Mr. Darcy followed his friend into the church which was crowded with people. All the pews were full and people were standing at the sides of the church and in the back. There were probably more people in church now than there ever were on a Sunday.
“Well,” said Mr. Bingley “I did not know it would be this popular.”
Mr. Darcy was not surprised as in the winter in the country there is not much to do. Anything that would get people out of their house and socializing was bound to be quite popular.
They must have arrived late as the parson was already behind the lectern. “I hope we can have our new steeple in place by Christmas.” Laughter greeted this pronouncement.
The auction was slow to start as the parson called the first pew to come up, but no one wanted to be the first to have their item auctioned. Finally, the parson asked a woman by name to come up.
Mr. Bingley leaned over to Mr. Darcy. “I do not know how women can do such a beautiful needlework. The stitches are so tiny and perfect. Everything they make is just absolutely delightful.”
Mr. Darcy did not bother to reply. He had never been very interested in any of the works that women did, unless his sister did them. He felt guilty for being away from his sister, yet he had needed a holiday. He had been thrust into the role of the parent at a young age when his parents died soon after each other. His sister, Georgiana was several years younger than him; he had been the father figure for her for the majority of her life. But he needed a respite and now he was in Meryton at an auction in a church. He sighed.
The next woman invited to the chancel for her item to be auctioned, had a basket of canned vegetables and fruit. The jars would be auctioned off one by one. Mr. Darcy looked heavenward with a sigh. This auction would last hours longer than he had first thought. He glanced at his friend to see him make the final, winning bid for some canned item. Mr. Bingley beamed as he walked up to the chancel to claim his canned good and pay for it.
Mr. Darcy shook his head and in the process saw a young woman standing not far ahead of him against the same side of the church. She was beautiful with auburn curls holding a large covered item in front of her.
“What have you found so interesting?” Mr. Bingley leaned over. Then his eyes widened and his countenance underwent a transformation.
Mr. Darcy groaned as he knew that look. His friend had just been struck by cupid’s arrow, again. “I saw her first and therefore get the first introduction.”
“But she is an absolute angel, I must know who she is.”
Mr. Darcy scowled. “You fall in love all the time, Bingley. Leave this one to me.”
Their attention was drawn to the parson as he raised his arm to point to their side of the church. “Now, let us have someone from this side come up. I see the Bennet family, someone from the Bennet family come up now.”
Mr. Darcy looked to his left to see the beautiful woman, his woman, pushed forward by her sisters. She laughed and then confidently walked up to stand next to the parson. She had a fine figure, intelligence in her eyes and cheerfulness in her demeanor. She pulled the blanket off her item and it was revealed to be a large centerpiece. He doubted anyone in the church would pay what that centerpiece was actually worth.
He raised his arm with the first bid. Not many were bidding on it, who had room for such a big centerpiece in their small homes? He was determined to let her know how much he admired her skill, and her, by winning that centerpiece. It was not a surprise that he was the final and highest bidder.
“Thank you for letting me win, Bingley.”
“Let you win? I did not even bid. I am waiting for my woman.” Mr. Darcy turned sharply to his friend. “She is the angel with blonde hair.”
Relief that he would not be fighting with his friend over a woman made his smile grow. Mr. Darcy walked through the crush of people on this side of the church. He stepped up to the chancel ready to pay for his centerpiece and meet the charming woman.
He stood facing her, seeing her close for the first time. She was even more beautiful up close. Mr. Darcy glanced at the parson as he waited for an introduction. He could not speak to the woman without being first introduced. The parson noticed Mr. Darcy standing then came over to perform the introductions.
“Mr. Darcy, may I present Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Finally he had her name, but did not know what to say. He had not been this tongue tied since he had been a young lad. He passed his money to the parson and collected the centerpiece from her, his gloved hands brushing her arm. Mr. Darcy glanced up and met her eyes. She had not been unaffected by the brush of his hand as she had a blush on her cheeks. The parson broke the moment by ushering them off the chancel.
Mr. Darcy followed her back to the side of the church, unable to see her as the big centerpiece was in his arms. Now that he was standing next to Mr. Bingley, he realized he did not know what to do with the centerpiece. If he put it on the floor, that would insult Elizabeth. He could not put it in the sleigh as it was at the inn. He would have to hold it the entire rest of the auction. Mr. Darcy sighed.
The next auction finished, and the parson asked another Bennet to come up. A tall, blonde haired young woman stepped up onto the chancel with a baby blanket.
Mr. Darcy leaned over to his friend. “You are going to bid on a baby blanket?”
He grinned at the blush on Mr. Bingley’s cheeks. A bachelor bidding on a baby blanket would cause gossip to be rampant. He knew his friend would bid on the blanket anyway, just for an introduction to the woman. He was right, as Mr. Bingley outbid everyone and beamed as he walked up to collect his baby blanket.
The woman blushed, smiled and looked pleasant enough, but Mr. Darcy was not sure she admired Mr. Bingley as much as he admired her. But Mr. Bingley came back beaming as he carefully held the folded blanket. “She is an angel, absolutely divine. Her voice is beautiful, and she is kindness personified.”
Mr. Darcy rolled his eyes. May he be saved from any more of his friend’s raptures over a woman he just met. Mr. Darcy leaned back against the church wall as they watched all the other items be auctioned off. He breathed a sigh of relief now that they could leave and hopefully talk to the sisters that had caught their attention.
The parson pounded on the lectern and raised his arms again. “I want to thank you all for the work you have done on these beautiful items. But we have only had women, have not the men anything to offer? A sleigh ride? A winter walk? A dinner?”
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley turned and looked at each other but as Mr. Bingley did not have a centerpiece to hold his arm shot up first.
“I do.” Mr. Bingley still carrying the canned preserves and a baby blanket bounded onto the chancel.
Mr. Bingley smiled and looked in one direction, where his woman stood, as he announced his item. “I am Mr. Bingley. I am currently leasing Netherfield and I have a sleigh that I would like to auction… no, not the sleigh. I mean a sleigh ride with me. And your chaperone. I will also provide something warm to drink. As it is quite cold.”
By the end of his pronouncement the blonde woman was blushing and smiling at Mr. Bingley. The bidding for Mr. Bingley was fast and furious. It was such a pandemonium that the parson had to bang his fist upon the lectern to restore order.
“I will start this again as our usual method will not seem to work for the auctioning of the men’s items.” The crowd laughed. “I will name a price, you may bid, and then I will raise the price until only one person is left bidding.”
The parson started the bidding low but nearly everyone in the room raised their arm. He doubled the price with the same result. Mr. Darcy glanced down the side and saw that neither Mr. Bennet nor the daughter Mr. Bingley was interested in, were bidding. Had the price gotten too high for them already?
Mr. Darcy had not been introduced to Mr. Bennet, so he could not tell the man to let the blonde daughter win. But he had been introduced to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He walked up the side until he was nearly in front of Elizabeth. Then he dropped his pound note. “Pardon me, Miss Elizabeth, I believe you dropped this. Or perhaps they are your sister’s, for her bids on Mr. Bingley’s sleigh ride.”
Elizabeth eyes widened then she smiled, nudged her sister and whispered while pressing the money into her sister’s hand. Mr. Darcy bowed and walked back to stand against the wall. The auction for Mr. Bingley’s sleigh ride ended with the blonde Bennet daughter the winner. Mr. Bingley bounced on his heels as he waited on the chancel for her to arrive. Mr. Darcy had not paid attention to the winning bid, but heard many around him expressing surprise at the high amount.
After Mr. Bingley’s high winning bid, many other men stepped up to offer adventures of their own. The bidding was not as furious and not as high of the bids as Mr. Bingley’s auction.
Mr. Bingley walked down the side of the church to resume his place against the wall. “I am so happy, Darcy. I cannot tell you how happy I am! I am taking her on a sleigh ride tomorrow evening.”
Mr. Darcy shoved the centerpiece at him. “Good. Now I can go. Do not forget to pass money to your woman so that mine can bid on me. It is what I did so your woman would win your auction.”
Mr. Darcy walked up to stand on the chancel, scarcely believing he was doing this. Mr. Darcy focused on the ceiling or the upper walls to avoid seeing everyone staring back at him. This was more difficult than he had expected. How had Mr. Bingley make this look easy?
He cleared his throat. “I am Mr. Darcy from Derbyshire County. I am staying with my friend Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. I am offering supper with me at Netherfield.”
Mr. Darcy bit the inside of his cheek to stop the blush he was sure would soon be upon his cheeks. This whole business was deuced awkward. The bidding did not start immediately as conversation rose loudly after Mr. Darcy’s announcement.
The parson pounded on the lectern until the church quieted. He announced the bidding would be the same as for Mr. Bingley but to not speak, but just raise their arm. Mr. Darcy shuffled his feet and stood with his hands behind his back. The bidding started and quickly rose to heights that not even Mr. Bingley’s auction had achieved.
A young woman with red hair was the current highest bidder, to Mr. Darcy’s unhappiness. He scowled at Mr. Bingley who had apparently forgotten to speak to Elizabeth Bennet. Finally when it seemed the auction was almost over, Elizabeth entered the auction causing a bidding war between her and the redhead but Elizabeth outlasted and won. Mr. Darcy finally took a deep breath and smiled.
Elizabeth blushed as she walked up to pay the parson the sum of one pound and nine shillings, which was more money than anyone earned in a month. Mr. Darcy offered his arm which she accepted, and both walked down to where the Bennet family stood. The date and time for the dinner were arranged to be at the same time as Mr. Bingley’s sleigh ride.
Mr. Darcy walked down the side of the church to Mr. Bingley, where they waited until the entire auction was over. The two men then departed the church with their winnings. They were eyed by many people as they walked and stopped by many even though they had not been introduced. Mr. Bingley did not mind, but Mr. Darcy did therefore he turned away and walked to the street looking for the sleigh. Had Bingley told them to come back? He was not going to walk to the inn carrying the large centerpiece or even if he was not carrying anything.
He was about to question his friend when he heard the sleigh thanks to the bells on the harnesses. Everyone stopped what they were doing at the sound. Had no one put bells on their horses in Meryton before?
The two matched bay horses trotted around the corner and towards the church. The sleigh and matched horses throwing snow and jingling with each step was an enthralling sight. When the sleigh stopped at the church every woman and girl rushed forward to surround the horses and sleigh. Mr. Darcy sighed. How were they ever going to leave now?
He turned and saw Elizabeth watching him. Mr. Darcy looked away, had she seen him sigh and look heavenwards at the people surrounding the sleigh?
He approached her and bowed. “The auction was quite well attended.”
He grimaced. Could he have sounded any more like an imbecile?
Elizabeth smiled. “It was indeed and I am glad for it. I hope we raised enough money for the steeple to be built, thanks to the auctions provided by the men.”
Mr. Darcy saw by Elizabeth’s smirk that he was being teased. “Yes, well. Mr. Bingley wanted to show off his new sleigh.”
Elizabeth tilted her head to look around him. “It is a beautiful sleigh. May I look at it?”
Mr. Darcy raised his arm towards the sleigh as if it was not already crowded by seemingly every person in the county.
Elizabeth trailed her hand along the curved wood. “I imagine it must get quite cold in the sleigh?”
“The air may be coal, but it is quite warm in the sleigh. There are coal heated warming blocks on the floor and plenty of thick blankets.”
“Oh, I would so love a sleigh ride especially when the horses are running fast!” One of the younger Bennet sisters cried.
Mr. Darcy frowned at her speaking without having even been introduced to him. Did no one in this county have any manners?
“Lydia!” Elizabeth stared at her younger sister who did not seem the least bothered by the admonition.
Elizabeth faced him again. “Thank you for showing me the sleigh. I must leave now and join my family.”
A quick curtsy from her and her sister, then they were walking back to their family who were speaking with another family near the edge of the church lot. As all the carriages had already pulled away, the Bennet family must be walking back to their home. He had never felt embarrassed of his wealth before, but he did now as it was obvious the Bennet family would walk through the cold night to their home while he and Mr. Bingley would ride home in warmth.
Mr. Darcy would gladly have offered the sleigh except that there was not enough room for the entire family. Mr. Bingley climbed into the sleigh, and Mr. Darcy joined him. They pulled up the thick blankets and furs as the driver snapped the reins and the sleigh glided forward. Soon the horses were trotting at a clip with the bells on their harnesses ringing merrily.
“I think that went quite well! We helped the church, won beautifully made items and best of all have dates with two of the prettiest women in the county.”
Mr. Darcy agreed that Elizabeth was indeed the most intriguing woman he had seen in a long while. He was looking forward to know her better over supper the next day.
“Do you think that we should have both of the Bennet sisters on the sleigh ride and at supper?”
Mr. Darcy glanced at his friend. “It does make sense. I know Miss Elizabeth would love it.”
Mr. Bingley beamed. “Then it is set. A sleigh ride and supper for both!”
And so Mr. Darcy was looking forward to the next day as he had not felt in a long time.