Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe it’s already 2015! What better way to start the new year than with Jane Austen! During the month of January, Austen Variations is having a ‘Jane in January’ event, focusing primarily on “Pride and Prejudice”. The giveaways associated with the Jane in January event will be distributed through rafflecopter, so be sure to sign into it. The winners will be announced by Sunday afternoon of each week (beginning January 11) through the whole month on Austen Variations.
January 6, 1812.
The day following Lord and Lady Matlock’s Twelfth Night Ball
Darcy blinked rheumy eyes, head throbbing, stomach protesting like a rioting mob in the streets. A mob would have been easier to quell. He pressed his belly and smacked his lips. Drinking so much had been a poor choice, even if it has been in the privacy of his study, after the ball. His study—he glanced about—he had slept in his study!
He squeezed and groaned. He had intended to return to his chambers, but the port had called to him, one glass after another, until his best intentions faded away into an alcohol muddled haze. Port after several generous glasses of Aunt Matlock’s famed punch was a very bad idea indeed.
The housekeeper pounded on the door. Why did she feel the need to do that, today especially? A polite tap was all that had ever been needed to garner his attention. He would have to speak to her about that…later.
The door squealed like a dying animal as she opened it. “Sir.”
“What?” He clutched his temples and bit back the harsh words dancing on his tongue.
“I brought you something to help your ill-ease, some coffee, and a bite to eat if you wish it.”
He flicked his hand toward a small table. Was it possible to make more noise setting a tray down? It would be a miracle if she did not crack every piece of porcelain on the tray with all the rattling and clattering.
She shuffled out and slammed the door. The woman had never been so ungainly before—why now? He would have sharp words for her when—
His stomach roiled and he reached for the glass, full of a slightly opaque liquid, sparkling in the too bright afternoon—afternoon?—light. He shaded his eyes against the glare. How could it become afternoon so quickly?
Gah! With any good fortune, the dink would work better than it tasted—that would not be difficult. Would it have been too difficult to provide him with something less foul than his temper?
What a fool he had been, trusting Aunt Matlock’s judgment in choosing a character to suit his temperament. So clever of her to assign him and Letty the bard’s Benedict and Beatrice, so, in her words ‘their debates and disagreeable remarks would be entirely in character.’
He gulped down another mouthful of the housekeeper’s foul tonic.
At least the costumes had been tolerable enough, an officer’s coat for him and a wreath of flowers for her. Acceptable enough.
The evening began to unravel after his second cup of punch, happily provided by Letty herself. She had been pleased enough with her part, disagreeing with him at every turn and doing nearly all the talking for both the entire evening. She knew the bards work too well and precisely how to draw him in. He had politely remarked upon the weather—the weather!—only to receive her response:
“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.”
“What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?” The words slipped out before he could control them, and the game, for Letty was on.
“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.”
Heat rose along his jaw—or perhaps it was the punch. How dare she insult his deportment! It was not to be born. “Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.”
Why had he permitted himself those words? Letty took far too much delight in them.
The look she had given him as she said, “A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humor for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
Her betrothed would be pleased with that public declaration. “God keep your ladyship still in that mind! So some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.”
“Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such a face as yours were.”
That was uncalled for. He gulped the remainder of his punch. In retrospect, perhaps not the wisest choice. “Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.”
“A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.” She laughed, a shrill, ear splitting sound on the best of days which had clearly not improved with drink.
“I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s name; I have done.”
Oh she had not liked that, given the face the made at him. “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.”
Had she but a modicum of restraint, it might have been bearable. She shrieked and carried on as though those words were meant personally, not written for the public’s entertainment. He scrubbed his face with his hands. Great heavens, even the Bennet family had checked themselves better! Was it possible that family demonstrated greater decorum than his own?
That was not possible. What would Lydia Bennet have done with the character of Beatrice? He shuddered. No, that thought must have been the result of far too much port.
He leaned back in his chair and threw his arm over his eyes. Even with Letty’s outrageous behavior, his plan for the ball had largely been a success, at least until this moment. He had not thought about Elizabeth Bennet during the entire evening. Not when the young Miss Blake, wearing the gown that would have better suited Miss Elizabeth sauntered past. Not when the musicians played the same music they had danced to at Netherfield. Not when he caught a glimpse of the library on the way to the card room and the same book Miss Elizabeth read while she stayed at Netherfield caught his gaze. Not when Letty attempted to involve him in conversation with her shallow chatter and gossip that bored him senseless instead of endeavoring to engage him in sensible discourse. None of those moments made him consider Miss Elizabeth at all.
It was only now in the solitude of his study that thoughts of that maddening woman invaded his consciousness, refusing to give way in the face of his stalwart defenses.
Why was it no young lady, regardless of fortune, connections, or beauty, seemed to measure up to the standard set by the impertinent Hertfordshire miss? There had to be something for this untoward distraction—something other than a stay in Bedlam.
Perhaps if he could escape the company of ladies all together. There was a thought…his club, fencing, boxing, horseracing. Sequestering himself away from the fairer sex—he had not tried that yet. He pressed his eyes. Beginning immediately…no tomorrow, he would withdraw to the company of men and at last escape the distraction of one Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Here are some of the prizes we are giving away in Jane in January:
Week One Prizes:
From Maria Grace: 2 sets of 4-notecards (good for valentine’s day) (one each to two people); 4 ‘Jane Austen Said it best’ magnets (one each to 4 people);
From Susan Mason-Milks: 1 print book (US only); 1 ebook (anywhere); 1 audiobook
From Abigail Reynolds: 2 ebooks of “The Darcys of Derbyshire”
Please remember to click into RaffleCopter and log in, stating that you commented on the blog post or YOU WILL NOT be entered for the giveaway! There are also two other ways to increase your chances to win. The winners will be selected through RaffleCopter only. Please include whether you are US, UK, or International in your comment, and if you have a prize preference, please add that as well. We will do our best to honor requests. Good luck!