The following day was Boxing Day, and it was a day that the Darcy family enjoyed. Since the time of Darcy’s grandparents, the family gave gift boxes to their tenants and servants. And they were generous in the boxes they gave. The only problem was the storm that the Bingley’s had said was coming from the north arrived, full of fury. The snow and ice made it nearly impossible to go outside, let alone to the tenant cottages. Those servants who had worked on Christmas, had difficulties making their way home to be with their families.
Darcy’s mood was soured by the fact that the storm had trapped the Bingley family at Pemberley. For the hundredth time that morning, Darcy wondered how it was possible that Bingley was related to his sisters. The pair had placed a damper on the holiday celebration, even though they had remained in the rooms assigned to them. Charles and Hurst had insisted the sisters take trays in their rooms, rather than break their fast with the rest of the guests.
Rather than making the journey to each of the tenant homes, it was the tradition at Pemberley to have their tenants and the families of their staff and servants to come to the grand house for food and merriment in the afternoon, so the people could return to their homes before dark. The grand ballroom would be set up with tables and chairs, and food was prepared. Fortunately the plans had already been made, and the cooks and assistants were well into the preparations before the storm began. Darcy suggested that cots and bedding be available, in case the people became stranded. It was not the first time the Darcy family had set up the ballroom to house those who made Pemberley what it was.
Darcy had requested Elizabeth be part of the gathering, as he wished to familiarize her with traditions at Pemberley. His heart soared when she accepted his invitation. On her request, Darcy invited her relations to join the celebration, along with the Fitzwilliams. As the Bennets and Gardiners were new business owners in Lambton, it gave them a chance to meet some of the people from the neighborhood.
Caroline had learned of the plans for Boxing Day, as she overheard two of the maids speaking. Hurrying to her sister’s bedchamber, Caroline could not contain her excitement.
“Louisa, I have just learned that the chit and her family are to be introduced to the servants and tenants of Pemberley. I need to attend, show Mr Darcy that I am the better choice to be mistress of his home.”
“Sister, you are not the most charitable person. You had a difficult time giving a bonus to your own maid, how can you cope with so many people who are beneath us?”
“I can be kind, if I wish to be. I wish to be mistress of this estate, so it is in my best interest to show Mr Darcy that I can be kind to those beneath me.” Caroline’s nose rose, as if she found an odor that was distasteful.
“It would not be wise, Caroline. If you anger Mr Darcy, our brother will lose his patience with you. Do you wish to end up living with our Aunt Sophie, after you just angered her to make her ask for you to remove from her home? Brother told you that he will wash his hands of you if there is any further problem.”
“Oh, do not bother me with such trivial things. Charles is simple enough to placate. And once I am married to his friend, our brother will be pleased.”
“Well, I will not go against our brother and my husband. I know what my punishment would be, and am not ready to pay the price to help you on such a fool’s errand.” Louisa decided to stand her ground. “So do not count on my assistance.”
“And do not expect to be invited to stay here after I become Mistress. You will not be welcomed, since you refuse to assist me now.” Caroline said as she made her way to the door. She felt her anger building once again. How could her own sister refuse to be on her side? However, it did not matter; she would make certain that Louisa paid for her reluctance.
~~ ** ~~
The ballroom was filled with food and gift boxes, as the tenants and families of the servants and staff made their way through the storm. Everyone was bundled in their warmest clothes, some even wrapped in blankets over their coats. The fireplaces in the ballroom were blazing, filling the room with warmth. Once in the ballroom, their outerwear was hung on racks by the fires, so the clothes would dry before they were needed again, for the people to return to their homes.
Children were excited, as the Darcys had a reputation of giving each child a gift of some sweets and a toy of some sort. They looked forward to Boxing Day, as it was the best day of the year, at least in their minds.
Elizabeth had assisted her sister in making jam filled biscuits to be served to the children. They had made enough so that the children would have some to eat at the gathering and some to take with them for later. Georgiana and Jane had made handkerchiefs for the ladies, with each lady’s initals stitched on them. The women were thrilled with the kindness that had been gifted to them. For the men, there were warm socks.
Each of the gift boxes contained precious commodities, sugar, coffee, tea, flour, jams, smoked meat, and more. There was also a cloth pouch that contained some coins, as a bonus to the people for their hard work. Pemberley had produced far grander than was expected, and Fitzwilliam knew that it was due to the diligent work of the people who were gathered in the ballroom.
As everyone was enjoying the food provided, with cold meats, cheeses, biscuits, breads, and more, a sudden stench came to the room. It was not difficult to determine from where it came. Caroline Bingley wandered in the room, wearing one of her best gowns, and primped as if she were attending a grand affair in London. Her cologne was…well, let us say it was best described as worse than a decaying animal. And the fact that she wore it liberally suggested that Caroline had no sense of smell.
The lady waltzed into the ballroom as if she was royalty, paying homage to the poor. Approaching Darcy, she insinuated herself between the man and Elizabeth Bennet, clasping on to his arm. “Mr Darcy, I thought it would be pleasant for your people to see that you are surrounded by like individuals, who share your generosity to those so far beneath us.”
“Miss Bingley, perhaps it would be best if you were to rest in your rooms. You must desire rest after the journey you made yesterday.” Darcy spoke in low tones, not wishing to draw attention. “I do not believe you are required to assist us.”
“But I thought it would be fitting, so that the people who serve Pemberley see that their future is secure, even when the future brings changes. By this time next year, there may be a new Mistress of Pemberley, and it is good to show the people that even with such changes, they will still be treated with appreciation.”
Darcy was becoming furious, yet did not wish to show his anger during what was supposed to be joyous occasion. “Miss Bingley, I will suggest that you remove yourself from this room immediately. I do not wish to dampen the mood of the people.”
Caroline was too dense to take his hint, using her free hand to lightly tap Darcy on the sleeve, as she chuckled. “Oh, Mr Darcy, you are so silly. The mood can only be improved with me here. I am well known to liven up parties in Town, so those attending here will welcome my being in attendance. My presence will add an air of elegance and grace to their country gathering.”
He had heard enough. Darcy took hold of Caroline’s arm and marched her towards the door to the hallway. Once in the hallway, Darcy turned towards Caroline. “Miss Bingley, I will only inform you this one time. I have no desire to be connected with you. The only reason I have tolerated you was due to my friendship with your brother. You will never be the Mistress of Pemberley or Darcy House, as I have no intention of ever asking for your hand. You had best come to terms with the fact that you are the last woman on earth I would think of marrying. Now go to your bedchamber and remain there. If you come out of your room before your brother is prepared to resume your journey to Town, I will insist your removal to the inn in Lambton. Do I make myself understood?”
Her face reddened with anger. “Mr Darcy, you have led me to believe you were only waiting for my brother to offer for your sister, before you announce our engagement. It has been understood that you needed a lady of my distinct taste to be your wife. With you and my brother being so close, it was presumed by all that we would be the perfect pair.”
“I know no one who believed such nonsense, other than you, Miss Bingley. I have had enough. Will you return to your room and remain there, or shall I send for your brother to remove you from my home?”
Caroline reached her hand out, slapping Darcy’s cheek as hard as she could. A moment later, she assaulted him, clawing at his face with her fingernails. Fortunately, two footmen saw what was happening and rushed to their employer’s assistance.
When the footmen had hold on Caroline, Darcy directed them to take her to her bedchamber and ensure she remained there. He turned, finding that Mrs Reynolds had come in search of Darcy. “Fetch Bingley to speak with me immediately. He will need to remove his sister from my home.”
“Sir, you are bleeding.” Mrs Reynolds pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, moving to dab at the scratches on her employer’s cheek. “Perhaps you should have your valet clean the wounds.”
“After I speak with Bingley. I will not delay speaking to him of my displeasure.”
“Of course, sir. I will send a maid to be with the footmen, outside Miss Bingley’s room. I do not wish for any false accusations made against the men due to her foolishness.”
Darcy smiled. “Thank you, Mrs Reynolds. Would you also step in the ballroom and ask Miss Elizabeth to join me?”
Mrs Reynolds smiled. “Of course, Master William. She is a wonderful young lady, and so like your dear mother. Miss Elizabeth will make the sort of mistress Pemberley and its master, has needed for many years.”
His smile grew with his housekeeper’s words. “She is exactly what I need to complete my life.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Lady Catherine was livid. She had planned on arriving at Pemberley before Christmas, planning to blackmail her nephew into marrying her daughter. The trip had been delayed by many problems, which was why they were forced to stay in an inn in Leicestershire.
Two days prior, the de Bourgh carriage had shown a problem which would make travel dangerous. This forced the two ladies and Miss de Bourgh’s companion to remain at the inn, while the driver took the carriage back to Town, for the repairs. According to the blacksmith, the damage was too much for him to do by himself, and would require more work than he had time for, leaving no option but to return south for repairs. The driver, Herbert, knew his Mistress would not be pleased.
“Why was this not repaired before we left Kent? Obviously, there was a problem before we left Rosings. Why did you not find the matter and make the repairs before it became this severe?” Lady Catherine banged her walking stick on the ground to emphasize her words.
“Your ladyship, I did suggest the repairs to you some time ago, and I reminded you of the situation before we left Rosings. You told me that it was not broken, and you would not pay for repairs that were not needed.”
“How dare you blame me for your incompetence.” Lady Catherine was livid. “You are responsible for the carriage and its maintenance. I have no notion of how to repair such things, and rely on you to see that the situation is handled appropriately. I have half a mind to take the cost of our stay from your wages. Perhaps that will teach you to do your job.”
Herbert knew there was no getting through to Lady Catherine. He had worked for her long enough to know that she would always deem herself the righteous one, always the one in charge. So he determined to refrain from any further arguments and left to find someone to make the necessary repairs.
~~ ** ~~
“Charles, I am sorry to have to say this, but your sister, Miss Bingley, has to leave Pemberley immediately. I will pay for the price of the inn, but I will not allow her to remain here, not after her behavior.”
“She has been determined to show you she is worthy of being your spouse. I have spoken with her several times, but she refuses to believe you will not offer for her hand.” Bingley said, as he shook his head.
“I believe I have made my opinion clear on the matter. And today, with my tenants, servants and staff here, celebrating with us, your sister decides to act as if she were the mistress of the estate. I am courting Miss Elizabeth, how does it look to her to have your sister acting as if we have an understanding?”
“Forgive me, Darcy, I understand how difficult my sister has made everything. And Louisa has not helped, as last night she was championing Caroline’s desire to wed you. It has also come to my attention that my sisters are pushing for me to offer for your sister.”
Darcy’s eyes grew round. “My sister? They think that Georgiana should marry you? She will not even be out in society for at least two years. Why would they think we would accept such an attachment to be formed?”
“In Caroline’s mind, if I wed Georgiana, you would decide to marry her. Keeping the family connected.”
“She is delusional, Charles. It is time she is made to see the truth.”
“I know. You have tolerated her long enough. She has no one to blame but herself, for not listening to the truth.”
~~ ** ~~
Caroline stomped about the room in which she was forced to remain. She was in a fit, unable to keep her anger under control. Picking up a beautiful vase, she threw it towards the fireplace, watching as it shattered into shards. Then she moved towards the bedside table, picking up the bottle of perfume, throwing it towards the fireplace. The liquid inside the bottle exploded as the alcohol in the perfume licked the flames in the grate.
Bingley knocked on the door from the hallway. “Caroline, I need to speak with you.”
Delusional, Caroline moved to the door, opening it up. She was disappointed to look over her brother’s shoulder to find he was alone. “Come in Charles. I need to discuss with you my need for a new maid. Lucy does not know the latest styles, and she is hopeless.”
“First, Sister, your maid’s name is Sarah. Lucy was your maid a year ago, and you have had four maids since her. Second, you will not require a maid for some time to come.”
“What do you mean, no maid? I will look a fright if I am to dress myself and style my own hair. It is not as if we are poor, Charles.”
Bingley took a deep breath. “I just finished speaking with Hurst. We have decided that you, Louisa, and Hurst will take rooms at the inn in Lambton. As soon as the storm calms, you will then be returned to Scarborough. Our aunt will be in charge of you.”
“You must be joking, though I cannot find humor in this jest. Mr Darcy will be asking for my hand any day, and you wish to send me away?”
“Caroline, listen carefully. Fitzwilliam Darcy has no intentions to ever ask for your hand in marriage. He does not find anything about you to be appealing. You will never be Mistress of Pemberley, nor will you be Mrs Darcy. You must come to terms with these truths. And, after your behavior today, you are no longer welcome to visit Pemberley or Darcy House. My friend has been kind to us, but he is now too angry at your display to tolerate you for a minute longer.”
“What have you done to ruin my future?” Caroline screeched. “You have done something to fall into disfavor with Mr Darcy, and now I am to pay the price for your foolishness. Just when my life’s dream was to come true, you ruin everything with your behavior. Was it over his sister’s companion? It is obvious that you believe yourself in love with her already, as you are constantly referring to her as your angel. Did Mr Darcy take offense to your feelings for the chit? Good heavens, does he not realize how quickly you fall out of love? And I care not about his mistress, as long as he is discrete, I do not mind his dalliances.”
Bingley walked over to the door and motioned for the footmen to enter the room. “If you would, my sister is in need of assistance to make her way down to the carriage that is waiting for her. Would you men assist my sister, carrying her if there is a need?”
The footmen had already been spoken to about their duty, and were prepared to carry the harridan out of Pemberley. They had even discussed the potential need to gag her and tie her up, but they decided it would be easier to simply carry her quickly down the stairs and out the front door. Having dealt with the pompous chit on previous occasions, the men were only too happy to assist.
With one man on each side of her, they took hold of the woman as she began to struggle. Her struggles were in vain, though she refused to go without a fight. Her voice rose, as she began berating her brother, the footmen, Elizabeth Bennet, and finally, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
The plan had been for the footmen to accompany Hurst and the two ladies to Lambton, assisting in keeping Caroline at the inn. So, after depositing the angered female in the carriage, the footmen climbed on top of the carriage, and they were off.
Bingley had sent word ahead to the inn, informing them of the arrival of guests, and that he would pay extra for any inconvenience his sister put them through. He was certain that everyone in Lambton would hear his sister’s voice as she spouted her grievances, so he had already planned to do some shopping at the businesses, as a way of compensating them for their tolerance.
Hurst had been able to escort his wife and her sister inside the inn. Caroline looked around, disgusted by being forced to stay in, what she considered, inferior surroundings.
Once inside her room, Caroline remained silent. She knew she had to find a way to make everyone pay for their treatment of her. And the first person she planned on extracting a penalty from was Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Knowing that the Bennets and Gardiners were still staying at Pemberley, in the position she still believed to be due her, Caroline felt the need to punish the interloper.
Remaining quiet, Caroline looked out the window of the room in which she was to stay. The street was quiet, only a few people walked about. She could see everyone was bundled, hurrying to do their business and return to their homes. The snow had continued to fall, large flakes upon large flakes, and had begun to accumulate. If it did not abate, Caroline would be forced to remain in the hotel room for several days.
Across the street from the inn were several businesses. The one that caught her attention was closed, but the sign on the front of it announced a grand opening the following week. The name on the sign was Gardiner’s Tea Emporium. Seething, Caroline glared at the sign. She was certain that it belonged to Mrs Gardiner, as Caroline remembered one of the sisters stating that they had recently moved to Lambton.
Just then, a knock was heard on the door to her room. She walked to it and opened the door, finding her sister on the other side.
“What do you want?” Caroline asked, her voice held harsh tones.
“Gilbert and I were planning to eat in the dining room. Do you wish to join us, or should we have a tray brought up to you?”
“I do not have an appetite.” Caroline huffed. “I do not require any food.”
Louisa was concerned. “Please, Caro, do not starve yourself. It will do you no good to harm your own health.”
“Do not fret, Louisa, I will be fine. If I become hungry later, I will send for a tray. Have no fear, I will look after myself, as I have all my life.” With that, Caroline closed the door.
Mrs Hurst stood at the door for several moments after the door was closed. She was worried, as she knew her sister too well. Caroline was formulating a plan, of that, she was certain. And when Caroline was angry, her plans did not take into consideration how many people were harmed. Louisa would have to speak with her husband and devise a plan to keep close watch on her sister.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~