Posted on Tuesday, 21 December 1999
"Why must you leave so, dearest? This is our first Christmas together."
Elizabeth Darcy lay sprawling on the master bed, propped up on a pillow with a plaintive, questioning look on her face. Her big, brown eyes seemed to express her sorrow at the prospect of being separated, even for a day, from her beloved husband. In nearly a year of blissful marriage, the Darcys had been inseparable, seldom more than a few rooms away from the company of the other. They were the target of many a jokes in the gossip circuit of elite London society for their apparent unwavering devotion to each other. Many had conjectured as to the endurance of the wonderful relationship, but to all appearances, the admirable love shared by the Darcys seemed to prevail, despite the malicious ill-tempered attacks on Elizabeth made by high society ladies.
Fitzwilliam Darcy looked at his lovely wife and for a second, pondered the idea of abandoning his business pursuits to spend time with her, but his sense of duty forbade him from prevailing on that notion for too long. In the past year, the arrival of Elizabeth in his life had altered Darcy forever. Every day surpassed the one before by bringing the simple joys into his existence, making his every essence feel richer and happier. With each passing second, his love for Elizabeth grew, if indeed that was possible. She was the core of his being, complementing him and completing him. And so, as Darcy observed the trace of sadness in her face and the faint tremble in her voice, he approached the bed and sat down next to her.
"I shall only be gone for a day, Elizabeth," Darcy said. He gently traced the lines of her face. "It is not that long, if you think about it. Four and twenty hours, that is all."
"And tell me, sir," replied Elizabeth, grasping his hand and holding it between hers. "how shall I spend those four and twenty when I am so deprived of your company?"
"You shall be too occupied with your family in Longbourn to miss me," answered Darcy, a handsome smile spreading over his features.
"I am sure you know me well enough not to suppose anything of the kind!" laughed Elizabeth. "I will have to face my family all alone, and therefore, you shall be missed more than you can imagine."
"Not as much as I shall miss you, my dearest," Darcy bent forward till his face was only inches away from Elizabeth's. "I will finish my business in but half a day and follow you to Longbourn directly."
Elizabeth looked into her husband's dark, bottomless eyes and whispered, "Our first wedding anniversary might be spent apart....Fitzwilliam, please don't leave me."
Darcy was mesmerized by her eyes, his resolve weakening with every passing moment. A man of duty and honor, he could not forgo his appointments in town, but Elizabeth's pleading note tugged at his heart and deep inside, he was aware of the fact that if she really asked, he could not deny her anything, no matter what the cost. To prevent her from saying anything more to weaken his determination, Darcy leaned and kissed her with such tender heat and passion that he defeated his own purpose and found himself willing to abandon his previous scruples and stay with her forever. When, at last, they surfaced, Elizabeth looked at him with twinkling eyes and said,
"Well, I shall have to satisfy myself with that, I suppose, sir."
Darcy looked at her, marveling at her good humor and wit. "And so shall I."
With another quick kiss, he left the bedside and finished adjusting his cravat. Elizabeth watched him with a wicked smile, aware of the fact that, if she wished, she had the power to detain her husband and prevent him from leaving. But her sense of propriety and duty forbade her from misusing her powers thus, for she had the duty to ensure that the master of Pemberley fulfilled all his responsibilities. With much effort, Elizabeth dragged out of bed and went to her husband, offering her services in attending to the rebellious cravat. With her assistance, the deed was soon accomplished and Elizabeth smiled up to her husband, resting her head on his chest.
"Do you promise me to be in Longbourn before Christmas?"
"Indeed I do," answered Darcy, encircling her waist and pulling her closer. "I would not dream of missing our first Christmas, Elizabeth. Do not worry, I shall be there."
"And I shall be waiting," smiled Elizabeth.
"Shall we proceed downstairs, then?" Darcy asked.
"Go ahead without me, Fitzwilliam, I shall change into something more suitable and be down directly. You wouldn't wish me to be on display in this, would you?" she said, referring to her rather daring nightgown.
"Not at all," Darcy assured her. "It is something I hope my wife reserves only for me."
"Have you any doubts about that, sir?" teased Elizabeth.
Darcy smiled and shook his head. "Never. I trust you implicitly."
Elizabeth kissed him lightly and bid him to depart. He did so, rather unwillingly. Elizabeth attempted to imagine spending the next day without Fitzwilliam and found it impossible. She had come to depend on him so much that a day was not complete without seeing his face or exchanging a few teasing words. It had become a way of life for her. The prospect of spending their first Christmas away from each other was frightening to her, especially since their wedding anniversary was the day after it. Elizabeth bid herself to desist from contemplating such melancholy prospects and focus rather on the brighter aspect of the upcoming day. She would have the opportunity to see her family again, especially Jane whom she had not seen in the past year. It would not be all depressing, but being separated from Darcy for the first time since their marriage was a trying experience for her and she prepared herself to face it with fortitude. Elizabeth descended soon after to join Darcy and Georgiana in the breakfast room. The meal was over all too quickly for Elizabeth since its conclusion signaled that the time for Darcy's departure to town had arrived.
Elizabeth accompanied him to the waiting carriage. Before stepping in, he turned to face her and looked at her earnestly, searching for any sign of distress in her eyes. There were none. He smiled at her slightly and said, "I shall see ere long."
Elizabeth nodded, attempting to hide her sadness. "Goodbye, Fitzwilliam, have a safe journey."
"I love you, Elizabeth," he whispered softly, looking into her eyes.
"I love you, too, Fitzwilliam," she said, fervently hoping that there was some way she could accompany him. But he had explained to her that her presence in the darker sides of town would not be desirable and so, it would be best for her to proceed with Georgiana to Longbourn, for whence they were all destined for Christmas. As Elizabeth watched the carriage disappear in the distance, she sighed heavily and thought: This is intolerable...I miss him already.
For the remainder of the morning, Elizabeth, assisted by Georgiana, prepared for their journey to Longbourn. Once all the trunks had been secured and the carriage prepared, the two sisters commenced the long journey. Georgiana noticed Elizabeth's pre-occupation and tactfully, kept silent, understanding her need for quiet reflection. Elizabeth, grateful for Georgiana's consideration, stared out of the carriage window and contemplated the evolution of her relationship with Darcy. The beginnings had been very stormy, to say the least, but with time, they had come to an agreement. Elizabeth had previously believed that she was in love with him at the time of her marriage, but she had no inkling of what was to come. With every day, she had come to depend on him so completely that life without him seemed impossible. Simply being separated from him left such a void in her heart that it brought into mind other considerations. How had she come to love this man so deeply that he, in effect, constituted her entire world? Elizabeth could not understand it, try as she might, but she had no need to understand what was simply a god given gift imparted to few.
The carriage's arrival at Longbourn was marked by the appearance of the entire Bennet clan to great the new guests. Elizabeth, who had not seen her family for a year, was overwhelmed, yet happy. Georgiana, on the other hand, had yet to become accustomed to the large family and satisfied herself with just observing at a distance. The festive season of Christmas had brought about the family gathering in Longbourn. Jane and Bingley, who had recently quit Netherfield, along with the Gardiners graced Longbourn with their presence. Elizabeth instantly found her favorite sister and exchanged greetings.
"Lizzy, how lovely to see you! You look very well," smiled Jane.
"You look lovely as always, Jane. Married life agrees with you, I take it," Elizabeth teased and Jane colored slightly as Bingley approached them.
"Elizabeth, I do not see Darcy anywhere. Is he hiding already?" asked Bingley, good-naturedly.
At the mention of her husband, Elizabeth's face clouded as she replied, "He has some business, but I expect him here tomorrow."
"Lizzy! Oh Lizzy!!" Mrs. Bennet cried as she approached them. "Where are you? Oh, there you are. My dear, Mrs. Darcy, where is Mr. Darcy."
"He is not here, mama," Elizabeth explained once again. "He is to join us tomorrow."
"That is unfortunate, indeed," said Mrs. Bennet, then addressing Bingley. "My dear, dear Mr. Bingley, we have missed you so much since your departure from Netherfield, I declare! It has been so desolate without you, Jane. It is so cruel that I be separated so from my daughters."
"That is a price you must pay mama," smiled Elizabeth. "for having your daughters married."
Mrs. Bennet sighed and then addressed Bingley again, asking him of the game in their new estate. Bingley bore her attack with all his fortitude, ever polite and agreeable. Elizabeth commiserated with her sister and went in quest of Georgiana, who was engaged in conversation with Kitty and Mary. A rescue was in order, and hence, Elizabeth approached them.
"Oh, Lizzy, you look so different," exclaimed Kitty.
"Do I, really? How so?"
"I cannot place my finger upon it, but there is a...glow about you," Kitty answered. "You just seem changed, is all."
Elizabeth chatted with her sisters and Georgiana for a little longer and decided to seek her father, who, she assumed, was in his library. Attempting to escape all the bustle, she retreated into the library and as per her assumptions, found her father. He was apparently employed in reading a book when Elizabeth's arrival caused him to look up and smile. Casting his book away, Mr. Bennet motioned Elizabeth to sit down and said,
"Lizzy! I was wondering when you would come back here."
"I would rather be here anytime, papa."
"I know, dear, so would I," he paused thoughtfully. "I understand Mr. Darcy is not with us here...?"
"No, he is not."
"I see. Are you happy, Elizabeth?"
"More than I could have ever imagined."
"It has been lonely without you, Lizzy," Mr. Bennet said.
"I have missed you, as well, papa. I would hope that you come and visit us at Pemberley. We would be honored to have you with us."
"I shall give it some thought, Lizzy."
The announcement of dinner interrupted the conversation and they proceeded to the dining room. The ceaseless conversation accompanied Mrs. Bennet's loud shrills imparted an interesting background for the meal, which concluded without the occurrence of any excessively embarrassing situation. Elizabeth retired to her room soon after, glad to have escaped. She had become accustomed to tranquil evenings at Pemberley with little disturbance and needed the support of her husband to effectively handle the situation. By this time tomorrow, she would be reunited with him and that thought succeeded in lifting her spirits and allowing her to fall into deep slumber.
The morrow was Christmas Eve and chief of the day was spent in preparing for a grand gathering at Longbourn for which many families were invited. Elizabeth busied herself in aiding the preparation so as not to ponder on the whereabouts of a certain person. The evening came and there was still no sign of him. Elizabeth contemplated all the possible reasons of his delay, but rejected them all, dissatisfied. The first guests began to arrive and Elizabeth was obliged to fulfill her role as a hostess, which was fortunate since it helped to disengage her mind from her husband.
"Lady Lucas, Sir Lucas. It is so good to see you again," she greeted them, looking for Charlotte. "Is Mrs. Collins not here?"
"Yes, she is," replied Lady Lucas and before the utterance of those words, Charlotte herself appeared.
The exchange of conversation that followed was not contrived on Elizabeth's part for she had truly missed her friend. The easy camaraderie of their youth returned as they inquired after the married experiences of the other. The atmosphere was friendly and light, that is, until the arrival of Mr. Collins.
"My dear Cousin Elizabeth. I am overjoyed to see you again, but I find myself unable to locate your honored husband."
"He has not arrived yet," Elizabeth explained for the thousandth time. Where is he? He promised me he'd come.... With every passing moment, Elizabeth's misgivings increased. Her certainty that Darcy would arrive did not shake, but her belief that he'd come before Christmas did waver. Elizabeth only half-listened to Mr. Collins subsequent speech as she fixed her eyes on the door. The arrival of every new guest tugged at her heart and ultimately disappointed her. Elizabeth excused herself to converse with her aunt Gardiner, who managed to lift her spirits at all times.
"Do not worry, Lizzy, he will be here soon."
"But it is getting so dark," said Elizabeth. "I cannot help but wonder where he is..."
"I am certain he is on his way here," assured Mrs. Gardiner.
"I hope so."
"So, how do you find married life, Lizzy?"
"It is all that I expected and so much more. I cannot explain it, aunt. It is as if my life has changed and that my existence prior to having met him does not matter anymore. I have never felt so completely selfless before. I have not been separated from him since our wedding day and so, this is especially difficult for me."
"I understand, Lizzy," said the older woman. "When I was first separated from your uncle for two days, I was so sad that I returned home before I was due. I know what it is about."
Elizabeth sighed, "I just wish he would come."
Mary, who overheard chief of the conversation, said, "Patience is a virtue that bespeaks good of us all for it the fruit earned appears twice as sweet, if one has waited upon it with patience. It would be very wise to be careful of one's wishes and patiently await judgement."
"Thank you, Mary," Mrs. Gardiner attempted to smile.
Elizabeth, however, took no part of Mary's advice and became impatient. The music commenced and couples began to form to dance. Elizabeth found an empty chair and occupied it. Observing all the happy couples depressed her even further. Any reasonable explanation of Darcy's tardy escaped her. Her concern outweighed her disappointment. He had promised to be with her for Christmas and in all appearances, those assurances would go to naught. The evening would come to a close without his presence. Elizabeth's melancholy increased triple fold at that notion and she was deep in consideration of it when Georgiana appeared next to her.
"I know that he will be here soon, Elizabeth."
"He promised you and he never lies."
"I hope he does come, if only to relieve me," said Elizabeth.
Dinner was announced and Darcy had yet not appeared. Elizabeth's uneasiness increased and she communicated her fears to Jane, who was certain that Darcy was detained by business, an explanation that did not satisfy Elizabeth in the least degree. She fretted and she feared, uneasy and concerned. After dinner, the dancing recommenced and Elizabeth, unable to bear it any longer, sought refuge in the adjoining room. The strains of music floated to her ears, but not in a festive mood, Elizabeth sought to reconcile herself to Darcy's continued absence. Where is he? All of a sudden the familiar tunes of Mr. Beveridge's Maggot, the song that had brought them together at Netherfield, reached Elizabeth's ears. She closed her eyes and droplets of tears escaped her eyes.
"I believe this dance is mine...?" asked a deep, unmistakable voice.
Elizabeth's eyes flew open. "Fitzwilliam?" It was, indeed, him. Elizabeth could hardly believe her eyes, her senses overwhelming her. She flew into his open arms, buried her head in his shoulders and cried. He tightly encircled her waist and did not attempt to stop her. Once her sobs reduced to sniffs, she looked up and said, "I shall never let you leave me again."
"I shall not leave you again," he assured her.
"I did not think you would come..."
"I had given you my word, Elizabeth. Nothing could stop me."
"You alarmed me," she said reproachfully, resting her head against him, relatively calm, feeling safe and secure.
"I am sorry, I was detained in town. I am sorry."
"You are forgiven, sir, but take care that the offence is never repeated."
"And you shall be accompanied by your wife wherever you go."
"Always," he smiled.
"Very good, sir, you learn quickly."
"I have the best of teachers," smiled Darcy, holding Elizabeth and pulling her closer. "I have just discovered something of the utmost importance."
"And that would be...?"
"We are standing under mistletoe."
Elizabeth looked up and there it was, mistletoe. A mischievous smile spread across her face. She looked at her husband as the same thought crossed his mind. He leaned forward and whispered into her ears, "Merry Christmas, my dear," before kissing her soundly.
They were engaged in the same activity when they were happened upon by a scandalized Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet. The Bennets quickly retreated as Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, "Mr. Bennet, did you see that?!
Merry Christmas to you all!