A Jane Austen Mashup Short Story. What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice?
Courtships of course!
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Sir Walter muttered something about refreshing himself as well and wandered out. After all, sitting about listening to music was a vastly exhausting process.
Bah! His toilette was probably as complicated as Brummel’s. Unpleasant, self-centered, arrogant…
“Forgive me for being so bold, Fitzwilliam, but I must ask. Did my wife have a hand in engendering this musical interlude?”
Fitzwilliam’s head whipped around and he stared, gaping at Knightley. “Excuse me?”
Darcy neither flinched nor blinked. Why was he not surprised by the remark?
Knightley rolled his eyes. “At one time my wife had a penchant for match-making. After we wed, she assured me she would leave the practice off all together. I had thought her sincere in her promise.”
“So naturally, you assume finding Miss Eliot and myself in the music room together was the results of her machinations?” He folded his arms over his chest.
“It is not beyond the bounds of imagination.”
“And you consider me incapable of out maneuvering a country matchmaker when I have been foiling my mother and sisters all these years?”
“You must admit, it is a bit notable that you are paying such singular attentions to Miss Elliot.” Darcy’s eyebrow rose.
This was not the first time Fitzwilliam wanted to remove the expression from Darcy’s face. “And you think I am not capable of managing my own affairs?”
“Forgive me if I observe that where females have been concerned—”
Fitzwilliam slapped the arms of his chair. “I fully realize, I have not been so fortunate as either of you. So good of you to remind me, I am somehow a lesser being because I have not met a woman who proves a match to my heart and soul.”
“Richard.” Darcy’s voice took on the peculiar warning growl.
The one he used when arguments became too personal.
The one that, when they were boys, presaged a round of fisticuffs.
The one he should not ignore.
“Do not take that tone with me, cousin. And you may remove the smug look from your mien as well, Knightley. It is quite bad enough you flaunt your domestic felicity like a badge of honor. You do not need to peacock about as though it makes you morally superior as well.”
Darcy’s brows knotted. “This is not at all like you Fitzwilliam. What is wrong?”
“Must there be something wrong for me to simply be exhausted from married men treating me like a lower class being? I assure you I would have very much liked to have been married by now, but unlike either of you elder sons, Providence’s favor visited elsewhere. But do not mistake my state to be a plea for your advice. Be assured, I remain quite in possession of my faculties and fully cognizant of what is going on around me.” He sprang to his feet. “Excuse me now, gentlemen. Enjoy the gentle smiles of your brides.”
Darcy sputtered something that he probably should have listened to. But what point in listening to more of the same? When had he asked their opinion on anything? Darcy had never been so quick to interfere before his marriage. What prompted him to such liberties now?
Damn the storm and damn the snow. He needed air and space and was not going to find it in the confines of another man’s home.
Just how quickly could he have his greatcoat?
Oh for a man’s greatcoat! Such a garment would have been far better armor against the weather than her own pretty cloak and muff. The wind tore at the edges, driving itself between her and the fur lining in an obscenely familiar sort of way.
From one far too intimate interrogation to another. Why should she expect anything else though? It seemed the only one who did not entirely ignore her, or treat her with suspicion was Fitzwilliam. In their brief—very brief acquaintance—they had exchanged more true intimacy that she had ever before shared with anyone. Certainly William Elliot had never been so honest with her.
She pulled her muff in tighter to her chest. That held back some of the wind.
Of all people for him to have taken up with—Penelope—her particular friend! Yes, men kept their mistresses, but well away from good company. Then it was tolerable enough—
No, No! She must not cry. Those tears had long since been shed. She forced her feet forward. Best keep moving in the cold.
Nothing could change what had happened—only what was to come.
If father did marry Miss Carteret, then perhaps there would be money to pay at least part of her dowry. Perhaps that might make her a more attractive match for the colonel.
What was she thinking? Has she truly become so desperate? It was too soon. If only there were time to know him better, even only a few weeks, it might be enough.
Wind swirled about her, scouring her face with bits of ice. Her cheeks ached and burned. Perhaps it would be best to return to the house.
She turned around and peered into swirling white.
How odd. She must have gotten turned around. To the right and left, only more grey and white swirls.
Perhaps if she followed her steps. She retreated in her own foot prints half a dozen steps before they faded into the same white that enveloped her.
She could not have gone so far from the house, could she?
Damp, aching, numbing cold penetrated her boots, seeping up her ankles into her legs. Moving. She had to keep moving. It was the only source of warmth she had. The house could not be far and it had to be in the direction she now faced. She ducked her head into the wind and trudged on.
Fitzwilliam paced the vestibule. How long could it take to fetch a man’s coat?
His valet, coat over his arm, hurried toward him.
Who was that in his wake?
“Sir, Miss Elliot’s Abigail.”
The lady’s maid curtsied. “Sir, pray forgive me, but Miss Elliot has been gone so long.”
“Gone? Gone where?” He forced back the urge to grab the woman by the shoulders and shake her for more information.
“She said she needed air. Demanded her cloak and went outside. But it has been far too long and the storm has grown worse. I fear she cannot be warm enough and might even have lost her way.” She wrung her hands and refused to meet his eyes.
What kind of cruel joke was this? To meet a potential bride one day and to lose her to the weather the next? No, this was not to be born.
He whipped his coat around his shoulders, his valet scrambling to help. “Tell Knightley and Darcy I have gone for her. Do you know in which direction she set off?”
“From the garden doors, sir. She said she would stay close to the house.”
“Make sure there is plenty of warm water and a hot fire for when we return.” He pulled on his gloves and wound his scarf tightly.
Had she no idea of the danger she put herself in? Probably not. She likely never encountered such a storm before.
The wind buffeted from all sides as he stepped out. A cloak would not be sufficient protection against it.
Hedges surrounded the gardens so she probably was not too far. Even if she had found one of the gates she would have recognized and stayed within. Surely she had that much sense given how practical she had shown herself to be conversations.
On leaving the house she would have turned right, as the right handed were apt to do. If she moved along the house, the fence around the kitchen gardens would have stopped her. Chances were good she would be contained on that side of the grounds.
Once he found her, if he followed the house and fences, he had a certain path back. The hedges would bring him back to the house. It would not do to add to the casualties.
He trotted along the side of the house, the screaming wind in his ears. The sky brightened and boomed. He dove for the ground, covering his head. Snow melted on his face, against his lips as he gasped for air.
He peeked up. Where were the flashes of gun fire, the stench of blood, the screams of broken men?
Snow, and beyond that, he knew, hedges and the lonely skeletons of bare trees and bushes surrounded him.
Hartfield. Not France.
He pushed up from the icy ground and dusted himself, shoving back a vague sense of cowardice and humiliation. Not the first time thunder had sent him diving for cover.
Probably not the last either.
What would Miss Elliot think of him for it? Would she deem him cowardly or perhaps merely daft? Most people’s responses were evenly split. Father thought him a coward. Mother, daft. Thankfully his sisters did not know and his brother never remarked on it.
Darcy and Liza were the only ones who saw it otherwise. Their compassion was not condescending, and they never questioned his reasons for reacting as he did. He did not know for certain, but Liza probably tried to explain to Mother, but a countess did not often listen to those below her, even if they were related by marriage.
He trudged several more steps and cupping his hands around his mouth, bellowed. “Miss Elliot!” in the lowest tones he could manage, tones the wind was less likely to carry away.
The wind roared in response.
He resumed his trot, cheeks burning in the scouring wind. Snow had slipped inside his great coat and melted, trickling cold down his chest. Wet patches at his knees chilled and spread their misery along his legs. The familiar ache in his shoulder and thigh reminded him that he would pay for this adventure in the coming days.
He stopped at the hedgerow. “Miss Elliot! Miss Elizabeth Elliot!”
Why had he called her Christian name? Perhaps it would get her attention?
He set off again.
Was that—no, wait—perhaps.
He took three steps away from the hedge. The snow was disturbed, trampled and swirled. Perhaps by a lady’s cloak.
Was that a voice? He could not risk losing his landmark if it was not.
“Call to me—Miss Elliot.”
He held his breath.
“Fitzwilliam.” The cry was weak, close to the ground.
“Again!” He bellowed and closed his eyes, turning his head toward the sound.
Ahead and to the left. He counted steps.
“I am here.”
Ten more steps left.
A dark form, strewn with snow lay crumpled before him.
Five more steps, running, heart pounding loud enough to drown out the wind.
“Are you injured?” He knelt beside her.
She looked up at him, face red, shivering. Snow clung to her hood and muff—effective camouflage when she least needed it.
“I slipped and turned my ankle.” Her teeth chattered and she pushed herself up.
He hunkered down and opened his great coat, drawing her close and wrapping her in the heavy wool. She clung to him, shaking so hard that she nearly off-balanced him.
“Can you walk if I support you?”
“I think there is little choice.” Snow fell from her hood as she nodded into the hollow of his shoulder.
“Put your arm around my shoulder.”
She slid her arm along the inside of his coat and he wrapped his around her waist. Holding her close and tight, he pushed them both upright.
She gasped but held fast. It was slow going, but she managed to match his steps.
He counted under his breath. Where was that damnable hedge?
He was off somehow—what had he missed? He paused and squeezed his eyes shut. She huddled closer.
Of course. His steps were shorter now with her.
Another dozen steps perhaps? He urged her into motion.
Ten brought them to the hedge.
He exhaled heavily. “Now we have a guide back to the house. I am not sure it is the shortest way, but it is the surest.”
She sniffled. “Thank you I should not have come out.
“No, you should not. Why did you?’
She cringed a little. “I could not tolerate a moment more of your Mrs. Darcy’s interrogations. She fancies me some horrid husband hunter I think.”
Laughter welled in his belly and forced him to stop his march.
“Why is that so humorous?”
“A similar conversation with Darcy forced me out as well. That is when your maid shared the intelligence of your absence.”
“You cousin does not approve of me?”
“He is high-handed and meddling in affairs he does not understand. I did not seek his opinion nor do I welcome it.”
“Fitzwilliam!” Why did Darcy choose that moment to appear?
“Here!” He turned and waved.
Darcy and two footmen carrying blankets rushed toward them.
“Go find Knightley and tell him they are found.
The smaller of the two men ran off, following the hedge back toward the house. They wrapped her in the blankets and Darcy and the footman linked arms to form a sort of chair to carry her back, with Fitzwilliam trailing behind them.
It should be him helping Darcy, not the footman. He sighed. Her arm around his shoulders had been pleasing.