There are all kinds of surprises.
There are the pleasant sort which leave you feeling flushed with warmth and tingly from the tips of your fingers straight through to your core. There are ones that momentarily keep you rooted to the spot as you try to process just what in God's name actually took place. But there are also the kinds that are the most unwelcome things in the world and resonate within you to inspire a shock that is almost too much to bear.
Elizabeth was impatient with excitement and nervousness as she sat waiting for Darcy in the library in front of a crackling fire.
This was to be her first winter with him at Pemberley, and she wanted to do something special for him. The idea had come to her nearly three weeks ago, right after the first dusting of snow frosted the grounds, and she had immediately set to work seeing if her plan could be put into motion in time. To Elizabeth's absolute delight, everything was working in her favor.
Since then, it had snowed twice, the last time being just the evening before so the entirety of Pemberley was covered in white.
To-day was the day she finally was able to share what she had designed for him. Only an hour earlier, she had gone to Darcy in his study and enticed him to come to her by means of a teasing smile and the promise of a surprise. A grin tugged at his own lips at the sight of her, and he gave his word to come the moment he was free to, urgent business keeping him from joining her at once.
Elizabeth was now quite restless with his being detained for so long, and she was about to remove from her seat to go and call him again when a hand touched her arm. She started from the settee and then arranged her face into an uncharacteristic scowl.
"Really, Fitzwilliam!" she said, mock anger in her tone. "I thought you would never come."
Darcy, seeing her irritation was feigned, decided to play along. "Elizabeth, it is not me you should be cross with, but the solicitors in London. If it were up to me alone, I would see the townhouse in shambles if it meant coming to you sooner."
She laughed, but quickly resumed her expression of haughty ill humor to keep up the charade. "Very well, I shall forgive you on one condition."
"That for the next several hours, you will wholly listen to and obey everything I say."
Darcy's smile was broad and genuine as he nodded in assent. Elizabeth, breaking all pretense now, rose on tiptoe to kiss him, and he responded in kind the moment her lips touched his own.
As her fingers tangled in the curls at the nape of his neck, she wondered lazily why she had bothered to arrange some other activity when she was perfectly content to continue on this way for the rest of the afternoon. Before he could hold her to him and distract her entirely from this morning's intentions, with an effort she broke away and whispered in a conspiratorial accent, "Go get your coat."
With that, she ran off, leaving Darcy behind in a slight stupor.
Darcy stood at the front doors waiting for Elizabeth to reappear.
He had, on a compulsive inclination, grabbed his scarf and hat when he went to retrieve his coat like she had asked, wanting to be prepared in case whatever his Elizabeth had in store would keep them out in the wintry air for some time.
Darcy was glad he thought of it because as Elizabeth came into the entrance hall wearing her wrap, he saw that she also had brought a fur-trimmed bonnet and scarf…two, in fact.
He eyed the extra scarf in her hand, and she spotted that it had grabbed his attention. She grinned impishly.
"Bend down, Fitzwilliam. You are much too tall for me to do this otherwise."
Warily, he leaned towards her. With a few deft movements, she tied the cloth round his head, completely covering his eyes. She stole a quick kiss before telling him he could straighten up again.
"Can you see anything?" came Elizabeth's voice from somewhere to his left.
"Perfect. Stay put there, I shall only be a moment."
He heard her footsteps dash away and, after a minute, back again. Then, her small, gloved hand slipped into his own and he curled his fingers around it.
The sound of the great oak front doors creaking open was accompanied by a chilly draft that breezed through the frame.
Elizabeth was tugging at his hand now, but paused. "Are you quite warm the way you are?"
"Good. No peeking."
Without another word, she pulled him outside behind her, veering off to the right and into the woods.
She was very vigilant in leading him through the trees and snowy banks. Not often did the brittle branches of shrubs and undergrowth graze his greatcoat, for she was careful to hold them away from Darcy so they did not scratch him. He felt as safe being led blindfolded by Elizabeth as if he were walking by his own sight.
They had been wandering at this slow but steady pace for nearly half an hour when she brought them both to a stop and released his hand.
"You can look now," said her voice from behind him. "We are here."
Darcy pried at the knot at the back of his head and tore the scarf away.
They were in a sizable clearing, one that was vaguely familiar to him. It must have been just on the outskirts of Pemberley's grounds. The trees that huddled around to create almost a curtain of vegetation were old, sturdy things, but here and there new little sprigs poked out as if to claim their own spots where they could. It was quiet here too, every sound hushed by the layer of snow that glossed everything, making it all look clean and pure. Right in the center of the clearing was a pond, almost the length and width of Pemberley's grand ballroom and frozen over.
All at once Darcy remembered.
He knew why the place looked familiar to him: he had been here before, many times in fact. His parents had brought him here to go ice-skating when he was a boy, and later, with them came Georgiana. At the time, she had barely been able to stay upright on her two chubby, unstable legs on solid ground, let alone on the slick surface of the ice. He remembered the day when Georgiana had escaped their mother's arms and ran out onto the ice alone as if to prove she could do as the rest of them did on her own, only to slip and fall and scrape up her knees rather badly. It was nothing a cup of hot chocolate back at home could not put right, but the day would for another reason forever remain ingrained in his memory as a recollection tinged with bitter-sweetness. It was the last time his family had ever come here together, and he had not returned since.
He turned around to look at Elizabeth.
She gazed back at him anxiously, inspecting him like he was sickening for something. "Are you upset with me? I did not mean to make you sad."
Darcy told himself to move and went to take her hand. "Upset? No. It is only…how did you…?"
"Mrs Reynolds," she finished for him, a sheepish look on her face. "I came up with the idea, and she told me you used to come here before with your mother and father and sister. I sent away to London for us so we could…." Here she procured from the ground just behind her two boxes. She lifted the lid of the uppermost one and revealed, ensconced in a cloud of tissue paper, what looked like a pair of riding boots with a slim blade attached to the soles.
He realized that this was what she must have gone back to get after blindfolding him back at the house.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth studied him from beneath her lashes as he stared into the box. "I thought it was a wonderful plan at the start, but lately, I began to think maybe it was not my place to—mph!"
She was unceremoniously cut off as Darcy swept down to kiss her firmly on the mouth, effectively quieting her doubts along with the remainder of her sentence.
"Thank you, Elizabeth," he said when he had pulled away, still holding her to him.
Her eyes shone as she smiled up at him, reassured and thrilled that he was happy with her gift.
"Come!" she cried as she pivoted to step out of her shoes and into the skates, tying the laces tightly. That teasing tone he loved so much to hear was creeping back into her voice as she treaded her way onto the ice. "Are you ready to show me how this is done?"
"Am I ready, after years of being out of practice, to try and hold my balance on ice only to result in looking like an infant taking its first steps?" He grinned. "Only if you do it with me."
Elizabeth's laughter rang out like a bell, loud and lighthearted throughout the clearing, and infectious as Darcy joined in while he bent over to don his own skates and meet her out on the ice.
She never heard the sharp crack of the ice, and ignorant of that warning, suddenly found herself being plunged into the icy black water of the pond.
There are all kinds of surprises.
And in a span of less than ten seconds, Darcy experienced them all.