So far this month I have revealed the title of my book, the cover, and today I am revealing the blurb. Since most of you have been reading these chapters as I have posted them, this won’t be too much of a surprise, but here it is:
Chance brings about an early encounter between Charles Bingley and Elizabeth Bennet soon after his move into Netherfield. He soon begins to favour this pretty and lively young lady. Circumstances have kept Jane Bennet and Mr. Darcy from the neighbourhood, thereby changing the events that Jane Austen penned in “Pride and Prejudice.”
When Mr. Darcy finally arrives, will he be able to keep from interfering when he meets this young lady his friend so greatly admires? When Jane returns from touring the Lake District with her aunt and uncle, will the young gentleman who returns with her prove to be better suited for her than Mr. Bingley ever was?
In this “Pride and Prejudice” variation, chance and circumstance greatly affect the way several of Jane Austen’s characters arrive at their happily ever after, but not necessarily in the way you think.
After the post went live last week, pre-orders for the book were made available on amazon, and I posted the link in the comments to that post. If you didn’t see it then, I’ve posted the link to the book on amazon here.
I have one more chapter to post at Austen Variations, which will be next Friday as part of my book launch (with giveaways!). But I will post one additional chapter at one of my blog tour visits, so I’ll let you know more about that then. So, now, on to Chapter 12
Elizabeth set out towards the path that would take her to Oakham Mount as her two sisters hurried ahead. When they reached the road that would take them into Meryton, she called goodbye to them, but they were so engaged in giggling and talking, she doubted they heard her. As she looked up at the hill, she suddenly changed her mind.
When she told Mr. Darcy about the stream between Meryton and the Gouldings’ home, she realized she had only walked there a few times in the four years since that fateful day. It was not terribly far, and she decided that was where she wanted to go. She hurried along, eager to enjoy some time walking along the stream in the warmth of the sun.
Despite looking forward to a little respite from her thoughts, her mind played Wickham’s words over and over as she walked. With each recitation of his accusations, she grew angrier at Mr. Darcy. Her steps became more forceful, and she clenched her fists and jaw. She occasionally let out a frustrated moan and kicked an innocent rock lying on the path.
“How could he have behaved in such a despicable manner?” she asked aloud. She could not determine any sound reason for him doing so, other than to exert his authority over Mr. Wickham and make his life miserable. He either wants to run your life or ruin it, was what he had said. She fully agreed!
She shook her head as she again contemplated the friendship between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. They were so completely different, and she wondered if Mr. Darcy had some self-serving control over his friend. Was Mr. Bingley so naïve and easily persuadable that it was possible he was not even aware of Mr. Darcy’s power over him?
She pondered whether it had something to do with Miss Bingley, that perhaps there was an understanding between her and Mr. Darcy. “No, that cannot be,” she said. “Mr. Collins said he is to marry his cousin.”
She came to an abrupt stop when a new thought crossed her mind. “If he has no qualms going against his father’s wishes, he certainly would not think twice about going against the wishes of his mother, especially as it was expressed by her in his infancy!”
She thought about that for a moment and then let out a sigh. Truth be told, she would likely not abide by her parents’ wishes regarding an engagement they had arranged when she was born. She pursed her lips and shook her head as she considered she would certainly not agree to it if her mother had expressed the wish, although she might consider it if her father had, for she trusted his good judgement.
She puffed out a breath and stopped when she came within sight of the stream. It seemed to have an almost magical effect over her, replacing her ire with calm. She hurried over and began walking just along the edge of the stream, far enough from the water so she would not get her feet wet.
The clear blue water flowed briskly, with small white rapids appearing as it cascaded over large boulders. It playfully splashed and gurgled as it made its way towards the stone bridge that arched across it downstream.
She slowly shook her head as she pondered how circumstances concerning both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Marshall had turned out quite differently than either she or Jane had anticipated. She winced as she considered that she had not yet told Jane she was uncertain whether Mr. Bingley was suited for her. It was probably the only thing she had ever kept from her. She did not know why she had not told her, other than wanting to make certain no one came to know of it – especially her mother and Mr. Collins. She bit her lip as she considered that it was also possibly due to her concern that Jane would likely not understand. Mr. Bingley was, after all, a kind, handsome, and most proper gentleman.
As she slowly meandered on, the fallen, dried leaves crunched underfoot. She occasionally picked up a thin, smooth rock and skipped it across the water, smiling as she realized she was no longer kicking them. The soft gurgling of the meandering stream helped soothe her anxious thoughts.
She was almost to the bridge and had reached the large tree that four years ago had been filled with beautiful blossoms. Today, however, it held a small remnant of brown leaves; most had already fallen to the ground. At least she would not be tempted to lean the bridge over and watch the blossoms as they sailed down the river. She would be safe from falling in.
She continued on towards the bridge, stepping carefully to avoid the larger rocks scattered along the shore. Just before she reached the bridge, she stopped, immersed one hand into the frigid water, and sent the water splashing, laughing as she did.
“I would be content with my lot in life if I had a stream like this running past my home.” She turned and looked in the direction of the Gouldings’ home. “It is unfortunate that young Mr. Goulding married someone else,” she said with a laugh. She shook her head and winced. “Not that I would have married him solely to have my own stream!”
When she reached the stone bridge, she walked up to its centre and braced her arms on the wide ledge, looking out. She let out a long sigh, turned around, and sat on the ledge. Then, very deftly and discreetly, she swung her legs around so they dangled over the water.
“I could sit here forever,” she said, as the sunlight glistened on the blue water. The swiftly moving stream provided a melodious lapping that was as pleasant to her ears as an orchestra playing. She closed her eyes, swung her feet, and swayed as if she were dancing.
The sound of a horse approaching startled her, and as she turned to look in its direction, her foot came back too strongly against the bridge, and her shoe dropped off into the water. She gasped when she felt it come off, while at the same time seeing that it was Mr. Darcy approaching. She quickly looked back in dismay to see that her shoe had been picked up by the current and was floating away.
“Oh!” she said as she pounded her fists into her lap, and then instantly regretted it.
“Are you in distress?”
Elizabeth felt a tremor pass through her and steeled herself momentarily before turning back to acknowledge him. She could not believe that she encountered him again, in such a distressing state. She turned and saw him tether his horse and begin walking towards her.
“Nothing out of the ordinary, I assure you.”
Darcy laughed. “Are you so inclined to tempt fate?” He shook his head as he came and stood at her side, looking out over the water.
Elizabeth shook her head. “I have no intention of falling in,” she said as she tried to tuck her now shoeless foot under the folds of her dress. “I am merely enjoying the stream on this beautiful day.” She narrowed her eyes as she looked up at him “What are you doing here?”
“If you recall, you are the one who told me about the place. I thought I would come and see it for myself.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I suppose I did.”
“I am rather surprised you are here.” He sat down on the ledge of the bridge.
She was grateful he was now facing the other way so he would not notice her shoeless foot. “Why does it surprise you that I am here?” she asked.
“Perhaps I am not so much surprised, but I did not expect to see you. I can assure you, however, that Bingley is likely disappointed.”
“Why would Mr. Bingley be disappointed?”
“He was on his way to Longbourn. I assume he was going to call on you.”
Elizabeth readily noticed the catch in his voice. She could not pass up this opportunity to let Mr. Darcy know how disappointed she was in not seeing his friend. “Oh, dear, I am so sorry to have missed him, but I am certain he is enjoying his visit with my family.” She could only hope this was true, and she stole a glance up at him, seeing the slight grimace she had expected to see. “And you chose not to accompany him?”
Darcy shook his head. “I was reading when he took his leave, and he knows I do not like to be disturbed when I am reading. I imagine he decided to go on without me.” He looked at her intently. “Bingley reads so little himself. It is a shame. He prefers to be off and about doing something rather than taking time to improve himself by extensive reading.”
Elizabeth stiffened, but checked her responses and her tongue. He was continuing one of his tactics to try to convince her that Mr. Bingley was not suitable for her. He apparently had not been able to talk his friend out of the attachment, so he was trying to change her mind. She would not give him the satisfaction!
“Ah, but how considerate it was of Mr. Bingley not to disturb you. He is one of the kindest, most thoughtful gentlemen I know.” She then cast a frustrated glance towards the swiftly moving water.
“Is something wrong?”
Elizabeth let out an exasperated sigh as she considered telling him he was wrong. Wrong for showing up when he did, wrong for attempting to control people’s lives, and wrong for trying to convince her Mr. Bingley was not suitable for her. He was correct in that regard, but she would not give him the satisfaction of agreeing with him. Instead, she turned and pointed downstream. “My shoe…”
Mr. Darcy propped his hands on his hips and let out a laugh. “Did you lose a shoe in the stream?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes, nodding as she did.
“Miss Bennet, do you often find yourself in such predicaments?”
Was he laughing at her? He must consider her a fool – or perhaps an awkward and clumsy simpleton. She steeled herself and looked up at him.
“No, Mr. Darcy. It is not often – it is on an almost daily basis!” He thought poorly of her already; she did not mind sinking further in his estimation.
“Well, it is a good thing I brought my horse. I had intended to walk but thought that in the unlikely case I got lost coming here, the horse would serve me better.”
When Elizabeth looked at him blankly, he added, “You certainly cannot walk all the way back with only one shoe.” He shook his head, and a slight smile appeared. “Without my horse, I would have to carry you.” He lifted a single brow. “I do not think you would want me to carry you all the way back to Longbourn, would you?”
Elizabeth swallowed to rid her mouth of the sudden dryness. She shook her head emphatically. “No, that would not do at all!” She turned on the ledge and let herself down. “Ouch!”
“Now what has happened, Miss Bennet?”
She lifted her food and exclaimed, “I stepped on a rock.” She let out a huff. “It is nothing serious, I assure you.”
Mr. Darcy extended his arm. “Allow me to assist you to the horse.”
Elizabeth did not wish to be indebted to him and hesitated to take it. “I can manage, thank you.” With that, she limped to the end of the bridge, with an occasional soft moan of pain.
Darcy went to his horse and brought it to her. “You do know how to ride, do you not?”
“I… Yes, however I am not particularly fond of riding.”
He chuckled. “Is that so? I had not expected that.” He shook his head.
Elizabeth propped her hands on her waist. “And why is that?”
“I… I actually love the exhilaration of riding.” He paused and looked at her intently. “I would have thought you would, as well.”
“No, but then the horses we own have not provided me with particularly enjoyable experiences.”
“Well, then, if you would prefer not to ride, I can always carry you…”
“No!” Elizabeth said, a little too forcefully, as his smile broadened. “No, thank you, I shall ride.”
“Allow me to assist you up.” He turned, and before she could protest, he lifted her up to onto the saddle. He then reached down and gently took her stockinged foot in his hands.
“What are you doing?” Elizabeth tried to pull her foot away but could not remove it from his grasp.
“I am checking to see if it was injured when you stepped on the rock.”
The warmth of his hands encircling her foot erased any rational thought from entering her mind, especially when he pressed his thumb against it.
“Is that where it hurts?”
Elizabeth mutely nodded. “But I only… as you said, I only stepped on a rock.”
“It is not bleeding.” He rubbed it a little more and then suddenly stopped, letting out a huff and giving his head a shake. “There. It will likely be tender for a few days, but I doubt you will have much problem with it.”
“Thank you,” she said softly, her face feeling warmer than it should.
“I will lead the horse, so you need not fear that he will gallop away. Mercury can be as wild as a stallion when I give him full rein, but he will carry you as gently as a lamb.” Darcy leaned in. “As long as you behave properly.”
“Behave properly?” Elizabeth asked with indignation.
Darcy crossed his arms and looked up at her. “As long as you do not kick him or startle him in any way.” He gave her a condescending smile.
Elizabeth let out a huff. She did not like being at the mercy of Mr. Darcy but decided that as she needed his assistance in getting home, she should not irritate him and would not bring up the subject of Mr. Wickham. There was enough time later for her to let loose her accusations.
They made their way back to Longbourn in silence, with Darcy walking ahead holding the reins. She was surprised at how kindly he was treating her. She did not feel as much disapproval from him, which was unexpected.
At length, she thought of something she could bring up as conversation and was eager to see his reaction. “Mr. Darcy, my cousin arrived recently from Kent.”
Darcy turned back. “Did he?”
“Yes,” she said, with as much indifference as she could produce. “He is the clergyman in a small village called Hunsford.” She lifted her brow to see how he responded.
There was a hint of surprise in his features, and he studied her with a slightly lowered brow, as if to see what more she might say.
“He claims that your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is his patroness.” She laughed. “It is a small world, is it not?”
Darcy looked down at the reins and began running them through his fingers. “So it would seem. And what… Did he say anything about her?”
“Oh, yes! He cannot stop speaking about your aunt, Rosings, the gardens…” Elizabeth paused.
Darcy stopped abruptly, and his chest heaved as he drew in a deep breath. “I hope… I hope he only had good things to say.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Do you have reason to suppose he might have adverse things to say?”
He shifted his weight from one foot to another as it appeared he pondered his response. “I would have no idea what my aunt’s clergyman might have to say about her. I… I have not yet met him.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Well, you have no need to worry, Mr. Darcy. My cousin is very effusive about how generous and affable your aunt is, how great her home is – especially all the chimneys and window coverings – and…” She could not stifle a chuckle. “How delighted he was that she had already approved both of his discourses which he had preached to her.”
Darcy shook his head as he pressed his lips into an amused smile. “I am pleased; it sounds as though they are both satisfied with their arrangement.” He turned back and began leading the horse again.
“Yes, he seems to be, at least.” She paused briefly and fixed her gaze on him. “And he had only the most favourable things to say about her daughter.” Elizabeth was rewarded with a look of apprehension when he turned back to her.
“He mentioned Anne? What did he say about her?”
“Oh, I cannot recollect all he said, other than she is a charming young lady, most amiable, and drives a little phaeton pulled by ponies.” She lifted a brow as he seemed placated and then turned back.
She wanted to question him about his engagement to Miss de Bourgh but thought better of it. She was now content to proceed in silence, as was he. She shook her head as she considered that her reputation with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy was likely settled in stone as each had encountered her in at least one predicament. Mr. Bingley did not seem to mind, but she was certain Mr. Darcy thought her actions quite unfitting for a young lady, having had to rescue her twice.
As they drew near to Longbourn, Elizabeth called out to Mr. Darcy.
“If you please, would you lead the horse over to the grass? From there I can readily walk to the house without too much distress on my foot.”
He did as she asked and then walked over to help her down.
She put up her hand to stay him. “I can easily slide down, thank you.”
He shook his head. “And land on your sore foot? I think not.” He lifted his hands. “Please, allow me.”
Elizabeth reluctantly leaned forward and soon felt his arms about her waist, bringing her slowly and gently to the ground. When her sore foot came down, she winced and lifted it slightly, causing her to sway to one side. Darcy quickly steadied her with his hands on her shoulders.
“Take care, Miss Bennet.” He drew in a breath. “I shall not always be nearby to rescue you.”
She unwittingly shuddered as she met his intense gaze. “Yes, well… thank you.” She turned and began to limp away as quickly as she could towards the house. She felt her racing pulse and pressed her hand to her neck, feeling its warmth. She did not understand these unexpected feelings that had suddenly and inexplicably surfaced, but more than anything, she was not pleased with them.
She could almost say she had begun to think well of him and had rather enjoyed his gallantry. Almost.
She gave her head a shake as she had to forcefully remind herself how much she disliked him and how much he wanted to control people’s lives. What she observed today was not at all who he really was! She had to remember what he had done to Mr. Wickham!