Today I bring you part two of the three-part Christmas story I am writing exclusively for Austen Authors blog readers. The first part is here, in case you missed it, and the third part will be in my next Austen Authors post, which is scheduled for Monday, January 3, 2022.
This has been a bit of an exercise for me in writing a complete short story that contains an introduction, a crisis, and a resolution. I’m not sure how I’m doing, so feel free to leave me a comment if you think I’m on the right track.
I hope you like it!
“I do, and I thank you.” He tilted his head as the musicians began to play a tune. “I believe they are beginning.” He extended his elbow to her. “Shall we?”
Elizabeth smiled and tucked her hand in the bend of his arm. “We shall.”
Darcy’s heart skipped a beat when her fingers touched his arm, even through his clothing and the gloves on both their hands. He glanced down at her as he led her to the center of the room, where dancers were forming two lines. She barely reached his shoulder. She is so tiny, he thought, looking forward again. He took Elizabeth to stand beside the viscountess, then assumed his place beside his cousin. His attention was drawn away from his partner when Tansley leaned over to whisper to him.
“I see Mother introduced you to Miss Bennet. What do you think of her?”
“I have only just met her, but I admit to being intrigued. She is very pretty, and seems quite amiable.” Darcy’s eyes kept darting back to Elizabeth as he conversed with the viscount.
Tansley nodded. “Mother likes her very much. She praises Miss Bennet, her sister, and her aunt every time she meets with her charity board.”
Darcy could do no more than nod in reply, because his aunt called the first dance, and the movements had begun. He met his partner in the middle, stepping past her on one side, stepping back, and then repeating the action again on her other side. His mind was full of her, her sparkling eyes, happy demeanor, and soft, lilac scent.
“Come, Mr. Darcy. We must have some conversation. What is your opinion of the dance?” Elizabeth smiled at him as they took each other’s hands to promenade down the line.
Darcy blushed. “I think the dance is a fine one, because it allows for conversation, unlike a jig, which requires too much jumping about to allow speech.” He glanced down, happy to see his partner smirking. “I apologize for being so slow to start.”
Elizabeth lowered her head to hide a laugh. “You are forgiven.” She peeked up at him. “This is a very fine room.” She waved her free hand around, indicating the décor. “I was telling my aunt how much I like it.”
“It is nicely decorated, if a bit dated.”
“Is your home similar?” Elizabeth moved back to her side of the line, and Darcy his.
“Only in a general way.” Darcy glanced around the room. “My mother decorated my homes when I was a child. Her taste even then was not as ornate as my aunt’s. Both Darcy House and Pemberley are elegant but understated. We have no armor and our furnishings were chosen more for comfort than for their abilities to impress.”
Elizabeth nodded. “My home is also comfortable. Mama decorated when she became mistress twenty years ago and chose very nice things, but five daughters can be hard on a house. She would love to redo the whole place but Papa is not inclined to allow it.” She laughed.
Darcy smiled. I love to hear that sound, he thought. To Elizabeth, he said, “I plan to wait and allow my wife to make changes. I see no point in doing it myself when I may marry a lady who wishes to imprint her own personality and tastes on the place.” He paused. “You are one of five daughters?”
Elizabeth’s chin lifted. “I am. I am the second; there is one sister older than I and three younger.”
“The second daughter; I wonder if that is anything like being a second son?” Darcy tilted his head as he watched her, hoping his feeble attempt at a joke would be met with favor.
With a shake of her head, Elizabeth looked at her feet. She smiled widely. Schooling her features, she looked up once more. “I do not know, except that the eldest sister is more favored.”
Darcy laughed. “Tell me about yourself. I wish to know everything.”
“Only if you will do the same.”
Their turn came once again, and the pair met in the middle, stepping past each other and back.
“What shall I tell you first? What would you most like to know?” Darcy felt a thrill go through him. He had never enjoyed a dance more. As a matter of fact, he had never enjoyed a dance half as much as he was this one.
The rest of the set was spent so deep in conversation with Elizabeth that it was over before Darcy realized it. He was startled and disappointed when the music stopped and the dancers applauded. He offered his arm to his partner once again, escorting her back to her aunt and uncle. He bowed to her, then to her aunt.
“I believe this is my dance, Mrs. Gardiner?”
“It is.” Mrs. Gardiner let go of her husband’s arm and took Darcy’s. He glanced back at Elizabeth as he escorted the other lady to the dance floor.
“If you do not mind, Lizzy, I would like to sit this one out.” Mr. Gardiner gestured toward the table along the wall, where footmen were ladling up drinks. “I am very thirsty, and Lady Matlock always serves an excellent punch. Shall we go get some?”
“I do not mind at all. I would love some punch.” Elizabeth hooked her hand under her uncle’s elbow.
“What did you think of Mr. Darcy? You danced very well together. You seemed to enjoy his conversation.” Mr. Gardiner led his niece around a group of ladies conversing together.
“I liked him very much. We share many interests. He loves books as much as I do.” Elizabeth smiled as her uncle stopped to talk to someone he knew.
When his conversation finished, Gardiner turned his attention back to his niece. “That is excellent news. Your aunt was hoping you would get along with the countess and her family.” He requested two cups from the footman pouring the drinks and handed one to Elizabeth. They moved a few feet away and remained there, sipping their punch and speaking to those who addressed them.
“Good evening, Mr. Gardiner.” An older lady in an elegant gown stopped in front of Elizabeth’s uncle, accompanied by a younger lady who looked very much like her.
Mr. Gardiner bowed. “Lady Catherine, how good to see you. I believe Lady Matlock told my wife you were unable to attend.”
Lady Catherine looked down her nose. “We did not originally plan to, but my daughter could not be easy until she had seen her betrothed. It has been months since they last spent time together.” She finally looked at Elizabeth. “Who have we here?”
“This is my niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Lizzy, this is Lord Matlock’s sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”
Elizabeth curtseyed. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” She smiled.
“Yes.” Lady Catherine indicated the girl standing next to her. “This is my daughter, Anne.”
Anne curtseyed clumsily. It was clear she was unused to such exercise. “I am pleased to meet you, Miss Bennet. Did you enjoy your set with my betrothed? Is he not a wonderful dancer?”
To be continued ….