Saint Agnes’ Eve

3 – A Cold Day

Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy slept uneasily in their separate beds, each unaware that the other had been awake and wrestling with similar questions during the night. Sleep was fitful and unrewarding, and when it finally came, each of them slept until the sun was well up the next morning.

Darcy’s first action after leaving his bed was always the same. He looked out of his heavily curtained window at the weather outside. On this day, he found pale, watery sunlight with high clouds above. Frost lay everywhere, and there was no wind. It was very cold. He turned from his window as his valet, Cooper, entered, and he began his preparations for the day ahead.

Next door, Elizabeth was awake not long after him. Franklin, her maid, brought in a small tray with a cup of chocolate. “Good morning, ma’am. It is a sunny day, but very cold. You will want a gown of wool stuff and an extra petticoat today.” Elizabeth smiled and nodded, finishing her chocolate quickly before leaving the warmth of her bed. She found herself suppressing a sneeze or two and felt a slight congestion in her head, perhaps a touch of dryness in her throat. Aside from these trifling annoyances, she felt quite well. Perhaps it was a delayed reaction to the bustle and excitement of the wedding, the change of moving to Pemberley, and the many activities of their Christmas gathering. Franklin, ever alert to the needs of her mistress, offered to make up the bed and to fetch hot, soothing tea and her breakfast so that she could rest.

“It is not usually necessary, Franklin, though I thank you. I am a scandal to my mother, for when I am feeling unwell, I generally find more relief in a nice walk than I do in taking to my bed like an invalid. This is a little, trifling cold. I shall not die of it.”

Franklin, who was brushing out Elizabeth’s hair, smiled. “Well, ma’am, we servants do not take to our beds at the first sign of a cold, either. However, it has always seemed to me that the great ladies suffer most. It is a shame.” She paused for a moment. “I take it you were the cause of much despair to your mother. She seems quite a proper lady, if I may say so. But I do believe that if you wish a nice, brisk walk, perhaps you should take it indoors today. The weather is cold enough that it might cause you to take a turn for the worse.” Franklin delighted Elizabeth. She was still young, though not in the first blush of youth, and she was practical but blessed with a sense of humor.

“My mother should be grateful to me for all the years in which I served as an example to my sisters—an example of what NOT to do.” Elizabeth dimpled. “I will follow your excellent advice about the woolen gown and petticoats, Franklin. And I will add a nice pair of warm stockings to that.”

Franklin was setting out a flattering, simple gown in soft rose wool. “Your merino shawl would set this off quite nicely, ma’am. The lighter one. We don’t want to roast you, either.”

“It is a fine idea. This is our first morning with the house to ourselves.”

A short time later, after Elizabeth heard a soft knock at her door to the corridor. Franklin opened it to admit Fitzwilliam Darcy, dressed for the day and smiling down at her. “Good morning, Mrs. Darcy. May I accompany you down to breakfast?” Elizabeth held her face up for a kiss and took his offered arm, and they walked down the wide staircase to the family breakfast-parlor. Once they had helped themselves to breakfast, he spoke again. “The house seems very quiet, but I cannot say I am sorry to have you all to myself.”

“It was a wonderful gathering. But I was also happy to see it come to an end. I believe by the end of today, everyone will have arrived safely at home.” The guests had left two days before. The Bingleys and the Bennets, traveling together, would reach Meryton by late afternoon today. The Hursts, including Caroline Bingley, had planned to spend only one night on the road as they traveled to Hurst’s estate in Yorkshire. Georgiana, Kitty Bennet, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and the Earl and Countess of Matlock had made up a merry party as they left for the thirty-mile drive to the Earl’s estate. The Darcys had already received word of their safe arrival.

“What are your plans for today, Fitzwilliam?”

“You,” he said simply, smiling as he set down his cup. “You are my entire plan. I should like to acquaint you with the library and show you how the books are arranged. I have in my study some articles that belonged to my mother which I would like to share with you. And, it is my hope that you will play and sing for me after dinner if you are so inclined.”

“That sounds like a lovely day. I had been hoping to take a short walk today, but Franklin has pronounced it too cold. She recommends a walk in the gallery, especially since I have sneezed a time or two.”

“If you are sneezing, then I agree with her. I am sure you do not wish to fall ill.”

When the couple had finished their breakfast, Darcy came around the table to his wife. “Now, which shall be first? Study or library.”

Elizabeth smiled up at him. “A difficult choice. I say it should be the study first because I know that when we get to the library, I will not want to leave it.”

Before long, Elizabeth was seated in the comfortable study next to a warm fire. She knew that there was a much more formal room off the great hall equipped with desk and writing tools. Her husband reserved this cozy and book-cluttered room adjoining the library for his private use. Few, aside from the upper servants, his steward, and Elizabeth herself were ever admitted. Others were seen in that more formal setting. She settled into the soft cushions of a small sofa, holding her feet out towards the welcoming fire. Fitzwilliam went to the strongbox in the corner and emerged with a large, sturdy wooden box. He pulled a table over to the sofa, placed the box on it, and came to sit beside her, putting his arm around her.

“Open it,” he said with a smile.

The top came off easily and revealed a somewhat jumbled collection of leather boxes, velvet bags, and plump rolls, some faded and worn, some newer-looking. Elizabeth looked at him and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Just choose one and open it, Lizzy.”

She reached over, chose a worn black box, and slid the catch open to reveal a necklace, pendant, and earrings of perfect rubies, gleaming in their bright gold setting. “Fitzwilliam, how beautiful! I am quite overcome!”

“Would you not like to try them on?”

With his help, the necklace and pendant were soon clasped about her neck. She stood and went to a small mirror hanging next to the door, admiring the jewels as she put on the earrings. “They are magnificent! I know not what to say.”

“You need not say anything. Your expression is thanks enough.”

“But what is the occasion?” You have already given me some beautiful jewels—my pearl necklace, for example. And my ring. It is too much!”

“For you, nothing is too much. Come and sit down.” He clasped his arm around her shoulder. “These are the Darcy jewels, handed down from one bride to the next for generations. Georgiana has most—though not all—of my mother’s personal collection. These were given to my father to give to my mother, and now they are mine to give to you.”

Elizabeth looked up at him. He might have presented them as grand, lavish gifts. He might have strung out the giving over years of special occasions. Instead, he—he just gave them to her—freely, simply, and with his whole heart. “And one day, if it is God’s plan, we will give them to our son for his bride. And after that you will be a grandpapa.”

“I’ll not complain, just as long as you are there with me, my darling.”

Elizabeth thought to send a footman to Franklin asking for a hand mirror to be sent from her dressing-table. This was done, and they sat together admiring the beautiful jewels as she tried them on. Darcy knew many of the stories attached to them—which great-grandmother had been presented at the court of which monarch wearing those emeralds, which young mother had been given those diamonds upon the birth of her first child. He could particularly recall anecdotes about his own mother, Lady Anne Darcy.

“She loved jewelry, and she particularly loved colored stones as opposed to diamonds or even pearls. The sapphires you are wearing now were her particular favorites, and she wore them often. She also loved another set with pearls which we will discover as we go along.”

“After looking at the family portraits, it seems Georgiana takes after your mother.”

“She certainly does. Our mother was tall and blonde, and she had bright-blue eyes just the color of these gems. Certainly, that must have been why she favored them.”

“You seldom speak of your mother.”

“Perhaps there is not a great deal to be said.” Darcy settled back and allowed himself to become lost in his memories. “My earliest memories are only of delight. When I was a small boy, my parents welcomed me to be with them at every possible opportunity. I had breakfast with them every morning from before I can remember. During morning hours, I often rode out with my father, held on the front of his saddle until I grew big enough for a pony of my own. Most afternoons, I went to my mother. She taught me my letters, and I can recall having a fine time with her as she did so. She made learning a joy, and she had me reading before I knew what I was about.” He sighed. “In those early days, she played with me as well. She would throw the ball for me to catch, or if the weather was bad, she would visit the nursery, and we would build elaborate castles and fortifications. She always had time for me.”

“It sounds like a delightful and carefree childhood!”

“It was. About the time I grew old enough to have a tutor, things changed. I was told at some point that God was sending me a new little brother or sister, but that we would not know which it would be for quite some time. I was excited. But then my mother took to her bed, and I could only visit her for a short time each day. She was still my beautiful mother, still patient and kind to me, but she was tired and pale and did not leave her bed.” He sighed deeply. “One afternoon they took me to her. She took me in her arms and told me that God had taken my new little brother to Heaven, where he would be an angel and always watch over me. Oh, how I wept. And she wept with me.”

Elizabeth put her arms around him, tears standing in her own eyes. “Oh, my darling. That is so sad! I am so sorry.”

“It was, unfortunately, the end of our truly happy times, though there was still a great deal of love. I became busy with my studies and play. Wickham had become a part of the household by that time, and I had my Fitzwilliam cousins as well. My mother was always present in my life, but I began to feel an obligation to take care of her rather than having her take care of me.”

“Little boys who take great care of their mothers are universally charming.”

“We went on in that vein for some years. My father was always my father—just, fair, and kind. But he grew more distant. He worried about my mother. And sometimes—sometimes they disagreed. Quarreled even. I could never tell what it was about, but I could sense it. In my tenth year, my mother took to her bed again. I was not told the reason, but eventually I was told that I had a new baby sister. I was elated when my mother showed her to me. She was the most endearing little thing, like a little poppet. They gave her to me to hold, and I was terrified I would break her. But I knew straightaway that it was my job to take care of her as I did my mother.”

“And so you have. I have it on the very best authority that you, personally, are the best elder brother any girl could wish for. Did you never tease Georgiana or leave her out of your games? Or order her about?”

“You know, I do not believe I ever did. Wickham and my cousins could be unkind, but I was her staunch defender.”

“I know that made your mother happy.”

Darcy’s eyes grew shuttered. “My mother was happy, radiantly so. So was my father. But it is obvious that she never recovered from Georgiana’s birth. She died about a year later—radiant and happy to the end.”

Elizabeth laid her hand on his chest. “And part of your heart went with her. How could it not?”

Darcy took her hand and kissed it, then squared his shoulders and reached for another box. “This was intended to be a happy occasion, dearest. I should like to see you try on this one.”

They continued in this pleasant occupation for at least two hours more. Elizabeth was able to persuade Darcy into speaking more about his father as well as his mother. But for the most part, they discussed the jewels, deciding which could be worn immediately, which needed the attention of the jeweler, and which could possibly be re-made into more fashionable and modern pieces. These were few in number, as Elizabeth much preferred the traditional settings. They also selected a lovely necklace and matching earrings of pearls and sapphires as a gift for Georgiana on the occasion of her debut during the upcoming season. Elizabeth declared them perfect for a young lady, and Darcy recalled that his sister had admired them. The fact that their mother had also favored them added to the delicate sentimentality of the gift.

When Darcy suggested that it was time for luncheon, they both realized that Elizabeth had not even begun to explore the plump silken and velvet rolls. “Those contain what I would call trinkets,” said Darcy. “I suggest we lock the more valuable jewels back in the safe.
You may wish to send these rolls up to your rooms to be explored later. They can safely be housed in your trinket box, and I hope you will find things you will enjoy wearing every day.”

“My trinket box and I will be very happy to have them,” replied his wife with a dimple.

When they had finished their luncheon, Darcy suggested they go immediately to the library. Elizabeth had been in the room several times since their arrival at Pemberley. In fact, it was the one place she could be assured of finding her father. He had made it his headquarters during his visit, as it was the sole room in the house where he could be assured of peace and quiet. Darcy’s plan for the afternoon was to show her how to find what she wanted and to show her where he and Georgiana preferred to sit.

Elizabeth listened attentively as Darcy showed her around the shelves. The books were organized and catalogued according to title, author, and subject, and she thought it might take her years to learn the complex system. Darcy laughed. “You will be a true proficient in no time, Elizabeth. You have not yet met my secretary, Mr. Mullins. He has replaced my father as watchful dragon where the organization of the books is concerned, and when he returns from the South next month, he will make a point of acquainting you with everything you need to know.” He directed her to a shelf near the door. “Meanwhile, I hope you will feel free to examine any volume you wish. When you have finished reading it, simply place it here, and it will be returned to its proper place on the shelves.” He gestured towards the main area of the library. “Would you like to make a few choices now? When you have done so, it will be my pleasure to show you some of our favorite reading nooks.”

Elizabeth smiled and went immediately to the shelves, taking time to enjoy the beautiful room. Occupying one whole end of one wing of the house, it was singularly graceful. Afternoon sunlight flooded the library from a multitude of tall windows on three sides. The dark wood shelves gleamed with care, and the smell of leather, that indefinable smell of books, was everywhere. Comfortable chairs and tables were situated near many of the windows, and along the outside of the room a fire crackled in a massive fireplace where leather chairs, a sofa, and a chaise longue were drawn up in a haphazard, cozy arrangement. Near another window she saw a long, polished table and several wooden armchairs ideally situated for reading maps or charts or for perusing large volumes. Large atlases, lexicons, and other reference works stood open on wooden stands. Another table held the latest newspapers from London and other cities and a selection of magazines.

She wandered through the shelves, finally selecting a French novel, a book of Wordsworth’s poems, and a book of color plates depicting paintings of the Old Masters. With these in hand, she went in search of her husband, who was awaiting her by the fire.

“I have sent for tea,” he said with a smile. “This, for me, is the most comfortable spot in the library, though you may prefer somewhere else.”

Elizabeth picked out his chair immediately. Large and nondescript, it was upholstered in well-worn leather. A table piled high with books was drawn up beside it. She could also easily distinguish Georgiana’s chair. Smaller, but equally comfortable-looking, it was graced with a couple of plump cushions, and its adjoining table boasted sheets of music, novels, and texts she must be working through with her governess and masters.

“I love this corner. I confess I am drawn to the chaise longue. When no one is about, I can indulge my predilection for sitting on my feet, sprawling, or curling up. I see it is equipped with a very soft-looking blanket.”

Darcy merely smiled and handed her over to the seat. He was in somewhat of a turmoil, which he did his best to hide. Since his first meeting with Elizabeth at Meryton, this very chaise had figured prominently in a number of vivid dreams which included her. None of them could possibly be described as “gentlemanlike.” He had learned long ago that he could not hold himself accountable for that which visited him in dreams, so long as his waking behavior was kept under good regulation. But he was disturbed by a fleeting vision in which he pressed her back against the high, curving arm of the chaise and slowly devoured her with kisses.

Fortunately, Providence intervened in the shape of the footman who brought in the tea tray and pulled a table alongside the large piece of furniture. Darcy merely sat down beside his wife and waited as she poured the tea and settled her skirts gracefully. He nodded his approval of her reading choices before showing her his own, which consisted largely of scientific and agricultural treatises. “Feel free to sprawl, sit on your feet, or curl up.” Mischief glinted in his eye. “Your secrets shall be safe with me.”

“I will wait until I have finished my tea. But you should understand that I may never leave this room again.”

“That would be a pity.” Darcy set his cup down before taking Elizabeth’s and setting it aside as well. He moved closer to her, put his arm around her, and fell to kissing her. As he did so, he stopped for a fraction of an instant. Had he felt her respond in something more than her usual delicate fashion? Had her lips parted ever so briefly? He could not be sure, and he continued kissing her until she broke off, laughingly kissing his nose. He took her by the chin and kissed her again, finally whispering, “May I visit you tonight, my darling?”

“Yes, of course. I cannot imagine a time when I would not be happy to see you.” She sneezed again into her handkerchief.

“Your cold is not making you feel too ill?”

She put her hands in her lap and smiled. “No indeed! It is trifling. People do not grow ill and die from little trifling colds!”

“I understand. Even so, would you not be more comfortable in your bed? Permit me to ring for Franklin. She can assist you.”

“That will not be necessary, dearest. Franklin and I have already had a conversation this morning. She knows the awful truth about me, and I suppose you should also know.”

“The awful truth?”

“Yes. I am the most unladylike creature and the despair of my mother. She expected—no, she ordered—all five of us to our beds when we were ill or indisposed. It was a lady’s duty to lie there, like Patience on a monument, only I believe Patience sits on her monument, enduring the dreadful suffering we were experiencing due to our colds, or our rose fever, or our turned ankles. No real lady would stir from her bed at such times. To do otherwise marked one as common, or ‘ordinary’ as she would say. The only time she deviated from that belief was that time she sent poor Jane out into the storm to visit Netherfield, and as you and I know, the poor dear lay ill for a week.” Elizabeth laughed and clapped her hands over her mouth. “I, being incorrigible, found far greater comfort in creeping out of the house for a long ramble, not too fast or too strenuous. Fresh air and exercise have always made me feel better—weather permitting, of course. But you may be sure those excursions were shrouded in secrecy, conducted in the dawn hours when only Cook was about. Mama also made sure to revisit this subject as part of her series of lectures to Jane and myself in preparation for our marriages. She must have suspected me of disobedience.”

“Your mother gave you a series of lectures?”

“Oh, yes, indeed she did.”

Darcy was smiling. “And will you share with your husband what words of wisdom she imparted?”

Elizabeth grew thoughtful, and her expressive eyes became serious. “You know, as I think back on the whole thing, there was very little in the way of wisdom. Oh, I am certain she did her best. But she is far more concerned with the importance of keeping up appearances. We must behave as perfect ladies, every hour of every day, without exception. Our rewards for success include,” here Elizabeth paused to think, and as she continued, she used the fingers of one hand to enumerate. “Our rewards shall consist of being the mistresses of great houses, having lots of babies of our own, the undying admiration of our husbands—not to mention everybody else, and then of course there are the jewels, furs, carriages, and pin money.” She smiled up at him impishly. “But such rewards come only to perfect, flawless ladies.”

“If you’ll forgive me for saying so, you sound as though you remain unconvinced.”

“Well, if you will forgive me for saying so, I managed to secure your affection despite dirty boots, petticoats six inches deep in mud, windblown hair, a singular lack of accomplishments, and a truly regrettable tendency to speak my mind regardless of the consequences.”

He drew her close again and kissed her cheek. “I would not want you any other way. You shall hear no complaints from me. Besides, what can you possibly mean by a lack of accomplishments? You speak French and Italian, you are well versed in English literature, and you are not at all afraid of mathematics. You read extensively, you have a keen grasp of national and international affairs, and you read the entire newspaper, not just the society columns. Besides, you play the piano and sing like an angel.”

“Ah, but I cannot embroider. I can do only ‘ordinary’ sewing. When I try to draw or paint, you cannot distinguish my horses and dogs from elephants and lions. I am completely unable to trim a bonnet—though I do so love to buy new ones. I do not quill–“

“Quill?”

“Oh, do not ask. I cannot paint china. I cannot net purses. And as for my knowledge of the classics, in one of her lectures, Mama urged me in the strongest possible terms to keep it hidden from you.”

“Ah, so perfect ladies are also stupid and dull?”

“Let us consider it in this light. I have a doll who has been my treasure since childhood. In fact, she has come to live here at Pemberley with all her gowns. She is called Clarissa, and it is my hope that I will someday have a little girl to share her with. She is tall—a little over two feet, perhaps. She is slender, with a tiny waist and—to be honest—not much of a bosom. Her hands and feet are made of soft kidskin, her body is stuffed with sawdust, and she has dark hair—like me—brown eyes, rosy cheeks, and a perfect, porcelain complexion. We can attribute that to the fact that her head is, indeed, white porcelain. She sits or lies quietly, wherever she is placed, and she never complains about anything. She simply lies there, smiling her sweet smile, waiting for something to happen. If you asked my mother, Clarissa would be the perfect lady.”

“But surely if she has been your doll, she has had many adventures.”

“Yes, she has. In fact, her crown was broken just like Jack’s in the nursery rhyme, and Hill had to help me mend her with egg whites. However, it would be unkind to blame her for any scrapes she got into. I was decidedly the ringleader.”

“Your mother is a woman of decided opinions.”

“My mother was making it all up out of whole cloth as she went along. I cannot imagine why that did not occur to me until I mentioned my dear Clarissa.” She sighed. “Jane and I have always relied on Aunt Gardiner for practical advice about matters both important and trivial. She is the wise woman of the family. But of course, she has been otherwise engaged. When it comes to affairs of—shall we say—home and hearth, or married life in general, my mother has been my only advisor.” Elizabeth picked up the teapot. “And now, husband, will you have more tea?”

They remained in a companionable silence, reading, until it was time to dress for dinner. As they left the library arm in arm, Darcy stopped for a moment. “I will bring you Mrs. Reynolds’ special tea this evening. I do look forward to our time together, and this has been a wonderful day.”

When Darcy’s knock sounded at their communicating door later that evening, he carried a tea tray, which he set down near the fire. “Mrs. Reynolds has been brewing this for us since we were children, and it is guaranteed to cause you to feel better and to sleep like a babe.”

They sat drinking the fragrant brew, and soon they were talking of Elizabeth’s desire to learn to ride in the spring. She was determined to have none but her husband as riding instructor while he advanced the idea that the head groom was far more experienced at giving ladies their first lessons riding side-saddle. Before long, Elizabeth’s head began to droop, and presently she was asleep with her head resting on her husband’s chest. He sat with her for some timeless interval, breathing in the fragrance of her hair and watching each breath that she took. When she stirred and settled still closer against him, he realized she was deeply asleep. He picked her up effortlessly and carried her to her bed, tucking the bedding carefully around her before placing a gentle kiss on her lips.

When he straightened, reluctantly, to leave her, she stirred and reached out to him. “Will you not stay, my dearest? When I awaken alone in my bed, after you have gone, it is always so very cold. Please stay, and I shall be warm all night.”

Darcy regarded her with well-concealed astonishment, although she appeared more than half asleep. He had long dreamt of sharing her bed, and he leaned over again and said, “Let me put out the candles, and I will return to you, Lizzy.” He quickly went to his own room and extinguished the single candle there. Then he returned to his wife’s room, checked the fire, and put out the candles one by one before taking off his dressing-gown and sliding under the covers beside her. He noticed with delight that she had left room for him, and she placed her arm around his neck and burrowed into his shoulder with a proprietary air that would have been comical if he had not been so entranced by her. He thought he might lie awake all night, but Mrs. Reynolds’ tea was working its magic on Darcy as well. He drifted off with a sense of ease and well-being he seldom experienced, and both he and Elizabeth slept through the whole night.

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