Friday, November 9, 2018

Twisted Austen Winners Announced

Thanks so much to everyone who read Young Wickham and entered the giveaway! The book will remain available on this blog just a few weeks more, at which time I will remove it. The story can now be purchased at Amazon.

Without further ado, the two grand winners are:

Patty Edmisson and Glynis

Both will receive a set of decorative clothes pins and ebooks of all the Twisted Austen stories, including Young Wickham.

The two runners up are:

Randi Chance and Deborah Ann

Each will receive a Young Wickham ebook.

Thanks so much to everyone. I will be in touch with the winners soon. I am sorry I wasn't better about replying to everyone's comments. I read them all, it's just that life is terribly busy at the moment (and that's before NaNoWriMo). Happy but hectic. I wish you all beautiful Novembers.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Young Wickham: Part Eight

PART ONE / PART TWO / PART THREE / PART FOUR / PART FIVE / PART SIX / PART SEVEN

When Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley entered upon the scene, having been belatedly alerted to Mrs. Norton’s ailment, the drawing room was yet a scene of chaos. Their appearance had the helpful effect of silencing the many children clamoring around the sofa upon which she lay, her head in Mrs. Bingley’s lap. They parted before their elders like the Red Sea.

“What is wrong? What has happened?” Mrs. Darcy cried, kneeling down beside her sister and feeling for her pulse.

“She ran into the house screaming she had been shot!” Mrs. Bingley said in a shaky voice. “Yet there is no blood.”

Mrs. Darcy began inspecting her sister’s form for injury and Mr. Darcy ordered, “Miss Lee! Miss Jones! Please remove your charges from the room!” The children, suddenly compliant, were quickly ushered out the door, while Edmund approached his father and pulled him aside.

Tom signaled to Mark and George to follow the others, and the three had almost escaped when Mr. Darcy, still beside Edmund, pointed an accusing finger their way and said, “Not you three!"

The boys turned reluctantly around and slowly walked back across the room.

“Edmund believes you may know something of what has befallen your aunt,” he said sternly, looking to his eldest. “I am waiting for you to enlighten me, Tom.”

“We were just in the woods by the lawn,” he smoothly replied. “We came in when we heard Aunt Norton hollering, like everyone else. I don’t know why Edmund should think we have any more information than any of the others.”

Mr. Darcy looked at both Mark and George, neither of whom could hide their guilt as well as Tom, and sighed miserably. He knew not when his son had become such an accomplished liar, but the realization that he was tore at his heart. “Mark? George? What have you to say for yourselves.” Neither boy replied, both staring downward in shame. Mr. Darcy looked again to his son, who confidently met his eye. “Are you lying to me, Tom?”

Tom dropped his gaze and assumed an attitude of repentance. “I am sorry, Father.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“George did not mean any harm,” he quickly said, “I am sure he did not.”

“Me?” George exclaimed in alarm.

“George is not to blame,” Mark spoke up. “It was our idea. He warned us it was a poor one, but we really did not mean to do Aunt Norton any harm.”

“Mark!” Tom exclaimed, his voice a warning.

“What did you do?” Mr. Darcy asked, the words seeming to come from someone else.

Mark swallowed hard, looked pleadingly at Tom, then back at Mr. Darcy. “Tom fired his slingshot across Aunt Norton’s path. He did not hit her. I swear it.”

His nephew’s admission was like a knife in Mr. Darcy’s side, slowly twisting as the full magnitude of what he was hearing sunk in. His son had played a dangerous prank, which was bad enough, but then he lied about it and tried to blame another. He must have thought his father would believe him over this new nephew, the son of his old nemesis. Never had Mr. Darcy felt more a failure, not even when Wickham nearly absconded with his sister, all those many years ago.

Mrs. Norton was beginning to rouse and moan. Mr. Darcy Looked to where his wife sat busily administering to her sister and was grateful she had been spared the burden of her son’s sins, at least temporarily. “Go to my study and wait for me there,” he ordered the three boys. “You too Edmund. I will be in to speak with you shortly.”

§§§

“You betrayed me, Mark!” Tom said as soon as they were in the privacy of Mr. Darcy’s study. “And you too, Edmund. How dare you!”

“How dare I?” Edmund, never one to raise his voice, nearly shouted. “How dare you! Where do you find the audacity, Tom? Have you no thought at all for the lives you endangered? Yes, lives! For you placed George’s life in threat today just as much as you did Aunt Norton’s. I am ashamed to call you brother.”

“You had best not speak so to me,” Tom growled. “I should be sorry to see another prospective rector of Kympton lose his livelihood.”

“It is not in your power to deprive me of my birthright, but it is within Father’s. Yours as well. If nothing else inspires you to contrition, I am certain losing your inheritance would.”

Tom had no reply to this, and for the first time seemed truly chastened.

“What did you mean by ‘another prospective rector of Kympton?’” Mark suddenly asked.

“My father was meant to have the living,” George explained. “Tom implies Uncle Darcy denied it to him, but it is not true. He accepted a cash settlement for the value of the living.”

“I don’t know how you know that,” Mr. Darcy’s voice interrupted the boys, who had not heard the door open. Mr. Bingley followed him into the room. “I am sure your father never told you.”

George blushed but faced his uncle and said, “No, my father spoke rather bitterly of the loss of the living, but long before I came here and met you I realized his version of events did not add up.”

“George has been snooping through old estate ledgers, Father,” Tom said.

“At your insistence,” Edmund appnded, earning him a violent glare from his brother.

Mr. Darcy sighed heavily and dropped into his chair. “Your aunt will recover, though she has suffered a severe shock. I hope all of you understand the seriousness of your actions. Had your thoughtless prank resulted in her death, you might have been held responsible before the law.” He paused to allow this notion to seep into their minds.

“I am very disappointed in you, Mark, to pull such a cruel trick,” Mr. Bingley said. “I must discuss with your mother how best to punish you, but I assure you it will be severe.”

“Yes, Papa,” Mark said. His face spoke his understanding, both showing fear of what might come and acknowledgement that whatever it was, he had earned it.

“Come along, your Uncle Darcy wishes to speak to the others alone.” Mark followed his father out of the room, looking back miserably at his cousins before shutting the door behind him.

“I do not even know where to begin.” Tom opened his mouth to offer a suggestion but an upheld hand stopped his tongue. “Much has been revealed in the past few moments, the severity of which is difficult to digest. Foolish pranks and invasions of privacy aside, we have disharmony between brothers, abuse of power, and deception with which to contend. In the end, the fault must be mine. Somehow, I have failed to instill a proper morality, and Elizabeth and I will have to do something to account for this neglect, but Tom: you must understand the severity of your actions! You are to be the Master of Pemberley someday! Countless people will be dependent on your good sense and honor. Today I fear you have revealed a character unfit for such a task.”

“I am sorry, Father,” he said. “For everything. It was stupid to lead the others in the stunt. I take full responsibility.”

Mr. Darcy’s eyes spoke his pain. “Now you say what you ought to have the moment I inquired. How do I know you do not speak only to appease me? Your first instinct was to evade responsibility for your actions.”

“I am sorry, Father,” Tom said again. “It was very wrong to blame George.”

“Yes, it was. Far worse than it would have been to have tried to put the blame on Mark, who is not in any way beholden to you. Have you apologized to George?”

Tom promptly turned to his cousin and extended his hand. “I am sorry, George. Have I your forgiveness?”

“Yes,” George relented for the second time that day and shook the proffered hand, though he could see no sincerity in Tom’s eyes.

“You will both make a full confession and apology to your Aunt Norris. I imagine she may be in need of a few days of rest to recover herself. You will offer to assist her while she convalesces with anything she requires.”

“Yes, sir,” Tom and George chorused in reply.

“I blush for you, Tom,” he said severely. “Based upon your recent actions, I feel it incumbent to remind you that you shall enact no vengeance upon either Edmund, Mark, and most certainly not George for what has occurred here today.”

“No, sir”.

“We will discuss your punishment further. Edmund, George, before you leave us, I want to clarify a few matters, that they need not be further pursued,” he paused thoughtfully. “Nearly twenty years ago, George’s father did indeed receive a payment from me for the value of the living at Kympton. He professed the intention of studying the law, which the funds provided should have easily covered. As you know, he ended up in a different career, and upon marriage received from me the purchase of an ensigncy in the Regulars, as a means of supporting his wife and future family. These dealings have no bearing on the fissure between myself and him, the reasons for which I trust cannot be found in any ledger. If you have any further questions on the matter, I invite you to ask them now.”

Edmund and George both shook their head in reply, while Tom managed to look as if he had never a care for the subject at all.  

“Very good. I trust the topic may now be permanently closed for discussion. Let me just say your father’s past is not your own, George. Despite your part in today’s outrage, your subsequent conduct reflects well on your character. You aunt and I are very happy to have you with us here at Pemberley.”

“Thank you, Uncle Darcy.”

“Now go. Tom and I have much to discuss.”

The boys left the young heir to his fate, closing the study door behind them.

§§§

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery! I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

Ten years following these events, Thomas Darcy attempted to jump an ominous hedge and broke his neck.

Darcy and Elizabeth, though heartbroken by his death, found solace in the knowledge that he did not suffer and even came to see the good of it in time. Their other children were constant sources of pride and their love for them and each other only grew in intensity throughout the years.

Mr. Norton proceeded Tom to the grave before Edmund was old enough to succeed him. Mrs. Norton left the rectory and took up possession of the far grander Dower House, where she discovered ailments of her own to fill the void the loss of her husband’s gout left in her conversation.

Mr. Carson and Miss Lee, once their services were no longer required by the Darcys, made a future for themselves together and had three very well-educated children to show for it.

The Bingleys lived a charmed existence, rarely touched by loss or grief. Mark studied engineering and invested heavily in the railroad, his private fortune one day outstripping that of all his other relations.

Edmund never did take orders but proved a superior landlord, ensuring the prosperity of Pemberley and all attached to it for generations to come. He spent his later years developing his love of painting and joined the Royal Academy, his works regularly featured in the Summer Exhibition.

The boys never did learn the extent of the elder Wickham’s betrayal of the Darcy family, though the younger George Wickham forever called Pemberley home, his bond with the Darcys solidified and the injuries of the past fully forgotten by the time he was old enough to wed Maria.

THE END

_________________________

 Twisted Austen Giveaway:

Stop by, read the story, and enter to win! Increase your chances of winning by leaving multiple comments (be sure to include you email address in at least one). At the end of the event (giveaway open through November 7th), I will randomly select two grand winners. Each will receive copies of all five Twisted Austen ebooks, including Young Wickham, plus a set (six each) of these adorable decorative clothes pins, purchased at my local grocery here in Switzerland. Two runners up will receive Young Wickham ebooks. What if you already have all the Twisted Austen books? Enter anyway. We'll work something out. This giveaway is open internationally. Extra entries for social media shares, but you must mention them in your comments for credit. Good luck to all who enter, thank you so much for reading, and have a very happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Young Wickham: Part Seven

PART ONE / PART TWO / PART THREE / PART FOUR / PART FIVE / PART SIX

George spent two hours that second day at Pemberley ensconced in the library, reading through entries made in a much younger Mr. Thompson’s hand. The next morning he continued the task before breakfast, attended his first lessons in Mr. Carson’s tutelage, and returned to the library later that day. This pattern continued on Friday, only interrupted when Aunt Lizzy insisted the boy accompany her to Lambton for some much needed new attire. By Saturday, as the family prepared for the arrival of the Bingleys, Mr. Wilcox reported to Mr. Darcy that Midnight had yet been ridden only once by her new master. When his nephew presented himself in the breakfast parlor, Mr. Darcy tasked him with this neglect.

“Is Midnight not to your liking, George?” he asked.

“Oh no, Uncle Darcy! She is magnificent horse. I am most grateful for the consideration you showed in selecting her for me.”

Mr. Darcy glanced at his wife in confusion. “Perhaps you are unaccustomed to having such an animal of your own, but you will need to take her out more regularly. She requires the exercise, and it is now your responsibility to see she gets it and benefit from the exertion yourself. You have no lessons today and our guests will not arrive until later. Join Tom and Edmund when they go out.”

It was George’s turn to glance uncertainly down the table, catching Tom’s eye.

“If my cousin wishes to remain indoors, Edmund can ride Midnight for George today.”

“And what of Hamlet?” Mr. Darcy questioned.

“Wilcox will see he gets some exercise.”

“Your generosity on your brother’s behalf notwithstanding,” Mr. Darcy replied dryly, looking at his eldest with some chagrin, “George must not shutter himself away in library all day long. A young man needs fresh air and activity. You will ride today,” he concluded with finality, speaking directly to George.

“Yes, sir,” came the somewhat meek reply.

“I understand your enthusiasm for the library, George,” Mrs. Darcy said. “When I first came to Pemberley, I too could lose myself in it for hours on end, but that was winter. You will have ample time to hide away in the months to come.”

“I like reading in the library, too,” Maria offered, “but there are many more interesting books there than those old ledgers, Cousin George.”

“Old ledgers?” Mr. Darcy questioned.

“Edmund brought them to my attention my first morning here,” George quickly explained. “They reveal much about the workings of the estate.”

“If you wish to know more of the estate, you would do better to attend Mr. Thompson in his rounds, a task that he performs on horseback, incidentally.”

“I should like that very much, Uncle Darcy.”

“I will arrange it for next week.”

When the meal concluded and the boys headed out towards the stables, Tom questioned George on his progress.

“Have you found anything yet?”

“Well, yes, in fact, I did. There are two entries listing payments made to my father in 1808. The first was a one thousand pound legacy stipulated in your grandfather’s will. The second, more interesting payment was for three thousand pounds.”

“That is a tidy sum of money. What was that for?” Tom eagerly asked.

“I am more curious to know what happened to it,” George said with a slight hint of bitterness, “The note said ‘in lieu of Kympton,’ nothing more.”

“Well! That is something! So my father paid him the value of the living? He must have decided not to take orders, and I cannot say that I blame him. T’would be a dull life for such a man. I think he must have been far better suited to a military career.”

“Perhaps,” George concurred, looking consciously at Edmund, “but I suspect it would have been a better life for his family. Besides, my father did not join the militia for several more years, just before he met my mother. She has told me countless times that when they were first introduced he did not yet have his uniform. All he required was a redcoat to become the most dashing man of her acquaintance.”

“I bet he squandered it gambling and whoring,” Tom replied with some glee.

George had no reply. He feared his cousin was all too correct.

Soon they arrived at the stables and were met by Mr. Wilcox. “Is it true that George’s father was intended for the living at Kympton?” Tom asked with little preamble.

“Aye, and a good thing it was too that Mr. Darcy refused to give it to ‘em. A worse rector ye’d be hard pressed to find.”

“Father refused him?” Edmund asked in surprise.

“We were under the impression that my father rejected the living and was compensated in kind,” George pressed.

“Aye, that he was. But then he turns up here again, a few years later when the old rector died, pestering Mr. Darcy for what he gave up all rights to, fair and square,” he shook his head disapprovingly.  “I’m not one to speak ill of the dead, but he was a bold one, yer father.”

Tom and George exchanged excited glances. “That must be when they cut ties,” the former commented. “Your father joined the militia instead and ran away with Aunt Lydia.”

George was taken aback. He had pieced the story of his parent’s betrothal together well enough, but he would never dare speak of it so openly.

“I’d told ye before, Master Tom, that the past is best left to itself. No good will come of ye pryin’ about in what don’t concern ye.”

“I have said the same, Mr. Wilcox, to no avail,” Edmund said grimly.

“Ye’d do well to heed yer brother, Master Tom,” Wilcox said ominously.  

Tom laughed off the warning. Once the boys were on their way he said, “You can have some more time in the library after tea today, George.”

“But the Bingleys will be here,” Edmund protested.

“When else is he to do it? Sunday is sure to be busy with church and all the family here, and Father has made it difficult for him to sneak off in the mornings. When you ride with Mr. Thompson next week, George, be sure to press him for information. I bet he knows it all.”

“I am not sure I wish to learn anymore,” George said reluctantly. “It makes sense that he and Uncle Darcy fought over the living and explains a great deal of my Father’s grievances.”

“I think there is more to it than that. Such a mundane squabble they would have overcome years ago. Something kept our families from contact until after your father’s death. You must want to know what it was!” Tom insisted. “How could you not? It is your birthright!”

George shook his head. “I did want to know, when I was worried that Uncle Darcy would never accept me, but now that he seems to have taken a liking to me, it seems wrong to pry. Besides, he has proven himself an exceedingly thoughtful and honorable man in my few days here.” He shook his head sadly. “I do not wish to know all the tawdry details of my father’s indiscretions.”

Edmund nodded. “Some information we are better off without.”

“So you are both content to let sleeping dogs lie,” Tom said grimly, surveying his two companions. “Well, so be it, then. Know that I think you both chicken-hearted.”

George felt the injustice of Tom’s words but yet was reluctant to stand up for himself against the domineering heir, even as his cousin’s brittle temperament cast a dark shadow on otherwise rosy prospects. Holding his tongue, he tried to forget his hurt in observation of the landscape, but before this salve had a chance to absorb Tom resumed his censure.

“I understand why you are afraid of what you might learn, George” he taunted. “Certainly you hoped your father was innocent all along and not the dastard we all know him to have been.”

“Badly done, Tom!” Edmund cried in outrage.

He shrugged. “I only speak the truth. Who would not wish to redeem their father’s sullied reputation, no matter how well deserved?”

“No matter the sins of my father,” George spoke in a terse, controlled voice, “they do not give you leave to besmirch his memory so. I shall have your apology.”

“Will you now?” Tom sneered. “And if I refuse, what will you do? Challenge me?”

The suddenly belligerent look in George’s eye suggested it was exactly that course of action he had in mind.

“Tom,” Edmund intervened, “apologize to my cousin. You must.”

“Very well,” Tom relented, adopting an affected manner and bowing dramatically. “I am sorry if Mr. Wickham’s honor was offended. Do accept my humble apology and be assured I shall never so trespass again.”

“Do be serious,” Edmund chided.

“I am serious!” Tom exclaimed. “Do you accept my apology, Cousin?”

George paused before conceding. “Yes.”

“There you have it! Everyone is satisfied,” and Tom turned the subject to what fun they would have once the Bingleys arrived.

§§§

All the family living at Pemberley and Mrs. Norton gathered on the steps of the house to greet the guests. Mrs. Darcy presented George to Mrs. Bingley with pride, and she quickly took the boy into her warm embrace, exclaiming on what she insisted was his uncanny resemblance to Lydia. Mr. Bingley shook his friend’s hand before likewise embracing George, asking about his horse, and generally endearing himself into the boy’s heart. Nearby a seemingly endless stream of Bingley cousins poured out of the three carriages required to transport them all. Tom, delighting in his reunion with Mark, was in great humor, and conducted George through the mass, making introductions with aplomb. A host of attendants soon had the unwieldy crew bustled indoors, and with remarkable efficiency attended to all the various needs and wants of the travelers. George was in awe of their skill, wondering if the assistance Mr. Darcy was sending to his mother would be equally competent. It would mean a vast improvement in the comfort of her household.

The eldest Bingley, Charles, and his next sister, Fanny, were content to sit and take tea with the adults, but all the rest of the youngsters except the very smallest, who had been dispatched to the nursery, were soon again outdoors. Games were organized, and George found himself a valued member of his new social group, proving his skill in both hiding, seeking, and cracking the whip. After having exhausted himself in such pursuits, George retreated from the others to lean against a nearby oak and rest. As his breathing quieted, he became aware of his name being called in a whisper from a nearby shrubbery. Following the sound, he found Tom and Mark hiding behind the foliage.

“Come with us, George!” Tom said. “Aunt Norton just left for Kympton on foot. Mama always offers her the use of a carriage, but she always declines even as she complains about the distance all the while.”

“’I think nothing of the inconvenience to myself,’” Mark mimicked in a high falsetto nothing like their aunt’s voice but no less hilarious to the three boys for its lack of resemblance.

“I am going to give her a fright that will make her think twice about walking alone from now on and spare us all her griping.”

“What do you plan to do?” George asked, and Tom held up a sling shot in response.

“I won’t hurt her. My aim is excellent. It will just unnerve her a bit. You have not yet seen my aunt in high hysterics. It is excellent sport,” Tom said as Mark nodded his concurrence.

“Let us go now before anyone sees us,” he said, leading the way off into the woods. Tom grabbed George by the wrist and pulled him along before he could register any further objection.

The boys forged a trail through the trees in order to cut off the path to Kympton. Soon after they concealed themselves behind a convenient boulder, they perceived the sounds of Mrs. Norton’s approach.

Tom rose from his concealment and took aim, firing his shot just in front of Aunt Norton’s nose and missing her by only a hair. The pebble ricocheted off a nearby tree with a loud bang and the lady screamed, promptly turning on her heels and fleeing back in the direction she came, tripping over her skirts as she went. Tom and Mark smothered their laughter as she ran, but George could find no amusement in the sight. She might have been severely injured, even killed, but when pressed by the others, he forced a smile. Tom and Mark were anxious to return to Pemberley and witness the fallout from their prank. George followed them, a sense of foreboding descending upon him with each step.

At Pemberley they found the house in uproar and the air pungent with the scent of the burnt feathers that Mrs. Bingley waved beneath Mrs. Norton’s nose, who was swooning upon an ornamental chair near the entryway. All the children were gathered around, eagerly ignoring the minders who futilely sought to remove them from the scene. A great deal of the staff had also assembled. Only Edmund saw the three stragglers enter. He approach them and said to Tom in an harsh whisper, “Where were you?”


-->
His brother evaded replying as Mrs. Reynolds arrived and began ordering her underlings to either assist Mrs. Bingley, go fetch a doctor, or return to their duties. Soon Mrs. Norton was being lifted by a footman and carried into the drawing room, followed by a parade of her many nieces and nephews, all of whom suddenly found their dull aunt irresistibly fascinating.
_________________________

 Come back tomorrow to read Part Eight!

 Twisted Austen Giveaway:

Stop by, read the story, and enter to win! Increase your chances of winning by leaving multiple comments (be sure to include you email address in at least one). At the end of the event (giveaway open through November 7th), I will randomly select two grand winners. Each will receive copies of all five Twisted Austen ebooks, including Young Wickham, plus a set (six each) of these adorable decorative clothes pins, purchased at my local grocery here in Switzerland. Two runners up will receive Young Wickham ebooks. What if you already have all the Twisted Austen books? Enter anyway. We'll work something out. This giveaway is open internationally. Extra entries for social media shares, but you must mention them in your comments for credit. Good luck to all who enter, thank you so much for reading, and have a very happy Halloween!