By now, I had hoped you would be reading my new holiday story, Christmas, Love and Mr. Darcy. Alas, the story is still very much a work in progress. Recall in December, I shared an excerpt from the story that features Mr. Darcy at Christmastime, dreaming of a future life with Elizabeth.
This month, I am happy to share another rather timely excerpt. It takes place on Twelfth Night.
First, here is a little background to enhance your reading pleasure. The Bingley sisters have invited Jane and Elizabeth as their guests to attend a Twelfth Night ball in town. Not that they extended the invitation of their own volition. Charles Bingley is behind the scheme, having learned from Mr. Darcy of the entire plan to keep Bingley and Jane apart.
I hope you will enjoy this diverting excerpt from Chapter 5.
Darcy had waited patiently for Miss Bingley to abandon the Bennet sisters’ sides before approaching them that evening. The last thing in the world he wanted was to be waylaid by Bingley’s sister. Indeed, he had gone out of his way to be evasive whenever she broached the question of his being there that evening, especially given his general suspicion that she intended for them to wear coordinated outfits. Tonight was the night he intended to begin his ardent pursuit of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Bingley lurking about would only hamper his efforts.
As for Bingley’s tardiness, it was owing to a case of nerves. This was to be his first-time seeing Miss Jane Bennet since they parted at the Netherfield ball—when he had promised her he would return from London in three days.
Indeed, Darcy had spent a good part of the evening with the young man pacing the floor earlier at Darcy House. Bingley’s guilt compounded his fears that Miss Bennet might suffer some ill-will toward him for not keeping his word.
How ironic the situation was for Darcy, who, after spending weeks trying to convince his friend of the young woman’s indifference, now found himself doing his best to persuade Bingley of the young woman’s kind-heartedness and generosity of spirit. Darcy argued it simply was not in the young lady’s nature to harbor such a grudge.
Finally reunited with the woman who, unknowingly, had stolen his own heart, Darcy’s interest in Bingley’s love life was the least of his concerns. Donned in an alluring, scarlet-colored gown, Miss Elizabeth Bennet was a sight to behold. Those bewitching dark eyes that haunted his dreams nearly stole his breath away. Those same eyes now stared at him questioningly.
“I pray you are having a pleasant evening, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Quite, Mr. Darcy.”
“I am pleased to hear that. Bingley found me in the billiards room and gave me the strongest hint of your being slightly bored. I am glad to know that is not the case, for no young lady ought to suffer such fate at a ball.”
Elizabeth did not know how to think about this version of Mr. Darcy standing next to her. If she did not know better, she would have sworn the haughty gentleman was flirting with her—that or making fun of her. What a peculiar way he had of confounding her at every turn.
It certainly did not go unnoticed that he was as handsome and noble as ever. While a great many of the gentleman sauntering about the room had heeded the occasion’s permission to toss good fashion sense to the wind in favor of assorted gay apparel, Mr. Darcy sported no such ornate adornment. He wore a stark black suit and a crisp white shirt and cravat. Elizabeth supposed the dark crimson, exquisitely tailored waistcoat he wore was Mr. Darcy’s nod to the occasion. He did, of course, have the requisite mask for the occasion. As they spoke, he held it to his face, effectively shielding his identity from the hordes of young ladies promenading about the assemblage.
“Heavens forbid,” Elizabeth replied, holding her own mask before her face.
“I recall your once citing the best way of encouraging affection is dancing. If your feelings on the subject have not changed, I must ask you, Miss Elizabeth, may I have this next dance?”
Elizabeth’s breath caught in her chest. Mr. Darcy really was flirting with her! His talk of encouraging affection aside, of course she wanted to dance. But what did he mean in saying such a thing and in so doing, reminding her of their rather antagonistic past?
Before she could think about it too much, she had relinquished her cup of punch to a passing server and she found herself accepting Mr. Darcy’s outstretched hand and following him onto the crowded ballroom floor.
They danced two sets and when the time came for them to part, Elizabeth started scanning the crowded room.
“Are you looking for someone, Miss Elizabeth?”
“I fear I have lost sight of my sister.” Elizabeth stood on her tiptoes to command a better view. “I believe I ought to go in search of her.”
“Wherever she is, she is no doubt in company with Bingley. You need not worry on that account, for I am sure she is safe with him. However, if you were to go off in search of Miss Bennet amid this crush, unaccompanied, I cannot vouch for my own peace of mind.”
“Far be it from me to cause you to suffer on my account,” Elizabeth replied.
“Then that settles it. You shall remain by my side until we happen upon your sister and my friend.”
“Supposing the two of us were something more than indifferent acquaintances, your proposal would be quite sound,” she said – never mind that she was drowning amid a sea of virtual strangers. Other than Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth knew no one other than those in her arrival party. She had hardly attended the earlier introductions to the Bingley sisters’ acquaintances. People of that ilk meant nothing to her.
Mr. Darcy clutched his hand to his chest. “You wound me, Miss Elizabeth, for I consider the two of us to be anything but indifferent toward each other.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Elizabeth said.
Mr. Darcy availed himself of two flutes of champagne from an attending waiter. Handing one to his companion, he inquired, “May I be frank with you, Miss Elizabeth?”
“By all means, sir,” she replied.
“I suppose it ought not to surprise me that you harbor some indifference toward me, Miss Elizabeth.”
“No—no, there is no point in denying it,” Mr. Darcy interrupted, half serious, half in jest. “It must certainly be true. It is not as though I went out of my way to earn everyone’s good opinion when I was in Hertfordshire. I might cite any number of reasons to explain myself – the most glaring being that I simply did not care to give myself the trouble.” Mr. Darcy finished his drink and placed his empty glass on the passing waiter’s tray.
“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit.
“As an only son and for many years an only child, I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves, allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing and to care for none beyond my own family circle.
“I have long thought meanly of all the rest of the world – of others’ sense and worth compared with my own.”
Standing straight and tall, with his free hand clasped behind his back, Mr. Darcy continued, “However, I have been taught and however I have been, I stand before you now, a man resolved on charting a different path in life. One bent on being a better man – one who is capable of pleasing a woman worthy of being pleased – a woman such as yourself.”
Mr. Darcy leaned ever so close to Elizabeth and spoke in a manner for her ears only. “And it is for that reason, I am professing my intention to woo you, Miss Elizabeth, to make you fall madly in love with me, and to make you my wife.”
Elizabeth, who was taking a sip of champagne, nearly choked on it. Her heart slammed against her chest. Her mouth fell open.
Never in the history of their acquaintance had Mr. Darcy spoken so eloquently and with such passion. How could she not be enthralled when he was speaking to her that way – looking at her that way? As engaged as Elizabeth was in such riveting intercourse with the gentleman, she had not paid attention to the fact that he had escorted her outside the house into the garden. With just as many party goers wondering about outside as inside, the flaunting of conventions seemed the order of the evening.
“Mr. Darcy, you are very bold? That said, I cannot deny that I am intrigued by your proposal, but how can I be certain it is not the mystique of Twelfth Night causing you to speak this way?”
Smiling a little, he stole a glance into the distance. “Ah, Twelfth Night! A mystical night of whimsy and pretense.” He gazed upon Elizabeth once more.
“Indeed,” she began, “a night where reckless behavior is more of a rule rather than the exception, or so I have been led to believe.” Once again, Elizabeth relied on her love of reading in making such a declaration. “Why should I believe a word you say?”
He had summoned the courage to place his heart on the line, and this was to be her response? How could he fault her? What was more, there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for him to take offense. Determined to press his suit, Mr. Darcy said, “Believe me when I say that you have bewitched me as no other woman has ever done before.”
Elizabeth’s heartbeat raced. Composing herself, she asked, “Am I to surmise there have been many such bewitching women in your life, sir?”
He shrugged. “I would not say that.”
“What would you say?” Elizabeth asked, smiling at the imposing gentleman standing before her. What a striking contrast to his behavior in Hertfordshire when she was sure he only ever looked at her to find fault.
“I say whether there has been one, two, or even a dozen, I am certain there will never be another woman other than you ever again – which means you absolutely must consider my suit and save me from being a lonely man for the rest of my days.”
Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy had been long in the making and was not likely to be assuaged by well-spoken, honey-coated words, even if she felt her heart melting inside with each passing minute. Refusing to regard Mr. Darcy’s assertions with a measure of seriousness such a discourse otherwise portended, Elizabeth deflected. “In the occasion’s spirit, what say you if I pretend to believe you?”
“I say that as long as we are pretending, we might as well behave as lovers do on an evening such as this,” said Mr. Darcy.
“Oh?” Elizabeth softly exclaimed. “Pray tell me, Mr. Darcy, how exactly should lovers behave on such an evening as this?” she asked, her voice a mixture of playfulness as well as intrigue.
“I could tell you,” he said, leaning close enough for his warm breath to caress her face. “However, I would much rather show you, Miss Elizabeth.”
He whispered in her ear, “Take my hand.” He seized her gloved hand in his, leaving her no choice but to heed his command. “Walk with me.”
Tucking her hand in the fold of his arm, Mr. Darcy led Elizabeth along a path perfectly suited to his purposes. Not that they were the only couple in the immediate vicinity of a mind for such assignations. It was Twelfth Night, after all. No one knew who anyone was with certainty. No one really cared.
“Where are you leading me, sir?”
He placed a finger to his lips and hushed her.
At length, they came upon a cozy little alcove afforded a clear view of the night-time sky. The stars shone as brightly as the eyes could see. Elizabeth recognized this place intuitively – yet another consequence of the constant improvement of her mind through extensive reading, romantic novels, especially in this particular instance.
Here she was with undoubtedly one of the most handsome gentlemen of her acquaintance. Even if he was not her favorite, she had no reason to suppose he might never be. Already, the ill will she felt toward him at the start of the evening was melting like icicle-ladened tree branches under the bright sun on a winter’s day. His ardent avowal of his intentions could only encourage.
Added to that, Mr. Darcy smelled as good as he looked. The essence of sandalwood and spices flooded her senses. What on earth had she ever done to earn this man’s good opinion? Whatever it was, surely it had been most unconsciously done. The very thought of being alone with Mr. Darcy in that instance made Elizabeth tremble. This he must have regarded as her being chilled. He was not entirely wrong.
“It’s cold,” she said.
Mr. Darcy removed his coat with haste and placed it about her shoulders. His hands resting on either lapel, he drew them together a little. “Does this feel better?”
Their gazes locked.
As if against her will, Elizabeth moistened her lower lip. Her heartbeat thumping in her chest drowned out every possible thought. She said nothing.
Mr. Darcy leaned closer. He whispered in her ear. “Would you repeat that, Miss Elizabeth? I seem to be hard of hearing.”
His warm breath caressed her skin. Before Elizabeth could fashion a response to his teasing, his soft lips brushed along her chin, the corner of her mouth, her lips. Her first kiss ever! If ever there was a perfect night for a first kiss, this assuredly was it. And oh, what a kiss it was, especially as it dawned on her that she was kissing him right back.
It looks like smooth sailing to the altar, does it not? What say you? Leave a comment below.
Comment below for a chance to win an ebook edition of A Love So Wonderful. It’s another engaging collection of several of my Pride and Prejudice variations. One winner will be chosen. The contest ends on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
Happy New Year!