After Elizabeth's refusal, Darcy retreats to Pemberley. Georgiana takes matters into her own hands, inviting Elizabeth and the newly-married Bingleys for Christmas.
Elizabeth tried to relax as the carriage left Netherfield. Something did not seem right about this Christmas invitation to Pemberley but she couldn’t voice her concerns aloud to Jane and Charles. As newlyweds, they viewed the entire world through their happy eyes and were all too eager to accept what they viewed as an olive branch from Mr. Darcy. “Unexpected business” had kept Mr. Darcy from serving as Bingley’s best man at their October wedding.
Elizabeth sighed softly and looked across the carriage at Jane and Charles. “Which is the worse fate,” she thought, “to be home with Mama or facing a ride to Pemberley with two people who have no further need for a chaperone?” As embarrassed as Elizabeth was to see Charles entwine his fingers in the ringlets of Jane’s hair that escaped along the nape of her neck, she decided she was better off trapped in a carriage with two love birds than at home with Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth felt her cheeks flush as she thought of her sister and Charles as man and wife. Jane’s detailed description of married life was a far cry from their mother’s vague lecture about wifely duties and it had only served to reinforce Elizabeth’s desire to marry for love.
Elizabeth was surprised when Jane told her the Christmas invitation to Pemberley had come from Miss Darcy. She couldn’t fathom the shy girl being comfortable in her role as hostess, particularly at Christmas. More likely, Elizabeth surmised, Mr. Darcy—suffering from an acute case of hindsight and hoping to make amends to Charles in person—was really behind the invitation.
Mr. Darcy. As an image of Darcy filled her mind, Elizabeth rued her decision. Oh, why didn’t I stay at homes with Mama’s nerves? What was I thinking when I accepted this invitation?” As the mileposts slipped past, Elizabeth faced the reality she had ignored for months: she would soon be face-to-face with Darcy for the first time since she refused his proposal at Hunsford last Easter.
Not that she hadn’t had a close call in July. A mere twenty-four hours separated her and Darcy then. Her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner had been informed the master of Pemberley was away, allowing Elizabeth to consent to a visit without the prospect of an uncomfortable reunion. Her tour of the house and gardens was filled with the praises of Darcy as a loving brother and considerate master. The tour had ended in the gallery as Elizabeth stood beneath the portrait of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Even in a painting, the familiar brown eyes seemed capable of stopping her in her tracks and holding her gaze. Elizabeth stood for the longest time looking up at Darcy’s image; unable to comprehend why he evoked such powerful emotions within her. Standing there, beneath his image, Elizabeth could finally sort through the words of Darcy’s marriage proposal. This time, instead of hearing his brusque assessment of her family’s inferior connections reverberate through her mind, she could only bask in the memory of Darcy’s deep voice telling her how much he admired and loved her.
The carriage lurched as one wheel rode over a small pothole in the frozen road, jolting Elizabeth from her remembrance. With a start, she realized Jane was talking to her.
“Elizabeth. Would you like something to eat from the basket? I’m a bit hungry for something sweet.”
Elizabeth smiled gratefully and took the small biscuit from her sister’s hand. “These are good, Jane. They put me in the mood of the season.”
Elizabeth turned her face toward the small carriage window and away from Jane, her thoughts returning to Darcy. How am I to spend a month in his house? If he couldn’t stand to be with me for one afternoon at Jane’s wedding, he certainly doesn’t want me at his home for an extended visit.
Brushing the crumbs from her lap with a gloved hand, she promised herself that after this visit and with the start of a New Year, she would banish thoughts of Mr. Darcy from her mind. Elizabeth sighed again, this time in frustration. She knew that she could no sooner keep thoughts of Darcy from entering her mind than she could keep the sun from rising in the East. She could not let go, particularly given the manner of their last meeting. Elizabeth’s mind ran through her inventory of Darcy’s character and—as always—found that so much of his personality seemed to be under careful regulation. She tried to remember if she had ever seen Darcy laugh. Her mind ran through all of their times together and could not latch on to a single instance when Darcy laughed. She had a glimpse of his wit when he boldly claimed to be admiring her and Miss Bingley’s figures back at Netherfield. But sadly, that playfulness never resurfaced. Just as well, she thought, for I could never love a man lacking a sense of humor.
As the carriage pulled into Pemberley’s long driveway, Elizabeth squared her shoulders, bracing for the inevitable meeting. She knew that Bingley was nervous too. His usual talkative personality had grown quiet as they neared Derbyshire.
Elizabeth thought back to Darcy’s apology to Bingley over his interference with Jane. Elizabeth knew enough of Bingley’s character to know that he would have preferred the message to be conveyed in person rather than delivered by post. She rolled her eyes at the thought of Darcy’s frequent use of letters. Is this man incapable of expressing remorse in person?
The letter Darcy gave her at Rosings altered Elizabeth’s views of him, particularly those surrounding his dealings with Mr. Wickham. After returning home, Elizabeth used her newly gleaned knowledge of Wickham’s true character to prevent her sister Lydia from traveling to Brighton. She made her case to her father and when he appeared to waiver under Lydia’s prolonged wailing, brought in Jane to echo her story. Mr. Bennet found himself having to choose between Lydia’s disappointment or facing a summer of Elizabeth’s and Jane’s combined disapproval. He chose the first.
Now, as Bingley helped her from the carriage, Elizabeth was surprised to see only Miss Darcy greeting them. “Is Mr. Darcy home?”she asked.
Georgiana quickly looked at her feet. When she returned her gaze to Elizabeth she had regained her composure and said politely, “He is away on business. We expect him home for Christmas.”
Elizabeth had wanted to get her apology for her behavior at Hunsford out of the way as soon as possible. Where could he have gone on December 23?
Georgiana walked behind the guests and gritted her teeth. She had not expected to have to explain her brother’s absence until dinner. She realized that she had underestimated Elizabeth’s inquisitive manner. Perhaps that was one of the qualities that had entranced her brother. Making sure her houseguests were headed upstairs with Mrs. Reynolds, Georgiana paused in the hallway before entering her brother’s study. It appeared as it always did: neat stacks of papers, ledger books and a few novels sat on the desk. A fire blazed in the hearth. She took a quick mental inventory: The globe and maps, the portrait of their father, Fitzwilliam’s favorite collectibles from his travels and business dealings: all were in place. The only thing missing was her brother.
Georgiana had matured from flighty girl to young woman in the past year. Though only 16, she had drawn her own conclusions as to why she was so willing to elope with Wickham. One was that his easy-going manner was so in contrast to the restrained formality of her brother. He was shy and she knew, although he never talked of his loss, that he was terribly hurt when their mother died. Mrs. Darcy had been the light of the house, a fun-loving complement to their father’s stern demeanor. Mrs. Darcy had thrown herself into holidays and birthdays. And then she was gone, leaving behind a grieving widower, a shattered 12-year-old boy and a toddler. All in all, Georgiana concluded, it set the stage for Fitzwilliam to carefully guard his emotions for fear of being hurt yet again.
After witnessing her brother’s black mood last spring she had tried to pry an explanation from Fitzwilliam. Darcy dismissed her initial question out of hand but when she repeated her inquiry, several times to exact, he reluctantly broached the matter. Georgiana could sense Darcy’s discomfort with the conversation for he offered no particulars. He simply stated he had mistakenly proposed marriage to a woman he had met while in Hertfordshire and had been refused. It was not until a few weeks later that Georgiana encountered her brother in his study—inebriated and loquacious—and muttering the name Elizabeth Bennett. Georgiana was shocked to meet Elizabeth when she appeared at Pemberley unannounced with her aunt and uncle. Not sure what type of woman would have captivated her brother and then refused his hand in marriage, she had found Elizabeth refreshing and possessing a genuinely warm manner. Georgiana was smart enough not to mention her brother’s depressed mood but instead used the opportunity of Elizabeth’s visit to highlight his good qualities.
Georgiana had hoped her brother would renew his acquaintance with Elizabeth at Bingley’s wedding. When he refused to attend, Georgiana knew she had to make the next move. Summoning her courage, she wrote to Netherfield and invited the Bingley’s and Elizabeth for Christmas. After receiving their affirmative response, she waited until the day before their arrival to inform her brother of her actions, thinking the short time frame would prevent him from traveling to London.
Now, a day later, standing in his study, she winced as she recalled his words--“How dare you invite guests to my home without my consent!” If Fitzwilliam expected Georgiana to run from the room, he did not show any surprise when she stood her ground.
“I live at Pemberley too!” she cried, stamping her foot for added emphasis. “And I choose to invite who I wish for Christmas. Not all of us want to sit alone on this holiday. Perhaps the spirit of the season will allow you to make amends to Mr. Bingley. And I thought you might enjoy the other company.”
If Georgiana thought her brother’s initial outburst was frightening; she stood in shock as his icy glare was directed at her. The only thing that betrayed his fury was his angry twisting of his signet ring.
“For God’s sake, Fitzwilliam. Do you think you are the only person to be crossed in love? Your childish attempt to avoid Elizabeth only hurt Bingley. You can’t hide every time you get hurt.”
Fitzwilliam stared at his sister as though he had never seen her before. After a long interval, he replied in a cold voice. “Well, Georgiana. Seeing that you have chosen your guests for Christmas, you will need to entertain them. I will not be here.”
With that, he walked around his desk, pausing only slightly to grab the crystal brandy decanter from his credenza and headed upstairs.
Georgiana wiped the tears from her eyes. Fitzwilliam had always been moody and his darkness was always apparent at Christmas. Perhaps another night with a bottle of brandy would improve his attitude. Georgiana was well versed with the effects of alcohol on men, thanks to the frequent visits of Mr. Hurst, her uncle and her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Her brother had been an infrequent drinker but since Easter he had taken up a regular acquaintance with spirits, much to Georgiana’s consternation.
As she expected, Fitzwilliam did not appear at the breakfast table the next morning. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon as she practiced the pianoforte did Mrs. Reynolds inquire about Darcy. “Did your brother inform you of his travel plans?”
Surprised, Georgiana stood up from the piano bench. Surely Fitzwilliam was jesting when he told her he would leave Pemberley for Christmas. When had he left—and where did he go?
“Did he pack for a lengthy journey?” she asked.
“His clothing and personal articles are untouched.”
Knowing how quickly gossip would spread through the servants’ quarters, Georgiana thought quickly. “Perhaps Mr. Darcy is simply in need of some fresh air and plans to supply us with partridge for Christmas dinner.” Seeing the doubt in Mrs. Reynolds face, she added, “For now, we will simply say he was called away on business. Thank you.”
A few hours later, Georgiana was greeting Elizabeth and the newly married Bingley’s, still without the vaguest idea where her brother could be.
As for Darcy’s whereabouts, he had retreated to his room following his argument with Georgiana, sipping brandy and staring into the fire from his customary spot. Cursing, he tossed the glass into the flames and watched the fire leap at the addition of alcohol. Knowing that if he remained in his chair before the fire, his thoughts would inevitably turn to Elizabeth’s refusal of his offer of marriage, he decided he would get some fresh air.
Having donned his nightclothes earlier, he dressed simply for his walk. He quickly changed into worn breeches and a simple shirt he kept for repairs on his estate. He decided to exit the house via the rear stairs. Darcy had always sought solitude among the paths and woods of Pemberley and even as a small child learned to leave his room unnoticed. His tall body descended the stairs quickly but silently, ignoring the places where the creaky wood would betray his movements. As he entered the cloakroom behind the kitchen, he realized he had left his overcoat in his room. Not wanting to return upstairs, Darcy took a well-worn servant’s coat from a hook near the back entrance, pulling it on as he strode from the house. “It’s not as though anyone will see me in it,” he thought, feeling the holes inside the tattered pockets.
Darcy walked aimlessly, his mind churning with thoughts of Elizabeth. He could still hear her reproofs ringing inside his head as she refused his offer of marriage. A small voice inside his head told him that he was guilty of many of the charges she laid out before him, but he had yet to admit to his own failings. Darcy was stubborn. He was unaccustomed to not getting something he wanted. And he had wanted Elizabeth.
The thought of any woman refusing his offer of marriage would have seemed ludicrous until Elizabeth had done just that. Darcy realized he had only himself to blame for his lack of perspective. After all, he had watched year after year as a parade of young women attempted to entrance him and gain the title of the Mistress of Pemberley. He knew that these women wanted the trappings of his lifestyle but cared little for the actual man. Darcy grimaced at the ultimate irony: after ruining the marital dreams of countless debutantes, he found himself on the other side of the equation.
Following his letter to Elizabeth at Rosings, Darcy had written a lengthy letter to Bingley, apologizing for his misguided interference with Jane. With his duty to Bingley complete, he retreated to Pemberley and took up two new companions: brandy and port. Darcy’s newfound friends suited him perfectly for, like him, they were loath to chat, hated formal dances and liked nothing better than a quiet evening at home. Best of all, his new friends were able to keep further introspection into his faults at a comfortable distance. Darcy found that when sitting in his den under a lingering haze of brandy, it was easy to be angry with Elizabeth for refusing him,.
Darcy’s thoughts were pierced by a baritone voice. Looking around, he realized he was outside Pemberley’s small chapel and was surprised to see the soft glow of candles inside at this late hour. His feet were rooted in place as the words drifted across the cold English night.
Entranced by the song, Darcy entered the chapel. Inside were an unfamiliar rector and an organist—also a stranger. Dressed in his simple clothing, Darcy knew he would not be recognized as the estate’s master. He sought a pew near by back and sat, bowing his head. The singer had momentarily stopped as Darcy entered but quickly resumed, beginning the chorus for the first time.
The words drilled into Darcy’s soul as of they were a commandment from God. He dropped to his knees and folded his hands in prayer. Words poured out of his mind as the rector’s strong voice filled the small church.
“Oh God. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.”
Darcy continued his soul searching with words pouring from his heart to God’s ear.
“Unfortunately as an only son and for many years an only child, I was spoiled by my parents, who though good themselves, allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared to my own. For this and all my faults, I am heartily sorry.”
Darcy was a man who used his Common Book of Prayer as a means of keeping his distance from God. But as the third verse of the new Christmas hymn washed over him, Darcy’s careful emotional façade began to crumble. Despite his willpower, a single tear escaped from his tightly shut eyes. As he felt the wetness on his face, he realized the depth of his love for Elizabeth—for he had not cried at the death of either of his parents.
Darcy was jolted from his reverie by a hand on his shoulder. Looking up, he saw the clergyman.
“Are you well?” the rector asked Darcy.
“Yes, er…No. The song—I have never heard it before. It is truly lovely.”
“It’s a new song from France. But I’m more concerned with you. Again, I ask, are you well? The rector paused and took in Darcy’s worn topcoat. “If needed, I could offer some suggestions for better relations with either your employer or your wife. This can be a trying time of year.”
“No, I’m not married.” Darcy paused and took a deep breathe before continuing. “I have made some mistakes in my life and I have just realized how selfish I have been. I blamed God for taking my Mother from me at a young age. I blamed…I blamed a lot of people who were without fault. My pride and prejudice has damaged a good friendship and has ruined… Darcy’s voice grew hoarse as he struggled to finish. “And has ruined my chances for marriage with the woman I love.”
“Perchance the song offers more consolation than myself: A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
“You are telling me that tomorrow is a new day and a new chance.”
“Yes. It is up to you to make the most of each day. You can continue to blame God for the losses in your life or you can thank Him for the goodness and riches you have received through him.”
As he left, he pondered this deceptively simple advice. He was not yet ready to face Georgiana. He remembered that a tenant cottage had just been vacated. Thinking the cottage would give him the privacy he desired, he set out, the full moon guiding his route.
Georgiana surprised even herself with her conversation skills during her first dinner with her guests. She kept both Jane and Elizabeth chatting and did not neglect Bingley, as he was the only man at the table. If her guests wondered at Mr. Darcy’s absence, no one spoke of it aloud. Following dinner, Elizabeth and Georgiana played a duet on the pianoforte. The Bingley’s excused themselves a short time later, leaving Elizabeth alone with Georgiana.
“Did your brother’s business arise suddenly or was it planned?” Elizabeth asked. Having resigned herself to apologizing to Darcy, she was feeling unsettled by his absence. When he did arrive, would he be proud and distant? Or would he welcome her with perfect manners, choosing to ignore all that had previously transpired between them?
“It was of a sudden nature,” Georgiana said. A shiver ran through her body and she reached across the settee and grasped Elizabeth’s hand. “I cannot masquerade any longer, Elizabeth. I know not where he is. He left—we had an argument last night and I have not seen him since. I expected him home by now. My inviting you and the Bingley’s for Christmas came as a shock to Fitzwilliam but I didn’t expect this reaction. To be honest, I am quite concerned. Elizabeth’s mind raced at what gentle Georgiana could have done to provoke Mr. Darcy. “Did Mr. Darcy not want guests for the holiday?” she inquired.
Georgiana sat without moving for the longest time then replied in a soft voice. “As you know, I never knew my mother. Fitzwilliam was 12 when she died and for some reason, he misses her dreadfully at Christmas. He tries to celebrate with me but, as I grow older, I see that he is only going through the motions of the holiday. We never have guests for Christmas and I’ve always longed for some at this time of year.
Elizabeth stood up and excused herself briefly. She returned a few moments later with a small tin. “Here Georgiana. I meant this for Christmas Day for you but we are only anticipating it by two days. My Uncle Gardiner obtained these from Germany and I think you will be in need of them tonight.”
Unsure of what she might find, Georgiana opened the tin, allowing the slight aroma of almond to escape.
“They are called Spritz,” Elizabeth said. “See, they stamp them with different designs.” Georgiana picked up the small butter cookie and admired the spaniel stamped into the cookie. Others in the tin were decorated with birds, flowers or trees.
“Let us ring for some tea and sit up and enjoy this delightful treat,” she told Elizabeth. “I have done enough worrying for today.” With that, the two women proceeded to eat their way through the tin, conversing easily about music, the grounds at Pemberley and even the silliness of which bonnet to wear for church on Christmas. Eventually, the long day caught up with Elizabeth and she stifled a yawn.
“How selfish of me to detain you from your rest,” Georgiana exclaimed. “It has been so long since I have talked someone other than Fitzwilliam. I lost track of time. When I thought my brother might marry, I so looked forward to…”
Elizabeth leaned forward to give Georgiana a hug, effectively silencing her sentence. “No matter what has passed between myself and your brother, we shall always be friends. Please do not be uncomfortable around me. Besides, then I would be left to finish these cookies all alone,” Elizabeth said, making Georgiana smile.
The next day, Elizabeth longed for some exercise to clear her mind. She was still unsure as to the exact reason for Darcy’s absence. Could he be so adamant about not wanting to see me that he would abandon his sister at Christmas? Hoping to still the thoughts that raced through her mind, Elizabeth pulled on a fur-lined bonnet, thick wool gloves and a heavy cape. She planned to walk the circumference of the pond, a several mile walk that she should easily accomplish before dusk.
There was a light dusting of snow on the ground. The whiteness and the lack of foliage compared to her visit in summer greatly altered the views of Pemberley. Setting a brisk pace, Elizabeth realized she would return to the house sooner than anticipated if she kept along the pond path. As she approached a side path, she quickly decided to take the route she had not walked with Georgiana last summer preferring to see a new vista. The snow crunched beneath her boots and her breath frosted in the air as she walked. It was cold but the sunshine and lack of wind made for a perfect winter’s day.
Elizabeth took in the sights around her: hawks floating on the air currents prevalent in the Derbyshire hillside and a rabbit hopping across her path as she rounded a corner. As she approached an outcropping, she left the path to obtain a better view of the valley below. Halfway down the hill, she spotted a small cottage. As she watched from her sheltered location, she saw a man open the door and head toward the adjacent woodpile. He paused in front of the logs as if in thought and absently pushed his hair back from his forehead. Then, he quickly picked up several logs and returned to the cottage.
In a shock of recognition, Elizabeth exclaimed to herself: “Mr. Darcy!”
No, it could not be, she thought. What could he be doing in a cottage? Mr. Darcy carrying his own firewood?
It was so highly improbable Elizabeth thought her eyes were playing tricks. Could it really be him? What was he doing here and why didn’t he even tell his sister? Elizabeth slowly walked away from the outcropping with thoughts of returning to the house and telling Georgiana. Then, she paused, remembering Georgiana’s recounting of their argument. Perhaps, I can inform him of Georgiana’s concern. Surely he would not be here if he knew how much it was worrying his sister.
Scarcely stopping to consider what she was doing, Elizabeth picked up her skirt in both hands and headed down the hill toward the cottage. It was only when she approached the front door did she realize the level of her forwardness. She paused, wondering if she should knock or simply enter.
The question was answered for her as the gentleman in question opened the door to the cottage.
“Miss Bennet!” Darcy exclaimed.
“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said as she looked down and curtsied.
“I was getting additional firewood,” he said, grasping at what to say.
Elizabeth froze, staring at the snowy ground. When she let her gaze drift upward at his face, she suppressed a gasp. Elizabeth had not seen Darcy since Easter. He appeared thinner and tired. His eyes were red and, she noted, blushing, he was unshaven. As for his clothing, Elizabeth could not recall ever seeing the haughty Darcy so attired….no waistcoat and cravat…just a simple shirt and breeches.
Pulling her eyes from his body, she struggled for something to say. “You didn’t come to Mr. Bingley’s wedding.”
“I had business…”
“And now you have business for Christmas I see,” she retorted. “Will your attorney be joining you presently? “-Is this a new negotiating tactic for masters of estates to collect their own firewood?”
Darcy remained silent, giving Elizabeth the opening to continue.
“Mr. Bingley—Charles and Jane—were hurt by your absence at their wedding.”
“I sincerely doubt my absence caused them any true harm. As someone once told me, I am sorry to have caused pain to any one. It has been most unconsciously done and I hope will be of a short duration.”
Elizabeth blanched as he flung her own words back at her, twisting their meaning.
“Charles was hurt—and it was a conscious act on your part to avoid his wedding.”
Darcy turned away from Elizabeth and walked inside the cottage. Without thinking, Elizabeth followed him inside.
“I too was hurt by your absence,” Elizabeth said, her voice barely audible.
Not knowing what else to say, she turned to leave but Darcy was too quick. He spun around and grasped her wrist, pulling her to him.
“What do you know of hurt?” he implored, shaking her shoulders.
When she didn’t look up, Darcy pulled her bonnet from the back of her head with one hand. For months, Darcy had been able to conjure up a variety of pleasing images of Elizabeth. One of his most favored was her standing before him with her hair down. Finding it hard to distinguish between the Elizabeth of his fantasies and the real woman standing before him, he raked his fingers through her hair, causing her hairpins to scatter on the cottage’s limestone floor. Darcy tightened his grip on her body and buried his face in her hair. Elizabeth felt his chest heave against her body and realized Darcy was trying to hold back tears.
Elizabeth had never stood so close to man—or had one cry in her presence. Not knowing how to comfort him, she let her arms drift up his back, unconsciously patting him as if he were a small child.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered. “Elizabeth, I am so lost without you.”
Unable to believe that he still had such deep feelings for her, she forced her thoughts to the woman she knew Darcy loved—Georgiana.
“Sir, you must return to Pemberley for Christmas. Georgiana is so worried.”
“I cannot,” he said, his voice muffled in her hair. “I cannot return to Pemberley. I had let myself believe that this Christmas…you and I would be….there… together.”
“But I am here for Christmas,’ Elizabeth said, missing his meaning.
He lifted his head from her curls and pushed her away. “For God’s sake, Elizabeth, I thought we would be married this Christmas. For the first time….since my mother died, I thought I could enjoy the holiday. I would be in the company of the woman I loved. I was so busy planning our life I never considered that you would…” Unable to finish his declaration, Darcy slowly sank to the floor, slumping in front the fire.
Elizabeth suppressed a wry smile at Darcy’s emotional confession. Well, she thought, I guess I was wrong about his being incapable of expressing regret in person. He seems quite adept at it.,
Elizabeth knelt beside him and rubbed his back. Without thinking, she pressed a soft kiss against his cheek, amazed at the roughness of his unshaven face.
Darcy placed one hand at the nape of her neck and lightly caressed her cheek with the other. “You are so soft and beautiful.” Darcy leaned forward, pulling Elizabeth to him and kissed her. His heart pounded in his chest, still unwilling to comprehend that Elizabeth was here with him at last. Sensing Elizabeth’s tension, he quickly released his lips from hers.
“Elizabeth…. I’m sorry,” he said in a ragged voice. “I was in …ahh…. Church… last night and I came to the realization that my temper is intolerable. Actually, I had quite an extensive index of faults to confess. I realize I was very rude to you during my proposal and….”
“Sshh. Come here, Fitzwilliam. For I owe you an apology as well. Neither of us is without fault.” Darcy’s heart leaped inside his chest as Elizabeth spoke his name. She pulled his head onto her shoulder and let her hand play with his curls. “Just let me hold you for awhile. I gather that you are in need of comfort.”
Darcy sighed and leaned against Elizabeth. He reveled in her nearness, the slight fragrance of lavender in her hair and the softness of her body pressed against his. Unknown to him, the closeness was having a similar effect on Elizabeth. Darcy smelled of wood smoke and sweat and she found the combination strangely appealing.
“What brought you to church outside of Sunday services?” Elizabeth asked softly, hoping to still the dangerous jolts of warmth coursing through her body by introducing religion into the conversation.
“I was drawn there by a song. Once inside, I realized how long it had been since I was repentant for my actions. Elizabeth, I have been a fool. I am heartily ashamed at my behavior, my proposal. My faults have been heavy indeed.”
Elizabeth’s mind raced at this confession. Darcy seemed content in the silence and for the longest time, neither spoke. Elizabeth broke the quiet first, asking particulars about the song, unable to fathom that a piece of music that could provoke this level of reflection in Darcy.
“It is a French Christmas song just translated into English. I cannot express what the song meant to me. It was as though it was intended only for me to hear at that exact time,” Darcy explained, his voice husky with emotion.
“I am ashamed to admit I fell on my knees and begged for forgiveness in front of God. I would have given up everything I have for a second chance with you. I love you, Elizabeth. I always have, since the very beginning. And now, scarcely more than 12 hours after I bared my soul before God, I find you here before me and I am still unable to treat you with the respect and honor you deserve.”
“Fitzwilliam, hush. You hold yourself to a standard that no one can meet. You cannot be perfect—no one can. You have so much responsibility for a man your age—your sister, your estate. I wonder who holds you when you are scared? Perhaps that is my responsibility.”
With those words, Darcy’s heart expanded inside his chest and the pain and anguish of the past months slipped away. He clung to Elizabeth and as she held him, she could feel the tension lessening in his shoulders and back. His breathing slowed and for a moment, she wondered if he had fallen asleep in her arms. Then, she heard an odd rumble against her chest.
Darcy jerked away, his face turning red. “I’m sorry. I haven’t eaten since yesterday. I’m afraid I departed Pemberley rather quickly in my anger.”
“That was your stomach, sir?” Elizabeth teased.
Elizabeth reached inside her cape and felt in the small pocket and then, in one impulsive motion, placed the cookie in his mouth.
“They are my favorite taste of Christmas. My uncle imports them from Germany.”
“Spritz.” Darcy answered without thinking.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, surprised at his answer.
“My mother had them baked for the holidays. She had brought the recipe back from a trip to the continent when she and my father were married. I haven’t had them since I was a child.”
“Then you must have more happy memories,” Elizabeth said, as she fed the remaining two cookies to Darcy. As he finished chewing, she leaned forward and brushed the crumbs from his lips with her fingers.
Darcy kissed Elizabeth’s fingers and then let his lips slide to the underside of her wrist. Hungry for her lips, he kissed her and this time, Elizabeth didn’t hesitate. She placed her hands on his shoulders and returned his kiss eagerly. All of Darcy’s pent-up longing poured into his kiss. He parted his lips and was shocked as Elizabeth met his action with her own intensity. The kiss blazed through their bodies. For the first time since meeting, both were suddenly aware that they were completely alone in the cottage.
Darcy untied her cloak with one hand and let it drop off her shoulders. He slowly lowered Elizabeth to the floor and gazed at her, his brown eyes meeting and holding her hazel ones. Elizabeth closed her eyes as Darcy overwhelmed her senses with his closeness. The stubble of his beard dragged across her cheek and his scent made her feel dizzy. He tasted of almonds from the cookies and she could feel the warmth of his body through his shirt. His kisses rained down on her lips, her neck and her cheek. Each new kiss built on the previous one, creating waves of desire within her body.
The impact of Darcy’s confession raced through her mind: he was willing to give up everything for a second chance with her. He still loved her. He wanted her and her alone to bring joy into his life and his home. Knowing she was forever bound to his man, she instinctively arched her body upward closer to Darcy.
Darcy returned his kisses to her lips, his tongue claiming her mouth as his. His hands caressed her breasts through the fabric of her dress, causing Elizabeth to murmur “Fitzwilliam…”
Shocked by his actions, Darcy rolled over, pulling Elizabeth with him until she was lying atop him. She was so light and soft—just as Darcy had envisioned. Her loose chestnut hair was spilling onto his shoulders. Darcy shuddered with longing, his dreams of the past months melding with the reality before him now. But even in his most vivid dreams, he had imagined Elizabeth and him joining as man and wife in the comfort of his bed; not lying together on the floor of a tenant cottage. Summoning all of his remaining self control, Darcy let his arms drop to his sides.
Elizabeth had yet to realize the intimacy of their position. She leaned down and slowly brushed her lips against his—her kisses were now as light as feathers. Elizabeth’s left hand slid inside the open collar of his shirt and she could feel his heart beat beneath her palm. With her other hand, she reached up and pushed his errant curl off his forehead. Unknowingly, her innocent shifting of weight caused her thumb to graze Darcy’s nipple and redistributed her weight across Darcy’s lower body. Darcy closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.
“Lizzy,” Darcy moaned softly. It was both a warning and an invitation.
Darcy’s voice penetrated the fog of desire that had descended on Elizabeth. Suddenly, she realized where they were headed and that she had a choice to make. Embarrassed for her lack of knowledge on how to proceed, Elizabeth resorted to humor.
“Perhaps it is time to return to Pemberley, Fitzwilliam. Unless you plan on keeping me here forever. It’s not as grand as Pemberley but it does have a certain charm. Perhaps we could ask Mr. Collins to install some shelving in the closets. And as for a bed, I assume there is one?
Elizabeth paused, letting Darcy mentally catch up with her.
“Fitzwilliam. I will not trifle with you. I love you and trust you implicitly. Tell me what you want.”
“Elizabeth—I want you in my bed but first I want you as my wife.”
“Very well. How do you propose to accomplish those tasks?”
“Please, Elizabeth. Don’t ever refer to my marrying you as a task. And as for you in my bed, I can think of dozens of more delightful phrases to describe…. what transpires there…than a task.”
“Chore, job,” Elizabeth teased.
To Elizabeth’s amazement, Darcy began to laugh. If Elizabeth thought him handsome when serious, she was quiet astounded at his good looks when his dimples appeared. Struggling to speak, Darcy could only manage to say: “duty” before he again was overcome with laughter. Gasping for breath and wiping tears from his eyes, he added, “Responsibility.”
“Goodness. I see that marriage to you will improve my vocabulary.”
“Elizabeth,’ Darcy whispered, leaning close to her ear as he spoke, “you have no idea.”
Elizabeth blushed at his double entendre but also admired his verbal dexterity.
“Come, Elizabeth. Let us return to Pemberley.”
They left the cottage silently, their entwined fingers bereft of gloves despite the cold.
Elizabeth entered Pemberley ahead of Darcy and went directly to her room to freshen up before dinner. She went to look for Jane only to find her and Charles already in the drawing room with Georgiana. Meeting Georgiana’s eyes across the table, she flashed a smile at the girl. Her hint proved unnecessary as Darcy strode into the room, reaching for Charles’ hand.
“Charles, Mrs. Bingley, Miss Bennett,” Darcy said, greeting everyone in the room.
“Charles, allow me to express my sincere apology for missing your wedding. I realize my absence caused you great pain and for that, I am sorry. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on your excellent choice in a wife. And, if I may be so bold, I will take this opportunity to kiss the still blushing bride.”
Elizabeth and Georgiana’s mouths dropped open as Darcy approached Jane and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“Now, who would like to go caroling? I think we should start a new Darcy tradition and carol at the tenants’ cottages on Christmas Eve. What do you say?”
A giggle burst out of Elizabeth’s mouth. “Darcy, you sound just like Bingley. What has come over you?”
“Does one need an excuse to be happy at Christmas? What type of ogre do you think I am?”
He held up his hand to silence Georgiana before she could respond.
“If caroling does not suit you, we could cut snowflakes from papers or sneak into the kitchen and steal a sweet.”
Georgiana stared at her brother as if he were a ghost. “What has come over you Fitzwilliam? You are positively giddy.”
“Elizabeth and I are getting married. I thought you would be happy.”
Striding across the room toward Elizabeth, he picked her up in his arms and twirled her around, as one might a small child. She shrieked, her feet leaving the floor and her curls bouncing as Darcy kept spinning.
“Fitzwilliam, put me down!”
Darcy complied and released his hold on Elizabeth but not before whispering in her ear. “Let me revel in my love for you, as it is Christmas. At any rate, I have months of moodiness to compensate for, my dearest Elizabeth. And you are here to guide me.”
Dinner was announced and the party began to walk to the dining room. Georgiana and Jane held back, brimming with curiosity over Elizabeth and Darcy’s announcement. “I met Darcy on a walk this afternoon,” Elizabeth offered, unwilling to discuss any details of her encounter with her sister and future sister-in-law.
“I find it highly unlikely that after months of separation, you two were able to renew your acquaintance so quickly,’ Jane said.
“Well, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black,” Elizabeth said, referring to her sister’s engagement news shortly after Bingley returned to Netherfield.
Jane blushed and stammered. “We…Charles and I….”
“See, Jane. It isn’t so hard to comprehend. And I did give Darcy some Spritz cookies. No one can resist them,” Elizabeth said, laughing.
Later that evening, the group set out for Midnight services at the Pemberley chapel. Georgiana entered the chapel first, followed by her brother escorting Elizabeth. The Bingley’s walked behind them but joined them in the traditional Darcy pew in the front row. Until he entered the church, Darcy had put aside memories of his most recent visit. As the now familiar voice welcomed the congregation to Christmas Eve service, Darcy looked up at the rector and made eye contact.
The rector smiled at Darcy and then glanced at Elizabeth, his smile returning to Darcy.
“I would like to take this opportunity to welcome guests to our service. The birth of our Lord presents a great opportunity for reflection. Now, please join me in our opening song.”
Darcy shyly met Elizabeth’s eyes and opened his prayer book, holding it out for them to share. Despite their encounter at the cottage that afternoon, standing shoulder to shoulder in church somehow felt more intimate and more exposed. The familiar Christmas readings soothed Darcy and Elizabeth, letting them adjust to this new step in their relationship. Then, the rector’s voice introduced the final song.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. I realize this is somewhat out of the ordinary but I have the privilege of presenting a new song for you this special night. It was written in France and translated into English by an Oxford classmate of mine. I hope you will enjoy it.”
Darcy shuddered, unsure if he would be able to remain composed during the entire song. As the first verse began, Darcy tightened his grip on his prayer book and shut his eyes. Elizabeth looked up at him from beneath the brim of her bonnet and recalled Darcy’s words from that afternoon, when he said the song had the power to make him bare his soul. Elizabeth knew at that moment that her role for the rest of her life was to reassure and comfort this man—even when he tried to shut out the world. She knew her love for Darcy would be returned a hundredfold by this private yet passionate man.
“Fitzwilliam…I am here. Hold my hand.”
With that soft request, Darcy exhaled and felt his shoulders relax and his head clear. Elizabeth tightened her grip on his fingers, squeezing his hand firmly in hers. Looking down at her small hand overlapping his, Darcy was aware of her strength and her love for him. The remainder of the song washed over them both, allowing them to feel the magnitude of Christ’s birth. As the song’s final note held in the air, Darcy bent down and kissed Elizabeth’s lips.
Copyright Stacy K. 2003