Disclaimer: I do not own Pride & Prejudice, the plot is of my own imaginings, and any characters that are unfamiliar.
27 November, 1811
As the residents of England slumbered in their beds, feet worn from dancing, bellies full of rich pies and meats, and heads light with spirits and love, the sky split open and soft white flakes tumbled down. They drifted and twisted in the midnight dark sky frosting over the long strands of grasses and melting slightly as they hit the roads. The frost became a coat, and the coat became a layer, and the layer kept growing as the chill in the air set.
When the first creatures stretched to wakefulness they were met by the endlessness of the white fields. The whiteness covered everything. The bramble, the trees, the animal dens, the roads, the ponds and streams, everything was hidden beneath the thick blanket of snow.
Elizabeth rested the pads of her fingers on the chilly glass of her bedroom window. She'd woken to James, Hill's husband, organizing the stable-hands into clearing the doors of snow. The petite brunette couldn't help the little smile that broke free; it had been several years since winter had come so early or so strongly. She remembered fondly the days when she could goad Jane into a romp through the snow, the scolding that would follow, and the red noses and hot soup. Retracting her hand to the safety of her nightgown Elizabeth danced backwards on her toes. No matter how the day went nothing could slow her joy.
"Lizzy," came the sharp voice of Mrs. Bennet, "Lizzy dress warmly! This snow will have us catching our deaths!"
A quick sigh and soft huff of laughter found Lizzy dressing as quickly as she could. It was cold; it had been warmer the night before. It had been so warm that she had worn short sleeves to Bingley's ball. The ball where she had danced with him, and Mr. Collins, the other him. Oh, but Jane, Jane had been so happy, Elizabeth had been so happy for her sister.
Just as Elizabeth pulled on her shawl her door banged open and Lydia bounced through the opening, "Did you hear!"
"Hear what," Elizabeth asked as she slid on her shoes.
Lydia huffed and flopped down on her older sister's bed. "The militia has gone! I am terribly heart-broken!"
A grimace flashed across the older girl's face, her dark hazel eyes narrowed slightly before relaxing. "Oh and why have they left?"
Lydia smirked, rolling over and mussing the covers, "La! I think I know why you want to know, Lizzy! Mr. Wickham."
"Lydia," Elizabeth spoke more sharply than she meant to. "Finish speaking."
"Well," Lydia sat up, threading her fingers through her dark brown curls, "Hill had it from Nelly, the maid at the tavern that Colonel Forster ordered the men up at the first hour of daylight to go away!"
Elizabeth inhaled slowly, measuredly, "And why have they gone away?"
"I don't care! I only came to tell you that they aren't here, Lizzy," Lydia pouted for a moment before throwing herself off the bed and out of Lizzy's room.
Sighing deeply, Elizabeth firmed her resolve to be joyful. It was the first snow of the season. Something, however, was determined to prevent the resolve from being held as Jane hurried into her room.
"Oh Lizzy," Jane sighed, her soft smile cracking into a grin. "I am so happy, I hardly slept!"
"I think that you must be very sick in love," Elizabeth teased gently, reaching forward and pulling the blonde into a warm embrace. "I should think that a certain someone slept just as ill."
"Lizzy," Jane blushed, "I—I doubt that very much."
"You, Dearest, can be so very blind. He is violently in love with you. Now, to the table, or else we may starve," Lizzy intoned with a dry smirk.
"You shouldn't speak so about him, he's really not that bad, and he is family," Jane scolded her sister about speaking about Mr. Collins.
"I will be nice," Lizzy rolled her eyes, "for you, Jane, only you."
That promise lasted as long as Lizzy's resolve to be joyful. In truth her cause for joy quickly became, in part, her cause for misery. The snow served to trap her indoors, trapping Elizabeth with a man whom she had rejected, a mother whose plot had been foiled, and two silly sisters who couldn't hold their tongues.
Walking had always been Elizabeth's escape, almost from the very steps she took. It was easy, even as a young child, to escape the house and wander the fields and grounds surrounding Longbourn. The hitch in that refuge was the heavy, wet snow that was still accumulating on the ground. It hadn't slowed at all; if possible, it seemed heavier.
"If you continue to sigh so heavily and stare out the window like man about to be hung, I shall throw you out of my library, Lizzy Dear," the half amused voice of Mr. Bennet informed his daughter.
This drew a smile, "Yes, Papa."
Being denied her favorite refuge, Elizabeth had sought asylum in her father's library. It was the only room in the house where her mother had the sense to knock and accept, at times, being denied entry. Curled up in an armchair before the fire, Lizzy held a closed book in her lap. She meant to read, she really had, but she was worn.
"The militia has gone," she spoke idly, her mind drifting to Mr. Wickham and straying to Mr. Darcy too.
"Yes," Mr. Bennet agreed. "It seems they were sent to Brighton early to help with the snow, it is always worse near the ocean."
"Yes," Lizzy agreed slowly. "Papa, Mr. Wickham...never mind," she shook her head of the question that flitted through her head.
"Lizzy, I thought I raised at least one daughter who asked questions of everything and everyone," it was true, he had taught her to be inquisitive of all.
"What do you think of Mr. Darcy?"
Mr. Bennet set down his pen, "Does this have to do with Mr. Wickham?"
She sighed and rose from her chair, pacing slowly before her father's desk. "He told me a story, his story, his history, it involved Mr. Darcy. Last night, Mr. Darcy…oh I don't know. Something is off. I didn't even think on it until Lydia told me they'd gone."
After several moments of silence Mr. Bennet spoke, "Mr. Bingley is a fool, he is too kind, too open. He has much to guard but leaves himself open to attack. A wise man is cautious. As Aesop says, 'He that hath been once beguiled by some other ought to keep him well from the same,' right, Lizzy?"
Lizzy nodded at the irrefutable point, "But what does Mr. Darcy have to be cautious of?"
"The very same thing you have perhaps, your mother," Mr. Bennet smirked, Lizzy huffed as her resolve to hate Darcy weakened—it wasn't easy to be Fanny Bennet's daughter, it probably wasn't any easier being the object of her schemes, or any scheme of marriage at that.
1 December, 1811
The first snow had made the roads impassable, even horseman hadn't ventured far from the stables. It was too treacherous to take the roads because they had frozen in places, and the fields held pits and holes that could maim a horse. Though it was Sunday, no one would venture out of doors for church. The first morning of December came as the first day without new snow. It was the first day that someone as desperate as Lizzy could sensible find themselves out of doors.
The first breath of crisp air invaded Elizabeth's lungs and made her cough sharply. Already it seemed her nose was frozen and her fingers were a little stiff. She was determined however to be away from the house. It didn't matter that Mr. Collins had sequestered himself in his room or that Elizabeth's mama had done much the same, only she had taken the extra step to ignore her second eldest by refusing to be in the same room as Lizzy.
Lizzy didn't mind. She was happy that the yelling and derisive looks had stopped. Still, though, the house had become oppressive. She needed the escape. That was how she found herself watching the sun rise coolly over the snow-laden land. Cocooned within a pair of blankets Elizabeth relaxed against the trunk of an old tree, its boughs though heavy with snow sheltered her. Oakham Mount had long been Lizzy's hiding place, no matter the weather or the problem.
Slowly as the sun rose in the sky the birds and rabbits appeared, leaving their own shelters to discover the new realm of winter. The world was quiet, there was no rumble of carriages or hoof-beats, no children playing in the fields. The snow muffled the noise of life, it was a peace Lizzy had been desperate for. So she sat there curled up in the warmth of her blankets, nibbling on an apple and tossing bread to the birds that dared come out into the chilly daytime.
Not so far from the giant oak that sheltered the young woman stood a man. Boots sunk in the snow nearly up to his knees. He stood frozen, not by the cold, but by the sight. His search for solitude would be broken by her, by Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Elizabeth. Though his mind screamed at him to turn back, to be away from her and her sharp tongue his body would not obey. He could not turn back or continue on. He was rooted much like the oak she rested against.
And so Mr. Darcy stood partly entrenched in the snow as a statue watching the petite figure not so far away. If she were turn her head a little more he would be caught. But Miss Elizabeth didn't turn. She kept her dark eyes turned to the sky, watching the hazy smoke chimneys drift upward on the breeze.
He watched her feed the animals, and weave a few of the flowers that grew at the base of the tree into a crown she sat up on her head. It was something he had seen Georgiana do, though not so well or so quickly. Georgie had learned from Fitz who had learned from a lady he had chased some years ago. Suffice to say Fitz hadn't been that keen on learning so much as being taught. Darcy watched as she slunk lower in her blankets, hiding her pink nose and cheeks from the cold. As he observed, he would never admit to staring, he couldn't help but wonder why she was out of doors, why she was alone. Miss Elizabeth had proven time and again that she was fiercely independent, but she had also proven that she was quite sensible. What had led her out of doors, what indeed.
It wasn't until the sun was directly overhead and Darcy's empty stomach made its presence known that the tall dark figure forced himself to turn away. Resolving the next day to venture elsewhere, though surely his interruption wouldn't again be there beneath that tree.
Almost as soon as Darcy entered the house he regretted it and he remembered sharply why he had left it. Caroline Bingley was throwing a fit. Well, to be more precise, she was still throwing a fit. She had clearly been determined to leave Hertfordshire and never return, despite her brother's wishes. Four days of her whining and demanding they leave was four more days than Darcy could handle. The moment it became feasible to escape he did. He was just as upset that he was trapped as Caroline was, he was first of all trapped with the screeching lady and secondly trapped far from his sister. And as Bingley was likely to say he was a bear when he didn't get his way.
It seemed that the world had conspired against the residents of Hertfordshire. They were all frozen right where they were. Netherfield would see Christmas.
"We cannot possibly let ourselves get frozen into regarding everyone we do not know as an absolute stranger."