I must beg everyone’s forgiveness. In the last three months I have felt as though I was being drawn and quartered. Commitments to organizations and family upheavals were creating increased difficulties for me to concentrate and put myself fully into my writing. This all came to a head in the last three weeks when I was responsible for two conferences within the span of eight days. As you might well imagine, I took off all the hats following these events and went into “do not expect anything from me” mode. That said, I promise to do better in the future and my peace offering is this short story I did for a local anthology. It is a Halloween story, not Thanksgiving, and a bit longer than normal, but I hope you enjoy it.
An All Hollow’s Eve Pride and Prejudice Short Story:
The Gypsy’s Secret
*Some passages are paraphrased from the works of Jane Austen.
It was all Elizabeth Bennet could do to keep herself from skipping down the lane, but a proper English lady did not frolic. Regardless, there was an undisguised bounce in her step and she was unable to suppress the giggles which escaped her lips from time to time. Upon reaching her home, she quickly removed her outerwear and rushed into the drawing room to share her news with her family.
Her mother jumped as the door opened and a hand flew to her chest. “Lizzy! You scared the life from me! What are you about rushing in like that?”
“Forgive me, Mama.” Elizabeth dropped a kiss on her mother’s cheek and smiled brightly. “I have news of the next assembly.”
Her misbehaviour was immediately forgiven as her statement drew the full attention of her four sisters and their mother. Her eldest sister, Jane, still held her needlework forgotten in her lap. The younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, abandoned the bonnet they had pulled to pieces and stood clutching each other’s hands. Mary, the middle sister and most serious, laid her book aside, careful not to lose her place, and turned toward Elizabeth with a mildly curious expression. Mrs. Bennet grasped her second daughter’s hands crying, “Do tell! Do tell!”
“As we discussed last evening, the full moon falls on October 31 this month, All Hallows’ Eve. And since the harvest celebrations fall on the evening of a full moon, I suggested to the committee that we have a bonfire instead of the usual assembly. It was agreed upon, along with my suggestion that everyone dress in a manner outside their station.” A spark of mischief shone in her eye.
Lydia squealed with delight. “Oh, shall we have hazelnuts to throw into the fire? I must know if Denny and I will be happy together.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth laughed. “And each household is to provide several turnip lanterns. Sir William is seeing to the invitations and spreading the word.”
“But what shall we wear?” Kitty asked in a whining manner.
“Well, Jane must wear her best dress, the white one. Mr. Bingley will surely be there and be pleased to see her looking so well.” Mrs. Bennet smiled broadly at her eldest daughter. “She is already so beautiful; the light from the fire will give her an ethereal appearance.”
Jane shook her head and spoke softly. “Mama, Lizzy said we must dress outside our station.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth quickly stepped to her sister’s side, “but whether you are dressed as a milkmaid or the Queen of Sheba, you shall be resplendent, Jane.”
“And what shall you wear, Lizzy?” Lydia asked.
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “I am quite certain there is clothing in the trunks in the attic that will do.”
Kitty frowned. “So it can be something old?”
“As long as it is not something you would be seen in normally.”
Lydia began giggling. “Must it be women’s clothing? Could we dress as men?”
A frown passed over Elizabeth’s countenance. “We had not discussed that possibility.” She thought a moment longer.
A loud sniff was heard and all turned their attention to Mary. “The church frowns upon such revelries. I shall not participate and I do not believe it proper for a lady to appear in men’s clothing. The Bible forbids it.”
“Oh, Mary, it is all in fun.” Mrs. Bennet turned away from her third daughter and smiled at her youngest. “Why would you wish to dress as a man, Lydia, when there are so many other ideas? We shall have the trunks brought down and see what can be found. Hill!” she cried for the housekeeper.
“Mama, please do not bother Mrs. Hill.” Elizabeth moved toward the door to intercept the harried servant. “There is so much to be done with the harvest and preparing the turnip lanterns. I shall go into the attic and see what is there. Once I am finished, I will ask Mr. Hill to have the ones I select brought down.”
Mrs. Hill stepped inside the room in time to hear, “Oh, very well. Never mind, Hill.” The servant looked about confused, but quickly returned to her work.
Elizabeth grasped Jane’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “Come, Jane, you must help me search.”
“What about us?” Kitty asked, the whine still present. “You will take the best and leave us rags.”
Jane shook her head. “Kitty, you know we would never do such a thing.”
“You wouldn’t.” Kitty eyed Elizabeth suspiciously.
“Kitty, I promise we will not select our guises until everyone has seen what is there.” Elizabeth quickly pulled Jane from the room before anyone else could protest.
“Lizzy, why are you rushing so?” Jane laughed as they tripped up the stairs.
Elizabeth lit a candle from the hallway lamp and opened the door leading to the attics. “I have no idea what we might find, and we may have to remake each of our outfits so we must decide quickly.”
A giggle escaped her once more and Jane stood still, pulling her sister to a stop. “Elizabeth, what are you not saying?”
“Oh, Jane, I fear telling you for you will think poorly of me.” A light blush covered her cheeks.
“I could never think ill of you, Lizzy. Whatever has you in such a state?”
Elizabeth’s teeth rested upon her lower lip as she considered her response. “I suggested that we dress of a different station in order to see how Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley’s sisters would appear.”
“Lizzy!” Jane shook her head in disapproval, but a twitch at the corner of her lips revealed her amusement.
“They think so well of themselves, as though they are above us all. It is clear Miss Bingley has completely forgotten her brother is not a landed gentleman and her family’s fortune was acquired from trade.”
“And our uncles are in trade.”
“Yes, but our father is a gentleman. She is not so much better than us though she was educated in a private seminary and has a respectable dowry.”
Jane smiled as she brushed past her sister and began inspecting trunks. “Oh, beware, my Lizzy, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock.”
“Jane Louise Bennet, using Hamlet against me?” Elizabeth attempted to appear offended, but failed miserably and, with a laugh, opened the nearest trunk. “Perhaps I was not as courteous as I should have been, but I promise to do my best not to mock them at the bonfire.”
“Lizzy, you know full well that given the opportunity, you will make sport of our neighbours and laugh at them in turn. It is what you and Papa do.” Jane opened a trunk and began removing some of the contents.
A frown creased Elizabeth’s features as she turned to study her sister. “It is not done to injure, Jane.”
“I did not say it was.” Jane pulled several wigs from the trunk and held them up for inspection. “Shall these do, do you think?”
Elizabeth stepped closer and examined the shabby hairpieces. “I suppose, once they are thoroughly cleaned, we might be able to do something with them.” Her eyes fell to the remaining contents of the trunk. “Oh, look.”
She reached down and took hold of a smaller trunk inside the larger. The lid was engraved with her initials, EOB, Elizabeth Ophelia Bennet. She tried the latch but it was locked and would not budge.
Jane leaned over her shoulder. “Perhaps it is our great grandmother’s. You are her namesake.”
“It well may be.” Elizabeth ran her fingers over the engraving. “The workmanship is exquisite. Do you think anyone would mind if I put this in my room? I will look for the key later, once our disguises are decided.”
Her sister had returned to searching the trunks and mumbled her agreement. Elizabeth set the box by the stairs and returned to their search. In a short time, they had determined which trunks should be taken below and manoeuvred them closer to the steps. Elizabeth took up the one containing her initials and carried it to her room while Jane went in search of Mr. Hill to have the other trunks moved to the back parlour where the sisters could search at their leisure without having to worry about making a mess. The back parlour had once been the mistress’s study, but Mrs. Bennet disliked sitting away from everyone for fear she may miss some gossip or amusing titbit. Instead, the room was now used to store projects and materials that would otherwise clutter up the drawing room.
By the time Elizabeth joined her sisters, the first trunk was already open and its contents scattered about the room. Kitty and Lydia each had a wig sitting atop their heads and they were waving dusty fans about. Lizzy was surprised Kitty had not started coughing as her throat was easily irritated.
“You have had the wigs checked for bugs?” she asked, sending the younger girls into a tizzy. The wigs flew across the room as they each demanded the other inspect their hair. Elizabeth winked at Jane as she picked up the offending items and set them aside to be cleaned. She then turned to the clothing that had been tossed about and began pairing up matching items.
“Oh,” Jane cried as she leaned far into the trunk.
“What? What is it?” the younger girls asked as they rushed forward.
Elizabeth watched as Jane held out some hair pins with coloured paste beads while she placed her other hand behind her back. Their eyes met and Jane smiled causing Elizabeth to quickly turn away. Her angelic sister was hiding something from their younger siblings. Most uncharacteristic.
“Kitty, Lydia, why do you not take the wigs to Mrs. Hill and ask her to have them thoroughly brushed and cleaned. If it is done today, we may begin setting them this evening.” Jane’s explanation caused their protests to die off before they began and the younger girls left the room each holding a wig by their fingertips, as far from their persons as was possible.
“So what did you actually find?” Elizabeth asked when the girls were out of earshot.
“I believe I found the key,” Jane replied as she extended her hand, the item lying in the centre of her palm.
Elizabeth took the small brass key and turned it over in her hand. It appeared about the right size. She was about to go upstairs to see if it would work, when Mary and their mother entered the room. She slipped the key into her pocket instead.
“Mary, I will hear no more on this subject. We will be attending the bonfire as a family. Mr. Bennet has even agreed to join us.” Mrs. Bennet began looking over the items lying about. “Perhaps you could be a governess. You could carry a book with you since you always prefer to read. And look, here are your grandmother’s spectacles!”
Elizabeth frowned, thinking Mary might well become a governess should none of them marry well prior to their father’s passing. The family’s estate, Longbourn, was entailed to a distant male cousin who could, if he so desired, turn the ladies out of their home upon his inheritance. If that occurred, they would be forced to fend for themselves as their uncles could not be expected to support them. Suddenly the idea of dressing outside one’s station lost the appeal it once had. She excused herself and made her way to her room.
Sitting on her window seat, she stared out at the gardens and contemplated the bonfire. She had been so proud of herself for thinking of a way to pull the arrogant Mr. Darcy off his pedestal. Now she realized it would most likely make her family look even more ridiculous than was normal. A tear slid down her cheek and she swiped it away. She reached into her pocket for her handkerchief before more followed and was startled when she felt something hard and cold.
The key! Her melancholy blew away as quickly as it had come and she dropped down on the floor to pull the chest from under her bed where she had hidden it. The key fit in the lock but would not turn. Her brow drew together, wondering if it was the wrong key or if the lock simply needed oiling. She pressed a bit harder and the key moved a fraction, so she decided oil was the remedy.
She crept back downstairs, but need not have bothered being quiet as the cries and laughter coming from the back parlour would have covered any creaking of a lose step. After retrieving the oil from the butler’s pantry, she returned to her room and allowed several drops to settle into the keyhole before attempting to turn the key once more. This time the key turned a bit easier. With a final forceful twist, the lock opened.
Elizabeth lifted the lid and looked inside. A sheer lace veil covered the contents and she carefully removed it. The stitches were so fine, she was reminded of the dew left on the grass in the mornings when she slipped away for her walk. She ran her fingers reverently over the delicate pattern before opening it to inspect it for damage. Though the colour had yellowed slightly in areas, there did not appear to be any snags or holes.
Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the dressing table, she felt the desire to don the beautiful lace. She shook it out as she crossed the room and took a seat, then very carefully draped the veil over her hair. Once it was in place, Elizabeth found herself afraid to look upon her reflection. With a forced laugh, she shook off her nerves and raised her eyes.
The woman staring back at her from the mirror, from under the exquisite lace veil, was stunning. Elizabeth had never considered herself a great beauty, not beside Jane; but she knew she was not homely. In this one instance, however, she suddenly believed even Jane might pale beside her. Though the lace pattern was intricate, it was fine and did not obscure her features. Indeed, it seemed to cause her eyes and the colour of her hair to become more pronounced. Her mouth fell open and she continued several minutes in this posture until she heard footsteps on the stairs. The sound broke the spell and she quickly removed the veil, carefully folded it as she crossed the room, and returned it to the chest before a knock was heard at the door.
“Who is it?”
Elizabeth laughed. “You need not knock to enter your own room.”
The door opened a few inches and Jane peeked inside. “I thought you may desire privacy.”
“I did, but not from you. Come; see what I have found, but lock the door. I wish to keep this from Lydia and Kitty.” Elizabeth opened the trunk as Jane closed the door.
“Oh!” Jane stepped forward, a hand reaching toward the veil. “It is beautiful.”
“It is,” Elizabeth whispered. “You must see it on.”
Jane helped her to straighten the lace and stood behind her at the mirror. “You are lovely. Oh Lizzy, you must save this for your wedding day.”
Elizabeth nodded, absent mindedly fingering the edges of the lace. “Do you think Great Grandmother wore it when she wed?”
“She must have.” Jane moved toward the trunk. “What else did you find?”
As if coming out of a dream, Elizabeth removed the veil and joined her sister. “This was on top. I have not looked at the rest of the contents.”
Jane took the lace and folded it while Elizabeth began removing items from the trunk. “It appears there are several jewellers’ bags. I wonder what they contain.”
She lifted out the first. The knot was tight, but with Jane’s help they were able to open it. A chain and amulet fell into the palm of her hand. There were no gems, just strange etchings on the back. The front was polished gold with a fancy lover’s knot engraved. Two hearts, one upside down and one right side up, twisted about each other forever entwined. She slipped the chain over her head; the pendant came to rest just above her cleavage, slightly hidden by her neckline.
While Elizabeth had been admiring the necklace, Jane pulled out the remaining pouches and lined them up for her sister to open. Elizabeth glanced in the chest, and found bundles of herbs tied with ribbons. Each bundle appeared to be a different mixture and each ribbon had been dyed a different colour. The leaves were frail with age and the cloth faded, so she decided it best to leave them lay.
Instead, she reached for the next pouch. It was the smallest of the velvet pouches and she suspected it held a ring. When the contents fell into her palm, her suspicions were confirmed, but it was a man’s ring. She held it up, finding a similar Celtic design engraved into the gold. The ring was returned to the pouch and placed gently upon the herbs, sending up a weak scent of yarrow.
Elizabeth smiled at her sister and reached for the next pouch. A series of chains connected to a small ring dropped into her hand. She held it up, twisting it from side to side, but was unsure how it was to be worn. She attempted to slip the ring on a finger, but it did not pass the first knuckle on any but the smallest.
The chains fell over the back of her hand, wrapping about her wrist and Jane cried out. “Oh, I know what that is. Lizzy, do you not remember the pictures of the gypsies we found in Papa’s study when we were little? One of them wore a ring on her toe with chains going up the foot that wrapped about the ankle.”
Elizabeth did remember and she studied the item closer. “Why would Great Grandmother have a piece of gypsy jewellery?”
With a shrug of her shoulder, Jane leaned closer for a better look. As she did, she knocked the chest and the herbs shifted releasing a mixture of patchouli, yarrow, and lavender. “I am surprised the scents are so strong. I would have thought they would have lost their potency by now.” She placed a hand to her head. “What do you think Mr. Bingley will wear to the ball?”
“I am sure I do not know.” Elizabeth replied distractedly. She returned the strange piece to its pouch and then to the chest, along with the pouch from the amulet. Closing the lid, she relocked it and slid it under her bed. The key she slipped into her pocket.
“Shall we return to see what Lydia and Kitty have chosen to wear?”
With a nod, Elizabeth followed her sister from the room. For the rest of the evening she found her hand continually brushing against her skirt, reassuring herself of the presence of the key.
The day of the All Hallows’ Eve bonfire and ball arrived and spirits were high at Longbourn. Each of the sisters were pleased with their guise, though it had been decided the others would have to guess what they were.
Following her mother’s suggestion, Mary had indeed chosen to appear as a governess. She had found an old dress that was near ready to be given to the poor and dyed it black. Surprisingly, the dark dye gave a lustre which brought new life to the otherwise drab garment. The spectacles hung from a chain about her neck as they hurt her eyes to actually wear them. She sat upon the drawing room sofa, her books in her lap as she waited for her sisters.
Kitty had chosen to dress as a French modiste. She adopted a French accent and wore an apron with many pockets. Each held a number of tools including pins, scissors, buttons, a spool of thread, a piece of paper, and a pencil. She also carried the latest French catalogue received from her Aunt Gardiner in London.
She entered the room closely followed by Lydia. The youngest Bennet sister had not been able to convince her father to allow her to dress as a man. Much to that man’s dismay, she settled for a barmaid instead. With her cleavage displayed to advantage and a swath of cloth wrapped about her hips like an apron, she carried a mug in one hand and a pitcher in the other. Her mother was pleased to see both items were either cracked or chipped and would not be missed should her daughter set them down and forget to retrieve them.
Jane entered next to her mother’s exclamations. It had been quite difficult for her to decide upon a guise, but in the end Elizabeth had helped. Finding the oldest gown in the attic and raiding the basket of baubles, they had constructed a costume worthy of any Shakespearean stage. The freshly styled and powdered wig along with a strand of paste beads finished her ensemble beautifully.
“Have I the pleasure of Lady Macbeth or Katherina?” Mr. Bennet asked as he bowed over her hand.
Elizabeth laughed. “Who could think our sweet Jane capable of either role? I believe Bianca would be the better choice.”
All eyes turned to her and silence descended. Mrs. Bennet’s gasp broke the spell, quickly followed by Lydia and Kitty’s cries.
“I knew she would save the best for herself!”
“Where did you find that?”
“Lizzy, whatever are you wearing?” her mother demanded.
A blush crept over Elizabeth’s features as she glanced down at her clothing. “I found Great Grandmother’s trunk. It has my initials on it. This ankle jewellery was inside and it reminded me of the gypsy pictures in Papa’s study. I simply layered several skirts, pulling some up here and there to reveal the others beneath.”
Her father started at the reference and he knelt before her to examine the ring and chains upon her foot. “Is this the first you have put it on?”
She nodded, confused by the question.
“You cannot allow her to go to the ball in her bare feet!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed.
Mr. Bennet frowned as he stood and looked her over. “I see nothing wrong with her guise. It is no more revealing than Lydia’s.”
“I care not how low the neckline plunges, I am speaking of her ankles and her bare feet.” Mrs. Bennet stepped closer to her daughter and grasped the pendent about her neck. “What is this? I have never seen it before.”
“I suspect she found it in the trunk as well as it also belonged to my grandmother.” Mr. Bennet sighed and began ushering his family into the hallway.
Mrs. Bennet appeared quite upset, though Elizabeth was uncertain why. She had been particularly careful in her choices, not wishing to embarrass herself or her family. She had even packed a small bag with stockings and slippers she intended to wear once the dancing began.
Her father directed everyone into the carriage before mounting his horse and following along beside. From her seat, Elizabeth could see him and realized he was deep in thought. From time to time, he would glance in her direction and frown. For the first time in her life, she felt his displeasure.
The carriage stopped in a side street at Meryton, near the square where the bonfire had been built. The sun had not yet set, and individuals were making their way toward the area carrying stray bits of wood and turnip lanterns.
Mr. Bennet dismounted and began handing his ladies out of the carriage. Elizabeth was last and he placed her hand upon his arm before turning to make their way toward the festivities.
“Papa,” she said softly.
“Yes, my Lizzy.”
“Have I done something to displease you?” Tears filled her eyes and she bit her lip, hoping to keep herself from crying.
Mr. Bennet took a deep breath and released it slowly. “No, child, but I fear you set yourself on a path you may not have chosen knowingly.”
She looked at him, waiting for some explanation, but he said no more. Elizabeth was just about to ask what he meant when they encountered Sir William Lucas and his family a block from the square.
“Well, well,” Sir William cried after greetings were done. “The Bennet family will surely be the talk of the ball.”
In her current state of mind, Elizabeth was unable to discern if this was meant as a compliment or censure. Her knowledge of the gentleman would normally have assured her of his goodwill. Tonight, it simply added another question.
“Eliza.” Charlotte Lucas took her hand. “How daring, a gypsy!”
Forcing a smile, she looked her dearest friend over. “And you, Charlotte, a pirate?” A younger Lucas’ toy sword strapped at her hip, and perhaps the oversized boots, were the only things that distinguished Charlotte’s guise from any other.
The ladies moved forward, leading their families toward the gathering crowd. “I was surprised by the theme for this evening’s assembly. Do you think many of our neighbours will decline to attend?”
Elizabeth glanced about at the number of people, most dressed in some guise. “It does not appear that will be the case.”
“And what of the Netherfield party? Papa said Mr. Bingley was pleased with the idea, but I wonder if the others will be.”
A warmth covered Elizabeth’s countenance. She had forgotten Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters. What would they say of her appearance? Taking a deep breath, she pushed her doubts and fears from her mind in an attempt to reclaim the excitement that had filled her as she dressed. She was determined to enjoy the evening.
They rounded the last corner and found the square quite full. Several soldiers stood about in groups with young ladies nearby. Each sported their normal red coats and Elizabeth wondered if it were due to lack of resources or their Colonel’s orders. As she did not see a single officer out of uniform, she decided it was the latter.
“Miss Elizabeth. Miss Lucas.”
They turned to find Mr. Denny approaching from Elizabeth’s left and waited until he was beside them. “Good evening, Mr. Denny,” Elizabeth greeted him as she curtseyed. “I am sorry to see the militia was unable to join in the fun of dressing outside one’s rank.”
He bowed before giving her a dimpled grin. “I believe Colonel Forster feared we would overreach.”
“Ah, but if you look about it is clear most chose to dress below their station.” Charlotte waved her hand toward the gathering and Elizabeth saw she was correct.
“But not all have arrived,” Mr. Denny added with a wink. “May I secure a dance with each of you before your cards are full? I have already been promised the first and second by the youngest Miss Bennets.”
“Well then, sir, you may claim me for the third.” Elizabeth felt her spirits rise as her thoughts turned to the dancing.
“I would be pleased to dance the fourth with you, sir,” Charlotte replied.
“Capital! If you will excuse me, Miss Lydia appears to require my presence.” He bowed and moved past them.
Elizabeth glanced about in time to see her youngest sister waving frantically to the officer. She shook her head, but was glad to see Jane moving toward Lydia. Hopefully she would be able to curb their sister’s enthusiasm.
“Look, Eliza! The Netherfield party has arrived.” Charlotte tugged her arm discreetly and nodded toward the far side of the square.
Just on the other side of the bonfire site, Elizabeth was able to make out four individuals. Miss Bingley was the first to be seen as her headdress stood higher than her brother’s head. The siblings were close in height, though he normally topped her by a few inches. Tonight he could not be seen had he stood behind her. The turban itself was large, but the feathers pinned to it gave it even greater height. Elizabeth wondered what, other than a sign of wealth, it was meant to be. From where she stood, the remainder of Miss Bingley’s clothing was concealed from view.
Mr. Bingley wore an unusual outfit which Elizabeth recognized as an Indian kurta and pants. Her uncle had travelled to India once on business and returned with such an outfit. He had expressed his pleasure in wearing the clothing; finding it far less restricting than a proper jacket and pantaloons, though not warm enough for the London winters.
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst did not appear to be in disguise at all. Their clothing appeared quite similar to what Elizabeth had seen them wear during her time at Netherfield. It was as she had suspected, they would not lower themselves to such a display. She anxiously looked about to see what the great Mr. Darcy had chosen to wear, but did not see him. She was surprised by her disappointment when she considered that he had chosen not to attend.
“Well, Lizzy, are you happy?” Jane’s soft voice seemed to echo her conscience’s tease. “Mr. Bingley and his party have attended and dressed accordingly.”
Elizabeth looked to her sister, clearly puzzled. “I see that Mr. Bingley has indeed embraced the spirit of the theme, but not his sisters or brother.”
“What could you mean? Miss Bingley appears as though she is about to perform an aria for the prince regent himself and the Hursts are clearly a housekeeper and butler.”
Elizabeth looked again and realized her sister was indeed correct. The party had moved nearer and Miss Bingley’s dress and jewellery did appear as though it belonged upon a stage. The Hursts had now removed their outerwear and revealed their guises. Mrs. Hurst wore an apron and bonnet while Mr. Hurst was indeed in a butler’s uniform. Elizabeth wondered where he had obtained it as she knew of no servants in the area who matched the gentleman’s girth.
The party began making their way toward the older Bennet sisters, but Elizabeth still had not seen Mr. Darcy. Before they were near enough to hear, she commented on it to Jane.
“Perhaps they were separated.”
“Perhaps he decided he was above such a display.”
Jane was unable to reply as Mr. Bingley stepped before them at that moment, but she looked sadly upon her sister. Elizabeth blushed, knowing she had disappointed her dear sister.
“Miss Eliza, how very shocking.” Miss Bingley feigned dismay over Elizabeth’s guise. “A gypsy?”
“And you, Miss Bingley, an opera singer?” She forced a smile. “Shall you perform for us this evening?”
“If you will dance. Have you brought your finger cymbals?”
“Alas, I left them home this evening.”
“What a shame.”
“Indeed.” A deep voice sounded behind her, causing Elizabeth to startle.
She turned to find Mr. Darcy wearing a simple shirt and worn buckskin trousers. He looked as though he had just come from mucking out the stables.
“Mr. Darcy.” She curtseyed. “I am surprised Netherfield boasts a stable boy of your stature.” The words tumbled from her lips before she had the opportunity to stop them.
“They are my own, Miss Elizabeth.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Truly?”
Amusement danced across his countenance. “Truly. There are times even a gentleman finds the need or desire to exert himself in a manner impinged upon by his normal wardrobe.” His eyes drifted down over her clothing, resting a moment on her bare feet, before returning to her now blushing countenance. “And your guise? Is it your own?”
“Items found in our attic, sir.” She looked away.
“You have gypsy blood, Miss Elizabeth?”
She turned to meet his gaze once more, expecting to see disgust, but found herself drawn to him instead. “None of which I am aware. I know not how my great grandmother came to possess such items.”
The sun began to set and the notes of the musicians tuning their instruments filled the air. Mr. Darcy bowed to her once more.
“May I request a dance, Miss Elizabeth? Have you the … second available?”
Before she could reconsider, Elizabeth agreed.
The little group began making its way closer to the site of the bonfire. Mr. Bingley escorted Jane on his arm with the Hursts close behind. Miss Bingley claimed Mr. Darcy’s arm, though the gentleman glanced toward Elizabeth. She linked arms with Charlotte and set a pace to discourage any further conversation.
Charlotte laughed softly as they neared the assembly. “It appears your guise has attracted Mr. Darcy’s attentions.”
“Do not be silly, Charlotte. He was simply being polite.”
“He was not polite to Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, or myself.”
“Perhaps he has already secured dances with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst.” Elizabeth frowned.
“Then I feel doubly insulted to be so overlooked.”
Elizabeth looked to her friend but saw immediately Charlotte was in jest. “Nothing will come of it.”
Her friend would only respond with an amused grin.
In short time, the bonfire was lit and the music began. Elizabeth stepped to the side to remove the chains about her ankle in order to don her stockings and slippers, but was unable to open the clasp. She motioned for Charlotte to assist her, but she too found herself not up to the task.
“Miss Elizabeth, is there a problem?” Mr. Darcy asked as he approached.
Elizabeth bit her lip as she debated telling him of her dilemma. Not knowing what else to say, she explained that the clasp would not open.
“May I?” he asked as he knelt before her.
With heat surging across her cheeks, she slowly nodded. A moment later, the chains fell from her foot.
“Thank you, sir,” she said with relief. She had been fearful she would have to sit out of the dancing or, worse, dance barefoot and risk having her toes trod upon.
“This is a surprise.” Mr. Bennet stepped from the nearby shadows and approached the small group. “Well, what have you to say for yourself, Mr. Darcy?”
The gentleman looked confused, glancing between Elizabeth, Charlotte and Mr. Bennet. “Pardon me, sir, but I do not understand your meaning.”
“The chain you hold in your hand is a family heirloom. It can only be removed by the lady’s intended.”
“Intended?” Mr. Darcy asked.
“Yes. Elizabeth did not know when she wore it this evening. Had I known she had found it, I would have warned her.” Mr. Bennet reached out and took the jewellery from Mr. Darcy’s open palm. “My great grandfather had promised my grandmother to a gentleman. He was rumoured to be a vicious man, but wealthy and with excellent connections. Her mother, knowing her daughter would never be happy with such a man, consulted the gypsies and obtained three items. They instructed her to have her daughter wear this amulet.” He pointed toward the pendant about Elizabeth’s neck. “It would draw the gentleman of her choice to her. She was then to wear this.” He held up the chains and toe ring. “For only the man who truly loved her would be able to remove it.”
There was silence for a moment before Darcy’s hoarse voice said, “And the third?”
“A man’s wedding band.”
“The one I found in the trunk with these other items,” Elizabeth whispered.
Mr. Bennet nodded. “So, I ask again, what have you to say for yourself?”
Mr. Darcy swallowed hard, his gaze moving rapidly between Elizabeth and her father. “Is this a trap? Are you accusing me of compromising Miss Elizabeth?”
Shaking his head, Mr. Bennet sighed. “No. Miss Lucas has been at Elizabeth’s side all evening. She even attempted to remove the chains, but was unable.”
Elizabeth felt the fear rising within her. “But that signifies nothing, Papa. I am certain anyone could have removed the chain. Mr. Darcy was simply the first to attempt it besides Charlotte and myself.”
Mr. Bennet nodded slowly. “Very well.” He knelt before her and replaced the ring and chains. Standing, he took her hand and led her toward a small group of officers with Charlotte and Mr. Darcy following closely. “Gentlemen, we have a dilemma. My daughter is unable to remove her foot jewellery and requires assistance.”
Each of the officers knelt before Elizabeth, one at a time, and attempted to remove the chains, but were unsuccessful. Mr. Bennet then led her toward Mr. Bingley and his party. Again, the chains could not be removed.
“Shall we continue?” he asked Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
The couple looked to each other, but said nothing.
“Very well,” Mr. Bennet sighed and called additional men and women over to attempt to remove the chains. All failed.
“Mr. Darcy, will you assist my daughter?”
Elizabeth felt her heart race as the gentleman once more knelt before her. Reverently, he reached out, opened the clasp, and the chains fell away from her ankle. A cheer went up from the crowd and they disbursed, returning to the festivities. Neither Elizabeth nor Mr. Darcy moved. They were unable to meet the other’s gaze. Tears slid slowly down Elizabeth’s cheeks.
She could not deny she found Mr. Darcy attractive. Elizabeth would have laughed and forgotten his slight at the September assembly if she had not felt drawn to him the moment she saw him. Additional conversations had shown him to be an intelligent, if arrogant, man. He was someone she would have respected had he treated those around him differently.
“Papa?” Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “What happened to Great Grandmother? Did she marry the man her father chose or the man who removed the chains? Was she happy?”
Mr. Bennet cleared his throat, his eyes settled on Mr. Darcy who remained on the ground before Elizabeth, the chains cradled in his hands. “You would be surprised to find the man who removed the chains was the man her father had chosen. And yes, they were one of the happiest couples I know.”
Elizabeth gasped. “But you said he was a vicious man.”
“I said he was rumoured to be a vicious man. Sometimes things are not as they appear.” He turned toward Charlotte. “Miss Lucas, would you like some refreshment?” He offered her his arm, which she accepted, and escorted her away from the silent couple.
The moment they were alone, Mr. Darcy began to speak. His voice was soft and full of emotion. “Elizabeth …”
“Please, Mr. Darcy, there is no need …” Elizabeth turned to move away, but he reached out and caught her hand.
“Perhaps not, but … I must … You cannot imagine …”
The frustration written on his features was nearly comical, but Elizabeth could not laugh. She stared at him, uncertain of what he was attempting miserably to say.
Mr. Darcy closed his eyes and took a deep steadying breath before rising and standing before her. He still maintained possession of her hand, which he cradled in both of his. The gypsy chains rested between their palms. When he spoke, his voice was steadier.
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Elizabeth’s breath caught in her throat. She attempted to draw her hand from his, but he clasped it tighter. Before he could continue, she raised her eyes to his in challenge. “How dare you say such things? It has been but a month since you declared me tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt you. You now say you admire and love me?”
As she spoke, Mr. Darcy’s colour rose. When she stopped, he was no longer able to hold her gaze. His eyes fell to their joined hands and he caressed the back of hers. “My behaviour that evening was unacceptable. Please accept my apology for my rudeness. I … I have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.” He swallowed and looked once more into her eyes. “Perhaps I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”
The anger surging through her at his initial declaration ebbed as she witnessed the vulnerability in his gaze. “You are a man of sense and education, who has lived in the world, yet you declare yourself ill qualified to recommend yourself to strangers? So you would separate yourself instead? Walking about the room, speaking only to your own party? Showing your disdain for those not of your status?”
“Disdain? No. Elizabeth …”
She could not stop herself from flinching as he used her Christian name. Her response shocked her, after all, how often did he call her Miss Elizabeth. Perhaps it was the way it slipped off his tongue as though caressed. Or his hands still holding her own in such a familiar manner. She glanced about, but it appeared no one was near.
“I may be a selfish being 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. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child) I was spoiled by my parents, who though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own 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 with my own.”
Elizabeth stared at him, attempting to reconcile what he said with the few facts she knew of him. In truth, he had not spoken to the people of Meryton more than necessary at the assembly, but she had seen him conversing with Colonel Forster at Lucas Lodge as well as a few of the other gentlemen. Overlooking his insult, he had spoken to her respectfully and in a somewhat friendly manner. Though he spoke now of pride and thinking meanly of those beyond his family circle, his friend was a descendent of trade yet Mr. Darcy offered his assistance freely. She shook her head and looked about once more until her eyes fell on a nearby bench.
“May we sit?” she asked.
He nodded, placed her hand upon his arm, and escorted her to the bench she indicated. She immediately noticed the loss of his warmth. They sat close, but not touching. Mr. Darcy absent-mindedly fiddled with the delicate chains, slipping the ring on the very tip of his smallest finger.
“Careful.” Elizabeth could not keep the amusement from her voice. “You do not wish to be trapped in that.”
His eyes fell to his hands before he met her gaze and saw the humour there. A smile broke across his countenance and stole her breath. She shook her head once more in amazement as her mind returned to her previous thoughts. What did she truly know of this man before her?
“You appear so serious.” There was a vulnerability in his voice that she had not heard before.
“I am attempting to illustrate your character.”
“And what is your success?”
She shook her head. “I do not get on at all. You present such different accounts as puzzle me exceedingly.”
“Yes, you appear to think meanly of the world and say that you were raised in such a manner, yet you befriend Mr. Bingley. He is not of your circle, I am certain.”
Mr. Darcy frowned. “No, he was not born a gentleman, but he is all that is amiable. I could not ask for a more devoted friend.”
“You protect him, I think.”
Mr. Darcy nodded. “He is too trusting.”
Elizabeth mimicked his posture and actions. “As is my sister.”
“Elizabeth, it is clear you know little of me. This evening, your father’s revelation, my hasty words; they must be overwhelming. Shall we begin again? May I call upon you?”
Suddenly the sounds of the musicians and the revelry broke through the spell that had weaved about them. Elizabeth gazed into his eyes and nodded.
“I believe this is our dance, sir.”
Originally published in Holiday Musings by the Lake Authors, 2017.