Posted on Sunday, 21 December 2003
Note: The Gytrash is mentioned in “Jane Eyre”.
December 8th, 1811, Longbourn
Elizabeth was not sorry to leave Longbourn for a while. Her mother´s constant complaining over Mr Bingley so suddenly quitting Hertfordshire and her younger sisters sulking over the bad weather had grated on her nerves. Jane´s quiet suffering was also hard to watch for Elizabeth, but at least was she sometimes able to deflect her mother from the topic that pained her elder sister most, and so Lizzy had been torn when her aunt´s letter had reached her.
Mrs Gardiner had asked for her help as she herself and all four children had contracted ---- fever, a not dangerous but very contagious illness that was accompanied by great weakness. Lizzy´s aunt had hoped that Elizabeth would be able to calm her little cousins and aid their speedy recovery when she herself was too weak to be of use. As Lizzy was the only Bennet sister who had ---- fever as a child and therefore could not get it again she couldn’t take Jane with her to London. But Jane had reassured her and urged her to go immediately.
“I appreciate your trying to distract Mamá, Lizzy, but with Christmas coming she will soon think of other things and our Gardiner cousins desperately need you.”
Therefore Elizabeth had taken the next post to London and was eagerly welcomed in Gracechurch Street by the evening.
December 14th, 1811, London
Fitzwilliam Darcy paced the hallway before his sister´s room. He had delayed his and Georgiana´s departure to Pemberley for Christmas for two days when his sister had complained about a slight cold. When she began running a high fever he had sent for the doctor, upon whose diagnosis he was waiting right now. Darcy´s patience was not tried for very much longer as Dr Wylie emerged from Georgiana´s bedroom soon after.
“Doctor, what is it?”
“Calm yourself, Mr Darcy. It is only ---- fever. There´s a spree of it in London right now. Your sister will be out of bed within a week although she might not have regained her strength enough to make traveling as far as Derbyshire a pleasurable experience for her before Christmas.”
“But, Doctor, I had ---- fever as a boy, I do not remember having such a high fever. Are you sure it´s nothing more serious?”
“”Very sure, Mr Darcy. With ---- fever it is like with every other typical children´s disease, it´s progression is more violent the older the patient is. Miss Darcy is simply too old for this illness, were she eight we would have her running about the day after tomorrow.”
Darcy allowed himself to believe the doctor´s sincere protestations and enquired further
“And you think traveling to Derbyshire before Christmas would endanger her recovery?”
“No, it would not, but Miss Darcy might be still so weakened from the fever that the journey will be quite uncomfortable for her.”
“Thank you, Doctor Wylie. May I see her?”
“Of course. As I told the housekeeper earlier, plenty of fluids and plenty of rest is all Miss Darcy needs.”
After saying good-bye to the doctor Mr Darcy entered his sister´s bedroom.
“Georgie, how do you feel?”
A hot little hand grabbed his.
“Will you sit with me for a while?”
“Of course. The doctor said all you need is rest and plenty to drink. I´ll stay until you fall asleep.”
Darcy began to talk about his past days trying to remember stories he´d heard in his club that were suitable for a young ladies ears. When he ran out of those he began to talk of Bingley, who was always a good source for amusing stories and unconsciously he ventured to a topic that still occupied his mind often – his stay in Hertfordshire. He tried his best to impersonate Mr Collins, he told a story of how Mr Hurst had fallen asleep during their hunting.
In a very sleepy voice Georgiana interrupted him.
“I wonder what became of Fluffy.”
Fluffy had been her teddy bear as a child and Dracy had to smile that his sister, at times most gracious hostess of one of the most illustrious households in the country, fell back to her childhood habits during this time of illness.
“No doubt Mrs Reynolds has securely stowed him away in one of the attics at Pemberley until there are little Darcys running about again.”
Georgiana sat up with a start, wincing at the pain in her head this sudden movement brought on.
“Brother, you do not attempt marriage in the near future, do you?”
Darcy was surprised by the vehemence and felt a little bit uneasy because, to be honest, contemplating Miss Elizabeth Bennet´s unsuitability as mistress of Pemberley could be viewed as an attempt to marry.
“I would need a suitable bride for that and I can think of none at the moment, so rest assured, you will be the most important woman in my life for some time longer.”
“It is not that, William, I would wish you every happiness and gladly resign my duties. Only you´ve been in such a strange mood lately, since your return from Hertfordshire, that I feared Miss Bingley has managed to capture you finally.”
The fever must have lent his little sister daring because, although Darcy´d known that she didn´t particularly enjoy the company of the Bingley sisters he had not known that Georgie so clearly saw through their motives.
“Miss Bingley! No, Georgie. She´s Charles´ sister, nothing more to me. I am aware of her wish to become more but as I fear she does rather like my position than my person I am not overly concerned about her heartbreak when I finally chose my bride. I´ve never even remotely encouraged her hopes.”
“I´m glad to hear it. I felt her attentions to me to be quite insincere as well.”
Georgiana settled back into her pillows.
“I think it´s time for a story, you should get your rest.”
And Darcy proceeded to tell his little sister the tale of the Gytrash, a spirit from the North of England who haunted belated travelers in form of a horse, mule or a large dog, like he had done when she was a child. Soon he was rewarded by her sleeping peacefully.
Posted on Monday, 22 December 2003
December 23rd, 1811, Gracechurch Street
“It has come! The letter from your friend Franziska in Salzburg has come just in time!”
Mrs Gardiner had to smile as she witnessed Elizabeth´s delight. The children were already well again and Madeline herself was on the mend but her favourite niece had decided to stay with them for Christmas. The Gardiners were happy to have her around, besides they would make the journey to Hertfordshire soon enough, there was no need for Elizabeth to rush ahead.
An Austrian friend of Mrs Gardiner had written to them about a Christmas carol in such words as they made Lizzy long to sing the song herself. Consequently she had begged Franziska to send it to them.
Elizabeth went to the piano immediately, trying out the song. Franziska had even provided a translation into English for which Lizzy was grateful as her knowledge of German was limited – much to her father´s chagrin for he was very fond of Goethe had she always preferred Latin and Greek.
The song had a simple enough melody, yet to Lizzy´s ears it seemed to perfectly capture the calm serenity and delighted wonder of this special, silent and holy night.
By the evening she knew it by heart and when Mr Gardiner came home for dinner he brought with him a neighbour and business acquaintance, a Mr Winters. Mr Winters had a nice bass voice and so, although he complained about a sore throat, after dinner they sung “Silent Night, Holy Night” in four parts, Elizabeth singing the soprano, Mrs Gardiner the alto and Mr Gardiner the tenor.
They were well pleased with their efforts and decided to sing the song the day after after evening service. Usually after the last blessings of the evening service on the 24th the choir sang a last hymn from the gallery, to accompany the leaving congregation. This year it would be a quartet with “Silent Night” as it was too late for a choir practice.
December 24th 1811, Darcy´s townhouse
Georgiana was well recovered by now but Darcy was glad that he´d heeded Dr Wylie´s advice and had not attempted to travel to Pemberley before Christmas.
“About the evening service today –“
When in town the Darcys had always attended church in St. ___´s, as did a lot of the ton. Darcy had never liked the gossip, the “see and be seen”, the looks, but as he was quite used to not let himself be affected by such behaviour he´d always managed to concentrate on the service alone. Georgiana seemed to feel differently though.
“What is it? Do you feel not up to going out already? I will stay at home with you if you wish so.”
“No, no, as I told you, I am in perfect health again. Only it is –“
Again did his sister hesitate.
“The service on Christmas evening is special for me and I always enjoyed it in our Lambton church.”
“You´re right. Somehow Christmas feels not right without it, but soon we´ll be home.”
Darcy realized as soon as the words had left his mouth that Georgiana would take them the wrong way.
“Oh, William, I am so sorry. It is my fault that we have to spend Christmas in town.”
“Hush, dearest, I didn´t want to imply that. If we´d attempted to travel to Pemberley you´d be too weak today to attend any service so Dr Wylie assured me. Your health is much more important than where we spend Christmas. Now what about tonight?”
Georgiana didn´t seem entirely convinced by his assurances but continued nonetheless.
“In St. ____´s, er, I do not mean to sound uncharitable, but I fear a lot of the people attending church there seem to, er –“
She looked at her brother, hoping for him to understand before she had to elaborate. He obliged her.
“They seem to view attending church as just another soiree, just another possibility to display their fine clothes, and to gossip?”
“Yes, but Brother, I would not mind half as much would not Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst always try to draw me into their conversations. And I even feel they only act like this to show off their close association with our family. Forgive me, that was a very uncharitable thought.”
Georgiana blushed heavily but was nevertheless relieved to have finally voiced her feelings.
“Do not be embarrassed, Georgie, I am quite aware of Miss Bingely´s motives, I didn´t know you were affected by them this much. Do you want to stay home?”
“No, actually. Er, do you think we could go to another parish?”
“Of course, do you have one in mind?”
“Mrs Annesley naturally speaks very highly of her late husband´s parish, she still attends church there when she´s not with me.”
Georgiana looked at her brother expectantly, knowing full well that St. ______´s, the late Mr Annesley´s parish, was not at all in a part of London the Darcys usually frequented.
Darcy was about to flatly deny his sister´s request but two things made him think before speaking. He still felt badly about his blunder earlier and was prepared to go a long way to make up to Georgiana for his careless speaking. Secondly he felt a familiar twinge in his chest. St. ______´s was in Cheapside. Since meeting Miss Elizabeth Bennet Dracy could never again hear about this particular part of town without a pang of regret.
For although he´d endeavoured to put her from his mind his success had been limited. Darcy even felt the soundness of his arguments against considering Elizabeth as his wife vane as time went by. Somehow her family´s foolishness faded while his longing for her seemed to increase.
Another thought struck him: he had examined Mrs Annesley´s former life closely, not wishing to make the same mistake as he had with Mrs Younge, before he´d hired her. She no doubt spent more time with Georgiana than anyone else and his sister´s almost complete recovery from her disappointment was largely her due.
Surely if he willingly and gratefully allowed a woman from Cheapside to be a major influence on Georgie attending church there could do no harm, could it?
Darcy´s thoughts went back to the Bingleys. When he had first met Charles at Cambridge the family had just moved from a part of London very similar to Cheapside. Miss Bingley was not that young not to remember the fact, which marked her derisive remarks about Jane and Elizabeth Bennet´s relatives all the more as utter hypocrisy.
“Sorry, I was lost in my thoughts. We will go to St. _______´s if you so wish. I visited the parish during the process of hiring Mrs Annesley and I too think that it is more like Lambton than St. ___´s.”
“Oh, thank you, William!”
“Do you mind if we leave early for the service? The church will be quite full this evening and as we are strangers there I do not want to draw attention.”
“Of course not.”
Posted on Tuesday, 23 December 2003, at
December 24th 1811, St. _______´s, Cheapside
Three quarters of an hour before the evening service would begin the Gardiners and Elizabeth were assembled in the vestry for a last rehearsal. For Mr Winters they were still waiting. After some minutes one of Mr Winters´ servant appeared with a message: his master´s sore throat had progressed to quite a cold, he felt himself unable to sing or even to attend church.
Elizabeth was very disappointed, she´d hung all her heart into this particular song, for her it had gained a special meaning. Somehow its peaceful melody, the simple text held a promise for her, that all might be well in the end: Jane´s spirits would rise eventually, Kitty and Lydia would turn out if still lively but sensible young ladies and not incorrigible flirts, …
Mr Gardiner proposed to try the bass part. It didn´t work, he could not reach the bottom notes. Then they tried to sing it without a second male voice but that did sound hollow. Mrs Gardiner, seeing how dejected Elizabeth was, turned to her husband.
“Edward, the bass part might be vital to the arrangement, but it doesn´t strike me as very difficult to learn, we´ve still got nearly half an hour. Perchance some of our acquaintances are here early and one of them is able and willing to learn the part.”
“It is worth a try, my dear, I will go and look.”
The Darcys left indeed early for church. Looking first at Georgiana´s happy face and then outside at the if not fashionable then respectable streets of Cheapside they were passing Darcy knew he´d made the right decision.
And he made a resolution: he would visit Bingley before leaving for Derbyshire and confess his other reason for departing from Hertfordshire. For even if he was still quite sure that Jane Bennet at least did not love his friend as fervently as he did Darcy now felt that he should be completely honest with himself and with Bingley and tell his friend of his fear that he might not be able to withstand Miss Elizabeth Bennet´s charm should they be thrown in company together due to Bingley´s marriage to her sister.
Darcy didn´t know that a sigh had escaped his lips until he heard his sister enquire timidly
“William, you are unhappy with our coming here?”
“No, Georgie, quite the contrary. I am absolutely convinced it was the right decision to come here. I was merely contemplating some of my actions this past year and am beginning to see some errors on my side.”
Georgiana´s trusting and warm smile seemed to light up the carriage.
“I cannot imagine you doing anything dreadfully wrong.”
“Nevertheless I have done maybe, but as I have seen reason in time the case´s not lost.”
“Good. Here we are!”
They alighted and, after a short turn around the church, took seats on the left side, rather at the back of the building. The church´s inside was simple yet pleasing. There were but a few people already there.
Darcy let his mind wander to the past years and even further back, to the time he had been allowed to attend evening service on the 24th for the first time with his parents. With an effort he shook off the melancholy that threatened to engulf him and tried to concentrate on his surroundings.
He saw an amiable looking gentleman of fashion, with some sheets of music under his arm, greeting the few others that were already here. Goergiana noticed him too and whispered
“Mrs Annesley told me that some gentlemen and ladies from around here have formed a formidable choir, we can expect some very good music tonight.”
Darcy continued to watch the man. He seemed to approach the others with a particular request but so far had received only apologetic shakes of heads.
“There seems to be a problem. Maybe I should offer help?”
He looked at his sister in astonishment, her surprising courage quelching any second thoughts he would have had otherwise about Miss Darcy singing in a Cheapside church.
“You would sing in front of a whole church full of people you do not know?”
“Not sing, no, but I could offer to play the harmonium.”
The gentleman had just passed them and seemed to have caught Georgiana´s last sentence. He turned to them and greeted them with a friendly nod.
“That is very kind of you, but I am afraid you cannot help. The bass of our quartet has come down with a cold and as we´ve only received this song yesterday I have little hope for finding a replacement.”
Georgiana turned to her brother who dared not to meet her eye, for he know all too well that he wouldn´t be able to resist the silent plea written there and he really had no intention of performing tonight.
“May I look at the sheets?”
Miss Darcy knew she shouldn´t pressure her brother but – as she knew him to be fully capable of learning his part in a Christmas carol quickly – tried to buy time. Maybe a miracle would happen, it was Christmas evening after all. Somehow the unknown gentleman seemed to sense Darcy´s hesitation as well as his sister´s eagerness and was about to speak when Georgiana exclaimed, after having read through the arrangement
“This is absolutely lovely! So simple and yet so moving, it has captured how I feel about this night perfectly!”
“My niece felt similar about this carol, that´s why she was so disappointed by Mr Winters´ illness preventing a performance of it. We were going to sing it from the gallery while the congregation is leaving. I´ll better go outside, maybe I am lucky and there are some choir members here early.”
“I will give it a try.”
Darcy was surprised to hear himself say these words. Georgiana only pressed his hand and the gentleman said
“Thank you. I am happy because my niece will be happy. She has been of invaluable help this past weeks as my wife and all four of our children were down with ---- fever, I wish to repay her some of her patience and kindness, even if it means kidnapping unsuspecting churchgoers for a song.”
This last bit was said with a twinkle, the man had seen Darcy´s dilemma, and Darcy felt himself to relax. Georgie was happy, the man´s niece was happy and no one would ever see him up there in the gallery – it was Christmas evening after all.
“Edward Gardiner at your service.”
“Fitzwilliam Darcy. This is my sister Georgiana.”
Mr Gardiner bowed to Miss Darcy and then led Mr Darcy to the vestry.
Two women were warming there fingers at the small stove there, with their backs to the door. One of them seemed oddly familiar to Mr Darcy.
“Lizzy, I have found somebody to replace Mr Winters.”
The woman turned around and Darcy stopped dead in his tracks.
Posted on Wednesday, 24 December 2003
Finally Elizabeth regained her senses enough to drop an awkward curtsey as Darcy bowed. The moment was broken when Mr Gardiner handed Mr Darcy his sheet and introduced his wife. They assembled for a rehearsal.
The part was not difficult at all and everything went smooth. Mr Gardiner took Mr Darcy with him to show him the way up to the gallery. The service was about to begin so the others claimed their seats. Elizabeth sat stunned. Mr Darcy in a Cheapside church and on Christmas Eve no less! It took her an effort to concentrate on the reverends words.
Darcy did not fare much better. He hadn´t been able to gauge Miss Bennet´s reaction to him properly, her evident surprise had made it impossible to determine whether she was pleased to see him or not or not. This wasn´t just a coincidence, their meeting here was sheer magic! The thought enabled him to concentrate on the service, surely there would be time to talk after church, maybe he could introduce Georgiana to Miss Bennet and her relatives.
During the service it took the Darcys no great leap of imagination to think themselves in Lambton. Times passed quickly and before the last blessing Darcy left his seat to go up to the gallery. Miss Bennet was already there and greeted him with a nervous smile.
Mr Gardiner had kept a close ear on the minister and, as a bustle was to be heard from the congregation below, gave them a sign to start. During the rehearsal in the vestry they had kept their voices low but now administered no restraint. Darcy felt elated, by the music, the words and by the fact that his and Elizabeth´s breath seemed to mingle in the air.
After the last verse they stood still, no words should break this special moment.
Finally Mr Gardiner spoke
“Thank you again, Mr Darcy.”
“You´re welcome. Although I cannot say that I usually perform to strangers I thoroughly enjoyed this evening. May I introduce you to my sister?”
“Of course, it will be an honour.”
They made their way downstairs were Miss Darcy was already waiting. After the introduction she addressed Miss Bennet
“That was truly wonderful, from where did you get the song?”
Elizabeth did explain everything and couldn´t help but notice that Miss Darcy was very far from being proud; on the contrary, she appeared to be rather shy. In the meanwhile her brother and the Gardiners were conversing pleasantly, Mrs Gardiner having revealed to hail from Lambton.
Darcy now could see why the eldest two Miss Bennets were so different from their younger sisters, if they had spent a considerable amount of time with this couple. He found himself addressed by Elizabeth
“I would have thought you to spend Christmas at Pemberley.”
“We usually do, unfortunately Georgiana caught ---- fever like your little cousins, therefore we couldn´t travel. We will leave for Derbyshire shortly though, my housekeeper writes that the lake is already safe for skating. And you?”
This brought him a full-fledged, genuine smile from Miss Bennet, probably the first in the whole course of their acquaintance.
“We will leave for Longbourn shortly.”
“And your family, Miss Bennet, I trust they are in good health?”
Miss Bennet seemed to hesitate before answering.
“They are, in general, thank you. My eldest sister is a bit low but my aunt and uncle will take her back to London after the new year and I hope the entertainment there will raise her spirits.”
“Good. Mr Bingley will be happy to hear it.”
At this Elizabeth knew not what to say, she only knew that she would have a lot to think about the following days. As it was really cold the party broke up, but not after many well wishes and fond farewells.
Mrs Gardiner had quite a few things on her mind she wanted to ask her niece about but as Lizzy appeared to be deep in thoughts she refrained from it.
Darcy was well pleased with the evening. He was more determined than ever to talk with Bingley as soon as possible, maybe even tomorrow. Miss Bingley would no doubt take his calling on them on the 25th the wrong way but Darcy knew he couldn´t wait with his confession to Bingley until he returned from Derbyshire. Georgiana glanced at him in a way that made him suspect that he´d been quite obvious in his admiration for Miss Bennet.
Then he realized what his heart had obviously known for some time: all his often repeated arguments against Miss Bennet´s suitability as his wife were utterly futile – he would try to garner her good opinion, to court her, to win her love and he knew with utter conviction that he would never regret being her husband for a second.
Impulsively Darcy drew his arms around his sister who had been hard pressed with oppressing a fit of giggles when watching the myriad of expressions in his face and hugged her
“Merry Christmas, Georgiana!”