Lydia’s foolhardy actions?”
“Because I kept Wickham’s true nature from those in Meryton. I, who knew what he was, concealed it to protect my sister and myself.”
His eyes were wide and honest. The poor man!
My fingers threaded into his hair. “How could I hold you responsible when I did the same? You informed me of Wickham’s past, and I told no one save Jane. Neither of us felt it necessary to inform the neighbourhood as the regiment was soon to depart Meryton.”
His head dropped to my shoulder. “You have no idea how much I wanted to return with Bingley, but I convinced myself that you blamed me for your sister’s predicament. I could not face you.”
I cradled his face in my palms and lifted it. “And I thought you could not stomach being a brother to Wickham. I was certain you did not attend Jane and Charles’ wedding to avoid me.”
He exhaled. “I confess I did, but because being in your presence would have rent my heart in two. I almost did not journey here for Christmas, but Georgiana would not allow me to send my regrets. You know not what torture the last two days have been.”
My eyes blurred and a warm, wet droplet landed upon my cheek. “But I do, for I endured the same affliction.”
He leaned forward and placed a tender kiss to my nose and, at last, my lips. “Elizabeth Bennet, I love you with all of my heart. Will you grant me my Christmas wish?” he whispered between kisses.
I gave an impish grin. “That depends on your wish, sir. I am not known for bestowing just any request or favours, for that matter, on the men of my acquaintance.”
A rumble of a chuckle shook his chest. “Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
With a sob, I buried my face in his shoulder whilst he held me in a warm but gentle embrace. When I could control my tears, I rose back to my tiptoes.
“That is one wish I would be pleased to grant since I love you, too.”
His eyes shown, and the most beautiful smile adorned his face as he lifted me and twirled me around. When he returned my feet to the floor, I placed a hand to my head.
“I should not have drunk all of that brandy.”
The sound of slippered feet running down the corridor startled us, but when we both whirled around, no one was there. A loud squeal echoed from the parlour along with my mother’s cry of “Ten thousand pounds a year! I shall go distracted!”
I covered my face and dropped it against his chest.
“Perhaps we should return to your family. I have a suspicion your father will desire a word with me.”
I sighed. “Must we? An elopement sounds ideal at this moment.”
“Do not tempt me,” he growled.
I hope you enjoyed the story! Now it’s giveaway time!!! I want to know what your favourite part of our 12 Days of Jane Austen event was. Just tell me below and I will choose the winner on Sunday 27 December and announce it here and on the Austen Variations Facebook page and Twitter feed. The giveaway is open internationally.
In the giveaway, there is a tote bag from Jane Odiwe’s wonderful Zazzle shop as well as one of her Christmas ornaments, a book of Jane Austen’s Juvenalia (“The History of England by a partial, prejudiced & ignorant Historian), a magnetic bookmark, and a Mrs. Darcy pin.
But that’s not all! I also have 5 e-book copies of The Earl’s Conquest for the first five commenters who tell me they want one!
Thanks for taking part in The 12 Days of a Jane Austen Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Good Luck!