«

»

Mar 09 2017

Snowbound at Hartfield Chapter 15

Snowbound at Hartfield

A Jane Austen Mashup Short Story. What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and PrejudiceA courtship for Elizabeth Elliot perhaps? 

Find other chapters HERE.


 

Mrs. Darcy squealed like a little girl and pounced on them. It really was quite sweet, in a very familiar sort of way. Familiar was … nice … quite nice. Elizabeth swallowed back a lump in her throat.

Mrs. Darcy grabbed their hands and escorted—more like dragged to be entirely forthright—them to the sunny music room, where they were ambushed by well-wishers. The men, now including Mr. Bennet and Mr. Woodhouse, gathered around Colonel Fitzwilliam, slapping him on the back. The ladies gathered around her, led by a positively predatory looking Mrs. Elton.

She needed a leash, like a lady’s pug.

“Oh you devious creature! You gave no sign, no sign at all. How were we to know that you and he had an understanding.” Mrs. Elton slipped her arm in Elizabeth’s and pulled her in close. “You must know I would never have suggested … if I had but known … really, what were you thinking keeping secrets from me?”

The cloying sweet voice and the wide, batting eyes—gah! How might she have known—yes indeed how might she have known?

Perhaps simply opening her eyes to someone other than herself?

Was it pure coincidence that Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam sat together at the Coles’ theatrical, or that they were always in each other’s company during the standing supper afterwards? Maybe the furtive glances between Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Knightley cast in their direction constantly during tea might have given some slight indication.

Truly, how self-absorbed and inattentive could one woman be—particularly one who considered herself at the apex of the local social circles?

Helping her learn her proper place in society would not be a pleasant task, but considering the expression on Mrs. Knightley’s face, it might be one Elizabeth could find herself ready help with.

Mrs. Darcy glared at Mrs. Elton. Too bad she did not live nearer. With Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Knightley together, Mrs. Elton would have little choice but to recognize she was not all she thought she was.

“We wish you joy, very great joy,” Mrs. Darcy said a touch too firmly to just be kind words. If she hinted any more strongly at Mrs. Elton, one might accuse her of unladylike bluntness.

Not that Elizabeth would, of course, but someone else might.

Woe to them if they did.

“Of course we do, of course. Very great joy. What of the wedding though?” Mrs. Elton dragged her to the faded sofa and sat far too close. “Where will you be married from?”

That was, unfortunately, a very good question. A sunbeam bore down upon the back of her neck, a trickle of sweat formed along her spine.

Kellynch, with the Crofts in residence was out of the question. They might claim to welcome her, but there were too many difficult memories associated with that house.

 Camden Place was a possibility. But then a wedding breakfast would be arranged to show them off to all Father’s connections and supposed connections. Some dreadful gossip writer would surely attend—

A tall, comforting presence loomed over her with a heavy hand on her shoulder.

How improper—and protective—and utterly satisfying, especially when Mrs. Elton stared at his hand, jaw agape.

“If I might be so bold as to suggest, Hartfield would be a very fine place to be married from, if of course, we might impose once again on our hostess.” Fitzwilliam squeezed her shoulder just enough to ask if he had overstepped.

She laid her hand over his and patted the back of his hand with her fingertips. “What a very agreeable thought.”

“Does that mean you would allow Mrs. Darcy and me to arrange and host a wedding breakfast on your behalf?” Mrs. Knightley smiled like a little girl.

“You must leave all the arrangements to me. You know that is my talent, arranging things of this sort.” Mrs. Elton clapped softly. “I can see the table in my mind’s eye, with hot house flowers—”

“No.” Fitzwilliam’s word hung in the air somewhere over Mrs. Elton’s head, shadowing her face and leaving her gasping for words.

“You cannot mean that Colonel, surely you cannot. Rest assured, every event I plan is the talk of Highbury—”

No doubt it was, but probably not for the reason she thought.

“I appreciate your offer very much, but it would be our privilege to make the arrangements for our cousin and his bride.” Mrs. Darcy’s face tightened into a patient, pleasant mask—an expression Elizabeth hoped never to be the recipient of.

“You cannot be serious! Tell them Mrs. Knightley!” Mrs. Elton’s voice rose to nearly a shriek.

“Perhaps you might be useful to the new bride in another ways.” Mrs. Knightley’s lips stretched very tightly. Probably containing a laugh given the sparkle in her eyes, even if there was a touch of desperation around the edges. “There must be someone to host the first tea and dinner in the couple’s honor. For a couple of their standing, even a ball would not be inappropriate.”

“A ball?” Mrs. Elton said the word slowing, trying it on for a fit like a new gown. “A ball—yes, that would be quite the thing! Leave everything to me! Mrs. Weston, will you not take the opportunity to assist me with the event?”

Mrs. Weston stammered something as she glanced from Mrs. Elton to Mrs. Knightley. The latter pleaded with her eyes.

“I think a ball is a lovely notion.”  Mrs. Weston’s shoulders drooped slightly.

Mrs. Elton rose and paced from the pianoforte to the fireplace and back. “We shall have it at the Crown Inn—”

At least she did not want to hold it at that dreadful Ram’s Horn. Elizabeth glanced up into Fitzwilliam’s twinkling eyes. He must have had the same thought.

That was an expression she could become very accustomed to seeing.

***

 The next day Fitzwilliam rode out, with Darcy in his shadow. With marriage settlements to hammer out, it probably was a good thing to have a second with him. If nothing it would prevent him from doing bodily injury to the arrogant baronet—or his own father if he became stubborn. Father had not been ungenerous with his other siblings, but he had a hand in arranging their marriages.

Fate smiled on their errand, not once, but twice. First, they found the Lady Dalrymple and the Honorable Miss Carteret still in residence at the Dower House of the Viscount Dalrymple’s estate and Sir Walter Elliot with them. Second and more importantly, Miss Carteret proved deeply interested in the business that had brought them.

When the baronet puffed his chest and questioned Fitzwilliam’s suitability for his daughter, Miss Carteret pleaded his cause. Darcy did as well, but his case was not nearly so compelling as a pair of big brown eyes with impossibly long eye lashes batting over them. Sir Walter could little resist her insistence that there was no man more suitable for his daughter in all of England.

Darcy thought her interference more self-interest than anything else. Having the daughter out of the way would make a union with the baronet far more agreeable. But what did her motives matter as long as she was an ally?

Then the solicitors were brought in for drafting settlement papers. Darcy’s experience and acumen proved invaluable in drafting the papers, but once again it was Miss Carteret’s influence that brought the affair to an agreeable close. She reminded Sir Walter that the details of the settlement would by no means remain private and his reputation might be colored by the provisions of the settlement.

Fitzwilliam chuckled under his breath. Miss Carteret’s bright, glittering eyes revealed a woman of very great intelligence and a very strong will, who appreciated the opportunity afforded her to test her influence on the man who wished to be her husband.

He was as malleable in her hands as Elizabeth suggested he had been in her mother’s hands. Luckily, Miss Carteret seemed a kind and sensible woman, the kind that would help restore his affairs and steer him to a respectable future.

She was more than he deserved, but if she wanted a ductile man, then she would likely be satisfied with the match as well.

The baronet’s settlement offer made, the Earl had to be approached. There, Darcy proved invaluable. As predicted Father was put out that his youngest son would arrange a marriage on his own. Darcy helped remind him that Miss Elliot was exactly the kind of match the Earl would have arranged had he been given the opportunity.

The logic of the argument, and a decanter of excellent brandy eventually swayed him to accept the match and offer a generous settlement on the new couple. In truth, it was more than he expected, enough to free his conscience over the wedding gift he had indulged in for Elizabeth.

One more trip, back to the baronet for final signatures and the business was complete. At last, Fitzwilliam and Darcy set off for Hartfield and to the women who waited for them.

No wonder Darcy loathed to be away from Pemberley without Liza. It had not made sense before, but now, it seemed a very sensible thing indeed.

***

Elizabeth fell into the nearest parlor chair, the last rays of sunset fading into night. No doubt her posture was frightful, but Hartfield’s parlor was comfortable and who could care when they were all so bone weary? Nearby, Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Knightley—Liza and Emma they were to her now—did the same. Listingbrook Manor was by no means frightfully unkempt, but without a family in residence, or anyone to guide the minimal staff properly, it was in great need of attention.  So it fell on her to make it ready for them to take residence.

Emma had brought two of her maids and a groundskeeper to assist their efforts. With them and the housekeeper and maid at Listingbrook, all three ladies, donned aprons and pushed up their sleeves for a solid ten days of grueling labor.

Everything in the closets, drawers and chests smelt musty. It must have been put away still damp at some point, a common enough error for an inattentive maid to make. But oh, the work it left now! All the linens from every room had to be washed. At least the housekeeper found it as shocking as Elizabeth did.

The maids handled the laundry. Hauling the wood and water, soaking it in lye, boiling it and agitating it. Rinsing and wringing, then spreading it over the drying grounds. Elizabeth divided her time between supervising the maids and assisting the ladies who were sweeping and scrubbing the interior.

How was it possible for so much dust to accumulate? All but the master’s bedroom and study seemed covered in layers of it. How had she missed that on her first visit to the house? 

She pressed a groom and Emma’s groundskeeper into service beating carpets, moving furniture and hauling firewood. Thank heavens the house was not any larger, or they might never have finished before the men returned.

But they had. According to Fitzwilliam’s letter, they would return tomorrow, having settled all matters with both families. Hopefully he would be pleased with their efforts. At least he could be assured of her diligence in managing household affairs in his absence. That should be something.

The housekeeper brought a tray of hot cider and biscuits. She wrapped stiff fingers around the mug and breathed in the warm, sweet vapors. Delightful, simply delightful.

Liza did the same. She caught Elizabeth’s eye and they giggled, too weary to be proper and too companionable to care. How good it was to have women to call friends—real friends.

“Ah, that is a sound I have longed to hear.” Mr. Darcy, still in his greatcoat, stood in the doorway.

“See what I have found in the dark on our doorstep!” Mr. Knightley chuckled and ushered Mr. Darcy and Fitzwilliam into the parlor.

A moment later, Liza was beside Mr. Darcy, hidden in his embrace.

“I am pleased to see you, too.” Fitzwilliam leaned close.

When had she gone to his side?

“Damn it all, it has been too long.” He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

His coat still bore traces of the cool night air, but she nestled into his chest.

No wonder Anne did not spurn Wentworth’s improper displays. How absolutely satisfying this was.

The gentlemen’s valets trundled in to relieve them of their coats and the housekeeper brought more cider and sandwiches.

“To what do we own this lovely surprise? Your letter said you would arrive tomorrow.” Mrs. Darcy said.

“I told you they would be early, did I not?” Knightley winked and waved them to sit.

“A man intent on getting married is difficult to gainsay.” Darcy sat beside Liza, cradling a mug of cider.

“I admit it is true, but I will not apologize.” Fitzwilliam stared into Elizabeth’s eyes.

His eyes were the most unique shade of grey-blue—so unusual, so compelling. She could stare into them for hours.

Dear, dear man.

“So, your errands, they went well?” Emma bit her lower lip, voice very soft.

Fitzwilliam leaned back crossed one leg over the other. “Indeed. Though I confess, I tend to distrust things that are so easy.”

“Easy? You call that easy? That is certainly not what you were claiming at Matlock House in London.” Darcy rolled his eyes and took a deep draw off his cider. “I seem to recall a conversation with a father that lasted well into sunrise.”

“Compared to what I expected, it was quite easy.”  Fitzwilliam laced his fingers and stretched until his knuckles popped.

“Were there objections from your family?” Elizabeth whispered.

“No, I would hardly call them objections.” Fitzwilliam caught her gaze again.

The tightness in her chest eased.

“Then what would you call that shouting, stomping display from your father?” Darcy reached for a sandwich.

Emma gasped, wide-eyed, and covered her mouth.

“Father displaying his plumage.” Fitzwilliam shrugged and winked at Elizabeth. “He is rather like a gamebird, making certain everyone sees and understands his rank. It was nothing. His temper is a very different thing. Perhaps you did not notice, there was nary an oath involved. Until he breaks out the epithets, there is no temper involved at all.”

Elizabeth snickered. No wonder he knew how to deal with her father.

“I wondered where you got that habit from.” Darcy’s eyebrows flashed.

“So then, the earl was in agreement?” Emma asked.

“He was delighted to dispose of me to a suitable woman.” Fitzwilliam laced his hands behind his head.

“Suitable?” Elizabeth held her breath.

“Absolutely. My mother and sisters voiced no objections either. Having met you in Bath, they found your manners quite charming.”

Her cheeks heated—but how could they not, the way he stared at her. “And my Father?”

Fitzwilliam snorted softly. “He tried to fluff his feathers as well.”

“But was quite checked by the object of his …” Darcy’s voice trailed off and he looked to Liza.

“Affections?” Liza cocked her head.

“Interests?” Knightley leaned forward.

Darcy pointed at him. “That is more accurate.”

“Miss Carteret was supportive?” Elizabeth’s jaw dropped.

“Suspiciously so.” Darcy flashed a quick glance at Liza who chewed her lower lip and nodded.

“I expect happy news will be arriving from him fairly soon. He seemed to be ready to press his solicitor into service as soon as our marriage articles were signed and expressed interest in purchasing an ordinary license.”

So Father was getting his wish—a young wife who might bear him a son and cut off the heir presumptive from his line.

“Do you think it will be a happy match?” Emma glanced at Knightley.

Fitzwilliam shrugged. “I cannot predict a man’s happiness, but she seems to be well aware of the situation and content with it. Though I did not know the first Lady Elliot, I believe that Miss Carteret has some strong similarities to her.”

Elizabeth nodded. That would be good for both of them then. For all his peculiarities, Father did not deserve to be unhappy.

“So then, we are free to make plans for a wedding?” The words barely escaped her tight throat.

Fitzwilliam turned that gaze on her again. “What say you? Are you ready?”

“The papers are in order, the house is in order—so yes a wedding is in order.”

He took her hand and kissed it.

Blood rushed to her face and the room spun a little.

Mr. Knightley rose. “Come, Darcy, let us break the news to my father and Bennet. I doubt they will find it nearly so exciting as our ladies—they do so love the disruptions that such celebrations bring.”

“Perhaps not, but they will enjoy the wedding breakfast well enough.” Emma laughed as they left.

Liza and Emma huddled together.

Fitzwilliam rose and urged her to follow him to the far corner of the room, as if to show her a book from the shelves there.

How sweet of Liza to turn her back to them.

“The house is prepared? Is that what I have to thank for the adorable smudge on your cheek?” He traced the crest of her cheek with his thumb.

She closed her eyes and sighed. Yes, his fingers were hard and calloused, but no touch could be more welcome.

“You do not think we sat about painting screens and netting purses whilst you were away?”

“No, I did not. It looks like all of you—”

“And a number of Emma’s staff—”

“Emma?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“I am very glad you have a friend so close now.”

“I am more glad to have you so close right now.”

“Miss Elliot! I am shocked!” That is not what his eyes said.

“I would be shocked if you did not return the sentiment.” She ran her tongue over her lips.

“I cannot have that, can I?”

Oh his smile! How could such a simple expression send warmth all the way down to her toes? But it did.

His eyebrows twitched as he winked and leaned in very close.

His lips were still a mite cold, but that did not last long as the heat between them built.

Is this what Liza and Emma had hinted at as they suggested that separate chambers for master and mistress might not be the only choice in room arrangements?

Strong and hard, his hands pressed her back, drawing her as close as they could possibly be. Her breath hitched.

Oh!

Behind them, Liza coughed just loudly enough.

Fitzwilliam grumbled under his breath and slowly released her, but the longing in his eyes—he was no happier than she about it.

“Soon—as soon as can be arranged,” she whispered in his ear.

“Saturday?”

“Three days seems sufficient—even generous, Fitzwilliam.” She feathered her lips over his ear as she dragged out every syllable of his name.

“Elizabeth!” He nibbled just below her jaw near her ear.

Oh!

Perhaps Friday might be possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. Catherine

    “Helping her learn her proper place in society would not be a pleasant task, but considering the expression on Mrs. Knightley’s face, it might be one Elizabeth could find herself ready help with.”

    Oh, how I would *love* to see that Elton woman put in her place…. sigh.

    1. Maria Grace

      That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: