Read this story with a box of tissues. I bawled when I wrote it. You have been fair warned.
XOXOXO Elizabeth Ann West
Chapter 1 - A Summer Shame, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Pitched over the rail of the Hermes Bounty, Elizabeth Darcy lost the contents of her stomach for the second time that day. It appeared neither breakfast nor luncheon was destined to fortify her. Her most stoic husband stood nearby, torn between showing his wife comfort and not embarrassing her further over a momentary lapse in ladylike behavior. Seasickness never cared much for the status of its victims, afflicting the gentle and the lay in equal measure.
“Is that a gull? Mr. Darcy, how far are we from Scotland? I’m sure I can see it now!” Lydia Bennet squinted at the horizon in the wrong direction towards the vessel’s stern.
Mr. Darcy cleared his throat and tugged his coat sleeve back into place.
“Lydia . . .” Elizabeth tested her stomach’s mettle before continuing. She discretely accepted the handkerchief from her husband with the utmost decorum and used it to blot her mouth. The bitter taste mirrored her feelings. “We are days away from our arrival. You cannot see Scotland as yet, and not when you are looking southward.”
Cheeks burning red, Lydia, despite being a few months gone with child, whipped around to face her older sister. The Darcys warned her about the persistent leers from the crew directed at her svelte figure, but Lydia remained adamant in her jolliness. Elizabeth tried to remember her sister was a fifteen-year-old girl, still naive as the day she anticipated her vows with George Wickham. The same vows never to be taken as he ran off to the underbelly of London to escape debt collectors.
“You are merely cross because you cannot keep your meals down.” Lydia inhaled an audible breath of sea air. “I find travel by sea quite invigorating!”
“Should not she remain in the cabin?” Elizabeth suggested, sincerely wishing her husband to establish some rule over her younger sister. Lydia’s pregnancy and presence was ruining Elizabeth’s honeymoon trip after an insufferable six months’ worth of pain and obstacles at every turn to marry her Mr. Darcy. From unruly relatives trying to break them apart to losing her father’s protection, running away from her wedding breakfast to conceal her sister’s growing belly had been the last straw for Elizabeth’s patience.
“It might be wise, Miss Lydia, for you to take a rest,” Darcy cleared his throat again, his face paling, “in your condition.”
“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy! How is this morning fairing for ye? Oh, I see you are a bit behind the blowfish there, Mrs. Darcy, but fear not, most find their sea legs by the third day.”
“Thank you, Captain Tompkins. I do believe I am growing accustomed to the constant shifting beneath my feet.” Elizabeth managed a weak smile.
“There now, it’s as I said. My, you look well, Miss Lydia! There’s no question, but the sea agrees with you.” The captain bowed with his hands clasped behind his back.
Lydia Bennet, guileless as a dove, altered her petulant pout to a flirtatious smile looking up through her eyelashes. “How kind of you to say, sir.”
The captain laughed. “Aboard a vessel, madame, to call a captain ‘sir’ is a disgrace! You must call me by my first name.”
Lydia straightened at such familiarity, seeing this as a sign the great man took an interest in her. “I should be delighted to do so, pray what is it?”
Tompkins leaned in close and looked Lydia right in the eye. “Captain.”
Darcy laughed at the jest, as Lydia resumed her pouting and Elizabeth frowned.
“The joke is much too old, yet still, I laugh every time.” Darcy proffered his hand to the captain. Turning to his wife, he began to explain. “I had not told you, dear, because you were so very ill yesterday, but John Tompkins here and I share a history.”
“Aye, it was his bloody fault I became lost in Rome and almost killed by vagrants.”
“He misrepresents the truth. I returned to our rooms after viewing the Coliseum. He chose to go back out with some locals. If I hadn’t gone in search of him after I noticed he had not returned, indeed he might be dead.”
“And you wouldn’t have a private crew to ferry you about.”
Elizabeth shook her head and rubbed her temples with her eyes closed. “So this is how you were able to arrange our travel with such speed? You keep a ship’s crew in your employ at all times?”
“No, John is more of an independent merchant captain. This vessel is one your uncle has a majority stake in so we were able to leave without delay.”
“Captain, would you show me how the ship is steered? I would dearly love to learn more about sailing.” Lydia jumped into the conversation as it had gone on far too long without her inclusion. As Mr. Darcy made to divert the girl’s request, Captain Tompkins gave a slight motion with his hand that he did not mind.
“Of course, Miss Lydia. It is uncommon to meet a woman interested in the navigation of a vessel. Have you a mind to join His Majesty’s Navy?”
Lydia giggled as the captain guided her up towards the higher deck. Elizabeth watched with a wary eye. “Is she quite safe with him?” she asked, reaching out to take William’s arm, uncaring who should see this public display.
“I believe so, my dear. The Captain is a gentleman, married with two children.”
“However did he escape the Navy?” Elizabeth gazed up at her husband, learning to focus more on the objects and persons on the boat rather than the rise and fall of the sea and landscape behind them.
“He was injured in a riding accident. He and Richard were fierce competitors, and when they were sixteen, John fell. His leg was never right again. Being the second son himself, but with plans to join the cavalry like Richard, he was too late to be a midshipman, even if he wasn’t disqualified. The merchant fleet needed men as their best captains were conscripted.”
Elizabeth allowed Darcy to begin leading her on a slow walk around the main deck. It wasn’t a large circuit, but the physical activity calmed her nerves and the ache in her head. She sighed against her husband’s arm, content that the man she had married was a most attentive partner, even after the wedding ceremony.
After three rounds, the Darcys turned back towards the forward section of the vessel and the cabin they had rented for their little adventure. Traveling by boat, Darcy managed to avoid any prying eyes of the Ton seeking a glimpse of Lydia’s waistline at inn after inn between London and Edinburgh.
“William, I believe I would care to rest for a while.” For two nights, Elizabeth’s sleep was scarce with the ship’s constant movement. She had always wished to see the world, but after this sea-faring adventure, she was finding her island country more and more appealing.
“As you wish.” Mr. Darcy bent down to give his wife a chaste kiss on the cheek. With Lydia in tow, Elizabeth’s illness, and a topsy-turvy ship, the new husband and wife were still a mystery to one another. “I shall attend to Miss Lydia and coax her back into the cabin.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth opened the door and slipped inside, gripping the bolted table as the ship moved with a violent lurch. She could hear shouts and Lydia’s giggles. Restoring her balance, she realized somehow her sister had talked Captain Tompkins into letting her try the wheel. Two more days and they would be on land again.
Elizabeth focused on that certainty as she steadied her breathing.
Pulling a worn quilt from her trunk, Elizabeth curled up on the bottom cot bunk she was sleeping in to give Mr. Darcy the larger bed on the far side of the cabin. Willing her anger to dissipate, she worked hard to not dwell on how ungrateful Lydia was for her rescue. Because of Lydia, she was unable to unite with her husband in every sense, and it should be her place as the first sister married to welcome a babe. Instead, with every angry thought, Elizabeth turned her turmoil over to God, praying for a safe journey, praying for patience, and most fervently, praying for time alone with her William in Scotland.
Chapter 1 (cont'd) - A Summer Shame, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Hours later, Elizabeth awoke to find she was no longer in the cot she began in but instead nestled safely in the arms of Mr. Darcy in the larger bed. The ship groaned as if it were coming apart and she could hear shouts from outside the cabin. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she blinked a few times to resist a bout of nausea sweeping over her. The ship pitched and rolled. A lone stub of a candle hanging from the cross beam swung with wild abandon, casting a kaleidoscope of shadows. Elizabeth let out a whimper and tried to open her eyes again and turn over, but Mr. Darcy’s arms held her still.
“Ssh, ssh, ’tis only a summer storm. Will soon pass, love,” he mumbled, groggily.
“But the boat! Will it not sink? We must get out!”
One of Mr. Darcy’s eyelids popped open, and he smiled at his wife as she managed to turn over into his chest. Elizabeth snuggled further into the safety he provided, wondering if the loud beating of her heart in fear was so thunderous as to be heard throughout their cabin. The boat seemed to rise and fall with great velocity. She swallowed down the bile rising in her throat. Elizabeth Darcy would not and could not retch upon her husband!
As the boat thrashed to and fro, a great thud came from the other side of the cabin. Lydia had fallen out of the low bunk that Elizabeth had fallen asleep in earlier, and she cried out as if in pain.
“Lizzie!” she sobbed, covering her face with her hands.
Mr. Darcy released his wife to permit her to dash from the bed and tend to her sister. The pitch and roll set Elizabeth unsteady, and she flailed at her loss of balance, veritably stumbling to her sister crumpled on the floor.
“Are you injured? The babe?” Elizabeth held Lydia in her arms as the younger girl continued to sob. “Ssh, hush now, we are safe. The Lord will protect us and give us safe passage. He will, I promise.” Still, Lydia cried, her wails increasing in volume. “Lydia!? Where, where does it hurt? We’ll fetch the doctor.”
“It does not . . . hurt . . . I am uninjured . . .” she sniffed, gasping for air between heaves. “I want to go home to Mama! I don’t want to have a baby!”
Elizabeth gripped her sister tighter as they remained on the floor and began rocking Lydia in time with the storm’s waves. For a few moments, she thought to pass the storm in such a position was about the best she could hope for until two strong hands began to lift her.
“Mr. Darcy, I cannot. Let me hold her.”
“You both need your rest. Take the bed, it is easier to stay put there than in that cot.” He helped the ladies to the mattress and donned his coat.
“Where—where are you going?” Elizabeth begged fear notched in every syllable.
“I must go to the deck and see what help I may provide. I am able bodied and not inept at sailing.”
“No! Please, do not go out there. I shall worry too, too much.” Elizabeth was frantic, seizing Lydia’s crying form even tighter. Mr. Darcy clasped her hand and held it in both of his own, squeezing with a tender firmness he hoped would find its way into her terrified heart. He leaned over to kiss it before giving a farewell.
“I must, madame. Pray with your sister. We could all use it.”
Elizabeth complied, blinking to release silent tears down her cheeks. She settled back into the bed and kept her arms around Lydia. To her surprise, Lydia’s shaky voice broke the silence not long after Mr. Darcy left the cabin.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven . . .”
Elizabeth joined in and after a few rounds, exhaustion led the sisters to fall asleep as the storm began to subside.
* * *
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2 Books + 1 Exclusive Story from Elizabeth Ann West!
Three Dates with Mr. Darcy is a bundle of: An exclusive story, Much to Conceal, a novella that imagines what if Elizabeth confessed to Jane in London that Mr. Darcy proposed in Kent?
A Winter Wrong, the first novella in the Seasons of Serendipity series that imagines what if Mr. Bennet died at the very beginning of Pride and Prejudice?
By Consequence of Marriage, the first novel in the Moralities of Marriage series that wonders what if Mr. Darcy never saved his sister Georgiana from Wickham’s clutches?
Elizabeth Ann West’s Pride and Prejudice variations have enthralled more than 100,000 readers in over 90 countries! A proud member of the Jane Austen Fan Fiction community since the mid-2000s, she hopes you will join her in being happily Darcy addicted!
Chapter 1(cont'd) - A Summer Shame, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
In London, Jane Bennet stalled for time while packing her trunk in preparation to reside at Matlock House for the last four weeks of the Season. Where she would go after, she did not know, but she was almost certain it would be wherever Lady Matlock felt it best.
“Ooh, Jane, you must take this gown. It looks stunning on you!”
“Mama, I told you I am not to bring any clothing from home. I spent all day at the modiste and have a wonderful, Lady Matlock approved, wardrobe. It would not do to anger her while she assists us.”
Mrs. Bennet frowned. The widow’s feelings smarted at being ignored by the woman who’d taken the care of her girls as a personal mission. Oh, it was quite alright for Lady Matlock to champion Elizabeth and Mary, Mrs. Bennet’s least favorite daughters, but quite another for her to interfere with Lydia and now her poor Jane.
“But Mr. Bingley made such an effort to compliment this shade of blue when you wore it last. Yes, yes, you must take this frock to keep him happy.” Mrs. Bennet carried the dress over to fold it as if it were the best silk and put it away.
Jane sighed and gave up. If allowing her mother to pack a few gowns kept her happy, by all means, it would be best to concede since Jane had further news her mother would not find welcome.
“Mama, you’ve been away from your beautiful new home in Meryton for quite some time. Perhaps you and Kitty should return home, make sure the staff is doing all they ought?” Jane tucked a dried rose from her father’s garden back into a sachet for her trunk. Elizabeth had her copy of Hamlet, but to Jane, she missed the times her father would walk with her in the paths she helped design for planting and even pruned on occasion.
“Oh, I could not possibly leave London now! Not as you are making your grand debut. No, no, I must go with you, Jane, dear, to help guide you as you encourage Mr. Bingley’s attentions. Millie is packing my trunks as we speak. It has been some months now since you started courting . . .” Mrs. Bennet trailed off, seeming to become rather alarmed as she considered how long her eldest daughter had remained attached to one man, but not engaged to him. “Have you listened to Mr. Bingley as I have instructed you? Paying him careful attention and displaying your beauty to your advantage? It is odd that he has not yet come to the point . . . I shall invite him over for dinner!”
“No, Mama, I shall not be here to dine. Lady Matlock has a most careful schedule planned for Mary and me; it will maximize our exposure to the most elite members of society.” Jane held her breath as she watched her mother ruminate on what she had said. She did not address that her mother had no invitation to Matlock House, knowing her aunt would never allow Fanny Bennet to conduct such a faux pas.
The last thing Jane wanted to tell her mother was of the times Mr. Bingley had come to call on her, she had told the servants to send him away. She planned to tell him it would be best if they acknowledged they were not the right match, but she had yet to determine the best way to deliver the blow.
“That does make sense. I still do not see how you can finish out the Season without my invaluable guidance. You need me. And I feel bereft and abandoned. First Lizzie marries, and takes Lydia with her, who is to care for me in my old age? I am a poor widow you all wish to send away!” Mrs. Bennet began to wail near the end, resorting to the old theatrics her departed husband always catered.
“Of course not! You must not think this way.” Jane reached forward to pat her mother’s arm, causing the sniffling woman to pause her act in wonderment. “I am lucky to have Lady Matlock take me under her wing, as is Mary. But poor Kitty! There is none to help her, and she needs your guidance before she can handle a London ballroom. They are vicious, Mama,” Jane ended in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Kitty! That girl spends too much time covered in ink for any man to take notice of her. Why, all this writing and writing. I swear I do not know what has come over her since your father died and left us penniless.”
Jane gritted her teeth behind her plastered smile. Her father had not left them all penniless; in secret, he had invested in their uncle’s business to provide for his daughters. He had not left a largesse for his wife aside from her dowry. “But we must think of Kitty’s future. She has a dowry of five thousand pounds now, and if she is not prepared, I’m fearful she could fall for a fortune hunter like poor Lydia.”
“Wickham! That scoundrel. I never liked him, you know! I was certain in my heart he was not good enough for my dear Lydia, and now look at what’s he gone and done! My poor, poor Lydia!” Mrs. Bennet ranged from indignant anger to wails. Jane’s shoulders tensed as her eyes searched the door. She prayed none could hear her mother’s commotion. The sooner she moved her mother back out to the country, the better they’d all be at keeping the secret from society.
“Mama! Please remember, no one else must know,” Jane whispered as she resumed packing. The carriage would be here any moment. “Will you please make plans to return to Meryton? Take Kitty, and why not invite Miss Darcy? She has never had a mother, and a summer with your affection would be such a gift.”
“I shall think upon it. I will speak with my sister and see how fares my brother’s recovery. I could never leave his side as he heals from such a grievous accident.” Her mother grazed her hand along the fabric of the pale blue gown she had placed in the trunk, before nodding that she was leaving Jane to her packing.
Jane bowed her head to hide her smile. She had won. If one could see thoughts in another’s mind, Jane Bennet was certain her mother planned to ingratiate herself as a mother-like figure to Georgiana as a one-way ticket to Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s grand estate in Derbyshire. And, after talking with her aunt last night, there was no question that the heavy with child Madeline Gardiner wanted her sister-in-law out of her house post haste. For once, it was Mrs. Bennet’s nerves aggravating the lady of the house, not the other way around.
You’ve been reading A Summer Shame
A Summer Shame Book 3 of the Seasons of Serendipity
a Pride and Prejudice novella variation series
Release Date: November 23, 2014
33,000 words, ~162 pages in print.
The third novella in the Seasons of Serendipity sees the Bennet sisters divided by countries, not counties. Still struggling to find family stability after the death of Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth joined with her new husband, Fitzwilliam Darcy, converts her honeymoon in Scotland into a mission of hiding Lydia’s scandal. Jane Bennet, under the wing of Lady Matlock, learns that taking on the mantle of family champion comes with tight corset strings attached. Saving face in soirees with the Ton, Jane must fend off the talons of society’s climber and discovers she has a much deeper decision to make about her own future.
A Summer Shame is the third book in a series planned to chronicle 4 years of the Darcy-Bennet-Fitzwilliam families. Death, marriage, changing fortunes, and politics test Jane Austen’s wonderful characters in an alternate universe where the girls have not the protection of their father.
“I could not put this novel down! This book has a refreshing storyline that is interesting, amusing, surprising, and vivid.” – Amazon.com 5-star review on A Summer Shame
+ 15 additional Pride & Prejudice variations are available at these fine retailers . . .