Chance Encounters Series #2
A Pride & Prejudice Reimagining
by Ney Mitch
Jane Austen’s classic tale of Pride & Prejudice is one of the most beloved books ever written. Its impact has been so timeless that its heroes, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, are two of the most legendary literary couples ever to grace the page. As such, we often reflect on the tale, look back and wonder what it would have been like if other paths had been taken, and our legendary heroes had to discover their love in an alternate way. Here comes the sequel to discover how, even through family misfortune and romantic crises, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth will still find their way to each other.
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: Historical Romance | Reimagining
A Pink Satin Romance
There was no room for thought.
There was no time to react properly.
In faith, all proper reactions could not be conjured at this inappropriate proposal.
Mr. Wickham was down on one knee, and he had just proposed to me. All had frozen around me. Time and space even appeared to bow down to this provocative moment. For indeed, all felt as if it had chosen to remain still. Between the dirt beneath our feet, the air around us, and the skies above…all felt as if it, collectively, decided not to move. All fell still, all looked on, and I felt a great imposition weigh upon me.
“You are speechless,” Mr. Wickham observed, his smile only dropping somewhat. “I have never had that effect upon you. Am I allowed to be flattered by it?”
The words he uttered were very handsome as was his countenance, as was the very proposal that he gave. All was done handsomely, for that was his way. And, despite one’s strong notions and mental awareness, emotions can often be more powerful. His proposal was flattering, and I could not look down on him without feeling all the gratitude that one feels when their heart is being appealed to, by someone who was within their heart to begin with. Despite what I knew of Wickham’s true habit and nature, only a heart of stone could not be moved by the way in which he lent his own affection to me.
Also, I had cared for him once. Very deeply so.
And our natures did understand each other. We had taken each other into the other’s confidence. Kind words were spoken, as were kind secrets.
Until I recalled that some of those secrets were very unkind. Unkind toward myself, for he had lied to me. Unkind toward Mr. Darcy, who he had wounded and deceived. And unkind toward Miss Georgiana Darcy, whose heart he had broken.
And yet, could I forgive all of that? Looking down upon him now, I felt my will softening and my intelligence weakening. After all, ever since papa passed away, I was gathering a wider idea of moderation and tolerance. Perhaps, I had been deceived in another quarter. Perhaps, Mr. Wickham was not nearly as villainous as he was said to be. Perhaps there had been some dreadful mistake, where two outside parties had conspired to defame them in each other’s eyes!
“Mr. Wickham,” I began, “my silence says many things. First, it is amazement that you asked me.”
“Could you not tell that I adored you?”
“I feel the compliments of your affection, for they are disinterested now.”
“I can see what you are feeling. My first choice of wife in Miss King was done out of a desire to be practical, but now my will has turned. I do love you, Miss Elizabeth, and I flatter myself that your feelings are mutual to my own. Therefore, I believe that, despite the imprudence of our match, we are the perfect match to be made, nevertheless.”
He was handsome, to be sure. I felt a deep kindred spirit in him, and suddenly, I felt the weight of gratitude upon me. He had made me an offer. And our spirits were alike in many ways.
Perhaps, I could forgive him.
Yes! Looking down at him now, perhaps I could forgive him, and grow to love him. After all, I felt my affection for him increase once he proposed. Perhaps, therefore, I was capable of feeling more than I had known that I felt for him.
Ought I to say yes?
Suddenly, as if hurled out of a dream that one has been roused from, I awoke from the whims of blind sensibility.
The accounts I had heard of Mr. Wickham’s villainy were true, his heart was something that could not be trusted, and why? Why would a man, who had weighed so many things out by the emptiness of his pocketbook now choose a woman who had little in her purse?
How could I consider it? And I had the perfect reason for a refusal that I had every right to make.
“Very pretty words,” I said, “from a very pretty man. And that beauty is something that I have often marveled at, but also distracted me from what lay underneath.”
I removed my hands from his and backed away from him, turning around and gathering my courage. Breathing out and in, I placed my hand on my hips, to steady myself.
“But those distractions will not overcome me. Not now, for I am resolved to be wise, which is something that I had not been before. Mr. Wickham, I am honored by your proposal, and am very gracious of you considering me.”
“Your voice wavers,” Mr. Wickham pointed out, “and you and I have spoken enough times that we can hear doubt in each other’s voices. Why do I get the sense that you are about to reject my offer?”
“It is because I am. I am obliged to you, beholden to you, flattered beyond reason, but I cannot accept you.”
Mr. Wickham stood up, and I saw his confusion. He turned away from me, took a few steps, turned back and then he turned away once more.
“I see,” he voiced. “And this is all the reply that I am to expect and must take your answer as a gentleman ought. Yet, I do not possess that title; therefore, I have a reason to act as a soldier would. I have a reason to be enraged and have the behaviors of a fighter. Is this what you are, Miss Bennet?”
“What I am?”
“I sacrificed so much, for you. For you, Miss Elizabeth! I gave up an heiress, and all for what? For a woman who rejects me now, due to my circumstances. This is the hypocrisy of the world.”
“You think that I reject you now because of your lacking in wealth?” I responded, enraged, and prepared to unleash my inner disquiet upon him. “Do me no disservice or slander upon my person, Mr. Wickham. Do not flatter yourself while belittling me. For, in doing so, you expose yourself to the world for the very ill behavior that you lay at my feet. Do you think that any consideration could tempt me to accept the man who has lied to me on multiple occasions, flattered me when entertaining another woman’s affections, and then slandered the good name of others?”
When I gave these questions, Mr. Wickham’s face altered, and color drained from his cheeks.
“What are you talking of?” he asked.
“I know the truth, Mr. Wickham. I know how Mr. Darcy never cheated you out of your inheritance. I know how you chose not to take orders and was given compensation for it. Just like I know how the only reason that you returned to take orders was because you gambled away the three thousand pounds that you received. And even worse, I know how you wooed Miss Darcy, so that you could inherit her fortune. I know everything. And I know that you lied to me, in every possible way. Just like I now am aware of the man you are, and that will never be a person that I could ever marry.”
My reports had driven Mr. Wickham quite to distraction.
“Do you still attempt to deny it, Mr. Wickham?” I pursued. “Because if you do, then I shall hate you forever. How could you do it?”
“I never lied to you. Recall that I had said that the living had been left to me in condition only.”
“Stop clinging to your deceptions in the manner of a drowning man grabbing at the surface of water,” I declared. “Do you not see that there is no point to it all? I know everything and no more will I let my blindness hold me down.
“Think of it. The way that you had accosted me when we met, how you had revealed your history with Mr. Darcy—all of it was done in the way of complete indelicacy and impropriety. Then, after all your malicious behavior, you spread the lies about how Mr. Darcy had robbed you, when all along, you had treated him in an infamous manner.” I paced before him.
“You said that, in honor of his father, you would never defy or defame the son, but once Mr. Darcy had left Hertfordshire, you did expose him. Right there, you showed your hypocrisy. How can I marry a man who would destroy the reputation of a man who has done nothing wrong?”
Mr. Wickham looked utterly undone. Then suddenly, bitterness overtook him, and I saw a villainous look in his eye. The turn of his countenance was something that I would never forget. He looked at me as a savage animal that was cornered—for he was. For a brief second, that look frightened me. It was as if I was seeing a horror that lay underneath the skin of a man who was shedding every pretense that he contained.
I shook my head and sighed. “Ah, and right there, that is the first true expression that you have ever given me. Is it not? Now, I am seeing the true man behind all the layers of deception.”
“Allow me to tell you my side of the story.”
“You did tell me your side, do you not recall? And it was all lies.”
“Was it Mr. Darcy who told you this?”
“And his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
When hearing the Colonel’s name, Wickham looked as if the wind had been knocked from out of him.
“Yes,” I furthered, “and there is no chance of you denying the veracity of both men. And again, I have posed the question to you, which you have given me no answer. How could you do it? How could you lie? Mr. Darcy never hurt you. You hurt him. You disappointed everyone.”
“Darcy was born fortunate. A fortunate man, indeed.”
“What nonsense is this?”
“He was born with wealth. Do you know what it’s like, Miss Elizabeth? To grow up, so close to a man who would inherit the world and you were the one who had to earn his living. And whatever you did, it would never amount to him. Try living under such a character. Would you not feel your own disposition alter under it? Would your kind nature not darken under the weight of the unfairness of it?”
I could not believe it. I knew his point of view, but despite his thoughts, he did not see that it was something which would not invoke my sympathy.
“You were jealous of him,” I summed up his words, “and so, under the excuse of envy, you define your own actions. And excuse them.”
“I am not excusing them. I am merely explaining how a man like me can result in doing a thing such as that.”
With disbelief, I said, “You really do not see it, do you? You do not see the weight of your own actions. Nor do you see that envy is not a proper explanation for it. Yes, I have been next to people more fortunate than myself, but I never let that circumstance produce the sin of jealousy and then allow it to consume me in the way that it did with you. Look at yourself. If you can allow the fortune of others to inspire you to such behavior, then how am I ever to trust you? For you let things inspire an evil within you.”
“I am still the man that you know.”
“You are not! You are the man who tried to elope with a fifteen-year-old girl so that you could steal her fortune.”
“I felt affection for Georgiana.”
“Did you? Because, from all that I have seen and heard, you did not pay any sort of attention to her until after you had squandered away your inheritance. And it is the mirror actions of how you initially behaved toward Miss King.”
“But look at how I am now? I rectified that mistake, put myself at her uncle’s mercy and abandoned all ventures there, so that I could come here and marry you.”
“Do you not see? You never should have engaged yourself to Miss King in the first place. Just as you never should have tried to elope with Georgiana Darcy.”
“Well, I did, and I cannot change that now.”
I closed my eyes, saddened that he did not say the one thing that perhaps could have softened me toward him.
“No, you cannot. But what you could have done was admit to feeling sorry for what you had done. All you needed to do was show remorse. But after you slandered Georgiana Darcy when you could not get ahold of her wealth, and then you offer a proposal to me. How can I love a man who has shown his ability to leave other women on a whim, and then slander them when he cannot get what he desires? Do you not see? The way that you treat them is a foreshadowing to how you would treat me. For you display no signs of a man who regrets the people he hurts. You left Georgiana when you could not attain her wealth. You left Miss King when you realized that you had no physical attraction to her. What will you do to me when you discover that you do care for money, and I have no dowry? Or what happens when you stop having an attraction to me?” I paused to take a breath.
“I cannot align myself with a man who discards us women in so quick a fashion. Therefore, I am honored by your proposals, and if you were a better man than the one you had presented, then I would have considered you. Yet now, I cannot. And I bid you a good day.”
As I marched past him, he clearly was stricken with a sudden desire to succeed in his endeavors. Rather than letting me pass, he grabbed my arms and secured me in front of him. Enraged and overwhelmed, I tried to release myself from him, but he only held me tighter.
“I will not walk away from here when I know that you care for me,” he declared, “nor will I lose when I sacrificed so much, risking all in coming here. I chose you, so why do you not appreciate that!”
“I will not marry a man who mistreats women so, and you will let go of me!”
“Not when I lost so much in choosing you!”
“Wickham, let her go!” came a shout from our left.
Turning, we saw Mr. Darcy, who had entered the garden.
* * *
Mr. Darcy lunged at Mr. Wickham, grabbed him, and shoved him off me. Instinctively, I placed myself behind Mr. Darcy.
“Blackguard,” Mr. Darcy hissed. “Is this the sort of man that you will always be?”
Mr. Wickham’s face was a mixture of confusion. There was anger there, but there was also embarrassment.
“How dare you lay violent hands upon Miss Elizabeth!” Darcy vowed. “Do you ever begin to realize that you always go too far?”
“Shut your mouth! Wickham, this is beyond my abilities to cast aside. Your misconduct has pushed me to the point of breaking.”
“My actions are not what you think!”
“You grabbed Miss Elizabeth!”
“This is not me being in the wrong this time. I swear it, Darcy. I was attempting to rectify my life. I was merely heartbroken when she rejected my offer of marriage.”
This declaration made me close my eyes and wonder what Mr. Darcy’s reaction would be. When I opened them again, I was not to be disappointed. Mr. Darcy’s eyes had turned a darker shade of brown if that were possible. His face drained of all color and there was a murderous look in his eye.
“You proposed to her?” Mr. Darcy spat. “You dared to propose to another woman who is too good for you!”
Mr. Wickham looked past Darcy and back at me.
“Whatever I have done,” Wickham implored, “and whatever my past mistakes, I know that you love me. You just are overwhelmed by the knowledge of my history and have been poisoned against me.”
“Wickham, you lied to me about everything,” I whispered. “And when you realize that I bring no wealth, you will despise me as surely as I despise you now.”
When hearing this, Wickham’s eyes turned a different shade.
“That’s a lie,” Wickham responded. “You do not despise me. You adore me.”
“I did once, but I cannot stand the sight of you now. And I do not love you. I never have.”
“Yes, you did. You just have forgotten it.”
“Sirs, what goes on here?”
This interruption was caused by my uncle, who had emerged from the house.
“Elizabeth?” Uncle Gardiner voiced. “Are you alright?”
“Uncle.” With relief, I went to him. “It is time that Mr. Wickham left, for he has already delivered his message to me. Is that not so, Mr. Wickham?”
“I—” Mr. Wickham began, but Mr. Darcy cut him off.
“Not until I make my point quite clear,” Mr. Darcy stated, brooking no refusal. Mr. Darcy took a threatening step toward Mr. Wickham. “George, you have treated me and my family in an abominable manner, you have hurt people I love, and now you have greatly imposed yourself upon Miss Elizabeth. Too long I have not retaliated for your continual misconduct. You will leave Miss Elizabeth alone, and no more will you come near the people that I love. Or I will call you out, as I am a gentleman, and I will demand satisfaction of you in a duel.”
“Can you not see, I have changed?” Wickham responded, pleadingly.
“You have never shown it! And your behavior now displays that of a man who is narcissistic in his love. It is a vain thing. A cruel thing. And I shall not let Miss Elizabeth be on the receiving side of it.”
“Mr. Darcy has spoken quite right,” my uncle supported. “My niece clearly does not want your company, Mr. Wickham. Therefore, it is best for you to leave my home, or be forcibly removed from it. What say you, sir? Because, in this moment, my esteem in you has been surely shaken.”
Mr. Wickham took one last look at me.
“Mr. Wickham,” I pleaded, “please...”
“Well,” Mr. Wickham declared, his voice shaken, “you have broken my heart. I hope that you know that.”
“Do not have an innocent woman feel guilty, George,” Darcy stated. “Leave, or I will call you out.”
Mr. Wickham turned and left immediately.