Excerpt from From Admiration to Love
January 1, 1814
Early on New Year’s Day, Fitzwilliam made his way down to the morning room. There was something about the start of a new year that demanded rising early and reflecting upon what had been and what might be. It might be a custom unique to him, but New Year’s Day would not be right without it.
He sat near the windows that pulled in the morning light—sunrise was fading into morning. Fresh flowers had not yet been placed in the vases. Yesterday’s—last year’s really—marigolds were a touch faded and limp. A fire had been lit, but obviously not long ago, the air still carried a sharp chill—not entirely unpleasant, more invigorating. And far better than waking up in a tent on a French plain.
Mrs. Reynolds appeared briefly to place a steaming mug of coffee on the table near him. She was truly a treasure. Luckily, Darcy understood that. He wrapped his hands around the mug until it just burned—hot, dark and bitter.
What a year it had been. With Anne going off to school, his brother contemplating—seriously this time—taking a wife, Darcy navigating his first year of marriage, and his own sell-out from the army, how many things were changing around him? Selling out had not been an easy decision, but he had seen enough battle, enough death, enough blood. Mother had said he looked old beyond his years. He certainly felt that way. His allowance, and the money from his sell-out—if he was careful—could keep him comfortable—not in the style to which he had been accustomed, but comfortable—and if he took up Darcy’s invitation to live at Pemberley, then he might be more than comfortable. It was something to consider.
If nothing else, it might allow him to further his acquaintances with Miss Camelford and Miss Audeley. By no means was he violently in love, nor, hopefully, were they, but they were agreeable enough to consider seeing more of them.
“Good morning.” Elizabeth entered, with Mrs. Reynolds bearing a pot of tea just a step behind.
He rose and pulled her chair out for her. “So where is your lord and master? I am surprised he is not already here.”
“He went straight to his office this morning. He and the steward are meeting to discuss spring planting and improvements.”
“Does he never stop working?”
Elizabeth lifted a very teasing eyebrow. “He has been known to.”
He nearly choked on his sip of coffee.
“And it is just as well he is occupied this morning.” She removed folded papers from her sewing basket. “As I thought you wished to discuss these. Quite informative.”
The society pages he had asked her to read.
He leaned forward, elbow on the table. “That would be one word to describe them. Perhaps not the one I would have chosen …”
“I am sure not. No doubt you would have something far more colorful in mind. I certainly did.”
“So what do you think? Have I hope of getting Anne’s attention with those?”
“I have been giving it a great deal of thought—what is that?” She dropped the papers and turned toward the window.
Laughter and shrieking—happy not threatening sounds, female and young—outside, near the well.
It was New Year’s Day!
“Damn foolish girls. They are creaming the well.” He ran for the back door, Elizabeth following.
Where had Anne got that idea? No one in her family practiced that Scottish tradition. Daft woman was trying to encourage Sir Jasper to propose—and that was simply not going to happen.
Anne and Miss Gifford, both barefoot and without a proper shawl to boot, had just made it to the well directly behind the kitchen, both scrambling to draw the first water from it. Whether more aggressive or more determined, Anne managed to secure the first bucketful.
“Dare I wonder who you will be offering a glass to?” Miss Gifford leaned on Anne’s shoulder.
“No, you may not.” He stormed up to them. “Both of you get back to the house and get proper clothes on! You will certainly catch your death of cold like that. Go, go both of you.” He shooed them along like a sheepdog herding recalcitrant lambs.
Miss Gifford ducked her head and scurried inside.
“You sound like my old governess. What has come over you? You used to be able to have fun. Why are you so insistent on ruining ours?” She watched the door through which her friend had disappeared.
“Have you any idea how ridiculous it is for you to be out barefoot in such weather? Since when has risking your health and well-being been considered having fun? Or is that to be a new parlor game for the evening?”
“Leave me alone, Fitzwilliam. No one has put you in charge of me.”
He grasped her upper arm and guided her—forcefully—into the kitchen. “We need to talk.”
From the corner of his eye, he watched Elizabeth slip back behind a partition in the kitchen. Probably just as well that she witnessed this; she could testify on his behalf when Lady Catherine complained he had not done enough to separate Anne from her suitor.
“I do not want to talk to you. I do not care what you have to say.” Anne pulled away from his grasp and stood near the large fireplace.
“Why? You are just a lackey for my mother. I want no part of anything she has to say.”
“I am not and have never been. I am your friend You must listen to me.” He grasped her shoulders and shook her.
“Stop that, you will make me spill my water.”
He grabbed the bucket, sloshing them both. Blast it all, that water was icy cold. “The last thing you need is this water.” He lifted the bucket and drank from it, allowing it to spill down his chest. The bucket empty, he cast it aside so violently it struck the fireplace hearth and bounced on the stone floor several times.
“What have you done? That was for Sir Jasper, not you.” Anne looked like she had lost something of real value.
“What I have always done, what is best for you whether you realize it or not.”
“I never asked for that favor, and I certainly do not want it now.” She tried to turn away, but he held her shoulders firm.
“I do not care what you want. I know what you need right now. You must listen to me. I absolutely insist.”
“If I listen, will you let me go? I am wet because of you, and now I am cold. I want to be warm and dry.”
“Listen then and I will release you.”
She folded her arms over her chest, shivering just a bit—probably for effect. “Speak.”
“Darcy and I have been looking into Sir Jasper. He is not what he has put himself out to be. His affairs are not as he has represented them to you.”
“If you mean he has debts, I am aware of them. He has been entirely forthcoming in that regard.”
“I doubt it. Where has he told you his debts come from?”
“Crops that failed, tenants that did not pay their rent. Even you can hardly fault him for that.” She looked so smug—unbearably so.
“He is a liar, and not even a good one.”
“Do not slander him!”
“What do you call a man who has lost his family seat to a hand of cards and only pursues a woman because she has the means to permit him to buy it back?”
“Those are lies!” She stamped—that must have hurt against the cold stone. “I cannot believe it. I will not. He is a good man, and he cares for me, more than you do. He would not deceive me.”
“And I would? When have I ever done such a thing?”
“You are in league with my mother. What more is there to know? You will do anything to make her happy—just like everyone else. What has she offered you to buy your favor? I am sure your assistance has not come cheaply—or has our friendship meant so little to you that it has?”
“Enough! I have discharged my duty. I will not hear any more of your foolishness and insults. I do not deserve this, and I will not tolerate it.” He threw up his hands and stormed from the kitchen. Warm dry clothes and distance from that infuriating woman would be most welcome at this point.
Read more about New Years’ traditions and creaming the well HERE.
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