Good morning Janeites! Please help me welcome Austenesque author J. Marie Croft to Austenprose today in celebration of the release of her Pride and Prejudice-inspired novella, Play with Fire.
J. Marie is well known in the Jane Austen fan fiction world having written novels, a novella, and several short stories. She tends toward imaginative Jane Austen variations in a topsy-turvy style, upending our beloved characters’ lives in a way that will make you laugh-out-loud. Play with Fire is no exception. Just imagine, if you will, the occupants of Netherfield Park during Jane and Elizabeth Bennet’s contracted visit joining together to put on a theatrical, and then totally put aside reproof and just run with it.
This novella is part of the Skirmish and Scandal Series being published by Meryton Press. Recently, we featured another novella in this series, Schemes of Felicity: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Suzan Lauder that I recommend checking out. There are also five additional novellas in the queue that you can learn about on their website. There is lots of great reading ahead for Jane Austen variations fans from this publisher.
The author has kindly offered an exclusive excerpt of Play with Fire. Enjoy, and thank you for visiting today.
Madness! It was nothing but madness from beginning to end, and Darcy was caught up in it.
What do occupants of Netherfield Park do on a dreary Saturday while the Bennet sisters are still in residence and they have nothing at all to do? They take a page from “Mansfield Park,” of course, and decide on a theatrical.
In the process of planning and performing the play, certain participants get more than a little carried away, especially Fitzwilliam Darcy where Elizabeth Bennet is concerned. There might even be a kiss…and a skirmish…leading to a duel.
No one involved in the play had set out with the intention of creating a scandal. None performing in the theatrical began with the aim of ending with blushing faces, or bruised bodies, or blemishes on their reputations.
Blame it on “The Mesalliance.”
The Play with Fire scene leading up to today’s excerpt (told from Darcy’s point of view) has Bingley, the theatrical’s producer, insisting Darcy don a silk-cut, velvet coat (a justaucorps) richly decorated with galloon braid and a frog fastening at the neck, a coordinating silk waistcoat, a shirt with far too many ruffles for our dear boy’s liking, a peruke, and an ornate, three-cornered hat to top it all.
Before I left the ‘theatre’ to enlist my valet’s assistance in donning what I assumed was vermin-infested clothing, I noticed the Bennet sisters gathering up pieces of Elizabeth’s costume. There seemed to be enough drapery—in the rose and gold hues of dawn—to cover six ladies, and I wondered of what vintage was the voluminous gown she had chosen. I feared there would be far too much fabric covering her and not enough of Elizabeth on display.
Understandably, Jonesby was horrified when I passed him my own century-old costume. “Do what you can with it, my good man. And did you, by chance, pack my brown breeches?” He stood there, not quite agape but utterly bewildered, wisely holding the stale-smelling heap at arm’s-length, avoiding close contact. “Oh,” said I, in an offhand manner while unknotting that morning’s cravat, “that agglomeration is to be my costume. I am,” I announced rather proudly, “to portray Guy Villan, the third Earl of Haughterton. And Bingley and I shall have a duel…with walking sticks.” My valet did gape then. I know because I caught his undignified, open-mouthed stare in the mirror as I struggled with the blasted knot. “I am, it seems, to be in a bit of a play, you see, Jonesby, and— Why are you still standing there? Put aside those lousy, flea-bitten garments for now and help me with this garrotte, will you? I begin to think your intention this morning was to strangle me with this ligature. Should I survive the next few minutes and evade strangulation, I shall require a quick toilette. And remember to fetch my tooth powder. Get to it, man!” I wanted to be in full costume and back downstairs before Elizabeth made an entrance in her outdated finery.
Time constraints and rain made a thorough airing of the costume impossible, but my gentleman’s gentleman performed some sort of miracle by placing the attire on the clothes-horse before the fire and giving everything a good brushing. My brown breeches, though not an exact match, were serviceable enough above a new pair of silk hose. Anachronic low-heeled shoes were given a pair of silver, oblong buckles that Jonesby seemingly produced from thin air. He really was a marvel that day.
Admiring my reflection, I tugged at the long, brocade waistcoat and adjusted the shirt’s ruffled cuffs beyond those of the buckram-lined justaucorps. The coat’s flared skirt took a bit of getting used to, but all in all, I cut quite a fashionable figure, even if I do say so myself. After adding the finishing touches—lace-edged neckcloth and handkerchief, fringed gloves, and three-corned hat with up-turned brim—I headed for the door, looking rather dapper and feeling more than a little jaunty.
“Ahem, Mr. Darcy. Your periwig, sir.”
Dang!—as Bingley would say. Slowly, I turned back into the room, stalling for time in the hopes the ratty thing might disintegrate before our very eyes.
“Sir, you must realise parasites do not survive for decades without hosts. Actually, the wig is in relatively good condition for its age. I have cleaned it to the best of my ability on such short notice. And, for your peace of mind, I checked for spiders and lined the peruke with an additional piece of fine linen.”
Chagrined, I thanked Jonesby and told him I did not know what I would do without him.
“Nor do I, sir. Now, if you will lower your tall person onto that chair, I shall fit this rat’s nest over your hair.” That done, Jonesby came at my cheekbone with his forefinger. “Just one more added touch, sir. I took the liberty of blackening a speck of sticking plaster, and—Voila!—a mouche.”
“NO!” I flung myself out of the chair. “Absolutely not! No beauty spot!”
Jonesby had been found for me by my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and as she constantly reminded me, he was, indeed, a treasure…when he was not being an irritating arse.
While giving myself another once-over in the mirror, sans mouche, avec perruque, and glaring at my shoulder-length, white wig, I said, “So much for dapper. I now appear utterly absurd.”
“As you say, sir. Now, here is your walking stick…or cane, as I believe it was called in the last century…or fencing sword, as it shall be known this day. En garde, monsieur. Prêt? Allez!”
I was ready. Primed for some sport and prepared to be made sport of. The stage, as they say, was set.
Part I, pages 26-28
Marie Croft is a self-proclaimed word nerd and adherent of Jane Austen’s quote “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” Bearing witness to Joanne’s fondness for Pride and Prejudice, wordplay, and laughter are her light-hearted novel, Love at First Slight (a Babblings of a Bookworm Favourite Read of 2014), her two playful novellas—A Little Whimsical in His Civilities (Just Jane 1813’s Favourite 2016 JAFF novella) and Play with Fire, and her short stories in six anthologies: Sun-Kissed, The Darcy Monologues, Dangerous to Know, Rational Creatures, Yuletide, and Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl. Joanne lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, but J. Marie Croft can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.
- Play with Fire: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by J. Marie Croft
- Meryton Press (September 22, 2020)
- Trade paperback & eBook (114) pages
- ISBN: 978-1681310428
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