A Favorable Impression is the second book in my collection of standalone P & P variations, The Other Paths Series. Each book features a different “what if” scenario that brings Darcy and Elizabeth together via a slightly different path than the original novel.
This story postulates “what if Darcy and Elizabeth had met at Pemberley?” In Austen’s original masterpiece, Pemberley is where Elizabeth gets a taste of Darcy’s true character, and many readers insist that Pemberley is where she fell in love with him. So I thought to myself, “what if I spun Pride and Prejudice on its head and had them like each other at first, only for it all to come apart after Darcy meets her family?” Hmm, a guy wanting to head for the hills after meeting their significant other’s family. Yeah, that’s not relatable at all 😉
All jokes aside, I hope you will love this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers story that I’ve given Our Dear Couple. It’s got plenty of humor, light on the angst, and of course, ends in a Happily Ever After.
Here is an excerpt from the book, to whet your appetite.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a favorable impression goes a long way in securing the good opinion of another. Elizabeth Bennet’s opinion of Mr. Darcy was first formed during her tour of the beautiful house and grounds of Pemberley with her sister and her aunt and uncle.
For the past few weeks, they had visited all the principal sights that the region had to offer. They had seen the beauties of Dovedale and Matlock, climbed the Peaks, seen the ruins at Kenilworth, and toured Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace.
They had now reached the town of Bakewell, and over breakfast at the inn were discussing if there was anything worth seeing on their way to Mrs. Gardiner’s childhood home of Lambton.
“I believe we are quite near Pemberley,” Mr. Gardiner remarked, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Indeed, we are!” His wife remarked. “I would very much like to see it again, if it is not too much out of our way.”
Mr. Gardiner consulted his map and determined that it would not take them more than a mile out of their way to see it.
“What do you recall of the place?” Elizabeth asked her aunt.
“I have not been there since I left to go away to school, but it was very grand. As beautiful as Chatsworth, if not more so,” Mrs. Gardiner answered. “And the woods are some of the finest in the county. A river runs through the property and feeds its lake, which I am told boasts excellent fishing.”
“Well, in that case, we had certainly better go!” Mr. Gardiner chuckled. He was an avid fisherman, though he seldom had the opportunity to enjoy it.
Jane smiled. “It all sounds marvelous.”
With nothing to impede their plans, they set off immediately after breakfast.
“You know, Lizzy, I believe your friend Mr. Wickham spent his whole childhood at Pemberley. His father was the steward.” Mrs. Gardiner remarked while they were in the carriage.
Elizabeth felt her cheeks grow warmer. Mr. Wickham’s good looks and charming manners made a fine impression on all the ladies of Meryton when he joined the regiment that was quartered there the past autumn. Elizabeth could not help but like him also. He was friendly and affable, and though they had little in common, they always seemed to find plenty to converse about. But though she found his company pleasing and thoughts of him made her heart flutter from time to time, she knew that her lack of dowry made it impossible that their relationship could evolve beyond friendship. Besides that, her youngest sister, Lydia, was hopelessly infatuated with him. They argued, more than once, because Mr. Wickham had given Elizabeth preference over Lydia at a gathering. Elizabeth hoped that in time, Lydia would come to realize, as she had, that there was little chance of either of them ever being given an offer of marriage from someone as poor as Mr. Wickham.
Despite all this, Elizabeth had a curiosity to see the home where Mr. Wickham had grown up. The carriage passed over a bridge fording the river Mrs. Gardiner had spoken of, and then the great house came into view. It was situated prominently on rising ground. The river wound through the property, feeding into a shimmering lake that only magnified the beauty of the mansion overlooking it. Pemberley House was a magnificent stone structure built in the Palladian style with a triangular pediment and columns gracing the front of it.
“I believe you are right, Aunt Gardiner,” Elizabeth remarked, “Chatsworth House has its equal in Pemberley.”
Jane suggested, “Perhaps the builders took Chatsworth as their inspiration for Pemberley.”
“Or perhaps Pemberley was the inspiration for Chatsworth,” Elizabeth countered. “Which came first: the chicken, or the egg?” She grinned.
Aunt Gardiner gave a little laugh. “I do not know which was built first, so I cannot say. But in my opinion, Pemberley is just a little more superior.”
“Who is the master here?” Elizabeth wanted to know.
“Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, I believe.” Mrs. Gardiner replied. “His father and mother knew my parents.”
“Have you ever met the son?”
“Just once, when he was a lad.”
The carriage pulled up onto a wide, paved driveway beside the main entrance. After requesting to see the house, they were admitted to the hall. As they waited for the housekeeper, Elizabeth marveled at the room in which they were in. The ceiling rose up a full two stories and was covered in a fresco depicting life-size angels and biblical figures in various scenes. The walls, too, each held several massive, Renaissance-era paintings in the same style. The housekeeper entered, her heels clicking along the marbled parquet flooring. Her graying hair peeped out from beneath her white mob cap and she had a friendly expression. She introduced herself as Mrs. Reynolds.
They asked whether they might be given a tour.
“Oh yes, the master does not return until tomorrow, so I would be happy to show you the house,” she confirmed.
They followed her up a staircase lined with plush, red velvet. The main floor of the house bustled with servants carrying on various tasks.
“You will have to excuse the state of things,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “The house has been vacant since last August. The master spends most of his time in London and other parts of the country. We only got word yesterday that he would be coming with a large house party, so we are making everything ready.”
“We seem to have come at a bad time, then,” Jane commented.
“Oh no, Miss, we have it all well at hand!” Mrs. Reynolds answered cheerily. “But it is well that you have come today, for yesterday much of the furniture was covered up and the valuables put away in the attics. The house is in a much better state to be seen today.”
She showed them the formal drawing room filled with tasteful, Italian furnishings, a dining room decked in luxurious red carpets and curtains, an impressive library that made Elizabeth more than a little envious, and a music room with gilded walls that matched the gilded harp that stood as the focal point of the room.
“Who plays the harp?” Elizabeth asked.
“The master’s sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy. She is a most accomplished musician. She plays the pianoforte and sings as well.”
“It is a pity that your master is not at home more often to enjoy such splendid surroundings,” Mrs. Gardiner remarked.
Mrs. Reynolds nodded as she led them up another staircase. “Indeed. If he were to get married, then we might see more of him. But I do not know when that will ever be. Here is his picture now. This was painted only last year.” They had reached a long gallery filled with paintings of members of the Darcy family. Elizabeth looked at the portrait of Mr. Darcy that stood before them. She judged him to be a young man, perhaps in his late-twenties. He had dark, curly hair, a strong jaw, and a noble mien. His expression was somber, but there was a kindness in his eyes which stirred her.
“What sort of man is Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth wanted to know.
“Oh, the very best!” Mrs. Reynolds exclaimed. “I never heard a cross word from him, and I have known him since he was four years old. He takes prodigious good care of all the servants and tenants under his domain, and you never saw a more attentive brother– or a better friend.”
Mr. Gardiner’s head bobbed. “He seems quite a good fellow!”
“Indeed!” Mrs. Reynolds agreed. “I hope you have the good fortune to meet him sometime.”
They passed a set of miniatures on display and Mrs. Gardiner leaned in closer to examine them.
“Here is one you might recognize, Lizzy and Jane.” She pointed to a small oval frame containing a portrait of a handsome young man. The artist had expertly captured his boyish smile.
“Why, it is Mr. Wickham!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
Mrs. Reynolds tilted her head in curiosity. “Do the young ladies know Mr. Wickham?”
They explained their acquaintance with him through his being stationed in their hometown.
“He was the son of our late steward,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “But I am afraid he has turned out very wild. Very wild indeed.” She shook her head with a frown.
Elizabeth wondered what she meant by that, but she did not think it proper to ask.
After they had seen all the principal public rooms of the house, Mrs. Reynolds turned them over to the care of the gardener to show them the gardens and the grounds.
The beauty of the gardens was beyond anything Elizabeth had ever witnessed. Even the other great houses they had visited were no match. A rose garden with every color of rose you could imagine. Fountain gardens, a hedge maze, a cottage garden, kitchen gardens, and numerous flower gardens. Near the eastern side of the house was a long pool with a fountain springing up from the center of it, in which you could see the reflection of the mansion behind it. All this in addition to the lake and the river and miles upon miles of wooded trails.
As they followed the gardener along the path that encircled the lake, Mr. Gardiner enjoyed the gleam of the trout, bass, and other fish living in the water.
Mrs. Gardiner smiled. “You wish you could be lazing by the bank catching a few of these, eh?” She teased him.
“Aye!” he chortled.
They neared the edge of the lake that was closest to the stables. The sound of hoofbeats reverberated off the pathway, precipitating the appearance of a rider through the break in the trees. He crossed over the same bridge that their carriage had passed earlier. As he neared the stables, he saw them, and tipped his hat to them.
“That be my master, Mr. Darcy,” the gardener told them.
Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled. “I thought he was not due until tomorrow.”
“Perhaps he decided to come ahead of his guests,” Jane suggested. “We ought to offer our greetings and apologize for intruding on his land.”
The others agreed, and they walked towards the stables.
Mr. Darcy emerged a few minutes later on foot. He was even more handsome in the flesh than his painting had made him out to be. His hair, damp with moisture from his ride, had curled itself into tight ringlets beneath his fashionable D’orsay top hat. He wore a well-fitting jacket that hugged his athletic form. Elizabeth forced herself not to let her eyes linger on the buckskin leather breeches that clung to his shapely thighs like a second skin but to keep her gaze fixed on his face. His perfectly bow-shaped mouth turned upwards at the creases when he looked at her, causing Elizabeth’s breath to quicken and her own mouth to break into a smile.
“Hullo there!” He greeted them, walking towards their group. His hailing them signaled that he was open to an introduction. Mr. Gardiner led the way, first presenting himself and his wife and then their two nieces.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Mr. Darcy bowed. “What brings you to this area?”
Mr. Gardiner explained that they had been touring Derbyshire the past few weeks and had wished to see the house.
“Of course, you are very welcome to,” Mr. Darcy answered. “The house and grounds are open to you. Where are you all visiting from?”
“My nieces reside in Hertfordshire,” Mr. Gardiner answered. “My wife and I live in London, but my wife grew up in this area, in Lambton.”
“In fact, I believe I met you once sir,” Mrs. Gardiner said, “when you were just a boy. Though I doubt very much that you would remember me. I was Miss Andrews then.”
He asked her who her parents were, and then said, “Ah yes, I do seem to recall them, and I believe I recall you, ma’am. You came with the Davies and the Harris families for a picnic gathering. Charlie Davies and Rose Harris were there and we all played hide and seek together in the hedge maze.
“You do remember!” Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed in delight.
“Yes, in fact, Charlie and Rose will both be at the house party I am giving this week. They are married now, if you can believe it.”
Mrs. Gardiner was overjoyed. “I have not seen either of them since before my days at school. I am sad to say that we did not keep in touch. I would love to see them again and revisit the old days.”
“In that case, I must insist that you all come to dinner tomorrow evening, if you have the time. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to facilitate your reunion with your friends,” Mr. Darcy said.
His invitation was most agreeable to all. As he walked them to their carriage, Elizabeth said to him, “Our meeting you seems to be quite serendipitous, Mr. Darcy. I hope you know the joy you bring to my aunt in your inclusion of us in your gathering. I wonder whether we have any other mutual friends in common who will be at your party.”
He smiled. “Oh, probably not. My sister will be there with her companion, along with several of my friends. Where did you say you were from again, Miss Elizabeth?”
“My sister and I live at Longbourn, near Meryton, in Hertfordshire.”
“Hertfordshire, yes. My good friend Charles Bingley leased a place in Hertfordshire last autumn. I believe it was very near to Meryton.”
Jane’s eyes shot over to them at the mention of that name. Elizabeth’s mouth parted slightly as she looked at her sister in response.
Elizabeth turned her face back towards Mr. Darcy. “We had the good fortune to become acquainted with Mr. Bingley during that time.” She forced herself to smile.
“Did you!” Darcy exclaimed. “As it happens, Bingley wrote to me yesterday that he and his whole family are to join our party. That is why I rode out a day early to ensure that my house was prepared for the additional guests. I am sure that he will be pleased to see you again.”
“I do hope so, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth answered. Jane could only nod in response. Elizabeth took Jane’s hand and squeezed it before entering the carriage.
Mr. Darcy bid them all farewell. “Until tomorrow, then.” He tipped his hat.
“Until tomorrow, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth said through the open window of the carriage as the driver shut their door and climbed up to his seat.
And now, without further ado, here’s the cover for A Favorable Impression!
I’m just so thrilled with this cover, as it perfectly captures Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting at Pemberley! (And yes, that’s Lyme Park in the background, in case you were wondering.)