I cannot believe we are halfway through December already and Christmas is only a week away. A friend and I were saying this morning that it feels like we just celebrated Thanksgiving. When I was trying to decide what to post this month, I got an idea for a new book. After spending more than a year writing Mrs. Collins’ Lover and riding an emotional roller coaster, I have been trying to work on some lighter stories. Even so, I have had a touch of writer’s block. This new idea might be quick and easy. I am still trying to decide if I want to call it Twelve Months of Darcy or A Year of Elizabeth and Darcy. In brief, it will be twelve, maybe thirteen chapters long. Each chapter will be a different month beginning with the September Bingley took possession of Netherfield. To “start” it off, I am sharing December (please forgive any errors, it hasn’t been beta’ed yet). Enjoy!
A weak December sun greeted Elizabeth on the morning of St. Nicholas’ Day. Frost covered the ground and the air held a hint of snow. She drew her cloak tighter about herself before stepping off the garden path and into the woods.
Her breath steamed about her as she walked briskly toward the closest tenant house. Mr. Saunders had promised to finish whittling a new pipe for Papa and she had collected the pennies from her sisters to pay for it. Rain had kept her from collecting it sooner, but she must have it today before the rest of the family had risen.
The man smiled as he opened the door on her approach. “I expected you’d be about this morning, Miss Lizzy. Young Jamie offered to carry it to you last evenin’ but I told him we’d see you today.”
A boy of fourteen appeared behind his father, nervously running a hand through his unruly curls. He bowed deeply to her. “If the rain hadn’t stopped, I’d have brought it to you, Miss Lizzy,” he said in the crackly voice of adolescence.
“Thank you, Master James, but I am pleased I was able to walk this morning. I have been inside too long.”
They laughed amiably as Elizabeth finished her transaction.
“Oh, Mr. Saunders, this is beautiful. I fear Papa will not wish to use it.”
“Nonsense,” the man chuckled. “Did you not say his old pipe was broken? He may have a moment of hesitation, but I predict he will be puffing away by the time the sun sets.”
Elizabeth thanked the man again and began her journey home. She would have just enough time to tie a ribbon around the cloth which protected the gift before her mother and younger sisters had risen. She shook her head. It was a skirmish between said sisters which had resulted in her father’s pipe falling from the mantle and the bowl being cracked.
“I should have made them pay more than the rest of us,” she murmured, all the while knowing it was useless as securing a penny from each had been a struggle. Luckily, she and Jane had saved much of their pin money for such situations.
She had just rounded the path which looked down upon the front of Longbourn when she saw a footman set a box upon the stoop, lift the knocker and let it fall, and then return to his horse before anyone could answer. His livery was unknown to her and he was away before she was near enough to call out to him.
The door was open, and Hill was calling for Sam to carry the box inside when Elizabeth joined her.
“Did you see who left this?” the housekeeper asked.
“A footman, but none I recognized.”
Elizabeth examined the direction attached to what she now saw was a small crate. The Bennets, Longbourn, Hertfordshire. The handwriting was unrecognizable and no other information was available. With a shrug of her shoulders, Elizabeth motioned for the footman to carry the mysterious box inside.
The pounding of her sisters’ steps on the stairs drew Elizabeth from her thoughts and she quickly stepped into the back parlour in search of a spare ribbon. Dropping her cloak on the nearest chair, she set the gift on the table and removed her gloves and bonnet. A quick search through the scrap basket secured a slightly frayed green ribbon, her father’s favourite colour. After tying it and cutting away the offending threads, she returned to the drawing room just as Jane joined her with the gifts they had wrapped the night before.
“Oh, good!” Jane whispered. “I feared we would not have it in time.”
Before Elizabeth could respond, Jane’s gaze fell upon the strange crate.
“What is that?”
“I do not know, but if our sisters learn of it, we will miss breakfast.” Elizabeth linked her arm through her sister’s and steered her toward the dining room.
The meal was consumed faster than normal and Lydia whined as she always did when their father indicated he would retire to his bookroom should anyone have need of him.
“Oh, Mr. Bennet,” his wife cried, “you know there are gifts to be shared.”
He winked at his eldest daughters before feigning disbelief that St. Nicholas’ Day had returned so early. The family made their way to Mrs. Bennet’s favourite drawing room, Kitty and Lydia loudly leading the way.
“What is that?” Lydia cried as she entered the room and rushed toward the crate.
Mr. Bennet perched his spectacles upon his nose as the corners of his mouth turned downward. “It is not from the Gardiners,” he muttered in reply to his wife’s inquiry.
“Papa,” Elizabeth whispered as she stepped up beside him. “A footman delivered it and left before anyone could question him.”
Her father’s brow lifted. “Well,” he looked about, “Hill, have Sam open this thing.” He waved his hand toward the crate as he took his seat in the aged armchair by the fireplace. “While we wait, is there not something else we can do?”
Lydia and Kitty giggled as they dove behind the sofa and returned with several cloth covered packages.
“These are from both of us,” Lydia announced.
“In order to spend less?” Mary asked under her breath.
“No!” cried Kitty. “To purchase something nicer.”
Lydia waved rolled paper tied with a sky-blue ribbon. “Like this.” She held it out to her sister.
Elizabeth stepped forward. “Papa and Mama first.” She handed the wrapped pipe to her father while Jane placed a larger package in her mother’s lap.
While the family opened their gifts, Sam entered with a lever and opened the crate. As soon as the top was removed, the Bennets gathered around the table.
“What’s inside?” Lydia asked, leaning as close as she could.
A ghost of a smile tugged at Mr. Bennet’s lips. “Books.”
“Books?” Kitty asked, her nose crinkling.
“Well, mostly,” her father replied as he reached into the crate and removed a copy of La Belle Assemblée. A slip of paper fell out which read MRS. BENNET. “For you, my dear,” he said as he passed it to his wife.
“Oh!” she whispered. “And it is the most current edition!”
“What else, Papa?” Elizabeth asked excitedly.
Two horrid novels were next withdrawn, the tags indicating they were for the youngest Bennets. The Works of Rev. John Wesley was handed to Mary and Mrs. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman went to Jane. Mr. Bennet’s smile grew as he lifted William Hazlitt’s Shakespeare Jest-books while he absentmindedly handed Elizabeth a worn collection of John Donne’s poems. The paper which slipped out of the pages read MISS ELIZABETH BENNET, the block letters revealing nothing of the sender.
“Poems?” Kitty asked as she looked over Elizabeth’s shoulder.
“And it’s old.” Lydia frowned as she looked around. “Ours are new.”
Elizabeth opened the book and examined the inside cover. Remnants of a bookplate revealed no indication of the previous owner.
Kitty’s gasp drew everyone’s attention. She grasped Lydia’s arm. “It’s Mr. Darcy!”
Elizabeth laughed. “Why would you think that?”
“At Netherfield, remember? The two of you discussed poetry.”
“That’s right!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, a look of wonder filling her countenance as she stared at her second daughter.
“Well,” Mr. Bennet stated as he gathered his pipe and book. “If I have Mr. Darcy to thank for this gem,” he lifted the gift in the general direction of London, “I am all appreciation for the man’s taste.” With a small nod, he abruptly left the room.
“But what can it mean?” Mrs. Bennet muttered in amazement and confusion.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened as she met Jane’s gaze. The two moved quickly from the room before their mother might come to an unwanted conclusion.
May each of you have a Happy Holiday Season and a Blessed New Year! Merry Christmas!