A Jane Austen Mashup Short Story. What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice?
Courtships of course!
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Darcy and the footman brought her into the kitchen abuzz with activity. Her abigail and the housekeeper peeled away her cloak and the snowy blankets, replacing them with ones warmed by hot bricks. They settled her into a chair near the fire and pressed a bowl of hot broth into her hands.
“You must drink this,” her maid whispered in her throaty French accent. “It will help you warm.”
Elizabeth’s hands shook so hard she dare not drink it yet, but her maid held her hands and helped her bring it to her lips. Oh, but it tasted warm and soft and carried heat into her innermost places.
Broth was highly underrated.
Her abigail took the empty bowl.
Mrs. Knightley burst in, Mrs. Darcy on her heels.
“Thank heavens you are safe!” Mrs. Knightley rushed to her side. “We were so frightened for you.”
“I am sorry for having given you unease.” Her hands shook a mite harder.
“You should get out of your wet things as quickly as possible.” Mrs. Darcy’s whisper suggested she had far more to say. Probably nothing Elizabeth wanted to hear.
“Of course, she is right.” Her maid jumped into action.
Elizabeth bristled, but she shivered too hard and her teeth chattered too fast to raise a protest as her abigail helped her to her room. Would that Mrs. Darcy ever stop being so overbearing?
How difficult it was to climb stairs when shivering so hard and struggling not to slip in her wet shoes. Thankfully the colonel was not about to observe her trek. Where was he?
A blazing fire had been laid in her room, and the bed piled with towels and blankets. Her maid wrapped a warm towel over her hair and began peeling away wet layers and helping her don dry ones, then wrapping her in blankets. Most times the assistance was a luxury, today, her hands shook too hard to have managed any of it herself. Finally, her abigail helped her sit near the fire and wrapped bricks in towels for her to prop her feet on.
Oh, heavens! Her toes ached and burned as feeling returned to them.
Her maid unwrapped her hair and freed it from its pins.
“You sent the colonel out for me?” Was that unladylike croak her voice?
“Yes, miss, I did. I did not know what else to do. You had been gone so long and since he was going out himself, it did not seem like an imposition upon him. I pray I have not angered you.” She ducked and cowered slightly.
It was not as if Elizabeth was in the habit of striking her. Was this demonstration really necessary? Or did she think it an appealing show of deference? Father probably favored such things.
“You did well. His assistance was most welcome.”
The maid checked a pot on the hob. “Shall I send for some wine to help warm you and some honey for your throat?”
“Yes, do that. Have you spoken to the colonel’s valet?”
“I have, on several occasions now.” She rang the bell for the maid.
“Was he willing to answer your questions?” Elizabeth bit her lip.
“Not at first, to be sure. It took a bit of convincing, and not in the way you might expect. In particular, he wanted to understand your motive for the questions. He is rather protective of his master.”
“It seems everyone around him is rather protective of him.”
“If I may be so forward, Miss, I think it is from genuine affection for him. They do not seem concerned that he is incapable in himself.”
It was awfully forward, but useful information nonetheless. To be able to draw so much affection to one’s self did speak well of one’s character, so it was favorable news as well.
“So then, what did you discover?” Elizabeth tipped her head back as her maid brushed her hair.
“With respect to his financial state, he has an allowance from his family, not large enough to support a wife and family in the way a gentlewoman would be accustomed. But with the payment from his sell-out, and estate he has inherited, he will be able to live as a gentleman, with a family. Perhaps not extravagantly, but decently.”
And decently certainly meant maintaining a lady’s maid.
“Debts?” The dread word nearly stuck in Elizabeth’s throat.
“His valet is not aware of any debts that he owes.”
She turned to look her maid in the eye. “That can hardly be possible. What gentleman in his circumstance has no debt?”
“That is not to say that he has never had debt, but rather that he has paid it all off. Before his last assignment to France.”
Elizabeth studied her maid’s face. “There is more. What are you not telling me?”
“His valet has confided that the war changed him. That was why he paid off his debts before he left. He was not sure he would return and did not want to leave ‘a mess’ behind for his family to tend.”
“That does not sound like a wholly disagreeable change.”
“If that were the only thing, perhaps not. But there is more. He has been injured, seriously. More than once. I have heard tell of extensive scars that still give him pain.”
Father would find his wounds unpleasant, but when would he ever have the chance to see them? He could probably go his whole life never knowing. The more important question was how did she feel about them? They would probably be unsightly, but he might prefer to keep them covered and she might never see them. But then again, he might insist otherwise. Then what?
Then what indeed?
“They do not seem to impair him though, at least not to his valet’s knowledge.” The maid rubbed her hair with a towel.
Nor to her experience; there was no doubt as to his strength, not after today. There was such security in his embrace. “That is welcome news. What else?”
“He is considered a genial companion, and has many friends and connections. It seems he is welcome in nearly every good house in London. He often has more invitations than he can accept during the season and to country estates beyond the season.”
That should suit Father very well.
She began to plait Elizabeth’s hair. “He is closest to Mr. Darcy though, and he relies heavily on Mr. Darcy’s opinion.”
“That is to say that if I do not have Mrs. Darcy’s approval…” Elizabeth muttered under her breath.
She nodded fractionally. “He is not so dependent though, that he refuses to make a decision without Mr. Darcy’s approval.”
Good news, but little surprise. Fitzwilliam did not seem the indecisive type.
“You are still hiding something from me. Is there another woman he is courting or one his family is forcing on him? A mistress perhaps?”
“No, miss, nothing so … simple as that.” She tied off Elizabeth’s braid and tossed the used towel on the pile of other wet things. “His man said that since returning from the war, he is altered. Not anxious precisely, but there are things that disturb him unnaturally. Like gunfire—he does not hunt anymore.”
“Surely that is not so unreasonable, or at least it does not seem so to me.” If he had been wounded, it only seemed natural gunfire would be unsettling.
“But not just gunfire, anything that sounds like it, like thunder, trees felling, fireworks, tends to perturb him greatly. He has dreams, nightmares that leave him pacing the halls in the night. Anything French, even my accent miss, can unexpectedly upset him.”
Elizabeth snorted. “We both know the accent is not real. You may easily drop the affectation.”
She gasped. “Yes, Miss Elliot.”
The maid came with wine and more blankets. She scooped up the pile of wet things and scurried back out.
Her abigail poured a glass of wine and hot water and pressed that into her hands.
Oh, that was the thing. The final tendrils of cold fell away and at last every bit of her was warm, deliciously, delightfully warm. Her eyelids drooped.
So much to think about, but it could wait.
A clock’s chime woke her. She pushed up on her elbows, but the blankets were far too heavy and she fell back again. Every joint protested and her head pounded in time. She licked chapped lips. Oh, her throat—as raw as butcher’s meat.
What a fine thing when there were important conversations to be had.
“Miss?” Her abigail approached and laid a cool hand on her forehead. “You are feverish.”
“How long?” She croaked like the old beggars near the hot baths
“You have slept nearly a whole day. The colonel asks after you every few hours.”
The maid cleared her throat. “He is in a bit of high dudgeon.”
Elizabeth fell back on her pillows. Of course that would be. A cold left one’s nose red and complexion quite faded.
“The storm let up some hours ago. Mr. Woodhouse sent for the apothecary. He should be here soon.”
No doubt with pills and potions to ply. Another bill to pay.
A soft rap at the door drew the maid away and Elizabeth drifted off to sleep.
The clock chimed again. How long had it been? She rolled to her side and pushed halfway up.
“It is nearly four o’clock.” Mrs. Darcy’s voice was gentle, appropriate for the darkened room and the pounding in her head. “Fitzwilliam insisted on knowing your condition more directly—he thinks your maid too discreet. I took her place when she went to the kitchen to prepare you a tray. The apothecary insisted you should be awakened to eat.” Mrs. Darcy poured half a glass of wine and added hot water.
It did not burn nearly so much as the last time she drank. How could she manage to eat?
“I believe Mr. Woodhouse had ordered an extra portion of gruel prepared for you tonight.” Mrs. Darcy cocked her head and her voice smiled just a mite.
“He is too kind.” She whispered. “Colonel Fitzwilliam?”
“He has a constitution of iron and a will to match. He is quite well, if rather ill-tempered at the moment. I find he is impatient with that which he cannot order about to his liking. Your illness is most definitely not to his liking.”
Had she felt a little less dreadful, the implied compliment would have made her blush. She returned the wineglass to Mrs. Darcy’s hands and fell back into her pillows. Mrs. Darcy returned to her nearby chair.
No doubt the room would fill with an awkward silence now—or questions which might well be more awkward. Perhaps she might feign sleep …
“Forgive me if I presume too much, but I fear you misunderstood me earlier.”
She turned and stared at Mrs. Darcy. Though her face was part in shadow, there was no reproof or mocking to be found on her features.
“I meant no ill-will toward you. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with mine and Mr. Darcy’s story, but my own fortune was quite insignificant compared to what a man of his standing should have sought. I do not judge a woman’s suitability by her fortune alone.”
“Then what … what were you trying—”
“Fitzwilliam is like a brother to us. We only want to see him happily settled.”
“Then let him choose how that is to happen.”
“Rightly said, but you cannot blame us for taking notice when he acts so decidedly unlike himself. He is very cautious among ladies, never exerts himself so much to please.”
“You think him disingenuous?” Elizabeth propped up on her elbows.
“Quite the opposite. We do not wish to see him hurt.”
“Nor do I. He is unlike any man of my acquaintance. I should like to know him better.”
Mrs. Darcy stroked her chin and looked away. “I am sorry. I expect now the storm has abated, we will leave soon. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day.”
Her eyes burned and overflowed down her cheeks. She bit her lip and held her breath, but it did not help.
Not at all.
She quaked with the effort to hold back the sobs.
Mrs. Darcy pressed a handkerchief into her hands and tiptoed out.
Perhaps she was not such a harridan after all.
When was the last time she had cried? The evening after Anne’s wedding. It was all too much to bear. But she had picked herself up and made a good go at things since then.
It must be the exertion and the cold which had her at such loose ends now. She could, she would do it again.
Her abigail entered quietly, bearing a tray, Father in a step behind her. She scurried about the room, lighting several more candles. Father’s face came into focus.
High dudgeon indeed.
He leaned into her face, squinting. “You are an absolute fright. Shocking complexion. You skin is quite scoured raw.”
“Thank you, I am feeling a little better, I think.” She turned aside.
“Perhaps Mr. Perry’s tinctures will improve your color. He certainly left a goodly number for your treatment.”
She clutched her forehead.
“None of that whining about the cost. Woodhouse insisted.”
She forced her chapped lips shut. No point in discussing what was now done.
“Mr. Perry seems to think you should keep to bed a fortnight. Ridiculous! Ridiculous! Lady Dalrymple expects us today. No doubt she will understand about the storm, but they have invited us to travel into town with them. We cannot cause them to delay their plans because you have been foolish enough to catch a trifling cold.” He huffed and backed away. He did not like to be in the presence of illness.
“I would not have caught it if it were up to me.”
“I insist … I insist …” his face turned red and he sputtered.
“What would you have me do?” Sitting up so suddenly did nothing to improve her thundering headache.
“Whatever is necessary for you to be able to leave here tomorrow or the next day at the latest. I require you to be recovered.”
“And how am I to accomplish such a task?” Shouting—or at least the attempt was a poor idea indeed, leaving her throat burning and head pounding.
“How am I to know? That is the apothecary’s business. Follow Perry’s instructions and see you are well soon. I will have it no other way.” He turned sharply and stomped out of the door.
For all sister Mary’s complaints about the Musgroves, she had life on very easy terms compared to living with Father.
So, the manuscript is nearly ready but the question is, should I publish as soon as it is ready, or save it as a Valentine’s day release? Click on your choice and leave a comment on the page it takes you to. Your vote will also enter you in a drawing for an ebook version of Snowbound!