Good morning, my lovely Just Jane 1813 readers! I can’t believe this is the last post for “The Twelve Days of Jane.” I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed meeting you here each day to spread a little holiday spirit, JAFF-style!
I remember after my last post of this event last year that I felt actually energized to keep posting on a near daily basis. I find these events get me into a routine that I enjoy and one that I grow quite accustomed to by the end of the twelve days. Therefore, I look forward to sharing some new posts with you this week.
Today I am sharing a brand-new JAFF story that was released just yesterday by Jane Grix. It’s not a holiday story, but it does take place in London during the winter. I thought sharing a new story would be a nice way to end an event that’s included some other JAFF posts highlighting new and/or exclusive content. This story has an interesting twist and a blurb is shared below:
AT DARCY HOUSE Book Blurb
Elizabeth Bennet is the goddaughter of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father, and when her own father dies, she moves in with the Gardiners. Although Darcy and Elizabeth both live in London now, Cheapside is worlds away from Cavendish Square, just as those in Trade are worlds away from those in Society.
Darcy finds Elizabeth intriguing but her inferior connections make her ineligible to become the Mistress of Pemberley. And Elizabeth would never want be married to such a proud, disagreeable man. But love has a way of changing everything.
At Darcy House is a Pride and Prejudice Variation, based on Jane Austen’s most romantic couple.
Read to see if love can overcome Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice.
Jane Grix has dropped by with an excerpt too for my Just Jane 1813 readers. Enjoy!
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father had been dead for three months when he received a letter from Elizabeth Bennet, addressed only to Mr. Darcy.
Darcy sat at his desk in his private study, surrounded by the books and papers of his father. It still felt strange to be Master of Pemberley, responsible for multiple properties and several hundred people. He opened the letter and glanced at it briefly, seeing that it was acknowledging and expressing appreciation for a year of French lessons.
Was that a hint for another year of lessons, he wondered, as he set the letter aside. His father had been a generous man and in the days since his death, there had been numerous requests for financial assistance. Elizabeth Bennet was – or more accurately had been – the goddaughter of his late father. George Darcy and Thomas Bennet had been friends since university days, but their friendship had been one primarily of correspondence. His father, never of good health, had been unable to visit Miss Bennet’s home in Hertfordshire beyond her christening, so instead he had the habit of sending gifts, sometimes once a year, sometimes quarterly as the impulse took him.
After the death of Mr. Bennet two years before, he had heard that Miss Elizabeth had gone to live with her aunt and uncle in London, so he assumed the gifts had been sent there. Darcy was surprised that she did not know of his father’s death because he thought all of his father’s close acquaintances had been notified. He pulled out a piece of black edged paper from his desk to write to her, informing her of the fact.
He glanced at her letter first, though, to determine what tone he should take.
You have kindly sent me funds with instructions for their use, and now, I must report what steps I have taken to – as you put it – to improve my mind and character by studying French.
As you anticipated, French lessons were much easier to obtain in London than in Hertfordshire. My aunt interviewed several instructors and chose a widow, Mme Clement, a sensible woman as my instructor. She is a thin, elegant woman, who dresses all in black – tres elegante.. She comes three times a week, for an hour at a time and now, after a year, je sais parler as well as a French infant one year of age.
I fear it is a lost cause. I do not think I have a natural aptitude for learning languages. However, I do find that reading and writing French is easier than pronunciation because it is more like a puzzle, an intellectual exercise rather than a means of communication. I think I may do better in Latin than in French, but if it is your wish that I continue French, I shall. Please let me know your desires.
Cook, who hates the French with the passion of Admiral Nelson, believes my exercises to border on treason.
In addition, I must thank you for the box of books. I making my way through Gilpin’s essays and The Life of Johnson. I hope that I never have a friend such as Boswell taking notes of our conversations for it would be too embarrassing if it were shared with the world – not that I think my life would ever be as interesting as Mr. Johnson’s – but as it is, I find the minutiae of their discussions fascinating. I feel as if I am eavesdropping, something that is more forgivable in reading than in actuality.
I also appreciate the Gentleman’s Quarterly, which I share with my uncle, Mr. Gardiner. My aunt was concerned at first that the magazine might be inappropriate for me, but she has started reading some of it as well and now approves.
Your unfailing kindness and generosity is greatly appreciated. As you know, I lost my father two years ago, but you have done much to continue his tutelage.
Thank you with all my heart,
Darcy was charmed. Miss Bennet’s letter was artless and open, sincere and amusing. He wondered how old she was and tried to count back from comments his father had made over the years. Was she twelve or fourteen?
He summoned his steward to find the history of their correspondence. His father had been a methodical man and not one to discard letters lightly. No doubt somewhere in this study there was a stack of documents.
Within minutes, his steward Mr. Wickham, a dapper, slim gentleman twice his age, found the drawer containing a collection of Elizabeth Bennet’s thank you letters, starting from when she was a young girl. Darcy said, “Yes, this is just what I wanted.”
“Will there be anything else, sir?” the man asked.
“No. Thank you.”
The steward nodded and left the room. Darcy often wondered what Mr. Wickham thought of him. His son George and he had been great friends when they were young, having both grown up at Pemberley almost like brothers, but they had a falling out at university. Darcy had kept that information from his father, not wanting to distress him. His father thought the world of George Wickham and had paid for his education. He wondered if George had hidden the information of their mutual animosity from his own father as well.
Darcy had kept Wickham Senior on as his steward after his father’s death because Mr. Wickham knew almost everything about Pemberley and it did not seem fair to punish him for his son’s shortcomings. But their relationship was awkward, with Darcy waiting for the day when Mr. Wickham might request a favour for his wayward son.
As it was, George Wickham had already received his inheritance, a thousand pounds, and had been given three thousand pounds in exchange for a living that Darcy’s father had promised him in his will. As George Wickham had joked, “You and I both know that I should not be a clergyman.”
At university, George Wickham had spent more of his time gambling, drinking and whoring than studying.
Darcy sighed and wearily rubbed his forehead. Thank heaven, George Wickham was no longer his concern. He had expressed an interest in studying the law, and Darcy hoped he would make a go of it.
Just stay far away from Pemberley, he thought and turned with pleasure to Elizabeth Bennet’s letters. He read some of the earlier ones, enjoying her round, childish penmanship and clever turns of phrase. He compared dates and deduced that Miss Elizabeth was almost fifteen years of age.
Almost a young woman now. He wondered if she were pretty, then dismissed the thought. His father had once told him that Mr. Bennet had made the mistake of marrying a beauty without wit or wisdom. His father had advised, “Do better than that, my son. When you marry, make certain she is your equal, if not your better, such as your mother is to me.”
Darcy mentioned the matter to his mother Lady Anne that evening at dinner. They ate in the family dining hall, at a table that could easily seat twenty, but as their custom when they did not have company, they sat at one end of the table, with Darcy at the head and his mother seated to his right. His younger sister Georgiana was not with them. She dined with them on Sunday, but during the rest of the week she ate dinner with her governess. A liveried footman served the soup. Two other footmen stood at attention next to an ornately carved sideboard.
Darcy said, “I received a thank you letter from Miss Elizabeth Bennet today.”
Lady Anne set her soup spoon down. “Ah yes, your father’s godchild. How is she?”
“Well, from all accounts, and not liking French.”
Lady Anne smiled. “Your father read me some of her letters. She seems a clever child.”
“She is almost fifteen,” Darcy said. “And she did not know Father had died. I am thinking of continuing his gifts to her, in honour of his memory.”
“That is good of you,” Lady Anne said with approval. “I am surprised he did not provide some gift for her in his will, but perhaps he did not think it necessary when her father was still living. And he had not revised his will.”
His father had died from a severe cold which settled in his lungs. Darcy had become Master of Pemberley, a vast estate, at the young age of twenty-three and he was still reeling from the responsibilities.
Lady Anne said, “I suggest you have your steward send the packages so it does not appear improper.”
“Improper? For me to send her a box of books?”
“Improper for a bachelor to send an unmarried young woman a gift,” she reminded. “You don’t want people to talk or to give anyone expectations.”
“At fourteen? Don’t be absurd.”
“Almost fifteen,” she reminded gently. “I was sixteen when I married your father, and seventeen when you were born.”
As a young widow in her early forties, Lady Anne was still a handsome woman. Her pale skin was radiant against the stark black of her widow’s weeds.
Darcy said, “It is ridiculous. Does society really go about looking for scandal, manufacturing it when none is readily available?”
“You will learn,” Lady Anne said quietly and returned to her soup.
In the end, Darcy could not bring himself to write to Miss Bennet, informing her of his father’s death. Instead he scribbled a quick note on cream coloured paper that evening, enclosing funds for both French and Latin instruction and a box of books pulled from his own shelves, with the hope that she would enjoy them, and signed with a single letter signature “D.”
CHAPTER ONE / THREE YEARS LATER
Elizabeth sat at her work table, carving a miniature silhouette in ivory. She heard a bell from the front door of the shop being opened.
But instead of hearing Mr. Gardiner’s assistant Mr. Abney greeting the customer, there was silence. “I beg your pardon,” a masculine voice called. “Is anyone here?”
Elizabeth stood, wiped her hands on her work apron and walked into her uncle’s storefront. It was a small, elegant room designed to look like a drawing room with panelling along the lower half of the walls and a carved frieze along the top, finished with a cornice. For furniture, there were two comfortable chairs, a low backed couch and several display tables. A few items were on also on display in a bay window. “May I help you?” she asked.
The customer was a young gentleman in his mid-twenties, impeccably dressed with form fitting coat, breeches and polished boots. He was tall and beautifully built like a Greek statue with broad shoulders tapering to narrowed hips. He had a handsome face, a noble mein, and thick dark hair that curled slightly back over his ears.
He said nothing but frowned, no doubt put off by her flyaway hair and rumpled day dress, several years out of date and worn thin from near constant use. Her Aunt Gardiner often despaired of her, wishing she dressed better. “I dress better in public,” Elizabeth had argued. “But this is my work uniform. No one will see me in the back rooms.” Until today, she thought wryly and hoped she did not have a smudge on her nose.
She repeated, “May I help you?”
The young man seemed to collect himself. “Yes,” he said pleasantly. He had even white teeth. “I am looking for a decorative gift box for my younger sister.”
“Do you have an idea of what you are looking for? Silver perhaps?” From her Uncle Gardiner, Elizabeth had learned to always suggest one of the more expensive items first. Many customers had no notion of what they wanted and a skilful shop owner could guide them.
“Show me what you have,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” she said smoothly. “Please take a seat.”
The young gentleman sat on an upholstered chair before a gilded table. Elizabeth returned with a tray, covered with a swash of blue silk and in the centre of it, an ornate silver box with a hinged lid, approximately eight by five inches. She knew that Presentation was almost as important as the item itself and it was the foundation for the value a customer would place on an item. She placed the tray on the table. “May I?” he asked, as he reached for the box.
He picked it up in his hands and admired the hinge and the clever catch that closed it. He touched his fingers to the delicate curved feet. “It is lovely,” he said, looking straight into her eyes.
Was he flirting with her? Elizabeth caught her breath in surprise. He had the most beautiful blue eyes, she thought, then dismissed the thought quickly. She was here to help her uncle sell boxes, not to swoon over the customers.
“Is this a present for a significant event, a birthday perhaps?” she asked. By asking questions, a shop keeper could make the customer imagine the item in his own home, increasing the possibility of a sale.
“How did you guess?”
“Sisters are often ignored, except on birthdays,” Elizabeth said dryly, which made the young man smile.
“The craftsmanship is exquisite,” he said. “What does it cost?”
Elizabeth named a price and saw the hesitation in his eyes. Too dear? She wondered. From his attire, he looked like a man of means, but she could be mistaken. “Would you like to see some other choices?”
She brought out three more choices: a smaller silver box, a wooden box and one of carved ivory. She let the gentleman examine each item. He had large well-kept hands, but he was not a dandy. His clothes were elegant but not extreme in fashion.
“Is there a purpose for the container, in addition to beauty?” she asked. “Many women put jewellery or trinkets in a box. The young lady might want a larger box if it is to contain love letters.”
The gentleman shook his head and smiled. “She is too young for love letters.”
At that moment, Mr. Gardiner came into the storefront. “Elizabeth,” he said with surprise. “How long have you been helping this young gentleman?”
Elizabeth realized that she had made a mistake. She should have called for her uncle. “Only a few minutes,” she said. “This gentleman is looking for a gift for a younger sister.” She nodded and stepped back.
“You needn’t go,” the young man said.
Elizabeth said, “I am certain my uncle can answer your questions much better than I.” Although her uncle appreciated her and Jane’s help behind the scenes, he did not want his nieces to work directly in the shop, assisting customers. Her aunt did not think it was proper.
“Very well, thank you for your help,” the man said to Elizabeth in farewell.
As Elizabeth returned to the back room, she heard her uncle say, “Have you made up your mind, or can I tempt you with something else?”
Mr. Gardiner was a skilled salesman. Elizabeth stood behind a curtain so she could listen to their conversation. She told herself that she listened to learn more from her uncle, but in truth, she wanted to know more of the gentleman. Her social circle was small, and she rarely met young gentlemen such as this.
“You have a handsome shop here,” the young man was saying. “I believe your family business was originally in barrel making?”
“Yes, my grandfather was a barrel maker, and I still have the warehouses. My father expanded the business into decorative or display boxes and I have added snuff boxes. Do you take snuff, sir?”
The gentleman shook his head and lifted his nose with faint gesture of distaste. “No.”
Mr. Gardiner smiled. “It is a dirty habit, but some of the boxes are works of art. They also make fine gifts.”
“But not for my sister,” the gentleman said.
Mr. Gardiner laughed, “No, sir. Although you might be surprised how many women take snuff. But that is more of the older generation.”
“Yes, I have an aunt that takes snuff. But not in public. She would be appalled if her usage became common knowledge.”
“It is habit forming.”
“As many vices and pleasures can be.”
“Indeed.” Mr. Gardiner waited a minute, then asked. “Have you decided which box to buy?”
The man reviewed his choices, as if he could not make up his mind. Eventually he touched the silver box. “This one,” he said. “And the wooden box with the leaf designs as well.”
Elizabeth was pleased. The wooden box was one of her own design.
Mr. Gardiner nodded. “Excellent choices. Notice the carving around the rim.” He pointed to the wooden box. “If you like this style, we have other items as well.” He smiled. “My niece is the artist.”
The man asked, “The young woman who was out here before?”
“She has an amazing talent.”
Elizabeth flushed with pleasure at the compliment.
“Yes, thank you,” Mr. Gardiner said. “Would you like me to deliver the items to your address?”
“No, wrap them up and I will take them with me.”
Elizabeth stood behind the curtain in the doorway to the back room, watching them through the small slit of light between the cloth and the wooden door frame.
Mr. Gardiner asked, “Your name, sir? For the receipt.”
“I would like to keep it anonymous.”
“Yes, sir, as long as the receipt is paid in full.”
Elizabeth knew that many members of the ton lived on credit, pilling up bills with no intention of paying them. Mr. Gardiner had been cheated too many times, so now he was more particular about his sales. Some of his neighbours, business rivals felt that he would lose business by denying credit. As they said, “All the fashionable establishments offer credit.” Mr. Gardiner’s response was practical. “If I ever have the choice between profitable and fashionable, I will take profitable every time.”
Elizabeth held up a piece of paper and made a quick sketch of the customer’s profile. He had a handsome nose and strong jaw that she wanted to remember.
But then he saw her looking at him and she gasped and ducked further back behind the curtain, embarrassed to be caught spying.
What was it about the gentleman that caught her fancy? It had to be more than his brilliant blue eyes. She frowned. There was something very intriguing about him. He had looked right through her, as if he knew her.
Fitzwilliam Darcy cursed himself for a fool as he left Mr. Gardiner’s shop. What was he thinking to search out Miss Bennet, to go to her uncle’s shop under a pretence? Georgiana did not need another decorative box.
Over the past three years, he had read and reread Miss Bennet’s letters to his father, as if her letters were written to him. He had enjoyed her wit and honesty, her clever commentary on the world and he had sent her books to inform and refine her mind. Recently he began to fear that he might be falling in love with her. In his imagination, he had built his mental image of her into the ideal woman.
Part of him knew it was romantic nonsense, but he had come to her uncle’s shop with the hope of meeting her, to see if reality matched his dreams.
He was glad he had taken the trip. His foolish infatuation was finished now.
Elizabeth Bennet was an attractive girl, but she was no Nonpareil. Her hair was a medium brown with hints of auburn, curly and wild, falling out of its pins. Her eyes brimmed with intelligence, but she was not the kind of beauty that could overcome her inferior status.
He thought of her worn clothes with distaste. Even the servants at Pemberley dressed better. Her figure was impossible to discern beneath her dowdy attire.
Her voice and manners were lively and pleasant, but certainly not polished.
She had been born the daughter of a gentleman, so by birth they were in the same social sphere, but by participating in Trade, she had lowered herself. His friends and his family would never accept her. He thought of the dozens of impeccably dressed young women in London who wanted to marry him. Elizabeth looked nothing like them with her wild hair and unattractive clothes.
She would never belong at Almacks. It was impossible to imagine her becoming the Mistress of Pemberley. She would be an embarrassment. He was a fool to have even considered her for a moment.
And he was too young to marry, anyway, Darcy told himself as he climbed into his curricle and took the reins from his liveried groom. He had no intention of marrying before he was thirty.
I look forward to reading how this story unfolds…
Jane Grix would like to offer two ebooks for my Just Jane 1813 readers. Please leave a comment on my blog no later than midnight, ET, on December 19th. The winners will be released on my blog on December 20, 2016.
Thank you to Jane Grix for sharing this wintertime story with us and for your generous giveaways too!
Visit Amazon to add this book to your bookshelf.
Check out Goodreads to see what your friends are saying about this book.
To make this holiday blog event even sweeter, I am offering a giveaway of one of my very own favorite finds from 2016; a pair of Plantronics wireless headphones, which will be given away to one Just Jane 1813 reader, along with one JAFF audiobook of your choice, from Audible.
All you have to do to enter this special giveaway is leave a comment on every post on this blog from December 1-12, 2016. Just think of it as your way of saying “Hello” to us every day during this event and letting me know what you think about each post. At midnight, ET, on December 15th, I will select the winner of these headphones and JAFF audiobook from the names of the readers who commented on each post, and on December 16, 2016, I will announce the winner of these awesome headphones.
This is the final post you need to comment on to enter the giveaway for these headphones. Good luck to all of the entrants!