Christmas at Rosings
19 December 2013. General
Curl up with Part One of this new Christmas short story by Juliet Archer and enjoy some time with the Darcys - and Lady Catherine!
One bright November morning, Mr Darcy asked his wife across the breakfast table whether she had made any plans for Christmas.
Elizabeth helped herself to a generous slice of cold ham before replying. ‘I have no plans at present, except that I would like to spend our first Christmas here at Pemberley.’
‘That is what I was afraid of,’ he said, folding up the letter he had been reading and manufacturing a deep sigh of regret.
The effect was immediate: his wife transferred her gaze from the ham to him, the beauty of her fine eyes enhanced by a flash of curiosity. She demonstrated admirable restraint, however, merely observing to no one in particular, ‘After six weeks of marriage, Mr Darcy is already fatigued with my demands. And who can blame him? It is so unreasonable of me to wish constantly for his company and the comfort of our own home.’ She added airily, ‘And I am told that the winters are harsh in these parts. I expect the very idea of being snowed in together for days on end is abhorrent to him.’
Darcy smiled at her across the table – a smile of such tenderness that the good matrons of Meryton would not have recognised the man they had once deemed proud and disagreeable. ‘As you see, Elizabeth, the thought of being closeted with you day and night fills me with dread. But I am fortunate to have an aunt who is ever attentive to my needs: I have received a letter from her this morning, inviting herself and my cousin Anne here for Christmas.’
Elizabeth’s fork clattered onto her plate. ‘Good heavens! Imagine if we were snowed in with them. In such circumstances, I doubt whether even Pemberley would be large enough to prevent murder and mayhem.’ She laughed, as though relishing the prospect. ‘What do you propose to deter her? A sudden return of the Plague to Derbyshire, preventing any travel across its boundaries during December?’
‘I fear it will take more than the Plague to deter Lady Catherine.’
‘Especially since she is an infestation in her own right. Never have I met with such dignified impertinence, misplaced arrogance, and ill-natured interference in the concerns of others.’
Her words stirred a series of recollections, causing him to grimace. ‘Those are all faults that, during the early days of our acquaintance, I believe you also attributed to me.’
Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled. ‘How so, my dearest Mr Darcy? I insist that you provide me with some evidence, for the crimes I have listed are heinous indeed.’
He fortified himself with a sip of coffee, and schooled his features into severity. ‘At our first meeting I refused to dance with you, describing you as “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”. That was a clear case of dignified impertinence, although you chose to find it excessively diverting.’
She nodded sagely. ‘True, I cannot question either your dignity or your impertinence on that occasion. Next?’
‘My initial proposal of marriage.’ He felt his face flush. ‘I believed that you were expecting my suit and would accept me without hesitation. My arrogance, however, proved to be sadly misplaced.’
‘But at least you learned from the experience, as did I. Your second proposal was suffused with humility, and more successful than you dared hope.’ Her voice faltered. ‘I often wonder what would have become of me if you had never renewed your offer.’ Then, evidently rallying her spirits, she arched her brows in mock reproof. ‘And the final accusation? When have you exercised ill-natured interference in the concerns of others?’
‘As you yourself observed at the time, I used my influence with Bingley to discourage him from any thoughts of marrying your sister –’
‘But you heeded my observation, and some time later used that same influence to persuade him to make her an offer.’ Another laugh. ‘You see, my love, it is a hopeless case. In the end your good nature prevailed and consequently I cannot allow your evidence. The only other example of interference that I know of – your involvement in arranging my youngest sister’s marriage – speaks still more eloquently of your goodness. I therefore refute your claim with all my heart.’
He shook his head. ‘I cannot allow you to rewrite the past, Elizabeth. Some of my words and actions I am still ashamed to remember, and always will be. However, I have a more pressing matter to deal with.’ He indicated the letter beside his plate. ‘I shall write and tell Lady Catherine that we have made other plans for Christmas.’
Elizabeth looked thoughtful. ‘I suppose from that she may infer that we shall be away from home for the festive period … But you have told me that she has friends in our neighbourhood, and they will surely keep her informed of our movements. If she hears that we have remained at Pemberley, I fear she will come and visit us anyway – ’
‘Exactly. So I shall suggest that we visit her instead.’
He watched his wife’s expression turn rapidly from calm reflection to unmitigated horror as she registered his meaning. ‘Go to Rosings for Christmas? Seek out the company of Lady Catherine – and, worse still, her faithful acolyte Mr Collins – in the season of peace and goodwill to all?’ Her brow furrowed. ‘My love, something must be ailing you.’
He sighed. ‘If I am suffering from anything, it is the pangs of family duty. My aunt and I last met some months ago, when she informed me of her interview with you at Longbourn, and inadvertently gave me hope that your feelings toward me had changed. No doubt only our subsequent wedding, which she declined to attend, made her realise that her protestations were in vain. As you know, since then I have had an exchange of correspondence with her and we have begun to repair the rift. Her intention to visit us must arise from a genuine wish to make amends in person.’
‘You are too generous, my dear. I suspect a completely different motive – she is anxious to visit Pemberley merely to see if, as she prophesied, its shades have been polluted through your association with my family. But let us defer that pleasure until the summer, when we can at least escape outside on a long walk each day.’
‘It is agreed, then – I will write to my aunt immediately.’ He added, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘And perhaps to Bingley, too. Netherfield Park is conveniently situated to break the journey home from Kent, is it not?’
Elizabeth jumped to her feet and rushed around the table to embrace him. ‘Stay with my most beloved sister and her darling husband? That is the best plan of all! Especially as we shall be close enough to Longbourn to give my father the comfort of seeing us as often as he likes.’ She hesitated, then went on, ‘And, you know, a visit to Rosings is not without its own delights. First, I shall enjoy seeing Charlotte Collins, despite her unfortunate choice of husband, and indulging in suitable raptures over her infant son. Next, since your dear sister Georgiana will be with us, I shall feel obliged to continue her education and instruct her in the dark arts of dealing with Lady Catherine. And last but not least, in view of our conversation just now, perhaps you and I can lay some ghosts.’ A pause. ‘The Collinses’ home was, after all, the scene of your first marriage proposal.’
‘And Rosings itself the scene of my subsequent despair.’ He was silent for a moment, before saying bleakly, ‘Throughout the long night after you had refused me, I never imagined that we would one day return there as man and wife.’ His voice brightened. ‘Now, however, you have made me the happiest of men. I believe I could bear Hell itself with you at my side!’ His hand enclosed hers and brought it to his lips.
When at last he released her, she darted an impish look at him. ‘Then let us spend the rest of today making our plans to enter the gates of Hell. But I implore you – do not prolong our stay. Three nights will be ample to remind Lady Catherine that you were a misguided fool to have married me.’
End of Part One
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