Chapter 3 A Summer Shame

GO JANE! That’s all I’ll say 😉

XOXOXO Elizabeth Ann West

Chapter 3 - A Summer Shame, a Pride and Prejudice Variation

The morning’s service at church regarding the sanctity of marriage inspired Jane Bennet to approach the Earl about inviting Mr. Bingley to Matlock House. The old man inquired if Jane was prepared to sever the connection, and Jane nodded most vigorously, not trusting her voice to remain steady. As she paced the parlor hours later, her maid sat in the corner of the room doing her best to blend in with the wallpaper as she mended a bonnet.

Jane continued to wring her hands as she spied the carriage most assuredly carrying Mr. Bingley arriving in front of the house. She involuntarily flinched, unable to watch as the carriage door opened, while the lady of the home entered the parlor with a “tsk, tsk.” Calmly, Lady Matlock reached for Jane’s hands and held them. “It’s a nasty business, but once it’s over, the only future you will have is a happy one, my dear.”

Jane managed a firm countenance as Mr. Bingley’s arrival was announced. Surprised, Lady Matlock greeted Mr. Bingley and escorted him to the sofa directly after Jane took a seat.

“I must say, the invitation was a surprise. I thought perhaps Miss Bennet was ill, but I’ve heard you were at the Sefton Tea.”

“Hmmm, you heard we were there? I rather wonder we did not meet your or your sister there.” Lady Matlock’s expression was best described as a cat playing its prey, and the display made Jane do a double take.

“Well, yes, we had a previous engagement, Caroline was most displeased we could not take up the invitation.” Bingley glanced around at the elegant furnishings, choosing to focus on a painting of wildflowers on the far wall.

Jane furrowed her brows and stared at her lap. She knew the Bingleys were not invited to the tea party; it was the only reason she had agreed to attend. It was so unlike Charles to put on airs, mayhap he was not the man she thought he was? She tried to return to the polite conversation going on between her beau and her sponsor in society but found his manners so thoroughly superficial and the subtle slights by Lady Matlock painful to watch.

“Mr. Bingley, I had asked the Earl of Matlock to invite you here this afternoon for a purpose, sir.” The words tumbled out of Jane’s mouth before she realized how forward she appeared. A quick glance to Lady Matlock showed the older woman approved, and with a slight nod, she rose and excused herself from the room, making sure the maid was indeed present and not fully closing the parlor door.

Baffled, Mr. Bingley sat speechless after Lady Matlock’s exit, but soon recovered by remarking on the painting of wildflowers. Jane cocked her head to one side and listened with half a heart. When he asked her opinion, she shook her head.

“I believe it is time we end our courtship, Charles. I purposely avoided your company and refused your visits, and . . . behaved not as a courted woman ought.” A lightening in her chest allowed Jane to inhale deeply for the first time since the disastrous ball on the eve of her sister’s wedding.

“You’ve needed time, I’m sure, my dearest to tend to your family and your grieving. I, too, have been distracted, but hope I have placed no undue pressure on you, Jane. There is no need for hasty decisions.” Bingley’s hands sweated most profusely, and he tried discreetly to wipe them on his trousers. If his sister heard he lost the courtship of Jane Bennet, she would be most displeased with what it would mean for their social calendar. She had already begun putting it about London how she was practically a sister to Mr. Darcy by marriage.

“I see you have not considered how unsuitable our match has become. We want different lives, I’m afraid. You enjoy the hustle and bustle here in London, and I wish nothing more than to go home to the country. I do not believe I will ever be able to accept a proposal from you, much as I have esteemed and respected your person. I think—I believe it best we both have the opportunity to seek our future.” Jane said strongly, rising from the sofa with a firm posture.

Bingley too rose, but with panic. “Jane, please, Jane.” He looked behind him as Lady Matlock re-entered the room. Frantic, as she announced she had just called his carriage, Bingley did the only thing he could think of to save the situation. He grabbed Jane by the arms and kissed her directly on the mouth.

Upon release, the fist of Jane Bennet, supreme queen of the frog catchers in her youth, connected most sincerely with the nose of Charles Edward Bingley. Lady Matlock gasped as Bingley stumbled backward, cupping his nose with his hands, but she recovered swiftly to grab the wayward gentleman by the ear, dragging him out of her parlor.

“Good day, Mr. Bingley, and be thankful my sons are not here to trounce you out my door!” Lady Matlock made sure the butler escorted Mr. Bingley out the door none too gently. Margaret Fitzwilliam returned to the parlor to find the maid comforting a sobbing Jane who had collapsed on the couch.

“Edith, please fetch a basin of cold water and a cloth. Miss Bennet has injured her hand.” The maid curtsied and left through the side door to the servant’s hall.

“I’m so sorry, Lady Matlock. I don’t know what came over me! For him to impose himself, I just was so angry!”

“Sssh, ssh, Jane dear. That was an impressive display of fisticuffs, I must say. Do please look at it this way, had either of my sons witnessed such a display, his face would be much more maligned.”

“But we will have to marry now.” Jane buried her face in the offered arms of Lady Matlock, cradling her throbbing hand.

“What, an ant like Bingley? Please, darling, where is your sense? No one in the Ton will admit the Bingleys if he should tell tales about how he injured his face. I would hardly call that being ruined when both your maid and I were present. Mr. Bingley tripped over my Oriental and tumbled into your person.”

The basin of water arrived, and Jane carefully soaked her hand in the cool relief. Reflecting on all Lady Matlock had said before she excused herself to make regrets for tonight’s event, Jane sniffed to restore her calm demeanor. She knew once Lizzie heard the tale, she would be incredibly proud.

* * *

Chapter 3(cont'd) - A Summer Shame, a Pride and Prejudice Variation

With her head in her hands, Elizabeth Darcy openly wept. Becky, her maid, walked in with a fresh gown in hand to spy her mistress sitting slumped at her dressing table.

“Mrs. Darcy! Mrs. Darcy!” Becky laid the gown on her bed and rushed over to her side. “Oh, ma’am, whatever is wrong? Shall I tell Mr. Gerrod you are indisposed?” she whispered.

“What?” Elizabeth stopped her sobbing, to look up at her maid with tear-stained cheeks. Frantically, Elizabeth began to wipe her face as she tried to steady her heaving. Becky hastened to the drawer where the handkerchiefs were kept and produced a fresh one for her mistress. “No, please do not. Do not. I shall be ready, presently.”

Elizabeth stood up to reach for her gown, then confused for a moment, located it lying on the bed. Two weeks in their Scotland home and she still struggled to feel at ease in her boudoir, though that was most likely due to the enormous amount of time she spent in Mr. Darcy’s suite.

The door connecting the suites opened, and Mr. Darcy strode into the room. He paid no mind as Becky helped Elizabeth change her dress and patiently waited for his wife to turn to him.

“My dearest,” he huskily uttered, reaching out a hand Elizabeth immediately grasped. “Shall I talk with her?”

“No, it was dreadful, but, nothing I cannot handle. She is my sister and my burden to bear. But how, how did you come to me?”

“There’s a great deal of caterwauling going on in Miss Lydia’s room, and if one sister was screaming and throwing items, it did not take a giant leap of logic to suppose the sister I love best might be similarly disturbed.”

Elizabeth sighed, leaning closer to her husband as Becky disappeared into the closet to fetch the rest of her things. “I am so very sorry, William.”

Rigid, William embraced his wife, but his guilt weighed heavily on his shoulders. Gingerly, he bent his head and tilted his wife’s face up to lightly brush her lips with his. “I am afraid you are mistaken, my lovely, witty, Elizabeth. The blame lies square upon my shoulders.”

Elizabeth pushed back slightly and scoffed. “How so? Explain yourself, sir!” Never able to remain melancholy for long, Elizabeth’s bright spirit began to rally.

“I knew what a scourge Wickham was! I barely warned your mother and did nothing to warn the general population of Meryton about him. Perhaps the only silver lining to this dark cloud is the maiden afflicted could come under my protection . . . a penance I’m certain.”

Elizabeth’s lower lip began to quiver, her face crumbling into a silent sob. Here was her husband, such a gallant knight of a gentleman, taking the blame for a scandal entirely wrought by her own family. Her emotions overcame her, and her husband directed her as they both sat on the edge of her primly made bed. Inhaling a number of deep breaths, Elizabeth refused to give into another bout of sobbing. It simply would not do!

When she trusted her emotions, she began to speak. “A letter from Charlotte tells me Maria and Kitty were witnesses of Lydia’s shameless behavior. The worst part is Jane has learned from our mother she encouraged Lydia from shortly after we made Mr. Wickham’s acquaintance to focus her attentions on the officer, even going so far as to allow her to visit with the man unchaperoned.” Elizabeth’s voice sounded small near the end, and Mr. Darcy cleared his throat as they both sat extremely uncomfortable.

Becky appeared with the matching slippers and silk pelisse. Elizabeth donned the garment and took her husband’s arm as they left the room to exit the home.

“How did she react to the plans for the. .?” Mr. Darcy quietly asked as they walked down the deserted hall, still able to hear loud voices coming from Lydia’s end of the family wing.

“That is precisely what sparked the tantrum. She thought we were hiding her and the child so she might one day marry her dear Mr. Wickham. As soon as he is found, in her own foolish words. To start, I told her she would not be able to keep the babe, producing quite a shock. It was only after she accepted she could not go back to London for balls and delights with a baby in tow, least of all a bastard, that she asked about the arrangements . . .” Elizabeth stopped as a trio of maids waited at the bottom of the stairs.

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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?

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Chapter 3(cont'd) - A Summer Shame, a Pride and Prejudice Variation

Once the entryway had cleared, she never managed to finish as Mr. Darcy broke away to open the front door himself. In the drive, their open barouche waited, covered in green and lavender silk ribbons and bouquets of flowers. Elizabeth gasped at the lovely sight. The maids behind her giggled, and she turned to see Mrs. Buchanan wiping her hands on her apron with a broad smile on her face. Elizabeth mouthed “Thank you,” and the older woman merely nodded in return.

With a shriek, Elizabeth was scooped into the arms of Mr. Darcy and carried to the barouche. “Mr. Darcy, I do believe you are supposed to carry your bride over the threshold into the house, not out of it.”

“Am I?” He gave her one of his rare dimpled smiles as they reached the barouche and he carefully released her feet onto the floorboards and reached for her hand to steady her as she took a seat. Before alighting into the open carriage himself, he doffed his hat to the Starvet House staff congregating in the doorway eliciting a tremor of cheer and applause. Using his momentum to get into the carriage, he leaned close to his Elizabeth’s ear and whispered, “When have we ever done what we’re supposed to?” The devilish man took a seat next to his bride.

Elizabeth giggled and clasped one hand of her husband as he patted with the other on the side of the carriage to motion for the driver to start. With a quick flick of the reins, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were on their way to the little hamlet of Haddington. Elizabeth relished the fresh scent of sea spray that appeared to hang in the air, but as the carriage drove further inland towards the village, new scents replaced the ocean’s mighty pull. Hawthorn and foxglove lined the gently rolling fields as Elizabeth squinted and looked up into the sun. Without turning her head, she began to speak.

“I should be hopelessly brown and coarse if you continue to insist on enjoying these sunny afternoons in an open carriage, Mr. Darcy.”

“Then I shall be hopelessly thrilled to trace the lines of your sun-kissed skin, Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth pretended to be shocked but instead found herself pulled into a tight embrace as the carriage made a final turn before they came upon Haddington proper. Reluctantly, they resumed decorum, though Elizabeth still grasped Mr. Darcy’s hand with her gloved one. The arrival of such important persons as Mr. Darcy and his new wife seemed to give pause to those in the town as the carriage rolled by. No sooner had the final set of wheels passed that pedestrians began their urgent whispers and young assistants dashed around to warn their shop proprietors.

Elizabeth waited while Darcy gave instructions to the barouche, and she happily took his arm as they strolled down the edge of shops on the western side of town. “How often were you at Starvet House? The people here seem to adore your family.”

“My great-grandfather’s family owned the property for many generations. When my great uncle died without an heir, my father was next in line. Grandmother Darcy stayed in the home until she passed away, and my father brought me many summers to fish and hunt. Once my mother started falling ill, we came here less and less . . .”

“It’s a lovely home; I’m sure your father would be proud to see how it is run today.”

“Yes,” Darcy mumbled, looking around at the shop names with a furtive glance. His favorite shop for books was missing and in its place was a new store for sundry items. Steering Elizabeth inside, she was bewildered at entering a shop usually reserved for the housekeeper or maids to peruse for the supplies of the house. After the woman inside finished helping a customer, she addressed Mr. Darcy.

“Mr. Darcy, I had heard that Starvet House was open once more. My father always spoke so highly of you.”

“Your, your father? Was he Mr. Stevens?”

“Aye, he’s gone to God these many years past, and I be following in his footsteps one day, Lord willing.” The young woman smiled and pulled out a sheet of paper and mended her pen. “How I can help ye? Mrs. Buchanan already placed an order, but I am happy to augment it, sir.”

“But where are the books?”

Miss Stevens wrinkled her nose. “I sold most of them to pay for the supplies ye see here. The books, well, they didn’t sell so well, sir and after Da died, the accounts had to be settled. A sundry shop, now that’s something any family needs. And how!”

Mr. Darcy mumbled a thank you and said that Mrs. Buchanan’s order should be more than sufficient. As the Darcys left the shop, Elizabeth smiled as her poor husband became lost in his thoughts. She knew how much the sting of unexpected change could pierce a heart, so she took it upon herself to cheer him.

“Well, I liked Miss Stevens. What a clever young woman.”

“Pardon?”

“Miss Stevens. It must have been dreadful to lose a father and then find a way to keep a profit. She is mighty brave to change the shop’s offerings, but I am happy it is successful.”

Darcy ruminated on Elizabeth’s words and realized how close to her own situation Miss Stevens’ predicament had been. He offered her a nod and slight smile, which made Elizabeth laugh.

“Oh, come, Mr. Darcy, don’t be sullen about it. We’ll buy you all the books you could ever want in London. And I might even have a few contacts to allow you access to tomes not generally available to the public.”

“Oh?” he asked as he followed his wife’s direction into a sweets shop. “Pray tell madame, how do you have these contacts to the underbelly of the literary world?”

“Through my uncle of course!” Elizabeth laughed, and Darcy shook his head. With Mr. Gardiner still recovering from his accident, he had quite forgotten how successful the man’s business was in imports and exports. Watching his lithe wife purchase many sweets, Darcy was struck with a notion.

“Will you stay here, madame, while I run an errand?” Mr. Darcy brightened to see his wife’s smooth manners already make her a friend with Mrs. Rowe. The two women were chatting and laughing about something, but Darcy saw his wife’s quick nod in his direction.

When Elizabeth was ready to leave with enough candy and sweets for the children of Starvet House and the area tenant families, she exited the shop to direct the young groom to load them into the box on the back of the barouche. No sooner had she walked out of the shop than there was her gallant husband, holding a single white rose. Elizabeth caught her breath at the romantic gesture of her husband and happily accepted the single rose causing him to bring his other hand around to present a bouquet of white roses, with foxglove and hawthorn mixed in.

“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth giggled, “the villagers will think I’ve bewitched you!”

Taking her arm, the Darcys strolled leisurely back to the barouche surrounded by the fragrance of the bouquet so sweetly tendered by the new groom to his bride.

“Mrs. Darcy, if you have bewitched me, for my sake, I beg of you, never lift the spell.”

Before helping his wife into the carriage, Darcy made sure to bend down and kiss just above her glove, on her bare wrist. His young wife blushed, and both of the Darcys were quite happy to return home and forgo their afternoon picnic plans.

You’ve been reading A Summer Shame

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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 . . . 

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