Although I have written nearly two dozen Austen-inspired retellings, sequels, and mysteries, Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception was my first attempt at what is known as a “variation” in the JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) community. In a variation, the author changes one of the events in the original Austen story line and creates a new and intriguing twist.
In this first attempt at a vagary, I was my usual writer self: I added lots of angst and many twists and turns. The book begins with Darcy’s return to Pemberley while Elizabeth and the Gardiners are visiting, but instead of his approaching her, he skitters off to his rooms rather than to speak to her. However, the next day, when Bingley is escorting Georgiana Darcy to Pemberley, he spots Elizabeth in Lambton. That evening he calls on her and her family. During the general course of the conversation, Mrs. Gardiner “casually” tells Mr. Bingley how Jane had been in London for three months and how Bingley’s sister provided Jane a direct cut by not returning a social call. Bingley is furious. He returns to Pemberley. Darcy confesses his part in separating Bingley from Jane.
The next day, Elizabeth receives the letter from Jane that describes Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham. While Mr. Gardiner rides ahead to meet up with Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth takes it on herself to call on Darcy. She asks his help in finding Wickham. He makes the natural assumption that Wickham has seduced Elizabeth, and she is with child. Saddened by the possibility, Darcy refuses, but Bingley says that if Darcy expects for Bingley to forgive him, he will assist Elizabeth. Along with Mrs. Gardiner, Darcy and Elizabeth set off for London. Obviously, I do not make their journey an easy one. I toss in the hunt for Wickham, a measle outbreak, another major misunderstanding, a secret betrothal, and Darcy’s humbling himself before Meryton’s populace before our dear couple reach their Happily Ever After (HEA). The idea is to have both Darcy and Elizabeth go through some sort of transformation, just as they did in the original tale before bringing them together.
Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
What if Fitzwilliam Darcy refused to approach Elizabeth Bennet when he spots her upon the grounds of Pemberley? What if Elizabeth permits Mr. Darcy to think her the one ruined by Mr. Wickham? What if love is not enough to bring these two souls together?
FITZWILLIAM DARCY’s pride makes the natural leap to ELIZABETH BENNET’s ruination when she appears, without notice, upon Pemberley’s threshold to plead for his assistance in locating Darcy’s long time enemy, George Wickham. Initially, Darcy refuses, but when Charles Bingley demands that Darcy act with honor, Darcy agrees. The idea of delivering Miss Elizabeth into the hands of Mr. Wickham rubs Darcy’s raw. Even so, he does his best to bring Wickham to marry Elizabeth Bennet; but it is not long before Darcy realizes Elizabeth practices a deception, one he permits to continue so he might remain at her side.
Their adventure takes more twists and turns than does the original Pride and Prejudice, but the reader will enjoy the devotion displayed by both Darcy and Elizabeth as they not only bring Wickham to toe the line in Lydia’s defense, but they work their way through new misconstructions. Darcy’s finally wooing of Elizabeth brings them both to a public declaration of their love.
Excerpt from Chapter One
Darcy froze in his steps.
“It could not be,” he whispered to his foolish heart. He had returned to Pemberley a day early in order to make the final arrangements for the surprise he meant for his sister. He had left Georgiana in the care of his friend, Charles Bingley, and Bingley’s sisters. More than once, while he had ridden to Pemberley, he had experienced a twinge of guilt at his expecting Georgiana to contend with Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst, but Miss Bingley’s effusions had sorely worn on Darcy’s patience, and so he had made his excuses.
Arriving upon the estate grounds, he had cut across Pemberley’s parkland to come forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables. Upon his approach to the manor house, Darcy had noted an unmarked carriage before the front entrance. Recognizing the possibility of visitors in the common rooms, he remained in the shadows, meaning to enter the private quarters through the back entrance; yet, the appearance of a young woman upon the rise leading to the river had brought him to a stumbling halt. From a distance, the woman had the look of Elizabeth Bennet, but he did not approach, but his head denied the possibility that his heart screamed to be true. He had acted the fool previously and refused to be found wanting again.
Perhaps it was a month or so after his disastrous proposal to Miss Elizabeth at Hunsford Cottage, that he had spotted a young lady entering Hatchard’s Books, and without thinking, he had followed her. “Miss Elizabeth,” he said as he came up behind her, but when the woman spun around to greet him, the lady was not the woman whose existence had haunted Darcy’s thoughts for almost a year.
The girl’s forehead furrowed in confusion. “Pardon me, sir. Do we hold an acquaintance?”
Darcy bowed stiffly. “It is I, miss, who begs your pardon. From behind, I thought you a long-standing acquaintance.” He stepped back to widen the distance between them. “I apologize for the inconvenience.”
The girl’s frown line deepened. “Yet, you called me by my Christian name.” The tone of the girl’s voice spoke of her suspicions.
Darcy swallowed the blush of embarrassment rushing to his cheeks. “If you are also an ‘Elizabeth,’ it is purely a coincidence,” he insisted.
Darcy rushed his apologies when he spied a matron marching to the young woman’s rescue. “Then I am doubly apologetic. My actions placed you in an awkward position. Please forgive me.” He held enough experience with Society mamas to know when to make a speedy exit.
During his return to Darcy House that day, he had silently cursed his inanity for stumbling into what was another humiliating situation. Later, in his study, he had admitted to the empty room, if not to himself, that he had missed looking upon Elizabeth Bennet’s animated countenance. “If it were she,” Darcy warned his conscience, “Miss Elizabeth would have, in all probability, presented me the direct cut. The lady spoke quite elegantly upon her disdain, and you are imprudent to think your letter would have changed Miss Elizabeth’s mind. Accept the fact the woman is not for you.”
And so when Darcy noted another possessing Elizabeth’s likeness upon the streets in the warehouse district of Cheapside a fortnight later, he had turned away with the knowledge that as a gentleman’s daughter, Miss Elizabeth would not be found in Cheapside. He strove to convince himself that he would soon replace Elizabeth Bennet’s charms with that of another.
Belatedly, realizing he studied the woman standing upon the rise longer than was proper, Darcy slipped through an open patio door to escape the vision of Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley, a thought which so often followed him about as he completed a variety of tasks upon the estate. It was deuced frustrating to look for the woman wherever his steps took him.
“Leave it be,” Darcy chastised as he crossed the drawing room only to be brought up short a second time by the appearance of his housekeeper.
Mrs. Reynolds caught at her chest in obvious surprise. “Mr. Darcy,” she gasped. “I did not realize you had returned, sir.”
Darcy caught her elbow to steady the stance of his long-time servant. Mrs. Reynolds had come to Pemberley when he was but three. She, Mr. Nathan, his butler, and Mr. Sheffield, his valet, all had known the Darcy family’s employ for over twenty years. “I noted visitors, and as I was not dressed properly, I thought to avoid the necessary greetings,” he explained.
“I have just this minute turned them over to the gardener,” Mrs. Reynolds assured.
Darcy swallowed the question rushing to his lips. He would not ask of the nature of those who called upon his house. “Very well. Then I am free to seek the privacy of my quarters.”
“Yes, sir.” Mrs. Reynolds glanced toward the entrance hall. “Should I have a footman bring up bath water, sir?”
Darcy nodded his agreement. Again, he fought the urge to ask of the estate’s visitors, choosing not to punish his pride with false hopes. Instead, he asked, “Has Miss Darcy’s gift arrived?”
“Yes, sir. As you instructed I had the instrument placed in Miss Darcy’s sitting room. It fits perfectly. Miss Georgiana will know such joy.”
He smiled with the woman’s kindness. “My sister deserves a bit of happiness. After my ablutions, I mean to view the arrangement personally.”
“Very good, sir.” Mrs. Reynolds started away to do his bidding. Yet, despite his best efforts, Darcy called out to her. “Yes, Master William. Is there something more?”
Darcy’s eyes searched the staircase where he often imagined Elizabeth Bennet standing. Such yearning swelled his chest that he experienced difficulty breathing. It is best not to know, he cautioned his wayward thoughts.
“Would you tell the footman I will require his assistance in dressing. Mr. Sheffield and my coach will arrive later this evening.”
“And you and I should speak before Mr. Bingley’s family arrives. Miss Bingley did not enjoy the vista from her guest room when last the Bingleys were here.”
A scowl of disapproval crossed his housekeeper’s features. Darcy knew many of his servants prayed he would not take up with Caroline Bingley. He expected if he were to act so foolish, he would receive a large number of notices of withdrawal from his staff.
“Perhaps before supper, sir,” Mrs. Reynolds said stiffly.
Darcy nodded his approval, and the lady strode away; yet, he whispered to her retreating form. “Have no fear. Only one woman knows my approval as the Mistress of Pemberley.” Darcy chuckled in irony. “And it remains unfortunate that even Pemberley’s grandeur could not entice the lady to overlook its master’s shortcomings.”
* * *
Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper consigned Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle over to the gardener, who met them at the hall door. As they followed the man toward the river, Elizabeth turned to look upon the gentleman’s home. For very selfish reasons, she had opposed her aunt’s suggestion of the tour of Mr. Darcy’s estate, but Elizabeth was glad she had come, nevertheless. In her future daydreams, she would picture the gentleman standing upon the grand staircase.
If Elizabeth, when Mr. Darcy gave her the letter he wrote in clarification of his actions, did not expect it to contain a renewal of his offers, she formed no expectation at all of its contents. But such as they were, it might well be supposed how eagerly she went through them and what a contrariety of emotions they had excited. No one observing her progress could have given voice to her feelings. With amazement did she first understand that Mr. Darcy believed any apology to be in his power; and she steadfastly denied that he could possess an explanation, which a just sense of shame would not conceal.
With a strong prejudice against everything he might say, she had examined his account of what occurred at Netherfield. She read with an eagerness, which hardly left her power of comprehension, as well as from an impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, so much so she could not attend to the sense of the written lines before her eyes. Mr. Darcy’s belief of Jane’s insensibility Elizabeth instantly resolved to be false, and his account of his real objections to the match brought such anger that she could not declare his actions just. The gentleman expressed no regret for acting upon his beliefs, at least none, which had satisfied her at the time. Elizabeth declared his style lacking in penitence, instead of naming it haughty and prideful and insolence.
But Mr. Darcy’s account of his relationship with Mr. Wickham bore so alarming an affinity to Mr. Wickham’s own narration of the events that astonishment, apprehension, and even horror, oppressed her. Elizabeth had wished to discredit it, but every line had proven that the affair, which she believed beyond the pale, could name the Derbyshire gentleman entirely blameless throughout the whole.
In hindsight, Elizabeth had grown absolutely ashamed of her accusations. Of neither Mr. Darcy nor Mr. Wickham could she think without feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, and absurd. “I acted the harpy,” Elizabeth whispered as she implanted the image of Pemberley upon her mind.
When her relatives had insisted upon touring the estate, Elizabeth had convinced herself that viewing Mr. Darcy’s property would prove just punishment for the pain she had caused the gentleman.
“Of all this, I might be mistress,” she reminded herself with each new discovery of how easily she and Mr. Darcy could suit. They held similar tastes in architecture and décor. “So different from his aunt’s ornate presentation at Rosings.”
And so, although Pemberley’s gallery sported many fine portraits of the Darcy family, Elizabeth had searched for the one face whose features she wished to look upon again. At last, it arrested her, and Elizabeth beheld a striking resemblance to Mr. Darcy, with such a smile upon his lips as she remembered to have sometimes seen when he looked upon her. The viewing brought her instant regret for she recognized the honor of Mr. Darcy, which led her to consider his regard for her with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than she had ever admitted, even to herself.
Elizabeth wished she could tell Mr. Darcy that she found Pemberley “delightful” and “charming,” but she quickly deduced the gentleman would have assumed her opinions mischievously construed: Mr. Darcy would think her praise of Pemberley a device to elicit a renewal of his proposal.
“Better this way,” Elizabeth whispered as she turned to follow her aunt and uncle further into the woods. “I have memories of Pemberley, and no one else is the wiser of my presence under Mr. Darcy’s roof.”
* * *
Unable to quash his curiosity any longer, after supper, Darcy sent for Mrs. Reynolds.
“Yes, sir?” The lady curtsied from her position inside the open door to his study.
Darcy motioned her forward.
“Would you see that there is a vase of yellow roses placed upon the new instrument in Miss Darcy’s quarters.”
Mrs. Reynolds’ countenance relaxed. “I asked Mr. Brownley for fresh cuttings previously, sir.”
Darcy nodded his approval. “I should not think to instruct you on providing for Georgiana’s pleasure. You have been an exemplary member of Pemberley’s staff for longer than I can remember.”
The woman blushed at Darcy’s kindness, but she kept a business-like tone. “I also aired out the green bedchamber for Miss Bingley’s use. I pray that will serve the lady’s purpose.”
Darcy understood Mrs. Reynolds’ poorly disguised question. “You may inform the staff I hold no intention of seeing Miss Bingley in the family quarters. The green chamber is close enough.”
Mrs. Reynolds closed her eyes in what appeared to be a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
“Will that be all, sir?”
Darcy’s heart raced, but he managed to pronounce the necessary words. “Did we have more than one set of visitors today? Thanks to your efficiency, I so rarely encounter the estate guests, but I would not have you beset upon. Your first duty is to the running of Pemberley.”
“No, sir. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were the only ones we accepted in well over a week. It is no bother: I am proud of Pemberley.”
“Mrs. Gardiner,” Darcy’s mind caught the name and rolled it through his body like a tidal wave striking a ship. If the lady he observed was Elizabeth, had she married? Had she thought to compare what she earned to what she lost? Darcy’s mind retreated from the possibilities, but he could not quite quash his fears. “A young couple then? Perhaps on a holiday?”
Mrs. Reynolds shook her head in denial. “Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner would be the age of your late parents. I overheard Mrs. Gardiner tell her niece a tale of the village oak. It sounded as if the lady spent part of her childhood on the London side of Lambton.”
“Her niece?” Darcy’s mind latched onto the one word in his housekeeper’s tale that rang with hope.
“Yes, sir. A fine young lady. Very kind to her aunt, offering her arm to Mrs. Gardiner’s support. I believe the lady held an acquaintance with you. She and her aunt had a private conversation when they spotted the miniature of Mr. Wickham on your father’s mantelpiece.” Mrs. Reynolds’ shoulders stiffened. “I am sorry to report, sir, I could not give Mrs. Gardiner a civil account when she asked her niece how the young lady liked it. In truth, I quickly turned the conversation to your miniature.”
“I appreciate your loyalty,” Darcy said with a wry smile.
“My respect for the girl increased when she admitted she knew you ‘a little’ and that she found you ‘very handsome,’” Mrs. Reynolds continued.
Darcy’s eyebrow rose with curiosity. He hoped perhaps Mrs. Reynolds described Elizabeth Bennet, but he could not imagine Miss Elizabeth’s declaring him handsome: The woman abhorred him.
“And how did this conversation come about?”
Mrs. Reynolds blushed, but she did not avoid his unspoken accusation, a sign of her long-standing position in his household. “Do not look to place blame, Master William. I respect the late master’s kind heart and his benevolence toward his godson, but I see no reason to display George Wickham’s image in this house. Even the late Mr. Darcy could stare down from Heaven and see Mr. Wickham has turned out very wild.”
“We will discuss the future of Mr. Wickham’s likeness upon another occasion. Speak to me of your conversation with the young lady.”
It was Mrs. Reynolds’ turn to raise an eyebrow in interest; however, she rightly swallowed her questions. “Mrs. Gardiner remarked of your fine countenance when she looked upon the miniature, and then the lady asked her niece whether it was an accurate likeness. I then inquired if the young lady held an acquaintance with you. When she admitted as such, I asked if she found you a handsome man.”
“Then, it was Mrs. Gardiner and you who placed words in the lady’s mouth,” he reasoned. Darcy felt the female likely agreed only to be rid of the conversation.
Mrs. Reynolds blustered. “The girl’s aunt and I stated the obvious,” she declared with a tone commonly found among upper servants. “But neither Mrs. Gardiner nor I instructed the young lady to search out your portrait in the gallery nor did we lead her to it again and again.”
Darcy’s heart hitched higher. “I count no one named Gardiner among my acquaintances. Did you overhear the young lady’s name?”
“Her aunt called her ‘Lizzy’ several times so I would assume it is Miss Elizabeth or Lady Elizabeth.”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” Darcy corrected. Remorse at not having met her today filled his chest. A glance to his housekeeper said Mrs. Reynolds wished an explanation. “The young lady’s parents are neighbors of Mr. Bingley’s estate in Hertfordshire. If it is truly Miss Elizabeth, we met upon several occasions. I believe I stood up with her at the Netherfield’s ball.”
“Then perhaps you might renew the acquaintance,” Mrs. Reynolds suggested. “Mrs. Gardiner was to dine with friends before the family moved on to Matlock. I am certain Mr. Bingley would wish to behold Miss Elizabeth again.”
An invisible hand squeezed Darcy’s heart. Should he risk an encounter with Elizabeth Bennet? Had his letter softened the lady’s disdain for him? “Miss Bingley took a dislike for the Bennets,” Darcy offered in explanation. “Mr. Bingley developed a regard for Miss Bennet. His leaving Netherfield was poorly done.”
“I am sad to hear it, sir, but your confidence explains the halfhearted air, which follows Mr. Bingley about.”
Darcy nodded his acceptance: His housekeeper had given voice to what Darcy’s pride denied. Darcy sorely wounded his friend by acting in partnership with Miss Bingley in separating Bingley from Miss Bennet. With a second nod, he excused his servant. For several long minutes, Darcy stared off into the emptiness, which marked his life.
“I cannot seek out Miss Elizabeth,” he told the rise of expectation climbing up his chest. “Even if the lady might offer her forgiveness, Miss Elizabeth holds no interest in renewing our acquaintance. Furthermore, I do not deserve happiness when I robbed my friend of an opportunity to know it.”
* * *
“You are very quiet this evening, Lizzy.” Her aunt’s friends had invited them to dine in the evening, but once they had returned to their let rooms, Elizabeth preferred to spend time alone with her thoughts of Mr. Darcy.
“Just a bit fatigued.” Elizabeth made herself smile at her dearest aunt.
“Then you should retire early,” her Uncle Edward declared.
Her aunt ignored her husband’s lack of intuitiveness. “Are you certain what the Pemberley housekeeper said of Mr. Wickham did not upset you? I would venture the woman’s loyalty to the Master of Pemberley colored her opinions.”
Elizabeth had expected her aunt to ask of Mr. Darcy, not of Mr. Wickham. “Not in the least,” Elizabeth assured. “While in Kent, I learned more of what actually occurred between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham, enough so to acquit the former of any ill doing.”
Aunt Gardiner’s interest piqued. “Would you care to elaborate?”
“I promised my source secrecy.” Elizabeth would like to confide in her aunt and uncle for she wished someone would give her permission to beg Mr. Darcy’s forgiveness, but she had dug the pit of regret in which she now wallowed. “As I explained in my letter before I departed for Kent, Mr. Wickham bestowed his affections upon Miss King, and I held no loyalty for the man when I arrived on Charlotte’s threshold; therefore, I was free to accept other versions of the events.” Hers was an exaggeration of what had occurred, but it held some truth. “Although I still believe handsome young men must have something to live on, I pity whoever accepts Mr. Wickham’s hand.” If only I did not previously express my opinions to the contrary,” Elizabeth thought.
“That is quite a transformation,” her uncle observed.
“I am only aggrieved that I behaved with foolish disregard for Mr. Darcy. I treated the gentleman poorly.”
Her aunt’s question came quickly. “Is this revelation the source of your reluctance in viewing Mr. Darcy’s home?”
Elizabeth swallowed the bile rushing to her throat. “I rejoiced today when Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper informed us that we missed his return to Derbyshire by a day. I would not wish to encounter the gentleman. Our last exchange of words was far from pleasant.”
“If I had known…” her uncle began.
Elizabeth shook off his regrets. “I asked the inn’s staff of Mr. Darcy’s being at Pemberley before we came to the place.”
“We should be on to Matlock the day after tomorrow,” her aunt declared. “Even with Mr. Darcy’s presence at Pemberley we are not likely to encounter him. My friends do not travel in the same circles as Mr. Darcy. We shall be gone soon, and the gentleman will know nothing of our coming into his part of the shire.”