This was the 2014 Christmas Special

Elizabeth Darcy re-read that fateful last page for perhaps the thousandth time.

Mrs Darcy will return…

in Mrs Darcy versus The Monster! 

She closed the book and hurled it on the fire, weeping. It was going to be another awful Christmastide. What made it worse was there was no-one around that she could open her heart to. Her beloved Fitzy was in London again on some kind of business and her best friend Charlotte Collins was assisting Lord Byron in a promotional tour for his latest book, Fifty Shades of Quite Unbelievably Inventive Depravity. Even her dear sister Jane was presently unreachable, as she and Charlie were roaming from town to town in a rickety caravan, scratching a living by preaching a little gospel and selling a couple of bottles of Doctor Good.

Once upon a time, Christmas was a time for exchanging gifts, feasting and dancing the night away. But there would be no balls for Lizzy this year. She was with child, as she had been for the last four years and as she would be for the foreseeable future until that dreadful man came up with a sequel. But there seemed little chance of this happening as the man’s attention kept wandering elsewhere.

And what exactly was reggae anyway?

What made things all the more frustrating was that the man seemed to emerge from hiding every now and then to produce special episodes that served to confuse the situation even more. She wasn’t even sure if these were strictly part of the canon. Particularly that one about the Cube, which didn’t seem to make any sense at all.

The icing on the cake had been that terse letter from Lord Downton rescinding the invitation he had extended to Fitzy and herself to stay for Christmas, claiming ‘problems with copyright’. Fitzy hadn’t been overly concerned, muttering something about ‘dreadful fellows’, but it had been a crushing blow to Elizabeth. All she had to look forward to now was an awkward gathering around the Christmas dinner table with Wickham and Fitzy glaring at each other, followed by charades around the fire. Lydia had won last year, after successfully miming ‘Alien’, ‘Aliens’, Alien3’ and ‘Alien Resurrection’ in rapid succession, and no-one had been allowed to forget this for months afterwards.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a vague whiff of gunpowder. An old crone was standing before her, waving her arms to disperse the smoke.

‘Hello, old crone,’ said Lizzy, coughing. ‘What brings you to Pemberley?’

‘Hold on,’ said the crone, holding up her hand. ‘I have a speech to make.’ She unfurled a scroll and held it out in front of her. ‘Elizabeth Darcy! I am your fairy godmother. Your wish is my command. Tell me your heart’s desire and it shall be fulfilled!’

‘Good heavens! I did not know I had a fairy godmother. This is a most unexpected turn of events.’

‘Well, you can think of it more as a franchise reboot, if that helps.’

Elizabeth considered this. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I think I’ll stick with the fairy godmother thing if that’s all right with you. But how can this be?’

‘Well, magic mostly. Bit of science, too, although I’m buggered if I know which is which.’

‘How extraordinary!’

‘’Tis that. So are you up for it?’

Elizabeth considered this. ‘Why yes,’ she said eventually, ‘I do believe I am.’ It couldn’t be any worse than sitting here waiting for another year of pregnancy to go by.

‘So have you considered your heart’s desire, Madam?’

‘Yes,’ said Lizzy. ‘I wish to be able to dance this Christmas.’

‘Right you are, then. I should warn you, though, madam, that my clients don’t always get what they want, although they sometimes get what they need. And some other times, they don’t get either.’

‘You talk in riddles, old crone.’

‘You think so? Well, you’ll find out soon enough. Here we go. Elizabeth Darcy, you shall go to the ball!’ The crone took a stick out from the folds of her dress. It glowed at the end. She waved it about a bit and then chanted a dreadful, familiar sound that Elizabeth couldn’t quite place. And then the room began to spin, ever faster and faster until finally she blacked out completely.

*

Netherfield Hall was teeming with revellers. As Lizzy entered, a footman called out her name.

‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet!’

‘Just a minute,’ she said. ‘I’m – ’

But she didn’t have time to question him because he was soon announcing another arrival.

‘Miss Charlotte Lucas!’

‘Charlotte!’ said Lizzy, whirling round to greet her friend. ‘I thought you were still travelling with Lord Byron.’

Charlotte looked puzzled. ‘I know no such person,’ she said. ‘I have been at home all day, rearranging my string collection.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Yes. I have one set of boxes for brown string and another set for white. Within each set, I have graded the pieces according to length. I have some as short as an inch and some as long as nineteen and a half inches.’ Her eyes seemed to widen at the prospect of such a long piece of string.

‘Good heavens! I had no idea.’

‘I am hoping to find some string tonight. I have been told there is a lot of interesting string in Netherfield Hall.’

What had happened to Charlotte? To her considerable surprise, Elizabeth found that she preferred her as a babbling, drug-addled maniac. This version was just as odd but a lot more boring. But that was not the only thing that was wrong. Where was Fitzy, for one thing? And more alarmingly, it seemed that she was no longer with child. Had she given birth during her blackout? And if so, was it human or alien? Would she ever know?

‘May I have this dance?’ came a voice from behind her. She turned around and suddenly all thoughts of Fitzy and their unborn potentially half-alien child vanished. Surely this must be the most handsome man in England?

‘I … do not think we are acquainted,’ she said, blushing slightly.

‘Indeed we are not,’ said the man, taking her hand. ‘But perhaps that situation may be rectified over the course of the evening?’

The ball passed in a blur. She was barely aware of anyone else at Netherfield, for she only had eyes for this remarkable stranger, who danced with such grace and vitality. He remained her partner for every single dance, including Lord Wellington’s Peninsular Twerk, Reel Around Morrissey’s Fountain and Madame Payne’s Lively Eightsome. It was the most wonderful night of her life.

But all too soon it was over, for at the stroke of midnight, her mysterious companion mumbled something that she didn’t quite catch and then dashed off into the night.

‘Sire,’ she cried after him, ‘You have left one of your – ’

She bent down and picked up the shoe. It was made of the finest black leather with a gleaming silver buckle. She swore that she would scour the country to find the man to whom it belonged. Whoever he was, she would be his bride.

*

Lizzy found it most unsettling to be back at home with her family. It was all terribly confusing. Had she dreamt it all? Or was this some strange temporary magic weaved by the mysterious old crone of a fairy godmother? And who was the mysterious stranger with whom she had danced the night away at the Netherfield ball?

Everywhere she went, Lizzy took the discarded shoe with her, until the menfolk of Meryton began to grow tired of being stopped in the street and asked to try it on. Needless to say, it fitted none of them.

‘It’s no good, Jane,’ said Lizzy to her elder sister. ‘I shall never find him.’

‘Do not give up, dearest Lizzy,’ said Jane. ‘I am sure you will, and sooner perhaps than you imagine.’

At that moment, their mother burst in the room and announced that they had all been invited to take tea at Netherfield Hall the very next day.

‘Someone has obviously taken a shine to you, Jane!’ she said, almost hopping up and down with excitement.

‘Mama,’ said Jane, ‘Perhaps Mr Bingley is merely extending his courtesies to us? And besides, was it not Lizzy who was most in demand at the ball?’

Mrs Bennet turned towards Lizzy and harrumphed. ‘Yes, dancing with a mysterious stranger whom no-one has seen hide nor hair of since! A fine display to no useful end. Oh, you girls do vex me so!’

And she left the room, arms flapping.

*

At Netherfield, Jane was recounting to Mr Bingley the tale of the mysterious dancer.

‘May I see the shoe?’ he said.

‘I’m sure we don’t need to – ’ protested Mrs Bennet, but to her astonishment, Lizzy produced it from underneath her petticoat.

‘Well,’ said Mr Bingley, studying the shoe with some interest. ‘This belongs to no-one I know.’ He removed his own shoe and began to try it on.

‘Please,’ said Lizzy, anxious not to interfere with Jane’s prospects in case the shoe fitted. ‘It is of no consequence. You do not need to – ’

But Mr Bingley had already given up. It was far too small for him. Lizzy sighed with relief, and then noticed a new figure lurking in the doorway. Her heart skipped a beat.

‘Ah, Darcy!’ exclaimed Mr Bingley, ushering the newcomer in. ‘Have you met?’

It was all Lizzy could do not to burst out ‘Fitzy!’

‘No, we have not,’ she managed to say eventually.

‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet here has an unusual problem,’ explained Mr Bingley. ‘Would you care to try on this shoe?’

‘Why?’ said Mr Darcy, turning it over with little interest. ‘There is nothing special about this shoe. Is this some kind of joke?’

‘Please, Darcy. Humour me.’

Darcy rolled his eyes, sat down and attempted to put the shoe on.

‘Doesn’t fit,’ he said after struggling for a minute or so. ‘Absurd to think it might.’ Darcy threw the shoe on the floor and sat back with a look of contempt on his face.

A footman appeared at the door, announcing that a Reverend Collins was passing through and wished to present his compliments. Lizzy’s stomach turned an intricate somersault.

‘A man of the cloth!’ said Bingley. ‘Splendid! Bring him through.’

On seeing the assembled Bennet family already in the room, Mr Collins gave an odious smile and bowed.

‘I did not expect the pleasure of seeing you all here as well,’ he remarked. His eyes lit upon the shoe. ‘Good Lord! That shoe looks familiar! May I try it on?’

‘No!’ cried Lizzy. But it was too late. The shoe was already on Mr Collins’ foot, where it fitted like the snuggest glove that had ever been made. As his revolting smile broadened until it threatened to split his face in twain, Lizzy stood up and ran out of the room and through the corridor into the courtyard outside, where she stood gasping for breath in the cold December air. Somewhere nearby she heard a cackle – the kind of cackle that might be made by an old crone. Or was it more like ‘Ek – ek – ek – ek – ek’?