Thursday’s 300: Untitled Christmas Story 2018, Ch. 2

Welcome back to Austen Promises!

Wow, that was quite a wait for another chapter. Feels like a forum around here. LOL Happily, the wait was not in vain, for I have a completed chapter to give you. <3 Oh, and there’s a couple paragraphs I added to the end of the first chapter, as well.

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Thoughts of Bingley’s father led to remembrances of Darcy’s own. Though he had been gone for five years, Darcy could still hear his parent’s advice in his ear.

Life is difficult, Son, and the management of Pemberley will drain your spirit at times. Find someone to love; it will ease your burdens to have a loving wife to sit with at the end of a long day. I loved your mother, you know, and she loved me. She made the responsibility bearable…

Darcy sighed as he recalled that conversation. His mind conjured images of his parents holding hands as they strolled the gardens, and holding each other when he entered the dining room unexpectedly. The warm feeling that had surrounded him as a youth spread out inside him once more, and he smiled.

Turning his thoughts again to Elizabeth, Darcy sighed another time. His smile turned into a grin, and he realized that, underneath the rapid heartbeat and sweaty palms he suffered in her presence, that same warm feeling filled him. “Perhaps my search is over, Papa,” he murmured to himself.

Chapter 2

The next day, Darcy entered his carriage once more, having given his driver directions to travel to Number Six, Gracechurch Street. The trip was a long one due to the amount of traffic; there was quite a bit of stopping and waiting involved.

The longer he sat in the equipage, the more nervous Darcy became. He removed his gloves, because his hands had begun to sweat. Then, without realizing he was doing it, he twisted and stretched the hand coverings into almost unrecognizable shapes. His stomach churned, and for a long while, he feared losing the muffins and tea he had consumed when he broke his fast. He took deep breaths, both to hold his meal down and to calm his heart rate. At one point, he almost rapped on the roof and had the driver turn around, but a glance out the window showed him that he was too near his destination to go back. He would have to stiffen his spine and make the best of it.

Eventually, Darcy’s carriage pulled to a stop in front of the Gardiners’ residence. Pulling his mutilated gloves onto his hands, Darcy waited for the footman to pull the step down and open the door before he descended. He examined the house before him. It was a trim, well-maintained home with flower boxes in the windows and wrought iron fencing at the steps. Nodding once in approval, Darcy pulled on his waistcoat, hooked his walking stick over his arm, and strode up the steps to the door. His knock was swiftly answered, and before he knew it, he was being escorted into a beautifully decorated sitting room.

“Welcome, Mr. Darcy,” Gardiner greeted with a bow. “It is an honor to have you here in our home.”

Darcy’s attention snapped to his host. He had been arrested by the sight of Elizabeth, stood in front of a settee in a lavender gown with a warm and welcoming smile on her face. “Good afternoon. I am happy to be here.” He returned Gardiner’s bow. “It is good to see you again, as well, Miss Bennet.”

“Thank you, sir. I am delighted you have come.” Elizabeth’s blush fascinated Darcy, and he once again found himself forcing his eyes back to his host. “Mr. Gardiner, will you introduce me to the lovely lady at your side?”

Gardiner happily performed the requested introduction. “This is my wife, Mrs. Madeline Gardiner.”

Mrs. Gardiner had been watching Darcy’s reaction to Elizabeth with delight. Now she smiled at him and curtseyed. “I am very pleased to meet you, sir.” She gestured with her hand. “Please, do sit down. I was about to ring for tea.”

With alacrity, Darcy moved to Elizabeth’s side, giving her a small smile. As he sat down beside her, his heart pounded at her nearness. He swallowed only to find his mouth was dry. His mind raced, trying to light on a good topic with which to open the conversation, when Elizabeth spoke.

“I am so glad you could come today, Mr. Darcy. I greatly enjoyed our time in the bookshop yesterday.”

Darcy’s eyes were glued to Elizabeth’s face as she spoke. He found great enjoyment in the light blush that overtook her cheeks. “I did, as well. I have rarely gotten more pleasure out of searching for a book than I did with you.”

Elizabeth’s blush deepened, and she glanced away for a moment. When her eyes returned to Darcy’s, she asked about his favorite thing: his home in Derbyshire.

“Pemberley is the place in the world I most prefer to be. It is a beautiful estate, with a thick forest of elm and oak trees and a stream in front that empties into a lake. The house is set in a valley, with a woody hill behind it. It is breathtaking when you first see it. I feel that way even now, and I have seen the view hundreds of times.”

Elizabeth’s attention had been riveted to Darcy’s face as he spoke, and now that he had stopped, she grinned and turned to her aunt. “He speaks as well of the place as you do, Aunt Maddie. Has what he described matched your memory?”

Smiling, Mrs. Gardiner replied, “I believe Mr. Darcy has given us an even better description than I was able to, but you must remember that he lives there; I have only seen it two or three times, and those were long ago.”

Surprised to meet someone in this part of London who had seen his home, and delighted with her glowing endorsement, Darcy inquired as to her knowledge.

“I spent part of my youth in Lambton,” Maddie explained. “My father was the curate at the church there until just before I came out, when he was given a living in Essex, not too far from the London road. That is where I met my husband.” Her eyes twinkled as she looked across the room at Mr. Gardiner.

“You must tell Mr. Darcy the story, Uncle.” Elizabeth turned to Darcy. “It is not so much the story itself that is entertaining, you understand; it is the manner in which he tells it.”

Intrigued, Darcy encouraged his host to share his tale. “I confess I enjoy a well-told story. Please, do share it.” He settled back into his seat as Elizabeth did the same next to him.

A quarter hour passed as Mr. Gardiner shared his tale. With wit, no small amount of dramatics, and a touch of sarcasm, he entertained them so well that they found themselves gripping their sides and wiping tears of laughter away from their eyes. Even Maddie and Elizabeth were entertained, and they had heard the story numerous times before.

When he could finally catch his breath, Darcy complimented his host on his story-telling ability. “You surely have missed your calling, sir. You should be on the stage, you act so well.”

“So I have been told,” Gardiner replied with a laugh of his own, “many times.”

Darcy turned his attention to Elizabeth, having seen her wipe her cheeks with her hands. He held his handkerchief out to her and watched her press it to her eyes and face. In that moment, he wished he could be that piece of cloth and touch her smooth skin. He swallowed and looked away. You must keep yourself under good regulation, Darcy, he thought. He glanced at Elizabeth once more before addressing his hosts. “Speaking of the stage, I noticed that one of the theatres is showing ‘As You Like It’ this week. I should like to invite the three of you to attend with me and my sister.”

Gardiner’s eyes lit up. He glanced at his wife, then his niece. “Lizzy, I can tell by your aunt’s smile that she would like to go; would you?”

“Indeed, I would, Uncle.” Elizabeth grinned back at him. “As you knew I would be,” she teased, “knowing as you do that the theatre is one of my favorite things to do in London.”

Gardiner laughed. Turning to Darcy, he said, “It seems we are in agreement. We would love to go to the theatre with you, Mr. Darcy. Did you have a particular day in mind?”

Smiling in delight, Darcy quickly scanned his memory for upcoming social events he was committed to. “Today is Tuesday, I believe. Why do we not go on Friday? Is that acceptable?”

Maddie quickly assured him it was. “We have no engagements that day.”

“Good, good.” Darcy hesitated to ask his next question, but did not want to put his new friends and their gorgeous niece to any unnecessary expense. “Shall I send my carriage for you?”

“We have one, but considering the congestion on those streets when there is a production, perhaps we ought to accept your offer. Or, we could drive to your house, if that would make it easier on you.” For all that Gardiner was wealthy, as a man of trade, he was still below Darcy in social status and it would not do to offend him. Gardiner was certain the gentleman was interested in Elizabeth; he would do whatever he could to help his niece, rather than hinder her.

“I had not thought of it before, but why do you not come to us? It will be easier on both the drivers and the horses. If you like, come a little early and we can enjoy some tea and you can meet my sister. She is a little shy, but if she makes your acquaintance before we leave, she might be more comfortable. Then, I can have my driver take us to Covent Garden while yours rests.”

“That is an excellent suggestion, sir. Maddie and Lizzy, what do you think?”

Elizabeth eagerly assented, so Maddie did, as well. “I think that is a sound strategy, Mr. Gardiner.”

Darcy was pleased to see that his new friends wished to be independent and not rely on his largesse. He was also happy that they so eagerly agreed to meet his sister. He had long felt that Georgiana needed more of a female influence than she had received since her father’s death. Elizabeth and Maddie had impressed him in their brief encounters as being kind and sensible women. He hoped the three would become good friends. Of course, he thought as he turned his eyes once again to the beautiful and lively Elizabeth, I hope even more that they become sisters.

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