I am very pleased to announce that the winner of the JAHW fan-fiction contest is…Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm. Here’s her charming entry.
An Elegant Event
In the parlour of a particularly fine London townhouse a group of seven genteel and elegant ladies were seated and all sipping at afternoon tea. A low hum of chatter filled the room as the ladies discussed the health of their parents, the growth of their children, the pleasantness of the weather and the state of the roads.
Presently a handsome young woman with golden hair and hazel eyes stood amidst the group of seated ladies and drew everyone’s attention with a sweet but firm tone.
“Pardon me ladies! If I may have your attention please.” She waited for complete quiet to descend upon the room before she spoke. She fixed her eye on a particularly chatty pair, who were evidently engrossed in discussion the latest novels, until they noticed the quietness of their companions and looked a bit sheepishly at the speaker. Smiling pleasantly at the now attentive group Mrs. Emma Knightley addressed them in a clear direct voice. “Thank you. I’m very glad you were all able to come this afternoon. It has been some time since we have met so it’s lovely to hear all of your news. But we have been invited here for a purpose so let us get down to business. As some of you may be aware Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy will very soon be celebrating her birthday. In honor of this event her sister, Mrs. Bingley, proposes hosting a celebration. She has invited us here today in the hopes that we would not only be among the guests but could assist her in planning the event.”
From where she sat next to the speaker Mrs. Jane Bingley spoke up in an earnest tone. “My hope is to surprise my sister with a large party of friends and family, but it is difficult for me to plan such an event on my own. Dearest Lizzy is so very astute, especially when it comes to reading my mind.”
“Sisters are very difficult things to completely surprise,” spoke up Mrs. Marianne Brandon with a pointed smile at her own dear sister Elinor.
“What type of gathering were you considering Mrs. Bingley?” inquired elegant Mrs. Anne Wentworth.
“I have considered all types of gatherings but have struggled to even pick the time of day to hold the party.” Jane Bingley sighed slightly.
Emma Knightley spoke up: “If you had an afternoon gathering in mind an excursion to Box Hill might be of interest.”
“Or a drive to Blaize Castle!” spoke up the chatty lover of books Mrs. Catherine Tilney with an eager tone.
“I fear,” said Anne Wentworth gently, “that Blaize castle will not serve our purpose. I have been there on a few occasions and found it to hold little interest.”
Catherine, who had always held high hopes of finding Blaize Castle to be a real old Gothic fortress could not hide her visible disappointment.
“A picnic, although pleasant, will I fear be quite a cumbersome undertaking.” spoke up the ever sensible Mrs. Elinor Ferrars.
“But Elinor, only think of how delightful an outdoor luncheon under shady trees in a picturesque setting would be!” Marianne interposed.
“I do think how delightful it would be,” returned Elinor, “but I also think of the amounts of servants to serve, picnic baskets to pack, china to protect from breakage and hours in a carriage to convey such a number of people there and back again.”
“What you say is very true Mrs. Ferrars.” Emma reluctantly agreed. “And my last excursion to Box Hill, though carried off well produced little enjoyment due to the heat and only resulted in heartache and great quantities of left over picnic fare. No, we had better think of something else. And perhaps an evening gathering would be best.”
“A card party perhaps?” the hitherto silent Mrs. Fanny Bertram suggested in a meek tone.
“Card parties can be very pleasant,” Jane Bingley answered sweetly. “But I am afraid my sister has little taste for cards.”
“Truthfully nor have I.” said Anne Wentworth. “I am no card player.”
“What about a musical soiree?” Marianne Brandon’s face light up with excitement as she spoke. “Do any of you play?”
“I fear not.” sighed Catherine Tilney. “I had no patience to learn.”
Fanny echoed a soft “Nor I.”
“I am afraid neither Lizzy nor I were gifted musically.” Jane returned with a smile.
“I would play and sing better if only I took more time to practice, as my Mr. Knightley is often reminding me.” Emma chuckled at her own faults.
“I play a little and am very fond of Italian arias, but I would tremble to be examined by a master.” Anne admitted.
“I fear that idea must be let go Marianne,” said her sister, “for we are none of us as talented as you and I am sure you would not wish to entertain so many guests for an entire evening.”
“Dear me no! Yes, I suppose the musical soiree must be given up! Poor lovely music, adieu!” Marianne sighed with regret as she spoke the last few words. Sitting next to her Elinor only shook her head.
“Might we have a ball then?” inquired Catherine Tilney with more than a hint of excitement in her voice.
The thought of a ball, even one so pleasant as this caused Fanny Bertram to grow a bit pale. From across the room Anne Wentworth had quietly observed Fanny’s eyes open a bit wider at the suggestion of a ball and her own heart filling with sympathy for the younger woman’s momentary discomfort caused her to speak up.
“A ball could be very pleasant especially a ball with so many friends gathered together. I am for a ball!”
“An excellent idea Catherine!” said the other chatty book lover Marianne excitedly. “I am prodigiously fond of dancing! What say you all to a ball?”
“I say yes!” Emma fairly grinned. “I have so few opportunities to dance in Highbury and Mr. Knightley rarely dances though he is an excellent partner.”
“My dear Henry – err Mr. Tilney – is a most lively dancer and a most agreeable dancing partner!” enthused Catherine with a wide smile as she thought fondly of her first meeting in the Lower Rooms with her dear husband.
“Mr. Bingley is just such another dancer.” Jane said with a soft smile that brightened her naturally pretty face. “Lizzy is quite fond of dancing, as am I. A ball would be just the thing if it was agreeable to everyone else. Mrs. Ferrars?” she sent an inquiring look to that lady.
“Mr. Ferrars and I both enjoy a few turns about the room. But I must be excused dancing until three in the morning.” Elinor said good-naturedly.
“Oh Elinor, you would say that!” Marianne’s tone held a bit of impatience. “I will speak for Colonel Brandon and myself and say we would both like a ball best of all.”
“Captain Wentworth is also fond of dancing. And though it was once said that I rarely dance I must admit that I enjoy dancing as well.” a slight smile played on Anne’s lips. With a kind look at Fanny who had been thoughtfully engrossed in watching the proceedings Anne inquired “And is Mr. Bertram fond of dancing?”
Fanny flushed slightly when she found all eyes turned towards her. “Yes, he enjoys dancing from time to time.”
Her reply was short but Anne persisted. “And you Mrs. Bertram, are you fond of dancing?”
“I do, but…” there was a slight hesitation in Fanny’s reply. “But I cannot dance in my – condition.” she blushed deeper and averted her eyes slightly.
“Oh my dear Fanny!” Marianne burst forth. “Why didn’t you say? How wonderful!” The smiles on the other ladies’ faces showed that they were equally delighted.
Jane Bingley was out of her seat in a moment and hovering around Fanny with concern started with “Oh you dear thing! Are you comfortable? Is there anything I can get you? Some warm milk perhaps?”
“Thank you. You are most kind. I am quite comfortable. No, thank you, I am in need of nothing.” Fanny answered with a thankful heart.
“Congratulations are most certainly in order!” Emma beamed.
“Might we inquire when the little one is expected to arrive?” Anne smiled encouragingly at the expectant mother.
Fanny’s natural modesty caused her to blush again but she fairly glowed as she said “At Christmas” with a gentle sigh of contentment.
“A baby is such a blessing!” Catherine nodded emphatically. “At least that is what Mr. Tilney tells me each time a new baby is added to our batch.” Soft chuckles filled the room and a slight giggle from Elinor Ferrars to whom the impression of a Parsonage full of boisterous Tilneys was still fresh on her memory.
“We are all very delighted by your news Mrs. Bertram!” said Emma.
“Thank you all.” Fanny smiled. Turning the conversation quickly from herself she voiced a question on her mind. “And what of Mr. Darcy? Does he know your plans Mrs. Bingley?”
“Oh yes. I have briefly made him aware of my intentions and he has promised his support in conveying Lizzy to the event and concealing the surprise from her as much as possible. A ball, I believe would be agreeable to him. He cuts a fine figure and is not as averse to dancing as my family had previously thought him.” Jane explained.
“Where shall we host this birthday ball?” Emma giggled.
“Mr. Bingley will insist upon having the ball here in town and it should be quite convenient for surprising Lizzy.” Jane explained.
“How exciting!” Emma enthused and her hazel eyes sparkled with anticipation as she thought aloud. “There will be a great number of things to do! There are invitations to send, food to arrange and musicians to higher. I will assist anywhere I am needed.”
“We will all be at your disposal Mrs. Bingley.” Anne spoke sincerely. “You may employ us on any errand.” Six graceful heads nodded and smiled in agreement.
Jane smiled widely, “Thank you my friends, you are all too good!”
On the evening of her birthday Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy was escorted into the dining room by her husband followed by her sister and brother-in-law. Elizabeth could not contain a rather unladylike squeal of surprised delight on finding six of her dearest friends and their spouses concealed there.
“Oh my goodness!” she gasped, placing both gloved hands over her pretty smile. “What is this?”
“This is a surprise party!” Emma Knightley clapped her hands in excitement. Behind her Mr. Knightley smiled kindly.
“Happy Birthday!” Marianne and Catherine chimed and giggled at the unexpected unison of their wishes.
Turning to her sister Elizabeth inquired with a sparkle in her fine eyes: “Dear Jane, is this your doing?”
“I fear it is.”
“Jane you sly thing! You are the best sister!” Elizabeth embraced Jane warmly. “I understand now why you had so little time for me this week.” she smiled widely and her remark inspired a general chuckle from the gathered friends.
“I felt quite sorry about putting you off but had you entered the house you might have guessed in a moment that preparations for a party were underway.” Jane explained.
“And Mr. Darcy,” suddenly turning to her husband, “were you privy to these plans?”
“Your sister had made me aware of them and it was all I could do to keep you occupied this past week. You can be a terribly inquisitive woman my dear.” Mr. Darcy teased his wife.
“Oh my dear friends thank you so very much for coming. Thank you Jane, Mr. Bingley. Thank you all!”
The first floor rooms of Mr. Bingley’s London townhouse were ablaze with light and brimming with laughter and happy voices. In the ballroom the guests were assembled and the musicians were tuning their instruments in preparation for the dancing. From among the throng of family and friends who had joined the party for the dancing part of the evening, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy led his wife to the dance floor for they were to lead the way. They were soon joined in the set by the Bingleys, the Knightleys, the Brandons, the Ferrarses and the Tilneys for the first dance of the evening. Later Captain and Mrs. Wentworth would take the floor and Mr. Edmund Bertram would kindly partner a few young ladies while his precious wife stayed comfortably near the fire and what with one friend or another never lacked for a companion. As the evening wore on seven ladies could be seen at the top of the room chatting away while their spouses nearby were engrossed in a tale of the high seas as told by the gallant Captain Frederick Wentworth. The dancers in the center of the room finished a lively jig and the ladies were suddenly joined by a smiling but breathless couple – Mr. And Mrs. Henry Tilney. After a few witty remarks Mr. Tilney joined the gentlemen while his wife plopped into a chair and waved her fan vigorously to cool her flushed face. Though they had left the dance floor there were still many couples keeping up the revels.
“Well my dear friends.” Elizabeth began. “I have it on very good authority that each of you had a prominent hand in planning this delightful event. Thank you for your kindness. I should have a birthday every month if this is to be the effect it produces!” Elizabeth sparkled. “I am truly a blessed creature to have so many excellent friends!”
“God has blessed us all.” Fanny mused gently.
“Very true,” Anne agreed.
Many of the friends stayed until very late enjoying each other’s company. As each of the eight elegant ladies retired for the evening their thoughts were filled with the many blessings bestowed upon them by the Author of their life’s story.
I loved her entry. It was original and very entertaining. Here is the button I made up for her.