Over beer at The Chawton Arms, they decide to take letter writing out of Miss Austen’s hands and into their own. Heaven help the recipients!
“Wentworth, really,” Fitzwilliam Darcy protested. “I’m surprised at you.”
“I’m a sailor, blast it,” Frederick Wentworth muttered. “And sailors can’t write!”
“They can curse, apparently,” said Darcy.
Captain Wentworth threw down his pen. “She knows that I cannot write! And yet here I am, struggling to pour out my heart.”
George Knightley strolled over. “Who knows you can’t write?” he said mildly.
“Your authoress, Miss Austen,” said Patrick McGillvary. “She’s making Wentworth write a letter to Anne Elliot. He figured he ought to get a head start, what with the dyslexia and all.”
Knightley drew up a chair. “Let’s see what you have. Perhaps we can help.”
Darcy lifted the page from the desk. “I CAN LISTEN NO LONGER IN SILENCE,” he read aloud. He looked up. “What, was Miss Elliot ranting at you?”
“Brutal,” remarked Darcy.
He continued reading. “I MUST SPEAK TO YOU BY SUCH MEANS AS ARE WITHIN MY REACH.”
Admiral McGillvary put down his tankard. “Look, I can appreciate the attempt at artistic prose, but what is the point of saying this? Cut to the chase, man!”
“He’s got a point,” said Knightley.
Captain Wentworth crossed out the sentence.
“And that’s a spelling error.” Darcy pointed to the page. “YOU PIERCE MY SOUL should be YOU PIERCE MY SOLE.” He steepled his fingertips. “And women say we men need a dictionary.”
“Don’t we?” said Knightley.
“Not at all. Besides,” said Darcy, “I employ a secretary for that. Several of them, as a matter of fact. And,” he added, “you’re not the only sufferer, Wentworth. Miss Austen made me write a letter to Elizabeth Bennet!”
“She didn’t!” said Knightley. “I’d rather face lions than write to Emma Woodhouse! Did your secretary help?”
Darcy heaved a sigh. “He couldn’t. Miss Austen made me stay up all night to write it.”
“What is it with female authors and letters?” complained McGillvary. “Actions speak louder than words, as any man knows! We’d better have a look at yours, Darcy. Who knows what slop Miss Austen’s having you say.”
“In a minute,” Darcy said. “Listen to this. It’s pretty good. I AM HALF AGONY, HALF HOPE.”
“Oh, for crying out loud! Agony,” said Admiral McGillvary, “is an amputation at sea! With sharks circling the raft! Not a broken heart.”
“It’s only half agony,” Wentworth pointed out. “Fine. No agony.”
He took the letter from Darcy. I AM FEELING PRETTY BAD, he wrote. AND I’M KIND OF HOPING YOU’LL STOP TALKING TO HARVILLE, READ THIS LETTER, AND GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE. He looked up at Darcy. “How’s that?”
Darcy went back to reading. “I OFFER MYSELF TO YOU AGAIN…” He lowered the page. “Really, Wentworth. Ought you to beg?”
“But it isn’t–”
“Sounds like begging to me, my dear,” said McGillvary. “Continue,” he told Darcy.
“…WITH A HEART EVEN MORE YOUR OWN THAN WHEN YOU BROKE IT EIGHT YEARS AND A HALF AGO. Ouch,” Darcy added.
Admiral McGillvary was shaking his head. “Eight years,” he said. “Eight LONG years. All those shore leaves spent in your cabin sewing on buttons.” He elbowed Knightley. “Wentworth does a mean blanket stitch.”
But George Knightley was frowning. “Is it wise,” he said, “to offer oneself so forthrightly? Shouldn’t a fellow hedge a bit?”
Wentworth took up the pen. “Fine. No offering.” He wrote, YOU BROKE MY HEART EIGHT YEARS AGO.
“Eight LONG years,” McGillvary put in.
Wentworth underlined LONG. “How about this sentence? I HAVE LOVED NONE BUT YOU.”
“Seriously?” said Darcy. “There was no one else?”
Wentworth’s expression became mulish. “NONE. BUT. YOU,” he repeated.
“And even it it weren’t true, he can scarcely own it,” said Kinghtley. “What’s he going to say, I HAVE LOVED THREE OR FOUR, IN ADDITION TO YOU?”
“That would be the other Austen chap,” said McGillvary. “The one our girls don’t write. What’s-his-name, Willoughby?”
“Or that brute Wickham,” muttered Darcy. And then he cried, “Hey!” because Wentworth had snatched a sheaf of pages from his pocket.
“Aha!” Captain Wentworth crowed. Grinning, he held aloft three closely-written sheets. “This must be your letter!”
“I–had a lot to say,” Darcy protested. “Kindly recollect that I was sleep-deprived.”
“Did you tell her that?” McGillvary said. “Deal is, if I were up all night writing a flaming epistle–for that’s what this is, Darcy–I’d want the woman to know. Here,” he said, and took the first sheet from Wentworth. “8:00 AM” he wrote below the date.
McGillvary began to read the first page aloud. “BE NOT ALARMED, MADAM.” He stopped. “Why bring up alarm?” he said. “Does Miss Bennet have a reason to be scared of this letter? For reasons other than length?”
“Be positive, Darcy,” Wentworth urged. “Think happy thoughts.”
“Don’t worry, be happy,” Darcy muttered, crossing out the paragraph.
Knightley was reading from the second page. “And what’s all this about her family?” he said. He read the offending sentence aloud: “THE SITUATION OF YOUR MOTHER’S FAMILY, THOUGH OBJECTIONABLE, WAS NOTHING IN COMPARISON OF THAT TOTAL WANT OF PROPRIETY–” His brows went up. “Eloquently said. If your intention is to offend the socks off your beloved!”
“But–” said Darcy.
“I know. You were sleep deprived. And under pressure from Miss Austen to be prosaic,” said McGillvary. “Just use plain English. Pretend you are writing to one of us. One of the guys.”
“One of the guys, one of the guys,” Darcy repeated under his breath. He drew forward another sheet.
DON’T GO ALL TO PIECES, ALL RIGHT? he wrote. IT’S NOT LIKE I’M GOING TO ASK YOU TO MARRY ME AGAIN. AND I DIDN’T GET THAT YOUR SISTER LIKES BINGLEY SO MUCH. NOBODY TELLS ME ANYTHING. AS FOR THE DEAL WITH YOUR FAMILY, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT THAT YOUR MOTHER SUFFERS FROM–
Darcy looked up. “What does Mrs Bennet suffer from? Excess nerves?”
“Schizotypal Narcissistic Personality disorder,” supplied Knightly.
“Quite the addition to the Darcy gene pool,” said McGillvary. “Nice.”
Darcy grimaced and took up his pen. YOUR MOTHER, he wrote, IS A FREAK OF NATURE. AND I CAN’T—”
“—write that or you’ll be sued,” finished Knightley. He tapped the page with his index finger. “Nice little case of libel, right there. That family needs money, Darcy. And you’re a deep pocket.”
“So leave out the part about her family,” said Wentworth. “I would. Besides, the Bennets are nothing to the Elliots. Talk about a flaming freak circus—!”
“Most definitely,” said Knightley. “He trained as a lawyer, didn’t he? Odd how many Austen villains trained as lawyers.”
Meanwhile, Captain Wentworth had the third page. He labored to read, his brows knit together in a frown. Then he took a sharp breath. “He did what? Wickham did what to your sister?” Wentworth shouted. “And you let him live?”
Darcy colored up. “Wickham’s old father was loved by my family. So out of respect—”
“I don’t care,” cried Wentworth, “if the fellow was my father’s freaking best friend! Or MY best friend, for that matter! He kidnaps my sister with the aim to molest her, he dies. End of story.”
Admiral McGillvary took the page. “And he’s in the army, you say? Easy solution there,” he said. “Death by target practice. Oops!”
“I believe the term is Friendly Fire,” said Knightley. “Not all those killed in battle are trying to be heroes.”
“I know! Let’s lynch him now,” said McGillvary. “I’ve nothing to do tonight.” He turned to Captain Wentworth. “We’ve not had a good keel-hauling for some time.”
“What brutes these Navy types are,” Darcy said to Knightley.
But George Knightley was pulling on his gloves. “Works for me,” he said. “That Wickham fellow is holed up in London, right? John won’t mind putting us up.”
McGillvary shrugged on his overcoat. “You’re star-crossed lovers, man,” he said. “It’s destiny. Besides, those women have adored you and Wentworth all along. By now they regret not being nicer. They’ll like those letters. You’ll manage.”
“Manage?” said Darcy. “Is that what you did to win Elizabeth Elliot?”
McGillvary spread his hands. “Haven’t exactly won her yet, have I? Instead of a letter, I lied my head off. Not the best way to handle romance. Then again, my authoress isn’t Miss Austen. She’s worse. She’s a–”
Wrinkling his nose, McGillvary looked to Knightley. “What did you say Mrs Bennet suffered from? Skizo-freako-what’s-it disorder? Sounds about right.”
Knightley cast his gaze to the ceiling. “Don’t let’s go criticizing our authors,” he protested. “Miss Austen might be listening. I don’t mind hog-tying Wickham, or whatever it is we’re going to do. Miss Austen might even approve. But I can’t face writing a romantic letter to Emma! And it would be like Miss Austen to make me do it!”
Captain Wentworth clapped Darcy on the shoulder. “C’mon, old man, get your overcoat and hat,” he said. “We’ll pop our letters into a post box along the way. We haven’t got a ship, so keel-hauling is out. You ever see The Godfather, Darcy?”
The End ♥
Happy Extravaganza to one and all!
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Your friends from The Crown Hill Writers’ Guild
Laura Hile (Mercy’s Embrace series)
Susan Kaye (Frederick Wentworth, Captain series)
Barbara Cornthwaite (George Knightley, Gentleman series)
Pamela Aidan (Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series, Young Master Darcy)