Content warning: Contains unrepentant silliness, fluffiness and logical inconsistencies, OOC and maybe OOT. Not recommended for JA purists, Regency Purists or just about anybody of sense and education. Short story, complete in 3 chapters, plus the odd epilog or two.

… This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed… He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand… Pride & Prejudice Ch 34

Elizabeth Bennet tried her best. She really did. She gave it her all. She vowed that she would keep a straight face for at least half a minute if it killed her, but alas, her discipline was not up to the task. First there was a smile, then a snigger, followed by an uncontrollable giggle, then a snort, and finally she could contain herself no longer. She started laughing, and once she started she could not stop. She laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks, and laughed some more, even slapping the table in a vain attempt to restore some sense of decorum; all while Mr. Darcy looked on with a look of absolute alarmed perplexity. She nearly got herself back under regulation, until she saw the expression on his face which was so perfect it set her back to laughing again.

Finally at long last, she managed to get herself under control and addressed the gentleman.

"Oh, Mr. Darcy. I thank you. That was absolutely perfect… pure genius! I believe you have just made me nearly five crowns, from a wager that everyone thought I was mad to make. Let us see them laugh now. HAH! I am the victor."

Darcy looked at her in confusion and said, "I do not have the pleasure of understanding you, Madam!"

That set off another round of laughing, but Elizabeth eventually got herself back under control and said, "Oh Mr. Darcy, that delivery was perfection itself. Absolutely wonderful! Do you mind if I ask a few questions and make some notes?"

Without waiting for an answer, she jumped up and ran over to the desk to obtain parchment, quill and a bottle of ink. While Mr. Darcy looked on in complete befuddlement, she wrote down a series of what looked more like chicken scratches than anything else, and at the end of a few scratchy lines, she said, "Let me be certain I get this down correctly! 'I do not have the pleasure of understanding you, Madam!' Oh, that is perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Darcy looked at her in even more confusion and said, "I still do not understand you?"

Elizabeth laughed again, unable to contain her good humor and said, "Oh, Mr. Darcy, you are such a treasure. May I ask you a few questions? I must have the details. Mrs. Long will kill me if I return with insufficient information."

Darcy, at this point feeling like he had entered Bedlam unbeknownst to himself, nodded his head; not in acquiescence but in confusion; which was good enough for Elizabeth.

"Mr. Darcy, I have so many questions, I hardly know where to begin. Is your wager recorded at White's, Brook's or Boodles; or is it just a private wager? Is it a one-on-one bet, or are there several gentlemen involved? If it is not too impertinent, could you tell me the stakes and the odds? Did you write the speech yourself, or did you have assistance? Some of the language had to come directly from Lady Catherine; did she assist you directly or do you just know her so well you could borrow her words with impunity? Was the colonel's conversation this morning when he told me about your part in separating my sister from Mr. Bingley part of the wager, or was he perhaps trying to influence the outcome? Please, I must know these things. Do I actually have to answer your faux proposal to make the wager complete, or was the bet just dependent on your delivery? Please tell me, I am dying to comprehend the full scope of this endeavor!"

Darcy looked at her in even more confusion, and said, "Madam, I must say that the more you speak the less I understand."

Elizabeth laughed and said, "Oh! Wonderful! Do you mind if I write that down. It is even better than the first one. I must say, you are really turning out to be very diverting Mr. Darcy", at which point Elizabeth sat back to her chicken scratches and wrote down his last statement word for word.

Darcy watched this in even more confusion and said, "Please, explain this to me in the King's English, as I am still quite confused by your actions."

Elizabeth looked at him like she might a particularly thick child, although she suspected the whole interaction was all posturing at this point, and said, "I am speaking of the wagers of course!"


Elizabeth said, "Oh yes, yes! Now I understand! You know of your own wager but you could have no way to know about mine! How thick can I possibly be?" Elizabeth smacked herself in the forehead a few times to accentuate her general lack of good sense, and continued, "Pray, let me explain."

Darcy nodded once again, and she looked at him conspiratorially and said in a whisper, "I assume, you know ladies wager just like you gentlemen do, even though it is rarely admit it?"

Darcy looked at her in confusion again, and she carried on, "Yes, yes, of course, I know it is not considered strictly proper, but we bend the rules just a touch in Meryton. I won 12 shillings the night of that first assembly you attended when you spent 29 minutes sitting next to Mrs. Long without saying a word. Charlotte was as mad as a wet hen because she bet on 25 minutes and I won with a wager of 30. Everyone thought I was insane, but after you called me just tolerable and not handsome enough, I thought there was probably no limit to your rudeness. I would have bet on an hour if I could find anyone to give me better odds. Mrs. Long keeps all of our simple wagers… she has a phenomenal memory and all the ladies depend on her for fairness and accuracy. We all share the burden of writing down the more complex bets, although I must own that I take the lion's share of the work because I enjoy it."

Darcy just shook his head and said, "Mrs. Long"

"Yes, Mrs. Long. You would not know it to look at her, but she is more important to Meryton society than Sir William. He is just the magistrate."

Darcy, getting more and more lost in this conversation that had left the realm of the sane some time ago, cast around and said, "You said you won five crowns?"

Elizabeth laughed and said, "Yes, five crowns. I can hardly wait, and Lydia will want to kill me."

"How so?"

Elizabeth said perfectly seriously, "When Charlotte wrote me I would be in company with you again, Mrs. Long pooled a dozen ladies to bet me at ten-to-one odds that I could not prove you have a sense of humor! You have done so admirably, and I have the proof right here if you would be so kind as to initial it. I am afraid the other ladies will be sore losers, but really, they all thought they had a sure bet. The general consensus was, 'Mr. Darcy! A Sense of Humor! Preposterous!' HAH! They will not be laughing now. I intend to savor my victory at every opportunity, and my mother will be quite insufferable I am certain. Lady Lucas will weep in frustration.

Looking even more confused by the minute, Darcy asked, "My sense of humor or lack thereof was a matter of wagering?!"

Elizabeth looked at him conspiratorially, and said, "Have no fear Mr. Darcy. This is only among the women. The men of the county and outsiders like the Bingley sisters know nothing of this; and of course, you will never be in Hertfordshire again anyway so it is of no import one way or the other. You would not deny us the same amusements you yourself partake in, would you? It is only fair!"

Fitzwilliam Darcy just shook his head trying to clear it, and gestured at a chair.

Elizabeth said, "Oh, where are my manners? Please be seated, Mr. Darcy. Will the other gentlemen take your word on the outcome of the wager, or will you need a statement from me? Like Mrs. Long, I have an excellent memory. I would offer to write out your proposal word for word, but you obviously wrote it out in advance so if you will just show me your copy, I will be happy to initial it to certify its delivery."

Darcy sat and looked at her again, and said, "You keep discussing a wager Miss Elizabeth, but I still have not the slightest idea of what you are talking about, and why would you believe I wrote the proposal in advance?"

Elizabeth looked at him in derision, and said, "Really, Mr. Darcy. You need not keep the charade up. The wager is over, and unless you need a specific answer, I would imagine we are finished."

Darcy said, "Just to humor me Miss Elizabeth, would you tell me what wager you believe was made."

Elizabeth sighed in exasperation, and said, "Do not play ignorant Mr. Darcy. The cat is out of the bag. You obviously have a wager with someone… probably the Colonel or perhaps your uncle the Earl or Mr. Bingley. I imagine the terms were something like 'Deliver the most insulting proposal ever spoken to a woman you thoroughly dislike and see how she rejects you'. I am curious, were you betting on a verbal setdown, general anger, rebellion, tears or smashed pottery? Also I am curious what you would have done if I answered in the affirmative? What was your plan to escape the entanglement? I am most fascinated with your escape strategy. Please, I must know!"

Elizabeth dipped her quill in the inkwell, and watched him in rapt attention, ready to write down all the particulars.

Darcy said, "You believe this proposal was deliberately insulting?"

"Of course! No one could come up with something like that off the cuff, although I must admit that Mr. Collins came close… although I am nearly certain he did practice it… I must remember to ask him if he had a wager on it."

"So you believe this proposal was specifically designed to be rejected?"

"Of course! No man of your sense and education who has been in the world would ever make a proposal like that if they wished to be accepted! Really Mr. Darcy, nobody would expect a woman to accept a suit after such a debacle. I must say it was pure genius to profess love and admiration in one breath and insults in the next. I admire your cunning, sir! I wish I were half that clever, but you can clearly see the whole scheme is obviously preposterous…"

Elizabeth paused a few moments in deep thought and said, "Actually, now that I think about it, there probably are some women who would accepted any proposal from you. I imagine you must have received quite good odds since you were taking a small risk that I would accept it… but then I imagine you must have a plan to deal with that possibility. I believe I interrupted you before you could outline your stratagem for escaping the connection if I accepted. Would you mind telling me how you would accomplish that?"

Darcy's head was spinning and he was nearly physically ill, but he felt he needed to somehow resolve this madness, so he asked, "And you believe I dislike you?"

"Of course, our mutual dislike is obvious to everyone. Mary took a wager at five hundred to one that I would marry you within the year. I always thought she was too sensible to take such a long shot at less than a thousand to one, but she is not always the most sensible of the sisters."

Darcy leaned back in the chair with a sigh, just beginning to comprehend the size of his blunder. It was really quite a mess. This must have been the most humiliating experience of his or anyone else's life; and he spent several moments thinking furiously about what to do next, while the love of his life sat across him in rapt attention, her quill poised ready to write down in exacting detail how he planned to jilt her.