“I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings …”
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 21
How ironic that such a charitable quote must be attributed to such an uncharitable person as Miss Caroline Bingley.
As this is one of my favorite lines in Pride and Prejudice, I try not to think of Miss Bingley and her mean-spirited intentions and rather focus on Jane Austen’s beautiful prose instead.
Not only are the words beautiful, but they’re wonderfully inspiring as well and the source of my upcoming Christmas story’s title: Which that Season Brings.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One. Enjoy!
London, England – December 18xx
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s friend Charles Bingley paced the floor pleading his case. His own sentiments a mixture of consternation and concern, the former watched in silence. And waited.
Contrary to Darcy’s expectation, time and distance away from Miss Jane Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire had done nothing to lessen his friend’s fascination with the angelic creature.
What a disappointment for as much as Bingley may have fancied himself in love, Darcy had witnessed no such evidence of the lady’s mutual esteem. In fact, he had gone out of his way to persuade himself that he was mistaken about Miss Bennet’s regard for his friend the last time they were all in company—the evening of the Netherfield ball.
True enough, the young lady had bestowed an abundance of lovely smiles upon his friend. Indeed, she listened to Bingley most attentively and nodded and smiled at all the right moments, but it was nothing that Darcy had not seen before. Charles was an amiable young man who made friends easily wherever he went.
What young woman in want of a husband would not behave as Miss Bennet had done when she found herself the recipient of the unabashed adoration of a single young man with a large fortune?
Having ceased his pacing in front of the blazing fireplace, Bingley ran his fingers through his untidy hair. “I know you contend that Miss Bennet does not care for me as I do her,” said Bingley, interrupting Darcy’s musings. “I do not believe it, but even if it were true, it does not matter. Nothing would bring me more joy than to be close to the woman I love at Christmastime—to bask in her warm smiles as she is wont to bestow.”
The younger man shook his head. “This time is different. I long for her. I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I ought to return to Netherfield just as I promised her that I would do once my business in town was concluded. I fear I shall never forgive myself if I do not keep my word. Can you not see how much this means to me?”
Darcy shrugged. “I am not sure what you want me to say. What would you have me do?”
“I want you to come with me—that is if you are not previously engaged. Then you might see for yourself how mistaken you are about Miss Bennet’s affections for me. She and I are designed for each other. I know it. Return with me to Netherfield Park, and you will know it too.”
Having prided himself on always taking such prodigious care of his young friend, Darcy did not relish the thought of denying him this one request. What was more, the thought of spending the season alone held little appeal to Darcy, what with his sister visiting a friend and her family in Bath and his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and his cousin Miss Anne de Bourgh visiting their Fitzwilliam relations in Derbyshire.
Of course, he had been invited to visit the Matlock estate too. But between Lady Catherine’s insistence he must marry Anne, and his aunt Lady Ellen Fitzwilliam, the Countess of Matlock, insisting he choose a bride from among the prominent families of the ton, being in Matlock was the last thing in the world he wanted.
On the other hand, Bingley’s family members were not to be counted among his most desired companions for the Christmas season either, especially as he had recently spent the better part of Autumn in company with them as Bingley’s guest in Hertfordshire.
Darcy said, “I understand that families ought to be together at Christmas, and it is for that reason I cannot even consider accompanying you to Hertfordshire. No doubt your family will join you.”
“You are in luck, my friend. My sister Louisa and her husband, Hurst, have other plans and Caroline will not consider returning to Netherfield without her—I dare say even with the prospect of spending Christmas in company with you.”
Those particular words were inducement enough. Miss Bingley’s treatment of the Bennets was beyond the pale. In truth, his own behavior when in company with her left much to be desired. While true, his role in any disparagement of the Bennet family was mainly in keeping with his attempt to ward off the lady’s relentless teasing about his admiration for the second eldest Bennet daughter’s fine eyes, that was no excuse.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Darcy would be lying were he to pretend that he did not think of her just as much as his friend Bingley professed to missing Miss Jane Bennet—albeit for different reasons. While Bingley fancied himself in love with the young woman whom he had known less than a few months, Darcy’s preoccupation with Miss Elizabeth had nothing at all to do with love.
It has more to do with the bewildering effect the young woman has on my sensibilities.
Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. How else was he to explain the fact that he had singled her out to dance during the Netherfield ball?
He was not pleased with the way the two of them had left things that evening—arguing over George Wickham, of all people, and her spirited defense of the scoundrel as though she was utterly oblivious of the honor he had bestowed her in singling her out for a dance at the ball.
On the other hand, my leave-taking has effectively left Miss Elizabeth vulnerable to that scoundrel. The least I might do is return to Hertfordshire to warn her of the perils that such a man of Wickham’s low character poses to her.
Thus resolved, Darcy said, “I shall happily accompany you to Netherfield, my friend.”
Bingley’s satisfaction with this response was all that might be expected and in no time at all the departure date was set.
Interestingly enough, Darcy suffered an odd sense of relief mixed with anticipation—as though a burden he did not even realize he had suffered had been lifted.
I do not think I would ever forgive myself were Miss Elizabeth to fall victim to Wickham’s charms.
Hertfordshire – Longbourn Village
Merriment and joy filled the halls of Longbourn House, and it had very little to do with the season. At the center of all the excitement was not the two younger Bennet daughters, Kitty and Lydia, who had rightfully earned their reputations as being the silliest girls in all of England, nor was it the older daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, or Mary, who were also deemed to be rather silly, and by their own father, no less. No, it was the lady of the house, Mrs. Fanny Bennet, whose jubilation could not be repressed. A woman of mean understanding who fancied herself discontented whenever it suited her purposes, she burst into the dining parlor where everyone else in the family sat around the heavily laden table enjoying their breakfast.
“Oh, Mr. Bennet,” said the lady to her husband of more than three and twenty years. “We are saved, I declare. We are saved!”
“Whatever do you mean, my dear?” Mr. Bennet asked with scarcely a glance above his morning paper.
“Have you not heard the news? Mr. Bingley is planning to return to Netherfield Park. He is said to be arriving any day and no later than Boxing Day, to be sure.” Having known her own share of beauty during her youth, Mrs. Bennet’s chief occupation of late was marrying off her five daughters, each of them in their turn. Her life’s solace was visiting and news. This combining of the two was a great cause for joy indeed.
She placed her hand on her bosom willing her racing heartbeat to still. “Oh, what a blessing this is for our eldest daughter! What a blessing this is for all of us.”
“A blessing you say? Since when does a man returning to his own home warrant such accolades? I daresay I have gone away and returned to Longbourn on any number of occasions with no such exaltations.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet, how can you be so tiresome? You know very well that Mr. Bingley means to take Jane off our hands once and for all.”
Elizabeth, the second born daughter, placed her hand on her elder sister Jane’s arm. The latter smiled which was her wont to do on such an occasion as this, but it was hardly convincing for Elizabeth knew how much Mr. Charles Bingley’s departure from Netherfield with the explicit promise of a timely return had injured her dearest sister when the promise was broken.
To add insult to her injury, the gentleman’s sister, Miss Caroline Bingley, had written to Jane shortly after that stating that the gentleman had no plans to return at all. Elizabeth could not speak for her sister, but for her own part, Miss Bingley’s words were etched in her memory.
“When my brother left us yesterday, he imagined that the business which took him to London might be concluded in three or four days; but as we are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced that when Charles gets to town he will be in no hurry to leave it again, we have determined on following him thither, that he may not be obliged to spend his vacant hours in a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintances are already there for the winter.
I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd—but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.”
Even if Jane had chosen to accept Miss Bingley’s testimony that Mr. Bingley did not intend to return for the winter, despite his having promised her otherwise, Elizabeth was not so easily persuaded of the gentleman’s indifference. However, as days absent turned into weeks, Elizabeth too had begun to give up hope.
“I have learned that his sisters will not accompany him,” Mrs. Bennet cried. “Oh, I shall be most delighted if Mr. Bingley would bring along some of his single gentlemen friends. That would be most fortunate for our other girls.”
“How so, my dear?”
“Why, so they may marry either of them of course!”
Here, Mr. Bennet looked up from his paper—directly at his second eldest. “Perhaps he shall bring his good friend Mr. Darcy with him.”
Elizabeth raised her cup to her lips—mostly to mask her bewilderment. No doubt Papa’s words were meant for me. But why? Does he know something I do not know? Why is Papa looking at me?
“Oh, bother, Mr. Darcy,” his lady exclaimed with energy. “I should hope we never have to lay eyes on that particular gentleman again!”
Elizabeth could not say with certainty that she disagreed with her mother. She could not say she agreed either. The time she was together with the gentleman had left her exceedingly puzzled. Even now, her heart skipped a beat with the mention of his name.
“I am surprised to hear you say such a thing, my dear. The gentleman did single my Lizzy out for a dance at the Netherfield ball, did he not? Is dancing not one of the most highly recommended means for encouraging affection?”
“I have often heard it said that poetry is the food of love,” Mary interjected somewhat tentatively.
“Poetry? Dancing? What difference does it make? Everyone who knows anything knows the tall, proud man fancies himself above all of our company,” cried Mrs. Bennet.
“And lest anyone forgets, he said Lizzy was not handsome enough to tempt him,” young Lydia exclaimed.
Elizabeth shifted a little in her chair, knowing she had no one to blame for this constant reminder of Mr. Darcy’s cruel words other than herself. After all, she had been the only person in Hertfordshire to overhear his remark to his friend Charles Bingley during the Meryton assembly all those weeks ago, and she had been the one to repeat the insulting sentiment to almost anyone who would listen as a means of assuaging her bruised ego.
“No, one must never forget what that haughty man said about our Lizzy,” said Mrs. Bennet.
As though not content to let the subject end there, her father said, “What say you, my Lizzy? How do you feel about the prospect of Mr. Darcy’s return?”
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