I often wonder how readers feel about the final chapters of P&P variations. Too long? Not long enough?
How much time do you enjoy spending with our favourite characters once they had cleared their misunderstandings, vanquished all their foes, and are ready to start their life together?
One argument is ‘Hang on a minute, we’ve seen them miserable for so many chapters. Why can’t we stick around to see them happy?’
But the other argument is ‘Fine, but nothing actually happens. They’re happy, they’re head over heels in love, they spend every minute together. Great. Let’s leave them to it and move on.’
So, do you prefer to stick around or move on to the next adventure?
I’m guessing that most readers would rather move on, so I won’t sport with your patience in my next book. But for today’s post I thought I’d write a short and sweet HEA vignette. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll like it.
A Sweet HEA Vignette
Darcy concealed his grin in his cup of tea and idly wondered yet again what Bingley might have said in his endeavour to tame his refractory sisters into silence. Whatever it was, it seemed to have worked like a charm.
“Well, Darcy? Any sign of them?” his friend asked as though on cue, voice ringing with the same anticipation that had driven Darcy to the window.
“Not yet,” he evenly replied.
A quiet mutter reached him a moment later, so quiet that he could only catch a few words here and there. They sounded suspiciously like “…before you know it…” and “…eager to take stock of her future possessions.”
“What was that, Caroline?” Bingley snapped.
“Do not concern yourself, Brother. It was nothing of consequence,” Mrs Hurst was quick to offer in a placating tone.
Wickedly diverted despite himself, Darcy was inclined to turn around and discover if his friend had truly been placated, but his full attention was captured by the small conveyance that had just come into view and was slowly negotiating the bend at the entrance.
“Here, now, is that the carriage?” Hurst asked, his head raised to attention after the manner of the best-trained pointer.
“It is,” Darcy confirmed and strode back to the table to set down his cup as he absentmindedly tugged at the edges of his coat.
He pressed his lips together to suppress a traitorous smile when he saw Bingley leaping up to inspect and rearrange his own apparel. As for Hurst, he was no less diverting, albeit in a different manner. Still chewing with great energy, he wiped his mouth, threw his napkin on the table and scrambled to his feet as fast as his portly figure would allow.
“Oh, confound it!” he growled when his napkin nearly overset his half-empty glass of port. Mrs Hurst caught it with an ease that spoke of fast reflexes and a great deal of practice, so he patted her clumsily on the shoulder with a “I thank you, m’dear. Well, I had better make myself scarce, and be quick about it. You do not mind, Bingley, do you? This is none of my affair. Ahem! That is— Well, I shan’t be of any use here,” he concluded lamely.
As soon as Bingley indicated with a brief gesture that he had no objections, Hurst turned away and headed for the furthest door – the one that did not lead to the entrance hall.
“I envy your husband, Louisa,” Miss Bingley grumbled more loudly than she should have done, so this time it was not in her sister’s power to come to her aid and claim that she had said nothing of consequence. Bingley had been able to hear every word for himself, and he lost no time in making his feelings clear.
“Do you, now?” he challenged, narrowing his eyes in a manner that forcibly reminded Darcy of Lady Catherine. “Very well. Feel free to go. In fact, Caroline, you might as well summon your lady’s maid and instruct her to start filling your trunks. But do be sure she remembers to pack all your shawls and pelisses and whatnot. ‘Tis frightfully cold in Scarborough at this time of year.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Charles!” Miss Bingley exclaimed, rolling her eyes. “Do play a different tune, I beg you. This little refrain of yours has already grown excessively tiresome.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Bingley retorted, steel in his eyes, as he stared his sister down. “Then I will only tell you this: do not mistake it for an empty threat.”
“You are ever so obliging, Miss Bingley, but we had better not dally,” Mrs Bennet hastened to reply. “So much to do, so much to do! I said to Jane two days ago that we ought to make arrangements for this call, but she was… Well. Truth be told, I doubt that we would have managed to get away so soon after the betrothals were announced. We have had one visitor after another. Everyone was keen to come and offer their best wishes. Mrs Long was the first to call. Such a kind soul! Not an ounce of envy in her, even though she has three unmarried nieces. Sweet girls, but not at all handsome. I like them prodigiously. Lady Lucas came next, along with Maria. Mrs Purvis and Mrs Goulding took their time, but that was no more than I expected. They each have such a large brood… Yes, dear? What is it?” Mrs Bennet asked when Jane pressed her arm and mercifully halted her effusions.
Sadly, the respite did not last. Elizabeth flinched when Mrs Bennet chose to draw her own conclusions:
“I daresay you wish to get on with it. Frankly, so do I. Well, Miss Bingley, shall we start our tour? I daresay we should begin with the bedchambers. I have only seen the one where Jane stayed when she was taken ill at Netherfield last autumn, the poor dear. Well, in fact I did get to see two more. The ones at the end of the west wing, you know. But that was upwards of four years ago, before Old Mr Arlington’s widow had decided to lease Netherfield and go to live in Devon with her married daughter.”
Her cheeks aflame, Elizabeth could not bring herself to glance towards her betrothed. She almost wished he had gone riding first thing in the morning, or that he was somewhere else in the house, at a safe distance from her mother’s ramblings. Not for the first time, and probably not the last, she blessed every single one of the many miles that separated Pemberley from Longbourn.
Her mother moved on to speak of Mrs Arlington’s previous tenants – “…strange people they were… cold and unfriendly… kept themselves to themselves…” – and as she struggled to devise a civil and effective way to bring an end to Mrs Bennet’s monologue, Elizabeth caught a glimpse of Mr Darcy out of the corner of her eye. In truth, she sensed more than she saw him stepping closer, and a moment later his voice rumbled in her ear.
“Good morning,” he said softly, and at that she did look up.
She blinked. She had expected – feared – that she would find traces of his old reserve in his countenance. Not the old hauteur, nor any grimace of stern disapproval. She trusted him too much to fear anything of that sort. But she did expect tension and signs of discomfort.
She found none. There was naught but warmth in his smiling eyes, as though the pair of them were a long way away from any troubling distractions. Nay – as though they were the only two people in the world.
The rush of feeling was intoxicating. It made her feel a little dizzy, as if she had risen to her feet in the greatest haste. It defied reason that a pair of dark eyes – however deep and warm and smiling – should render her light-headed and weak in the knees. But then again, reason had become a stranger a fair while ago.
She forgot to reply to his greeting. Instead, she asked, “How have you been?” as though she had not seen him in weeks rather than hours.
The corners of his lips curled up into a rueful smile.
“As well as can be expected. Will you walk with me?”
She gave a breathless little chuckle.
“Of course. I thought you would never ask.”
“And I you,” Elizabeth whispered back, without taking the trouble to remind either herself or him that they had been together the previous evening, at dinner. That was a very long time ago. And she could not find it in the least absurd that these days a mere hour without him seemed longer than an age.
There was something else that struck her as utterly absurd: that the Netherfield arboretum – and the shrubbery, for that matter – should be at such a distance from the house. How was one to have a private conversation there, in the open, right before the drawing room windows?
“Is your father any closer to making his decision?” Mr Darcy asked after a while.
There was just one major point that remained to be decided: the date of the double wedding. But so far her father had done his utmost to avoid serious discussions on that topic.
“Not yet. Although he did point out this morning at breakfast that we should beware the Ides of March, so we would do well to consider a day in April.”
“April?” Mr Darcy frowned. His voice was composed, the note of horror barely audible, but Elizabeth did not miss it, for she already knew it would be there. How could it not? April was more than five months away.
She pressed his arm in reassurance.
“He takes delight in teasing me. And Mamma. Jane too, but she gives him little satisfaction for she never rises to the bait,” Elizabeth said with an airy little laugh, much as she knew that there was more to it than her dear papa’s penchant for teasing. He was in no haste to part with her, and would dearly wish to delay that for as long as possible. “But there is no risk of such a long wait,” she resumed. “Mamma has already declared in no uncertain terms that she would have no truck with it.”
Mr Darcy chuckled mildly.
“My fondness for your mother is growing day by day.”
“Even after this morning’s display? You must truly love me,” Elizabeth replied without thinking, only to chide herself for her arch retort. What purpose did it serve to remind him of her mamma’s propensity to be loud and mortifying?
But Mr Darcy sought her gaze, his dark eyes smouldering, and teased, “Have you only just discovered that?”
“No,” she said in a throaty whisper, hard-pressed to remember that they still were in full view of the house.
Not their first kiss – far from it. She would have been vastly disappointed if circumstances had compelled them to wait so very long. The red letter day of their first kiss had arrived a se’nnight and a half ago, four days after their betrothal. And although she had spent a sizeable proportion of those four days indulging in sweet fantasies on that very subject, their first kiss had still caught her by surprise. As a result, Elizabeth rather feared that her reaction had been ludicrously missish. But, to her material advantage, she had been granted ample opportunity for improvement. The wide-eyed astonishment and the catch in her throat were a thing of the past. Her lips had long learnt to shape themselves around his and respond with matching fervour. Her fingertips had already explored the texture of his hair and each and every contour of his face. But that was neither here nor there. She would never tire of her explorations.
The long, ardent kiss was not quite enough either, so she gave a little murmur of discontent when he drew back by a fraction to ask, “You are not cold, are you?”
‘Cold?’ she very nearly gasped. How could she be cold when her skin was on fire? But she only shook her head.
“What would you say, how long until we are missed?” he whispered, his breath warm against her lips.
To that, there was only one answer she could give:
“I say I could not care less if we are missed.”
That much was true, but she did spare a sympathetic thought for her sister. Dear Jane! Poor Jane. No chance of privacy for her and Mr Bingley. They must still be touring the house with Miss Bingley and Mrs Bennet. The next thought was selfish, but she could not repent: with any luck, her mamma would wish to inspect every nook and cranny. May her curiosity not be appeased for hours!
Elizabeth kept the last thought to herself, but only because she was breathless and giddy, and could think of better employment for her lips. There was something that she did wish to say, though, so she spoke as soon as they came up for air:
“I shall have a private word with Papa on my return. The date will be set by sundown.”
“For sometime before April, I should like to hope,” he softly teased.
“Oh, yes. Long before than April!” she replied with energy, before she stood on tiptoe, so that they might continue from where they had left off.
Images by OpenClipart-Vectors, StockSnap and C Ohlson from Pixabay