An early Valentine for you, dear friends! Since December, I have been working on a quick little project I am calling “12 Months of Darcy.” My betas have read all but 1 chapter as the idea just came to me this past weekend and hasn’t made it to paper yet. The result, including a short story I wrote some time ago for an anthology, is less than 90 pages. As I am unable to think of any other short stories to add to this collection and am not interested in releasing such a short book, I have been playing with alternative ideas.
After the release of “Mrs. Collins’ Lover”, I had several readers ask me if I have a newsletter. Up to this point, I was hesitant to take on this challenge as I really was not sure what I would include. Now I think I might be up to it so I have decided to offer “12 Months of Darcy” as a freebie to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. I am still in the process of getting this all set up and started, but you should see more about this soon on my website or social media pages. In the meanwhile, I thought I would share February with you. Enjoy!
“Look!” cried Lydia from the drawing room window.
Kitty joined her and bounced on her toes. “The officers! I knew they would not neglect us today.”
“Do come away from the window.” Elizabeth secured her needle in the handkerchief she was embroidering and returned it to the work basket.
Her sisters were just taking their seats when Hill entered with the officers behind her. “Mr. Wickham, Mr. Denny, and Mr. Pratt to see the Miss Bennets.”
The ladies rose to greet the gentlemen and Elizabeth smiled. “You find four of the Miss Bennets, sirs. Our eldest sister has accompanied my mother to my aunt’s home.”
“Yes, we saw them their earlier,” Mr. Denny replied. “We have been making our rounds to all the young ladies on this most beautiful St. Valentine’s day.”
Elizabeth asked Hill to bring some tea and everyone took their seats.
“You have visited everyone before us?” Lydia pouted.
Mr. Wickham, who had not yet settled into the seat at Elizabeth’s side, bowed deeply and produced a paper rose in deepest burgundy.* Lydia giggled as she accepted it. Mr. Denny presented Kitty with a similar rose and Mr. Pratt offered Mary one in soft pink. Elizabeth looked up to see Mr. Wickham holding a pink rose for her as well.
“I thank you, sir. Whatever shall the ladies of Hertfordshire do when our gallant militia is taken away from us?”
A laugh erupted from Mr. Wickham’s lips. “Well, we can only hope it will not occur anytime soon.”
The door opened and a maid entered with the tray. While the others talked of news from Meryton, Elizabeth served the tea and then passed a plate of biscuits to Mr. Wickham.
“I am surprised, Lizzy, that Mr. Darcy has not taken advantage of the day to send you another gift**,” Lydia said with a smirk and a wink at Mr. Wickham.
“Darcy?” the lieutenant asked as he glanced at Elizabeth who sat beside him. “Another gift?”
Elizabeth shot a warning look at her youngest sister before responding. “My sisters have taken it into their heads that a crate of books we received on St. Nicholas’ day was from Mr. Darcy.” She met his gaze and smiled. “Their reasoning is that my gift was a book of poetry and Mr. Darcy and I had a brief discussion on the topic one time.” She forced a laugh. “Though they have no explanation of the gifts which were included for every other member of the family.”
“Someone anonymously gifted your family with a crate of books?” Mr. Denny asked.
Mr. Wickham’s voice sounded more surprised than previously when he responded. “I cannot imagine many people able to do such a thing, let alone consider books the best gift for one and all; but were I forced to think upon it, I would agree that Darcy would fit the bill.”
Elizabeth laughed once more. “I beg you, sir, do not encourage them.”
“What was it Mr. Darcy and your sister said regarding poetry?” the officer asked Kitty.
Though Elizabeth tried to change the subject and distract the others from the topic, her sister would answer. It was moments such as this that Kitty’s perfect memory became a curse. Yes, Lydia would use her sister’s ability to collect on promises made without expectation of being fulfilled, but Kitty’s precision at remembering every embarrassing detail of situations and interactions between individuals could be mortifying.
“Mama was speaking of the gentleman who wrote poetry for Jane when she was fifteen and Lizzy said, ‘And so ended his affection. There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!’” Kitty blushed as she finished a perfect imitation of Elizabeth.
Mr. Wickham laughed. “And Mr. Darcy’s response?”
Elizabeth eyed him carefully. He seemed overly interested in this topic and it caused her to wonder at his reasons. Of course, he had been disappointed by Mr. Darcy in the past, so perhaps he feared him as a rival for her affections. Her cheeks warmed at the thought but pushed it away with the memory of the officer’s recent attentions to Mary King who had inherited ten thousand pounds. No, Elizabeth could hold no expectations of either man.
“Mr. Darcy replied, ‘I have been used to consider poetry as the FOOD of love.’” Kitty continued. “To which Lizzy replied, “Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.’ She looked at him smugly, but Mr. Darcy only smiled. If Mama had not begun saying her goodbyes, I wonder what he might have said next.”
Kitty had a faraway look in her eye that told Elizabeth she had slipped into a dreamy romantic state of mind. “But she did and nothing more was said.” She turned to meet Mr. Wickham’s gaze. “As you can see, my sisters have little to base their belief upon. I suspect the crate was from our uncle in London as each gift reflected the receiver so well. Who knows us better than our family?”
Though he nodded his agreement, Elizabeth thought she saw a touch of suspicion in his eye. She glanced meaningfully at the clock and, to her relief, the officers soon announced their intent to return to Meryton. Once they were gone, Elizabeth made her way to her room and withdrew the book of poems from the table beside her bed. She opened the cover to stare at the missing bookplate once more then ran a finger over her name so neatly printed on the slip of paper.
*There is a language of flowers, and the color of roses has a meaning. Red would symbolize a passionate love, which of course none of these officers would have expressed. Pink symbolized grace, sophistication, and elegance (more appropriate for the elder sisters) and burgundy signified simplicity and beauty.
I have taken a liberty on this – though paper flower making was well known in the Victorian era, what I found for the Regency era was quilling, called filigree at that time, or pictures where petals were drawn, cut out, and pasted to paper. I allow the reader to imagine what the soldiers’ gifts might have resembled.
**St. Valentine’s day was special in that propriety could be overlooked on this day and a lady could receive a valentine from an unrelated gentleman without her reputation being damaged.
May you have a lovely and loving Valentine’s Day.