A Jane Austen Mashup Short Story. What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice?
Courtships of course! Find other preview chapters HERE.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam pulled the scarf a little tighter around his neck as howling winds battered the coach.
What madness had seized the weather? Snow was unusual enough, but a storm such as this? Who would have expected it? Certainly not his cousin Darcy. Careful and meticulous as he was, he would never have set out if he had any inkling a blizzard were a possibility, especially in the company of his wife and father-in-law.
The Darcy carriage was as snug and warm as such a vehicle might be in such anomalous weather. For that he could be glad. They were not in imminent danger of freezing to death. Still, the winds howled just as the wind on the French plains before—
No! He clenched his gloved hands into fists. Returning there, even in memory alone did him no favors. Elizabeth—Liza as she permitted him to call her now, mostly to annoy Darcy—Liza reminded him to remember the past only as it gave him pleasure. She was right, he must do precisely that.
He drew a deep breath, then another. She was watching him from the corner of her eye. She knew. She always knew.
Perhaps they would talk about it later. But first they needed shelter.
The first inn they had stopped at had no room. Now, Darcy inquired at a decidedly seedy looking establishment, the Ram’s Horn. But seedy was better than no shelter at all. Hopefully, Darcy’s blunt could smooth the way to a room and a warm fire for the night.
The coach door opened, allowing in a blast of wind and snow. Darcy jumped in and slammed the door behind him.
“Were you able to procure rooms?” Fitzwilliam pulled his coat tighter around his chest, shoulder throbbing with the fresh burst of freezing air.
“No. Not even the baronet who arrived just after we did could command lodgings.”
Liza gasped and glanced at her father who rubbed his hands together, hunched for warmth.
Darcy lifted his hand with a mildly dramatic flair. “That is not to say we do not have accommodations though. The hand of Providence has provided in a most unexpected way. Just inside the inn, I encountered an old school friend of mine, George Knightley, who lives but a mile from here. He has invited us—and the baronet and his daughter—to stay with him.”
“What a spot of good luck.” Bennet nodded vigorously, perhaps to cover his shivering.
It seemed far too easy that Darcy’s old school chum just happened to be there, only too ready to extend an offer of hospitality. Nothing in life ever proved so convenient. Fate would surely exact some sort of price for this succor. Still, refusing would be foolish.
Darcy finished telling them about his lengthy acquaintance with Knightley just as the coach pulled up to Hartfield’s front steps, the baronet’s coach just behind. Somehow, Darcy managed to leave out the most interesting parts.
Knightley seemed decidedly odd. Why did a married man, with an estate as respectable as Donwell Abbey, live at his father-in-law’s neighboring establishment? It was just not done.
Darcy’s friends were usually so conventional.
Then again, Bennet proved decidedly odd himself. Darcy had learned to tolerate him with greater equanimity over the—what was it now? Fifteen months?—of his marriage to Liza. Perhaps Darcy was becoming less particular about his connections.
He handed Liza out of the carriage and steadied Bennet as he followed.
Fitzwilliam stepped into the wind and skidded on a patch of ice.
Blast and botheration! This was not fit weather for man or beast.
Sir Walter Elliot climbed into the coach, leaving the door open until the driver closed it. There had been little enough warm air within as it was. It would have been nice for him to try to preserve it. But the act of closing the door himself might have been enough to compromise his dignity. He could not have, could he?
Elizabeth Elliot pulled her hood over her head and huddled into it. No, that thought was ungracious and unsuitable and Lady Russell would probably scold her for it. She scolded over so many matters, what was one more to the list? Elizabeth bit her lip and pulled the edges of her hood around her face. Another unkind thought. Surely it was this horrid storm that had compromised her composure. Usually she was better than this.
She had to be. There was little choice. Father was so very particular about all things that touched his pride—vanity really—and it was not worth the consequences if she vexed him.
Father brushed the snow off his shoulders and stomped his feet. The carriage lurched into motion.
“There was no room at the inn?”
“There was not.” He smoothed his coat over his lap. “But I have made arrangements.”
“What kind of arrangements?” She cringed. Father’s arrangements usually did not consider their budget and cost them in privation later—not that he would ever admit to it, but they did. And it would inevitably fall to her to make some way to provide for his comfort despite whatever he had done.
She had become quite good at it.
“The inn was dreadful, totally unsuitable.” He waved his gloved hand dismissively. “But there I met the leading gentleman of this little community. He recognized the honor of hosting a baronet and invited us to stay at his estate.”
“Do you know this man?” She turned to hide her face in her hood.
There had been many so-called gentlemen that had proved themselves otherwise. Pray there would be a lock on her door tonight. Even if there was, it might be best that her maid sleep with her as well.
“I do not. But he introduced me to his friend Darcy, whom he also invited to stay, and though that family does not have a title, they are connected to Matlock, and that is recommendation enough for me.” Father settled back in that attitude that declared the conversation over.
Of course connections would be enough for him. Stop now; that thought was headed nowhere productive—or polite.
Still, the Darcy reputation was well known and it was impeccable. Even his surprise marriage to a country gentleman’s daughter had not tarnished it. What was more, she was very well received herself. A credit to the Darcy name, she had been called. Perhaps the friend of such a family would be more gentlemanly than not.
The coach rolled to a stop.
She would find out soon enough.
Fitzwilliam stomped snow from his boots as he ascended the front stairs. Knightley himself opened the door for them. “Pray come in.”
Warmth and light the color of a roaring fire poured through the door. No matter how peculiar the man might be, the invitation was too inviting to ignore.
Mother would approve of the vestibule—tasteful, neat, and a bit old fashioned. She always maintained that traditional décor spoke of taste and respect when it was clean and well preserved. The house seemed all those things.
But most of all it was warm. Fitzwilliam unwrapped his scarf.
A startled looking butler met them and took their coats.
A woman who must have been the housekeeper met Knightley near the butler.
“Prepare rooms for our guests and their servants. Send the grooms for their horses.” Knightley ducked around the housekeeper. “Emma! Emma!”
No surprise. One did not bellow for his wife as one did a servant.
Bennet smirked under his breath.
There was a reason the younger Bennet girls were not known for their fine manners. But best not dwell upon that now.
Liza smiled softly, slipped her arm in Darcy’s and pressed her shoulder to his. His tension eased. She was a master at restoring his composure.
Thankfully, Darcy seemed to appreciate that fact and treated his wife very well. Anything less would have made him intolerable.
A young woman, blonde and pretty-ish, and looking not much older than Georgiana, hurried down the grand stairs. “I was so worried with you out there in the weather!”
Knightley caught her hands in his. “Now you are sounding like your dear papa. As you see, I am quite well and have brought guests seeking shelter from the storms. May I present Sir Walter and Miss Elliot of Kellynch Hall?”
No wonder they looked so familiar!
And offended. Clearly Sir Walter did not appreciate being presented to the mistress of the house when he clearly outranked her. The question was, did Knightley do it intentionally or were his manners that sloppy?
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” Mrs. Knightley curtsied with girlish energy, far better suited to a miss than a missus.
“I am most pleased to renew our acquaintance, sir.” Fitzwilliam stepped forward and bowed.
Sir Walter looked at him, forehead knotted and brows drawn together.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam?” Miss Elliot peered at him, eyes widening. “Father, you recall, we were introduced by the Dalrymples, at a card party, three, or was it four months ago?”
“Fitzwilliam? Oh, you are Earl Matlock’s son!”
Amazing how the man’s countenance brightened at that memory.
Fitzwilliam bowed. “Yes sir, I am. This is my cousin, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, and her father, Mr. Bennet.”
Sir Walter bowed from his shoulders, just enough to be proper. Miss Elliot’s curtsey demonstrated a touch more civility. Just as they had at Bath.
Their haughtiness had not won them many friends there. In truth though, it was more the baronet, than his daughter that people avoided. When she was apart from her father, uncommon as it was, she seemed rather pleasant.
The tall, dark haired woman might have once been regarded handsome, but years on the shelf left her worn and weary along the edges. A little like her garments—once fashionable, but now a bit threadbare. Society was not kind to women who did not ‘take’ soon enough.
Knightley took his wife’s hand as she descended the last few steps.
Given his expression, he was as fond of his wife as Darcy was of Liza. Perhaps that was the common disposition he and Darcy shared.
Knightley tucked his wife’s hand in the crook of his arm. “Darcy is an old school chum of mine—imagine encountering him in Highbury at such a time.”
“That is very good luck, indeed. You are all very welcome. I should very much like to hear tales of my husband’s school days. He rarely mentions them.” Mrs. Knightley’s eyes twinkled with a hint of mischief, much like Liza’s did.
Knightley flashed his brows at Darcy.
What was that?
Darcy never indulged in any sort of high spiritedness during his school days, did he? The look on Knightley’s face suggested otherwise. That was one conversation Fitzwilliam would definitely follow up on.
This could be a very interesting house party after all.
“Oh, Papa!” Mrs. Knightley hurried past them.
An elderly man, wrapped in a warm banyan, scarf and soft cap, shuffled toward them. “What … what is this commotion? Such disruptions are not good for the digestion.”
Mrs. Knightley wrapped her arm in his, supporting him. “Knightley has brought us guests, Papa.”
“Guests, in a snowstorm? It is a most dangerous thing to be out in such weather. I do not see why anyone with sense would be out on such a day. I still do not understand why Knightley had to go into town.”
She patted his hand. “That is why he invited them to stay with us. They were caught by the storm whilst traveling.”
“I see, I see. Traveling is a trial indeed. No one should be out in this weather.” He nodded somberly. He blinked several times and his eyes widened. “But are there children with them? They bear disease you know—”
“No, there are no children. Why do we not go to the parlor, and you may become acquainted with them. I will send for tea.” Mrs. Knightley guided him down the corridor, muttering under his breath as he walked.
So, Knightley lived at Hartfield, not Donwell Abbey, to care for the old man in his dotage. Sounded like exactly the kind of man Darcy would befriend.
Knightley urged them toward the parlor.
Elizabeth Elliot snuck a glance at her father. His forehead was creased and his lips pressed into a very distinct expression that only meant one thing: disgust. Proximity to the old and infirm brought it out and he no longer bothered to hide it. He used to, before they took residence in Bath. But there he encountered so many ‘unfortunates’ that the expression took up long term residence, much as they had.
Was Mr. Knightley merely ignoring it, or could it really have escaped his attention? Best assume the former. His hospitality was too generous to risk offending. The question was how to avoid it now that Father had begun along that path? If only she knew him well enough—or at all really—to be able to appeal to his vanity or ego. Perhaps a few compliments to his wife. Considering the looks he gave her—that might be his weakness.
The girl looked barely old enough to be married. Did she understand her good fortune, to have a husband at all, much less one who looked at her as Knightley did?
Oh, that sounded far too close to jealousy for comfort. Best focus on something else.
Mrs. Darcy did not seem a typical society matron—no that line of thinking would not end well either. Mr. Darcy gazed at her the way Knightley did at his wife.
He was a well looking man. A bit weather beaten for sure. If not guided away from it, Father would remark upon that. He did so freely enough in Bath. But tours of duty on the continent did that to a man. It was only to be expected.
She had heard from those who knew that Fitzwilliam had seen battle against Napoleon. Few, if any, of the officers she knew could claim that. He never spoke of it though, never spoke of his service at all. It made one curious.
Still, he was the son of an earl and his manners showed it. Refined and polished every time they met. Perhaps he might prove agreeable company for the duration of their visit. If she was not confined to the company of the two resident matrons.
There was little worse than to be in the exclusive company of married women when one was unmarried. Dreadful, truly dreadful.
A shiver coursed down her spine and she pulled her shawl a little tighter.
If it became too uncomfortable, she could always claim a headache and keep to her rooms. No one would be surprised if any of their number took colds from being out in the weather.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to simply avoid the inevitable now and ask to be excused.
Mrs. Knightly beckoned them into the parlor. Her smile held such warmth and enthusiasm—it would be most ungrateful to try to withdraw now. Surely this company could not be any worse than what she had experienced in Bath. Such generous and ready hospitality deserved equal efforts on her part.
A blazing fire crackled in the fireplace of the old style parlor. With heavy drapes drawn against the chills and pillows and blankets heaped upon the furniture, the room could hardly be more snug. Fitzwilliam rubbed his hand together. Under other circumstances, the room would have been far too hot, but now, it seemed entirely, perfectly warm.
Mrs. Knightley seated her father in a large leather chair very near the fire and tucked a lap blanket across his knees. He leaned back and briefly closed his eyes, as though entirely content with the world. She kissed his cheek.
What a fortunate man to have someone so devoted to his comfort.
“Pray, be comfortable. I shall see to tea and your rooms.” Mrs. Knightley curtsied and hurried out.
Fitzwilliam edged back to let the others seat themselves. People always revealed themselves in such moments. In such unfamiliar surroundings, information was … comforting.
No, he was not facing battle. He was not even in hostile territory, but still, whatever would calm his restless spirit was worth seeking.
Darcy sat beside Liza on a plump settee just far enough from the fireplace to be comfortably warm, leaving the closer seating for Bennet and the baronet who both seemed to particularly feel the cold. Not that the man would ever admit to feeling something so common as cold, that would be far too base for him to acknowledge.
Miss Elliot hovered near a wall. Was she hesitant choosing a seat? The distance she kept between herself and her father suggested that she did not wish to be too near her father, probably enough of that in the carriage. But she vacillated between the sofa and a single overstuffed chair, as though she did not know whether or not to sit too close to anyone else.
His sister Rosalind did that often enough when she was not certain of the quality of the company and unwilling to encourage closer contact with someone who might not be of suitable quality.
The expression Miss Elliot wore was not nearly as confident as Rosalind’s, though. More like Darcy’s when confronted with unfamiliar company.
Fitzwilliam had met the Elliots regularly in Bath, keeping much of the same society. She was a fair card player, though she did not play for more than pennies—wise considering her father’s circumstances. On the dancefloor she was graceful and skilled. Given her propensity to attend the same concerts as he, her taste in music seemed very like his. Why had they not spoken more?
He sat on the sofa and caught her eye, gesturing subtly next to himself. She dipped her head almost imperceptibly and sat beside him, the corner of her lips lifting just a mite. She did not look at him, though. But why would she when propriety would declare it far too bold an act?
Knightley pulled a chair closer to his father-in-law and sat, elbows on knees. “Pray forgive me if it is too familiar a question, Darcy, but how did you come to be traveling in this most disagreeable weather?”
Darcy shifted slightly in his seat. He was not talkative at the best of times, and now, after the strain of traveling under such dangerous conditions, conversation would be positively vexing for him
Fitzwilliam cleared his throat. “I fear I am to blame for our journey. I have just received news of the unexpected death of my mother’s cousin. Unbeknownst to me, he made me his heir. It would appear, I am now the master of a modest estate not far from here. Darcy and Bennet have graciously consented to view the property with me and offer their opinions.”
Darcy coughed and Liza pressed her foot to the top of his. No doubt she was warning him not to mention Bennet was there to learn as much as Fitzwilliam himself.
Their covert communications were jolly good fun pick out. Did Knightley and his wife communicate that way as well?
“Do you by chance speak of Listingbrook?” Knightley laced his hands together and sat up a little straighter.
That was a very good sign.
“Do you know it?”
“I do indeed. A very pretty place. Markham’s death came as a real surprise. The whole parish has been at sixes and sevens waiting for the new master to arrive.”
“So the estate was managed well?” Darcy leaned forward, eyes fixed on Knightley.
Of course, land management would draw him into the conversation.
Miss Elliot’s attention pricked up as well. Odd, why would she be interested?
“Well-managed and innovative. He was forever searching out the latest information in farming and applying it to his land. Spent many an hour in my study discussing his ideas. Mind you, not all his farmers appreciated his interference, but those who did not fight him tooth and nail have shown strong returns. They credit him for it. He will be missed for certain at spring plantin.”
Darcy glanced at Fitzwilliam with raised eyebrows.
Did he have to gloat?
“That is very promising indeed.” Darcy steepled his hands and tapped them against his chin.
Bennet snorted. “Save your lecture, Darcy, now is not the time. I have been studying everything you have sent me, though I remain unconvinced.” He turned toward Mr. Woodhouse and Sir Walter. “What think you gentlemen of the new farming methods these young men are trying to foist upon us?”
Sir Walter’s nose wrinkled. “I leave such matters in the hands of my steward, though I am suspicious of these ‘scientific’ methods. It is his business to understand such things.”
“Are you pleased with your harvests?” Knightley leaned back and cocked his head.
Sir Walter looked baffled, and a not a little affronted.
Miss Elliot gaze dropped her lap and covered her mouth with her hand.
“I have no particular farmland to be concerned with. All the farm land here is in Knightley’s hands. From what I hear, he does it very well. His friend farmer Martin seeks his advice regularly.” Woodhouse worried the edge of the blanket with thumb and forefinger. “But is this not an unusual conversation for mixed company? I cannot image the ladies to be very pleased with it.”
“Of course you are correct, Mr. Woodhouse.” Liza smiled at the old man exactly as Mrs. Knightley did. “What do you wish to discuss?”
Woodhouse blinked. “I … I do not know. I usually leave such things to Emma. She is so good at making people feel comfortable.” He glanced over his shoulder, looking a little lost, painfully forlorn.
Prickly, itchy silence expanded in the room.
“Do you enjoy the theater, Mr. Knightley?” Miss Elliot glanced at Fitzwilliam.
She had very fine eyes.
“I confess, we are home bodies, much like the Darcys. We rarely go into town or even much beyond Highbury. There are occasionally concerts or productions at our local assembly rooms. Our friends the Coles enjoy home theatricals and often invite us to watch.”
Fitzwilliam bit his tongue. Home theatricals? They might be all the rage, but Mother deemed them positively boorish. Darcy would no sooner perform to strangers in his home than he would in a public place.
Sir Walter looked as though he shared similar opinions.
Miss Elliot wrung her hands in her lap. “We enjoyed the most brilliant concert in Bath just last month.”
“Was it by chance the trio from Italy?” Fitzwilliam caught her gaze briefly.
The creases beside her eyes eased a bit. “Indeed it was. I do not recall seeing you that evening. Were you there?”
“We were a bit late arriving that day and sat at the back. I saw you and your father at the front of the room.”
Sir Walter sat up a little straighter. “Ah yes, I remember, we attended with our cousins, Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret.”
“Were those the ladies I saw you escorting at the Pump Room?”
“Indeed it was.” Sir Walter thumbed his lapels. “A fine place to take the waters.”
“And to be seen, I suppose.” Fitzwilliam shrugged.
Sir Walter’s eyes narrowed and his look turned dark.
Liza glared at him with a similar expression. She looked just like Mother when she did that.
“I do believe I have seen you in the Pump Room, in the company of your sisters, I assume.” Sir Walter harrumphed under his breath.
“Quite true. What use is a younger brother, but as an escort of last resort? I do tire of that sport though, parading about like gamebirds of sorts.”
Sir Walter’s eyes bulged.
Oh, this was far too easy! Liza did not approve of him indulging in such low-hanging amusements. But truly, the pompous man deserved it.
Miss Elliot’s brows drew together and the corners of her mouth drooped. “It can be an exhausting show.”
“How can you say that?” Sir Walter’s chest puffed a bit. “What is more significant than being seen in the right company, by the right company?”
Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes. Father was apt to intimate the same sentiments.
Did Miss Elliot just roll her eyes, too? “Of course, Father.”
Liza pressed her lips together and snuck a glance at Bennet.
Bennet’s lips twitched with his efforts to be somber, but clearly he was enjoying himself far too much. “All that preening and parading is very well, I suppose when one has unmarried daughters to match off to young dandies equally fond of the parade, eh Lizzy?”
“Papa, do not tease so, I pray you. You must forgive him. My last sister is lately married. We have just finished celebrating her wedding.”
“You mean your youngest sister?” Sir Walter asked.
“No, sir, my youngest sister was the first among us to marry.” Liza glanced narrowly at her father.
It was still difficult for Darcy to reconcile being related to Wickham. That he was as gracious to Bennet as he was revealed the depth of his character. Not one in ten men could boast of the forbearance Darcy had.
“Mine was, too.” Miss Elliot muttered with a similar stare at Sir Walter.
Sir Walter grunted and looked away.
Interesting, very interesting.
“I am entirely finished with all manner of matchmaking and courtship and shall be happy now to keep to my bookroom.” Bennet brushed his palms together and folded his arms over his chest.
“It was a sad day when my Isabella married and moved away with John Knightley. But my Emma did not leave me when she married.” Mr. Woodhouse’s rheumy eyes shimmered.
Pray let him not begin to weep!
“Of course I did not, Papa.” Mrs. Knightley ushered in the maid bearing the tea service. “How could I ever leave you?” She kissed his cheek.
The maid arranged the tea service on the low table.
“Your rooms will be ready after tea. It seems, though, I have missed some interesting conversation. Pray do not let me interrupt.”
“You were about to tell us your opinions on the Italian trio we heard in Bath, Colonel.” Miss Elliot looked directly at him, her eyes a mixture of polite and pleading.
Funny how a little storytelling allowed him to portion off part of his consciousness to observe his audience. The Darcys and Knightleys listened with polite interest. Bennet watched Sir Walter, probably looking for more fuel for his acerbic wit. Woodhouse seemed to be nodding off.
Miss Elliot though, she regarded him with rapt attention, as though truly interested in what he had to say. Better still, she offered questions and her own opinions, which pleasingly differed just enough from his to provide for a lively discussion.
What a surprisingly diverting conversation.
A gust of wind rattled the windows. Perhaps, if he were fortunate, this storm would last several days, days that might be spent in further agreeable conversation, and getting to know a very intriguing baronet’s daughter.
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