The idea of an arranged marriage is one I’ve long found intriguing, which is why I am particularly amused by Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dogged insistence that her daughter, Anne, and her nephew Mr. Darcy were intended for each other in Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Pride and Prejudice.
My fascination caused me to wonder what if the elder Mr. Darcy had entertained the idea of an arranged marriage as well. What if his first-born son was promised to Mr. Thomas Bennet’s first-born daughter?
Mr. Bennet drew on his pipe as he continued to reflect on how things had come to be. He recalled his old friend citing in his letters on more than one occasion that his son, who was more like his aristocratic Fitzwilliam relations than not, might first appear a bit aloof. Haughty and proud is precisely how the young man had been described. On the other hand, his friend had also said his son had proven on many occasions to be a most loyal friend, and one who would do anything in the world for those whom he cared about the most.
Pray, my Jane will meet the young man’s approval and pierce his elusive facade, Mr. Bennet silently considered. We are all depending on her. The thought of what life would be like back at Longbourn should this alliance not take place gave him considerable pause.
My dear wife would be beside herself with grief. Jane’s marriage is meant to put all the other daughters in the path of rich young men who would marry each one of them in their turn, including Lizzy. With little to no dowries to speak of, such a fate was crucial. He laughed a little despite himself in recollection of his wife’s favorite antics.
Once again, he took up the task of admiring the beautiful scenery rushing by the carriage window. His wife’s words echoed in his mind: “Surely my Jane cannot be so beautiful for nothing. Young Darcy would have to be a fool not to fall madly in love with her.”
Getting lost in a good book affords the surest means of improving one’s mind as well as fueling one’s imagination with a sense of adventure. All the better if said book should happen to be of a romantic bent.
The first day passed much the same as the second day of her arrival. On the third day, the Collinses received a much-anticipated invitation to dine at Rosings. Taking advantage of the pleasant weather, they walked the half mile or so across the park in companionable silence. That was until the manor house appeared on the horizon, at which point her party members’ enthusiasm was scarcely contained.
With each step that Elizabeth took as she ascended the stairs of the palatial home, she thanked heavens that she was her friend Charlotte’s guest and not the other way around. Best described as a sensible woman, at the age of seven and twenty, Charlotte had recently married Elizabeth’s cousin, Mr. William Collins. He was the complete opposite of Lieutenant Wickham. Indeed, a pompous man, he was not only a strain on one’s eyes, but his voice also set Elizabeth’s nerves on edge. More than once since the start of her visit she had congratulated herself on escaping the sentence her friend ardently embraced, by rejecting his hand in marriage. The thought of finding herself married to the toady man who towered over them was enough to turn her stomach.
Her mother had protested fiercely against the injustice of having such a child—one who spurned the hand of the man who would one day inherit every material possession the Bennets of Longbourn now called their own. “He may throw us all into the hedgerows as soon as he pleases once my dear Mr. Bennet passes away,” was her mother’s most ardent complaint.
The second of five daughters, Elizabeth knew she had an obligation to marry, the more favorable the match the better for all her family. But she did not mean to be a martyr. Her strongly held conviction did not lessen the guilt that would make its presence known from time to time, and thus she made an unspoken pact with herself that the next time she would think long and hard before spurning an offer of marriage should one be presented to her again. Charlotte had mentioned that there was to be more than one single gentleman in attendance at that evening’s gathering. May at least one of them be amiable, Elizabeth silently prayed.
Finding the perfect Jane Austen quotes to use as the preludes to my stories increases the joy I feel when crafting a new Pride and Prejudice retelling. The following is one of my favorites and one I can never read without chuckling.
“Well, my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart, and then he will be sorry for what he has done.”
A central idea behind writing Bewitched, Body and Soul was the notion that Mrs. Bennet may indeed have been on to something.
“Mind you, my dear, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of and gives her a sort of distinction amongst her companions,” Mr. Bennet teased as he fiddled with his gold pocket-watch. The middle-aged, silver-haired patriarch was far less inclined to fret over his eldest daughter’s sufferings as vigorously as did the women of Longbourn Village. For goodness sake, they were some of the silliest creatures in all of England! This latest calamity—marked by the lack of spirit shown by his first-born daughter Jane, the refusal on her part to take her meals with the family, and the general disregard of all that once mattered to her—had gone on long enough.
“I dare say Jane is more than a little crossed,” said Mrs. Bennet, her annoyance obvious. “Why, the way Mr. Bingley and his party fled Netherfield Park on the heels of what I was sure would be a proposal of marriage to the poor girl, has rendered her a laughing stock in the neighbourhood.
“I can imagine their jeers. ‘There goes poor Miss Bennet, with all her beauty, yet abandoned … practically left waiting at the altar for Mr. Bingley.’
“Oh, how shall she show her face again? I am afraid the dear girl is destined to a life of spinsterhood … despite my good efforts to find a husband for her.”
Mr. Bennet rubbed his brow. How nonsensical. With such a mother, it was no wonder his daughters were such frivolous creatures. He opened his mouth to make light of her sentiments as regarded the neighbours’ gossip when the door opened.
If twenty-odd years of marriage had taught him anything, it was to welcome the sight of his second eldest, and by far, his favourite daughter whenever his wife went on in that way. Mr. Bennet silently applauded Elizabeth’s timely arrival.
“A life of spinsterhood, Mama? Which of your five unfortunate daughters do you speak of now?”
“I might as well be speaking of any of you, save Kitty and my Lydia. However, I speak at this moment of Jane. I dare say she did little, if anything, to encourage Mr. Bingley. The way he looked at her, I am sure it would not have taken much for him to propose marriage. This wretched situation brings to mind a similar event several years back when that delightful young man from town showed a keen interest in her. As I recall, he wrote her some lovely poetry—” Her voice trailed off as her face echoed a look of nostalgia.
“Surely, Mama, you cannot blame Jane for Mr. Bingley’s lack of consideration. Jane loves him. I am sure of it. One needed only to spend time with her in his company to attest to that fact. Mr. Bingley is a fool not to perceive her true worth.”
“A fool he may be, but it is hardly a consolation. Better a fool for a son-in-law, than no son-in-law at all.” Mrs. Bennet narrowed her eyes on her daughter. “And do not think for one moment that your rejection of Mr. Collins’s hand reflects kindly upon you, Miss Lizzy.”
“Mrs. Bennet, I commend my Lizzy for rejecting Mr. Collins.”
“Indeed. The two of you can take great comfort in going against my adamant wish that Lizzy should accept Mr. Collins. At the least, I might have seen one of my daughters settled by now. Alas, Lizzy, your so-called friend, Charlotte Lucas, put an end to that hope.”
“Mama, you know I bear Charlotte no ill-will for having accepted Mr. Collins’s offer of marriage. Charlotte is practical. She merely acted in the best interests of her family.”
“The best interests of her family you say. What of your own family? Are the Lucases more worthy than our family of the security afforded by a daughter well-settled, married to the heir of Longbourn, no less, owing to that ridiculous entail?”
“My dear Mrs. Bennet, you shall not place the liability of our family’s fate at Lizzy’s feet.”
“I should say not, Mr. Bennet. I am afraid the burden of finding suitable husbands for our daughters rests upon my shoulders alone. To have suffered the loss of not one but two future sons-in-law, I know not how I shall recover from such a misfortune.” The aggrieved mistress of the manor, whose countenance hinted of her former good looks, gathered her mending and stood to quit the room. “Take heed, Miss Lizzy, for you shall expect no help from me in securing another gentleman as your future husband. You are quite on your own in that regard.
“I suggest you take my brother and sister up on their invitation to stay with them in town in Jane’s stead. Then you might stand a decent chance. I only wish my Lydia or even Kitty had such opportunity.”
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is famous for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Anyone who ever struggled with foot-in-mouth disease knows it’s not a pleasant affliction, especially when it manifests itself in front of that special person one seeks most to impress. With that in mind, I crafted this short story inspired by one of my favorite songs, Leave a Tender Moment Alone, in which Darcy resolves to mend his ways soon after the Meryton assembly.
Darcy caught Elizabeth completely off guard when he asked if he might have the pleasure of dancing with her at some point during the evening. Her eyes opened wide. If I say no, then I will be obliged to forgo any other requests the rest of the evening, for once a lady denies a gentleman’s request to dance she has no choice but to decline all subsequent entreaties. To do otherwise surely would be fodder for gossip and ridicule. I do not wish to watch everyone else make merriment. I want my share of excitement. Oh, you selfish, selfish man! How dare you put me in this position?
Elizabeth uttered the only thing she could in such a situation as this. “Yes, you may.”
Darcy bowed, she curtsied, and he soon disappeared into the crowd gathered across the room.
Needing time to fret over what had just happened, Elizabeth headed out the double French doors to take in the night air.
What is he thinking in asking me to dance given the manner of our separation just half an hour ago? Does he mean to torment me? Did he expect me to say no, knowing that, if I did, he would have the satisfaction of watching me forego the pleasure of dancing with other gentlemen, gentlemen who are not so wealthy as he is—certainly not so handsome but who are far more kind and considerate?
Having been the one who was standing next to Elizabeth when Mr. Darcy approached them and requested the next set, Elizabeth’s intimate friend, Charlotte Lucas, found Elizabeth standing alone outside. She tried her best to console Elizabeth. “Take heart, dearest Eliza. For what it’s worth, you did the right thing in accepting Mr. Darcy’s petition.”
“As though I had a choice in the matter,” said Elizabeth. “No doubt the sole reason he asked is because he was hoping I would say no; thus ruining what’s left of my evening.” Had it not been for her friend’s opening the instrument in the first place and prevailing upon Elizabeth to perform, perhaps her sister Mary might not have succeeded her and commenced a long concerto. Subsequently, at the request of her younger sisters, Mary had been persuaded to play something conducive to dancing. Some of Charlotte’s family and two or three officers eagerly joined them in dancing. Elizabeth had seen in Mr. Darcy, who stood near them, the silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening and yet he had prevailed upon her to stand opposite him.
A kind, unpretentious woman, Charlotte shook her head. “I don’t suppose that was his reason at all.”
“Do you have a better explanation?”
“It seems you are handsome enough to tempt the gentleman after all.”
“Oh, Charlotte! How can you make light of my situation? Had the insufferable man arrived mere moments earlier he would have heard my complaints against him for his latest offense.”
“Dearest Eliza, can you not see how much he likes you? While one may rightfully accuse him of sometimes saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, one must suppose that is his way. If you would but give him a chance, I dare say you will find him very agreeable.”
Charlotte and Jane were always endeavoring to give Mr. Darcy the benefit of the doubt tilted in favor of his goodness by virtue of his friendship with Mr. Bingley. I know better. “I dare say you are no friend at all even to wish such a fate upon me.”
Miss Elizabeth could not possibly have known that she and her friend were not alone on the terrace. Wishing to escape Miss Bingley’s annoying habit of deriding his inclination of admiring Elizabeth as well as her repeated taunts of wishing him joy in his would-be marriage, Darcy sought the solace of the night air while awaiting the next set.
He would not have been the least bit surprised were it Miss Bingley whom Elizabeth was speaking of with Miss Lucas. Bingley’s sister was always rude and condescending towards everyone—especially the Bennets.
Waves of trepidation tinged with a hint of remorse washed over him. Is that how Miss Elizabeth regards me as well? Standing in the shadows, Darcy stared into the distance. The moon that had shown so bright earlier that evening now barely peeped beyond the clouds.
Her opinion of him was even lower than he had supposed. He had no idea that he had made such a horrible impression upon her. Her grievances against him started long before that night, and he had no one to blame but himself.
Perchance she overheard what I said to Bingley that evening at the Meryton assembly. I didn’t mean a word of it. Since then, whenever they were in company, either he was too taciturn and aloof with her or he was fumbling for something to say and never just himself.
It’s truly a wonder she even agreed to dance with me at all. Darcy knew what he must do. Soon I will claim her hand for the promised dance. He was determined to get it right.
In this heart-pounding Pride and Prejudice retelling, Mr. Darcy emerges as a hero in Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s eyes almost from the start.
With such a beginning, one might think the journey to happily ever after for Jane Austen’s beloved couple would be absent any bumps in the road.
Not so fast. There are quite a few fires to be put out along the way.
Daunting shades of crimson, orange, and yellow lit up the night’s sky—a horrendous telltale sign of fires raging fiercely out of control. Standing by the window of her Netherfield apartment, Elizabeth could almost feel the hot burning flames against her skin.
It’s Longbourn Village! Have the flames reached the manor house? Did my family escape? Are they safe? Elizabeth tore herself from the window and hurried across the room. Throwing on her robe, but one thing ran through her mind. I must go to them.
The household had settled some hours ago, but one would not know it were one to judge by its now excited state. Netherfield was full of unrest. Elizabeth threw a concerned glance at the door of her sister’s apartment. There is comfort in knowing my dearest Jane is safe. Oh, but what of my other sisters, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia? What of Papa and Mama?
Not wishing to disturb Jane, whom Elizabeth hoped was sleeping soundly despite the commotion, she hurried past the door. She was bounding down the stairs when she came face to face with Mrs. Louisa Hurst and Miss Caroline Bingley.
“Where on Earth do you suppose you’re going at this hour, Miss Eliza?” the younger of the two ladies beseeched.
Although Elizabeth was a guest in their brother’s home, she cared little for the two of them. The feelings were mutual. With no time for feigned civility, Elizabeth said, “Fire is raging out of control in Longbourn Village! Move out of my way!”
The other woman seized hold of Elizabeth’s arm. “What are you planning to do? Surely you do not intend to walk all the way to Longbourn at this hour? And under cover of darkness, I might add. There is no one to accompany you and nothing to guide your way. Nearly all of the men have gone to assist in combating the fire.”
“Besides, what are you going to do should you manage to make your way there in the dark?” Miss Bingley cried. “You had much better stay here where it is safe. If only I could have convinced my brother, Charles, and Mr. Darcy to do the same. I would not be half so worried as I am.”
“Pray let us not forget that my dear husband, Mr. Hurst, also rode out to do what he might do as well.”
A thousand thoughts leaped through Elizabeth’s head. Who are these two to attempt to tell me what to do? Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are at Longbourn fighting the fire. Is every able-bodied person from miles around there as well?
Elizabeth jerked her arm from Mrs. Hurst’s grip and resumed her flight down the stairs.
“What are you thinking, Miss Eliza? Mr. Darcy gave us strict orders that you must not be allowed to leave here tonight. There is nothing you can do!”
“Oh, leave me alone!”
Having failed in their efforts to prevent the second eldest Bennet daughter from fleeing the safety of Netherfield in the middle of the night, the Bingley sisters did manage to deter Elizabeth long enough to call for a carriage, and the three of them set off for Longbourn.
By the time they arrived, it was painfully apparent that considerable efforts to save the manor house had been abandoned in favor of sparing the nearby structures. Her heart breaking in two, Elizabeth’s attention was immediately drawn to her wailing mother. She sprang from the carriage unassisted and raced to her side.
“Oh, Lizzy!” the older woman cried, “my precious Lydia is trapped inside! Oh! I just know I shall never see my darling child again!”
Elizabeth embraced her mother tightly. Her heart pounding and her thoughts whispering a thousand prayers that the unfolding nightmare was just that – a horrible nightmare, she espied her father and her younger sisters, Mary and Kitty, huddling together.
The comfort in seeing the three of them was nothing in comparison to the frightening prospect of her mother’s lamentations. Surrendering to her fears, Elizabeth wept. No sooner than her prayers had been whispered, they were answered.
Loud cries of jubilation amid the perilous destruction erupted. Elizabeth spun around in the direction of the raging fire engulfing her beloved home to see a tall, dark creature emerging from amid the roaring flames dancing all around him.
Mr. Darcy stumbled from the burning building bearing her youngest sister’s slumped body in his arms.
Is she alive? Elizabeth wondered, still embracing her distraught mother. As soon as he was out of danger, Mr. Darcy lowered young Lydia Bennet to the ground a safe distance away from the burning building. Dropping to his knees, he cradled Lydia’s head while checking for signs of life.
Mrs. Bennet had also seen the brave gentleman emerge from the daring devastation with her youngest daughter in his arms. Freeing herself from her second eldest daughter’s embrace, she raced frantically to where Mr. Darcy and Lydia were and pushed her way through the concerned crowd just in time to see the gentleman comforting her daughter.
Elizabeth arrived on her mother’s heels. She wanted to fall to her knees in gratitude. Lydia is alive! What did it matter that the house was collapsing under the weight of the fire’s wrath and nearly all her family’s worldly possessions were gone? Her father, her mother, and all her sisters were alive.
Darcy surrendered Lydia to her mother’s arms. Standing, he scanned the destruction all around. Elizabeth could only imagine the nature of the thoughts racing through his mind. Did he realize that he might very well have perished while attempting to save a young girl so wholly unconnected to him? Did he know how indebted her family would be to him for the rest of their lives?
Seeing her elated mother cradling her daughter to her chest and sobbing tears of joy, Elizabeth wanted to go to Mr. Darcy and thank him for what he had done. Before she could, she espied Miss Caroline Bingley forcing her way to his side.
“Mr. Darcy!” Miss Bingley cried, “Thank heavens you did not fall victim to the fire. What on Earth were you thinking?” She gulped. “You’ve been injured!” Indeed, the gentleman had a gash above his brow, and his clothes were tattered and torn, evidencing other possible injuries.
“Come with me to the carriage,” Miss Bingley urged, seizing hold of his arm and coaxing him a short distance away from the others. “We must get you back to Netherfield at once to attend your injuries.”
“No!” Darcy protested, freeing his arm from the young woman’s grasp. Seconds later, he tumbled to the ground.
In Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet makes no secret of the fact that his second eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is by far his favorite child. As Mrs. Bennet states,
“Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humored as Lydia. But you are always giving HER the preference.”
Indeed. But what-if, owing to the most unfortunate of circumstances, the gentleman feels compelled to insist that Elizabeth marry Longbourn’s heir, the odious Mr. William Collins?
Elizabeth sat opposite her father in the small room in the back of the house now officially designated as his new study.
“I’m on the heels of concluding another round of rather lengthy and at times contentious debate with Mr. Collins,” said Mr. Bennet. He exhaled a deep, resigned breath. “I find myself particularly mindful that I have a legal responsibility as well as an ethical one to pass the estate to him intact just as it was passed to me.”
Ceasing his speech, the gentleman set his pipe aside, arose from his chair, and drifted over to the window.
“I have lost so much, and I do not intend to spend what’s left of my days embroiled in costly litigation with Collins over what ought to be done as regards his rightful inheritance, especially given there’s a less bothersome alternative. Rather than make an enemy of my cousin, there is a way for the two of us to partner in the scheme to rebuild the manor house.”
“Papa, you know that I will be happy to do everything in my power to see all your fondest wishes for the estate unfold.”
Mr. Bennet turned and faced his daughter. “That is precisely what I had hoped you would say, my dear Lizzy. For you see, there is a vital part you can play. I have already discussed this with Mr. Collins, and he and I are of mutual accord in our scheme. As he is Longbourn’s heir apparent, he and I may be in a position to restructure the edicts of the entail to our mutual satisfaction. As it turns out, his terms are strikingly similar to what I had envisioned with but one exception.”
“This sounds interesting. What are the gentleman’s terms, if I may ask?”
He cleared his throat. “Before I disclose any of that, pray hear all I have to say. The damage to Longbourn House, while substantial, by no means rendered it completely unsalvageable. I am not a young man, my child, and with the entail on the estate such that it exists, I do not know that I have the fortitude to rebuild. However, if I knew that my own family would benefit from the endeavor, I would consider it a strong inducement to restore the house to its former state—perhaps enhance it with many of the modern conveniences I have been reading about.”
Her suspicions heightening and her patience wearing thin, Elizabeth said, “Again, what are Mr. Collins’s terms?”
“He shall marry whichever of my daughters he chooses.”
Elizabeth colored. She stared. Surely that ridiculous man has signaled Jane out as the future Mrs. William Collins, she silently considered. She had not failed to notice the way he leered at her elder sister whenever he thought no one was looking. She thought to protest the injustice that her sister should be subjected to such humiliation. “Papa, you are aware that Jane is in love with Mr. Bingley, and he is in love with her.”
“I am very aware of the tender feelings in that quarter, and I have made Mr. Collins aware of them as well. No—it is not Jane whom he has chosen.”
“If not Jane—then who? Mary? I should hate to see any of my sisters married to such a ridiculous man, but I suspect Mary will not be terribly disappointed.” Indeed, though Mary was not one to engage in flights of fancy over the prospects for her future marital felicity as was so often done by her two youngest sisters, her propensity to cite passages from Fordyce’s Sermons to any one of her sisters who would listen made her a likely candidate.
“I tend to agree with you. However, it is not Mary either. I regret to inform you, my child, but it seems my cousin has set his cap on you.”
Elizabeth gasped aloud! She sprang from her seat. “Papa! Surely you did not go along with his proposition. The man is a fool. Surely misery of the acutest kind would accompany both of us all the days of our lives were such a union to take place.”
“My dear Lizzy, I assure you that you have not said anything that I have not considered myself, but these are extraordinary circumstances—desperate even. Such measures as my cousin and I have agreed to are the only viable options. He will not consider changing the terms of the entail otherwise, which means there is no possibility for a happy conclusion for the rest of your sisters.”
He drew nearer to her. “You know that I must rebuild if your sisters are to stand a chance of securing marriages with respectable gentlemen. Mr. Bingley likes Jane—it is my wish that he will do more, but until he has placed a ring on her finger, nothing is certain. Even then, it shall remain my responsibility to provide for our family for so long as I live. I shall not accept charity from that young man. It is unfortunate enough that I am indebted to every merchant in Meryton.
“Mr. Collins has also agreed that, together, we shall endeavor to enhance your sisters’ dowries substantially. Under the restructured entail, that stipulation will take effect after the two of you are married.”
Mr. Bennet shook his head. “Mind you, my child, were this a month or so earlier, I would not possibly entertain the idea of your accepting such a man, but the situation has drastically changed. I must now consider that if you were to marry the man, it would be a very good thing for our family.”
“Papa! You cannot be serious. How can you possibly advise me to enter into an alliance in which I would be wholly incapable of respecting my husband?”
“Do not think I have come to this decision lightly. I know you well enough to know that such a marriage might well subject you to a severe degree of distress and discomfort, but I also know you well enough to know that you are a very clever girl. You were not designed for ill-humor. You will find a way to make the most of what would otherwise be a bad situation.”
“I will not do it, Papa! I cannot do it.”
“You can marry Mr. Collins, and you will marry him. For you to disobey me in this matter and to do otherwise would very well be the means of garnering my fiercest disapprobation. I am certain neither of us would ever wish for such an unhappy outcome.” He waved his hand in the air dismissively. “Now, run along my child, and share the good news with your mother that you are amenable to accepting Mr. Collins’s hand. I am sure she will be pleased enough for both of you.”
And so it begins. Once again, Jane Austen’s work has inspired me to write a Darcy and Elizabeth happily-ever-after story. What strikes me most about Austen’s era is that very often a bride and groom knew very little about each other before marrying.
Touched by the conclusion of the story she had been reading for days, Elizabeth contentedly closed her book. How close she was to her journey’s end she could not say, for she had never traveled that way before. She stole a glance out of the carriage window and commenced admiring the evidence of spring’s awakening flashing by.
What a lovely day for traveling this has turned out to be, she silently considered. The bright sun on her face was pure bliss. Elizabeth smiled.
Time away from Longbourn was always met with an ardent spirit on Elizabeth’s part. Most of her time spent away from her father’s home was passed in town with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. This occasion would find her in Kent. The visit could not have been better timed as far as she was concerned. Nothing of any genuine excitement was underway at home what with the militia off to Brighton.
Indeed, the militia’s recent removal from Meryton, and along with it the departure of the handsome Mr. George Wickham, had been factored into Elizabeth’s decision to visit her intimate friend Charlotte Collins, née Lucas. Even though the reasons that Elizabeth should not have been disheartened by Mr. Wickham’s leave-taking were plentiful, she was decidedly affected all the same.
For one, she had been gently advised by her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, for whom she held a particular regard, not to fall in love with that young man. Elizabeth assured her aunt that she had not and that she would not, so convinced was she that she had been and would always be the ruler of her own heart, even though Mr. Wickham was beyond comparison the most agreeable man she had ever met.
Secondly, in courting Miss Mary King, whose grandfather’s death had made her the mistress of a fortune of ten thousand pounds, Mr. Wickham had effectively abandoned his affections for Elizabeth with scarcely a second thought. She concluded, however, that the speed with which she recovered from his defection was the surest testament to the fact that her heart had remained untouched. That did not stop her from consoling her vanity as needed every now and again in the ensuing weeks and months.
I suppose had I been the recipient of a fortune of ten thousand pounds, I might have been his only choice, Elizabeth always liked to tell herself.
Nonetheless, the memories of him were the closest symptom of love she had ever suffered, and she cherished them as keenly as would any young woman who had ever been in the throes of her first infatuation. And when remembering all the times she had spent in Mr. Wickham’s amiable company, and recounting in her mind all the honeyed words that flowed from his lips in unabashed adoration of her, she did so with a fond heart and a warm smile.
If I could but meet a gentleman who possesses half of Wickham’s charms and amiability on this trip, then I should have no cause to repine.
“One thing he considered—the past weeks had taught him that it would take more than time and distance to release him from the spell of the beguiling country miss who managed to captivate him with a nod of her head, a witty turn of phrase, and a teasing smile.”
This quote truly captures the essence of one of my all-time favorite book babies, Bewitched, Body and Soul: Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Indeed, I will always remember the day this story was published: May 5, 2012. As a tribute to the fifth anniversary of the book’s release, I offer the following excerpt for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
She expected to see his butler—dour, stone-faced, menacingly clad in black, and challenging the audacity of an unescorted young gentlewoman calling on an unmarried gentleman. So much for the speech that she had rehearsed on the way over, in hopes that it would speed her into Mr. Darcy’s company without raising eyebrows.
Elizabeth summoned her courage, silenced her pounding heart, and smiled. Certainly, he must be surprised in seeing her. Decided incivility had marked their last meeting.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet—” His voice sounded more piqued than astonished.
Why would it not? He is a wealthy single man who never looked at me for any reason, except to find fault. He barely tolerated my company before, yet here I stand on his doorstep, uninvited and unannounced.
“Mr. Darcy, I pray you do not find this an imposition. I have come here owing to a matter of some importance that I wish to discuss with you.”
One hand placed on his hip, he gripped the heavy door with the other, thus giving Elizabeth pause.
What was I thinking in coming here? “If this is not a good time, I can call again … when it is convenient.”
The cold, misty shower she had hoped would have passed by now took a nasty turn. Heavy rain poured down in sheets, sopping everything in its path. Elizabeth pulled her cloak tighter. The hood, weighed down by the rainwater, clung to her face. She imagined she appeared as a pitiable wet wretch.
Darcy glanced over his shoulder. Then, as his apprehensive expression eased, so did his grip. Though Elizabeth would have preferred a warm reception in place of his earlier put out scowl, his befuddled mien would have to suffice. Elizabeth covered her nose before trying unsuccessfully to prevent a sneeze from escaping. Another followed.
“Pardon me, Miss Elizabeth. Please, come inside. I cannot allow you to remain outside in such a deluge, and I cannot send you away. I do not see your carriage.”
Elizabeth entered the grand foyer. She lowered the hood of her cloak to rest upon her shoulders.
“May I take your coat?” Elizabeth silently accommodated his request. “I am afraid you will find me ill-prepared to receive you properly, Miss Elizabeth. I returned to town only hours ago, days ahead of schedule. It seems my butler and staff are scattered about London attending ailing relatives and what not, I suppose, in view of my unannounced arrival,” Darcy said. His voice rang with a hint of frustration.
Darcy looked about for a place to lay her cloak to rest whilst she remained speechless. Elizabeth could not open her mouth as she considered what had just happened. Mr. Darcy had answered his own door! No butler, no doorman, instead she found a rich gentleman performing a mere servant’s task.
“Join me in my study.”
The two walked the length of the foyer in silence. Rich smells of polished wood, and the warm glow of brass candelabras gave the place a feeling of home, quieting her anxiety even as she questioned her scheme. Darcy pushed the door open and stood aside to allow her to pass.
“Please have a seat.” He gestured toward the chairs in front of his desk as he closed the door. Elizabeth did as told, and Darcy soon joined her. Rather than take a seat in the large leather chair behind the huge mahogany desk, Darcy sat in one of the armchairs about a foot away from Elizabeth. He rearranged his chair enough to face her.
She had expected the formal, reserved Mr. Darcy of whom she had learned to think poorly in Hertfordshire, and thus was astounded. He did not even wear a jacket. His shirt hung from his trousers, and his cuffs were undone. His dishabille was a stark contrast to his stately study. Except for a blanket, casually strewn upon his finely upholstered settee, the room was immaculate.
“Now, you say you came here because you suppose I might be of some service to you?”
“Indeed. Mr. Darcy—”
Darcy beckoned her silence by the haughty lifting of his chin. “I trust you did not walk here from Hertfordshire … unescorted.”
“No, I did not walk from Hertfordshire. I am staying in Cheapside with my Uncle and Aunt Gardiner.” His ill-disguised grimace came as no surprise to Elizabeth. Whilst in Hertfordshire, he had made no attempt whatsoever to hide his disdain for everyone whom he deemed beneath him, which turned out to be everyone he met. She had no reason to suppose he might view her relatives from Cheapside any differently.
“Yet, you are unescorted.”
“Mr. Darcy, you know as well as anyone of my propensity to come and go as I please. When have you known me to be accompanied by a maid when venturing about?”
“Do I need to remind you that you are not in Meryton? What passes as appropriate behaviour there will be frowned upon amongst London’s Society.”
“I do not require a lecture from you on etiquette, at least not now. At the risk of exposing myself to Society’s disdain, I came to you because you are Mr. Bingley’s closest friend. My request is one which can be made only in person.”
“Excuse me, Miss Elizabeth. How did you know where to find me?”
“I came here by coach … hackney.”
“That does not explain how you were able to arrive on my doorstep.”
“I asked my driver to make enquiries until we came upon your address. Finding you was easier than I thought it would be.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrow. “I trust that does not harm your sensibilities.”
Darcy shrugged. “I am in my home. Concern for my sensibilities is not the point.”
“I trust you and I are sufficiently acquainted that I should not fear for my safety.”
“That depends upon what you mean by safety. I believe it is incumbent upon me to inform you that you and I are the sole occupants of this house. Except for my valet who is out on errands, other members of the household staff are not expected until tomorrow.”
Startled. Only the two of us? Elizabeth’s heart beat as rapidly as the pounding of Mary’s fingers when she practised her scales. She had hoped his young sister would be there, at the least, to lend some air of decorum to her visit. She removed the handkerchief from her sleeve. A muffled sneeze nearly escaped. She felt a slight chill creep over her body.
“Are you comfortable?”
“Yes—no,” Elizabeth cradled her arms. Her body trembled. “I find it a bit nippy.”
The warmth of the fire had not loosened the cold’s grip on the room. “Pardon me. Let us move by the fireplace.” Darcy stood and led the way. “May I offer you a drink?”
“Please do not go to any trouble on my behalf.”
Darcy walked over to the liquor cabinet to pour himself another drink. He also poured one for Elizabeth and returned to her side. He handed her the snifter of brandy. “I suffered no trouble.”
With reluctance, Elizabeth accepted the proffered drink. What made him think she imbibed liquor? Did he mean to challenge her? She raised the glass to her lips and sipped the slightest of sips. Darcy sat in the seat opposite her and enjoyed a larger swallow.
Elizabeth set her drink aside and smoothed her skirt. His intent gaze was unsettling. She had never been as nervous in his company. She supposed she had long since grown immune to his impenetrable stare. Being in his home, alone with him before a comfortable fire, imbibing brandy, was not something she had planned. Unlike their meetings in Hertfordshire where their time in company at Netherfield Park was spent sparring, her matching his verbal challenges with witty repartee always rendering her the victor, he now clearly held the advantage.
“Your family … I trust everyone is well, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Everybody is the same as when you departed, Mr. Darcy. Everybody, that is to say, save my sister Jane.”
“Miss Bennet? Please continue.”
“I fear there has been a grave misunderstanding on Mr. Bingley’s part as regards Jane’s sentiments. She loves him. The manner in which he took such precipitous leave of Netherfield Park destroyed her spirit. I fear she is in danger of its threatening her health.”
“I dare say one does not suffer, physically, any ill-effects from disappointed hopes.”
“Why should she suffer at all? She loves him. He loves her. I am convinced of their mutual affection; else, I would not have come here to correct an injustice.”
Darcy shrugged. “Why did you come to me? You might have gone straight to Bingley with your account.”
“Actually, Mr. Darcy, I did go directly to Mr. Bingley. At least, I attempted to. I just left there, in fact. His sister, Miss Bingley, received me. She wasted little time in apologising to me in Jane’s stead, saying that her brother had thought better of his behaviour in Hertfordshire and deeply regretted raising Jane’s hopes.
“When I told her that I would rather hear an explanation for his behaviour from him, she said he was away in the North, visiting family. I rather doubt her account and that is why I am here. Mr. Darcy, at the risk to my own reputation, I appeal to you, as Mr. Bingley’s closest friend to intercede with him on my behalf.”
Darcy frowned. “You might have come right out and said this upfront. What do you expect of me?”
“If what Miss Bingley says is true, that he is visiting family in the North, I appeal to you to write to him, telling him of Jane’s sentiments.”
“That will not be necessary. Bingley is in town.”
“Then I would ask that you speak to him on my behalf. Tell him there has been a terrible misunderstanding as regards my sister’s sentiments towards him, that his own sister has misled him. I dare say Miss Bingley will do everything in her power to keep me from seeing him in his home. He will surely believe you if you tell him of his sister’s deception. Besides, he may take offence in hearing all this from me. However, your being his closest friend, having the information come from you will lend credence to my assertions.”
Darcy closed his eyes and moaned. Elizabeth surmised with his groan that he had ignored her argument. “If nothing else, will you tell him that I am in town and that I wish to see him?”
“I fear you have come here for naught, Miss Elizabeth. I do not intend to intervene on any family’s behalf regardless of their needs in matters of marriage. The choice of a bride must be beneficial to both parties.”
“How can you refuse me? Is your friend’s happiness of no interest to you?” Elizabeth’s voice bristled with frustration. “I know not why this comes as a surprise. You have always viewed my family with disdain. You barely tolerate my presence.”
“That is not true.” He ran his long fingers through his dark hair. “I admire you, regardless of what I may think of your relatives. Why would you think otherwise?”
Elizabeth sat back in her chair and looked at him point-blank. “Does, ‘she is tolerable though not handsome enough to tempt me,’ sound familiar?”
He rose from his seat. Unhurried, he walked towards the fireplace. He turned to face her. “I supposed you had overheard me, though I never knew for certain. This is my sole excuse for not apologising. I am sorry I ever uttered those words. I did not mean them at the time. Without question, those words do not describe my sentiments now. The truth is—”
Darcy halted his speech. Elizabeth caught a glimpse of something in his face, what seemed an air of longing. She had witnessed it many times when gentlemen looked at Jane. What might it mean if she had more than tempted him? Perchance his look was one of adoration. But how could it be? Mr. Darcy never looked at her, even once, except to find fault.
“The truth is what, Mr. Darcy?”
“Never mind what I was about to say.”
“In the letter that Miss Bingley wrote to my sister telling of Mr. Bingley’s plans never to return to Hertfordshire, she hinted of an attachment between Miss Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Can this be true?”
Darcy raised his eyebrow. Elizabeth’s muscles tightened. He was questioning her audacity!
“If it is not true, why would you allow such falsehoods to be spread about your young sister? Miss Bingley told Jane. Surely, she would tell others when it suited her purposes.”
Darcy walked to the window. He said nothing.
“You need not confirm nor deny Caroline’s assertions, Mr. Darcy. From what Mr. Wickham told me of your sister, I find it difficult to believe she would even consider an alliance with Mr. Bingley.”
Catching his breath, he turned to face her. “Wickham? I trust you are not taking your cues on human behaviour from the likes of him!” Darcy rolled his eyes in displeasure. “What is this power he holds over gullible, unsuspecting young women?”
“Gullible? Unsuspecting? You dare to accuse me of such measly traits, merely because I chose to befriend a perfectly amiable gentleman who makes himself agreeable wherever he goes, whilst you, sir, are content to give offence to anyone whom you deem beneath you!”
He raised both hands in mocked surrender. “If the shoe fits—”
Insufferable man! Elizabeth rubbed her temple. The throbbing headache she had suffered whilst in Miss Bingley’s company was returning. Her gaze drifted past him to the world outside. All had quieted. Elizabeth’s eyes darted towards the mantle clock. Time had passed quickly. She had not planned to be away from her relatives’ home so long. She surmised she had better take her leave rather than argue with the stubborn man who stood before her. She had grown tired by now, owing to more than her present company. Unlike the night before, she supposed she would have little trouble finding sleep when she laid her head to rest that evening.
Elizabeth arose to her feet. She cleared her scratchy throat. “I realise what you are about, Mr. Darcy. You do not intend to help me. You merely intend to taunt and bait me, knowing where any discussion between the two of us on the subject of Mr. Wickham leads. An ensuing argument will pacify your guilty conscience for refusing to help reunite Mr. Bingley and my sister!”
Darcy looked more surprised, or amused, rather than offended. This upset Elizabeth even more. Any disappointment she suffered, she directed towards herself. She had taken her chance with him and failed miserably.
“Good-bye, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth walked to the door and grasped its handle. “I feel it is more than I owe, but it would be rude of me not to thank you for your time.”
What had started as light inconvenient drops of rain as Elizabeth made her way down the stairs of Darcy House soon gave way to buckets of water pouring from the sky when she stepped on the footway. Already damp from the earlier downpour, her hooded cloak was her sole protection.
Where is the hackney coach? She had asked the driver to return for her in under an hour. Has he come and gone? She prayed another would happen along soon. Her cloak was no match for the harsh rain. Already she felt the rain seeping through.
Before she knew it, the tall dark figure she espied from the corner of her eye loomed over her, holding a large black umbrella. Despite the reprieve from the pounding rain against her face afforded by the protective cover, she did not bless its bearer with any measure of charity.
“I do not need to tell you that you should not be standing out in this weather.” He, too, shivered from the brutal elements’ chill. “This is ridiculous. Please, come back inside.” By now, he was shouting.
“No!” Elizabeth cried back above the deafening rain. What would have been the point in returning inside with him when he only meant to mock her? He certainly did not mean to help her. The sooner her hired coach returned, the sooner she might fend for herself.
“Why are you even standing here?” His elevated voice barely resonated over the rain’s fierce drumming. “I assure you the chances of a passing coach are minuscule.”
“I have made arrangements, Mr. Darcy. My coach will return for me.”
“Then where is it? Come inside. I shall arrange for your safe return to Cheapside once my valet returns with my carriage.”
She pretended not to hear his magnanimous offer. I would never allow such a thing. What might my uncle and aunt think in beholding such an indecorous spectacle?
At last, her carriage, no—not her carriage, but a carriage, nonetheless, rounded the corner. Elizabeth stepped forward, nearer to the curb. Darcy stepped forward, as well, attempting to keep her sheltered by his umbrella. Elizabeth held out her hand in vain. The coachman had no intention of stopping, making avoidance of what was to come impossible. Swished puddles of street water splattered the two of them from head to toe.
In Pride and Prejudice, so much of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s vitriol is driven by her insistence that her nephew Darcy is engaged to her daughter, Anne. While Miss de Bourgh is frequently mentioned in Jane Austen’s timeless classic, the young lady has little if anything to say about the events unfolding around her. Part of the beauty of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) is the writer’s ability to change such things as that. In Impertinent Strangers, Miss Anne de Bourgh has quite a lot to say.
“There you have it, Nephew! It is precisely as I told you. Now, if you will pardon me, I will take my leave of the two of you so that you can discuss this matter—a discussion that is long overdue if you ask me.” She turned and faced Anne’s companion. “Come along, Mrs. Jenkinson. I believe this assignation warrants a measure of privacy.”
By the time Darcy and Anne were alone, he was pacing the floor. His complexion was pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure and would not open his lips until he believed himself to have attained it. When he had finally collected himself to discuss the matter with a measure of civility, he approached his cousin in quick steps. “Anne, what is the meaning of this? What on Earth were you thinking in saying all those things to Lady Catherine?”
She shrugged. In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, “Cousin, I am dreadfully sorry if what I said has caused you pain. It was not my intention to do so.”
“What you said to your mother cannot be true. Did Lady Catherine force you to say that you desire a union between us? Is that why you spoke as you did, out of fear of your mother’s disapprobation?”
“Again, I am sorry if what I said caused you any pain.”
Growing impatient with his cousin’s parroted response, he said, “Pray answer the question.”
Folding her hands in her lap, Anne said, “I believe I already responded to the question—more than once if you will recall when my mother asked me. However, as you seem to have a difficult time comprehending my reply, I shall state it again.” She looked at Darcy squarely in his eyes. “Yes, I desire this union.”
“I do not believe a word of this. It is impossible that you feel this way. Lady Catherine put you up to this! Admit it to me, and allow me to deal with the consequences of your mother’s disappointed hopes. You need not face her at all.”
Anne glared at Darcy. “Why is it impossible, Cousin? Do you suppose that because you are oblivious to my feelings for you they simply do not exist?”
His mouth fell open. “You have feelings for me? You have never spoken of any such sentiments previously. You have given me no hint—shown no symptoms of affection. Why did you not tell me any of this before?”
“You never asked. You never once looked at me except perhaps to show pity. You never really cared how I felt.”
“Anne, I am sorry that you feel this way. I am sorry for whatever part I may have played in contributing to these sentiments. However, if you actually feel this way then why on Earth would you possibly wish for an alliance between us?”
“My mother wants it!” Anne cried with more energy than she was wont to demonstrate. “What is more, our family expects it of us. I expect it of you, even though you have persisted in your stealthy courtship of Miss Elizabeth Bennet almost from the moment you first laid eyes on her.”
Here Anne stood. Showing strength of resolve that Darcy theretofore did not know she possessed, she practically yelled, “I know it all! I know that you have spent nearly every day admiring—nay lusting after—that impertinent young chit under this very roof. In my own home!
“I know that you make a habit of walking with her to the parsonage every chance you get—just the two of you, doing Heaven knows what along the way. I see the way you look at her whenever you two are in company; hear the things you say to her and the things she says to you. All of this right in front of me, leaving me to suffer inside myself—wishing, praying it was the two of us.”
Anne drew closer to her cousin—too close, forcing him to take a step back.