I am super excited to announce today's snow-filled scene. Cassandra Grafton, author of A Fair Prospect, has generously and cleverly written a special scene for the Frolic and Play series! Thank you, Cassandra. :)
This scene takes place the day after the Netherfield ball in Pride and Prejudice and after Mr. Collins is rejected by Elizabeth Bennet. Enjoy!
The day after the Netherfield Ball…
An early blast of wintry air had descended upon Hertfordshire overnight, leaving a hard frost atop a thin layer of snow, with the threat of more to come. Intent upon his business in Town and thus a speedy return, Charles Bingley set off at first light, the use of his carriage his only concession to the weather.
By the time the remaining occupants of Netherfield ventured downstairs, snow fell heavily from grey skies and before long several inches lay upon the ground.
Despite the roaring fires in every hearth, Caroline Bingley complained as steadily as the flakes fell, of the coldness in the air, the conditions outside underfoot and the paucity of the neighbourhood for offering any possible distraction.
As the clock struck noon, she and her sister settled beside the largest fire of all in the drawing room, refusing to move from its warmth. Mr Hurst resumed his usual indolent position on the sofa before drifting into slumber and, striving to tune out the ladies’ plaintive voices, Darcy walked over to the window and stared out into the park.
The weather was an unfortunate complication, and he released a frustrated breath. Their discussion earlier had centred upon Miss Jane Bennet and Bingley’s apparent infatuation with her. His sisters harboured some of Darcy’s own reservations over the suitability of the lady, and his doubts over Miss Bennet’s genuine interest in his friend were sufficient for him to agree to their suggestion: that they follow Bingley to Town directly and somehow – he knew not how – persuade him against not only his inclination, but returning to Netherfield at all.
Darcy eyed the conditions outside. There would be no journey to Town today. He could only hope, it being so early in winter, for a quick thaw so that they could make a swift withdrawal from the neighbourhood soon after. Hard upon the heels of this thought, came another: he would not see Miss Elizabeth Bennet again.
The tightening in his chest that accompanied any thought of the lady of late made its presence duly felt and, keen for distraction, he excused himself and made his way to the boot room. He needed fresh air and exercise to stave off the thoughts and regrets that would intrude.
Stepping outside, suitably booted and wrapped in his great coat, Darcy strode out, his feet making no sound on the virgin snow. The snow had all but stopped falling, and the skies were lightening slowly, and he inhaled deeply of the crisp, clear air as he walked, relishing the feel of it coolness.
Just then, a sound caught his ear, and he stopped to listen: children playing, their shouts of joy and laughter drifting to him like snowflakes on the wind. Turning a corner, he beheld them, using make-shift sledges to fly down a nearby slope before, pink-faced with cold, turning to trudge their way to the top again, bent upon repeating the pleasure.
Darcy turned his steps to the right, seeking solitude and soon came upon an opening in the hedgerow through which he slipped. Yet his evasive action proved his downfall; with a resounding thud, something hit him squarely in the throat and, as icy slithers of snow began to slide beneath his neck-cloth, his gaze met that of a wide-eyed Elizabeth Bennet.
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy; I did not expect you.” Her tone was sufficiently contrite, but her countenance did not speak of regret. Unless he was much mistaken, the lady was struggling to conceal her mirth.
He wiped the snow from his neck, brushing the remainder from his coat. “You have a sure aim for a lady, Madam.”
A raised brow greeted this comment. “For a lady, Sir? I will take the credit, begrudgingly though you bestow it. Yet my honesty will prevail. I did not take aim and fire, you merely obliged me by walking into my range.” She waved a hand, and he looked over his shoulder.
A low stone wall ran the length of the copse on this side and balanced atop it was a small snowman, albeit now minus part of its head. He frowned; she appeared to have attached some black ribbon to its neck but before he could study it further, she spoke from beside him.
“You place yourself in continued peril, Mr Darcy.”
He glanced at her as she picked something up from the foot of the wall: a low-brimmed black hat, and he frowned again. It was familiar yet he could not place it.
Having balanced it once more upon the remains of the snowman’s head, she returned to the place where she had first stood and, sensing that she would make no allowance for his present position, he quickly stepped aside, just in time to miss the next missile as it struck its target.
Elizabeth made a charming picture, wrapped up warmly in a thick coat, a colourful scarf at her throat and her pink cheeks glowing almost as much as her dark eyes and, despite the lingering dampness about his neck, Darcy released a contented sigh.
“You force me to repeat my praise, Miss Bennet. Your aim is true.”
She laughed. “It is a fine accomplishment, is it not?” Bending to scoop up another handful of snow, she moulded it into a tight ball. “You are very gallant, Mr Darcy?”
“You seem surprised.”
She pursed her lips. “Aye, you and gallantry are not things I have coupled together before now.”
Shocked, not only by her outspokenness but also the implication of her words, Darcy knew not what to say. Did she truly hold him in such low esteem? If so, how might he improve her opinion of him, and why was it so essential to him that he did?
Elizabeth, meanwhile, showed no respect for his inner turmoil, releasing the next snowball with expediency and returning the hat to its former place on the ground.
As she passed him on her way to restore it, he noted the snow clinging in clumps to her boots and the hem of her coat. “You are a long way from home in these conditions. May I not see you safely back?”
She adjusted the ribbon on the snowman’s shoulders, its head now fully dispatched to the other side of the wall and turned to study him. He could not see that he had said anything amiss, yet her expression did not auger well.
“You are mistaken, Mr Darcy. Home is but the other side of the wall.” Trying to get his bearings, Darcy’s gaze narrowed as she continued. “Longbourn may only be a modest house in your eyes, Sir, but the grounds are sufficiently large for finding solitude,” she raised an admonishing brow at him before turning to top the ribbon with the hat, “and escape when required.”
Accepting the hit, Darcy inclined his head. “Then permit me to leave you in peace, Madam.”
At this, the lady shook her head. “Pay me no mind, Mr Darcy. I am out of countenance with myself more than any other. You are perfectly at liberty to walk here.”
Glad of the reprieve, he smiled. “May I be of any assistance?”
Elizabeth threw him a surprised glance. “I doubt that you can, Sir. I am sorely in need of an outlet for a surfeit of ill temper.” She paused, then added, “Do not be alarmed, Mr Darcy; I am merely aggrieved by my cousin and needed to be where he was not.”
Recognition of the snowman’s attire came instantly, and Darcy bit his lip to hide his amusement.
“And er - may I enquire how you managed to take possession of his hat?”
She shrugged. “I cannot lay claim to any talent in that quarter. It hung upon the coat stand as I passed through the hall and, as I suspected he would have little use for it at present, I borrowed it.”
Turning, she walked back to a small pile of remaining snowballs and picked one up, weighing it on her palm, before facing him. “May I ask you a question?”
Unsure if she was about to request that she aim the next missile at him rather than the snowman, Darcy faltered; then, he nodded. “Of course.”
She sighed. “Would you ever consider putting your own happiness ahead of duty to your family?”
Darcy stared at her thoughtfully for a moment, unsure of the relevance of her words. “It is not so simple to answer. If I thought I had forsaken my duty, I do not think I could find contentment.” He studied her troubled countenance, then added. “But my resolve has yet to be tested in earnest.”
What he might have said next, he did not know, for voices drifted towards them on the cold air and they looked towards a stile part way along the wall only to see two of the younger Bennet sisters appear.
“Come, Lizzy! Papa says it is time for you to return to the house.” The girl gave Darcy a startled glance, as if only now perceiving his presence; then, she smirked. “You are quite safe; our cousin has taken to his room until supper.”
“I bid you good day, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth curtsied, and he offered her a bow by return. “I thank you for bearing me company.” She held out her latest offering towards him, and he took it.
“I return the compliment, Miss Bennet.”
She retrieved the hat and soon disappeared over the stile and into the grounds of Longbourn, the chattering and laughter of her sisters fading slowly, and Darcy stooped to gather more snow, doubling his missile in size.
Though it had been many a year since he had thrown a snowball, Darcy was a keen sportsman with a good eye and a true aim, and the remains of the snowman, ribbon and all, soon disappeared over the wall in search of its head. How was it he felt such pleasure over such a childish thing and so revitalised by spending a short time in the lady’s company?
Darcy turned to retrace his steps, deep in thought. A few light flakes of snow began to fall, and he cast a wary glance heavenwards. Then, he shook his head at his own folly. Whatever the weather chose to deliver, he was caught in a trap of his own making – it was time to own it to himself. Thus, he would remain in Hertfordshire, await his friend’s return and, in the meantime, consider the benefits of lingering a little longer in the country.
I don't know about you, but I am wishing this were not a stand-alone scene. I want to know what happens next in the story. Thanks again, Cassandra for writing this scene for Frolic and Play!
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