One of the things I love about Jane Austen’s characters is that they stay with you long after you’ve read the book. They become like old friends and you wonder how they would get along if they met each other. Of course, it might be challenging to manage to get them all together for tea, or better yet a house party, but it certainly would make for a fascinating time.
In Snowbound at Hartfield, a freak blizzard is just the thing to strand the Darcy party, including the Darcys, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bennet, and Sir Walter Elliot’s party at Hartfield with Emma and George Knightley. Though Knightley has Emma’s assurances that she is finished with matchmaking, can she really resist the temptation their guests provide?
About the book: Snowbound at Hartfield
Colonel Fitzwilliam should have been happy facing retirement. No more Napoleon, no more tromping the Continent, and his distant cousin had unexpectedly left him an estate. What was more, two of his favorite people, Darcy and Elizabeth, were travelling with him to visit his new home.
But the colonel wasn’t happy, not when he was forced to watch Darcy exchanging enamored glances with his wife. No, he wanted to pitch his cousin out the window. It didn’t help when Darcy kept lecturing him on the joys of wedded life— as if women like Elizabeth Darcy grew on every tree.
Then the snow started.
Now they were stranded at the home of George and Emma Knightley, another intolerable, blissfully wedded couple who wanted nothing more than to see his bachelor days come to an end. Thank heavens they never thought of matching him with the proud spinster who had also been caught in the storm. That would have been utterly intolerable.
Or would it?
Read an Excerpt from the book: Chapter 3
Howling winds buffeted Elizabeth Elliot’s window, shattering away the last vestiges of sleep. Pressing her head into the pillow, she stared up into the bed curtains. Had last night actually happened?
Yes, it had. Colonel Fitzwilliam, second son of the Earl of Matlock, had sat with her half the night, talking almost as old friends might talk. Perhaps he was not as handsome as his cousin Darcy, but he was by far the handsomest man who had paid her any attention since the debacle with Mr. William Elliot.
Her stomach churned. His attentions toward Anne were offensive on so many accounts. They were due her on the account of her being the eldest. But all of that paled in comparison to his taking up with Mrs. Clay.
What a fool she had been to consider “dear Penelope” a friend.
Would Colonel Fitzwilliam prove to be such a friend himself? The Matlocks were known to be a generally discreet family, and there was virtually no gossip concerning the colonel. That fact spoke well of him. If only there were some means for more direct intelligence.
Surely Mrs. Darcy would know. There had to be a way to get her opinion of her cousin in some candid moment.
By no means did he appear to be perfect. Years in the army had knocked away some of the polish a peer’s son usually displayed. His opinions were forceful, and a powerful core of stubbornness ran through him. But he was also a principled man. He understood her and was willing to offer respect in a way her father never had. There was much about him that reminded her of Wentworth.
Anne and her husband loved one another. Could she love the colonel, and he her? Did it matter, though?
Compatibility and friendship were far more significant concerns. Those were the things that would last.
To discern their potential for those, she had to spend time with him, something she could not do whilst lying abed. Where was her abigail?
Could he afford for her to retain her lady’s maid? Surely, he would not expect her to do without. Did he keep a valet? Perhaps her maid could find out—yes, that was exactly what she must do.
As she dressed, she instructed her maid on seeking the necessary information.
“And what if there should be questions about you, Miss? How do you wish me to respond?” Her abigail tucked a wool shawl around her shoulders.
Impressions ought to be managed most carefully, especially with so much on the line. But then again, that was the game William Elliot had played with her. She worked her tongue against the bitter taste along the roof of her mouth. “Offer the truth. I do not wish to have to keep track of what details might be invented.”
“But it might not be complimentary.”
Fitzwilliam was too shrewd to believe something too sugar-coated.
“Be as generous as possible, but do as I instruct.”
The maid curtsied and left, probably wondering what had come over her mistress.
So did she.
Despite the howling winds and driving snow, warmth suffused her. How long had it been since a man had paid attention to her, even if it was in a most business-like fashion? She could even face the matrons of the house with genuine equanimity today.
No wonder Anne had blossomed so under Wentworth’s attentions. The sense of being wanted, or even possibly wanted, was positively intoxicating.
She made her way into the morning room. Pray let him be there!
A cheery fire on one side of the room and candles on the other lit and warmed the small chamber. The yellow paper hangings and gold damask curtains glowed in the light. A fragrant assortment of lovely, freshly-baked things, ham, and potatoes filled the oblong table to nearly overflowing.
Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, and Colonel Fitzwilliam sat along one side. Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Knightley on the other both engaged in some kind of decorative sewing. So very domestic.
Elizabeth hated sewing.
“Good morning, Miss Elliot.” Fitzwilliam rose and bowed from his shoulders. “Do be good enough to sit here with us. We are reviewing information pertaining to my new estate, and I was just thinking how valuable a woman’s perspective would be.”
“I would be most honored.” She went to the chair he held for her.
“Might I serve you some breakfast?
“That would be most kind.”
Odd, Knightley shot his wife a severe glance, but she touched her chest and shook her head.
Fitzwilliam served her dainty, ladylike portions of everything, just as he did the previous night. William Elliot had done that, too, but never asked first. He simply heaped the nearest items on to her plate.
“My solicitor has sent me an inventory of the house, but I am afraid it is a bit difficult for me to sort out exactly what to make of it. Might you be able to assist us?” He slid several sheets of paper toward her.
Hopefully, he did not think himself subtle.
But it was a reasonable test. She scanned the neatly written pages.
“It is not possible to judge the condition of the furnishing by this list, of course. It would appear this is a house more than modest but less than grand. Seven bedrooms and a nursery, and several attic rooms for servants. Not quite as much linen as perhaps there should be, but enough to serve immediate needs. The kitchen seems well furnished, though your benefactor seems to have had a fondness for drinking games.”
Fitzwilliam cocked his head and blinked. “How do you gather that?”
She pointed to a line on the inventory. “When one has a collection of puzzle jugs this large, one generally uses them for such amusements.”
Knightley chuckled. “She has a good point. And she is right. Markham was known for those games.”
“At least I know there is a ready cure for boredom should it strike.” Fitzwilliam shrugged. “Have you any thoughts on the necessary number of house servants to manage such a household?”
“In addition to your own man, a cook, housekeeper and maid are essential. To begin, I think an additional maid of all work would be necessary.”
“Mrs. Darcy suggests two such maids more appropriate.” Fitzwilliam glanced at her, but she did not look up from her sewing.
“Forgive me, Mrs. Darcy, for disagreeing. With only a bachelor living in the house, I think a single maid sufficient, particularly as many of the rooms are kept closed. If Colonel Fitzwilliam is of a mind to do much entertaining, an additional girl might be hired as necessary.”
Mrs. Darcy lifted her gaze and nodded, eying Fitzwilliam narrowly.
Father sauntered in, not a hair out of place. “I had no idea you would break fast so early.”
“Country hours are on the whole earlier than those kept in town,” Darcy muttered over his coffee cup.
“Fashionable hours can be kept anywhere.” He seated himself beside Elizabeth. “What was this talk of servants I heard?”
“We were just noting different styles of housekeeping and how they call for different allocations of servants.” Mrs. Darcy returned to her stitchery.
Father flicked his hand. “Disagreeable nuisances if you ask me. Always running off and leaving the house understaffed. Seems there could be some way to better manage the rubbish.”
Elizabeth blushed. He constantly insisted on hiring more servants than they could afford. That drove her to tell him they had run off when in fact she had to dismissed those for whom they could not find the blunt to pay for.
If this conversation continued, she would probably say something that she would regret very soon.
“Pray excuse me.” She left the morning room.
Several steps down the corridor, she stopped. Away from Father had been her only destination. Where to go now? She had just been abominably rude to her hosts.
“Are you well, Miss Elliot?” Mrs. Knightley’s staccato steps rang out behind her.
“Yes, thank you. Pray forgive me. I—” She bit her knuckle—what could she say that did not imply criticism of her father?
“Keeping house for one’s father can be challenging at times, can it not? Especially when he is fastidious in his own ways.” Mrs. Knightley smiled, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, it can be. Thank you.” Mr. Woodhouse was probably as demanding as a baronet, after his own peculiar fashion.
“What a pleasant thought. I would like that, thank you.”
Mrs. Knightley curtsied and returned to the morning room. Did she realize the great kindness she offered in simply allowing Elizabeth a little privacy?
It would be to both their credit if she did, so she would.
She wandered the dim hallway toward the music room.
At least Colonel Fitzwilliam’s interrogation had been an indirect one. The men were probably unaware of what had transpired between them, but the ladies could hardly have missed it.
Had she passed his test, or was she supposed to wholly agree with Mrs. Darcy? No doubt that woman could manage Pemberley to Darcy’s impeccable standards, but she must have a household budget sufficient to the task. Did she know anything about managing with economy and the challenge of keeping up appearances whilst trying to retrench?
Did it really matter though? It was done. Right or wrong, her answer had been given.
A scullery maid scurried past her to light the fire in the music room. How thoughtful of Mrs. Knightley to send her.
Elizabeth drew her shawl more tightly over her shoulders. Another threadbare patch broke open to reveal the fabric of her gown. Thankfully her abigail was skilled at darning.
The music room’s chill air nipped at her cheeks and fingertips. She sat at the piano and laid her fingers on the keys. The maid had lit a pair of candles beside the pianoforte, giving the room just enough light to feel intimate.
Too intimate for a concerto.
A soft ballad flowed from her fingertips. She closed her eyes and allowed the music to drown out everything else in her heart and mind.
A throaty bass voice picked up the next measure and added the lyrics of loss and longing. These were not empty words. He knew of what he sang, so intense her fingers almost failed her.
The final chorus faded away, and she dabbed her eyes with her shawl.
“You play very well. Would you play another?” Fitzwilliam words hardly rose above a whisper.
His warm, fuzzy voice tickled the back of her neck, sending tingles down her spine. That did little to help her remember another piece of music.
He chuckled in her ear. No, that did not help either. He reached around her to the keyboard, not embracing her and yet—
“Do you know this?” He played several measures.
Why did he choose that song?
A love song she dared not admit how much she liked. The tingles along the back of her neck prevented her from nodding, so she began to play his suggestion.
He pulled himself straighter and took a half-step nearer. Near enough to feel his warmth behind her, and sang.
He sang well enough to entertain a drawing room, but the feeling he placed in the song—
Oh! She fudged several notes.
He was revealing himself to her just as he had required of her earlier. But the passion in his song was no show for an audience. It reflected the man himself.
She swallowed hard. Such a man might require more than polite interchanges over the dining room table.
Might he look at her as Wentworth did Anne?
Could she bear it if he did?
Her cheeks burned, and her heart raced in a tempo at odds with their song.
She finished the ballad and launched into an aria she had never dared play for an audience. The poignant strains were far too intense for proper company. In the privacy of her own practice, she had sung the words once or twice, but doing so was far too much for today.
He hummed behind her, an occasional word or phrase breaking out.
He knew the lyrics! Prickles coursed down the back of her neck.
As the final strains faded, she peeked up at him. His eyes were closed above a peculiar smile.
“Listingbrook has a pianoforte,” he whispered.
It probably would not be polite to remind him that she already knew. It had been listed in the inventory he had shown her.
About the author
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.
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