Title: The Coffeehouse—A Regency P&P One-Shot
Fandom: Pride and Prejudice (Regency)
Summary: Elizabeth is sent away to London for not marrying a “suitable” gentleman and, while there, befriends a lost kitten… and perhaps finds a suitor in the enigmatic Mr. Darcy.
Warnings: Unrepentant Fluff, Discussion of Forced/Arranged Marriage(s)
Elizabeth tore out of the house, her skirts flapping around her. Despite her agitated mind, she wished that she could be more temperate and rational Jane – dear, sweet Jane. If she were Jane she could admit all of Mr. Haversham’s qualities, including his nearly three thousand a year and estate in Hertfordshire, and could marry him knowing that if not an entirely good man, he would at least keep his particular indiscretions from ever disturbing her in their home. But she could not, she would not submit to such a demeaning lifestyle. Everyone knew that the man had fathered three children with three of his maids, only to marry them off to tenants. Her mother, in agitation, had told her that it did not signify, it was nothing to her.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” his lady had exclaimed upon Elizabeth’s continued refusal, “you must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Haversham!” And Mr. Bennet, harassed by his wife and knowing that although Mr. Haversham was not a man without fault, he was nonetheless a respectable gentleman who would suit his favorite daughter intellectually. Furthermore, he had shown good judgment by his selection of Elizabeth and his obvious devotion to her.
After a rather heated discussion with his daughter, however, he could not make her see reason and, in a moment where he lacked reason, he told her that she would no longer be welcome in his home if she did not marry Mr. Haversham, a plan which his nervous wife had at first suggested.
Elizabeth, with tears swelling in her eyes, could not bear to look at the man who had raised her and, instead, flew from the room to the silent grounds of Longbourne. In all of her eighteen years, Elizabeth had never known such pain. In the course of an afternoon, she had lost the affection of her beloved parent and the home that she had always dearly loved.
Within a week, with her allowance cut off completely, she found herself with a small trunk with all of her belongings in it in a post coach with a letter explaining the reasons for her banishment to her uncle Gardiner who lived in Cheapside.
She found that the quiet of Cheapside did little to restore her peace of mind, and her uncle, though good that he was, could only spare her a few shillings for pocket money. She had nothing but the few dresses she had been permitted to bring, a pair of gloves, a light coat for the autumn weather, and the bonnet currently perched upon her head.
Her brown eyes were dulled with the change in her condition. Before she had a family and a name. Now she was a banished daughter, with no money and no prospects and if she did not recant, had little but the possibility of being a tradesman’s bride if not an old maid.
The autumn leaves flew around her ankles and Elizabeth could not help but smile slightly as a kitten pattered about the London pavement. A gentlemen stood nearby, but she paid him little attention as she quickly crossed the street and swooped the cat into her arms.
The cat quietly lapped at her fingers, and she could not help but laugh at first before the light hearted sound turned into a quiet sob. “Sh, Mr. Cat, it does no use to cry over what you would not change,” she tried to assure herself as she buried her face in the kitten’s grey fur.
“Are you lost, too, little one? Or have they sent you away, as well?”
She petted the fur and glanced into a nearby store window, which served coffee to its patrons. “How low I have come, little kitten. I could now be the fiancée of Mr. Haversham while he pursues his indescretions with the servants and afford ribbons and ball gowns with the love of my father, or I can be here, alone, in London, until I ‘see the error of my ways.’” Elizabeth laughed hollowly. “I think three thousand pounds a year is not worth such infidelity, no matter the pretty words. Nor would thirty thousand, I daresay.”
She mused and bit her lower lip. “I think I should perhaps save up my measely coins for a pair of winter gloves and not a cup of chocolate. Jane would say it would be more prudent. Then again, she also says marrying Mr. Haversham would be prudent as well and that love and understanding will grow, and that he has a pleasing person.”
Elizabeth had not noticed that throughout her long speech, the gentleman had quietly come closer to her, listening in rapt interest to her words that were so different than those he heard out of the mouths of women in polite London society.
“And Charlotte would say that a man could do as he would, while it is the woman’s place to be faithful and to ensure that her husband was discrete. And Mama. Ah, Mama would screech about three thousand a year, and very likely more, and an estate with a home twice the size of Longbourn, and a small London townhouse, and something about another estate entailed away to him.” Her eyes took a mischievous glint that the gentleman could not help but notice, and she began to mimic her mother. “‘Seven thousand a year, Lizzy, as soon as his uncle dies. My Lizzy, mistress of seven thousand!’ Perhaps you could wed him, little kitten, and then I might return home. I daresay you could buy ample string with seven thousand a year.”
The young woman turned away from the coffee shop with one last longing look before she saw the gentleman she had not noticed before. He was only a few steps away from her, his figure tall and imposing, his face blank with no emotion though a sadness hung in his eyes that she could well understand. He was simply though well dressed—understated in his finery. She felt little and small in comparison, with last year’s country dress of a deep blue hanging off of her thin frame.
She curtsied, her eyes low, and turned away again, intent on perhaps returning to the Gardiners, when he stopped her with an outstretched hand that almost touched her shoulder.
“Forgive me, Madam, but I could not help but overhear your conversation with your—companion.” His shocking blue eyes looking imploringly at her.
“It is of no consequence,” was her quiet answer.
He bowed. “Allow me to introduce myself. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.”
Elizabeth looked at Mr. Darcy astonished, so much so that several moments passed before she could recollect her surroundings. “Miss Elizabeth,” she finally offered, not wishing to give her father’s name. It was a stubbornness that was perhaps ill suited for her, but an emotion she clung to nonetheless.
“A pleasure, Miss Elizabeth.” He paused, contemplating her face and the soft tendrils that fell around her face. “Might I interest you – and your guardian, of course – in a cup of coffee?”
When he saw Elizabeth hesitating, he quickly continued. “I mean only the upmost of respect toward your person. I would wish to become better acquainted with a young woman of standing who is not interested in seven thousand pounds,” he gently teased and Elizabeth looked up, startled.
“I fear my only guardian this afternoon is my confessor,” he indicated the grey kitten. She hesitated again, looking longingly through the window. “I would not object to a cup of chocolate as long as we were in the company of others, Mr. Darcy.”
He smiled slightly before indicating that she precede him through the door. “Miss Elizabeth.”
She smiled at his nicety and setting the kitten down with a scratch behind the ears, she walked into the nice establishment and took a seat by the window. Darcy quickly called someone over and ordered an assortment of teacakes, a karafe of warm chocolate. They sat in silence, each observing the other, before Darcy broke the silence.
“How long have you been in London, madam?”
“Ten weeks, Mr. Darcy. I fear I am proving to be a rather stubborn daughter.”
“Ten weeks,” he murmured, thinking quickly. “I don’t think my younger sister has held a notion for that long, except her love for the pianoforte.”
“Miss Darcy plays then?” she asked, seizing on the topic of conversation.
“She does,” he conceded. “It has helped her through her grief at our father’s recent passing. She is quite accomplished.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” she said without artifice. “I hope your mother has been able to help her.”
“I fear my mother died when Georgiana was still small,” he conceded. He paused as their cakes and chocolate were served and watched, entranced, as Elizabeth took up the role of hostess, her thin wrists twisting quickly as she elegantly and without fanfare served each of them. “It is just the two of us, I am afraid.”
She nodded. “It is—difficult being suddenly alone in the world, sir. Fortunately I have my aunt and uncle, and they are good to me though they have four children of their own as well as their business.”
His eyebrows rose. “Your uncle is in trade?” he asked quietly.
She tilted her head in acknowledgement. “He is. My father, however, is a gentleman,” she said quickly. The gentleman across from her had impressed Elizabeth and although she adored her aunt and uncle dearly and was not ashamed of them, she did not want him to leave too soon. She felt drawn to him, to his stiff stature and the sadness in his own eyes. His grief appeared to be somewhat recent like her own, and she felt a kinship to the handsome and slightly proud man seated with her in the coffeehouse.
Not too proud, though, she thought to herself. He is still sitting here with me.
“Where is his estate?”
“Hertfordshire,” she answered, smiling sadly as she remembered it. “I miss the Autumn there.”
“I have never been to Hertfordshire, I must confess.”
“It is beautiful,” she supplied. “What of Derbyshire, sir? Is it beautiful in the Autumn months?”
“Yes,” he said, taking a cake and setting it on his plate. “I think it is the most beautiful place on earth. There is a small town near Pemberley called Lambton and there is this fine horse chestnut tree that is resplendent this time of year.”
Elizabeth looked up startled. “You live near Lambton, Mr. Darcy?”
“Yes,” he answered succinctly, setting down his cup and observing his companion. “Do you know it?”
“My aunt grew up in Lambton. She has spoken of it often and with great feeling.”
“I hope you will see it one day, perhaps soon,” he said quietly, his eyes meeting her with great emotion, startling her.
She could not answer, confused by his words.
The door opened letting in new patrons, breaking the moment, and Elizabeth looked away.
“Tell me,” he began again, “do you have any brothers or sisters?”
She took a long sip of her chocolate, her eyes shadowed by memories. “I am the second of five sisters, Mr. Darcy.”
He nodded. “And this Jane and Charlotte you spoke of to the small kitten—are they your sisters perhaps?”
She laughed. “Jane is my eldest sister. She is very beautiful, the most beautiful of us all, as well as kind and gentle. Charlotte is a dear friend of mine, however. I fear both believe in marrying for concerns other than marital felicity.”
“You are all unmarried?” he inquired quietly.
Her head snapped up to him, her answer plain on her face.
“I admire your courage then, Miss Elizabeth, especially as your father does not have a son to necessarily ensure the succession of his estate.”
“I think many would prefer to call it something other than courage, sir,” she responded wryly.
“Most likely,” he responded, leaning back and taking in her form steadily. “Miss Elizabeth,” he began formally, “would you permit me to call on you the day after next for the purpose of courtship?”
Her eyes widened slightly and she quickly set her cup down, rattling it in the saucer slightly. “I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I wish to court you,” he replied simply. “I have never come across a woman such as yourself, one who would not marry for wealth or connections. Do you wish me to continue?”
She nodded, her eyes piercing his.
“Miss Elizabeth, I am a man of great wealth and I am constantly pursued for it. I have a sister at a vulnerable age and my family are right—she needs a sister, but I would not wish to enter into matrimony simply to acquire her a companion. You are beautiful and articulate, and I would wish to know you better as you are unlike anyone I have ever met. In this past half hour I have felt more emotion toward you than I have for all of the other women of my acquaintance during my life.”
“I have no money,” she protested weakly.
“Money is not an object, madam.”
She glanced down at her hands in her worn gloves and then looked up again, taking in the man across from her. “Of course, Mr. Darcy, I would be honored.” She smiled. “I live with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in Gracechurch Street.”
He nodded and took out a small pencil and a card, writing it down. “May I escort you home, madam?” he inquired, standing and helping her from her chair.
“Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she said quietly, a spark of life in her eyes, and with a quick look around the room, the future Mrs. Darcy, walked out into the streets of London with her suitor behind her.