Posted on Sunday, 24 December 2006
Mr. Darcy sat in the drawing room at Pemberley. He had never been a particularly talkative gentleman, but tonight he was nearly silent. It was but three days until Christmas, and his thoughts were many miles away.
Many miles to the south, truth be told, in Hertfordshire, where a young lady with beautifully expressive dark eyes lived with her family. Her most unsuitable family, he reminded himself.
His sister Georgiana gazed at him thoughtfully.
"You are so quiet, Fitzwilliam. And it is nearly Christmas!"
He smiled at her. "Yes, it is, and in the spirit of the holiday season, will you not play a Christmas song for me, Georgiana?"
"Certainly," she responded with a warm smile and sat herself at the pianoforte. She was an accomplished player, and she began to play "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
The words of the familiar old song played in his head. "...tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy..."
He lowered his head, so that Georgiana would not see his expression. There was little of comfort and joy in his existence. Since the deaths of their parents, he and his sister had gone through the motions of celebrating Christmas, but in truth, he always found himself relieved when the season had ended and he could drop the pretense of holiday cheer.
When in the company of Elizabeth Bennet, he had had a brief glimpse of what a joyful life might be. Her vivacity, her beauty, even her impertinence, had evoked in him a feeling so unfamiliar he could not name it. Yes, he had felt himself falling in love, but he had forced himself to draw away from her, certain that any attraction to her must be suppressed in light of her unsuitable connections. He wondered whether his interference in Bingley's courtship of her sister Jane had stemmed in large part from his own determination to remove himself from Elizabeth. Logically speaking, Bingley's marriage to Jane would have been disastrous, not only for Bingley himself, but Darcy! Their marriage would have forced him into frequent contact with Elizabeth, and he doubted he could have resisted her under those circumstances.
From all appearances, he had been successful. He and Bingley were far away from the Bennet sisters.
And both young men were miserable.
The song ended, Georgiana waited for her brother's comments, but none were forthcoming. He was staring into the fire, as though he had forgotten she was in the room with him.
"Were you not pleased with my playing, Fitzwilliam?"
He blinked rapidly, rousing himself from his reverie.
"Of course, my dear, it was lovely as always."
"But something is missing, is it not?"
"From your playing?"
"No, Fitzwilliam, it is more than that, I think."
Since his return from Hertfordshire several weeks ago, her brother had not been himself, and Georgiana intuitively knew it had something to do with a young lady he had met there. The Bingleys had visited Pemberley in early December, and more than once, Caroline Bingley had alluded in her usual snide manner to a Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Each time her name was mentioned, Fitzwilliam's eyes had flashed with something Georgiana had never seen there before. It was as though he wanted to say something, but stopped himself from doing so.
"Perhaps we require a change of scenery for Christmas this year, Georgiana," he said, suddenly changing the subject. "What do you think of staying in London until after New Year?"
"Wonderful idea, Fitzwilliam! Christmas in town!"
London, Christmas Eve
Darcy had been pleasantly surprised to discover that Charles Bingley was in town, not so pleasantly surprised to find that his sister Caroline accompanied him.
"Darcy!" Bingley exclaimed when his friend came to the door early Christmas Eve morning. "I just heard you were in town and decided to drop in, it is wonderful to see you. And Georgiana, happy Christmas to you as well."
"Mr. Darcy," Caroline Bingley simpered. "My Christmas is all the more joyful, now that you are here."
"I am pleased to welcome you all," Mr. Darcy replied.
"Darcy, may I speak to you privately?" Charles asked quietly when Caroline was occupied chatting with Georgiana.
"Certainly, Charles," Darcy replied, leading the way to his study.
"Miss Bennet is in London, Darcy."
Had Darcy doubted his sentiments prior to Charles' remarks, his rapidly beating heart confirmed them.
"Elizabeth Bennet is in London?" he said, trying with limited success to suppress the excitement in his voice.
"Well, yes, Darcy, but it is Miss Jane Bennet who concerns me. Both Miss Jane and Miss Elizabeth are staying with their aunt and uncle in Gracechurch Street."
"You have seen them, Charles?"
"No, I heard about it via a mutual friend. But I intend to see her, Darcy, no matter what you or my sisters have to say on the subject."
Darcy looked down at the floor.
"Of course, you are right, Charles. It is for you and you alone to decide. It was very wrong of me to try to convince you otherwise."
"You admit you were wrong?"
"Utterly and completely, and I hope you will forgive me. And perhaps..."
"Perhaps what, Darcy?"
"Perhaps you will allow me to accompany you."
"If you wish."
"Might we ... I know this may seem unorthodox, Charles, but might we go today?"
Charles stared at him.
"Darcy, I am starting to believe you have another interest in the matter besides my desire to see Jane Bennet."
"Perhaps," Darcy said simply.
"Would you care to expound on the subject?"
"Not particularly," Darcy said with an inscrutable smile.
"Am I correct in assuming that your interest has something to do with Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" Bingley asked.
Darcy merely sighed and turned away.
"I knew it!" Bingley said triumphantly.
"Is it possible ... do you think she might...?"
"Might what? Like you? Darcy, you might try speaking to her civilly."
"What is that supposed to mean, Charles?"
"Your demeanour can be somewhat forbidding, Darcy."
"I want to marry her, Charles," Darcy said softly. "She is all I have thought about since we left Hertfordshire. I have thought about all the obstacles...that family of hers, their manners, their low connections, but I find I cannot forget her. I will tell her, of course, that I have considered all the drawbacks of our marrying, but that I have overlooked them because of the overwhelming love I have for her."
"Are you out of your mind, Darcy?"
Darcy looked puzzled.
"Darcy, you must certainly mention your overwhelming love, but if you are wise, you will keep your misgivings to yourself!"
"You think ... that she would find such sentiments offensive?"
"I find them offensive, on her behalf! Expressing them will do nothing to recommend your suit."
Darcy nodded thoughtfully.
"Perhaps you are right, Charles. I know I may have gotten off on the wrong foot with Miss Elizabeth."
"Indeed, Darcy, and you needn't compound the problem by putting that foot firmly in your mouth!"
"What are we waiting for, Charles? Let us off to Gracechurch Street!"
As Darcy and Bingley approached the modest home on Gracechurch St., they were occupied with thoughts of the two young women awaiting them there.
I can hardly think she is awaiting me, Darcy thought ruefully. She has made it quite clear she takes no pleasure in my company!
Charles, on the other hand, clearly remembered Jane Bennet's smile, her sweetness of manner, and more than ever, he resented Darcy's interference in their courtship.
"Does Elizabeth Bennet know I accompany you, Bingley?" Darcy suddenly asked.
"No," Bingley replied. "You will have to fend for yourself, Darcy," he said, just a bit spitefully.
"Perhaps I should wait outside then," Darcy said, "until you are sure of your own reception. Then might you mention that I am here?"
Now I am reduced to pleading! he thought.
"As you wish," Bingley said. He left Darcy in the carriage and knocked upon the door of the Gardiner residence.
Darcy sat outside for close to a half hour, all the time fingering the small box he had in his pocket. It contained a ring, a solitaire diamond surrounded by smaller ones. On impulse, he had brought it with him from Pemberley. It had belonged to his late mother, and his fondest wish was to place it on Elizabeth Bennet's finger this Christmas.
Where on earth was Bingley? he thought impatiently.
He was trying to decide whether he should forego waiting for Bingley and just knock on the door on his own when he saw a tall man, clad in a red military uniform, taking the steps two at a time to call at the Gardiner home. The maid came to the door and smiled.
"Mr. Wickham! Yes, Miss Bennet did mention you would be calling today. Won't you come in?"
What? George Wickham calling upon Elizabeth Bennet??? MY Miss Bennet?
With no thought as to the consequences, Darcy leaped from the carriage and banged upon the door. The startled maid could barely stammer out the words to ask his name when Darcy moved past her, in the direction of George Wickham, who was clearly about to kiss Elizabeth Bennet's hand!
"What do you think you are doing?" Darcy demanded angrily. "First my sister, now my fiancée!"
"Fiancée???" Elizabeth and Wickham said in unison.
"Yes, my fiancé!" Darcy said.
"Mr. Darcy is clearly delusional," Elizabeth said angrily.
"Come now, Darcy," Wickham said, smirking. "Is it not time we put the past behind us, let bygones be bygones?"
Darcy's face reddened. "Outside, Wickham!"
"Shall I bring my dueling pistols or my sword?"
"I shall gladly kill you with either, Wickham, but for now my fists will have to do," Darcy said, grabbing Wickham by his collar.
"You cannot bear being bested, can you Darcy! First your sister, now your precious Miss Bennet!"
"What about Miss Darcy?" Elizabeth asked quietly, suddenly suspicious of Mr. Wickham's easy charm.
"She found me irresistible," Wickham said proudly, unable to resist boasting at Darcy's expense. "Darcy found himself quite powerless to..."
And with that, Darcy lost his temper and landed a punch to Wickham's jaw, laying him out.
Elizabeth stared at him. She had never before seen Mr. Darcy shed his veneer of dignified calm. His breathing had become laboured, his face was flushed and he was looking at her in a manner that was most affecting.
"I adore you, Elizabeth Bennet," he whispered. "How could you not know?"
When she did not answer, he shook his head sadly.
"I am sorry, Miss Bennet. I will leave you now."
He had nearly reached the door when Elizabeth hastened to his side. She reached up to take his face into her hands.
"Happy Christmas, Mr. Darcy," she said. "Did you realize you are standing under the mistletoe?"
He pulled her closer to him.
"As are you now, Miss Bennet," he said throatily, leaning down to claim his kiss. "And I intend to keep you here as long as possible."
He kissed her so lustily and so thoroughly that she could scarcely breathe. When finally he broke the kiss, she asked teasingly, "And just when did I become your fiancée, Mr. Darcy?"
"As of this moment, Miss Bennet."
"I am glad to hear of it," Mr. Gardiner said sternly from his vantage point in the doorway to the drawing room. "Is there something you wish to request of me, Mr. Darcy, in the absence of Miss Bennet's father?"
"Indeed there is, Mr. Gardiner," Darcy said, blushing. I want to marry your niece. If she will have me," he added softly, anxiously searching Elizabeth's eyes.
"Yes I will have you, Mr. Darcy," she answered.
And as soon as possible, she thought.
Darcy, his face illuminated with heartfelt joy, slipped the ring onto Elizabeth's finger.
Wickham began to stir into consciousness.
"Where am I?"
"Somewhere you are not welcome, apparently," Mr. Gardiner answered. "Perhaps it is best you take your leave."
"Indeed," Wickham said, gathering his belongings and what little was left of his dignity.
"Where is Charles Bingley?" Darcy asked, as Wickham hastily left.
"I had better find out," Mr. Gardiner said, "as he is no doubt in the process of compromising my other niece!"
And so it was that the two Bennet sisters became engaged on Christmas Eve, Darcy accomplishing his purpose sooner than Charles Bingley.
A fact which he would never let him forget!