A Jane Austen Mashup Short Story. What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice?
Courtships of course!
Find other chapters HERE.
Therre were so many votes, I decided to give away 4 ebooks, not just one. Congratulations to L, Leslie Dougherty, Lynn Char and Julia Saenz, winners of the ‘when to publish’ giveaway.
Fitzwilliam paced the hall. It was wholly improper to eavesdrop. A despicable, low class practice at best. But it was often the only way a younger son came to know anything important in the household. Besides, it was not considered eavesdropping if the shouting could be heard across the hall.
Sir Walter was truly a product of his class—selfish, self-centered and arrogant. At their worst, neither father nor Andrew was so intolerable. Even Aunt Catherine would find her match in this impertinent baronet.
The door slammed and footsteps stomped in his direction.
He intercepted Sir Walter halfway down the corridor, near the great stairs.
“Excuse me sir, you will permit me to pass.” Sir Walter sidestepped him, but Fitzwilliam blocked his progress.
“After we have had a conversation.”
Sir Walter’s face shifted through several permutations, settling upon something eager, like a dog hoping for scraps. Did he expect an invitation to Matlock or some other favor from his hand?
“Shall we avail ourselves of the small parlor?” Sir Walter gestured toward a nearby door.
Good idea. Best not to have this conversation for the whole house party to observe.
He extended an arm toward the door. Sir Walter puffed out his chest and sauntered to the sitting room.
Fitzwilliam shut the door behind him, not that it would contain the conversation any more effectively than Miss Elliot’s bedroom door had, but it would be a sign to keep others away.
The small parlor was just that, small. Chill air caught him across the face; no fire had been lit there. But they would not be there long enough to require one. Cold sunlight filtered through frosty windows, painting the room in awkward streaks and shadows.
Sir Walter stood in the sunbeam in the center of the room and straightened his jacket. “What may I do for you, Colonel?”
That smile needed to be removed from his self-important face.
Self-control, Fitz. The general was right. It did not serve his purpose to come out temper flaming. He could—and should—reserve that for when it would work in his favor.
Fitzwilliam clasped his hands behind his back and summoned his command voice. “Ordinarily I am not in the habit of asking favors, but in this case, there is indeed something you may do for me sir.”
“I am at your service.” Sir Walter tipped his head just a mite.
“I am a military man and not accustomed to subtleties, so I will come straight to the point. Your disgraceful displays of pique at your daughter are ungentlemanly and beneath you. You must cease immediately.”
Sir Walter’s brow drew into tight lines, the kind he decried when others wore them. “What were you doing listening in on a conversation to which you were not invited?”
“You invited the entire household when you began shouting.”
“I do not shout.”
Yes, he did, and the entire house party would agree.
Fitzwilliam took a step closer and towered over the baronet. “I advise you to treat your daughter with the courtesy and honor appropriate to her station.”
“How dare you criticize my manner toward my own family? What business is that of yours? You would do well to attend to your own matters.”
“You would do well to concern yourself with something more substantial than mere appearances and your own comfort.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Should I have to? A true gentleman appreciates wisdom wherever he may find it.”
Sir Walter sputtered and grumbled deep in his throat. “You are taking airs you do not deserve.”
“You demand respect you do not deserve.”
“Who are you to say what I deserve? I am a baronet.”
“And I am the son of an Earl.”
“The younger son—”
“Still outranks a baronet—” Fitzwilliam pulled himself up a little straighter.
“—not even his heir.”
“Better that than a man who cannot get himself an heir.”
“I will not be spoken to in this way.” Sir Walter stomped.
“Then do not behave in such a way as to warrant it.”
Sir Walter sputtered and turned the color of a dress uniform. He stormed out and slammed the door.
Fitzwilliam eased down against the arm of the couch. That did not go according to plan. But no battle ever did once the enemy was encountered.
What would Miss Elliot think of him? Telling off a woman’s father was probably not the best way to win her affection. He snorted a laugh. It sounded like the sort of thing Darcy would have done—and he had won a woman like Liza.
That was food for thought.
If Miss Elliot turned against him for speaking his mind, it would be telling and best to know now. He would always be forthright and no one, even a wife, could ever change that. If she found it intolerable, best for them both to not even make the attempt.
Was this what courtship was supposed to be—exposing one’s flaws and hoping it would not be one the other found intolerable?
All the advice he had ever received insisted it was about putting one’s best face on and convincing the other of your suitability. Nothing had ever come of that though, so perhaps something different was not so bad a thing.
The door hinges squeaked and the door swung open.
Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes and huffed, looking away. “I suppose you are here to upbraid me for the uproar I have just caused.”
“Sir Walter was a bit peeved. I believe my wife has taken it upon herself to calm his temper and soothe his wounded pride.”
“She is a good woman.”
But Darcy already knew that. It was a reasonable thing to say though.
Careful steps approached, but Fitzwilliam’s gaze remained locked on the icy window. The ice and snow probably would not last much longer.
“This is entirely unlike you.” Darcy’s soft voice came from just behind him.
“I beg to differ. You have been privy to my rather robust conversations with Andrew, even my father.”
“I would not call those typical of you. All of those required rather prolonged provocation.”
“The baronet is provoking.” Fitzwilliam turned to look over his shoulder.
Strange. No judgement marked Darcy’s features, if anything he looked…concerned, perhaps even bewildered.
“You are usually far more tolerant of—”
“You are usually far less intrusive.” The words came out less forcefully than he had hoped.
“This is not how you react to a single woman, especially one of dubious fortune and average beauty and accomplishments.”
“What would you know of it?” He turned his back to Darcy.
“Are you so fond of her after so very short an acquaintance? Even Collins’s acquaintance with Miss Lucas endured several weeks prior to making her an offer of marriage.”
“You liken me to Collins?”
“Why are you so intent upon hearing insults?” Darcy planted himself directly in front of Fitzwilliam.
“Why are you so adept at offering them?”
“You have always made a point to be so careful where women were concerned. What has changed and why her?”
“What has changed? Can you not see? Everything—every bloody thing has changed.” He threw his hands in the air, nearly striking Darcy. “I have means now. I can support a wife. That has hardly been an option before.”
“Then why not seek out someone more agreeable?”
“Because I am not agreeable.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you—”
“No, Darcy, I am not.” He skirted past Darcy to pace along the middle of the room. “I am not the man I was. You may thank Napoleon for that. I usually curse him as I have spent the last year coming to grips with that. I will never be who I once was. I cannot seek what I once might have. A sweet young innocent wife, a child-like thing like Mrs. Knightley who could turn to her husband for all manner of wisdom and strength. I would crush such a soul and I cannot, I will not do that to another.”
“You are being overly dramatic.” Darcy blocked his path.
“Who are you to make such a determination when you cannot hear the voices inside my head, pulling and tormenting me. I need a woman who has been tried herself and can stand up to her own demons. How else might she be able to withstand mine?” Fitzwilliam balled his hands into trembling fists.
Darcy edged back a step. “You think Miss Elliot is such a creature?”
“She is the first one I have believed it possible of.”
“But you do not know?”
“It is hardly possible to be certain in a single day.”
Darcy’s relief was a little too obvious.
“Why are you so decidedly against her?”
“I am not.”
“You make it difficult to tell. I am not a boy, remember. Just because I am unmarried it does not mean I am unwise. I trust you mean well. But you are overstepping yourself.” He stared directly into Darcy’s face. Most men could not endure so direct a challenge.
Darcy met his gaze, unblinking.
Stubborn, obstinate, overbearing…
Fitzwilliam turned on his heel and stalked out and nearly ran into Bennet in the corridor.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Bennet tipped his head. “You have the look of a man who has just left a conversation with my son-in-law.”
Fitzwilliam stopped and stared. “And what might that look be?”
He snickered. “He can be high handed, can he not?”
“You should have heard the way he asked for my daughter’s hand.”
“I can only imagine.”
“It was not as if their courtship was conventional in any sense. I did not even realize it was happening.” Bennet smiled that odd little half-smile that Fitzwilliam had not yet worked out the meaning for.
He was an odd man for sure.
“Do you think Liza regretted not having a conventional courtship?”
“My Lizzy? No. Not every woman is like my wife, in need of public admiration. Just as all are not romantics, some are satisfied with a comfortable friendship and peaceful existence. I like to think that is an excellent foundation for a very agreeable match. Jane with her beauty found a more romantical man, entirely to her liking. But Mary and Kitty settled well with companionable men with enough to keep them comfortable and not so much to feed their folly.” He cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow just so.
“If it is not too personal, might I ask how long it took you to decide upon marriage to Mrs. Bennet?”
Bennet chuckled. “Deciding and doing were two different things. I should blush to think how quickly I decided—perhaps on our third meeting.”
“It was another six months before I made her an offer.”
“Was it time well spent?”
“I think she found it agreeable, but to be honest, I thought it was a waste. Do not tell Lizzy though. I think she would be quite scandalized to hear it.”
Darcy certainly would.
“I can only imagine.” Fitzwilliam laughed, tongue firmly in cheek.
“Do not think I recommend haste, but it may not take long for a man to know—and when he does, waiting is a burden.” Bennet winked—just barely—and continued on toward the stairs.
At least his advice was not nearly so overbearing as Darcy’s. And Bennet posed a good question. Did he know yet? No, not quite, but close. Close enough that it should not take very long to come to that place of knowing.
Perhaps, if she felt the same…
He turned on his heel and marched to Miss Elliot’s room.
But what would he do once there?
What was she doing in the hall?
“Colonel?” Miss Elliot looked up at him.
Her hair was pulled into a simple knot and she wore a very plain day dress and shawl—like a woman in her own home, easy and at ease. Except of course for her wan complexion and red nose—and even those were a bit endearing.
“Miss Elliot, I had not thought to see you about so soon.”
“My father insists—”
She blushed and turned aside.
“Forgive me, but you do not seem well enough to travel.”
“His plans are of the utmost importance—”
“To him.” He grumbled under his breath.
“—and he insists he cannot be delayed.”
“Not even for your health?”
“It is only a small matter. I am sure it will be well enough.” She shrugged.
It was probably supposed to be a dainty, carefree expression, but came off heavy and worn.
“Do you wish to leave so soon?” He held his breath.
“My wishes are not relevant.”
“Perhaps not to him. Do you wish to leave?” He caught her gaze and held it.
One breath, two breaths, three—why did she not answer?
“No, sir, I do not.”
He sucked in a deep breath. “I am pleased you are honest with me. I require that.”
“What else do you require?” She lifted an eyebrow, a spark returning to her eye.
There was a bit of flirt in her after all.
“Miss Elliot!” Mrs. Knightley, approached with rapid steps, flanked by Liza and Mr. Woodhouse.
“You should not be out of bed, Miss Elliot. Not against Mr. Perry’s orders.” Mr. Woodhouse worried his hands.
“But my father—”
“I have spoken with him. Indeed, reasoned with him most forcefully.” Mr. Woodhouse muttered.
“We all have spoken with him,” Liza added, an all too satisfied glint in her eye.
What had she said to him?
“And have devised a plan which seems most advantageous to all.” Mrs. Knightley clasped her hands before her.
Something about the way Mrs. Knightley said the words … perhaps this was not more bad news.
“If you are agreeable, Miss Elliot, you may remain here at Hartfield for your convalescence. Your father may continue on his travels and return to pick you up on his way back to Bath. I expect it will be several weeks at least, perhaps a month complete.”
“Long enough for a complete recovery, I expect.” Liza looked at him as she spoke.
Darcy had married a brilliant woman.
“And, Colonel, since your house will hardly be staffed and ready for habitation, Knightley and I insist you continue your stay with us until you can comfortably take possession—even if it is an entire month or more.” Mrs. Knightley glanced back at Mrs. Darcy.
Perhaps the assistance of local matrons did not have to be so very bad a thing after all.
“Darcy thinks it an excellent plan. He fears I may be weary of the privations of travel.” She pressed her hands to her belly.
Fitzwilliam’s eyes grew wide. “Certainly it will not do to tax you unnecessarily. Your offer is most gracious, Mrs. Knightley, and I would be most grateful to accept.” He bowed from his shoulders.
“And you Miss Elliot?”
“Do say you will stay on with us. I shall be so anxious otherwise.” Poor Mr. Woodhouse resembled a forlorn hound.
Miss Elliot caught Fitzwilliam’s eye briefly. “I should be very grateful for the comfort of Hartfield whilst I recover.”
“Very good then. I shall tell Knightley and make arrangements.” Mrs. Knightley nodded and headed down the corridor with a swish of her skirts.
“Emma is very good at arrangements.” Mr. Woodhouse beamed and followed his daughter down the hall.
Liza touched his wrist and gazed into his eyes. No doubt she had pleaded his case to Darcy and won him over with those fine eyes of hers—or perhaps her fine wit. Either way, he had an advocate in her. Dear woman.
She nodded. “I shall tell Darcy.”
Alone in the hall again, Miss Elliot and Fitzwilliam stared at one another.
“So then, we have a month. Will that be enough?” he asked.
“It is more than I imagined possible. I am hopeful, more than I have been in a very long time.”
Oh, the way she looked at him.
He took her hand, cold and soft and small in his and kissed it. “Very hopeful indeed.”
Thanks to everyone who voted. I really appreciate the help!
I’ve put the book up for Amazon preorder at a special price of $1.99. The official release date is 1-31, but I expect to be ready before that. I’ll release it as soon as it is ready.
The price will go up to $2.99 after it is released.