by Amanda Grange
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As the days passed, the house began to take on a festive air. Greenery was brought in from the gardens to decorate the house, with holly, ivy and mistletoe adorning the pictures or threading their way through the banisters. Rich smells wafted up from the kitchens, and the scent of winter spices and rich fruit cakes filled the air. Kitty and Maria could be heard giggling as they hastily hid half-wrapped presents whenever anyone unexpectedly entered their rooms, whilst Mary began making Christmas extracts.
The day of the ball approached. It had been arranged for Christmas Eve, a time of celebration, and there was an air of excitement when the day arrived.
‘How is everything progressing?’ asked Mrs Bennet.
‘It is all well in hand,’ said Caroline, before Jane could speak. ‘Mr Collins and his brother will make two extra gentlemen, but that is never to be deplored. They dance, I hope?’
‘Mr Collins certainly takes to the floor with alacrity,’ said Darcy. ‘I remember him dancing with Elizabeth at the Netherfield ball. It was a most edifying spectacle!’
Elizabeth laughed outright.
‘Poor Mr Collins! He tries very hard, but I pity the lady who stands up with him. He turns in all the wrong places and is constantly treading on his partner’s toes or the hem of her gown.’
‘I am sure the young ladies hereabouts will not mind,. They are used to dancing at the local assembly, and assembly balls, you know, do not produce the best dancing . . . ’ She turned to Mr Darcy ‘. . . as I am sure you remember only too well.’
‘Perhaps not, but they produce a great deal of pleasure, for those who know how to enjoy them,’ said Darcy.
‘Aye, they do very well, but they are not to be compared with a private ball. Are there any eligible young men about?’ Mrs Bennet asked Caroline.
‘Never fear, your daughters will have a choice,’ said Caroline in a droll voice.
‘And you, too, I hope. You are not getting any younger, and if you do not look sharp you will soon be an old maid.’
‘Mama!’ said Jane.
But Caroline was not at all put out.
‘I thank you for your kind concern,’ she said with a superior smile.
‘Well, my dear, someone must be concerned, and as you have no mother then I will take it upon myself. I found three good husbands for my own girls last year and I have found another one for Kitty only this morning, so I am sure I will be able to find someone for you before the end of the year.’
‘Ah, yes, you did an admirable job of finding a husband for your youngest daughter. Darcy’s steward’s son, was it not? And acquired in such an unusual fashion,’ said Caroline.
Darcy stepped in, turning the conversation away from such dangerous waters.
‘Tell me, Bingley, who have you invited to the ball?’
‘You must ask Caroline,’ said Bingley. ‘She is the one who has managed everything.’
‘She seems to be a very managing young woman,’ said Mr Bennet, with an innocent air.
Elizabeth hid her laugh behind her cup of tea.
‘Caroline has been a great help,’ said Jane fairly.
Caroline smiled graciously and was soon reciting the guest list. It consisted of all the local worthies, together with some good neighbours with whom Jane and Bingley had become friends.
‘A fair sized ball,’ said Darcy.
‘Not as splendid as the balls at Pemberley, but I believe it will do,’ said Caroline. ‘Charles means to buy a house in London soon, and the gusts there will of course be more refined.’
‘A house in London?’ asked Mrs Bennet.
Jane’s face fell at her mother’s eagerness.
‘Why, that will be the very thing,’ said Mrs Bennet.
Fortunately for Jane’s nerves, the gong rang. It was a sign that it was time for them to retire to their rooms and dress for the ball.
The weather had remained snowy, but the local roads were still traversable. Jane had had only had three letters from more distant neighbours excusing themselves. The rest were looking forward to the ball.
Mr Collins’s brother, who had been unable to join them earlier on account of business, was to arrive for the ball and then stay for a few days. It was an event which Kitty did not relish. She had told Mary and Maria that they must on no account leave him alone with her, and she sought her married sisters’ help as well.
‘Never fear, you will not have to marry him,’ said Lizzy.
‘You do not know how determined Mama can be,’ said Kitty.
‘I know exactly how determined she can be,’ said Lizzy, ‘but Papa will be on your side. He will not want you to marry a stupid man, and he will not see you forced into a marriage that is distasteful to you, you know.’
‘I wish I had never heard of Mr Collins’s brother,’ sighed Kitty.
Lizzy could not help but agree. Her mother had talked of him constantly for the last few days.
They parted on the landing. Elizabeth retired to her room where she chose an amber muslin to wear. It suited her complexion, but she felt out of sorts as she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, and when Darcy entered her room, looking immaculate in a ruffled white shirt, with a black tailcoat and tight fitting breeches, Elizabeth gave a sigh.
‘Are you unwell?’ he asked in concern.
‘No, not unwell, just . . .’
‘Unhappy?’ he asked searchingly.
‘No, not exactly. I was just thinking that you look every bit as handsome as the day I met you, whereas I . . . ’ She looked down at her bloated figure, clothed in a tent-like dress ' . . . I am not the same at all.’
‘No,’ he said, taking her hands. ‘You are far more beautiful.’
She laughed, but there was no laughter in his eyes. His words were sincere.
‘What did I do to deserve you?’ she said. ‘I must have done something very good.’
‘I believe you played a sonata without striking one false note,’ he said.
‘Ah, so that was it! Yes, I remember it now. You are right, of course, that feat entitled me to such a husband. I believe I deserve you after all.’
‘That is better,’ he said, hearing her laugh. ‘Are you ready to go down?’
‘Yes, I am.’
He gave her his arm and together they went downstairs.
Some of the guests had already arrived and there was a buzz of conversation. Elizabeth and Darcy went through into the ballroom where the musicians were tuning their instruments before striking up the opening chords of the first dance. The guests took their partners and arranged themselves around the ballroom.
Elizabeth took Darcy’s hand, causing a few raised eyebrows, for it was not customary for husbands to partner their wives, but she did not care. She saw no reason why she should not enjoy herself. When the dance ended, however, she was too fatigued to dance any more, so Darcy fetched her an ice and sat down beside her.
‘You must not ignore the other guests,’ she said. ‘You will shock everyone if you spend the evening with your wife.’
‘I am used to shocking people at balls. I mean to enjoy myself into the bargain,’ he said.
Excerpt from: A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange
© 2010. All rights reserved.
by Amanda Grange
~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~
by Amanda Grange
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