Previous chapters: Chapter One
Deck the Halls
December 23, 1811
“I do not understand,” Lizzy said to the pompous Mr. Darcy and Papa. “I thought we had fixed things.”
“Perhaps others must learn a lesson as well.”
Darcy glanced at Lydia, and she stuck her tongue out at him when he looked away. Why was he even here? Why did she not remember? She looked around the room and saw Jane and Bingley chatting complacently. Memories of them walking together in the garden of Longbourn emerged, and Lydia shrugged them away. She did not recall when he arrived to make his addresses, but then Lydia seldom paid attention to anything not about her.
So she did what she always did when confused and not understanding what others talked about. She laughed and made a show of herself. It was Christmas! There should be laughter and dancing. “Lord! I’m so hungry,” she cried. “Is it time for tea?”
“Tea? Yes, an excellent idea,” her mother said in a calm voice.
Lydia blinked at the woman. She could not recall ever hearing her mother speak so sensibly. Never having much compassion for her mother’s nerves and fits of anxiety, Lydia had found great amusement in them. “Mary, play something we can dance to!”
“I shall not.” Her middle sister frowned and looked possessively—for some inexplicable reason—at a man in a red coat.
Lydia scrunched her eyes, at first not knowing the man. Suddenly, remembering his name, without a clue or care as to when she met him, she laughed. “Do not worry, Colonel Fitzwilliam is safe from me. What good is a red coat if he is not jolly?”
Lydia skipped through the drawing room to the tune of an imaginary song.
“I do feel a great inclination to dance,” Mr. Darcy said, which caused Elizabeth to erupt in laughter.
Lydia stopped in her tracks. What on earth? Mr. Darcy wanted to dance? And from Lizzy’s reaction, he teased or joked. Impossible!
“Deck the halls!” Lydia cried as she scurried to the basket with spare holly. “No one is in the holiday mood.” She added several sprigs around the room and then attacked the fireplace, stirring up the flames. “See the blazing yule before us.”
As always, her faithful assistant Kitty followed suit. The girls linked arms and spun each other around the room as they sang.
“Follow me in merry measure!” Lydia sang, and this time several others joined in.
Colonel Fitzwilliam leaned his head towards Mary’s ear and said something to her. Surprisingly, she smiled and went to the pianoforte.
“Fast away the old year passes!” Lydia bellowed at the top of her lungs. “Hail the new ye lads and lasses!”
“Fa la la la la la la,” the rest of the room chorused.
Soon, everyone was dancing to the spirited song. As Lydia sang and stomped through the dance, she felt as though she might fly away. Her senses would leave her body, and she would be nothing but a ball of sensation and feeling. Giddiness rose up in her, like when she drank too much punch at a ball. She could not contain the carefree attitude that nothing would ever go wrong as long as there were laughter and dancing.
The tea arrived, and Lydia sat to catch her breath. Mary continued playing lively songs, and the others were all employed. Miss Darcy came to her side and made a cup.
“I would speak with you, Miss Lydia,” the shy girl said.
“La, must it be now?”
“I will be brief while you enjoy your refreshment.”
“Very well.” Lydia rolled her eyes. She did not care how rich the girl was or how beautiful her dress was. She was not going to be scolded by someone ten seconds older than her.
“I have also admired a red coat,” Miss Darcy spoke to her hands.
“I will only marry a soldier, I am sure.”
“I suppose others have talked to you about how little they earn.”
“Some of them have money from their family. I daresay your cousin does.” Lydia nodded in his direction. “Besides, what do I care about being rich? I will be a popular soldier’s wife and dance every night!”
“I once thought I was in love enough not to have a care about income either,” Miss Darcy said sadly. “I even consented to an elopement.”
Suddenly the young lady was far more interesting. Lydia put her plate and cup down with a clatter, hardly heard over the din of the others. “How romantic! What happened? Are you married in secret?” She leaned forward to hear more of the juicy tale. Visions of doing the same with a specific officer whose name started with W filled her head.
“Oh, it is not so exciting.” Miss Darcy shrugged. “Fitzwilliam arrived, and I could not bear to grieve him with the secret. He was outraged when he heard, not only my plans but also with whom I intended to leave.”
“He is the perfect match for Lizzy, then. She is always trying to ruin my fun!”
Miss Darcy shook her head. “No, I quite deserved his disapprobation. Well, the man would not stay and marry me with my guardian’s consent. Fitzwilliam said he wanted only my fortune.”
“How vile! To pretend to be so in love as to need an elopement and really be a fortune hunter. You are well rid of him!”
“Yes, I agree. However, I think you know him.”
“Who?” Lydia asked, savouring the gossip.
“George Wickham. I have seen him dine here.”
“The one your brother cheated out of money?” Lydia leaned back and folded her arms over her chest. Glaring at Miss Darcy, she said, “Did you ever think he lied to you?”
“No, he showed me proof of giving Wickham money instead of the living. He showed me Wickham’s letter declining the position. He had come to my brother for money time and time again. And…then he found me at Ramsgate and had even known my governess. He hates my brother.”
“That is his problem.” Lydia stood to leave, but Miss Darcy grabbed her arm.
“Please, believe me. He is not as innocent as he seems. Do you see the redness around Elizabeth’s neck? Do you see the bruising on my brother’s chin?”
Lydia’s eyes darted to them as they danced and laughed. She had not noticed those marks on her sister or Darcy before.
“He was going to hurt Elizabeth if Fitzwilliam did not offer him an estate and money. He held a knife to her throat.”
Lydia gasped. “Why did I hear nothing of it? Why do I not remember?”
She began to grow dizzy as she reconsidered what she knew of the man. Wickham had not told his stories about Darcy until after he had left the area. He lied to Lizzy about coming to the ball. He made moony eyes at Miss King now that she had inherited ten thousand pounds.
“Your father and sisters wish to keep you safe,” Miss Darcy cautioned. “It is not merely Wickham. Any man might be a cad.”
Over the noise of Mary’s playing and the happy singing of the others, Lydia heard the clock chime seven times. Had she not just heard it? Before she could voice her question, she felt herself stumble forward and was caught by Miss Darcy. Her arms were out as though she had expected such a thing. Miss Darcy eased herself and Lydia to the floor.