Welcome back to Austen Promises!
Today’s short story was inspired by the sounds and sights of birds nesting (and all the activity that nesting entails.) I was delighted today to walk the dogs in the sun, hear the birds, and watch them building nests. I know it’s still February, but … spring has sprung! <3
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Fitzwilliam Darcy had a secret, one he was trying to keep from his wife. It was a surprise for her, but he was having the hardest time keeping it to himself.
Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth, had married just after Christmas. It was now early March. The snow that had kept them housebound for most of January and February was melting, and the bitter cold that had accompanied it had warmed to a tolerable level.
Elizabeth was from the south of England and had never seen quite the amount of snow that regularly fell in Derbyshire, where they lived. Being stuck inside for weeks on end had been difficult for her. She was accustomed to walking out almost every day, and that had not been possible since the day they left Bath after their fortnight-long wedding trip. Elizabeth’s nerves had been beset with increasing frequency in the past month or so.
Now that they could get out, Darcy wanted to do something special with and for his wife. He had chosen an activity that she professed to enjoy but rarely participated in—riding. Darcy remembered Elizabeth telling him that she had learned to ride, but that her father’s horses were usually busy on the farm, so she had walked the large majority of the time.
If riding was not enough, Darcy had learned that his beloved had a competitive streak to rival his own. So, he decided that he and Elizabeth would race. Not a long race … just a quarter mile. Darcy had the path chosen, deciding that the trail that ran beside the lake was the straightest and flattest. Had his wife more experience, Darcy would have raced her through the fields, but they were not as smooth, and it would not do to make Elizabeth feel inadequate or turn her away from riding.
Darcy fidgeted in his seat at the breakfast table. He noted Elizabeth watching him and forced himself to sit still. He could see from her narrowed eyes and the way she was unhurriedly chewing her toast that she was aware that he had something on his mind. He picked up the newspaper and unfolded it with a snap, lifting it up to hide his face. Then, he let some of the pressure go by grinning widely for a moment before schooling his face once more into a stoic and bland expression. Darcy remained hidden behind the paper while Elizabeth finished breaking her fast. He answered her many questions with monosyllabic responses, and could hear the aggravation growing in her voice. Finally, peeking over the corner of the newssheet and seeing her sipping the last of her tea, he gave in to the excitement.
Quickly folding the paper, Darcy set it beside his plate once more and lifted his own cup to swallow the last of his coffee. He sprang to his feet, holding his hand out to Elizabeth, who placed hers within with one eyebrow raised.
“Are you well, Fitzwilliam?” she asked.
“Very well, I thank you,” Darcy replied, bouncing on his heels. “I know it is your habit to meet with Mrs. Reynolds immediately after breaking your fast, but I have taken the liberty of speaking with her this morning and informing her that you would be unavailable today.”
Elizabeth’s other eyebrow joined its mate up near her hairline. “Did you, now? Why would you do that?”
Darcy placed Elizabeth’s hand on his bent arm and turned her toward the door. “I have plans for us today. I would show you something outside.”
Elizabeth said nothing for three beats of the heart and then, “Very well. Lead me to it. I confess I am eager to get out of the house.” She gestured to the window. “The sun shines so brightly today; surely the snow must be melting quickly.”
“Indeed.” Darcy finally let his grin begin to spread over his face. He stopped their progress in the entry hall, gathering their coats, hats, and other warm outerwear, passing Elizabeth’s to her and putting his own on. Then, tucking her arm under his elbow once more, he led his beloved to the stables. His excitement too great to remain silent, Darcy chattered about this and that, saying nothing of substance, all the way to the building. Elizabeth looked at him oddly, but said nothing, instead nodding and laughing in all the right places.
“What have we here?” His wife asked as they approached the paddock nearest the stables and she saw the pair of horses saddled and tied there.
“This is part of your surprise. I thought we might go riding for a bit today.” Darcy turned his gaze to Elizabeth’s face, eager to see her reaction.
“Oh, how lovely!” Elizabeth cried. “I have not ridden in ages!” She turned to Darcy. “Thank you, my love!” She threw her arms around his waist and lifted on her toes to kiss him.
Darcy grinned at Elizabeth, leaning down to return her kiss. “You are welcome. I know I have insisted you remain indoors for the last few weeks, and there still is a bit more snow that I would like for you to be tramping out in, but on horseback, you will not be quite as exposed to the wet as you would when walking.” Darcy assisted her up into the sidesaddle and then mounted his own horse. He gathered his reins and observed his wife as she turned her horse into the center of the paddock, making it turn right and left and putting it through its paces, making certain she knew what to do. He was pleased to see that she sat the mare like she was born in the saddle. “Come,” he called, and led the way through the gate, nodding to the groom who stood ready to close it behind them.
When Darcy and Elizabeth got to the lake path, he reined in, waiting for her to catch up. “What say you to a race?” He gestured to the path, which the stablemaster and grooms had marked with colorful ribbon every few feet.
“A race?” Elizabeth asked in surprise. “Are you joking?”
“No, I am not.” Darcy could no longer control his grin, which, within seconds, took over his face. “I know how competitive you are. Let us see if that characteristic extends from chess to other pursuits.” He pointed to the stablemaster, who strode out of the woods while they were speaking. “Mr. Barker is ready to start us, and a quarter mile up the path, John Coachman should be waiting to declare the winner. Am I correct, Barker?”
Mr. Barker nodded with a smile. “You are, indeed, sir.”
Darcy turned back to his wife. “Well? You are not going to be missish about this, are you?”
To Elizabeth, those were fighting words. “No, I am not, Mr. Darcy.” She turned her horse to face the path, settled herself in the saddle, and tightened her grip on the reins. “I am ready when you are. Prepare to lose, sir.” She fell silent, her eyes now focused on the green cloth in the stablemaster’s fingers. She totally ignored her husband.
With a grin, Barker dropped the rag. Like a shot, both Darcys kicked their horses into motion. Leaning low over the necks of their mounts, the pair of them gave as good as they got, one moving ahead and then the other. All either of them was aware of was the pounding of the hooves in their ears and the motion of the horse beneath their seat.
It was a close race, but in the end, Elizabeth won by a nose. As the couple walked their mounts back toward the stable, they gazed at each other, laughter and affection in their eyes. When they dismounted in the paddock a few minutes later, the staff scattered, for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy could no longer hide their feelings for each other and joined in a long and deep kiss.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment for me! <3