Okay, I admit it. This idea for a new Pride and Prejudice variation has been floating about in my head for more than two years, likely closer to three. Each time it resurfaced, however, I have placed the premise aside because for the story to happen, Darcy and Elizabeth needed to anticipate their vows, and, in truth, I tend to avoid those type of stories myself. So, if you are one of those who prefers our dear couple to wait for their marriage bed, I pray you will give this story a chance before rejecting it. The story starts nearly four years after Darcy does not show for his wedding. Please know, other than a few kisses, this story is squeaky clean.
I also admit this tale goes further away from canon than do most of my stories. It takes its roots from the scene where Lady Catherine de Bourgh calls at Longbourn and attempts to convince Elizabeth to abandon her hopes of ever being Mrs. Darcy. For those of you who require a reminder:
“You are then resolved to have him?”
“I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”
“It is well. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.”
“Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude,” replied Elizabeth, “have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family, or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it would not give me one moment’s concern — and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn.”
“And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.”
The question answered in my story is how far will Lady Catherine carry her point to separate Elizabeth from Darcy?
She thought him dead. Now only he can save their daughter.
When Lady Catherine de Bourgh told Elizabeth Bennet: “And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point,” no one knew how vindictive and manipulative her ladyship might prove, but Darcy and Elizabeth were about to discover the bitter truth for themselves.
This is a story of true love conquering even the most dire circumstances. Come along with our dear couple as they set a path not only to thwart those who stand between them and happiness, but to forge a family, one not designed by society’s strict precepts, but rather one full of hope, honor, loyalty and love.
Excerpt from Chapter One (Read the beginning of this chapter at AustenAuthors.net today and enter to win there, as well.)
Even after reaching England, it had taken them another two days to maneuver up the Thames and dock in London. In all, he had spent three weeks with the crew of The Resolution, an appropriate name for a ship that brought about an ending to his ordeal, who once they had retrieved him from the water and had heard his tale, had altered their course to trap those on The Lost Sparrow in the cove before the pirates could respond. They may have made it to England sooner if they were not required to tow The Lost Sparrow into port, but Darcy knew satisfaction when he finally stepped down on the docks in London, where his nightmare had begun. The clothes he wore had been borrowed from various members of The Resolution’s crew. They were ill-fitting, but so much more than the rags he had known since being pressed into service on The Lost Sparrow.
Wilder had hired a hackney to return Darcy to Darcy House. Now, as he stepped down before his London home, people stared at him in distaste as he approached the door and released the knocker, but Darcy made himself not turn around, concentrating all his energies on surviving the next few minutes. He knew his appearance was less than pristine for he wore mismatched clothes several sizes too large for him. One step at a time—the advice from Bruester, who had heard from his parents in a letter how Lord Matlock had moved to declare Darcy as dead after the authorities had found his cane and the ring he had purchased for Elizabeth somewhere upon the docks, rattled about in Darcy’s head. Therefore, he did not know what to expect when the door opened, but any preparations he had made mentally had not been enough.
“Yes, sir?” A man he did not recognize swung the door open.
“Where is Mr. Thacker?” he asked before he could stop himself.
“Mr. Thacker has taken another position, sir. That was nearly four years past.” The man pulled himself up stiffly. “I am Mr. Jones. Do you have business with the master?” The man eyed Darcy’s mishmash of clothing up and down and edged the door partially closed.
“The master?” Darcy asked. He knew his voice held surprise, but there was no way to control his reaction to this new reality.
“Mr. Fitzwilliam.” Again, the door moved another inch closer to being slammed in Darcy’s face.
Darcy employed his best Master of Pemberley voice. “Yes, I would like to speak to Mr. Fitzwilliam.” The idea the Matlocks had taken over his house did not set well with him. If he were dead, it should be Samuel Darcy residing in this house, not the colonel. His father’s cousin, Samuel, was the heir to the Darcy fortune, not those in the Fitzwilliam family.
“Who is it, Jones?” a familiar voice called out from the second storey landing.
“I am not certain, sir.” Jones narrowed the opening.
Darcy caught the edge of the door and gave it a good shove, sending the butler stumbling backward. “Fitzwilliam!” he called, using his shoulder to barrel his way into the foyer.
From above, he heard his cousin cry out, “What the—?”
Darcy paused from his exertion to look up. “Why are you acting as master of my my house?” he demanded.
His cousin caught hard at the railing. “My God, Darcy. It is you.”
“Most assuredly, it is I.” He started for the stairs, but two unfamiliar footmen stepped before him. “Have you removed all who once served me?” he questioned, a scowl of disapproval forming on his features.
Fitzwilliam gestured the servants from his way. “Permit Mr. Darcy admittance,” his cousin instructed. “After all, as he says, this is his house.”
As Darcy climbed the stairs, never removing his eyes from his cousin, he ordered, “Mr. Jones, if you expect to retain your position, bring me a small meal and a proper cup of tea and do so quickly.”
“Yes, sir,” the man called as he scrambled away.
Fitzwilliam appeared as stunned as was Darcy. There was no embrace of emotions. Only something that appeared like regret upon the colonel’s features showed. “Lead on, Cousin,” Darcy said through tight lips, a feeling of betrayal settling in his chest. “I am most eager to hear your explanations.”
Without uttering a word, Fitzwilliam turned crisply upon his heels and preceded Darcy into the study. In anger, Darcy purposely closed the door behind them.
His cousin crossed to the tray holding a decanter of brandy. “May I pour you a drink?”
Darcy eyed the room. Subtle changes had been made in the furnishings of the room. At least all he held dear had not been set aside. “I will pass. I fear I will require a clear head to understand what has gone on in my absence?”
Fitzwilliam turned toward him, his features grim. His cousin was a man Darcy had always trusted, but, now, he wondered if he had made a serious mistake in judgment. “It is not as this must first appears,” his cousin pleaded. “What I have done, I did so to protect your interests and your sister.”
Darcy thought to assume the chair behind the desk, but, rather, he chose the two wing chairs before the hearth. “I am willing to listen, but know I have recently been in the company of Captain Robert Bruester, who had heard from his family that Matlock has attempted to have me declared dead.”
“Bruester? I thought him at sea,” Fitzwilliam remarked as he joined Darcy before the empty hearth. The colonel studied Darcy carefully.
“He was. As was I until I managed to escape the pirate ship upon which I have been held for nearly four years.” He nodded to his cousin. “Was my uncle successful? Must I begin my return to the world by proving I am truly alive?”
“A pirate ship? My God, Darcy! I would never have thought you had been caught by a press gang. We assumed you had been robbed and tossed into the Thames.”
Darcy held himself very stiff. “It is not that I object to making an explanation regarding my capture and my escape, but I require some answers from you first.”
Fitzwilliam nodded his agreement. With a heavy sigh, he began, “We were all at sixes and sevens when you did not show at your wedding.”
Darcy wished to ask of Elizabeth, but his first task was to learn where his father’s legacy stood before he could inquire of Elizabeth Bennet’s fate.
“What did you do?”
If Fitzwilliam had expected Darcy to ask of Elizabeth, the colonel quickly hid his curiosity. He permitted Darcy to dictate their conversation. “Georgiana and I returned to London, and I began to trace your steps. The day your sister and I departed for Netherfield, you were to retrieve Miss Elizabeth’s ring from the jeweler. That is where I began.”
“And you discovered?” Darcy questioned.
“Very much what I shared a moment ago. I employed the services of my friend Thomas Cowan, who you might recall was a former Bow Street Runner. He and I called upon the jeweler, who assistant told us two men were seen following you when you exited the shop.”
Darcy wished he had paid more attention on that particular day, but his head was full of memories of Elizabeth Bennet, and he belatedly realized he had not practiced caution. “Why was not an alarm raised?”
“A series of excuses, but none worth pursuing,” his cousin said with a frown. “The jeweler and his assistant each blamed the other for not performing as they should have. When we departed the jeweler, Cowan suggested we search the docks and question those who were employed there. One of your tasks that day was to see to a shipment in which you and father had invested.”
“That was my destination,” Darcy admitted, but he listened carefully to hear what the colonel left out of his tale.
“We learned of two ships that departed the night you left the jewelers. I spoke to everyone who would share information; yet, there were no substantial leads as to your whereabouts.”
Darcy remembered how the men who had caught him had struck him repeatedly until he had gone unconscious. When he finally woke up, The Lost Sparrow was departing the docks, but not those in London. He had been transported further down the Thames to somewhere in Kent.
Fitzwilliam continued, “Cowan located the ring and the cane in a pawn shop, and we traced the items backed to the man who pawned them. He swore he found them behind some crates near the docks.”
Darcy recalled throwing the ring away, hoping against hope the men only meant to rob him. He thought they might leave him be long enough for him to make an escape, but they ignored the box. They had ripped the cane from his hands as he had used it as a weapon against them and had tossed it aside also.
“There was nothing to connect him to your disappearance. If you say he was involved, I will have Cowan locate him and bring him in for questioning.”
Darcy shook off the idea. “I know the identities of those involved. There were five all together. Two were killed in a skirmish with another pirate ship and the other three are presently in the custody of the British navy, along with their captain and crew mates.”
“Were you never permitted on land in all those years?” Fitzwilliam asked in bewilderment.
“Not once,” Darcy said in deep sorrow. “I thought, especially in the beginning, I would go mad. Only the memories of Elizabeth and Georgiana kept me alive.”
“You wish to know of Miss Elizabeth’s fate?” Fitzwilliam asked in sympathetic tones, which made Darcy’s heart ache. How would he survive if she had married another?
“Not yet,” he said solemnly. “You still have not spoken to me of the earl’s efforts to declare me dead nor why you are at Darcy House rather than my father’s cousin, Samuel Darcy?”
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