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A Jane Austen Mashup Short Story. What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice? Courtships of course!
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Fitzwilliam stalked up the grand stairway, taking them two, even three at a time. Darcy was bloody right, as bloody usual. He was not fit for company. Taking dinner on a tray in his chambers was a bloody good idea.
Halfway down the corridor, he paused at Miss Elliot’s door. Perhaps they could converse through the closed door. That would not violate propriety would it? He poised to knock, but a violent bout of coughing on the other side stayed his hand. Blasted, bloody hell—no one could converse with a cough like that plaguing them.
He stomped off to his own chambers, barely containing the urge to slam the door. That would only attract questions and attention—neither of which he had any desire for.
The only thing he desired was to share the intelligence of the day with the one person to whom it would actually matter. Granted, Liza would gladly listen to him, she always did. But it did not actually make any difference to her whether his drawing room would be large enough.
He threw up his hands and paced along the fireplace. If he did not get some answers soon, he would surely run mad, barking bloody mad!
Knotting his fingers in his hair, he paused by the window. Breathe, man, breathe.
Get a hold of yourself. You have spent the day running from ghosts and it has driven you to the edge of Bedlam. You are stronger than this.
His heart slowed just a bit, but the racing prickles continued along his shoulders. Sitting still would only agitate him more.
Enough of this stupidity! He needed to communicate, so he would do just that.
He pulled out his desk chair with a thump and dropped into it. A letter was in order, so a letter he would write. Damn propriety.
As you may know, I have visited Listingbrook for the first time. Darcy pronounced the farms and fields in fine condition. You may not be aware that, coming from him, those rather sedate words are in fact a great compliment. He suggests that everything looks in order to begin spring planting in due course. A few of the houses need some minor repairs, nothing that cannot be accomplished with relative ease. But I know, at least at the moment, none of that can be of great interest to you.
Darcy assures me that the reports of Listingbrook’s income are in line with what he has seen, perhaps even slightly underestimated. Currently the estate provides three thousand five hundred pounds a year. Over the next ten years, Darcy believes it might be increased, with the purchase of an adjacent small farm, and some improved farming practices, to five thousand a year.
My sell-out will provide some few hundred pounds a year more, but I cannot see that being of great consequence. I imagine, forgive my forwardness on the matter, that your dowry will be much the same matter, assuming of course your father is able to pay out a yearly sum.
Pray understand, I do not fancy debt, though I know it is quite fashionable and acceptable. I will require that we live within the means provided.
So then, my first question to you: Will this sort of income, that will have to be carefully administered if Darcy’s plans of increase are to be realized, be tolerable to you?
Fitzwilliam threw his head back and grumbled under his breath. What an incredibly romantic sentiment. Surely this would go down among the most poetic of letters.
He pushed to his feet and stretched. The audacity of this notion—writing her a letter.
A proper lady did not accept a letter from a man to whom she was not engaged.
But if no one else knew, she just might—and that was why he was writing and must continue.
He lowered himself back down and dipped his pen.
If your answer is affirmative, then I must discuss with you the matter of the house itself.
It is a manor house, in the way of most country houses befitting an estate with the income I just described. Overall, it is in good repair, though, as is always the case, a few minor things might need attention.
The house itself is three floors, with attics above, though those are mainly used for storage. The servant’s rooms, nursery, and some minor guest rooms take up the third floor…
Another bout of coughing ripped through her chest, and Elizabeth fell back onto the mound of pillows, dragging air into her tortured lungs. Somewhere, there was a cup of coltsfoot tea—yes, there on the bedside table, on the one side of the bed not yet enclosed by the bed curtains.
Lovely, cozy things, bed curtains.
She rolled to her side and reached for the cup, nearly knocking it off the table. Oh, this was tiresome! Bah, it tasted terrible too, but then, what healing potion—save peppermint and ginger—did not? At least this one actually seemed to help.
How cruel that this cold be of the lingering variety when she had much better ways to apply her time. Would Colonel Fitzwilliam think her toying with him because of it?
Then again, if he was so untrusting, perhaps that was important to know. It was not the kind of life she wanted to live, with a suspicious man always looking over her shoulder. A little shudder snaked between her shoulders. No, that would not do at all.
A sharp rap at her door, followed by an odd sliding, rustling sort of sound.
She pushed up on her elbows and looked toward the door.
No, it could not … but yes? A folded paper on the floor. Had someone slid it under her door?
Loud footsteps faded off down the hall.
Fluttering heartbeats tickled her lungs into more coughing, but she slid out of bed and wrapped her dressing gown around her as she padded to the door.
A generous fire warmed the room, but it was not nearly so warm as it was inside the bed curtains, under mounds of blankets and feather beds. Chills pricked her arms and legs. She scooped up the paper and dove back under the bed linens.
Blast and botheration, she should have brought a candle nearer as well.
Another trip into the chilly air for the candle, a bed jacket, another pair of socks, and a glass of hot water and sweet wine. That should be everything she could possibly need for some time.
Once she stopped coughing and rewarmed under the blankets, she held the paper up in the candlelight.
The hand was strong and masculine, but she did not need to see even that to know who it was from.
He had written her a letter!
How utterly improper.
How utterly delightful.
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach and her hand trembled with delight.
Was this how girls just out felt when the first handsome young men asked them to dance?
How ridiculous. How stupid.
Tears prickled her eyes.
It was just her cold. It should not matter at all that he would breach propriety to communicate with her now. What did it mean that he was so impatient he could not wait to have a proper conversation with her?
Hot trails coursed down her cheeks. Apparently it meant a great deal.
She unfolded the page. Gracious, he had written a great deal!
Visited Listingbrook … Darcy’s approbation …good condition… income …
That was to be his income.
A tickle at the back of her throat threatened to become another wracking cough. She held her breath until it passed.
By many standards, the sum was quite generous. Certainly one might live comfortably on such a sum, especially if not encumbered by debt.
But it was not the income of a baronet.
Neither, though, was it the income of mere farmers. It was more than sister Mary could expect from Uppercross. And it was more than Anne and Wentworth could boast.
Perhaps it was petty to even think of that. But there it was, she did think of it, and it was important to her. Bad enough that both her younger sisters were already married. To establish herself for less than both of them would have been intolerable.
And it seemed that Fitzwilliam understood that. The younger son of a peer, he probably did.
She was used to living with economy now. There was quite a bit she could do with that sort of income—and quite a bit she could not.
She returned to the letter.
Visited the house … housekeeper says the kitchens are in good order and the pantry well stocked … eight bedrooms, with several more possible if other spaces were refit … a morning room, small and large dining room, two parlors … and—
She gasped and doubled over with more coughing.
—a drawing room large enough for a small ball!
A room large enough to properly entertain! She bit her knuckle, but her vision blurred and throat tightened.
To be able to do more than host card parties and tiny dinners! Proper parties, and even a ball?
Of course, the society of Highbury remained to be seen. It could be dreadful. It probably was.
What else did he say?
The style of the house … definitely older … furnishings not new … like Hartfield, well kept, but not fashionable …Sir Walter would probably not approve, drapes are serviceable, in good condition, but not stylish…
Had Father been on his tirade about draperies and wall hangings again?
She covered her eyes with her hand. What must they all think of her, having heard that from him?
What did Fitzwilliam think? She peeked through her fingers.
So there you have it, Miss Elliot, the details as best as I can present them. I have, to my knowledge, neither overstated, nor understated anything. I want you to understand full well what you might expect from me.
The matter is now in your hands.
I cannot wait though for an answer, I must know as soon as possible what is your opinion. So, pray, do this for me:
If you find what I have presented agreeable and are willing to see the estate and have further discussions of our plans, then have your abigail send a maid to my room with a tray bearing buttered toast, spread with sugar, and a cup of black tea.
If what you have read here is unacceptable, I full well understand. Since there is nothing more I can offer you, it means an end to our acquaintance. If that is what you wish, have your abigail send a tray with a slice of well-burnt toast and a decanter of brandy.
Pray end my suspense soon. If I do not hear from you in some way, I will infer meaning from that as well.
- I will take no offense if you choose to burn this letter to preserve necessary propriety.
Toast? The man was asking for a message in toast?
She laughed until tears fell and she coughed too hard to breathe.
If he wanted toast, then he would have it.
Fitzwilliam paced the perimeter of his chambers, dodging the furniture as he went. Was it peculiar that he knew exactly how many paces would take him from one corner to the next, from one obstacle to the next.
But it was maintaining his narrow grip on sanity, and for that reason, he would continue.
Would she respond to him? Would she even read his letter? It was so improper in the first place, and it was not as if the response he requested was conventional in any way either.
Covert communications had never been his specialty in the army and it was not likely to become so now. But it was all he could think of that might not lead to suspicion if detected.
True enough, Liza would wonder why he wanted burnt toast, but no one would question the brandy.
A knock on the door.
He nearly jumped out of his boots and dashed for the door.
The poor maid trembled just a bit as she handed him a covered tray and ran off.
Was he really so frightful?
He deposited the tray on his desk and stared at it. Paced three circles around the desk and stared at it again.
The cover could not conceal a decanter—that should be good news, should it not?
The maid bore another tray, with a small, crystal decanter and glass.
His face turned cold and he took it from her, closing the door a little too loudly behind her.
So, now he knew.
He set the tray beside the other, poured himself a glass, and dropped into the somewhat lumpy chair by the fireplace.
At least she was kind enough not did not to play with him, increasing his suspense with coy—
This is not brandy!
His hands shook. Perhaps it meant nothing, but perhaps it meant everything, absolutely everything.
Two steps carried him to the desk. He threw off the cover.
Two slices of buttery sugared toast, and a cup of tea!
He barely set the glass down before spilling it.
He picked up the plate. A note!
A glass of rum will follow. I hope it is to your taste—your hand was shaking.
Bloody hell—she had a sense of humor!
He staggered back to the chair near the fire, toast in one hand, rum in the other.
Who knew it tasted so well together?