The Portraits of Pemberley — First Chapter Sneak Peek

Elizabeth Gilliland Rands
6 min readMay 11, 2023

Book Two of the Austen University Mysteries is upon us! The Portraits of Pemberley will be debuting on July 5th, and I am so excited for everyone to jump into this story. Caty was the perfect narrator for the first story, but she is now passing on the torch to one of my personal favorite literary heroines, Elizabeth Bennet. Read on to get an early glimpse of Lizzy’s story — and if you enjoy, go ahead and order your copy here!

one

November — 10 days after the event

GEORGE WICKHAM WAS FOUND (by a freshman of no real importance) on the campus square, tied up, spread-eagle, hungover, and it must be noted, completely naked.

While there were many at Austen University who felt the punishment fit the crime, there were also those who failed to see the poetic justice–among them, naturally, Wickham himself, along with the Austen University administration, including President de Bourgh.

And, as it was rapidly becoming clear to Elizabeth Bennet as she sat in the waiting room outside her office door, whatever President de Bourgh thought, so too thought her office assistant, Mr. Collins.

“You’ve made us quite upset, Miss Bennet,” Collins informed her, glaring across his desk. “Quite upset.”

Along with having his lips permanently attached to President de Bourgh’s ass, Mr. Collins was, unfortunately, Lizzy’s first cousin once removed. Up until recently, this relation had not seemed quite so unlucky, since it was at Mr. Collins’s encouragement that Lizzy had applied to Austen University and gotten a full-tuition scholarship for academic achievement. Coming from a family with five daughters, Lizzy knew this was no small financial feat, and thus managed to hold her tongue at her distant cousin’s strange habit of insisting on being called “Mr. Collins,” even by his relatives.

Observing this sycophantic behavior in her cousin, however, Lizzy felt a twinge of worry about her genetic makeup. She’d already had her concerns from her mother’s side, but now she had to worry about what unpleasant dormant lurkers might be hiding on her father’s side, too.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Collins,” Lizzy told him evenly, and could not help herself from adding, “quite sorry.”

Collins’s face furrowed with the effort of determining if he was being apologized to, or mocked. Fortunately before any permanent wrinkles could be fixed in place, the intercom buzzed, and President de Bourgh’s imperious voice snipped over the speaker. “Is she here?”

“I’ll bring her straight in.” With that, Collins opened the office door and glared Lizzy into entering.

With her Southern flair for the dramatics, President de Bourgh had kept the back of her office chair turned toward the door, waiting for Mr. Collins to come to stand behind the desk with an outraged glower, before slowly turning to face Lizzy.

Caren de Bourgh was precisely the sort of woman who looked as though she would never die, which is to say, she had the appearance of a hardy tangerine left out in the sun for just a bit too long. Her hair was dyed a deep black which nobody had believed to be her natural hair color for at least the last twenty years, and it was styled in a gravity- defying bouffant that betrayed her age more than any grays could. She had a penchant for wearing bright-colored shirts and distinctive pieces of jewelry, the bigger the better, that was perhaps matched only by her love of pralines, of which she always had a tin on-hand.

“Elizabeth Bennet,” she drawled in her distinctly Charleston accent, “take a seat.”

Lizzy did so, careful to keep her back straight and to only cross her legs at the ankles. These old Southern women had eyes like hawks, and took any sign of comfort or familiarity as an indication of bad moral character.

“I suppose you know why you’re here?”

“I’m assuming it’s because of my article.”

“If you can even call it that.” Mr. Collins’ own fairly mild accent always became much more pronounced in his boss’s presence.

President de Bourgh retrieved the offending article from the Juvenilia–the weekly university publication–and placed it squarely in the middle of her desk. “Would you care to explain to me what this is?”

Lizzy observed where President de Bourgh’s finger had landed. “I believe that’s a penis, President de Bourgh.”

A pixelated penis, but still it took a full minute for the furor to die down, with President de Bourgh alternating between loudly condemning Lizzy’s forward, Yankee ways, and Mr. Collins following his boss in an awkward echo as he hurried to repeat everything de Bourgh said and match her ire for ire.

Lizzy waited for the commotion to die down before supplying, “I suppose you were referring to the article itself? It would have been strange if the school paper didn’t cover the incident.” Wickham’s public display had been huge news across campus, after all–and hard to miss, with so many people posting pictures before security was able to cut him loose.

“We made it very clear to your faculty chair that nothing about the incident was meant to be broadcast through school media. Professor Palmer led me to understand that you were instructed not to write the article, but printed it anyway.”

Lizzy raised an eyebrow. “I was advised not to, but ‘instructed’? That sounds an awful lot like censorship.”

“Your point being?”

Propriety be damned. Lizzy crossed her legs, taking pleasure in the little hitch of distaste on President de Bourgh’s upper lip. “Look, the article is out there. Can’t undo it. No use crying over spilt milk–or loose nuts, as the case may be.”

She’d hoped the phrasing might incur another outcry of moral outrage, but instead President de Bourgh glared at her. Not so much a glare of dislike, although the emotion in question was certainly present in that steely blue gaze, but one of calculation. “You’re awfully self-assured for someone so young. Pray tell, how does someone of your age get to be quite so confident?”

“Pray tell,” Collins echoed with a sneer, until President de Bourgh waved a hand in his direction and he all but clapped his hand over his mouth, mortified at having spoken out of turn.

This felt like a trap. Lizzy tread carefully. “I don’t know. I mean, I always eat my Wheaties…”

Alas, de Bourgh did not crack even the smallest of smiles. “Tell us, Miss-Know-It-All-Bennet, what should the administration do, rather than–as you put it–cry over spilt milk?”

“Well, I guess I’d put my effort toward trying to find out whoever tied Wickham up in the first place.”

Somehow, and Lizzy did not quite know how, she had stepped onto a hidden landmine. President de Bourgh smiled. “Marvelous plan, don’t you think, Mr. Collins?”

Even Mr. Collins seemed a bit taken aback by her abrupt shift in mood, and had to double-check President de Bourgh’s expression before parroting, “Marvelous!”

“Great. I’m glad that’s settled.” Lizzy rose to her feet, hoping a hasty exit might save her from whatever unpleasantness was bound to follow.

President de Bourgh’s voice reached her before she managed to make it out the door. “You’ll let us know, won’t you? As soon as you figure it out.”

“As soon as I figure it out?” Lizzy was beginning to understand Mr. Collins’s propensity for echoing.

President de Bourgh’s smile was a full-on, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin now. “Very generous of you to volunteer to discover who tied George Wickham up in the campus square. Of course, as this is a time-sensitive issue, we’ll need an answer by a week from today. Or we’ll have to assume that you–as a person with vested interest in seeing Mr. Wickham publicly humiliated–are the culprit. And what do you think the punishment for such a crime should be, Mr. Collins?”

Mr. Collins looked thrilled, and maybe even a little aroused, at the sudden power that had been placed into his hands. “Suspension?”

“For an infraction this significant, Mr. Collins? I’d hate to think you’d gone soft.”

He was practically quivering now with the ecstasy of it. “Expulsion.”

“Yes, Mr. Collins, I believe that would be the most fitting solution.”

Lizzy kept her face perfectly composed, not wanting to give either the satisfaction of seeing her panic. And most certainly, it would be satisfaction that these two sadists would feel at the thought of seeing her squirm. “Then I suppose I’ll see you in a week.”

And it wasn’t until she was safely in the windowless stairwell that Lizzy let herself collapse against the wall, sliding down to sit on one of the steps. “Well, shit.”

***

Thank you for reading! I truly had the best time taking my own swing at some of my favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and all the other Austen characters populating the background of Austen University. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And just in case you’re too lazy to scroll back up to the top, here’s that link to preorder again!

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Elizabeth Gilliland Rands

Writer, Mom, Wife, English Instructor, Dr., Chocoholic. Co-founder of Bayou Wolf Press and the Detours Ahead podcast: www.bayouwolfpress.com