Below is a sample of Undone Business, Book 2 in the Jane Austen Re-Imagining Series. Each book in this series is a stand alone and can be read in any order.
November 26, 1811
Netherfield looked as opulent as any house from the ton, adorned in flowers from the conservatory. The couples around them laughed and conversed. Despite the general gaiety of the evening, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet remained silent as they went down the dance. At long last, Mr. Darcy asked his partner, “Do you and your sisters often walk to Meryton?” They turned about each other.
“Yes, nearly daily.” She paused and raised her eyebrows. “When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.”
Immediately, Darcy felt his body tense as he fought to keep his face from turning red in anger. He glared at Elizabeth. “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”
“He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship,” replied Elizabeth, “and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life.”
His irritation redoubled as he realised Wickham had actually found opportunity sometime in the last rain-soaked week to speak to her. Darcy imagined Wickham sitting beside her, inhaling her tantalizing rosewater scent, and smiling charmingly while putting her at ease. His lies of woe likely played on Elizabeth’s tender heart, but Darcy could say or do nothing without possibly exposing his sister. He tried to change the subject.
“What think you of books?”
Elizabeth refused to consider the topic and instead returned to Wickham. “You are careful in the creation of your implacable resentment, are you not?”
“I am,” he said in a firm voice. How could she believe Wickham?
“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”
“I hope not.”
“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”
“May I ask to what these questions tend?”
“Merely to the illustration of your character. I am trying to make it out.”
“And what is your success?”
She shook her head. “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.”
“I can readily believe,” answered he gravely, “that reports may vary greatly with respect to me, and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.”
“But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.”
“I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours,” he coldly replied.
She said no more, and they went down the other dance and parted in silence. He wished to be angry at Elizabeth but found all of it centred on Wickham. How had he targeted her? She was the one person who could tempt him to explain his history with Wickham. He resolved to find a way to warn her without exposing Georgiana. He hoped, rather than believed, he only desired to protect her instead of improve her opinion of him.
November 30, 1811
Darcy sat at the breakfast table in Netherfield and struggled to read his letter from Bingley once more.
“Mr. Darcy, what does Charles say?” Miss Bingley asked. She leaned to one side to see around the tall floral arrangement she had designed.
“He says his business in town is taking longer than expected, but he hopes to return within a few more days.”
“I cannot see his reasons at all for having to go to town so suddenly after the ball, and then to leave us here for so many days in such a barbaric place. Those Bennets! I am certain they have designs on Charles.”
Darcy attempted to not roll his eyes. They were twenty miles from London and yet her desires to become mistress of Pemberley—above one hundred miles away—were well-known. If Meryton was barbaric, Derbyshire must be as uncharted as the jungles of Africa. As for Mrs. Bennet’s designs on Bingley, they were little different than those of most mothers of single daughters.
“I really see no need for him to return at all. Why do we not all go and meet him? His business is taking so long; he must be uncomfortable in a hotel,” Mrs. Hurst offered.
Miss Bingley sounded unconvinced. “Mr. Darcy, what are your thoughts?”
“I can have no thoughts on the subject. I am here as Bingley’s guest, and he assures me he will soon return. I always planned to leave in a fortnight in any event.”
Miss Bingley frowned. “But surely you must know the nature of his business more than we do. We expected him back days ago, and now he says it will take several more. How can he be certain it will finish then?”
“I assure you, in matters of business one likes to finish as quickly as possible.”
She let out a frustrated sigh and then glanced around the room, clearly seeing there were worse things than serving as mistress of a country estate for the winter with the hopes of impressing a wealthy gentleman.
He spoke no more. The subject turned to other matters before the ladies and Hurst departed entirely. Darcy looked to his letter again. He believed it unnecessary to share his observations that it was not business which caused the delays. His friend was a lively, amiable young man incapable of declining any offer out of fear of giving offence. Bingley raved about meeting Miss Agatha Markham again at one ball and being introduced to Miss Julia Cadogan at a recent dinner. Darcy could only speculate if Bingley would truly return to Netherfield this winter.
He sighed and thought over the day to come. His concerns went beyond Bingley’s continued delays. Absent from the neighbourhood, Bingley could not make calls after the ball he hosted. The rest of the party could no longer put off the civility. That Darcy did not relish Hertfordshire society was no secret. Paying calls on people he barely knew was even less appealing. Yet, he both anticipated and dreaded seeing Elizabeth again.
Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst arranged it so they would call on Longbourn last. Darcy could almost feel sorry for the Bennets and the sour mood their guests would arrive in. Well, the others were sour. Darcy had reasons beyond civility to be present and preferred to dwell on the motivations which made his heart-rate increase instead of his blood boil.
They were shown into the drawing room. A quick look around proved Elizabeth absent, and he expected to feel relief but did not. An irrational fear that her cousin spirited her away—or worse, Wickham was somehow speaking privately with her, invaded his attempts at calm.
Mrs. Bennet asked after Bingley, and his sisters chose not to answer in deference to Darcy’s information.
“I received another note from him in this morning’s post. He apologises again for the length of time his business is taking him but hopes to return next week.”
Mrs. Bennet anxiously replied, “I cannot see what all this going back and forth is about.”
Darcy chafed at her attitude. Who was she to make a claim on Bingley’s habits?
“My friend is at such a point in his life when he is making new acquaintances with ease and has much to amuse him no matter where he is.” This did not please Mrs. Bennet and to prevent any wailing on her side he added, “But he is a loyal companion and never forgets the friends he has made.”
Mrs. Bennet gave a knowing look to her eldest daughter, and Darcy wanted to groan. Did he just offer encouragement on his friend’s behalf? All this dancing on society’s rules for courting exhausted him. Why could women not show their interest and the man need only ask the question and be done with the whole thing? One particular lady who frequently expressed her opinions came to mind, but he pushed the thought aside.
“I would think it better for the neighbourhood if he were well-settled in it.”
Darcy almost laughed at the comment. If she thought she could lead Bingley down an aisle to her daughter, he welcomed her to try.
An unexpected voice spoke from the doorway. “Mamma, Mr. Bingley may come and go as he like. He may not mean to settle here for long.”
Darcy stood and bowed at Elizabeth’s entrance
Mrs. Bennet huffed at her daughter’s chastisement. “Where have you been?”
Elizabeth set a vase of roses on the table. “I gathered flowers for Jane.”
“Why should you gather flowers for Jane? I am certain she knows nothing of the sort of disappointment you have caused me!” She dabbed her nose with a handkerchief. “You know those sorts always irritate me. You can do nothing but vex me.”
Elizabeth silently moved the flowers to a different table and sent a look to her eldest sister. Both ladies blushed at their mother’s behaviour. Still noting the parson’s absence and Mrs. Bennet’s displeasure with Elizabeth, he wondered if she had rejected her cousin’s marriage proposal. Darcy desired to alleviate Elizabeth’s embarrassment and return to the earlier conversation. “I should not be surprised if he would give Netherfield up as soon as any eligible purchase offers.”
Mrs. Bennet inhaled sharply, but Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley stood in unison announcing the end of the visit.
“Thank you for receiving us, madam. It was a pleasure to meet with you again,” Miss Bingley said with cold civility while Mrs. Hurst gave a small curtsey.
“Oh, certainly. Jane will see you out.”
Jane began to stand, but Elizabeth intervened.
“You know Jane has been feeling poorly, let us not fatigue her. I will see them to the carriage.”
Once in the hallway, Elizabeth walked next to Darcy as the others briskly exited.
“We were all sorry to hear of Mr. Bingley’s continued absence.”
“What is one neighbour missing when you have met so many new companions recently?” He could not resist the reference. “Or has some of your acquaintance recently proved unsatisfactory?”
She gave him a direct look. “You might say so, but then others are exceedingly delightful.”
“I would caution you again about happy manners.”
“I am surprised you feel yourself capable of speaking on the subject.”
Whispering harshly he replied. “I cannot know what Mr. Wickham has explicitly accused me of to incite your hatred, but I would recommend you carefully consider what proof may be attainable. Perhaps there is a resource at your disposal to understand more of Mr. Wickham’s grievances and the possibility of any legitimacy of them.”
She did not immediately reply, and he nodded his head before placing his hat and walking to the carriage. He vowed that to be the last time he was made a fool by Elizabeth Bennet.
December 12, 1811
“He loves you, Jane!” Elizabeth cried as she forced another stem into the vase in frustration. She huffed a stray piece of hair from her face and took a deep breath. “Do not give up.”
“Miss Bingley has made it quite clear how much she missed town and that she means to stay there for the whole of the winter. She has praised Miss Darcy ceaselessly. I rather think she would prefer Miss Darcy as a sister,” Jane said as she handed Elizabeth another flower for another arrangement.
“Surely she wishes for one marriage to bring on another, but anyone who has seen you two together must know how much you love each other.”
Jane glanced away and did not speak at first. Eventually she said, “Caroline hints that Mr. Bingley is very fond of Miss Darcy. We must be mistaken on his regard for me.”
“You cannot think simply because Miss Bingley tells you her brother is in love with Miss Darcy that he is any less sensible to your merits than he was when he last saw you.”
“It has been over a fortnight. A very many great things may happen in a fortnight.”
She twisted her apron between her hands and Elizabeth’s heart went out to her. Surely Jane was quite in love with Mr. Bingley in under a fortnight. She must have feared in an equal span of time Mr. Bingley’s love could be cast aside but Elizabeth had more hope. “In a fortnight our aunt and uncle from London will be here and you can return with them as you always do. If Mr. Bingley is to remain in London, you may go to him.”
Jane gasped in horror. “I could not!”
“Not to him, of course! You would keep your acquaintance with his sisters. As Mamma would say, “That will put you in his path!” Surely in London his sisters may be too distracted with other cares to meddle in his affairs.”
“What sister could think she would have such an authority? We think very differently about Miss Bingley.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Jane, dear, you think far too highly of everyone, but I will allow you to think of her in the best light.” She frowned for a moment and then carefully rearranged several flowers. “There, now do you think that will please Mamma?”
“Quite,” Jane said as she began to untie her apron.
Elizabeth grasped her hands. “I have every hope you and Bingley will find happiness together. How can two who love each other so much and with no possible sensible objections over the match be held apart? If it is as you say, and there is no scheming afoot, then all will soon conclude to make you the happiest of women.”
Jane blushed but would say nothing else. Elizabeth frowned as she rushed through her toilette for the dinner party. Jane was her dearest sister and closest confidante. She could easily understand what Jane would not say. Her sister was hopelessly in love with Mr. Bingley and quite terrified even to speak of it. The thought did not sit well with Elizabeth. Jane usually truly felt more conviction behind her thoughts. She could be quite firm when she believed herself correct, and yet she did not hold steadfastly to the matter of Bingley’s regard.
Elizabeth sighed as she came down the stairs to the drawing room. The Netherfield party were to leave for London the following day. Mr. Bingley had not returned. His sisters desired to see him, and Mr. Darcy had business of his own in London, as well as a sister whom he missed. He could not stay on and without him, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst undoubtedly found Hertfordshire intolerable. Any sensible person saw the unlikelihood of Bingley’s return.
Worse than that, the intimacy between Miss Bingley and Jane clearly declined after the ball a fortnight ago. They had met with the Netherfield party in company only twice since. The Bennets returned their call, and now Mrs. Bennet hosted a dinner for them this afternoon, although clearly they accepted out of forced civility.
Elizabeth anticipated little pleasure from the function. Seeing Jane’s depressed spirits, Elizabeth knew not whether to hope for continued coldness from Miss Bingley or for the lady to be roused to renew a friendship with Jane. She might see Bingley through his sisters, but Jane deserved more than false friendships.
Darcy was another source of displeasure for Elizabeth. He never gave up his habit of attending to her conversations but would no longer converse directly with her. He seemed haughtier than ever, as now he spoke to no one. He replied in clipped tones when spoken to, but rarely participated in discussion. Why he remained in Hertfordshire so long when he clearly hated the society, Elizabeth could not fathom.
Mrs. Bennet planned a large dinner party including other prominent area residents such as Sir William and Lady Lucas, the Gouldings, Mrs. Long, the Phillipses, and several of the officers. Elizabeth intended to observe Darcy meet with Wickham again.
Her mother scolded her for not arriving downstairs earlier, but then determined Elizabeth needed the additional time to look presentable. Elizabeth attempted to bear her mother’s anxieties as best she could until the visitors arrived. The Netherfield party arrived late. At a quarter past the hour, Elizabeth extinguished hope of Mr. Wickham’s presence. She could hardly help glaring at Darcy.
At last, seated at the table, Mrs. Bennet bemoaned the absence of Bingley, and of her dear friends at Netherfield going away. She rudely congratulated Miss Lucas on her betrothal to Mr. Collins. Between laughing and flirting with several officers, Lydia declared her disappointment at Wickham’s absence. Frustrated at Darcy’s presence by her side, Elizabeth could not help provoking him as he glanced at her.
“It seems we frequently have your company instead your more amiable friends, Mr. Darcy.”
“I regret that Bingley has been unable to return to Netherfield, but perhaps we might all meet again.”
His words implied a desire for continued acquaintance, but he looked angrier than ever. Why bother to speak with her at all!
“I understand your relations live in London, and you frequently visit.”
Elizabeth nodded her head, perfectly understanding his reasoning. His earlier words were merely pretence to remind her of his superiority. She would not allow it. “I would not say I frequently visit them in London. Jane frequently goes for the Season, but I prefer to travel with them in the summer months.”
He raised his eyebrows, undoubtedly surprised by her information. She took pleasure in showing that, regardless of what he may expect the Gardiners to be like, having known Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips, they were quite prosperous and earned nearly as much as Mr. Bingley.
“Where have you been with them?”
“We summered at Eastbourne. I also went to Bath twice and, last I heard, for next summer they hope to visit either Cornwall or the Lakes.” Pleased to show the haughty man her family could circulate with those of fashion, she smiled.
“How did you find Bath?”
He meant to despise her taste again, but she did not care. “I did not like it much at all, but as we did not go during the height of the Season, I suppose you will say it is my own fault.”
He must have sensed her animosity because he turned the conversation. “Your sister frequently stays for the winter?”
“The Gardiners usually visit for Christmas and return with Jane. She typically stays until after Easter.”
“Then she is missing the height of the Season.”
“Jane does not care for balls and soirees. Indeed, my aunt and uncle seldom go to those functions. She enjoys town’s other amusements such as the theatre.”
“Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to see her if she comes again this year.”
“Jane would call on Miss Bingley, of course. Are you much in their company?”
“Bingley and I frequently meet at our club.”
Uncertain how she felt, she did not reply, and Darcy took advantage of her silence.
“It sounds like your London uncle does quite well.” He nodded to Mr. Phillips. “Your other uncle seems talented in his profession.”
Elizabeth looked at Darcy sceptically. “I believe Mr. Bingley arranged his lease through my uncle.”
“He did, and I know Mr. Phillips was very knowledgeable.”
Elizabeth scarcely believed she heard a compliment from Darcy towards her relatives.
“I found my solicitor invaluable when I was dealing with my father’s will.”
Elizabeth turned red in anger but quelled it. It seemed that Darcy admitted to—nay, boasted about—cheating Wickham of the living designed for him!
He seemed to not see her first reaction as he stared at his plate.
“One can learn much from talking to solicitors.”
It was absolutely necessary to speak now. “I imagine you took the time to learn many details.”
“I did, and I think you might learn a lot on how wills are processed as well.”
She could say no more before her mother stood, and the ladies separated. She had no patience for the rest of the evening. When the gentlemen returned, she did not so much as look at Darcy. They did not stay on for supper, owing to their early departure the next day. Elizabeth only regretted that Jane’s remaining hope of meeting Bingley again rested on seeing him in London.
January 7, 1812
“Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst,” Darcy’s London housekeeper announced and Darcy stifled his groan as he stood.
“Ladies, I regret your brother is not here. I believe he was making calls today.”
Always sociable, lately Bingley threw himself into visiting and events with an unprecedented fervour.
Darcy felt the need for solitude more than ever but so far did not care to examine any cause for it.
“Oh, we came to see Georgiana! It was quite necessary for us to leave…” Miss Bingley shot her sister a look, and Mrs. Hurst immediately silenced.
“We only wanted to leave quickly as an impertinent acquaintance called.”
Darcy scrutinised Miss Bingley’s face. There were many people she might suddenly find as unlikeable—or rather of no use—but he only knew her to call Elizabeth impertinent. That seemed unlikely though, as Miss Bennet and not Elizabeth was to be in London, and their dispositions were quite different.
Glancing around the room his eyes fell to the bouquet of roses he suggested Georgiana display in the rooms he frequented. These were red, like the ones in Elizabeth’s hair the night of the Netherfield Ball. Would he ever stop thinking of Elizabeth?
Georgiana soon entered and greeted her ‘friends’. Darcy suppressed a sigh. He really felt he ought to do better by her than resorting to Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst as friends. If nothing else and there were certainly a number of something elses, they were quite a bit older than her. Yet, how could he encourage friendships with younger ladies without even more women believing they could become the next Mrs. Darcy? If only she could find a genuine friend with no designs on him.
The ladies chatted for some time before a name caught his attention.
“Did you receive another note from Miss Bennet?” Georgiana asked.
“My dear Georgiana, I cannot understand why you would even care!” Mrs. Hurst declared.
“Brother wrote that she was quite genteel, and Mr. Bingley mentioned her with fondness. But she has been in town for a week now and has not called on you?”
Miss Bingley hastily explained, “No, she has not and I declare it grieves my heart to think of all the kindness I bestowed on her and am now neglected.”
Darcy raised his brow. So Jane Bennet did come to London, and after arriving found better things to do than call on Bingley’s sisters. It did not quite surprise. Mrs. Bennet certainly hoped for a match between her eldest daughter and Bingley, but he never saw anything on the lady’s side to be taken as encouragement, and now she seemed willing to give up the acquaintance entirely.
He noticed the relief on Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley’s faces when the conversation turned. It was clear they did not want to discuss the Bennets in front of him. Likely both were too aware of his recent fascination with Elizabeth. He was beginning to think of their acquaintance with some regret. One regret was that he had been so transparent in his preference for her, and it had raised Miss Bingley’s jealousy more than once.
In due time the visitors left, and Georgiana returned to her lessons. Bingley paid a late call, after dinner, and the two gentlemen sat in the library.
“Bingley, you will exhaust yourself with all this constant going and coming. Whom did you visit today?”
“My old friend from university, Palmer.”
“And does Palmer have a pretty sister?”
“Aye! How did you know?”
“Every time I meet with you I am given a new account of three or four of the prettiest ladies you have ever seen in your life.”
“I am not as bad as that!”
“You have always been a bit flighty with the ladies, but now one can barely keep your interest for an entire dinner party. You must be careful to not gain a reputation.”
“I am no rake!”
“No, but you could easily be taken for one as you do nothing but flatter every lady in the room. Or worse, you could genuinely feel attached to a lady and be refused because she doubts your constancy.”
Bingley did not speak, and Darcy felt the need to press on. He had saved him explicitly from mercenary women before but Bingley never acted thusly.
“Is there a cause for your recent exuberance for society?”
“I know not what I am about. I am tied up in knots by a lady. But that is precisely the type of thing on which you would know nothing.”
Oh, but he did. Not for the first time he wondered if Elizabeth had taken his hints to consult her uncle about wills being ignored. He suspected Wickham told her some variation of Darcy ignoring his father’s will and denying Wickham either money or the valuable living set aside for him. He chose not to answer his friend directly, nor could he speculate who worried his friend. He would wait until Bingley named a lady, like always.
“Come, I daresay she will be forgot easily enough. Especially at the rate you are going, meeting a dozen new ladies a night!”
February 8, 1812
Elizabeth read Jane’s latest letter in anger. Unsurprised by Miss Bingley dropping the acquaintance entirely, their callous treatment of Jane still disgusted her.
Poor Jane! Even she suspected duplicity at this point, but Elizabeth felt less assured than before. As much as she hated to admit it, she found it quite possible Mr. Bingley simply no longer favoured her sister. Of course, that his sisters and friend wished him to marry Miss Darcy there could be no doubt.
She looked out her bedroom window and sighed. The fall had seemed so encouraging and bright. What could be finer than new acquaintances and possible suitors at that time! Instead, Mr. Bingley proved inconstant, Mr. Darcy proved hateful, the ladies proved superior and scheming, and even the militia held little interest to her now.
Wickham’s attentions were over, and she did not feel the loss. Besides having no strong regard on her side, his income was insufficient—due to Darcy. It was prudent that Wickham now attached himself to a lady who recently inherited ten thousand pounds.
Visiting her friend Charlotte brought some anticipation, but Elizabeth expected little pleasure, knowing her company included Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Sir William and Maria Lucas. Most of the party were known to her, and she had every expectation that Lady Catherine’s condescension would be amusing but soon prove tiresome. Perhaps by having such low hopes the visit would prove more bearable. At least she would be able to see Jane and know for herself that she was not ill over Bingley’s abandonment. She hoped the Gardiners had decided on the details of their summer tour. Tiring of the seaside and perfectly ordered resorts, she longed to see the wildness of the North.
She felt tempted to rearrange the dried flower arrangement before her for the tenth time that day, but did not touch it for fear it would crumble. She missed the sunshine and warmer weather of the past summer and the autumn. Spring seemed interminably far away. She missed her sister’s calming words and her friend’s good sense. For a lingering moment, she thought of how lonely she was with Charlotte married and away and Jane in London for months. But then, Jane never approved of her moods and distrust of others. Charlotte she apparently never understood at all if she could marry Mr. Collins only for such mercenary motives. The sobering truth descended on her. Only the quality of company, not the quantity, would abate the feelings of loneliness.
While many wise people might conclude there must be an error in themselves to make them so deficient, Elizabeth’s pride revolted at the idea. Jane was simply too trusting and Charlotte too practical, and that was all there was to it. Elizabeth remained implacable in her opinion of her own discernment and judgment.