Pride and Prejudice fic: Christmas at Longbourn House [Mrs Gardiner, general]
Title: Christmas at Longbourn House Author: celandineb Fandom: Pride & Prejudice Characters: Mrs Gardiner, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, Mrs Bennet, Mr Bennet, Mr Gardiner Rating: general Length: 2185 words Summary: The newly-married Mrs. Gardiner visits her in-laws. Note: I wrote this a couple of years ago under my real name for a fanfiction contest at my local library system, and never posted it. Since it's seasonally appropriate right now I figured I'd go ahead and put it out there.
"Happy Christmas, Aunt Gardiner," the two girls chorused.
Margaret Gardiner paused for an instant. She was still unused to her married name, having been Margaret Anslow for more than twenty years and Mrs Gardiner for little more than a month. She and Edward were visiting his sisters for the holiday, staying with the elder of them, Mrs Phillips, and her husband in Meryton, but today they were come to see the Bennets. Mr Bennet had whisked Edward away to his study as soon as they stepped foot in Longbourn House, leaving Margaret to enter the drawing room alone.
"And a happy Christmas to you, Jane and Elizabeth," she said, kneeling down and holding her arms out to them with complete disregard for either propriety or the possible damage to her skirts.
Both girls hugged her tightly, and Jane kissed her cheek.
"But where are your sisters?"
"Mary was reading a book and wanted to finish it," Jane said.
"And Kitty and Lydia were making a fuss over their dresses." Elizabeth raised narrow dark eyebrows. Margaret was certain she would have rolled her eyes if she thought she could get away with such discourteous behaviour. "Kitty has a pink sash to hers and Lydia wanted to wear that instead of her own green, so my mother was threatening to leave them both in the nursery while you are here, instead of allowing them to come have tea with you as she had promised. She sent us down to greet you instead."
"I thank you both for doing so," Margaret said. She chose a chair to sit in, and smiled at them. "You are ready for Christmas, I suppose?"
"Oh yes." Jane sat opposite Margaret, and Elizabeth next to her. "We have been making wreaths and garlands for the past four days."
"I can see that. They are lovely." The dark green of holly, punctuated by its bright berries, and the subtler greens of mistletoe and ivy and bay, wreathed every mirror and picture in the room.
"And the Yule log is ready for tomorrow evening at my Aunt Phillips' house, and then the next day is Christmas itself. Shall I tell you what I am giving to my father?" Elizabeth's eyes sparkled eagerly.
"Lizzy, gifts are meant to be a surprise and a secret," Jane scolded, but in a gentle tone.
Margaret felt sorry at the disconsolate expression that crossed Elizabeth's face. "You may tell me, if you wish. I promise I will keep your secret. It is only two more days."
"I have embroidered a book marker for him," said Elizabeth, her pride in the accomplishment evident. "It took me weeks. I am not very good at embroidery, not like Jane is."
"I am sure he will think it very fine." Margaret smiled. "And I am sure that a book marker is an excellent gift for your father."
Jane clasped and unclasped her hands. "Since Elizabeth told hers, shall I tell mine too?"
Leaning forward, Jane whispered, "I made him a spectacle-case. It matches the book marker. We worked them with pansies, in purple and gold and green."
"What an excellent choice. Pansies are for thoughts, you know," said Margaret.
"They are?" Jane asked.
"That is what Shakespeare said, in Hamlet. It is a play that perhaps you both might read when you are older. I expect your father is familiar with it and will appreciate that you chose pansies for him."
"Shakespeare," said Elizabeth thoughtfully. "I have heard my father mention him."
"He was a very famous playwright," Jane told her. "He is even mentioned in my history-book. You will see, when you read about Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare lived when she was queen, two hundred years ago."
"That's right," Margaret said.
Elizabeth opened her mouth, no doubt to ask something more about Shakespeare, or perhaps Queen Elizabeth, when Mrs Bennet bustled in.
"My dear sister!"
Margaret stood hastily to receive Mrs Bennet's embrace.
"It is so good to have you here. I suppose that Edward is with Mr Bennet. Well, well, I shall see him later. Was your journey good? It is no less than twenty-four miles, if I recall rightly. And with the roads so bad, after all the rain we have had of late. I hope you did not take a chill?"
"I am very well, thank you," Margaret assured her.
"We shall have some tea and you can tell me about your house in Gracechurch Street. I have never seen it, you know, since Edward bought it last year. With five girls it is so difficult to get away, although Jane is almost a young lady now, and promises to be a beautiful girl in a few years. Oh, the young men will flock to her, I have no doubt," said Mrs Bennet with a complacent smile. "She will marry well."
"No doubt," said Margaret. Her eldest niece was the prettiest of the Bennet daughters, to that she could readily agree. Jane enjoyed the fair hair that lent beauty to any girl, and good features as well. It was far too early to make a judgment as to what her figure would be like, since she was but eleven.
"Now Lizzy is too outspoken, but if she learns to curb her tongue, she will do very well also." A frown touched Mrs Bennet's face. It was evident that she did not have great faith in Elizabeth's ability to learn to practice discretion in her conversation.
"Shall I call Mrs Hill for the tea, Mother?" Jane rose.
"Yes, yes, my love. Ring the bell and Hill shall bring tea."
"There are special cakes with raisins and sugared biscuits as well," Elizabeth confided in an undertone to Margaret, even as Mrs Bennet continued talking.
Margaret shook her head slightly at Elizabeth, to reprove her rudeness, but she could not help but smile a little too. For some reason Elizabeth appealed to her most of all the Bennet girls. She would like to have such a daughter herself someday, she thought. Margaret had never been as pretty as Jane would be in a few years, and her own daughters would likely not be beautiful either, but a ready mind and a quick smile could make up for much. As long as they were accompanied by a suitable marriage portion, that was, but she had no fears on that point. Edward's business in wholesaling fabrics was not one likely to fail; she had overheard her father discussing the matter.
The cakes were full of raisins and other good fruit, as promised, and the biscuits were decorated with sugar icing. The younger girls had come down by the time the tea arrived, Lydia leaning against her mother's knee and eating cake after cake without Mrs Bennet seeming to notice.
"How old are you, Lydia?" Margaret asked her. Before today she had only seen the youngest two girls briefly at her wedding, and Edward had never mentioned all his nieces' ages if he even knew them, which she rather doubted.
"Four last month." Lydia reached for another biscuit.
"I am already six," announced Kitty. "So I should have more biscuits than Lydia."
That fetched Mrs Bennet's attention. "You have both had more than enough," she scolded. "What will your aunt think of you?"
Wisely, Margaret remained silent through the protests that followed, during which, she noted, Elizabeth managed to appropriate a last cake without her mother seeing. Jane's hand reached toward the plate as well, but she drew it back empty and whispered to Elizabeth, who broke hers in half and shared it.
"I understand you were upstairs reading when I arrived," said Margaret to Mary. "May I ask what the book was? I always enjoyed the stories of Mother Goose."
"The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes," replied Mary promptly, with a satisfied air.
"A fine and moral tale," added Elizabeth, her serious tone belied by the smile that she only half-hid.
"Well worth reading," Jane agreed.
"I am glad that you all take an interest in your education," Margaret said. "And I know that you and Elizabeth embroider, Jane. Do you play any instruments, or sing?"
"I sing a little," said Jane, "and Elizabeth and Mary are both learning the piano. Elizabeth plays better, but she has been learning longer. Mary practises more."
"Jane draws, too," Elizabeth offered.
"We have had no drawing-mistress, however. My drawing is not very good," said Jane.
"Perhaps sometime you will have a chance to learn," Margaret was beginning to say, when Mrs Bennet's attention returned to them.
She had sent Lydia and Kitty back up to the nursery—even the licence of the holiday did not mean they could stay downstairs past the end of tea—and now she said, "Girls, I wish to talk with your aunt alone. You will see her again at dinner. No, no, no complaints or you will all eat in the nursery today."
Margaret gave a tiny sigh. She was certain what was to come, and her conviction was correct. Mrs Bennet wished to talk of the duties of a wife, and the inevitability of children.
"Do not have too many, if it can be helped." She shook her head. "Mr Bennet wanted a son, but I was not able to give him one, though we kept trying. And now we have five daughters to find marriage portions for."
"We will take what God gives us." Margaret felt odd mouthing the platitude, but there was nothing else, really, to say. She had been surprised by her own passion for Edward. Did that make a difference, when it came to children? She did not know, and was not going to discuss the matter with her sister-in-law.
"Oh, of course, what else can one do? But I tell you, sister, that children are more of a burden than you can yet imagine. The worry they bring! But let us talk of something more pleasant. Tell me of London, your house, the new fashions. Though we are not so far away from the city, somehow we never hear of the latest styles until they are almost past."
Margaret settled in to her chair and prepared to satisfy Mrs Bennet's curiosity as well as she was able.
The next day, Christmas Eve, the Bennets came to the Phillips's house to dine, and as the evening drew on the Yule log was lighted with proper ceremony, and the whole family sang carols. Jane's voice rose clear and sweet above the others'. There was an evening service at church, and then the Bennets returned to Longbourn with reminders that they would see the Phillipses and the Gardiners there the next day, for Christmas dinner.
Elizabeth and Jane's presents to their father were a great success, Margaret heard almost immediately from Mr Bennet upon their arrival. The girls vied in telling their aunt of the gifts they had received, as well, in a jumble of talk from which Margaret later remembered only that Lydia had had a doll with a pink-ribboned bonnet, and Elizabeth a copy of Robinson Crusoe. Jane was careful to thank her aunt and uncle for the painted silk fan they had given her.
Lydia and Kitty's shrieks of excitement nearly had them banished from the Christmas table by their father, but Jane interceded on her sisters' behalf and the whole family sat down together to enjoy the meal.
The roast beef was done to a turn, and the goose and bread sauce were likewise perfectly cooked. Edward complimented his sister on the excellence of the mince pie and plum pudding. He did enjoy his sweets, Margaret had come to realise.
"Oh! Mrs Hill has a superb touch with such things," said Mrs Bennet complacently. "Far better than the Lucases' cook. Mrs Farley makes a fine soup, that I will admit, but her pastry is as heavy as lead."
"Well, this pie is delicious," Edward said again. "I would have another piece, but I fear my waistcoat buttons would be under too much strain to bear."
"I would sew them back on for you, Uncle Gardiner," offered Jane with a smile that said she understood he was joking.
"And I am sure you would do a fine job, but better not to need it." Edward laid down his fork. "Even at Christmas one should not be too indulgent, and I have had enough."
Margaret drank the last of her wine. She had had two glasses, and that too was enough; enough to give the rest of the day at Longbourn House a rosy glow.
She liked her new family, she decided, and then laughed at herself. They were her family now forever whether she liked them or not, but better that she did. Mr Bennet had an odd sense of humour, Mr Phillips was dry, and Edward's two sisters were at times silly, but they none of them were at all unkind or unpleasant, and the two older Bennet girls seemed poised to grow up to be sensible and agreeable women. Margaret wished them all the best for their futures, and looked forward to her own.