Surprise! I have a new Pride and Prejudice novella out called “Unconventional: an Austentatious comedy that defies expectations”. You can get a copy of it for just 99c here.
This story is dedicated to all my fellow Austen-inspired authors, who every day are breaking conventions to write new and exciting stories about our beloved characters.
Here is the abridged version of the story. It’s a little long for a blog post, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.
“I must say, I tire of the Sarabande quicker than any of the other dances,” Elizabeth remarked in a droll tone to Mr. Darcy as the two moved in slow graceful figures around the other dancers in the line. In the corner, a quartet of musicians were playing a spirited jig.
“Why are we dancing a Sarabande if the musicians are playing a jig?” Darcy asked.
“I have no idea,” Elizabeth replied languidly. They continued their stately, sedated pattern despite the obvious contrast to the quick tempo of the music.
“By the way,” Elizabeth spoke again after a few minutes, “I might observe that there are very few families present here tonight. We dine with four and twenty families regularly, yet apart from the Lucases, I can scarcely find a familiar face. Were it not for the presence of the militia here tonight, I could easily believe Mr. Bingley’s ball to be an utter failure.”
“Then we must thank Mr. Bingley for his foresight in inviting them here, lest your sisters be forced to dance with your cousin Collins.”
“You will not be thankful that the militia is here,” Elizabeth sneered. “For when our dance is concluded, I have plans to dance the next two with Mr. Wickham, whom I have lately become acquainted with.”
“Wickham is here?” Darcy’s voice escalated.
“You may well be surprised by it. Surely you thought your very presence would deter him from making an appearance, given that he is no friend of yours. But as you can see, nothing, not even yourself, could keep him from the company of his friends.” Elizabeth gestured down the end of the dance line, where Wickham was already dancing with Lydia Bennet.
Darcy frowned. “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such looks and temper that he is sure of making friends wherever he goes. Whether or not he is capable of retaining them is another matter.”
“He has been so unfortunate as to lose your friendship, and in a manner that has robbed him of a comfortable life of a gentleman.”
“Madam, do not pretend to presume the circumstances surrounding that man’s current position in the world, nor the means by which he lost the career for which he was destined.”
“I presume nothing!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “I have heard it all firsthand from Mr. Wickham himself, how you cheated him out of the living which had been set aside for him and gave it to another man. How could you be so cruel, even to one who is your ‘sworn enemy’?”
Darcy’s anger burned. “My ‘sworn enemy’, as you say, earned his title in full. But I beg of you, madam, to return to subjects more suitable to the ballroom.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, with great sarcasm. “Let us speak again of such droll subjects as the elegance of the couples, or the skill of the musicians. Or perhaps, we should remain silent altogether.”
“Are you always this taciturn to your dance partners?” Darcy fumed.
“Only when my partner is a great brute.”
Elizabeth’s scathing term pushed Darcy to the brink. He left Elizabeth mid-song. Mr. Collins quickly stepped in to claim her for the remainder of the dance. As Mr. Darcy strode to find that punchbowl that was always spiked, he was accosted by Caroline Bingley.
“There you are, Mr. Darcy! Do not forget, you promised to dance with me this evening. At least two sets!”
“A promise I shall be all too happy to keep,” Darcy said brusquely. Caroline’s face burst into a smile. She fawned over him for several minutes until the previous dance ended, while a frowning Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth dance with her cousin— or rather, watched Elizabeth try to keep the steps while Mr. Collins bumbled along.
Darcy’s scowl grew as the dance concluded and Mr. Wickham came forward to take Elizabeth’s hand.
“Come on!” He grabbed Caroline by the arm, and she squealed as he dragged her behind him to take their places.
As the musicians began the solemn strains of a minuet, to which the dancers began a quick-footed reel, the mismatch of the steps to the music was not the strangest thing to capture Darcy’s attention on the dance floor. Down the line from where he and Caroline were dancing, Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham seemed to be attempting to win a secret competition to be the liveliest couple on the dance floor. The two of them whirled around each other at an alarming rate. Wickham kicked up his heels in a manner that could rival the best danseur in the ballet corps. Elizabeth’s melodious laughter rang so loudly, Darcy was sure everyone in the ballroom could hear it. Her hair was gradually coming down from its pinned coif. Loose tendrils hung on her neck and whipped into her face as she danced. Somehow, it seemed as though her dress had also sagged down. Her bosom was exposed more than usual, and it heaved up and down as she twirled. It drove Darcy to distraction. Wickham ogled her with a lecherous grin that made Darcy as mad as a bull in a pen.
Caroline was oblivious to Darcy’s discomposure. “I saw my brother earlier. He’s having an excellent time with that dear Bennet girl who stayed with us. What was her name again?”
“Elizabeth?” More smoke from Darcy’s nostrils.
“No, the other one, her sister who got sick. June, was it? I know Miss Elizabeth was with us too.”
“I believe Miss Elizabeth’s elder sister is named Jane.”
“Yes, that’s it! She’s a sweet girl, but obviously not good marriage material for Charles. Still, she’s a dear, a fun plaything for him until he can secure himself a better match.”
Darcy scarcely heard a word that came out of Caroline’s mouth. He was preoccupied watching Mr. Wickham manhandle Elizabeth through the dance steps. At one point, Wickham tripped and fell into her headlong, causing Elizabeth to giggle and blush as his cheek landed on that open bosom of hers. Darcy was sure the scoundrel had done it on purpose. Elizabeth’s dress drooped lower and lower every time Darcy saw her, to the point that he feared that an indecent exposure was forthcoming.
The dance figure called for them to link arms and circle each other, then trade partners and repeat. Darcy worked his way down the line to being Elizabeth’s partner again.
“Have a care, Miss Bennet, for how you appear in public with Mr. Wickham. One might draw conclusions about your relationship with him, based on your unconventional behaviour.”
“Mr. Wickham has already asked for my hand.” Elizabeth gave a sly grin.
“In marriage?” Darcy’s voice rose a few octaves.
“For all the rest of the dances this evening. As to the other, who knows, but that it might be shortly forthcoming!”
“You will not unite yourself with that man in holy matrimony!”
“And who is to tell me not to? You?”
“You barely know him! You know nothing of the evils he has committed!”
“Whatever his faults may be, they can be no match for the evil you have inflicted on him yourself. Why should I not accept an offer, if it be made, from the most charming and lovable man of my acquaintance?”
Darcy could take no more. He quit the dance, and the ballroom, in as much haste as he could manage.
Caroline followed after him. “Darcy, wherever are you going?”
“Not now, Caroline!” he shouted.
Darcy strode out to the gardens, desperate to be alone. He hoped Caroline had the sense to heed his last warning.
She did not.
He barely had time to catch his breath, angry tears brimming in his eyes, when she caught up to him. Her long skirts had slowed, but not deterred her, from finding out whatever was the matter with her dear Mr. Darcy.
She probed him. “My dear Darcy, whatever has gotten into you?”
Darcy turned on her. “Leave me alone, Caroline!”
“But you’re distressed! I couldn’t leave you all on your lonesome out here in the cold.” She shivered, not having brought her wrap with her. Darcy, ever the gentleman, could not see a woman in need and not help her. He pulled the jacket from his back and wrapped it around Caroline’s shoulders.
“Oh, Darcy,” she crooned. “I knew you cared for me. If you wanted to be alone with me, you could have just said something. We could have slipped off to anywhere in the house. This garden is freezing!”
“Then again,” she interrupted him, “I know a way to make it warmer.” Without a second thought, Caroline threw her arms around Darcy and planted her lips onto his.
Darcy tried to push her away, but she grew more insistent, pushing him up towards a thick hedge in her fervor to claim his lips for herself. Darcy’s protests were futile. The woman was all over him, though he did not return her passion.
Suddenly, they heard a voice nearby. “What the devil are you doing to my sister!”
Caroline broke her hold on Darcy and they both turned.
“Charles!” Caroline exclaimed, seeing her brother at the foot of the terrace steps that led to the garden.
“Darcy, I thought I knew you better than this,” Mr. Bingley seethed. “You would dare to debauch my sister at my own house?”
Darcy protested. “It’s not what it seems. Caroline, she—”
“And you would even insinuate that it’s her fault you find yourselves in this compromising position?”
Caroline rushed to Charles’ side. “Oh, brother!” she gasped. “Mr. Darcy and I could not help ourselves! We came here merely to talk, but we soon found ourselves in the throes of passion!”
“You mean, you found yourself in the ‘throes of passion’!” Darcy argued, but to no avail.
“There’s nothing to be done,” Bingley shook his head bitterly. “You must marry Caroline, immediately. No doubt others have noticed your absence and seen you both exit the house together. Caroline’s reputation will be ruined if you do not wed.”
“What— wed!” Darcy sputtered. “That’s preposterous!”
Bingley glowered. “I’ll give you a choice then. Marry Caroline or meet me on Oakham Mount at dawn. Bring a pistol.”
Darcy laughed. “Surely you must be joking!”
“Look at my face, Darcy! Do I look like I am joking? Though we are old friends, I will not see my sister’s honor— nay, my family’s honor, destroyed by you.”
“This is foolishness, Charles!” Caroline grabbed Darcy’s arm. “Duel your best friend. Indeed! The wedding will take place as soon as all the arrangements can be made. Won’t it, my dear Darcy?”
Darcy brushed her arms off his. “I wish you wouldn’t call me that.” He looked back at Charles Bingley.
“Well? My friend?” Bingley spat. “Am I to be your brother-in-law, or am I to be your adversary come morning?”
Darcy knew he had no choice. “Make the necessary preparations for the wedding.”
“Good. It’s settled then,” Bingley said flatly. “We must return to the party, lest our guests’ speculations about your whereabouts run wild.”
The three reentered the ballroom. The guests had stopped dancing and were now jeering at Mr. Collins as he gave a full-length sermon. The poor man seemed unconscious of the reasons why the crowd was laughing at him the whole time. Yet he soldiered on in his speech as if he were the world’s greatest orator and not the biggest buffoon of a comedian.
Darcy and Caroline were able to hide near the back, while Charles left them to find some strong drink. Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen.
Darcy muttered, “I can’t help but feel that at any moment in this evening, someone is going to produce a piglet and make us chase it.”
As if on cue, a small, squealing animal raced into the ballroom, chased by the two youngest Bennet girls. Miss Lydia cried out with laughter, “Quick! Somebody catch that pig!” Immediately, the room was a blur of guests running every which way, attempting to grab that speedy little piglet while Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty howled.
Their mother, Mrs. Bennet, spotted Mr. Darcy and made her way over to him. He sighed.
“Oh, Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed. “Do tell your friend Mr. Bingley that this has been a splendid ball! The finest evening I have spent in Hertfordshire in all my years!”
Darcy could only stare in disbelief.
It seemed that staring was all Darcy was capable of doing. The whole time the minister was speaking, Darcy did nothing but stare at the wall. It was better than facing his bride. Caroline was dressed in an ostentatious aubergine gown and matching turban with ostrich plumes that bobbed every time she spoke. The vicar asked Darcy to pledge his vow of matrimony and fidelity to the woman beside him. Darcy heard himself reply in the affirmative as wooden if he were a marionette. A ring was produced, from whence Darcy knew not, and he placed it on Caroline’s finger. Then the minister pronounced them “husband and wife”.
Darcy felt fear run through his veins at what he had just done.
“Will you not kiss me, my dear Darcy?” Caroline asked him.
“I suppose I must.”
Caroline’s laughter bellowed and echoed throughout the small church. “What a silly thing to say! I’m your wife now, Darcy dearest. Of course, you must kiss me!”
With great hesitation, Darcy forced himself to lean over and give her the lightest peck on the lips.
Darcy and Caroline turned to face the pews and linked arms. Bingley sat in the front pew. His steely expression never changed, but he nodded as if to show his approval.
“I cannot believe, Darcy, that you would have such disregard for your poor cousin, Anne!” Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh derided him. Darcy and Caroline had gone to Kent to pay their respects to his aunt following the wedding, but she had not taken the news well.
“After all these years of her expectantly waiting for you to fulfill your late mother’s and my wishes and marry her, you descend upon me with scarcely a note precipitating, to present another as your wife! How is it that your marriage took place in so short a time as to render no invitation, not even an announcement prior? Is my great care and devotion for you all these years, in place of a mother, so insignificant that you feel it unnecessary to ask my consent to the match before it takes place?”
“Dear Aunt,” Darcy paced the floor of the drawing room in front of where Lady Catherine sat. “You know my regard for you has no bounds, and my gratitude for all you have done for me shall never be repaid. I am afraid I cannot account for my sudden marriage to Miss Bingley other than to plead the folly of youth and my own rash behavior.”
“Then you admit it was a mistake, to forfeit my Anne for this upstart?” Lady Catherine’s eyes glared.
“My sudden marriage may be unconventional, but I regret nothing except I failed to extend a proper invitation to my family,” he lied.
Lady Catherine’s scowl continued. “Would that you had waited for my approval, I could have saved you from such an imprudent match. However, it is done now, for the Good Book doth say, ‘what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder’,” she conceded.
“By the way,” Lady Catherine changed the subject. “You will be pleased to know we have guests for dinner this evening. Your cousin Richard arrives this afternoon to stay for a fortnight. Also, you and Mrs. Darcy will not be the only newlyweds. Mr. Collins has lately married a Miss Jane Bennet from Hertfordshire. He is bringing his new bride to dinner along with her sister, who has accompanied them to Kent on their honeymoon.”
Darcy’s eyes shot up. Elizabeth in Kent? He tried to console himself with the thought that it might be any one of the four remaining Bennet sisters. Yet when he recalled the close relationship between Miss Elizabeth and her eldest sister, he could not escape the notion that of all her sisters, Miss Elizabeth was the most likely to be chosen by Jane to accompany her after the wedding.
Darcy’s presumption proved correct. He seized in a breath the moment she entered the room that evening, flanked by the new Mrs. Collins on one side and her now brother-in-law on the other. Darcy held his breath so long that it took a noise from his cousin for him to realize and release it. Mr. Collins had the great honor of introducing his wife and Miss Elizabeth to his illustrious patroness, while Lady Catherine returned the favor by introducing both of her nephews. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was unknown to them, but Lady Catherine was surprised to learn that her guests had already been acquainted with Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Darcy, nee Bingley, from their time together in Hertfordshire.
“And how are you enjoying married life, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked him when they were seated together at dinner.
Darcy nearly spat out his tea. His wife answered for him from across the table.
“Married life is simply the best!” she gushed. “I can honestly say that it has been nothing but bliss since my dear Darcy and I were wed. You ought to try the marital state yourself, Miss Elizabeth.”
“I believe, Caroline, we must elevate her to being called ‘Miss Bennet’, now that her sister is married.”
“Yes, of course. Now that dear Joan is married,” Caroline simpered. “And how are you finding married life, Joan?”
“I find it perfectly adequate,” Jane half-whispered, not even bothering to correct Caroline’s mistake. “Mr. Collins ensures my every need, and Lady Catherine supplies anything we should lack.” Her words declared it all agreeable, but there was a tone of resignation in her voice which Darcy could not mistake. No one else but Elizabeth seemed to notice. She seemed pained to see her once-cheerful sister so melancholy in her present situation.
Mr. Collins leapt at the opening Jane had created for him to praise his patroness and thank her profusely for her ever-generous attention to them, all of which was readily acceptable to Lady Catherine. She launched into her own soliloquy of unsolicited advice to the two newlywed couples which carried on the remainder of the dinner and reminded Darcy why he only visited his aunt once per year.
Laughter emanated from the other side of the room. Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam were engaged in a rousing game of some kind while he, Caroline, Cousin Anne, and Aunt Catherine had made up a table for whist near the fire. Darcy could not recollect how long he had been staying at Rosings now, but some weeks had passed. The colonel and Elizabeth got on like two peas in a pod and seemed to have become best of friends overnight. Their ease together made Darcy bristle like a cat whose fur was brushed the wrong way.
“Why so sour, my dear Darcy?” Caroline asked. “Have I dealt you a bad hand?”
“I have been dealt a bad hand,” Darcy admitted. His cousin and Elizabeth’s laughter continued to plague him. What the devil was so amusing, anyhow?
He forced himself to focus on the game. He and Caroline managed to win the set against his aunt and cousin.
“You had a flush, dear Darcy! How can you say I dealt you a bad hand?”
“Luck of the draw,” Lady Catherine said with a straight face. “Shall we deal again?”
“No thank you, Aunt, I am fatigued.” Darcy rose and crossed the room to where his other cousin and Elizabeth were.
“Oh, Mr. Darcy, you will be so amused when you hear. Your cousin and I have decided he shall no longer be called ‘Richard.’”
The colonel chuckled. “Yes, henceforth, I shall be known as ‘Dick.’”
“Yes, it’s so much simpler to write and pronounce, don’t you agree, Dick?”
“Without a doubt!”
“I ought to have a new name too, do you not think, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked. Her eyes sparkled and Darcy felt himself go weak in the knees.
“I think your own name suits you best, Miss Bennet.”
“Come now, Mr. Darcy, we’ve been acquainted long enough, you can call me something more familiar than ‘Miss Bennet’!”
Temptress! Her invitation to familiarity was all that he ever desired, yet he must not allow himself too many liberties with her. “Would you prefer if I reverted to calling you ‘Miss Elizabeth’?”
An impish grin crossed Elizabeth’s face. “No, one cannot go backwards. One must always go forwards. A novel name would suit me much better.”
“Lizzy, perhaps?” Colonel Fitzwilliam suggested.
“My family already calls me that.”
Darcy spoke next. “Eliza?”
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose in disgust. “My least favorite nickname.” She clapped her hands. “I know! You must all call me ‘Betsy’!” she declared.
“Dick and Betsy!” Richard laughed.
“I love it— Dick and Betsy we shall be!” Elizabeth chortled.
Darcy’s face scrunched. “I’m not certain that ‘Betsy’ suits a gentleman’s daughter like you, Miss Bennet.”
“Oh, I believe it does.” Caroline joined them, a sneer on her face. “After all, you have no money, no connections, and your uncles work in trade. I must agree with you, Miss Bennet. ‘Betsy’ is the perfect name for you.”
“To Dick and Betsy, then!” Richard raised his glass.
Where did he get a glass from? Darcy wondered.
Before he could raise the question out loud, Darcy found himself holding a glass himself. In fact, they were all holding glasses. They seemed to be at a wedding reception with all of Elizabeth’s family present, as well as Richard’s parents, Lord and Lady Higglebottom.
“To Dick and Betsy!” Mr. Bennet raised the toast, and all the guests around them echoed, “To Dick and Betsy!”
Darcy struggled to find his words. How on earth had they gone instantly to Longbourn, and why was everyone toasting “Dick and Betsy”?
Caroline gave Darcy a nudge. “It’s your turn,” she whispered.
“As the best man.” Caroline gave him a look of confusion. “You must make a toast also.”
Awkwardly, Darcy rose and tapped his glass a few times to regain the attention of the party.
“I er, don’t know what I ought to say…that hasn’t already been said about this fine couple…” Darcy’s voice seemed to have gone out of him. Crickets chirped in the corner.
Caroline kicked him. “Your notes,” she grunted under her breath. Darcy looked. In his grasp was an unfamiliar speech written in his own hand.
He began reading. “I’ve known Dick my entire life. He’s the best cousin a man could ever hope for and the most loyal soldier in His Majesty’s service. He even saved my life. One time when we were boys, I borrowed some clothing from our aunt’s attic. I dressed up as a girl in a frilly dress, a wig, hair bows, and— why am I even telling you all this?” Darcy’s face was completely red.
“Go on, Darce,” Richard urged him. “Tell them how I saved the little girl known as Wilhelmena from being kidnapped by gypsies!”
Darcy’s embarrassment was so great, he did not know how he would get on with the speech. He’d once heard advice that when giving a speech, the best way to avoid nervousness was to picture the audience in their undergarments. Whoever first made such a statement ought to be shot. This was without a doubt, the worst advice anybody had ever made! The instant he began picturing Elizabeth Bennet— nay, Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, in her chemise and stockings, he knew it was over for him.
“I, er, I…er…”
No more sounds came from him. Darcy went black.
Darcy stood amid the bustling noise and carriages of a busy street. His eyes raced up and down the row of elegant townhouses and the people mingling in the square.
This must be London! He realized. Maybe now he would finally be free of the torture of being married to Caroline and seeing his cousin wed Elizabeth.
“There you are, Darcy!” The voice stabbed Darcy with a feeling of panic.
“Caroline. You’re here too.” He cringed.
“Well of course I am!” She huffed. “Where else would you expect your wife to be? Why are you standing here gaping at the scenery? Come inside, we have visitors!”
She dragged him by the arm inside one of the townhouses. “Look who it is— Dick and Betsy have come to call on us! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Charming,” Darcy muttered.
Elizabeth was dressed elegantly in the latest fashion. Her low-cut dress let her ample bosom showcase at its finest and the soft silk clung to her curves, making Darcy’s temperature rise and his pants tighten.
“Mr. Darcy. How are you?” she said in a sultry voice.
Darcy squeaked, “very well, madame.” He cleared his throat. In a normal voice he said, “Cousin, I hope you are well also, and treating your wife to all the sights that London has to offer.”
“Certainly! We have been to Almack’s, the Pantheon, and Vauxhall, and tonight we go to Covent Garden. You and Mrs. Darcy ought to join us,” the colonel suggested.
This idea pleased Caroline greatly, so to the theatre they were to go.
The theatre was crowded. Their party was pressed in on all sides as they made their way through the throngs in the grand lobby. Elizabeth walked in front of Darcy. A sudden increase in the congestion forced her to halt her progress, yet the crowds behind Darcy did not stop moving forward and he found himself pressed in against her. A small sound escaped her lips as she glanced back at him, a smirk upon her face. They made their way into the box at last. To his ire, Darcy was seated between Caroline and Elizabeth. The play began. Caroline yawned and fanned herself intermittently. Colonel Fitzwilliam had his opera glasses out and had fixed his attention on a rather scantily clad member of the chorus.
Darcy could not pay attention to the play. Elizabeth persisted in leaning in to pester him with questions about the play.
Why the devil does she not ask Richard these things? The sweet smell of her rosewater perfume assaulted him almost as much as the soft timbre of her voice whispering in his ear. Just when Darcy thought the situation could not get worse, Elizabeth put her hand upon his leg. Darcy shifted in his seat, crossing his legs to hide the evidence that he enjoyed her touch. He gently placed her hand back in her own lap, but she replaced it again, this time higher on his thigh.
His thoughts waged war in his mind. Does she not have any sense of propriety in public, let alone in her husband’s presence?
Propriety be damned! Let the woman do what she wills with you.
But she’s my cousin’s wife! I’ll go to hell for letting her touch me.
Then a sweet ride down to the devil it will be.
“Am I making you uncomfortable, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth whispered, once again assailing his senses.
“You ought to think of your husband beside you,” Darcy warned.
“Meet me in the cloak-room at intermission.” Elizabeth’s seductive gaze was like a match upon kindling.
I’m going to burn for this, Darcy decided.
Burn, burn, burn. The sensual images of his and Elizabeth’s body entwined flickered in Darcy’s mind long after their brief passionate interlude in the cloak room. He knew it was wrong, but Darcy simply could not help himself. Not after the way Elizabeth had thrown herself at him.
“There you are Darcy!”
The voice made Darcy nearly jump from his skin. Caroline waltzed in clad in naught but her nightdress.
“La, I’m so tired!” She heaved herself upon the bed. “What an excellent evening we had at the theatre, do you not agree, my dear Darcy?”
Darcy gulped. “I must admit I enjoyed it immensely.”
Caroline beckoned him. “Come my love, tonight perhaps we shall finally consummate our union.” Persistent though Caroline was, Darcy had thus far managed to escape the deed. She had been too drunk on their wedding night, and every night since she had either been laid waste by a headache or illness, or Darcy had managed to pass himself off as incapacitated by the same tokens.
“You’ll not deny your own wife, will you, Darcy?” Caroline opened the front of her nightdress for him to view her on display.
There’ll be no escaping her now, Darcy resigned himself. Perhaps I can endure…if I think of Elizabeth instead. Darcy prepared himself mentally. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he drew his shirt over his head and climbed in bed beside his wife.
“All right then. I am ready,” he stated. Caroline made no response. “Caroline?” Darcy looked over. A small snore emitted from Caroline’s lips. She was already fast asleep.
Relief swept over Darcy like a wave washing over the shore. Pulling his shirt back on, he attempted to sleep.
His rest was disturbed by a pecking sound upon the window.
A bird? Darcy thought. The pecking continued. TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP, pause. TAP, TAP, TAP.
It almost sounded like…someone rapping on the window. Darcy went to the glass and peered into the darkness. Elizabeth’s face gleamed in the moonlight, giving him a start. She motioned towards the door. Fearing she might wake the servants— or worse, Caroline— he hurried to let her in the front door.
“Elizabeth!” he whispered hoarsely. “What are you doing here? You cannot be here. Not at this time of night.”
“I had to see you.” If her attire at the theatre had been risqué, the unconventional garment she had on now put the chorus dancers’ revealing outfits to shame. Darcy feared she might catch cold in the tiny bits of fabric covering her upper body and the sheer skirt that fell open on the sides exposing her legs.
“Why are you dressed like a member of a sultan’s harem?” he asked.
“I borrowed this outfit from the dancers at the theatre. Do you like it?”
“You must take it off immediately!” Wrong choice of words!
Elizabeth began to oblige him, reaching for the ribbons fastening her top on.
“No! I mean…” Darcy gasped. Confound this woman! He already felt guilty about their earlier assignation.
“What’s the matter, Mr. Darcy? Does my appearance displease you? I would have thought after the taste of me that I gave you earlier, you would be hungry for more.”
A growl rumbled from Darcy, but not one of hunger. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around Darcy and placed her eager lips upon his. The tantalizing taste of cherry cordial on her tongue drew Darcy down towards the abyss. He felt himself capitulating to her advances, delighting in the sweet kisses she was offering. She was all he ever desired. She could be his right then if he wanted. But judgement and reason won out against temptation.
Darcy pushed Elizabeth from him. “No! We cannot do this! It’s wrong.” Before he could succumb to his desires again, he tossed Elizabeth out the front door and slammed it.
There’s nothing for it, Darcy thought to himself. I have to confess my sins to Caroline and ask her for an annulment. He relived the passionate interludes with Elizabeth in his mind again and again, torn between longing and guilt.
Darcy paced the drawing room floor, mulling over how to break the news to Caroline.
“There you are, Darcy!” Caroline entered the room, dressed in a morning gown with her hair loosely done.
Darcy braced himself for what he must do. “Caroline, I must speak with you,” he began.
“Good. For I must speak with you also.”
Fear gripped Darcy’s bones. Does she know? He wondered if perhaps she had not been fully asleep when Elizabeth arrived at their house in the middle of the night. Or maybe she had noticed the undue attention Elizabeth had given him in their box at the theatre.
“Er, you may go first.” Darcy gulped.
“It gives me great pains to say this, my dear Darcy. As you know, it has long been my wish to be united to you as your wife, however unconventionally that came to be. I had thought that our marriage would bring me endless happiness, and that we would spend our wedded days in utter bliss. However,” Caroline pressed her lips together thoughtfully, “that has not been the case.”
“Caroline, if there is anything more I could have done to be a better…a…a more attentive husband—”
“Shh!” she silenced him. “This is no reflection on you, dearest. In you, I could not have asked for a better mate. The fault is entirely mine. I’m afraid, after reflecting on our past few months together, that I find us to be incompatible. In short, we were not made for each other. It is the reason that we have been unable to consummate our union.”
“I, I don’t know what to say.” Her words echoed everything Darcy had felt from the beginning, yet he knew the real fault for their marriage’s failure lay with him.
“Don’t say anything just yet, dear Darcy. Only, I hope you will forgive me, and that you will consent to what I have to ask. I want to have our marriage annulled.”
Darcy could not believe his luck! Putting on a sober face, he answered. “If that is how you feel, I shall speak to my lawyer about it at once.”
The papers were drawn, and Caroline removed herself to her brother’s house. Darcy went to White’s club to have a drink and clear his head. He had just finished his first glass of scotch when his cousin sat down beside him at the bar.
“A terrible business, eh?” The colonel clapped Darcy on the back.
Darcy’s skin prickled as guilt flooded his senses.
“You and Caroline?” Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded. “Pity your marriage is over so quickly.”
The colonel ordered what Darcy was having. He took a sip of the fiery scotch. “Can’t say I did not see it coming though. I never felt you two were suited for one another.”
“Not like you and ‘Betsy’.”
“No. ‘Dick and Betsy’ will go down in history together,” Colonel Fitzwilliam chortled.
I can’t do it, Darcy thought. Not to my cousin. I can’t keep the truth from him, though it will kill him to learn what I’ve done, and he will likely never see me again.
“Richard, I…” Darcy struggled to get his words out.
“Yes, old boy?”
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
Richard smirked as he downed the rest of his drink. “I already know.”
Darcy’s heart sank to the floor. “You do? How?” Afraid of what the answer might be, Darcy grabbed another scotch and drank it all in one gulp.
“Relax, cousin.” Richard slammed his drink on the bar and turned to face Darcy.
“It was all an act.”
Darcy was confused. “I don’t understand.”
“Dick and Betsy. Our marriage. It was all a sham.” The colonel turned back to his drink. “You know, for one as smart as you are, I’m surprised you did not discern it sooner. It was all Elizabeth’s idea: Pretend to be married, to make you jealous, then to seduce you.”
“You know about that?” Shame flooded Darcy.
“Of course. I know everything. I also know that she’s waiting for you.”
“At the church.”
Darcy didn’t need to be told which church. Somehow, he just knew. When he got there, he was already dressed in his best frock coat and silk cravat. Elizabeth waited at the front of the church, dressed in a heavenly white gown with a wreath of flowers in her hair. Mr. Bennet sat in the front pew. Beside him was a chimpanzee.
“Where is Mrs. Bennet?” Darcy asked out of curiosity.
“Oh, she’s not with us anymore. I traded her for this chimpanzee. It is vastly better company!”
Lydia sat beside Richard. “Mr. Darcy, have you heard the news? Colonel Fitzwilliam and I have lately been married!”
Darcy cocked his head to the side. “You moved on quickly,” he said to his cousin.
Richard shrugged. “As did you. We’ve just returned from Gretna Green.”
Lydia bobbed her head and clung to Richard’s arm. “It is an unconventional way of getting a husband, I am aware, but I recommend it to all my unmarried sisters!”
“How the blazes did you get there and back so quickly? Did I not just see you at White’s?”
Richard simply grinned.
The reverend cleared his throat. “Well, sir, shall we begin?” he gestured to Elizabeth waiting at the altar.
“Of course.” Darcy stepped forward and took Elizabeth’s hand. The warmth from her smile radiated as she squeezed his hand. In a few moments, she would finally be his forever.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of these witnesses for the joining in holy matrimony of this man and this woman. If anyone here can show just cause for why these two may not lawfully be wedded, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace.”
The church doors slammed open. “I object!” Caroline staggered into the sanctuary, her head wrapped in bandages, accompanied by her brother.
“Reverend, this man is unable to wed. Because he is already married to me!”
Mr. Bingley nodded, his face red with anger. “She speaks the truth, sir. I myself was a witness at their wedding.”
The minister turned to Darcy and cleared his throat. “Is it true that you married this woman?”
“It is, however—”
“And still you would presume to marry another, while your wife is yet living?” he bellowed, not allowing Darcy to finish.
“It is abominable!” Caroline shrieked. “This man is a bigamist and an adulterer!”
Mr. Bennet was also outraged. “You would presume to marry my daughter while you are still wed to another!”
Bingley raised a pistol at Darcy. “I once promised to finish you off if you did not stand by my sister honorably. Shall we do this outside, or will I be forced to spill your blood in the house of God?”
“If he does not take care of you, I will!” Mr. Bennet also had a gun pointed at Darcy.
Elizabeth was dumbstruck.
Darcy raised his hands in protest. “Wait, wait!” he cried. “It is true that I married Caroline. But our marriage ended in annulment earlier today. I have the paperwork to prove it.” He held up the documents from his pocket. “Caroline, you were the one who asked for the annulment. Do you not remember that we went through with it?”
Caroline began to bawl. “I know not how you came by such forgeries, but it is a cruel trick to try to throw me off right after I have suffered such a cruel accident!”
“Accident? What is she talking about?” Darcy asked Bingley.
“My sister was struck by a carriage this morning whilst out for a walk. I found her and have been tending to her, but we received word of your plans to marry another, and she would not stay put, despite her massive injuries.”
Mr. Bennet continued his rant. “A man who will not stand by his wife when she is seriously injured will have no place in my family. Come, Elizabeth!” he beckoned to his daughter.
Elizabeth had tears streaming down her own face as she went with her father, the chimpanzee who had replaced her mother, and her sisters. “I thought that you loved me, Darcy. You promised me that you would give up Caroline to be with me. You rake! Trying to hang onto us both!”
Darcy ran after them. “No! This is all a big mistake! I’m not married to Caroline anymore. We never even—” Darcy fell flat on his face on the pavement. He clambered up, bruised and bleeding. “Elizabeth! Don’t leave me. I love you. I’ve always loved you. You, and only you!”
“So, this is the truth of the matter!” Darcy turned to see Bingley had followed him outside the church and was still pointing his gun straight at Darcy’s heart. “You never loved my sister, nor intended to keep your vows to her. And now, I shall send you straight to the devil.”
Darcy felt a darkness close around him. The church disappeared from view. The trees, the street, all faded away. Bingley stood out against the blackness like a menace, prepared to do away with Darcy.
“Come Bingley, be reasonable!” Darcy pleaded. “You and I are old friends. You knew from the start that I admired Elizabeth, and that my marriage to Caroline was not by my choice.”
“And yet I considered you to be an honorable man who would stand by her in spite of that! I can see now that I was wrong about you. You are no friend of mine, Darcy, and you never shall be. This is for Caroline!” A bullet rang out in the dark. Darcy felt a sudden pain in his chest as he fell backwards, down, down, down…
And then Darcy woke up.
APRIL FOOLS! Haha, I bet I got some of you real good there. 😉 You didn’t think I’d actually end the story with Mr. Darcy getting shot by his best friend, did you? I was actually inspired to write this story after a fellow author friend got a nasty email from a reader regarding a trivial detail in one of her books. This sparked a discussion about some of the silly details that readers often get a little too worked up over. To that end, I aspired to write this comedy, throwing in as many of the controversial items in Jane Austen fanfiction as I could reasonably get away with. I hope none of you takes this story very seriously, and that you got a kick out of seeing some unconventional things happening! Oh, and don’t worry, there is a proper ending to the book. Here, I give you the conclusion to the story:
Sunlight streamed through the windows. Darcy was in his own bedroom at Pemberley. Beside him, Elizabeth shifted under the covers, half-awake. Darcy let out a sigh of relief. He laid back on his pillow and tried to relax. His movement roused Elizabeth. Her long eyelashes fluttered open.
“Mmm, good morning, husband.”
“Morning, my love.” He kissed her forehead, wrapping his arms around her.
“You seem troubled. Did you sleep poorly?” she asked.
“I had the most terrible dream!”
He related his dream to her. Elizabeth found it not a little amusing.
“I was so horrible to you at the ball in your dream!” she giggled. “It is a wonder you were still in love with me after that.”
“Dearest, nothing could ever make me stop loving you, not even in my dreams. If anything, it made me want you even more.”
“Hmm, and yet, you married Miss Bingley in your dream.” Elizabeth could not help but tease her husband.
“It was awful!” he laughed. “I could not escape from her no matter how hard I tried.”
“‘There you are, Darcy!’” Elizabeth parodied Caroline’s voice.
“My bones still quake when I think of it. Reassure me, my dearest, that everyone is with their proper mate.”
Elizabeth grinned. “Jane and Mr. Bingley are safely married, as are Charlotte and Mr. Collins. I am not married to your cousin, and you are most certainly not married to Caroline! All is well, my love.” She planted a soft kiss on Darcy’s lips. He savored her tenderness, not caring that they both had morning breath.
“And Bingley does not wish to kill me?” Darcy raised an eyebrow.
Laughter bubbled from Elizabeth. “Heavens, no! Jane and Charles are visiting still, as you ought to remember, and they are on good terms with us. I expect we shall see them later when we go down. This nightmare must have made quite an impression on you!”
“It was among the worst dreams I have ever had,” Darcy admitted. “Everything about it defied logic and convention. And yet,” he mused, “there were some parts of it that were not too terrible.” Memories of the intimate encounters with Elizabeth aroused him.
“Oh?” Elizabeth’s mouth parted slightly, and Darcy was all too eager to drink in her delicious lips again.
“Yes,” he said between kisses. “Shall I reenact them for you?” He planted himself on top of her.
“Yes, Mr. Darcy,” she answered with a twinkle in her eyes. “I daresay you must.”
If you enjoyed this story, you can purchase the full extended version, which includes some additional scenes. Only 99 cents at multiple retailers!
I hope you have an Austentatious April Fools!