This is from our Austenesque version of March Madness over at Austen Variations, where we’re posting crossover scenes involving characters from different Austen novels.I’ve always wondered if the rakish Henry Crawford who tries to alleviate his boredom by making ‘a little hole’ in Fanny Price’s heart in Mansfield Park could truly have been redeemed by falling in love with her. So naturally I had to set him up against Elizabeth Bennet to see what might happen! My P&P/Mansfield Park crossover turned into a full-length novel, Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections. For plot purposes, I changed Henry Crawford into Lord Charles Carlisle, brother of Elizabeth’s friend Lady Eleanor and distant cousin of Mr. Darcy. Here’s an excerpt introducing Lord Charles to the post-Hunsford Darcy.
Darcy did not anticipate finding any pleasure in spending an evening of dancing and cards at Bentham Park. On his arrival, he found the first set of dances had already started. Lady Bentham was leading the set, but Lord Bentham approached Darcy immediately. “Welcome! I am glad you could join us, Darcy. Come, Charles is in the card room and anxious to see you.”
Although he had little interest in seeing Charles, Darcy was content to go to the card room. He was in no mood for making the acquaintance of young ladies. They only reminded him of what he had lost in Elizabeth, and none of them could hold a candle to her liveliness of spirit and arch wit. But that was enough thoughts of Elizabeth – he would not allow her ghost to haunt his every moment. Firmly he put her from his mind.
“Darcy!” cried Lord Charles Carlisle. “What brings you to this godforsaken corner of the country? Never mind; you are just the man I need. Come join us and perhaps my luck will turn. God knows I deserve some good luck!”
Darcy tilted his head in acknowledgement and took a seat across from Lord Charles. Pulling out the handful of coins he had brought for this purpose, he spread them in front of him. “You may do your worst.”
The next half hour passed tolerably enough. Darcy ignored most of the banter between the other three men until Lord Charles pushed his cards away. “That will have to do for now,” he proclaimed. “I must attend to my latest flirt. After all, I have only a fortnight to make her fall in love with me; and the sooner that is accomplished, the sooner I will be enjoying her favors.” He smirked at the other men’s guffaws when he traced out with his hands the shape of a well-endowed female. “I have some very particular plans for that young lady.”
Bradley looked up over his elaborately knotted cravat. “I say, Carlisle, she is a gentleman’s daughter, don’t you know.”
Lord Charles’s smile widened. “When has that ever stopped me before? I need some amusement to alleviate the utter tedium of this house party. The Season cannot start soon enough for me.”
Newbury drawled, “And I say you will not manage to seduce her. She does not seem the sort to fall prey to your blandishments.”
“Too virtuous, don’t you know,” added Bradley helpfully.
Lord Charles tapped two fingers on the table. “Would you care to place a bet on that, gentlemen? I would be happy to take your money along with her virtue.”
“One hundred guineas says you cannot enjoy her before the end of the house party,” said Newbury without hesitation.
“Agreed,” said Lord Charles. “Who else is in? Bradley? Darcy?”
Bradley looked up from counting his coins. “One hundred from me as well.”
Darcy shook his head, trying not to let his distaste show. He knew of one girl of good family who had disappeared from the ton after Carlisle had set his sights on her, and another whose reputation was ruined. “I bet only on sporting events,” he said evenly.
Lord Charles laughed. “There will be sport aplenty for me in this case! But I must not keep the young lady waiting. I bribed the musicians to make this set a waltz. Perhaps I can discover a few of her charms during it – after all, a man’s hand might happen to slip from her waist, might it not?” He pushed back his chair.
The other two made to follow him. Darcy, with no desire to watch Carlisle take advantage of an innocent girl, went to observe the other game for a few minutes, but the table was full and none of the players showed an inclination to leave. As the strains of the waltz began to drift in from the next room, Darcy decided it should be safe to emerge from the card room now. Perhaps he could find Paxton and convince him to play a few hands of cards, unless he had managed to win the hand of his ladylove for the waltz.
Making his way into the parlor, Darcy scanned the room for Paxton while avoiding the eyes of the matchmaking mamas. Damnation – his friend was already waltzing, his expression dreamy. Darcy’s lips tightened. He had no patience with lovers at the moment.
A light, rippling laugh reached his ears, making his blood run suddenly hot. He knew that laugh. It had haunted his dreams for months. Surely he must be mistaken. What would Elizabeth Bennet be doing among such elevated company?
His heart thudded painfully against his chest as he slowly turned his gaze in the direction of the laughter. For a moment he froze, his body gone rigid at the sight of her light, pleasing form moving gracefully in the turns of the waltz.
Elizabeth was here, in another man’s arms, another man’s hand splayed against her waist. Bile rose in Darcy’s throat when he saw the object of her delighted laughter. She was gazing up into the admiring countenance of Lord Charles Carlisle.
So, do you get the feeling this isn’t going to go well at all? Do stop by Austen Variations and read some of the amazing crossovers in March Madness!