This short story began as a bit of an experiment, as well as a way to entertain Austen Authors readers. My goal was to write a short story of around 3,000 words. I failed in one sense, because the final story is 4,155 words. However, I succeeded in other ways: the tale has a distinct beginning (“meet cute”, posted on 11/8/21), a middle that included a conflict and (bonus LOL) cliffhanger (posted on 12/6/21), and a conclusion that contains a resolution for the conflict (this post); and, I entertained you all.
Many times, I have seen people discuss my books or leave reviews for them that called them “short stories.” This is the first short story I have successfully completed. I have written dozens of vignettes and published 29 novels and novellas. (None of them were short stories. 😉 )
Anyway, I hope you found my first successful short story to be an enjoyable one. Thanks for reading, and for your support of me and of Austen Authors!
(PS When we left off, Anne de Bourgh had just asked Elizabeth if she enjoyed her dance with Darcy, her betrothed.)
Elizabeth gasped, her eyes widening. “Mr. Darcy is your betrothed?” She swallowed, taking a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and schooling her features into a pleasant mask. “He is a wonderful dancer, and a pleasant fellow. Very amiable.”
Anne lifted her chin a bit higher and sniffed. “He is all of that and more.”
“Have you set a date, then?” Mr. Gardiner’s brows drew together as he spoke. “It sounds as though the preparations are nearing completion, but my wife has not mentioned anything, and you know she and Lady Matlock are thick as thieves. If there was a wedding in the family, the countess would not have been able to keep it to herself.”
Elizabeth could see Lady Catherine growing rigid as Gardiner spoke. She watched warily, worried that her uncle had offended their host’s sister and that their relationship with the family would be injured. It was bad enough that her enjoyment was crushed, for she had been drawn instantly to the handsome Mr. Darcy and had hoped, based on his behavior, that he had been struck similarly. She had been hoping he would ask to call on her, though she knew it was probably unlikely, given her current residence in Gracechurch Street. Still, she thought. She sighed to herself.
“If Lady Matlock has not said anything, it is as it should be. She should be careful with whom she spends her time, anyway.” Lady Catherine spun on her heel, grabbing her daughter’s arm and pulling the young lady away with her.
Elizabeth watched the pair walk away. When the crowd swallowed them up, she looked down and sighed.
“Lizzy? Are you well?” Her uncle touched her arm. “In all the time I have known Lord and Lady Matlock, I have not heard of an engagement between Mr. Darcy and anyone. I hesitate to cast aspersions on Lady Catherine’s character, or that of her daughter, but her story seems so strange. Please, my dear, do not become downhearted just yet.”
Elizabeth swallowed down tears. She sniffed and nodded. Looking up, she promised her uncle that she was well and drank her punch. She turned her attention to the gathered crowd, making observations to Gardiner about those she saw, and did her best to maintain the illusion that her heart was not breaking.
Eventually, the music came to a stop and Darcy approached with Mrs. Gardiner on his arm. He was surprised when Elizabeth behaved coldly toward him. His brow furrowed as he watched her. He noticed Mr. Gardiner’s eyes darting between him and his niece. Apparently, Mrs. Gardiner also noticed.
“What is wrong?” Her softly spoken but sharp words immediately brought her family to attention. Elizabeth set her jaw and refused to speak.
Gardiner cleared his throat. “We had …” He paused and swallowed. “Well, we had an unpleasant interaction a little bit ago.”
Darcy’s eyes widened as he listened. Then, his brows drew together as the other man continued on.
“It left us both surprised, and I suspect that our niece …” Gardiner darted a glance at Darcy, then leaned closer to his wife and lowered his voice.
“Disappointed hopes? How so? How is that possible?” A deep vee appeared between Mrs. Gardiner’s eyebrows.
With another glance at Darcy, her husband hissed, “Lower your voice, if you please.”
Mrs. Gardiner huffed and rolled her eyes. “Just who was it you spoke to?”
Another darted look at Darcy. “Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”
Darcy’s mouth fell open as his mind reeled. He groaned. “What did she say?”
Finally, Elizabeth spoke. “Her daughter, your betrothed, praised you for your dancing, and me for my luck in partnering with you.” She curtseyed. “If you will excuse me, I must visit the retiring room.” She turned on her heel and walked away.
Darcy drew back at the venom in Elizabeth’s voice, pain piercing his heart. He turned to the Gardiners. “I promise you that I am not now and never have been engaged to marry my cousin. My father assured me that I was only required to wed her if I loved her. I do not.” He took a deep breath. “I will address this immediately. Please forgive me for my aunt’s and my cousin’s behavior.” He bowed and, without waiting for a response, stepped back and melted into the crowd.
Searching the room with his eyes, Darcy located his aunt and cousin. He began to push through the dancers, intending to confront them. He made it no more than ten feet when the viscount and Colonel Fitzwilliam approached.
Tansley stopped in front of him. “Good grief, Darcy. That scowl is going to frighten Miss Bennet away. Stop it already.”
“For once, I agree with my brother.” The colonel chuckled. “What on earth has happened?”
Darcy glared at them. “Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Anne de Bourgh.”
His cousins had the same response he had. The viscount looked at the colonel and muttered, “I am going to get father.” He walked away while his brother attempted to calm their cousin’s anger. “Mother said they would not be in attendance. You know she does not make mistakes with that sort of thing.”
“Regardless, they are here and have told Miss Bennet that I am engaged to Anne.” He huffed, running a hand through his hair. “Anne told her that, herself.”
“Oh, boy.” The colonel’s murmured exclamation was accompanied by a shake of his head. “I suppose you are bound and determined to speak to them about it immediately.”
One sharp nod of his head accompanied Darcy’s emphatic reply. “Yes.”
“I will go with you, then.” The colonel stepped to the side and turned, waving his arm for Darcy to go first.
Wasting no time, Darcy did as he was bid, and soon was standing in front of his aunt and cousin. He bowed as shallowly as he could manage. “Aunt. Anne.”
“It is about time you greet us, Nephew.” Lady Catherine raised a single eyebrow and lifted her chin.
Darcy chose to ignore that statement. He paused for a moment in the hopes of controlling the vitriol that danced on his tongue. When he felt that he had control of himself, he began, speaking quietly, in the hopes that no one would overhear. “My father made it clear to me that I was not obligated to marry anyone I did not wish to, or that I did not love. He also spelled out to me that I was in no way to consider myself betrothed to my cousin Anne or any other relative.” He glared from his aunt to his cousin, paying no heed to the stiffening posture of one or the deflating of the other. “I believe I made this clear to you last Easter, but it seems I need to do so a second time.” Taking another deep breath as he strove to keep his anger under control, Darcy spoke slowly but vehemently. “I will never marry Anne, and behavior such as what has been reported to me by the woman I do hope to join myself to will never induce me to do so. Do I make myself clear?”
Lady Catherine said nothing at first, but Anne’s shoulders drooped. “Yes,” she replied.
Darcy turned his dark stare on his aunt, but before she could say anything, Lord Matlock, who had appeared with Tansley just after Darcy began to speak, intervened. “Not here, Sister. We will talk about it when we reach my study. You and Anne will follow me.” He turned to his nephew. “Lady Matlock is looking for you. Go to her now. I will take care of this. She is with the Gardiners, who are, I believe, exactly where you left them.”
Darcy nodded and turned away. He slowly pushed his way through the crowd once again, this time making his way back to the side of the lady who had so fascinated him. The hurt he had felt at her coldness clenched his heart once again. He could only hope and pray this crisis would be worked out to his benefit, and that Miss Bennet would understand that neither his honor nor his heart was engaged to his cousin.
“There you are, Darcy.” Lady Matlock greeted him as he approached. “I have explained Lady Catherine’s delusions to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, and especially to Miss Bennet. I believe my words have been taken as truth.” She looked at her friends. “Have they not?”
The Gardiners nodded. Elizabeth merely looked at Darcy.
He looked back, willing her to believe his aunt’s words. “I am not engaged to my cousin. My mother would have liked for it to happen, but not at the expense of my happiness. My father agreed with her. They both wished for me to marry for love. I do not love my cousin as anything more than that.”
Slowly, Elizabeth nodded. “I see.” She paused. “I am sorry I so quickly took their words as truth.”
“There is no need to apologize. You were not to know.” Darcy came to an awkward stop. Silence reigned for a minute or two, until Lady Matlock nudged him.
“The musicians have begun another set. Why do you not ask Miss Bennet to dance again? I am certain she would enjoy it.”
“Certainly.” Darcy jumped at the chance. “May I have this set, Miss Bennet?”
With a smile, Elizabeth consented. “You may.”
This set progressed similarly to their first. Darcy returned his partner to her uncle’s side, remaining beside them as long as he could. He escorted her in to supper and then, at his aunt’s further urging, danced with Elizabeth an unprecedented third set. They parted with his promise to call the next day, and her acceptance of it.
Darcy never discovered what was said in his uncle’s study. He was too busy paying attention to Elizabeth at the ball, and calling on her for weeks afterward. The day before their wedding, two letters arrived from Rosings. One, from Anne, contained a profuse apology, and an explanation for her behavior – her mother insisted he had been lying and the mistress of Rosings had yet to be wrong. The other, from Lady Catherine herself, was full of contempt for him and Elizabeth. One missive met the fire, the other was responded to in kind.