"Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable." - Jane Austen
It was a pleasant Christmas Day. Despite the chill in the air, we traveled to church, for, it was a tradition. The church was beautiful inside. Poinsettias flanked each side of the pews giving the otherwise dull church a festive feel. I had chosen to wear a white silk dress with a gathered bodice. The dress had sheer lace sleeves and a long green ribbon down the back. The dress was light and ethereal. I felt beautiful in it.
We all sat in a pew, occupying the entire row. I sat between Jane and Kitty. Lydia had given me the cold shoulder all morning and had advised Kitty to do the same. If what I said about Mr. Wickham had irked her, she must have already been in trouble of the acutest form. I tried to listen to the sermon, but Kitty kept on sending me messages from Lydia.
"Why do you think Mr. Wickham would not care about my interest in him?"
"What?" I whispered, "Not you too!"
"No," Kitty whispered back, "Lydia would like to know."
I shrugged, "He does not seem genuine. I think he is hiding something." My mother sent me a stern look, and I lowered my voice, "He does not appear to be a gentleman."
"Why do you believe he is not a gentleman?"
"I don't know. It's a feeling I get."
Lydia turned to me, "You've been wrong before, Lizzy."
"Then," I looked at Lydia, "for your sake, let us hope I am wrong."
After the church services the Christmas dinner, that Mrs. Bennet had ordered, was ready at the dining table. This was not just a dinner. It was a great feast. At the center of the table was a pig's head. I would most likely be skipping that. There was goose with stuffing. There were roast beef and venison also. Side dishes flanked the meat and consisted of potatoes, squash, roasted brussels sprouts, and carrots. The front door opened and closed. We were expecting the Lucases to join us shortly, but we were not anticipating them to come so soon.
Our servant appeared in the archway ready to tell us who was calling on us. Mrs. Bennet looked at the servant, her brow creased, "Who could that be this early?"
"It is rather early!" Kitty stated.
The servant came to me and said, "A Mr. Darcy is here to see you, ma'am."
"Me?" I asked.
"You?" Lydia looked at me in shock. "What about me?"
The servant shook her head, "He asked for Miss Elizabeth."
Lydia sank into a chair and crossed her arms. She pouted until Mrs. Bennet ordered her to leave the room for fear that her mannerisms would ruin the day. Mrs. Bennet addressed me, "What are you waiting for Lizzy? Go to him! Go to Mr. Darcy."
I walked into the sitting room to find Mr. Darcy standing with his back to me. He turned around and bowed and I returned the sentiment. I watched him as he stood before me and waited for him to say something, anything. After some deliberation, he took his top hat off and stepped towards me, "Miss Elizabeth."
"Mr. Darcy." Disconcerted, I inquired, "Why have you come? Is something wrong? I thought you were in London."
We stood there staring at each other. I felt so vulnerable and undisguised. He knew how I felt because I had stupidly let him know. And now, here he stood before me as if he wanted to cause me further humiliation. I wanted to ask him if he had stopped by to tell me more about how vulgar my family and I were. But, what I desired to do and what I did were two different things. I found myself wordless and transfixed by the fact that he had come to Longbourn. A place I was sure he deemed beneath him. He was, after all, no longer in Grosvenor Square. What had he come here to do? Was it to apologize? Had he come just to see me, to make sure that his principles were correct?
"Where are you staying?"
"The Tudor Rose Inn."
"Why not stay for dinner? We prepared a feast and had more food than we know what to do with. The Lucases will be joining us for a while." I looked up at him.
He gazed at me. After some consideration, he remarked, "I would not want to intrude."
"You're not intruding," I said in a sweet manner, "You'll be my guest."
"I must decline your invitation." He stated with reserve, "But, I am most gracious that you have thought of me."
A brief silence followed which I broke, "Happy Christmas."
He sent me a soft smile and bowed, "Happy Christmas."
"Are you leaving?"
"Yes, I-I must go."
"But, you've only just arrived!"
"Forgive me, I should not have come."
"What do you mean, Mr. Darcy?"
I followed him to the parlor room's threshold and curtsied, "Farewell, Mr. Darcy."
He nodded, "Farewell, Miss Elizabeth."
He looked up and blanched. I followed his eyes and saw that we were both standing under mistletoe. I blushed, "Mistletoe." I looked down and tried to hide my bashfulness. He closed the distance between us and lifted my chin up with his finger. My heartbeat increased with the rise and fall of my chest. I found it harder to breathe. I closed my eyes. He brushed his soft lips against mine. Every nerve in my body tingled, and as he stepped back, I opened my eyes. He looked at me again, closer this time. I could not imagine what he was thinking.
His voice quavered, "Farewell, Miss Elizabeth."
I whispered back, "Farewell, Mr. Darcy."
I followed him to the front door that was next to the parlor room. The chilly air forced its way inside, but I was not as cold as before. Once the door closed, I turned around to see Lydia watching me. She glowered at me with tears in her eyes, "How could you?"
"Lydia," I explained calmly, "there was mistletoe. I could not refuse him. If I refused, it would have been my degradation. You are well aware it would have meant no marriage proposals for a year because people would start snubbing me and saying that I would end up an old maid."
"You will end up an old maid regardless!" Lydia jeered, "You are not half as pretty as Jane and I are."
"And you," I approached her, "will shame this family by becoming the stupidest flirt Hertfordshire has ever seen!"
"I told you I liked him!"
"You have no claim over him, Lydia." I shook my head, "None of us do; not even me."
"Stop it," Lydia cried, "Stop being so self-righteous! Why can't you just say that you're in love with him?"
I gave a derisive laugh, "Because, haven't you heard? He's in love with you! I wouldn't dare trifle with his deep love for you."
"Fine," Lydia fumed, "I will show you! I can be just as good as you, Lizzy!"
"If you knew what I have suffered for you," I hissed, "you would not be so bold."
"What have you endured?"
"Mr. Darcy believes that you are an embarrassment."
She looked at me in shock, "You're lying!" She ran upstairs, locking her bedroom door. Kitty ran after her, but Lydia did not want to be consoled. She finally came down once the Lucas' came over. Lydia was uncharacteristically quiet. Charlotte and I sat in a corner, and I told her what happened.
"I have never met someone so confusing before!" I shook my head, "He puzzles me."
"And," Charlotte smiled, "for once, I have no sage advice to pass on. I concede I am equally befuddled as you are. But, do you wish to know what I think?"
"What do you think? I am all ears!" I leaned in with a playful smile.
"I think he is more in love with you than he realizes. He is confused about his attraction to you and it angers him because it is not clear to him why he feels this way."
I laughed, "Perhaps you are right."
That night, I could not sleep. I kept thinking about why he had come to call on me. I could not think of any other reason besides him wanting to see me again. There were no other explanations. I thought of the kiss and smiled because I had thought my chance with him had been lost, when, in fact, it had never been.