Adrift: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Story
Posted on Saturday, 10 March 2007
The snowflakes lightly dusted the top of Elizabeth Bennet’s head, creating a fleeting contrast of light on dark that ended in a wet pool that was slowly wrecking the tediously arranged curls atop her head. She had never been one to sit idly by and wait for a knight in shinning armor, and though her Aunt suggested they wait inside the relative warmth of their broken carriage, Elizabeth had grown weary of waiting. And her bottom was sore, that, of course, being the usual turn of events when one’s backend is jostled along a bumpy road for three hours and then stranded sitting for another two.
“I thought we passed a small cottage not far back,” she had told her aunt before stepping down into the snow. “I’ll go for help and be back soon. Pull our skirts out of the trunks and you and Jane snuggle up underneath them. Don’t worry.” She winced as her boots sank in the snow and ignored the fervent protests coming from the carriage. She spared a single look back, tossed quickly over her shoulder as her slow, sinking steps took her further from the stranded conveyance. The warm chocolate wood radiated a warmth that she felt surely seeping from her bones, but still she trudged onward, conscious that moving forward was her only key to warmth now that she had forsaken the body heat of her traveling companions and their various skirts and petticoats.
The warmth of her thoughts were cooling as well. It was Christmas, and she was stranded, in the snow. It was Christmas and her aunt and sister were stranded as well. And Elizabeth was to blame for it all, or so she admonished herself as she traipsed along.
She had received the letter on Christmas Eve; it was scrawled hastily in small neat writing and had contained a request as absurd as it was unexpected.
Dear Miss. Bennet,
You do not know me, but I have heard about you countless times… granted, it was by listening at door cracks and from behind walls, but how else is a younger sister supposed to know anything about an older brother’s goings on without doing so? I am sorry, I ramble, and when there is no time to do so. But you will learn that about me soon enough, I hope, if you will comply with my, nay, my brother’s wishes. He would never voice them aloud you know. His wishes that is. I ramble again. Shall I quickly get to the point? I know you will be frustrated with this; I will attempt to be brief.
You are an acquaintance of my excellent older brother, I have heard. Mr. Darcy? I am sure that the name is familiar to you, for your name is the very air and breath to him. And Miss. Bennet, every breath is painful. Ever since he came home from Aunt Catherine’s he has acted a bit odd. He was no longer the smiling, joking brother I knew him to be… and this time I was quite sure it wasn’t my fault! I know he has told you of my past mistakes, and I am glad. I am glad he saved me from that man, and glad that some good might come from my shameful escapade, especially if it is in the form of your being saved from that man as well.
I saw my brother… inebriated for the first time after his return. Of course I wasn’t meant to see, but as I said earlier, door cracks and walls… It was the oddest thing. One minute he’s brooding by the fire, a glazed, crazy look in his eye (or so I imagine because I couldn’t really see his face, just the back of his head. I was hidden in the closet of his library), the next, he’s grabbed the poor butler and is waltzing him across the room. “I danced with her, Williams! And I’ll dance with my Elizabeth again, I swear I will, man, I swear it!” He released poor Williams, and the butler backed away abruptly, attempting to regain some of his usual composure, but still Fitzwilliam talked, on and on. “Right here in this very room, I’ll take her hands in mine, and with Georgiana’s music floating down the hall, we’ll dance. Right here. My Elizabeth and me… my wife.”
And with that, Miss. Bennet, he cried. You can imagine my utter astonishment. And if that were not enough (which how could it not be?!) there is still what brought me to write this letter to you. We have a tradition at Pemberly: The Christmas Box. It’s an old box, my mother’s old jewelry box. We started the tradition after she passed away, so it has been going on since I can remember. Each of us writes down what we want most in the world, and puts it in the box, so that our mother knows as well, so that she is part of Christmas as well. And this year, Fitzwilliam put two pieces of parchments in the box. One for me to see, and one he thought I didn’t know about. Of course he said he wanted a new pen, that was what I was supposed to see, not him sneaking into the sitting room late at night to slip in another Christmas wish.
It was you, Miss. Bennet, he wished for you. And as my brother has given me every thing I could ever desire, I would delight in returning the favor.
Will you come to Pemberley? I do not know if you feel for my brother as he obviously feels for you, but if you do, come. Please.
Hopefully your future sister,
The letter had been as enduring as it was absurd and unexpected, not to mention completely dumbfounding. Folding the letter neatly and placing it within the pocket of her coat, Elizabeth had left her house, headed toward Meryton and hopefully a carriage to take her towards a handsome man and his caring sister. But Jane and their aunt had seen her leave the house, and when they could not keep her from her impromptu journey, they were determined to travel with her.
As Elizabeth’s feet began to tingle with the cold of snow seeping past the ruined leather of her boots, her mind was more warmly occupied. She closed her eyes and was in a room, a library to be exact, aglow with the crackling roar of a fire, and her hands were occupied as well, ensconced, to be specific, in a pair of large hands, and she was dancing to a melody floating down the hall and through a sliver of a crack in the door. And then she was looking up, up, up into a pair of dark eyes and she couldn’t move.
And she couldn’t move. And she was once again cold, to the very core of her being, and she struggled, and still couldn’t move. Her eyes opened in a flash, the alarm in them blazing fiercely as she realized that she was, of all tragedies, stuck in a snowdrift! Growling in frustration, she contemplated her options. They did not appear to be plentiful and all ended in her ultimate demise.
She tried not to panic as she realized the tingling in her feet had vanished and realized that her only course of action was the only action she was capable of whilst waist deep in a snowdrift.
“Help! Help! Oh please, help!” She continued in that vain for quite some time until the cold turned to warm, the muted light of a snow-filled day turned to dark, and the ominous impending doom of reality melted sweetly into the dim haze of dreams and dark eyes.
Jack paced back and forth in front of the bedroom door, listening with a cringe to the screams of his wife’s labor.
“Sit down man. Pacing will not help your wife or your child. Besides, you’ll need all your energy for when the baby arrives. I remember when Miss. Darcy was born. Quite a handful, I tell you. The most you can do to help you wife is sit here and have a drink.” Mr. Darcy kicked his leg and stared into the fire. He had pulled off his jacket shortly after arriving. Jack’s cottage was sweltering as the doctor had asked for a heated environment for the birth. Darcy had not objected; it was the coldest winter he could remember. And despite the massive chill that had settled over everything, he had rode to the miller’s cottage on Christmas day. He did not attend every birth on his land, but Jack had been a childhood friend, and Darcy had needed a distraction from his own thoughts.
But this particular distraction was proving more negative than positive. In fact, it was creating hallucinations of an alarming nature. For over the howl of the wind and the screams of Jack’s wife, Darcy could swear he heard the screams of another woman. They tormented him. She asked for help, but how could he help her? How could he ever help her when she would never ask for his help. His own mind had turned against him of late, tormenting him cruelly as it now did.
“By God, Darcy, do you hear that? I think there is someone outside, screaming for help.” Jack jumped from his seat, for the moment distracted from the other shrieks that emanated not from outside, but in.
Darcy shook his head, trying to clear the pleas from his ears, but they did not stop. “You hear them too? I’m not imagining them?”
“I’m afraid your imagination has never been that grand, Darc. Jack opened the door as Darcy jumped from his seat, both men listened intently for the human voice. And there it was, soft, far away and growing fainter with each cry for help. Not even thinking to put on jackets, both men shot out of the cottage and towards the voice.
“It’s gone, Jack. I cannot hear her. Where is she?”
Jack wondered why his friend assumed it to be a woman, but did not question him, intent on finding the troubled owner of the voice.
Darcy saw her first, or rather, the sliver of rich red that was her scarf spilt over the rising snow. Her legs were covered in snow, her boots stuck in the mud underneath, and she lay on her back. Her skin was pale and frosty blue and her wet hair clung in dark strands to wind-pricked cheeks. Falling to his knees, Darcy pulled Elizabeth from the snow and carried her into the cottage, Jack hot on his heels.
“Darcy, my God, she’s frozen to death! Quick. Get her inside, next to the fire.’
“I know!” Darcy growled, kneeling in front of the fire, his arms full of a soaking wet Elizabeth Bennet. “This won’t work. It’ll never do.” He murmured to himself over and over, and Jack could not get an answer to any of his various questions or suggestions. Turning suddenly towards his friend, he said, “Your only bed and bedroom is occupied, and Miss. Bennet must be relieved of these wet clothes. I must take her to Pemberley.”
“But Darcy,” argued Jack, choosing to ignore the fact that his landlord apparently knew the ice maiden and that he was contemplating undressing her, “you can’t take her out in the cold again, she’s frozen as it is!”
But Darcy was already gone, and so, Jack saw, were several of the blankets from his now open linen closet. He followed his apparently deaf friend and his blanketed bundle outside and watched as Darcy mounted his horse, bundle in hand. “Jack,” he said, circling the horse and preparing to bolt, “I believe you have a baby girl. Congratulations.”
As Jack watched Darcy’s retreating figure, he heard the unmistakably high-pitched wail of a baby, and his worried expression turned to that of pure joy.
Elizabeth woke suddenly, jarred to consciousness by an unidentified up and down jerking motion and the prickling sensation of a million pins sticking into her body. She wasn’t sure whether the feeling was good or bad, but she realized that the pain she felt was the least pressing of matters, as she appeared (her consciousness recognizing the movement) to be rescued, ridden to safety by a pair of strong, warm arms. She looked up, seeing only a the underside of a stubbly chin and short, dark curls poking out from a loosened cravat and a heavy jacket. “Jane,” she whispered upward to no avail. Whoever her rescuer was, he was intent on arriving at his destination and did not hear her. “Jane,” she had the strength to whisper once more before thankfully slipping into a painless sleep.
“Ms. Reynolds!” Darcy shouted as he threw open Pemberley’s heavy front doors. “Ms. Reynolds!” The entire household ran to the master’s frantic summons. He strode up the stairs, carrying Elizabeth, all the while barking orders. “Pour a hot bath, a steaming bath, and heat some blankets, and we need fires, fires in every fireplace, but especially in the mistress’s bedroom.”
The servants, who had been rushing around trying to comply with Darcy’s wishes, stopped at his last order.
“The mistress’s room?” asked Ms. Reynolds. “Your mother’s old room?”
“Yes, the room belonging to Mrs. Darcy, prepare it now!” He spoke the last part as he kicked open the door to that very room. Laying her on the bed, he moved to unfasten the buttons down the front of her dress before Ms. Reynolds coughed behind him.
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy.” He turned around to a scathingly reproving look and stepped away from the bed, though his gaze on the woman lying there did not waver. “Mr. Darcy,” Ms. Reynolds voice was commanding now, and Darcy turned from the bed and walked to the fireplace, kneeling to tend it to a roaring blaze himself, he began to talk as he worked.
“I won’t leave Ms. Reynolds, but I won’t turn around either. With any luck, and God’s mercy, she will be your next mistress. I will not leave.” Before he could finish his pronouncement, he heard the sounds of his housekeeper undressing Elizabeth. “Her name is Elizabeth Bennet. I met her when I was visiting Bingley in Hertfordshire.” He had asked for her hand after sending Bingley off to London, after advising him not to do the very thing Darcy did himself. She had, of course, refused him, telling him in no certain terms that she was the last man she would ever marry. A blow, knowing as he did, that she knew Mr. Collins. He had followed up her rejection, one based on some sound and some misunderstood, reasoning, with a letter explaining the duplicity of her favorite, Wickham, and his reasoning for parting his friend from her sister.
But he wouldn’t tell his housekeeper, all that would be just between Elizabeth and himself. “I found her in the snow, outside Jack’s cottage. I don’t know why or how she is here, but she is frozen, and we must get her warm. She must be warm… are you finished?” The rustling behind him had stopped and at Ms. Reynold’s approval, Mr. Darcy turned around and strode back to the side of the bed, sitting on the edge and taking Elizabeth’s hand in between his. “They’re so cold. She’s shivering. Ms. Reynolds,” he turned to give more orders but she had already gone, anticipating his next command.
“Elizabeth, can you hear me?” he asked her, turning back and leaning close enough to feel her faint breaths on his face. “Lizzy, dear heart, wake up. Wake up.” The second was a command, forceful and strong, willing her to obey him.
And she did, for who can disobey a Darcy command, though if anyone could it would be her. Elizabeth’s eyelashes fluttered open, her eyes starkly dark against her cooled white skin. Darcy wondered where the color of her complexion had gone, that had so appalled Caroline and enchanted him.
“Mr. Darcy?” she whispered, and then, “Jane, Aunt Gar… Jane, Aunt Gardiner.”
Darcy’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. “What is it? What about Jane? I’ve told Mr. Bingley I was wrong, I swear to you I have Elizabeth. I want them to be happy.”
Elizabeth was shaking now, but managed a weak smile above clattering teeth. Darcy could tell she wanted to say more, but that she was incapable of speech due to the shivers that wracked her body. Picking her up, blankets and all, from the bed, he carried her to the fire, sat down in a chair he had pulled close, and settling her into his lap, took her hands between his to rub. He vaguely heard maids coming in and out of the room with bucketsful of water to pour into the tub. He talked to Elizabeth to keep her mind from how cold she must be.
“I got Georgiana music for Christmas. And a dog. A puppy. She’s always wanted one of her own, that didn’t live in the stables, but inside, with her… with us. She loves him and has named him Colonel, after my cousin- what!?” he exclaimed as her entire body tensed, locking up, and she gasped in pain.”
“It hurts, like needles.”
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s feeling coming back. It will get better, I promise. The doctor is on the way.”
“Mr. Darcy, my sister, my aunt. They’re both still there, in the broken carriage.”
“Your sister and aunt came with you? Where are they? I’ll send someone right away. Ms. Reynolds!” he bellowed, “Come quickly!” A young maid with an anxious face appeared first, and Darcy instructed her to send the largest carriage full of warmed blankets to scour the roads in search of the broken-down conveyance. His eyes never left Elizabeth’s face as he ordered the maid to hurry along, and he saw her relax as he spoke, trusting that he would find and bring to her two people who she loved very much. It gave him pleasure to know that she trusted him, and he tightened his arms around her.
“Mr. Darcy,” came a voice from behind him, “The bath is ready.” Two maids and his housekeeper approached the chair as he stood up, Elizabeth still in his arms. He relinquished her hold on her and the maids supported her weight between them as Ms. Reynolds supervised.
“Come get me when she is done.” Darcy said, turning from the scene and leaving the room without a glance back.
“Fitzwilliam! What has happened?” Georgianna rushed towards him as he shut the door behind him, taking her hands into his own and begging to know who the young lady was whom he had saved, whom it was the servants were whispering about nonstop.
“It’s a young woman I knew from Hertfordshire… Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Georgie, I-“
“Then she’s come! Oh I hoped she would, but I had no way of knowing… and in the storm and cold! Oh Fitzwilliam she must really love you or she would not have come when I asked her to!”
“What do you mean when you asked her to? What part did you play in all this Georgiana Darcy?” His tone was low and soft, but serious, and his sister knew to give him what he asked for.
“I was worried about you Fitzwilliam, and wanted you to be happy for Christmas. So I wrote to her. I never would have imagined that she would really come. I didn’t know, I promise.” Tears swam in her eyes, and Darcy had ever been weak when it came to womanly tears of any kind.
“Go to the library,” he said softly, kindly, “and gather some of your favorite books, and bring them up here for Miss Bennet. She’ll not be leaving her bed for some time if she catches cold… she likes to read.” He smiled at his sister and she smiled back, grateful to be of some help in a situation she had inadvertently caused. Darcy couldn’t decide whether or not to be angry or elated with Georgiana. He decided to save any final decisions in that regard until the doctor had seen Miss Elizabeth, and he knew for sure that she would live long enough for him to renew his proposal, hopefully, in a more successful manner the second time around.
The warm water was like heaven, seeping past her skin to her very bones, slowing her chattering teeth and shaking limbs. She still tingled and prickled, but the sensation was no longer painful, and instead a dull ache was settling in, a heaviness in her head and limbs that weighed her down and pulled her eyelids shut.
“Miss Bennet!” she heard as she was about to slip into slumber. Then two pairs of hands grabbed her and pulled her sputtering from the tub.
“I think,” said the steady voice of an older woman, “that she is done with her bath. Bundle her back up in the nightgown and robe and tuck her in tight.” Elizabeth complied with the other women’s ministrations, wanting nothing more than to lie warm in the bed. And for him to come back. But what she would say to him, explain to him about her being there, she had no idea. She awaited his return in anticipation, in fear, in confusion, wishing she could disappear as much as she wished he would come back through that door.
And waiting, she fell asleep.
It was not long after the Darcy carriage flew from the estate that it happened upon the other, less fortunate vehicle. The two women, huddled beneath petticoats and dresses, were snuggled against each other fast asleep when they were jarred awake by the fervent inquiries about their health that assaulted them from without the carriage. They were grateful to be found, to be saved, and that it was by none other than Mr. Darcy seemed nothing less than a Christmas miracle. Their own fervent inquiries into the health of their beloved sister and niece were met with assurances of the young woman’s safety and tales of the young master of Pemberley’s very personal interest in that young lady’s safety and health.
The ladies arrived at Pemberley cold, but none the worse for their ordeal, and in desperate need of a roaring fire. Darcy, who had been waiting for their arrival with pacing impatience, sent for Georgiana at news of their arrival and stayed just long enough by her side to ascertain that the women were alive and well, then hared off, up the stairs and out of sight. Perhaps it was a bit… insensitive to his sister’s shy and unprepossessing nature to leave her in such a situation, but he can not be blamed as it was spurred by his apprehension for his unexpected, ailing houseguest, and because the two women he left her to entertain were admittedly sensible, lovely women who would put the younger girl at ease rather than on edge.
Darcy’s hand pulled at the doorknob of Elizabeth’s room only to find it closed and locked to him. “Mrs. Reynolds!” he bellowed. He was surprised when, instead of an obediently opened door, he found his housekeeper inching through a crack to face him with a scowl, blocking the door with her slight frame.
“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy, that Miss Bennet is asleep, and you will not be allowed to disturb her rest.” Her words were spoken with the authority of a woman who has seen her employer in nappies and ankle length gowns as he sucked his thumb and hid behind his mother’s skirts. They were the words of a woman intent on keeping scandal from the name of her master and supporting propriety in all its various forms.
Darcy had no option but to comply with her wishes, saving face in an order to wake him should she catch a fever, or her condition worsen in any way. As he walked tentatively away from the door and its gaunt but fearless guard, he pacified his protesting mind with the notion that tonight Elizabeth would sleep but a door away from him, in the mistress of Pemberley’s bedroom. And perhaps it was for the best that he have time and distance from such a situation. He had already botched her first impression of him, not to mention his first proposal, and he knew that if he wished to succeed (and if what Georgie had told him was right, then there was possibly a good chance of success!) he must move carefully.
Elizabeth Bennet woke the next morning with a sneeze and a cough, but nothing, thankfully, more serious than that. She wiggled her runny nose, clamped her eyes closed, and pulled the covers over her head, hoping that the richly appointed room would melt away if she ignored it long enough. But the bed beneath her never hardened, the sheets never became scratchier, and the faint sound of male snoring coming from a close wall never silenced.
If she remembered correctly, and if what she remembered was not some dream or illusion (of which the fact that her surroundings did not dissolve into “reality” seemed to prove), then she slept (cowered under the covers really), in a bed in a room in Pemberley… Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley. And she had rushed there in a blizzard, no less, to relieve his suffering on Christmas. Suffering caused by her! Or so she had been told.
Oh, she was a fool! A fool to fall in love with a man whom she had dismissed (to his face!) as a possible marriage partner. A fool for running into the cold and snow and ice to see him, and a fool for putting her sister and aunt in such danger.
Elizabeth shot bolt upright in bed with a sneeze, her eyes wide, her hair wild around her face and shoulders. “Jane! Aunt Gardner! Choo-” she sneezed again.
Her feet hit the floor with a soft thud and she ran towards the door in search of her family, or someone who could tell her if Mr. Darcy had indeed found them; someone who could tell her if they were safe, and then take her to them so that she could see for herself.
Unfortunately, the door she chose to open was not the one leading out to the hall, but rather, the connecting door between the master and mistress’ rooms, and instead of finding a maid or footman, she was confronted with Mr. Darcy, clad in little more than an untucked shirt and crumpled pants.
Elizabeth squeaked in alarm, punctuating its end with a sneeze for good measure, and swung the door shut with such quickness the astonished young man could not be entirely sure that he hadn’t imagined the entire ordeal. Elizabeth dove back under the covers, hoping he would indeed think he had imagined her appearance in his room.
But the knock on the door told her otherwise, and with a groan, she bade him enter the room. She couldn’t very well forbid him entrance, as it was his own home, but how she wished she could.
“E-Elizabeth… Miss. Bennet… Is there something that you need? Any necessity that I may have the honor of supplying you with?”
She peeked over the edge of the blanket at Mr. Darcy. He looked boyish in his long white shirt, vulnerable and open as he never had in the public avenues of ballrooms and sitting rooms. “No… you have been generous enough as it is. But… could you tell me… Jane? My Aunt?”
“Yes! Of course you would wish to know right away. They are safe, warm, and lodged just down the hall. If you wish, I will have a nurse wake them to come and visit you.” He clasped his hands behind his back, like a young child being scolded, and his foot fidgeted on the plush carpeting beneath him.
“No, no. I can go visit them. They were out in the cold longer than I-”
“But not half buried alive in the snow. You are sick Elizabeth, and you should stay in bed. The doctor will be by today to have a look at you, then we will see if you should leave your bed or not.” He had moved to the bed’s side, to Elizabeth’s side, as he spoke these firm words. He hesitated before pulling the covers down from above her nose and taking her hidden hand into his own. “Merry Christmas,” he said with a smile.
“Christmas was yesterday, sir,” she reminded him, wary at the new spark she saw in his eye. Could that be… humor? She had fallen in love with him without him even being present, and solely on the knowledge of his noble character and good soul. Her heart would be completely captured if he showed signs of a lively wit and willing smile.
“Yes, I know. But I did not get to tell you yesterday, so I am telling you today. Besides, one says ‘Merry Christmas’ no matter the day or season, if one is given a Christmas gift.”
“And you were given a gift today?”
“One… possibly several. Tell me, why were you drowning in a snow bank last night? A snow bank so close to Pemberley?” His eyes were serious now, as was his tone.”
Elizabeth blushed, turning her eyes from his gaze to seek something… less blazing to fixate on.
“I…” she began, hesitating to think of some quick lie that would not lay bare her very soul. Searching her brain, she found none. “I was on my way here… sir. I received a letter… oh, I’m a fool!” She wrenched her hands from Darcy’s and pulled the blanket back over her head, groaning as she clenched the fine linen. Her legs convulsed under the covers as she flailed them in frustration.
“I have heard it said that… ‘we are all fools in love,’” he spoke to the covers. “And, if it truly is your affliction, then it is not one you suffer alone. For… for I have been a fool since I met you, and I… I must know if I am truly the last man in the world you could ever be prevailed upon the marry.” Darcy realized with sudden acuteness that the room had stilled, quieted, and that his words hung in the air as if they had stopped the very world from spinning. Elizabeth’s jerky movements beneath her thin shield had stilled as well, and Darcy leaned closer, willing her to speak and break the unbearable silence.
She groaned, a low moan that worried the man at her side who was currently peering at a sheet. And then a quiet, hesitant “no,” pierced the stillness of the room and sent the world back upon its rotating axis.
“No… no, I am not the last man in the world that-”
“I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.”
Darcy lifted his fingers to the top edge of Elizabeth’s barrier and pulled lightly; she did not resist. However, he found, once he had pulled the covers to her chin, that her eyes were squeezed tightly shut. “Elizabeth.”
She peeked one eye open, then eased the other to a similar state to face him fully.
“I received a letter from your sister. Do not be angry with her,” she began hesitantly. “I don’t know what I thought my coming here would accomplish. I don’t know what I was thinking at all. I wasn’t I presume. I… I’m so embarrassed. It was just such a sad Christmas. Jane’s last with us you know. I know you know; you sent Charles back to her, and now her next Christmas will be as his wife. And I do not mean to ramble on, but Miss. Darcy wrote to me that… about a Christmas tradition, a box, and she said that you wrote… that you wrote…” She broke eye contact with him at this, ashamed almost to have such intimate knowledge of him, knowledge she was not supposed to have privilege to.
“Elizabeth Bennet, I love you. And your appearance in a snowdrift is the most surprising, worrisome, wonderful Christmas gift a man could ask for. It is exactly what I asked for, actually… without the snowdrift of course. And I have a gift for you… if you wish to accept it. I am no good at surprises. It is… it is a ring… will you have it?”
“You wish to marry me after I’ve half-drowned, and am lying sick with a cold in bed? You wish to marry me, red, runny nose, matted hair, and all? After I, after I spoke to you, rejected you the way I did?”
“Yes, if you will have me.”
She thought before she spoke, choosing her words with care, then throwing them out the window for a more mischievous train of thought. “Well, Mr. Darcy, you are in luck. It has been rather a poor Christmas for me. Socks you know, and a ribbon from Kitty. I shall be glad to accept your ring.” Her smile was such that Darcy could not dare mistake her words for more than a joke, and when she sat up in bed and threw her arms around him, her mouth stretched to a wide smile, he knew she felt as strongly as he did. And when he felt her sneeze on the shoulder he had pulled her against, he was acutely aware of how cold the room was, and how inappropriate it was for him to be half dressed and in the room of his half-dressed fiancée.
Pushing Elizabeth gently away, and placing a soft kiss on the tip of her nose, Darcy stood. “I’ll summon Ms. Reynolds,” he said, pulling a rope by her bedside. “I think… that I should not remain here any longer than I already have.” He looked down at his state of dishabille, and then with a more smoldering look at Elizabeth’s form melted against the pillow of her bed. “I will be back… later…” he said as he stepped into his own room, tossing her a small smile, a quirk of the corner of his mouth actually, that made the chilly room a tropical paradise.