Welcome back to Austen Authors!
Often, when I’m in the middle of writing one story, ideas for others come to me.
Recently, after a six-week interval in which I was unable to write, I “picked up my pen” once again and added a couple thousand words to the Christmas story I’m writing, I suddenly thought, “I should have set this one in London!” Ideas began flying through my mind, but since I’m committed to the setting I have, I let them go and kept writing.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted my topic to be for this blog post and started getting stressed about it, because I have never missed a post in all the years (5 ½, I think) that I’ve been an Austen Author, and I did not want to start now. My Responsibility strength was kicking and screaming at the thought. LOL Anyway, it occurred to me at nearly the last possible minute to write a little story for you all. I’ve done it before, though that was more a vignette than a story.
This post will be part one of a three-part Christmas story. December’s post will be part two, and January’s post, which is the first Monday of the month (January 3rd), will be part three. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.
Darcy’s Christmas Ball, Part 1
Fitzwilliam Darcy reluctantly entered his aunt’s home. While he usually did not mind visiting Matlock House, this night he wished to be anywhere else. Tonight was his aunt’s annual Christmas charity ball, and Darcy disliked balls. A giggle coming from a debutante ahead of him in the receiving line was a stark reminder of his reasons for wishing to be elsewhere.
“Good evening, Nephew.” Lady Matlock held her cheek up for a kiss. “Smile! You look as though you were arriving at a funeral, instead of a ball.”
Darcy managed to refrain from rolling his eyes, instead giving his aunt a weak smile and a shake of his head. She knew full well why he was so reluctant to attend balls. He moved on to bow to his uncle, and then his cousin Tansley and the viscountess, and finally Colonel Fitzwilliam, the earl and countess’ younger son.
“I will find you when my duties here are completed,” the colonel said to Darcy.
Darcy nodded. “I plan to begin with a stroll around the edges of the room. I hope to avoid the notice of the debutantes and their mothers.”
Richard chuckled. “Good luck with that.”
Darcy rolled his eyes and moved into the drawing room, doing exactly what he told his cousin he would. He was halfway around the room when a warm, bubbling laugh caught his attention, stopping him in his tracks. His head turned toward the sound, his eyes scanning the guests as he tried to determine to whom the laugh belonged. He searched every face for what felt like forever but was probably only a minute or two, until the sound reached his ears again and he noticed a young lady near the fireplace.
She was a beauty, Darcy decided, with sparkling brown eyes and a happy countenance. She was standing beside a finely dressed woman who was, perhaps, a year or two older than he was, and a slightly older gentleman.
Deciding he wanted an introduction but not knowing any of the three, Darcy resolved to stand near her and see if he could overhear something in the conversation that would give him an indication of who she was, so he could then approach his aunt or uncle and request to be introduced. Quietly, he slipped nearer, greeting those who hailed him, but not stopping for conversation. Within a few minutes, he found a location within earshot of the young lady and settled in to listen as unobtrusively as possible.
“What do you think, Lizzy?”
“Oh, Aunt Maddie, it is beautiful! A little overstated, perhaps, but very fine.”
Darcy glanced around the room. He had never paid much attention to the decoration before, but he found he had to agree with the girl’s assessment. Lizzy, he thought. It must be short for Elizabeth. He forced his attention back to the conversation when the aunt spoke again.
“Lady Matlock will be delighted to hear it, I am certain, though she has told me she would like to redecorate. Her tastes have changed, as I understand it, and she feels it is too gaudy now.”
“It is still difficult to believe that my aunt and uncle are well-acquainted enough with an earl and countess to be invited to a ball at their home. However did you do it? Should I expect us to soon be exposed as imposters and thrown out on our ears?”
Darcy looked down and grinned at the tease. He snuck a peek in the group’s direction to see the girl tilting her head and raising her brows, and the older couple covering their laughs with their hands.
“You know very well that will not happen.” This time, the gentleman spoke. “Gardiner Imports plays a large part in Lady Matlock’s charity and we are quite proud of that involvement.”
Darcy’s eyes widened. He never would have guessed the man was a tradesman. He was dressed every bit as finely as Darcy himself was.
So she is from Hertfordshire. Is she the daughter of a gentleman, then? Darcy heard the Gardiners laugh again. Someone caught his eye and his focus briefly moved to bowing a greeting, but he was too caught up in what he was hearing to gesture his friend to his side.
“Mrs. Gardiner, how good of you to come tonight!”
Darcy’s eyes widened as he realized his aunt had approached the trio. He darted his eyes to the side to see Mrs. Gardiner and Lizzy curtsey gracefully, and Mr. Gardiner bow.
“Thank you for inviting us.” Mrs. Gardiner rose with her lips twitching. “I am happy you approached us. Lizzy was afraid we might be found out as fraudsmen and tossed out the front door in shame.”
Lady Matlock’s tinkling laugh rang out. “Oh, Miss Bennet, you are a delight! London will be the poorer when you return to your father’s estate.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Darcy saw the young lady blush and smile. He looked out over the crowd again, keeping his ears focused on the conversation he was listening to.
“Thank you, my lady.”
Suddenly Darcy heard his name.
“Oh, there is my nephew. I wanted you to meet him. Darcy! Darcy!”
His head whipped to the side, toward the countess’ voice. “Aunt?”
Lady Matlock gestured him to come closer.
Darcy complied, his heart beating in both trepidation and anticipation. In seconds, he was at his aunt’s side and she was tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow.
“Darcy, I wish for you to meet my friend and her family.” Lady Matlock gestured to the couple. “This is Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Mrs. Gardiner is on the board of my charity and has become a dear friend. Mr. Gardiner has generously used his business to benefit the children.”
Darcy nodded when the couple bowed to him. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” He looked at his aunt.
“The young lady with them is their niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. She is visiting the Gardiners for a few weeks.” The countess addressed her guests. “This is my nephew, Mr. Darcy of Brooks Street in London, and Pemberley.”
Elizabeth curtseyed to Darcy and he bowed to her. His pulse pounded in his ears. When he straightened, he remained mute for a long moment, until his aunt nudged him. Then, he addressed the ladies. “I hope each of you will save a dance for me.”
“Of course, we will.” Mrs. Gardiner smiled at Darcy. “I promised the first to my husband, but I am free after that.”
“Excellent.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Miss Bennet?” he asked softly.
Elizabeth tilted her head to examine him, and Darcy felt a physical touch everywhere her eyes looked. He held his breath.
“I should be delighted to dance with you.” She grinned, her eyes sparkling. “You are the first to ask, so you may have any dance you choose.”
“Then, may I have the first?”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “You may, if you wish it.”
To be continued ….