A/N: Hello! If you are reading this, you've taken the chance on an extreme AU. My writing partner, waterbaby134 and I are so glad you did. If you are expecting an exact copy of Jane Austen's Emma, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. This fic is merely inspired by the story and setting, and while you might find some similarities, our main inspiration was the long and deep friendship between Emma and Mr. Knightley. The ages of Jane and Lisbon, and most of the other characters, range from the late teens to mid thirties, in order to be more realistic with the time. There is no Red John, and only superficial angst, in an effort to keep with the tone of an Austen novel. Please bear with us as we adapt the language and manners to this time.
Still skeptical? Well, you've gotten this far, why not give the rest a try? Chapter 1 is mine, and waterbaby134 and I will alternate chapters. Enjoy, and thanks again for being here!
"You seem quite pleased with the match your father has made," said Mr. Jane to his lifelong friend, Miss Teresa Lisbon.
She followed his gaze to the newlywed couple, smiling brilliantly as they danced a waltz in the immaculate ballroom. Music from the small orchestra swelled around them, and the room was lit by a thousand candles.
"I actually have somewhat mixed feelings, I'm afraid." She refilled her dainty glass with a bit of orangeade, trying hard not to shed any more tears than she had the morning her father and Miss May Nelson had wed a month before.
"Aw," replied Jane. "Think not that you have lost a father, but that you have gained a hen in your lovely coop."
She gave him a frown. "That's not very complimentary, Jane. Chickens are rather dirty birds, and the implication that my father is henpecked—"
"You know that's not what I meant. Shall I apologize for introducing them in the first place?" Jane quickly steered the conversation along a safer path. The way Teresa was looking at him, had they been alone, he would have suffered a hard swat to the arm. Miss Teresa Lisbon might appear the perfect lady in public, but away from judging eyes, she could be as tough as a day-old scone.
"Of course not. They are both very happy, and she has done wonders for his disposition. He had been quite lonely these many years since Mother passed. But I do hope your days as a matchmaker have ended." She gave him a look that reminded him of his governess when he'd been outside making mischief instead of studying his Latin.
Jane raised an eyebrow. "I don't know," he said, dipping the ladle into the punchbowl, then grimacing a little when he tasted the drink's overwhelming sweetness. He set down the glass cup again. "I think I rather have a knack for matchmaking," he continued. "As a matter of fact, my friend Kimball would be perfect for your young friend, Miss Edgecomb."
Teresa looked from the dance floor to Jane, eyes wide. "No!" she said, loudly enough to draw attention. She flushed in embarrassment and Jane grinned at her discomfort. She smiled sheepishly at her unintended audience and lowered her voice to a whisper.
"First of all, Miss Edgecomb isn't exactly the kind of uh, lady, one discusses in polite society. And secondly, Summer is much too—" she searched her vocabulary for an appropriate descriptor—"high strung for your stoic Mr. Kimball."
"On the contrary, my dear Miss Lisbon, she would be an excellent contrast to my friend—and you know what they say about opposites attracting. She would bring out the more outgoing qualities I'm sure lie deep and dormant inside of him, and his quiet nature would go a long way in, ahem, moderating hers. As to their difference in social standing," he continued, picking up a strawberry tartlet from the table of hors d'oeuvres and sweetmeats. "It is enough that the respectable Miss Lisbon has befriended her, in spite of her rather…unfortunate reputation."
"Still," countered Teresa, "his parents would never approve. And why are we still speaking of this? You are no matchmaker, Mr. Jane, and I will not participate in any more of your hackneyed schemes."
"They brought happiness to your father, did they not? Just look at them. They are both fairly glowing, like young lovers."
Teresa had to smile at the softness in May's eyes as she looked at her father, and the answering glint in his toward his new wife.
"I suppose you were right about them. But I contend it was mere luck, and perhaps written in the stars, far above your feeble machinations."
"No, Miss Lisbon, I believe I've hit upon my true calling. Through my long study of human behavior, I seem to instinctively know who would be right for whom."
She sighed and stopped just short of rolling her eyes, willing the conversation to end. He could be quite full of himself at times. But there had always been a competitive air between them whether it be bows and arrows or climbing trees. Of course it had much to do with the fact that they had known each other since she'd been in leading strings, had grown up as neighbors, playing together in their family's adjoining orchards. He was five years her senior, and over the years had been her protector, her adversary, and now, her closest confidant.
They knew one another as well as lifelong friends could, so Teresa expected this matchmaking idea was likely a passing phase with him, just as had been his dabbling in magic, his study of Mr. Franz Mesmer, and-during his brief time away from her when he'd been away at school—pick pocketing. That particular skill had been obtained through ruffians he'd met in the streets of London, when he'd gone through a slightly rebellious stage against a controlling father at home. If their country society only knew of the adventures he'd written of to her, they would be irrevocably scandalized. And his father would most definitely have cut him off long ago.
"Take your new friend, Miss Van Pelt," Jane continued, nodding toward the young wallflower who'd chosen to sit with the old maids and matrons near the far wall. "She has such lovely Titian hair, and a glorious figure—"
"Jane!" she chided, looking around lest someone other than her heard his inappropriate observations. He ignored her protest and carried on.
"No reason at all she should be by herself." He snapped his fingers as a thought occurred to him. "I know just the man for her, who would lift her out of her present lowly circumstances, who would take one look at her ample bosoms and forget she was a nobody."
"You are being vulgar," she said, looking protectively at May's distant relation, whose true parents had been a well-kept secret, according to Miss Van Pelt. "Stay away from her, Jane," she warned.
"Now, Miss Lisbon, I only seek to help. She is doomed to marry some farmer or country squire, all that beauty and sweet nature wasted on someone who won't truly appreciate her. She'll grow old before her time, her delicate fingers turning red from the laundry, her porcelain skin gone brown and freckled from working in the sun. No, she requires a man who is so wealthy he doesn't need to impress anyone, nor one who must please a calculating father." The last was said with a rare touch of bitterness, and Teresa instinctively touched his arm in sympathy.
"Such a man as that doesn't exist in this part of the world," she said softly, her eyes still on the awkward Miss Van Pelt, who was trying to sop up a small spill of punch with an embroidered handkerchief. No matter how emphatically Teresa begged, Miss Van Pelt refused to make herself available to dance, so she seemed destined to hover on the outskirts of society, poor girl.
"She'd be better off with that farmer you so quickly dismiss, or perhaps...a vicar might do…"
A thought bloomed in her own mind, the pastoral image of a tall, dark-haired young man walking alongside the lovely red-haired maid, fluffy white sheep frolicking on the verdant hillside as yellow daffodils lined their path on the way to church.
Jane glanced from Miss Van Pelt, and he took in Teresa's thoughtful face. She too was thinking of whom she imagined was best for the girl.
"A wager then," he suggested mischievously.
"What?" The daydream dissolved and the sound of music and laughter replaced the romantic scene of Teresa's imagination.
"You heard me. I bet that I might find a more suitable match for Miss Van Pelt than you could do."
"That is a terribly barbaric notion. I will not wager against a girl's very future. I have been blessed by wealth and the love of an indulgent father, who has allowed me to make my own choices about my destiny. I'll not seek to toy with her—"
"Balderdash," he said. "Wouldn't you like to see Miss Van Pelt settled, with a man who would take care of her, who could make her respectable in society's eyes?"
"Well, of course, but—"
"Then prove it. Prove your devotion to the young woman. Between the two of us, surely we could find someone suitable for our dear Miss Van Pelt."
She hesitated. Certainly she had mourned the thought of Miss Van Pelt's future, having resigned perhaps too quickly to the idea that her shy ways and lack of connections would leave her irretrievably on the shelf. It would surely be a shame if such a sweet creature should be left to languor in the dusty drawing rooms of her current guardian—the fearsome widow, Mrs. Brenda Shettrick. Teresa shuddered at the very thought of it.
"I'll accept your wager," she said. "On the condition that Miss Van Pelt be the one to decide on her match, without any undue pressure from either of us."
Jane nodded. "That is acceptable to me as well. It is her happiness that is our primary concern after all. But what will the stakes be for our wager, aside from Miss Van Pelt's living happily ever after, of course?"
Teresa thought back on the countless pennies she had lost to the man at cards, the piglets she had been made to kiss and the riding boots she had stooped to shine because she could not resist taking one of his bets. She didn't know why she allowed him to egg her on, for such wagers usually resulted in her loss of either money or dignity, or both. Sometimes she swore the man was the devil himself, and she the unfortunate Faustus.
"Must there be a prize? Can't the winning party just claim bragging rights?"
"What would be the fun in that?" he scoffed. "Put your money—or other worthy assets—where your mouth is, my dear."
Jane knew he was in deep trouble when he watched her green eyes alight with mischief, which, if he were honest with himself, could directly be attributed to his sometimes questionable influence. He held his breath, waiting in pleasant anticipation for her pronouncement.
"The one whose match Miss Van Pelt does not pick, must allow the winning party to chose a match for them." She smiled triumphantly, having proposed a prize worthy of Mr. Patrick Jane himself.
Jane's eyebrows shot up with sudden interest. "Let me be clear then. If Miss Van Pelt chooses my suitor, I may be allowed to choose a suitor for you?"
She gulped, having not thought for a moment of losing this particular gamble, and all the ramifications therein. But the last thing she desired was for him to see her fear of this possibility.
"That is precisely what I propose. And of course, I may choose a lady for you, in the likely case that Miss Van Pelt will choose my match."
"And how far are you willing to go with this, Teresa?" he asked softly, using her given name as he normally did when they were alone.
"What do you mean?"
"The man I choose for you. I assume you mean that you would only give leave for him to merely court you, or are you promising to give up your own unwed status and—"
"As with Miss Van Pelt, obviously I would not be obligated to marry such a person unless I am given say in the matter. But yes, I will submit to being courted by whomever you choose for me, knowing full well that as my dearest and oldest friend, you would not pick someone I would find objectionable."
He chuckled. "But of course not. And you, as my dearest and oldest friend, would not force me to court a lady whom I would find personally abhorrent."
"Then we are agreed?"
They each removed a white glove and shook hands, avoiding spitting into their palms as they would were they out of polite society.
They smiled into each other's eyes, a challenge lighting both emerald and sea-green as they enjoyed the familiar warmth and comfort of bare hand in hand.
A new dance—a country reel—was beginning, and Jane bowed in amusement to Teresa.
"Might I have this dance, old friend?"
"I would be honored," she replied, with a formal curtsy. As he escorted her to the dance floor, she was warmed to realize that he hadn't let loose of her hand, and she found the gesture had been both welcome and oddly soothing.
In the middle of the dancing, the music suddenly ceased, and the dancers slowed awkwardly to a stop to await a likely announcement of some import. Apparently, a late guest had arrived, and the footman stepped forward to name him:
"Lord Walter Mashburn."
There was a surprised silence as the lone gentleman entered the ballroom, and as the man was immediately and effusively greeted by the host of the party, Teresa's father, the orchestra continued and the dancers resumed the reel, but the excited whispers nearly drowned out the music.
"There's my man," said Jane meaningfully in passing as they gracefully wended their way around other partners in the line.
"What?" she managed before being lost in the dance again, briefly partnered with another. When they were once again facing each other, he succinctly explained:
"I dare you to top Lord Mashburn as a possible candidate for our young maid."
Teresa was truly shocked. "You're mad!" she exclaimed, in passing once again.
Lord Mashburn was the very definition of a rake. Certainly he was wealthy and powerful, and as such was invited to all the best gatherings, but his scandalous involvements with actresses and merry widows left him the most reliably infamous topic of the ton. His charm and wicked good humor kept him popular with both gentlemen and ladies alike, and Jane considered him, aside from Lisbon, to be his closest friend.
Because of his rakehell reputation, however, Jane had never introduced Lord Mashburn to Teresa. He attributed that to a brotherly protectiveness, but in truth, Jane feared what would become of her should she be caught up in Mashburn's charismatic web. Unfortunately, as the dance reached its natural conclusion, he'd inadvertently caught the man's eye, and there would be no polite way to either abscond with Miss Lisbon or send her on her way. He sighed as he and Teresa applauded the orchestra, then made their way once more to the refreshment tables, Jane's hand resting companionably at her back. Lord Mashburn met them nearly immediately.
"Jane!" he cried, gripping his hand fiercely, as they each childishly attempted to make the other man flinch.
"Mash! So good to see you. It's been too long."
When they let go finally, each surreptitiously clenching and unclenching aching fingers, Lord Mashburn turned his attentions on the rather amused Miss Lisbon.
"And who is this lovely adornment on your unworthy arm?" he asked, noting her raised eyebrow with his own amusement.
"Miss Lisbon, may I present Lord Mashburn. Lord Mashburn, meet Miss Teresa Lisbon."
Mashburn took her hand in his, bending gallantly over it with a gleam in his eye oddly reminiscent of Jane's.
"So this is the redoubtable Miss Lisbon. You were remiss in telling me how lovely she is, Jane. From the way you described her, I expected she'd still be sporting pigtails and a pinafore. She seems fully grown to me. Were you afraid I would steal her away from you?"
His words were close enough to the mark that Jane felt himself stiffen before pasting on an answering grin. Teresa politely withdrew her hand that he still held long past propriety and Jane's lips quirked in odd satisfaction.
"Not at all, Mashburn. I feared in fact for your own sensibilities. Miss Lisbon wouldn't hesitate to cut you to the quick should you displease her."
"He exaggerates, Lord Mashburn. I'm honored to make your acquaintance."
Mashburn turned to Jane. "You were correct though, Jane; she is a horrible liar."
Teresa drew in a sharp breath, and Jane felt the need to intervene before she chose to strike both of them.
"I was just escorting Miss Lisbon back to her father. I'll seek you out later, maybe for a glass of whiskey? This infernal punch is not the thing."
"Very well, then, Jane. Take her off and hide her if you must. I would like to claim the next waltz, Miss Lisbon, if you would grant me the honor."
"She is not old enough to waltz, Mash, so you'd better find one of your widows to flatter with your dancing skills."
"But, Jane, I'm quite old e—" Teresa was saying, as he propelled her along, his hand now at her waist.
"A quadrille perhaps?" Mashburn called, then chuckled to himself as he watched his old friend Jane make a jealous fool of himself.
"Unhand me you rapscallion!" she chided, her voice low and taut. "Or I shall box your ears, audience or no."
"My apologies, Teresa, but that man is a regular bounder, never mind his fine clothes and charming ways. You're well to stay away from him, which is why I never introduced you."
"I'm aware of the man's reputation, Jane, and am perfectly capable of fending off such a Lothario. You needn't have lied to him; I was given leave to waltz two years ago and so I am also able to refuse a gentleman if I wish."
"But you have never come face-to-face with a gentleman such as this," he said, thinking of her innocent country ways. "Most young women of your station are unable to resist him, which is why he's left a trail of broken hearts strewn across most of England."
Something in her friend's tone made Teresa pause, and she stopped their egress from the dance floor by abruptly turning toward him. He bumped unceremoniously into her, and he automatically reached out to steady her.
"If his lordship is such a reprobate, I wonder why you have continued to befriend him."
Jane looked sheepish. "He's a man's man, Miss Lisbon. He is entertaining, quick-witted, and gamesome. We gentlemen are immune to his cunning appeal, unlike those of the fairer sex, but I've kept my obligation of being your protector by keeping him at arm's length until now, which was unfortunately unavoidable."
"Your willingness to keep him as a friend is more a commentary on your character than his, I'm afraid, Mr. Jane. It would serve you right if I went back and offered him a dance."
"You wouldn't dare," he said around clenched teeth.
"Oh, wouldn't I?"
Then his face relaxed into a grin as he tried desperately to defuse the situation.
"Why don't you turn your focus to our other dare?" He nodded toward the wallflowers. "Miss Van Pelt seems terribly lost and lonesome at the moment. Don't you owe it to her as her much more experienced friend to cast a bit of attention her way?"
"I thought Lord Mashburn was in the running for your match with Van Pelt. Have you changed your mind?"
"I was joking before," Jane lied. "I have another young man in mind entirely."
Teresa knew he was lying, but chose not to call him out on it. She would indulge him, however, for now.
"Very well; perhaps you are right. Miss Van Pelt does look rather sad, doesn't she?"
"Yes, very. You'll excuse me then, Miss Lisbon?" he asked, bowing formally. She curtsied politely, and watched thoughtfully as he disappeared into the crush.
A/N: As you can see, I've reversed the roles a little bit—Jane being more of the Emma character and Lisbon a little of Knightley. Please log in and let us know what you think. Waterbaby134 is up next!