The sitting room of Longbourn was a flurry of activity while Mrs. Bennet held court. Lydia and Kitty squabbled over a bonnet, their high-pitched bickering providing a counterpoint to their mother’s ceaseless chatter.
Elizabeth sat quietly in a corner, an unusual scene that did not escape Jane’s notice.
“You’re quiet today,” Jane observed softly, her gentle eyes filled with concern as she sat next to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth sighed, tugging at the edge of her skirt in frustration. “I suppose I am,” she admitted. Her gaze was fixed on the delicate embroidery of the cushion on her lap.
Jane studied her sister for a moment before venturing, “Is this about Mr. Darcy?”
Elizabeth stiffened slightly but did not deny it. “I just don’t understand him,” she confessed, her fingers picking at an errant thread on her skirt. “He’s so… aloof.”
“Perhaps he’s not used to our country ways,” Jane suggested kindly.
“Or perhaps he’s just cold and unfeeling,” Elizabeth retorted, her voice sharper than she intended.
Jane blinked in surprise at Elizabeth’s harsh tone but did not waver. “I don’t think that’s fair, Lizzy,” she said gently. “Mr. Darcy may be reserved, but I don’t believe he is unfeeling.”
Elizabeth sighed, letting her fingers rest on her lap. Jane’s defense of Mr. Darcy made her wonder if she was too quick to judge him. It was not a comfortable realization. “Why would you say that, Jane?” Elizabeth asked, looking up at her sister.
Jane’s face softened as she took in Elizabeth’s confusion. “I’ve seen him watch you when he thinks no one is looking,” Jane confessed.
Elizabeth blinked in surprise, the news making her heart pound in her chest. “Watch me?” she repeated, incredulous. “But why?”
Jane shrugged, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “Perhaps he finds you as fascinating as you find him perplexing,” she suggested.
Elizabeth shook her head dismissively, a blush creeping up her cheeks. “That’s absurd,” she declared, though the idea intrigued her more than she cared to admit.
A sudden shriek interrupted the Bennet sisters’ discussion. “Lydia! That’s my bonnet!” Kitty wailed, reaching for the fashionable headpiece her younger sister had swiped.
Mrs. Bennet, let out a frustrated sigh. “Enough!” she declared, clapping her hands. “Lydia, Kitty, take yourselves to Meryton and purchase another bonnet! I cannot abide this racket!”
The Bennet girls complied, albeit reluctantly, and soon found themselves on the road to Meryton. Elizabeth felt a sense of relief as they left the clamor of Longbourn behind.
As they strolled from shop to shop in Meryton, Elizabeth’s mind was elsewhere. She couldn’t help but dwell on Jane’s words about Mr. Darcy’s apparent interest in her. It was a perplexing thought that gnawed at her composure.
Her musings were interrupted by Lydia’s excited whisper, “Look! There he is! The friend of Mr. Bingley – the proud one!” Elizabeth followed Lydia’s pointing finger and spotted Mr. Darcy riding towards them.
Heat rushed to her cheeks as she realized he was inescapable even in Meryton. His aloof demeanor felt like a slap in the face – a stark reminder of her failed attempts at tempting him.
The gentlemen descended from their steeds, boots crunching on the gravel path. Mr. Bingley strode towards them, his features alight with a familiar buoyancy that seemed to naturally gravitate towards Jane.
“Good day, ladies!” His voice rippled through the air, imbued with a playful cheerfulness that was as infectious as it was sincere.
Mr. Bingley’s eyes, bright and warm, darted quickly amongst the sisters before finally resting on Jane. There, they remained, a soft, lingering gaze that held an unmistakable fondness.
Jane’s return of his smiles was soft, a gentle warmth radiating from her eyes as she met his. In stark contrast to Mr. Bingley’s jovial demeanor stood Mr. Darcy – silent and seemingly uninterested in their presence, an unwelcome reminder of his boorish dismissal at the assembly.
Elizabeth forced herself to maintain her composure as the cool indifference in Mr. Darcy’s gaze washed over her. His disregard stung, leaving her with a sour taste in her mouth.
Mr. Bingley continued his cheerful conversation with Jane and Elizabeth, his words flowing as smoothly as a stream in springtime. His gaze rarely strayed from Jane, the softness in his eyes belying his feelings for her.
Interrupting the easy exchange, Lydia piped up, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Mr. Bingley,” she trilled, “will you be hosting a ball at Netherfield soon?”
Before Mr. Bingley could respond, Kitty’s exclamation drew their attention. “Look! The officers from the militia!” she cried, pointing down the street.
Elizabeth turned to see a group of uniformed men approaching them. As they neared, Elizabeth noticed Mr. Darcy’s reaction. His usual stoic expression had shifted into a hardened glare, his gaze fixed on the approaching officers with an intensity that left her puzzled. But then Elizabeth realized it was not all the officers, but one in particular that was the object of Mr. Darcy’s ire, the new officer.
But she had little time to ponder Mr. Darcy’s odd behavior as Lieutenant Denny approached with a new face by his side. “Ladies,” he greeted them with a broad smile before turning to introduce the stranger at his side, “May I present Mr. Wickham.”
Mr. Wickham was undoubtedly handsome, with a roguish charm that radiated from him like warmth from a hearth. His smile was infectious, reaching his eyes and lighting them up in a way that was entirely too captivating. He was everything Mr. Darcy was not – warm, engaging, charming.
Elizabeth couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the two men. She felt drawn to Mr. Wickham’s easy charm while repelled by Mr. Darcy’s aloof demeanor – made even colder by his evident distaste for Mr. Wickham.
She decided then and there to focus her attention on the new officer that had a much more pleasant mien. To her surprise and satisfaction, Mr. Darcy seemed to bristle suddenly giving the most perfunctory of bows, mounted his horse and rode off, leaving the group in stunned silence. Even Mr. Bingley looked taken aback by his friend’s abrupt departure.
Elizabeth watched him go, her mind whirling with questions. What had caused such a reaction in the usually composed Mr. Darcy? Why did he harbor such disdain for the amiable Mr. Wickham? And why did she care so much about his abrupt departure?
As she mulled over these thoughts, Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel a sense of triumph that something had managed to shake that man’s distant demeanor.
Lydia, ever the instigator, turned to the group of officers with a gleam in her eye. “We’re having a card party at my aunt Philips’ tonight,” she announced, her voice laced with excitement. “You must all come.”
Mr. Wickham raised an eyebrow at her boldness, but his eyes twinkled with amusement. “That’s very kind of you, Miss Lydia,” he replied smoothly. “But it wouldn’t be proper for us to attend without an invitation from Mrs. Philips herself.”
Undeterred, Lydia darted off towards their aunt’s house across the street. Elizabeth could only shake her head in disbelief at her younger sister’s audacity. She could feel a flush creeping up her neck, embarrassment prickling under her skin.
Mr. Wickham chuckled, his eyes sparkling with mirth. “She certainly is spirited,” he observed, amusement dancing in his eyes.
Mrs. Philips leaned out of the upper window of her home. She waved a handkerchief in the air and called out to the officers, “You are all cordially invited to our card and supper party tonight!”
Elizabeth wished she could melt into the ground as laughter erupted from the group of officers. She turned away from the scene, mortified by the spectacle her family had made of themselves in public once again. She was relieved that Mr. Darcy had already taken his leave; she couldn’t bear the thought of him witnessing such a display.
As they watched Lydia scamper back to them, Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel a strange mix of relief and trepidation for the evening ahead. She wondered how the night would unfold with the officers, particularly Mr. Wickham.
* * *
That evening, Elizabeth Bennet stepped into the parlor of Mr. and Mrs. Philips’ house. The air was thick with laughter, music, and the smell of roasting meat from the kitchen, mingling with the faint aroma of rose water emanating from the ladies’ dresses.
Mr. Wickham, resplendent in his military uniform, caught her eye almost immediately. He was talking animatedly with a group of young ladies, his smile wide and infectious. The moment his gaze landed on Elizabeth, he excused himself and crossed the room to greet her.
“Miss Elizabeth,” he said, bowing before her. His charming smile seemed to light up his entire face. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
Elizabeth returned his smile with a slight blush coloring her cheeks. There was an easiness about him that drew her in.
“Miss Elizabeth,” Wickham began, his charming smile never leaving his face. “It seems that fate keeps bringing us together in the most intriguing ways.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, a playful smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Oh, and how is that, Mr. Wickham?”
“Well,” he said, leaning in slightly closer, his voice low. “It appears we share a mutual acquaintance, though I suspect our opinions of this individual vary greatly.”
“Indeed?” Elizabeth asked, her curiosity piqued. “Who might this be?”
“Mr. Darcy,” Wickham revealed, a hint of bitterness creeping into his voice. His smile faltered for a moment before regaining its usual charm. “We have a…history, you could say.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened slightly. “A history?” she murmured. “That is indeed intriguing.”
In response, Mr. Wickham told a tale that painted Mr. Darcy in a light so dark it made Elizabeth’s stomach churn with anger. According to him, Mr. Darcy had cruelly refused to honor a bequest left to him by his late father – an act of selfishness and malice that left Mr. Wickham in a difficult position.
The story stirred a righteous indignation within Elizabeth. How dare Mr. Darcy act so callously? The urge to confront him, to call him out on his unjust behavior, welled up within her.
Yet, when she suggested this to Wickham, he shook his head. “No, Miss Elizabeth,” he said with a weary smile. “I am not one to stir up trouble. I am content to let the past be.”
Elizabeth admired his restraint, just like a true gentleman, but couldn’t shake the bitterness that clung to her thoughts. Mr. Darcy’s behavior was unforgivable and Elizabeth resolved to keep her distance from him. Her plan to make Mr. Darcy regret ever stating she was not handsome enough to tempt him was finished.
* * *
Night had descended upon Longbourn, its cloak of darkness wrapping around the estate, lending a hush to the bustling activity of the day. Elizabeth Bennet, her mind a whirl of thoughts and emotions, found solace in the quiet company of her sister, Jane. Seated together in their shared chamber, they were bathed in the soft glow of a single candle flickering on a bedside table.
“Jane,” Elizabeth began, her voice laced with an undercurrent of indignation as she relayed Mr. Wickham’s account of Mr. Darcy’s alleged wrongdoing. Her hands moved expressively as she narrated the tale, casting dancing shadows on the wall.
“But Lizzy,” Jane gently interjected when Elizabeth had finished her account, her tone filled with caution and reason. “We must remember we do not know all the details.”
Elizabeth stilled at Jane’s words, feeling a stir of frustration. Her sister was often too kind for her own good, always seeking to find virtue where there seemed to be none.
“Yet Mr. Wickham spoke so candidly,” Elizabeth argued back, “and his manner was nothing short of gentlemanly.”
Jane gave a small sigh, reaching over to cover Elizabeth’s hand with her own. The warmth seeping through their clasped fingers was comforting and familiar.
“Lizzy,” Jane implored gently, “We must be cautious about forming opinions based on one-sided accounts.”
Elizabeth chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully, torn between the temptation to side with Mr. Wickham – who had been nothing but charming – and heed Jane’s wise counsel.
With a reluctant nod, Elizabeth conceded, “You are right, Jane. We must not let ourselves be swayed by charm alone.”
The room lapsed into silence, Elizabeth’s thoughts turned toward the upcoming dinner party at Lucas Lodge. A sense of anticipation coiled in her stomach as she considered what tomorrow might bring.
* * *
Elizabeth strolled through Meryton with her sisters, the next morning. She was lost in thought about her perplexing interactions with Mr. Darcy when a commotion not far from the thoroughfare drew her gaze.
As they neared the blacksmith’s shop, the wide-open doors provided a clear view inside, where a crowd had gathered around a scene of concern. Elizabeth, from her vantage on the street, could see Mr. Darcy crouching beside a small, soot-covered boy who cradled a bandaged hand. The blacksmith, looking both anxious and embarrassed, explained that his son had injured himself whilst observing his work.
To Elizabeth’s surprise, the stern air that always seemed to shroud Mr. Darcy was nowhere in sight. Instead, in a display of unexpected tenderness, he spoke softly to the child, adjusted the makeshift dressing with gentle efficiency, and then presented the boy with a shiny penny, winning a tentative smile from him.
After conferring with the blacksmith and providing some discreet advice on how to guard against future mishaps, Mr. Darcy stood and dusted off his hands.
Retreating from the bustle at the door, Elizabeth watched as he disappeared into the throng, mulling over the compassion he had just shown. The cluster of townspeople began to break apart, Elizabeth contemplated the complexity of Mr. Darcy. This unexpected side of him had muddled her assessment of his character.
The final, edited version!
When the Netherfield party arrives to take up residence in the long-empty Netherfield Hall, rumors swirl that the estate is haunted. Skeptical Elizabeth Bennet laughs off the ghost stories, until a series of eerie events forces her and the aloof Mr. Darcy to confront the possibility of restless spirits stalking the halls.
As bizarre occurrences plague the old house, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are drawn together in the search for answers. Battling fears and prejudices, they forge an unlikely alliance that blossoms into mutual understanding and possibly something more. But not everyone is happy to welcome this connection.
Can Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy overcome the mysterious workings of Netherfield before their hopes for happiness are extinguished? Set during the Christmas season, Halloween JAFF puts a spooky twist on Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in this suspenseful tale of ghostly happenings, romance, and the power of courage and love conquering all.
Pride and Prejudice and Phantasms is a slow burn romance between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet that is over 65,000 words and features hijinks, lighthearted spookiness, a flustered Caroline Bingley and happily ever after for ODC.