As we prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I give you this excerpt from “Pemberley Celebrations,” which is a book of short stories centered on Darcy and Elizabeth during the different holidays and special occasions they celebrate in their first year of marriage. This excerpt is from the Valentine’s Day chapter in the book and is only a portion of the full chapter.
I hope you enjoy it!
A few days before Valentine’s Day, Elizabeth was going through some old boxes that had been stored away in a closet in one of the large upstairs guest rooms. She found a box belonging to the late Mrs. Darcy in which she found a collection of items that she carefully and curiously sorted through. The one that caught her attention, however, was a large jewel box.
This ornately decorated jewel box had a lid that opened on top and three drawers that opened in front. It had been cleared of all the jewellery that had once filled it. Elizabeth presumed that Georgiana had come into the possession of most of the jewellery, with Darcy most likely receiving some pieces, and she was sure Lady Catherine claimed some of it for herself.
When she carefully opened the bottom drawer, something caught her attention. She realized that it had a false bottom, and upon lifting it up, discovered a folded piece of paper and a small frame with the likeness of a young man within it. She at once lifted the frame to examine it. It was definitely not the late Mr. Darcy as she had seen his likeness many times in the portrait gallery. The man in this miniature frame was attractive, but was bestowed with fairer features than the late Mr. Darcy.
Curiosity gave way and she opened the folded piece of paper. It was a letter. Instantly her imagination was unleashed and she wondered about the identity of this unknown man and secret letter. Who was he and what did it mean? She quickly scanned the short missive.
June 23, 17__
My dearest Lady Anne, How long it has been since I have seen you and I fear I shall not be content until I can behold you once more. My military duties will take me out to sea longer than I anticipated and so I shall not be returning for another three months, at least. Please be assured that you are in my every thought, each waking moment of the day. It is only those thoughts of you that encourage me on to fulfil my obligations and service to our king. I am counting the days until my return. I am yours forever.
With much regard, A.H.
Elizabeth read the letter with a good deal of wonderment. Who could this man have been that he was so bold as to write Lady Anne a letter? And such an intimate one? Why did she keep his likeness and the letter from him hidden away in this jewel box? Her mind was exhausting all possibilities of this dilemma when Darcy walked in on her, and being as absorbed as she was in her musings, she did not hear him.
She was sitting with her back to the door, surrounded by the things she had removed from the storage box. When Elizabeth felt someone touch her shoulder, she jumped.
“Oh, Fitzwilliam! You startled me!” She took a deep breath and covered her rapidly beating heart with her hand. “You were not trying to sneak up on me, were you?”
“Not at all. I am sorry if I came upon you unawares, my dear. May I inquire as to what are you doing?”
“Why, uh, yes, I have been going through some things that I believe belonged to your mother.”
“And what is that you have been reading so intently?”
Elizabeth quickly looked down at the letter and back at him. “I think it is a love letter.”
“Indeed! From my father to my mother?” He reached out his hand for it.
She quickly pulled it back. “Um, no, I do not think so.”
Darcy gave her a quizzical look. “Sorry?”
Elizabeth was not sure how to answer him.
When she did not answer directly, Darcy repeated himself. “Elizabeth, to whom is this letter written, then?”
She looked up at him with apprehensive eyes. “Well, it is addressed to your mother. But it is from someone else; someone whose initials are A H.” \
Darcy took the letter from her and quickly read it. Elizabeth saw his features change from inquiring to firm and set. His eyes narrowed as he lowered the letter.
“A.H.? Who is A.H.?” His voice was raised, and he seemed troubled.
“I would hardly know.” She tried to subtly conceal the framed portrait, but he noticed her attempt to slip it out of his sight.
“Would you be so kind as to tell me what you are trying to hide from me?”
“What?” Elizabeth asked innocently.
He pointed repeatedly to her hand, which she had dropped down to her side. “That. What is that in your other hand?”
Elizabeth sighed deeply. “It is a framed likeness of someone. And do not ask me who it is, because I cannot presume to know.” Elizabeth reluctantly showed him the picture and watched his face as he perused it. “Does he look familiar to you?”
“Not at all. Not a very striking character.” His answers were short, and she could ascertain his temper was, too. “Where were these?”
Elizabeth winced. This was the part she was not looking forward to telling him, but even though it might distress him, she decided it would be best to tell him the truth.
“It was in the jewellery box, in a false bottom in the lower drawer here.” She looked up at his expressionless face. “The letter and the framed likeness were both in it.”
He was silent for a few moments. “So you think the man in the portrait is the same one who wrote the letter?”
Elizabeth nodded. “I would have no reason to think otherwise.” She stood up and took his arm. “But it was written to her before she married your father, as you can see by the date, so it is of little consequence. I rather wonder that it was there long before your mother and father married. I imagine she must have forgotten all about it.”
“My mother was very young when she married my father. I cannot imagine her having loved someone else before him.”
“But dear, it is possible. It could easily have been her first love. You know how it is with first loves.” As soon as these last words were out of her mouth, she wished that she could retrieve them.
Darcy looked at her through narrowed eyes. “No, I do not know how it is with first loves. How is it?”
Elizabeth had wished many times that she had learned to hold her tongue, and now was one of those times. This unfortunate tendency of hers often got her in trouble. “Oh, it is just something that people say. Never mind.”
“No, not never mind! I should like to know how it is with first loves.”
Elizabeth skewed her mouth in contemplation of how to answer, and finally said, “They say you never really forget your very first love. That is all.”
“That is all? Are you telling me that you still remember your first love?” Darcy interrogated, lifting an eyebrow as he glanced at his wife.
Elizabeth felt her heart pulse rapidly. “No… no… I mean, I do remember him, but I do not still have feelings for him, it is just…”
“So there was someone else who was your first love.” He lost no time in verbally pinning her down.
Now Elizabeth was acutely torn as to what she should say. She decided she would turn the tables on him
“What about you? I am sure you must have had someone you would regard as a first love.”
Darcy paused, his brows lowering before he too, acknowledged in the affirmative. “I suppose I do. But I do not think you would want to hear about her.”
Suddenly Elizabeth felt a twinge of jealousy. Not that she had thought for a moment that she was the first woman to ever attract his heart. But never had she contemplated whether he had actually been in love with someone else before. She did not wish to appear in any way jealous, so she said, “If you wish to tell me about her, I would listen.”
“It is of no consequence.”
“But you see, you still remember her.”
“Of course, I remember her. But I would certainly not keep a letter she wrote me and especially not a framed likeness of her.”
“But what if you had put one somewhere and forgotten that you had?”
He looked back down at the letter and frame. “I suppose that is a better explanation to its presence here than any other.” He seemed dispirited and handed them back to her. He sat down with her and began picking up some of the other items that were in the box, turning them over in his hands. She knew he was looking at the different mementos, but not seeing them. She began putting them back in the box, not wishing to discover anything else that would prompt another wayward speculation.
They sat together in silence, and Darcy finally broke in. “So, Elizabeth, tell me about your first love.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened in shock when she heard his request. She turned her face up to him slowly and shook her head. “Surely you do not want to hear the particulars.”
“I most certainly would.”
She paused, wondering what to say. There had been one fine gentleman, but before saying anything about him, she thought first about what she would say.
“Indeed my first love would have to have been James. I met him at my Cousin Ruth Phillips’s wedding. He was the groom’s brother, and I thought that he was so very handsome. He stood up for his brother and during the whole wedding I watched him instead of the bride and groom.”
“Did you?” grumbled Darcy.
“Yes. He was so gallantly dressed, standing up front, with the sun-light from a window shining down on his blond hair, and those deep, blue eyes…”
Darcy started. “Blond hair and blue eyes? You fell in love with someone with blond hair?”
Elizabeth calmly nodded. “Indeed, I did! He was probably about twenty-one or twenty-two. I could barely wait for the wedding dinner and dance, anticipating an opportunity to talk with him and hoping he would ask me to dance.”
“And I suppose he did?”
“Yes, he did. I do not think I have ever floated on air as much as I did during that dance.” Elizabeth looked at him teasingly.
“Hmmph,” was Darcy’s only reply.
“I knew that night that I was in love. But as it was, I only saw him a few other times when he accompanied his brother and my cousin on their visits to Meryton. So you see, nothing was ever to come of it.”
She turned to Darcy and smiled. “That is all.” Now she knew she had to ask him, as much as she did not want to hear about any other woman for whom he had felt a strong affection. Quietly, she forced the words to come, “What about your first love, Fitzwilliam?”
Darcy looked at Elizabeth pensively. He returned his gaze to a porcelain dish he had picked up, fingering it absently. He suddenly seemed drawn into another world. “I was at Cambridge. There were some friends of my father who lived near the university, and I promised him that I would look them up when I arrived. They had a daughter named Emilie.”
Elizabeth knew immediately that she was not going to enjoy any of this. “You met her at Cambridge?”
“Yes, while I was attending. Emilie had a very kind, soft-spoken demeanour, the widest, clearest blue eyes, and she had hair the colour of sun-kissed strawberries.”
“She was a redhead?” Elizabeth interrupted him.
“Not so very red, mind you. Anyway, I visited her and her family quite a few times that first year. We would spend time together on their grounds – reading, walking, horseback riding…”
“Horseback riding?” Now Elizabeth felt a twinge of jealousy, as she had never been one to fancy riding a horse but knew her husband had a great love for it.
“Yes. She touched my heart like no one else ever had before.”
“And what happened?” Elizabeth inquired softly, narrowing her eyes while waiting for his answer.
“By the end of the school year, she had formed an attachment to someone else, someone much younger than I. I was crushed and did not think I would ever get over it.”
“But you did?”
Darcy looked at her and smiled. “Of course, I did.” Elizabeth smiled back at him, but she began to wonder about this young lady who had so captured his heart. As they both stood up to leave, neither was aware that they both felt a bit piqued about what the other had shared. Darcy had often fancied himself as the one who first stole and captured Elizabeth’s heart. Elizabeth had been hopeful that, even though there most likely had been other women in his life, she would have been the first he claimed to love. Then there was the whole issue of this letter and framed picture. Neither of them was in a very good mood.
Valentine’s Day announced itself with birds chirping noisily, the sun shining brightly, but a cold north wind insisting upon keeping winter’s hand on things. Elizabeth awakened to the warmth of a fire burning in the hearth, but a coldness by her side. Her husband was not there. She clenched her jaw and felt a sense of disappointment. She hoped that he had not yet gone. Certainly he would not have left without saying goodbye to her.
Elizabeth heard sounds from the kitchen and detected the wonderful scent of freshly baked bread. She expected that her husband was probably hungry and already in the dining room, so she proceeded there. When she entered, it was empty, but there was a bowl of fruit, a plate of freshly baked bread and rolls, and some covered dishes on the table. She set the gift down and went to the sideboard to pour herself some hot tea from the teapot.
“Good morning.” Darcy had quietly slipped in from the kitchen, and his voice startled her, causing her cup to rattle in the saucer. He came up behind her and lifting her long loose tresses, kissed the side of her neck. “You look beautiful this morning.”
Elizabeth turned to greet him. “Good morning, Fitzwilliam. I thought for a moment you were already gone.”
“No. Come sit down and eat.” He directed a wide smile at her and removed the lids from the covered dishes, placing some ham and eggs onto both their plates.
The two sat and began to eat. Elizabeth chided herself for thinking he had already quit Pemberley. But it was his next question that completely dashed her hopes that he had remembered that it was Valentine’s Day.
“What is that prettily wrapped package you have there?”
Elizabeth looked at the package. Well, if he could not remember what day it was, that was not going to stop her from showing her love for him. She reached for the small box and handed it to him with a forced smile upon her face. “This is my Valentine’s Day gift for you.”
She wished she could have ordered them to stop, but her eyes began to well with tears. “I am sorry for the way I have been acting these last few days. I have to admit I actually felt jealous when you told me about your first love. I just want you to know today, and every day, how much I love you.”
He picked up the wrapped gift, looking from it to her. “You were jealous? How do you think I felt?” He set the package down in front of him, not yet opening it.
“There was no need for you to be jealous.”
“Oh, you are allowed to be jealous, but I am not?”
Elizabeth tilted her head and looked up at him. She brought her fingers up and fingered his neck cloth. “To own the truth, my love, my affection for James occurred when I was a young girl. My cousins on the Phillips’s side are quite a bit older than my sisters and me. When my cousin Ruth got married, he may have been one and twenty, but I was only ten years old.” She smiled tenderly and placed her hand on his. “But I always felt he was my first love.”
A smile began to tug at the corners of Darcy’s mouth. “You were only ten years old?”
“Yes, that is why I was so jealous of you telling me about your college romance. I was only ten and you were… well, old enough to truly be in love.”
Darcy began to chuckle, making Elizabeth all the more irritated. “I do not see what you think is so funny!” She tried to pull her hand away from his, but he grasped it firmly.
“I believe you will when I tell you!” He looked down at her hand and gently stroked it. “It seems to me, my dear, that both our stories about our first loves were a little misleading.”
“What do you mean?”
“Emilie, my college romance and first love, was only seven years old when I met her. I visited her parents frequently, and she would hang on me like a puppy. She always wanted me to read to her, take her for walks…”
“And go horseback riding.”
“Yes, she was quite proficient on a horse. She was sweet and cute, and I often considered waiting for her to grow up.” He met Elizabeth’s gaze with a smile. “But alas, she did not wait for me. I understand she is betrothed to a gentleman quite a bit younger than me.”
Elizabeth smiled and breathed a sigh of relief at his disclosure. As they both laughed at the humour in the situation, a great burden was lifted from them.
“By the way, Elizabeth, I inquired of Mrs. Reynolds last night about the letter and framed portrait. She believes she knows who it was.”
Elizabeth turned to him with a look of anticipation. “Who?”
“She believes it was an Alexander Harriman. He had been an acquaintance of my mother when she was but a young woman of seventeen or eighteen, and he had fallen deeply in love with her. She, however, did not return his regard and actually turned down a proposal from him.” He cast a glance at Elizabeth.
“Sounds familiar,” Elizabeth said to him softly.
“Yes.” Darcy looked up at her smiling. “He was in the Royal Navy and unfortunately, while engaged in a skirmish with the French, he was killed. The letter was the last – and possibly the only one – he wrote to her. He may have left the portrait with her before he left with the hope that she would eventually turn her affections toward him when he returned. Mrs. Reynolds believes she may have kept the letter and portrait because she realized he had died loving her.”
“How sweet… and how sad.”
“Mrs. Reynolds and I feel that she probably forgot about placing both of those items there, as you thought.”
“At least that mystery is solved.”
Yes, there is more to the story, but I shall end it here. Hope you enjoyed it!