Today, my latest book baby takes its first breath. I am hoping my faithful readers will enjoy this latest tale of Jane Austen Fan Fiction.
Before I share an excerpt, permit me to give you some of the background. First, the tale is told completely from Elizabeth Bennet’s point of view, just as was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The reader does not know what Mr. Darcy is thinking, only something of his actions.
The action begins with Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford Cottage. Mr. Bingley has not yet arrived in Hertsfordshire. There has been no Netherfield Ball or love at first sight between Bingley and Jane (not yet, anyway). Elizabeth has come to Kent to save her friendship with Charlotte (Lucas) Collins. However, upon her first visit to Rosings Park, she encounters a situation which will throw her into the path of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Lady Catherine’s nephew, a man her ladyship has come to despise, for Mr. Darcy means to remove Lady Catherine as the mistress of Rosings Park. For you see, my dear readers, Mr. Darcy did as the family expected. He married Miss Anne de Bourgh, who succumbed to her many “illnesses” shortly after their marriage. As Miss de Bourgh was to inherit Rosings Park, in fact, should have been the mistress of the estate for nearly seven years, Mr. Darcy, as the lady’s husband, is now the owner of the estate. He has provided Lady Catherine a year to remove to the dower house, but her ladyship refuses to budge.
When Charlotte Lucas is ordered to bed by the physician in order to save the child she carries, Elizabeth Bennet is “recruited” to assist with Lady Catherine’s transition to the dower house. Despite disapproving of Lady Catherine’s “hysterics,” Elizabeth holds some sympathy for the grand dame. After all, her own mother and any unmarried sisters will be displaced by Mr. Collins when Mr. Bennet dies. Elizabeth believes that a woman who has given the better part of her life as mistress of an estate should not be so easily displaced.
Enjoy this excerpt from Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s first meeting.
Some three hours later, Elizabeth asked one of the housemaids to sit with her ladyship while Elizabeth partook of a light meal in the morning room. “Please thank the cook for providing me a meal in here rather than taking a tray in Lady Catherine’s sitting room,” she told Mr. Sidney as he remained close to serve her. “I required a few moments to clear my mind.” In reality, she required those few moments to breathe. Charlotte had been correct about the stuffy air in Lady Catherine’s bedchamber.
“How goes it with her ladyship?” the man asked.
“Likely just as Mrs. Fischer has reported,” Elizabeth said diplomatically. “Doctor Wilson believes Lady Catherine shall be laid up for a week or a bit more, but there was no break of her leg, which is a blessing for someone of a particular age, or so I am told.”
“Nicely put, Miss Bennet,” the man said with a slight turning up of the corner of his lips.
Elizabeth ventured, “Do you think Lady Catherine would object if I chose a book from the library to entertain myself while I sit with her?”
Mr. Sidney seriously considered her request before stating his permission.
With a nod of gratitude, after finishing her meal, Elizabeth made her way to the library. She was just beginning her search when a loud rap of the front knocker striking the door filled the empty hallways.
Quietly, she tiptoed to the still open door to have a look at the visitor. Elizabeth knew it might be a return of the Collinses, but her instincts said it would be the unwelcome appearance of Mr. Darcy, and she was curious about the man.
A second round of rapping occurred before Mr. Sidney appeared from a side hallway and rushed toward the sound.
At length, voices could be heard below. Elizabeth could not make out every word, but the occasional phrase reached her ears.
“The whole house is at sixes and sevens.”
“My aunt is still at home?”
“Assist with the packing.”
“Where is her ladyship?”
“An accident, sir.”
A murmured curse.
“Perhaps you might speak to Miss Bennet,” Mr. Sidney was saying.
Elizabeth did not wait to hear the gentleman’s response. Instead, she hurriedly grabbed a book from the shelf and rushed to be seated, pretending to read as she caught a steadying breath and stiffened her spine in preparation for her encounter with the oft-spoken-of Mr. Darcy. She settled her eyes on the page halfway through the first chapter, but did not carry her pretense of occupation as far as actually to read the book before her, but instead kept a sharper ear out for Mr. Darcy’s approach.
Even as she listened intently for the gentleman to make an appearance, Elizabeth considered how calm Mr. Darcy’s voice had sounded when he had heard of his aunt’s presence at Rosings Park, as if he had expected nothing less from her ladyship. He did not raise his voice until he learned of the accident. In reality, Elizabeth had expected him to be furious, allowing her to name his obvious control as an intolerable sort of arrogance. Her opinion, as was her way, had formed quickly, before she set eyes upon the man.
She had no time to present a name to any further impressions before Mr. Sidney announced, “Mr. Darcy, miss.”
Elizabeth’s idea of the gentleman’s arrogance was rather reinforced by the man’s appearance and the manner in which he carried himself. His presence filled the door, rather to say, it filled the empty room, despite its size.
Square jaw, displaying the shadow of a beard from his day’s travel rather than perfectly clean as if he were appearing in a lady’s drawing room. His skin had been darkened by the sun; apparently, he spent a great deal of time in the fields. Tall. He was a man who announced his place in the world simply by walking into a room. Although a bit wrinkled, his dark coat, as well as his tailored breeches and highly polished boots declared him a man of means. His presence was so strong, Elizabeth felt a jolt of recognition—an elemental sizzle running through her as she rose to greet the gentleman.
“Miss Bennet,” he said as he bowed properly. “I am to understand you have assumed the care of my aunt.”
“Not exactly, sir,” she said with a hint of a smile. She had no reason to smile at the man, for she was certain she did not like him, despite his handsome face; yet, it felt natural to smile upon him.
“Then perhaps you might explain exactly what is your role at Rosings Park,” he said rather coolly.
“If you believe, sir, that your aunt’s accident is some sort of hum to delay Lady Catherine’s removal from her home, you are sadly mistaken, Mr. Darcy. I have viewed her injuries myself. They are quite real.”
“If you stood witness,” Mr. Darcy continued in the same reserved tones as previously, “the account must be accurate.” He gestured to the seats. Elizabeth was not certain whether his remark was an insult or an observation, but she moved to the chair nevertheless. He continued, “Mayhap we might sit and you can explain your role at Rosings Park. Are you her ladyship’s companion? If so, you appear quite young for such an exalted position.”
Elizabeth fought hard not to frown, but knew she did not succeed. “Today is only my second visit to Rosings Park,” she said evenly.
“Yet, you believe it is your right to instruct her ladyship’s staff and sit in Lady Catherine’s library reading her books,” he accused.
Her expression must have displayed the nature of her objections to his insinuations, for the gentleman’s eyebrow rose in speculation.
“For your information, my cousin Mr. Collins holds the living associated with the baronetcy. I am a guest at Hunsford Cottage. I took your aunt’s acquaintance yesterday afternoon when I accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Collins to Rosings only to discover your aunt in a state of dudgeon as you have apparently ordered her from her home.”
Mr. Darcy’s eyebrows tugged together in obvious disapproval. “My dealings with Lady Catherine are none of your concern. You are nothing to my aunt; therefore, nothing to me.”
Elizabeth responded in her best imitation of Lord Matlock’s quelling tones. “As Lady Catherine has yet to relinquish control of this house to you, sir, I shall continue to act in her ladyship’s stead until she is in a position to do so for herself. Lady Catherine was set to remove to Bourgh House today, actually to be gone before your arrival. As her accident prevents her from doing so, you can have no doubt of the obvious necessity for a change in your plans. Permit me to suggest that you choose the local inn for your residency in Kent until the plans for Lady Catherine to accept Bourgh House can be renewed.”
She was satisfied with the calm in her voice and the command she portrayed in her words, but, infuriatingly, her visitor’s composure did not falter even one iota.
His reply proved equally unsatisfactory. “As I do not recognize your place of authority in this household,” he began in harsh civility, “I will make the decisions for this estate and this manor house, Miss Bennet. Until I have established a reliable steward who can execute the management of the estate’s affairs properly, I will be in residence at Rosings Park. You may return to Hunsford Cottage and your cousin. It will be my domain to oversee Lady Catherine’s care.”
Before she could organize her thoughts, the gentleman stepped to the door to present Mr. Sidney with orders. Elizabeth should have realized the butler had remained in the hall and had heard her exchange with Mr. Darcy and would, likely, carry the tale to those below stairs; however, she had not considered the obvious. Angry, as much with herself as she was the gentleman, Elizabeth groused beneath her breath, “Of all the arrogance!”
“I heard that,” Mr. Darcy said blandly from his place in the hall.
Within seconds, the gentleman returned—too quickly for Elizabeth to regain her composure completely. “I ordered tea,” he announced. The man turned his full attention upon her, and Elizabeth fought hard not to fidget. “Might we sit again, Miss Bennet?” he asked in calm tones—tones Elizabeth actually admired, but never would she mention that fact aloud. “I can hardly sit in the presence of a lady, and, personally, I despise drinking tea while standing. The cup and saucer always feel much smaller when one stands about attempting to look comfortable than it does when one is seated. We will both be more agreeable if we are seated during our conversation.”
“And I am less likely to slap your face when we are both seated,” she challenged.
A small smile graced his lips. “Another noted advantage,” he remarked in maddening carelessness.
Flushed in anger, Elizabeth sat heavily in the chair she had occupied when he entered the room. The gentleman followed suit, sitting with a flourish only a man accustomed to the finest of society could manage, with the exception that this particular man of society leisurely stretched his legs out before him. “Perhaps you might speak of what occurred in this house yesterday. I understand from Mr. Sidney that my Uncle Matlock called upon Lady Catherine. Were you witness to their discussion?”
“I was,” Elizabeth said with a lift of her chin.
“And?” he prodded.
“And,” she spoke in a decidedly unfriendly manner, but she spoke the truth. “Lord Matlock chastised his sister for ignoring your request.” Before he could respond, Elizabeth added, “In my opinion, forcing Lady Catherine from her home names you as cruel.”
Mr. Darcy corrected, “As Lady Catherine is the Dowager Lady de Bourgh, her ladyship’s home, once my late wife reached her majority and married, should have been Bourgh Hall, the dowager’s residence.”
Elizabeth knew his reasons true; yet, the idea of a woman being forced from her home hit too close to her own vulnerability to allow the gentleman any level of rightness in her mind. “Could you not share Rosings Park with her ladyship?” she suggested.
“I mean to set the estate on the path the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh had designed, in consideration of my late wife’s dying wishes.”
“Is there not another to inherit?” Elizabeth asked, constantly aware Mr. Collins would displace her family someday. “Is there not a means to share this grand estate with your family?”
“My wife Anne inherited the property. The baronetcy was not devised to pass through the male line. Mrs. Darcy’s property reverted to me upon her death,” he explained.
“And what shall you choose to do with it? Will you leave it to another or live in it?” she demanded.
Still and all, before the gentleman could answer, Mr. Sidney reappeared with John Lucas close behind him. “Mr. Lucas, Miss Bennet.”
Either John did not see the gentleman coming to his feet or he was too consumed with his news to take note of Mr. Darcy. “Oh, Lizzy, I am sorry to bring bad news.”
“Is Charlotte unwell?” Elizabeth asked, thinking of her friend’s news.
“How did you know?” John questioned. His face was flushed, as if he had run to Rosings rather than walked. “Charlotte collapsed when we reached Hunsford Cottage. Mr. Collins sent for Doctor Wilson. Wilson has confined my sister to her bed.”
Elizabeth wished to ask of the child, but could not do so before Mr. Darcy. Moreover, discussing Charlotte’s condition with Charlotte’s brother felt too personal. She would learn the truth at the cottage. “I shall fetch my things, and we may return to Hunsford immediately.”
John finally glanced to Mr. Darcy. “I did not mean to interrupt, sir.”
Elizabeth felt the necessity of the introduction. “Mr. Darcy, may I present Mr. Lucas, Mrs. Collins’s brother. Mr. Lucas is a member of the Dover militia and visits with his sister for the next few weeks.”
Mr. Darcy nodded in John’s direction, but the gentleman’s eyes remained on her. His eyebrows rose in question. “Lizzy?”
“I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Mr. Darcy presented her a half-smile. “Elizabeth. The name suits you.”
Elizabeth was uncertain what he meant and whether his words were a compliment or an insult; yet, she dared not ask. Instead, she said, “You have your wish, Mr. Darcy. Your aunt’s care is now in your hands.”
John frowned dramatically. “You do not understand, Lizzy. I mean, Elizabeth.”
“Miss Bennet,” Mr. Darcy corrected in firm tones.
John’s frown deepened. “Miss Bennet is in Hertfordshire. She is Miss Jane Bennet,” he said with a bit of defiance.
Mr. Darcy did not blink an eye when he said, “Yet, you are not in Hertfordshire at the moment. From what I can assume, your connections to Miss Bennet is your sister Mrs. Collins and both of you being from the same neighborhood in Hertfordshire. Correct me if I have erred. Do you hold a relationship with Miss Bennet beyond your sister and your families dwelling in close proximity?”
“I do not see where my and Miss Elizabeth’s relationship is any care of yours,” John said testily.
“Miss Bennet is currently a guest in my house, and I would see her properly addressed,” Mr. Darcy said evenly.
“You forget yourself, sir. I am not a guest at Rosings Park,” Elizabeth asserted.
“I have reconsidered your position in this household,” Mr. Darcy countered. “Lady Catherine will heal quicker if she has someone she trusts to see to her welfare. With the recent falling out between my aunt and me, I doubt her ladyship would do as I ask. More likely, she would question my motives or even the type of care she was receiving.”
Elizabeth wished to ask of the supposed “falling out” between Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine, but the gentleman truly owed her no explanation. Instead, she argued, “I cannot possibly remain in a household with an unmarried gentleman—a man who is an acquaintance of less than an hour.”
“But, Lizzy,” John began and stopped himself before Mr. Darcy could once again correct him. “Miss Elizabeth, Mr. Collins plans to send for my mother to assist Charlotte, which means there shan’t be enough room at the cottage for all three of us as guests. He begged me to ask that you be prepared to return to Hertfordshire in the morning.”
Elizabeth knew instant disappointment. She had agreed to this visit specially to spend time with Charlotte and to mend fully the rift between them. Next to her sister Jane, Charlotte had been Elizabeth’s most loyal companion. “Naturally, I must return to Longbourn,” she said in lackluster tones. Placing a smile upon her lips, she recited the necessary assurances, “Again, permit me to fetch my things, and we may return to the cottage.”
However, before she could act, Mrs. Fischer appeared at the door. “Miss Bennet, thank goodness you remain at Rosings Park. Her ladyship has awakened and is demanding to see either you or Mrs. Collins immediately.”
“Mrs. Collins is indisposed,” Elizabeth explained after shooting a glance to Mr. Darcy, whose resolve had not disappeared from his countenance.
“Then you must come, miss,” Mrs. Fischer declared. “Her ladyship is determined to remove from her bed. You must convince her it is too dangerous for her to disobey Doctor Wilson’s orders.
Elizabeth again looked to Mr. Darcy. He nodded his agreement. “Go. We will decide the rest after you speak to Lady Catherine.”
She pointed her finger at Mr. Darcy and John. “You two are not to argue in my absence.”
Mr. Darcy smiled at her. “What topic would you suggest, Miss Bennet, for Mr. Lucas and me to discuss.”
Elizabeth gestured with a sloping arc of her arm. “How am I to know?” she began as she headed toward the door, but she paused to turn back to the two men, each sporting a scowl upon his features. “Agriculture,” she announced. “Mr. Lucas commented earlier today on the condition of some of the fields and the pathways in the park. Perhaps, he may be of service to you, Mr. Darcy. At home in Hertfordshire, Mr. Lucas has assumed much of the care of his father’s modest estate.”