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Authors: Carolyn Eberhart

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol

BOOK: Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol
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Copyright

A Darcy Christmas
anthology copyright © 2010 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover and internal design © 2012 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

The publisher acknowledges the copyright holders of the individual works as follows:

“Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol” copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Eberhart

Cover design by Brittany Vibbert

Cover image by Anja Kaiser/123RF

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

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“Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol” is a novella that originally appeared in
A Darcy Christmas
anthology

Chapter 1

Old Mr. Darcy's Ghost

Old Mr. Darcy was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. The clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner had all signed the register of his burial. His son signed it. And Fitzwilliam Darcy's name was as good as his father's before him. Old Mr. Darcy was as dead as a doornail. Darcy was dreadfully cut up by the sad event.

There is no doubt that Old Mr. Darcy was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story.

Darcy was often proud and conceited, arrogant and disdainful to those whom he did not know. Friends, on the other hand, might stop him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Darcy, how are you? When will you come to see me?” Children and dogs often seemed able to see beneath his exterior to the real Darcy. Yet many never saw in him that which did not appear on the surface.

Darcy's soul and heart had sustained an injury in the spring from one who had yet to see beyond his outward façade. Elizabeth Bennet had refused his proposal of marriage—refused it in a manner that seemed as hard and sharp as flint.

“I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Darcy could now admit that his offer, sincere as it was, had been given in an abominable manner, and he winced at the still vibrant memory. But her harsh words had not struck out the fire of his love. He had tried to conquer his feelings but he could not. Hope had bloomed anew for a few sunlit days last summer, when he had unexpectedly run into Elizabeth at Pemberley. She had seemed more inclined to think well of him than she ever had before. A few halcyon days had been all that had been allowed before news of Lydia Bennet's fall from grace had separated them yet again.

Darcy had done what he could to restore respectability to the wayward girl.
No
, Darcy thought,
he had done what he could to restore Elizabeth's peace of mind.
He cared naught of Lydia's reputation—only that the loss of it caused pain to Elizabeth.

Darcy had seen Elizabeth perhaps a dozen times since taking care of Lydia's folly. The most awkward was when he had accepted her thanks for his actions but could not bring himself to speak further. The most painful occasion had been when he and Elizabeth met at the altar during the nuptials of Bingley and Jane. He had been best man, while Elizabeth was maid of honor. He wanted to be the one exchanging vows before God. On both occasions, he had almost renewed his addresses to Elizabeth but he had not. The memory of the hurt and anger he experienced at her first rejection had kept him silent. And yes, his damnable pride had also held his tongue. Now, with Christmas fast approaching, his hope for a future with Elizabeth had almost withered away.

***

Christmas Eve dawned with cold, bleak, biting weather and a fog settled over the city like a gray greatcoat. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without that the houses opposite were mere phantoms. When the mantel clock had only just gone three, it was already quite dark, for there had barely been light all day and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighboring houses, like shining beacons upon the palpable white mist. Few people ventured into the street outside Darcy's door, the weather keeping them inside or hurrying from warm houses to carriages where blankets and hot bricks awaited.

Darcy sat busy in his study. The door of the study was open so that he might keep his eye upon his sister, who, in a pretty little room beyond, was playing the piano. Darcy had a very good fire going, and Georgiana's fire was also blazing merrily away—so much so that Georgiana had to put off her white shawl.

Darcy was going over his Christmas accounts. Most of the household staff would receive their usual gifts before departing to visit family in or around the city. Then he allotted funds to various benevolent organizations. In the past few years, he had continued to support those charities that his father felt were worthy of his largesse and he would continue with those obligations in the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the time has come for me to take a more personal interest in such matters,
he thought. His thoughts were interrupted when he recognized the tune Georgiana was playing; it was one his father had favored.

He rose from his desk and crossed the room.

“Fitzwilliam? Is my playing bothering you?” Georgiana asked.

“No, my dear, it is as delightful as always. It is just that I remember that piece. Father was quite fond of it.”

“It is this time of year that I miss Papa the most. Do you miss him too?”

“Yes, very much, and our mother too. She enjoyed the Christmas season.”

“I regret that I have few memories of her now. I do remember coming into the parlor on Christmas day and watching her play the piano. She had me sit on the bench beside her and let me play with her. It must have sounded horrible.”

Darcy smiled at the memory, “Never that, just a trifle unharmonious. It is a good remembrance to keep. It is a pity you do not have more.”

“I do have many good memories of my childhood that include you and papa,” Georgiana sought to assure him. “I remember a snowball fight between you and my Fitzwilliam cousins and the vicar was just leaving when a stray snowball hit him squarely on the back. I think father and the vicar would have laughed had it not been for Lady Catherine scolding you and saying you were all too old for such nonsense.”

“And so we were. Father enjoyed hearing you play, as I do. Please continue.”

So Georgiana played and Darcy listened as the fog and darkness thickened. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping down at Darcy's house out of a gothic window in the wall, became invisible and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. It became foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold that chilled one to the bone. Still, there were those who chose to brave the weather.

The owner of a scant young nose, in danger of being frozen, stooped down at Darcy's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol, at the first sound of
God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!
Georgiana began to accompany the caroler. Darcy gave a footman some coins to toss at the singer.

“Thank ya, guv,” was the cheery reply, as the lad went off to the next house on the square.

At length, the hour of going to church arrived. Darcy rose from behind his desk, and Georgiana instantly fetched her cloak and hat.

They entered the carriage and made their way to the Christmas Eve service. “You are looking forward to tomorrow, I suppose?” asked Darcy.

“Yes, Fitzwilliam.”

“It is not as festive here in town as at Pemberley,” Darcy warned. “You will be expecting something grand for your Christmas present, no doubt.”

Georgiana smiled faintly at this teasing. What she really wanted for Christmas was a new sister. One with laughing eyes who made her brother smile.

“And,” said Darcy, “you do not think me ill-used, that I have searched high and low for your gift.”

Georgiana observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” teased Darcy lightly, buttoning his greatcoat to the chin. “But I suppose you will find much to celebrate the whole of Christmas day and all the next too, no doubt!”

Georgiana promised that she would, and Darcy smiled at her. The church was reached in a twinkling. Darcy and Georgiana, the long ends of her white scarf dangling in the wind, went into the church. The church bells rang out twenty-four times, in honor of its being Christmas Eve. The telling of the Christmas story never failed to stir Georgiana. During the service she prayed that her Christmas wish for Darcy might be granted in some way. The choir burst into song as her prayer ended. She left the church renewed in spirit, sure that her prayer would be answered.

Darcy and Georgiana feasted on a merry meal with their uncle and aunt, newly arrived in town from Bath. After dinner, Darcy beguiled the rest of the evening with friends at his club (and partook a bit more freely of the good cheer offered by these comrades than he was used to) while his sister remained with her relations. Darcy would join them on the following day for Christmas dinner.

Eventually, Darcy went home. It was an old house, but well lived-in. The yard was so dark that even Darcy, who knew its every stone, was forced to grope about with his hands. The fog and frost hung about the old, black doorway of the house.

There was nothing at all particular about the lion-headed knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is a fact that Darcy had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place and that he had as little of what is called fancy about him. But let it also be borne in mind that Darcy had thought much of his father on this day, since the mention of his five-years dead parent that afternoon, and that he still mourned the loss of that revered personage. It should not be so surprising then that Darcy, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change became not a knocker, but his father's face.

George Darcy's face was before him. It was not in impenetrable shadow, as the other objects in the yard were, but had a cheerful light about it. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Darcy as his father often used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up upon its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid color, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.

As Darcy looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again. He blinked and then traced the lion's head with fingers, feeling only cold iron beneath them. To say that he was not startled or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy would be untrue. Shaking his head, he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted the candle that was waiting for him.

He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, before he shut the door. He did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Old Mr. Darcy's backside sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he closed it with a bang.

The sound resounded through the house like thunder. Every room above and every cask in the cellars below appeared to have a separate peal of echoes all its own. Darcy was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He fastened the door and walked across the hall and up the stairs, slowly too, for his candle cast eerie shadows as he went.

There was plenty of width to the old flight of stairs—a coach-and-six could drive up it with room to spare. A hearse also could have done it easily enough, which is perhaps the reason why Darcy thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom.

Up Darcy went, wondering if he perhaps he was drunk. He had not thought so, for he had never truly overindulged. Yet it could explain the strange tricks his eyes were playing on him. Yet before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms, which had once been occupied by his deceased parent, to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that.

They were a cheerful suite of rooms, consisting of a sitting room and bedroom, and each was as it should be. The logs were at the ready, which Darcy quickly ignited into a large fire in the grate; the pitcher and basin were ready for use; and the decanter of brandy was upon the table, just as his valet left it before he and the rest of the servants quit the house to visit their own families and friends for the evening's celebrations. Nobody was behind the curtains; nobody was underneath the sofa; nobody was under the bed; nobody was in the closet; nobody was in his dressing gown, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door and locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off his cravat and jacket, leaving his waistcoat on but unbuttoned, and shrugged into the dressing gown before sitting down in front of the fire to take his glass of brandy.

It was a very good fire indeed, nothing to it on such a bitter night. He sat close to it and brooded; the brandy remained untouched. The fireplace was an old one, built long ago, and carved all round with designs to illustrate the Scriptures. There were hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet only the face of his father, five years dead, remained in Darcy's thoughts.

“Nonsense!” said Darcy, and walked across the room. After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, which hung in the room and communicated to the servants in the highest story of the building. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased as they had begun: together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the cellar. Darcy then remembered having heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.

The cellar door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

“It is nonsense still!” said Darcy. “I will not believe it.”

BOOK: Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol
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